Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Time for Vacation...

“Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common-sense.”
~ Helen Rowland

Since it’s winter break, and since hubby and I are both teachers (in the same school, with the same schedule - even better), we are off on a 3-day vacation today. And how’s this for karma: hubby picked the place, a bed & breakfast on a lake in New Hampshire, about a 5-hours’ drive away. I had no input on the decision (this is important)…

So guess where we’re staying? In a town v.v. close to (1) one of my dearest friends from graduate school, who I haven’t seen in about 10 years, and (2) one of my good online writing friends, Marianne. Go figure! I’m hoping to meet up with both of them and really can’t wait.

Looks like I’ll be absent from posting until 2007 (gulp), so here’s a big holiday wish that everyone has a safe and happy New Year’s Eve. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things...

"Love is like playing the piano. First you must learn to play by the rules, then you must forget the rules and play from your heart."

~ Unknown

Top 3 favorite Christmas gifts this year (not including getting to sleep in past 6:30 am or see some relatives I hadn't in a while...):

1. Reuniting with a group of last year's students, who came back to visit at our annual school holiday party. They are an amazing group of girls, strong and smart and mature and insightful. Gives me hope for the future.

2. Some books (of course!) to add to my TBR pile: For One More Day, The Audacity of Hope, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and The Tenth Circle .
(Note: if you enjoy animal stories, check out Unleashed, by Beth Quinn. She's a columnist for our local paper and every so often writes terrific, witty, heartfelt columns about her dogs. This is a collection - bought it for my MIL for Christmas.)

3. Finding out I won an Honorable Mention in the WOW-Women on Writing flash fiction contest I entered last month. Hard to believe someone in the writing world was still working and sending out emails on Dec. 23, but they were!

What about you? Favorite gifts? Tangible or intangible?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Have a wonderful day, whether you are eating or drinking or celebrating or working or writing or dreaming or hoping or praying or parenting or singing or simply being thankful...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about presents
Underneath the Christmas tree
I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true ...
All I want for Christmas
Is you ...
~Mariah Carey

Last day of school for a whole week! Hooray! You know, I think when we were kids we never really understand that huge grin on our teachers’ faces as we raced out the door for winter recess/spring break/summer vacation. Boy, when you grow up you sure do!

I have no writing news to report, no ups or downs, just a plan to do some concentrated writing over break to shape up a couple of manuscripts I hope to send out anew in 2007.

Really, my goal is not to eat every single cookie or plate full of food that is put in front of me this holiday season…and to try and limit the eggnog and the red wine, as well. But it’s everywhere - have you noticed? I walked into my bank the other day to cash a check and they had a whole spread laid out: cookies, chocolates, coffee, cider.

Didn’t I read somewhere that people gain more weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other 6 week period?

Here’s to our writing gaining weight instead: our words getting plump and full, our plots swelling with juiciness, our characters bubbling over with flavor (and how’s that for a metaphor or two to start the weekend?).

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

This and That

"The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfuly wise men who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents."
~O. Henry

Click Here to get this from!
I love the Christmas season; I really do. I think part of it may be because I have a December birthday as well, so it’s a festive season times two for me. Though I’ll admit that growing up, I always felt a little cheated when it came to presents. I mean, my parents were super about making sure my birthday (the 15th) and Christmas were two completely different and separate days of celebration. Still, I always envied the kids who got to have pool parties for their summer birthdays. Plus, they got gifts every 6 months or so. Me? All jammed together within 10 days.

However, the gift thing actually became an interesting barometer for the guys I dated when I got older. Anyone who tried to give me one gift to cover both birthday and Christmas wasn’t going to stick around long. I actually had one guy write “For Birthday/Christmas” on the tag. I mean, come on! Would he have tried to pull the same thing if I’d been born in March?

My future husband, however, knew instinctively that they were to be celebrated as two completely different occasions. I knew there was a reason I married him…

As a gift to myself this December, I picked up “Good Poems for Hard Times” edited by Garrison Keillor. Didn’t even know the book existed, but I was browsing in a local bookstore and stumbled across it. Keillor’s introduction itself is worth the $12 price tag. He talks about how poetry -- really, all writing -- should be accessible to everyone, not a mystery for academics in ivory towers to puzzle over.

And so the choices he’s made to include are varied and wonderful. Here’s one of my favorites:

“After Love” (by Maxine Kumin)

Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.
Spoons of our fingers, lips,
admit their ownership.
The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar
and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.
Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when
the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self
lay lightly down, and slept.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Judging the Golden Heart

"Love is a friendship with erotic moments."
~Antonio Gala

I signed up to be a judge for the RWA Golden Heart contest again this year (it’s the one for unpublished writers), and my 5 partial manuscripts arrived yesterday.

Last year, I was a little disillusioned with the whole process, because of the 5 I read, the one I scored lowest, by far, ended up being a finalist. I still have no idea how that might have happened. Anyway, I thought it would be good of me to participate, so I volunteered for another go-round. This time, I’m reading ms. in the category “Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.” Should be interesting, right?

I’ve just skimmed the opening pages, but it looks as though 3 are pretty mainstream, one is a paranormal (cool, esp. since I never read that genre…good for a change), and one is…ahem…borderline erotica. I question a little what “romantic elements“ actually means, but we'll see...

Anyone else ever judge writing contests? Thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the experience?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Exploring Possibilities

“Every writer has to figure out what works best - and often has to select and discard different tools before they find the one that fits.”
~Nora Roberts

In this month’s Romance Writers Report, a feature interview with Harlequin editor Beverly Sotolov discusses their new line, Harlequin Everlasting Love.

She writes: “The series is open to a wide range of plots and situations; each story requires a significant conflict that creates urgency, excitement, and momentum. Structurally, there are many more options--interesting and nonlinear ways of organizing the story--than the traditional series romance typically allows. The narrative can start at any point, can include diaries or letters, can move freely back and forth in time, etc…”

Seems like an interesting, if challenging, idea. I’ve never targeted a Harlequin line because I don’t think of my novels as category, per se. I’ve picked up a couple in the past and not been totally impressed (sorry). I just think single-titles have more power and complexity; they’re more interesting to read. For me, anyway.

But I might go back and take a look at one of my earlier works and see if it might fit this new Everlasting Love line. Always have to explore the possibilities, right?

6 shopping days 'til Christmas - yikes! Anyone have any cool stocking stuffer ideas?

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Holiday

I have found almost everything ever written about love to be true. Shakespeare said, "Journeys end in lovers meeting." What an extraordinary thought.
~from “The Holiday”

So I saw the movie “The Holiday” over the weekend (dragged my hubby with me because it was my birthday - the fact that he was one of 3 men in the theater didn’t really amuse him).

Very cute movie, not too terribly predictable, and of course since I’m a romance writer I was interested in how they created character and conflict and how believable it all was.

The story, if you haven’t seen the previews, is about two women who switch houses on a home exchange for 2 weeks: one in the English countryside and one in L.A. And of course, both have just broken up with their boyfriends, and both find love (or at least its potential) while they’re away from home. The thing I found hardest to accept was the fact that it all happens in 2 weeks - but of course that’s a nicely built in external conflict, and it’s Hollywood, so…

The best part of the movie, honestly, were the actors: Kate Winslet is matched up with Jack Black (sort of an odd pairing, but it seems to work), and Cameron Diaz is matched up with Jude Law. Now, say what you will about his real-life personal antics, but Jude Law is definitely easy on the eyes. I could look at him for well over 2 hours.

Actually, he has probably one of the more interesting characters to play in the movie. And the way Diaz (and the viewer) discovers the secret he’s hiding works well, I think.

It’s a cute movie, so if you’re looking for something light and entertaining this holiday season, you could definitely do worse.

Friday, December 15, 2006


An archer, half-man and half-horse, symbolizes the ninth sign of the zodiac, Sagittarius. According to astrologers, Sagittarians, born between November 22 and December 21, enjoy versatile physical and intellectual powers. Associated with the element of fire, Sagittarians exhibit a burning enthusiasm that helps them reach their potentials...

I've always thought that was sort of a lot to live up to, but... anyway, yeah. I’m old today. ‘Nuff said.

Got one of those “really nice” rejections yesterday for One Night in Boston, a novel that I had been shopping to agents in the fall. I’ve put it away for the time being, seeing that it must need some work as a bunch of agents requested partials but then went no further.

Anyway, this one was from Michelle Wolfson, not a big name agent, so I wasn’t devastated. She did, however, take the time to make some very personal comments and questions about why the first 3 chapters didn’t hook her. I was grateful…though at the same time, one of her comments left me scratching my head. “Cut all scenes that don’t advance the plot” (then she gave an example). But the example she gave leads directly to the reader’s discovery of a really important characteristic of the heroine - that she can’t have children. So wouldn’t that be considered a scene, or knowledge, that advances the plot? Maybe she meant I should get that information across in another way.

Food for thought, at the very least. And she ended by inviting me to send any other works that I had. We’ll see. I have to figure out where I’m heading with my writing in 2007. Just not today.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Free Stuff

“Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart, or its flame burns low.”
~ by Henry Ward Beecher ~

OK, so check out this Christmas link…it’s adorable (turn the volume on your computer WAYYYYYY up)!

I discovered Vista Print yesterday - quite a handy little site for authors (or anyone) trying to do some self-promotion while keeping one eye on the wallet (which is looking oh so empty these December days). Anyway, they offer free business cards - they print, and you pay the shipping. For 250 cards, it’s not a bad deal. They also have a few other freebies, as well as what looks like some other reasonably priced products and printing options.

Check it out!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The (Wo)Man Behind the Curtain

"And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so? "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't thought of before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

~Dr. Seuss

Watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” last night as I was wrapping gifts. I don’t think it’s possible to get tired of that holiday special. I mean, I’ve watched it about every year since I was a kid, and it still has the power to make me stop what I’m doing and stare at the television screen. And laugh. And sniffle a tear away.

But then the network followed it up with some kind of “how the movie was really made” TV commentary, which I promptly turned off because, really, that’s not where the magic is. I don’t want to know how the drawing went from 2-D, black-and-white to 3-D and animated. I don’t want to see the man behind the curtain. I just want to enjoy.

I guess that where the true talent lies, when it comes to authors as well, huh? The really good ones make us forget we are reading words on a page. They transport us to somewhere else entirely. They make us fall in love with characters and miss them when the story’s done. They rarely remind us of all the sweat that goes into the effort of making that experience so easy for the reader.

Darn it. I knew this stuff wasn’t easy…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

That D*@!^$ Holiday Newsletter

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”
~Charles Schulz

Your Christmas is Most Like: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Each year, you really get into the spirit of Christmas.
Which is much more important to you than nifty presents.


Anyone else do a holiday newsletter? I did one for the first time, last year, when I decided I just didn’t have time to write 50+ cards individually (and I guess for me, being a writer at heart means actually writing a few personal sentences on each card).

I love sending holiday cards, I really do. I think it’s mostly because I have so many friends from my college and graduate school days that live all over the place, and it’s one of the only times I get to say hi and find out what they’re up to.

So anyway, last year I did a newsletter…and got such rave reviews from my husband’s side of the family (pretty much all non-writers) that I thought I’d give it a go again in 2006.

Holiday letters are tricky, though, you know. You want to make them newsy and fun, but while you’re sharing all the high points of your year (because who really wants to hear about that mad dash to the Emergency Room with your nephew back in the summer, or the way the hot water heater burst in the middle of the night after you‘d just returned from the plane ride from hell?), you also want to try for a good dollop of humility.

So after much deliberation, I did decide to share my news about Virtual Tales picking up my novel. I figure most of my family and friends will be happy for me, and if any of them grumble behind my back that it's just shameless self-promotion, then too bad!

We’ll see. The newsletter is done, but the picture that’s supposed to go along with it, well…is still waiting to be picked up at Walmart. Hubby has 4 choices and then they MUST be printed and sent out by Friday. That’s my goal, anyway.

Well, maybe by Saturday. Friday’s my birthday, after all, and a girl’s gotta do a little celebrating, right?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Oh, the Holidays...

“People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you'll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.”
~ Erma Bombeck

Had a lovely time over the weekend celebrating an early Christmas with my side of the family…although we drove into snow and suffered through 20-degree days the whole time we were there. Brrrrrr!!

I liked the post on yesterday’s Romancing the Blog, especially since today I looked at the things looming on my To Do list for the next two weeks and wonder writing is supposed to fit into it all!

Well, I have determined that I will attempt to do small tasks: finish up a book review I’m submitting to a writing ezine, draft one (very rough) chapter of my latest WIP, plan my writing goals for 2007 (nope, haven’t done that yet).

Some coffee to start off my Monday morning, and we’ll go from there…

Friday, December 08, 2006

Celebrating Early

“There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.”
~Bill McKibben

Well, hubby and I are off this weekend to an early Christmas getaway with my parents and sister/brother-in-law. We pick a B&B each year and do the holiday there a couple of weeks before the crush of the 24th and 25th. Then my parents trot off to Florida to do the snowbird thing for the next 5 months.

All I can say is…fireplace and whirlpool tub in the room we got this year. Yummy! And maybe when we return, I’ll be newly inspired to finesse that love scene I’ve been struggling to write this week (it shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Running Late

"Dancing is just a conversation between two people. Talk to me."
~from "Hope Floats"

Uh, oh...woke up late today, so no time for a regular blog this morning.

In the meantime, though, check out the Women-on-Writing ezine. Lots of helpful articles!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

First Impressions

"Truth is, I gave my heart away along time ago, my whole heart, and I never really got it back."
~from the movie, "Sweet Home Alabama"

Gosh, I like this movie a lot too. Who isn’t completely charmed by Reese Witherspoon, anyway? (Oh…maybe Ryan Philippe…but that’s his loss)

Found an interesting writing exercise as I was blog-hopping yesterday: Julie Cohen’s first-page challenge. Try it and see how well your opening paragraphs hold up…

It was a good kick in the butt for me to look back through some of my own. I despise writing opening scenes anyway, find them incredibly difficult but of course they’re OH SO IMPORTANT in hooking the reader (who just might be your *fingers-crossed* editor or agent someday).

Yeah, I know. First impressions are everything, so no matter how challenging, we writers have to figure out how to create good ones.

But I also realized from doing this exercise that it’s really hard to write an opening scene well unless you know how your story’s going to end: how the characters all change and what is essential to reveal at the start (and what is best kept hidden).

Try it!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Drop in the Bucket

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
~from "Shaw Shank Redemption"

Fantastic movie, by the way. I watched it again a few months ago and was blown away by how much I speaks about the human condition and the power of belief.

Here’s something I noticed the other day, as I was skipping about the Internet: there are an awful lot of published romance writers out there. Really. If you Google “romance authors” you get umpteen sites and umpteen authors listed on those sites.

One time, at a conference, I listened to a speaker talk about how rare it was for aspiring writers to actually finish and submit a complete manuscript, so those of us who have should feel good about it. OK, maybe it’s somewhat uncommon. But rare? Not according to the stats out there.

I suppose it’s good that, right now, the market supports all those authors, but you gotta wonder: is there a point where it will become saturated? And do those of you who write (and if you're really lucky, publish) ever feel like a teeny tiny drop in the big ol' bucket of talent?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Writing the Awkward Stuff

“Ninety percent of true love is acute, ear-burning embarrassment.”
~ Terry Pratchett

My writing friend Marianne has her short story, "Now That We’ve Found You," up at the Wild Rose Press. Go check it out!

So…um…(clears throat here) yesterday I…(feels herself blushing) wrote the first sex scene for my hero and heroine in Paradise, USA.

Actually, it was the first sex scene I’ve ever written.

See, I usually focus more on the emotional relationships in my novels. I like the hesitance of first touches and the fire of first kisses. But when I submitted this novel, for the heck of it, I thought I’d conform to what people seem to like most about reading romance.

And that’s the sex, right? Well, and the falling-in-love part too, I suppose. But I know readers love the sex. Look how popular erotica is, right?

Anyway, this scene was a lot harder to write than I thought it would be. Part of me kept thinking, Oh God, my family and my friends are probably going to read this at some point and WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF ME???

Does anyone else ever worry about that?

I mean sure, I think the scene was needed, and after it’s been tweaked about a hundred times, it might actually come across as believable and crucial to advancing the plot. But in the meantime, I feel like I’m going to be hemming and hawing around the keyboard the next few days, trying to get the words right and trying to banish the inner editor who, strangely enough, sounds a lot like my mother and one of my aunts.

Hmm. Anyone else have difficulty - or advice - when it comes to writing explicit love scenes? And how explicit do you get, anyway?

Friday, December 01, 2006

December and It Feels Like Spring Outside!!

"The dedicated life is the life worth living.You must give with your whole heart"
~Anne Dillard

Not much on the writing front to report, because I haven't done any writing this week. Busy week at work, and busy afternoons and evenings at home, trying to get ready for the crazy December rush of holiday shopping and parties and sending out cards and...

But this weekend I have to get myself back on track. I have to! Which means working on the second half of Paradise USA so it can be sent to my editor, and also setting some 2007 goals for myself. Not sure what I'm planning on tackling in the New Year, writing-wise. I have a novel that needs revising and sending out (it went out once before and made it to a final read-through at New American Library before being rejected). And I also have a couple of new ideas simmering that need development, so I'm excited about those as well.

Mostly, I'm glad to still be excited about writing, esp. since I went through a low period a few months back. I suppose having a story accepted at Virtual Tales has made a big difference, with the idea that someone else values my work and thinks it has merit, though I hate being weak enough to admit that I need external praise.

Anyway, it's 60 degrees outside this morning, on this first day of December, which sort of makes it difficult to think about carols and Christmas lights, but I'll try! Have a great weekend~

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Moment at Work

“I want to tell you with my last breath that I have always loved you.”
~from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

One of the nicest things happened to me yesterday, which has nothing much to do with writing…except it sort of does, in a really round-about way…

One class of my high school students discovered the library I keep in the corner of my classroom. (We’ll ignore the fact that they’ve been sitting in this classroom for 12 weeks now. They don’t ever notice something until they’re ready to.) Anyway, I have a crazy collection of books, mostly used PB but a few hardcover, that range from my own leftover college texts to classics to YA to best-sellers and really, anything I pick up at a library book sale or a used book store or the occasional splurge at Border’s.

Yesterday they had a few extra minutes at the end of class, and when one of them asked if they were “allowed to” borrow the books, and I said yes, half of them headed straight for the corner. Let me tell you, there are very few things more heart-warming to see than a group of teenagers huddled around a bookshelf talking about which ones they’ve read and which ones they want to.

At the end of class, about 10 books traveled out the door. Part of me doesn’t even care if I ever see them again.

Hooray! The love of reading and of appreciating good writing may not be entirely dead!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Holiday Recommendations

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same.”
~Flavia Weedn

OK, who has movie or book recommendations for me? I’m looking forward to “The Holiday,” a cute-looking romance with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Jude Law (yummy…) coming out soon. Also “Charlotte’s Web,” though even the previews are making me teary just because although it’s a terrific story, the ending, well, you know…

I put on my Christmas list For One More Day (Mitch Albom), The Tenth Circle (Jodi Picoult), Lisey’s Story (Stephen King) and The Audacity of Hope (Barack Obama). Hmm, can you say an eclectic collection? Actually, I really don’t have a favorite genre when it comes to my taste in books.

Anyone else have anything they’re really looking forward to seeing or reading?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Prison Break

When you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out.
~Elizabeth Bowen

Let me count how many ways I love this show.

I love the characters: complex, well-developed, mysterious, compelling.

I love the premise: bad boys break each other out of jail and make you cheer for them even though they’re felons.

I love the writing: clever and just twisted enough to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire 60 minutes.

I loved last night’s finale. What a shocker! The only bummer is that now I have to wait until January 22 for it to start up again…

I found an interesting article yesterday as I was browsing info about characterization. Now, I do agree with what the speaker said here about making male characters “real” enough, and I thought she had some great points about the ways in which men and women differ that ought to be clear in novels.

But here’s a question: do we need to read romance to remind ourselves that men "use less words” or that "men's humor tends to be cruder than women's"? Or do the vast majority of romance readers pick up a novel to fall in love with a hero who is different than Mr. Everyday? Isn’t part of writing romance to create a character who is both ruggedly masculine and in touch with his inner softie, one who can be authoritative and develop a thought that is outside the realm of SPORTS-SEX-WORK?

Do we write what we know, or what we dream of? Do we read to agree, or to escape? Or a little bit of both?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Monday

“I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all. No…not the artful postures of love, not playful and poetical games of love for the amusement of an evening, but love…that overthrows life. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture.”
~from ”Shakespeare in Love”

Just a quick note for this sleepy, hard-to-get-going, after-holiday Monday morning:

My bio and “Coming Soon” banner are up at Virtual Tales. Exciting!

Have a great day~

Friday, November 24, 2006

So Here's The Problem...

"When they asked me what I liked best, I'll say it was you."
~from "City of Angels"

I realized yesterday, as I was helping my sister prepare the big meal, what my one work, One Night in Boston, is missing (doesnt' inspiration strike at the oddest times?) It's the fact that my hero and heroine don't officially meet until almost half-way through the story. I gave them both a lot of conflict up to that point, as well as some flashbacks to remind them about each other...but they don't see each other face to face until chapter 10 of 24.

Hmm...that may be a problem.

I mean, I know there are other romances where the H/H don't meet right away, but then how much *real* romanctic tension is driving the story forward? I know my story doesn't have to be totally formulaic, esp. if I want to write mainstream rather than for a Harlequin category or something, but still. When I compared it to the other work I'm actively preparing for publication, the latter one is filled with sexual tension almost without my trying, because on every damn page the H/H are running into each other, from chapter 1.

So while the realization depressed me a little, because I like ONIB and think it has a decent storyline, I think at least if I go back and tackle another revision, I might have a good idea of what needs to be fixed.

Sigh. Oh, well. Live--and write--and learn.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.”
-- Alice Walker

I have decided that if I ever write an article about character development, it will focus on using animals to develop character traits and storylines. My writing friend Marianne does it all the time. And when I needed an extra chapter in Paradise, USA, showing the developing friendship and attraction between my hero and heroine, I tossed in (well, not literally, of course. That would bring PETA running) a kitten. A very small, very pathetic kitten caught in a downpour. And guess what happened? It turned my hero into a mush--which my heroine liked--and it turned my heroine into an assistant in the rescue--which my hero liked.

And I mean, when you think about it, you can tell a lot about someone from how they treat animals. Right?

I’ll be away for Thanksgiving but back on Friday. Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful holiday to spend with family and friends--don’t forget to tell them how much they mean to you!

I am thankful, of course, for every single person who has supported me on my writing journey. That’s all of you out there!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Making Progress

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

I love Rilke’s poetry, by the way. If you’ve never read any of it, you should.

Yesterday I got a response from another e-publisher who is interested in One Night in Boston. The editor of Samhain Publishing wrote, “I read your manuscript with great interest. You have an engaging voice and a knack for writing interesting characters. I was immediately curious about the story and look forward to reading more. If the complete manuscript is still available, I am interested in reading it. Though I am enthusiastic about the project, I am certain that you understand that this request does not guarantee that I will offer you a contract…”

Well, yeah. I’ve certainly been through that whole full-manuscript-request before, so…

Still, it's nice to get a full-ms. request. Samhain does seem to be one of the more reputable e-publishers, with quite a list of authors and genres; they also publish in print, though I’m not sure how they decide which ones they’ll do. Anyway, it’s a nice compliment and always good to explore options, so I’ll send that off later today.

Happy writing!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thinking in Pictures

“The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.” ~ Jacques Benigne Bossuel

Yesterday I put together my suggestions for my cover for Paradise, USA and sent them to my editor at Virtual Tales. And I have to admit, it took longer than I thought it would. It was actually a challenge, because of course we writers have these ideas in our heads of what the setting of our stories look like, and we do our best to bring them to life over the course of a story.

But think about trying to convey the world and the mood and the key elements and the most important scene of a full-length novel in a couple of paragraphs. Tough!

My writing friend, Marianne, makes collages of her works, which I’m beginning to think is a really good idea, because then you have in front of you the physical makeup of your characters and your setting. Hmm. Maybe I’ll give that a try next time around.

In the meantime, I’ll confess that I really can’t wait to see what the artist comes up with for my cover. I’ll share it with you as soon as I see it!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Happy Friday

“It seems right now that all I‘ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.”
~ from The Bridges of Madison County

Did anyone else enjoy this book (or the movie version, with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep)?

I’m going to break with what I think is majority opinion and confess that it didn’t really do anything for me. I mean, okay, I did appreciate the romance, because I’m a sucker for a love story, especially one that lasts a lifetime, but I don’t remember swooning over it the way some of my friends did.

Maybe it’s because I read it when I was in my early 20s and couldn’t really identify with a middle-aged hero and heroine. I also think something in the idea of a woman cheating on her husband, for some guy who just showed up on her doorstep one dusty afternoon, left me cold too.

Actually, now that I think about it, there was really little fallout about the fact that the story is centered on an extra-marital affair. Wonder what that says about readers’ concepts of love/romance/commitment…Hmm…

Anyway, I’m spending this weekend working on a final (hopefully, but who knows what that word really means, in the world of writing) revision of the first 15 chapters of Paradise, USA, which I’m going to have to send off to Virtual Tales soon. I’m also supposed to be thinking of ideas for my cover, which is exciting but a little unnerving too.

I suppose I should fit some time in to visit the grocery store as well, before everything that might appear on a Thanksgiving table is completely sold out.

See you Monday!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


"Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."
~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

As soon as I found this quote, I knew it was a no-brainer for today's blog. I started playing the piano when I was eight years old, and my greatest idol in the world of classical music has always been Mozart. His music is spell-binding, brilliant in its construction and purely pleasant to listen to…even more so when you discover that he wrote so much of it before the age of 25. Pure genius.

Well, as any published or aspiring author knows, promotion is the key to success. A few years ago, a writing friend of mine told me to start “getting my name out there.” I sort of said yes, yes, and then returned to my writing without worrying too much about it.

But here’s the thing I realized after awhile: really, it doesn’t matter how good a writer you are. Even if you manage to get yourself published, there are a thousand other writers out there who have also managed to get themselves published…and you’re all competing for readers and name recognition.

So how do you get it?

What do you think is the best way for an author to get his or her name in the public eye? What’s caught your attention, in the past? Reviews? TV spots? Oprah’s recommendation? A friend’s recommendation? Have you ever discovered a new author by browsing in the bookstore or the library or even online?

I know there are a few of you out there visiting for a quick read. Drop me a post and share your thoughts on this one!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Working Hard

“If I may so express it, I was steeped in Dora. I was not merely over head and ears in love with her, but I was saturated through and through. Enough love might have been wrung out of me, metaphorically speaking, to drown anybody in; and yet there would have remained enough within me, and all over me, to pervade my entire existence.”
(from David Copperfield)

‘Tis the holiday season (how many shopping days left?!), and Virtual Tales is offering a promotion for anyone who buys one of their gift certificates: a free serial copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (check out the link on the right). What a great timeless holiday story, right?

So I’m working hard on finishing up one WIP that was recently requested for full ms. review by Red Lily Press, an e-publisher that is opening up as of December. Since I didn’t have a lot of luck with agents (I have a few partials out for review but it’s been a while), I’ve decided to explore the world of e-publishing a little more closely. While I still admit to having this feeling that e-pubbing is not “real” publishing, I suppose if I want to see my work in print I should set aside my pride a little. I also like to think that building my writing resume is a good thing, and that can include some online credits, as long as I’m careful which avenues I look into. Just from the searching I’ve done so far, it looks as though there are many, many e-pubbing sites, some obviously more professional-looking than others.

So we’ll see. Meanwhile, check out that Dickens promotion! And hey, if you put a Virtual Tales gift certificate on your holiday list, it will come in handy when my novel Paradise, USA comes out sometime next year!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Do?

“You told me it was a matter of life and death.”
“A woman always is.”
(“Ever After”)

Did you know that a man’s life expectancy actually goes up after he gets married…while a woman’s goes down? Makes you wonder what, exactly, each gives to and gets from the relationship, hmm?

I was in the store yesterday and heard the woman beside me talking about her husband who had just passed away. They’d been married 57 years. Wow! Some people, of course, see marriage to one person as a primary goal in life--not only a goal, but an achievement of tall order, considering the instant gratification and throw-away society in which we live. Others see it as an institution in which to raise a family. Still others see it as a trap, a mistake, a commitment that takes more than it gives, in the end.

How many people today do you think like to see a romance novel that ends with a marriage, or at least the promise of a marriage? How many just want to see the hero and heroine together at the end? Has marriage, as a convention, become passé in the genre? Is it the author’s job to sell a happy marriage, and all its benefits, to her reader? Or is a commitment in the here-and-now enough to satisfy most readers?

Well, in other news…I signed and mailed my contract with Virtual Tales today. Exciting! Now it’s back to one final read-through of the first 15 chapters before I start working with my editor. Looking forward to each new step…

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Good Friends and Loving Faces

"And yet, all the same--life and human nature being what they are--with a new generation always coming up, the most satisfying thing of all really is to reach the end of the race with the same companions who were with you at the starting post." (Cicero)

Went back to my hometown and visited my oldest and dearest friend from grade school this weekend (she's on the right)...

Also spent some time working with the local animal rescue people, who have been trying to save 250 cats that were rescued from abhorrent living conditions back on Labor Day. The cats are now (finally, after a lawsuit in which the woman who had hoarded the cats was told that no, she did not have the right to get them all back) looking for good if you know (or if you are) anyone who lives anywhere close to central NY, consider finding a home for one of these cherubs. How can you resist this face? Check out their site if you're interested...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Happy Veterans' Day, and Happy Weekend

"Without affection and kindly feeling life can hold no joys."

It's true.

I'm going out of town for the weekend to visit family and a dear friend from grade school that I haven't seen in a couple of years. Should be nice.

Then it's back to the computer, back to the thrilling and overwhelming experience of editing my newly accepted story and starting to work on marketing too.


Have a good one - and make sure to thank a veteran today. So much sacrifice over the years, and many times we forget how much we benefit from it...

Thursday, November 09, 2006


"Swoon. I'll catch you."
(from The English Patient)

Ah...I loved this movie, too, even though Ralph Fiennes does spend the majority of it wrapped up in bandages. Who wouldn't want to hear those words? Who wouldn't want to know that someone is standing right beside you, right behind you, with arms outstretched? I'll say it again: ah...

OK, having celebrated for 24 hours or so, after hearing that my story Paradise, USA, was accepted for online publication at Virtual Tales, I have officially moved into the overwhelmed stage.

Maybe this is due to the 5 emails I received today from the people at VT, diving right into the gritty details of contracts and editors and cover art and marketing and...

What's the famous saying? Be careful what you wish for? Because if publication is the goal, it really and truly does leave you less time for the actual writing part. Hmm...

Not that I'm complaining, but it's just interesting to see how much of a business it really is.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good News

  • "I love that you get cold when it's seventy degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get that little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend a day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes, and I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night...I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
    (from "When Harry Met Sally")

    Ah...who doesn't swoon over the moment when Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan finally figure out they are meant to be together?? This remains one of my favorite movies; I'm not sure why. I know some of the lines are funny enough to make me laugh out loud, and I know I love the actors and actresses who star in it. Maybe it's just that it's so real. The characters don't fall in love at first sight. They even date (and marry) other people. But they finally discover that there is someone out there you are meant to be with, someone who is your friend and your lover and the perfect match for you despite all your flaws and despite all his. I love it.

    In other news, I got word today from Virtual Tales that they are going to publish my short novel, Paradise USA (it's been through 2 or 3 other titles), in serial format.


    So it's not print. And it's not exactly full-length ebook either. But hey, it's publication nonetheless, and at least a first step to getting my name out there.

    So I guess I have some work to do...starting with that 8 page contract I now have to read!
  • Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Quotable Quotes

    "I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary."
    From "Variation on the Word Sleep" by Margaret Atwood

    I love quotes. I really do. I love when an author just knocks me over with a combination of words that takes my breath away. So in honor of all the terrific quotes out there, especially the ones from romantic books and movies that make us as readers or viewers want to swoon, I'm going to feature some of my favorites over the next few days. Feel free to jump in, of course, and share some of yours.

    Today's is one I first discovered when I was in college, and for a long time I thought it was the epitome of what I wanted love to be: silent and yet all-powerful and all-consuming. Breath-taking (maybe even literally) without saying a word. When I look at this quote today, though, I tend to see the one-sidedness of it. Like, why does the speaker need to be unnoticed? Isn't the best kind of love worthy and recognized in both partners?


    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Cheers to the First-time Sellers

    It's that time agian, when Romance Writers Report comes out and I check to see who's made a first-time sale and how long it took them...

    Oh goody, we have some real people this month!

    Only one claims she's been "seriously pursuing publication" for 18 months, which is a blink in the book world. I mean, it takes that long for some people to query an agent, get a request for a partial, get a request for a full, and sign a contract. And she sold her first book in that same amount of time?

    Only one who sold her first manuscript (Really? The very first one you ever wrote? Come on...that first one is usually written just so it can be buried in the bottom drawer or perhaps hold open a door at some point).

    We have one who's been writing for 2 years, one for 5 years, and one for 7 years. OK, I'll give the latter two some props for perseverance.

    Ah! My favorite of the bunch: a women who's been writing for 10 years and reports that her first sale "was one of 15 full-length manuscripts she completed before selling."

    15?! Wow. Just imagine how much you could learn from creating that many plotlines, that many characters, that many love scenes, and that many black moments. Makes my 4 seem almost paltry.

    Cheers to the first-time sellers!

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    How Old Are You, Really?

    I read an interesting column the other day (of course now, I can't remember where) about the age of romance novel heroines. Most seem to be floating somewhere in the 26-34 age range. Years ago, I entered a contest and had a judge tell me my 22-yer old heroine was too young. Hmm. I've always kept that in the back of my mind, as if the general romance readership isn't really interested in a heroine that couldn't possibly have any baggage at the tender age of 22.

    But this column talked about the other end of the spectrum - the 40+ romance novel heroine. We know they're out there, of course. But how popular are they, and will they become a bigger trend? What about 50+ heroines? I mean, OK, I'm still in my early 30's, but I'd like to think that romance, that the need for love and affection and good old-fashioned sex, continues well past middle age. Here's the thing: will readers identify with a heroine who's at that age and stage in her life? Or, as this columnist suggested, do most women readers identify with a younger heroine because that's the age they still think of themselves? Are we all, somehow, and somewhere deep inside, hovering around 16 or 25 or whenever it is that we remember really and truly falling in love for the first time?

    In many ways, I still feel 24 (I have always looked back at that age as the moment when everything in my life was most perfect and unencumbered). So when I'm 50, will I still feel half my age? Maybe not physically, but emotionally and psychologically?

    More important, will I want to read about heroines who are my own age? Or will I prefer to identify with a twenty-something heroine because she reminds me of who I once was, and who I sometimes still think I am, inside?

    What do you think?

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Joke for the Day

    What do you call someone who can't stop buying romance novels?

    A heroine addict!

    (Cute, right?)

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    I Hate Electronic Submissions

    This is not entirely true. Normally, I like them. I prefer them. They're much more convenient, and usually elicit a faster response, than queries sent by snail mail.

    But today I had one bite me in the...well, you know where.

    About 5 weeks ago, I submitted a query and partial to Virtual Tales. They were interested. So I followed up and sent the first 1/3 of my ms. (they consider works-in-progress).

    Today I got an email from the editor with the subject line "Problem With Your Manuscript." Not a good sign.

    Basically, when I attached and sent my ms., I somehow attached the wrong file, the file that includes the rough ending of the story and not the polished first 1/3. Terrific.

    The only redeeming thing is that they asked me to send a "fixed" version, giving me a second chance. That's awfully nice of them. Because I feel like a complete numbskull who doesn't really deserve one.

    Oh! It is so easy to slip up when you point and click and hit a button or two. Yikes...

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006


    I attended a conference at a local college recently, and one of the speakers addressed Educational Technology. He referred to everyone over 20 as "technology immigrants" and everyone under 20 as "technology natives." His point was that today's kids grow up so immersed in the world of all things electronic, that compared to them, we adults are dinosaurs, doing the best we can just to keep up. Or not.

    I consider myself somewhat technologically literate, but when it comes to HTML, I'm really limited. Creating a webpage was a big deal for me, and I relied on a template anyway, so I didn't have to do too much. But I really love when people's blogs have links, so this is my first time trying to figure out how to insert them.

    My writing friend, Marianne, for example, is a whiz at HTML. She makes it look easy.

    Me, I'm just going to start with the small stuff. Like a link to my two favorite shows on TV these days, Prison Break and The Nine.

    And maybe a link to another great blog, by agent Kristin Nelson.

    Anyone in the romance-writing field should definitely know about The Passionate Pen, too. Terrific, up-to-date info on agents and publishers.

    Whew! I'm worn out now. Did it work? I'll have to check and see. Maybe I'll try some more linking tomorrow...

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Prison Break

    So you know I love this show, right? I mean, when you are actually made to cheer for the bad guys, you know someone has done a fantastic job creating those characters. How is it possible that I actually feel sorry for T-Bag, the evilest of them all, who's killed and wounded countless other people on his break from jail? How is it that he still manages to show a human side of himself that aches for companionship and love?

    Good stuff, I'm telling you.

    In other news, here's another cheer out to agent Pam Hopkins, who writes some of the nicer rejection letters. Though she turned down my latest project, she wrote, "I regret having to tell you that I've decided to pass on this. However, please keep in mind that there is a great deal of merit in your work, and part of my decision was based on my client list being so full at this time."

    Everyone knows that a no is still a no, but I've certainly received less kind words from far more agents. And last time she turned me down, she wrote, "While I liked many elements of this project, ultimately I was just not as enthusiastic about this story as I would need to be to pursue taking it on for representation."

    So she doesn't have one single form letter for all her rejections, apparently. All things considered, this is one tactful, kind agent who's worth querying.

    Saturday, October 28, 2006

    The Nine

    So is anyone else watching this new TV show?

    The Nine

    I've really become addicted - great characters, great suspense, and, usually, good writing. But this past week's episode got me thinking.

    One character, Egan Foote (great name, right?), has decided to leave his wife, since he's going through this whole mid-life awakening and is dissatisfied with his middle-of-the-road existence. He says to his wife, "When was the last time you were happy? Really, truly happy with your life?"

    And she can't answer him.

    I had 3 thoughts at that moment. The first was, wow, how sad. The second was, wow, I'm really lucky that I don't feel that way. I'm pretty much happy all the time. And the third was this sort of realization about why a lot of people read romance.

    Is it because they're not happy with their own lives? Is it because they want to escape to a place where everyone does in fact live happily ever after? Is it because while they're reading they can forget about their own dissatisfaction?

    Maybe not everyone feels that way. But I'm feeling like a lot of people do pick up a romance for those reasons. To remember the rush of falling in love. To know that somewhere, even in a fantasy world, problems can be solved and obstacles can be overcome.

    I watched the movie "The Break-up" with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston last weekend. Anyone seen it? Well, I won't give away the ending, but let's just say that though it is billed as a romantic comedy, the ending let me down.

    I think, for me, keeping in mind that there are heavy hearts out there is a good reminder of how to shape a romance. Sure, we have to give our characters conflict and baggage. But at the end of it all, we also have to show the redeeming power of love. Right?

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006


    So much depends upon it in the publishing world, I think. Right place, right time, right genre, right look, right name.

    I was looking over the finalists for Romantic Times' American Title contest; voting on first lines is going on now. I checked out the finalists' websites and was really interested to see the variety of experence the top 10 have. Some have won multiple awards. For others, this is their first. A couple featured excerpts that, when I read, made me wonder why they weren't already published. Then I pick up a new release in the bookstore and flip through and can't get past the writing on the first page.

    So much talent out there, and only a fraction of it gets the recognition it probably deserves. I guess that's true with anything, though: movies, TV shows, musicians...sometimes you look at the ones who have made it to the limelight and wonder who else is in the shadows that we never hear about.

    That's not to say that some authors aren't totally deserving of being best-sellers. But gotta wonder.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    More from The Essential 55

    OK, this post really isn't about writing, but I finished Ron Clark's book on teaching (and life) yesterday and promised I'd share some other favorite rules.

    Number 26: Do not save seats in the lunchroom. If someone wants to sit down, let him or her. Do not try to exclude anyone. We are a family, and we must treat each other with respect and kindness.

    How great is that? I think probably every one of us, at some point, saved a seat for someone else or had a seat saved for us. Not always terrible, if we're talking getting a good view at the movies. But at school? In the lunchroom? I like his logic.

    Kids are cruel to each other, in case you haven't noticed or conveniently forgot since you were in 5th grade. But bullying, including telling others they can't be part of your group, continues to be a huge problem. My students, 16 and 17 years old, tell me there's nothing schools or teachers or parents can do about it. I tell them they're wrong.

    It's hard to "do something," though. It's hard to get actively involved, to tell your child he or she muct include everyone, to teach others to stand up for the right thing even when the right thing isn't the popular thing.

    I like this rule because not only does it discourage kids from being exclusive to other kids, it reminds us that even one person can make a difference. If Ron Clark can make a seating chart for his 5th graders in the cafeteria, then the rest of us can do something equally small and meaningful, at some point.

    In other news, I got this fantastic idea for a new novel yesterday while I was in the shower (all my good ones usually come then or when I'm running). These characters, and this setting, just popped into my head and refused to leave until I sat down and got something down on paper. So another storyline to file away for next year's projects.

    All creativity is not lost!

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    How Much is too Much?

    Baggage, that is. A few months ago, when I was looking at my latest WIP and trying to figure out how to make my characters, and their conflict, more compelling, I wanted to give them more internal reasons to stay apart. Specifically, I needed a very concrete, believable reason why two people who loved each other would have broken up. My heroine was the one who did the breaking up, and I decided to give her the unfortunate - but realistic, I thought - quality of being unable to have children. Her decision to break up with the hero was based on the fact that she had never told him, and he was from one of the most important, influential families in a major city. She couldn't give him an heir, but rather than tell him, she left him. Then, years later, they meet up, older and wiser, and one of the things they have to deal with is the truth about why she left, and what their future holds.

    Originally, I liked it. I thought examining how two people interact in the face of something this big would provide me with a lot of conflict and emotion. Now, I'm beginning to wonder whether I went too far. Because here's the thing: people who read romance want the Happy Ending. I know that. And my hero and heroine get the happy ending - they choose to be together, anyway, and to deal with whatever life has in store for them, children or not. But I wonder if the idea of two people falling in love and deciding to marry WITHOUT the possibility of biological children is too depressing, for the sake of a better word. I wonder if romance readers want something lighter to deal with, conflict that isn't so heavy, conflict that can be wrapped up so everything the future holds is shiny and bright.

    Part of this comes from the fact that Kristin Nelson, who had been reading my partial, sent me the polite but firm "No" yesterday afternoon. Now, I know from reading her blog that she likes quirky chick lit, for the most part. And that's not what I write. Should I have sent her a query? Maybe, maybe not. She requested the partial, anyway.

    I also, in reading over this WIP for a third revision, wonder myself if sometimes the issues are too heavy, esp. for the romance genre. Let's face it: a lot of things in life are depressing. We read to escape that, right? So maybe most readers won't want to read about a woman who lost the ability to have children when she was 19. That's not exactly a happy thought.

    So I am putting this novel away for a little while and moving on to something a little lighter. We'll see. I do have a lot of ideas jumbling around in my brain, so perhaps I'll take some time to see who'll win out.

    Any thoughts? Are there variations in happy endings? And how much do you want to wade through on your way there?

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    E-Publishing vs. Traditional Print

    Anyone have an opinion on this? All of a sudden, Triskelion has popped up all over the first-timers' sale page of RWR. I didn't realize it was primarily an e-book publisher 'til I checked it out today. I know there are more and more of these e-pub sites showing up, that let the consumer download a story rather than buy it in the store or borrow it from the library.

    I recently took a tour of a private school which is planning a huge renovation of its library into a wireless, distance-learning site. The Dean giving the tour admitted that they have no plans to continue expanding their current library/book collection, and most future money will go into maintenance and constant updating of the technology on campus instead.

    I found that rather sad. I mean, as a life-long reader, and lover of literature, I think there is something special about curling up in a chair with a book in your hands. But our society today is so computer and Internet-tied, it seems, that the publishing and reading and buying of books strictly online will become common practice in the next few decades.

    Will traditional print lose out altogether? And is that a bad thing?

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    The Essential 55

    Has anyone picked up this book? It's a quick read, a best-seller written by award-winning NYC teacher Ron Clark, about the 55 rules he uses in his 5th grade classroom (or used to, anyway. Now he's such a bigshot that he's actually opening his own school in Atlanta). TNT also did an original movie back in August, based on his experiences in Harlem, starring Matthew Perry. Not bad.

    Anyway, I was browsing in Borders over the weekend, and they had their fantastic 25% off for Educators sale (which, by the way, applies to just about anyone who works in any kind of education setting - including homeschoolers). So I picked up a few books, including this one.

    I started it last night. I thought it would be a list of his rules, which it is, at first. But it's more than a list of classroom rules. It's also a list of life rules - which Clark states outright in his introduction. He's a southern boy, so he was raised in the "Yes, ma'am," "No, sir" way of life, and his rules are pretty much about common courtesy. But as you read, it's amazing how many of them, if we followed them on a regular basis, would make our communities happier places.

    The funniest one of the 11 I've read so far:

    "If someone in the class wins a game or does something well, we will congratulate that person. Claps should be of at least three seconds in length with the full part of both hands meeting in a manner that will give the appropriate clap volume."

    He goes on to say he knows how silly this rule sounds outright, but you have to admit, the intention behind it is pretty solid. How often do we really congratulate someone wholeheartedly? How many times do we keep our congratulations to a minimal mumble? How many times are they cloaked in another emotion, like jealousy? Clark also says that if a few students in the class begin to clap, then everyone must join in - because what's worse than a few half-hearted claps? And who's to say what accomplishment is too small to be recognized?

    It's a pretty inspirational book, and it's easy to see even from the start why this guy has won several teaching awards.

    I'll post some other of my favorites as I work my way through-

    Saturday, October 14, 2006


    Just a quick note from upstate New York, where I am visiting family and loving the fact that fall turns the landscape this amazing array of colors. It's been a good one for color, this fall, though it seemed as though I woke up one morning and suddenly everything had changed from luscious green to orange and red in a single day. Brr! The wind set in today too, reminding me that any hope for Indian summer is probably long gone. Ah, well. I can sit inside under my toasty blanket and admire the colors from afar.

    Do you have a favorite season to write about? Do you tend to set your stories at a particular time of year? Of course we know that weather can be a great external conflict no matter what our story (if you need a little conflict between characters, throw in a storm or two, right?). But do you ever deliberately choose a season for the very reason that it frames your story? Or do you rely on a rather general anytime of year?

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Sort of Like Running

    So I've been feeling sort of sorry for myself lately, frustrated with my attempts to publish which seem to go nowhere while wondering if all the time spent at the keyboard is worth it. I took a week off. I traveled. I watched TV. I visited with some old friends. I went for a run, or two or three.

    And then I realized something.

    It's sort of like running. Writing, that is.

    When I was living in Cleveland during graduate school, in my early 20s, I turned on the TV one Sunday morning to catch the end of a marathon that's run every spring through the streets of downtown Cleveland. They run a 10K, too (that's 6.2 miles). I was fascinated. And so I decided that the following year, I'd run that race too. Something inside me wanted to be the one doing, not the one sitting at home watching.

    You know where this is going, right?

    I hadn't run farther than 2 miles in my life, but I changed. I ran 2. After a couple of months, I ran 3. Then 4 every so often, and eventually I worked my way up to 6. I ran that race, the following year, and though I finished in the middle of the pack, here's the thing: I finished. I did it. I ran through the streets of Cleveland alongside 5000 other runners and thought to myself how I glad I was that I wasn't sitting in my living room that morning.

    Since that first race, I have run countless others. Mostly 5Ks (they're shorter), but a lot of 10Ks too. I even have one half-marathon and one marathon under my belt.

    Why do I run? Well, I'm not particularly fast. I've never actually WON a race of any kind, though I've placed in my age group. I don't even actually enjoy running, when it's too hot or pouring rain or my legs don't want to move. I've taken time off. I've taken years between races.

    But here's the thing: running has definitely become a part of who I am. I know I am stronger, physically and mentally, than I was before I began running. I am in shape. I am healthy. I have the blood pressure and the pulse of someone half my age. And some days, there is nothing better for escape and conquering frustration (or writer's block) than putting on my running shoes and heading out the door.

    So yes, I guess I've figured out in the last week that writing has become sort of like running for me. I've only been writing seriously, on any kind of regular basis, for 5 years. 5 years! And I've finished 4 novels, all of which have made their way to agents' desks. So why should I be down on myself? I'm doing. I'm not sitting in front of the TV wishing. And if I don't ever publish, then it's not the end of the world. I won't ever run a 20-minute 5K either, and I've come to terms with that. I don't think I could go back to life without writing, though.

    That's a good thing to realize.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    First Draft in 30 Days

    This is the title of a book I recently picked up. Sounds interesting, right? And it is...sort of.

    It's also a little intimidating. The author is a woman who's developed this system where you basically write a really detailed outline in 30 days that then allows you to write the novel from it in 2-3 months. Well, I leafed through her book today. She has some good tips, especially about brainstorming, and some helpful worksheets in the back, but wow!

    It's a little too micro-managing even for me, who tends to be sort of over the top when it comes to organization and making lists and timelines and such. Every day is broken down into specific goals, and within those goals are another 3-7 things you're supposed to accomplish. My outlines never get as detailed as she recommends. Maybe they should. But I guess I'm still the kind of writer who sketches things out and then writes through an entire first draft, letting plotlines and characters change and develop as I go.

    What about you? Do you stick to a very strict timeline when you're tackling a piece of writing? How detailed is your outline? And how long, really, does it take you to finish a complete novel, those of you who have? My average seems to be about 9-12 months. This author writes 3 novels a year. Maybe I should follow her system after all.

    What do you think?

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    Going Home

    So I went back to my college alma mater for alumni weekend, the first time since I graduated over ten years ago.

    First, let me just say that I loved college. Every single minute of it. Even the boring classes, with professors who droned on and on. Even staying up all night to finish a paper. Even wading through 6" of snow to get to the dining hall. Even drinking too much really, really bad fraternity party beer and suffering the consequences the morning after. Even having my heart broken by the first boy I ever loved.

    Still, though, I was apprehensive about this weekend. I mean, what's a 30-something grl to do on a college campus?

    Well, people-watch, first of all. I couldn't believe how young all the students looked! And I had to laugh at the parents who were in town as well, posing their children for picture while the poor kids rolled their eyes and tried not to look too embarrassed. I mean, here they are, on the cusp of adulthood, figuring out their own grown-up identities, and Mom and Dad are still buying them t-shirts at the bookstore and making sure they have the right books for class and...

    But the best part of the whole weekend was seeing my old college friends. It's funny how we haven't really kept in touch. Most of my closest friends from those days live scattered across the country. We try and call or email, but you know how that goes. One month turns into six and then a year or two has passsed before you finally catch up again.

    How wonderful, then, to find that underneath it all, beyond the stress and responsibilities of job and family, we are really still the same people we were when we were 18 and trying to negotiate the world. There is something powerful about reuniting with the people who knew you when you were young and skinny and naive and sad and scared and brave and successful and trying to forge your own identity alongside everyone else in that dormitory.

    I always tell my students that they should go away and live on campus when they go to college, because class is just one part of the college experience. And to be honest, I don't even think it's the most important part (sorry, Mom and Dad - I know you paid a lot for my "education"). To learn who you are, in a place that's brand new, surrounded by people of all walks of life, is powerful stuff.

    It was good for me to be reminded of that part of my life, of those people who knew me way back when.

    Think maybe I'll go back next year too.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Do You Ever Think About...

    quitting writing?

    just stopping altogether?

    saying, well, that was fun, but it really isn't going anywhere, and I have 10 other things I could be doing with my time, so...

    Sorry. This isn't going to be a very uplifting, rah-rah blog today, because I'm feeling rather blue. I sent out 15 or so queries and have heard back from 5 of them. It's only been a couple of weeks, so I know that isn't unusual. And of the 5, 3 asked to see partials. So I know that's good too.

    Here's the problem. I've been here before. 3 times. Had a partial requested. Had a full requested. And then was turned down.

    I know my skin is thicker than it used to be. I don't take it personally, anymore. And I know it's a tough, tough business. And I know that even getting that many requests for full manuscripts is something many other writers don't come close to.

    But how long do you go down that road and come back empty-handed? How many times do you start again? I know there are authors who do it, who write 5 or 10 or 12 manuscripts before they finally publish one. God bless them. I'm just not sure I have it in me.

    Maybe I really shouldn't care so much about the end result. Maybe I shouldn't care if I ever publish a thing. Except somehow, that validates one's efforts, doesn't it? Publication makes one worthy. It means you haven't wasted all that time, writing away at the keyboard, while other things get put aside.

    I'm taking a break this week, just a little one, to see if staying away from my computer either makes me miss writing or makes me think about whether I really want to pursue publication the way I have been in the last few years.

    I'll keep you posted.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    The Land of In-Between

    The nice thing about having 1 or 2 stories to work on, of course, is that while one is simmering or out there swimming around in the land of finding-an-agent-or-publisher, you can focus on the other one.

    That's what I've been doing the last 2 weeks. I sent out my latest WIP, One Night in Boston, to a handful of agents, got a couple of requests and am waiting on other responses. Not much else to do with that one but wait. In the meantime, though, Virtual Tales had requested a partial of an earlier work I had resurrected, Paradise, USA, so I was furiously polishing that. Finished the section they needed to see and emailed it Saturday.

    Now, all of a sudden, I find myself ground to a halt. I finished the 2 priorities I had set for myself in September (which is a cause for celebration, I think, so I danced around my office a a little bit until my hubby wandered in). So I'm trying to figure out which direction I want to go next.

    Really, I should finish up the novel I'm revising for VT, because even if they ultimately reject it, I've discovered that I like the characters and their new storyline so much that I might tackle turning it into a full-length novel (right now it will probably end up around 55K words, which is OK for VT but not so much for a mainstream target). Or I could do a little brainstorming about the next couple of works I'm thinking about tackling. There's a novel I wrote a couple of years ago, Summer's Song, which made it through quite a few reads at New American Library before a top editor turned it down. It needs work but I do like it a lot. Or I could always work on a short story or two, enter a contest to get my name out on the Web a little more.

    Hmm. I thought I was at a sticking point but apparently I'm just at a turning point. What about you? How do you decide which direction to go, once you've finished one goal? Do you have a list of things to accomplish? Do you just close your eyes and pick one?

    And by the way, big congratulations to my writing friend Marianne Arkins, who won my September Giveaway. She's getting Bob Mayer's book The Novel Writer's Toolkit. Anyone who's interested in entering the October Giveaway, stop on by !

    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    I Love When They Do That!

    Okay, I just love when characters solve their own problems. Granted, this doesn't happen to me very often. Usually I'm trying to wrangle them into the right place to move the plot ahead, often getting stuck in various places along the way.

    But every once in a while, the characters just write themselves into exactly the right place. And I love that.

    Happened this week, with a new revision of an old work. I needed the hero and heroine to have their first big fight. Knew generally when and where it was going to happen. Wasn't exactly sure, yet, the trigger for it. And then there I was, typing along, and the heroine, bless her heart, picked up a notebook and started making a list of all the reasons for and against falling for the hero.

    Well, since the hero was scheduled to arrive at any minute, I thought that was pretty smart of her. Because of course now she's going to hide the list, but he's going to find it...and that will lead them straight into the fight I had planned for them all along.

    Does that happen to you? Do your characters go off in different directions? (Well, I'm sure they do. Whose don't?) But do you have those moments when they do or say something you hadn't planned and make you think, "Wow, that's exactly right"??

    I just wish it happened more often...

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    How Do You Find The Time?

    This is the question my mother asked me last weekend.

    "How do you find the time to write novels? I mean, with a full-time job, and a husband, and..."

    "No kids," I finished for her. That's my standard answer, anyway. Without children, I'm fully aware that I should have oodles more time in my day than people who are working full time, raising a family, and still finding time to churn out books.

    Of course, I'm also a high school English teacher, so I'm spending a decent part of any given night returning students' emails or phone calls, answering questions about their writing, and trying to grade the stacks of papers I take home with me every week.

    But still, I do find the time. I tried to get up early, before work, the way a lot of authors do, but 5:45 comes quickly enough. I can't do earlier than that. So I usually write for a couple of hours a night, after dinner. My hubby is wonderfully supportive and doesn't mind too much if I'm holed up in the office. I'm also trying not to watch any new TV shows, other than the 4 I'm already addicted to, because that's a huge drain on my time.

    But I'm interested in what other people do. When do you find the time to write? What other commitments do you have to juggle? Do you write at the same time every day, or whenever you can catch some spare minutes?

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    To Blog or Not

    So today's blog on Romancing the Blog's site is about whether or not it's really worth it.

    To blog on a regular basis, I mean. The author talks about the sometimes-hassle of coming up with witty things to say and share day after day, and she questions who really reads blogs and for what purpose. All good points.

    I also recently read a blog by a published author that suggested that most new authors don't know the best ways to market their books. He pointed out that everyone seems to say you MUST inhabit the internet, ideally with a website, a blog, and a MySpace account. But do you really? How many people are really stumbling across your virtual presence and, as a result, making a conscious decision to buy your book?

    I put together my author website and this blog because I thought I'd better join the e-world. I wanted prospective agents/editors to be able to easily pop online and see who I am. Is it worth it? Don't know. Do I enjoy reading other people's blogs? To be honest, I read 2-3 on a daily basis. With the thousands that are out there, I'd spend way too much time if I tried to visit any more than that. So I don't hold out hope that other people are doing the same thing with mine.

    I'm not sure I'll give up my toehold on the Internet world just yet, but I have to admit that on most days, I'd rather spend my keyboard time working on a novel or a story.

    On days I have something to say or share, I don't mind blogging. Which reminds me: Kristin Nelson just requested a partial, which made my day. 4 queries to her over the last 5 years, and finally, a positive response. So today, I guess my blog is about celebration. And persistence.

    Speaking of which, now it's back to my next WIP.

    Anyone else? Thoughts?

    Sunday, September 24, 2006

    Do You Dream About Them?

    Do you ever dream about your stories? Do you ever wake up and realize your characters have been hovering there in the night?

    Man, I've been doing that a lot lately, and it's freaking me out a little bit. I mean, yeah, I spend a lot of time with them, esp. since I'm polishing two separate works and feeling a little schizophrenic lately, but in my sleep?

    Most of the time they're not even doing anything productive for me, either. They're not coming up with brilliant dialogue, or a way to solve that plot problem in chapter fourteen, or anything remotely helpful. They're just going along, living and interacting and generally minding their own business.


    I suppose it's kind of cool to realize that, at least in your own mind, you've made them real enough to exist, multi-dimensional enough to show up in your dreams. Still, sometimes I need a little time away.

    Do you ever dream about your own characters? Or do they invade your waking moments, too? Do you ever find yourself working through their dilemmas when, really, you should be doing something else altogether?

    Friday, September 22, 2006

    Anatomy of a Romance

    Finn or Derek?

    Nice guy with his heart on his sleeve, or married guy who doesn't know what he wants but is, apparently, great in the sack?

    This, of course, is the dilemma facing Meredith on Grey's Anatomy. Forget the fact that her friend is lying catatonic on the floor in a prom dress. Or that she's supposed to be a surgical intern saving lives. Or that the hospital is under quarantine for possible exposure to the plague.

    No, we're fascinated with the romance here. The gut-twisting, agonizing, on-again, off-again attraction between all the characters.

    Most of my girlfriends vote for Meredith to be with McDreamy. Why? He's gorgeous, sufficiently flawed, and (as of last night) able to profess his love for her while taking the terribly chivalrous position of telling her to take her time making her decision.

    A few of my friends think he's creepy. I mean, he is still married. If he really loved her, they say, he would let her move on, be with Finn, not chase her down and make love to her in an exam room.

    And what about Finn? He's certainly likable enough, the sad guy who's just learning to open his heart again. He's cute, talented and (as of last night) strong enough to tell Meredith he's not giving up on the fight. Who wouldn't want him to win?

    So who do we cheer for? Who do we want her to end up with? Why is it so hard to make that choice?

    Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    A Few Little Nibbles

    So I've started sending out a few queries on my latest work, One Night in Boston, and to my surprise, have gotten a few requests back already, which thrills me to death. Of course, I've been down this road before, and the requests didn't amount to anything, but still. It's nice to at least know that my letter and general concept seem decent.

    I actually got a telephone call from an agent yesterday...who only wanted clarification on a couple of things on my website and in my letter. The vibe I got was actually a little weird, so if she doesn't ask to see anything more I can't say I'll be heart-broken.

    After that somewhat awkward conversation, though, I came home to find two other requests for partials, so that cheered me up. One is from a pretty big name, though I hesitate to mention her specifically only because her assistant also sent me this 2-page release form to fill out and send in with my sample material waiving any obligation on their part etc. etc. I'd never seen anything like it before but it's a big agency (Trident Media) so I read it over about 3 times and will probably go ahead and send it in.

    Otherwise, still trying to move ahead with my serial work for Virtual Tales (I really do owe them about 30,000 words by the beginning of next week) and figuring out what other agents I want to query in the next few days.

    Grey's Anatomy last-season finale tonight! Gotta go!

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Prison Break

    I'm addicted to this show. Well, this and Grey's Anatomy, but GA is at least in the ballpark of my writing style, whereas PB is nowhere near. And yet still I love it. Can't be the testosterone, though I'll admit I started watching because I liked the looks of Wentworth Miller. (Still do).

    But when it comes to creating compelling characters, the producers of this show have hit a grand slam. They're all terrific, multi-faceted, flawed (well, of course; most of them are felons), stomach-turning, and yet somehow so fascinating that at times you're cheering for them all the same.

    The best character? By far, it's T-Bag. You hate him - he's disgusting, he's a pedophile, he's manipulative and evil and doesn't have a decent bone in his body. But he is absolutely riveting to watch. If nothing else, every Monday night I am reminded about the intricacies of character development.

    On the writing front, it's query time again! I have a list of about 25 agents that I'm targeting for this go-round. Half of them are e-queries, which is really helpful. My goal is 5 a day for the next week or or so and then we'll see what the feedback is.

    Meanwhile, still working on my serial novel that Virtual Tales wants to look at - trying to have the first 30,000 words polished up in the next week also. It's been workshopped a bunch of times in the past, so I feel OK about it. We'll see. Those OK feelings tend to change without warning.

    Luckily, no must-see TV in the next couple of days, so I can tie myself to the computer (well, not literally. Might be a little tough to get much accomplished) and produce. I hope.

    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    Juggling Too Many Balls

    Have you ever found youreself in a place where you have all these ideas, all these storylines that desperately want and need attention, and so you're splitting your time trying to juggle them all?

    It's funny. I've been working on my current WIP for the last 9 months or so, and just this morning finished the third revision. Yay! Feeling really pretty good about it. I have a query letter worked out, a 2-page synopsis (and no I'm writing any other version unless someone specifically asks for a 10-page one. Hate writing them at all), and a list of about 20 agents I'm going to start querying this week.

    I also have the re-visited novel that I mentioned last post, the serial novel that Virtual Tales wants to see more of, so now I have to scurry around and work on the later chapters of that.

    My website needs updating.

    I need to decide if I'm going to enter anything in the Golden Heart contest this year.

    I really should read and review some pieces I've been neglecting at one of my writer's groups.

    My gardens need weeding and the pool needs closing and the lawn needs mowing and the outdoor furniture needs to be put away.

    A stack of papers needs grading.

    And the house could really use a good vacuuming.

    How do people do it, who work full-time and put out 1 or 2 or 3 novels a year? I guess they don't sleep more than 5 or 6 hours a night. Or maybe they write faster than I do. Or maybe they don't have an addiction to Grey's Anatomy. Or spending hours online reading blogs and writing their own.

    Gotta go. Have a terrific day.

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    Good News in a Funny Package

    A couple of weeks ago, I was needing a break from my current WIP, so I sifted through some old stuff and found the very first novel I attempted. After cringing a bit at the plot - or lack of - I remembered how much I liked the characters, so I decided to give them a different life.

    Around the same time, I found this website that publishes serial online works, Virtual Tales. You can order so many issues or chapters of a story and download as you read. They're looking for romance, among other genres, so I sent in a query.

    Today I heard back from them - they want to see more. (One nice thing is that you don't have to have a finished manuscript. They'll read what you have and ask when they can expect the next series of chapters, etc.)

    So hooray! Sort of. The way the email was phrased was so odd:
    Our editors have evaluated your story and believe it is worthy of a more serious look.

    So the first look was not a serious one? It was a hey, let's have some laughs one? I suppose that's what editors and agents have to do to wade through all the queries they receive. I can imagine them sitting back with their cup of coffee (or bourbon), skimming the letters and partials, laughing, crumpling up the bad ones and chucking them in the direction of the garbage can, calling their friends to read out loud the worst ones of all.

    Don't get me wrong - I don't really care how they phrase it, if they want to see more. I just thought it was a funny, if rather honest, way of doing it. And this time, with our serious faces on, we'll take more than sixty seconds to read it over...

    Guess I'd better get back to work.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Loving the Conflict

    So I am at the point in my WIP, about 3/4 of the way through, where the conflict is taking off and the Big Black Moment is just around the corner. And I'm loving it. Not that I love watching my characters suffer, poor things, but I know what's in store for them a few chapters down the line, and I can't wait for them to get there.

    In some of my earlier works, readers would always say, I love the characters, great voice, but not enough conflict. I got so frustrated. Not enough conflict?? Why does everything have to be so difficult? Can't two people just fall in love and spend the rest of their lives together?

    Of course not. Not in fiction, anyway, where conflict is everything. This is what I've discovered: external conflict is key to any story. But that finicky, difficult-to-develop inner conflict makes my stories that much richer. I still struggle with it but I think I'm making progress. I looked back at an earlier version of my current WIP and realized how much was lacking.

    OK, enough rambling. Back to my WIP. I left my hero at the scene of an accident in which he is about to realize that the woman he loves may not make it through the night...