Monday, December 13, 2010

The Joys… and Sorrows of Being a Writer!

Last week a friend gave me a copy of Nicholas Sparks’ Three Weeks With My Brother (http://www.nicholas promised an insightful and entertaining novel. Now, being familiar with many of his books (The Guardian, Nights in Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle, Dear John, The Lucky One, The Notebook, etc.) and in the wake of such praise I was eager to jump right into the book. Though I must admit my tastes for pure entertainment reading run more toward the Sci-Fi/Fantasy and action romances, I needed some R&R. Considering the fact that I had not read a book since January when I purposefully limited my reading in order to finish and edit my latest book, I was more than ready for some relaxing hours on the couch submerging my mind in someone else’s world.

Familiar as I am with Sparks’ writing and a fan of several of the movies made from his books, I looked forward to not just a good read, but a great read! The anticipation was almost as good as the moment I sat down to crack the cover and discover the secrets of brotherhood. To my surprise and complete disgust, I found myself evaluating each paragraph as I read, looking for similes and metaphors, checking for spelling errors and POV changes. I hunted through the text for dangling modifiers, passive and active voices, over use of conjunctive adverbs, weak plot points, nominalization, and a host of other no-nos of the professional writing world. Half way through the book I realized I was not enjoying myself at all but intensely studying the manuscript. My mind wound around Sparks’ witty dialog and found doublemeaning in every comparative passage. I carefully examined the style and timing of his past and present recitations. I questioned the placement of memories, drawing parallels between the current day trip of the two brothers and Nicholas’ trip through childhood with Mica. In short, I spent three days passionately immersed in a novel written by one of the most successful writers of the contemporary market. By the time I finished Three Weeks With My Brother I was exhausted, depressed and disgusted with myself. It seemed my reading for pure pleasure was ruined! Possibly…

I think at some point, all authors reach the same stage in their own personal struggle to write as I have; the point where you can no longer pick up a book for simple enjoyment but where everything you read becomes an elemental study of the craft of writing at some conscious level. A problem, to be sure, but only bothersome if over done.

Then, true to my overly obsessive form, I saw the problem grow to encompass my entire life! What did I say about over done? Now when I travel every encounter, every new tidbit of information is fodder for a new story. When I go out to dinner with friends, their personal anecdotes burrow into my work manifesting some new plot or character. Political intrigue of the day colors my plots and lends imaginative scenarios to my manuscripts. I have even taken to keeping a journal of story starters close at hand. Had anyone told me a few years back I would be carting around a journal and taking notes on life I would have laughed at them. What is that famous saying; he who laughs last?

For example, one evening last fall my husband, Tim and I attended a dinner party with old family friends. Being new to the area, our “old friends” invited us to their home in Baltimore to catch up and for some “family talk”. Little did we know our friends had also invited their uncle and aunt who are, in the distinct eastern manner of speaking, old Baltimore. Fascinating people, Uncle Joe and Aunt Bev lived exciting lives and in their nineties, still worked at their antiquities business. The history of their connections and social networks were captivating. We sat for hours around the dinner table listening to tales of Uncle Joe, Aunt Bev and the rich and famous of America and Europe. At one point Uncle Joe mentioned his brother, an infamous antiquities dealer who currently lived in France with his family. In his nineties as well, he was still awaiting a trial in Italy on charges of illegal dealing in antiquities. Any writer out there just get the chills? Hang on because it gets better!

During our conversation it came to light that Uncle Joe and his brother were children in France during WWII and their mother worked as a secretary tabulating the possessions of Jews as the Nazis pillaged the wealthy Jewish families of Europe. My mind spun out of control and all the way home I crafted a wild tale of a secret cache of stolen antiquities pilfered during WWII that one family was responsible for returning to their owners as a kind of generational atonement.

I could hardly sit still in my seat. Ever supportive, my husband drove quietly with a willy smile pasted on his face. He had learned from experience there was no stopping the mind of a writer once it had locked and loaded on a story! By the time we got home I was in a rush to find my computer and outline the next best seller. Tim just went to bed. Such is life with a writer's spouse. Hours later when I dragged myself up to bed my wonderful husband didn't even gasp at the cold feet and frigid hands. He rolled me up in his warmth and murmured in my sleepy ear, "When you get a contract don't forget my cut!"

I believe the most telling moment came when I was watching an action movie on opening day with Tim and a guy from my office. All three of us are dyed-in-the-wool hard core action fans so it's become a tradition to attend opening days of true shoot-'em-ups. As we sat glued to the screen delighting in one special effect after another amid crashes, gunfire and explosions I calmly stated, “for an action flick the hero’s dialog is way too passive.” My husband, bless his heart, just shook his head, smiled and handed me the popcorn bag! He had already figured out what took me a little more time to realize. You can take the writer out of the office but a writer is a writer and always will be.

Pursuing writing as a professional has truly changed the tenor of my life. That epiphany could have been discouraging, but it wasn’t. I soon realized I had not destroyed my reading and viewing pleasure but simply taken it to new heights! In my case the realization was not only encouraging but optimistically validating. When I told Tim about my intuitive leap of self-understanding, he got that look that said "I've known for a while even if you are just figuring it out." Did I mention his patience?

While I may not enjoy reading for the same kind of pleasure I used to, I have attained a new level of awareness of the craft of writing which is a joy in and of itself.

In simple terms it means I have finally become what I have bee

n striving to be. Finally, I am a professional writer, even dare I say, an author!

Miriam Matthews

For more information about Miriam's books go to:

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Alaska-Hawaii Connection

I’m about to let you in on a well-kept secret about Alaskans. I only discovered this when I moved up here. It came as a bit of a surprise…but then again, not really. Alaskans LOVE Hawaii. After all, it’s only a five-ish hour flight from Anchorage to Honolulu, from the Arctic to the Tropics, from ice fields to lava flows.

It’s much easier to get to Hawaii from here than to the East Coast. I know quite a few Alaskans who try to take a well-timed mid-winter trip to Hawaii each year.

Myself included.

I happen to be getting married in Hawaii at the end of this month. I keep meeting other Alaskans who tell me they got married in Hawaii, so I think my choice of location is perfect. And it got me thinking about the Alaska-Hawaii connection.

It goes way back. In 1778-9, during his final voyage, Captain Cook explored both Alaska and Hawaii—meeting his unfortunate end on the Big Island. More recently, Alaska and Hawaii were the last two states to join the Union. We’re also the only non-contiguous states, never feeling that we’re entirely part of the mainstream of American life.

Other common ground: Hawaii and Alaska are the only two states with indigenous populations who are not Native Americans. Both states rely on imported goods that have to travel long distances, which makes prices ridiculously high. Both states, with their spectacular scenery, are tourist destinations. Plenty of workers in the tourist industry spend summers in Denali and winters at Hawaiian resorts. Both states have active volcanoes and both have been struck by tsunamis. In both states, there’s a constant sense of living at the mercy of nature, whether it’s Pele the Volcano Goddess in Hawaii, or the bitter cold in Alaska.

Alaskans love for Hawaii isn’t a one-way street. I’ve found that Hawaiians have a fondness for Alaska too. I’ve been told it’s because they appreciate how difficult it is to survive here. I’ve seen many Hawaiians turn extra friendly when they find out I’m from Alaska. I’ve even gotten discounts on roofing materials and such. Maybe it’s because they feel sorry for us. Maybe it’s because we Alaskans appreciate Hawaii all the more when we stumble off the plane in our wintry, light-starved state.

Here’s what we do when we travel to Hawaii in the winter. We blast the heat in the car. We leave our winter boots, coat, long underwear, hat, gloves, and scarf in a tidy bundle, then run into the airport in our shorts and flip flops.

Of course, this time I’ll be bringing my wedding dress too.

Jenny Bernard

Friday, November 19, 2010

Metaphors and Rivers

For my current WIP I needed a metaphor. Preferably something to do with water. I’d already used one concerning sirens, and needed something deeper.


Still waters run deep.

Ever stop to think about that old saying?

The old adage immediately brought two images into my mind. The first, a cheerful, sparkling, babbling brook tripping down the stones of a garden. The other, a wide, flat-surfaced creek. The exact picture that came to mind was Sally Field and Rob Liebman in the movie Norma Rae, swimming in the crik. Other images of steady waterways in my mind include the Yukon and Mississippi Rivers. I’ve actually spent more time sitting and watching the Yukon than I have the Mississippi, which still isn’t saying much. Neither can be counted in hours or days.

Anyhow, to get on with my metaphor situation--ahem, I sidetrack easily--some people are like brooks and streams. Bright, pretty, active. They provide a pretty melody, and if there’s no other source of water around, they could, in a dire emergency, keep you alive. Provided there’s not a drought going on, as they’re amongst the first of water sources to diminish and dry up. And if you were a small fish, or a leaf, you could catch a ride on a stream and tumble your way down to the larger creek or river or lake it runs into. Useful in a limited capacity, sometimes all you need from a stream is a pretty song, a peaceful interlude, and time to luxuriate in its beauty. You can see right clear through to the bottom and might see your distorted reflection smiling back at you. When stormy weather comes, they bubble up fast and furious. A strong enough storm can change their course and rearrange the rocks along the way, perhaps forever drastically altering the nature of the stream.

On the other hand, there's the broader, steadier, deeper river. The surface is mostly smooth, the water giving the appearance of slow movement, but sometimes when you climb in, you find the current is stronger than it looks. For the most part, you can depend on that river to be a solid predictable support. Water, fish, plants… it provides for an abundance of needs. It sustains life in many forms as well as means of travel.

Sure, there may be rapids along the way, but you generally know where they are and how to navigate through, or, around them. That’s not to say rivers are boring, but no means. Even they can change their nature, but usually it takes a pretty big event to rile them. A huge rainstorm or extra large chunks of ice breaking free in the spring can devastate for miles, wiping out homes and villages. The bigger they are, the more immense the havoc they wreak. All things in proportion. However, smaller storms often to unnoticed by them. They can absorb the tempest with hardly an extra bubble.

The power it takes to stir up a river is awesome, mighty and far reaching, but you know, in the end, eventually it’ll settle back down, possibly with a slightly altered course, maybe with a little more silt, or maybe with a whole lot less. But essentially, the changes won’t be great, and once more you’ll have your solid, dependable, nourishing river back.

So how does this metaphor work? Turn it around to the people in your life. Are you drawn to rivers or brooks? Of course it isn’t that simple. People are too complex to fit into a narrow description such as river or brook, but I think I can see signs here and there that make for amusing comparisons. Sort of like using astrology to figure out your friends and loved ones. Doesn’t always work because there are too many other factors at play. A Taurus with Irish ancestors. Now there’s a mix.

I find I’m drawn to both the brook and the river. I tend to be more river-like, slow and pondering and appreciative of a steady course. But every once in a while, I want to break out and let my bubbles go wild. I want to sing and dance and carry a pretty leaf along for a ride. I get to do this with my characters. Which woman is the hero most drawn to? He can have a most difficult choice. This is what makes my job interesting. I get to study both the brook and the river and the man choosing between them. Or the woman contemplating her options between attractive heroes. If she's really lucky, she lives in a world where she gets to keep one of each.

Maybe I should just stop with the dreaming and get the book written…

Morgan Q. O'Reilly

Come Play with Morgan and Get Some Tonight for books by Morgan O'Reilly and Shea McMaster
Available now: Borealis II A Space Anthology, Bleu Lies by Shea McMaster
Coming 2011 from Lyrical Press: Til Death Undo Us and Rachel Dahlrumple

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's a Wrap.

Recently, I was bemoaning the fact that my flour tortillas has spoiled in the refridgerator. I was craving a turkey wrap.
"You mean burrito," my weekend helper said.
"No, a wrap," I explained, "one with cream cheese, turkey and lettuce."
"You mean a burrito," he repeated.
A little slow on the uptake, I replied, "No, it's a wrap."
He finally said, with a look, you know . . . the one meant to say, "Oh come on now, you know better than that," as the words he spoke finally hit home, "Anything you put in a flour tortilla is a burrito. We sometimes put scrambled eggs and wrap it in a flour tortilla to eat on the run."
The lightbulb finally went on. "A breakfast burrito, I get"
The young man I was speaking with is of Mexican decent. He didn't take offense at my burrito ignorance, he was just trying to educate me.
The wrap up. So, now I know what a burrito is and a wrap is not. But, that leads me to my question, "What is a wrap?" If anything in a flour tortilla is a burrito, and you stuff a pita pocket, then is there really any such thing as a wrap? The ponderance of a wondering mind wants to know.
And that's a wrap folks.

Sandy Shacklett

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Future of Romance

Last week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on “The Genre of Romance” at the UAA Bookstore. (Thanks to Rachel Epstein for hosting us!) Kianna Alexander, Marcy Gentemann, and Jackie Ivie talked about romance writing, how the genre has changed over the years, and what the future might hold. They had interesting ideas and tidbits of information:

50% of people choose to buy a book by the cover.

There’s a variety of subgenres including a line of romances with a Nascar theme.

It may be easier to get published in romance nowadays, but harder to stay published.

In August of 2010, the tide turned and more ebooks were published than print books.

One area of agreement was that ebooks will continue to be popular, but print books will be with us for some time to come. Our authors had great stories about writing romance, and their relatives’ response to having a romance writer in the family. They had quite a discussion about epublishing, self-publishing, and how the industry has changed over the last few years We also enjoyed hearing about their favorite authors; Barbara Cartland, Victoria Holt, and Beverly Jenkins were all influential. Our best guesses for future trends: environmental issues and more multicultural romance. What do you think is the future of romance?

Lynn Lovegreen

Sunday, October 17, 2010

YA, the Next Big Trend?

Dude, seriously? YA, the Next Big Trend?

In July I attended the Romance Writers of America Conference in Orlando, Florida and the talk was all about Young Adults. Just last weekend, I attended the Heart of the West Writers Conference in Park City, Utah and again the talk was about YA’s. I write romantic thrillers. I have no interest in writing YA or reading it, but many of my writer friends are jumping on the YA train. Even some of the industries biggest authors are breaking into the Young Adult market.

In the upcoming issue of November’s Romantic Times Book Review there is an article about Kathy Reichs breaking into YA. Gena Showalter already has along with Julie Kenner, Artist Arthur, and Maria V. Snyder just to name a few.

At this time in my career, I have no desire to write YAs. The main reason being is that I’m living a YA novel. I have four teenagers. When I read or write, I want to escape my teenage-infused life. Plus, in YAs there are boundaries. For those of you who don’t know me, boundaries and I don’t mix. Give me boundaries and I’ll try my best to bust through them. Ask my mother. I’ve had the boundary aversion since I was a child. Don’t tell me to color within the lines. Anyway, for me, there is only so far you can take characters in a YA. Especially when it comes to sex, murder, violence, all those lovely adult things. Yes, I hear you hollering, “Read Hunger Games!” I’ve heard many great things about this series but as of yet, I’m not enticed enough to pick them up. There again, because kids and teenagers are the main characters. I want to read about hot men and sexy women, characters my age or within a decade or so of my age.

With all the excitement about the YA market what does this mean for those of us who don’t write it? Will we have readers? What will happen to our market? Well, in my opinion, we are going to have more and more readers. Since the YA genre is breaking out so big that means more kids are reading. Hallelujah! Those kids are going to grow up, which means more and more adults will be in need of a good read. So I say, yes! Let the YA market explode, let them cut their teeth on Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games because those same readers are being groomed for what I am writing. And my romantic thrillers will be waiting to thrill them.

Tiffinie Helmer

Friday, September 24, 2010

Creative Gardening

Creativity is like a growing plant. A writer must nurture it, water it every day, and fertilize it with a balance of ideas from many sources. If you do this, it will grow.

But what about acts of nature that sabotage your garden? What about the hailstorm of the loss of a job, or the flood the death a loved one may cause, or even the sunshine drought of visiting relatives preventing the proper care of your creativity?

My latest manuscript suffered a few acts of nature this year, and like one of those misshapen cucumbers that starts out fat and juicy at the stem end and tapers down to a shriveled, moldy blossom end, the manuscript has become inedible.

So I have decided the best thing to do is pluck the fruit and discard it before it sucks the energy from a plant that could produce more cukes. My writer friends have been like pollinating bees, and a new fruit has set in my mind, swelling with potential. Much as I might want to find a way to use the old manuscript, the best course of action is to redirect my creative energy. It is sad and exciting at the same time.

Have you ever had an act of nature sabotage your creativity? Were you able to save your fruit? Or did you find it best to put your creative energy elsewhere?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Holiday Weekends!

Hooray for the Holiday Weekend

I write and like many writers who have full time jobs, family, school and daily responsibilities, I cram my writing time into any nook and cranny that I can. I enjoy these long weekends, because of the block of time I get for writing and revising. Writing isn’t an instant reward. Writing takes time, dedication and investment. Like playing a musical instrument you must practice diligently.

However, writing does have rewards, believe me, writers do not just chain themselves to a computer and suffer, (although suffering and chaining do happen on occasion). We write because we have a story that needs to get out of our heads, or it will drive us crazy. What the heck, writers are crazy, how many time have you talked things through about a work in progress and realized that you were talking to yourself just like the Crazy Cat Lady that lives a block over.

There is such joy in creating a world where you can make a vertical dive into a moment; to see, taste, touch, hear and smell the whirling moments of your story. Poets are the king of this style, they don’t even have to be linear, no worries about plot. However as a romance writer you need plot. And lucky us, we the romance writers get to capture that fabulous thing love. The intensity of meeting someone, being attracted, the initial rush of beginning a relationship, nothing is sweeter to a human. When you are in that experience of new, flushed love you feel like you can do anything, you glow with the power of the heart light radiating out of you.
How blissful, but it isn’t that simple. You have to have things happen to your characters or they have to do things. So plots and events must happen in order to drive your story otherwise it’s just boring to have two people lolling about in love. You’re so pretty, no you’re so pretty, and now I am bored and putting the book down.

I love my characters, they are so amazing and dynamic, so much smarter, cooler and better than I am. That Ian Fleming guy must have had a blast writing the Bond character. My characters have taken me to places and made me learn things. For example I learned to Fence, you know with swords and white jackets. I am not very good at it but it is an incredible form of exercise and a blast. Someday I will finish that story with my French Heroine who is an expert Fencer. It won’t be this weekend but some other Holiday when I can devote attention to her. Then one of these days I must learn to ride a horse. I look forward to that.

I salute you my fellow writers. It is not an easy thing to be a writer. It is a solitary occupation, it takes time, it doesn’t pay very well (unless you are those lucky few), it doesn’t say thank you and it doesn’t draw you a bubble bath (unless you are one of those tub writers). But remember you were compelled to write and it can be so much fun.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Not the Usual Jitters

So I have a new book coming out on September 1st and usually at this point, I’m jittery, a wee bit nervous, starting to chew my fingernails down to nubs. The writer’s insecurity comes through and I start to stress that this time, I’ve let my readers down. They won’t like it. It has too much sex (strangely, yes, that is one of my most frequent concerns). There isn’t enough plot. Something will be wrong with it.

With this release, I’m feeling little of that. I love this story. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written in years. My editor loved it as well giving me another boost of confidence.

Now the concern is…what if I’m wrong? What if readers don’t love my baby as much as I do?

Usually when a reviewer or reader comments negatively about some aspect of my book, I shrug it off. When a reviewer commented that Marvin and the Three Bears was mostly sex and no story, I couldn’t help but agree (that was kind of the point of that story after all).

But with Shadow’s Embrace, because I love it so much, what will I do? Crash and burn? Wail? Okay, I know myself, I’ll whimper, have a glass of wine, declare the reviewer an illiterate hack (it’s just something I do to relieve the stress) and move on.

It’s strange to have the confidence in a book and still feel the release jitters. After more than 25 stories, you’d think I’d get used to it. I guess it doesn’t go away. I guess the only choice is to make it part of the adventure!

Shadow’s Embrace comes out from Ellora’s Cave, Wednesday, September 1st.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nothing's Wasted

Writers are ghouls. We pretty up our nasty habits with labels like “literary” or “commercial” fiction. We call using our life experiences “enhancing” our stories, but we are cannibals. We take our experiences, good, bad, or the confused in-between visceral things we can’t name, and craft with every piece of them like Native Americans use a slain buffalo. Hide, guts, meat, bone, teeth…nothing’s wasted.

I once gave CPR to a young man who committed suicide by throwing himself head first off the balcony of a restaurant in downtown Anchorage. The second story balcony from which he’d fallen didn’t seem to be high enough to kill anyone, but he’d thrown himself over the railing head-first.

I’ll use that experience in my writing someday. Make good use of the image of everyone standing around, not offering to help. I just stood there too, gawking at the young man who seemed dead, not redeemable for a come-back-to-life coupon, with the dark blood thick under his head within a few blinks.

A twenty-something woman in a white dress leaped from the crowd, got down on her knees on the asphalt parking lot next to the spreading blood and began resuscitation attempts. Breath, breath—compress, compress, compress…

Shame rolled over me. I had CPR training too, but I hadn’t even thought to help until she threw herself into battle. I found myself kneeling on the other side, not sure how I’d gotten there. “How can I help?”

“You breathe for him, and I’ll do the chest compressions,” she said.

I tilted his chin, pushed on his forehead, pressed my mouth over that youthful, clean-shaven skin. I blew, heard gurgles in his chest, tasted blood and cigarettes in my mouth. I thought of stopping, it’s a good excuse to stop. But The Samaritan in White kept compressing the young man’s chest. Not a man…a boy, really, he didn’t look old enough to buy beer.

Pulled in the wake of the Samaritan’s courage and determination, I continued to blow into the young man’s mouth when it was my turn. The world narrowed to only us and our hard labor to nurture whatever life might remain in the boy after he’d done his best to be dead.

I searched for a spark of life in that slack face every time I raised my head, and knew he was surely dead from the blood that spread like sand from an hourglass until red flowed under the knees of the little Samaritan In White.

My breath started to crackle in my lungs. My allergies were reacting to the cigarette residue on his lips. I coughed, blew, coughed.

“Trade me places,” I said. “I can’t keep breathing for him. He’s been smoking, and I’m terribly allergic.”

We traded. It was hard to keep the rhythm going smoothly. She was so much better at it than I was. “One, two, three…” The Samaritan helped me keep count of the compressions, it was easy to lose track when my own breathing lagged far behind.

The ambulance arrived, and we ignored it. We kept up the rhythm we’d worked out like two parts of a CPR machine, until two EMTs ran up to us, saying in stereo, “We’ll take it from here. You can stop now.”

Feeling dizzy, my lips burning and swelling, I stood on trembling legs. My husband took my arm, urged and supported me away from the center of my temporary world.

“Are you okay?” my husband asked.

“No,” I said, and leaned into his side. He slung a heavy arm around me and we watched the EMTs put an oxygen mask on the boy’s face. They loaded him up in the back of the ambulance so fast I was envious of their speed. I’d done my best, but I couldn’t match their professional skills. I chided myself, You and the Samaritan in White did the best you could. I stared over at my teammate, the better half of our CPR machine, but could only see her back. Her group of pretty friends, twenty-something boys and girls bent around her like groupies, charming and solicitous of her wellbeing. She led her group away across the parking lot without a word or a glance in my direction. My chest was too tight to call out and ask her name. Tell her mine. I’d disappeared, already forgotten, my usefulness ended.

Eric helped me get to the pickup where it was parked on the street, and I climbed inside with his assistance. My lungs were gummed up and I could barely breathe—snap, crackle, pop--like Rice Krispies. I scrambled around in my purse which I hadn’t taken into the restaurant with me, found my inhaler and took three hits like a junkie, breathing as deep as the band around my chest would allow. My lips were on fire, and when I rolled the window open, the chill autumn air couldn’t cool them.

Yeah, I’ll use that someday. I’ll be in anguish. I will taste the blood of a hero or an enemy in my mouth. I’ll have a partner who’ll leave me bereft. My lips will catch fire, and my chest will go tight again, as though it’s filling with lead a teaspoon at a time. That moment will be cannibalized in dripping red bits. Perhaps I’ll throw whole chunks and severed fingers curled like question marks into the pot to stew. What are those floaty things? Push them back in. Taste for flavor--not enough blood. Give it another stir with my big writing spoon. Let the stew simmer until done.

--VA Worthington

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cinderella Stew

This is a sorta-kinda-almost Cinderella story. Mine. Only it’s a stew-like mishmash because there’s no evil stepmother, or ugly stepsisters, or a King and Queen trying to marry off their Prince (hmmm, yummy plot, though). In the story I am rescued from scrubbing floors and doing laundry—but since I’m not actually forced to do those things normally, it’s not a big plot point. No pumpkins turn into carriages (although I turn into a pumpkin at midnight with enough Sex on the Beach. Hey now, clean up those minds—it’s just a drink), and no mice turn into horses, but Nashville does turn into the home of The Mouse.

My story does have a grand ball, but there are eight fairy godmothers (five writing peers and three editors who will forever be faceless and nameless). There’s no glass slipper—but there is a pretty golden necklace.

There’s also a shameless back story—forgive me for not weaving it in, but this isn’t a saleable manuscript anyway. In November I entered a contest—a fairly big one called the Golden Heart. In March I got a call telling me I was a finalist. I hadn’t been planning to go to the fancy ball where they celebrate the GH even though everyone else in town was going. But after March I knew I had to join them.

The ball began with a week of amazing preparations and events. If you’ve never been to an RWA convention (the official name of The Ball) it is an occasion of amazing energy and excitement. Over the course of several days, two thousand writers converge and start to mingle, network and meet new friends. It sounds cliché but—it’s dead easy to make friends at an RWA convention. All you need to do is lift your eyes and say ‘hello,’ in the elevator, at the registration desk, at a bar, or around a fountain. I walked up to one woman out of the blue and said, “I love your name, it’s perfect for a book.” We struck up a great conversation, exchanged cards and I hope to contact her when I get to contacting people (which is a completely different subject).

Aside from random writers, there are also celebrities. I saw, to name drop a few: Cherry Adair, Susan Anderson, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, Kristan Higgins, Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Jayne Ann Krentz … Mind you, these were mostly fangirl moments—Susan, Christina and Eloisa aren’t my new BFFs—but they are our Michael Jordans and seeing them, especially to say ‘hi,’ is awfully cool.

Workshops abound at the RWA conference, as do parties. If you want to know about a certain publishing house—there’s a spotlight for that. If you want to know about women of faith writing in the secular market—there’s a workshop for that. If you want to know how to make your urban fantasy more attractive to agents—there’s a speaker for that. And, if you belong to any group – there’s probably a party for that. The Beau Monde ball for regency writers; the Steam Punk ball for fantasy, futuristic & paranormal writers; the Harlequin pajama party for category lovers; Death by Chocolate for Kiss of Death members. Join a group—have a party!

My partying centered around that Golden Heart contest final. Sixty-six talented writers finaled in ten categories and we all joined an online chapter called The Golden Network exclusively for GH finalists. The group holds its annual meeting and “boot out” ceremony, where they kick out all members who’ve published and make them alumni. They also held a workshop featuring an exclusive editor/agent panel. RWA held an official Rita/Golden Heart reception full of great desserts and a chance to really meet all the finalists and mingle with roving editors and agents.

On that note, I think the most important skill I honed this year was how to schmooze an editor or agent. There are funny stories (my best being the agent who approached me, asked for my pitch, excused herself in the middle of it with an apology, promised to come back, came back but didn’t ask for any more of the pitch. Either the Mickey ears I forgot I was wearing were a REALLY bad idea—or she was friends with an ugly stepsister I don’t know about). Anyway, let me share my personal list of opening lines. (Look at this as a really bad bar scene):

  • I loved what you said in your panel discussion
  • I love your agency’s website
  • I love your philosophy of the publishing industry
  • We have a mutual friend
  • How do you do this all day? I’m very impressed
  • How is your own writing coming?
  • It’s a pleasure to meet you
  • I put a big star by your name in my notebook after the panel discussion
  • May I look up your guidelines on your website?
  • Thanks for the rejection

I honestly used every one of those lines. And, BTW, the ‘thanks for the rejection’ actually got me a request for my Alaska series. You have to be shameless I guess.

Finally, the week culminated with The Actual Ball, aka the Rita/Golden Heart Award Ceremony. It’s not a secret that I won my category, and I’m still in shock. But just for the record, this event is a must-do if you go to conference, whether you’re up for an award or not. Wanna see RWA’s version of Oscar night? This is it.

To end my Cinderella Stew story, I’d like to share what it was like to actually win the Golden Heart. All kidding and silliness aside, this is one of the biggest honors of my life so far and, darn it, it was fun. I remember most of it—but it’s kind of like a slideshow in my brain that goes like this:

*People asking all day if I’m getting nervous and me saying unequivocally ‘no.’ *Sitting at the banquet table with a note card, writing a list of people I should thank should the unbelievable happen. *Deciding writing any kind of note is a jinx. *Tucking the half-finished list away in my purse. *Not caring at all if I won because it’s an honor to be a finalist. *Deciding, after seven winners are announced that, no, I really, really want one of those necklaces. *Sitting stock still except for my ping-ponging heart and my knuckles bracing white against my teeth while they announce my category’s finalists. *A crazy, far-away voice saying, “And the Golden Heart goes to --- “Songbird” by Lizbluth blub blulb mumble mumble …..” *Finding the unfinished list in my purse. *My mouth hanging open as I stand up and walk to the stage. *A very cute cameraman grinning at me as he points the lens at my face. *Holding up my dress hem and not tripping on the stage steps. *Catching a glimpse of myself on the Jumbotron—totally surreal. *Realizing they were right at the rehearsal when they said we wouldn’t be able to see the audience. *Saying “Wow.” *Seeing exactly one face in the middle of the front row: Vicki Lewis Thompson—her gorgeous white-blonde hair glowing like a guardian angel’s. *Realizing that with her beaming at me, I had nothing to be nervous about.

Applause and a huge hug from my presenter, Roxanne St. Clair surrounded me—it felt like a hug from a big sister! A small but mighty ‘whoop’ from Jenny, Boone and Lizzie when I said, “Alaskan sisters” carried all across the ballroom. And then I had the necklace in my hand and was floating back to my table. A constantly streaming prayer in my head went, “ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou…” In fact, that’s still going on.

Okay—enough already. Cinderella ended up with a way-better equivalent to the glass slipper. She got home well after midnight without the gown turning into rags, and Prince Charming was waiting at home—but he was waiting. And when he hugged her a day later he said, “Well, I guess going to THAT party was worth it.”

Oh yeah, it was. And while my experience this year happened to be golden—don’t wait for something like that to send you to the RWA Ball. Friendships, schmoozing, classes and parties can turn anyone’s trip into Cinderella stew. And that’s a mighty fine-tasting treat!!

Happy Fairy Tales Everyone!


Friday, July 23, 2010

You're Live in Three, Two, One ...

As I write this, my hands are shaking, my heart is flopping like a flounder, and I can’t catch my breath. I just did something I’ve never done before. I did a Live Radio Interview.


See, I’m one of those “introverts” who panics when I’m in the spotlight. Sitting at the computer and writing comes naturally. Promoting my book online is a challenge. Actually talking to someone on the radio about it … Holy Freakout, Batman!

But I have a book coming out on July 28, and Tom Randell of Radio Kenai, KWHQ 100.1 FM, contacted me and offered the interview, so how could I say no? I agreed, and then fretted for several weeks as the appointed day came closer. I write erotic romance …. His audience ranges from age 2 to 90. Could I keep the content appropriate? How can I talk about my books without shocking anyone? Will Alaskans drive me from the state once the word is out? (Okay, I exaggerate, but hey, I’m a writer.) By the time of the interview, I’d worked myself to the edge of a nervous breakdown.

(Did I mention I’m a writer, with a tendency to exaggerate?)

I watched the minutes tick away, then there was Tom on the phone, telling me a song was playing and I’d be up in one minute and fifty-two seconds. And then there I was, on the air. Juniper Bell being introduced to the audience of one of the top radio hosts in the state. This is him. Not too scary, right?

And that’s when I realized I’d forgotten something. Tom Randell is a professional. He knows how to make the conversation flow, how to move smoothly to a new topic, how to make you sound good (or better, anyway). He’d been to my website, he knew about my books, he knew about my upcoming release. Before I knew it we were chatting about digital books, the rise of e-readers, the popularity of ménage stories, and other fascinating topics. I had to keep telling myself to slow down because I tend to talk too fast when I’m under pressure. The interview went so fast and painlessly. And I learned a lot in that short span of time.

1. Slow down.
2. Smile, even though they can’t see you. It helps you to sound positive and fun.
3. If you don’t feel confident, fake it.
4. Keep the audience in mind. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t said anything bad about the cool weather we’re having here on the Kenai peninsula. The listeners are Alaskans, so don’t knock Alaska.
5. Have my “elevator pitch” ready! As silly as it sounds, I hadn’t rehearsed my one or two line pitch for My Three Lords. This was a very good reminder as I get ready for the RWA conference in Orlando.
6. Relax and enjoy.

So there you have it. I survived my first radio interview, thanks to Tom Randell. He even invited me back for my next book release. Now, back to my regularly scheduled programming.

My Three Lords will be released on July 28 from Ellora's Cave Publishing. You can read the blurb and an excerpt at my website.

Juniper Bell

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another Conference

Last year I went to my first conference. The amount of preparation for that trip was astounding and let's face it, a little neurotic. With RWA Nationals only a week and a half away, I've noticed that many preparations I thought important for my last conference, have fallen by the way side. I've yet to cook and freeze a single meal for my family. They won't starve without me here to feed them. They're made from hearty stock and won't go hungry, even if they have to kill dinner with their bare hands. The need to scrub the house from top to bottom is also gone. I've embraced the fact that my husband is a much better housekeeper than me. He's also a lot better at cracking the whip and making the kids tote their load. So housekeeping? Not an issue.

Unfortunately my self-sabotaging ways and overwhelming need to volunteer has landed me with a whole new list of 'To Dos'. The biggest one is my offer to help with decorating for the FFnP Gathering. This was a fairly easy task when the conference was in Nashville. The Gathering was slated to be held on a steamboat. Voila, decorating already done. Now it's to be held in a large rectangular ballroom. How does one person transform a large ballroom into a a steampunk ball? I'll let you know when I figure it out.

The bottom line is that most of what I need, I'll have to tote with me. I'm the kind of person that likes to travel light, so an extra bag or tote is cramping my style. I have promised myself not to bring a single balloon, feather, or piece of confetti back home, but I have a sneaking suspicion my chapter members hope I fill all that empty space with books for my return trip.

I'm sure things will work out for the best, but like my last conference, this trip has already taught me several valuable lessons.

1. Keep my mouth shut
2. Just say no
3. If I feel the need to volunteer give my services to something that doesn't require heavy lifting.

Who knows, after a few more conferences, I may have this routine down to a fine art.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Horses in Alaska?

It always amazes me to hear how surprised people are when they learn how many horses and horse activities we have in Alaska. And these aren't just people from the Lower 48, the people right here in Alaska are also unaware of the horse population. The types and sizes of horses vary in Alaska, from the 32" high miniature horse to the 17 hand (68") Clydesdale, and all kinds and sizes in between.
Some people might question what you would want with a miniature horse only to find out that they make excellent companions, are easy to care for and can pull a full grown adult in a cart with ease. The Clydesdale on the other hand takes much more effort and cost to feed and clean up after, but their calm and willing disposition make them suitable for riding or pulling heavier loads or plow fields.
Quarter horses and Arabians are two of the most popular breeds in Alaska, but they are greatly out-numbered by the grade, or mixed breed horses. Each having their own place in the horse world depending on what their human counterpart would like to do with them.
Trail riding through the rugged Alaska terrain can be the challenge of choice, but horse shows featuring dressage, hunter/jumpers, barrel racing, western and English riding are held throughout the state with the Kenai Peninsula being the hot spot for rodeos. Most events are held between the months of May through September, but riding goes on year round.

There are at least 22 indoor riding arenas is Alaska, but the majority of folks ride outdoors. While the rule of thumb for riding temperatures vary slightly, most will agree that if it is under 10 degrees it's best not to take your horse out. They fare in the cold very well, but with the exertion it takes to carry extra weight their respiration rate would increase and you have to be concerned about their lungs.
Growing up in Anchorage with a horse gave me all kinds of activities to do, keeping me out of trouble. I can assure you that without my horse I would have been a high risk teen. It was more than just keeping busy, it was having the companionship of a non-judgemental, warm creature. You could confide in your horse and know that your secret would be safe. You could experience the joy of traveling at a pace that only riding a four legged creature could provide. The beauty and silence of riding through trails could be exciting or calming depending on where you were and the speed you traveled at.
Having control over an animal that weighs half a ton can give you confidence, and who couldn't use a little more of that. Hugging a miniature horse can take your stress away in a heart beat. Horses and humans came together many years ago. Today they remain as co-workers, friends and companions even here in Alaska.

--Sandy Shacklett

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sea Otters and Storytelling

Like Lizzie said in the last blog, it’s the time of year for Alaskanwriting conferences! I just returned from the Kachemak Bay Writers’Conference, located in Homer, Alaska. There were four days ofspeakers, workshops, readings, and social events. The faculty was toobig to mention all by name, but the Alaskan and Outside speakers wereall top-notch presenters, and I loved hearing them read their own workat the readings.
This is one of my favorite conferences because of the camaraderie, therapport among the participants and faculty. Even if this is your firstconference and/or first year writing, you are welcome and part of thegroup. Everyone has opportunities to chat with the authors. There isnothing more valuable than discussing showing versus telling withKaren Joy Fowler (You need both.) or point of view with Joni Sensel(There can be more than one.).
Add the unique ambiance of Homer,excellent seafood, and the phenomenal scenery of Kachemak Bay, and youhave a world-class weekend. The only trouble I had was trying to focuson the speakers when I could watch eagles and sea otters through thewindow! Talk about inspiration for writing! I was glad to share it with my AKRWA colleagues Lizzie Newell andDeNise Woodbury, and I invite everybody to consider going next year!See the conference website at
Lynn Lovegreen

Saturday, June 12, 2010

North Woods Writers Symposium

It's nearly summer solstice, time for writers' workshops in Alaska. I'm just back from the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway. If you weren't there you missed out on a wonderful opportunity, although I had my doubts when I flew to Juneau then took the ferry to Skagway. Registration procedures for the conference had been less than smooth. In fact on-line registration didn't work at all, so only the truly committed mailed in their registration. As a result, only thirty people attended and less than half were participants. Never before have I been at a conference where faculty was in the majority and participants were treated like VIPs. I sat next to some of the top writers in the state and spoke with them personally about their views on writing. Faculty attendees included: Buckwheat Donahue, Dana Stabenow, Jeff Brady, Elisabeth Dabney, Peggy Shumaker and Joe Usibelli, Kaylene Johnson, Sherry Simpson, Nita Nettleton, Dave Hunsaker, Tim Woody, Kim Heacox, Dan Henry, and Andromeda Romano-Lax.

I had the opportunity to hear Dana Stabanow giving Nick Jans advice. I went hiking with Tim Woody, Dan Henry, and Andromeda Ramono-Lax. In the excitement, I tended to forget who was faculty and who were participants. I particularly enjoyed Tresham Gregg who does puppet theatre out of Haines, Lisa Weissler who writes dystopian science fiction, Dan Davidson an editor from Dawson, and Art Chance an expert in history from Juneau.

The town and people of Skagway went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We had excellent meals at The Stowaway Café, the Red Onion, and Poppies. Poppies is located in a beautifully maintained garden with a model train running through it.

The conference included a train excursion aboard The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. This narrow gauge railroad wound through steep gorges and over breath taking drops above raging turquoise rivers. I was torn between the stunning views of peaks, arêtes, and glacial tarns, and the writers discussing journalism, memoire writing, Alaska history, and fiction.

I hate to write up a blog entry that points how the rest of you missed out. Nah nah nana nah nah. But not all is lost. Next year, The North Words Writers Symposium will be in Dawson. I'm going. Either driving or flying to Dawson should be as interesting as visiting Skagway.

See you there. Lizzie Newell

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gone Fishing

It’s June and that means I’m getting ready to head to Alaska to commercial fish on the Bering Sea. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing. You wouldn’t think the two had anything in common, but surprisingly they do.

My family fishes for sockeye salmon—red salmon for some of you that aren’t up on the lingo. We also fish with gill nets, not a pole. Poles are for sport fishermen on vacation. This is commercial fishing. Serious fishing where you cast a net into the ocean that is 200 fathoms and hopefully haul in 5,000 to 6,000 pounds (yes I said pounds) of salmon per net. Sockeye salmon weigh on average 8 to 10 pounds each.

Once in a while you catch something bigger. Like a king salmon. King salmon don’t fit in the small webbing of our net. They are simply too big. The only way we catch them is to snag them. Usually their mouth is snagged on the net. One hard pull and they could free themselves and often do. But sometimes you get one snagged tight enough that it stays caught until you’re able to pull it into your boat. We love these surprises and take up bets on how much they weigh. The above picture is of a king caught in just this manner and when weighed came in around forty pounds.

The big six in New York are the king salmons of the publishing industry. They are elusive and hard to catch. Much like a king. You cast your net—send out queries—hoping to snag a big fishes’ attention. When you do get that request, you’ve only got them by a tooth. One upset and they’re swimming away.

So what do you do?

First, you must cast your net wide and often. You quit fishing and you won’t get published. Ever. Second, you must have your manuscript in the best condition to send them and snag them so tight that you can pull them into your boat.

There’s a saying in fishing: “It’s called fishing, not catching.” But in order to catch, you have to fish.

Here’s to catching that big one. See you in August!

Tiffinie Helmer
Writer of Award-Winning Alaskan Romantic Thrillers.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Henna Experience

The Henna experience. How hard could it be?

I’m a writer, so I keep to-do lists and take notes hoping it will provide fodder for my stories. The older I get the longer my list of things to do gets. So, my friend, a fearless thirty-something said, “I brought you some Henna, it’s easy.”
I waited. I considered and weighed the consequences, because that’s what I do. Henna had gone on my list a long time ago. But in my experience when I jump in with both feet and hit the bottom there’s slime and I hate slime.
After a couple of weeks of dithering a day came and the stars aligned themselves. My husband was gone, it seemed a quiet day, what the heck, life is short, do the things on the list. This time I decided to dive in head first, so to speak.
Following the verbal directions my friend gave me I prepared: one bag of powdered Henna, a cup of cold coffee, olive oil, towels. I began mixing the concoction. How much was I supposed to use? All of the powder, all of the coffee, this is amusing I thought, olive oil to taste.
The dusty lump in my bowl wasn’t going to work, I added left-over tea. Then, I added water. Finally, a consistency that would go into my hair. My hair? Was I nuts? I reminded myself that women have been doing this for centuries. How bad could it be? I took a deep breath and dipped my rubber glove covered hand into the mess and began to apply it to my head.

This was not fun. I now had shredded alfalfa the color of a cow-patty dripping down my forehead and sliding down my neck. Enthusiasm waned but darn-it, I finish what I start. Application complete, I wrapped my skull in a plastic grocery bag and waited. Think about that for a minute. Forty-five minutes my friend said to let it sit, I cleaned up. Oh My God, this stuff is everywhere, my bathroom looks like I’d turned loose a three-year-old with finger paints.
Twenty minutes, I simply can’t do this anymore. I’m embarrassed to answer the phone, and then I have to clean the phone. By now the novelty is gone, I want this over with. I strip off the grocery bag and I now have a helmet of dried cow dung stuck to my head. I briefly consider washing my hair in the sink and start stripping off my clothes instead. The shower looks like a scene from Psycho and my drain is resistant to alfalfa.
A day later, the gray in my hair is now bright orange, a nice contrast to the auburn of what used to be my dark brown locks. My husband is amused, my friends say as little as possible. Will I do this again? Probably not, it’s sorta like the bungee jump off the Kuskulana Bridge but isn’t that what the list is about? I took notes.

Yours in the Henna Experience, DeNise Woodbury.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weeding, Writing, and Arithmetic

Today marks the one-month anniversary of my marathon-writing weekend. And I realize I have not written a single new word on my manuscript since then. Not one … stinking … weed.

Did I say weed?

Gardening season hit, and I’ve ignored everything but getting the ground ready and planted. Kind of my marathon-gardening month. Then I’ll ignore it for a month, until I realize I’ve got to catch up on all the weeds.

I love gardening as much as I love writing. They are both creative endeavors, a chance to put something on paper or in the ground and watch the leaves of a story unfold. But to be successful at either takes discipline. It takes visiting pretty much every day. If I were to spend a half hour weeding just 20 square feet of space every day – that’s a four by five foot area – I’d have weeded my entire garden in a month. (Yes, I have an enormous garden.) If I write 2000 words every day, I’ll have finished a rough draft of a novel in a month.

You do the math. A novel in a month. Give myself another month to polish it, and that would be six novels a year. Even if I took two months to polish it, that would be four books a year. Pretty amazing stuff. Most days, if I sit my butt in the chair and write, I can crank out 2000 good words in about 3 or 4 hours. That’s less time than a part-time job. And I want writing to be my job.

So from here on out, I will visit my creative landscapes. I will weed a little bit every day. And I will write a little bit every day. Between the two, I will have the best year of growth ever.

Weed 'em and reap!

(First published on

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My book is out!!

Title: An Invitation: Ariel's Pet
Author: Qwillia Rain
Publisher: Loose Id, LLC
ISBN: 978-1-60737-561-6
Cover Artist: April Martinez
Price: $ 7.99

Ariel Valerian knew cooking techniques and recipes, but a Dominant like Dane Reese had her more hot and bothered than a dozen hours slaving in a steamy kitchen. And 'slaving' is just what she intends to teach her blond-haired, blue-eyed, oh-so-yummy surfer boy. He might be helping in the family cafe as a favor to her sister, but there was no way she was giving him the opportunity to play Dom with her.

For Dane Reese, Ariel Valerian is a full-figured pixie--a life-sized, blue-haired Tinker Bell in a chef's coat surrounded by the scents of chocolate and cinnamon and an aura of mind-blowing, sweaty sex. Too bad she's driving him insane with her determination to order him around. As a Dominant and half-owner of A Master's Gift Dane has seen his share of Dommes and submissives, and, no matter how she might deny it, calling him Master is Ariel's destiny.

Two powerful personalities; a contest to determine who is more adept at control; and less than thirty days to discover if Ariel will bow to Dane's command, or if Dane will become...Ariel's Pet.

Well, how's this for irony--my 6th book is releasing on April 6th.

An Invitation: Ariel's Pet is the second story following the Valerian sisters. Jennifer Cole's An Invitation: Alayna's Training came out in March and it began the adventure for the two sisters. I got to have fun with the younger sister and the Dominant sent to help her at the cafe the two women run. Poor Dane doesn't know what he's gotten himself into, but he will soon.

I was sooo excited with the research for this particular book because I love to cook. And to find foods that Ariel can use to seduce Dane with made it so much more fun. It was also extremely dangerous because the books that are available could easily bankrupt me if I bought them all.

Here's hoping your day is as fun and exciting as mine!! I love release day. It's even better when the release day falls within a vacation period from the day job. I'll be buzzing around the various yahoo groups and updating my MySpace and Facebook pages (avoiding the Twitter thing--way to easy to get addicted to that stuff--LOL)

Take care.


Monday, April 5, 2010

By Daylight Come Available Now!

By Daylight Come was originally released as part of the Enter the Dragon Anthology but's on its own. It's a fun, fast story about a woman who reads a spell from a book of dragon magic and soon finds herself with an injured dragon on her hands. With the FBI and the gorgeous local sheriff snooping around, Tina doesn't know what she's going to do. Oh, and did I mention the evil warriors trying to kill her dragon lover?

It's a m/f/m menage and a lot of fun. Enjoy!

Check it out at Ellora's Cave.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Training the Receptionist by Juniper Bell

Sometimes you just have to take a chance. My new book, which comes out tomorrow from Samhain Publishing, is a risk because it's so different from my last book. "Doll," was an emotionally intense story of a woman struggling to free herself from memories of her abusive husband. "Training the Receptionist," on the other hand, is pure wicked fantasy. It's written in first person from the point of view of a cheeky young woman who lands her naughty dream job. Chloe, from "Doll," lived in the uppercrust world of a Senator's wife. Dana grew up in the gritty town of "Low-life, Long Island," as she calls it. Instead of a romantic island setting, "Training the Receptionist" takes place mostly in an office. "Doll" had one hero, this one has two.

The stories have only two things in common. Both have happy endings, and both were written by me.

Here's the blurb:

“Training the Receptionist” by Juniper Bell

Genre: Erotica

ISBN: 978-1-60504-949-6
 Length: Novella
 Price: 3.50
 Publication Date: March 2, 2010
 Cover art by Scott Carpenter

It’s her naughty dream job—if they’re satisfied with her performance…

Eager to escape her miserable existence in Low-Life, Long Island, street-wise Dana Arthur jumps at an entry-level position with the consulting firm Cowell & Dirk. As her training period begins, she quickly discovers she’s required to do more than take messages and order office supplies. Her job description contains some deliciously naughty duties that give receptionist a whole new meaning.

Simon has almost given up on finding the right woman who will please his clients as well as his demanding partner and mentor, Ethan Cowell. No one measures up—until Dana. Her inner fire and fearless nature are perfect for the job. No matter what wicked punishment he devises to chastise her for her on-the-job mistakes, she accepts with a relish that leaves him wondering which one of them is really in control.

The last thing he expects to discover is that she’s a perfect sexual soul mate he can’t bear to share. But share he must—it’s part of his business agreement. Unless he makes Ethan the deal of a lifetime… a relatively new writer, should I be trying to stick with what I know works, or should I be exploring new things? That's the question I struggled with. The answer I came up with was, write the story that comes to you. If it's in the same vein as the last one, fine. If not, what the heck! But more experienced authors might have a different take. I'd love to hear what other writers think of this question. And readers, do you like it when an author tries something new?

"Training the Receptionist" will be available here from Samhain Publishing. Come visit my website or blog for excerpts and more.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Queen and I

Queen Rania of Jordan told me the other day that she got back from a conference in Davos, Switzerland, just in time her son’s fifth birthday. She even sent me a photo of the whole family at the party. Yeah, we’re that close.

If by “close” you mean that I follow her on Twitter and she has no idea who I am.

But really, how cool is that? I get regular updates on the fascinating life of the coolest Queen in the world. Maybe it’s because I’m new to Twitter and still have stars in my eyes, but I love the fast-paced, intimate feel of Twitter. Besides connecting with readers and other authors, I love hearing about Kirstie Alley’s facials and Stephen Fry’s new Avatar pyjamas.

Let me backtrack and say that before I published my first book, I was living in the Internet dark ages. I had no website, had never blogged before, never joined a forum or chatted online. I had to scramble to become a fully functioning member of the online world. In the process, my world has expanded in amazing ways. It’s hard to believe that only six months ago, I barely knew what Facebook was. Now I have “friends,” “followers,” and even some “fans.” In this vast, confusing universe, it’s nice to find something in common with total strangers, including a Queen.

So I have e-publishing to thank for all these wonderful new relationships. Now I know that Queen Rania’s husband and son have the same birthday. I know that Red Lobster offers a new mechanical Shrimp Ride (okay, that was from “The Onion’s” twitter feed.) I signed a Twitter petition to get a book pirating site’s tweets removed. (It worked.) I know when Dear Author reviews a book. I know when my Twitter friends are working on their blurbs and when their books come out and what they’re having for lunch.

And I get to share my own news, from new book covers to the weird dream I had last night. Maybe someday Queen Rania will follow me back and I can tell her all about the cute thing my five-year-old said (when I told her it was time to brush her hair, she informed me she was “unavailable.”)

Are you on Twitter? If so, do you like it or loath the way it eats up all your time? Here’s me, @AuthorJuniper. Don’t be a stranger!

Juniper Bell

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Good Words Gone Bad

Today I wrote the same scene twice, once from the hero’s point of view, and then again from the heroine’s. This was not an intentional exercise to serve some purpose in characterization or a practice in sensory description. This was simply a process in my writing, and one that happens to me all the time.

I was writing a scene of sexual tension, which is harder than other types of writing for me. The first go round came across as creepy, a male thinking about a female in inappropriate ways considering the situation. The second version, in the female point of view, still didn’t feel right, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. And then on the drive home from the coffee shop, I had an epiphany. I have the action happening in the wrong setting. Time for the third re-write. I have no doubt that will require several passes before I get it correct as well.

To me, that is the crux of what it is to be a writer. “To write is to re-write,” so they say. I think I generally delete about 75% of my very first words on the page. Even this blog has been an exercise in deletion. My first words are always so bad, I refuse to even call them a “first draft.”

So why do I keep at it? Because that moment of epiphany is like a drug, a moment of extreme satisfaction that goes beyond merely putting words to paper. And because I can’t not write. Writing, even re-writing, is a joy for me. The weight of my laptop is like a favorite blanket as I puzzle out the words on the page. Each piece has to fit perfectly against the next, until the entire picture becomes whole. Between the epiphany and the puzzle of words, I love the satisfaction of finally getting things “right.”

To all you other writers out there, here’s to inspiration and to getting things “write.”

Friday, January 15, 2010


Facebook, it’s everywhere. Everybody who’s anybody has a Facebook page. But, I’m old school and was resistant to hopping on that trend train. My fears of privacy and security warred with networking with other writers. After much encouragement from a few of my writer friends, I created a Boone Brux FB page. I rationalized away my fears by creating positive goals. I would open myself up to those that wanted to be my friend. I would support other writers by reading their blogs and books. I would develop a following of my own. Never could I have imagined the nefarious traps that waited within that den of temptation and time wasting.

If you have an addictive personality, Facebook is not the best place for you to spend your time. The first inkling that I might have a problem came when I began “friending” people. I received a thrill when a total stranger accepted me as their friend. The reason for this reaction probably has its roots buried deep within my junior high years. I started with people I knew, but quickly began taking the suggestions that Facebook provided. I had every intension of being a good friend, but as the numbers grew, the task became overwhelming. Then the guilt set in. Was I giving these people false hope that I would support everything they wrote and posted? I realized it was time for me to step back and reassess my friending. I received a few friend requests, which I happily accepted, but realized I was not being heavily pursued. That created a bittersweet reaction. No requests solved my urge to over friend, but I questioned my value as a Facebook friend. Like I needed more self-doubt.

Just about the time I’d gotten my friending under control, I found the applications. Oh you dirty scoundrels, tempting me with the promise of hours of pleasure. The first step I took down that path of mindless time wasting was Happy Aquarium. Wow, cyber fish, and I got money if I kept them fed, clean, and alive. I embraced Petey the penguin, Jaws the clown fish, and Calypso the crab. I made a home for them, loved them, and decorated their tank. But wait, what is this? I can look at my friend’s tanks? BIG MISTAKE! One of my friends had fabulous squid and aquatic paraphernalia, but her fish were hungry. Oh my God, her fish are starving, and her tank was dirty. Didn’t she check? Can I feed her fish for her? No? No? But I need to help. I need to save her fish!!!!!!! I sent her an urgent message, but still the fish went unfed. Finally, she popped up on the Facebook chat, which is a whole other blog, and I pleaded with her to feed her fish. She laughed as if it was nothing, and promised me she would. Whew, now I could go back to my writing.

But wait, somebody sent me an invitation to start my own zoo. Oh, I love animals. And so, the vicious cycle began. I adopted every animal possible, bought kiosks, hired help, found lost gold, shook my money trees. I even made another Facebook page under my real name so that I could adopt animals from myself. As you can see, I was sinking into the abyss of applications. However, my downward slid was not done yet. Tikki farms appeared, Happy Fish, yes more fish, and the Fairy Garden. How many hours a day was I spending feeding my fish, adopting animals, looking for gold, and harvesting my crops? It got worse. My friend sent me free chips to play virtual slot machines, Texas Hold’em, Word Challenge, Trivia Challenge, and the worst of all…Farkle. If you’ve never played Farkle, don’t start. Hours I’ve wasted Farkling my day away.

This was a problem. Where was my manuscript? Where had the characters of my imagination gone? What day was it? When had I last eaten? Why were my kids still at home? Had I forgotten to take them to the bus? I was only moving from my computer to get more coffee and pee. When I finally shook the hypnotic hold that Facebook applications held over me, I knew I had to do something drastic. Delete, delete, delete. Gone went Word Challenge, gone went Happy Fish, and yes, bye, bye Farkle. I stood up from my chair like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I shook my legs, trying to get the feeling to return to my butt cheeks and feet. Stretching, I smiled. I had done it. I had walked through the valley of FB applications. I had stared down the throat of the time-suck monster, and I had survived. I shut off my coffeepot, showered, rinsing the sticky residue of Facebook desire from my body, and drove to the store to buy groceries. A new day had dawned. The sun kissed my face and I smiled, knowing that I was a stronger, wiser, writer having Farkled and survived.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My New New Year's Resolutions

So, I’ve thought a lot about this over the past few weeks—the pros and cons of New Year’s Resolutions—and I’d pretty much talked myself out of doing any for the year. Let’s face it…most of the time they fail and I’ve had the same freakin’ resolutions for the past ump-teen years (lose weight, write more, get organized). What’s the point? I’d decided to go into 2010 just keeping in mind that I really needed to do all these things but I wasn’t going to do a “resolution” or start a new plan or suddenly jump back to Weight Watchers (cuz you know the lines are huge the first week in January).

Then, I found myself walking through the bookstore. I was just there to get a cup of tea but I was on my phone with a friend who was telling me about how stressful her Christmas had turned out to be. I couldn’t find a way to break into the conversation while I ordered a 16-oz English Breakfast tea with room for cream, so I wandered the store.

I skimmed across the new books and saw one on getting organized. I’ve bought a half a dozen of these kinds of books over the years and never make it through. Who has time to read all this stuff? I need to be organized now!! Well, this book is split out into weeks and every week you do one bit of organizing. Means I don’t have to read the whole book until I’m doing each section. I like that.

Then my wanderings continued and I found myself in health and fitness. Sigh. All the books and plans and I almost walked away. I’ve tried a bunch, I know I should work out, I know I should eat better.

But then a realization hit me…at the end of 2010, I might not be a svelte, organized, writing mogul but you know, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. And even if I don’t completely succeed, any sort of effort will mean improvement. I know from experience, I won’t follow a strict meal plan to lose weight but if it stops me from hitting the donut cart twice a week, that’s a good thing.

I walked out of the store with 2 books—one to be organized and one to improve my fitness/health. I’m not calling them “new year’s resolutions” (the last time I was “resolved” about anything I was in debate class) and I’m not going to begin today (a Friday morning just seems like a bad time to change your world). I might not succeed but I’ll have made an effort and that counts for something. Who knows? By this time next year, I might be able to see the top of my desk. There’s always a chance.

Happy New Year!

And the Blatant Self-Promotion Side Note
Taking Shape is now available from Ellora’s Cave! You can read a hot, sexy excerpt at my blog.