Monday, November 29, 2010

Top Five Reasons Not to Make My Beds

We are generally a neat and tidy family. Wait. No, that's me. The other two humans living here aren't uber neat and tidy, but they are in training. One has been in training for YEARS. The two felines in our house are relatively neat and tidy unless Madam Mischief is stalking socks and dropping them in the hallway, stairwell or in front of Darling Husband's office door. Dowager Feline Clancy is infinitely neat and tidy being that she is a Duchess of Extraordinary Good Sense.

Yes, I am that person who gets up, makes the bed, unloads the dishwasher and reloads it, wipes the counters, sweeps the floors and straightens up clutter. I am notorious for straightening up other people's clutter which they think is perfectly fine right where it is till I "lose" it for them. Ha.

But there are days that even I don't want to make the bed.

Top 5 Reasons I Don't Make the Bed

#5 Another human is sleeping in it and in my way.
#4 Darling Daughter interrupts my routine with a carpool request.
#3 It's Sunday and that's a day of rest.
#2 Sheer rebellion which forces other human to make it for me.

And the #1 Reason?

Cats Curled Up in the Coverlet Nest!

Madam Mischief guards Dowager Feline Clancy.

DFC is an equal opportunity nester in my Darling Teen's bed.

Could you disturb her? Not me!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Bail Out--Today's Motivational Post is Blacked Out by Shopping Frenzy

There's a little tradition in the United States called BLACK FRIDAY. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, millions of Americans get up super early and go shopping for amazing deals at their favorite retailers. Why do they get up early, brave the cold, bump against the burgeoning crowds to shop for deals when they could be sleeping? Well, the deals are pretty danged amazing.

Confession: When Darling Teen was a lot younger, I'd take advantage of the sales for Christmas shopping. Later I used the deals to buy my required black tie event dress at a super discounted price. Trust me, there is nothing quite like trying on a formal gown when you look like death in a skillet and you're one cup of coffee away from a caffeine from a compulsory trip to the ladies room located at the opposite side of the department store.

I gave up BLACK FRIDAY five years ago. I started shopping online. I no longer needed the sales. Often times, most of the stuff is just that. Stuff. And it's stuff we don't need or want. But my Darling Husband and Darling Teen have taken up my BLACK FRIDAY mantle. Every year they get up and make a strategic plan and, armed with my meager list of two or three things, they go shopping for my Christmas presents. It's quite cute. And they have a great time. But honestly, I usually don't have much to put on the list. It's not about the list, it's about the companionship they have and the relationship they build while they are shopping that counts.

Confession: They don't get up early. They leave when they are ready. And they have learned that if there is an ALABAMA or AUBURN game on Black Friday, they will have zip to battle in the crowding department.

And what do I do while they are gone? I start getting ready for decorating for Christmas. Down come all the autumn colors and back into the attic the various items go. Then I clean--dust the surfaces that haven't been dusted in a while hehe-- then I start putting up the easier decorations. We save the tree for the family to decorate together.

Confession: Every year we have an annual argument about the placement of my Darling Husband's beloved "chair" which is strategically placed to watch the flat screen television. This place is right where the tree must go. It's never pretty. There is also the musical dance of the furniture which must be endured. No. We are not a Norman Rockwell painting when it comes to the positioning of the tree.

Usually we eat leftovers that night. But this year we may not have many, so we might just have pizza or a store bought Stouffer's Lasagna. This is our calm before the tree positioning argument. We have a laugh or three, drink a bit of wine (or a lot), watch a few movies, and hang out.

The best part about bailing out of BLACK FRIDAY? Sleeping in!

Do you shop on BLACK FRIDAY? What's the best deal you ever got? And if you bail out of shopping, what do you do instead?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grateful Hearts Lead to Happy Hearts

Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, of sharing a meal with friends and family, and of remembrance. I love everything about Thanksgiving from the warm autumn colors, the parades, the football games (well I could probably go without the football), the comradeship, and the food. Can't forget the food.

This year we're sharing Thanksgiving with our new friends. We're having a huge feast which will include our spatchcock turkey, all the trimmings, smoked turkey breast, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, two pies.... ah.... food baby is on the way! I can't wait to break bread and share this day with them.

Imagine if we carried that spirit forward into all of our days? What if we opened our hearts to living a life of gratitude and giving all year round? Charities require more help during the holiday season, but wouldn't it be great if people gave to food pantries all year long? To homeless shelters? To (fill in the blank cause)?

I try to live a life of giving and service as well as one of gratitude. I admit, sometimes I have to dig deep for the spirit of gratitude when the clouds of loneliness, winter weather, and darker days descend. But I make the effort because if I can find something to be grateful for, then I can find a smidgeon of happiness in my day. A ray of light. And then I can carry that light into the world. And then maybe someone else's day might be a bit brighter.

One trick I learned was to write down 5 things a day that I'm grateful for. For instance, right now I am grateful for my health (which is a huge one), my darling daughter's spirit, my husband's job security, my new friends, and my writing community. I could list of a lot more things to be grateful about, but you get the picture. Having positive things to be grateful for helps me smooth away the rough edges of the things I am sad about, or the things I miss right now.

Confession: No, I am not Polly Anna and always filled with sunshine. I do bask in the sun a lot (I am like a cat that way), but I have days where growling is preferred to purring.

We all struggle with our own inner demons and disappointments. It is in how we handle them and work through them, that we show the measure of our willingness to be lights in the world. When I practice gratitude, I realize how blessed I am and I can't be grumpy anymore. Or maybe I just won't growl as much.

Happy Thanksgiving & Enjoy Your Day!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Spatchcock Turkey for Thanksgiving--Strike a Pose!

I don't cook the big Thanksgiving bird in the oven. I grill it. Here are some fun pictures from 2009, and videos of our Thanksgiving feast in preparation as well as a link to how to properly spatchcock any hen/bird for the grill. I'll be too busy grilling the bird to post on Thanksgiving Day, but I had to share these hilarious photos. And if you plan on spatchcocking the big bird, do so with assistance. It is hard to cut out that back bone. And it's even harder to break the breast bone. But oh, the end result is so worth it!!

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Putting yummy spices between the skin and flesh.

I believe she's a dead bird.

Instructing the future cook so I can retire.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sacrificial Rites & Perfecting Priorities

I've been working on a submission and believe me, my derriere feels the pain. So do my hands! Oh, the nails that once were long and beautiful are short little stubs. And I don't even want to discuss the hangnails. They are the bane of my existence. But sacrifices must be made in order to achieve my goals.

Here are some of the easier sacrifices I make when I am working toward a deadline:

1-Cooking? What's that? People, people in the house. Find a pop tart and deal.
2-Cleaning the bathrooms. A little bleach in the bowl goes a LONG way.
3-Why clean floors when they are just going to get dirty again?
4-Unimportant phone calls aren't answered--I'm talking the solicitation kind.
5-Social media is put on the back burner (but I still check occasionally)
6-Makeup? Hair? What? I'm a writer, not a movie star.
7-Ironing. Like that was hard haha.
8-Menu planning. Isn't that why frozen lasagna and pizza were invented? To ease my life?
9-Kitty litter scooping--someone else can do it for a change.
10-Watching television--thank goodness for the DVR and taping shows!

But in the midst of making sacrifices, I also know there are some things that cannot be ignored. Here are some priorities I keep no matter what, or who, is demanding my time:

1-Grocery shopping. Apparently food must be in the house even if it is a frozen pizza.
2-Laundry. Clean clothes are a must even if I am not a movie star.
3-Care and feeding of the cats--someone has to keep DFC full on Beechnut Organic baby food.
4-Sleeping. Can't write if my brain is dead.
5-Eating. Can't write if my tummy is rumbling.
6-Exercise. Must remain healthy and strong if I am going to keep on writing.
7-Being available to my closest friends in their times of need (friends are forever).
8-Spending time with my Darling Husband. After all, he's my first hero.
9-A modicum of social time cause I can't thrive without people contact.
10-Being available to my Darling Teenager in times of stress and in times of jubilation.

Tip: know your priorities and then you'll know what you can give up to achieve your goals.

What sacrifices are you making to achieve your goals? What are your top priorities and why?

Fabulous Friday Blog Roll

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blogging on Romance Magicians Today

I took a side trip to visit the Romance Magicians and blogged about Necessary Losses I incurred in order to pursue my writing dream. Come visit me at the Southern Magic Blog site and share your sacrifices with me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Birthday Wishes and Memories of My Dad

My dad, Robert Alexander Doorenbos, was born in Alexandria, Egypt November 17, 1928. He passed away August 20, 2002 in Winnipeg, Canada. It's been a little over 8 years since he died, but I still miss him. He wasn't a perfect man, nor a perfect father, but he was a good man who loved me. He loved my husband, and he loved my daughter. There are days when I think to myself, wow, I wish Dad was here because he'd really enjoy this movie, this book, this drive, this scenery, this weather, this meal, this celebration.

I haven't written too much about him because how do I encapsulate his life? I missed a lot of years from the time I was 16 until I married at 22. Those years were lost for many reasons. Reasons that I don't discuss publicly. Suffice to say that he contributed to the reasons as much, if not more, than I did. I understand why and I have forgiven him, too. And in the forgiveness, I bought back a lot of years. Years filled with good memories, fellowship, love. Years where I shared my grown up life with him. Years where he became a friend, a father-in-law, an Opa.

One paragraph in my dad's memoir, written in 1991, describes his personality really well. He'd just been released from a Japanese concentration camp and was finally able to reunite with his mother and sister. He'd been in an all male camp for quite some time and in Camp 7. He wrote:

Back in Camp 7 it was not as crowded as when I arrived a few months earlier. Approximately 800 men and 110 boys had died in those six months. Rations had been so poor that diabetics did not need their insulin and they could not get it anyway. I went to see mother and Hetty in Camp 6, four miles away, a long walk. That night, on my way back, I got a lift in a truck with Japanese soldiers. Standing between them was a weird experience. All I owned in the world was shorts and a shirt, both tattered. My head been shaven at one time and grew back in irregular patches due to malnutrition. I weighed maybe 90 pounds and was covered with infected sores as every scratch festered. My arms and legs were wrapped in old dirty bandages which made me look like something pulled out of an Egyptian tomb. I must have been an awful sight and mother fainted when she saw me. It did not bother me too much. I felt fine after a week of adequate rations and had not looked in the mirror for six months.

I guess you could say I get my ability to find the silly in the serious from my Dad.

So now, as a memorial to him, I'd like to share my impressions of Dad's life based on how we authors tag/brand ourselves. Here are some words that I believe best describe my Dad.

Robert Alexander Doorenbos.

Survivor, artist, calligrapher, painter, cross country skier, adventurer, bibliophile, intellectual, engineer, architect, explorer, traveler, photographer, writer, cook, baker, Mason, toastmaster, cat lover, loner, humble, curious, generous, gifted, husband, brother, son, uncle, father, father-in-law, friend, Opa, man

I miss my dad. I miss our talks, our trips to the museums, and our mutual curiosity about life. Most of all I miss all the memories I still want to make with him.

Happy Birthday Dad. May your room in Heaven have an easel, a map, and a walking stick.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Break Out the Bubbly & Dark Chocolate--Celebrating Amy Atwell's Debut Novel LYING EYES!

I'm very happy and excited to open up a bottle of my best champagne for my fearless GIAM (Goal in a Month) leader Amy Atwell. Amy is an inspiration to me as a mentor, writer, and friend. We're celebrating her debut novel, Lying Eyes, which releases today! 
Pop! Pouring bubbly and breaking out the dark chocolate.

Hi Amy, welcome to the veranda. 
Thanks for inviting me to join you and meet your readers, Christine.  The verandah, by the way, is lovely.
How did you end up becoming a writer?
A rather circuitous path. I wrote throughout my childhood and adolescence.  Poems, songs, short stories.  I was fascinated with dialogue and comedic timing on television and would scribble notes while I watched shows.  In high school, I joined the drama club—and no, it was not nearly as cool as Glee, although it was a lot of fun.  But that led to studying theater and Shakespeare and then years of working in regional and community theaters. Play scripts and the stories in them were my love, and one day I realized that what I really wanted to do was write.  I quit the theater and got a job and started writing my story ideas in my free time. Back then, it hadn’t occurred to me to try to make a career of it.

What is your favorite genre to write?
No fair!  I love all the genres I write.  I started writing Regency period historicals because that’s what I read for years and years. Then I had a crazy notion to write a romance about the theater scene in New York.  Then I moved to Chicago, so I wrote about Chicago. Then even though I know next to nothing about medievals, I wrote a medieval romantic suspense.  And then Cosmo knocked on my door, and I wrote Lying Eyes.
I'm intrigued already. Can't wait to meet Cosmo. Are you a plotter or do you follow the muse?
I see characters and scenes in my head.  Maybe because of all the years in theater, I hear dialogue very clearly.  So, I generally let the muse run free for much of the first draft.  Then I roll up my sleeves for some plotting analysis.  Lying Eyes was different because I had editors waiting to see that story.  Most of the material in that story—except the opening 30-40 pages—is close to first draft.  I plotted a few chapters ahead as I wrote and prayed my critique partners would help me clean up the mess if I derailed the story.  They kept telling me it was fine.  My editor agreed.
How do you relax after a writing day?
Don’t laugh. I run an online writing community, and I have a lot of little tasks that make me feel like I accomplished something. I like to check things off lists, so these little tasks make me feel successful and relaxed.  Oh, and I can do most of them over a cup of coffee (morning) or wine (night).  I’ve also been known to turn off the computer AND the phone for Mad Men, Dr. Who, The Office and 30 Rock.

As a member of your community, I can say it's a great way to unwind. The *cyber support* is balm to a writer's soul. 

What do you read? What are your favorite genres? And your favorite authors?
I read anything that has a story that captures my famous.  I love romance and women’s fiction, but I also enjoy a good mystery or thriller. And I find I’m peeking at some YA stories to see what all the hype is about.  Favorite authors?  Jenny Crusie, Madeline Hunter, Jane Austen, Jean Auel, Tom Clancy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dick Francis, Georgette Heyer, Elswyth Thane (I’m dating myself with those last five).  A new author who stunned me with her work is Therese Walsh.
What is your current project? What can we look forward to reading next?
I’m currently working on the sequel to Lying Eyes. This one is Cheating Hearts and features another of Cosmo’s daughters.  Of course, I also have a mainstream historical set during the Wars of the Roses calling me. And then there’s this pesky pair of characters out in San Francisco who have the beginnings of a great suspense story I’m jotting down. 
You have a lot of ideas and stories floating in your head. Fabulous! I can't wait to meet Cosmo's next daughter. What is the most difficult part about writing for you? 
Oddly enough, the hardest part for me is focusing and getting started on one story.  Once I’m into a story, I’m all there.  But if I’m multi-tasking life or additional stories, it can be a bear to get me to sit down and write.  (And I can name a dozen people who will read this and agree.)

I completely understand how multi-tasking zaps focus. 

Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
Everywhere.  Honestly, I trip over ideas.  I have a lengthy list of them on my computer.  For Lying Eyes, the title came when I was listening to Eagles’ song on the radio one day.  Liked the title, realized that “lying” would be an important factor. More than that, I wanted everything in the story to be a lie of some form or another.  That’s when Cosmo Fortune, my heroine’s father, popped up and announced he was a magician.  A master of illusion.  Then I made my heroine not just a jeweler but a costume jeweler. I just keep piecing things together that work. What doesn’t work, I toss.  

Cutting ideas is part of the creative process. *sipping my bubbly* Ah, but it is necessary for writers to learn. 

How long were you trying to get published before you got the “call?”
Ten years, give or take.  I took a couple writing breaks.  I had a big corporate job transfer that stalled my writing for over a year. Then my mother died suddenly in 2005. About nine months after her death I stopped writing for nearly 18 months. I stayed connected with my writing friends through WritingGIAM and when I returned to writing, I came back determined.  Still, it took nearly two years to sell Lying Eyes. When we first marketed it, Carina Press didn’t yet exist. In publishing, part of the equation is timing.

Amy, I am sorry you lost your mother. *hugs* But I'm very glad you returned to your writing with the determination to get published because now we get to read your stories. 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write. Write what’s in your heart. Study. Study the market, but don’t it let completely change those stories of your heart. The market is always changing. Your stories are you and no one but you can tell them. Share them with the world.
Oh, and find a support network. It may be local, it may be online. But connect with other writers. Writing is a very solitary endeavor, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.  I would have given up writing if it weren’t for GIAM.
What encouragement can you give writers who face rejection?
Let me be your poster child!  I swear, I’ve been rejected by top editors and agents. I’ve received painful comments about my work from industry professionals and contest judges.  If you’re familiar with Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest, I had one entry that received a “9” (their highest scores) and a “1” (their lowest score). 
Reading is Subjective.  Repeat that. Not every reader will love your work, but in publishing it often takes only one person to get behind you to turn the tide.  A rejection is nothing more than a single person’s opinion of a specific submission on a given day. 
Thanks so much for having me, Christine!  I’d love to offer up a digital copy of Lying Eyes to one of your readers. 

I'm so glad you joined me on the veranda. Thank you for offering a digital copy of Lying Eyes to one of my readers. I can't wait to see who gets their name pulled from this week! Congratulations on your release!!  

Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Find Amy online at her website, What’s the Story? blog, Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads.

Lying Eyes is available from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rewards & Positive Reinforcement--Even When You Don't Succeed

I didn't grow up in a household where there were a lot of rewards for good behavior. And we sure weren't rewarded for trying to be good either. So I came to this little idea of rewarding myself for not succeeding very slowly.

Apparently cleaning bathrooms after finishing a major project is not considered a reward. This is how well-trained I was not to get something good even when I deserved it for all my hard work.

But that is just stinky. Literally. Who wants to clean house after they've finished a paper, written a book, painted a picture, applied for graduate school, graduated from college, and the list goes on. I've learned to give myself breaks, but I had to teach myself to give myself rewards.

Kelly L. Stone articulated that precept for me at the GRWA Moonlight & Magnolias Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. She gave me a few new ideas about how to reward myself while I am working toward a goal. I came home from the conference and implemented one. A successful author pays herself a quarter every time she meets her word count for the day. I decided to make a Reward Jar and got $20 in quarters to fill it.

Note: It'll take a LOT of those rolls to fill my cutesy decorated tin can!

Any rate, I modified the reward system to include meeting every goal I set for the day as a writer (I might add exercise to that because I have been slacking off--which is a post for another day). So if my goal was to get a submission ready, a contest entry ready, a chapter read in my media book by Kristen Lamb, or my homework completed in the Alexandra Sokoloff online workshop I'm taking then I drop a quarter into the jar every time I meet the goal.

Another thing I've done is reward myself for having tried and failed. As a writer I must put myself out there all the time with query letters, sending out partials, full manuscripts and entering contests. I am not really into the administrative end of this business, so it is like poking a fork into my eyeball to do these things. I'd rather write my stories or blog than do it. Seriously. But the work must be done. The possibility of rejections must be faced.

So here's how I cope. First, I get a quarter for completing the task. Then I devised a system for rewarding myself if I didn't get the answer I wanted (BIG YES or YOU FINALED!!). I pay myself for not getting those answers. Yup. Now these numbers can be adjusted to be coins, less money, more money, Hershey's kisses--you get the picture.

Here's my payment scale:

Rejected Query? $1
Rejected Partial? $5
Rejected Full? $20
Didn't Final in a Contest? $5

So last week I didn't final in a contest. BOO. That stinks. I was down in the Personal Pity Party dumps. But then I remembered I got to pay myself $5 for not finaling. That brought a smile to my face. Yay! I put all the money I pay myself into a pretty box on a shelf in my office. It's up to you where you put your money (or Hershey's kisses). I am saving the quarters till I have too many to count, rolling them and putting them in the box as well.

What am I saving this money for? Anything to do with my writing--nice dress for an awards ceremony, shoes, dinner with writing friends, etc.

Now if you're not a writer and you're pursuing another goal or dream, you can modify this little reward system to suit your dream's not-so-happy days. For instance, if you are trying to get into university you can pay yourself for every application you send (a quarter cause those apps are expensive), for every study session you take for the SAT/ACT, for every interview you go on, for every college you tour, and for every good grade (say a B or better).

But hey? What if the college doesn't accept you? What will you pay yourself for trying so you'll try again?

See? This system takes the sting out of not getting what you want and gives you motivation to try again.

Try it. In fact, give yourself a quarter for reading this blog today!

Fabulous Friday Blog Roll

This week I am celebrating group blogs I reward myself with after I meet my writing goals.

1. Romance Magicians: I'm a part of the Southern Magic blog and love to read their stories.
2. Seekerville: Really inspirational group of authors.
3. Petits Fours & Tamales: Great book reviews, charity events, and more inspiration for me.
4. The Blood Red Pencil: To feed my writing brain with good info.
5. The Writing Playground: Heart of Dixie authors with fun posts.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dinner Simmering in the Crockpot While We Work

I love autumn. The colors, the cooler weather, the zing in the air, and the food. This time of year always brings me back to my cookbooks and recipes for the crockpot. First of all, I have a lot going on, the Darling Family is on the go all the time with school, work, and activities. I usually start some massive project in November and this year is no exception. However, as always, the Darling Family expects dinner. Quite frankly, so do I!

A lot of my friends are participating in the NaNoWriMo this year. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Writers all over the world like the Romance MagiciansGwen Hernandez, and Ellen Brickley will write 50,000 words in November. I'm not actively participating because I am taking a screenwriting class with Alexandra Sokoloff. However, I'm sure I'll reach and exceed the 50,000 mark as I'm writing my next book as part of the class.

While writers are hunkering down and plunking away at their computers and laptops, other hardworking people will be getting ready for the holidays and will need a break from figuring out what to cook when they get home. And that is why someone very wise invented the crockpot. The most wondrous creation of all time. I love my crockpot. I use it a lot. And during this next few months I'm sharing my recipes. I also hope to get more recipes from my blog friends.

Today's family favorite crockpot recipe is TACO SOUP.

1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
1 onion chopped (I like to cook it a bit first in the frying pan)
1 envelope taco seasoning
1 envelope ranch dressing mix
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can hominy (if you can't find hominy then put in another can of corn or beans)
1 can rotel tomatoes with green chilies

Dump all ingredients into a large crockpot (I use a 5 quart). Cook all day on low. Serve with tortilla chips and top with grated cheese and sour cream.

I use low sodium canned products and light sour cream. You can serve over rice as well.


How do you plan your family meals when life gets hectic?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Doghouses, Husbands and Heroes

While creating Husbands, God promised Women that good and ideal Husbands would be found in all corners of the world. And then he made the earth round.

News Flash: There's been a recent surge of husbands being kenneled in the proverbial doghouse. Perhaps it is the darkening skies, and the earlier nights, that are contributing to this problem. Or it could be the recent election results which are spurring heated debates in (no wait, that's a different news item). Or maybe football season is the culprit. Who knows? The unfortunate fact is that many husbands, good men all of them, here and all over the world are routinely sent to the doghouse. What is most disturbing is that they often don't know why they are in the doghouse. The only thing they are sure of is the knowledge of who put them in the doghouse. Their wives. Even sadder is the fact that they don't always know if they are in the doghouse or not. One husband I spoke with said he thought he was out of the doghouse because his wife was speaking to him again. However, her clipped tone and civil tongue belied the truth. He was still in the doghouse. But don't despair. Men are also guaranteed a ticket out of the doghouse for good behavior. The shape of that ticket and form of that release varies from household to household, but rest assured it will probably be impractical and beautiful. After all, husbands are really heroes. And heroes know how to fix anything: even a heroine's broken heart. Once they've learned how to do that, they've learned how to get out of the doghouse for the rest of their lives.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dive In and Start Swimming

I once had the privilege of hearing Nora Roberts speak at the Romance Writers of America National Conference. She was the keynote luncheon speaker, and she gave an "author chat" later that day, too. Her books are too many to count and she is very dedicated to her career.

What's her secret? Just write.

What's her message to people who give excuses and stay on the sidelines? Get in the pool and start swimming.

This message is true for anyone pursuing any activity or goal. If you want to do something and achieve something, please don't sit around and make excuses for not doing it. This is just another way of avoiding the possibility of failure. We've all been there. We've all failed. The trick is to move beyond the failure and keep on trying.

Here's my tip for the week: Whenever you hear yourself saying "I'd like to do this BUT ...." turn around the phrase and say, "Even though this situation exists, I am going to push myself to work toward my goal anyway."

Here's some wonderful excuses I've heard whenever I hear people say they'd like to write a book, or they could write a book, or how easy it is to write a book if only....

They'd do what I've done if only they had enough time. Well we've already discussed the time issue here. They'd do what I've done if only they didn't have a day job. I've got friends who work full time and write and raise families. Somehow they manage to make the time. They'd do what I've done if only they had no health problems, no people tugging for their attention, no family members sick, no... no... no...

Hmmmm. I see a pattern here. A pattern punctuated by one word. The word "no" is ringing in my ears. If only? If only is another way of saying "no." "But" is another way of saying "no."

Turn this around. Tell yourself "yes." Yes, I will make the time. I will set aside a place for my dream. I will go for it. I will push through the litany of words that hold me back from achieving my true potential. I will seek out the joy of pursuing my dream despite the possibility of failure. I will push through the disappointments and letdowns until I emerge victorious.

Fabulous Friday Blog Roll

Okay, Listen Here (not just because the recipes posted were amazing--great group of inspiring ladies)
The Character Therapist (great info about real life behaviors we can incorporate into our characters)
The Edited Life (Gwen has a sidebar about Scrivener that is very helpful)
Seekerville (this blog has a lot of great advice and inspirational stories)
Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing (just super funny)

Debut Novel Contest Comment Winner is Anne Gallagher!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Florence--Not Italy, but Alabama's Slice of Heaven

In my ongoing pursuit to squeeze out more play time in October before it ended, I woke up on Saturday morning, the 30th, and decided to explore a new area in my state. I'd heard that Florence, AL was a unique area from the man who installed my new dishwasher (oh, and it is a fine dishwasher with magical powers and yes, I love it in a very bizarre mechanical love way).

I got online, found a little bistro that might be fun to try, and enlisted Darling Husband to be my companion. He agreed. I think he would do just about anything to avoid cleaning the garage. And after our journey to Florence, AL, I believe he was glad he made the decision to go with me.

We drove to Florence via highway 72 westbound. The drive itself was pretty. The trees are in full autumn bloom, the river sparkled in the sun, and the little towns were quaint. Truly a postcard quality drive for me. When we arrived in Florence, we went to the little bistro I'd discovered located in a little strip mall called English Village.

Outside the Sweet Basil Cafe--These Painted Cows are Cute!
The strip mall had some cute shops with unique storefronts. We ventured into the Sweet Basil Cafe to try it out and were very pleasantly surprised. The service was excellent, the food even better, and the unique little touches inside and outside made it worth the drive. We asked the counter person what she recommended: chicken salad on croissant with Red,White & Blue salad. We each ordered it and thoroughly enjoyed the slight tangy spice of the chicken salad and the side salad with a sweet vinaigrette dressing.

Really unique painted iced tea containers. 

We also ordered iced tea and there were a variety of teas to try. I chose boring unsweetened tea, but the containers it poured from was not boring at all. Beautiful urns with unique paintings on them housed the tea selections.

After we left the restaurant, we putzed around in the little shops next door. We found cute things to buy, expensive pieces of furniture we wanted to buy, and a florist shop that smelled divine. We also asked the people at Sweet Basil Cafe if there were any parks around. They directed us to McFarland Park which was located near historic downtown Florence.

Gourmet shop inside with lots of interesting sauces.
We drove to Florence and checked out the University of Northern Alabama located near historic downtown Florence. The campus is not large, but it is situated near a lot of historic houses on tree-lined streets. I felt like I had stepped into an episode of Mayberry and at any minute Aunt Bea would call me over for blueberry pie and coffee. 

We didn't walk around the downtown area because we spotted another interesting sign. Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum house is located in Florence, Alabama. 

Naturally, my Darling Husband wanted to go check it out. No tours for us, but we did drive over to see the house which was located in a beautiful, historical area of Florence. However, Frank Lloyd Wright's house is a modern marvel in comparison to its neighbors. I stepped out of the car and snapped some photos of it while Darling Husband trailed behind  me in the car.

Back view of the house.
I approached the house from the back. We had decided not to tour it because the day was so sunny and bright and we didn't want to miss the golden rays. But we will return to tour this unique structure when the days get cooler. I'm curious about the house design and what is inside the actual structure.

I wonder what it was like to live in that house, too. What did the neighbors think when he built it? I guess I'll have to investigate further. Stay tuned!

Front door.
After a few false starts and missed exits (and some blue words in the car), we finally arrived at McFarland Park. This park is located near a dock and on the Tennessee River. I wish Madison and Huntsville were built alongside the Tennessee River, but I can drive to this park in about an hour so all is well in my world.  A bass fishing tournament was going on so there tons of boats racing in the water from Sheffield to Florence. We saw a few fishermen stop alongside the riverbank and angle for fish. One woman had set up an easel and was painting the scenery. Another couple was harvesting the pine needles that had fallen from the tall pines and dried on the ground.

We talked to a nice lady about a set of teepees we noticed just inside the campground area. She said she had no idea why they were there and she'd seen them for about six years. The sleuth in me wants to know. I will hunt that information up as well. I also discovered that there is an Alabama Renaissance Festival every October. I missed it due to the great deck staining adventure we had during the weekend they held it. Next year? I plan to head out there and see what it is all about--anything but stain the deck!
Amazing view from the picnic area. 

After spending a half an hour walking around the park and taking pictures, we decided to head back to Madison. But we will return. The Muscle Shoals area has a lot of buried tourist gems and I aim to discover them. A part of me wants to go back out there right away with a picnic basket, good friends, a book to read and my notebook for my next WIP. I'd like to brainstorm by the water, listen to children playing and to the hum of the boats racing on the river. Water is an element I'm drawn to all the time. It's an element I miss tremendously here in my own hometown. So you can bet I will return. 

Now I need to know if anyone in the Muscle Shoals, Florence or Sheffield area has any secret suggestions for me about their sweet home Alabama setting. I'd love to learn more about the local treasures. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Break Out the Bubbly & Dark Chocolate--Celebrating Kieran Kramer's Debut Novel

I'm so excited to introduce you to my friend and fellow writer, Kieran Kramer. I  met Kieran through my critique partner Sharon. Lucky for me they're related through marriage. Now I get to celebrate Kieran's debut novel's release today, November 2, 2010. When Harry Met Molly.  This book is part of the Impossible Bachelors series. I've invited my friend to share her journey with us and celebrate the release. 

Pop! Ah, champagne flowing into glass right now. And here's a bit of dark chocolate to go with my bubbly. And best of all, one of my commenters will win a copy of Kieran's book! Woohoo!!

Me:  How did you end up becoming a writer?

Kieran: I've been writing since I was a kid. I think it all started because I loved reading. I wanted to participate in that amazing world of words and stories.

Me: What is your favorite genre to write?

Kieran: I LOVE writing historicals, so I'd have to say that's my favorite genre!  But I also love funny contemporary stuff, so I could see myself writing that someday, too. Honestly, it's not the genre that matters to me so much as being able to express myself, to be able to use my voice to tell a story.

Me: I really love your philosophy about writing as a way to express yourself.  Tell me about your process. Are you a plotter or do you follow the muse?

Kieran: I'm a combination, but I lean highly toward following the muse. I always start a story from one image that comes to me: an impression, a fleeting dream…. I won't be able to get that idea out of my head, and so I build a whole story around it. But until I read craft books, I wasn't that good at making the story as cohesive as it could be. Now I know structure, and that really helps me out when I find myself in a dark plotting corner.  Favorite craft books: everything by Blake Snyder, Syd Field, and Michael Hauge; Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer; and Christopher Vogler, The Writer's Journey.

Me: First another sip of champagne. Ah, and a nibble of chocolate. I like to hear that I’m not the only writer who had to read a lot of craft books and take a lot of workshops to learn “how” to tell my story. I just ordered The Writer’s Journey and I can’t wait until it arrives. I’ve got your book When Harry Met Molly pre-ordered for my fun reading. Reading is what I like do when I relax and unwind. What about you? How do you relax after a writing day?

Kieran: I watch a reality TV show with my daughter, something really silly and fun like Project Runway or the Housewives series, or I might watch Modern Family or The Office with the whole family. Sometimes I'll take an evening walk with my husband or go visit my wonderful neighbors. I don't do anything spectacular. But one way I pamper myself every day is to keep a pile of excellent reading material on my bedside table and lying around the house. I'm always reading at least two novels at a time and some magazines.

Me: What do you read? What are your favorite genres? Who are your favorite authors?

Kieran: I read everything, but I focus more on novels than non-fiction. My favorite genres to read in? Of course, romance is my all-time favorite, both contemporaries and historicals. LaVyrle Spencer is my favorite romance author, but I adore so many others as well. We should be proud of how many spectacular romance authors are on the shelves right now!
Other favorite books and authors:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith; I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith; To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; and Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt. I also love Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Herriot, and too many others for me to be able to name them all. 

Me: Your bookshelf and mine sound alike. . Now I’m curious about your next project. What are you working on now?

Kieran:  I'm writing Book 4 in my Impossible Bachelors series.  The title is not set yet—we're still mulling it over. I love a good title, though. It gets me psyched to write the book.

Me: I love your titles for the books. I can see why they inspire you. Today we’re celebrating your debut release When Harry Met Molly. How soon will we see your next book in the Impossible Bachelors series?

Kieran: Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right is coming out Nov. 30th!  And Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage comes out next April.

Me: Awesome. I don’t have to wait too long for my next Kieran Kramer book. This debut is very exciting, but we all know getting published is hard. How long were you trying to get published before you got the call?

Kieran: I wrote my first book fifteen years ago. It was a 60,000-word Regency. That went nowhere—I sent it out to one publisher, and when it got rejected, I put it away (I had a dog's POV in it! And I didn't know what head hopping, conflict, or pacing were). I also didn't know I should keep submitting. I assumed that if one person said they didn't want it, it was no good.  Over the next decade, I got smarter: I joined RWA, and when the Romance Writers Report came every month in the mail, I'd read it cover to cover, which helped me keep the dream alive (although I didn't seek out a local RWA chapter, and I should have).

The bald truth is, I didn't focus on my writing dream as much as a person who wants to get into the business should.  I started a lot of manuscripts and didn't get past Chapter 3 in most of them. The truth was, for me writing was more a hobby and a form of stress relief, a haven I could go to when I needed to replenish me. There's nothing wrong with that, either. I learned a lot in those years!

But time marched on. I was super busy with my kids, and we moved a lot, and life just happened. It wasn’t until my husband got laid off from work about five or six years ago that I got the notion that I had the talent it took to make money with my writing. I began to go to the National RWA conference. That catapulted me to the next level of believing. I saw that this was the place where I would learn the ropes, and I would take full advantage of it. I started reading craft books and writing full or almost full manuscripts rather than snippets. All told, I wrote about four manuscripts over those five years. And then my husband went to Afghanistan and suddenly—age 40 was behind me. That was scary. I didn't want to have any regrets about not pursuing my dreams! I wanted my kids to see that we should all have dreams and go for them. Everything clicked. I felt it the time was right to go all out, full speed ahead, and do this thing. Simply put, I gave myself permission to put my personal passion for writing at the top of my list of priorities. That's when I sold When Harry Met Molly.

Me: Wow, your story is amazing. No regrets and wanting to teach our children to go for their dreams are the main reasons I’m pursuing the dream and waiting for the “call” myself. I know I've got champagne chilling in my fridge for thad day. So tell me, what was it like when you finally got the “call?” How did you celebrate?

Kieran: I'm a very simple person, so I didn't do anything immediately but call my distant family and share lots of hugs from nearby family and friends.  The big celebration came when we got to go to Disney World for the first time. My kids had never been, and two of them were teens. One was ten.  We had such a great time!

Me: I think going to Disney World is a fabulous way to celebrate your success and to share the victory with your family. I might have to do that when I get “the call.” But there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to ask, is it really a “call?”

Kieran: It was a phone call, and I was driving on a very narrow country road when it came! I told my agent I had to hang up or I'd drive off into a corn field!! I was on my way to jury duty, actually. It was fabulous because in the courtroom, we were told to stand and announce our profession, and I got to say, "Hi, I'm Kieran Kramer and I'm a full-time writer." That was cool!  I just had jury duty this week (again, but a different court) and I've since learned that a lot of published people say, "Author" when asked to describe their profession. But I still prefer to say writer—because paid or not, I am a writer, first and foremost. It's who I am, whereas the word "author" describes my output combined with the efforts of a marvelous publishing team. As proud as I am of being an author, I want to stay focused on the core of who I am, which is simply—writer. That might be splitting hairs for some people, but the distinction matters to me.

Me: I love how you separate the idea of being an author from being a writer. This gives authenticity to those of us who are not published yet. What about aspiring writers? What advice would you give to them?

Kieran: To believe in what you're writing. If you don't believe, it won't be any good. Always turn inward, every day, and say, "Why am I doing this?" Ponder it for a moment. Another question you could ask is, "What is it I really want to say?" It's important to start at the foundation and figure out why you write.  Until you do that, you won't hone in on the passion deep inside you that gives you the impetus to write and infuses life into your writing.  In a nutshell, know your worldview and always find your passion.

Me: Excellent advice. What encouragement can you give writers who face rejection?

Kieran: First of all, it's often not you, and many times it's not your manuscript. Sometimes it's simply that an agent or editor is looking for something different. The same way that we all buy winter coats but choose different styles, colors, and fabrics, editors and agents have their own personal preferences. You could have a perfectly lovely manuscript, but it simply doesn't appeal to that editor or agent's tastes. Too many writers don't seem to be aware of this and take rejection as a sign that their writing is not good.

Keep submitting until you locate that agent or editor who looks at it and goes, "Wow!" You want someone to be excited about your work.

If you're submitting for a long time, and every editor and agent offers the same reason for  rejecting it, then maybe you should do something different. But you have to decide what "a long time" is. That's personal. We all develop at different rates in everything we do, including writing. If you want to give yourself just one year—or five or ten—before you change your patterns, that's fine. No one should tell you how long you should give yourself. Some people like to tweak things constantly so they have a faster learning curve. It suits their personalities. But others like their voice to develop like a fine wine. It's all in what YOU want to do.

But set yourself those goals. Give yourself that deadline. Be aware of what you're doing. Don't just keep floating without a plan.

Me: You’ve faced rejection, learned to set goals, and worked through years of learning how to craft a story. What is the most difficult thing about writing for you today?

Kieran: Trying to plot out the story ahead of time. I simply can't get more than the basic turning points on my storyboard or in a synopsis, and even then, they change. For me, the story evolves as I go.

Me: What is the most surprising thing you discovered after you received the "call"?

Kieran: That life doesn't really change that much. But I like it that way and prepared myself for it to be that way, actually. I intentionally went into this adventure telling myself that I already have everything I need, and I do. I have a loving family, true friends, a roof over my head, and food in my belly. I'm extremely blessed.

I think it's very important, no matter where you are in life, to remember what your essence is versus your identity (thanks, Michael Hauge, for your Essence vs. Identity talk). I have a lot of identities, and I love my new identity as an author. But the most important thing of all is that underneath all my roles, I want to be a good person.  If I'm remembered simply as that, I'll be happy.

Thanks for having me today, Christine! I love your blog, and I think it's because you are a very passionate person. Your worldview definitely comes through in your writing. Your cup is half-full instead of half-empty, and that's an awesome way to be.

Me: Thanks for your kind words, Kieran. I’m so glad you stopped in for some champagne and dark chocolate to celebrate today’s release of your debut novel When Harry Met Molly. 


Monday, November 1, 2010

Wine, Women and Adventures at Arrington Vineyards

October was a month where I took some time to play and explore my world. Sure, I had to work on getting requested materials out to people. I also had to judge six contest entries for Southern Magic. And I continued working on  my WIP in discovery while I learned more about social media and critiqued my other writing friends' manuscript pages. But I also made time to play.

How could I resist playing when the skies were so blue and the weather was absolutely perfect? I couldn't! And one thing I really wanted to do was find a winery where the wine wasn't mashed out of muscadine (read sweet) grapes. I miss my Northern Virginia wineries at this time of year. It was time to venture out and find one that met my needs for good wine, excellent views, and fabulous setting.

At the entrance leading up to the winery.
I found one. A friend had recently told me about Arrington Vineyards, located in Tennessee near Nashville. I began investigating the vineyard online. The winery is owned by Kix Brooks of the Brooks & Dunn Country Duo. The website does a fabulous job of describing the history, the location, and the ideas behind starting this vineyard so I won't reiterate the details.

The website enticed me. The winery has real wines like Syrahs, Cabernets, Chardonnays and more. Oh, be-still my wine-loving heart. The distance looked manageable from Madison, AL. Only an hour and forty minutes. So when I learned that my husband was golfing on Friday, I called up his golf buddy's spouse and asked if she'd like to head out on an adventure with me.

She said yes. I promised a yummy crock pot meal afterward at our place for all four of us when we returned from our daylong adventures. She made everyone picnic sandwiches (golfers had their lunch and we had ours) and the day unfolded just as I had hoped.

The wine-tasting building. So pretty!
No longer trusting Tom Tom completely and not wanting to introduce Garmin into the mixture, I printed off a map to the winery. I picked up my friend in Meridianville and we up to Tennessee from her house. The trees were in full color, the skies were clear and bright, and the conversation was non-stop. The time flew by and we arrived at the winery with an appetite for tasting wine and enjoying the beautiful setting.

Great view of the vineyard. 

Many wines to try and buy!

Cute house with autumn decorations.

Plenty of places to sit and visit with friends.
We tasted 7 different wines. We fell in love with four of them. After purchasing a bottle for our lunch (no we didn't finish it LOL), we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. Again, more chatter and a walk afterward to take pictures of the beautiful scenery. We stayed over two hours. I think we could have stayed longer, but we had an hour plus drive ahead of us so off we went. But we'll be heading back again. And I will continue to look for places like Arrington to visit in the future. After all, if I don't take time to play and discover new places, I may run out of things to write about!
Want to stomp some grapes with me?

More breathtaking views

If you live near Nashville, I highly recommend going to Arrington Vineyards. Who knows? You might even run into Kix Brooks on the deck!