Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

My adopted hometown in New Jersey is pretty small at just over 7,000 folks. Despite the fact that it’s located a mere fifteen miles west of sophisticated, urbane New York City and many residents commute there, we celebrate Memorial Day in a wonderfully small town way.

First, we have a parade down our main street past the Victorian houses decorated with flags and red, white and blue bunting. The “floats” consist of emergency vehicles and antique cars. The marchers are the town council, the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, the local police force, Scouts of all ages, and scads and scads of children from various town organizations. The only professionals are the high school marching band of which my trumpet-playing daughter is a member.

We cheer all the marchers as they pass by and then follow the end of the parade down to the war memorials set between the school and the library. Our little town has sent many of its sons and daughters to war and the memorials pay respect to those who died in World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam. Sadly, we also have a memorial to our civilians who died in the World Trade Center attack.

The mayor makes a solemn speech. The Scouts place wreaths of remembrance on the memorials. Each fallen soldier’s name is read into the stark silence. Then the most moving part of the ceremony takes place. A single trumpet plays taps from the hill in front of the school. Another trumpet answers from the hill in front of the library. By the last note, I have tears streaming down my cheeks.

This year will be especially emotional for me because my daughter has the honor of playing the echoing trumpet. I’ll be taking lots of tissues.

After we honor those who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country, we adjourn to the recreation field for a townwide picnic. My husband cooks hot dogs, my daughter hands me her trumpet and the wool jacket of her band uniform, my son takes his soccer ball, and I revel in the sense of community that brings us all together for both tears and laughter.

How do you spend your Memorial Day?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Summer's Here!

Today is the last day of school. Besides writing, I also teach 11th grade English. Today I have to give two finals, and then it's on to Memorial Day weekend. My children and I bought Six Flags season passes and we're going to start tonight.

As the year winds down, one of the treadmills that I run on will be turned off for a few weeks. I'll focus primarily on finishing the book due July 15 and also on writing something my agent has been wanting for a while.

I'm discovering that life is a balance. My family and I also plan to travel--July right now is wide open. Instead of doing RWA, I'm going to simply take off. We're also going to be tourists in our own town as well--doing things like attending a NASCAR Busch series race and going to the top of the Arch.

I dropped my August cover in because my Capturing the Cop cover is over in the bar to the right. Its run is finished this weekend, and it moves to a place in my backlist. The Marriage Campaign replaces it. By August, I'll be back in school (August 1 to be exact), once again turning on the treadmill and starting to run for the next 10 months. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

So, nothing really profound today. Just a wish for everyone to have a wonderful summer and may you find joy each day.

Michele Dunaway

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Adventures at My First BEA

For years, I've been hearing authors talk about the BEA. What is it, you ask?--the same way I did the first time I heard those letters. BEA stands for Book Expo America, but what it means is that every publisher in America, and many from around the world, get together in a huge warehouse like convention center, set up booths and give away (free) lots of copies of their soon-to-be-published books to booksellers and librarians from every city and hamlet in the country.
Originally, I thought I would get to sign my new book. But about a month before, my publisher (Running Press) said they weren't going to get them in time so that was out. But I went anyway and I'm so glad I did. Talk about feeling like a kid with free rein in a candy store!
We (Kathy Carmichael met me there) arrived on Thursday afternoon and ran down (Washington DC Convention Center) to check things out. Everyone (publishers, distributers, writers organizations, people selling ad space and book related promotional items) was putting together their booths and big fork lifts were driving around, delivering pallets of books and tables and who knows what else to everyones' booths. It looked like a huge construction zone. And it looked like a challenge, just getting everything to the appropriate people and places. (At the RWA booth, Allison and Nicole were tracking down their boxes and hoping the people in the know would find and deliver them in time for them to get things put together.) We wandered for a little while, kind of getting our bearings, but didn't stay long since it looked like a dangerous place to just hang out.
We took the Metro back to our hotel and got ready for dinner with a fun group of RWA board members Kathy served with while she was on the board, and Robin, daughter of a friend and a buyer for Ingrams and Beau, her cutie husband. Besides a lot of talk about our various pets, we compared notes on who and what we were going to see and which books we were on the hunt for. As a buyer for Ingrams, Robin was invited to a special showing/movie preview of "The Da Vinci Code." (I think that was sponsored by Warner Books.) I swear, it was the last time we got to sit down for the next two days.
Bright and early the next morning, we headed back to the convention center. (You can't imagine how big this thing is until you try to picture this: both the C-Span and Ellora's Cave had huge buses as their booths and they didn't stand out more than anyone else's booths.) Everything was lined up like a little city with the rows numbered like addresses. (There were huge banners with the 'row' numbers--and advertisements from some of the bigger publisher beneath them--hanging high from the ceiling so that if you knew what you were looking for, you could actually find things. I'd found the Perseus/Running Press address the night before so I was off to the 4300 block. (We'd decided the day before that if we needed a place to meet up during our time there, we'd meet at the corner of Ingrams and RWA, or beneath the 800 row banner.) I found the 4300 block (started seeing the big Perseus sign long before I got there) and expected to have to hang around, reading names tags to find my editor and publicist since I hadn't met either of them before. The first name tag I read was Seta, my publicist. And she must have read my name tag about the time I read hers because she greeted me with a big, "Alfie" and then grabbed a book and handed it to me. "Guess what I have!" It was my book and I will never get over that thrill of holding one of my books in my hot little hands. (No, I didn't feel *like a virgin*, JoAnn. It always feels like a miracle to me and I want to sing the Hallelujah Chorus--and I'd much rather have that running through my head.)
It was a 'bindery run' copy, she said--whatever that is. I assume that's the same thing as an arc, but having never gotten an ARC before (Advanced Reading Copy), I don't know.
Seta seemed surprised that I was so excited. I told her that I was always that excited and the only thing different this time was that I wasn't going to have a chance to sit down and read it immediately, the way I usually do. (Usually, everything stops while I do that but in this case...)
She had to go back to work at that point; they were doing a signing with one of their authors and returned her attention to helping him. *He* was Joseph C. Phillips, the super-hunky actor who was Lisa Bonet's husband on The Cosby Show, among other things. His book is *he talk like a white boy, Reflections on Faith, Family, Politics and Authenticity* and I immediately got in line and got my own signed copy. (Yay! My very first book from the candy store. Can't wait to read it.) When Seta had another chance, I found that my editor, Lisa Clancy wasn't around yet so I said I would check back until I caught her and went my merry way.
Kathy and I met up again and when we turned our first corner, ran smack into a couple of sweet young things, handing out copies of Debbie Macomber and Emilie Richards' new books. They invited us into the Harlequin booth to have them autographed. So we met and greeted several authors, booksellers and editors we knew, caught up with bits of news while we waited in line. (Harlequin had a terrific bookbag they were giving out, thank goodness. I hadn't brought one and it looked like I was going to need one badly!)
After some more wandering, taking books people were handing us, seeing the sights, we met up with Diana Peterfreund for lunch. Diana got a lot of publicity when her first book was bought and it, *Secret Society Girl* will coming out in June. Besides having a wonderful lunch and interesting conversation, I got the feeling that Diana was a great example of an author publisher's expect to be BIG. She was scheduled to sign ARCs on Sunday so unfortunately, Kathy and I missed that since we left on Saturday evening. (See pictures of her signing at her blog. The pictures also give you a feel for what/how the various booths looked.)
That was an interesting aspect of BEA. Big name authors (and celebrities) were there signing, but there were lots of other authors, too. Some--like Diana--you got the feeling the publishers were putting the 'push' behind and expecting them to be big someday. Others, you got the feeling that their publishers wanted to use to draw people into their booths to promote their wide range of books, in general. (I'm not sure if that distinction makes sense, but there was a difference.)
After lunch, I went back to Running Press and--yippee--finally got to meet my editor. She was as wonderful and smart in person as she's been not in person. As usual, she wasn't at all the person I'd pictured in my mind. (She was younger, as usual. For someone who's worked in publishing for as long as she has, she was much younger.)
I met Kathy and Diana back at the hotel later. And then, after we'd hung out in the concierge lounge for awhile, I went to bed, exhausted. (My feet were killing me, my knees were killing me, my ankles were killing me--anywhere I had a joint was killing me; I actually had the beginnings of a blister on my *shoulder* from carrying that ever growing lug of books around all day. Did I mention that there seemed to be nowhere just to sit for a second, anywhere?)
The second day--we had until 3 in the afternoon until we had to head to the airport--was the day the first should have been. We got there early enough to figure out where the "traditional autographings" were. They had thirty long tables set up in a row upstairs--think RWA literacy signing--where every thirty minutes for some, an hour for others, the authors changed. I don't know but think publishers probably had to pay for those spots at the tables. They had arranged long aisles to each of the tables, leading both to and away from the authors. The Celebrity and BIGNAME authors had huge long lines. For some authors, Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson, Debbie Macomber, etc., you had to arrive at 7:30 in the morning to get *tickets* for their lines. I didn't stand in any long lines. There were too many books to choose from to waste time that way. (Not that I would consider any of you *famous* folks a waste of time, mind you...I'll just catch you another time.) The other thing Kathy and I discovered was a shipping area where you just went in, got a box and put your name and badge number on it, and dumped your books into it. When it was time to leave, you just went in, filled out a form and they closed it up for you and shipped it home to you. (We need that at RWA, btw.)
While we were hanging out the evening before, I went through the whole BEA schedule and highlighted the books/authors/booths I really wanted to see. Then I made a long list, in "address" order and by time so that when we got there that morning, we started at the low numbers and worked our way steadily to/through the places we wanted to be. (I only got through half my list, boohoo.)
I didn't manage to find where they were doing the workshop-like "sessions" they called Special Events. (I suspect they were down the hall from the place where they were doing the traditional autographings.) When I first looked at the schedule, I pictured myself going to at least a few of those. (Come to think of it, it would have been a chance to sit down.) There were things like Beyond the Code: Building the new Fact-filled Genre; Editor and Bookseller Buzz Forum Celebrating Five Years Featuring the Impassioned Voices of Editors; and Book Industry Trends 2006.
Outside the two block square convention center, several small cars--I saw three at once but don't know exactly how many there were--painted and decorated with Google stuff, continually circled the block with signs that said "free transportation for BEA attendees." They were never around when I was actually going somewhere. At the front of the building, six buses ran shuttles every fifteen minutes between area hotels.
Every time I slowed down for more than 60 seconds to catch my breath, I met someone interesting and (possibly) advantageous to my career. (Librarians, booksellers, book buyers for a couple of large chains, etc. One of the librarians asked if I'd come to an upcoming book fair in her city. We exchanged email addresses. We'll see what happens with that.)
All in all, I'd go again in a heartbeat. Only this time I would be wiser and have my plans set and mapped out before I ever left home. Going as a big name author might be a bit of a strain, simply because I suspect your publisher would have your dance card filled with places you had to be and things you had to do. And you'd probably have to fight off fans--these are mostly booksellers remember--recognizing you. Wouldn't likely be conducive to relaxing and enjoying. But going as one of the crowd? Priceless! Sign me up for next year.

P.S. Got my box of books this afternoon. Yay!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Like a Virgin

It’s been one of those weeks. One of those two weeks, actually, when the business of writing kept interfering with the actual writing. E-mails back and forth, to and from agents (and yes, that’s plural; I have two, which can be interesting at times). E-mails to editors and publishers. Letters from publishers to agents. Conference calls with agents, then more e-mails to agents, publishers, editorial directors, and editor. Plans to be made, roads to be chosen. In the midst of this flurry of activity, there were website decisions to make, all which seem vastly important, but in the great scheme of world events (can we say war, continued Gulf Coast suffering, drought and babies dying in Africa?) they aren’t worth nearly the amount of time I’ve spent fussing over them.

Then three days ago memo-to-me began sending reminders that I was scheduled to blog today. The reason, when I signed up for this date three months ago, was to announce that today’s the day IMPULSE is officially published. I say officially because according to reports from readers and my own sweetie, it started being scattered across the country last week. But all this business stuff had me drained. Forget about writing on my upcoming book. I had no idea what to blog. It seemed a little tacky just to tell people to BUY MY BOOK! NOW!

As of late yesterday afternoon I still had no idea what I was going to do. About anything, but I’m big on prioritizing and obviously 2 Be Read had just shot to the top of my to-do list. Then the UPS truck pulled up in my driveway. I order a lot of stuff on line – books, scrapbook paper, gifts for grandbabies and friends, etc. – so I waited for the driver to come to the front door. But instead he took the package to the garage, which – sigh – meant it must be for my sweetie, who, since he took way early retirement, has been hand-building wooden boats in two of the three stalls of our garage. Not model boats, either. But real ones. This is actually my fault for having sent him – just as a joke! – the plans for a pirogue I found while researching BLUE BAYOU. Well, he took it seriously. Which is okay because the grandbabies love riding in it whenever they come to visit. Next was a cedar strip canoe he auctioned off to raise money for the Tennessee School for the Deaf. Last year’s boat was a kayak. And this year he’s working on a yawl. Y’all. :)

But I digress. . .

Anyway, needless to say, wood and Fiberglas and all sorts of special boat building material and tools are all the time arriving at our house. So, deciding that I wouldn’t get anything fun to open, I tried to go back to work. Actually I went back to web stuff to announce the contest winners for the IMPULSE publication countdown. (And what made me decide to do that anyway? Doesn’t it now mean I’ll have to stop writing to send out seven books with nice little friendly hand-written notes?)

Then my boatbuilder came upstairs with the cartons of books that had just been delivered from Simon and Schuster. And my day/week/world changed. It was suddenly Christmas in May. With me warning him not to cut the dog’s nose, he carefully opened one of the cartons with his Swiss Army knife. There the books lay, in all their shiny blue splendor. I took one out. Admired it. Checked to make sure they had, indeed, changed the spine labeling from romance to romantic suspense, as I’d requested when I’d gotten the first run of covers. I gingerly opened it to check the dedication, which was really important to me and I’ve been worried for months that it might get left out. But no. . . It was there.

Then I sat down at my desk and ignoring the dinging of my e-mail alert signaling yet more obnoxious business stuff, I began reading. And yes, I am one of those who enjoys reading my books. By the time they arrive, I can read more like a reader. Or at least as a writer who’s forgotten so much of the book I can be surprised. And occasionally, I’ll stop and go, “Wow. Did I write that? Not too shabby, girl.”

I’ve written 96 books. Named 192 heroes and heroines. (I ran out of original names a long time ago, but I figure if George Foreman can name all five of his sons George, I can have two Jacks. Or a couple Kates.) Twenty-three years ago, when the first box of books arrived, it seemed like a miracle. That I could actually be holding, in my very two hands, a story that had first been born in the swirling mists of my mind. A story that I could now share with the world. (Or at least the romance readers of the world.) Fortunately, enough people liked that story, and the ones that followed, that I’ve been able to build a very nice career on my Jacks and Kates and Nicks and Erins.

But every time that box shows up at my door, and my sweetie folds back the brown flaps, that old Madonna song starts singing in my head, because as I reach down and take out a copy, and run my fingertips over the foil, smell the aroma of freshly printed paper, I’m swept right back to 1983, and feel just like a publishing virgin. Touched for the very first time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Rant in Praise of Happy Endings

Two days ago, I rented a movie and, tired after a long day writing, settled back to watch it. As the friend who recommended it had promised, this flick had great acting and wonderful characterization. The trouble was, all that characterization was used to depict fictional human beings who continually screwed up, learning nothing from their errors, until each member of the family was left dysfunctional, isolated, and in need of long-term therapy. It had one of those subtle endings, too, where you’re so taken by surprise when the credits roll, you start tearing at your hair and shrieking, “I spent two hours of my life on this?”

When critics, pseudo-intellectuals, and people who never read the genre play the “more erudite than thou” game, one of their favorite slams against romance is the guarantee of a happy ending. As if happy endings where two people get together in a committed relationship are somehow less than, say, happy endings where the murderer is caught, the protagonist survives grave danger, a battle is won, or human colonists on some distant moon escape extinction.

Oh, wait. Those kinds of endings often happen in romance novels, too, as elements in the books’ external plots. Just as when I read novels shelved outside the romance aisle, I usually recognize romantic elements in them, too. And a lot of them have – oh, the horror – happy endings.

Well, here’s a news flash. People love them. If they want to be depressed, they can turn on the evening news. If they want insoluble problems, they can read the paper. If they want to see unhealthy relationships that go nowhere or come to bad ends, they surely don’t have to look far, either. People pick up popular fiction after a tough day working, wrangling kids, or caring for sick parents so they can get a break from stress and worry. They trust their favorite authors to take them to a world where the bad guys always get theirs, kittens don’t have to worry about getting drop-kicked, and people who struggle hard and try to be decent human beings are pretty well assured of having someone nice to cuddle at the day’s end.

As a writer, I love taking readers to places they’ve never been, allowing them to meet fascinating new people they might never encounter, and enticing them to sweat out my characters’ harrowing journeys in the comfort and safety of their (that’s the readers’, not the characters’) favorite lounge chairs. If I introduce my readers to new ideas or make them consider other points of view along the way, that’s nice, but primarily, I see my job as allowing the reader to slip into the skins of my books’ heroes and heroines and hang on for a wild ride – knowing that though there might by some surprises, some skinned knees, and bruised hearts along the way, there will be a moment of truth. And better yet, I’m going to darned well tell them how it all comes out.

The way I see it, an author gets paid to tell a story – a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And a commercial author in particular works hard to build larger-than-life characters with whom the reader will identify. These characters go on to represent the reader, much in the same way a school’s or city’s sports team represents the fan base.

Who wants to see his/her team lose? Sure, the best games are those where the outcome is in doubt and the opponents worthy, but in the end, I know I want my guys to overcome the odds. A home team’s sports victory relieves stress and releases endorphins, just as a happy ending in a book or movie leaves the reader with a sigh of satisfaction and the strong desire to repeat the experience again soon.

An unhappy ending or – worse yet- no real ending at all leaves most audience members depressed and anxious.

Is it any wonder that popular fiction – especially romance – is so, well, popular? Crowds cheer when the Death Star is blown to pieces, the Lost Ark is swiped from under the noses of the Nazis, and Sally finally realizes Harry has been the right one all along. And I cheer right along with them.

If that makes me a philistine, sue me. I plan to go on writing happy endings as long as there are readers who prefer a hopeful brand of fiction to a prescription for Prozac.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Company of Women

Every year since 2003, one of my cousins has organized a DivaFest -- a week of vacation with just girlfriends, lying on the beach and enjoying the company, along with good food, good wine, creative cocktails, and wonderful conversation.

This year was the first time I had an invitation to join them, and I did feel some trepidation around going. I'm a writer, after all, and spend most of my days alone with a story. What would happen when I showed up at a DivaFest of 11 women where the only 2 women I knew were cousins I hadn't seen in years?

The answer: I'd have the time of my life!

There are a couple of reasons for this, I think.

The first, and most important, is that I had no expectations about any part of it -- how I thought things would go, who I would meet, whether I'd like them or not, or whether they'd like me or not. Better yet, they seemed to have no expectations of me, either. I just had to show up, and the energy surrounding these lovely, creative, funny, engaging women was enough to float us all on a tide of goodwill and enjoyment.

The second thing is that women in largish groups have a different energy from mixed sex company, especially when there’s a decent supply of rum involved. We did the whole "girl-dancing" thing at a neat dive bar, which was very liberating for little ole reserved me, and it was all about having fun. None of us were trolling for men, so "performance" wasn't an issue or a worry. (Though we did inadvertently catch two or three!)

I feel very blessed to have been a part of such a fun crowd for the four days I could get away to attend DivaFest. I came away feeling energized and motivated and empowered. Now, if we could only bottle this power and take a sip every now and then on the tough days!

Or maybe we should arrange more day-to-day Diva events -- a DivaConferenceCall or a DivaDinner or a DivaNight -- to keep that unique female energy flowing.

What do you do to connect and reconnect with the women in your life?

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Hello, my name is Gail, and I'm a Procrastinator.

Don't you think there ought to be a twelve-step program for us? Procrastination certainly gets in the way of accomplishing what we want to do. The last time it was my turn to blog, I wrote about fear, which is one reason we procrastinate. But today, when it's my turn to blog again, it's mid-afternoon and I am finally getting around to it. It has taken me this long to get here is due to my methods of coping with my procrastination. (Or maybe it's not procrastination--maybe it's my disorganized approach to organization...)

Like many people, I have more stuff I want to do than I have time to do it in. Which means prioritizing. And for me, it means writing my priorities down in lists because if I don't, I'll forget something--and I might forget it anyway. I can't keep up with anything technological or even one of those dayplanner things. I use a little spiral notebook. Right now, I have a calendar my best friend gave me that is just like a little spiral notebook, only with dates included. And on the top of every page is WRITE.

I print it in all caps and add the abbreviation for whatever manuscript I'm working on. Then lower on the page, I add all the other stuff I want to do that day. Dust the new bookshelves and move books. Revise my workshop for RWA National. Laundry. Call for a haircut. But the writing always goes at the top. Because I have found that if I don't do the writing first, I often don't get to it at all.

I put everything else aside and devote my mornings to the writing. Even though that's when it's cool enough to stand to get outside and dig that stupid Bermuda grass out of my flower beds, and cool enough to walk to the post office for the mail. Even though I was signed up to blog here at the 2BRead side today. I wrote. Got 5-1/2 pages squeezed out. (The insurance adjuster came to look at my poor hailed-on vehicle about half an hour before I normally quit.) (I know, excuses, excuses.) I didn't even remember I was supposed to blog today (even though I sent myself a reminder yesterday) until I got online after lunch and the post office to check e-mail. I forgot to put it in my to-do list.

My list really helps with the procrastination. After I move something from one page to the next four or five times, I get sick of looking at it and actually DO it. Most of the time. (The haircut thing tends to take a couple of weeks before I there.) It helps me get the books written, because with WRITE at the top of every page, I'm reminded that I need to do it first.

But sometimes, my methods of dealing with my natural procrastination mean that other stuff gets forgotten, or done just a teensy bit late. Am I the only one this disorganized?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More of the next big thing

Lori wrote: Maybe a new mix--Space bound Cowboys (along the lines of the Firefly series). Or Gothic Chick Lit. (someone please write one of those--I've got to read it.) Or maybe Kick Ass Heroine Regencies. (Serve your own d@mn tea.)Whatcha think? You can tell me...

Lori, I love these ideas. While I read and write the subgenre you don't enjoy, romantic suspense, your ideas for the next big thing grab me. I'd love to read a Gothic chick Lit. I can picture the heroine now, in Elvira garb and living in the hero's dark mansion. And KickAss Heroine Regencies? Those would be a hoot. They'd have to be tongue in cheek.
Not something I want to tackle on my computer, but if they're published, I want to read them!

The Next Big Thing...

Okay, am I the only one wondering what "The Next Big Thing" will be? I first discovered romance back in the historical heyday. Then I shifted with thousands of others to contemporary romantic comedy and chick lit. When Time Travels first appeared, I was mesmerized, and I was thrilled that paranormal went on to become huge.

So you don't think I am a total camp follower, there have been a few trends I just didn't get. I sampled a few romantic suspense novels during their first appearance in the limelight, but, even though I like straight suspense and love mysteries, something about the mix didn't pull me in enough to search them out. Ditto for modern heros with jobs like pilot or any variety of police enforcement/investigation. And well, erotica isn't my cup of tea. In fact a lot of the stories just billed as super sexy are a little boring to me--but maybe that's another blog.

Anyway, here we sit. The only things getting big buzz seem to be super sexy up to and including erotica, and paranormal, mainly dark. How long can these trends last? And what will push them off their pedestals? Anybody who has been watching this longer than me have a clue? A guess even? And what pushes the reigning trend off its throne? Is it a new hot movie or TV show that uncovers a hidden passion in romance readers everywhere? Or is it just complete overkill (jumping the shark) of the current Queen of the genre? Do we ever go backwards--could cowboys hit it big again? Or Vikings? (I have to admit a weakness for a good Viking tale.) Maybe a new mix--Space bound Cowboys (along the lines of the Firefly series). Or Gothic Chick Lit. (someone please write one of those--I've got to read it.) Or maybe Kick Ass Heroine Regencies. (Serve your own d@mn tea.)

Whatcha think? You can tell me...

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Room Of One's Own

Author Virginia Woolf believed that a woman needs money and a room of her own if she’s going to write fiction. Her central thesis was that every woman novelist needs a space to call her own where she can engage in uninterrupted writing time. Something male writers of that day (and probably still do) enjoyed without question. While suggesting that women’s art suffered due to a lack of space, Woolf used the room as a symbol for more complex problems -- such as women’s need for leisure time and financial independence, if their writing was to ever be taken seriously—which I’m not even going to try to tackle in a blog.

I just want to talk about the room. I’ve always written. At least since I picked up a #2 pencil and a Big Chief tablet when I was seven years old. I've written anywhere and everywhere – sitting up in an old apple tree, on the beach, on car trips, first with my parents, then later with my husband. I've written in my son’s pediatrician’s office, at his basketball and choir practices, at airport gates, on planes, sitting on a sidewalk waiting for the Fiesta Bowl parade to begin, in the woods on camping trips, and, before I had an actual office, most often at the kitchen table, which meant, of course, I’d have to clean everything off the table whenever anyone wanted to eat.

It wasn’t until I decided to become serious about becoming published in book length fiction that I actually claimed a room as my own. It was an extra bedroom being used as a storage room. At ten by ten feet, it was the smallest room in the house, but by the time I cleared out all the boxes, painted the walls a soft sky blue, and bought myself a pretty cherry French Provincial desk, that cramped little room was suddenly transformed into a refuge, a place where I could tell my stories in peace and quiet. (Relative peace, anyway. Once school let out for the day, I’d be writing with the booming sound of adolescent boys blasting away at video game aliens on the other side of the wall. )

I’ve had three more offices since that first small room. And they’ve gotten progressively larger. When I moved into this house, I was thrilled with my spacious four-hundred square feet, the vaulted ceiling, which is edged with bright white double-crown molding and soars up 13 feet, along with large windows on three sides of the room. Since the room's on the second floor, I look down on gardens or directly into the canopy of leafy green trees, which gives me a feeling of writing in a park. Continuing the outdoor nature theme, two walls are grayish-sea blue, two are a soft sea green, a compromise I came up with after struggling for weeks to choose between the two paint chips. Framed counted cross stitch and needlepoint -- created to look like Impressionist paintings -- hang on the wall, along with a framed poster of Irish cottages and Celtic wood carvings my sweetie made for me. At six feet, my desk is larger than that first desk -- although way smaller than Sue Grafton’s twenty-four foot (!) desk -- but somehow, during the course of writing a book, it still ends up covered with mountains of research texts, magazines, mail, and different colored ms. drafts. I am firmly convinced that the amount of clutter that accumulates is in direct proportion to the amount of flat surface I have in my office and by the end of a book those piles have spread to the floor around my chair.

My matching credenza manages to stay somewhat neater; while the space behind the closed doors is jammed with boxes of paper, except for a couple book posters and a stack of covers, the top is mostly my lucky baseball shrine, with, among other things, a model of Yankee Stadium; my autographed Mickey Mantle baseball, which was a birthday present from my husband years ago; a mug from Mickey Mantles in NYC, and my Yankee Barbie (wearing her pinstripe uniform, complete with warm-up jacket, mitt, and tiny Louisville Slugger), who, because of an unfortunate difference in scale, towers over the House that Ruth Built like a very stylish Godzilla about to attack Tokyo.

Because I can't edit in the same place I write, I have a pretty flowered couch on the far side of the room, but it's mostly where my dogs sleep. Heaven forbid they’d ever have to sleep on the floor, like, well. . . dogs!

I've been very happy in this bright and airy room, but then a few weeks ago, pal Cindy Gerard sent me photos of her new writer digs, and I immediately came down with a serious case of office envy. Her walls are a soothing moss green, there’s a white fireplace (which I suspect she needs more in Iowa than I do in Tennessee), and leafy green plants, which, if they’re actually real are even more impressive. She has a loveseat with gorgeous pillows (which even come with a live cat lounging atop one of them) and a pretty rug, which her dog appears to have claimed.

The room is so neat that if I didn’t like Cindy so much, I’d have to hate her, but the most enviable thing about her office is that it looks so cozy. Just the type of place a muse would love to come visit. And better yet, even stay awhile, perhaps sharing a pot of tea while telling you all sorts of fabulous secret plot twists for your story you hadn’t begun to think of. In fact, the room looks like it should be photographed for a magazine. Did I mention that if I didn’t really, really like Cindy, I’d hate her?

The pictures got me thinking about other writers’ offices. Which segued into the idea that all women, not just writers, need a room to call their own. A private room (with a lock on the door!) that’s a sanctuary. A place where a woman can do whatever she wants -- write, read, dream, play free cell and spider solitaire, and yes, do absolutely nothing, if that's her choice.

So, if Virginia Woolf’s spirit suddenly appeared and could, with a flick of her wrist, create your own personal dream room for you, what would it look like? And what items would be “must haves?”

Thursday, May 11, 2006

On Being a Scaredy-Cat

This was the week I had planned to start a new book. I spent a couple of weeks on character development and plotting, writing the synopsis, and on Monday, it was supposed to be time to actually start writing the book.

But being Monday, it was also laundry day. And the kitchen needed cleaning, and ... I knew what I was doing. I was afraid to start the book. It wasn't Writer's Block. It was fear, plain and simple.

I knew how I wanted to start it, which character to begin with and where to begin. But I was still afraid. Afraid it wouldn't be as cool as I wanted it to be. As cool as it needs to be. As cool as it sounded when I came up with the idea... the thought of turning ideas into actual words on paper had me backing away.

I've always understood Writer's Block to be a sort of paralysis. A state of staring at the blank page because the Words Just Won't Come. I couldn't didn't want to go look at that blank page. I've never really Had Writer's Block. (I know, I know. Knock on wood. I could get it any time.) I've had The Stupids (where the narrative is stupid, the dialogue is stupid, the characters are stupid and everything is just stupid, Stupid, STUPID!!!). I've had The Doubts (where I doubt whether I can actually do it, whatever IT might be). I've even had knock-down-drag-out Fights with my characters, because they refuse to do what I know darn good and well they are going to do. (My characters' cases of the guilts that they get before they've done something can really cause problems.)

Fights with characters can definitely stall things out, but I have learned that they can be resolved with some very strange-looking arguing with one's self. (Me: "Don't tell me you wouldn't make love to your heroine in a dangerous place with a busted-down door! If she jumps into your arms and wraps her legs around you, you cannot tell me you will not forget everything else to make love to her right then and there!" Myself (on behalf of the hero): "Well, okay, you're right. I would...but I'd feel really guilty about it afterward.")

When I make myself go into my lovely office with my lovely new desk (3rd picture down in the link), and actually face that blank page, it's not very long before I start writing Something. Anything. (Which, I believe is where the Stupids come from.) The problem is that fear. It can keep me away from the writing desk altogether. Which is why I make myself write first.

If I go in and sit down and begin, I generally discover before too long that it's not as scary as I thought, and I can do it after all, and, well, there are no monsters under the bed, except for the ones I put there to keep for research purposes. Lots of things are like that, don't you think? (BTW, I got my 6 pages written on Monday, plus a little more.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


My cat is trying to help me write this. Actually, she's standing in front of my computer screen, making a better door than a window. She's a good muse, when she's sitting elsewhere like on the chair next to me.

But it's time to pet her, and she's discovered that if she gets in my way, I'll stop what I'm doing and pet her before I put her back on the floor.

I titled this post timing because I was supposed to write it early this morning. But I didn't have time to get that done, and work called and I'm so far behind there as well as I haven't had time to catch up on all the papers which take at least 5 minutes each to grade (and I have 130).

I have a proposal due May 15. I have to make the time to do that. I carried out dinner since I never have time to cook, and then sat on my rear-end and wasted time watching The Waterboy on ABC Family. Two hours gone--except for it's been so long that I've made time to sit around and do nothing that I'm allowing myself not to feel guilty since I often don't make time to relax. I did make time to get on the treadmill for 30 minutes and get a least 1.33 miles run/walk in.

Time can be our best friend, or our enemy. Time can make us feel overwhelmed and frantic. I finished my revisions at 9 PM Sunday--they were due May 8 (Monday) at 8 AM. Talk about down to the wire.

But I've learned to simply roll with it. I can't control time. I can make to do lists, I can prioritize, and then often not, the best laid plans go astray. Sometimes this is a good thing. Monday night I took an hour and went on a walk with my 9 year old after we'd gone out to dinner. Two hours of quality time--I can't remember when we'd done that last.

My book is out this month, and except for some stock signings, I'm not doing anything fancy. No postcards, no PR, no book signings. I simply don't have time. I'm placing my book out there (one of my personal favorites) and praying that it can swim on its own without my assistance. This month, my family needs my time, and that's where I have to focus. I need to be Mom this month as school winds down. I only have a short period of time before those little girls are grown and gone away. I want to savor every moment, and I don't need to write everyday. I've freed myself from that--because me time and family time must come first.

Thus, I'll worry about that book I have due July 15 in a few weeks, once I have more time. :)

Monday, May 08, 2006


A friend of mine is the author of thirteen books in three genres with four different publishers. So far she’s 0 for 13 when it comes to keeping the original titles of her books. Looks like I’m on my way to catching up with her.

I recently sold my second book, a romantic suspense with a mom-lit voice to it. Think Stephanie Plum -- married, settled down with a house in the burbs and 2.3 rugrats, but still getting involved with taking down the bad guys. Except in my case, my heroine is a widow with teenagers, and she’s the one accused of doing all that bad guy stuff. So she’s got to channel her inner Sidney Bristow to save herself and clear her name. The hero, like all good heroes, lends a hand.

I came up with what I thought was a great title for this book. Unfortunately, someone else came up with a very similar title, and her book was released recently. So I have a sale, I have a release date (June 2007), but I don’t have a title.

Some people are great brainstorming titles. I’m not one of them. When I sold my first book, my publisher wanted the title I had chosen changed to something that sounded more ‘chick lit.’ I may not be good at plucking titles from the cosmos, but every once in awhile I get a great idea. The idea I had for that book was to run a contest. I posted my dilemma on some of my writing loops and on my website. Whoever came up with the title my editor chose would get credit on the acknowledgment page of my book and an autographed copy when the book was released. That’s how TALK GERTIE TO ME came about. And it’s such a great title because it has double meaning. Gertie is the childhood imaginary friend my heroine resurrects to help her cope with her menopausal mom as well as the persona she invents for her talk radio gig. I’m forever in the debt of the person who thought up that positively perfect title.

So I decided that holding a “Name That Book” contest worked well for me the first time, why not give it another shot? And that’s exactly what I’m doing. But so far the suggestions that are pouring in are more appropriate for Harlequin/Silhouette short contemporary novels. Some would make great short contemporary titles, as a matter of fact. But they’re just not cutting it for my mom-lit romantic suspense. I need help! I’ve got a blurb and chapter excerpt posted on my website ( and the contest info on the CONTEST page. If you’re good at coming up with titles, have at it! Please!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Obsessive Book Hoarding

My name is Patti O'Shea and I'm an Obsessive Book Hoarder (OBH).

It started innocently enough. I bought a few more books than I had time to read--no big deal--I'd get to those three eventually. But before too long, my To Be Read (TBR) pile swelled to a dozen. Still manageable and everyone has books on hand to read, right?

I found out the answer to that was no. My friends were shocked when I casually mentioned I had unread books. I brought it up with a few other people because I was sure I was normal. It turned out that I wasn't. The incredulous looks, the shocked comments were all it took for me to go underground about my twelve books. After all, it was embarrassing to be the only one who bought more books than she read.

Then I bought a new computer that had Prodigy Classic software on it. I joined, and browsed the communities--and I found other romance readers. Better yet, TBR piles were ordinary, casually discussed as if everyone had one! I knew I'd found a home.

Then came the recommendations. Authors I just had to try. Topics like "Favorite First Line" and "Only Three." (The premise being that you could only pick three books to keep and you'd lose the rest. Which three would you pick?) I found more intriguing books and bought them. This is when I discovered Linda Howard and Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz and went in search of their backlists.

And the TBR pile swelled.

There were authors on the romance board. I had to try their books, right? They were online friends. So I read Rachel Lee (aka Sue Civil Brown) and fell in love with her Conard County books. And Leanne Banks and her Pendleton Brothers series. Donna Kauffman, Anne Stuart, Barbara Bretton and a legion of others. The list of authors read like a who's who of romance and I tried almost all of them.

And the TBR pile swelled.

Because I was trying so many new authors and loving them, and because an OBH must have every book a must-buy author has ever written, I began a list of Out of Print titles I had to have. I began spending my Saturdays hitting thrift stores, used book stores and library sales in pursuit of these hard-to-find gems. I was wildly successful--even finding Nora Roberts's Promise Me Tomorrow, Anne Stuart's The Demon Count and Linda Howard's then unavailable Mackenzie's Mountain. While I was looking for specific books, I'd find others that looked interesting and buy them too. I was in heaven!

And since I was spending so much time looking for books, I didn't have as much time to read them, so the TBR pile swelled even further.

The women on Prodigy Classic supported me in my addiction. Heck, they shared my addiction. We'd talk about the size of our TBR mountains with great pride. We were OBH and damn proud of it.

I started devoting more time to writing--something I'd dabbled in from the age of fourteen. Prodigy Classic had great help for aspiring authors from some very big names. Jennifer Greene organized online workshops for us, led discussions and I learned a lot! Even if I only lurked, never admitting to anyone that I was writing.

And because I was writing, I didn't have as much time to read, and the TBR pile grew even further.

I started going to writers's conferences where free books were rife. I shipped three boxes of books home from my first RWA National. Do I need to mention how fast the TBR pile was growing at this point?

Actually, the word pile is a misnomer. Even the word mountain doesn't quite work. My TBR books fill a floor to ceiling bookcase. I have them stacked double. They've overflowed beyond that space.

I own more than 5,000 fiction books. I've read more than 4,000 of them. That means my TBR list is around 1000 books long. I'm admitting it in public for the first time since Prodigy Classic closed up shop.

Are there any other Obsessive Book Hoarders out there? Anyone else brave enough to share the size of their TBR pile?

And are there any other former Prodigy Classic members out there? If so, please post, I'd love to hear from you and talk about the good old days. :-)

Patti O'Shea
Eternal Nights - Aug 2006
Through a Crimson Veil - Oct 2005

Thursday, May 04, 2006


With the release of my latest romantic thriller, The Deadliest Denial, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the various types of denial in human life. While I was writing the book, I was thinking of denial as the psychological equivalent of a life ring thrown to a drowning person in the face of unendurable pain: the betrayal of a spouse, the death of a loved one, the failure of a beloved child to live up to a parent’s expectations. Sometimes this denial turns into a desperate, self-imposed blindness, occasionally with fatal results.

But fortunately, most denial is more innocuous. Here are some of my personal favorites:

· I am going to clean out my perpetually-cluttered office once this book is turned in. (Bwahahaha! What a riot! Once the book is turned in, I will realize I am unemployed and frantically start work on a new proposal. Or two. Then I’ll do those pesky tasks, like paying bills, restocking the kitchen, and cleaning the bathroom before the health authorities show up. Any time I look at the overwhelming stacks of unfiled papers, I will immediately come up with some pressing self-promotional chore – or check my e-mail for the thousandth time.)

· I am going to walk more as soon as the pollen dies down (or the humidity decreases or the heat tapers off or – rarely – the cold snap ends). I live in the Houston area. Allergens, heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and rare cold snaps come with the territory. If I really want to walk, I’ll deal with it and do it. Daily, just like writing.

· One day, my house will all be clean at the same moment. (This is only happening if a. my mother-in-law, a famous white-glove tester type, is swooping in for a visit or some financial miracle allows me to hire a maid. I’d rather spend my days writing than cleaning something my family won’t allow to stay clean for more than ten minutes. After all, the books, once written, stay written.

· My book’s success is directly correlated to the amount of money and effort I pour into self-promotion. (I’ve mostly decided it has much more to do with the quality of the writing and universal appeal of the story, but I still catch myself panicking over not doing enough on my own. Whatever “enough” is.)

I frequently meet people who struggle with their own brand of denial in the writing department. They tell me:

· I’ll start that book tomorrow.

· I’m going to write as soon as I retire.

· You’re so lucky to have time to write (said resentfully). I have to a. work to support my family, b. raise children, c. tend to my ailing parents (as if those of us who write live in ivory towers with elves who come out at night to handle all the dirty work of life!)

· I’d be published by now, but I haven’t had the same breaks that you have. (This is always uttered by people who fail to complete manuscripts, send out queries, keep up with the marketplace, or do any of those out pesky chores associated with actual selling.)

· The only people who sell are mindless hacks like (insert name of famous, successful author). New York is too afraid to take chances on truly original work like mine. (Usually uttered by someone who’s written a 1,000-page tome on hairy, bisexual Neanderthals teleported to some technologically advanced-planet populated by goop-creatures – or something equally marketable.)

So what’s your favorite denial? And which ones are you most sick of hearing from others? Inquiring minds what to know…

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Did you really mean that?

When I was invited to contribute an essay on the television show Desperate Housewives to the anthology Welcome to Wisteria Lane, I was sure I would write about story arc or dialogue or social satire vs. soap opera. However, as I watched Season One from start to finish on DVD in one week, something else caught my eye, literally. The sets. Television is, of course, a visual medium, and I was blown away by the skill of the production designer in using this strength to the utmost.

My essay concentrates on how the houses both reflect and give depth to the characters of the Housewives. I found all kinds of symbolism in the lack of basements (until the second season), the choice of artwork and each abode’s window treatments. I even discuss the differences in their front doors and what it says about the characters’ balance between public and private life.

That got me to thinking about literary criticism. As an English major, I used to have a grand time finding Christ and other kinds of symbolism in works of literature, and occasionally I wondered if the author really meant it to be there, or if I was just making this stuff up. Since college I have talked with many people who have the same question.

One way to answer that was to analyze my own work. How much symbolism did it really include? I discovered that my symbolism works on two levels: the conscious and the unconscious. I often deliberately include small details, such as the kind of flower a character has on the hall table or the color blouse she chooses to wear on a given day. If a reader notices these things, it will add depth to the reading experience. If the reader doesn’t catch them, it won’t detract from the book.

However, my symbolism also functions at an unconscious level. My first book A Bridge to Love is all about bridges, real and metaphorical. I consciously made building those bridges the theme of the book. Oddly enough, I have a phobia about driving my car over high bridges; if I try, I find myself in the throes of a full-blown panic attack. One evening I was at a party chatting with a fellow soccer mom who’s also a psychiatrist. She had just read the book and was complimenting me on it. Then she said, “I see you’re working out your phobia in your writing.” My mouth fell open because I had never connected the theme of the book with my fear of bridges. I felt as though I’d been smacked up aside of the head. I also felt like an idiot: there was a heck of a lot more symbolism going on than I, the writer, had been aware of.

So what do you think about symbolism in writing? Is it really there or do the literary critics and English majors make it up to give themselves something to talk about?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


From the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling, Rose Hilliard at St. Martins is very interested in building her list of authors. When asked a question about historical romances, she said that while the overall historical market is down, dark/sexy historicals are still doing very well.

Monday, May 01, 2006

It's Spring! (Practically Summer!)

Springtime in Texas means wildflowers.

Lots and lots and LOTS of wildflowers, which are especially visible when one goes on a roadtrip. Having been on a couple of roadtrips in the past couple of weeks, I got to see lots of wildflowers. Easter weekend, the bluebonnets were still fairly thick along the roadsides--this wasn't a particularly good bluebonnet year because it was a dry winter--and the evening primroses were going pretty strong. (In Texas, most primroses are pink, shading to white, with very, very few yellow ones turning up--which are generally called sundrops.) This past weekend, the bluebonnets are almost gone, but the primroses are still out and the yuccas have begun to bloom in the places where they've gotten a little water, along with various sunflowers, tickseed and blanket flowers. There will be wildflowers all summer of one variety or another.

I don't know that the wildflowers are such a great inspiration to my writing, but I do enjoy them. I take lots of pictures of them, and sometimes I paint them. They're an inspiration for my heart and soul. They make me feel good.

And I think as writers--as human beings--we need that kind of thing. Stuff that just makes us feel good. Things we don't have to feed or pick up after or talk to, that we can just look at and enjoy. All those other things, like pets and children and spouses, are tremendously important too. They are, I think, the primary inspirations in our lives. But sometimes, you just have to stop and smell the flowers. Even if you do have to be careful of the thorns and the prickles. ;)

What kinds of things make you smile?