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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sleigh bells cost money, you know!

Last week I made my official Christmas buying gift list, and I almost had a heart attack!

There are forty-five friends and family on my list, and this does not include my husband’s business gifts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have thousands and thousands of dollars sitting around to spend on Christmas gifts. Did I mention my youngest son’s birthday is in December, so I also need to factor in the cost of birthday gifts and a birthday party. And if I’m going to take a really honest look at the December budget, I also have to accounts for things like a Christmas tree, a wreath and various other Christmas decorating items that pop up during the season. I doubt my kids would be pleased if I told them the budget didn’t include a Christmas tree this year.

So, to make sure there is enough of that hard-earned green stuff known as money to go around, I have become somewhat of a Christmas money saving expert. I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I’ll share with you, and I hope in turn you will share some of your money saving tips with me.

Number One – Buy cases of wine!
Yes, you heard me correctly. The wine is to give, though, NOT for you to drink and be merry. Oh, all right, quit grumbling. You can keep one bottle for yourself. Many grocery stores and wine shops give discounts of 15-20% when you buy cases of wine. I love to buy wine and put it in a fun bag with a special ornament for our friends. Any sommelier worth their weight in corkage can help you pick a good, but inexpensive, wine that your friends will enjoy over the holidays. I know from experience that Whole Foods has a great wine sommelier.

Number Two – Purchase a pretty Christmas plant.
You can purchase a lovely Christmas plant for ten to twelve dollars. Smack a bow on it, and you’ve given the gift that will keep giving back!

Number Three – Force yourself to shop at TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and Tuesday Morning.
You really can find some excellent buys there, especially for kids’ toys. Now, go prepared for chaos at TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning because I swear I have never been in either of these stores when things were orderly. If, however, you are brave, you can do score some great Christmas gifts.

Number Four – Bargain shop online.
If you haven’t stepped into the age of technology— she clears throat as she thinks of her mother—NOW is the time to do it. Amazon rocks the gifts, in my opinion. I spent several hours online comparing prices for toys a few days ago, and time and again, Amazon had the best selection, the best prices, and FREE shipping. Just be careful to keep track of what you are spending. Somehow when you just click away your money it sometimes doesn’t seem real. The overdraft notice will be real enough, I assure you!

Number Five – Give the gift of reading!
I have friends with multiple children and as much as I would love to buy each and everyone of those little cherubs their very own special gift, it would break the bank. I have taken to picking a special book for the kids in the family and giving it to all of them as their joint gift. You could also do this with a game for the kids. The bonus is they are forced to learn to share! This is a twofer! It saves you money and teaches them a great life lesson!

Number Six – Buy couple gifts rather than individual gifts.
For years, I would buy a gift for her and a gift for him. It was expensive, and I found it difficult to think of something to buy good friends’ husbands, besides some sort of alcohol. Obviously, my creativity stops with my writing ability. I now buy joint gifts such as wine – oops still alcohol, movies passes, small food baskets, Omaha steaks, and gift cards to restaurants.

Number Seven – Take a name.
If you have an army of siblings or cousins draw names for who gives whom a gift. This eliminates having to buy a gift for everyone.

Number Eight – Bake your gift!
I can’t believe I said that! I don’t bake, usually. I do however make an exception and do MINOR baking at Christmas. People love to get holiday sweets wrapped up in pretty packages, or at least I do! Every year, my husband’s aunt sends us a box full of homemade goodies such as fudge, divinity, cookies, and chocolate mints. We fight over the last crumb every time.

Number Nine – Cut coupons.
I know. I hear you groaning! I hate to do it too, but cutting coupons from places like Target and Toys R Us really can save you some money.

Number Ten - Skip the fancy smanshy Christmas cards and check out Shutterfly, VistaPrints, or TinyPrints.
You can make great Christmas cards on these sites for a fraction of the cost from other places.

I would love to hear how you save money at Christmas.

Happy Holidays to you!
Julie Johnstone, the Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don’t dally with a vampire...

*** Spoiler Alert ***

I’m pretty sure that those words have been spoken, written and thought more often this week than at any other time. Yep, I just got back from watching Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and I swear giving birth to my kids was ‘as easy as breathing’ compared to that birth scene today. Was I traumatized as some headlines claim?

Well, no. I’d read the book so I knew what to expect from this latest edition to our screens. There were parts I waited for (the broken bed and feathers), parts missing (Alice and Jacob moment), others I don’t remember being quite so funny. I think Breaking Dawn wins for most awkward (Bella’s mom singing) and outstanding (Charlie’s mention of a gun) wedding toasts ever. I also don’t remember Bella chasing Edward so hard after they married to roll around in bed again. Mind you, I give her full marks for trying! Way to go Mrs. Cullen.

Would I see Breaking Dawn again? Absolutely. I’m considering another movie date next week just so I can watch the wedding again.

But what did my darling beloved think of it? He’d never read the book, or paid much attention to past movies before, so he went in with no expectations whatsoever. His rating: 4 ½ stars out of five. See it again? That’s an affirmative. But ...

Some of the most important stuff from the book flew right over his head. How exactly the baby was delivered? Oh, did he use his teeth? Missed that. The imprinting between Jacob and Renesmee he missed the importance of totally.

So the question for those who’ve stayed with the post (I’m assuming you saw Breaking Dawn already) what did you think? See again? Movie wrecked the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve forgotten from the book and was missing from the movie.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Beyond Infinity

To infinity, and beyond!

No, I’m not talking about Buzz Lightyear and his spindly-legged frienemy,Woody. That, dear friends, is the phrase that has gone though my head recently every time I sit down at the computer and try to nail down a scene.

The glorious thing about writing is that the possibilities are endless as to the number of directions the scenes can take as they play out on the page. The horrible thing about writing is that the possibilities are endless as to the number of directions the scenes can take as they play out on the page.

Recently, I have to confess, I have found the sheer number of possibilities to be crippling. I can start writing a scene, and then pause, wonder if perhaps they should be in a ballroom instead of the garden, or if it would be better to have them rolling along in a carriage. Should it be gloomy and foggy? Should sunshine add a note of irony for what will be a catastrophic day for my characters? What if the heroine is amused by the hero’s quip, or annoyed, or inexplicably moved? Maybe someone should interrupt and add a new bit of information to the story, sending them off on yet another path.

Ack! So many possibilities, and only one right path.

Or was there? What if there were many directions a story could follow, and all of which will lead the characters to where they ultimately need to be? Like diverging paths in the woods, what if the one less taken and the one most trampled met up down the road, past the copse of trees obscuring my view?

Hmm – this new thought had merit! Massaging my rigid shoulder muscles and unclenching my teeth, I decided to give up on the idea of having to write that perfect scene or die trying. Instead, I let myself just . . .write.

Believe it or not, I was on to something. As the words flowed, I realized that though different choices led to somewhat different journeys, my characters could still find their happily ever after. By releasing the idea that there was only one perfect route, I opened myself up to allowing the characters to have a bit of adventure. And if it didn’t work, I could always revise it.

Success!! My lesson for the day, I think, is that sometimes we have to give up the idea of having full control in order to move forward both on the page and perhaps even in life.

Do you ever get bogged down with all the possibilities? Whether it’s writing or choosing what to order at a restaurant (do NOT get me started on how long that takes me, lol), have you ever just given up on trying to find the perfect answer and ended up being happier for it? I hope it worked out as well for you as it did for me!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thank Heavens for Friends

This week is Thanksgiving in the United States, followed by the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s called Black Friday. While many people are preparing to cook a turkey, dragging out Grandma’s stuffing recipe, trying out the recliner for a day of football, and waiting on pins-and-needles for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I’m wondering why I ever agreed to an overnight slumber party to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. No, it’s not actually on Thanksgiving Day. It’s next Saturday. There will be six little nine-year-old girls to entertain.

We have manicures and pedicures planned for 3:30. Then we can probably kill some time with opening presents, indulging in cake and ice cream, and maybe playing a few games. But then what??? Lately, one of my daughter’s friends is always bored when she comes over, which I don’t get. Maybe I used to get bored playing with my friends, too, but I can’t remember that ever being the case.

I was lucky to grow up in a great little suburban neighborhood outside of Little Rock. It was the perfect neighborhood with lots of kids, so there was usually something to do. And I made five best friends: Dana, Mary, Nancy, Nikki & Stacy. We were all in the same grade and most of us met in elementary school. (We had another friend, Stephanie, who we were also very close to, but she was like five years more mature than us, so we probably got on her nerves from time to time.) The most amazing thing is we are all still friends after all of these years. I’m not saying exactly how long we’ve known each other, even though I think we’ve aged well. ;-)

Back row: Nancy, Dana, Mary, Stacy

Front row: Nikki and me

I remember the overnight parties we used to have. It was always fun to stay at Nancy’s house, because her mom let us have the run of the house and her brother wasn’t obnoxious like mine were. (Sorry, bros! I still love you, but there are only so many times you can spray your pants with hairspray and light your leg on fire before it ceases to be amusing. And we always knew you were spying on us!)

We could throw together a party in a matter of minutes. Step one, secure the house. Step two, Nikki makes Crazy Crunch. Step three, Nancy cues up the Duran Duran videos. Step four, I raid my mom’s lingerie drawer in preparation for our funny beauty pageant. Step five, Dana practices her talent, prancing to Queen’s “Flash Gordon”. (I totally wish we’d had iPhones back then. I could watch that over and over again.) Step six, Mary rolls her eyes at all of us. Step seven, Stacy turns red trying to hold in her laughter before it explodes out of her.

Some of my fondest memories come from the time I spent with my girlhood friends. I know this is the reason I’m willing to brave another little girls’ slumber party. (Last year it was ten little girls, two hotel rooms, and six hours of hide-and-seek in a small space.) I hope my daughter makes, and keeps, the kind of friends I had growing up.

This fall Dana, Mary, Nancy, Nikki, and Stacy met in Florida for a long weekend, the location of our all girls’ trip after graduating from high school. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it, but we did Skype so I could see everyone. I’m already planning to attend next year’s trip. Nothing will keep me away, because I miss those gals like crazy. Not only did they teach me how to have fun, I learned about loyalty, following my dreams, being accountable for my actions, and what it means to have integrity. I think that makes me incredibly lucky.

If any of you are reading this today, I love you all, my forever friends. I have much to be thankful for in this life, and y’all are up there at the top of my list.

Is there anyone you would like to thank this week in honor of Thanksgiving? Certainly feel free to leave your thanks in the comments, but more importantly, tell it to the person who has made a difference in your life.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dream a Little Dream

In my senior year of high school, we were tasked with a creative writing assignment that asked us to look ten years into the future and describe what our lives would be like. I thought long and hard on what to write, wanting so much to not just tell what I envisioned, but to transport the reader—and myself—to that place I hoped to be at. In my story, the opening scene is of me at the impossibly old age of twenty-eight on a balcony overlooking the ocean, a true woman in my own right. Confident in a way that I had never been in high school, I basked in the warm sunshine, breathed in the salty air, and exalted in the feeling of having finally finished my Ph.D.

Warm, strong arms soon slid around my waist, and I leaned back into the comforting embrace of my husband, whose love and support help to make my dreams of becoming a celebrated marine scientist come true. The images of my floaty white blouse ruffling in the wind, my long hair lifting gently in the sea breeze and the immense beauty of the orange and copper hues of the setting sun were so real to me, I knew I must be on the right track. At the time, I was a semester away from graduating and about to head off to college to pursue my marine science degree.

The paper earned me the highest score in the class, and I was even asked to read it aloud. With pride and pleasure I shared my dreams with the class that day, anxious to someday fulfill my own prophecy.

Looking back on that paper, I realize that I was indeed tapping into my future, though not in the way that I thought. The reason why that piece was so moving was not for the future I foresaw, but for the telling of the story itself. Little did I know it at the time, but that was the true glimpse into my future. Writing had always been so important to me, something I threw myself into no matter the subject, but I was a practical girl; it never occurred to me that I could truly make a career of it. It may have been my true dream, but it was a pipe dream.

Instead I earned that BS of Marine Science (never made it to the PhD part) and toiled for years in the field, always mindful of the fact that though I was working hard for advancement, my true dreams had nothing at all to do with my chosen career.

But that dream . . . crazy though it was, the dream of becoming a real writer tugged at me, luring me. I had a good—albeit grueling—job, a mostly 8 to 5 schedule, and a comfortable monogamy to my days, but it just wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to reach, I wanted to break free and go for those goals that I dare not even tell anyone about.

The desire to write blossomed and grew within me, filling my thoughts and coaxing my heart. More and more, a question kept rising to the surface within me. Why not me? Yes, I knew making it as a writer was something few people actually achieved. But you know what? Those few people did achieve it, it was possible. And I looked to my sister, who is forever an inspiration to me. Her chosen outlet was a bit different than mine, but the odds were no less daunting. And guess what—she made it. She was that one in a million success story. She set her sights, made her goals, and followed her dreams. And she succeeded. Not just because she had success in achieving her goal, but because she gave it everything she had. She would have been a success even if she had never sold that first work.

She was brave, and I wanted to be too. So one day I took a leap, jumping from the ledge of the comfortable and flying into the misty ether of the totally unknown. I was incredibly fortunate, and indeed, almost 2 years to the day after leaving my old career, I sold my series to NAL.

My newly unveiled book cover – yay!

It’s a beautiful ending—and beginning!—to the story, but it’s not the only story. There were times in those two years that I wondered if I would ever attain that long, quietly held goal of seeing my book on the shelves. With rejections abounding, it is hard not to wonder! But here is the thing: Even if I had never sold, even if those stories got tucked beneath the mattress and I returned to my day job, it would have been with the knowledge that I tried. I, like so many of you, reached for my dream, giving it everything I had and then some. If my words were destined to collect dust in a long forgotten box somewhere, than I would know it was not for lack of trying. And that, my friends, would have meant success.

All of you out there who are pursing your dreams are a success for that very reason. I applaud you! I encourage you! And I hope that my story may serve as an inspiration to you, just as my sister's was and is to me.

So, what is your dream? Has it come true yet? Are you working toward it? Tell us about it!

“Welcome to Hollywood, what’s your dream? Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin!”*

*Bonus points if you can tell me what movie this is from :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chasing Colin Firth

Last week, my good friend MK (initials used to protect the fangirl) called and asked if I wanted to go walking.  Sure. In downtown Raleigh. Well, our neighborhood is closer, but okay. Because Colin Firth aka Mr. Darcy was filming a movie. What?!!!!

Hullo, Fangirls.

That's right, the man who embodies the very essence of one of the most swoon-worthy characters of all time, was going to be in our capitol. We might even be able to get a picture, or at least stalk the production crew and beg for one.  Though their response might be something like this:

You wanna do what?
However, MK and I were not deterred. We persevered and got shots of our future husband favorite actor like these:

Why yes, this is my natural stance.

He doesn't have a bad side. Ever.

Then it happened, our eyes met:

But of course we quickly looked away. Mostly so he wouldn't think MK and I were stalkers, which we were, but... Anyway, after grabbing a bite to eat and heading over to a park where the next scene would be filmed, MK and I found a familiar face. One that was just as excited as the two of us that Colin Firth was here:

Erin Knightley and I
Suddenly, there was a commotion. MK waved furiously and smiled. People gasped. The man beside me fainted. Colin Firth was headed our way!! And let me tell you, the man is GORGEOUS. And gracious. And tall. And smells like a dream.  We were stunned, then giddy, but the crowd didn't rush him. 

Instead we gently pushed the sweetest woman to the front, one who'd been waiting for Mr. Darcy since six am. He smiled. She teared up. Then he HUGGED her. 

Of course Erin Knightley and I chose to celebrate like this:

Not ashamed.
MK, the intrepid instigator of the entire trip, stood back patiently waiting her turn. Not only did she get a picture, but he also signed her copy of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I would post her picture with Colin, but she threatened to never speak to me again. So, I'll post mine:

MK, Erin Knightley and I skipped to our cars, goofy as hell girlish grins on our faces. We said our goodbyes and headed home, discussing our favorite movies starring Colin Firth, marveling over how nice he was, and giggling over how we both got hugs.

What famous person have you met? And, of course, what's your favorite Colin Firth movie?

Mission Accomplished

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Give me a bad boy any day of the week.

I have to admit I have always been slightly attracted to “bad boys” in books, movies and sometimes real life. I dated a string of full-time bad boys before I met and settled down with my good boy. Of course, my husband was a reformed bad boy, which made him perfect for me. I never really thought about what attracts women to villianesque heroes in real life, books and movies until I recently went to see the Foo Fighters in concert, www.foofighters.com

They just happen to be my favorite band, and they are led by the quintessential bad boy Dave Grohl. Dave’s a hard rocker with long hair and tattoos to boot. Yesterday, I got into a conversation with my hairdresser, who also loves the Foo Fighters. We, of course, talked about their incredible music, but we also got on the topic of “bad boys.” We both agreed that we think of “bad boys” as mysteries and what’s exciting is to think you may be the only woman able to solve the puzzle.

I really started contemplating my own heroes that I write in my novels. When I write, I tend to gravitate to creating a hero who lives on the edge of danger and needs a bit of redeeming but definitely has the potential to be redeemed. I’m about to embark on writing my third novel in my Rakes Undone Trilogy, and my hero in this novel is a first class “bad boy”.

What makes a bad boy and why do we women love them? I’m going to hit on five major points, though there are many more. Bad boys have:

A troubled past – There’s something in their past that has shaped who they are. It’s up to the heroine in the story to somehow figure out what is the ‘dark secret’ in her heroes life and what she must do to help him overcome the dark secret. What woman doesn’t love to ‘fix things’, especially fix a man.

World-weary, jaded- The “bad boy” has seen it all, done it all, experienced it all-until they meet the heroine and really fall in love. This is new for them. This has never been done, and this great love can give them a completely new view of the world. Things are no longer the same-old-same-old.

Burdened by a secret guilt or sorrow – The “bad boy’s” troubled past is troubled because there’s a secret or sorrow bringing him down. It’s up to the heroine to show the bad boy he can confront his secret or sorrow and overcome it with her love.

Mysterious, magnetic and charismatic – There is something about the “bad boy” that draws the heroine to him. “Bad boys” fight the idea of “true love” believing they are not worthy to be loved by a woman so good, which makes them like a magnet for the woman they fall in love with. The heroine in the only person who can show the fallen hero that he is worthy to be loved.

Power of seduction and sexual attraction – They are experts in bed and out, but what really attracts the woman is when the “bad boy” start to care more about her pleasure than their own. They can take a woman to heights never before dreamed of or reached.

Now, my new hero Sin is going to be a Byronic Villain hero. Sin is dark, brooding, aristocratic, secretive, conflicted and of course, handsome. It’s up to my heroine, Audrey, to unscramble the pieces of the “bad boy” puzzle and make this man worthy of her love.

Do you like “bad boys”? If so, who is your favorite “bad boy” hero?

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My top 5 for heroes

I used to joke that I read romance novels not for the girl but only for the hero. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the life I lead. I am the only female in a house full of loud boys (I’m including my hubby in that description without malice). Even my rescued cat is male, or would be if someone hadn’t sent him to the vet.

Having so much male influenced stuff around you does tend to set you apart from your friends blessed (or cursed occasionally) with girls. Dance class or ballet? It looks good on the TV. Dress ups - I mastered ghouls rather than princesses long ago. I listen to my girlfriends who have girls with nostalgia sometimes. The problems the new generation of girls face haven’t changed much since I was young.

But my life is boy-centric, something I work to balance constantly in my writing. I solved part of the problem for some stories by writing gay historical romance - much less personal conflict that way. But I do love het romances, too, so now I get to write both.

So what exactly do I love about romance heroes? Here’s my short list in order of preference.
  1. Sense of Humor - Nothing is sexier to me than a hero who knows how to laugh, tease and make others feel at ease around them. Not all characters are comedians on a stage, some are quieter, delivering pithy one-liners at the exact right moment.
  2. Clever - Brains and the ability to use them wisely. One of my favorite characters on TV is Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. He is weirdly sexy to me, smart but with lots of odd personal quirks to offset the abundant brains.
  3. Capable of Love - Blood sucking vampire to shy nerd - a man capable of showing his emotions gets me every time. Even if it’s only their grandma they dote on, or even a pet, who wouldn’t want a man who knew how to treasure something.
  4. Lusty - I write erotic romance so a lusty, action orientated man is a given. But I also love sweet romances where the hero is restrained. Regardless of their approaches to finding the love of their life, I want a man who still very clearly wants the love interest, even if it’s off the page.
  5. Strength - I’m not talking about a ‘strong enough to bite steel without breaking a fang’ type of hero, although physical strength is often necessary for compelling world building. I’m talking about the inner strength to do the right thing and earn the respect of me and his love interest.

Every male character I write has these traits, but often in different quantities. Every one is different, unique, just like the real men in my life. What do you think? If you are drawn to different traits in your heroes than I have listed here, add your thoughts in the comments section.

Heather Boyd ~ Lady Wicked

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods...

As the holidays approach, Thanksgiving in particular, I'm trying to maintain what I call an "attitude of gratitude." It's not easy - this is the most stressful time of year for most of us, and our fuses tend to be shorter than usual. Well, mine does, at least.

One of the biggest things that tends to get people's panties into bunches is the thought of traveling for the holidays. You start to hear complaints like, "I'm dreading dealing with airport security," or "2.5 hours on a plane with a toddler is going to be a nightmare," or "That 8-hour drive to my folks' house will be torture."

I am so guilty of complaining about travel. I was so happy two years ago when I was too pregnant to travel for the holidays. It was pure bliss to cook for Eric and myself, watch the parades in our jammies and decorate the Christmas tree with cups of hot chocolate in hand. And the only place we had to go on Christmas Day itself was a mile up the road...to the hospital...because I had the baby on Christmas Day :)

But thinking about travel this year -- driving to the in-laws for Thanksgiving and then flying to my hometown for Christmas -- started to get me all hyped up. You can usually just put a giant "UGH" above my head if the topic comes up. However, as I contemplated this blog post, I decided to research truly nightmarish travel, and I can't think of any worse conditions than the people of the Mayflower suffered as they set out to settle the new world...our world.

Fun Facts about the Mayflower:

1. There were no passenger ships in that day, so they all had to get comfy in a space designed for cargo...on beds of hay...next to complete strangers...although, I guess they weren't strangers for long! Sharing morning breath kicks things up to a new level of intimacy really quick!

2. Dinner was usually salt-beef, salt-pork or salt-fish...mmmm! But wait...on salt-fish days you got a little piece of cheese (lucky bastards!) Oh, and don't forget about the oh-so-delicious-ever-lasting ship's biscuits! These puppies stayed "good" for up to 5 whole years...I just hope no one tried to bite into them without dunking them first. Ouch!

3. There were no bathrooms! Yes, I know what you're thinking: Awesome! It was a free-for-all! Well, not quite. Each family had their own chamberpot that got emptied occasionally.

4. Since they didn't have terribly precise navigation tools, they ended up landing 200 miles north of where they originally intended. Crap! "Sorry, everybody! I know we've spent 66 days aboard this uncomfortable and disease-ridden ship, but...well, you're gonna have to get back on. We're not quite there yet."

5. The cost for all this luxury? The equivalent of $1,000 in today's money. I couldn't find out if that was per person or per family, but either way, that's a lot of blunt for the 50/50 chance you had of surviving the whole ordeal.

So what have I taken away from all of this?

1. I will not complain about not being able to recline my seatback on my 2-hour flight due to the fact that I was put at the back of the plane where seatbacks don't recline...or about my back being sore after the 2-hour drive to my in-laws. I could be sleeping in a cargo hold for 66 days next to an open-mouth sleeper.

2. I will not complain about the overpriced, crap food at the airports or the stingy supply of peanuts and pretzels on the plane. I could be eating 5-year-old biscuits and salt-fish for 2 months straight.

3. I will definitely not complain about the tiny airplane bathrooms that smell funny or the grimy gas station bathrooms on the highway. I could be doing my beeswax in a pot of my entire family's beeswax that wouldn't get emptied until next Tuesday!

4. I won't complain when Eric misses our exit and takes us three miles out of the way. It could be 200.

5. I won't complain about the cost of gas or the fact that we now have to drop a little extra dough on a plane seat for our toddler. It's still cheaper than the Mayflower, and a lot more comfy!

So, when you start to stress over the trivialities of traveling this holiday season, just remember what the pilgrims so selflessly went through so that one day we would be able to do our beeswax in our own toilets, in a free country.

What will you not complain about this holiday season?? Leave a comment and be entered into The Christmas Summons Prize Extravaganza!

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Blogger Lilia Birney

One of the most difficult parts of being both a work at home mom and a professional writer is, I think, isolation. There are days when I go without speaking to another human being for eight hours stretches at a time. If my husband is out of town for his job, I may not speak to another adult for days at a time, unless you count the brief "hi-bye" with my daughter's teacher as I drop her off at school.

I like this life. I am, at heart, a bit of a hermit. But even to someone who, like me, relishes solitude, the life of a solitary writer can be too much at times. It's difficult not to get too wrapped up in a manuscript, not knowing when to call it a day. In fact, I find myself having to consciously adjust from "Regency-speak" to "21st century speak" as I drive to pick my daughter up from school. I find it hard to turn off the train of thoughts in my head and to come back out of my shell to share conversations when I do have someone to talk to.

That's why working on the Christmas Anthology was such a unique experience. Because we all took a member of the family, we had a chance to interact with one another as writers. We had to make sure we all understood the various branches of the family tree. We had to settle on the duke's demeanor, his household staff, even what Danby Castle looked like. As a result, I was conversing and interacting with other authors all day—not about disparate novels, but about the common threads of the tales we were weaving together.

Working on the anthology also kept me on track. I realize that now. I had so many people depending on me to get my part of the story done on time that I didn't have the luxury of frittering my time away on social media and household distractions. It was a fruitful collaborative experience that engaged me with my fellow writers and critique partners and made me realize that I could, with a little effort and focus, tear through three chapters in a day. I miss that now, as I struggle through the last half of the last act of my current work-in-progress. As I grind through these last few chapters, I wish Ava Stone, Jane Charles, Catherine Gayle,  or Jerrica Knight-Catania were sending me reminders and updates so I felt not quite so alone, and part of a grand and wonderful experiment in writing.

To wrap up this blog, I'll include an excerpt from my story in the anthology, A Second Chance for Christmas. In this scene, my heroine, Emily Barlow, is feeling utterly alone as she leaves her solicitor's office, having just heard that her husband left her without a penny when he died:

Outside the solicitor's office, she leaned against the wall, panting and fanning herself. She was no better than a pauper—no better than she had been when she went to live with Uncle Arthur and Aunt Millie as a young girl. The only child of penniless parents, taken in as a charity case. Her marriage was supposed to secure her place in Society, not simply rent that place to her only to snatch it away with Charles' death.
She wept when her husband died, for while she didn't love him she was grateful to him for all he had given her. But now, if he were here and standing beside her, she'd give his eyes a jolly good scratching. She'd trusted him with everything, and how was that trust repaid?
Gathering her skirts with her courage, she headed down the steps and back to the Bridge Inn. How far away home was—and little Rose. Her heart gave a flip-flop and she calculated how quickly she could reach Sheffield. From here in Norwich, she'd take the public post tomorrow morning, and be home within four days. If only there was a way to send word home and beg Anna to begin packing and readying baby Rose for the journey. Well, she'd just have to pack quickly once they arrived. And then, she'd have to decide what she was going to do with the rest of her life.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNoWriMo - 1/3 of the Way There

How many of you out there are doing NaNoWriMo this year? Raise your hands.

I'm doing it. But I'm cheating. The rule is that you're supposed to start on a new WIP and write 50,000 words. Well, I don't have time to set aside my current WIP, but I still need to get in 50,000 words...so I'm breaking the rule and using the manuscript I already had in progress.

I'm only counting new words, though. :)

So...if you're participating in NaNo, you should be about 1/3 of the way done with your 50,000 words at this point. Are you? I'm close, but not quite at that mark. Darn the early part of the month being filled with birthdays in my family. It doesn't get any easier in the later part of the month, either--that is Thanksgiving, which means lots of family functions.

Still, I'm finding a way to get my words in.

At this point in the game, though, those who are new to NaNo might be feeling stuck or frustrated, or both. Here are some handy-dandy tips and tricks for getting yourself unstuck.

  • Don't try to sit down and write with the idea of "I have 41,209 words left to write. Augh!" Sit down and say to yourself, "I'm going to write for the next twenty minutes, and I want to write 300 words in that time." Three hundred words is a page. You can write a page in 20 minutes. Break it into easy chunks.
  • If a particular scene is giving you fits, skip it. Move ahead to a scene that you know exactly how it will play out. It might give you what you needed to write the earlier scene, but no matter what, at least you'll be writing. You don't have to write everything in order.
  • Can't figure out the best way to work out the details of a scene, talk it out with someone. Go to a Write-In with your local NaNo Region, call up a critique partner, talk to the guy on the train who stares blindly at you while you're talking to yourself, or if all else fails--talk to a pet or a stuffed animal. Sometimes, just saying it out loud helps you to work through your blocks.
  • Don't like your current NaNo project? Scrap it. That's right, toss it in the drawer and pull something else out. (Be sure to keep counting the words you wrote on the scrapped project, though.) No one says that this project is the one you have to write. Write what you want to write.
  • Try doing a word war with someone else. If you're on Twitter, look for the #1k1hr hashtag and you'll likely find people doing them. It's easier to get a bunch of words out if you know you'll get a break in a certain amount of time. I'm fond of doing 30 minute sprints sometimes, so you might find me using hashtag #500in30.
  • Remember that this is supposed to be fun. If it is stressing you out, maybe NaNo isn't right for you. Or maybe the project you're trying to write isn't the right thing for you. If you're not having fun, reevaluate why you're doing it in the first place.
  • Enable Freedom. Freedom is a cheap software program (for both Mac and PC) that will disable your ability to connect to the internet for a set period of time. You set the time. It's amazing how much work I can get done if I'm not checking my email every ten minutes, looking to see what the authors I stalk on Twitter have tweeted, and playing games on Facebook.
What other suggestions do you have for getting through the slog that is the middle part of NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Post Office & Other Hassles

Last week I wanted to mail a book to a friend and send a card to another friend’s mother, and since the FedEx center doesn’t carry stamps, that meant a trip to the local US Post Office. Passing through the doors of my small town post office is like walking through a time-space portal. My ability to communicate becomes grossly distorted and time slows to an excruciating pace. I avoid it if at all possible. (Can I say I think I prefer my yearly mammogram to my annual post office trip? At least a mammogram is quick and painful rather than drawn out agony.)
Despite my desire to be in and out as quickly as possible, I decided to take a little extra time to gather supplies I'll need to mail out books for giveaways, which will be here before I know it.
There was one guy in the lobby when I entered, and he was done in under a minute. It looked like I might meet my goal of a quick in-and-out. Wrong! I had failed to notice the invisible line that had formed before my arrival. I took my place and waited. And waited some more. Fortunately, the woman at the window finished her inspection of her shoes before I sprouted any more gray hairs, and it was my turn.
I told her I needed to mail single copies of paperback books. (Ask me why. Ask me why. Nothing? Really? You're not even the least bit curious? Sigh.) I explained that I wanted to have supplies on hand so I could avoid another awkward postal encounter such as this one. (Just kidding. I didn’t really say that part aloud.) Here’s how our conversation went...
Me: Do you have any boxes that are prepaid that I can drop in the mail to save me a trip to the post office?
Lady: We don't have boxes.
Me (pointing to the wall): What about those boxes?
Lady (slowly turning head): Yeah. That box is $5.25.
Me: So I can purchase that box and it won’t require any more postage?
Lady: If it’s under 13 ounces.
Me: If it’s under 13 ounces, I can just drop it in the mail without coming into the post office?
Lady: You still have to come to the post office.
Me: Why?
Lady: If it’s more than 13 ounces, you can’t use that box.
Me: But if it is under 13 ounces, I don’t have to come in, right?
Lady: You still have to come in if it's over 13 ounces.
Me: I really don't know how much 13 ounces would be. How much does a paperback weigh?
Lady (blank stare)
You know, a small paperback that will easily fit in that box?
Lady (more blank staring with minimal blinking)
Me (holding out the MUCH bigger book I’m mailing):
Well, how much does this weigh?
Lady (placing it on the scale): Thirteen and a half ounces.
Me: Oh, good! Those boxes should work fine.
Lady: You'll still have to come in to see if it's over 13 ounces.
Me (Loudly screaming in my head): Never mind.

I’m sure there’s an easier way, and I will figure it out or just go to FedEx. But it made me think about how difficult it must have been to get letters where they needed to go during the early 1800s. Perhaps the Duke of Danby will share his tips with me. After all, he summoned all of his grandchildren to Yorkshire for Christmas when they were spread here and there, and I can’t even get a straight answer from the lady at the post office.

Well, however he managed it, he did it! And what a great start to the Regency Christmas Summons Anthology, a collection of interconnected stories about the matchmaking duke and how each grandchild finds love. The books are like four boxes of yummy truffles. You can eat just one at a time for a satisfying experience, but really, who can stop with just one piece of chocolate? You can find my story, Twice Upon a Time, along with Jerrica Knight-Catania's and Lilia Birney's in A Summons from the Duke.

Julian Beckford, grandson to Duke of Danby, is up to his top-boots in one of his cousin's mad schemes only days after his return to England. Baron Penlow wants to engage an actress to play his wife over the holidays at Danby Castle, and he has asked for Julian's assistance in casting the role. Here's a sneak peek at their evening...

Julian nodded. “She’s the one.”
It had dawned on him too late that it mattered very little which woman he recommended to Pen since Julian had every intention of talking his cousin out of his plans on the morrow. He could have ended this nonsense hours ago.
“Are you certain?” Pen asked.
“Yes. Now I’ve done my part, and I’m growing impatient with this clandestine operation. I’m ready to play faro.”
Pen rapped sharply on the roof and opened the window.
One of his servants moved into the woman’s path before she reached the end of the alley. “Pardon me, miss. Lord Penlow would like a word.”
She froze like a rabbit, poised to dash away. “Step away from me, sir.” She readjusted her grip on the bag. The poor dear was probably frightened out of her wits, being accosted the minute she exited the alley, and who could blame her?
“Make it quick,” Pen called out. “We have somewhere to be.”
When the footman turned his head towards Pen’s voice, she took advantage of the distraction and tried to bolt around him.
“Stop her!” Pen scrambled from his seat and threw open the door. “Stop her now!”
His servant lunged to grab the woman, hugging his arms around hers and knocking her bag from her hand. It hit the ground with a thud.
“My bag!” Her panicked voice echoed off the building.
“Quiet her,” Pen said. “Put her in the carriage.”
The servant clamped a hand over her mouth before she let loose a scream and lifted her off her feet. She kicked and wriggled until he almost lost his hold. The hood fell away to reveal a cascade of dark hair.
Julian shot out of the carriage. “What are you doing? You said nothing about abduction.”
Her gaze darted towards him, her eyes wide, and her thrashing increased.
“See what you’ve done?” Pen sprang forwards and captured her legs. “Let’s put her in the carriage before someone discovers us.”
Together, Pen and his servant struggled to put her in the Berlin before Pen climbed inside. “Come on, Julian.”
Julian hesitated a moment, then snatched up her bag and clambered into the carriage, closing the door behind him. Pen was sitting on the bench, holding his nose and oddly silent. The girl huddled in a corner, her breaths shallow and rapid. She was as scared as a church mouse. Good Lord, this might take some doing to make everything right.
Julian placed her bag on the floor and reached a hand towards her. “No one is going to hurt you, miss.” As he leaned in, her leg shot out, and her boot struck him in the center of his chest.
“Damnation!” He fell against the door; his side banged against the seat.
She barreled for the exit, trying to climb over him to reach it. Her boot ground into his thigh, and she lost her footing on the slick fabric of his breeches. She dropped like a lead ball, her knee crashing into his groin.
Julian hissed in pain. Pinpricks of light danced in the blackness, clouding his vision. His gut wrenched, wringing every ounce of comfort from him and replacing it with excruciating torture.
He would never trust his judgment again. He’d chosen a wildcat.

So, back to my original topic, sorta... If you had a team of footmen to run errands for you, which one would you be happy to hand over to them?
***Everyone who leaves a comment today with an email address will be entered into the Regency Christmas Summons Prize Extravaganza. We're giving away a Kindle and many more prizes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Have to Praise You Like I Should...Or in Other Words Be Thankful for Our Soldiers

At first, I thought the title of this post would be longer than the actual blog, until I realized that I could write about being thankful and Veteran's Day while sneaking in an inspirational picture for you, my loyal readers!

Protects our country and takes time to read? Yes, please!

In all seriousness though, I wanted to use this platform to thank the soldiers in my family- those that have served and those serving still. 

First, I want to thank my sister, 1LT. Valentine: 

Don't let the smile fool you. She's bada$$!

Second, my brother-in-law, Blackhawk Crewchief Coyle:

Yes, that is the top of a helicopter. And yes, he 's a professional.

Third, my brother-in-law SGT. Winslow, currently serving in Afghanistan:

He's prepping to film the next YouTube viral video of soldiers lip-syncing  Lmfao's Party Rock Anthem.
And lastly, but certainly not least, my dad, Gunnery SGT. Valentine. He served at a time when most people didn't support the war or the soldiers. 

Barely Eighteen and far away from home.
The next time you see a soldier, go up and shake his hand and say hi. Buy her meal or a drink. 

Or simply say: Thank you.

Who would you like to thank on Veteran's Day? Comment to win either Lisa Kleypas' LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON 



Don't forget to leave your email address with your comment. And thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 7, 2011


Iam hopeless!

And,I am fairly certain the ladies of my critique group will agree (probablyHeather the most). You see, I amSocial Network Challenged. I am not sure if that is an official title, but itis me.

Let’stalk about Twitter, shall we. I recently set up my Twitter account and amfollowing some interesting people and I have a few followers myself. I actuallyenjoy twitter, especially when I am able to follow a conversation thread(though this rarely happens). I havebeen told that to have more followers you should follow. Okay, I get that. But,who do I follow? Other authors, readers, publishers, agents, the kid down theblock? How do you decide who to followand will a complete stranger find it odd that this romance writer has decidedshe wants to read ever wise tweet that’s written?

Thenthere is Tweet Deck. I set this up thinking it would help. Ha!

Okay,I take that back. It has gotten easier, but there were weeks of struggling withgetting my own categories straight and trying to understand the hashtag process(once I realized what a hashtag was). However, regardless of the progress I’ve made, I still feel a bit TwitterChallenged.

Goodreads– a place to be if you are a reader, author, or both (that’s me). I’ve set up my account. I have added a few books (I think) and I amnot sure I have any friends. Okay, thatjust sounds depressing. As soon as I amdone with this blog I am going to go find friends.

WhenI did set up the account I was immediately overwhelmed with how to add books,my own profile, adding my own books, and I gave up before I accomplishedanything. I jotted down my password foranother day and have only been back a few times. Figuring out GoodReads is on a ToDo List andwhenever I get to it on the list I have skipped over it and moved on. One day, I promise, one day I will get thisorganized.

Blogging: I have figured this out. Duh, guess I didn’t need to actually tell youthat since you are reading this. And I have my own blog, which I treat morelike a website. I would blog but Irarely, if ever, can think of anything interesting to write. I’ve toyed with the idea of my charactersblogging. It is so much easier to writefor them than myself. So, added to thelist (above Goodreads) is to blog regularly and hope I come up with some ideas,though I am sure my favorite heroes and heroines will take care of this for mein a pinch.

Thenthere is the ever so popular Facebook. This too has been set up recently and my kind critique partners are myfriends (thank you ladies). I don’t postmuch but I vow to get better. But with Twitter and Blogging, what is there tosay? However, I have discovered ZumaBlitz. Yep, a game where a frog shootsout colored balls to make chains that disappear. I am addicted! I play every day and tell myself it is totake a break from writing or editing, or to think through some dialogue or plota scene. But, before I know it, over anhour has passed and all I’ve managed to do was waste time *sigh*.

Iam only going to touch on the topic of Google+ because that is all I know aboutit. That it exists.

So,what do I do once I have learned to work in all of these networks (sometimein 2015), I will link them together so that once I post something one place, itshows up in other places too. Again,I’ve been told this can happen, I just don’t have any evidence that I can dothis.

But,I do have to wonder. With all of these social networks that people participatein, when is there time to write, edit, critique, read, work, sleep, eat . . .? Are those who have mastered socialnetworking simply geniuses who need no sleep?

Iwould love for you to tell me any tricks you may have as to learning Goodreads,Twitter, Tweet Deck, Facebook and Google+. And, if you have any of these accounts, tell me the name you go by and Ipromise to follow you.


Countessof Content

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guest Blogger ~ Aileen Fish ~ A Man's Castle

What is it about estate homes in historical novels that leave us pining to live there? You know you want to, admit it. None of us laughed at Elizabeth Bennet when she declared she thought she probably first fell in love with Mr. Darcy when she saw Pemberly. We all sighed with her when she first saw that impressive prospect from her uncle’s carriage.

Is it privilege we long for? Money? Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, shown here, stands on 3000 acres of wooded parkland. In California,where I live, the only properties with that kind of acreage are cattle ranches, and they are getting fewer with each passing decade. And most have a working farm house, not one set up for entertaining.

While researching my next release, A Christmas Dragon Scheme, I looked at floor plans of the great country houses and was impressed with one thing: the houses with a royal suite. The owners ran in high enough circles they needed a room for the King to sleep in when he dropped by. We have hotels with Presidential Suites in the U.S, not homes!

We had to consider the layout of Danby Castle for our novellas in the Regency Christmas Summmons Collection. We quickly agreed on the personal rooms The Duke of Danby would use, and went on to imagine a castle big enough to house the dozens of grandchildren, and their parents, in some cases, who would come to visit. What a grand home it has to be! And its own ballroom, of course, where the Duke holds his annual Christmas Ball.

Of course, the home or castle is only a backdrop to the characters in a story, but the research is so much fun! Without the country houses belonging to the peerage, we might as well be writing about the smithy or rag lady. Those books are fun in their way, but we need our occasional chance at becoming mistress of Pemberly, don’t we?

You can find my Danby novella, The Viscount’s Sweet Temptation, in A Summons from Yorkshire (Regency Christmas Summons Collection Book 1). Here are the blurb and excerpt:

Lady Harriet Thornhill knows the summons from her grandfather means he’s decided whom she must marry. Determined that she’d only marry a man of her choosing, she stows away in her friend’s father’s carriage, only to find herself alone with young Archibald Napier,Viscount Morley.

Morley’s plans for a quiet Christmas vanish when he discovers the sweet young lady hiding under the blankets in his carriage. As she claims an acquaintance with his sister, he feels duty-bound to see her safely back to her family.

A broken carriage wheel leaves them stranded, and Harriet’s reputation is at stake. Morley’s not ready to take a wife, until he’s told he wouldn’t be a suitable husband for her. With memories of her sweet, tempting kiss filling his thoughts, he prepares to fight for the hand of the woman he believes he could love.


Lady Harriet Thornhill stood at the window of her parents' sitting room in the inn, gazing at the gathering black clouds. The threatening storm echoed the swirling emotions in her mind. She must escape!

Her mother, Lady Alderford, sat quietly behind her sipping tea and nibbling the biscuits the proprietor's wife had provided upon their arrival. Her father dozed in the chair opposite her mother. How could they be so complacent when Harriet's very life was at stake?

Harriet wished she had read her grandfather's summons before her mother had. Mayhap she could have burned the missive and pretended it had never arrived. How dare he insist they alter any holiday plans they might have to travel to Yorkshire in such incumbent weather? How dare he insist he had important business with his entire family? Who did he think he was to command them all?

Well, of course, he thought he was the Duke of Danby, and he was the Duke of Danby, so he most likely did have the right to make these demands. But her mother was the duke's youngest daughter. They did not pretend to think Harriet's brother Leander, Baron Penlow, stood to inherit much of anything from the duke. By the time her hordes of cousins had been given their share of his wealth, there would be little left for the Thornhills.

That left only one reason for the duke's summons. He must have found someone for Harriet and her sister, Lady Miriam, possibly even Lee, to marry. Oh, this would never do! To be forced to marry a man not of her own choosing, mayhap not of her acquaintance, and after she had only enjoyed two London Seasons!

It was not to be borne.

A slow drizzle kept the roads filled with muck, just enough for her father to insist they stop early for the night. Papa was not a favorite son-in-law and felt no urgency to arrive early at Danby Castle. As much as she might consider pleading her case to either of her parents, she knew it would be wasted breath.

No one crossed a direct command from the duke. No one.

Comment with your email address to be included in the contest detailed here: http://aileenfish.com/books/summons.html Keep up with Aileen’s releases at http://aileenfish.com where you’ll find links to follow her on Facebook and Twitter.