Thursday, November 22, 2012

Weirdly Wonderful Things to Be Thankful For

It's Thanksgiving Day and I'm not cooking. I made pies yesterday and a lovely family has invited us to share their meal today. It gives me time to make up a list of weird or wonderful things that aren't essential to life but that I'm really thankful for:

1. Guacamole. Seriously, can you imagine life without it? It's the food of the gods and a taste of Texas home far away in the North.
2. Facebook. The pix of my grandkids, the funny things my friends post and the chance to reunited with old friends make it a grand place that's almost as good as real life some days.
3. Google. Oh yeah. I don't have to remember anything like that guy who played in that movie with that girl who has the hair over one eye. Only a tiny sliver of information will get me the answer. No more waking up in the middle of the night with an answer which had been covered with ten layers of newer information in my brain.
4. Wikipedia. So what is the capital of Moldova and where the heck is Moldova anyway? The answer is right at my fingertips.
5. Convertibles. Mine is a red Miata but I'm open to other kinds. The freedom of driving down the highway with your hair in the wind and the sun shining down from above is priceless.
6. Macaroni and cheese. I don't know who thought this one up, but it puts spaghetti and meatballs in the shade. And in Texas, it's a vegetable! Oh yeah!
7. The comic strip "Pickles." It makes getting older something you can deal with because no matter how difficult the process is, it's more difficult for Earl and Opal. A youngish editor canceled it from our local newspaper and the geriatric community almost had him run out of town.
8. Cheesecake. I haven't met one I didn't like.
9.  Cary Grant. No other actor measures up. The only sad thing is that he never got to play Bond, James Bond. Maybe in heaven.
10. Harry Potter. When things are really tough, it's a world I can disappear into again and again. No one (except for the Dursleys) pays income tax, waits around in airports because their plane flight was cancelled or worries about missing their favorite television show.

So there you have it in no particular order. Any more ideas?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meet Author Gretchen Craig

Meet Gretchen Craig! She's a dear friend from Texas who writes dramatic love stories with a tremendous sense of place. But she recently branched out with a set of light love stories. 

You can find out a lot more about her here. Since she is both a traditionally published and self-published author, I think you will find this interview interesting.

Susan: I know your work and it's been admired for its drama and deep emotion. Your book, Lookin for Luv, is a departure from this. Did the stories come to you all at once or have you been concocting these upbeat tales while you were busy writing your longer, more dramatic novels? 

Gretchen: Yes, these are much lighter stories than what I usually write. I was involved in a novel full of angst and suffering, and I just needed a break. I’ve enjoyed reading light contemporary romance, and I thought I’d just give it a try. So they were done over several months whenever I needed a respite from the sturm und drang of my longer work. I had a lot of fun writing them.
Susan: These are all Louisiana stories. Your view of life on a houseboat on a South Louisiana bayou is so detailed and realistic. As a Louisiana girl myself, I know how well you evoke that setting. How do you do that kind of research and how do you get into a sense of place?

On Amazon Kindle
Gretchen: I’ve done a lot of book and library research about Louisiana history over the years, but for the feel of a place, I rely on having actually been to the bayous. I haven’t really spent much time there, just an airboat tour, and lots of driving in the countryside. But I lived near the Everglades for years and I know what humidity and heat and water and swamp are all about. The rest is imagination, and place has always been a strong stimulant for me. Everywhere I go, I see myself living there, especially if it’s combined with a sense of the place’s history (as in my pueblo novel set in 1599). The only place I’ve ever been that I thought I would not like to stay is a terribly poor, barren little town on the high plains of New Mexico. Everywhere else pulls at me to come explore and stay a while.

Susan: As a traditionally published author who's garnered success, awards and great reviews, why did you decide to go into e-book self-publishing?

Gretchen: The e-book question. It’s all so complicated these days. I still do query the major houses with new manuscripts, but I am grateful that in this era we authors do have other options. I do want an audience, and I’m gratified to be able to reach readers this way.

Susan: Do you have a e-book reader yourself?

Gretchen: I have a Kindle. I still love to have a book in my hands, and if it’s a book that I want to study, particularly non-fiction, I want a paper copy so I can check back to earlier passages and easily find sections I want to re-read. And to annotate with a colored marker. The Kindle enables some of that, but for me, it’s clumsier than a pen and dog-eared page. What I especially like about my Kindle, though, is the incredible number of titles available, and I can get them next thing to instantly. That’s pretty cool.

Susan: Do you think more authors will straddle both the traditional publishing and the self-publishing world? And are you planning to publish more books with traditional publishers? 

Gretchen: I do think more authors will pursue self-publishing. And many of us still want to be traditionally published as well. There is a certain validation in having a big house take you on and promote you, and they can reach readers that self-e-publishing does not. I certainly have hopes of continuing to publish in both venues.

Susan: I know that you travel for inspiration. Are there other writers who inspire you?

Gretchen: I’m constantly inspired by other writers, from all different genres. I’ve recently discovered Richard Ford, who’s been acclaimed for a long time, but I hadn’t come across him. His novels are tagged as literary; some of his novels feature the same protagonist, Frank Bascomb, who is a man who constantly struggles to find an equilibrium in life, to find happiness and to accept life as it is. That speaks strongly to me at this particular time in my own life. And there are romance authors who write outstanding novels even though they are seldom given critical respect because they are writing in romance. I admire Mary Balogh and Judith Ivory for depth of feeling and character in their historical romances. I’m very impressed with Michel Faber’s big novel The Crimson Petal and the White, which is a historical set in Victorian times.  I also have just finished another Lee Child novel featuring Jack Reacher – Die Trying – that I couldn’t put down. I read lots of different kinds of books, and the best ones always have something to teach about pacing or characterizations or mood, or best of all, just life.

Susan: What's your next project? 

Gretchen: I haven’t decided on my next topic. I have several possibilities perking in the background, but I might decide to try something new. These light romances have made me smile, myself, as I wrote them. Maybe I’ll think about something longer along those lines, though I’m not as funny as some writers, like Susan Denney, for example. 

 Thanks to Gretchen for insights into her writing process and the changing world of publishing!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kids' magazines --Gotta love them!

Have I said how much I love writing for children's magazines? The pay is not spectacular. But knowing that thousands of children will read what I wrote is still a thrill. And I've even had an article translated into other languages. I like the succinctness of writing for a children's magazine. You can't be wordy and you can't pad either. It's all content or die trying.

There's also the memories of having a subscription to Jack and Jill  many years ago, and the vivid recollection of My Weekly Reader  in elementary school. 

If the only experience you have with kids' magazines is in doctors' waiting rooms, I encourage you to look around. There's a lot more out there.

I just finished several articles for Calliope, a world history magazine for 9-14-year-olds. It's published by Carus which also publishes Cricket, Cobblestone, and a ton of other magazines.

The topic was "The Orchestra" and I really got into it. I'll reveal more about what the articles are like when we get closer to publication date.

But I learned a lot and got to talk to some seriously amazing  people about the music they make.

Look at the cover of September's issue. Pretty cool, huh?

If you want to give a child a perfect gift, think of a subscription to a magazine. Getting mail is beyond cool when you're a kid. The thrill of getting a new issue every month adds to the excitement that all children should feel about reading.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Interview with Braden Bell--Middle School Magician

I enjoyed learning more about Braden Bell, author of Middle School Magic: The Kindling. I hope you will too.

His book has the fabulous premise that middle school students with magical powers "kindle" as their powers show themselves. And some of their teachers have super powers too. Cool! Braden teaches middle school himself which proves he's a brave man.

The story revolves around three "kindling" students, Conner, Melanie and Lexa. It's action packed and sets up a distinct and fascinating magical world. Thanks to Braden for taking the time to answer my questions.

Susan: Since you're a middle school teacher yourself, you have an amazing window into that environment. How hard was it to keep "real" people you work with or the memory of your teachers from middle school out of your manuscript? Are those teachers in The Kindling an amalgam of other teachers you've known or did they come from somewhere else?

Braden: That's an excellent question, one I'm glad to be asked. The reality is that the teachers and students very quickly took on a life of their own. I know that may sound strange to people who have not written a book, but it's really quite true. Many writers feel that their characters tell them what to do rather than vice versa, and that was the case. I had a few people in mind when I started, from whom I borrowed some vocal inflections or a personality trait, but the characters very quickly evolved into their own people. Now, when I imagine them or am writing their dialogue they don't resemble anyone I know. 

Susan: I loved  that the French teacher was important to the story and also very nice since I was one myself. Any reason why you picked French?
Braden: If you were to take a poll at my school among parents and students of the person who is most beloved and influential, it would be our French teacher. She's taught for many years and has a special gift. She's one of the people I most admire professionally and I wanted to pay tribute to that. But there's a more practical reason. In an early draft, all the teachers were Mrs. and Mr. It looked repetitious and a little boring. I felt like I needed to break it up. So, I gave the choir teacher a doctorate so he could be Dr. instead of Mr. And I figured if I used a French teacher I could use Madame instead of Mrs. Finally, the character just taught French. I knew that from the beginning.  
Susan: I can see that two of your characters are setting up for some romance. Did you have that idea from the beginning or did it develop as you created the book? And did putting that attraction Conner feels for Melanie in make it harder or easier to write the book?

Braden: That was there from the beginning. one of the funniest things about teaching middle school is watching these kids start to muddle their way through romantic relationships and feelings. It's confusing, exciting, and frightening for them--and the parents, but it is a very real part of the experience. I felt like it had to be there in order to be authentic. It was also fun to write and it helped bring dimension to the characters. In early drafts I think there was less. But as I had students read it and give me feedback, the girls all wanted a little more so I put in a little more. 
Susan: There are some strong moral and even spiritual values coming out in your book. J. K. Rowling aimed directly at prejudice in her Harry Potter series and also focused on the importance of love and family. Is there something very important to you that you'd like readers to take away from this book?

Braden: Interesting question. I don't think I had anything specific in mind--it was just a story I wanted to write because it came to my mind. I am sure that there are things that influenced me at a level beyond what I was consciously aware of, but my intent was to write a fun story about teachers and students. 
Susan: You've obviously set us up for a sequel. Can you tell us how many more we can look forward to or would that be telling?
Braden: I have a rough outline for about 4 books, and I know where I want it to go. Whether they happen is ultimately a function of whether the publisher feels this one does well enough. Pending sufficient sales, the sequel is slated to be released a year from now and I'm feverishly working on it. It picks up just a week or two after the Kindling. The kids are starting to understand the implications of their new powers, trying to learn how to use them, and Conner and Melanie are trying to figure out their relationship. Conner specifically has to work through some things that happened in Book 1. I'm quite excited about it--and I hope it becomes a reality.

Find out more about Braden at his blog here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Interview with Connie Sokol--Author and Real Live Wonder Woman

One of the best things about being an author, is that you inevitably meet other authors. Connie Sokol is a new friend of mine whose energy makes me think of her as Wonder Woman.

Just reading a list of what Connie Sokol does makes you breathless. And knowing she's just had her seventh child adds to your amazement. And if you've seen her on TV, you can't help but be amazed by her boundless energy and positive outlook. 

In addition to writing, she is a national and local presenter, a monthly contributor on Salt Lake City television station KSL. She's been a radio and TV host and produces talk CDs and podcasts. Whew! You can find out all about her here at her website:

Connie has written several nonfiction self-help books for women, but has branched out recently into fiction. Her new novel, called Caribbean Crossroads, is the story of Megan who is recovering from a broken heart. Her best friend talks her into joining her on a dance crew on a cruise ship. She'll meet someone wonderful but will have to overcome her bitterness over her last breakup.

I asked Connie a few questions about her latest venture into fiction.

Susan: You've gained so much success as a nonfiction writer. What made you take the leap into fiction?
Connie: So many times I've been done with the day and just want something to read that isn't violent, graphic, or emotionally turbulent--I just want to check out of life for a bit! I have three other fiction manuscripts that I've been working on over the years but nonfiction took priority. Then one night I had that same feeling of where's a good chill out book and I thought, "Why not write one?" So that's what happened. Out of the blue I had this core idea for a plot and then scenes kept coming to me so I wrote them as fast as I could. I wrote the core book in about 60 plus hours, but then almost as much time in rewrites and revisions with critique groups. And now I have a romance I love to read. Ironically, one night a few months ago I was in the mood to read a romance and couldn't find something that was the right fit and then I thought, "Oh, Caribbean!" and it hit the spot. 

Susan: How did you come to the decision to self-publish?
Connie: I first self-published about ten years ago and did a total of three books.. Then I opted for the traditional publishing route with two books. Now that I've seen both sides, I felt it wise to self-publish this one, especially since it's in such a different genre. There are so many fabulous options today that weren't available even ten years ago. I wanted to see what could be done with it using those new avenues. It's my sort of experiment book. I've given myself permission to play around with it.
Susan: Caribbean Crossroads talks about a world unfamiliar to me. Were you ever on a cruise dance team? If not, how did you get all that wonderful information to create that world for us?
Connie: It's so nostalgic, and enjoyable, to write something that you're somewhat familiar with but not fully. As I wrote, I found myself pulling from a variety of experiences--a cruise my husband and I took, plays and musical groups I was in during college, things and people I've observed over the years. While writing passages, different ideas would come to mind from those personal experiences, and those of other people who had randomly shared during the years. For example, Mrs. Van De Morelle's name came from a fourth-grade teacher (Mrs. Van De Mortelle, so a little change), and the final Broadway number is an amalgamation of something my mom and I watched years ago with Cyd Charisse, etc. And the premise of the story is very loosely based on an experience of a dear college friend about 25 years ago.  
Susan: I can tell from your main characters that you admire people who help other people. Do you think that even lighthearted fiction should try to make a difference in people's lives?

Connie: I really do. You can tell from my nonfiction that I feel strongly about each person finding their purpose then sharing it with others. How vital that is for all of us to help one another grow and become! So I was surprised how much of  that came out in my fiction. But especially in romance, I think it's vital that we show it's more than just hot guy meets beautiful girl, a little angst, and then it's all solved. I wanted to show that real relationships work because they are able to not only develop themselves, but have a desire to help others. Being a good person is what helps make a relationship work, especially when someone has been deeply hurt before.
Huge thanks to Connie for sharing her thoughts! Look for my next author interview with Braden Bell, author of Middle School Magic: The Kindling.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Me and George Eliot--Pseudonymous

I am a huge fan of George Eliot. Her real name, Mary Anne Evans, is unknown to most people. Sadly those who do know her may only know that too-sappy-for-me tale, Silas Marner. I consider her masterpiece to be Middlemarch which you can download at in written form here or in recorded form here. It has made many lists as one of the greatest novels written in English. It's sure on mine.

As writers she and I have little in common. My fiction is of the fluffiest. Hers delves into the very heart of man. But we do have something in common: pen names.

She chose a masculine pen name because she wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. Women writers in the Victorian Era were associated with light fiction. (Which is exactly what I'm trying to do.)

I have had to use pen names twice now. When my darling daughter and great son-in-law owned a bilingual magazine that reached out to a Hispanic population, I wrote for them but they felt I needed to use a Hispanic name. I chose an outrageous one, "Esperanza del Sol", which my son-in-law actually liked. So I've been published under that one.

Another magazine will publish an article and a story of mine next year but they usually do not use the same writer twice in an issue. Lo and behold! I need another pen name. Somehow Esperanza was too over-the-top for this very conservative children's magazine. So I reached into the family archives and pulled out Ann Argyle Fox, my great-great-great grandmother. She's buried here in the valley where I now live. I know almost nothing about her but I thought her name would look great in print.

It's way cool having a pseudonym. It's like having an alias or a secret identity. I highly recommend it. Plus, picking them out is a hoot. 

I wasted a lot of time looking into the whole issue of pen names and discovered quite a few which I thought were folks' real names. Probably the most interesting thing I learned is that nom de plume (literally "name of pen") didn't come from the French at all. The English made it up. The French used nom de guerre (name of war) instead and today use "pseudonyme."

When I published my novel last October, my mom asked me if I was going to use my real name. This worried me a bit. Perhaps she was afraid that I was going to shame myself in public? I went with the real McCoy but still have reasons to use another name from time to time.

I'd love to see a comment if you've had to use one yourself or if you have a favorite writer who uses one!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Books Banned from the Bedroom

Our number one banned book (from Amazon)

 It's been a tough week. Sometimes living in a happier and funnier world through a book is the key to success during such a time.

So I've been thinking about the authors who are banned from our bedroom because one person laughing out loud makes it impossible for the other to sleep.

Here's our list of writers whose wit keeps our partner awake.

1. Terry Pratchett. Michael is definitely not allowed to read Sir Terry when I'm tired. There's no way Michael can control his laughter unto tears. Any book with Nanny Ogg in it is especially banned.

2. P. G. Wodehouse. Although Michael loves his stuff too, I'm the one who gets the giggles every few pages or so. I'll go along for a few pages holding in the laughs successfully and then he hits me with a simile which reduces me to hopelessly giggling jelly.

3. Dave Barry. Neither of us can hold back the laughter here. The man feels our pain and we feel his.

4. Peter Egan. For those not in the know, Mr. Egan writes for Road and Track. His funniest columns are those that make Michael laugh in empathy in memory of painful car repair experiences.

Please, please add your banned authors in your comments. I need all the laughs I can get right now.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ten Reasons Why Writers Need Vacations

Slowly I turned!

My husband's job has been overwhelming. So when he realized he had a true three-day weekend with no projects, he said, "Let's get out of town."
We took a wonderful trip to New York and saw Watkins Glen, Palmyra, and ...Niagara Falls! Niagara Falls has been top on my "must see" list for some time.
Now I'm back to work and I thought I'd share the top ten reasons (in no order) I needed a vacation. (I think most of them apply to writers in general.)

1. I needed to be humbled and reminded that there are experiences for which there are no words. Standing ten feet away from the bottom of Niagara Falls would count here.
2. I needed to spend time reading without feeling guilty about not writing.
3. I needed to learn more stuff. I learned a lot about hydroelectric power, geology and history. I even learned the origin of that silly Three Stooges skit "Slowly I turned."
4. I needed to reconnect with nature. A writer spends an awful lot of time inside.
5. I needed to meet more people. Even brief encounters add to my knowledge of human nature.
6. I needed adversity. No vacation is without trials. Even minor adversity adds to a writer's bank of emotional experiences.
7. I needed more visual memories.
8. I needed to experience child-like curiosity and wonder and surprise.
9. I needed a break from daily chores. Not worrying about housekeeping duties I neglect when I write was refreshing and revitalizing.
10. I needed to spend more time with my brilliant husband. It was enriching to talk with him and to see how he brought a different outlook to the new experiences we were having.
Michael with a hero, the great Tesla

Behind a waterfall in Watkins Glen
All photographs copyrighted by Michael Denney. Please ask for permission to reproduce any of them.

Watkins Glen

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Inspiration and Temptation

First, a bit about inspiration. When I think about what children teach you, the word "patience" usually comes to mind. Either you learn patience from your children or you become a really lousy parent.

But I didn't know just how much a child can inspire you.

The darling in the photo overcame some incredible obstacles to get her MFA in Fiber Arts. I am inspired by her efforts to finish a degree and start a new career. It makes me want to be a harder-working, more persistent, more excellent person. You can find out a lot more about her here. And you can see her artwork there too.

The white-haired guy has been an inspiration to me for many, many years. He too has shown me how important diligence, hard work, and persistence is. Talent is just such a small part of what makes success.

Another inspiration this week was in the form of a blog post by a writer named Rachel Aaron. Here's the post. I found her thoughts interesting but got a lot more inspiration from some of her other posts on editing and plotting. I found that she had mastered some of the things I've learned by trial and error. So I'll be excited to introduce these ideas into my writing life.

Now for temptation. While Michael was gone for Naomi's graduation, I was tempted to wallow in self-pity. I didn't get to go to my baby's graduation? How could life be so cruel? Of course, I had gotten to go to Naomi's MFA art show while Michael stayed home being diligent, hard working and persistent. It was also tempting to feel sorry for myself on Mother's Day since Michael was there enjoying Mother's Day with three of my four children. (And he'd seen the fourth of our kids that week as well.) And I have to admit that I snapped at a few folks about the situation. But I did a lot of self-talk and decided that my life is pretty good. I have been greatly blessed. And so I got through the bumpy parts of last week.

There was another temptation that came in the mail yesterday. Michael and I avoid working on the Sabbath day if at all possible. (He actually works a ton of Sundays, but not by choice.) But when I was invited to go to an author appreciation event given by the Plymouth Historical Society, I felt that it was something I could attend and that it would still be in keeping with my standards. The event is just a thank you for local authors with a Plymouth connection. All four of my great-grandparents on my Dad's side lived there, so I have deep roots in that little town. And I wouldn't be making any money after all.

Then I got the letter yesterday which said that authors were welcome to bring their books to sell and sign! This put a whole new spin on the event. It didn't take a lot of time for me to realize that I could go to the event, but that selling books would be not be in keeping with my beliefs. So I will be going but won't be selling books. I think it will be appropriate to give out business cards to those interested in buying my book.

So lots of inspiration and two temptations pretty well skirted. Not a bad week!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Kindle Author Now Owns a Kindle

It's official!  After several months of doing very well as a Kindle author, I took the plunge. It didn't hurt that Staples had a $40 dollar rebate going and that I had $40 dollars' worth of Staples credit. I went with the 3G which turned out to be very wise since the Wi-Fi in our house is unpredictable at best.

Surprisingly, both Michael and I (both bibliophiles) love the thing. It's quite fun to play with and very easy to read. And since we are in the process of doing some big-time downsizing, this little device is making us feel much more comfortable getting rid of old paperbacks we used in college English classes. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, we can download all those nineteenth century novels for free. There are also a ton of P. G. Wodehouse novels in the public domain and they're available at Gutenberg as well. Eventually, I suppose, we will get around to actually buying a book on Kindle.

The world is changing  in book publishing today and this little e-book thing is going to be like a small snowball rolling down a mountain.

As I told those wonderful folks who came to hear me speak at a recent Back Mountain Library luncheon, books are not going away. But e-readers aren't either. This is going to be interesting.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Every Family Needs an Artist

My recent trip to Texas was all about attending my oldest daughter's Master's art show. And I can truly say she knocked my socks off. I've seen lots of her art, but this show was just overwhelming.

As a writer, I think a lot about what it means to be an artist. If you write something, it may or may not be art. And if you build a building, it may or may not be art. But the visual arts are pretty clear-cut. If you draw a picture, it's art.

And what Naomi does is the real thing. She proves every day that just talent is not going to get you anywhere. This child has a work ethic like no other. So when you combine natural abilities with a real drive to produce and excel, you end up with the success she has had.

It's very hard to explain her work and I spend a lot of time taking pictures of her quilts from the side. Her work is 3-D and very sculptural. This work called "X" is so brilliant in its color. Both my son (pictured here with his artist sister) and I loved this one best. Her show consisted of a room of handmade books and another room full of these sculptural quilts. You can see more of her work at her website. She has a link there to purchase something if you want to have a piece of her art in your own home.

I love it that art crops up in the most unexpected places. The more I travel, the more surprised I am how public art is finding its way into airports. This gorgeous tunnel in the Detroit airport is a combination of art glass, lights and music. It's truly an experience to walk through.

Have an artistic experience today. Visit her website. Or go to an airport. Or read a book or listen to Brahms.

As the Pirates of Penzance say,  "For what, we ask, is life
               Without a touch of Poetry in it?"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Where have I been and why am I here?

Where have I been for the past two weeks? Walking in the sunshine and enjoying the glorious flowers in my yard? Spring cleaning? Taking care of all my responsibilities at home and church?
No. I've been sitting in my office doing heavy edits on two books. And I'm whupped.
Going over something you wrote for the second, third or fourth time is a real energy zapper. But I have learned to love the editing process almost as much as I love writing. Once I got it through my skull that editing is just another way to write, it got a lot better.
The progress so far is a really clean copy of my LDS romance called Magnolia in the Snow which went out to beta readers yesterday.  And I'm almost done with a complete rewrite of Snarky and Sweet's sequel which might be called Sassy and Sweet or not.
A whole ton of stuff including taxes has been ignored and I'm hoping today to do a lot of it. I have a big trip to Texas coming up next week.
And I'm going to Texas because my darling Naomi is having her Thesis Art Show to finish up her Master's program in Fiber Arts. If you're not familiar with her work, click on her name and check out her website and blog. She's been doing some amazing work.
In Texas I also get to see all my children and their families. The Utah family of eight is moving to Texas. And, of course, all the others live there already.
So the question remains, if all of my children and their families are in Texas, why am I here in PA? 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Free today!

Woot! My romantic comedy is free again today. My publisher decided to put the Kindle ebook version free on Amazon March 23rd and March 24th, 2012. It's only been up for a few hours and it is already on its first bestseller list.

This is such a fun adventure having my book make a stir in the ebook world. But I am humble enough to know that I can't do it without my friends. They facebooked like crazy the last time it was offered for free and the results were miraculous.

I thought we wouldn't do this again until the next one in the series came out. And I'm really getting close on the edits to the next twin novel in the series called "Snarky and Sassy."

But I'm happy to spend my day spreading the word about the huge favor to me it is when someone downloads my book for free.

It's just unfathomable how the Internet works and how ideas travel through it. But getting noticed is the key and these free promotions seem to do that. It sold very well after the last free promotion and I hope it will do that again.

So give me a break. Take my book...please! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Just how happy can a postcard make you?

Just how happy can a postcard make you? When it represents a major life achievement by one of your children, it can make you downright joyful.

Here it is: the postcard advertising Naomi's art show that is one of the final requirements for her M.F.A. in fiber arts.

Naomi hasn't just been a student for the past three years. She's been a working artist who has racked up a set of awards that many folks wait a lifetime for.

Her three-D quilt work in this piece also won her a major prize at Quilt National, the premier exhibition for art quilting in the world.

I'm not proud of her or anything.

I get to go. I already have my plane ticket. If you live in the North Texas area and would like to see an amazing body of work by one of the up-and-coming young artists in America, here's the info:

University of North Texas
Cora Stafford Gallery
Oak Street Hall
1120 W. Oak Street
Denton, TX
940 565 8798

Gallery Hours:
April 10-13, 2012
10AM to 2PM

Closing reception:
April 12, 2012 5PM to 8PM.

Hope to see you there. If you can't make it, you can see more of her amazing work here:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

1940s Census--You Can Make It Happen (and you could win a prize!)

If you know me well, you know I have way more hobbies than I need. Lots of things distract me from doing what I should do most of which is write.
One of my favorite hobbies is Family Search Indexing. I've been doing it for at least four years. I get to help make genealogical records available to the whole world.  I've done over 140,000 names. It's one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. The fun thing is that anyone can do it.
You get to pick which records you index and I've helped with some amazing projects. I've learned a lot about history. I've indexed French protestant records from the 19th century, the Mexican 1930 census, the Freedman Bureau letters that tell how the freed slaves made their way in a confusing new world after the Civil War.
Everyone is very excited about the 1940 census because we all know someone who's in it. For example, one of my favorite people in the whole world is my Uncle Jim pictured here in his WWII uniform. He'll be on this census as will my mom and the rest of her family.
If you would like to try indexing,they have an amazing contest going on here: All you have to do is sign up as an indexer and do one practice batch on the 1940 census. Easy peasy.
The main site is here: and you can learn all sorts of things about the upcoming 1940 census.
If you're interested in family history or just plain old history you should give this a try. It's free, it makes you feel good and it's not fattening. How cool is that?

Disclosure:As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for a Kindle Fire.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Working for Ford in 1940

from Wikipedia
The 1940s census is coming out soon. If you aren't into genealogy or family history, this won't mean much. But if you're part of that community, the event is every bit as exciting as the release of a new Harry Potter book. I'll be helping to index this important census. If you'd like to help too or if you'd like to find out more you can check out The 1940 Census.

My favorite folks from the 1940s are my parents who are both in their nineties. I know where Momma was but in 1940 but wasn't as sure about Dad. These memories are what he came up with when I asked.

Dad was working for Ford Motor Company because his dad's first cousin, Clem Davis, was the number twelve star man. A star man was a manager and they were evidently ranked in order of importance, Henry Ford being number one. So no worries about Dad getting a job.

I think most folks know that Henry Ford always paid high salaries in part to stave off unionization. Dad remembers that his pay was eight dollars a day. He lived with his Uncle Bill and Aunt Jane and paid them ten dollars a week for room and board. His uncle also worked for Ford. Raises were in nickel increments. Dad got a couple of five cents raises that his uncle didn't which made him better paid than his uncle. I have to wonder how hard that was on his uncle who had already started his family.

Dad worked on the assembly line at the River Rouge Plant. His job was on the Michigan Dealers line. It supplied car dealers in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois with parts. This line moved to Highland Park while he worked there.

His first job was to look at an order, decide if the part was in his section, pull the part and sign off on it. He later moved into the crib. This was where the expensive small parts like spark plugs were kept. He remembers that security checked his lunchbox on the way out from time to time. Anyone found with a part in their lunchbox was immediately fired.

The most touching part of the story was about his uncle Bill. He said that Uncle Bill worked on a line lifting tires all day. At first he wasn't in shape to finish the day but that a strong black man next to him covered his work as well as his own until he could do the job. This is interesting to me because of the racial equality that existed on the line and also because of the kindness and cooperation there must have been among the employees.

Dad worked swing shift which meant he had plenty of time to play tennis and even get a year's worth of college credit at a local community college.

He said he learned a lot of things during that short period at Henry Ford. At the college, he learned French. At the job he learned to keep good records in the parts crib. He learned to play tennis in his free time. And at his uncle's house, he learned to play penny ante poker. They let him play until he started beating everyone.

All those skills turned out to be useful in the next phase of his life.

In 1940, dad enlisted in the Navy because he knew he would be drafted. He chose the Navy because another uncle had told him that he'd be fed well and taken care of. And that's another story.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Need New Habits--Review of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I rarely do this. But I saw an article on NPR (didn't even hear the guy on the radio) and bought the book. Immediately. The reason why?

I am self-employed and work at home. This means that I have large blocks of time available which I use as I choose. Guess what? I waste a lot of time.

So when I read about this book, I decided that what I need are some new habits. The reason this book attracted me is that it's not a self-help book. It doesn't give you a lot of cheesy advice about how to get up at 6 a.m., run around the block a few times, eat your power breakfast out of a blender and then go out and change the world.

No. This book explains the research about our habits, how we make them and how we can break them. It also uses narrative. He tells about people who were able to change habits. This is my favorite way of learning.

So, I read it. Here's what I think.

First off, I found it annoying that he starts one story, then starts another story and then another and then gives you the ending later. To my brain it seems unorganized. But I can see why he did it. Maybe his brain is bigger and can follow three stories at once.

But the rest of the book has great value.

I enjoyed reading about all the research. I love any book that teaches me more about the way my brain works. And this one did. However, it was distressing to find out that we never fully eradicate bad habits. We must overlay them with something else. This makes sense. How many people have you heard say that even after X number of years of not smoking, they still get the urge for a cigarette once in a while?

I liked the hope at the end of the book. By the way, if you want a lot of value for your money, be aware the end of the book is at about page 286.The last hundred or so pages of the book are footnotes.

I also liked the research that shows that if you manage to change one habit, you often get rid of other bad habits as well. Score! 

In the last chapter Duhigg states, "If you believe you can change--if you make it a habit--the change becomes real."Now that's worth a shot.

The book made a lot of sense. I'm going to try to apply some of this to my own life. But now, I'm going back to bed for a morning nap. That's probably the first habit I need to address.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

First paragraphs of Snarky and Sassy

Lurlette's tank watch
So I'm finishing up the final edit of Snarky and Sassy, the sequel to Snarky and Sweet. The first paragraphs are the most important and probably will get edited a few more times. I'd love your input. Let me know what you think!

Snarky and Sassy: A Romantic Comedy about Twins, an Earl, and a Great Big Castle

Lurlette gazed out the window at the huge city spread before her like a pop-up book. The giant green rectangle of Central Park, the gleaming silver skyscrapers and the bright blue sky made a perfect picture. She loved New York. She also loved Paris, London and other big cities like chic Milan and gutsy Fort Worth. Large cities gave her scope. But the traveling days when she could hop on a jet for a gelato in Rome or a spa day in Prague were probably over. She sighed.

She looked down at her small Cartier Tank gold watch. It was an iconic style and she knew it had cost Chang a lot of money, more than a quarter of her twin’s schoolteacher salary. But it irked her just a little that this watch wasn’t the one of a kind diamond pave watch that Chopard had designed especially for her. That one was gone. She’d sold it in December when Sotheby’s had auctioned off so many of her nice things.
Maybe this watch should have gone on the block too, but there was nothing that special about it. And besides, you had to have a watch. Using a cellphone to tell the time was a habit that Lurlette never intended to adopt.

It also irked her that she had look at her watch at all. She was looking at it because Weasel was late. He had said he would meet her here for lunch at Restaurant Georges Breton at 12:30. But it was now 12:40 and he still hadn’t showed up.

In the background she heard the tinkling of glasses and the polyglot conversations of the others seated around her. This was one of her favorite restaurants in New York City. She liked the stylish modern furniture, the subdued lighting, and, of course, the view. And the food was very French and very nice. And it was still undiscovered by the Trip Advisor crowd. 

She took a sip of her Perrier with lime and thought about what she should do next.

She could leave. She usually didn’t wait for anyone. Making people wait for her was another thing altogether. Or she could wait a little longer. There wasn’t any rush. The auction wasn’t until four o’clock.

It really was out of the goodness of her heart that Weasel had been invited to the auction at all. But Lee, her twin, was too busy with her school teaching duties and William, her fiancé, was appraising some estate jewelry in Germany. So Weasel had been a last resort. It was unthinkable to show up at the auction without an escort of some kind.

Weasel had been very helpful with the sale of her other jewels in December. She guessed she owed it to him to be with her for the big auction of her diamond engagement ring. The Maharani Red, a rare five carat red diamond of the highest quality, had been her engagement present from Horatio Alger Chang, her third husband. Now that the divorce was final, she was on her own again. She needed something to live on and the auction of her other jewelry and furs had brought in a nice amount. But not enough to support her lifestyle. The Maharani was a very important part of her future financial security.

She knew people in the restaurant were starting to stare at her. Of course, men always stared at her. She was used to that. But even the waiters were beginning to look her way. Honestly, if Weasel didn’t show soon, she would have to go...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ten Ways to Show an Author You Love Them on Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day. Some of us of a Valentine as someone sweet and cuddly who might conceivably give us chocolate, flowers or perhaps even jewelry. But I think we should broaden our view. This is because authors have been giving us Valentines for years. Books are not easy to write. And it's not easy to put your brain child out in the open for other people to criticize or even worse, ignore. So if an author has written a book you love, they really have given you a great gift.

Many of us wish we could send fan mail to folks like Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or George Eliot. But some of our favorite authors are still alive.

So if you admire a living author who wrote a book which has given you hope, great ideas, information or even wisdom, here's a top ten list of what to do for your favorite living authors in return. Remember that nonfiction authors get a lot less fan mail than the fiction ones do which would make your note to them even more special.

1. Post an author's book on your Facebook page.

2. Tell a friend how wonderful an author's books are. Word of mouth is the best way to spread the good news about a book.

3. Like an author's Facebook page.

4. Follow an author on Twitter.

5. Write an honest review of an author's book on Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

6. Give a favorite author's book to someone else as a gift.

7. Give a copy of an author's book to your local library.

8. Pin an author's book cover or portrait on a Pinterest board.

9.  Lend your copy of a favorite book to a friend to read.

10. Send the author a note telling them how much you liked the book. Tell them how it inspired you or changed you. Snail mail is grand but email costs nothing for either you or the author who might reply.

Some of these things would take only a second. I think I'm going to see if Elizabeth Peters has a Facebook page.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

New Coat

 One of the nicest things about having my book do well this past month is that I've been able to treat myself to a few much-needed things. Top on my list was a new coat. My old coat (and frankly, I have no idea how old it is. Michael seems to think that some of our children weren't born yet when I got it and the baby just turned twenty-eight) still looks fine on the outside but the lining is just shredded.

I could have relined it. That would have required buying a lot of lining fabric, cutting out the old lining, cutting new pieces from the old shredded pieces, sewing them together, doing a lot of handwork getting a new lining put in, etc. Or paying someone else a lot of money to do it.

The other alternative was to wait until the very end of the coat season and pick up a deal. Which I decided to do.

The coat situation had become rather ridiculous. I found myself going to church for the last three Sundays without a coat rather than wearing the ragged one or my every day down coat. (Fashion discipline must be maintained.)

So here is my gorgeous new coat. Even on an insane sale the coat was still an investment, but I've been taught that you buy clothing based on cost per wear. If you wear a dress once and it costs you $100, then the dress is $100 per wearing. But if you buy a coat and wear it thirty times a year for twenty or more years, then the same $100 investment works out to be...well, I promised there wouldn't be much math in this blog, but you get my drift. I definitely got my money's worth out of the old one and the new one will get good use for years to come.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

NYC Anniversary!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If it's a really good photo, I'd say ten thousand or more. And Michael is a really good photographer. So rather than tell you how romantic and lovely a day it was, I'll just show you.

Here's the rundown on our fabulous NYC anniversary trip on Friday.

Michael loves cars, engineering and architecture. So our first stop was naturally the Chrysler building. Art Deco raised to its very highest level.

Then on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had been once before but hadn't had a lot of time. I swear this museum would make you ADD. Because as you're standing in one room looking at one of the most famous paintings in the world, you're catching out of the corner of your eye another oh-so-famous one in the next room. Very disturbing but very great experience.

I am a huge fan of Vigee-Lebrun and anytime I get to stand in front of one of hers, it's a very good day. And this one is one of her very best.

You can't look at pictures all day, so we spent some time in the musical instruments exhibit. We fell in love with this beautiful metronome.

We also ate lunch in the museum right by a very disturbing statue (from the rear) which we found out after lunch was a sort of triumph of the spiritual over the natural man. I'll sit somewhere else next time.

On the way to The Square Meal which is just a few blocks from the museum, Michael caught this shot of the Guggenheim. Very effective, I thought. It was a beautiful night. And he has such a fabulous eye.

And I think this photo he caught in Central Park was also a stunner.

And last but not least, Michael said he couldn't resist this one. Be sure and click on it to enlarge it. She was obviously clueless that she was being watched!

All these photos are copyrighted by Michael Denney. But if you want to share, just let me know and I'll see if he'll let you post them elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Moi? A bestselling author?

Can you make money by giving something away? Evidently yes. My publisher asked if I wanted to enter my novel, Snarky and Sweet, in the KDP select program. It means giving exclusivity to Amazon for an ebook. (This basically means my Nook version disappears from Barnes and Noble for 90 days.) Since my book was almost completely undiscovered, I said yes. My editor then offered it for free for two days.

A minor miracle occurred. At the end of the two-day free period, my book made bestseller list after bestseller list, finally ending up on the biggie, the top 100 free Kindle books. I think my highest number was 17. I kept taking screenshots with my book on the same page as Tom Clancy, Sophie Kinsella, and Tina Fey.

The final numbers aren't in, but my book was downloaded more than 14,000 times in two days. And in four countries. Be still my beating heart!

So what happens when it's not free any more? That was the question. Right now, it's holding its own. Now I'm selling books. It's still on three bestseller lists and one of those lists is for all books, not just ebooks. This wave won't last forever, but I'm thrilled. So many people will be reading my book! And if they like it, perhaps they will buy the sequel which is coming out in a couple of months.

I kept saying silent prayers all weekend. Believe it or not, it wasn't prayers that my book would do well. It was prayers of gratitude. I didn't do this by myself. I had a lot of help.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cheaper than a trip to Italy --The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears

I have never been to Rome. Really. I've been to some fabulous cities: Paris, London, Prague, Milan, New York, Chicago, Lisbon, Montreal, New Orleans and quite a few more. But the Eternal City has never been mine. And I long to go someday even if my very significant husband doesn't seem interested.

So this beautiful gift from my daughter Morgan almost filled the bill. Just oozing with Roman sunshine, this book is a trip to Italy and a lesson in art fraud detection in one.

The plot eluded me somewhat. I think I read it too fast. Which means I get to go back and read it again. And the relationship between Flavia and Jonathan is just right. Not too hot, not too cold.

If the words "erudite" and "intellectual" send little thrills up your spine, this lovely book is for you.