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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Research Heaven

I don't think I've ever had so much fun researching a book. No, strike that. I know I haven't. I'm an eyelash away from finishing the first draft, and raring to get to the editing stage where I can go back and add all the neat little tidbits I've picked up along the way in this researching journey.

I already posted about the Navy pilot I interviewed and the other contacts I've been put in touch with, but I just had the most amazingly informative conversation with an Army medevac pilot. He has a lot of experience flying Black Hawks (pictured at the beginning of this post), and took time out of his day at the firehall to go through a list of questions I had. The info and level of detail he gave me was incredible, and will hopefully allow me to add a depth of flavor to the manuscript that wasn't there before. Used sparingly of course, like truffle oil or saffron in a gourmet recipe. I hope it seemed to him like I had done my homework and had a clue, but maybe not. I'll have to ask my ball player buddy later on what her buddy thought of our conversation :)

My hubby came home from doing errands shortly after I'd finished the phone call and I immediately dragged him over to my whirring laptop to show him all the notes I'd made. He pasted on an interested smile and nodded a lot, but I'm sure he wasn't even one percent as excited as I am. But what's not to be excited about? This is fascinating stuff! Plus, my PJ contact (and can I just say that I have a huge crush on all PJs?) came through with some really valuable information, giving me as much as he could without compromising classified material. And to top it off, Santa bought me the book I'd asked for that came out recently about PJs in Afghanistan. Basically, I'm in research heaven. There's not a lot of information out there regarding PJs (maybe because there aren't very many of them), so this book is a really valuable source. Loving this! Now to finish off that pesky first draft...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Chrithmath

Here's wishing everyone a very joyous and safe Christmas. I couldn't resist this picture from A Christmas Story, my favorite holiday movie. Well, that and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Since I've got two little boys, the first movie really rings true. It looks like we're in for yet another green Christmas this year in Vancouver. Last year we got spoiled with a rare cold, snowy winter, and it made the whole holiday season magical. I guess I should be grateful it's warm this year. At least my kids can't stick their tongues to frozen metal poles! As for snow, we might head up to Pemberton (just outside Whistler, where the Olympics will be held in February) and stay with my sis-in-law/best pal for a few days between Christmas and New Year's. The kids will get all the tobogganing they can handle, and we might even hit the ski hill.

My shopping is done, the house looks amazing, I have a Starbucks nonfat half sweet hot chocolate in my hand (I seriously have an addiction problem here), and one of Loreena McKennitt's Christmas albums is playing on my stereo. I love her music! If you haven't listened to her, give her a try. She's awesome to write by. All I have left to do is wrap the stocking stuffers. It's a lot of extra work, but that's how my mom always did up our stockings and it's way more exciting to open up a bunch of little presents than just dump out a stocking. Here's a shot of our living room (AKA parlor, since it's a Victorian house), with the arbor and one of our five Christmas trees tucked into the corner. You can see my treasured Santa sitting in his antique chair next to the fireplace. He stays out all year long, because he's too big and too delicate to go into storage. The lighting isn't great in the photo, but you get the general idea.


















On the weekend we hosted our annual Christmas bash, and even Santa came to take pictures with all the children. The next day I escaped the house (and the rest of the mess we didn't clean up on Saturday night!) and spent the day at the spa using the gift certificate I got last year. I had a massage (most people never realize how touch starved most RMTs are, but we are!), facial, manicure and pedicure. She even did some nail art for me :)Recognize Frosty the cartoon character there?

In writing news, I've finished with the galleys for Relentless (book 4 of the series), and am just waiting for a release date. I expect it will be next fall sometime. And, I'm over 75% through the draft of Turbulence, so the finish line is almost in sight. Yay! Another couple of months and it should be ready to send out.

Those of you that know me understand what a huge Civil War buff I am, so I wanted to include this picture of a Christmas Eve in the early 1860s. Let's not forget all our soldiers spending this Christmas overseas in harm's way and far from their loved ones. Keep them and their families in your thoughts.
Have a wonderful Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Molasses Spice Cookies


I was at Christa's house last night because she invited me over to bake cookies, and I got an extra surprise because Bryn was in town for a visit too. Rayne was working a night shift, so all of us ladies sat around the kitchen chatting and laughing while the snow fell outside and carols played from the stereo in the family room. It was pretty magical. You should have seen the house! It's a pale yellow Victorian with a wrap-around veranda, and twinkling with swags of white Christmas lights. With the light snowfall we got yesterday, the place looked like something out of a Christmas card. Christa's got three trees done up, one decorated entirely with baseball ornaments, and the inside smells like fresh cut cedar boughs she took from her yard and made into a garland on her banister. Her border collie-cross Jake was running around with his reindeer antlers on, and loving all the attention we gave him.

While we baked we got to talking about Bryn's story (Cover of Darkness), which is coming out the end of February. I don't want to give any spoilers away, but Bryn seems pretty happy with it so I was tickled pink. But I have to tell you, she's not much of a cook. Or a baker, for that matter (don't you dare tell her I said that, because I'm actually a little bit afraid of her). She pretty much supervised and finished off a bottle of wine while Christa and I did the work until I made her do some of the measuring. We made four different kinds of cookies and a batch of sinful rocky road brownies, and then Bryn gave us all a belly dance class workout. It was a blast!

My favorite recipe follows, which Christa graciously gave me. She's a real sweetheart, and looking forward to getting married next November. I can't wait either!

These cookies are great fresh from the oven, but they're just as good up to a week later if you keep them in an air tight container. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas from Christa, Bryn and me.

Christmas Molasses Spice Cookies
Ingredients:
2.5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 heaping (and I mean heaping--heck, just put in 2) tsp ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp ground allspice
big pinch of cracked or coarsely ground black pepper (don't wimp out on me, it's worth it!)

1.5 sticks (0.75 cup) room temp butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
0.5 cup molasses (not blackstrap!)
1 large egg

0.5 cup sugar for rolling the cookies

Method:
-preheat oven to 350
-combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper
-using a mixer, beat butter, sugar and molasses until smooth and creamy
-add egg and beat for 1 minute
-add dry ingredients and beat slowly until flour and spices disappear (make sure to scrape bottom of bowl to get everything evenly combined)
-dough will be very soft, so divide in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour
-put "rolling" sugar in a small bowl
-using one half of dough at a time, cut/break into 12 pieces and roll each into a smooth ball between your palms (Bryn wanted no part of this step!)
-roll each ball in sugar and place on parchment/Silpat lined baking sheet (Christa and I both use Silpat sheets and we love them, FYI). Don't put them too close together because they'll spread out.
-dip bottom of drinking glass (wine glasses in our case :)) in sugar and press down on each ball of dough until they are between a quarter to a half inch thick
-place sheet on center rack of the oven and bake 12-14 minutes, or until tops of cookies are set, then transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temp if you can wait that long
-the cookies will be crunchy around the edges and chewy in the middle. Yum!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Whirlwind weekend

This weekend was action packed for us. We finished the outside decorations, and I'm a bit scared because my hubby has been bitten by the decorating bug. Give him a couple years, and our house will be visible from space :)

Saturday night was my hubby's staff party, and the whole group of us went curling. I used to be into that pretty heavily (just as serious as ball, but I think I was even better at curling), but since my knee surgeries it's not very comfortable for me. The last time I played was a year before I got pregnant with my first born, so it's been a while since I've been on the ice. We all had a pretty good time though, and the newbies stopped making fun of the sport real fast. It's way harder than it looks, trust me!

Yesterday I hosted our Vancouver RWA chapter Christmas party, and had a great time. The house was all sparkly and smelling like homemade mulled cider, and hosting a big group like that always makes it feel more like the holidays. Our meetings don't leave a whole lot of time for socializing, so it was nice to mingle with everyone and talk about the writing industry from people "in the know".

Bad news is I burned the back of my left hand late last week. I was pulling the lid off my potroast in the oven and the steam got three of my fingers and my knuckles. I yelped and let out some choice words that had my little guys running into the kitchen with wide eyes, and I kept expecting the skin to bubble and peel off right then. I rarely (if ever) drink, but I'm telling you I was eyeing the rum in the pantry pretty closely. The pain was unreal. I didn't sleep much that night, and the next morning I thought my hand would look like a piece of blackened meat but it was just kind of mottled and swollen. Jeez, did I feel like a wimp. No bleeding, no blisters, nada. Of course, there is now. The burns are kind of a rusty red color and itching like crazy now that the skin is getting ready to peel away. And I've got a patient tomorrow night booked for an hour treatment. Should be interesting!

On the plus side, I've now got the final pesky plot details worked out, so now I can finish off my draft of Turbulence. Good critique partners are a godsend, I tell ya!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's a Small World


Connections are strange and wonderful things sometimes. For instance, my current project features female aviators and Pararescue Jumpers, and the book is set in Afghanistan. Books and Internet research are great starting points, but I wanted to go a step further and talk to people who have walked the walk, if you know what I mean.

It occurred to me that an old ball playing buddy of mine (We were on the Canada Games team together, but she went on to the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. She's one of those naturally talented athletes that the rest of us would just have to hate if she wasn't so damn nice) used to be married to a special ops pilot. I remember having an in-depth conversation about Navy SEALs and their training one of the last times I saw her when she came home from the States. You gotta admit, that's not a common thing to talk about, especially for women--and Canadians at that, eh? :) Plus, who else would have cared, let alone understood what the heck I was talking about? Love you, Jackie!

She had made many connections in her years stateside, and is now a firefighter in New Mexico. Anyhow, I shot her an e-mail asking if she might be able to put me in contact with someone who could share some insider knowledge about flying Black Hawks, and Pararescue Jumpers. Less than a day later she responded saying, "I work with a retired PJ and a retired Black Hawk pilot." Holy hell, talk about a small world!

The information I've garnered so far is invaluable, plus I love getting an inside scoop from service members that have been out in the field. This makes me odd, I know, but I have two stacks of books on my bedside table: special ops non-fiction, and romances. What can I say, it works for me. Just last week my hubby was in bed next to me reading his Sports Illustrated (unless there's a baseball article, I'm not really interested). He looks over and sees me reading a text on SERE training and says, "You're weird." Yeah, I guess I am.

This past weekend I also met with my dad's flight instructor and a retired Canadian Navy helo pilot who was involved in a crash to get a realistic feel of what that would be like for my heroine, Devon Crawford, a medevac pilot. Both meetings were incredibly interesting.

I'm having a great time researching this, almost moreso than writing it! Who knows who I'll meet next in my research travels? I can't wait to find out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Out of Her League Wins First Place!


I'm thrilled to announce that Out of Her League has won first place in romantic suspense category of the 2009 Volusia County RWA Laurel Wreath contest.

It beat out entries from several highly accomplished authors, but what tickles me the most is that the judges chose an e-pubbed book as the winner for the category. Sometimes it feels like e-pubbed authors don't get recognition or respect from other sectors in the publishing industry, so it was nice that my entry (and my publisher) was taken seriously. And, they liked it! They really, really liked it :) I greatly appreciate their support.

Plus, two fellow Greater Vancouver RWA chapter mates placed along with me. Susan Lyons placed second in the long contemporary category with her erotic romance She's On Top (Kensington Aphrodisia), and Mary J. Forbes won the short contemporary with Their Secret Child (Silhouette).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Suck It Up Princess


This was one of my best coach's favorite expressions. Admittedly, we were a pretty hardcore bunch of ballplayers. We trained and played eleven months a year, and in season it was rare to have more than a day off a week. Whenever someone got hurt, this same coach would undoubtedly ask, "Are you hurt? Or are you injured?" Meaning, if we don't need to cart you off to the hospital, quit whining, suck it up and get back out there.

We got used to his tough love routine pretty fast. I still hear him sometimes in my head when I'm staring at my blank laptop screen wondering what the heck to write next. "Suck it up, princess." And he's right. As Todd Stone wrote in his book Novelist's Boot Camp, you can whine or you can write, but you can't do both.

Writers have to write, and if they want to succeed, they have to write constantly. They can't sit around waiting for their muse to show up, and they can't wait for inspiration to strike. Not all of as are as hardcore as Nora Roberts, who writes eight hours every single day--including Christmas, I'm told. Wow. Now that's a level of dedication I can't even aspire to, because I know it would never happen. I need my downtime to recharge my batteries, and I could never work on Christmas!

Here are some ideas for the less militant among us that have worked for me. Set a page or word count and a schedule you--and your family--can live with. If possible, pick the time of day when your creative juices seem to flow the best, and make it part of your routine. This is the only way my family has learned to respect what I'm doing. The schedule thing seems to make my hubby happier, otherwise he grumbles about me being attached to my laptop all the time. I write in the morning for an hour or two, then when hubby puts our little ones to bed. If I get an extra bit of time in between someplace, bonus.

My point is, even if it's not as much time to write as I'd like to have, at least it's something. I've got to make that window of opportunity work. No one's going to hold me accountabale but me. No one can make me quit but me. No one's going to do the writing for me. Yes, writing is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! But that's no excuse. Just write. No whining. You can't fix a blank page. Get the words down, and even if they're awful, you've got something to work with when you go back and revise.

Okay, I'm hopping off my soapbox now. And as promised, here's a picture of me on my way out for trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Happy writing! No whining.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembrance Day Reflections


I'm prouder to be a Canadian on Remembrance Day than on any other day of the year. When I was 12, my parents took my best friend and I over to Europe, and my dad made sure we visited some of the most important Canadian WWI sites. I've never forgotten that trip, or how I felt standing on those battlefields and in the cemeteries. Humbled and awed, and incredibly sad that so many young men died in the war that was meant to end all wars...but didn't.

A month ago my best cousin and I traveled to Europe, and visited Normandy, France. Our first stop there was to Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed on June 6th, 1944 for their part in the D-Day invasion of Operation Overlord.






















A few days before arriving there, I happened to learn a very interesting fact. To give you a point of reference, my father was president of Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers for a long time, and worked as the right hand man of the CEO, Dave Ritchie. The Ritchies are from Kelowna, a small city in the interior of BC.

Turns out, Dave's eldest brother volunteered to fight during WWII, and was killed at Juno Beach. My father says Dave remembered his eldest brother marching through the streets of Kelowna on their way to war while the crowd cheered them on. Dave ran after him, and his brother told him to go stand with their parents. That's the last time Dave ever saw him.

On the way to Normandy from Paris, my cousin and I passed a Ritchie Bros. yard on the main highway. I didn't think much of it at the time, except to point it out to my cousin. We visited Juno Beach and the visitors center, then went to the Canadian cemetery and found Dave's brother's grave--not forty five minutes' drive from where the yard now stands. It gave me goose bumps to know the eldest brother had died liberating France, and because of him and his fellow soldiers turning the tide of the war, sixty years later his baby brother was able to set up part of his empire there.






















So this Remembrance Day I'm thinking of Corporal William Ritchie, and the ultimate sacrifice he made. I wonder if he knows the part he played in helping his little brother.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Warrior Writer: Reflections


Got back last night from Bob Mayer's Warrior Writer workshop, and during the drive home mulled over what resonated with me the most.

The first day was a writing workshop where we focused on the main story idea and conflict, plus reviewed critiques of our opening pages from the other participants. Except for my critique partner (who you can't have--she's mine! All mine!), all other criticism I usually have to read and then put away for a day or two before coming back to it. Otherwise I get too stuck on the negative things pointed out, and get down on myself. You know how that goes, right? Instead of thinking, Aha! I see how I can improve this, and I'm so glad someone pointed this weakness out, we wallow in the abyss of self-pity. Instead of seeing it as constructive criticism, we hear people saying, "You suck, and somebody should take that keyboard away from you because clearly you shouldn't be using it", or "I would rather stab something sharp into my eye than have to read another word you write". Yeah. Feeling like people hate your work (or worse, you) can cripple a writer.

Bob put it perfectly, saying that writers are a different breed, and it's usually that one "aw, shit" that wipes out the ninety-nine "atta-boys" that came before it. That's why I always let the feedback marinate a while in my subconscious. I'm always better off that way. Of course the comments are just opinions, but if there's something constructive I can work with to improve my writing, I'll at least take a hard look at it. And let's face it, when NYT bestselling author points out weaknesses in your work, you'd better sit up and pay attention and then work to improve your craft/story.

After day one, I was suddenly left questioning my entire plot and main characters for the WIP I've been struggling with. The good news is that my subconscious already knew there was a problem with the story, but I couldn't put my finger on it. After mulling it over this weekend, I think I've got a few ideas up my sleeve to make it better.

I learned from Bob that most writers are introverts by nature. We kind of have to be, since we hole up in our little cocoons and type on a keyboard for hours on end, day after day. Month after month...Yikes, year after year even. That's why most of us are not very good at promotion. We're more comfortable being in the audience than on the stage. We tend to get discouraged easily, either because of negative feedback, or because of the way the business is set up. That's why so many writers give up before they get published, and why others give up before they've attained their dreams. Bottom line is, nobody can make you quit except you. And nobody's going to do the work for you. It's up to you to figure out how you want your career to be, and then keep writing until you turn out a product that publishing can't say no to.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder about your current project:

-How can you make your main story idea more special and so unique that it grabs the agent's/editor's eye right away in the query letter? You want something that can knock their socks off and set you apart from the other fifty manuscripts with a similar plot already sitting in their inbox.

-What attribute(s) can you give your main characters to make them different than any other character ever invented? Make them so interesting and riveting that no reader, agent or editor could ever forget them.

-How can you up the stakes of the conflict so that your protagonist is the only person on Earth fit to take on your antagonist?

-Do you have at least two layers of conflict in every single scene? Verbal, emotional, physical, psychological.

-You should write in the point of view you enjoy reading the most.

-Study authors and books that you love. What is the POV? What is it about the characters and story that draws you? What have those authors done that you haven't?

Finally, the biggest thing I took away from the weekend is that pretty much everything is fixable in a manuscript. It just takes the willingness to change and a lot of hard work. But above all, you only get one chance to hook an agent or editor, so make sure you only put your best work in front of them, and never ever give them an easy reason to reject you. Make it really hard for them to say no.

I challenge you to put these ideas into action. See if you can really push the envelope with your plot and characters. I'm looking forward to watching how much life it injects into my current work.

Remember, style and craft can be fixed, but in today's writing market, it's the story itself that has to be brilliant.

Happy writing!
Kaylea :)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!


Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween! Here in Vancouver the weather has turned crisp and the leaves are falling, swirling through the air on gusts of autumn wind. Our front porch is decorated with spiders and jack-o-lanterns carved to look like a ghost and a pirate skull, and my little ones are beside themselves at the prospect of filling their treat bags once it gets dark.

Tonight I'm dressing up in my drindl I bought in Munich, tying my hair into pigtails and rocking the whole outfit by topping it off with black fisnhet stockings and four inch black heels. Then I'll be escorted by none other than Bumblebee and Scooby-Doo for some good old-fashioned trick-or-treating.

If it's cold wherever you are and you're in need of a Halloween treat to warm you up, Katie Reus has a new paranormal erotic romance release out called Unleashed Temptation, under her alter ego's pen name, Savannah Stuart. You can check it out here.

Hope everyone stays safe and has a great time tonight!
Kaylea :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween fun

Expecting copy edits for Relentless (book 4), but I've got to get my butt in gear with the first book of my Bagram Special Ops series. I've tentatively titled it Turbulence, and am about a third of the way through the first draft--the hardest part of the writing phase. Well, at least for me ;)

In honor of Halloween, I've put in a short clip of this amazing costume. For anyone out there with young boys, this is guaranteed to make them smile. So without further delay, here's someone who's a huge fan of the Transformers movies. Enjoy!
video

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Out of Her League playlist


I'm going to be posting a few things regarding my books as we get closer to my next release date in February. Character interviews, recipes they like to cook (or eat, in Bryn's case--she's a terrible cook). I cleaned out my iPod today to make room for my new WIP, and thought I'd share some of the songs from my first book, Out of Her League.

You may recall in an earlier post I find having a playlist for my current book or even some songs particular for a certain character in that book really helps get my creative juices flowing. Even now when I'm driving and a song from one of my playlists comes on the radio, I'm instantly transported back to that book and its characters. Kind of neat, actually.

So, here are some of the songs I kept around for when I needed inspiration for Out of Her League:

-
Every Breath You Take (The Police--theme song for Seth and the whole book, really)
-Nights In White Satin (The Moody Blues--this was for Luke and Emily's flashback scene where he shows up at her door in the middle of the night in the pouring rain)
-Interstate Love Song (Stone Temple Pilots)
-Kickstart My Heart (Motley Crue--this always makes me think of softball because it played during warm-ups in Canada Cup one year when I was starting against Team Australia. Trust me, it was a memorable--if short :)--experience. So I used this for writing the scenes where Christa is catching during the game.)
-Ghost (Live)
-All We Are (Kim Mitchell--for the ending climax scene with Rayne taking down Seth)
-I'm Ready (Bryan Adams--this is Rayne's theme song, because it took him a long time to become a happily ever after kind of guy. Only Christa could have brought that out in him.)

If you've never tried the playlist trick of jumpstarting your creativity, give it a whirl. I bet you'll find it helps when you get stuck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There's No Place Like Home


I'm back safe and sound! Whew, it felt like a long trip because I was pining for my little guys the whole time. Oh, and hubby too. He really missed me, by the way. He and the boys met me at the airport with chocolate roses :) I can't even describe how happy I was to see them and hug them all.

As hard as it was to leave my family for that long, it was good for my marriage in a way. Keeps things fresh when you don't see each other every single day, which is when most couples tend to take each other for granted. I came home to a spotless, gleaming house, two happy boys and a hubby that lost seven pounds because he missed me so much (or so I like to think, but maybe it was because he wasn't eating my cooking and baking every day!).

My time in France was relatively short, but man is it expensive there! Moreso than any of the other countries I visited. I went to a burlesque show at the Crazy Horse theater in Paris (who'd have ever thought that would happen?), ate crepes and shopped. Now that's my idea of a good time. I even got complimented on my French a couple of times, which is funny because I barely know any. But it's nice to know my accent is good!

At least in France I felt "normal", physically speaking. Not so much in the Baltic countries. I'm about 5' 7" and 130 pounds (size 4 or 6, depending on the clothes), but in the Baltics I felt short and fat. Seriously, all the women there seemed to be 5' 9" or better, and my weight. Size zeroes and twos. Probably because their diet is much better than in North America, or even most of Western Europe. Our tour guide commented more than once that all we seemed to do was eat! Plus, they don't eat processed crap like we all do on the west side of the "pond".

Another thing that surprised me was the number of people that spoke English, especially in Estonia. Nearly everyone we met spoke enough to converse with us. And they still rely on central heating, piped in from Russia. The Batic governments determine when to turn it on and off, and this week in Lithuania, the government is turning on heat in schools and hospitals. And trust me, it's cold there right now. The rest of the population has to wait until the temperature falls below a certain level for three consecutive days, then the heat gets turned on. And once it's on, you can't shut it off or regulate the temperature. So if you're too hot, you have to keep all your windows open until the heat gets shut off in April or May, once again determined by the temperature. You can imagine how expensive this method is, especially to a population struggling to make ends meet. Hopefully things will keep improving there over the next few years, but the current economic crisis isn't helping matters. Our tour guide Edgars has a master's degree in international business relations, and he's just left Latvia for six months to drive a bread truck in Australia. That says a lot, doesn't it?

So, all in all I'm glad I went, and my cousin was awesome to travel with. Other than an upcoming writer's retreat with Bob Mayer in November, I'm not planning on going anywhere for a long while!

Now I've got to get my butt in gear and get back into some sort of writing routine. I've been such a slacker! Let's hope this break from the keyboard has let my current WIP percolate in my little brain, and that the words will flow next time I sit down to write.

Friday, October 9, 2009

No Turning Back


Just got word that No Turning Back will be relased May 28, 2010. At this rate, I'll have three books out next year. Better get cracking on the next one!

Adventures in Europe Part 2

Okay, where to begin? I'm writing this from Paris, having finished the tour of the Baltic States. Never in my life did I think I'd be able to say that! But here's a Cole's notes version of the highlights.

We started in Riga, Latvia, then drove the Rovers into Estonia. We stayed the night in the university town of Tartu, then went on to the capital, Tallinn. I loved Tallinn. It was both charming and welcoming, and I would definitely go back someday. It's just a two hour ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland, and indeed the Estonian language is close to Finnish. Bought some marzipan and visited two amazing chocolate shops that put Starbucks hot chocolate to shame.



After driving down the coast to stay on Saaramaa Island for two nights amidst winds of up to 65 mph, we put in a twelve hour day traveling down to Klaipeda, Lithuania. We hit an unbelievable storm there, which turned out to be an anti-cyclone that killed people in the region. Over a foot of rain in ten minutes, and the wind was so fierce at one stop where we got caught outside (the Hill of Crosses), we had to walk backward to the Rovers so the hail wouldn't hit our faces. By the time we dove inside the vehicles, everyone of us could wring out our clothes. Needless to say, we stayed soaked until we reached the port town of Klaipeda.

Next day was windy but mostly clear, and we traveled to the Curonian Spit. It's somewhat like the Oregon Coast, very beautiful and we stopped in the town of Nida where I bought some Baltic amber jewelry. They have distinctive wooden flags there that the seamen used to use, and each flag tells the story of the family it belongs to. The black and white checkered part tells the sailor is from Nida, and the rest tells if they are married or single, how many and which sexes his children are, and if they live near the forest or sea. This was one of my favorite stops of the trip, aside from Tallinn.

We arrived the next afternoon in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, and met my sister and step-sister with her family, including 5 month old Areia. She's the best travelled baby in the world, I'm sure! The following morning we toured the city, and stopped at the former KGB museum. It turns out our tour guide's (Jurate, my roommate for the past week) uncle was the leader of the local resistance against the Soviets, and exhibits about him are featured in the "museum". Let me tell you, I still can't get that place out of my mind. The things they did to political prisoners there would make your skin crawl, and somehow the uncle managed to survive three years of imprisonment there, plus five more in a concentration camp in Siberia. And this sort of thing happened until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Unbelievable.


All three Baltic States share that awful history of occupation, in ancient times from the Swedes, Danes, Poles, Germans... Then after WWI, the Soviets took over until the Nazis came into town. Then at the end of WWII, the Soviets took control again, and stayed until the wall came down. Millions of innocent people were imprisoned, tortured and killed, including women and children. Jurate told us when the authorities came to take your family in the middle of the night and put you on a train for Siberia, you weren't expected to make it home, let alone survive the trip. Many had no proper clothing or food, and no children under the age of two survived the journey to the camps. All this makes me eternally grateful to be from Canada. Please everyone, don't take your freedom for granted!

On a lighter note, the tour of Vilnius was October 7th, my ninth anniversary. Obviously, I'm away from home. My hubby sent me a mushy email and had some dark chocolates delivered to my suite as a surprise. Isn't that romantic?


Now I'm in gay Paris with my cousin, and about to go to a burlesque show at the Crazy Horse Saloon. Never thought I'd say that, either!

Haven't done a lick of writing since I arrived in Europe, but it's been a good break. Hopefully by the time I get my internal clock working properly back home, I'll be raring to go. If you're interested, you can follow the trip blog here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adventures in Europe: Part 1

This picture made me laugh, because it's so me. Ms. Cautious.

So okay, I knew I was in for an adventure when I signed up for this trip. And I knew driving with my cousin in Germany would mean some serious tearing up of the asphalt. After all, Race car driver + S-class Mercedes + Autobahn = Serious speed.

We've already established I'm a bit of a chicken, so had I been driving, we might have reached speeds of up to 150 km/hr. Maybe. But with dear old Mike behind the wheel, we hit over 200 km/hr on several occasions.

You'd think I'd have been white-knuckling it, but I wasn't the least bit nervous. He's a great driver (he really is, and not just because he's my adored cousin--even though he snores), and his reflexes and experience made me feel completely safe in the passenger seat moving at that speed. Never thought I'd say that, but he's probably the only person I would feel comfortable with driving that fast. Plus, the roads were incredibly smooth and the Germans are good drivers. And they always move to the right when you approach them in the fast lane. I know this firsthand, as we came up on more than a few bumpers during our tour!

We arrived in Frankfurt, and immediately took said autobahn for just under four hours (would've taken me at last five and a half) to Fussen for the night. Next day we stopped at Neushwanstein in the south of Germany, and wore big blisters on our feet climbing up the mile long hill to the top. We were both sweating like crazy because we seriously hoofed it, though we're both in good shape. But oh my God, the view. King Ludwig II might have been eccentric, but he sure had an eye for architecture. It's a magical castle set on a hilltop amidst spectacular scenery. Walt Disney reportedly modeled Cinderella's castle after it.

We enjoyed Germany, but I know Mike wished he could have shipped his new Beemer over for a ride. He says he wants to come back next year for Octoberbreast (the name he's given Oktoberfest because of the cleavage shown off to maximum effect by the traditional Dirndl outfits the girls wear), and maybe he'll take an M-3 convertible out so he knows what it feels like to open his baby up on the autobahn.

Had a good time in Munich, and we both dressed up (Mike in Lederhosen and me in my Dirndl) to get into the spirit of things. We only stayed a few hours because it was madness inside the festival (see photo below),
so crowded you could hardly move, but on the whole most people were well behaved.

Now we're in Riga, Latvia, and today learned about the terrible suffering the people experienced under both the Soviet and Nazi (then the Soviets, for the second time) occupations. Makes me even more thankful to be a Canadian. Today's tour was a pointed reminder that we should never take freedom for granted, and that we should always speak out when we see wrong being done. Tyranny starts small, and that's exactly when it needs to be stopped in its tracks.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why PJs are Awesome

One last post before I embark on my trip (*silent scream*) to highlight the amazing skill set PJs have. These guys are put through the ringer to make sure they have operational capabilities in all terrains and climates on land, air and sea. They are paramedic qualified and must remain so throughout their service. By the end of their training, they can do pretty much everything except major surgery out in the field while under enemy fire. That alone is impressive, but there's more.

PJs are jump qualified in both static line drop and freefall (HALO) jumps. If you don't know what a High Altitude Low Opening jump is, you'll see a snippet of one in the clip to follow. Google it if you want more info, but basically anyone who can perform them has to be nuts. PJs need this capability in order to be dropped in to a target area, and that's when the bulk of their training comes into play. Obviously they're extensively trained in combat and survival tactics, since they frequently operate behind enemy lines or in denied areas.

They attend Combat Diver school. They must pass Underwater Egress training where they're taught how to escape a sinking aircraft (makes me shiver just thinking about it, but if you're interested you can watch the end of The Perfect Storm to see the Nighthawk pilot bailing out of his sinking helo). Then they top it off with a kind of baptism-by-fire apprenticeship where they get their final training while assigned to a team out in the field. Hello gut-check.

All this and much more, for the privilege of wearing the coveted maroon beret and risking their lives to save others. I can't imagine the pay's that great, so let's hope job satisfaction makes up for the deficit. Here's another clip from the Pararescue website, detailing the training and missions a PJ faces. All I know is, I'm glad there are brave men willing to step up and take on this job "so that others may live".
video

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Darn It...


Shoot. I'm stuck already. My new WIP was off to a great start, and now I'm stuck. I know the black moment and the ending, but have no idea what fills in the rest of the blanks.

That'll teach me not to be so vague in my outlining. I do know better. When I get a detailed outline down the drafting phase goes much smoother. Not to mention quicker! Still getting to know my characters, I guess. And having the book set at Bagram limits what I can do to get my hero and heroine together on the page. Hmmm...

'Course, my writer's block might have something to do with my upcoming trip next week. I've been completely preoccupied with my kids and stealing every last snuggle they'll give me. But today I'm going to drop my little guy off at preshcool and sit in the van with my laptop until he's dismissed so I force myself to get the next chapter done. Time to get out the machete! Got some hacking to do through this novel's jungle.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pararescue Jumpers

I've just finished reading a good non-fiction book about the battle of Roberts Ridge (Takur Ghar, Afghanistan) in March 2002. It details a SEAL insertion gone wrong that cost the life of SEAL Petty Officer Neil Roberts, which quickly morphs into a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission. It involves SEALs, PJs, combat controllers (CCT), Night Stalkers and their crews, Rangers and medics. Among the casualties was 26 year old PJ Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, who was mortally wounded during the mission.

From the pararescue website, I've included a video clip giving an overview of what PJs do. In the entire Department of Defense, the PJs are the only group specifically trained and equipped to go into hostile or denied territory to perform search and rescue missions. They often deploy with an AFSOC Special Tactics team, which would likely include a CCT, weatherman, security forces, etc. But they also respond during civilian humanitarian missions, for example disasters like Hurricane Katrina or mass floods, etc, and all to save people's lives. How can you not love that?

Give this clip a look-see and then you'll know why I find these guys so fascinating.
video

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Leaving On a Jet Plane. I think.


In a couple of weeks I leave on a great adventure. If my heart doesn't give out somewhere over the Atlantic, that is.

Those of you that read my posts know that I'm mortally afraid of flying, so a trip to Europe is going to test my nervous and circulatory systems to their limits. I've been mentally preparing myself to take this on, because I'd dearly love to just get on the damned plane like every other normal person and not be waiting to die every moment of the flight.

A pilot that I know suggested I think of something even more terrifying than getting on a plane. Think of that, he said, and that the moment the plane's door shuts and you take off, you're safe from it.

Huh, I thought. Not a bad idea. And nobody's got an imagination like mine. It's a curse of being a writer, I think. So far, I'm thinking of something apocalyptic like a nuclear or biological strike. That's sufficiently scary for me. As for getting on the plane, I already have my "routine" checklist that I do in my head. Brace yourselves before continuing to read.

Disaster management personnel and special ops soldiers are trained to prepare for catastrophes they might face by worst-casing everything. When something goes wrong, chances are they've already run through a similar scenario and have a plan of action in mind. If there's a job out there that focuses on worst-casing everything, I would be awesome. I do it constantly already, and that's all on my own without any training because I'm a control freak/alarmist, whatever. You get the picture.

Getting on a plane used to be pretty much the same as getting on a bus for me, but since a classmate in high school was the sole survivor of a fatal crash, I can't even think about stepping onto an aircraft without my heart pounding. When I get on a plane now, I look at every passenger to see if they looked sweaty or stressed. They could just be nervous fliers like me, but I've got my eye on them in case they're up to no good ;) Not on my plane, you don't!

That's step number one in my misguided attempt to be able to make myself safer when I'm locked in a metal tube 40,000 feet above the ground. 'Cuz yeah, that'll help.

Two, I memorize how many rows of seats it is to the nearest exit from where I'm sitting, both fore and aft. That way, if there's a fire while we're on the ground and I'm not dead yet, I can touch the rows of seats to count my way to the closest available exit since the smoke will be too thick and black to see anything. Plus, I'll only have seconds to get to the exit and I can't hold my breath for very long.

Three, I memorize how each of the exits nearest me needs to be opened by studying the safety manual. In case I'm the one that gets there first.

Four, I buckle up my belt and clench my sweaty hands together. And then don't talk to me. I'm concentrating on keeping the plane in the air with sheer mental force. So don't expect me to carry on a conversation for more than a few seconds.

In the unlikely event of a hijacking, I've still got a few ideas in mind. I do know some first aid and am pretty knowledgeable about the human body. If the pilots were incapacitated and no one else on board had any flight experience, I know that 121.5 is the emergency frequency on the radio. In a worst-case scenario, I could use this to contact someone (provided I remember my flight number) and get help. I even know what the yoke in the cockpit does and where the switch for the landing gear is. Then I'd pray the plane had the kind of autopilot that could land the aircraft all by itself.

Scared yet? Think I should be medicated all the time and not just when I fly? You might be right!

When we finally land (please God) I always keep my eyes peeled when there are crowds of people around, looking for anything suspicious. Like say, someone wearing a bulky jacket or vest when it's hot out. There's my author brain working, looking for a suicide bomber (your eyebrows are up under your hairline now, aren't they?). At the hotel when I finally arrive, I memorize where the emergency exits are from my room in case there's a fire so I already know which way to go if the power goes out and there's too much smoke to see. I know, freak, right? But I think about that sort of stuff all the time.

The blessing for this trip is that I won't be with my children, which already relieves my mind from having to protect them if anything should go wrong. Plus I'll be taking my laptop. Nothing better to distract me than working on a book, and I'll have at least ten hours on the long flights to accomplish something. Although, it might not be quality work since I plan to be very drugged on Ativan or some other sedative. Hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The last few days of September I'm meeting my dad and stepmom in Riga, Latvia, to continue their trek across Asia and Europe in The Great Cmolik Driving Adventure. You can check out their progress (and mine, until October 8th) here.

Aren't you glad you're not traveling with me? LOL. So everybody, please keep me in your thoughts in the last week of September and first two of October. Pray, flap your arms, whatever. I'd appreciate the help, because it's hell keeping a plane in the air all by myself.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Here Come the PJs



























Here they are: the Pararescue Jumpers. These guys are part of the Air Force Special Operations Command, and talk about amazing. They're half commando/half paramedics who go deep behind enemy lines to rescue downed air crews or other wounded and extract them. You've already seen them in action if you've watched The Perfect Storm or Blackhawk Down. They're the guys putting their lives on the line to protect the wounded until they can be evacuated. Their creed says it all:
It is my duty as a Pararescueman to save life and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do, that others may live.

I'm feverishly working out the plot for a series of five books (though probably novella length this time), and at least two of the heroes will be PJs. I'll write another post later on highlighting the training and skill set these amazing warriors have, but if you're interested you can check out this Pararescue website for more information. It's tough to find good information on PJs because there's not a lot out there, but I managed to find a book listed on Amazon that received good reviews from former PJs. Must be okay, right? This new series will be set at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Aside from PJs, it will feature female aviators and Emergency Flight Nurses, plus a few Night Stalker pilots. Can't wait for everything to start falling into place!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Strike Three


Well, it looks like softball is out of the Olympics, and not just for the 2012 Games. As of now, the possibility of it coming back is bleak. A lot of people are upset over this, and even more are surprised considering softball was widely regarded as having the best shot of being reinstated. Instead, the IOC is voting between golf and rugby for the 2016 Summer Games.

They may try and bring it back as an additional (i.e. "new") sport for 2020, but don't hold your breath on that count. It's interesting to note that the IOC is now unable to throw out a sport once it's been voted in. In the wake of softball and baseball being axed from the Olympic roster, that legislation was brought in right quick by the other sports programs so that it wouldn't happen to them. Smart thinking. Too bad it didn't happen before we got cut.

Still, my fingers are crossed that someone will do the right thing and vote softball back in for the 2020 Games. There are so many talented fastpitch players that deserve their time in the sun on the world athletic stage. Here's hoping!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow


Well, it's over. I've submitted Luke and Emily's book (Absolution), and it's time to say goodbye to my beloved cast of characters. I'll still get to visit them in the last two books as I go through the edits and galleys, but it won't be the same. Apart from feeling relief that this first series is over, it's left me a bit on the blue side. Luke is my favorite of all the characters, which is why I chose to write his book last, and I miss him already. I seem to identify most strongly with my heroes for some reason, and have an easier time getting into their head space.

On the plus side, this is the fastest I've ever completed a book. For Absolution, I sat down and plotted out the entire thing before starting the draft. This took a lot of discipline for me, as I was totally revved and ready to rock once I finished book four. But I knew darn well if I jumped in without planning out the details that I'd wind up stuck partway through and then spin my wheels for weeks trying to slog through the plot line. So I mapped out every important plot point and decided what order they should come in, then wrote a detailed outline. Not only did this make the drafting phase faster (I whipped the 93k words off in less than three months, which is darn near miraculous with my two little guys around all day), I also had the bones for a synopsis already written out. All I had to do once I gave the MS a final polish was go back and tighten the outline down to the most important turning points, etc, and voila--I had a finished MS with a synopsis. Now that's the way to write a book! I knew I'd figure it out sooner or later. Granted it was the fifth and final book, but still.

Writing with a full outline streamlined the entire process and made that painful first draft much more bearable. For me, a first draft is kind of like hacking my way through a jungle with a machete. It's hard, grueling work and you just have to put your head down and do it. I know most writers discourage this, but I like to go back and re-read the most recent scene I've written before I go on to something else, just so it's smoothed out. Otherwise I go nuts having something that raw on the page. The initial effort at getting the story down is always the worst. Going back and tweaking/fixing it is always easier, which is probably why I love revisions so much. The story and the writing get stronger with each pass.

Now that I've said goodbye to Luke, Emily, Bryn, Dec, Rhys, Neveah, Ben, Sam, Rayne and Christa, I'm off onto another series. This one's going to feature some female aviators and their male special operations counterparts. I'm doing some initial research right now and trying to figure out how to tie the romance plot lines and suspense together.

And the gang from the first series? I might come back for a short visit somewhere along the way if I miss them too much and write a short story I've got in mind. We'll see. But for now, I've got to figure out exactly where I'm going with this next book and write out a detailed outline. It might seem hard at the time, but I know it's going to save me a lot of headaches down the road.

Any great ideas you guys have for plotting/outlining that you want to share?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Interview With Katie Reus


Today (Friday August 14th) I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing the fabulously talented Katie Reus about her latest book release. Finding Hope is her third romantic suspense with The Wild Rose Press. She has graciously agreed to give away a digital copy to one commenter, but even if you aren’t the lucky winner, I hope you’ll check out some of her work. Katie always delivers a great read, and the best part is, you can feel good about supporting her because she’s such a sweetheart!

Without further delay, from the Sunshine State, here’s Katie.

Kaylea Cross: How did you come up with the story line for Finding Hope?

Katie Reus: Looks always seem to play a prevalent part in romances, which makes sense because people are visual creatures and attraction is a very important part of a developing relationship, but I wanted to write a hero who fell for the heroine almost despite her looks. Hope, my heroine, is attractive but she also looks exactly like someone he knows and has no attraction whatsoever for. When he falls for her, it has nothing to do with her face.

KC: Did you have to do any special research before writing the manuscript?

KR: I’ve spent a lot of time in The Keys and Miami so I didn’t have to do a lot of research about those areas. However, there’s a scene where Luke and Hope travel to Cuba so I had to do some research on international travel laws. Since some scenes take place on various boats/yachts, I had to brush up on my nautical terms. Luckily, I have my dad for that. I also had some questions about certain government protocols (really small stuff) that I contacted one of my friends about. And lastly, I had to research different Florida laws concerning the statute of limitations for kidnapping and sexual assault. Overall it wasn’t a lot, but it was time consuming.

KC: Ooh, great connections to have! You know, I first found out about you through The Wild Rose Press and your first release with them, City of Secrets. I was hooked from the first page by your voice and the quality of your writing. Was that your first novel? Tell us a bit about the process of writing that one and submitting it, and why you chose TWRP.

KR: No, that wasn’t my first book. That one is still gathering dust but hopefully one day it will see the light of day. The reason I chose TWRP was actually kind of random. After agent hunting with my first manuscript, I hadn’t had any luck so I put that one away and finished another manuscript. I was still in the process of editing it and I had just joined Central Florida Romance Writers. I think it was my second or third meeting and Rhonda Penders (editor in chief) was speaking. One of the members encouraged me to pitch to Rhonda and since I’d just finaled in a contest with COS, I decided to give it a shot. She invited me to submit to them and since I didn’t know much about epublishing at the time, I did some research first. After I submitted to Rhonda she forwarded my manuscript to one of the crimson line editors and not long after, I signed with Jill Williamson (though she’s no longer with the Crimson line).


KC: Your hubby served with the Marines. Does he help you with weapons/tactical questions?

KR: He’s very helpful but to be honest, I didn’t use him too much for my first two books and I really wish I had. Now I ask him any little thing that has to do with weapons or the military or anything I think he might know (he’s seriously like MacGyver). I also ask his friends who were in the Marines or Navy for research help.

KC: Okay, now I’m just jealous. Tell us about your writing process. You churn stories out so fast--how do you make that happen?

KR: I just write every day. Once I start writing a story, it’s like a sickness that I can’t stop. The need to get the words onto paper sometimes overwhelms me to the point I forget to do laundry or dishes. Or at least that’s what I tell my husband. Basically, I make the time to write. It’s not an afterthought or hobby for me. It’s one of the biggest parts of my life and one day I want writing to be a full time career so even if I don’t feel like writing, I plant myself in front of the computer and make myself do it. That doesn’t happen very often though because I enjoy what I do.

KC: I tend to get a little…carried away when I write, too (so my family tells me). Do you plot everything out in an outline before starting the first draft? Or do you know the bones and then dive in?

KR: I envy people who can plot everything out. I’ve only done that once and it was the smoothest time I’ve ever had writing a story (Running From the Past). For everything else, I basically know the bare bones, the characters, the first three chapters, and the ending. However, the ending usually changes by the time I get there.

KC: What do you do when you get stuck during the first draft? Please tell me you get stuck sometimes.

KR: I definitely get stuck and I seriously hate plotting. I love fleshing out my characters but the whole plotting thing isn’t my favorite thing to do. I meet with one of my critique partners (who lives seconds from my house) once every two weeks and we bounce ideas off each other. It keeps me sane!

KC: Yes, good critique partners are a godsend (wink). You also write under the name Savannah Stuart. Can you tell us about your latest/upcoming releases with Ellora's Cave?

KR: I recently decided to separate my erotic romance persona from my romantic suspense persona so even though I have a couple things under consideration with my editor at EC, I only have one release out under that name. It’s Adrianna’s Cowboy, a ‘Quickie’, that I had a lot of fun writing. It’s the first contemporary with no suspense that I’ve written so I’m hoping it’s just as well received as my other releases.

KC: And you've recently signed with Jill Marsal of the Marsal-Lyon Agency. Can you tell us about your reaction when you got "the call" and what sort of projects she will be representing you on?

KR: I was on vacation with my husband at the time so I really wasn’t even thinking about writing and I almost didn’t answer the phone because I didn’t recognize the number. When we first started talking Jill was talking about how I’d need to do some revisions, etc. for some reason it didn’t compute that she was offering me a contract. When it finally sunk in, I managed to act like a normal human being until I got off the phone. That night I celebrated with too many cocktails! She’s representing all my future work except for my sales to Ellora’s Cave. Right now that’s just romantic suspense but I also plan to write paranormals in the future.

KC: Go, Katie! What do you know now that you wish you'd known before you embarked on a writing career?

KR: I’d need a lot more patience.

KC: Oh, yeah (rolls eyes). This business is a killer for uh…type A personalities. So other than joining RWA and finding a critique group, what advice would you offer to aspiring writers?

KR: Don’t get so caught up in writing and the quest to be published that you forget to do other things you enjoy. It’s a mistake I made when I first started writing. I pushed aside what I loved, namely reading, and my love of reading is what pushed me to write in the first place.

KC: I love reading too, especially when I know the author. It makes a book even more special.
Thanks so much for your time, Katie!

For all of you out there, please leave a comment to enter the contest, and feel free to check out Katie’s website and blog. If you're in the mood for a good romantic suspense, try some of her other work. You won't be disappointed! And now that you know her, keep your eyes peeled because her work will be hitting a store shelf near you very soon.

Happy reading!
Kaylea :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Spoke Too Soon



Given my last post, you'd think I'd be super excited to get back on the ball field to play mixed slo-pitch with my hubby. And I kind of was. I even got to play on diamond one at Softball City where I set several scenes in Out of Her League. And like Christa, I got to play catcher. I know the position of catcher in slo-pitch is totally benign, but still. I haven't seen a ball hit at me in anger in years, so that was the safest place for me. After last night? Not so much. Ah, the irony...

You see this dog here? He's wearing the same expression I had on my face after the game. He'd have played better than I did last night. Certainly would have had a better arm. I've got all sorts of excuses. It's been over 18 months since I touched a ball. Seven years since I've played a full season. We haven't had a practice. The ball was wet. Slo-pitch is a stupid game anyway.

Do I sound bitter? Thought so. But damn it, I expect better from myself when I hit the field. I don't care that I was a fastpitch pitcher. I had a damn good arm in my day. And hitting a slo-pitch? Please. The thing hangs up there for half an hour before it comes down. Surely go God I can smoke the thing into the outfield. But no. I went one for three with a weak line drive into center field. Behind the plate, I was pathetic. I mean, Christa would be cringing in horror. You'd think I'd never thrown a ball in my life. Couldn't even get it back to the pitcher consistently, and he's six two with an arm span almost as wide. Kind of a bit target to miss, if you catch my drift. But I managed. Fielding a bunt, I promptly launched it over my first baseman's head into right field. Two runs scored.

Rusty? Not even near strong enough an adjective. I sucked *ss. Seriously. After the game on the way home I patted my hubby's knee and told him to find another lady to replace me. His eyebrows went up. "It's your first game in forever. You just need to get back into it." Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah.

So I stewed most of the night. Stupid, stupid game. I'm still so embarrassed! I was on the Canada Games Team for crying out loud! Yeah, it was a long time ago, but still. I can't stand playing if I don't perform well.

Okay, deep breath. I'm giving it one more game, and if things don't improve, I'm done. It will drive me insane to go out there and humiliate myself repeatedly. I'd rather be home working on my next book :)

On a much happier note, I will be interviewing author Katie Reus on Friday August 14th. One lucky commenter will win a digital copy of her latest romantic suspense release, Finding Hope. See you then!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer Baseball Movies: America's Passtime on film (and they could improve your writing, too)



My family loves baseball. Well, hubby and I do. That's a big part of why we ended up together. He used to catch for me when I wanted extra practice and couldn't meet up with one of my team catchers. And trust me, catching for any pitcher at our level was not for the faint of heart. He was the sexiest thing I'd ever laid eyes on back there behind the plate with his mask on. Yummmm... Could handle anything I could dish out (I'm fanning myself just thinking about it). Half my team was in love with him, plus he came to every game, even away tournaments to support me. And that's before we even got engaged. Sigh. Is that romantic or what? Just wait until you hear how he proposed (later post).

Now that we're married with kids, we're slowly brainwashing our two boys into thinking baseball is the best sport ever. Even if they don't see it quite yet, I know they'll come around.

I love ball. I love watching it, I love playing it (just the odd slo-pitch game now) and I love coaching it. Long, hot summer days bring back a million memories for me, having spent countless hours sweating away at practices and tournaments all over North America. The earthy scent of freshly cut grass and the tang of sunscreen instantly transports me back to my ball-playing days (I feel so old saying that!). It makes me think of all the friends I've made from the sport I love. I even got an amazing sister-in-law out of the deal (waving madly to Kara!). I feel truly blessed at the ways softball has enriched my life.

It's no surprise that I have my favorite baseball movies, like Bull Durham (all-time fave, especially when Crash tells the batter what pitch is coming to teach his rookie pitcher a lesson. Pitchers can be such head cases :)) and A League of Their Own. I actually met some of the women who played in the All American Baseball League (during and after WWII), at a B.C. Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner. That was back in 1993. Man, does time fly or what?

A lot of bad memories from that year, the worst one being from the end of the season. It took two gruelling years of tryouts to make that team (including several fast-pitch equivalents of Hell Week), but the coaches did choose me for the final roster. I was the starting pitcher for game one, and on the last play of the game I tagged a runner at third base and dislocated my pitching hand ring finger. But hey, at least the runner was out. Injuries hurt less when you get the out. That's the main thing. We mercied the other team 10-0 and finished in five innings. I got the win and a shut-out in the opening game, but that darned finger...

I didn't dare say anything to the coaching staff. I'd worked too long and too hard to be sidelined by a stupid injury I was sure I could suffer through. So I clenched my jaw and pulled the finger into place to reduce the dislocation, hoping no one would ever know what had happened. But within a few hours the thing quickly turned purple and blue, and was so swollen I couldn't move it. Not good. So much for going under the radar. My catcher saw it later that night and tattled on me. I got sent to the medical tent for x-rays and some anti-inflammatories. Long story short? That game was the only action I saw for the tournament. Five whopping innings, after two and a half years of blood and sweat making the squad. I was devastated. We came in third, much to our disappointment. But even though the memories are bittersweet, I wouldn't trade them. My love of the game was as strong as ever.

Anyway, A League of Their Own always takes me back to that memory because we watched it on the team bus on the way to the Canada Games. Then as I said, I met a few of the actual players at the induction dinner. Hands down one of my favorite movies. Great plot and interesting characters. Tom Hanks' character reminded me very much of one of my favorite coaches, only my coach wasn't a drinker. He was every bit as gruff and surly, though. We're good friends now, but when I played for him he once told me "I'm not here as your friend. If you want a friend, go buy an f---ing dog." True story. But I digress.

The Rookie's also good, a true story about a middle-aged high-school teacher who goes back and tries out for the big leagues, and winds up making it. We watched it the other night, and the scene where Dennis Quaid calls home from a phone booth to tell his young son he'd made the Majors... Well, we've seen it a few times, and I always watch my husband's face when that scene comes along. He didn't disappoint me. He always gets all choked up at that scene. How can I not love a guy like that?

My eldest loves Field of Dreams (whose author also lives in my town, White Rock), but let's not forget The Natural , For Love of the Game (also has a great romance plot), or Eight Men Out. Those are my favorites.

Okay, there's a point to this, I swear. As a writer, watching movies like those are great tools to learn plot, pacing, setting, dialogue and characterization. Since I've been writing, I can't simply watch a movie for pure entertainment anymore. I'm constantly watching to see how the writers and directors pull all the elements of the stories together. Just like when I read a book. I notice sentence construction and seem to pick out word echoes (a little pet peeve that bugs me if an author does it too much in a book). I note how a character speaks and how the pacing is developing, how the story threads are woven and joined together.

See? It's entertainment and education all at the same time. What more could you want? Next time you're watching a movie, pay attention to the details of the storytelling craft involved. You'll be even more impressed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Still Kickin'



Just a quick post to let everyone know that yes, I'm still alive. Better than that, I'm working on Luke and Emily's story, and am currently halfway through. I still have some details to figure out to make the plot seamless, but the draft's coming along nicely.

Have a big trip planned for the fall, if I don't chicken out before then (involves long flights), but I will post about that later on. I've been spending lots of time in the garden, at the beach, and lots of time playing road hockey and baseball in the back yard with the weasels. But to be honest, I'd really rather be on the porch swing with my laptop a few more hours every day.

Hope everyone is having a safe and fun summer.

Happy writing and reading!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

RWA and e-pubs

If you are an author published with a small or electronic press, I'm sure by now you've read about the uproar regarding RWA president Diane Pershing's last letter in the RWR. Well known agent and author Deirdre Knight responded to her letter on ESPAN , expressing concern over the poor treatment of and lack of education for RWA members who are with or are considering signing with an e-publisher. Then Ms. Pershing posted a rebuttal. The result? A lot of angry RWA members, who are left wondering whether they should stay in an organization that they feel is not helping them. Or worse, doesn't even care about them.

Personally, I'm actually a bit confused by all this. The whole reason I found my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, was because in my very first Romance Writer's Report (the monthly RWA publication sent out to its members) that I received, TWRP was featured in itsIn the Spotlight column. I submitted to them because of that article, because edtior-in-chief Rhonda Penders stressed that her company was a "kinder, gentler publisher" that gave personalized rejection letters. Sounded good to me, since that's a heck of a lot more than you'll get from most agents and publishers. Because TWRP was featured in the magazine and posted on the RWA website as being a recognized non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher in good standing with them, I accepted my first contract (after canvasing a few TWRP authors) and felt good about it. It wasn't until later that I became aware of a general feeling of exclusion by the e-pubbed community within RWA circles.

I had trouble understanding how this could be. If TWRP was important/worthy enough to garner a slot in RWA's magazine, and if RWA was happy to advertise for it and other e-pubs in its publication, then I couldn't understand why authors who have gone this route are being made to feel like outcasts, even though they pay the same dues and work just as hard as print authors. Most, if not all authors would love a contract with a big NY print publisher, but it's just not going to happen, especially in this economy. Companies are cutting back and printing fewer books, and are certainly less likely to take a risk on an unknown author. So how do you become a known author to make yourself more attractive to a NY house? You have to publish something, don't you?

Isn't it better for an author to publish the books that they've slaved over, rather than leave them in their hard drive and never making any money from them? To me, earning even a little money and gaining a readership is a far more attractive alternative. And, in the long run, those books or stories you've published will provide a backlist for future sales if and when you do break into the NY market.

Bottom line? E-publishing is a growing trend, and while it won't make print books obsolete, it can't be ignored, either. Harlequin is on board with e-book technology, and most other big traditional publishers are likewise offering their books in digital format in addition to print. Why? Readers can download a book in seconds from their computer at home, on the couch, at two in the morning if they want to. Talk about instant gratification. No need to drive to the bookstore if you don't feel like it, and no waiting for Amazon to ship the book to your door. Poof, it's there on your hard drive. Digital versions are cheaper than print, can be enjoyed on a computer or electronic reader (Sony's, for example), and they're environmentally friendly because there's no paper.

In short, rather than alientaing its e-pubbed members, I wish RWA would do more to educate its membership about the pros and cons of signing with an e-publisher. Tell us which are reputable, and which to stay away from. Tell us which are turning out good product and which are publishing work that should never have been contracted. Tell us what we can expect from an e-publisher versus a print publisher. To me, that would be invaluable information for a new author trying to figure out how to navigate thier way through the publishing labrynth.

If the total RWA membership stands at 10,000 or so and only a minority of that is published, I'm willing to bet the majority of the published group is either with a small press or e-pub. Why? There are simply not enough opportunities for every aspiring author to find a place in a NY publishing house. That's just the way it is.

E-publishing is a simply a different route to take in an authors's dream to become published. For some it's a stepping stone to a bigger deal with a print publisher, and for others it's a place to submit stories that are unconventional or not within a current trend in the marketplace. Good e-publishers provide editing, cover art and promotion for their authors, and they pay their royalties on time. My publisher does all those things for its authors, and what I love most is that all of the staff, even the editor-in-chief, are available to me via email. If I have a concern, I can shoot off an email and get an answer within 24 hours. How many print publishers can say that?

Maybe I will break into the print market one day, but if I do, I'll have TWRP to thank for giving me the platform to spring from, and I'm grateful that they took a chance on an unknown author like I was.