My neighborhood has a long-standing tradition of lining our streets with luminaries on the Saturday night before Christmas. A few stalwart volunteers put out hundreds of white bags filled with sand during the afternoon, and then a few more people go out at dusk with their trusty lighters and light up as many as they can. Block by block, street by street. The result is magical - a line of flickering white lanterns up and down the street, Christmas lights on all the houses, neighbor talking to neighbor in the gathering dark.
Peace on earth. Goodwill toward fellow men. For a little while, anyway. :-) Christmas traditions remind us to take a little time and appreciate what we have, where we've come from, and hopefully where we're going.
Do you have any special traditions for the holiday?
Saturday, December 22, 2007
My neighborhood has a long-standing tradition of lining our streets with luminaries on the Saturday night before Christmas. A few stalwart volunteers put out hundreds of white bags filled with sand during the afternoon, and then a few more people go out at dusk with their trusty lighters and light up as many as they can. Block by block, street by street. The result is magical - a line of flickering white lanterns up and down the street, Christmas lights on all the houses, neighbor talking to neighbor in the gathering dark.
Friday, December 21, 2007
For the last couple of years, I've done a little bit of fundraising for The Freedom Playground Foundation, an organization formed with the goal of creating the first barrier-free, all-access playground for the handicapped children of Tampa.
The Freedom Playground is the brainchild of my neighbor, Stefani Busansky, whose oldest daughter Sarah was born with cerebral palsy. Freedom Playground began as a dream, and it is about to become a reality, all because of some wonderful people who have donated both time and money into making it so.
My feeble efforts at fundraising have raised only a few hundred dollars a year, until this year. This year, I want to give a very special thank you to a wonderful woman who, out of the goodness of her heart, just donated a total of $50,000.00 to the Freedom Playground Foundation. While this extremely generous, very kind soul has asked to remain anonymous, I'd like her to know that what she's done is about to make some very special children very happy. The legacy of her generosity will live on for years and years in the hearts of children who, because of their disabilities, often have a much harder time just "being kids".
So for those of you out there who think that angels don't exist, think again. :) Merry Christmas to all the quiet heroes out there, who put their money or their time where their mouth is!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
My brother Jon was a guy who was passionate about fishing, about partying, and about women. Combine all three of those things and Jonny was in heaven, which is where (I can only hope) he is right now.
In our family of five, Jon was the only boy, and the sibling closest to me in age. One of my favorite memories is how - when he'd teased me to the point where I'd finally lose my temper, which he loved to do - I'd chase him down the hall to his bedroom and he'd jump into bed and pull the covers of his head, shouting and laughing that the blanket was his "shield of defense" as I did my best to pummel him senseless (hey, I was a little girl and he was my older brother - I couldn't have hurt him if I wanted to). No matter how mad I'd get at him, we'd both end up laughing over his very verbal, and very ridiculous mock defense.
As an adult, Jonny wasn't perfect. He was often unreliable, sometimes a bit shady, and always drank too much, but he'd give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. He had a big heart, and zest for life. That zest for life is, unfortunately, what eventually what did him in, and he died far too young of chronic liver failure. He knew it was coming for a couple of years, and he became very, very ill near the end, but he wasn't bitter. He'd lived his life the way he wanted - he'd traveled all over the world only to settle in his beloved Key West, where he could fish and laze away his days with pretty girls and laid-back people like himself.
He died nine years ago today, just before Christmas. So today I'm remembering him, and I hope a few other people do, too. Even though I had a chance to say goodbye right before he died, I'd like him to know one more thing: I've finally forgiven him for reading my diary when I was thirteen. :)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I just wanted to say thank you to the warm and wonderful women of the New Suburb Beautiful Book Club, who invited me to share in their monthly fun last night. I had such a great time! Special thanks to Jane, who spent all day cooking up a true Southern feast for fifteen: peppered pork tenderloin, black-eyed peas with ham, green beans and potatoes, roasted pears and cornbread baked with maple syrup. It was DEE-lish, particularly the cornbread. :)
I knew it'd be a fun evening when Jane met me at the door wearing a tree skirt. As in tree skirt - the skirt that goes around the bottom of a tree. She'd pinned it on herself so neatly that it actually worked, flocking and all! It was the book club's Christmas gathering, and all the members brought wrapped books to exchange. Wine and conversation on the patio in a mild Florida night (sorry to all you folks in the great White North!), laughter and teasing among women who obviously knew each other well, a chance to get to know some of my own neighbors better.
It was truly a lovely, fun evening. Thanks, ladies!
Saturday, December 08, 2007
As much as I hate to admit it, my husband was right again. :-(
One of our favorite TV shows is Medium, which stars Patricia Arquette as a woman who sees spirits (it's based on the life of real-life psychic Allison DuBois). My husband has told me many times that Ms. Arquette and I have a lot in common - longish blonde hair, curvy figure, even a slightly crooked tooth which gives her a teeny bit of a lopsided smile similar to mine. Anyway, last season Patricia Arquette got a new hairdo - she cut her long blonde hair into a short, straight bob which looked fabulous on her.
"You'd look great with that haircut!" says my husband.
"But it's so short," says I, "and besides, she's got hair and makeup people."
Over the next few months, the debate continued. I was, in fact, tired of my long hair, but very leery of cutting it - it's been a part of me so long I was worried I'd end up like the Biblical character of Samson, who lost his strength when he lost his hair. I was ready for a change, but hesitant to walk into a salon, hand my guy a picture of an actress and say, "Here, make me look like this."
But, veteran watcher of "What Not To Wear" makeovers that I am, I knew that a great hair stylist can work miracles. I did my homework and found a "master stylist" here in town (yes, there are different levels of hair stylists depending on their training) who recommended a consultation before the actual cut - you come in, talk to him, let him evaluate your style and your "look", then go away and think about it before you come back for the cut. Suited me perfectly.
So, I went for my consultation and let him evaluate me. And what did he recommend? A short, straight bob just like this:
What a surprise, hm? :-)
So now Patricia Arquette and I kinda look like sisters, and I ain't complainin'. I'm still getting used to it, but I'm liking it better every day (no pictures of me yet, but it looks just like this, I promise).
Change is good, but having your husband be right when it comes to your hair style is a little weird. I mean, most men don't notice these things, do they? (My husband insists on disclaimer here: he's a Marine, a manly man of manly pursuits, and he never notices anybody's hair except mine. Feel better, honey?)
So have you ever had a haircut that you just loved? How about one you hated?
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Alas, it's finally happened. The inevitable awkward cocktail party conversation I've heard about so many times, but hoped never to experience. The one where you're chatting away with a woman you barely know, but she knows you're a published author because her husband knows your husband so she wants to hear the details. "Great!" you think, "a new reader!" You try to sum it up your book in a nutshell, explain that it's available in the bookstores (It is? Yes, it is. You mean like Borders and Barnes&Noble? Yes, like Borders and Barnes&Noble), and then you drop a coy little comment about your literary agent and take another sip of your drink.
So now it's her turn, and you're listening to how she's had a book stuck in her head forever, and how she knows it would be a huge success if she could get around to writing it. How she knows the perfect artist to do the illustrations, and how Nora Roberts has got nothing on her. And then, a question that took me completely by surprise: "How much does it cost to get published?"
My first thought, I swear, was "Is she asking how much I spend on paper and office supplies?" And then I realized that she was assuming I was self-published; that I'd paid someone to publish my book. While I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing or print-on-demand publishing, what surprised me the most was that it obviously hadn't occurred to her that anyone could get published any other way.
"I don't know how much it costs to get published," I said, very politely. It wasn't this woman's fault that she'd misunderstood. "My publisher paid me," I told her. "They bought the book."
Her eyebrows went sky high, and I could see the skepticism in her face. No more questions about publishing, and she immediately changed the subject. I was left feeling like I'd said something wrong, and even though we chatted for a while longer, I was relieved when she moved on to chat with someone else.
It was weird. It was awkward. How strange not to be believed when you've achieved something that you worked so hard for.
My husband claims that you're never a hero in your hometown, and I think he's right. I think that woman at the cocktail party made an immediate assumption that I couldn't possibly be a bona fide author simply because I move in the same circles she did. How could the woman who shops at the same grocery store she does be a published author? Ah, well. Her book is still in her head, while mine is on the shelves. Clean up on Aisle 3.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
No, I don't have a Ph.D. (unless you count the one I'm married to), but according to a recent Harvard study of 16,000 women published in the journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, I don't need one - all you have to do is look at my waist/hip ratio to tell I'm a freakin' genius! LOL
According to this gloriously wonderful study (and I mean that sincerely), women with a small waist and large hips are smarter, and have smarter babies. It seems the fat stored in the hips is rich in Omega 3, which is serious brain food. In addition, it appears that men are genetically hard wired to be attracted to curvier women (that loud groan you hear is my husband, tiredly repeating "I've been telling you that for years!").
So scootch on over, J-Lo, and lemme take a seat next to you, girlfriend! I don't mind if it's a squeeze... the junk in our trunks has finally been vindicated!
(To find our your waist/hip ratio, measure your waist and hips. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement, and hope you come up with a number below .7.)
Bottom line (pun intended), the eggheads at Harvard have proven once and for all that an hourglass figure gives women a genetic advantage over the size 4 Kate Moss/Twiggy/Beanpoles of the world. Now excuse me while I go eat a cookie. :)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Today is my sister Pam's birthday! She's forbidden me from ever revealing her age, so I won't, except to say that she's older than me, and always will be. LOL (What year were you born in again, Sis? I can't remember.) ;-)
Anyway, my sister Pam is what you officially call a "hoot". (Seriously, it's a word we Southerners use all the time!) She's bubbly and upbeat and energetic, and she LOVES a party or a practical joke. She's also impossible when it comes to presents... even when you clearly mark a gift "Do Not Open Until Your Birthday", she can't be trusted.
Hence my phone call at 6p last night when she called to tell me how cute she looked in the gift I bought her! (the gift she wasn't supposed to open until this morning) *sigh*
Happy Birthday, Pammie! I love you!
Saturday, November 17, 2007
A great, big shout-out of CONGRATULATIONS! to my dear friend, Carla Hughes, who found out yesterday that her historical/inspirational romance, The Heart Beckons, will be released by Harlequin Inspirational in 2009. Carla won the Golden Heart for this manuscript last July, and everyone who knows her knew it was just a matter of time before some intelligent editor snapped it up! Melissa Endlich at Harlequin is obviously one smart cookie. :)
Nobody deserves this more than Carla, and I'm so PROUD of her. She's done something not many people have been able to do - write a good, solid historical romance in a fascinating time period (ancient Rome), using the growth of Christianianity itself as the fulcrum for a love story. I can't wait to see it on the shelves!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Your star-quality is turned up to the maximum this year (woohoo!). On the positive side, you will be both highly attractive and highly charismatic.Well. Break out the red carpet, hm? LOL
A great birthday horoscope, but I learned a long time ago not to believe everything I read. :) I'll be happy to be fairly attractive and somewhat interesting this year.
HOWEVER, I saved my birthday horoscope from the year 2000, and this is what it said THEN:
You are dynamic, inquisitive and very serious where romance is concerned. You are a natural writer, psychologist. You travel more than most. One day you could write a novel.Seriously, that's what it said. Maybe I should start looking for the red carpet after all, hm? :)
Monday, November 12, 2007
I went to a big, fat Greek wedding this weekend, and I now understand why they call them that (LOVED that movie, btw). I'd never been in a Greek Orthodox church before, or heard a Greek service performed. The church was beautiful, the walls covered with distinctive Byzantine-style iconography, like the picture at left. The service was VERY long, replete with rituals I'd never heard of before, like the "crowning" of both bride and group, and a formal processional around the altar three times. The priest actually sang most of the words to the service, which made it a bit hard to understand. Very opulent, very ritualistic, very long... very BIG. I estimated about 250 people were there.
There was also a moment where I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing - a lovely young woman began a solo of Ave Maria just before the wedding started. Not only did the organist make a mistake and start playing from the wrong piece of sheet music halfway through the song (causing the poor woman to have to start over), it seemed all the men in the audience were taken by a fit of coughing at the same time. So this nice young woman is trying to sing the gorgeously beautiful, spiritual song, and all you can hear is *cough, cough*, *wrong note*, *cough, cough*. None of the women were coughing, just the men - it was so odd it was funny. :)
The reception was very formal - the bride and groom were whisked off in a Rolls Royce for wedding pictures while everyone else drank and impatiently eyed the menu: filet mignon AND chicken stuffed with feta and cranberries. Best of luck to Tom and Stephanie, who are honeymooning in Spain, then taking a cruise around the Mediterranean. Opah!!
Friday, November 09, 2007
Did I mention that my next two books are already listed on Amazon? Neither of them have a cover yet, but they're both already available for pre-order!! A MATCH MADE IN HELL and WEDDINGS FROM HELL are out next summer, one month apart!
I'm enjoying the fall weather too much to wish for summer just yet, but knowing I'll have two more books on the bookstore shelves will definitely give me something to look forward to. :)
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
I'm tickled to announce that the blog kept by the fabulous editors over at Avon is up for an award! The Avon Romance Blog is one of 10 finalists in the Best Literature Blog category of the 2007 Weblog Awards, the world's largest blog competition!
Early last year, Avon editors Carrie Ferron, Lucia Macro, Erika Tsang, Lyssa Keusch, May Chen, Esi Sogah and Tessa Woodward began a really fun blogsite all about books and the people who write them. Frequent guest bloggers include authors Stephanie Laurens, Julianne McLean, Julia Quinn, Dixie Cash and Mary Castillo (and me. :)
I think it's super cool that they're up for an award already, but they need votes to win! If you're reading this, do me a huge favor and VOTE for the Avon Romance Blog! All it takes is one click! You can vote once a day per computer through end of polls, which is tomorrow!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
I got word today that I'll be getting the copyedits for my next book pretty soon. A Match Made In Hell is in the very competent and grammatically correct hands of Peter Weissman, the same man who did the copyedits on my first book, Dead Girls Are Easy. While I can't say I'm thrilled about confirming copyedits, I AM thrilled about what it means, because it means the book is in production. It means I'll get to see the cover sometime in the next couple of months, and then galleys (Advance Reader Copies) will be produced a month or so after that. The actual release date for A Match Made In Hell is June 24, 2008.
I just finished copyedits for Weddings From Hell, the paranormal anthology I'm doing with fellow authors Maggie Shayne, Kathryn Smith and Jeaniene Frost. The release date for that is May 27, 2008.
Two more Nicki Styx ghost tales, published one month apart, for a total of three. It's a beautiful thing. LOL Having been through this process once, you'd think it'd be less exciting this time, but it isn't.
To top it off, both A Match Made In Hell and Weddings From Hell have joined Dead Girls Are Easy on Amazon, and are already available for pre-order! Woohoo!
Monday, November 05, 2007
What must it be like to be a nineteen year old boy, and a king? A young man, just entering your prime, raised from birth to know that you are the last in a line of kings stretching back over centuries?
What must it be like to then fall ill, and die, knowing your family's royal dynasty ends with you?
Maybe I'm strange (ok, I'm strange), but I find those types of questions fascinating. King Tutankhamun, boy king, entombed with riches beyond imagining: precious collars, inlaid necklaces and bracelets, rings, amulets, a ceremonial apron, sandals, sheaths for his fingers and toes, his coffin and death mask of pure gold. Seven coffins, actually - four nested boxes, or shrines, of gilded wood, then three mummy-shaped coffins—two gilded and one of solid gold—all inside a red quartzite sarcophagus. What must his life have been like all those centuries ago, when he was a living, breathing boy/king? The walls of his tomb are filled with heiroglyphs that tell his tale, so we know he was a hunter, a warrior, a young husband. Now they've even done a CT scan of his face, and come up with what he actually looked like. Exotic, with almond-shaped eyes and an elegantly shaped skull that marked him as the last surviving member of a a family who had ruled Egypt for generations.
Look at him... doesn't putting a face on him make you curious about what kind of person he was? Was he kind? Was he cruel? Did he love his young wife or was it a marriage of convenience? (History always excites me, because it makes my imagination come alive - I often wish I'd gone into archeology. Except for the heat, the sand, the often difficult working conditions, and the bugs.) :)
Anyway, I think Tutanhkhamun was very much loved, and very much mourned. He was buried with such great wealth, such great care that he still exists, in a way, thousands of years after he died. I also like to think it was his young wife who left him a winecup engraved with, "May you, who love Thebes, spend millions of years with your face to the north wind, and may your eyes see joy."
You can read all about him in this great article from National Geographic.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
It's no secret to anyone who knows me that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I don't know why, really, except that it's a chance to be a kid again. To be silly, let loose and have a little fun. A time to get the adrenaline pumping a little, but still feel safe.
The house is all decorated, I've got eight bags of candy (ok, ok - I admit it! Seven and a half bags of candy... I'm eating M&M's as I write this!) But do you know what Halloween is really all about?
The early Celts called it Samhain (pronounced "Sow-wen"), meaning "Summer's End". One of their four main festivals of light, all tied to the seasons, Samhain was a joyous celebration of the harvest. A wild night of feasting and plenty around the bonfire, as the Celts enjoyed the fruits of their labor before the harshness of winter. The Celts believed it was a night when the veil between the living and the dead was thin, and for this reason, it was also a night to honor their dead. In one of my earlier, unpublished novels called DRUID MOON, I wrote about how I envisioned Samhain might be. You can read it here if you're interested. :)
Anyway, the idea that Halloween night is the night when the veil was thin has stuck with us through the years, though the emphasis has changed from honoring the dead into something much more spooky. Lighted pumpkins with leering faces were derived from the carved turnip lamps peasants used to make to frighten away spirits. Early costumes were worn to confuse any curious ghostly wanderers, so they couldn't follow a poor, luckless serf home.
It wasn't until the early thirties, and the advent of silent movies, that Halloween as we know it came about. The silver screen ushered in a new era of spookiness with classics like Nosferatu and Phantom of the Opera. The 40's and 50's gave us Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price even Abbott and Costello... creep shows were hot, and horror movies were at the top of their game. All of this fueling America's fire for a little ghoulish fun on Halloween.
Fun, isn't it?
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Halloween isn't here yet, and I've more ghost stories from my readers left to tell! Here's the story of a "ladies man" who still likes to peek, as told by Pam:
Years ago, I dated a man off and on for about 8 months and because he wasn't "special" to me, I never even mentioned him to my family. Unfortunately, he met a ghastly end. It seems he was quite the playboy in town and also came from a very well heeled family. Prior to my dating him, he'd dated a local woman who worked as a bank teller in one of the downtown Tampa banks. She was hopelessly in love with him and, in fact, left her husband for this man. This was sadly unrequited love on her part, however, as the man in question never had any intention of marrying her. She called him one day to ask him to stop by her house after work. What happened then shocked the very core of Tampa society. In the hallway outside her bedroom she shot the man and then took her own life.
Now, fast forward about 20 years. My sister and brother-in-law, newly married at the time, rented a small home in South Tampa prior to buying their home. Very strange things happened in this home from the time they moved in. My brother-in-law's daughter had a strange encounter whereby she was certain someone was in the bedroom or outside in the hallway when she spent the night with them. After that, and not knowing this story, I stayed at their home while my sister and brother-in-law went away for the weekend. After putting my nephews to bed, I took a shower and several times the bathroom door opened....I got out of the shower each time, grabbing a towel, thinking my nephews were playing tricks on me only to discover each time that they were sound asleep. I mentioned it to my sister later and she said her step-daughter had had some of these same strange things happen to her. After a while, my sister began to feel increasingly uncomfortable in the house and one day was mentioning to the next door neighbor that she felt strange in this house. The neighbor looked at her and said "well, you know there was a murder/suicide in this house, don't you?" She, in fact, did not know this and was stunned that the realtor hadn't revealed this morbid fact. Being the investigator she is, she went to the Public Library and looked up the microfiche on the story and discovered its ghostly roots. She called me at work to tell me about it and mentioned the "socialite's" name. I almost screamed! I told her that this was a man I'd dated many, many years ago and that I very much recalled when this took place as it was only about a year after I'd dated him. I had no idea that the house they were renting was the scene of the crime and she had no idea that the man murdered there was someone I'd dated!
This is a story I can vouch for, because I know the people involved in the story personally.
The sister who rented the house that was the scene of the murder/suicide? That was me. :)
We were out of that house ASAP, but I saved the newspaper articles I found on microfiche at the library. Creepy, sad and true story.
Monday, October 29, 2007
I know I promised more ghost stories, but I wanted to share some shots from my Halloween party this weekend. We had such a great time, and some of my friends had such great costumes! A peacock, a Greek goddess, a Renaissance woman, a belly dancer, a nerd, some hippies, a Playboy bunny and the Queen of Hearts, even an alien skater rat (at least that's what Ed said he was).
Anyway, here's a quick slideshow of the fun:
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I promised to share ghost stories with you this week, so here's ghost story #2, from Pamela:
I thought it would be fun to spend the last night of our Arizona road trip vacation, this past August, in a renovated 193o's motor court on historic Route 66. The place has cabins, plus an old caboose on the property for guests to spend the night in. The caboose is said to be haunted, and well, that sounded like fun so I booked it. Past guests have reported seeing the ghost of a conductor, hearing whispering voices, or seeing flickering lights. Sounded cool to me.
As soon as we got there, I was sorry I hadn't booked the Marriott. We were exhausted from our week on the road with 4 kids, and the caboose was a little on the creepy side. Since only 5 could sleep in the caboose, my husband took a regular room in a cabin across the driveway. The kids were given a choice: stay in the so-called haunted caboose with mommy, or the regular room with Dad. Only the eldest went with Dad. My youngest child slept with me in the main part of the caboose, and the two middle children were thrilled with their bunks built high up in the cupola.
A few minutes after midnight, I was sound asleep when out of nowhere a force slammed around my ankles and feet. My eyes flew open. The feeling was as real as if two powerful hands grabbed and held me. I could see the room--there was nothing there. My mind was spinning with shock and and honestly, a little bit of anger. Flickering lights are fine, but this thing was touching me! In that second I felt myself being dragged toward the end of the bed. I tried to pull away but I couldn't move.
Just as suddenly as it started, it was over. I jerked my feet up to the middle of the bed, and turned on the light and TV. More than anything I wanted to make a run for my husband's cabin, but I knew that waking up my three children for a ghost evacuation would terrify them, in ways that could frighten them at night for years. I'd also lose all credibility for ever helping them through "silly" childhood fears from that point on.
One of the hardest things I've ever done as a mother was to brave out the rest of that night in the caboose. I spent the next 4 hours sitting in bed with the light on watching Star Trek reruns, before allowing myself to drift off for a short hour's sleep just before dawn (with my feet tucked well up under me!) I got up at 5:30AM, woke my husband, packed up the kids, and we got a very early start home.
Spooky, huh? I think I'd stick with Holiday Inns from now on, Pamela! :) Thanks for sharing your story, and I hope others are enjoying it as much as I did!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I've been invited to be the "guest judge" this week in a month-long Halloween writing contest over on Romance Novel TV. If you haven't discovered this cool site yet, you need to get yourselves on over there! (Exclusive video interviews with your favorite authors, great contests, and a really fun bunch of crazy women who know how to keep things interesting.) Anyway, the contest is being hosted by Avon author Kathryn Caskie, and features a different guest judge each week. Being asked to be a guest judge this week means that I also got to choose this week's theme, so I chose to throw a virtual Halloween party! All week long, posters can post writing samples with a Halloween-related theme, Halloween pictures, Halloween recipes... you get the idea! It's really simple... all you have to do is post! Here's the official info on the contest from the Romance Novel TV website:
Each week the guest judge (this week that would be me!) will choose 2 winners. One winner will receive a box of Halloween chocolates (made especially for the contest by The Nut Shoppe), a Waldenbooks/Borders gift card and a selection of coverflats including Avon author Kathy Caskie's newest cover for How to Propose to a Prince! Our other winner will win a 10 page critique by our guest judge! (um... did I mention that would be ME?) :)
How to Enter: (aka the "fine print") Go to Romance Novel TV and leave a post under the thread called "Week 4 Contest~ Share your Halloween Stories to win!" If you post under this thread and tell your story, you are in the running to win the chocolates and gift cards. The most interesting, scary, unique, horrifying or funny story of the week wins. Just keep the weekly theme in mind.
If you wish to be considered for the critique of your first ten manuscript pages 1) you cannot already be published in book-length fiction, and 2) a release, supplied to each weekly winner, must be signed before the guest author will read or critique your work. Lastly, 3) at the start of your posts, please begin by typing AA to indicate Aspiring Author. (Note: Guest authors cannot be bribed. It's against the rules.) DARN!
Please keep to a word limit of 1000 words and content to a PG-13 level.
So there you have it. It's a contest, and all you have to do is post. If you're an aspiriting author, you get an extra added bonus in that you can post in the hopes of winning a critique. Come by and poke around on the Romance Novel TV message board. People are posting stories, Halloween memories, pictures of their favorite Halloween costumes. It's fun, and it goes on all week. The winners will be chosen on Saturday, October 27th. Hope to see you there!
Monday, October 22, 2007
I had a very difficult time choosing a winner for the 3rd Annual "Tell Me Your Ghost Story" contest, because the stories I got this year were just too cool! I get goosebumps every time I read them, so I had to choose based on the one that gave me the biggest goosebumps! I'll post the top three stories here on my blog over the next three days, so you can see for yourself how hard it was to choose.
However, somebody had to win - congratulations to Betty R., who will be receiving a DVD of the movie, "Ghost", and a yummy-smelling bag of Pumpkin Spice potpourri! Her touching story of a father who came back from the dead to see his newborn son was a 10 on the "goosebump meter".
Here's Betty's story in her own words, which she swears is absolutely true - judge for yourself!
Congratulations, Betty, and thanks for sharing your story. The DVD and potpourri are in the mail!
I married Darrell in March of 1979. He was the sweetest guy I thought I'd ever met, curly bright red hair and eyes the color of the ocean. I was 16 ,he was 20. We celebrated our first anniversary together(and his 21st birthday) and less than a month later I was planning his funeral..he was in a fatal car wreck. Months before this happened he told me one night he had a feeling he'd never live to see 21. I didn't want to hear this and cut it short quickly. He said, if I die, I'll come back and when I do you will know it.
When he died I was 4 months pregnant. As bad as losing him made me feel, knowing my son would never know his dad, and his dad would never have the chance to hold his son made it that much worse.
Now on to my story.......Darrell Jr. was born on August 7th of 1980.. a beautiful little boy, with eyes the color of the ocean just like his dad.. but had just enough fuzz on his head to call it hair..lol..
I had recieved a little blue comb/brush set when he was born, as part of a gift pack, it sat on my dresser in our room. 2 weeks after me and little Darrell had came home, I was awakened one night by the light being turned on in the bedroom. I awoke not knowing what was happened but immediately looked over in the crib to check on my baby. He was lying there sound asleep, not bothered at all...while still wondering how the light turned on, I noticed something lying beside Darrell in the babybed.
It was the blue brush from the dresser (never used, Darrell Jr. had no hair yet),and it was full of bright red curly hair!
This was shown to numerous amounts of people in the weeks to follow...it really happened.. as he said months earlier, "I'll come back and when I do you'll know it"...he came back to visit his son...
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
It's American Title time again!
Every year for the last three years, Dorchester Publishing has sponsored an "American Title" contest, a contest aimed with discovering the year's best new "previously undiscovered" writer. First prize is a book contract, and guaranteed publication of the winning manuscript. The idea is based on "American Idol", in that it's a competition that's open to anyone, narrowed down to the top ten entries by three editors at Dorchester, and then the winner is determined by a series of elimination rounds, all based on votes. This year's theme was paranormal, futuristic, time-travel and fantasy tales.
Each month until June 2008 (when the winner is announced), the contest is open for votes from the public on rounds like "Best First Line", "Best Hero and Heroine", "Best Plot Summary", etc. The authors get to present a very brief excerpt from the manuscript each month to put up for voting purposes. Voting has just begun on the "Best First Line" round. You can go here to vote for your favorite.
So do I have a favorite? Why, yes, thanks for asking. :) It's THE MAGIC KNOT by Helen Scott Taylor. I had the distinct pleasure of judging this manuscript in a contest last year, and I loved it - well-written, great characters, old legends beautifully woven into a modern-day setting - I definitely feel Helen has a great shot at winning this competition. So go vote for her! :)
The judges, actual editors Hilary Ross, Leslie Kazanjian and the anonymous "Flavia Knightsbridge" are loosely based on Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson (aka the good, the bad, and the ugly). Leslie's comments are always nice, Hilary's comments are usually neutral, and "Flavia's" comments are usually somewhat cutting. Helen's first line was excellent, and she got a thumbs-up from all three judges. Highly unusual, but well-deserved.
Good luck, Helen!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I went to see my friend C.L. Wilson at a booksigning yesterday. Cheryl's epic fantasy romance, Lord of the Fading Lands, is an October release from Leisure Books. It will be followed by a back to back release of the sequel, Lady of Light and Shadows, in November.
Lord of the Fading Lands debuted at 127 on USAToday
Anyway, congratulations Cheryl! I'm glad I was there to see you achieve your dream!
Friday, October 12, 2007
I just saw the most fabulous production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show! I've seen Rocky before, but only once, and it was an "audience participation" show backed by actual scenes from the movie. (Can you say crazy wild? Flying cards, toast, etc.) This was a live performance by the members of the Univ. of S. Florida's TheatreUSF ensemble, and it was incredibly good!
The set was gorgeous, and the cast was unbelievable. Dr. Frank N. Furter was played to perfection by Michael Titone, Jason Glass was ghoulishly gleeful as Riff Raff, and Devyn Simms was by the far the best Magenta I've ever seen. I was blown away by the talent of these young people - definitely not your average college crowd.
From the first moment of the opening scene, I smiled, laughed and clapped. The entire performance was stellar - fun, thoroughly professional, "blown-away" fabulous. My hands hurt afterward. :) Way to go, TheatreUSF!!!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I had a wonderful experience yesterday, when the Tampa chapter of the Network of Executive Women (N.E.W.) invited me to be the luncheon speaker at their monthly meeting. About fifty women, all executives from different companies here in the Tampa Bay area, get together once a month to network with each other, share a meal and share ideas.
The women I was talking to already knew that, of course. That's why they were taking time out of their busy day to come to a networking meeting, and that's why they were already successful in their chosen careers.
I was very impressed with these women; a psychotherapist, a county judge, several lawyers, some financial advisors, CEO of a large construction firm, healthcare managers, event coordinators, consultants. Fifty women ranging in age from their thirties to their sixties, all committed to becoming better at what they do. And all of them so gracious and interesting!
Afterward, I signed books and chatted with many of them one on one. Very diverse group, committed to a common goal of excellence in business. It almost made me wish I worked in an office again. Almost. I'd hate to give up my pajamas. :)
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Needless to say, these stories fascinate me. So for the third Halloween in a row, I'm holding my annual "Tell Me Your Ghost Story" contest! This year's winner will receive a DVD of one of my all time favorite romantic movies, "GHOST", and a bag of yummy smelling Pumpkin Spice Potpourri.
In addition, I'll print the top three scariest stories on my website and my blog (you can remain anonymous, if you wish). You can read last year's winning stories HERE. Visit my Website for more details, and tell me your ghost stories!
Monday, October 01, 2007
September is over, and so is my monthly contest. I did something a little different last month and made it a "winner's choice" by offering two different prizes - one for those who wanted to indulge the darker side of their natures by choosing a super cool Skull & Roses wreath, and one for those who wanted to indulge the lighter side of their personalities by choosing an adorable book fairy. And then, because I'm such a softie, I choose two winners instead of one, and gave away both prizes. :)
Please join me in congratulating Lynn Littrell of Oregon, who is the proud new owner of this uber-cool Blood-Red Roses and Skull Wreath!
And then say "Woo-hoo!" to Wendy Hines of Indiana, who can now proudly show the world that "She is too fond of books, and it has addled her brain".
Saturday, September 29, 2007
It's official - I now have a new favorite show to watch on Friday nights. I've been waiting for the fall lineup to start, keeping an eye out for a few select shows but - I must admit - rather skeptical about whether I'd like them or not. Kelsey Grammar's new comedy, "Back To You", has so far proven itself (yes, it's a rehash of "Frasier", but I LOVED "Frasier", so I'm happy), "Journeyman" (about a man who travels through time) has so far disappointed, and I'm still waiting to see "Dexter" and "Pushing Daisies", so the jury is still out.
But last night I watched the premiere of "Moonlight", and I was almost giddy with relief at how good it was!! "Moonlight" stars Alex O'Laughlin as a modern day vampire/private detective named Mick St. John, and quite frankly, I expected this particular show to suck. :) (Ok, ok, who could resist such an obvious pun? Not me!) Anyway, there were a few little kinks to be worked out, but overall, it was really, really good, in main part because of casting. Mick is not your average alpha male vampire - he's sweet, sensitive, caring about us poor mortals instead of viewing us as walking blood banks. There's a backstory here that's only beginning to be explained, but I can tell it's going to be a good one. His love interest is obviously going to be the lovely television reporter, Beth Turner (played by Sophia Myles), who's gorgeous in a girl-next-door kind of way, but he has a history with the evil Coraline, who's gorgeous in a "I want to suck your blood succubus" kind of way.
I can't wait to see what happens next. So you vampire lovers out there, don't miss this show! I don't want it to be cancelled before I find out what happens!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
When I was growing up, my very best friend Maria (hi, Maria!) and I used to spend pretty much every minute together. Maria had a horse, an old gray gelding named Silver. We rode Silver everywhere, two little girls riding double, roaming through pine woods and palmetto fields. We'd even take Silver swimming with us in the many lakes that dotted our neighborhood. This was the best part of my childhood, a semi-idyllic part that helped me escape from the not-so-idyllic parts.
But Maria lived a rather nomadic existence. Her parents were divorced, and she was always being shipped off to a different relative, a different city, a different state. I, never having lived anywhere but the place I was, found all this travel exotic and exciting, never realizing how hard it must've actually been for her. We never lost touch, remaining pen pals no matter where she was, writing each other letter after letter after letter. And it was when Maria moved to Anchorage, Alaska that my burning desire to go there was born. For a girl from a flat state full of heat, mosquitoes and alligators, the idea of a place where snow-capped mountains were the norm, where ancient rivers of ice formed glaciers and iceburgs, and where bear, moose and whales roamed free, fired my imagination like no other place on earth.
And I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed. Captain America and I finally took a long-awaited Alaskan cruise last month, and here are a few highlights:
This is the view from Glacier Bay. Isn't it gorgeous?
Here are some actual glaciers, and an iceberg:
And yes, it was cold!!
We went hiking and saw a gorgeous waterfall:
But I think my favorite day was the day we went rafting. We saw fresh bear prints in the woods as we hiked to the spot where we launched the raft, and once we were in the water, we watched bald eagles soaring over our heads as they searched for salmon in the river. It was glorious.
And then, my husband and I took another of the famous "one-handed" photos that we do every trip, and sealed our great time with a kiss.
(See how multi-talented he is? He can kiss and still get a great shot while holding the camera out with one hand!) :)
So where's your favorite spot? Where's the best place you've ever been on vacation?
Friday, September 21, 2007
I am such a dork. I've been running a contest over on my WEBSITE to celebrate the release of DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY, and I only just realized that I forgot to post it over here on my blog!
I'm holding a "Winner's Choice" drawing, where you have a choice of prizes depending on whether you want to indulge your "dark side" or your "light side".
For those who prefer the dark, I decided to get in the spirit and set the mood for some truly haunting Halloween decorating!
One lucky winner will receive this delightfully morbid "Blood-Red Roses and Skull" wreath, shipped directly to their home, just in time for Halloween! (drawing will be held October 1st, 2007). Blood-red velvety roses, midnight-black leaves, spooky skulls and spiders... what more could a ghoul want? :)
Or, if you prefer simply "delightful" to the delightfully morbid, you can choose this adorable "Book Fairy" with a wonderful quote by Louisa May Alcott, "She is too fond of books, and it has addled her brain."
I can certainly relate! Can you? :)
At any rate, whether you choose to indulge your dark side or your light side, all you have to do is leave me a comment or send me an EMAIL (by clicking on the big orange link) and tell me which prize you'd prefer, Wreath or Book Fairy.
Drawing will be held on October 1st, 2007. (Oh, and by the way, entering automatically adds you to my mailing list, but don't worry...)
You'll receive only a few mailers a year, mostly book news and new release information, I promise (really!). Each mailing will include a link so you can unsubscribe at any time.
C'mon... which side of your personality will you indulge today?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
It's in the mail.
Heard that one before, haven't you? :)
Technically, it's in the hands of UPS, and IT would be completed revisions for Book #2 of the Nicki Styx series. You notice I didn't use a title when referring to it. And why, you ask? (ok, I'm pretending like you asked.)
Because my publisher has asked for a new title for Book #2. For two years (and more), this book has been titled WHERE THE GHOULS ARE, but now that it's time to put it in production, I've been asked to come up with something different. There are reasons, which have been explained to me, and which I can even agree with, but I'm having trouble coming up with something equally fabulous. I LOVED the old title. ADORED the old title. But the old title is history. *sigh*
So, because I have a wonderful editor and a wonderful publishing house, they've given me the courtesy of not just plucking something out the air and slapping it on the front cover (which, believe me, has happened to other authors I know). Instead, they've given me time to come up with something different, but time is running out. I gave them a list of alternatives, and they've chosen one I can live with, but I'm afraid I'm still whining that it's not good enough, and they're still gracious enough to listen.
There's a part of me that says, "Shut up and quit whining, Terri! You wouldn't be happy with anything but the original title and you can't have it! So there!" And a nah-nah-booby to me, too.
Have I lost my perspective? Somebody please tell me. Should I keep searching for the perfect title, or should I go with.... drumroll, please....
A MATCH MADE IN HELL.
(Oh, and you should know that a big part of the plot involves the Devil (who's smokin' hot, btw) trying to seduce Nicki Styx over to the dark side. The cover will reflect that.)
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I had a booksigning at Waldenbooks this afternoon. The staff at this bookstore has been fabulous; one of the managers, Carolyn, read an Advance Readers Copy of Dead Girls Are Easy and has been SO supportive! She's sold more copies by word of mouth than I could ever manage on my own, I think. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to have a bookseller tell you how much she loved your book, but I digress. :)
Anyway, I went there today to do a booksigning (scheduled from 2:00 to 4:00), and it was over by 3:15. Why? BECAUSE THERE WERE NO MORE BOOKS LEFT TO SIGN! (well, okay... there were two left, but Carolyn wanted something to put back on the shelf before her next order came in, but she assured me they'd be gone by tomorrow.)
I really want to thank everyone who made a special trip to the mall to get my book, everyone who stopped by because they saw me sitting there, and everyone who made a "spur of the moment" decision to try a new author. I even want to thank all the little kids who kept darting up and stealing my free candy! :)
And I'm giving a special shout-out "Thank you!" to L'Ellen, who called her mom all the way from N. Carolina and begged her to go to my booksigning and get an autographed copy because she'd already read Dead Girls and loved it so much. (Your Mom & Dad were cool, L'Ellen! You're a lucky girl to have such great parents!)
Anyway, just had to share. :)
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Today is the third and final portion of the mini-workshop on Branding I began last Sunday.
You've all done your homework, right? Read Part 1 to get an overview, did the creative thinking exercises in Part 2? If so, we're ready to get into the specific ELEMENTS of branding. This is a "mini" workshop, which means I can't elaborate quite as much unless you ask me to, because nobody wants to read a blog that goes on forever. :) If you have any questions, please leave me a comment and I'll respond.
Defining Your Theme:
(1) Who’s your target audience? YA, paranormal (be specific, i.e. vampires?), home & hearth, romantic suspense? If you did Part 2, you should know that it's VERY important that you don't just give a "knee-jerk" response to this question. Knowing your target audience should determine the “tone” of your brand, and help you target market effectively:
Here's some examples:
"Cartoon Network" appeals to kids with loud, bright colors, smart-mouth kids and goofy grownups
"Bones" appeals to the curious and intelligent TV watcher with a brainy but vulnerable heroine, sexy but control-freak hero with a soft side (he played Angel on Buffy, btw), great music, action-packed intro, etc.
"Firefly" appeals to the sci-fi crowd who likes to think outside the box with witty writing, a futuristic space-based society with an “old-timey” Western theme. Specialized, but very effective.
Spend a little time analyzing the commercials on TV – who are they targeting? Housewives, career women, men? It’s not hard to figure it out once you understand the basics of target marketing.
(2) Theme Elements:
(a) Your website. If you don’t have one, get one! WEBSITES ARE A MUST! If you’re serious about getting published, you need one now – whether you’re published or not. Not only will you be more prepared when you get “The Call”, you’re showing that you believe you’re going to get “The Call”, and showing to anyone who may be interested (agent, editors) that you understand how important marketing can be.
(Let me tell you a little story about how important websites can be: When I was searching for an agent, I received interest from my top three choices. All three went to my website before contacting me. I know, because they told me. And when I discussed representation with my "dream agent", the one who I ended up choosing to represent me, she actually went to my website WHILE we were talking, so she could read excerpts from my other manuscripts and discuss those with me as well. I have to ask myself, "What if I didn't have a website? Would their interest have stopped before they reached for the phone and dialed my number?" I'll never know, but I have to think that having that website in place helped my chances. )
Now let's talk some website specifics:
(b) Colors and shapes to consider by genre:
Urban fantasy – dark shades; blue and black, gritty city scenes, streets, buildings
Romantic comedy – light shades: pinks, blues, yellows, greens, fun shapes like circles, swirls
Romantic suspense – richer shades: dark reds, golds, eyes, partial faces, crime tape
Historicals – depending on the time period, but you can’t go wrong with jewel tones (ruby red, sapphire blue, golden topaz); rich fabrics like silk and velvet; lush gardens, Victorian jewelry (brooches, cameos, pearls)
Paranormals –the range is wider. If you’re going to write about vampires, red and black is the obvious choice - bats, coffins, crosses. Shapeshifters seem to call for blues and grays, foggy images, mist. Werewolves evoke blacks and browns, the moon, night landscapes.
Fantasy – again, a wider range. Elves and fairies would call for greens and lighter shades, mythical imagery. Science fiction usually calls for bolder colors –purples, reds, dark blues, stars, galaxies, spaceships.
(c) Fonts: a very important element, because it’s a “visual” representation of your actual writing (for use on business cards, signature lines, website headers). Here are some examples of how fonts send subliminal signals (I wish I could show the ACTUAL fonts, but blogger's font choices are limited):
Bernhard Fashion has an “upper crust” feel
Coronet is a lovely, flowing font
Tempus Sans reflects an older historical feel
Copperplate reflects and “old-timey” feel
Lansbury is great for romantic suspense
Pull up your font window in Word and experiment before choosing a font for your website and stationary. Above all, make sure it’s readable, and not just pretty. The body of your text in a website should be in a basic, readable font like Arial. Don't get carried away with a font so much that your website visitors can't read the body of your text without squinting.
(3) Taglines: Taglines are fun, but they’re not actually necessary. Many big name authors do NOT have taglines. But if you want one, go for it. If you’re stuck, look for quotes you like. Try not to be so general that your target market gets diluted, and be consistent with what you’re trying to deliver. It’s not enough to just use adjectives – be more creative.
Terri Garey – “A lighthearted look at the dark side.”
Tawny Weber – “Hot, sassy romance… it’s all about the attitude.”
Cheryl Wilson - “Epic fantasy. Powerful romance. Embrace the magic.”
(4) Signatures: Come up with a short signature to use in your email correspondence, and USE it. Add it on to the end of every email. Keep it short, and try to make it a representation of your philosophy in life, or a representation about your writing. One of my favorite signatures is: “Come to the dark side. We have cookies.” Even your “username” can reflect your brand. My username on various loops is either “Spooky” or “SpookyChick”.
However, don't make your signature so long that people won't read it. More than three lines and it becomes just a bunch of words, losing its effectiveness as a marketing tool.
(5) Your online presence: If you’re a loop, be conscious of what you say. If you’re a flamer, too controversial, too abrupt, whatever… believe me, people WILL remember you, but it won’t be in the way you want them to. The greatest website in the world, with all the bells and whistles, won’t help you if you’ve presented yourself badly in the cyber world.
And that's it! IMHO, "branding", for a writer, is about establishing a CONCEPT, and offering it VISUALLY.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I'm just a blogging fool these days, aren't I? :)
Today I was invited to blog with some dear friends, the The Romance Bandits. Come on over and join me as I chat with the "Banditas"!
p.s. - Part 3 of my "Branding" mini-workshop will be posted later today or earlier tomorrow. You've been answering the questions in Part 2, haven't you?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Okay, if you read Sunday's blog about branding, then you know that my theory on being able to do it successfully is to "Find out who you are, and do it on purpose". I gave an overview on the different elements of branding, and I'm going to get very specific about those elements in Part 3 of this mini-workshop. But today, I'd like to get your brain going in ways that will help you to figure out WHO YOU ARE, and what it is you're trying to express through your writing. Because if you don't know it, how are you going to effectively present it to your prospective readers?
I've put together a list of simple "free thinking" questions. Take your time, and do your best to give each one some thought before you write down your answers. Nobody's going to see it but you, so be honest. When you're done, you should have a better feel for what you want to express through your "brand".
#1: What do you write? (Imagine yourself at a cocktail party, and you’ve just been asked this question. What would you say?)
#2: Who is your target audience? (age range, personality type) Get specific. Who is your “ideal reader”?
#3: What do your want your readers to FEEL when they’re reading one of your books?
#4: Why do you write the kinds of books you write? (Think carefully, and try to be as specific about your reasons as possible.)
#5: Pick three words that describe your writing style.
#6: If they made a movie of your book, what songs do you think they should play in the soundtrack?
#7: How do you envision your book covers?
#8: A reader has just finished reading your book. What words would you like them to use to describe it?
I'd recommend writing down both the questions as well as the answers, and using this as a guidepost as we begin talking about the specific elements of branding: themes, colors, fonts, taglines, etc. Hope you're finding this helpful, and feel free to leave me a comment or two - I'll be happy to answer any questions!
Take a closer look at this picture. (click on it, and it will enlarge)
It's made of ice. I had to pass it along because (1) it's amazing, and (2) it struck me as the perfect example of what happens when tragedy strikes. Think back, won't you, to the moment when you heard that airplanes had struck the twin towers. Remember the moment when you turned on the TV and saw those horrifying images for the first time; fireballs, shattered glass, stunned New Yorkers stumbling away from the scene, covered in ash.
Frozen by shock and fear, weren't you? Disbelieving, stunned, horrified. Americans had been attacked on our own soil, using our own airplanes, and thousands of people had lost their lives while going about their daily business in the heart of New York City. The entire country, for a brief time, was united in outrage and filled with a sense of patriotism that had flags flying and hearts soaring.
And then what happened? We forgot. We let that sense of urgency and unity melt away under the more mundane cares of daily life, and we let ourselves become divided politically and personally, arguing with our neighbor over whose fault it was and which President should be held responsible.
I don't know when this ice sculpture was made. 2001? 2002? It's long since melted away, I'm sure, but the sentiment behind it shouldn't be. Take a moment today and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, those who struggled so valiantly to save them, and those who, right now, are risking their lives to ensure it never happens again.
Don't you think that's something worth remembering?
Monday, September 10, 2007
Ever wonder which editor publishes which author, what they like, or what they don't like? Come join me today over on Avon Romance Blog, the official blog of Avon editors Carrie Feron, Lucia Macro, Erika Tsang, May Chen, Esi Sogah. Lyssa Keusch, and Tessa Woodward, as I blog about what makes a "typical" heroine so... well, typical. :)
P.S. - I'll post Lesson #2 of "Branding: Let's Keep It Simple, Shall We?" later on today.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Yesterday, I was invited to speak at the monthly meeting of the Tampa Area Romance Authors, where I delivered a workshop on "Branding". You see, I have this theory that branding is not as complicated as it sounds, once you understand a few of the basics. The ladies of TARA were great, and I got some wonderful feedback on the workshop, so I thought I'd share it with anyone else who's been scratching their head about "branding", and why it's so important to published authors and aspiring authors alike.
I'm going to do it in three parts, because hey... I presented it in three parts, and you'll have to come back to my blog three times that way, right? :) No, seriously, better to break it up into three different sections than overwhelm you with one giant one.
So here we go:
Part One: A BRANDING OVERVIEW
I used to think that branding was so complicated! I mean, I went to the conferences and sat through the workshops. I’ve seen six week courses on this stuff! I heard phrases like “emotional velcro” and “brand equity” and “target demographics”. I thought I understood branding in a general sense: McDonald’s has their Golden Arches, Coca-Cola has their big red and white circles that say COKE, Dr. Pepper has their peppy people dancing and singing in the streets. But when it came time for me to do it for myself, it became really complicated.
I know what I write. I know what I like to read, but how does that translate? I did my research, I lurked on online loops, I tried to absorb it all and figure it out.
And then I had a revelation. I read this quote by Dolly Parton (of all people), and it goes like this: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
Dolly should know, right? When we think Dolly Parton we think big hair, big um… (heart! Yeah, big heart! LOL), country music and a cheerful, upbeat personality. Dolly is unashamedly Dolly, and she does it well.
And that’s what branding really is. At heart, branding is about being yourself, finding the part of yourself that you’re trying to express through your writing, and then expressing it WELL.
We strive so hard to write well, don’t we? We do all we can do to be the best we can be. Branding is really just an extension of that – because branding is really about evoking emotions, which is just like what we try to do in our writing.
Technically, branding is defined as: “Establishing a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
Huh? I’m an intelligent person. I know what the words mean, but how do they translate? The definition seems so… well… unemotional.
So here’s my radical thinking approach to branding: Branding is simple. It’s not just developing the right tagline, the right font, color scheme, or logo (all of which are important, by the way, but not THE most important things). Branding, if you do it well, is more of a concept that springs to mind whenever your name is mentioned. And it order for it to be authentic, in order for it to be something that people actually believe, it has to be an extension of yourself.
Let’s talk about some examples (and I’m going to use people I’ve met, because it will better illustrate what I’m talking about later. These are people who if you meet them in person, are the personification of their brand, and just by looking at their websites you can tell who they are, whether they include a picture or not:
Meg Cabot (young, upbeat, funny)
Tawny Weber (sexy yet fun, playful yet hot)
Jennifer Crusie(humor, accessibility: upbeat covers, upbeat website, cherries – what’s more innocuous then cherries? Life’s a bowl of them, right?)
Susan Elizabeth Phillips (gracious, down-to-earth, human)
Julia Quinn (young, self-effacing, sweet but intelligent)
Branding is the sum total of your reader’s experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you can't. Branding is about who you are, and what you’re trying to express. I give kudos to McDonald’s and Coke and Dr. Pepper – but they’re selling a product, not a person.
You, my friends, are selling a product, AND a person.
“Find out who you are, and do it on purpose,” as Dolly says.
Now, let’s get down to business. I’m going to give an overview of the elements of branding, and then some actual exercises to get your brain flowing.
ELEMENTS OF BRANDING:
1) Establishing your target audience (historicals? YA? fantasy? inspirational? paranormal?). You need to know who you’re selling to establish your branding theme, which we’ll talk about in tomorrow's blog.
2) Figuring out your unique selling point. (what’s unique about you? Why are your stories different? Why are you different?) That was one of the hardest things for me to come up with, until I examined my life a little more closely. The most obvious thing that’s different about my writing is that I write about ghosts – not vampires, not werewolves, not shapeshifters – and that makes me different in the paranormal market. I also use humor in my writing, which makes me considered “light” paranormal instead of “dark”. But even more importantly, I looked into WHY I write about ghosts, and that’s where I struck gold: My family and I once lived in a house that was apparently haunted. My mother had heart failure on the operating table, had an out-of-body experience, and lived to tell about it. I grew up watching Creature Feature, and loved shows like the Addams Family and the Munsters. Basically, I spent my life preparing for a career to write the stories I do without even knowing it! But once I realized it, I was able to define my brand.
3) Once you establish your brand, you have to be consistent with it. It should cover all aspects of what you do: your website, your stationary, the fonts you choose, the colors you choose, the signature you use online, the way you look, the way you present yourself…. If you write hot and steamy and you dress like a Quaker, you’re not an accurate representation of your brand. If you write inspirationals, but you dress a bit racy, you’re not an accurate representation of your brand. I’m not advocating going around in costume, but be consistent. Branding is all about PERCEPTION, and if you want to be treated as a professional, you have to look like and behave as a professional.
4) Be flexible. If there’s something about your brand that isn’t working, change it. Don’t get caught up in saying, “No, I like flowers. I’m sticking with flowers. I like this curly little font, even though I’m writing romantic suspense.” One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to be too stubborn. Yes, you want your brand to be an accurate reflection of who you are, but you want to present yourself in a way that other people can relate to. It’s kind of like when you don’t like to do housework, and your house gets real messy… you might say “take it or leave it”, but if the 6o’clock news was going to come in your house and do a story on you, would you clean it up? I’ll bet you would! It's still your house, it's just cleaner!
So tomorrow, we'll move on to figuring out who you are. You’re not going to accurately brand yourself until you know what it is you want your readers to see in you.
Any of this making sense yet?