Friday, September 28, 2012

Bookstore Bafflement Quiz Answers!

Here are the answers for my Clueless Customer quiz! Lots of different guesses for the first one--it seemed to really throw people. That's the challenge of the customer query: you never know if what they're saying is actually right. 8 )

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
2. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser.
3. Her Son's Hero by Vicki Essex.
4. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
5. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Like You Just the Way You Are -- Ellen Hartman

I saw Susan Elizabeth Phillips speak at an RWA conference a few years ago.

I'll pause while you all reflect on how incredibly jealous you are about that.

I heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips speak. In person.

<cue the awe>

Are we recovered?

One of the many incredibly wise things SEP said when I was listening to her speak in person, was that most romance authors have a theme...some element of story...that they touch on in all of their books.

Mine is beer.

And now my mom is shaking her head and wondering why I can't ever behave nicely.

Okay, fine. My theme is characters who want to be seen for who they really are. My characters want to be loved for their authentic selves...the person they really are behind their cover, their disguise, their defenses. (The hero of my first book goes on the lam to maintain his secret identity. It's not hard to suss out my theme from that clue, is it?)

If you asked any one of my characters to name their favorite movie line of all time, they'd quote Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Diary, "I like you very much. Just as you are." Yes, even my guy characters have this as their favorite line. They're beta guys--evolved and in touch with their feelings. But don't tell them I told you or they'll feel compelled to fix a faucet or punch something just to prove they're not wimps.

I was incredibly shy when I was a kid. I used to go to parties in high school and never say a single word. Even at family parties I was really quiet. When I was a junior in high school, I applied for a summer service program and was selected. At some point during the trip, one of the other girls asked the moderator why he chose the people he did. He explained what he'd seen in each person's interview that he thought would be valuable to the group. When he got to me, he said he'd chosen me because I was funny.

I was shocked. No one had ever said that to me before. (Probably partly because I rarely opened my mouth. It's hard to see a person's sense of humor if they aren't willing to open up.)

He was the first person who'd seen past the walls I had up to realize that I really, really love to make people laugh. Somehow, having another person appreciate my sense of humor validated it for me. That one guy and his feedback on my interview changed my life. It gave me the courage to start talking, to start writing funny things, to go through sorority rush, and job interviews, to tell stories at parties and trust that they'd be appreciated. It was as if he'd given me permission to be a person I hadn't been sure would be welcome.

Here I am, experimenting with my sense of humor on that high school service trip.
That's what I want for my characters. I want the hero to see the person the heroine is afraid to admit she wants to be. I want the heroine to tell the hero exactly why he's not like other guys and exactly how much his particular gifts matter to her. The need to be seen and loved for your authentic self--that's my theme.

I don't always hit the mark with this theme, but I think in my September book, Out of Bounds, it really worked. The hero, the heroine, even the Schnoodle are misfits in some way. They don't fit the space they think they should and aren't sure if they're allowed to try to break out. I loved writing this book. I love the dog, the larger-than-life heroine, the hero who's tormented by his devotion to his family, and the humor.

Here's a quick excerpt...Posy Jones is visiting her mom's store, The Wonders of Christmas Shoppe, and feeling out of step, as usual.

Her mom bustled toward the office at the back of the store. "I'm unpacking a shipment. Come on back and I can tell you the news," she said. "Watch that garland!"

Posy stooped to duck under a rope of gold, spray-painted eucalyptus leaves and pine cones. She turned sideways to edge past a display of the beautifully detailed handcrafted papier-mâché mangers her mom commissioned from an artist in Pennsylvania.

Wonders didn't have aisles so much as narrow alleys between displays crammed full of Christmas glitz and glitter. From the hand blown glass ornaments hanging on color-coordinated trees to the loops of beaded crystal garland Posy ducked through as she passed the register, the store carried anything and everything Christmas and delicate. 

Her mom's real specialty was miniatures. Wonders was the best-stocked retail outlet on the East Coast for holiday decorators who took verisimilitude in their train displays or light-up Christmas villages to the extreme. Every inch of horizontal space inside Wonders contained tiny, detailed, uncannily realistic miniatures and scene scapes.

Posy ran a hand over the thick nap of an ivory velvet tree skirt. She'd worn more than her share of  velvet Christmas dresses when she was in elementary school. Each one had been beautiful on the hanger, but the heavy fabric and childish styles had exaggerated Posy's large frame, making her feel even more self-conscious. Trish had exquisite sewing skills--she just didn't have any gauge to tell her when enough was so much more than enough.

Okay, your turn. I don't think you have to be a writer to have a theme--it's the thread running through everything you do.  So what about you? What's your theme? (If it's beer...or pancakes...or Mark Darcy/Colin Firth, feel free to say so. All themes are welcome.)

I'm giving away 3 copies of Out of Bounds to people who leave comments!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bookstore Bafflement

When I was in college, I worked part-time at a large bookstore chain. I loved books. I loved that I was surrounded by them all the time. I loved what I could learn just from reading the covers and spines. I was young and naïve and was frequently heard to exclaim, “That’s a thing?

But the job quickly made me realize that product knowledge was secondary to the ruthless patience I had to cultivate while dealing with customers and their befuddling requests. In the days before cell phones could comb the internet for answers, people brought the strangest requests to me. Some of them sounded like this:

“Hi, I’m looking for a book. It has a green cover.”

“Do you know the title or author?” I would ask politely.

“No, but it’s about a tiger. Or a shark. Actually, I’m not sure. I think the tiger was a side character. Anyhow, it was on the radio this morning.”

Before wondering how she would know the cover was green if she’d heard about the book on the radio, I would ask, “Which radio station?” I could conceivably go to the radio station’s website and see if any podcasts were included with summaries of the programming.

“I’m not sure. But it has that host. You know, the man with the deep voice.”

Right. That radio station with the host with the deep voice that talked about a book with a green cover.

Fortunately, most customers will usually provide me something to go on. Some of my favorites include:

“I’m looking for a book. It’s really popular. The cover is beige. Wednesday with something?”
The book was Tuesdays with Morrie.

“I want that book that all the kids are reading now.” No title or author given.

“This book I’m looking for is about a place, I think. My father wants it. But I can’t remember the title or author. The name was the same word twice.”
The book was England, England.

This video pretty much sums up all the other experiences.

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to look up information about book, even if you don’t know a title or author. Even with the basic premise, you could probably get a half dozen people to respond to you in an online chat room with their best guesses.

So here’s a game I’m going to play with you. I’m going to play the clueless bookstore customer and ask you for five books. Sleuth them out and leave the answers or your best guesses in the comments below! I'll reveal the correct titles on Friday, Sept. 28. Glory to whoever gets all five correct!

Ready? Set? Go!

1.      I’m looking for a book. There’s a tiger on the cover. They’re making a movie of it. I think the author is Canadian. I think it takes place on a boat or something.
2.      I’m looking for a non-fiction book about fast food. I can’t remember the exact title, but it starts with a story about delivering pizza to a top-secret military base in the U.S.
3.      I’m looking for a romance book that my friend in Toronto wrote. It’s about a mixed martial arts fighter. I think it’s a Harlequin book. It came out in 2011.
4.      I’m looking for a sci-fi book my friend recommended. It’s about an alien war and a boy who is training to fight in it. He said they use the book to train soldiers in combat strategy. The author’s name had Scott in it—Scott something? Or something Scott? I only remember that because my friend’s name is Scott.
5.      I’m looking for a book. It’s a memoir about this blogger. She’s supposed to be really funny, but I’ve never read her. The book’s a gift for a friend. There’s a mouse on the cover, and it has a long title I can’t remember. It came out recently.

Friday, September 21, 2012

This Is What Happens When You Get Dressed Too Fast

This is me wearing
a dress correctly.
By Jeannie Watt

Have you ever had one of those days when you look down and realize that your dress is on backwards?

I have—as in this past Tuesday. I was happily teaching class—three periods into the day, mind you—when I sat down at my computer to enter grades and noticed something odd. There was a kick pleat in the front of the dress. Funny, because I’d worn this shift several times and never noticed a kick pleat before..then I realized that was because the other times I’d worn it, the kick pleat had been in a place where I couldn't see it. Instant horror. I’d thought the neckline had felt kind of funny earlier, but had dismissed it. Morale of the story, don’t dismiss funny feeling necklines. Investigate.

After making my startling discovery, I excused myself, raced to the ladies room and turned my dress around. How, I ask you, had I managed to wear a dress for that long in front of eighth graders—a species not known for their tact—without getting a heads up? I have no idea, but I was, in a word, grateful. It’s the beginning of the year and I have a rep as a serious educator to maintain. Hard to do wearing a backwards dress.

Here’s the truly sad part of this story—this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Once I was car shopping—seriously shopping and wanting to be taken seriously—when I realized that the odd mesh pockets on the exterior of my nylon hiking shorts were supposed to be on the inside. That discover also entailed a mad dash to the ladies room to make everything right again. I don’t know if the salesman noticed, but I did buy the car I’d been looking at.

My question—have you ever had something like this happen to you? One randomly drawn responder will receive a $10 gift card to Amazon. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And on the subject of winners...

Congratulations BW, you won a copy of Karina Bliss's Bring Him Home. Send postal details to

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hello and...

After Emmie Dark’s bright and refreshing hello, it’s Karina Bliss’s weary and wild-eyed “What day is it?”
Ye Gods, a blog on top of everything else. Noooooo! I thought about taking a picture of all the scraps of dialogue and scenes sticky-taped together and littering the floor of my office but that WOULD TAKE TIME PEOPLE and I don’t have it.
I’m on the business end of a deadline and have been editing non stop for about eight days on the trot, from around 7.30 through 11.30 with brief breaks to throw food at my longsuffering husband and son. “Love you…mwah, mwah, now don’t talk to me!!!”
And certainly don’t look at me, Ugh.
Anyhow in lieu of food I’m going to throw a book at you and rush away again.
Sorry. On the upside all the strands that I’ve been throwing at this manuscript for months are finally weaving themselves together into something miraculous called a book.
I like it. I hope you will too. It's called Prior Engagement (the book formerly know as His Goodbye Girl), and will be out May.

In the meantime make a comment and go into the draw for a copy of my latest release, Bring Him Home.

And so like Zorro, she flaps her cape and is…
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