Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Warm Holiday Wishes and Quotes of the Season

With Christmas a mere day away, the final countdown has begun. Soon our preparations will become celebrations. Family and friends will gather. Perhaps reindeer hooves will tramp over the roof, but most importantly, we’ll recall the birth of a baby boy in a manger.

I would like wish my blogging friends a very Merry Christmas by sharing more quotes about the holiday.

1. Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~Norman Vincent Peale
2. Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. And to yourself, respect.~ Oren Arnold
3. Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance -- a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved. ~Augusta E. Rundel
4. There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.~Erma Bombeck
5. Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.~ Calvin Coolidge
6. He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. ~Roy L. Smith
7. And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What, he thought, if Christmas doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. ~Dr. Seuss
8. Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ~Mary Ellen Chase
9. Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. ~Laura Ingalls Wilder
10. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.~Dale Evans
11. Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space. ~Dave Barry
12. It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. ~W.T. Ellis
13. A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. ~Garrison Keillor

Thank you, my friends. I’m aware that some of you may not share this holiday. I appreciate your tolerance and I wish you all the best this season.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” ~Clement Clarke Moore


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cookie Traditions

This year marks the 18th year we've been baking Gingerbread Cookie with my childhood best friend and her family. You'd think baking cookies with 7 kids decorating might be a little crazy and I can assure you - it's a LOT crazy.

But over the years my friend and I have developed a great system and the kids have evolved. When the kids were very little we had cookies that were barely decorated, as they grew - along with their imaginations - the cookies become more and more elaborate.

As you can imagine, with a group of 5 boys and 2 girls we've seen our share of beautiful creations that are almost too pretty to eat to the mutants covered with red-hots that burst in the oven. The boys now range from 22 down to 11 and you can bet we've had years with cookie trays full of anatomically correct gingerbread men!

But no matter what they look like in the end, it doesn't matter. We've got a holiday tradition that will last forever in my kids memories. A wholesome day of cookie rolling, cutting and decorating and then eating! And what else would you expect from a waitress at the otherworld diner?

Debora's Gingerbread Men

1 Cup Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1 Cup dark molasses

2 Tbs vinegar

5 Cups flour

1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

Cream butter, salt and sugar. Add egg, molasses and vinegar. Stir in flour, Baking soda and spices. Chill a few hours before rolling out. Roll out to your desired thickness, bake in a 350 degree oven approximately 7 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. Enjoy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Christmas Elf

Every family has their share of Christmas traditions. This year, a new one has been added to our household. My children, thanks to *very reliable* information from their friends at school, have discovered the sport of elf trapping. Yes, evidently if you create a small bed in your room and bait it with a glass of water, crushed crackers (don’t ask) and candy, an elf will come to visit you. With any luck, he’ll eat the treats, fall asleep in the elf bed and you can catch him before he wakes. So far, my children have had no luck snagging the little fella. But he’s made it known that he’s around. He’s left Pez dispensers on the elf beds, tubs of snowman cotton candy, a basement full of green balloons, “Elvis Was Here” written in foil confetti on the kitchen table (yes, our elf’s name is Elvis), and last but not least, he’s barricaded the children in their rooms using tacky purple and orange garlands like crime scene tape across their doors. What will the sneaky little guy in green think of next? Who knows? But the kids sure are enjoying his nocturnal visits, even though it means mom is not getting much sleep these days. Thankfully, Elvis goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, not to return again until next year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Otherworldly Christmas visitors

One of the most interesting aspects of the winter holidays are the ideas of intervention in the lives of mortals by otherworldly visitors at Christmas. Whether those visitors are ghosts, angels or Santa Claus himself, magical characters abound at Christmas.

Some of my favorite otherworldly characters are Marley's ghost and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The best Marley's ghost I've ever seen in movie form was Sir Alec Guinness in the movie musical of Scrooge. He was creepy and funny all at the same time. When Scrooge cowered away from Marley's ghost it was easy to see why.

The ghosts of Christmas Present and Future tend to look the same. Christmas Present is a jolly, huge fellow and Christmas future wears a black shroud. Moviemakers have taken some license with the Ghost of Christmas Past though. CP has been played as a whipcord thin young man, a pure young woman, an older woman in fancy dress and a number of other ways. I think it's because Dickens himself is very vague. He describes a figure both young and old with long white hair but the bloom of youth in its face. A thing with one arm then many arms, ever changing.

I really love Dickens' imagination and his ability to create these incredibly memorable characters that have so captured human spirit and memory that Christmas isn't really Christmas without them. I can't imagine a Christmas without watching the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney or the classic Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol.

Another holiday favorite otherworldly character for me didn't originate in a book, but in a movie. Who can forget Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class from It's a Wonderful Life?

When George Bailey thinks the world would be a better place without him and he'd be more valuable to his family dead, Clarence steps in to save George. And he not only saves him by fishing him out of the cold river into which George jumped, but Clarence saves George's very soul. He shows George how the world would have been different had George never been born. The world without George Bailey is a cold, unhappy place.

As Clarence tells George "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" George learns an important lesson as a result of his otherworldly Christmas visitor and so does the audience.

And let's not forget the grandest otherworldly visitor of them all: Kris Kringle. Santa Claus. Jolly Old St. Nick. He's made an appearance in Elf, Santa Clause and any number of other films, but the grandaddy of Santa stories is the Miracle on 34th Street. Miracle is both a book and a movie, but I remember the movie best. There have been several versions. I adore the original with Edmund Gwenn but I also liked the for TV version featuring Sebastian Cabot as Kris Kringle.

Whichever version you love best, the message is that even when things are hard, you should have faith and believe because when you believe, good things happen.

That is the common theme in these stories of otherworldly visitors at Christmas. That somehow goodness can triumph. That goodwill toward men can be carried with us throughout the year if we just believe. Kindness and mercy can change even the hardest sinner amongst us into a good person. It's why when I watch these movies or read the books that I get misty eyed and my throat closes. Hope shines through even the murkiest nighttime of the soul and can light the future for us all.

So, as Tiny Tim said, "God bless us, every one."

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's In Your Basement?

I’m currently enrolled in Bob Mayer’s WARRIOR WRITERS. I highly recommend this course, but I warn you, there is a LOT of thinking involved. The parts of WARRIOR WRITERS that spoke most directly to me were those about fear and courage. One of the things he says is, “Your blind spot is wrapped around your deepest fears. A successful individual doesn’t ignore fear, but rather faces it, plans for it, and factors it into their life with courage.” Much different than the way I’ve always lived my life. I’ve mostly ignored fear, hoping it would go away. Until last spring.

It’s no secret that I had a sort of breakdown. Depression and anxiety took over until all I wanted to do was sit in front of the television and vegetate. Not like me. Not like me at all. What happened was that all the fear I’d collected from a childhood of abuse refused to stay in the box I’d shoved it in. Like the proverbial Pandora’s Box, it opened and all the stuff I seriously didn’t want to face flew out. I had to face my past.

It was, and is, hard. On the other hand, I’m a much stronger, happier, less haunted person because of it. Facing fear, even planning for it, not a bad way to live life. And maybe why I write paranormal. I can defeat the fictional monsters.

The creatures aren’t all bad, though. I’m currently working on a manuscript with a mythical creature who is anything but bad. It’s much lighter than my usual work too. (I’d appreciate any crossed fingers, toes, paws, claws, etc., as I finish it up and start looking for a publisher.)

Not that I’ll never write dark again. I love to play on the dark side — as long as there are the funny places to balance it all out.

Honestly, I think balance is the secret to a good life. Now if I could just find that balance…

So search the shadows and face the monsters lurking there. I promise, they’re more ethereal than corporeal; more bark than bite, to use a cliché.

Hope you and yours have/are having a wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beating a Dead Book

So you've written a book. Let's assume it's a book one of the staffers here might write, a genre romance with paranormal or suspense elements -- or both! Let's also assume you've got a good grasp of the market and the English language and you send the manuscript to the right places, so to speak. You start with appropriate agents and move on to appropriate mainstream editors. You aren't sending your paranormal romance to nonfiction publishers and your manuscript isn't riddled with obvious mechanical errors. Your query letter has even been approved by people other than your critique parters.

This probably describes a lot of us. We write it, we know pretty much what we're doing, and we send it out, where we also know pretty much what we're doing.

The problem comes when your manuscript gets rejected everywhere and becomes, in essence, dead in the water.

What do you do with a story nobody wants to publish? In particular, and borrowing RWA's definition here, what does the career-focused romance author do with a book she can't get published by a standard advance paying publisher or even that her agent can't help her get published?

Clearly one thing you do if you're career-focused is start your next book, but you still have this manuscript that could be working harder for you.

A) Do you assume it flopped because it sucks and shelve it? I mean, really. We can't judge our own work. Why would everyone reject it if it had any redeeming qualities?

B) Do you revise it (assuming you have come up with or received worthy revision ideas) and send it back to NY? Granted, this is a gimme if anyone asked to see revisions, but if they didn't, the situation becomes trickier. Especially if revisions mean you postpone your new book.

C) Do you consider non-standard opportunities for romance fiction like small publishers that don't pay advances (carefully researched, of course) or the many varieties of self publishing cropping up here and there (even more carefully researched)? Keeping in mind that the smaller or more self-like the publisher, the more of the marketing, promotional, financial and other non-writerly burdens you'll have to shoulder.

It's up to every career-focused romance author to decide for herself or himself how much to beat a dead book -- or if the book's even dead yet. Does it sink like a stone when you throw it in the pond or is that as much a myth as all books that strike out in NY do it because they suck?

What do you do with manuscripts that seem dead in the water?

Jody W. *

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New market listing

From Obsessed Writers Newsletter.

Spinetingler Magazine

http://www.spinetin node/4

Focus: Fictional stories

Needs: Mystery, thriller, suspense, supernatural, ghost story, love, fantasy or science fictions stories from 1500-600 words

Pays: $25 USD

Email submissions to: spinetinglermag@ mysterybookspot. com

Friday, December 11, 2009

For the Cannibal Who Needs A Boost

Advertising rules the world, or at least serves as a well recognized figurehead in capitalistic cultures like that of the United States. Sometimes a good product is cursed with a poor marketing campaign. Sometimes a horrible product is blessed with an advertising team that could sell sand in Saudi Arabia. Then there are the times when an absurd product is matched with an advertising campaign that can only be the result of an overwrought marketing intern laden with too many Heinekens and not enough sleep.

As an example of that final category, I submit the following:

This is not a bag of blood. No, no. This is the newest energy drink designed specifically to cater to those caught up in the vampire craze.

Marketed as “the world’s first synthetic blood beverage,” this limited edition drink is intentionally designed to mimic the color, look, consistency, and nutritional composition of actual human blood. If that’s not enough to satisfy the fanged enthusiast lurking within you, the drink, sold as a Blood Energy Potion by Urban Collector, is packaged in a re-sealable transfusion style blood bag.

So, what do you think? Has marketing gone too far in delivering a drink that all but tastes like actual human blood? Or is Urban Collector and its marketing team merely responding to a need in the market? (I'm really hoping someone tries to argue that there is colossal void in the energy drink landscape that can only be filled by bagged faux-blood. If someone can convincingly make that case, I'll order a bag of Blood Energy Potion myself!)


Monday, December 7, 2009

Supernatural Love Triangles

I’m sure I’m not the only person to notice the trend that’s been going on in paranormal romance for the past decade or more. It’s the interspecies love triangle. Specifically the vampire, the werewolf, and the human female. Most recently we’ve all seen it in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series with the fanged Edward, fury Jacob and conflicted human Bella. But the situation has been around for awhile. Take Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series that started out with Anita the (then) human, Jean-Claude the vampire and Richard the werewolf. Then there’s the series I’m reading right now, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is torn between a vampire and a shapeshifter. Actually, Sookie is caught in a love pentagon. She’s got two weres sniffing at her skirts (Sam and Alcide) and two vamps wanting to exchange two fanged hickies (Bill and Eric). What’s a girl to do?

So what’s up with this? While all the players involved are human at some point, we’re definitely talking apples and oranges. Or more like wolves, coyotes and toy poodles. Sure, they’re all in the canine family but you don’t find them interbreeding. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good vampire/human romance and there’s a certain animal magnetism to the werewolf/human romance, but I’m not sure where the idea came to intermingle all three. But if we’re going to do it, why not have a Gozdilla/King Kong/human triangle? Oh, wait. I think the Japanese already did that one. How about the Creature from the Black Lagoon/The Loch Ness Monster/human triangle? What? That doesn’t do it for you? Hmmm. Maybe the fanged and the fury is as far as it goes.

Or maybe not. If you could create your own supernatural love triangle, who (or what) would the lovers be?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Dasher, On Dancer, Onward to Christmas! 13 Quotes to Enliven Your Preparations

Now that Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, National Novel Writing Month and the start of December have come and gone, I’m thinking about the most anticipated holiday of the year -- Christmas. . .

And I’m actually perspiring.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, but there’s such a multitude of preparations: gifts to purchase, packages to wrap, cards to send, trees to decorate, cookies to bake, dinners to create, parties to plan, people to visit. It can be overwhelming and I’d like to help you with that, if only in a small way.

Just as radio stations play Christmas carols to put you in a festive mood, I’d like to share some Christmas quotes to ready you for the festivities ahead.

Header by Samulli

1. Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts. ~Janice Maeditere
2. I do like Christmas on the whole. ... In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year. ~E.M. Forster
3. Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide-open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all of history because it has meant the pouring of healing into a sick world -- a healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for 2,000 years. Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart. ~George M. Adams
4. Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people once a year. ~Victor Borge
5. Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ~Mary Ellen Chase
6. Peace on Earth will come to stay when we live Christmas every day.~Helen Steiner Rice
7. Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall. ~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas
8. There are three stages of man: he believes in Santa Claus; he does not believe in Santa Claus; he is Santa Claus. ~Bob Phillips
9. There has been only one Christmas -- the rest are anniversaries. ~W.J. Cameron
10. I wish we could put some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month. ~Harlan Miller
11. Christmas reminds us we are not alone. We are not unrelated atoms, bouncing and ricocheting amid aliens, but are a part of something, which holds and sustains us. As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same. Christmas shows us the ties that bind us together, threads of love and caring, woven in the simplest and strongest way within the family. ~Donald E. Westlake
12. The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.~Burton Hillis
13. Keep your Christmas-heart open all the year round. ~Jessica Archmint

What are your thoughts about Christmas as it quickly approaches? Are you excited? Apprehensive? Do you have many dozens of tasks to complete? What helps you wade through them?