Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Question Of The Month: the Back to School Edition

We posed this question to the Super authors this month: 

With kids in North America heading back to school, can you share with us a "first day of school" memory?

Tara Taylor Quinn: I can only think of one back to school memory.  I only had one child, who started classes at Arizona State University when she was five, as part of a special program, and then enrolled in college level classes when she was eight.  I chaperoned her to class every single day until she graduated with her third degree when she was seventeen.  Every quarter, a couple of days before classes started, we’d take her schedule and go down to campus to find all of the rooms.  Not all that unusual, but in our case, we weren’t looking so that we’d know where to take her to class, we had to scout out electrical outlets so that I could plug in my laptap to be able to work while I waited outside of her class, and still be able to keep her door in sight.  We had to plan so she’d know right where to look for me.  And so that I knew I could keep her safe and still be able to work.  I wrote a lot of books with my backside on cold tile hallway floors!

Joanne Rock: My clearest first day of school memory was the excitement before Kindergarten. I'd chosen a Bugs Bunny book bag--blue with straps--and hung it on my doorknob before bed. I couldn't wait to use it and be a big girl and go to school. Plus, Bugs was just so *cool.* It's a happy memory for me. And I still love prepping for first days!

Pamela Hearon:  My most memorable first day happened not when I was a student but when I was the teacher in the 8th grade Language Arts class in our small town.  The first day of school that year was just a one-hour day.  Meet the students, lay out the rules, yada yada yada.  When the bell rang, one young man stayed behind, obviously wanting to talk one-on-one.  I didn't hurry him, and finally he walked over to where I was standing in front of my desk.  He took a deep breath, and said, "Mrs. H, I didn't do so good last year in the 7th grade, and I really want to do better this year."  I told him I was glad to hear that.  "Yeah," he answered.  "So if I start falling behind this year, I just want you to kick my ass."  His word choice caught me by surprise, but the look in his eyes told me he wasn't being cheeky.  I nodded solemnly and assured him I would.  He wasn't the brightest of the bunch that year, but he was a hard worker, so I never really had to kick his ass--just had to nudge him a bit.  We got along great. :-)

Jennifer Lohmann:  We used to watch for the bus through a sliding glass door. We could see it coming about a 1/4 mile away, giving us plenty of time to get out of the house and to the stop. Or, that was my brother's experience. He's six years older than I am so I watched him watch for the bus for years before it was my turn. On that first day of school, I was so excited when I saw the bus that I walked right into the door! 

Kristina Knight: I'll never forget my first day of first grade - because my grandmother was my teacher! We attended a rural school, complete with shared classrooms (1st/2nd together, 3rd/4th, etc) - and I knew she would be my teacher, but when I walked in that morning and she was right there at the desk, all my nervousness about being with older kids disappeared because I knew nothing could be bad if my grandmother was involved.

Claire McEwen: What I remember about the first day of school is the excitement of new clothes! I was the youngest of four girls so I mainly wore hand-me-downs.  Extremely outdated hand-me-downs!  But once a year we went school shopping and I got an outfit or two for the year - and of course I wore my new clothes on the first day of school!

Amber Leigh Williams:  Memories of the first day of school always came with a good deal of fluttering in my tummy. Not the good kind, unfortunately. I was extremely introverted as a child and the idea of walking into a new classroom with a new teacher and new classmates was enough to make me beg my mother to take me to work with her when she tried to drop me off in the morning. She always left an encouraging note and Hershey's kisses in my lunch, though. And I would sometimes sneak my favorite book into my backpack. Even if I didn't get to read it, it helped knowing that it was there! 

Kris Fletcher: I am totally going to cheat here. I have tons of First Day memories, both for myself and my kids, but as the mom of a large, sprawling family (my youngest will start grade 3 next week, my oldest will be in the final year of his second Master's while working full time), my very favorite back to school memory will always be this: 

Now readers, we're dying to know: what are some of YOUR First Day of School memories?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Aaaah…kicking back

Mary Sullivan

This summer, I discovered a new way to de-stress and it is fabulous. There is a gorgeous park in Toronto called High Park that has successfully resisted encroachment by developers for well over a hundred years. It is 400 acres of landscaped views and huge tracts of natural, unspoiled land. Here's a brief list of some of what the park has to offer: a huge dog run, a children's zoo, a public swimming pool, a beautiful lake, sports fields, a stunning cherry blossom trail that attracts thousands of visitors every spring, hiking trails, ravines, a restaurant, Shakespeare in the Park on summer evenings, children's programming for the summer including a cooking course using ingredients the children have grown themselves in a small garden! There is so much more.

Every weekend finds families picnicking all over the park, setting up barbecues and volleyball nets.

The land was purchased in 1836 for sheep farming, but was bequeathed to the city in 1873. More land was purchased and added. For all intents and purposes, it has remained inviolate as a park since then.

Early in the summer, my daughter invited me to a 'tea party picnic' at the park. She hooked a small trailer onto the back of her bike and carted down gallons of homemade iced tea and goodies, cucumber, radish and cream cheese sandwiches, gorgeous meringue cakes, all sorts of home-baked cookies, all served in china tea cups and on silver serving trays. We also noshed on brie sandwiches, white chocolate cranberry scones and loads of cherries.

It was civilized and relaxing and one of the loveliest afternoons I've had in a long, long time. She had a great turnout of friends. I'm hoping she'll turn it into an annual event :-)

Since then, I've visited the park for a number of picnics. It's been this summer's go-to spot to relax. I hadn't been to High Park in the a long while and am so happy to rediscover it.

Here's a photo of the Maple Leaf Garden...
Just past the trees on the far side of the garden is Grenadier Pond, where you will find ducks, geese and swans.

This has been my very lovely al fresco dining room…

Don't the planters look like giant blueberries? LOL

My view from here while I eat, a formal garden with fountains…

A few minutes after I enter the park, tension fades. While I'm there, I can't think about worries or responsibilities. I'm just relaxing and drinking in the beautiful views and nature.

Do you have a 'go-to' spot for getting away from it all? What is it? What do you do there?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Where Do We Get Our Ideas From…??

How many times are authors asked this question throughout their careers?? It must be the most frequently asked question whenever we are interviewed or meet readers. It is also one of the hardest questions to answer…most of the time.

However, if someone were to ask me that question today, I'd be able to wholeheartedly tell them exactly where the idea for my next trilogy or series came from. I am so excited, I can barely wait to get started but until I finish my current work in progress (book 5 in my Superromance Templeton Cove series), I have to be happy with just jotting down a few notes.

So what is my new idea, I hear you ask!

Well, after a recent overnight visit to Ireland…for afternoon tea with Nora Roberts, no less, I know I have to set a trilogy or series at Ashford Castle where my husband and I stayed. I will, of course, make the castle fictional…maybe even change its Irish location, but what a place! Pure, unadulterated luxury where royalty and visiting celebrities have been known to stay.

While we were there, the majority of the guests were from the States which made my job of writing the stories for the US market all the better. Ireland is romantic, magical and full of so many different characters, it is a canvas waiting to be painted in words.

Here are a few of the pictures of the castle…and of course, me and Nora! Keep tuned for my new series whenever I get the time to write it, ha ha!

What about you? What are your favorite locations that you've visited and have ended up being the setting for a Superromance? Or readers, what are some of your favorite global settings for our stories?

Rachel x

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Story Ideas Come to Life

My September release, Winning Ruby Heart, is one I'm really excited about. As an author, I'm probably supposed to love all my books equally, but I don't. I have favorites and Winning Ruby Heart is going to be one of them.

Five years before the book starts, middle-distance runner Ruby Heart was caught blood doping at the Olympics. She's the heroine of the book and it's needless to say that she needs to learn about making better decisions and taking responsibility for her actions. When I was brainstorming this novel with my friend Mary Margret Daughtridge, she suggested that Ruby volunteer at a local animal shelter. There are few better places to learn about how carelessness has rippling consequences than at an animal shelter. So, Ruby takes shelter dogs for runs. The dogs get to burn off some steam and Ruby learns lessons in adulthood that no one thought to teach her when she was a child.

Which is why I was tickled when I read an article about my local Animal Protection Society offering a day fostering program for their dogs. The idea behind day fostering at the APS is the same as I talk about in Winning Ruby Heart; kenneling is damaging to a dog's sociability, making them nervous and stifling an active dog's energy--all of which can make a perfectly adoptable dog seem less desirable. By taking a dog to your house for the day, or out for a run, or on a long hike, a dog comes back better adjusted and calmer for the next person who walks through the shelter doors, looking for a forever pet. For the volunteer, it's a good opportunity to help out when you can't commit to long-term fostering.

Winning Ruby Heart was already past the editing stage when I read the article about day fostering. It felt a bit like a part of my book was coming to life--and that was fun.

Instead of giving a book away, I'm going to try something different. I'll donate $5 to my local APS per unique user comment left on this post, up to $100. People have until September 17th to comment. On September 18th, I'll tally up my comments and write my check.

Need an idea about what to say?

If you had a dog for a day foster, where would you take it? Me, I'd take the dog for a long hike by the Eno River. Lots of chances to stretch legs (both mine and the dog's) and things to sniff (dog only).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Where Do You Get Your Ideas?"

Where do you get your ideas?

Every author everywhere has probably encountered this question at one point or another. I certainly have, in addition to several others I’ve had to deal with

I think when people ask this question, it’s really a two-part query: 1) what inspires you; and 2) how did you craft your story to be so awesome? The second question is only a little easier to answer than the first—understanding story structure, character archetypes and all the things that make up storytelling—and then learning to subvert them—comes with years of studying the craft, reading and watching TV shows, movies, plays and more.

The answer to the first question is more amorphous, because there’s no telling where people might come up with their unique and fascinating takes on traditional stories, or whether their remarkable characters were inspired by real or fictional characters.

The truth is, none of us creates in a vacuum. We are bombarded by art and creation every day. Everything you touch that’s man-made was designed and made with a lot of thought and consideration given to function, aesthetics, and emotional attachment, each weighed differently. So, too, is writing.

This, of course, is all a fancy way of saying, “I dunno.”

Having recently become a fan of the TV show Doctor Who, I learned that Diana Gabaldon, author of the time-travel historical romantic epic Outlander, was inspiredby a character from the older Doctor Who TV series. Jamie Fraser, the hero of her books, which take place in 18th-century Scotland, was riffed off one of the Doctor’s companions, Jamie McCrimmon. Apart from the kilts and background, as well as the bit about time travel, the Outlander series and Doctor Who don’t share a lot in common. But knowing where such a bold and interesting hero got his start fascinates me. 

I’ve written about how fan fiction inspired me before. But I’ve yet to transform any of my fandoms (including Doctor Who) into an original piece of fiction. Still, sometimes I think about the characters I have encountered, and think about the stories I have read or watched, and I’d ask myself: What would ______ do? That’s how I come up with plots twists and character development. Who would I most like my characters to become? Who would they never become? And how can I make this journey as difficult as possible, and possibly ensure they never reach their goal? 

What are your favorite books, movies or TV shows? Have you ever researched or learned how the idea for the story’s concept was developed? Let me know in the comments!
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