Monday, May 29, 2017

ABOUT A DOG is Out Today or How Did I Get Here?

My editor: “You’re going to need to write sex scenes.”

Me: “That’s cool. I like sex.”

My editor: Blink, blink.

Me: “Aaaand that came out wrong.”

It was June of 2015. I was in NYC, shopping for a new agent. This go round I wanted to actually meet the agents under consideration. You know, make eye contact, check out the grip of their handshake, examine their office, the whole shebang. I had quit my part-time job the year before, as the writing thing was moving from hobby to career, and I felt like I needed to treat it accordingly.

While meeting and greeting agents, I also took the time to visit my editor in her lair. It was pretty cool to walk into the building, get through some intense security and arrive at the floor where my editor resided. There were a few things that were “off” however. Apparently, the latest merger was causing some serious restructuring to happen. As I walked through the offices, I noticed most of the staff were in the process of packing. Huh.

Several years prior, I had survived the personnel gutting that had happened in the city of Phoenix. I remembered what it felt like (awful) and I was beginning to have the same hinky feelings at my publisher’s office. The writers’ rumor mill had been grinding out tales of market saturation, and authors’ series being canceled, etc. and so forth for many months. I'd heard the rumors but didn’t take heed until I stood there amidst the boxes.

View from the top of the Empire State Bldg
on the same trip.
So, while enjoying the view from my editor’s window, I asked her point blank what else she felt I could write because suddenly the need to diversify felt imperative. She didn’t hesitate. She turned to her floor to ceiling bookcase and pulled five books that she then pushed across the desk at me.

“This. You can write this,” she said.

I looked at the pile. They were romantic comedies. Oh, the irony! You see my journey as an author began writing romantic comedies (one of my very favorite genres) for Harlequin back in the aughts. It hadn’t gone well. In short, I was fired. But if my editor, who at this point had been with me for thirty books, felt I could do this then…maybe? I decided to give the genre a go.

Life was happening pretty fast for me at this point. My oldest hooligan was starting high school, and I was in deep, deep denial. Writing a romantic comedy gave me an outlet for all of the feels I couldn’t dump all over him. After spending a month thinking about the plot and writing an outline, I wrote 450 pages in thirty days. Crazy, right?

My new agent, who had signed me to be a mystery writer, got a manuscript dumped on her that she had no idea was coming. Surprise! The best part of this was when she read the manuscript and declared, “You wrote a perfect book!” This confirmed my decision to hire her, which actually came about because when I stopped by her office, she’d had cupcakes made to match the cover of my last book. Yes, that tipped the scale because details matter!

Annie the day I found her.
That surprise book is ABOUT A DOG, a romantic comedy based upon my own experience of rescuing a puppy (our Annie) who I had found tossed out in an alley, except the characters are younger, prettier, funnier, and a smidgeon less neurotic than I am -- but just a smidgeon. In a nutshell, it's about going home, shenanigans, stray puppy dogs, mischievous elderly aunts, big laughs, shared tears, hot sex, and falling unexpectedly in love. 

So, that's how I got here, releasing ABOUT A DOG to the world. It's pretty exciting. It was definitely a challenge not to shove a dead body into the middle of the book but I refrained. And now, as in all writing endeavors, I have to sit back and see how this new genre fits me. Am I fraught with anxiety? Yes, but it's the good kind. In the meantime, I've been noodling around a really cool idea for a YA...

Now, how about you, Reds? Do you have any genres that are lurking just beneath the surface, looking to get out? What would you do if your publisher told you they wanted to see something different from you?

To celebrate the release of ABOUT A DOG, let's have a giveaway! Leave a comment and one lucky person will be randomly chosen to win a signed copy of the book, a tote bag, and swag!  Good Luck!

Memorial Day

It's easy, amidst the picnics and the cook-outs, to lose sight of the real purpose of Memorial Day.  My own experiences with the day include marching as a Girl Scout in the annual town parade, bringing colorful baskets of flowers to place on the graves of loved ones, and topping the day off with a backyard barbeque.  I imagine this is how most Americans spend the day, a mixture of solemn remembrance and happy celebration marking the start of summer. 

I did a little research to add to my meager knowledge about the day.  As many of us know, Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May and is the day Americans honor their fellow citizens who died while serving in the U.S. military.  What many people don't know is that the day didn't start out as Memorial Day.   In 1868, after the end of the Civil War, an organization of Union Veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic declared that May 30th was officially Decoration Day.  The birth of Decoration Day coincided with the establishment of national cemeteries, a necessity to accommodate the vast numbers of casualties sustained in the war.  Citizens would decorate the graves of those they lost in the war, and over time, cities and towns joined the remembrances.

Eventually, Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day, and the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by congress in 1968 and established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May.  They also declared the day a federal holiday, which took effect in 1971.  This created a three-day weekend for federal employees, and essentially, the rest of us.

So tell me:  How do you spend Memorial Day?  Visits to remember those who served?  Parades and boating?  And for those amongst us who aren't Americans, is there a similar tradition in your country?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Are You a Starter or a Finisher?

Jenn with s-i-l Natalie in Jan 2009.
That scarf came in handy!
JENN McKINLAY: About nine years ago, I decided I was going to learn how to knit. For reals, this time. I had tried it before but there was a lot of counting and some of the stitches were akin to deciphering a secret code, honestly, ssk, yo, k1, p2, what did it all mean? I had started so many projects over the years with great enthusiasm but then life would happen and I never finished them. I was a grand starter and had a bag stuffed with miscellaneous skeins of yarn and unfinished projects like the ribbing from a vest, half of a beanie, and a quarter of a potholder. It was ridiculous. 

Newly determined, I tried to pick projects that I thought might actually get finished. I started with the basic scarf and hoped the stitch was complicated enough to be cool and hold my interest but could be accomplished faster than an incoming ice age. Halfway through the first very long scarf and it felt like a journey without end. 

It became clear that for me, knitting (like writing) bogged down in the middle at a crossroads I think of as the choice between punching through to the bitter end or abandoning all hope. I chose bitterness and refused to quit. Through sheer determination, and several episodes of Sherlock, I was able to knit my way into the homestretch and finish my first scarf. I'm not saying it felt like giving birth or finishing a manuscript, but there were some marked similarities, most notably the cool "Hey, I made that!" feeling at the end of it. Yes, there were some dropped stitches and I did have to go back and fix the random error, usually by ripping out several rows of knitting but for the first time I could remember I didn't mind.

My impatience years ago, during those first few projects, made it not worth it to me to go back and fix things even though they bugged me, which led to my eventual quitting. Now a little older and wiser and more determined, I had the patience to  fix things. I wasn't rushing for an outcome so much as trying to make the best possible scarf, hat, what have you, and I knew it would take as long as it took and I'd be happier if I fixed the stitches that bothered me. It was worth the effort and time to make it right. Essentially, I evolved into a finisher!

Jenn's current project.
Since then, I've gone on to knit blankets, hats, pillows, bags, etc. It's my reward at the end of the day for getting my writing done. It also soothes me when the writing goes poorly. At least I feel as if I'm accomplishing something even if it's just another square on a blanket or maybe it's mastering a pattern that had been difficult and I finally get it. I love those light bulb moments!

So, how about you, Reds? Are you starters or finishers? How do you get motivated to finish a project when it's a struggle?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mysteries for Readers who Don't Like Mysteries


Can you believe it?  There are actually readers out there who don't like mysteries?!

A friend, who falls into this category, recently asked me for some mystery/thriller/suspense suggestions, a mystery gateway drug, if you will.  I had a few ideas, but I thought, who better to make recommendations to a reluctant mystery reader, than the Reds and all of you?  Here are my choices.  What would yours be?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is one of the greats of suspense fiction, and its ongoing popularity would suggest it appeals to a broad readership.  The creepy characters and setting and the beautiful prose are sure to delight those who usually steer clear of the suspense shelves.

I always suggest newbies start with A is for Alibi, but every Sue Grafton book is a treat.  Why would I recommend a novel featuring a private investigator to non-mystery lovers?  Because Kinsey Millhone is a knock-out character.  Readers become engrossed in the story, but Kinsey is the real draw.  Once you spend time with her, I'm convinced you'll make quick work of the whole alphabet.

The third book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, Faithful Place is mesmerizing and transports readers to a small neighborhood in Dublin where everyone knows everyone else's business, and yet, dark secrets remain.  The sense of place is so powerful and the drawing of the familial relationships is so sharp, I dare any reader to put this one down.

So tell me Reds and readers, which books do you recommend to readers who (gasp!) don't like mysteries?

Garden Time

DEBORAH CROMBIE: April and May are gardening madness months in north Texas. We have to get plants in before blistering heat shrivels them--and shrivels the gardener as well. We spend so much time and effort getting things just right, then hope we can bear to go outside to enjoy the fruits of our labors!

Speaking of fruits of our labors, I made the mistake of mentioning to the lady at the feed store the other day that I'd been gardening like crazy. Wherefore she whipped out her phone and showed me her acres of perfectly tended vegetables. And told me that she would can everything they didn't eat during the season. I slunk away, tail between my legs. My vegetable plot is a half dozen rather sad plants in pots on the south side of the house.

My garden is flowers, mostly native perennials. To recover a bit of self esteem, I thought I'd share it with you. But upfront I have to say that a lot of the credit goes to my fabulous lawn service guy, Agapito, who, although he runs weekly mowing and edging crews, is a true gardener. He does the major digging and planting, the mulching, and this year, the re-graveling of the flagstone walkways and the re-laying of the patio. I just buy stuff and say where I want it. 

I do get some hard graft credit, from two months potting multitudes of flowers (and my few measly veggies.) And every day there is weeding and picking up, etc., etc., etc. My list of garden chores is endless.

In winter, I find it hard to imagine that the garden will ever be pretty again. Especially this year, as we had extended very cold weather, and we lost a lot of plants ($$$$!!!!) But the spring renewal and replanting results are glorious! I have insanely--because we still have rose rosette virus here, and I've lost nearly two dozen vintage roses in the last three years--planted NINETEEN new roses. Send them blessings.

Here are snippets, and I wish the photos came near doing it justice. The garden wraps all the way around the house, so I am just showing you bits of the front and the back. I would invite you all for a garden tour if I could! And tea afterwards!

Two of the three front berms.

Mealy blue sage in the foreground, with Turk's Cap (not yet in bloom), Red Velour crepe myrtles (also not yet in bloom), cannas, coneflowers, and Mexican sage.

Yucca. zexmenia, yarrow, and skull cap in the foreground. The feathery tree is desert willow, adored by hummingbirds.

Red and purple salvia, guara, skullcap, Calla lilly, and winecup. And the ever-present coneflowers.
View from the driveway, which will be gorgeous when the Turk's Cap, acanthus, and Black-eyed Susans bloom.

The coneflowers in their bee-infested glory.

The front walk, with new Red Drift roses.

Two of my new David Austin roses, Lady of Shallot (which has yet to bloom) on the left, and Munstead Wood on the right.
The newly relaid patio!!! Thank you, Agapito!!! What a job that was!       
The patio with everything returned to its proper place.

Deck with pots, my haven.

And the new gas grill, the crowning touch!

We began this garden twenty-two years ago on a weedy, neglected ninety-year-old corner lot. It has grown and aged and evolved. Parts are unrecognizable from the original concept. I've learned, and the plants have taught me. Mostly, it is loved, not only by me, but by the birds and bees and butterflies. And, of course, the German shepherds, and my granddaughter, who is happy to pick the flowers, and can run on the relaid patio without tripping!

How about you, REDS and readers? Do you suffer from gardening fever? Are you growing flowers? Veggies? Or a tomato in a pot?

(I should add that I am always sore, and my nails are always FILTHY...)