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

For tips on writing and fun articles, visit Gina's Articles For Writers page:
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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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