Thursday, October 11, 2007

American Title Mania!

Hi, all. In case you haven't heard, Romantic Times and Dorchester Publishing will launch the voting phase of their fourth American Title contest on October 15. In the romance writing world, this contest has become big news and creates the sort of furor only American Idol can duplicate. This year, the focus is on paranormal. I'm sure the stories will be full of magic, intrigue and spine-tingling romance!

I am pleased to announce that my fellow Romance Bandit Trish Milburn is a finalist in the new contest! As a special treat, Trish will be blogging with me on Wednesday, October 26. Don't miss this opportunity to get to know Trish and learn more about her journey to publication and her American Title finaling manuscript Out Of Sight. Check back on the 26th!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pimping the Contest

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHi, all! I am donning my promotional tiara to tell you that I have entered my Golden Heart-finaling manuscript 'Kick Start' in Pocket Books's First Chapters Writing Contest.

Pocket, in conjunction with (a social networking site) is sponsoring a contest for aspiring romance writers. Basically, you read someone's entry, vote on it and leave a comment. First round voting will run until Sept 18. After that, they will announce 25 semi-finalists, who will get to post a second chapter for a second round of voting. After the second round, five finalists will have their books reviewed by Pocket's editorial staff and the editors will select the winner. Nerve-wracking, but fun!

The winner will have their book published by Pocket and receive a $5000 advance. It is a wonderful opportunity for us aspiring romance writers! If you would be so kind, please go to, read my story, vote and leave a comment.

Things to know:
* It's more "rating" than "voting". Under the chapter, there is a "Rate this article" header. Under that, there are numbers with stars above them. Select the number you would like to rate the chapter.
* No ratings under "10" will be counted. You may rate a chapter less than 10, but it will not be counted. It is less demoralizing for the writers if you simply don't vote unless you really think the story is a 10!
* Comments count! In the case of a tie, the contender with the greatest number of different commentors will win.

If you're game, here is a link to my first chapter of 'Kick Start':

Thank you for your support!

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Friday, July 27, 2007

RWA Conference, Digested

Fabulous Jennie Lucas and me after the RITA ceremony

The RWA Conference in Dallas was glorious, as all RWA conferences are. Now that almost two weeks have passed since I arrived home, the stories and news are coming out of the woodwork. On Tuesday of this week, the incomparable Trish Milburn got The Call! Penguin Putnam is contracting her for two YA books. This followed fast on the heels of both her Golden Heart win and her action-packed year as PRO Liaison.

Just today, I heard the news that another '06 Packer friend of mine, Trish Cerrone, has also sold! But her offer came at conference from the acquiring editor who apparently gushed over her work. She described it as being surreal and stunning and said she stared a lot and told the editor, "I love you". *g* I'm sure I would too! But she didn't spread the news until she secured an agent, the agent negotiated the deal, Trish accepted, etc. Two weeks! I could never hold it in that long. She deserves sainthood!

I have heard stories of deals being brokered, contracts offered, anthologies plotted and volunteers recruited at conference. Actually, I was recruited. I offered to serve as RWA Bylaws Committee Chair for the coming year. I served on the Bylaws Committee this year, so I know (sort of) what it entails. But it's a little terrifying to think they are entrusting this to me. I'm sure all will be well - really! Now I simply have to recruit some people to serve on my Committee (heh, heh, heh).

I also made sure to mail off my requested partials last week. Hopefully they will be among the first that hit the editor's and agent's desks. While their eyes are fresh, they will be delighted and request more material. With glee, they will realize that I am the author they have been looking for. Ah, conference. Always good for refueling my dreams.

So what was the best take-home from the RWA conference for you?

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

24-Hour Party People

It will not be surprising (given my penchant for discussing cows and strudel) that I am not really a party person. Except, that is, when I am at the RWA National conference. At conference, we all get to be someone else. Our public persona for a magical few days. I did that last week and had a fabulous time.

In the picture above, I was heading out to The Golden Network's annual Dessert Reception. There, I had the great pleasure of watching as my dear friends Jennie Lucas and Deb Marlowe were booted out - which is an honor! That is what we do to previous Golden Heart finalists once they are published. Believe me, I look forward to the boot!

And here I am dressed for the RITA/Golden Heart awards ceremony. It's rather like the Oscars, in that everyone dresses to the nines and there are teleprompters and larger-than-life pictures flashed on huge screens. Last year, it was thrilling to see my own image flashed on the screen. This year, I got an even bigger thrill:

My dear friend Deb Marlowe won the Golden Heart in Short Historical! It was an incredibly wonderful time for all of us who know and love Deb. I hope not to qualify for the Golden Heart next year. But if I do still qualify, I can only hope to have as joyous a time as Deb had. Congratulations to all the finalists and winners!

Does anyone have conference highs or lows to share? A great story? A triumph? Do tell!

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cow Story Was True

In case you doubted the veracity of my statement Re: Cows marching through Adelboden, here is a picture:

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I took this picture while sitting in a cafe/bakery in downtown Adelboden. Now, Adelboden is a village, but it has a decent downtown area with many nice stores and a large Co-op. The last thing I expected to see while we were there (resting after a day of hiking and rock climbing) were cows marching through downtown. I suppose it's the quickest way to get them to the high pastures.

Here is another herd of cows, which also came through town while we were there. This herd belonged to a different family, though:

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In case you're wondering about the bells, apparently the size of the cow's bell reflects on the prosperity of the farmer. We visited a living history museum called Ballenberg and saw the whole range of cowbells. The largest were so enormous you couldn't possibly lift them and the leather straps holding them on the cow's necks were at least 12 inches wide. It was amazing! But I felt a bit sorry for the cows.

Know any interesting cow trivia? I heard global warming is causing certain Alpine flowers not to bloom, which could change the taste of the cow's milk and, therefore, the Alpine cheeses. How's that for unintended consequences?


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Adelboden Versus Dallas

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Raleigh skyline (at night, which is cheating)

Adelboden, Switzerland and Dallas, Texas could not possibly be more different. They do have some things in common, though. For one, I returned from Adelboden a couple of weeks ago and will head to Dallas a week from today.

For another, both are quite different from my hometown. Adelboden is full of mountains (that people fully expect you to hike up and down) and Dallas is flatter than the proverbial buffalo pancake. Raleigh, on the other hand, is situated between the rolling foothills of the Appalachians and the sandhills of the east coast. Rolling hills is what we have. Ones that are easy to hike up and down, might I add.

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Oey, near Adelboden (this is close as they get to a skyline!)

Also, Adelboden is a place of cold, snowy winters and cool, gorgeous summers. They believe it is warm when it is 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ha! Dallas, on the other hand, can be icy and treacherous in the winter (on rare occasions) but enjoys temperatures above 100 degrees F many times during the summer. Raleigh is somewhere in between these, but leans toward the Dallas side on the heat scale.

A big difference between these towns and Raleigh is the great public transportation. Raleigh is trying hard, but it is far behind the fabulous transportation system in Switzerland and also the getting-better-all-the-time rail, light rail and bus system in the greater Dallas area. We used public transportation exclusively while in Adelboden and I plan to do the same thing in Dallas. I love public transportation!

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Dallas skyline (our hotel is adjacent to the ball-topped tower)

Raleigh looks much more like Dallas than it does Adelboden, but Raleigh is prettier, if I say so myself. Still, my excitement in visiting Dallas at least equals that of Adelboden, because Dallas is hosting the RWA national conference this year. As I say every year, I love conference! I will once again be rooming with my dear friends Sabrina Jeffries, Claudia Dain and Deb Marlowe. We are fortunate to have Laura Maldonado rooming with us this year, the fabulous President of Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.

I can hardly wait until the conference next week. Catching up with my writer friends, attending great workshops and parties, pitching to an agent and an editor. Onto the merry-go-round once more! So, as different as this trip will be from my last, it should prove to be just as exciting. But probably slightly easier on my feet!

Anyone else going to conference? Or just on a great trip? Let me know, I love to travel vicariously through others!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Adelboden Versus Mayberry

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I'm back from Switzerland and disconcerted to report that Adelboden has more cows than Mayberry could ever claim. There may be more cows than people. We were there during the time when they are moving the cows from the lower (winter) pastures to the higher (summer) pastures. The cows are marched right up the paved roads and, when necessary, through the middle of town! Needless to say, for someone born and raised in the suburbs, it was a change of pace.

But so gorgeous! If I ever get over the jet lag (which looks doubtful at this time) and get all my pictures uploaded to the web (looking even more dubious), I will post more travel tidbits. We did far too much to write about it all, but suffice to say that Switzerland is beautiful, clean and rustic and the Swiss are lovely and welcoming people.

Anyone else experienced the cow phenom in Switzerland or anywhere else?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Switzerland or Bust

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I am getting ready for a trip to Switzerland. Sounds cool, huh? The Swiss Alps and hot chocolate and Heidi and all. But we will not be staying in a city there. We will be in a rather out-of-the-way village in the mountains. There are no malls or convenience stores or fine restaurants. Kind of like someone coming to my part of the USA and going to, say, Mayberry, NC.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI fully expect that Switzerland's Mayberry will be far more picturesque than North Carolina's. Instead of Aunt Bea with her poufy bun, we will have Tante Bertilda with a crown of braids. Strudel rather than sticky buns. Weiner schnitzel rather than country fried steak. Bier rather than...well, maybe 'Bier' and 'beer' are pretty close. I anticipate most things, though, will be much cooler in Switzerland.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket I intend to get a digital camera before this trip (to take pictures of people, not food - well, maybe food too). Yes, I am the only person on the planet who is not a professional photographer (or even an expert amateur) and still uses film. By using film and ordering my pictures on CD, I have avoided having to learn a whole new technology. But my digital-camera envy has surpassed my laziness and I am ready to take the plunge. Stay tuned for pictures of the trip when I return (eventually). I do have a Photobucket account, so I'm not completely Neanderthal about the picture thing.

So, is anyone else planning a great trip this summer? Got exciting plans that will make us writhe with jealousy? Let me know!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Book Covers and Coming Attractions - Arr!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Obsessing and Moving On

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Dame Barbara Cartland

I'll admit I get obsessed about any number of things. It never lasts long, but while it does it is all-consuming. I remember a fling I had with Barbara Cartland books when I was 14. I went to the library and got armloads of them. Those heroines with heart-shaped faces and huge eyes. The one, sweet kiss I waited a whole book for! But, after reading 50 or 60, I wanted something else. I moved on.

I had it bad one year for Tagalongs - the Girl Scout cookies filled with luscious peanut butter on a vanilla cookie, smothered in chocolate. I bought for myself (not to share with family) at least 3 boxes. I ate them all. By myself. Toward the end, they had no flavor. I burned out on them. I moved on.

I do it most often with great songs. I have many CDs to which I listen endlessly, looping and relooping a single song, a group of songs, or the whole CD. I have burned out on many great CDs. I have learned to pace myself a bit, not to play it when it no longer gives me that seat-bouncing giddy rush when I hear the opening bars. Because when the thrill is gone, I'll move on.

I like to think I have learned, at least a little, not to be so obsessive. It's hard on relationships, for one thing. My husband and I have been married for 14-1/2 years and dated for 4-1/2 years before that. Nineteen years is a lot of years. It took some doing to get us past the no-longer-obsessed stage and into a more mature relationship. It was worth it. If I can manage to do the same with books and cookies and CDs and movies and any number of other things, I may grow up yet!

How about you? Do you obsess or are you one of those annoying, balanced people? If you are a reformed obsessive, what's your secret? Please let me hear I'm not alone!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

My Life As a Bandita

I announced last week the unveiling of my new group blog, Romance Bandits. I think I've mentioned before that it's possible for me to feel like I'm cheating on my blog. Or website. I flung up a MySpace page, but quickly learned to ignore it after the initial fun and frenzy of friending people.

I hate to ignore my own poor, semi-neglected blog, but it's so much more fun to blog with a group! I like the energy, the clamor, and getting to merely comment on other people's brilliant posts. Since mine are never what I would classify as brilliant, this works out for me.

Does anyone else find it easier to glom onto other people's great work/blog/e-mail rather than create their own?


Saturday, May 05, 2007

I was tagged by Trish!

I was tagged by my friend Trish, so now you get to play with me!

Here are the rules:

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

8 random facts/habits about me …

1. I think peanut butter is almost a perfect food. If they could just get rid of the fat and calories!

2. I am so allergic to MSG that I get hives if I eat it and all my mucous membranes (eyelids, lips, nose) start to swell.

3. I adore Chinese food, which can make #2 a challenge when I'm out of town!

4. I am a huge fan of alternative music and my favorite radio station is one from a local college.

5. I cannot function on less than 6-1/2 hours of sleep.

6. I am an electrical engineer (according to my college diploma, anyway).

7. My favorite cookies are Trader Joe's Triple Ginger cookies.

8. I am a registered Girl Scout!

I tagged: Sonja, Marcia, Skye, Liz, Jenna, Donna, Jennifer and Cindy!

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Romance Bandits Go Live!

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Zorro, our Romance Bandits Inspiration!

I'm excited to announce that I am a member of the Romance Bandits blog. The Romance Bandits is a blog of around 20 of the 2006 Golden Heart finalists. We have fabulous published authors like Anna Campbell, Donna MacMeans, Christine Wells and Tawny Weber, as well as a collection of fabulous as-yet-unpublished authors like Kim Howe, who made it to the final round of 2007's American Title contest!

Come on over and check us out. We will be thrilled to have you there!


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Raving on Guster

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Guster: Adam, Ryan, Joe, Brian

I have a dirty secret: I have never, according to my husband, really grown up. This will surprise none of my friends. My husband believes this because I still go to concerts. Not all concerts, not random concerts, but good concerts. Ones that it would sear my soul to miss.
I am taking this opportunity, here on my very own blog where I have all the power, to rave on one of my favorite bands, Guster. I encourage you, if you've never experienced them, to start off with their album Guster On Ice. Why is this album so expensive, you ask? Because it is not only a fabulous live CD (recorded at a concert in Portland, Maine), but it also contains a DVD of the concert. As awesome as the CD is, it's the DVD that will make you a rabid Guster fan. The band, you readily realize, are quite off - all of them. At first, I thought maybe Joe wasn't as cracked as the others, being a bit older and more mature. But the Joe's Place episodes on the Guster website, recorded during recording of the album Ganging Up On the Sun, proved me wrong (if not delusional).
The mad drummer and conga player, Brian Rosenworcel, is the most beautifully insane and funny person on the planet. Except for his fixation on the tour bus toilet, which is slightly disturbing, Brian (aka "Thundergod") is a delight to Guster readers everywhere. Brian keeps up the Road and Studio journals on the website and MySpace pages. Check them out.
Speaking of MySpace, my only gripe with Guster is that I put one of their songs on my own MySpace page and then friended Guster. Someone from the Guster MySpace page removed their song from my page! Now, they may simply not want their song attached to random MySpace pages, but it felt like an ageist snub. I figure, if I'm not too old to travel around the country to college campuses to see them or to buy their (reasonably priced) merch, they should not snub my MySpace page. Then again, maybe I'm reading too much into the removal. By the way, I replaced their song with one from a new find, My Brightest Diamond. I discovered them when I heard them open for The Decemberists last month. Awesome concert!
Of course, even though they dissed me, I'm going to see Guster this weekend at Furman University. It's a 4-1/2 hour drive, but I'm that kind of fan. As a matter of fact, I drove 10 hours to Ohio to see them once. Anyone else have bands they would drive way too far to see?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Travel Log - Day 4, Part 1

I awoke to an alarm clock. I checked my watch and was disoriented to find that the clock said it was an hour later than my watch did. Ah, Daylight Savings Time had begun! Obviously, my son was in a conscious-enough state to change the clock and set the alarm before he collapsed in bed (around 5:30 this morning, if my semi-awake brain registered it correctly). Did the getting ready thing. The Boy had not moved. Packed as much of my stuff as I could and tried to wake Boy up. No luck. Reminded him we had to be out by noon.
Went down the block and bought an extra rolling suitcase for the trip home. I did this on my last trip to NYC, too. I thought to bring an extra one this trip, but talked myself out of it. When will I learn? I paid too much for the suitcase, but was frankly too tired to haggle. Stopped by Pick A Bagel on the way back and got an everything bagel (with schmear), a banana nut muffin and two coffees. Worst. Coffee. Ever.
Got back to hotel just before 11:00. The Boy finally got up around 11:20 (not that I was watching the clock!) and, under duress, picked out something to wear so I could help him get packed. Showed him how to roll his clothes into neat little sausages so he could use every square millimeter of space and fit more in his case. Managed to get everything packed by 11:52. Then Boy announced he wanted to take a shower - with 8 minutes to go until checkout. I was stressing more than a smidge. Remembered we could check out via the TV. Tried that, but of course it didn't work. Schlepped my stuff downstairs (leaving Boy in the shower).
Boy caught up with me while I stood in the very slow line to check out. Did so successfully, then we checked our luggage with the porter. Headed down to Union Square and Greenwich Village. Shopped at a Barnes & Noble, where I found an even newer J.D. Robb novel than the one I was reading at that time. Boy found a book about the now-defunct CBGB (so sad!). Went to Forbidden Planet, a real geek's paradise, full of comic books, graphic novels, anime, action figures and collectibles of all sorts from the fantasy/anime/comic book genres. Found presents for my friends Suzell and Nikki. Took pictures (to make a roommate jealous) of Boy near the huge case of action figures and in front of the ginormous Batman.
Left and took picture of Boy "holding up" The Alamo near NYU. Forbidden Planet, in all its used-book fabulousness, had given me horrible sinus pressure (very allergic to mildew), so I got the world's biggest hot tea at a COSI. Went to Union Square and visited lots of artists who had set up on the Square. Found an awesome 80s-looking, Japanese-influenced painting of Audrey Hepburn (from Breakfast At Tiffany's) at Stella & Zane Japanese Pop Art for Suse and Boy found gifts for many of his friends. These included some very unique and interesting finger puppets. 'Nuff said.
We attempted to find The Coffee Shop, where a couple of guys Boy met at Union Square the night before worked. These are the same dudes he hung out with until the wee hours and with whom he created much drum music and probably a public nuisance. The Coffee Shop had, overnight, been closed down the the Health Dept. Read about it here. That's enough drama for one segment of one day, methinks. One more segment to come, featuring lost cars, insanely crowded elevators, cheesecake and magical rescue technology.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Travel Log - Day 3, Part 2

This day may have several parts, simply because I can't seem to get in chunks of time to write it in two! Anyway, on my way to Build-A-Bear, I went into Saks Fifth Avenue and sneered at the price they wanted for a very homely seersucker shirt. Actually, I made a point of looking disgusted while there, simply because I could and it amused me. I'm bad that way.

At Build-A-Bear, I found NYC-themed t-shirts for the 4 bears back home, then searched cheesy souvenir shops for t-shirts for the bears' mothers (aka my daughters). I then headed back to the hotel because my back was killing me. What a drag it is getting old, as Mick said. The Boy (off having his own adventure) called twice. Once to talk about hooking up for dinner, then again to ask where the TKTS office was. Apparently, his posse was looking for theater tickets. I was in the mood for sweets, so I used our internet connection and looked up a great chocolate place and a great cupcake place. Also found directions to a good Indian restaurant for dinner. Woot!

Took the A train to 42nd, walked to 9th and 40th to The Cupcake Cafe, famous for its butter cream icing. Got a yellow cupcake with chocolate butter cream icing and a chocolate cupcake with mocha buttercream icing. Hocked a kidney to pay for them. Called Boy and met him back at Times Square. Went to Cafe Europa for water (for me), juice (for him) and cupcakes (for both). They were very good cupcakes and beautifully decorated. We swapped stories about our days and he made a list of things he still needed to do in NYC. I told him about the break dancers outside the library and going to Nintendo World. His ears perked up.

Took orange line to Rockefeller Center, where we took pictures of each other by the skating rink. We went to Nintendo World, where they had a bunch of Wiis set up on the top floor. Boy showed me how to use the Wii, how to create a Mii (I have a cute picture of him and his Mii). We played with the Wii Sports bowling game, found souvenirs for our peeps, then decided it was time (okay, past time) for dinner.

Walked to the Indian restaurant, which was called Bombay Palace. They looked taken aback that we had no reservation, but found us a table in short order. The restaurant was beautiful, rather an Empire feel to it, and the food was exceptional. The Boy had Thali, a vegetarian dinner, which was like a sampler platter with five different dishes. I had the vegetable Biryani and Roti, plus sharing the Thali. We ate far too much, then waddled back to the Park Central. On the way, some crazy balck guy had my son take his picture with a couple of different high end cars on the street (a Mercedes sedan and a Porsche).

Made it back to the hotel, where I needed to collapse. The Boy got ready and hit the town, after researching clubs on the internet. Apparently, he was refused entry at every club on his list. No surprise, since he still had that UNDER 21 stamp on his driver's license! Bouncers have no sympathy for the not-yet-21. He hung out around Union Square station quite a while and met up with some fellows named Adam and Sterling, who apparently work at the Coffee Shop. Yes, THE Coffee Shop.

They hung out with subway drummers and empty-park drummers until The Boy was asked by the NYPD to cease his drumming long about 5 a.m. He made it back around 5:30 a.m. I said prayers of thanks for the safe return and more for his denial of entry into all those clubs. Hey, we can't protect them from everything, but it doesn't stop us from wanting to, right?


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Travel Log - Day 3, Part 1

Awakened around 8:30 am by nature calling, aided and abetted by the Housekeeping staff rattling around in the hallway. Got beautiful (ha!) and the Boy woke up around 9:30. Told me he was going to hook up with his German friends today. I felt certain beer would be involved. We agreed to do our own things and meet up around dinner time.

I went to breakfast, solo, at Fluffy's Cafe. Had a good Western omelet, home fries and toast. There is no good toast in NYC. They know very little about whole grains, apparently, unless it is a health food restaurant.

I proceeded with my plan to stalk Bono - or at least his NYC apartment. Went to Columbus Circle station, where I learned: a) there were no C trains running that day; and, b) I have no business catching trains there. Because, naturally, I got on a southbound when I meant to go north. Got off, then accidentally got on an Express A train and couldn't get off until 125th St. Got on the local A and (finally) got off at 72nd - phew! Walked two short blocks to Bono's place. I was after stalker pics for my friend Suse. If I haven't mentioned it, she is a rabid fan of Bono and has been in the U2 fan club since she was 13. That's 25 years, if you're counting.

Took shots of the front of the building from the sidewalk, the towers from the sidewalk, then went into Central Park, climbed some hills and hiking trails and took pictures of the towers again. Also took pictures of the view of the reservoir as it would be from his apartment (though much closer to the ground, of course). I called Suse while there so she could share the experience vicariously. Unfortunately, Bono did not make an appearance while I was in the area. It's a good thing, too, because I never would have heard the end of it. Really wished she was there with me.

Back to the hotel for a quick break, then I headed toward the Build-A-Bear on Madison Ave.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Travel Log - Day 2, Part 2

Afternoon, Friday, March 9. On the way back from The Cloisters, we took the M4 bus again. Not because it was so much fun the first time, but because there was a store called The Africa Shop my son wanted to check out. I believe the bus took a slightly altered route south, because we never spotted the store. Once we realized we missed it, we had the bus stop at 125th St so we could get on the subway. I, in Caren form, dropped my camera and we had to make the driver stop a second time. I believe I mentioned it was that sort of trip.

Had to climb 3000 steps to get to the A train, which is elevated at 125th St. Escalator not working, naturally. After those steps, there were more. Did I mention I had not been able to breathe the entire day? Despite every OTC medication made, I had felt wretched the entire time we were at The Cloisters. The meds didn't help with the stair climbing. Neither did the 10-degree wind up on the train platform. Got on the A and off at Columbus Circle. Walked back to the hotel.

Snacks, phone calls, phone charging. I put on my Birkenstocks with tremendous gratitude. My feet wept. We were going to head over to the Met Museum since our tickets were good for that one, too, on the same day. We blew it off. Boy had a great idea we could buy a video cable and watch DVDs from his laptop. We headed to Times Square (the station didn't confound us this time, since we didn't have to be anywhere) and ogled everything.

We went to Gap and I bought (RED) items for Suse and my girls. Bought Boy some shirts, since all the clothes he brought with him were dirty (remember?). We took cheesy pictures of each other in Times Square with neon all around us. Checked in a Computer Video store and they wanted $25 for a $5 video cable. No thanks. Took a picture of Boy by the huge, neon-lit Scientology headquarters. Creepy how it's nestled in the theater district and looks like another theater.

Went to SWATCH, where I resisted the lure of a gorgeous tapestry-banded watch in autumnal colors. Oooh. It was only about $80, but I imagined my darling husband freaking out about how much the trip cost us and I said, "No." The little sales chick, Kimberly of the sparkly eyelashes, helped talk me out of it. In an effort to be charming to Boy, she led us to the conclusion that the watches were not as durable as they could be. Under the guise of me coming back tomorrow, Kimberly managed to tell us exactly when she was working on Saturday. Hm. Boy thought he might come back. Not to buy a watch, either.

Went down Restaurant Row on 46th and checked menus at approximately 100 restaurants. Plagued by indecision and growing exasperation, we chose Meson Sevilla, a supposedly Spanish restaurant. Sadly, I have had much better Spanish food in Charlotte, NC. They had great Shrimp Ajilla, middling veggie paella (which was nothing more than glorifed saffron rice with mostly canned vegetables) and great flan. Boy mistakenly ordered an Italian dish rather than the Spanish one he wanted. It was fine, but not Spanish. The tapas smelled and looked good, but they were mostly things we didn't care for - mussels and whatnot. The restaurant had nice atmosphere but was quite close (very NYC) and not to our taste.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel where I, of course, collapsed since it was after 9:30. I tried to read and make notes about the day, but ended up falling asleep. Boy went out around 11:00 where he apparently met some German young people, Bjorn and Matteas. He told me, when he came in, he planned to hook up with them on Saturday. Mysterious phone ringing in the middle of the night. I remember why I love it that he doesn't live with us. Out of sight, out of mind, out of the Worry Zone!


Travel Log, Day 2 - Part 1

Friday, March 9. I am awakened at 4:30 am by sirens. Welcome to NYC. Go back to sleep and am awakened at 7:30 am by the insistent crash of garbage trucks. I got up while Boy slept. Had a leisurely bath (knowing Boy would not be up anytime soon) and soaked my feet, which already had walking damage. Got ready, woke Boy up.

While he showered, I spent half a lifetime at the Starbucks by our hotel. There were some amusing people getting their panties in a double wad about their coffee being wrong. Most amusing was the lady who was waiting on some half-something, half-something else with half a Splenda in it. They had lost her order (or someone else took it) so they made it again, supposedly. She snatches it and runs to where a large group of students and a charter bus is waiting for her. She comes back quite a few minutes later (I am still waiting for my drink, having secured Boy's minutes ago) and says hers is still not right. Um, that's because she took mine! My panties remained wad-free. Finally got the coffee and went back to check on the progress in our room.

Boy was futzing around and worrying inordinately about his clothes. He messed with the scarf/jacket/shirt/belt/hat combination until he was satisfied and I wanted to scream. Went to some little Tel-something cafe near the hotel and had very fast and tasty breakfast. Went back to hotel to get the maps we had forgotten, then headed off to The Cloisters. Strategic error. I should have studied the MTA map more and not trusted the directions given on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website. At their advice, we took M4 bus from 86th past 207th all the way to Fort Tryon Park, home of The Cloisters. While the trip through Harlem was educational, and we saw many interesting spots that might warrant closer inspection, it wasted precious time!

The Cloisters was magnificent. All medieval art and architecture, all the time, in a setting that models a Benedictine abbey. There was a complete Chapter Room - where the Benedictine monks would gather each day to hear a chapter of their Order read and to pray and have fellowship. I found out the abbey where the Chapter Room was housed, in France, was abandoned after the French Revolution. The Chapter Room was used as a stable from that time until the 1920s! That was fascinating to me. Yes, I'm a big history geek. Also, the site where The Cloisters sits - high on a hill overlooking the Hudson River - was the site of a private estate that burned down in the 1920s. Fort Tryon Park is beautiful and I'm sure is positively gorgeous in warm weather. You know, when the wind chill is above 10 degrees F.

Trip back through Harlem and Times Square to follow when Day 2 continues...


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Travel Log - Day 1, Part 2

It's taking much longer to write this than the actual trip took! Anyway, once Boy secured his hat, we went to a noodle shop for lunch. Nice, hot tea, good dumplings, good food. Then we headed down to Century 21 Department Store (highly recommended by my hairdresser, Jesus). It is right across from Ground Zero, which has much less impact, IMO, now that it is a construction site. We had lots of fun at Century 21. Boy found some wool socks and a funky ribbon belt that looked quite 70s with a side of preppy thrown in. But it matched his tri-colored Members Only jacket so well! (Never thought the Members Only jacket would be resurrected, btw.) We went upstairs and I found an almost-perfect black leather jacket. FYI, I have been searching for a black leather jacket for at least 3 or 4 years. This one was the right length with nice long sleeves (no elastic). It zipped fine, but then I thought it didn't lay quite as I wanted, so I was able to say, "No." Good thing, too, since it was still too expensive, even at Century 21!
I found wonderful gift boxes (suitcase-style with handle) and lovely personal care gift sets for my critique partners. I hope they appreciate the fact that the TSA was so suspicious of these three, identical, fully-loaded, large boxes that they had to inspect my suitcase! It had already been a fruitful trip for me, since one of my goals was to find something special and lovely for the Hip & Edgy. Headed back to midtown to dump our parcels at the hotel. Still no hairdryer, but I am hopeful. I call to ask about it and am told someone will check on it We walked over to FAO Schwartz.
FAO Schwartz really is a kid's paradise. Besides the huge puppies, there were the cutest penguins ever! One of my critique partners pointed out there were Huskies in the picture, too. What do you know? I really only saw the penguins and seals. Loved the old school toy area. I got a kaleidoscope and bought Adam some Robot blocks. He hasn't opened them yet, but my kaleidoscope has already gotten a ton of play. Also bought a couple of things I cannot disclose here because they are for my friend Suzell's birthday. In July. Yes, I know how horrid and cruel I am to tease her so. They had more Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings stuff than you can shake a stick at. They also had a very cool design-your-own Hot Wheels program. Anyway, we enjoyed the life-sized Lego Chewie, Batman and Hagrid (who had some pieces broken off). These things are especially amazing because they are made from small Legos, all put together then glued. Not the big cheater Duplo blocks, but tiny Legos. Makes it all the more impressive, IMO.
As we were checking out, the cute cashier told Boy she liked his hat. Yes, the chewed-up one. She asked him if he made it (didn't I tell you it looked like it?). He told her where he bought it. Then, she said she really liked the Robot blocks he was buying. After we left, he figured out she was totally flirting with him. Duh! For a smart guy he's a bit dim at times. He also has no idea how cute he is. It's kind of sweet. On the way back, it was bitterly cold. We decided to go to a place called Sushiya near our hotel for dinner. Nice atmosphere, very warm (have I mentioned it was freezing?), lovely green tea, really good Shrimp Dragon and California rolls, great miso soup (who knew it could be so good?) and pretty good katsudon. Waddled back to hotel to get ready for the theater.
Got changed in record time and dashed to the subway. Took the yellow line down to Times Square station. Big mistake. I had forgotten this is the most confusing station ever. The markings messed me up badly and I got a bit disoriented. Went all the way down to 8th, then headed north a block, turned the corner and - bam - there was the Majestic Theater, home of "Phantom of the Opera". We picked up our (really great) tickets from the Will Call window and slid into our seats about 2 minutes before the lights went down. I told you it was that sort of trip! Confession time: I had never seen "Phantom" in any form. Not live, movie or made-for-TV movie. I didn't even know the story beyond the premise. The staging was dramatic and magnificent. Great performances all the way around. I, Boy and the hundreds of teenaged girls in the audience were captivated. Passed up the merch as too expensive, though. Made the big mistake of going back to Times Square station. Got on southbound train rather than north. Got off at the first stop, got back on the northbound and off at 57th. Sheesh!
Went to 55th St Deli (next door to Carnegie Deli). Great selection of many yummy things. Everything from cheesecake to whole grain Kashi cookies. Yes, I got the Kashi cookies! boy was lured by the hot food and got some intensely good eats. At the hotel, I collapsed. boy made hone calls and tried to unwind. Unsuccessful. He went out for a bit around midnight but came back relatively soon. Said he found some cool shops. I slept.
So ends Day 1.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Travel Log - Day 1, Part 1

This is the Day 1, Part 1 entry covering my recent trip to New York City. Please note: this trip was taken with my son who was not-quite-21 (this will be important later) as an early birthday present. Why go in March? It was Spring Break, natch.

Thursday, March 8: Awakened by alarm clock @ 4:45 am. Check on my son, who was supposed to come over in the middle of the night, "After I do laundry." Of course, he wasn't there. Call his unfortunate roommate on his cell phone and ask him to go kick my son and tell him he was going to miss the trip. The (obviously well-trained and polite) young man agreed to do so.

My son pulls in the driveway 2 minutes before we are supposed to leave for the airport. It was destined to be that sort of trip, I mused. Repacked his stuff a bit because, as expected, he hadn't checked the FAA or current airport regulations to know that no liquids or gels more than 3 ounces can be taken in a carry-on bag. We get to the airport parking deck with him dozing and me in a bit of a fog (this also becomes important later). Make the flight and get through security with no problems. Good weather, good flight, arrive at La Guardia about 8:45.

Catch a cab right away. Cabbie takes the longest route ever to the Park Central Hotel - seriously. Through Spanish Harlem to the far side of Central Park, then down 7th. But, we got a great tour of Central Park, so it was worth the extra $9, I suppose. There is snow on the ground from the day before, the wind is icy, the sun is shining. A lovely day.

The hotel lets us check in, even though it's only 9:30 am. Sweet! Especially since my son has been camping in the mountains for several days and only skidded into town in time to make this trip. All his clothes, he informs me, are dirty. At least he can shower, since we're in our room. "Showering" takes about an hour and a half when you are my son. The selection of the right outfit for one's first day in NYC is, apparently, mission critical. There is no hairdryer in our room. Sensing a crisis brewing, I call for one. It does not appear before my patience evaporates and I force my son to put on a coat and leave the room.

We walk to the Tourist Information center to buy Metro cards and pick up the requisite maps of subway and city. Armed, we head to Chinatown. My son has never ridden the subway before and is charmed by how NYC everything is. In Chinatown, he haggles with a guy over the price of a knit hat with flaps, but doesn't buy it (he regrets this later). He does buy a hat from a different guy. This one looks like a fourth-grader made it from scraps of fabric he found lying about, then gave it to his dog to chew on. It has a poorly-executed skull-and-crossbones on it. My son adores it and wears it the rest of the day (this also becomes important later).

More to follow, wherein shopping is accomplished and leather is lusted after.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Getting To Know Caren!

FYI: The following post is one I created for the Packers Work In Progress blog, which has not yet been deemed fit for human consumption. It is the group blog for some of the 2006 Golden Heart Finalists. We call ourselves the '06 Packers, hence the "Packers Work In Progress". I'll be sure to post a link when the FDA approves it for the general public. In the meantime, here is my introductory post over there!

When did you start writing? Or if you've been writing all your life, then when and how did you decide to pursue publication?

I started writing, with absolutely no idea what I was doing, in 2000. I did it to escape the mind-numbing tedium of my work as an electrical engineer. I was inspired by a girl at work whom I didn't know well, but who was a real character. I wrote a completely fictional story about her (that was, I'm ashamed to admit, a bit mean-spirited but completely hilarious) and shared it with my good friends. One friend had been a member of RWA and my local chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers and she suggested that I join.

I realize now that she saw a spark (quite a small one) in my writing and meant to encourage me. Like many, I thought my writing was brilliant at the time, but later discovered it needed lots of work! I'm blessed with wonderful - and tactful - friends.

What books/authors have influenced you?

Since joining RWA, I have been influenced by the groundwork many brilliant authors have laid. From an educational and mentoring standpoint, I owe huge debts of gratitude to my dear friends Sabrina Jeffries, Claudia Dain, Liz Carlyle, Virginia Kantra and Deb Marlowe.

From an inspirational standpoint, I owe debts to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jennifer Crusie. Why? Because they are both pantzers and slow writers like me! I know if they can do it and enjoy success, I can too. You can't buy that sort of inspiration.

Describe your writing process.

There's a process? Oh, yes, I recall other people have one of those. As mentioned above, I am a pantzer. Not by design, but because I can't teach my brain a better way. My books are almost completely character driven and that is what always comes to me first: the people. Once I have these wonderful people, I have to figure out a situation to put them in that will highlight where they need to grow and enable them to do that. Easier said than done!

This thing they call "plotting" usually involves many fits and starts, followed by long periods of "marination". The marination time, like with all good recipes, varies each time I need it. Unfortunately, I have learned enough and become disciplined enough to continue working even when my story isn't. Because of that, I started my last book 3 times and got about 1/2 to 2/3 written each time before I figured out why it wasn't quite right (though both discarded stories were good) and how to fix it. My dream is to get to the point in my career where this is no longer necessary and I can write more than one book a year. Hey, I said it was a dream.

And please, nobody mention color-coded index cards or detailed, scene-by-scene outlines or my head will explode!

Tell us about your current Work In Progress and what is next for you?

The book is about a chef, Sarah, and a building contractor, Luke. They are great characters and I know oodles and gobs about them, their histories, their heartbreaks, their families and the town they live in (Laurel Mountain, North Carolina). What I don't know is exactly what happens in their book. It's marinating.

Any advice for others or personal observations?

The best advice I can give anyone is: respect your process. Even if, like me, you don't really have one. I have put myself through untold traumas trying to follow other writers' recipes (including color-coded index cards and detailed, scene-by-scene outlines). None of them worked for me.

Why not? Well, everyone's brain is wired a certain way. It's quite difficult to force your brain to operate in another fashion. I was quite successful, for instance, in filling out color-coded index cards and in coming up with detailed, scene-by-scene outlines. Did they help my books? Not at all. That is because my characters don't come alive on index cards or outlines. They come alive when I write. So, until I start writing, I have no idea how they will react to people or situations. In other words, I have no idea what the "plot" will be. I don't really need to. I simply need to know how they should feel toward their situation and those around them when the book ends. How they get there ends up being an organic extension of who they are.

Plus, the marinade fills in the blanks! Anyone else find plot to be the last thing you know about your book?

Back On Top

Those who know me well will tell you I don't stay firmly trenched in "reality" for long. So, I have bounced back up on my wave of natural optimism and am excited about a number of things right now.

First, I am starting to feel better, so I will be starting back to the gym tomorrow. My sadly sagging muscles are so glad about that!

Second, my son and I are headed to NYC on Thursday, which is always a thrill. I can hardly wait to indulge in some street cart falafel, which will make my younger daughter insanely jealous (insert evil grin here). We were unable to get tickets to any of the shows we wanted to see taped (Conan O'Brien, Daily Show, Colbert Report), so we are going with no real plans at all. Those who know me well will tell you this sort of thing makes me crazy loco, but it's not my trip, it's my son's.

He says a couple of his friends will be in NYC at the same time, so we may hook up with them. No telling what we will end up doing! Stay tuned for news stories involving a middle-aged Southern woman and a group of semi-legal youth getting bounced from dicey establishments in NYC. Ack!

Third (see, I remembered this was a list), I have a first annual writers' retreat with my critique group, the Hip & Edgy. You can check them out on the pictures page of my Caren Crane website. My critique partners are Regan Black, Tracy Leigh Brown and Kimberly Justen. They are fabulous writers and keep me straight. I am so looking forward to a weekend of brainstorming and plotting!

Fourth, I will be seeing my dear friend Liz Bemis toward the end of the month. Liz is a friend, confidante and advisor to me. I adore her and can't wait to see her again. And, since she's come to see me twice since I last visited her, I owe her. We are also going to see a band I really like, Great Big Sea. They are from Newfoundland and rarely make it to the sunny South, so I don't mind combining a trip to Ohio to see a friend with a great concert. Oh, I just realized that the last time I went to see Liz, we went to a Guster concert. Now she'll think I only come to visit when there's a concert. Not at all! I just like to multi-task. Really!

Then, of course, it will be Easter and I'll get to see my wonderful extended family. Always the best part of any holiday!

Anyone else have things they are eagerly anticipating? A great trip? A season finale or a great book coming out, maybe?


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Back To Reality

Okay, the Oscar furor is over. I am sorry to say I fared poorly in my predictions, mainly because I allowed the opinions of "experts" to sway me. I have come to the conclusion I have no sense for how SAG members think. This should be no surprise, since I am a writer and not an actor. I hear The Chubbies picked more winners than I did. Again, no shock there.

Anyway, it's back to harsh reality in my life. My husband has declared a moratorium on all fun, so I'm sure I'll have nothing to blog about for weeks to come. Until my son and I get back from New York City, that is! Then, I'm sure I'll have some sort of adventure to write about. Until then, expect nothing from me. Anyone else going through a dry spell? Or are you guys busy having all the fun I'm being denied? If you are, tell me about it. Please!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oscar Update

As you may have read earlier, I've been killing myself trying to see all the Oscar nominated movies this month. Since last Friday, I have seen Click (love Adam Sandler!), Little Children (Jackie Earl Haley was the best part of the movie, which was really good), Venus (Peter O'Toole deserves some love for this fabulous performance!), Babel (overrated, in my opinion, though very good), The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl was great, but couldn't save the movie) and The Black Dahlia (which should have been nominated for costumes, as well as cinematography).

Overall, most of the movies I've seen have been exceptional in some way. The problem with seeing a number of exceptional movies, especially in a row, is that the least exceptional pale in comparison to the most exceptional. For instance, "Click" was a wonderful movie. But comparing it to "Notes On a Scandal" is unfair. Helen Mirren gave a wonderful, nuanced performance in "The Queen". But Judi Dench in "Notes On a Scandal" was so much more vibrant! I suppose it's all apples and oranges in Oscar world in any given year. I'm just glad for the excuse to see so many wonderful films.

On a sad note, I learned that the Oscar party is off. The hoopla of throwing the shindig, it seems, has proved too much for our dear Sabrina Jeffries. I can't blame her for it - you don't see me volunteering! But I will miss the competition. Perhaps I will post who I think will win in each category, then you can ridicule me when I only get 5 right!

Does anyone else even watch the Oscars, or am I the only one?


Monday, February 05, 2007

Why Does Depression Equal Art?

If you are a follower - even a casual one - of the Academy Awards, you know how dearly Oscar loves a depressing movie. I'm gearing up for the 79th annual Academy Awards, so I have made a (quite extensive) list of movies I need to see before the awards ceremony. To be perfectly honest, I had given up on the Oscars years ago, when my kids were small and I never got to see movies until they were on TV. Gradually, we began renting movies that weren't animated and my old love of all things cinema gained new life.

More recently, I learned that my friend Suse throws an annual Oscar party. Once an intimate affair, it has taken on a life of its own. This year, our friend Sabrina Jeffries is hosting the soiree at her house. It will be wonderful, I'm sure, but the pressure is enormous. The pressure to win the contest, that is. Throw in a dollar, guess the winners. Last year, I had seen (through concerted effort) many of the nominees and did quite well in the contest. This year, there is stiff competition and I still have about 30 movies to watch before the ceremony. Time's a wasting!

This weekend, I saw Dream Girls which was wonderful. All I know is, Jennifer Hudson deserves whatever they have to give her for her performance. She was fabulous! Plus, it was not a happy movie, but certainly happier than the other two I saw this weekend. "The Last King of Scotland" I was prepared for. I knew any movie about Idi Amin could not be heartwarming. But the graphic violence caught me off guard. Especially the torture scene near the end. It certainly leaves no room for one to sympathize with Amin, but who would have anyway? Wonderful performances all around, though. On a different, but still depressing, note I also saw "Pan's Labyrinth" this weekend. Again, Franco's Spain is not a warm and fuzzy setting. But it does star a young girl and has a fairy tale component. It's not a Disney fairy tale, however. More like the real Brothers Grimm. Again, high body count and no shortage of torture scenes. But, it was gorgeous, compelling and captivating. Overall, the weekend's viewings left me with lots to think about, but no lingering smiles.

Which leads me to the basis for this post: depression. Why, in order to qualify for an Oscar, must a movie (even a documentary) be horridly depressing, violent or shocking? The only warm fuzzies this year are the films nominated in animated features. And the jury's out on "Monster House" since I haven't seen it yet. I suppose I could give snaps to "Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Little Miss Sunshine" for being somewhat uplifting. Still, not a perky group of films.

I won't even get started on how difficult it is to find a copy of any of the Short Films - Animated or Live Action if you are not a member of the Academy. Or the fact that it's a crapshoot whether you will have access to see any of the Foreign Language Films. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to see three of them at The Galaxy in Cary. I also saw a lot of foreign language films there that weren't nominated for anything. They were mostly Bollywood films.

I like Bollywood films. They always have happy endings!

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Through the Cookies and Onward!

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a Girl Scout leader and have been for the past 9 years. That's what happens when you are a hyper-volunteer and you have two daughters. Anyone even tangentially associated with Girl Scouts knows that no year is complete without the requisite Girl Scout cookie sale! The cookies and I have a love-hate relationship. I love them, they love me, and they apparently love my thighs. Point being, cookie time comes right after the holidays in my neck of the woods. January is a tough time to drum up cookie orders, since most people made New Year's resolutions (not goals, like mine) and vowed never to eat another cookie. The cookie sale is a wonderful thing, in that it finances trips and things the girls want to do. But the whole slogging around in the cold, rain and sleet makes it unattractive to the 12 - 14 year-olds. And us moms, too!

Happily, the initial orders were due today. Ours have been turned in, so it's onward to larger adventures, like making progress on my latest book. I have wrestled with three different versions of the book I want to write for one of the ladies in Cross Springs, Connie Burns. Connie is the best friend of Linda in Kick Start and also of Katie in Cross Talk. Those who have read both books are clamoring for Connie's story. The problem is, Connie is quite complex. I have to make sure the story shows the depth of her character and gives her an opportunity to grow and change. I think I know how the story needs to pan out, but it's still in the "marination" stage. Katie's book took a while to marinate, but the payoff was definitely worth it. I am confident the payoff for Connie's book will be worth the effort, as well.

I'm off to poke through the marinade and see how things are turning out. Meanwhile, be nice to the Girls Scouts in your area and order some cookies!

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Monday, January 08, 2007

That Was a Goal, Not a Resolution

In the interest of preserving my status as an anti-resolutionary, I must point out that I merely had a goal of joining the dingy gym this year. Not a resolution. Just so we're straight about that.

In any case, I went on Jan. 2 to check out the gym. Turned out it was not dingy at all. That was merely my writer's imagination getting away from me yet again. The gym is Anytime Fitness and it's wonderful. They only have equipment I would actually use, no classes, and a dearth of beautiful young things. That last point is especially attractive to those of us hanging on to remnants of our once-youthful selves. They also have tanning beds, but I will never use those because I think they are an invitation to skin cancer. Because it was January, they happened to be running the no-enrollment-fee discount. Of course, I joined right away.

Since then, I have been to said gym 4 times and on another day walked 4 miles with my dear friend and new Mills & Boon author Deb Marlow. I get up before 5 am and head right out. There are surprisingly few people at the gym at 5 am. There aren't that many when I leave at 6 am, either. The most deserted time so far has been Sunday morning, 7 am. There was no one when I arrived and no one when I left. I cranked the iPod and sang like a drunk monkey. I'm relatively certain the security cameras are video only, no audio. If they have audio, they may get rid of it after that. Whew! I'm getting addicted to working out, just like I did the only other time I went to the gym on a regular basis. But that was in the 80s, I was in college, and I used my sister's membership to go to low-impact aerobics classes. Man.

Anyway, back to my no tanning rant. When I popped over to the Skin Cancer Foundation website, they had a suggestion for a New Year's resolution: no tanning. They said: "The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), has unequivocally linked sunbed tanning among young people to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer." Need any more evidence? I hope neither you nor any of your friends have to suffer or die because of tanning. Be pale, all the cool kids are!

I work with some people who sport the year-round tan and look like shoe leather. Some smoke, too, I guess to make sure the cancer card doesn't miss them. Anyone else know someone just begging for cancer?

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Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year! I am, as friends will tell you, an anti-resolutionary from way back. I firmly believe Jan. 1 is the worst of times to make resolutions. It's the beginning of winter, for Pete's sake! A time when things are dormant and it's dark at five o'clock. A time when I, personally, feel I need to go to sleep as soon as I get home.

Nevertheless, I hosted a New Year's Eve party last night for dear friends and even stayed up until well after midnight. In years past, New Year's Eve was a family affair and we spent it toasting marshmallows in the fireplace and eating s'mores. We often fell asleep long before midnight and exchanged sleepy New Year's greetings as we hauled children up the stairs and fell into bed, exhausted. But last year, my friend Suse and I decided we were tired of never having plans for New Year's Eve. We lamented never getting invitations to parties. Then we figured out no one we knew had parties, so we decided to throw one. We did. All very last minute and we had one friend show up.

This year, I sent invitations to quite a few folks and had a better turn-out. My wonderful and talented friend Liz Bemis flew down from Ohio and several more local types showed up as well. Friends from Heart of Carolina Romance Writers and also from my Alpha group at church. At least one good friend was struck by cooties and stayed home with a fever. Another was stuck in Pennsylvania because she had been sick over Christmas and her trip was delayed (so her homecoming was as well). I'm sure others intended to come but once it got dark, they decided to simply stay home. Which I probably would have done had the party not been at my house!

Although I am anti-resolutionary, the festivities and discussion of other people's goals made me want to at least set some goals of my own. Oddly for me, I find myself compelled to join a gym. Not an expensive, snazzy one with fancy equipment and personal trainers, but a slightly dingy one just up the street from my house. I haven't even visited there, but it is open 24 hours a day and always seems deserted. It seems perfect for someone who hates working out and would rather do it in complete isolation. I figure if I go early in the morning, there will probably be one half-asleep attendant and maybe a couple of senior citizens and that's about it. I can put my iPod on and ignore them as I exercise.

Of course, the downside to exercising is that I'll feel like I can eat more since I'm working out, when in actuality I need to work out and eat less. The mind is a terrible, tricky thing. I'm going to go check out the seemingly grungy gym and see how proud they are of their memberships. Maybe if I take it slowly and only commit to a month or three, I can trick myself into getting in shape this year.

Anyone else set baby-sized goals for this year, or even adult-sized ones?

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Ringing It In, Baby

I am prepping for the annual New Year's Eve party my friend Suse and I throw every year. Okay, this is only the second year, but it's getting buzz. Maybe not buzz, but at least a few people are looking forward to it. Everyone else is either going to be staying home because they are afraid to drive with the drunken hooligans or they will be somewhere awesome like Times Square.

My friend the fourth Susan, who I call Suzi Quatro in my head, will celebrate her New Year's Eve birthday watching the ball drop in Times Square. How cool is that? My niece will also celebrate her ninth birthday on New Year's Eve. I will miss her soiree in Charlotte, however, since I am having my own party in Raleigh. I am also the world's worst aunt, because I never get her birthday card in the mail in time.

People with holiday birthdays always get ripped off, unless they have one of those hyper-attentive families who bend over backward to ensure the birthday gets equal billing. My own birthday often falls on or around Mother's Day. My little family tries to make it up to me, but it's just not fair to have to get your party on two days in a row (or twice in one day), when other people get to spread their fun out over the year. Some people I know have embraced the half birthday concept, but I'm not sure that would work for me. Six months away from my birthday would be one day away from my wedding anniversary. Pity. So I guess I'll stick with my current situation and be grateful for my family's indulgence in trying to make both it and Mother's Day special for me.

In any case, I'll be happy to be surrounded by friends and family on New Year's Eve and to ring in the new year with lots of love and laughter. I hope everyone has a festive time and a safe and happy new year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Giving Blood, Saving Lives

It is a well-known fact that the need for donated blood increases dramatically during the holiday season. To anticipate this need, the American Red Cross is calling past donors. I am a past donor. As a matter of fact, I gave during a blood drive held where I work in early October. I hadn't given in a long time and I felt a sense of duty. I am fortunate enough to be blood type O negative, which not too many people are. We O-neg people are the true univeral donors because we can give to any blood type/Rh factor combo. That is a beautiful thing.

I am also borderline anemic all the time. That is a bad thing. Curiously, many people I know who are O-neg are iron-challenged. Many have had experiences like the one I had after I donated blood in Ocotber, which went a little something like this:
- Caren gives blood
- Caren catches funky early-season flu and is deathly ill
- Caren, barely recovered from flu, gets flu shot
- Caren is sick yet again
- Caren has respiratory problems until today

When I caught flu (it's a rare occasion when I am ill at all), I remembered why I stopped giving blood. Last time I donated (several years ago), I was sick for a couple of months and it took at least six months (rather than the usual 8 weeks) before my iron built back up. This time, it has been 11 weeks and I am still fighting a cold and popping vitamins with iron.

The Red Cross called this morning and I had to tell them "no". Now I feel guilty. As do many other borderline-anemic O-negative people out there. I want to give, I wish I could give. It is simply too much toll on my body. So, if you are a healthy person with nothing besides busyness or squeamishness stopping you, please go donate - for me, if not for you. You can find a convenient donation site at

Anyone else dying to give blood and having to say "no"?


Monday, December 18, 2006

Gearing Up For the Holidays

It is one week before Christmas. The time of year I always look around and wonder, "What have I gotten myself into?" Thanks to my husband and kids, the tree is up and has lights. Thanks to me, it has a few ornaments. I tried to institute a rule over the weekend that whoever passes through the den must put an ornament (or four) on the tree. So far, I'm the only one who has done so (though the girls have thrown a few up there).

I have managed to squeeze in Christmas shopping here and there, on my lunch break, in the evenings, and between dropping off and picking up my middle schoolers. I was incredibly grateful, I recall, when my son began driving himself around. Although he had to get on the beltline to get to his high school, the worry was worth it! Only 2-1/2 years until the next one is driving. Woot!

I have our annual Christmas dinner and gift exchange tonight with my wonderful and talented friends: Sabrina Jeffries, Liz Carlyle, Claudia Dain and Debra Bess. We have extra fabulously exciting news to celebrate tonight. As of Friday, Debra Bess is now a Harlequin Mills & Boon author!! Although, as a fellow aspiring writer it might seem that envy or self-pity would be natural reactions to Debbie's success, in fact I am nothing besides thrilled and proud. She is a wonderful writer and deserves her success! You will be glad to know her book is headed into production now and is scheduled to be a November 2007 release under her new pen name Deb Marlowe. I'll be sure to let you know when it's available! Meanwhile that leaves me as the sole unpublished member of the Biaggi's Bunch. Must keep working on that.

I managed to get all the gifts wrapped in time for this celebratory soiree. Also to get gifts wrapped for a couple of special teachers at the middle school, to help daughter number 1 to assemble gift bags for her friends and to make daughter number 2 clean the kitchen, since she baked cookies for her friends. It is sometimes a challenge to be the mother of a chef-in-training. Especially since culinary school is still five years off!

I am sure Christmas will be wonderful, just like always. Immediately afterward, I will begin to panic about New Year's Eve. Yes, you guessed it, we are having a party. My dear friend Suse and I were disgruntled about never getting invitations to any parties until we realized none of our friends ever had parties. So we decided to have one last year and make it a tradition. Only now her beloved father is ill and she may not even be at the party. Which leaves me to scurry about and make sure everything gets done. Panic!

The good news is, my darling Liz Bemis is coming to town for the party. Yay! The world's best handyman, Steve Gatewood is at my house today, installing new (desperately needed) lighting fixtures I rushed out and bought yesterday. My husband and I have been scrambling to clean out the attic so we will have space to store things we clean out of the dining room. It's a Catch-22 for us with the cleaning, but we're making headway.

In two weeks, Christmas will be over, New Year's Eve will be upon us, and (hopefully) our house will hardly be recognizable. Anyone else hoping for a "new" house for the New Year?

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Payoff

We always hope there is a big payoff after we slog through a lot of hard work. Well in my case, there was. I recently finished my latest book, "CrossTalk", and took off for 5 glorious days on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas. I was pampered, very well fed, entertained, and waited on hand and foot. Let me first say, I never wanted to go on a cruise. Ever. No interest at all. But I said yes to this one and I am so glad I did!

Our lovely waitress at dinner each evening, Maria from Romania, had the world's most charming mannerisms. Every time I thanked her, she would say, "My pleasure, madame." Which could seem obsequious or perhaps even a bit sarcastic, but from Maria it seemed sincere and lovely. Our stateroom attendant, Clinton, was equally fabulous. He magically procured things like ice for our champagne and extension cords, remembered all the scheduling details we couldn't seem to manage and folded our bath towels into interesting animal shapes when he turned down the beds each evening. We love Clinton!

Then there was Charlie. After we went parasailing, my friend Jenn and I grabbed a cab to head into downtown Cozumel. Instead of a regular cabbie, we were gifted with Charlie, who offered to take us on a private tour of the island for a very reasonable flat rate. Not only did Charlie take us to the ruins at San Gervasio and down the lovely, mostly undeveloped Caribbean side of the island, he also stopped every time we wanted to take pictures, toted purchases, took pictures of us (complete with the optimum breaking of waves in the background) and told us where the best guacamole on the island was (the beach restaurant at Palancar, if you're interested). Before our tour ended (much too soon, but that was our fault), we were all fast friends and Jenn and I promised to look him up when we visit next.

Not only did I parasail on this cruise, I also climbed the rock wall twice (but didn't make it to the top either time), rode an ATV through the jungle (very fast--thanks, Carlos!) and toured some cool Mayan ruins. Thanks to our tour guide on the bus, Francisco, we learned more about the history of the state of Quintana Roo than you could fit into a History channel documentary. It was all fabulous!

So great, in fact, we are attempting to plan a cruise to the Mediterranean in 2008. Cruising, I have found, is like a sampler platter. Once we nibble on a few ports of call, we will find out where in the Mediterranean we would like to explore more. Then my darling husband and I will jet there and spend a week exploring.

My recommendation to everyone is to finish your book, then celebrate with a cruise! Anyone else had great cruise experiences?

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Thank You - No, Really!

I was working on a huge task today - thank you notes. That's right, those polite missives Miss Manners adores. The kind printed on cardstock, requiring you to write on them by hand, address them, stick on a stamp and mail them. In a real mailbox. Actual letters have become so passé that my grown son had to ask me how to mail a letter at his apartment complex. Now, he's a smart kid, but mail is something he and his generation simply see no need for.

For those of us over say, 25, mail used to have a certain mystery. You never knew what would show up in the mailbox. Or from whom. Ever receive a love letter in the mail? The care, the thought that went into crafting the letter, addressing it and mailing. And the waiting! Waiting is not necessarily a bad thing (unless you are a writer, of course). The anticipation that follows when someone calls to say, "I sent you something" is exquisite. I'm afraid my children will have little opportunity to experience this pleasure that is almost pain in their lifetimes.

Let's face it, e-mail is fast, easy-to-use and imminently accessible. But it's not romantic at all. E-mail has all the glamour and mystery of a tater tot. Want to woo someone? Write them a letter - by hand. Show you care by spending 39 cents on a USPS stamp. Get the mooshy ones with cooing doves and hearts on them. Guys, trust me on this, letters are dead-on sexy, even if your spelling and handwriting are horrible (like my husband's).

So, I crab about writing thank you notes and Christmas cards, but I keep doing them. I know they matter. Even if they don't buy me anything tangible, they are stamp-bearing ambassadors of good will. That's why Miss Manners wants us to keep writing them. It's why I will go finish mine now. Does anyone else still send actual mail?


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Slogging Through

I have set a self-imposed deadline of Halloween to finish my current book, "CrossTalk". I have a request for the full from Next, so I am motivated to keep plugging. But somewhere just past the midpoint of every book, the joy of the "new story" wears off and it becomes a bit of a slog.

The only cure I've found for what is not "writer's block", but more like "writer's disenchantment" or "writer's fatigue" is to log butt in chair time. Preferably without teenaged children or their cute-but-slightly-obnoxious bears bothering me. Yes, the bear thinks she can type and keeps attacking my keyboard. You may think my teenager is behind this, but I believe it's the bear (code name "Rainbow"). The bear has just put her tiny panties on her head in a bid for attention. I'm not kidding.

So, bears and teenagers aside (the bear now claims to be "Underwear Girl"), it is hard to stay in the chair and be productive. You know, as opposed to playing Chuzzle or downloading music from iTunes. But, I'm trying to persevere and get some pages in. I need 3 a day to stay on track, so I may be up late tonight. At least there is no work tomorrow because it is Labor Day. Hoorah!

Enjoy your holiday and feel a bit sorry for those of us whose evil second jobs (jobs of the heart) force us to work on national holidays. I must go get the panties off the bear's head and try to clear the room so I can write. Something besides a blog, that is.

Am I the only one with bear problems?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Conference Woes and Wows

As always, the RWA National conference was a fantastic ride! This year, it was extraordinary because I was a Golden Heart finalist in the Novel With Strong Romantic Elements category. Alas, I was not the winner. But attending conference as a finalist was so much fun.

I was privileged to meet many of my 2006 GH finalist contemporaries. We named ourselves the '06 Packers (pun intended) and hope to some day be as acclaimed as the Wet Noodle Posse.
They got a mention from Susan Elizabeth Phillips when she made her acceptance speech for the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award (which was very well-deserved, I must say). We wouldn't mind recognition like that (either the mention or the Lifetime Achievement Award).

Many of the '06 Packers have already sold their GH finalist manuscripts. Once more alas, mine has not yet sold. However, I got a request for the full manuscript of CrossTalk. I am to send it to Ann Leslie Tuttle, who is now acquiring for Harlequin Next. Yeah for me!

There were a record number of members attending the conference in Atlanta from my home chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. Many returned with requests for partials and fulls from editors and agents alike. A couple of chapter members got to meet with their agents for the very first time. All around, a most rewarding conference!

Of course, the highlight of any conference for me is seeing my critique group, the Hip and Edgy. CP Regan Black signed at the RWA Literacy For Life booksigning for the very first time. It was exciting for all of us! My other CPs, Tracy Leigh Brown and Kimberly Justen, put up with mad diva antics from both me and Regan. We may have been a little high on conference, but we certainly had a good time! And, by the way, our heads deflated enough to fit back into the vehicles taking us home, so no worries.

Now, off to finish making CrossTalk the next great Next novel. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Good Foundation

So, I got this book by Danica Lo called "How Not To Look Fat". Excellent book for the "apple body", those women more blessed with boobs than butt. I'm not one of those: I am a "pear". But my youngest daughter is an apple and I had no idea how to dress a figure like hers, hence the purchase.

Although the book addresses far more "apple" than "pear" issues, it contains valuable advice for all of us about: what colors to wear where (no white jeans for me); what cuts of jeans (and pockets!) are most flattering; who should avoid shorts and mini-skirts altogether; and, which foundation garments really work.

Having gained more than a couple of pounds since conference last year, I found myself in need of a newer, stronger, better foundation garment. Danica recommends Rago Shapewear, an old standby in the Northeast and something we have never heard about down South. I ordered one online the first week in July. I'm still waiting to receive it. Conference is in a week. Panic!

The lovely dress I bought for the RWA Awards Banquet will look absolutely horrible without some very firm hip-molding action. A year of Pilates would have done it, too, but it's a bit late now. If the wonder girdle doesn't arrive, there will be a mad scramble for a local girdle. Which will not be Danica-recommended. The horror!

And so you know, the horror will be shared with whoever has to see me in the pretty red dress with my hips bulging. So you had better all hope the girdle gets here on time. More to come.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Is it cheating if you're cheating on yourself? I have created a blog for my current book, CrossTalk. The blog is called Cross Springs CrossTalk . The entries serve as intros to each chapter in the book. I hope, when it's picked up for publication, to have other entries there as well. After all, there is a lot going on in Cross Springs, North Carolina!

The RWA national conference is a little over 2 weeks away. I'm so excited! I adore conference (I know, I keep saying that but it's true). There is always too much to cram into 6 short days. Mine schedule is already packed with things to do every day. Lots of friends to see, lots of friends to meet in person.

If you get a chance, please visit my other blog and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Invading the Web and Other News

My new website,, is about to be unveiled! Er, as soon as I get required info to my friend Liz Bemis, the web designing genius behind Bemis Promotions. The site is gorgeous and Liz even managed to cobble my pictures into something attractive! Technology is truly amazing.

It has been an eternity since I blogged. Actually, since right after conference last year. Now, it's almost conference time again. Conference being, of course, the RWA National conference. It will be held the last week in July in Atlanta. This year I have the great pleasure and privilege of being a Golden Heart finalist. Such excitement, such drama! Such pressure...

I realize I have a tiny window of opportunity where I and my writing may be marginally more attractive to agents and editors than they otherwise are. So, I have been conducting my own Agentpalooza. Of course, querying is an invitation to rejection and I have received many of those. But also some requests, which makes me want to be hopeful. Okay, I'm an optimist so I can't help being hopeful, but optimism is a double-edged sword. The more you hope, the harder the rejection hits. Hard stuff, even for us optimists.

I'll be sure to post as news breaks. Hopefully, there will be lots of great news--and soon!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Life After Conference

Well, I'm a little slow, but finally posting conference news and after-conference news. The conference was wonderful in every way. Buzz phrase for me and my roomies: "Reno is magic!" We all kind of dreaded it being there, but everything about it was great. We had a high-roller suite which was huge and well-appointed. Food at the hotel was very good and cheap. Great coffee place in the lobby. Overall, we were tremendously spoiled and will, no doubt, be disappointed in future when we compare other venues to the Reno Hilton.

Better yet, many good things happened to us all! My dear friend Debra won the Royal Ascot contest, sponsored by The Beau Monde. This is a very tough contest and the competition is fierce. Hurray, Debbie! My friend Sabrina Jeffries won a National Readers Choice award and a bunch of other stuff. She was much-touted by her editor at the Spotlight on Pocket session, where everyone got to hear how fabulous she is and how everyone loves her. Also at the Pocket session, my friend Liz Carlyle was raved about by her editor. Nice to be surrounded by such greatness in my everyday life. Really.

For me, the highlight was getting to chat at length to Kathryn Lye, with whom I've been working on submissions for Harlequin's Next line. I have to say, Kathryn is a wonderful person and someone I enjoy talking with a great deal. I also met with the senior editor for the line, Tara Gavin, who was very gracious and easy-going. I went to the Next signing in the Harlequin suite and picked up six of the first-issue titles. I cannot say enough good things about Rexanne Becnel's 'Old Boyfriends'. I also got the book that mine was so similar to they couldn't buy it, 'Taking Back Mary Ellen Black'. The book was very good and, superficially, had many similarities to mine. However, I found the heroine and hero to be a bit too young and the heroine to be too unsure of herself for my taste. But overall a great story. I only wish they had found a marketing angle to definitively differentiate my story from hers!
My agent appointment was rather disappointing, but it was one I picked up at the last minute and had not anticipated. Also, it was on Saturday afternoon. By then, we were all exhausted and ready not to be 'on' even one minute longer.

When I returned, exhausted, at midnight on Sunday, my dear husband had separated my employment package into piles. I spent until 1:30 Monday morning filling them out and reported for said new job at 8:30. I look kind of stoned in my employee i.d. photo. Small wonder. Now that I've been at the new paying gig for three weeks, I've decided I love it and it's the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

Enough for now. Must dash off and write some more, so I'll have something new to submit!