Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Writer's Workout

Since staying home to write, I find myself sitting at my desk a lot longer during the day than I did when I was out in the workforce. Doing outside sales and marketing, I was quite active during the day. Now, the discipline required to stay focused on writing everyday, and making sure I keep my butt in my chair until I hit at least 4 or 5k words, has provided an excuse for not being as active as I once was.

So, I developed a Writer's Workout that I'd thought I'd share in case anyone else was also feeling guilty about their writing schedules lol:)

I start writing at 7:45 each morning once the house has cleared out. When I reach 1k words I take ten to fifteen minutes to do the following:

Two minutes of each of these exercises in this order:

Pushups
 
Squats



Jumping Jacks


Ski Jumps
 
Plank
 
Pilates 100
 
Then I return to writing. Once I reach the 3k mark, I do it all again...And then again at the 4-5k mark or end of my writing day. Without really feeling as though I took a lot of time away from my writing, I've just accomplished a 30-45 minute workout everyday.

I usually try to run on my 'lunchbreak' as well, if there's time or especially if I've hit a wall in my manuscript and I need to step away and clear my mind for a bit. The physical exercise is great for this. But on the days that I don't get a run in, at least I've done this routine.

:)
xo
Jen

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wishes Dreams and Growing older by Eleanor Jones

Hi I'm Eleanor and this is my first ever blog.

To be honest I didn't even know what a blog was until a fortnight ago so please bear with me. I've been worrying a bit about what to write. Lots of thoughts and ideas have circled around in my head but then I read Muriel's lovely blog about her morning routine and decided to just blog about life.

We all have our hopes and dreams, successes and failures. Sometimes things are going really well and then fate just hits you in the gut with something really bad. Sometimes I wonder how we even dare get up in the morning. What is it I wonder that determines our lives and makes us the kind of people we are? Is it fate, circumstance, or maybe those around us who influence our early years.

Mine is a funny kind of life by some peoples standards. I have lived for many years with my family, a host of varied animals and four or five staff, girls in their teens and early twenties who love horses, want to train and live as family. Latterly even my son, his wife and my two grandchildren have also lived here when between houses. The girls who live and work here come from many walks of life, for some it's just a place to be when things are tough at home and I like to think that we have influenced their lives in a good way as they passed through and maybe helped them to a better future.

My job is to teach riding and help run the stables and household, my passion is to write whenever I have a spare moment -which is often very early in a morning before the day gets going. I used to write teenage pony mysteries, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing, but then I found Harlequin Heartwarming and realised that I could write about both life and love. What gets better than that?

So no matter how old I get, and I have to admit that I'm no spring chicken, as long as people are willing to keep buying my books I get to feel young again and fall in love over and over with every new story I write. I hope that those who read my stories will get the same experience.

We all go through bad times in our lives and maybe we have to have bad times to appreciate the good, but I truly believe that love really does make the world go round. Everyone wants to be in love, no matter how cynical they may pretend to be. Everyone wants to find that certain someone who is always there for you and knows you better than yourself.

In Heartwarming we get the chance to find that certain someone again and again... at least for a little while. So remember, wherever you are in your life, bad times can only get better and there's always someone worse off than you. Just keep believing that and you'll make your own good luck.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sit-Down Saturday with Kristin Rolofson

Today we’re celebrating the release of THE HUSBAND SHOW by Kristin Rolofson.

So, Kristine, where did you get the idea for this novel?
THE HUSBAND SHOW is the third book in the “Willing to Wed” series. I wanted to write Aurora’s story because she was such an unlikely heroine. In the previous books she’d clearly longed for female friendships, but her social skills were limited. I liked that she joined the quilting group and struggled to learn how to sew. I wanted her to have friends, to reach out to Meg and Lucia. It was time to give this secretive and prickly woman a love story of her own. I wanted her to feel that she belonged.
My ideas for the Willing stories come from the town itself. My husband and I love our road trips across the West every summer. I spend a lot of time taking pictures and wondering who lives on that ranch, who works in that cafe, what is going on in those small towns. I read bulletin boards and shamelessly eavesdrop everywhere we go.
In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?
                       “Who can resist a man with a guitar?”

How long did it take you to write?
Approximately four months.

What is your favorite scene?
I love when Aurora finally gets up on stage and, standing in her fancy western boots, absolutely amazes the crowd with her fiddling skills. I was so envious (of both the designer boots and the musical talent); I started taking violin lessons when I was 55 and it is a very, very slow process. I had Aurora play “Orange Blossom Special”,because that’s the closest I’ll ever come to that song.

Who was your favorite character and why?
Winter, Jake’s daughter, really made me laugh. Kids are so adaptable, even when arriving in a small Montana town with a previously unknown father. Leave it to Winter to wonder if she’d landed in “Brigadoon”!

I love Sam Hove, who was the hero of THE HUSBAND PROJECT and Jake’s younger brother. He was based on Jeremy Wade, extreme angler of RIVER MONSTERS fame. I’m a huge fan of the show. I read Wade’s book five times while writing THE HUSBAND PROJECT and had a huge map of the Amazon on my desk. Season 6 of RIVER MONSTERS just began, which means Sunday nights have become very, very exciting. My family thinks I am insane.

Tell us one thing you learned during research.
I researched collectible guitars and priceless violins. And I learned my old Gibson isn’t worth much, darn it.

What music would match the mood of this novel?
Bluegrass and country. “Della Mae” is a terrific new band with that mix of old and new, as are the “Infamous Stringdusters”. I’m a huge Delbert McLinton fan; several years ago I had the great luck to spend an evening in Austin with Gary Nicholson, who had written many hit songs for Delbert and produced some of his albums. Mr. Nicholson shared a lot about the business of songwriting and I used some of that information in this novel.

This is your 43rd_ book. Exactly what does that mean to you?
After writing 40 books and novellas, I decided to take some time off. I hadn’t planned on staying away from writing for as long as I did, but after raising six children my husband and I decided to enjoy the finally-empty nest and do some traveling. I also spent 8 years writing an animal adoption column, fostering puppy mill dogs and fundraising for animal rescue organizations. When I began writing again, for Heartwarming, I wondered if I would remember how to do it! I’ve been thrilled with the response to the Willing books. It means a lot to me.

What do you plan to work on next?
 I’m writing another novel set in Willing. It opens with a marriage proposal during the Fourth of July parade, but I’m not going to tell you who says yes!

What are you reading for pleasure right now?
I read constantly! I’ve recently finished Eloisa James’ Three Weeks with Lady X, Joshilyn Jackson’s Someone Else’s Love Story, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Purity of Vengeance. Next up: Jo Nesbo’s Cockroaches, Peter James’ Dead Man’s Time and Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Dog Hour


Good Morning, Everyone!

The hour between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. is referred to around here as the dog hour.  (Curiously, there's a cat in my lap as I write this.  Editing, probably.)  It's an hour later in the winter because of early-morning darkness, though I've seen hearty souls on their way with flashlights, but with Spring in full swing, and a light sky by shortly after 6:00, Cheyenne and I are up and doing by 6:15.  And so is the entire neighborhood.

It's fascinating how on-schedule we all are.  Our first contact with friends is half a block away at the top of our street when we meet Jane, who works for a physical therapist, and Gracie, who is a little white rag-mop of a mixed breed.  Cheyenne loves Gracie, but gets little more than tolerance in return while Jane and I, both married to artists, exchange news on the latest show or sketching-group meeting.

Half a block west, we meet Will and Astra.  Will is a student who always looks sleepy - probably studies hard - and Astra is about 40 pounds of Brindle-colored, stand-up-eared, Heinz 57 dog.  Cheyenne drags me the last few yards towards them and Astra is usually standing on her hind-feet, waiting for her.  They nuzzle, wriggle, pounce and play while Will smiles and says a sleepy good-morning.

On the next corner we run into Alyssa and Katie.  Alyssa is Will's opposite, sounds like she's been up for hours, and is beautifully made up.  I'd guess she's in her middle thirties.  She does horse massage and is filled with good will and good cheer - just the things you'd love to have stroked into your riding companion.  Katie is a sleek-coated rescue dog who wags and sniffs with Cheyenne.

It's been our pattern for the three years since Cheyenne moved in with us to go east  several blocks past the playground, or west, past the elegant old homes built in the 19th Century.  Suddenly - maybe because the weather's been generally nicer, Cheyenne looks back at me when we return from one direction with the clear question - "Can we go the other way, too?  Please?  Huh?"  So, we do.

They don't like us so much in that direction, but fortunately they're behind a fence.  The Brewers have two Giant Schnauzers and one standard, who bark from the minute they spot us coming until we're out of sight.   I imagine several residents of that block still in bed, putting pillows over their heads, or giving up and getting up earlier than they'd planned.

A block and a half beyond Brewers we meet Adam, a young man who bristles with energy and ideas and has a design business at home.  He's planning a sailing expedition with friends to the San Juans in July and, when we meet, is heading down to the bakery for coffee.  He was always alone until last week when he had a little Pit-Bull mix puppy, Winston,  on a leash.  Adam is providing day-care for the pup for a female friend with whom he's trying to make points.  I encourage him.  He'd be a great catch.  Winston jumps up on Cheyenne, she bumps him with her nose, and they sniff and nuzzle.

On our way back toward home, we encounter a young couple with two giant white Pyrenees who would like to see Cheyenne removed from the face of the earth.  Contrarily, she would like to make friends. Sometimes, it's hard to tell how much of that barking is bluster, but since there are two of them, I never let her get close enough to find out.  But we almost always meet them at a corner, and when I've crossed the street, thinking ahead to avoid that, they've done the same thing and we meet anyway.  Another bark-fest that's soon over.

On our corner, Steve, our good friend, is walking Hunter, a Basset with the oddest voice and a long tail with three inches of bright white at the tip that you can see, even in the dark.  Hunter and Cheyenne are a little like Sofia Loren and Carlo Ponti (if any of you is old enough to remember that life-long love.)  Cheyenne is three times his size and bangs him on the head with her paw, but he loves it and comes back for more.  Steve, a teacher, can't linger, so we have to drag them apart and go our separate ways, telling each other to have a great day.

Cheyenne seems as happy and invigorated to have met her friends as I am to have met mine.  Our two cats waiting for us on the porch come running up to meet her, I unhook her leash and they run home together. Our day is off to a good start.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Current Events-Adding the Next Layer by Tara Randel



Vector newspaper icon -
As I was reading the newspaper this morning, I got to thinking about how world events impact writers as we plot a story. With all the major headlines, and our ability to get news 24/7 on many different types of reading devices, getting information about current events for our stories is just a keystroke away. (Yes, I still sit down every morning with an old-fashion print newspaper. It’s my quiet time before I start the day.)


Certainly what is going on in the world tends to work well in suspense and thrillers. Any book that features characters in the military or police agencies may mirror what we read in the newspaper. Yet when the author adds actual world events, it makes the story immediate. We can imagine ourselves in the line of fire in a sandy desert somewhere or in a foreign city running for our lives because of certain secret information in our possession. I’ve never been in any kind of dangerous occupation, but I love edge of the seat stories that keep me turning the page to find out how the characters will get through danger and stay alive. 

I tend to write stories about characters who live in small towns. How do current events fit in? What about a world-weary traveler returning home after months of working in a refugee camp? Now all he wants is to experience peace. A wounded soldier back from deployment. How does he cope with what he’s seen and done? Or perhaps the photojournalist trying to deal with upsetting memories because of an assignment. A character who has had enough crime in the big city and wants to retreat to simpler life in a small town.

What about the news of a smaller scope? Local or regional. Not big enough to make the front page, but compelling enough to make a writer wonder, what if, and run with an idea from there. Again, with our access to the internet, there are all kinds of news and special interest stories out there to catch the eye of a writer for use in a future story.

Now, let’s take the current events and apply it to our characters. This gives us another layer of depth in an already emotional story. How have these events shaped heroes or heroines? Will the events they’ve experienced determine the decisions they make? What a way to build conflict.

The possibilities of adding the pressure of happenings in our small towns, big cities and worldwide are endless in story creation. Adding current events is the bridge of our imaginary characters to real life.  Done well, these events add another dimension to the world the author has created.

So, I have to ask, as a reader, do you like current events in the books you read? Is it too much invasion of the real world? Does it add a layer of immediacy you crave? I’m curious to hear what you think.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Holy SeaWorld Batwing Manta Ray! Reflections on a Research Trip by Carol Ross







As every writer knows, research is absolutely essential both to the writing process and in ensuring the authenticity of the work.  Recently I embarked upon a research trip to engage in the fascinating study of sibling interaction and family dynamics.  Okay, so it was a spring break trip to San Diego with my sister and her four boys.  Not having children of my own, I’ll take the opportunity for nephew/niece research time whenever and wherever I can get it.  Is it wrong of me to so shamelessly use my family for my own personal gain?  You be the judge.

I have two sisters, each has four kids, and fortunately both are eager to the point of insistence in “sharing” their children with me. Statements like this are not uncommon; “No, really, Carol--you can keep them as long as you want.  I’ll pack their birth certificates just in case...”  Or “Nephew #1 wants to run away from home and I really want to be a good parent and give him what he wants, so I told him he could move in with you for a little awhile--or until he graduates from college...”  They are incredibly generous these sisters of mine.

I am usually willing to take them up on their more reasonable offers of kid-sharing, and vacationing with my sisters and various combinations of nieces and nephews is not uncommon.  So sure, I was up for a week-long spring break trip--me and my sis and her four precious rapscallions basking in the California sun and seeing the sights. 

I’m going to say something now that will undoubtedly cause all of you moms to roll your eyes and mutter under your breaths at such an obvious assertion.  But please keep in mind that I don’t possess your built-in biological coping mechanisms.  So here goes--traveling with kids takes exhaustion to a whole new level.  And I’m not talking about physical stamina.  Last year I ran my first half-marathon--I can hold my own with these screen-loving couch-kids of modern days.  No, I’m talking about the kind of exhaustion that drains the mental capacity of adults and renders them stupid.  And let me be clear here--by “adults” I mean me. 

Two of my favorite words to hear in the entire world are “Aunt Carol,” which is immediately followed by a question or a series of questions.  If I had a dime for every time I heard the words “Aunt Carol” on this trip I would be a very rich woman, albeit a rich woman with acute tendonitis from clicking one of those counter-thingies because that would be the only way I could possibly add up all of these “Aunt Carol’s.”  And then I would promptly be poor again from spending these hard-earned dimes on churros and souvenir plush critters sporting tiny tie-dyed logo-embossed t-shirts.

But I think it’s the never-ending questions that inevitably do me in.  And it’s not so much that the questions are never-ending as they are difficult. (No, I am not smarter than a fifth-grader, and I think I’ve already proven this by admitting that I repeatedly and enthusiastically agree to these trips.)  I really want to provide answers to these thoughtful inquiries.  And I try.  I do.  Because I know the answers are important to them. 

As both of my teacher-sisters often say--almost every moment can be a teachable one.  I think that’s lovely, so I try to live by this advice.  And of course I love these children of my heart and want to spend time with them, be there for them, help mold them, and make a difference in their lives.  And so I patiently try to answer these brain teasers that make the SAT’s look like a first-grade worksheet.  The following questions are borrowed from the actual vacation transcript--no context provided or needed and it can be assumed that each and every one was preceded with an “Aunt Carol”...

Nephew #3: “Is the komodo dragon the biggest lizard in the world?  Do you think it would rather eat people or hard-boiled eggs?”

Nephew #2: “Do you think SeaWorld was a bike shop when it very first opened?”

Nephew #4: “Do panda bears hibernate?”

Nephew #1: “Do you know what color the San Diego Padres uniforms were in 1974?”

I always start out each of these vacations with a fresh dose of enthusiasm, but by the end, with exhaustion settling in and my now-aching brain about as useful as a pot of cold mush, I find myself more and more often reverting to one of a few pat answers: “Sure, why not?” or “That sounds great, honey!” or even “Mm-hmm.”  Sometimes in a burst of caffeine and sugary-vacation-snack-induced energy I’ll mix the words up or attempt to creatively re-string some combination of them together.  

But they become wise to this, these clever nephews of mine, because not only do kids ask a lot of questions--they listen, too.  Oh sure, maybe we think they aren’t listening and sometimes we might even wish they weren’t listening.  But they listen.  They do.  I have proof.

Nephew #1: “Aunt Carol, can you take us to Disneyland again?”

Me:  “Mm-hmm.  Sure, why not?”

Nephews #1-4: “Woo-hoo! Mom, Aunt Carol is taking us to Disneyland again!”

Me: “Wait...what?”

My sister:  “That sounds great, honey!  Ask Aunt Carol if I should pack anything besides your birth certificate...”

Any “research” I may collect and share from these trips shall be deemed authentic, hard-earned and a precious gift from God.

With Mother’s Day looming, I’d just like to add a heartfelt salute to all you mothers out there who are brave enough (and strong enough) to travel with your children.  And a sincere thanks to my wonderful sisters for all of their kid sharing.  I truly do treasure (almost) every quasi-mothering moment you gift to me.

Please tell me I'm not alone in collecting research from my family in this way?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Can't we use our powers for good, people??



I had no idea my ports were clogged. Really, there were no symptoms at all until everything went black. Allow me to explain.
Picture me, sitting meek and mild in my office chair, banging out the next heart wrenching work of fiction. Picture Adolph Finklestein (this might not be his real name) sitting in a dark basement in New Jersey, concocting a diabolical computer virus to send to my unsuspecting computer. (New Jersey might be arbitrary too, but I’ve been there. It would be a swell place for a cyber villain to hang out.)
So with the click of a key, Adolph whips me a computer virus that delivers hordes of persistent little Trojans that try to convince me my computer is under attack.
Your system is being scanned!
There’s a rogue program raping and pillaging your gigabites!
Danger, Will Robinson, danger!
Not to worry, dear readers. I am saavy. I have read about these evil attacks. I smell the ratty Finklestein and I most definitely click the “x” to decline Finklestein’s suggestion that I purchase his ferocious platoon of cyber soliders to protect my tender vitals. Clever, no? I can sit back in my chair uninfected by the nefarious virus propagator gnashing his teeth in his New Jersey basement.
Ha! Take that!
 Here is where our story takes a turn to the tragic. Unfortunately, Finklestein being the diabolical hacker that he is, has created a program whereby clicking the “no thank you” x actually translates to “Absolutely! Mi computer is su computer.”  Finklestein immediately commences the port clogging procedures.
 Fast forward two hundred dollars and twenty four hours later. Professional computer helpers at Web Dispatch, all wearing white hats and a few, I believe, mounted on snowy horses, have restored order, unclogged my ports and weeded out Finkelstein’s devious buggers.  
The ending of the story is mixed. Finklestein is vanquished, but only temporarily, I’m certain. He’s no doubt rolled up his flannel sleeves and set to work on the next round of attacks, leaving me to shake my head in wonder.
 Why? Oh Finklestein. Why can’t you use your powers for good? With skills like that can’t you turn away from the dark side and work on something productive? Curing cancer? Fixing global warming? Inventing a biodegradable diaper?
Surely you can see some other way to impact the world, Mr. Finklestein?
Or perhaps your ports are clogged, too. 

Have you ever experienced such villainy? Please  tell me I'm not the only one!