Friday, January 30, 2009

Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Welcomes the Fabulous Barbara Mountjoy!











A published writer since the age of 18, Barbara Mountjoy studied at the Honors College at Kent State before sidetracking through motherhood and law school. Currently on her third family, this one with three special needs children, and her 14th novel manuscript, she has a regular writing gig as the Technology Reporter at Firefox.org. while holding down a part-time family law practice.

Her first book, 101 Little Instructions for Surviving Your Divorce, was published by Impact Publishers in 1999. She contributed a story called "Under the Big Top" in the book A Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women, published by Adams Media in December 2008, and has another story in the volume A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Parents, due out in June 2009.
It isn't easy to catch up with a woman with seven children and 12 computers, but you can try. Find out more at http://awalkabout.wordpress.com/

Is Romance Really What You're Looking For?

People always seem to be hunting for romance, whether the “sweet” kind, where the boy next door turns out to be the answer to all our questions, or the ‘bodice-ripper’ kind, where adventure and passion overwhelm common sense and fulfill our every dream.

Women in particular are almost programmed to expect Prince Charming will eventually be waiting for them, in the form of a harmonious soulmate. Even if we don’t read the novels of Holt, Devereaux and Meier, or watch Pretty Woman or Sleepless in Seattle, we want that click of a good match, someone who fits our needs.

Humans, however, are an impatient race. Sometimes the one true soulmate isn’t in the picture when you’re ready for a partner. (I know this from experience.) So do we hold out for the exact one we’re seeking? Not usually. Far too many throw over the idea of Mr. Right for Mr. Right Now. This isn’t necessarily the end of your life, of course. If you’re truly drawn to someone, he or she has value for you. You just need to be wise about your choice, and what you allow to occur.

In my 22 years as a divorce attorney, I’ve seen many men and women who just need someone. This happens for various reasons. Some men are brought up to believe theirs is the role of financial provider, so they must have a partner to keep the house and raise the children. They may choose someone without examining that partner’s needs and expectations, and find the partner grows bored and restless in a subservient role. Persons of both sexes may believe they need to ‘fix’ someone they love, without realizing that some people choose not to be fixed and resent the effort to do so, causing both pain.

When we settle for the partner who might be in reach instead of waiting for the one who is right, we expose ourselves. If you meet your intended on the Internet, there is a good chance what he or she might have told you is not true. Unlike someone in your hometown, where you can ask questions and do some checking, there isn’t much chance for investigation when you’re 1000 miles away. Yet I’ve had clients who invited a stranger to live in their home—or abandoned their family to join the stranger elsewhere, just to meet that need to have someone. They are almost always disappointed in the long run. Divorce will set them free once again to find…what they need. Though it’s hard for many to believe, what they really seek they will find within themselves.

In A Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women, 50 writers offer encouragement to women taking that step again, examining ways women can thrive during their rebuilding time. I often encourage clients to do the same. Don’t rush. Take care of yourself. Let the healing come. Do what you love—art, music, writing. Especially writing. Even when the pain is so great that you can’t express it aloud to someone else, letting your words spill out onto paper gives a release.

Those of us who are professional writers use those releases in the characters we create, letting feelings of loss, love or triumph flesh themselves out for new people on the page. You may find it difficult to write about what you’ve never felt; but if you’ve been there, and you let that through into your own work, people will relate.

So whatever you seek, whatever you find, whether love, passion, failure, loneliness, or joy, experience the emotions to fullness and take what lessons they teach to move forward, either in your work or in your daily life.

Thanks for those great words, Barb. Now readers, please comment below for a chance to win Barb's Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women. Contest closes at midnight tonight and the winner will be posted tomorrow. Happy commenting!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009 – Snippets



Thursday, January 29, 2009 – Snippets

January is, naturally, Setting Goals Month, so . . . For my goals, I did think about the following:

*Losing weight --but only if I can move to a place without a kitchen.
*Accepting myself --I particularly like this one since I can eliminate #1
*Accepting --that my hairdresser is dear to me for helping me lie about my graying hair
*Being kinder – if I’m in the mood - after all my middle name is Maxine!
*Writing more -- What writer doesn’t have that as a goal?
###
As a writer, one thing I like is that the story can take place anywhere!! Now, it may sound a little crazy, but one thing I consider when I buy a book is where it takes place. I like both the exotic and the familiar. Reading immerses me in the faraway, whether it is in the next town or in another country. Of course, if it is a fictitious location, the writer has more creative license. I also like to ‘hear’ the language of the region – accents and colloquialisms from the area. For example, we all know that Southern belles all say, “Y’all” now and then.

With all that said, the main setting for this book is the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. My inspiration for one of the characters was a great uncle who loved the mountains, and I loved his sense of humor and hearing him say, “If’n you got sump’en to say, spit it out.”

(The following scene shows the residual tension between Eugenia and Russ after her arrival at the remote mountain clinic and her first experience with a local.)

From a Work In Progress, Love Lost, Love Found by Maxine Davis:

Eugenia saw the old man sitting on the porch of his cabin in a rocking chair with his overalls unbuttoned on the sides and his shirt, wet with sweat. He had white hair and a few days’ growth of beard.

Russ had stopped the Jeep, but neither he nor Eugenia made a move to get out. Russ knew the older people were big on manners.

“Aren’t we getting out?” she whispered.

Russ quietly spoke barely moving his lips, “In a minute.”

The old man shaded his eyes with one hand as he spoke. “Hello there, Doc,” he then looked at Eugenia, “That the new doc with you?”

“That’s her.” Russ smiled. Wadell had no telephone and as far as Russ knew, it was seldom anyone stopped in to see him, but news never seemed to get past him.

The old man looked at Eugenia and spoke as if she couldn’t hear. “Yep, I heard she was a looker.”

“Yes sir, she is.” Russ couldn’t stop the grin.

Eugenia inhaled slowly as she turned a fake smile toward Russ. “Don’t mind me. I can’t hear a thing.”

Russ broke the silence. “How’s the leg?”

Wadell Collins leaned back. “It ain’t what you’d call well, but I still put the salve on it.”

“That’s good. I thought we’d take a look at it.”

“Well . . .” Wadell spoke slowly.

Russ held his breath. Eugenia hadn’t moved a muscle.

Then the old man shifted in his seat, squinted as he looked at Eugenia, and said, “I’m thinkin’ y’all might need your doctor-bag, less’n all y’all are gonna to do is look.”

Russ let his breath out with a smile. Eugenia grabbed the bag and jumped out of the Jeep.

Eugenia stretched out her hand, “Hello, Mr. Collins.”

“Ma’am.” He shook her hand. Eugenia noted he had a very firm grip. “And it’s Wadell, ma’am.”

Wadell seemed to speak to no one in particular. “She’s a tiny thing, ain’t she. And a looker.”

Eugenia shook her head and smiled as she set the bandages and medicine on the top of a nail barrel. It didn’t look like they were going inside. “How’d you hurt your leg, Mr. Coll, uh, Wadell?”

He spoke very calmly, “A mountain lion attacked me.”

Eugenia’s eyes got big, “Good Grief. I never would have thought . . .I mean, . . . Oh, my Lord, I’m surprised you’re alive.”

Eugenia was unwrapping his leg, when suddenly her eyes squinted, she raised one eyebrow, and her lips were slightly puckered to one side. She looked at the leg, then looked up at Wadell. Her voice was very cool, “And, would you like to tell me how this mountain lion managed to scald your leg?”

Russ was laughing, “I forgot to warn you about Wadell.”

Eugenia could feel the older man shake with laughter.

“Did I say mountain lion? Why, I meant coffee pot!”

“Yeah, I can see how you made that mistake. Coffee pot-- mountain lion, they do sound a lot alike.” She smiled at the older gentleman. “You’re a kidder, Mr. Collins!”

He winked at Eugenia. “And you’re a real …”

“I know,” finished Eugenia, “a looker.” This time she openly rolled her eyes at both men and shook her head.


For a sense of Place in this story, there seemed only one location—the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. They make the irresistible backdrop for this story of passion—between two people, for a profession, and for a region and its people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Know Thyself

Good old Socrates had it right. "Know Thyself." Those two simple words are probably the best advice any writer can follow.

Whether you realize it or not, when you start out on the road of fiction writing, you're in for a journey of self-discovery. The path can be a bumpy one, filled with surprises, bitter disappointments, intense joys. For most of us, it's a voyage we wouldn't trade for anything.

We start out with nothing more than the burning desire to write. As we pursue our dreams and learn our craft better, we get to know ourselves better as well -- what advice works best for us and what doesn't, how we handle rejection and success, how we can hone our processes, our style, our voice. With every new book we take on, we discover more about ourselves.

I've had to learn to accept some things about myself. I don't like rules. I don't do well with fixed schedules. I know that I write to feed my passion to create. I've learned that my favorite stories are suspense and mystery, and that I love an author with a smart-alec voice.

Most important of all, I’ve learned that no matter what the ups and downs of this pursuit might be, writing makes me happy.

* * *

We had a lot of fun coming up with the name for our group. Our creative bunch of writers suggested some great ideas. We had no less than three votes and a lot of lively discussion about it. And now here we are - Petit Fours and Hot Tamales... and everything in between.

What I like best about our name is that it symbolizes the endless spectrum of possibilities in our genre of romance.

In my writing, I started out as a petit four - sweet, sentimental, traditional. But as I mentioned, over the last few years, I’ve swung more toward darker romantic suspense. Spicy, but probably not quite enough to call a hot tamale.

Right now, I’d say I’m an "everything in between." Gooey dark chocolate with a touch of cayenne.

* * *

So which are you? Petit Four? Hot Tamale? Or something in between?

How well do you know yourself as a writer? What have you learned about yourself so far on your journey? Have you discovered more about your strengths and special gifts? Have you switched the subgenre you write?

Have you known from the beginning who you are as a writer? Or have you grown into something different from what you set out to be?

What are you like as a reader? Do you stick to one subgenre, such as women’s fiction or romantic suspense? Or do you prefer a smorgasbord? Maybe a particular Harlequin line?

I can't wait to read your answers. Like I said, PFHT members -- and our readers -- are lively, creative group.

As you ponder your answers and look out on the coming year, remember, no matter how well you know yourself, there’s always more to learn.

Happy writing, happy discovering.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In A Perfect World...


So many times I hear people say they gave up on a New Year’s resolution because they slipped, once, twice, maybe even three times in quick succession. They only made it to the gym 3 out of 5 days, were late 2 days in a row, waited until the last minute (again) to get the job done. The ideal wasn’t attained, so why bother.

They give up. Just like that.

But nobody’s perfect. We weren’t meant to be. We all know this. Then why do so many of us create so much additional stress in our lives trying to be perfect?

The perfect mother. The perfect wife. The perfect writer.

A very wise woman recently told me she doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions. She makes plans. I like this word…it feels more flexible. More forgiving.

Perfectionism leads to all kinds of destructive behavior, perhaps one of the worst being procrastination. I read somewhere that if you look deep enough into the psyche of the procrastinator it’s not laziness you’ll find, but perfectionism. They stall out before they even get started because deep down they can’t take the chance of being imperfect in whatever task they’ve set out to do – an especially sticky place to be for a writer.

Writing is messy. And ambiguous, and subjective, challenging, fluid, wildly creative and wonderfully unique to each and every one of us. There’s no place for perfection here. Ask any published author. Most are quick to tell you that they’d love one more chance to work more magic on the page, polish the words to a better shine.

So my plan for this year is to enjoy my new work in progress, allow it to be the rough draft that it is, forgive myself every day if I have to for not being perfect and move forward to The End.

No quitting.

No procrastinating.

I’m a writer, not a perfectionist.
Darcy

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Endings



I’m a romance movieaholic. I admit it; can even say I’m proud of it. I’ve been one all my life and don’t intend to change. I’m a sucker for a happy ending. This dovetails well with being a romance reader and writer. My husband often accuses me of living in the land of white fluffy clouds and happily ever afters.

I don’t attend theaters or watch movies on TV to learn something. If I happen to get smarter because I did watch then that’s gravy on top of what I’m really watching one for- which is to escape. I want to go to another place, be a part of someone else’s life, watch someone else have problems, and find love. I want the high of a happy ending.
It’s cheap, nonfatting, heart racing, and the only addiction I know of that makes you feel good. What could be the down side?
Below are some of my favorite romance movies:

Rebecca-even in black and white it’s wonderful and makes a great romantic date movie
Gone with the Wind- okay, I put it here because no romance list is complete without it

Chasing Liberty-this is more of a teen flick, but conflict both internal and external is great in this movie, plus Matthew Goode is easy to look at and his accent makes you wish he would whisper in your ear

Bridget Jones—both One and Two-I love her because she has issues that a man can learn to love

Sabrina- Bogies version and Harrison’s –a classic both ways

Wedding Date-check it out—Deborah Messing and Dylan McDermott –both characters have issues that the other helps them realize

Pride and Prejudice—with any actor/actress, in black or white or color- always great

10 Things I Hate About You—Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Screw” in teenage form- it is entertaining.

I would love to hear what you think of these movies or which ones you would add to the list.

My goal is to see how many chick-flicks I can see this year starting with the new Harry Connick, Jr. and Renee Zellweger movie : NEW IN TOWN. I’ll let you know if it will be added to my list.

Media and romance walking hand-in-hand into the sun set. Oh, another happy ending.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

E-BOOK WINNERS!

Here you go folks, our first e-book winners! Woo-Hoo! The following ladies will be downloading shortly:

Amber Green, you're the winner for Ana's free e-book from a Wild Rose Press Author that is participating in the Sony E-Reader giveaway! This download will also qualify you in the contest for the Sony E-Reader that TWRP is giving away. Go Amber. We hope you will be a double winner!

Joyce J., you're the winner for a free download of either Sidelined By Love or Stroke of Midnight by Ana Aragon. Congratulations and hope you enjoy whichever of these fabulous books that you pick.

I need both winners to contact me, Debbie, by email no later than Jan. 29th. dlkaufman@bellsouth.net Please put Free blog book in your subject line.

Okay, folks. That's all for now. Keep coming back. We appreciate your reading of our blog!

The Ladies of Petit Fours and Hot Tamales

Friday, January 23, 2009

Please Welcome Ana Aragón, One of Our Own!




















Ana Aragón lives in the North Georgia hills with her husband and Walker hound dog, Max, and has three grown children who are constantly moving in and out of her home. Born in New Mexico, she loves writing stories that include elements of her native Hispanic culture. Ana writes hot contemporaries in the Champagne line and erotic romance for the Scarlet line of The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Georgia Romance Writers and RWA Online chapters of RWA, and Romance Writers Unlimited.

How did you get started in your writing career? Like most authors, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing! Prior to making the commitment to write romance, I’d written several non-fiction pieces and published and edited a sports magazine for kids. Writing articles for the magazine stimulated my dream of being published.

What or who has had the most influence on your writing? Probably the nuns and priests at my elementary school! Beginning in sixth grade, we had to write long essays every day during religion class. I learned to write fast and use big words that took up lots of space. After my latest release, I’m sure Sister Mary Bridget is rolling in her grave! She always thought I’d follow in her shoes, but when I realized that “nun” meant “none” I decided I wasn’t interested in that particular career path!

Seriously, I have always loved romance, and over the years I dabbled in writing fiction, but never had the guts to put my work out there. Four years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to join a writer’s group and seriously pursue publication. My first Georgia Romance Writer’s meeting was very intimidating, and if I hadn’t met a friendly face in the hotel lobby, I’m sure I’d have walked right out. But I met some wonderful women that Saturday morning and remember being so impressed that authors came and sat at your table and asked you what genre of romance you wrote (at that point, I had no clue what I was writing!) I’ve rarely missed a meeting since!

Do you have any special writing rituals? Besides parking my butt in the chair and refusing to move until I get (insert number) pages written? Not really. I enjoy writing late at night and like to have a cup of Chai tea at hand. I prefer to write in my jammies—I need to be comfortable! I usually write at home in my office, with a gorgeous view of my wooded, North Georgia back yard, but lately I’ve taken to meeting one of my writing partners, Tammy Schubert, at a local donut shop a couple of times a week. It helps to have someone creative at hand to bounce things off of!

What drew you to writing spicy/erotic romance? I love to read it. For me, a romance needs to play out all the possibilities of the relationship, and I feel cheated if someone slams the door just when things get interesting! I also find it a challenge to push myself past my own insecurities to write highly-charged sex scenes. Writing erotic romance for The Wild Rose Press requires a sexual premise for the story, but once you get past that, it’s all about writing a well-crafted romance that includes graphic love scenes and language.

Why e-publishing? I’m firmly convinced that the industry will be transformed in the next few years as the public embraces electronic books. Already we’re seeing an increase in the number of books being released as e-books as Amazon, Sony and others attempt to corner the market with their proprietary products, like the Kindle and the Sony e-Reader. People are becoming more comfortable reading books from a computer screen, and your market is limitless—anyone in the world who has access to the internet. As social networking (Facebook, Myspace, etc.) takes off and as e-readers become more user-friendly, it’s only a matter of time before most book sales are electronic. It’s more economical, convenient and greener. E-books make sense.

That’s not to say, however, that print books will go the way of the dinosaur! Even though my works are available electronically, my publisher also releases full-length novels in print, although the sales for e-books far outperforms print releases. Nowadays, I read as many e-books as print books and can’t wait to get my birthday present to myself—an e-reader!

Tell us about your most recent release? Stroke of Midnight is a novella-length Christmas story that was an e-release this past December, and will be packaged in an anthology of four stories for a holiday release next December in both print and e-book. It’s based on a song by the late Dan Fogelberg, Same Auld Lang Syne, about him meeting his old lover in a grocery store on Christmas Eve. Stroke of Midnight portrays a recently-divorced US Attorney who meets up with her first love, a former musician turned Mayor, and the sexual tension between them hasn’t dissipated one megawatt in fourteen years. She’s happy to use him to get over her infatuation, but he has different ideas. If you like your alpha males hot and sexy, and enjoy romance that makes you squirm in your seat, this is the book for you!

What’s in the works? The rewrite of Strike Three You’re Mine (new editor with some great ideas that require extensive rewrites) and another erotic romance for TWRP, Stroke of Genius, a story about a beautiful, but ditzy, chemist who discovers a secret Love Potion, No. 69, and plans to use it to seduce the man of her dreams. Fortunately for her, she doesn’t catch him but instead finds her true love waiting on the sidelines. There’s a third book in the series called Stroke of Luck. Well, I have the title anyway! I’m hoping one of my crit partners can help me flesh out the basic storyline I have planned for it!

Thanks, Ana. Now tell us about your contest giveaway. The Wild Rose Press will be giving away a Sony e-reader to anyone who purchases a book from one of the sponsoring authors between now and March 17. I didn’t get on the list this time (it’s very popular with our authors) but I’m offering a gift certificate for a free e-book from one of the sponsoring authors—you pick the e-book and the author, and you’ll be entered in the contest to win a free Sony e-reader!

TWRP has some great, award-winning authors who write in a variety of sub-genres, from historical to YA, western to paranormal, sweet to erotic. So if you’ve never downloaded an e-book, here’s a chance to get one free—and a chance to win a Sony e-reader as well!

I’ll also throw in an e-book of either Sidelined by Love or Stroke of Midnight, your choice, to another lucky winner. If you’ve gotten this far on the blog, hooray for you! Thanks so much for spending time with me today, and please leave a comment for your chance to win one of the prizes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What to Wear

Oh, the bliss of creation. Every word is a freshwater pearl--a bit lumpy but gorgeous because it comes from my clammy little brain. Oh, the agony of revision. My words aren't pearls. They're lumps of coal that need the pressure of revision to transform them into crummy diamonds worthy of a cheap tennis bracelet. That sounds jaded. It isn’t meant to. Well, maybe it is meant to sound jaded. If you’re not a tad jaded, you’ve been hiding your pearls under the mattress.

Certainly, there are rare miracles of talent whose first works are perfect, cultivated pearls from the get-go. The rest of us start with lumps and bumps. As we learn more, we realize how little we know. We open to revising more than funky punctuation. Sometimes we have to re-vision. We might sigh as we tap the delete key, but we tap away. The love of the pearls is still there, but we want them crafted into something more enduring.


Here’s the opening from The Saintmaker, a romantic fantasy I’m revising. My first draft began with a leisurely bit of world building. It suffered from point-of-view issues and a heroine with no clear interior plight. In the revision, I begin with the heroine’s interior goal, motivation and conflict, while doing a little world and suspense building.


I am so looking forward to wearing that diamond tennis bracelet for an evening. Then, the creative side of me needs to set it aside and start stringing a new strand of pearls.


The Saintmaker


Was this to be a confession or not? Goosebumps sprang up on Arvana’s arms as she clutched her journal of self-examination to her chest. The Superior never summoned her for any other reason. But Madre Cassiendra’s chamber had always been bright and cheerful, full of forsythia in spring. Instead, heavy drapery blocked all but slivers of morning light. Stranger still, a black cloth shrouded the ancient icon of the Balthasean order’s founder.

Madre Cassiendra did not smile her usual wise, serene smile. In the light of the single candle, the lines around the Superior’s mouth were grim, as cut and channeled as weathered fencepost wood. Did the Superior somehow know that this time Arvana had no easy-to-admit faults? There were no outward breaches of her vows. She hoarded no books under her cot. She ate no more than her fill. When meeting with the brothers from the other side of the mountain valley, she kept her gaze steadfastly on her shoes. She was good. But, being good wasn’t enough. A good girl’s prayers hadn’t restored her father’s sight or saved his life. She had to be a shacra, a saint. After fourteen years as a Balthasean she was no closer to shacrahood. In her journal, she had asked a terrible question. When had eagerly offered prayers and daily chores become obligations? Had she wanted to be a shacra so much that the unfulfilled longing wore a hole in her spirit?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Beach Baby, Beach



As a child, weekends and summer vacations meant packing up and heading to the beach. Sometimes we were quite a crowd with aunts, uncles, cousins and early on, even grandparents. Bonfires were built with leftover construction lumber. As the sun sank into the sea, we’d roast hotdogs and marshmallows and never complained about the crunch of the sand that got blown into our food.

When I reached that golden age of sixteen and got my drivers license, I didn’t wait for weekends to head to the coast. I’d hop in my Mustang, where I kept my swimsuit, a towel and a bottle of baby oil and iodine and spend every precious hour of daylight at my favorite spot.

Nothing soothes “teenage angst” like the sun on your skin and the rhythmic swoosh of the waves lapping against the shore.

Years passed and I met the man who’d become my husband. Dates usually consisted of dinner, a movie and a walk on the beach.

Soon, I became a mom. Once I’d figured out how to juggle a diaper bag, a toddler and a picnic basket, off we’d go—to the beach for the day.

Then about seventeen years ago, we did the unthinkable—we moved away from my beloved San Diego to Atlanta, Georgia. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Atlanta is landlocked! No ocean for hundreds of miles.

It didn’t take long before I transformed into a happy, smiling beach baby into a scowling, complaining grump. I didn’t even like being around myself.

One weekend, in desperation, my husband surprised me with a trip to Tybee Island, which is near Savannah. I celebrated my birthday, which often occurs on the Summer Solstice, by walking the beach at sunset.

As I strolled along, I watched the moon rise over the Atlantic while the sun sank into the western sky above the marshlands to the west. I felt all my tensions wash away with the tide and those little frown lines that form the number eleven between my eyes disappeared and were replaced by laugh lines around my eyes.

On the trip home a few days later, I had to have hubby take over driving before we were even out of sight of the water—I was so relaxed, I couldn’t keep my eyes open!

Since then, it’s been an unspoken understanding that I must put my feet in the ocean—any ocean—at least once a year. Hubby has commented that I’m much more relaxed, and, ahem… affectionate, when I’m at the beach or gliding through the ocean on a cruise ship.

I began doing some research and found that the very act of water in motion causes molecular changes in the air around us, energizing everything from plant growth to the human sex drive.

That explains a lot.

So what energizes you? Do you have a special place where you go to renew your creativity and/or your energy?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Importance of Writing

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. In elementary school the tales caged in my pre-pubescent brain were set free in the form of stick figure artwork scribbled with a rainbow of Crayolas. In my first romance, mom and dad took center stage, holding each other’s stick figure hands in front of a stick figure house. I included my stick figure brother, sister and even our stick figure cat. The art work told the tale of a loving family and their happy home without actually using any words at all.

As a teen I replaced crayons with technology. In the 80’s we used chunky, green screened computers in high school. Their thick white wires snaked over the scuffed linoleum tiles like a nest of angry, albino vipers ready to trip up the nearest unsuspecting nerd. The computer’s gentle electronic hum lulled many a classmate to sleep. Their snores might have rattled against the keyboards, but I stayed awake. I’d bang out my assignment as quickly as possible, hoping to use the remainder of class to type out the stories in my head. My earliest novels were far from complex, the hero, my latest crush. His character and description changed with the frequency of the weather, not to mention my fickle taste. I of course held court as the heroine of these hormone driven romances. My kingdom was high school, my dutiful subjects, the popular clique. Through the magic of story telling I, Miss Unpopular 1989, became beloved.

College brought with it a dry spell. Scholarship swimming four hours a day along with required classes and never ending lectures stifled my muse. The romantic tales in my brain scrambled for purchase, trying their best to keep from slipping into the abyss of my overloaded grey matter. Over time, however, adulthood crept up on me. My life shifted in a new direction and after a productive four years I said a happy farewell to algebra, 5 a.m. practice and clubbing in skimpy outfits.

My muse had clawed her way out of the slush that had been my student brain and emerged victorious. Characters and dialogue flowed freely and the stories in my mind rejoiced as I finally coaxed them out of the darkness, knowing they would shine.

My point, after this long drawn out post is to remind us that we are born with the need to express ourselves. Our minds eye conjures images that in some of us cry out to be set free even from a very early age. Those images occasionally form chains and the chains, God willing, link together in linear order. Many of us stop there. We see the images, the full story in our head, but the desire or ability to transfer them to the page escapes us.


But for a lucky few, the delicate chain winds its way around our heart, hugging it in a warm embrace. The happiness, sadness, nostalgia, anger, desire, love that the chain is made up of merges with our cells, sinking deep within our DNA. The image chain has filled our soul, our very being with such overwhelming emotion that we feel compelled to share its wonder with others…and therein a story is born.

I am one of these lucky few.

Whether my story was told through the innocence of early youth, the immaturity of starry eyed adolescence, or flows from my 37 year old fingers, I have always known one thing, I must write. It is as much a part of me as my children are.

2009 is a new year, bringing with it new opportunities, new ideas and new goals.

My goal for this year is to learn from my past, look back on my five year old self telling that stick figure story, or fifteen year old Tamara, banging a romance out on a school computer. Back then rejection didn’t occur to me. I never worried if my genre was passé. I never stressed over voice. And I certainly didn’t care if I was following the “rules”. I just wrote.

Instead of allowing the ever changing market to depress me or enabling self doubt to cripple me as it often does, I’ve decided instead to repeat these two words, JUST WRITE.

Our characters must breathe. Their worlds must have substance. Their lives must have meaning.

These elements would remain locked in our subconscious if it weren’t for our ability to take a chain of images and feelings and transfer them to the page. In other words, JUST WRITE.

What if Shakespeare gave up because dialogue was too hard? What if Austen threw in the towel because characterization was too draining? What if Twain quit because world building was too time consuming?

Lucky for us, none of this happened. In fact, all of these authors had one definite thing in common, they just wrote.

And that is what we must do.

Hog tie, gag and lock self doubt in a closet, sit in the chair, place our fingers on the keys and…JUST WRITE!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Biggest Loser...not me!


















I have to admit, I'm not much of a reality television fan. In fact, I abhor the whole idea of following people around, watching their every move, listening to inane dialogue about the "reality" of their lives.

Pul-eze.

But last week the only opportunity for quality time with my teenage daughter was to sit and watch television with her. Jennifer is a reality television aficionado. Among other important facts, she knows the name of, and can recognize, each of John and Kate's eight, threatens to turn me in to the fashion police on What Not to Wear, and was devastated when Hulk and Linda divorced, leading to the cancellation of Hogan Knows Best.

So I'm sitting there trying to have a decent conversation with her during commercial breaks of E! when I overhear that one of the winners of The Biggest Loser television show had regained over half the weight he'd lost and decided to start on the weight-loss program once again, hoping he'd be able to lose the weight he'd gained back.

I don't know about you, but whenever I hear or see the words "weight loss" paired with a triple-digit number, my ears perk up like a Yorkie on Ritalin and my presbyopia mysteriously disappears. This guy lost over 200 pounds—say, the equivalent of a middle linebacker—and gained back about 130—me at my dream weight!

Since turning forty either my metabolism has slowed to a lethargic pace or the cells around my belly, hips and butt have found a way of capturing calories, converting them into fat globules that they hold onto with the tenacity of a pitt bull. Seriously, I could survive off one butt cheek for a month. Since then, I've been on the search for the perfect diet--one that allows me to eat food and still shed unwanted pounds (see, I've even picked up the lingo.)

My attention zeroed in on the video clip, which showed Mr. Loser being whipped into shape by a team of personal trainers who, along with the viewers, watched every single morsel of food he ate and ran him ragged on a treadmill and bicycle. If you’ve never seen the show (and I hadn’t) picture the ultimate Boot Camp—Sergeant Carter chewing on Gomer Pyle, USMC (okay, I’m dating myself here)—and ratchet it up a few notches.

Sha-zam! That’s what I need, I thought—a Boot Camp for writers!

Right after the first of the year, I purchased Margie Lawson’s online course packet, Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors—Allow Writing Productivity and Creativity to Soar, as one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’d read through the introduction and promised myself I’d start the course right after I finished the synopsis for my second “Stroke of...” books for The Wild Rose Press.

The synopsis is done, so what better time, right? I frantically searched my hard drive and found the downloaded documents. I opened lesson one and the third chapter in the lesson was...you guessed it... BOOT-CAMP: ALL THE GUTS AND ALL THE GLORY.

I’ve worked my way through the first lesson and the similarities between The Biggest Loser and Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors are frightening. My responses to Margie’s questions helped me see that I need to push myself in the right direction (or have a good coach to push me) in order to meet my goals. I love to write, but I want to be published...multi, multi-published, in fact. And that won’t happen if I don’t discipline myself and do the things necessary to attain that goal, just like The Biggest Loser must in order to meet his goal.

For me, it means setting up a writing schedule that doesn’t get pushed aside because the dishes need washing or it’s inconvenient. I need to be more organized so I can better manage my time to include action items that push me toward my goal—query letters to agents and editors, self-promotion, taking courses that hone my writing skills. I need to set realistic goals and meet them.

Writers dream stories and then give them life by shaping words into a structure that transcends their humble beginnings. It’s hard work, this writing gig—damned hard work. So I guess the saying “nothing worth having comes easy” definitely applies—to losing weight...and to writing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

WINNERS, WINNERS, WINNERS!

Congratulations to Connie who won Cup of Comfort for Sisters!

Congratulations also to Saundra Goodman who won Grave Secrets!

Ladies, please contact me with your snail mail address at dlkaufman@bellsouth.net and put "Blog winner" in your subject line. Any prizes not claimed by this coming Wednesday will be reawarded.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Please Welcome Our Special Guest, Kelly L. Stone!

Kelly L. Stone is a multi-published author whose credits include works in several anthologies, articles in magazines, and two books with a third not yet released. Kelly's book, A Time to Write, was recently nominated for two prestigious awards: The American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book of 2008 Award, and the Georgia Writer's Association Author of the Year Award. Additionally, her fiction release, Grave Secrets, was given three stars by the Romantic Times Book Reviews. Georgia Romance Writers is proud to have Kelly as one of our own. For more about Kelly and her writing, please visit her website at http://www.kellylstone.com/. And don't forget to enter the contest at the end of this post!


The Path of Writing
©2009 Kelly L Stone

Around 1991, long before I became a writer, I began to study Vipassana meditation. This is a Buddhist form of meditation; Vipassana means “insight.” How it works is you sit on a cushion, cross your legs, fold your hands in your lap, and focus your attention on your breath. Within a matter of seconds, you realize that watching your breath is impossible because your mind starts going hog wild: it plans, it sings, it creates stories, it drudges up memories, it makes lists, and so on.

The practice teaches that this is the nature of the mind—its “job” is to create those thoughts, which in turn generate emotions, and that your task is to observe these thoughts and feelings as they arise without judgment, aversion, or attachment. You simply sit and watch whatever comes arise, linger, and finally pass, like clouds floating through the sky.

When I started writing, I had been doing Vipassana meditation for more than a decade, and I discovered that some of the things I was learning on that cushion were also helpful to the writing process. I hope you find them helpful, too.

Sloth and Torpor

Aren’t those great words? Sloth and torpor. What they mean in Buddhism is inertia and resistance to doing anything productive. For me, sloth and torpor come around every morning when the alarm goes off at 4:00 AM and I have to get up to write for two hours before going to my day job. Especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside, I resist mightily the idea of getting out of bed to trudge off and think up words to put on paper.

So I lay there, telling myself that I really don’t need to get up that day because I’m ahead on my weekly word count goal (which is rarely true), or that I’ll make up the lost time on the weekend (which rarely happens). I almost have myself convinced until I remember a little thing called positive effort for the good.

Positive Effort for the Good

Positive effort for the good means that every day, it’s important to take some action, no matter how small, toward bringing about good not only in your own life but in the life of all sentient beings. It can be something as simple as buying a reusable grocery bag, choosing to be extra courteous that day, or sitting down at your computer and writing for fifteen minutes.

In terms of my daily dose of sloth and torpor, making positive effort for the good means hauling my butt out of that bed and getting to my computer as planned. It means working my writing schedule. It means doing something, every single day, toward my long-term writing goals. Even if I don’t write anything usable, or what I write is never published, the point is—make the effort. Take that first right step in the direction of your dream.


Creating a meaningful life takes lots of positive effort, and becoming a writer is no different. No one is immune to the kinds of things that can totally derail a writer’s plan to succeed. My 78-year-old mother unexpectedly became ill last year. I now spend a lot more time with her—time that I used to spend writing. But it’s okay. My life is richer for it. And so is my writing. I make positive effort for the good with my mom, and each morning I make positive effort for the good with my writing. I write a scene, a chapter, or the draft of an essay. In this way, the small efforts combine over time and become what some people call “an overnight success.” Here’s a secret: there is no such thing as an overnight success. There is only that first right step, and then the next, and the next, and the next.

Becoming a Writer

My meditation teacher tells this story: a woman with a dirty home bought a beautiful vase. She placed it on her coffee table, which drew her attention to how filthy the table had become. She cleaned it. That drew her attention to the dirty rug under the table. She cleaned that. Then she saw how dirty the room was, so she cleaned that next. This continued until she had eventually cleaned her entire house.

That’s how it works with writing, too. You find your beautiful shiny dream of being a writer and bring it home to your heart. But you realize that you have much to learn about the craft of writing. You know nothing about character development, so you learn about that. Then you need to hone your skills in dialogue, so you study that next, and so on. You start by setting small goals—write one paragraph a day-- and you take the first right step toward reaching that goal. Maybe that means you write on your lunch break, or while your baby naps, or after your family has gone to bed.

Soon, by making positive effort for the good one small step at a time, you become a writer. And you become something else, too. You become a person who possesses the quiet confidence that grows out of sustained self-discipline; you experience the joy that setting and meeting goals creates; you discover the profound inner peace that only writing can give you. You greet sloth and torpor mindfully, because you know that their nature is to arise, linger, and eventually pass. And you take that first right step toward getting out of bed at 4:00 AM and making your way to the computer, your collective positive efforts nudging you slowly but surely along.

WITH THOSE WORDS OF WISDOM FOR US TO CONTEMPLATE, WE'LL MOVE INTO OUR READER CONTEST!

Kelly is gracious enough to give us TWO of her books for a giveaway today: Grave Secrets, her fictional murder mystery, and Cup of Comfort for Sisters:Stories that Celebrate the Special Bonds of Sisterhood, which contains her story "Leaping Year Sisters."

To enter, please leave a comment below. Contest ends tonight at midnight and the winners will be posted tomorrow. Please check back for your name as unclaimed prizes will be awarded in a second drawing after three days. Good Luck!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In the Beginning. . .

They say Margaret Mitchell wrote the last chapter of Gone with the Wind first and wrote the first chapter last. Romance writers do that all the time; you have to see the happy couple together before you can figure out how to get them there. Starting a story may be the most difficult part because you have to engage the reader immediately without tipping your hand too early.

In the spirit of today’s theme of sharing works in progress, I’m going to share the first part of a women’s fiction novel I'm revising. This is the story of Persephone who is hoping that you really can go home again:

He stole something from me, but I let him. She kept thinking those words over and over, let them chew her gut into a million pieces. Follow your gut people always said, but how was she supposed to know if it was her gut or her head speaking, and why should she trust either one of them?

Persephone Jane Willis admitted defeat by taking the key from her pocket and opening the front door to her aunt’s house, a house that had stood empty for over a year. As her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, she saw cobwebs and dust. She saw the yellowed Co-op calendar with its picture of perfectly parallel corn rows, still open to Aunt Sam's last month on earth. Each day had an X as though Aunt Sam somehow knew the end was near.

Compare that longer novel with the beginning of a short contemporary I’ve been kicking around. I’m hoping you’ll see the difference between a slow build and a quick start.

Hannah Delancourt had a lot on her mind. So much, in fact, she didn’t realize that Ellery now had a new traffic light, one that she ran red at the corner of Main and Maple, thumping into a pedestrian hard enough to throw him to the pavement. She almost forgot to throw the truck into park she jumped out so quickly.

“Oh, my God, are you okay?” she asked as she extended a hand to the man. He was already to his knees with his back to her. “I am so, so sorry. I was thinking about everything I had to do today, and I had no idea there was a new traffic light here, which is silly. I should have been paying more attention.” She was rambling, and she couldn’t stop herself. “I should have been more careful, I should have—”

He turned around and took her breath away. Of all of the street corners in all of the little towns of the world, why did Austin Langford have to step off one in front of her?

“I should have backed up to see if I could have hit you a little harder,” she said as she whirled around and jumped into the cab of the battered Ford pick-up.

Go ahead, tell me what you think. Which one do you like better and why? In the meantime, happy writing—oh, and did I mention that the next most difficult part was keeping on keeping on with the story you just began so beautifully?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some Dance to Remember

by Nicki Salcedo
(Me on the beach in Carmel trying to forget)

Why we write.

I buried my father-in-law yesterday. He died too young, too suddenly, and his passing elicited too many feelings. None of the emotions were subtle like sadness. I’ve been angry at him for leaving my kids without their grandpa. They loved him. Because they loved him, and he left them, I am angry. And when writers feel strongly about something they write.

When we landed in San Francisco this week, the first song we heard was Hotel California by the Eagles. It brought a smile to my face on a day when I didn’t think I could smile.

“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair...”

I can’t say that I’m a fan of the Eagles. I’m the wrong generation and wrong demographic, but one particular lyric stood out as I heard the song on the dark desert highway between Gilroy and Salinas.

“Some dance to remember. Some dance to forget.”

As I pondered topics for my blog today, this one seemed the most relevant. Why do we write (or read for that matter)? And the answer is in the Eagles. Some write to remember. Some write to forget.

We are still early enough in 2009, and I’d like to hope that your optimism of January 1, a mere two weeks ago, hasn’t faded. I hope you are still trying to exercise, eat healthy, keep your house clutter free, and write more pages today than you did yesterday. But I also hope that in your quest to write more, you will also think about ways to write better. My first idea to better writing is to identify why you write.

I write to remember. Good writing is a recollection of things that startle your senses. You might remember that air in California is different, but you will write about the scent of eucalyptus interrupted with the stench of skunk. Or that the sand peppered wind is as chilling as the frigid waves. You write because you can’t find anyone who makes tortillas the way your grandmother used to make and you want to remember. You write because touching your husband’s hand on a cold winter’s morning is not the same as touching his father’s lifeless hand, but the similarity is painfully present. Some write to forget.

If you are also writing to forget, I hope your journey lessens the pain. It takes us back to places that are lost by time or distance.

“We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine.”

If you are writing to remember, I hope the air smells like lovely eucalyptus or wintry pine. I hope you can taste your grandmother's homemade tortillas. I hope to remember the grudging look of approval my father-in-law gave me ten years ago when I spent three days making tamales with my mother-in-law. I hope to always remember that. Some dance to forget. Some dance to remember.

Happy writing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Take Charge of Your Writing Career

Tuesday is our pearls of wisdom day, meaning we discuss the craft and business of writing. Today's discussion touches on both topics.

Professional Development

Professional development is more important now than ever in our knowledge-driven society. Technology and business move at jet speed. The writing industry may be a little slower, but it still moves. If you are a career writer, you need to stay on top of the changes or risk being left behind.

You might find it easy to slip into passive mode and go about your writing day without stretching your creative, business or technical muscles. The longer you go, the harder it becomes. Nobody is going to step in and make sure you move forward. There is not one person who is more vested in your career than you. With this in mind, sit down, develop a professional development plan for a specific period of time and put it into action.

What is a Professional Development Plan?

Simply put, a professional development plan is an informal or formal document that provides details about what you plan to learn during the coming year/months. It is typically written after short and long-term goals are identified. The plan becomes a map used to guide and help you retain focus on your objectives. It is a living document, meaning it can change as new opportunities or needs become known.

Why Should a Writer Care?

Writers should care about professional development because without growth, writing becomes stale and old school. Imagine that you have a closet full of books all published ten to twenty years ago. Now imagine that you spend all your reading time rereading these classics. Then you write a book and submit it to an editor. Since you have not spent any time reviewing current books, you have no idea what the editor/agent expects. Additionally, your work is going to sound like it is stuck in the past. Everything changes over the years including the pace at which we speak, the words we use and the common knowledge we’ve experienced. We do things differently than we did decades or even a few years ago. Editors and readers want something they can relate to that’s fresh and keeps pace with the times.

Development Planning

Forget about the cost of training at the moment. Think of all the areas associated with your writing career that need development. The craft of writing, business of writing and technical side of writing are three main areas that break into smaller components. Here are a few examples each category.

Craft of Writing
  • Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC)
  • Dialogue
  • Description

Business of Writing

  • Types of corporations – incorporate or not
  • Contracts
  • Bookkeeping/taxes

Technical Side of Writing

  • Web site development (usability, interface considerations, etc.)
  • Web site hosting
  • Web site maintenance

    NOTE: Even if you don’t plan to develop and maintain the site yourself, you still need to be educated on some of these components. For instance, what to expect from a company you hire to develop and/or maintain the site, how to kick off the development process, how to get results from the Web site, how to track Web statistics and use them to make marketing decisions, etc.

  • Word processing skills (brush up, speed up)
  • Software package skills (bookkeeping software, web development, word processing, etc.)

Action Steps

Now that I have overwhelmed you, let’s break it down into something more manageable. First, know that you cannot possibly learn about everything in one year. Second, you cannot possibly know everything about a topic. Even the experts have to look things up. The goal is to expand your knowledge formally and/or informally to give you a stronger base of knowledge to work from so that you can make informed decisions and increase the quality of your writing. It is all about life-long education.

To begin identifying what you want to accomplish this year, look at your three or five year plan. Don’t have one? Start here. Where would you like to be in three or five years? Write it down. Remember, this is an informal document that nobody else needs to see.

Once you are done identifying these goals, take are hard look at your strengths and weaknesses. Write them down. Do not be shy.

It is time to figure out your plan of attack. How are you going to focus on the specified topics? Do you need a class? Can you study this on your own? The inevitable question is, where do you find the resources necessary to support you? Below are some ideas of where to look for classes, etc.:

  • Join a writers’ group
  • Personal study
  • Continuing Education

Needless to say, there are an abundance of resources out there. All you have to do is a little research. Google your ideas and figure out what actions you would like to take this year. Customize your plan to suit your financial situation. The range of costs is from free to expensive. Do what suits you.

Execute the Plan

Once you have identified your topics of focus and the action steps, do not wait to get started. Before you know it, we will be celebrating another new year. Don’t get left behind your peers. If you are a bit shy in pursuing some of the action steps, find someone willing to mentor you in the area you need help. The bottom line is to get started now.

Download the complete Professional Development article from my Web site: http://www.tammyschubert.com/craft.html

So what's on your professional development plan? For me, I am learning how to include powerful emotion in my stories. To do this, I'm going to be studying Margie Lawson's Deep Editing and her Empowering Characters Emotions lecture packets. You might want to check out what she has to offer: http://margielawson.com/

Monday, January 12, 2009

An old dog and her paper

This is Media Bits Monday, Goal Setting January, and my first-ever blog. My main goal is not to flop too badly after following the wonderful ladies from last week. They all did an awesome job and I hope to someday have the wit, charm, and talent that comes through in their writing. So, for what it’s worth, here goes:

You know the old clichéd saying: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, I’m an old dog in more ways than one. If you’ve read my profile, you know I’m a rabid DAWG fan for good ol’ UGA.

When it comes to books, the old bulldog bite is in rare form. I clamp down on the paper version and won’t let go. I’m not sure I’m ready to enter the world of e-books. The smell of paper and ink, the feel as I rub my palm across the cover. And, of course, the gorgeous hunks who grace those covers. Imagine, if e-books had been around when the Beatles wrote and sang “Paperback Writer”. “I want to be an e-book writer” doesn’t have the same melodic ring to it.

I have nearly every book I’ve ever bought and read since 1970. That’s almost 280 years of paperbacks in dog years. A scant few I leant to friends who never returned them. I learned my lesson. I don’t share my books anymore. Hubby rants that he can’t even get into the bed at night without shoving aside books. My books long ago overflowed from the shelves of my study, trickled into my bedroom armoire until they were more a raging flood let loose from a broken dam. A stack of to-reads. Stacks of reads (past tense). Stacks I might read again. Of course, my time travel and historical books get prime spots of honor, along with favorite authors, such as Linda Lael Miller and Nora Roberts.

When books from the last two decades couldn’t wiggle in between the older ones, I had to buy BIG storage boxes to pack up the ones from the seventies and the eighties, a concession I gave to Hubby. A few escaped and still find their old spot on the shelf. Hubby hauled six of those storage units to the basement, grousing all the way. “Honey,” I said. “Just think, now you can come back to bed.” He wasn’t amused.

I love my books. Paper backs, hard backs, trades. They surround me with worlds of love, trials and tribulations, and more love. I can retreat from reality; I can follow some tips from the heroines to make my reality a little more livable. I pass time when I follow my hubby around on his many treks. I’m often left sitting while he does his thing. No prob. I’ve got a stash of books at the ready. I’m never patting my foot or letting my impatience build. I’m in my own little world of love and lust. Sometimes, when he returns I even make him wait on me for a change while I finish the chapter. Again, he’s not amused. But he loves me and gets over it, or starves. He can’t cook. I’ve got him right where I want him.

But I digress. Books. Real paper books. How could we ever get along without them? I hope I never have to find out. I know, I know. E-readers can go anywhere a book can go, but at this point, I don’t want to hold onto an e-reader while I’m waiting on my man. Another argument for e-books, and one Hubby might launch if he reads this, is that I wouldn’t have stacks of books gracing every corner of my bedroom. There would actually be room in the bed for people.

Yes, I have to be practical. Change is coming, and I must adapt or go the way of dinosaurs. I may walk into the bookstore and hear “Paper or e-book?” from the clerk any day now. I must admit I haven’t done a lot of research on the subject as of yet. You know, costs, convenience, etc. I guess I need to do this before I get anymore set in my ways.

Who knows? I learned to love calculators over the abacus, microwave ovens over wood stoves, and cell phones over landlines. E-books might win me some day. My goal for the year should be to give it a shot. Amazon is calling. Pressure is building. But, I’m such an old dawg.

So what’s your view? Have you dived into the twenty-first century with relish, ready to try anything and everything new? Are you a young pup of new-age electronics? Or are you an old dog too?

CiCi

PS: By the way, if you want a paper copy of this blog, just let me know. I have stacks of paper to print one out for you. Woof!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And the Winner Is:

Drumroll please.

MARIN THOMAS

Marin, please send your snail mail address so Berta can send you your book. Now we know who the

LUCKY CHICA is!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Women of Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Welcome Berta Platas, Guest Blogger







For those of you who don’t know Berta, author of six chica-lit novels, here’s the scoop. Berta was born in Havanna, Cuba and has lived in several major cities in the US before coming to her current home in Atlanta. She’s married, a mom to four, and still keeps her day job in marketing. In addition to producing her rave-review books, Berta is the new in-coming president of Georgia Romance Writers, a 200 plus members writer’s group.

So Berta, tell us about your exciting new release, Lucky Chica!


Lucky Chica is the story of a young woman, Rosie Caballero, who’s had nothing but bad breaks in her life, but thinks that she’d be fine, if only she had a little money. She plays the lottery every week, and plans for the day when she wins. But when she wins the biggest lottery in US history, she finds that she can control her spending, but not her relatives, or the press. She has to decide what’s important in her life.

I read that you like to play the lottery on occasion. Do you have a favorite type of lottery ticket or your own special numbers?

I try to play the big games every week, and limit it to a dollar a week. For fun occasions, like birthdays, I’ll buy twenty buck’s worth of scratch-offs and hand them out to familiy members. It’s a lot of fun. So much fun, that I’m doing it for my book signings. Everyone who buys a book will get a ticket. One of my readers might get rich! I’ve been instructed by my publicist at St. Martins to immediately notify her if that happens!

And just what is it that you would do if you were a real-life version of Rosie Caballeros?


Spend a loooooot of money. But I hope I’ll be wiser, and plan carefully. Travel would be high on the list, and a helping out causes that need help. All of my relatives would be debt-free, but first I’d have to decide who is really a relative. Folks who win big pots of cash acquire lots of cousins they’ve never met before!

For our aspiring and published writers out there, tell us what inspired this story and about how long it took you to write Lucky Chica?

The idea started to swirl around after I read about a guy who won 30 million, but lost it all. He went nuts, carrying around a metal suitcase stuffed with thousands of dollars so that he could gamble whenever the mood struck him. He used drugs, let people steal from him, became estranged from his family. The lottery cash ruined his life.

At the same time, I had just left a job in Chamblee, Georgia, a nexus of cultural diversity just north of Atlanta. As with all areas where recent immigrants gather, it’s brimming with energy, both good and bad. Many residents are just passing through, because as soon as they get ahead a bit, they move to other neighborhoods. There was a growing gang presence at the time, and lots of Section 8 housing, and apartments stuffed full of single men trying to save cash, sometimes as many as fifteen to a small apartment. No way to live, but these guys were cheerful, hardworking, and sent just about every penny they made home to help their families. And in the midst of this there were families who were stuck. They needed to live off of Buford Highway, where they could walk to the store, the Laundromat, their work, and couldn’t afford higher apartment prices or cars and insurance.

So I wondered, what if a girl stuck here was given not just the money she needed, but an obscene amount of money. What choices would she make? What would she want? I spent months on research while I was writing Cinderella Lopez, and then I wrote the book in a year. It was the option book for a two book contract, and I had a change of editor in the middle of writing it. My new editor and her assistant are both wonderfully bright and creative women who had great ideas about how the book could be improved. So after I turned in the manuscript, I spent another six months editing, and then it was done.

Don’t be discouraged by the long timeline. While I was writing this I was also taking notes on my next two books, and started writing a young adult book with one of my critique partners, which we subsequently sold as a trilogy. I wrote two YA’s with her while I was writing and editing Lucky Chica, and I’ve also got another single title book done, which I’m editing now. That one’s about a psychologist who ends up working as a fortune teller.

So, tell us the real details of writing. What do you do to set the mood for the writing muse?

The writing muse never stops by my house. Instead, I was assigned the whip-cracking writing drill sergeant. With a day job, a husband, four kids, two big dogs, a cat, two ferrets and two contracts, I don’t have time to wait for inspiration to strike. I plan ahead so that each project has a detailed synopsis and chapter outlines. I do collages so that I instantly remember which characters are in each book, or what that special dress looks like. All of this planning, along with daily page count goals (five pages a day on weekdays), means that when I sit down to write, I know just where I’m headed.

Do you have a favorite junk food that you munch when you write?

No junk food for me, but if I get started on coffee I’ll drink two pots of the stuff before I realize it, usually when my fingernails start to vibrate. Munchies at the keyboard means the dogs nestle up to me and give me the puppy dog eyes, or the cat gets more obnoxious than usual about walking up and down the keyboard.

What’s playing on your IPod?

Right this second? Calabria 2007, by Enur. The club mix. It’s a really sexy Jamaican dance tune. Also, Def Leppard, the Chieftains, the Clash, Benny Goodman, and Scott Joplin rags, lots of Prince, and an odd mix of songs that I like, but I’ll probably never listen to anything else by the artist, like House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” I’m a Gemini, what can I say?

Berta, I know you’ve been at this for a while, so tell us, which of your previous books is your “baby” and why?

They’re all my babies, really. And my favorite is the one I haven’t written yet, because my favorite part of writing is getting new ideas and starting to write. The editing part is torture to me.

Those of us who know and love you are aware of your love for martinis. Care to share your favorite martini recipe with us?

Aw, I love to be known and loved. Thanks! I really like Gibsons – vodka with a couple of drops of vermouth, and an onion on a skewer, preferably a little sword. I love swizzle sticks and cocktail skewers and collect them, and love to use my favorites when I’m at home. I also like vodka martinis with a big olive and a big splash of olive brine. That’s what makes it “dirty.” I’m not a sweet martini drinker, although I love an occasional Lemon Drop. Ask Rita Herron about those. And I like to drink them while munching cheese and crackers.

Any last thought for us?

Writing is part of my soul, as I’m sure it is for many of you, but unless you write with a partner, it’s a solitary business. It’s important to belong to a community of writers, people who totally understand what you go through when you write.

Ok. Now tell us about the contest. How do we win an autographed copy of Lucky Chica to start or add to our Berta Platas collection?

Just leave a comment here – the top three things you’d do if you won the big millions. If you don’t win the copy of Lucky Chica, you’ll have another chance to win at my website, www.bertaplatas.com. Or if you’ve got a Christmas gift card burning a hole in your pocket, come by one of my two Atlanta signings. The 17th at 3pm at Eagle Eye Book Store, and the 24th at 2:30pm at the Barnes and Noble at The Forum in Norcross.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog! Where are the petit fours? I just got a fresh cup of coffee…

Okay readers, get busy with your comments. We'll take entries up to midnight tonight. One entry per person please. Winner to be announced in the morning. Don't forget to stop by Berta's website for a second chance to win.



Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Taste of Romance

My Heart and My Home

Years ago there was a song, What The World Needs Now Is Love, sweet love, that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

But is there really too little love? We’re bombarded from all sides with “love” in movies, television, advertising and books. We also probably hear those three little words, “I love you” several times a day from friends and family, so why aren’t we happy? Why do we sometimes feel that something is missing?

When I presented these questions to my husband of many, many years, he said that women are happy to have love, but he thinks that what they dream about having is romance. Brilliant man, my husband. He’s right, because romance is what we all dream of having in our lives.

Webster’s defines “romance” as a love story or an affair. Okay, that’s interesting, but then they define “romantic” as imaginative or appealing to one’s emotions. Ah, now there’s the difference. We’d be happy with the love story (not too sure about the affair, though) but what we’re really looking for is the person who can be imaginative and appeal to our emotions.

I would imagine if you polled 100 guys, asking them what they thought they needed to do to be considered romantic, I bet the majority would say something like taking his girl out to dinner or buying her flowers. Well, I haven’t turned down too many meals that I didn’t have to cook and clean up after, but there isn’t too much imagination required to drive to a restaurant and let the date choose her own entrée.

Wouldn’t you consider it romantic if your guy told you to stay seated and finish your coffee while he loaded the dishwasher for you? Well, if he’d never done it before and wasn’t expecting something in return later in the evening, I’d say he was appealing to his lady’s emotions. Maybe guys just don’t realize how easy it is to please most of us.

Here’s a quick peek into how easily we can be pleased. This is an excerpt from My Home and My Heart, my first attempt at writing back in 1998.

Sarah’s mind was already fast-forwarding to everything she needed to accomplish that day as she leaned over the table and picked up the breakfast dishes. Without a word, she turned her back on Thomas, leaving him to finish his coffee.

She had been mighty young when he had captured her heart with his strong, silent ways, but every now and then she wondered what she had seen all those years ago. Oh, he was a good man and a hard worker, but…

She was just wiping the counter when she heard the back door close, signaling that her husband of over ten years had left. She paused for a moment to watch him plod toward the barn while shrugging into a lightweight denim jacket that would soon be discarded when the sun rose higher in the sky. She waited, as she always did, until she saw the tractor heading out to the field. She could only hope that this year’s crop was better than the last. Times were hard, but spring always gave her hope.

Within minutes she heard the tractor returning. Had he forgotten something? Sarah craned her neck to see out the window, watching him stop the tractor near the backyard fence before climbing down and heading toward the house.

A cool breeze followed Thomas inside as he walked toward her, holding out a tiny, purple wild flower. Without a word, he leaned in to place a gentle kiss on lips slightly open in surprise before he turned and headed back outside.

As the tractor made a sweeping turn around the huge oak tree, Sarah stood in the middle of the kitchen, the tiny flower held between two work chafed fingers as tears slid down her face to drip off the edge of her jaw.

Now, I’d say that Thomas scored two for two, don’t you think? He was imaginative and he cut right to the heart of her emotions. (I’ve heard it said that you really have to watch those quiet ones)

When my husband read the draft of this blog post, he was silent for a moment (nothing unusual) before telling me that he had never known my reaction after he left me standing in the kitchen that day. You see, although the story was fiction, certain parts were taken from our everyday life. Personally, I think he’s just relieved that I don’t write erotica!

After thinking again about the words to the song, I’ve concluded that maybe there really isn’t enough love in the world, or maybe the problem is that we’re so busy wanting someone to show their love to us that we don’t show our love for them. The interesting thing about love is that if we do unto others like we want them to do unto us, then that just might solve the whole problem. So I challenge each of you today to be creative and have some fun doing something out of the ordinary for that special person in your life.

Are you willing to share the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you? Don’t forget, ladies can be (and should be) romantic also, so maybe you’d like to share something romantic you’ve done for your special sweetie.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Advice for Romance Writers and Readers

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning and a commentator quoted the following:

Work like you don’t need the money, love like your heart has never been broken, and dance like no one is watching.

This quote is actually taken from Aurora Greenway, Shirley MacLaine’s nut-ball neurotic mother in Terms of Endearment, and while I don’t normally take advice from nut-ball neurotics, this one got me thinking, especially in terms of reading and writing romance.

Work like you don’t need the money:

You’ve heard the response of at least 30 authors on this one. We don’t—repeat, DON’T—write to make money. At least not initially. We can’t. Unpublished authors have zero monetary incentive to write—to slave away at their craft for years and years until they’re good /recognized enough to publish—while debut authors generally start out grateful for the mere pittance they’re offered.

So what is it that keeps us writing? What motivates us?

I can think of only one answer: We write because we have to.

That’s it. That’s the broad reason, though there are a thousand smaller reasons that fit under the “have to,” reasons such as:

  • to feel some sense of controlling our world by controlling that of our characters
  • to provide an escape for our readers
  • to stop the voices in our heads by some other means than psychotropics, etc.

You get the point and you can add some more if you like, but I think we’d all agree that as writers, we have to write. It’s an instinct (or an infectious disease depending on how difficult the writing went that day).

So as writers, we all start from a place of working like we don’t need the money. See? Already we’re ahead of the game.

Love like your heart has never been broken:

As romance readers and writers in particular, I think we are all implicitly aware of the curative love is to all that is wrong with the world. Don’t believe me? Watch.


Solution to war, famine, poverty? Love the side experiencing it. If everyone did so, the calamity wouldn’t exist.

Solution to personal unhappiness? Stop thinking about yourself and focus on loving someone else. Sure fire solution for happiness.

Solution to the economic downturn? Yes, love. Love someone else and stop obsessing over what you want, what you think you deserve and what you should be getting.

It’s basic, but something everyone tends to forget, particularly when the news channels keep pounding financial doom and gloom into our ears. But we, as romance enthusiasts especially, tend to be enlightened. We go to grocery stores and in addition to picking up milk, we pick up a novel about love. The escape we’re looking for (or trying to write) is an effort to turn our thoughts away from ourselves and focus outward and isn’t that far more pleasurable than focusing on dwindling retirements?

And by the way, isn’t that what romance writers are getting at in the first place with all those happily ever afters?

Dance like no one is watching:

When you start any creative endeavor, go at it as though no one is watching. In our case, write the first draft like no one is watching. I see no other way to maintain one’s integrity as a creative being other than letting go of how we’ll be received. This goes for any kind of artist but in the case of writers specifically, I think there would be a lot less cases of writer's block if we all took this approach. And of course, there’s time in later revisions to tailor a manuscript to our audience (love others, after all), but as a writer, we’ve all experienced those moments in the fledgling stages where the words we chose were tainted by the awareness of how they would be read. And wasn’t it true that when we read that section later, it reeked? Wasn’t it a tedious thing to write in the first place?

So, write like no one is watching. Explore the far limits of your creativity and venture into new grounds.

Work without thought for result. Love without limits and dance to your heart’s content.

So how about you? What’s the best advice you can give for the coming year? We need all the positivity we can get.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Writing Muse


The writing Muse, I've found, is a fickle lover. Some days it's whispering endearments and other days it's playing the field. I'm new to this courtship, but I consider myself a fast learner. I mean, you can only stand me up so many times before I realize that I better find other ways to fill my dance card. My goal when I write is to set the mood well enough so that the muse will find my "come hither" writing attitude irresistible. Not always an easy task....

My Muse Baby is not only fickle, but unpredictable. Muse Baby shows up when I'm in the shower, when I'm woken from a dream at five in the morning, and any other *#%*! time it's inconvenient. You know what I mean. Kinda like your amorous husband. Your amorous husband at midnight when you've spent the day chasing five-year-olds who found the candy stash and cleaning up after the dog that ate all the empty wrappers. Yes, that level of inconvenient. To deal with it, I've learned to keep notebooks handy by the bed and post-its in my bathroom. God forbid I should trust that little voice that whispers "You can remember to write it down later." That would be Muse Baby's evil twin speaking.

Some times Muse Baby needs flogging. Fortunately that doesn't require me to wear black leather 'cause the chaffing is wicked. No, for this little domination session, I must put my butt firmly in the chair and chain my hands to the keyboard. Then I set to typing. When I find myself doing a lot more page staring than typing, I prod myself. Then I set limits. My safe word might be a buzzer set for a certain time frame, a word or page count, a minimum number of scenes, or whatever works for me with that day's schedule. The bottom line is that without a goal and my rear end in a chair, Muse Baby can be the most amorous lover ever but, no offspring novel will be forthcoming.

Of course, if I really want to get Muse baby's attention, I can always resort to invoking the green-eyed monster. That's right, sometimes jealousy is a girl's best friend. I step out on a regular basis with other authors' works, books on the craft, a monthly Georgia Romance Writer's meeting, and a critique partner that is willing to dally with me on a regular basis. If you don't know who to call on to make your Muse jealous, may I suggest Stephen King's On Writing? Or perhaps, joining an established writing group such as RWA http://www.rwanational.org/ and local chapter such as http://www.georgiaromancewriters.org/ if you are here in the Peach State.

Like any grand and passionate relationship, writing takes work if it's going to be successful. There is no "Love Potion #9." There is no magic formula. And there certainly is no room for one-night stands. So write, study, set reasonable goals, and court the Muse.

Happy Writing,

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wine, Women and Words: Blogging about Book Groups




When I asked my husband to give his opinion about some of the blog names our group was considering, his reaction was, “The world is collapsing and you’re trying to think of a name for your blogging group?”
After I had a good laugh about his overreaction, I thought, even if the world is collapsing and especially if the world is collapsing, blogging about books and book groups makes perfect sense. Because reading books and caring about books brings a perspective and a pleasure that can make the outside world go away, at least for as long as it takes to finish the book.
I joined my neighborhood book group five years ago and through it, met some lovely ladies and found out about books I might not otherwise have read. We meet monthly in one of the members’ homes. The member hosting the meeting serves wine, water, soft drinks and snacks and we spend the evening gossiping, eating and drinking, and yes, even talking about the book.
There are book groups and then there are book groups. One of my friends is in a book group that reads Faulkner and is contemplating a field trip to his adopted hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, to learn more about the author’s work.
Then there’s my book group. We aren’t as structured. We read anything from NYT bestsellers to books other members have read, enjoyed and recommended. We start at 7 p.m. and sometimes don’t get around to talking about the book till 8 p.m. or later. Some of the members haven’t quite finished the book or haven’t read it at all. But we all show up because it fulfills some eternal need and offers a sense of camaraderie and feeling of community. And you can walk home, which is a big selling point. And of course, there are the wonderful books, about which we are very serious.
Biggest Book Group Outrage: One of my friends founded a book group 20 years ago and for one reason or another, dropped out. When she was at a point in her life where she wanted to rejoin, they said they had to take a vote to let her back in. She had maintained a small core of friends in the group but the others didn’t know her and said they were already at"maximum capacity." She was outraged to be turned away and I was outraged for her so I invited her to join my book group.
This same friend passed on a funny article she’d recently read about what can go terribly wrong with book groups. When I shared it with my book group, one of our members said, “Are we the only perfect book group?” I’ve provided a link to the article written by Joanne Kaufman, and published Dec. 5, 2008, in The New York Times’ Fashion & Style section, entitled, “Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?”
From the writers’ perspective, another column by Barbara Vey, contributing editor, Publisher’s Weekly, who writes for readers and writers on her blog, Beyond Her Book, in her December 18, 2008, post, When the Going Gets Rough...talks about why books are so important to readers. It’s inspiring and also worth reading.
For our January 2009 selection, our book group is reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a novel by David Wroblewski. But our favorite book for 2008, a disaster by almost any other definition, was The Book Thief by a young Australian author Markus Zusak. It is a compelling story of a young girl in WW II Germany told from the perspective of Death. It is brilliantly written, totally unexpected, and you’ll never cry as hard over any book you’ve ever read. It’s a celebration of life and of reading. From the moment we walked in the door, we couldn’t wait to start talking about the book.

Our challenge is to pick a book we’ll all love. We’re getting ready to choose our selection for the February meeting. I’d love to hear your recommendations and your comments about your book groups.
And, as a bonus, here’s the Best Book Group Cookie Recipe:
From the kitchen of Catherine Goetzke
Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 oz. bag chocolate chips, divided in half
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
1 cup broken nut meats (I always use pecans)
Combine water, butter and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in ½ chocolate chips until melted. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool.
Beat in egg and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into chocolate mixture. Fold in nuts and remaining chocolate chips. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 325 for 9-11 minutes. After removing from oven, let stand on cookie sheets for a couple of minutes before removing to racks to cool.
Note: The dough is very soft and will probably look like it needs more flour. Don’t worry. As it cools, it gets stiffer.
Given the odd amounts of sugar and butter, etc., I find it’s easier to just make a double batch. They’ll get eaten.
Happy reading, writing and eating in 2009!
Marilyn Baron