Wednesday, December 29, 2010
But alas, I still have to begin the novel from memory. I can look at this situation in two ways: I can throw ashes on my head, rend my clothing and rail in despair, "O woe is me!" or I can regard this as an opportunity for a fresh start to my novel. Attitude is everything, right?
In the days before our computer crash, I was introduced online to a singer-songwriter by the name of Ted Vigil. Among other things, Ted is a John Denver tribute artist who hails from my area. The physical resemblance he bears to John in addition to his voice is really eerie. At first, I didn't want anything to do with him because he seemed like a living phantom of the beloved troubadour, and the similarities were just too bizarre for me to handle.
Back in the 1980's, I was a HUGE John Denver fan. In fact, soon after purchasing two of his albums at the time I wrote him a letter, and to my surprise he wrote back! I still have the letter and intend to keep it forever. I remember the day I found out he had died. I was in med tech school waiting for our microbiology lecture to begin, and a classmate mentioned it. Shocked, I shrieked "What????" With a pale countenance and saucer-wide eyes my classmate timidly looked at me and solemnly replied, "Uh oh, I thought you knew-sorry!" I immediately walked out of the classroom and went outside to get some air. The news felt surreal and stung badly.
A couple days after first learning about Ted, I decided to give him a look-see, after all-it wasn't his fault that he looked & sounded the way he did. I watched an online video of him singing, and decided that he was indeed very talented. What struck me most was that he didn't appear to be deliberately "channeling" John or trying to be his clone, but simply a gifted individual trying to honor another artist. I noticed that Ted's voice was a bit lighter and brighter than John's was, and my heart seemed to soar when I listened to him sing. Yes, Ted was still Ted, but honoring John in his own unique way. I immediately became a fan and ordered his cd. It arrived the next day-yay for great merchandising skills! I listened to it twice on the way home from work one day; I say twice because I was caught in the 9th circle of Seattle traffic hell! One of his songs in particular caught my attention and I later learned that Ted had co-written it as well as a few other songs on the cd. I really appreciated that because it confirmed to me that Ted was indeed not trying to be a John Denver clone and was also a gifted songwriter. It would have been a huge deal-breaker for me if Ted had sold his own identity to become exactly like John, thinking that it would be more financially lucrative to do so. I wouldn't want that for anyone. Ted felt like a huge breath of fresh air - another fresh start. I can now listen to the tunes I've always loved without feeling the same old desolate sadness. Ted's artistry provided the sunshine that scattered the darkness of loss for me, and I was so ready for it.
We all love fresh starts, and there is none bigger than the beginning of a new year. We all enter it with a clean slate, with nothing but possibilities before us. Ultimately the series of choices must begin, choices that will take us either toward or away from our goals. I have so many goals for 2011, and quite frankly some of them frighten me. However, when I consider that each goal is actually a collective of individual smaller-scale goals, the big "monsters of achievement" don't seem that scary. I love fresh starts and second chances of all kinds, I believe that we all need them. A "fresh start" even sounds better-more hopeful-don't you think? I imagine the beginning of a journey that takes us to wonderful places, rather than being stuck in a constant state of determination-that sounds too hard! What about you? What are your anticipated fresh starts for 2011? Instead of making resolutions, make a fresh start. Happy New Year everyone!
To check Ted Vigil out for yourself, please go to his website: http://www.tedvigil.com/
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ted-Vigil-John-Denver-Tribute-Artist/202897027839
And on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/tedvigilmusic
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Time rushes by in the blink of an eye, with days often blending one right into another as we go about our daily routines. It feels good to be able to look back and contemplate the paths we have chosen and why, to contemplate where those paths have led us.
This is what I find myself doing today...partly because of the time of year and the success it has brought...but also because today is my youngest daughter's birthday. As most mothers do, I relive the events of the day my child was born, moment by moment, feeling the joy and the pain, the anxiety and the wonder fill me all over again.
On my website I joke that writing a book is a lot like giving birth...just as painful, but a whole lot less messy. I think many of us can relate to that! But whether its the gift of a child being brought into your life, or the success of a book, or the health of a loved one or the everyday blessings of family and friends, take the time to look back on 2010. Hopefully you will find something to make you smile. I did...and I sincerely hope you do too.
Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year!
Friday, December 24, 2010
I sit at my computer; my mind in turmoil as it rambles over what has occurred, and I still can’t fathom it . . . can’t grasp the ultimate reality – the death of my brother. Somehow I thought we were invincible . . . a family that would never cease to exist, Dennis and I, the belly button kids.
I remember us climbing on top of the dresser to proudly display our belly buttons. We were five and three, newly moved into our house in St. Clair Shores. The dresser we were on was mine. Just a snatch is this memory, a quick glimpse into what had been but enough to bring a smile to my lips and a warm glow in my heart.
Most who know me know I like to write. I am in group on notoverthehill.com called Creative Writers. We have thirty-two members but there are four main contributors besides myself: Freda and Susan from England, and Nikki and Sandy from the US. Once a week we set challenges designed to get our mental muscles working. They can be five words where we must incorporate the five words into our story, theme challenges where we must adhere to a particular theme, postcards challenges where we write postcards back and forth between two imaginary characters, thus creating our story. And then there are picture challenges.
The one I am about to share with you is a picture challenge presented July – August? of an old wedding dress. The story is fictional, yes but the characters are real in terms of who they represent. I used real first names and imaginary last ones. I wrote it in honor of my brother. And, seeing this is Christmas Eve, I couldn’t have found a better setting in which to present it. Here goes . . .
THE WEDDING DRESS
Fancy stores are not my bag yet here I was, standing outside of Bloomingdales, one of the fanciest stores in town.
“Come on, Dennis,” Jake said. “Time to get fitted for your tux. The wedding is only a month away. You should have done this sooner.”
I couldn’t help scowling. “I know but . . .” I let it hang.
“But nothing.” Jake pulled me into the store. “Procrastination is over. Val would be upset if you wrecked her wedding . . . YOUR wedding. It’ll only take a minute.”
I let Jake lead me to the elevator where we went up to the second floor and over to the formal wear department.
“Get that scowl off your face,” Jake whispered in my ear as a salesman approached.
“My name is Michael. Can I help you?”
Jake didn’t wait for me to reply. He said, “Yes. Dennis is getting married next month and needs to be fitted for a tux.”
“I see. Has the wedding party been here to select the preferred tux?”
I nodded. “My fiancée, Val, came in two months ago and picked them out. All the groomsmen have been fitted. I’m the last one.”
Michael arched a brow. “Are you sure you want to get married? I mean waiting to the last minute is not a gesture of compliance.”
I resented the statement and it showed on my face. Jake nudged me forward. “Yes, he wants to get married but Dennis here is a last minute guy. Go be sized. I’ll wait out here.”
I shot Jake a dirty look, but followed the salesman into the dressing room. It was large, considering, and very luxurious.
“What is your name,” the salesman asked.
“Thank you. Please sit down. I’ll be right back with the proper wear, Mr. Marshal.”
He left and I sat on a leather chair in the room. Leather, for goodness sake! No wonder everything was so damn expensive!
He came back a few minutes later holding a box, not a tux like I expected.
“Here you go Mr. Marshal.”
I took the box from his hand and opened it. Imagine my surprise to find a wedding dress, one made of pure white chiffon with tiny squares of flowers bunched together, creating a delicate pattern. It was the most beautiful wedding dress I’d ever seen but it was inappropriate. I am the groom after all, not the bride. I set the box next to me.
“You made a mistake, Michael. I am the groom. This is a wedding dress the bride wears. You didn’t inadvertently let me see my fiancée’s gown have you?”
Michael shook his head. “No, Mr. Marshal, I haven’t. I checked with my superior and this is what you are supposed to wear.”
A dress! I couldn’t believe it. “Is this a joke,” I asked instead of venting my frustration.
“Certainly not, Mr. Marshal. I never joke when it comes to this dress. It is special.”
“How so?” He piqued my curiosity.
“Here, let me explain.”
Michael waved his hand in the air before him and a scene appeared. It was outside of Bloomingdales, in front of the door. Jake was there, his face a frantic mess, while paramedics surrounded a body on the ground. They were working furiously, doing chest compressions along with breaths on a person stretched on the cement. “One, two, three,” I heard one man count as he massaged the heart. “Breathe!”
Another man blew air into the patient’s mouth.
“Oh my goodness,” I muttered upon seeing. “It’s . . . it’s me!”
Michael nodded. “I’m afraid it is, Mr. Marshal.”
“But . . . but . . . I’m too young to die!”
“All your days are written in God’s book before a single one of them comes to be,” Michael explained. “It’s your time to come Home. This is the wedding dress everyone wears when they become the bride of Christ.”
I looked from the scene to the dress and then back to the scene. “But . . . What about Val?”
“She will grieve for a time, but eventually find another man to marry. I’m sorry, but you suffered a major heart attack and have come to me, Michael, Archangel to God. Those tiny bursts of pain you were experiencing were signals from your heart. You didn’t pay attention to them but even if you had you still would have ended here. No one goes before their time and only the Father knows that time. It is a shock but you’ll adjust to Heaven. I’ve never known anyone who didn’t.”
He pointed to the dress. I looked down at it once again, marveling at the beauty of it, and yet no longer astonished. The scene of me lying dead on the ground vanished. There was only the Archangel Michael and me. That was the day I learned men wear wedding dresses too.
I put it on with pride.
In closing, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Whatever holiday you celebrate, take time to soak up the fun, even those tiny nuances that annoy and yet strike you as meaningful. They make up the fabric of life. May yours be bright this Season and filled with love. I know mine is.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
One was written on an entire ream of computer paper in 1977, and I still occasionally pick it up for bedtime reading. It's a challenge like War and Peace. Someday I'm going to plow my way through the whole thing.
One year our kids all approached their Christmas lists quite differently. I guess they thought the standard line item list wasn’t garnering quite the response they were after, which means they didn’t get everything they requested. Perhaps they thought a clever approach might work better.
The one we got from our second son was written like a business letter, complete with address, date, salutation and ended with "Sincerely Yours." He forgot one basic rule of business letters, however. Brevity is a good rule of thumb. (But at least it wasn't another novel.)
Our older son took us at our word when we said to keep it short and reasonable. His merely read:
1. a VCR.
2. a stereo.
3. a radio-powered car.
P.S. If there is room for more, see me.
Our oldest daughter got very creative with her Christmas list. It was a work of art, complete with decorative pictures and her own brand of humor:
MY CHRISTMAS LIST
2. Mink coat
3. Ruby ring
4. Arabian palomino
** 5. Patrick Duffy! (I think the stars meant she was really serious about this request.)
P.S. If you can't get those, I guess I could live with:
** 1. A canary (I wondered if this was her concession to probably not getting Patrick Duffy.)
2. Wicker cage. (At least she's practical),
3. Yellow Izod sweater
4. Two western shirts and western boots.
Maybe that meant the horse would be at the top of her list the next year.
When I asked the twins what they wanted for Christmas, they merely handed me the Christmas Wish Book from Sears.
"Do you want me to help you make out a list?" I asked.
"No, just tell Santa we want everything."
Perhaps they figured why waste your time making out a list when you're still young enough to believe that Santa has an unlimited bank account.
Personally, I never make out a list.
No matter what winter Holiday you might be celebrating, I wish you much happiness and blessings for the New Year. And Merry Christmas to all the Christian readers.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Let's say that this year, Mrs. Santa slips a little extra something in Santa's pre-departure hot toddy. She takes the reins to deliver all the bad grown up little girls a very special Christmas surprise. What romance hero should Mrs. Santa leave under your tree?
Now, I'm gonna preface all of this with a big ole' disclaimer. Like many of you, I'm a very happily married lady. While it's cruel of me to have raised his hope for freedom with that first paragraph, I surely don't intend to let my hubby, Mr. Quack, out of my clutches. He's stuck for the long haul. I love him insanely - and y'all know I'm plenty insane. (Yes, I said -y'all, y'all, y'all -- Uhm, sorry. Just having another Apprentice flashback. I seriously think "The Donald" hired the wrong candidate. I expressed my reason on the Quacking Alone Facebook page.) Anyway, I'm just talkin' pretend here. And I guess, I'm also asking, what romance novel hero traits mirror those in real life and which ones would make a hero good for the long haul in real life?
The heroes in romance novels tend to be love 'em and leave 'em types. They plan to continue their roguish ways and have no desire to change. This is a trait that must be as old as the human race. Mr. Quack says if it weren't for women, men would still be living in caves.
Serial romance without strings is a male fantasy and - like cave dwelling - it's in direct opposition to the female desire for security and civilization. Yet even the extreme Regency rogues eventually marry. The issue is - do they change? Do they give up their wandering ways and build a home and life where they're committed to only one woman? I believe this one's a deal breaker. Most ladies will throw back a fish that wants to swim in everyone's pond.
A lot of the heroes are jealous to one degree or another, just like a lot of real life partners/spouses/boyfriends. Many of the RNH's will throw a fit if their lady steps out for the evening with another man. Some can't tolerate her laughing at another man's jokes, let alone dancing with another partner. Others get gosh-green jealous when the heroine smiles at a man in "a certain way." I think lots of ladies have different real-life scales for how green is good, how green is bad and how green is just right. But one thing I think we'd all agree on is that we want to see our man get at least a little jealous. How much is just right for you?
And what do we want 'em to do when they get jealous? Or when another man has insulted you? RNH's often throw punches when another lad steps over whatever line the hero has drawn around the heroine. Some of them will even throw down the gauntlet, pick up swords or guns and head for a duel at Abbott's field, especially if his lady's honor has been insulted. Other lover lads will take jealousy out on the lady, yelling or lecturing or even demanding. Do you want a RNH who'll throw down or shoot it out? Maybe you'd prefer one who yells or lectures. Maybe you'd even like a fellow to make a demand or two.
How about temper? Some ladies like their men to take it slow and easy - in and out of the bedroom. Others prefer a little - or a lot - of spice and expect that a man who really cares will get pretty darned upset from time to time. Some find it sexy when a RNH who gets knocked for a loop by love goes a little nutty, behaves a little irrationally. Do you like a man to take cupid's arrow and keep his cool, lose it just once in a while or do you want love to make him mad as a hatter?
Now we can't mosey away from this list without thinking about affection. I'm not talking about whether he's good at the down and dirty. It's out and out a given that a RNH has got to be a virtuoso who can play his lady like Charlie Daniels strokes a fiddle - or like Elton John tickles the ivories. But how affectionate should he be in public? Here's a spot where RNH's run the gamut. I've read books where the hero made a game of making private moments as public as possible. There are others where he won't dance with a lady twice for fear of giving the wrong impression. Should your RNH confine public affection to hand holding? Kisses? Caresses? Or maybe you like the guys who'll take it to the limit and then push the limits until you forget that boundaries exist at all.
All of these traits would go into making the RNH that Mrs. Santa might leave under your tree. But each of us has a list of other qualities that are important to us but might not matter as much to others. In thinking of my idea of the ideal RNH, a couple of other factors matter a lot to me. Those include his sense of humor and his sense of his place in the universe. It's important that a guy be able to tell a joke or take a joke - even if it's on him. So no matter how high and mighty he might be, it matters to me that he keep it all in perspective and be able to lay it all on the line for his ladylove. I also care a lot that he's tight with his family. My ideal RNH doesn't care a fig for the world's opinion about his choices, but he cares a lot about his family's opinions. It also matters that he's loyal to his friends. If a man doesn't value his friends and his family, he will never value his ladylove.
If I were going to pick a single RNH for Mrs. Santa to wrap up and leave under my tree on Christmas morning, I'd have to go to the way back, to a tried and true RNH who checks all my boxes just right. I'd pick James Mallory of Johanna Lindsey's Mallory Clan. You'll recall that James' story was told in her novel, Gentle Rogue. I liked that James cared so little about society's rules that he turned pirate and took to the high seas. But I liked that he cared so much about his family that he exacted vengeance when his niece got slighted. I adore James' sarcastic wit, especially when he's using it on himself. I found his closeness with his whole clan touching and the pranks he pulled on Georgina charming - especially when they turned around and bit him on the arse. I adored how he kept his cool in a battle at sea and how he lost it when the battleground was his heart. Yep, I think James Mallory is the perfect RNH - unless I could consider the ones I wrote myself, which wouldn't be really fair, now would it?
But you know what? When I think about the things that make James Mallory seem like my perfect RNH, I realize that I see every darned one of them in my very own Mr. Quack. My hubby has a certain touch of piracy in his history. He's devoted to his parents and is amazing with our kids. He's been known to pull a prank or two on me and has shared his wit and wisdom with friends, family and a whole You Tube audience. I hadn't considered it before, but I think I adore James Mallory because he reminds me of my very own, real life love. So, I guess I'll have to tell Mrs. Santa that she won't need to drop off a RNH at my house.
Come to think of it, Mr. Quack would look awful nice curled up under our tree, wearing a lovely red bow.......
Now, it's YOUR TURN. What qualities make for a divine RNH? Do you see any of those qualities in your real life lovers or spouses? And if you had to pick one RNH to show up under your tree - who would it be and why?
Mary Anne Graham
QA on Facebook
Thursday, December 16, 2010
I started see-sawing my way from residing in the North then the South and back again nearly two decades ago and, as an adult, I’ve spent more time wearing tee shirts and shorts on Christmas Day than silly woolly sweaters. That has only meant that I start thinking about holiday lights and fir trees in July; the ornaments and lights and decorations come out the day after Thanksgiving at the very latest. Sometime around Halloween, I begin to play holiday music all day long. It’s a novelty for me. I usually prefer silence, given that I grew up in a large, noisy household. And in the autumn evenings….well, I finally have enough vintage holiday movies in my collection to watch one every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas without repeating them.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Once The Season starts in my home, I go through several changes of fresh mistletoe and gallons of my secret-recipe spiked water that keeps the tree fresh and soft and fragrant for the six weeks it’s up. The house is always tidy—unusually so—and I don’t even mind keeping it that way. I bake like a woman crazed, reveling in the scent of cloves and cinnamon, which always smell gorgeous, but never quite as good as they do at this time of year.
Every year, I try to add something new and, ideally, different to my holiday mash-up. This year, my addition to the fracas is some fabulous dishwashing soap (yes, I know, pathetic, right?) and spray cleaner that smell like …. Christmas. Like snow and fir trees and starlight. Like lovely ghosts of Christmases Past. Yes, they’re luxuries; they cost more than double than what I would ever normally spend on dish soap or spray cleaner (especially since I never use the latter, preferring plain old vinegar instead). But this is Christmas, so I splurged a few weeks ago and I don’t regret it. Washing dishes is not my favorite hobby, but this stuff makes it almost enjoyable. The scent lingers in the house longer and more subtly than potpourri. And when it’s topped off by my longtime favorite frankincense and myrrh incense…..mmmmmm. There really is no place like this comfy, holiday-y home of mine.
This brings me back to the question of why haven’t I—the holiday queen of my neighborhood—written a Christmas story, or book, or novella? Why haven’t I poured all this mushy, gushy, icy-slushy nostalgic good cheer onto the page? Well, it’s not as if I haven’t tried. A few years ago, I started writing an updated version of A Christmas in Connecticut because not only is the movie one of my favorite holiday movies, but I used to live in Connecticut. I figured I was a natural for the task. Then I found out that a new version of the movie is slated to hit the theaters for Christmas 2011. Starring Jennifer Garner, no less. I took it as a sign to move in a more original direction.
But that put me back at square one. I think I must still be waiting for the right story to hit me—to have a fully plotted story land in my stocking (that’s hung by the chimney with care), or to plop, a bit sooty and rough around the edges, down through the chimney and onto the cinders, and leave dainty cloven tracks across my imagination. But we all know that that stuff isn’t real…..
So I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. I’ll state it here and now: this upcoming year will be my year to write a pull-out-the-stops holiday scene. Maybe a whole book set during that magical, mysterious, most wonderful time of year. It will be next year’s present to myself. And to you.
Best wishes for a holiday season that’s merry and bright!
Photos: Flickr: batwrangler, Kevin H., mount, xcode, and Zellaby's photostreams
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
For every download of my book, Secret Cravings Publishing will donate $1.00 to my charity of choice: The USO!
Read a free, short, contemporary romance with just a hint of fantasy mixed with some Christmas "magic"!
Melissa Thomas has had enough of men. Deciding to treat herself to something decadently special for her 30th birthday on Christmas Eve, she orders a life-size “Man-doll”. Guaranteed to satisfy her every desire, she’s anxious for his arrival and names him Rex.
Doll designer, Nick, delivers Rex to her apartment. While showing her how to operate her “man-doll”, heated sparks fly between Nick and Melissa. Teasing and sexual innuendoes color their interaction, especially after she learns that Rex is an exact double of Nick. After Nick leaves, Melissa considers how she might miss a real man’s warmth, spontaneity and words of love…all the things Rex can’t do.
But, does Nick want her? Getting him back to her apartment is her first goal. Seducing him into being a choice is her second goal. Having a real man in her life for her Christmas Eve birthday is her ultimate goal.
I hope you'll read "Special Delivery: Man for Christmas" and enjoy it! Happy Holiday Season!
"Guilty Survivor-Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall", nonfiction TBR 1-26-11
Pre-order on the website from 12/1 - 12/23 at 15% off cover price. The pre-order does NOT give access to download the book until the 24th. All of the books on sales will be downloadable on 12/24. Those that pre-order will be sent the link to download after midnight between the 23rd and the 24th. Also, if you pre-order, you'll receive 2 entries into the SCP Grand Opening Drawings (see below).
AND, special pre-sale (reduced price - 10% off) available 12/24-12/26.
SCP Grand Opening Drawings: Buy any e-book from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com during the month of January to enter. The more you buy - the more entries you'll have!
Grand Prize - 1 registration for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. Winner's choice of 2011 in Los Angeles or 2012 in New Orleans.
1st Prize - Winners choice of e-reader. Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation or B&N Nook Wi-Fi or a Sony Digital Reader PS 300RC.
2nd Prize-1 registration to Lori Foster's Reader and Writer Get Together-June 3-5th West Chester, Ohio.
3rd Prize - Your choice 5 e-books downloaded from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com store.
4th Prize - Your choice of 3 e-books downloaded from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com store.
5th Prize - Your choice of 1 e-book download from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com store.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
I've never really had any desire to peek at my gifts ... it ruins that surprise on Christmas morning. I like to fondle the present a bit when it's handed to me, turn it over in my hands, listen to the sounds it makes and spend some time wondering what it could be. Then, once I've had that foreplay, I slowly peel back the layers and find out what it contains.
Peeking would ruin my joy.
Surprisingly, this doesn't extend to reading for me. You see, I'm one of THOSE people... you know the kind: the ones who frequently read the ending of a book first.
I can't help myself. I was horribly traumatized at an early age when I read "Where the Red Fern Grows". That book utterly destroyed me. I cried about it for days. I know, I know, I suppose it's the mark of a good book that I cared so deeply about the characters (even if, in this case, they were dogs), but it didn't matter -- from that moment I swore to never read another sad book.
Since I slowly eased my way into reading romance, I never really worried about the endings. I mean, it should be a foregone conclusion, right?
So, off I went on my merry way, reading romances and finishing every book with a smile. More than a decade ago, however, I heard about this amazing romance novelist who was A MAN. His books were 'must reads' and of course, I had to join into the lemmings running off the edge.
I read "Message in a Bottle" by Nicholas Sparks.
You're all nodding your heads now, aren't you... you KNOW what happened to me. Once again, my heart was ripped from my chest. NONONONONONONO..... one of the protagonists should NOT die in a romance! NEVER.
And I remade that vow from seasons past.
Now? If I'm not reading a category romance, I read the end first. Usually I only read the last line or two -- I have to know if the H/H are both still alive and whether they are together. That's all. I don't care about the rest of it -- that's the journey I read the books for. But I expect a payoff, and now I make sure I get it.
What about you? Peeker or not? Why?
See how determined I am about the HEA by checking out the tagline on my website.