Archive for October, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Like many people, when my life as an adult becomes an overwhelming wave of obligations, I reminisce about the bucolic memories of my childhood. Halloween was fun.

I grew up in a trailer court. There were not a ton of advantages to that, but there were a few. One of them was trick-or-treating. I had twenty-eight adjacent neighbors, all in one short walk, all waiting to hand out candy.

I seem to remember we always trick-or-treated in the dark. It doesn’t seem like kids do that nowadays. My cousins from the country would come up and trick-or-treat with me. After my little sister got to toddler size, my mom would come with too. When it got to a point where I was too old to trick or treat, I would just take my sister out.

My dad would always go through our plastic pumpkins when we were done and pick out all the hard candy so we wouldn’t choke on it. This was a running theme with all my uncles too, so I can only speculate that someone in the family had a traumatic experience with choking that no one will talk about directly, but consider it some sort of cautionary tale nevertheless. He would always complain in the weeks that followed that me and my sister always ate the good stuff and left him the chaff candy (ie. no chocolate).

Ah, the candy. The peanut butter cups always went first, then the Hershey’s miniatures (Dad liked to eat the Mr. Goodbars and spit the nuts out, leaving them in a dish, hoping one of us in the house would accidentally start to eat them; then the joke would be on us. What some people will do for entertainment…), followed by the Kit Kats, M&M’s, Almond Joys, Mounds, Nestle’s Crunch, Baby Ruths, Snickers and Milky Ways.

The Butterfingers would usually go right before the non-milk chocolate candy. That would be the Smarties, the Toostie Rolls, the DumDum suckers (apparently if a stick was attached to the hard candy, the choking policy would be bypassed, presumably because the stick was some sort of retrieval device), Bazooka Bubble Gum, Starburst, Bitto Honey, and those weird maple nougat things with the peanut butter inside (which I love as an adult). The popcorn balls and various fruit were removed from the containers immediately and thoroughly inspected, even though we knew which neighbor gave them to us, because, “You never know these days.”

My favorite memory is the skeleton. My mom has always been the queen of resourcefulness. She saved all the stryrofoam containers that meat from the grocery store came on and used them to cut out bones. Then she carefully connected the bones with fishing line and hung the skeleton in the window. It was a good thirty inches tall and probably had a couple dozen pieces. It was just the coolest thing. It was so cool, that none of us would leave it alone, so inevitably the skeleton would get tangled. I seem to remember my mom carefully untangling it numerous times every year, but she still brought it out.

I should ask her if she still has it. Most of the meat at the store comes on either yellow or pink containers now. I suppose nowadays, people would be all freaked out to touch the skeleton if raw meat had touched it. Leave it to advancements in internal medicine to be a buzzkill.

Happy Halloween!


Is Romance Dead?

I was asked at a recent author appearance about when I started reading books. For me it was rather late in childhood.

When I was a kid, both of my parents worked and my Great Aunt Grace lived in the same trailer court. She would babysit my baby sister, and when I would get off the bus I would go over there too until one of my parents got home to make dinner.

Aunt Grace was a diehard romantic, and it was her collection of Harlequin and Silhouette romance novels, neatly stacked on the miniature book case in the living room, that opened my eyes to a completely different world.

Now, I grew up in a very strict household when it came to morals. Swearing was only heard from angry grownups and trashy kids who weren’t brought up properly. Sex was not a subject to ever be questioned or thought about. And all boys were just filthy minded little mongrels who were way too interested in what your bodyparts looked and felt like. When I brought the diagrams of the human reproductive system home for homework from health class, my mother was horrified (today, she’s one of my editors. I tease her incessantly).

So needless to say, when I cracked open my first “bodice ripper”, I was completely shocked…and hooked. I figured out pretty quick that I preferred Silhouettes to Harlequins because the heroines seemed stronger (and the sex scenes were a bit steamier). I burned through Aunt Grace’s stash fairly quickly and started cleaning out the library.

By high school I was broadening my tastes to a little science fiction and my next great love, murder mysteries, but I’ll still pick up a good Romance every now and again. Sandra Brown is always a good go-to, and Amanda Quick too. As far as I’m concerned, “Chick-Lit” is just a new-fangled name for a modern-day “bodice ripper”.

I always find it funny that there is this stigma about romance novels, like they’re somehow cheesy or substandard in literary terms. To me that’s very short-sighted thinking. Story-telling, no matter the genre, requires skill, creativity, and a sense of persuasion.  A writer needs the reader to believe the story they are telling and feel a connection to the characters. Obviously a romance novel is suppose to affect a different part of the brain than a historical biography or an epic adventure tale, but the building blocks are the same.

Maybe we’ve become so overstimulated with the sheer volume of information at our fingertips that we think ourselves too jaded to be drawn into a simple love story. There better be a post-apocalyptic doom or some tragic back story of abuse involved or we’ll lose interest. I personally don’t believe that’s true. Hollywood wouldn’t re-adapt Jane Austin’s novels to movies every five years if that were really the case.

No matter how overexposed and cluttered our brains get, we are all still wired to search out that person who stirs our desires and makes us feel fulfilled and cared for. We are all driven to find the one that completes us. No matter how you package it, that’s all romance really is.

The plot thickens…

Have you ever made homemade fresh strawberry pie? I’m sure there a gazillion different recipes out there, but most of them are basically the same. It involves heating up the sauce, pouring said sauce over the strawberries that have been carefully arranged in in a pre-made crust (I prefer short bread), and leaving the pie in the fridge for a few hours (overnight is best).

The sauce takes the longest. Usually consisting of sugar, water, and a starch (maybe flavoring), You stir the ingredients CONTINUALLY until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency.

There is no shortcut here. In order for the sauce to come out right, you have to stand over the stove and stir and stir…and stir. If you give up before the starch chemically reacts and thickens, it won’t set up correctly in the refrigerator. If it gets too thick, you won’t be able to pour it properly over the fruit so that it fills all the nooks and crannies in the pie.

Starting a book to me is like washing and hulling the strawberries and either buying or making the crust, no brainers, honestly. The books always start with the catalyst crime scene. You got a body, you got a rural setting for the body… Go.

I like that because I can add those few pages from the upcoming book at the end of the previous book as a nice teaser. It forces me to stay on task (not an easy thing for me with most things).

Admittedly I hate outlining. It’s like the incessant stirring on the stove. You know the inert ingredients will come together, you’ve done it before, Yet, as you stand there over the stove and watch the watery soup basically do nothing for what seems like forever, you start to have doubts.

What if the premise is too absurd? What if the plot is too convoluted to keep the readers attention? What if the instillation of characters don’t make any sense? IS IT REALLY GOING TO WORK THIS TIME?

Fortunately, I’m starting to see a glaze form on the spoon. I’ll keep you posted.