Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?

How do you feel about love scenes? They seem to be the defining characteristic of romance novels from people who haven't read one and don't know any better. I was doing a booksigning last year, and a woman walked up, saw the word "Harlequin" on my cover, and sniffed, "Oh, those trashy books."

Her kneejerk reaction was most likely based on the stereotype that any romance novel is just a bunch of explicit love scenes strung together by a flimsy plot--which, if you think about it, parallels what comes to mind when you think about the plot arc of your average pornographic film. Except there's no crappy music.

My first impulse was to blurt out that my books don't really HAVE explicit love scenes, so they can't be trashy. (My grandma and grandpa (who will soon turn 90--happy birthday, Grandpa!) read all of my books, and I have this unfortunate habit of thinking about them reading whenever it's time to write a love scene. Ergo, most of the time I stop at the bedroom door.) But then I realized that even if they were explicit, there's nothing trashy about my creative work. Lots of literary and quasi-literary fiction includes love scenes and romance. I doubted that the woman's problem was with the love scene my book may or may not have included--it was all in the packaging. From the beginning of the novel form, any type of writing written primarily by and for women has been looked down upon as substandard, and despite the smattering of male authors in the genre, romance books have "female" written all over them. I'm sure all of us who write romance have had the experience of a friend or family member reading our books and going, "It's a romance, but it's actually good!"

Insert a rant here about how the majority of romance novels have an engaging story and well-crafted characters--just like any other genre. We romance writers and readers already know that, so no use preaching to the choir. But how do you, personally, feel about love scenes?

I'm kind of "eh" about them most of the time. I love the stories, love the characters, love the humor or suspense or small-town charm a romance novel can have. Love the chemistry, love the will-they-or-won't-they? aspect of watching two people fall for each other. But the love scenes themselves? Much of the time I just skim over them. It's definitely not that they're badly written--so much has been made about purple prose in the past few years, that I think many writers are very careful about crafting truly sensual scenes sans the awful euphemisms that crack readers up in all the wrong places. Perhaps it's because I know so many writers--it almost feels too personal to read them. (I know, I'm weird.) But there are exceptions--Julie Leto's steamy chica lit suspense, Dirty Little Secrets, had me hanging on every word. And a friend and critique partner, Eileen Brennan, writes erotica for Liquid Silver and Triskelion that completely sweeps me away. On the whole, though, I'm happy that the characters had their moment, but I'm all about getting back to the meat of the story and seeing if Tess Ciccotelli can prove her innocence when the villian is so intent on framing her for murder (Karen Rose's You Can't Hide) or waiting for Cyn Lopez to get her spine back and stand up to her evil stepsisters (Berta Platas's Cinderella Lopez).

As for writing them ... it usually takes a couple glasses of wine and a concerted effort to put Grandma and Grandpa out of my head. And I have a feeling the Mission: Family trilogy was tamer than usual, because I wrote those while a million months pregnant and shortly after Maggie was born, and my personal fantasies were only of a full night's sleep, a full-time nanny whose favorite phrase was, "It's OK. Let me get her," and getting my waist back.

But whatever I write, however sexy my books get or don't get, however any other romance writers choose to handle the sensuality level, I have made a promise to myself that I will never, ever apologize for it.

Books by Friends Month Update: Just finished Paula Graves's Forbidden Territory, a wonderful debut Intrigue with some compelling paranormal elements. The plot centers around Lily Browning, a reluctant psychic who approaches the police about visions she's been having of a kidnapped child (an absolutely GUT-WRENCHING plot element for a new mother still coming off that post-partum high. Thank heaven I knew the happy ending was coming.). Naturally, she starts falling for the biggest skeptic on the force, one Lieutenant J. McBride, who's determined to prove Lily a charlatan. Paula, if you're reading this, I had a hard time putting this book down and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it in two days (a major feat for me and my post-baby narcolepsy). Well done! :::applause::::

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Blog Block

Hope everyone out in (US) blogland had a lovely holiday weekend. I had a busy one and am only now getting caught up. Sorry to leave everyone with that downer of a post about Mt. Everest for a four days....

I'm having a case of what Heather Webber over at the Little Blog of Murder calls "blog-block," where I can't think of anything to blog about. (And ot think, just last week, my ideas runneth over.) So I'll just leave you with an update as to how my Books By Friends Month is going.

I finished Becoming Latina in Ten Easy Steps by Lara Rios (whom I know as Liliana), and I loved this book. (This will probably be a common theme this month, seeing as these are my friends, and are therefore smart women who write well.) In a nutshell, the book stars a heroine who has recently learned that her Mexican father may not really be her biological father, since her Mexican mother had an affair with an Anglo nine months before she was born. Ergo, her family notes, she's probably only half Mexican, which, they feel, explains her lack of interest in their Mexican culture and lack of Latina-ness in general. So Marisa vows to embrace her Latina side and prove that not only is she a full Latina, but that the father she's always known and loved is her true father. The list is, of course, the main source of humor and the catalyst for some intriguing situations, from Marisa's adventures mentoring an "at-risk" Latina teenager to her date with a gangbanger to her growing realization of what she wants in life and in love.

It's a fun, original premise, but what really makes this book sing are the vibrant characters, emotional weight, and gentle humor. I think anyone--Latina or not--can relate to Marisa's journey of self-discovery.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Death of Basic Human Decency

I was checking out the news today and had my early morning shock while reading Sir Edmund Hillary's recent statement expressing his dismay that "dozens of climbers" had left a British man to die while they attempted to scale Mt. Everest.

First of all, did anyone else know that Sir Edmund Hillary was still alive? I had no idea, but you go, Sir Edmund. Just goes to show that exercise is indeed the key to a long life.

Second, my hat's off to him for his statement. Someone needed to say it, and who better than the first man to climb Everest?

What happened was that 34-year-old David Sharp was about 1,000 feet from the summit on his way down Everest, but he began to struggle for air in what AP calls the "low-oxygen 'death zone'" of the mountain. And here's where things get horrifying: According to AP, "More than 40 climbers are thought to have seen him as he lay dying, and almost all continued to the summit without offering assistance." The New Zealand Herald says that Sharp was seen over the next TWO DAYS "in various states of confusion and distress."

Among those 40 who passed Sharp were members of the climbing party of one Mark Inglis, a New Zealander who became the first double amputee to reach the mountain's summit.

I can only hope that Mr. Inglis will be remembered for all eternity not for being the first double amputee to reach the top of Mt. Everest, but for being a first-class wanker (in a climbing party of first-class wankers) who chose to walk past a dying man rather than give up his shot at fleeting glory.

You often hear people bemoaning the death of civility (screaming public cell phone conversations in otherwise quiet areas, anyone?), but when did basic human decency die?

Inglis defends himself by saying that "there was virtually no hope that Sharp could have been carried to safety from his position about 1,000 feet short of the 29,035-foot summit" and that "his own party ... had to put the safety of its own members first."

Right. To be fair, Inglis's party did offer Sharp some oxygen and sent out a radio distress call, but then they just kept on going. As for putting the safety of its own members first, maybe instead of going up that remaining 1,000 feet and coming back down it again, Inglis and his party could have used that time and energy to, oh, help the guy who was struggling for his life for two freaking days?

Inglis continues by saying that "I walked past David, but only because there were far more experienced and effective people than myself to help him." Sure there were, Mark, but apparently, they just kept going, too. All 40 of you.

First of all, I'm assuming Inglis isn't a doctor, so how would he know that Sharp couldn't have been carried outside of the low-oxygen area of Everest? The New Zealand Herald points out that University of Otago scientist and mountaineer Dr Phil Ainslie said it might have been possible to revive [Sharp] with bottled oxygen and even get him down to safety. If he'd been given enough oxygen, he could have recovered about 80 percent of his capacity, Ainslie claims.

And regardless of whether Sharp's chances of survival were great or not, wouldn't it have been worth it to try? Even if Sharp had only a slim chance of survival, wouldn't it have been worth being able to tell his parents that everything that could have been done to get their son off that mountain was done?

As Sir Edmund says, "... if you have someone who is in great need and you are still strong and energetic, then you have a duty, really, to give all you can to get the man down and getting to the summit becomes very secondary." The difficulties posed by operating at high altitude were not an excuse, he says. "You can try, can't you? This is the whole thing."

And here's what I can't deal with--even if Inglis, his party, and the other mobs of people who passed by couldn't have saved David Sharp, why, WHY would you let a suffering man die alone, lonely and cold without someone to hold his hand or offer some comfort for as long as possible?

Sir Edmund Hillary apparently talked to reporters from Inglis's home country (Again, you go, Sir Edmund!), telling them that he would have abandoned his own pioneering climb to save another's life. And really, isn't that how it should be? I'm not a perfect person by any means, but I know for certain that I would NEVER have walked past David Sharp just to reach the damn summit of Everest.

"I think the whole attitude toward climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying," Hillary told the Otago Daily Times. "The people just want to get to the top."

In sharp contrast, New Zealander Jamie McGuiness, director of the Everest Peace Project, told the New Zealand Herald about his conversation with a sherpa named Dawa, who gave oxygen to Sharp and "tried to help him move, repeatedly, for perhaps an hour." Apparently, this sherpa couldn't by then get Sharp to stand alone or lean on him, so, crying, he left him, abandoning his climb to the top because he'd given his surplus oxygen to Sharp. And at least he knows he gave a good faith effort to help--it wouldn't have been possible for Sherpa Dawa to get David down the mountain on his own or even with another person. (McGuiness himself recently directed the rescue of a climber on Everest that took 18 people.)

I think the New Zealand Herald says it best in a May 25th editorial. Speaking of the 40 who passed by Sharp, it says, "To get so close to their goal, then to sacrifice it for the sake of someone in peril, would surely be a memory as proud as the assisted trek to the top.

"If not, then Sir Edmund is right. Something has gone terribly wrong in the Everest experience. By all accounts the mountain is now littered with the frozen remains of those who have died there. If the bodies are witness to the difficulty of the climb, we now know they may also testify to a lack of human help."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Cuban Boy Who Couldn't Dance

For today, I offer a random but amusing story....

I was going through some closets the other day in a weak pretense of spring cleaning, and I happened upon my copy of Jose's and my wedding video. (Which just reminds me that I need to have it transferred to DVD one of these days....)

As always, the mere sight of our homemade tape with "Jose and Tracy's wedding" scrawled across the label in black marker (Classy.) cracked me up. In a nutshell, the overarching theme of the Story of Our Wedding Video is that my husband Jose is quite possibly the only Cuban male In the world who cannot dance. (Think Elaine from Seinfeld, and then give her sudden growth spurts or electroshock therapy in medias res.)

Jose, bless him, is also kind of a cheapass, so I had to plan our wedding by myself and just not tell him how much my parents and I were spending so he could continue to keep his blood pressure at a healthy level. Consequently, I cut a few corners out of respect for his cheapassness (cheapassitude?), including not hiring a videographer. My uncle Mike took the video at the ceremony with a handheld camera (turning off said camera at random moments, like, oh, THE EXCHANGING OF THE RINGS!!!!), and my Tia Yessenia (from Honduras) took the reception video (which got progressively wobblier the more Yessenia ran into Waiters With Wine). The result is hardly polished perfection, but here's why I love it more than words can express:

When the dance portion of the reception started up, Jose and I followed tradition and had the first dance alone, to Juan Luis Guerra y 440's "Bachata Rosa." Yessenia, by this time mildly plowed, zoomed in on us and started commenting en Espanol (there's a tilda over that N) about how there we were, doing our bride and groom dance, and how great it was that we picked a Spanish song. Then, there's a HUGE pause while she and my Tia Dulce watched us lurch from one side of the dance floor to the other--broken up by Jose occasionally stopping to spin around on one foot in his own specialm slightly drunken re-enactment of Saturday Night Fever. And then, you hear this sharp, high-pitched, distinctively Honduran inhale (uh-EEEEEEEEEEE!) followed by, "Ayyyyyy, Dios miiiiiiiiiiio! El no puede bailarrrrrrrrr!"

Rough translation: Oh, my God, that boy can't dance.

Though the video has degraded quite a bit, you can still hear Yessenia if you turn the volume way up.

Wedding DJ: roughly $500
Juan Luis Guerra CD with "Bachata Rosa" on it: $15.95
Blank video tape on which to record wedding and reception: $1.50
Video featuring aunt freaking out about the lone Latino in the Rysavy-Veroi-Fernandez clan with a tragic lack of rhythm: Priceless.

For what it's worth, I'm an OK dancer, but I look like I'm doing the robot compared to the Honduran side of my family--not to mention my 90-year-old grandfather on my dad's side, who does a wicked fast polka. So mine is not to criticize, unless I'm telling this particular story. And I have to tell it, repeatedly, because it's hilarious.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Back from RT

As the title of this post indicates, I'm back from the Romantic Times convention. I probably should have called it "I am a Lazy Cow," because unfortunately for you all, I learned very little about the state of romance publishing today to pass on, I didn't pelt everyone in sight with bookmarks and marketing materials, and I didn't get plastered and throw myself at the cover models just so I'd have a good story to relate (nice guys, but eeeuw). However, I did have a great time.

I only attended for three days, a move intended to save money since I'll be going to the RWA conference in its entirety in July. The first day was the day of our Latina lit panel, which also included Caridad Pineiro (prolific Silhouette Intimate Moments author--now launching the Nocturne paranormal line, as well as the author of the upcoming Sex and the South Beach Chicas for St. Martins), Berta Platas (author of Cinderella Lopez), and Barbara Ferrer (an up-and-coming young adult author for MTV Books).

I'm happy to say that we actually had an audience--not a huge one, like the editor/agent panel, but a respectable one that talked with us and asked interesting questions. We (my fellow panel members, two of which are Encanto survivors) also had drinks and dinner with new Kensington editor Sulay Hernandez, who is not only totally fab, but is also actively looking for Latina lit and has promised not to forcibly make you pepper it with Spanish if you don't want to. (OK, I did learn one publishing thing, but I wasn't trying to....)

The only other workshop I attended was the giant editor/agent panel, but I'm sad to say I have no news from it largely because I am finally being forced to admit that I may have a slight hearing problem. (Thanks, Dad.) There was a ton of background noise seeping out from behind various plastic room dividers where other workshops were located, and to my eternal chagrin, I was actually forced to CUP MY HAND BEHIND MY EAR to hear better. And charming as I'm sure that looked, I still couldn't hear. Sigh.

I tried, I really did, to make myself attend workshops the next day, but the beach was not only calling to me, it was shrieking. So I went to the awards luncheon, recoiled in horror at the ice cream scoop of skeezy tuna salad plopped on top of two wilted lettuce leaves that the hotel staff generously termed "lunch," went to the hotel snack shop and grabbed a barely edible salad instead, and spent the rest of the day sitting on the beach under a rented umbrella, reading Berta's Cinderella Lopez.* It was lovely. So lovely, I almost went postal on the guy with the cart who tried to take my umbrella and chair away at 5 pm. (I managed to refrain from making him play tug-of-war to get his stuff back, but it was hard.)

The next day was the booksigning, where all of us Intrigue authors who attended (at least those I talked to) got our booties collectively kicked by the erotica authors. When they say erotica is selling right now, they're not kidding. Also sat next to a dude in leather pants who was handing out peanut butter cups to women as they passed by, managing to run his fingers lingeringly along their palms as he did so--all the while standing up so everyone could get a good view of said pants. I'm not sure if it was his marketing techniques or the books themselves that did it for him, but his sales seemed quite good.

Moral of the story: If you want to have a wildly successful booksigning at RT, write erotica, hit the NYT list, or wear leather pants.

*Books by Friends Month update: Berta's Cinderella Lopez is, by the way, just what it sounds like--a modern-day retelling of the Cinderella story featuring two evil Latina veejays for a low-budget MTV-like station and their downtrodden stepsister/personal assistant. Berta made the interesting choice of having her Cinderella (aka Cynthia Lopez) be not only downtrodden, but a pushover by nature. How she overcomes this natural tendency and regains control of her life is trip. If you're looking for a fast-paced and fun beach read, you can't get any better than this.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Off to RT

I'm leaving tomorrow morning for the Romantic Times Booklovers' Convention, where I'm speaking on a panel about Latina Lit. The last time I spoke on a panel about Latina Lit at RT, in 2000, the only people who came were the Kensington editors and my friend Kim. So I'm hoping that there will be more people this time, or my trip is for naught....

Between the panel on Thursday and the booksigning on Saturday, I don't have a lot of obligations, so I might spend Friday reading, sitting my happy, child-free booty on the beach reading some more, and perhaps catching a matinee of The DaVinci Code, whether I can talk anyone into joining me or not. Actually, whether our panel fills the room or we end up talking amongst ourselves only, this trip is well worth it, just for the luxury of a whole day to myself. Mmmmmmm.

Be good while I'm gone!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

That Four Things Thing ... Revisited

So, Heather Webber over at the Little Blog of Murder just tagged me with the Four Things Thing, and since a) last time I was tagged I had my two-year-old fill it out instead, and b) I have a strange love for filling things like this out, I am doing it again, this time for myself.

Here goes:

4 movies I would watch over and over:

Regular visitors already know about my obsession with Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the five-hour BBC Pride & Prejudice miniseries, so here are some new ones in addition to those:

1. Strictly Ballroom ("Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias.") (If I'm spelling that wrong, nobody tell me.)
2. Bend it Like Beckham (Jonathan Rhys-Myers AND grrrl power. What a combination!)
3. O Brother Where Art Thou?
4. Whale Rider (Grrrl power and whales! Yeah!)

4 places I’ve lived:

1. Seoul, Korea
2. Baton Rouge, LA
3. Falls Church, VA
4. Home of the Big Hairy Spiders, FL

4 TV shows I love to watch:

1. American Idol
2. Bones
3. The OC
4. The Daily Show

4 places I have been on vacation:

1. Nearly getting bent with Jose as we chased a giant manta ray while scuba diving in Fiji.
2. Visiting the Lord of the Rings film sites on New Zealand's North Island.
3. Touring Venice and Florence, Italy, in an ugly black skirt with a choir, just after high school.
4. Hanging out with family in Honduras.

4 web sites I visit daily:

2. or
3. The Happy Feminist
4. Google (I stole that from Heather's list--I DO visit Google every day, bless them.)

4 of my favorite foods:

1. Goong Phuket at DC's Tara Thai
2. That spicy crawfish pasta thing at Copeland's (the REAL Copeland's in Louisiana, not the chains, which are a complete horror show).
3. Bread pudding at Mulate's in Louisiana. (It's almost a religion. No one believes me until they try it....)
4. Belgian chocolate (Makes US chocolate taste like brown wax.)

4 places I would rather be right now:

1. Sawing Florida off the continent and watching it float away, spiders and all.
2. At my husband's retirement ceremony from the Navy (T minus two years and counting!)
3. Wrapping up my Pulitzer acceptance speech. (Heh.)
4. On the phone with my agent discussing my latest seven-figure contract. : D

Tag 4 people I think will respond:
I think everyone has done this already, but if you read this and haven't, consider yourself tagged.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'm an Aunt!

My brother Tommy and his wife had their first baby on Mother's Day, and she also happens to be my first blood-related niece. So I'm an aunt--too cool.

Friday, May 12, 2006


I haven't been able to wrap my head around the fact that I'm not going to see my favorite Idol, Chris Daughtry, in the American Idol finale. Say what you will about his being a "one-trick pony," but how many famous singers out there AREN'T one-trick ponies in that same fashion? Did you ever see Whitney Houston eschewing a power ballad to strap on a guitar and belt out a hard rock, Melissa-Etheridge-esque tune before crack ate her brain? No, you did not. Did you ever see Tom Petty stand alone before a microphone under a Vegas spotlight and croon about how his heart will go on and on? No, you did not. It's called an identity, and most singers have a discernable one, rather than morphing from a power balladeer to Freddy Mercury to an operatic tenor in the course of a month or two.

I'm bitter, people. I'm really bitter.

So Chris is gone, and the finale will probably be Taylor Hicks soul patrolling all over the place against either Elliott the sweet but placid blues singer or Katherine "Look at me, I can dance!" McPhee (the latter hopefully not doing her Lieutenant Dan impression by shuffling up and down the stage on her knees again. What WAS that?).

Anyone else who is in mourning can click here
to rewatch Chris's singular performance of Fuel's "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)," as many times as it takes to wash away the bitter taste of Chris's untimely demise. Apparently, Fuel is without a lead singer at the moment and in an appearance on EXTRA last night offered Chris the job (once his contract with the devil/American Idol expires). I hope he takes it, rather than allowing the suckfest AI producers to squash any hint of originality in his voice and turn him into a soulless, bubble-gum pop automaton *cough* Bo Bice and "The Real Thing" *cough*.

Books by Friends Month

Did you know that National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15? I've always wondered what we Latinos did to get such a crazy, half-assed month. I mean, all of the other heritage months get a full month, from beginning to end--none of this dividing up two months and confusing everyone business. What makes it worse is that since National Hispanic Heritage Month doesn't start at the beginning of September or October, I generally find myself going into some sort of work-stress time warp and not realizing that I'm having a month until the end of November. I KNOW I can't be the only one with this problem....

Well, maybe it's the result of a shared cultural psychosis, but I've decided to declare May 15-June 15 Books by Friends Month. However, there is a reason I am starting mid-May, and after doing a Google search, I've also discovered that there's a reason National Hispanic Heritage Month starts in medias res.

A bit of trivia for you: National Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 because that is Independence Day for five Latin American countries--Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. (My mother would probably be horrified that I didn't remember Honduras's Independence Day, so don't tell her, mmmkay?)

I'm starting my Books by Friends month mid-May because while I have a dizzying number of books by friends on my TBR pile, I want to include a couple that are coming out in June.

So, what is Books by Friends month exactly? Pretty much what it sounds like--I'm going to read books from my TBR pile written by my friends and will report on them. My friend and Bombshell writer Sharron McClellan and I were talking the other day about how when we read romances, we tend to gravitate toward those by friends--because A) we're starting to accumulate a lot of writer friends, and B) we tend to make friends with smart, articulate, imaginative women who write good books that suit our tastes.

So, here's the lineup for my personal Books by Friends month, which includes in-person friends, online friends, and a couple of people that I just met:

Courtesan's Courtship, by Gail Ranstrom: I don't tend to gravitate toward historicals, but I discovered just how wonderfully rich Gail's writing is when I joined a critique group to which she also belonged. Her stories are fast-paced, emotionally gripping, and she always incorporates a suspense element (yay!). I've been looking forward to this one for a while now.

Off the Map, by Dorien Kelly: I've been on an AOL writers' message board (recently turned into a listserv) since the beginning of time, and this is where I met Dorien. Her writing is just as sharp and funny as she is in person. She writes single-title Irish contemporaries, as well as comedies for a variety of Harlequin/Silhouette lines, and Off the Map is her debut with the NEXT line.

Cinderella Lopez, by Berta Platas: Berta's an old Encanto buddy of mine, and this one is her first single title. As you can tell by the clever title, it's a modern-day Cinderella story with a Latina heroine. How cool is that?

Becoming Latina in Ten Easy Steps, by Lara Rios: Another old Encanto friend with her first single title out. We Encantadoras have had a lot of discussions about not being "Latina enough," whether for publishers, editors, or the general public ("Gee, you don't LOOK Latina."), and Lara points out in the intro to this book that it was, in part, born out of those conversations. I love the concept and am sure Lara carries it off beautifully.

Serial Bride by Ann Voss Peterson: Ann is the reason I started writing Intrigues--I didn't realize you could be dark and gritty in category romance until I picked up one of her books. This June release is the start of a trilogy that spins off from one of my favorites from her backlist, Accessory to Marriage.

Forbidden Territory by Paula Graves: I JUST "met" Paula online--she stops by here now and again and has a fun blog that I like to visit. She's a debut author with Intrigue, and I'm looking forward to reading her first book (out in June!).

Protective Measures by Dana Marton: Dana and I have a mutual admiration society going on where we're constantly emailing to tell the other what a great writer she is, and how we're not fit to be gum on the bottom of her shoe. Anyway, I highly recommend Dana's Intrigues. She's constantly challenging herself with exotic settings; interesting, multicultural characters; and intricate action-adventure plots. We recently started critiquing each other's work, and she has a miniseries coming up that is just going to blow everyone away.

Big Hair and Flying Cows, by Dolores Wilson: Dolores took an online class I gave in January and subsequently invited me to speak to her RWA chapter, which I promptly joined, so now it's also my second RWA chapter. She was kind enough to give me a copy of this book as a gift, which I wanted to read anyway. I love southern humor, Dolores's book has gotten rave reviews, and she's an absolute doll in person, so I know I'm in for a fun time.

Fractured Souls, by TL Ridgell: Terri (TL) is the president of my other RWA chapter and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. I can't imagine her writing dark and scary suspense, but the reviews say this is just that--and one not to miss.

Confessions of a Party Crasher, by Holly Jacobs: If you've ever met Holly, it wouldn't surprise you in the slightest to know she writes energetic, fun romantic comedies. She's so prolific (and still manages to make every book wonderful), I've missed a couple of her last few books, but I wouldn't miss her debut single title.

Digging Up Trouble, by Heather Webber: Heather is the acclaimed author of the Nina Quinn mystery series, which focus on an amateur sleuth who does surprise garden makeovers. I have a black thumb that makes plants shrink away in terror, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy Heather's books anyway. This is the third Nina Quinn book, and fortunately, she'll be back for more.

Fireworks, by Elizabeth White: Beth writes Christian romantic suspense that manages to be surprising, edgy, emotional, and even funny at times. I find the faith element adds a dimension to her books that is refreshing to someone who doesn't always read Christian-based fiction, and she never sacrifices the story to long stretches of narrative trying to convert the masses, which I appreciate. (To be fair, I've only read a couple of Christian romances that did that--the subgenre has some excellent writers in it!) I know Beth through AOL, and I've really enjoyed her Steeple Hill suspense, so I'm looking forward to this longer book from Zondervan.

You know, writing this entry has led me to discover that I have too many friends with books out this month.... Well, I may not finish them all, but at least I should make a dent, right? The worst part is, I'm sure I'm forgetting someone. Or two. But what else is new in the land of post-partum dementia?

A Shout-Out to the Geek in the Basement

My friend Chris's (aka the Queen-a Athena) son, affectionately known as "the geek in the basement," is somewhat of a renaissance man--which is especially nifty since he hasn't graduated from high school yet. Anyway, he kindly cleared up the tabula rasa mystery from yesterday. The plural of tabula rasa is :::drumroll::: tabulae rasae.

I can only hope that my girls show half of his intellectual curiosity when they hit high school. I'm thinking this is the same son of Chris's who was fascinated with the DMZ between North and South Korea (I sent him pictures.)--at an age where most of his peers probably have no clue what a DMZ is or that one exists between North and South Korea, which are probably located somewhere in Europe. So, you go, geek in the basement. I think you're awesome.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Excuses, Excuses (and Some News)

So my excuse for not blogging for a week is pretty lame--I play adventure video games in my oh-so-ample spare time when I'm stressed, and I got sucked into the latest CSI-for-the-PC installment. Which, in my defense, I'm thinking could feasibly be written off as a tax deduction, because A) the game requires you to solve murders just like your friends on the CSI TV show by using forensic tools to collect evidence; B) I'm a kinesthetic learner, so if I can DO something with my hands rather than read about it or hear it, I remember it better; C) ergo, I now remember exactly what one does with dental stone, mikrosil, ninhydrin, and more, thanks to the game, whereas before I was continuously consulting my Forensic Handbook and Forensics for Dummies books; and D) it's just plain ol' nerdy fun to impersonate a crime scene tech, even via your laptop. So if you write suspense and like PC games, you might give it a try.

Anyway, now the news: two weeks ago I put a partial into the mail for Intrigue, and I found out yesterday they're offering me another three-book contract. Huzzah! The first is for Renegade Ridge, the fourth book in my Mission: Family trilogy. (Yes, I know "trilogy" technically means three, but hey, if Douglas Adams can do it....) So all of you lovely people out there who wrote and asked if Sabrina was going to have her own book, this is it. The rumored release date (i.e. not set in stone in a contract yet) is April 2007. I'll put a blurb and excerpt up on my website as soon as I find an excerpt that doesn't make me want to throw myself under a bus. (Did I mention I always hate what I'm working on until I get past chapter five?) As for the other two books in the contract--uh, I never quite got around to sending the two-page synopses I was going to send, so they're basically tabula rasas (or would that be "tabulas rasa?" "Tabulas rasas?" Any Latin scholars out there? Anyone?) at the moment. I have some ideas, but I'll have to get them approved before I start advertising their existence.

So after a year of not writing, I'm back with a vengeance. Rather than seeking balance, I guess I'm going to try not to neglect my children, lose my job, be late with the books, and alienate all of my friends by being utterly unavailable for anything, ever, because I'm writing. Should be fun!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Balance, or Lack Thereof

People have been asking me lately how I do it. "How do you write, and work, and take care of the kids?" "How do you balance everything?"

Actually, it's all just a clever facade. As Fred Astaire once said, I'm not dancing; I'm bamboozling you with my hands. (I'm quoting Dick Button quoting Fred Astaire here, so I could be misquoting. Just FYI.)

I'm not sure I feel very balanced lately. I feel a tremendous amount of mother-guilt every time I fire up the computer instead of playing with the kids, or every time I turn on Dora the Explorer yet AGAIN to entertain Maggie so I can take a work-related phone call. I'm a horrible mother. I don't have enough time for the girls. Their little brains are rotting away because I'm working instead of teaching them sign language or baby yoga or quantum physics for toddlers. You know, nobody told me motherhood was going to be the Biggest. Guilt trip. Ever.

Don't get me wrong--I love this new phase of my life. Yes, trying to juggle everything can be stressful, but basically life went from black-and-white Kansas to technicolor Oz when these two little beings came into it. But that's a whole other guilt trip--the time I'll have with them seems to short, it goes so quickly, so I sometimes feel like I should be wholly present, mindful of every moment we have together--which is, of course, ridiculously impossible.

I'm getting better. Someday, I might even get over myself. But in the meantime, the mother-guilt is definitely a real kick in the head.

So instead of asking how I balance everything, the proper question should probably be, how do you manage to write, work, and take care of the kids without your head exploding?

First of all, I'm very lucky to work for a nonprofit that is extremely parent-friendly. I started telecommuting before I had Maggie--I tried to quit because of the move, and my boss made me an offer I couldn't refuse. When I had Maggie, I went down to part-time. So, I work part-time (although that fluctuates week to week because I'm an editor and there are deadlines) and from home. Maggie only goes to day care part-time, and Marin will stay with me until she's about a year old, at which point she will join Maggie at the most expensive day care known to humankind (However, it has a privacy fence and an excellent security system (including monitors and a thumb scanner) to keep out the hordes of Floridian sexual predators you hear about on TV. Very important. And the teachers have been excellent.)

The fluctuating schedule allows me to sneak in some writing time while Maggie is at day care, on those weeks were work is slow and I'm actually working part-time hours instead of full-time (which is still part-time, really, because my office has a 32-hour workweek). If I had to balance a full-time job, kids, and writing, I think the writing would probably have to go on the back burner for awhile. In fact, it did while I was pregnant and a single mom last year, worrying about Jose in Iraq.

The other ways I manage to keep my head slightly above water are:

* Recognizing that clean is relative: My house pretty much constantly looks like a laundry basket and a toy box had a vomiting contest all over it. As long as it's not dirty/germy, there is no dried food anywhere, and the health department wouldn't condemn the place, I'm pretty Zen about the general state of disarray around here. Sure, you SAY my beds won't make themselves, but how can miracles happen when you don't set the stage for them?

* When in doubt, act like a fishwife: My husband is not the cleanest dude on the planet. However, he has learned that a happy home is one in which he picks up his own dirty socks, cleans his own coffee rings off the furniture, puts away his own giant piles of laundry, does the dishes after I cook, and takes care of our cute-but-mentally-deficient dog. Because when Tracy gets upset about his messy ways, his coffee cups, clothing, and other clutter (not the dog) all goes in garbage bags by the side of the road, and that just gets expensive. Not to mention it's bad for the environment.

* Dinner in a bag: Did you know that the Schwan's representative can bring you great dinners-in-a-bag that you can prepare in 15 minutes just by dumping them in a pan and turning on a burner? Bertolli's has some great pasta dinners-in-a-bag, too, that operate in much the same way. So if you loathe cooking with the white-hot fiery passion of a thousand suns like I do, maybe some of that extra money you're making by working AND writing can support your local Schwan's man/woman. Because, really, s/he has to eat, too.

* Taking time for moi: I meet up with some writer friends once a week to critique, eat, gossip, eat, and, uh, eat. Before I get there, I usually stop in at Barnes & Noble on the way, just for the sheer pleasure of walking around a bookstore without trying to lug around a shrieking two-year-old and a squirmy baby, bless their cute little selves. Just those few hours of quiet and adult conversation are enough to keep me sane for the week. And, once again, a happy home is one in which mommy isn't compelled to sweep up everything on the floor and donate it to the nearest Goodwill.

* Luck: Fortunately, I have the easiest baby (who apparently is perpetually happy) on the planet to take care of, and my two-year-old--though she can definitely act like a two-year-old--is also very sweet. They make my job as a mother easy. Relatively speaking. Because the guilt and the balancing act and all of that other stressful stuff really has very little to do with THEM, doesn't it?

Anyone else have any advice? How do you balance life, work, kids if you have them, pets, etc. and keep your head from exploding?

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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