Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Calm vs. Deadlines  by Aimée Thurlo

Although I still tend to panic when deadline draws near, over the years I've learned how to better handle the pressure. I have a set of little tricks that work surprisingly well.

 I was raised in a Caribbean island where considering drinking anything other than what was known there as "little coffees" (espresso) was almost an act of heresy. Yet I find that when the chips are down, there's nothing like a cup of tea.

 I think the very act of preparing the tea is soothing. The special tea pot, a handpicked tea cup, the waiting until it steeps...it's like going back in time to the days when ladies took socializing to a whole new level. What an indulgence and a touch of elegance!

 My favorite afternoon tea is a strong tea called "Lifeboat tea". Considering I'm trying to calm myself down so I can write, I found the name extremely appropriate. I also love chamomile with vanilla, and caramel vanilla tea. 

 It really gives me the incentive I need to get back to work.

 What are your rituals?


A Time of Change - available now

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wherein I confess my OCD tendency about research

I have a few things that will relegate a book to "wallbanger" status. You know the status I'm talking about: you get halfway through it, and it's so bad that you've thwacked your forehead with the book so often that you finally give the old noggin a rest and slam the book against the wall.

First of all, if there's a heroine who's continually doing one thing after another that's really Too Stupid To Live, I just can't keep rooting for her, even if I know it's going to be okay in the end. One dumb thing, yeah, I can buy that. But a series of dumb things? Nah. Which is a reason I'm so not a fan of horror movies, because we all know the teenage girl WILL go down into the cellar even though the boogie man is always waiting for her in the dark.

Second of all, if there is a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through it, it's hard for me to hang on until the end. The guilty will go nameless here, because I've read some huge best-selling authors who sometimes, bless their hearts, have done this. For the most part, I try to be understanding -- I'm a writer, after all, but I can't write a red herring that doesn't stink to high heaven. So it's perfectly understandable that authors will have an off day.

But lack of research is an unforgivable bugaboo to me.

When I read a book that is about something I know - and believe me, with my work history, I've done a little of all of it - it drives me slap dab crazy if the author gets it wrong.

Sure, authors are allowed to take a little creative license. But please, if you're writing about a journalist at a small weekly paper, make sure that you make him sweat losing those advertisers and have him take out his own trash. And if any of your characters are teachers? If you don't let them sometimes grouse about their students and their students' parents, they won't be true to life.

Plus there's the added fact that I'm a documentary-nerd-freak. I love documentaries. I love history. And if you have a girl heroine in a western, I'd prefer you not have her in Levis before Levi Strauss himself invented jeans.

Because I'm so hard on authors about getting the details right, I'm twice as hard on myself. Take SECRET SANTA, the Harlequin Heartwarming Romance that is scheduled to come out in November of this year. It's about a young doctor out of med school, back in her small hometown to practice medicine. Am I doctor? Nope. So that's why I bugged the stew out of four, count 'em, four doctors to be sure I was getting my details right.

Did I get all of them right? Probably not, I'm sorry to say. But I tried. I didn't just Google a Wikipedia entry (though that is always a good start to make sure your heroine isn't wearing Levis before Levi invented them). And not only did I talk to real live doctors, I availed myself of some other things on that World Wide Web.

For instance, iTunes U is a marvelous collection of all sorts of information -- usually from colleges, so you know it's fairly in depth and accurate. I was lucky enough to run across a series of emergency medicine lectures that were made for University of Virginia emergency residents. It was a cool series that I'm still listening to, because who knows when I might make another character a doctor?

But don't underestimate the power of an emailed question to a perfect stranger. I've learned that experts like to help get the details right (I know I do, of the few things I'm an expert in). I've had excellent luck emailing all sorts of people with the subject line: Published author needs assistance with current manuscript. I think I even had luck back before I was published by saying "author needs assistance." Usually, if they answer you back, you can send a series of questions in an email and they'll email you back.

And your payment back? Be sure to feature them in your acknowledgments. It will give them a plug, and it's always cool to see your name in print. After all, isn't that why all of us writers write?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lorraine Janet Charbonneau Pacheco Jepson

Hi, All!  Last post about my family, I promise.  It all sort of relates to what we do because these are the chacters that live in my head, and their dialogue rings in my ears as I'm writing.  My memories of childhood are so strong.  I imagine yours are, too.  We were writers, even before we knew it.

My sister, Lorraine, was nine when I was born, and when we went to live with Mike and Jeannette Pacheco in that tenement over the store.  I remember being jealous of her growing up  because she was slender and pretty and I was a complete pudge.  She was also fearless and I was not, but she was my big sister and I followed wherever she led.  Which was often into trouble.

There was a stairway from the street level of our building up to our tenement, and a railing about six  inches from a rough cement wall.  She thought we should slide down it.  Even at four years old I knew we couldn't straddle it and have a clear memory of thinking, "This is not a good idea." But she was excited about riding the railing 'side-saddle.'  Needless to say we landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.  Fortunately, neither of us broke anything, but our scratched faces told the story for several weeks.

One Saturday afternoon, we went to Newberry's and bought turtles with our allowances.  In those days, tiny turtles with flowers painted on their shells, were sold at the dime store for 25 cents.  We bought a small fish tank complete with a treasure chest in the bottom and went home very excited.  Lorraine had circumvented the no-pets policy in the tenement.  The following morning, Lorraine, getting ready for school, announced to me that my turtle had died overnight.  I was horrified.  It wasn't until I was walking to school that I realized we'd bought two turtles but never discussed which one belonged to whom. 

That night, she suggested I pray for a puppy. Our parents always  prayed with us before we went to bed and each of us had time for a special prayer request.  I reminded her that the landlord didn't allow pets.  She said, "He does if you pay extra every month." I suggested our parents might not want to pay extra.  We didn't feel poor because all our friends and neighbors were in the same boat, but there was never any extra.  "You always get what you want," she said a little sharply.  "Come on, you can do it.  Just make that face like you do."

I didn't know what face she meant, but I've always had the DeNiro/Pacino gene.  At prayer time, I closed my eyes, folded my hands, and told God how aggrieved I was at the loss of my turtle, and that a puppy would go a long way toward restoring my faith and happiness.  The following weekend, my father took us to the farm of a friend of his who raised Toy Fox Terriers. We went home with six-week-old Tippy.  The discovery that I had such power made me walk a little taller.

Lorraine entered the convent of the Sisters of The Holy Cross when she was seventeen and I was eight.  The night before she left for their motherhouse in Montreal, she gave me her topaz birthstone ring and told me how much she loved me.  I was shocked.  I guess that was the first time I understood that love isn't all sweetness and harmony, but anger and struggle and resentment and slogging through difficulties together.

My parents and I moved to Los Angeles and Lorraine served as a grade school teacher in many parishes in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Over time, Lorraine earned a masters degree in education and I got married.

Early in the seventies there was a major upheaval among the sisters in the Catholic Church.  Many of the rules, big and small, were changed.  Lorraine felt it was no longer the life to which she had promised herself, applied for a dispensation of her vows, and left the convent.   One of our brothers-in-law, taught her to drive, found her a job and an apartment, and she took up the life of a  'civilian'.
I sent her some clothes and the topaz ring.

In 1985, she married a wonderful man she met at work.  My mother bemoaned the fact that his name was Donald Jepson because I was married to Ronald Jensen.  "I'll never keep it straight!" she said.  Our father had passed away some time before and our mother was no longer able to travel, so I went to Lorraine's wedding as 'Mother of the Bride.'  Our oldest brother gave her away.  She wore baby's breath in her hair and the happiest smile.

Lorraine died suddenly in 2005 of what she'd thought was indigestion and turned out to be a coronary occlusion.  I am brokenhearted to this day, but I can live with it because I remember what she told me the night before she left for the convent.  And her husband sent me the topaz ring.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Boyfriends: What a Girl Wants by Karen Rock

I’ll admit that I fall pretty hard for male characters. Should my husband be jealous? Nahhhhh.… obsessing over a ‘Book Boyfriend’, spending every free minute with him, and mourning our ‘break up’ at the book’s end is normal, right? Okay. Maybe not. But I can’t resist some of the amazing men created by such talented writers. And I wouldn’t want to. A romance is best when I want to jump into the pages and into the leading man’s arms. Although I’ve had several Book Boyfriends through the years, here are three that I’ll never forget.

Augustus Waters from John Green’s novel, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is my all-time favorite. Sure, he’s new to the rotation. But he’s going to be in my top three for a long long time. He’s charismatic, confident, selfless, funny, and intelligent… not to mention gorgeous. As my daughter Danielle said, “He may be missing half his leg, but he’s all man.” She’s right. Augustus is a cancer survivor and amputee. Yet none of that affects his game when he first meets the narrator of the novel, Hazel. When she asks him why he keeps staring at her, he says that he likes looking at pretty things and he’s learned not to deny himself that pleasure. Wow. I melted on the spot, although Hazel remains skeptical.
He eventually wins her over when he selflessly uses his ‘Make-A-Wish’ to take Hazel to the Netherlands to meet her favorite author. But it’s his unabashedly romantic side that wins over every reader that meets him. The first time he tells Hazel he loves her he says, “…I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” So beautiful. Can you believe Hazel doesn’t drop the L word for another chapter or so?! I wanted to pull her aside and demand that she put Gus out of his misery… or let me have him. Preferably the latter.

The second fictional love of my life is Noah from THE NOTEBOOK. He’s super confident, yet down to earth. He leapfrogs across a moving Ferris Wheel to convince Allie to go on a date with him. He may not have the money to win her parents' approval, but he more than won me over with his perseverance in writing Allie every day for a year after they were separated and fulfilling his pledge to her to make a white sided home with blue shutters. Noah never gives up on his love for Allie and nothing is more heartwarming than seeing him as an old man, still dedicating his life to his wife, even though she no longer recognizes him.  Noah is an incredible example of what every girl should hope to find, a determined, loyal, honest, big-hearted man who fights for what he knows is right. And that kiss in the rain… don’t even get me started.

Mr. Darcy of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE may be the oldest of the trio, but his claim to the title of best Book Boyfriend is just as strong and current as ever. I fell for him long before Elizabeth came to her senses. Although he’s proud, there is something irresistible about a man who is brought to his knees by love. Darcy is tough, powerful, a good though misguided friend, and on every mother’s match.com list. Yet he can’t deny his feelings for a woman whose family is beneath his in station and manners.  When Elizabeth rightfully rejects his bumbling, harshly honest wedding proposal, my heart breaks for him. Despite the setback, Darcy selflessly intervenes and helps Elizabeth avoid scandal when her wayward sister runs off with a Darcy’s sworn enemy. Even more appealing is that he’s learned to be humble. Who doesn’t adore a man who is willing to change for you? He doesn’t want the credit for saving Elizabeth’s family from ruin and is ready to return to his lonely life without receiving his due. Thankfully, Elizabeth learns the truth and Darcy gets the love he deserves. If he hadn’t, I might have asked Miss Bennett to take a turn in the garden with me for a long talk.

Please give a shout out to your favorite Book Boyfriend in the comments section below. You'll also be entered to win a copy of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, Dawn Stewardson’s wonderful Heartwarming novel THE SHELTER OF HIS ARMS, an autographed bookmark for my upcoming young adult novel, CAMP BOYFRIEND, and friendship bracelets, one for you and another to share. I would love to know who gets your vote and maybe find my next Book Boyfriend! The winner will be announced on this blog and on www.facebook.com/JKRockwriters tomorrow. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts J

Drafts, drafts...and more drafts...oh wait, there's another one...

Much of the stuff which I will finally publish, with all its flaws, as if it had been dashed off with a felt pen, will have begun eight or more years earlier, and worried and slowly chewed on and left for dead many times in the interim. -William Gass

In the last ten years, I've moved around a bit-from one coast of Canada to the other and I'm the kind of person who will sell or throw out just about everything and start over, with the exception of important personal items, which have followed me everywhere. One such item was four large, plastic, impossible to lift, storage containers containing the many drafts of my WIPs. These containers have caused many back aches (for my boyfriends-husbands-dad and brother of course, not me:)) but I could never part with these original and older versions of my manuscripts.

Why? I blame an author I read about when I first started writing. I can't remember her name, but her advice was the source behind carrying these four containers of-quite honestly-really bad writing, all over the country. She said she kept each draft because she liked to go back and see how the manuscript had progressed and grown throughout the process. I liked that concept, so I did the same. She also said that she printed each copy on a different colored paper-yellow for first draft, blue for second, etc...As a new writer, I envisioned a beautiful, organized, colored co-ordinated bookshelf in my office, proudly displaying the various stages of life of my books. So what did I do? I bought the various paper colors and never used them. When the reality of how much organization and work was required to create that beautiful vision, I quickly forgot about it, but I still kept the old versions-in the storage containers-poorly labelled in old binders and racking up chiropractic bills (for the above mentioned, not me of course).

So, now that I am finally settled in my permanent home with my husband and son-I decided that instead of storing these containers in our basement (because let's be honest, when was the last time you read draft number six of the first book you ever wrote?) I would go through and shred the drafts, keeping only the original, handwritten (unreadable) draft. I've done this and now in my office is a proud display of tattered notebooks with paper napkin and scraps of paper inserts lining my bookshelf. And that's good enough for me:).

P.S. Sorry to everyone mentioned above who suffered injuries from my inability to let go sooner:)

So, I'm curious-how many of you keep every draft of your story and where and how do you organize/store them?


Monday, April 22, 2013

It's All in the Face

I confess.  I study faces.  So, when my son checked out the Harry Potter movie book from the library and showed me this picture of Tom Felton who played Draco Malfoy in the series, I thought, "hmmm.  Why hasn't anyone else noticed this?"  Tom really needs to play Hermey in Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer.   

That brings me to who plays the lead characters in my books.

When I start a book, I first have to decide who my leads are.  Personality, I have it.  Description, though, is vague.  So, I always go to the Internet and look at pictures.  For my August release, Katie's Rescue, here's what my character chart looked like. (I've also attached my notes on chapter one and the calendar...)

Grocery List

Luke Rittenhouse - 32

Uncle Albert - had been in a carnival

Tinker the cat
full-grown, long-haired, black and white cat

Bridget’s AZ Adventure

Katie Vincent - 25
Blonde and green eyed

Janie Vincent – 19
Mom Leslie – deceased
Dad Bob – dead six months

Sister has down syndrome - dead

Didn’t attend dad’s funeral
Sister in trouble

Misses Katie

Chapter One
Luke Rittenhouse - 31
Katie Vincent - 25

Motion of return
Reversal Clause
Adam – artist
Ruth Moore, 60, 200 pounds
Uncle Albert’s Farm.
Aquila, now 70 pounds, was 100
   Bridget’s AZ Adventure

Dad – Bob Vincent 
Bob’s Backyard Animal Kingdom
Jasper – near 80


October 2012

Luke Calls
Arrives in Tucson- early
Works in gift shop
Works with burros
Commercial filmed, bad memory
Jasper with memories
Deaf child
More deaf children
Terrance escapes

Dinner with family
Tyre for sale
Janie arrives

Janie a natural


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Secrets Of Happy Families---Blog by Roz Denny Fox

I recently bought a book written by Bruce Feiler by the above title. I saw him interviewed on TV and had read a previous book by him, “The Council of Dads”. This isn’t going to be a book review or anything, but I was intrigued by some of the information he told the interviewer would be in the book—enough to buy it. Such as--how to improve your mornings; rethinking family dinners; go outside and play; Warren Buffet’s guide to setting an allowance; the Green Berets’ rules for reunions and more like a Harvard study on modern families.
I can’t say why these things interest me since my children are grown and gone off to raise kids of their own. But family dynamics fascinate me and the very idea that someone has gathered facts from unique sources on how to make a family unit happy seemed like something I should read. (hey, maybe for research on a future fiction book)
There’s no doubt in my mind that what constituted success in child rearing has changed from the time I was a kid, to when I raised children, to now when my daughters are navigating those waters. Probably every generation has had their favorite go-to books on parenting from B.F. Skinner, to Dr. Spock, to Scream Free, or No Regrets parenting to name a few. I’m always amazed at the confidence of any parent to publish a parenting guide or manual. Are any two families really alike? Do enough children fit in a particular mold for anyone to say—if you follow these steps your children will be perfect and you will be an A-1 parent? I don’t think so.
What is refreshing about Feiler’s book is that he only claims to be searching for avenues that may help his own family to function more smoothly and by reducing parental stress, allow them to feel happier. And then he got interested and wrote about his findings.
It’s definitely true that as people live longer more married couples are squeezed between taking care of elderly parents while raising their own children.  In the small town where I grew up few mothers worked outside the home. Their main job was parenting. That alleviated a lot of the morning chaos I recall dealing with after I had my children. We were always a two-parent working family and mornings were busy and rushed, not fun or happy now that I stop to think about it. Chaotic mornings give everyone in the family a bad start to their day.
In talking to my younger friends it seems to me as if free time is a thing of the past. I saw a documentary not long ago filmed in California where moms all but lived in the car the kids were involved in so many extracurricular activities. They had devised ways to feed the kids something hot, kept a cooler in the car for cold drinks, and changes of clothes for everyone. They carried lap boards so the kids could do their homework between athletics and dance class or chess tournaments or whatever.
It used to be that meal times were a way to catch up on what was happening at school, at work, and in general in everyone’s life. Feiler now says in most families he spoke with meals were catch-as-as-catch-can.
I remember parenting books I read advising making time for family meetings where everyone got a voice in what they thought would make the daily grind run smoother. Same in Feiler’s book. Another thing that hasn’t changed is making up chore lists and posting them on the fridge or kitchen cork board so every person in the family knew the expectations for their mornings. In my house that lasted about a month. So I found much of his research done in unique places to be the same spin on old methods of running a family unit more smoothly.  Feiler does offer some new innovations and techniques making it an interesting, entertaining read.
The fact is I still think there is no simple magic elixir to ensure the happy operation of a family. Individuals are born with, or develop along the way, idiosyncrasies which allow them or don’t allow them to work cohesively within a family. Some households are traditional, some kids aren’t. Some people are able to change and some can be molded to make the family unit run more smoothly. I’m not sure that equates to happiness. But there is no shortage of books available on every aspect a person can think of to make a family run more effectively. I came away thinking as I’ve always thought—there is no right or wrong way to parent. You muddle through the best way you can and give your children the best people skills you can give them. And anyway, wouldn’t life be boring if all families were alike?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Piles by Tara Randel

Someone once told me her favorite book is the one she’s reading right now. I got thinking about that the other day and realized I agree. And disagree. Because I have two distinct piles of books. Keepers and To Be Read books. 

Right now I’m working on a deadline, so my To Be Read pile is getting pretty big. My problem is, I read Romantic Times Book Reviews every month and end up with a list of books I plan on purchasing. Some months I need a second job just to buy all the books from my list. Thankfully I don’t have any horrible vices so I can spend my hard earned money in a bookstore. 

On the flipside, if I kept every book I ever bought, I’d have my own personal library. Who has room for that? (Thank goodness for Kindle and the Cloud!) There are plenty of public libraries to make donations to, so my overflow goes there. But I do have my keeper pile, one I try to keep at a minimum, but never quite accomplish. 

Before writing this, I went the keeper pile to take a look at the books I’ve saved. Oh, my, what a time I had. Some people have certain songs that remind them of a particular time in their life. I can look at a book cover and get the same feeling. I’m one of those people who, if I pick up a book that sounds interesting and realize it's part of a series, I have find the earlier books so I can start from the beginning and then collect the entire series until it ends. I’m the same way with stand alone books that revisit previous characters. I’m so nosy, I have to find out who these other people are and what happened to them.

And then there are the books I reread at least once a year. Is that a separate pile? To me, it’s like going on vacation, spending a few days with good friends I’ve come to love and cherish.

Hopefully, Harlequin Heartwarming books will end up in your keeper pile. As a writer, the desire of my heart is to create a book readers can’t put down, with characters the reader will think about for days after she closes the cover. I know this, because those are the types of books I can’t give away. 

So which pile at your house is deeper? Keepers or To Be Read?