Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cassy's Corner- What do You Have on Your Desk?

Cassy's Corner- What do You Have on Your Desk?

I am curious about what you keep around you when you write. This has crossed my mind because I've temporarily set up shop in Italy, first in one house, then traveling to a writer's retreat and then back to a second house. Yes, nutty, don't ask why. It has lead me to think about the essentials. This trip is all about writing as my books take place here, plus it's my second "home." But, what do you need to write?

Many would say, nothing. Just a pen and paper or a laptop. Lots of ideas. Time. No phone or Internet. Well, I have found I need a lot more. Looking around at the desk I have been using for the last four days I confess it's a mess. My mess. I'm not a "go to Starbucks" kind of gal--yes, I know many of you (guys too, Lindsay) are easily at work out in the world. Nope. Not me (or not I as my grandmother would correct). I like my cramped space with all my stuff around me. Sure I can work in an airport, a restaurant or waiting in a parking lot. But, that's not my first choice.

So, what's around me as I sit here and write this? I'll take an inventory. Beware, this is not for the queasy. How have I accumulated so much in such a short time?

- My laptop (of course).
- A thumb drive so that if my lap top disappears I have kept everything (don't laugh, it was stolen on my last trip- yeah, the thumb drive saved my a**).
- A printer/copier- I actually hauled one over with me because I am weird about having hard copy when I need it. It will stay here, so one lugging is enough.
- Two reams of paper. No, I didn't haul those, but they make me happy. Just think, when they are gone, my book is probably nearly finished!
- Four pencils. I make lots of notes and you can never have enough sharp pencils. There are two pens as well.
- A connector for my iPhone. I charge it off my computer and always need to know my husband and kids can find me. Yup, I'm here alone. Remember, this is about writing.
- My iPhone. Why have a connector without the phone?
- Multiple adapters. They are stacked up as I have to keep plugging things in and the European plugs are totally different from our American ones.
- My watch. I can't wear it when typing. The clock on my computer somehow thinks I'm in Connecticut. I have trouble adding six hours, so my watch sits next to me.
-A glass of water. I am a fiend about my water. Many of you are coffee hounds. Not I. But don't get between me and my glass of sparkling water.
- The modem. Gift of life. It is blinking rapid yellow lights telling me I can reach all of you with the stroke of a finger.
- A lamp. Gotta seeing what I'm doing.
- Various sundry of office-type stuff (paper clips, scotch tape, a highlighter, post it notes, and more than I should confess).
- A Tom Tom GPS system for the car. I get lost a lot. Something I lie about to my husband. He really knows the truth but still protects my virtue in this regard. I've never not shown up, just might have taken a longer route than necessary.
- A land line telephone, not my cell. We lose power often enough to warrant both.
- A few Kleenex's.
- Car keys and house keys. Why they are on my desk versus somewhere else, who knows. It all seems to end up here.
- Fussy notes about everything- my story, what I have to do today, who to call, what to remember, it goes on.

Gracious! There is even more I hate to admit that surrounds me. This is actually a small desk. Yet, this is my little nest. The kitchen is perfectly clean, my bedroom is tidy, there is nothing in the bathroom that looks out of place. Yet, my desk is a living and almost moving environment unto its own.

What's on your desk? What do you need to have around you? The only things I'm missing are my two dogs at my feet- traveling with them is just too complicated so they are at the doggy spa. And, of course my dear family. But then, hmmm, the writing would be cramped. Your desk? What's there?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sometimes time-outs can be a good thing.

Just one of those days... Ever feel like putting yourself in a time-out? Sometimes time-outs can be a good thing. A true time-out requires the whole world leave you alone for a set period of time. Sound like heaven? To a kid, not so much. To an adult, absolutely!

First, the ice maker went on our new fridge that we just got 5 months ago. We replaced the old fridge because of the ice maker. Grrr. I'm ready to buy a fridge with NO ice or water dispenser and just make my own. It would save a lot of grief, headaches and messes to clean up.

Then I came down with the stomach bug...again! My daughter had it twice, and this is my second time. Double Grrr...the weather needs to warm up like now! My family of 6 doesn't know when to leave me alone, even when I'm sick. Nope, the demands on Mom and contant running around are endless.

If there were only 5 of me.... I'm neck deep in writing book two of the Fortune Teller Mystery series (Corpse in the Crystal Ball) and I need to be writing 10 pages a day to finish on time. I only finished 6 out of 10 pages yesterday because of the above problems. So what did I do? Said to heck with it all, put myself in a time-out...and it was wonderful!

Off in a room by myself, no TV, no one allowed in, just me and a few books. There's nothing like a great book to lift your spirits. What have I been reading lately? Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett A Veiled Deception by Annette Blair Elvis and the Dearly Departed by Peggy Webb Feline Fatale by Linda O. Johnston The Trouble with Magic by Madelyn Alt Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews Larceny and Old Lace by Tamar Myers Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston

Some of these books are older and the first in a series and some are newer ones. Some I've read before and others I am reading for the first time. But ALL of them are awesome! I love to read and even re-read books that make me chuckle and make me think and make me strive to make my own books great. There's nothing like a good puzzle and trying to figure out who done it.

So tell me, who are your favorite mystery authors and what books do you love? Maybe it's time you put yourself in a time-out! Just sayin'.... Kari Lee Townsend

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kari's Kave: Featuring "Why I Love Mysteries" by author Donna Cummings

I should start out by saying why I love margaritas, even though there's no real mystery involved. They are cool, icy, and refreshing, with a high citrus content, which we all know is essential to keeping scurvy at bay. It's a festive drink as well. Who could possibly be unhappy while quaffing a pitcher of frosty green deliciousness?

As for mysteries, I have loved them for so long, I'm not even sure which mystery I started with. I wasn't really a big fan of Nancy Drew, although I do remember reading them one summer to keep from going stir crazy while babysitting some neighbor kids. I'm sure the tykes got away with more than they should have while I was engrossed in unmasking one criminal mastermind after another. A while later I discovered Agatha Christie books, which seemed so elegant, and sophisticated, not to mention a world away from the crimes Nancy Drew and I had been solving together in my suburban backyard.

So mysteries can prevent boredom while you discover you're not cut out for parental activities, and they can transport you to a place more in keeping with your vision of your future life, even if it's in the past.

That makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

A lot of people seem to love reading mysteries because they like solving a puzzle, or they want to see justice prevail. Those are definitely good reasons, and I would feel cheated if either one of those were missing when I finished a mystery. But that's still not the main reason I love them. I read mysteries because of what I learn about human nature.

Yep. I confess. I'm nosy. Mystery novels are one of the best ways to discover the real, ongoing mystery in life: why do people do what they do?

The sleuth interviews a ton of different people in an effort to solve the crime, and each person has secrets, as well as reasons for hanging on tightly to information they want to keep hidden. With each scene, the sleuth gathers bits of information, hoping to link it together to find the criminal. In the process, we learn just what people value the most in life, what hurts they are holding inside of them, and how far they are willing to go to protect something--or someone--important to them.

In the most entertaining mysteries, we also learn about the sleuth as they go about uncovering the criminal. A sleuth who has frailties or issues is often forced to confront them as they interrogate potential suspects with other frailties and issues.

That, to me, is the motherlode, million-dollar lottery epic win, because I am more interested in the whydunit than the whodunit. Our daily lives are filled with so much randomness, and uncertainty, not to mention unpredictability. Reading mysteries helps give us a frame of reference for human behavior that initially seems whacko and outrageous...until we see what motivated the person to act as they did.

So that's why I love mysteries. Now where are the margaritas? While you're pouring, tell me what you love about reading, and writing, mysteries.

Donna Cummings has worked as an attorney, winery tasting room manager, and retail business owner, but nothing beats the thrill of writing humorous contemporary and historical romances. Currently she resides in Massachusetts, although she fantasizes about spending the rest of her days in a tropical locale, consuming mojitos for breakfast and wearing flip flops year-round. She can usually be found at the local Starbucks, fine-tuning her caffeine levels while working on her latest manuscript, or on Twitter, talking about writing, and coffee. To find out more about Donna, check out her website

Monday, March 28, 2011

From Sweet Romance to a Murdering Smartass: One Writer’s Journey

We are honored to have my friend and fellow author Christie Craig here today to talk about her new releases and tell us how she got to this stage in her career and signed a BIG deal with St. Martins Press with her new YA series. Not only is Christie laugh-out-loud funny, but she's got some great giveaways, including a Kindle! So with no further ado, here's Christie.

Years ago, in another life, I wrote and published a Silhouette Romance. It was a sweet story with wholesome characters, and I’m proud of that book. However, after having some difficulties selling another book, I put novel writing on the back burner and focused on my photojournalism career. I took pictures that appeared on the covers of national magazines, and I wrote nonfiction, wrote words to feed knowledge-hungry individuals. I wrote about China, about the homeless, about calligraphy, about horny felines, window fashions, skunks, tomato horn worms, ugly shoes, and bad moles.

Basically, if an editor would pay for it, I wrote it. And after about an eight-year sabbatical from writing novels, and too many years of writing about things other people thought were important—like tomato horn worms—I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge not to die a one-book wonder. I wanted to write my own thing, to write my own story as it played across the screen of my mind.

Now the thing you have to know about me is that when I really get a bee in my bonnet,I don’t play around. I announced my intentions to my husband, to my kids, my friends and to the innocent bystander behind me in the grocery store line. I even announced it to my gynecologist, during a pap smear. I, Christie Craig, was going to write, sell, and publish another book even if I had to kill somebody to accomplish it.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, that’s exactly what it would take to make my dream come true--killing someone. Well, it wasn’t just one person, there were several. And I admit when I whacked my first person, I suffered terribly. My heart ached and I cried, and guilt sat on my shoulders like a five-hundred-pound gorilla. But as soon as I knocked off the gorilla and washed the imaginary blood off my hands, and I reread my deadly scene, I had an epiphany: Nothing can liven up a party or a plot like a dead body. I really found my mystery-suspense voice and that’s when I sold my books.

Since then, suspense, mystery and murder are as prevalent in my work as flies are on a bad banana. Yes, there’s romance, and lots of humor, but to be honest, I’m not sure I can write a story without having one person kick the bucket. Or at least having someone try to kick someone else’s bucket. Let’s face it, death or someone facing death, just adds a zing to a manuscript. It can be more of a zinger than even a hot sex scene.

Now since then, I’ve sort of gotten creative on how I kill people, or how I keep my characters from being killed by other people. Of course, I’ve used the typical guns, knives, and an occasional vehicle—from a Cadillac to a Saturn. But I’ve also gotten creative and threatened people with toilet plungers, the tank top of the back of a toilet, a tampon, and an egg beater. just keeps things interesting.

And when I was approached to write a young adult, my first question was: will I still be able to kill people, because I’m good at that?

The editor assured me that I could kill people, bring them back to life, and then kill them again if I wanted to—this was going to be a paranormal. Another thing she told me was I wasn’t going to have to stop being a smartass. As a matter of fact, she said the reason she wanted me to write a young adult was because I was a smartass. Dag-blast it, I didn’t even know I was a smartass. Yeah, I had a few zingers here and there but . . . Right then, I added being a smartass to my list of talents. Hey…you take what you can get.

Writing young adult has been a blast. If you are familiar with my Christie Craig books, you’ll still see some of my smartass humor in my Shadow Falls series for St. Martin’s Griffin. And someone is either gonna die, or come close to dying, and while these books might not have as much sex, you’ll find plenty of sexual tension.

In a nut shell, Born at Midnight, the first book in my new Shadow Falls series under my new pseudonym C.C. Hunter, is about young girl who has spent sixteen years trying to figure out who she is, only to discover she doesn’t know what she is. As the tagline of the book says: It’s not your average identity crisis. Kylie Galen is about to go on an adventure of self-discovery, love and friendship. There just happens to be some vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, faes and a few witches around, too. And when she’s told she’s one of them, but they don’t have a friggin’ clue what she is, well her life pretty much goes to hell in a hand basket. Trying to figure out what she is is a real mindbender.

Personally, I think identity crises aren’t just something that happens to women in their teens. Heck, with each new stage of life, I find myself reevaluating--trying to reinvent myself with a new wardrobe, hair cut, or hair color. And when I look at the woman in the mirror, sometimes I just stare at her trying to figure out who the heck she really is. Life is a journey of self discovery. It’s so difficult at times it can drive a person to being a smartass and a murderer on paper. Not that I’m complaining, those are my talents.

So there you have it, how I went from sweet romance to being a murdering smartass who also writes YA. Ahh, but it’s been a good journey. I hope some of you will give Born at Midnight a try. You can even snag my free short story, Turned at Dark. It’s Della’s story and it introduces the Shadow Falls series. You can also read the first three chapters of Born at Midnight, too. All you have to do is visit my Born at Midnight page at Macmillan on March 15th – Born at Midnight Page. Or you can download a free eBook copy of Turned at Dark at all major online retailers. The download also has the first three chapters of Born at Midnight on there as well.

To celebrate the release of Born at Midnight, I’m running a “Tweet my Book and Win a Kindle Contest” from March 22th through March 29th. The grand prize will be the Kindle but I’m also giving away copies of Born at Midnight, some Shadow Falls swag and ARCs of Awake at Dawn, which is scheduled to release in October. All the details will be at my blog beginning March 22nd – Blog. So, please drop by and help me tweet my book and you could win a Kindle!

Finally, for those of you waiting for my next Christie Craig book, it’s in the pipeline. Don’t Mess With Texas, the first book in my Hotter In Texas trilogy put out by Grand Central, will release August 23rd. And, yeah, my editor let me kill somebody in this one, too. In fact, the dead body shows up when . . .well, that would be telling too much. But trust me. It’s funny . . .in a smartass kind of way, I mean.

Thanks so much Liz for allowing me to visit with your readers. And I’d love to offer a free copy of Born at Midnight to one person who posts a comment and tells me a little about their own identity crisis. Or maybe about some of their talents in life. Come on, share a little.

Friday, March 25, 2011

CONTEST: Where are Kari's Bookmarks?



* One 5x7 thick padded envelope

* 100 bookmarks bound in two groups of 50 with rubber bands

* Mailed First Class from New York to California on March 7th 2011.

* Arrived in California on March 22nd 2011

* Took 15 days to deliver!

* Envelope arrived torn and empty

* Contents were a tight fit--nothing could have simply fallen out on its own


100 of Kari's lovely little bookmarks for TEMPEST IN THE TEA LEAVES: A Fortune Teller Mystery.

Kari, the proud mother of said bookmarks, is very distraught. She labored long and hard to produce such pretty little pieces of pride and joy. She did all she could do to help them develop into the outstanding masterpieces that they are today.

Kari was so proud when they left the nest to venture out into the world, all the way to the Left Coast Crime conference in Santa Fe. All she wished for them to do was make a difference and let their voices be heard. To spread the word on what was most important to them: making Tempest a huge success :-)

Kari is in mourning and only wishes to have piece of mind. To know what happened to her babies. Were they kidnapped by members of the post office because they were just too cute for words, and then adopted by readers who just couldn't live without them? Or were they accidentally lost, and then abandoned in some desolate location, unwanted and unloved and forgotten forever. Or, gasp, were they murdered by some savage beast who stole them, looking for something a bit more valuable, who was angered over the contents of the package, only to rip them in half and carelessly toss them in the garbage like trash?

Kari is offering a REWARD for the person who comes up with the most creative answer to: Where are Kari's Bookmarks?

The Cup of Destiny is a traditional fortune-teller's cup and saucer used for reading tea leaves. It has a cool design, and it comes with a book that tells you how to read your own tea leaves and interpret the symbols.

To Enter:

* Follow this blog.
* Leave a comment with your answer to what you think happened to Kari's bookmarks and where they are now.
* Include your email in your comment, or send privately to Kari at so she can email you if you are the winner.

Contest starts Friday March 25th and ends in one week on Friday Arpil 1st (just 4 months before Tempest is to be released). The best answer will be chosen by the M&M judges (Liz, Anita, Kari, Barbie & Cassy). The winner will be announced on Wed April 6th on M&M during the Kari's Kave segment. The winner will receive the tea cup set and one of the infamous Tempest bookmarks since Kari (mom of 4) is very fertile and busy creating more ;-)

Good luck!

PS The countdown to Tempest in the Tea Leaves release is on. Kari will throw a fun contest once a month until release day. This contest is the April contest, so have fun and check back for the May, June & July contests. And then in August, one lucky reader will win a copy of the book!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cassy's Corner- Turn Around

Today is a bit of a download. Sorry. Just what it is. I'd like to find out how you function. What makes up your days. How do you handle change, transition, a rearrangement of your plans. I am pretty good at adjusting. It's how our household is made up. But...

Well, I'm leaving for Italy on Saturday. My usual trip. No big deal. Yet, there are moments it seems a big deal. I thought I had today and tomorrow to write, fuss about the house and then finally pack (I'm a last minute packer). Nope. Not happening that way.

I'm now leaving for Boston to apartment hunt for my daughter. I haven't packed, shopped, thought about what needs to be done around the house, and my dear husband is returning tonight from a trip. I can't wait to see him, but then also the evening is not about me getting ready to exit, it will be out catch-up time.

Enough of that. I am not a complainer. Rather I'd like to talk about how you get it done. What are your strategies to mitigate the unexpected? What are the ways you cope to stop the drain on your time? What do you do to protect your writing opportunities? You can see I'm fussing here. I want YOU to give me new ideas. Spill.....

This is a short post because my list is long of what needs to happen today. Give. I want to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kari's Kave: To fan, or not to fan....

So, I got thinking about what to post today, when an idea came to me that I'd love your opinions on.


On the one hand, it's so exciting to finally have fans. To open the mail or open my email and receive actual fan letters. The fist one I received for Fused was unbelievably thrilling. I thought, "Holy cow, someone that is not related to me that I don't even know who likes my story!" ... and I didn't even have to pay them :-)

Then I started getting mail from people about Tempest and that hasn't even come out yet. (Guess my publicity is paying off) They say things like, they can't wait for the book to come out, or that they have pre-ordered it, etc. Some have asked me to speak, and some have asked for a copy of the book as a giveaway or for a basket at conferences that take place right after the release date.

I love all this, and it's still so thrilling, but it does have me thinking...

Should I get a PO box? I mean, my address is public and my phone number is listed, so if someone really wants to find me, then can pretty easily. But to respond now, I have to use my home address which is blatantly exposing where I live, and at the very least, making it easy for people to just "show up."

Not that I'm famous or that people would even care to show up, but hey, I can dream that someday I will be that famous :-) Maybe I should nip this in the bud right now while I still have the chance and while people really don't care and will forget about the info I already put out there. It makes me think of Facebook and blogs and personal info and pics of my kids and all sorts of things I never really thought of before.

Where do we draw the line? How paranoid do we become? To what lengths should we go to protect ourselves and our families? Hell, I don't even use a pen name. Look me up, and there I am. But still, looking me up is more work than just reading what I put in front of you.

And here's another one. Many times fans not only love your work, but ask questions and hope for responses. Or what about kids in school that are doing reports on you? I've spent a lot of time on my website, offering fun extras and lots of info about my life on my frequently asked questions page. So do you ignore those fans, direct them to your website, or take the time to answer every email? Again, that's not an issue yet because I don't get "that" much mail. But we are all busy with writing, deadlines, family, etc. And answering emails takes time. Do we nip that in the bud now, too?

So many questions, so much to do, so little time!


Kari Lee

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Name Game

First of all, I’m so happy to be guest blogging today! And I’m thrilled to be one of the newest Mysteries & Margaritas members! Thanks so much, ladies, for inviting me. I’m such a fan.  My topic today is names.

How do you come up with names for your characters? Do you use a baby name book? Telephone book? Do you skim through magazines, go through old year books,or shake up scrabble tiles(which I’ve personally never done, but now that I put it out there…that might be fun!).Me, I’ve never had a problem coming up with my characters first names. I like to hunt in the recesses of my brain for something different. It’s last names that always have me searching because they just have to be a good fit. And if I get really stuck, I resort to the address book on my cell phone. Yup, I do. I scroll down looking at each name and pairing it up with my hero/heroine name. I’ve also been known to try sorting my music list by artist and trying out their last names with my character. And in a real pinch, I’ve thought back to my favorite TV shows and the main characters names. There’s usually a winner or two in there somewhere.

And what about locations? Do you write using real places, or do you make them up? Sometimes I will use actual names of towns but put them in different states. I have that nagging fear if I write about a factual place, someone will find fault and try to prove that something I put there never existed. Have you ever used places you’ve been to on vacation? I wanted to write a Caribbean setting…but when we went on our cruise, I was so relaxed I couldn’t concentrate on research! Yes, I have memories of beautiful locations, but my heroine would have to be passing through because between the sun and fun and cocktails I don’t remember enough details to set the entire story there! So unless I ever decide to write a non-fiction book, I’m going to mix and match my cities and states like my darling Diva mixes and matches her hair bands.

One thing I did subconsciously when I wrote Extreme Love Makeover was use street names from my local town. When the Dreams & Desires Anthology came out, my mother read the story and pointed out the ‘familiar’ names I’d used (as only a mother can). Ever since then, I’ve noticed just how much I do it. I use department store names from my childhood or even from my current town. And for some reason I’m partial to using names of people on my husband’s side of the family. And every once in a while my characters take on characteristics of some of my bestest friends (although I’ll never tell them!). The funny thing is…it just happens. I’m not intentionally doing it, but I love the results!

I guess when they say “write what you know”, it means more than just topics and plots. As writer’s I believe we put into our stories so much of ourselves even in the subtlest of ways, right down to having a character treasure the recipe of great grandma’s molasses cookies. And who knows, the old girl might even have a starring role, reliving her youth as your next heroine!

And if we write it right…readers will love those places, those characters and those details too. What a tribute to the people we care about, and the places we loved to live in or visit. If we write with heart, how can we ever go wrong?

So tell me – how do YOU come up with the names of your memorable characters and settings? I’d love to know! I’m off to toss my scrabble tiles and see what name I can spell first but I'll be checking back to hear what you have to say! Happy Tuesday Everyone!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Angels Come In All Sizes

Let me forewarn you that there will be very little information about writing today. Frankly, I’m sick of it myself. I got my copy edits for Liver Let Die a month ago, and they’re due at the end of the month. Book 2, Beef Stolen-Off is due April 1st. After writing like a mad woman for two solid months (I’m a crisis junkie, remember. See my post on February 21 - A Twelve Step Program For Writers), I’m finally ready to relax.

Anyway, with all this on my plate, I had 2 full manuscripts to edit for two friends who are also my beta readers. How could I say no?

Then on Thursday, I got the call at 6:45 am that my daughter-in-law was in labor. After driving to their house to pick up my 2 year old granddaughter, I rushed home and showered and left hubby to babysit while I drove like a speed demon to the hospital. I barely made it there before she gave birth to an 8’3” beautiful little girl.

All through the pregnancy she and my son said they were thinking about using Anne (after my mother who's in heaven) as a middle name for their new baby. As if that didn’t already choke me up, I find out the name they picked when they saw her is Alice Elizabeth. Talk about tearing up. I felt like I was the one with the screwed-up hormones.

Anyway, as you can see, Alice is beautiful. After a bout with jaundice and a stint under the bili-light, she and Mama came home on Saturday. Abby, my DIL, had big plans to make the transition easier for Ellie, the 2 year old sister, but like everything in real life…stuff happens! We writers know it as the black moment.

On the day they went home, Ellie came down with a 102 temperature and the doctor said she shouldn’t be around the newborn. So, I’ve had her for 4 wonderful days. She’ll go home tomorrow, but she’ll be missed.

Oh, I forgot to mention, Alice was born on St. Patrick’s Day–the day my sister Theresa died many years ago. My nieces and nephew refer to it as Theresa's heaven birthday, and this year she was 13 years old. I tell you this because yesterday I received a note from a good friend who recently lost her own sister to a devastatingly quick illness. I had sent her a note and mentioned how she now had her very own angel looking after her from heaven just like I did. It touched her and she wanted me to know.

My point in all this—finally, you say—is that no matter how stressed we feel with our writing and everyday lives, something happens to make us realize we are so blessed, even in our grief. My friend gained a heavenly angel and I gained a real live one.

Life is good and will bring my friend some peace in time. As for me, I have a new grandbaby to spoil!!

And that’s my blog for today. I was so touched by everything this week, I had to share. And now I have some more great news. We have two new bloggers joining us at M & M, and boy, are we excited.

Anita Clenney is a debut author who has a suspenseful paranormal romance coming out in May with SourceBooks. You can preorder it here. She is currently writing a cozy mystery.

Barbie Jo Mahoney (Witek) is knocking at the door with her Middle Grade and YA stories and her cozy mysteries.

Since April guest slots have already been filled, we’ll start the new schedule in May with Liz on Mondays, Anita on Tuesdays, Kari on Wednesdays, Cassy on Thursdays, and Barbie on Fridays. In the meantime the two of them will share Fridays and tell you all about themselves.

So join me in welcoming Anita and Barbie to M & M and ask them anything you want. Now’s the chance.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Are You? Kari wants to know :-)

Since the weather is getting nice again and we just passed St. Patrick's Day, I am filled with fun and joy. So I decided to have a little fun on the blog today. You all know a lot about us, but we don't know that much about you, our fabulous readers.

Cassy sparked the game bug within me, so let's spin off of her game and onto mine. The: Who are you? game. Okay, so it's not really a game, but it is kind of fun. We are faced with choices and decisions every day both in our personal lives and our writing. Sometimes we have to make decisions quickly. So try not to think too much and just answer the questions below with the first decision that pops into your head, and feel free to add any new ones you can think of. I'll start us off....

cats or dogs dogs (I have a cool cat in my book, but I would probably own a dog)

beer or wine wine (Hands down!)

pepsi or coke pepsi (I switch between the two but like Pepsi a little more)

early bird or night owl early bird (I turn into a zombie at night :-)

Alaska or Hawaii Hawaii (I've been to both and they both rock, but I love the heat)

black or white Purple (LOL)

italian or mexican Mexican (yum yum)

beach or rock climbing rock climbing (Love adventure and get bored at the beach)

sunshine or rain sunshine (it brightens my mood instantly)

car or bicycle bicycle (love riding bikes and motorcycles!)

hot weather or cold weather hot weather (I would rather sweat then freeze any day)

sugar or carbs sugar (I could skip meals and eat sweets all day, forget the bread)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cassy's Corner - A Word Game--Come and Play

Today I thought we do something a little different. Years ago my father and I invented a word game that so far has been a 35 year ongoing competition. It continues. Out of no where one of us will start the game, the other one always knew it was "time to play." He is far more word-wise than I, so if I ever score a victory I gloat for at least an hour.

So here I'm inviting you to join us. It can be a lot of fun. I'm giving you the gist, the rules and then a few examples. After that I'll list five challenges. I'll be back later in the day with the answers.

We have some great "wordies" on this blog. I have high expectations. Plus, you might give me material to beat my dad the next time around.


The game is called the "Para Game." You offer a pair of terms or things that could come in twos and your opponent turns it into one word that begins with "para." The "para" word will be singular because is formed from a pair or two of something. The word you form is a totally new word and has nothing to do with the pair you offered up. NO, it's not confusing when you see a few examples.

Your job has two parts. Try and figure it out and post your responses. Some are very easy on purpose so you get the game. Second, you need to post one, two,or how many of your own. Put the answer either in your posting or tease us and come back to the blog a little later and find out if anyone figured it out. Running to the Internet is illegal!

As the day goes on, I'll post some more and see what you think. So check back often to see if other folks can guess your clues and you can discover the new ones.

So, some examples:
20 cents= paradigm
2 physicians= paradox
2 flippers you wear when you snorkel= paraffin

Got the idea?

Okay, here are few I'll throw out to you. Let me hear what you think.

2 state cops
2 horses
2 cubes used for games
The work of 2 EMTs
2 swinging weapons with a cord in the middle and weights on the ends

Game on!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kari's Kave: Writing Revelations

That's My Story, and I'm Sticking to it!
Way back in 1989, I discovered romance novels and couldn't get enough of them. At that time I was going to college for English and got certified to teach because I didn't know what else I could do with that major. I just knew I loved to read and write. So I started my first novel on an old Brother typewriter, had no clue what I was doing, and didn't get far. Soon after I began writing, I got married, finished my degree, and stared substitute teaching while looking for a full time position. After the birth of my first child, I was offered a position but chose to become an at-home mom. I started writing again when my first child was one in 1995, and partnered up with my first CP (Barbie Jo Mahoney) who is still my CP today. I needed an outlet, something just for me, but my writing became more than that. It became my passion. Naptime was "my time." Again, life got in the way with three more children and a master's degree to finish, but this time I didn't stop writing. I continued to write on and off for years as we moved time and again, but didn't really get serious about my writing until 2000 when I joined RWA and the New England chapter.
My biggest challenge other than finding the time to write has been wasting too many years on trying to make my first "baby" sell. That book that I started in 1995 took 5 years to write and has been about 10 books. I made it single title, then it was category, then it bacame several versions of each. Instead of writing ten books, I basically spent my time applying everything I learned to that one book. In 2004 I moved back to central NY, joined CNYRW, and started attending writing conferences with my CP Barbie Jo Mahoney. Just when I was getting ready to finally put my first book down and start something new, ironically, that's the book that landed me my agent. It finaled in the New Jersey Put Your Heart in a Book contest in 2006 and won the single title category. Agent Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency was at that conference. We met and hit it off instantly, and she asked me to send her the full. I sent it when I got home and two days later she called me, offering representation. I met my second CP, Danielle LaBue, at that confrence as well. I could not do any of this without my fellow Book Cents Babes.
After I signed with Christine in 2006, I thought that was it. I'd finally made it. But after I didn't sell right away, I had my first revelation. I needed to give my agent more books to shop around instead of waiting and hoping on just one book. So in two years time, I wrote a romantic comedy, a funny chick lit, and a funny mom lit. I kept hearing all the same things from editors: love her voice, great writing style, and if this was a year ago, she would have sold, but the market is saturated right now with those type of stories. Does she have anything else? I had my second revelation. I could sell off just a partial. I had an agent, and editors had read my work and knew I could complete a book, so all I needed was a partial now. I went on this partial kick. I then wrote a partial of a funny chick lit mystery, a funny category Christmas romance, and a humorous non-fiction narrative. Ironically again, I ended up deciding that my first book had made all the rounds anyway, so why not give the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest a shot. I entered and finaled in 2008, much to my amazement. The contest was a great experience, and gained me lots of exposure, renewing my confidence that I did have talent and I could sell if I just didn't give up.
After finaling and placing in other contests as well as the Amazon, but still not selling, I had a third revelation. You never know what you might be good at or enjoy writing if you don't step outside of your box and try something new. But in this case, these new editors wouldn't have read anything I wrote, so I knew I couldn't get away with a partial. I needed a full again. So I took my first book yet again, as well as my chick lit adult story, and adapted them both to young adult romantic comedies. Again the editors loved my voice, but thought the stories were too old for YA, and the stories had been done before.
This led to my fourth revelation. You can be a fantastic writer, but if the concept isn't that unique, then it probably won't sell. Yet you can be a good writer who's maybe not fantastic, but if the concept is high enough, an editor will probably take a chance on you. I knew I could write a partial now, so I really did my research this time to see what genre was selling well. Then I tried to come up with ideas I didn't see that were unique. In 2008 I wrote a partial of a young adult fantasy, a young adult paranormal, and a young adult paranormal sci-fi. When those didn't sell, I made them tween. When they still didn't sell, I tried them at upper middle grade and finally found where my voice fit. The sereis I thought would sell--the straight paranormal--fell through at the last minute. I was devastated and, for the first time ever, thought of giving up. But then just 48 hours later, a different editor at the same house said she loved my voice and what else did I have. We gave her the paranormal sci-fi, which was called Hard Wired at the time but is now The Samantha Granger Experiment, and she loved it. She offered me a three book deal at the end of June in 2009. Fifth revelation. Always have a backup plan because if an editor loves your voice but a particular story won't work for them and they ask what else does she will be ready!
Since I wasted so much time in the past and because I have an agent now, I never write anything I haven't run by her. I'm not saying write to the market, but definitely pay attention to the market and be open to trying something new. You have to like writing in the genre you're in. I write funny. I would never write a thriller or horror even if they were selling like hotcakes. However, if a certain genre was hot and I knew I could add my brand of funny to that grenre, then I would go for it. I also write fast, so that makes a difference. If you write slow, then something else might be hot by the time you finish. It just depends on what type of writer you are and whether or not you can get away with a partial or a full. What I do is I always ask my agent what editors are looking for. When she tells me, I do my homework. I find out what is out there already, and then I try to think of ideas that aren't out there. Then I write just a blurb for the idea and run it by my agent. If she tells me that won't work for whatever reason, then I don't waste my time. I come up with another idea and blurb. Then when I get the go ahead on an idea, I write the synopsis. I always write my synopsis first now because you don't know all the details, so there's no risk of telling everything and having a boring synopsis. If you just try to tell what the book is about like you're telling your CP about your new idea, then it comes off much more exciting. Once I run the synopsis by my agent, I don't write the story until I get the go ahead and work out any plot issues that might be a problem. Then my synopsis becomes the perfect road map for a partial which is the setup of a book anyway. After that, I plot as I go along, chapter by chapter. I usually write about 4 pages an hour, and I write about 4 hours a day now that my kids are all in school :-)
Having taken so long to sell, it's hard to turn down an opportunity when it comes along. When my agent found out an editor she knew well was moving to another house, she immediately called her and asked her what she was looking for. The editor said she wanted to buy cozy mysteriees, so my agent thought of me since I did have a mystery, albeit more of a chick lit mystery than a cozy, but we both thought why not at least try. Well, the editor loved my voice and loved the story, but said there's no way they'll let me pick it up as a cozy. Does she have anything else? I really didn't but at this point it was no longer about selling for me. It was about career longevity. One of my career goals had always been to be in both the young adult and the adult world and at two different houses. I just hadn't thought it would happen this soon, but who knows when I'd get another shot, so I decided to go for it.
Revelation Six was target your homework. If you don't have anything else, but an editor loves your voice, then come up with something just for them. Since each publishing house has its own set of needs and slots to fill, I decided to research this house's site. I wrote down every theme they had for their cozy mysteries, and then I came up with three different story ideas. My agent gave them to the editor who was so impressed she picked the one she liked best, telling me light paranorml did really well for them. Then I wrote a ten page synopsis and my agent sent it to her. The editor loved the story and said they didn't have anything like that so she took it to her boss. Only a week and a half later at the end of November (just 5 months after my first 3 book deal), my agent got me another 3 book deal. Now, for the first time in a very long time, I think I've finally made it. But imagine if I had given up...I would have spent the rest of my life wondering what if I'd tried just one more time...
Never give up, don't be afraid to try something new, and work harder than you ever thought you'd have to. I truly believe if you want this badly enough, it will happen. The only people who will never sell are those who give up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nick to my Nora, Dagwood to my Blondie, Jonathan to my Jennifer Hart...

Rochelle Staab

I was a research pundit in past careers but the footwork required to write mysteries turned out to be the best fact-finding adventure ever. Too bad a serious lack of foresight in youth resulted in my complete failure to anticipate my need for a partner in crime.

Plotting a novel for an amateur sleuth is fun, especially the early stages: have the protagonist discover a crime, create a compelling reason for her to be involved, then give her the smarts to unravel the puzzle. All fine and dandy until I wrote my first murder scene and--hey!--the police appeared on the page. Suddenly I had an urgent need to talk with a homicide detective about procedure. Tiny little things you don't learn on TV like - who arrives on the crime scene when? I needed an expert. My local LAPD Captain was amazingly gracious and arranged for me to interview a homicide detective at the police station at 6am while crime and everyone else slept. One of my coolest interviews ever, so helpful. Nevertheless, I couldn't just pick up the phone and call my new-friend-in-homicide to ask additional questions in the middle of the night if I got stuck for info in a scene.
That was the first time I thought, ah, but if I were married to a homicide detective...

Then came writing the rescue scene. A new need: quiz an EMT for details. I found myself shamelessly interviewing firemen on their break at Studio Yogurt. "Hi, I'm a mystery writer. Can you tell me how to rescue someone from the side of a cliff?" The LAFD guys were friendly, funny, and gave me solid details over soft frozen vanilla yogurt. My cousin's daughter Marci, an EMT in Milwaukee, added her brilliant insight over the telephone. But if I had married a fireman years ago I could have grilled now-retired hubby during a commercial break of the whatever game instead of stalking handsome men in uniform or phoning relatives long distance.
A supernatural element stirred my plot. I was fine with my solo jaunts to The Psychic Eye and occult boutiques--simple and safe to do during daylight. No problem touring the back room of a New Orleans French Quarter voodoo shop with a voodoo priestess surrounded by skulls. But it sure would have been nice to have a sidekick along to split a plate of beignets at Cafe DuMonde.
My interest in a bodyguard-expert-buddy came to a peak as I researched my second novel. The story is set near MacArthur Park. In the early 1900s the streets bordering the park were dubbed the Champs-Elysees of Los Angeles, rife with grand hotels populated by wealthy tourists. 2011 MacArthur Park remains a gorgeous landmark, but the grand hotels were destroyed long ago and replaced by colorful, multicultural businesses like the Korean Mexican BBQ Shack. A few of the locals speak English: the friendly staff at Langer's Deli does. The drug dealers and prostitutes loitering near the park do. The gang members don't want to. Most everyone else speaks Spanish. (Note to self: why did I drop Spanish II for Latin?) And drive alone around MacArthur Park late at night to get the feel for atmosphere? Put a Rob Me sign in my car window and call me Stupid. My fantasy Dear Husband could at least drive fast while I snapped photos.

I have the how-to books that guide writers through the specifics of procedure. And I live on the Internet - an amazing resource (how did writers research way back in the 1980s without Google Maps?) But there's nothing like getting the facts from the veritable horse's mouth complete with anecdotes and trade secrets, or visiting perfect setting locations with a personal bodyguard, you know, just in case. And I'm not talking about your best friend Ethel whose defense tactic is her blood-curdling scream. Yep. Could really use that cooperative DH. The honey we-have-to-go-here-today guy. That's how it works, right? The Better Half offers deep insight and follows directions, right? Hey, I'd even dedicate the book to him. Which reminds me, I think I'll call my brother and berate him for not going to law school.

What about you? Do you have a partner in crime that's willing to take up an adventure and scour dark alleys with you?

WHO DO, VOODOO? The first novel in Rochelle Staab's A Mind for Murder mystery series will be released November 1, 2011 on Berkley Prime Crime.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Things I Wish I'd Known BEFORE I Started The Manuscript: Part 2

Last week, I did a blog talking about the very first copy edits from my publisher. I listed a few of the rules she mentioned along with the corrections. This week, I’m going to finish up with some of the things I learned. So, grab a cup of coffee and read on.

I’ll start with commas: Before I get to her corrections, I want to rant a little and prefix this by telling you I am a self-proclaimed comma freak. It drives me crazy when I’m reading a story, and I find all kinds of comma errors. I can’t tell you how many contest entries and manuscripts I edit from “seasoned” writers with misuse of commas. Before two independent clauses, there must either be a conjunction PLUS a comma or it must be two sentences. We’ve all heard that if you have a short sentence, you can get by without one, but for the most part, put one in.

Here’s the way some people do it.

Jordan stopped by Food Warehouse on her way home from work, she picked up a loaf of ninety-nine cents bread, which suited her budget and her culinary skills.

No, no, no! Here’s the way it should be.

Jordan stopped by Food Warehouse on her way home from work, and she picked up a loaf of ninety-nine cents bread, which suited her budget and her culinary skills.

If you take out the pronoun after and, it makes it a dependent clause, and you don’t need the comma.

Jordan stopped by Food Warehouse on her way home from work and picked up a loaf of ninety-nine cents bread, which suited her budget and her culinary skills.

Again, the rule is – if the verb in the second clause has a noun in front of it, it either needs a comma and a conjunction or it needs to be a new sentence.

I know authors get away with some things in our writing, like:

Jordan stopped by Food Warehouse on her way home from work, wishing she didn’t have to, hoping she’d be quick. (I know - crappy sentence but you get the point!)

But the comma rules still apply.

One of my most common comma (tongue twister) errors is when I use the word then.

Jordan stopped by Food Warehouse on her way home from work then picked up a loaf of ninety-nine cents bread, which suited her budget and her culinary skills.

The rule still applies – no comma here. If I said and then she picked up – I’d need the comma.

I may have mentioned I am a complete idiot when it comes to hyphenated words. Those I do hyphenate shouldn’t be and those I do should. Here is the rule she sent and a list of the words I screwed up on.

Leave adjectival; color compounds unhyphenated before the noun. (Ex. jade and black necklace, reddish brown hair)

light-colored (since the color modifies the adjective instead of the noun??)
Olive-skinned (same reason as above)

Another rule – blond is for men and blonde is for the girls!! Really?? And fiancĂ© for men and fiancĂ©e for the ladies.

And it’s backward, forward and toward –no “s” at the end.

Now on to punctuation:

Punctuation appears in the same font –roman or italic-as the main or surrounding text. Exception: Exclamation marks set italic if the word preceding it is Italics. (Smart girls like me never knew that!!)

Italicize direct thought, imagined words, and words that are mouthed but not spoken aloud. Indirect internal thoughts set roman.

She grabbed my hand and mouthed Help me!

Italicize written letters and notes.
Foreign proper names, including recipe title, set roman. (I thought this was just the opposite!)

Now on to numbers:

Spell out whole numbers one to one hundred and any of these numbers followed thousand, hundred thousand, million, ‘etc. Spell out all numbers beginning a sentence Spell out numbers in dialogue unless awkward construction, (EX: years, phone numbers, numbers with decimals, numbers that are part of a proper noun, colloquial expressions in which figures generally appear.

Money: $6.52 and six dollars

Highways – Highway 82

Time: eleven fifteen


Percentage – fifteen percent

Anyway, I hope this hasn’t confused any of you. I found it terribly enlightening and will keep the rules by my computer when I’m writing. And from now on, I will Google every word I think I should hyphenate.

Oh, and one last note – it’s for goodness’ sake with an apostrophe!! Who knew??

So, now that I feel like a total grammar nerd, does anyone else have a good grammar rule we can use. Where’s the former copy editor who commented on last week’s blog? Now would be the perfect time to assure me I don’t need to go back to school like you did last week. And where's the Grammar Divas when you need them?

All I have to say is thank goodness Berkley liked my story!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunny's Tips for How to Read a Crystal Ball

Corpse in the Crystal Ball: A Fortune Teller Mystery (book 2)
(cover not available yet)
When fortune teller Sunny Meadows helps the police find a missing person, her vision is crystal clear. Only, she never could have predicted the corpse in the crystal ball would be hunky, hard-nosed Detective Mitch Stone's ex-girlfriend or that he would be the number one suspect. Can he put his pride aside while she clears his name this time? Only the future knows for sure...
Sunny's Tips for How to Read a Crystal Ball
1) Reading a crystal ball is called scrying or crystal gazing, and there are many methods for reading one. (note: scrying can be done with crystals, stones, and other devices as well. A sphere works well because it is shaped like the world, which is the center of creative impulses which psychics draw their power and energy from. Spheres have no beginning or ending, so the flow of energy is continuous.)
2) The person who is going to do the scrying is called a scryer and the person being read for is called a querant.
3) The scryer should choose and name a ball of their choice. (note: quartz crystals work well because crystals are amplifiers, transmitters, and receivers of energy. Ones with marks that look like cracks, inclusion, and sparkling rainbows act as focus points and are seen as doorways. Completely clear ones are harder to use. Quartz also has a good vibratory quality, raising and lowering its levels to be in harmony with the psychic energy of the scryer.)
4) Cleanse the crystal ball before and after a reading to remove influences from either positive or negative energies. There are many methods for cleansing (note: also called clearing) a ball as well. One method is to place the ball in a bowl of distilled water with a pinch of sea salt and let sit for an hour minimum and overnight in the moonlight of a full moon for a deep cleansing.
5) Choose a quiet, dimly lit room with the crystal on a stand or a dark silk or velvet cloth used only for scrying. Soft soothing music and incense (note: cones, sticks or granular burn easily on charcoal disks in frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, benzoin, rose, pine, jasmine, magnolia or musk) can help calm and relax the scryer. Dim light from a window, the moon, or candles (note: choose a candle color that reflects a Higher Purpose like Purple for Higher self, White for God or Goddess and Soul purity, etc.) should illuminate the ball from over the shoulder of the scryer, behind the ball, or beneath the ball. (note: avoid any reflections of other objects from shining on the ball so they won't interfere with the images within.)
6) Charge the crystal ball by touching it. Don't let anyone touch the crystal ball except the scryer so that person's energy won't affect a reading. If reading for a querant, then only let the querant touch the ball initially to tap into their energy for that particular reading. Have them lay their hands on the ball to charge or energize it while thinking about what they wish to know, and then remove their hands when they are done. If the scryer is reading for another purpose, then he is the one to touch the crystal and ask it what he wishes to see.
7) The scryer must ground himself. You must close your eyes, commune with the crystal, and center yourself. Breathe deeply to connect with your higher self and spiritual source. Allow only good, positive energy to connect with you and avoid evil, negtive energy from controlling the session. (note: when you're in a trance-like state, you are vulnerable to danger and being attacked. you can surround yourself with four protective crystal, glass, ceramic, or metal angels to stand at the four corners of your table as protection.)
8) Gaze into the ball and let your eyes go slightly out of focus. A slight tingling or vibrating sensation is normal as you and the ball fall into harmony and a psychic connection is established.
9) Once you have entered the Astral plane, a mist or smoke will appear in the crystal. Gaze at that spot and then colors and images will form. Say out loud what you see. (note: record what you see so you can interpret it after.) Let the images flow and change as they need to.
10) Once the crystal ball has shown the scryer all he or she needs to know, the images will fade and disappear. Allow your mind to return to the present or physical plane and your body to separate from the crystal ball as the psychic connection is broken. Refocus your eyes, breathe deeply, and ground yourself once more.
11) Thank your crystal ball, recleanse it, and put it away.
12) Interpret the colors and images you saw by referring to color healing guides and dream books. There are many interpretations, so use your intuition and be open to all the possibilitiies. Have fun :-)
Disclaimer: the author does not claim to be an expert on reading crystal balls. These tips were gained from her research for Corpse in the Crystal Ball, and are simply meant for the reader's entertainment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cassy’s Corner—How do you read?

We’ve had a huge transition in our family. We are moving more and more to electronic readers. I confess to having a Kindle, and now (thanks to my husband’s Christmas present) an iPad. Don’t hate me. The funny part of it all is that my husband is technologically challenged at a level that defies explanation- I love him beyond belief, but to give iPads at Christmas is like having a swimming party in the winter—not expected to happen. He is over the top in love with his iPad. It practically follows him like a puppy on a leash.

I have also become a believer. It combines many important functions all at the same time. BUT, it also means that you have one more object in your life and are a slave to your 1) telephone, 2) computer—who can give that up??, 3) your e-reader, and 4) whatever other device you have plugged into your life. In fairness though, the iPad does mix enough of those tasks into one format that maybe you only need to cart around your phone and the pad. The computer can stay on your desk waiting for your return.

But reading is the point. My Kindle is great but doesn't quite do it for me. I download books like crazy to my iPad and find myself reaching for it when it's time to take a break. I love a "real" book. I love the feel, the aroma, the turning-of-the-page. But, I also love having a gazillion books right in my hand, having the chance to check the weather in where ever my husband happens to be, and of course, email. I'm becoming a junky.

This sounds like a commercial sponsored by Apple. Not so. I am a confessed heavy Apple user, but still I’m not trying to push their products. Rather, I’m interested in hearing how all of you work the equipment so readily available and now so necessary to stay on top of our lives. And, HOW YOU READ.

We’ve talked before about the social networking challenges. We discussed how important it is to have a presence on Twitter, FB, LinkedIn and so on. This blog is an example of something we three of M&M both wanted to do and felt was important to do. But the question I’m asking today is, what are the machines you need in your life to keep on top of all you do? Feel free to add household machines if that’s what comes to mind. I have a robot that vacuums- yup, it’s true. Doesn’t do a great job but the dogs love it.

But most importantly, again, what gets you reading and what do you think about how the words make it into your living room?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kari's Kave - Prioritizing Lessons: Getting Organized, Staying Organized, Meeting Deadlines

Lesson #1 - Getting Organized
Prioritizing is all about organization. In order to get organized, you must first figure out what all of your priorities are. Priorities consist of any demand that is placed on you and involves a certain amount of your time. Work, spouse, children, pets, cleaning, grocery shopping, eating, exercising, writing, volunteering, sleeping, etc. I am a very visual person, and since we are all writers, why not combine the two. Lists and schedules work wonders. They allow you to see exactly what you accomplish (or don't accomplish) in the course of a day, what you have time to do, and where you might be wasting time. So I am going to share some of the techniques I use in my own life in hopes of helping some of you become more organized.
First, make a list of your own priorities, then beside each item, write down the amount of time each item requires for you to complete. Some items might have a time that is easily figured out like four hours or eight hours for work, thirty minutes for exercise, and one hour for grocery shopping, etc. while other items you might have to determine how much time you are going to spend on them or with them like children, pets, a spouse, etc. Don't worry about the hours in a day just yet; simply fill in what you think is fair.
Next, write down the hours in "your" day from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed. Go back to your priority list and fill in your priorities in the appropriate time slots. Some slots are easy to fill like the hours you work and time spent with pets or children or spouse. You know when they need a walk, are going to be home, and when they have activities scheduled. Other slots are harder to fill like exercising, writing, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc.
Last, take a look at your list. No time for all your activities you say? I say make time. It's time to prioritize! Determine what items you absolutely have to do, and then determine what items you simply want to do. Can you afford to let some of these items go, or pay someone to do them for you? Learning to say no is a start.
Or maybe you've assigned too much time to spend on some of your demands. See if you can cut back on some of the time you spend on a couple of items, so you have more time for other items. And combining some of the items is also a possibility. Writers have to learn to become pros at multi-tasking.
Finally, maybe you need to add more time to your "awake" hours. Try getting up an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later. You'd be amazed at how those hours add up in the course of a week, month, year. Once you have an acceptable and fair schedule figured out, you have to let everyone in your life know about it, and then stick to it.
Lesson #2 - Staying Organized!
First, call a family meeting and let everyone know in no uncertain terms that you are human. You are one person trying to do it all and be it all so everyone will be happy. But if you're not happy, then what's the point? You chose this life--got married, accepted that job, had children, bought that pet, etc.--but that doesn't mean you have to go insane while living it. You need a reasonable amount of time to complete your priorities, and each priority has its own merit and value to you or it wouldn't be on your list. Your family needs to learn patience and accept that your list is sacred.
Next, post that list on your refrigerator for all to see, and post a second copy right by your work station as a reminder to yourself. Again with the visual, but it really works. Out of sight, out of mind. So keep your schedule in sight, and then no one can say, "It's not my fault. How was I supposed to know you were doing something important?" They will know that everything on your list is important, and unless the house is burning down, don't mess with the schedule. Because a happy writer, means a happy everyone! It's like with teaching. If kids know what the rules are and what the consequences are for breaking them, they are much better behaved and more apt to follow them. It's the adults who take a bit of smacking upside the head to finally get it :-)
Finally, stick to your schedule. If you stick to your game plan, your family will know you're serious and things become routine. Kids aren't the only ones who thrive on routine. When you have routine and structure in your life, you can accomplish all of your goals and things get done!
Lesson #3 - Meeting Deadlines!
First, accept no excuses, especially from yourself. I don't have time to write, my children won't take naps, I have writer's block, etc. I repeat, there are no excuses. Make the time. As I said before get up an hour earlier, stay up an hour later, write on your lunch break, write at your child's sports practice, in the waiting room, etc. If you want to be a writer badly enough, you will find the time. When my children were little, I wrote during naptime. When they stopped taking naps, I made them have quiet time. Set that rule, stick to it, and it will become routine. As for writer's block, it doesn't exits. Nothing can stop your hand from moving, even if only crap appears on the paper. Just keep writing and eventually inspiration will strike.
Second, set the mood for whatever priority you're completing. I wear my iPod while cleaning. I sometimes have a glass of wine while cooking and I like to try new recipes since I hate to cook just to feed my family. Figure out your meals for the week so you're not scrambling and wasting time each day. Don't make writing turn into a chore. Yes you have a deadline (even if it's just one you set for yourself), but you can still find the joy that drew you to become a writer in the first place. I have my favorite drink close by, I light candles, sometimes I play soft music. For me, writing has always been my "me" time. Just because I have insane deadlines, I refuse to let that take the joy out of the process for me.
I also make the most of my non-writing time. For example I read the last page of a scene before bed and keep a notebook and pen by my bedside. Since we often dream about the last thing we see or talk about, this technique sometimes leads to wonderful inspiration once we wake up. I do the same thing in the morning after checking email, etc. I read the last page of what I wrote so while I'm making lunches, cleaning or whatever, my mind is thinking about my story. This way by the time I sit down to write, I already know exactly what I'm going to say. It allows you to stop wasting time when you first sit down to write, trying to figure out where you left off and what you need to do next.
Another essential tidbit you should know about yourself is at what speed do you write? Figure out how many pages per hour you can write, and how many hours you have set aside each day as your writing time. This will give you a rough idea of how many pages per day, week, and month you are realistically capable of writing. That way when you do get "the call," you will be able to set up realistic deadlines, knowing exactly how long it takes you to complete a book (based on your schedule). No matter how desperate you are to sell, you need to know this ahead of time before you agree to something and then become overwhelmed and unhappy.
Make the most out of your schedule by combining some of your priorities. Take your child grocery shopping with you and let them help you clean. Turn the radio off and talk on the way to and from your child's activity. Let your child go with you when you walk or feed your pets and make dinner. Have set bed times early enough so you and your spouse can watch your favorite shows and movies together each night. Set aside date night at least once a week, even it it's at home. Don't forget to talk and share your day with each other. If you truly understand each other, it's easier to be there for each other...and get them to stick to your schedule :-) Build in time for your friends and a social life. Build in at least one day a week that you take off. Everyone needs a break, and a day off with "no" schedule can be heaven. It's like a one day cheat on a diet where you get to eat whatever you want, or in this case, "do" whatever you want. And if you get behind in anything during the week, it also gives you a makeup day.
Lastly, check your emails and do your blogging, social networks and promotion while eating breakfast or lunch, or making lunches early in the morning. Never let it spill over into your writing time. And even if you're on a roll with your writing, stop at your designated time. Never let any of your priorities spill over their time slots or your whole schedule will be off and you will fall behind. And just like with a new diet or exercise program, if you fall off the wagon and have an off day, pick yourself up and get right back on the next day. No looking back, no regrets, just move forward and in no time you will have completed your goals :-)
You don't have to do anything exactly the same as someone else, but if even a small part of my routine works for you, then that's progress. Good luck and stay strong, my people! See you on the shelves someday soon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Best of Both Worlds

We have a fabulous treat today. Author Anita Clenney is here to give us a peek inside her world. Please help me (Kari) give her a warm welcome. Take it away, Anita.

I'm not a trouble-maker, really. In fact, I'm a peacemaker, but I don't tend to do things in a normal fashion. I'll pull weeds from my garden while in my PJ's, on the way home from the bus stop, holding the dog leash with one hand. I'll decide to clean the toilet as I'm rushing out the door, late for a doctor's appointment. I'll sit in the car and put my makeup on rather than doing it in the bathroom with a lighted mirror. (I have a large purse with a stash just in case I'm stranded overnight and need to look good).

I have no idea why I do these things. I don't know if I'm rebellious, stubborn, or just need the challenge. You would think I"m a pantser when it comes to writing, but in fact, I'm more of a plotter. I do a lot of brainstorming but then I do tend to plot it out or I'll get caught up in a whirlwind and never get out. But I do have trouble with genres. Maybe because I love both romance and mysteries, I blend them, and that's okay. Lots of people love romantic suspense. It's a huge market. But lately I've run into a problem.
My series with Sourcebooks is marketed as romance. Paranormal romance. I don't call it that, because there's a lot more going on in the book than romance. What about the demons, plots to destroy the world, betrayal, and the sword fights? That's suspense. So I call it Paranormal Romantic Suspense. Herein lies the problem. I turned in the second manuscript in the series, and my editor said it opened with too much suspense. so I revised it, took out my wonderful villain scene and some suspense, and moved it to later, so that the hero and heroine appeared on the same page faster. I thought I was in good shape, but my editor called me and said it still had too much suspense. She said it was reading like a really good suspense with romantic elements. Well heck! What do I do now? I thought the book was darned near perfect.
I called my CP, talked it over for four hours, and decided that my editor was right about one thing at lease; there needed to be more emotion and a stronger connection between the hero and heroine earlier in the story. I know where I went wrong. This story started long, long ago, and at one time I had way too much romance going on too early, so I cut too much. I added some back in, made it stronger and sent it off again. But I find I'm confused. Of course there are distinctions in genres; romance, romantic suspense, and suspense with romantic elements, but I find it much simpler in theory than in practice, and I'm not sure where I lie. Personally, I don't think you can have too much suspense in a romantic suspense, as long as the romance is strong too, but maybe I'm wrong. Honestly, I think if my editor had read the entire story first, she would have been far more comfortable with the romance level anyway, but I have to say, her comments caused me to make the story stronger.
So all's well that ends well. Actually, I don't know how it ends yet because I'm waiting on her edits to see if I've got the best of both worlds or if I'm still too heavy on the suspense. Either way, I love the story.
So I wonder how you guys feel as writers and readers? As writers do you feel like you do a good job sticking to your genre, or do you blur the lines? As readers, does it bug you if the lines get blurred?
In the meantime, here's an excerpt from the first book in the series, Awaken the Highland Warrior to be released May 3rd. It's available at online booksellers for preorder.
Bree's fingers tightened around the metal disk as she ran through the graveyard, zigzagging past leaning headstones. Her lantern swayed, throwing shadows on the crypt looming before her, its stone walls the color of bones. Thick vines crept over it, sealing in cracks left by time, while gnarled branches from the twisted oak hovered like outstretched arms. Protecting...or threatening?
An owl screeched overhead as she scurried up the crumbling steps, wishing night hadn't fallen, when shadows twisted into monsters and spirits came out to play. The burial vault lay open near the back of the crypt, waiting. Blood rushed past her ears, a sound like all the angels' wings beating in unison. She moved closer and peered at the chest inside. It was ornate, made of metal and wood, with green gemstones embedded in each corner. It looked ancient, like it belonged in a museum or a pyramid, or perhaps Solomon's Temple. The beauty of it struck her again, as it had when she'd first discovered it.
She set the lantern on the edge of the burial vault and studied the markings on the chest. Swirls and shapes like writing shifted in the amber glow. Stretching out a finger, she touched the surface. Warm? She yanked her hand back and hit the lantern. It crashed to the floor, throwing the top of the crypt into darkness. Dropping to her knees, she scrambled for the light. A sound cut through the silence, scraping, like fingernails against stone. She grabbed the lantern, not daring to blink, then remembered the wind outside and the claw-like branches of the old tree.
She placed the lantern securely on the vault cover she'd pushed onto the alcove and unfolded her hand. The metal disk she held was three inches in diameter and appeared to be made from the same metal as the chest, not silver, not gold. One side had deep grooves; the other was etched with symbols. With trembling fingers, she lined up the disk with the matching grooves on top of the chest and pushed. There was a series of clicks as the notched edges retracted.
A voice rushed through her head. What lies within cannot be, until time has passed the key.
Bree whirled, but she was alone. Only stone walls stood watch, their secrets hidden for centuries. It was sleep deprivation, not ghosts.
She pulled in a slow, steadying breath and tried to turn the disk. Nothing. Again, this time counterclockwise, and it began to move under her hand. She jerked her fingers back. A loud pop sounded and colors, orange, and green, swirling for seconds, and then they were gone. Great, hallucinations to go with the voices in her head.
Her body trembled as she gripped the lid. This was it. All her dreams held on a single pinpoint of time. If this ended up another wild goose chase, she was done. No more treasure hunts, no more mysteries, no more playing Indiana Jones. She'd settle down to a nice, ordinary, boring life. She counted.
She heaved open the chest.
Terror clawed its way to her throat, killing her scream.
The man inhaled a harsh breath and his eyes flew open, locking on Bree. A battle cry worthy of Braveheart echoed off the walls. Bree jumped back as metal flashed and a rush of air kissed her face. Petrified, she watched him crawl out of the burial vault, a wicked-looking dagger in his hand. Her scream tore loose as she turned and fled.
Fingers grazed her shoulder, and she glanced back. The last thing she saw before her feet tangled with the shovel was the dead man reaching for her.