Tuesday, June 30

Stay In the NOW!

One of the things I’m learning about as I continue writing novels is structure— how to build a story so that characters, events, reactions, and outcomes all come together to create a cohesive plot. I tell a great story, I truly do, but I get bogged down in the details of my characters’ lives—especially their pasts. My editor Lani recommends that I watch movies and read—absorb narrative, pay attention to how the stories transition and flow. So, I’ve been doing my homework this summer.

I reread a fabulous book by Keith Cronin called Me, Again. Read it! Keith does a great job telling the story of a man who has a stroke at age 28 and then is in a coma for six years. The story begins as he awakens from the coma and follows the character’s journey back to himself…except that he’s no longer the man he used to be. Fascinating stuff and Keith brings the past and present together so skillfully that the reader never gets bogged down in the details.

Movies are a fabulous way to learn about structure. The storyteller has roughly two hours to get the job done, so anything extraneous has to go. Some movies do this flawlessly, others—not so much. I’d never watched a movie with the intent of learning structure before, but it’s a fascinating experience. Sister PJ and Husband will tell you it’s a pain in the butt to watch movies with me now, because I kept stopping the DVD to turn to them and say, “See? See how they did that transition?” or “There, perfect! Look how they gave us all that information in the first five minutes of the film.” At Christmas last year, after about an hour into our annual viewing of Love Actually, PJ finally said, “Shut up and watch the damn movie!”

Have you ever seen the film The Family Stone? It’s a very well-done, quirky comedy-drama about a family at Christmas (yeah, I'm thinking a lot about Christmas in June--go figure). Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson are wonderful as the parents, whose adult kids all come home for the holidays, bringing their own particular joys and sorrows with them. I won’t detail the plot, but structure really hit me between the eyes in the first few moments of the movie. Within the first two scenes, we learn all we need to know about the backgrounds of the characters—who they are, what they’re dealing with, and how it’s going to affect the family holiday. Writer/Director Thomas Bezucha did a masterful job of filling us in without dragging us down into backstory.

When the movie was done, we watched the “Special Features,” including the “Deleted Scenes.” I love hearing the director talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff with the movie, but the deleted scenes are particularly significant when you’re watching a film for structure. Seeing what the director cut helped me understand why Lani always cuts out nearly all the flashback and backstory from my Women of Willow Bay books. “Stay in the NOW!” were her instructions. When I saw what Bezucha edited out of The Family Stone, I totally got it. It was great stuff and so are my backstory scenes, but they’re not necessary. The deleted scenes would’ve bogged down the movie, just as my flashbacks bog down my stories.

So, now my job is to write my new story in the here and now by allowing my characters to live out their present dilemma. How they got there can be dribbled in as it’s needed, but it’s imperative to stay in the NOW.

Monday, June 29

It's here, it's here, it's here!

Okay, okay, I'm calming down now. Really. But Small Town Summer: Nine Contemporary Romances is indeed...er...here. It will be out July 14, but is available for pre-order at all these places:

Barnes & Noble

In case you need a reminder, here's what you're getting:

And now, for the first time anywhere, here's the cover for my story in the set.

It's very pretty and I love the fonts and the porch. The people are pretty, too, but I gotta tell you, look nothing like Molly and Joe. Because Molly and Joe are fifty. Molly's carrying around twenty extra pounds or so--after all, she sat behind a desk in a bank for thirty years. Joe, even though he's a carpenter, is softer around the middle than he used to be. They are my kind of people, and I hope they're yours, too.

Here is the blurb for the boxed set:

From warm sunny days to long sultry nights, spend your summer falling in love in a small town! These nine contemporary romances featuring sassy heroines, sexy heroes, and lots of heartwarming romance make the perfect beach read. Whether your pleasure is sweet small town romance or smolderingly sexy love stories, there's something in the Small Town Summer box set for everyone!

AWAKENING ANNA, by Wall Street Journal Bestselling author Terri Osburn
ANYWHERE WITH YOU, by Heatherly Bell
MOONSHINE & MAGNOLIAS, by National Bestselling author Jamie Farrell
SUMMER STOCK, by Regina Kyle
A KISS IN KITE HARBOR, by Stefanie London
HER LAST SHOT, by Megan Ryder
SWEET HOME ALASKA, by Rebecca Thomas

And here's a little excerpt from SUMMER IN STRINGTOWN PROPER. I hope you like it! Oh, and while I'm talking--hang on, I'm getting to the excerpt--I need to thank the other authors in this set for their expertise and comraderie in the production of this project. They have been so great to work with and I am embarrassed to admit just how little of the actual work I've done.


She had a hangnail on her foot. No wonder her little toe had begun to hurt after the third dance with Joe Rahilly. Maybe if she didn’t pick at it, it would go away on its own. Stringtown Proper didn’t have any podiatrists—she doubted many of the residents even knew what one was. Or if they did, they drove the hour to Lexington to see one.

And maybe it wouldn’t go away on its own. The dang thing started to throb with her just thinking about it. She pulled her foot onto her thigh and put her artificial fingernails to work. They had cost enough—they should be able to do something constructive like yank out a hangnail.

She had tears in her eyes and blood on her fingers when a soft, lazy, very male voice said, “Good morning,” from the end of the porch.

The expletive that flew from her throat was one that would have Aunt Sadie going for the bar of soap that used to lie beside the faucet on the kitchen sink. Molly jumped, her sore toe smacking the porch rail on the way to the floor. When she grabbed her foot, the nail on her little finger snapped against the wood of the rail and popped off.

“Ouch!” Joe Rahilly slapped a hand over his eye. “Sadie asked me to check on you this morning,” he said. “I guess I can tell her you were sitting on the porch with a weapon, so your honor should be intact.” He bent to pick up the nail and brought it over to where she sat. “Your ammunition, ma’am, in case you have any more intruders.”

She took the sliver of acrylic from him. Maybe she could glue it back on. “Check on me?” she asked. “I’m fif—well over twenty-one. I don’t think I need to be checked on.”

“Yeah, well, Sadie said you weren’t used to Wine from the Ridge. It’ll knock you flat when you’re not looking. That’s the voice of experience talking, by the way.” He lowered his considerable length into the chair beside hers. “Nice morning.”

“Yes.” She guessed it was, although she hadn’t really noticed.

“John David said I should invite you to church. He said to tell you we’re having the very first ice cream social of summer this afternoon and everyone will be there anyway, even the agnostics and atheists. Not that you’re either, of course.”

What rabbit hole had she fallen through? Ice cream socials weren’t for real, were they? Hadn’t they been invented to add interest to nostalgia TV shows and novels about early twentieth-century Americana?

She looked at the man beside her. He was jaw-dropping handsome, she had to admit, with the kind of hair that fell right back into place after it had been disarranged by the wind...or a woman’s touch. It was a lovely dark brown color, shot through with silver and gold. His eyes were brown, too, surrounded by heavy lashes and laugh lines. He had a straight nose, full lips she found herself looking at when she didn’t intend to, and a square jaw that bespoke stubbornness.

Not that Molly had been interested, but Aunt Sadie had said her new stepson was a year or so older than Molly, a widower like his father, and a grandfather a couple times over. He’d made quite a name for himself in the restoration business.

“Restoration?” Molly asked. “As in carpentry?”

“Exactly.” Aunt Sadie had given her a level look that made her feel like squirming. “A master carpenter, in fact. Like the sweet man on TV who wore glasses and flannel shirts.”

Julian always said that people who worked with their hands did so because they were incapable of doing anything else. That made sense to Molly, whose long, slender hands were embarrassingly clumsy. She’d never questioned the rectitude of Julian’s statement or considered it the slightest bit snobbish.

Until Aunt Sadie gave her that look. And until she danced, albeit somewhat drunkenly, in the arms of the man at her side, the one who was looking at her expectantly from the rocking chair beside hers. “Well?”

She blinked. “What?”

“Would you like to go to church?”

“Oh.” The doors would probably collapse as she walked through them. “No. Uhm. No, thank you, I mean.”

Now, what was she going to say when he tried to convince her to go? That she didn’t have a thing to wear? That she hadn’t been to church since she was in the fourth grade? That—


He was getting up. Where was he going?

“What?” she said again.

“Okay,” he repeated, and looked at a watch that appeared awfully expensive for a carpenter to be wearing. “I need to go, now that I know you survived the wine and I’ve invited you to church.” He smiled, his gaze mingling warmly with hers. “It was nice seeing you again.”

“You, too. Thank you. For checking and inviting, I mean.” She wondered why she felt so flustered, as though he’d caught her picking her nose or sitting around in her underwear.

When she was actually wearing—she looked down at herself and flinched—the plaid robe that had been hanging on the back of the bathroom door. She thought it was probably Uncle Win’s, and he’d been gone for five years.

And even though her nose was clean and untouched, she’d definitely been picking her toes. 

Thursday, June 25

On the hunt

Where did all the mutts go?

Do you remember when you could get a puppy just by being in the right parking lot? 

I remember going into a little pet shop to get my grandfather a pup for Father's Day and we were told that she, to be named Tiger, was half American Eskimo and half traveling salesman.

Not today. Or at least not in my neck of the woods.

Last month, we lost our beloved beagle, Mimi, to cancer. She was a little over ten years old. And she was Jordan's constant companion.

She is so missed. I can't believe I don't have to Mimi-proof the house when I leave--making sure I don't have a lunch bag with leftovers on the table, pushing all the chairs under the table because if one was left ajar that served as an invitation to inspect the table contents, and shutting the bathroom and bedroom doors.   

I miss her excited butt shimmy and happy dance. And I miss how happy she made Jordan.

Jordan's ready for a new pup to love and to bring her Joy. Yes, we just saw Inside Out, and Joy should be capitalized :)  So, I've been scouring Craig's List, Humane Society pages of Vancouver, Washougal, and Portland. And any other website I can click on.

Here's what I've found out:

1-Puppies are seriously over-priced. Seriously. Some going for over a thousand bucks. Even the cheap ones are over $500. Seriously?

2-And they're all pure-breds. And those that aren't are now "designer" dogs, not mutts, so they are also over-priced. I guess in the grand scheme of things, this is a good thing. It means people aren't letting their unsullied animals run amok and fornicate with abandon. In the "I have only so much money and can't afford to fork over a mint for a pup" scheme of things, not such a good thing.

3-Chihuahuas are overbred along with Pitt Bulls. These breeds seem to fill the majority slots on the rosters of the local animal shelters-whether full-bred or half-breeds.

But,I persevere to find the right dog for our family. I know she's out there somewhere just waiting for her forever home. 

Wednesday, June 24

Everybody Wants To Fly

A few weeks ago I learned there was a very unique 'holiday' - Elephant Appreciation Day. I love elephants for a lot of reasons. First, they are so gentle. Or, at least, they seem gentle. Kind of laid back...and second, they can definitely take care of business when the time comes. This picture is another reason I like elephants - they know how to have a good time.

As my brain does, when I learned it was Elephant Appreciation Day, I started thinking about zoos and then the circus which, of course, brought me to Dumbo.

The story of Dumbo is poignant and inspiring and...well, all kinds of good, really. I like the messages hidden in the layers of a good story. Here are 3 of my favorites:

Your Biggest Flaw Can Become Your Biggest Asset - Dumbo's biggest flaw? Those ears that kept tripping him up. The ears were (at first) a drawback. Something bullies used to tease and discourage him. But in the end, those ears set him apart and they helped him to soar.

Real Friends Love You For Who You Are - Okay, so Timothy was more 'stuck' with Dumbo in the beginning. But from the beginning, he saw the extraordinary buried deep inside Dumbo. He saw the kind heart, the little boy who only wanted to be loved. Real friends are like that. At first, they like you despite your weirdness...but in the end, it is your weirdness that they embrace and love.

Trust Yourself, Not the Magic Feather - This one is my favorite. Because we all want that magic feather, don't we? We want some magical cure for weight problems or an easy way to get that promotion or a magic spell to make someone fall in love with us. When, in truth, we have to trust ourselves. We have to push away from the table when we are full, we have to work hard for that promotion and we have to trust that the person we love will see through the flaws or the damage inside and they will love us, anyway.

Do you have a favorite Disney flick? What have you learned from it?

Tuesday, June 23

English Is Fun!

You’ve probably already figured out that I’m a grammar nerd. How could I not be? I’m a copy editor, and just by virtue of the job alone, I’m pretty persnickety about spelling and punctuation and how words go together. In addition, I was raised by woman who respected language and words. She taught me to love words and that using them correctly makes you a better person. I think that’s true, mostly, and I do love language and learning new words.

But here’s the thing. English is tough—ask anyone for whom it is their second language—it’s hard to learn because so many words sound the same, but are spelled differently and mean entirely different things—their, they’re, and there, for example. Your and you’re. Here and hear. They’re called homophones and are different from homographs, which are words that are spelled the same, but sound different and have different meanings. Bass (the fish) and bass (a low deep sound). Lead (the metal) and lead (to go in front of). And just because it’s English and we can—sometimes homophones and homographs are all referred to as homonyms. G.K. Chesterton once said, “The word ‘good’ has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”

We set rules in English and then always, always break them. The one about it’s and its is one of my favorites and something that I fix in other people’s manuscripts all the time. Think about it.(Tee hee!) The rule about forming possessives is to add an apostrophe and and s or sometimes in the case of plural nouns just an apostrophe. (Of course there are exceptions to the plural possessive thing too, which can really make my eye twitch, so we won’t go into those.) But it’s and its breaks the possessive rule because the conjunction rule takes precedence. So it’s is the conjunctive form of it is and its is the possessive of it. Go figure.

Then there’s the whole whom versus who thing. Ye gods! The rule is that whom is an object pronoun, while whom is a subject pronoun. Sure, why not? (I can see you rolling your eyes!) So here’s an easy way to remember which one to use. Simply replace the who or whom with he or she or him or her. If he or she works, use who; if him or her works, then it’s whom. Example: Who did you call? I called him. So, it should be Whom did you call. Make sense?

A lot of editors don’t do this, but when I do a copyedit and I change something that the author has consistently gotten wrong, I put in a note of explanation, either that a misspelled word is corrected per Merriam Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, or if it’s a grammar thing, I explain the rule and cite it in The Chicago Manual of Style—now in its sixteenth edition. It’s a teaching thing and I hope makes them better writers, plus it also lets them know, I’m not just arbitrarily messing with their work. By the way, if you’re a writer and you don’t own those two reference books, get thee immediately to a bookstore and buy them. They’re essential.

So, the editor could certainly talk grammar endlessly, but I’m going to stop here. Maybe next time I get into a grammar nerd mood, we’ll talk punctuation. Oxford commas, anyone? Oy!