Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Speaking Publicy About Public Speaking

I can’t rightly say I’ve ever met anyone who says they love public speaking.

I know plenty of folks who say they love to talk, but does anyone actually enjoy standing up in front of a group of strangers (or even colleagues and friends and family) and becoming the center of attention?

On May 7, I’ll be doing a public speaking event at the Toronto PublicLibrary’s Annette Street Branch as part of Asian Heritage Month. This will only be the second time I’ve done anything like this, as an author or otherwise.

The first time I gave a speech was at Harlequin Distribution Center in Buffalo, New York. I was asked to speak as part of their customer appreciation day. I only had to speak for ten minutes, but I spent about a month preparing what I’d say, gnashing my teeth over how I’d fill ten minutes without boring people to tears.

This time, I’ll be asked to fill an hour.

I’m not sure how anyone can be engaging, informative and entertaining for any longer than it takes to tell a three men walk into a bar joke (the punch line is “OW!”). Frankly, I’m surprised I can even walk and talk at the same time—my tongue tends to trip over itself in its haste to catch up with my brain, and that usually translates to total catastrophic failure of the rest of my muscle coordination. I become a living Muppet, arms flailing, mouth flapping wide.

I suppose part of my nervousness comes from the fact that I’m a bit of an introvert. Many authors are. We’re better suited to expressing ourselves on paper where we can edit our words and retract stupidity. I can’t do that in real life. I stick my foot in my mouth so often, my tongue’s been paved with asphalt and there are jogging trails marked with signs.

I’m not sure I know how to give a speech without a script. The tricky thing about writing it out, though, is that just like dialog, I don’t tend to speak the way I write. I use strings of long words in writing that perfectly convey what I’m trying to get across. But then I tried saying “my passive acceptance of social grouping was affected by my unintentional cultural bias” out loud and promptly ended up face-first on the ground after tripping on my tongue.

So I had to follow my own writing rules when it came to talking:
  • Use small words.
  • It’s okay to have lots of short sentences.
  • Be natural.
Easier said than done.

An hour is a long time to fill, too. I’ll have to force myself to talk slowly, and maybe fill the gaps with long drinks of water. I’m hoping people have lots of questions for the Q and A, as well, because with a ten-minute reading, I have no idea how to fill fifty minutes.

Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to survive public speaking engagements? Got any great stories to share? Ever put your foot in your mouth in public? Share in the comments below! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Finally Spring

In my home town, yesterday was the first warm, sunny Sunday we’ve had this year.  The plants and trees that normally would have bloomed over a month ago are waking, all at once.

I took my camera on a tour of the neighborhood.  We live near in New England, near Boston.  Now more than ever, I’m finding comfort in the small things that I might usually overlook or take for granted.

This old forsythia bush on the corner is usually finished blooming by St. Patrick's Day.  I remember when my husband and I planted it, years ago, the first bush we planted together.  Twice, it's been run over by snowplows, but it has resilience.
A former neighbor, long since moved away, planted these tulips.  Years later, when they bloom, we remember her and smile:

Another neighbor down the street has the greenest thumb I've ever seen.  He has covered his hillside in a beautiful periwinkle groundcover that I've never found anywhere else:

The rhododendrons are only in bloom for a week or so.  Now is the time to appreciate them!

And what is spring without daffodils?  The garden committee in our neighborhood association planted loads of these bulbs.  It shows me how one small, thoughtful act can bring pleasure to people for years on end:

Thanks for reading!  I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts about gardening.  Is anything special in bloom where you live? 
I can draw one name from among today's commenters for a giveaway of my Boston-set July Superromance (to be mailed when available).
Catch her if he can…

Dr. Elizabeth LaValley's life works just fine, thank you very much. She's a successful anesthesiologist, and she's put the chaos of her youth and family behind her. When hottie pitcher Jon Farell shows up in her hospital, she's the only one who doesn't fawn over him. Sure, she feels the heat between them, but being alone is safe and predictable. She didn't get where she is by taking risks.

Jon can't get the beautiful doctor out of his head. His talents on the field have always been enough for any woman. But if he's going to win Elizabeth's heart, he'll have to offer her much more than a wicked curveball.…
Cathryn Parry writes contemporary romance from her home in Massachusetts. She loves figure skating, planning as many vacations as possible, and pursuing her genealogy hobby. Please visit her website at www.CathrynParry.com.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Question of the Month: the Celebration Edition

It's time for the Question of the Month! This time we asked Superromance authors,

How do you celebrate (or wish you celebrated) your writing achievements?

Jeannie Watt:  I start with a happy dance--sometimes a jig, sometimes a waltz, depending on time of day and my energy level I follow by informing husband and family of good news, then I bask in the afterglow for several hours. I usually write a lot, too, because success bolsters creativity.

Pamela Hearon: Dinner out with hubby and our best friends, sometimes prefaced with champagne!

Lenora Worth:  I celebrate my writing achievements by buying shoes, chocolate and having a nice dinner with my husband. He now tells people who compliment my shoes, "Oh, yes, that was her first three book contract shoes or yes, that's her good royalty check shoes. :) When I made the NYT List, I had already scheduled a cabi party at my house. This is a wonderful line of women's clothing and a representative brings the clothes to your house for you and friends to try on. We sure celebrated that night and I bought several pieces. :)

Tara Taylor QuinnI usually let out a very loud whoop, for my puppies ears only (a release of all the tension!) and then very circumspectly call my husband and mother, text my cousin and think about the champagne I will soon be drinking.

Joan Kilby: When I got the call that I'd sold my first book many years ago, my husband popped a bottle of champagne- at 7 o'clock in the morning! It made the school morning routine a little more jolly than usual. Luckily hubby was home and could drive. Nothing will ever compare to that day in terms of celebration but if it's a big achievement the champagne still usually makes an appearance, although at a more civilized time of day. A nice dinner out is always welcome, too.

Rogenna Brewer:  I start with phone calls. It just doesn't seem real until you tell somebody.

Cathryn Parry: Not enough! And I need to change that. :-)

Kate Kelly: I usually savor the news for a few minutes by myself. I'm sure if anyone looked in the window, they'd see a goofy grin on my face! Then I tell my husband, then my home peeps. whom I've known since I started writing. My husband is the romantic in the family. He buys flowers and wine, and we either go out to eat somewhere special or buy treats to cook up, like fresh Atlantic scallops or Atlantic salmon.

Kris Fletcher: I hyperventilate. And this isn't really a celebration, but when I get a new cover, I use it to make some pens, which I keep in my special, "Never Give Up. Never Surrender" mug.

Vicki Essex:  Same way I celebrate rejections: with whiskey. 8 )

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Class Reunion Wear

By Jeannie Watt

My June book Once a Champion isn't  about class reunions, but it is about a reunion. As it says on the back cover copy of the book, “It starts with a horse…”

Shy Liv Bailey tutored hot rodeo star Matt Montoya in high school. She thought they were becoming friends…and more. But once the tutoring was done, Matt started dating Liv’s outgoing stepsister.

Now, a little over ten years later, the tables have turned. Liv has in her possession a horse she bought from Matt’s ex-wife—a horse Matt wants back to help him reestablish his rodeo career—but she’s not selling.  Matt, who remembers Liv as sweet and compliant, isn't certain how to handle the situation and learns a lot about both himself and Liv as he tries.

While plotting this book I thought about including a class reunion, since Matt and Liv went to school together, but decided against it.  I've never been to a class reunion. There are many reasons I haven’t gone, and they all have to do with distance and timing. If I had gone, however, I wonder what I would have worn?

This is the type of stuff being worn the year I graduated high school. 

Therefore, I probably would have worn something along these lines to my 10 year reunion.I made most of my clothes back then, so I certainly would have sewn something. I would have probably worn Reeboks to the family picnic.

For my 20 year reunion, this would have been nice. Classy, shows a little leg. I was still sewing a lot in the 90s.

For my (gasp) 30 year reunion--I would have bought a dress, like say this one. I'd have worn a short jacket with it. Everyone would have been like, hey, she keeps herself in really good shape. (If I'm going to fantasize about going to reunions, I'm going to have a great fantasy reunion.)

This will be what I wear to my 40 year reunion, because it’s far into the future:

Have you attended any of your reunions? Was it a good time?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Real Women

Mary Sullivan

At the moment, I'm working on revisions for my October release, BECAUSE OF AUDREY. I don't usually post about a book so far in advance, but am heavily involved in the story at the moment and I adore the heroine.

Audrey is big and bold and beautiful. She has a firm acceptance of the size of her body and of her quirky character. She is also compassionate and loving, with a heart as large as her...lungs.

I've had fun with her, including dressing her as though she were a doll, LOL. She sews her own retro clothing, like halter dresses with wide crinolined skirts from the fifties and sixties, or she wears vintage pieces like the classic Chanel suit that was popular back then, and she wears it with a red pillbox hat. Her lipstick and fingernail polish match the hat.

When the hero first sees her, he thinks she's an odd mix of Jackie Kennedy and Betty Boop.

Because she makes her clothing, I was free to create exactly what I wanted to have her wear, even though the style couldn't be found in stores these days.

I had so much fun with this woman that I began to worry that I was writing her too over-the-top. Would readers ever believe that she could possibly exist?

Then I went shopping with a friend and we ended up in a boutique in a quirky, trendy part of town and later in a tiny restaurant where we ate vegetarian grain bowls full of lentils and tofu and avocado, all the super-duper healthy stuff I love. Don't get me started on how that set off a run of making these things at home every day for weeks on end afterward!

Anyway, back to the boutique. It was started by a local woman who graduated from design school and couldn't get a job anywhere. So...she pulled together all of the local clothing designers she knew who were struggling but had amazing ideas and opened a shop featuring their clothing, plenty of fabulous fun, original pieces. Everything is made and designed locally, including great accessories and jewellery AND the prices are reasonable for original items. It's become such a success, there are now three shops in the city.

Now, back to my point. We walked into the boutique and THERE WAS MY HEROINE. She ran the store. While my friend tried on clothing, this young woman and I chatted. She was bright and funny and self-confident. She had a very generous figure. Her clothing style was original. Her black eyeliner tipped up at the ends and made her eyes look big and exotic. She wore bright red lipstick. This was Audrey!

I thought, no, I haven't gone over-the-top at all in creating this heroine. There are Audreys out there in the world, women who accept their uniqueness wholeheartedly.

When you are reading a novel, how 'real' does your heroine have to be? I know her emotions and reactions and motivations have to be believable. We need to be able to relate to her, but how close to an average woman does she have to be? How far out of the box can the author write the heroine and have you, the reader, still be able to relate?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thighmasters, homekills and email valentines by Karina Bliss

One of the old photos I came across. My mother and I drinking wine on the deck at the Pataua bach (holiday home) of my sister . I love the place so much I set a book there - Bring Him Home.

I’ve been spring-cleaning my inbox which means sifting through all the sub-folders I've made to move mail and feel efficient. Clicking through the ‘personal’ folder was like opening a box of old letters and trinkets.

Here’s what I found:

* A seven year old email from my son’s then teacher which I kept because it was so illustrative of his character.

“I just wanted to let you know some exciting news –
Jordan has been selected to participate in our Gifted & Talented Mathematics Program.  This is a great opportunity for Jordan, and although he did scrunch his nose up when I told him, I thought I’d pass the exciting news along to home (as I don’t think he’ll be screaming it the minute he walks through the door??).”

And yes, he forgot to mention it when he got home from school.

* My one and only Valentine from his non demonstrative father that WASN’T the result of hinting, nagging or emotional blackmail. An email card with a frog on it. What can I say? I’m desperate.

* A satirical letter I wrote to the Christchurch Press after a male journalist came to the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference and published one of those predictable and ignorant denigrations of romance.

Dear Sir,
My compliments to Martin Van Beynen for his excellent article on the recent conference of Romance Writers of NZ. His courage in such frank personal description of these women (obviously he doesn’t fear meeting those ladies again!) is to be lauded in this day and age of political correctness. Though I’m a leg man myself, I enjoyed his preoccupation with breasts very much.
I read a book myself once and didn’t enjoy it - so I can only admire Mr Van Beynen who went to the trouble of reading two before dismissing romance as ‘schlock’ – a great word and its overuse in no way impinged on my enjoyment of his story.
My wife reads romance – astonishing, I know, when she had the real thing in front of the telly with her every night – and suggests Mr Van Beynen got a lot of his facts wrong. Bollocks! After all, Mr Van B is a journalist. The man spent two days at conference keeping an open mind and no doubt having to eat quiche and the like. Surely this makes his opinion worth more than my wife’s and the 51 million other women who read this rubbish?
When I repeated Mr Van B’s assertion that romance was ‘schlock,’ my wife replied that Mr Van B was a big ‘schlong.’ I can only assume this is romance speak for the ‘alpha male’ to which Mr Van B compares himself and must surely confirm his estimation as correct.

* A poem from my twelve year old nephew, Luther called Rat Begun.
He took the quietness of the rocks and stole the swiftness of the wind to make his walk.
To make his coat he took the grey of storm clouds and the dirtiness of the sewer.
He also snatched the twinkle of the stars and the blackness of the night sky for his eyes.
And that's how rat began.

*  My favorite funny email. These humorous similes and metaphors are usually attributed to high school essayists, but they actually originate from a Washington Post contest launched in 1993 called the Style Invitational.  Here are a few stand-outs.

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides 
gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances 
like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog 
makes just before it throws up.

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a 
bowling ball wouldn't.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, 
either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping 
on a land mine or something.

The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender 
leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard 
bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up

What else did I find? An email from a foodie recommending menu choices at a Chinese restaurant (order Peking duck and don't forget to ask for the carcass to be made into a broth/soup which should be presented at the end of the meal)
Emails with diet tips cancelled out by emails with recipes, an email from a butcher with a homekill cutting list attached (we have steers on some land up north and one is unmanageable. Fret not, he still lives). I found a receipt for a meditation tape that promises to increase my creativity and correspondence with the manufacturer over a rusty washing machine.

And while I was sifting and smiling, I was thinking about character and what the emails I’ve saved say about mine. And how the toughest job of a writer is to create people who have the rich, quirky layers of real human beings.  

So how about you? Is there an email filed away in your in-box folders that makes you smile? Are we humans hardwired to accumulate, even if it’s electronically?

May sees the release of A Prior Engagement about a guy who comes back from the dead to discover he's accumulated a fiancee, the same woman who turned him down on the eve of deployment. Go to www.karinabliss.com for more details.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Camp vs Camp

Synchronicity? Coincidence? No matter how you explain it, the fact remains that two of this month's Superromance releases are set at summer camps! RITA finalist Pamela Hearon's The Summer Place and Kris Fletcher's debut novel A Better Father share a similar setting - but do the similarities end there? There's only one way to find out. Welcome to Camp vs. Camp!

Camp Sunny Daze
(The Summer Place)
Camp Overlook
(A Better Father)
On Kentucky Lake not far from Kentucky Dam in western Kentucky
On the St. Lawrence River in the Canadian Thousand Islands

Primary Staff  
Assistant Director and Head Boys’ Counselor--Rick Warren, a former Marine.  A sexy Southern gentleman with old school ideas about manners and discipline.
Head Girls’ Counselor--Summer Delaney, founder of Fairy Princess Parties and daughter of the camp’s owners.  A free spirit, determined to empower the girls in her charge and take over her rightful place as Assistant  Director of the camp.
New Owner – Sam Catalano, former NHL star and spokesman for Cold Ice body wash.  He bought the camp to provide a new start for himself and his toddler son Casey.
Assistant Director – Libby Kovak. Libby planned to be a teacher until life decided to yank the rug out from beneath her feet. Since then she's made the camp her life, and there's no way she'll give it up to the man who broke her heart when she needed him most.

Best Place to Steal a Kiss

On the moonlit beach (after the kids have gone to bed, of course!).
Hiding beneath the dive raft. Not that anything REALLY happened under there, no matter what people say about the broken strap on Libby's bathing suit.
Most Requested Campfire Song
The Sunny Daze Camp Song! (please, sing along to the tune of  “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star [preferably holding hands in a big circle that moves round and round,  faster and faster with each verse.  Collapse on the ground in a giggling heap at the end]).
Sunny Daze , the camp for me/Camp for me,  Camp for me.
Sunny Daze, the camp for me/The summer place to be!

Just a Boy and a Girl In a Little Canoe … though the lyrics have been altered to refer back to that dive raft incident. Which absolutely wasn't an incident. Really.

Favorite Activities
Archery, canoeing, swimming, geochaching, and zip-lining for the children.  The counselors enjoy moonlight swims, moonlight chats, moonlight walks, and moonlight beaming  through the cabin windows during  Adult Activity Time. 

The kids enjoy crafts, swimming, pulling pranks, and competing in the Tour de Camp. Sam has a fondness for tricking Libby into archery (which she detests) and trying to steal kisses. Libby is into supervising the staff, playing with Sam's son, and trying to make herself believe that kissing Sam is not in her best interest.

Hmmmm. Sounds like the camps have a lot in common after all. They're both filled with fun activities, laughing kids, and a lot of romance!

Now that you've seen our answers, we want to know: if you were writing a story set at a summer camp, where would you have the characters steal a kiss or two? 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why Romance? Perhaps My Most Important Reason...

Driving around my hometown the past two days I've wondered why some of the flags are at half-mast. The answer came on the front page of the local paper this morning. I pulled the newsprint out of the dew-covered biodegradable plastic wrap and it sprang open with the headline that two of the men killed in the NATO helicopter crash in Afghanistan this week were from our area.
Two more families have become Gold Star Families in a blink, in the time it took for the crash to take their loved ones.
This hit me in the gut, and the heart. My June SuperRomance online read, Navy Hope, is about Gold Star Families, and what they do after they get through the initial year or so of intense grief. How do they move on?
My editor and I are working on the edits for this story at this very moment. The timing doesn't escape me, it's beyond me.
As a novelist I know that while my stories and characters are works of fiction, the emotions are anything but contrived. They're real. I've lived them, save for the Gold Star Family part (thank you God!).
My heart aches for the surviving families of every military casualty. I can't bring anyone back from the dead, none of us can make that happy ending happen.
But I can write about these families in my work by paying tribute to their heroism, the kind that's rarely in the paper or on a newscast. The everyday work and steadfast courage that it takes to be a military family, be it Blue Star (a family with a deployed member), Gold Star (a family who has lost a loved one), or the vast number of other military families.
Because I write romance, I can give them a happy ending, the kind they all deserve, but unfortunately don't always get in real life. With that, perhaps I can give everyone a bit of hope.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

So here we are. About eighteen years after first admitting to myself that I was interested in writing, I can finally hold a book that I wrote in my hands. My mind is officially blown. 

The first acknowledgement in A BETTER FATHER (did I mention it's on sale now?) is to the writers of Galaxy Quest, for that whole "Never give up. Never surrender!" thing. I know, I know.  It's such a cliché … but when it takes seventeen years to make that first sale, any and all mantras are needed. This one hit home for me because (a) it was short, (b) it was easy to remember, and (c) it was from a movie that was clever, funny, creative, and heartwarming – exactly the qualities I hope to infuse into my books. 

Never give up. Never surrender. 

Not that I always lived it, you know. I can't count how many times I gave up along the way. My agent loves to remind me of the five thousand or so emails in which I said to her, "I think I'm done." (Hey, she stuck by me for almost ten years before that sale happened. She's allowed to gloat.) But somehow, something always pulled me back. Sometimes it was an encouraging contest judge, or a new story that wouldn't let go. Sometimes it was something totally ridiculous, like being on the board of my local RWA chapter so I HAD to keep going to the meetings. Sometimes it was sheer stubbornness. Sometimes it was sheer laziness – as in, if I stopped writing I would need to take up something else, and the thought of starting over in a new field made me cringe. 
Sometimes, I just admitted that I wanted this too much to let go. 

Never give up. Never surrender. 

On that day when I picked up the phone and heard my agent say, "It's The Call," I dropped to the floor and sat there for an hour, sobbing. By some miracle none of the kids walked in. It was just me, alone in my office, crying out seventeen years worth of hopes and fears and frustrations and overwhelming relief. By the time I dragged myself back to my feet, I was shaking with exhaustion and could barely talk – but it was a joyful kind of depletion, much like after giving birth. Which is totally, absolutely appropriate. 

I'm glad I didn't know that it would take so long to make that first sale. I don’t know if I could have committed myself to a seventeen-year wait. But now that it's happened, let me tell you: it was worth every rejection, every sleepless night, every tear. 

Never give up. Never surrender.
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