Thursday, July 27, 2006

Going racing

No, that is not a photo of me. And this week, instead of being at RWA, I'm doing race-related research for my upcoming book, Hart's Victory.

The photo above is of my daughter inside Carl Edwards' race shop at Roush Racing. Carl is Alison's favorite driver, and this weekend, instead of being at the RITA/Golden Heart celebration during RWA's Atlanta conference, Alison and I will be at Gateway International Raceway watching the Busch series race.

Researching a book can take a person in all kinds of directions. I've learned so much about all kinds of things, from sexual harassment laws (Legally Tender) to construction (Sweeping the Bride Away) to the workings of St. Louis's major case squad (Capturing the Cop).

This summer research took me to Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, and Concord, NC. We visited two speedways, two race shops, the outlet mall (ouch!), Col. Sanders's first restaurant and the Cumberland Gap National Park.

The thing that made the 2,200 mile round-trip drive really worth it was that I got to share the adventure with my 11 year old. She got to go on the insider tour with author Abby Gaines and me. Because I'm a writers, sometimes Alison is able to do things that other kids only dream of doing. I guess that makes up for having to microwave her own dinner once in a while when I'm writing.

I'm still somewhat bummed that I can't be in RWA hanging out with my friends. But honestly, not much. For by skipping it, I've gotten to hang out with my daughter and do some once-in-a-lifetime things. After all, Mom is my number one job, and that always has first priority.

Michele Dunaway

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Authors' Photos

I'm wondering what the rationale is behind an author's decision to use really, really old (as in younger) photos of themselves. Have you all noticed this?

More than once at the national Romance Writers of America annual conference (which is going on this week in Atlanta) I've been shocked to meet Famous Author who looks absolutely nothing like her outdated photo. In most cases she looks about 30 years older.

It's a pity this country is so youth oriented it doesn't value the wisdom imparted by older authors. Of course, some of that might be blamed on the fact that a majority of editors at most New York publishing houses are only a couple of years removed from college, and authors know they have to appeal to these editors who have the power of the pursestrings.

On the subject of author photos, I'm really glad those utterly phoney glamour shots have fallen out of favor -- especially those jaunty hats that few women ever wear. But it seems like half the authors out there are now being captured in a power suit, standing in a confident stance that seems to say, "Take that, John Grisham."

Personally, I like to wear pearls in my publicity shots. They not only convey femininity but also a timeless elegance -- both qualities I like to capture in my books. To see my three-year-old publicity photo that needs to be updated (because of new hair style), check out my website at www.cherylbolen.com. While there, you'll see I'm not exactly young. I'm not yet a grandmother, though I'm old enough to be. I'm actually proud that I have a lot of life experience from which to draw for my books.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fear of Dreaming


I have a confession: I am afraid of my dreams. Not just the nightmares where I fall off cliffs, am chased through blind alleys that dead end in chain link fences, or am trapped by well-meaning beauty consultants wielding makeup brushes and mascara wands. No, I'm afraid of the good ones--the ones where my agent/editor/reader loves my new book so much they recommend it to everyone they see and I make enough money to pay off my bills, buy as many office supplies as my little heart desires, and pay for my children's college education through Ph.D. without breaking a sweat.

I thought I was alone in this (we won't speak the words paranoid, insecure...and especially not the word right). But now I know I'm in good company. Maybe the best of company, since one of my secret dreams is that I become M. Night Shyamalan, the writer/director of some excellent films.

The Artful Writer says (about Michael Bamberger's book The Man Who Heard Voices, a biography of M. Night Shyamalan):


What Bamberger does capture, though, is the depth of Shyamalan’s insecurity and self-doubt. Whenever faced with doubt or rejection, Shyamalan descends into a miserable internal dialogue. His external dialogue involves repeated requests for faith or belief, but that’s baloney. Shyamalan doesn’t want mere faith or belief. He wants appreciation. He wants the audience to love what he wants them to love. He’s putting on a show, just like the rest of us in this business, and he craves their enjoyment.

That’s why his internal dialogues are so interesting, and so familiar.

Yes, the man makes millions of dollars. Yes, he’s managed to seize the very kind of creative control that most writers only dream of. Yes, he seems to reactively reject the concerns of Nina Jacobson, Dick Cook and Oren Aviv (full disclosure—I worked for Oren Aviv for two years as a marketing executive).

On the other hand, he actively seeks the input of a snippy internet reviewer, his assistants, his family…practically anyone near him. Shyamalan takes a lot of lumps for his precious behavior—he gets incredibly fretful when people don’t read his script right away the second they get it, and he gets even more agitated when they don’t respond the second they’ve finished it—but I understand that.

I feel the same way. I don’t talk about it, and I sure as hell don’t complain about it the way Shyamalan does, but I feel it. Of course I do. When we write screenplays, we obviously pour a tremendous amount of emotion and concern into it, and thus we are tremendously vulnerable to our readers and our audience.

Who knew? I already am M. Night Shyamalan...minus fame and fortune, but hey, that just means I still have some big dreams to aspire to make real. And some beta readers, an agent, and an editor to drive mad with my "love my work" pleas. After all, I need at least a fraction of the fortune, if not the fame, if I want to see my dreams for my children come true, never mind my own dreams. But the paralyzing doubt--and insecurities--of mothers is a topic for another blog.


Kelly McClymer's latest literary effort to please the world can be found here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

MEETING READER EXPECTATIONS -- OR NOT


Recently someone posted a review of my April release, TALK GERTIE TO ME, on Amazon. She titled it TALK DISAPPOINTING TO ME. Why? I hadn’t met her expectations as a reader. “Contemporary Romance” is printed on the spine of my book. The back cover copy emphasizes the romance that takes place between one of the main characters and what is actually a secondary character in the book. The reader expected a romance. What she got was women’s fiction with a chick lit edge to it. She was disappointed. I understand; I don’t blame her.

TALK GERTIE TO ME isn’t a romance. The two main characters in the book are not the hero and heroine but a mother and daughter. There is romance in the book. Actually, there are two romances, one that involves the mother and the other that involves the daughter, but the romances are subplots. The main story is about the relationship between the mother and daughter. It’s a comical tale of the tug-of-war that ensues when a daughter severs the apron strings and her mother is faced with empty nest syndrome.

So why is TALK GERTIE TO ME being sold as a romance? I can’t answer that. Authors, especially first time authors, have no control over the business decisions made by their publishers. I have to believe there were sound reasons behind my publisher’s decision to market my book as romance. And truthfully, I’m not sure it’s hurt sales. Overall, I’ve received wonderful reviews. The few that have been not so wonderful were all because I hadn’t met the readers’ expectations. They expected a romance. They wanted more Nori and Mac, less of Connie and her adventures in New York. And of the handful of negative reviews, all but one did like other aspects of the book. Even the author of TALK DISAPPOINTING TO ME gave me 3 out of 5 stars.

My next book isn’t due out until June 2007. LOVE, LIES & A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION is a romantic suspense. Unlike TALK GERTIE TO ME, I haven’t bent any rules or combined any genres or sub-genres. And the book is even written in 3rd person, not the double 1st person of TALK GERTIE TO ME. It’s just romantic suspense. No chick lit, no hen lit, no imaginary friends popping in with their nickel’s worth of snarky, unwanted advice. I hope I don’t disappoint any readers, but I probably will -- especially those who were expecting another book like TALK GERTIE TO ME. To them I say, you’ll have to wait for the sequel.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Orleans Blues in Maine

July 15-16 was the North Atlantic Blues Festival right here on the coast of Maine. It's an annual event that we always attend. You couldn't ask for a better setting—right on the town landing with sailboats and fishing boats behind the stage and two lighthouses in the distance. My dh is a major blues fan, and I've developed more of a taste for the blues as we've seen more and more live performances here. The weather suited the music—hot and sultry, but most of the crowd of 8000 stayed until the end both days.
The Saturday theme was Tribute to New Orleans, and a chunk of the proceeds will go to help New Orleans musicians who lost their homes and instruments. That day included a dynamite line-up of Louisiana performers.
Marva Wright could've belted out her songs without a mike. She brought a tear to my eye when she told of having to evacuate the city and learned from her son later that her house had been washed away. Still she's determined to return. Kenny Neal is the oldest of ten musical children, and two brothers play in his band. Great guitar and harmonica.
The headliner was Marcia Ball, whose song "Let Me Play with your Poodle," on the CD of the same name always makes me smile and sing along. That lady plays a mean boogie-woogie piano and sings the way we all wish we could.
And if you don't know Tab Benoit and his music, honey, you haven't lived. That sexy Cajun could charm the gators out of the swamp with his smile and by just talking to them with that velvet voice. And when he sings, whoa. Can you tell I'm a fan? He talked to the appreciative and sympathetic crowd a bit about the problems still facing New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf coast. About the disgrace that searchers are still finding dead bodies in their homes. About the slow progress in repairing the city and infrastructure. It's already hurricane season and there's a long way to go. He urged people to go to New Orleans on vacation, to support the city and its people by spending your money there instead of sending it to politicians who might waste it or worse. The destruction of this historic city is a national disgrace that must be rectified and never duplicated. Let's do what we can.

Susan Vaughan

Monday, July 17, 2006

When You're Husband's at War--How to Wait, Certainly Not Patiently

My husband has been to war three times--and I experienced each departure differently. The first was the Gulf War and we were still dating. He'd had it in his mind we would marry. Having already been through one terrible marriage, there was nothing further from my mind. But when he left, he gave me a package to put under my bed and told me not to look at it. Having been a military brat and having had my father serve in Vietnam, I respected his wishes. I put it underneath my bed and didn't think about it again. Meanwhile, I kept busy. Being in the 82nd Airborne, Tom had been one of the first in the fray and near the front. While he was gone, my energy level peaked, I kept alert to all news of the war, and the letters were many although the receipt and sending were sporadic (remember this was 1990). Then, communication was difficult. He was in the desert. I never heard his voice, never was able to instant message or email. His absence hit me hard, sharpened my focus on our relationship. One lonely night, I finally realize that I loved him. He had been the best thing that came into my otherwise dark life. Then one night, about 1:30 in the morning, I got a call from a total stranger. Groggy from interrupted sleep, I answered, "Hello?" He said he was a short wave radio operator and he had a call from a guy named Tom Fuller. Would I accept? I shot straight up. "Yes, yes, yes!" Then he advised me to say "over" after I finished speaking, that the signal was from ship to shore and they needed to flip switches down the line. Then he put Tom on. I could barely understand what he said but I knew the sound of his voice. It was heaven. The amateur radioman who'd helped finally interpreted for me, said Tom wanted to know if I still wanted to do it in June. I knew what he meant. He was asking me to marry him. I yelled--"Yes, yes, yes!!!! Then the poor radioman reminded me -- I needed to say "over". "OVER!" I shouted. Then I heard Tom's laugh. It was magic and I'll never forget that moment. Then, before his return, he asked me to bring the 'package' I had so meticulously forgotten and was shocked that I hadn't looked at it. When he opened it, he got on bended knee and asked me officially to marry him. At some point in his absence, I knew there was no turning back. I said yes and to this day have never regretted it.
The next two times Tom went to war was after 9-11. His first tour was in 2002 in Afghanistan with the 19th Special Forces group. And he's there now, with the 20th Special Forces group. No, he's not in the field. I'm grateful for that, as well as the facilities that allow us to communicate more often and more easily. This takes time, but it's amazing how much you get to know each other, how refocused one gets when you only write, are away for a while from your spouse, and are reminded of why they are so wonderful to you. Having a husband like mine is like having desert everyday. Sometimes, you have it so often that sometimes you forget what a pleasure it is. Him being away, especially in a volatile situation, keeps this in the forefront of my mind.
But constantly, you are also reminded how fleeting this could be. One of the men in his unit was killed in an ambush this spring. His wife put a thank you note in the currently family newsletter for the outpouring of support everyone gave her and talked about her feelings as men in Class A's came to her door to tell her the news. She spoke of how wonderful and selfless he was, how, as the Colonel of the unit stated, he was a 'quiet professional'. How she was proud to be his wife. And of missing him. I understand. My heart and tears are with her.
Even still, there are the things to be jubiliant for. In today's paper they ran the story of an Iraqi boy brought over by one of the soldiers. The 13-year old turned over insurgent information and one of the insurgents was his father. These men were making the kids fight. He didn't want to and had the courage to come forward. I believe he saved many Americans and Iraqis with this act but it got the rest of his family killed. The sergeant had succeeded in bringing him over here for good. I see the picture of the boy in the paper. He could be my 14-year old son.
I think about these things as I write. This is an incredible world we live in. And in truth, it has never been safe. Safety is an illusion. Life, like the petals of the rose, is fleeting--yet the rose will bloom in all its glory. There's one thing I've discovered from all my experiences with being a woman who serves on the homefront--life is to be lived, not waited for with hands folded with worries or with fear. I used to have a bookmark with this quote. The paper finally wore out but my memory of it has not--"Ships in the harbor are safe, but that is not what ships were made for." They say courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to do what is needed despite it.
I know it's hard to wait. Being patient is not a typical American virtue. And I know each situation with a family member deployed is different. But I can share what I've learned.
1. Be brave. Take charge. Be afraid, have concern for your loved one--but don't let it stop you from living. They are there doing their job. They wouldn't want you to stop living while they serve. They don't want you dying because they might. They love you. No matter the politics, they do this so you can live in a country they love.
2. Don't let others fears be yours. Nothing used to irk me more than when someone well-meaning would come up to me and say--"Oh, I'm so sorry he's gone," acting like he would die. I would tell them, my husband isn't there to die. He's there to do a job. Your job is to make sure we put the right people in office ensure his talents are used the way they should be. Of course, I would smile when I said this.
3. Get busy. Let your frenetic energy flow. Don't sit idly looking at the news. One, it's depressing. Two, you aren't doing yourself, your family or your spouse any good. Instead, do something productive. Channel your worry and energy into something that will give you a return in good feelings. Do some volunteer work, join the church choir, do some project on your house, be out and about--engage in life.
4. Communicate with your spouse as often as you can. They don't have to be all sexy letters, although I know the guys appreciate it greatly. And be honest -- if things are wrong at the house, tell them. When things are right, tell them that as well. Write even when you aren't getting something back for whatever reason. You will feel better about it. And that's what matters now. All things are in your hands. You can do this.
5. Empower yourself. You CAN do this. There's this saying that's supposed to be a joke -- when the guys leave, they press a button and everything goes wrong. When they come back, they press it again and things are restored. Personally, I've not found it funny but it certainly is profound. I hate to think of the things that have gone wrong this year, including the death of my mother which he couldn't come home for. However, when these things happen, refer to #4. You don't have to be graphic, but tell him how you feel. And you don't have to be mean. Yes, he has things going on, you may want to hold back some things, but he needs to know where you are at and he needs to tell you where he's at.
6. War changes people. Expect this. Plan for it. Use your support groups as much as you need but don't let it be intrusive when you need some space to yourself. The military now has Family Readiness Groups (FRG's) which have some fabulous information. Remember, you will have changed too. Which is why communication is so important. Still, when he comes back it will be like having sex with a stranger. Make it exciting.
7. Worry is part of the package. Bonding with others in your situation can help make it bearable. But at some point you realize you have to put it in God's hands -- no matter what can happen. Yes, the worst may occur. He may not come home. Men in Class A's may come to your door. Or he may come home damaged. Trust in yourself, in a greater being, that you will be empowered to deal with all of this. There are no guarantees in life. Make your life count. You're spouse certainly will be.
8. Finally, be proud. Of yourself and of your soldier. You are making sacrifices no others are. You are to be commended for your part.
One last note, I've come to realize that even though you may be your spouse's best friend, the guys at least, will not be willing to speak about their war experiences. At first, this hurt me, but then I realized my husband was only trying to protect me. Your spouse may never tell you everything. Don't take it personally. It's just part of the male genetic makeup. However, it could affect their behavior, and if this is the case, seek help.
That's it for now. Thanks for listening. And for those serving on the homefront, my prayers are with you.

~ Lise Fuller
-- "On Danger's Edge", Cerridwen Press, 12/05 -- 4 1/2 stars from Romantic Times
-- "Cutting Loose", Cerridwen Press, 2/06

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Whatever happened to the cupcakes? (or: It's about connections)

It was my birthday, Friday, July 14. Being a summer birthday, I never had to bring any cupcakes or cookies to school like I do for my daughters (September/March). But it wasn't my birthday this past week that made me reflect. I don't really celebrate birthdays. I get the discount coupons in the mail (happy birthday, here's 10 percent off to celebrate) and my daughters and Mom usually give me a card or something, but for the most part, having birthday parties for me ceased many, many years ago.

On July 11, I attended a memorial service for my former step-grandmother. She died in June 2 and on July 11 she would have been 102 years old. (My mother had been married to her son for about 20 years, and this was the first time I'd seen anyone in that family since the divorce, about six years ago. My stepbrother and I had even shared an apartment for a while, so it was great to catch up with him.) The thing that impressed me so much about Alice's service was the people who shared their stories. My grandmother had touched so many lives, including mine. Even though we too had lost touch, she'd still had so much influence over who I am. I cut my irises back the other week, something she'd taught me to do. She celebrated when I sold my first book, never once saying "write something besides one of THOSE books." She was like me, stubborn, and it's only now that I can look back on all those times we butted heads and realize that I didn't know it all, and that I grew from every experience.

As I get older, many of my friends and I have simply grown apart as our lives go in different directions and our children take all of our time. No longer do we get together and celebrate over cake and cupcakes, but we instead see each other at funerals and weddings, of which the latter are few and the former are becoming more frequent. (American Beauties spoiler alert: I start my series at a funeral, and it ends at a wedding.)

When I wrote my first miniseries, which kicks off with The Marriage Campaign, I put four friends in four cities, just like my friends and I are. I miss them daily. I wish we talked more. I know that they'd be here for me in a heartbeat, and that I live in their hearts as they live in mine.

Romance novels are about connections. A book's character's connect with us and resonate deep inside. This is why we laugh and we cry. We see ourselves and we see others. We feel nostaligic and hopeful. We celebrate the happily-ever-after when we may not have our own. Romance novels are not so much, IMO, about escapism, but about delivering a great read that reaffirms that love indeed conquers all and that people can connect on that level that matters most, love.

My grandma's friends who were there with her at the end reported that my grandma wanted not to be mourned, but to be remembered only for what she'd taught. She left two final readings, her final messages to those remaining behind. She wanted her life to be celebrated, and for everyone to celebrate theirs daily. She has a legacy that lives on. Through books, each writer also has that. Each reader has that. And between the pages, they connect.

Now where are the cupcakes?

Michele Dunaway
The Marriage Campaign
Harlequin American Romance, August 06

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The best TBR pile ever


What’s better than a book store? A book museum! I just spent two hours in the newly renovated Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City and what a blissful two hours it was!

Mr. Morgan was a man who knew how to treat a book; he built an Italianate marble villa (designed by the famous architect Charles McKim) on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th St. just to house his magnificent collection of books, prints, and manuscripts.

The building alone is worth the trip. Morgan’s study looks just as it did when he worked there. It breathes wealth from the sixteenth-century coffered ceiling shipped in pieces from Tuscany to the red silk damask covering the acres of wall.

The East Room is breathtaking with three levels of glass fronted book cases decorated with inlaid wood and bronze latticework. A tapestry that would cover the entire front of my house hangs over the fireplace. The ceiling has leaded glass skylights which illuminate the brilliantly painted vaults and corbels and cornices.

Of course it’s the books that matter. The Library owns not one, not two, but three Gutenberg Bibles, the first book printed with moveable type. Two were on display and it was awe-inspiring to see where the whole modern publishing business started back in 1455.

What I really love though are the hand-written manuscripts. Seeing the paper and ink touched by Thoreau, Galileo, and Mozart is beyond wonderful (although Lord Byron complained that copying over Don Juan was an intolerable bore). The teenaged Bront√ęs wrote in such tiny letters that I couldn’t read their words at all. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese were also illegible because she wrote in a scratchy scribble in faint brown ink. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, had handwriting that was beautiful and easy to read, even though it’s in French.

Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe wrote on little sheets of paper and then stuck them together with sealing wax? A Tale of the Ragged Mountain makes a scroll twelve feet long. My daughter commented that he must have driven his publisher insane.

I was amazed to discover that Jane Austen wrote an epistolary novel titled Lady Susan when she was nineteen years old which wasn’t published until well after her death and then only as an appendix to a memoir. As one might expect, she had very elegant and legible handwriting.

Oscar Wilde was one of the first major authors to compose on a typewriter (which came into wide use in the late 1880s). Yet it’s fascinating to see his handwritten revisions on the typed manuscript.

I could go on and on but this is a blog after all and not supposed to take your entire morning to read. So I’ll just close with a comment by Charles Dickens which proves that writers and writing have not changed a bit over time. On display were his notes for Our Mutual Friend, including a chapter by chapter outline of the plot. At the end he had written simply, “Wind up the Book as skillfully and completely as I can.”

Isn’t that what we all try to do?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Truth and Fiction and Inconvenience

There's truth in fiction. It gives a story impact. But there's the dilemma all writers face--how much truth do you use and how much do you make up? When does the truth become dull preaching?

So, how do you balance the duty a writer has to the truth against the desire to write a salable book that an editor will love and a reader buys? And, lets face it, what about writing the book you want to write? What about just writing that fantasy book that's all about feeling good and not looking at truths? What about a writer's obligation to the reader to produce a good story?

Having seen the movie An Inconvenient Truth, I've been thinking about happy endings. And the need to struggle for them. I've also been thinking about how a lot of folks don't want to see this movie, or think about the fact that we're putting seventy million tons of global warming pollution in the air, and how selling a book may not be an issue in ten years. Things like getting food and water from a desert may matter more.

I've also been thinking about how fiction can highlight our capacity for change. Change is closing the hole in the ozone. Change started cleaning up the air in LA. So maybe it's time not to keep talking about if we're changing our world, so much as maybe recognizing that we do, and just looking at how to make that change for the better.

If you write one page a day, you can have a book done in a year. What if you make one small change in your life every month or every week: switch to energy efficient light bulbs, start buying local produce, opt to buy carbon credits to offset travel, take one less drive every week, carry a canvas bag for quick shopping trips so you don't use plastic ones? Small things, but they can have that same impact of one page a day. And if enough people start thinking and doing...

And what if we start writing characters who think about these things? What if the heroine recycles her trash? What if the hero wonders if his son will have a world that's lost polar ice caps? Do we create the world we want in fiction--can we create a consciousness that can change the world? Shouldn't we at least think and talk about these things?

Fiction is about dramatizing the truth so it can punch home. It's about crafting compelling characters and story, but it's also about a writer who has to get out that story written. The publishing business is about making money, but we write for more than money (at least I hope we do--I really hope that trees die with good reasons).

But I'm still wondering about the balance of truth and fiction--about living in a world that may be about to topple over and out of that, and about what I'm doing to keep my balance as a writer, as a person, as someone who cares. I write because the truth matters. And I wonder about those who want to close their eyes and ears, who don't want to discuss, or look, or question.

Can fiction--can our fiction--shake up the world a little? Make things matter? Shouldn't art be a little disturbing. Shouldn't fiction sometimes be just as inconvenient as truth?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Italian Connection


Benvenuto al Italia! Welcome to Italy in my next Silhouette Intimate Moments release in August. Deadly Memories is the last (for now) in my series about the men and women of the Anti-Terrorism Security Agency (ATSA). The hunt for stolen uranium and their personal searches take my characters to that ancient land of extravagant food, wine and people. As you can tell from the title, Deadly Memories, my characters' memories were not pleasant. Jack's deadly memories focus him on vengeance. Sophie's memory of a villain's deadly intent could get her killed—before she can recall his secrets. As they drive mountain roads and hide out in remote villages to escape the villain, they find beauty and warmth as well as passion and danger.
My memories of a trip to Italy years ago are much more pleasant. Those and my research helped me to indulge myself with Italian culture and lore. I steeped myself in the language and history, architecture and scenery as I created villas and villages. Of course, I had to sample the wine and recipes that accompanied my characters' journey from Venice to Tuscany. Here is one of the recipes I found delicious as I ate—um, worked my way through the story.

Pollo Al Mattone, or Tuscan Pressed Chicken

1 small chicken, split down backbone; or 4 deboned chicken breasts
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for basting
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, sliced for garnish

Press the chicken to form a uniform thickness, as flat as you can. Marinate in lemon juice for 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and discard the juice. Rub the chicken on both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, chopped sage, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Heat olive oil in an iron skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add the chicken and place a weighted lid on top of the chicken. Cook for approximately 55 minutes, turning 3 or 4 times and basting with pan juices. Cut the cooked chicken into pieces and serve immediately. If using deboned chicken breasts, cut cooking time in half. Garnish with lemon slices.
Buon appetito!

Susan Vaughan

Friday, July 07, 2006

Vacation--Mythbuster Style

I just turned in a manuscript that was overdue. My editor let me know she is going on vacation, so will not be able to read it for a while. No biggie. I just wanted it turned in, I knew it would have to fit in her schedule, and summer is prime vacation time.

So...now I'm stuck on the word vacation. I cheerfully wished my editor a happy vacation (because I'm not the begrudging sort...usually), but while I did so, I thought about the last time I took a real vacation (meaning no work, no how, no way). It was for my 25th anniversary, when my husband and I went--without children (who bring a whole new meaning to the work/vacation combo)-- to Jamaica (okay, so I wrote a short article...but that took under thirty minutes and I did it hanging in a hammock and drinking something with an umbrella in it).

I realized with dawning horror that I have thoughtlessly begun to tack the name vacation on to any extended trip away from home. I've taken eight vacations already this year--so why am I so tired and feel like I could use a good...vacation? Let's see: Going to a conference in New Orleans? Vacation. Driving 24 hours down to my father's memorial service, and 24 hours back, broken up by several days in hotels, brake failure, a blown tire, and three days at my mother-in-law's house? Vacation. Vacation. Vacation. A 36 hour drive--one way--for a family wedding? Vacation.

Accompanying me on vacation is not only my trusty VISA, but my ever present 'bag o'work': current manuscript on my Alpha Smart, check; manuscript to be revised--along with sticky flags and 3x5 cards, check; work in progress for my students, check. When my family sees me, no one asks if I brought work along, the question is how much.

Which brings me back to my editor. I hope that her vacation will be the kind I used to mean when I said vacation. (no work, no way, no how).

I also hope I take a real vacation sometime soon--and not the one I just told my husband I was taking next week that is going to include such fun and exciting events as cleaning the house from top to bottom, and catching up on the student work I'm behind on (I'm taking a vacation from sitting at the computer all day, trying to get revisions finished, but is that a real vacation?).

I have to wonder why, as a writer, I've become so lax with such an important word. I don't think I'm the only one (the only people I know who don't take work on vacation are those who don't have portable work). So, I'm here to officially spread the word--it's time to take vacation back, before we lose it all together. Those Europeans are smart folk, taking weeks to kick back and do nothing (even if the thought is inexplicably giving me a panic attack...excuse me a moment while I deep breathe at the mere thought of doing nothing but enjoy the beach).

Okay. Hyperventilation interlude over. I mean it. From now on, when I say I'm on vacation, I'm not taking along the bag o' work...stop laughing!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Behind the Book -- Dead Reckoning

Most writers have an interesting anecdote about each book -- we live with our stories for months at a time, after all -- but my second book, just out this month, is a little different.

To some extent, I live it.

Granted, the heroine of Dead Reckoning is a charter captain (I am not) and is out to save her sister (I have a brother who doesn't need saving) and is an engineer (definitely not me). Plus, she goes haring off on her adventure with a couple of hunky DEA agents (nope) and owns a Ruger 9mm (I wish).

But in everything else -- her living aboard a motor yacht, her willingness to crawl into an oily bilge, her fondness for the yacht engines she's called Hortense and Claire -- I'm there. (Mine are Wallace and Gromit, starboard and port, respectively.)

A natural romance has sprung up around boats courtesy of advertising and movies. If you've ever picked up Yachting magazine, you'll have been assaulted by glossy ads for gorgeous vessels whose owners never see the inside of an engine room. (My engine room is under the sofa and chair.) And movies, unless they're disaster films, never give you a chance to glimpse "under the hood," as it were. The most memorable boating scene I've ever seen on the big screen is Bing Crosby simultaneously steering the True Love, smoking a pipe, and crooning to Grace Kelly.

So because I write for Bombshell, a series which gives authors a little more leeway when it comes to exposing the nitty-gritty, I decided to reveal the reality of boating as I know it. You know, like just how loud a pair of Detroit Diesels can be, and how a pinhole leak in the downstream exhaust system can kill you. My poor heroine survives a couple of nasty experiences aboard her beloved Obsession; one character almost dies; another character does die.

But is boating and boat ownership full of danger? Not really. Common sense carries the day, as it does in all things. Mostly it's a matter of being aware and remembering your high school chemistry and physics lessons.

The Number 1 question I'm asked when people find out I live aboard is, "What about the space?" True, there's not much of it. My dSO and I live on a 38-foot motor yacht with two cats, and that's just about right for people who don't own much "stuff." In fact, leaving behind the "stuff" has been as much of a spiritual exercise as a mental or physical one.

We have a simple rule: When something comes aboard the boat, something else has to leave it. I make great use of our local library. My dSO downloads out-of-copyright books into his PDA. I've hung on to my power suits in case I have to go back to work in a corporate environment, but live mostly in shorts and t-shirts. My "keeper shelf" might as well be nonexistent, as it's only about two feet wide. Most books I purchase get donated to the library or shipped to my ravenous reading friends.

So is there really romance in boating? Absolutely!

In the spring, I went sailing with some friends in their sailboat and encountered a dolphin pod that played around us for two hours. Anchored out at night in a quiet cove with no one but black-crowned night herons for company is magical, especially with the phosphorous glow of sea creatures gleaming in the water. Daybreak on the water feeds the soul, as does sunset.

But between the dawn and the dusk lie the impellers that need changing, the fuel filters that need cleaning, and the heady, intoxicating scent of varnish. Would I trade any of that for the privilege of having someone else captain my vessel?

Not a chance.

Endless Summer

Yesterday, I was thinking about when I was a kid, remembering how summers seemed endless and there was always an adventure just waiting. The neighborhood was filled with other children my age and we did all kinds of things together. We played baseball in the empty lot, explored what we thought was a forest (it wasn't), caught grasshoppers and put on a show with them. There was capture the flag and Simon says and red light, green light and a million other games. Sometimes we just sprawled on the grass and watched the clouds, sharing what we thought they resembled--there were dragons and bears and so many other things.

When I compared those summers to this one, the difference was glaring. Everything now is a race, and judging by the speed people drive at and their impatience, I'm not the only one who feels that way. I work full time, so there's my day job sucking up time and I had a novella and a book due in June and spent every waking moment I wasn't at work writing. I turned in both projects on time and collapsed.

Maybe that's why I spent the fourth thinking about how nice it would be to just take time to sit back and watch the clouds roll by. No stress, no pressure. No place to be, nothing in particular to do. No day job, no bills. Just living life and enjoying it.

Then I remembered a quote from somewhere. I did a search online, trying to find to whom I should credit the line, but I didn't turn up any answers. It's wonderful advice, though, no matter who said it.
Life is an adventure; live it.
I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to forgetting to appreciate the small things, but I'm going to try to do better. That's my Independence Day resolution.

There's another line I love, this I can credit without looking it up--it's from Ferris Beuller's Day Off.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
I don't want to miss it. I want to live to the fullest so that when I'm old, I can look back and say, yeah, it was a kick. My favorite thing to sign in books is: Always pursue your dreams. I'm a big believer in this and I think it ties in to living life, to enjoying it. I'm trying to find balance right now so that I do things other than write and sleep. Last week, I joined Net Flix and I want to take an art class. I just need to find one for someone with no artistic talent. :-)

What's your dream? What are you doing to pursue it? And any advice for me on how to slow down and enjoy the small things? That's going to be a tough one for me.

Patti O'Shea
www.pattioshea.com

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Love Independence Day? Hug a Writer!

My apologies to those who live outside the United States and do not celebrate...

To all else--Happy Fourth of July!

I hope, as we all enjoy our American traditions of parades, cookouts and fireworks, that we stop a moment to realize that the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4th, 1776, was created by Thomas Jefferson--farmer, future president, and writer. The colonists were grumpy at the way King George and his representatives felt that they had the moral/ethical/imperial right to ignore the colonists's stated concerns about their own governance. I can imagine many gripe sessions around colonial tables (having lived through many similar gripe sessions about the political whims of my own era). But Jefferson took these gripes, distilled them to the most flagrant and egregious of the King's sins, and then presented them to be signed by a group of men who knew that by signing the document, they were committing to living free from England's rule, or dying under her boot heel.

The Declaration was not the first document to change the political winds. In our European history, the Magna Carta came first. And the Rosetta Stone was writing that changed the world and opened our eyes to writers of cultures long ago forgotten. The Bible spread from one small area in the Middle East around the world. There are more, but I want to focus on the documents that have created the United States of America: The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and The Constitution.

These are the keys to the United States of America and its commitment to freedom. They have been captured in the written word for all the world to see. One of the important keys, perhaps the most important is our constitutional guarantee to freedom of speech, and the corollary free press. Without a free press we might live in a one-note world (decided by the government du jour). With that free press, we live in a world where information, misinformation and hyperbole comes at us in a steady stream (this post included). I tend to believe the Founding Fathers decided on the necessity of a free press somewhere between signing the Declaration and ratifying the Constitution (a document authored by committee, not by one man). It was, after all, easier to agree that George's way was wrong than it was to decide the "right" way to proceed. It took almost eleven years to get the constitution written and ratified (and we still had to amend it several times over). Yes, there were many points of view expressed (in reason and in rhetoric). But the expression of those views were what made the Constitution what it was--lean and strong and revolutionary in the rights it vested in We the People.

The Founding Fathers (for all their flaws, like forgetting about women and allowing slavery to continue) knew one thing clearly, government works best when it is by the people for the people. There's a reason that Presidents and Congressmen serve short, fixed terms and are up for reelection. And that's why freedom of the press is a constitutional guarantee. Which includes those presses that publish the novels we love to read and some of us love to write. So you may not like erotic romance, or you may prefer that your love story always have a happy ending--great! There will be a book for you on the shelf because of the freedom of press (and those books you don't like? they'll be on the shelf for those who do).

Every writer knows when she/he takes up the pen that the written word makes one more visible than may be wise, and more vulnerable. Our prejudices become bared in our manner and method of telling a story (Jefferson's prejudices are discernible in the Declaration and the Founding Father's themselves reveal so much in the papers they left behind). The truth in our hearts, and the little lies we tell ourselves are captured there, too. Sometimes a pet dies (and the letters of protest flood in), sometimes a burden in life is lifted or eased in a wonderful way (and the letters of joy flood in). Sometimes the inspiration is ineffable and unspoken. Sometimes it changes the world.

So while you're celebrating the birth of the United States, hug a writer for carrying on the 230 year old tradition of Jefferson, even if he or she doesn't write the kind of book you like to read (and then go buy a book by a new writer you think you just may enjoy reading).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Where have all the authors gone?

How many of us thought `If I could just publish one novel, my career would be on its way’? Sadly, as many of us have learned, that is not the case.
I recently browsed through my 2000 membership directory for my local romance writers’ chapter and discovered of the 23 authors listed as published in 2000, more than half of them have not received a publishing contract in at least three years. Most of those authors have not had a new book out in many years.
Why? This is a perplexing problem. Because I’m not a close friend to several of them, I don’t know the answers.
For many, though, the line they wrote for folded and they have not been able to transition into another type of book. Think about it. They lost their editor, lost the line for which their writing "voice" was suited, and have to compete against established authors at other lines. In addition to all of this, they have lost their power to attract agents.
For others, writing was a hobby they sandwiched around professional careers and never intended their books to be the focus of their lives.
A few of the authors in my group were forced to push their writing aside because of personal crises.
I suspect many of the authors were dumped by their publisher for a variety of reasons ranging from weak sales to incompatibility with their editor. Another reason for an author losing her publishing home is the perennial "cutting back" that occurs at publishing houses.
Just like the recording industry’s "One Hit Wonders," we have those in publishing, too. And just as mystifying as in the music biz, we don’t know why that author – often award-winning – can’t repeat her former success.
But I can’t explain why some authors’ once-strong careers fizzle. The closing of the door on Harlequin’s Temptation line has seemingly stifled the career of one of the most solid, professional writers I know. This author (formerly of my local chapter) published about 40 books for Harlequin and was a three-time RITA finalist. Why in the heck is she no longer publishing?
Granted, there are hugely popular authors like Loretta Chase and Laura Kinsale who take a hiatus from their highly successful careers.
But what – to me as a writer – is really scary is taking a look at the list of past RITA winners at the Romance Writers of America website (www.rwanational.org) and see how many of those names are no longer in publishing.
Hopefully of few of those supremely talented ladies were forced by publishers (because of low sales numbers) to take a pseudonym. That actually happened to the now-New York Times best-selling author Sabrina Jeffreys, who will no longer use her real name in any of her publishing information – even on writers’ loops.
We have two PASIC members (Bonnie Edwards and Gerry Bartlett) who went five years between publishing contracts and just this year reinvented themselves in hot new genres where their publishing careers look very bright.
But for every Bonnie and Gerry, there are many more who will never be able to publish a romance again. This is very disheartening.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

That SOLD Feeling

I sold my 15th book on Thursday, with my agent getting all the details done on Friday, right before she went on vacation for a week. It was my first agented sale, as after 14 sales by myself to the Harlequin American line, I was ready to let someone else run that part of my business.

The book I sold is for Harlequin's NASCAR continuity series, which will be a set of four, 75,000 word books released per month from Feb-Nov 07. I've got one of the November 2007 spots.

Selling this book was as fun as making my first sale. This book was one that I would have entered into PASIC's Book of Your Heart contest, only I'd already shipped it to my agent and my editor had already passed it on. The only thing I was waiting for was for NASCAR to say yes. I got the idea in January after Sound and Speed 2006 in Nashville, and I hoped this book would find a home somewhere, I loved it so much.

When I first sold my first book, I was married and I took half of my advance check and spent the entire thing shopping at Talbots. I did not pay bills or anything but bought an entire new wardrobe that I desperately needed; I hadn't bought any amount of new clothes since I'd had my children in 1996, and this was 1999. When I got divorced in 2001, writing provided me a way to pay my legal bills, and somehow stay afloat without going under when times were tough. I got a royalty check once triple the small amount I was expecting and I remember crying and thanking God for being so generous to me to let me write, and to be good enough to sell when there are so many out there who are probably better.

Unlike some authors, I can't live on what I make writing. I teach full time as well to put the roof over my kids' and my heads. Writing gives us some extras we might not otherwise have. (I describe writing as selling Tupperware or Mary Kay--most won't get the car right away. I may never get the car.) But writing keeps me independent. It allows me to do things I couldn't and allows me to meet people I never would have otherwise.

But the funny thing that I realized today was, if I didn't sell that book, I still made tons of new friends doing the research for it. If I never sold another book, I have made tons of writer friends over the years who would be there for me in a heart beat. Their congratulations rolled in. They allowed me to for a minute feel very special--right before my kids got into a huge row and brought life back into perspective/the daily grind.

For me, writing is like a bubble bath--for a little while you get to step outside your world and be somewhere else. I can write at Chuck E. Cheese's and often do--I can tune everything out and escape for just a little while. That's why I write, and why I keep at it.

I'm just thrilled that the ride is continuing--or in my case--accelarating up to 180 miles per hour. Vrroom.

Michele