Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Memories of Blizzards Past #blizzardof2015 #Snowmageddon2015

So far, here on Cape Cod, at my house anyway, we've been spared any major damage from Juno, also known as Stormageddon 2015.  We haven't lost power, just days of school and work. My husband is outside snowblowing, so I can't really say how he feels about the storm at the moment, but I've been happily typing away in my writing cave all day.  Coffee's hot, fire's burning, and my kids are entertained because we got friends over here to keep them company before we were snowed in.  So, yes, there are a few extra people in the house, but they're having fun.

Our tree took down
the entire neighborhood's
power and started a fire.
Since I started this blog in 2012, shortly after my first novel, SILVER LAKE, came out, I've written about a number of memorable storms and blizzards.  There was a Nor'Easter that hit us right after Hurricane Sandy did so much destruction further south.  This particular storm hit our area worse than Sandy had and also started a fire in our tree.  It also happened to be the day of my very first book discussion and signing at a local library--you can imagine how that turned out.

In December of 2013 there was the storm that hit while we were on a ski trip, contributing to a series of events which led to one of the most disastrous "vacations" we've ever had.  While I can laugh at most of the things that happened now (see: faceplant off the ski lift) and I've recovered the feeling in my finger (it took a year), that weekend did convince me to hang up my skis forever.  Seriously, I'm done.  No great loss for the skiing community--I was never very good.  So, actually, the mountains are a safer place with me inside the hotel room, writing novels or catching up on my own reading list.

Me shortly before I gave
myself a frostbitten finger
After this momentous decision, we chose to head south for February break in 2014.  But of course a huge blizzard rolled in the night before we were supposed to leave for Disney, adding an enormous amount of stress to the usual drama of going away for a week.  Would we be able to get to the airport?  Would our flight even still be scheduled?  Was it safe to leave the house with no power or heat in the middle of a blizzard? Would the poor kitty be okay in the cold?  And, if we didn't make it to Orlando, would any of the parks refund our money for the tickets and events we'd scheduled and paid for already?

But the one blizzard that sticks in my memory the most happened well before this blog existed--right after Christmas, in December of 2004.  My kids were 2 and 5.  We lost power for days, and with it heat and hot water.  Neither my husband or I had anything resembling a Smartphone, if they were even around then.  Since we have so many pets and the kids were so young, a hotel didn't seem like a good solution...not that any rooms would have been available anyway.  One night, we managed to drive to the YMCA, which had power, and we stayed there almost all evening--took the kids swimming, and finally took hot showers.  On the way home, we found an open store that actually had a few battery-powered lanterns left, so that was a big night.  Being thrown into total darkness at 4 pm each afternoon makes for very gloomy days.

But when our power finally returned, we learned the horrible news that had stunned the world: the Indian Ocean tsunami had decimated coastal areas across South Asia, killing 227,898 people.  It was the single worst tsunami in history, and the destruction was devastating.  The news coverage quickly put my perspective in order: we had been cold, smelly, and frustrated, but we were alive and well and safe in our home.  I felt terrible for every complaint I'd uttered during our storm.

So my hope is that no tragic consequences result from this historic blizzard of 2015.  Right now, the communities closer to the water are getting pummeled, and the news is reporting that Nantucket is "off the grid".  I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound good.  My thoughts are with everyone affected by Juno--stay warm and safe!

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 it...my 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 Water...so 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!