Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emergency Halloween! Quick and Cheap Costumes for the Time- and Cash-Strapped

I love Halloween. I love getting dressed up and going door to door, begging for sweets and constantly explaining my outfit. Because the look on people’s faces when they finally understand why you have a CD hanging around your neck while wearing an eyepatch is the real treat.

(In case you haven’t figured out the above, it’s a software pirate. Arrr.)

When I was a kid, my older cousin went to the fabric store and gathered all the materials to help make our costumes. Cats, witches, ghosts—they were always beautiful, tasteful, and well designed.

Sadly, none of her sewing skills were passed on to us, and as we got older and she got busier, my sisters and I had to rely on our own creativity, wits and crafting abilities to cobble together decent Halloween gear.

I recall our first attempt at being “punk rockers.” For some reason, we were all wearing garbage bags. It wasn’t a great success, but we were proud anyhow.

Toward our high school and college years, however, we got to see and make some really cool stuff, mostly thrown together last minute and on tight budgets. And they were some of our best outfits ever.

If you’re struggling to find something to wear tonight, I’ve put together a short list of some easy-to-do ideas I’ve come across over the years:

Me, as a bag of candy.
  • Wear all pink and tie a shoe to your head: you’re a Piece of Gum!
  • Turn a giant paper leaf bag into a smock dress: you’re the Paperbag Princess!
  • Fill a clear plastic garbage bag with balloons and cut out holes for your feet and arms: you’re a Bag of Candy!
  • Wear the ugliest non-matching clothes you have and put on terrible makeup: you’re a Fashion Disaster!
  • Alternatively, wear clothes that are on the verge of falling apart: you’re a Wardrobe Malfunction!
  • Wear any of the above and include a large empty picture frame around your neck: you’re Art!
  • Grab a big box and decorate it with wrapping paper: you’re God’s Gift to Men/Women/Humanity!
  • Tie a pillow to your tummy: you’re human sushi!
  • Put a lampshade over your head: you’re the light of someone’s life!

Got any last-minute costume ideas, advice, suggestions or tips to share? Let us know in the comments!
Have a safe, happy and crafty Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Play it again, Sam

Music taps into emotion faster than any other medium. A song comes on the radio and suddenly you’re an angst-ridden teen pining your first love, itching to dance, or smiling on a mood updraft. Music can bring past into present, make housework bearable, and even inspire a baby to shake and wiggle.
It can change brain waves - quietening our minds (Gregorian chants) stimulating us creatively (slower Baroque) or stirring passion and activity (Rock).
Some writers have music playing in the background when they’re working. I prefer to find a song that encapsulates the mood of the love story and listen to it when I get stuck.
It’s the fastest way to recall the emotional core of the book.
Sometimes the song I’ve picked as a book’s theme tune loses power as I explore the characters and eventually gets dumped.  Sometimes I choose a song that feels right but I’m not sure why and discover the reason through the writing. Best of all, the process of linking music to story is fun.
Interestingly my first published book had a theme tune and I didn’t use one again until the last two books when I began to realize how useful music can be to finding story.

Here are some examples of how I use it.

Mr. Imperfect is a reunion story. Look at these lovely lyrics. “And I held your hand through all of these years/But you still have/All of me” My Immortal by Evanescence. Here’s the link: 

Bring Him Home – A widow fall for her husband’s best friend in a military story. Both have unresolved grief and the sweet sadness of Pearl Jam’s The End encapsulates that perfectly. “What were all those dreams we shared/Those many years ago?/ What were all those plans we made now/Left beside the road?/Behind us in the road.”


Prior Engagement, the fourth and final in my military heroes series will be out May 2013. A back from the dead story about two people who didn’t have the trust to make it work first time around but are fated to be together. Civil Wars’ song - Poison & Wine -  uses lyrics like: “I don’t love you but I always will”  and “I don’t have a choice but I still choose you.”

How about you? Do you have a song that hits you in the heart every time? Make a comment and go into the draw for my latest release Bring Him Home.

Friday, October 26, 2012

From the Gut

By Jeannie Watt

Have you ever gone into a restaurant, looked at a menu and knew immediately what you wanted...and then started to notice other stuff that also looked good? If so, and if you’re anything like me, you chose something other than your first impulse and often times regretted it. Especially if your significant other ordered what you'd originally wanted and it's better than what you ended up with. I’ve decided that, as far as menus go, I should stick with my first choice. If my first instinct is the French toast, I won't  order ham and eggs.

I’ve also found out—the hard way, the way I discover almost everything—that I need to follow my instinct when I write, too. One time when I got into deep trouble with a story, it was because I forced myself to follow the synopsis, even though my gut was yelling, “No, no…” I turned the book in and ended up rewriting it during revisions, because my instinct had been correct. Fortunately, my instinct had a pretty clear idea of what should have happened, so I was able to revise it successfully.

When I first started writing, I enjoyed following my gut and writing into the mist, but that was when I didn’t have a deadline. If I wrote myself into a corner, I had time to get myself back out. Now if I write myself into a corner, I’ll be staying up late getting myself back out. But after a period of being nuts about planning and sticking doggedly to my plan (in order to get the prescribed amount of sleep), I realized that it was okay to follow instinct. I had been afraid to go with the gut because of the aforementioned late nights if I made a mistake, but some of my best stuff seems to appear out of nowhere.

For instance, when I wrote my latest book, which I am now editing, I had a hero who was self absorbed in the beginning of the story. For reasons dating back to his childhood, he  needed to compete and he needed to win. Unfortunately, he’s suffered a potential career-ending injury that he’s in denial about. He’s deeply into himself, his comeback, his need to compete, at the expense of everything else, which doesn’t make him great hero material—unless of course he is redeemed.

In my plan, the heroine redeems him, but in chapter three he drives home after a confrontation with the heroine (who has his horse and won’t give it back) and  his cousin is parked in front of his house. (At this point I say to myself, really? His cousin’s there? Who’s his cousin?)

Come to find out, his cousin has helped him out in the past and now she needs someone to watch her teenage son while she takes a temporary job.

(I’m surprised at this turn of events and think, “A kid? Are you sure you want to write about a teen? I mean you spend almost every day around teens…”)

The teen stays in the story. He’s fourteen years old, kind of a character, and is used to hanging with adults. He’s totally comfortable with the hero, who is totally uncomfortable with him, but is now forced to think of someone besides himself. His world starts to open up because of this kid. He’s still focused on winning, but he’s also learning to enjoy other aspects of life. Because of his relationship with the kid, the heroine, who wasn’t a fan in the beginning, sees a different side of the hero and begins to realize that he’s a pretty good guy after all. None of this was in my synopsis, but it seems to be working.   

So...hurray for writing—and making menu decisions—from the gut.

How about you? Do plan or follow instinct? Or both, depending on the situation. I'll give a copy of my December book, Crossing Nevada, to a randomly selected postee. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Scary Stuff - Ellen Hartman

A few days before Halloween, I bet you thought a blog with that title would be about ghosts or haunted houses.


I'm thinking about how the thing that terrifies one person can be no big deal to another.  I love writing heroes who are confused about the vulnerability their heroines feel and who offer unconditional support--not grudging, not condescending, but wholehearted.

So what's an example of something that scares some people and not others?

My family is hosting an exchange student right now.

All of the extroverted readers are wondering when I'm going to get to the scary part. And all of the introverted readers are nodding their heads and shaking in their boots. That's right, fellow shy people, I invited a stranger to live in my house!

I have a lot of strategies that enable me to be a fake extrovert at my job and socially, but my home is my sanctuary where I retreat to recharge and recenter myself. I spent the summer worrying about how it would feel to share my home with and care for a teenager I didn't know.

There are folks reading this blog who can't comprehend being scared of a social situation. I personally have never been afraid of traveling alone. I'm irrationally afraid of fire, but I actually enjoy speaking in front of groups. I have a very difficult time breaking rules of any kind, but I am rarely intimidated by a challenge or steep odds of success.

The characters in our books all have that type of rich set of issues that informs their life choices. My first heroine was afraid to open herself up to love because so many of the people she loved had died. My second hero was terrified he didn't understand the rules of normal society and would never be worthy of love because of it. In my September book, Out of Bounds, Posy worries she's too big emotionally and physically for Wes to love, while he's carrying a burden of emotional debt to his brother.

The nice thing about writing romance novels is that I always know everything is going to be okay in the end. And you know what? The same is true in my life, too. Despite my fears, I've genuinely enjoyed our exchange student and I'm going to be sad when he leaves next week. Hosting him has been a wonderful experience for our entire family, and one I'd tackle again in a heartbeat.

What about you? What scares you? Have you ever had to confront a fear? What scares other people but isn't a big deal to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fun & Cholesterol On The Road

My family does a fair bit of traveling. My husband loves to plan trips, to the extent that my friends have dubbed him Travel Agent Ken. (Does that make me Luggage Hauler Barbie?) TAK, as he is affectionately known, thinks nothing of driving from our home in Central New York state to the New York City area for a Broadway show, a college visit, or a soccer game. Any excuse to pop down to the Big Apple will work for him.
The rest of us are not as enamored of the whole bright lights, big city thing, but we can always be lured into the car with the promise of one thing: a visit to Sheetz.
Sheetz, for those not lucky enough to have visited, is a chain of convenience stores located across a half dozen states. They are not found here in NY, but when we drive through Pennsylvania to reach NYC, there is one at the perfect halfway point. We pile out of the car, gas up, hit the restrooms, and then venture toward the big attraction: the food. Yes, my family will happily drive hundreds of miles for the chance to belly up to a counter equipped with touch screens where we can custom order sandwiches, burgers, drinks (I crave their iced hazelnut nonfat lattes), and other greasy goodness.
This makes absolutely no sense. We know that. None of us can really explain the appeal. It might be those touch screens, that let us choose exactly what toppings we want on our cheeseburger sliders. It might be the fact that we are almost always in a good mood when we're there, heading off to a family vacation but not yet thoroughly sick of each other. It might even be that the food is just so darned good.
All I know for sure is that this past weekend, while driving home solo from the fabulous New Jersey Romance Writers conference, I stopped at Sheetz for lunch. I texted my youngest son with the taunting message, Guess where I am right now?  His reply: If you don't bring home something from Sheetz I am disowning you as my mother.
So tell me – what is your (or your family's) guilty pleasure?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Winners from Ellen's Blog Last Week


I didn't get my winners post up last weekend and then I didn't want to interrupt the blog flow this week so my here is my one-week-delayed winners post.

I said I would give away 3 copies of Out of Bounds. As far as I can tell, there were 7 people who commented on my blog who aren't current Super authors. I know some of you already read the book and Kristina specifically said not to enter her because she already owns TWO copies. (FYI: Kristina is not my mom's secret online persona.) I used the random number generator, but I had to count back through comments to find someone who wasn't a Super author and it just seemed needlessly complicated. So I decided I'd give a book to any of the commenters who wants one.

Here are the names I got from the comments. If you would like a copy of Out of Bounds, send me your address. (My email is
  • Molly
  • Laney4
  • Natalija
  • Marcie
  • Kristina
  • Snookie
  • Marybelle
Happy Weekend!
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