Monday, August 31, 2009

TV for Writers

by Susan Sey

I avoid TV. It's not because I have anything against it, though. I don't. In fact, I love TV. I love it the way I love ice cream. The way I love Diet Coke. The way I love books.

I love TV quite a lot.

In fact, when TV lives up to its potential, I am powerless to stop myself. I am an addict, & this is why I avoid it. In real time, anyway. DVDS are another story.

When the Sopranos ended its run to such acclaim a few years ago I thought, "Okay, time to see what all the fuss was about." sent me the first season on DVD over the Fourth of July. By Labor Day my husband & I (he's as bad as I am) had pounded through all eight seasons. I'll leave you to do the math but the number of hours we spent parked in front of the TV during those few weeks is cringe-worthy. We were lucky nobody staged an intervention. Especially since it wasn't the first time we'd behaved in such a fashion.

Lost did it to us, too. That pilot episode when the plane first crashed? Yowza. And five, six seasons later, bad guy Ben just keeps the passive-aggressive fun coming. Good times.

I mourned when we finished the last DVD of Arrested Development. In addition to the razor-sharp humor (a character with sexual identity issues inadvertantly bills himself as an "analrapist" on his business cards, a combination analyst & therapist), it also provided me with my first opportunity in a number of years to remark upon how darn cute that Jason Bateman was.

The Office (the British original) introduced me to a brand of cringing comedy that was so excruciatingly honest I didn't know for a solid three DVDs if I liked it or not. Turns out I do. (The American version introduced me to John Krasinski, on whom I instantly developed a minor crush. I still like the British version better, though. Ricky Gervais is incredibly talented.)

And now we're addicted to a new one--The Wire, a cop show set in Baltimore's west side. The writing is again razor sharp & the dialogue rings incredibly true. But there was one episode in the first season--one scene actually--that sealed the deal for me. It's a scene in which Detective Jimmy McNulty & his partner Bunk revisit a crime scene to role play a murder. They say nothing but the f-word for about four solid minutes, each time with a different intonation & a different meaning. By the end of the scene they'd drawn a completely new conclusion about the crime & so had the audience--through nothing but about four minutes of the f-bomb.

I don't know if that's quality writing or acting, or maybe both, but I was totally sold. We watched Season One in five days.

We start Season Two tonight.

How about you? For your money, what's the best TV show on the air right now? Off the air? Who's telling the best story these days? I'd love to know because, at the rate we're eating up The Wire, we're going to need a new addiction one of these days pretty soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


by Jo Robertson

I was teaching my granddaughter how to make my special brownies the other day. Corinna’s ten and the oldest of three children, so she took charge immediately.

“Two scant cups flour, ½ scant cup cocoa." She read through the entire list aloud without stopping, gathered the ingredients and utensils, and spread them out on the counter.

Only then did she stop and ask, “What’s ‘scant’”? She pronounced the word with a long a, which was rathe
r cute, but of course, I held back my smile.

“Not quite full to the top,” I answered, “because I don't like my brownies too chocolate-y.”

We began making the brownies (recipe below for seekers of high-calorie goodies). I instructed her every step of the way. “We always cream the butter and sugar,” I said, “and then add the eggs. You don’t want to melt the butter in the microwave and then add the eggs or else – ”

“You’ll get scrambled eggs!” she giggled.

Quick girl.

My daughter Megan sat on a high stool, watching us, a puzzled look on her face. “I never knew that,” she said at last, “the part about creaming the butter and the sugar. How come you never taught me that?”

Why hadn’t I taught her that? Easy answer – she was the sixth child in a seven-year
stretch of babies. The girl was lucky I taught her how to tie her shoes. Wait! That wasn’t me; it was her older sister.


You see how it goes? Whether you have one child or seven, it’s the same. There’s never enough time to teach them everything. Some stuff they figure out on their own. If they're lucky, they'll learn the rest from a sibling or a friend.

I learned to drive a stick shift car from my father, not always a good idea as papas are notoriously impatient teachers. My sons learned from me.
It's fun to teach boys how to drive because they're so eager and are often quite skillful. They relish the whole idea of keeping the gear in second before they pop it into third or fourth. I call it the Nascar Syndrome. But I wonder, will their sons ask some years down the road why their father didn’t teach them how to drive a stick shift?

You see, there’s a window of opportunity to learn something -- riding a bike, tying your shoes, swimming. If you miss it, you may never learn how to master that skill.

And of course, this applies to writing. Who "teaches" writers how to write? Do they figure it out on their own? Are they born storytellers for whom it comes naturally? Do they have mentors or is it all trial and error?

What about you? Is there a hole in your "learning repertoire"? How did you learn the basics of life -- cooking a meal that isn't microwaved, sewing on a button or mending a tear in your shirt? Putting gas in your car or fixing a flat tire?

If you're a writer, who "taught" you how to write or who fostered the desire to write stories of your own?

And here's the recipe!
2 scant cups flour
1/2 scant cup cocoa
1 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
nuts (optional)
Bake in greased pan at 350 degrees for twenty minutes. Do not overbake. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when warm.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

You met her WHERE?

I've decided that true friends and true loves are unusual creatures.

In some ways they're like real wizards, or unicorns - no, not that they're impossibly mythical, but that they're not easy to find. Its not that they aren't there - really, there ARE good men out there! - it's just that they aren't common.

Then again, would you really want them to be? A true gem, a diamond of the first water as our Regency gents would call it, is rare. So is a true friend. Or a real, honest to goodness loyal, loving life partner.

Nope. Not common.

It's kind of like a recessive trait. I have Dalmatians. I love them for their humor, their active minds, and their amazing coloration. Liver-colored Dalmatians are less common than black and white ones. Liver's a recessive gene. Beautiful. Unusual, but not unheard of.

Kinda like true love or a loyal best friend.

I started thinking about all this when a friend told me about her first and best friend. The BFF had gotten very sick and my friend had gone to help. She flew to Rhode Island from Illinois. She stayed a week. She got her BFF's kids to school. She made casseroles, made sure the BFF's husband could stay at the hospital with his wife. When she left, she left food in the fridge, gas in the car, flowers on the bedside table and a "love-ya-get-well-be-happy" card with them so when her friend came home, she'd have something fun waiting for her.

I was so admiring, not only of the length of the friendship, but of the lengths to which she'd go for her friend. She told me they were like sisters. Neither of them had a blood sister, only brothers, so they'd gravitated to one another in school and through the long years, nothing had changed that sense of sisterhood.

Since I have a sister whom I adore, and a long history with her, (grins) I guess I'd never felt that way about a gal-pal, at least not early on.

I don't have a friend I've known since kindergarten and it made me a bit sad to realize it. It reminded me that there are people from those years I'd love to reconnect with. Alas, even Facebook hasn't helped on that one! But it probably will, one day.

I do keep up with two friends from my high school years, but it seems a slim bit of a friend load when my husband has a legion of pals from those days. Maybe it was the organized sport thing? I don't know. I was a misfit in high school, so it's probably not surprising that the misfit club I belonged to hasn't kept up.

College was a blur. Really. And I see you WASN"T because of the beerfests. I went to college in a dry county. For those of you raised outside the South, that means they don't sell alcohol ANYWHERE in the entire county. Let's just say the next town over was verrrrrry popular with my college pals.

That said, time just flew by while I was in the mountains of NC, matriculating. I think time flies now that I have kids, but I remember actually wishing time would slow down in college. Needless to say, it didn't.

I keep up with four or five people from college. Ironically, not my roommate. Nor my college sweetheart. (On reflection, that's probably a really GOOD thing!)

So all this got me to thinking, and you know how dangerous that is.

I began to wonder what changed for me. When did I start gathering the REAL friends. The women who now inhabit my life and make it sane, make it fun, make it grow and expand. When did the Women Who Make Me Laugh, the Women With Whom I Connect come to be part of my life?

Who are my true, now-BFFs and how did I meet them?

One of my BFFs is an intuitive counselor (a counselor who's a psychic) and started out as my grief counselor when my mother passed away. Then I went to work for her. Then we became fast friends. (I'm not just a client, I'm a pal!) She's a friend. A fellow writer. A confident extraordinaire.

Another, long time BFF was in my Rotary club. You can only imagine how much fun we had with that. We worked for rival banks for a while. Equally amusing - though not to our bosses. She threw an engagement party for me when I got engaged to a guy I didn't marry. She hated him. She did it anyway, 'cause she felt it was the right thing to do. That's what you do for your BFF. (Thank heavens I didn't marry that guy!) Needless to say, she was relieved when I met my DH. She was one of my two bridesmaids.

One cool BFF I met over home reno's, dogs and marketing brochures. She had Keeshonds. I had Dalmatians. Somehow, we worked that out. Ha! We painted together, stripped tables, hung wallpaper. We still trade decorating secrets.

Decorating's the profession of another of my BFFs. I met her at church. We went to church in our "new" city of DC on the same Sunday. We both joined the pitiful choir (1 bass, 1 tenor, 2 altos, 2 sopranos) and managed to forge a friendship that's lasted for more than twelve years. Carrying that chior on our shoulders was a real bonding experience, fer sher.

Then there's the BFF I met in line at the welcome reception at the Denver RWA conference. We've been best buds since then. We've traveled together, roomed together at Nationals and locals, we've scrapbooked together, laughed, cried and grown as women and as writers because we're friends. She was the third person I told when I found out I finally managed to get pregs with my second child. (She'd actually figured it out because I ordered black beans at dinner. She knows I despise black beans, in general. Ha!) She's one of the first I call or email with news or triumphs or for advice. She's pure gold.

Another pal, confident, friend and fellow Mom is from my neighborhood. We trade kid stories. Dog advice. We watch one another's houses for vacations, we take care of one another's pets for days and weeks. We have barbeques and dinners together. Our kids make s'mores together, swim together and go trick or treating together. We walk our kids to school together.

Then there's the Romance Bandits. Legends in present time. Grins. Meeting for the first time - and in several cases NOT meeting - as 2006 Golden Heart Finalists. Who could ask for a better cadre of BFFs? When we decided to start the blog together, some of us had still not met in person. What started out as a "Hey, let's try this out and see..." has become what another pal of mine calls A Force Of Nature. Heehee. I love thinking of the Romance Bandits as a force of nature. Nice image.

It seems I've met more of the lasting kind of friends since I started writing.

Some of my writers pals I've met in surprising ways - online, in classes, at the grocery store, in the bar. (Imagine THAT?!?!)

I've met tons of fast friends in my local chapter, what a great group of women and men THAT is! Gotta love the Washington Romance Writers.

Of course, there are some other really great writer pals I've met online too. I met Becke Martin here, and just met her in person at National this year. *waving at Becke* Becke and I are having a great time hanging out at the Barnes and Mystery Bookclub. A bunch of ya'll have stopped by, so thank you!!!

And there's Keira, who's off visiting castles. And PJ, and Gannon, and Limecello, Jane, Buffie....the list goes on and on and on! How cool is that? What a blessing the Romance Bandits have been in terms of friends! You're never lonely at National if you know the Banditas that for sure. I ran into Bandits, BB's and folks who've guested with us EVERYWHERE. It was great.

I have a new BFF-in-the-making. She's another writer - imagine that! - and one I've admired for quite a while. We have a lot in common and have been laughing our arses off when we talk. That's a BFF in the making, right there.

What about you? Do you have a BFF that you've had "for-evah"?

Did you meet any of your friends in unusual ways? In court or on jury duty? Skydiving? Scrapbooking? Here?

What about your spouse?

I met my marvelous husband at a party. It was a set up, but I didn't know it. I'm thrilled now, but at the time? I was SO ticked to learn that the only reason for the party was to set this date up. I had sworn off dating you see...

One of my friends met her husband online. Another met hers at Karate. Yet another met hers at a fraternity/sorority dinner, but she was with someone else. They waited until the Brother she was dating left the house and campus before they felt they "could" date. They've been together for nearly 30 years now. Wow.

What about your BF, Spouse or just that "special" guy you had a great time with? Any fun stories on how you met?

Time to dish, ladies!

Friday, August 28, 2009


by Suzanne

No this isn't a discussion about my digital camera or my ability to take really cute pictures of my grandkids, (although I do and they are!). No that clicking you hear is the light bulb going off over your head when you suddenly have a great idea. Or that moment when everything falls into place like cubes in a game. Or that moment when you know, deep down in your gut that something is right, or God forbid, something is wrong.


What? You think I'm a little loco in la cabessa? Well, I may be, but let me give you a few examples that reinforce my belief in the power of the click.

1978...Mount Carmel School of Nursing. At 19 years old, I'm a senior doing my mother-child rotation, this week in Labor and Delivery. I'll graduate in the spring. I've got my plans for what I'll do with my career. I've adored two nurses my whole life. My mom, who was a surgical scrub nurse and Hot Lips Hoolihan from the M*A*S*H TV show--another surgical nurse. I'll go straight into the OR and follow in their footsteps. But first, I have to finish school. Today, I'm standing at the foot of a delivery table watching my first baby being born. As the head, then shoulders, then body emerges, tears fill my eyes and there's a loud "click" in my head. I realize in that moment that my plans are forever changed. THIS is what I want to do.

Fast forward three years. Met my husband. No the click didn't happen then. A month later we went on our first date. We spent the evening eating pizza, then going to a dance club, but didn't dance too much. But afterward, when he kissed me goodnight, CLICK. Not the kind of electrical current thing that would make us vulnerable to be around in a thunderstorm kind of click. Just the, this is the one I could spend my life with and be happy, kind of click. That was more than 28 years ago and counting.

Sometimes my "clicks" are subtle and I have to listen very closely to them. Occasionally, I'm staring at a fetal monitor strip and I just get that feeling deep in my gut that says, "Click, this baby is in trouble." It comes with time, experience and training, but when I listen, then the doc listens to me, things usually come out good. Sometimes, it's a quiet "click" about one of my kids, or a friend, or my parents. You know, that urge to make the phonecall, just because they've been on your mind all week long? And when you do...sometimes it's just your voice they need to hear at the dreadful moment in their lives? CLICK

Another click happened while we lived in Florida. I'd always played with writing scenes when I was bored and had nothing to read. This particular night I wrote a great scene about a heroine escaping up a hillside from a man she knows is a killer. It was historical, the hero is her husband, but doesn't know she witnessed a murder and doesn't know she's fleeing town in such a precarious situation. Oh yeah, it's winter, it's Colorado, and she's eight months pregnant. It's also the middle of the book. That's when the "click" happened. Why was she fleeing? Who did the murderer kill? Why hasn't she told her husband? (That's my image of the hero..)

CLICK! I was hooked. 395 pages later, I'd written my first book!

I've started a new book--a sequel to my story THE SURRENDER OF LACY MORGAN. I've known the hero for over a year now, (imagine Shemar Moore from CRIMINAL MINDS in jeans, chaps and a cowboy hat...yumm...okay, you don't have to imagine, I'll show you...), I digress.

Anyways, I know his backstory, his conflict, his needs. I knew who his heroine is...but I know nothing really about her. With free writing I figured out her motivation and some of her backstory. Then I wrote the first scene of the book, then rewrote it, then rewrote it and yet again. Finally, I let her be proactive to a particular problem, the one that sets her out on her journey... and CLICK!! Yep...gonna be a good story!!!

So, how about you? Ever hear your own "clicks"? That moment in time when your life changes? Your story changes?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Knights of the Bruce

Today we welcome Scottish historical author Gerri Russell back to the Lair. Next month is the official launch of her new series about the Scottish Knights Templar with volume one, To Tempt A Knight. Which has a very tempting cover, as you'll see. I've read the first part of this book, which has dynamic action and heart-wrenching romance, and I can't wait to finish it. Gerri will tell us what inspired the series and give us a peek inside the book. Welcome, Gerri!

I’m thrilled to be back in the lair with so many of my favorite people to celebrate the release of my new book, To Tempt a Knight. This book starts a new series for me based on a group of men in Scottish history that were know as Robert the Bruce’s special guard. These men were the best of the best, specially-trained in the military arts, and handpicked by the Bruce himself.

Anyone familiar with 14th century Scottish history knows that the reign of Robert the Bruce was anything but peaceful. The English were a constant threat to Scottish lands and their way of life. The Bruce had wanted desperately during his lifetime to go on crusade to the Holy Land. Some theorize that it was a way for him to make peace within himself over the slaying by his supporters of John Comyn, his rival for the throne of Scotland. The incident led to the excommunication of the Bruce from the Catholic Church.

As the king’s life neared its end, he called on his men to grant him one last favor. After he died, he asked that his heart be removed from his chest and taken on Crusade to the Holy Land for burial in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Faithful to their king, they cut the king’s heart out at his death, placed it in a specially designed cylindrical vessel, and in the spring of 1330, the Bruce’s inner circle of knights, supported by twenty-six squires and a retinue of men, set off on a Crusade from Scotland for Jerusalem, fighting the infidel along the way through enemy territory.

On the morning of August 25th, 1330, the Scottish knights joined King Alfonso of Castile in a battle that was intended to crush the Kingdom of Granada, which was held by the Moors at that time. A false battle cry sent the Scottish knights into battle before they had adequate reinforcements. They were outnumbered a hundred to one. And even with the heart of the king on their side, they were doomed to failure. The knights were crushed by the Moors, and their mission failed. Five of the ten knights died, along with hundreds of foot soldiers.

When I read about the devastation Robert the Bruce’s knights suffered, I knew I had to write the stories of these knights. What would it be like to lose everything—their friends, their family (they gave them up to be Templars), their purpose, their confidence, and their faith? In the series I explore how three of these men recovered from that kind of devastation.

Of course, we all know it takes the help of a good woman, despite the fact they’ve all taken vows of chastity, to get them back on track. Here’s a snippet of some of that recovery from the pages of To Tempt a Knight.

A primitive jolt of desire rocked William as he gazed down at Siobhan. Sweet Mary, he groaned silently. The blood pounded in his veins and quickened in his loins to a point he had never experienced before. He’d lost himself all right. He’d lost himself, body and soul, in the feel of her body next to his.

Firelight flickered across her red hair and gilded the softness of her alabaster skin. When had the sun vanished from the sky? He hadn’t noticed light or dark, nothing but the woman who stood not two paces from him.

He wanted to reach out to her, to shatter the tension between them and end this madness. Surely, once he tasted her, his senses would return to normal and they could move forward with their journey.

His thoughts stopped him. You’re a monk. And with that designation comes certain responsibilities. William clenched his jaw, fighting desire. He had dedicated himself to something other than the concerns of mortal men.

He felt very mortal at the moment, and vulnerable to the desires of men. Suddenly, the question he usually asked himself in times of great fear sprung forward in his mind. What’s the worst that can happen?

William clung to the question like a lifeline. The worst might be that he’d want more than a sampling of what Siobhan had to offer. The worst might be that he’d be forced to recant his vows, to leave the Templars, to take up a secular life. Or worse yet, that God might turn his back on him.

Never had he been so tempted to turn away from his vows. He took a step closer, reminding himself that God would forgive his failings. He forgave all men their imperfections. William swallowed roughly as he moved closer. Her delicate fragrance filled his senses. Forbidden or not, he wanted her.

“Siobhan,” he whispered her name. He could feel the warmth of her against his chest, yet they did not touch. He lifted the end of her damp plait where it hung across her shoulder and curled it around his finger. Slowly, slowly, he increased the pull. Not hurting her, simply drawing her forward until her hips touched his.

He toyed with the single strand of hair at the end of her plait that she’d used to hold the whole tight. His thumb brushed the end backwards and forward until it gave under his gentle caress.

He could not stop the low groan that came from his chest when the ends of her hair came free. He worked the plait apart, higher and higher. “You should let your hair go free.” He kept his manner light, but he couldn’t hide the desire that deepened his tone.

A shiver moved through her as he continued. With each fraction of an inch he moved up the length of her hair, unplaiting it, he drew her closer. Her breasts brushed his chest. He brought the fall of her hair up to his mouth. He brushed the silken texture against his lips.

He let it fall back against her neck and followed it down, pressing the softest of kisses to her hair and the flesh of her shoulder beneath. Her skin was exquisitely soft, and he lingered there, unable to pull away.

She shuddered at the contact. “William, we should not,” she whispered.

“I know.” His body pulsed and ached as he shifted his gaze from her to the pool beyond them. Mist crept across the moonlit waters and a whisper of a gentle breeze chased through the silver-backed leaves overhead. “Everything in my head says nay, but you here in my arms feels right.” His voice was shaking, and shivers ran down his limbs.

She pulled him closer.

He buried his face in her hair and drew in the soft scent of heather that lingered there. He felt the curve of her body against his. All the blood in his body ran erotic, beating with longing, with the need to not just take her, but possess her as his own.

She wanted that too, he could feel it in the beat of her heart against his chest, feel the ripening of her breasts where they pressed against him.

Being near her without possessing her was pure hell. The emotions that drove them to this moment, the force of their passion was a gift given freely by the Maker above. They had every right to explore that gift. He was only a man, and man was flawed. He knew what his sins were. He knew what his judgment would be. And he found he didn’t care what it cost him.

He wanted to lose himself, to put an end to his self-imposed isolation with the woman in his arms. He was always alone, had wanted to be alone, until she came along. He held her tighter. “Tell me if you want to stop,” he breathed as the flame inside him burned ever brighter. He would use that fire within himself to incite her, to please her, and make a world where only he and Siobhan existed as they became one flesh.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a peek inside To Tempt a Knight as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it with you.

Now it’s your turn. What kind of hero captures your heart? Is there a particular hero that stayed in your thoughts and your heart long after the book was over?

One commenter will receive a copy of To Tempt a Knight.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Once More, With Feeling

by Nancy

Feelings. Emotion. The heart of romance in real life and on the page, right? But they also carry over into so many other endeavors. Acting. Cooking. Music. Mr. Phillips, my high school band director, used to tell us to put some feeling into the music. At 17, not particularly familiar with classical pieces, I found that difficult at first. Then, as we played pieces like "The Marriage of Figaro" again and again, with fewer wrong notes, I did begin to feel it, to have a sense of melody rising and falling, of counter-melody moving through it. So did everyone else, and we got better. Sounded better. And I developed a love of classical music I didn't have before.

Some of my best high school experiences came from band-related activities--concerts, parades, and trips. Our band was big, so we needed 3 Greyhound-sized buses to go anywhere. One year, on our way back to the school from the big Thanksgiving parade, someone said, "Let's play our way down the street," so we hauled out our instruments (except the bass drum and tuba, stored under the bus), stuck 'em out the windows, and started to play. Nutty? Sure. Melodic? Probably depended on where you were standing. Fun. Abso-dadgum-lutely!

I look back on those years now and marvel at Mr. Phillips' dedication. On a high school teacher's salary, he taught a disparate group of kids to play complicated musical compositions. He marched beside us in parades, climbed the bleachers with a bullhorn during practice to check halftime show formations, and stood out in the heat with us until we got them right. Mediocre wasn't good enough, not when we could do better. That's a life lesson, too.

He arranged opportunities to travel, even if it was only across the state. The University of North Carolina used to host something called Band Day, inviting high school bands from the Carolinas to Chapel Hill for a football game. They sent everyone the same musical pieces to prepare ahead of time and, on game day, roped off the letters "UNC" in the field's center. Then they filled the entire rest of the field with high school band members, erected stands for the conductors so every musician could see one, and made us the halftime show. Band Day was the first time I heard the phrase at which graduates of other schools scoff, "If God is not a Tar Heel, why is the sky Carolina blue?"

Clearly, Mr. Phillips had a passion for his subject and for his students that showed in everything he did. So did my Latin teacher, Mrs. Brown. Bringing ancient Rome alive takes some doing, but she accomplished that. So much so that when the dh and I first traveled in England, I was desperate to see Hadrian's Wall, the barrier Emperor Hadrian built across the North to keep out the warring Picts. A fanciful version of the wall (and of the Picts or "Woad") appears in the recent King Arthur film. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a wonderful YA historical novel, Eagle of the Ninth, about the massacre of Rome's Ninth Legion by the Picts north of the wall.

The dh and I had one afternoon to see this marvel of Roman construction, which apparently contributed much of the cut stone for buildings in nearby Hexham. We had to park some distance away, cross a pasture and then climb a hill to get to it. The day was overcast, wind blowing so hard birds couldn't fly and whipping our jackets around us and our hair into our faces. Rain sprinkled on us.

As we trudged across the pasture, heads down to fight the wind, he said, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

I nodded. "This is the closest I've ever been to something the Romans built. You can wait in the car if you want, but I'm going up there."

"Okay, then. If you're going, I'm going, too," he said, in true romance hero fashion.

As we struggled up the hill in the wind, discussing the unpleasantness of being stationed there in the winter, a thunderous, ground-shaking sonic boom roared out of the clouds like the voice of Mars, the Roman god of war. It was way freakin' cool, a real goose bumps moment, and worth being a little damp. (We later learned there was an RAF base nearby, so we figured a low-flying fighter had added to the ambiance.). If not for Mrs. Brown, I never would've bothered to seek out the wall. The dh and I would've missed that priceless moment.

Now I'm a teacher, too. The fall semester is starting, and the spring semester evaluations just came back. As usual, most students didn't have much to say, a few seriously disliked something about my approach, and a few were even enthusiastic. Of course, they occasionally write strange things. For example: (Question) "What is your opinion of the course materials?" (Answer) "Boring, but others might like them." (My reaction) "So other people might like being bored?" Or: (Question) "What does that instructor do that contributes to or hinders the success of the class for you?" (Answer, not indicating whether this helped or hindered) "She had already read all the books we covered." (My reaction) "I should hope so!"

The evaluations that mean the most to me, though, are ones that say, "Ms. Northcott has a passion for the subject that gets the class interested" or "She is enthusiastic about teaching this topic." Along with being told I made a student think of something in a new way, I consider that the highest praise I can receive. The luxury of teaching part-time, the compensation for the pittance I earn, is that I get to teach classes I really care about. I'm glad that comes through to the students and that they respond to it. Looking back, I realize I also responded to my teachers' enthusiasm, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

What about you? What teachers do you remember having a passion for their subjects? What subjects or activities are you passionate about?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ode to August

By Kate

Oh, August, how I've missed you! I was so looking forward to spending quality time with you, but so many things got in the way and somehow the time flew by. And now I turn around and find that you're almost gone.

Did I hurt your feelings when you first arrived and I spent the entire weekend shackled to my computer? I'm sorry, but I was trying to meet the deadline for my very first romance for Silhouette Desire. If you were hurt, I'm sorry, but it seemed important to finish the manuscript on time. First impressions and all that, you know. Did I mention that my first Desire will come out next July as Desire's Man of the Month? Isn't that fantastic?

No? What? A little too much BSP? Hee hee. Sorry.

Ah, I see you're still pouting.

You were probably really upset when I screwed up my lower back and had to spend all my spare August evenings at the chiropractor. If it makes you feel any better, I'm still in pain and walking like an old crow. I see you, trying to hide your smile. I suppose I can't blame you. After all, you've seen my chiropractor. He looks like Robert DeNiro, and his hands ... well, he has wonderful hands. Words cannot express what the man can do with his hands. But I digress.

Perhaps, dear August, I let you down when I was called for jury duty? You were probably hoping I would escape like our lucky Aunty Cindy did. But no. I was chosen to serve on a jury and had to spend weeks at the Criminal Courts building in downtown Los Angeles. Maybe you were miffed that I actually had fun with my fellow jurors, exploring the city on our long lunch breaks, shopping at the Museum of Contemporary Art, grazing the myriad food stands at the Grand Central Market, wandering around Disney Hall or scarfing up yummy Mexican food on Olvera Street. But you'll be glad to know that we did do our duty as citizens and reached a good verdict, despite all the rambling around town.

And before you judge me too harshly--if you haven't already ...

You know I got that nasty summer cold while I was on jury duty, right? You know it turned quickly into bronchitis, right? I was popping antibiotics and chugging Robitussin and hacking and snorting so badly, I sounded like an old wino. And there was no wine involved!! It was so unfair! I was a mess. I was forced to avoid other people, especially small children. Direct sunlight was not my friend. Instead, I was required to seek the more subdued pleasures of my living room couch, my pillow and the remote control.

I see you snickering!

And just when jury duty ended, and my work was finished and my cold had finally loosened its grip on my lungs, I opened my email to find ... copy edits. Due in three days. Uhh, that whimpering sound you heard right then? That wasn't me! It was, um, the baby next door. That's right. She's a little cutie, but she does tend to whimper every now and then. But me? I'm fine! No whimpering here. Really, I'm happy as a clam! Seriously. Why would I complain when all my dreams are coming true??

But alas, dear August, I do regret not seeing you all month. Let's make plans to visit next year, all rightie? We'll do lunch. :-)

Okay, that was all about me and my August! How was your August, dear Banditas and Buddies? Vacations? Deadlines? Summer colds? Jury duty? Any plans for September?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bandita Booty!!

by Anna Sugden
Thanks to everyone for making Julie Cohen's visit such a blast!

She has chosen a winner for her prize, a signed copy of her latest book Girl From Mars ...

The Mistress of Manga ... Lynz Pickles!!

Congrats, Lynz. This should give you some light relief in amongst all that language studying! Please send Julie your snail mail details - her email is

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dream Big--It Could Come True

By KJ Howe

I'm a big believer in having dreams...and in dreaming big! Sometimes, when we least expect it, our dreams come true in the best way possible. Today is a perfect example of a writer's dream come true. Our guest today is my fellow 2009 Golden Heart Finalist, Darynda Jones, who has just signed a three-book with St. Martin's! I'll let Darynda take it from here:

Thank you so much for inviting me, KJ, and everyone at Romance Bandits!

This has been such a surreal experience, and I've had many people tell me it’s also been inspirational for them. I’m so glad, because I never thought of myself as being an inspiration.

Just finaling in the Golden Heart garnered so much attention, I was able to get eight agents offer representation on my manuscript First Grave on the Right, at which time I learned is actually more urban fantasy than paranormal romance.

Private investigator Harley Davidson was born with three things: a smoking hot ass; a healthy respect for the male anatomy; and the rather odd job title of grim reaper. Since the age of five, she has been helping the departed solve the mysteries of their deaths so they can cross. Thus, when three lawyers from the same law firm are murdered, they come to her to find their killer. In the meantime, she's dealing with a being more powerful, and definitely sexier, than any specter she's ever come across. With the help of a pain-in-the-ass skip tracer, a dead pubescent gangbanger named Angel, and a lifetime supply of sarcasm, Harley sets out to solve the highest profile case of the year and discovers that dodging bullets isn’t nearly as dangerous as falling in love.

I had some seriously fantastic agents suddenly knocking on my door and found the decision one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that week.

But when I spoke on the phone with Alexandra Machinist of the Linda Chester Literary Agency, I felt a real connection with her. We got to meet at the RWA National Conference in DC and sadly, my very first words to her were, "You're so tiny and cute." Yeah. Not one of my better social moments.

Winning the Golden Heart helped too. Within days, we had several requests. And about a week after Alexandra submitted First Grave, we had our first offer from Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin's Press for a three-book deal.

It was so much more than either of us was expecting, Alexandra called me and asked if I was sitting down. I admit it. I started crying. Then I slipped into a state of shock which I stayed in for quite some time. My husband freaked out too. It was funny.

I had meetings all that first day and I could barely sit through them. It was quite torturous really. And don’t even ask how I slept that night! By the next morning we had a couple more offers, and just before it went to auction, Jennifer swept in with an amazing preempt we couldn't turn down. We both wanted Jennifer (the woman defines bestseller), so we were on cloud nine. Or possibly ten. I can’t be positive at this point.

Jennifer called me that afternoon so we could meet "voice to voice". She was so wonderful and I am thrilled to be working with her. Like, over-the-moon thrilled.

Both Alexandra and Jennifer have such sparkling personalities, I'm fairly certain I hit the agent/editor jackpot. I now have about seven months to finish the next one in the series and six months after that to finish the third. The plan thus far is to release them two months apart from each other, starting in January 2011.

At this point, I’m about 78% positive I’ve entered the Twilight Zone. I never imagined I would get such a fabulous agent, editor, or deal. This is truly a fairy tale come to life. Any other stories about "The Call" out there? I simply love hearing them.

Again, thank you so much to Romance Bandits for inviting me. I will be in and out all day today (darned day job), but I will answer any questions as timely as possible. I look forward to hearing from everyone!

KJ: Thanks, Darynda, for sharing your incredible truly is inspirational that all those hours sitting behind your computer do pay off. Congrats to you for making it to the twilight zone. I can't wait to read your tales.

Darynda Jones recently won a 2009 Golden Heart® for Best Paranormal Romance for her manuscript First Grave on the Right, which just sold in a three-book deal to Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press. Though she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t putting pen to paper, she has been writing toward publication for seven years and has three complete manuscripts—and many, many partials—under her belt.

She graduated Summa cum Laude from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor's in Sign Language Interpreting and works as a full-time interpreter during the day and a college instructor at night. Despite her hectic work schedule, the tales in her mind will not be tamed, so she writes every spare moment she can find. She lives in a small town in New Mexico with her husband of 26 years and two beautiful sons, otherwise known as the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys. Visit Darynda at She'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Title Whisperer

by Donna MacMeans

Have you noticed all the whispering going around lately?

I think it started with the book The Horse Whisperer. I've since heard of the dog whisperer, the ghost whisperer, and the baby whisperer. Heck, I even saw a Cosmopolitan cover recently advertising an article called "The O Whisperer."

But with all the whispering going on - what I really need is a title whisperer. That's right. Someone with the ability to calmly and rationally look at a manuscript and suggest a dynamic marketable title that actually works for the story. It's not easy, I tell ya. It's an art.

Last month I asked about favorite first lines. As I read the ones you submitted, I noticed that the first lines from suspense books had something in common. Did you notice? The books that in all probability would have a corpse somewhere in the story contained the words murder, death or kill in the very first sentence - even if it didn't have anything to do with an actual person's death.

This got me wondering if titles had the same redundancy. Were there certain words that were used in the titles of various genre novels with a certain regularity? Could the use of certain money words ensure a title good enough to meet an editor's approval? Being the mad analytical accountant that I am, I decided to find out for myself.

Here's what I did. There's a list of 1001 romance keepers compiled by posters to a Romantic Times bulletin board. The list was compiled back in January and basically is a snapshot of various readers keeper shelves. I learned of it because The Education of Mrs. Brimley (#255) is on it, as is Jeanne Adams's Dark and Dangerous (#999). So I basically had a ready list of 1001 romance titles to draw from. As the list indicated whether the book was historical, suspense, contemporary, etc. I could break down my analysis along those same lines.

I compiled a list of money words used in the titles, sorted, and then looked to see if certain words popped up more frequently than others. Now I didn't do this for all 1001 titles - I'm not that anal (smile). But I did waste quite a few hours on this most probably meaningless project.

Here's what I found - Suspense titles are short - just a few words, while historical titles tend to be longer with more of the money works. Colors are popular in titles, but by far the most popular color in historical titles is ...Black. Surprised? I was. The popular color mentioned in contemporaries is Gold and Golden. In suspense, things are just Dark.

Lords and Ladies populate historical covers, followed by an abundance of Devils, Mistresses, Angels and Dragons. Lovers were more likely to appear on paranormal covers. Brides were found on both historical and contemporary covers, but only Grooms appeared on the contemporary covers. Apparently no one was mentioned on the suspense covers - but wait - that might be because they were all either Dead or about to Die.

Of course there's action on these covers. Those historical characters are lost in Dreams and Desires. In suspense, they are involved in Danger and Dangerous Falls, Kisses or Tells - except when they were Silent. I couldn't find a frequently repeated word for contemporaries. The characters were doing a variety of things - but whatever they were doing, it was generally around Christmas.

Flowers are important on historical covers. Any flower will do though Roses seem to be a favorite. Wind blew in frequently. Apparently to stir the Windflowers. Flowers weren't as important in suspense covers. Maybe because they were always in the Shadows. Gemstones were mentioned frequently though, especially Diamonds. If anything was Sweet, it was most likely historical or contemporary but never suspense.

The Moon showed up on historical and paranormal covers, not so much on suspense - though there was frequent mention of Night (and conversely, Dawn).

Historicals had repeated mention of Savage, Rainbows, Seasons, and Winter (even Winterwood).

So now you have all the tools to create selling romance titles.

I thought we could have some fun and be title whisperers. Just make up a title using the above list. Or tell me if any of your TBR books share the above common words. (And if any of the titles are really, really good - you may find me emailing you for help sometime in the future!) So let's whisper.