Thursday, April 29, 2010

If friends were flowers, I'd pick Carrie

First, a warning.

I fully understand I might come across as sounding a bit kooky with this post. But I promise, I don't have stalker tendencies - anymore. (I mean, there was that one time I jumped over a barbed wire fence to meet Sebastian Bach of Skid Row... seriously, I have the scar on my hand to prove it.)

It's just that there's this girl I like.

Her name is Carrie and she works a few cubicles down from me. I met her about a year ago when she came to me with a conundrum. She couldn't remember the title of a book she loved as a youth. We tried to narrow it down, but alas, there are millions of kids stories about horses. Since I work for the Young Alberta Book Society , Carrie thought I might have an edge in helping her hunt down the book's title.

I've employed all of my research tactics - and come up blank.

Since that first introduction, Carrie and I have met in the hall maybe four times. Last week I sought out her office to deliver the bad news. We talked for about an hour - and not about the horse book.

The next day, Carrie dropped by my office and we got into an amazing discussion about creativity. Turns out she's an illustrator and a graphic designer. We chatted for another two hours.

It's been a weird year of friendships for me, and I've learned some hard lessons. I married my very best friend and am delighted to watch the friendship between my stepdaughter and I bloom.  I've released the toxic people from my life, reacquainted myself with childhood friends, and surrounded myself with a core group of wonderful people (from all around the world) who support one another (and me) through all of the ups and downs of life. For these people, I'd give my life.

I want Carrie to be among that group.

Ok, so maybe I am crazy - or perhaps there's just something about her that really is that magnetic.

In the short time we've known each other, we confess to sharing more about ourselves than is our personal normal. And over the past two days, we've moved our spontaneous chats to the lunch room, and even began making plans to get together outside of the building - working out, going for coffee, introducing our spouses, maybe even collaborating on a project. This afternoon we even - finally - exchanged phone numbers. (I'm already thinking about hitting handsome hubby up for a double date this weekend...)

For some reason, this adds a bit of spring to my step on this otherwise gloomy, rainy day.

I'm a social person and meeting new people has never been difficult for me. But after this last year, I've sheltered my heart from those who come on too strong or who don't seem the type to hang on for the long haul. I'm not interested in being "flavour of the week."

Something tells me I don't need to worry about that with Carrie.

So am I nuts? Or have you ever met someone, even briefly, and known somehow that this person would become one of your closest friends? What personality traits draw you to the people you consider your best buds?

PS - Carrie's favourite kids book (she thinks its a picture book) is about horse racing and a stallion that didn't quite make the grade. In true "Little Engine That Could" style, the horse trains and trains...and ends up victorious. No, we don't have much more detail. Ideas?

The Book In My Bag Today: Industrial Magic, Kelley Armstrong

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book 26 - Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Every time my friend Karen and I walked into Chapters, I tried to remember Jennifer Rardin's name - and it always eluded me, for reasons I can't explain.

I'd read great reviews of Once Bitten, Twice Shy on Amazon and the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website. I'd friended Jennifer Rardin on Facebook and added myself to her author fan site.

And still, I drew a blank when I walked into the bookstore.

Never again.

Some authors are worth the wait.

At first blush, the description of protagonist Jaz Parks reminded me of the heroine in my current WIP, Heartless. Both ladies have flaming red hair, a sarcastic nature, and a pension for action.

But the similarities end there. Whew :-)

Jaz is a kick-ass vampire assassin with a heartbreaking past. Plagued by frequent blackouts and a strained relationship with her father, Jaz is (unwillingly, at first) paired with Vayl, an undercover vampire working for the C.I.A. Together they must get close to a Miami plastic surgeon to uncover a terrorist plot...

And yeah, it kind of gets confusing from there.

Rardin had me from the first page. Enraptured by the flow of her words, and in awe of her amazing metaphor skill, I expected to breeze through the book and hardly take a breath before moving on to the second in the series. But somewhere in the middle, the story got away from me and while I remain in awe of the author's craft, I wasn't compelled to reach for Another One Bites the Dust. Yet.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Jaz - and it's clear her character has much room to grow. I'm looking forward to getting to know her better. I'm also interested in seeing how her relationship with her boss, Vayl develops. Despite a few moments of sexual tension, I didn't feel the "heat" between them I thought I might - and to be honest, I didn't  fall in love with him, either.

What I did fall for was the non-stop action, almost from the get-go. Rardin has a flair for writing heart-thumping scenes. The pacing is amazing. The dialogue crisp. And the description just enough to paint the picture without going overboard.

At just over 300 pages, Rardin doesn't have room for fluff. And there isn't any. Once Bitten, Twice Shy is a tight read, and I defy anyone to not be impressed by Rardin's ability to avoid the cliche.

The Book In My Bag Today: Industrial Magic, Kelley Armstrong

Monday, April 26, 2010

Team Damon FTW

In case you haven't noticed, I've got quite the crush on Ian Somerhalder. 

I started watching Vampire Diaries with my awesome stepdaughter as a compromise for not allowing her to watch True Blood. She's on team Stephan .

I'm absolutely on team Damon.

Those of you who follow my weekly muse selection will remember this isn't the first time Ian's been cast in the role of avatar, but it seems appropriate I've chosen him again since I'm *trying* to polish off the last of my edits and I need someone to, uh, keep my creative juices flowing. And I don't have time to train him.

I think Ian is up for the task.

What's that? You're too busy courting Elena? Bite me. No really, Ian...bite me.

The Book In My Bag Today: Once Bitten, Twice Shy, Jennifer Rardin

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Books, books, books!

My "To Be Read" pile was already groaning before the weekend. Today, it's grunting from the effort of keeping upright.

I (heart) used book sales.

Don't get me wrong - I spend my fair share (and then some) of hard-earned bucks at Chapters. My bookshelf is crammed with sparkling new hardcovers by my favourite authors.

But there's something endearing about used books.

At the Canwest Raise-a-Reader sale in Edmonton last night, I reconnected with a few classics, the books I've lent out over the years and never seen again, or the novels that somehow got lost in a series of Western Canadian moves.

Restocking my shelves is an important reason to peruse the sale, but a used book buffet also offers affordable options to my typical reading pile. After all, I discovered Chelsea Cain in the bargain bin, an author that has become one of my favourites. After falling in love with Heartsick, I raced to the store for the next books in the series, recommended her to all of my friends, and bought several copies of Heartsick as gifts.

Still, I admit feeling slightly guilty about picking up The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire for $1 each. The spines are not even cracked, every page intact.

I soothe that guilt knowing every dollar I've spent at that sale this weekend will be used to create literacy programs for Edmonton youth.

Live in the Edmonton area? Spend some time at the Aviation Museum and reconnect with some of your favourite books - or experience the thrill of discovering a new author. The sale runs 9-5 Saturday and 11-3 on Sunday.

The Book In My Bag Today: Once Bitten, Twice Shy, Jennifer Rardin

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book 25 - Smoke Screen

I'm almost certain I could track my affection for "bad boys" to my unabashed love for Sandra Brown novels. Her earlier work - before she crossed the line from straight romance to thriller / romantic suspense - featured sexy heroes with more edge than others writing in the genre.

But over the years I've done more than swoon for Sandra's characters - in fact, I've fallen head over heels in love with her writing.

As one of my previous posts can attest, she's been one of my idols for as long as I've wanted to write.

Still, I struggled a little through Smoke Screen.

The elements of craft are all there - the spot-on dialogue, brilliant description and sense of place, a compelling story buried beneath layers of secrets. But somehow the pacing felt a little off, and I never quite found a connection with either Britt Shelley or Raley Gannon.

By today's standards, Smoke Screen is a big book - more than 500 pages - and in my opinion, the story could have been told in a tighter timeframe. Hell would freeze over before I'd consider not finishing a Sandra Brown book, but the "big reveal" at the end felt a little anticlimactic given the considerable amount of text devoted to the back story.

That being said, I enjoyed the way past and present merged through well-told flashbacks. The personal stake for each of the characters was believable, and though I never quite fell for Raley, I could understand why Britt might. Their chemistry smolders rather than burns bright, appropriate, I suppose given the book's main plot. But in true Sandra Brown style, their ultimate connection is HOT.

Despite what might be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm for Smoke Screen, I'd recommend reading it. Having put Sandra Brown on a pedestal, my expectations are high - and I'd venture a guess that even her really good (versus amazing) books are better than most in her genre.


Woot! I'm a quarter of the way into my 100 books in 2010 challenge - which is a relief since the end of April marks the end of the year's first quarter. At this pace, I'm on track to meet my personal goal. And it looks like my friend Karen is well on her way, as well.

I'm back on a paranormal kick, so next up for me is Jennifer Rardin. I'm looking forward to meeting the sassy Jaz Parks, vampire assassin.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Birthday muse(s)

You know, my friends really "get" me.

Understanding that I spend painstaking hours every Monday picking out my weekly writing muse, a few of them decided to spare me of that torture on my birthday - and send a couple of options for my perusal.

I know! So. Sweet.

I actually love balloons.

In fact, you could fill a room with them, with or without helium, and I'd be a happy birthday girl. I like all shapes and sizes and colours - but as I'm sure you can is nice.

I'm not a big drinker by nature (anymore... stop snickering Ryan!) but I don't mind the occasional beverage.

Typically, I'm more of a  Budweiser or whiskey type gal, but I can absolutely see the advantages of vodka.

How about you?

And of course, what birthday wouldn't be complete without a little Jack Bauer? Not mine, that's for sure.

Kiefer will be my birthday present to myself tonight - after handsome hubby cooks me a great meal and I bribe my stepdaughter to paint my toenails (ha ha), I'll settle in for another exciting episode of 24. Bliss.
I'm so grateful my friends "get me" - thanks so much for the great gifts!

As for this week's muse's my birthday and I'm allowed to be greedy. I think I'll take all three.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A dear Jon letter

Dear Jon:

Forgive me for being so brazen.

It's just that I've had a terrible writing week. The words aren't flowing. I'm having some issues with PP's (though I don't expect as an accomplished songwriter you'd struggle with that), and my metaphors are a little shaky. Bordering on cliche, if I want to get honest.

And I do. Want to get honest, that is.

You see, I select a new muse avatar every week, the likes of which have included Shaun Sipos, Brad Pitt, a couple of sexy vampires, Kiefer Sutherland (cough...three times...), and even my handsome husband. But this past Monday came and went - the ritual somehow...forgotten?

And now I'm paying the price.

Jagger is in a bit of hot water. She's not a superhero (though, Dear Jon, you and I appear to share a mutual love of Superman. Nice, um, tat) but I've asked her to perform super human feats this week. Not being one to hold back, she's begun to complain. Loudly.

I fear the only way to shut her up is to satisfy the muse.

He needs a face - and yours is certainly a handsome one. I've always thought that - even when you looked like this:

Back then, we ALL had big hair. Secretly, I wanted yours - I could never quite achieve the right back combing effect. But, as you see, my love has lasted much longer than extra hold hairspray.

Though, since I'm being honest, I admit there was that itty bitty crush I had for Rikki Rockett.

I blush to think of it now - all of the posters on my wall, how I changed all of the lyrics to songs (yes, even YOUR songs) to profess my love for Rikki, how much money I spent on concert after concert only to have him point that blasted drum stick at some other woman.

But that crush (eventually) went away, while my love for you, Jon, continued to grow. Nay, continues to grow.

You've matured over the years,  transitioning into a sexy modern rocker who looks like this:

And this: (Again...nice hair...)

You've taken some risks - like that interesting foray into country and western a few years back - demonstrating the need for creative people to step. out. of their comfort zone.

When other rockers - not mentioning any names - were singling out backstage beauties for after-the-show indiscretions, you called your wife. Loyalty is becoming an increasingly rare trait, and yet you and Dorothy have stood the test of time. (I accept this. Honest. Bravo!)

As if that wasn't enough, your latest endeavor is even more impressive. Not only are you offering new, undiscovered talent to open for THE Bon Jovi during your Circle tour, you are also opening your wallet for local charities - $10,000 and a chance to meet YOU. It is these random acts of kindness that further endear you to me.

So, dear Jon, it is with great pride I crown you this week's muse avatar.


A tremendous fan

PS - Over the years, I've rocked out at almost a dozen Bon Jovi concerts. It pains me greatly to miss your latest tour. 

The Book In My Bag Today: Smoke Screen, Sandra Brown

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book 24 - Altar of Eden

I bow to James Rollins.

Not only is Altar of Eden a lightening quick, beautifully-crafted thriller, somehow, James makes me want to know more about genetics, and science, and animals, and especially lost islands named Eden.

Pulling his veterinary training into play (finally...woot!), Altar of Eden embodies similar awe-inspiring genetic science as Jurassic Park, except the reader isn't quite transported back to prehistoric times and instead of dinosaurs, we are introduced to a different race of animals altogether.

Sabre-toothed jaguars with creepy, advanced hunting skills. Parrots that can recite the full numeric sequence of Pi. Clusters of creatures who problem solve together - mind rattling hive intelligence.

And of course, a female scientist - and everyone around her - in grave danger. Over the years, I've heard time again James' philosophy on creating sympathetic characters - and he's employed several of his tactics in this book. Lorna and Jack make a compelling team, and their mysterious connection of the past creates a believable chemistry.

As always, the dialogue is vivid, the description enough to create realistic visuals, and the sensory detail...outstanding. On my checklist of the five senses, James nails them in almost every chapter. An impressive feat.

I've been known to discard a book or two based on the first chapter. No fear of that happening here. The prologue is powerful, if not downright chilling. And when I started the book, I read almost a third just to give me something other than the last line of the prologue to think about.

I know it isn't smart to judge a book by its cover, but it's worth noting that the cover art on Altar of Eden is exquisite. Much like the text inside.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The butterfly effect

A dear friend reached a writing pinnacle last night, a near-perfect choreography of dialogue, action, description and voice. Her characters all but leapt from the page, my affection for each growing with every beautifully-crafted word. Sentences flowed with melodic ease - and despite my best efforts, I could find little to critique.

It's the kind of professional writing I'd expect to see from a well-seasoned (and published) author.

But Donna isn't published. In fact, the pages she provided for last night's critique session are, essentially, the first draft of her first real attempt at writing a novel.

Did your stomach just do a jealous roll?

Let me put it into perspective.

Turn the clock back six months. I met Donna, a bubbling, blonde beauty, at my second ever critique group meeting. She presented us a single chapter - with terrible formatting, a myriad of typos, a complex vision of an un-orthodoxed story and only basic understanding of how to write a book. But underneath the surface we all saw the raw talent - and Donna's true potential.

Like most writers, her confidence started out shaky. Even her critiques were delivered with the tell-tale vibration of insecurity. She would be the first to admit that pointing out another writer's flaws (even the minor ones) Stressed. Her. Out. Our group was new - and the safety and comfort a solid critique circle requires for success had yet to be established.

But Donna wants this.

To say we've been hard on her is a slight understatement. After each meeting, she went home with a new craft rule, a variation of a plot twist, a new formatting requirement - and, I'm sure, a burning desire to flip each of us the bird. Especially me.

If she did curse me, however, she did so under her breath. Every week she brought back pages that incorporated the new rule - better action words, a deeper sense of point of view, neat dialogue tags, appropriate metaphors. In the last six months I've witnessed jealousy-inducing coffee-shop epiphanies, brilliant problem solving, and an improvement of writing quality that is nothing short of staggering.

When each of us quit writing or submitting to the group for personal reasons, Donna never missed a beat, demonstrating the kind of belly-fire I've only heard about in the past. When life turns upside down. Keep writing. When you don't feel like it. Keep writing. When your muse is being uncooperative, kick him in the butt, even if he IS wearing Spandex and rocking out to old 80s hair band songs. And keep writing.

While the rest of us skewed the weekly submission deadline to facilitate a myriad of excuses (Husband is taking me____, Stepdaughter needs help with _____, My muse is being a ________), Donna submitted every Friday before 3 p.m. - because that was the original deadline.

I've watched Donna field harsh criticism and deflect defeat, look self-doubt in the eye and slam the door shut on insecurity.

And I've witnessed a transformation of writing so beautiful I can only compare it to the spellbinding emergence of a butterfly from its comfortable cocoon. In these past weeks, Donna has not stepped from her comfort zone, but leapt (with a smile) - and the result is mind boggling.

Donna's book is mere chapters away from completion. I am so honoured that she has trusted me to be a part of this process (from start to finish) and there will be no greater joy than watching her share her transformation with the world.

I'm so proud of you, Donna.


The Book In My Bag Today: Altar of Eden, James Rollins

Monday, April 5, 2010

Satisfying the muse

I've heard cravings can often be satisfied by merely glancing at a picture.

Others take a much longer stare.

Sometimes you need that time to memorize the image so you can revert to it whenever overindulgence seems imminent. Instead of reaching for the dark side and giving into temptation, a photograph might suffice, right?

Especially if you're on a weight loss program.

You did know I was talking about chocolate, right?

The Easter Bunny all but missed my house this weekend (the single chocolate treat is currently being coveted by my stepdaughter) - so I missed a bit of delicious indulgence. This year, I couldn't gorge on mini eggs, marshmallow peeps, or a candy silhouette of Bart Simpson.


I'm well aware that all of that Easter goodness will start hitting the sale racks today - and since I'm knee deep in revisions, I'll be tempted to indulge. Unacceptable.

To combat such impulse, I've selected a muse that conforms to my usual shallow standards, but also performs a second duty. Whenever I feel the urge to buy chocolate, I'll pull up this picture instead. And stare at it - for as long as it takes to satisfy me.

For hours if necessary.

Care to join me?

The Book In My Bag Today: Altar of Eden, James Rollins

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book 23 - Dime Store Magic

As far as supernaturals go, witches aren't my favourite. My adoration for them kind of ended after Practical Magic and reading Nora Roberts' Three Sisters trilogy.

But in Dime Store Magic, author Kelley Armstrong creates sympathetic characters in Paige and her young charge Savannah. Which is a good thing since I was a bit hesitant to read this book once I learned it didn't focus on Elena the werewolf (Bitten) but rather I character I hadn't fallen in love with in Stolen.

As with all of her books, Armstrong has a way of making you feel as though you've living the story rather than reading it (tight psychic distance as Steve Berry would point out) and in Dime Store Magic there was much for me to relate to - like the dynamics between Paige and Savannah.

Savannah reminded me of my stepdaughter, and Paige's struggle to walk that fine line between "guardian" and "friend" is reminiscent of my life. I may have even picked up a few tricks (grin).

Paige is a normal young woman - despite being a witch and the Coven leader. She worries about her weight and whether she'll ever find a boyfriend. She takes Savannah to school, tries to fit in with the PTA, volunteers, and keeps pre-made dough in her freezer for emergency feel-good cookies.

So when the locals start petitioning for her to leave town and strange black magic surrounds her house, Paige isn't entirely equipped to deal with the drama. Her "dime store magic" isn't strong enough - yet - to protect everything she holds close to her heart, and her Coven sisters have left her to fend for herself. Eventually she gives in and enlists the help of (gasp) a sorcerer names Lucas Cortez.

While Lucas - the eventual love interest - is a great sorcerer and friend to Paige and Savannah, especially during a custody battle caught in a whirlwind of magic and controversy, I didn't fall in love with him. Even at the end. He comes off as a bit wimpy and the description felt a bit lack-luster. But I suppose not all of Armstrong's heroes can have the raw sexuality of Clayton, Elena's phenomenal mate.

I'm taking a break from the paranormal for a book (or two) but when I return, I suspect it will be with another of Armstrong's novels. She's a brilliant writer and Dime Store Magic was well worth the time invested in reading it. I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to discover her!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

42 Fools for April

My teenager often joins random *groups* on Facebook. Most of them make no sense - to me. Apparently, if you're 13 years old, you completely relate to and can sympathize with the phrase "Hello, I am 12 and what is that?" Yes, there's a group for that.

There's also a group for: I Hate When People Stare at Me When I'm Eating, My Dreams Always Make Sense and then I Wake Up and It's Like "WHATTTT!!!", and Ex-Boyfriend Gets Owned by Ex Girlfriend's Dad on Status Update. Wow!

"Become a fan" is kind of like new-age peer pressure - support for something that doesn't require actual action. You don't really have to get your Dad to *own* your ex on his status update, right?

Unless the group is overtly inappropriate, I turn a blind eye. A quick peruse through my teen's friend list confirms she isn't alone in her random group-following ways. But if something piques my interest, I'll sometimes take a deeper look.

So imagine me trying to ignore this one: 42 Ways to Drive Your Parents Nuts.

Joined - cough, cough, ahem - the day before April Fool's Day.

I like surprises, really I do. But not the kind of surprise that suggests my kid stand over my bed at four in the morning and say "Good morning, sunshine" -  kind of Jack Nicholson-creepy, don't you think? Or how about the surprise of going to the mall together and her shouting "No, I am not going to make out with you Mom." That's number 9.

After reading the list, I find myself questioning a few inquiries over the past few days. Did she ask about super glue because number 29 suggests crazy gluing your finger up your nose is a good way to drive parents nuts? And if I give in to buying ice cream cones, will she really stick one to her forehead and pretend to be a unicorn like number 34 says to do?

She already likes to "roar" (or rather, rawr) like a dinosaur, but might she begin saying "moo" at the end of an introduction? Am I destined to have every question I ask responded to with a quote from Twilight? Was that annoying tapping at my bedroom door last night the result of following instructions from number 15?

I figure the best line of defense for such potential April Fool's gags is offense, so I'm memorizing the list. If she takes a bath and yells "I'm drowning" I might not race to the bathroom, but rather double check with stealth. And if I hear the toilet flush, I won't assume she's giving herself a swirly. Sushi's fish tank is far too small for her to pretend to snorkel in. (And though it's not officially on the list, I have to assume she won't go through with her threat to eat Sushi when I'm sleeping...)

I will not be alarmed if she runs around the house naked, or sings at the top of her lungs in her underwear, or tells me she "sees dead people." I will not judge her for flicking on and off the light switch before muttering (in awe), "Oh, I get it." And if she pastes a sticker to her chest that says "I'm a retard" I'll pat her hand in understanding rather than launch into a discussion about inappropriate labels.

Just to be safe, though, I think we'll spend this April Fool's Day indoors. I'd hate for a random stranger to witness my stepdaughter slithering or swimming on the floor, talking to her pen, eating her hair (while muttering I don't feed her), or wearing a lamp shade on her head.

It's bad enough she's asked me to bake cookies for her 20 (imaginary) friends.

Happy April Fool's Day.

The Book In My Bag Today: Dime Store Magic, Kelley Armstrong