Monday, December 31, 2012

Stirring a Hunger

As I write this, it's Sunday night, it's cold, I'm tired, and I'm already thinking about bed. The TV is on, and the commercials are driving me nuts. Philadelphia Cream Cheese slathered on a toasted bagel, when we have neither Philly nor bagels in the house. Close-ups of a big greasy burger with crispy fries from a restaurant on the far side of Tulsa. Fresh blueberries. Barbecued ribs with a side of pickles and onions. Drool . . . sigh . . .

The ads are definitely working . . . but they're making my dinner salad look pretty sad in comparison. It's just not fair.

Friday, December 28, 2012

You Know What They Say About Good Intentions?

The road to hell is paved with them.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would set a schedule and stick to it: post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Like clockwork. No excuses.


The truth is, I've never stuck to a schedule in my life except for school, where I could be punished for being late, and when I worked in the real world, where I could lose my job for being late. I do meet most of my deadlines on time (or very close), but I'm horrible about actually doing things in a timely fashion.

The funny thing about it is I've been like this my entire life, and yet I still manage to fool myself totally. Oh, yeah, I'm gonna blog three days a week. I'm gonna walk every morning after breakfast. I'm gonna clean house today. Or tomorrow at the latest.

I'm cynical as can be when it comes to people, situations, politics, but when it comes to myself, I'm the most gullible one out there.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Parties and Jobs

I often think when we're trying to celebrate something with more than four people that regular jobs certainly get in the way of having fun.

Due to various commitments, my family had Christmas Eve last night -- the only time every single one of us could be there. We had great food (my contribution was chips, crackers and a block of softened cream cheese with Meg's red pepper jelly poured over it -- delicious!), and the kids were a hoot. While they were opening gifts, we somehow broke into a group chorus of "Soft Kitty" from The Big Bang Theory. My niece Kate commented, "Some families sing Christmas carols. We sing 'Soft Kitty.'"

Nephew #1 is at the age that his gifts aren't much fun in the moment -- video games, gift cards, cash. My grandson and Nephew #2 were thrilled with every package they ripped open -- lots of squeals, wows, and requests to take items out of their packages. (Have you ever noticed that toys have enough plastic ties, wires and packaging to make removing them a major ordeal?) Baby Nephew is ten months -- just old enough to like the wrapping as much as the gifts. The ornament with his initial went into his mouth every time his mom wasn't looking.

I'm still ready to see the last of the this holiday season, but for all of you out there who are feeling more elfish than I am, may you have a "Soft Kitty" Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Christmas Tree!

Charisse asked if I would post pictures of the tree when it was finished so, Charisse, these are for you.

Hm. Bit of a blur, huh? Is this better?

Okay, here's the real thing, though you can hardly see the lights on.

It's decorated entirely with glass ornaments that I painted last year. I know some of the colors aren't exactly Christmas colors, but they really pop, and it's my tree so I get to use colors that make me happy. Here are a few close-ups:

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Two Hours, Four Phone Calls, A Dozen Emails, Two Dozen Curses . . . or Setting up a PayPal Account

Yesterday I tried to set up a PayPal account. I had one oh, so many years ago, but lost my password and changed my e-mail address. I couldn't get in to change the address, and when I tried to reset my password, they kept sending the new one to the old address which I no longer had. After a while of tearing out my hair, I gave up.

But, yes, the time has come when PayPal seems desirable again. So I created the account and everything went great until I tried to add my bank account. Nope, that account was associated with the old account.  At least this time I could get a new code by phone that allowed me to access that account. I went in to delete it, but they had to have a current email address first. I tried to use my primary address (couldn't -- it was tied to the new account). I was able to add my husband's address to it, get it verified and then close the account.

Next I went back to the new account and tried to add the bank again. Couldn't do it. That bank was associated with another account. So back I went to the beginning, searching for an account for which I didn't know the email or password. Another couple phone calls, adding a new address, verifying it, closing that account . . .

Finally I got the bank added to the new account.

And I wrote down the email address and the password.

In three places.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Hero to Come Home To

Ta-da! The first book in the Tuesday Night Margarita Club/Tallgrass series is done!

Well, at least for me. The cover's still being finalized, and the production and sales people still have their stuff to do, but as of 10:20 last night, I've finished the page proofs and won't see the book again until it's been printed and bound and my author copies have arrived.

It was both sad and sweet reading the book. I still love the story, so that's good. But saying goodbye to Carly and Dane was kind of sad. Oh, they'll show up in the following books -- they get married in Book 3 -- but not as major characters. Their story is told. Therese and Keegan's story is already told, too, and Jessy and Dalton's is in the works. In fact, when I'm not writing, I'm working out story ideas for Lucy, Marti, Fia and Ilena. And when those are done, there's Bennie, Leah, Noah, Dillon and LoLo, and I'm sure more characters will pop up with their own romances.

That's one of many good things about a series: there's always someone else with a tale so you're never at a loss for ideas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ethnic Characters

Years ago I heard this advice from two writers: white authors shouldn't feature major characters who were Native American or African American because they don't "get" them. (The first writer was Native American, the other African American.) The mandate kind of surprised me, since I'd started in publishing writing ethnic heroes and heroines, and I'd read plenty of books I'd loved featuring characters of a different ethnicity than the authors.

For whatever reason, those opinions stuck with me for a long time, until I'd written the last of my Southern Knights/Serenity Street series, when a reader asked if I would make a particular character the heroine of her own story and give her the happily-ever-after she deserved. I kind of stumbled around in an answer, until the reader said, "You're hesitating because she's black, aren't you?"

I admitted that I'd been told by other authors that I shouldn't do ethnic heroes or heroines, and she laughed. "I'm black," she said, "and I'm asking you to write this black woman's story."

She went on to point out that, regardless of bad advice, I did write black characters; they were just secondary characters. She reminded me that, first and foremost, heroes and heroines were people. Forget the color of their skin: at their core, they were men and women who hoped and tried and won and failed and were lonely and happy and angry and loved or neglected. They had dreams; they had disappointments. Nail the emotions, she said. That was what readers wanted. The rest would follow.

Though I haven't written that final Serenity Street book, I did take the woman's advice to heart. I learned that, basically, writing a character of a particular ethnic background is no different than a character from a specific geographic background or even a character in a particular occupation. I've read books set in my home state of Oklahoma where it's apparent the author thinks we're all cowboys or Indians, uneducated or oil-wealthy, living in log cabins or soddies or mansions. I've read books with Southern characters who are caricatures from Gone with the Wind  or Hee-Haw. I've read books with a military background where even the basic terminology, ranks, ideas, are miles off the mark.

And I've read books written by people who have never set foot in my state but nailed the characters. Who haven't gotten closer to the South than looking at a map but write as if they grew up in Macon or Charleston or Raleigh. Whose only interaction with a police office has been talking their way out of a speeding ticket but who write cops so believable, you'd think they either were cops themselves or were married to one.

The key is research. We don't have to be murderers to be able to write people who are. We don't need to be white, black, Indian, cowboy, soldier, cop, schoolteacher, Christian, atheist, Jew, mother, father, child to be able to write characters who are. We need to research the backgrounds of our characters, though. We need to know them, inside and out. We need to do them justice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pecan Pie

My mother's goal in retirement was to learn to make an absolutely perfect, flaky, delicious pie pastry.

My life's goal has been to never eat pie crust if I can possibly avoid it. So far, I've done quite well, thank you, though there are those irritating bits that scrape off on the fork when I'm scooping out the filling. Someday I'm going to try baking this pie without the crust. If it works, problem solved, right?

Our son was six or seven when we moved to South Carolina the third time. Our first morning there, we went to a pancake place and he ordered a "puh-CAHN" waffle. "That's one PEE-can waffle?" the waitress repeated. No, he replied. Puh-CAHN.

(I've erased from memory the remarks he made when she brought grits to go with the waffle. Mercifully.)

That year we didn't get to come home to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, so I asked for requests. His dad always wanted mincemeat pie. (I don't care if it is sold in a grocery store, mincement is NOT edible.) The kiddo asked for a pecan pie and sat at the counter sneaking nuts while I made it. He was totally uninterested while I mixed the eggs, Karo, sugar and butter, but when I started to pour it into the pie crust, he got distraught.

"What are you doing? That stuff is gross. It doesn't go in a pecan pie!"

"Then what DOES go in?" I asked.

He shrugged, rolled his eyes as if I were the dumbest baker in the world and said, "Pecans. And crust. That's all."

This from a child who ate Cool Whip on sandwich bread.

Everyone's a critic.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Parades and Route 66

If you're my age or older, you probably remember hearing the song/saying/whatever the heck it was: Get your kicks on Route 66.

66 was opened in the 1920s and ran nearly 2500 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. It meanders across Oklahoma -- we had more miles of it than any other state. Because of its importance in travel and migration, it's also called the Main Street of America and the Mother Road.

We just called it "our road."

The house where my sisters and I grew up is located maybe a hundred feet off one of the remaining sections of the old original 66 outside Sapulpa (right down the road from the TeePee Drive-In). I learned to ride my bike on that road. To skateboard and, later, to drive. We used to trek down it to visit my granny (when we decided not to cut across the fields, climb two barbed-wire fences and cross the railroad tracks) and up it to visit friends. It was nothing special back then, not to us. When people would come out in their restored old automobiles and convoy past the house (sometimes dressed to match the period of the cars), I just thought they were weird.

Anyway, back to the present . . . last night was Sapulpa's Christmas parade, and the theme was our road. There were old cars, girls in poodle skirts, old old fire engines and trucks, and a couple floats that represented the TeePee and some other places along the highway (the Blue Whale, Carl's Pigstand, Wimpy's Cafe, the old Dairy Queen). It would have felt a little more appropriate had we gone downtown to Dewey Street, which IS Route 66, to watch, but it was a nice trip back in time as it was.

And after freezing my butt off, listening to the music and watching the little boy beside us absolutely beam with excitement, I'm thinking at least some of the blah might be leaving my humbug!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Deck the Halls, Blah Blah Blah

I'm not a Christmas sort of girl. I usually do some decorating, but over the years it's gotten less and less. I have an entire large closet packed to the brim with ornaments, wreaths, lights (about 5,000, give or take), stockings, etc., but I can't remember the last year I actually used all of it.

Having five in-house dogs means decorating takes a little extra effort. No live tree, because when we tried that, they peed on it every day. Nothing within their reach, either, so the artificial tree has to be mounted on a table 3' tall, and breakables have to be wired onto the branches for the times they misjudge their mad dashes through the house and crash into the table. No stockings hanging from the fireplace where they can yank them down. No Father Christmases or elaborately dressed angels on low surfaces, either, because they're just so darn much fun to chew on or cuddle with.

This year I don't have the tree up yet, and I'm not sure I actually care. Once we put it up, after a few weeks, I'll just have to start thinking about taking it down again. I haven't done any shopping -- everyone just wants money. I haven't even gotten out the old Elvis Presley CD of Christmas tunes.

Though it's not all bah humbug around here. I watched Elf the other day, laughed in the right places, and even sang along.

Nineteen days until Christmas. I'll either get in the mood or the holiday will be over and I won't have to think about it again until next year.

That's an idea I can get behind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quirky Names

I read somewhere recently that actor Rob Morrow named his kid Tu Morrow.

One of my cousins has a daughter named Harleigh Davidson.

My kid went to school with a girl whose name was pronounced "TOE-shane." Kind of pretty, isn't it? Unfortunately, it was spelled "Towchain." Did her mother see a wrecker on the way to the hospital to deliver?

But the quirky names I really want to talk about today are character names. I've had a few, usually by accident. Like Chance Reynard in A Little Bit Dangerous. I knew "chance" meant luck or fortune in French, but I used the last name of my friend, Monica. (The book was dedicated to her, too.) I didn't know until the book was done and my editor told me that "reynard" meant fox in French.

In the Tuesday Night Margarita Club/Tallgrass series, I've got twin brothers, Dalton and Dillon. I named Dalton first, knew that because of the family tradition, his brother's name also had to begin with a D, and chose Dillon. It wasn't until my editor mentioned Marshal Dillon and the Dalton gang that I recognized the significance. You'd think someone born and raised in Oklahoma would have caught on right away, but I didn't.

Not long ago I read a review of a book that takes place in Texas in which the three best friends are named Dallas, Austin and Houston. Now I'm reading a book in which the hero and his brothers are named Clay Rhodes, Stony Rhodes, and Tulane Rhodes.

So now I'm curious. What's your thought on quirky character names? Do they make you smile or roll your eyes, or do you just not care?

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Thank you, Christy Olesen, for tagging me for The Next Big Thing Blog Hop.

The Next Big Thing blog hop poses a series of questions to writers about their current WIP. Since I've got two works-in-progress (A Love to Call Her Own in the Tuesday Night Margarita Club/Tallgrass series and an as-yet untitled story in the Copper Lake series), I've decided to answer the questions about my next book, already written and on the schedule.

What is the working title of your book?

The book is Copper Lake Confidential and is scheduled with Harlequin Romantic Suspense for April 2013. That means it will actually be on the shelves around mid- to late March.

I'd like to be able to tell you what number in the series it is, but I've lost track. Tenth? Twelfth? There've been a bunch. It stands alone, though. You don't need to know anything about the previous books to enjoy it.

Where did the idea of the book come from?

I have a real fondness for atmospheric stories – you know, creepy, ghosty, spine-tingling types – and I love vulnerable, flawed characters. Usually it's my heroes who have issues, but in this one Stephen's as normal as a hero could be, while it's Macy who's got problems. After her husband's death revealed horrific secrets about the man she loved, she wound up in a psychiatric ward for a time. She's trying to take back her life – and begin caring once again for her three-year-old daughter – but either she's going crazy again . . . or someone's trying to make her think so.

What genre does your book fall under?

This one is romantic suspense, though, like I said, more of a psychological suspense. I can write action scenes. I just prefer to raise goosebumps.

Which actor would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Um . . . here's one of my quirks: I don't watch many movies or watch a whole lot of television. (Getting fewer than a dozen channels helps with that.) I don't recognize most people on the screen or in magazines like People.

I was lucky enough to have a movie made from my book, Season for Miracles. I didn't know who David Conrad was at the time, but no one else could ever possibly be Nathan; he made that character his own. So I'd leave the casting to someone who's actually familiar with actors.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Ugh. I'm a big believer that more is more. Why say in twenty words what I can put into two hundred? Let's see . . .

Macy Howard's come home to Copper Lake to put the past to rest so she can make a new start for herself and little Clary, but when danger stalks her, she begins to doubt her competence and her sanity. The only thing she doesn't doubt is new neighbor Stephen Noble, who believes in her when she can't believe in herself.

Okay, so it's two sentences. Close enough, right?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Harlequin.

How long did it take you to finish the first draft of your project?

I'm a first-draft writer. Probably 99% of what you see in the published book is my original version. It generally takes me about five to six weeks to write a 70,000-word book. Each day when I start work, I reread the pages I wrote the day before, and I make whatever changes are necessary then.

I love that I normally don't have to do second drafts or revisions, because usually by the time I reach the end of a story, I'm so ready for it to be done that I'd kill the characters rather than live with them any longer.  

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Um, other Harlequin Romantic Suspenses, I guess. In the past, my romantic suspense books have been compared to Sandra Brown's, JD Robb/Nora Roberts's and Linda Howard's, and my straight romances with Robyn Carr's and Debbie Macomber's.

Who or what inspired you to write this story?

I love the Copper Lake series, with Copper Lake Scandal my all-time favorite. The villain in that book had a wife and an infant daughter whom he adored. I always think a villain, to be effective, has to have some redeeming traits. After finishing that book, I wondered from time to time about that wife. What happened to her after her husband's death? After all his creepy, horrifying secrets came out?

What else about your book may pique readers’ interest?

There's a dog in it – isn't there usually? Scooter is a yellow Lab mix who shares a lot of traits with my own puppers. He's not only the mechanism through which Macy and Stephen meet, but he's a lot of fun, too.

So now that I've answered the questions, I'm supposed to tag some other authors to find out what's THE NEXT BIG THING they're working on. I'm choosing some of my favorite people:

Linda Trout (new book out!)

Lynn Somerville (new book out!)

M.A. Golla (great middle-grade fantasy books, with a Christmas tale available now!)

Susan Shay (just sold my favorite of everything she's ever written!)