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Friday, December 24, 2010

LadyScribes would like
to wish you a
Very Merry Christmas
and a
Happy New Year

We are going to be absent for
the next few days to spend
time with family and friends
We will return on January 3, 2011

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All I Want for Christmas

It is so easy this time of year to get caught up in the spending frenzy, to forget the important things in life while trying to give everyone what they want. Everything seems to turn to who can buy the best gift, who spends the most money, what the big box under the tree has in it and who its for.

In my family this year, though, we aren't going to be able to do that. I haven't had a paying job in a few months. Dad lost his job nearly two months ago. One brother is trying to make ends meet for his family on a single income instead of two. One sister is perpetually trying to keep herself out of the hole.

There aren't going to be many gifts under the tree this year. Though I have to admit, I do have a couple of little things for my nephew. No matter how tight things get, I can't resist spoiling him rotten. These gifts for him, though, came courtesy of a good friend who knew I didn't have the money. I'm crying again just thinking about her generosity.

But all of the difficulties we've been facing have really brought home the point that the gift giving frenzy, the commercial aspects that have become such a part of this season, shouldn't be what it is about.

So here is what I want for Christmas this year. Santa, I hope you're listening.

I want my youngest brother to be safe while he is serving our country in Iraq, and to know that he is loved and missed, even if he can't be with the rest of us.

I want my dad to have hope, to believe that he can still be a great father and grandfather, even if he can no longer do the job he's been doing for so many years.

I want my family to spend time together. We don't have to have gifts under the tree as long as we have each other.

I want my nephew to know that he is the most special little boy in the world, and that I'd do anything for him.

I want my friends to know how much I love and appreciate them.

It wouldn't hurt to get a call that my manuscript has sold. LOL. But I won't hold it against Santa if I don't get that last one.

P.S. Santa, can you do something about my cat that likes to bite my toes while I'm sleeping? That'd be great. Okay, thanks.


So what  is it that you really, truly want for Christmas this year?

***Here at Lady Scribes, we're going on a brief hiatus to enjoy our time with our families. We'll be back to our regular blog schedule on January 3, 2011. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and we'll see you in the new year.***

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not-So-Secret Santa

My husband has a problem. And no, it’s not me, smarty-pants. He has the hardest time waiting until Christmas to give his gifts. He wants to give them the moment he buys them. I’ve had him walk in the door from shopping and hand me the shopping bag because he couldn’t wait.

An additional complicating factor is that my birthday is around Christmas. It’s today, in fact. So, not only does he have the Christmas gift burning a hole in his pocket, he has to wait to give me my birthday present too. Most years I have nothing to open on my birthday because I’ve already received my gift two days early. Not that it makes much difference, really, but I like to honor the days on the actual dates.

This year my husband was doing a great job of not revealing anything. He and our daughter secreted away to her room to wrap my gifts. I was under strict instructions to stay away, so I did. My gifts arrived under the tree without me having a clue as to what was in the package. Okay. That’s not completely true. Something big and fluffy was under the tree, because hubby and daughter don’t use gift boxes, so I had a good idea of what it might be.

Well, Sunday I was cleaning off the dining room table and found a receipt. I wasn’t snooping. I swear! I thought I had left out the receipt for the gift I bought my husband. I unfolded it and “O Holy Night”. The paper was from The Mac Guys. I dropped it immediately without reading it, but it’s pretty clear I’m getting what I want.

I really didn’t want to make my husband feel bad, because he tried so hard to keep the secret this year. I put it back on the table and didn’t finish clearing it. He had lunch at the table and a snack without making the discovery. Hours later, he still hadn’t noticed the folded receipt. Finally, it was time for dinner, and I asked him if he would clear the table so I could set it.

Of course he discovered the receipt in the process, but he couldn’t tuck it in his pocket and be quiet about it. No, he had to question me. “Did you see this?” I tried to play dumb. “Oh, what is that?” He narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t buying it. “Did you?” Imagine a ridiculously goofy smile from me. I couldn’t hold it together, and I started laughing, so my cover was blown. Then I had the giggles because a few minutes earlier, my daughter had said to me, “We put your birthday pajamas under the tree.”

So, no surprises this year, but I couldn’t be happier. Not because I’m getting birthday pajamas or my dream gift. I couldn’t be happier because I have a wonderful family who the CIA will never recruit to send on secret missions where I can’t know of their whereabouts. (My son can’t lie any better than I can. His laugh always gives him away too.)

What about you? Do you like to be surprised on Christmas morning, or do you search for your gifts?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Refugee Christmas

Four more days until Christmas. Maybe you’re wondering where you are going to put all those gifts. Or maybe you’re already starting to clean out the closets to make room for all the goodies. Before you call the usual charities to pick up all your old stuff, consider helping out your new neighbors, the local refugees.

Our town has an active refugee resettlement program. In the past, we’ve welcomed folks from Bosnia and Somalia. Lately, they’ve been fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq.

No matter where they come from, their core story is the same. They came to this country with only what they could carry, hoping to find a safe place to raise their children and follow their religion. They want to work. They want to learn English. They want their children to go to school and have professional careers. They want to become American citizens.

It’s the Mayflower story we Americans celebrate at Thanksgiving each year, and it hasn’t changed much since 1620. Yet, it’s still a thrill to see someone who barely escaped with his life go on to be a successful, contributing member of the community.

Every refugee has his own unique version of the immigrant tale:

The little boy whose family was being slaughtered and the only way he could escape was to walk through a mine field. . .at night…leading his blind uncle.

The teenager who lay in a ditch for three days, playing dead, eating insects and sipping rain water until the killers moved on.

The family who fled Iraq, thinking they would be safe in a refugee camp in Jordan, only to have a brother murdered there.

These are just a few of the true stories I‘ve heard while meeting refugees in Boise, Idaho. No matter how the story starts, no matter how empty their pockets, the ending is always the same, “Thank God, we have arrived. We are here now. Thank God we made it here alive.”

Sometimes I think I should write their stories. But deep down inside, I know I’m incapable of capturing the depth of their experience. I go home and hug my children tightly and wonder why I have so much junk.

Last week, I heard from a new family who had just arrived with nothing but the clothes on their back. What did they ask for? Clothes for the children to wear to school so they wouldn’t be made fun of, school supplies so they could learn English, and curtains so they could sleep without the neighbors watching. A far cry from most kids’ Christmas lists.

One image permanently etched in my mind is that of a ten year-old Somali girl in Boise, walking home from school in the snow, wrapped in a bed sheet and wearing flip-flops.

Do my kids really need three coats and five pairs of shoes each? Probably not and I bet she wouldn’t even care that they were designed for boys.

I go through our closets again and come up with 5 jackets, 13 pants, 22 shirts, 7 pairs of shoes, and 26 stuffed animals we don’t need. Not exactly Christmas presents, but they’re sure to be put to good use.

Do you have an active refugee settlement program in your community? Have you ever helped a new family settle in? I would love to hear your refugee success stories.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yes, Virginia

One of my favorite Christmas stories and movie is Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. The cartoon version is okay, but it is the 1991 movie, starring Richard Thomas, Ed Asner and Charles Bronson, that I love to watch. Unfortunately, it has not been on in years. I start searching the television guide (paper, online and on the television) to see when it will air and I continue to be disappointed. I've also searched for a place where it could be purchased so I could have my own copy. I was unable to find it until this year and I can’t wait for it to come in the mail.

This is not a new story to most people, but it still touches me all the same and I would like to share it in my last post of the year.

The editorial first appeared in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897. The question posed came from eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon. The response, and one of the best editorials ever written (in my opinion anyway) was penned by Francis Pharcellus Church. A copy of the article is posted, but I've typed it out since the article is a bit hard to read.

Is There a Santa Clause?

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time out great gratification that its faithful author is numbed among the friends of THE SUN:

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”
“115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, VIRGINIA, whether they be men’s or children’s are little. In this great universe of ours man is mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Clause. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and job. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Clause. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the word would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Clause! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Clause coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the word.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this word there is nothing real and abiding.

No Santa Clause! Thank GOD! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, VIRGINIA, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

I hope you all have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Here at Lady Scribes, we are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we are spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to.

Last weekend’s Top 5 films:

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

2. The Tourist

3. Tangled

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

5. Unstoppable

Opening this week…

Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund
Sam Flynn's father disappeared 20 years ago into a virtual world, and now Sam has been pulled in himself which gives him the chance to fine his father.

Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson
A woman finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with two very different men.

Dan Aykroyd, Anna Faris, Justin Timberlake
Yogi Bear finally makes his big screen debut, with - you read it correctly - JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE as BooBoo. I don't even know what to say about that.

Rabbit Hole (PG-13)
Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
A young couples' world is turned upside down when their son is killed in a car accident.

Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper
A DC lobbyist and his protégé land themselves in all kinds of trouble amid corruption and murder.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Guest Author: Jennifer L. Hart

Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for joining us today at Lady Scribes. We’re happy to have you as our guest. Tell us a little about your newest book “Redeeming Characters”.

Animals may bite, but people always suck. It’s the motto thirty-two year old Drue has lived by all his life. He longs for the snow to melt so he can disappear into the wild with nary a nitwit to be seen—to escape the confines of a narrow-minded and cloying society. Yet, when he discovers an old friend has published the book he helped create, a new plan surfaces. Revenge.

Bestselling author Dakota Whitmore is in a slump. Sure, her husband is dead and she's adopted his long-time mistress's child, but she's endured more difficult things. Maybe what she needs is a little help, a beta reader who will tell her that her work hasn't turned into a steaming cow pie. How about uber sexy Drue, the man who helped her pen her first—and only, bestseller? Nothing could possibly go wrong. Right?

ISBN# 978-1-60820-228-7 (print) $14.99
978-1-60820-229-4 (ebook) $7.99

Available wherever ebooks are sold and in print at Amazon.com

Your heroine, Dakota Whitmore, a popular romance author, has good reasons to feel jaded. How is she still able to write stories about love when her marriage went so wrong?

At the start of Redeeming Characters she has not been able to write for quite a while. Others even tout her as a “one hit wonder” because she hasn’t produced. Sure, Dakota is going through the motions, doing what needs to be done with her children and her public appearances but the creative flow has dried up. Her brain is overloaded and while she still believes in the possibility of true love, she’s having a hard time selling a product she’s never test driven.

Dakota and Drue, your hero, have an interesting past. They were high school sweethearts, and they used to write together. Drue thinks Dakota stole his idea and turned it into a bestselling romance novel, a genre he doesn’t respect. What makes Drue the right man to help Dakota believe in love again?

He isn’t, at least not at first. This hero’s journey has been horrific and it isn’t over yet. After one too many beatings, his heart is in hiding. He’s phoning his life in, too. Which is why he’s the perfect match for Dakota because unlike anyone else, Drue can truly understand why she feels the way she does. Just because he can, doesn’t mean he will though! Drue has no problem letting her know just what he thinks of her genre.

You’ve taken on several roles throughout the years (early childhood educator, photographer, Navy wife, mother, multi-published author). Is there anything else you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?

Hold on a second, that’s the first time I’ve been called “multi-published”. It’s true, I have more than one publisher but I’ve never really thought about it before. I need to bask in the snazzy glow for a moment. :)

Honestly, I just do what I have to and writing is one of those have to things. My only goal at this point is to become a better storyteller. Though donning a “best selling author” hat wouldn’t hurt my feelings!

Every author/mother wants to know how to balance taking care of the kids with meeting deadlines. How do you do it?

Waste is a four letter word to me and I do my best not to squander my most precious resource—time. Rule number one; don’t think about the heaping pile of stuff you have to do! I have a tendency to get overwhelmed when I think about all that demands my attention. I’m better off if I roll out of bed and just go for the gold.

We know “Redeeming Characters” was just released, but what are you working on now?

Well, I have two finished manuscripts, one contemporary, the romance for the staring couple in my Laundry Hag series and Stellar Timing, a sci-fi/ fantasy romance novel, both searching for the right homes. Currently I’m in the middle of my NaNoWriMo novel, and I have another short story I need to finish by mid January. After that, I plan to work on the second in my Stellarverse series, and then back to mystery with The Misadventures of the Laundry Hag: All Washed Up, third in my zany mystery series. That should take me through next summer.

Since I write mystery and romance, I’ve read everything I can get my mitts on about what makes a book a keeper, a read again novel. As a reader which do you think is more important, plot or characters and why?

* One of our commenters will receive an autographed copy of "Redeeming Characters" today!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stay Healthy Tips for a Merry Christmas!

I'm not sure I'm the best person to give stay healthy tips since I'm just getting over a cold, but I've noticed a lot of people not at their healthiest this season, so I think it's a great idea to share some remedies, both the home and over-the-counter type...

Zinc! Feel something coming on? Grab some zinc! Zicam makes a whole line of zinc products that are supposed to help curb, or at least shorten, the life of your cold.

Dayquil/Nyquil. I used to rage against meds like these and I would go for the homeopathic options instead...and I would suffer. Don't suffer. They can really help you feel better so you can get through this busy season without feeling like death warmed over!

Neti-pot. These are a super cheap, but not terribly easy, way of relieving nasal congestion. I have many friends who swear by their neti pot. However, be aware that if you're too congested, it's not gonna work. I had some packed sinuses, so the fluid wasn't going anywhere, and I had to call in the big guns...

Nasonex. It's expensive. And it's a steroid. But it's SO worth it. After days of misery, I started feeling better within a couple hours of shooting this wonder drug up my nose. And it was a good thing because I had a 1-year-old birthday party to throw!

Juicing. I've just returned to juicing in the last few days after about an 18-month hiatus, and I have to say, I feel great! Drinking my fruits, veggies and leafy greens is so much easier than trying to eat well during this crazy on-the-go time. Not to mention, I've lost more than 2lbs in just a few short days!

Cool mist humidifier. I finally stole this out of my daughter's room the other night and put it next to my bed, with the Vick's vapor tab inserted. It made such a difference in how I slept - no dry middle-of-the-night cough. Phew!

And of course, drink lots of fluids! Water, water, water, and soothing teas. Steer clear of peppermint, though, if you're feeling dry. I really thought this would help me, but it sent me into a horrible coughing fit. Stick with gentle herbs and throw a little local honey in for good measure.

Okay, that completes my list. What magic cures do you have for staying healthy or getting over a cold quickly?

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All I want for Christmas is a cat who cares!!

My little family of four has recently become a family of many more.  We have had mice move into the crawl space between the second and third story of our house.  Not only do I find this disgusting, but it is disturbing my sleep.  Our mice friends like to come specifically between the hours of ten and midnight and scamper above our heads.  They run, they scratch—they are apparently having a party between the ceiling and floorboards of our second and third story.  I suppose I should be grateful they have not shown their furry little faces in our actual living space.

This has been going on for about a week.  Yesterday, my husband called several ‘mice specialists’ who told him the cost to come and analyze our problem would be anywhere from $200 to $600 dollars.  Obviously, I should have been a mouse expert instead of a poor writer.  I would be sitting much more comfortably right now.  Anywho, after picking the perfect specialist we had him come out.  The first thing he told us is that we should get a cat.

I pointed down to the specialist leg where my orange tabby Gandalf had just come up to claim the human as his.  The specialist scratched his head and said he didn’t understand why we had a problem.  Cats love mice.  Cats instinctually kill mice.  Cats are the best weapon against the ‘war on mice’.

I had to allow a little snicker to escape.  That may be true of most cats, I informed the kindly but sadly informed ‘expert’, but Gandalf was special.  My eight-pound tabby believes he is human.  He has seen a mouse before, but he chose to run the other way and hide.  I think the mouse scared him.

My kitty is witty.  He escapes outside almost daily by stalking the front door until one of us poor unprepared humans lets him slip past us.  I know this is not so unusual for a cat, but it is his pattern once he escapes that has always baffled me.  If it’s too cold, say anywhere below 65 degrees, Gandalf will immediately meow to be let back inside the house.  If it’s raining, you can bet he will turn around and dash back in before the door has even shut on his escape attempt.  And he will always demand to come back in when he has to use the restroom.  Going outside in the ‘wild’ of suburban Vestavia Hills is beneath my darling.  He needs privacy and the scent of cat pine.  Seriously, I am not making any of this up just for your amusement.

Gandalf won’t sleep anywhere that is not cushioned, nor will he eat leftovers.  If I fill his bowl up with food and some is left, he refuses to eat the next morning until he has a nice new meal served to him.

I explained all this to our ‘mouse expert’.  Given our ‘special’ cat, the expert decided to set traps and put out poison.  This is phase one of the war – The Johnstones versus The Mice.  If this fails, we will have to give away more of our money, perfect timing in December, and move onto phase two, which is chemical warfare.  I can’t help but look at Gandalf now with a little good natured irritation.  If he would just embrace his kitty nature, we would save a bundle.  I explained this to him and offered rewards for good kitty deeds, but so far he has stubbornly refused to see that four legs does not a human make.

If you have any good pet stories or advice on getting rid of mice, I would love to hear about it.

Have a wonderful day!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week 1: Wishful Thinking Tour of Britain

Can I help it if I have an over active imagination? If I’m not being bombarded by story lines outside the manuscript I’m supposed to be working on, I’m daydreaming about the places I write about. Fantasizing about winning the lottery (with imaginary ticket), packing up my family, and moving to the UK would be bliss (except maybe during winter).

You see the longer I write and research regency England the more I want to travel. The bonus for me is my DH wants to come with me so I’ve got no obstacles bar winning that pesky lottery. (Must rush out and buy that ticket)

We think, DH and I, that a six month sojourn to our ancestors birthplace would be a lot of fun. So far I’ve corrupted him into watching Time Team, National Trust: National Treasure, Antiques Roadshow, and any BBC produced documentary that I find. Even our youngest boy is keen on the move – although might have something to do with the delusion he’s under that he might acquire *awesome stuff* from an obscenely large lottery win.

Apparently we can’t work in the UK even if we wanted to—there goes our plan to polish the Queen’s silver. Our ages are apparently the issue, so we’ll just have to spend all our time sightseeing! How bad is that?? LOL. Good thing I can write anywhere.

Although I quite like the idea of staying in quaint little pubs and inns, my husband has the idea to put us in a campervan of some description for some of the time. We could become gypsies while we travel the wilds of the English countryside—let’s hope we don’t become permanently lost. But that got me thinking that I should probably start to plan where we’d actually want to go on this six odd month odyssey of ours. So that’s what I’m going to blog about for a while.

After the twenty-three hour flight from Sydney, spending a few nights at a hotel near Heathrow recovering from jet lag seems like a very good idea. Then once we’re relatively lucid again the plan is to gather all our pounds and pence and head south in the general direction of Brighton.

First Stop – Ham House

Ham House, in Richmond, Surrey, is a 400 year old stately home built along the southern bank of the river Thames and a short 30 minute drive from Heathrow Airport. Ham boasts opulent rooms, priceless paintings, porcelain and furniture, and a glimpse of 17th Century courtly life. Once home to Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshall to King James I, the property passed through various hands, including the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, until 1948 when it entered the care of the National Trust.

One interesting fact I discovered was that Ham House was the first home in Britain during the 1670’s to have sash windows installed (Good to know if you write Georgian or Regency set novels). Because of its beauty and relatively unchanged interiors the house has appeared frequently on film—the 2007 BBC television adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (in which it played Cleveland), and in the films To Kill a King and Spice World, and also the movie The Young Victoria (where it doubled as Kensington Palace).

When the trust took over management the gardens still boasted the skeleton structure of the 17th Century gardens and those have been restored beautifully. Given the opulence and care previous owners placed on furnishing Ham, it is not surprising that it was a popular social center—guests traveled by river craft often since the roads were so bad.

From today’s research I must remember to look carefully at:

* The paintings on the Great Staircase
* The cabinet pictures and miniatures of the Green Closet
* The Duchess’ bathroom – it dates back to 1677 (Yes, the duchess was ahead of her time – she bathed!)
* Walk beneath the hornbeam arch—a beautiful living tunnel

Ham House and its gardens are open to visitors between March and November. If you’re thinking of dropping in, be sure to check the National Trust website for specifics before you go.


Have you visited or plan to visit England? DH and I would love to hear your recommendations for places to visit. We don’t want to miss a thing on our wishful thinking tour.

Heather Boyd
~Lady Wicked

Monday, December 13, 2010

Decompressing the Holidays!

As the holidays approach, I think it would be a great idea to share some ideas for ways to decompress. This is such a stressful time of year for most of us, and while some might suggest to stop traveling or stop making a big deal out of the holidays altogether, I can tell you that’s never going to happen in my house. I love the holidays. I love the hustle and bustle. And while I might get frustrated or tired with all the preparations I have to do, I don’t think I would have it any other way.
So in the midst of the craziness, I try to find moments for myself. Moments to meditate, stretch, exercise, read…I try to indulge whatever it is my mind or body are craving at the moment. It’s not easy – especially for a Type A person like myself who feels the need to be productive at all times. But perhaps what people like me need to do is view “relaxation” as “productive.” After all, it is the means to the end of sanity, is it not?
We recently picked up a fantastic CD put out by Jerry and Esther Hicks. It’s called “Getting Into the Vortex,” and Esther leads you through several mediations, each of which is 15 minutes long. There’s one for general well being, one for physical well being, financial, and relationships. Lately, I’ve been choosing one a day and listening to it as I take myself through some gentle yoga stretches, always ending with several minutes of savasana. It’s my new, favorite way of relieving stress and tension, and getting myself lined up with the person I want to be.
I’ve also found that getting to bed early and waking up early to read or sift through emails, or bake a batch of muffins, is a nice way to start my day. Much better than waking with a start and rushing to get a bottle ready while the baby cries for me in her crib!
And one of the best things I did for myself recently was stop at the mall’s “Relaxation Station.” Many malls have these chain massage parlors, and they are super cheap. At roughly a dollar a minute, you can be in and out in 30 minutes for a mere $30(-ish). Check your local mall directory to see if you have one!
Okay, enough about me. What are you doing this holiday season to relieve your stress and decompress?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Here at Lady Scribes, we are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we are spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to.

Last weekend’s Top 5 films:

1. Tangled

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

3. Burlesque

4. Unstoppable

5. Love and Other Drugs

Opening this week…

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG)
Ben Barnes
In this third installment - The Pevensie siblings (along with their cousin Eustace) travel with King Caspian to the ends of the Narnian world.

The Tourist (PG-13)
Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie
A broken-hearted American gets mixed up in an unfortunate situation when a beautiful woman makes certain to cross his path in Italy.

Mark Whalberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Based on a the true story of Boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's rocky journey to the world's light welterweight title.

Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper
Three men try to survive a year's worth of downsizing at a major company.

The Tempest (PG-13)
Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou
A modern take on Shakespeare's play, where Prospero is now a woman (Mirren) from modern times who travels back to the 16th Century.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Blogger: Delilah Marvelle

Today’s guest, Delilah Marvelle, loves writing historical romances with the scandalous twists she digs up from history. She is a two time Golden Heart Finalist, an RT Reviewer's Choice Nominee and a double finalist in the Bookseller's Best Award. Her upcoming release from HQN Books, Prelude to a Scandal, is available January 1, 2011.

Are you ready to be scandalized?

Welcome Delilah. Tell us a little about Prelude to a Scandal, the first book in your Scandal Series.

Thank you so much for having me!!!!

So here's the teaser blurb for Prelude to a Scandal.

Having been raised in the jungles of South Africa, assisting her father in the study of mammal copulation, Lady Justine Fedora Palmer sweeps back into London to embark upon her coming out. She quickly discovers animals are far more civilized than the men surrounding her.

When her father's observations are made public, proving buggery is natural to the animal kingdom, all of London is in a huffing outrage, including His Royal Majesty. Her father is imprisoned and slapped with outrageous penalty fees they simply cannot pay.

Lady Justine becomes more than willing to trade her good name and her place in London's gossip hungry society to secure her father's release. There is only one person she knows she can trust: her father's patron, the Duke of Bradford. A dashing libertine, yes, but one she passionately adores for his unwavering kindness, wit, humor, and a willingness to support her father's studies even as everyone else had laughed her father off.

To her astonishment, the Duke of Bradford is not the same man. His newly marred face hides a scandal that is about to test them both...

What is his scandal? Here's a hint. His struggle to overcome an addiction that isn't found in a bottle or a pipe or narcotics, but the very thing that makes him a rake...

Since the Scandal Series is being published back to back, can you share an elevator pitch from Once upon a Scandal (February 2011) and The Perfect Scandal (March 2011)?
Once Upon a Scandal is all about remolding the story of Cinderella by making the hero into the penniless romantic. After all, why should women be the only ones chasing after true love? The Perfect Scandal is about the perfect gentleman who hides behind an illusion of perfection for reasons that have nothing to do with respectability.

We are always fascinated by an authors writing process. How does a typical writing day go for you?
My writing process is freaky. I become a different person and my poor family has to live with it. The truth is, I can’t have anyone in the house when I write. Even if someone were to lock themselves in the closet and hold their breath, I still wouldn't be able to write. It’s hard to explain but I feel like their energy is leaking into my ability to think. I have a hard time transporting myself into a different era when the modern world is breathing on my neck. Once I’m able to get everyone out of the house, I gulp down a Starbucks Vanilla Frappucino (bought in bulk from Costco), sit at my desk surrounded by piles and piles of research books and write. As I write, I verbalize my words aloud in a British accent. It’s the actress in me.
What is your favorite form of procrastination, apart from getting lost in research?

Cooking. I'm a chef by trade and cooking has always been my second love. So naturally I'm always looking for excuses to cook.
We know the Scandal Series is about to be unleashed, but what are you working on now, and what was the last scene you wrote on the story?
I'm actually in the brainstorming process. So I'm not writing very much at the moment, lol. Just thinking about what I want to do and how I want to do.

In honor of the scandal series, I want to know...what is the most scandalous thing you've ever done? Try to keep it G rated, people.

The Lady Scribes would like to thank Delilah for blogging with us today. Stop by her website www.DelilahMarvelle.com to read excerpts, watch her fantastic book trailer, sign up for her newsletter, or visit her blog, A Bit of Muslin, to explore the naughtier side of history.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fits and Starts

I try to do my writing according to a schedule. Every day, at about the same time, I'll sit down at my computer and open up the file with my current WIP, and try to write.

So many other writers out there, many of those with a lot of success, claim that the only way to write is to do it every day. So I try to.

The problem comes in when I fail to do it.

It isn't that I don't try. I do sit my butt down in the chair and try to make the words come out, hoping that my fingers will guide me to write some brilliant dialogue or come up with a unique twist on the same old plots that we've seen time and again.

But some days, nothing happens. Sometimes, nothing happens for weeks or even months at a time. I'll have a project that I'm working on, one that I'm in love with and think has oodles of potential, and can't wait to sink my teeth into it and really get it down on paper . . . but for some reason, I just can't write.

And then there are other days, days when I sit in my chair and start my session, hoping to get a good 1,500 to 2,000 words out, and those words fly by in about an hour and I can't seem to stop myself until I've passed 4,000 or maybe even 5,000 or 6,000 words.

I just recently had a long skid like I described above, where for weeks on end that turned into months, I'd try to write but stare at a screen that had looked the same for almost as long as I could remember. Then, just out of the blue, it changed. I could write again. And the words started to flow better than they ever have.

It used to be that if I had one of those days of amazing output, I'd inevitably hit another day like I described above where nothing would happen immediately afterward. It might last for two days, even. And then I'd be back on my schedule, cranking out 1,500 or 2,000 words a day most of the time. Right now, that isn't what is happening. Right now, I'm writing between 3,000 and 6,000 words a day, pretty much every day. And it has been going on for over a week.

Needless to say, I'm in awe. I don't quite know what to do with myself.

But I know better than to complain. As soon as I start complaining about it, that's when the drought will hit again.

It seems, no matter how hard I try to become a disciplined writer, one who can produce the same amount of quality work day in and day out, I just can't seem to do it. So I've decided I'm not going to give myself a hard time about it any more. It may work for some authors. But my system seems to work for me.

Any way I look at it, I'm still producing the same number of manuscripts in the same amount of time. Ever since I started writing, I've been a two-manuscripts-a-year writer. It doesn't seem to matter if I write the requisite 1,500 to 2,000 words a day every day, or if I take two months off with zero words, and then cram in 30,000 words in a week. It is always two manuscripts a year.

Are you a disciplined writer? Do you write every day, or on specific days? Or do you write in fits and starts like I do?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Double Dip at Your Own Risk

It’s the holiday season. Do you know what that means? Parties! And eating. Lots and lots of eating. And perhaps a bit of self-recrimination the next morning. But come on, give yourself a break! It could be worse. It’s not as if you woke up with an “I love Pookie” tattoo on your bum.

At any holiday buffet table, you’ll find me inhaling the dip. I can honestly say I’ve never met a dip I didn’t like. It's my weakness! My only real consolation is that my super-sleek sister-in-law hangs out there with me. (She shares my name and profession, so I call her the new and improved me.) I figure if she can eat dip and still look good, one night of overindulgence isn’t going to hurt me.

Today I’ll share some of my favorite dip recipes I’ve collected over the years. I can't take credit for any of these recipes. They have been handed down to me by family members or given to me by friends. The list is not all-inclusive by any means, but my fellow Lady Scribes impose word limits on me.

Spinach Dip
10 ounce package frozen Spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water
1 packet Ranch Dip Mix
1 ½ cups Sour Cream
1 cup Mayonnaise
8 ounce can sliced Water Chestnuts, drained
1 loaf Hawaiian Bread

Mix all ingredients, except the bread, together in a bowl. Chill for 2 hours. Hollow out the loaf of bread. Fill the bread bowl with the dip. Cut the hollowed out bread into bite-size pieces and serve alongside the dip. This is good with crackers too.

Cranberry-Brie Spread

1 wedge Brie Cheese
1 can Whole Cranberry Sauce
Crackers of your choice

Place the cheese wedge in an oven-safe dish. Pour cranberry sauce over the top. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is soft and the cranberry sauce is bubbling. Spread on crackers.

Chocolate Mousse Dip

8 ounces carton Cool-Whip
Approximately 2 tablespoons Nestle Quik drink mix (Add to taste)
Assorted Fruit cut into bite-size pieces

Whisk Cool-Whip and Nestle Quik until smooth. Chill several hours. Serve with fruit.

Artichoke-Feta Dip

1 can Artichoke Hearts, drained and chopped
8 ounces Feta Cheese, crumbled
1 cup Mayonnaise
½ cup Parmesan, shredded
2 ounces jar diced Pimentos, drained
1 Garlic clove, minced

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to an oven-safe dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the dip is lightly brown. Serve with mini-pitas or crackers.

Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

8 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
1 small jar Marshmallow Cream
Assorted Fruit (apples, grapes, bananas, pears) sliced into bite-size pieces

Place cream cheese and marshmallow cream in a bowl and use a mixer to blend. Chill. Serve with fruit.

What is your holiday buffet weakness? Please feel free to share a favorite recipe.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tossing Out the Dictionary

I love the English language.

I love French too.

I wanted to get that out in the open because today’s blog is apt to irk a few French and English majors, particularly those who love rules and the finer points of grammar. But my fellow Lady Scribes have dubbed me the Countess of Controversy and every once in a while I feel I must live up to my title.

As a child, I knew all the rules of grammar and waved the dictionary at the first sign of unorthodox usage. But as I dabbled in linguistics and history, I learned how words evolve, and I realized languages are as alive as the people who use them.

And the dictionary stifles creativity.

No book or set of rules could ever control a living language. A dictionary is merely a vain attempt to document what speakers have already established. Whether a word or usage is found in the dictionary tells us more about the quality of the dictionary than it does about the speaker.

In fact, strictly enforcing rules of grammar and relying too heavily on dictionaries can kill a language.

Now before you rush off to the comments area to tell me how crazy this is, allow me to offer a real world example:

Consider the French and English colonial empires. At the turn of the 20th century, both countries had millions of subjects who spoke their language.

A hundred years later, English continues to thrive while French has declined to the point where it’s no longer offered at my local high school. On a recent trip to former French colonies, I was surprised to discover that young people spoke more English than French. In fact, the only place where French is de rigueur seems to be the United Nations and international sports competitions like the Olympics and World Cup Soccer.

Throughout the century, the English language has adapted to technological, political, and economic changes while French seems to be on the decline. And that’s partly because of the influence of dictionaries and rules of grammar.

Americans love freedom and scorn anything that smacks of authoritarianism. So we rush about willy-nilly, making up new words, stealing from other languages, turning nouns and adjectives into verbs, and generally flaunting the rules our English professors taught us.

The French, on the other hand, have the Academie Francaise, an official organization whose sole purpose is to keep French pure and make sure that everyone follows precise rules of grammar. When I lived in France, advertisers could be fined for using foreign words and public television content was strictly controlled. New inventions are assigned names based on pre-existing French words. That’s probably why, when my French-speaking nephew said to hand him the “portable”, I had no idea whether he whether he meant the cell phone or the laptop. In an age when technology and communications move at lightspeed, the French are stuck with a rigid, archaic system that can’t keep pace.

No wonder the rest of the world has decided to join in the fun and embrace American English.

So in the interest of the long term survival of the American language, I’ve decided to toss out my dictionary and embrace creative wordplay. If it was good enough for William Shakespeare, it ought to be good enough for me.

No longer will I waste time arguing over the proper use of that or which. I will judge contest entries on storytelling, not adherence to some arbitrary set of writers’ rules. And when risk-taking authors final in these contests, my cheers will crescendo louder than all the others. My beloved critique partners will write me little notes, “Umm..you know that’s not a verb, right?” But I’m sure they’ll understand when I tell them not to purple up their prose.

Yes, I know this flagrant disregard for the rules will cause some consternation among grammar purists and dictionary aficionados. But I’ve noticed no one ever complains about bad grammar when they go to Vegas and the hotel comps them a suite. If the story is good enough, they won’t notice my avant-garde usage. Maybe they’ll even adopt it, and someday, it might find its way into a dictionary.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What kind of writer are you? A by-the-book purist who strives to follow every rule? Or a live-and-let-live linguist who’ll accept any construction as long as it makes sense?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Read Me a Story

One of the things that has been told to me many times is that once your final edits are complete you should always read your story out loud. I have done this but my voice gets tired and mouth gets dry. Frankly, I don’t like it very well. But, what about having someone read it to you while you read along on the screen, or go about dusting and organizing. This would be a great way to catch errors. We all have them. Your mind sees the word you thought you typed, but it isn’t really there, even though you think you see it when reading. Or, the sentence looks great, or a paragraph is perfect until read back and you wonder “what?” and quickly edit.

I tried a free program a few years ago, which I cannot recall the name of, but as it was free and a demo, there was one voice, and he was more computer than human. Of course, I don’t think there is a software program out there that will invoke the emotion you wrote into the story, but I would love one with an English, Scottish or Irish accent. Oh well, I just know that there has to be better software than the free demo, and so the search began and this is what I found.

Verbose Text to Speech Software - According to the description, it will read any text on your computer out loud and you can listen to the text as an MP3 audio file so you can take it with you. I am not sure how convenient that would be if I was away from my computer and needed to edit. On the other hand, it could be good just to get the flow of the story down. I think I would enjoy having earphones plugged in, listing to my latest WIP while gardening in the spring and summer. That would be the best of both worlds. It could also replace the audio books I normally listen to while driving by plugging the player into my CD.

ReadPlease! is a text-to-speech software. I was unable to learn much about this but ReadPlease 2003 is Free and ReadPlease Plus 2003 works with Windows Vista. Does this mean the free version only works with older Windows versions? If not, the 2003 version is free so it may just be worth a try.

¬NaturalReader 10. There are a few versions of this but I am more interested in the Personal Version. It claims to use natural voices to convert any text to spoken words. I did visit the website and it gives you examples. The voices do sound more human than computer, at least to my ear. It also converts to MP3 or WAV for a CD or iPod, as they all do. In the personal version there are two natural voices included (male and female). And, it can be used on any Windows operating system from Windows 98 to Win7 and every version developed between the two. While poking around, I was able to listen to Graham with his “Male UK” accent. If I were to purchase the Personal version I could get a male/female combination with an American accent or a male/female combination with a British accent. I wish I could get one of each.

TextAloud With AT&T Natural Voices (Windows Software). In reading the product description on a purchase site, it was more technical than I like to read. From what I can tell, it is available in Windows 98, XP, 2000 and NT. There are two computer synthesis voices, Mike and Crystal, and these documents can be read aloud from your computer or also converted into an MP3 and CD. There is also a note that there is a “unique Proofread function helps make anything you write mistake free.” I would like to know more about that. Can you imagine writing mistake free? I know, we all hope our final product is mistake free before shipping it out to potential agent or editors, but to arrive to that point sooner would be wonderful.

TextSpeech Pro Deluxe Text-to-Speech Converter for Windows with AT&T Natural Voices. Okay, now that is a long title. In the product description from the online shopping site it claims to have “the most natural-sounding, easy to use text-to-speech software on the market”. It also export the synthesized speech to a variety of audio file formats so you aren’t glued to your computer. There is a nice list of all it can do, but I am really not sure how it compares to the others listed. Actually, by the time I got to this one, my head was swimming.

I don’t know if there are other Text-to-Speech software programs out there, but these are the ones I found. Most of the product sites do have demos you could try out. This is something I will do to compare when the time comes to purchase, if I decide to make that purchase.

Have you ever used Text-to-Speech software and have a document read back to you? If so, which program do you use and has it been helpful? Also, if the software you are familiar with is not listed above, please share it so I can do some additional investigating.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Here at Lady Scribes, we are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we are spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to.

Last weekend’s Top 5 films:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

2. Tangled

3. Megamind

4. Burlesque

5. Unstoppable

Opening this week…

Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush
A samurai assassin hides out in the American Badlands. When his clan tracks him down, there is a battle between eastern assassins and western cowboys.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jeffrey V. Mehalic

The Top 5 Things a Writer Should Look At in a Publishing Contract

Thank you very much for inviting me to guest-blog today on Lady Scribes. I'm happy to be here.

My name is Jeff Mehalic, and I have a law practice in Charleston, West Virginia. I will also be opening an office in New York soon.

In addition to my litigation practice, I negotiate on behalf of writers and authors, and also represent them in disputes and litigation arising from their contracts.

I also write a blog called West Virginia Business Litigation and have just started another one called The Write Lawyer, which may be of particular interest to your readers.

Before I talk about what you should pay particular attention to in a publishing contract, let me add a disclaimer here. My opinions here are general in nature and should not be interpreted as legal advice for any particular situation. Any recommendations or advice necessarily depends on the specific facts.

The Top 5 Things a Writer Should Look at in a Publishing Contract

Because a standard publishing contract contains pages of complicated language with confusing -- and sometimes incomprehensible -- legal terms and phrases, I recommend that an author hire an agent or an attorney to negotiate his/her contracts (unless it’s what the author does for a living. And even then, the author may not be objective enough to recognize the pitfalls in a contract).

1. Grant of Rights

This is where you grant, i.e., license, your work. You need to know exactly what rights you are granting -- the format(s) for your work -- and as to each one, the territory (geographical area) of the grant; the time period (duration) of the grant; and the language(s) for the grant.

2. Advance

This is how much you will receive up front and how it will be paid out. Obviously you want as large an advance as possible, and usually the publisher will negotiate the amount -- up to a limit -- as opposed to a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

Then, once you've agreed on the amount of the advance, you have to negotiate how it will be paid out. Here are three examples of pay-outs for an advance, which are unrelated to the size of the advance: a 50-50 split, where half of the advance is paid when the contract is signed, and the second half is paid on acceptance of the manuscript (in most cases, this is the author’s best choice); 40-40-20, where the publisher pays 40% of the advance when the contract is signed, the next 40% when the manuscript is accepted, and the remaining 20% when the book is published; and thirds, where the publisher pays one-third of the advance when the contract is signed, the next third when the manuscript is accepted, and the final third when the book is published. And just as you want to negotiate to get as large an advance as possible, you want as much of it paid up front as possible.

3. Royalties & Payouts

This provision includes how you will be paid for each right you have granted to the publisher, such as hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, etc. The royalty rates vary, so be careful.

The payout for a print book may include an escalation scale. For example, for a mass market book, you would get 6% for the first 30,000 copies you sell, 8% on the next 30,000 you sell, and 10% on anything above that. The numbers are hypothetical, but you get the idea.
Also be careful with contract language regarding monies earned and how they're paid out. For example, joint accounting and cross-collateralization both refer to a practice where a publisher lumps all your books together for accounting purposes. So if your first book didn't earn out, but your second one is a NYT bestseller, the publisher can use the profits on your second book to offset its losses on your first one. You want to have the accounting for each of your books done separately.

4 Subsidiary Rights

As an author, you want to retain as many rights as you possibly can. Examples of rights the publisher usually wants to keep are reprint rights, including paperback reprint rights, second serial rights, book club rights, and electronic rights. Examples of rights that can be negotiated are first serial rights, foreign language rights, audio rights. Examples of rights that you should always keep are commercial/merchandising rights, and dramatic/performance rights (movies, television, theater).

5 Option

An option clause gives a publisher the right to publish your next work, subject to the negotiation of mutually-agreeable terms. Under the option, the publisher usually has a period of time within which it can exclusively review the work and make an offer – basically a right of first refusal. If the parties don’t reach an agreement or the publisher passes, your are free to take the work elsewhere.

If you grant an option, the language needs to be as specific as possible. The genre needs to be specified (particularly important if you write in more than one genre), the length of the work (word count), when the option period starts, the length of time the option is in effect, and that the parties agree to negotiate a new contract, not simply that you will accept the terms of your current contract. The idea is to keep getting better deals.

Finally, pay close attention to broad language anywhere in the contract and make sure clauses are as specific and clear in time, content, and definition as possible. You want to sell books, not litigate over what your understanding was of an obscure provision in the contract.

My thanks to Lady Scribes, and I will answer your questions or comments today and throughout the weekend.

Jeffrey V. Mehalic
Law Offices of Jeffrey V. Mehalic
Phone (304) 346-3462
Fax (304) 346-3469