Thursday, May 31, 2012

About That Garden I Started...

Notice the one branch that got munched!
I wrote a while back about digging out a heart-shaped garden in a little corner of my back yard. I want to report that the garden is truly taking root, but in the process, something is eating the roots! At first we blamed our beloved German Shepherd-mix, Misha, for digging. Why not? He's a dog and dogs dig. But when two very deep, wide holes showed up in the middle of our lawn overnight (Misha sleeps in his bed inside, next to our bed), we knew we had a nocturnal visitor.
Something is digging up this rose!
I think it's the same truant who ate 9 of 9 Brussels sprout plants in one night. The night after I put some caladium in some of my treasures I collected when we lived in Italy--hand painted white pots with cherubs on the sides--something ate one of those branches, too. And left it in the middle of the lawn, approximately 50 meters away from the scene of their crime. Apparently, forest critters don't like caladium as much as veggies.
It's like writing a story--in the middle of a writing jaunt of an hour or so, all of a sudden a new character interjects themselves into my novel. BAM! Or even more challenging, I character I've already planned the arc for decides to take on a new defect or asset. Sometimes I find a major plot point needs work or to be changed altogether. The lessons from my garden spill over into my writing...I have to stay flexible. I have to plant foliage that rabbits, groundhogs and moles don't like. I need to plant higher, out of reach. Likewise I need to allow my characters room to grow up, out, and take on their own ideas of where their destiny is headed. 
Misha stands guard--well, kind of
It's not easy, but with the support of great writer friends and most importantly, enthusiastic readers like you, it's doable. Thanks to all of my friends for being here--you are my most precious blooms.

Viva con precaucion


My husband and I just returned from our vacation to Cancun, Mexico.

Mexico?” you may have exclaimed. “But it’s so dangerous right now!”

That was the line I was getting from pretty much everyone I told about our trip. Recent incidents of violence—attacks on tourists, kidnappings, assaults, drug related murders, and so forth—have been making headlines all over the world and have given the country a bad reputation.

Before the trip, everyone was giving me advice. Don’t leave the resort. Don’t go to the city. Don’t show off your wealth. Don’t go anywhere alone. Pretend you live there (though how I was supposed to blend in with my pasty Canadian winter complexion I have no idea.) I started reading articles about the various incidents, and my fears grew. Not only did I have to worry about not drinking the water, but I also had to watch my back every second!

I was anxious, to say the least. I’d tried to reassure myself that it was all just media hype; that a few isolated incidents didn’t mean anything in a country that sees more than 21.5 million international tourists every year. A lot of the more heinous crimes happened in the big cities and on the U.S.-Mexican border, after all, and most were gang-related. I told myself as long as I didn’t go wandering alone at night into clearly marked gang territory, I’d be fine.

Turns out I was right. And we had a fantastic time!

Cancun is like a Mexican version of Las Vegas, built up and modernized with enormous resort hotels, gorgeous white-sand beaches, tons of tourist traps, and hordes of people selling local crafts. There are police everywhere, and even specially designated tourist police (whether you find that a comfort is up to you.) The locals are helpful and friendly and speak English. And everywhere you go in the Hotel Zone, there are always other tourists around. Frankly, the most dangerous thing that could have happened to us was getting suckered by pushy souvenir vendors.

We didn’t feel unsafe at all, but we took plenty of precautions wherever we went, booking hotel-approved tours and taking the guides’ advice about what not to do. As long as we stuck to the rules and didn’t do anything stupid, we were fine.

It just goes to show, you can’t believe everything you read, or judge a whole country based on what happens in a handful of cities.

Is there someplace in the world you’ve always wanted to visit, but have been afraid to go because of things you’ve read? Comment below!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bring Him Home winner

Congratulations to Toni who won a copy of Bring Him Home. Toni, email your address to karina@karinabliss.com and I'll post it. For those that missed out, there's a giveaway at Goodreads. Click this link. Happy reading, everyone!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Happy Day!

I promise this won't be a saccharine post about how perfect my 26-year-old  marriage--as of today!-- is. Because my marriage isn't always a Harlequin romance. Shocking, I know.  Yet despite the everyday pitfalls of any long-term relationship, the common threads woven through all of the romance genre and solid partnerships do remain: trust, commitment, willingness to change, passion. They just don't always show up together or even singularly, each day.
A Harlequin Moment in Moscow 
How can it be 26 years already? 26 years since my husband and I committed to be together forever.  That "forever" sounds daunting. It was, and still can be. Time, age and reality have proved to me that my marriage and my investment in it starts anew each day. I can't take it for granted, ever.  Sometimes a long-term relationship doesn't work out, shouldn't work out.  I get it.  I'm not the Pollyanna of relationships. The pain is too real for too many of my friends who have suffered through acrimonious break-ups and divorces. Spouses stray after decades of what looked like the "ideal" couple. Again, I get it.
I can only speak to my current relationship, today.
The changes in myself in the past few decades have been amazing, albeit excruciatingly slow. Instead of thinking "that's it, I'm outta here!" at each altercation/disagreement, I'm usually laughing before I can even finish spewing off whatever great retort I thought I had. If I'm not so quick to see how silly I'm being, my husband points it out for me with one of his classic dry humor lines and again, I'm laughing.
Is marriage hard? Of course. Because life is hard and marriage to this great guy is how I've chosen to enjoy my life. How I choose to live it each day.  It's brought me the gifts of sacrifice, compassion, and just plain doing what I don't want to do when it's needed. Patience, did I mention patience?
As I write each new romance novel that shows up in my brain and then nests in my heart, I am aware that it's my job to show that this couple has and will have their challenges, too. They'll have their happily ever afters, as well. The strongest common thread through my life, my stories, your stories, the books we love to read and write, is love. The long-lasting, unconditional kind.
As long as he leaves the toilet seat down.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wanted: New home for neglected middle child


I’ve got a new release next month, Bring Him Home. It’s the third in a series based around four Special Forces heroes which began with Here Comes The Groom and Stand-In Wife.
I’d love to tell you about it, but to do that I’d have to drag myself away from book four, which I’m currently writing. 
It’s not that I don’t treasure my new release, I do. I think it’s one of my best. Only this ‘new baby’ is keeping me up at nights and stealing all the attention away from its older sibling. 
Bring Him Home  will have to take its place in the world without ‘mommy’ hovering, telling it to stand up straight, look people in the eye and for God’s sake, try and create a good first impression.  Hopefully, I’ve invested enough love, sweat and tears for it to do that alone. 
If you’d like to read an excerpt, click hereMake a comment and go into a draw to adopt this poor, neglected child.
Meanwhile I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting back to rearing the wayward youngest.

Bring Him Home
Former soldier Nathan Wyatt had no choice but to leave his army buddy to die, a secret that's still tearing him apart.
  Two years on, he's in Hollywood prostituting his war medal for work as a bodyguard to the stars when his best friend's widow drags him home to fulfil his neglected responsibilities to her family trust.
  When he discovers Claire can't forgive her late husband for breaking a crucial promise, Nate sees his path to salvation. He'll be his buddy's advocate, secure Steve's place in his wife's memory.
  The last thing he intends is to find himself in a love triangle with his dead best friend.
  Will admitting the truth - all of it - set him free, or alienate the woman he's come to passionately love?





Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Here's to the Customer Service Reps

Last Thursday, I was invited to speak to customer service representatives at the Harlequin Distribution Centre in Depew, NY, at their annual customer service appreciation luncheon. It was a great privilege and honor for me. There are about forty men and women on the force who answer calls and emails from readers and deal with everything from book orders to complaints and compliments. This group of wonderful, dedicated workers—some of whom have served for more than ten years—are the face of the company, working on the front lines interacting with readers.

Having worked in retail for many years, I know it’s not always easy dealing with the public, which was why I was so happy to go and express my personal gratitude to these awesome folks. Being a proofreader by day and an author by night isolates me from the public, so I sometimes forget that people can be incredibly kind and incredibly cruel.

In my years public service, I’ve seen customers and patrons assault workers, verbally abuse them and generally treat them as less than human. Some people feel as if they deserve to be kowtowed to, as if the mantra “the customer is always right” actually means “I am better than you” and was written in the law somewhere.

Of course, I’ve received poor service, as well. I’ve been given dirty looks and I’ve been treated with less than respect in some establishments. The words “customer service” always seem to bring out the worst stories, as well as the best, especially when it comes to dealing with big companies. And opinions on customer service can do a full 180-degree turn with one experience.

Phones and email have separated us from dealing with people face-to-face, and the age of internet overshare has removed the filter that once kept us from saying things we’d regret. Customer service agents can’t give us everything, and their hands are tied by company policy. Some people take that personally, and that’s when the sparks fly. The customer says some poorly thought out things; the service rep is put in a bad mood, which can get passed on to the next customer... Poor behavior begets poor behavior, and in the end, no one is happy.

That’s why I’m dedicating this blog post to all the customer service representatives out there, whether you work in retail or on the phones or online. Your job is hard, and is often thankless. I salute you. Thank you for everything you do, and for dealing with the public so I don’t have to.

Do you have good customer service stories to share? Comment below!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jeannie Watt Winner

Congratulations, Summer! Please email me at jeanniewrites @ gmail. com (without spaces) to claim your Amazon gift card.

Thanks for everyone who posted responses!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Little Help? (And a Give Away)


By Jeannie Watt

If any of you happened to catch my blog at The Pink Heart Society, you know that the more trouble I have with the story I’m writing, the more I want to sew. Some might call this escapism or perhaps procrastination.  I prefer to call is accessing another part of my brain and allowing the story-spinning part to recuperate.  Lately though, sewing has become almost as difficult as the problems I'm trying to work out in my plots.

Let me walk you through my latest project, the Crossing Nevada revision dress, and see if you can identify my problem.,


 I usually make a muslin if the pattern is new to me. No sense wasting fabric on a dress that doesn't fit--I've had that happen way too many times in the past.



 I lay out the pattern carefully, making certain to align the grain of the fabric properly.



I cut the contrast fabric at the same time, after prewashing it to make certain the dye doesn't bleed.


I do a lot of interfacing to give the finished garment body. I hate cutting and applying interfacing, but I do it.


After I have everything cut out, I make my tailoring marks and then remove the pattern.Then I arrange the pieces in the order I'll sew them together. I'm very organized, yet somehow stuff keeps getting mussed up and sometimes ends up in a heap on the floor.

Oddly, I have no problem when I actually sew. Perhaps something to do with the noise, however, I do have to drape all my working pieces over a chair. You can probably figure out why.

Here is a photo of the finished dress. Note that there is no "helper" in the photo. The cat is not allowed outside, otherwise I’m certain she’d be peeking out from under the skirt.

I'm celebrating handing in the revisions for Crossing Nevada by giving away a $15 Amazon gift card. Tell me about the biggest challenge you face when you're trying to complete a project, be it pursuing a hobby in too small of a space, or tackling a killer project at work.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Winners from Ellen Hartman's Book Club Blog

Please get in touch so I can send you a copy of The Long Shot! (ellen@ellenhartman.com).

  • BW
  • Joye
  • Kaelee
  • Jill

Thanks to everyone who came by and shared their comments!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Clubs

Karina kindly posted on the News page that The Long Shot is the May pick for the Smart Bitches' Sizzling book club. The chat is happening on 5/30 and the book is on sale at All Romance until 5/15. This event has me thinking about book clubs. I haven't been in a book club in years and I miss it.

The last book club I was in was amazing and crazy all at the same time. (Are there any book clubs that aren't at least a little crazy?) Most of the women in the club had small children. We were lucky enough to be able to meet in a penthouse apartment in downtown Ithaca that belonged to the parents of a club member. This apartment was not only gorgeous, it was a kid-free oasis. Going to book club in that place at that time of my life felt like going to a spa.

Five Books We Read
  1. Anna Karenina (A gorgeous edition. Loved this.)
  2. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Loved this. With two small children at home, the concept of order and science and solutions at home was super appealing.)
  3. Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable (HATE. I think this was the book that drove me out of the book club. Go ahead and read the description. Would you have stayed in the club?)
  4. Middlemarch (I loved this. I freely admit that I skimmed/skipped most of the descriptive passages which means I read about 1/3 of the book, but it's wonderful.)
  5. Arcadia (I don't like reading plays. I loved reading this one.)
 Five Things I Loved About the Book Club
  1. Theme food. One person brought food that somehow coordinated with the book's theme. You don't want to know what we had when we read The Red Tent. It was mostly delicious, though, and most importantly, it was grown up food!
  2. The view. The penthouse view was breathtaking at night, especially when it was snowing.
  3. The leader packets. One person led the discussion and usually came prepared with questions, background info, and other interesting tidbits. I learned a lot in this book club. 
  4. The grown-up conversation about grown-up books. 
  5. Being forced to read books I wouldn't have chosen. As weird as it sounds, I really did love that housekeeping manual (#2 above) and I never would have picked it up. Same with Arcadia. And Middlemarch. And a bunch of others. 
Five Things I Didn't Love So Much
  1. The theme food. I'm cooking challenged on a good day. Having to prepare delicious, sophisticated food that somehow matched a book? Drove me nuts. (Luckily M&Ms are the new black.)
  2. The night when my car broke down on the way to book club and then my husband called me three times to tell me about the bird that flew down our chimney and was nesting in the fireplace and then after hitching a ride home, having to chase that same bird through our house in an effort to make it GO BACK OUTSIDE TO NATURE.
  3. People who didn't read the books. (I went to Catholic school. I do my homework.) 
  4. Bickering about which books to pick next.
  5. Bickering about everything.
So eventually the load of bickering grew too heavy and we read that alphabet book of experimental fiction and I'd had enough. The book club fractured and a splinter group formed a new club.

A gin club.

I'd like to say we were playing cards, but we were actually drinking gin. Correction: we were tasting gin. That makes it more respectable, right? We tasted some excellent gin. (Also some well-dressed gin.) But then the gin club experienced some issues with over-indulgence and it wasn't fun anymore so once again we splintered.

And that was when three of us formed up into a critique group. A writing group. We were still sipping gin and still discussing books, but now they were our own books! I miss being in a book club, but I love my critique group.

What about you? I already know you love reading, but are you in a book club? I love to hear your stories. Give me a top 5 list from your book club or other club. What's the best book you were ever forced to read? Have you read Ella Minnow Pea and did it make you rage? Ever make theme food to match a book or movie night?

I have a book out this month, so here is the obligatory tie-in with my book section of the blog post: I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that Deacon Fallon, the hero of The Long Shot (May 2012), is illiterate. I never write about actual people I know, but I often write about themes or situations I'm working through. Because I have a son with a mild learning disability and I work in communication, I think about literacy and how it impacts inclusion and access to many aspects of life from basic services all the way up to the independent joy of reading for pleasure. That contemplation is where Deacon's issues came from.

WIN BOOKS: I'll choose 4 commenters to receive a copy of The Long Shot. Maybe you'll read it and join me for the book club chat on 5/30!
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