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Thursday, March 31, 2011

WHAT Grandpa Say???

My nephew (commonly referred to as the Nephew Monster) provides me with no small amount of amusement these days. He's three-and-a-half, so he can carry on a conversation now. It may not all come out exactly right, but he can get his point across if he wants to--leaving everyone in the general vicinity in stitches, no doubt.

At this lovely age, he has developed selective hearing. One day, for example, he was visiting me. He'd left the empty box from his snack of raisins on the floor instead of taking it to the trash can, and I was trying to get his attention to remind him of his responsibility. He was happily entertaining himself in the corner by the window sill, racing cars and making all the appropriate sounds, and was therefore incapable of hearing me calling his name repeatedly. My father was in another room at the time, and he dropped something, muttering a choice expletive beneath his breath. The Nephew Monster immediately turned to me with huge eyes and said, "WHAT Grandpa say?" Needless to say, that earned him quite a chuckle from me.

Another time, we were driving down the road and we passed a city bus. He got all excited. "Look, Aunt Cat! There's a school bus. I sure do love school buses." Every bus is a school bus, you know. Later in that trip, an ambulance passed us with lights spinning and siren wailing. "Woah," he said, with reverence running wild in his tone. "An am-blee-ance school bus." Those might be his favorite of them all, because of the lights and sirens. Or should I say his fravrite? He wants to ride in one someday. Maybe that's why he's always telling us to "Crash and burn!"

The Monster has a very active imagination. He knows that a lot of toys operate because batteries power them. Anytime something stops working, he wants the batteries to be changed--whether the batteries are the source of the problem or not. But he takes it to the next level. He'll be going along, playing at full speed in the way only a toddler can do. Then all of a sudden, he'll slump forward, hanging his head and closing his eyes. He'll peek up at you through his lashes and say in a strained voice, "My batteries are dead." They go in his back, so you then have to use your high-powered battery operated tools (your fingers and tool sounds) to remove the battery cover, put in fresh ones, and replace the cover. Once that's done, he pops back to life, eyes huge and blinking. This can happen multiple times an hour. I suppose the Nephew Monster is a high-drain device. Makes sense, considering how drained I am by the time he goes home.

Perhaps my favorite recent development with him, though, is a story told by my father. They were driving to visit one of my sisters, and a police car had another motorist pulled over at the side of the road. The Nephew Monster said, "Look, Grandpa! A pleece (rhymes with fleece) car. Are they gonna check us?" I guess he's been with his Mommy or Daddy sometime when the pleece have "checked" them. Not sure where else that comes from. Just a few days ago, he added to this particular scenario. We were shopping at the local Kroger, where they have shopping carts with cars on the front for the kids to "drive." He was driving his car and telling everyone we passed that he was a pleeceman and was going to check them and cost them lots of money and tickets. Mmm hmm. Daddy still claims to know nothing about why the Monster knows about the pleecemen checking people and costing lots of money and tickets.

These things that kids say are things you just can't make up, no matter how hard you try. They have a way of looking at the world that adults have long since forgotten. I don't know about you, but I try to find ways to bring some of that into my writing, by looking at things from a different angle than I usually would.

Have you ever tried to look at the world through someone else's eyes? And what's the best thing you ever heard a child say?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You Didn't Final in the Golden Heart... How to Move On

(Yesterday Clarissa blogged about reasons to be happy you didn’t final in the Golden Heart. Today is my follow up to the discuss she started.)

March 25th was a day for tears of happiness and tears of disappointment. I’m not sure if there is another contest with the same emotional punch as the Golden Heart. We all want to be the best writers we can be and have our efforts validated by being named a finalist. Unfortunately, we can’t all be at the top at the same time. It’s not a testament to our abilities so much as the reality of statistics. Two of my great critique partners finaled in the Golden Heart and several other equally talented writers in my group didn’t. In my opinion, they all deserve the recognition. And I believe some day it will be their turn to receive it, but this year isn't their year.

Being named a finalist is a wonderful experience, and I don't want to take anything away from those being honored for their hard work. The Golden Heart can be a spring board for an author's career, but not making the finals has never kept anyone from becoming published. If you didn't receive the call last Friday, your dreams can still come true, but only if you keep going.

Watching my daughter learn to ride her bike yesterday, I was reminded that once we didn’t allow setbacks to be a personal statement about us. We didn’t believe a scraped knee meant we were inadequate children, and we should park the bike forever. When we were learning to walk, we didn’t allow multiple falls to dictate our mode of ambulation. We stopped crawling, stood and took another chance that this time we wouldn't fall. Our first steps were wobbly, but our muscles grew stronger and before long we ran. When evidence pointed to failure, we kept going. We need to tap into the resilience we had as children, because sometimes there are more setbacks than successes in a writer's world.

Here are six ways to mentally withstand the bumps associated with pursuing publication:

Set realistic goals. Writing is a craft. It requires hard work, continuous learning and practice. To expect to final in the Golden Heart early in your career is like expecting to run a marathon when all you’ve done is run around the block. Don't set this as a measurement of your abilities as a writer. Runners add blocks until they meet their goal of running 26.21875 miles (42.195 km), and they don't compare their progress to others'. They compete against themselves for their personal best. The same goes for writing. Measure your progress against your earlier writing. Exercise your skill. Enter other contests to polish your GH entry for next year. Someday you’ll either be a GH finalist, or you’ll be published and can enter the RITAs instead.

Look for secondary gains. Everyone hopes to win when they enter a contest, but look for something else you can get from the experience. Sometimes you receive great feedback. Even if all you get are scores, you can check your manuscript’s vital signs. Did three judges give high scores and one gave a low one? That tells you 75% of the judges think you have a good thing going and the fourth one doesn’t get you.

Keep a running list of your successes. When a situation doesn’t go as we’d planned or hoped, it’s easy to get focused on other things that haven’t gone well in our lives. We can get down on ourselves and only see our past failures. One year for work we had to list everything we’d accomplished that year. It took a while to recall the good things I’d done for our department, but seeing the list made me feel good about my contributions. Don’t wait until you’ve been kicked in the head to make a list. Keep a running total of your accomplishments then pull it out as a reminder that you’ve been successful in the past.

Challenge your negative thoughts. “I’m never going to be published.” “No agent is ever going to like me.” “My writing stinks and my friends are too nice to tell me the truth.” “I’m just fooling myself. I have no talent.” These thoughts have gone through my mind at different times throughout the process of becoming a writer. I’m sure I’ll think them again at some point. Thank goodness I like to argue, because that has pulled me out of a funk more than once. When I thought, “I’m never going to be published,” I argued everyone can get published if they’re willing to stick with it. When I told myself, “My writing stinks”, I re-read the letters I received from Textnovel readers asking how they could get the rest of my story. I pulled up the file I keep with positive comments I’ve received from contests. The truth is some people like my writing, and it was just a matter of finding the right publishing professionals for me.

Watch your language. Some people might say I’m splitting hairs, but I don’t like to use the word rejection. One definition of the word means to throw out as useless or worthless. What a negative association! The changing of one word might not seem important, but the way we think about events affects us emotionally. I choose to think of an agent as "passing" on my manuscript, or if I’m feeling sassy, I say, "This agent lacks the insight to recognize my brilliance." LOL. That’s just a joke!

Have a Plan B, C, D, E, F… Clarissa calls it the spaghetti method where you toss a bunch of queries out there, knowing some are going to stick. (This comes from testing if the noodles are done by throwing one against the wall. If it sticks, it's ready.) Catherine sent out ten more queries for each “no thank you” she received. Disappointment from bad news is lessened when you discover a request from an agent in your mailbox later that day. I guess what I’m trying to say is not to put too much hope into any one thing working out. Maybe you’ll even be thankful later that everything didn’t work out the way you’d planned. This was the case for me about eighteen months ago. When I didn’t final in a contest after being in the top for weeks, my spirits suffered. It was the only time I cried in this process. But what seemed like a curse at the time turned out to be a blessing when the publisher sponsoring the contest began to have financial troubles and stopped paying their authors. Try to have faith that your path will lead you where you need to go.

What are some ways you’ve learned to beat back disappointment and stay on the road to publication?

Independence Day . . . or 5 Reasons You Should Celebrate When You're Not a Golden Heart® Finalist

(Please note: I wrote this blog before the 2011 announcements because I knew I would be traveling today. As of this writing, I have no idea whether or not I will final. In the past, I've had both finaling and non-finaling manuscripts.)

On March 25th, Romance Writers of America® announced the finalists for the 2011 Golden Heart awards, to the great joy of sixty-four unpublished romance writers. Congratulations to all the finalists. This post is not for you.

Today, I want to blog for the hundreds of writers who entered but didn’t final. Perhaps you’re feeling down, wondering why you ever considered a career writing fiction. This is exactly the opposite of what you should be thinking. First, the judges’ scores are no reflection on your ability to get published. There are plenty of best-selling romance writers who never finaled in the Golden Heart. Second, NOT finaling in the Golden Heart can be a very liberating experience, freeing you to make the career move that will ultimately lead to that coveted bestseller slot.

Here, then, are my top 5 reasons you should celebrate when you didn't final in the Golden Heart:

Freedom to Submit: No more excuses, no more trying to ‘time it right.’ Since your manuscript is already finished, celebrate. Then submit it to the same editors you were hoping to attract with your GH finalist title. At the very least, you’ll get some feedback in time for Nationals. If you’re lucky, you may watch the RITA®/GH award ceremony sitting between your new agent and your new editor.

Freedom to Set it Aside: You say you’ve already shopped that novel everywhere and the GH was your last resort? Celebrate. Now you are free to set that manuscript aside, and start on something fresh. You learned so much writing that last novel. The next one will be much easier. Don’t you want to spend some time with a manuscript that’s shiny and new?

Freedom to Reinvent Yourself: So what if they’re right? Maybe your hipster voice doesn’t work in the mouth of a regency duchess. Maybe your love for flowery, descriptive details slows down your gritty thriller. Celebrate. If you had finaled in the Golden Heart, you might have spent years trying to squeeze into the wrong subgenre. Now you’re free to think about what you do best and where those talents will be most appreciated.

Freedom to Stay Home: If your conference dollars are limited, celebrate. You have freedom of choice. Had you finaled in the GH, you would been expected to go to the National Conference in New York City. As a non-finalist, you’re free to consider other writers’ conferences and readers’ conventions. Is there a regional conference you’ve always wanted to attend? Perhaps a writers’ cruise? Sometimes those smaller venues give you better access to editors and agents for half the cost. Look around for events that focus on your subgenre, have the speakers you want to hear, and the editors/agents you’d like to meet.

Freedom to Enjoy the Conference: If you decide to go to Nationals, celebrate. While it’s true GH finalists get extra perks at Nationals, they also have an overwhelming schedule. As a non-finalist, you’ll have more time to visit with all your writer friends, hang out in the bar with your favorite agent, and sightsee. More of the fun, less of the stress. And who knows, maybe one of those workshops you attend will spark the idea that gets you on the bestsellers list.

So there you have it, my top 5 reasons to celebrate not finaling in the Golden Heart. I would love to hear your stories. Have you found any other benefits to NOT being a Golden Heart finalist?

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Picks

I know, this time of year the mind automatically goes to the NCAA and brackets. Those aren't the picks I am talking about however. In fact, this is the first time in years I haven't filled out a bracket (hangs head in shame). I am referring to workshops. Yep, RWA has announced the lineup of workshops for their Annual Conference this summer in New York City.

This will be my fourth conference and what I find interesting is how much my focus had changed since that first one. I am sure it has everything to do with being published, growing as an author, and becoming more comfortable with a blog. That first year, and probably the second, I was all about the CRAFT workshops. Learning about creating stronger characters, story structure, deep POV, etc. Now the workshops I have chosen have the designation of CAREER, RESEARCH and PUBLISHING. In fact, after glancing through my list, there is only one CRAFT workshop and it is Familiarity Breeds Success: Recurring Characters, Places and Themes in Your Historical Series presented by Sarah MacLean and Lauren Willig. There are two reasons I chose this. One being each book I have written has been set up with either a series or trilogy in mind. I also wanted to attend because I had been in a workshop where Lauren Willig was the presenter and a got a lot out of it. I also absolutely love her Pink Carnation Series.

So, have you looked over the workshops being offered? Do you see a pattern in those you are interested in? And, has your focus changed over the years as mine has?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Medieval Weapon’s Part Four

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

Okay, last blog in this series. You can find the original blogs here http://ladyscribes.blogspot.com/search/label/medieval%20weapons

War’s change more than the people who’ve fought them; it changes the land and history as well. The quest for power led the medieval era into violence and siege warfare was brutal. In a land of castles, Kings, lords and knights, the medieval era was rife with conflict. So many unwritten stories still await the opportunity to be shared. I love to research such a fascinating subject. Siege warfare became a common occurrence and over the years often determined the outcome of many wars.

War is a fascinating subject. Last time I discussed the ballista in detail. This time I’ll cover the Mangonel and the Trebuchet. Both weapons were formidable weapons of warfare and many sieges were won with them.

The Mangonel, similar to a catapult, which worked by using torsion or counterpoise. Mangonels fired heavy projectiles from a bowl-shaped bucket at the end of its arm. The word Mangonel is derived from the Latin word manganon which means “an engine of war”.

This type of catapult was easy to construct and wheels were added for maneuverability. It wasn’t as accurate as the Ballista but it could throw missiles further than the Trebuchet. Invented by the Roman’s in 400BC and didn’t reach European countries until the medieval era by the French. It wasn’t introduced in England until 1216 during the Siege of Dover.

Mangonels were capable of firing projectiles up to 1,300 feet. Made of timber, the missiles were launched from the bowl shaped arm. The rope attached to the arm was the spring of the Mangonel and made of twisted strands of human hair or animal sinew. The rope at the bottom end of the throwing arm was twisted, providing the force to propel the arm.

The missiles used were varied: stones, sharp wooden poles and darts, fire, casks of burning tar, burning sand which became trapped inside armor, pots of Greek fire, dung, dead, diseased and sometimes mutilated bodies, dead animals, any rotting matter, and quicklime.

Trebuchets were like giant slings and hurled large projectiles long distances in order to smash castle walls and breach its defenses. It was invaluable. A work of art that many people continue to be fascinated with today. Over the years the Trebuchet evolved into one of the most powerful and accurate siege weapons in history and it was capable of reducing castle walls, fortresses and entire cities to rubble.

The word 'Trebuchet', also known as the Trebucket, is derived from the Old French word 'Trebucher' meaning to throw over. In England siege weapons were known as the Ingenium from the Latin word ingenium meaning ingenious device.

This particular weapon has a fascinating history and dates back to antiquity. The traction trebuchet is believed to be an ancient war engine which was invented in China in 300BC and thought that the trebuchet may have developed from the stave sling where a large troop of men would pull on ropes to propel the missile. The Trebuchet reached Europe in the early middle ages or Dark age, in 500 AD by the French. At this time the design of the trebuchet was revised so that the troop of men used to pull down the ropes were replaced with a large fixed, or pivoting, counterbalance weight.

Again, Louis the Dauphin of France crossed the Channel with a large force and laid siege to Dover Castle making a violent and incessant attack on the walls and used the trebuchet against the enemy. The constable of Dover castle was Hugh de Burgh. King Edward I ordered his chief engineer, Master James of St. George, to begin work on a new, more massive engine called Warwolf, a version of the trebuchet. The Warwolf is generally thought of as the most powerful and most famous of the trebuchets in history.

Highly accurate, the Trebuchet consisted of a lever and a sling. The siege engine's arm could measure up to 60 feet in length as heavy lead weights or a pivoting ballast box (filled with earth, sand or stones) were fixed to the short end of the Medieval trebuchet arm. A heavy stone, or other missile, was placed in a leather pouch that was attached by two ropes to the other, long, end. When the arm was released, the force created by the falling weight propelled the long end upward and caused the missile to be flung in the air toward the target. It was capable of hurling stones weighing 200 pounds with a range of up to about 300 yards.

The Trebuchet is generally associated with throwing stones. It’s massive size required the machine be built on location and many sieges lasted months or years. The men who operated the trebuchet were called Gynours and were constantly under attack from the enemy archers or enemy catapults. It was a dangerous job.

I hope this helps compile some information for those of you researching the era. Once again, I’m leaving a list of links and books that will be helpful on your search for medieval warfare.


Medieval Warfare: A History by Maurice Keen

Medieval Warfare by Helen J. Nicholson

Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide to Siege Weapons and Tactics by K. Nosov

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do writers really need print publishers?

I’ve been asking myself for some time if I should pursue publication from traditional print publishers or if I should self publish. Yesterday, when I read the news of Barry Eisler turning down a $500,000 deal to self-publish the question in my head got significantly louder. The conversation between Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath about self-publishing is fascinating. If you haven’t read it go to www.jakonrath.com/eislerkonrath.pdf.

As a new writer who has yet to publish anything, the question is a bit different for me than Mr. Eisler or Mr. Konrath, but many of their points are applicable to me as well as all of you unpublished and published writers out there. A few of their major points that struck me are:

  • Amazon sold more digital books in 2010 than paperback
  • People aren’t leaving digital for paper, they are leaving paper for digital because digital is cheaper
  • Paper isn’t going to disappear. It’s going to become marginalized just like when electricity replaced candles, cars replaced carriages and cds replaced vinyl records. *This has been one of the things I pondered. Will paper disappear? The conversation between Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath made me see I was asking the wrong question. It’s not will paper books disspear but will they become marginalized, and all the trends we are seeing say, yes. Mr. Konrath says paper will become the niche and digital will become the norm, and frankly, I agree with this.
  • Publishers offer a 25% royalty on e-books, but Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath say it is actually 14.9 % that the author ends up getting. Why would I settle for that when I can get much more self publishing?
These are just a few of the points from the conversation. I am left to consider that as an unknown writer is it better to get my name known with a print publisher’s muscle or is it better to have as many books as I can on the virtual shelf right now with a ‘forever’ shelf life.

I would love to hear all of your thoughts and opinions on this fascinating topic.

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Seven Greatest Joys

I’m not given much to introspection. I like what I like and don’t often look for hidden meanings. But as I was struggling to decide on my blog topic this week it occurred to me that I should write down what I enjoy most because lets face it taking stock of the good things helps negate all the bad things happening in the world. So here’s a little glimpse into the seven greatest joys in life:

No 7: Tim Tam’s and Latte

Ok, it’s rare that I ever have the two things simultaneously. For those of you who don’t know Tim Tam’s are chocolate covered biscuits made in Australia. They are HUGE here on the far side. I suppose the reason the two never meet in one sitting is that the latte’s never make it home and the Tim Tam’s never last. What can I say … Tim Tam’s and Latte’s rock!

No 6: My Location

I could wax lyrical about my current house but really any house in this area would do. You see I live on the edge of beautiful Lake Macquarie. We’re not waterfront but we have awesome lake views. Lake Macquarie is a clean saltwater lake, deep and very popular with sailors and skiers alike. I spent my childhood swimming and sailing the waters and there is a wonderful peace and excitement about being here.

No 5: Castle / Star Trek / Sherlock

What can I say – I’m a huge fan of these shows. But quite honestly it was hard to narrow them down. I love Rick Castle (Nathan Fillon) for his humor, Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) for his passion, and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) for his sheer quirkiness. If you haven’t caught up with these shows you really are missing out!

No 4: My Books

I don’t mean the books I’ve written myself. I’m referring to my obscenely large book collection. I’d go off and count them right now but I need to keep typing. Suffice to say I have eleven bookcases on one floor of my house and untold editions tucked away on another. I’m not stopping to count up the PDF’s and digital editions in my Kindle or iBook App either. Do I feel guilty about having so many … of course not. I’m a book addict and proud of it.

No 3: My Cat – Morpheous

Morpheous is pretty special. He was a re-homed cat, we got him aged four and boy is he different. For one thing his paws never stop flexing. I can’t sit him on my lap without being pricked by his claws and he has this sad tendency to drop to the hardwood floor right behind where I’m standing. I’ve never stepped on him though because he tends to land with so loud a thud that I get worried he might be scrambling his own brains. Crazy cat!

No 2: My Writing

I must admit that having a valid excuse to daydream is wonderful. Up until 2008 I didn’t write fiction at all. Having an outlet for my wild imaginings has really settled me. I feel fulfilled in a way no other paid job has.

Wordle: Heather Boyd

No 1: My Family

You can never tell your family too often that you love them, that you admire them and wish them the very best. However, I’m making a fair attempt at it, if only within the confines of my house for my image conscious boys. With my husband I’ve never tried to hide how happy he makes me. I am shamelessly in love with my childhood sweetheart and I let him know every chance I get.

So tell me – what are the seven things that bring you the most joy?

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Releases from Jerrica!

Hi Friends! It's very exciting for me to announce that I have not one, not two, but THREE new releases to announce! I hadn't really planned on this happening this way, but it did. They are all part of the Wetherby Brides Series, and follow the first book, A Gentleman Never Tells.

More than a Governess is the second book in the series, and truth be told,
the heroine isn't really a Wetherby Bride. But she's so closely related to the family that I figured it would be okay to make her an honorary Wetherby. I think the title kind of gives away the gist of the story, and I promise I didn't get my inspiration from Jane Eyre. I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't even seen (let alone read!) Jane Eyre until about two years after I'd written the first draft of the novel. Not sure I should admit that, but I don't want to be accused of stealing ideas ;) Becky and Stephen were definitely inspired by my own, overactive imagination.

The Wary Widow is the third book in the series and for some reason it has a special place in my heart. I really love this story (not sure if that's a good thing or not) and the plight of the characters still gets me teary-eyed sometimes. I won't give anything away, but Andrew is an identical twin, and things get a bit out of hand...okay, they get a lot out of hand.

The Bedeviled Bride is the fourth and final book in the series (for now), and features Andrew's identical twin, Michael, and a rather disgruntled bride. This book proved to be much more difficult to write than I'd anticipated. Two people stuck in the Scottish highlands together for months on end with no balls or parties or teas...well, let's just hope I pulled it off!

I do think each book can stand on its own...at least I hope that's the case. I did my best :) So if one tickles your fancy, don't worry too much about reading out of order. I would put all the links for purchase here, but I would rather just redirect you to my website where I spent hours working out the links. Click here and then choose your format!

Merry Monday and Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Letting it Go

I'm a bit of a grammar snob.

I know this about myself. I accept it as both a strength and a flaw. This snobbishness has proven very helpful to me in terms of my writing, but it can become a serious detriment, if I allow it to, in terms of getting by in the world without going crazy.

You see, I read a lot of blogs. Many of these blogs are written by writers, agents, and editors. These are the people in the writing and publishing worlds who are supposed to know grammar and be able to properly use grammar to serve their purposes. Most of the blogs written by these publishing-world professionals generally are written well, with minimal grammatical mistakes. Most of those mistakes are minor, and I can look past them as simply what they are--mistakes. We all make them. I am positive that I have had grammatical mistakes in the blog posts I've posted, both here an on my personal blog. I may read this post later and find one or two that I missed before posting. Everyone, after all, is human.

But then there are a few blogs out there, written by professionals in the publishing world, that are consistently riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. I still read these blogs because the actual content is good. I try to ignore the errors laced throughout the content. Sometimes this is an easier undertaking than at other times. One instance in particular came only a week or two ago. This blogger blogged about the importance of a writer using good grammar skills in order to obtain an agent and sell to an editor--yet the post was full of more than the blogger-in-question's normal amount of grammatical mistakes. It took a supreme amount of effort on my part not to comment and point out these errors.

Since then, I've had to come to a conclusion. I will never be able to save the world from poor grammar. It is simply too grand an undertaking for a sole grammar snob like me. I mean, even Grammar Girl has only really made a dent with those of us who actually care about using proper grammar, it seems.

So instead of obsessing over the poor grammar out there in the world, I have decided to let it all go. When I stumble over the poor wording in a blog post, I will simply take a breath and move on.

Obsessing over things I can't control will only hurt me, after all.

Do you tend to obsess over silly things like grammar? Have you ever successfully given up on a similar obsession? (If so, HOW???)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dream Girl

I’m a dreamer. It’s true I set goals for myself and pursue The Dream, but what I mean is I have a lot of vivid dreams while I’m sleeping. I’ve heard others talk of creating novels from a really fantastic dream they’ve had, and I’m envious that their dreams are so organized. Mine are mostly silly, but I’ve had some great laughs thanks to my unconscious. (If you are a dream-analyst, save your interpretations. I’m married to a psychologist. I’m sure I’ve already heard them all. LOL)

The other night I dreamed I woke up with a giant, red big-toe. Only on my right foot. It was the size of a small apple. No pain or anything. I only noticed it because I looked down. I could have been walking around with this colossal toe for days for all I knew. The part I find really funny was my reaction. I just shrugged and said, “Look at that. I need to paint my toenails.” No biggie. My second thought was what shoes I could wear to work since our dress code prohibits open-toed shoes.

I love how our brains work in that space between sleep and wakefulness. One night I dreamed my husband and I were in our old kitchen talking. I don’t know the topic of conversation, but suddenly he looked at me with this very intense expression and said, “Ten.” Huh? And he began repeating himself. “Ten. Ten. Ten. Ten. Ten.” I remember being confused, maybe shaking my head, then I was awake in our bed and I was still hearing the word. It took me a minute to realize it was my husband snoring softly and each exhale sounded just like he was moaning the word "ten".

Then there was the dream where I found a man in full clown make-up sleeping in a twin bed in the middle of a kitchen. The covers were pulled up to his chin and his big clown shoes stuck out from under the covers. My friend and I stood on each side of the bed gazing down at him. She and I looked up at the same time and I said with wonder in my voice, “It’s a clown! A professional clown!” I'm not sure why it was significant that he was a professional rather than an amateur, but there you go.

Once I dreamed I was at a cocktail party listening to a rambling philosophical discussion with these very sophistocated folks in formal wear when a piece of food became lodged in my mouth. They kept right on talking as if nothing was wrong as my jaw locked and I looked like a fish blowing kisses. They didn't even blink when I dug my fingers in my mouth to forcefully dislodge it. I wonder if that dream was the adult version of sitting down to take a test only to discover it is written in Swahili. You know, the anxiety one. Or where you go to school or work and you forgot to put on pants.

My favorite dream is a recurring one I have where I’m walking around in a house I’ve never been in before, and I keep discovering hidden rooms. When I reach the secret rooms, there is a moment’s hesitation and anxiety, but as I open the door, I’m filled with positive feelings and delight. I tend to have these dreams when I’m on the verge of personal growth, so I think it’s my unconscious telling me everything is going to be okay. Don't be afraid of change.

And finally, I want to share a “scary” dream my daughter had when she was four. I had to fight hard to keep a straight face when she told me she dreamed a gang of leprechauns kept grabbing her and tossing her in a bed of poison ivy. I know I shouldn’t laugh at the expense of my child, but it was really funny! I’m also happy that the scariest things in her life are mythical shoemakers with a preference for beer and contracting an itchy rash.

Do you have any recurring dreams or a funny dream you recall?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What to Expect When You Final in the Golden Heart®

In ten days, on March 25th, RWA will release the names of the 2011 Golden Heart® and Rita® finalists. For those of you sitting on the edge of your seats, waiting for The GH Call, here’s a little preview of what you can expect if you final, along with some tips on how to prepare for the GH whirlwind.

The Call: Finalists usually get a phone call before the official announcement is made. Those living overseas get their calls first, and then it moves across the country from east to west. It’s fun to watch the names trickle in as the calls go out. Here at the Lady Scribes, we’ll keep a running list throughout the day. Please let us know when you get the call.

Tip: Be prepared. They will want to know if you want the announcement under your real name or a pseudonym.

The Flood: I was absolutely stunned by the number of people who took the time to congratulate me after I finaled, and those who invited me to guest blog. At the same time, the GH finalists were all contacting one another to figure out what they were supposed to be doing. It was impossible to keep up with emails.

Luckily, some folks who had finaled in years past took us under their wings, set up a yahoo loop where we could all meet, and pointed us toward The Golden Network, an RWA special interest chapter for GH finalists.

The Name: Every class of GH finalists adopts a nickname. If you're bored waiting for the announcements, you might think of one for this year's group. But chances are, that name will come from something you experience together. The "Unsinkables" came out of solidarity with the Nashville flood victims.

The List: After all the joyful squeals die down, you get the official to-do list from RWA. This includes things like submitting a professional photo and choosing newspapers to receive your press release.

Tip: Might as well get that picture ready now. The List has deadlines.

The Preparation: Preparing for Nationals as a GH finalist can be a little overwhelming. Finalists have wonderful opportunities to sign up for special receptions, retreats, and pitch sessions. As a conference first-timer, I found it challenging to sort through all the events, get signed up for them, and pack appropriate clothing. Luckily, I had my wonderful Unsinkable sisters to explain everything. They were also there for my horrible, hideous hair disaster, and all the drama that went with finding The Dress.

The Submissions: If that doesn’t sound overwhelming, it’s because I forgot to mention this is also the time to submit your queries to editors and agents. You may find the agent who’s rejected you five times on query letters alone is suddenly willing to read your pages. Go for it.

Tip: Finish polishing that full now. Conference is sooner than you think.

The Weird: Agents aren’t the only ones who will treat you differently when you’re a GH finalist. Other writers will have their own emotional responses to the announcement. Be prepared for some odd behavior from both friends and strangers.

Tip: Remember that this has nothing to do with you. It’s about how they feel about their own writing.

The Conference: As a finalist, it’s easy to go into panic mode at Nationals. You may feel like this is it, make or break, your one big chance to get published. It can be frustrating to realize everything is scheduled at the same time, your feet hurt, and you can’t attend every function.

In reality, the tough work is over. You’ve written the book and made it the best it can be. Pitch sessions aside, there’s nothing more you can do. Try to relax and enjoy yourself. The hardest part might be choosing who'll sit up front with you at the awards ceremony.

Tip: Skip the workshops and focus on the people. You can always listen to the workshops on tape, but this may be your only chance to meet your online friends, your agent, and possibly, your future editor.

The Prize: No one wants to be a perpetual GH finalist. Most would much rather be published. But the truth is that not every finalist will ink a deal. In the 2010 Unsinkables class, about 1/3 of the finalists have sold thus far.

The real prize for GH finalists is the camaraderie of the GH class. It’s having a group of kindred spirits beside you on the road to publication. And knowing, that no matter how your writing career turns out, you will always have the support of your GH sisters (and one Unsinkable brother) along the way.

Have I left anything out? For those who have finaled, what was your favorite perk of being a finalist? And for those who hope to final, what perk are you most looking forward to?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Healing Tree

It is out and sooner than I expected. The Healing Tree was supposed to be my third novel released but it ended up being the second. It is a good thing this is not part of a trilogy or series because things could be very confusing. Well, actually it is, but it is the first book in its own series and has nothing to do with Loving Lydia or Pure is the Heart (coming in April), and I am going to use my blog day to shamelessly promote The Healing Tree.

Lady Lilian Bliant appears to be a serene earl’s daughter, but under her exotic fa├žade she has a spine of steel. She is determined to thwart her manipulative father’s plan to shackle her to a weak-willed man of the ton and is successful until Lord Maxwell Warrick becomes a suitor.

Lord Max is anything but weak-willed. He is happy with his life until Lady Lilian wreaks havoc on his heart. Despite her continued rejection, Max wants Lily to trust him, trust in his love, and have faith in the Lord.

With the Lord’s guidance, and through prayer, he begins to hope that one day their differences will be put aside and Lily will accept his faith as her own and Max as her husband.

If you didn't catch it from the blurb, The Healing Tree is an Inspirational Historical Romance, which can also be called a Christian Romance. While faith and God come into play and are important to the story, I feel mine fall more into the "Edgy" category.

If you are wondering what a Edgy Christian Romance is, I took the following definition from Edgy Inspirational Fiction.

"If romance were a summer drink, bonnet books and Christian category would be sweet tea. Edgy inspirationals would be unsweetened with a slice of lemon. And mainstream romance would be a Long Island iced tea."

If you have avoided or had no interest in reading an Edgy Christian Romance before, I encourage you to give one a shot. You may find you like them ;). And, if you want to try mine, it is in e-book format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Guest blogger: Susan Macatee

Next month is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. And I, for one, am hoping this will stir up some interest with readers, as well as publishers, for romances set during this conflict.

When I first started writing toward publication—after my youngest son started school—I wrote stories for children and young adults. But when I discovered there wasn’t much of a market for that type of story, I decided I wanted to move away from writing for young people and try writing romance. The first step was to immerse myself in the genre and I was instantly drawn to reading time travels.

During this period, I was also drawn into the American Civil War period and became a Civil War civilian reenactor. My husband had joined the military side and they welcomed family members to join as well, so after being immersed in the period—right down to the clothing, accouterments and food—it felt natural for my first manuscript to be a Civil War time travel.

It made sense to use the knowledge I’d already gained as a reenactor to show readers what it might feel like for a modern-day woman to be transplanted to a Civil War army camp. And of course she meets the man of her dreams, a real-life Civil War soldier. Watching the men in their uniforms at a battle reenactment can be a stirring sight. There’s just something about a man in uniform. Sigh.

Thus came my first full-length romance release, Erin’s Rebel.

ut, my Civil War romances didn’t stop there. I used my knowledge of reenactors to write a novella for the Civil War anthology, Northern Roses and Southern Belles. In my story, Angel of My Dreams, the hero is a reenactor who meets the ghost of a Civil War nurse on a reenactment battlefield and learns a secret about himself in the process.

My next foray into the American Civil War came from my fascination with women who disguised themselves as men in order to join the army and fight. This occurred on both sides. I also read about immigrants to the United States who fought in the war for both North and South. So the heroine in my second novel, Confederate Rose, is an Irish immigrant who has a grudge against soldiers of the North for killing her husband and father-in-law, as well as causing the death of her unborn child. Although the story is fiction, my heroine, Katie O’Reilly, is patterned after those real-life women soldiers who fought, often undetected, until injured or killed. Many were never discovered at all, except many years later through letters sent home or journals found in attics.

The hero of Confederate Rose is a Southerner who’s driven from his home after refusing to fight for the Confederacy. He goes north and joins the Union Army to work as a spy.

The Civil War affords so much variety for heroes and heroines of all types. No two stories need be alike. And stories of romance possibilities are seemingly endless.

In the American historical Christmas anthology, An American Rose Christmas, I visit the woman soldier situation again. In my story, The Christmas Ball, the heroine is a Union soldier who falls for the camp surgeon. She’s a farm girl, while he’s a society man. Once he discovers the soldier he thought of as a boy is a woman, he shows her what it’s like to live in high society, taking her to a Christmas Ball in Philadelphia where his family lives. I partially patterned the heroine of this story after true life heroine, Sarah Emma Edmonds, who grew up on a farm, joined the Union army disguised as a man and served as a mail carrier. She developed a close friendship with a medical steward in camp, and fell in love, but couldn’t reveal she was a woman, so, sadly, nothing came of it. In fact, she learned he was engaged to marry another woman and it broke her heart.

I even foray into the supernatural with my Civil War vampire novella, Sweet Redemption. My hero is a fallen priest, now a Union army captain, who encounters a vampire. The heroine is a Southern woman whose husband was killed in the war.

Learning about this period in American history brings to mind all sorts of stories of romance, passion and danger. Reading first hand accounts and other non-fiction books about the people—both soldiers and civilians—who lived through the war, brings to mind tons of story ideas. Although the stories I’m working on currently all take place years after the war ended, the characters are affected by the war. My latest novel, Cassidy’s War, is a post-Civil War romance sitting on my editor’s desk as I wait for her response. Both hero and heroine were taken from a young adult Civil War romance I had published years ago, now out of print. I’m also working on a post-Civil War time travel novella based on Erin’s Rebel. But I’m hoping to write more stories set during the war, because I’m passionate about the period.

So, what do think about Civil War romances? Have you read any lately, or in the past? Or do you stay away from them because you think they’re all clones of ‘Gone With the Wind’?

To learn more about me and all my stories, visit my website, www.susanmacatee.com

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Medieval Weapon’s Part Three

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

Last year I did a short series on medieval weapons called Is the Pen Mightier Than The Sword? Which you can find here http://ladyscribes.blogspot.com/search/label/medieval%20weapons

So I thought I would expand on it a little and offer some quick info on medieval siege weapons over my next several posts. Medieval warfare was quite complicated and intricate which is one of the reasons I love to research it. It’s a far cry from the way we fight battles today. I mean can you imagine standing at the base of a medieval castle as hot oil, rocks, and arrows rain down over you? You would need some massive...courage to do so.

The Crusades, the construction of hundreds of castles and the massive spread of Christianity, all helped bring about a new form of warfare — Siege Warfare. These weapons were unwieldy and difficult to transport but boy, did they pack a punch. In a siege situation, the siege commander and engineers would determine the best strategy and more often than not use the trial by error tactic. Often it would take several shots to line up these weapons before ever hitting the target. I’m certain many of them overshot or undershot – killing their own men.

I’m going to cover the most famous siege weapons here, one post at a time: Ballista, Mangonel, Battering rams, Trebuchets, Catapult, Siege Tower.

I’ll start with the Ballista – an invaluable attack weapon – which resembled a massive crossbow. Using Tension, the design was made to aim huge wooden, iron clad darts or arrows which were powered by twisted skeins of rope, hair, or sinew - the ballista design was based on a huge dart-throwing machine. These darts were designed to penetrate and skewer the enemy.

The word 'Ballista' is derived from the Greek word 'Ballistes' meaning to throw. In England siege weapons, including the Ballista, was also known as the Ingenium from the Latin word ingenium meaning ingenious device! Plural – ballistae.

The Ballista is probably one of the oldest siege weapons known to man, dated back to the Greek period (the scorpion) and later modified by the Romans. The weapon was introduced to England in 1216 during the Siege of Dover - as were many other types of siege engines. Louis the Dauphin of France crossed the Channel with a large force and laid siege to Dover Castle making a violent and incessant attack on the castle walls. He used the Ballista against the walls and men of Dover Castle. The constable of Dover castle was Hugh de Burgh - he refused to surrender.

This highly accurate weapon required expert building and design skills. The arms were made of wood, in which ropes were attached to each one and were the “springs.” The ropes were often made of twisted human hair or animal sinew. By “twisting” the ropes when the arms were pulled back it created the tension needed to create the projectile effect. The bowstring was pulled back by a winch. This short range weapon had a deadly effect.

The darts used were often darts with iron points, sharp wooden poles, body parts, and diseased and rotting carcasses. This baby could release up to a thousand missiles a day! It’s range approximately a couple hundred yards.

Sure you could find all this info on the web yourselves but this is something I could read about all day! And it gave me something to blog about. I’ve compiled a list of links and books to learn more about the Ballista here:

Medieval Warfare: A History by Maurice Keen

Medieval Warfare by Helen J. Nicholson

Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide to Siege Weapons and Tactics by K. Nosov

So two weeks from now, I’ll return with another post on medieval siege weapons and until then, what movie or book do you think best portrayed medieval warfare? I’ll give you my answer a bit later.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Keeping up with the Jones’s

Spring Break is next week for my children and my oldest child asked me yesterday, “Mommy will we ever get to go to Disney World?” “Maybe,” I replied seeing the cha-ching of dollar signs in my mind. When did going to Disney World become a right of passage for the average American kid? It seems everyone we know takes multiple trips to Disney World, the Caribbean or Jackson Hole every year.

I don’t know where you sit financially, but if you are truly the average American these sorts of trips can be daunting when you are thinking of the money involved. Let’s face it, certain things like the mortgage, food and clothing have to come before dream vacations.

It was a bit depressing to me to think my kids would be deprived yet another year of their wish to go to Disney World when all the kids they know seeming to be hopping a plane several times a year for different fun filled vacations. But I asked myself this question: What’s the main reason I want to take my kids on fun vacations? The answer, for me, is simple. I want to get away from my busy life and spend quality time having fun with my kids. I started researching a little and came up with a list of fun, inexpensive places my husband and I can take the kids and make great memories without dropping six grand on a Disney Vacation.

I’ve compiled a list of the top five places my husband and I want to take our kids before they grow up, and we plan to hit every spot, even if there comes a day that going to Disney World, or somewhere like it, is not such a daunting undertaking.

1. The Grand Canyon
Highlights -
Canyon Trail Rides – 928-638-9875 – you can ride a mule down the canyon trails.
Phantom Ranch – 888-297-2757 – you can stay overnight at the bottom of the Canyon
Grand Canyon Lodge – 928-638-2611

2. National Air and Space Museum
Highlights –
Skylab orbital workshops, flight simulators, observation tower, space hanger, space show at the planetarium
Stay for cheap at – Embassy Suites Hotel Downtown – 202-857-3388

3. Niagara Falls
Highlights –
American Falls and Horseshoe Falls
Niagara Falls State Park – 716-278-1796
Cave of the Winds Tour – 716-278-1730 – takes you to the base of the falls
Skylon Tower – 905-354-1551 – has a revolving restaurant on top
Maid of the Mist boat ride – 716-284-8897 – go up river and sail past the base of both falls
Niagara Helicopters – 905-357-5672
Courtyard by Marriot – 800-117-1123
Red Coach Inn – 716-282-1459

4. Cruising the Mississippi River
These are various locations along the river
Highlights –
Riverboat Twilight - 800-331-1467 – for overnight cruises
Julia Belle Swain riverboat – 800-815-1005 - daytime cruises
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium – 800-226-3369 – interactive exhibits to teach kids about the river
Mud Island River Park – 901-576-7241 – just great fun for the kids

5. Rocky Mountain National Park
Highlights –
Trail rides, cowboy roundups, cowboy breakfast, river rafting, nature trails, camping
Sombrero Ranch Stables – 970-586-2327
Glacier Basin Campground on Sprague Lake – 970-586-3244, Winding River Resort – 800-282-5121

These are just a few places I found. If you know of some great, inexpensive places to take kids for vacation, I would love to hear about them. I hope your spring break and summer are filled with lots of wonderful memories.

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The trouble with my pants

I’ve got nothing…

I’m sitting here on Tuesday eve, watching the sun set on Lake Macquarie, Australia and I have no clue what I should blog about for my post today. Usually I’m pretty good at this sort of thing. I have a plan, I write well ahead of time, and I usually have at least something scratched down to get me going. Unfortunatly, I'm not Vivian from Pretty Woman. I don't "fly by the seat of my pants" well.

But I’ve been a lot busy lately and blogs and schedules have flown out of my head. Just last week I entered the world of self-publishing / indie publishing (or whatever the heck you’d like to call it publishing) and my focus moved away from being creative. For about two weeks I did nothing but read formatting instructions and tweak my manuscript like the good little geek-girl I am.

In the middle of all that, I prepared (via Photoshop and Vistaprint) marketing materials to hand out at the Australian Romance Reader’s Convention being held the end of March. Honestly, I find I’m incredibly nervous about the whole thing - although I’ve attended the conference before as a reader. But I’m doing a book signing and I’ve been asked to sit on a panel for up and coming authors and I’m desperately hoping I’ll have something interesting to say should anyone approach me during or after.

At this point everything is booked and ordered and as done as possible. I should, by rights, be back into writing. Yet it’s hard to get back into the swing of the story I should be finishing or the blogs I should be planning. Unfortunately, I’m watching my emails for Vistaprint’s postage confirmations and my wildly swinging Amazon ranking. I do know it does that but man the movements become hypnotic. Do you every have trouble settling back into your work after a long period away? And more importantly, what do you do to refocus?

So today I’m going to leave you with a glimpse of my indie release, In the Widow’s Bed, and desperately hope I can find my missing focus tomorrow.
Phoebe Torrington, Lady Warminster, is bored, lonely, and downright frustrated by her life. Perhaps that's why she's turned to her stepson's friend, Lord Selwood, to help her find the perfect lover. Clean, experienced, and discreet, her delicious Frenchman is as exciting as she had hoped. But she never expected Selwood-a man ten years her junior-to disguise his voice and send himself to share her bed.

Jonathan Oliver, Lord Selwood, came to his friend's house party to stake a claim on his future bride. However, he delays his pursuit of the eager debutant when he discovers Phoebe's intriguing need. Jonathan cannot resist the temptation to secretly spend a night in the widow's bed. Yet once he's tasted Phoebe's desire, will one night ever be enough?
An erotic regency historical romance novella.

To read an excerpt click here to visit my website (WORKSAFE)
To download a free sample or buy the book visit Amazon.

Monday, March 7, 2011

RWA + NYC = Woohoo!

I'm sure many of you know by now that I am a New York City resident, and as the resident NYC resident, I've been nominated to do an NYC tour series here on Lady Scribes in preparation for Nationals this summer.

It's a common misconception, in my opinion, that New York is expensive. Sure, the cost of living here might be higher on the average, but it's still not as expensive as say, being at a Disney resort. This is a living, breathing city, and a lot of it is made up of low and middle income families. So trust me, you won't be forced into eating outrageously over-priced hamburgers. That is, as long as you follow my advice :)

The biggest rule that you must follow is this:


You might be lured by the giant, familiar neon signs that boast the names of your favorite restaurants. "Oh, I know that place! They're inexpensive and have food that I love!" And then you'll get inside, ask to be seated and once you're cozily ensconced in your booth overlooking Times Square, you'll realize your mistake. The chain restaurants know that tourists will always run for what's familiar and so they mark up the prices considerably, knowing you probably won't walk out once you've already been seated. Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday's and Red Lobster are massive staples in the city's center, but you'll find the markup on your favorite dishes to be anywhere from $3 to $6. Or pop into Fridays and you'll pay almost double for their standard hamburger.

So where should you go for that yummy non-chain hamburger? THE COUNTER! This primarily west coast build-your-own-burger joint finally comes to NYC, and while it's not the cheapest fare you'll find, it's darn good food and worth every penny. You'll leave feeling satisfied, and you won't be kicking yourself for paying $15 for a meal you could get back home for $8. Plus, it's a short 4-minute walk down Broadway from the Marriott!

For more info on The Counter, and to see their menu (which has way more than just burgers!), visit http://www.thecounterburger.com/

I'll be back in two weeks to give my suggestions for great Italian restaurants in Hell's Kitchen!

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest Blogger: B.A. Binns

For the Young, and Young at Heart

I have a grown daughter. I grew up during a time period now covered in history classes. I did not find everlasting love in High School. But I love Young Adult literature and I’m thrilled by this opportunity to guest with the Lady scribes and explain why I write YA romance. Not paranormal or dystopian or fantasy, the YA sub-genres that are the current rage. I find enough in the real world to keep my keyboard clicking, and I find enough in real kids to keep myself hopeful about the future.

During the high school years we look at the world and wonder how we can make things better. It’s a time when we fall under the grip of hormones; when we believe in ourselves. That’s the age group I used for my debut novel, PULL. During the research phase I learned a ton while playing amateur anthropologist. I scouted high schools and malls and concerts to study those strange creatures called teens in their natural habitats.

Young people recognize the hypocrisy that older and so-called wiser heads have learned to accept. The young don’t know they can’t fight city hall so they do. Sometimes they even win. My adult daughter never tires of hearing how I initiated a petition to have my college dorm change from their harsh-as-sandpaper (but cheap) toilet paper to something more suitable for that delicate area. She also likes hearing how I and a small group of protesters found ourselves at an empty state capital building because we hadn’t realized the legislature was not in session. We diehards looked at each other and the closed doors and had no idea what to do next. But the important thing was that we tried, and that made us feel the world was ours for the taking, enjoying, and improving.

Have you ever wished for a time machine so you could go back and do things right this time? Accept the date with the nerd instead of sitting by the phone hoping the god’s-gift-to-women hunk would call. Reveal our smarts instead of dumbing down to be popular. Tell that sadistic gym teacher exactly what she can do with her sit-ups. Befriend the new kid or tell off the bully. Pick up a YA novel and feel the feeling.

Someone said that adult romance is about finding Forever Love while YA romance is about finding First Love. I wish I could remember who, because that describes the best of YA romances. I read one and experience again the feelings I had the first time I realized that one guy was special. Not a friend or a crush but important in a way no boy had ever been before.

BTW, I don’t believe romance is a one-sided street. Teen boys may not like the word, but in spite of surging testosterone levels many come to realize they feel more than just a twitch below the belt around a certain special someone. Thus I decided to write about romance from the little-explored point of view of the teen guy.

The hero of PULL isn’t perfect, but then no real boy is. He begins by wanting only one thing from the heroine. But he ends by wanting to make her feel happy and safe, and that makes him the kind of guy I wish I’d met back in the day.

What do you think about the YA genre – first love vs. final love? And romance stories for boys, do you think that’s possible?


B. A. Binns is a Chicago Area author who finds writing an exercise in self discipline, and the perfect follow-up to her life as an adoptive parent and cancer survivor. She is a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America), the Chicago Writers Association, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). She writes to attract and inspire both male and female readers with stories of “real boys growing into real men…and the people who love them.” PULL tells the story of a young man’s journey from guilt and the fear that biology forces him to repeat his father’s violence, to the realization that his future lies in his own hands.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

These Characters Keep Coming Back

I'm a big fan of reality TV. You might call me a junkie. I'm okay with that, when you consider that I absolutely do not miss an episode of some of these shows.

It isn't just any show that I'm a junkie for, though. Some shows, like The Bachelor or any of the many reincarnations of Real Housewives shows, do nothing for me. If they come on, I flip the channel as quickly as possible. But other shows like Survivor, or Project Runway, or Top Chef, or The Amazing Race? More, more, more please!

The current TV season is filled with these shows that I can't stop watching all making use of some of the same people we've seen before. Some fans might say 'Too much!' but I am not one of those fans. I just want more of them.

Top Chef, for example, is in the middle of their first All Star season. While they didn't bring back any of my three favorite cheftestants from the past (hello Voltaggio brothers and Kevin!), there are some great contestants here. Who can forget Marcel, the king of the foams? Admit it--while you can't stand him, he's one of those guys you love to hate. He is drama-inducing gold. Then you've also got Carla, perhaps best known for yelling out "Hootie Hoo!" in the grocery stores while they shop. Well, that and for doing what Casey suggested in the final challenge and basically shooting herself in the foot. And who else has been on this season? None other than Casey.

Another show immersed in an All Star season is The Amazing Race. They have delved into this territory before, so this time they limited their choices to teams that have competed since the last All Star version. Goth couple Kynt and Vyxsin may not be your cup of tea, but there is no denying that they're memorable. Also memorable? Jet and Cord, two cowboys who proved they're (at least most of the time) a lot smarter than people give them credit for, just because of their accents.

Survivor may not be in the midst of a full-on All Star season (they did, after all, just finish with one during Heroes vs. Villains only a year ago), but they've brought two of the most memorable contestants ever back--yet again. Boston Rob, a man who arguably changed the game in the first All-Star season by putting game-play ahead of friendships and Russell, who is quite possibly the most villainous villain ever to play the game, are competing against each other and sixteen other survivors. Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't forget 'em.

Why do these shows keep bringing these people back? Shouldn't their one chance have been enough? Maybe they made enough of an impression their first time around that the producers realize they could very well make an even bigger impression with a second (or third--or fourth) opportunity.

It is something I think about when I'm writing. I want my characters to leap off the page the same way that these reality TV all stars have stuck in my memory. And I don't just want the main characters to do so--I want the bit parts to have just as much impact. Because who knows? If they are memorable enough in one go 'round, then maybe they'll get to make another appearance.

Do you like seeing characters return from one book to another? Do you recognize the potential of bringing characters back in your writing? And if you're a Survivor fan like me, who are you rooting for: Rob, Russell, or someone else?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Life, Love and Zumba

I love to dance. It's not unusual for my husband or kids to walk in on me in the kitchen or laundry room shaking my bootie. Of course they catch me by surprise because I can't hear them with my iPod blaring. It’s a little embarrassing to be caught in the act, but not as bad as the time my husband came home early to find me singing with wild abandon to the Evita soundtrack while running on the treadmill. (Have I ever mentioned that I have an active fantasy life? I was performing on Broadway.)

When I say I love to dance, I mean I really, really love to dance. At wedding receptions, I will dance to every song. Chicken dance, electric slide, hokey pokey, limbo, which really isn't a dance, but it has its own music. I don't discriminate. A two minute break is about all I can stand, and usually I'm still dancing in my seat. I don't even care if I look like a fool. Dance to me is a pure expression of joy, a celebration of life. It makes me feel good.

Back in my club days, I lived on the floor. Of course my club days are over now, and I no longer have a desire to go. Well, maybe if they opened the doors at 6 pm so I could be home by 10:00... Yes, I have become a total nerd. Thanks for asking. But I would like to see some of the nightlife crowd party until 4 am then get up with kids at 7 o’clock. And that’s if they sleep in! Believe me, there is less pain involved with observing a reasonable bedtime.

Since the clubs are out for me and most of my friends and family are already married, I have to be content with taking dance classes. I've taken tap, jazz, ballet (blech) and clogging. At the moment, I'm taking belly dancing and love it! But probably my favorite class is Zumba, which is mainly a mix of Latin American and African dances.

I take Zumba at the Y on the weekends. The instructor is a full-figured Latina who is full of life, and she’s an amazing dancer. Every week I’m so happy when I’m in the class. It may sound odd, but the 50 minutes of Latin music and Salsa steps inspires me. Well, it’s not really the music and dancing so much as what I notice when I’m in class.

Here are a few things I’ve come to realize over the last few weeks:

1. Confidence is an attractive trait. I love how our instructor accepts and is comfortable with her body type. I think some of us get caught up in how our body looks instead of what incredible things it is capable of doing. She is the largest woman in the room, and she is by far the sexiest. (I think we all want to be her when we’re dancing.) So that makes me wonder if believing we are beautiful in facts makes us beautiful. I think it might. Do you think this same philosophy can be applied to writing? We believe in our greatness and so we become great?

2. Unless you give your best effort you're cheating yourself. I feel irrationally irritated by people in class who only exerts about a fourth of the effort. I don’t know why I care. I just do. It wouldn’t bother me if they didn’t know the moves and were trying to catch on, but that’s not the case. These people exhibit the energy of a wet noodle. If you’re going to do something, whether it’s an exercise class or writing a book, why wouldn't you give it your best effort? And then push yourself a little beyond your boundaries. This is how we grow, develop new skills and gain a sense of accomplishment. Holding back only hurts you. (And apparently pushes my buttons.)

3. Sometimes perfection sucks the fun out of something. A couple of weeks ago we had a substitute instructor. She was right on with cues, executed perfectly timed steps and shouted out the appropriate words of encouragement. But she seemed so focused on teaching class "the right way" that it ceased to be fun. I heard mumblings about people being tired when we usually dance beyond the time limit. Grim faces were reflected in the mirror. A couple of people even left early. Why? The instructor was doing everything perfectly, but she wasn’t having fun and in turn neither were we. I guess if there is a lesson in any of this it might be to not allow ourselves to become so caught up following the rules that we suck the life out of our work.

I don’t really have a question to ask today, but I’d love to hear your thoughts either building on one of my Zumba epiphanies or one of your own random musings about life, writing or the joy of dancing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.

In states where the war was fought, there has been a flurry of activity. Reenactments, rallies, balls, and special exhibits are scheduled to commemorate key events. Efforts to preserve battlefields and other historical markers are underway. Educational materials have been developed for school teachers to use in their classroom. History buffs can buy t-shirts, mugs, and messenger bags to show their enthusiasm for the subject.

But here in the former Oregon Territory, the event is passing largely unnoticed. Much as it probably did in 1861.

Those of us who live in the 'newer' states will have to wait for the Civil War movies to come out. Robert Redford's latest film, The Conspirator, is about the trial of Mary Surratt, the woman who ran the boarding house where the Lincoln assassination conspirators reportedly met. The film is scheduled for release on April 15th. Steven Spielberg also reportedly has a Civil War movie in the works, but I wasn't able to find a release date for it.

The one place where you won't find a lot of interest in the Civil War Sesquicentennial is in the realm of historical romance. When I searched for “Civil War romance” on Amazon.com, the result was a handful of self-published books, e-books, and small press editions. Traditional publishers seem to shy away from the setting.

Yet the Civil War period provides everything you need to a tell a great story. American soldiers are natural heroes, and a reader can’t help but sympathize with a heroine who's struggling on her own. The era is rife with conflict, the backbone of all good fiction. With all the research available, a writer is sure to find inspiration for a unique and interesting plot.

So why is the Civil War period taboo for romance writers? Is it possible that the topic is still too emotionally charged for leisurely reading? If so, then why were Gone with the Wind and Cold Mountain so successful?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How is the sesquicentennial being covered where you live? Would you buy a novel set in the American Civil War? Why or why not?