Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gratitude for the Journey

It's probably the arctic freeze that many of us in North America are currently under, or maybe it's my, em, age, but whatever the reason, I've been thinking back and appreciating how each step of life got me to today. My journey as a writer started when I learned to read. I was five and the excitement that made my belly flip when I realized I was reading whole sentences is the same enthusiasm I have when I read a new author I enjoy. Or when I figure out a tough plot point for my Work-In-Progress, affectionately called the WIP. My desire to serve my country grew into a passion to attend the Naval Academy, which led to nine years of service after graduation. And I met my husband at school, which has led to, um, almost 3 decades of marriage (they let us into the Academy at a much younger age back then).
My husband decided to stay in the Navy and we moved, frequently. I fretted over how in the world I was going to keep a writing career going and growing while doing this, but here I am today, going over my fifth (published) novel for one last time before it goes to print, working on the sixth, and wondering what story I'll write for a June online read.
None of it happened overnight, nor will any future success, measured in loving family ties, fun, or career highs and lows. It's a one-moment-at-a-time deal. One word at a time. One breath at a time.
Yesterday I shared on my Facebook page to friends and family one of the moments that has stayed with me and that I cherish--dear husband coming back safely and wholly from a long deployment at the end of 2001. As you can see my kids were little ones back then, but their joy and and love at seeing Dad again remains very adult and palpable.
Take time to enjoy your own moment today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Let's Eat Cake!

This will be a fun blog post today, because I am in a mid-winter doldrums, and I need to be cheered up.  Let's discuss cake.  Do you find yourself reaching for your camera whenever somebody sets a cake onto the table?

Maybe it's just my family--we love our sweets.  But in browsing through a decade's worth of snapshots on my hard drive, I've realized that whenever we get together, more often than not, cake is involved.

First there are birthday cakes.  Many, many birthday cakes:

Raise your hand if you have a January birthday!
Baby turns one.
Nana turns 95 (but Aunt P is 100!)
We eat cake at baby showers:

Straight from Heaven Up Above, A Little Baby For Us to Love
We order cakes for special occasions:

Denise Eagan's debut book signing party!

If you go on a cruise ship vacation, the waiters will parade the cake around for you:

Baked Alaska for everyone!

We are so cute, and we like cake, too!

Now I open the floor to you. Do you like cake? What's your favorite kind? (I'm a chocolate girl, with butter cream frosting, please.)

Cathryn Parry’s latest Harlequin Superromance is December's “The Long Way Home.”  Unfortunately, no one in that story eats birthday cake, but there is wedding cake involved.   For more information, please see her website at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Just Add Friends: How To Host a Writing Retreat

I am writing this from one of my favorite places in the world - a small cabin in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania where some writer friends and I have holed up for a weekend retreat. It's a time for laughter, brainstorming, relaxing and intense writing.

We've been doing this for years now and highly recommend it. If you have ever considered doing a retreat, here are some guidelines and considerations to consider to make it as productive and enjoyable as possible.

The right blend of people is crucial. It's best to plan a retreat with folks you know well enough that you won't care if they see you at your early-morning loveliest, because when on retreat, comfort rules. Our advice: pick only folks you can laugh with. And consider numbers carefully. There are five members in our group, and I find that to be an ideal number - not overwhelming, but not claustrophobic, either.

There are a lot of “whats” to consider when retreating. 

  • What will you (the group) do? Write, of course, but even the most dedicated author will need  time for the brain to rest. What will you do in your down time? Will you relax as a group, or on your own? Part of this will be answered by your location and what is available there, but this question still should be addressed.
  • What will you (the individual) do? Plan what you want to accomplish before setting out, and always remember that, when writer friends get together somehow the time seems to slip past far more quickly than it does in real life. Some facets of the process are better suited to a group setting than others, so take that into consideration.
  • What will you eat? This question always plays a major role in our retreat planning. You may prefer/be able to go out or order in your meals. This frees up prep time but can take longer to actually do, so keep that in mind. If you have a kitchen, you may choose to cook. Will you have group meals or individual ones? Our system: each person is responsible for her own breakfast. Lunches and dinners are divided up, with each person being responsible for one meal – the planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, and clean-up.  When your meal is complete, your duty is done. Well, except for those snacks that we always seem to need :-)

Consider both the timing and the duration. For a first time, we suggest sticking to a weekend, just in case there are unanticipated issues. Once you know your fellow retreaters you can add time as people are able. It's definitely worth giving up a vacation day or two from the day job to have that extra retreat time.

We are very lucky to have free access to this lovely little cabin in the woods, but we have used other facilities as well. A suite hotel is a great option that can offer both a decent amount of space and some cooking facilities. Three or four people splitting the cost makes it more affordable. We have also done retreats in our homes. This offers the lowest cost and usually the most space, but can leave one person feeling like a hostess rather than a participant.

Why would you do this? Why go to the trouble and possible expense of planning, traveling, taking time away from jobs and/or families to hide away with just your friends and stories? 

I'll tell you why I am such a believer in this process: Retreats are magic. The benefits go far beyond the chance to produce a lot of pages in a concentrated time. Having the chance to immerse yourself in your story can bring it alive in a way that can't be achieved when you must squeeze writing into the pockets of everyday life. It gives you a chance to deepen friendships through shared experience. And getting away to spend time with your story sends a clear message to yourself and anyone else who needs to hear it that you are a writer. You take this seriously. This is a part of who you are, a part you value enough to give it time and attention. When you retreat, you show that writing matters. For me, that's the most important reason of all.

I'd love to hear other tips from those who have done retreats. And if you haven't done one but have questions, shout them out in the comments!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sewing Up a Storm

By Jeannie Watt

In my December book, Crossing Nevada, the heroine learns to sew as a coping mechanism to reclaim her life after an assault. It wasn’t something I’d planned when I first outlined the book, but I needed a way for the heroine to connect with the hero’s daughters and sewing seemed like an excellent way to bring everyone together.
I used to sew a lot. I made clothes for my kids, for my husband, for myself, but after selling my first book in 2006, I had less free time, so my sewing machine—once the center of my world—began gathering dust in the basement.  Then a friend invited my husband and me to a Dicken’s Christmas dinner and we had to wear Victorian costumes. My husband borrowed a costume, but I had to make mine. It was a rush job and nothing I was too proud of, but it felt good to be sitting at my trusty Kenmore, grinding out a garment. I decided that I needed to squeeze more sewing time into my life. But I wanted to sew something interesting, so I made a command decision and told the family we were going to Dicken’s Fair in San Francisco.
It took me six months to make four costumes in my spare time, including two wool frock coats. Just as with my writing, there were times when I wondered if I'd ever get done, but then, suddenly,  it was all over. I was done.  And I needed a new project. Something that didn't involve taffeta or crinoline--at least for a while. I decided to take a break from the Victorian era and move forward about a hundred years--to the 1950s.. 

I’ve been collecting old patterns and now I’m going to make a few. My first is a coat from 1956.  I bought some plaid wool that looks 50ish and plan to start sewing next week. Hopefully I'll be done before winter is over.
When I'm done with the coat, I'll start on this great dress from approximately the same time. If it doesn't look ridiculous, I may wear it to RWA Nationals. I'll know in a month or two whether it's worthy of a public showing. I'll post a picture or two in a future blog--even if the projects don't turn out.  Whether they do or not, it'll be a learning experience and that's exactly what I'm looking for.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year, New Superromances!

Happy New Year, everyone! I’ve got two awesome things to celebrate today. One, a brand-spanking-new calendar I can muck up, and two, the release of my second book, Back to the Good Fortune Diner.

This is a special book to me because I’ve wanted to write a romance featuring Chinese characters. As I am Chinese Canadian myself, I drew a lot of parallels between me and my heroine, Tiffany, though we don’t share a lot in common.

From the back cover copy:

Everville, New York--it’s the town where Tiffany Cheung grew up, and the last place she wants to be. But after losing her job in Manhattan, that's exactly where she finds herself. Worse, she’s working at her family’s Chinese diner and feeling like the outsider she once was. The only bright side is that Chris Jamieson, the boy she used to tutor, is still around. Her high school crush is hotter than ever, and he needs her help...again.

Tutoring Chris’s son is the perfect temporary job. Except, Chris finally seems interested in her--and is hinting about a less temporary arrangement. Talk about bad timing! Because Tiffany’s not staying and nothing will stop her from getting back to her real life. But maybe what’s real is about to change.... 

I love reunion stories because they feel like you’re getting a second chance. Though sometimes, letting go of the past is hard, and that new beginning can’t come unless you come to terms with what has happened before.

Another neato thing about this month’s Harlequin Superromance releases: apart from the new look, they’re now up to 85,000 words long. That’s more story for a great value!

What new beginnings are you looking forward to this year? Do you have any resolutions to reconnect with your past—maybe have coffee with an old high school chum, or visit your alma mater?

Leave a comment below and I will randomly draw a name to win a signed copy of Back to the Good Fortune Diner. Draw takes place Friday, January 4 at noon E.S.T.
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