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.