What Happens on the Van…

So, I spend two hours a day commuting to and from the day job. When I started taking the vanpool I thought those would be two hours a day that I could write. I mean, I’d heard about our vanpools.

People don’t talk on them. Ear buds in, low enough that nobody else can hear them. Laptops open. No talking. Written rules. Did I mention no talking? So it seemed like the perfect place to write a book every day. Two hours a day with no internet, no kids, no dogs. Perfect.

I didn’t take one thing into account. I didn’t get one of the lame vanpools. I got the party bus. We have rules. We even thought about writing them down. But in order to come up with the rules, we would have had to keep minutes. And that breaks rule number two: what happens on the van, stays on the van. That’s right, we’re mobile Vegas.

What’s rule number one?

No pictures on the van. That one popped up because in the early days we were kind of quiet in the morning and some people would fall asleep. And some of us might be just slightly evil enough to think that pictures of people drooling in their sleep would be good blackmail material.

But there are a couple of us who are morning people, and a couple of us who just enjoy having adult conversation, and the group grew, and now I give a speech to the new folks who join the van. It’s pretty short.

“If you were looking for the quiet van where you could work, this isn’t it. Rule number three is no talking about work. We try to keep to it, but some days are better than others. Conversation runs from Disney-rated to not-even-close. If you want to not hear anything sit up front; if you want Disney sit next to her. Do not sit next to us. We apologize in advance.”


We tried reining it in once or twice. It didn’t work. The reality is, if you want peace and quiet, you quickly find another van. One that doesn’t have parties. Or cake.

So, I know, you’re wondering. If what happens on the van is supposed to stay on the van, why can I write about it? Seriously? I’m a writer. There was an unspoken exemption. Okay, it wasn’t so much unspoken thing as them looking at me and saying, “no writing about us” and me laughing out load and saying, “right, how about no names?”

So I pretend that I’m going to work on the van. I bring my laptop. I even open it. And then I hear about everyone’s lives and get material for my books. But no names. I promise.


Coon Hunting Trials

Last night, the dogs started going crazy. Snarky Daughter checked and saw two people with flashlights in the backyard. Here is the rest of the story:

SD: Mom, there are people in the back yard with flashlights.

Me: Of course there are, because I wanted to go to bed at 9. <Glance at time on computer. 15 minutes to go> Release the hounds.


I put the computer down, sigh heavily, think dark thoughts about redneck sports, get up and head to dining room window.

Me: Sure enough. LED flashlights too. Wonder if they bought those at Lowe’s. grumble, grumble… <Walk outside on back porch> You need to get the hell off my land!

Dumbass Trespassers: <ignore pissed off woman and keep looking at tree next to shed 50 feet from house>

Me: grumble…<go inside, dial 911>

911: What is the address of the emergency?

Me: I give the address

911: What’s the emergency?

Me: I’m a woman alone at home with two kids. We’ve got two people in our backyard with flashlights. I’ve yelled at them and they didn’t respond.

911: They didn’t respond?

Me: No. They are also undeterred by the German Sheppard and Doberman I sent out to greet them.

911: We have a unit on route. Do you feel safe or do you need to stay on the phone?

Me: <At this point I’m thinking, really does staying on the phone keep me alive?> I’ve got a shotgun. I think I can escalate this if needed.

911: Ma’am, you do what you need to to protect yourself and family.

Me: Yes, sir. Thinking: Sweet, I’ve had a heck of a day and 911 just gave me permission to shoot someone.

<walk to bedroom closet>

SD: Mom, you keep the shotgun in the closet???

Me: Yep. Better question. Where are the shells? <find shells, pull one out>

DA Trespassers eventually leave, about 2 minutes before Deputy pulls up.

Me: They headed toward that road <pointing>. They have LED flashlights. You can’t miss them.

Deputy: They have dogs?

Me: Yep.

<he drives off and comes back a few minutes later>

Deputy Dog (he was K-9, Sheppard was in the car): Well I found them. There’s a reason they didn’t respond. They’re about 80 years old. I wanted to ask if they were legal to drive. Coon Hunting Trials are going on through Sunday, so you’re probably going to have several people end up out here.

Me: Excellent. Because what I want is a string of strangers with guns in my yard.

Deputy: They don’t have guns. It’s not Coon Season.

Me: Thinking Seriously, we have a season for coon? If you’re going to tree a “big ol’” coon in my yard, kill it. Save my dogs some time and me a vet bill.

Deputy: Now, if you see some guys in paramilitary gear carrying machine guns in your woods, call me.

Me: You think?

Deputy: You know when the military helicopters come flying low around here? That’s Special Ops training. We get a heads up because their weapons aren’t loaded and they’d like it if we didn’t kill them when they’re creeping through the field behind Food Lion. I’ve only seen ‘em drop out of the helios once. I drove around for hours and never saw ‘em.

Me: That’s cool. <good upbringing kicks in> Really sorry you and your partner had to come out here for coon trials. Would he like a Milkbone? I’ve also got pie if you’d like a slice to go…

So a couple more nights of fun for me. I’m thinking of serving cookies. Or buying more shotgun shells. Not sure which.


My Writer’s Toolbox

When it comes to creating a book, as you can see, there are a lot of tools I use. Which one I pick up depends entirely on my mood or the problem I’m facing with the book.

Early in the process, I use the Writer’s Brainstorming Kit. I use this mostly because my friend and critique partner, Regan Black, lives 5 hours away and I’ve heard she’d like to get some writing of her own done. If you’re a writer and you want something that can help you brainstorm, this is it. The book comes with a deck of cards with a word on each one, and simple suggestions for goal, motivation, plot, etc. for each word. It’s a great starting place if you just want to play with a character a little.

But just because the kit gives you the card, doesn’t mean it’s right. For the book I’m working on now, my princess’s goal card was innocence. I read all the possibilities #22, and thought, no, that’s not right, here’s her thing. So the cards don’t always tell the truth, but they can help you have a-ha moments.

Notecards and colored pencils. Alternate: Excel spreadsheet and different colored fonts. This time I wanted to be able to move stuff around a lot so I used notecards. Regan finds this process hysterical. As I create the plot and subplots, I start writing one scene per card. Each plot line is in a different color so that when the book is laid out, I can immediately see if I’m spending too much time on any one plot point and move the scenes around. It works for me.

Tarot cards. Yes, they’re there. I am more than willing to do readings on my characters. It’s really interesting what comes up as you read the Tarot Guide and learn the meaning of each card. The cards pose questions more than answers, but in answering the questions, I learn a lot about the character. This is a long process because I’m not skilled with the Tarot. I cannot do a reading on anyone else for the simple reason that we’d all forget the question before I looked up the meaning of the second card. But an author did a reading for one of my characters when I was up against a wall, and it was spot on. So, it’s a tool in the box to help me focus on my characters and a lot of their backstory.

Chocolate and red wine. Also pralines, and the drink stirs from Margaritaville. The stirs started as a pleasant reminder of getting to the beach and watching people in the restaurant for a couple of hours. Then they became hair sticks. The rest of that is self-explanatory.

So there it is. My writer’s toolkit. The things I go to when I don’t know where the book is going. I’m open to suggestions for additions.


Facing a Blank Page

There are days when you sit down to write and you just start typing and hope for a great idea. Any great idea. Because anything is better than staring at a blank page. And you hope that if you type enough, you’ll come up with something better than talking about the ankle you sprained getting out of your car yesterday, or Scout Son being upset about having to dance in PE.

Given the choices, the blank page is beginning to look better. But there’s a theory that if you just keep typing, even if it’s just “I don’t know what to write,” that eventually you’ll get bored with writing that and you’ll start writing something interesting.

And if you do that one sentence at a time, you end up with a book.

Writing romance novels means putting up with a lot of nonsense and misconceptions. You’ve got people who think anyone can write a book. You’ve got the funny folks who make cracks about spending all your time doing “research.” The people who think that every book is the same simply because you have a happily ever after ending. But nobody says that about a murder mystery, and someone has to die for that book to be written.

The thing is, writing romance novels can be harder than a lot of other books – yes, I am biased – because everyone knows how a romance novel is going to end. So there has to be another plot that keeps people turning the pages in addition to the romantic plot, or else nobody wants to read the story. Because we know how that story is going to end.

So we type. We fold socks. We talk to ourselves. And then, even if we don’t know what comes next, we write. And trust that the ride will be worth it. That something will shake out that is true to our characters and the story we’re trying to share.

Because the other option is the story about how I sprained my ankle. And who wants to read about that?


Relax…It’s Just Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day.

So. Much. Pressure.

Flowers. Chocolate. Dinner. Cards. Someone please tell Hallmark to stay out of this. Valentine’s Day is about romance. It’s about love. It’s not about a copywriter’s idea of love. So sayeth a copywriter. No, Hallmark is not my day job.

But this is the day people open their hearts to each other. The words, the gifts, they have to come from the heart too. And that does not mean a heart-shaped box. In the case of Scout Son and Snarky Daughter, those boxes were rectangular and had truffles in them.

For me, single as always on V-Day, it meant kids waiting for 40 minutes for a table at the best Thai restaurant in the area so I could have an awesome meal with them. That’s love.

That’s what today is about.

Enjoy it. If you know your beloved, there’s no pressure at all.


New Reading Slump

I could tell you I don’t have a To Be Read pile, but that would be a big, fat lie. And I don’t want to lie here. I mean, we all smile and lie through our days, “Yes, I understand” when it’s all still fuzzy, “No, I don’t want that doughnut” when all you can think of is the frosting melting on your tongue, and the mother of all lies, “I’m fine,” when all you want to do is kick something.

But there shouldn’t be lies here. Part of this exercise is to get me writing daily again. (Let’s not talk about last week. It was a particularly depressing week at the day job, the ramifications of which will be felt for months to come.) But it’s also to figure out where I am, where I’m going, what I want to be when I grow up, etc., etc. and I can’t lie to myself or you guys about that.

So I have a very large To Be Read pile. In fact, it’s several piles spread here and there throughout the house. Everything from the Boy Scout Merit Badge Requirements Book to Fire in Fiction to It’s All Too Much. But if you take a look at those titles, you’ll notice a common theme: they’re all non-fiction.

This is bad. Really bad. Some of the books throughout the house have been on my list for close to a decade. Yeah, I get it. They’re probably never going to be read. But a girl can dream. Being a planner, I had a plan at one point. Ten pages of non-fiction a night and then I could read what I wanted. This worked for a while until I hit a very boring book, which killed the urge to read non-fiction for a while (and was summarily given away to the library).

The lack of fiction is because I don’t have any great new author suggestions coming in. But fate has a way of correcting for these issues. In my case, it came when I helped a technologically challenged friend hook her computer back up Friday night.

Her: “Hey, have you read Dorothea Benton Frank?”

Me: “Nope, never heard of her.”

Her: “She writes fiction that takes place in the south, like Pat Conroy. I’ve heard good things.”

Me: “Sounds good.”

That should have been the end of the story. But then on Saturday I was running an errand in the used book/DVD/music store. Yes, really. I was in the checkout line waiting for them to get my not-at-all-what-I-came-in-looking-for DVDs, when I glanced down at the package deals of select authors they had at the register. There’s Dorothea.

Since it was taking some time to find the DVDs, I picked up the 3-pack. They were tied with Christmas ribbon to keep anyone interested in back cover copy from getting a taste. I carefully worked the ribbon off a corner so I could pull the books out and take a look. Hooked by the end of the first cover. By the time the cashier came back – it might have been Sunday night – the ribbon was a thing of the past and I was reading the opening pages. Somehow this threw the cashier for a loop, but really, what did she expect me to do with a book? It’s not like I took the pricing sticker off of it. All the components of the package were right there.

So anyway, I’m trying out Dorothea (and will be sharing her with my friend). Who have you discovered lately?


To Paralegal or Not to Paralegal

It appears that I’m at a crossroads of sorts. It may be a good time to dig in at the day job. Or, it may be a good time to go back to school and get certified as a paralegal. Really, it’s a good time for a million of you to blow $.99 on The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé. Then I wouldn’t have to do either, and I could sit at home all day and write great books for you. Really, $.99 isn’t too much to pay for your future reading happiness, is it?

My father would say that it’s time for me to learn html, css, php and linux. Which would have me gauging my eyes out in short order. It’s not that it’s bad stuff. And I can get good at it. But I’ll never enjoy it.

Italian? Yes. French? Okay. Html? Pass. Like I said, I’m happy to learn as much as I need to in order to work on my own website. But it doesn’t bring me joy. It doesn’t even bring me mild contentment. It will always feel like work. And work should never feel like work.

Writing novels? That never feels like work. Even when the book goes in a completely different direction that I have planned. Even when I have to fold laundry or paint a room to think through what happens next. It’s. Never. Work. I love writing.

More than that, I love writing romance novels. I can write anything. But I love bringing people happy endings. Press releases rarely bring happy endings. Magazine articles have a better shot at it, but nothing is as much fun as writing a book.

It’s pure joy.

There’s a school of thought that says that you follow your heart and the money will follow. Hmmm. That involves trust the Fates. I don’t do trust well, let alone trust the Fates. They’re bitches. I mean, is there a Follow Your Heart GPS app that will tell me how long I have to wait for it all to work out?

Mine would have Hugh Jackman’s voice. Well, as long as Hugh’s coming along for the ride, he can sit shotgun. Follow Your Bliss… Turn right in 20 feet. Recalculating.

Trust in fate? Maybe today’s the day I try that.



Ugh…Monday, Again?

Mondays. OMG, shoot me now. First, there’s the whole Monday thing. I mean, it’s not Monday’s fault that it’s the day you have to go back to work, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Now really it wouldn’t matter what day of the week today fell on. Whatever day I have Boy Scouts is going to be crazy. Depending on the week, I get home either 20 minutes before I have to leave for Scouts, or 10 minutes after it starts. Awesome planning, I know.

Then, I’m in Scouts supposedly until 8, but let’s be real. If I’m home by 8:45 it’s a good night. At which point I have to write the blog. Except tonight I’m not paying attention to Scouts because I have to do work on my resume and cover letters. And pay bills because somehow I got behind on my things to do last night.

Now, I tried to work on the cover letters on the way to work (vanpool people, I’m not driving), but I couldn’t focus this morning. Monday, remember? And oddly, half of the text in the job description was cut off, so I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Then I was going to do it on the way home, but vertigo stopped that completely. Imagine having vertigo while you’re on a Disney teacup and you’ve got my ride home.

OK, I’m done whining, but I have no real subject for today’s blog beyond Mondays should be illegal.

If anyone wants to help me make my resume stellar and write some cover letters, I’m accepting that help tonight. Which is just sad for a writer, but I don’t like to talk about myself. Which makes sounding fantastic on paper really hard.

Almost has painful as Linux. Or not. But not what I want to do after a long day at work and with the room spinning…


Wanna Buy Some Girl Scout Cookies?

We have survived the first cookie sale. Amazingly enough, I didn’t scream at anyone. This is amazing for so many reasons, the prime one being that I woke up at 4:15 and couldn’t go back to bed. And I was determined I would go back to sleep, so I didn’t get out of bed and accomplish a ton of stuff. So, 8 hours of selling cookies in the rain today was a recipe for me losing my temper.

There was a moment there where I thought the rest of the troop was going to throttle the one Scout who wanted to get additional cases of cookies for our next sale in two weeks. Luckily, we did this crazy thing called taking a vote and she was overruled. Which means, with the extra boxes of cookies we’ll get when we get our pre-orders next week, we have about 75 boxes of cookies we still have to sell.

Seventy-five boxes to freedom.

I have to say, we had a really good time out there today. Apparently some of the girls had forgotten what it was like to sell cookies with me. For those of you who have read Jenny Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation, the five steps to running a con work. Really. Well. I’d say I should send her a box of cookies, but since she just found out she’s diabetic and is making real changes to her diet, I won’t. Also, I don’t know her address beyond somewhere in the wilds of Ohio. But God knows, she deserves them.

I’m not above using guilt, sarcasm, sweetness and light, or begging to sell cookies. You’re wearing a Carolina Tarheels hat? “You know what you’re going to want at 4:00 when you take on Maryland? Thin Mints.”

Guys walking out with Bud Lite. “You know, Thanks a Lots are really good with beer.” Well, they are. Then, looking at the girls, “This is not knowledge you should have.”

Baby teething? No problem. You need Shortbreads. Carmel deLites (do not let the name fool you, they are not lite) go well with a spicy Cabernet. And they’re all good on SuperBowl weekend because they’re snack foods and everyone knows snack foods are calorie-free on big game weekend!

I had customers walking into Radio Shack giving the guy in there grief because he only bought one box. Heck, I was trying to work an agreement where I did the receiving of the 10 boxes of inventory in exchange for him buying 10 boxes of cookies.

I sold a box of cookies to some guy because “you know what goes great with ice?” Radio Shack kept coming out to watch me work. My personal best today? 8 boxes. The girls just cracked up. Apparently their last troop stood around quietly asking people if they’d like to buy some cookies. I’m a little more in your face. And even if you don’t buy them, you’ll walk buy laughing.

Toward the end, we couldn’t feel our toes or fingers. Things got a little desperate then. Imagine a woman and three girls looking pitiful, saying, “Please buy a box of cookies so we can go home and get warm.”

We gave up with 45 minutes to go. I came home and walked into a bubble bath. Then I fell into a glass or two of questionable wine and I reasonably good omelet.

As you face the girls in the coming weeks, please remember that $4 a box gives your local troop $.56. The rest goes to things like providing Scouts and camp to girls around the country. It provides opportunities many girls would never otherwise have.

Oh, and if you’re diabetic, I sympathize, and you don’t have to buy a box for yourself. But don’t be surprised if some enterprising young thing suggests you buy a box to send to our military troops. I’ve trained the girls well.


Thin Mint, Anyone?

Tomorrow is the big day. The first of two Girl Scout Cookies sales. It’s supposed to be 55 and rainy. I can’t wait. Back when the girls said they wanted to do sales, I said, “I will give up two weekends of my life for this. That’s it. Be prepared: the weather will suck.”

Personally, while I would love for the 70 degree weather to have stuck it out for two more days (would it have been so hard?), I’m just thankful it’s not supposed to snow.

So for 8 hours tomorrow, Snarky Daughter and I will be hocking cookies. I’ll be the one in the “Come to the Dark Side, we have cookies” t-shirt. I will also be the cranky one teaching everyone how to count back change because, yes, this is a skill you should have learned while playing Monopoly, and yes, you will use it later in life. Usually to get the correct change out of the kid at McDonalds who can’t figure out how much money to give you because he mis-keyed the amount you paid him.

I digress.

Eight hours, you say? But why? There are good reasons for this. I do believe in supporting the organization, and our troop does get 50-some cents per box of cookies sold which will help pay for activities for the troop for the rest of the year. Those are the noble reasons, and even one of those is questionable.

But the reason I got behind the sales is that if Snarky Daughter sells 500 boxes of cookies, she’s in a drawing for a $2,000 college scholarship. Last year, 16 girls in her age group sold over 500 boxes. There are four scholarships, so each of those girls had a 1 in 4 chance of willing a scholarship.

Two words: law school.

I have no way of paying for college, let alone law school. Ahem, remember that plan we talked about where you all bought 1 million copies of The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé for 99 cents? I’ve kept up my end of the bargain; I wrote it and made it available on Amazon. Work with me, people!

Anyway, Snarky Daughter did reasonably well selling cookies leading up to the sales, and there is a slim possibility that if she sells really well this weekend, and everyone I know buys several boxes of cookies for the troops, that she could actually make the goal. Unlikely, since she’s not the only girl in the troop selling this weekend, but still, a possibility.

So, looking forward to 8 hours in the rain, outside a grocery store, with lots of coffee and limited bathroom breaks. Unless, of course, you’d all like to buy a box of Thin Mints to eat while you read your recently downloaded copy of The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé.

Just sayin.