Thursday, December 18, 2014

Got Any Holiday Gift Ideas?

"Are you done with your Christmas shopping yet?" is the question of the hour, with the slight variation of, "Are you ready for Christmas."

The answer--this year and every year--is a resounding no. Only this year is worse than normal. Normally, I have an idea of what I'm buying people for the holidays. This year, I'm fresh out of ideas. Part of this is my fault. I've decided to break the mold and not buy people books this year. I'm a librarian and an author, so books are my stand-by gift, but I wanted to try something new this year. Silly me.*

I've plowed through many of the gift lists online and nothing has struck my fancy. Time is running out. Available shopping days before Christmas are going to disappear and I'm already late for Hanukkah.

Basically, I'm asking the Superromance community for gift ideas. Good gifts for parents, brothers, aunts, friends (with kids and without), coworkers--if you've got suggestions, then I want them.

I'll even reward you for them. I'll give one commentor a signed copy of one of my books. You even get to pick from Winning Ruby Heart, Weekends in Carolina, or A Promise for the Baby. I'll announce the winner of the book on Saturday, December 27th.

*Note: I'm not making such a vow next year. Next year, I'm getting books for EVERYONE!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Holidays from Far Away!

And so we come to the holidays and the end of 2014. In lieu of gifts, my entire family—parents, siblings, their children, and their in-laws—are going to Cuba. This will be the first time we’ve all traveled all together as a family to an exotic location for a prolonged period. Frankly, I’m a little nervous about.

It’s probably just my writer’s brain and the years of exposure to holiday vacation disaster films like Home Alone or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation that has me so anxious. Stories about traveling during the holidays usually evoke sheer panic in me as I watch families scramble to get to crowded airports on time while fighting bad weather and quarrelsome relatives. In fact, I’ve never traveled out of country during holidays and peak travel periods for this exact reason. Going to Cuba with the family feels more like the opening of tragicomedy to me than a romping good time.

The thing is, my family has had a string of bad luck whenever one of us goes on vacation or to the cottage or even on a simple road trip. I’ve told my tale on my blog, and that’s not even the worst of it. 

A sample cross-section of tales from the group going to Cuba this year (without attribution, but I guarantee these stories are 100% real):

  • Stepped on a sea urchin: in which the only medical assistance available involved smashing the needles in the victim’s foot with a wooden paddle and then removing them by tweezer.
  • Violent food poisoning: in which five out of seven group members were bed-ridden for 24 hours.
  • Lost in a bog: in which we trod through thick black mud and climbed a barbed-wire fence in order to escape the swamp.
  • Caught in the path of a tornado: in which the viewers pulled over to the side of the road in a shelterless expanse of highway and watched as the twister bore down on them (everyone was fine, it was a tiny tornado).
  • Hospitalization for sand flea bites: in which three grown men were covered in painful, swollen nodules I can’t even think about without shuddering.
  • Fell off a collapsing deck: in which a hillside patio deck collapsed beneath the weight of several cottage-goers, sending some rolling under the cottage, others clinging to the railing.
  • Moored in a boat stuck on old underwater railway tracks: in which the ancient tracks were never put on a map, and the victims had to be rescued by neighbors.
  • Chased by a pack of wild monkeys: in which the victim learned even small monkeys run very fast.
  • Trapped in an alien-themed fun house: in which the victim was tricked into entering a carnival attraction by folks who promised her it was not a fun house, which she is deathly afraid of.
  • Assaulted by an overfriendly drag queen: in which a drag queen had excruciatingly accurate aim considering the position of her fingers.

No, of course it isn’t as simple as lost luggage. Not in my family.

I can only imagine the shenanigans my kin will get into, with my father and brother-in-law’s penchant for fishing, my young niece and nephew’s lack of social propriety filter, and my own questionable constitution. And while my family on the whole has always gotten along, I don’t think we’ve ever spent this much time together in one place.

I know as many precautions as I take, we can never prepare for that one thing that becomes the thing on our vacation. I suppose the worst-case scenario (and there are so many) is that we don’t get to go on the trip at all. But I’m trying hard not to think about the worst things and just revel in the glory of getting away to somewhere hot for the holidays. Maybe I’ll just play it safe and stay locked in my room for the whole trip.

Happy holidays and best wishes to you and your family, however you spend you vacations!

Got any vacation horror stories to tell? Share them in the comments below cuz they’ll make me feel better!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Somewhere Up There

These are busy days, these last ones of the year. I know I'm not the only one who wishes December lasted, oh, eight weeks instead of four - or that we could at least have a few extra hours to ensure we can fit in both the everyday and the joyous.

Moments of solitude, of quiet and serenity, are few and far between at this season. But there's one such time that I will always grab, if the sky and the hour cooperate. I slip out of the house in the dark, often with a shawl thrown over my jammies, and zip past the houses of my neighborhood to reach the open area of the school playground. I stand there, looking from an email on my phone to the sky above, scanning the darkness and peering among the stars –

And then I see it. The International Space Station, soaring above me. 

If you have never seen the ISS fly overhead, it's truly worth trying to make it happen. You can find the times when it's visible from your area here. (If you're like me, you can sign up to receive emails every time it's visible  from your location. Way cool.) 

Spotting the station is pretty easy. The website (or email) tells you in which direction the ISS will appear, where it will disappear, how high it will be in the sky, and how long it's visible. This is all very useful on paper. In reality, I usually look up and scan the sky until I see a very bright light the size of a big star traversing the heavens. Unlike a plane, it doesn’t blink. It's one solid light of awesome, approximately 215 miles above us, carrying folks like you and me around the world sixteen times each day. 

For the two or four or five minutes it's visible, I stand, usually in the cold, staring up and marveling at the knowledge and dedication that has made it all possible. I usually find myself singing a few bars of one of my favorite songs, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield when he was up there (see below). For a few moments, my usually crazy day is silent. And watchful. 

And filled with awe at what's happening somewhere up there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Question Of The Month: The Holiday Entertainment Edition

'Tis the season to curl up with a holiday book or movie, so our question for the Super Authors this month was: 
Which one (or two) might be on your can't-miss list?

Jennifer Lohmann: I love the movie The Holiday, with Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Kate Winslet. It's only a little bit Christmasy, but still so fun. And a bunch of girlfriends and I are getting together to watch Love Actually for the holidays, which is probably on a lot of people's lists. I always avoid It's A Wonderful Life, even though it has the excellent line about how the awful fate that befell Mrs. Bailey in the George-less alternate universe is that she became a librarian.
 Kristina Knight:  I always re-read two Johanna Lindsey books around the holidays - The Present (part of the Malory series) and Home for the Holidays. They're just filled with great characters and holiday goodness! As for movies, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is one of my favorites, and I love Meet Me In St. Louis, even though it's not *technically* a Christmas movie...but it does have Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"!
Tara Taylor Quinn: My favorite Thanksgiving movie – watch every Thanksgiving – is Miracle on 34th Street.  I own and watch both versions! My husband and I watch holiday movies from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.  We try to watch at least one a night.  My favorite is Elf.  I just love that movie.  Love it.  Love it.  Love it.
Vicki Essex: Christmas isn't Christmas without a viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. When else can I break out the Snoopy dance in context?
Joanne Rock:  I usually find a way to make time for the movie White Christmas. It's a good one to watch while I wrap presents so I can enjoy the dances and songs every year. On a cold family night, I will put in the Albert Finney version of Scrooge, which is my favorite version of the Dickens' story. As a family, we try to always read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, even though our kids are teenagers and when we all crowd onto the floor of one of their bedrooms we sure do fill the room. We mix it up though, and take turns reading, sometimes reading in character voices. So if we just watched Scrooge, someone might read the poem in their best Brit accent. Then there was the year my husband read it as McGonagall from Harry Potter and we all laughed so hard we missed the ending... 
Nan Dixon:  Must watch White Christmas while putting up the Christmas tree.  Then Christmas Eve my husband reads The Grinch and I read A Cup of Christmas Tea.  These are traditions from my family - where the The Grinch was cut out from the Family Circle magazine and my dad used to read it!
Claire McEwen:  I love Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr. and Ann Bancroft.  I don't know why, really, and it's more of a Thanksgiving movie, but if you're from a dysfunctional family it captures that special, cynical holiday spirit!  I love It's A Wonderful Life and watch it every year.  And I still love Rudolph, the Grinch and that cute Charlie Brown Christmas tree!
Mary Sullivan: Love Actually! I watch it every year. It's brilliant. When my daughter was young, we would watch Home Alone every Christmas. The slapstick never got old. I'm pretty sure if I watched it now I would still giggle!

Cathryn ParryTwo Christmas traditions I never miss: Read A Christmas Carol, and watch It's A Wonderful Life while trimming the tree.
Kris Fletcher: Love, Actually is required. Max's Christmas and The Night Before Christmas are essential. But is it wrong that one of my favorite Christmas reads is Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel? Christmas just isn't Christmas without zombies, a murdered Santa, and a talking fruit bat. 
Now please tell us, readers - what's on YOUR must-see and/or must-read holiday list?

Monday, December 8, 2014


AKA SAVANNAH SIGHS (until an editor said—Weird Title while judging a portion of the manuscript in a contest)

This is release week of my first book.  It’s been an exciting ride.  And it’s made me think back on when I first came up with the idea for the story. 
I have three sisters and we take a long weekend together every year.  We’ve been doing this for 23 years.  It started with our mother.  (And dad used to pick up the costs—was that fun!)  But now it is just the four of us.  And for reasons that would take up another blog, one sister is designated the social director.  This rotates in age order each year. 

In 2007 I was the social director—I had the power!  (Did I mention we are four type A sisters?)  I found a reasonable airfare, back then you could, and we flew into Atlanta.  There we spent the afternoon at the Aquarium and the Coca-Cola museum.  (Don’t knock it until you’ve taken the tour!)  We stayed in Atlanta that night and then drove to Savannah.  I saw cotton for the first time.  I’m a Midwest girl.  It’s too cold to grow cotton up here.

We drove into the historic district and the trees and Spanish moss enchanted me.  You have to slow down in Savannah, because so many of the streets are one-way.  After making our way down to River Street for dinner, we took a ghost pub crawl that night.  I can’t remember the exact stories, only that the guide was a great story teller.  We walked from pub to pub and the guide would stop near an alley or a house or in the pub and tell his tales. 

And of course, according to the staff, the Inn where we were staying had ghost sightings.  On our floor.  We didn’t see any spirits, unless you call waking up in the middle of the night and being startled because one of your sisters hung their robe on the spindle of the bed a spirit.

We wandered around town, ate in wonder old mansions and that is when I got to thinking: what if sisters were trying to turn their crumbling mansion into a Bed and Breakfast. 

There were a few things in the first draft that didn’t make it to the final book.  A ghost, Aunt Persephone, who likes to chase Reggie the cat.  There were initially four sisters, now there are only three.   There was a wedding, but it’s been moved to Book two.

I called our sister trip successful!

Do you have anything special you do with your sisters or brothers?  Or even your family?

One commenter will be eligible to win an autographed copy of Southern Comforts, if they live in the US or an ecopy.

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