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Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Road Trip

by Renae Schroeder


“Genie, hurry up!” Alice urged impatiently. “We’re going to be late!”

Genie rolled her eyes at her overly anxious friend. Alice and Genie had been best friends since the third grade. Genie was the laid back, practical half of their friendship, while Alice supplied the impulsive, wild part.

They’d graduated from college two weeks before and the road trip had been, naturally, Alice’s idea. They’d packed up and left their hometown of Yuma and a mere day and a half into the trip, the car had broken down on the desert highway leading into Apache Junction. Being it was the weekend, there were no mechanics open until Monday morning. To pass the time, Alice had goaded Genie into checking out the local Goldfield Ghost Town.

“Yippee…” Genie muttered under her breath as Alice gestured like a madwoman. They’d preregistered through the motel’s computer, so they just had to be directed to the meeting spot for their group.

Alice was excitedly babbling about the history of the surrounding Superstition Mountains, while Genie scowled politely and pretended to be interested in the conversation.

Genie loved Alice like a sister, but sometimes Alice really needed to take a chill pill. Alice already had a cushy job lined up with the district attorney’s office, so she had nothing to worry about.

Genie should be pounding the pavement with her resume’, not running around the state of Arizona on some hair brained road trip like it was the last hurrah. Why in God’s name had she let Alice talk her into this?

The thought was interrupted by a man carrying a clipboard, wearing tan cargo shorts and a royal blue shirt with a monogrammed name on it. Julian. Alice’s monologue took a backseat in Genie’s brain as she drank in the view of the stranger. He reminded her of Antonio Banderas, only younger, cuter, and sexier. His deeply tanned skin was a startling contrast to his dazzling white smile. The five o’clock shadow on Julian’s square chin absolutely screamed masculine. His midnight black hair fell over one eye in a boyishly endearing manner.

Genie wasn’t a drooler, she was way more mature then that, but she had a hard time dragging her eyes from this fine specimen of a male. As she came back to her senses, she realized he was calling names off his list.

“Jason Morgan. Alice Barksdale. Genevieve Lewis. Allen…” Genie lost track of a brief swatch of time. She’d always hated her full given name of Genevieve, but the way it rolled off Julian’s tongue in his softly accented voice made her knees go weak. A shiver ran down her spine and it had nothing to do with the specters of Goldfield Ghost Town.

“Hellooooo? Is anyone home?” Alice waved her hand in front of Genie’s face.

“What?!” Genie snapped, her daydream lost as Alice resumed her one-sided dialogue.

Genie sighed. What had she been thinking anyway? Julian saw about a million pretty girls all year round. One more average American, hazel-eyed blonde was not a big deal to him. All Genie really wanted to be was out of Apache Junction. Still, she hung on his every word during the tour, although she couldn’t remember what was specifically said. Just listening to him speak was an aphrodisiac.

****

Monday morning, Alice had the car towed to a place called Mendoza and Sons Automobile Repair, a convenient three blocks away. At noon, Alice and Genie walked to the establishment to see what the news was.

An older Hispanic man sat behind the front desk. Alice explained who they were and he nodded.

“Ah, yes, the Honda Accord. We have to order a part, but it should be done by Thursday.”

Genie and Alice looked at each other and shrugged. At least Apache Junction was a big enough place that they wouldn’t be bored stiff.

“Would it be OK if I get into the car?” Genie asked. “I left my laptop in the trunk.”

“Sure, it’s right through there,” the man pointed.

She went through a side door into the shop area. As she stepped around the other vehicles, Genie’s sandaled foot slipped on a spot of oil and she went down hard on the concrete floor.

Another man quickly came to her side and offered her his hand. Genie was so embarrassed that she didn’t look at his face until she was on her feet again, trying to gauge if she could save her new white shorts. There was a reason she didn’t normally wear white and seeing the dark oily stain on the hem was one of those reasons.

“Are you hurt?” He gently grasped her elbows to steady her.

The deep timbre of his voice made her freeze. The first thing she saw, because it was at eye level, was the name tag on the man’s chambray work shirt. Julian Mendoza.

“I was at your 1 pm tour on Saturday,” Genie whispered. A blush crept up her cheeks as the memory of a rather adult-themed dream involving her and Julian sprang unbidden to her thoughts.

Julian’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled down at her. “I remember. Did you like it?”

“L..like what?” Genie stammered, clearing her brain of the steamy dream, feeling like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

“The tour?”

“Oh! Yeah, I had fun.” Genie groaned inwardly. Julian probably thought she was an idiot.

“Glad to hear it. Are you OK?”

“ I’m fine.” Genie glanced ruefully at her clothes. “Except for my shorts.”

“I’ll buy you a new pair. It’s the least I can do since it’s my oil spill,” Julian offered. Genie became conscious of the fact that he still held her arms and that barely an inch separated their bodies.

“You don’t have to do that!”

“How about I buy you dinner then, Genevieve?” Her name flowed like fine silk from his lips.
Speechless, Genie could only nod acceptance. Maybe Apache Junction wasn’t such a bad place after all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Article: Writing Naturally

by Laurie J. Brenner

Have you ever found yourself stuck in your writing like a child on a rocking horse? Rocking back and forth, writing and editing, and wondering why your story doesn't take you anywhere?

As a writer for a local weekly newspaper, I couldn't afford the luxury of writing and editing. I just had to write and worry about editing later; there's something about a deadline that moves you along.

So how do you learn to move beyond the wooden horse, to the real horse, that story or article that will take you across vistas where the sun sets in marmalade skies and where the grass ripples like a green sea?

As a painter, I've learned the value of painting from the right side of your brain. The right brain paints what it sees, whereas the left paints what it thinks it should be. I wondered to myself if there were something for writers along these same lines. I discovered there was.

Our brains are divided into two hemispheres right and left and are joined by a strange piece of gray matter called the corpus collusum. The corpus collusum acts like a switching station. In right-brain driven individuals it tends to be larger. The right brain could be referred to as the feminine or creative side (the writer) whereas the left-brain (the editor) could be referred to as the male or logical side.

The left brain provides us with language, syntax, denotation, analytical thought, logic, math, etc. In the right brain, we discover creativity, patterns of sound, metaphor, ambiguities, and paradox.

In right-brain painting classes the teacher gets you to let go of the image of what you think you see, to seeing only what is there and consequently drawing it. This is done by taking a picture, placing it upside down, and covering up all but a little portion of the picture. You begin to draw only what you see on the page. As you move along, you uncover a little more of the picture as you draw. Practice this sometime to learn to free up your right brain.

You may be wondering - do you write upside down? No - you don't. According to Gabrielle Lusser Rico, author of the book Writing The Natural Way, "if you can speak, form letters on the page, know the rudiments of sentence structure, take a telephone message, or write a thank-you note, you have sufficient language skills to learn to write the natural way."

In her first chapter, "Releasing Your Inner Writer," Rico describes the two different hemispheres of the brain as "Sign and Design" Mind. She describes the interplay between the two hemispheres and lets us know that any good solid writing is collaboration between these two talents of the two hemispheres.

In her second chapter lay the real gems. Here's where we learn to "cluster" or "map" our creative thinking process. She calls clustering the "doorway to your design mind." The method she utilizes begins with a "nucleus word" or short phrase that "acts as the stimulus for recording all the associations that spring to mind in a very brief period of time."

You take your nucleus word or phrase and write it in the middle of a page, drawing a circle around it. Then you let yourself free associate. Every thought, feeling, or idea that comes from that word you write down in little bubbles away from that "nucleus word" but attached by a line. You keep going until you feel the shift in your mind to quit. You may have to do this several times before you recognize the feeling. It's ok - tell yourself it's just play.

She tells us that this methodology is not "merely the spilling of words and phrases at random, but something much more complex: for the Design mind, each association leads inexorably to the next with a logic of its own even though the Sign mind does not perceive the connection." This is learning to write from the creative side of your brain.

This methodology of clustering is like throwing a rock into a pond, it unfolds from the center, each ripple, or thought moving outward. After the completion of the clustering, (and you will learn to know when this occurs), you write a vignette, a poem, whatever strikes you, using the words from your clustering spider web and whatever else comes out of you.

What you'll find is an interesting piece, almost like poetry, with an undiscovered beauty emanating from within you. It's a very rewarding experience.

With enough practice, you won't even need to do the "clustering" approach, as you'll be able to feel the shift internally into that hemisphere of the brain, not unlike shifting into high gear.

Peter Elbow, the author of "Writing with Power" says, "When we were little we had no difficulty sounding the way we felt; thus most little children speak and write with real voice."

Read your writing aloud. Words are meant to be spoken aloud. When you hear it, you'll hear those places where it doesn't flow and you'll feel it. They'll stick out of your sentences and paragraphs like stickers in your socks.

As a writer - it's also important that you allow yourself time. Time to practice, time to play, time to perfect. With time, you'll discover yourself as a writer. You'll find your voice. You'll lift it to sing.

Try different things. Write poetry. Write a movie critique. Write a story. Try writing a newspaper article, a how-to. Try describing the indescribable. Challenge yourself. There's nothing that says you have to show it to anybody. Most professional writers (and best-selling authors) have scads of journals they wouldn't even show their best friends.

Writing doesn't necessarily mean sculpting every word from your mind with a chisel. Your head is not a rock. Be gentle with yourself. Enjoy, kick back, let loose, try this clustering method, learn to relax that muscle between your ears, and who knows, one day, all of sudden, you just might find yourself writing.

Naturally.

About the author: Laurie Brenner writes inspirational, uplifting, and unique stories addressing life in the new quantum age. To pick up her latest e-book for a modest price, The Little Book of Becoming – Understanding the Law of Attraction visit her website: http://www.littlebookofbecoming.com

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interview: Debbie Mumford

The Long and the Short of It is very pleased to welcome Debbie Mumford. Her writing career is taking flight. She's been a regular contributor to Flash Me Magazine and her ebooks are available from Freya's Bower and from The Wild Rose Press, writing as her young adult alter-ego, Deb Logan.

I asked Debbie what advice she would give to a new writer who was just starting. "If you want to be a writer," she said, "find a critique group. Not just any critique group, but one that has published authors in regular attendance."

She shared with me that the first thing she wrote was a 100,000 word novel. Her attitude in the beginning was, "I had an idea; I was an intelligent woman with a computer; what more did I need?"

"I sent that ill-fated novel out to countless editors and agents," she told me, "and received an equal number of form rejections which told me nothing about what I'd done wrong. Frustration reigned until I discovered my critique group. I can honestly say they taught me my craft."
She admits that sometimes being in a critique group is not for the thin skinned. "Develop a thick skin and rejoice when your stories are shredded," she advises. "It's the fastest way to learn. I read lots of articles on craft, but until my own work was dissected and the errors pointed out, I really didn't understand what was being said. Thank heavens for patient mentors."

Speaking of mentors, I asked her what authors had influenced her own writing. "I can think of several layers of writers who have been important to me. The foundational ones—those whose tales turned me into a compulsive reader—were Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Madeleine L'Engle, and Arthur C. Clarke. I still remember choosing Podkayne of Mars by Heinlein from the school library when I was about ten." She continued, "Later loves were J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne MacCaffrey, Piers Anthony, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Now days, I'm entranced by George R.R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, and Linda Howard."

Debbie works a 40 hour week as a technical writer so most of her fiction happens early in the mornings and on the weekends. She told me she usually gets up at 5:30 to have an hour's writing time before she had to leave for her office (because of getting up so early, she's rarely up past 11:30 pm). It's a good thing she's a morning person, though she admitted she'd be happy if her mornings didn't start quite so early. The evenings are usually out because of being drained from her work day, with the exception of Tuesday nights. She told me, "On Tuesdays my weekly writing group gathers at my home and we all work side-by-side on our individual projects. Energy isn't a problem with my writing buddies in the room!"

When I asked her about her writing space, she said, "I write on a laptop in a recliner. Seriously. I relax with my feet up and a cushioned lapboard. There's an end table on my right where I deposit said board and computer when I have to get up and a bookshelf on my left will all my favorite craft books, research volumes and inspirational reading." She laughed and added, "I believe in comfort."

Her Celtic background (Scots, Irish, and English) played deeply into her love for dragons, faeries, and all things magic. This is evident in her latest release, Dragon's Choice: Sorcha's Children Book 1, which continues the story which began in "Sorcha's Heart." She calls it "the little story that kept going!" She told me, "Sorcha began as a 5,000 word short story written for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. It made it to the quarter finals, but didn't have the oomph to make it to the finish."

Debbie expanded it into a novella and contracted it to Freya's Bower. She obviously discovered the "oomph" because Freya's Bower like it well enough to offer her a contract for two additional novels to follow it. Dragon's Choice is the first of the two novels.

Here is a little bit about both "Sorcha's Heart" and Dragon's Choice:

Sorcha’s Heart:

A legendary relic, a dragon-wrought amulet, the Heart of Fire may be the salvation of her people, and Sorcha is willing to pay any price to obtain it, but when she discovers the price is the loss of her humanity, she learns caution too late. Only a hero can save her, and he isn't human.
Dragons’ Choice:

Sorcha and Caedyrn's love has created a new breed of beings. Neither wholly dragon nor fully human, Sorcha's children shapeshift at will. The six fledglings have been raised as dragons, but the time has come to explore their human heritage. Aislinn and Taran are the first to leave the ice aerie for the world of men.

Aislinn discovers the lure of sexuality amidst the intrigues of King Leofric's court, while Taran learns the source of his debilitating malady. The siblings confront danger and prejudice among their mother's kin and discover love along the way. But love creates dilemmas: To live within the ice aerie with their dragon kin, or live amongst humans? Aislinn and Taran must make their choice.

Read more about Debbie at http://www.debbiemumford.com/

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Skin Deep

by Cathy Graham


One morning the king and queen sat drinking coffee as they looked at the newspaper.

"Will we ever find that boy a wife?" the king asked.

"What about this?" The queen held up the classified section. The king perched his reading glasses on his nose and peered at the small print.

"Woman looking for a sensitive man who likes long romantic walks on the beach…"

"No, not that. We're not that desperate yet! Besides, sensitive? I think not. I'm talking about this!" The queen took a red pen and circled the ad. "Image consultant for hire. Change your personality, change your life!"

"Do you really think they could do much?" the king asked. "Seems pretty hopeless to me."

"It's worth a try, isn't it?" Before the king could answer, they heard a loud yell from the prince's study.

"That does it! I quit!" Mary, the chamber maid stormed past the dining room and slammed the door.

The king turned to his wife and sighed. "While you're at it, how about hiring another maid from the agency? That's the fifth one this week."

A loud crash came from the study and the king and queen quickly turned up the volume on Coronation Street.

The next morning, there was a knock at the castle door.

A pretty young blonde woman smiled and curtsied, pulling down on her shabby wool skirt to hide the big run in her stocking. Her carefully made bun was already spilling out uncooperative curls giving her a frazzled look.

"G-g-ood morning. I’m Rose," the girl stammered. “I’ve come about the job.”

"We've been expecting you," the queen said. "You can go right up. Prince Leopold is in the study working on the computer."

Rose stood in the doorway admiring the prince’s dark curly hair and boyish good looks. She couldn’t remember the last time she went out on a date. Finally he looked up from the computer and frowned. “What do you want?”

"Lovely to see you too," Rose said “Are you always this rude or are you just having a bad day?” She resisted the urge to dump a nearby pitcher of water over his head.

"Go away." He frowned and turned his attention back to the computer.

Rose walked over and pulled out the plug.

"Hey, lady! What do you think you're doing?"

"The name's not Lady, it's Rose. You certainly are bad mannered, aren't you?"

"Why you impudent girl! "

"So it is true what they say about you." Rose put her hands on her hips and glared at the prince.

"Who talks about me? Tell me their names so I can have them thrown in the dungeon!" Prince Leopold jumped to his feet and clenched his fists.

Rose rolled her eyes and laughed. "The whole kingdom knows what a pain you are. Just because you're rich and good looking, you think it gives you the right to be rude and selfish. Well, hear this! Rose doesn't take that kind of crap from anyone."

The prince collapsed into his chair and sighed.

"What can I do Rose? Why doesn’t anyone like me?" He looked so pitiful that her heart softened and she caught a glimpse of the sad, lonely man hidden beneath the gruff exterior.

"You could start with some manners,” she said. "And that awful temper of yours! Have you ever considered taking an anger management course?”

The prince tossed his head back and laughed.

"You're wonderful Rose. What a feisty woman! I like that! Come! Let me show you around the castle.” He bowed and offered his arm like a true gentleman. Rose took it and he covered his hand over hers, giving it a playful squeeze.

"It’s so dark and gloomy in here. Don’t you find it depressing?" Rose asked as their footsteps echoed down the drafty hallway.

"I guess it is depressing. I never really noticed before," the prince agreed. As they toured the rooms, they laughed and talked together like old friends. Rose realized she was enjoying herself and didn’t want the moment to end.

They returned to the study and the prince poured them some tea. As he handed Rose a cup their eyes met. "I've never felt so comfortable with a woman before. My parents are always trying to match me up with boring princesses but you're different. You’re the first woman who had the courage to stand up to me."

There was a knock on the door and the king and queen peeked in.

"Mother, Father. Have you met Rose? She's amazing. This is the woman I intend to marry!" The prince glowed with happiness and Rose blushed.

"Marry?" The queen pulled Rose aside. "What's all this nonsense about marriage? You'd better not be one of those gold digger types!"

"Of course not! What kind of person do you think I am? I think it's time for me to leave. No job is worth this humiliation." She marched to the door and flung it open.

Prince Leopold grabbed her by the arm.

"Please marry me, Rose."

"But we're practically strangers," Rose protested.

"I feel I've known you all my life. You’re the one I've been waiting for." Prince Leopold pulled her into his arms and kissed her with such tenderness that all her resistance broke.

Rose’s mind swirled with confusion and she could barely speak. She took a deep breath and looked into his dark eyes. “All right, I will marry you. But let's get engaged first so we can get to know each other.”

Prince Leopold grabbed her by the waist and twirled her around.

"Bravo, my boy!" The king patted his son on the back. "You've found yourself a lovely wife and we didn't have to spend another cent at princesses.com."

"I guess we don't need to hire you as an image consultant after all," the queen said, her face beaming. "You seem to have worked your magic on Leopold already."

"Image consultant?" Rose looked at her in confusion. "I came about the maid position."


About the Author: Cathy is happiest when she is expressing herself creatively whether through writing stories for children and adults, singing in a choir, playing the flute or drawing and painting. She lives near Ottawa, Ontario with her husband, two sons, three dogs and two cats. You can read more about Cathy at www.catscreationsonline.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Article: Imagine if Yoda Were Your Writing Coach... 

By Suzanne Harrison


Writers live a solitary life. That’s a fact. You spend hours planning, writing, rewriting and editing your masterpieces, only to have them rejected by every agent or publisher you have the courage to show them to.

So wouldn’t it be fabulous to have an on-call writing mentor, a wise and experienced coach to guide you through your writer’s journey?

Well, you have! Here, captured in the timeless wisdom of one of the greatest mentors in storytelling history, the great Jedi Master, Yoda, are 10 simple tips guaranteed to transform you into a Jedi Knight of the Write!

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

When commencing anything new, you need to arrive at the front door with an open mind and your judgment suspended. Most importantly, leave any old training and ingrained ideas about the topic you are learning, well and truly outside that door. Writing is absolutely no exception to this rule. I have found it much easier to teach complete novices, and those with open minds, than trained journalists or graduates of writing courses, especially when it comes to the basics of freeing the imagination for fiction. For those of you who think you need to write it perfectly the first time – unlearn that! For those of you who think you write with the logical, left side of your brain – unlearn that! For those of you who think that only a gifted few can write well – unlearn that! And for those of you who think you can only write when touched by the muses – unlearn that! If you can think and speak, then you can write. Period. No other prerequisites required.

“(What’s in there?) Only what you take with you.”

The world of fiction is the world of your experiences mixed with your imagination. As you venture into this world to retrieve the images, feelings, impressions and ideas in the way that is truly unique to you, you do indeed learn that the only things you can encounter there are the things that you take in with you. No one else on the planet, or in history for that matter, is where you are now, has been through what you’ve been through or has your own unique view of the world. Honour these views and experiences. Allow them to flow freely through your pen or fingers. It is only when you write truly that others will relate to your words. Readers can spot a fake a mile away.

“Try not, do or do not, there is no try.”

This may come as a surprise but you must never try to write well, or you will never write well. Don’t try, just do. In other words, capture first thoughts, keep the pen moving, let yourself write complete garbage. Just do it. Just write. It is only by sitting down every day and writing that one becomes a writer.

“A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.”

Substitute the “Force” with the “Unconscious” or the “Imagination”, and you’ll have a better idea of what this Yoda-ism means. As a writer, your strength flows from your own unconscious, as this is where all your collective experiences, impressions and memories are buried, just waiting to be exhumed as challenges for your characters. The ability to exercise these creative muscles, keeping them strong and toned, is the fuel that will power your stories.

“There is no why.”

One of the greatest leaps you can make in your writing, and indeed in your life, is the ability to stop asking why! Do not seek the reason for anything you write. Do not seek the reason behind the images you see, the voices you hear, the impressions you get, the dialogue you write. It just is. And it is, because it’s you, and only you, who can write that at this time. As soon as you stop to ask why, you drop into an analytical frame of mind, and genius is lost. Creativity is stifled. Imagination cannot function. Let the critics ask why. That’s their job. Your only answer to the question of why? need be “because it was there.”

“You must complete the training.”

When it comes to writing, or any other art form, talent or genius actually count for very little. Writing is a craft, and like any other craft, the writer needs to work at it constantly, honing his skills and refining his technique. Study your craft, learn from many teachers, add to your skill set, it will make you a much better writer. And it was Michael Jordan who said, “the harder I trained, the luckier I became”. Keep studying. Always be in training. As a writer you are like an athlete. Footballer players don’t hang out at home all week, or spend their days surfing or playing golf. They train, they practice, they work out at the gym, and it is this that gives them the strength, skill and finesse to win games on the field. You are no different.

“Only different in your mind.”

Life is lived in the human mind. The advances in quantum physics have proven that the universe arose from thought, and that we can influence anything in our lives simply by the thought we put to it. The same goes for your writing. If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. If you think you can sell more books that JK Rowling, then you’ve got a much greater chance than someone who thinks they can’t. Anything is achievable for you as a writer, as long as you put the thought to it that you can and will succeed.

“Control. You must learn control.”

One of the most frustrating elements of being a writer is finding the time to write. If you hold down a full time job, run a business, or have a family to care for and an active social life, it can be tempting to say “I’ll write that novel next year/when the kids are grown/when I retire” etc. This is where self control is imperative to the success of your creative endeavours. You only need to write one scene a day, which can take as little as 20 minutes, and in a year you will have 365 scenes, which will be the best part of the first draft of a novel. Don’t wait. Learn to control your inner voice that says, “You can’t do it”, or “Don’t be so selfish”, or “The bathroom is dirty, go clean it”. Sit down and write every day. It’s the greatest gift you can give yourself.

“Nothing more will I teach you today.”

Take your writing lessons, and your writing sessions, in bite-sized pieces. When you are learning new writing techniques, take the lessons at a pace that keeps you stimulated, but not overwhelmed. Taking on too many new ideas or concepts at once can tend to muddy the creative and productive waters. It is best to learn a new technique, then practice it and integrate it before moving onto the next one.

“Pass on what you have learned.”

As you travel the writing path, take the time to teach others that which you have learned. Even if it’s only a simple word of encouragement or a tip that helped you when you were just starting out, keeping the flow of information alive is the greatest gift you can give to others. Pass on what you have learned.

So, as you can see, anytime you need him, Yoda will be there to help you through. And remember, the only failure is stopping, so keep on writing!

About The Author: Suzanne Harrison is the Director of Writers Central, an online creative writing school and community. Known as The High Priestess of Fiction, she is the author of four bestselling creative writing, short story and novel courses. She can be found at http://www.writerscentral.com.au

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interview: Karen Harper

The Long and the Short of It is happy to have with us today NY Times and USA Today best selling author Karen Harper. Karen is the winner of the 2006 Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is a lifelong Ohioan, and now divides her time between Columbus, Ohio and Naples, Florida. She writes wonderful romantic suspense novels for Mira Books, and also historicals, including The Last Boleyn and The First Princess of Wales.

I had asked her which came first for her, the plot or the characters, and her answer surprised me. "Actually," she said, "for me, the setting always comes first. If I love a place (one that picks me instead of me picking it) my characters will evolve and my story too."

After the setting, she told me, it depends on the story. She told me, "In The Falls, I envisioned a woman who woke up at night and her husband was missing from bed, from the house, and it went from there. But in The Baby Farm, I knew that my main character was an Appalachian midwife, so character came first and the story went from there."

She also shared with me that she always has a title in mind when she begins writing her books. That way, she can weave it in a bit as she writes. Even best-selling novelists are sometimes over-ruled however. "Sometimes," she said, "my agent or editor—or even the sales staff/publicists weigh in on what might work or not." Below the Surface was originally titled The Gulf. Karen explained, "It takes place in Florida near the Gulf of Mexico, and there is a big gulf between some of the characters. However, the Mira Books staff said they thought that title sounded like a nonfiction or picture book on the Gulf, so we named it something to suggest that the heroine is a scuba diver and that there are evil things going on underwater and beneath the surface of her life."

She told me that the hardest part of writing, for her, is always the middle. In fact, she calls it "the muddle." She said, "I feel very confident when I start a book: I try very hard to start with a scary situation. In Below the Surface, the heroine surfaces from an underwater dive four miles from shore and her dive boat and dive buddy are gone. I usually can write a thrill ride/happy ending. But in the middle of the book, when I'm juggling so many plot lines and characters, things get a little hairy."

Even in the "muddle," though, Karen shared with me that it never ceases to amaze her how things "so almost magically come together sometimes."She said, "Things happen in the plot I had not foreseen that are just perfect. Or a character says something I hadn't planned—and that opens up a new idea, or allows me to understand that person so much better. The serendipity of creativity is a fabulous thing about writing."

Karen has a literary turn of mind. She and her husband enjoy traveling (as a matter of fact, they are traveling this week) and once, while they were in Madrid they ate at a restaurant that Ernest Hemingway loved, she told me she ate the strangest thing she'd ever eaten. "I ate 'octupo in su tinto'—translation: octopus cooked in its own ink," she said. "A weird black color, but not bad tasting." And, she's had cats most of her life, and she told me they normally have the names of literary characters or authors, such as Chaucer, Irene (after the heroine in The Forsythe Saga), and Camilla, after the heroine in Karen's first book.

I asked Karen what her heritage was, and I was intrigued by her answer. "As an author, I look at this question two ways," she explained. "First, both of my grandmothers, whom I knew well, were wonderful storytellers of their childhoods, which gave me a love for stories and history. My parents were great readers, my father was an amateur Dickens scholar, my mother a former el-ed teacher. So I have a good heritage for writing in that respect." She added that her ethnic heritage is Scottish and English. "England is my favorite place to visit," she told me, "and I've set numerous books there. For the Scottish, I did highland dancing for years and my husband plays the bagpipes. Hmm, maybe we do take things to extreme."

Besides her writing, Karen is also running a small business to deal with her publishers and the market side of the business. So, she's no stranger to multitasking. She told me, "I believe most women can [multitask] and (keep this quiet) that most men cannot. It must be hard-wired in women. Remember that song, I'm a w-o-m-a-n?"

Finally, I asked Karen what she considered the most important elements of good writing. "For writing fiction," she said, "the key element is to be able to draw the reader into the story and keep her there—to be able to make her feel what the heroine is feeling. Secondly, to be a good story teller—to do something fresh and real (or, in come genres, unreal) and make it seem just right for that book. Also, to be able to make dialogue seem believable."

Karen certainly fulfills all three of those elements in her own writing. If you haven't yet, check out the reviews of Inferno and Below the Surface on our reviews site . You can enter from the website and by leaving a comment on the reviews.

Thank you, Karen, for being with us. Make sure you visit Karen at her website.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentina's Day

by Mariah Talbot


Valentina St. Depris collapsed on the one comfortable chair in Love's Unlimited lobby and kicked off her shoes. This singing telegram business might bring in the money, but it sure was hard on the feet.

“Please tell me there aren't any more orders,” she called out to Ruth, who was typing away on the computer keyboard. Tina rubbed one foot with her hands, letting out a low moan at how good it felt.

“Just one more,” Ruth said, bringing an index card, an envelope, and a balloon bouquet. “This is the last one and then you can take the rest of the day off.”

Tina cast a look at the clock. “Gee, thanks,” she muttered. “It's only ten minutes to quitting time as it is. I won't even get there until after five.”

“I know,” her business partner said, “but the party indicated it was an emergency. You didn’t have any plans for tonight anyway, did you?”

Tina sighed. Why did Ruth have to remind her? Here it was, Valentine's Day and her birthday, and she was spending it alone. Not that the alone part bothered her. After all, she could have still been with Howard if she'd been willing to put up with his cheating ways, but there were some things that weren't worth putting up with. Even for a date on Valentine's Day. She wasn’t desperate, but she wasn’t getting any younger. Her romantic heart yearned to be the one on the receiving end of flowers and balloons at least once.

With a little sigh of resignation she shrugged. “Okay. Let me have the stuff. Please don't tell me it's a terribly mushy message this time.”

“The address is on the index card, the message is inside the envelope. Now… have a good evening and I'll see you in the morning.” Ruth practically pushed her out the door, obviously in a hurry to get to her own Valentine's celebration. Lucky girl had a wonderful new husband to party with.

Tina tamped down a twinge of envy at Ruth’s good fortune and headed to her car. As she drove to the address on the index card, she hummed a new tune. That was one of the things she liked the most about the business she and Ruth had started…the chance to work on her own music, even though most of the composing she did was to cloying little rhymes made up by their customers. Who knew? Maybe one of the tunes would be just what it took to get her music career off the ground.

Tina got out of her car and straightened the white tunic and Cupid's wings she'd let Ruth talk her into wearing for Valentine's Day. Next time, she swore, she was going to stand firm when it came to Ruth's crazy ideas. After all, Ruth got to sit safely behind the phone and computer…anonymously.

She rang the doorbell, laughing at the whoopee cushion sound it made. As she waited for …who was it? Ah, she located the name on the card…Dave to come to the door, she lifted the flap of the envelope and pulled out a gift card to the swankiest restaurant in town. There wasn't time to look over the accompanying message before the door opened. Tina's heart skipped a beat as she looked into a smiling face and she berated herself for allowing that little frission of attraction to occur. This was someone else’s guy, based on the fact that she was delivering him a Valentine’s Day telegram.

Dave’s brown eyes twinkled with laughter when he saw her, and one eyebrow lifted as his gaze traveled up and down. Hovering on the wings fluttering in the cool winter breeze, his lips quirked as he tried to hide a bigger grin.

“May I help you?” His voice was deep and smooth, an almost physical caress that soothed her nerves better than her short massage had earlier. “Uh...Cupid?”

“Oh.. right…” Tina pulled out the message and began to hum a tune.

“ ‘I have come this way to say/ I hope you have a happy day/ And so you'll know I think you're sweet/ I wish you'd take this girl out to … eat?’ What the…?” Tina stuttered to a stop and looked up at Dave in confusion. “I'm sorry… I don't understand this. It's from someone named…RuRu?”

Dave threw his head back and laughed. When he’d regained his breath, he said, “You must be Tina, right?”

Tina nodded and looked up from the card in her hand to stare at Dave. “Who are you and who is RuRu? You must know something I don't.”

“RuRu is my big sister…Ruth. She's been telling me about her business partner, Tina, and suggesting we get together for supper one night. I think she finally got tired of waiting. “ He poked at the envelope in Tina’s hand, his fingertips lightly brushing over hers, and gave her a lopsided smile. “So, how about it? Do you have plans for tonight?”

Tina’s heart leaped into her throat at his words. Keeping herself from doing the Snoopy dance right there on his front step, she murmured, “If you let me go home and get out of these wings, I'm sure we can work something out.”


About the Author: Mariah Talbot is the pseudonym for authors Marianne Arkins and Judy Thomas who, during a moment of insanity, decided to write together. You've been warned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Article: How To Find The Novel That Only You Can Write 

by Suzanne Harrison


Most people think writing a novel is just writing. I have lost count of the number of people who say “I want to write a novel” and think that they will just sit down, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and the whole thing will just unfold before them. I’ve read a few novels, they think, why can’t I write one?

If only it were that easy!

The process of writing any story is exactly that, a process. And whether you are tackling a novel, a short story, an essay or a non-fiction book, you need to begin by planning your story.

This is the most ignored stage in the writing process, and yet it is by far the most important. JK Rowling spent five years planning the Harry Potter novels. And that certainly paid off, didn’t it?

The key to writing any story well, is to find the story that only you can write. This story carries your own emotional truth, and as you progress through the story writing process, your character will take you on the journey of emotional growth just as they will your readers once it’s published.

The Deeper Character Journey

The deeper character journey is the most important aspect of any story. It is what your readers will remember and it is what makes the process of writing a story so worthwhile for the writer. Every time you take your character on a journey, you go on that journey yourself.

So how do we find that deeper character journey? Where do we begin?

We begin with this simple exercise:

Without thinking too much about it, finish this sentence:

• I am interested in writing a story where the main character discovers the importance of ………………

Write for 5 minutes, preferably in long hand, allowing whatever comes up to just flow onto the page.

When you have finished you will find that you have written a lot of different values into your answer. Values are universal qualities of human experience, either positive or negative. Take a few moments to divide these values into their positive and negative groups. You’ll find that a few similar ones in each group will stand out, so isolate these and then decide on the most important ones from each group.

Once you have done this you can now write your deeper character journey in one simple sentence.

• I am interested in writing a story about a character who goes from being….. to being…..

What is your character’s weakness?

Every character has a weakness – something they need to learn to have a better life. Your character’s weakness should now be pretty clear to you, as it is strongly connected to what they need to learn the importance of from the above exercise. With your character’s weakness in place, you can now begin to put them and their weakness under pressure and suddenly your story is off and running.

Predicament

Stephen King says he starts a story with a character in a predicament and watches them to see how they get out of it. So at the start of your story your main character must be in some sort of predicament or stuck in some way. The predicament your main character is in should be a symptom of their weakness. They are aware of their predicament, but they are not aware of their weakness.

For example, a character who needs to learn the importance of patience, is stuck underground on a broken down train. He becomes more and more exasperated and angry as the minutes tick by as he needs to be at an important meeting. As he’s underground his mobile phone has no signal, and he also can’t just jump off the train, as the doors are electronically sealed, and besides he’s underground so he can’t just wander off up the tracks in the dark.

So we know our character’s predicament will expose his weakness, which is impatience. The question for you to answer is, what does he do? How does he respond? What choice does he make? And he will make that choice based on his personal values.

Values in Conflict

Conflict lies at the heart of all powerful stories. It is a well worn adage in story writing that nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.

But a good story also isn’t just a sequence of random conflicts, things that happen with no apparent pattern or meaning. It is a series of events, putting your character(s) under more and more pressure, forcing them to respond. This then shows us their true character.

Values underlie our choices, our decisions, and in storytelling they drive the story through the characters being forced to make difficult decisions where their values are challenged. A value is a belief system based on what is important to the individual. A value represents something in your character’s life that they are willing to fight for. So if you have a married woman who is attracted to another man, her choice of whether to go with the other man or stay with her husband will be based on the values of romance versus fidelity or loyalty.

Once you have nailed the values underlying your character’s choices, you will have connected strongly with your character’s deeper journey. This in turn connects you to your readers, who will recognise similar conflicts in their own lives.

And you also have the essence of the story that only you can write.


About The Author: Suzanne Harrison is the Director of Writers Central, an online creative writing school and community. Known as The High Priestess of Fiction, she is the author of four bestselling creative writing, short story and novel courses. She can be found at http://www.writerscentral.com.au

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Interview: Marianne Arkins

The Long and the Short of It is very excited to have Marianne Arkins with us today. Marianne is celebrating the release today of her first full-length novel, One Love for Liv from Samhain Publishing. Although she lives in the frozen north right now (New Hampshire), she is a California native who yearns for sunshine. So, according to her bio, there's only one thing to do with winter six months of the year…she writes. She's had seven short stories published with The Wild Rose Press, so her plan of writing away the winter seems to be working.

Marianne is very much a multi-tasker. "I can’t NOT multi-task," she said. "I can’t remember the last time I did only one thing. I’m busy, busy, busy and don’t like to sit still. My husband loves to go out boating, but I don’t like to go with him. Aside from the fact that I get motion-sickness, I also get too antsy. He likes to fish or just lie and doze in the sun… it relaxes him. It actually stresses me out. I can’t 'relax' like most people. I find repetitive work relaxing—weeding or vacuuming or raking. Sitting still is pure torture."

She is also very much a morning person. As a matter of fact, she calls herself "1000% a morning person." She told me, "I wake up without an alarm every morning (unless you count my dog or my cat) at sometime around 4 a.m. On the other hand, I’m usually unable to stay awake past 8 p.m. – nine o’clock is definitely the latest I can keep my eyes open."

I asked, in her opinion, which came first, the plot or the characters? "Hmmm…both?" she answered. "In One Love for Liv, I started with the heroine. She'd been in one of my other works and was then removed, but I loved her so much I needed to use her somewhere. I didn't know what trouble she'd get herself into until I started writing. On the other hand," she continued, "I'm writing a mystery right now that I started as a lark—I wanted to write a 'secret baby cowboy' story. I didn't have a clue about the characters (other than one of them needed to be a cowboy) or a plot (aside from the secret baby). I wanted to give it a different twist than other 'secret baby' stories, and I hope I have." She wouldn't share any details though. She only said, "Nope…you'll have to wait and read it!"

Recently she's been reading in a different genre than she's used to reading or writing. I asked her to tell me about it. "I’ve been on a vampire kick and have immersed myself in Lyndsay Sands Argeneau series and Kerrelyn Sparks vampire series," she said. "They are both amazingly good, and yet so utterly different. I have a deep admiration for the world and character building of both authors. Now, if only Jenny Crusie would come out with a new solo book, all would be well with the world."

Marianne's first foray into the world of writing came about when she was nine years old. She told me, "I'd seen the title of a book—A Horse Called Mystery—and decided I wanted to write a book with that title. So I did. Eighteen chapters about a girl and her horse, Mystery."

Her writing career didn't stop there. When Marianne was seventeen she saw an ad for the Avon Teen Novel Writing contest. "It took me about three months to write my next novel, Heir to Three Crowns," she said. "Since then, I've written a dozen—but most will never see the light of day."

I thought the title, Heir to Three Crowns, a good one and asked Marianne how she came up with her titles. "I hate title writing," she admitted. "Hate. It. Ironically, the one time I had a title that I loved and thought was terribly clever (Isn't She Liv Leigh?), it was changed by the publisher (her current release, One Love For Liv). Mostly, I just choose one or two important things about the story…or I think of a silly working title that sometimes ends up sticking. Right now I'm working on a fantasy romance, and I call it Queen and Assassin after the two main characters. I’m not a huge fan of blurb writing, either. Ugh."

Marianne told me she has always considered herself a writer for the fact that she writes. However, being an author is something different. She told me, "Sometimes I still have trouble thinking I am [an author]. I’m just… me. I had coffee with a friend I met online not long ago, and she was excited to meet a 'famous' author. Her husband shook my hand, like I was special. I felt like a fraud! Maybe after ten or twenty books I’ll feel like I’ve finally earned the right to be called 'an author'. "

One of my favorite 'non-writing' questions to ask is if the author has ever cried during a movie. Marianne's response made me laugh. "I cry at everything!" she said. "I have the most sympathetic tear ducts ever. My daughter loves to watch me instead of the show whenever something touching or sad is happening, because she knows I’ll cry like a baby and she finds that amusing, the rotten child."

Please visit Marianne at her website or on her blog.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Love Notes

by Pamela Ridley

Mr. Williams liked music popular in the fifties. From the rampant gossip in their senior citizen building, Darlene had also learned that her divorced neighbor lived alone and worked part-time from home.

With Darlene’s apartment silent, his melodies embraced her like a score from a long forgotten romantic movie, or, more realistically, his music made her heart remember feelings she might never experience again. She listened with slight melancholy as the words, “With a song in my heart, I behold your adorable face,” gently surrounded her.

One afternoon she sat at her keyboard typing a note to her daughter-in-law when the absence of the soft soundtrack to her days brought her up short. She frowned. Her neighbor’s music had become her constant companion and she missed it.

She’d downloaded a couple of songs Mr. Williams might enjoy, but, unlike his, her music tastes were eclectic and spanned more than one era. She pulled up her iTunes library and double clicked on a favorite. Soon Dinah Washington sang, “Lately I find, you’re on my mind more than you know.” Darlene bobbed her head in rhythm to the tooting trumpets.

Someone knocked.

"Who is it?" she asked, approaching her front door. There he was, elongated that funny way through the glass in the peep hole. He looked down, the top of his bald head shiny.

“It’s your neighbor,” he answered looking up, voice rich in timbre. He made up for the hair he lacked on top with a well-kept beard and mustache.

A quick glance in the hall mirror assured her that her salt and pepper curls were in place. Darlene opened the door suddenly feeling breathless.

“Hello.” He gazed at her with surprise. His brown face held the wrinkles of life, but his dark eyes were luminous with delight. “But you’re so young.”

“I am?” Darlene smiled as she estimated their ten-year age difference. Flattery wouldn’t get him everywhere, but it was a start.

“Forgive me. I should introduce myself. I’m Peter Williams and I live next door.”

“Yes, I know who you are. Sorry for not welcoming you to the building sooner.” She extended her hand. “I’m Darlene Bishop. Please come in.”

“Thank you. I won’t stay long. Just on my way out as a matter of fact, but then I heard your music. You’d be surprised how few people nowadays still listen to the classics. Those were the days when music was music.”

“I can tell that’s a passion of yours and you’re right. There was a certain something they had back then that’s gone by the wayside. Do you have time for coffee, Mr. Williams?”

“Coffee sounds good but, another time? I have an appointment. Do you own that album we’re listening to?”

“Album? No, not that one. I still have a few, but most of my music is on CD’s or I download it from the Internet.”

“Really?” He nodded, as if impressed. “Technology has passed me by, I’m afraid. I’m sixty-eight years old.”

“Sixty-eight’s not old. Maybe I can help you with computers or technology in general, if you’re interested. Or, I can help you find a class.”

He brought his hand to his chin in thought, brows furrowed. “No. I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Let me know and in the meantime, keep playing your albums. I enjoy them.”

“Not too loud then? Tell me if it’s ever too loud.”

“I will, but it’s been fine.”

He seemed relieved and then unsure what to do with his hands.

“Well, then. I’ll be going. Is it Missus Bishop?”

“Yes, but I’m a widow.”

“Good. No, I don’t mean good that you’re a widow,” he said, flustered. “Just good to know…I’m…you’re…I’ll just be on my way.”

Darlene smiled as he backed toward the door.

When she sat down to her lamb chop dinner that evening, notes of love from Mr. William’s apartment danced around her once again. “When the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you…”

That lyric got her thinking. Her world wasn’t cold. Just the opposite; her boys lived nearby so she always cooked extra in case they dropped in. Her three sons, five adorable grandchildren, and her volunteer work kept her life richly filled. But still, if she were honest, she wished for someone special in her life. She rested her fork on her plate and looked around with a sigh. Solitude was nice, but when it crossed over into loneliness, that was a different story.

Mr. Williams seemed friendly, but what if he preferred things as they used to be instead of being open to change and growth? Would they have anything in common other than his music and a shared wall? Maybe they were too different.

Darlene pondered a moment longer before abandoning her meal. She went to her closet, dug out a box and rifled through it until she located the one Sinatra album she had in her possession. It looked to be in good enough shape to be playable, but she no longer owned a stereo system with a turntable. Mr. Williams did.

She hurried to take it to him, but found him poised to tap on her door.

“Oh, hello, Mrs. Bishop. I wondered if you can help me,” he said, but she’d already said, “Oh, I have something for you,” so they spoke in stereo and laughed.

“Won’t you come in?” she asked.

“Thank you. You have something for me?”

She handed him the album. “I just wondered if you had this one.”

“Oh my. I did have this, but lost it to water damage at my last home.” Dragging his gaze away from the cover, he beamed at her.

“Take it, it’s yours,” she said.

“No, I couldn’t.”

“It’s been in a box for years. I want you to have it.”

“That’s incredibly kind of you. I was just coming to ask if you could possibly show me how to operate a CD player. I bought one of those rascals today and darned if I can figure it out.” He glanced inside her kitchen. “Oh, you’re in the middle of dinner. I’m interrupting.”

“You’re welcome to join me. There’s plenty.”

“Well, if you’re sure I’m not imposing, I’d like that. Perhaps I could bring over a portable record player and the two of us could dine with Old Blue Eyes. Would that be all right?”

He looked as hopeful as she felt.

“That would be perfect.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Article: Finding Your Balance, Pt. 2

by Liana Laverentz


Okay, are we ready with our Mind, Body, Heart and Soul lists? To refresh, here are mine:

Mind – reading, writing, learning new things, helping my son with his homework
Body – exercise, karate, Yoga stretching, housework (yes, housework)
Heart – my relationships with my son and significant other, being a friend, community service, making soup
Soul – practicing my spirituality, my writing, listening to music, engaging in intelligent conversation, cleaning

You know and I know that Life just loves to take over and blow our perfectly organized schedules to bits. I don’t think a single day has gone the way I’d hoped it would since my son was born. Life just works that way. The first year of his life I was mentally kicking and screaming to have my old life back. Finally I decided to give up and relax into the flow. That didn’t work, either, as “me” time was not part of the flow.

So I came up with this idea. I decided I wouldn’t be greedy. I’d only ask for two hours a day to work on balance. Two out of sixteen. Sounds reasonable, right? That’s just over 10% of your “awake” time. Especially if you don’t get a full eight hours of sleep. Is that too much to ask? Aren’t you worth ten percent of your own time?

Damn right you are.

My idea was to start small, shoot for 30 minutes in each area to be happy. Mind? Thirty minutes a day of reading, or researching, or helping my son learn something new.

Body? Go to the Y, go to karate class, or yoga or Tai Chi class. No time to drive anywhere? Stay home and stretch a bit. Or pop in an exercise video. Just do one exercise-related thing every day, and keep it varied so you don’t get bored. We spend so much time in the chair, we need to keep our bodies at least flexible to avoid major problems when we get older.

Heart? Call a friend, reach out to someone in need, make soup and take it to someone having a rough time. Some people like to bake for others to show their concern. I love to make big pots of soup and share it. It settles me. My motto is, “When in doubt (about anything, actually), make soup.” There’s nothing like the aroma of freshly made soup wafting through the house to let me know all is right with my world.

Soul? Half an hour of spiritual reading, or meditation, or good conversation—remember how I said conversation is sex for the soul? J. (Come to think of it, sex could qualify in all four categories—can you imagine the possibilities?)

Okay, back to business. Writing is most definitely a soul activity. (But it also qualifies under heart and mind, so there you go, an hour and a half, and you’ve covered three in one day!) I’m also one of those oddball creatures who needs to have a relatively clean house before she can write. At least the common areas – living room, kitchen, dining room. My home is always open to friends in need, and should one show up, I don’t want them to be greeted with chaos. I don’t much like walking into chaos myself, when I come home from work.

So guess what? Cleaning comes under the heading of spiritual in my book. One, I am taking care of, or being a good steward of, what the good Lord or the universe or whomever you choose to call Him has bestowed upon me, and two, a clean, organized house settles my soul. That’s just the way it is for me. It also counts as exercise, a bonus! Half an hour of cleaning, and an hour and a half of writing, and my four areas are covered for the day. Woo hoo! Amazing how that works J.

You have to decide what works for you. If you’re not into housecleaning—that’s fine. Just decide what you are into, and make that a priority. As your life situation changes, you can expand these times to fill in your free hours. And be sure to update your list of priorities. This is not meant to be set in stone. I review mine annually. But keep the number of priorities you choose the same. This list is not meant to be added to. For this to work, if you need to add something new, then you have to take something off. And then you have to remember to say a guilt-free NO to anything that is not on your list.

I hope by now you can see how pretty much everything you do each day can fit into one of these four categories, based on your list of priorities. To recap, my priorities are my son, my significant other, work (by necessityL), writing, exercise, my spirituality, and my friendships. Volunteering comes under spirituality. Driving a sick parent or child to the doctor counts, too. It all depends on your perspective. If you do it with love, not impatience or annoyance or frustration, it counts as spiritual, or heart work. Just relax into the moment and enjoy some quality time with your loved one.

To keep it all in balance, I use the three-day rule. If haven’t cleaned anything in my house in three days, that moves into priority mode for the next day. If I haven’t been to the Y in three days, that moves to the top of my list for the next day. If I haven’t read anything in three days, I’ll choose that one next time around. If I haven’t spoken to a friend to ask how he or she is doing in three days, I will call someone. If I haven’t had some quality time with my son or significant other in three days, I will make time for them. If I haven’t written in three days…

You get the idea.

There are times when you won’t make all four items on your list each day. Things happen. That’s okay. Don’t waste time beating yourself up about it. Just start fresh the next day. The only moment you have is this one, and the question to ask any time you find yourself wondering what to do next is, “What is the best use I can make of my time right now?” Pull out your short list of priorities and pick one, preferably one you haven’t spent time with in the past three days. Because if you aim for just two hours a day of something to feed your mind, body, heart, and soul, and keep to the three-day rule, you will find that at the end of the week, you will have hit each of your priorities at least 2-3 times.

And that makes for a very balanced week, despite a day or two that might have gotten away from you somehow.

Two hours a day for “me” to replenish my well, is all I ask. When I get more (and quite often I do, with this system), I am thrilled, but I need at least that much to keep from feeling overwhelmed by all I have to do. I’m a single mom. I work, run a household, and am trying to get a writing career off the ground--for the second time. The first time, fifteen years ago when my first book came out, I let my fledgling career get derailed by Life.

This time, though, I have balance J.

LASR has decided to make the first Thursday of each month Balance with Liana day. Starting tomorrow, on the LASR yahoo loop, I will be available for an open discussion on Balance and what works for you and why. Everyone is welcome to join in. Come for ideas, support, encouragement or just to relax with friends or expand your mind a little. If you use this method, it counts toward your “me” time.

So join us, and remember to do it guilt-free. You deserve to spend 10% of your own time on yourself.

At least.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Author Interview: Nicola Marsh

The Long and the Short of It is very excited to welcome Nicola Marsh this week.

Nicola is a full-time author, but she worked as a physiotherapist for thirteen years and used to say, "One day, I'm going to write a book." Well, she got tired of saying that and finally did it. In 2001 she started writing and hasn't slowed down. She currently has fifteen books published for Harlequin Romance and Presents series.

Nicola has a full-time day job in her native Australia... raising her family... so she doesn't get started on her writing until the kids go down to sleep. She told me, "I have a young family (a preschooler and a 7 month old baby) so my writing is confined to night. My working ‘day’ starts at 8.30pm and I usually write for 2 hours straight. Luckily I’m a fast writer, so I try to cram as many words as I can into that time. I spend about half an hour every morning checking emails, updating blogs, etc."

With two small children, I'm sure multi-tasking is a priority in her life. "Being a busy mum and an author with 4 deadlines a year to meet, I have to multitask," she assured me. "An example? Dropping kidlet 1 off at kinder morning, doing grocery shopping in the 2 hour limit while he’s there, then writing sex scene on Alphasmart at the shopping centre while rocking pram with foot to keep baby happy, drinking a milkshake at the same time while fending off curious glances from people trying to read over my shoulder. Now that’s multitasking!"

Nicola has been forced into being a morning person because her kids get up early, but she told me she's always considered herself a night person. She loves staying up late reading, but these days she finds herself mostly typing away at the keyboard.

And, that's necessary. She told me the best advice she could give a new writer is simple. "Write, write, then write some more. The only way to develop your voice is to write, and the more you write the easier it becomes (trust me!) Also, know your market. Read widely for the market you’re targeting, it’s great research and will save you loads of wasted time later when submitting."

She has obviously taken her own advice to heart, since she has written twenty different books. Currently Nicola writes for two separate lines: Harlequin Romance and Presents(known in Australia as Modern Heat). She's currently editing her fifth novel for Modern Heat and I asked her to tell us about it.

"The hero is an archaeologist who has taken over as CEO of Melbourne Museum," she said, "and the heroine is a metal sculptor with a shoe fetish. The sparks are well and truly flying! I report regularly on Aidan and Beth’s progress on my blog.

Out of twenty books, it must be hard to pick a favorite, but I asked Nic to give it a try anyway.
"I’d have to say my February release, Purchased for Pleasure (Harlequin Presents), featuring a Navy SEAL hero and a magazine editor heroine going head to head is my fave," she admitted. "They have a past (a brief engagement when they were young) and now Kate ‘buy’s Tyler at a male auction and he’s hers for a week. Loads of opportunity for heat!

"Closely followed by Mistress to a Tycoon (Harlequin Presents out in March) featuring an artist heroine with a passion for vintage clothes and a savvy property developer. Both books feature alpha heroes with heroines who more than stand up to the guys!"

Nicola's latest book, which we are offering in our weekly contest along with Purchased for Pleasure, is Executive Mother-To-Be. It features "an entrepreneur dealing with loss issues and a feisty TV exec producer totally focussed on her career and who has never wanted kids. So imagine what happens when Kristen Lewis discovers she’s pregnant…to her new boss! This book will be released in February in the UK & US." A lot of room in that scenario for problems!
Be sure and check out Nic's website and her blog.