Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of the Summer...

I know summer doesn't REALLY end until about the 3rd week of September, but the last day of August always makes me think it's over... School has started again (I am not weeping about this), the days are marginally shorter -- if not actually cooler, and I'm even spotting a few early leaves that have changed from green to gold.

Some very fun things are coming up in just the next week, though, so I wanted to let you know about them: The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, a group I've been a part of for two-and-a-half years, has recently launched our Girlfriends Book Club blog with (almost) daily posts from 35 women authors. It's such a fabulous group, and I'm just thrilled to be a part of it! Another blog launch, this one coming up on Monday, Sept. 6th, is for Austen Authors -- a collection of about 20 of us who've published novels that somehow involve our dear Jane. There will be MANY posts and MANY prizes throughout September! If you're an Austen fan, you'll definitely want to join in the fun.

Also, the lovely Edie Ramer will be visiting Brant Flakes on Thursday to talk about her new book Cattitude!! Don't miss that! And I'll be trekking over to see my wonderful pals, The Seekers, next Tuesday, Sept. 7th, to blog about Blake Snyder's beat sheet. I'll be comparing two great films -- "When Harry Met Sally" and "Die Hard" -- as well as giving away some more ARCs of Friday Mornings at Nine. Looking forward to seeing you all soon!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Johnny...you impress me...how'd ya do it?

First of all, HI!!! Between various trips this summer and my book deadline that's fast approaching, I've been offline a lot more than usual lately. But, while I'm not allowing myself much by way of goof-off time until the manuscript is polished and turned in, I did need to take a mental break from revisions for a few hours this weekend...and I chose to spend it watching a handful of old episodes of 21 Jump Street.

Who else remembers this show? Johnny Depp, very clean cut. An '80s pretty boy who made the idea of a young cop undercover in a high school delightfully appealing. (He fought off gang members and drug users, put bullies in their place, and even had time to make out with the hot young English teacher--once he'd flashed his badge, of course, and his real age was safely revealed.) I remember the show fondly, if not with much critical accuracy. I liked the boppiness of the title track (sung by Holly Robinson, now Holly Robinson Peete) and the collection of young actors on the show, particularly Johnny. He delivered his lines well enough for the expectations of this youth-focused crime drama, but I fully admit he gave me no indication whatsoever back then that he'd grow into the versatile and wildly transformative actor he's become.

So, I found myself wondering, HOW did this happen??? What made him leap from typical young '80s actor to one whose dramatic prowess and unique characterizations have become legendary? What clicked for him in this artistic realm? What inspired him to elevate his acting craft to a level so far above that of many of his peers?

I liked Johnny 20+ years ago and thought he was "cute." I respected his growing skill throughout the years, too. But now, having watched so many of his later films and then seeing anew his early work, I'm deeply, overwhelmingly impressed by his growth as an actor, and I hold that level of profound improvement up as a kind of beacon of hope for all of us in the arts. If he could raise the bar for himself like that, perhaps the rest of us are also capable of reaching higher... Anyway, maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but it's inspirational to me ;).

For those of you who are Johnny Depp fans, what films are your favorites? Would love to hear!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wine, Wit & Lit is Coming!

This is an FYI about an exciting event coming up on Sunday, October 3, 2010 for anyone within striking distance of St. Louis. The fabulous Susan McBride has been the force behind it's organization (LOVE her!!) and this is the latest from her website:

I'm putting together a very cool event with some friends called "Wine, Wit, and Lit: Cocktails and Conversation with Local Authors" to benefit Casting for Recovery, a post-treatment program for breast cancer survivors. The Lone Wolf Coffee Co. in Ballwin, MO, will host, and there'll be door prizes, a "speed-dating with authors" session, wine tastings, appetizers, and eight AMAZING authors including Marilyn Brant (FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE), Jen Gauvain & Anne Milford (HOW NOT TO MARRY THE WRONG GUY), Sharon Shinn (GATEWAY), Angie Fox (A TALE OF TWO DEMON SLAYERS), Jody Feldman (THE SEVENTH LEVEL), Bobbi Smith (CAPTIVE PRIDE), and Susan McBride (THE COUGAR CLUB). Puddn' Head Books will sell all authors' most recent releases. Early registration is $10 per person, or it's $15 at the door. Email TheCougarClub@aol.com to save your spot!

Let me emphasize...there will be WINE tasting! Appetizers! And Prizes, too!! Not to mention lots of books and their authors, all for a really good cause ;-). Please help us spread the word.

Friday, August 13, 2010

DisneyWorld: Fairy Tales and Foreign Lands

Although the weather is still very hot and muggy (91 degrees in the shade yesterday!) and the school year has yet to start, my thoughts have already turned to fall. With Friday Mornings at Nine coming out in less than seven weeks and my third novel, The Grand European, due to my editor on September 1st (!!), I've been offline more than on trying to get all of my promotions ready and put the finishing touches on the new book.

But when I was in Orlando a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but be reminded of both of these books while experiencing DisneyWorld for the first time. My Friday Mornings story deals heavily with the concept of fairy tales...particularly in regards to how we perceive modern relationships. And if there's someplace in the U.S.A. that calls to mind fairy tales more than most, it would be the Magic Kingdom. Note Cinderella's beautiful castle on left!

And, on the right, Cinderella herself... :) I had a wonderful time visiting the original park on our 1st day! It was funny and unexpectedly delightful--largely because of the company I was keeping. My longtime friends and Chicago-North chaptermates Karen Dale Harris, Erika Danou-Hasan and Simone Elkeles were my guides through the Wonderful World of Disney, and I couldn't have been in better hands. And when they took me on Space Mountain...ahhh, it was pure roller-coaster love at its height!! That is the BEST ride EVER!

For years I'd wanted to visit Epcot, which I got to do on our 2nd day in Orlando. (Here's the famous Golf Ball!) I'd heard so much about the "World Showcase" and wanted to see for myself what that was like, especially since I was in the midst of writing my Grand Euro novel. We visited stage-set-like versions of England, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, China and other countries, which was very cool. Of particular interest to me were the lands of Italy and Morocco.

The Venetian mask shop on the right was especially fascinating. I love the real Venice. LOVE it. It's one of my favorite cities in the world. I can't claim that the Epcot version matched the allure of original for me, but I did really enjoy Epcot's Venezia for what it was: A taste of that incomparable Italian city with little hints of its genuine flavor in the form of gelato, handcrafted masks, pastas, imported chocolates and even authentic Murano glass. (And, btw, Stefano--pictured right--was genuine Italian, too. :)

And then there was Morocco... Walking through the bazaar was a colorful and exciting experience, but I couldn't get over my constant urge to eat some tajine-cooked lamb. (The tajine is a special clay-like pot used for slow cooking meats.) For lunch, I tried their "Mediterranean Sampler Platter" and truly wish I would have thought to take a picture of it. There was falafel...and cooked lamb and chicken on pitas...tabouli--the Middle Eastern salad...hummus...and more. YUM! And, ohhh, baklava for dessert! (I really got into the whole taste-testing dishes from around the world thing. VERY fun!!)

Finally, as night fell at Epcot, Erika, Karen, Simone and I strolled through the various nations represented at the park and watched some of the "Illuminations" light show. It had been an action-packed couple of days--all before the RWA National Conference even began!--but just as enjoyable and memorable.

For those of you who have been to DisneyWorld, which is your favorite park? I've been told I need to go back to see the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Are the waterparks also a must-see?? Universal Studios? Any other really great Orlando attractions? Would love to hear your thoughts!

p.s. For anyone interested, I have 2 new contests going on at Fresh Fiction this month: One for According to Jane and one for Friday Mornings at Nine... Wishing you all a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

RWA 2010: Swans, Dolphins & Mickeys

Back home again... Although I'm nowhere near caught up, I did manage to download my pictures from the Orlando RWA National Conference today. I have over 200 of them...and, even splitting them into two parts, I know it would be impossible to share them all without overloading poor Blogger--LOL. So, Mickey, Minnie and the Disney World gang will have to wait until my next post (I went to 2 parks!), but below are a collection of some of the writing-related things I did and some of the truly wonderful people I got to spend time with at the Swan & Dolphin Resort this past week. (BEWARE: Overuse of exclamation points ahead.)

The first big evening event was the Literacy Signing on Wednesday night--my first time taking part in it, alongside about 500 other authors! I gave away postcards, book excerpts and Starbucks VIA coffee--plus, I signed a bunch of books, the proceeds all going to literacy. That day, I also got to meet Edie Ramer in person. (Finally! But we forgot to take a picture--darn!) I saw RWA National Board Member and friend Ruth Kaufman, fellow Chicago-North WF writer Eliza Evans, Cherry pal Melina Kantor , fab "Pink Carnation" series author Lauren Willig, Golden Heart finalist Maureen McGowan (yay!!! did ya hear me screamin'?!) and so many RWA friends. At long last, I met RITA finalist Jennifer Echols (just LOVE her YA novel Going Too Far), caught up with RITA finalists and fellow Chicago-North chaptermates Courtney Milan and Laurie Brown (so proud of you two!), chatted with some enthusiastic and very nice librarians and booksellers at the networking event, and did a video interview with Fresh Fiction! (Thanks, Gwen, for making it so fun!) But that's not all...

...also on Wednesday night there was the Booksellers' Best Awards. According to Jane was a double finalist, and I was thrilled that it came away with "Best Single Title" of the year. Given the incredible writers in my category (Robin Kaye! Karen White! Toni Blake! Susan Mallery!), I can't express how honored I was to win it this year. I also had the pleasure of sitting with fellow finalists Robin Kaye and Caroline Fyffe (pictured left) who are ALSO my 007 Bond Sisters from our year as Golden Heart finalists. It was wonderful to get to see them again at BBA (and at the PASIC party) and, later, to get to catch up with our fellow 007 sister, contemporary/paranormal erotic romance author Lexi Ryan!

During the Lit Signing and at the BBA Ceremony, I got to meet RITA finalist, Booksellers' Best finalist and all-around awesome romantic suspense author Kylie Brant! She and I were seated next to each other during the signing (it's alphabetical, of course :), so we decided we needed to pose here as the "Brant Bookends"--LOL.

No conference would be half as fun without TKA friends Mel Francis and Maria Geraci (left). So, so glad I got to spend a little time with you ladies--it wasn't long enough!!

The incomparable Nora Roberts spoke during our Keynote Lunch, and it was only made better because I got to share the experience with wonderful writing friends Curt Walters, Pamela Cayne and Robin Bielman. I am, however, STILL wondering what that odd ultra-green vegetable was on our plates... It tasted like zucchini, but it looked a little like a tiny, green UFO...

On the subject of food (ones I can actually identify), good friend and RITA finalist Simone Elkeles hosted a chocolate and champagne party that featured these delectable treats. YUM!!

At the Kensington party, I had the chance to finally meet up with talented women's fiction writers Terri DuLong (next to me) and Mingmei Yip (far right). After email-only correspondence, I was SO excited to get to talk with them in person!

Also at the party (pictured left) was Karen Auerbach, Kensington's very kind and extremely hardworking Director of Publicity and PR, standing next to New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell, who also won a Booksellers' Best Award for "Best Long Historical." YAY, Hannah!

Before the big RITA/Golden Heart Ceremony, I had the opportunity to eat dinner with lovely Kensington authors: Kate Douglas, Rebecca Zanetti, Cynthia Eden and Debbie Mazzuca (on right)...

...and Laura Moore, Angie Fox and Erin Kellison (on left)...

...and Pearl Wolf and Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe (with me pictured between them on right). What a fun, laughter-filled table!!

Then the awards started! See how gorgeous authors Erica Ridley and RITA finalist Ally Carter are in this photo on the left?! Yeah...and they're both REALLY nice, too!

And I got to meet--for the first time!--Girlfriends Cyber Circuit pal Maggie Marr; Women's Fiction-RWA prez & RITA finalist (for her most excellent novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy) Therese Walsh; and lovely Magical Musings writer Michelle Diener, who'd flown in for the conference all the way from Australia!!!

Here are friends and Chicago-North chaptermates Laura Moore and Blythe Gifford!

Pictured above are several of my fellow Chicago-North chaptermates looking absolutely beautiful in their fancy dresses!

Simone Elkeles made Chicago-North so proud when she won the RITA for her YA novel Perfect Chemistry. (Whoo-hoo, Simone!!!!) She and the awesome Meg Cabot posed on the right with Ms. RITA ;).

And, finally, after passing around the (very heavy!) golden statue, Karen Dale Harris, Simone Elkeles w/RITA, Sara Daniel, Lisa Laing, Erika Danou-Hasan and I posed for one last picture. It was an exciting--sometimes exhausting--conference, but so many great things happened. And I even managed to go to a few workshops in between the parties, luncheons and award ceremonies--oh, yes, AND I made it to 2 Disney parks! But more on that next time...