Friday, April 30, 2010

Romantic Times Convention with Barbara Vey

I spent Friday morning at the Romantic Times Convention with Barbara Vey, of Publishers Weekly Beyond Her Book romance blog (! She's an amazing and gracious lady. Barbara knows no strangers, and when with her, you feel like you've known her forever! Needless to say, Barbara was acquainted with everyone there!

While with her I met several from the publishing industry including Donna Hayes and Loriana Sacilotto of Harlequin, Angela James of Carina Press and Tina Trevaskis of Samhein. As we walked through the RT Club exhibits I met lots authors including Julie Kramer (Stalking Susan), Patricia Sargent (Sweet Deception), Cindy Gerard (Show No Mercy), Loreli James (Shoulda Been a Cowboy) and many more.

One of the most fascinating things I watched was Barbara being airbrushed by Julie Kramer. Julie works in the "desperate world of televsion news," and she explained that with high definition TV there's a lot of pressure on the anchors (men andwomen) to look good--and young! Apparently, HD empahsizes every pore, crease and wrinkle. The device used to airbrush on makeup costs a few hundred dollars. The nozzle evenly sprays on foundation and provides a smooth matte finish that perfectly camouflages imperfections.

I also had the opportunity to meet May Boonpitak. She has the only romance blog in Thailand, and was inspired by Barbara to come to the RT Covention all the way from Thailand. She told me that romance novels there are censored, with anything too explicit removed. May says her English has improved by reading English versions of the romance books censored in her native language.

All in all, Friday was a fun day! Thanks to Barbara Vey for a great time at RT!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Online Writing Communities Lead the Way to Blueberry Pie

Writers, what's another way to improve your writing? Join an online writing community. There are lots of online sites out there for networking, self promotion and socializing, but don't forget about those that offer educational enrichment opportunities, as well.

I just joined Writers Digest ( and The Writer Magazine ( Online communities are available at these sites that offer lots of free information including writing tips, industry information, agent interviews and conference schedules. So, if you haven't already joined, do it now!

Caution: Online communities can become a time drain if you're not careful! So set clear goals every day, but not too many, like the following:

  • Read daily posts in your online writing communities
  • On Twitter, read tweets most applicable to you
  • If you blog, decide how often you can update your content and stick to that schedule

For some really great information on how to spend online time wisely, see Dan Blank's post Social Media Savvy in Just 15 Minutes a Day

Okay, so you've joined some online writing communities, set your goals for the day--and met them! Now it's time to treat yourself to some Blueberry Pie! Yes, April 28 is Blueberry Pie Day, so I have to share a recipe. Unfortunately, I don't have a one that's low in fat. But I can provide an alterntive.

My grandmother used butter to dot the filling in her pies, and lard to make an incredibly flakey crust. Oo, I think I just gained a couple pounds thinking about that! Although my husband love, love, looooves blueberry pie, I make a blueberry crisp instead. He loves this, too, and my lowfat version is easy and delicious. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Low Fat Blueberry Crisp

1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 t cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 T low fat margarine (I use Smart Balance Light)
6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Vanilla ice cream (fat free or low fat to cut calories)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine oatmeal, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in margarine until mixture is crumbly; set aside. Spray 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Pour blueberries into pan, then sprinkle berries with sugar. Sprinkle oatmeal mixture over all. Bake at 350 for 45 to 45 minutes. Serve with ice cream. Serves 12.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Once Upon a Time...

Isn't family history amazing? Describing the pain and triumph experienced by granparents and great grandparents can be fascinating for younger generations to hear. Romantic anecdotes about how mom and dad met are also fun to share. April 27 is Tell a Story Day, so what a great time to talk about family history with our children.

Lots of family stories have become great books. Some that immediately spring to mind are Roots by Alex Haley, and his followup, Alex Haley's Queen. Margaret Walker's Jubilee was a fictional account of her great grandmother, based on stories told to Walker by her grandmother.

My mom's written a children's book entitled The Spoon, using facts from a true story. She was the last child in her family to eat from this particular baby spoon. It's origin is unknown, but after using it to feed my mom, my grandmother passed it on to another relative. But soon after, that relative's infant fell from a window and died.

The spoon was then passed on to my grandmother's sister. However, not long after that, the sister's baby contracted tuberculosis and passed away, as well. Of course, the spoon used to feed those children was in no way responsible for their untimely deaths, but the back to back tragedies wierded out the family so much, they never used "the spoon" again!

After my grandmother died, my mom found the spoon in the back of her mother's silverware drawer. It's now framed in a window box, hanging in mom's kitchen. Talk about a conversation piece!

True life romances also make great books. In 2007, Harlequin published Friends: A Love Story by Hollywood power couple Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance about their real life romance.

My own true love story is how I met my husband. While I was out running one day, future hubby drove by, then pulled over and asked me out!

So never pass up an opportunity to share some family history or tell all about a real life romance. But don't just wait for Tell a Story Day--everyday can be story day!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Say Cheese!

Today is National Cherry Cheesecake Day! I'd say any kind of cheesecake rates high as a romantic dessert because so many people are in love with it! I was at a dessert auction earlier this week, and out of the thirteen up for auction, more than half were some variety of cheesecake.

Who doesn't love an excuse to indulge in something this sinfully delicious? A lactation specialist once recommended that I eat cheesecake to enrich breast milk. Who was I to argue when both baby and mom could benefit from such a tasty treat?

Usually, cheesecakes are so richly decadent, they're near the point of being deadly. Those made with full fat sour cream, cream cheese, heavy cream and whole eggs are particularly suspect. Is love or a death wish served with that?

After one bite, the initial response is "ummm..." But seconds later, after the bite is swallowed, a hot, brick like sensation is felt in the pit of the stomach, followed by "uh...but it's so rich."

I want to enjoy cheesecake without risking my health--or gaining weight--so in honor of National Cherry Cheesecake Day, I'm sharing a recipe I've created for a slimmed down version. It's guilt free and tastes great. I've served it at dinner parties and people can't believe it's fat free! Hope you enjoy. Serve with love, not a death wish!

Fat Free Cherry Cheesecake

graham crackers (about 4-6 sheets, or enough to cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 baking dish)
3 8oz packs softened fat free cream cheese
1 t vanilla extract
2 t almond extract
1 cup sugar
2 T flour
1/4 t salt
6 egg whites
1/4 cup skim milk
2 cans light cherry pie filling

For crust, spray bottom of 9 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Grind graham crackers in food processor, or crush in plastic bag with rolling pin. Cover the bottom of baking dish with graham crackers crumbs. Pat down crumbs, then spray them with cooking spray.

For filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and extracts until fluufy. Stir together sugar, flour and salt. Gradually stir into cream cheese mixture. Add egg whites; beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in milk. Turn into prepared baking dish. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 3o0, then bake 50-55 minutes more. Cool about 2 hours, then chill thoroughly. Top with cherry pie filling. Serves 12.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Calgon, Take Me Away!

How often do you have a Calgon moment? You know what I'm talking about--those moments when you wish you could become a romance heroine.

The house is a mess, three loads of clean laundry sit waiting to be folded because you haven't had time to do it, the kids are screaming, the dog is barking, and the beef stew is burned and sticking to the bottom of the pot. On top of all that, you're still steamed about the back handed compliment from your husband that morning. "Honey, I love your fuller figure--you're not fat--really."

One reason romance novels are so popular, is that they provide a means of escape from our real lives of drudgery, responsibility--and weight gain--into a world of perfection and fantasy.

In some romance novels, the heroine never has to look at dust on the furniture, think about mopping the dingy floor, cleaning the toilets or remember to fold the laundry--after she cooks dinner. And she's always svelte, beautiful, and never gains a pound. She's able to indulge in pizza, cheeseburgers and ice cream, yet never mentions working out. In addition, she's usually very smart and holds a powerful, high paying job.

The hero is perfect and handsome--and sometimes a multi-millionaire! He always knows what to say, and his love for the heroine is unconditional. Even though there are problems between them, all is resolved and tied up with a happily ever after ending. Sigh...

We love the romance between the hero and heroine, but the fantasy life of the heroine is just as appealing!

Would you trade your real life for the life of a romance heroine--just for a day?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Time to Laugh

Today is Humorous Day! In life, as in writing, it's important to see humor in even serious situations. In literature, humor eases the stress level in tension filled scenes to give the reader a chance to catch his breath.

American Hetitage Dictionary defines comic relief as follows: n. A humorous or farcical interlude in a serious literary work or drama, especially a tragedy intended to relieve the dramatic tension or heighten the emotional impact by means of contrast.

Think drunken porter scene in MacBeth, or grave digging scene in Hamlet. Or how about Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter Stephanie Plum about to get barbecued by a flame thrower in Lean Mean Thirteen? She claims she can help the bad guys get what they need behind a volted security gate, but they have to get volt cutters first. To do this, Stephanie talks them into going to Lowe's and Home Depot to find some!

In real life a good laugh is important, too. According to's page on Stress Management:

  • Laughter gives us a physical and emotional release
  • Good belly laughs work out the diaphram, contract the abs, and exercise the shoulders
  • Laughter takes away focus from negative emotions like anger, guilt, or stress in a more positive way than an ordinary distraction.


    On Humorous Day, here's my prescription for a happy, stress free life: Smile, laugh, hug often--oh, and read some good books with lots of comic relief!

    What's yours?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On Writing Right

Stephen King is extraordinary, a master storyteller. Back around 1986, I read my first Stephen King book, Pet Sematary, a gripping novel that kept me up late at night turning pages. When I'd force myself to go to sleep, I kept the lights on. Even after I finished reading it, I slept with the lights on for two weeks afterward.

Well, I'm glad to report that over 20 years later, I'm finally reading my second Stephen King book! One that won't scare the living daylights out of me, but will allow me to sleep with the lights out. Today I started King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Although his horror novels scare me too much to read, he is a true master of the craft and I'm looking forward to what I'll learn.

In his Second Foreward, King states that his book is short because "most books about writing are filled with bull****." He notes that one "notable exception to the bull**** rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." He goes on to say that there is little or no detectable bull**** in that book.

After reading Mr. King's statement about books on writing, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites--and they're short with no detectable waste products:

  • The Elements of Style is a must read for anyone who's serious about writing. Before even starting a novel, read and re-read Chapter 5: An Approach to Style. It'll save you from many common mistakes of first time authors.

  • On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel that Sells by Leigh Michaels is an excellent writer's resource. Even if you're not a romance writer, Ms. Michaels offers helpful advice that can apply to all genres. In the appendices, she includes helpful information on crafting query letters, synopses, and cover letters.

  • Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello provides useful instruction pertaining to novels, screenplays, stage plays, memoirs, periodical articles, and non-fiction. Each rule (ranging from 1-3 pages) is jam packed with excellent advice that will improve your work--and leave you feeling like you can write anything!

What are some of your favorite books on the writing craft?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cincinnati: City of Romance

"I love Cincinnati" is a slogan in my beautiful hometown. It's a jingle on local radio and television stations, and is adhered to bumpers all over the city.

I know what you're thinking, and you're probably laughing! My city has been the target of insults and bad publicity for far too long. Mark Twain even said, "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it' s always 20 years behind the times."

Around 1835 Cincinnati was nicknamed "Porkopolis" because it was the country's leading pork packaging center and herds of pigs traveled through the streets. I know, what a lovely thought.

Last summer I ran across a book by Dave Gilmartin entitled The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America. You guessed it, Cincinnati made the list! Gilmartin writes: "...what little excitement does exist often comes in the form of race riots and related activity (unless one considers the dismal meanderings of the Reds and the Bengals 'exciting')."

Okay, so Cincinnati has been singled out for some rather dubious distinctions:
  • Jerry Springer was our mayor (1977-78). But he was a good mayor and the people loved him!
  • Cincinnati did have race riots in 2001. But that was the distant past. Sort of.
  • In 2009, Cincinnati's Over the Rhine area ranked as America's #1 most violent neighborhood. No neighborhood is perfect.
  • Cincinnati is maligned as the home of the "Bungles" and "The Big Dead Machine." Well, the Bengals almost made it to the Super Bowl in 2009.

Now, for you readers and lovers of romance, read on!

  • In 2009 Cincinnati was ranked as the 9th Most Literate City in the US with a population over 200,000. Findings were based on data including library resources and newspaper circulation. See for more information on this study and more positive publicity for Cincinnati!
  • In Febrauary 2010, Cincinnati was ranked as the 15th most Romantic City in the US with a population over 100,000 by Amazon's findings were based on citywide purchases of, among other things, romance novels, romance DVDs, and Barry White CDs! Feel the love!

Men beware, if you're not from Cincinnati, but you marry a woman from Cincinnati, you'll end up living here. That's what happened to my husband--and singer Peter Frampton, too!

If you've never been to Cincinnati, don't be so quick to insult it. Cincinnati is a beautiful city filled with history, culture and romance. Check out my hometown at and tell me what you think!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Now, That's a Problem!

For many beginning writers, use of the word that is a problem. In addition to adding needless words to a manuscript, its constant repetition causes choppiness and interrupts the flow of your writing.

Over the weekend I attended the monthly meeting of the Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America chapter ( Author Ann Warner ( presented an insightful and informative workshop on editing.

The first exercise she assigned for us was to look through the works in progress we'd brought and highlight the word that in our first two pages. Ms. Warner was pleased to see that none of us raised our hands when asked if it appeared five or more times. "You're not beginners," she said. But at one time, we all were.

In Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, that and which are discussed as follows:

That is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.

The lawnmower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)
The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question)

The use of which for that is common in written and spoken language...Occasionally which seems preferable to that...But it would be a covenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. The careful writer, watchful for small conveniences, goes which hunting, removes the defining whiches, and by so doing improves his work.

I just want to add to that, although I lack the eloquence of Mr. Strunk and Mr. White here, that a careful writer will trim those thats, too! Remember that trimming that unnecessary that from your writing is like trimming that unnecessary fat from your diet! And that's a good thing!

Any comments on that?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chocolate: An Edible Language of Love

To those of us who live to eat, food is love, and nothing says love quite like chocolate. Aside from its extraordinary flavor, chocolate possesses a variety of health benefits. Packed with antioxidants, chocolate stimulates the secretion of endorphins, for that pleasureable "runner's high" feeling, and also contains the neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as an antidepressant. For more health benefits see the following links:

Unfortunately, most things chocolate are mostly fattening. But here's a recipe that's lowfat, decadently delicious, and chocolate! Enjoy this treat with the ones you love, or just with a cup of coffe and your favorite romance novel.


2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 T canola oil
3/4 cup applesauce
2 cups grated raw zucchini (unpeeled)
3 t vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and foamy. Add sugars, oil, apple sauce, zucchini and vanilla. Mix lightly but well. In a seperate bowl combine flour, cocoa, salt, soda, and baking powder. Add to zucchini/egg mixture. Stir until well blended.

Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. Fill 2/3 full with batter. Bake 30 minutes. Yeild: 2 and 1/2 dozen.

Recipe by Maria McKenzie

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Print vs EBooks: The Intimacy Factor

I suppose the excitement about the Apple iPad has subsided since eralier this week. My kids, 11 and nine, are too young to be interested in that gizmo, but they're fascinated by the Nintendo DSi XL, which includes an eletronic book reader. But they won't be getting one. Each purchased a DSi with Christmas money.

Although the XL is geared toward adults, my oldest son said maybe he'd read more if he got one. I thought about that for a minute--make that a millisecond. He'd be too distracted by the games!

Nowadays, we're reading with Kindles, iPads, Sony digital readers and XLs. At the risk of sounding like I live in the Dark Ages, I prefer to hold a book in my hands and turn the pages. And sometimes, with a great romance for instance, I just feel compelled to hug it!

I read an article by Rick Bragg in the May 2010 issue of Reader's Digest. Regarding To Kill a Mockingbird, Bragg writes: "[It] is not just the kind of book people hold in their hearts; it's the kind people hold to their hearts, wrapping their arms around it and pressing it against their breasts as if they could feel a heartbeat in its paper."

All of us can identify with that feeling when we're truly moved by a book we've read. In my opinion, ereaders are great for magazines and newspapers. That's casual relationship reading. But a good book, one that makes you care for the characters, and laugh and cry right along with them, is something a little more intimate.

I know, I'm wrong to look at an ereader as a piece of cold, sterile technology. After all, a print book is an inantimate object, too. I guess you can just as easily hold an ebook to your heart as you can a print copy. What's your take?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Three Rs

These are my three Rs: reading, writing and romance. I was never good at arithmetic, so I kicked it off the list. I daydreamed through math class. Actually, I daydreamed through lots of classes. But I've read that the kids who sit around daydreaming, are the ones most likely to become writers--go figure!

The world of fantasy and imagination is much more exciting than reality. I watched the movie Finding Neverland with my kids last weekend. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it. The Scottish dramatist J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan (and portrayed on film by an outstanding Johnny Depp) says that with a wee bit of imagination, anyting is possible. This statement really rings true for the paranormal genre!

I love reading romances and find it even more fun to write my own. For the paranormal fans out there, let's time travel back to 1936. That's when one of my favorite books was published, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. I love the movie just as much as the book! Since I cried at the end when I first read it in seventh grade, I daydreamed my own ending. After about two weeks, Rhett realized he couldn't live without Scarlett, so he came running back. Then they lived happily ever after. I know, not too exciting, but to a twelve year old, a perfect ending.

Let's move forward to 1991. That's when Alexandra Ripley wrote Scarlett, the sequel to GWTW. Can you imagine wanting to write the followup to one of the world's most beloved books? In my wildest dreams, I can't even imagine that! I never read the late Ms. Ripley's novel. Are you a GWTW fan? Did you read Scarlett? If so, tell me what you thought.

Now it's time to move into the 21st century. In 2007, Rhett Butler's People was published. In this novel, Donald McCaig gives readers a sequal and a prequel to GWTW. What a brave soul! But the writing must've been an exciting challenge for Mr. McCaig, who spent several years researching it. I haven't read Rhett Butler's People yet, but it's on my reading list! Have you read it? Share your thoughts!