Friday, June 24, 2011

It's finally here!!!


I am so excited! After six months of waiting, TOUCH IF YOU DARE, the second book in my Soulfire series, is coming out on Tuesday! Hooray! Below is a short excerpt for a sneak peek before it hits the shelves. Enjoy!

Reina leapt out in the street in front of Jarvis and slammed her hands down on the hood. As she knew he would, he jammed on the brakes in time to avoid crushing her, then he gestured for her to get off his SUV. 
"I accept your offer," she shouted.
Jarvis checked the rearview mirror, then shifted into reverse. What? He was bailing on her? She raced around to the side and yanked open the passenger door. "Wait--"
"Back off." He shifted back into drive.
He was actually going to take off without her? No way! She grabbed the door handle and swung herself into the truck just as he peeled out into the street.
He stopped the vehicle. "Get out."
She wedged her body into the plush leather seat. "No. You made an offer and I accepted it."
"It's rescinded."
"Why?" She slammed the door shut, grabbed the seatbelt and snapped it closed. She must be losing her mind. Locking herself in a car with a man who terrified her? Brilliant move, truly brilliant. But at the same time, it felt kind of good to stand up for herself, to grab onto hope and refuse to let go. She hadn't had real hope in a long time, and the idea of Jarvis adding his resources to her battle was desperately appealing.
Jarvis took his sunglasses off the glistening dash and slapped them onto his face. "Out."
"Why? You asked for my help--"
"You were a poor choice." He gripped the steering wheel, and still didn't look at her. The air inside the truck was getting heavy and thick, like it was a hot humid August day, but it was May and only fifty degrees.
Reina rolled down the window. "If you want help with Death, I'm your only choice." Okay, twilight zone moment here. What was up with her trying to convince Mr. Scary Guy to help her, after he'd offered and she'd said no?
"We always have more than one choice." His voice was low. "If you open your mind, there are always an infinity of possibilities."
"Not for me." She touched his arm, and he jerked away from her, nearly crawling out the window. Wow. Talk about a one-eighty. Last time, he hadn't moved away at all. Had she developed some horrific communicable disease in the last three minutes? "You said you could help me. I don't have any other choices. You think I want to work with you and risk my boss firing me?  If I had any other options I would!"
Slowly, Jarvis turned his head to look at her. She couldn't see his eyes behind his shades, but she still shivered. His jaw was rigid, and there was a lethal energy rolling off him. With deliberate slowness, he pulled his sunglasses off his face.
His blue eyes were now a bottomless, dangerous black. "Run," he said.
Oh, three cheers and a toast to that idea. Unfortunately, despite what he claimed, a girl didn't always have access to an unlimited plethora of fantastic choices. "I can't. I need your help."
"You endanger me. And yourself."
His voice had an edge that would scare even the toughest bad ass on the planet. And in case anyone was confused about the facts, she was not tough. She was a softie who just wanted the people she loved to be safe. That was it. Nothing more. "How could I possibly endanger you?"
He made a snarling noise and leaned toward her so quickly she didn't have time to get away. His face was an inch from hers, so close she could smell the most delicious scent of woods and man, and she could see the muscle ticking in his jaw. The heaviness of his energy pressed at her, making her skin hot and clammy.
"I don't react well to you," he gritted out. "You edge my control."
"What did I do?" She leaned back further, aware of his chest so close to hers. Of the width of his shoulders boxing out all the space in in the front seat, trapping her, stealing her air. The door dug into her shoulders. All she had to do was pull the handle and slide away.
But she couldn't. She needed him. Saving her sister was more important that hiding from him. And plus... there was something about him crowding her that felt good. Which was insane, and her mind knew it. Except she knew it wasn't really that crazy to feel good about Jarvis. He'd saved her twice, avoiding running her over, and had offered to help. He might be stalked by hell itself, he might demand that which she couldn't afford to give, but he'd already had chances to hurt her, and he hadn't. He'd saved her, and no woman in her right mind would fail to consider that was an appealing trait in a male.
"I don't know why you unsettle me," Jarvis gritted out. "But I can't afford to go over the line right now." He shook his head once as if to clear it. "You. Must. Leave."
There was torment in his eyes. Lines of pain around his mouth. Tension in the cords of his neck. And suddenly he didn't seem like a monster anymore. He seemed like a man in agony. "Jarvis." Before she could think about the fact that it was one of the less intelligent moves she could make, Reina laid her hand on his cheek. "I'm sorry for your pain."
He sucked in his breath, and she thought he was going to jerk away, but he didn't.
He went still under her touch. His gaze was riveted to hers, and she saw the shock on his face.
His skin was hot, as if he were burning up from fever. She moved her hand to his forehead. "Are you sick?"
He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. "Your hand is so cool," he whispered, disbelief raw in his voice.
A man who was shocked by the comfort of human touch? Well, not that she was entirely human anymore, but close enough. She put her other hand on his cheek, not afraid of him anymore. Just wanting to ease his pain, as she'd done repeatedly over the years for her sisters and mother, as they got sicker and more terrified of their future.
Jarvis needed to be touched. She could sense it in every fiber of her soul, and her spirit yearned to give him comfort. She framed his bristly face with her hands and rested her forehead against his. The position, with his face against hers, was so intimate, a connection between lovers, between soulmates who had no boundaries between them. She felt the world go still, like all the hell chasing her faded, until all that was left was the sensation of his skin against hers, of his presence wrapping around hers, of her own reaching out for him.
It was a moment of utter stillness, of peace, of having the most intimate connection with a tortured man who could protect her against the world. His skin was still burning up, but it seemed to be slightly less likely to give her third degree burns. She was easing his pain... or maybe she simply wanted to believe she could give someone relief from the hell that stalked him, after a lifetime of failing to succeed to save anyone. It didn't matter whether it was real or not. In this moment, it was a gift of peace that she would never let go. "This feels good," she whispered. "I--"
"Shit!" Jarvis jerked back suddenly, out of her grasp. His hand went to his sword, and before she'd even moved, he had the tip of it at her throat.
Well, excellent. That was exactly the feel-good kind of feedback she'd been jonesing for.
*Touch if You Dare, coming June 28, 2011 to a store near you (and all your online retailers).* Run, don't walk, to your nearest store so you can hunker down with Jarvis Swain, the Guardian of Hate, as he finds true love with Death's oh-so-charming and delectably determined assistant, Reina Fleming.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

DucKon Report


I had a fantastic time at DucKon!!! (And yes, I had everything I wanted tucked away in my suitcase—I’m sure much to the dismay of the poor hotel employee who had to heft that sucker in and out of the back of my Jeep!) My publisher had very kindly sent a box of advanced reading copies for me to distribute and it was great fun handing them out to various attendees. (Initial response from a reader who’d read one of the arc’s over the weekend…a big thumbs up. Thank goodness!!) The panels were fun and it was interesting to hear the other panelists’ thoughts on the same question. The DucKon organizers were gracious and very helpful. And as always, it was great meeting and talking to readers.

But here’s the other thing that makes these conferences so much fun—I get to know other authors whom I’d not previously met. I went into this conference knowing only my good bud, Stephen Zimmer, and I knew he’d be busy ramrodding the writers’ track program. I couldn’t help but wonder if, after my panels, I’d wind up in my room, counting the ice cubes. Not the case at all—I had a great time hanging out between panels with Jackie Gamber and her husband, Dan; Michael Williams and his lovely wife, Rhonda; John Everson. Even though we all have come to this “writing gig” from different perspectives, it was wonderful spending time with them, sharing tales of time in the trenches, listening to their opinions concerning where this crazy world of publishing might be headed, and learning about how they promote their books. It was like just add water (okay, maybe a couple of margarita’s instead of the water), stir, and voila…instant friendship! And yes, these people are just as nice one on one as they appear to be when serving on a panel! I came away from the whole experience inspired and excited—ready to tackle my projects with renewed vigor.

Here’s the best part—most of them are attending Fandom Fest in Louisville, KY next month, so I’ll have the chance to see them again! It’s going to be like “old home week”!

That’s it for this week—take care and have a good one!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Talking, Listening, and Really Hearing

I must have looked frustrated when my son walked into my office one day last week. He found me staring at my computer screen and the manuscript open on it. "Just kill them all," he said. "And get it over with."

I explained how that was not an option. Especially considering that this was book #2 in the Button Box mystery series that premiers in September. I need these people–some of them, anyway–for at least one more book that’s already contracted, and hopefully, more.

"So what’s the problem?" he asked, plunking down on the step stool I use to cover Perry the Canary whose singing keeps me company while I work. "Tell me."

A mighty generous offer from a 25-year-old who works the night shift at a local microbrewery and who had just returned home after a long eight hours of doing whatever it is brewers do. I was skeptical, but I started talking.

See, I was nearing the end of "Kill Button," and what I’d realized in a moment of clarity a few days earlier is that especially at the end, mysteries are harder to write than anything else I’ve ever done. (And believe me when I say I’ve written in a whole bunch of genres.) The trouble with mysteries is that there at the end, all those loose ends the author’s been dangling throughout the book need to be gathered and dealt with. The biggest problem I was having, I realized as I talked through my quandary, was figuring out the logic of the math.

How many sets of phony buttons were there?

How many buyers had agreed to purchase them?

These seem like simple questions, but with almost 300 pages already written, the details were getting lost in the fog and every time I considered them, I hit a brick wall.

While we talked, I made notes, and I finally got the whole number thing worked out. Four sets of buttons. Four buyers. I wrote it on a notepad in great, big letters and set it in front of my computer so I wouldn’t forget as I did my final edits.

And while I was talking, I realized the number of buttons and buyers wasn’t my problem to begin with. In setting up the story (way back in chapter 4), I’d mentioned off hand that something was supposed to happen on Tuesday morning. But after talking out my plot with David, explaining who the bad guy was, how the victim had been killed, how my heroine was going to expose the murderer, I realized that all my problems stemmed from that Tuesday morning. The victim was already dead by Tuesday morning. What I said was supposed to happen, couldn’t.

It was a small thing, sure, but somewhere in my mind, after I wrote it, it was–at least to me–set in stone. And it was stopping me. Big Time. My subconscious knew that, and it was telling me that there was a problem that needed to be worked out before my heroine could point a finger and name the killer.

All it took to figure it out was the chance to talk to it out and for that, I’m grateful for the help of my sleepy son. No, I didn’t need to kill them all. Thank goodness! I only needed talk, then stop and really listen, and in the quiet, hear the message my subconscious was sending.


Next Wednesday, I’ll be visiting Lily Dale, New York, the largest Spiritualist community in the world. I’m not taking my computer so I won’t be checking in. I promise a full report on Lily Dale the week after! Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, June 20, 2011

In Case of Emergency Bake Banana Bread

Happy Belated Father's Day! We had a great time at Chez Madison. I made a hot breakfast for the husband and the kids managed to carry the food to him without making scrambled eggs art on the floor. I was mighty proud!

After cleaning/hiding any bodies and cramming toys into random corners, I made my husband's favorite dinner. While I made dinner, I noticed that we had two bunches of bananas that hadn't been eaten. Those poor things needed a home and I felt more than obligated to take each of them and make two homemade loaves of banana bread. Since I only had two bread pans, and plenty of banana bread left to be made (I had a lot of bananas...), I took a cookie tray for Valentine's Day cookies and pour banana bread into those. (Yup, I guess I made banana bread-bites-not-cookies-not-muffins.) Hey, in case of emergency use what you got. They came out great. I had to use a spoon to scoop them out of the mold, but that didn't stop my kids or husband from scarfing them down. I guess that half heart banana bread-bites-not-quite-cookies-not-muffins worked out great! ;)

I got my recipe from AllRecipes.com a few years ago and I remixed it a little bit. I love it and it never lasts long at my house!

SUPER MOIST CINNAMONY BANANA BREAD RECIPE

2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup bananas mashed

I preheat the oven at 325 F. Since I'm a horrible baker, I will admit that I don't really had a particular order that I mix the ingredients. I add them all into the bowl, mix them together well. Then I add a bit of vegetable oil to the pans to help the bread not stick. Then I add half the bowl's contents to one pan and then the other. I cook them for an hour. To test to make sure they are done, I stick in a butter knife. If it comes out clean, I'm good to go.

When it's done, I continue the sugar high by sprinkling a bit of nutmeg and sugar on top of each loaf.

So did you have any plans for Father's Day? Any baking involved? :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Crash

**Insider tip: Less than three weeks until TOUCH IF YOU DARE hits the shelves! Read thru to end for info on a book giveway!**




As you all know, I had a most amazing experience the last two months writing a book for fun in seventeen days. The book, Dawn at Birch Crossing, was magic when I was writing it and editing it, and it was this surreal, effortless experience of creation and beauty. Early feedback from a few readers suggests that Birch Crossing is every bit as special as I thought it was, and I'm over the moon! 

Except for the fact that real life is back.  

See, I've been on this total high for two months, but once I turned in Dawn at Birch Crossing to my agent and it was time to start something new, I've been totally unable to come up with a single idea for a new series. I'm utterly stymied. My self-confidence is down, I can't concentrate, I write 2k words of brainstorming and I feel like there's not a single useable concept on that page. Isn't that crazy? I just wrote the most amazing book of my career, and now I feel like I'm in some deep hole and I can't get out of it. No idea I'm coming up with can match the beauty and perfection of Dawn at Birch Crossing. 

So, I sat back and thought about it. How was I going to re-up my mojo? I decided I need to look back at how I came up with the idea for Birch Crossing, and then recreate that process (easy, right)? So I went into my files and found my very first brainstorming document for Birch Crossing, and I started reading it to see how I tapped into such brilliance. As I started reading it, I had some very interesting realizations: 

1)    Fact #1: That first brainstorming document had many ideas that were absolutely NOTHING like what I ended up using in the book.

a.     Lesson #1: Even when I created that amazing book, the great ideas didn't jump into focus at the start. It took time for Birch Crossing to gel, and I had to sift through a whole lot of ideas and a lot of different directions before it came together.

b.    Takeaway #1: Since I had lots of false starts with the magical book, then clearly, it must be okay to come up with lots of rejected ideas for this one. Phew!  

2)    Fact #2: Every page or so, in the middle of my brainstorm, I had started to get frustrated with my lack of progress. Instead staying frustrated, I had immediately shifted my stream of consciousness brainstorming into a more positive direction, resulting in such random sentences as this (emphasis added for clarification):

a.     Example #1: "What if he bought HER business, and he is funding HER business and it's all wrong? There is no pressure with this. It is just fun. And it will be really nice when I get that new table for my laptop. I am really looking forward to it. It sounds just perfect! I am so happy and it sounds great! I would love it if they shipped it really soon b/c it is sort of difficult for me to write easily on my lap with my extra keyboard, but this will be beautiful. I am very happy about this table and I look forward to it, esp since I have recently discovered that at night, I really like working on the couch. It feels really peaceful and lovely."

b.    Lesson #2: Clearly, I was getting frustrated, and realized it. My first attempt to chill out was to tell myself there was no pressure to come up with a good idea. Apparently, that didn't work, because I then went on to focus my mind on something I was happy about, even though it had nothing to do with brainstorming. It took another three paragraphs of random feel-good-ness thoughts, and then all of a sudden, the notes shifted back into brainstorming again, and they were good ideas and positive energy.

c.     Takeaway #2: When I am attempting something challenging, the most important thing I can do for myself is to maintain a positive frame of mind, no matter what it takes to get me there, and even if it means taking a break from actually working on the task at hand. I liked my approach of shifting the focus of my writing instead of getting up from the computer, because once my mind was clear, it was effortless and natural to simply slide back into brainstorming mode.

3)    Fact #3: I broke my brainstorming into different documents, but by the time I finished all my brainstorming, I had NINETY-SEVEN pages of notes (single spaced, mind you). That's how long it took this amazing, marvelous, effortless story to come together before I launched into my 17 day writing glory. Hmm…

                                              i.     Lesson #3: What felt effortless by the time I was writing, and what felt effortless even in the brainstorming stage, actually took a lot of effort and sifting of ideas.

                                            ii.     Takeaway #3: BE PATIENT! Even though my only memory (at this point) of my last book, is that effortless gallivant through the actual writing, it had actually taken a lot of patient work to get the story to gel before the words began to flow. So, that means, I should allow for the possibility that it will take time for my ideas to come together on this one, and that sifting through lots of ideas is simply part of my process. The fact that it is taking time for the ideas to gel doesn't mean that I can't do it, or that it won't work.

My final conclusion? I need to enjoy the ride, bask in every idea as it comes, regardless of whether I keep it or not, because it's in that patient, magical process of brainstorming that the best ideas find each other, bond and begin to glow.  Lesson learned. And now I'm off to brainstorm one more time, and this time, there is no more pressure...

P.S. Less than three weeks until TOUCH IF YOU DARE comes out! I'm giving away ARCs on Twitter this week and next so come visit me at stephanierowe2 and win your copy!  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

DucKon

It’s been a busy week! I’ve been getting ready to head out tomorrow for Schaumburg, Illinois and DucKon, a science fiction convention. It’s going to be great fun and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s wonderful having the opportunity to catch up on what’s happening with some of my “author buds” and chatting with readers, but I am going to be tired by the time I get home Monday.

Here’s why—I’m going to be on about seven panels over the course of the weekend and I take that responsibility seriously. The people who will be listening to these panels have not only spent good money to come to this conference, but they’re choosing to spend part of their conference time with me. That’s a big honor and I don’t want to let them down. I’d hate it if any of them walked away thinking it was a waste of their time or their money!

So off I go at around 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, armed with 120 bookmarks, a suitcase weighing sixty pounds (I don’t believe in traveling light…God forbid I’d want a specific pair of shoes or top only to find I’d left them at home!!!), and a head spinning about ways I can do my part to make sure everyone has a good time!!

I’ll let you know how it went next week!!

Best,
Shirley

P.S.
If you want to hear more about this subject, we touched on it during an interview I had with Gail Z. Martin on The Ghost in the Machine podcast.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Rejection Game

I have a new agent. The who and the what and the how and the why are issues for another blog. For today, what matters is that my new agent asked for copies of my most recent contracts.

"That way," she said, "when you get a new contract, I can compare them."

The contract for the button mystery series that will premier in September? I had it at my fingertips. My last contract for books in the Pepper Martin series? Not so much. That contract is a few years old and obviously, I’d kept it.

If only I knew where!

What resulted was a search through my filing cabinet (tucked away in a closet, which tells you how often I use it), and while I was doing that, I figured I might as well clean things out and get rid of the paper that’s been piling up around here for the almost twenty years since my first book was published.

Get rid of papers, I did. All those letters from editorial assistants that said things like, "Enclosed are your page proofs." All those little hand-written notes I’d jotted down at libraries and museums. Things like "Bustles first worn in 1869." Not only am I not writing historicals at the moment, but these days if I need that kind of research, there’s always the Internet.

I found plenty of rejection letters, too. But one in particular stood out. It’s addressed to a former agent and dated 1997. It’s from an editor at a major publishing house, and since I don’t know if she’s still there/still editing/still alive, I won’t name names. I will tell you that the letter starts off like this:

Dear insert name of agent here:

Thanks so much for submitting the proposal for insert the name of my proposal here–and forgive my taking almost a year to respond.

Almost a year! Really? One look at that old letter brought what is sometimes the madness of publishing crashing down on me. Almost a year. And I want to ask that maybe-long-gone editor, "Do you think this is a hobby? That I don’t have bills to pay and (at the time, anyway) kids to put through college? Do you really think it’s polite–not to mention good business–to sit on a published writer’s proposal for almost a year?"

Of course, me complaining about what’s long since happened isn’t going to change anything. Publishing is publishing and sometimes, the wheels grind slowly. I can say I got a chuckle out of the rest of the rejection, though. At that point, I’d already published 7 YA horror books and this was a proposal for another trilogy. The editor’s reason for rejecting it?

"I’m not interested in acquiring original YA horror, because I feel the market is pretty much saturated."

Maybe next time, this particular editor should wait more than just a year to respond. Then she could have seen Harry Potter and Twilight take over the industry by a storm–and I might have sold that proposal after all!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book lovers unite!

All of us who love books have had to deal with overloaded bookshelves from time to time (or in my case: all the time). I keep hearing from the e-reader crowd, who say that electronic is the way to go. But I'm old fashioned. I love the feel, the smell, of paper books. And now I've found a great way to share the love.

There is a project called Operation Paperback. They supply novels to our troops serving overseas. These men and women are in places where it is obviously hard to find the latest book, or even a good book. I found out about it yesterday and signed up. It's really neat. You basically key in which genres you have on your shelf. The website generates the contact information for a service member who has specifically asked for those types of books. You package them up and send them via media mail.

Right now, I have three packages on the dining room table, ready to go out to service members. They contain novels that I never would have parted with otherwise. I've sure enjoyed them. But it feels good knowing these books are going to go to people who will enjoy them, readers who need the kind of pick-me-up that you get from sinking into a great story.

So if you get a chance, check out Operation Paperback. I'm sure glad I did.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Perfect Pair

I had a relaxing weekend! The rain prevented me from enjoying some time outside on the deck, but I had plenty to do inside the house. Not only did I have a few great books, but I had some silence. (For those with kids, you know silence should be something that's bottled and sold.)

I also, for the first time ever, visited Coldstone Creamery. For those of you who have visited this place and left twitching in the bliss of your sugar shock, I salute you. That was a lot of ice cream I ate and it was so so good. (For those curious to know, I had a vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup, and m&ms. And that was a tame one compared to some other ones I saw...)

Not long after my ice cream trip, I jumped back into more books. For those who don't know me, I'm a slow reader. I used to think I was fast, but then I heard how fast other people read and then I realized molasses and I have a lot in common. You can pat the bottom of the bottle all you want--but the syrup will still come out slow and steady.

I think part of the reason why it takes me so long to read is that I pick up books that aren't the "books" I prefer to read. For me, a good book is like a pair of jeans. They need to:

1. Fits me just right.
2. Make me feel good about them.
3. Make me feel satisfied that my purchase was worth it.
4. They are the kind of material I'm comfortable with.
5. (Bonus points if they are on the sale rack.)

I've picked up books, like jeans, and then I try them on. I try to cram my legs into them. (Struggling with chapter 1) Suck in my stomach to try to button them (I thought I could read a historical drama set in some-foreign-imaginary-land-where-hero-must-save-heroine-from herself but I just can't...). And then finally I stick the jeans into my closet where they'll sit there for months on end. (Just like that poor book I tried to read.)

The happy ending to my post is that there are jeans out there for me, just like a perfect pair of jeans. So don't feel bad about that book that you just couldn't finish. Like me, you just have to keep searching and keep trying them, cause sooner or later you'll find the perfect pair (book) on the rack (shelf) just waiting for me to take them home.

Have you read a book lately that was a perfect fit for you? Please share. I just finally finished MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins and now I'm on the hunt for another good book!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Heroes


Let’s talk about guys— the ones who live between the covers…book covers that is. Not real flesh and blood guys who sometimes leave their socks lying around and the seat of the toilet up, but the heroes who live on in our imagination. It has come to my attention that even after eight books, I have a bit of a problem creating these men. To paraphrase my agent, I do “creepy, weird” better than “nice, normal.” Scary to think what a psychologist might make of this, but there it is.

And, looking back, I realize this is not a new situation. One of the worst reviews I’ve ever received on Amazon called “Rick” in WITCH WAY TO MURDER a stalker. (And here I thought he was just being persistent!) In the first draft of LOVE LIES BLEEDING and the new “Jess McConkey” book proposal, both my agent and my editor felt that the protagonists’ love interests were such jerks in the beginning that the readers wouldn’t understand why they (the protagonists) wouldn’t just kick them to the curb. Comments, like the preceeding ones on three out of a potential of nine books, tell me that I need to take a long, hard look at my male characters.

So I’m starting the process here on “Something Wicked”—I’d love to know what you think makes a good hero? Is it the strong, silent type? The bad boy turned good? What makes them multidimensional for you instead of nothing more than a cardboard cut-out?

I’ll look forward to reading your comments! Oh, and btw—me and my signs—as I was writing this blog and listening to random play on the Pandora radio station, two songs came on back to back. The first one…”I Need a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler, and the second…the theme from “Thunderdome”, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” by Tina Turner. Ha!! Is that ironic or what!

Have a great Thursday!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Writer's Life

My son and his girlfriend were involved in a car vs. semi accident a couple weeks ago. She was driving, and while the good news is that neither of the kids was hurt, her car was totaled. Last week, she asked me if I would drive her over to the rental car place about twenty minutes away so she could pick up the loaner she’ll use until she replaces her vehicle.

Now, I need to make this clear from the start–I don’t mind helping out. She’s a nice young lady and hey, my schedule is nothing if not flexible. But that day as I was driving back from Enterprise (news here, folks they DON’T pick you up and get you going, not without taking you back to the office to file paperwork, something this young lady who works many, many hours didn’t have time to do), I made a discovery.

Writers are spoiled.

Oh sure, there are deadlines and blogs to write, the occasional book signing or library appearance. But on the whole, day to day, a writer is her (or his) own bosses, and the fact is, I for one am ridiculously bound up with this notion.

Get moving and get out of the house before nine to get over to Enterprise? Without finishing my first cup of tea?

Not sit on the back porch, easing into a morning graced by the gurgling of the fountain in my fairy garden?

Schedule? Someone expects me to have a schedule?

That ride back from the rental car company made me realize how truly lucky I am. Sure, like all writers (and everyone who’s been in a job long enough to think of it as a job), there are days I can be plenty crabby about what I do for a living. But on the whole, I’ve got it good. There’s that gurgling fountain, after all, the fairy garden in the morning lights, and that second cup of tea. Consumed at leisure, slippered feet up.

This Saturday, June 11, is the kick-off for the annual adult summer reading program at the Reed Memorial Library in Ravenna, Ohio. I’ll be on hand at 2:30 to talk books and publishing and get things off to a rollicking start. If you’re in the area, stop by:


167 East Main Street

Ravenna, OH 44266

Phone: (330) 296-2827

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Fugitive

Ah, see? Shawntelle's post is all about using social media to further books and reading. I'm currently using social media to help find a hamster. To be fair, I'm not anti-literature. I'm just desperate.

A certain dwarf hamster named Molly is quite the celebrity around our house. The kids make her custom meals (sliced carrots with a sprinkle of grape juice, anyone?). She has birthday parties. And she recently, ahem, passed away. In a moment of "oh no," I decided to conceal this fact from the kids. They're young and I figured they didn't need this complication in their lives, not at ages 4 and 7 at least.

So, in the classic cover up, I headed to PetsMart with our deceased friend. It must happen often because the woman at PetsMart was not at all surprised to see me in the rodent aisle, holding a small shoe box. We compared the former hamster to the hamsters for sale and found an almost perfect match.

I replaced Molly and soon after, the kids marveled at how quick and spry she had become. End of story. I thought. Well, it turns out that the younger hamsters like to climb. Molly had a small hole at the top of her cage, nothing she could squeeze through or even climb to reach. She was content and a little chunky after all the custom hamster food. Molly 2 did not have this problem.

Yesterday morning, we went in to feed Molly 2 and she was gone. Finito. Nowhere in sight.

Now I really should be looking over the re-releases for the accidental demon slayer series. Or maybe I should be writing the next Monster MASH book. Instead, I'm all over social media, finding new ways to trap escaped hamsters. Above is a picture of a contraption I rigged last night. It's a slick trash can with peanut butter in the bottom. The idea is the hamster climbs the books, goes in for the peanut butter and can't climb out. It didn't work. Our hamster is either too dumb to find the food or too smart to be fooled.

We'll get her, though. Like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive: Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for one day. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is .0000004 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of the entire upstairs of the house. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every toy box, shoe box, storage box, book box and crayon box in that area. Double check the corners. Checkpoints go up at the top of the stairs. Your fugitive's name is Molly the hamster. Go get her.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Say Anything! Social Media and Authors

It's summer time! Quite warm and beautiful here in Saint Louis. My children are off from school for the summer and now we have the activity filled days ahead while I'm writing my second book, KEPT. In a few weeks, I'll be escaping, I mean heading to New York City for the Romance Writers of America National Conference. It will be my first time in New York so I'm so excited.

This past weekend, I was one of three speakers for an event held by the Saint Louis Author's Guild. We talked about how authors can use their websites and social media like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to reach out to our audience. It was a blast! I was the technical part of the demonstration and I won't go into details since you most likely prefer to stay awake right now. In a nutshell, there are some really cool ways to make your blog or website do the work for you if you have the right tools. I've posted my presentation to my website if you'd like to see it. (PDF file)

For me, Twitter and Facebook is a great way for me to learn about other writers. What are they currently working on? What events are they attending? Can I be a fan girl and make to a particular signing? That kind of thing. But it's also an opportunity for the author to say anything. Nothing crazy, mind you, but a chance for me to see their personal side. It's interesting for me to see their hobbies, links they post to places where they love to shop. (And so of the links have been pure evil to see the pretty clothes...) They also post when they finish a book (yay!) or when they've been run over by their current deadline (ouch!). All in all, it's like connecting with a good friend.

So here's my list of some of my favorite authors that I love to follow on Twitter. Why? They let me know which book they're working on. What dish they're cooking for dinner. It's a fun way to distract me from the sad thing I'm cooking for dinner... (And believe me, I'm not telling Twitter about my oh-so-exciting Hamburger Helper nights...) ;)

Laurell K. Hamilton
- LKHamilton
Yasmine Galenorn - YasmineGalenorn
Alyssa Day - alyssa_day
Jackie Kessler - JackieKessler
Michelle Rowen - michellerowen
Anne Rice - annericeauthor

And that's just a sample of the people that I check out. There are so many more! Especially when they retweet something from someone they follow!

And hey, why not check out the Wicked Authors bloggers on Twitter as well. I promise to be snarky and only talk about the nights I do something snazzy like take over the world or conquer the planet Mars.

Angie Fox
- angiefoxauthor
Shawntelle Madison
- shawntelle
Stephanie Rowe - StephanieT1

You can find Shirley on Facebook and Casey as well! Connect with them there.

Are you on Twitter or Facebook? Do you have some favorite authors who give you a good laugh once in a while? Please share!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Triumphant

Where has Stephanie been the last two weeks? Well, I could say that it was because I was out of town last weekend and I forgot to pre-post, which would be true. I could say that I was bearing down on a Friday afternoon deadline yesterday, and didn't have time to shower, let alone post, which would be true.  

But those are only semi-truths. The real truth is that something really amazing was happening for me, and I simply couldn't put my brain anywhere else. 

See, here's the little story. I sold my first book in 2004, and I've sold 25 or so since then. I've written great books and had fun, but underneath it all, it's been tough. I have been striving to become better, better, better, for the writing to become easier, for magic to happen. I was working hard at writing, but I knew that I wasn't there yet. That they had to be something more. I just wasn't tapping into it. 

In January, I took a break from my contracted WIP to write a charming middle grade girl adventure which I adored. It was my first glimpse of writing for the pure joy of it, and it was lovely to write without worrying about selling.  

But then I went back to the contracted book, the grind, trying to make it work and trying to make it right. When I finished it, I had an empty month. A bunch of my personal obligations were over, I was injured and I was facing long days of freedom. So, I decided to write a book for myself. That is when magic happened. The book, the characters, the story, the town, it all came alive for me.  

It took me 17 days to write the book, whereas usually it takes me a few months. I've then spent the last month editing it and watching it bloom as the finishing touches brought it to life. When I finished, I knew that I had created one of those books that authors dream of writing. The one that is literally magic, that will take flight, that will create a life and spirit of its own. I am so proud of myself. The best word to describe my emotions are triumphant. I've had a really tough last three years, personally and professionally, which makes the joy of this book that much more special. 

Thursday morning, my wonderful amazing beta reader (I love you Sharon!) finished my book and sent me this note: "“Holy Feck, that story was m-a-g-i-c-a-l! hands down one of the best romances I have read. I can’t wait till it comes out and I can tell the world about it." And with that moment, I knew that everything I felt about that book was true. It was every bit as beautiful as I felt it was I work up at 4:30 Friday morning and couldn't go back to sleep because I was so excited about finishing the book and sending it to my agent.  

Yesterday afternoon, I sent it off to my agent. She knows I was working on something, but she has no idea what to expect. It's unlike anything I've ever written, and I think she will be blown away. I'm so excited to put this book out into the world. I am so proud of the journey that got me there. I am so grateful for all the struggle I endured, because without being forced to regroup and dig in, I never would have pushed myself to this level. 

So, this morning, I sit here, exhausted from my journey of immersing my soul into this book for two months, but I also sit here with this huge sense of rightness filling me. Because this book has and will continue to change the course of my life. It is that kind of book. 

Today is a beautiful, beautiful day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Toast (or Two or Three) to Those Long Gone



It’s no secret that I love old cemeteries. After all, it was in a cemetery that I originally got the idea for my Pepper Martin mysteries. As to why I was in that cemetery in the first place . . . .well, like I said, I love ‘em. I love the history that’s evident in every inch of an old cemetery. I love the art, and the architecture, and the stories that automatically start spinning in my brain when I read names and dates on a family monument, or see a single, small marker set off from the rest and begin to wonder who and what and why.




So if I tell you I spent one day of my Memorial Day weekend in a cemetery, it should come as no surprise. But if I told you I have relatives who are not as enamored of cemeteries as I am who came along for the ride, cheese and crackers, long-dead ancestors, and oh yes, Bailey’s shots . . .




Ah, now we have a story!




It started last fall when some of my husband’s cousins, visiting from Montana, talked about getting a family reunion together for 2012. Usually not one to open my mouth without thinking, I opened my mouth without thinking. (This might have had something to do with the quantities of wine that were being consumed at the time.) "I," I announced, "will research family history."
And research I did. What I discovered along the way is that I love digging into family history, even a family that is mine only through marriage. So far, I’ve uncovered (figuratively speaking, of course!) David’s family back to the great-great grandparents who arrived from Germany in the 1840s. And this Memorial Day, I convinced the family to go visit them.




There were seven of us on the adventure. Seven. That’s me, my husband who tolerates my affinity for graveyards, and five others who (to coin a phrase) wouldn’t usually be caught dead in a cemetery. We began by visiting the cemetery where their grandfather, his first wife, and their great-grandparents are buried. To help things go smoother, I prepared family trees for everyone, and I was glad I did. It helped explain relationships and kept who was who straight, especially when we ran into (another turn of phrase, but since I write the Pepper Martin books, it’s important to make that clear), great-great uncles, aunts and other assorted relatives. We trimmed grass, left flags and potted marigolds, and drank a wee Bailey’s toast to all of them.




Then it was on to visit one set of great-great grandparents at Riverside Cemetery in Cleveland. Riverside is privately owned, a well-cared for and beautiful burying ground full of gorgeous trees and pristine paths. I’d called ahead and the nice lady at the office had a map all ready for us. Fortunately, Charles and Wilhemina Schwendeman were easy to find, buried close to a main cemetery road. Unfortunately, though Charles’s headstone was fine, Minnie’s (as the old family documents call her) had fallen over.




Enter my husband and his brother who managed to lift the old granite stone and get it back into place. A small kindness to do for a woman who traveled from Germany to Michigan in the 1850s, then came to Cleveland when her daughter married Bernard, one of the men whose graves we’d visited at the first cemetery. Another Bailey’s shot, more marigolds left at the graves, and we were on to our last stop.




These great-great grandparents are the ones who brought my husband’s name (and my children’s) to this country. They are buried at a city-owned cemetery tucked at the back of a residential neighborhood. Odds are, most of the people in the area don’t know the cemetery is even there. Too bad it hasn’t escaped the vandals.




Headstones are toppled and broken, section and grave numbers are nearly impossible to find. While the rest of my fellow explorers went off in one direction, I headed in another and following the cemetery map (it’s not very good), I found what we were looking for, the graves of Phillip and Katharina. He was born in 1816 and lived until 1901. Think of the changes he saw in his lifetime! Another toast, more flowers.




It was an amazing day, even those non-cemetery-lovers admitted it. Sure, we had plenty of laughs, a chance to chat, and our little cheese-and-crackers picnic. But we also had a chance to pay tribute to people who left their families, their homes and their native languages behind so they could come to this country and make new lives for themselves. That took a lot of guts, and I hope those marigolds let them know how much we appreciate it.




Next year, we do the Irish side of the family. No doubt there will be more Bailey’s involved!