Monday, April 30, 2007

D-Day Minus One

So, we're down to the one-day countdown, and the Great Blog Campaign is under way! If you sent me interview questions or guest blog topics and you don't have something from me, it means I either didn't get the e-mail or I somehow lost it because I think I've done everything that was sent to me.

Now, and here's the important part if you want to be considered for prizes: When you post your entry, whether it's something you wrote or created or something you got me to do, you need to either e-mail me or post the link in comments so I'll know it's out there. I'll then put links in blog entries so everyone can go see it. If you don't see your info in my blog (unless you were one of the people who contacted me about doing things like newspaper columns or book groups), then you aren't entered to win advance copies of book 4. I know some of the questions I've had were fun and will give you a different perspective on the books and characters, so you'll want to do a little web touring and check them out.

Next, here are a few hints for when you go to buy the book starting tomorrow. If you don't find the book in the store -- and this is very important -- Ask. The. Bookseller. About. It (politely, of course). That's the only way they'll know that people want this book. You never know, it could be in boxes in the back of the store and they haven't got around to putting it on the shelf yet, so you could be what spurs them to action. It may have sold out already (bookstores didn't seem to order too many copies, so this is a possibility) and they need to know there's still demand so it's worth re-ordering. Or they may not have ordered it at all, and they need to know what a silly idea that was. Telling me you can't find it doesn't do much good because all I can do is tell my editor, and then she'll just tell me that the publisher can't force bookstores to stock the book, while thinking what an insecure, whiny diva I am. The only person who can make sure books are stocked in a bookstore is the person running the store. Even in a chain, people at the store level can communicate upward that they're getting a lot of requests for a particular book.

One thing I would like to hear about: I sent a letter and packets of bookmarks to a lot of the Borders stores (it was an experiment). If you see one of my bookmarks (it's sort of a pale purple and has my bookcovers on the front) in a Borders store, I'd like to know about it to see if it did any good. I'd really love to know about it if you have some kind of interaction with a bookseller that indicates the bookseller had already heard of the book -- like maybe recommending it before you even ask for it or commenting when you purchase it.

In other news, I'm also doing the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour this week (busy, busy week for me!). Today you can find me at the blog of Karin Gillespie.

Finally, a gentle reminder that no decision about book five has been made yet, and making a big splash this week with this book (and maybe boosting sales of the other books) could help make sure that happens, so go get 'em! Yay, team! (Yes, I was once a cheerleader -- for a peewee football team in fifth grade. Our football team lost every single game, and our cheerleaders were the girls none of the other squads wanted. But man, we had fun! And really cute uniforms that weren't the cookie-cutter standard cheerleader uniforms of the time.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Glamour Girl

I had my photo shoot for the Dallas Morning News article today. I felt like such a fashion model. We did the picture on the chaise lounge in my loft, where I do a lot of my writing, so I got to do that elegant leaning thing, and I wore the Infamous Red Stilettos, of course. Then the moment the photographer was gone, I changed into comfortable jeans, a t-shirt, and cloth Chinese shoes, though I still have the makeup and fabulous hair. Now I'm having to fight the urge to take the rest of the day off to "celebrate" getting that out of the way. I still have more work to do.

I also got through the Angry Italian Opera Aria yesterday. I didn't manage to start out too angry or emotional, but I think I was there by the end, and I was even having fun. Now the class is over for the semester. We can go by on Tuesday to pick up evaluations. I'm trying to decide if I want to do that. I guess it would be good to see what she said so I can improve, but I'm not getting a grade in the class, and I was really taking it for the experience of singing in front of people rather than for any actual vocal training. We'll see how things are going on Tuesday, considering there might be something else going on that day. You know, a minor little event.

I am working on the Great Blog Promotion interviews and columns. I got a few typed up last night but will have to proofread, as I was doing that while watching Supernatural and might occasionally have been distracted. I'll be sending those out today and tomorrow. And then we will bombard the world with news about the new book! As no decision on book 5 has been made yet, it will really help its chances if this new book hits with a big bang (if you need additional incentive to participate in spreading the word). Go, go team!

Now I have to go finish my interviews. Y'all asked some interesting questions, and the character ones are a lot of fun because they're forcing me to get into those people's heads. This could be insight that ends up giving additional shadings to book five.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Vacation Fantasies

Life continues to go nuts in the days of the final countdown. I've decided that instead of trying to totally redesign my web site before the release, I'll just add some new features about the series. That will cut down on my stress levels. In the meantime, I have a newspaper photo shoot tomorrow and I get to read an excerpt for a podcast on the newspaper's web site (too bad my fabulous new hair won't show up on the podcast). My very first podcast!

But first, I have my "final" in my music class today. I have to sing the Angry Italian Opera Aria and actually sound angry, which is a real stretch for me. I was practicing a few minutes ago, and I think by the end of the last time I ran through it, I was almost there. I just have to try not to be too self-conscious. And I have to remind myself that I'm not actually getting a grade in this class because I'm taking it non-credit.

With everything I have going on, I'm starting to daydream about vacations. I'm not very good at taking vacations. Almost all of my travel recently has had some work-related element to it, and even the fun trips are event-oriented, so there are schedules to stick to. The last total vacations I took were to England, in 2000 and 2001, and they weren't what I'd call restful because I was going non-stop, trying to cram in as much as possible. The first trip was closer to pure relaxation because it meant I was out of reach from a client that had just been in a crunch period. My cell phone didn't work there and the guest house where I stayed didn't have phones in the rooms. Except for the last day, when I went to London and really overdid it, I was more out in the country, and I tried to do only one major thing a day, so it wasn't too taxing. Still, I pretty much left the guest house after breakfast and came back just in time to fall into bed every day.

The hotel in Colorado Springs was very nice, with a fabulous fluffy bed and a peaceful atmosphere, the kind of hotel room where you wouldn't mind just hanging out. Sadly, I didn't get to spend nearly enough time in it. I also didn't come home quite as tired as I expected. Based on this experience and my previous travel experiences, I've come up with my guidelines for a relaxing, reviving vacation (as opposed to what I'll call touring, which is a very different concept).
1) A reasonably short flight, preferably to a smaller airport rather than to a major hub. No travel on Sunday. Or else a drive under three hours (which pretty much eliminates driving from Dallas). I haven't done major train travel in the US, so I don't know how tiring it would be, but most train trips out of Dallas involve overnight travel. The perfect travel schedule would involve arriving around hotel check-in time (so no early morning flights) and leaving around hotel check-out time (so no early morning or late-night flights).
2) Ideally, I wouldn't have to rent a car because I find driving rental cars to be very stressful. Public transportation or a hotel shuttle to the hotel would be good, and then public transportation or having most major attractions in walking distance would be best.
3) A mildly interesting location -- maybe pretty scenery so that looking out the hotel window would be good, and then enough attractions to do maybe one thing a day, like a couple of historic homes to tour, a local museum, and maybe some kind of performing arts event. Plus some nice areas to walk. But not so interesting that I'd feel guilty lounging around the hotel a lot. And not so interesting that the hotel would be ridiculously expensive.
4) A really comfortable hotel -- one with the nice, fluffy beds like so many of the major chains now have. A room I'd want to hang out in. Preferably an indoor pool and hot tub (since I won't be able to do this until the fall). The hotel in Colorado had a panel where you could connect a laptop with a DVD player in it to the room's wide-screen LCD HDTV and watch your own DVDs, which would be cool, though that's not essential as I have a wide-screen LCD HDTV and DVD player at home.

Now I just have to find this magical location, if it exists. We'll see if I manage to do this, since I recall talking a lot last year about how I was going to take a nice fall vacation to do nothing but read, and that never happened. But first, I have a lot of work to do and a very busy summer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Lauren Barnholdt

I'm having yet another busy day. I'm getting my hair cut in preparation for Friday's newspaper photo shoot and the big May book tour, I have a ton of promo stuff to get done, and I need to get groceries. I was going to get groceries on the way home from class yesterday, but as I went to open the building door to leave and head home, the tornado sirens went off. They then herded everyone into the classrooms on the lower level of the building that are designated storm shelters, where we waited for about twenty minutes before the all-clear. I never did hear what the alleged tornado that was threatening us really was (no reports of damage in the general area of the school), but when you've just emerged from a tornado shelter and it's still pouring rain, you really don't want to go to the grocery store. I had a frozen pizza for dinner, but now I'm approaching popcorn and a multivitamin as a meal option, so I really need to shop. That makes it a good time for a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry, The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney, the new book by Lauren Barnholdt, author of Reality Chick.

While Devon was living with her grandmother for the summer, she told her "summer friend," Lexi, that she was really popular back home and dating Jared Bentley, only the most popular guy at school. Harmless lies, right? Wrong. Not when Lexi is standing at the front of Devon's class, having just moved to Devon's town. Uh-oh.

Devon knows there's only one way to handle this -- she'll just have to become popular! But how is Devon supposed to accomplish that when she's never even talked to Jared, much less dated him?! And it seems the more Devon tries to keep up her "image," the more things go wrong. Her family thinks she's nuts, her best friend won't speak to her, and, as if it's not all complicated enough, Jared starts crushing on Lexi and Devon starts crushing on Jared's best friend, Luke. It all has Devon wondering -- who is the real Devon Delaney?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

What was the inspiration behind this book?
When my friends and I were in junior high, we were dating this group of guys from another school. So we made it seem like we were super popular at our school, and that all the boys wanted us. Which wasn’t even close to being true. One night some of the guys we lied to played basketball against some of the boys from our school who supposedly wanted us, and I just kept thinking, God, I hope none of them talk. And that was the inspiration for THE SECRET IDENTITY OF DEVON DELANEY. Only, unlike in my situation, poor Devon’s lies catch up with her.

Have you ever created an alternate identity for yourself, and how did that go?
See above. I guess it went okay, since I never really got caught. But it was kind of hard to keep up with all the scandals and lies ;)

What were some of your favorite authors/books when you were a tween or teen?
I was OBSESSED (as I think most girls were) with The Baby-Sitters Club. I remember getting the first four books in box set and reading them all in one weekend.

Was writing this book more difficult or easier than your first one?
The writing for this book was easier for me than any book I've written. I don't know why, but it just really flowed.

What are you working on now?
My latest YA book, TWO-WAY STREET will be out in June, and right now I'm writing my next tween book, which will be out sometime next year.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Just that Devon is my favorite character that I've ever written, and I hope you all love her as much as I do!

For more info, visit Lauren's web site.

Sound good? Click here to order THE SECRET IDENTITY OF DEVON DELANEY!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Curly Mafia

The one-week countdown has begun! Except it seems that books have been sighted in stores and some who pre-ordered have already received copies, so I guess time is a wee bit fuzzy. Goodness knows time has been weird for me lately.

I have an item to add to my "you know you're a science fiction geek" list. As I mentioned yesterday, I had a bit of trouble adapting to the altitude in Colorado. I just felt tired and foggy all the time, and I didn't sleep very well. By Saturday afternoon, I was exhausted and strangely starving, in spite of eating everything in sight at lunch. I skipped the last session after doing my final workshop of the day and went up to my room to relax. They'd given the speakers a little goody bag of snacks, and I dug through it to find something to eat. There was a little packet of peanuts, and I remembered having heard something about peanuts being good for helping adjust to altitude, something about the protein and salt. Only later did I recall where I thought I'd heard that -- it's part of the remedy for dealing with the unpleasant effects of going into hyperspace (which is like being drunk, from the viewpoint of the glass of water) in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe high altitude is like hyperspace because the peanuts did seem to work. Or maybe it was the thirty-minute nap I took.

For a writing conference, I don't think I got into too many discussions about writing. The primary topic of conversation seemed to be dealing with curly hair. There's something about the publishing industry that seems to draw curly-haired people. I think it must have something to do with all that extra brainpower making your hair curl. When I was growing up, I don't recall meeting too many people with hair anything like mine, and that was in the days before really good styling products (beyond AquaNet), effective straightening irons and powerful blow-dryers. But whenever I go to a writing conference, there are usually a lot of curly-haired people, especially among editors and agents. That's how I have half of my industry contacts -- the curly girls all find each other at any event and end up in a corner, sharing hair-care tips. I think I'm going to start a Curly Mafia in the publishing industry. I'll put together a web page and pass out cards about it at the next conference I go to. And then we'll rule the world!

But first, I have a few little things to deal with along the way. For instance, the newspaper now wants to do a photo shoot to go with that article, which means I need to re-clean my house. It won't be the epic adventure it was before because it's still mostly clean. I just need to tidy up a bit. I think I also need a haircut, if only I could find my stylist's number. I thought I'd filed it with my collection of business cards, but while I found some interesting, if useless, ones (including one person who's now dead), I didn't find the one I needed. Looks like it's Google to the rescue. What did we do in the days before the Internet?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Out of the Mountains

I'm back home from Colorado. It was a great conference and I had a ton of fun. Nobody threw rotten vegetables at me, so I'm assuming my workshops went okay. I never know how much to report about these things because it's hard to tell what might be interesting to anyone else. When I wasn't giving workshops I got a chance to hang out with my agent and a bunch of other editors and agents who were hanging out with my agent. I met some really cool people. There was this amazing chocolate cake served for dessert at one meal. I don't seem to adapt entirely well to high altitude and really dry air. Anything else anyone wants to know? I didn't get to do any sightseeing, but I've been there before and have seen the Garden of the Gods and a few of the other sights, and we lived there when I was very little, so Colorado Springs isn't entirely foreign to me. If they invite me back again, maybe I'll try to arrange some time for touring.

I worked on my various blog interviews on the airplane and when I had downtime, so I'll now be trying to decipher my handwriting to type those out and get them back to you this week. Anyone else have something for me?

I was very fortunate that my return flight was on time because I had a ticket to see Wicked last night. I'd seen it before and wasn't that excited about it, so I didn't try to exchange it for another performance. I just had to hope that my flight would be on time. If it was, I'd make it. If it wasn't, I was in trouble. The flight was supposed to come in at 5:55. It made it at 6:00. The show was at 8. I got in my seat about two minutes before curtain (but then they started about five minutes after that). And this time around, I really loved it. I don't know if it was the cast, the performances or just my frame of mind, but I really got into it. Glinda totally stole the show, I thought. Now I think I want to get the CD to play in the car during all that driving around Texas I'll be doing next month.

Now I seem to have a mile-long to-do list and very little motivation. Maybe I'll get the crucial must-dos out of the way, then let myself relax and do stuff like catch up on TV I taped. Mom hinted about something happening on Stargate, so I need to check that out. Then tomorrow I'll really need to get going, since there's a minor little thing happening in my life next week that I should get ready for.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Paula Chase

Before I dash out of town, I leave you with a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry to keep you occupied.

So Not The Drama [Kensington Books/Dafina for Young Readers] by Paula Chase introduces readers ages 11+ to bright-eyed, optimistic Mina Mooney, a high school freshman with nothing more on her mind than climbing the popularity ladder, until a sociology experiment to rid the world – or at least Del Rio Bay High School – of prejudice backfires. The project causes a rift between Mina and her best friend, Lizzie, and sends Mina on a journey of exploration that’s both funny and eye-opening.

So Not The Drama is about the transition from middle to high school and the impact it can have on friendship.

Here's what some reviewers are saying about it:
"Contemporary friendship story, which revels in rich diversity of race, color and class." —Booklist

"Readers will like the genuine dialogue." —Publishers Weekly

"A multi-layered story…contemporary and thoughtful." —Little Willow of Bildungsroman

April Girls Life magazine Book Pick

April/May Crave selection, Right On! magazine

About the Author
Paula Chase has written for Girls Life, Sweet 16 and Baltimore Magazine, among others. In addition to her background in corporate communications and public relations, she founded the Committed Black Women, a youth mentoring program for 14-17 year old girls. Her Del Rio Bay Clique series helped launch Kensington Books YA line and joins a burgeoning number of YA books targeted to multi-culti suburbanite teens. Chase calls her brand of teen literature, Hip Lit, a nod to the diversity spawned by the MTV-watching, 106 & Park-ing, pop culture hungry hip hop generation. The author lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters. Learn more about the series and author at

Find it on Amazon

Quick Note

Today's going to be one of those terse days, I suspect. Loads to do before I can leave town in the morning, like, oh, finishing my presentation for one of my workshops.

I survived last night's talk, and there were people there (yay!). Now I just hope that people actually turn out for my booksignings.

Thanks to those who gave feedback on e-book formats. It looks like text is the way to go, which makes things easier on me. Stay tuned to discover if this becomes relevant ... (yes, I'm being an evil tease again)

I'm getting in more questions and requests for the Great Blog Campaign, and I'll be getting answers and other stuff back to you next week. In fact, I'm printing them out and taking a notebook with me to work on the plane tomorrow. After I finish the American Way crossword puzzle, of course.

But now I have to run by the bank and post office on my way to class.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shouting at the Heavens

On the mysterious cover difference -- it's something that you'll only see on the actual printed book because it has nothing to do with the design. It's something related to the printing/production process. Yes, I remain cryptic, but I'm curious to see if people notice. I guess if I were really that curious I'd have said nothing and waited to see if anyone noticed. But I do know a thing or two about marketing, and it's good to have another reason to send people running to the bookstore on May 1. I actually find this thing kind of amusing. I did notice it but didn't think it mattered, and then I got a call from my agent saying that my editor was really upset about it. They even mentioned the possibility of reprinting, which I thought was rather extreme. So this batch of books will go out as-is, and then it might be changed to the way it's supposed to be if they go back to press. Let's just say that it will be really easy to tell you've got a book from the first printing.

Yes, I'm evil to tease this way, but let me have some fun!

On another note, if any of you ever download things from the Internet to read on portable devices like a Palm or e-reader, what format do you use? I'm not talking about an official e-book, but is just having it in HTML enough to then grab the text, or is it easier to have a text file? Or maybe a PDF? Yeah, more teasing, but I'm still not sure if this is going to happen, given my crazy life right now, but in case I make it work, I'd like to know how to make life shiny, easy and happy for people.

Way back when I was starting the writing month thing and mentioned some books that might be inspirational, I said that The Artist's Way didn't do a lot for me. But I'm learning that there's one thing she mentions in that book that does seem to work, and I need to make more effort at it. The "artist date" idea of letting your creativity come out and play really does have an impact. It seems like creativity in one area of your life can't help but spill over into other areas of your life. For instance, I'd never considered that this voice class I'm taking would impact my writing, but it just might. I had to perform again yesterday, another round of what I jokingly call the Angry Italian Song. I got through it well enough musically, but the teacher said I needed to make it angrier. This is a real "my life is over because I've lost the love of my life and I'm seriously pissed-off about it" aria, an in-your-face fist-shaker. The thing is, I'm not even sure how to dredge up that kind of emotion. I'm not a particularly emotional person, and though I do have a temper, it doesn't get into fist-shaking territory. To use an analogy from The Office, I'm more a Dwight (shun/unshun) than an Andy (fist through the wall). I'm more likely to feel hurt than to really get angry, and that means I withdraw and stew rather than ranting at the heavens. At the most, I get bitingly sarcastic. But opera isn't about withdrawing and stewing, and it's hard to get a good aria out of shunning someone.

The teacher made me start the song again and again until she was satisfied with my degree of anger. I finally got frustrated and took it what I thought was way over the top, hamming it up in what felt like an exaggerated way. That was when she said I was getting there, and I have to admit that it sounded amazing. I've never put out that kind of intense sound. I think that may apply to my writing, as well. My mellow nature may make me easy to work with, but fiction is all about heightened experiences. If it were just like normal life, why bother? The emotions have to be stronger and the stakes have to be higher, and it might enhance my work if I dug a little deeper. What feels like over the top to me is probably going to come across as subtle but strong emotion. I don't have to become a drama queen in my day-to-day life to tap into my emotions and find new ways to express them artistically. This could be fun to play with, especially since book 5 (if they buy it) is going to get a lot more emotional. So, yeah, learning to sing opera arias may help make me a better writer.

For those in North Texas, I'll be speaking on the life of a writer at the public library in Coppell tonight at 7. I promise not to subject you to any Angry Italian Opera Arias.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Few, the Proud, the Geeks

The countdown is on. Two weeks from today, Damsel Under Stress hits store shelves. I learned yesterday that the different thing about this cover may be changed to the way it's supposed to be that makes it more in line with the other books if it goes into a second printing. Yeah, still cryptic, but I'm curious to see if anyone notices. There may even be a prize for the first person to contact me and tell me what's different about this book. And, hey, that makes the first edition a real collector's item, but then if you want all your books to match, you have incentive to promote the book enough to get a second printing so you can then get a matching book. Or do I spend too much time around people who buy multiple copies of the same magazine in order to get all of the "collect them all" covers?

Speaking of which, on the day that I managed to work Firefly references into a discussion about a new TV series, I read the column at the back of this week's Entertainment Weekly, and I definitely fit the "you may be a sci fi geek" mold. Not that this is a big surprise. The columnist talks about how there are people who refuse to watch Battlestar Galactica in spite of all the critical praise because they just aren't interested in a show that takes place on a spaceship, while he's the kind who'll pretty much watch anything set on a spaceship. I had to giggle because there was a time when everything I watched involved either vampires, aliens or spaceships. Now there are a lot fewer shows with vampires, aliens or spaceships, which has shifted my viewing patterns more into the real world (though I maintain that House really is science fiction), but the fact remains that I generally like my TV as unreal as possible.

He went on to list some "you may be a sci fi geek" possibilities. I don't fit the first two because I don't own any of the V miniseries on DVD (but I watched them all when they were originally on TV) and I didn't ever see The Matrix Reloaded (though it also may be geeky of me that I didn't see either of the Matrix sequels because I'd heard bad things and was doing that "I'm pretending this movie doesn't exist so it won't sully my enjoyment of the original" thing that geeks do so well. See Star Wars, episodes 1-3. Or don't. But you get my point). However, I have incorporated "frak" into my vocabulary as a curse word. Not so much "frell" from Farscape because it's not as satisfying to say. I haven't altered a drink with food coloring to make it look like something Quark would serve, but I know what Quark's bar is, and according to the columnist, that means I qualify. I've never worn Spock ears, but I have worn a Star Trek costume for Halloween. I have mocked Jar Jar Binks, but I couldn't hum the Ewoks' Yub Yub song to save my life. I believe I've carried on a conversation using the word "midichlorians" (probably while mocking Jar Jar Binks). I have no idea what he's talking about when mentioning a movie called The Arrival, but I have written fan fiction, which apparently gives me bonus points. Finally, I do know what the acronyms TNG, HRG, ESB, BSG, TARDIS and CSM stand for (and I didn't even have to think too hard because they're acronyms I've used).

So, um, yeah, I'm a geek. Not that this is a huge surprise to anyone who's been around me for very long, or probably not even to anyone who's read my books and is also geeky enough to get the references (speaking of which, just wait for book 4, which contains a huge, running insider reference). It's only a surprise to people who know me superficially, because I generally hide it well. Years ago, I coined the term "Stealth Geek" to describe myself and people like me. This is a person who is still interested in geeky stuff but who has outgrown some of the more awkward outer trappings. Or maybe it's a person in denial or who's repressed and inhibited. Who knows. Read the Stealth Geek FAQ to see where you stand on the issue (I probably need to update it again). I'll be the one at all those science fiction conventions this summer looking like I've stumbled into the wrong place, but remember, I can discuss things like Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc., for hours, and will, given the slightest opening. I just don't happen to own any t-shirts for those things (unless you count the more cryptic Firefly shirts that just have "Serenity" written in Chinese) and I don't do costumes.

One more note about The Great Blog Campaign. Your post doesn't have to be in an actual blog. It can be on a web site, message board, MySpace bulletin, LiveJournal community, etc. I just ask that if you're posting to a community or message board that you be polite and follow those community guidelines. No spamming, please, and be sure that the post is actually appropriate for that community (not that I'm too worried because my readers seem to be a classy bunch). In fact, posts to Harry Potter fan groups would be really nice because that's an audience I think would be prone to like my books, and there are a lot of them, but I haven't really dipped my toes into that online fandom because I'm allergic to shipper wars and those seem hard to avoid there (or maybe I've ventured into the wrong sites and have a totally wrong impression). Those kinds of posts work for contest purposes like blog posts. You just have to let me know what you've done and where it is so I can be sure I've got you entered and so I can share it with everyone else. If you've got a blog or community you want to get the word out about, this is a good way to do it because I will be posting links, where applicable.

And now I think I just heard one burst from the neighborhood tornado siren. It seems to have been a fluke because it's currently only drizzling, but I'd better turn on the TV and check.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Taxes, books and storms

Note to self: No matter how sniffly, sneezy and coughy I am, I should not take even the tiny baby dose of Benadryl on the day I'm supposed to be doing my taxes. Those forms are crazy enough when I'm fully conscious and impossible when I'm zoned out. But my taxes are now done, and I don't have too horrendously huge a check to write. Really, I don't think taxes are all that hard to do, which sometimes makes me paranoid that I'm doing something wrong. I'm sure I'm missing some potential deductions, but probably not enough to make it worthwhile to tear my hair out over figuring them out.

On a happier note, I got the first copies of the final printed version of Damsel Under Stress on Friday, hot off the press. This is what will be in stores two weeks from tomorrow. There's something different about the way the cover was printed on this book that apparently wasn't planned, and I'm still not sure whether or not I like it (cryptic enough for you?). Still, it's very pretty.

For those who saw the weather reports from Friday, I dodged a bullet from those storms. The tornadoes were about 10-15 miles from me, and the worst part of the storm was ten miles to the south of me. I never lost power. We did get some pea and marble-sized hail, with a few ping-pong balls thrown in. All of that is very, very loud and quite alarming when it hits a clay tile roof. The location of my neighborhood is such that it's easy to pinpoint on the radar map because it's close to a major freeway interchange on one side and a lake on the other, and it was eerie how accurate the TV radar was. The moment I saw the purple hail blob hit what I figured to be my neighborhood on the map, I heard the first thuds on the roof.

When I was done with my taxes, I watched the first episode of Drive. I'm not sure yet how much I like it. I'm not big on cars and driving, so watching an hour of people driving isn't high on my list of fun things to do, but some of the characters are intriguing. I'm not quite to the point where I'd watch Nathan Fillion read a VCR manual written by Tim Minear, but I'm very close, so I'll keep watching for a while. I have to admit that the opening scene, in which Nathan Fillion's character was being questioned by a former guest Firefly bad guy gave me total "Objects in Space" flashbacks, and then I fantasized a bit that once this show took off, then the second season would jump forward 500 years in the future and take place in space, and instead of driving an old pick-up truck, Nathan would be in a beat-up old spaceship, and it would turn out that the whole thing was a clever plot to find a way to get Firefly back on TV without the Fox executives noticing.

It's a busy week for me, with a library talk Wednesday night and a trip to Colorado Springs for a writing conference on Friday, for which I have to prepare a couple of presentations. That means either I'll get really, really chatty here (if I'm procrastinating) or very terse.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I had another newspaper interview this morning. I'm starting to feel almost famous! I also probably need to socialize more often so that when I get with a reporter it's not like "Hey, another human being! Someone I can talk to!" and then I jabber on endlessly. But when I was doing interviews and reporting, I much preferred the person who jabbered on to the person who barely gave yes or no answers to open-ended questions, so I guess that's not so bad.

I discovered this week that my neighborhood library branch has an excellent collection of classic films on DVD. Last night's treat was My Man Godfrey, and that, combined with last weekend's viewing of Mrs. Winterbourne, brought up a topic that's been stewing in my brain for a while. Have you noticed how many romantic comedy movies are built around mistaken identities and deceptions? Going all the way back to It Happened One Night, where she's a runaway heiress trying to go incognito and he's a reporter who figures her out but who doesn't want her to know he's a reporter (a similar situation came up in Roman Holiday), to My Man Godfrey, where a depressed wealthy man is mistaken for a hobo and hired as a butler, to The Shop Around the Corner, where they don't know they're really pen pals (updated to e-mail in You've Got Mail), to the various Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies like Pillow Talk where he pretended to be someone other than the guy she shared a party line with, on up to While You Were Sleeping, where she's mistakenly identified as the fiancee of a man in a coma, and then there's what set off the line of thinking this time around, Mrs. Winterbourne, where the identity of a homeless, pregnant teenager is mistakenly switched for that of the new wife of the son of a wealthy family during a train wreck. As much as I hate dishonesty and game playing in real life, I love these kinds of movies. I'd be furious if someone I'd met turned out to be someone other than who he let me think he was, and I can't imagine pretending to be someone else, but it makes for a great movie.

Then last summer at the Romance Writers of America national conference, I went to a workshop with screenwriting guru Michael Hauge that made it make sense. According to him, love stories in film are essentially about identity issues. The main character has some kind of persona or false front (what he called an "identity") she uses to protect herself and that hides her essence, her true self, from the world. The "true love" is the person who recognizes the essence behind that identity and can see her for who she truly is and what her potential might be. As the relationship develops, they have moments of closeness when she's functioning in her essence and relating with him, and moments of conflict when she retreats to her identity and therefore doesn't like it when he insists on relating to her essence. The "everything's doomed!" moment (or the "boy loses girl" part of the film) is when she tries to retreat to her identity one last time for fear of being hurt, but once she's experienced life in her essence, she can't stay there and has to step out and take the risk, or else she'll lose him and her true self entirely.

So, since the story is about identity anyway, it makes sense that the subtext would become text in a plot that is about things like mistaken identity or putting on a false identity. I think we as an audience are often willing to go for that because we get the sense that the fake identity the character puts on in the movie is actually more true to who she really is than her real role. For instance, I don't think anyone would criticize the Audrey Hepburn character in Roman Holiday for spending the day pretending not to be a princess, even if she was lying about who she was, because in that one day, it was her chance to really be herself without all those external trappings. In most of these mistaken identity stories, the heroine (or hero, depending on the story) may be a fish out of water in a strange situation, but it still feels somehow right, like that mistaken identity is where that person really should be, and it's the real identity that's actually false.

I think this is kind of what bothers me about Mrs. Winterbourne, Brendan Fraser's swoony tango aside. I don't feel like that heroine was ever going through any transformation, other than her hair and makeup. She remained herself throughout. It was more Brendan Fraser's character who was acting like the uptight businessman but who became looser, goofier and more appreciative of his family from interacting with her. But she was still the one in the deception who had to step out and take the risk of revealing her true identity and losing everything. We never saw that tug of war with him between his identity and his essence. The moment he realized he loved her, he was in all the way, so there wasn't the sense of struggle that makes you feel like the character has earned the happy ending.

Another thing that I've noticed seems to be in most of these stories is that it starts as a mistaken identity. The main character usually doesn't deliberately put on a false front, but instead merely chooses not to correct someone else's mistaken assumption. It's also important that the deception feels motivated -- the audience needs to feel like they'd have made a similar choice in the same circumstances, and every time the character has an opportunity to come clean, the stakes have to be that much higher, with even more reason not to tell the truth. That was where Mrs. Winterbourne worked -- if you've got a choice between being homeless, penniless and jobless with a newborn baby or else being taken in by a loving family where you'll have food and shelter, well, duh! It helps if the deception isn't entirely selfish, if there's some benefit to someone else, like protecting the newborn baby and the grandmother with a bad heart who would be devastated if she found out that her grandchild really did die in the train wreck and that it was just a case of mistaken identity.

One deception movie that doesn't work for me is The Truth About Cats and Dogs. I have a male friend who still hasn't forgiven me for suggesting that as a date movie when he had a new girlfriend (I thought it would provide conversational fodder -- boy, did it!). I'm still thinking of a way to rewrite it and make it work. In this one, the heroine is the "smart" girl who is supposedly not very pretty and who is self-conscious about that. She hits it off with a guy over the phone, but when they arrange to meet in person, she chickens out. He comes to her office to find her and arrives just as her neighbor, a model, is visiting her office and sitting at her desk, so he assumes the model is the woman he's looking for -- and she lets him think that, creating a false identity for herself. She talks to him on the phone, but makes the model pretend to be her to go out with him. I've always felt like we needed more motivation for her to do something like that, because if a cute guy shows up looking for me and assumes someone else is me, you bet I'm correcting that instead of shoving them together. Maybe if we'd seen her earlier going on blind dates and seeing the men be disappointed, or else figuring out who she is and bailing before even meeting her, we'd then know she'd have reason to think he'd be disappointed in seeing who she really was. It was an entirely selfish deception and once I can't imagine a relationship recovering from. It was an insult to him that she thought he was the kind of person who would reject her based on appearance when he already had connected with her and liked her over the phone. And now that I'm thinking about it in terms of identity and essence, her deception didn't put her in a position to be her truer self. She was actually even more false in her deception than she normally was.

Oddly, as much thought as I've put into this, I haven't ever written a real deception or mistaken identity story, though I have a few brewing in the back of my head.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Sara Rosett

While I'm still swooning over last night's Friday Night Lights finale (stupid show made me cry, and part of that episode took place in my town! Just down the street from me in Texas Stadium!) I've got a new Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview, with Sara Rosett, author of Staying Home is a Killer. This is the second book in the mom lit mystery series about a military spouse who runs a professional organizing business.

Diaper bag over her shoulder and adorable toddler wriggling in her arms, Ellie Avery strives to balance motherhood, marriage, and her professional organizing business, Everything in Its Place, but her ordered world is thrown into disarray when a fellow military spouse’s death looks more like murder than suicide. Toss in her husband’s deployment and her daughter’s separation anxiety, and Ellie has to keep the home fires burning as she sorts clues from chaos and proves that home is not for killers.

How much of the events in your books are based on or inspired by your experiences as a military wife, and how much are totally made up?
The military aspects of the book are based on things I've experienced. Staying Home is a Killer is about unexpected deployments. We've gone through that many times. The details about the break room that’s a bar and decorated with beer posters is completely true to life! The mystery aspect of the novels are where real life stops. The murder and mayhem are made up.

Have you had any interesting feedback or response from military wives after your previous book in this series?
I was a little nervous about how military spouses would react to the book. I tried to be truthful and portray the good aspects of military life as well as the frustrating parts. Overall, the reaction has been positive. Most military wives have been excited to read a book about their lifestyle.

My mom, the retired officer's wife, would want to know if you have any plans for the wives of any of the commanding officers to die gruesome deaths -- especially right before some more junior officer's wife has to host a tea party for the unit wives. (There may be some fantasizing going on here.)
Well, if I had to host a tea I probably would kill someone off--most likely myself! One reviewer did mention that since I started the Mom Zone series Greenly Air Force Base had become quite a dangerous place for military spouses of all ranks! I'll leave it at that so I don't spoil anything.

(I'm sure Mom could contribute a few wish-fulfillment murder suggestions from her Army wife days.)

What's next for Ellie?
I'm working on the third book in the Mom Zone series called Getting Away is Dangerous. Ellie accompanies her husband to training course in Washington DC and while she's sight-seeing she witnesses a death in the Metro.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book?
I'd just add that even though Staying Home is a Killer is about a military spouse there are also themes about motherhood and parenting in the book, too. Ellie's a new mom and struggling to find the right balance, like so many of us!

Fore more info, visit Sara's web site.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The chainsaws and woodchipper outside my window are still going strong, and there are no more trees alongside the road, either on my side of the street or across the street. The sky looks very naked now.

My house is still semi-clean, a month later. It's not perfect, and there would be some tidying required before I did another interview in my home, but it's still pretty good. I should probably devote some time to housework soon to make sure things stay okay.

I'm also being pretty good about getting more exercise. I'll be in Colorado next weekend, and the altitude always gets to me, so I'm trying to get a little more fit before I go. I've mostly managed to do at least a little something every day.

And that brings me to today's topic: perfectionism. I've never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I'm generally too impatient for that. Getting it done on time in an acceptable way is usually more important to me than getting it done perfectly. But I've recognized lately that I have a particularly insidious perfectionist streak. My lousy housekeeping is one symptom of that -- it's all or nothing syndrome. If the house gets even a bit messy, I give up and let it all fall apart, and if I can't get it in order in a short period of time, I get frustrated and give up. I've also done that with almost every exercise program I try to get on. When I miss a day, I figure I've ruined everything and let it all slide.

We were discussing this in my music class a couple of weeks ago. I've realized that much of my stage fright is the result of perfectionism. I'm so afraid of making a mistake that I make myself nervous, so I'm more likely to make a mistake, and then I get even more flustered, and the result is that the performance ends up being so much worse than it would have been if I could have accepted that it wouldn't be perfect and just gone with it. I'm not performing at the Met. Most people wouldn't even notice most of the errors I make, but they do notice the total meltdown. If I'd let myself believe that nobody's perfect and keep going past the errors, then I could end up with an overall good performance. I think I'm getting better with that, though it's a work in progress.

The really psycho part of my perfectionism is that it often has to do with the way I think others are judging me. For instance, when I was in New York, I was chatting with my editor about a particular neighborhood that I was thinking of using as a setting for a future book. It turned out to be her neighborhood, and she got all excited about that. I completely freaked out. I said I'd have to make sure I got the details exactly right because she'd know if I messed up. She looked at me like I was insane (very astute woman, she is) and said that actually, it meant I had a handy consultant who could help me make sure the details were right before the book got published. She's right, of course, but I know there's still a part of me that will feel like I've failed if she has to correct some detail based on her day-to-day knowledge of that part of town.

I think that's part of where some of my anxiety about the next book release is coming from. I want to be perfect -- exceeding expectations for sales, having everyone love it -- and a lot of that is out of my control. I can't really affect bookstore orders or whether people will find and buy it. So I go nuts trying to be perfect in controlling the parts I can do something about while stressing over the rest of it.

And now I'm going to go to the post office and library before the sound of chainsaws drives me right over the edge.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Big Idea

Depending on how you look at it, I've either had a very unproductive day or a very productive one. If you measure by how many items I've checked off my to-do list, well, I kind of suck. But in a larger sense, I may have accomplished something big.

I have a new idea. Actually, it's a bit nebulous to call it an idea. More like a concept, maybe. At any rate, I have a general direction of something I want to try writing. That may sound kind of vague, and it is, but that seems to be the way my best ideas start. When I first came up with the idea for what became Enchanted, Inc., that was the way it happened. I'd been reading the Harry Potter books and some chick lit books, and the thought crossed my mind that mixing the two would be kind of fun, to have magical stuff happening to an adult heroine who had to deal with things like jobs and dating. At first, it was more a notion about what I wanted to read. Only later did I decide to try writing it myself. It took a while before anything more concrete, like a story idea, came out of it.

This morning, I'd been reading something that mixed two things I really like for a fun blend, and I found myself thinking that one of those things would probably mix really well with something else I like. At first, I thought it would be fun to read, and then I had the "Duh! You're a writer, silly!" moment and realized that I should write it. Then I thought I really didn't have an idea, just a general concept, and then I remembered that's how Enchanted, Inc. started, and from there I found a plot and characters and all that stuff, so I'm sure I can do the same thing again with a different concept.

And no, I'm not going to talk about it yet, not in this early stage. There's nothing much to talk about. I'm not totally the paranoid "people will steal my brilliant ideas!" type, but since I haven't seen anything quite like this, I don't want to put it out there until I have something more concrete (and ready to send to a publisher). I'm not even ready to talk to my agent about it, although I will be seeing her next week and it may come up over drinks. It has to stew in my brain a while before I can say much more about it. It took me a year and a half from the time I got the idea before I wrote Enchanted, Inc. This one shouldn't take as long because with that book, I didn't focus on it, I worked on other things, and I thought there was no market for it. I have brainstorming and research to do, and it will be FUN research.

So, yeah, not so much in the checking off the to-do list, but wow, I may have come up with my Next Big Thing, and that's HUGE!

In other news, the new issue of Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine has a nice little feature on me, and they had a positive review of Damsel Under Stress, which is good to see. Yes, I can be terribly needy and insecure about my books, so any and all validation is welcome.

Speaking of which, don't forget The Great Blog Campaign, through which you can win early copies of book 4 by blogging about the new book and/or the series as a whole during the first week in May. I've only heard from a few people who've sent guest blog requests or interview questions, so I'm hoping the rest of you are still thinking about it or planning something that doesn't require my input. This book making a big initial splash can go a long way toward ensuring that there is a book 5 (and trust me, based on what I have planned for this book, you really want book 5). I sound kind of like I'm holding a hostage here -- "Promote my book, or the wizard is toast!" -- but I'm not the one who gets to make that decision. I'm just on the hostage negotiation team.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Another Texas Chainsaw Massacre

It's chainsaw day at the Swendson Villa -- not that I've gone psycho killer (yet!), but the city crews are cutting down the trees along the side of the road behind my house. It's not one big cut and then "timber!" Instead, they seem to be cutting in two-inch increments. Actually, what's happening is that a guy is standing in the tree with a chainsaw, cutting down the branches bit-by-bit, and then they seem to be cutting the trunks from there. I have very mixed feelings about this. Although the trees are on the other side of the wall from my yard, they were my view. They blocked my house from the road, and they went a gorgeous dark crimson color in the fall, while the spring blooms made it look like it was snowing. However, I know this kind of tree is prone to disease and doesn't have a long, healthy lifespan. These trees were also popular nesting sites for grackles, which are noisy and smelly, and those gorgeous leaves usually ended up on my patio when they fell. Today's main annoyance, however, is the noise, with a couple of chainsaws and a woodchipper going constantly, not far outside my office window. I may resort to earplugs. I also keep getting very nervous watching these guys climbing around trees with chainsaws. They're a lot braver about that than I would be.

I had an extremely lazy weekend -- so lazy that I can barely remember what I did. I know a lot of tea was consumed and I seldom left the comfort of the electric blanket on the sofa. On Saturday afternoon I found a fun little movie on one of the HBO channels called A Little Romance, about a 13-year-old American girl in Paris who meets a French boy and runs off to Venice, with the help of an old con man. It made me feel kind of old because I was only a few years younger than the kids in the movie when the movie came out (and was taking place), and I didn't live too far from Paris at the time, so the Paris they showed is what I remember. But the girl was played by Diane Lane, who is now the Hollywood go-to for 40-something divorced woman starting her life over again roles. And that means that if I were a Hollywood actress, I would probably now be playing the woman whose husband leaves her, and then she runs off to Italy to mend her broken heart. Or something like that. Eeek.

That night I watched Mrs. Winterbourne on TBS OnDemand. There are some structural problems with that movie (it feels like major scenes are missing because it skips from point A to point D too many times), but it made me fall madly in love with Brendan Fraser. I'd really like to see him in a good romantic comedy because he's the perfect leading man for that sort of thing. He can be simultaneously dashing, romantic and goofy. There's this scene in the movie in which he does an impromptu tango through the kitchen that manages to be very hot, swooningly romantic and absolutely hilarious, all at the same time. Stay tuned later in the week for a discussion of a particular romantic comedy plot type that watching this movie inspired.

Sunday afternoon I mostly ignored the Merlin miniseries on Sci Fi while I worked my crossword puzzles. I love Sam Neill, but that vision of Merlin is so far from mine that the whole thing became kind of silly to me in a bizarre way (I kept trying to picture him in a suit in New York, and that made me giggle). In the evening, I dragged out an old tape and watched Gosford Park, because I was in the mood for that sort of thing. I'm not sure I'd want to live that way, in some big manor with an army of staff (for one thing, there would be a lot of waking up screaming from people coming in the room to light fires and do stuff while I was asleep), but that kind of thing might be fun for a weekend party -- dressing up for dinner, having a pot of cocoa brought to me at bedtime, having breakfast in bed. Now I just need to meet someone who has a huge manor house who can invite me to come for the weekend.

I had a moment of panic when I went to rewatch last weekend's episode of Robin Hood, and it wasn't posted at BBCAmerica OnDemand. I thought they'd just put up the first few episodes to hook us, and then were going to cut us off. But this weekend's episode is already up. They just managed to skip the one episode I was able to actually watch on BBCAmerica as it aired. If I'm not careful, I may start to think that it really is all about me.

Finally, I keep finding confirmation that it wouldn't be that hard to hide magic from normal people because it's so easy to tune out the world. This incident happened in Washington, D.C., instead of New York, but it's still a good example of urban blinders. For those who don't want to click over and read (I don't blame you because, to be honest, I seldom do unless I'm really procrastinating), as part of an experiment, classical violinist Joshua Bell set up in a D.C. Metro station as though he was a street musician, with his violin case open at his feet and a few dollars inside, and he played classical music on his Stradivarius -- and almost no one noticed that one of the world's greatest musicians was playing in the subway station. I like to think that I would have stopped to listen. Heck, I stop and listen to the lady who plays the musical saw at the Union Square station in New York. Hmm, according to the article, he's 39, straight and single, and the fact that he was willing to do this makes him rather crushworthy. Like I need another celebrity crush. I need more crushes on people I might actually meet.

And now I need to go get my earplugs before I start fantasizing about using a chainsaw on somebody.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Weekend Extra

Would you believe it snowed this morning? In April, in Texas? This may be one of the worst Easter cold snaps I've seen, especially for one this late in the year. I spent the morning drinking tea at the kitchen table, listening to Josh Groban, watching it snow and working crossword puzzles (I did the Saturday New York Times puzzle without even looking anything up!).

And now I'm about to go crawl under the electric blanket to read or watch a movie because I've decided that snow in April in Texas is rare enough to declare a holiday. Baking may be involved, I mean beyond the blueberry muffins I already made for breakfast.

I'm guest blogger at the To Be Read blog today. And by guest blogging I mean posting pictures of castles from Germany. So if you're interested in my crazy castle photography hobby, check it out. If there's enough response, maybe I'll continue the series with more castles, because I have tons of them. I haven't yet posted the ones I have enlarged and hanging on the wall up my staircase. You wouldn't believe some of the positions I manage to get myself into to get some of these pictures -- icy, rickety bridges, hanging out of car windows, clinging to mountainsides, climbing ruined towers, etc. I'm generally not very happy about bridges or heights, but something happens to me when I have a camera in my hand and a castle in the viewfinder and I get very brave. I don't like going very high up in a skyscraper, but I'll climb the crumbling steps of a ruined castle tower because, hello!, it's a castle!

Which reminds me, I need to renew my passport.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Reading Groups

I keep forgetting to mention this, and it's taken several to-do list items and a few post-it notes to remind me, so here goes: I'm putting together a reading group guide for my books. I know some of you have done book group discussions about my books, so if you've got some good questions or topics for conversation that you'd like to share, please do! In a way, I think it's harder for an author to do this for her own books because there's not a lot of room for discussion. I know what I was trying to convey and what everything means. I do have a few themes I think are fodder for discussion, but if most book groups are like the ones I've been a part of, you generally spend about five minutes talking about the book, and then you get sidetracked talking about other books, movies, TV shows, or whatever that the book may have reminded you of, and then you get sidetracked from there talking about other stuff. So maybe my reading group guide should include questions like "Did you see this week's episode of House?"

Speaking of which, I finally did last night. On Tuesday night, we had some storms come through the area, which requires the local weather people to show off their nifty radar gizmos that allow them to track the progress of the storm street-by-street. And so they did. Instead of showing House, we got to learn that the storm was now on this street and heading for that street, and here's one of our reporters on cell phone to tell us that it's raining where he is. They cut back to programming just as the episode ended, and then somehow managed to show their local news, including the latest Anna Nicole and American Idol updates, uninterrupted. At the end of the news they gleefully told us we could see that episode of House next Friday on USA. I guess they got some hate mail for that, because they ended up showing it late at night last night, and thus making me a very happy girl, especially after seeing last night's episode of The Office.

Now, after seeing those episodes, I may have the beginnings of a tiny little crush on Dwight (protector of the office!). I also have this urge to bake cookies for Dr. Chase. And maybe nominate him for What Not to Wear.

Today is Cheesy 70s Music Day at my house. I got this 15% extra off coupon from B&N, so I stopped by on my way home from class to reward myself for a successful performance of the Angry Italian Opera Aria. Since I'm going to be doing a lot of driving in the next few months, I thought I'd buy a good Broadway cast album to use as an "in-flight movie." Then I saw the CD for Mamma Mia, and thought that would be fun, but I'd rather have the ABBA originals of those songs, but most of my ABBA is on LP, and I don't have a turntable anymore. I ended up buying the "Definitive" ABBA collection. I had so much fun listening to that and bouncing around singing with it that next I had to get out the Captain and Tennille CD. Barry Manilow will probably be next. Apologies in advance to my neighbors (I can sometimes use the "opera" voice to sing with ABBA, which is tons of fun).

We got one of our semi-regular Easter cold snaps, so it's going to be downright cold this weekend. I'm planning a read-a-thon to take advantage of the likely last chance of the season to snuggle under a blanket with a good book, but I'm not sure what from my to-be-read pile will get the honors. Some parts of the area may even get snow Saturday night! This is why my tropical plants never go outdoors until after Easter and why I long ago gave up on buying pretty spring Easter clothes. It may have been 90 degrees the week before, but it almost always gets cold for Easter itself. Now I have to get to the post office to mail some books to the prizewinners!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Quiz Answers

I've picked the quiz winners, and if you won, you'll have received an e-mail from me. Y'all impressed me with your knowledge of the books. I might have had to look some of that stuff up, and I wrote the books! (Though, in my defense, my concern was whether something I was thinking about made it into the final book, since there's a lot I wrote that didn't, and now it's hard to remember what did and what didn't end up in the finished version.)

Now, for the curious, here are the answers, along with a little "story behind the story" stuff, just for fun.

Question one: The first guy Katie goes out with in the books is Pat. He's a blind date set up through her roommates. He's loosely inspired by a blind date I once went on, whose name happened to be Pat (I don't remember his last name), and it was my college roommate who set me up with him, though at the time we were co-workers instead of roommates (by sheer coincidence, I ended up working with my college roommate years later). In my case, the first date, the "blind" one, wasn't so bad, because it was a double date with my roommate/co-worker and her husband, and we all had a great time, so I agreed to go out with this guy when he called me for a real date. And that was the one where he Would. Not. Talk. I finally got tired of asking him questions and getting one-word answers and told him that I was the world's slowest eater in the best of circumstances, so if he didn't carry his share of the conversation and let me eat, we were never going to be able to leave the restaurant. He promptly got up and went to the restroom. At least that gave me a chance to finish my dinner. And so, he has been immortalized in print.

Question two: I was willing to take The Frog King (or Prince), Cinderella or The Red Shoes. I actually consciously used The Frog King and Cinderella (with the idea of getting the magical shoes that changed her life and the way others saw her), then later realized I'd done The Red Shoes as well (there may be something to that collective unconscious thing). In my case, the red shoes are literal. I own a pair, and they in part inspired the book. I bought them to celebrate when I got the book deal, and then I decided they were magical shoes. If a pair of purple shoes had caught my eye, it could have turned out to be a book about purple shoes. Or gold, or whatever. It is kind of cool that they were red so they fit with that fairy tale, as well. The Cinderella motif is pretty strong in Damsel Under Stress and continues into the fourth book. You haven't seen the last of those red shoes.

Question three: Ari was the one who broke the enchantment on Philip. That will turn out to be highly ironic, for reasons you will soon learn. Let's just say "Oops!"

Question four: Owen has a cat named Eluned, after a character in Welsh mythology (from the Mabinogion). Rod nicknamed her Loony. Loony was inspired by my next-door neighbor's cat, who kind of adopted me. If she got out of the house, she'd end up on my front porch, and when she was in the house, she sat in the window and watched my front door all day. She first appeared in a story that will not be made public. It was just something a little silly I wrote for my friend Rosa. She'd read the first book as I wrote it, and then when I was waiting to hear whether an agent would take it on, I was kind of stuck. I tried working on something else, but these characters wouldn't let me go, yet I didn't want to write the sequel without selling the first book. Meanwhile, Rosa was nagging me for more. So, one snowy Saturday, I wrote a little short story from Owen's point of view that picks up almost exactly after his part in Enchanted, Inc. ends. Rosa loved cats, so I threw my neighbor's cat in as his pet, and I liked her and his interactions with her so much that she made it into the next book. The story is very much fanfic, even if it is based on my own books, and is quite self-indulgent. It helped me get into Owen's head and figure out how his mind worked, as well as what his life is like, what his background was, how his friendship with Rod works, etc. It won't go public anytime soon, if at all, because it has a lot of spoilers for future books. And, besides, it was a special treat for a friend, and I kind of like the idea of keeping it so that she was the only one who ever read it.

Question five: Jake is Owen's assistant, and he likes punk music. This was one of those characters who just popped into my head. I think the punk thing started as a practical consideration. On my first research trip for the series, I ended up wandering some through the East Village, where there are some hole-in-the-wall music stores, and that area is/was one of the hotbeds of punk. Those hole-in-the-wall stores seemed like the kind of places where you might be able to buy bootleg black magic spells, and we needed someone to find them while doing his normal shopping there. I'd always pictured Jake wearing some kind of irreverent t-shirt, so I decided he was our resident punk. I have a friend who's an expert on that scene, so I asked for her input and got a complete history of the punk movement, as well as suggestions for t-shirts and group names that would say something about this character.

And, there we have it. Now, I've got another Out of the Blogosphere book to share, Parallel Seduction, the latest book in an alternate world series by Deidre Knight.

Warrior Jake Tierny travels back in time to stop a traitor in his beloved king's camp. But when a twist of fate proves the mission unnecessary, Jake is trapped in a time not his own, with friends who cannot learn his true identity.

Scott Dillon may be the king's trusted lieutenant, but he is also a man at war with himself, a human hybrid who refuses to succumb to the Antousian nature he abhors-and that Jake Tierny embodies.

FBI linguist Hope Harper refuses to let near-blindness keep her from joining the Refarians in their war to defend mankind. Yet her sizzling attraction to both Scott and Jake, and the strange memories they share, force all three to question the core of their beliefs. As their enemies surround them, Hope knows she must choose one man for all time.

For more info, excerpt, etc., visit Deidre's web site.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trip Report

Now, finally, that trip report!

First of all, I had the best flight ever on the way to New York because I had the whole rear of the plane to myself. Not just a single row, but four empty rows behind me and four empty rows ahead of me. The flight attendant teased me about having been bad so I was sent to the back of the plane. I assured her that I had taken a shower and used deodorant, and I decided that I must have been very, very good to get that much space. She said it was okay if I wanted to move up, but I couldn't think of why I'd want to do that. Those poor slobs up in first class were crammed in, with every seat full, while I had a total personal space bubble. I later told the flight attendant that I was actually a celebrity and I'd bought the rear of the plane to have privacy.

Once I got into the city and checked into my hotel, I headed uptown to The Cloisters and the park that surrounds it. The Cloisters is the medieval collection for the Met, housed in a re-created cloister-like building using architechtural elements from the ruins of actual cloisters. It was too late in the day to go into the museum, and I've seen it before, so I focused on wandering the park. It will likely end up as a setting in book five. I love that area because you can almost feel like you're in the wilderness, even though you're in Manhattan. It's also kind of steep and involves a lot of climbing. When I was tired of walking, I took the subway back to the Upper West Side, which may be a setting for a future non-series book. There's a restaurant I like there, but I forgot the exact cross street and missed it by four blocks, but along the way I found another restaurant to check out for breakfast the next morning. Then I found the Italian place I was looking for and inhaled some pasta, along with a goldfish bowl of wine. Seriously, I ordered a glass of wine and they brought me something I could have gone swimming in. My roommate had gone out to dinner when I got back to the hotel, so I collapsed and watched Friday Night Lights and Mythbusters.

The next morning, I went back to that restaurant I'd discovered, a tea shop called Alice's Tea Cup. I had a yummy scone complete with clotted cream and jam, along with a pot of tea. They also have a multi-course breakfast that comes on the tiered stands they use for afternoon tea, but I didn't have the appetite for that. Someday, though, I'll have to try it. Then I took a bus up to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on a quest for gargoyles. I had to figure out who might live there. After that, I barely had time to rush back to the hotel and change into nice clothes for my lunch with my editor and publicist.

Lunch was lovely, but alas, I have no book 5 news to report. Afterward, I changed clothes (again!) and went wandering, this time to see what gargoyles live at St. Patrick's (none that I could find). There was a side excursion to discover that there is one copy of Enchanted, Inc. at the B&N near Rockefeller Center, and some brief playing in a nearby Sephora. I then went down to SoHo for a little shopping, after which I rushed back to the hotel to change (yet again!) for the opening reception for the conference I was in New York for. That was a real madhouse, very crowded with tons of editors and agents. I'm not really a cocktail party person. I don't handle crowds well. So I usually found a quiet spot and hid. After the reception, a group of us headed over to a jazz club called Swing 46 for a big-band show with the band Felix and the Cats, which was fabulous. The only bad thing was that there was nobody there to dance with, but that was probably for the best because my knees and hips were killing me by that time. I just sat and listened to the music. I'm so going back there next time I'm in town.

Friday was spent doing conferencey things. That night, a huge group of us went to see The Pirate Queen, which is still in previews. It's the new show by the people who wrote the music for Les Miserables, and since the show is set in Ireland, they teamed up with the dance people behind Riverdance, so the music has a bit of an Irish flavor to it, and when there's dancing, it's traditional Irish dance. All very cool, plus a good love story (little did they know, they had 55 romance authors in the audience). The lead guy was very cute, had a fabulous voice, and, thanks to my opera glasses, I could see he had pretty blue eyes. Plus, he's been on Doctor Who! In the next-to-last episode last season, he was the Torchwood guy who asks his co-worker to sneak off, and then he was the first to be killed by the Cybermen. (And, no, I didn't just know that. I figured it out through a combination of IMDB and TWOP, and I think I still have that episode on tape, so now I must watch it again.) Saturday was more conferencey stuff, after which I was exhausted. I ended up going on a quest for takeout pizza and then crashing in my hotel room and watching Robin Hood on BBC America (which the hotel got).

Sunday, I got a wee bit crazy, but it all worked out. I checked out of the hotel early and dropped off my bags, then took the subway over to Grand Central, where I caught the Hudson River Line train up to Irvington. There, I hiked uphill to the Croton Aqueduct trail and then hiked that about a mile or so to Lyndhurst, one of those manors/castles overlooking the Hudson. And then, since it turned out to be a quiet day, I got a private tour of the house. This is also book research, for yet another non-series project, though I think it may also show up in book 5 or other books in that universe. The place was so gorgeous. I could totally live there. :-) Then I got a cup of tea from the visitor's center and hiked back to the train station, where I caught a train back to the city, subway back across town, got my bags, took the subway to Penn Station, got there just in time to catch a train to Newark Airport, and then flew home. In a miraculous event, the flight got in half an hour early.

So, that was my trip. Looking at that, I can see why I tend to come home exhausted. This time, I was pretty good about being reasonably sane. Getting unlimited MetroCard passes helps because it encourages me to ride as often as possible instead of insisting on walking everywhere. I still get plenty of walking time. I also ditched my purse for a lot of this exploring, just shoving some money, an ID, my hotel key and my MetroCard in my pockets. That kept my back from getting tired. Plus, spending two evenings in, just relaxing, helped.

And now I have a ton and a half of stuff to catch up on, like e-mail going back for months, web site updates, some promo work, and oh yeah, maybe some writing. And, yikes, my taxes. Whimper.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Book Tour! Plus, Win an Advance Copy!

You'll have to wait another day for the big trip report, as I still have some business to take care of.

First, I'm happy to announce the stops on the official Damsel Under Stress book tour. If I'm not coming to your city, it doesn't mean I don't love you. It means my budget is really, really low for this, so I'm limited to places I can reach in the Saturn. I'd have to move up in the world considerably before they'd buy me plane tickets. I'll be posting this to my web site and mailing list soon, but you heard it here first!

Thursday, May 3—DALLAS, TX
7:00 pm
Talk & Signing
Borders Books & Music
10720 Preston Road, Suite 1018
Dallas, TX 75230

Saturday, May 5—TYLER, TX
2:00 pm
Talk & Signing
Barnes & Noble
4916 South Broadway
Tyler, TX 75703

Wednesday, May 9—ROUND ROCK, TX (AUSTIN)
7:00 pm
Talk & Signing
Hastings Books, Music & Video
2200 IH 35 Ste B1
Round Rock, TX 78681

Saturday, May 12—FT. WORTH, TX
2:00 pm
Talk & Signing
Barnes & Noble
1612 S. University Dr.
Fort Worth, TX 76107

Wednesday, May 16—SAN ANTONIO, TX
7:30 pm
Talk & Signing
Borders Books & Music
255 E. Basse Rd., Ste. 350
San Antonio, TX 78209

Saturday, June 23—HOUSTON, TX
2:00 pm-3:30 pm
Talk & Signing
Houston Public Library
Jungman Branch
5830 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77057
(I'll also be at ApolloCon that weekend.)

Note that these are supposedly talks/readings/Q&A sessions instead of just the sit behind the table and smile as people come and go signings, so please show up, bring friends, tell your neighbors, etc. It would be really embarrassing to face an empty room! Mark your calendars!

I have a long list of cons I'll be at this summer, but I'll post that later.

And now, I have three more advance copies of Damsel Under Stress to give away, but you'll have to earn them by proving what a devoted reader you are. Send me your answers to the following quiz by 5 p.m. Central Time on Wednesday. The ones with the most correct answers win. In case of a tie, winners will be determined by a drawing (or maybe bribes of the "here's how I'll promote your books" variety -- I can probably be bought). I'm going to have to limit this to people with United States mailing addresses because even sending to Canada requires me to fill out forms and stand in line at the post office instead of using the automated machine, and by the time I get around to that, the book will be out and shipped by Amazon all over the world. E-mail your answers to and put "Quiz" in the subject line so I don't lose it.

1) Who is the first guy Katie goes on a date with in the entire series?

2) Name two major fairy tales that have been used/spoofed/referenced in the series so far. (For help with this, you can check out the SurLaLune Fairy Tales site, which I use as a reference.)

3) Who broke the frog enchantment on Philip?

4) Who is Owen's pet and what is its name?
Bonus: What's the source of the name, and who came up with its nickname?

5) Who is Owen's assistant?
Bonus: What kind of music does the assistant like?

And finally, I continue catching up with things I was supposed to post while I was out of town, so here's the latest Out of the Blogosphere book, Sight Unseen, by Samantha Graves (you also may have read her C.J. Barry books).

As a consultant for API, an art recover company, Raven Callahan gets to steal—legally. But when her colleague is kidnapped during an assignment, Raven is forced to steal a priceless master painting to save his life.

David "Dax" Maddox was the perfect street cop—until a botched burglary raid cost his partner his life and Dax his ability to see color. Now, with his world gray, Dax has only one mission: to take down the murderer. And he’ll use anyone—even a sexy thief with questionable ethics—to get justice.

Soon Dax and Raven are forced together as pawns in a madman’s scheme. From the heart of Cuba to the New York art world, they find themselves in a race against time to stop the ultimate revenge.

For more info and an excerpt, visit Samantha's web site.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Valerie Frankel

I'm back from my wanderings, and this time I managed not to be entirely sore and exhausted, in spite of a rather adventurous Sunday. But I came home to a towering to-do list and a pile of stuff to catch up on, so the trip report will have to wait until later in the week (yeah, I know, I'm a tease -- which shouldn't come as a huge surprise to those who have read my books). While I'm off attempting to be efficient, I've got a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry to catch up on. My guest this time is Valerie Frankel, author of I Take This Man, and this one is a big honor because I was a fan of hers as a reader long before she joined the GCC.

Just as Penny Bracket is putting the final touches on her wedding day, she receives a note from her beloved that simply says, "Penny, I can’t go through with it. Sorry, Bram" Mortified, Penny is determined to figure out what went wrong, even if it kills her, or, preferably Bram.

Ester Bracket, Penny’s divorced mother, wants Bram’s head on a platter. And she gets it: In a fit of maternal rage, Ester finds Bram as he’s packing to flee, knocks him out with a bottle of champagne, and kidnaps him to a secret room in her mansion in affluent Short Hares, New Jersey. Will Penny get the answers and revenge she’s after from Bram, who (as she may or may not discover) is locked in her attic? Will Bram’s widowed father, handsome tough guy Keith Shiraz, locate his son and/or seduce Ester Bracket? Will Bram, athletic and regretful, escape both his wedding and his imprisonment in one piece?

Now, the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
The basic idea for I Take This Man was cranked out on a typical day in the life of a working mother. My daughter came home from school and announced that some little girl in her first grade class made her cry. A flash of anger flooded my brain. After a minute or two, I calmed myself down. Lucy and I discussed what had happened, and worked out an appropriate response. But that flash of maternal rage got my meat grinder going. Any intense emotion is a kick-start. It made me wonder: What offense against one of my daughters would actually move me to lash out with violence against another human being? I fixated on the question, lay awake in bed, wondering what indeed would make an otherwise controlled, rational woman thirsty for blood? I imagined being the mother of a jilted bride who, in a fit of vengeance, attacks the runaway groom. From there, I asked more questions: "Why did the groom cancel the wedding?" "What did the mother do with the groom after she bashed him?" "How would the bride find out what happened?"
Five hours later, at three o’clock in the morning, I had the framework of a plot.

Describe your creative process.
I like to start with a broad-strokes outline, where the story begins and a rough idea of where it'll end, and then I improvise and make changes as I go. If I have nothing to start, then I get a bit lost. The free-wheeling approach can be a fun adventure, but no recommended when on a deadline for a contracted book. I am currenlty working on an erotic comedy for my own amusement (it's uncontracted), and I'm flying without an outline on this one. Fun, but a little scary, too. I'll have to do a TON of revisions when I'm done.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
No music--too distracting. No food--too messy. I write for about an hour at a time, starting around 11 AM. I break often to lie down on the bed and stare at the wall (blue). Drinking coffee is essential to the creative process, of course. If I have the energy, I can put in a productive hour at 9 PM, and write until bedtime. Only problem, the ideas keep coming after lights out, and I lose sleep.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I Take This Man has two heroines. The 23 year old bride, Penny, and the 45 year old mother of the bride, Esther. Technically, I have more in common with Esther. We're both in our forties and are mothers. I'm not as control-freakish as she is. And I'm not a collector of anything (except CDs). Penny, she's figuring life out, one relationship at a time. That speaks to my own youth.

What do you think an appropriate punishment might be for a groom who bails on a wedding after all the planning is done?
I love the punishment I made up for Bram. Lock him in a room, make him eat every last plate of catered food (each bliss potato and piece of cocktail shrimp), make him write personal notes to the disappointed wedding guests, and return gift mailing labels. Beating him with a champagne bottle optional.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark. Like my coffee.

What are you working on now?
I just finished revisions on the third novel in my YA series. The book is called American Fringe, following Fringe Girl and Fringe Girl in Love. Very proud of this series. I hope it takes off so I can write many more!

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Of my six chick lit novels, I consider I Take This Man the funniest yet. I haven't done much with mother/daugher stories until now, either, now a wedding theme. So, yeah, I'm proud of it. Hope others will agree.

And now I'm off to restock my bare cupboards, wade through a couple hundred e-mails, tackle my to-do list and get mailing supplies for my next round of post office trips.