Thursday, February 25, 2010

Upcoming Events!

Absolutely nothing has happened this week that's even remotely interesting!!! So what do I blog about today? Well, if I can't blog about the "now", I'll blog about the future.

It does hold some excitement. Come May 3rd, I'll be attending Mystery Lovers Bookshop's Festival of Mystery in Oakmont PA. It's a great event and one that I look forward to every year. Not only is it fun to meet all the readers, but it also gives me a chance to catch up on what's new with other authors! (Shout out to Casey...hope Richard and Mary Alice seat us next to each other again!!! We were good girls last year! *g*)

This is a huge event and requires Richard and Mary Alice to basically set up a whole bookstore for one night. Each year I'm amazed at their organizational skills, and kudos to them for running the event so seamlessly!

Here's a list of the authors who'll be attending:

Madelyn Alt
Hannah Dennison
Sandra Parshall

Donna Andrews
Irene Fleming
Nancy Pickard

Sarah Atwell
Beth Groundwater
Jason Pinter

Lorna Barrett
Robin Harlick
Sara Rosett

Carrie Bebris
Rosemary Harris
Hank Phillippi Ryan

Cordelia Biddle
L.C. Hayden
Joanna Campbell Slan

Miranda Bliss
Sue Ann Jaffarian
Wallace Stroby

Robin Burcell
Laurie King
Leann Sweeney

Kate Carlisle
John Lamb
Marcia Talley

Elizabeth Lynn Casey
Tom Lowe
Heather Terrell

Ellen Crosby
Nancy Martin
Elaine Viets

Sheila Connolly
Judy McCoy
Wendy Lyn Watson

Shirley Damsgaard
Beverle Graves Myers
Heather Webber

Casey Daniels
Kevin O'Brien
Jenny White

Lila Dare
Alan Orloff
Nancy Means Wright
C. William Davis III
Brad Parks
Vicki Delany

So if any of you are in the area, please stop by! Casey and I would love to meet you!

Everyone have a great upcoming weekend and see you next Thursday!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

City of Light, City of Magic

An article in a recent Forbes magazine has declared Cleveland the Most Miserable city in the country.

Apparently, part of the criteria they used to determine this was economic, and it’s hard to argue with that. Cleveland’s been hit hard by the economic downturn. Jobs are few and far between, property values have dipped. So when it comes to financial factors, sure, we’re a little down in the dumps.

But whoever determined we’re miserable needs to take another look. There’s a lot about Cleveland that would surprise people who’ve never been here. Yeah, there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it’s a whole lot of fun, but there’s more to Cleveland than that.

We have a fabulous park system that rings the city and is known as the Emerald Necklace. We have a national park, too, and (lucky me!) it’s not far from where I live.

We have always had housing that was amazingly affordable, even before the industry took a nosedive. When I talk to my friends in places like DC and California, they’re amazed at what $200K can buy in Cleveland.

We have nice, safe neighborhoods (and bad ones, too, but what city doesn’t?), and truly world-class museums. We have an orchestra that’s been declared by those in the know to be the best in the world, and they play in a hall that is truly breathtaking.

We have a wonderful ethnic and cultural mix of people that’s reflected by all the names in the phonebook that are impossible to pronounce and all the great restaurants. In the mood for Thai? Polish? Italian? Middle Eastern? Any kind of food you want is here, and compared to most places, prices are reasonable.

We have professional sports teams that sometimes actually play like professionals.

Cleveland is a great place to raise children. It’s a place where you’ll meet sold, hard-working people who are proud of their heritage and the city where they live.

Miserable? Not hardly! We’re tough and determine and we’ll bounce back. We always do.

Take that, Forbes magazine!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stuck in Between

It was foggy today.

That isn't such a big deal, but for the first time it was warm enough that some of the snowfall I talked about last week melted off. Icicles are melting instead of growing, and patches of grass are coming out from beneath their blanket of snow.

The snow itself is dingy, covered with dirt and mud sprayed from the slick roads. It is the most miserable time of year, that time between seasons.

I can't help feeling stuck.

It's no fun being stuck in the middle. I am a middle child between two brothers, so I know exactly how awkward and uncomfortable the middle can be. After all, no one volunteers to sit in the middle of a bench seat, you just grin and bear it.

So here I sit, stuck between projects, stuck between seasons, stuck between what I want to do and what I have to do.

All I can see all around me is mucky snow and mud.

But it's okay, because I'm still moving forward, and for anyone who has lived in Ohio, you know what comes after mucky snow?

Tulips.

Bring 'em on. I'm ready for some change.

Jess

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Short Stories

Before I became a novelist, I wrote short stories. I really didn't know what I was doing, (not unusual for me *g*), but I was lucky enough to get a couple published in small regional magazines. And I was thrilled! However, once the series started, shorts fell by the wayside while I concentrated on Ophelia and Abby. Now, things have kind of come full circle-still working on a novel, but I've been invited to write a couple of short stories for two anthologies.

My first invitation came from author Anne Frasier and it's for a Halloween anthology that she's putting together. I've always loved Anne's work and I was both honored and excited to be included in her project. BUT, I'd forgotten one thing...writing short stories is HARD work!!

Why you might ask? Isn't it easier to write a few thousand words versus 70, 80, 100 thousand? All you have to do is create memorable characters, a proper setting, a goal for your protagonist to achieve, throw some glitches in their path on the way to that goal (side note-during that process, I always think of a line from an old pop song, 'You have to be cruel to be kind in all the right measure!' And heaven help me, that's the part I really enjoy!!). Then in the end, resolve all those complications. Ta-Da! Finished! Simple, right? NO, it is NOT!!

In crafting a short story, it's more like BOOM, here's the character, here's the problem, and here's what we're going to do about it. You have absolutely no wiggle room. You can't write paragraph upon paragraph showing the character's inner conflict; you can't spend line after line to create a setting that establishes the proper mood; and the secondary characters that add rich layers to your plot? Forget about it! Get to the action and the quicker the better!

But here's a couple of advantages to writing a short story: 1.It really does help develop your skill. Because the writing has to be so tight, it causes you to take a closer look at your work. You cut out all those superfluous lines. There's no room for them. This can carry over to when you do write something longer, and as a result, that piece will be better for it. 2. When you're writing a novel, it will be months, or several weeks at least, before you get to write MY two favorite words in the English language...THE END! With a short story, the sense of gratification comes a lot quicker. And we're all into instant gratification, aren't we???

So if any of you out there are struggling with your own short stories, here's a website you might find helpful http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/shortstory/index.html I'm visiting it quite often as I work on my second short. (This one is for Trisha Telep and the next MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE.)

Good luck, and to all the writers out there, may all your words be golden!!

Take care and see you next week!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Latest and the Greatest!

Sitting here this Wednesday morning, watching the snow fall and wondering what I was going to blog about when the publishing gods intervened and I received a jpeg of my newest cover.


So here’s a first look at the wonderful, fabulous, awesome cover of "Tomb with a View." The book will be on store shelves July 6. Perfect timing considering the Independence Day holiday and that the ghost featured in this book is none other than President James A. Garfield.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Romance novel yourself

Oh how this amuses me. Wait. You want me to talk about books and writing? Well tough. I'm burning through a new book - with biker witches in an old abandoned speakeasy and a banshee chained outside. But I can't really talk about that because it's still coming together and frankly, I never know what's going to happen. But I will tell you about my new fake romance novel.

Isn't it pretty? I made it on Romance Novel Yourself and will probably make many more today.

You can also make videos for your fake romance novel. Check this out.


So purty. So sexy. Don't you think? You don't? Well then go make your own video.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fun in the Snow

I hope everyone is having a lovely Monday off, for those who get this day off. I'm sorry I missed last week. It was such a Monday, I forgot it was Monday.

I know we used to have two holidays for president's birthdays, but I kinda like the consolidated nature of President's Day. It is simple and straight forward that way. It's also a good day to get stuff done. I was going to clean out the basement today, but it looks like I'll be shoveling snow, again.

I know we haven't had it half as bad as some of the rest of the country, but for a California girl who recently came from Florida, this is a lot of snow. I thought I'd share some pictures for the fun of it, and wish everyone out there a day filled with warm socks and hot chocolate.

For those who are also stuck in a world of wintery white, let's swap stories? Anyone had to shovel a roof yet? I've got to go and break icicles today. I'm pretty sure one of them could ride The Tower of Terror at Disney World if it wanted.

I'm a little nervous about that. There's nothing like loosening a two and a half foot long ice dagger and sending it falling over twenty feet to the ground, where you're standing. I wonder if we have a hard hat anywhere. I think I could use it. I'm a little worried about damaging the air conditioner. Any tips for sending icicles where they need to go? I'm pretty sure one is already embedded in the wood of our deck.

The one thing I am looking forward to is watching my dog romp in the snow, and fixing up our poor little snowman out front. He was looking pretty cute, and he certainly has been with us for a while, but the poor little guy could use a makeover. If we get a good amount of snow from this storm, I bet we could make him another three feet tall if we wanted.

The one thing I really need is a sled. I haven't been sledding in years. Since we used to go up into the Sierras to go sledding, it was always an adventure, because the hills were so wickedly steep. I've had my fair share of crashes, but luckily, no serious injuries, even from the time I flipped completely over and landed on my tummy on a snow bank.

I wished we'd recorded that, I'm sure it looked hysterical.

So for all of us stuck in the snow, let's have some fun. I'm starting to get twitchy for spring, but I have to admit, it's awfully pretty outside.

Happy reading,

Jess

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Southern Ladies


In the process of writing each book, I've had the opportunity to meet some really great and interesting people! Without writing, living where I do, in the middle of Iowa (or the land of ice and snow as we now like to call it!), my life would've never intersected with theirs. THE SEVENTH WITCH was no exception.

I'd always known that eventually I wanted "the girls" to visit Abby's childhood home in the mountains. I didn't know exactly how I would accomplish this...I'd never spent any time in the South and didn't know how I was going to write about a place that I'd never visited. The opportunity came when I received a call a couple of years ago from Sharon Robinson with an invitation to attend the Women's Expo in Kingsport TN. My first question after accepting was "How close are you to Appalachia?" Her response? "Why, darlin', we're smack dab in the middle! What do you need to know?" Not only did she and Lydia Wiley give me what I needed to "know," they took time away from their own lives to be my private tour guides so I could get a feel for the area. And best of all, they've also become very close friends!

Here's a short list of what I now know:

Appalachia is NOT pronounced App-a-lay-sha. It's Apple-lat-cha. (Lydia said to remember the phrase, "I'm goin' to throw an 'apple at ya'," if I ever forgot the correct pronunciation!)

When they say "sweet tea," they're not kidding!! I think it's one part tea to two parts sugar!

Grits are best eaten with butter and sugar then you salt the hell out of them!

Women down there are the picture of good manners, BUT do not mess with them!!! Underneath all that politeness is a rod of steel and they can cut someone down with just a look!!

This one kind of relates to the previous comment-don't ask them what they think unless you really want to know! (Personally, I like that...you never have to wonder where you stand with them!)

And most important, if they're your friend, THEY ARE YOUR FRIEND! There's nothing they won't do to help you.


So here's to you, my Southern ladies! Thank you for your help and your friendship!! I couldn't have done it without y'all!

Take care and have a good one,
Shirley

Storming my Brain!

Back from a week of brainstorming in Sarasota and once again, I’m reminded of how important and energizing the brainstorm experience can be.

There’s nothing like sitting around with four trusted author friends and tossing around ideas. This past week, I had the opportunity to put my little gray cells to work on women’s fiction, a thriller, a domestic cozy mystery, and inspirational romantic suspense as well as my own paranormal books. It’s a great way to get my brain moving and stretch my imagination and no matter the genre, brainstorming other peoples’ ideas helps me to learn story structure, drama, conflict and the oh-so-important ins and outs of characterization.

Yes, it can sometimes be frustrating. Like the time an hour-and-a-half session was just ending when we hit upon that One Special Thing that would make a fellow author’s book click. Or the time we couldn’t work out a story problem at all. In fact, that was so discouraging, the author finally decided that her story was completely unworkable–that is, until yesterday, when all of us in the brainstorming group got an email that announced she’d come up with the answer. Of course, it was always there. Right in front of our eyes. But we were too focused on the minutia of plotting to see it.

That, too, is a lesson to be learned.

In addition to our traditional brainstorming sessions, we also spent some time each evening doing tarot readings for our characters. This is my favorite part of brainstorming! Writers are so wonderfully intuitive and so incredibly creative. Give the same tarot card to any one of them and you’ll get five different readings, each valid and filled with insight. It is truly a collaborative and awe-inspiring experience. And we did a lot of laughing, too.

In fact, the only complaint I have about brainstorming is that I have to wait another year to meet with my group again.

How about you other writers out there? Do you have a trusted group where you can bounce your thoughts and explore ideas, no matter how goofy they may seem?

I, for one, am grateful that I do!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Real love - will you read?

Harlequin has just announced new line of reality based romance stories. The books will be based on real couples and how they met and fell in love. Harlequin will pair the couples with a writer who will pen "their story."

Naturally, there will be no paranormals in the mix, but despite that obvious drawback, I find the whole idea fascinating.

Who doesn't love the idea of real life happily ever after? Or do you think the reality of romance will spoil the fantasy?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Art of Diddling

Did-dle: To waste time; dawdle

Last week I participated in an online interview over at Amberkatze's Book Blog (Angie's there this week!), and one of the questions was-"what's my routine?" I paused for a moment and thought about it then had to confess that a lot of it involves "diddling." Yes, as I've said before, I'm a master diddler! After I 'fessed up to that, my next thought was "why?" Like everyone else, it's not like I don't have enough to do...I'm working on two short stories and a manuscript; I'm short staffed at my day job and working six days a week while we go through the hiring process; in addition to some major "book" events, I've a couple of speaking engagements coming up and really should be preparing for them; I've a couple of more blog interviews on the horizon... Well, you get the picture!

So why am I wasting time...dawdling...when my plate is so full? Here's what I decided...it's avoidance!!! If I diddle around enough then I don't have to think about all the things I should be doing. How's this working for me??? Umm...not so good! My diddling only puts me that much farther behind. My only hope at this point is to avoid that which I like to diddle with. And it can be summed up in one word...the Internet!!!

Here's my top five ways to horse around on the Internet:

1. Mafia Wars-this fall I became absolutely obsessed with this Facebook game! I'd play for hours!! (However since I was off work for four weeks, I got over it and haven't played for a long time...and to be honest...kind of scared to go back...a little worried that I'll get hooked again! *g*)

2. Websites linked to Infomercials. I'll see "just" the product I need on TV then check out their websites. I read all the product reviews, research the product on other websites, then wind up not buying it because it most likely doesn't live up to its claims.

3. Weather reports. This winter has been awful!! I swear...we've had some type of storm every week since the beginning of December! So now I check out the forecast, look at the maps, read the ten day forecast-all the time gnashing my teeth that Spring seems so far away.

4. Emailing friends. Someone once told me that emails are supposed to be direct and to the point. Well, mine aren't!! If I ever complied all the emails that I've written to my writer buddies, I'm sure it would be the length of a novel!!

5. And last but not least, useless research. I've always been a curious sort of person, and when I see some obscure fact in a documentary, in a movie, etc., I must know more about it! I'll look it up on the Internet and read every stinking thing written about the subject! These facts never come up in conversation; nobody but me really cares about it; and I'll probably never use the information in a book, but what can I say??? Enquiring minds want to know!!!

That's my list-how about you? Do you have any favorite ways to diddle???

That's it for this week-everyone take care and see you next Thursday!!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fictionalizing Real People, With Guest, Kate Carlisle


A lifelong love of old books and an appreciation of the art of bookbinding led New York Times bestselling author Kate Carlisle to create the Bibliophile Mysteries, featuring rare book expert Brooklyn Wainwright, whose bookbinding and restoration skills invariably uncover old secrets, treachery and murder. Kate is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She loves to drink good wine and watch other people cook.


In Scotland and around the world, January 25th was Burns Night. Copious amounts of whiskey are required, but it’s not called “Burns Night” because of the way the whiskey burns your throat. No, it’s named for the man to whom the glasses are raised: the poet Robert Burns. Rabbie Burns was born on that day in 1759 and, in a short 37-year life, he became a Scottish icon. The ploughman’s poet.

We did Burns Night up big in the Carlisle household. We followed almost all of the traditions. We recited our favorite Burns poems, ate cock-a-leekie soup, and toasted the lassies (which would be me, as I’m the only lassie in our house.) One tradition, we neglected. Call me squeamish, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat haggis. Sorry, Rabbie! I’m a bitter disappointment to my Scottish forebears.

I have always been intrigued by Robert Burns and the passion he inspires in the Scots. They are very protective of their Rabbie. He was a man of the people, an everyman who rose to esteem in the eyes of laborers and aristocrats because he could turn a phrase. He worked his father’s fields and then took the time to write an ode to a mouse whose nest he disturbed. Randy Rabbie wrote many a poem to the women he encountered. He even wrote a poem called ‘The Fornicator.’

You can see why I find him so fascinating.

I’m not alone. 250 years later, the Freemasons of the Robert Burns Society consider it their mission to uphold the poet’s good name.

Rich fodder for a fiction writer’s imagination. And I’m all about the fodder. My latest book, If Books Could Kill, is set in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world, in large part because of the colorful Scots. They do everything with great passion, so setting a murder mystery there felt like a natural fit. Plus, there’s the whole city-under-a-city mystique. I once visited a modern-day pub that was built right on top of an ancient pub, and the bartender gave us an underground tour. I still get chills when I think of that dark, spooky place.

At the center of my mystery is a rumor about Robert Burns, himself. An 18th Century sex scandal that 21st Century Scots are desperate to squelch, at any cost. This scandal is completely fictional, but is based on the character traits that I learned about Robert Burns during my extensive research. It was great fun to create a fictional history for a real-life character.

If I should go missing, please tell the police to question the members of the Robert Burns Society. I fully expect to be kidnapped as punishment for taking his name in vain.

What person in history intrigues you the most, and why? Would you ever dare to create fictional events in the life of a real person? What are some of your favorite books that have done just that?


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The big LOST leak

Does everyone know what tonight is? If you're a Lost fan you do. We're heading in the final season in what I think is one of the most brilliantly written shows on television. Not only do you have drama and surprise polar bears, but the characters are brilliant and deep and some are quite sexy as well.

And now something very intriguing has happened. Someone at the network leaked the first hour of the show online. Usually this means thousands of eager fans downloading and eager to watch. But the opposite has happened. Nobody wants to spoil the surprise. Fans want the whole episode, tonight, or nothing at all. That intrigues me because I think if I'd known about this a few days ago, I'd want a sneak peek. Of course I also try to find my Christmas gifts early too, so there you go.

Instead of ruining the surprise mere hours before the show is on, I've been checking out Jorge Garcia's blog (he plays Hurley on Lost), and of course the Lostpedia.

And perhaps if I post a Sawyer quote on here, I'll stop looking those up online. This is one of my favorites:
Kate: What do you want, Sawyer?
Sawyer: Freckles, I've got so many answers to that question I wouldn't even know where to start.

And so the countdown begins... Are you watching tonight?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trouble Tropes?

Hi everyone,

One of the most fun things about writing romance is torturing my characters. I'm a wicked wicked creator, and I put my characters through the bloody wringer. I like thinking of new and interesting ways to push them to the limits of their endurance.

As I read romances, I can't help but notice certain "trouble" situations come up over and over again. Here are my top three, and why I think they're so popular in our favorite genre.

#1 I'm dying! Dyyiiinggg, cough, cough, sputter.

Okay, so there are few things that are as dramatic as death. Death is the ultimate end game, and the one thing that could potentially separate our hero from our heroine forever, unless you're writing about vampires, but we'll get to that in a minute. I think it is only natural to have our characters face death on a regular basis. Heck! I almost make it a point to nearly kill my characters in every book at least once, sometimes more than once. It's okay, they can take it.

So here's my take on the nature of the near death scene in Romance. The purpose of the scene is to make the surviving half of the duo face how they would feel if they really lost this person. That can be potent. Facing death is a great way to make a reluctant character finally admit what they're really feeling before it is too late.

Unfortunately, because they are so powerful, be careful when writing a death scene that it doesn't become a trope. How many times in a Historical Romance have you seen someone fall prey to a fever? Let me think. Wait, I've run out of fingers. You get my point. If you're going to nearly off someone, just be sure to mix it up a little, then really punch us in the gut. And for the love of butter, will everyone lay off the "willow bark" cure for the fever please? I'm a little tired of that one.

#2 We've got you surrounded.

So, our strong and independent heroine comes out of a club and has to enter the dead end alley, complete with garbage, and the occasional rat. Guess who she meets? I'm betting it's not the Easter Bunny.

Or maybe it is highwaymen around the coach, a hoarde of vampires around the ancient stone circle of whatever, you get the idea. There's nothing scarier than being trapped. And nothing more heroic than the lone hero (and sometimes heroine) either fighting their way out or fighting their way in. Either way, they get to take out a whole group of nasty thugs, save the day, and prove their heroicness. Awesome.

Obviously the dangers of this trouble trope are having the victim come off as TSTL for getting surrounded to begin with, or the baddies coming off as computer generated thugs in a video game.

#3 I could use a good nap...

Kidnap that is... Again, there's nothing more fun than having one of our characters stolen, because of course the other has to go find her and save the day. Here's my question.

Has the guy ever been kidnapped? Has the girl ever rescued him? Hmmmm, that stirs up some fun thoughts.

Now I know for a fact, I've included all three of these situations in my books. What can I say, they're intense. So how do we keep trouble in a story from becoming formulaic?

How do we keep it as terrifying for the reader as it is for our character?

And what do you think of trouble tropes? How many more are out there?

Happy reading everyone!

Jess