Posted in ebook reader, Kindle Fire, Uncategorized, writing

The world at our fingertips

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I’ve spent a lot of time in waiting rooms lately, and like many of the people sitting quietly around me, I found myself turning to my phone for entertainment. I was a long-time holdout when it came to smartphones, telling myself it was an expense I didn’t need, a distraction I couldn’t justify. And then, nine months ago, my grandson was born. And he lives some 1400 miles away from me. And suddenly those i-messaged photos and live facetime became too tempting to resist. When my son did a smartphone upgrade, I inherited his older model, and now I have to admit I’m a convert. The facetime is my favorite feature, of course — though watching my grandbaby growing and changing on a tiny screen is bittersweet.

In those waiting rooms, the entertainment I access most often on my phone, no surprise, is the free Kindle app. How many times during past years have I found myself spending long blocks of time in waiting rooms and hadn’t remembered to bring a book? Reading the two-year-old gossip magazines around me or the crumpled newspaper someone had left behind. Sometimes scribbling in a notebook, though I can’t usually write in public places with too many distractions. Or the wait lasted longer than I expected and I finished the book I brought, and couldn’t, of course, carry my entire TBR pile with me. The Kindle Fire I received for Christmas a couple of years ago has been a joy, but I don’t always have it in my purse — and I always have my phone. Which means, I am literally never without a book. Not only a book — my entire ebook library! Finish one? Start another. Not in the mood for this one? Try that one. Can’t concentrate on a new story? Spend a few minutes immersed in an old favorite, just for a brief visit with those old friends (yes, I’ve purchased a few of my treasured bookshelf “keepers” in ebook format just so I always have them with me). My only limit now is battery life, a frustration in itself, of course.

I can’t help thinking back to my childhood, when my friends and brothers teased me for never leaving the house without a book. Like most book addicts, not having one nearby always made me itchy — and that hasn’t changed with maturity. All three of my children were readers, but my middle daughter, Kerry, was the one who was never seen without a book in her hands, to the extent that she was known to walk into a few walls in her time. She still loves the feel of a “real” book (though as a new mom and medical resident, her pleasure reading time is quite limited for now), but she commented recently that she reads on her phone or tablet when she’s holding a sleeping baby and has only one hand free. My other daughter reads on her phone or tablet during otherwise boring bus commutes to work.

There was a time I wondered if the new electronic options would limit reading, but for me, at least, they have given me more opportunities to escape into a book. The boring waiting nook where I get my oil changed and tires rotated, with nothing but old sports, mechanics and hunting and fishing magazines available? I can slip away to a windswept beach where two lovers try to outwit their evil pursuer. Hospital waiting room with sneezing, coughing bench mates and a silly cartoon blaring from an overhead TV? Time to go off-planet for a futuristic romp with animated dust bunnies. Waiting in the car while hubs checks out yet another woodworking supplies store? I’m in New York in the future where a tough female lieutenant solves murders with her sexy Irish billionaire spouse. Mystery, romance, sci-fi, drama, family sagas or whimsical comedies — all within that roughly four-by-two inch little box. Maybe it wasn’t such a splurge, after all! (But the best thing in there is still the collection of my grandson’s photos.)

♥♥

Since I’m talking ebooks, I should probably insert a plug here — Almost all my titles are available for Kindle, Nook and other ereaders, the majority for less than $3. Click the “Books” tab above for links.

And I would love for you to join me on Facebook for more photos and conversations. Click the link at right to “like.”

Posted in ebook reader, Uncategorized, writing

Meanwhile, back at home …

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What better place for a romance writer to admire a glorious sunrise than at Niagara Falls? This photo was taken at just before six a.m. on Saturday, June 15 — day two of our long-awaited family vacation which began when my husband, John, our son, David, and I left Arkansas on Friday for the long car ride to our daughter and son-in-law’s house in Massachusetts. Our first stop was in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where we toured the Corvette Museum (both hubs and son are ‘Vette enthusiasts, though neither owns one at the moment). Very early the next morning we found ourselves in New York, close enough to the Falls that I had to see them, having never visited there before. It was as spectacular as I’d imagined, with the awesome force of the churning water, the mist rising pink in the early sun, Canada glowing gold on the other side. Even our night-owl son, who is not a fan of sunrises in general (actual quote: “The sun. It burns the skin!”) enjoyed that stop.

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A few hours later, we reached our destination, to be welcomed by our daughter, Kerry, son-in-law, Justin, and the most adorable six-month-old baby ever (okay, maybe I’m a bit biased). The next day — Father’s Day — our other daughter, Courtney, flew in from Washington state to join us for the next eight days. It was the best Father’s Day present my husband could have asked for, to have all his “kids” together again for the first time in almost two years. During those eight days, we ate — a lot — played with the baby, visited the charming and historic western Massachusetts city of Northampton and several very cute shops there, enjoyed a tour and tasting at beautiful Nashoba Valley Winery, had a “girl’s day” shopping at Natick Mall while David and Justin viewed Cambridge and Boston from kayaks on the Charles River (one of the highlights of David’s trip), and did a day trip to delightful Rockport, Massachusetts on the Atlantic coast. Rockport has substituted for Alaska in several movies, including the Sandra Bullock rom-com, “The Proposal,” and is one of my kids’ favorite places. Three miles north of the town is Halibut Point State Park, which is absolutely gorgeous — tree-canopied hiking trails, old granite quarries filled with water so blue it was almost purple, rocky ocean beaches, spectacular views and wildlife. The photo below is the quarry with the ocean beyond. Breathtaking.

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In addition to Father’s Day, Justin celebrated a birthday while we were there, he and Kerry marked their sixth wedding anniversary, and Kerry graduated from her general psychiatry residency (she’s one year away from completing her child/adolescent fellowship) — all of which we were privileged to celebrate with them. We played several board games, including a new one called “Strain,” in which the object is to build organisms with cytoplasms and organelles and to give each other “viruses” to prevent them from winning. We laughed about what a “nerdy” game it is for our scientist-heavy family (and that the one who actually works as a virologist didn’t win), but it was a lot of fun. And did I mention that we ate? A lot?

Eventually, of course, the vacation had to end. Everyone had to return to work (or in David’s case, his third year of medical school, which begins in a couple weeks). We said goodbye Tuesday morning with hugs and kisses — no tears! — and promises to get together again as soon as we can, probably in Arkansas next time. John, David and I stopped in Connecticut for lunch and a follow-up visit with my agent, Denise Marcil. Though Denise and I have worked together a long time (28 years this month!), we don’t get to visit in person very often, and that was a real treat for me. I’m only sorry that I forgot to pull out the camera during that special time together; I meant to have our photo taken together, but got so involved in our lively conversations that it didn’t occur to me until later. Maybe next time …

After another long car ride, through Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee this time, we returned home last night, tired, a little sunburned, definitely bedraggled, to be greeted by a mound of mail and a needy, pouty cat (Izzie had a caretaker during our absence, but she always makes us suffer a bit for abandoning her). David returned to his own apartment and now it’s just John and me again (and Izzie, of course). I have a close deadline for a Special Edition to be published early next year (details to come later), there are bags to unpack, bills to pay, grass to mow, a broken microwave to replace, the usual chores and routines of everyday existence. But as tired as I am, I will treasure the memories of every minute of that time with my family, the most precious blessing in my life.

♥♥♥

Available later this week — A MATCH FOR THE SINGLE DAD, my newest Harlequin Special Edition! Click the “home” tab above for more details.

May you all have a happy, healthy summer (or winter, depending on where you live) and enjoy special blessings of your own.

 

Posted in Uncategorized, writing

A great day for toads

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After an unseasonably cold, wet start to May, the sun made an appearance yesterday and the temperature warmed enough for a light sweater to suffice outdoors. My husband and I were unable to resist making the 25-mile drive to Conway, Arkansas to peek in on the 32nd annual Toad Suck Daze festival. A free-admission event that has raised over a million dollars for local education projects, Toad Suck Daze is a three-day festival offering carnival rides and games, music and other entertainment, arts and crafts and other wares for sale in booths, lots and lots of food vendors — and the famous toad races.

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It was a beautiful day for an outing, and we had a great time. When our kids were young, they enjoyed the rides and games at the festival, but hubs and I like people watching and chatting with vendors — not to mention savoring all the yummy aromas coming from the many food stands. I’ve always thought carnival food smells even better than it tastes.

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There were plenty of things to do and see to entertain all ages. Some a bit distracting for a romance writer …

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But, I digress.

The highlight of the day for us, as always, were the toad races. The Toadmaster led off with a rousing rendition of the Toadie Woadie Dance:

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Followed by the thrilling toad races:

Waiting for the signal
Waiting for the signal

Get ready ... get set ... Toad!

Looks like a winner!
Looks like a winner!

As always, John and I had a great time at the Toad Suck Daze festival, a fun day for a great cause. Now it’s back to work, but maybe I’ll be humming “Do the Toadie Woadie” while I write today.

Cheering on the toads!
Cheering on the toads!

♥♥♥

THE TEXAN’S SURPRISE BABY, my newest Harlequin Special Edition, is available in stores now! Click the home tab above for details.

Posted in ebook reader, Kindle Fire, Uncategorized, writing

A New Point of View

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I finished another book this week — an as-yet-untitled Harlequin Special Edition — and I’ve spent the past few days catching up on all the things that piled up while I was submerged in the all-encompassing phase of completing a story. Tasks such as dusting and vacuuming, laundry and grocery shopping were all pushed aside until after I typed “the end.” The pantry and freezer had become so empty I felt as though I were on an episode of “Chopped” every time I made dinner. “Hmm, what can I make with a can of black beans, a half-box of quinoa and a bag of frozen crawfish tails?” The pantry and freezer are now full again, house clean and laundry basket empty, and I’m preparing to dive in to the next story to start the process over again. Even after this many books, the sight of a computer screen with nothing but the words “Chapter One” displayed on it can still be intimidating.

It always takes a while for me to get “into” a new book. To get to know the characters — who they are, what they want, what holds them back from obtaining their goals. The writing is always painfully slow at first, a few pages a day if I’m lucky, then speeds up as I grow more comfortable with the story I want to tell. Inevitably at some point  in every book I come to a screeching halt. I’ve been known to spend several days struggling with one scene, writing paragraphs — or worse, whole pages —  only to delete them, struggling to type a few words an hour. Pacing, frowning, referring to my notes, trying to distract myself by listening to music or watching a movie and hoping that will recharge my imagination’s batteries, only to find that I’m still stuck when I reopen the file. Usually when this happens, I find that it’s either because the scene is out of time — something that should happen later in the story, if at all — or, quite often, that I’m simply trying to tell it from the wrong point of view.

Most of the books I write are category romances for Harlequin. The stories are tightly focused, centered around two people struggling with problems — either external or internal — and finding their life partner in the process. When asked why I enjoy writing romance, I almost always explain it’s because I believe that almost every reader can identify with that desire to find a soul mate. A safe place to call home. Sometimes these romances take place within the framework of a family drama or a mystery or a career crossroads, but always the main purpose of the story is the coming together of the two main characters, the hero and heroine. In my category books, I tend to stick with those two points-of-view in telling the story. Each scene is told through the eyes and emotions of either the heroine or hero, though I’ve occasionally included a secondary storyline with additional points-of-view (VALENTINE BABY comes immediately to mind, which included a romance for the hero’s mother). As I begin writing each scene, I decide what I want to accomplish in the scene — how it advances the story, what is revealed to the characters, how I hope the reader will respond. Whose point of view the scene is told through makes a big difference in all those objectives. Many times when I’ve struggled for days with a scene, I’ve tried simply rewriting it through the opposing point-of-view — and I’ve been amazed at what a difference it makes to the flow of the story.

Perhaps because I’ve been a storyteller since childhood, having wanted to be a writer for almost as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with why people behave and believe the way they do. I can usually understand both sides of a heated argument or debate, especially when I know the background and life experiences of the opponents. I am rarely drawn into passionate political or social debates because I can usually make arguments for both sides. I loved my psychology and sociology classes in college. My husband earned a degree in psychology (we met in college when I was a journalism major/psych minor and he double majored in psychology and sociology)  and one of our daughters is a psychiatrist, so a fascination with human behavior and what makes people “tick” seems to run in our family. I have a widely diverse group of friends of all races, religions, ethnicities, political parties, nationalities — and I love learning about all of them, seeing the world through their eyes. When I write, I ask myself, “Why would he/she do this? Why would he/she say this or want this? How can I make the reader care what happens to these people?” And very often in the books — as in real life — it all comes down to point of view.

For all my friends celebrating Easter or Passover or other holidays this week — much joy to you! Many of my friends are greeting the start of spring, while in the other hemisphere, my friends are moving into winter. Whatever season is beginning for you, may it be filled with love and with happiness.

♥♥♥

THE RIGHT TWIN, available now from Harlequin Special Edition, in stores and for ereaders.

Coming in May, THE TEXAN’S SURPRISE BABY. Click the Home tab above for details.

Click the “Books” tab above for links to purchase most of my earlier books for ereaders.

And join me on facebook (link available at right) for on-going updates about my books.

Posted in Uncategorized, writing

Not-so-random acts of kindness

Yesterday marked the end of this year’s Random Acts of Kindness Week (http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/). 

The newscasts are so full of bad things, and internet comments are so often angry and mean-spirited, it’s all too easy to get jaded about humanity. But as I’ve posted before, my family has often been blessed by random acts of kindness from both friends and strangers. After our older daughter’s stroke, during my mother’s drawn-out passing from pancreatic cancer, after a tornado hit our home, many times an act of kindness has brightened our day and made our everyday-life burdens seem lighter. Our older daughter tells stories almost daily about strangers who have rushed to open a door for her in her wheelchair or when she’s using her crutches, or friends who offer to drive her to the store or to help her with laundry or other household chores that are more difficult for her now. After each report of a natural disaster or man-made tragedy, a spate of stories often follows about spontaneous donations of money, toys, food and household goods from strangers across the country who just want to do something to help, even if only in a small way. I search out those feel-good stories, needing the frequent reminders that most people are good and well-intentioned despite the sensational headlines.

In my last post, I told you that our family was blessed with a new addition in December, our precious grandson. When my husband and I first saw him minutes after his birth, he was wrapped in a hospital blanket and his head was covered by a sweet green-and-white snowflake-patterned hat made by a talented volunteer. His parents loved that cute hat; a nurse told them all babies there are warmed by those little hats that are individually crocheted or knitted then donated to the hospital nursery by members of the local community. 

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Two weeks after his birth, on Christmas Eve, our grandson was readmitted to the hospital for surgery, only a few hours after a diagnosis of a pyloric stenosis. Those first two weeks had been difficult and they’d had little sleep. Because our daughter is a doctor, she soon realized the baby’s feeding problems signaled a stenosis and it was caught very early. Even though the procedure is fairly common and generally considered low-risk, it was still very stressful for our daughter and son-in-law to watch their new baby wheeled off for surgery. My husband and I had returned home a week earlier, so they were on their own 1400 miles from their Arkansas families. The procedure was successful and mom, dad and baby spent the night before Christmas in a hospital room. They woke Christmas morning after a much needed rest to find that “Santa Claus” had visited while they slept. The room was filled with gifts for the baby — stuffed animals and toys and bibs and books and handmade blankets and even a baby monitor system! Every child in the hospital that night had been visited by Santa, who delivered donated gifts. My daughter gave me permission to post this photo of their “goodies:”

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As much as they appreciated every item in the gift pile, it wasn’t the “stuff” that touched their hearts so deeply. It was the realization that there were people who cared enough about families spending Christmas Eve in a hospital room to go to all that trouble. The pleasant surprise had brightened their day, providing them with a good memory of that Christmas Day after such a difficult day before. Following a Christmas lunch provided for patients’ families – again by volunteers – our kids returned to their home with their healing baby and their cherished mementos of the kindness of strangers.

It doesn’t have to be just for Christmas. Or a formal “Acts of Kindness Week.” Compassion and generosity are needed year-round. I’m going to try to keep my own eyes open for opportunities to brighten someone else’s day as so many have done for me and for my family. Join me, won’t you?

Do you have a story of a random act of kindness that was especially meaningful to you? Tell me about it on my Facebook page (click the link at the right to be taken directly there).

♥♥♥

Coming Soon: THE RIGHT TWIN, available in March from Harlequin Special Edition.

Click the home page above for details!

Posted in Uncategorized, writing

Going out with a bang

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It’s been just over two months since I posted last (hard to imagine that much time has gone by!), so I have a lot of news to share. Not long after I made that last post, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, my husband and I got a call from our daughter in Massachusetts that she was in labor and was on her way to the hospital. So excited we were all but bouncing, he and I jumped in the car for the twenty-five hour drive, expecting our grandson to be waiting for us when we arrived. We’d been on the road for several hours when our daughter reported that her labor had slowed and she’d been sent home to wait for it to intensify again. Her doctor expected to see her again later that night. John and I began to hope that we would actually be there in the waiting room when our first grandchild was born. We spent the night in Virginia and checked in with them first thing the next morning — only to find that the contractions were still sporadic and not gaining in strength. A terrible accident ahead of us in Pennsylvania backed up traffic so badly that we moved seven miles in four and a half hours! Fortunately, we had snacks and a cooler of sodas with us, so we had a snack-food dinner, finally arriving at our daughter and son-in-law’s house at two a.m. There we settled in to wait for our grandbaby. And wait. And wait. Kind friends of theirs had us all over for Thanksgiving dinner with their families, and then the waiting began again. Almost three weeks after our hasty trip, our grandson chose to make his grand appearance on December 8. We were in the waiting room, as we’d hoped (another example of being careful what you wish for). We enjoyed those weeks with our daughter and son-in-law before the baby’s arrival, helping them set up the nursery, meeting many of their friends, enjoying some central Massachusetts Christmas festivities. We were able to spend one week with them after the baby’s birth before heading home again. Needless to say, we absolutely loved having that time with all three of them, and we got in lots of snuggles and kisses before we reluctantly left. The drive home was relatively uneventful, made to the soundtrack of Christmas music from the radio.

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Because it was so close to Christmas, I did a minimum of decorating. I still had shopping to do, and my husband was far behind in the turned wood gifts he was making. He headed straight for his lathe while I put up just one of the two trees I usually decorate. Our other daughter from Seattle arrived the day after we got home. She is still recovering amazingly well from the stroke she suffered two years ago, and we were thrilled to see how much progress she had made just since we’d last seen her only a couple months before for a dear friend’s wedding. Christmas passed in a blur of family visits and traditions, including the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service we’ve attended every year since before our children were born. We spent a quiet Christmas morning with our daughter and our son, who had spent the night with us rather than returning to his apartment some twenty miles away. Christmas Day ended with us sitting in the cold and dark — a rare Arkansas snow storm had dumped more than a foot of snow outside and shut off electricity to more than 70 percent of central Arkansas customers! We were without power for a couple of days, without internet for a few more, but we were more fortunate than some in the area who lost power for a full week. Trees and branches fell on roadways, homes and vehicles and the damage was widespread, but we lost only one small tree and a few branches, so we were fortunate. 

After a lovely visit, a fun day trip with us and one of her former workmates to Hot Springs National Park, lots of shopping, eating and catching up with friends and family, our daughter will return to the Pacific Northwest tomorrow and the holidays will officially be over for us. 2012 ended with quite a bang for our family! Now we’re tired, a couple pounds heavier, and somewhat behind in work and other obligations — but all in all, it was a great year.

I have a busy 2013 ahead. Three new Harlequin Special Editions are scheduled for March, May and July — THE RIGHT TWIN, THE TEXAN’S SURPRISE BABY and A MATCH FOR THE SINGLE DAD. Introducing the Bell family of the fictional Bell Resort and Marina on Lake Livingston in Texas, the books also include appearances by characters from my long-running Family Found series. Don’t worry if you missed that series; these are all stand-alone stories. I’ll have other news to share in coming months, so visit me here again soon! I’ll try not to stay away so long next time.

Happy New Year to all my friends and readers, and thank you for dropping by!

Posted in Uncategorized, writing

The name game

I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about names, carefully choosing names for the characters in my books. Heroes and heroines, family members and friends, secondary and walk-on characters — each name has to fit the personality of the person I’ve envisioned as I write. I peruse baby name books, on-line baby name sites, watch credits after movies and TV shows for interesting names that seem to suit the people I’m creating … and sometimes the characters just tell me their names as I write. If I choose a wrong name for a hero or heroine, one that just doesn’t seem to “fit,” it becomes clear to me fairly quickly. The story just won’t move until I find a name that makes both me and my character happy.

In my March, 2013 Harlequin Special Edition, THE RIGHT TWIN, I’ll introduce a new family, the Bells (and reintroduce a couple of characters from a familiar family, the Walkers from my long-running Family Found series). The Bell family got their moniker when a name popped into my head while I was in Seattle visiting my daughter earlier this year and started outlining a new book one day while she was at work. I envisioned a quirky family matriarch named Dixie Bell, a woman who wasn’t particularly happy with that name, so insists that everyone call her by her grandmother name, “Mimi.” Then I started naming her family members — her husband, Carl Bell, Sr., sons Carl, Jr., and Bryan, granddaughters Shelby, Hannah and Maggie (all of whom you’ll be meeting in the next three books), youngest granddaughter Lori and grandson Steven. Whew. Lots of time spent at the baby name sites — a pleasant diversion as I get distracted reading name meanings, etymology, frequency of usage and any other trivia available there.

John and I spent many hours deliberating over names for our children (but then, we’ve been known to deliberate for days over names for pets). Our older daughter was named after a character in one of my favorite books as a teenager, our  second daughter’s name is an alternate spelling of her paternal great-grandmother’s name combined with a middle name taken from one of my and my husband’s favorite films, and our son is named partially after his father — the fourth “John” in five generations of his maternal grandmother’s family — and partially after The Incredible Hulk (the TV one, David rather than Bruce). His older sister chose that name because she loved watching reruns of The Incredible Hulk and loved the name David. As it happened, so did we. Even our cat Izzie is named from a family-favorite film. It has meaning to us.

I enjoyed watching our daughter and son-in-law go through the process of choosing a name for the little boy they’re expecting in December. They considered and discarded dozens, running some past their friends and family, debating others together. Choosing a child’s name seems so momentous — how will it affect his life? His relationships? His self-esteem? How will it look on kindergarten papers, diplomas, job applications? Quite daunting, actually, and a big responsibility. They considered favorite books, movies, historical figures, ethnic origins. And yet when they finally chose the name they knew was perfect for their son, it came from a restaurant menu. They’ll have a great story to tell little Ephraim someday about his name. Our son-in-law amusingly chronicled the ah-ha moment in his blog: http://1eyeatatime.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-story-about-lunch.html

Expecting our first grandchild has given my husband and me another challenge — choosing our grandparent names! Knowing how our parents became known to everyone by their grandparent names after the births of their grandchildren, we want something we don’t mind answering to often. I’ve had a name in mind for a few years (yes, I’ve planned for this event!), but John is still giving the matter careful consideration. It’s interesting to choose names for ourselves — the first time in our lives we’ve actually had that opportunity, come to think about it.

I hope you’ll enjoy meeting the members of the Bell family, beginning with THE RIGHT TWIN in March, 2013 and continuing in THE TEXAN’S SURPRISE BABY in May. In the meantime, many of my previously-published books are available in ebook format and from Harlequin.com. Click the Books tab above for details and links for Kindle and Nook readers.