Thursday, March 31, 2011

When technology sucks giant salamanders

So today is the last day you can vote to choose the title of my August debut (and get a chance to win a signed advance reading copy).

Unlike me, you probably haven’t been neurotically checking the poll every 10 minutes, so you may not have noticed the poll mysteriously vanished on Tuesday.

I figured it would reappear upon restart. When that didn’t work, I went to, the site where I’d gotten the poll to start with.


I checked agent Janet Reid’s blog, since I know she uses the same service for polls.

Uh-oh. Hers were gone, too.

It was obvious what had happened. A large herd of Chinese Giant Salamanders broke into the offices at, and despite the staff's best efforts to fend them off with fire extinguishers and toilet plungers, the salamanders took control of the company's computer system to erect a site devoted to salamander porn.

Or maybe just had server problems.

At any rate, I see my poll is back up this morning. That means you still have a chance to vote if you haven't already. Don't forget to leave a comment, since that's your entry to win a signed advance reading copy.

In the meantime, watch out for those salamanders.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why you shouldn't go to work asleep

The neighbor’s cat was hit by a car the other night, prompting me to lock the cat door and inform my three feline housemates they’ve been grounded.

They didn’t take the news well, and spent the whole night yowling and attempting to chew through the window.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t sleep.

There’s something about sleep deprivation that makes the creativity center in my brain shrivel like man-giblets in ice water. It’s challenging when I need to be “on” for novel writing, but since yesterday was one of the three days a week I work as the marketing/PR manager for the city’s tourism bureau, I thought I could make do with a half-functioning brain.

I thought wrong.

Just before lunch, I put up a Facebook post promoting the city's upcoming First Friday Art Hop. At the last second, I edited the event title down to a simplified “Art Hop” to avoid using the word "Friday" twice.

Then I went to lunch and forgot about it.

Upon my return, I found the office manager laughing so hard she could barely stand.

My boss peered up at me from behind her desk. “Did you put up the post about Fart Hop?”

There’s really no right answer to that question.

Sure enough, I discovered I had posted the following message for all 2,000+ Facebook friends to enjoy:

Who else is looking forward to FArt Hop in downtown Bend on Friday? Looks like a great lineup!

The post generated a plethora of colorful comments and several phone calls to the office. I got a congratulatory text message from someone whose number I didn’t even recognize, and the executive director for the Downtown Business Association emailed me a proposed agenda for Fart Hop (the highlights of which included a chili cheese fry eating contest and a mandatory underwear change).

It’s a good thing everyone has a sense of humor about this stuff. I suppose in some companies it could be a firing offense. In this one, we laughed ourselves silly imagining promotional items and ad campaigns tied to the Fart Hop.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about the cats and their house arrest, but I do know I shouldn't go to work sleep deprived again. Late yesterday afternoon while responding to an email about our city’s nomination as one of the dog friendliest towns in the nation, I caught myself typing the phrase “doggie style.”

I noticed that one before I hit send.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve done as a result of sleep deprivation? Please tell me I’m not the only one who pulls stuff like this.

And please tell me where the hell I left my pen. And my sandwich. And my pants.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Making yourself feel good

Since I made my tough announcement last week, I’ve had a lot of kind messages from friends and strangers.

Are you OK? Are you taking care of yourself?

At first, this seemed like an intensely personal question. Then I realized most people have a different definition of “taking care of yourself” than I do.

At any rate, the answer is yes. I’m aware that all isn’t right with my world, so I’ve been taking extra steps to give myself reasons to smile.

Getting dressed
There are perks to walking around unclothed all day, not the least of which is not having to unbutton your pants when you’ve eaten too much ice cream. But when I’m feeling glum, lounging around in filthy yoga pants makes me feel like a slob. A glum slob. It’s amazing how much it can lift my mood to put on a cute outfit (complete with matching bra and underwear) and slather on a little makeup. Shallow? Perhaps. But it saves me a lot of awkward moments with the UPS man.

Fresh flowers
I started this habit several years ago when I was working from home and noticed how often I make the circuit between my desk and the kitchen. Then I noticed how much more I enjoyed the trip when I saw a vase of fresh flowers on the table each time I passed. I started buying inexpensive little bundles of them in the winter, or in summer months, picking my own from the yard. It’s such a simple thing – $1.29 for a bunch of daffodils from Trader Joes – but having fresh flowers in my life does wonders to perk me up.

I have my go-to websites that are guaranteed to make me laugh in 30 seconds or less. Damnyouautocorrect is my favorite, but Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half is a close second. Cracking myself up is the single best favor I can do for myself, so I try to do it often.

New bedding
Being in bed makes me happy even when there’s nothing risqué happening there. Being in bed with pretty sheets and a cozy down comforter makes me even happier. I have a knack for finding good deals on bedding, and I can mix and match and add different pieces for a whole new look. This past weekend, I scored a great deal on some high thread count sheets in a bright grass green. Paired with a blue and white duvet cover I already owned and some aqua pillowcases, the whole ensemble looks bright and springy. I keep wandering upstairs to admire it, and the only thing that could improve my mood more would be discovering a hot, shirtless man lying there doing my taxes.

What do you do to take care of yourself? Er, we’re going with the common definition here, not the pervert one. Please share!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why titles matter...and don't matter

In case you missed it Friday, Sourcebooks asked for YOUR opinion on the title of my August debut. There's still time to vote, and if you leave a comment, you could win a signed advance copy of the book.

Watching votes and comments roll in has been fascinating, and has me thinking a lot about sea slugs.

OK, I'm not thinking about sea slugs. Well, I am thinking about them, but I'm also thinking about book titles.

When I first started trying to write fiction, a wise person told me this: "Don't get too attached to the title you give it – most publishers change them anyway."

But I also recognized that an abysmal title leaves a bad first impression with decision makers – the editors, agents, or potential readers deciding whether to read your story or use it as a coaster.

That was never more obvious to me than when I judged a writing contest last fall. Of the six partial manuscripts in my batch, two had such lousy titles that I considered temporarily blinding myself with pepper spray so I'd be excused from reading them.

As it turned out, one of them was lousy. But the other was surprisingly good, and I ended up giving it some of the highest marks.

At the same time, I don't pretend to be an all-knowing title goddess who gets to hand down judgment on what makes a good title. The first book I ever sold was an action/adventure/romance targeted at Harlequin-Silhouette's now defunct Bombshell line (and by "defunct" I mean "canceled a month before my @#$% book hit the shelves," not that I'm bitter).

The book they bought featured a ski patroller heroine who gets sent to a resort in Chile to deal with the area's abundance of accidents that may not be so accidental after all. The title I gave the book was SHADOWS IN THE SNOW.

I thought it wasn't half bad, but in my first conversation with the editor who bought it, she waved it off dismissively. "We'll change the title, of course."

Which they did, to AVALANCHE. In hindsight, I totally get why that was the stronger title. Had the book been released, it might have even sold a couple copies.

The title issue came up again when Sourcebooks was first considering the book that's now scheduled as my August 2011 debut. At the time, we were calling the book WALKING THE PLANK. I still adore that title, and the book made it all the way to the editorial board under that name. Then, the editor came back with grim news.

Several people had voiced concern that WALKING THE PLANK was too closely tied to the grimmer aspects of real, modern piracy. It was a legitimate worry right then, since the piracy situation Somalia had taken some rather terrifying turns (though one could argue that pirates in the news could be a good thing for a novel that parodies traditional pirate romances).

Still, it was a no go. We were sent back to the drawing board and asked to re-tool the book's marketing hook to focus more on the corporate revenge aspect of the story. After all, the story's plot really boils down to a bunch of folks doing something wacky in the wake of job loss. Plenty of people can relate.

We kicked around dozens of titles, reworked a few aspects of the story, and rewrote proposed marketing copy. The book's new title? MAI TAI MUTINY.

I just cringed when I typed that, because really, it's terrible. The editorial board agreed it was terrible, and I suspect several of them fled the room gagging. Sourcebooks didn't buy it, and that was that.

Or was it?

In the end, they did buy the book. It happened almost a year later when my amazing agent sent them a new romantic comedy I'd written and they ended up offering a three-book deal that included the new book, one I hadn't yet written, and the book we were jokingly calling "unpirate."

A rather lengthy titling exercise produced over 30 potential titles for "unpirate," and one was selected last February. If you're a regular blog reader, you already know what that was, since it's what we've called the book for a year now.

But things change – market conditions, news headlines, what the competitors are doing, the position of uranus (snicker). And because Sourcebooks is committed to making sure we have the very best title for this book, we're reassessing. Personally, I think it's pretty cool they're letting you, the potential readers, make the call.

How much thought do you put into titles when you're making book buying decisions? How about when you're writing? Please share!

And don't forget to vote. There are still a couple days left, and you could win a signed, advance copy!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pick my title, win the book. Pretty cool, huh?

Every book I’ve ever written has a secret title.

In my mind, the three romantic comedies in my contract will always be Piratebitch, Psychicbitch, and Winebitch.

Fortunately, my mind isn’t making the important decisions around here.

There’s a lot of high-level strategy behind book titles that I don’t pretend to grasp. Lucky for me, the folks at Sourcebooks are keeping an eye on the market and taking steps to make certain we have the best title possible for my debut novel.

To ensure we have the title that’s most compelling to the most readers, Sourcebooks wants your input.

See that spiffy poll below? Which of the two titles would make YOU pick up the book and squeal with joy as you run for the cash register? (You can also squeal as you download it to your e-reader. Squealing is an integral part of any book buying experience).

In case you’re new here, this is what the book is about:
When his sleazy boss kicks him to the curb and steals his pension, Alex heads to the Caribbean with a crew of corporate castoffs to intercept an illegal diamond shipment in the most dysfunctional pirate mission in history. Things heat up when Juli – who’s supposed to be dumping her dead uncle’s ashes at sea – mistakenly stows away on their boat.

After you vote, leave a comment about why you chose the title you did. We’ll draw a name from the comments on March 31 and one lucky reader will get a signed Advance Reading Copy of the book.

Pretty cool, huh? Now here are your two choices:

Don’t forget to leave a comment about why you voted the way you did. That’s your entry to win an Advance Reading Copy of the book.

Now go forth and make history!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The things we do behind closed doors

Lately, I’ve been studying women’s chins.

It’s not a new fetish (though I’m always working to develop those). I’ve been making note of some of the ways gravity and aging are unkind to human skin.

This is where the chin fetish comes in. Some women develop a bit of a wattle with age, and while I look forward to this as a place to store loose change, I’d like to delay the onset if I could.

So I did a bit of googling and found a simple exercise that likely has no effect on chin definition, but I’m going to keep doing it for another reason.


Stand in front of the mirror. Stick out your tongue. Attempt to touch your tongue to your nose. Repeat until you are laughing so hard at yourself that you realize you don’t really give a crap if you have the most hideous turkey neck on the planet.

I found myself in this state a few months ago when I started doing the tongue-to-nose touch whenever I visited the ladies room at the day job. As I stood there in front of the mirror, I had that fleeting thought I’ve had many times before.

What if this is a two-way mirror? What if someone’s watching me do this?

The idea made me giggle even harder than the exercise itself (which probably just adds to the laugh lines, though I’ve already decided are my best feature. OK, second best feature).

Remember the movie Ghost? Patrick Swayze dies, but hangs around in a ghostlike state spending a disturbing amount of time spying on his girlfriend. In the movie, she’s always perfectly posed and beautifully mournful in the apartment all alone.

In a Saturday Night Live skit based on the movie, actress Victoria Jackson showed the more likely scenario. The girlfriend sits around the house belching, farting, singing off-key, and using a discarded toenail clipping to pick her teeth.

Disgusting, but also reality. If you don’t think you’re being watched, why the hell not?

For now, I’ve given up the tongue-to-chin touching exercise. It’s not that I really fear a two-way mirror in the bathroom (though if there is one, I hope someone enjoyed watching me fish my iPhone out of the toilet).

It’s just that I’ve grown rather fond of chin wattles after studying them all this time. Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the urge to reach over and pet them.

Wait. Maybe this really is a fetish.

What’s the silliest thing you’ve caught yourself doing when you think no one’s watching? Please share!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Butt pats and blog love

I often write blog posts the night before and set them to go live at 2:30 a.m.

I went to bed after writing the lousiest blog post I’ll ever write and lay there fretting.

Was it OK to share so much? How would people react?

I woke in a panic a few hours later and grabbed my iPhone. I get an email every time someone comments here, and though the post had only been up an hour, I was nervous.

And then I was overwhelmed. By kindness and compassion and humor and love from people I’ve never met in my life.

I’ll admit it, I bawled. My mom emailed to say she’d gone through an entire box of Kleenex reading the comments.

My brother called that evening. “You’re like a cult with all those people saying nice shit about you,” he said. “If it means your books will make a lot of money, how much do I get if you die?”

Thank you for that. For making my mom cry and my brother plot my untimely demise.

Your support and wisdom and laughter and friendship gave me more strength in a single day than I could get from a lifetime of steroid use (and without the unfortunate growth of facial hair and testicles).

When I began confiding in people about my crumbling marriage, I think you all held a secret meeting. Never mind that most of my friends and family and online pals have never met each other. I’m certain a major planning session took place.

“OK, so who’s offering her helpful encouragement?” someone yelled.

“I am. How about butt pats and wine drinking?”

“Over here. Anyone doing tough love?”

“Check. Male bashing?”

“Got it. Who’s going to make her laugh?”

“I'm on it. How about feeding her so she consumes more than red wine and asparagus spears?”

And on and on, until all my needs were met by an entire army of loved ones.

Well, not all my needs (though author pal Jeffe Kennedy gave it a damn good try with vivid tales of my new millionaire husband, Xavier, and the sensual tricks he learned in Thailand).

Where was I?


Friendship. Support. Kindness. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for giving me that in spades through your blog comments and private emails and tweets and Facebook messages and mental telepathy (though whoever that was with the image of the nipple clamps and the oatmeal, the restraining order is in the mail).

When blogging experts talk about the importance of building community, this is what they mean. I don’t get credit for that, you do.

Thank you.

Xavier and I are eternally grateful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The lousiest blog post I’ll ever write

For a couple months now, there’s been an elephant in the room.

Twitter pals and blog followers have sent notes asking about it.

You haven’t mentioned Pythagoras for awhile. Is everything OK?

You’re traveling alone a lot…is something going on?

I’ve avoided talking about this because I wasn’t ready to and because I truly hoped things would turn out differently.

But it looks like that’s not going to happen. And I guess it’s time to share that my marriage of 13+ years has ended.

It sucks a lot to type that, and a lot more to acknowledge it. If you’d told me a year ago that this is where I’d be right now, I would have laughed so hard Chianti would have spewed from my nose.

I’m not laughing now, and honestly, it’s been tough trying to be funny lately.

But continuing to write – and to keep laughing in spite of everything – has also been therapeutic. Having you guys here every day to cheer me on and build me up and tell me I’ve made you laugh has kept me going on the days I just wanted to lie in bed spooning with the dog and drinking wine through a straw.

I’m not going to dwell on this, and I’m not going to answer questions about it. I also ask that you not resort to Pythagoras bashing in the comments. While I won’t pretend this is a mutual decision, I also won’t pretend there aren’t two sides to every story and that he doesn’t have legitimate gripes with me.

One of the most crucial lessons I learned through my bumpy path to publication is that things don’t always go the way you hope they will. That’s certainly true now, but it’s also true that we have to make the best of lousy situations and keep moving forward.

So that’s what I’m doing.

I thank you all for your support, and I promise I’ll be back to telling crude jokes again in no time.

Did you hear the one about the banana and the goat?

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's tax time: Can I get a stimulus package?

I’ve always enjoyed doing my taxes.

I know that’s like admitting I enjoy rubbing my chest with peanut butter and inviting the dog to lick it off, but it’s true. The tax part, not the dog thing.

Well, the tax thing used to be true.

When I sat down to do my taxes Saturday afternoon, it became clear things aren’t as simple as they were last year.

I’ve used Turbo Tax for about ten years, and I’ve always regarded it like a cross between a video game and a really weird Cosmo quiz.

Did you earn this income while an inmate at a penal institution?

I can’t tell you how much I want to check that box (and also how much I love the word penal).

But this year…well, things aren’t as simple.

While I’m thrilled to have income to report from my three-book deal, it complicates things. Ditto that for expenses like conferences, membership fees, and the costs involved with research. Do I get to write off wine tastings at vineyards I visited while learning about the wine industry for LET IT BREATHE? What about the wine I drank while writing the first love scene? Or the second one? Or...

As I cranked away at the computer over the weekend, my pets got in on the action. Matt the Cat crawled across my keyboard and Turbo Tax reported my tax bill had just been reduced by $200.

I tried to get him to do it again, but by then he was lying on a giant pile of receipts focusing on paperwork reduction. Every time he twitched his tail, another form hit the floor.

When the pile got big enough, Blue Cat moseyed along and offered his services as a paperweight.
The dog did her part by dragging her leash over and giving me the look that says, “are we going for a walk or am I going to have to chew your ear off while you sleep?

So we went to the dog park and I spent the time mulling whether this should be the year I throw all this paperwork in a box and either light it on fire or hand it off to someone who actually knows what they’re doing.

How do you handle taxes? Do you use a professional or hack it on your own? If you’re published or pursuing publication, do you have a system for writing-related write-offs? Please share!

The dog and I will be busy discussing whether we can deduct peanut butter as a business expense.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Getting lucky, doggie style

I'm still playing catch-up from my vacation, and I've been spreading myself around in ways that aren't nearly as filthy as that just sounded.

On Monday, I was thrilled to be part of the Coffee With a Canine blog. Actually, I think I was more of an afterthought. My dog, Bindi, was the real star, so I encourage you to stop by and check out her beautiful doggie smile.

I'm also over at The Debutante Ball today where we've been talking about luck all week. In my post, I talk about the phrase "getting lucky," and invite readers to share their own favorite euphemism for carnal relations.

We try to keep things PG-13 on that blog, but since we have no such restrictions here, I'm curious what you guys can offer up. Do you have a favorite expression for doing the deed? I'll confess, mine is "bumping uglies." I know I used it in at least two of my three contracted novels, and it never fails to make me giggle.

Please share yours! Writing the sort of stories I write, I can never have enough snicker-worthy euphemisms for building the beast with two backs.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Laughing my way through life

When I was in college, my advisor sat me down for a chat. Most of it was about coursework and career planning, stuff that slid in one ear and out the other like a well-lubed green bean.

But one thing he said stuck with me.

“You have this nervous laugh you do all the time,” he said. “You really need to break that habit.”

I can’t remember my exact response, but I’m certain I laughed.

Then I went home and thought about it. A lot. And over the next few years, I became self conscious about laughing. Was I doing it too much? Was I really nervous?

Looking back with the hindsight of someone who’s lived 36 years and learned a bit about herself in that time, I can tell you the answer is no. I’m not nervous. Not usually, anyway.

I just like to laugh. I like it a lot.

Probably a good thing, considering I write romantic comedy. It might not work as well if I wrote about cancer or the holocaust.

I wish I could go back and grab my 19-year-old self by the ear and whisper, “don’t listen to him. Just be yourself. Keep laughing, it’s what will carry you through life.”

But I figured it out along the way. That was apparent a few days ago when I was boogie boarding in Kauai, and unbeknownst to me, my father shot video of it.
When we played it back later, we both started laughing about…well, my laughing. Maniacal, if you want to get technical, but obviously an indication I was having a pretty good time.

“Anyone who watches that won’t realize I was standing about 70 feet away,” my dad said. “That’s how loudly you were laughing.”

I’m OK with that. Whether nervous or maniacal, I’m proud to be laughing my way through life.

Have you ever gotten advice you later realized wasn’t quite right? Something that steered you wrong early in life, perhaps? Please share!

And please feel free to laugh with me. Or at me, whatever rolls your socks up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Signature moves

It happened again yesterday. Someone laughed at me in the grocery store.

It wasn't because I was walking around in pajama pants and slippers with the hem of my nightie hanging out from under my sweatshirt. Everyone's used to that by now.

It's always the same situation. The clerk rings up my purchase, I slide my credit card and scrawl my signature on the receipt.

Then someone laughs. Usually the clerk or the person standing behind me.

"That's your signature? Are you a doctor?"

I usually tell the truth. I worked in the marketing department of a medical center for almost eight years, and doctors used to make fun of my signature.

Here's a sample:
I think the "T" and the "F" are pretty clear, but admittedly there are no other distinguishable letters.

Still, it's how I've signed my name for as long as I can remember.

It dawned on me today that this could pose a problem when it comes time to sign books. Feeling self conscious, I dug through my bookshelves to survey all the signed author copies.

The results were disheartening. Nearly all the signatures are legible. While plenty of them are sloppy or have an overabundance of flourish, they also have letters. More than two of them.

I decided to take a stab at a nice signature. I wasn't very pleased with the results. To me, it looks like something produced by an orangutan on Valium.
For the record, the rest of my penmanship is pretty good. It's just my signature that needs help.

What do you think? Are author signatures supposed to be legible? What's your signature like? Do I need to enlist the services of a handwriting coach, or do I just smile and say, "this is me, take it or leave it?"

Kinda like how I dress for the grocery store.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What the @#$% is that? (Hawaiian style)

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in our latest round of What the @#$% is that?

For those of you just tuning in, our latest mystery object is something I discovered during my stay on the Hawaiian island of Kauai:
Thanks to everyone who left a comment guessing the identity of the object. You guys had me cracking up all weekend!

I'd like to give a special shout-out to Dana Strotheide's for the following comment:

Charlie Sheen's penis? Looks like something that too much cocaine and hookers would do to a man.

Or a seed-pod of some sort... but I like Sheen's Peen better. :)

There's really no topping that one, so I picked up an extra prize just for Dana.

And let's just pretend for a moment that it is, in fact, Charlie Sheen's penis. Some of you may be delighted to see what I did with it:

For the record, Charlie Sheen's penis wasn't very tasty in an omelet. Also for the record, it wasn't Charlie Sheen's penis, but a Bitter Melon. I used this recipe to prepare it for breakfast one morning. Though I generally enjoy trying new foods when I'm traveling, this was not one of my favorites.

Moving on, I requested special assistance from my mom, my dad, and several members of the animal kingdom here on Kauai to select a contest winner. Here's a short video that shows how the selection process unfolded:

Congratulations to Abby Mumford for winning the second Kauai prize package. Abby and Dana, shoot me an email with your snail mail addresses and I'll get your gifts in the mail right away.

And mahalo (that's Hawaiian for thank you) to all of you for playing!

I'll be back home and back to my regular blogging schedule within a couple days. Thanks for your patience, and for making this blog a million times funnier than I could ever make it on my own. You guys rock!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami update...and how you can help

It was a sleepless night in our cozy Kauai condo, as someone strategically positioned the tsunami warning siren right outside my bedroom window.

Some of the Hawaiian islands were hit harder than others, but damage appears to be minimal at this point. Since my parents' place was just outside the evacuation zone on the south shore of Kauai, we didn't even have to leave.

The same can't be said for those in Japan, where earthquake and tsunami damage has been truly horrifying.

Want to help? Author Maureen Johnson is doing a wonderful donation drive for Shelterbox (including prize giveaways like signed books).

Huffington Post also has a great article listing some of the organizations involved in tsunami relief.

I'm sending out thoughts and prayers to everyone impacted by this horrific disaster.

In the meantime, my What the @#$% is that? contest is still going strong, so be sure to get your guess in by Saturday. I already bought a special prize for reader Dana Strotheide's hysterical "Sheen Peen" comment, but I'll draw another winner this weekend and will post the results early next week.

You can also stop by and visit The Debutante Ball, where we've been talking about bookstores this week. My post about used bookstores (and my visit to the western-most bookstore in the U.S. while here on Kauai) is up today.

Stay safe, everyone. And please do whatever you can to help those impacted by this tragedy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CONTEST: What the @#$% is that? (Hawaiian style)

I'm having a lovely time here in Hawaii, enjoying the sun, sand, and gorgeous tropical weather.

Not to rub it in for those of you knee-deep in the white stuff I vaguely remember as snow.

In the spirit of sharing a little aloha love, I've decided to hold a contest. It's been awhile since we played What the @#$% is that? and if you're new here and want to check out past games, you can go here or here or here.

Of course, readers tend to be less interested in the actual contest than in the winner selection process. You can see some of those here and here and here.

Here's the basic idea of What the @#$% is that?: I share photos of a mystery object and you take a guess what it might be. Guesses can be serious or silly, and you get one entry in the contest whether your answer is "right" or indicative of a need for serious mental health counseling.

The winner this time will receive a special gift pack of fabulous Hawaiian treats. That's a fancy way of making it sound exciting and mysterious instead of that I just haven't decided yet what the prize might be

So here we go...What the @#$% is that?
And here's a close-up so you can fully appreciate the texture and appearance.
So tell me....What the @#$% is that? Leave your guess in the comments between now and Saturday, March 12. I'll pick a winner before I leave Kauai, and will post the results early next week.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'm being stalked by lonely shoes

The week before I left for my current trip to Kauai, a lonely hiking boot appeared on the street corner outside my office:
Since temperatures were in the single digits that week, it seemed unlikely its owner succumbed to an overwhelming urge to stroll barefoot around downtown Bend, Oregon. Even if that were the case, why remove only one boot?

I watched the boot for a few days, wondering if its owner would come back to reclaim it. The day before I flew to Hawaii, the boot made a mystery migration into an adjacent tree:
Was this someone's effort to make the boot easier for its owner to spot? An attempt at whimsy? A signal to visiting aliens that we are here and have cold feet?

I didn't give it a lot of thought, probably because my thoughts were already occupied by visions of sun, sand, and shirtless men bringing me tropical drinks while telling me how much they loved reading Making Waves.

The first day I arrived on Kauai, I learned my mother has a new hobby. Though I've heard it's common for retired people to develop new interests, I always assumed this meant golf or scrapbooking.

My mom has been taking pictures of lonely, abandoned flip flops:

I'm not sure whether I'm more intrigued by the fact that my mother and I have been fixating on abandoned footwear 2,600 miles apart, or the fact that the footwear is being abandoned in the first place.

I understand the occasional dropped shoe in a locker room, or even on a beach, but a flip flop in the parking lot of a golf course? A hiking boot on a frozen, downtown street corner?

Are there hundreds of people out there walking around with only one shoe? Is there a zombie with a foot fetish roaming the globe snatching footwear from unsuspecting pedestrians? Is there a charity that offers footwear to people missing a leg? If so, I'd like to know about it.

I'd also love to know your theories about where these single shoes are coming from. Please share!

In the meantime, I'll be walking around Kauai barefoot as often as possible. I'm not taking any chances with that shoe fetish zombie.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I'm getting leid

Each year, my parents spend several months on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Though Pythagoras and I've have traveled all over Hawaii ourselves and even visited Kauai a couple years ago, I've never gotten to hang out there with my parents. They're forever scheming to find ways for me to visit them, but the stars never seem to align quite right. Either my work schedule won't cooperate or there's a book deadline looming or I just can't find enough change between the sofa cushions.

But the stars have finally aligned.

As you read this, I'm probably on a plane bound for ten days of blissful sun, sand, and fruity drinks with hunks of pineapple anchored on the rim.

The timing is perfect, with LET IT BREATHE off my desk and no pressing deadlines to tend to for the day job. Since temperatures are in single-digits outside my house right now, I'm in desperate need of a little warmth.

I may or may not blog while I'm gone. I'll try to post a picture or two, and if you follow me on Twitter, I'll be using the hashtag #gettingleid.

I'll also still be blogging in my usual Friday slot a The Debutante Ball, so be sure to stop by today and see what I had to say about typos.

In the meantime, I pledge to have a mai-tai in honor of each of you.

Wait, how many of you are there?

Never mind. I'm up for the challenge.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

4 tricks for getting to know new characters

With my third contracted book off my desk and in my agent’s hands, now seems like a smart time to do nothing but kick back and stare at pictures of shirtless men online.

I never claimed to be smart, which is probably why I’m preparing to start a new book.

I’m a pantster rather than a plotter, which means I typically have little idea where a story is headed when I dive in. One thing I do like to have before I start is a basic understanding of the characters. Who are they? What makes them tick? If we went out for drinks and the waiter said there was only one glass of Stoller 2008 JV Estate Pinot Noir left, who would win in a swordfight for it?

These are crucial things to determine, so here are a few tricks I’ve tried for getting to know new characters.

Job hunt. One of the first things I usually decide is what my characters do for a living. From there, I try to learn as much as I can about those professions. What’s her daily routine like? What schooling would he need to have? Does she go out for martini lunches or huddle in a corner of a dimly lit break room eating a peanut butter sandwich? Understanding what my characters spend most of their time doing is a big part of understanding what they’re like as people.

Roleplay. Sadly, this isn’t as kinky as it sounds. Grab a friend or critique partner, sit down with a cup of coffee, and pretend you’ve just met. Not only have you just met, but you are your character. Ask each other typical “get to know you” questions. Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? Do you prefer boxers or briefs? You won’t always have the answers in mind before you start, but giving fast, gut-level responses to questions like these can help get you into the mindset of an unfamiliar character.

Get crafty. Some authors make collages for books they’re beginning to write. It’s a practice I’ve long admired in theory, but have never pursued due to inherent laziness and a general lack of craftiness. Even so, I like the idea of having something visual to start my wheels turning, so I recently spent an hour browsing online for photos that matched my mental picture of my new characters. I printed out the pictures and pinned them on the bulletin board beside my desk. This comes with the added bonus of having them staring disdainfully down at me as I spend an hour dicking around on Damn You Autocorrect instead of working.

10 things no one knows. Sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of ten things about your character that few people know. These things don’t have to appear in the book – in fact, it’s sometimes best if they don’t – but they’re a good way to gain insight into the character’s inner self. Is he secretly afraid of the dark? Does she refuse to eat apricot jelly because it reminds her of that unfortunate incident with the jumper cables and the guy who insisted she call him Marsha? If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble over a few surprises as you go.

What do you do when you’re trying to get to know new characters? Do you prefer to become acquainted gradually as you ease into the story, or do you perform any sort of preliminary groundwork? Please share.

And don’t steal that apricot jelly thing. I think I’m onto something with that one.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The curious case of the rubbed off keys

Last week, I decided it was time for my bi-annual keyboard cleanse.

That’s where I turn my wireless keyboard upside down and shake until an entire meal falls out in the form of various discarded food particles.

I now have that ½ cup of sesame seeds I needed for a recipe.

When I returned the keyboard to its rightful spot, I couldn’t help but notice something. Several keys have been worn to the point that the letters are no longer visible.

It’s most noticeable with my A, my S, my D, my E, and my T.

I tweeted something silly about it, which led several people to speculate about what words I must be typing in excess. Teased? Tasted? Sated? Dates?

Though I like that idea, a more likely culprit is the fact that the fingernails on my left pinky and ring finger tend to grow longer than the rest, resulting in harder wear on those keys.

Yes, I did say harder, though for the record, my H key is perfectly intact.

I’m curious about this phenomenon though. Does your keyboard have certain letters that have rubbed off? What are they, and why do you think that might be? Please share!

And if you want to come over later this afternoon, I’ll whip up a nice snack with keyboard food particles.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A romance author walks into Home Depot...

You would think the main task involved with preparing for book club would be reading the book.

I've actually been listening to the book on my iPod as I putter around the house rubbing lotion on my sofa and changing dead light bulbs. The latter task sent me wandering through the aisles of Home Depot the other day, where I found so much more than light bulbs.

Behold, I give you another installment of Garage Porn:

If you're going to indulge in a 3-way, there's really no excuse for having an ugly one.
Besides being confused about how it sticks to the wall without screws, I'm suspicious of anything that's screwless.
Just when you thought you had to throw out that rubber with the hole in it. This plug solves all your problems. The guys at Home Depot think of everything.
I can't actually think of why you'd need to connect them, unless it's got something to do with the beautiful 3-way?
Words fail me on this one. So much potential for filth, but I just can't find my focus.
So how about it, readers? Any thoughts on that last one? Have you had any fun trips to Home Depot lately? Please share!