Monday, November 30, 2009

The Best Gift

The following is a true story. I heard it from my DH's oldest sister (and she's a Methodist minister so it has to be true, mostly!) It's about giving love even when the recipient doesn't realize they've received it.

My sister-in-law was in junior high when she was told by the band teacher that she had the perfect embrasure for a clarinet player. So she went home and informed her parents that she needed a clarinet.

My DH's family was not wealthy. They had 8 kids on a small family farm. His mother worked as a cook at the local highschool and his dad drove a schoolbus to bring in a little extra cash. Even so, my sister-in-law didn't realize the enormity of what she was asking. After talking the matter over, my DH's parents admitted they'd saved a bit because they were planning to buy a clothes dryer (something I would rank as a necessity with such a big family!) Instead, they'd use that money to buy the clarinet. They found a 2nd-handed one for $200. It was chronically flat and the entire band had to tune to that instrument, but my sister-in-law learned to play and love music with it. And so did her younger sister. And later, her daughter.

And my SIL didn't realize until she was an adult with her own kids' laundry to wash the incredible size of this gift. Hanging clothes out on a line is no light chore, especially during a northern Iowa winter. But her parents were willing to make the choice so their child's spirit could be nourished with music. That clarinet was sacrifical love with a reed attached.

Like my SIL, we often don't recognize the enormity of the gifts we receive. As a Christian, I'm looking forward to celebrating the greatest gift ever given. This year, I hope to take miracle of Christmas deeper into my soul and be thankful as never before for that gift.

Oh, and here's the rest of the clarinet story! You're gonna love it. Just before Christmas, my DH's dad won the grand prize at the local hardware store. You guessed it. A brand new clothes dryer.

Wishing you the gift of love this Christmas!

Today is the LAST DAY TO ENTER my MERRY CHRISTMAS BALL CONTEST . On December 1st, one lucky person will win a $100 gift card just in time for Christmas shopping. I'll announce the winner right here on my blog tomorrow.

Enter today and good luck!

What's the best gift you've ever given or received?

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Anti-Shopper does Black Friday!

Today, against my better judgment, I set the alarm for 5 AM. I've never shopped on Black Friday before. There is something in me that rebels at the thought of camping outside a place of business for the priviledge of being first to spend my money there. And don't get me started on the herd instinct that kicks in and results in sometimes fatal tramplings. Honestly, it's just a bunch of stuff. Certainly not worth knocking someone down over.

But there was one item advertised that would be perfect for someone on my list. And it was offered at a significant savings.(Sorry I can't be more specific. My fam sometimes reads my blog. Shhhh!) So at 5:15AM, the DH and I sallied forth to face the insanity of Black Friday.

I truly despise shopping. The idea of wandering around without any clue what I'm looking for makes my blood pressure rise. I subscribe to the ninja school of purchasing. I target an item. Moving with stealth and speed, I zero in. I acquire, extract, pay and get the heck out of there as fast as I can.

Speed was not possible this morning. Starting with the uber-full parking lot, there were more lines than Disney World with none of the fun. First I waited in line to acquire a ticket for the item while the DH trolled for a parking space. By sheer dumb luck, I nabbed the very last ticket! That took 45 minutes. Then we were directed to the check out line specifically for people with "ticket" items. It snaked through the office supplies and appliance section and moved with glacial speed. After standing in this line for an hour and forty minutes (!) we were informed that our ticketed item had been "optimized" by the Geek Squad and would therefore cost $40 more than the advertised price. No wonder the line moved so slowly if they tried extorting every customer at the last moment. I'm sure after the wait a lot of people paid the extra just to be done with it. We refused and they finally sold it to us for the advertised price.

All told, we probably saved $350-400, tallying up all the other items we bought on sale as well. Was it worth it? I'll probably think so when the CC bill comes, now I'm not sure. We lost sleep, started our day on a frustrating note and had to wrangle with a very rude cashier about the price. Money is important, but gift giving is supposed to be joyous. I experienced no shopping Nirvana (which I know is possible because I did it . . . once.)

How about you? Any shopping war stories to share? Do you enjoy shopping? Did you hit the mall early this morning? We had a lovely, quiet Thanksgiving and hope you did as well.

PS. Today is Friday, my usual post day on The Chatelaines. I'm getting ready to go to the movies over there! Please join me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Wow. I don't know where to start.

Last year at this time, I'd just been informed that I had a colon cancer. A few weeks ago, my doctor confirmed there's been no recurrence. Every day in this unnecessarily beautiful world is such a gift and I thank God for my life.

I'm so blessed by my family, even though most of them live on the west side of the Mississippi. My DH is still the love of my life. That alone makes me the luckiest woman alive.

I get to spend my days dreaming up alpha heroes and making things up. I'm so thankful for my editor, my agent and to everyone who reads my books.

I'm embarrassed by the richness of my blessings. But oh, so thankful.

Today, like you, I'll be making a run to the grocery store, where the shelves will be full of wonderful things to eat. And tomorrow my DH will rave over my homemade noodles, whether they turn out well or not because he wants to encourage any sort of cooking to continue.

And the day after that, I'll pull out my Christmas decorations and make new memories in our condo (I love living here, but it always sort of feels like an extended vacation instead of home. Celebrating holidays make it more homey.) The craziness of the Christmas season will start in earnest, but right now, in this moment of quiet, I want to remember how blessed I am and to be thankful.

Oh! And I'm thankful for YOU--my cyber-friend.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends. If you're traveling, be safe. If you're deep-fat frying your turkey, make sure the fryer is a long way from anything flamable! And remember, calories don't count when you're feeling thankful. That's my theory and I'm running with it.

If you'd like to tell what you're thankful for, special recipes you think we'll enjoy (just keep them simple, please. Some of us are cooking-challenged!) or thanksgiving traditions you'd like to share, this is the place. I always enjoy hearing from YOU!

The End is Near . . .

No, I'm not still thinking about the movie 2012. I'm counting down the last days of my MERRY CHRISTMAS BALL CONTEST . On December 1st, one lucky person will win a $100 gift card just in time for Christmas shopping. And while I'm talking about gift giving, let me encourage you to think about giving books as gifts this year. You'll be giving hours of pleasure and sharing something that's important in your life.

Enter today and good luck!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why We Must Ration Health Care

I don't normally get so serious on my blog, but this is where my head is, so please bear with me.

Yesterday, I drove down to pick my DH up at work and caught part of a rather chilling discussion on our Boston PBS radio station. It was about the need to ration health care based on the patient's lifestyle choices. The expert on the radio posited that smokers might not be treated for lung cancer. Chronic alcoholics shouldn't be surprised when their livers fail and if you're obese . . . well, you've sort of dug your own grave with your fork and spoon, haven't you? No extreme life-extending measures for you. And when they began saying a person with a disability must have his/her quality of life called into question, I was completely horrified, not just with the thoughts expressed, but by the even tone of the speaker. He was bloodless, like the disembodied voice of HAL in 2001, dispassionately separating the healthcare sheep from the goats.

While I'm all in favor of personal responsibility, I think they are missing an important piece of the health care question. It's part of the old nature/nurture debate. You might even argue that the writers of Greek tragedies got it right. All their heroes carried within them a "fatal flaw."

So do we. It's called our DNA. Look at your family tree. Is there a predominant recurrence of heart disease? Stroke? How long did your grandparents live? The insurance companies know these sorts of questions are the best predictors to use for their actuarial tables. It's also why your doctor asks for a detailed family history. When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, part of me wasn't surprised. Both my parents are cancer survivors, different types, but the same disease.

When we lived in Wyoming, our neighbor (who was a neurologist) was a fanatical walker. Every day, snow or rain, we'd see him and his Tibetan mastiffs (gorgeous dogs--think of a Pyranese only black) hiking their 3 mile trek around our hilly neighborhood. He maintained a healthy weight and lifestyle. Bud had good reason for such discipline. At 60, he'd already outlived every male in his family. Yet by the time he was 61, he was still having a quadruple bypass. Like a hero in a Greek tragedy, he couldn't outrun "the seeds of his own destruction," the proclivity for heart disease he carried.

Back to the original premise of blaming people for their illness. I think it shows more about the PBS speaker's philosophy than science. He's obviously of the opinion that humans are perfectable if only we could get them to make the right choices. Toward the end of the discussion he piously said he'd be happy to have his taxes raised to provide universal healthcare. But apparently, his universe doesn't include those who make choices he disagrees with.

As a fiction writer, I believe people are basically flawed (part of what makes them so interesting!) and unfortunately our DNA is too. Lifestyle choices make a difference, but they aren't the total reason for illness. And I fear the mix of those two things is far too complicated to reduce to a formula that will allow the health care arbiters to delegate responsibility for disease.

I promised myself I'd never get political on my blog and I'm trying very hard not to, but when I heard the PBS discussion yesterday it set me thinking about this very complicated knot. I have no answers, but I'm interested in your thoughts.

What do you think? Is rationed care the answer to the cost question? Who decides?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Killing Off Characters

Sometimes writers box themselves into corners and don't know how to get out neatly. The quickest solution is to kill off the offending character. That's what they did in 2012.

I enjoyed the movie. It's a worthy escape pic on many levels, totally amazing special effects and the writers kept hitting all the gut-wrenching hot buttons. My DH, who's a private pilot, loved the flying sequences. The writers made the science of this disaster seem completely believable. There's even a memorable Woody Harrelson cameo (an actor of limited range, IMO, who found his true calling as a wacko conspiracy theorist who turned out to be right for a change!)


However (and here is where you need to stop reading if you intend to see the movie and haven't) the writers set up a great love triangle subplot between John Cusack, his ex and her plastic surgeon boyfriend and resolved it horrendously.

They are all decent, heroic people. You can't help but like each of them. Cusack (a writer with one book that didn't do so well to his credit) has pushed his family away. Wife turned to the surgeon who's really terrific with her kids and wants a family (he also happens to have had a few flying lessons and saves the whole lot of them a couple of times.) It's obvious to anyone with eyes that Cusack and his wife will reconnect, but instead of letting her make that choice, the writers killed off the surgeon.

And they didn't even let him die heroically. He was crunched up in a bunch of gears just as they stole away on the "ark" that would save them through the impending flood. After letting him wear the hero mantle several times, his death is just a vehicle for convincing the audience that the danger is real--a task usually delegated to a nameless character wearing a "red shirt."

I was very disappointed. I knew he wouldn't get the girl, but I really wanted him to live!

It was easier for the writers to tie up the loose end by offing him. Our job as writers isn't to take the easy path. Even though this was a subplot, it wouldn't have taken much more than 30 seconds to untie this knot in a more adult manner with the heroine making a conscious choice. And it's an interesting, complicated choice because it's between good and good, not good and evil.

But 2012 isn't that sort of movie. It's an action flick and as such, it delivers. However, if they're going to inject a romance subplot, they shouldn't skate by with such a cheat of a resolution.

Have you seen it? What do you think about love triangles in general? Do you usually dislike the character who's in the middle because they seem to lead on both the others?

Friday, November 20, 2009

If it's Friday, Emily's not here!

TGIF! Friday is my regular day to post at The Chatelaines, so please join me there for a cup of coffee and a few gentle pleasures.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

To Publish or Not to Publish . . . That's a Heck of a Question.

Anyone who's ever submitted a manuscript knows publishing usually grinds with glacial slowness, but lately changes have moved with tsunami speed. If you've been following the Harlequin/RWA feud, you know what I mean. Harlequin, a company that's practically synonymous with romance, is now offering aspiring authors who have been rejected by their editors an opportunity to self-publish. Harlequin has partnered with a vanity press to form Harlequin Horizons .

Romance Writers of America has just issued a statement revoking Harlequin's status as an eligible publisher because RWA does not recognize "subsidy" presses. This means Harlequin will lose its perks at Nationals ~ free meeting space for book signings, the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and spotlights on their programs. They are welcome to attend, but will have to foot their own bills.

Let's bypass that squabble for a minute and just talk about what self-publishing means to an author.

On the one hand, I understand the temptation to self-publish. I have manuscripts that for one reason or another weren't picked up that I'd love to see in print. Readers have asked repeatedly for the third Diana Groe "song" book, DRAGONSONG, which completes the MAIDENSONG and ERINSONG trilogy. It's already written, but will probably never see the light of day.

Rejection is never fun and emotionally it may be easier to bypass that painful process and skip right to seeing your name on a cover. And there have been success stories in self-publishing. Everyone always points to ERAGON as the golden example.

However, the self-pubbed path is littered with broken hearts and lighter wallets.

But forget the money aspect for a moment. I'd like to posit that skipping the rejection phase is not good for a writer. Rejection makes us take another critical look at our work. It's an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to learn what works and what doesn't. To think new thoughts. To sharpen our prose till it cuts to the bone. To abandon a flawed project for something more viable. If we just plunk down our cash to make a book happen, what do we learn?

I know rejection stings. Believe me. It feels so personal because our writing is us. But every rejection gives me an opportunity to grow as a writer and as a person. If you are an aspiring writer, I urge you to exhaust all other avenues of publication before turning to self-publishing. Give yourself the opportunity to be rejected so your writing will improve.

That said, every writer takes his/her own path. Clive Cussler, for example, posed as a retiring agent to introduce his work to the agent of his dreams (and it worked!)

What do you think? Feel free to disagree.

PS. If you haven't entered my MERRY CHRISTMAS BALL CONTEST, there's still time. The drawing for the $100 gift card will be held December 1st! Please tell your friends!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Reader Speaks

As a writer, I sometimes feel like I'm in the dark. Reviews are wonderful (and I'm grateful for every one!) but it's hard to gauge how a book is being received by readers. I won't know any actual sales numbers for over a year after a title's release, but even that won't tell me what a reader thinks about what they've read.

That's why I really love chatting with readers here and receiving emails through my website. Then yesterday, I ran across this reader review of A CHRISTMAS BALL on Amazon.

"I often buy Anthologies for one Author and usually the other stories included are not up to par. This is NOT the case with this book! I bought it for Jennifer Ashley's 4th installment of her Nvegarian series. Loved that story but thought Emily Bryan's story was even better. I will definitely be ordering more of her books. She made me laugh out loud, cry and thoroughly enjoy myself in 100 short pages but when the story was over I felt the story was well told and satisfying! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK for all 3 stories!" ~ J. Still from Bradenton, FL.

And she isn't even a relative of mine!

Publishing is a tough business. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. That's why it's important to cherish every victory and try to keep a sense of perspective.

Thank you, Ms. Still. You made my day!

When I read a book, I feel as if I'm having a conversation (albeit one-sided!) with the author. Have you ever wanted to talk back to the writer? What did you want to say? Did you ever want to change the storyline?

PS. If you haven't entered my MERRY CHRISTMAS BALL CONTEST, there's still time. The drawing for the $100 gift card will be held December 1st! Please tell your friends!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wild Heart by Lori Brighton

Please welcome Lori Brighton!
Lori has a degree in Anthropology and worked as a museum curator. Deciding the people in her imagination were slightly more exciting than the dead things in a museum basement, she set out to become an author. Her first book, a historical romance, will be published by Kensington in November of 2009. As always when I have a guest, my words will be in bold type. Lori's will be

So, Lori, please tell us about your current release.

Wild Heart is my debut book, just released November 3rd by Kensington publishing. It’s really two books. On one hand, you have your typical romance set in Victorian, England with a hero, Leo, out for vengeance. Leo’s parents were murdered and he will do whatever it takes to find the people responsible. On the other hand, you have a paranormal plot. Ella, the heroine, is hired to tutor a lad. It’s only after she arrives that she finds out Leo is anything but a boy.

On the outside Ella is your typical sweet heroine, but she has a secret…Ella has a special ability she’s kept hidden from the world. As Ella and Leo grow closer, they realize their lives are entwined, and only together can they unlock the mystery of their pasts. In the end, both must learn to trust each other or risk losing everything they hold so dear.

Here’s a brief blurb:

"Leo is next in line for an earldom, but he is uncultured, unrefined-- and completely untamed...until governess Ella arrives, determined to set him on the right path. But Ella has a secret, and if Leo finds out what she is truly capable of, she may lose everything she holds dear."

So other than being an untamed 'earl apparent', what will be adore about your hero?

If your readers like an alpha male, they’ll love Leo. I tried to keep him true to life; what a real person would be like if they’d experienced what he has. On a trip to India, his parents are murdered. Leo is only a lad, but he’s forced to stay in hiding in a country he knows nothing about. Much like The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my favorite books), vengeance has kept him going. He’s very determined and blunt, but he’s also very honest and loyal. He doesn’t let people push him around. He’s a man who takes what he wants, and he definitely wants Ella.

Oh good! I love alpha males!

Here’s an excerpt:

“Where is that lovely governess of yours?”

Henry’s words stopped him cold. Icy fear raced down Leo’s spine. “Do not speak of her, do not even think of her.”

“Or what?” He brushed a piece of imaginary lint from his black jacket. “Leaving her alone at the estate wasn’t one of your most brilliant ideas.” He stepped closer to Leo. “Anything could happen there…without protection.”

Leo’s free hand curled as he resisted the urge to hit his cousin. “She’s protected.”

Henry quirked a brow. “Is she? Was she protected when that arrow came through the garden? When she was attacked in the woods?”

The cup dropped from Leo’s hand, shattering on the floor. He hadn’t told Henry about the attack in the woods. Hadn’t even told his grandfather until right before he’d left. He’d known his cousin was responsible, but he’d never imagined Henry would practically admit he’d been involved. “If she is harmed in any way-”

“And that heathen friend of yours. What ever happened to him?”

Leo stepped closer, anger propelling him forward. “Where is he?”

Henry clasped his hands behind his back and nodded toward a servant who was rushing their way to clean up the mess. “Why, how should I know?”

Leo’s nostrils flared, his anger mounting with each passing moment. “Damn you, where is Akshay?”

“I’d be more worried about that woman you’ve seduced.”

Panic flared through his body, clenching his gut like a fist. “What have you done with her?”

“Ella?” Henry straightened his coat. “Nothing.” He turned and started to walk away. “Yet.”

Oooh! Sounds like you've got a good bad guy for us to hate as well! What was hardest about writing this story?

The hardest thing was researching India. I’ve never been there and books I’d found were limited. Sure, I could find information about where to visit and about the political time line of the country, but sadly books about life are always missing in the history section. Just figuring out what color the dirt is becomes difficult when researching. Fortunately my husband has been there a few times for work, so he could give me a feel for the place. I so badly wanted to be accurate, but I’m sure I got something wrong. Religion does come into play in this book and that was another area that was difficult to research. Books and the internet are great sources of information, but nothing beats experience.

I've been in love with India since I first read MM Kaye's THE FAR PAVILLIONS. Kudos for the unique setting.

What would you like readers to know about YOU?

It took me over six years to get published. It was hard, very hard to repeatedly get rejections, to be basically told you’re not good enough. But I kept going because I loved to write. But it doesn’t get any easier once you’re published. I was only able to get an agent after I had sold. Finally, after six years of trying, I had an editor and an agent. Recently I parted ways with my agent. Now, in a way I’m back to where I started, trying to get an agent, trying to sell another book. It’s not easy but I keep going because I love to write and I so badly want to entertain people, to make them believe in happily ever after. With all these interviews I’ve been doing, I hope that if anyone takes anything away from my responses, its not to give up and certainly not to let people tell you you’re not good enough.

Amen! A writer writes, regardless. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Lori.

Thanks Emily! And thanks to all of you for stopping by!You can find more about me and my book on my website and blog:

Lori is too sweet to ask, so I'll put up a BUY LINK anyway! I noticed she got a great cover quote from my fellow New England Chapter RWA Chaptermate--NY Times Bestseller Hannah Howell! And Kensington is offering Lori's Wild Hearts for just $4.99. Such a deal!

Leave a comment or a question for Lori! Two people will win a copy of Wild Heart!

Me? Superstitious?

Last Friday, I picked my DH up at work so he could get a jump on his weekend. (As city-dwellers, we're a one-car family.) Then about 45 minutes after we got home, we got back into the car to go someplace, and the thing would NOT start. (In fact, it's fancy little computer flashed that the start was "PREVENTED"!)

After trying several times, we gave up. Back in the condo, we blew two lightbulbs in less than five minutes, lost our phone and internet connection and decided that perhaps it was good that we were stuck at home if mini-disasters were set on following us around.

It was at that point that we looked at each other and said, "It's Friday the 13th."

This jinxed day has evil roots, being the date of the well-orchestrated mass murder of the Knights Templar, but I'd never really thought about there being anything sinister about a date. Now I'm wondering if sometimes the stars do align for negative outcomes.

What about you? Are you superstitious? Does a black cat scampering across your path give you the willies? Is there anything you avoid because of a superstition?

PS. FYI, the car started on the first try on Saturday morning! Go figure.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pirated Pirate!

Friday Update: Please join me today at THE CHATELAINES where I'm sharing thoughts on my NaNoWriMo experience that are sure to get me in trouble again. And the discussion on sexual harrassment and my real life brush with it is still going on over at House of Muse (where commenters have a chance to win a signed copy of A CHRISTMAS BALL!)

When I read a book, I usually walk in the heroine's shoes. I mean really, who wouldn't want to gaze soulfully into the bodacious eyes of Gabriel Drake from my PLEASURING THE PIRATE?

Guess what? Guys like to try on the hero's boots, too!

Most just don't go this far.

I got this totally giggle-worthy pic from Isaac, a guy who wants to be a pirate in the worst way. Think he managed it, don't you?

Thanks for sharing your photoshop skills with us, Isaac! You make a formidable pirate. May fair seas and saucy maids greet ye where 'er ye go, matey!

How about the rest of you? Have you ever done a photoshop of yourself? Mine is on the header of THE CHATELAINES!

Enter for a chance to win $100 gift card on December 1st!

PS. Today I'm also sharing my first real life experience with sexual harrassment over at Amanda McIntyre's House of Muse. Don't worry. As with all my stories, there's a happy ending.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day

To those who have served our country on foreign soil, to those who rush to danger so that we might enjoy peace and safety, to those who have lost loved ones in the armed service, I send my heartfelt gratitude and deepest respect.

Really Good Drugs . . .

No, I'm not starting a new habit. I'm just in an altered state today because I'm having a colonoscopy done. If there's anything you need to tell me that you really don't want me to know, today's the day to get it off your chest. I will remember squat.

But most of you probably remember that last year about this time I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Thank God and early detection, it was at Stage Two and my treatment only involved surgery, bypassing chemo and radiation. Now we'll learn if that was a good decision. If my colonoscopy is cancer-free, I won't have to have another for 3 years. (Hey! It'll be 2012 and I've heard the world is ending then, so I'm golden!)

This is also my opportunity to nag you a bit. Last month it was mammograms. Now I'm offering a friendly reminder not to forego a screening colonoscopy if your doc recommends one. It could save your life.

And they do give you really good drugs . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Partnering with an Indie Bookstore

I'm delighted to share that I'm partnering with THE BOOK OASIS in Stoneham, Massachusetts! The good folks at THE BOOK OASIS are stocking signed copies of all my titles and have developed a webpage that allows readers outside the New England area to buy autographed books online.

Not taking anything from chain stores--I'm grateful for the support my work receives from them!--but there is also room in the marketplace for the indie bookseller. Most of them offer used as well as new books. Indie booksellers really know their customers and are always on the look out for reads to recommend. And as an independent business owner, an indie bookseller is in a unique position to partner with local authors. THE BOOK OASIS has really pulled out all the stops and created a special page on their website where readers can buy signed copies of my books. (Perfect stocking stuffers!)

I'm looking forward to a signing at THE BOOK OASIS on December 12 from 10:30-12:30. I'll bring some Christmas goodies to share! But if you can't make it, you can still get a signed copy of A CHRISTMAS BALL(or any of my titles)! Deb and Dan will be happy to ship to you. (Sadly, the Christmas cookies won't make the trip, but I'll be posting some holiday recipes soon!.)

Is there an indie bookseller in your town? Do you patronize them?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Night Chat At WritersSpace!

Just a quick note! Tonight USA Today Bestseller Joy Nash and NYTimes Bestseller CL Wilson will be at WritersSpace for a chat and to give away signed copies of their new books, SILVER SILENCE and QUEEN OF SONG AND SOUL. I'll be there offering a signed copy of A CHRISTMAS BALL to someone who chats with us as well. Please join us tonight at 9-10PM EST!

The Rhys Rumble

Gore Vidal said, “Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. As you get older, you get more skillful at casting them.”

The first step for me in peopling my story with interesting characters is deciding on their names. Before THE CHATELAINES (the group blog I share with CL Wilson, Jennifer Ashley, Joy Nash, Gerri Russell, Bonnie Vanak and Cindy Holby) got up and running, the whole gang had some group email discussions about the relative hotness of certain male names. Face it, it’s hard to get excited about a hero named Murgatroyd or Icabod. One name we all agreed had a high hotness quotient was Rhys (pronounced Reece).

I was surprised to learn that several of us had already used, or intended to use, the name. In fact, Rhys is the name of Joy Nash's current hero in SILVER SILENCE. If you love retellings of the Arthurian legend, you have to try Joy's vivid re-imagining of Camelot.

Rhys is also the name of my hero’s father in PLEASURING THE PIRATE. Of course, my Rhys is already dead when the story starts, but that doesn’t diminish his influence over Gabriel. Rhys Drake was a hard man, a driven man, one who demanded much from himself and those around him. His indomitable spirit motivates his son Gabriel to leave a life of piracy and try to reclaim his place as a gentleman.

Would Rhys Drake have ultimately approved? Gabriel will never know. And it maybe wouldn’t matter in the end. Pirates have a tendency to take what they want, devil take the hindermost. Gabriel might not have a swaying deck beneath his feet, but he’s still a pirate at heart.

So that’s the story of my Rhys. Have you read a book with a Rhys in it lately?

What guy names rate high on your hot-o-meter?

PS. Still a few weeks before the drawing for the $100 gift card in my MERRY CHRISTMAS BALL contest! If you haven't done so, be sure to enter!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Found" Pets

This is a picture of my dear little Susie Bell. After a long happy life, we had to let her go yesterday. She was my constant companion (and I do mean constant. I never went anywhere in the condo without her at my heels.) I miss her terribly.

But I don't want this post to be sad. I want it to be hopeful. You see, Susie was a rescued dog. We found her at the pound and nursed her back to health. She rewarded us with years of joy and uncritical love.

If you are considering adding a pet to your family, let me encourage you to by-pass the pricy purebred. There are thousands of homeless pets waiting to be adopted at local shelters. Puppies are fun, but let me also urge you to consider adopting an adult animal. There are far more of them available and they are less likely to be placed in a home. Susie was at least 5 years old when she came to live with us.

Another source of "found" pets is puppy mill rejects. Meet Mack, an Irish Jack Russell. He was born with a surgically correctable defect, but the breeder was going to put him down since the defect rendered him unsell-able. Instead, Mack came to live with us. His problem was fixed and he's been a happy, healthy addition to our family for the last four years. He's a natural clown and so smart we suspect he can both spell and count to at least 3.

If your heart is set on a specific breed, another place to look for a "found" pet is among rescue societies dedicated to certain breeds, like retired dog track greyhounds.

If you do bring a dog into your family, you open yourself to heartache, but the love and laughs they bring to their owners' lives far outweighs the eventual sadness.

Do you have a "found" pet? Please share your story. Someone else may be moved to save a little life.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Furry Friend

My little dog Susie is very sick. (You can see a picture of her in her usual position on my website under Writing Space.)

She's been with us for 11 years. We found her at an animal shelter in 1998, where she'd been dropped off. She was ill, filthy and had been abused. It took her 6 months to make up with my DH, who loves dogs and is the gentlest of men. If one of us put on a ball cap, she'd go into spasms. Somewhere out there, there's a meany-head in a ball cap. She had no idea what to do with a dog toy or a bone. She wouldn't play at first. She was like a puppy-cipher.

But Susie's personality came back. She learned to love and trust my DH. She began to frisk around. She still doesn't pay any attention to toys, but she loves us and paws the air to greet us when we've been gone for more than 15 minutes. She's been very easy-going about change, making 4 different moves with us. She asks nothing more of life than to spend her days snugged up in the "writing chair" with me.

She's been getting more frail in the past years. Sometimes, her back legs don't seem to do what she wants them to. The people at the pound said her previous owners told them she was about 5 at the time of her drop-off. The vet we took her to said her teeth seemed much older, so there's no telling how old she is now. We always say at least 16.

She's had a bad week with frequent accidents, which is not like her. Yesterday was particularly bad and last night, I couldn't let her sleep at the foot of our bed as usual because she kept wanting to go out every 15 minutes (quite a production when you live in a condo), whether she had any reason to go once she got there or not. After the fourth time out, I put her in her puppy carrier, so my DH and I could get a little sleep. It broke my heart to hear her cry.

I'm making an appointment with her vet today and I'm afraid it may be "that visit." The one where we have to decide. I don't want her to suffer and this week she has. Her little body seems to be wearing out. But if she's just got a GI bug, maybe they can help her. She's bounced back from illness before.

Please say a little prayer for Susie. Do you have a pet?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'll try anything . . .


After the NaNoWriMo posts yesterday, I decided that anything that seems to motivate writers, that encourages them to get the story out was something that deserved a second look.

I signed up. But I didn't download any mean software that would eat my words unless I maintained a certain tempo in my writing. That just gave me the willies.

I sat down to write today, not really sure where I was going. I haven't done all my pre-writing as usual. I didn't even have character names till this morning. And the notion of just keeping my fingers going seems counter-productive to me. So I did NaNo my way.

I set a timer for 20 minutes. For that length of time, I would only go forward. I had a little over 600 words when I heard the first ding. I reset the timer and as a reward to myself, I went back to tweak what I'd done. At the end of that 20 minutes, I had nearly 800 words. Words I was proud of.

I continued like that for some time (about 4 1/2 hours or so) and before I knew it, I had over 3000 words/ 14 pages, which is pretty close to my all time high output. On a story I knew very little about before I started writing it this morning.

This could work.

At one point I took a break and walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes, ideas for the story churning with each step. I'm excited about this new process of 20 minutes forward/20 back. I've done it before but usually only once a day. Not sure it's sustainable, but I'm willing to give it a go.

So for those of you who are doing NaNo, please "buddy" me. I'm signed up as EmilyBryan. I'll be happy to cheer your progress and share tips with each other.

Will I hit 50K by November 30th? Probably not. And will I feel bad about it? No. I'll be further along on something than if I didn't give it a try. Should you feel bad if you don't try it? Absolutely not. I'm not even doing it right. It would make me crazy not to go back and fix things, so I realize I'm not proceeding in the spirit of Nano which is only plunging forward. I think it's important to be aware of my own limitations and going a little nuts over not being able to fix things in a timely manner is one of them. But I'll try Nano for now.

Just don't expect me to sign up for that "Write or Die" option.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo . . . Not so much.

I've checked out the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) website. Lots of authors I totally respect are signed up and typing away furiously. Writers are challenged to complete a 50K novel in one month. It seems like a great way to make a writer push forward. And yet . . .

I'm not a fan.

There seems to be more stick than carrot here. Depending on which sort of motivation you sign up for, your novel can start "unwriting" itself if you fail to meet your quota of words. Doesn't trip my trigger. Even the more gentle version seems a bit naggy to me.

If you visit National Novel Writers Month's website, they freely admit you will be writing a large amount of junk. And I quote:

"Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing."

Hmmmm. . . Why is that a good thing?

I'm in favor of getting out of my own way and letting words flow. I regularly set a timer and promise myself that for the next 20 minutes I'll only go forward. But when the timer dings, I go back and clean up my mess. 50,000 words of mess would totally overwhelm me.

I'm all for re-writing. I do it all the time. In small manageable increments.

But Donald Maas, author of WRITING THE BREAK-OUT NOVEL and noted literary agent, says it's better to get things right the first time. My goal when I type THE END is to have a manuscript that, in a pinch, I could send right in. (However, neurotic wretch that I am, I usually try to arrange matters so that I have a few weeks to tweak things before I let my editor have a crack at it.)

Now, I'm not saying I can't pants a novel. I wrote both my novella in A CHRISTMAS BALL and my upcoming STROKE OF GENIUS without bothering to put together a synopsis first. The freedom of flying without a net is wonderfully exciting.

But there's a certain amount of pre-writing I need to do to prime the pump. I need to have a clear picture of my characters and their goals. I know a number of the major plot points. The rough shape of the story is in my head, even if the details are fuzzy. I need to know when and where the story takes place and how the events going on in the world at that time impact my characters' lives. As a historical author, I'm constantly researching as I write.

If I devoted a whole month to quantity of output instead of trying to make the quality of the writing the best I can, I would be wasting my time. I belong to the tortoise school of authorship. Slow and steady wins the race. Regular, sustainable writing is more productive for me than manic outbursts. Even when I was working 40 hours a week at a day job, I had a daily and weekly page count goal (it was 25 a week then which will get you 400 pages in 4 months. 3 completed manuscripts a year. Not bad for a turtle!)

That said, there are as many ways to write a book as there are authors out there doing it. If NaNoWriMo works for you, go for it. I'm happy for you.

It would drive me crazy.

And if you are a tortoise like me, don't let anyone make you feel bad about it. She also writes who does a little everyday.

If you think I'm wrong, please feel free to point out whatever I've missed. For those of you slugging it out in the trenches, do you have a daily page count? Weekly? Do you have a finish date for your current WIP?

PS. Just to show there's no hard feelings, here's a link for a contest especially for NaNo Writers: First Sentence Contest.