Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Fastest Writer in the West

I admire NaNoWriMo, the every-November project to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days, but let's be honest -- with a computer that's not exactly ball and chain drudgery. Fifty thousand words divided by 30 is 1667 words per day. If you use voice recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking (which I do for first drafts) you've met your daily quota in about half an hour; forty-five minutes tops.

Try writing an entire book on an electronic typewriter in six weeks, from rough draft to finished, perfect manuscript ready to ship to an editor. That, my friends, is a challenge.

I know because that's how I wrote Tainted Gold in 1985.

The ink on the contract was still wet when my editor called me to tell me they'd had a book fall through. She asked if I could turn in Tainted Gold in six weeks to plug the hole in the line. I told her I'd do my best.

Of course I did. I was young and stupid. Tainted Gold was only my second book. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

My husband Michael was in California for two months running a plant for his company. Ours sons Chris and Paul were out of school for the summer. My cousin Ginny loved kids. She offered to take the boys, and they wanted to go, so I shipped them off.

I wrote like a fiend, day and night. I wrote a chapter, edited the chapter, typed it clean with a carbon copy and set it aside. I finished the book right on the nose of the deadline and sent it overnight to my editor.

I came home from Fed Ex, fell face first into bed and slept fourteen hours. Then I called my cousin Ginny and asked her to bring my boys home. I dedicated the book to them: "For Chris and Paul, who sacrificed their summer vacations."

I have never worked so hard in my life. I swore to God that I never would again. When I received my acceptance check for Tainted Gold I bought my first computer, an Epson QX-10 with dual disk drives, a dot matrix printer for drafts and a Brother daisy wheel printer for final manuscripts. Those three machines, plus a dinky 8-inch green-on-black monitor cost me $2500. Worth every penny ten times over.

Did I get a bonus for half-killing myself to write the book in six weeks? Why yes -- just today, as a matter of fact. Samhain Publishing's Retro Romance is re-releasing Tainted Gold with a gorgeous new cover.

Any time a book gets a second chance to reach new readers and introduce them to the author's work it's a windfall.

So there you have it, NaNoWriMo participants. If I can write 60,201 words in six weeks on a typewriter -- you can write 50,00 in a month on your PC or laptop. You don't even have to make a carbon copy.

You've got ten more days. I'm cheering for you. Good luck!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Mad Cookie Elf

That's what my husband calls me because I spend the week before Christmas baking cookies nonstop. My kitchen is a disaster; flour all over the cabinet doors, sugar crusted on the counters and egg yolks stuck to the floor. I usually end up with flour in my hair, too.

Every year Michael asks me, "Why do you do this?"

"Because," I reply, "it isn't Christmas without cookies."

That's what my mother said. I bake my cookies the same way she did, in a mad rush the week before so they'll be fresh on Christmas. I had no idea you could freeze cookies until my friend, Kathy, called me the Tuesday night before Christmas. When I told her I was baking cookies, she told me hers were in the freezer and had been since the week after Thanksgiving.

"What?" I blurted, so shocked I almost dropped the cookie sheet I'd just taken out of the oven. "You can freeze cookies?"

"Sure," Kathy said. "I take them out of the freezer and arrange them on a plate. In ten minutes they're thawed and fresh as a daisy."

When Kathy I hung up, I baked the last dozen butter cookies and Googled "freezing cookies."

Wednesday morning I followed the directions I'd found online. I wrapped all the cookies I'd baked two at a time in plastic wrap (bottoms together) tucked them into gallon-size freezer bags and laid the bags flat in the freezer. I was worried about the chocolate snowflakes and the pecan balls, both of which are rolled in powdered sugar, so I froze those in tins, the layers separated by wax paper.

When I took the cookies out of the freezer on Christmas morning they were perfect. They thawed in ten minutes and tasted like they'd just come out of the oven. I was one happy Cookie Elf.

I realized then that my mother baked cookies in a mad frenzy because she didn't have a chest freezer in the basement. She had a freezer compartment in the top of her fridge that wasn't frost-free. Most of the time it looked like an ice floe. My mother had five kids, plus she worked full time. Defrosting the freezer was at the bottom of her To Do List -- but baking Christmas cookies for her family was #1.

I have a lot more conveniences than my mother did: that freezer in the basement, a frost-free side-by-side in the kitchen and a self-cleaning oven. The cheese sauce that bubbled out of the au gratin potatoes on Christmas Day would've had my mother on her knees for hours with Easy-Off and SOS pads.

I wish she'd been here (my mother died in 1973) to watch me push a button on my ceramic top electric range and walk away, come back four hours later and wipe up the ash. I thought of Mother when I bought this stove. She was a great cook, but she could dirty every pan in the kitchen making you a cup of tea. I did the dishes one night after supper when I was in high school. Mother had made spaghetti. I ended up scrubbing sauce off the ceiling.

Next year I'll start baking cookies the weekend after Thanksgiving, one batch per week. Then I'll tuck them away in the freezer until Christmas. Thank you, Kathy!

That's the lesson I learned this Christmas. Cherish your traditions, hold them close in your heart, but if you can find an easier way to implement them don't be a fool -- be grateful and adapt.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My New Year's Eve

My 2011 ended on a high note when I finally got to watch An Affair to Remember from start to finish. I've seen, and loved, the tail end of this movie at least twenty times. With Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr what's not to love? But somehow I've always managed to miss the entire movie.

On Friday night I caught the last half hour again after Michael and I watched Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I griped to Michael that the end was all I'd ever seen. He yawned and went to bed, but Saturday morning he told me that An Affair to Remember was on at 3:30 in the afternoon.

No, he's not clairvoyant. He actually knows how to scroll through the program menu on U-Verse. I can't even find the program menu. That probably explains why I kept missing the movie, huh?

Now that I've seen the beginning and the middle, the end makes a lot more sense. I love the scene with Cary Grant on a scaffold painting a billboard. White coveralls never looked so good on a man. Deborah Kerr was delightful, even when she was lip-syncing Marnie Nixon.

I could've done without the kids singing. One song, okay, but I thought two was overkill, and obvious filler. An editor would've said the same thing if I'd written those two songs into a book.

And what ugly hats they put on those kids! Michael and I wore hats like those when we were kids. A hat that ugly clapped on your little blond noggin during your formative years will put you off hats for the rest of your life. Trust me.

Now that I've seen every Golden-Age-of-Hollywood moment of this romantic classic, from opening to closing credits, it gives me hope that I'll be able to check a couple of other things off my To Do List in 2012. Like finish at least one of the three books I planned to write in 2011.

Wish me luck!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Backlist Ebooks Holiday Sale

Are you searching for good reads for your Nook or Kindle? Then check out the Backlist Ebooks Holiday Sale. Lots of great books by great authors priced at $0.99. From the website:

"Do we think our books are worth more than $.99? Darn right. But we know what it's like to consider new-to-you authors, too. This holiday sale features our favorite books for Try Me prices, and we hope you'll come back for more!

"Each sale book is readily identifiable -- just look for "$.99 SALE" right there in the title, using genre or author view. Each book page has direct links to a variety of bookstores, and the sale venues are identified. There's an ebook How-To right here on the site as well! We've even highlighted the books that are permanent $.99 Try Me prices -- those books have "$.99" in the title, without the word "SALE."

Until January 8, my two Regencies, Captain Rakehell and The Duke's Downfall are on sale for $.99 at Barnes & Noble and Amazon as part of the Backlist Ebooks Holiday Sale.

Speaking of Regencies, I just finished Death Comes to Pemberley -- yes, that Pemberley -- by British mystery author and Jane Austen fan P.D. James. I loved this book! If you love Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, or P.D. James, you'll love it, too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis, or Semper Fi, is Latin for always faithful. It's the motto of the United States Marine Corps. Today is Veterans Day. Yesterday was the 236th anniversary of the Corps.

My dad served in the Marine Corps in World War II. He was a Staff Sergeant and a Drill Instructor. When I started dating in high school, Dad always met the boys at the door -- and he always found a way to mention that he'd been a Marine Corps DI. Not one of my dates ever tried any funny stuff with me.

My dad was a big guy, six-two and about two hundred pounds. His three brothers nicknamed him Herc, short for Hercules. That's my dad in uniform in the photo, taken in San Diego, California.

My parents had five children: my sister Ruthanne, my brother Malcolm, me, Jim and Mark. When we were kids we'd beg Dad to play Marine Corps with us. Here's how the game went: He'd line us up in formation and give us marching orders -- "Right face, har!" Left face, har!" "About face, har!" Within two minutes we'd be turning into each other and tripping over our own feet. Dad would laugh, throw up his hands and tell us we'd never make it as Marines.

Dad served in the South Pacific. He said he couldn't remember the names of the islands he was on. When we could get him to tell us war stories, which was like pulling teeth, they were always funny stories; the crazy way the Australian pilots landed their planes, shooting coconuts out of palm trees with a machine gun. My brother Mal found Dad's Purple Heart in his sock drawer. Dad told Mal he received it for tripping and falling into a foxhole.

Dad died on May 20, 2009. He was 93. Mal looked up his service record online, called me and said, "The names of the islands the old man claimed he couldn't remember are Guadalcanal and Bougainville." That gave us pause and made us wonder about the foxhole story. We could request the specifics of Dad's Purple Heart from the VA, but we haven't. We like the foxhole story just the way Dad told it.

My nephew Brent, my sister Ruthanne's oldest son, wrote and delivered Dad's eulogy. It's a wonderful tribute to my Dad. I'd like to share it with you:

Delmar Olaf Kauffman was born August 12, 1915 in Blue Island, Illinois, the fourth of six children born to Kendall and Agnes Kauffman. He had three older brothers and two younger sisters.

Del met Grace Mary Fletcher in Chicago, and they were married on May 2, 1941. Four months later, Grandpa answered the call of his country. Del was deathly afraid of water and could not swim, so naturally he joined the Marines. Later that year, on December 7, our country was at war. I am unclear exactly how they got Del over the Pacific Ocean, but they did, and he saw combat on Guadalcanal and Bougainville. He fought bravely for his country and received the Purple Heart. He then prepared other brave young men, those who would eventually win the war, as a drill instructor.

After the war, Grandpa worked hard to support his family. After relocating to Independence, Missouri he found his career as a milkman. He worked for Meyer Dairy from 1957 to 1973. In 1958, Grandpa was baptized into the Community of Christ Church. I understand there was a large crowd at Second Church that Easter Sunday...mostly to see if he would actually get into water above his knees.

Grandpa has been kindly described as strong-willed...some would say determined or even stubborn. He would say what was on his mind, and if you didn't like it, that was tough. That personality trait served him well and likely saved his life as he entered the next unexpected and very difficult phase of his life.

In 1976, three years after he'd retired following the death of his wife Grace, Del was mugged and shot in the head. His prognosis was not good. His children prepared themselves to lose their father as well.

After six months in a coma, Del willed himself to get well. With his determination, and with the help of the doctors and the rehabilitation staff at the Topeka, Kansas VA Medical Center, he began a remarkable recovery. He was determined to be independent again. Within five years he had gotten his driver's license back, bought a car, and regained enough strength and mobility to live independently.

The 33 years since the shooting were without question very difficult and trying for Del, but he watched his young grandchildren grow to adulthood and bear him 23 great-grandchildren. He was able to spend a year in England with his son Malcolm, a time he treasured. He watched his daughter Lynn become a successful author. He also buried his first child, my mother Ruthanne.
He played cards, he socialized, he laughed, he cried...he lived. For 33 years after he was supposed to die, he lived. He touched the lives of each of us and many others because he lived. He willed himself to live.

It is my prayer that Grandpa will be remembered, remembered as a brave fighter, remembered as a family man, remembered for his sense of humor. Tell your children about him and tell your grandchildren about him. Ask your parents about him and remember him.

I know Grandpa has been reunited with his beloved wife Grace, his daughter Ruthanne, and his brothers and sisters, all of whom passed on before him.
I know he has been made whole. I know he is at peace and I am comforted.

I love you, Dad. Semper Fi.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Yes, I'm two days late. Sorry. My back has been giving me fits again (see "Where In the World Was Lynn?"). It just would not put up with long stretches at the computer so I gave it a break.

The photo is our oldest son Chris decked out as a vampire on Halloween. Our grandson Zach will be thirteen in February. I got a little teary-eyed when he told me he was too old to Trick or Treat this year.

Last year he was a character from the Scream movies (which I haven't seen), the one with the warped white mask. The costume had a fake blood bag that Zach squeezed and "blood" oozed out of the eyes. Cool, but gross, so maybe it's a good thing he's outgrown dressing up.

I love Halloween. As soon as the Trick or Treat candy appears in the stores I start stockpiling. Michael and I carve the pumpkin the day before so it's ready to go. I plan Halloween around Trick or Treat, figure what time I need to have dinner over and done with so I can be on duty at the front door to dole out the goodies.

That's my favorite part of Halloween, the Trick or Treaters. I love the little ones, five and under. They're just adorable. When Zach was four he wanted to be a yellow M&M. Not red, not blue -- yellow. I ended up driving to Overland Park, Kansas to buy him a yellow M&M costume. It was worth it. He was hilarious.

Once upon a time we had scads of Trick or Treaters in our neighborhood. But alas, like Zach, the kids grew up and stopped Trick or Treating. Last year we had maybe three kids. I was so disappointed, and so bummed about this year -- until our youngest son Paul and his fiancee Sarah moved into a house in a neighborhood with billions of kids. A neighbor two blocks away warned them to expect 250 Trick or Treaters. I swooned when I heard that, and jumped for joy when Paul and Sarah invited Michael I over to share in the fun.

The weather was perfect Monday night, in the 50s. Porch lights were on up and down Paul and Sarah's block, strings of orange lights twinkled on eaves, jack o'lanterns flickered on doorsteps. Tons of leaves littered the lawns, ready to crunch under little feet.

By 7 PM we had 4 humongous bowls of candy strategically placed by the door. Michael and Paul settled on the couch to watch the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football (the Chiefs won), while Sarah and I hovered like wraiths at the window -- Sarah loves Halloween as much as I do -- hearts pounding in anticipation of the soon-to-descend horde.

The first wave brought Captain America and Iron Man, an adorable bumble bee and a princess in a pink gown and sparkling tiara. By 7:30 we'd seen three more Captain America, a couple more Iron Man, a fairy, a butterfly, and a handful of witches and ghouls.

Pretty good for the first half hour, we thought. We were pumped, but by 8:00 the steady flow had slowed to a trickle. By 8:30 the sidewalks were empty of kids and porch lights were going out. Sarah and I moved outside onto the front porch swing with a bowl of candy -- maybe the kids would smell it and come -- but it didn't help. The promised 250 turned out to be 40, tops.

At 9:00 we gave up and went inside. Sarah checked the Facebook page of the neighbors two blocks away who'd promised billions of kids. They ran out of candy at 200 Trick or Treaters and turned off the porch light.

Sarah and I concluded that she and Paul live on the wrong end of the neighborhood. For next year we're thinking about setting up a candy stand on the corner -- two blocks away where all the action is.

And how was your Halloween?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Weird Thing Happened

In 1987 Dell published my single title paranormal romance The Dreaming Pool. I wrote the book as Paula Christopher for my sons Chris and Paul. The plot involves a stolen racehorse owned by the hero, Gage Roundtree. The heroine is Eslin Hillary, a clairvoyant. I figured you’d need a clairvoyant to find a 1200-lb. horse that has apparently vanished off the face of the earth.

My characters finally find the horse in Oaxaca, Mexico. On their way there (Oaxaca is near the border with Guatemala) they stop off in Mexico City. As I was writing this scene, I heard on the 6 o’clock news that a horrible earthquake had flattened a large part of the city. I freaked and called my editor and asked her if I should take Mexico City out of the book. No, she said, because I wasn’t specific about the year my characters were there. She also assured me that I had not caused the earthquake.

But I wondered….

In 1993 I wrote Aftershock for Harlequin Temptation as a part of a 4-book series called Passion’s Quest. Each book centered on one of the four elements, earth, wind, fire and water. I wrote about earth. The plot of Aftershock involves a little gizmo I dreamed up called the TAQ box, which stands for Tremor and Quake Warning Device.

The hero of the story invents it and the heroine’s father steals it. The machine is designed to detect an earthquake, but if you crank it up too high, it will cause one. Of course it falls into the wrong hands and my characters, Sheridan and Rockie, have to get it back before the bad guys blow up a Middle Eastern oil field. Earlier in the book the bad guys use the TAQ box to set off a couple little test quakes in the Mojave Desert.

Aftershock had no sooner hit the bookstores in February of 1994 when the Northridge earthquake struck California. The TAQ box is a figment of my imagination. I did not cause the Northridge quake or the one in Mexico City, but I’ll tell you what -- I’ve sworn off writing about natural disasters.

I do love to write about weird stuff – woo-woo, as I call it – but I was more careful next time. I wrote Nightwing, a vampire story so I wouldn’t have to worry about a sudden invasion of the undead attacking the world.

I also think a lot of the lore about vampires is pretty silly. I wanted to poke fun at it and make a point that has always escaped me when I read vampire stories. I don’t care how gorgeous the vamp is, why would any right-headed woman want to spend eternity with a blood-sucking monster?

To accomplish that I had to change my vampire hero back to a mortal man. That part of the story, the method I used to return Johnny Raven to the land of the living, I made up. I guess I did a pretty good job because I can’t tell you how many people asked me to tell them the title of the book where I’d found all that cool stuff about vampires. I told them I’d made it up, but I’m not sure they believed me.

Temptation had just published Nightwing when I went to Hawaii for the Romance Writers of America's national Conference. Aftershock was a finalist for the RITA award, and I wanted to be there in case I won. I didn't. The next year, Nightwing was a RITA finalist in the Paranormal Category.

About the same time Nightwing came out, Harlequin American published a vampire novel by Margaret St. James aka Maggie Osborne, Love Bites. Great title. Wish I’d thought of it.

At the Harlequin party in Hawaii, I was sitting on a terrace by the beach with my shoes off listening to the surf when four women wandered up and joined me. One of them recognized my name on my conference badge and connected it to Nightwing. She’d read the book and loved it. So much that she told her friends how great the book is and that they must read it. And then she started to tell them the plot – only she told them the plot of Love Bites.

I didn’t say a word. I just smiled and thought, “Oh well. At least she got my name right.”

Aftershock is available on Kindle, Nook and at All Romance Ebooks. Nightwing is also available on Kindle, Nook, and at All Romance Ebooks.