Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Unpredictability

Yesterday, I extolled the virtues of having set routines in place in order to get my work done.

For the last three weeks, though, I haven't been able to live with my normal routines. I had a scratched cornea (thank you, dear, sweet, little kitten), which made it virtually impossible to look at a computer monitor. Well, I couldn't very well edit or write if I couldn't keep my eye open, could I? Nope.

Once the scratch healed, I developed pink eye in the same eye. Yep, another several days where my eye wasn't functioning properly.

Oh, yeah, and my sister had to go to the hospital and has been there for nearly two weeks. So...I've been taking care of her cat, who needed a few vet appointments, in addition to regular care and attention. Plus I've been going to visit my sister when I can. Now, the cat needs an antibiotic twice a day.

So routines? Yeah, they're gone. I haven't had the same schedule for two days in a row. I'm editing when I can, writing when I can...and somehow, finding out that I can still be productive even amidst the chaos my life has become.

It's taken an adjustment period, no doubt. It was rocky there at the beginning. But I've learned to edit in batches and get it out, and to write in any spare minute when I can. On Twitter, people will do #1K1Hr bursts, which I've participated in to try to get some words on the page. Sometimes, I've had to shorten mine to #500in30, though.

While I may not be writing as fast as I'd like to write or editing as fast as I'd like to edit, I'm still getting it done. And frankly, I think my writing has been a little better because of it. I haven't been able to take the time to plot in such a detailed manner as I usually do. Instead, I've been plotting on the fly at times, and loving the results.

Are you someone who normally has to just carve out work time as you can? Have you found a way to cope with this? If you're a routine love like me, do you have a plan in place for if life tosses your routine out the window?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Routines

I tend to do everything in my life as a routine.

I get up at the same time each day. The first thing I do is feed my cats, then I head to the kitchen for coffee. While drinking my first cup, I log on to the computer, check my email, Facebook, and Twitter, getting caught up from the overnight crowd. By the time I am on my second cup of coffee and have a bagel before me, I've moved on to beginning my editing work for the day.

After I edit for a few hours, I'll break for lunch. During lunch, I'll think about my current WIP and try to solve some problems in my head or something of that nature. Once I've finished eating, I feed the cats again (I've got a kitten who needs three meals a day), fix myself a glass of iced tea, and move on to writing.

Writing fills my afternoons, and in the evenings I either get time off (a rarity), or I do more writing or editing (whichever is more pressing at the moment).

By having a routine, my brain tends to be better prepared for whatever task I'm asking it to perform. I've learned through years of writing that I do NOT do creativity in the mornings, so afternoons and evenings are much more productive writing times for me. I can be analytical before my caffeine has fully kicked in, so a good way to get myself into work mode is through editing.

I'm trying to develop some new routines. For example, I've had a really bad habit over the last few months of not even showering or getting dressed before I start working, and so some days it doesn't happen until mid-afternoon. Yeah, not any more. These days, I do all of that as though I'm going to a "real" job, even dressing in slacks and blouses or something of that nature...then heading out to the coffee shop to work. I also have a very, very bad habit of incessantly checking my email. A new routine I've developed? When I sit down for a writing or editing session, I'll log out of every browser or email client first, then enable Freedom for a set period of time, so I can't procrastinate by spending too much time on my email or Facebook.

I find it is easier to develop new routines than it is to break bad habits. *sigh* That's something I'll have to work on.

Do you have any specific routines? Do you think they help you to achieve what you want to achieve? Or do you need to set some routines?

Check back tomorrow, when I'll blog about how all of my routines have gone to the birds of late.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Saturday I visited our local Borders, and I will probably (hopefully) visit one more time if I get the chance. As you all know, they are going out of business. I don't know how many are still open across the country but I am glad ours still is. I wasn't alone in this visit either. My husband, daughter and son were with me. And, as always, we split the moment we were in the door, walking to our favorite sections.

I knew everything must be sold, but I took this to mean the books, cds, dvds, games, etc. Nope, it also meant the furniture, things from the cafe and so on. There were stickers on the individual bookshelves as sold. I would have loved to have some bookshelves. Of course, I am not sure where I would have put them, but I do have big dreams of having a two story libary one day with shelves so high you need a ladder to roll along the top so I need to climb and get the book I wish. Or better yet, a narrow balcony I can walk along on the second story.

Have you ever seen the movie My Fair Lady? Well, I want Professor Higgins' library. It is too bad I live in a ranch house because the only way I am going to get my dream library is either sell and move into a two story or add a second floor on top of our house. Either way, it sounds like a lot of work and expense so I will just dream about owning that library one day.

I used to visit Borders all of the time and met with a previous critique group in the cafe to discuss our lates WIPs. I pretty much divided my time between the local Borders and Barnes & Noble, depending on what mood struck me or where I happened to be shopping the day I wanted to also visit a bookstore.

But, life got busier and with my book budget shrinking, I visited less and less. It is very dangerous for me to be in a bookstore (just ask my husband), and yesterday was no exception. After walking and reading my way through most sections, I ended up with more than I intended to buy. Of course, this shouldn't surpise me, it happens every time.

Among my finds were:

The Enigma o Hastings by Edwin Tetlow

Pirates of Barbary * Corsairs, Conquests, and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean by Adrian Tinniswood

The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

Rites of Peace, the Fall of Napoleon and The Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski

Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803 - 1815 by Charles Esdaile

Conquest, Tribute, and Trade, the Quest for Precious Metals and the Birth of Globalization by Howard J. Erlichman

The White Queen (audiobook) by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen (audiobook) by Philippa Gregory

The Confession (audiobook) by John Grisham

My husband walked away with two books and a Kobo Reader, the daughter two books and a CD, and my son, one book (he is not the reader in the family and the first one to be waiting outside for us to finish so we could go to dinner).

Each of the books fueled my imagantion for use in future novels and research. As for the audiobooks, purely entertainment for driving to and from work, and any other place I need to go. Ever since I listened to my first audiobook I've been addicted. I very rarely take time to just sit and read a book any longer because I feel like I need to be working, writing, editing, cleaning, etc., and audiobooks feed that need to just get into a good fictional story.

It is sad to see Borders go. It has been there for so long and one of those places you always expected to be waiting with open doors for me to enter and get my fill of fiction and non-fiction.

So, goodbye local Borders, you will be missed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Yada, Yada, Yada...

It’s my day to blog again?!? How did that happen?

In all seriousness, I knew my blog day was coming up. I even prepared for it. Well, kind of.

Last week I took my annual last hurrah summer vacation cruise with my son, my mother and my brother. Before I left on the trip, I figured something would happen on my vacation that I could blog about.

And things did happen. Like one day we got caught in a rainstorm in an open air jeep in St. Thomas, driving on the left on mountainous roads but were unable to stop because the lead jeep (driven by the tour guide) didn’t stop and we had no idea where we were going. Then the next day we had an amazing time in St. Maarten aboard the Lord Sheffield brigantine – complete with awesome drinks, good food and incredible snorkeling where I saw an actual octopus in the wild!!

But then I thought about it and decided that no one else really cares about my vacation. Even with pictures – blah! It’s like hearing about someone else’s dream – unless you have a starring role…Who cares?

So yesterday I had to travel to Orlando for work. Again – I thought inspiration would strike. I still had one day left before my blog post, after all. I left first thing in the morning and came back late at night. On the flight down there were two screaming babies who NEVER stopped crying. I felt bad for the poor things. If I screamed that long and that loud, I wouldn’t have a voice left.

But who wants to read a blog about crying babies or the parents who did NOTHING – and I mean NOTHING – to soothe their children? No one wants to read that blog. That’s just painful. Trust me.

So I kept thinking. I just finished my Christmas anthology short story, that I LOVE – but I blogged about that last month. I’ve been critiquing and beta reading chapters and manuscripts for my lovely critique partners – but only they care about my opinion on those matters.

So I thought some more. My son started 8th Grade yesterday (I flew to Florida after I dropped him at school). His last year of Middle School – it was Jr. High when I was his age, but his face turns red and his head spins around when I call it that. And that got me to thinking about how things have changed since I was his age. Who would have ever thought the 80s were quaint when they were happening? Probably everyone feels that way about their childhood. Who knows what the future holds…I mean how will this day and age of technology and “stranger danger” ever seem quaint to our children? I’m not sure, but I’m equally sure they’ll look back on these days and think things were old-fashioned.

But I didn’t think that topic would make a good blog post either. I'd just end up sounding like my grandmother. "Back in my day..." And I'm too young to sound like my grandmother. Next!

Hmm. Let’s see… Well, in North Carolina I felt the DC earthquake in my office this week. And tomorrow we’re expecting a hurricane. How often do you get an earthquake AND a hurricane in the same week?

But natural disaster blogs are so passé.

So here it is, almost midnight. My blog is due in less than half an hour and I’ve got…Nothing. Well, I guess I technically have a 600+ word rambling about nothing that doubles as a blog. Kind of like Seinfeld was a show about nothing.

That's PERFECT!!!

So without further ado… My blog about nothing in honor of Jerry Seinfeld’s old, quaint sitcom.

What did you all do this week?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Extra, Extra!

My to-do list keeps growing and as a writer/mother of three boys I find that I have little time to spare as it is. However, I keep adding to that list.

One of the things that I’ve recently added was creating an extras page to my website and of course, as you can see it’s still under construction. With that said, I’ve started to research it and have run across several really good ideas that I’m going to try.

First off, I’ve read somewhere that several authors are creating alternate endings for their stories as free downloads and I’ve thought about doing this as well. It sounds pretty fun but with my current list of tasks to complete, i.e. this anthology and the next book in The Devil Ryder’s Series, I don’t foresee being able to do this anytime soon.

Something else I’ve run into is character interviews for an author’s popular series as giving the reader more of an inside view to their characters. I love this idea and I am toying with this at the moment. I don’t have anything solid but I can’t wait to actually be able to put this up soon. I think it’s a fun way to draw in the reader.

I’ve written a pirate story which doesn’t actually involve a treasure but it does have a secluded isle. It’s such an integral part of the story that I imagined a reader might enjoy having a map of it. I’m really interested to see if this catches on and if people like the idea I’m actually going to get started on this next week. I like the idea of being able to see what the author envisions for her characters. Don’t get me wrong I totally create my own hero/ heroine in every story I read but I do like to get a peek inside the author’s head sometimes.

Creating family trees seem to be an interesting thing among authors here lately as well. That’s a real possibility for me too.

How about polls for future hero names and whatnot? I think that has some real potential to it. I like the idea. I’d love to be able to get real reader feedback on future projects and I’m hoping to do that. And since I’m not crazy about blogging I think doing things like this on my website help bring authors and readers together.

So now that you’ve heard my ideas on future projects for my extras page. What do you have on your extras page? And what would you like to see on your favorite author’s page? Any ideas you can share with us? Or maybe you have an opinion on whether or not this is good/bad idea?   

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grievous Grays




This is me.
When God was sitting on his throne concocting my genetic makeup an angel must have distracted him because God seriously messed up on my hair! Since my senior year in college, I have been fighting gray hair. I was the ripe old age of twenty-one when my first gray hair appeared. I called my mother in a panic, sure I had some terrible disease that made you age too early, and she laughingly told me graying early was genetic in the women of our family.

Huh? Why had nobody mentioned this dark family secret before? Mom, cheerfully went on to inform me that though we grayed early we wrinkled late. Yay! Score one for the team. She was fairly right on the wrinkles and way too correct on the grays.

I was born a beach-babe blonde, but by the time I was nine, I had darkened to a true-blue brunette. By the age of twenty-five, thanks to my early grays and pricey salons, my hair color was somewhere between the blond I’d been born and the brunette I’d ended up as. Every time I dropped $125.00 in the salon, I comforted myself with the fact that at least I could cover up the gray hair.




Also me!
By the time I reached thirty-eight my every eight week hair appointment visits had turned into every four week hair appointments, and I had to come to terms with the fact that my now $145.00 color was going to have to be part of my monthly personal budget. Let me add that my husband just loved this. Just joking. He hates the expenditure but luckily he’s not quite ready to see me gray either.

I’m now two months away from being forty and guess what? I cannot get my gray to stay covered! I called my hairdresser after my last visit to complain that the color she put on only stayed on for about two weeks. I expected for $145.00 that my grays could at least stay colored for four weeks. My hairdresser, bless her, was very sympathetic and brought me in for a free color re-do with a different more potent color. I left with high hopes that plummeted two weeks later when at my temples my persistent gray hairs peeked their pesky little heads back at me.

Back to the hairdresser I went for her to ‘analyze’ my gray. This is serious business. Turns out my gray is not gray at all. My hair is white, and white hair is the hardest, most resistant hair to color that there is. I am so lucky!




The many shades of Julie!
My hairdresser has one more color she wants to try on me and if that doesn’t work seems my only choice is to abandon the brunette I became and embrace the blonde I was apparently born to be because that will disguise the gray better.

Along the path of trying to figure out how to get my white hair to stay colored I’ve tried several at home colors because I am often hit with the absurd notion that I can do things better than the experts trained to do them. I’ve tried L’Oreal, Clairol and the newest John Frieda foam. No dice. These do not keep white hair covered, so if you too have white hair don’t bother.

I suppose I could embrace the white hair, but the main problem is I’m vain! And my white hair is only at my temples, and I’m just not ready to walk around with two-toned hair!

Do any of you have gray or white hair that is hard to color? What do you do about it?

Have a great day!
Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is it writer's block?

I’m not one to claim I suffer from writer’s block, but this week I’m at a bit of a loss. I could blame it on post book release depression, or I could suggest that this winter’s recurring sinus headaches (in lieu of a proper head cold) has fried my brain of decent ideas.


Either way, I’m a little scattered this week.

I suppose I could gush over Kate’s Winslet’s rescue of Richard Branson’s mother from a burning building, but I’m not quite sure how much of the reported news is true. However, I’ve always been a fan of dear Kate and she scores a double thumbs up, true or not.


Kate in training for a heroine
My second option was to discuss the cult that’s sprung up revering Pippa Middleton’s derriere.



Although William and Catherine (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) married months ago, I’m constantly surprised by how often the sister is in the news. Why just last week the Today show debated over whether her royal hotness's rear end was real or scientifically engineered. A quick google check revealed she has a dedicated webpage (pippasass.com), more than one FaceBook fan pages and twitter accounts galore. Now that’s branding without the effort. LOL. (oh, dear)

My third option is probably the best choice. I’m going to give a shout out for a fantasic fellow Aussie author, Jenny Schwartz. She posted her latest cover today for her upcoming steampunk (Wild West with an Aussie twist) and I'm in love with the gorgeous cover! Why don't I write steampunk?

Here’s a peek at Wanted: One Scoundrel

When American inventor Jed Reeve skims into the remote west Australian colony of Swan River, the last thing he expects is to be mistaken for a scoundrel and shangai’d by a beautiful suffragette.

Heiress Esme Smith needs a smooth-talking male stranger to represent her Women’s Advancement League in the men-only clubs.

What neither anticipates is the violence their partnership will engender. Can an honorable scoundrel save a sexy suffragette or will she kick bustle and save him?





Wanted: One Scoundrel is released December 5 from Carina Press as part of "A Clockwork Christmas" Anthology.

So what do you think, is this writer's block or merely a case of understandable cover envy?

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Fall" into reading!


Okay, I know we're not quite there yet - the official start of fall isn't for another month or so -
but here in the northeast, things are already starting to cool off (thank goodness!) It
's still pretty warm in the afternoons, but the mornings have been crisp and cool lately, and they'vebeen getting me in the mood for all the fun thingsautumn brings: pumpkin picking, Halloween, cozy sweaters and brightly colored leaves!



But another great thing about the fall is the return to what I call "paranormal fun!" Have you
ever noticed that paranormal-themed books all tend to have an autumnal feel, even if they don't necessarily take place in the fall? I suppose it's because vampires especially have to live in rainier climes so they don't have to worry about the sun so much. Of course, witches bring to mind Halloween, which is inherently a fall holiday. And I would imagine werewolves choose the cooler climes just to…stay cool. I would too if I had to wear all that fur!


So now I have the daunting task of either finding new "paranormal fun" to read, or revisiting
old favorites. On the list of old favorites are some YA series: Harry Potter, Evernight and Twilight (yes, I'm a Twihard and I'm proud of it!) I've yet to read the Vampire Diaries, but I'm obsessed with the show (when are you coming back to me, Damon??? When?!?!?) And the Evermore series by Alison Noel holds some appeal for me.

It's still a little early to choose my Fall Reading Lineup, so I'm taking suggestions! What do you like to read when the weather turns cooler? I would love some new material to curl up with while I drink my butterbeer :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

So You Want to Enter the Golden Heart

**UPDATE**
Congratulations to the winner of the critique:
Christy! Christy, please contact me at erinknightley (at) yahoo (dot) com. Best of luck to all of you planning to enter the GH this year :)



It’s that time of year again, my friends. No, not back to school time (though it is), nor the dog days of summer (though it is that as well), no, I am referring to contest season. Very shortly, the Golden Heart® will open once more, and more than 1,200 entries will flood the offices of RWA with the hopes of becoming one of the chosen few.

Now—not two or three months from now—is when you must decide if you will enter this contest. Why? Because much like Daniel-son before the big tournament (wax on, wax off), now is the time to practice. Before the big, mean bullies (otherwise affectionately known as the dreaded east-German judge to the 2011 GH finalist) get their hands on you and decide your fate in the contest. I will pause here to say that, if you do not have aspirations of traditional publishing, entering the contest is probably not for you. But if you have your sights set on finding an agent and publishing with the major publishers, then you might want to take note.

If you have never heard of the Golden Heart® and what it can do for you, allow me to tell you a bit about it. The largest and arguably the most prestigious of all the contests for unpublished writers, the Golden Heart provides nothing so much as the opportunity to move your writing career along. Why? Because, in general, having the words “Golden Heart Finalist” attached to your name will rocket your query—and your manuscript—to the front of the slush pile.

Last year on March 25, even before all of the finalists had even been notified, agents had taken to twitter announcing their requests for finalists to contact them. Several of the finalists were contacted directly by agents, asking if they were represented and if they would send their ms for that agent’s consideration.

Yeah, I know. Crazy! It seemed like finalists were announcing left and right that they had signed with previously only dreamed about agents. And its not only agents; some GH final judges also request fulls from finalists. In my case, one of the publishers involved in the auction of my manuscript was actually a GH judge.

Now, again—all of this creates the opportunity for the author to be read. It most certainly did not guarantee success. But isn’t that what most unpublished authors with an eye toward traditional publishing want: a chance?

Even though today, almost six months after the fact, I am still in shock that I managed to be a finalist (and no, I don not want a recount, lol), I hope to offer up some tips that I believe helped me best prepare for the Golden Heart®.

1. Have a critique partner go over your entry. Yeah, kind of a no brainer, but never has your partner been more important. Ask them if anything seemed slow, or uninteresting, or too full of background info. Have them highlight passages that may work on a normal basis, but are just extra baggage when you only have fifty pages to knock the judges socks off. You may even find that in the end, your ms is better off without the extra weight anyway.

2. Enter smaller chapter contests that promise to have at least the preliminary results to you in time to tweak your entry for the GH. My personal favorite of ones I entered leading up to the GH is probably MARA’s Fiction From the Heartland contest. They promise at least one published judge and give feedback that I, personally, found to be useful. After all, in theory the judge is offering an unbiased opinion. Plus, if you final, it will put you in front of an agent and editor – bonus!

3. Edit, edit, and edit again. Try to catch every typo and missed word by putting the entry aside for several weeks, then tackling with fresh eyes. I think that fewer things can put off a judge faster than an entry full of mistakes.

4. Once you have feedback from your critique partner and contest judges, carefully review and see which of their suggestions resonate with you. If something doesn’t feel right to you, ignore it! It is only someone else’s opinion. In the end, YOU have to be satisfied with the product you are presenting.

5. Never, ever be discouraged by less than favorable feedback from a contest. Either take that feedback and try to make your writing better, or decide that that particular person’s opinion has no bearing on you. Many times, unfavorable feedback from a judge could just mean that you have a strong voice – and that is a great thing!

I hope you have found these tips to be helpful. Any contest, the Golden Heart® included, is merely a tool in a writer’s arsenal to snag the attention of professionals in the business. Many writers who never finaled in a contest a day in their lives went on to become published, and there are those who have finaled dozens of times and have yet to become published. Your journey to publication is very personal, and just be sure that whatever path you chose, you are comfortable with it.

Are you planning to enter the GH or any other contest this year? What are some of your tips?

To give you a head start on tip #1, I’m offering a contest entry critique to one lucky commenter. Simply leave a comment indicating your wish to be entered in the drawing before 11:59pm EST Friday, and I’ll chose the winner at random. Check back on Saturday morning for results!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Slacker Tooth Fairy

The Tooth Fairy assigned to our family is a real slacker. Last week she missed a tooth pick-up twice. Same tooth. Two nights in a row! And this isn’t the first time she has been a no-show. I believe it may be her fourth. Quite frankly, I’m tired of making up excuses for why she doesn't do her job.

The first time T. F. failed to steal into our daughter’s room and snatch the tooth from under her pillow, we had a very disappointed little girl on our hands. I scrambled to come up with an explanation. There must have been lots of kids lose teeth the same day. Our daughter thought about it a second then said, “Yeah, it must be hard to get everyone’s teeth when she has to travel the whole world in one night.” Only Santa and the Easter Bunny are magical enough to pull that one off.

The second time proved T. F.'s failure to perform was not a fluke, but she showed at the last minute and saved the day. While the little one was in the bathroom, the Tooth Fairy snuck into the bedroom and made the exchange, much to our daughter's amazement. She had just checked under her pillow a minute earlier and discovered her tooth was still there. She couldn't believe no one saw the Tooth Fairy. The fairy was good, real good.

When our daughter lost her first front tooth, all she received was a lousy two dollars. Front teeth are worth more, right? I thought she made out pretty good considering all I ever received was a quarter for my teeth. I was wrong. Our daughter’s friend received a toy for her front tooth. Thanks a lot, overindulgent Tooth Fairy assigned to the neighbor girl. Are you trying to make our fairy look bad? My response to our daughter was, “Yeah, ours doesn’t do that. It’s not in her contract.”

So this past week, our daughter lost an eye tooth, correctly called a canine according to her. After two nights of no tooth exchange, my husband and I had to come up with a good excuse. Fortunately, her other canine was loose, so we told her T. F. only comes when there are two canines to pick up. Well, Sunday our daughter lost that other stubborn tooth that had been dangling and grossing out the rest of the family for a couple of weeks, put it under her pillow, and the Tooth Fairy came. Of course, it was almost midnight because the little munchkin wouldn’t fall asleep. I finally had to tell our daughter that children not fast asleep by midnight miss out because the Tooth Fairy is a working girl, and she always has lot of things to do on Mondays.

The Tooth Fairy left five dollars under the pillow. (She was assessed a late fee. That ought to teach her.) Five dollars!! Woo hoo! Our daughter never had a five dollar bill before, but she just had one question. Why didn't the Tooth Fairy bring her a toy? *Slapping forehead*

Do you ever find yourself trying to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to your kids, or are you the Joneses? How do you explain it when other kids get more than yours?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lady Valentine, Procrastination Be Thy True Name

Nothing's ever easy as it seems.

Take this blog post. I thought I'd hop on my laptop (Okay, so not literally hop on it, that's just plain silly.) and write the best please like me introduction ever. In like five seconds. But it didn't happen. Instead I googled my southern little heart out looking for pictures of Henry Cavill.

Inspiration


Okay, so technically, that wasn't going to help me write, but every woman likes some good mancandy.  However, I did compile a list of the top five things I found while searching for inspiration:
  1. You don't go searching for Chuck Norris, he finds you.  Creeptastic...
  2. I'm number 1,236,616 on the waiting list for a Petite Lap Giraffe.  In your face number 1,236,617.
  3. Twinkies do not have an indefinite shelf life. *Throws out pack from fifth grade*
  4. Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour. I want to know where they got their volunteers.
  5. Ants fall on their right side when intoxicated. That's just ridiculous; no one makes shot glasses that small! 
Okay, so enough with the fun facts. It's time to properly introduce myself.

Hi, everyone, I'm Marquita Valentine. (And yes, my parents actually wrote that very combination of letters on my birth certificate- well, my mom did and didn't tell my dad that she'd changed my name until after the fact. But that's another story for another time.) Anyway, I'm the oddball only ladyscribe who writes small town contemporary romances.

They're set against the Pamlico Sound in eastern North Carolina.
Does not take place in New Bern. That's Sparks's Domain. 

My heroes and heroines live a small town life, but their loves stories are anything but.One might even say they're EPIC. Okay, so I do say that; it's on my business card. "Small Town, Epic Love Stories"

Want to try out a small town contemporary romance? One lucky commenter will win:




Lori Wilde's THE FIRST LOVE CLUB, a novel set in the small town of Twilight, Texas. Christmas in August seems just the thing with all of the three digit temps we've been enduring over the summer.


What do you prefer: The hustle and the bustle of the big city? Or the sit on the front porch and wave at everybody small town?

I do hope you've enjoyed my rambling post. My next visit will be on Tuesday September 13th.

Thanks for stopping by!


Monday, August 15, 2011

I'll be Home for Christmas

I know, it is August and kids are going back to school. Nobody wants to think about Christmas, which is still 4 months away. Yet, this song has been on my mind since Friday.

At one time I hated that song, which is entirely unfair to the song, I know. My dislike occurred in the winter of 1987. It was the first year I would not be with my family for the holidays. A year earlier I had moved from Illinois to Tucson, AZ with my husband and we couldn't go home. I was also pregnant with my first child. Every time I heard the song on the radio I turned the channel because I wanted to be home for Christmas and I couldn't be.

That one Christmas Eve and Christmas are still a vivid memory, even after all of this time. My husband had to work until eleven that evening, or maybe it was midnight, and I chose to go to Christmas Eve Midnight services alone(though they started earlier than midnight). As I was driving home it began to snow. Note, I earlier said I was in Tucson, Arizona and it did snow. It was my own Christmas miracle. I know it wasn't sent just for me, but it helped.

December 25 1987 and 1916 - White Christmas across Tucson
Up to three inches of snow blanketed the metro area in 1987. This was the first white Christmas in Tucson since 1916 when four inches
fell.http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/twc/climate/20thcentury_top10wx.php


There was still snow on the ground that morning and my husband and I stood in the doorway of our apartment and watched the children play. For some, it was the first time they ever experienced snow. I wonder how many Christmas presents remained unwrapped under the tree so the kids could enjoy the strange phenomenon. By noon, there wasn't even a hint there had been snow, though I have pictures and memories.

Last year was the first year my eldest, the daughter I was pregnant with that first Christmas away from my family, wasn't home for Christmas. The difference was, she was only forty-five minutes away and I knew I could see her anytime and we did celebrate a few days later. This year she is 36 hours away.

On Saturday, she and her husband left to drive from Illinois to Oregon, where they will remain for two years. It is hard not having your children around at Christmas. Just as hard as not being able to be home for Christmas. Perhaps that is why the song was playing in my head. And, I am not alone.

Hundreds of parents send their children off into the world. It doesn't matter that by law they are adults, to a parent they are still their child. Some go off to school, some marry and move away, others join the service. It doesn't matter what the reason, it is never easy. At least I have the comfort of knowing my daughter is finishing school and with a man who loves her and will protect her. I can't imagine how those mothers feel whose children are in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country they've been deployed too. Christmas must be so much harder for those families.

This is not meant to be a political statement, and I have the greatest respect for the armed forces and their families who wait at home and worry, but wouldn't it be nice if everyone could could all be home for Christmas?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Scribes process

A Scribes process (not all of us are ladies but we are all scribes) Get to know your Lady Scribes with some fun facts!

1. Desk top- Heather (Ipad as well)
Laptop – Marquita, Suzie, Jerrica, Catherine, Amy, Erin, Samantha, Julie, Ava admitted to writing at work but shhh don’t tell

2. Where do you write?
a. At a desk - Marquita
b. Coffee shop – Catherine (or the Library)
c. Anywhere inside your house - Suzie
d. Patio
e. All of the above – Amy (prefers the patio), Jerrica, Heather, Ava, Samantha, Julie, Erin particularly likes the screened back porch overlooking the water and we’re jealous of her.

3. What is the most difficult part of a novel for you to write?
a. The beginning
b. The middle – Amy, Julie, Catherine, Samatha
c. Love scenes – Ava, Suzie
d. The end – Jerrica, Heather (Middle and end. Sometimes I procrastinate and don't want the story to end.)
e. Rewrites - Erin
f. The whole dang thing – Marquita (which wasn’t really an option but we’ll humor her lol)

4. Favorite beverage while writing?
a. Coffee – Catherine, Suzie, Julie, Jerrica (iced coffee, of course) Ava (Mocha coconut Frappacino) Heather (Vanilla Latte's) Samantha (who also likes Chia tea – blech!)
b. Water or hot tea in the winter - Erin
c. Sagria – Ava, Amy (but only in the evenings)
d. Shots of vodka – Marquita (There’s a split between coffee and alcohol lol. No one ever said we were “well-behaved” ladies)

5. Favorite inspiration for creating heroes?
a. Clive Owen – Ava
b. Whoever appeals at the time – Amy, Melissa, Catherine, Julie, Marquita says “Up and coming actors under the age of thirty five excluding Beiber (Again this wasn’t an option but she’s our rebel lol) Heather says one of everyone on the menu please, Hugh Jackman's voice, Colin Firth's smile, Daniel Craig's abs, Keanu Reeves - all of him.
c. Our husbands: Jerrica, Samantha, Erin (such goody-two-shoes LOL)

6. What do you wear while scribbling?
a. Sweats – Suzie, Erin
b. PJ’s – Amy, Jerrica
c. Casual jeans/ slacks/ suits - Catherine
d. All of the above – Ava, Samantha, Julie
e. Weather appropriate clothing. Right now I'm rugged up like an Eskimo – Heather (I’m picturing fuzzy bunny-like suit now, are you?)
f. And of course our little rebel Marquita says fedora, corset, and leather breeches (can you say ouch?? I’m sweating just thinking about it)

7. Panster – Amy, Jerrica, Erin, Ava (although she wrote panther and I don’t think it was a typo. I wonder if it’s anything like a cougar. What do you think?)
Plotter – Suzie, Catherine
Hybrid – Samantha, Heather, Julie

There ya go, here’s a little about our favorite Lady Scribes! Hope you enjoyed reading the answers as much as I enjoyed did!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The bright side to bad luck.

Has anyone ever told you there is a bright side to bad luck?

Well, I’ve come to believe there is.

Lately, I’ve been feeling as if someone must have taken their voodoo doll out of the closet, named it the Johnstone family, and started sticking pins in it. In the past month, my immediate family has been to the emergency room twice. Once because a knife fell off the bar in my kitchen and cut the tendon on my big toe, and once because my four year old stuck a Lego up his nose, which had to be retrieved or risk brain damage. After this, we had two specialty doctors visits, one car accident where my husband was rear-ended and one car accident where my mother-in-law was sideswiped.

Is it just me, or does it seem like there is a hex on my family?

In the last few days, fingers crossed, it seems things have settled down, and as they have calmed, I realized, I could actually use some of the crazy things that have happened to me in my stories. Sure, I write historical books, but I’m a creative gal, and after a bit of consideration, I came to the conclusion that everything that happened to me could happen to one of my characters.

You know what they say—the more you make your characters suffer the better your story will be.

I plan to make mine suffer greatly in the rest of my current work in progress and the next. For instance, the two car accidents that happened in my family are now two separate carriage accidents that occur in two of my stories. The knife that fell on my toe is now a knife that my clumsy heroine drops, which lands on my poor hero’s foot.

This epiphany got me to wondering—if I make a list of all the freak things, bad things, untimely things that have happened to me, I bet I have enough to fill at least ten books with major conflict. Guess what I’m doing tonight? You got it. I’m making a bad luck list to use in future stories.

Who knew there was a bright side to bad luck! I’d love to hear how you guys spin your bad luck and make it positive and useful.

Have a great day,
Julie Johnstone, the Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I love deadlines

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Douglas Adams

So … I met my deadline last week…. (sharpening pencil)

After months of procrastination on this one story, I shut out the world and got it done. Yet the sensation of having no looming commitment has left me restless (Do I need a notepad in green? Possibly)

I did what I usually do after meeting my deadline. I put my notes and research books away, tossed copious corners of paper in the bin and then … dusted the desk properly. Of course, to dust properly you must remove EVERYTHING - found lots of goodies too. The desk is clean enough to eat off now, or at least it is until my youngest eats his afternoon tea off it. (Must buy sticky tape)

(spinning around on my chair)

The day after, with a whole weekend before me and no pressing writing to do, I cleaned my bedroom from top to bottom. It must have been a while, and now I think about it, I should probably be embarrassed. You see I cannot remember the last time I completely tossed the room. I blame deadlines, of course. I had this latest project to get through, before that I had the trip to New York that took all my time, before that two other projects needed polish (as does my mouse trackball). I’m trying to think what I did late May, but you can see the pattern developing here, can’t you?

I.AM. OBSESSED. WITH. WRITING.

I’m kinda surprised by being surprised about that.

I did read a lot before I began writing and it seems I shifted my focus from other writer’s fantasy worlds to my own. I used to stay up till three to read the latest Sabrina Jeffries or read The Devil in Winter one more time. But these days, I’ve lost my will to switch off my own fantasy world and escape into someone else’s.

(RT Magazines to the left, Advanced Photoshop Magazines to the right)

Given this writing gig has turned into a full time obsession career, I need a hobby or a dog or maybe simply a bigger social life to sustain me between deadlines. I mean, I won’t lie, I do have things to do, Tim Tams to crave, Fotolia stock images to covet. However, doing my Tax Return (its Tax Time in Oz) or pairing up unpaired socks can only take you so far.

(Of course! I should do a second back-up this week!) Yep, small things make me happy about now.

But here is my question, aside from rearranging your underwear drawers, what the devil do you do when you’ve met a major deadline?

Please get back to me before I start braiding the cat’s hair - he’s not going to be impressed about that.

Oh, and in case you’re curious, this is what I worked so hard on. I just love that cover, don’t you?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Playing Hooky: My day in wine country


I admit, I play hooky a lot. I didn't get to do it in high school very much, so ever since then, I've taken all the opportunities I could. I went to the college classes I really liked and played hooky a lot with the ones I didn't. Any job I've held could have expected me to be out once every couple of weeks. And even now, working for myself, I tend to beg off and go do something fun quite often.


This past Friday, after a week of great focus and productivity, my hubby and I grabbed our friends and we made our way up to the North Fork of Long Island. Most people don't realize, but this rural part of Long Island is chock full of wineries! It's like a mini Sonoma, with vineyards and farm stands and quaint little towns with tea rooms and antique shops.


In 1973, Alex and Louisa Hargrave arrived in the North Fork to plant the very first vineyard, and met with great success! Almost 40 years later, there are 30 wineries in the North Fork, and a whopping 60 wineries total on Long Island. Many of the wines are award winning, and Long Island has been called "one of the country's most exciting wine producing regions today."


For folks like us who live in a big city, getting out to the country for a day can be rejuvenating and inspiring! Too bad the traffic getting back home was abysmal! I hope you enjoyed your traffic-free tour of Long Island's wine country.

Where do you go when you want to play hooky?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Finding a Way to Slog Through the Muck

Revisions, for a writer at any stage of his/her writing career, can be a daunting task. After all, we wrote the words we wrote for a reason. As writers, it's difficult to step outside ourselves and take a step back, to objectively look at what works and doesn't, and to find a way to make it work.

Yet if you or I want to be successful, we have to do just that. In fact, the longer we've been writing, the more difficult it can be to revise effectively.

We learn more about writing craft, and suddenly, everything on the page is garbage.

"I'm an utter failure. How can I have written that and thought anyone else would want to read it? Better to just toss it in the garbage and start over. Better yet, instead of starting over, maybe I should just throw it in the trash and follow it up with everything else I've ever written. I'm a fraud. I'll never get the hang of this. What a load of..."

Wait. Stop right there. If you get to that stage, you've almost broken through with this particular manuscript you're working on. Or at least that's been my experience. When I'm ready to give up completely, then I'm finally making headway.

I've been in that stage recently. So...I set the manuscript aside for a bit, and then came back to work on it again with a fresh perspective. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was. There were even moments of brilliance, where I've impressed myself with what ended up on the page.

Even with that, though, there is always still a lot to slog through, a lot that needs improvement before it is ready to put out in front of the world.

When you get to this point, how do you keep yourself working? Do you reward yourself? Do you grant yourself a bit of freedom for each chapter/block of words you get through? What other recommendations do you have to keep yourself working to improve something when you can no longer stand looking at your own writing?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Colorful Characters


Characters are can make or break a promising story idea. If they are flat and uninteresting, they make your plot take on these same qualities, in my opinion. Multidimensional main characters, intriguing secondary characters, and colorful extras added to the story broth (plot) can take a basic and familiar recipe from so-so to gourmet. (Just go with me on the soup analogy, okay? I started writing this in my favorite soup shop over a late lunch, and the soup of the day was gone. All I could think about was how badly I wanted a bowl.)

Solid heroes and heroines are the hearty ingredients of the soup, like the meat and potatoes. A well developed main character will have a history that shapes how he views the world, and true character is revealed when he is faced with situations that require him to make choices based on his values. These characters leave the reader feeling satisfied. And isn't that what we want as writers, to have readers asking for seconds? My next blog will cover the 3 dimensions of character, but today I want to touch on my favorite characters, the colorful extras, or the spices.

Since it is summer, I suppose I can compare these characters to the toppings on your ice cream sundae instead. A little caramel, hot fudge and nuts make the reading experience delightful and satisfying. But just as too many toppings make it hard to distinguish one taste from another, or so sweet it becomes nauseating, too many whacky characters grouped together makes none of them stand out. Use these characters sparingly.

When I was seventeen, I worked at a McDonalds in an ugly part of North Little Rock. There was this couple that rode around that side of town on bicycles, which is nothing special to gain anyone’s notice, except the twenty-something year old man always wore a sombrero, a poncho, and a wide smile. But even as unusual as his appearance was, his wife upstaged him. She boasted pink hair like Frenchie in Grease and encased her size zero body in an electric blue spandex unitard. Oh, and did I mention she was in her eighties? These two gave new meaning to the term odd couple, but they were a delight to see. When they passed by the store on their bikes, I couldn’t help smiling. They added color and interest to a part of town that needed it.

After graduate school, I moved to a small town in the Ozark Mountains. It was my first and only time to experience life in rural America. (Side note: the dating pool was extremely small. Of course, it would have been bigger if I hadn’t ruled out men with no teeth, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Oddly enough, I met the love of my life there, which just goes to show you really should listen to that crazy voice in the back of your mind every once in a while, even if it tells you to pick up and move to a dinky town in the middle of no place where you don’t know another soul.)

It was quaint, and at least idyllic on the surface. Every place has its troubles. But this town had a bright spot, too. The Bike Man was an older gentleman in his fifties who dressed in overalls and rode a giant tricycle with a tall, orange flag attached to the seat and a license plate that simply read “Bike Man”. I can’t remember his whole story, but he had a disability and the town took up a collection and bought him the bike, I think when his was wrecked. He always rode in the same area, and every time I saw him, he brought a smile to my heart.


In my current town, there are two personalities that stand out. One is Peaches, the dancing girl as everyone describes her. She listens to her iPod as she dances around town as if no one is watching. I love it! And then there is the B&N flowered skirt guy. Some days, it’s a kilt, but other days it is a light cotton floral print skirt. (I suppose that might be a kilt. I don’t know. Has anyone been to Scotland that can set me straight?) Anyway, what I love is how dignified he appears from his head down dressed in his smart navy jacket, but how utterly incongruent he looks from the waist down in a lady's skirt, hairy legs and tassled loafers. I mean, you have to have a healthy dose of confidence to attempt this look, and he does.

Just as these people have given flavor to the different towns where I’ve lived, writers can add an extra character that can do the same for our stories. There may be temptation to toss one of these intriguing characters into the mix just for the fun of it, but even though he or she plays a bit role, the character still should have a purpose to your story. So, if you decide to create a colorful character, make sure you give him a job to do that furthers your plot. Otherwise, the person becomes a distraction rather than enhancing the reading experience. And it isn't necessary for readers to know all aspects of the person's character, such as backstory, motivation, etc. since she has a walk-on role only.

What real life colorful characters live in your town or past places you have lived?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Packing It In

The last time I blogged with Lady Scribes, it was mere days before Nationals, and with my handy green bag all packed for the big trip (remember this?), I was a bundle of excitement for all that the event might hold. There were many things I knew to expect: the great workshops, the inspiring speeches, and the opportunity to meet in person many of the wonderful people I interact with everyday on the internet. There would be chances to meet elusive editors, a few exciting NYC dining experiences, and the occasional star sightings (Lisa Kleypas! Julia Quinn! Eloisa James! Sabrina Jeffries!).

Interestingly, of all the things I anticipated, one thing that I didn’t expect was to have people tap me on the shoulder and exclaim, “You’re the packing girl!”

But let me tell you—it made my day more than once.

As a matter of fact, I had at least fifteen people stop me in the hall or introduce themselves on the elevator to me by saying “I fit everything in one carryon!” Each time, my heart swelled with joy and I would congratulate them on a job well done. Take that, bag-fee-charging-airlines and clueless bag handlers! You’re no longer the boss of us, so take your fees and did-that-tag-say-LaGuardia-or-Laguna-Beach-oh-who-cares apathy somewhere else, thank you very much.

But for all the packing converts, there were still those who still weren’t sure about the whole idea of using just one carryon. They wondered what it was, exactly, that my little bag held. Could I truly survive the nine day trip (five days at conference and another four on vacation visiting my sister) with only the items stuffed in that one carryon? Several expressed concern that they would be wearing the same thing over and over again if they tried to have only one bag.

So, for those wondering how many outfits, exactly, I fit in that little green suitcase, I offer you the following video:



And yes – that song will be in your head for the rest of your day, lol. In case you lost count, that was fifty-one outfits :) I hope this helps convert those last unbelievers – you too can travel unencumbered! I have the utmost faith in you.

As a quick aside, I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you for all of the sweet well-wishes I received leading up to the Golden Heart awards. I didn’t walk away as the winner, but the entire experience could not have been more wonderful. Also, the month since conference has been very exciting for me indeed. I am thrilled to announce that I sold to NAL in a 3-book deal shortly after returning from NYC. Hooray! You may notice that I am now sporting a brand new, shiny pen name. As Penguin already publishes an Erin Kelly, I got to change things up a little bit. So, while my new name is Erin Knightley, I’d just like to say that you are more than welcome to just call me the Packing Lady :)

As for the next conference I go to, I’m thinking I should have luggage tags printed up to hand out to anyone who tells me about their packing victory. My question to you is… What should the tags say? Come on now – be creative!

I’ll start it off: "This is all the baggage I come with!" "Proud to be a (one) bag lady!"