Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Memories from Tot to Teen

This is the last year my darling Teen will be home for Halloween. Oh, the memories we've made through the years. The costumes, the school parties, the candy, the parade of tots becoming children and walking into teen shoes. Now those teens are becoming young adults and walking away to university or to college or to wars.

But we all celebrate Halloween in our own ways as adults, too. First by attending parties and acting ridiculous and then by becoming parents and reliving our youth. Plus there's always the ready excuse to eat the candy that doesn't get given away. I'm trying to remember the costumes over the years--and the events.

Here are some highlights:

*First Halloween-a month a bit old. I think I dressed her up in a ladybug costume.
*2nd Halloween-13 months old and she was Nala with whiskers and ears. I got her pajamas that we used as a costume. She slept in them for a long time.
*A parade of Disney princesses for the next few years. Her first, and her daddy's first, pumpkin carving experience at 3 years old. Oh, I still have the photos of them carving the faces while outside on the driveway. So adorable. Such love in Daddy's eyes and such patience, too.
*Most funny princess was when she was Belle in her gold ball gown. I drew eyebrows on her face because she had such blonde hair you couldn't see her brows. Looked hilarious.
*butterfly wings and a painted face in 2nd grade
*Hershey's Kiss-twice
*A bride to a short groom with her 10th grade friend. Found her dress at the thrift store and paid $20 for it.
*Parties-Girl Scout parties, school parties, home parties, friend parties
*walking around the block with her daddy while I gave away the candy at home
*More carving pumpkins, elaborate detailed pumpkins which we lit up every year
*Jeremy-her tiny pumpkin that she refused to throw away long after Halloween ended.
*Jeremy becomes a tradition
*Halloween movies, mazes, haunted houses
*She giving away candy to the little ones and getting gooey about how cute they are
*Me getting all gooey about how much my darling Teen has grown up.


What are your favorite Halloween Memories?

Friday, October 28, 2011

DC Memorials

I have had a great time with my friend Petra during my trip to DC. We've eaten at amazing restaurants, gone on winery tours, visited the Shenandoah Mountains, and toured the Memorials in DC. All of my adventures would not be happening had it not been for the brave men and women who serve my country and who served my country in the past. It is beyond moving to see people at the Korean, Vietnam, WWII Memorials taking rubbings, leaving letters, posing with their loved ones as a memorial to their own families. Martin Luther King's Memorial also moved me in that it displayed how we also have had to fight within our own borders to give all people their rights. Are we there yet? No. But we have definitely come a very long way. Imagine seeing the Martin Luther King Memorial juxtaposed next to the Lincoln Memorial and next to the Roosevelt Memorial.

As I read the quotes on the memorials I realized that those words ring true today. I realized that what made my nation strong once still rings true today.  I realized that after each and every war, whether on foreign soil or here at home, our nations leaders abhorred war, wanted peace, and wanted no more conflict.

Though conflicts still exist, though our nation faces so many trials, though we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, I cling to Roosevelt's words, Martin Luther King's words, the words of those who thanked us, the words our children will say tomorrow.

Freedom isn't free... 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why I Love Northern Virginia--A Picture Blog

Me and Petra at Hillsboro Vineyard in Northern VA. 
I'm back in DC visiting my dear friend and celebrating her milestone birthday. I lived in the Northern Virginia area for over 9 years. I love the vineyards, the museums, the variety, the restaurants, the zany political atmosphere, the monuments... I believe this is the best place I've ever lived and I've lived in a few pretty amazing places. I came here to do all things my friend and I used to do over the course of a year IN A WEEK.

First day? We visited a local wine store and had a FREE wine tasting. We walked in gorgeous Vienna, VA and had a lovely dinner at a fun restaurant called DOGFISH. Seriously great food at great prices. Mucho thanks and XXOOs to my friend's hubby who treated me. Second day? Well, pictures tell it all. Wineries, food, chilling. Can't beat this area for fun stuff to do for young and old alike.

Here is my slide show of all my fun in Hillsboro, VA and the surrounding countryside.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Post It or Forget It--My Reminder Wall

I have a very good memory, but I am also very visual and need concrete reminders about what to do as a writer, mother, friend, wife. If I don't see it, I often don't do it. My CINC House (Commander in Chief of Household) notes are pretty typical. I have a fridge with a grocery list, an in-box where all my important daily papers go, 3 binders holding household info, medical info (ugh), and Darling Teen info which I maintain. I also have a calendar with all our important appointments which hangs on the fridge. And finally I have my weekly to-do list in a spiral notebook which has my writing tasks and my CINC House tasks written down. This works for me. Sometimes things slip through the cracks (like my Darling Teen's Spanish 2 final but that's fixed now--I hope), but that's life. And honestly, sometimes I just ignore the task--it keeps moving to the next page and the next week till I get sick of writing it down.

My writing world had different kinds of notes. I'm a Post-it note girl and an Index Card Girl. I am so into my Post-its that when I am a published author that is what I'm going to giveaway as a promotional item. I got a Post-it stack from author Sharon Archer when I won her book THE MAN BEHIND THE BADGE. I love them. They have her name and her information on the top left corner and a beautiful photo indicating her genre--Medical Romance. Can you guess what the picture is? If you do, I'll send you a gift card from Starbucks. Not only are Sharon's Post-its appreciated, I also appreciated reading her book. She's a wonderful writer with a great eye for detail, an excellent melodic voice, and compelling characters.

The wall behind my laptop is covered with reminders, inspiration, and craft information. Right now the following notes are on my wall:

*Golden Heart entries with two checks to indicate payment for the first two entries (I have four to enter and want to spread the financial pain).
*Character Reaction Order of Events: 1-physical, 2-thought, 3-dialogue, 4-purposeful action. BE VIVID. This is my quick & dirty cheat sheet for writing visceral, deep, and detailed character reactions.
*Motivation sentence (cause), Reaction Sentence (effect). Thank you James Scott Bell for that Q&D
*MP (midpoint) has to have a Moment of Grace. Hero/Heroine aware of moral premise.
*Recap Due for GIAMx4 (Goal in a Month) December 13th.
*Suzanne Johnson Interview Questions for March 2012 (debut author!!)
*Audience: who reads is very important. The world is waiting for me to get it right. LEARN PERSIST BE SERIOUS. COMMIT MASTER AND KEEP LEARNING. CHAMPION YOUR WRITING! BE A WARRIOR WRITER!
*Jennifer Greene: "Conflict is what the main character CAN'T walk away from..."
*12 Stages of Intimacy (won't detail that here LOL)
*Straight Contemporary Authors to read--Robin Kaye, Melanie Milbourne, Melinda Curtis--recommendations from Margie Lawson (who is an awesome teacher)
*My Yahoo email address and login password
*Dates for my final two Petit Fours & Hot Tamales blogs (Yikes, one is due to be posted tomorrow)
*Enid Blyton (I read her books when I was a kid and I keep meaning to hunt them down)
*Query Tracker login and user name
*blogger username/login
*Disney ID (I can dream of going again and again and again)
*my RWA #
*Tami Cowden's FROM LUST TO LOVE worksheet
*Michael Hauge's 6 Stage Plot Structure Worksheet
*Latest blurb for next book I'm writing THE MAVERICK'S RED HOT REUNION
*An email about editing and agents
*a quote from Donald Maass
*word count for a Golden Heart entry and a note to check spelling is same throughout document of a character's last name.
*an index card with notes about what to seek and destroy in ALL my manuscripts. Words like after, were, saw, was, etc. Checking transitions, modifiers, etc. (not that I always succeed).

On days when I am blue, I open my closet door and I read the Things That Make Me Smile list. On days when I feel like a hack who will never see her books get published, I open my closet door and read my list of accomplishments (which are not exclusive to writing). And on days when I feel uninspired, I open my closet door and look at my Hugh Jackman poster.

What's on your wall?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life in Revision & Introducing Catadora Tonks

Well I've been absent and missing in action in my cyber world for about 3 weeks. I occasionally have posted on the blog, but there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. Why? Two reasons. One is that I have new fur baby. I didn't think we'd adopt another kitten after I had to say goodbye to my beloved Dowager Feline Clancy, but on September 24th my daughter told me that a kitten born 7 weeks earlier was headed for the pound. She was one of 7 born to a stray cat. The people who'd taken in the stray and kittens couldn't keep them all and had found homes for 4 kittens. I had ONE day to make up my mind. I couldn't even go see her because I had a scheduled event I couldn't miss.

I sent Darling Teen in my place. The kitten was at a school friend's sister's apartment. She called me to tell me about the tiny fur baby and I said, "Bring her home to me." They drove home with this kitten in her friend's lap, a big cup of dry cat food and that was about it. I had 5 women at my house for a Ladies Night and I left them as soon as I heard the garage door opening. There she was, the tiniest little bit of cream puff fluff and scared as could be after a traumatic car ride. I took her into my arms and it was instant. The connection, the love, and the trust she had for me was immediate. So for her first night with us she stayed in my arms, was loved on, had a bed and litter box set up in our master bedroom suite and was welcomed home.

I called the vet immediately and scheduled an appointment for the following Monday. We spent a great deal of time keeping her separated from the Darling Teen's cat Mischief. Mischief is 10 and not the best tempered cat plus we didn't want either cat to get an illness before my kitty went to the vet. Still no name at this point. We spent a full two days batting around ideas. All were shot down. Finally we zeroed in on a Harry Potter themed name. But the kitten was female. Not a lot of cat sounding names in the female characters. We hemmed and hawed. We played around with Le Fleur's name. That didn't work. Finally we had an idea. Nymphadora Tonks, Lupin's wife and just a great character stood out. We ended up transforming the name to reflect our little feline. Catadora Tonks, Tonks for short, had a name.

In the weeks following our adoption of our itty bit of fluff, I've attended the Moonlight & Magnolias conference, revised three chapters for an agent request, wrote a brand new first chapter for the Mills & Boon New Voices contest only to miss the deadline due to my inability to subtract (grrr), and revised four manuscripts beginnings for the Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest. As soon as I finished the contest entries, I began preparing my Golden Heart entries. I will enter 4 manuscripts this year--including the new one which is not finished yet. First up, I worked on the synopsis for the TYCOON because that story is completely different due to the revise and resubmit for Mills & Boon. Ugh. Dreaded synopsis revealed a bit of a plot/story issue. Fortunately, I don't have to "fix" that yet. I revised the first 50 pages of TYCOON, tweaking it and strengthening it for the contest. I have two more to work on before I head out to D.C. on Saturday.

Basically I am in revision and contest hell, but it's all worth it because it is making me push the envelope. And when I am not busy writing and trying to keep up with the household stuff and my family, I am playing with my brand new sweetheart. Catadora Tonks is a delight and a joy. Always sweet, good natured and a cuddle bug. She loves to play so when I take a break from my writing, I get on the floor and get her chasing after feathers on sticks and balls with bells in them.

Life is busy, I am tired. Catadora Tonks wants to play.
I am happy. Busy, but happy. There are a lot of good things in store for me and my family. I want to enjoy my daughter this year--her last year of school before she graduates. I want to enjoy my new kitten. I want to enjoy my new friends. And I want to enjoy working hard to build my writing career. I want to expand time, find a million and one ways to do it all, but that's just not possible. This time of year is always crammed full of stuff to do--as a family and as a writer. Sometimes things have to go by the wayside.

What do you put on the wayside when life gets hectic? Can you really do it all? If you can, tell me how.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Break Out the Bubbly & Dark Chocolate--Celebrating Carla Swafford's Debut Novel CIRCLE OF DESIRE

Fabulous Cover!

I am delighted to have a very special writing sister on the blog today. I met Carla Swafford 3 years ago at a Southern Magic Romance Writer's meeting. Carla's always been active in the group, a wonderful mentor, a contest coordinator for the Linda Howard Award of Excellence, our web mistress, and and and... she just helps all the time. She's a wonderful writer and a great friend, so I'm excited to announce that she's got her first book release coming out this week! CIRCLE OF DESIRE. And after reading her 4 1/2 star book review in Romance Times, I bet she'll have lots of books releasing in the future. A fabulous debut for a fabulous writer! *PoP* PouR* *Cheers!* 

Welcome to the Veranda, Carla. Thanks so much, Christine, for the invitation to talk about my debut book, CIRCLE OF DESIRE. 
I'm honored to have you here, Carla. Tell me, are you a plotter or do you follow the muse?  
I wish I was a plotter. Maybe most who write by the seat of their pants feel that way. Though I do have to mention, when I reach the halfway mark in any of my books, I’ll often write out parts of what Blake Snyder (SAVE THE CAT) called his Beat Sheet. It’s fifteen “beats” to a story. For example: Opening Image, Theme Stated, Set-up, Catalyst, etc. Plus I use Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure and Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY to flesh out what I’ve written. This also pushes me to finish my book.
I have all three books in my writing shelf. Love to use them. Great reminder to dust off my craft books, Carla. When does your new book release and where can we find it? 
My debut book, CIRCLE OF DESIRE, will be out October 18 by HarperCollins, Avon Impulse.  It’ll be in e-format and later in paperback through print-on-demand. You can find it at Amazon and on-line at Barnes and Noble.  Here’s the blurb for it.
As the top assassin at The Circle, a shadowy group of mercenaries, Olivia St. Vincent can hunt down anyone. She's been trained since she was a teenager to kill without feeling, to interact with men without love. But when she's kidnapped by the enigmatic leader of a rival organization, she learns she's been lied to for years. She never worked for the good guys.
Collin Ryker believes the sultry woman he's abducted knows more than she's telling about The Circle and its plans for complete domination. Over time, as they work together, Olivia's tenacity and vulnerability captivate him. But if he isn't careful, Collin will fall into the biggest trap of all: caring for a woman who can betray him to his greatest enemy.
Oh, this book sounds so thrilling, dark, and sexy. I can't wait to read it! What is your current project? 
I’m actually writing the second book in the series, CIRCLE OF DANGER. It’s due out the first half of 2012. Like a lot of readers, I love to find out what happens to supporting characters from a previous book. This will be the story of Collin’s brother.
I love reading books in a series. Visiting my "people" again. Where do you get your ideas for your stories? 
Oh, everywhere. From newspaper articles, TV shows, and my favorite way, from songs. I’ve written two books (unpublished) that were based on songs: THE PREACHER’S SON is from LeAnn Rimes’s “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way.” I loved the beginning and ending of the song in particular. It goes “Got a date a week from Friday with the preacher’s son. Everybody says he’s crazy.” And it ends, “Got a date a week from Friday with the preacher's son. Everybody says I’m crazy.” Love it! 
The other one was A SHERIFF TO CALL HER OWN and it was based on an Eric Clapton classic, I Shot The Sheriff. The heroine shoots the sheriff in a fit of rage. Thankfully it was only a nick, and he’s very understanding. It was so much fun to write. Maybe one day they’ll be published.
When it comes to CIRCLE OF DESIRE, it came from my love for the TV series from the 90s, Le Femme Nikita. The characters in the series had so many layers, and the show was so sexy even when no one was naked.
I hope your other books get published, too, Carla. How long were you trying to get published before you got the “call?” 
I’ve been a member of RWA since 1993, but my usual answer is nine years. Let me explain. Though I received my first rejection in 1992, I waited ten years before trying again. Like a lot of writers, family obligations and a day job got in the way. Then in 2002 after several more rejections, I turned to my local RWA chapter, Southern Magic, to find out what I was doing wrong. I quickly realized I had so much to learn about writing and the industry. Everyone should go to those meetings. You’ll hear what editors are looking for, which agents to avoid, how to pitch your manuscript, and so much more. There’s a wealth of information given out that you can never learn on your own.
I completely agree about the romance chapters being crucial to getting ahead in this business. My writing soared after I joined RWA. Attending the meetings is vital to developing craft, networking, and making friends who "get us." Tell me, was the “call” an actual phone conversation or an email or a snail mail? 
The initial contact was by email. A few minutes after five in the afternoon, I was about to leave work to go to a hair appointment. Since I wouldn’t be home until late, I decided to check my email. I noticed one of the subject lines read, “Out of the Shadows” (later changed to CIRCLE OF DESIRE). At first, I thought it was something to do with one of the writing contests I’d entered. I swear it took me a minute or so before I realized what I was reading. Avon Impulse wanted my book, and the editor wanted to call me if it was convenient. CONVENIENT? Heck, yes! It was so exciting. I rate it up there with holding my children for the first time. Not higher, but pretty close to equal. My kids might read this. :-)
Well, our books are like our babies, aren't they? So wonderful to see all your hard work rewarded! What advice would you give aspiring writers? 
I have lots of advice as I had aspired for years. So my top five: 1) Don’t give up; 2) Keep it simple; 3) Learn everything you can; 4) Be polite to everyone; 5) Follow your heart; 6) Pass it forward (help others to become published even when you’re not). Karma can play a role in getting you published.
Yes, helping others and being polite are so important. And I'd add another one, remember to say "thank you" to those who've helped along the way. Which I know you do! What encouragement can you give writers who face rejection? 
Anything worth having is hard to attain. Of course, there is always that author friend who had their first book published. They’re the exception and not the rule. Overall, if we want something bad enough, we’ll keep working, keep trying something new and keep improving on our craft. That rejection can mean many things. It may have nothing to do with your writing. The editor may have just bought a story with the same basic plot line. Or she may not like stories with witches or heroines with pets. Editors and agents rarely have time to give you details. If you continue to get rejections for one story, write another and start sending that one out after you finished and have it critiqued.
Excellent advice. What is the most surprising thing you discovered after you received the call?
That everyone won’t bow down and kiss my feet. I just don’t understand it. LOL!
This is why I love you, Carla. You're make me laugh and I'm so happy for you!! Congratulations again on your wonderful debut release CIRCLE OF DESIRE! 
You can find Carla at the following addresses online. I know she'd love to hear from you.  Meanwhile join the excitement all week with Carla. She has a blog tour that starts today and ends on October 25th. On the 25th  she’ll draw names from all the commenters for 4 prizes.  $25 Amazon gift certificate from Avon Impulse.  And 3 $10 gift cards to Barnes and Noble.  One prize per winner. I know I'll be following her all week. :-)
Twitter: @carlaswafford

Monday, October 10, 2011

Do the Math--Or Lose Your Chances

I've been missing in action for a while. That's because I've been working on a submission for an agent and pulling together my Mills & Boon New Voices entry. I got both tasks done in record time. I'm proud of myself, but guess what folks? I am lousy at dealing with time change numbers. I missed the deadline because I thought it was midnight their time (UK).

Won't lie. I am sad. I cried. I don't cry very often, but I was so very proud of the work and the story. What to do? I considered posting it here, but that would be silly. I want to query the editors and see if they'll take my story from the slush pile.

Meanwhile, I'm cooked and golden like a goose for the rest of the day. I think I shall pour an early glass of wine and have a tiny pity party.

Tomorrow I write again.