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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Season I Wish You Balance

Back in September, my husband had a very sudden and potentially life-threatening illness.  The last one he had happened in the early 1990’s and it resulted in two brain surgeries.  Luckily, both times he came out fine, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have myself a major freak-out back in September as images from his previous illness came hurtling back into my psyche.

It was the first day of the Emerald City Writer’s Conference in Seattle, or ECWC as we call it here in Puget Sound.  It was my first time attending, as I had only joined RWA in the spring.  I was very excited and ready to plunge right in, until I saw my husband literally covered top to toe in welts and rashes.  That’s when “medical professional me” kicked into high gear.  I am quite certain that I scored a land speed record of some sort during the drive to the emergency room that morning.  Thank God we weren’t stopped.  Long story short, he was well-taken care of and given what he needed to recuperate.  Unfortunately, I forgot to ask the ER folks for some valium for myself!

Thankfully, I was able to attend a few sessions, hear all the wonderful speakers during the luncheons and chat with some lovely folks in between checking on my husband during the three-day conference.  At the end of the event, I even accepted Cherry Adair’s “Write The Damn Book Challenge”.  Then came November, and the big NaNoWriMo challenge - also a first for me.  Whew - a writer’s job is never done!

During the ECWC and NaNoWriMo events I heard several similar remarks such as, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t sleep, eat or exercise, just get those words written!”, “So what if you didn’t get anything else done today except for those 5000 words?”, “It’s only about the book!” and every imaginable combination thereof.  Now, back in September we had a major health scare, and although I understand the context of those “writerly” statements, hearing them made me feel uneasy.  As an aspiring author I am all for putting your best effort forward to get that first novel out there, but jeopardizing your health to reach that goal is too much of a sacrifice for me.  Factor into that quotient the fact that I suffer from a chronic autoimmune illness which has recently worsened, and I'll tell you that a lack of sleep, exercise and good nutrition is definitely not an option for me.  Although at times I do eat poorly, forgo exercise, and often do not get enough rest, it’s always to my personal detriment.  In addition, as a medical professional I have an obligation to all the patients that I serve to be in top form when I hit that laboratory door in the morning.

Queue the holiday season.  This time more than any other throughout the year, is the time to keep your life in balance.  Things can become pretty intense, and rest, nutrition and exercise - you name it - can fly right out the window early on.  This is no time for quitters, we all need to fight harder than ever to keep our balance in all areas of our life during the holidays.  Why?  Because you’re worth it, and heck I’m worth it too!  This season has real meaning, and if we blow through it like a stressed-out typhoon we will miss it.  This is a time for savoring the good in life, and no good can possibly come from rushing through it.

My wish for you is to stop at intervals throughout this season and reprioritize.  Take stock of your day, your moment.  Are things in balance?  Do you really need to be doing what you are busy with at the moment or can you do something better-something more valuable?  Have you taken care of yourself yet?  If you say “later”, then you are probably setting yourself up for failure because “later” often never comes.  Putting your needs first - and notice that I said “needs” instead of “wants”- is not a crime, it’s responsible behavior.  It’s also very effective preventive medicine.  I’m not talking about deprivation here, but balance, always balance.

Please enjoy this wonderful season of celebration, and for goodness’ sake, take good care of yourselves because a healthy happy you is a fabulous gift to those who love and cherish you!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Secret Agent Man...or Woman

It's November 26th~the day after Thanksgiving~a day otherwise known as Black Friday. While most of America is out searching for sales and deals in hopes of saving a few bucks on their holiday shopping, I'm at home in the comfort of my office, searching the Publisher's Market Place and Predators and Editors for the names of agents.

My publisher, kNight Romance Publishing, has decided to change their submission guidelines, and going forward will only accept work submitted by accredited Literary Agents. Thankfully, this doesn't apply to me since I'm already one of their authors, but it did get me thinking.

For a publishing house it's a terrific idea. It eliminates the slush pile, and the countless man-hours spent reviewing poorly written, poorly edited manuscripts, that eat up an editor's time and a publishing company's revenues. But for the unagented author, it's not such great news.

So what's an unagented author to do? I logged on and started wading through the names and agencies online, hoping at some point in my research that a few names would resonate with me. Both Publisher's Market Place and P&E are reputable sites, but needless to say my head was swimming after only an hour.

My question to all of you on this day dedicated to the hunt is..."What is the best way to query an agent (after you've done your research, obviously) and is acquiring one really necessary?"

Times, they are a changing. The New York Times just announced that they will begin reviewing eBooks for their bestsellers list come January 2011. I've read articles that claim that this alone ends the war between eBook vs. traditionally published camps...that eBooks will no longer be viewed as the proverbial red-headed step child in the publishing industry. Thank God for small favors...

But, will this new attitude impact the unagented author as well? Most eBook publishers do not require agented submissions at this time. Will this change as well with their newly found and hard won legitimacy? As eBook publishers become vetted in the eyes of the publishing industry, will they become as exclusive as some of the bigger, traditional publishing houses, and where will that leave us?

And the questions and well as the hunt continue....

Marianne Morea

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I am thankful For

Today is Thanksgiving. It seems only proper I should stay with the thought and state things for which I am grateful. It can be found, too, quit easily no matter what I am experiencing in the now. Things can always be worse – not that death isn’t the worse one can deal with because in my book it is. It’s just that somewhere within all the tragedy hope exists.

And for that I am thankful.

The first Thanksgiving was two cultures giving thanks for the bounty of the earth. Nothing went to waste, for which the Indians and the Pilgrims were thankful. They had furs and wood to keep them warm, tepees and log cabins to live in. Stores were holed up for the long winter ahead.

Like my ancestors back then I am thankful for the spring. Seeing the first snow crocus bloom in my garden is an eternal reminder that nothing really dies. The plants that withered, the leaves which fell, are blossoming anew, filling the earth with beauty. Spring is my favorite time of year. Invigorating – it reminds me of life.

I am thankful for my family. Without them I would have no purpose.

I am eternally in debt to my pets, as they are my best buds and friends. I can’t imagine life without them. They seem to magically appear whenever I am upset, intuitively knowing I need comfort and providing it. I love cats the most. Independence is a trait I admire. Nothing soothes me more than to pet Callie, a calico Norwegian Forest cat, while she purrs on my lap. Alone time I call it. Time to rejuvenate.

I am thankful for the friends I have, especially the close ones. They are the shoulders I cry on and the ears I vent my frustrations upon.

I am thankful for nature. I am never closer to God than when I am in the garden among the plants and the creatures of nature.

I am thankful for my husband. He is my rock.

This year, as we sit down with family and friends, let us remember that what we give thanks for is what our hope has provided. May it be bountiful this year!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marianne Gibson

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Birth of a Writer

At age ten I decided to be a writer. My friend and I were in our favorite reading spot, a small clearing in a wooded area with a blanket between us and a colony of ants. I hugged my just-finished book to my chest, watched wisps of clouds drift across the blue expanse of sky, and relived every precious moment of the story.

“I’d love to do this,” I said.

“What?” Karen continued to read and munch on a cookie.

“Write stories. Books.”

I watched for her reaction and it took about three seconds for the words to sink in. Then she closed her book and sat up. “Then let’s do it. We’ll be famous.”

Fueled by mutual enthusiasm we started putting words on paper in simplistic efforts to create our own essence of the books we loved so much. My fantasy was to write a story so wonderful it would inspire some future ten-year-old girl to spend an entire afternoon sprawled in a wooded hideaway savoring my book. Maybe she’d even decide to perpetuate the species.

We carried our dream through high school and into college, where we tried to adopt a Bohemian attitude that seemed fitting for “future famous writers.” I went to a boring Community College, but Karen went to Wayne State University in Detroit, a creative oasis inhabited by artists, dancers, musicians, and WRITERS. When I visited her, we’d put together some “appropriate” outfits and join a party where people loudly debated the merits of Joyce in one room and read original poetry in another. We were both so na├»ve, we had no idea that the blue haze hanging over these rooms was NOT from the incense.

What I didn’t know then, and took me too many years to learn, was that there’s nothing magical about establishing a writing career. I wasn’t going to become a better writer by absorbing that funky atmosphere. (Or the blue haze) No publisher was ever going to be there to discover me. And I’d never write a single thing if I didn’t stay home now and then and ratchet a piece of paper into my old Underwood manual.

Sure, there’s magic when the words just flow and you know these last ten pages are the best you’ve ever written. There’s magic when your characters start talking to each other and the lines zing. There’s even a bit of magic in finding that one word that says so perfectly what you’re trying to convey.

But there’s no magic on the business side of writing. Sometimes there's luck – being in the right place at the right time with the right project. More often, success comes after diligently studying the marketplace, editing and rewriting your book until you never want to look at a single word again. And then learning how to promote your work.

We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking expression. If we never make an investment of time and effort into the ‘business’ of writing, our expression will have a severely limited audience.

I may never be as famous as that long-ago dream envisioned. And I may never earn enough money to buy a country estate and wile away my golden years in obscene luxury. But I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did, and still do, face that blank sheet of paper everyday and make myself put words on it.

And I’d like to think that Karen is doing the same thing. I lost track of her before I ever had the chance to tell her she was much better at it than I am.

Maryann Miller is a freelance writer and editor and her next book, Open Season, is coming out in December from Five Star, Cengage/Gale. It is a police-procedural mystery. Her romance, Play It Again, Sam, is an e-book from Uncial Press.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm Thankful for Technology and the Technologists

(First, I'll pause so my hubby, the computer guy, can pick his jaw up off the floor. I'll get back to him later.)

My blogging cohorts have been focusing on Thanksgiving this month. I couldn't have missed that it was November and Thanksgiving season because I work for a boss who has a calendar obsession. We have one hallway with about 15-20 calendars lining the walls. On the first day of every month, the calendar gets changed. The boss won't make coffee or copies, but he handles the calendar changing himself, which is a good thing. His staff finds his obsession a wee bit - strange. But far be it for me (of all people in the universe) to complain about someone else's oddities. Truthful, it's a personality quirk. I enjoy quirky people. Normal people make me nervous.

But, like I said, I've noticed that my cohorts have been sharing Thanksgiving thoughts and recipes. So I thought I'd follow suit, but with my own little twist because I'm such a twisted gal. I want to talk about something I'm thankful for. I could talk about my kids or my friends or family, but this year, I want to talk about technology. I'm very thankful for all those bits and bytes and for all of the talented folks who keep finding new ways to use them to revolutionize how we communicate.

Now, I'm not a techie person. My hubby would be the first one to tell you that. He swears that I think MS Word is the operating system for my computer. (What? You mean its not?) I don't get along with gadgets all that well. And the computer is sort of the King of Gadgets. But now my computer is different. My little Toshiba laptop and I, we have developed a beautiful friendship - mostly. But I'm so very grateful for all the talented geeks who "get" gadgets. I'm also convinced that gadgets "get" them. But whatever, without the geeks all of my books would be gathering dust on my hard drive.

Without technology and technologists, I'd be a storyteller with no one to tell my stories to. I am the sole female in my house. None of my men would ever listen to my stories. Unless there's an alien, blood, weapons and fighting, the men in my house aren't much interested. (To them, a HEA means one of the warriors survives and is stupid enough to go into another galaxy to tangle with entirely different aliens.) The rise of POD (print on demand) publishing and the advent of ebooks means I've been able to put my work out there into the wide world. Some of the folks in the wide world are romance readers. Boy, am I thankful for people who like to read about love and lust, second chances, new beginnings and a HEA where nobody gets eaten - okay, scratch the last part.

Like I said, I'm thankful for POD but I'd be more thankful if the royalty rates came down. If the POD companies would be a wee bit less greedy then writers could charge a lot less for books. That way, more people might get a chance to read indie work. But even if the POD people won't cut their rates - ebooks are the future of books and reading. And ebooks are an easy and economical way for me to get my words to the world. It means I can charge such a reasonable price that some smart readers will give my work a try.

So this year, I want to give a big shout out to the nerds and geeks in the big, wide world of technology. I'm very grateful to Amazon for the DTP crew who make my work available for the Kindle. I thank Mark Coker of Smashwords and his Wizard Bill the Magnificent. I appreciate the folks at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Diesel, Sony and Kobo who are kind enough to carry my work through distribution deals with SW.

Lest I forget, I did promise to get back to my hubby. I'm supremely grateful to Mr. Quack, one of the best graphic designers and all around geeky publishing wizards in the world. He formats my work for all the digital companies kind enough to carry it. He designs and creates all of my book covers. He designed and runs our website, Quacking Alone and this year he's even found time to get QA and me on Facebook. He does all of that while living with a strange lady who has her own vocabulary, renames restaurants and wakes him up by getting out of bed to get down some new thought for whatever book she's working on. All of that - and he hasn't killed me yet! Thanks for letting me live another year, sweetie and thanks for all the hard work you do to stand between your technically incompetent spouse and the digital world

I also appreciate all of the new friends I've made amongst the Marianne's on the blog and of course - I ESPECIALLY appreciate all of you who are reading this blog right now.

Mr. Quack generally wears the chef's hat at Casa De Quack, but my late grandmother whom all the grands called Mammy, had one dessert that she always made at Thanksgiving each year. I'm named after Mammy and this has always been one of my favorites. The taste takes me right back to childhood when Mammy let me lick the bowl. So forget counting calories, and give this one a try.

  • 1 box light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of walnuts (or whatever nuts you enjoy)

Mix sugar and eggs. Add 1 cup of flour and continue mixing. While mixing this, melt butter in oven in the pan you intend to cook in. Add melted butter and the other cup of flour to the egg mixture. Add vanilla. Mix. Add nuts. Pour into pan. Bake at 300° for about 1 hour. Allow the chewies to cool and then cut into squares.

So, now it's your turn. Tell me what you're thankful for this year.


Mary Anne Graham

Quacking Alone

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Memories of Cookies Past

When I was little, Thanksgiving was a holiday unto itself, not just a precursor to Christmas, as it seems to be now. But the flow of Christmas Cookies from my grandmother started before Thanksgiving. She’d send loads of them and they were all tidily, immediately devoured by my many siblings and me. Inevitably, they were spritz—small, dainty, meticulously decorated, and having a melt-in-your-mouth lightness to them. And with a distinctive, elusive flavor that had no name and no obvious origin. All I knew was that no other spritz ever tasted like Nana’s, not even the ones from the Viennese bakery around the corner from our house.

My grandmother was an Irish immigrant and a woman whose life story was punctuated with hard times. She was a good cook, but not a great cook and definitely not the type to harbor secret ingredients. In my twenties, I became a caterer and, in the process, a pretty good cook and baker, but no matter how many hundreds of dozens of holiday cookies I made over the years, I could never recapture that flavor. When I left that career behind, I morphed into what’s now called a Foodie. My horizons expanded—thankfully at a faster pace than my waistline—as I became familiar with foods from many other cultures.  For years I tried to recreate those cookies—was it mace, cardamom, white pepper?—but the flavor was never the same as the ones I loved as a child. (I did come up with some fabulous variations, though!)

Grasping at straws to find an explanation, I thought maybe it had something to do with traveling half-way across the country or being layered so carefully between sheets of waxed paper for the days it took them to travel from New York to the Midwest. About a decade ago, my mother found my grandmother’s hand-written recipe stuck in an old cookbook and sent it to me. By then, I’d located on eBay the identical type of cookie press that she used, just in case that might have some weird inexplicable magic associated with it. I recreated the recipe faithfully, scrupulously. Still no luck. They just didn’t taste the same.

It wasn’t until last year when I was wondering aloud to my mother about this odd disparity between my childhood memories of what Nana’s spritz tasted like and what was clearly the reality that it struck me. It did have something to do with the long trip—and the packing. My grandmother packed the cookies very carefully for the trip….in large, two-pound coffee cans. And that was the secret: the mystery taste in her cookies was the faintest hint of that familiar, warmly bitter smell-taste of ground coffee. Some remnants of the original occupant of the can clung to the interior despite the rigorous washing my grandmother would surely have done.

While I miss the flavor, I’m not about to start buying big tins of coffee to recreate it….I think.
Warm wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.
Photos: Flickr: Cocoa Dream, Linsey T., foodchronicles, and missbeckyfay's photostreams.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thanksgiving, Sex, & Recipe!

How many of us think about sex when Thanksgiving rolls around? Aren't your days filled with menu planning, inviting dinner guests, food shopping, preparing some items ahead for "the big day", etc.?

I guess sex could be a great stress relief option, but who has time? Aren't you exhausted days before the day of (especially if you're feeding more than a small army of people), and for days after? Some might even go so far as to say "Thanksgiving dinner is better than sex...but, of course, that would never suit a romance reader or author! Men...those guys from "Mars"...might have a different opinion, however!

The following (minus some images and with a few modifications from me) comes from


You're sure to get at least one of your favorite dishes.

The turkey never suffers from modesty.

You can nibble before dinner even if Mom sees you.

You are expected to pass the dishes around.

There are always at least two kinds of desert, with or without whipped cream.

They give you the day off WITH pay to have dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner is a "sure" thing.

Seconds are encouraged. Take home, too!

You're expected to fall asleep after dinner. (for men)

And the number 1 reason why Thanksgiving dinner is better than sex:
You are EXPECTED to watch football BEFORE and AFTER dinner! (again, for men).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's a fabulous Cranberry Salad Mold recipe!
Part One:
2 c. cranberries
2 c. water
1 c. sugar
2 packages (3oz each) cherry (or other flavor) jello
1 c. pineapple juice
Cook cranberries in water. Add sugar and bring to boil. Remove from heat and add jello. Stir well. Add pineapple juice. Chill and partially set.
Part Two:
1/2 c. finely chopped nuts
1 c. finely chopped celery
1 c. drained crushed pineapple
1 c. finely chopped apple
Add all these to chilled mixture. Pour into mold, refrigerate to firm consistency.
Part Three:
3 oz. cream cheese
1 c. sour cream
1/3 c. sugar
1 T lemon juice
Blend above ingredients. Spread over unmolded Cranberry Salad. Refrigerate. Serve. Yummy!

Photos: Flickr: Ozone9999, LoneGunMan, and milky.way's photostreams.
"Guilty Survivor-Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall", nonfiction, 1/26/11
FREE READ: "Special Delivery: Man for Christmas" available on 12/15 at:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giving Thanks -- for our Veterans

Here in the United States, today is the day we set aside to honor those who died for our country -- from the Revolutionary War through the ones who've died this week. I hope those of you from outside our country will bear with me as I talk a bit about what this day means to me.

I admit to being a little biased when it comes to honoring our vets. I come from a long line of those who served. My father lied about his age and enlisted in the army at 17 so he could fight in WWII. He was part of the Battle of the Bulge. He seldom spoke of his time served, though I inherited hundreds of pictures taken in Germany after he died which spoke volumes of the things he experienced.

My brother spent many years on the Air Force, my uncle served in the Korean War. And, most recently, my husband is a Gulf War vet. He, like my father, seldom speaks of what he saw and experienced there, but it certainly changed him in many ways.

I tried to honor our vets with my writing and included a soldier in my Korean War era short story, "Don't Fence Me In". I only hope I did them justice with my words. I'd like to share the book video with you, and hope it moves you:

Veterans Day by Taylor Weinman

Representing the red white and blue
The colors of our flag stand out proud and true.
The white stars on blue background with red and white stripes
Remind me of these veterans, who all risked their lives.
Just so the people of the U.S. could all live in peace and be free
These are the heroes that represent you and me.

They stood up strongly, untied as one,
And kept up the fighting until they were done.
And although some have fallen, and lost their lives in war,
We pray for each one of them.
And now that their souls live on forever more,
Above in God's hands.

They watch over our nation,
And give us strength to triumph over others with strong anticipation.
So every year, when this day comes by,
Think of all the veterans that while fighting, had to die.
And remember that they were people
With fire and passion embedded inside.
They die for this country,
So remember and honor them with pride


Visit Marianne Arkins:

No Matter the Decade, Always Happy Ever After

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marianne LaCroix--v-blog!

I missed my I am late. And better yet, I have nothing to post. I have had one heck of a past few days. Since it was my time to post a video blog, I am going to post it here! In it I read an excerpt of The Devil's Web, a vampire erotic romance I am working on for Imajinn Books. I also joke around about the book cover to Pirate's Mistress...

Oh and I have book coming out super soon at Ellora's Cave--Rosy Cheeks. I will post about that next time, but if you can't wait, come to my site at and check it out.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Books and covers and giving thanks

When I began kindergarten, there was a girl in my class named Rebecca. Rebecca had flaming orange hair, always done in two long braids. She had freckles beyond number, and she wore glasses. Rebecca's clothes were mostly second hand prints or plaids, ill-fitting and cheap, her shoes were worn through, she had crooked teeth. I loved her. Rebecca was my first friend.

When my mother met Rebecca, she said to me, "Always remember, Marianne. Never judge a book by its cover." At the age of six, I wasn't sure what that meant, so I asked, and my mother explained how someone who is beautiful on the inside may not be beautiful on the outside. I didn't know what my mother was talking about, because I thought Rebecca was beautiful! It was only then that I realized not everyone thought so, that I was seeing the "real" Rebecca, and had, since the moment we met. When I close my eyes, I see her still. Still Becky; still beautiful to me.

During our first year of public education, Becky and I walked to and from school together. We lived only two blocks away from each other, so I often visited her house and she visited mine. A year or two later, her family moved away, and I lost track of Becky. Suffice to say, however, I have never forgotten her, or our friendship. In her honor, I named my first daughter Rebecca.

Becky's family was poor. Terribly poor. I remember her house - which sat a few yards away from the railroad tracks - always smelled bad. The same rumbling locomotives that woke her up at night, woke me as well. Her house smelled old, of fried meat and moldy wallpaper and damp wood and poverty. I didn't care because Becky was my friend, and the time I spent with her was always wonderful. As a child, as all children do, I saw everything through my heart and not my eyes.

Becky and I didn't have formal tea parties or dress our Barbies in fashion clothes. We didn't try on our mothers' make-up or scan toy catalogs with glee or furnish our fancy doll houses. Why? Because we didn't have tea sets or Barbies or make-up or toy catlogs or doll houses. In the narrow bedroom I shared with my sister, I had a small cardboard box, which sat in the corner. In it were all the toys I owned in the world. I can count on one hand the number of items in that box. I valued them, I cherished them, I was careful with them, because I knew that, if they broke, they would not be replaced.

To have fun, Becky and I made mud pies. Dirt and water mixed together, make a gloriously sticky messy glob of mud, which we fashioned with our grubby little hands into rounded shapes, then lined them up along the top of the fence to dry in the sun. We never ate them - hey, they were dirt! But it was the making of them that made us happy, fulfilled us. Dirt was free, and there was plenty of it! We would talk about what kinds of pies they were, and our eyes would grow big and we'd laugh, "Yum!" and in our view, those dried dirt pancakes would become cherry or apple or chocolate cream delights.

That was a long, long time ago. I don't have Becky anymore; I don't make mud pies; I'm no longer poor. I hope Becky isn't, either. I'd like to think she grew up to become as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside, and that her life has been filled with happiness and joy, and that all her pies are real.

I think of Becky every now and then, especially when I think of how complicated life has become. We have too much of everything nowadays, most of it disposable. And if it breaks, it's immediately replaced. I'm not so sure that's a good thing. There's something to be said for cherishing what you have, valuing it - things, thoughts, people. It's not that I long for the good old days of being literally dirt poor, but having lived that life certainly taught me lessons, instilled values, I wouldn't have gotten any other way. And I would never have met Becky.

No, I don't want to make mud pies again . . . but I'm happy to know I haven't forgotten how.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones,

Marianne Stillings