Where's the fun Friday?

Friday, 30 December 2011

Today is supposed to be Fun Friday or maybe Fiction Friday, hell I don’t know. All I do know is that it hasn’t been much fun and I haven’t gotten nearly as much done as I planned thanks to this sinus infection settling into my chest. Nonetheless, I do want to give you something, because it is Friday after all (I actually had to check my phone on this one; I am so confused thanks to no school/work).
So here goes. As you know, I am an aspiring author. You probably also know that I have ADHD (not medically confirmed, but I don’t need anyone to tell me that I have the attention span of a goldfish, I already know that). For my writing, ADHD means that I always have more than one (usually more than 3) stories on the go at once and that I can’t stick to just one genre. I jump between romance and magical realism, but tend to spend more time actually writing romance and more time dreaming about the amazing MR I’m going to write someday (I have started it, just keep stalling out).
Lately, I’ve been following Susan Meier’s Goal Workshop posted on her blog (http://susanmeier.blogspot.com/) and I’ve come up with my New Year’s resolutions—5 for home/family and 5 for work/writing. Now I’m not going to tell you all of them now, it isn’t New Year’s Eve yet, but I am going to let in on one in particular. One my list of writing resolutions is the following:
“Finish two manuscripts for Harlequin in 2012 and submit them.”
This is a big one for me because usually I get bored somewhere around chapter 4 and start a new story. The only time I’ve finished a manuscript, I promptly deemed it crap and tore it to pieces. I’m going to do it this time. I have a plan.
I’ve already picked out the two stories I’m going to complete. I’ve brainstormed both and written a logline and blurb (the pitch/query kind, not the back cover kind) for each. My next step is to write a detailed breakdown of each chapter (one down, one to go) and synopsis for each. It seems that I don’t finish because I get bored with the story. Often it’s because I can’t remember why I was so excited in the first place. My thought is that if I have enough written down for each chapter it will keep the spark there and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going.
So, while my blurbs are nowhere near perfect, I’m still going to post them here. Well, not really here, I’m going to add them to my ‘Romance’ page. I’m doing this for two reasons. First, they will be out there for you all to comment on. I always welcome feedback, so I’d love to hear what you think about my ideas. And second, you all can hold me to my promise— if I start talking about some grand new idea, keep me in check people!

Writing on a Wednesday

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

It’s just past seven pm and I’ve managed to convince the little man to climb in bed and watch Scooby Doo. I don’t think he’s fallen asleep before ten at all in the past week. So, I’m trying to get him to bed earlier in hopes he’ll start to drift off sooner. Mainly so I can get some work done. As I sit here and type this, I know there are a few other things that must be done tonight. After all, I want to accomplish as much as I can in the time I have off.
My next stop is to take an editing exam that I’m really not looking forward to. I’m confident in my skills, I just dread spending 40 minutes answering questions when I’m already this tired.  Realistically, I should do two exams I’m so far behind, but I’m not sure if I could cope with that tonight.
So what’s with the exams? Well, I’ve hinted that I’m starting a new venture in 2012, those of you who follow me on Twitter (@ChristyKateSays) may have even seen the links to my new blog, so here’s the scoop. I have always had a natural talent for snark. In fact, I was the kid in grade school who pointed out everyone else’s writing mistakes. Yeah, I was popular (I also have a natural talent for sarcasm), so much so that the meanest kid in fifth grade nicknamed me Dictionary Davis (my maiden name).  Now that I’m all grown up, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a grammar geek and a spelling snob. I get a thrill out of reading texts in search of poor punctuation and style inconsistencies, Bet you’re guessing I’m a lot of fun at parties, huh?
In my career, I am always the one tasked with proofreading all proposals and contracts written up by my manager before they leave the office. In my personal life, I work with a lot of teenagers heading into university and they always have me look over their essays before they print them off. My best friend even had me edit her essay answers on her first application as a doctor! So, I figure what better way to supplement my income when I’m working part-time after Scarlett is born than to do some freelance editing and proofreading. I already do freelance writing, but I’ve never been a huge fan of writing non-fiction (I do it for the money, it isn’t really a passion). Editing, on the other hand, is fun for me (yes, I know, I’m not right).
To get started, I set up a profile on Elance. I’ve been working on it for weeks, bit by bit, but tonight I think I added enough to get my feet wet. If you haven’t been on Elance and you’d like to do freelance… well, just about anything, you should check it out. They have jobs listed for everything from writers to programmers, design to admin support. Right now I am only using the free account. It’s limited, but until I can afford a monthly subscription, it’ll have to do. So far, I like the set-up, but I’m not going to lie, the back-stage applications which you use to complete and bill for work are very sophisticated and a little scary. I took the plunge tonight and submitted 9 proposals for editing jobs, so I guess if I’m lucky enough to land one I’ll have to learn the work area really quickly!
I have also set up a freelance blog of my own to advertise my services. My new blog, Proof & Polish (http://www.proofpolish.blogspot.com/) is now up and running, although it will be a few weeks before it’s settled. I’m adding new content and information to it daily. In the meantime, pop over and have a peek. I hope to pick up some business through it and would love your comments about it (anything—layout, colours, prices, let me have it!).
The site officially opens on New Year’s Day, so even though I’ll have my in-laws here celebrating, I hope to run some sort of promotional contest. Once I have the details worked out, I’ll post it here and there. After all, I am guaranteed to be the only one in the house that morning without a sore head. Well the monster, the 8-month-old niece, and me. Oh hell…

Fa La La La Blah!

Monday, 26 December 2011

I’m going to try to make this a quick one. But then y’all know how long-winded I can be. It’s Boxing Day here in the UK. No, I don’t really know what that means. When we first moved here it was the day that all of the women in my husband’s family got together for brunch in the morning and then proceeded to have a drink in every pub in town. In heels. I can’t claim that I was ever good at that particular tradition and, secretly. I’m happy that we moved away and that thanks to Hunter (and especially Scarlett on the way right now), I have the perfect excuse not to hit the town. Ever. I’m more of a few-beers-on-the-couch-watching-NFL kind of girl.
So we’re at home today—DH, the monster and I. The boys have just beat me at Scooby Doo Guess Who? and the little man is now upstairs in his room, once again refusing to go to sleep. God only knows what I’ll do with him when school starts again. I’m munching on Doritos and dip waiting for DH to sit down to watch Lie to Me. All in all, it could be a perfect evening… if it wasn’t for this damn sinus infection. Yep. Here we go again.
Only a few weeks ago I was on antibiotics for a sinus infection and was up consecutive nights running fevers and cursing the world as they slept peacefully. Then last night I awoke from a fitful sleep and realised it was back for round two.
Oh the joys of pregnancy. I’m feeling like crap and can’t do much about it. I am a big fan of herbal remedies, but after no sleep last night and a truly rotten morning, I’m ready to pull out the big guns. I just can’t imagine hurting Scarlett in the process. I will say, though, that I was surprised with how quickly the warm saltwater gargle knocked out the sore throat. It’s still taking the edge off. I think I’ll take the salt shaker upstairs tonight.
I really hope I don’t start in with the fever again tonight. I also wish I could hook the vacuum up to my right nostril and just keep it on low through the night. More than anything, I’d kill to just get some sleep. I wish there was something I could do, something I could take, just to get a decent night’s sleep. So, I’ve spent the last few hours ‘Googling’ to find out what I can take which won’t hurt the baby. So far, it looks like Sudafed and Benadryl may be options. I think I’ll call the midwife tomorrow and see. Fingers crossed.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The 'magic' cookies we left out for Santa last night.

Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas to you all and I hope Santa
brought you eveything you wanted this year.

Cookies & Romances

Friday, 23 December 2011

It’s my favorite time of year. The tree is lit up, I’m about to tuck into a peppermint hot cocoa topped with marshmallow fluff and I’m plowing through all of my ‘work’ (writing) so that I can get into bed at a decent time tonight and curl up with my favorite type of Harlequin—a Holiday Harlequin! Ah yes, ‘tis the season for heart-warming holiday tales from all of our favorite authors. And there’s just too many to choose only one!
So what’s on my Kindle?
Well, I’ve already read Susan Meier’s Kisses on Her Christmas List. It was excellent-- the touching story of a wounded, lonely woman and a betrayed single father learning to love and trust again. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried (tears of joy) at the end—and I can’t blame it on the hormones. It’s on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Kisses-Christmas-List-Harlequin-Romance/dp/0373177690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324670361&sr=8-1
Earlier in the week, I started Holiday Hideout from Harlequin Anthologies. I’ve read The Thanksgiving Fix by Vicki Lewis Thompson, a super sexy story of a snowbound couple who are both dead-set against settling down. The anthology also includes The Christmas Set-Up by Jill Shalvis (next up on my reading list) and The New Year's Deal by Julie Kenner/ You can find this book on Amazon here:

Next up will be A Baby in His Stocking by Laura Marie Altom. It promises a tale of ‘friends become lovers’ which, considering I married my high school best friend, I am powerless to resist. Check out the blurb here on Amazon:

And last, but maybe most anticipated, is Debbie Macomber’s 1225 Christmas Tree Lane. This one is sure to be another Cedar Cove classic—Christmas, romance, and puppies! What more could you ask for? Fans of Debbie Macomber will be familiar with her Cedar Cove series, fans of romance who haven’t read a Cedar Cove book yet need to get going! Pick this one up on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/1225-Christmas-Tree-Lane-Cedar/dp/0778312690/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324673667&sr=1-1
So there, you go. Some excellent holiday reads, a little late maybe, but hey better late than never. Besides, most of us will have some time off between Christmas and New Years and this list should fill it nicely.
Now if you need something to accompany your great read, the cocoa is just the cheap kind, stirred with a candy cane and topped with a dollop of marshmallow fluff and my Momma’s pecan ball recipe is simple. Enjoy!

Mom’s Pecan Balls
½ c butter, softened
2T granulated sugar
1t vanilla extract
1c chopped pecans
1c + 1T flour
Powdered sugar for coating

Beat the butter and sugar together. Once it’s combined, beat in the vanilla and stir in the pecans. Add the flour gradually and refrigerate the dough for about an hour. Roll the dough into small balls and place on a greased (or ungreased non-stick) cookie sheet. Bake the cookies at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden. Roll the hot cookies in powdered sugar immediately to coat them. Leave them to cool and then roll them in powdered sugar a second time. Makes 20-30 balls depending on how large you roll them.

Twice in one week?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Well, here I am again.  Are you surprised? I am.
I’ve decided to try blogging regularly again. It’s Wednesday and looking at the schedule I originally set for this blog, I should be writing about writing.  I’m not going to claim that I won’t slip up from time to time—let’s face it, life with a full time job, a four year old, and one on the way is anything but easy—but I’ll go on record saying I’m going to try my hardest to stick to my originally planned schedule:

Monday Mominess- posts about parenting, pregnancy (might as well throw that in now) and cute/crazy things Hurricane Hunter does
Wednesday Writing- writing tips, thoughts on writing as a career and updates on my WIPs
Friday Fun- book reviews, fun stuff, recipes and all sorts of other fun stuff

Right. So Wednesday Writing. Well, I already told you that I haven’t written in ages, but I’ve made a pact with myself to change my ways. It’s less a goal than a necessity really. I realized that after reading a very cool blog post by author, Susan Meier. Susan used to teach a workshop on setting goals and now she is offering these lessons on her blog. The Introduction, posted on December 12, 2011, struck a major chord with me.
In it Susan says
In other words… We will find a way to reach any goal with a compelling “reason” behind it.’
(Please read the rest of the post and the series of lessons at http://susanmeier.blogspot.com/2011/12/its-monday-morningdo-you-know-where.html )
This may be the key for me. You see, I admit it—I’m lazy. I’m certainly not proud of it, but it’s true. All this time I’ve been making goals, but they were really more like wishes. I’ve wanted to write for Harlequin since I was about fourteen. In fact, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six! But I never really needed to be a writer. I’ve always had a way to make a decent living. That is about to change.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for my writing, I have discovered that after paying for gas to get to and from the hospital and childcare for two, if I work five days a week, I’ll be lucky to bring home £267 per month. That’s right—PER MONTH! If I cut back to 2 ½ days I’ll fall into a lower tax bracket and may be looking at £289 per month.
Gas currently costs me about £240 per month. That’s $376—can you believe it? And I drive a Honda Civic, not a Suburban! And while I could take a job in my town instead of driving into the city, the fact of the matter is I’d never make the salary I do now. I work as a research tissue technician for a major cancer hospital. There’s no equivalent, well, pretty much anywhere. So I’d have to take a job which would pay significantly less and I’d still have to pay childcare. I’d be in the same boat.
Here’s the real kicker-- I love my job. I don’t want to give it up, but I just cannot figure out how to pay £500+ of bills with less than £300. My only option is to find some ‘work-from-home’ jobs. I have written freelance web content in the past, so writing is on my list. I also have done a bit of editing and proofreading, so I’m looking down those avenues as well.
I’d love to say I’m going to focus all of my efforts on writing romance and magical realism, but let’s be honest. Even if (or when) I do get published, I probably still won’t make enough to make ends meet. That is not to say that I won’t put every available minute into my WIPs, but I need a more reliable paycheck, too.
I’ve already started looking into freelancing and I am laying some groundwork now, before the baby is born. I start maternity leave late in April and plan to take advantage of the time I have off work to write. I mean it’s not like I’ll be getting any sleep with a new baby in the house. I’ve been there before, but last time I was too overwhelmed to write—last time I had no idea what I was doing! At least this time I’ll know more and be a little more prepared. The plan is to have some work in place or at least a foundation and a little more experience when I return to work in January 2013. I’ll keep you posted.
P. S. Just in time to snuggle in front of a fire with a mug of cocoa—check out Susan Meier’s heartwarming Christmas tale:
Available on Amazon.com at: 

Scary words from a 4 year old...

Monday, 19 December 2011

Friday  morning, I heard the scariest words ever to come out of a four-year-old mouth.
‘Mummy! You are NOT going to believe what I’ve done!’
My first thought was, ‘Oh hell.’ You see, we don’t call him Hurricane Hunter for nothing. I had been desperately trying to grab a few extra minutes of sleep all the while knowing he was awake, but it never occurred to me that he’d decide to decorate the tree all by himself.  But that’s just what he did.

Fearing the worst, I followed him downstairs to find the tree ‘decorated’. I have to admit, there was a definite charm to the way he tangled all of the bead garland and heaped it onto the tree. His placement of the rest of the ornaments was precious, even though some didn’t survive and there were shards of red and white glass glittering on the floor.
He stood there proudly in front of the tree and asked ‘Do you love it?’. The tears collected in my eyes as I said ‘It’s beautiful’. And I truly meant it.
I know, it should’ve been decorated already, but in all honesty I had only just bought it on Wednesday. Between work, school, cheer and Hunter I haven’t had a minute to myself. Or a minute to go Christmas shopping. Right now, I’m just happy we even got a tree. If I had waited around for help from my ‘Bah-Humbug Hubby’ we wouldn’t have a tree.
As it was, by the time I made it to the tree farm the only ones left were too sad even for Charlie Brown. After searching high and low for a real tree, I gave up and set my sights on a fake tree. Finding the first 2 shops sold out, I started to pray. I mean, how do you tell a four year old that we waited too long and wouldn’t have a tree this year. In the end, I was able to find a beautiful fake tree that my son loves because it is ‘bigger than Daddy’.
I posted pictures of Hunter’s tree on FaceBook and was inundated with comments saying to leave it as it was—perfect, but I hate to admit that I couldn’t. Decorating for Christmas is something I look forward to all year! Once I pointed out to Hunter that we’d need to re-decorate to include the big rattan star lights we bought, he was only to happy for me to start over. I think he actually enjoyed getting to decorate it a second time.
I bought a 7 foot Duchess Spruce (pre-lit, of course, because I just don’t need the stress of lights) and had a vision of a country Christmas tree.  The trip home, combined with the fact that I am currently working on a number of projects aimed for the Harlequin American Romance line, has made me miss North Carolina more than I’d have ever thought possible and I can’t seem to get enough of the good old USA. I planned a full-on Country Christmas tree—with rattan star lights, felt decorations, cinnamon pine cones, dried orange slices and candy canes! And, of course, our ornaments from years past. I think it’s lovely.

Now that I’m off with Hunter until the New Year, I plan to take my little laptop, Della, down and sit in front of the tree to write as often as I can. The only downside is that I am now desperate to start a new story—a Christmas themed one. As if I needed any more to work on. Oh well, here’s to two weeks of baking cookies with my little monster and writing!

Ok. I warned you...

Monday, 12 December 2011

On my very first post, I said I was crap at this. I was able to keep up with posting for a while (very proud of myself there) and here we are nearly 6 months from my last post. As they say, life happens. So let me catch you up a bit.
Fate has been both a blessing and a curse lately. Here I am homesick (and it would seem some of the friends we spent so much time with at home have again forgotten we exist—except my best friend, Bethany) and the surprises and disappointments have come holding hands and skipping merrily one right after another. It hasn’t all been bad, so let’s get that bit over first.
When we returned, after finding the dream house back home, the hubby and a friend set up a new business venture and if all went well, he assured me the blue house would be ours by Christmas. Then his friend made a major mistake and they lost the  contract which would’ve put a deposit on our dream. I stayed positive and started looking for other ways, other escape plans. I even started playing the lottery (hey, you never know). And then, last week, I saw the news. Our dream house was sold. I hate to admit it, but I sat here and cried like a baby. For two days. I could cry right now just thinking about it.  I’m going to blame it on the hormones.
Which brings us to the biggest surprise—my most demanding WIP. I found out in August that I am pregnant. It was a mixed blessing really. You see, I desperately wanted a second child. Especially a little girl to pass down my family traditions to. And God knows we’ve tried. In fact, this is my eighth pregnancy. I’ve had 6 miscarriages. So I didn’t even tell my hubby about it at first. I think he figured we were done and I can’t really say he was pleased when I did tell him. Thanks to my history, I was scared. I just kept waiting for it all to be over. Terrible, I know, but 4 of the 6 losses had come after Hunter, so I had no reason to think this one would be any different.
Back in April, I tested positive for Lupus. I don’t have the full-blown disease, just what they call ‘sticky blood’. This means that my blood clots in the placenta, which stops the babies from growing. The doctor explained that I had a 80% chance of miscarrying again and started me right away on anticoagulant therapy—daily aspirin and nightly (painful) Clexane injections. Yep, every night I inject my belly. I feel like a pincushion—you should see the bruising! As if that wasn’t difficult enough, I had the worst morning (24 hour, really) sickness I’ve ever had. I was sick constantly from weeks 4-12. So sick I couldn’t read, write, or type. Every time I had to concentrate on words on the page or screen the words swam and circled until I was dizzy and ill. I had to give up writing for a while. I even missed a lot of work and got behind in my studies (so not like me).
This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I’m proud to say that we’ve both made it through. Our little girl, Scarlett Rayne, is due April 26th. And since we’ve made it past 13 weeks, our risk level dropped to 1%! I still need the injections, but she’ll be worth it. My hubby has come around. Of course, this postpones our plans to go home, but I’m still determined. And I’m going to keep playing the lotto. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be able to have a blue house built to our specifications and we’ll move Hunter and Scarlett back home. I’m keeping my fingers crossed…


Monday, 25 July 2011

Sunset on the Sound
Yes, I am still alive. Just a little dead from my vacation. I know, it was over a week ago that I came back, but let me tell you—jet lag and a four year old are nothing to sniff at! That’s right—my baby turned 4!! Turns out he is obsessed with American flags, so we have a good old American flag themed barbeque in North Carolina for his birthday. Of course, we had to do that on the third, because it was Sunday. Then there was the parade, baseball game, and fireworks on the fourth. And finally Chuck E. Cheese on his actual birthday on the fifth! And would you believe that that wasn’t the most hectic part of the vacation?!
Now some of you reading this may have been at the beach house, so I want to go on record saying that while it wasn’t really the vacation we had planned, we did have an amazing time. You see, for 7 years the hubby and I have lived a fairly reclusive life. We go to work and yeah we have friends there. He goes out for a pint or two after work maybe 2-3 times a month with a friend from work and as for me… well let’s face it, with work, the monster, cheer and school I have no free time. The last time I went out with friends from work was over a year ago.

Waving the Flag.

So here we were—2 adults used to quiet and solitude and one kid not used to sharing his toys—and all of a sudden, our quiet beach house was pure chaos. At one point, we had 11 adults and 7 kids all staying in a 3 bedroom. Seriously. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining-- I had a blast! There were card games and (loads of) alcohol and a porch swing and singing country music at the top of our lungs (no doubt annoying the neighbors)!
Of course, I got no work done (which isn’t great since I’m working to a deadline)—no writing at all. Instead of coming out of the week with a finished first draft, I got something a whole lot better. I got a reminder of what I loved most about home. Family.
And I got a husband who has re-thought the whole ‘moving home in 10 years’ malarkey and is hoping we can relocate in a year. That, in itself, is worth a month of missed deadlines.
So now, we are back. We arrived in Manchester on a grey, rainy day (imagine that!) and we’re ready to face the jet lag and layovers and bad plane food and trying to entertain a pre-schooler on a 7 ½ hour flight--- anything--- just to be home again.
I’ve got a bit of work to do. I’ll never really catch up, but its ok I’m still in my Outer Banks frame of mind (Duck it! Somebody hand me a margarita!) I’ll probably write a bit more tonight and then I’ll curl up in my bead and dream of a Carolina Christmas.
Good night, everyone.
The Monster in the Sound.

The Irresistably Sweet Blog Award

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Yayyy!!! An award!!!

I was presented this award (a few days ago, just haven't had time to respond) by the sweet and talented Pippa Jay!! Check Pippa out at http://pippajay.blogspot.com/ . Thanks, Pippa!

Further to this, I know I need to blog more and I promise I will. I'm just buried in work trying to get everything done so I can go home for a visit-- first time home in 7 years!!

The rules for this award are:
1. Thank and Link To the Person who Nominated You. (done above)

2. Share Seven Random Facts About Yourself. (done below)

3. Pass the Award on to 15 deserving blog buddies. (wow, this might take a bit)

4. Contact those buddies to let them know. (ditto)

Here goes...

Seven Random Facts
1. I wrote and 'self-published' my first book at age 6. It was a horror! :-o
2. I coach competition cheerleading. I usually love it, but not-so-much lately. I think I need a break from  
    being 'in charge'.
3. While most people dream of traveling and experiencing different cultures, I cannot think of anything more
    wonderful than moving back home to NC, becoming a literature and creative writing teacher and writing.
    My hubby wants to travel for another 10 years, but I am soooooo homesick.
4. I crochet, knit, and hand spin. I actually have a shop on etsy selling needles, stitch markers, spindles, and
    the like, but I never add anything to it anymore-- no time to make stuff.
5. I work in cancer research. This is important to me since cancer is the most prevalent disease in my family-
    - even my mother and husband are both survivors.
6. I have a lizard tattoo and my belly button is pierced. And I'm 35. Both were done in my 20's.  :)
7. I love Scooby Doo. Every weekend, my son and I have Scooby marathons!!

Okay, here are 15 blogs I love. Check 'em out!

1.    Sarah Mace: http://sarah-mace.blogspot.com/
2.    Susan Gable: http://www.susangable.com/
4.    Gayle Ramage: http://gayleramage.wordpress.com/
7.    Get Lost in a Story: http://getlostinastory.blogspot.com/
8.    Charlotte Bettsworth: http://charlottebettsworth.wordpress.com/
9.    HowLynnTime:  http://howlynntime.blogspot.com/
11. Ready, Aim, Hook Me:  http://readyaimhookme.blogspot.com/
13. Tracey Lee Campbell:  http://traceyleecampbell.com/
15. Bethanne Strasser:  http://bethannestrasser.blogspot.com/
Now, to pass on the award...

Discipline and Shiny Things

Monday, 23 May 2011

It's no wonder my three year old is turning into a little monster. How am I supposed to discipline him when I can't even discipline myself? Oh, let me tell ya, I lack discipline in all areas of my life (don't even ask me about my laundry or bank accounts), but the one area that frustrates me the most is my lack of discipline in my writing.

I know I need to write everyday. I do, really. but for some reason I just can't bring myself to actually do it. I sit on the bed, thinking 'I really need to get that scene written', but there's always something else more pressing to do. Work, coursework, housework...

BA in English Literature & Creative Writing

What's worse is the fact that in my many moons of writing, I have only ever typed the words 'The End' on two full-length manuscripts.  One of those (a Harlequin Intrigue) I recently tore apart thanks to plot holes and am hoping to sew back together and the other (a sappy teen thriller/mean girls/cheerleader monstrosity) is happily lost forever in the dark corners of my mother's attic. I hope. God forbid that thing ever find the light of day.

In an effort to stay on a project (I mean, jeez, I'm only 9 scenes from completing the re-worked first draft of that Intrigue), I have been researching techniques and even devised a couple of strategies of my own.

First off, I am spending a hell of a lot more time on my plotting. The idea is to create a 'book' of plot info. I find I write best when the scene is mostly written out in notes, anyway, so I am trying to write a rough paragraph on each scene then return to it over and over again adding more detail or information until I have enough to write the scene.

Essentially, this means I don't get to really write until after the whole book is 'bare bones'. I hope it will mean that I don't get to the point where I have lost my original 'spark' was because it will be somewhere in the notes, along with a map on how to get there. Of course, I do need a bit of the 'lovely prose' to keep me motivated. Sometimes, just reading the polished first chapter can stir excitement in me. So I may have to go ahead and write that first chapter, just to have a feel for the story and to have something pretty to come back to and go 'Awww, I love that. Let me get to work.'

Writing Romance

But my favorite strategy, so far has to be the 'reward/reminder system' I have developed. I am a girly-girl. No one who knows me would ever tell you different. We're talking ponytails and cheerleading hair bows (I'm a coach, but I still love a big bow) and sparkly, shiny things! Can you think of a better excuse to buy jewellery?

I have very little good jewelry. I only wear my little cultured pearl stud earrings, engagement ring and wedding band. Between working in an operating department and coaching cheerleading, I can't really wear much more, but I planned to start. First I set off to find a vintage pearl ring which I thought would symbolize my aspiring to be a great Southern writer. I looked and looked, but I never found one that really stood out to me. Next, I looked at bracelets. I remember a couple of years ago when Pandora bracelets were all the rage and everyone was getting one for Christmas. At the time I had no desire to ever own one. I thought they were seriously over-priced silver. This time I looked at them in a different light. And I thought 'What if'...

Just before Christmas last year I bought myself a silver Pandora with the barrel clasp and I started on an obsession. The original idea was to add one charm for each story. I met with a lovely jeweller who was looking to get out of selling Pandora and offered me fabulous discounts which allowed me to get the bracelet, clips, and a few beads. I started out with a bead to symbolize my change in degree path, a bead for writing romance, and one for writing magical realism. Recently, when I started writing non-fiction to make money for our up-coming vacation, I bought a little silver plane. I even bought a bead to symbolize my settling on a pen name, starting to build a platform, and moving seriously toward publication. And a bead to symbolize my entering the Harlequin Valentine Secrets contest.

Harlequin Valentine Secrets Contest

Since then, I have gone a bit mad with beads. I keep finding them on eBay ridiculously cheap so I just keep buying them. I haven't bought any that don't symbolize a project, though, so I guess I'm okay on that end. Sort of. Rather than bore you silly with all of those pictures at once, I'll drag it out a bit. I plan to feature one bead at a time with a little post on what it means to me or what story it represents.

There is one major issue with the bracelet, though. I cannot decide when to add the beads. Now, I plan to wear them all while I'm on holiday. Just because. But seriously, I am torn. My original idea was to add them all now as a contant reminder of the storys that need attending to, but my best friend suggested I add them once the first draft was finished as a reward so I figured I'd give that a try. I only put on the beads I 'deserved'-- university, romance, and magical realism at first, then non-fiction, contest and publication beads joined the strand.

I hate to say that I haven't seen much motivation come from the desire to add more. Maybe it's because I know they are there. Snug and sound in their little boxes. I have them. Yesterday, I decided to add the 'stories' I am actively working on-- the American, the Intrigue, and the magical realism. Already I feel differently. I keep looking at the beads and feeling a rush of emotion. I feel guilty that the manuscripts are sat lonely and unfinished. I feel warm and fuzzy over the stories behind each bead. And I feel a spark of urgency to pick them up and get to work.

So much for me is 'out of sight, out of mind'. I swear I'd forget to feed the cats if they weren't in my face at six am demanding Whiskas. I even make lists constantly, seriously like OCD lists, with everything I need to accomplish for the day. If I don't write it down, I don't remember it and it won't get done. I think I may need to return to my original idea of adding the charms as a reminder to write. A little nudge to guide me to Della each day. In fact, I think I'll go add the last three. It isn't really a cop out like my best friend thinks, is it? I can take them off if it doesn't help.

How do you stay disciplined?

Writing Magical Realism

4 Things, Late As Usual

Monday, 16 May 2011

We are now in the run up to our holiday and things are busy as can be. So, of course, this will have to be short and maybe not so sweet, at least not to start. It has been a trying couple of weeks. Maybe this time around I should say that these are 4 things which are making me HAPPY/THANKFUL RIGHT NOW...

1. Zoe. My beloved little kitty is unfortunately coming to the end of her run. She has been ill with what we believe is cancer for 6 months now, but she has responded well to treatment until these past couple of weeks. At her routine vet visit today, the vet asked to see her again in 4 weeks instead of 6 and told me to be prepared. If she has not made a miraculous recovery by then and still looks as poor as she does today, that will be the appointment where we let her go. As you can imagine, I've cried a lot today.

This certainly is not one thing which is making me happy right now; however, I am very THANKFUL to have had nearly 10 wonderful years with my lovable, sassy girl. As much as I am dreading that appointment, I am also hopeful that we can finally have some closure in this. The vet assures me that she is not suffering and I hate being the one to make 'the big decision', but it really is only up to me at this point. I am terrified that she will die alone while we are in the states and I just won't let her go alone. The past 6 months have been shadowed by the fear that any day she'd start to deteriorate. Now I just wish she'd pass peacefully in her sleep.

2. On to a happier note now, I think. I agonized over my last literature assignment. I had to analyse Wordsworth's 'Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower'. I LOVE poetry, but I suppose there's a big difference between loving to read it and picking it apart. For this assignment I had to learn to really examine the poem rather than just enjoying it. I am happy to report that analysing it wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. That and the fact that I (she who writes WAY over word counts) couldn't meet the word count made me terrified of what my grade would be. It was only by a stroke of luck that I made the minimum word count! So, imagine my surprise when I just received my grade and it's my highest grade so far! Hell, yes!! I really am loving my literature degree. :)

3. I mentioned the vacation earlier. There's a million things to do in preparation, but I'm ticking them off one at a time because finally... I'M GOING HOME!!! Only for 3 weeks, but still it will be the first time I've been home in nearly 7 years! My parents haven't seen Hunter since his first birthday and we will be celebrating his fourth birthday at their house in North Carolina! There are so many things I'm looking forward to-- I get to spend time with my Mom, I get to see my best friend after 10 years, I get to introduce my son to our family in Virginia, and I finally get to see my mom play Legos on the floor with my little monster. I just hope the charm of North Carolina, which I love so much, will enchant my hubby as well. I really want to move back home. Most important are the things Hunter will experience for the first time. He's never seen a fox or a deer or a lizard-- my mom has these guys in her back yard! I can't wait to see his eyes light up when he watches his first Fourth of July parade and firework display, when he reels in his first fish, and when he catches his first firefly. This summer is going to be amazing.

4. In spite of all of the stress of finishing up assignments, trying to make money, and tying up loose ends before our vacation, I seem to be making a little headway on the WIP. Today I described some of the plot facets to my best friend and she told me that each time we discuss it I seem to have a better handle on it. I also think I'm only a short distance from determining an overall plot line. Then I just have to plot out my scenes and off I go. I've just ordered my favorite pizza (asparagus, black olive, spinach, and goat's cheese) and the little man is close to bedtime, so I think I'll curl up with a cup of tea, dinner, and my WIP once all is quiet.

Happy writing, everyone!

Zoe, in the garden, while the treatment was still working.

Quietly Procrastinating...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Tomorrow I'll be coaching for six hours. Monday, I've got an assignment to do and a writing circle meeting. And yet, I can't bring myself to get down to writing. Instead, I'm sitting here, waiting for more thunder and lightening because it reminds me of home.

I haven't gotten to do nearly as much writing as I've wanted to lately. Now, I know, I have to 'make time' to write, but unless anyone has figured out how to add a few extra hours to the day, it's going to be hard for me to do. Between the real job, coursework, writing to make vacation money, the three-year-old and trying to stay on top of the house (or otherwise be buried in dog fur) I find that by the time my fingers finally find the keyboard I'm brain dead.

I did do some editing last night, two chapters of the romance, so tonight I plan to clean those up. As for the actually writing... I'm sad to say I have hit a wall. It's only temporary, I know, but I'm still stressing out about it. The ADHD caught up with me after my last writing circle meeting. I spent a couple of hours talking about magical realism and by the time I got home I had the spark of an idea to re-charge my old MR WIP.

I pulled out the old MR WIP, all 40,000 words of it, and overall I hated it. So I decided to pull out the bits I like and create some new characters and get on with it. Then I realised the old WIP didn't have much of a plot and I had nearly no idea how to plot the new idea. I have spent over two weeks trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this new story that's running around in my mind.

I have three characters, some great magical elements and a hell of a lot of back story. I have a starting point and some idea of what two of the characters will get up to. But what I don't have is a plotline. I need a list of scenes and for some reason my usual techniques aren't cutting it.

I pulled up all of the sites I've bookmarked regarding plot. I pulled some old books on plot off my shelf. I bought a new one for my Kindle. Then today I bought 2 books from Amazon. All in hopes that I can kick-start my plot, because honestly, I cannot take this journey without a map. And all I know is this is a story I need to write.

So, how do you plot?

4 Things

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Good God! I am so behind. This is ridiculous. I apologize, really.

I do have a million excuses as to why I haven't posted in a while. And I'm happy to declare that one of the main reasons I haven't been writing on her is because I have been writing elsewhere. Anyways, here are the 4 things making me happy RIGHT NOW!!

1. I'm loving the new direction of my MR WIP. I'm also in a desperate rush to get back to IT. I'm trying to sort out ans really get writing, so I'm going to make this short. It's a bit of a nightmare right now, this WIP. I pulled it out after ages of not looking at it and the best I can tell is that I was off my head when I was writing it. The voice is all wrong. There's absolutely no plot. And if that's not enough, I'm a bit skeptical about the theme. I have had a few really good ideas, though, and I'm going to plod on.

2. I spent the last two days outside working in the garden! I'm relieved that my garden is finally repaired after laying months under snow. The grass didn't actually make it in most places, and some of the wooden furniture is toast, but my hubby, the monster, and I spent all weekend tearing out weeds, moving around pots and planting new seeds and plants. It looks amazing!!

3. The belt for my washer is due to arrive tomorrow, so with any luck, I have hand washed my LAST load of clothes today! Keep your fingers crossed for me.

4. I have a meeting of my writing circle tomorrow! It's doubtful that I'll have anything ready for them to read, My romance is unfortunately stalled out (ADHD again) and I'm probably nowhere near having decent pages of the MR, but oh well. It's just really nice to get together with other grown-ups and talk about something other than work.

So, I'm going to jump off of here and see if I can sort out the GMC for the 4 main characters in the MR. I might have a look at polishing chapter one of the romance tomorrow morning for my meeting, but no promises.

Off I go...

My Braeburn Apple is in bloom!!

Dropping in just to say hi...

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sorry I've been MIA lately. Work and home have been a bit crazy, but more than that, I've been writing-- every day!! I went to a writing circle meeting and that felt amazing. It was so nice to meet with grown-ups who were not related to my job, my coaching, or my son. It was definitely Me Time.

Of course, neither of the other women in the circle write or read romance. Figures, huh? They are willing to read it, but after hearing about their WIPs I desperately wanted to pull out the old magical realism I was working on. I've missed the magic. Not that I want to drop the romance WIP, I just want to bounce between the two. My best friend says that will suit me better since I have a hard time staying on one project at a time (damn, ADHD).

So I pulled it out. I had a good, honest look at it with fresh eyes. I can't even remember when I last wrote on it. I'm sorry to say, I don't really like it. There were a few passages which sound like me, but overall the voice is all wrong.

It's funny, but I have read time and time again about finding your voice and all that time it has seemed so mysterious and vague. I wasn't sure I'd ever find mine. Then I took that creative writing course and thanks to one activity and the final assignment it all became clear.

The old WIP is only about half written, but none of that writing is truely my voice. So its time to start over. I have a lot to do before our writing circle meeting next week (assignments totaling about 8k words), but I am going to try to get the first 2-4 scenes re-written for them to read. Wish me luck!

Monday Mommy-ness

Monday, 21 March 2011

Alright, so this isn't technically about mommy-related issues, more about being a woman. Multi-Tasking! I am the queen of multi-tasking! Not looking for praise here, or pity, I do it to myself, I know.

I remember a recent tweet about a study which showed how multi-tasking actually means you get less done. I'm not convinced. I know there's plenty of scientific evidence, but still. Without multi-tasking I'd still be doing things I did LAST March. I'm certain of it.

I spent the weekend making the spider costume (see previous post) and chasing the monster, so I didn't have time for much else. Today I am paying for my sins. I have 3 chapters to read, an essay to write, mountains of path reports to pull, a book to read, and 4 chapters to write. Mind you, I have all week, but I also have a full-time job, 2 nights of coaching, and the monster 24/7.

My neighbors don't read my blog, hell they don't even know I have one, but if they did they would now understand the bizarre sight in my study window. I am pulling path reports from the intranet, listening to Great Expectations (iTunes U), and walking on the treadmill. All at once.

Off I go...

4 Things

Sunday, 20 March 2011

OK. It's 2243 and I really just want to go to bed. I spent the better part of my weekend making a spider costume for the monster for bug day at preschool and didn't get around to much else.

So here's a quick 4 Things...

4 Things Making Me Happy RIGHT NOW:

1. I got back my assignment scores for my first assignments in both courses I am taking and both were great. Yay!!  I really am enjoying this new path. Plus I passed the 3 courses I just finished in January-- double Yay!

2. I am loving all of the new American country music! In particular, I've become addicted to Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, The Band Perry, and Kenny Chesney. Makes me want to put on my cowboy boots...

3. I'm loving FaceBook right now (even though, I've kind of gone off it in favor of Twitter) because I've been able to find the high school English teacher who spurred me on in my writing. He was the one person who believed in me as a writer. He urged me to enter the Young Authors contest while in high school and I won first place in my grade and city. Anyway, I found him on FB and sent him a message to which he replied with possibly the nicest compliment I've ever received about my writing. That has made my month!

4. And best of all-- Tonight I booked tickets for our TRIP HOME!!!! Yes! This summer we will be spending my son's fourth birthday with my family in Virginia and North Carolina and DH has even agreed to let me look at some houses in NC as well!  Looks like in a few years I may finally get to move home!

Not a bad week when I look back on it. Sure it had a few stressful moments, but it all worked out in the end.

How about you? How was your week?

Monday Mommy-ness

Monday, 14 March 2011

I thought I had a meeting with the behavior specialist at monster's pre-school. Then I was stuck in a small room with three members of staff all there to speak with me, or at me it seemed. At nine am. I would've sooner faced a firing squad.

It started out pretty bad. I think they got the impression that I wanted the meeting or that I was angry at them for some reason. I only booked the meeting because it was sugessted to me several times. Their constant suggestion made me think something was very wrong. I've grown concerned because I keep getting bad reports and from the tone of these reports it would seem as if only my child is having behavioral issues. And now I felt as if I was being ganged up on.

Once the air was clear and they understood that I didn't think monster was an angel, but I also didn't think he was the devil everyone started to relax. Clearly the tactics which fall into their policies and procedures for dealing with bad behaviour aren't working for my child. I stressed that we need to get tougher. I also found out that he isn't the only problem child-- he's not even the worst!

Thank God for small favors.

Not 4 Things

Sunday, 13 March 2011

I honestly cannot think of 4 things which are making me happy right now.

I have to admit, I'm not really all that happy today. Maybe it's because I had a weird night. I fell asleep accidentally at 5pm then woke at 1am and couldn't get back to sleep until 5am and was up again a little after 8. I'm not tired, but I do feel like I've sleep-walked through two days instead of one.

I have several things on my mind right now, not the least of which is the meeting I have with a 'behavioralist' tomorrow at the monster's school. It would seem I am raising the worst kid in the class. I don't know what to think. He is brilliant in his tumbling class and lately we've had few tantrums at home.

Speaking of home, I am desperate to get home. I have been so damn homesick lately I can't stand it. I am trying to schedule a trip home for monster's 4th birthday, but I'm dreading the fact that I will want to hang out with my mom and relax while DH will want us to go see his friends 3 hours away. DH hates hanging out at my parents' house, but I seriously need some down time with mom. I'm still trying to convince him we should move close to my mom so that monster can have a relationship with his grandparents. Cross your fingers for me on that one.

And on top of all of that, there's the fact that my ADHD robbed me of 2 days of writing time and I am now stuck wrestling with a scene that just refuses to play fair.

As my Grandaddy would've said 'Damn it all to hell!'

Yep. That about sums it up.

Web Site and Writing Samples

The web site is up and running, of course I've had to slack off a bit on everything else to get it running, but I promise to get back to normal soon. The site will always be a work in progress and I'll update it and add to it often. I mainly wanted a site so that I could put samples of my writing on it to link back to here, so that's pretty much what I've done.

Ages ago, I promised I'd post the short story I wrote for my class. It has taken me a while, but the link for the story is on my Literary Fiction page. It will take you to my web site http://www.christykatemckenzie.com/, but there is a link on the left to come back to the blog. Feel free to click the site link above and have a nosey.

You can also find a link on my Romance page (here and the site) to the eHarlequin site where the start to my current WIP was in a contest. The entry and some comments I received are on it. That one doesn't have a link to get back to here, sorry.

I haven't posted any magical realism yet, but I'll get around to it.

I'm very excited about the new site and the opportunity to share some of my work and hopefully get a bit of feedback on it. If you have time, have a read of the pieces I've linked and then please come back here and let me know what you think-- both of the new site and my work.


On Writing Romance

Saturday, 5 March 2011

I remember reading my first Harlequin Super Romance with the dreamy sort of recollection reserved for fond childhood memories. Wait! Don’t walk away yet!  Give me a chance...
                That first romance I read was called The Gift of Summer by Lynda Trent. It was published in March 1989, so I must have read it that summer.  I was in high school and that summer I lay across my bed while the scent of gardenias floated through the window screen on a warm breeze, listening to Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue album, reading The Gift of Summer. I don’t remember how long it took me to read, but I can’t imagine it took very long because I do remember I couldn’t put it down.  
It felt amazing. I really can’t explain it. There’s something about Harlequin’s trademark Happily Ever After which I still can’t get enough of. I’ll admit, my life is far from warm and fuzzy, so at the end of a particularly trying day I take comfort in knowing that a HEA is only a few chapters away.         
You see, romance isn’t what you think it, not anymore. Gone are the days of bodice rippers, cruel heroes, and heroines who really are too stupid to live. Romance is no longer about damsels in distress and overly-alpha males. Today’s romances are smart, sassy, and sexy. The heroines are strong, independent women and the heroes, while still alpha males, are caring and sensitive. The story lines are complex and intelligent.
Ok, now is when I get crucified. It’s already happened when I expressed these same opinions on a writer’s forum, but here goes...
My only complaint-- the titles of some romances make me cringe. They are the only reason I won’t read a print romance in public (thank God for the Kindle app on my iPhone).  I’m not the only reader who feels this way. Check out the article at the end of this post. It’s common knowledge that romances are often looked down on and I think some titles may contribute to this.
Of course, covers in the past weren’t helpful in representing romance as an intelligent choice for readers, but, thankfully covers rarely show Fabio lookalikes (yes, he was the first romance cover hero) and women with heaving bosoms submitting to their every need.
Harlequin editors take note: These are my honest opinions, but I still adore your books! I desperately want to write for you and have ever since I read that first book-- please do not relegate me to a life of big R’s!
Now, back to those titles...
A great number of books are now sporting brilliant, witty titles and some lines are more likely to use what I consider to be more creative titles than others, but those aren’t the titles I’m talking about.  I’m talking about what I call the ‘tell-all’ titles. You know, the one’s like The Billionaire’s Mistress’ Secret Baby Scandal or The Emergency Doctor’s Marriage of Convenience to a Midwife. Now, I have been told the reasoning behind this type of title and I have to admit, it is a good one.  Apparently, it’s all down to marketing. Research has shown that there are a large number of readers out there who don’t read loglines or back cover blurbs. They make their choices based on titles alone. They know what they like, be it sheiks or firemen or reunited lovers, and the ‘tell-all’ titles hand a shopper all of the information she or he needs to decide if a book is for them or not.
Ok, fair enough, but in my opinion, some of the titles read like the worded equivalent to Fabio covers, though. Not that my opinion counts for much, especially when it’s up against decades of sales figures, but if I were in charge I’d do things a little different. I would use an imaginative (not at all cringe-worthy) title and a ‘tag cloud’ displaying the pertinent ‘story elements’ on the cover. Because I found a site full of free images (www.dreamstime.com) and because I was looking for a little procrastination, I made a mock-up cover for my current WIP (aimed at the Harlequin American Romance line). Don’t laugh.

This is just a mock-up. I am not pubblished. I only wish I was.

I don’t care about any of that, though. I love romance and what matters most to me is that writing romance is a brilliant way to spark a writing career. I really want to be a Harlequin American Romance author. Now, don’t get me wrong, romance is incredibly difficult to write. Regardless of the rumours, there is not formula for writing romance. There is a format, a set of very strict guidelines which require a very imaginative and disciplined writer able to include the necessary elements of romance without telling the ‘same old story’. I keep at it every day, praying to someday make the cut.
Of course, there does seem to be more opportunity for new writers in romance. I’m not saying it’s easy to get in. It isn’t easy to break into the publishing world no matter the genre.  Romance, however, is one of the few markets with publishers who don’t require authors to have an agent. Aside from my past with Harlequin and their amazing reputation as a publishing house, the fact that they accept unagented submission for most of their lines is a major selling point for me.
                Some writers use romance as a spring board. They write romances to hone their craft (if you can write a strong enough story to be published while sticking to the guidelines, you can write pretty much anything) and learn about the world of publishing, but writing romance is a fantastic career on its own. Harlequin expects around 3-4 books per year from their authors, so it is possible to make a living writing romance. I’d certainly love to give it a try!
There’s also no chance romance will die out. Romance Writers of America has posted some impressive figures on their web site (www.rwa.org) for romance sales in comparison with other genres. According to RWA, in 2009 romance sales totalled $1.36 billion compared with religion/inspirational ($770 million), Mystery ($674 million), science fiction/fantasy ($554 million), and classic literary fiction ($462 million), it’s easy to see that romance is leading the pack in sales and popularity. Even in the light of the recession and the decline of book sales overall romance is holding strong (please see the articles below).  It would seem that career stability as a writer is limited only by a writer’s ability to produce quality manuscripts.
With regards to my own writing, I will continue to work on my literary fiction and magical realism, but my focus will be on romance. I want to write the type of feel-good fiction which has continued to make me happy ever since I read that first book decades ago. I am very devoted to Harlequin. I am a member of the online community where I post regularly, I participated in the Valentine Secrets contest (you’ll find a link for my entry on my ‘Romance’ page), and I follow a number of Harlequin editors and authors on Twitter. I’m addicted, I know. I’ll continue to be an active part of the Harlequin community (it’s such an amazing, supportive place) and I’ll continue to write and submit and keep my fingers crossed, all the while waiting for my Call.
So, please do not judge a book by its cover... or its title. I challenge everyone who reads this post to try at least one Harlequin before you form an opinion of romance. You can even download free ones from Amazon for the Kindle (you can download Kindle for PC for free as well). Ignore the title, authors don’t get to pick their titles, they write the incredible stories, but do read the descriptions. My mother got a big surprise when she downloaded an erotic romance because it was free and she only read the title, she reads inspirational/Christian books! So read the blurb and make sure it isn’t something you’d hate regardless of the writing.
They are fast reads (normally 50-70k words) so you don’t need to devote your life to one. And I don’t know, you may read one and hate it. Or not. Your opinion of what you’ve read is what’s important. It’s vital to both established and aspiring authors to hear what readers think works and what doesn’t in a story. After all, every story may not suit every reader.  Just read one, then come back here and tell me what you thought of it.
I dare you.

Don’t take it from me...

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