Monday, January 31, 2011

Are You a Perpetual Kid?

My husband, heaven bless him, is the light to my dark. I’m a pessimist; he’s an optimist. I’m obsessive; he’s laidback. I read, he plays video games. I’m serious; he’s funny.

Even when it comes to gifts. This Christmas he got me a couple of gifts from . I’m a huge CSI fan, so these were a big hit:


The kids got a big kick out of them too. He also bought me Blood Bath Body Wash, which is cherry-scented bath wash in a fake hospital blood bag and makes me chuckle every time I use it. The website (once he told me about it) had a huge array of funny gifts (depending on your sense of humor), including bloody shower curtain and bath mat, bacon-flavored floss, Bitch Slap Those Germs! Hand sanitizer, and a whole array of products featuring cupcakes (seems to be an obsession).

What’s the funniest gift you’ve ever gotten? Are you the funny one or the serious one? '


Friday, January 28, 2011

Being A Better Person

The Yahoo home page recently had a teaser for an article on 10 Easy Ways to Be A Better Person. Given my resolution each year is always to take better care of myself and those around me, I clicked over, curious to see what I could add to my 'to do' list for the year. The article is based on a book by Zoe Weil and focuses on her MOGO (Most Good) principles. It includes some basic stuff like volunteering for a cause and helping build your community, but more than a few are hard to achieve if you're not a hard core, sustainable-minded Vegan that rides your bike to the office where you run your Non-Profit social justice center. I would not call these particularly "easy" ways to be a better person. Sure, if we all did these things the world would be a better place. The world would also be a better place if magic fairies came down and sprinkled us all with peace dust, ending violent crime and war. Sadly, about the same odds of happening.

So it made me think... what ARE some easy ways to be a better person? Certainly there are ways to be a better person without having some sort of massive global impact. I don't have to save the world, but I can be a better person to those around me. So I tried to come up with a couple. I managed five that I thought were important, but they're just a start. I want you to help me build it.

1. Be Grateful. I think most people just take things for granted. Saying 'thank you' is practically a lost art. I try to do my best to say it as much as possible for everything from someone holding the door for me to gifts. I need to do better at sending thank you cards. Hardly anyone does that anymore either, except PC, of course. A piece of mail that isn't junk or a bill is a luxury anymore. Maybe that's why I love Christmas cards. Its the only time anyone sends real mail. This leads me in to #2...

2. Keep In Touch. Yes, I know, we're friends on Facebook. And to be honest, if it wasn't for Facebook, I probably wouldn't be in touch with 80% of the people on that list. But is it a real replacement for relationships? Talking on the phone, going out to lunch, meeting for coffee and having a great talk... Some people are too far away to meet in person, but make the effort to call them or write them a letter. Send one of those 'thinking of you' cards. I guarantee that person will be touched and pleased and much more so than you "poking" them on FB.

3. Be Considerate. It stuns me how often I see people simply going around in their own little self-involved worlds. Only caring about what they want and need without giving any thought to others and how things impact them. People cut you off on the highway or refuse to let you merge. They whip in and take the parking spot you were waiting for. Just unnecessary rudeness. PC posted not long ago about how her neighbor put her trashcan out for her when they forgot. I always try to hold doors and help short or handicapped people in the store reach high shelves. I think we need more of this. More of thinking about others. Just little gestures.

4. Listen. I'll be the first to admit that through a lot of conversations, I'm waiting to talk or thinking about what I want to say next. Or I'll be multitasking, writing an email or doing something else while people are talking. I'm pretty good at it, but am I listening? Really listening? Probably not so much. Sometimes other people just want someone to listen and care about them and what's going on in their world. Not how the same thing happened to your Aunt Harriett. And sometimes the most important part of a discussion is what isn't said. The underlying tension, the unasked questions. The silent plead for a hug. If you aren't really listening, you're missing a lot.

5. Give Back. This is a pretty broad one. Could include anything from volunteering in your community to making the neighbor that put out your trash a plate of homemade cookies as a thank you. Do you have a skill to share? I recently taught a troop of girl scouts about scrapbooking. I've giftwrapped at the mall for charity. Walked a 5k for a good cause. DB used to mow part of our neighbor's yard while he was doing ours. It could be anything, but I think what's important is the act of giving, in any fashion, without expecting anything in return.

What do you think of my list? Add to it! What do you think are some easy ways to be a better person?


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Oscars

The Oscar nominations were announced earlier this week. Is it sad to admit the only movies I've seen were in the Best Animation category? I want to see several of them...I just can't seem to find the time to get to the theater. I'm so behind on my movie watching.

Every year I promise myself that I'm going to watch all of the best picture nominees before the ceremony. I don't think I've managed it a single time. Since they've upped it to 10 nominees I think my chances of succeeding at that goal have dropped dramatically.

I do want to see The King's Speech. I've heard it's fantastic from several people. Black Swan interests me just because it looks like one of those movies that will bend my mind...and I've always like Natalie Portman. Not to mention ballet. I haven't seen Social Network. I know, blasphemy. I mean, I'm on Facebook, but I'm not sure I really care about the history of it. Everyone's told me the story is actually very good. I can't get over the fact that it's a movie about very intelligent, nerdy college students. I'm well past that stage in life so it doesn't really interest me.

Inception looked interesting. I've even rented it a couple times...haven't managed to watch it though. I'm not a western fan but I've heard the little girl in True Grit is amazing. Not sure I can get over the dusty background and cowboy hats. 127 hours looks gut wrenching. I cried when I heard about the real story behind this movie. I'm not sure I could take a couple hours of it on the big screen. Toy Story 3 was playing in the same room while I worked...does that count? The other movies I haven't really heard of so can't form an opinion, although I do know that Winter's Bone is adapted from a book.

Have you seen any of the Oscar nominees? Did you like them? Any I should bend over backwards to see?


P.S. Congratulations to Danielle Gorman, Vicky’s winner from yesterday. Please email you snail mail address to PM at to claim your prize.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Blogger: Vicky Dreiling

The writing world really is a small one. I first met Vicky through a mutual friend, author Kristi Gold. Then I discovered she also knew one of my RWA chaptermates, Lynn Raye Harris. So when Vicky got The Call, I had lots of folks to celebrate with! Please welcome debut author, Vicky Dreiling.

Like most authors, I started out as a reader. One day, I decided to write a historical romance for grins. When a friend called, I admitted my secret hobby. She just happened to have seen a notice for a class on how to write a romance and encouraged me to call for more information. I signed up for the class and joined Romance Writers of America. At one meeting, an author spoke about the benefits of entering contests. As soon as I heard published authors judged the contests, I figured this would be a great way to get critiques on my work.

Incredibly, my fledgling manuscript made the finals in all but one of the contests I entered. After learning I’d made the finals in the Maggie Awards, I decided to attend the Moonlight & Magnolia conference. I signed up for an appointment with an editor. There was just one big problem: I didn’t have a clue how to pitch a manuscript. This was a group appointment with twelve authors. When the first author finished her perfectly short pitch, I knew I was in trouble. I looked down at my legal pad (you’re allowed to guffaw now) and started rattling non-stop. My face heated. I knew I was botching the pitch. I came within inches of standing up, announcing I was a fraud, and telling the editor I wouldn’t waste her time.

Then the editor said, “Wait a minute. I know this book.”

Here is the improbable part. The editor had read three chapters and a synopsis in The Orange Rose contest. Keep in mind this contest did not announce the editor judges in advance, so I had no way of knowing who judged it. I’d been writing for six months and got my first full request with the worst pitch on the planet. I went on to win four contests and finaled in the Golden Heart. I ended up doing massive revisions for that editor I’d met without promise of contract. But the revised manuscript wasn’t strong enough for publication and got rejected.

Life got in the way shortly thereafter. After a divorce, I returned to college to finish my degree and started a new career in marketing. Writing fell by the wayside for several years. But as my personal life became more secure, the urge to write bit me again. One night while watching TV, I happened upon a crazy reality show with a hunky bachelor and twenty-five single bachelorettes. When that episode of The Bachelor ended, I knew I had to write a Regency-era version.

In early 2008, I finished the book. I was jubilant that I’d met my goal to finish my novel before a two-week business trip to London and Paris. As I waited for my flight, I checked my personal email. A published author who had read my first three chapters had told her agent about my book. The agent wanted me to query immediately. So I wrote my query letter in the airport and emailed it. Ten jet-lagged hours later, I arrived in London to find a request for the full. That particular opportunity didn’t pan out because the agent and I couldn’t agree on the premise for my book. I reluctantly turned down her offer to revise and resubmit, but shortly thereafter, I got requests from contests.

The most incredible happenstance occurred a few short weeks later when friends asked me to tag along to a conference. I pitched my book, but I was disappointed that I’d not been able to get an appointment with Lucienne Diver. That night, I arrived late to the conference dinner. There was only one available chair – next to Lucienne. I’m an extrovert, but even I was a bit nervous when I approached her. She welcomed me and asked what I wrote. I said historical romance and shut my mouth. She was sitting with her authors, and I knew better than to pitch in a social setting. But she asked me what my book was about. I looked at her sheepishly and said, “Um, it’s the bachelor in Regency England, minus the hot tub and camera crew.” She whipped out her card and requested the manuscript on the spot! But the accidents weren’t over. At yet another conference, I heard someone call out my name. Cue eerie music. It was Lucienne Diver. I started thinking this was some kind of sign. :-)

Shortly after that conference, I revised the manuscript and sent it off to requesting agents. Then something unexpected happened. Three agents offered to represent me. But I couldn’t ignore the hand of fate. I signed with Lucienne, and we sold HOW TO MARRY A DUKE in a three-book deal to Grand Central.

While I could never have predicted these fortunate events, there is a take-away I think might help unpublished authors make a big leap. Oftentimes, writers hesitate to take risks, mostly out of fear of rejection. I always ask myself this question: What do you have to lose?

Have you ever happened upon a lucky break in your writing career? Do you take advantage of opportunities?

My heartfelt thanks to the members of The Writing Playground for inviting me to share my journey. May the Magic Romance Fairies be with all of you.

I’m giving away one copy of HOW TO MARRY A DUKE in a random drawing, so be sure to leave a comment.

HOW TO MARRY A DUKE is available now. HOW TO SEDUCE A SCOUNDREL is set for publication in early July 2011.

Vicky Dreiling is a confirmed historical romance junkie and Anglophile. Frequent business trips to the UK allowed her to indulge her passion for all things Regency England. Bath, Stonehenge, and Spencer House are among her favorite places. She is, however, truly sorry for accidentally setting off a security alarm in Windsor Castle. That unfortunate incident led her British colleagues to nickname her “Trouble.”

When she’s not writing, Vicky enjoys reading, films, concerts, and most of all, long lunches with friends. She holds degrees in English literature and marketing. A native Texan, she shares her home with her daughter and a spoiled mini-lop rabbit that lives in a slightly gnawed cardboard cottage.

Visit Vicky’s website:

Backcover Copy of HOW TO MARRY A DUKE

Tristan, the Duke of Shelbourne is a man with a mission: find a wife he can tolerate as long as they both shall live. No love is necessary—nor desired. But how to choose amid a dizzying array of wealthy-yet-witless candidates? Hire London’s infamously prim and proper matchmaker. Then pretend she’s not the most captivating woman he’s ever met . . .

Helping a devilish Duke create a contest to pick his perfect mate is the kind of challenge Tessa Mansfield relishes. Her methods may be scandalous, but she’s determined to find the notorious bachelor more than a wife—she’ll bring him true love. Yet when Tessa watches the women vie for the Duke’s affections, she longs to win his heart herself. And after a stolen kiss confirms Tristan’s desire, Tessa knows she has broken a matchmaker’s number one rule: never fall in love with the groom.

P.S. If you've ever visited the Writing Playground website, you may be familiar with our Hall of Feet. To rekindle interest in our cute shoe fetish, we've asked our guest bloggers to send in photos of their cute shoes. Here are Vicky's!

First we have her glam shoes.

And then we have her Nick and Nora slippers. "The latter of course is the real me," she said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tantrum Tuesday

I realized today that it's been a while since we had a Tantrum Tuesday. Modeled after Rhonda Nelson's "Whine About it Wednesday," Tantrum Tuesday is your chance to let your inner 2-year-old out for a good ol' screaming hissy fit over whatever you want -- no matter how minor it is.

This is a safe place, my Honorary Playfriends. We will not judge and we will not tell you to just get over it. Whine, moan, b*tch, complain -- whatever you need to do to get it out of your system, go ahead. It's cathartic. You'll feel much better.

My Tantrum is truly a tantrum: SNOW. For the love of all things holy, how did I end up on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line? I've seen more of the white stuff this *month* than in the last 12 years combined. And they're calling for more. I've heard rumors that we might get up to a foot.


If they cancel school, I might just lose my mind. Like The Shining kind of "lose my mind."

Mother Nature, I don't know who pissed you off, but I apologize. I will plant a tree, pick up litter, do penance of some kind, but please remember that this is ALABAMA and we Don't. Do. Snow.



I feel better now. Your turn. Pitch your big hairy fit. I might even give a book away to make you feel better....

Monday, January 24, 2011

Celebrating Accomplishments

The other day I had a novel thought – “Wouldn’t it be uplifting to focus on what I’ve done, rather than what I still need to do?”

I’ll admit to being a glass-half-empty kind of person, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I look back at the previous year and take note of the things I *didn’t* do. But recently my sister encouraged my writing accountability group to make a list of the things we *did* accomplish in 2010. Though writing down things I wanted to accomplish was easy, looking back it was hard to remember all the things I had actually done. Selective pessimist’s memory, maybe? It took 3 tries, and I still forgot to list the online classes I took in 2010.

But when I was done, I felt so good. I’d done a lot more things than I’d originally thought. Here’s the updated version:

This year I have:
~Attended all HOD meetings and Orlando National Conference (where I went to many workshops)
~Entered 3 contests, finaled in 1
~Submitted to agents/editors 7 times
~Received 6 rejections
~Pitched 4 times
~Completed 1 novella
~Wrote 2 proposals, 3 cover letters, 2 synopsis, and did light revisions on 1 full.
~Wrote 3/4 of the sequel to my GH finaling book.
~Blogged weekly.
~Plotted novella and 3 book southern gothic trilogy.
~Taken 2 online courses about characterization.

Often we focus only on pages written, but I did a lot to get my work out there and improve my writing craft too. Looking over this list filled me with pride. Last year was rough, but I still found time to write. I sincerely wish I had one for every year I’ve been writing. Though I have calendars where I track some of my progress, it isn’t the same as seeing a succinct list in front of me.

Look! I DID ALL OF THAT. It may not have led to the exact results I wanted, but I still had proof I worked my ass off last year. Most of us don’t pat ourselves on the back (mentally or physically) for the things we do. I know especially as a mom I look at everything I should have done for my family, instead of everything I have done for them.

What a terrible shame! One of the reasons I started writing, besides the creative outlet, was that as a mother of a 2 year old, I wanted something that was mine alone, and something that would stay done for longer than 5 minutes. Okay, 2 minutes.

How sad that I accomplished that without realizing it. I want to embrace the pride and positive energy of a job well done, whether anyone else acknowledges it with me or not. So I’m making Accomplishment Lists part of my annual January ritual. To make it easier, I’ve started a file on my computer to add to as I journey through 2011. :)

What would you add to your Accomplishment List?


Coming Soon!

Join us this Wednesday when author Vicki Dreiling visits the Playground!

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Don't Care What Day It Is, Don't Touch Me

At one point, I went through my calendar at work and filled it with stupid and lesser known holidays. Partially to amuse myself and partially to annoy others when I announce its Penguin Awarenes Day. Didn't know there was a Penguin Awareness Day? Yep. It was Wednesday, actually. And today is National Hugging Day, amongst other things.

Apparently there are so many of these silly days, they can't limit each day to just one thing. So today, in addition to being National Hugging Day, its also International Fetish Day (hello!!). This week is Healthy Weight Week, National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week, and January itself is about 30 different kinds of months including my favorites: National Mail Order Gardening Month and National Polka Music Month.

There are many sources online, but the one I found here is pretty comprehensive. I apologize in advance for the stupid animations.

You all are the only people I'm going to tell about National Hugging Day. I don't want anyone to have an excuse to touch me if I don't want them to. My 'hugging permitted' list is quite short.

So, anything interesting fall on your birthday or anniversary? My birthday is National Accountant's Day. (woo hoo!) Share your favorite weird holidays! Personally, I'm looking forward to September 14th - National Cream Filled Doughnut Day and National Procrastination Week in March. I always plan to celebrate it, but put it off. :)


PS. Surprise, surprise. Instigator is blogging over at Okay, Listen Here. Hop over to pay her a visit and get a chance to win her current release CAUGHT OFF GUARD!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Asking For Help

It has been brought to my attention that I suck at marketing. Repeatedly. And I can't lie, it's true. There are valid excuses but they don't counteract the fact that I suck at marketing. I'm just not very good at tooting my own horn.

I think part of my philosophy stems from my crazy busy life, but also from the reality that I can't quantify the success of anything I do. I'm a touchy feely kinda girl. I wanna know how something works, see the results, or I lose the enthusiasm for doing it. Unfortunately, there's just no way to quantify marketing. There are too many variables and no good way to interview every single person that purchases a book to find out what made them pick that one up off the shelf.

So, that's where y'all come in. I'd really like to know what influences you to pick up a book. Have you ever bought a book based on a blog that you read? A bookmark you received? Or do you only buy based on cover or blurb copy? If you have an ereader has it influenced how you purchase books? Do you instantly buy anything that a trusted friend recommends?

I know that for me, my Nook has really changed the way I shop for books. I'll always buy based on a recommendation from friends who read and enjoy the same kind of books that I do. But I've found myself purchasing authors that I've never heard of (in genres that I don't usually read) because of recommendations from B&N. And really enjoying them. I honestly don't think I've ever purchased a book based on a blog that I've read. A blog might remind me to pick up a book I was already interested in (as in, oh yeah, I forgot that was out this week). But, maybe that's just me?

I really find this subject fascinating because I've discovered that my buying habits aren't necessarily the norm. This was a possibility I'd never thought of. I'm not sure if that means I'm out of touch with reality or just really blinded by my own life. I'm not sure either of those things is good. I'm honestly wondering if I need to reevaluate my take on the whole book buying process. What do y'all think?


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Don't ask me to pronounce the title of my blog. I never took French. When I visited Paris, about the best I could muster was "Croque-Monsieur, s'il vous plait," which translates to "I'd like a ham and cheese sandwich please."

But back to the blog title... The most common translation of this phrase by nineteenth century French author and columnist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

I was recently reminded of this when my uncle sent me a photo for Christmas. It wasn't just any photo. He'd taken the original, scanned it, enlarged it, cleaned it up, added a caption and put it in a very nice frame.

This is the photo and it dates from July 1959. I was nine years old. That's my sister on the left, and this was taken in Dodge City, Kansas. You remember Dodge City don't you? Gunsmoke and Matt Dillon? Chester, Doc Adams and Miss Kitty? And who could forget the Long Branch Saloon?

Dodge City, Kansas really exists and they've tapped into the fame of Gunsmoke to create the Boot Hill Museum, which includes a recreation of the Long Branch Saloon. In the evenings, there's a stage show complete with a honky-tonk piano player and can-can girls.

I remember walking down Front Street and watching the shoot-out they recreated for all us tourists. And then we went into the saloon, bellied up to the bar and all ordered a cold sarsaparilla AKA sasparilla. It tasted pretty much like root beer to me, but sarsaparilla sounded a heap more fun.

And you know what was really fun? Sharing that same experience with my boys twenty-eight years later in the summer of 1987. We watched the gun fight, read the tombstones in the Boot Hill cemetery, attended the saloon show and got us a sarsaparilla at the bar. I'm not sure how much of the trip they remember. They were four and eight respectively. Regardless of their memories, I have mine. And even though a few things had changed in Dodge City, much had remained the same.

Maybe some day I can take my granddaughter to Dodge City and get her a cowboy hat and boots, though I have a sneaking suspicion she'd rather visit some place with princesses and get a tiara and a scepter.

Have you ever recreated a childhood vacation with your children? Was it like you remembered or had things changed?

P.S. Belated birthday wishes to my mother who celebrated a birthday yesterday. I won't tell you which one. My mama didn't raise a fool. ;-)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Brain Matter

I used to tell my students when they’d grumble about “why do I have to read (choose a literary classic) when I’m going to be a (something not an English teacher)” that one of the really cool things about knowledge was that the more you knew, the more interesting life got. If nothing else, I told them, you’ll be able to watch reruns of Frasier and get the jokes.

The down side is, of course, the more you know, the more you realize how little you know and how much more there is to learn. That’s a bit frustrating.

I’m an English nerd. A big ol’ geek. The Playfriends groan when I start babbling about “the house as a metaphor” or “the betrayal of suspended disbelief.” But I find it fascinating.

And then I found these on Jenny Crusie's site: Dating Death: Love and Sex in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Assassination of Cordelia Chase.

(They're quite long -- but worth a read -- but I'll tell you that they offer critical analysis of love and romance in the Buffy-verse and a wonderful discussion of character. If you want to write romance, I recommend them both for how to look at a character and character arc.)

Now, I’m a huge Jenny Crusie fan. I’m also a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan. I think romance rocks, and I love a good meaty analysis. To find all that in one place… Geek-gasm.

And then I felt really, really stupid. Not just because Jenny does such an awesome job (in such an entertaining way) synthesizing a huge amount of source material into her analysis. Not just because I was nodding my head all the way through. (That’s the sign of good analysis. It makes sense. Maybe you didn’t know it consciously or couldn’t have articulated it even if you did, but you know she’s right. That’s why Riley always irritated me a little and why I loved Spike so much.) No, I felt stupid because there was no way I’d have been able to synthesize and articulate it so well. What happened to my critical thinking skills?

Dog knows, I’ve analyzed things to death and pulled some crazy crap out of my butt (“Noetic Abundance and Romantic Ideology in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” anyone? Maybe “Self-Created Psychological Captivity.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “Is Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet) Bi-Polar or a Repressed Homosexual?). Yep, I wrote those papers. They still live in my hard drive, and as I looked them over to pull the titles, I wavered between impressed at my own attempts to articulate an idea and tease proof out of the texts and supporting materials and rolling my eyes at the lameness on display.

More depressingly, though, I realized that I’d be hard pressed to try to analyze something now. It’s a skill that it’s definitely lost if not used. Critical thinking muscles have to be exercised or else they lose strength. (And I will refrain from extrapolating that statement into a lecture about broader society and the shocking lack of critical thinking on display on any given news program. The Playfriends are pretty sick of that lecture, too.)

I feel like I’m getting a little dumber every day. Of course, as AC approaches her tweens and teens, my IQ drops about three points a day in her eyes, so that doesn’t help, either.

So, good little geek that I am, I’ve decided to start exercising those critical thinking skills again. I contacted a few friends that I went to graduate school with and started an “English Major Book Club.” We’re all such nerds, we’re excited about a book club that will basically recreate that school experience – only with wine and snacks this time. And no papers to write.

I’ve always obsessed over improving my body – my weight, muscle tone, etc – but now I’ve tempered that some with the idea I shouldn’t ignore my mind. Just as I need to work different muscle groups, I need to work different parts of my brain as well. This year, I’m going to start tapping back into a part of my brain I just forgot how to use.

So thank you, Jenny Crusie. I’m a big fan, and I love you. But I hate you just a little as well. I fully admit that hate is totally fueled by jealousy for your amazingly big brain that writes awesome books and remains sharply critical and analytical. But thanks for the push. You’re welcome at our nerdy little book club anytime.

Hopefully, life will get a lot more interesting.

So, here’s a question. Have you lost a skill you used to have? (My ability to do a triple pirouette without busting my butt also jumps to mind…) Is it something you’d like to get back? Have you ever tried to?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Small Steps to Successful Living: Month 1

January is the month for New Year’s Resolutions – or rather the first week of January is. I can’t remember how many times I’ve told myself this will be the year I’ll lose weight, get the house in order, on and on… but within a week all that determination fizzles.

This year I’ve decided to approach things differently. First, I’m starting after the first flush of pressure to get those resolutions out there (okay, so I was struggling with a stomach virus and snow at the first of the year). Second, I’m going to tackle my resolutions one small step at a time.

You see, I usually plunge straight into the deep end. Diet, exercise 7 days a week, no sugar, no flour, etc. Can you say EPIC FAIL? And frankly, I can’t handle any more failure in my life.

Nope – I want to plan for success, which means tackling one thing until I’ve mastered it, then moving on to the next. This idea had been percolating for some time, but was solidified by 2 things:

1. I found the book, Change One for Diabetes, that asserts “making one small change at a time is the best way to bring about big results.” It encourages focusing on only one new skill at a time, until you feel comfortable moving on to the next.

2. Within a few days, I saw a post for the blog . Coincidence? The author is embracing the concept of kaizen, constant change through ever evolving steps. She is also discussing the excuses we make, troubles we run into, etc. I highly recommend it.

Do you ever have the feeling the universe is trying to tell you something? Taking the hint, I put together a list of my most important steps.

~ Work through The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron) to restore and rejuvenate my creativity. (actually, as a small step, it should be: work through 1 chapter every 2 weeks)
~ Reward myself (not for actions taken, but for daily hard work) with hot baths, massages, reading, etc.
~ Meal balance – divide my plate into ¼ protein, ¼ carb (preferably high fiber), and ½ veggies and fruits.
~ Perform short yoga sessions after cleaning houses.
~ Add twice per week strength training.
~ Replace unhealthy thoughts with constructive thinking patterns. (major focus, probably all year)
~ Practice relaxation techniques when I feel overwhelmed.

This is just a small sample. I have steps for every area of my life, written down so I can remember them, and remind myself of where I’m going. I’ll get to each one soon enough.

I hope to share with you my ideas and thoughts as I seek mental, physical, and creative balance when I post about my progress every third Monday of this year. In turn, I hope you’ll feel free to share any of your own successes and struggles in 2011. I’d love to be an encouragement as you seek to meet your own goals. I’ll also try to post helpful blogs, books, articles, and such that I find.

Will you join me? What small step(s) would you like to master this year? Which one will you focus on first?


Playground Monitor's winner from last Wednesday is Marie. Please send your snail mail address to her at to collect your prize.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Guest Blogger - Evelyn Vaughn

We're really excited to welcome Evelyn Vaughn to the Playground today! She's had a very long and illustrious career and I'm excited to learn as much as I can from her. So let's all pull up a swing and give her a big Playground welcome.

I Love a Series—Maybe Too Much

So who here loves a good book series? And which kind do you like more—a series in which the same character continues (like Bella in Twilight, or Stephanie Plum) or a series in which each book brings you a new-but-related couple, like Cindy Dees “Medusa” books or most of Nora Roberts’ trilogies?

I’m curious, because the difference brings up one of my biggest challenges in writing and even reading romance:

I love a series.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who might have followed my work! It’s now a joke with my beloved agent, Paige Wheeler of Folio, that I can’t seem to propose an idea for a single book—it’s always got to be a set. Four witch friends, of four old-west sisters, or powerful women who collect goddess grails… and now, for at least two books, the BladeKeepers for SRS.

I even love writing for a series that isn’t just mine, as with continuity series like “Family Secrets” and “Athena Force” and the beloved “Madonna Key” books.

But enough for the moment about writing. Don’t we all love reading a good series?

What’s up with that, do you think?

Is it because when people find something they like, they want “more of the same but different?” (If we wanted the exact same, we’d just reread the initial book, right?) That sure does explain the popularity of movie sequels. I always look forward to them, even though I’m usually disappointed (Speed II, anybody?)

But maybe with us readers, it’s more personal. We make friends with the characters—one of the reasons I enjoy a good TV series over a movie. We enjoy getting to know them, and want to keep in touch.

That’s where the same-character series come in. It happened with the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and Little House books when we were younger (depending on when we were younger!) Now, in part thanks to Harry Potter and Twilight, YA books are even more commonly part of a series: Julie Kagawa’s “Iron” series, for example, and Rachel Vincent’s “Soul Screamer” books. I’ve read both of those in the last year, and they’re great!

Adult series with the same heroine are also very popular: the Sookie Stackhouse books, for example. I know I’ve read and reread the Amelia Peabody books, by Elizabeth Peters, and I recently caught up on the Kitty-the-Werewolf books by Carrie Vaughn. But here’s the twist:

Romance novels can’t seem to do that!

The Stephanie Plum and Eve Dallas books are mysteries, not romance. The Sookie Stackhouse and Anita Blake books are paranormals--urban fantasies—not romance. The only books I’ve seen out of standard romance imprints, like the Harlequin/Silhouette categories, to repeat the same heroines have been Harlequin Teen and Silhouette Bombshells, both which allow(ed) romantic subplots.

Otherwise, a Happily Ever After seems to contradict any continuation of the heroine in any role but secondary.

And that kind of bums me out.

A lot of great romance series work by linking one couple to the next, and that’s great. For me, the queen of it all would be Suzanne Brockmann’s “Troubleshooter” series.

But does anyone else kind of wish romance novels could carry the came couple through two, three, or even four books? Featuring them, I mean?

Let’s talk!

And don't forget to visit Evelyn at her website to find out more about her newest releases.

P.S. Our very own PC is guest blogging today with Liz Fielding. Drop by and say hello!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snowpocalypse 2011

Snow brings back lots of memories for me. I grew up in least until I was 10. I moved several times around that age and it was very hard for me. I remember really wanting to go back to the things that felt like home and snow kinda represented that for me. I missed it so much when we got to Alabama.

Fast forward to now and my outlook has changed quite a bit. I'm no longer a child intent on squeezing every ounce of fun out of the snow. I'm an adult stuck at home with 2 kids getting cabin fever. I'm tired of watching daytime television. I'm tired of hearing my kids complain about being bored...and then complaining about being cold when we head outside.

We've made snowmen. We've been sledding (which resulted in a child in tears). We've even had a snowball fight. I'm ready for the girls to go back to school and for me to head in to work.

The problem is that we're stuck. Zilla tried to get out of our driveway for the first time yesterday. he finally made it out. Sideways. After an hour. His truck currently sits at the end of our drive because he doesn't want to get it stuck again. I haven't even attempted to get my own car out. The roads are fine...once we get to the end of our long drive. The four-wheeler has even spun out a few times.

So, my kids are out of school again today...for the fourth day in a row. Anyone have great ideas for keeping them occupied? Anything that doesn't require me dressing in several layers and freezing my bum off?


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Great Snow of 2011

I'm sure you've heard folks mention the Chicago Fire of 1871 and the great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. But January 10, 2011 will long be remembered as The Big Snow (and the day Auburn won the National Championship -- War Eagle!).

Those of you from more northern climes are scratching your heads about now and wondering, "What's the deal with snow?"

You must understand this doesn't happen here often. Oh, they'll predict snow, everyone races to the grocery store for milk and bread, it doesn't snow and folks eat lots of sandwiches and drink lots of milk.

But we were surprised with a four-inch snow on Christmas Day and last week, when the local forecasters began predicting another snow event, this time much bigger, folks began the Grocery Store 500. I made sure I had enough food to eat should I be snowbound for a few days and then sat back to see if the snow would actually fall.

It did. It began Sunday about 6 PM and snowed all night and a little bit into the next day. And thus began Snowmageddon or the Snowpocalypse as folks are calling it.

Again, some of you are scratching your heads and wondering why we call it that. Aside from the rarity of it, the city doesn't have the road equipment to deal with it. I mean, why spend tax dollars for equipment that may only be used once a decade or so? They have salt and gravel to put on the roads, and they do their best, but this town shuts down when it snows. Our road system includes lots of bridges and overpasses and those freeze over quickly and are barracaded by the police (who WILL ticket you for driving around a barracade). And it's difficult to get anywhere around here without driving on those bridges and overpasses.

So, we've been effectively snowbound for a couple days because the temps have stayed around the freezing level and are supposed to drop further later this week. The little bit that melts during the day just freezes at night. You can drive on snow. You will wreck your car on ice. I have no desire to wreck my car, so I've been enjoying the view from my windows, wearing long underwear and fleece socks to stay warm and walking about at least once a day to check my mail and enjoy something we may not see again for another twelve to fifteen years.

Here are a few pictures from my photo safaris.

Sunday night

Marilyn's "official" measurement

The pasture beside my apartment complex. Isn't it beautiful in the snow?

My car and apartment in the background

Milk, sugar and vanilla. Mix well, add fresh snow and...

Snow Cream!

Got snow? Tell me about it. One commenter will win a book from my stash.

P.S. The Free Book Friday winner from last week is kayspringsteen. Congrats! Please email Smarty Pants to claim your prize.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Viva Riva!

This month, Mills & Boon launches its newest line: Riva.

From the writing guidelines on the M&B page:

Launching in January 2011, Riva is a vibrant, exciting new stream of editorial for readers who enjoy authors such as Louise Bagshawe, Tasmina Perry, Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella. Upmarket, glossy and sharply contemporary, these stories sparkle with humour, passion and emotion

If you like your stories hot & steamy...
Then you’ll love the Rivas written by original, fresh authors such as Heidi Rice, Natalie Anderson, Kelly Hunter, Kimberly Lang, Anne Oliver, Anna Cleary and Lucy King, formerly published in Mills & Boon Modern Heat These entertaining romances reflect the life experiences of today’s young women, within a chic, glamorous, and usually urban setting. The offer international glamour, passion and alpha male heroes you expect from Modern, with a flirty young voice and a whole load of sass. The heroines are often your twenty-something girls-about-town but there's no compromising on the hero: he must be very alpha and absolutely to die for. There’ll be sparks flying when these two meet – and nothing short of fireworks once they get to the bedroom!

If you like your stories flirty & sweet...
Then you’ll love the Rivas written by flirty, young voices such as Liz Fielding, Nina Harrington, Fiona Harper and Jackie Braun, formerly published in Mills & Boon Romance. These stories should reflect the experiences of today’s young women – whether it be dating disasters, juggling a work/life balance or overcoming a broken heart. Each story should have an emotional core with believable emotional conflicts but told in an up-beat, fun, contemporary way. The hero should be sexy, aspirational and the romantic tension should sizzle, but when it comes to the bedroom – the door should be firmly closed. We are open to romantic comedies, first person narratives and interesting twists on classic romantic themes

We are on the lookout for new authors who can convey that young urban feel with 21st century characters, simmering tension, either with or without the hot sex!

Our top editor tip: there is no better way to fully understand the Riva experience than to read as many of them as possible!

And lookie here -- one of the launch titles!

That's my Girls' Guide to Flirting With Danger (look for it in AU/NZ in Feb in the Sexy line, and the US in March as a Presents EXTRA) in that intro package!

Now, I love this story anyway, but I'm really proud it was chosen as one of the launch titles. I'm out with the fab Kelly Hunter, Nicola Marsh, and Jessica Hart this month, and, so far, the response to Riva has been very exciting!

So, what do you think of the new look?


Monday, January 10, 2011

A Different Kind of Journal

If you had told me years ago that I would blog weekly for more than 5 months -- much less 5 years -- I’d have responded with a hearty “No Way!”. Well, “Yes Way!”. We’re in our 5th year on the blog and I’ve managed to find a topic for 90% of those weeks (and guest bloggers the rest of the time).

I think one reason I’ve been able to stick with this is that the format is very similar to journaling, just on a more structured level (at least, for me it is). Granted, y’all may not find my personal musings and observations on life earth-shattering, but, well, they're just me. I try to strive for something more helpful than “navel gazing”, but I’m a “navel gazing” kind of girl. ;) Introspective, and definitely an indoor cat.

I’ve been a fan of journaling since my early teens, turning to the practice of putting my thoughts on the page long before I started writing fiction. I don’t do it every day, unless I’m trying to work through a particular issue or problem. Then journaling becomes a form of self-therapy for me. Lately, I’ve been struggling a great deal with blocked creativity (writing in fits and starts, not writing at all, characters not talking, etc), so I’ve decided to work through “The Artist’s Way”, a book by Julia Cameron. The lessons are designed to assist artists of all kinds in initiating or re-establishing relationships with their creativity. She advocates practicing “Morning Pages”, which is 3 free-form pages of writing each morning.

I like to call it Brain Drain. I get all the stuff whirling through my head out onto the page -- anger, frustration, happiness, memories, To Do lists, plot ideas, snatches of dialogue, plans, anything, everything. Cameron contends this process dissolves blocks to creativity. I certainly hope so, but just as important is the clearing of my head and the increased sense of focus. Plus, I can look back at it if I need to remember something! Like that list of things I need to get done today.

So, do you practice journaling? If not, how do you clear out the mind clutter?


Coming Soon!

Join us this Friday, January 14, when author Evenlyn Vaughn visits the Playground.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Free Book Friday (New Year Edition)

Wow. I honestly can't believe it's 2011, even though I've had a week to get used to it. Really, what happened to 2010? It was a total blur. My long vacation slipped through my fingers and felt like nothing more than a long weekend. Between getting sick and freak snowstorms, I accomplished nothing of value. Went nowhere, did nothing. And yet here I am, back at work, grumbling because I won't get another day off work until Memorial Day. Although I said 2010 flew by, its really the end of the year, July on, maybe, that does it. January through May creeps painfully by. The weather is bad, nothing is going on. I guess I have no choice but to focus on my diet and my writing. Oh well.

Maybe this year, with my handy dandy new to me Nook, I can get some more reading done. This month's FBF book is sure to ring in the New Year on a sexy note.

A Red Hot New Year - An Erotic Anthology
This New Year's Eve, turn up the "heat" . . .

At the stroke of midnight a new year begins--a time for passionate resolutions and brand-new pleasures; a time to let go of past restraints and embrace new sensual boundaries. Four masterful writers offer a quartet of boldly erotic tales guaranteed to heat up those winter nights.

Anna has always been the good girl, until a mysterious and powerful encounter with a wolf brings out her wild side Now she's unleashing her long-repressed desires on the sexy stranger who comes to her rescue . . . in Cynthia Eden's New Year's Bites.

Seducing her lover at a lavish party seems like the perfect way for Chantal to rekindle their lost passion. But the tables are turned when she finds herself the target of an even more intoxicating man's desire . . . in Diana Mercury's Night Resolutions.

During a weekend getaway at a cozy mountain cabin, two couples decide the long winter nights lend themselves to exciting sensual exploration. But no one expects their red-hot sessions will turn good friends into lovers for life . . . in Virginia Reede's Snow Blind.

Gina is your average female who just happens to become a bit of a . . . dragon when she's turned on Good thing she's found the kind of savagely sexy man who can bring out the beast in her . . . in Denise Rossetti's Coming on Strong.

To enter, comment with the phrase "I can't believe its 2011!"


Thursday, January 06, 2011


Anyone who's been around the Playground for long knows that I'm not much of a cook. It's not that I don't enjoy's more that I don't get the chance to experiment. Because Zilla is home before the rest of us, he cooks every night. The girls and I walk in the door to dinner already made. Until recently, this schedule worked really well for us.

Unfortunately, we're finding that our nightly routine is being preempted more and more often. Cheer practice. Karate lessons. Evenings with grandparents. We've found ourselves eating out quite a bit lately simply because we're all eating at different times.

That's going to change. Not only has this habit become hard on the wallet, but my waistline. It isn't good for any of us, and I miss sitting down as a family to enjoy dinner. So I've come up with a solution. Crock pot cooking. This way we can all eat whenever we need to...and hopefully prevent gobbling a hamburger and fries from the drivethru on the way to wherever we're headed.

The problem? Yeah, did I mention I don't cook very often? I have a few crock pot recipes in my repertoire but not enough to sustain us. The three or four I do have will get old very quickly. So, today I'm going to ask for your help. Do you have any good crock pot recipes? I'd love to hear them! I need all the help I can get.

And as a thank you, I'll give away a copy of my latest release, Caught Off Guard (on shelves right now!), to one lucky poster.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Guest blogger -- Christie Ridgway

New Year…New Beginnings

It’s a toss-up as to which month makes me more optimistic…September or January. There’s that whole new-school-year thing going for September, a feeling I still can’t get away from even though I’m out of school. But I have two kids and my husband is a teacher, so we live life to the rhythms of that world.

However…January! It’s the official beginning. Even if your New Year’s Eve was a dud, the first day of January is the clean slate, the swathe of shining snow, the fresh air that blows away the cobwebs and the last of the dribbled pine needles from your dried-up Christmas tree.

I have energy in January. Plans! A couple of girlfriends and I walk early in the mornings and while we missed a few due to weather and colds over the holidays, we met up enough to renew our weight loss and exercise goals. I’m also excited about getting back to my desk and working on my next project(s). Way too easy to get distracted by cookie-baking or gift-wrapping over the holidays.

The heroine in my most recent book, Then He Kissed Me (it came out yesterday!), is eager to have a new start in the new year too. She owns a limousine service in the Napa Valley wine country, and on New Year’s Eve is contracted to take a couple of clients on a winery crawl…her ex-boyfriend and his new fiancée. Argh! But Stephania (Stevie) certainly can’t let on that she’s affected in any way…the guy did not even dent her heart, she swears, and so will do her duty and then be done with the couple forever!

Except then she learns that she has to play wedding planner for her ex and his princess bride (yes, she’s also a princess) as they’re marrying at her family’s winery. And the wedding party includes the bride’s very, very, very attractive older brother, who isn’t the least bit worried about starting something new—starting something up—with Stevie. Oh, this year looks like it’s going to be as much trouble as the last one…

I hope you’ll put Then He Kissed Me on your 2011 To Read list. It’s the second in my Three Kisses trilogy and I love the dynamic between my tomboy Stevie and sophisticated guy who will steal her heart.

Do you have a new plan for the new year? Share! I’ll send a free book to a lucky commenter!

P.S. If you've ever visited the Writing Playground website, you may be familiar with our Hall of Feet. To rekindle interest in our cute shoe fetish, we've asked our guest bloggers to send in photos of their cute shoes. Here are Christie's! I love the floral design and how they dress up a pair of jeans.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Why I resolve nothing.

I used to do New Year's resolutions every year. I would solemnly swear that *this* time, I'd follow through. And I never did. I'd beat myself up over it, too, feeling a bit like a failure every year.

Eh, who needs it?

This year, I'm not making any. I'm going to Keep Calm and Carry On. Keep up my overarching life goal to be a better wife, mom, friend and human being. I'm going to keep working, keep trying, and keep hoping.

And I'm going to encourage others to do the same.

The New Year holds promise, I know. We like to think the slate can be wiped clean, but it really can't. Trying to make a huge change -- regardless of how good it might be -- seems to undermine the fact that who we were makes us who we are. And while you may not want to be *that* person any more, don't regret that you were. And don't beat yourself up for it either.

The problem with Resolutions is that once I break one, I figure I might as well backslide all the way back to square one. Therefore, I accomplish nothing positive and I get to feel like a failure to boot. Not good. Not good at all.

I like goals, though. Goals in nice, manageable, measurable chunks, that, after a while, add up to something pretty cool. Whether it's a new book, a new look, or a new me.

And I like the connotation of "goals" better than "resolutions" as well. It just seems so much more positive and optimistic.

Do you make resolutions? Are you a goal setter? Are you good at keeping either? Any suggestions to help others keep up their resolutions or reach their goals?


Sunday, January 02, 2011

MOANday: Sam Witwer

Today is MOANday for a different reason than you might think. I’ve painted 3 bedrooms in 2 days, so I’m moaning with every move. I deserve a little reward, don’t you think? So here’s Sam Witwer, one of the stars of the upcoming Being Human, which I’m sure I’ll enjoy until they cancel it, as they seem to do with all the paranormal tv series. ;)




Now I’m off for a massage from the cabana boys…


Coming Soon!

Join us on Wednesday when author Christie Ridgway visits the playground.