Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where Do You Fall In the Family Line Up?

By Jeannie Watt

Are you an overachiever? A compromiser? A wild child?
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that indicates the  age-old stereotypes concerning birth order personalities are based in fact. The oldest child is more likely to be over achieve. The youngest child is more likely to rebel.  I just wonder why it took researchers so long to make it official.

The reason I’m thinking about birth order is because the first book of my first trilogy, Too Many Cooks? has been released this month and the series is about three siblings. The oldest--the heroine of the first book--is super responsible while the youngest--the hero of the last book--is a laid back renegade. I didn’t set out to make them that way, but that’s how they turned out. I unconsciously gave them characteristics I’ve observed in oldest and youngest children. 

Since writing the books, I did a lot of reading about birth order (many people would do it the other way around, but not me) and discovered that because they are older and stronger, the first born tend to  use high power tactics—i.e. they overpower their younger siblings, physically or through sheer strength of will and intimidation tactics. Middle and younger children use low power tactics—humor and negotiation. This is why the eldest children are not always at the top of their game in the cooperation department, whereas the younger children are quite good at reading others and acting accordingly. Youngest children can be downright manipulative.

There are, of course, other factors that figure into personality besides birth order, such as family stability and number of children, so birth order does not mean your personality and occupation are predestined.

Take for instance my brother and me. I am an artist and a storyteller. I studied geology at a time when there were no jobs available and therefore didn’t get a job as a geologist—not one that lasted anyway. My brother is an engineer and has an actual retirement fund. He’s the youngest. I’m the oldest, but it seems like it should be the other way around considering our lives and occupations. I am an overachiever, however, and he did quit his job briefly to go into business with the man who invented the plastic hubcap—but that’s another story.

Here are some general birth order characteristics I gleaned from various sources:
Responsible first born children do not
get accidentally pregnant...

Oldest child
Over achiever
Tend to develop type A personalities
Intense fear of failure
Tend to stick to the straight and narrow (fear of failure)
Higher IQs
Many engineers, lawyers, surgeons and CEOs tend to be older children. Congress has a disproportionate amount of older children.

Middle children cooperate
with others...until
they find out they're being
lied to..

Middle Child
Keeper of the peace
More peer oriented—forges strong bonds with friends
Less tethered to family
Excellent people skills—was both babysat and babysitter
Feels lost in shuffle
Tend to take riskier jobs than older children.

Laid back rebel
tries to teach uptight
neighbor how to loosen up,
with surprising results...
for him.

Risk takers
Loose cannon
Rebellious but also easy going (which perfectly describes my hero in Just Desserts)
More likely to be artists, comedians, adventurers, or fire fighters.

Tend to have the same characteristics as the older children, since that is exactly what they are. 

Is it coincidence that the majority of my close friends (Ellen, for one) and my husband are all middle children and Undercover Cook, the middle book of my trilogy, is my favorite by a wee margin? What can I say? I’m a sucker for middlers. Especially alpha middlers--like Ellen.

My question d’jour: does your personality match your birth order? How about the rest of your family?

Up for grabs is a copy of Undercover Cook. If you’d like to test out a chapter, I have the first chapter of Undercover Cook posted on my blog

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Living in Ellen’s Shadow

Jeannie Watt

Why, oh why, do I sign up to blog the day after Ellen? I have searched my memory for anything even close to an interesting court appearance and the only thing I can think of is the time I fainted in the grocery store, woke up with my head in the assistant manager’s lap mere nanoseconds before the kid pushing the carts in from outside ran over my shins.

I’ve mentioned that before, right? It sticks with me as one of my more memorable and unique experiences and I’ll no doubt repeat that story over and over well into senility. (That’s it, child, come sit beside me while I tell you about what happened to me at the grocery back in the winter of ‘89…) But other than that, no rolling stops--except for the one my shins were involved in. No court dates. Nothing.

I’ve only gotten one ticket in my life—for parking in the invisible red zone in Ely, Nevada. Now the curb wasn’t actually painted red at the time, but when I pointed this out, the officer explained that I should have known it was a red zone. Why? Well, because everyone in town knew it was a red zone. Okay. I paid the ticket, but had I read Ellen’s blog first, I would have gone to court. Can you imagine the characters I would have met in a place where it’s assumed that you know about the invisible red zone and get a ticket when you don’t?

I  have books to give away and we have a new Kindle drawing, so I need some comments. To be in the drawing for the Kindle and for an autographed copy of my December release The Baby Truce (two separate drawings, by the way) please complete this sentence:

The story I’m most likely to tell into old age is about the time when: ________________.

You can tease us or flesh it out. Your choice. Does this make anyone but me think of the Newlywed Game?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Ellen Hartman

I'm a woman with flaws. I won't lie about it.

I am a bad speller. I make snap judgments. I like ABBA and REO Speedwagon and I listen to "I've Got You Babe" when I'm sad. I lose my temper. I hold grudges like nobody's business. I don't eat beets. (Not even roasted.) I'm often late and I don't usually feel bad about it.

Flaws. I have them, for sure.

But one thing I'm not is a cheater. I pay my taxes. I wait in line. When the ball gets stuck in the water hazard at miniature golf, I add a stroke to my total. I hand back the extra money when the teenager at McDonald's gives me more change than he should.

I got pulled over by a police officer who said I'd run a stop sign. This particular stop sign is in a "historic" neighborhood. It's just past a one-lane bridge on a twisty road where modern cars really don't fit side by side. (See photo.) I'm a slow driver to begin with and this neighborhood is really not meant for recklessness. I was shocked that the officer said I hadn't stopped. I didn't argue, though, because I figured he's the police. If he said I didn't stop, I didn't stop.

Then he said if I wanted to dispute the ticket, I could go to town court. I couldn't understand why or how I'd dispute it. The whole thing seemed straightforward. He said I didn't stop. He gave me a ticket. I should pay it. But then I got curious. I'd never been to court and I wanted to see what went on. (I'm a writer. Curiosity comes with the job.) So I went to court. 

Court was awesome. While there, I met a whole room of cheaters and liars and oh-my-goodness-are-you-for-real characters. I would have paid good money for this kind of entertainment.

Criminal #1: I was a little late (see list of flaws) and I sat down without signing in because I wasn't there when they read the rules. This very nice man tapped me on the shoulder and whispered that I needed to sign in. He walked me over to the registrar and showed me what to do with my papers. Then we sat down together and he made a funny little joke that set me totally at ease. I thought the people in town court must all be lovely. We might run stop signs, but we were basically decent.

My new friend got called to the front. Guess what his crime was?


That's right. I'd been amongst the criminals for less than ten minutes and I'd already befriended a stalker.

Criminal #2: Next up was a young woman dressed head to toe in hemp, carrying a hemp purse, and wearing a big, floppy sun hat. Indoors. At night. (I live in a college town. Lots of hippies.) Her crime? Being parked on the road in the state park after dark. The judge asked her what she had to say for herself.

Hippie Chick said, "Well, I was driving along and I was trying to leave the park because it was getting late and you can't be there after dark. But the moon was so beautiful, I had to get out of my car and be with it. So I went into the field and just looked at the moon and that's when I got arrested."

I thought she laid it on a bit thick, but the judge reduced the charges.

Criminal #3: The last guy called was an older man, skinny with a gray scraggly beard and long, unbrushed gray hair. He'd been nabbed for being naked in a different state park. When the judge asked him if he could explain himself, the guy said, "It wasn't me."

His charges were not reduced even though I thought that was a very good answer.

What about my case? Well, the police officer did not file his papers properly so my charges were dismissed without me having to open my mouth.Which was a good thing because I hadn't given one second of thought to what I should say.

What about all of you? What are your flaws? Do you have a crime story? Maybe you, too, have been falsely accused? I want to hear all about it.

In case any of you share my flawed taste in music, have a little bonus Sonny and Cher.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write

Ellen Hartman

This is a blog I wrote a long time ago. I posted it on my own blog way back then, but since very few people other than my dad read my blog, I don't think it will be too familiar to folks. I'm bringing it back because I was at a book store last night with my friend and critique partner, Leslie Daniels, talking about writing. Our talk was called "Writing and Publishing (or Love and Money)." The talk got me thinking about why I write. Leslie likes to make stuff up, that's part of why she writes. (I think. I didn't ask her.)

I write because it’s tidy.

No, not the process. The process sucks. My writing process is a horrendous disaster involving way too many stimulants (all unhealthy although not, in my case, illegal), way too little sleep, and way too much self-doubt and bad temper. (Plus a little euphoria but I’m on a woe-is-me kick here so I won’t be admitting to that.)

The tidiness comes in when I take life--big scrambles of human emotion and chaos--and sort it out on paper. I can count on my books to have happy endings. The villains get theirs, the hero and heroine get some, and my psyche is at peace knowing that these people, the fictional ones, will do what I tell them when I tell them to do it.

Non-fictional people do not respond to me in this way. They persist in leading their own messy lives, making bad decisions, living with ambiguity, and even, at times, settling for settling instead of striving for their Happily Ever After. Blech. Who wants to spend their time with people like that?

The characters I write follow the three-act structure. They’re not only familiar with the hero’s journey, they live it, in perfect structural order, every time. When I provide the fictional people with a brilliant insight into their motivations, for example, “You can’t commit because your mom screwed you up when she left home in 1979,” they not only get what I’m saying, they change accordingly. Their fictional black moments end after a reasonable amount of time, instead of stretching on for years or decades or entire lifetimes.

Maybe if I were able to get myself a job as the dictator of a small country I would give up writing. Dictators no doubt get a lot of opportunities to tidy the lives of real people—for example, they can dictate that today is National Confront Your Insecurities Day and next Wednesday is National Stop Dating The Wrong Guy/Girl Day.

But until that happy time when I manage to seize power, and as long as real life remains sticky, ambiguous, and full of people who don’t do as I tell them to do, I’ll write. And I’ll be happy while I’m doing it.

(Had to get that happily ever after in there.)

So that's it. Why I write...or at least one of the reasons I write.

What about you? If you're a writer, what is the thing that keeps you going? If you're not a writer, what is your passion and why does it captivate you?

If you don't feel like being serious, how about this...imagine you are the dictator of a small country. What's your new national holiday? Chocolate Day? National Teens Speak Politely to Their Mothers Day? National The Media May Not Mention Lindsay Lohan Day?

One lucky commenter will win an Amazon gift card and a copy of Married by June.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What I've Learned Since Getting The Call

By Jeannie Watt

1. Ideas and proposals still get rejected.

I thought that after receiving The Call that anything an author cared to write was automatically turned into a book. Not so, and that’s a very good thing. Editors see so many stories in the course of their jobs that what seems fresh to an author may not be so fresh to the editor. Apparently sometimes certain professions/conflicts/ideas will suddenly start appearing at the same general time. When I submitted my Too Many Cooks? trilogy idea, I found that there were a lot of chef stories being submitted at that time. I’d thought I’d hit on an untapped profession.

And then there are clichés—cliché plot devices, resolutions, conflicts. Too much telling, not enough showing. Too much realizing and not enough action. All of these are reasons that I’ve gone back to the drawing board after submitting proposals, and every time, it's been worth the extra effort.

2. Writing doesn’t get easier. You’d think after all this practice that it would simply flow. Other than the two books mentioned in #4 below, that hasn’t been my experience. Most of my books beat the crud out of me—sometimes more than once. Fortunately I love to write, love the challenge of creating characters and developing a story, even if I sometimes go to bed wondering how on earth I'm going to come up with an ending/deeper conflict/bigger obstacle to love.

3. You don’t have nearly as much time to perfect your books after book number one. I spent two years working on my first book, sending it in, getting rejected, rewriting and sending it in again. I could rattle off certain scenes verbatim since I’d worked on them so often. And then I sold my second book and I had a deadline. Deadlines move toward you at the speed of light. I had no idea.

4. Just because one book is easy to write, it doesn’t mean the next one will be. I’ve written two books that flowed almost effortlessly. There were a few problems, but for all intents and purposes, the writing was easy. I thought I'd tapped into some new source of inspiration, crossed some magical boundary, and writing would now be easy every time. I hadn't and it wasn’t. The next three books were very challenging and I learned a lot writing them—like don’t expect writing to be easy.

5. While your current book is beating you up, the next idea you have seems so perfect and fresh that you can’t wait to get going. Then you finish the killer book, revise it and finalize it and start on the new fresh idea, which then proceeds to beat you up. Meanwhile, the previous killer book is about to be released. You get your author copies and now the story is exciting and you love it and you wonder why you thought you ever had a problem getting the words on paper. If only the current WIP would be as cooperative…in other words writing is like natural childbirth. You forget what the process is like until you go through it again, but once done, it’s well worth it. 

I'd love to hear any additions to my list of things people have learned since starting to write. Remember that if you post, your name will be included in our next Super Author drawing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Be a Model or Look Just Like One by Jeannie Watt

When I was a teen I desperately wanted to be a model. Why? I haven’t a clue because, when photographed, I was the queen of the frozen smile, I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-hands crowd. I was not deterred by that small problem, however, and I used to longingly study those ads in the back of Seventeen magazine. “Be a model or look just like one.” Finally one day, disregarding all my mother’s warnings about never sending for anything out of a comic book or a teen magazine, I clipped the little add, filled in the information and stuck it in the mail. About two weeks later, I got a call. From the modeling school. Scared the heck out of me. The caller, aka the salesman, wanted to know if I had a whole bunch of money to pay for modeling school.  Money? Pay? I didn’t want to pay money. I wanted to be a model or look just like one. For free. Talk about innocence lost.

I eventually got the salesman to leave me alone and my mother never found out that I was being “recruited” by a modeling school. And when photographed, I continued to freeze and my hands continued to become gigantic clumsy things that I couldn’t control, until finally, around the time I started college, I had to face the truth—I was never meant to be a model. In fact, I was darned glad not to be a model.

Note how expression problem has been cleverly solved by photographer.
Fast forward many frozen-smile decades. My husband decides to take up photography as his hobby. The kids are gone. He doesn’t like to photograph animals, because we have so many it would be easy to do that. He doesn’t like landscapes, because we live in a pristine desert environment with spectacular mountains and sunsets. No. He likes to photograph people. Uh, person. Guess who?

I’m such a bad subject. I can’t give another expression, as he often requests. I only have two that don’t look like Popeye—happy and blue steel. When my photographer is demanding that I relax, I tend to lean toward blue steel. Eventually, though, after a couple years of being a subject (a word I prefer to model) I have learned to relax. Kind of. I still have only two expressions, but sometimes my husband can Photoshop it so it looks like I have a third. I'm happy to report though, that my hands are finally under control. I've found pockets to be a godsend.

Did any of you have dreams that, looking back, you can see you were not suited for? Such as the potential vet student who hated the sight of blood? (Uh, me again.)  I'd love to hear that there are others out there like myself...hint, hint. I'll give a Kindle download of any Superromance or a copy of one of my backlist to a randomly chosen respondent.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reading, Writing and Staying Fit

Please don't groan. I promise, I'm not going to tell you to give up your dark chocolate M&M's, nor am I going to suggest you aim to run a marathon next spring. This Superromance blog is a place where real authors meet real readers and guess what? We're all human. And many of us are facing stiff odds to stay fit and trim through our lifetime. This concerns me because I love my life. Not every moment, not everyday. And while I have little control over how long I'll be here, I do have a say in my quality of life today. I've found that when I make small, manageable changes in my nutrition/fitness/mental serenity routine, they prove more lasting and overall increase the chances of sticking.
As first a reader and then a writer I spend a lot of time sitting. Many writers have adopted a standing desk, or even a treadmill desk. Readers can do the same. But I think that anything done too long isn't as beneficial as movement. I get up from my desk or chair several times in an hour. I'm more efficient if I've done a quick walk about, whether it's to throw in a load of laundry or put a pot of soup on to simmer so that my family won't starve because of my workload. This is especially handy around deadlines!
There's a dearth of information on health and fitness and since we are all readers, most of us have read the medical and scientific studies--many of them contradicting. What's a story-lover to do?
I've learned that for me, as much as I love chocolate, it's a no-go if I'm going to keep my energy up. I treat myself to really good chocolate (or okay, a chocolate kiss or two) when I want to, but it's no longer a major nutritional category for me for one simple reason: I feel incredibly tired after the rush of the chocolate has abated. This invariably happens when I have two hours left in my writing day and energy is prone to drop, anyhow. Instead I have an apple and a cup of tea. I can hear the no-caffeine readers gasping. But a cup of tea along with either fruit or veggies or a handful of nuts carries me further along my story without feeling like I need to put my head down and take a quick nap.
If and when I exercise, no matter what it is, I feel enormously better. Plus, more story ideas and characters show up on my mental dry-erase board (I really wanted to write "chalkboard" but that would really date me). The simple act of walking releases the right kind of brain waves that help creativity.
The other fitness that I feel is probably most important is mental and spiritual. Whatever your beliefs try to spend a bit of time alone with them each day. Journal, sketch, sit in nature. My favorite is to knit outside. The air is finally cool enough to do this in the Northeastern U.S. and I relish it. It's hard not to feel guilty for sitting and seemingly doing "nothing" productive in terms of story and writing, but indeed I'm contributing to my story arsenal. So many ideas have shown up in the middle of a row of a lace shawl.
I'm not perfect and I struggle with taking care of myself, finding the time, making the effort when I feel like the demands of this writing life and life in general are too many and too heavy to take "frivolous" time to do something for me. My heroines struggle and juggle with this, too. It's what makes all of us, fictional or real, human.
What do you do to stay healthy, be it physical, mental or spiritual?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guilt and Duty Wear by Jeannie Watt

I had a great summer. Instead of traveling or having fun vacationing, my husband and I stayed home and painted everything that didn’t move—if you don’t count the dog. She did get painted a few times, but only because she’s overly curious. We painted the house, the shop, the barn. It was an accomplishment, but I managed an even greater accomplishment this summer…I finally got rid of my guilt and duty clothes.

Surely you’re familiar with guilt and duty wear—the not-quite-right items of clothing that someone you love gave to you as a gift. The clothes that looked great on you in the store in front of those deceptive skinny mirrors, but not so great when you got home and faced reality mirrors—or your husband, who gave you that strained “okay-y-y-y” look. The clothes that you’re going to diet down into. The perfectly good clothing you wear, because, well, it’s perfectly good, even though you feel dowdy when you wear it. The expensive mistakes, the cheap mistakes, the I’m-sure-gigantic-flange-sleeves-with-shoulder-pads-will-come-back-into-style mistakes. (They never did, although I waited for a good twenty years.)

Why did I hang onto guilt and duty for so long? Because I’m frugal. Because I might have needed those things someday. (Halloween? A branding?) Because, even though pale beige makes me look like a plague victim, the jacket in question is beautifully made and was purchased at a spectacular savings. And I might need it someday. It’s so difficult for me to move past that one.

But I have. I’m free. Now I can start accumulating new guilt and duty wear…just kidding. I’ve finally convinced myself that wearing mistakes or letting them hang in my closet will not give me my money back. It’ll only remind me that I wasted the money. Out of sight, out of mind.  But I did discover one good use for a few of my guilt and duty items before I sent the rest away to charity—they make excellent painting clothes.

Do you have things you keep out of G&D? (Guilt and duty?)  Or are you one of the lucky ones who can purge freely? My daughter donates one item of clothing for each new item she buys—the price of living in a studio apartment. I haven’t quite reached that stage yet, but I’m getting just a wee bit closer. How about you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Healing Sex

As an adolescent listening to Marvin Gaye sing "Sexual Healing" I must admit I was clueless as to the power of sex as a healing tool. After 25 years of marriage, surviving several military deployments (at least one during wartime), raising teens--I know that a healthy sex life has its place in any relationship.
I've just turned in my latest Superromance to my editor (June 2012 release). It takes place on Whidbey Island, Washington, and involves a Navy pilot hero who is in need of healing--as is the Navy widow heroine. As I wrote the book and the characters took on their own life, it became clear very quickly that the emotional bond between the hero and heroine required a sexual tension not only unique to them, but hot and urgent, like their need to break through their wounds and arrive in today, fully alive and ready to love again.
There have been a lot of changes in the Krotow household this summer. Besides making a move from Russia to the States and accepting that we're hopefully done moving for a long while, our babies are growing up. I take the oldest to college next week. Youngest is getting more independent as high school marches on. Decisions have to be made about jobs, income, etc. It can be too much, too loud, too scary.
Maybe I need only tap my dh (dear hubby) on the shoulder.
If you leave a comment you're automatically entered to win a copy of my first HarlequinEverlasting Novel, A Rendezvous to Remember.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Questionable Family Heirlooms by Jeannie Watt

My husband and I met and married during college. We were both geology students and although we’d attended the same classes for a couple years, it wasn’t until he left and came back a year later as a grad student that we started dating. We were both on strict budgets, so for our second date, we went to his house for dinner. I hadn’t been there very long when he said to me, “Hey, want to see a great ass?”

Well, who doesn’t? However, this was only our second date and his roommate was at home. I was a bit shocked… and curious. Curiosity won and I said, “Okay…”

He stepped over to his bedroom door, opened it with a flourish and there, on the wall above his bed, was the great ass. Little did I know that this painting was going to become a permanent part of my life. When you marry the owner of a great ass, it becomes community property.

Like most asses, this one is not small. It’s three feet wide and four feet high. Despite its hefty size, the painting went where we went throughout our married life. It hung on the wall if we had room in an appropriate out-of-the-way place. I was not raised in a family where we displayed body parts on the wall—even tastefully rendered ones—but I love the painting. It represents my courtship with my husband and our more carefree years—you know, when you think you have all the time in the world to accomplish whatever you want? The painting makes me feel good.

When we moved to our current home many years ago, we didn’t have room for the painting upstairs in a place where  it wouldn’t give the UPS guy the wrong idea about us.  I finally hung it in the basement, next to my sewing machine and in front of the ski machine to inspire me while I skied. One day about a year ago, I went down to the basement to sew for the first time in months and noticed that the painting was gone!
I went upstairs and told my husband the artwork was missing. He handed me the phone and I called the only person who might know something about this (after all—no one robs a house and steals only an ass painting)—my twenty-three-year-old son, who was at college, two hundred miles away.
The conversation went like this--
            “Have you seen the ass?”
            “I have it hanging in my room here. I, uh, didn't think you'd miss it."
Not miss it? It's three feet by four feet and left a healthy bit of blank wall once it left the house.  I took a breath then as a deep truth hit home. It was time to pass the torch—er, ass. It belonged at college and it would now represent someone else’s more carefree days. I swallowed a lump in my throat. “All right. You can keep it--if you take a solemn vow to only use it for the forces of good, never evil.”
            “I promise.”
            He even sounded like he meant it. And somewhere out in this wide world is a woman. A woman who doesn’t yet know it, but who will someday have joint custody of a great ass painting. Because I can’t imagine my son marrying anyone who wouldn’t appreciate and treasure such a meaningful work of art.

I have to tell you, though, I’m still wondering how he got that mo-honker painting to school in the cab of a 1994 Mazda pickup.

Do any of you have interesting family treasures that you can’t get rid of because they remind you of a time, a place, a person? Something that other people may not understand but that you cherish? Or something your significant other cherishes and you just don’t get? Let me know about it and I’ll put you in the drawing for a download of the SuperRomance of you choice.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Signed by Author: The Pen Is Sloppier

The day I got The Call, there was a distant cry of distress somewhere in the back of my mind as I faintly realized that sooner or later, I was going to have to sign my book for someone.

This prospect might delight some; who wouldn’t want to put their John Hancock on the book they slaved months or possibly years over? Who wouldn’t want to brand their masterwork with their autograph?

Here’s my confession: I can’t sign my name for nuts. Not even my real name. In fact, the government office that issues my driver’s license and health card commanded me to return twice to re-sign my name because my signature was “too easy to forge.” I ended up scribbling something that looked nothing like my original signature, and now I can’t reproduce it. If a police officer ever pulls me over and asks me to walk a painted line, touch my nose, then sign my name, there’s a 33% chance I might end up in the slammer.

So now I face the challenge of signing my pen name a dozen, or a hundred, or maybe—if I’m lucky enough—a thousand times over. And a big fat X isn’t going to cut it.

Like any good researcher, I went to that most reliable of internet forums, Yahoo! Answers, seeking a solution to my dilemma. Legibility, style, character and an inability to forge the signature were the top discussed attributes. I thought a happy face might suffice—apparently not.

I took one responder’s advice and started by practicing my name in cursive. I quickly realized that after decades of being glued to my keyboard, I’ve forgotten how to do curly script. (Lowercase B continues to be my least favourite letter.)

I tried to write my name out fast and with my eyes closed. I figured I should be able to do it by feel rather than by sight. Besides, if I have hundreds of people lined up to see me, I’m going to have to do things fast, right?

Wrong. I ended up with a page that looked like something from a college notebook at auctioneer school. And it was pretty clear with every ill-placed stroke that I couldn’t remember what my name was.

No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t reproduce the same signature twice in a row. I tried giving it more style, with big letters and squigglies. Then no letters, and just random peaks and curves, as if my hand were a seismograph measuring a tremor in Los Angeles beneath a highway underpass. Nothing worked for me.

So I sought the guidance of the pros, and started laying out all the signed books I owned. The signatures ranged from simple (Tamora Pierce) to deluxe flourished (Heather Graham). Both seemed natural, and I assumed they were consistent, too. I had to be confident that my autograph would come with the same organic ease. Practice--even if it's of a scribble--would make perfect, right?

And then I realized that in order to make up for my terrible penmanship, I would have to personalize every signing in some way. My spirits sank to a new low.

In my signed book collection, some variation of “All the Best” seemed to be popular, but I wanted something that said “This is Vicki, and she’s sorry her handwriting looks like chicken scratch.” I looked up other celebrity autographs: Tina Fey signed her book, Bossypants, with “Help, I’m stuck in a Korean Tina Fey autograph factory.” In a friend’s account, author Neil Gaiman signed The Graveyard Book for each of his fans by drawing a little tombstone with their name on it.

So special! So memorable! So perfectly suited to their personalities and books! I wanted to do the same. I wanted to wow. Or at least make sure people were walking away with some kind of impression apart from “I can’t read her name at all. And how come your autograph looks totally different from mine?”

I started coming up with a rotating list of endearments, but it soon became apparent that, despite being a writer, I was no good with succinct platitudes. Thinking back, most of my high school yearbook epigraphs described my morning routine. And those inscriptions were to my closest friends.

Since my book is about mixed martial arts, I tried to go with that theme. Unfortunately, “I hope this book is like Superman punch to your heart!” and “Enjoy this book like a kick to the head!” aren’t quite the sentiments I wanted to convey.

Maybe I should forget about signing books and just stick to just writing them.

Vicki Essex will be signing her debut book, Her Son’s Hero, alongside author Mary Sullivan July 16 at Coles Bookstore at Cloverdale Mall (Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada), and at the World’s Biggest Bookstore (Toronto, Canada) on July 23. Check out for more details.

Leave a comment below for your chance to win a signed copy of Her Son’s Hero. I might even sign it with something legible! Draw will take place on Saturday, June 11, 9 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crazy Cats Anyone? by Jeannie Watt

Have you ever wondered about the blog writing process? Generally I don’t have a problem coming up with a topic, but what follows is a desperate discussion I had with myself late yesterday afternoon, when I was working on revisions and suddenly realized that tomorrow was my blog day:

Oh my gosh. I’m drawing a total blog blank. Why did I offer to do this? I can’t think of anything. I’m…blank. Blank, blank, blank.

People are depending on you, Jeannie. You have to think of something.

All right. Just give me a minute.


Shush. I’m thinking.


Maybe I could write about the time I drove for two miles with the cat on top of my car. The heart-stopping moment when his little kitty face appeared in front of me as he slid down the windshield as I crested the overpass. The rapier-like reflexes I employed to steer the car to the edge of the overpass so that he slid gently to the ground in front of the vehicle without being hurt.

That’s good for a paragraph.

Maybe I could stretch it with a lot of adjectives…or perhaps it could be a theme. Crazy cat experiences. Surely everyone has had a crazy cat experience or two.


Remember the time that the wild cat jumped off the haystack and somehow managed to sail through the loop in the hay rope on his way to the ground and hung up?
How he swung there from his middle like a flailing, angry wild cat on a rope? I had to attempt to cut him free with the only knife in the truck—a butter knife—while he tried to slash my face? And he was not the least bit grateful once I freed him.

Okay—there’s two paragraphs.

That’s practically a blog. All I need is one more crazy cat experience. Let’s see…let's see...
Why aren’t more of my cats crazy? There has got to be another story…

Maybe another topic? The joys of teaching junior high? Your dogged, yet futile attempts to lose the RWA conference weight? The reasons one should never name a hero Rex?

How are any of those going to engage readers? It’s crazy cats, I tell you, or nothing.

Nothing is sounding better and better…

So…have you had any crazy cat experiences? Or times when you really had to prepare something and it simply wasn’t coming together?

If you’d like to share, or simply say hello, I’m offering a Kindle download of any SuperRomance. Remember that you can read Kindle downloads on a PC without actually having a Kindle.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How Fan Fiction Changed My Life: A Writer's Journey

It's launch day! I'm so excited that my debut book, Her Son's Hero, is finally on shelves. As I look back over the years I slaved and wrote and pitched, I remember fondly how I started my writer's journey: in the world of fan fiction.

For the uninitiated, fan fiction is any story written based on existing work that is outside of the official canon, whether it's a book, TV show, movie, radio play, video game—you name it, there's probably a fanfic of it. Subgenres of fanfic include anything from slash—erotic pairings so called after the most famous pairing of Star Trek's Spock/Kirk—to more lighthearted stories to crack fic—random often humorous stories that place the characters in ridiculous situations. Fanficers take the characters and worlds they love and tell their own stories.

In 2005, I was watching a fabulous Nicklelodeon show called Avatar: The Last Airbender. I had an idea for story that needed telling, and I desperately wanted to write it down. Not that I believed it could go anywhere or do anything. But I was compelled. I had to write that story. So I did.

I wasn't sure what to do with it after that. I was so proud that I'd actually completed a story beginning to end—up to that point, I'd only completed one short story, and had a random handful of other stories started. I wanted someone to see my work. So I Googled the show to see what I could find about it.

The explosion of search results was like an epiphany. I had no idea how rich the world of internet fandom was, and the show was only in its first season, about 10 episodes in.

I found and posted my story there. When the first dozen or so reviews came in, I was gleeful, and started writing more. When the reviews reached 100, I was ecstatic. When the reviews kept pouring in, to the point I was getting 50 or more reviews a day, I knew I was onto something that would change my life.

I spent every spare minute writing after that. I plotted while using the treadmill, wrote on an old Palm Pilot with a fold-up keyboard on my commutes and during lunch hours, spent whole days without seeing the outside of my room as I pounded out story after story, eager to feed the fandom.

It was a borderline obsession for a while. My family was concerned that only shut-ins and social outcasts wrote fan fiction. My behavior didn't exactly put them at ease, either: I eschewed many social gatherings in favor of writing. I talked about it constantly. It had become my life, and that fervent need to produce had me completing novel-length stories in record time.

True, those early works weren't my best, but I got better quickly. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was learning the basics of story structure, characterization, dialogue, world-building, plot and conflict.

What I learned from fanfic wasn't confined to just writing skills; promoting my work and learning internet etiquette was a huge part of working with the fandom. I was on Live Journal forums, took part in internet chats, and reviewed other people's work. I taught myself how to use all kinds of design programs so I could contribute to the art side of the fandom by making avatars and icons, animated gifs and fan videos. More than all that, I learned how to relate with fans, to be part of the community.

In short, I was learning how to be an author.

When the show was winding down its third and final season, I knew I would soon be turning away from the world of fanfic and taking the next step: original fiction.
It was a lot harder. I had to create my own characters and world. I had to put them in situations that were not contrived. I was daunted by how much harder I had to work, and nearly gave up several times, especially after those first rejections.

But I did it. And I have fan fiction to thank for it

So here's my official thank you to the Avatar: The Last Airbender fandom and the fan fiction community that supported me throughout the years. I hope you all enjoy Her Son's Hero...especially the Acknowledgments page.
; )

Vicki Essex is a big fan of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. Her Son's Hero is her first book.

The New Kid on the Block

“Um…hello…my name is Vicki Essex and I’m a Superromance author.”

It’s still weird to say that. Not only because I’m still getting used to addressing myself by my pen name, but also because six months ago, I never would have thought I’d be able to use those hallowed words.
Superromance author. I share that designation with the likes of Tara Taylor Quinn, Brenda Novak, Molly O’Keefe, Roz Denny Fox, Lenora Worth…

And as I list these talented bestselling authors, my heart rate triples and I break out in a sweat.

Who the heck am I to be among such esteemed writers? I’m just a kid, or so I keep telling myself (my bones tell me otherwise on rainy days). I eat cereal in my pajamas on Saturday mornings and spend hours playing video games in the afternoons. I still have stuffed animals in my bedroom. I own silly socks and sillier hats. Surely real serious authors don’t spend as much time as I do reading comic books and watching cartoons?

After I uncurl myself from fetal position, I take a deep breath and take stock of the past six months. I am an author, like it or love it, and I have the contract, flat butt and gray hairs to prove it.

The day I got the Call, I didn’t realize how my world would change. I had to commit to my pen name, set up a website, start using all those lessons I learned from marketing and promotion workshops to pull my "brand identity" together. I had to set up accounts for Twitter and Facebook, reorganize my blog…it was one thing after another, and as I rush headlong toward my debut release date (Her Son’s Hero will be out mid-July 2011) I find myself just barely keeping my head above water.

When my name started popping up on sites like Goodreads and Amazon—big, blank pages just waiting for those first reviews—I retreated back into my cave of fear.

What had I gotten myself into?

I’m a wallflower by nature. At my RWA chapter meetings, I’m usually the one in the back hoping someone—or no one—notices I’m there. I can’t even look people in the eye most of the time. Now I’m this other person—this author among greats—and I feel a little like a sparrow among songbirds.

I was putting myself out there in a way I never had before. Only when I realized these other authors did the same thing with each new release, I felt a bit more relaxed.

Because every time they put out a new book, they face rejection, edits, more edits, defeat and victory in many little forms. They have to run the gamut of self-promotion, read those first few reviews with bated breath, laugh and cry and celebrate. I’m sure there are a few stiff drinks thrown in between.

Above all else, I realize this: all these wonderful, dedicated, talented published authors are probably just human. I bet some of them own silly hats, too.

If I can remember that, I bet I could make friends.

So, here I am, stepping out and meekly waving hello. Help me make some new friends! How do you enter a new social situation? What are your tactics for networking and meeting people? Do you go for the cold introduction? Inveigle yourself among a small group and share a joke? Do a magic trick? What are your friendly pickup lines?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name by Jeannie Watt

One thing I have discovered since being published is that I sometimes use words and terms that I believe are common…but they aren’t. And I didn’t have a clue. I’m currently writing a three-book-continuity about cooks, and in my manuscript revisions was a margin note, from my very patient editor, which read, “Pans are called kettles?”

The note floored me. My first thought was, of course, pans are kettles. When I was a kid we had a set of kettles and my mom would ask me to get the small kettle, or the mush kettle, or the big kettle, depending on what we were cooking. It never occurred to me that kettle wasn’t a widespread term. Or that not everyone owned a mush kettle.

I went to find my husband for a judgment call. He hails from the northeast and his family has lived there for many generations. I hail from the northwest and my family has lived there for many generations. We share a common language, but there are some differences in our usage of that language. For instance, I drink pop and he drinks soda. I use a grocery sack. He uses a grocery bag. I eat mush and he eats porridge. (Porridge? Really? Bears eat porridge. Three of them at last count.) However, I will be the first to admit that I no longer say mush in public. I say “hot cereal.” Anyway, he is my sounding board for all east coast vs. west coast language issues and I’m certain he’ll agree with me on this one. I mean, come on, a kettle is a cooking pot.

I find him reading in his chair after being beat up by junior high math students all day and ask, “Are pans and kettles the same thing?” He doesn’t even look up from his book when he says, “No.”  

No? I’m having a hard time with this one, so I look up kettle in the dictionary. Encarta clearly states that kettles are metal pots used for cooking, usually with a lid. (It was the second definition, but it was there, right below the first that had something to do with boiling liquids.) My husband continues to disagree, even though I’m holding the laptop up in front of him and pointing at the entry, blocking the first entry with my thumb. He says that pans are for cooking and kettles are for tea. Hmmm. Well, he can call it whatever he likes as long as he cooks in it. 

With that happy thought in mind, I changed all the kettles in my manuscript into pans, but the next time I cook, I’m using a kettle. I can't help it. Some habits are just too engrained to change.

I know we have readers from all over and I’m curious—have you ever encountered words that were normal to you and others didn’t understand? Or vice versa?  Perhaps a phrase that reminds you of home or your particular area? I love regionalisms, so please share. I’m giving away a Kindle download of any SuperRomance book of your choice.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Balance from Moscow to Pennsylvania

I competed on the balance beam when I was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. My body was never intended for hard tumbling or serious vaulting--I don't have fast-twitch muscles (except perhaps in my fingers). Though I was never the star of any team I've been on, I've always been the "depth." I used to resent it, then laugh about it. These past few weeks and perhaps months I've discovered that being the depth of anything in life is where it's "at"--it's where I find my balance. Take a look at the photo of my dog Misha and his best friend Handsome (the boxer). They are both puppies and need to wrestle and play daily to find their doggie zen (i.e. puppy nap so that their Moms get a break).
At present I'm in the midst of helping my hubby complete his tour here in Russia, move back to the States, see my eldest graduate high school and go off to college, help my youngest get settled in a new high school, see both kids finish out their years on a positive note, make the bittersweet transition of saying good-bye to dear friends and a loved country that's been home for 2 years, and anticipating our new home. Did I mention I'm praying our dog doesn't barf the entire flight back to the States, and that I can't wait to be reunited with our parrot whom we couldn't bring to Russia?
Oh, and I'm writing a new book for Supers that I can't wait to share--it's due to my editor August 1st.
Writing is important to me--it's my calling, something that will always be part of my life. I fight to protect my career and precious writing time.
I'm not a writing superstar (yet--I AM a positive thinker!) but in fact I'm one of many writers who make up the Harlequin Superromance imprint. My story, my book, is needed to keep the promise of this line to the reader going. It's part of a bigger picture.
Balance is the most challenging aspect of my life as wife, mother, writer, Navy wife, friend, mentor, mentee. It's a daily struggle to not veer off of my specific writing/work goals for the day to take care of something for my husband, my kids, even my country. When I don't achieve balance it's almost always because of a poor choice on my part, fueled by my forgetfulness that I'm needed for the depth of strength of writers (including me) everywhere. We're all connected and each thing we do whether it's write, teach, sell, buy, or whatever your vocation--it's important.
How do you find balance in your daily life?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Time After Time: Celebrating Anniversaries

In just under two weeks, my husband and I will be celebrating our first wedding anniversary.

I can't believe a whole year has passed—with its full four seasons, various holidays, birthdays, family gatherings, ups, downs, and all the days in between—since the day our officiant declared, “By the power vested in me by the province of Ontario, and by the Power of Grayskull, I now pronounce you man and wife. Live long and prosper, May the force be with you, so say we all.”

Time flies when you're nerdy in love.

John and I met while we worked together in the magazine section at an Indigo Bookstore. I asked him out after about a year of getting to know him. We went steady almost instantly, and I introduced him to my parents within a week.

Despite the relationship-at-lightspeed beginning, it was almost nine years before he popped the question. It was on one of those summer days that can't decide whether it should rain or shine, and the sky was a sickly green-gray. We were at the Canadian National Exhibition, and I'd just trounced him at Whack-A-Mole. He bent to retrieve something in his backpack, and while I wasn’t looking, he got down on one knee and proposed to me with a shiny engagement ring right there in front of the Food Building. A double rainbow appeared in the sky that day. It was as rare and beautiful and amazing as that proposal. (No joke. It really happened.)

Our wedding day was gorgeous, with the most perfect weather, and everything (from my perspective) went off without a hitch. I had it all—friends, family, surprise Stormtroopers (my older sister’s gift to me), and a lightsaber duel with the newly minted hubby. After all, a wedding's not complete without sci-fi violence.

I imagine John and I will look back fondly upon that day for the rest of our lives. But deep down, I worry those memories will fade, or that life will get in the way of celebrating this event or other milestones. It’s already happened on a personal level: the older I get, the less birthdays mean. Each year just adds another wrinkle, another gray hair, until I realize I am subtracting more than I am adding to my life.

Riding this melancholy train of thought, I realized people celebrate sad events annually, too—it’s hard not watch the news without learning it’s the anniversary of some tragic event. Often, those headlines are marked with lingering questions, sadness, resentment and anger. People gather to remember what happened that day with heavy hearts, bearing tragedy with the same stoic pride one would a battle scar.

Whatever the occasion, the passage of another year seems to warrant some kind of fete, and the size and scale of that celebration is often in direct correlation to the depth of emotion experienced that day. It seems to be the reason why tragedy gets so much more attention. Not to say that such events don’t deserve fanfare: Never Forget applies to so many things: war, shootings, disasters…the what, why and how or tragedy are the building blocks of history.

Such maudlin thoughts make a girl flanked by Stormtroopers feel a little sheepish about celebrating something as trivial as the most expensive party in your life. It’s almost…crass. After all, what does my wedding day mean next to all the other things that happened in history on that same day?

“Well,” my inner husband tells me, because my outer husband is playing Civilization V, “it IS the day you and I declared our undying devotion to each other for the rest of the world to hear.”

And we did it with a healthy dose of awesome.

Then I realized something: An anniversary is just one day out of 365. There are still 364 more days to account for.

And so every day, I tell my husband how much I love him, how much he means to me. There are days we’re too busy for even the briefest of conversations, but we always touch, always hug and kiss to let the other know we’re there for each other. Through good and bad, we are each other’s constants. We’ve pledged to be together for the rest of our lives. And we’ll celebrate it not just on one awesome day, but every day.
For John: May we cherish many more days, months and years. Happy anniversary, my love.

Her Son's Hero will be released July 2011 from Harlequin Superromance.
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