Friday, December 31, 2010

Good-bye 2010!

It's New Year's Eve!


I must admit, I'm glad to see 2010 end. All and all it has been a CRAPtastic year for me, one I don't care to repeat.

Overall, I know I had positives happen, but the overwhelming negatives left such a pall that they are the only parts of the year I remember.

More than anything,2010 hammered home the point that my life can be changed in an instant. Forever altered (usually for the worst) in one split second.

I hope and pray for no more such life altering moments in the coming year. I want my life to change in a positive direction. I've had enough negative to last me for the rest of my life!

All right, no more whining from me. HAPPY HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Merry!

Happy Boxing Day!

I sincerely hope that all of you who pass through this little corner of cyber-space had a wonderful holiday.

May 2011 be a bright and prosperous year for all of us!

This year my most unique (and therefore my favorite) present came from my BFF Whit. Since she now resides on the East Coast and I remain here on the West, her present came via the good old US Postal Service, but I dutifully waited until yesterday to open it.

I was quite perplexed as to why she would send me a can of Spam and several common household items like mouthwash, chewing gum, and Cottonelle wipes. But then I read the letter, which I followed instructions and opened last. Here's what I found:

Cruise Ship Survival Kit

How to survive your next "Luxury" voyage on the high seas

This kit includes a variety of items to help anyone survive an emergency on the high seas! Keep it with you at all times (or at least under your fancy bed) to provide security and comfort in any circumstance.


Spam -- This delicacy can be consumed any number of ways and is considered a delicacy by many. Fried, baked, grilled or tartare, Spam will fill the empty place inside you.

Ritz Crackers -- The word Ritz says it all! What better tableau could your Spam ask for?!

Blueberry Toaster Pastries -- Not just for breakfast anymore! These delicious fruit-filled tartlets are a hand-held joy, and as everyone knows, buleberries are packed with antioxidants. Healthy and scrumptious -- what more could you ask for in such a small package?

Crest Mouthwash -- Water may be at a premium when the power goes down. You can't just dip some out of the ocean! For that just-brushed feeling without the brush, Crest is the way to go!

WinterFresh Chewing Gum -- Not only does it freshen your breath, it helps keep your mouth from drying out when liquid refreshment is wanting.

GermBlaster Hand Sanitizer -- Bathing may not be possible unless you jump in the pool, and it will probably be full of other dirty people! "Nuff said...

Washcloth -- If you DO jump in the pool, you will need something to scrub your happy skin with!

and finally...

Cottonelle -- Must I spell it out for you???

Gotta admit, I'm still laughing as I retyped this! THANX WHIT! You made my day!

What about you? Did you receive a funny and/or unique present? Please share with Aunty!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Name That Christmas Carol

Seasons Greetings!

I have a post up today on Romance Bandits as part of our 12 Bandita Days of Christmas. (Just click on the title of this post to go there.)

I've taken the titles of some familiar Christmas carols and rewritten them in bureaucratic style!

Here are a few more just for fun:

  • The Christmas preceding all others
  • Monarchical triad
  • Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds
  • Expectation of arrival to populated area by mythical, masculine perennial gift-giver
  • The quadruped with the vermilion proboscis
Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season!

Have you finished your shopping?

Done your decorating?

Care to help Aunty with hers?!?!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WORST Month Ever!

I try to live by the old adage my mother taught me about saying nothing if I can't say something nice, especially here in the blog-o-sphere.

I try to keep it light and positive, but this past month has had so many negative things that I just can't come up with any upbeat posts.

I started out the month getting mugged and my purse snatched while we were in Mexico. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of replacing all the things I lost with that purse. Of course, some of the things in there were not replacable (like the pictures inside the camera and other momentoes). This is only the second time in my life I was the victim of a physical crime against me (I was held up at gun point on my very first job at age 17) and I truly hope it will be the last! I know I was lucky that I was not badly injured, but I still don't feel particularly lucky.

Then last Friday, I had a near-tragic event. My little pug-wa-wa was attacked by a German Shepherd and almost killed. My dog was on a leash taking a walk two blocks from my house. The shepherd was running loose and attacked with absolutely no provocation. The teenaged boy who must have owned the other dog, rushed up, snapped on a leash and promptly disappeared.

Almost a thousand dollars and major surgery later, my poor little baby is recovering from her wounds. How or if she will recover from the psychological trauma is anyone's guess. I have a feeling I WON'T!

It was also not a good month to some of my close friends.

One of my Critique Partners lost her sister-in-law to liver cancer.

Another CP's mother had a stroke from which she is not expected to recover.

Sorry to be such a whiner, but I think you can understand why I'm glad to see this month end. And I hope to NEVER have another like it!

Please share your POSITIVE news and thoughts with Aunty! She is in sore need.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Never Tell Me the Odds!"

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the 'luck factor' in publishing, and how very difficult it is to keep going, much less break into this crazy biz! Back in April, 2009 on Romance Bandits, I did a little 'fictional statistical analysis' about the odds of getting your first romance novel published.

I'm reprinting it below for your amusement and/or amazement...

I'm sure you recognize the title of this post. It is one of my favorite movie quotes and is from the original Star Wars (now called Episode 4). C3PO has just told Han Solo the statistical probability of successfully navigating through an asteroid belt (a truly astronomical number) and Han snarls in reply, "Never tell me the odds!"

In my previous career, I toiled as an analyst for the State of California. I played with numbers and statistics every day and got to do fun things like budget change proposals and cost benefit analyses. Ah yes, Aunty loved to 'run those numbers' and make them yield answers!

Then I entered the crazy world of writing for publication, and numbers ceased to be my friends or even my friendly tools. The numbers I discovered in my pursuit of publication were not the answers I wanted to hear. "Never tell me the odds!" became my rallying cry!

If I had stopped to think about the odds, I probably would have never entered the Golden Heart. Only 70 entries were selected as finalists out of 1000. My manuscript had to be judged in the top 7%. YIKES! And yet all 20 of us Banditas beat those odds and went on to final in the Golden Heart in 2006!

The many other successes we Banditas have had since 2006 led me to start thinking about the odds. I found some very interesting "food for thought" and I'd like to share a little hypothetical situation and the resultant numbers:

Let's pretend that there are 1 million people who decide they are going to write a romance novel for the very first time. (Yes, the number is probably much higher but play along with me for now.) Based on what Aunty has seen and read over the years, out of those 1,000,000 only 10% (or probably much less) will ever finish writing that novel. (It's a lot more work than most people think!)

So in our imaginary sample, we now have 100,000 finished (at least in the first draft) romance novels. Probably only 25% of those will ever be submitted anywhere. I'm not talking queries or partials here, but full manuscripts. And out of those 25,000 only half or 50% will be submitted to someone who even publishes romances (sad but true, I've read this on many editors' blogs)! Or if they do publish romance, they don't accept the sub-genre of romance the writer has written.

We are now left with 12,500 novels that have even a glimmer of a chance of being published out of our original 1 million hopefuls. Or slightly over 1%! Only 1 out of 100. So now you know, if you have ever finished writing a manuscript and submitted it somewhere, you are very special indeed!

But if you think those numbers are depressing, consider this. There were slightly over 8,000 romance novels published in 2007 (according to the ROMStat report in the Sept. 08 RWR). Now before you tell Aunty that 12,500 books vying for 8,000 slots doesn't sound that bad... REMEMBER: these are first time novelists. The vast majority of the 8,000 romances publishers will buy are written by existing authors. Someone with a 'track record.' Someone with a 'readership base.'

Aunty's best guess is that only about 5% of those 8,000 books published will actually be by first time authors. Those 12,500 hopefuls are vying for 400 slots. Yes, dear readers, only about 1/3 of 1% of those 12,500 writers will ever see their book published! But in the spirit of Han Solo, some new writers will fill those 400 slots. Someone will beat those odds!

Writing is definitely not for the 'faint of heart!' Nor is it for those who are intimidated by long odds. After all, 1/3 of 1% might be an abysmally small number, but it is still better than the probability of successfully negotiating an asteroid belt!

Have you ever defied the odds? Please share your story with Aunty!

Friday, November 12, 2010

No, Not THAT Cruise Ship

I've received several calls in the past few days from friends checking to make sure I was not on the Carnival Splendor.

You know, THAT cruise ship! The one that floated off the Pacific Coast of Mexico this week with no power, no hot water, and very little food. Everyone seemed to be talking about Splendor and her predicament which started with an engine fire -- late night talk show hosts, local and national news reporters, Facebook and Twitter. Apparently some folks from my neck o' the woods were on board, and local reporters rushed to interview them as soon as communication was restored.

The more I heard about the ship and how the passengers were suffering with no air conditioning, no elevators, and for awhile, no flushing toilets, the more I thought about how it used to be to travel by ship. On one of our many trips to the east coast, the DH and I visited Plymouth Rock (definitely unimpressive) and saw the replica of the Mayflower. This was back in our pre-cruising days, but even then I remember being aghast at how small that ship was! I shuddered as I pictured dozens of people crowded into the small areas below deck, and enduring a voyage that lasted several weeks instead of days.

Imagine being in close proximity all that time with screaming babies, whiny adults and sea-sickness? How in the world did they cook on those little wooden tubs? And I really don't want to think about the lack of sanitary facilities! UGH!

Like most Americans, somewhere down the line, my ancestors sailed to this country on a ship very much like the Mayflower. All I can say is, "Better THEM than ME!" Much as I like to think of myself as adventurous, I know that deep down I am not. If my ancestors had been more like me, they'd have probably stayed in Ireland and starved to death, so thank goodness they were brave (or perhaps foolhardy) enough to make that voyage.

As for me, happily I was not on THAT cruise ship, at least not this week. However, I am scheduled to cruise to Mexico on the Splendor in January. Let's hope they have all the issues resolved in the next two months!

Did your ancestors have to make a long sea voyage? Do you think you could make the same voyage? Or are you a wimp like Aunty?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Where Do Characters Come From?

(Thought I'd start November out with a blog that I used in my "tour" for The Wild Irish Sea this past summer.)

Today I'm going to tell you where my characters come from.

Relax, this isn’t going to be a blog about the birds and the bees or one of “those talks” your mother had with you shortly before you hit puberty. I’m going to talk about how I create my fictional characters.

Other than “Where do you get your ideas?” (short answer: Everywhere!), the questions I’m most often asked are about my characters. Are they based on real people? (short answer: sort of) How do you name them? Do you do charts, interviews and all that other writerly stuff? I’ll answer this last question first: No, I’m afraid I’m not nearly that organized.

The truth is that for me, most of my main characters arrive in my imagination fully formed with their first, middle, and last names intact. Please don’t call the men in the white coats, but before I begin a new work in progress (WIP), I hear my characters talking inside my head. Usually, my heroes arrive first. At least this was the case for my first two published books, The Wild Sight and The Treasures of Venice. But for my current release, The Wild Irish Sea, my heroine Amber Elizabeth O’Neill and her twin brother Parker Anthony O’Neill popped into my mind first.

Ten years ago, my niece gave birth to the first set of twins in our immediate family, and the momentous event sparked my interest in twins. So it really didn’t surprise me at all when a set of twins arrived in that creative portion of my brain where my characters reside and demanded that I write about them. And while my niece’s fraternal twins were boys (and only nine) and I couldn’t very well base my fraternal twins on them, they were certainly the inspiration behind Amber and Parker.

Now, back to that place in my brain where my characters talk to me… Actually, they do more than talk. Somewhere along the line, as they are revealing their backstories and other deep dark secrets to me, I start forming an image of what they look like. Usually at this point, I go in search of photos of people who match the image inside my head. Most of the time, the photos I select are celebrities since there are far more pictures of them available. But while I may use a celebrity in a certain photo as a physical model, my characters’ personalities are definitely all their own, just like each has their own distinctive voice. For example, Hugh Jackman was the physical model for my hero of The Wild Sight, Donovan O’Shea. However, when I saw Hugh on a late night talk show, I found it very jarring that his voice didn’t sound like Donovan!

For The Wild Irish Sea, I had the easiest time finding a model for Parker. This is probably because I had such a clear image of him in the opening prologue out on the ocean in a rowboat. With Parker’s voice firmly in my ear, I went searching for a picture of a lanky, brown haired man and almost immediately found the perfect one… of Luke Wilson. Since then, Luke has been in a ton of phone commercials and it bugs me no end, because he neither looks nor sounds like Parker, who was actually inspired by my two wise-cracking brothers.

I had a much harder time finding a model for Amber, and in the meantime, my hero Kevin Hennessey showed up. Unlike my previous heroes, he was tortured and very close-mouthed about his past, but I knew exactly what he looked like. I put my search for Amber temporarily on hold and began the quest for Kevin. Finding just the right tortured but hunky guy proved a challenge, but eventually I found a picture of Christian Bale (I know, I know, he’d not Irish) that fulfilled my requirements quite nicely.

But I still had no Amber… None of the American actress I saw seemed quite right. Then I remembered seeing Gemma Arterton in Quantum of Solace. I looked up pictures of the red-headed Bond girl called Strawberry Fields and – Happy Day! – I’d found my Amber O’Neill at last! Of course Gemma is British and actually a brunette so my heroine really isn’t much like the prototype, but she’s close enough to the image of Amber in my imagination.

Well there you have it, a little insight into where my characters come from. They are sort of based on real people in that I do pick out physical models to match the images in my head. The main characters usually arrive with their names already decided, though I will admit that for some of my minor characters I do use one of those lists of baby names that you can sort by ethnicity and Irish census records broken down by county. And while I don’t do formal character charts and interviews, I know far more about each of my characters’ backgrounds, aspirations, and secrets than ever makes it onto the pages of my novels.

Do you like to know who the author pictures for a character or do you prefer to develop your own image?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)

Happy Halloween to those who celebrate the holiday!

In Mexico the celebration goes beyond trick-or-treat and involves communing with your dearly departed friends and relatives on the Day of the Dead, which is actually on November 2nd. Cemeteries are cleaned and decorated and shrines to the dead are built, sometimes at home and sometimes in public places.

Here's a pic of a beautiful Day of the Dead shrine I saw in Puerto Vallarta a couple of years ago. Skulls and often skeletons dressed in fancy party clothes are common sights on these shrines and in celebrations. Skull candy is really popular. Candles and flowers are popular too, especially marigolds which are sometimes called flor de los muertos (flower of the dead).

Like many other holidays, Day of the Dead was originally celebrated by indigenous people in Mexico (some say the Aztecs) two or three thousand years ago. But the holiday got adapted and incorporated into Christian practices and celebrations.

Unlike Halloween celebrations here in the US which tend to focus on the scary and spooky aspects of ghosts and goblins, Day of the Dead takes a positive approach. Those fancy dressed skeletons are happy, and people are pleased to send up prayers and offerings to their dead relatives and friends.

I like this kind of celebration much better! It feels comforting to me to think that my beloved friends and family members are closer to me on one particular day of the year.

Do you celebrate Halloween? What about the Day of the Dead? Ever hear of it or celebrate it? What other unusual holidays do you know about? Please share them with Aunty, who is always looking for more fun things to celebrate!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aspen Gold

Popping in to share some exciting news:

The Treasures of Venice is a finalist in the Heart of Denver RWA Aspen Gold contest!

I'm not sure when the winners will be announced, but I'm thrilled to be in the running (click on the title of this post to see all the finalists) in the romantic suspense category. My good friend and Bandita Anna Campbell's book Tempt The Devil is a finalist in the historical category.

It's always a nice feeling of validation when judges like your work. But even more important to me, I enter contests to get my books into the hands of readers who might not otherwise pick them up. Word of mouth truly is the most effective advertising, so if a contest judge likes my book and tells a couple of their friends, then they each tell two or three of their friends...

Now you know the "method to my madness."

How do you find new books to read? Do you take recommendations from friends? Read reviews? Just browse the bookstore? Aunty would love to know!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, Oh Canada!

Did you know the second Monday in October is Thanksgiving in Canada?

I didn't until about a dozen years ago when the DH and I were off on one of our short jaunts that generally involved a three-day-weekend, and a good deal on an air flight.

Back in the days when I slaved away at the Dreaded Day Job as a faceless bureaucrat, I lived for holiday weekends. One of my favorites was Columbus Day, usually celebrated on the Monday closest to the actual holiday (Oct. 12th). I liked this long weekend because most other people did not get the day off with pay, so there were no 'holiday crowds' and the weather was relatively good where ever we decided to go.

For this particular trip, we found the farthest place that we could book with our frequent flyer miles AND get a good deal on a car rental. After a bit of research, the DH came up with Toronto. YAY! At that time, we hadn't been to anywhere in eastern Canada. Plus, it looked like a fun drive to Niagara Falls. We'd never seen the falls and were excited to go there!

So off we flew on a Saturday morning and arrived in Toronto that evening. As we were going through the customs line, the very nice man who checked our passports asked if we'd come for Thanksgiving. We said we wished we could but we were not able to stay that long. He gave us a funny look and said, "But Thanksgiving is Monday!" REALLY?!?! Neither of us had a clue when we booked the trip.

After a brief jaunt up the CN tower (the tallest structure in North America) the next morning, we headed out for Niagara Falls. We arrived after dark, and you can hear the roaring water going over the falls long before you can see them. Both the American falls (shown in this piccie) and the Canadian falls (far more spectacular, in my opinion) are lit up in different colors at night. What an amazing sight!

However, I think the sheer grandeur of all that tumbling water is even more beautiful on its own in natural sunlight. We saw plenty the next morning. And later in the day, we had a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce in the restaurant that overlooks the Canadian falls.

Truly our most memorable Thanksgiving EVER!

The next morning we left and drove to Algonquin National Park where the fall colors were beautiful and we went canoeing (OW, my shoulders!) for my first and last time. The following day found us on Georgian Bay, where we took the next-to-last boat excursion of the season to see a few of the region's 30,000 islands. (Sorry, this was in the pre-digital days so no pictures that I can post.)

We returned home after a very jam-packed week of memorable sight-seeing. And of course, six weeks later we had a second full-blown Thanksgiving dinner. It just wasn't the same without Niagara Falls.

Have you ever seen Niagara Falls? Other waterfalls? Had an unexpectedly memorable Thanksgiving or other holiday? Aunty would love to hear about it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Just Had To Share...

... a couple of cute piccies recently sent to me by friends.

First off, from one of our Bandita Buddies, Kim in Hawaii. Yes, this is on the beautiful island of Oahu, and the lovely model is Jami, the daughter of Kim's good friend. Jami is showing off some Bandita Booty won by Kim -- a Romance Bandits T-shirt and a copy of The Wild Irish Sea.

All right, I gotta say that in spite of her excellent taste in shirts and books, Jami appears to be a bit too young to read The Wild Irish Sea! I'm afraid some of the "adult" content isn't appropriate for readers under sixteen.

This next piccie was taken in July at my book launch party for The Wild Irish Sea. BIG THANX to my good friend Debbie J. for sending it, and thanx to my wonderful reader Dorci for snapping the photo!

That is my good friend Sharen, holding her adorable granddaughter Isabella (who will need to wait ten years to read Aunty's books). Next in green is yours truly, and peeking over my shoulder is my 'surrogate' daughter, Andrea. The lady in black is my BFF (and Andrea's real mom) Shirl, and next to her is the lovely and generous Debbie J! As evidenced by the grins on all our faces, a good time was had by all! I hope to have another launch party someday in the not-too-distant future.

So what was the last book you read? What are you reading now? What's next on your To-Be-Read list?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some Thoughts On My Writing Process

Thought I'd start the month off with a post I wrote on my blog tour for the release of The Treasures of Venice, which is up for a Maggie award this Saturday night at the Moonlight & Magnolia's conference in Atlanta! I'm afraid my crazy writing process hasn't changed since I wrote this over a year ago.

Not long ago, I got an email from my good friend Sue who said she was just passed the half-way point in my second book, The Treasures of Venice (Here's a piccie of Sue and me at one of my book launch parties). Like any true friend, she told me how much she loved the story thus far and then she asked, “How do you do it? How do you come up with all these characters, the plot and all the details?”

My friend JoAnne had a similar reaction when she finished reading my debut release The Wild Sight. Her first question was, “How did you come up with all those words?”

I always hear about writers who “court their muse” or wait for “inspiration” but I’m definitely not one of them. I fall into the category of those who just keep showing up and forcing the words out. For me, writing is a lot like any other skill (like tennis or knitting), the more I do it, the more I want to do it and the better I get at doing it.

I am NOT a morning person. Everyone who knows me knows better than to call me before 9:00 AM because I’m seldom awake before then, and I’m not really fully functional before 10:00. My optimal writing time is between 1 and 6 PM so that is when I write.

Okay, I also like to go out to lunch with friends, so I often don’t get started until 1:30 and sometimes I’ll sneak in another hour or two after dinner. But my writing routine generally consists of doing emails, blogs, and other correspondence in the mornings. Then every afternoon, Monday through Friday, I write from about 1 until 6. Saturdays and Sundays I am not so disciplined, but I often do revisions and critiques on those days. Plus, my DH is a big auto racing fan, so I am a ‘racing widow’ on Saturday nights during racing season (March to October). If I am ‘on a writing roll’ or I have a deadline, I’ll write on Saturday nights, often into the wee hours of the morning.

I am what we writers call a ‘pantser,’ which means I write by the seat of my pants. The opposite of a ‘pantser’ is a ‘plotter.’ This is someone who lays out everything before they write one word of their story. Heaven knows I have tried to be more of a plotter. I went so far as to write an eleven page outline of The Wild Sight before I started writing the first draft. Unfortunately, my characters had other ideas, and by the third chapter, I’d gone so far astray from the outline that it was useless.

When I wrote The Treasures of Venice, I was totally ‘pantsing’ the whole thing! I knew who my characters were, that the jewels had been stolen and somehow they must be found again. But I didn’t have a clue how.

Part of the beauty of being a ‘pantser’ is that my sub-conscious is constantly working on my story whether I am writing or not. I distinctly remember I was in the middle of writing Chapter 6, when one morning I woke up and BAM! I knew the ending! I knew exactly where and how they were going to find those jewels. I felt great!

If only my writing process always worked that way, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Sometimes I write myself into a corner and I have to stop working on the story, go away and do something else for awhile and let my sub-conscious sort things out. Luckily, within a few hours it usually does. And then there are the days when I’m on that ‘writing roll’ I mentioned. Those are the days it is truly wonderful to be a ‘pantser!’ The words just flow and I almost feel like I am ‘channeling’ my characters. I love those days.

So, in a nutshell, that’s how I do it: Show up everyday, give my sub-conscious free rein, and hope that my characters take over. I’m not exactly sure why this works, and I definitely don’t recommend every writer try it. I only know it works for me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

More NZ Pics

All righty then... when I put up the previous post, it just made me wish I could go back to New Zealand, especially now that it is spring, and take in more of the beautiful scenery.

Here's a shot looking DOWN the Whangarei Falls. The drop is at least the height of a three story building.

One of the things that made this waterfall so unique is that it's right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. We were surprised to turn into what appeared to be a typical city park and heard the roar of the falls. We walked over a small rise and there was the river roaring over the side of the hill!

This is the clearest picture I got of the Tutukaka coast, not far from Whangarei (a couple of hours north of Auckland). Unfortunately it was rainy and windy the day we took this spectacular drive along the water and this photo does not begin to do the place justice. If you have been on seen pictures of the road to Hana on Maui, this area is very similar. Oh, and so is the road!

The only real 'freeways' we encountered were in Auckland and Wellington. Everything else was narrow, two-lane roads.

Here is a shot of the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland. No we didn't go up. However, they have a very similar structure in downtown Sydney that we did go up when we were in Australia. Also, we've been up to the observation deck of the CN Tower in Toronto, which is the tallest structure in North America. It looks almost exactly like this tower, too.

And speaking of Wellington, here's a shot of the capitol city and a bit of the very beautiful harbor. Maybe because we were there on a Sunday, Wellington felt like a much more easily managed city than Auckland. I know which of the two I'd prefer to live in...

Of course, if I decided to move all the way to New Zealand, I would rather live someplace where I had a view like THIS -- a quiet cove on the Bay of Plenty!

Do you have a dream hideaway where you'd like to live? Is it near the ocean? In the mountains? In a city? Please share the details with Aunty!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Te Puia

A couple of months ago, I got to visit the number 1 place on my "Bucket List" -- New Zealand!

It was a FANTASTIC trip and the country was just as beautiful and the people even nicer than I anticipated. One of the most fascinating places we visited on our recent trip was the city of Rotorua and the area surrounding it. The region is visually stunning with gorgeous lakes, mountains, and geothermal hot springs. But also the most native New Zealanders, the Maori, live in this area, which has historically held deep spiritual significance for them.

The city of Rotorua is built on the shores of a beautiful lake of the same name, and has lots of geothermal hot springs and other natural wonders within the city and close by. One of the places I enjoyed seeing the most was a Maori historical and cultural center called Te Puia which showcased two geysers (shown above) and all things Maori.

The entrance to Te Puia.

A closer look at one of the elaborate wooden carvings, which are tributes to a family's ancestors.

There is also a carving school on the premises which teaches traditional Maori carving techniques like these as well as construction of things like buildings and war canoes.

The local Maori also give several performances daily in traditional dress. They do dances, songs, and even some fighting moves. Here are a couple of Maori warriors in authentic costumes, inside a beautiful meeting house built with traditional decorations.

Here is the outside of the meeting house (called a wharenui). The red color was originally derived from local clay.

I was surprised at how many place names and cities in New Zealand are from the Maori language, which is Polynesian in origin (so there are lots of vowels). Besides Rotorua, we also visited Whangarei, Paihia, the Tutukaka coast (gorgeous but I didn't get any good piccies due to rain), Taupo (including Haku falls), Otorohanga, and Mangere, to name a few!

I'll stop for now but will post more pictures of the simply stunning landscapes later. Since we stayed on the North Island for this visit, we will have to go back for a tour of the South Island! I can't wait!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Three Years Later

Last Tuesday, September 14th marked the three year anniversary of the day I received The Call and sold my first book. In some ways that feels like a very short time, but in others, it seems like a lifetime ago.

One of the things I found most ironic was that as soon as I got The Call that someone wanted to publish my work, other people suddenly wanted to hear what I had to say (either in person or on paper) about writing and publishing.

One day I was just another struggling writer. The next day an editor offered me a contract and I was an instant expert! Of course, I didn't know anything more than I had before, but having sold a book gave my work validity. Proof positive that perception is everything. No matter what or how much I knew before, it had no value until I became a "published author."

Of course, all of this comes with the hindsight of three years. If I were doing it all over again, you better believe I'd do some things differently! But my road to publication and beyond has been quite a ride and I'm certainly glad I've made it this far.

Speaking of traveling, I have a post up today on Romance Bandits (just click on the title of this post to go there) about my recent trip to New Zealand. I'll be posting more pictures and a bit of commentary on here about the trip in a few days. Meanwhile, here's a piccie of a beach on the western shore of New Zealand on the Bay of Plenty.

Did you have a day that changed your life? Please share the details with Aunty.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

NO Info Dumping!

Last night the DH and I were watching a movie, same as we do three or four nights per week, every week. This one was actually pretty interesting, but suddenly in the middle, the action ground to a complete halt and one main character gave a five or six minute monologue about his background to the other main character. In the midst of this recitation, my DH muttered, "What an info dump!"

I was almost overcome with pride, because a) it really was a terrible and, for the most part, unnecessary info dump, and b) the DH recognized it as such, which proved that he actually DOES pay attention to some of the things I say!

Info dumps are one of my pet peeves. To me, nothing marks a beginning writer faster than a pile of information just sitting there, usually at the beginning of a story, doing nothing.

Sometimes info dumps are some interesting bits of research the writer uncovered and just can't wait to tell it to the reader.


No matter how interesting the research is, I (the reader) want to read about THE STORY first and foremost.

If the writer absolutely must impart this information (and sometimes it is germane to the story and the reader really DOES need to know) then please weave it into the dialogue or show it through the point-of-view character's thoughts or actions. Please don't toss it into the middle of the scene like a point in an academic lecture that somehow wandered into a novel.

I had to practice what I preach while writing The Wild Sight. I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating piece of scientific information called the Niall Marker during my research and I knew I just had to include it in my story. In fact this interesting tidbit on genetics became an important turning point in my story. But I couldn't just dump the info out there, so I stuck it into dialogue instead.

Rylie could feel her hopes plummeting as Brenna McRory spoke. "How long does that take?"

"Oh, only a day or two," the older woman reassured. "I've all my equipment set up and I was preparing a batch of specimens for my own research project. I've isolated a specific genetic marker and tied it back to the Irish High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages."

"He was the original forefather of the O'Neill clan," the professor interrupted his wife. "And quite a prolific old carouser." He cast a sly glance at Donovan. "I'd say our Donovan would be a good subject to include in your study, Brenna. With his dark hair and blue eyes, he appears to be the only true Celt amongst us. I don't have the marker myself." He brushed at his sandy brown hair and added, "Too much Viking blood."

"I don't mind being part of your study," Rylie quickly volunteered. "Even though I know I'm half Polish."

"A most kind offer," said McRory's wife. "But I'm afraid this marker is gender specific, only found on the male chromosome."

I like to think that was much more interesting than merely sticking in the facts:

The Niall Marker is a gender-s
pecific genetic trait that has been traced back to fifth century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Research studies indicate that as many as fifteen percent of the men in Ireland carry this trait.

And I was able to show (not tell) a bit about the characters too.

I'm also not the only one who has a 'thing' against stinking up prose with info dumps. Mary Buckham recently passed along in her newsletter an article from Writer's Digest about what agents and editors hate to see in Chapter 1. Miriam Hees, an editor from Blooming Tree Press said, "I hate seeing a 'run-down list:' Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes."

Or as my DH would say, "What an info dump!"

Have you experienced any info dumps in books or movies lately? Care to share with Aunty? Pretty Please?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Here's another blog from my recent tour to promote The Wild Irish Sea...

Not long ago, my critique partner and I were discussing our current works-in-progress. After we finished our line-by-line assessments of each others’ chapters, we started to discuss overall themes and motifs in our work. She made the observation that water figured prominently in all my novels.

My first reaction was denial. Astrologically, I’m a fire sign and I’m not attracted to earth or water signs. And I’m not keen on being wet in my everyday life either. Rain is fine, as long as I’m inside, not out in it. I’ve never been much of a swimmer… okay, I can barely keep myself afloat, and I hate water in my ears or nose! Large bodies of water scare me a little. Confession time – when I’m on a cruise (and I’ve been on sixteen of them), I’m always a bit nervous if I can’t see land.

For an aqua-phobe like me to write about water made no sense. But then I looked at my three finished books and my WIP and saw that she was correct! Every one of my stories contains a strong water related element.

My first book, The Wild Sight has a number of scenes in a marshy area called the fens. These particular fens are connected to the largest fresh water lake in Ireland, Lough Neagh. And if that’s not enough, one of the characters drowns in the lake. Yes, my CP was correct. This book had a ‘watery’ connection.

Book number two was The Treasures of Venice. The story is set in Venice, Italy which is known for… CANALS!

Big DUH moment.

All the characters spend quite a bit of time in boats of every description, motorboats, barges, gondolas. In two key scenes, the hero winds up taking a very chilly dip in a canal. No point in belaboring the obvious any further, this book has a major water element.

Let’s move on to my current release, The Wild Irish Sea. As if the title weren’t a big enough no-brainer, there’s even crashing waves on the cover! Um, look a wee bit lower than that open shirt… See?

Once again, the main characters spend a lot of time in various kinds of boats, row boats, motor boats, even a sail boat. As the title suggests, the sea plays a major role in this story both literally and metaphorically. Not only is the sea wild, but it is also mysterious and dangerous, as well as life giving.

My characters in The Wild Irish Sea also interact with marine mammals, namely seals who play an important part in the story. I’ve always had a fondness for seals and sea lions, and I greatly admire how agile and graceful they are in the water, unlike me. Plus there were all those wonderful Celtic legends about selkies. In case you aren’t familiar with selkie lore, here’s a brief explanation by one of my Irish characters:

Parker shifted his weight to a more comfortable position before he admitted, “Actually, I’m not even sure what a selkie is. Can you fill me in?

The teen looked askance, like he couldn’t believe a grown man could be so ignorant. “Why they’re seals, of course. Enchanted ones who can shed their skins and look like humans." He crossed his arms and huffed out a dismissive breath. “Can’t believe someone named O’Neill never heard of selkies. Even if ya are a Yank.”

“Clearly my education has been sadly lacking,” Parker said, sorting out this newly discovered information. “Why would a selkie want to be human?

Connor’s brow furrowed, as if he’d never considered such a question. “I expect they’re curious. Or maybe even bored. The thing is, if you find their selkie skin and hide it, they can’t turn back. They’re stuck in human form, but they pine for the sea forever"

Parker made a sour face. “Too tragic. Nope, definitely don’t want to be a selkie."

The boy appeared unconvinced.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into my watery stories, especially my new release The Wild Irish Sea. Have you read other books with references to water in them? What are some objects or motifs that your favorite authors use?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Past and Proper Perspectives

I'll admit it, I have a hard time keeping things in perspective sometimes. I'm amazed at how easily I can forget how far I've come and how much I've accomplished in the past few years.

Ten years ago, I was working in a stressful job that I hated, but I knew I had to do it for a certain length of time for my eventual retirement. I had twenty-six people working under me, and several of them resented me and were determined to make me look bad. A few were even openly hostile. My boss didn't support me, and the employees knew it and would whine to her if they didn't like a decision I made. I worked 40+ hours every week and had to play office politics for far too many of those hours. I found myself with very little time to do any of the things I enjoyed.


Five years ago, I no longer had my stressful day job.


True, I had very little money, but my time was my own to do what I liked to do (writing). However, I was struggling to find an agent, a publisher... anyone who would read my manuscripts. I felt like I was beating my head against a wall and getting nowhere.

Eventually (about four years ago), all that changed. DOUBLE YAY!!

I finaled in a couple of contests and I SOLD A BOOK!

Today, I have three published books on the shelf and they've each sold thousands of copies. Not as many as I'd like, but certainly more than I ever dreamed possible ten, or even five years ago! Not all has been going smoothly in my writing life these past few months, so I need to stop and remind myself of all the things that have gone RIGHT.

Do you have any methods or tricks you use to keep things in their proper perspectives? I'd love to hear them!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Old Book, New Review

It's always a thrill when new readers "discover" my books. While it is true that none of them have been around that long, the very nature of publishing and promotion has forced me to move my focus to each new book as it is released. So a few weeks ago, I was very pleased to discover a new review of The Wild Sight!

The lovely Diana at Book of Secrets discovered my books when she started a "reading challenge" to read books set in Ireland or that had Irish characters. Here's part of what she had to say in her 4.5 heart review:
"I loved this book! I was captivated from the first page until the end. This enthralling story was a perfect blend of romantic suspense, paranormal romance, mystery and even some Irish history - all of my favorite genres. The author has a talent for describing a place in rich details where I could easily picture myself there too. She avoids postcard perfect descriptions of Ireland, but rather gives us the beauty and charm combined with the sometimes harsh reality of daily life....

"...The plot is fast-paced and full of twists and turns that will hold your attention. Fans of paranormal romance and romantic suspense will be pleased with this book. Highly recommended!"

THANK YOU, Diana! I'm so glad you enjoyed The Wild Sight,
(to read the entire review, just click on the title of this blog post) and hope you like my other two equally as well.

If you'd like to find out more about the Ireland Challenge go here:

Thursday, August 19, 2010


A few months ago, the DH and I took a little jaunt to celebrate our anniversary. This time around we stayed pretty close to home, only a few states away. We went to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah and close to the Utah/Colorado border.

As anyone who knows Aunty will attest, she is NOT an outdoorsy type. But the sights at Arches were just too spectacular to view strictly from the car window. Within an hour of our arrival in the park, I actually found myself doing something I literally had not done in years --HIKING! But there was just no other way to see these fabulous rock formations, which are unlike anything I've ever seen anywhere else.

Here are a few of my piccies so you can see what I mean:

The Windows

One of the most famous formations in Arches National Park. Individually they are the South Window (on the left in this picture) and the North Window. They, and all the other fantastic rock formations in the park are the result of wind and water erosion over hundreds of thousands of years.

To put the size of the Windows into perspective, here's the DH (all 6 feet 5 inches or 1.97 meters of him) standing in the middle of the South Window.

I'm standing about 100 yards down the hill so that I can fit the whole thing in. And yes, it was a stunning day, as evidenced by the clouds and blue sky behind the South Window.

Delicate Arch

Probably the most photographed and therefore the most famous of all the formations in Arches is this one. Also called "Bloomers" or "Cowboy Chaps" for obvious reasons. I viewed it from a very long distance and let the DH hike the extremely steep three mile trail for a closer look.

Delicate Arch stands 52 feet (or 16 meters) tall, and sits all by itself on the edge of a rocky plateau in the absolute middle of nowhere. This photo does not do the bright red and orange coloring of the arch justice. It is absolutely striking (even through binoculars down in the parking lot)!

Landscape Arch

This is the longest arch in the park, and I'll have to take DH's word that this is it. Once again, I stayed behind and read a book while he make the arduous hike through the Devil's Garden to view this arch and the other formations. It does look like the other pictures I've seen of it, so I guess I can trust his word that this is the genuine article.

One of the rangers told us that ten or fifteen years ago, a piece of rock cracked and fell from the center of Landscape Arch. Luckily it happened at a time when very few tourists were around and nobody was hurt!

The Three Gossips

Finally, a formation that is not an arch. The guide book described these gigantic pillars that look like over-sized human figures as the Three Gossips. I personally thought they resembled the Three Wise Men of New Testament fame. Or perhaps three ancient Egyptian dieties.

The park is full of pillar type formations. Some of them were undoubtedly arches whose middles collapsed. Other formations look like giant ships or castles. I won't bore you with any more of my less-than stellar photos. If you check Google Images, you'll see many fabulous ones.

Better yet, take a trip to Arches National Park yourself. Aunty guarantees you won't regret it!