Monday, December 30, 2013

I Resolve to Make No Resolutions

It's not that I think I'm perfect. I know better.

But I also know that if I vow to shed those pesky ten pounds or promise to break a bad habit on January 1 simply because it's New Year's, I'm only setting myself up for failure. I have to resolve to do something or change something, not based on the calendar, but based on my personal circumstances. 

For me, New Year's is a time for reflection. It's a time to look back over the past year, see what changes I've made for the better and move forward; see what has occurred that I'm not happy about and how I can change those aspects of my life. 

2012 was a challenging year for me with major upheavals and some bitter losses. I learned some harsh lessons, discovered some tough truths, and gained some insight into the hearts and minds of others. 2013 settled me in a much better place, but offered new lessons and new challenges to be met and mastered. I see room for improvements looming in 2014. 

And so I plan to move forward, with my eye on new goals, prepared for changes along the way, stronger, wiser, and proud of what I've survived and accomplished. No matter where the road takes me, I'm ready for the journey.

How about you? 

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Your Partner Doesn't Want to Accompany You to Your Writing Event (and Why That's Okay)

Last night was my local writing group's annual holiday party, and I had a blast, as I always do at these events. But as I drove home alone (as I always do), it struck me that though spouses and guests were invited, few significant others attended. Oh, sure there were some. About half a dozen or so. But most of us came alone. And I noticed that even those who had brought partners in the past to previous events came alone this time. When it comes to bringing spouses, writers tend to be a "one and out" phenomenon.

Over the dozen years I've been involved in different writing events, I can count on one hand the amount of times my husband has accompanied me. (Technically, I can count on one finger the amount of times he's accompanied me.) At one time, it might have bothered me. I might have wondered why he didn't seem to support me openly by coming along. But I've come to realize something over the years. 

We writers scare people. Hard to believe, isn't it? I mean, as a species, you really couldn't find a less aggressive group. Interview us and you'll find that 90% of us were the nerds in school, the quiet ones in the corner, the observers. We're not normally known for striking fear into the hearts of anyone.

But writing get-togethers for non-writers are like Sci-Fi Conventions for people who've never seen Star Trek. We're total geeks to the nth power when surrounded by fellow writers.

In the writing world, you're either Team Shakespeare or Team Bacon. (And only those in the writing world will understand that analogy.)

Oh, sure, we try to be inclusive. We talk about pop culture: movies, music, and television shows. But when we do, we focus on the characterization in the lyrics, or the story arc, or the brilliant writing. If we mention the hunky actor or lead singer, it's because of the emotional range he displayed or because he's the perfect model for our current protagonist. 

Bring up a bestselling author, and we'll discuss the least known book on his/her backlist in great detail because it will be our favorite. And we'll all cite the same scenes as particularly noteworthy or utter failures. We'll use terms that mean nothing to anyone who only reads when on vacation and always chooses the current hot best seller.

When writers talk about a recent trip to some European country, we wax poetic about the archaic facts we learned and not the sights we photographed or the beaches where we tanned our fannies. 

We share amusing anecdotes overheard in coffee shops and hospital waiting rooms because we know they'll someday make a "great scene."

Our standard ice-breaker in conversation is, "So, what are you currently working on?"

We play "author bingo" and games that require you to come up with a word in the English language that has a double u in less than 5 seconds. 

Mention a t-shirt seen in a souvenir shop that proudly proclaims, "F*** Google. Ask Me." Every writer in the room will raise a hand and admit, "Yeah, that's me." We can't help ourselves. Our heads are encyclopedias of useless facts.

For the non-writer in this scenario, one of us can be tough enough to deal with. But to be locked in a room for several hours with forty or fifty of us? Or more? That's a challenge even the most loving spouse can't rise to on a regular basis.

And honestly? For most of us, it's a good thing to be on our own in these situations. We're with our people, our fellow introverts and observers. The pressure is off. We don't have to worry if our significant other is having a good time. 

We can shout out, "vacuum!" to that double u question and have a group of people look at us with admiration instead of hearing, "It's bizarre that you know that." 

When we complain that our protagonist refuses to follow the plot the way we planned, we receive nods and encouraging advice instead of eye rolls or blank stares.

We can talk to the bartender about his day job as an EMT for over an hour, knowing it's actually research and not worry someone might mistake it for flirtation.

We can sit in the corner and jot notes on napkins--and no one thinks we're odd or anti-social. In fact, we'll probably have to wait our turn to find a chair in the corner! 

So, if you've got a partner who does accompany you on a regular basis, be sure to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice he/she is making for you--and not just with a dedication in your next novel. Take your head out of your laptop every once in a while to say "thanks" and "I love you" and "wow, you look great" and "when did we change the color of the walls?" and "how'd I get so lucky?" Because you did.

But if your partner doesn't come with you to these social engagements, at least wait until you're out of sight and earshot before you give that fist pump and say, "Thank God." 

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Funeral for a Friend

It was bound to happen eventually. I mean, I have a reputation for being hard on those I love, those I rely on to see me through the rough times. After all, there's only so much support a good friend can supply before they just can't give any more. And I can be a bit too needy sometimes. I know that. It's only natural that, after a time, my demands become impossible to meet and the giver can no longer provide me with succor.

I've said goodbye so often over the years. I should be used to it. But this time is different. 

Oh, sure, I saw the signs lately. The times I'd seek out encouragement or a jolt of courage, and it would take just a little too long to get a reaction. But I told myself I was imagining it. Denial, the professionals call it. Deep down inside, I knew. I just didn't want to admit it. Didn't want to believe I'd burned out another one. After all, I thought this time was gonna last a lot longer. I'd invested so much more in this relationship.

But, in the end, I wound up disappointed yet again. And so, it's time to say farewell.

Farewell, dear Keurig. You were wonderful. But you've gasped your last. And so, I must put you out of your misery (and mine), consigning you to the Kitchen Appliance Hall of Fame along with all your past counterparts: the Mr. Coffees, the summer blenders I've burned out on too many margaritas, the toasters the Hubster has punched (don't ask). Alas, poor Keurig, you served me well. You shall be missed.

Rumor has it the Cuisinart's on sale with a rebate. I think I might be in love again... 

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Favorite Holiday Movies

I'm waaay behind on all things Christmas this year so I'm trying to get in the spirit with the help of my trusty DVR. Here are some of my favorite movies for the season. Warning! They're not going to be to everyone's taste. And bear in mind, there are hundreds of choices out there. These are my particular favorites.

1. Last Holiday. Queen Latifah and LL Cool J (my kids will tell you how much I love this guy!) star in the story of a woman who's always played by the rules, facing a fatal illness, who decides to spend her last Christmas going out with a bang. 

2. Bridget Jones's Diary. Yes, it's a Christmas movie. Bridget and Mark run into each other at the Christmas Curry Buffet. Mark's wearing the horrible reindeer sweater. That kiss in the end in the snow? Come on! It's a Christmas movie. At least, in my book, it's a Christmas movie. Pffft! For anyone who's lived under a rock and has never seen or heard of Bridget, this is the story of Bridget Jones and her rocky love life, her see-saw weight, and her dysfunctional parents, told, in part, through her diary entries.

3. The Ref. Oh my God, I could watch this a thousand times and still laugh at the same lines. "Your husband ain't dead, lady. He's hidin'." "If you don't mind, the corpse still has the floor." "Slipper socks. Medium!" When cat burglar Denis Leary bungles a job in the booby-trapped home of an eccentric millionaire, he takes a couple hostage to avoid the Christmas Eve lockdown set up by the town police to find him. Unfortunately, he's chosen the most dysfunctional family in the state of Connecticut. Brilliant performances by Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Glynis Johns, Christine Baranski, and J.K. Simmons.

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol. No, I'm not the least bit embarrassed (though my kids are). There are tons of versions of this Dickens classic and I'll watch them all, including the Lifetime version, Ebbie, starring Susan Lucci as a female Ebeneezer, but the Muppets bring a special whimsy, and Michael Caine is so good at being bad.

5. The Holiday. Two broken-hearted women on opposite sides of the world, played by Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, switch homes to avoid spending Christmas alone with their misery. After some amusing mishaps, both find their "gumption" with the help of the delectable Jude Law, a charming Jack Black, and a timeless Eli Wallach.

6. Bad Santa. Sure, it's in very poor taste. But it's funny. Billy Bob Thornton is a thief who becomes a mall Santa every year, cashes out on Christmas Eve by robbing all the stores, blows through the cash on booze and drugs over the next eleven months and starts again the following November. Along for the ride is his trusty accomplice elf, Tony Cox. 

7. While You Were Sleeping. Lonely Chicago El fare collector Lucy has a secret crush on commuter Peter. When he's mugged on Christmas Eve and tossed on the rails, she jumps on the tracks to save his life. At the hospital where Peter lies in a coma, Lucy is immediately swallowed up into his family where they think she's his new fiancee. All except Peter's brother, Jack, who not only has suspicions about Lucy, he has feeling for her, as well.

8. Christmas Vacation. Yeah, we're the Griswolds. Poor Clark wants a good old fashioned family Christmas but, as always, goes overboard and disaster ensues, along with hilarity.

9. Trading Places. Louis Winthorpe III and Billy Ray Valentine (Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy) are the pawns when the Duke brothers decide to test a theory that environment has more to do with a person's life choices than upbringing. Brilliant satire with some uproarious moments.

10. Love, Actually. Still the best for me. So many love stories--some sad, some happy, but all poignant--all told around Christmas. Each one melts my heart to a puddle of mulled cider. 

What are your holiday movies to get you in the spirit?

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Word of the Day: FREE!

In Your Dreams, Book II of the Afterlife Series, is currently free for Kindle users for the next five days! What are you waiting for? Go get your copy! Here's a sneak peek I've never shared before:

“You’re a hero, Belle. Or I guess, in your case, a heroine.”

“I prefer the term, ‘super goddess,’ if you don’t mind.” She snuggled against Sean on the plush couch and watched firelight dance shadows over the hard lines of his face, in such contrast with his starlit eyes. This time, he’d brought her to a winter wonderland. She’d barely hung up the phone before he whisked her to this quiet, rustic ski chalet. Outside, snow swirled while she and he stayed warm and cozy together. The two of them. Together. Alone. Romantic—in a weird kind of way.

“Super goddess, huh? What does that require? A cape and a halo?”

“A cape, a halo, and a super god by her side. You interested in becoming my sidekick?”


“We make a great team,” she said with an enticing lilt. “Don’t you think this is kind of like...fate? Like, I don’t know…I’m the Pepper to your Iron Man-slash-Tony Stark persona. Maybe I’m supposed to keep helping you with these cases of yours. I could be your official liaison with the living.”

He kissed the top of her head. “That’s a great idea, but I’m not so sure the Elders will see it that way. In fact, I bet I’m going to be in a heap of trouble after this interlude is over. Maybe even before. So if I leave here suddenly, without warning, don’t be afraid, okay? It just means I’ve been called up to face the penalty for my actions.”

“Why should you be penalized?” Peeved on his behalf, she sat up straight and screwed up her face. “We saved that poor girl’s life. Isn’t that what’s important?”

“Somehow, I don’t think the Elders are going to be too thrilled that I involved you, an attempted suicide offender, to save another attempted suicide offender.”

“You know,” she retorted, narrowing her eyes at him, “under normal circumstances, I’d kick your ass over that whole ‘attempted suicide offender’ moniker you’ve tagged me with, but I’m more concerned that you think you’re going to get in trouble for saving a teenaged girl’s life. Which, by the way, is ridiculous. All you hafta do is tell them the truth. I was around, and I could do what you couldn’t. It’s not like I was your first choice, right? I mean, you tried other options before you contacted me. But it’s because of my phone call that Nicole Zuniga is alive and will get the treatment she needs.” She thumped her chest. “Because of me. For the first time in my life, I really feel like I made a difference to somebody. And no invisible ‘Board’ is going to take that away from me.”

The wood popped, and a spark flew. Startled, she flinched.

“Easy, tiger,” he crooned and, with a low laugh, gathered her closer against his chest. “I got you.”

Yeah, he did. More than he realized. She shook off the crazy thought that she might be falling for her guardian angel. Stick to the topic, babycakes. You’re much safer there.

“One thing bothers me,” she said. “How come your boss didn’t just call Nicole herself? I mean, why’d she have to drag you in to help that poor girl—and then you had to call me? Not that I’m angry about it or anything. I’m glad I could help, but...why’d she need us?”

“Because communication between her and any of her cases is much more limited than what I have with you.”

“You were telling me about that on Rodeo Drive. Remember? When I was trying on shoes?”

His forehead pleated. “Yeah, but there’s more to the story than what I told you then. It’s strange. Everyone else in my department is limited to communicating with their offenders through dreams—only dreams. Meaning, the offenders have to be asleep. As far as I know, you’re the first person to ever sense one of us is around when you’re awake—and to address that fact. And I’m the first officer to physically leave my realm to come to yours. To be touched by someone and feel that touch. Apparently, the bond you and I share is unique.”

Unique. What exactly did that mean? What made them so special? Could it be love? Oh, Jeez, she was seriously jumping the gun here. But then again, her experience with true love was nil. Carlo had never really loved her—she saw that now. For her part, she’d only been infatuated—and not even with him. With the idea of him. She’d been in love with love, not her husband. Big difference.

She glanced upward at Sean. What kind of experience did he have with love? Probably a helluva lot more than she did.

“Sean? Have you ever been in love?”

He didn’t answer at first, and Isabelle mentally prepared herself to hear he’d left a wife and six kids behind on Earth, and he couldn’t wait until they were all reunited.

“I don’t think so,” he said at last, and she had to stifle her sigh of relief. “Not in my last lifetime anyway. I was engaged in another life, but I don’t remember any of the details.”

“I don’t really understand love,” she admitted. “I thought I did. I mean, I look at Justin and Tony, and the love between them is so obvious—so palpable—it hurts. You know? I don’t think anyone’s ever loved me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like…I don’t know. It’s not so much that Justin would lay down his life for Tony and vice-versa. I mean, I know they each would. But the loss of one partner would totally devastate the other. Me? I’ve always been…replaceable. God knows, no one who proclaimed they loved me has ever held me in higher regard than everyone else. When push came to shove, my mother chose my stepfather, Carlo ran off with a younger version, all my so-called ‘devoted’ fans have long forgotten me.” He started to say something, but she put her fingers to his lips to halt the argument. “I’m not feeling sorry for myself; I’m just stating fact. It would be nice to know someone loved me unconditionally, no matter what dumb thing I did, what careless remark I made, whether or not I had money or clout. Not like the way Justin and Tony love me—in a friendship way. But how they love each other—in a romantic way. I want someone who values me for who I am, not what I can give him. Someone who guards my heart and places his in my hands for safekeeping.”

The wood popped again, as if even the fire scoffed at her childish dreams. “Forget it.” She shook her head. “I’m not making sense. Forget I said anything.”

He didn’t reply right away, but his fingers twirled in her hair. Funny. He seemed to know exactly what to do to make her comfortable, to make her feel loved.

“First of all,” he said while his fingers tunneled through her hair to massage her scalp, “there is nothing about you that’s replaceable. Would I be working so hard to convince you to stay alive if you weren’t special? Trust me when I say, you have a lot to offer the world and the right man who’s lucky enough to discover you. Just because no one—including you—has figured that out yet doesn’t make you unworthy of love. If I were alive, I’d haunt you more than I do now. I’d spend every second of my life marveling at your courage, your wit, your enormous heart. Stay alive, sweetheart, and find the love that was meant to be yours.” He kissed the place where his fingers had traveled. “And secondly, for the record, I l—”

Poof! Isabelle woke in her room. The chalet, the fire, and the man of her dreams were all gone. 

Where'd he go? Only one way to find out. Get your copy here

Now. While it's FREE!

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Friday, November 29, 2013

In Memoriam: Four Years Later

Four years ago today, we lost my father-in-law on what would have been his 80th birthday. We miss him still. Albe was one of a kind, and I have lots of fond memories of this amazing man. He was a true gentleman with a huge heart, a generous spirit, and a passion for life and family. 

He was the man who'd drop everything to come over to help me fix a broken water pipe in below freezing temps on a January night when the Hubster was away on business. After that incident, for my birthday, he bought me a tool bag complete with everything I could possibly need and, according to my mother-in-law, had a blast fussing over getting just the right hammer, screwdriver, etc. for my "girly hands." He drove me to the hospital when I was in labor with my son, jumping curbs and taking corners on two wheels, despite my assurance that we had plenty of time. He was at every dance recital and karate tournament for his granddaughter; every soccer, football, and baseball game for his three grandsons. He was the first one to volunteer at his church whenever any work had to be done. And he played on a senior softball league up until that very last season. In fact, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he insisted he had to be well enough to make spring training. That was Dad. Nothing stopped him. 

Many years ago, I wrote an article about my in-laws for a local writing organization's newsletter. It was after my mother-in-law's bout with a spinal tumor. I'm reprinting it here today because, even though Dad's gone, the words are still true. We miss you, Dad. But we're so very glad we had you in our lives. Thank you for all you were, for all you taught us, for being there every day. Until we meet again... 

Real Life Heroes and Heroines

Whenever anyone finds out I’m a romance writer, there are two questions that invariably pop up. One: "Where do you get your ideas?" and two: "Do you ever base your characters on real people?" I can as easily answer the first question as explain where aluminum comes from. But the second can be confirmed with a resounding, "Yes!"
Heroes and heroines don’t just exist in our heads or on the pages of our favorite romance novels. If you look around at the people you know, you might discover real heroes and heroines share your life everyday. I’ll give you two examples.
Until a year ago, my mother-in-law, Gloria, was a woman who looked and acted decades younger than her real age. (Don’t ask; I’ll never tell.) She walked five miles every day and still found the stamina to race along the sidelines when her grandkids played soccer or lacrosse. Last December, however, she started slowing down. Not a normal, "I’m too tired" kind of slow down. No, this lady suddenly needed a cane to move around her kitchen because she couldn’t feel her feet. By mid-February of this year, Gloria was trapped in a wheelchair, too numb from the waist down to attend to her own basic needs.
From the moment she first faltered, my father-in-law, Al, became her primary support and caregiver. He bathed her, fed her, helped her dress, and styled her hair. He drove her to doctors, radiologists, and lab technicians. Together, they sought help from an endless variety of specialists, hoping to learn the reason for Gloria's sudden downward spiral.
At long last, a renowned neurosurgeon in Manhattan diagnosed her condition: a spinal hemangioblastoma. In layman’s terms, a large bloody tumor had developed inside her spinal canal, constricting her spine to the diameter of a fingernail and crushing the nerves that control lower body functions. Without immediate surgery, she faced permanent paralysis or possible death.
As soon as the diagnosis was made, Gloria endured an excruciating ten-hour surgery on her spine. She now faces an eighteen-month-long recuperation. With luck, she may regain 80-90% of the functions she had before the tumor affected her.
Sometimes, although she's made some great strides in her recovery, her spirits lag. I can’t blame her; she’s been through so much already and still has big challenges to face. But the lady is determined to regain her independence—one step at a time. I have no doubt she will.
The day Gloria finally does walk on her own again, her special hero will be right there, cheering her on. Al, of course, spent every waking moment at her bedside through the hospitalizations and rehabilitation sessions.
Since her return home, he has assumed the title, "Keeper of the Household." He now does the laundry and the food shopping and myriad other banal activities associated with housewifery. He’s also her head coach: urging her to take one more step, to push herself a little harder when she feels like giving up.
Everyday he walks with her, allowing her to lean on him, to know he’ll catch her if she starts to fall. And when she complains about the eight-inch surgical scar running down her back (it looks like a zipper—honest!), Al reminds her she’s still the beautiful woman he fell in love with fifty-plus years ago.
Isn’t that romantic? Because we all know, that’s exactly what we look for in a hero. Not just that he’ll stick around when the going gets tough, but that he’ll still love our heroine when she’s no longer the nubile young beauty he married.
Sure, there’ve been some tense moments in the senior Ardito household: like when Al shrank all Gloria’s brassieres because he thought the reading of "Hot/Cold" on the washer meant "Warm," rather than "Hot Wash/Cold Rinse." And in the car where Gloria, irked by the fact she still can’t drive herself, harps that Al’s aggressive motor vehicle habits will send her back to the hospital via traffic accident. But there is never any doubt that what they’ve survived has made them stronger, both as individuals and as a couple.
In a nutshell, that’s the true meaning behind such tag phrases as, "Goal, Motivation, and Conflict" and "the hero and heroine must work to earn their Happily Ever After." Challenging our characters to rise up against their hardships is vital to the plot of a romance. No one wants to read about two people who fall in love at first sight, experience a charming, uneventful courtship, and live happily ever after. With a story like that, readers are reduced to the role of Clara Peller in the old Wendy’s commercials, wondering, "Where’s the beef?"
When I told Gloria I was writing an article about her role as the ideal heroine and Al’s as the ideal hero for romance writers, I thought she’d fly into the clouds with pride. "I love him," she gushed. "I don’t know how I could have survived the last year without him. He really is my hero."
Al’s reply was more indicative of the male mindset of don’t-make-a-fuss-it’s-no-big-deal. It went something like this:
Me: Um, Dad, I’m writing an article about you and Mom, comparing you to a romance novel’s ideal hero and heroine. I’m explaining all you’ve been through together in the last year, and how the hardships have only made you love each other more.
Al: Oh, that’s nice, sweetheart. Thank you.
End of conversation.
"Yup," thinks I as I hang up the phone, "typical hero and heroine material."
While I’ve always loved and admired my in-laws, I can honestly say I watch them these days with newfound respect. Oddly, their experience in the past year has taught me a great deal about my writing.
Gloria’s courage and determination inspire those traits in my heroines. When one of my heroines falls, I insist that she rise and try again, even when it would be so much easier for her to stay down and give up.
And like all heroes, Al’s not big on accolades for his feats. He doesn’t find his actions laudable, doesn’t see how his devotion to his wife helped speed her recovery. In his mind, he simply did what he wanted to do—the right thing to do—for the woman he loves.
From now on, when an agent or editor rejects my manuscript because "the heroine is too wishy-washy" or the hero "doesn’t seem real," I’ll look into their characterizations with a new perspective. Perhaps my heroine just needs a little more of Gloria’s indomitable spirit to shine through the pages. Maybe my hero, like Al, should show his feelings for the heroine, but not expect praise for them. When their conflict isn’t great enough, I’ll up the stakes, believing that if my in-laws can triumph over their odyssey of the last year, my characters can survive almost anything. I’ll try to remember that true strength comes from within. And I’ll find new ways to communicate that the term, "happily ever after" stresses the "ever after" part, not the "happily."
Thanks to Gloria and Al, I’ve seen firsthand how powerful love can be. Devastating illness changed their roles, but not their devotion to one another. With characters like these in my family, who needs to invent heroes and heroines from scratch?

For tips on writing and fun articles, visit Gina's Articles For Writers page: Need editing services for your manuscript? Gina is proud to announce the launch of Excellence in Editing:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Unusual Gifts for the Writer

We're closing in on gift-giving season. Whether you're in love with a writer or pulled a writer's name in the office grab-bag, you don't have to fall back on gift cards to a book store or office supply store (although those are always welcome gifts, too!). If you want to look like you fussed, or the gift cards aren't an option, here are a few unusual ideas to make your writer's heart go pitter-pat. Just follow the links! P.S. For the record, I'm avoiding how-to books. Writers have their favorites and I'm not up to dueling pistols at dawn over individual preferences.

Dream Essentials Nite Note, Night Time Notepad with Fisher Ball Point Space Pen - White Writers get a lot of ideas in the middle of the night. And then we struggle to decide whether to risk turning on a light to jot the idea down or hope we'll remember the idea in the morning. Nite Notes is a pad that lights up when the pen is removed from the pad, allowing us to write down that idea and go right back to dreamland. $14.95

EZ-Cup for Keurig Coffee Machines By Perfect Pod Yes, we love our coffee. And the Keurig has been a dream-come-true for a lot of writers. But if your writer feels guilty about the cost or waste of K-cups, this EZ-Cup with its paper filters is the perfect solution! Just fill with your own coffee, pop into your Keurig, and enjoy. Cuts cost in half. Clean up is a breeze, thanks to the paper filter. $13.75 (additional paper filters $7.89 for pkg of 50)

Aqua Notes - Waterproof Notepad Rumor has it John "Cougar" Mellencamp wrote his hit, "Hurts So Good" on the shower doors, so we're not the only ones who get ideas while under the spray. But if we're not fast, those ideas can slip right down the drain. Unless we've got this handy shower pad to use. Waterproof pen and pages for keeping our genius safe until we're dressed and ready to tackle our story! $7.95

3dRose mug_157392_2 Writers Block When Your Imaginary Friends Stop Talking to You English Writing Author Novelist Ceramic Mug, 15-Ounce Writers will love sipping their coffee out of this mug. $14.99

Inspiring Writers Ornament Round Round Ornament says, "I am an instrument of change. I write." Lovely words to inspire and encourage. $12.50

Boss Tech Products Knit Touchscreen Gloves with Conductive Fingertips for Use with All Touchscreen Electronic Devices- Black and Pink Ever want to use your e-reader or iPad at the train station, but dread having to remove your gloves to scroll? Hate the idea of texting or using your cell in wintry weather because of the touchscreen? These gloves have conductive fingertips to keep your hands warm while keeping you in contact with your electronics. $9.99

Book Jewelry Talk about unique! Earrings, pendants, and hair accessories all created to look like tiny books. Prices start at about $20.00, depending upon the item and design chosen.

Carbonite A writer's greatest fear is a computer malfunction that causes the loss of files, manuscripts, and months of work. Why not invest in a year of online backup service for your writer? I'm a huge fan of Carbonite, which not only does the automatic backup for me, but keeps those folders available to move from laptop to laptop or Kindle or wherever else I need to transfer them. A lifesaver! About $60.00/year

Custom Craftworks Omni Cervical Relief Pillow After hours at a desk or hunched over a laptop, writers often experience neck and shoulder pain. This pillow helps to straighten the cervical spine and ease the tension. $40.00

DeskCycle Desk Exercise Bike Pedal Exerciser Keep your writer healthy even when he/she is on deadline! This mini exercise bike fits under the desk and offers a range of resistance levels, plus tracks calories burned and distance, but won't disturb the creative process with an excessive level of noise. $149.00

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Word of the Day: Giving

Giving. It's the second half of the compound word for the holiday we Americans will be celebrating at the end of the month. And while all over the Interwebs, I see people posting their daily "What I'm thankful for" blurbs, I want to focus on the "giving" part. Yes, I know that I'm supposed to be "giving thanks," and in my own way, that's what I plan to do. But not with words.

This morning, on my local news, a reporter interviewed the head of a food pantry here who said that, with two weeks left until Thanksgiving Day, they hoped to feed about 1600 families and currently have about 40 turkeys on hand. Let's face it. People are struggling. It's nice to see everyone thankful for their friends, their family, their morning coffee. But there are too many strangers who are going hungry every day, our government is too fixated on hurting people for spite than helping for the good of all, and too many of us stay insulated in our own bubbles. I hate to burst that bubble, but forwarding the latest meme on Facebook does nothing of substance to fix the problems.

If you've followed my blog or know me personally, you know that 2012 was the most challenging year my family has ever faced. And I am extremely thankful that we managed to overcome many of our obstacles and find ourselves in a better place in 2013. But I don't forget that we were fortunate at a time when others were not. 

Because of my good fortune, and with the memory of last year's pain and loss still resonating in my heart, I am reminded I can make a difference for others this year. I recently got a royalty check for last month's sales. It's not JK Rowling or Stephen King huge. It's small potatoes, really. But it's a little extra for me. 

Well, not this month. This month, it's extra for someone else.

I'm on my way to the supermarket where I plan to buy at least ten turkeys. Yes. At least ten. I'll be driving to that man's pantry to drop them off. Oh, and I'm bringing my kids. They need the reminder, too.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

It's a Giveaway!

I'm giving away two free copies of my newest paperback release, In Your Dreams, Book II of the Afterlife Series on Goodreads. All you have to do is click the widget on the side of my page -------------> to enter. How easy is that?

But you better hurry! You only have a few days! 

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Friday, November 8, 2013

An Open Letter to a Reader/Reviewer

Dear Reader,

You don't know me and I don't know you. You recently read one of my books and were kind enough to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or maybe both. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You see, I found your review by accident. I'm not one of those authors who trolls the book sites, seeking any new reviews I might have received. 

Not that I don't care what my readers say; I do. Honestly. And I do read all my reviews. But I tend to check every week or two rather than daily or hourly like some authors I know. (In case you didn't already know this about us, most authors are pretty needy individuals. We pretend not to care, but, deep down, we crave input on our work like plants crave sunlight. Without it, we shrivel up and die.) 

The fact that you took the time to write anything at all is usually enough for me. Readers often don't realize that, aside from giving a little bit of life to a struggling author with a few words in a comment box, reviews help struggling authors garner more sales. The more reviews a book has (no matter how many stars or what those reviews say), the higher the book appears in sales queues on Amazon and B&N. Many promotional companies authors hire to create more sales require a minimum number of reviews before they'll allow an author to sign on to use their products. Which is why you probably come across authors in social media often begging for reviews. We don't feel you "owe us a review." We need your review. Yes, we crave the feedback as I said. But it also helps us sell more books, which helps us pay our bills, and in some cases, convinces our families that this writing thing isn't just a lark and we can actually make some money, so we can keep writing more books for you to read. It's the publishing version of the Circle of Life.

But there's also something else, and this is where you, dear reader, affected me. Writers are, by nature, moody individuals. We tend to feel things more deeply than "normal" people. Our mood swings are legendary. Pity those who live with us. Six Flags' baddest roller coaster has nothing on us when it comes to ups and downs. On a good day, you might find us wandering the house in a caffeine-induced haze, mumbling to ourselves about an imaginary being who won't do what we want (that's a good day, folks!) and on a bad day, you'll see us curled up on the couch, tighter than a fist, weeping uncontrollably for no reason at all. And we can switch from a good day to a bad day at the speed of light.

But I digress.

You, dear reader, left a review on one of my books a day or two (or more) ago. And during one of those "bad day" moments, I found it. The day in question was a serious bad one: a day where I was questioning if I'd ever really succeed as a writer beyond my own little niche, if I was wasting my time and energy, and if I should give up as so many people would love to see me do. And your words touched me. Yes...that's right. Let me repeat that: Your words touched me

I know what you're thinking. It's not supposed to go that way. I'm the writer. My stories touch your heart and what I write strikes a nerve with you. But the universe works in mysterious ways. By letting me (and the world) know that you enjoyed something I'd written, at a time when I was questioning my purpose, your simple few sentences that said, yes, I did bring you joy--even for a short while--gave me the strength to pick myself up, wash the streaming mascara off my face, and go back to the keyboard.

You are the reason I do this, dear reader. For you, I slice my heart into itty-bitty pieces and put it back together in words on the page. Over and over again. Book after book after book.

Thank you for taking the time to let me know it matters. Because your actions mattered to me.



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Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNo? No, Thanks is Okay

For writers, November means NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. In a nutshell, writers all over the world will put aside these next thirty days to write a 50,000 word novel. Generally speaking, this requires a writer to write approximately 1700 words a day for 30 straight days. The pressure is on to reach The End by November 30, so much so that many people plan in advance with lots of pre-prepared dinners, folders filled with outlines and character sheets, warnings to friends and family members, blacked out calendars, and I'd imagine reservations for a cave dwelling, if that were possible.

With so many people involved, it can be easy for a writer to get caught up in the hype. But let me inject some common sense into the NaNoWriMo hysteria. It's not for everyone. It's definitely not for me.

For one thing, I'm not a volume writer. I don't set myself a word count every day. I've cited my reasons why in the past, but for those who don't feel like scouring through my years of posts to find my whys and wherefores, in a nutshell, I prefer quality to quantity. 50,000 words of dreck at the end of a month doesn't instill me with a sense of pride. A manuscript I can be proud of--regardless of whether it took me a month or ten months--does. Plus, writing for quality makes my editing process easier, it allows me to spend less time in revisions, and if you hire a freelance editor, you're paying a lot less for your work to be amended in the long run. 

Another reason I'm not a NaNo fan? Why November? Here in the eastern U.S., the weather is finally cool, and the fam is spending more time indoors. There's football, family dinners, Thanksgiving, and the lead-up to the holidays. Of all the months to choose to closet yourself away from your loved ones to write your Magnum Opus, why on earth would you choose November? Pass, thank you.

Look, I get it. Some people need inspiration or a kick in the butt to get started or just to finish that manuscript that's been sitting around on a laptop for months or years at a time. And NaNo's a great excuse for those who need the "group therapy" method. But if you don't want to or can't participate, there's no need to feel left out. You're not odd or anti-social or crazy because your method is different. 

Every writer has to find the routine that will work for him/her.

And if you really hate the idea of missing out on the companionship of NaNo, but really can't commit, come up with your own smaller version that can fit your needs. Here are some examples:

1. A hundred words a day. Commit to writing 100 words every day for the month of November. That's it. A hundred words. They can be stellar. They can be dreck. If you're on a tear, write 500. If you're struggling, get to 100 and reward yourself with something special. Just do 100 every day. At the end of the month, you'll still be 3000 words (minimum) ahead on your manuscript, you'll have participated in NaNo (to some degree), and your family will still remember who you are.

2. Be a NaNo cheerleader. Compile a list of your friends who are actually diving into the madness and be available to brainstorm or, if they live nearby, run errands for them. Not as much fun, but it could be appreciated.

3. Stay off the Internet until December 1. 

If you're participating in NaNo, good luck and may your fingers fly! But if not, that's okay too.

Whatever you decide, just remember. NaNo's not necessarily for everyone. It's just one month a year. And eventually, the madness passes and life returns to...well, what passes for normal in our writing lives.

Happy writing!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Overheard at Conference: NJ Edition

Last July, I posted snippets of conversation I overheard while at RWA National in Atlanta. It was one of my most popular posts this year (broken into two parts, here and here.) I decided to share a few more, from the NJRW Conference. This time around, I know the context for all of these, but it doesn't mean I plan to share them here. Enjoy!

1. (In a crowded elevator on the way down to the keynote breakfast) "Quick! Someone come up with a story."
"The elevator gets stuck and a hunky fireman has to rescue us."
"And oddly enough, he's nude at the time."
Giggles erupt, the elevator stops at the main floor and an elderly couple, not part of conference, steps out with us.
"Do you think they realized they were stuck in a cage with a bunch of romance writers?"

2. "I don't trust any BDSM writer who's never been spanked."

3. "I was warned some people might be jealous when they found out how quickly I sold my first book, but honestly? They hate me more when they learn I live in the Virgin Islands."

4. "The black lights in the elevators here make me want to put on a white disco suit and start dancing to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack."

5. "I just moved here a few months ago, so we're still learning our way around--me and my best friend, Garmin."

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Word of the Day: Juggle

I do that a lot. Juggle, I mean. Not literally, of course. (Although, I do recall my brother tossing oranges at the kitchen table while singing the old calliope tune...)
I juggle tasks. Writing, editing, workshops, day job, home stuff, family stuff, and all the multitudes of mini-tasks each entails. And sure, I drop a ball or two occasionally. Or I become drained and need to find a way to replenish the well.
That's why I love conferences. Whenever I've had enough networking, I retreat to the privacy of my room, tune out, and rejuvenate me. And when I'm ready, the buzz is waiting for me, a few floors below.
This morning, I'm in the coffee shop (along with several other NJRW conference attendees), sipping my morning Starbucks, writing a new chapter (and this blog post), soaking up a little R&R before the real work begins a few hours from now. 
Stick around. Check my Facebook page. I'll be posting photos and info as we go along...

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Word of the Day: Vacation

Yep. I'm on vacation. Hooray!
Hubster and I are taking a few days to visit Newport, Rhode Island. After weeks of kraziness with lots of editing, writing, and marketing, I'll unplug, reboot, and catch up on life. But of course, I plan to bring my Kindle. I've got lots of reading to do!
And then I'm off to NJRW for their annual Put Your Heart in a Book Conference. This year's theme: Dream Big, Write Now! I'll be hosting my self-editing workshop, spending time with friends, and signing at the literacy event there so if you'll be attending, look for me. With my red hair, big laugh, and loud mouth, and Long Island accent, I'm pretty hard to miss.
As vacations go, it's not exactly a cruise of the Greek Isles or a week at a spa in Sedona, but it works for me. 
Watch for pics on Facebook! 

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Word of the Day: Restraint

"Among my most prized possessions are words that I have never spoken." -- Orson Scott Card

I'm doing my best to practice restraint these days. It's not always easy. What with the current events in the news, the bits of karmic justice I've heard meted out to the deserving, the "I told you so" retorts I struggle to keep bottled up, the nonsense I let slip by unchallenged...

Trust me. 

There are days I really should receive a fanfare for keeping my composure. 

Oh, don't get me wrong. I still vent. But I limit myself to the privacy of my own home and the seclusion of my family members who generally share my opinions and views on the subjects I want to discuss. Not because I don't like a good civil discourse, but mostly because we live in an age where, sadly, "civil" no longer exists. And I've had my share of disagreements involving back-stabbing and passive-aggressive behavior, thankyouverymuch.

So if I seem quieter than usual to you these days, it's probably because I'm biting my tongue, sitting on my hands, banging my head on a smooth surface, or singing "lalalalalalalalala" with my fingers in my ears. Or some combination of those actions.

It's safer that way. 

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Word of the Day: Ingenuity

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." -- George Patton

I had such fun with the A to Z Blog Challenge, I wanted to come up with something similar that would compel me to blog with more regularity, often can I fool around with the alphabet? 

Enter Word of the Day. 

With Word of the Day, I get to choose any word that becomes a theme, no alphabetical order required, and provide you, dear reader, with a blog post that coincides with that theme.

Ingenuity is a perfect starting point. Why? Because it took a little creative thinking to come up with this idea, in my humble opinion. 

And because, today, after suffering untold disappointment at the idea I may have seriously fried my laptop while at Fiction Fest (I did), I may have found a way to salvage those programs that I can't transfer off Carbonite.

First of all, let me say, that if you don't use Carbonite or some other offsite backup storage, you're out of your gourd. It's not expensive--not compared to what you could possibly lose should something untoward happen. Case in point: my scenario.

Two weeks ago, I was at a lovely suite in the Hilton, and I turned on my laptop to review my presentation before my workshop. With my battery draining, I plugged in and zap! Thanks to some electrical short in the outlet, I fried the contact point between the AC cord and the laptop. Not the cord, and not the battery. The little hole where the cord plugs into the laptop. This is, according to my geek expert, a stellar expense to fix, requiring access to the motherboard. In other words, get yourself a new laptop, sunshine. It's cheaper in the long run.

Now, luckily, I *do* have Carbonite. But even so, it's a major league pain in the butt to transfer my website files, my music files, my Photoshop software, my book cover software, and a host of other stuff that I won't even think about until six months from now when it'll be too late to retrieve. And because I'll be transferring to my Ultrabook, which has no CD drive, some of these items will require rebuilding from scratch. 

But, like I said, I think I figured out a way around this conundrum. It won't be perfect, but it'll definitely buy me oodles of time until I can transfer everything I need into a brand spanking new laptop of my choosing--with a CD drive--at a date of my choosing. And the cost for this quick fix is under a hundred dollars. 

This, of course, along with my idea for Word of the Day blogging, is the true definition of "ingenuity."

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A to Z Blogging: Z is for Zed

As in The End. It's been fun blogging through the alphabet. I hope you've enjoyed reading my random musings. Next week, a new theme (maybe).  Until then, I thank you for reading my posts, my books, and my nonsense.

I now return to writing, editing, and life for a while. Lots coming up in the next few months.

Stay tuned...

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

A to Z Blogging: Y is for Yes

I'm a firm believer in opening myself up to possibilities. Over the years, there've been lots of times I've broken out of my comfort zone when an unusual opportunity presented itself. While the results haven't always turned out the way I anticipated, each event has brought me some unique lesson or insight that has, in some way, enriched me.

When was the last time you said, "Yes" to the universe? If you want to achieve anything, you have to believe in yourself. It's imperative that you envision yourself reaching your goal. Now, of course, I'm not talking about a goal like winning the lottery or guest hosting the Tonight Show or hitting the Forbes list of richest people. Those aren't true goals. 

Say yes to learning. Say yes to hard work. Say yes to opportunity, no matter where it presents itself. You never know where you'll end up.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

A to Z Blogging: X is for Xavia

Xavia Donovan is a key character in my latest book, In Your Dreams. She's the manager of the Probation Department and Sean's new boss. But she's got her own marked history:

“Xavia.” Even the way Uriah said her name—with James Earl Jones depth and Darth Vader severity—ratcheted up the tension inside her. Clearly, his request to see her meant bad tidings. “Your son came through here. Again.”

She allowed herself to feel hope for the first time in eons, gripping the worn chair arms to keep her excitement in check. “When? Is he still here? Can I see him?” Maybe this time…

Uriah folded his arms over his gold-vested chest. “You know you cannot.”

Frustration reared its ugly head. Of course not. Once again, the Elder crushed her like an ant beneath his gilt shoe. “Then why tell me?” How long would they force her to do penance for one lousy mistake? Hands white-knuckling the chair arms, she glared up at Uriah. “Jee-zus, I get it. I screwed up. I couldn’t bear to live another day without my son so I offed myself, thinking we’d be reunited in death. My bad. And you guys saw that as a reason to punish me for eternity.”

No easy punishment, either. Instead of the joyful reunion she’d dreamed of, she arrived here and learned her suicide had damned them both to never see each other again. As much as that knowledge had devastated her, some kind of ripple effect had pulled an even worse voodoo on her son. No matter what kind of lifetime the Elders sent him to, he kept screwing up, kept winding up back here in the Afterlife before he reached adulthood.

“What happened this time?”

“He stole a car and was killed in a high-speed chase with the police.”

Police. Always the police. Her son, Noah, had been gunned down by a trigger-happy cop two blocks from their apartment in Bed-Stuy. At the time, Noah and a friend had been shooting out windows with a pellet gun. The idiot cop thought the gun was real, panicked, and shot her son straight through the heart. Since then, every time Uriah summoned her to one of these meetings, the scenario remained constant: Noah, caught doing something illegal, would come up against the Wall of Blue and lose. Every single time.

In Your Dreams is available now on Amazon.

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