Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Vortex Neighborhood

If you have a corn-dar, you might want to turn it off for this post. Most who know me know I'm a bizarre contradiction of sweet and edgy, Laura Ingalls and Linkin Park, Ivory soap and body piercing, organic fruit and dark beer...well, you get the idea. So it should really come as no surprise that embedded in that sweet backstory, right beside Bob Ross, is a wee bit of Mr. Fred Rogers.

Say what you like about the man, but he could pop and lock with the best of them while delivering bite-sized portions of something we could all use a little more of: kindness. It wasn't just that he knew about the land of make-believe like I did, but each episode offered another piece of scaffolding to help children complete the only genuine project that ever matters in life: a strong sense of self.

Yesterday on YouTube, I ran across his final on-camera goodbye from the PBS set. I'd never seen it before, but I think life was waiting for just this moment for me to hear his message. In a business laden with rejection and trying to fit in to the perfect slot someone else envisioned, don't we all need to hear that we are worthy of the word "special"? Today, I did. It's a minute and a half of sweet. I hope it brings you a smile.

And if that doesn't, this might. Sure it's 1:16 shredded from your day, but for Pete Thornton's sake, it's a Mister Rogers-MacGyver hybrid. Who can't get all up into that?

AND, a super-huge thank you to Jen for mailing me a sample of Avon's Bond Girl Forever. I "lifted to experience" and immediately thought of my dollhouse when I was eight. Left field, I know. It actually smells like a wee bit of feminine kick ass-ness, in a flowery sort of way. You're awesome, Jen.

It's such a good feeling to know you're alive. It's such a happy feeling, you're growing inside and when you wake up ready to say....

What did you wake up ready to say today?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life List #12 - Crossed Off

It started as one of those weird, ritualistic things writers get caught up in: stroking the troll's belly for inspiration, only using blue pen to mark edits because red looks too much like a hemorrhage on the page, three licks-no more-on a query letter's envelope. And, no, I don't do any of the aforementioned, but I have been known to wear hemp-woven anklets for nine months on the promise of a wish granted when it finally funked out and broke off. Jamaican folklore is filled with mysterious possibilities for a writer's neurosis.

Life list #12 began as a way to exert control over my manuscript while time was passing me by: I wouldn't cut my hair until I'd finished. The end of my character's story would be the end of my locks, a liberation from the tedium of word counts and misplaced modifiers and the pinch of a wayward strand slammed in a car door. A new start. I never intended to get in touch with my inner Rapunzel.

Life happened, winter came. I finished the novel, but my reluctance to cut my hair became a symptom of my fear the novel was not truly finished. A twenty-two inch blanket to wrap myself in so the world would stay away from my pages just a little longer, just a few more weeks, to find that perfection that had eluded me.

In March, I found out I was a finalist for Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart award. The thought of two thousand people staring up at my freshly-shorn head and thinking, "Wow, she looks like a guy with that haircut," echoed in my mind as I was dress shopping. And, of course, the residual trauma from the Dorothy Hammil foisted upon me in fourth grade was ever-present. I had grand visions of an up-do worthy of the Princess of Monaco. I simply had to keep growing it, chasing an ever-warping superstition that my hair was somehow related to my writing.

Last week, I returned home. If the latest novel were any more finished, it would be book two. No impending public display loomed. No princess of anything more than superstition here. And as I was digging through my desk drawer, filing away newly-scored industry business cards, I found my life list. Crafted almost ten years ago on torn 5x7 spiral paper, green ink, I found it:

Life list #12: Donate hair

Had I remembered it was there? Yes and no. Had I remembered it once was important enough to place alongside #1? No. Could I have imagined that #1 would not be an end-something to cross off when dreams met reality-but a means to usher in all the other things I once committed to the list? Not in a million years. A catalyst to so much but still elusive.

My writing journey has been directly responsible for #7 and #11. Quite possibly #3. And now, #12. Number one is no longer a destination, a quantified and fanciful pinnacle found in some inner fairy tale. It is the path that liberates all the others.

Even Jamaican folklore can't touch that.
For more information on donating hair, visit Locks of Love or Beautiful Lengths.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Inner Bond Girl

I can't say enough wonderful things about the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. Where else can you get a pen that looks like lipstick, a cheeky babydoll t-shirt with an invitation to Deny Everything and sunglasses with a spy camera attached? Aside from the ultra-decked-out gift shop, and barring a tour of the main museum due to time constraints, I took part in quite possibly the coolest tourist-y thing I've ever done: Operation Spy, a one hour simulated mission in which I became a U.S. Intelligence Operative in the fictitious country of Khandar. Became may not be the right word. Faked, maybe? Not for lack of realism, for the interactive experience was developed by current and former agents and lifted from portions of actual intelligence files, but let's just say I didn't miss my calling in life. Thus, I give you another Vortex 10:

Top Ten Reasons Channeling My Inner Bond Girl is Futile

1. Smart aleck cracks and flip flops do not a stealth operative make.

2. The only heat I packed on the mission was a serious underarm challenge to my Degree, Ultra Clear in the close confines of a subterranean elevator. Relax, people. Clean Powder scent prevailed.

3. The learning threshold for mastering camera surveillence would have been considerably smaller had I been tracking, say, Keith Urban, for a fangirl hotel ambush, instead of a guy who looked like my first manager at a KFC when I was fifteen.

4. Aboard the covert, getaway delivery van, my stomach revisited its 10,000 foot turbulent descent in a packed DC-10 over Washington D.C. Special forces do not carry white paper bags.

5. Simulated chopper blades really do a number on long hair.

6. My urge to don the hands-free/drive-through microphone of our "tour operations officer" surfaced, not out of a desire to intensify my experience, but to channel my inner rock star.

7. The Spy Museum's version of Frohike railroaded my concentration toward unrequited Mulder fantasies. At that point, the tech officers could have whistled Zippity-Do-Da out of their you-know-whats for all I focused on that task.

8. The red and green wavy lines on the voice descrambler proved a far prettier pattern than the required merge of the two to decipher the intercepted audio signal.

9. The only lie detector question I felt compelled to ask was, "Is that a fake accent?"

10. Calibrating a do-hickey to the precise number-which could have been psi or Oprah's weight for all I understood it to be-to disengage security cameras makes no difference if you alert the entirety of the compound to your presence by stomping on a loose manhole cover.

So, 007 I am not, at least not anywhere but in the pages of my stories. But for one hour, I saved the world. How many times in life do we get to claim that?

What and where is the coolest tourist-y thing you've ever done?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Conference Redux, Part One

If I could go back in time, I would take more photos. I really would. I promised everyone and their monkey's uncle. But conferences require such copious amounts of stuff. And changing bags. And, well, there's no excuse, but to say everyone around me has always been a shutterbug and I get side stream photos from them. And, really, did you need a photo of the surly Italian waiter with the Elvis lips for the blog? In three months he'll have transcended anything captured digitally to be the perfect secondary character for my next book, anyway.

The Romance Writers of America conference in D.C. gave me enough material to coast on for a good two weeks, but for now, know I appreciate all the warm, generous support the Vortex followers gave me this past week. Yes, it's an honor to be nominated. And, yes, it's exciting to cheer whole-heartedly for the wonderful, classy authors-turned-friends who go on to win their categories. I want to extend my congratulations to humor writer Diane O'Brien Kelley who won the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements Golden Heart for her manuscript Death, Taxes and a French Manicure and gave an eloquent acceptance speech that left no doubt as to her ability to pen a great novel.

Also, congrats to frequent Vortex visitor, fellow Bond-girl, and friend Maureen McGowan, whose short story "Lost and Found" just became part of the Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance project. Actually, it is an excuse to post this great cover again. Can't wait to read it, Maureen.

This week, I'll have more post-conference bull, a Vortex 10 from the International Spy Museum and photos I've pilfered from my friends. For now, here's one of me with my roommates, who tried tirelessly to dry tears of laughter long enough to remedy my Princess Lea up-do into something that looked slightly-less awful:

(l-r: Melanie Atkins, L.A. Mitchell, June Love)

And my favorite, capturing old friends and new, BFFs in all our finery:

(front l-r: Mary Karlik, Teresa Southwick; back l-r: Angela, Sherry Davis, L.A. Mitchell)

Oh, and the only place I considered MacGyvering my way at conference was in the Ritz Carlton ladies room. Floor to ceiling stalls. Thankfully, the lock only stuck once.
First thing's first: What did I miss this week? Tell me what you're up to.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Dark Frontier

originally posted January 9, 2008

According to researchers at Harvard studying inactive portions of the mind, human beings engage in time travel. More startling than that is the idea that it is the dominant reality in the pie chart of how we spend our waking hours.

As evolved creatures, we not only have a shorter learning curve when acting based on past experiences, but are able to project ourselves into scenarios in future-time to "try on" that reality. What scientists call the "dark frontier" of our minds will take us back in full-sensory mode to the moment we touched a hot stove. Despite the fact that our bodies and minds are moving forward, one second at a time, our minds have the capacity to remember far more than a conditioned Pavlovian response. In much the same way, when we indulge in thoughts of flipping off the boss or slip into imagined scenarios of acceptance speeches for the Pulitzer, we are projecting our every emotion and setting the sensory stage to experience what it has to offer.

And the present time? The active part of our brain is triggered again by immediate sensory input. An alarm ringing. Someone walking up to your desk to ask a question. While most people profess to "live in the moment", it seems it happens far less than even they are aware of. It's not until the past or future thoughts are interrupted that we even aware time travel has taken place.

I suspect writers spend more of their day in alternate time zones than anyone else. Because we travel though life with heightened awareness of details and impressions, ready to access when we sit with pen to paper, it makes us more likely to revisit and study both significant and insignificant moments or project plot lines of our own lives for dramatic effect.

Makes for a great line, doesn't it? The next time someone walks in and catches you at your desk staring off into nothingness, tell them you're a time traveler to the dark frontier. Bet they'll think twice about interrupting again.

More about the Harvard study.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Atomic Sourballs and Time

originally posted April 29, 2007
Have you ever watched a child stare wide-eyed at the packed bins in a bulk-candy store? A visual treat for anyone, but for a child given permission to select one scoopful of any flavor or color, the decision stretches into a careful consideration of every possible variation. The battle between Aqua-colored M&Ms vs. atomic sour balls can take precedence over even the most involuntary needs and last longer than the gestation period of the candy, from corn syrup to thighs, in the permission-granting adult.

What about a frazzled mother in her child-rearing years, who when asked to volunteer, weighs her decision against the amount of time it will steal from half a dozen other commitments she can't seem to meet? Cell phones, maid services, quick car washes all buy us more time in our race to meet our daily goals.

In the golden years, decisions center around the time we have left to accomplish those goals that have somehow eluded us. The days and weeks until we can again embrace our loved ones or say goodbye to those slipping away.

As we age, time becomes an increasingly important factor in our decision making. As a child, blissfully unaware of the concept of time, minutes have no emotional pull. But each year we grow older, time becomes more of a precious commodity, bargained and traded like the cash we so freely spend to hoard more of it. Seemingly in proximity to the final moment, when for each of us, time will stand still.

How did time impact your decisions today?

Movie :: Deja-Vu

Monday, July 13, 2009

Estrogen, Unleashed

I leave tomorrow for D.C. and RWA's National Conference. Imagine almost two thousand romance writers, the industry's top editors and agents, one hotel, three bars, one hundred workshops, a 300-author book signing event that benefits literacy charities and one spectacular formal awards event very much like the Oscars. Except there's no Hugh Jackman. Or red carpet. And the paparazzi is your critique partner from twelve states away who just borrowed your clear nailpolish to avert a nylon disaster.

This year is my second time with a princess pink Golden Heart finalist ribbon. The first time around, so many strangers asked me about my book, I pitched more than Roger Clemens before his mid-career slump. The opportunities were amazing, the days inspiring (and exhausting). How many other times in a writer's career is it so decidedly optimistic? For all the rejection and years and isolated determination, that pink ribbon of possibility fuels me for whatever pothole-ridden road awaits. And it will await. It always does.

Be good to yourself and others this week. Wednesday and Friday, you'll revisit some older posts, a spectacular display of time travel, don't you think? Okay, maybe not spectacular, but a cool perk of technology, nevertheless. If you're so inclined, RWA will be updating their site as Golden Heart and Rita winners are announced or you can follow the ceremony Saturday night (8-10pm EST) via Twitter. I'll be back next week with tons of photos, including a visit to the International Spy Museum. I'm channeling my inner Bond girl, you know.

Bye for now,

Friday, July 10, 2009

Love is On the Page

Poking around upstairs today, trying to tackle my closet where The Wild Things Are, I found two ideas I'd scratched out on a canary-yellow page: something sweet to do for someone you love. I could save them for next Valentine's Day; but really, shouldn't we celebrate love at random? Get carried away by the moment and not wait? How long has it been since you've written a love note? We know we should, yet time eclipses our fanciful impulses. So before these impulses slip by and the yellow page is lost, I offer two sweet, quiet projects to spread the written love to a special person in your life:

Framed, Open Book

If you know someone who adores poetry or has a favorite book passage, why not turn it into art?
You'll need:
a hardcover book, a shadow box, a utility knife, two lengths of fishing line and a glue stick.

Step by Step:
1. Purchase a shadow box (available at craft stores) that will allow roughly a two inch margin around the opened book.
2. Remove the box's back panel and place on the table, backside facing up. Lay the book flat and open and trace around it using a pencil. Set aside.
3. Use the utility knife to poke four holes about an inch inside each corner of the traced rectangle. These will hold the fishing line and you don't want them visible.
4. Flip the panel over so the pencil marks are facing down and center the book, making sure to cover the holes you just made.
5. Cut two lengths of fishing line, each twice as long as the length of the book (top to bottom).
6. Thread the fishing line from the back through the top right corner hole you made, down along the page under the one you'd like to display and out through the bottom right corner hole. Tie the line snug in back to anchor the book's right side. Repeat with the left side.
7. Place a small amount of glue on the back of each display page and press gently to hold in place before reassembling the box.

Mirror, Mirror

Why not slip a sentiment or note of encouragement into the compact of a special woman in your life? Trace the powder puff onto card stock or a scrap of beautiful paper, cut out the circle and write your note. Circle a strip of tape on the note's back and affix it the mirror so she can remove it later.

And while I'm in the romantic mood and on the subject of love notes, here's a fun, award winning Italian short film that uses 4,500+ still photographs to tell a story. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nay, Meme Away

I don't run across too many memes that center on books. When I do, I have to play even though no one tagged me, which could be breaking some kind of blogosphere rule. Since I am Ringmaster of this Vortex, I say, "Nay, meme away." Mercy dictates I edit out the one about Twilight lest my blog visitors break out into fits of narcissistic angst and a sickly pallor, though the rest have a decidedly teen vibe to them. Let's channel that from our past, shall we?

1. What are you dying to read this summer?
Mostly, I'm dying to read my name on Publisher's Lunch. Or that Hugh Jackman is requesting permission to follow me on Twitter. For now, I'll settle on The Seance by John Harwood, a gothic, Victorian thriller. All over that.

2. Where do you hang to read a book?

I hang in the car while the baby-on-board, Toyota-lovin' mama in front of me at the ATM itemizes her wallet before and after her transaction. I hang at breakfast, always better than a dose of Meredith Viera. I hang on my favorite over-sized chair when Sir Cat allows me.

3. What was your favorite book when you were little?

Hands down, The Giving Tree. I had two copies: One with apple juice and Cheetos stains and another with the inscription 'Laura, may you always be like the tree.' Most days, I am.

4. What's the last book that made you all emo?

Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman. I know Herman Rosenblat's story is not true, but somehow it doesn't matter. A thousand other stories like it come from tragedy because love transcends all.

5. What's the scariest book you've ever read?

Stephen King's Gerald's Game. Out of all his books, this one really creeps me out.

6. What's the funniest book you've ever read?

I had a cartoon book when I was in high school, something like 101 Funniest Ways to Die. I never sit beneath a ceiling fan that I don't think about that book.

7. If you lend a book to your bff, how soon do you expect to get it back?

If ever, great. Books should be shared.

8. Snacking while reading-guilty?
Aside from the breakfast thing, which somehow falls outside this personal rule, I don't ever snack while reading. Too distracting and messy.

9. Name a book that needs more zombies.

Wellsey's The Time Machine. And yes, I'm on a quest to use this graphic as much as possible.

10. What's the most random thing you've ever used as a bookmark?
A dry spaghetti noodle

If you're here, I tag you. Answer one or all in the comments so we can pretend we knew you when angst was your predominant vibe.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Happy Little Time Travel Romances

So it's not any news that directly pertains to my novels, but it is further proof the time travel romance sub-genre is alive and well and oh, so beauuuutiful.

The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance, edited by London's Murder One bookstore manager Trisha Telep, is a collection of twenty five time travel short stories from some of the romance industry's heavy hitters: Nina Bangs, Jude Devereaux, Sandra Hill, Linda Howard, Lynn Kurland, Karen Marie Moning and many more.

This collection includes stories set in Medieval Scotland, sixteenth century England, the American Wild West, the present day and, of course, the future. It's set to release in the UK in October, the US in December, but it's available for pre-order now with Amazon. Could the cover art gods have been any kinder? Yum. Or maybe he just looks that much better when placed aside Bob Ross.

If you can't wait until the fall to get your hands on a great time travel romance, here's a list of fairly recent time travel romances broken down into sub-sub-genre. And I'm slowly making my way through this blogger's list because he had some time travel novels that I'd not heard of that sound amazing.

Is this sub-genre on the upswing? A girl can hope.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Than One Way to Part Kenny's Hair

I was going to post about my inaugural spinning class at the Y this morning, how "sprinting" on my stationary bike to bad Top Gun soundtrack music made me feel weirdly nostalgic for H.G. Wells's contraption (I just had to use that graphic again) and how the guy behind me warned me he always felt like he'd just gotten out of prison afterward (and how very Laura Ingalls of me not to get his total butt-sore reference until I stepped off the bike 45 minutes later), but I think it's been far too long since I've mused on writerly things. And I miss it. Like damn.

There are as many different paths to publication as there are mullet hairs on Kenny Loggins's head, so why have I just been entertaining a handful these past few years? True, I've ventured out into Amazon Breakthrough Novel territory, had an agent for a time, published a short, even boldly gone where few have gone before to double final in RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award, but still I write toward that brass ring. In my mind, I have only dared to reach for it with the time-worn, established, always-been-this-way methods. I'm a safe, bet the odds, follow the rules kind of writer. I hoard my novels, lest I reveal too much. I fear posting my words will push them firmly into the "already published" hot potato camp where agents and editors dare not tread. Funny, but in trying so hard to get them into mass publication/mass distribution hands, my stories have become completely unreachable to those whom I wish to access the most: readers.

Maybe I've been riding the wrong Kenny Loggins hair.

Two recent sites I've visited have broadened my awareness of reader-centric sites where readers are not only the focus, but the decision-making force that drives the engine.

Recently, Dorchester Publishing announced an alliance with Unpublished romance writers who deliver serialized stories that capture the most subscriptions and readers are awarded a publishing contract. This feeds (1) the publishing house's desire to find a sure-thing with a built-in audience (2) our culture's increasing fascination with all things delivered in tiny, digestible, digital meals and (3) a writer's craving for feedback from those whose opinions matter most: readers. The model is hugely successful in Japan. Many mainstream novels have entered that country's collective awareness via this route.

Another site that has been around since 2006 is Sponsored by the Arts Council of England and watched closely by top editors at major publishing houses, writers enter into a bartering feedback system. For each installment a writer posts, she agrees to read and provide feedback on five others. This rating system sifts out the stories highest in a handful of factors such as characterization, plot, setting, etc., and titles earn coveted spots on top ten and bestseller lists. While YouWriteOn offers a self-publication route, their mission is to hook writers up with the industry's top agents and editors. So, while TextNovel is reader driven, YouWriteOn is based on peer evaluation of other writers who (1) self-published or (2) became frustrated with their inert careers.

Do these sites, then, sacrifice a novel to the altar of popularity we so wanted to leave behind in junior high, benefiting the most tech-savvy, socially-networked writers? Or does the cream really rise to the top? Do writers become attention hos like those who final in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest and the American Title contest, with nary a mention of, "nice weather we're having," than to follow it with, "vote for me, vote for me!" If we're to believe the promotion and hype on both sites, these models have led several writers to mainstream success with houses such as Putnam, Random House and Orion, an easy decision for these houses because the risk is greatly reduced. Are these viable paths to an author's ultimate goal?

There is careful. And then there are years. And years. I'm between, wondering if the hair is smoother on the other side of the mullet.

Today's earwig: Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins....ah!! (the link so it can become your earwig, too. You're welcome.)
What do you think of these serialized sites for authors to post their work?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A True Hero Could Find A Size 10

What, pray tell, am I doing this week instead of providing extensive, contemplative posts about time theory or musing on the navel-gazing writers are prone to? Shopping for shoes, of course. RWA's National Conference is in two weeks, and as much as I hate to alienate myself among the fairer sex, I confess I dislike shoe shopping intensely. I might as well be seeking out Jimmy Choo Marine Flippers. They don't exist. Cute shoes are an urban myth for tall girls. A rare treasure, buried in the vast DSW ocean.

So while I swim from retail island to retail island, seeking out non-orthopedic soles and bling that doesn't look like a rock unearthed from my garden, enjoy this hump-day diversion.

Buck Tuddrussell (ladies, you can't use that for a hero name, it's mine now) is battling against time, literally. Travel with him through history and help him destroy the hourglasses. Why? Who cares? Time suck has no motivation.

How did you do?