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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Visit to the Ancient Roman City of Tipaza

For those of us who write historical novels, nothing is more exciting than a visit to the places we write about. Although I have not yet written a novel set in Roman times, I thought I would share the photos of my recent trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Tipaza in the hope that another author might find them useful or inspiring.

Looking out over the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, it's easy to see why Phoenicians decided to build their city here. Tipaza became a Roman colony during the time of the emperor Claudius.

The sea breeze and abundant shade trees make for a pleasant stroll through the city, even on the hottest summer days.

You can still sit in the amphitheater and imagine the plays.

This is a backstage dressing room.

And the stairs leading into the theater. The man in red was our expert tour guide who was kind enough to take us through the entire site even though it was closing time.

The most interesting things at the site are the details. This urn (above) could have stored water, oil, or grains. Throughout Tipaza there are bits of mosaic and red paint which give some notion of how colorful the city must have been.

In the roads, there are trenches which carried hot water to the buildings from a geothermal source. There are also places where ruts made by chariot wheels have survived 2000 years.

The squares carved into the stone are where door hinges would attach.

The arch above is one of many ovens on the site.

These are the ruins of the Basilica of Saint Salsa, which is named for a 4th century Christian woman who was stoned to death after throwing a serpent head idol into the sea. Notice the mosaic in the foreground.

There is also a stele of Albert Camus at the site. The tomb of Cleopatra's daughter is not far from Tipaza.

I would love to hear your historical travel stories. Do you like to visit ancient ruins? What is the oldest place you've ever visited and what was your favorite thing about it?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Deciding What to Read and How to Read It

Even though many of us have a mile high stack of to-be-read books, we will look for new ones. At least I do. I will go so far as to say I have an addiction to print books. I don’t think there is any such thing as having too many books and have a sweatshirt that says that exact thing, given to me by someone who knows me very well. However, how we go about finding new books and authors is changing, almost daily.

When I was younger there was no internet and we went about getting books the old fashioned way – searching at a book store. Some made use of the library (and still do). I am not a library person. I am not saying there is anything wrong with libraries because they are wonderful, exciting places. The problem is me, and not getting books back on time. I tried one year to save money and read only library books. I am not sure I saved all that much after the fines were paid. My friend, on the other hand, reads only library books, finishes them in a timely manner, and gets them back when due. I envy that in her. I’ve tried to be like that, I really have, but I guess I am not organized enough.

So, since borrowing from the library is out, stores were the next best option. There used to be two in the mall, and five more that were part of various strip malls within close driving distance. The last mall bookstore closed two years ago and a local Christian bookstore closed, then reopened last year under new ownership. The rest are gone, but there is a B&N down the road, and Borders a little further away. While it was sad to see the others go, I am glad for the B&N, Borders and the one remaining Christian bookstore. There is also a used bookstore that carriers new releases written by local authors. I love this store too. (Note: I’ve never met a bookstore I didn’t love).

The bookstore as we know it began to change when the B&N’s and Borders came to be, which is not news to anyone who reads. But, as the B&N and Borders were growing the internet became more popular and Amazon was discovered by billions, and readers had new options for finding and purchasing books (among other products). I’ve been to Amazon often and don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve probably spent over the years. Have I mentioned my addiction? Where it used to be only paperback and hardback books were available, now you can purchase new or used, paperback, hardback, e-book and audio. Ever option is available for most of the books. I’ve recently added audio books to my reading preferences. Since I seem to be spending more and more time on the go, I love having a book waiting for me in the CD player in my car and I don’t take a road trip without one ready to go and another waiting to be “read”. At home, I still rely on the old-fashioned way of reading – paper.

E-readers are becoming more and more popular, and I can understand the draw, but I don’t own one and don’t see myself purchasing one in the near future. It goes back to holding that paper product in my hand and cracking the binding for the first time when I open the book to discovery a new world and meet new characters. And, an e-reader cannot replace my audio books (at least to my knowledge).

Readers now can discover new authors and genres through websites and blogs, instead of searching the bookshelves for that wonderful find. This is great for all authors out there, especially those who are with the smaller publishers who aren’t granted shelf space in the larger bookstores or those who are with publishers who only e-publish.

But, with all of the technology the bookstore as we know is disappearing and this makes me very sad. I have heard that Border’s is suffering and now I read an article that Amazon may be purchasing B&N. What will that mean for the store? Will the day come that there are no more bookstores? The idea is too scary to contemplate, at least for me.

One of my favorite outings is going into one of my local bookstores and searching the many shelves for interesting books. After I have my stack, I wander into the café, order a calorie filled coffee drink and spend some relaxation time reading first chapters and such before I decide which ones I am going to purchase. My husband and kids often accompany me on these trips and we split up the moment we were inside because none of us like the same thing. But, we meet back in the café, all with books in our arms and talk about why we are drawn to the books we are considering. I love these trips and I really hope the bookstore doesn’t become extinct because trying to choose my next reading material on the internet, by myself, with a generic cup of black coffee is just not the same.

Do you own an e-reader and how do you prefer it over paper? Do you still frequent bookstores or do you prefer the internet? How do you discover new authors and books? Is it still that trusted friend or do blogs have equal influence? I am very curious as to the trends of the readers out there. I can read all about what the industry sees happening, but how do you, as a reader, decide what to read and how to read it?

Amy De Trempe
Duchess of Decency

Friday, August 27, 2010

And so comes the end of summer – from the Ava ½ of Lydia Dare~

This year, my son and I took a cruise vacation the week before his school term began. We just got back last week. This wasn’t our first cruise, but it was one of the best! I should probably admit to being a bit of a travel snob and fairly spoiled as far as traveling goes in general. Most of this comes from the years I’ve spent as a meeting planner/travel manager for an IT consulting firm.

Usually when I travel, it is for business. Because I’ve contracted large groups and brought a number of people to a certain hotel or venue, I get treated like royalty. I am given the nicest room with the prettiest view. And waiting for me inside my nice room, there’s always a big basket of fruit, cheese, wine and a glowing note from the management telling me how wonderful I am. Best of all, it’s all free. Yep, being a meeting planner does wonders for your ego.

However, when I travel for vacation and I’m footing the bill, I get none of those perks; not usually anyway. I end up with a small room, with a less than desirable view. There’s no gift basket awaiting me. No note gushing about what a delight I am to know. In fact, they don’t even know who I am. Vacations are very humbling affairs for me.

But not this one.

This time, we went all out. In other words, we splurged. I reserved a suite and arranged for a limo transfer from the airport. We pretended we were celebrities. My son barely rolled down the tinted window enough for his hand and waved at the pedestrians along the streets of Miami, as though he was rich and famous.

We went parasailing, kayaking, snorkeling, and spent a day at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau. When we were tired, we rested on our balcony overlooking the Caribbean and just breathed in the fresh air. On board the ship, we won progressive trivia and Twilight trivia (although my son won’t admit to the latter), taking away the amazing prizes of a mug and highlighter.

This year my mother and my brother Ryan joined us for the cruise, which was a first time for them. It was so wonderful having them along for the ride, and the four of us have already put a deposit down for a cruise next summer.

I am so addicted to my iphone, that at first it was difficult not being able to send or receive emails in international water or ports. We were essentially cut off from society for a few days and I got the shakes. But in the end, not being able to communicate with the outside world was nice too.

But all good things must come to an end. School begins. Deadlines loom. Ex-es wait in the wings to ruin your day. And work calls for you to return. My late night evenings will be put on hold until next summer vacation. My days of waking up at 5:00am have returned in full force.

I am already dreaming about next year’s vacation.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Industry Gossip— what’s in the works right now?

Okay so we all get that the industry is changing and at an incredible velocity. So much so, I’m sitting here writing this blog and wondering what news has hit twitter today, when I should be worried about what I’m going to write next instead. With that said, not all of the gossip at the mill is bad these days.

I think some of the best news has come from Kristen Nelson’s blog just after nationals where she summed up the industry news. You can find that post here http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2010/08/rwaorlando-florida-day-2-after.html

I’m so excited to see that maybe there is a turn in taste in the industry. Not that paranormal is a bad thing, just that I’m looking forward to something different. Of course, it bodes well for me that westerns may be bandied about here soon, considering I have a four book western series I am trying shop around. Wish me luck with that one lol.

But as a reader, I must say our pickings for variety have been rather slim, especially in the historical genre. Even you paranormal and regency die—hards, must admit the truth in this.

So when I read this info I got really excited and started searching the book stores each week to see if anything has changed. So far, I only see regencies and paranormals but that’s not to say that soon enough it won’t change. So while I am looking forward to some exotic location in a story, I want to know what do you, as a reader, wish to see different in the industry. This doesn’t even have to pertain to the genres of books. This could be a change in the covers or anything else you can think of. So tell me what would you like to see different in the industry or are you completely happy with how things are at this moment in time? What say yo

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Famous failures to cheer you up!

I’m optimistic by nature. However, when I do get down, I can throw a world-class pity party. Yesterday, was one of those days for me.  I called one of my best friends and waxed, or perhaps whined, poetically on all the reasons I felt like giving up on my dream. She listened patiently, told me I was wonderful, and then accompanied me to wine club where I spent several hours eating delicious, calorie packed finger foods and drinking red wine. I felt like I should have been over my pity party, but I wasn’t. The pity lingered like bad perfume. On the way home, I called my mother who told me to check my e-mail when I got home.

Leave it to my mother to get right to the heart of the matter. She sent me excerpts from a book about famous failures and highlighted this quote:

“Failure might just be the greatest thing that can possibly happen to you. It tests your determination, forces you to reassess your goals, and makes you stronger, more passionate, and more committed.” Joey Green

I don’t know why but reading how other people, people who went on to make it big, failed, made me feel better. I don’t know if that makes me twisted or perhaps it goes back to the saying that misery loves company. Whichever it is, or even if it’s neither, I wanted to share some of what I read-just in case there is someone out there today trying to succeed but wondering if they really have what it takes.

A Few Famous Failures

Richard Hooker’s novel MASH was rejected by twenty-one publishing houses. William Morrow published MASH in 1968. The book was made into a movie by Robert Altman and into a bestseller that spawned the long-running television comedy series.

Frank Herbert’s first novel, Dune, was rejected by thirteen publishing houses. Dune was finally published by Chilton in 1965 and went on to sell more than ten million copies and win the Hugo and Nebula awards. This book is considered a science fiction classic.

James Joyce had his first book, a collection of short stores called Dubliners, rejected by twenty-two publishing houses. It was finally published in 1914 and Joyce was hailed as a genius for his use of stream of consciousness. He also wrote A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake – all critically acclaimed novels.

Robert Sterling’s first forty freelance scripts for radio dramas were all rejected. Mr. Sterling became one of televisions most successful writers. He created and hosted the shows The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery and wrote the screenplays for Requiem for A Heavyweight and Planet of the Apes.

Patrick Dennis’s novel Auntie Mame was rejected by seventeen publishing houses. Vaguard published the book in 1955. It was a runaway bestseller, selling more than two million copies and was adapted into a Broadway show.

Sinclair Lewis said of his first five novels: “I lacked sense enough to see that, after five failures, I was foolish to continue writing.” He went on to write the American classics Main Street, Elmer Gantry, The Man Who Knew Coolidge, and Dodsworth. Lewis became the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I know I feel better - hope you do too!

"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Friedrich Nietzsche

I'd love to hear any famous stories you might know.

Have a great day!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How may I be of service?

The staple character of many historical romances is the humble, unobtrusive servants of our heroes and heroines. These underpaid, overworked creatures of fiction, based on real life roles, have taught me much about a different time when life was ruled strictly by our positions.

Let us take, for instance, the indispensable valet. This man, this aide to our historical hero served his time with little public recognition for his exhausting efforts. He was expected to have a competent knowledge of the habits of polite life and be thoroughly acquainted with etiquette and fashion. I got my first glimpse of the duties of a valet from reading romantic fiction, but what was he really expected to do?

Valet - early 1800’s

* 21 to 31 pounds per annum with livery
* 31 to 47 pounds per annum without livery
* master’s cast off clothes


1. Attend to the personal accommodation of his master both at home and when traveling. Suggested routine:

Early morning
* clean boots and shoes, brush clothes and complete all other work prior so as to reach the dressing room prior to the master awakening
* see that the housemaid has lit the fire and cleaned out and dusted the room
* lay out the washstand: fill the ewer with clean water, provide towels, brushes, toothbrushes and powers, razor and strop
* air dressing gown and slippers by the fire
* lay out suitable attire for the morning, assist with dressing and combing of hair
After the master departs
* return chamber to neat and tidy state in preparation for his return
* valet remains on call at all times to assist his master

When traveling:
* ensure sufficient linen for the length of journey is packed, as well as personal grooming implements
* unpack master’s dressing-room needs and if no footman in attendance, attend the masters accommodation below stairs also

2. Take care of his entire wardrobe:
* remove grease spots from clothing
* revive faded black cloth
* clean leather, gloves, gold lace and embroidery, polish buckles, and chains
* apply blacking to boots and shoes
* apply varnish to straw or chip hats

3. Attend to the general business of the dressing room:
* wait on the master while dressing and undressing
* manage razors and shaving (not all gentlemen shaved themselves)
* manufacture personal soap suited to the master’s taste
* maintain scalps (hairpiece)

* always be in attendance
* keep his master’s confidences
* self-possessions and ease of manners
* assist in waiting at table at all meal-times
* devotion to mental improvement during leisure time will recommend him to his master

Honestly, after reading about the poor put upon valet I’m fairly exhausted. They really had a tough life being at the beck and call of their masters. I might like to read about regency life but I'm getting the idea I wouldn't like to live it.

Lady Wicked w/a Heather Boyd

The Servant’s Guide and Family Manual, … 1831
The Complete Servant, by Samuel and Sarah Adams, MDCCCXXV (1825)
Domestic Duties; or Instructions to Young Married Ladie …, by Mrs. William Parkes 1825

Monday, August 23, 2010

How TV Leads to Kitchen Disasters

For those who know my husband and me, you probably know that we're not terribly great in the kitchen. I'm okay at whipping up pasta or crockpot recipes, but beyond that, I'm not much of a cook. I do love to bake, but now that we have a child, it seems like such a daunting task.

So, you might find it kind of odd that this summer we've watched-almost exclusively-food shows. Cupcake Wars, Cake Boss, The Great American Food Truck Race...just to name a few. And somehow, these shows inspire us to do things...

What kind of things, you may ask?

Well, one night as we watched Cupcake Wars, we began to speculate about how many cupcake bakeries there were in NYC. We paused the show and began the search, which led to us making our own Google Map of the bakeries, grouping them together by neighborhood, starting a blog to share pictures and tasting notes...by the time we were done it was too late to finish the show. This decision to embark on our own cupcake tour has resulted in us eating about a hundred cupcakes in the last 2 weeks...and we've only done two of the neighborhoods! Thankfully, all the cupcakes are tax deductible since they can be considered research for my top secret new project :) And the 5k we're training for cancels out all the calories! Hooray!

But the real genius (okay, stupidness) came one night during the premier episode of The Great American Food Truck Race. If you're not familiar, 10 specialty food trucks from LA are traveling across the country in a race to see who can sell more of their food in foreign markets. They have 48 hours in a new city to find a good spot on the street, market their truck and sell their food. It's super fun.

Somehow, this show inspired us to come up with our own original creation. Again, we paused the show and ran to the kitchen. The plan: use a straw to hollow out the inside of a banana, pour chocolate into the hole, batter dip the banana, fry it, then top with chocolate sauce, confectioners sugar and whipped cream. Of course, we documented the entire process with photos...

Here's the egg mixture and extra bananas, just in case...

Let the dredging begin...(Note the straw above the banana...that process was too tricky to photograph...we needed all hands on deck for that one...)

Into the frying pan...

Preparing the toppings while the banana fries...

Is that looking a little smoky to you?

Yup! It wouldn't be a party unless the smoke alarm went off...right outside the baby's room...

Thankfully, the baby slept right through it and we were able to enjoy our fried chocolate banana...

You might be wondering how it tasted, and I have to say, it wasn't too bad. Will I make it again, though? Definitely not :)

I would love to hear if you, too, are inspired by television to do impulsive things. Did it turn out well or did it turn out to be a terrible idea?

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Friday, August 20, 2010

Our Guest: Author Leigh Michaels

Our guest blogger today is author Leigh Michaels. Leigh is the author of nearly 100 books, including contemporary novels, historical novels, and non-fiction, with more than 35 million copies in print. Six of her books have been finalists in RWA’s RITA contest. She has received two Reviewer’s Choice awards from Romantic Times magazine. Her newest books, coming from Sourcebooks, are historical romance novels set in Regency London. The Mistress’ House will be published in February 2011 and Just One Season In London in July 2011.

She is the author of On Writing Romance, published by Writers Digest Books. She teaches romance writing online at Gotham Writers’ Workshop (www.writingclasses.com) and has taught at the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and at writers workshops across the Midwest. She is currently an adjunct professor in the school of communications at the University of Iowa. Her website is www.leighmichaels.com.

Welcome, Leigh!

All my life, I’ve enjoyed reading historical romances, from the moment I discovered Jane Eyre on my grandmother’s bookshelf and fell in love with Mr. Rochester. When I found Georgette Heyer, I thought I was in heaven. When romance publishers took a turn toward the Regency period, I read historicals as an escape from writing contemporary romance. (I got the same feel-good payoff as I did from chocolate, but with fewer calories.)

I followed up my historical fiction habit by reading history, social commentary, diaries, and period literature. So when I started writing Regency-era historicals, I felt reasonably well informed about the Regency period – the etiquette, the language, the manners, the food, the titles. I’m not fool enough to think I know it all, of course, but I did believe I was alert and knowledgeable enough to recognize potential pitfalls in time to look them up.

It came as a bit of a shock, therefore, when I got the copy-edited manuscript of my first Regency historical and realized how many of the phrases and terms I’d thought were ancient were not used until well after the Regency period. Here are a few of them, and the dates when the authorities in the dictionary business say they first appeared:

brandy snifter – 1844

pick-me-up – 1867

footloose – 1873

sadist – 1888 (I’d have sworn the Marquis de Sade was Georgian, not Victorian, so it never occurred to me to look him up to make certain. Color me red-faced.)

hairstyle – 1913

French doors – 1917

love nest – 1919

hideaway – 1926

pablum – 1948 (Okay, I admit this one really hurts. I was off by a hundred and thirty years?)

My ego is wounded and my self-esteem has slipped... But at least I knew enough not to let my Regency heroine use ego and self-esteem to describe her state of mind!

Now it’s your turn... In your reading, what anachronisms have you discovered in historical novels? Are there any modern-day references that you know perfectly well don’t belong in your historical, but you still have to struggle to avoid using them? Please share.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I do not deal well with the heat. When it gets to this time of year, I wish I was anywhere but where I live.

Here in North Texas, we've had weeks of triple-digit temperatures, day after day after day. Two days ago, we finally had a cool front blow in. Within about an hour the dropped to the mid 80's, and I did a little happy dance. Granted, the cold front only kept it that cool for a couple of hours. After that, we returned to a lovely 99 degrees.

Yeah, that's where it has rested since then, too. Just under that 100 degree mark.

I know there are people who live for this kind of weather. My brother and sister-in-law have been virtually living at the lake during this stretch of time. One of my sisters has spent as much time at a friend's pool as she has at her own home.

But me? I try to stay inside, lock myself in the air conditioning and lock the heat out. Even then, the air can barely keep up with the heat, and I sit beneath a ceiling fan, sweating, dreaming of snow.

You see, I would be happy living somewhere that the temperature never rose above 50 degrees. I'd rather cover up with a blanket than strip off everything that I decently can. I prefer needing a fire to needing to run the A/C.

So why do I live here? Honestly, the only reason is because this is where my family lives. If not for them, I'd be in Alaska or Canada, or maybe Maine. Iceland might work. Siberia, anyone?

Anyone else wishing winter was right around the corner?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Family Fun or Bust

I remember piling into our green station wagon as a kid and taking off for a two-week vacation almost every year. It seemed that’s what everyone did back then. Well, those of us without the money to jet to exotic locations or go on cruises.

I saw a lot of the country riding backwards in the back of that station wagon and came away from these experiences with lots of memories, like the time we took a wrong exit in Buffalo, NY on our way to Niagara Falls and ended up in a rough neighborhood complete with streetwalkers. My mom kept saying, “Don’t look at them. Stop staring,” as we pressed our faces to the windows and gawked. (Politeness has always been a priority in my family.)

I’m glad we have this, and many other stories, to laugh about now. I think of stories as the thread that holds a family together and gives us a sense of who we are and where we belong. Memories can be created many ways, but I really want our kids to have some of the same experiences my husband and I had growing up. Hence, we take road trips.

Most every year our destination is the same, my hometown to visit relatives. They look forward to it every year, which pleases me very much. I want our kids to have a connection with their extended family and know where they belong in this big old world. And I just know we are creating fun memories.

Going to the same place might seem a bit predictable and boring, but there is also some comfort in the familiar. One tradition my kids look forward to is receiving a goodie bag every time we cross a state line. We cross four state lines to get there and back. I started this practice when our son was a toddler and now he’s twelve. (Our daughter is seven.) It’s more work for me, especially with two kids, but it is something they count on and it makes the trip more fun.

This year was very enjoyable. Our kids’ personalities have blossomed so much and they both are incredibly funny and smart. (Yes, I know all mothers think that of their kids.) But they really are great fun to have around, and my husband is one of my favorite people in the world. Here are some of my favorite moments.

We played a game of “Unfortunately, Fortunately” where one person creates a bad scenario (Unfortunately, a giant hawk named Bob carried away the car) and the next adds something to get us out of the predicament (Fortunately, we had anti-hawk spray…). Our daughter kept coming up with these totally outrageous and almost nonsensical things.
When our son would say, “You can’t do that”, she’d respond with, “I can do anything with my imagination.”

Our daughter also wrote a story for us – “There was a lovely princess and a queen who loved her very much. The queen married and they lived happily ever after.” My son’s critique, “That wasn’t much of a plot.”

On the trip, our son developed an annoying habit of saying, “Or will I? Or did I? Or shall I?” at the end of everything we said to him. Just when I thought I might go insane, our daughter added dramatic music after each time he said it. “Dun, dun, dun.” Much to his chagrin, she continued to do this after he said anything for the next fifteen minutes. We were all rolling, and secretly happy for little sister revenge.

My husband told us about a t-shirt he’d seen that said, “Only you can prevent forest fires, Craig.” So, since every family needs a scapegoat and none of us wanted the role, we adopted Craig. And boy, did he get blamed for a lot. Who spilled the chips in the car, Craig?

At our destination, we did lots of fun things, like mini-golf, bumper boats and go-carts. And we watched Netflix movies at night. But probably one thing the kids liked the best was when we stopped at a hotel on our way home in a small Iowa town and stayed in the “suite”. It had a Jacuzzi tub in the room, which our kids called a hot tub. We donned our swimsuits and piled in then watched a movie on the flat screen. They kept going on and on about what a nice room it was. It was heaven for them and so cute.

I hope someday they will look back on these trips with fondness. I know I will.

What is a favorite memory you have from a family vacation (holiday, for our Aussie friends)?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scenes from a Souk...and other foreign shopping adventures

When I travel abroad, I like to shop where the locals shop and see things I wouldn't see here in the states. These pictures of hijab and date merchants (below) were taken in the Casbah in Algiers and the souk in Constantine, Algeria.If you've never been abroad, it might be hard to imagine a place where every road is an invitation to commerce and sidewalks are optional.

But this summer, these traditional markets were harder to find. I had the impression that everyone had seen American advertising and wanted to emulate it.
These My Look is my favorite store name, bar none. But I also saw plenty of familiar American logos where the sign and the store didn't quite match up.

McDonald's was everywhere.

As was Pizza Hut and Burger King, sometimes in the same building.

And I'm not sure where I've seen this guy before, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't at a place where they served chwarma and kebab.

I would love to hear your foreign shopping tales. What was the most unusual shopping experience you've had, and have you ever noticed a store sign that stuck with you long after you left the store? Thanks

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting it Together

My goal for the next year is to get organized – which translates into being in better shape and healthier. Okay, easier said than done, I know. But, I was inspired by one of the workshops I attended at the RWA Conference in Orlando. It was call Getting off the Roller Coaster (Writer’s Life) and the speakers were Michelle Butler, Trish Milburn, and Tawny Weber. The description of the workshop found in our booklet was “Three authors show you how to create healthy relationships with writing, food, exercise, and more.” Yes! This is exactly what I need.

I think this workshop is great for anyone, regardless of whether you are a writer, work outside the home, a stay at home mom/dad, or whatever you do that fills your days and nights. Regardless of occupation, we all get busy and the healthy stuff often gets pushed to the backburner. At least this happens to me all of the time.

Some of the points highlighted really hit home too.

"Sedentary career leads to poor health and weight can go on. Find an exercise program you like and stick with it.” Of course, this is not news to me, and probably not you either. But, I need to be told over and over before.

“When you sit for a long time you tend to shut down. By the end of the day you can end up shutting down 50% of your fat burning properties.” (yikes)

They had several tips on how to become a healthier writer, or person for that matter, and I have decided to set some goals. I am also going to track my progress from conference to conference. If I do this from January to January, I am just setting myself up for failure – especially since January is little over four months away, which makes Christmas four months away – uh oh – never mind – I am not going to think on that right now.

So, here is what I am going to do:
- Lose 25 lbs.
- Exercise at least 4 times a week
- Keep calories between 1200 and 1500
- Remember to pay attention to inches and not so much the pounds on a scale. Muscle is heavier than fat and if you are toning, you may not be losing weight. (Heaven knows I preached that enough back in the day when I managed a health club while in college)
- Put together a daily and weekly schedule and STICK WITH IT (family time, church attendance and activities, devotional time, writing, blogging, work, theater, football games, massages, cleaning (assign a room a day instead of being overwhelmed with the house on the weekends) Leave laundry to weekend because it really doesn’t take as much time to switch stuff out, etc. Allow for interruptions and changes in schedule for family, but try to keep the changes few and far between)
- Healthy food – at home – not a restaurant or fast food (I am guilty of fast food)
- Put money in a piggy bank that I did not spend eating out (will be used for meals at next conference). I’ve learned that if I give the money another purpose, goal or reward for not spending it (instead of simply planning to put it into savings) the incentive is stronger to not spend.
- Be aware of my posture and get massages regularly (the massage was one of their specific suggestions, which I latched onto as a must).
- Avoid Starbucks like the plague – unless I deserve it as a reward for doing ALL of the above.
- Walk at least four times a week (is not included as part of the exercise 4 times a week). Not only do I need the cardio but I am looking forward to another trip to France in the spring and all we do is walk (which I love being able to see the city that way) but if I am not ready for it, it can be a killer.

How about you? Do you set goals like this on a regular basis? Are you a New Year’s Resolution type of person? If so, how long does it last? I’ve tried and tried to follow these goals before and of course, get sidetracked by life. But hopefully, with the next conference in mind and knowing where I want to be, I will have a target I can focus on and stay with.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Guest: Golden Heart Finalist Abigail Sharpe

The Not So Perfect Pitch

There were a handful of workshops at the National RWA conference that focused on perfecting your pitch. Your friends listened to you go over it and over it. You practiced in front of a mirror. You had your 25-or-fewer words memorized to the letter. You envisioned the agent being completely bowled over by the sharp, quirky details of your amazing story.

But then nothing happens like you planned.

The first time I pitched was three years ago at the Southern Lights conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The agent had previously been on a workshop panel for building a paranormal world. At the appointment, I shook her hand and introduced myself when I got to the table, and started my spiel with, “I’m not pitching a paranormal.”

That’s great, Abigail. So why don’t you tell her what you’re actually pitching?

Before pitching a second time a couple of years later, I had decided to go with a pen name. I planned on starting the pitch telling the agent why I picked her when I had a choice between so many. But when the agent introduced herself to me, I completely blanked on my name.

I’m not the only one. Historical romance writer Valerie Bowman forgot her memorized notes and had to scramble to dig them out of her bag.

And another? Historical romance writer Lis’Anne Harris (lisanneharris.wordpress.com) sat down for her first pitch appointment with five other people. When the agent said, “tell me about your story,” not a word came out. Nothing. Even after the poor agent asked her leading questions to get her to snap out of the oncoming panic attack. The entire ten minute group pitch consisted of the agent trying to get Lis’Anne to relax. Thankfully, the agent requested a partial from everyone, but Lis’Anne has no desire to ever pitch again.

What about you? What kind of memorable things have happened to make your perfect pitch not so perfect?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Restoration 101 The Idiots Guide to Restoring your Manuscript part Two

Just to recap my last post, we discussed the fundamentals of restoring a manuscript, like a camera we zoomed way to discuss the basics of plot and characters. Today we’re going to zoom in and focus a little more on Character GMC and your chapter structure.

When I first started this manuscript years ago, I had a decent plot but it fell apart somewhere in the middle. And to be quite honest I bull-sh**** my way through the middle to get to the action. So I knew I would have to re-write the entire middle section of my story. But before I could do this, I would have to revisit my GMC. For those of you who’re unfamiliar with the term GMC means goal, motivation, and conflict. So how does that tie into revisions? Easy, if your characters goals aren’t strong enough to carry you through to the end, then you need to strengthen them, change them, or do a complete overhaul. Not fun.

Sometimes all it takes is a change in their situation, which is the course I took. I striped out two of my middle chapters, tossed them away and started over giving my character a new goal. And tada! That one little change in character was enough to carry through the rest of the manuscript.

Now their goal is what they want, their motivation is why they want it. So perhaps a revisit into their past is needed to see why they want this new goal and this usually brings about new conflict. Conflict is good. We like conflict.

If you’re happy with your characters GMC and your middle chapters still sag, my suggestion is to revisit every scene and determine whether you need it or not. Sometimes the best rewrites come from cutting huge sections of your manuscript. Ouch, I know it hurts but sometimes it’s for the best. Every scene must have a purpose, a reason to exist, and move the story forward. But if you’ve written an entire scene for getting said character from point A to point B, then maybe you should rethink your reasons for writing that scene. Sometimes, summarizing time in one or two sentences is all the reader needs to understand the passage of time. Try cutting that scene, make the necessary revisions to the next scene to let the reader know the character is now in a new setting, and see how much tighter your story seems.

Now at this point you need to go through and check each scene, make sure it reveals something to move the plot forward, or reveals something about the characters. But make each scene count. If it doesn’t, cut it.

Strengthening your ending is crucial, you don’t want to hook your reader, drag them through the “saggy middle” and then have the story fall apart at the end. I read a lot of action thrillers from authors like James Rollins, excellent writer btw, and my goal has always been to bring the thrill of that kind of action to historical romance. So I really wanted to beef up my ending. So, another rewrite was in order. I cut the necessary scenes and started over. Breaking the story down into sections helped me see what I needed to do, and get it done quickly versus looking at the manuscript as a whole and going through it from beginning to end. Try it and you’ll find rewriting is easier.

My last piece of advice for rewriting a manuscript is to zoom in a little closer but print out a hard copy of your manuscript. I know the tree huggers are loving me today but honestly sometimes we can’t see our mistakes on the computer like we can on a piece of solid white paper. Get out your red pen and BE the editor. Really look for weak spots in your writing, where you can show versus tell, what you can cut because honestly we often end up with flabby prose. Cut any unnecessary words like stood (up) when all you need is stood, let go = released. Now I’m going to leave you with a short list of deadwood phrases to look for. Do a search for these and your writing will instantly look so much tighter. So I leave you with these and will ask, what else can you add to my list to help others make their rewrites easier?

a majority of -- most

a sufficient amount of -- enough

according to our data -- we find

after the conclusion of -- after

along the lines of -- like

as is the case -- as is true

ascertain the location of -- find

at such time as -- when

at the present time -- now

at this point in time -- now

be deficient in -- lack

be in a position to -- can, be able

by means of -- by

come to a conclusion -- conclude

despite the fact that -- although

due to the fact that -- because

during the time that -- while

for the purpose of -- to, for

for the reason that -- because

for this reason -- thus, therefore

give consideration to -- consider, examine

give indication of -- show, indicate, suggest

has been proved to be -- is

if conditions are such that -- if

in a number of -- several, many

in all cases -- always

in case -- if

in close proximity to -- near

in excess of -- more than

in large measure -- largely

in many cases -- often

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You say sold, I say seld.

I confess I do not know as much as I should about e-publishing, but I have always assumed when an e-publisher wants to acquire someone’s book that said author could finally say they had made a sell. And of course, now the author could pop open the champagne, go out to dinner, call or e-mail everyone they know and tell them their train had finally come a chugging into the station of legitimization. They had made it. They had reached for the golden pen and grasped it. No longer was this person a struggling writer, they were an author.

Two days ago, an interesting e-mail popped up on one of the writer’s loops of which I’m a member. In this e-mail the writer was, very nicely, debating whether someone who is with an e-publisher can actually say they sold or not. Her point being that if you do not get an advance, which you don’t with most e-publishers as far as I know, then you cannot say you have "sold” because to say this means that someone has paid you for the rights to publish your work. She feels that e-published writers should say “contracted with” until their first book is actually bought by someone.

I get that argument, and I agree with the definition, but my agreement left me in flux.

Another author, with an e-publisher, responded to the e-mail and stated that as an e-published author she says she "sold" her first book. Her point was that even though she didn’t get an advance, she will get a greater percentage of the royalties and earn just about the same thing, in the end, as she would with her advance. To her, the cash flow may come to you differently, but if it’s coming, then you have "sold".

Gee, I get this point as well. Of course, I guess there’s a slim chance you will not sell a single book, but this is doubtful since we all know at least our mothers will buy our books.

I think if I ever decide to go the e-route and I’m lucky enough that an e-publisher wants my book, then I will probably say I "sold" my first book. I see it like this: they want my book, and they certainly plan to sell it, and I will get money for it when it does sell, so the contract itself is a sell. This is my opinion.

I would love to hear yours. 

Happy writing,
Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Soundtrack of my life

Well, maybe not my life, but certainly my characters life. Like a lot of writers, I often need a little something to get me in the right mood. Quite often the sight of the school bus departing or the perfect latte is not nearly enough to get the creative juices flowing. I could succumb to the joy of early morning chocolate, breaking my own rule about consuming junk food prior to 10am. But once you have one Tim Tam the ending is a foregone conclusion. The rest of the packet is going to empty embarassingly quick.

My only hope is music. I'm not saying I'm capable of producing anything remotely resembling a tune. But I have a fearsome collection of songs on iTunes to fix me up.

Heartstarters - for when the sweet oblivion of a few more hours of sleep is distracting me from my commitment to full-time writing:

A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley + Elvis vs JXL
A Change Would Do You Good - Sheryl Crow
Viva la Vida - Coldplay

In Love

Sunrise - Norah Jones
Message to My Girl - Split Enz
The Kiss - Karmina

Angst and Loneliness

No Aphrodesiac - The Whitlams
More than This - The Cure
No Ordinary Love - Sade

Dark Mood - for when I'm happy and have to think sad thoughts

Hole in the River - Crowded House
Darkness - Darren Hayes
Blood Theme (from Dexter) - Daniel Licht

And last but not least, songs for those all important intimate hero and heroine moments

Caramel - Suzanne Vega
Colorblind - Counting Crows
I Like the Way - Darren Hayes

Of course, what influences me might not work for you at all. So if you've got favorite songs that you want to give a shout out to please post your selection with the mood they suit. I'm always on the look-out for more great artists!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fiction Come to Life!

It's hard to believe it's only been a week since we returned from our trip to Orlando. We primarily went so that I could attend the Romance Writers of America National Convention. And indeed, it was a wonderful time! But that wasn't the only thing that drew us to Orlando this summer. Several years ago, when my husband and I heard about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that would be opening at Universal in the summer of 2010, we said we didn't care how we got there, we were definitely going to be there for the opening. Well, that determination waned a bit with the new baby and the knowledge that Nationals would be in Nashville this summer. But when we found out it was being moved to Orlando, well, I can't say we were disappointed.

Harry Potter is a series that I was thrilled to be able to see on screen...but to be able to go to Hogsmead! To have dinner at the Three Broomsticks! To shop for wands and broomsticks and drink butterbeer! Let's just say we were on cloud nine...and don't even get me started on the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You actually have to go through Hogwarts to get to the ride, and WOW! It's unbelievable! Believe me when I say you will not be disappointed with this one-of-a-kind ride!

So join me as I take you through the highlights of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter...

Once you walk through the gates, you are greeted by the Hogwarts Express...

But that doesn't hold your interest long as you are immediately struck by how massive the "world" is! Layers of buildings, covered in snow, loom before you...

The attention to detail is what makes this place so incredible! They even made the chimneys topsy-turvy!

As you make your way down the main street, you happen upon all the necessary shops you might need to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

Ollivanders for your wand, of course...

The Owl Post, where you can choose your magical pet...

Honeydukes, in case you need a special treat for those late nights studying divination...

No one could resist going in if they looked through the windows!

And yes, they have real cauldron cakes...

And Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans!

And don't forget to stop by Dervish and Banges for all your Quidditch needs!

If you get thirsty, there are plenty of vendors with delicious butterbeer to sell...

Or perhaps you're hungry...then you must pop into the Three Broomsticks for some fish & chips!

Once you're fed and stocked up for school, it's time to head up the hill to Hogwarts...

And make sure you visit Hagrid in his hut when you ride the Flight of the Hippogriff!

And once you've ridden all the rides and seen all you can see of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it's time to head off into the sunset and reminisce on what a magical day you've had...

I hope you've enjoyed the photo tour of Harry Potter World! Now what about you? Is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a place you'd like to visit? What other books/series would you love to see brought to life in this manner?