Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Great Expectations: A Romance for Christmas

Okay, so let’s get the disclaimer out of the way right up front. I write cozy mysteries, with almost zero romance, so I can’t promise you’ll wake up to the love of your life on December twenty-fifth after a whirlwind courtship and a candlelit Christmas Eve wedding, performed (or at least arranged) by Santa.

Sorry about that. I can’t even guarantee you a decent date for New Year’s Eve.

Of course, you may already have that perfect holiday someone. But maybe you haven’t had a chance to appreciate each other enough lately, with those dual glamorous, high-powered careers or heartbreaking childhood memories or impossible family complications that leave you too exhausted or frazzled or disillusioned for love. So sad.

Decadent chocolates, long bubble baths and wine on IV drip fail to cheer as you ponder the dismal shortage of available soulmates? Hopefully you have a fulfilling hobby to take your mind off that hidden heartbreak. For instance...

You love to bake Christmas cookies. Millions and zillions, worthy of five Martha stars. Or maybe you sketch wedding gowns or plan other brides’ weddings or rescue adorably fuzzy kittens and puppies or collect glittering crystal ornaments or angel music boxes.

No? Okay, let's try this: The minute those Turkey Day dishes are done, you spend every waking moment after work for weeks scouring your super-clean, festively bustling city for the perfect Christmas tree—but once discovered, you immediately turn it over to the handsome stranger with the adorable kids who finds it at the exact same time. (Niece and nephew, as it turns out. Phew!)

None of these scenarios ring a Christmas bell? Hmm. Maybe you haven’t found the partner of your dreams because you’re an uber-focused career gal slaving for an overly demanding (but undeniably charming) CEO in that same fabulous, but oh-so-lonely-at-the-holidays city. 

Or you’re the sweet girl next door in an adorably-themed town that makes Mayberry look downright sketchy, and you’ve got your hands full with a mysterious newcomer who keeps shaking up your snow globe world (literally, it’s a snow globe). If you’re super lucky, he’ll turn out to be Mr. Right. Worst case, he’s some kind of twinkly-eyed, interfering Secret Santa.

Of course, there is one more, perfectly likely reason you have no romantic prospects in sight this Christmas. You’re a princess! You know what that means, right? You can’t tell anyone you know. Maybe you just found out you have royal blood, so you’re still getting used to the idea, as well as the tiny, festively decorated castle designed for Grace Kelly. Or maybe you were casually dating a clean-cut, impeccably-mannered guy with a vague British accent—and he’s bringing you home to meet his disapproving parents.

Gosh, I hope all you romantic hopefuls out there won’t think I’m trying to crumble your Christmas cookies here.  I’m just being super cautious, because it’d be a shame to trash that whole poinsettia bouquet deal too soon. And maybe--just maybe—your holiday love story will work out.

Why? Because Christmas is magic, that one special time of year when all your dreams can come true. You’ve got seventeen days left til December twenty-fifth--and remember, Santa always comes through.

Maybe I'll add a little romance to my next mystery. Definitely after the holidays, though, because there's no way I'm tearing myself away from this TV and Costco-sized pallet of Kleenex. 


Monday, December 5, 2016

Telling 2016 To Hit The Road

December is doing its usual “Where did the year go?” acceleration and for once, I’m happy to see the calendar page turn and close out the month and year.

Let me race back to January for a moment.

Ah January, where everything is fresh and sparkly and full of great resolutions.

Every January, a fantastic group of authors lets me hang out with them for our MLK weekend writing retreat. We get tons written, plot, and do yoga to counteract all that hunching over keyboards—and state our goals for the upcoming year. Buoyed by the thousands of words hitting the page that weekend—or maybe it was the residual effects of Rachel’s chocolate martinis—I optimistically vowed to finish the book and do a couple of other random acts of intrepid marketing.

Anyone else hear the universe laughing?

Thankfully I can’t find the actual list of goals, but I suspect in January, my retreat-mates will laugh with me over the abysmal results for the year. I did stumble over the following list sent to my online goals group:

1) survive day job transition, which has mutated into an overwhelming 10-12 hour/day beast
2) survive the snowy snowy cold winter by reminding herself it’s next summer’s water
3) survive building the house without killing the builder or doing something equally stupid and dramatic
4) you’ll notice so far writing has not appeared on this list.
5) grow a pair and do all the marketing to put Tree Farm out there
6) write the sequel to So About the Money
7) rediscover the joy of writing 

I shared this list with my retreat group (as a more realistic assessment of how the year shaped up). Kris, the philosopher in our midst, said, “That’s part of what we retreat for—to pull back, regroup, and start anew.  If it was a good year, it can be a look-back & a reminder to keep on the same trajectory. If it was a spectacular failure in some way, it’s a reset button.” 

Maybe we need those failure and frustrations to refocus. 2016 was tough for many people. But ya know, stepping back from last spring’s frustration, I still have a job (that pays me twice a month!) and we finally (finally!) finished the house and moved in a couple of weeks ago. And if I didn’t get as much written as I planned, the creative urge is still lurking inside, just waiting for a chance to bust out.

What about you? 2016 – boost or bust?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I SPY Publicity Photos!

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... Publicity Photos

Ah, the publicity photo. One of author-life's most necessary evils. Much as we'd all love to stay behind our computers and work, we do on occasion have to venture out into the wild. Sometimes that means the literal outside and other times it means a blog tour. Either way, it helps your branding to have a face readers can connect with your name.

Branding is the way you want to be seen. It's the vibe you want associated with your books and well...you. You, as an author anyway. Branding incorporates the online personality you share with readers. The colors you choose, the background, wording and general "feel" of your blog and/or social media are all part of your brand. Branding helps readers find and connect with you, and it begins the moment you hang out the virtual sign announcing you want to be an author.

Never think that you aren't being watched. You are. Well before that first contract is signed, agents, editors, publishing houses, fellow writers, librarians, etc will know you've thrown your hat in the ring, so make it a hat worthy of representing you. So decide early what that means to you and go for it.

One way you can get the recognition / branding ball rolling is to have a headshot available online. (Headshot in this post will be interchangeable for publicity photo). You can hire a friend, family member or a professional. Doesn't matter. Heck, you can use a selfie, just make sure it's one you won't mind being associate with because it will end up all over the interwebs. Use the photo as your social media avatar or on your About page. Share it. Put it out there. And keep it handy in your author's toolkit.

If you're like me, you'll put off the inevitable. Headshots should evolve as you do. They need updated. They should change as you find your place in the industry. For me, they changed as my dress size grew from the long hours stuck to my chair. *shrugs* It happens. Embrace it. Whatever the change. It is real, and it is you, and You are beautiful.


Old headshot: This is me in 2012. I was adorable, but thought I was old and fat. I would kill to look like this again.

New headshot: This is me like 5 minutes ago
Change is good. So, if it's time to update your pic, Go for it. The minute your shots aren't working for you anymore  - when readers can't identify you from your headshot - you need an update.

Now, you need to choose a location for the shoot. This can literally be anywhere and still be effective, as long as the location supports your brand. Try to capture your personality with your background the way you make a scene's setting part of the story when you write. What screams YOU? Your quirky or professional office? Take the photos there. Do you write kitchen cozies? Don an apron and pose with a wooden spoon at the stove. Write sexy thrillers? Grab a leather jacket and look dangerously into the camera while leaning against a brick building in a local alleyway. The possibilities are as endless as your story ideas. Personally, I love the fall in Ohio, so I went outside. Hey, whatever else I am, I am Ohio.

Plus, I write Happy. It's my thing. I write cozies about awkward, geeky girls and a woman who makes pet couture in New Orleans. I write fun. I am fun. So, I headed into the woods to take some super smiley shots in the sunshine.

I've also signed on to write romantic suspense for Harlequin's Intrigue line, so I needed something more romantic suspensy - but something that was still me. So, I changed clothes. No big deal, but I was still in the woods, so that was different, and strangely liberating. I'm not sure my photographer agreed, but we all survived and the pics are great. So - Win!

I don't mean to make this seem easy. It wasn't. I was terrified. Before I headed out on my adventure, I nearly barfed ten times. I am a strictly BEHIND the scenes girl, but my current headshots were five years old and I didn't look like that anymore. They weren't working for me, so new shots had to be done. And I did it. That's how we writers are. Don't wanna, but we gotta, so we do. We're kind of cool like that.

Good news: I didn't fall down. Not even once. And I made it home without having to go to the bathroom in the forest. Also, I didn't cry. Based on this, I feel qualified to give you advice on your own headshots. Here it goes:

  1. Prepare for options: Take four or five tops to change into. Take a few necklaces and scarves or headbands. Mix and match. 
  2. Talk to your photographer about what works and what doesn't. Trust their experience on that side of the camera. 
  3. Don't be afraid to be silly or serious or whatever you want to try. It don't cost extra or take any longer to click the button a few extra times. And if you hate the off the cuff shots, delete them. Keep only what you love. Voila! The magic of technology. 
  4. Use the bathroom before entering the woods.
  5. Bring tissues in case you cry.
  6. Don't worry if you fall down. They're called headshots for a reason. No one will know if you're in your PJ bottoms or if there's mud covering your Levis. 
  7. Have fun. Five years from now you'll look back on these photos and recall longingly how young and beautiful you were. :) 

And this will be the new face of my alter ego, Julie Chase


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


1.   : point, apex: asa : a point of transition (as from one historical period to the next) : turning point; also : edge, verge <on the cusp of stardom>
(from Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

 A cusp is a point that marks the beginning of a change. Being on the cusp of something means you are facing change, usually a big change.

Cusps are uncomfortable things. There’s always a “bated breath” feel about them, a hovering between things past and things future, with only uncertainty ahead—and possible instability, insecurity and dismay.

Maybe that’s just me.

That’s where I am now: teetering on the edge of a new beginning. I am about to retire. After 45 years of working (I started very, very young), I am now contemplating a life free of wage work and structure, free of determining my days according to someone else’s priorities.

I’ve been looking forward to it for years. I’ve enjoyed my working life tremendously, but just thinking of all the free time I will have to write leaves me giddy with joy. It sounds like a grand adventure, doesn’t it?

But that’s the thing about adventures: they are uncomfortable, sometimes even dangerous. What if I’m leaving too early? Should I have a fatter cushion before I throw myself off the ledge?

And what about the social aspects? I’m an introvert, so I get most of my social needs met at work, interacting with colleagues and clients. Will I now turn into that strange lady who lives down the street?

The future is a little murky.

But really, is it that much different from how I write my stories? With every story I start, I am sailing off into the darkness, with no idea where I’m going or what’s going to happen…


I may be in trouble…

But… I mean… the process works for me. I never know where I’m going to end up in my stories, but that’s what keeps the process interesting for me. It keeps me writing. So, maybe we all have our own ways of coping with change, and cusps. Maybe this retirement thing will work out, after all.

Now, please excuse me—I have to go check my sails.

What about you? Any “cusps” in your life? How have you dealt with the major changes you’ve encountered? With panic? Grace? 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Telling a Good Story

Long before the written word, there were verbal story tellers. These tales offered entertainment, an oral history of the people, or means of survival for the listeners. Because of the necessity to remember the stories being told, the teller had to present his tale in the most memorable and appealing way, much like a writer today.

This came to mind as I sat with my family over the holidays listening to stories. A group of us sat outside around a big stone fireplace with wine in hand and asked everyone to think back to an event from when they were nineteen or eight years old. A few hours flew past as the tales flowed from young and old. One thought led to others and soon we had lots of laughs, gasps, and smiles. Through it all, I noticed the most effective stories had the same basics as a good novel. What are these basics? I picked out several, so see if you agree.

 Know your audience. This was easy for my family gathering. We were interested in how grandpa ended up being a pilot, since his goal had been to attend college for a business degree so he could go into the insurance business with a family friend. Or his rendition of what living during World War II was like for the kids at home. Grandpa went through the day of a boy living in a coastal city, tending his block of victory gardens, raising chickens to sell eggs, and the necessity to be inside by dark (no gasoline to drive anywhere, headlights of those that did had the top painted black as no lights were allowed in the city). Grandma talked about beating the odds of transferring into Stanford as a woman by achieving the top score on the entrance exam. The listener or reader must know from the start for whom the author is writing the book (young adults, fantasy lovers, romantics, thrill seekers?). Each category requires a different path, and a unique touch to the method of revealing a story.

What is the purpose of the tale? To teach, to entertain, to make the reader retain the memory of the characters or simply the overall message? A history book reads quite differently from fiction, but even history can be told in various ways. Is it the leadership or heroism of an individual or the achievement of a team that matters? Is it the failures of one battle that leads to success in the next? Is it the story of one of Henry the VIII’s wives, or the changes in religion brought on by his marriages to them?

Lead into the story, perhaps with a hint at the “punch line,” but reveal it in bits over time. Grandma did this with her story of how she married Grandpa. Grandpa attended Stanford University in California when she met him, but she was going to college in Oregon. Since we all knew the outcome, she stated the obstacle they faced upfront. Women were not usually accepted as transfer students into the school back at that time. If she wanted in, she’d have to do something to prove herself. Thus, the tale included the difficulties she had to overcome, the odds of getting into the college, and her process to defeat them.

Don’t forget the emotional impact of a story. Does your hero or heroine leave behind those they love? Have they nothing else in life except the love interest who is torn from their grasp? Has their home and country been destroyed, leaving them lost and looking for hope? Or has the cherished mare that is carrying the heroine across the country, been bitten by a snake and will likely die? Has your dancer suffered a devastating injury and the doctor must reveal she will lose her leg? Each of these touches emotions for readers.

Don’t forget to bring your story full circle. This weekend we watched the movie Moana. A young girl leaves home, knowing she alone is the one to save her island from dying, but also fully aware her father nearly died attempting to leave the safety of their island reef. Once she achieves success through her trials, the story would feel empty without her returning to the island. In my latest release, Under the Radar, my heroine leaves a base in South Africa for a mission and doesn’t return in the expected time. To bring the story full circle, she must eventually return, not to prove she could succeed, but to get more resources to complete a second mission and save someone she has come to love. The catch is that returning with success places her in grave danger from an unknown enemy.

Hopefully these examples give you some ideas as you embark on writing that next great novel. Just remember some keys to good storytelling include:
1. Know your audience.
2. Know the purpose of the story.
3. Lead into the story. Hint at the punch line, but reveal it in bits over time.
4. Be sure to touch on emotions.
5. Attempt to bring the story full circle.

If you enjoy romantic thrillers and adventure, check out my latest two book release, Under the Radar and Off the Chart in the new TakingRisks series.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We Are Blessed

It’s the day before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and people are in a mad scramble to get everything done so they can celebrate the holiday with family, friends, and loved ones.  The hectic roller-coaster ride of rushing to stores, climbing into cars and driving sometimes hundreds of miles, or jumping onto planes and flying across the country has begun. 

Let’s slow our roll for a bit, shall we, and take a moment to reflect on the things we’re thankful for.  The big things like, health, wealth and happiness naturally spring to the forefront of our minds.  Many of us are blessed with a prosperity we oftentimes take for granted.  We’re so busy keeping up with the Jones’s that we’ve forgotten everything we truly have accomplished in our mad dash. 

Instead, let’s pause a moment and take look around.  Do you have a roof over your head?  Be thankfulNot everyone is so fortunate.  Do you have food in the pantry and in the refrigerator?  Be thankful because many go without  How about that one special friend who’s always there for you, no matter what stupid stunt you’ve pulled?  Yep, be thankful they are in your life, even if it’s to stay I told you so. 

As a nation, we are blessed with an abundance of riches, and we often forget how much we have, and the costs associated with it.  Our Armed Forces don’t get to pack everything up and head home to their families for a big home-cooked meal and football on the TV.  Instead, they are out there, on the front lines, protecting us—so we have the freedom to sit down to that home-cooked meal and watch our favorite teams go for that game-winning touchdown. 

On a personal note, I am thankful to be able to do a job I love, and write stories that hopefully keep the readers on the edge of their seat, turning the page to figure out who the villain is, and if the hero will save the girl (or if the heroine will save the guy). 

My wish for you is a very blessed Thanksgiving holiday, and remembrance of what we have, big and small. 

For the holiday weekend, Deadly Justice (part of my New Orleans Connection Series) is on sale for only 99 cents.  (How’s that for a shameless plug?  

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