Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How Writing Has Changed My Reading #amwriting #amreading

Having undergone the rigorous journey of writing three novels (which always includes a number of rewrites, several attempts at creating intriguing query letters, the painful process of summarizing the stories into 3-page synopses, and--after that amazing contract offer--three additional rounds of edits to produce the final product), I now approach reading for pleasure in a whole new way.  I'm not sure it's better in terms of my enjoyment of my favorite hobby, but after everything I've learned about writing these past 7 years, I think my new frame of reference is here to stay.

A good book, warm covers, and
a glass of wine?  Nothing makes
me happier!
Reading has always been my passion, and I appreciate good stories in all genres.  That hasn't changed.  But when I was younger, I rarely gave up on a book.  I had it in my head that once begun, a book had to be finished.  This applied whether I was enjoying the book or not.  I can only remember one book that I simply had to give up on--Lady Chatterley's Lover.  After discovering a classic novel with a racy title like that, I assumed I was in for a great read.  But I found the writing dry and tedious; the characters boring and one-dimensional.  I have no idea if the sex scenes were of any interest--I simply couldn't go on with the book.  The fact that I remember this, twenty years later, tells me that I still feel a bit guilty for abandoning the story.

But twenty years ago, I did not have a husband, kids, pets, and a house.  I had plenty of time to read.  Now, my reading time is a precious commodity which I refuse to waste on something I don't love.  Once I combine that reality with the knowledge I've gained throughout the writing process, the guilt disappears.  If, after the first few chapters, I'm not looking forward to continuing the book, I don't.  Unless there's a very compelling reason to keep going, it's time for me to move on to the next one.  I want a book I can't wait to read once I finally have some down time; not one I have to slog through because of some imaginary obligation. (For some of my favorites, see my lists from 2012, 2013, and 2014)

There are a couple of things in particular that will make or break a book for me now.  First and foremost, I have to care about the characters.  I want to feel connected to them, to feel their emotions and root for their success.  If I don't care what happens to the main character, I lose interest fairly quickly, even if the plot seems promising.

One of the most useful things I learned when I began writing was the importance of getting the conflict out in the first 3 pages.  I worked very hard to actually get it onto the first page in both my novels--hopefully the reader is hooked and wants to read more.  When reading, I like to see this as well.  However, I don't necessarily give up on a book that takes me a while to "get into"--Outlander was one of my all-time favorite books, and I was definitely not hooked by the first chapter.  But in that case, enough people I trusted had recommended the series, and I'm so glad I kept going.

Point of view problems are another thing that I may not have noticed before writing my books--but now, they will pull me right out of the story.  Occasional head-hopping is sometimes necessary, especially in romance, and I'm okay with that.  It can be done seamlessly in a way that allows the reader to experience what both characters are feeling.  But omniscience bothers me.  If I'm connected to a character, experiencing events through him or her, and suddenly the narrator tells me something the character can't possibly know, I immediately cringe.  It doesn't mean I'll stop reading, but I do notice it, and it disrupts the flow of the story for me.

It's not just negative things that attract my attention.  When a writer uses a fresh, original metaphor or a wonderfully descriptive phrase, I'll read it over a few times with appreciation.  That's a good thing for a writer to note--but as a reader, it still slows me down and takes my focus from the story to the actual writing.  Not necessarily the best practice when reading for pleasure, but it's something I can no longer help.  Funny dialog, powerful sentences, clever segues into flashbacks: these are all things that grab my interest.  While picking up on these things may momentarily break my concentration, it can also serve as inspiration for my future writing endeavors...and that's a price I'm willing to pay.

If you need a good read with a first page that grabs you right away, try one of my books!  All contain a mix of romance, mystery, suspense, and supernatural secrets to keep the pages turning well into the night!

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Favorite Reads of 2014 #amreading

Each January, I look over my Goodreads list and pick out a few books that really stood out to me over the past year.  I read all genres, although obviously as a romance author, I tend to favor stories that involve a relationship between two characters, even if it isn't the central plot.  And while I've had a new release come out each year I've done this, including this summer's DIVINE FALL, I leave my own books out of the running, for obvious reasons!  Here's a look at a few of my favorite reads of 2014, along with links to my 2012 and 2013 lists.

Historical Fiction:  A tie-- River God, by Wilbur Smith and The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.

Historical Fiction and Historical Romance are genres I gravitate toward...I love immersing myself in the past as a dramatic story unfolds in a different time and place.  There were two books this year that I really enjoyed.  River God is an older book, published in 1995, set in an even older time--Ancient Egypt, circa 2,000 BC.  This is book #1 in Wilbur Smith's Ancient Egypt series, and I'm so glad a friend told me about it.  While I had my misgivings when I realized the entire story would be told in the first person Point of View by a eunuch slave, it worked really well, and the engaging narrator Taita was even able to bring the forbidden romance between Tanus and Lostris alive for me.  And Taita is a literary "Mary Sue", but the author knew what he was creating and he had fun with it.  This novel reminded me of some of my other favorite books--Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth, his Century Trilogy, or Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series--this was an epic tale full of drama, history, romance, war, medicine, affairs of state, adventure, crime and punishment, royalty, and slavery.

The other historical fiction novel I enjoyed, The Kitchen House, is set on a Virginia plantation in the late 1700s.  It's a compelling contrast between the life of the slaves and the life of the plantation owners, reminiscent, to me at least, of The Help.  Two narrators, an orphaned white girl brought to work as an indentured servant, and a half-black, half-white slave with ties to "the Big House" (ie, the plantation mansion), provide complementary looks at the struggles facing those with limited or no freedom during this time period.

Biography:  Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Nonfiction is rarely something I choose, but even before all the hype surrounding this book reached me, one of my friends recommended it to me.  I knew I had to read this incredible true story, and I began recommending it to others before I was even halfway through.  At this point, almost everyone has heard of Louis Zamperini, and either read the book or seen the movie.  I've done both, and I do think the movie did a good job within the obvious constraints of fitting an amazing, full life into a two-hour time-frame.  But I don't think the movie comes close to conveying the magnitude of the events--so I highly recommend reading the book if you haven't.

Literary Fiction/Suspense: two novels by Tawni O'Dell, Fragile Beasts and One of Us.

Back in the days when I belonged to one of those Book-of-the-Month clubs, I saw Back Roads described in the catalog.  I sent away for it, and I absolutely loved it--a tragic, dark, haunting, and yet somehow hopeful family drama set in the dreary, poverty-stricken landscape of a dying mining town.  I was hooked on the story, and the author.  I eagerly snapped up her next two books (Coal Run and Sister Mine) as they released over the years, but then I didn't see any new ones for a while--so imagine my happiness when I did a quick search on GR one night and discovered TWO new Tawni O'Dell novels waiting for me!  Each of her novels is a stand-alone, but they all share that rural, gritty setting of a Pennsylvania coal mining town with little left to offer the families who gave their lives to the mines that sustained them for generations.

Legal Thriller:  Defending Jacob, by William Landay

Another recommendation from a friend (everyone knows how much I like to read!).  Legal thrillers aren't my thing lately, but this one was an out-and-out page-turner that I literally could not put down.  I brought my Kindle to my son's baseball games so I could read a few pages between innings.  This one's about a lawyer defending his son against murder while not entirely convinced of his innocence.  The level of tension and uncertainty reminded me of Gone Girl.

Young Adult - Historical Fantasy: The Kingdom of Little Wounds, by Susann Cokal

This book was listed in a Jan. 2014 Boston Globe article of books not to miss.  Otherwise, it's unlikely I would have ever heard of it, and that would have been my loss.  The name intrigued me, as did the cover.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of contention over whether this is really a "Young Adult" book, but two of the main characters are indeed young women, living within the palace of a sort of "alternate reality" Scandinavian city in the 16th century.  Despite a few invented details, the history of the period itself is obviously meticulously researched, and young people were often thrust into unpleasant things at an early age in the 1500s.  Does that lead to some very graphic descriptions, disturbing scenes, and gruesome diseases and traditions?  Yes.  But that's what life was like then.  The prose is beautiful and the world-building top-notch.

Well, there you have most memorable reads of 2014.  What were yours?  I'm always looking for my next great book!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year's Resolutions? #Fitness Tips Round-up! #FitnessTips #Workout

It's a New Year, and with that tends to come resolutions that often involve striving for a healthier lifestyle.  Fitness is one of my passions, and one of my jobs, so every once in a while I dedicate my blog to a topic related to nutrition or exercise.  So, I've decided to list a roundup of my first 9 "Friday Fitness" posts, just click a title to open the link of any subject that might help you achieve your goals!

Friday Fitness #1: Multi-Tasking - Working Several Muscle Groups at Once

Friday Fitness #2: Low-Impact Cardio - Moves that Will Raise Your Heart Rate, Not Hurt
Your Joints
Yoga can be a great place to start -
strength, stretching, and relaxation!

Friday Fitness #3: Plyometric Exercises

Friday Fitness #4: Zumba

Friday Fitness #5: The Importance of CPR Certification

Friday Fitness #6: Training for Triathlons

Friday Fitness #7: White Foods and Nutrition

Friday Fitness #8: The Importance of Stretching

Friday Fitness #9: Building a Backyard Soccer Goal

Future installments will include the Value of Interval Training, Dealing with Patellar Tendonitis, and Drinking Enough be sure to check back, or go over to the right-hand column where it says "Join This Site" to follow my blog (hint - some browsers make you click on the little overlapping squares in the upper right corner to Join).

And if you need a book to read while putting miles on the treadmill or stationary bike, try one of my ghost story/romances--SILVER LAKE or GULL HARBOR.  Plus, 99 cents will get you a copy of my new Young Adult Paranormal Romance DIVINE FALL.  I can promise they are all page-turners, so you'll be hooked right from the start and the workout will fly by!  Happy, healthy 2015!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! New Years History + Traditions

Welcome January!  Although often bitterly cold here in the Northeast, January is still one of my favorite months, as it's both a new beginning and my birthday month.  While 2014 wasn't entirely terrible, both my kids had serious sports-related injuries (a badly broken leg for my older son in Feb., and a badly broken right thumb for my younger son right before the start of school.  Yes, he's right-handed.  Both breaks required surgery, and in the case of my son's leg, there was quite a bit of rehab and many, many visits to Children's Hospital), so, we're ready to put last year behind us.

Many of my most popular blog posts have discussed some of the history or mythology behind holiday traditions, for example, St. Nick, Finding Easter's date, and the Origin of Halloween. For the first week in January, I thought I'd list some facts about New Year's Day and the month of January itself.  (Also, my January birthday is on the 13th - see this post for reasons people fear that number).

New Year's Day is the first day of January according to both the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC) and the Gregorian calendar (named for Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582).  The difference in these two calendars is a .002% change in the length of the year.

The Roman god Janus,
looking both forward and back

The Julian calendar was based on the Roman Calendar, and the name of the month of January is generally attributed to the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, who is depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions: into the past as well as the future.

Since the Gregorian calendar is now used, at least in practice, by most countries, New Year's Day is considered the world's most celebrated public holiday.

The ancient belief that the beginning of an event impacted the whole led people to offer good health and well wishes on this first day of a new year, as the long, dark days surrounding the Winter Solstice were being left behind.  A prosperous January first with plenty of food and drink would hopefully lead to the same for the entire month and year.

Of course, local traditions abound to mark this day, and a big one in the United States is the making of resolutions.  For many people, this involves a commitment to a healthier lifestyle--as a fitness instructor, I see my classes absolutely explode each January!  My own personal resolutions, since I'm also a writer, usually involve devoting more time each day to my craft so I can meet deadlines without the stress of a last minute rush.

Aside from goals related to my two jobs, though, I think my most important resolution this year will be to try harder to live in the moment.  As I cleaned out closets this Christmas break--an attempt to start the new year with a more organized environment--I stumbled across a very old video recorder.  So old that it involved tiny cassette tapes.  I powered up the camera and hit play, and suddenly my first born child appeared, not quite two years old, toddling across the screen in overalls.  I watched him look for Easter eggs, attempt his first trip down a slide, try to rake leaves, and wrestle with the new kitten, who is now a 16-year-old cat.  The same age, in fact, as my oldest son is now.

The soccer net we built in the
backyard so the boys
could practice.  Otis enjoys
it as well :)
Where did that time go?  Can my kid really be two years away from leaving home?  So, while he probably won't be thrilled about the idea of spending more time with me, I'm planning on making sure I don't miss one soccer game, track meet, or awards assembly.

Best wishes, everyone, for a happy, healthy, and meaningful 2015.  Happy New Year!

PS - if your resolutions include more reading (one of the best stress-reducers, by the way!) - check out my books.  Romance and suspense - something for everyone :)

Monday, December 29, 2014

New #Kindle? Forbidden Love + Supernatural Suspense for #99c!

The custom cover
I designed for my
Kindle - love it!
Did you get a new Kindle or Nook for the holidays?  I'll admit, I was conflicted when I received my first Kindle.  I love the feel of books.  But you absolutely can't beat the ease of an e-reader when it comes to downloading new reads immediately, searching for certain passages, and looking up definitions right on the spot.  Not to mention, you can carry hundreds of books with you at all times, in one lightweight tablet!  Perfect for this girl, who never goes anywhere without a book.  I even made a custom cover for mine, with the covers of my first two novels on the front and back.

My third novel, a Young Adult Paranormal Romance that reviewers have called "nail-bitingly good", is currently on sale for only 99 cents for both the Kindle and Nook formats.  That's a pretty great deal for a book that will pull you into a forbidden first love and a dangerous supernatural secret, with plenty of action and romance along the way.  Give it a try!  The premier annual Romance Convention, RomCon, has already picked it as a 2015 nominee for their coveted Reader's Crown Award!  Links and blurb below, and check out the Pinterest board too.  Happy Reading--Enjoy the "Fall".

After tragedy tears Jamie Brandt’s life apart, her only goal is to finish high school so she can leave her small hometown behind. In the meantime, riding her horse is her main source of solace, until a mysterious stable hand shows up at the barn. There’s something not quite right about the handsome new employee, and the more Jamie sees of him, the more determined she becomes to figure out what he’s hiding.

Dothan Reed came to historic Huntsville, Maryland, for one reason—revenge. But his plan can’t move forward until he finds the missing piece he needs to enhance his powers. As the only surviving Nephilim, Dothan is not only weaker than full-blooded angels; his forbidden lineage makes him an outcast in both worlds. When he discovers Jamie is the key to locating an ancient weapon, he’s forced to interact with a vulnerable human girl—a task that becomes more appealing with each encounter.

Jamie soon learns Dothan isn’t the only one with a dark secret. Each new revelation further threatens her safety, and Dothan’s betrayal shatters her heart. Forgiving him seems impossible, but the thought of turning her back on him is equally painful. 

As their connection deepens, Dothan will have to make his own difficult choice: continue on his path of vengeance, or protect the girl he loves. And when Dothan’s actions thrust Jamie into an unforeseen danger, he must seek the help of his enemy…or risk losing her forever.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Holidays for Shelter #Pets - #ShelterPetLove

I love animals.  And I come from a long line of animal lovers, on both sides of my family.  Growing up, we had at least 2 cats and a dog in the house at all times; we also owned a horse that lived at my mom's best friend's barn (that's the setting I used as inspiration for the stable where Jamie keeps her horse in my Young Adult novel DIVINE FALL).  I have many fond memories of playing with the barn cats and "camping out" with the other kids on the patio, under the stars, while all the dogs that lived on the farm tried to squeeze into our sleeping bags.

My mom, waking up with 350,
plus two cats.  I love this pic
We often took in rescues from shelters.  When my parents married, our first family dog was a St. Bernard named 350.  Why?  Because that was his cage number at the shelter, and that was how much his adoption fee was - $3.50.  Of course, this was 1969.

Sadly, my mom is gone...but I've continued the tradition of making animals a big part of our lives.  Right now at home we have a rescue cat (he's 16 now, and he's had several brothers over the years, both his actual brother and a few other rescues, but he's the only cat at the moment) and a rescue dog (see his story here) who is a 2-year-old Border Collie mix who could power the entire U.S. if we could figure out how to tap into his energy supply.  Luckily, my husband is a runner who takes him on 10 mile jaunts almost daily.

I wish I had a bigger house, a bigger yard, and a bigger income to be able to afford more.  If I could, I'd rescue them all.  Maybe someday we can have a farm too, that would have enough land to support a lot more.  In the meantime, I donate what I can to organizations that help homeless animals.

My younger son playing with one of the shelter cats
A few years ago, I decided our new Christmas tradition would be buying all the things on the local shelter's "wish list" and delivering it during visiting hours, with my kids, so we could also give the animals some extra holiday love.  The very first year we did this, the strangest thing happened on Christmas - a psychic medium at a party (who had never met me), gave me a message from my mother about this trip to see the animals.  More on that story here. While I write romance mixed with ghost stories, I'm a bit of a skeptic about "readings" and such.  But this was enough to make me believe some gifted people can talk to spirits, and I truly believe my mother wanted me to know how happy she was that we made that trip.

This is the stuff my sister got for
the dogs - she had a cart of
treats and supplies for cats too
This year, I posted some pictures on Facebook, in the hopes I might inspire others to visit their local shelters.  My sister saw the post and immediately said she'd do it too.  We live eight hours apart, which I hate, but I was thrilled that this gesture connected us in a small way for the holidays.  And I hope this tradition reminds my children of the importance of showing kindness to all the creatures of the world, especially those in need, and of the joy you can get from picking out presents for animals without a family.  My hope is that my boys, and my sister's girls, will continue the tradition with their children someday.  Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

History of St. Nick + Santa Claus - #Christmas Traditions

I love doing posts about the origins of our holidays and the reasons we celebrate in certain ways or fear certain dates.  Some of my most popular posts have been on the Origin of Halloween, Finding Easter's Date, The Number 13, and Origins of Superstitions.

When my kids were younger, I taught Sunday fact, a passage from the Book of Genesis about the Nephilim, the offspring of male angels and human women, inspired my Young Adult Paranormal Romance DIVINE FALL.  For years, I taught the class every week, and my favorite lessons touched on the historical and religious roots of our holidays.  The lesson on Saint Nicholas was obviously something I made sure we discussed every December.  While most people are familiar with the story of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, many are unaware of how a 4th century Bishop influenced the legend of Santa Claus.

Saint Nicholas, or Nikolaos of Myra, was a bishop in an ancient town in Lycia--now Demre, in the Antalya Province of Turkey.  One of his most well-known deeds involved giving unexpected gifts, one of which landed in a stocking.  In the story, Nicholas wanted to help three young girls, whose father had no money for their dowries.  At that point in history, such a fate would result in a life of prostitution. Not wanting to embarrass the poor father, Nicholas threw bags of gold coins through the windows.  In one version of the tale, the father laid in wait to discover who was doing this...and so instead of throwing the third bag through the window, Nicholas dropped it down the chimney, and it landed in a stocking hung to dry by the fire.

Sinterklaas rides
a white horse
The Dutch figure of Sinterklass is based upon Saint Nick, and he more resembles the white-bearded man in red we're all familiar with. In turn, our Santa Claus is derived from Sinterklass, and it's widely believed that he was introduced to North America around the time of the Revolutionary War, by inhabitants of New York City, which was once New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony.

Of course, many other sources have combined to shape both the modern-day image of Santa Claus and the various legends and traditions which have evolved (decorating trees, sleighs pulled by reindeer, winter feasts and festivals, etc.).  Those will be topics for another day and another blog!

I'm hoping my blog readers who celebrate Christmas have finished the gift-buying and food preparation that comes along with the holiday, and have some time to relax and enjoy the magic of the season.  And if you need a book to help you de-stress, check out one of my novels - each one is filled with romance, mystery, and suspense - something for everyone!  Also perfect as a last-minute gift, since all you need to send someone a Kindle copy is an email address.  Each one is less that the price of a card, and DIVINE FALL is only 99 cents right now!  The tabs at the top of the page will take you to the blurb for each book, but I've also included links below.  Happiest of holidays!

SILVER LAKE - A haunting, an old flame, and secrets from the past

GULL HARBOR - A dangerous ghost and an ex-boyfriend await Claire in Cape Cod's Gull Harbor

DIVINE FALL - Romance, Revenge, and a Rogue Fallen Angel