Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving in to the holiday spirit

No, I'm still not ready, but ...

I read that short Christmas story I bought. Couldn't help myself. And you know what? It made me feel better. It was like watching a Hallmark Channel movie, and it was short and sweet and "feel-good." Sometimes that's all it takes to let go of the hustle and bustle of what lies ahead.

Hey, Thanksgiving is next week! That means I get to cook and bake. Yummy! Cookies! And sweet rolls. And turkey and mashed potatoes. Do you have traditional holiday dishes?

One of my favorite things to do with extra time off is to curl up in my favorite chair and read. And because I'm feeling the holiday spirit, I'll be running specials on two of my books in case you'd allow me to tell you a story. The e-book versions of my first two books, Touched by the Sun and Intimate Distance will be on sale for just $0.99 for a limited time! Touched by the Sun is the first in the Northwest Suburbs series (stand-alone stories, familiar characters).

Sharing the love, from me to you, and hoping you'll pay it forward.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pre-Holiday Stress

In case anyone hasn't heard, I do love Christmas. Really. Carols, movies, books, cookies, the whole she-bang. But you know what? It's November 12. Know what else? I went to a store two weeks ago, right after Halloween, and heard Christmas music.


I watched television the other night, and they are running Christmas ads.


The babies are having birthdays this weekend. Thanksgiving is around the corner. And yes, Thanksgiving is late this year, which means less time for Christmas shopping. And THEN, I got an email about Christmas cookies. Now I am a cookie-holic, and I will always set aside time to make Christmas cookies, but right now, I'm feeling overwhelmed.


All of that aside, yes, I got suckered into a Christmas movie on one of those channels that run Christmas movies all through December (and now through November as well).

Taking a deep breath. Everything will fall into place. Kundigerin 2 is two-thirds written and isn't due to the editor until February (of course a lot has to happen to it once I finish it, so that is less time than you think!) Next year is already presenting challenges for me, but one day at a time. Right?

I will visit the babies first (I have their birthday presents!). Then I will look ahead to Thanksgiving and enjoy the people I am able to spend the day with. And THEN I will venture into Christmas territory. The writing part of it will fall into place and if all else fails, I still have vacation time at the day job that I can use to accomplish any of the tasks that fall behind.

The advertising agencies may be trying to rush me with premature holiday stress, but in the end, it's about sharing the season with the people you love. All the rest is just window dressing.

Did I mention I bought my first holiday book to read? Yeah, I'll get to it eventually. In the end, I'm still a sucker for the holidays. Even if I'm not ready.

If you're looking for holiday cookie ideas, visit my Pinterest Cookie page. Happy to relieve whatever stress I can!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing (and Rearing Children) -- Phases

We spend our lives living through phases. "Oh, she's just a kid." "High schoolers. What are you gonna do?" From graduating kindergarten, when children don't know anything other than what their parents teach them, to grade school, where the world begins to open up to them, to middle school when hormones begin to rear their ugly heads, life is a series of phases. From "I can't live without my mommy," to "I love my mommy," to "I hate my mother!", parents have generally seen it from all angles. The only thing we can rely on during these testing years is that we lived through them ourselves. Every time we enter a new phase, we relive our own lives during that difficult period and remember how we felt. Well, maybe not every phase, but generally. It's the only thing that makes some of the ugly parts bearable, knowing it will pass and life will shift once again.

Writing isn't altogether different. In many ways, our novels are our children. From the discovery phase, where the story is exciting and intriguing and new and fun--we are attached to it in a symbiotic bond that we're sure can't be severed. Until the dreaded middle. Suddenly, the story is acting up. This isn't how it was supposed to go. The characters are fighting with you, the plot isn't working the way it should and you are in a state of distress. How am I going to survive this phase? Until eventually, you find your way again. You make peace with your characters, the plot moves on, and you get to the end of the story with a feeling of accomplishment, that you created something good. Granted, not all novels are good. Some require more effort on our part as an author. And some are beyond help. Writing, as in parenting, requires one thing. You can only do you best. When the time comes to let your baby out into the world, you hope you've done everything you can to launch them successfully.

I'm so pleased with (and thank you for all who were a part of) the launch of Return to Hoffman Grove, and yet I still wonder if it will succeed. This one is my altruistic child, my do-gooder. Those are the ones you want to see do well because they are the ones who help others along their journey (I'm still sharing royalties with the crisis center).

Meanwhile, I'm struggling with my "teenager" of a book, my next project. Through the excitement of discovery where I was putting down pages at breakneck pace, I'm now in that middle section where I'm arguing with every word. It's a struggle, just like raising teenagers. And every one is different. Some are easier to work with than others. The thing that keeps me going is realizing this is a phase. This, too, shall pass, and then I'll look back fondly on this moment and know that the effort was all worth it in the end.

But while you're in the thick of it, it's still a struggle.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Which of my books is my favorite?

I had lunch last weekend with a group of ladies I went to high school with. They were kind enough to ask about my new release and one of the questions (and one I'm frequently asked) was which of my books is my favorite.  The easy answer is obvious. All of them. But then I broke it down for them.

Because this is a high school reunion year for me, it was easy to tell them that my latest, Return to Hoffman Grove, is one of my favorites, because I revisited some of the things I remembered from high school. My books are NOT autobiographical, but that doesn't mean some of the scenes I wrote aren't based on my observations--and as an author, I embellished some of those scenes for dramatic effect.

Each of my novels has a favorite part for me. While re-editing Intimate Distance, I fell in love with Uncle Vinnie again. He was my favorite character, providing love and support when Julianne felt unloveable and alone.

Touched by the Sun remains one of my favorites because it was my first "major" inspiration. I've always been fascinated with Pompeii, from the time I wrote a term paper on it in eighth grade. Add in my religious background with St. Paul roaming the region in a logical time frame, I couldn't stop my imagination from piecing the two together. The Holy Grail? Buried by Mount Vesuvius? I had to write the story!

Living Canvas was a throwback to my Night Gallery days. I was the kid who loved watching Creature Features (much to the chagrin of babysitters on those nights my parents went out). It was also my first "travel diary," sharing some of the beautiful places I've visited with my main character. I  also added my experiences with bed and breakfast inns and there was a house (not a bed and breakfast) which I drove past regularly that captivated my imagination (hence, Castle Valley Inn).

Mist on the Meadow is a nod to my German heritage, combined with my bizarre imagination. I wanted to write about that "moment of grace" when I was driving to work one foggy morning, and a buck stood at the edge of the woods huffing a cloud of breath into the cold air. It was a magical moment for me, and from that moment alone, the story was born.

Heart for Rent came from a visit to France. Walking through the outdoor market on the square. Another of those magical moments in my life (I'm easily impressed by the most ridiculous things!) I wasn't sure how to incorporate that into a story, and decided my main character was renting out her house back home while she struggled with personal demons.

So which is my favorite? Well, each of them touched me enough to write them, and each one allowed me to share a piece of myself and my experiences. (That's the "write what you know" part of writing.)

I wrote a book a few years ago which I haven't yet edited for public consumption that was inspired by an old  made-for-TV movie. Epitaph (a haunted house story) will eventually get dusted off and "fixed," but in the meantime, I'm working on the second Kundigerin book (second in the Mist on the Meadow trilogy). My plan is to complete both the second and the third book, and I have an inspiration for the next stand-alone to follow them. The inspiration? Tromp L'eoil. I saw the most fascinating YouTube video ... (did I mention I'm easily impressed by the most ridiculous things?) No idea where I'm taking it yet, but looks like a fun starting point, no?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing a Dedication

There are lots of people who help during the course of writing a novel, from editors, to family, to friends, to research sources. As an author, its important to recognize people for their part in making my book the best it can be, and often, I forget someone. I've started keeping better notes as I go along, but it's still not a perfect science. Some of the people help in ways other than the obvious, some are part of the inspiration.

The obvious ones are those who helped me with my research, like the ladies at the Community Crisis Center. Among those I forgot to include are my sister for her information on fires and insurance and restoration scenarios. She helped in other areas as well, so here's my shout out: Thank you, Robyn!

I often include someone who inadvertently helped to inspire a character or a scene -- and in this story, through the magic of Facebook, I had the opportunity to reconnect with my former tennis coach. Sharing memories brought back fun times and resurfaced old memories. One of those memories, a 30-second experience dating back to puberty, launched the idea for Return to Hoffman Grove.

Personal memories get reshaped in a book. Things I witnessed (but didn't live first-hand), people I didn't know well but empathized with. I played tennis with a hot-head who threw his racket into the fence, but I didn't know him very well off the court. I played with a girl whose father gave her hell for losing the first time she met an unknown, untried opponent on the practice court -- someone who usurped her spot as Number One on the team. Again, I didn't know her off the court, but these memories helped me to shape the characters you see in the book. Imagine what it must have been like to be that person! Art imitating life, molded to suit the purposes of a story.

Along with the situational memories, I remembered one of the stars of the tennis team. I can't say he inspired the story in any way, but he is part of the tennis memories that shaped the backstory of this novel. I have other memories of The Nice Guy. His murder would make a novel in itself, but I don't know that I could do that story justice. Instead, I wanted to remember his talent and the mark he left during his short life. He made an impression on me, as he did with most of the people he crossed paths with. Although he doesn't make an appearance in the book, he is part of the memories that went into it.

Inspirations come from all sorts of unusual places. For me, it's important to acknowledge them in my dedications -- story related or otherwise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Deadline Day!

First - I need to thank everyone who showed up to the FaceBook launch and also to the folks who ventured out to the library to meet me live and in person! I hope you all enjoy Return to Hoffman Grove and I'm looking forward to reading the reviews on what you thought of it! I will continue to share my royalties (ebook and paperback) with the Community Crisis Center through July 1 of next year, so if you like the book, recommend it to a friend and support a good cause while you're at it.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: one of my male coworkers stopped by my desk to congratulate me on my sixth release and told me he planned to buy a couple of my books to find out about my writing. Here's the secret. I'm always surprised when a man wants to read my books. Not that men don't appreciate romance, but because it is so much a woman's genre that I'm always caught a little off guard. I did warn him (because I didn't want him to be surprised), along with a reminder that I write FICTION. It's all made up.

And speaking of work, today is deadline day. I'm not ashamed to tell you that many of my posts are written ahead of time and post on a schedule. This has certainly been an exciting week for me, with the book launch, the book signing and assorted out-of-town visitors added in. Oh, and did I mention the deadline? (oh, I did. Sorry.) And so this post is auto-launching while I am no doubt pulling my hair out and trying to maintain a semblance of order to the chaos that accompanies these days. Fortunately, I have a well-developed (if not overdeveloped) sense of order.

Next week I'll dive back into the second of the Kundigerin trilogy. And no, that's not procrastination, that's me trying to keep up with everything without losing my mind. The story is coming along nicely, I'm past the halfway point, but I need "alone time" with it. It's time for the antagonist to get nasty, and that always causes me a little turmoil. Once my life settles again, rest assured I will go full speed ahead with the writing. I've reserved a spot with the editor, so I have a deadline to meet.

Holiday season anyone?  Oh. Sorry. Sarcasm. It's all good. Just a little high-stress for a little while. I'll be back next week, hopefully without a straight jacket....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Character interview - Brody Parkhill

Return to Hoffman Grove will be available for sale in just a few short days! (Sunday, to be exact.) Until then, you can pre-order the ebook for $0.99 at the links to the right. After that, it will sell for $3.99.

In preparation for the launch, I'm interviewing the hero of the book, Brody Parkhill. (No, he's not a real person. Yes, this is slightly schizophrenic, but this is how I find out more about my characters.)

Me: Hi! I'm so glad you could join us today. We met Cinda and Audrey in Living Canvas, but your name never came up. How do you know the ladies?

BP: We all went to high school together. In fact, Cinda was my best friend back then, but after graduation, I went out into the world "to seek my fortune." The rest of the gang I used to hang out with all stayed around town.

Me: You said Cinda was your best friend. How did you meet her?

BP: We played on a co-ed tennis team every summer, from junior high into high school. She and I used to compete for the tops spots on the team, and we occasionally played mixed doubles to break a tie at the tennis meets.

Me: It was the tennis that drew you together?

BP: Well, not really. I mean we had that in common, but it wasn't until I found out what an idiot  her father was that I actually noticed her. He gave her a hard time when she didn't win, chastised her for not being good enough, when she was actually damn good. I know what that feels like. I had a rough time with my dad, too. I guess I felt sorry for her, and once we started talking to each other, we realized we had more in common than we thought.

Me: So you started dating?

BP: {chuckles} We never dated back then. We were both too screwed up to attempt any sort of mature relationship. Mostly, we went out with our group of friends to commiserate about our dysfunctional home lives. For some of us, living through the day was an accomplishment. Add in teenage insecurities, lack of self-confidence, those things make it hard to maintain an emotional commitment.

Me: It says here you were gone for nine years, that no one knew what happened to you except your mother. Why didn't you keep in touch with your friends?

 BP: I was a bit of a hot-head. My temper got the better of me more often that I would have liked. I quit the tennis team when my closest opponent won the scholarship I wanted, and he got it because of my bad temperament. I started running instead, cutting myself off from everybody so they wouldn't see me as a loser. Whenever I tried to let Cinda know how I really felt about her, she used to joke and laugh me off. I figured that was her way of telling me she wasn't interested. It was easier to walk away than be rejected.

Me: But when you told her you were going to move away, didn't she ask to go with you?

BP: Have you seen her? The woman flips my switches. I couldn't live with her and maintain a platonic relationship, and if I pressed the issue, I would have lost my best friend. No, for the the same reason I quit tennis and took up running, I figured I'd be better on my own. I learned how to control my temper better when I was alone.

Me: I'm hearing that you had a few outbursts after your return to town though.

BP: {chuckles again} Yeah, well. After I left town, I didn't care enough about anything to get myself worked up. I didn't know anyone, didn't take the time to get to know anyone when I moved away. When I came home, my emotions rose right back to the surface.

Me:  Once a hot-head, always a hot-head?

BP: I prefer to think of myself as passionate, now. I know how to control my temper.

Me:  You have some friends who have tangled with domestic violence. Do you ever worry that your temper will push you too far and you might hurt the people you love?

BP: Absolutely not. I've found other outlets for my anger. I would never intentionally hurt the people I love. Anyone who threatens me and those people is another matter. I went a long time without my friends and family. I'd do whatever was necessary to protect them now that I have them back.

Me:  And you and Cinda?

BP: Man, she was mad at me for leaving her behind! I had no idea. I really didn't think she'd even notice I was gone. She has a passionate nature, too, and that bubbled up when we ran into each other again after all these years. I probably should have guessed right away from her reaction that she was fighting the same emotions I did. If she didn't care about me, she wouldn't have been so angry that I'd gone, right? All I can say is as much as I never thought I'd step foot in my home town again, I found out a lot about myself, including it's all right to be a hot-head sometimes. It's better than being numb, walking through life not feeling anything and not caring about anyone.

Me: Welcome back to Hoffman Grove, Brody!