What Is Sexy?

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You guys have GOT to try Milky Way Midnight. Oh. My. God. I had one in inservice the other day and everyone made fun of me because I enjoyed it way too much.

I was talking to Cindi's husband yesterday during inservice. While the presenter gave us time to work in groups, she put on music. Robert leaned over and said he loved this one song, because he thought there was nothing sexier than a woman singing. I thought that was weird, because this past month, I've thought the same thing about a man singing. I tried to explain this to Robert, saying it's because men so rarely show their vulnerabilities and in singing, most people feel vulnerable.

He didn't get it. (Actually, he knows me too well - "Geez, Mary, what DON'T you find sexy?"

But you guys get it, right? I was particularly impressed at the karaoke bar we went to in Atlanta, and the men who got up who could BELT and it was sexy. (Okay, I know some of them were gay, but not the one who came with a girl, and not JOHN - man, he was cute - Janice, you shoulda been there. He looked like Matthew.)

And I'm impressed with American Idol.

So to me, some things that make a man sexy are:

1) singing

2) a low voice, one you can hear coming down the hall

3) glasses - on occasion (another revealing weakness thing. Hm.)

4) a good daddy

5) a sense of humor, especially self-deprecating

6) Okay, this is shallow - a guy who wears a necklace. Not any necklace, but something meaningful. I had a firefighter hero wear a St. Florian medal, and that ratcheted it up for me. My current hero has dog tags, and when he and Isabella get together, he ain't taking them off. In the movie Something New, Simon Baker wore a necklace, and the visual....mmmm.

What's sexy to you?

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How Obsessed Can You Get?

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I have an obsessive personality (you may have noticed that about me.) I realized it in 5th grade when I had to take ALL my Trixie Belden books on vacation to CA with me on vacation.

I was also obsessed with Shaun Cassidy (had to hurry home Sunday nights to see Hardy Boys, had my room covered with his posters, had all the teen magazines, had his album, and for good measure, his brother's albums, too). Then John Schneider.

Then U2. THAT one was bad. All the albums, but also all the singles (they'd put new songs on the B-sides, the bastards.) I had their FRIENDS' albums. I had posters and shirts and the buttons (remember the buttons?) I had one of Fred's friends paint a big U2 on the back of a jean jacket. I bought Rattle and Hum the day it came out on video. I subscribed to their fan magazine, bought every book about them, went to their concert in Austin (8th row). My friend Cindi's husband drew me a huge poster of Bono as The Fly.

Perhaps that one was the worst. Sadly, I no longer have anything but the singles and albums, which my son hates me for.

I obsessed over Gerry, have all his movies and soundtracks to each. Same with Clooney. Now it's Grey's. I got the soundtrack this week just to keep me in a Grey's kind of mood. And I'm forbidden to say "Seriously" in the house.

What's your worst obsession?

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Fulfilling the Promise

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So, we were talking about the bomb episode of Grey's. Why did the Bomb Squad Guy not put the explosive in a bombproof box before walking it down the hall? I think Shonda had a purpose in doing thi.

She'd built the tension for two hours. If the EMT wiggled her fingers, the bomb would explode. If they rolled the gurney down the hall, it would explode. If Meredith moved her hand, the bomb would explode.

What was that line from Speed? The bomb's PURPOSE is to explode?

So what would happen if it didn't explode? Would we be let down? Would we say, "Oh, well, it really wasn't so dangerous anyway?"

Same thing in the two-parter of Prison Break, the one with the riot.

T-Bag, the nasty kidnapper/rapist/murderer is one bad dude. He's returned to the general population from the hospital, and he's ready to make trouble. The AC has gone down, the prisoners are hot and sweaty, and in no mood to be locked in their cells. They riot.

It's bloody and disturbing, even moreso when T-Bag takes a guard as hostage and threatens to rape him and let the other prisoners do the same. He beats the guard bloody and shoves him into one of the open cells - Michael and Sucre's cell, where the guard and T-Bag discover the hole behind the toilet.

T-Bag wants in, and he wants to kill the guard to keep him quiet, after torturing the guard with what he'll do to the guard's teenaged daughter. Michael and the others are convinced threats to the guard's family will keep him quiet and let the guard go. You breathe a sigh of relief, then T-Bag slips out, shanks the guard and throws him over the rail.

The writers let us know that T-Bag is NOT to be messed with.

In Firefly, Joss kills a main character to show that yes, he means it, they really ARE in danger.

How do you make sure you fulfill the promise of your book?

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Body Movers

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I stayed up late last night and finished Body Movers. It was really good - another book I wouldn't have bought, but I picked it up in the Harlequin room, and now I'll get the rest of the series when it comes out.

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Body Movers is about Carlotta and Wesley, whose father was indicted on embezzlement 10 years ago, so he and the mother took off, leaving Carlotta to raise Wesley, struggling to make ends meet as a salesperson at Neiman Marcus. They'd been the people to have it all and now they have nothing. Worse, Wesley, at 19, has a gambling problem and a friend who puts him in harm's way, so Carlotta can never manage to get ahead.

The cover advertises this as a sexy mystery, but there is no sex. There was foreplay, and sexual tension in spades, but no sex. There are three potential heroes throughout.

The back blurb also tells something that doesn't happen till around p. 140. I hate when that happens.

But it was a book that compelled me to return to it (I had my favorite hero possibility, Jack, though Cooper grew on me.) And when Carlotta and Wesley made bad decisions, I cringed for them instead of yelling at them for being TSTL. They were well motivated in their choices.

And you know the saying about your first line sells this book and your last line sells the next? I am SO there for the next!

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Grey's and Theme

Okay, remember a few days ago I was asking what makes your characters attracted to one another? Well, I was watching Grey's Thursday, and Burke is all out of shape because Christina kept her apartment as a safety when she moved in with him. He said, "I love you. What is wrong with you that you just won't let me?"

Thing is, I honestly don't see why he loves her. Anyone?

I was also noticing the themes that resonate in the episodes. I knew the writers picked medical cases to reflect the themes of the episodes, but it was never more clear to me than in Thursday's episodes.

The first was when Meredith was waiting for McWienie - I mean, McDreamy - to choose between her and his estranged wife. While she's waiting, there's a train wreck, and one of the injuries was two people skewered together by a pole. The doctors have to choose which one will live. The moment Meredith learns McDreamy's choice was not her, the young woman skewered starts to crash. The doctors jump in to help her, then the man starts to go down, and the doctors run to help him, leaving the young woman to die. Meredit stands over the patient, crying, "What about her?" and Bailey says, "She never had a chance." Perfect mirror for Meredith in Derek's life.

The second episode was the one where Mark (McSteamy, and OMG, is he EVER - what is WRONG with Addison that she lets Derek treat her that way when McSteamy loves her and wants her back?) comes to Seattle. He wants Addison to come home with him, but she's determined to make her marriage work. (WHY, Addison? Why oh why?) And McSteamy gets in on one of Derek's cases, a boy with lionitis, where the bony tumors make his face misshapen, and are also encroaching on his brain. These two former best friends (can you imagine the two of them walking down a NYC street together? Women swooning everywhere?) are forced to work together to solve this boy's problems, only the boy dies. Is this a portent of what will happen to Derek and Addison's marriage?

In a subplot, Meredith finds herself taping hate messages for a cancer patient who is dying. He has a 1 in 4 chance of surviving the surgery, and he doesn't want to die without people knows how he really feels. So Meredith tapes him, feeling uncomfortable in the face of his vitriol. When, over surgery, Burke asks if she mailed them, she says no, it didn't feel right. Burke, who has just discovered Christina kept her own apt, goes off on Meredith. "Not doing what you say you're going to do makes you a liar."

The writing on this show is brilliant - I can't wait till the season premier on the 21st. Until then, I have Sundays and Thursdays and my DVDs.

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Stop Your Sobbing

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We were flipping through the channels last night, in the thirty minutes between King of the Hill and Grey's. The dh saw Michael J Fox on In The Actor's Studio and stopped.

After 15 minutes, I had to leave. I couldn't watch.

This episode was from 2005, almost a year old. At one point, he had to leave the stage while the medicine kicked in. His tremors were worse and worse, and you could see him trying to fight to stay on stage, to finish. I'm crying just thinking about it.

I was never a huge MJF fan. I watched Family Ties and Back to the Future, but I never said, "Oh, MJF, I have to see that." Yet I hurt watching him last night, almost as if I was watching someone I loved hurting.

And yet, y'all, he was amazing. I have the utmost respect for this man, who says this was not the way he'd choose to live his life, but he considers it a gift because it brought so much recognition to the disease that affects so many. He understands he has it easier because he doesn't have to worry about insurance and all that, and he says he doesn't want to make Parkinson's look like something that is easy to live with, but he does want people to know they can live with it.

He shared a story about - I'm going to mess this up. He said God had this group of people and he told them to stand in a circle and put their worst problem in the circle. Then he told them to take any problem from the circle as their own. Everyone took their own problem back. Isn't that just true?

He also told this young girl who asked a question, and also has a neurological disorder, that he knows he has to walk through the pain, because chances are, on the other side, there will be something good.

Wow.

He also said something about being a writer, but I was sobbing so hard by then, I can't remember.

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If a genie came to you and asked....

"You can have a book contract, and everything you write from now on will sell and hit the lists, but you have to give up _____."

What would be the deal breaker? (Other than the obvious - family, health, etc.) What is one thing you wouldn't give up to be a bestselling successful author?

I bet you can't guess mine.


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Sleep. I couldn't give up sleep.

SLUG

Seems like ages since I've worked on my book, but it's actually only been 3 days. I've been wiped by 6:30, and Monday I had an appletini and that did NOT make me more energetic ;)

I have discovered something as I lay motionless on the couch. I don't want that to be my life. I need more. I don't have a HUGE amount of energy so getting to the computer is about the best I can do. I want to write. Even if I don't write a TON everyday, I need to have that, the story, the community, the hope in my life.

Blame Trish for this - she got me hooked on YouTube and I've been watching Grey's videos.

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Gone Visitin'

Blogging at Trish's today!

Did you ever hear the story about the little kid who was SO excited about the first day of school, it was all he could talk about for weeks? And then after the first day of school was over, his mom told him he had to go to bed early because he had to go to school in the morning and he said, "You mean I have to go BACK?"

Yeah. How can I be this tired already? I went to bed at 9:30 last night, people! ACK!

It's the First Day of School....

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I plan to be out of here in 30 minutes. You should see all the stuff I have to load in the car.

I'm also blogging at Wet Noodle Posse today.

I don't remember who I stole this from.

1. One book that changed my life: I would have to say Karen Robards’ Dark of the Moon. I had not read romance before and it hooked me.

2. One book that I have read more than once: Winter Roses by Anita Mills

3. One book I would want on a deserted island: Errrr….one? Seriously? Voyager, I guess, by Diana Gabaldon. Or Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen.

4. One book that made me laugh: Eileen Rendahl’s Do Me, Do My Roots

5. One book that made me cry: Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen

6. One book I wish I'd written: Any of Cindy Gerard or Cherry Adair’s action adventures.

7. One book I wish had never been written: Anything that inspires hate.

8. One book I am currently reading: The Remarkable Miss Frankenstein by Minda Webber

9. One book I have been meaning to read: Cotton Queen by Pamela Morsi

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In keeping with the book theme...

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I have a tremendous TBR pile. Around 200 books. On one shelf are the books I will likely read next. How do I choose? This is going to sound terrible. I choose the book I'm not sure I'll like. That way, if I don't like it and pass it on, I can go to the next book and eventually I'll get through the stack.

Yeah, in about 10 years.

How do you choose which book to read next?

(I had a really good idea for a blog post when I woke up. Where is it? No idea.)

Sorry, Marianne ;)

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What Makes You Put Down a Book?

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I put down three books recently. The first, to be fair, wasn't really my thing. It was well written, but the storyline stretched my limits.

The second had a great premise, but pages and pages of nothing happening.

The third almost hit the wall.

Something happened in the story that was never explained. It was REPEATED, and it served the plot, but there wasn't even a phrase that told why it happened. No matter what else happened in the book, I couldn't pay attention, because I WANTED TO KNOW WHY. Drove me batty. And then another thing happened, or didn't happen, I don't remember now, but again, no explanation. I put the book down.

I'm not asking for paragraphs or pages. Just a few words.

Here's the sad bit. Back in the day, I would have finished them because they are books and I love books. But now I have (gulp) almost 200 books in my TBR. A three book shelf full, 6 stacks in another bookshelf and another shelf in the bedroom. I have books by friends that I haven't read yet. I'm behind in series. So I don't usually go past p. 50 on a book that bugs me. These three all made it to page 100 before I gave up. Over the summer, one book barely made it to page 20. Sheesh, that was a silly book.

And I'll admit, I asked myself, why do these get published and mine don't? Well, they did have sexual tension. Inappropriate, sometimes, but it was there.

Okay, REALLY off to the grocery store now, then I'm coming home to work on Breaking Dawn. What makes you put a book down?


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You...COMPLETE Me

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The last couple of stories I've taken to critique have gotten the same comment from one of my cps. She asks, "I don't see what attracts these two to each other."

And I don't have an answer.

In Hot Shot, it's trust and healing, right? I mean, she's getting over her husband's death with a man she swore she'd never love because of his dangerous job, and he's learning to trust women again.

In DLB, it's healing and trust. He was the man who rescued her all those years ago, and so he knows all about the past she's worked to overcome, and how can she overcome it if he's always there as a reminder?

In Beneath the Surface, it's trust.

Am I understanding what she's asking? She's asking, isn't she, that the hero and heroine are The Only One for the other.

But in Vanished, the one where the woman is missing and her best friend and her brother team up to find her, I don't have that, I guess. She's full of life, he's a fuddy duddy, but that's not enough.

And in Breaking Dawn, which admittedly I haven't given a lot of attention, he resents her for using her charms to make her way through the world because she reminds him of his abusive mother. He thinks he wants someone he can protect, not someone who can make her way through whatever means necessary.

How do you make your hero and heroine The One?

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Post 600!!!

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I went to bed before 10 last night, only to wake up by 3 AM. Crud. And today is a long, boring inservice.

I skipped SARA last night. By 11 AM, I was so tired that my PREGNANT friend was wincing when she'd see me walk. See, I changed grade levels, so I thought I'd be changing rooms last year. So I packed EVERYTHING in boxes. Well, I didn't change rooms, so I had to take everything back OUT of the boxes. My friend Cindi who stayed in the same grade level AND IS 5 MONTHS PREGNANT had to move. Only this summer they retiled the library and put all the books in her old classroom. Over 200 boxes. She couldn't even get in to get her stuff out until yesterday (and we only get one day provided by the district. Cindi and her husband usually come in a week early to get their rooms ready, only they couldn't this year.) So we moved her as much as we could. Then they decided they needed to wax the floor, so there are still shelves of books and a full closet we couldn't empty.

Who I feel sorry for is the teacher moving INTO her room. Yesterday was our workday and she couldn't get in the room to work! The principal tried to get her an extra day, but the main office wouldn't allow it. Nice.

Anyway, I feel guilty for missing SARA. I usually don't miss, but when I do, I don't feel guilty.

Hopefully, during inservice, I can get started on my lesson plans for next week, write up an interview for my cousin for the WNP Superheroine article, write up an idea for Trish's blog and write up an idea for the SARA newsletter.

If I can stay awake.

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I am BEAT

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It's so rough getting back in the swing. Today I woke up extra early to get into work to get my classroom ready (and to swing by Starbucks). I know I should be done by lunch, but my friend Cindi, who is pregnant, is having to MOVE her classroom and wasn't even able to get into her old one to get her stuff because ALL the library books are in there. They ripped out the carpet in the library and put down new tile, and stored everything in Cindi's room. So she can't even get her stuff out, and the teacher who's taking her classroom can't even get in because the cutodians couldn't wax the floor, either! So I'll be helping Cindi, hopefully, if I get done early.

The boss man took us to dinner yesterday, which was really nice. The first thing he said to me when I walked in on Monday was, "I MISSED YOU!" all enthusiastic. He's the greatest.

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On Monday, I was so anxious that I ran into a curb and blew out my tire. $250 later, all is well, but MAN, what a dummy.

And tonight's SARA - If I didn't have so much stuff I needed to take, I would skip. I'm TIRED!

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I started the Dangerous...I don't remember the title, but the author was Korbel, from Nocturne. Very well written, but about fairies. I don't really do fairies. So I started Eternally, which is about an Immortal chasing a demon who kills women. It's getting pretty good.

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Mop Up

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I entered Beneath the Surface, which had scored in the top quarter in 2004, and Where There’s Smoke, which was middlin’, in the 2005 GH. I didn’t final. I was really okay with it because of the whole, well, Reno isn’t that close thing. But I spent what I would have spent on conference on contest entries.

Hot Shot finalled in Hot Prospects, Sheila and the Maggies! The Maggies was almost as great as the GH! And Susan Litman was the final judge!

So I was fired up as I worked on my new book, Don’t Look Back.

School was out, I was settling into a routine. And on June 15, 2005, I opened an email from Susan. Rejecting Hot Shot. It had been at Silhouette for one year and one week.

Y’all, this was painful. And to get it through email (which should only be used for good). She apologized, wishing she had better news since they kept it so long (I didn’t even have to go look that up, I remember it that clearly.) But it HURT. I cried. (And I’d been used to rejection enough at this point that I didn’t cry anymore.)

So I entered more contests and finalled in more contests. And I queried agents. I knew I had a good story. I needed it to get out to someone who believed in it.

I couldn’t find anyone who believed in it.

Then one of my fellow Noodlers recommended me to her agent. I submitted on September 6. By the 15th, she requested the full. I got it to her on the 21st. On October 1st I woke up to find am enthusiastic email from her, dated in the middle of the night, saying she’d stayed up late to read it and she wanted to give me a call on Tuesday.

She called as soon as my kids left on Tuesday, we talked and by the next week I had my contract.

And revisions. She thought the part where Gabe followed Peyton to the city and tried to give up firefighting was too disjointed after the excitement of the firefighting. (Yes, Trish J said the same.) So we brainstormed a mystery plot that would follow them back to the city. That was a BIG rewrite because I stink at mysteries and clues. I got it back to her before Christmas.

After the holidays she contacted me. The story wasn’t big enough. Peyton’s conflict wasn’t big enough. Originally her conflict was that she wanted to find out what drove her husband, a SWAT cop, to live such a dangerous life. So I made Peyton trying to understand how Dan could be so committed to his job when she’d never been good at anything.

My agent asked why Peyton had never been good at anything.

I made it so Peyton’s parents never thought she could do anything right.

My agent wanted to know why.

I gave Peyton a sister who died and Peyton could never live up to her parents’ memories of the sister.

My agent wanted it bigger.

So the sister died in a fire. And Peyton wouldn’t let her mother go back in the house to save her. So her parents kind of blamed her for her sister’s death.

Then in Atlanta, my agent said my agent acted too cool, and didn’t really match her backstory. And that the story was too clunky with all the changes.

Sigh.

She suggested I change the title (GASP!) and take out more of the firefighting scenes (DOUBLE GASP!) I almost cried. That was all that was left of MY story.

So she suggested I come home, write just a synopsis of elements I loved in the story. I did that last week and sent it t her. Meanwhile, I’m going through scene by scene to smooth out the clunkiness.

I also wrote the villain’s backstory, and I’m thinking of writing Peyton’s story with her husband Dan, just for me.

And I rewrote the first scene entirely. Took all weekend but I’m mostly pleased with it.

So that’s where Hot Shot stands. Thanks for reading about my journey!

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Firestorm Part 2

Today, back to work. Sigh.

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The story on of the phone tag Shannon and I played for the next week came to be known as The Shannon and Mary Soap Opera.

I stayed home the next day after Shannon left that message (any excuse, it was bad at my old school, y’all) to call her back. She was OUT that day! And that weekend, I believe, was the Silken Sands conference. My buddies Trish and Janice went (Trish had revisions, too, hand delivered by Shannon to the conference). Trish and Janice emailed me from the conference telling me how cool Shannon was. I was GREEN let me tell you!

I couldn’t miss anymore days, so every day during planning, I would run to the car with my cell and call. During one of the phone calls, I was told Shannon didn’t work there anymore!!! My heart plummeted. I ran into school to report this to eHQ, who informed me that was crap and to try again. The poor little receptionist was SO apologetic for nearly killing me.

FINALLY, we spoke and made an appointment for a more in depth phone call later in the week.

During that call, we talked an HOUR. Guess what she wanted? Say it with me now – MORE SEXUAL TENSION! And less firefighting.

I got to work right away. This was probably the last week of April.

My other friend Trish read it for me and we couldn’t decide how to end it. I had a Thanksgiving scene where Gabe meets the family, and I had a banquet scene where Peyton was getting an award for her series and Gabe showed up out of the blue in a tux (SIGH) and she made her declaration of love and her decision to go back to firefighting in front of this crowd of people.

Then I had another ending, which I don’t remember. I called Shannon on June 8 to ask her. She said to go with my gut. We talked for awhile and the phone kept beeping with an incoming call. I didn’t click over because this was an EDITOR.

A few minutes later, my ds came in with my cell phone. It was my brother. My grandmother had fallen and hit her head and was in the hospital.

Okay, this next bit is kind of unbelievable. Before you think I’m a terrible heartless person, you have to know my grandmother, Gigi, was the strongest person I know. She broke her hip in 1980. They told her she’d not walk again. She was driving within a few years, and continued to drive till she was 90. In my mind she was invincible.

So while I got dressed to go to the hospital, I printed out the last scene, packaged the ms while my boy got dressed, addressed the envelope by heart and through the packet in the backseat of the car.

Gigi was in scary bad shape, very out of it. My brother, who was 15 and had been alone with her at the time (Not when he called me, though, he didn’t call till they were at the hospital.) He blamed himself.

And she was 92 and it didn’t seem like the doctors were trying to help.

My family filled the waiting room, at least 10 of us at all times. My mom suggested we go to the house to eat while they moved Gigi to the ICU. While she went to get food, I swung by the post office to mail my ms.

I know, bad. But I still beat my mom to her house.

That was a summer of waiting. Waiting for Shannon to read Hot Shot, waiting for my grandmother to come home.

The day after she fell, she was sitting up in ICU talking about going out to eat as soon as she got out of the hospital. Two days later, she came home, but she wouldn’t eat. My dh, ds and I went to Florida to meet up with my dad and stepmom, and when we came back, Gigi was back in the hospital.

I didn’t know what to do about Dallas. I was at the hospital every day, and by mid-July, it was the nursing home. And because it was right across the main street by my house, I’d go there maybe twice a day. I’d go early and sit with her and read Unsettled and cry.

Two days before National, we met with hospice. Gigi wasn’t eating or drinking or talking. I didn’t see how she’d make it another week. She was going to die and I wasn’t going to be there.

I didn’t want to leave, but Mom and my uncle insisted I go. My brother who is 4 years younger than me took Baby Brother to the coast, to get him away. He was taking it really hard.

The day before we left, my dh’s cell broke and we were down to one. If he got a call about Gigi when I was in workshops, he wouldn’t know where to find me.

We went to the nursing home before we headed to Dallas. She couldn’t talk, but she pointed to the ceiling. I think she meant she was dying. I asked her to wait for me, that I’d be home Sunday. I cried as I left.

That night I called to check on her and it turned out that was the worst day. My uncle had told her she could go, but I’d asked her to stay.

She always did anything I asked her to do.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the WNP and SARAs closed around me. They’d been with me in spirit all summer and now they comforted me in person.

I met with Shannon (the WNP stalked her since she had 3 of our mss) and while she hadn’t read my revisions, she was very excited about Hot Shot and working together. I met with Pamela Harty, who assured me two GH finals on the same ms wasn’t a fluke.

Gail Barrett won the GH in my category, but not with her firefighter book.

First thing Sunday morning, we headed home. We were at an ice house in Waco, at 10 in the morning, when my stepdad called to say Gigi had died that morning.

Between that, and getting a job at another school, I didn’t write much that fall. Gail Barrett sold her firefighter book to Susan. I finished Surface, and the next time I talked to Shannon, I told her about it. She had some ideas, and asked to see it.

A month later, she’d left HQ.

I emailed Susan immediately and asked her to get Hot Shot before it was passed to Shannon’s replacement. She did.

So, in 2004, I wrote 3 books, revised one, moved to a new school and lost my grandmother. Everything was so tied together. Firestorm was a pretty accurate description of that year.

Tomorrow, mop up.

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Firestorm Part 1

2004 was a long year for me and Hot Shot, so I’m splitting this into two days.

I don’t remember when Susan Litman went from SIM to SSE, but when I emailed to check on Hot Shot, she told me Shannon Godwin had it and she apologized. She thought she’d told me. I contacted Shannon and discovered the ms had been placed into the wrong stack. God knows if it would ever have been found.

I was coordinator for the Merritt contest that year, and had asked Zareen Jaffrey (who had asked for the revisions on Where There’s Smoke) to be the judge. She left HQ in the fall of 2003, so I asked Shannon if she would judge. She agreed enthusiastically.

One day during Spring Break, I was down for a nap (my FAVORITE thing) and the phone rang. It was Shannon Godwin. My heart went through my chest, bounded down the hall and came back. She’d only called to say she would be late getting the Merritt entries back, but she made the connection with my name and we talked a bit about Hot Shot, which she hadn’t read.

One of the Merritt finalists was Gail Barrett, who had written an ms about a smokejumper (it was released this spring called Facing the Flames.) I asked Shannon if that would hurt Hot Shot’s chances. She assured me it wouldn’t. she also asked what I was working on. I’d just finished a futuristic I wanted to send to Bombshell and had just started Vanished, so I told her about Vanished and she was interested.

Needless to say, I did not go back to sleep.

That year, GH calls didn’t go out early. They went out in the middle of the week. I wanted to take the day off, but figured that would be pathetic if I didn’t final. Plus, this was the school year from hell, and I’d used a TON of days.

This year I’d entered Where There’s Smoke, and Hot Shot as a safety.

I’d told the secretary that I might be getting a call, and if I did, for her to call me to the phone – I’d arrange someone to watch my class.

I couldn’t get my email loops from school, but I could get on eHQ. I saw Stef Feagan of the WNP post that Pink finalled! A few minutes later, during my second class, the secretary came over the intercom to tell me I’d had a phone call and she told them to call back during my planning period at 11.

Over two hours away.

After that class left, I posted on eHQ and everyone got excited. I’d applied for other jobs, and was hoping someone would call, but surely fate would not be so cruel as to call me on GH day!

I got through 2 more classes and parked myself in the office at 11 to wait for the call. 10 minutes later, I found out Hot Shot had finalled again. My response? “Thank God.” (I don’t know who called me that time, either.)

I emailed Shannon and she was quite excited.

The Merritt conference was shortly after and Priscilla from the WNP came down because she was a finalist. We had a blast, and my other friend Robyn commented on the “cool new Mary.” When I had my agent appointment, I just breezed in, plopped down and pitched. Only a little nerves.

And then, on my birthday, 8 months after I sent Hot Shot to Susan, I came home to a message on my machine from Shannon. She loved it and wanted a few changes before sending it up to Leslie.

Tomorrow…the rest of the Firestorm year.

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Fully Engaged

Hot Shot was requested by Intimate Moments in January of 2003. I still have the letter, dated January 2. It was the second thing Susan Litman requested fro me (the other was a crapfest bad boy book) but this was more thrilling. Hot Shot was truly the book of my heart.

And then…on a Saturday morning in March, the last Saturday of Spring Break, I told the dh that Golden Heart calls would be going out the next week and I’d probably be kind of down. I was at the School from Hell and I needed the success.

I was checking my email and saw that someone had gotten a call, 4 days early.

A few minutes later, at almost 11 AM, the phone rang.

I don’t know who called me. I didn’t hear anything after she said, “Hot Shot is a Golden Heart finalist.” All I could think was, Lady, let me off the phone so I can tell people!

I called my then-critique partner, Elizabeth, and the first thing she said was, “Your career is made.” I thought so too. The second thing she said was, “You’re going to hate New York.” I posted on all my loops, registered for conference, and a few minutes later, my friend Robyn called to scream in my ear. Someone said there was a loop for the Golden Heart finalists, and I said, “Sign me up!” and we screamed together.

Two of the highlights of being a GH finalist were getting my pin on Monday and getting an invitation to The Golden Network.

Having that success made it much easier to go back to school Monday morning.

Reality crashed in May when Susan rejected Hot Shot. I must have turned around and sent her something else and set Hot Shot aside. I may have tried for an agent – I have a nice rejection from Jordan Knight.

I finalled in a few other contests with other mss that year.

And I headed for New York.

Elizabeth was wrong – I LOVED New York. Great energy, so much excitement, truly the city that never sleeps. I met with Susan and she said she’d look at Hot Shot again. And when I came home from New York, I had my first revision request on Where There’s Smoke.

I was in heaven, as well as extremely stressed as I descended into the Worst School Year Ever. But I worked hard and got both mss back to Harlequin in October. I was on my way.

I was going to post a picture of my Hot Shot collage, but my camera, which I got in October, is permanently set on video! I reformatted and everything – bah!

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The Flare

In 2002, I started entering contests with Hot Shot. I queried Intimate Moments at some point in that year, but I’m not sure if I still had it at Desire in the beginning of the year. I know my main motivation for entering contests was to have good news to share at my chapter meetings.

It took a really long time to reach that goal. And it was not a good motivation.

The initial reactions to Hot Shot were not good. I’ve been saying all along that my opening scene has always been my opening scene.

Er, no. I had a scene where Gabe was setting a backfire to keep the wildfire from entering a neighborhood. (I had great imagery, like melted Little Tykes toys.) And the first time Peyton sees him, he’s giving a press conference because the fire got away from him.

Judges didn’t like that. And in the very next scene, Peyton was on his team fighting the fire. They thought (and were right) that it was too much firefighting.

I had Peyton keeping her job as a reporter a secret, playing up the Gabe-has-been-betrayed conflict. Judges hated that.

One of Gabe’s crew died. I was going for a Hanover Street thing, where Gabe had found love and was no longer willing to risk his life now that he had something to live for. He made a mistake and lost one of his crew. Judges HATED that.

Worse, Peyton the secret reporter wrote about it. (The betrayal thing) They HATED that.

I had too many secondary characters for such a little book.

2002 Laurie comments:

One judge’s husband was a wildland firefighter and she thought my setting was dead-on.

Another judge, published, wrote me PAGES of notes, most good, and all nicely worded.

2002 Four Seasons:

Troubles that plague me to this day – too much plot in my synopsis, not enough romance, not enough sexual tension in the stories.

2002 Between the Sheets:

I thought the current love scene was original, but apparently not. The love scene was toned down, more emotional than physical. The condom machine has always been in there.

2002 Orange Rose:

I changed to long contemporary category and did better. One judge wanted to see my characters in normal life instead of just on the fireline. Another didn’t like that Gabe gave up firefighting for Peyton. They would probably like the new ending beter.

2002 Labor of Love:

A judge said the title reminded her of the Charlie Sheen movie.

2002 Put Your Heart in a Book (in which I got an honorable mention):

I got a perfect score!

But another judge didn’t like Peyton’s name.

I changed the beginning to the scene that I just changed this year, where the first scene is Gabe confronting his ex-wife for sticking a reporter on his crew. So that took care of a couple of these issues.

And that summer, Hot Shot finalled in Where the Magic Begins! That fall, as I descended into hell at work and needed to define myself as a writer, I won the contest. My first win. It gave me the confidence to enter the Golden Heart.

I’ve failed to mention that in 2001, I wrote two books, Where There’s Smoke (my very first contest final) and Devil in Disguise (my very first request) and in 2002, I wrote Second Chances (a rewrite of my first book, using the same characters but different story.)

Tomorrow…Fully Engaged.


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Ignition

I finished Hot Shot in 2001, in time for RWA National in New Orleans, my first National. I had an appointment with Joan Marlow Golan, who then acquired for Desire.

Hot Shot was 58,000 words. That’s what it took to be a Desire, right?

(I told you I was stupid.)

Er, Desire doesn’t buy stories about a reporter and a firefighter running for their lives on a mountain in Montana.

I don’t think she actually said those words to me – she may have actually asked for the manuscript – but I was stupid. SOOOO not a Desire.

But around this time, I started reading Intimate Moments. I loved Virginia Kantra and Karen Templeton. THIS was what I wanted to write. And Hot Shot seemed a good fit for the line. It only needed…20,000 more words.

Gulp.

But I loved this story. It was the best thing I’d ever written. If I couldn’t invest time in this, I wasn’t a real writer. So I read over it again (you can see why I’m somewhat sick of it at this point.)

I’d missed so many wonderful opportunities! For example, I had Peyton, my heroine, sitting in camp waiting for Gabe, my hero, to return from rescuing girl scouts from a camp.

(Did I TELL you – STUPID STUPID STUPID!)

I rewrote it where she went with him, and damned if the book didn’t become the book I wanted to write, the story I wanted to tell from that point on. With that, I had my hero and heroine alone on the mountain (my M.O.), alternately running for their lives and falling in love.

Tomorrow – the flames…

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The Spark

I thought it would be…interesting as I’m revising Hot Shot again to go back over the history of Hot Shot. It may be more interesting to me than to you, but I’m thinking it might get me focused.

I started writing Hot Shot in 2000. I’d been rejected a billion times on the half dozen or so other books I had at that point and I decided to write something just for me. I’d been in my house a year, and everyone decided to come visit that summer. My dad and stepmom were here when I conceived of the story. Wildfires were all over the news, and Cindi Myers, who was a SARA at the time though she’d moved to CO, was emailing about the fires in CO and how heroic the firefighters were.

Ignition.

When Dad and Sue were here, we went to see Perfect Storm.

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George Clooney had never done it for me before, but after seeing that, I got hooked on ER reruns. Also when Dad was here, we saw Three Kings. I knew GC was my guy.

I watched the news. I researched on the internet. I bought books.

My cousin Caroline came to visit. I remember reading research I’d printed out as we drove around sightseeing. I would try to get up early to write, but she’d get up early, too. So while she did her hair and make-up, I’d write.

Initially, Peyton, my heroine, was a political aide, accompanying a politician to the firecamp. But I couldn’t figure out how to get her up on the fireline, and I had to have a run-for-their-lives scene in my book. I didn’t want to make her a reporter – that seemed so cliché. But she had to be a fish out of water. So I made her a reporter with a mission – to find out what made a person want to be a hero. Her husband had been a cop killed in the line of duty. This hasn’t changed, though my agent wants me to go deeper into her motivation.

Gabe was my first alpha hero, and it was a hard adjustment to make, after all those betas. But once I got into it, man, was he fun to write. Some of the dialogue that is between Peyton and him has been there since the very beginning.

Tomorrow…ignition.

Ex and the Single Girl

I'm making my way through my free books from National. This one is actually a perfect example of WHY they give out free books at National. This is not a book I would have bought. Now I'm going for her backlist!

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Y'all, it was GREAT! I started it yesterday before my nap, read 50 pages before I went to sleep. Read another 70 or so pages before bed last night and finished it this afternoon.

Portia is the heroine and she just broke up with her boyfriend when her family calls her home to Truly, GA. I know, I know, chick lit standard fare. Crazy family, man-less heroine obsessed with BBC's Pride and Prejudice. Only this crazy family is called the Mizzes, because none of them ever get married and when they get knocked up, they have girls. Portia calls the phenomenon "Penis Teflon" - no men stick to the Mizzes. And she spends most of the time trying to figure out why that is, only The Mizzes don't talk.

This is like Bridget Jones meets....I don't know, some book set in Georgia. It's really good and touching. I cried more than laughed, but I really liked Portia. And Lani's bio cracked me up.

Guess What I'm Revising Again?

Hot Shot.

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But it's good. I have a plan.

And plenty of new pictures to inspire me!

I watched Rent last night. I kinda squirmed through the first half hour - if you don't know, 4 of the main characters have HIV, and they're all living the artistic life, on the fringe of society. But I got really invested in the different love stories. And I may have to use Maureen for a heroine someday. Is she gorgeous or what? I couldn't take my eyes off her!

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Angels Fall

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Y'all know I wasn't all that impressed with Blue Smoke. So when I bought my stepmother Angels Fall on CD, I was a bit concerned. (okay, not THAT concerned - she liked Bridges of Madison County.)

But then I read Angels Fall.

Wow.

Classic Nora.

Great characters, great romance, great mystery. The whole time, you were questioning the heroine - is she really losing her mind? And the heroine, Reece, has suffered an awful tragedy that she has to overcome. The hero, Brody, wasn't as developed, but he made a great arc through the book.

Loved Loved Loved it. It's going on my keeper shelf as soon as JoAnn gets through!

Dressed to Keel

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Dressed to Keel is Candy Calvert’s debut book, the first in a series about an ER nurse, Darcy Cavanaugh, on a cruise ship. In this one she’s a passenger – I’m thinking in the next two, she’ll be a ship’s nurse.

Darcy has come onboard the ship with her best buddy, Marie, who is the ship’s nurse in this book. She needs an escape from the ER and her disastrous private life, and the cruise up the coast of the North Atlantic is just what she needs.

What she doesn’t need is the suspicious dance instructor giving her those looks and her best friend being accused of robbery.

See, someone is luring the old ladies on the cruise to the spa and stealing their jewelry. When Marie is accused, Darcy has to go into action, with or without the help of said suspicious but gorgeous dance instructor, Luke.

Dressed to Keel is a hoot. Candy Calvert has a wicked sense of humor that had me laughing most of the way across Louisiana. There are a lot of characters in this book, but Darcy’s way of giving them nicknames made them easy to picture. Her trust issues made her relationship with Luke on shaky ground, but still so sexy.

This is one of those books that stays with you long after you read it. I can’t wait for the sequel, Aye Do or Die!

A Plan

One more week of summer vacation. I don't feel like I accomplished very much, other than becoming a hermit who would rather wear t-shirts, yoga pants and flip flops. Despite my walking and my goodness at National, my pants all fit poorly. I'm really tired of wedgies.

Anyway, I may not have gotten a lot done this summer, but I have A Plan.

Here it is:

1) work on DLB, just a little revision

2) type in revisions on Second Chances, send to critique group

3) work on new synopsis for Hot Shot, see if I can make it my story again

4) Finish typing Pride's Fall, send to WRP

5) revise Vanished beginning, send to critique group

6) work on Alex partial, especially the synopsis (critique group again). These poor characters have been hanging off the side of a mountain for weeks!

7) work on Midnight Sun partial, send to critique group

Now, I don't plan this all this week, but it's good to have a direction. I feel like I didn't all summer. Unless napping every day was a plan. That, I did without fail.


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Rita

Liz Carlyle | Romance Novelist | RITA

Saturday (LONG post)

Saturday morning I went down early to practice my pitch. Clearly I didn't learn my lesson from Friday ;) I met Sydney for breakfast, then went to the Atrium with Lorelle for Diet Coke. Stacy found us, Lorelle wandered off, then Stacy went to a workshop. I saw my cps, sat and talked awhile, then went upstairs for my pitch, where I saw Sheila Mohs, two of the women who had come to our workshop, RITA Award winning author Stef Feagan and my dear friend Kei Swanson. We talked so much, Stef almost missed her appointment! I met Rose Hilliard of St. Martin's Press. When I told her who my agent was, she gushed, but when I told her about my story, she said she liked character driven stories better than RS. If I'd been smart, I would have expanded on my characters, but I'm not one who thinks fast. She told me to have ESK send it, but essentially told me not to get my hopes up.

This was not turning out to be a good conference for me professionally.

So I went to another booksigning, then saved a spot for lunch. Lunch was lonnnngggg, though Christina Dodd was good, but Trish and I wanted to go to the Nocturne booksigning. We got there and got the books and bags, though. We peeked in on Janice Lynn's workshop, then went to our practice. I knew I'd had enough when I kept telling Trish we "had to go to vacation." I meant practice, but I said vacation. Several times. Scary. Later I did the same thing when I was trying to get her to give me bookmarks and I said "workshops."

I went upstairs to nap before the ceremony and got 2 phone calls. Sigh.

So I sent my dh out for supper and called my mom. The dh returned WAY later with Subway - apparently all around the hotel was closed - and then I took a nice long bath.

At this point, I thought the only thing that would salvage conference for me would be a win. Yes, I'd had a blast with my friends, but this was business, and all the business bits were going to hell. I REALLY wanted to win. I'd envisioned it, wished for it, dreamed of it. I wanted it so badly, I thought I would cry if I didn't get it, and REALLY embarrass myself.

So while I was in the tub, I had a good long talk with myself, preparing myself until the dh gently knocked on the door and reminded me he needed to get ready, too. I dressed, made up, did the hair and waited.

We met Trish and Chris by the door, found Jennifer Smith and Steph Rowe and sat. Colleen Gleason and Sydney slipped through to wish me good luck.

The ceremony was good but nervewracking. The past two times I finalled, I was in the long contemp category, which is announced second. This time I was last.

It was torture when Tawny, Stacy, Trish, Jen, Chris and Esri didn't win. But just before my category was called, I got really calm. I didn't win, but it didn't hurt. I was FINE until my dh leaned over and told me he was sorry. That was a sore spot and I snapped, "DON'T!" I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself, and I didn't want anyone else to.

On to the Ritas. Stephie Davis didn't win her category, though she took up 50% of it, but she was thanked in the winner's speech. Still, the Noodlers weren't doing well. And most of them were in my row! I felt like a black mark.

The tide turned when Dianna Love Snell won for RS!! Even though she's not as active in the WNP as she'd like to be, I felt her victory.

Then Stef Feagan won for best first book. Y'all, I shouted, "YES!!!!" This book spawned the WNP. We were there for this book every step of the way, from Stef's frustration from lack of success writing straight romance, to the inception of the book, to completion and agents vying for it, to its sale and its sequels. Every Noodler feels invested in this book. Heck, we almost made "Pink" our signature color (Pink is the nickname of the heroine.) You can only imagine our joy at its success.

Then the icing on the cake - Diane Gaston won the Rita in her category. The WNP had 3 Ritas, when 3 years ago we were all unpublished!

And THEN, Susan Elizabeth Phillips said she wished she could join the Wet Noodle Posse in her Lifetime Achievement Award speech! THAT was wild!

Afterwards, we went a little crazy. I was consoled by some of the SARAs and I went to get a drink. I couldn't find any Noodlers, so I wandered until Karen Potter found me. We were rounding up people to take pictures. We never did find Diane Perkins/Gaston, but boy, did we jump all over Stef and Dianna! We arranged to go up to Esri's room for champagne, then went off our different ways. I visited with some SARAs, then went up.

Esri made us each really cool Noodler bracelets, we toasted with champagne, took tons of pictures, laughed, teased, and the GH finalists read our speeches. That was great, because one of the main reasons I wanted to win was to acknowledge those who helped me along the way.

We cried, hugged and arranged to meet for breakfast.

I lay awake for a long time that night, smiling.

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Goodreads

M.J. Fredrick's books on Goodreads
Breaking DaylightBreaking Daylight
ratings: 11 (avg rating 3.33)

Beneath the SurfaceBeneath the Surface
ratings: 11 (avg rating 4.00)

Hot ShotHot Shot (Samhain)
reviews: 2
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.00)

Where There's SmokeWhere There's Smoke
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.00)

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MJFredrick
I'm a mom, a wife, a teacher and a writer. I have five cats and a dog to keep me company. I love bookstores and libraries and Netflix - movies are my greatest weakness.
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