Across the States Part 3

Welcome back, intrepid travelers and adventurous readers! The coach is waiting so let’s go. No, not the bus, the stage coach! Because our first book takes place in 1895.

21. Iowa. The Hawkeye state is beautiful and bursting with agriculture, food production, and insurance. The highest point is Hawkeye Point, 1,670 feet in the air. (To compare, the Laguna Mountains in California high point is 6,000 feet) Lake Manawa State Park, near Council Bluffs, offers lush scenery and sailing opportunities. And is the setting for a new series of romances called Lake Manawa Summers by Lorna Seilstad. The first one, Making Waves, attracted lots of reviews that were highly polarized. Readers loved it or did not so much, but everyone felt something about this story. Isn’t that why we write?

22. Missouri. Going in, this seemed like a tough choice, but then a title jumped out at me. Like many others, I often enjoy a book better than the movie made from it. And in this case, I saw the movie first. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell has been made into a magnificent movie. A poor family in the Ozarks holds the spotlight, as sixteen-year-old Ree shoulders the responsibility of both parents because someone has to. Her journey to a secure life is one of the most memorable. I can’t wait to dig in to the book, and get more information about the Dolly family.

23. Arkansas. Seems I have a weakness for romances where the main characters have known each other, maybe all their lives, maybe just a few years, and don’t realize the feelings between them until it’s almost too late. I know this book is not new, and as a romance from the 1990s probably sweeter than today’s brand. But the hooks for me are a female rancher holding her own in a man’s world, someone declaring he’s going to marry her, and her best friend realizing he never wants to let her go. Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi looks like a hidden treasure.

24. Louisiana. Anne Rice is not the only writer who thinks New Orleans and/or Louisiana to be the best location for vampires and other paranormal sorts. At least six series are set in this local. So for some odd reason, a title with the word “nerd” caught my attention. And while it is a young adult story, that won’t detract from the enjoyment for me. As soon as the description said a comic convention, I was hooked and gasping for oxygen. The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller is a fairy tale, because in reality nerds rarely have double lives, but there is a spark of reality in knowing what you would like to be might not match what the world expects of you.

25. Mississippi. So many pre-programed thoughts come up for this state. Mark Twain, riverboats, civil rights, Ol’ Man River, I could do a whole blog about this. Imagine my surprise when the first book on the list fit what I looked for. The Help by Katherine Stockett looks at the blurred lines between people based on skin color in 1962. A devoted servant is often thought of as a member of the family, but society would be aghast if that servant sat at the same table with everyone. Even a young white woman with a college education is expected marry, not to set about having a career. Times have changed some, but if you look around, you’ll see we still have a long way to go.

26. Alabama. As long as we are taking a trip into the past, let’s to back to the Civil War, shall we? Not to dredge up old grudges or make a mockery of the sacrifices throughout the states, I think a romance between two people keeping secrets will be calming right now. And will also inspect the idea of two different secrets allowing one person to trust another. Redeeming Gabriel by Elizabeth White is a Harlequin Romance.

27. Tennessee. First impressions on the list of books for this state were that the novels were about assassins, vampires, and mercenaries. And I’m not saying those can’t be good stories. However, I found a series that appeals to me greatly. All three books take place in Tennessee, a plus! The first one is titled Until November (Until #1) and the main female character is named November. How cool is that? I read the blurbs on the other two books, and these are going on my to read list for sure. Aurora Rose Reynolds is a bestselling author for New York Times and USA Today.

28. Kentucky. How can there be no novels involving horses set in Kentucky? Well, there are, I just had to add to my search criteria. But with horses in the story, the plot turns to murder and mystery. And drugs. And the Mafia. So I went all the way back to 1977 when Janet Daily published her Americana series, a book set in every state. What a great concept! And her Bluegrass King is just what I am looking for: involves horses, love, and no one gets murdered. I think.

29. Illinois. If you are thinking 1930s gangsters, you are probably my age. If you are thinking legislation for or against goose liver pâté, you may be younger. Two of my favorite authors come up on the list, Neal Gaiman for American Gods, and Ray Bradbury for Dandelion Wine. Down the list, however, I found a book with lots of 5 star ratings from readers, and looked into it. Not really sure of the plot, but it’s a Male/Male romance that is solidly written and is a lead-in to a series. The main theme is that an ordinary person can be just what an extraordinary person is looking for in his life. Works for me! Warrior’s Cross by the lauded writing team of Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux.

30. Wisconsin. Say Cheese! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And the last book for today is another irresistible draw for me. Going back to my teen years, when I discovered the local Mythopeic Society chapter, attended by many of my friends from another science fiction club. The book under discussion at that meeting was Way Station by Clifford D. Simak. Alien technology is good, but it can only send a being so far. There have to be stopping points where other sets of equipment can forward the being on his or her or it’s way. Imagine being chosen to guard the place where this happens! Not all wonderful, for sure, but fascinating.

We’ll stop here today, but be back on Sunday with another 10 states. Thanks for reading!


Goals and Accountability

How would you feel if you asked someone how they could get so much done, and they in turn asked you how you could do so little? That’s a quote from Sir Phillip Adams, a British diplomat. And while it might not be so much diplomatic, it’s true. He goes on to say that people have vast potential, but just don’t make the effort to stop watching sitcoms and DO something. What a terrible waste.

As a writer, it can’t be that hard to write up goals. But Remember, goals have to be measurable, accomplishable, and reasonable. I might have a goal to jump over the tallest building in my town. That goal is measurable, but not reasonable and therefore not likely to be accomplished. If I have a goal to complete a 50,000 word manuscript in a week, well, again it is measurable and might be accomplishable if I do nothing else for a week. But it’s not very reasonable. I’ve always had a goal to lose weight. But without a goal of specific numbers, like two pounds of fat per week released forever, it’s not going to do me any good.

Here I am at the start of a new year, back on Medifast because it worked for me before. However I know me, so I have included some accountability measures this time. I have a notepad in which I write everything I eat each day. At night, my husband can check to see what I consumed. We can discuss how I felt if I went off the diet. He’s not going to chastise me or criticize, and because he wants me to be successful in this goal, he’s going to be positive and encourage me to stay on target.

I have a weight loss support group that meets every week, and is totally free. No one plan is accepted, you can attend if you do Weight Watchers, Medifast, NutriSystems, whatever. The right diet is the one that works for you. The meeting place is in the lobby of a medical building, and we have a scale that is designed for large people. I can chart my weight without having to share it with anyone. But because I want to be accountable, I will share it with my husband.

Writers set goals, that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about. That’s why I am pushing myself to map my stories and chart my daily word count. And soon I will have a quiet place where I can take a laptop without the temptation of on-line distractions and focus on my writing time. The house may look noticeably messier once I start to do that, but that’s not really a bad thing. So set your goals, pick someone you trust to be your Accountability Buddy, and get up out of your computer chair whenever you can. Walk around your yard or parking lot if you can, and be aware and focused. A healthy body will create more. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back touring more states by books on Thursday.

Across the States in 50 Books Part 2

Since we aren’t going as far as around the world, these shorter breaks are just enough to let us relax, right? Don’t for get to tip the sky cap and we are off!

11. Utah. I don’t know a lot about this state. I do know that while camping and pitching a tent in the near dark during a windstorm, one of my good friends said something about not wanting to be carried there by the storm as she wouldn’t get along well with the religious folks there. A group of four burly young men who were helping us wrestle the tent laughed, and one of them informed her that they were all of that faith. D’oh! And there certainly are a lot of books based on sensationalism due to, in my opinion, intolerance. I’m going to ignore those sorts. Here’s a romance that starts in Las Vegas and pickes up 9 years later in Utah. Fallen Star Trouble by Autumn Piper (Ooo, good name!) has a pretty high rating including one reader who stayed up late to finish it. That’s what I’m looking for!

12. Colorado. What do you think of for this state? Snow and skiing, legal weed, maybe Mork and Mindy? Mile High Stadium, and a crazy airport? How about Motorcycle Gangs? Not the hellish ones, or at least I don’t think a father would let his daughter be involved in that kind of gang. And these days, motorcycle gangs are usually weekend warriors bent on taking off the business suit and catching bugs in their teeth. Whee-Ha! Own the Wind by Kristen Ashley has that magical element of a bad boy who loves a good girl, and only wants to protect her. When she realizes his worth, the sparks fly on the wind. This book had over the top happy love it reviews.

13. New Mexico. You do not need a passport to go to New Mexico. I just want to be clear on that. Also there are lots of artists communities and a whole lot of ancient mysticism available to anyone who is open. My choice is a “great mix of a sweet romance, mystery, and humor.” According to one reviewer. Smash into You by Shelly Crane apparently plays the paranormal card close to the vest, and you don’t see the weird stuff coming until you are well hooked by the story. Really sounds good to me.

14. Texas. You may or may not need a passport to go to Texas at the time this gets posted. Any day now, I expect to hear that The Lone Star State is now a separate sovereign country. When searching for books that take place in this state, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry tops the list. I have a feeling most of us have seen the movie, and more than once. I really want to find a cowboy book that may have been overlooked by most readers. I’ll keep looking, but in the mean time, this sounds like a fun and entertaining read. Daisy’s Back in Town by Rachel Gibson. Mixed reviews, but a plot that gets me every time.

15. Oklahoma. Sing it with me, “Where the wind come whipping down the plain!” Yeah, oil and cowboys and dust bowls, oh my. A little paranormal to spice up the state whose motto is Labor Conquers All Things. Rachel Caine’s Weather Wardens series starts with Ill Wind, a road trip and a love story for us mortals.

16. Kansas. Where do we get so many cliches about states? “Aunty Em: Hate you, hate Kansas, taking Toto. Dorothy.” There is a cliché about romance books, that men just don’t write them well. To see if that is in fact a fact, let’s select The Fabulous Now by Tim Tharp. Soon to be a major motion picture, so read it quickly for bragging rights. (Although IMDb did not find it)

17. Nebraska. In grade school I read a story that took place in Nebraska, dealing with corn and a family with strange names. I can’t even remember them, but the corn all ended up popping. Or did I dream it? Well, continuing to find men writing really good romances, this book is praised by the man’s wife! Tom McNeal’s To Be Sung Underwater looks at the possibility of rekindling first love. The protagonists also are not kids or even New Adults. My Scribophile group has talked about founding a category romance for Old Adults. This isn’t quite that much, but it’s at least mature people.

18. South Dakota. Still in cowboy land, but also Native American land*. Another cliché is that Male/Male romances are written by women for women. My take on that is they are written by writers for readers. I am so thrilled to have found The Good Fight by Andrew Grey. Yes, the story contains a strong romance element, but the real story is the character of John Black Raven, and his struggle to get his brothers and sisters out of foster care and into his custody. I’ve worked in the system, and I can tell you things don’t always work out for the best. The reviews of this book are over the top in praising the realism of this timely topic. * From sea to shining sea, it’s all Native American land. I get that. Just saying you will find more history in some areas than others.

19. North Dakota. A huge state with a tundra-like climate, and more Native Americans. In fact, I wanted to choose a book that is first in a series called, creatively enough, Native American Romances. But the reviews are mixed and the write off came when one reader pointed out the hero is a mere 20 years old. Now maybe a man grows up faster in ND, but I’m going to have to pass. And I found a great romance to highlight. Love Finds You in Wildrose, North Dakota by Tracey Bateman. One twin marries and goes off with her new husband. Separation can be hard on twins, so her sister travels to visit, and finds the worst possible situation. No only is the married twin dead, there’s a malnourished infant and a grieving husband to deal with. I’m hooked.

20. Minnesota. This state is the birthplace of my mother and her five brothers and four sisters. You can believe I got the walking to school in the snow stories. As far as I know, none of my relatives on that side of the family are werewolves. We’re all familiar with the idea that the full moon causes the shift from human to wolf. Lots of modern shape shifter romances exist in a world where the individual can usually control the shift, and does so any time they want to. What if the cold of winter caused the wolf to come out? And what if the wolf has secretly been bonding with a human girl, and wants to stay human? I can’t wait to read this one. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is the first in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. (Note: this is a serial, so you will want to read all the books in the trilogy to get the whole story. Also there seems to be a new romance in the second book, so there you go.)

Well, that’s our destination so far. Next Sunday I’ll be looking at ways to write and stay healthy, then back on the road. Get the fire going in the cabin and put your boots up on the table.

Across the States in 50 Books

Last summer, I had a good time going around the world in 80 plus books. I visited many unusual countries, and expanded my Goodreads book shelf immensely. I have wanted to do the same for the states, as that’s my home country. And the few books I used are not nearly enough to cover the lay of the land. So over the next 5 posts (except for the 25th, as the last Sunday will cover health-related topics) I will visit 10 states through books, romances for a preference, but let’s see what turns up. Ready? Get in the truck and fasten your seat-belt.

1. Hawaii. Beautiful scenery is the perfect setting for romance, right? Even if the main characters stay inside a lot. This novel centers on an actor just out of rehab and seriously trying to stay clean. No, not that actor, it’s fiction. And who should walk into her life but the perfect Australian surfer hired to teach her all about the waves and the ocean and riding a board. A woman choosing between an old love who is really bad for her and a new man who wants her to be strong is a plot to peak my interest. Tidal by Emily Snow.

2. Alaska. Jumping from the beaches of Hawaii to the glaciers of Alaska may only seem natural to me, but here we are. And I am glad to be back. I stopped here in my Around the World tour, choosing the first book in the Naked Werewolf series by Molly Harper. How to Flirt with A Naked Werewolf certainly sounds like fun, so the second book, The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf, offers a second helping of paranormal romance fun.

3. Washington. No, we are not going to highlight 50 Shades of anything. Luckily last time through the state, I highlighted the first book in the With Me in Seattle series by Kristen Proby. Well, the second book, Fight With Me, also has a steamy cover and an Alpha male who won’t make things easy for the working girl he wants in his bed.

4. Oregon. My niece recently lost her beloved husband, and is facing a new life raising her two daughters alone. I think of them so often, and when I spotted this book on the list for the great state of Oregon, I knew I had to highlight it. Good Grief by Lolly Winston.

5. California. Not to brag about my home state, but there are so many classics to choose from. Works from John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, to name a few. Our history includes Spanish colonization, Gold Rush days, Civil Rights struggles, and Hollywood. I know the name Octivia Butler. I can’t think right now of what other books of hers I have read, but Kindred‘s synopsis gives me chills. How can a modern African-American woman survive when suddenly whisked away to an Antebellum slave plantation? I have a feeling that Outlander fans will enjoy this one.

6. Arizona. This state has some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see. The Grand Canyon, the dunes, and mountains rising out of the flattest land around. It’s hot, most of the time and in most of the state. So let’s take a look at a sizzling book. Threesomes are becoming very popular in Romances. I mean, why should a woman settle for one man if the men in question don’t have an issue, and maybe even go for each other as well? If the men are law enforcement types, and the woman is in need of protection, we have an excellent opening for a story. Shayla Black’s Dangerous Boys and Their Toys will keep up the heat.

7. Nevada. Hunter S. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Dean Koontz wrote Strangers. James Patterson wrote a Young Adult series called Maximum Ride. Stephen King wrote Desperation. Jane Rule wrote Desert of the Heart. These all take place in Nevada. And each would be an excellent read to get the feel of this silver-rich state. But I am more of a romance person, not that some of these do not fall into that category, but they are known for other reasons. Dangerous Refuge by Elizabeth Lowell had the classic elements of a big city policeman and a local girl working together to solve a murder. And of course, Nevada is another hot state.

8. Idaho. This timeless state has so much beauty and wilderness to share that progress should be a dirty word there. This book steps back to the turn of the 20th century with a look at Women’s Rights in a romantic setting. A career in Journalism had just started to open up to women, but censorship still held the day. Catching Katie by Robin Lee Hatcher shows that somehow love will find a way.

9. Montana. Big Sky Country apparently is the perfect place to hide all kinds of paranormal beings. A Vampire Academy turns no heads. And werewolves roam with ease. Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs is the first in a series called Alpha & Omega. This novel has won awards and is rated pretty highly by my friends on Goodreads. What better story trope than to think you are the lowest of the low, and discovering there is special magic in that placement?

10. Wyoming. Many times in my younger years I thought it would have been wonderful to live on a horse ranch and grow up knowing these beautiful animals as well as I knew cats and dogs. So I read just about any book about horses. My favorites were the Black Stallion series, but I had a soft spot for My Friend Flicka. Mary O’Hara created a great example of why I wanted to have a horse in my life. One of the comments on Goodreads states that she also paints the scenery of Wyoming so true to life that the person was able to recognize landmarks from her words.

We’ll settle here by the camp fire and pass around the coffee and cornbread. Have a good week, I’ll be back on Thursday.

How Do You Like It?

These days, it’s really difficult to read a romance novel without the folks involved getting, well, involved. And because I write lots of sex scenes myself (to the point where I am lamenting writing another one), I am always interested in how the author approaches the subject. I thought I would review some of the books I have read recently, because there seems to be a style for each reader’s preferences.

Before I start, I remember a woman I knew from church 40 years ago or so. She would give me Romance novels to read, but being a good woman, if there was any sex in the book, she threw it in the trash. Today, she would have to request extra bins for the project. Times have indeed changed.

I love Sue Seabury’s Miss series, Miss Understanding being the first one I read. These are Young Adult books, and so the sex is simple. Attraction and kissing, and thinking about what else might happen, but nothing overt.

Brenda Novak’ s The Heart of Christmas surprised me. The heat level went way up, but she didn’t provide a lot of detail. Simple fades to the next morning were used, and it worked very well.

If you have read along in this blog for a while, you know I love Regency romances. I could hardly wait to read Rescued from Ruin by Georgie Lee, a close, personal, fellow member of RWA. I was not disappointed. The plot brings together two old flames who have gone their separate ways for a decade or so. The desire flares between them, but their history keeps them apart. When they do, finally, give in to that desire, the moments are magical. Georgie uses a nice blend of terms for the parts of the body involved, very much in keeping with the historical tone, and explicit details of who is doing what to whom.

Another friend and Regency author, Sally Orr, has one of the most drool-worth covers imaginable. That alone tells the reader that The Rake’s Handbook {including Field Guide} will be hot. The plot is an interesting look at the changes in an agrarian society at the dawning of the Industrial Age. The heroine has a lot of concerns with her handsome neighbor who is fighting his reputation as a rake. She wants to be sure the factory he plans doesn’t harm the water or her beloved home, and that no children will be used, or rather, misused, in the labor there. Neither expects a romance to happen between them, but neither can stop the fire when it starts to burn. There are some humorous uses of farm terms that allows them to talk about their sexual encounters. Again, not too graphic, but hot enough to curl the pages.

These books are all romances, not erotica, so the story includes sexual activity between the main characters (except for Sue Seabury’s books, of course) and only at opportune moments that move the story along. The good thing is, romances these days come in many heat levels, and you can find the ones you like easily enough. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

The Blog Bog and Other Writer’s Problems

Some years ago, I thought it would be a lot of fun to write a blog about my parrots. So I started one, and it has been a lot of fun. Then I became involved in a humor blog called You Suck at Craigslist (YSaC to the in-crowd). As I got to know the intelligent and funny people who published the blog, I was privileged to be given moderator duties and to help out now and then. I had a blast.

Next I joined RWA and learned that a blog about being a writer was an absolute must if you want to be taken seriously. Ta-da, this is that blog. I got active on Scribophile and found that many new writers are afraid of blogging. So I started a group blog with a dozen or so writers who get to have on blog up every six weeks, because we post twice a week. I made sure to put it on other days than when I do my two blogs.

Recently, the intelligent and funny people at YSaC realized how much time they were putting in to the site, and how little return it provided. There is a huge and caring community involved in the site, and that is one of the greatest returns ever. Still, as young professionals they needed to trim down their extracurricular activities. YSaC ended.

I couldn’t take it. Not have a place to be snarky and laugh at the lowlife posters on Craigslist? So I started Welcome to Fabulous Sparkyville. If you are counting, that’s four blogs of which three I am the sole person responsible for the content, and one that is my responsibility to keep going.

The conclusion: I Am Insane.

I have a sequel to Regency Banquet Appetizer: Pure Seduction to finish, have critiqued, edited and published. I have an anthology to get in gear and the next story for the next book in the anthology to write. I have a completed manuscript of a Regency Romance to query or decide to publish myself, and I have a shape shifter paranormal romance to finish.

Luckily, a wonderful writer named Rachel Aaron has information on how to take your word count per day from 2000 to 10000. The first step is to write out where the story is going. Not outline, not summary, just for yourself, an idea or road map of what needs to happen, where it needs to happen, and why. I did this for all my pending stories, and it has helped so much. Lots of plot twists I didn’t know how to resolve were sorted out.

Next, Rachel Aaron said to start recording your writing time, the word count, and where you are when you write. I made a very simple Excel spreadsheet and have diligently used it to keep track. My average writing time is an hour before I become distracted by something or have something that needs to be done. My average word count is 550 words per hour. Yikes! No wonder my projects seem to be standing still.

The reason you would include the place you are when you are writing is because going to a library or coffee shop might prove to be interruption-free compared to home. At this time, I don’t have the option of writing elsewhere. There will always be solitaire games waiting for me, and friends to chat with. But I have a new computer just waiting for the time for it to be installed, and that will free up my laptop. And even if I don’t get to go to the coffee shop to write, I can create a space in the spare room for writing on the laptop, with no internet access. And that will solve all my problems, right?

I can’t wait to see what the third step is. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back on Thursday.

Need Input!

A writer cannot write in a vacuum. Cause all that dust and the bad smell would be distracting, not to mention the noise. That’s one reason I love Scribophile. A whole gaggle of my fellow writers live there, just waiting for me to interact with them. That’s my story.

Just this past week, we learned the meaning of many English surnames.
Very Interesting.
And information on how to grow your social media network:

A bunch of us are taking a great on-line class starting on Monday January 12th about self-publishing: so expect to see more book reviews from this crowd. Especially the ones who signed up for Write or Die:

One of the best things about the group is the recurring Play List. Songs you listen to when writing, or go to when you need inspiration. Yeah, inspiration is what Hozier is all about in Take Me to Church.  John Legend exactly captures the feeling of a man who loves a woman but doesn’t understand her with All of Me. Josh Kelley needs you because you are Home to Me. (Had to listen to his version of Mandolin Rain because it was on the same page. Nice. )

Glen Templeton sounds like a country boy, so that may be why I missed this beautiful song, Let Her Go. I have no idea why I haven’t heard of Chase Holfelder before, he has amazing vocal vibes. And his trick of switching from a major key to a minor certainly does alter the mood of the tune. Every Breath You Take never chilled me before.

We also use visual inspiration, like, well, naked David Gandy. That works for character development, but what about the setting? For instance, my shape shifter romance will take place in Cuba, but I haven’t been there. So I use Google and the like to find out what I need to know.

And travel sites are great for lists of romantic get-aways. Most romantic and beautiful places, like Hawaii, have their own web sites.

What if we could combine the class, the resources, the music, the scenery, and get away from it all to write? Sounds expensive. Aren’t there retreats for romance writers in the US? Seems like most of those are hosted by RWA chapters. There are conferences and book events. Here’s a pretty up to date list:

That should be enough input for now. Get back to writing. I’ll be back on Sunday.