Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My Glamorous Life as a Writer / Part 2

That was about the time I decided to write a short story about a journalist who goes back in time to interview Alexander the Great.
The story turned into a novel. The novel turned into a series of seven books. Writing that series was like breathing. It was both the easiest thing I ever did and the most necessary. I needed to write that series. It was like a baby inside me that grew and had to be born.
When I’d written all seven books I was stunned. There is a whole month out of my life where I can’t remember what I did or where I was. I think at that time we were in England, in a small stone house with hollyhocks all around it. The twins were nearly seven. It was time to take them back to France so they could go to school.
We moved to France, found a house to rent in a small village, and I bought a computer and typed up my series. It took about a year to type it all out and get it ready to submit. In the meantime I got the twins enrolled in school, made friends in my new village, and became pregnant with my daughter.
I thought that it would be easy to sell my series, but it was a time travel, a paranormal romance, a historical novel, and a campy, tongue-in-cheek spoof all at the same time. I tried every publisher in the book and then some. My daughter was born, learned to walk, and began to talk. And then I found a small publisher in Australia who took it and loved it.
I was a published author!
I told everyone I knew and those I didn’t know. I wrote postcards and letters and posted excerpts and made a web-site. I sent copies to reviewers and friends, and sat back waiting for the royalties to arrive. I was ecstatic. Especially after my publisher wrote to me and said I’d written an Australian best seller. Wow.
Let me just take this time to say that a best seller in Australia is a book that sells more than 200 copies.
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. But the publisher was so happy I felt I should be happy too. I took my first royalty check and sent it to the bank, and tried not to calculate how many hours I’d worked on the book versus how much I’d made...which would work out to something like 0.03 cents an hour. Then the publisher folded and I got all my rights back to my series. I was back to square one. My glamorous life as an author had taken a serious drubbing. I picked myself up and called my mother.
“I will never write another book. I don’t care how good it was. It was a waste of time, that’s what it was.” I gave a self-pitying sniff.
Listening in to our conversation was my mother’s protégé, Sam. He spoke up. “You should never give up,” he said, sounding very sure of himself. “But if you want to earn money, you should write erotic books. They sell like crazy.”
Sam’s friend, Winston, chimed in. “That’s right. Don’t stop writing. You write too well.”
“If I write and erotic book, I’m using a pen name,” I said. “And if I take a pen name, it will be Sam Winston.”
“That works,” they said.
I hung up and thought about it.
Could I write erotic novels? Some of my short stories were sensual. Maybe I could. But first I had to read an erotic novel. I looked on the Internet – that vast repository of everything and anything – and found several online bookstores. Only one was specifically for erotic books. I bought one. It was pretty good. I liked the writing. The characters were well developed. The sex was hot—and there was sex all through the book. Despite that, there was a plot that had nothing to do with sex and I appreciated that. If I wrote an erotic book, I’d still like it to have a plot and interesting characters. I decided to give it a try.
I wrote ‘Casey Come Home’ and sent it to Ellora’s cave on July 17th 2002 at 3:30 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. I got an e-mail back from them. “We’d love to publish your book. Here is a contract, print out two copies and send them back signed on the dotted line.” (Or something like that.)
I ran outside and grabbed my husband who was busy washing the car. I spun him around and screamed, “They want to publish my book!”
The sun was shining. The sky was blue. I was once again a published author. I rushed back inside and grabbed my promotional sheet, ready to write notes and postcards to everyone I knew...and stopped. This was an erotic book. Half the people on my list were family members. Some had weak hearts. This was a dilemma. Who could I tell about Samantha Winston? Undeterred, I decided to join author groups online and ask their advice. That was a stroke of genius. Writers love to give advice, and ideas flowed from everyone. It was wonderful. And then I got my first edits.
Edits are interesting. After the first shock, I found I loved doing edits. I was disappointed that the title of my book ‘Casey Come Home’, would be changed to ‘A Grand Passion’, but the new title soon grew on me. And besides, I was a published author.
I just couldn’t tell anyone.
(to be continues...)

Monday, February 27, 2006

My Glamorous Life as a Writer / Part 1

My Glamorous Life as a Writer

Part One

I wrote my first book out longhand on a yellow notepad. I was in Argentina and really didn’t have much else to do. We were staying in the countryside, which basically meant no neighbors for a hundred miles, and my twins were still toddlers - they would turn three in a month. We had a housekeeper who adored cooking for my husband and playing with my children, so for the first time in my life I didn’t have to cook, clean, or run after the twins. The house was surrounded by mile after mile of flat plain and tall eucalyptus trees that rustled in the wind. The wind was a constant presence. There were also swarms of mosquitoes at night and rainstorms during the day that flooded our pool and garden.

The twins spent half their time in the pool and the other half sitting on the couch wearing motorcycle helmets and watching cartoons in Spanish. The helmets had been in the house and the boys thought they were cool.

My husband was buying horses, which meant he was away most of the time, horses being spread far and wide in Argentine. On most days, he drove anywhere between five to ten hours...one way, to see a horse and try it. If the horse was any good, they loaded it in the truck and brought it back to the farm for a week to see what happened when the drugs wore off. It was a given that most horse-dealers drugged their animals or did something to them to make them act like polo ponies. In those days, finding a real polo pony was harder than nowadays. But the drugs and tricks have remained the same. At any rate, we had a barn full of horses, grooms, and I could ride whenever I wanted. But I didn't want to leave the twins alone all day, so I stayed in the house. I was bored. I decided to write a book. My first novel was a fun book to write, and I kept at it doggedly.

I liked sitting on the veranda watching the twins play the pool, while writing my book.

People who came to visit were impressed. “A writer!” they would exclaim.

I liked being called the writer. Usually I drew pictures, but “An artist” doesn’t carry as much weight as “A writer” does. It sounded important, not flaky. Artists were flaky. Writers were intellectual. As much as I hate to admit it, I preferred being thought of as an intellectual, and not as a flake. My career as a writer was born. I thought it was glamorous and intellectual.

During the three months we were in Argentina, I taught my twins to swim, finished my novel, and wrote a couple articles for the Polo Magazine. I sent the articles in and they were accepted and published. Writing seemed a cinch. Then we went back to France, I bought a type-writer, and I typed up my story.

It was the first time I’d ever typed anything. It took a long time, a lot of paper, and much ink. When it was finished, I sent it to a friend who proof-read it and submitted it to an agent she’d met at a party.

The agent met us in NYC the next month, and was very kind. She told me the book was good but that it needed work. I had a knack for character development and plot, but I needed work on my writing skills. She thought I should try writing short stories for a while and then polish up and re-submit the book. She gave me her card and wished me luck.

I was thrilled. I realized that the agent had done me an enormous favor by meeting me in person and giving so much of her time. I also realized that writing was not as easy as I thought. Her idea about fixing the book was good but daunting. However, the short story part of her advice sounded perfect. I’d always liked writing short stories. That’s what I’d do.

I read a lot of short stories. I’ve always enjoyed them.

I sat down and wrote a short story and sent it to the Bear Deluxe Magazine in Oregon. They accepted it. Well, I thought, that’s easy.

My next twenty short stories were rejected by twenty different magazines.

I polished them up, revised them, and sent them out again. Slowly, I started selling them. Then one of them won a prize, and another was nominated for the Pushcart award, and I started to become more sure of my craft.

That was about the time I decided to write a short story about a journalist who goes back in time to interview Alexander the Great.

By now, the twins were four and we were still travelling. Writing was simply a hobby for me, like my drawing and painting.
(to be continued...)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Cold day, dog stuff

It's cold. Not quite cold enough to freeze, but cold enough to make your breath turn white as you walk. The air bites and it's wet. The sun is hidden behind a uniform layer of gray clouds. The dogs sit on the steps when I put them out and whine to come back inside. Auguste, who has yet to learn not to scratch at the door, stands up on his hind legs and scrabbles at the door.
This is what I do. I say 'No!' and I dump a glass of water on him. He stares at me in shock and then turns to look at Rusty, who is sitting a few feet away with an "I told you so dummy" expression on her face. Rusty does not scratch on the door. She learned with the water method, and I'm pretty sure Auguste will learn too.
When guests come over, Auguste launches himself at them like a mini torpedo. That too will pass. I catch his collar quite firmly and make him sit. He's only 4 months old, and so far he knows how to sit and wait for me to put his food dish down, to go lie in his bed and stay, and to sit with Rusty in her bed and stay (at least for five minutes, lol). He comes when I call him, which annoys Rusty, because Auguste runs when I call him. Rusty is slow. She likes to amble. But Auguste dashes toward me when I call his name and Rusty is always afraid she may be missing some treat, so she heaves a great sigh and breaks into a trot.
Auguste is shiny clean this evening. I took him upstairs and gave him a proper bath. After the muddy walk he was caked with dirt and the water was black. He was very upset with the bath and pretended to be terrified.
Both dogs were patient today while I worked. They love their walk, but some days I just don't have the time (thus the shutting them outside in the garden.) Luckily my daughter and her friend offered to take them out, so they were quite happy and tired this evening. (After his bath Auguste went into his bed and fell asleep. I can just see the tip of his tail from here.)
I apologise for the boring doggy post, but aside from working on my book and washing the dog, I did absolutely nothing today at all!

Friday, February 24, 2006

A very muddy walk

Today we woke up to four inches of white, fluffy snow. I decided to take the dogs for a walk this morning which was a good thing, because by noon the snow had all melted except in shady places under the trees.
Auguste loved the snow--it was his first 'big' snowfall. He liked to eat it, and would take big snapping mouthfuls of it and gulp it down.
This afternoon it was very sunny, so my son and I took the dogs out again and took a longer walk to the fields behind the village. It was very, very muddy.

We saw a hare. It bounded right out of the bushes in front of me and the dogs took a few steps after it but when we called them back they stopped. Even the dogs could see the futility of chasing after that hare. Besides, we were ankle deep in mud at that point. It stuck to our boots and weighed us down, but the sun was shining and there was no breeze, for once, up on the crest of the hill, so it was almost warm out. We had a nice view of the village. Then we went back down into the hollow and washed our boots off in the washing shed. The water was freezing but the dogs didn't mind, and even Auguste was soon splashing around in it. (Which was a good thing - he was covered in mud)

There are washing sheds like this in almost all the villages. Not so very long ago, the washing was done sitting at the edge of the pool, rubbing the cloth on the smooth stone with a bar of laundry soap. They still sell the bars of soap here - huge white bars of fragrant soap(that don't float, lol.)
I can only imagine how heavy the wet laundry was and how awful it must have been pushing it in a wheelbarrow back up the hill. In our back yard there is a shed with a hay rack. Maybe there was a donkey once there, and they used the donkey to carry the laundry?
I think I'd love a time-machine.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

White Sky

It's snowing out. The smallest snowflakes I've ever seen are floating about as if the air is full of dust motes or tiny feathers.
The air is white and there is the faintest coating of sugar-frosting on the tree trunks and cars. Maybe it will stick on the ground, but I don't think so. It wasn't supposed to snow until tommorow, but it's better than the drizzling rain we were supposed to get.
I went to the gym this morning and it was 'stretching' day.' I don't stretch. I can't touch my toes and so today was like a torture session for me as we bent and pulled and twisted every which way. I took yoga hoping to get more supple, not realizing how much it would help my back. Now I can't do without my yoga class, but I still can't stand up, keep my legs straight, and touch my toes. There are just some things I can't do.

I have to get back to work on my book now. Yesterday I drew up a timeline, a character list, and made a map of the city the story takes place in. I needed to visualize a few things. I also have to choose a name for the nightclub in the book -What do you think? It's a burlesque club with a pool room, dance floor, and small stage for an occasional male strip show.


Here are my 13 choices: (This is my friend Andrea and I brainstorming - her with jet-lag and me with an ear-ache, lol)

1) The Curtain
2) Purple Velvet
3) Red Curtains
4) Curtains
5) Purple
6) Red
7) Scarlet
8) Dee's Place
9) Purple Dee
10) Red Velvet
11) Scarlet Dee
12) Strip Me
13) ???
Well - I'm still open to suggestions!
Have a good day -

PS - visit more Thursday Thirteens!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Play Along!

Current Clothing: sweat pants, tee-shirt, zipped sweater (I'm off to yoga class in 15 minutes)

Current Hair: Ponytail for yoga class. Keeps slipping out though. Messy.

Current Mood: Still euphoric about getting an agent. Thinking about rewrites; taking book apart in my head.

Current Refreshment: White tea.

Current Annoyance: The freezing rain. It's all slushy mud outside. Ugh.

Current Avoidance: Ironing

Current Smell: Wet dogs - they just came indoors.

Current Thing You Ought to be Doing: Getting ready for yoga.

Current Thing or Things on Your Wall: My French rugbyman calendar. (Oh La La!!)

Current IM person You’re Talking To: No one’s online!

Current Jewelry: wedding ring.

Current Book: I'm reading a mystery set in the middle ages - it's the second book in the series I started last week. Way cool.

Your turn!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday Musings

So I'm officially signed up with an agent today! I'm wondering if my head can get any bigger. I can't wait to go to NY and say, "I'm heading to the city this week to see my agent." Dontcha know. Where's my tiara, Dakota? LOL.

Of course, this means nothing for the time being. She has my book and loves it, and will send me a two page list of things to work on tomorrow, lol. (She wondered if I would be able to finish by May. She doesn't know how fast I work, lol.) Afterward the book has to be sold and then sell to the public, so there are many, many steps to be taken.

This is what is fun about starting any relationship - and I'm looking forward to working with an agent.

I remember starting off with my first editor, Allie from Ellora's Cave. She was terrific - very helpful - and her advice (very good advice) was to READ other books. She used to send me lists of books she wanted me to read, and, wanting to make progress - I read. I still think reading is a great way to learn to write. Some of the books she told me "You're going to hate this one - but watch how the author developes the tension between the hero and heroine." Or she'd say, "this book is great for its plot." And she was right, and reading the books helped me immensely.
My second editor was my darling Mama Z, who helped polish up 'Diamina' from a rambling fable into a tightly woven fantasy tale. Then I was lucky to have Martha, senior editor from Ellora's Cave and a terrific editor, who helped make 'My Fair Pixie' into a best-seller for Ellora's Cave, (and a Silver Star too!) Now I have Ann, and she's absolutely essential for my writing. I feel so confident when she tells me that edits are finished - I know there are no more mistakes in the book; she is amazingly thorough. And I can't talk about editors without mentioning Erin from Loose-Id, who spent so much time with me polishing Virtual Murder into the shiny book it is, (as well as Battle's Bride and Time Traveller, not to mention Ice Man!) And from Changeling Press, Maryam - who is so much fun to work with because she always has so much positive things to say about my writing (we authors need that sort of thing, lol!)

But each relationship started with that first contact, the first comments about the book, and the first suggestions about how to make it better.

I await these suggestions with impatience. I'm one of those geeky authors who think that editors make books 'sparkle', and I love to edit. Perhaps it's because I have such fun editing with my mom (who was, truth be told, my English teacher in school as well as my first editor.) I learned to take criticsm from her, because she is Good, and because she never babied me. If she thought my writing sucked, she said so, and left it to me to figure out how to make it better.
Her best advice: "When in doubt, leave it out." In other words, don't agonize over a sentence or a phrase - if you are, it's probably better to just cut it out.
Believe me - it's good advice, lol.

We used to sit and edit my books, and sometimes we'd be laughing until we cried at the misplaced modifiers (my personal favorites) or the repeated words ("How many times can you fit 'bit' on one page, Sam?") and then she'd point out where the plot sagged and I'd fix it (that's one thing I'm good at is fixing things - even around the house) or she'd tell me to cut something (and I do - I don't mind cutting. It makes the writing tighter)
And now I realise I'm rambling and she'd probably have me cut that last paragraph but I'll leave it in, because blogging, thank goodness, doesn't get edited, lol.

And my ear still aches today so I'm wearing a hat in the house. Thank goodness I'm not expecting royalty.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

We are Happy today!

Well, my ear still hurts but that's all right - I just got an e-mail from the nice agent I submitted Jack to, and she loves it, and wants to sign me up!!!
(add more '!!!'s)
And I'm sitting here with the puppy asleep on my lap (and he smells funny - time for a puppy bath) trying to type and not wake him up, and I'm thrilled, just thrilled that Jack will be in such good hands.
Puppy is now snoring, I don't think I have to worry about waking him up. And Rusty has somehow squeezed herself in the puppy bed on the floor. She looks uncomfortable, but she was determined to sleep in the puppy bed.
Today's schedule:
1:Blog a bit about my good news!
2:Take daughter to pony club
3:Watch Olympics
4:Call friends and family & chat about good news!(it's Sunday and rates are lower so I usually call everyone on Sundays)
5:Pick up daughter from pony club
6:Watch more Olympics, day-dream some more about good news
Busy day in perspective.
Now if only puppy will wake up!

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Ouch - I have an ear-ache. I went to the doctor and he gave me a perscription, so I have some medicine for it. But my head hurts and the medicine makes me very sleepy.

Anyhow, good news - I finished my WIP first draft and sent it off to a very nice agent who responded to my query in record time. I was surprised - I thought I'd have at least another 2 weeks to work on the book, but she requested the full the same day I sent the query off when I was only about 3/4 of the way done. Luckily I had a solid outline / synopsis so I just sat down and wrote the ending in a week (about 20K)

It will certainly need fleshing out, but after going over it one last time before sending it off, I was really happy with the bones of the story. One thing about writing sparse, you can always add more later. I actually add a lot during edits - it's rare when I don't add 15- 20K to a finished book during edits. I'm also a good edit, take advice well, and can usually turn out a clean copy fast. I'm trying to think of the last time I had to cut things out of a book but I usually do that as I'm writing (picky writer here), and I love my mom's advice -" when in doubt, leave it out." That makes editing so much easier, lol. It's also good advice to an author - if you're agonizing over a sentence or a phrase, it's probably best just to eliminate it.

Anyhow, I'm off to bed now with a hot tea and to watch 'March of the Emperor' (about the penguins - not Napoleon.)

Feb. TBR read

A deadly Brew

Susanna Gregory

Year Published

Why did you get this book?
I read a blurb somewhere (can't rememeber where, then I went to the author's website and liked what I saw)


Do you like the cover?
Yes, it's purple with a gold cup on it - very stark but effective.

Did you enjoy the book?
Very much - I love mysteries and the middle ages - this was right up my alley.

Would you read something by this author again?

Are you keeping it or passing it on?
Keeping it

Anything else?
It's part of a series and now I want to track down the rest.

Friday, February 17, 2006


I have some films here that I never get tired of watching. They have nothing to do with the Disney style films you might know. They are magnificent.
They are by HAYAO MIYAZAKI, one of the modern masters of Japanese cinema. Hayao Miyazaki (Director/Writer) has created some of the most admired and influential animated films of recent decades.

Here are the 4 films I have:

My favorite is "Spirited Away", a film about a young girl caught in the world of spirits and who tries to save her parents.¨
Then I love "Princess Monokoke", a story that combines the Japanese middle ages and an ecological fable, told with humor and utterly engaging characters.
"Laputa, Castle in the Sky" is an adventure with a science fiction tone to it, while "Kiki's Delivery Service" is about a young witch trying to find a place for herself in the world.

If you like whimsy, magic, beautiful drawings, wonderful characters, and music, don't miss a chance to see these films - or any film by Hayao Miyazaki and his legendary film studio, STUDIO GHIBLI!

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things I love about ARGENTINA

I just drove my husband to the airport - he's off to Argentine for ten days, the lucky guy! I love Argentina, and here's why:

1. I went there for my honeymoon

2. Bueanos Aires looks like Paris

3. In the spring, the city is covered with flowering Judas trees - beautiful lavender flowers everywhere

4. The people are wonderful

5. The meat is amazing - my favorite is asado de tira (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) beef short ribs, grilled, with salad.

6. The countryside is wild, full of emus and horses

7. The polo fields are in the middle of the city, and polo is the national sport

8. Driving is a bit crazy - the roads are so full of potholes you drive on the shoulder half the time

9. Alfajorés (sweet bisquits with dulcé de leché and chocolate)

10. It's fun to go to the tango bars

11. There are sea lions in the ocean. The coast is fabulous.

12. When it's winter here, it's summer there.

13. The Argentines have a fun sense of humor, even when things are terrible they can joke. Here is a joke someone sent me when the country was bankrupt and rioting:

Two men are in a bar talking. One man says to the other,
"I have the answer to our problems. All we have to do is declare war on the U.S., they'll come and win the war, and then rebuild our country!"
His friend looked at him and said, "Yes, but what if we win?"

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Kate Rothwell
2. Douglas Hoffman
3. Jona's Thirteen
4. Lena
5. Ocean Lady

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!


Be My Valentine, and win a copy of Darla's Valentine!

Send me an e-mail wishing me a Happy Valentine's Day - I'll pick a winner tomorrow and send a pdf copy of Darla to the lucky winner -
Good Luck!


Monday, February 13, 2006

Winter Oh Lick Lips

One of my twins once called the Olympics the 'oh lick lips'. The twins were always mangling words, and I never corrected them, prefering 'spalstic' to plastic, and finding 'hopper grasses' much cuter than a grass hopper.

Anyhow, I love watching the olympics, and so yesterday I had the TV on while I worked, and I managed to catch the mens' downhill and see the French guy win, much to the surprise of everyone. (it's nicer when the winner is a surprise) And then I got a lot more work done during the cross-counrty ski race, (that lasts an hour and a half), since there are practically no commercials here in France. I managed to get a lot of work done because you see five minutes of cross country skiiing - you've seen it all.

I'm looking forward to the skiing and shooting race, which a journalist over at the Guardian likened to swimming a legnth of a pool, then getting out to strangle someone...That might be entertaining too, especially if the swimmer has to chase and catch his intended victim. (swimming, racing, and wrestling) But I happen to like sharp shooting, and the skiing helps me get a lot of work done while I don't watch it.

And speaking of shooting, I read that the VP of the US, Cheney, shot someone while hunting quail. Now, I don't hunt. But I grew up with a passle of hunting uncles, and my husband is an avid hunter. The VP shot someone in the face and chest, which meant he was shooting way low - birds fly in the air, folks, and unless you're trigger happy and close your eyes when you shoot, you wait until the birds are high enough not to endanger anyone, you take your finger off the trigger as you raise that gun, and you don't shoot unless you're positive about what you're shooting. What I'm trying to say is he is a terrible hunter, and since he shot a lawyer I bet he's plenty 'embêté' as they would say here in France, or down in New Orleans, come to think about it.

Now New Orleans, I just read, was a unmitigated disaster. Supposedly the levees were breached the day the storm hit, the Prez Knew about it and lied, saying they weren't breached until a whole day and a half later. Is it to protect his buddies in the insurance companies? Or are they planning on submitting New Orleans' candidature for the summer olympics and having a ready-made water park? I bet lots of folk wanted to swim out of New Orleans and strangle the president. He was smart not coming until a few days later. That can be a new sport - the swim, chase, and strangle. Right up there with the ski shooting.

Anyhow, one year the twins and I went to Mégève, a very lovely French ski station in the Alps. I put the twins in ski school. The teacher was an elderly man of infinite patience, who, it turned out, won the bronze medal for skiing at Squaw Valley in 1960. He also told me my son Sebi didn't listen to a word he said, and that he'd never taught a child like that. I was mortified, but he honestly didn't seem to mind. He just let Sebi do his thing (Sebi only wanted to be pointed straight down the mountain and go as fast as he could) while he took the others on their slow, curving way down the hill - and on the end of every curve he'd call Sebi, who'd point straight down and whoosh straight for the teacher, who would catch nimbly him and set him upright again, and tell him to wait. Sebi never did learn to turn, but he and the teacher got along great.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The obligatory Hamster Post

My twins bugged me for years about getting hamsters, but since we had a cat I told them "no." So when the cat died (of old age) the boys and I went to the pet shop and bought hamsters. I wanted two males or two females - of course we got one of each sex. And they had little wrestling matches (delighted comments from the boys) I rushed out and bought a second cage - too late - at 6 a.m. we were woken up by Sebi screaming that "Brownie has Kittens!" And sure enough - in Brownie's cage were five tiny pink...things. Baby hamsters are Not cute in the beginning. The twins (aged 10) named the new babies (Verb, Adverb, Paragraph, Page, and Cootie.) Cootie being the runt of the litter.

My daughter, aged two, loved to play with the hamsters and would take them out of their cage. I would tell her to put them back or they'd bite. She didn't care. She got bitten a few times but it just made her stop squeezing them so hard.

One day I was vacuuming the dining room and my daughter (2 years old) came running in screaming "Stop Stop - the babies are all over!" She'd taken them out to play and left them in the dining room. Horrified I stopped the vacuum cleaner and started to look for one-inch-long baby hamsters. I found four, but not Cootie. Hands shaking, I started to take apart my vacuum cleaner, when I noticed our dog, Fudge, lying under the table licking her paws.
Eyes narrowed, I sat back and said, "Fudge, bring it over here!" Sheepishly, she got up and walked over and spit a tiny hamster out onto my outstretched hand. The hamster was a little wet (well, a lot wet) but intact and perfectly fine. I sighed and put all the babies back with their mother, and put the cage high, where my daughter couldn't reach it.

The baby hamsters all found good homes with the twins' schoolmates. (The hamsters were also invited to spend a week in my daughter's kindergarten class, where the mother hamster promptly bit the pricipal's thumb much to the children's delight.)

About a month later my daughter set the father hamster free in our garden. ("But he wanted to play in the bushes!") and the mother hamster lived on for a few more years and then died peacefully in her bed. (Hamsters only live about 3 years, so don't get too attached to them)
The twins, by then, had another hamster that they "rescued from a bunch of 'wild hamsters' in the pet shop that were picking on him" - he was the smallest hamster I've ever seen. He looked like a gray walnut with long, wild, Einstien hair. He was so weak and sickly the boys named him Kenny - after the South Park character who was always dying. Kenny didn't grow very much bigger, but he lived to a ripe old age of nearly 5 years - an amazing feat for a hamster. He was also the sweetest hamster, and never bit anyone, not even children or principals. When Kenny died, an old hamster practially all white by now and moving stiffly like an old man - he died sitting in his food dish, so it took us a while to figure out he was actually dead...we decided to give away the hamster cage and not have anymore small animals. Until my daughter wanted goldfish. But that's another story.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Thirteen again

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things I hated about The Da Vinci Code

"A book so bad it makes bad books look good." Author Salman Rushdie

1. The beginning was unbelievable, terrible, and it went downhill from there.

2. The writing was awful. Awful. Maybe a step above 'See Jane Run.' But not much above it.

3. The heroine loved her grandfather - but flipped out when she saw him during a strange ritual - and didn't speak to him for TEN YEARS and never demanded an explanation. The reason that Sophie Neveu disassociated herself from her grandfather is that she witnessed him participating in a pagan sex ritual at his home in Normandy, when she made a surprise visit there during a break from college. Well, didn't anyone tell her it was rude to drop in unnanounced??

4. The hero didn't see the mirror image writing. That was the stupidest puzzle and he couldn't figure it out.

5. The whole plot revolved around women and their place in the Catholic church - but in the end it just fizzled.

6. The docent at Rosslyn Chapel is giving a guided tour of Rosslyn Chapel to Langdon and Neveu when he sees the rosewood box they are carrying and realizes that it seems to be an exact duplicate of a box owned by his grandmother, who is the head of the trust that oversees the chapel. He is revealed to be Sophie's brother.
Brother and sister? Gag gag!

7. Trying to make St. John into a woman in the Last Supper painting was really dumb.

8. After being shot in the stomach, The grandfather (who the heorine won't speak to) uses the last minutes of his life to arrange a series of clues for his estranged granddaughter Sophie to unravel the mystery of his death and preserve the secret kept by the Priory of Sion. When you are shot in the stomach, you usually go into shock and die a painful death.

9. The plot claims that the Catholic Church has been involved in a conspiracy to cover up the true story of Jesus. This implies that the Vatican consciously knows it is living a lie, but does so to keep itself in power. But at the end of the book, nothing is ever done about this.

10. The true identity thing, the church trynig to kill the little children so they were separated at birth made me gag too. Did this guy watch too many episodes of Star Wars??

11. Dan Brown put this in the beginning of the book: "Fact: (...) All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."
All I can say is "Bull Shit!"

12. The claim The Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait by Leonardo as a woman made me go "Huh?"

13. The book's 'revelation' that the Holy Grail is the bloodline sprung from an apocryphal union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene which has been characterized by many textual and historical scholars as being both highly unlikely and not an original idea of Brown. I'd heard about that before. *yawn* So what?

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Kate Rothwell
2. Douglas Hoffman
3. Jona's Thirteen

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Renegade Aquarius

Now available!
Planetary Passions - Renegade Aquarius By Samantha Winston

In a land ruled by four kingdoms — earth, air, fire, and water —
Aquarius, crown prince to the air kingdom of Enlil, is condemned by
his birth to spend his life imprisoned in a cold, gray castle in the
clouds with an ancient scepter that some believe is cursed and
others believe is blessed.

To make things worse, once he becomes king, he is fated to die.

But he escapes and finds life, and love, in the arms of Leonie, an
acrobat from the land of fire. Air fans flames to a fever pitch, and
between Aquarius and Leonie, passion grows.

When Aquarius' identity is discovered and he's captured, he knows he
must face his destiny as King of Enlil and die. Leonie has only her
courage and a motley assortment of circus performers to save her
lover from his destiny. Magic, passion, betrayal and intrigue all
await Leonie in the ice-cold castle of Enlil, and her mission seems
doomed to failure. But an Aquarius is always more than he seems, and
this prince is no exception.

From Ellora's Cave
ISBN #1-4199-0508-2
Buy: http://www.ellorascave.com/productpage.asp?ISBN=1-4199-0508-2


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On mud and Cartoons

It's back to rain again. The freeze is over. The floor, once again, is covered in dog footprints! I wake up and mop, mop in the afternoon, and mop in the evening. It's not only the dogs' fault. We live in the countryside and we love to go out for walks. Friends drop by. It's vacation and kids come over to play. So I keep my mop handy and chase after Auguste to clean his feet before he comes indoors. (He hates that and wiggles like a freshly caught trout) With all this rain it's not very fun to go walking and we've been watching a lot of TV, which I usually don't like, But it's vacation and the kids are Bored.

Anyway, the biggest talk here in Europe is about the cartoons. (The NY Times has an excellent article in it explaining about what happened.) 4 Months ago, a Danish newspaper printed some cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed in different situations, most not very funny, but most politically pertinant. Nothing happened for nearly 4 months. But during that time, Danish Imans left Denmark with the drawings (and other drawings that were not published, but which the Imans felt would further inflame the situation) and they headed for several Mideastern countries not really known for their political affinity with the West. The Imans spent a long time and a lot of money, (supposedly) stirring up the Muslims about this. And what they hoped came to pass - thousands of extremists picked up the cause and began to shout.

We all know that the ones who scream the shrillest are heard the most, and the media tends to listen to the loudest shouting. The extremists are the ones shouting the loudest right now, and they are shjowing their discontent by burning buildings and threatening to kill people. And lest you are tempted to feel sorry for those insulted by the drawings, know this: The Islamics are not above publishing cartoons demonizing other religions. In other words, they can give but they cannot take. Even the moderates are being drawn towards the extremists side because there is a law in Islam that forbids any criticsm whatsoever of the prophet. I'm sure you all remember Mr. Rushdie and the death fatwah against him, and the Danish film maker who was stabbed to death because he made a film about Islamic repression of women. In other words, no one can criticise Islam.

We take free speech for granted (or at least we used to. I saw that the Rolling Stones had words censored from their songs so as not to shock the American sensibilities) And here in France we have free speech, but the law can decide whether or not free speech degenerates into hate speech - For ex. it is against the law to incite violence or hatred. And there is a thin line to walk between provocation and incitation to acts of violence. The Islamics want us to believe that simply publishing these cartoons are an invitation to violence. They actually try to make us understand why the mobs are screaming murder and burning buildings by telling us they are offended. But the truth is that No one is forcing anyone to look at the cartoons. The fact that they are offensive to some is not a reason to cry murder. But there is a positive note here. Not so long ago, the Catholic church was burning heretics, science was reason to hang, and reason was replaced by religion. But things changed. At the cost of a few brave souls. At the cost of the extremist's visions. The Catholic church was put back into its place - out of the government, out of the law. People were free to worship as they chose. The Muslims have not arrived at that place yet, but this can be the crack in the wall that finally lets moderate Muslims say what they want to. If the protests keep on, if the violence grows, it will cause the gulf between the moderates and the extremists to widen, and that can only be benefical to Islam as a whole. So while it is making headlines all over Europe, it's also opening a dialogue that is actually very interesting. In the meantime, please buy Danish produce to show your support for free speech and a free press.
Here is a great article by a true moderate to ponder:

Saturday, February 04, 2006


The cold snap is easing a bit, but the weather is still gray and overcast. Today the sky was like lead, and the damp made everything shiny. But the house is cozy, and the table is set for dinner. I'm waiting for my husband to come home so he can make crepes.
Today we're having crepes for dinner. I'm not a good crepe maker. (My little brother used to called them creeps, and for some reason the name stuck.)
I can make the batter just fine - as a matter of fact, it's really easy. But I can't cook them!! I get everything ready - the half a potato in a cup of oil, fork stuck in it, to grease the pan. The bowl of batter. The ladle. Two crepe pans. A pan of steaming water with a plate on it to keep the cooked crepe warm and to keep them from getting dried out...Everything ready...and then I start to make the crepes.
The batter sticks, the crepe tears, it's cooked on one half and not cooked on the other. ARGH!
My daughter and son look on pityingly.
"Wait for dad to come home," says my daughter, after the third crepe is scraped off the pan looking like scrambled eggs.
"Argh!" I say again, determined to do it right, just one time.
"You're going to waste the batter." My son speaks in the voice of reason.
I sigh, and leave the crepe-making to my husband, who cannot cook - not one little bit - but who, for some reason, makes Excellent crepes.
So I get the table ready:
Nutella chocolate, strawberry jam, lemons, sugar, cinnamon, butter, and honey.
You have the choice - usually I put butter and honey. My hsuband likes jam, my son loves leamon and sugar, and my daughter eats them with Nutella.
The door just opened, and my husband is home -
Bon Appetite!

Friday, February 03, 2006

The third method of madness

So now I've told you about plotting plot driven books and writing character driven books without an outline but with a setting. Now I'm going to talk about using a timeline to write a book. Basically it's simple - you have a story that takes place say in a week - you use the week as your outline and plot the story around that. Or you have a journey - plot the story frome the start of the voyage to the end. I did that with the book on Alexander the Great, using the timeline of his voyage through Asia along with a map that showed where his army went. The trick was to get him from point A to point B - and that was the main part of the story. Having a timeline as the structure upon which you build your story is always a good idea - even in fiction when you really haven't really thought about time. Plotting your story using the timeline also keeps it moving forward.
Complex plots can profit from using a timeline. One of my book, Virtual Murder, takes place in two worlds - the real world and the world created by the mutants. It also had three protagonists, each in their own timeline or world, and flashbacks to certain happenings. Since the story takes place in the real work in a single week, it was important to keep a timeline handy with the important actions in the book in order to keep the story together and clear.
I don't have the plotting notes for Virtual Murder anymore, but I remember they went something like this:
Monkey goes into the virtual world for three days to save Mitch.
Sally is in the real world for one day - she watches Mitch in the sending room and talks to Digby about the possibility of mutants being real.
Monkey / Mitch - three days.
Sally / Digby - One day - Tuesday
Tuesday night in New Mexico - Laurel and Carlos fall in love - they go to the desert camping and Carloes tells Laurel of his conversation with Mahler, the eldest Mutant.
Wednesday - Mitch 'wakes up' from the virtual world and goes to Dallas.
Wednesday night - Carlos goes to Dallas at Laurel's urging to try to warn Mitch.
Thursday Morning - Carlos goes back to New Mexico. Monkey meets Mitch in the real world. Mitch learns who Monkey really is.
(Etc. etc.)
This method is handy when the plot has a lot of characters, is complex, or is a historical novel. A timeline can save a lot of rewriting and trouble if you use it for most books, actually.
Good Luck!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Thursday and I've been Thirteenth(ed)

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about SAM

1. I'm ambidextrous, dyslexic, and can't tell my right from my left.

2. History and politics fascinate me, as well as religion and other myths.

3. I'm really a terrific cook, but I don't know where it comes from. No one taught me how to cook, I just picked it up.

4. I have nightmares almost every night, but I've gotten used to them. I used to wake up screaming as a kid...Now I just turn on the light and sit for a minute. Sometimes I don't even have to do that. I think it's hereditary - my three kids have nightmares & two walk in their sleep. My husband, who claims he rarely dreams, thinks we're aliens.

5. I hardly ever believe anything I hear or read, I have to check and see for myself. The original doubting Thomas...It drove my parents and teachers crazy, and let's not get into what my husband thinks of that.

6. Traditions fascinate me. I love to invent traditions for the family.

7. I'm a geek. It's true. I took an online test and it told me I was mostly geek with a little nerd thrown in. The same as Bill Gates. I'm wondering if that means I can claim inheritance.

8. But I truly do believe that money is the root of all evil.

9. My family comes first in all situations. I'm like a lioness with my cubs when it comes to protecting my children. I can't understand how anyone could purposely hurt a child - the idea makes me physically sick.

10. I love to run as fast as I can on the beach, barefoot on hard sand.

11. I had two emergency cesarians and my stomach looks funny. I don't really mind because my husband told me HE doesn't mind - but sometimes I wish I had my flat stomach back.

12. I used to be a model, but I never bother about my looks except to change hair color once in a while. Otherwise I have finally gotten around to liking my freckles after 40 years of hating them.

13. Clothes and shoes don't interest me. I'd rather buy books or something good to eat. My favorite place to shop is the Thrift Shop, because I really could care less about clothing, so why spend lots of money for it? The only weakness I have is for cashmere sweaters. Thank goodness my mother gives me one for Christmas every year. I decided it had to be a TRADITION.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Kate Rothwell

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

there's more than one way to skin a cat...or write a book

When I'm in a hurry, or when I've got an idea but I'm not sure where it's going, I'll do an outline for the story, as in my last post. That could be called a plot driven book. But some books are character driven. Sometimes the characters are alive in my mind and I just start writing. That's what happened with this next book I'm working on. I had the setting and the characters, and I started writing with only the barest idea of a plot.
Here was the idea:
It’s about Jack, killed by a mutant known as the Heart Breaker. Jack's back as a Zombie to avenge his own death. The story is set in an alternate reality where mutants have come into being thanks to increased radiation from nuclear waste. It’s also a love story.
I didn't write an outline or synopsis, but I did do character sketches:
Jack: It’s strange. One day he’s dead and buried, and then a year later, on the day he was killed, he’s awake. Only he’s a zombie. Not the most attractive way to come back to life. Who brought him back to life? Why? The only inkling he has is a strange whisper in his mind… Some powerful force is leading him. And so he goes back to the club where he was killed.

Brianna: Private eye Brianna Kelsey has her work cut out for her. Her ex boyfriend, now a zombie, has hired her to find out who killed him. It’s a loser’s case; the police have been trying to find the Heart Taker for months, every lead is cold, every clue a dead-end. And Brianna has other problems—she was born under an unlucky star that tries to kill her on every possible occasion. If that’s not enough, she is still searching for that certain someone who can finally make the fireworks explode—instead of fizzle.

So I have my two protagonists and then I just started writing. I got about halfway through the book and realized I had too many POV's (I have a cast of secondary characters that needed to be kept in their place, lol) - so I went back and changed all that - making the POV's Jack's or Brianna's and cutting a lot of dead wood - in other words, parts of the story that were not carrying the two main characters towards their epiphanies.
Cast of secondary characters:
Dee: Dee’s dream has always been to own a nightclub. But all he can afford is a place where a gruesome murder happened. He changes the name and makes it into a classy strip-tease bar for women. And what better way to kick off the Halloween season but ask Jack to work for him as a stripper? He can find his killer and help Dee’s club become famous. Jack still has a fantastic body – as hard and polished as marble. For a zombie he’s hot. Plus, Dee argues, he can make up a number with his zombie scars, and use the music ‘Monster Mash’. On his first night as a stripper, Jack takes it all off, and proudly waving his cock, asks a lady “Can I dangle my dingle in your daiquiri?”

Mama Hoya: Voodoo queen from Haiti. Used to live in New Orleans before Katrina destroyed it. Now plies her trade in an abandoned warehouse. Like’s to be called m’ambo. Has a loa named Shirley who used to be a slave, and now advises Mama Hoya about who is going to die next. Mama Hoya has a useful library including a book called ‘Care and Feeding of your New Zombie body’. Jack might not have to turn green after all.

Jim and Maya Umberton: Jim is a two-hundred-year-old necromancer. What better place to work than in a morgue? His beautiful daughter Maya was killed by a mutant like the Heart Taker. He uses his powers to bring her back to life. She becomes a zombie mutant stalker. In this world, mutants are becoming more common and some are serial killers like the Heart Taker. Maya’s specialty are vampires. Armed with a stake and a black belt in tae kwando, she haunts the city’s cemeteries. Jack thinks she’s just wonderful. Too bad her heart belongs to daddy.

To make the story hold together, this books needed a setting so I had to work out a place that was very close to our world, with just a few slight differences. Magic and mutants abound, and there is a huge mutant interpol that Maya and Jim work for, and where Jack will eventually find...well, I haven't outlined the book, so I'm not telling he'll find yet, but the setting will help me keep the book focused. In this book, the setting is like another character.

However fun this book is to write - it's also taking longer because of the secondary characters, the setting, and the fact that there isn't an outline to follow - only a whisper of an idea that is pulling Jack toward his killer, Brianna into deadly danger, and Dee straight to his ruin...Unless...

If I had to choose between writing a character driven or a plot driven book, I would choose character driven. It's more fun to write, and it's more creative in some ways. However, if someone wants to write their first book, I will suggest they first start with the outline method. Writing is a very complex and yet ridiculously simple thing - and what is vital is finishing that first book. Once you have done that, the other ones will get easier and easier, and you will find the method that works best for you.
Tomorrow I'll talk about the third method I use - the timeline method - and how it can help with complex plots and historical novels.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

methods to madness

My friend Andrea wants to write a book, and she was asking me how I wrote my books. (Everyone asks me that.) I usually just say, 'I sit down and write', but even though that's part of it, it's not the real answer. Andrea wanted to know why every time she started a book she ended up never finishing it, or why it sailed off on a hundred different tangents and never got off the ground. Those two complaints are the ones I hear the most - so for all you aspiring authors - those who never managed to finish a book or whose ideas got too scattered, here is my method, may it help!
First of all, I start with an idea.

I want to write a story about an ex NASCAR driver (who got in a terrible accident and is blind) and a woman, who fall in love over the phone.
That's the basic idea. I wrote it down and thought about it for a while.

Then I wrote a half page synopsis - it goes like this:

Angel: Blind NASCAR racer – lost his vision in a terrible accident and his wife dumps him. Feels sorry for himself, stays away from everyone – has phone sex to cool himself off.
Shelly: is a struggling songwriter – singer and she does waitressing and phone sex to pay her bills. She and Angel become friends.
The NASCAR association decides to honor Angel and have a big charity dinner to raise money for the blind. Angel doesn’t want to go by himself because he doesn’t want anyone to pity him, and everyone knows his wife dumped him when he couldn’t race anymore. So he asks Shelly to go to the charity ball with him. They fall in love.
Angel gets his eyesight back and Shelly is afraid he’ll turn into the old Angel – arrogant and haughty with everyone around him. This seems to be true when he comes into the restaurant where she works and is rude.
Angel’s ex-wife is also determined to get him back, so she mounts a seduction campaign. When he shows up at her party with Shelly, she is furious and decides to get rid of Shelly.

(That's just the rough synopsis, and hasn't got the character details or any real conflict - plot - resolution, yet.)

And then I do a chapter by chapter outline:

Chapt. 1 Angel and Shelly fall in love over the phone. (get to know Shelly and Angel)

Chapt. 2 She agrees to go with him to the charity ball where he meets a surgeon who wants to operate on his eyes. (Shelly and Angel really start to believe they have a future together. Angel doesn’t tell Shelly about the operation though. He’s too afraid it won’t work.

Chapt. 3 Angel has the operation and his sight is restored. He goes to the nearest restaurant to have a meal and he treats the waitress badly when she recognizes him by name – he thinks she’s an autograph hunter - little does he know it’s Shelly.

Chapt. 4 He goes back home and finds that his ex-wife has already heard about his operation and she wants to get back together with him. She’s sure he’s going to go back to racing, but he hasn’t decided yet.

(This is just to give me an idea of where the story is going and helps with the pacing...)
When the outline is finished, check to make sure you have the following things:
A clear beginning, middle, and ending.
A plot (this is the story - is it interesting?)
Character developement - the main characters should change in the book - I call it 'the epiphany' - it means that the main character will go through something that will bring about a change in his / her life or personality.
Conflict - what is keeping the main character from his / her goal?
Resolution - does it tie up all the loose ends? Is it satisfying?

Once the outline is finished, I start to write. Sometimes a scene will come to me from the middle or end of the book and I'll write it down while it's fresh - don't ever be afraid to write 'out of order'. You can stray from your outline - mine are usually just the framework and tend to get left behind halfway through the book. Try to have a theme while you're working - this can help. (For instance in this case I'm thinking about tolerance and overcoming a physical handicap as well as overcoming a bad reputation.)
And above all - stick to it until you've finished! Write a little every day, and when it's all done, you can say, 'I've written a book.'