Monday, October 31, 2011

Showing my box a good time

My friend, Larie, owns a handbag boutique several blocks from my day-job office, which gives me an excellent excuse to spend my lunch hour shopping and gossiping.

I was doing just that on Thursday afternoon when the owner of a neighboring shop walked in with a big cardboard box.

"Hey, Larie, do you need this for any shipments?" she asked.

"Nope, I'm good."

"I'll take it!" I announced as I reached for the box. "I need lots of these right now with all the cleaning and organizing and decluttering I have to do to get the house ready to sell."

She kindly handed over the box, and I said my farewells and headed out the door. I hadn't gone more than twenty feet when I noticed something odd – people seemed fascinated by the box. Or rather, by the sight of a reasonably well-dressed female with a nice handbag slung over one shoulder and a big cardboard box in her arms.

Several strangers stared openly. One woman gave me a quizzical look and raised her eyebrows with an unasked question.

"It's my new dressing room," I informed her. "I live in a refrigerator box, so this is the perfect size for a nice walk-in closet."

She laughed uncomfortably and crossed the street.

En route to my office, I decided to stop in an upscale jewelry shop to ask about consigning my old wedding ring. I felt weird marching in with my cardboard box, so I set it outside the door and hoped no one peed in it.

I'd been inside about five minutes when one of the owners walked in. "What's with this box outside?"

"Mine!" I shouted a little too loudly. "I didn't want to bring it in the shop, but I'll take it with me when I go."

"I had to look inside," he admitted. "I thought maybe someone dropped off a litter of kittens."

Unfortunately, there were no kittens in the box when I reclaimed it, but that did remind me of a couple things. For one, I had cat sitting duties to attend to after work. For another, I didn't have my car because Larie and I had decided in advance we'd carpool to book club that night.

So after I stored the box in the corner of my office for the afternoon, I carted it with me as I walked to my friend's apartment to take care of his cats. They had a fine time crawling in and out of the box, and I briefly considered taking them with me just so there'd be something interesting in the box. Well, something besides my unwashed Tupperware from lunch and the bottle of wine I planned to bring to book club.

As I was walking back to Larie's shop, a stranger stopped me. "I've gotta ask – what's in the box?"

"Brains," I informed him. "I just killed four zombies in my backyard and the brains will come in handy for Halloween."

"Right on."

When I arrived  back at Larie's shop, she eyed me warily. "You're still carrying that box around?"

"I'm kind of enjoying it."

She didn't seem surprised. "We're too early for book club. Want to grab a drink at the D before we head over?"

"As long as I can bring the box."

So we marched into our favorite dive bar and found a table for three. The box got its own chair, Larie ordered a vodka cranberry, and I asked for a gin and tonic.

"Nothing for the box," I told our waitress. "That's our designated driver."

"Uh-huh," she said, trying discretely to peer inside.

"Actually," I said, "would you mind taking a picture of us with the box?"

She cheerfully snapped the photo, probably hoping crazy people make better tippers. Larie and I immediately texted the picture to our friend, Lindsay, who moved away to Omaha last spring.

We wish you were the box.

An extraordinarily long amount of time passed, during which I imagined Lindsay phoning the police to inform them we'd finally gone off the deep end and required psychiatric intervention. At last, Lindsay wrote back.

I wish I was the box, too. I've always wanted to be a box. Does that make me sound like a whore?

We paid our tab and got up to leave. "You ladies have fun with your box," the waitress yelled.

"I always do," I called back, wondering if she'd meant to make a naughty joke.

I stuffed the box in the back of Larie's car and buckled it in for the drive to book club. I toyed with the idea of taking it inside, but decided the box had already had enough fun for the evening.

At the end of the night, Larie dropped me in front of my house. "After all that, you'd damn well better not forget that box in my backseat."

"I've got it, I've got it," I assured her. "Thanks for showing my box a good time."

I hesitated, balancing the box on my hip.

Larie sighed. "You're waiting for me to say 'that's what she said,' aren't you?"

"It would be nice."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Please pee so I'll know if you're sexy

I'm cat-sitting for a friend this week, a task you may be surprised to learn does not involve sitting on any cats.

Once I'd extracted the claws from my butt cheeks, I snooped through drawers for porn had a look around the house to ensure a safe environment for my feline wards. After awhile, one of the cats alerted me that he had a book recommendation to share:
Right at that moment, I'm pretty sure the cat was thinking, "I'm going to chew off your eyelids if you don't fill my food dish right now, bitch."

Intrigued, I picked up the book and began to skim. Before long, I came upon a fascinating passage:

So let me get this straight – female cats sniff a male cat's urine to figure out what he ate, and knowing what he ate alerts them whether he'd be good candidate for playing hide the salami? (Or maybe "hide the Vienna sausage – they're cats, after all).

This is brilliant. So brilliant, I think I need to incorporate it somehow into the "meet cute" in my next romantic comedy. Why don't humans have something like this?

On second thought, maybe we do. Certainly I've found myself drawn to someone for reasons that might seem odd on the surface. I'm a sucker for great hands. BIG hands. Let's not dwell too long on the reasons I've developed this particular fetish, but suffice it to say, it's probably more than a desire to watch someone palm a basketball.

I once developed a mad crush on a boy in grade school based solely on the intricate doodles he created on the cover of his notebook. Never mind that we never spoke a word to each other – surely those doodles signified we were meant to be together forever and ever (or at least until recess).

What's the oddest reason you've ever found yourself feeling smitten with another person? How did it turn out in the end? Please share!

Unless it involves sniffing pee to determine what someone ate for dinner. I think I'm OK without knowing the details of that.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I don't do it as often as you'd think

A television news crew spent yesterday morning filming the staff at my day job for a feature on our city’s tourism bureau. We were told beforehand to think of a good answer to the question, “what do you do here?”

Something besides, “surf porn at my desk while sucking cookie crumbs out of my keyboard.”

I did pretty well summing up my role as the marketing and public relations manager for Visit Bend. My job is to plant hundreds of little fishing lures designed to reel visitors to the outdoor playground of the West with blog posts, brochure copy, web content, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, and wooing journalists to write about us.

Not a bad gig, really.

The process of summing up what I do 24 hours a week at the day job got me wondering how I’d describe the remaining 168 hours I wear my author hat. It’s a question I get at nearly every public speaking engagement – what does your writing routine look like?

Delete the word routine and writing, and you’re on the right track.

People are often surprised to learn how little of a published author’s time is spent writing books. Sure, I write blog posts and promotional copy. I write the occasional new scene in contracted books as I move through the editing channels. I write emails to my agent, editor, critique partners, court mandated psychiatrist, publicist, and various readers and bloggers who write to me.

But new material designed to go in a brand new book written from scratch?

The last time I did that was in early January. Almost nine months ago.

Is that scary to anyone besides me?

I don’t know if that’s unusual for an author in her debut year, but I suspect it isn’t. True, my debut year has been packed with major life events like divorce and adapting to new housemates and a surprising new relationship and a top secret new project I promise I’ll be allowed to announce any day now.

But still, what author doesn’t have a personal life? We all struggle to balance everything, and it’s a sad fact that actual writing often gets shortchanged.

I’m comforted to realize I’m literally salivating with eagerness to start writing something new. The drool pooling in the keyboard makes those cookie crumbs very difficult to remove. The fact that I haven’t lost my passion for it bodes well for my continued love of writing, even if I haven’t had the chance to pour myself into it for awhile.

If you’re a writer, how much time do you devote per week to crafting brand new scenes for brand new books? If you aren’t a writer, are you surprised to learn how little of an author’s time is spent doing that? Please share!

And seriously, let me know if you’ve got a hint for those crumbs in the keyboard. I don’t think my tongue is long enough.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On comfort food and machine gun fire

When I set out to acquire housemates last spring, I decided up front that I’d prefer to live with men.

It wasn’t so much a desire to build a small harem of twenty-something males under my roof (though certainly that held some appeal). It was partly that I didn’t want pals. I wanted quiet residents content to nuke the occasional frozen pizza and then get the hell out of my kitchen without asking to bake scones together while braiding each other’s hair and dishing about boys.

I’ll admit it was a sexist notion. I’ll also admit I might have misjudged.

I knew up front that one of the housemates enjoyed cooking, but didn’t grasp the magnitude of it until the day he moved in. He spent several hours unloading an arsenal of kitchenware before whipping up a batch of brownies from scratch. Then he unpacked a giant television in the living room, a space I’d previously reserved for quiet reading and snuggling with the dog.

That was five months ago. I honestly can’t remember the last time my kitchen counter was visible beneath trays of baked goods, barbecue accessories, and three (yes, three) deep fryers. If I ever walk in and find my couch isn’t occupied by a barefoot southern boy watching war movies, I consider calling the police to report he’s been kidnapped.

There are times I mourn the loss of my clutter-free counters. There are times I miss my privacy. There are times I want to take a baseball bat to the constantly blaring television.

Monday night was such an occasion. I was tucked in my office trying hard to write, but having trouble concentrating over the blast of televised machine gun fire and the clatter of cookware.

I was on the brink of snapping when someone knocked on my office door.

“Yes?” I called through gritted teeth.

“Dinner’s ready.”


“Dinner. I made chicken fried steak.”

I emerged from my cave, bleary-eyed and a little dumbfounded. The counter held approximately six tons of chicken fried steak, along with homemade gravy and mashed potatoes.

Comfort food I didn’t know I needed.

“I’ll make salad,” I offered, feeling bad that only three minutes earlier, I’d been plotting to grind his television remote in the garbage disposal.

I poured a glass of wine for myself. My tee totaling housemate filled his water glass. Then we sat down and watched an episode of Scrubs on Netflix. We didn’t braid each other’s hair, but we did laugh a lot.

We also licked our plates when we were done eating.

Was it how I planned to spend my evening? Not really. Is this how I envisioned my life a year ago? Definitely not. Are there moments I want to stomp into the living room and scream that if he drops another piece of fried chicken on the couch or downloads another noisy slasher movie, I’ll superglue him to the sofa and set fire to the living room?

I’d better not answer that.

But I will say this – there’s something satisfying about knowing I can adapt to almost any situation. There’s something rewarding about learning to adjust to personalities and habits I never imagined I’d be living with in such close proximity.

And there’s something enjoyable about sitting back with a plate of artery-clogging, southern fried goodness and saying, “damn, this made my night.”

When’s the last time you had to adjust to something you never expected in your life or your household routine? How did you cope?

If it’s a struggle, allow me to suggest that gravy and chicken fried steak have a remarkable way of making everything all better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why you don't want to grocery shop with me

Dirty innuendos are everywhere if you look hard enough.

I said "hard enough."

See how the game is played? We've done it a few times here on the blog under the tagline garage porn, though it's safe to say you can do it in department stores or bathroom cupboards just about anywhere the mood strikes.

I said "do it."

On that note, I'll share a few gems from a recent trip to the grocery store...


Nut crunch? Ouch. I actually stood on this aisle for awhile to see if any men walking past would grimace. No one did. Clearly, people should pay more attention when grocery shopping.

There were several things on the pet food aisle with significant ick-factor, but Moist & Meaty was my favorite. I'm pretty sure there's an email in my spam folder advertising a video by that same name.

You would think the aisle with all the baby products would be relatively innocent. You would be mistaken. The idea of orthodontic nipples makes me wonder if those braces I had in middle school might have performed better if they'd been applied someplace other than my teeth.

Somehow, we always circle back to the home improvement aisle, don't we? That's where all the good three-ways are.

Unsurprisingly, the large screws aren't terribly far from the three-way. I should also note that the small nails were located nearby.
I'm going to go ahead and leave it up to you guys to speculate whether this product is a male invention, since the solution for a quick start is labeled "thrust" instead of  "mood music" or "gentle foreplay."

Seen anything at the grocery store lately that tickled your fancy? Please share! I'm going to go stand by the Nut Crunch again to see if some at least cracks a smile. It can't just be me, can it?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The sisterhood of the crappy grass

Yesterday evening, I mowed my lawn for the last time.

It's definitely the last seasonal mow, and depending on how the impending home sale unfolds, perhaps the last time I'll ever mow it.

I'm not ashamed to tell you I have one of the ugliest lawns on the block. There are brown patches and uneven spots and more dandelions than I can count. If you held a contest for the crappiest grass, I would first question your soundness of judgment and inquire why you didn't hold a contest for the most wine bottles in the recycle bin, because I would totally rock that contest.

Then I'd have to admit that in a contest for the worst lawn, it would come down to a tie between my yard and the neighbor's.

And that's when I'd pull another bottle of wine out of the rack, walk next door to her house, and knock on her door. And when she answered, I would hand her the wine and say thank you.

Thank you for being a single, female homeowner who's somehow making it work. Thank you for wheeling your mower out time and again and coaxing it to life in the driveway. Thank you for mowing your ugly excuse for a lawn all by yourself, week after week, and inspiring me to do the same. Our yards might not be the nicest on the block, but they've been lovingly tended. 

Then I would shake her hand and wish her a good evening.

OK, that's a lie. Secretly, I'd kinda hope she might invite me in to share the wine and maybe tell me that she's been inspired by my ugly excuse for a lawn and my steadfast determination to maintain it. Then we'd have a pillow fight in our underwear and make a bunch of risque jokes about "keeping the grass trimmed" and "getting a guy to help mow the lawn."

But since lawn mowing season has ended, I doubt that'll happen. For now, we'll stick with smiling and nodding when we pass each other at the mailbox.

Or maybe I'll throw in one butt pat, just for the sake of the sisterhood.

Have you ever found yourself inspired, moved, or encouraged by a random stranger? Ever felt camaraderie with someone you hardly know? Please share!

Or feel free to toss out a good lawn mowing or grass joke. That's good, too.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On having the balls to mark the wood

Moments of supreme clarity sometimes arrive when you’re sopping wet.

At least, that’s how it is for me.

I spent much of last weekend hanging out at Summer Lake Hot Springs. Though the motive for the trip was my speaking engagement at a nearby library charity event, my real reason for going was a fervent desire to soak my bones in the hot springs.

(Insert “bone” joke here. Go ahead, I’ll wait).

The outdoor rock pools were heavenly, but I was particularly charmed by the rustic bathhouse with its large, spring-fed pool. The structure was built in 1928, and a four-inch pipe feeds water from the springs into the indoor pool.

(Anyone want to make the pipe joke?)

The water feels heavenly, and light streaming through the skylights give the place a dreamy, ethereal feel. It’s romantic not only for the steamy heat, but for what adorns the walls of the structure.
Names. Hundreds of them. Joe loves Julie. Raven-n-Mark. Peter & Jenna 4ever. And somewhat curiously, Tooter & Hank.

I swirled around in the water with my gentleman friend, tracing my fingers over the letters.

“Don’t you wonder how many of these people are still together?” I asked. “Like Rod and Tiff – how do you think they’re doing?”

“Or Nick and Kyle,” he added. “I hope those crazy kids made it.”

I sighed. “Once upon a time, all these people were so giddy with love, they carved their names in the wood. Now – how many of them even speak to each other? There’s something sad about it.”

“There’s something hopeful about it,” he countered. “About having the balls to do it in the first place – to make your mark and lay claim to each other knowing it might not last.”

The words socked me in the gut. Not because I’m a romance author. Not even because he had his hands on my bare back when he said it.

But also because he knows. We both know.

Both of us were married before, and both divorced under startlingly similar circumstances. Neither of us wanted or expected our splits, but we both emerged on the other side feeling happy and whole and remarkably stronger.

Under the circumstances, you might expect us to be jaded. We’re cautious, to be sure, but somehow, neither of us lost heart.

I’m sure that eternal optimism is part of what kept me writing romantic comedy even when I wasn’t feeling particularly romantic or comedic. I do believe in forever – even now, knowing what I know about those names on the wall or my own happily ever after that turned out not to be.

It's always true things might not work out the way you hope.

But it's also true they might.

That's enough for me. That's what I choose to focus on, both in my writing career and in my life.

So here’s to anyone who’s had the balls to put yourself out there despite the odds it might not last. Here’s to enduring faith, love, and the hopeful handling of wood.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When love and abuse go hand in hand

I would honestly rather stick a hot fork in my eye and give it a good twist than deep-clean my home.

But with the likelihood looming that I'll need to sell the house in the very near future, I've been forced to put down the fork, pick up a wine glass, and get to work.

Tuesday night's task involved organizing bookshelves. I was a lit major in college and a voracious reader since age seven, so you might imagine this was a rather daunting task. I kicked off my evening of fun by hauling six huge boxes of books to Goodwill. Then I got to work sorting, organizing, and re-shelving.

Handling every book one by one gave me the rare opportunity to see which books are in pristine condition and which ones look like I put them in the blender:
Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano literally crumbled when I picked it up. No surprise there, since it was one of my favorite books all through high school and college. I've read this book hundreds of times, and my love for it shows in the tattered cover and torn pages. I had to handle it very, very gently as I placed it back on the shelf and picked up the little scraps of disintegrated tape that fell off the spine.

These two go even further back in my childhood:
I think I've been lugging around this copy of Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret since 1983 (third grade, for those of you keeping track at home). I must have acquired Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved a year or two later. I probably read each of them at least three dozen times before I sprouted boobs, but they're still in relatively good shape. The books, not the boobs. Well, the boobs are fine, too.

Then there are the treasures I picked up a little later in life:

I was a lit major in college. That means I spent each day straining beneath the weight of several dozen huge, heavy books as I walked to class. Imagine my delight when this one – which weighed approximately 893 pounds – finally broke in half. Genius! I no longer had to drag the entire book everywhere. I could just pack the chunk we were studying at the time. Incidentally, this text was the inspiration for several of the quotes spoken by Malcolm the pirate/literary theologian in Making Waves.

Then you have books that not only show wear, but evidence of where they've been:

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams has been one of my all-time favorite books since college. As you can see from the note on the cover, I loan it out from time to time. It always comes back to me, often with the friend's gushing praise and a vow to go out and buy more of Kingsolver's books. A wise idea, I must say.

Of course, if you want to see my true passion in reading material, you need to fix your eyes on the middle shelves of the bookcase:

That's a small portion of my romantic comedy stash, and it's heavy on Jennifer Crusie, Kristan Higgins, Victoria Dahl, Lani Diane Rich, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. You'll notice many of the books are in surprisingly good shape. That's not because I haven't read them much. On the contrary, I've developed the habit of giving these books to friends and then buying new copies for myself. Inevitably, I reread my new copy once or twice before passing it along to yet another friend (thereby creating a new romantic comedy fan-girl and a need for me to go out and buy another new copy for myself).

So what's on your bookshelf? What shows signs of love and abuse, and what are you ashamed to admit you've handled only when shoving it on the shelf to collect dust? Please share!

And please join me in lifting a glass to celebrate the beauty of my well-organized bookshelves!

Now who wants to help organize the garage?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The most fun I've had rubbing a cheese doodle

A few weeks ago, I saw a round of blog posts by authors answering the question, "what's the toughest scene you've ever written?"

I knew the answer to that without even thinking about it, but that's damn depressing. I don't do depressing. I do funny.

At least I try to.

So that got me thinking, "what's the most fun you've ever had writing a scene?"

Now that I can answer without giving you all the urge to leap off the top of the nearest building.

I've had a lot of fan mail referencing this scene from Making Waves, and it's come up in conversation with every single book club I've chatted with in the last few months. Everyone calls it "the cheese doodle scene" for reasons that should be obvious in just a minute.

Some background about this scene: Much of the chemistry between Juli and Alex in Making Waves stems from all the near-miss hookups between them throughout the book. The cheese doodle scene takes place near the end of the story when it looks like finally, FINALLY, they're going to consummate their relationship.

But then...well, the mood takes a nosedive. They're sitting on a hotel balcony at night overlooking the ocean, and while Juli is trying to figure out how to get the mood back, something happens.

I adore the challenge of writing love scenes with some element of, "this shouldn't be hot, but it totally is." You'll find traces of it in almost any book I write, but the cheese doodle scene is one of my favorites in this capacity. I still smile remembering how much fun it was to write.

So with that introduction, I give you the cheese doodle scene...

Juli looked at Alex, considering her next words. “What were you guys hoping to steal from Tom’s boat?” she asked finally, surprising herself with her bluntness. “That’s the only part you haven’t told me yet. If we’re laying all our cards on the table, I want to know what you were going after out there.”

Alex frowned, staring out at the ocean again. “Diamonds. Forty-eight million dollars worth of diamonds, to be exact.”


“Yup. We had some pretty good intelligence that told us what was on that boat. An illegal transaction, something we could intercept without getting caught. We even had a plan to fence them through a connection in Antwerp. I’m still not sure what went wrong.”

“They weren’t there?”


She put a hand on his leg, feeling the heat beneath her palm. “I’m sorry,” she said at last.

“Not your fault.”

“I know, but this isn’t how you planned it.”

Alex shrugged. “I’ll survive.”

Juli turned back to the ocean, trying to think of how to permeate the grim haze that had fallen over them. She felt sad for Alex, no doubt about it. Really, very sad.

But she still wanted to roll around naked with him.

Okay, so that made her an insensitive trollop. There it was. Even as she wanted to cradle his head in her lap and stroke his hair and tell him things would be okay, she also wanted to tear his clothes off with her teeth and lick her way down his abdomen.

Of course, they’d obviously lost their mood mojo in the last hour. Somehow, they’d gone from passionate groping to companionable, somber dinner conversation with the dark ocean crashing beneath them.

Not that there was anything wrong with that.

But really, more groping would be nice.

Juli frowned at the ocean. How to get the mood back? The women’s magazines never really addressed the proper method for jumping back on track with a derailed hookup. Maybe running her hand up his leg? Sticking her tongue in his ear?

No, maybe something sensitive. Perhaps she should gaze meaningfully into his eyes, whisper something sweet and sultry, give him her best come-hither look—

“Oh, baby! I want to rub your cheese doodle ’til my hands turn orange.”

Juli jumped, sending her fork flying off the edge of the balcony. There was another loud whoop, followed by something that sounded like yodeling. Juli frowned and looked at Alex.

His expression was equally perplexed.

“You rub my doodle, baby, and I’ll give it to you so good you’ll tattoo my name on that sweet little tushy of yours.”

Juli winced, disgusted. But also curious. She craned her neck to see where the voices were coming from, baffled by sounds that reminded her of the time the raccoons got stuck in her mother’s basement.

“On the beach,” Alex whispered. “I think they’re right below us.”

“Are you serious?”

“See the shadows? Right there?”


Alex pointed. “Just below us. Edge of the water, over to the left.”

Juli squinted in the darkness. “Wha—is that a T-shirt that just went flying through the air?”

Alex leaned forward, peering down at the beach.

“Yes. And I believe it says ‘Mustache rides, five cents.’”


“Yeah, honey, tear that bra off with your teeth! Just like that, baby—oh, careful with the dentures, that’s it. You tiger! You lion! You wildebeest! Grrrr!”

“Oh, I’m gonna give it to you so good, girl. You want me to spank you like the naughty little hamster you are?”

Juli wasn’t sure whether to cover her ears or her eyes. Or both. She looked up at Alex, who looked equally repulsed and fascinated.

“How do you like your eggs, baby? Over easy or hard-boiled?”

“Give ’em to me scrambled, daddy, with a little pat of butter.”

“How about margarine?”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Juli whispered, crawling on all fours to peer through the slats of the balcony. All she could see was dark sand and the swirl of water advancing and retreating.

That was probably for the best.

“Do you think we should take notes?” Alex whispered, scooting forward to join her. “Because a lot of this is new to me.”

“I think we should be vaccinated.”

There was a disturbing cacophony of smacking, giggling, and groaning, and Juli thought for a moment she might see her Denver omelet again. She tried to focus in the darkness, straining to see something, halfway afraid she might succeed.

“This is disgusting,” Alex said.

“We should go inside.”


“And lock the door.”

“I’m with you.”

Neither of them moved.

“Yeah, mama. You want a little hot salsa on that taco?”

“Ooh, daddy, guacamole too!”

Juli grimaced. “Do you think we should alert the hotel managers?”

“And say what? ‘Someone’s having really tacky sex on the beach’?”


“Besides, we might miss something.”

Juli scooted to the left, angling her face through the bars of the balcony, trying for at least a glimpse. She felt Alex’s shoulder warm against hers and reminded herself that this was gross and disturbing, not a turn-on.

Not at all.

“This seems wrong,” Juli whispered, feeling Alex’s shoulder shake with laughter.

“You’re right,” he agreed. “We should have binoculars.”

“I’m thinking we might need a bucket of ice water in case things get out of hand down there.”

He looked at her. “You actually think it could be more out of hand?”

“I think these two have unplumbed depths of depravity.”

“It sounds like they’re doing their best to plumb them.”

Alex moved closer and she felt his breath warm on her neck. She tried not to find it erotic. Truly, this was the least erotic thing she could imagine.

Wasn’t it?

“Who’s my little bunny? Who’s my little grasshopper?”

“Right here, baby! Hop! Hop!”

“This is better than pay-per-view,” Alex whispered.

“This is so not a turn-on,” Juli whispered back, pretty sure that was true.

“Not even a little?”

She ignored him. “It’s like a train wreck. You want to look away, but you can’t.”

“Ahoy, matey! Firing me cannon through your porthole in one-two-three…”

“Bwaaack! Polly wants a cracker!”

“Shiver me timbers, baby!”

There was a disturbing amount of screaming, moaning, and the slap of water on the sand. Then a few moments of silence, followed by some soulful murmuring Juli was glad not to be able to hear.

She looked at Alex. Alex looked back at her.

“I don’t know what to say,” Alex said finally, sitting back on his heels and looking nonplussed.

“How can you add to that?”

He nodded sagely. “We probably shouldn’t try.”

“Best to just enjoy the memory.”

“Think there’ll be an encore?”

“I think I need a shower.”

Alex nodded again. “No kidding.”

Juli smiled at him and touched a hand to his knee. “Care to join me?”

So there you have it...the most fun I've ever had writing a scene. If you're an author, can you describe the most enjoyment you've ever had writing something? If you aren't a writer, what's the most fun you've had reading a scene? Please share!

Oh, and since I might as well insert a shameless plug for Making Waves at this point, you can order the book at at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Powells Books or IndieBound. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not everyone loves a good dirty joke

When you write comedy, you occasionally have to accept the fact that not everyone finds you funny.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I went in for a routine eye exam. The doctor had me cover one eye and recite the letters I could see on the chart. As I neared the bottom, I noticed something interesting about the sequence of letters.

“Did you know the last line reads STD?” I asked. “Maybe you could double your profits by adding venereal disease screening to the eye exam.”

My comment was met by silence, so I uncovered my eye and looked at the doctor. He wasn’t smiling.

Apparently, not everyone finds gonorrhea amusing.

Encounters like that make me all the more appreciative of customer service professionals with a sense of humor. I was at the AT&T store last Friday when the representative began demonstrating some of the features on my new iPhone.

“This one has video recording capability that your 3G iPhone didn’t have,” he pointed out.

“Excellent,” I said. “I can have that porn career I’ve always wanted.”

The guy didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, and if you click this button here, you can reverse the camera to record those solo sessions.”

I was still laughing when he punched a sequence of keys to change my voicemail password. A chipper, automated voice began reciting a list of menu options.

“Holy crap,” I said. “Did she just say press three for testicle support?”

“Yes, it’s a new feature AT&T is offering,” he replied. “Free prostate exams with any new phone purchase.”

I think I actually snorted. “Will you be my new best friend?”


When’s the last time you encountered with an unexpectedly clever sense of humor? How about a time your own humor fell flat?

Please share!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the best time to discover what the new “face time” feature does on an iPhone is not while you’re taking a leak. Just saying.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What authors do in bed

You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t flub my keynote speech at the Lake County Library’s 30th annual Endowment Dinner. I even got a few laughs, some of them for things I actually intended to be funny.

The real treat of the weekend was my stay at Summer Lake Hot Springs. The library folks were kind enough to set us up in a wonderful little cabin just a few hundred feet from the warm rock pools I’ve been dying to soak in for years.

The cabin itself was cozy and charming and very, very rustic. The first thing I did when I walked in after a long road trip was look for a place to wash my hands.

The ancient taps groaned and coughed up a few tablespoons of mineral-saturated water. I wandered back out to the kitchen and picked up an antique looking tea kettle, pausing to consider whether I was supposed to use it or just admire the decoration.

My gentleman friend walked in and dropped our bags on the bed. The springs squealed in protest and the entire bed shifted twelve inches to the right.

I stared in horror for a minute. “Did we break the bed?”

He surveyed it. “Not yet.”

“I can already hear them buzzing at the library fundraiser,” I muttered. “‘We brought in a romance author, and wouldn’t you know it, she broke the bed.’”

“Aren’t you speaking on stereotypes about romance authors and the romance genre?” he pointed out.

“Exactly!” I shrieked, feeling a little panicky. “And you know if they’d brought in a sci-fi author, he wouldn’t have broken the bed.”

“No, he’d just make it into a fort.”

I considered that for a moment. “What would a historical author do?”

“Take down the curtains and use them to make a canopy for the bed,” he said without hesitating.

“Crime fiction?”

“Corpse under the bed.”

“Young adult author?”

“Replace the comforter with a Justin Bieber bedspread and put a telephone shaped like lips on the nightstand.”

I stared at him for a minute. “You’re good.” I looked back at our suitcases weighing down the end of the mattress. “At least that’s what I’ll have to tell them at the library if they ask why we broke the bed.”

Got anything to add about what authors from different genres might do to the bed? Please share!

And for the record, the bed was perfectly fine when we checked out. I swear.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A speech with no naughty words? Better fix that.

I'll admit I was stunned when Making Waves started racking up reviews from publications aimed at libraries. First it was Booklist who wrote, "A zany caper...Fenske's off-the-wall plotting is reminiscent of a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice."

Library Journal followed with a starred review that called Making Waves, "[An] uproarious romantic caper...great fun from an inventive new writer; highly recommended."

I was thrilled. I was also a little dumbfounded when librarians started contacting me about speaking. At first, I misunderstood and thought I was being scolded for not using my inside voice. Then I realized they wanted me to talk. Out loud. Like, in front of people.

Which is how I ended up scheduled as the keynote speaker for the Lake County Library's annual Endowment Dinner this weekend.

Well, that's not exactly how. The how happened sort of like this:

Library person: We'd really like you to come say intelligent things for people who are paying a lot of money to attend this swanky event, and we'd be happy to put you up at Summer Lake Hot Springs since it's close by, but we're really hoping you'll be worth it.

What I heard: wordswordswordswordswordswords Summer Lake Hot Springs.

And then my brain drifted to this:
An actual photo of Summer Lake Hot Springs by ridiculously talented photographer Tyler Roemer. That shot originally appeared in Outside magazine, and I've been dying to go there ever since. I've also been dying to own printed copies of every photo Tyler Roemer has ever taken, but I digress.

Library person: This is kind of a big deal with a lot of people attending and we'll be selling copies of your book and scheduling you to speak for a full hour, so we want to make sure you have plenty of time to prepare.

What I heard: wordswordswordswordswords...
Another Tyler Roemer pic of Summer Lake Hot Springs. Seriously, are those photos gorgeous or what? How could you NOT be obsessed with going there after looking at those?

It's possible I'm making up the stuff the library person said, but I'm pretty sure the sentiment was there. And the end result is that I've spent a lot of time picturing myself relaxing in the hot springs with a glass of wine, and not a lot of time picturing how I'm likely to make a total ass of myself if I don't prepare a @#$% speech!

So there's that.

I've written it. I've just never spoken the words aloud, which is probably a very bad thing. I've got all day today to sit here reading it to my dog until I've either memorized the words or the dog has run yelping from the room.

The plan is for me to deliver this speech (or something like it) for 10-15 minutes, followed by reading a short scene from Making Waves, followed by a Q&A. That should be about an hour. The latter two things I can handle with ease. The speech? Well, I'm not so sure.

Keeping in mind that I don't have time for a total rewrite at this stage, care to weigh in on what I've got? Any tips for delivery or suggestions that I should consider calling the library association and letting them know I've just lost all four limbs to gangrene and will be unable to attend? Please share your feedback!

Here's a draft of the speech:

Hi! I’m Tawna Fenske, and I’m a romance author. Sounds like an introduction at an AA meeting, huh?

First off, I’d like apologize for forgetting my sequined bustier and feather boa.

I’m also kinda wondering where they’ve stashed the shirtless man with greased abs who’s supposed to be up here turning pages for me, or why I wasn’t brought here from Bend on a private plane with pink plush seats.

OK, the reality is that I drive a 13-year-old car with a smushed bumper, and am a lot more likely to run around in unwashed sweatpants than a feather boa and jeweled stilettos. In fact, I almost killed myself walking up here in these shoes.

There are a lot of stereotypes about romance authors and the romance genre, and I’d like to set the record straight about a few of them.

To the best of my recollection, I’ve never written about ripped bodices, heaving bosoms, or plundering warriors. I’ve never used the phrase “quivering mound of love pudding,” or referred to male body parts using awkward sword metaphors.

I write contemporary romantic comedy, so my books have scenes with people playing Strip Battleship and characters like a former Seattle Seahawks tight end turned corporate customer service rep turned cross-dressing gourmet chef on a dysfunctional pirate ship.

My second romantic comedy comes out in March and it’s being marketed as “your typical ‘reluctant fake psychic’ meets ‘jaded owner of a male strip club’ love story – with a twist.”

The fact is, there’s not a lot of “typical” when it comes to romance novels. It’s true the stereotype depicts them all with Fabio on the cover gripping a woman with heaving bosoms and mysteriously huge hair, but these days you’re as likely to see a cover with a woman in combat boots gripping an Uzi.

The romance genre runs the gamut from historical to sci-fi to action/adventure to Christian to young adult to (my favorite) romantic comedy.

Let me throw a few statistics at you just to be a total geek:

In 2010, romance fiction generated $1.358 billion in sales, with 8,240 new romance titles released. In 2008, 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel that year. Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2010 with 13.4 percent.

Know what’s funny? When I tell people I’m a romance author, I’d say about nine out of ten get this funny look on their faces and kinda shrug. “I don’t read those kinds of books.”

So who are all these people reading and writing romance novels? Perverts? Sexual deviants? Lonely, frustrated women with twelve cats and inflatable boyfriends?

Hey, statistically speaking, we’ve probably got a couple in the audience – I’m not judging.

But they’re not the core of romance readers.

It’s true women make up 90.5 percent of romance readership, with men rounding out the other 9.5 percent. Interestingly enough, my own fan mail reflects about a 30/70 split, with a number of men writing me notes like, “I’ve never read a romance novel before, but I took yours on a hunting trip and laughed so hard I scared the deer.”

I should use that as a marketing hook – saving Bambi one naughty joke at a time.

The heart of the U.S. romance novel readership is women ages 31-49 who are currently in a committed romantic relationship. Not quite the “lonely spinster” stereotype, huh?

The makeup of that group represents a huge cross section of political, social, religious, and economic groups.

Romance Writers of America likes to trot out the statistic that one in five people reads romance. I think they’re full of crap. I think the number is a whole lot higher than that.

Part of it comes down to how we define “romance novel.” Probably the number one comment I get in reader fan mail is something along these lines... “I don’t like romance novels and I never read them, but I sure liked your book. Are you sure it’s really romance?”

It’s sort of a backhand compliment. Kinda like me saying, “I hate baseball and don’t know much about it, but I sure enjoy watching the Mariners. Are you sure they’re not a badminton team?”

If you think about it, almost any work of fiction has a romantic element. It might not be the primary focus, but it’s usually there. The Odyssey wouldn’t be the same story without Odysseus and Penelope. What would Don Quixote be without Dulcinea?  The Hunger Games would fall flat without its Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, and how boring would James Bond be without his evolving cache of busty Bond girls?

I see a couple people just woke up out there – Bond girls? What? Is she taking her clothes off now?

My point in all this is that it’s tough to judge a massive genre based on one or two books grabbed from the ten cent bin at the neighbor’s garage sale.

And while it would be nice if romance authors were saucy vixens with pool boys and private planes, most of us are just average folks with mortgage payments and a houseful of flatulent pets.

Oh, and my third point – a story without at least a hint of romance in it isn’t much of a story. I think that pretty much sums it up.

So now is when I step off my soapbox and tell you about my book and then read a little bit of it...

And then, of course, I launch into my elevator pitch about the book and read the Newlywed Game scene and then answer questions like, "are you stoned?" 

Piece of cake.

Oooh, cake. Think they'll let me eat cake in the hot springs?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Huge sticks, peckers, and other spam delights

At least once a week, I like to open up my email spam folder. This isn't so I can clean it out.

It's because my spam folder is a veritable treasure trove of amusement that never ceases to delight me. Sometimes it's the sender's email address that sets me giggling. Other times it's the subject line. Here are a few of my favorites from the last couple days...

I like the way this one clarifies the message with both the sender's email address and the subject. In case I had any question what hornymilf69 might be proposing, it's spelled out right there in nice, bold letters. I also appreciate having the type of date made clear up front. There's nothing more awkward than showing up thinking you're there for a sex date, only to discover your sweetheart has tickets to the opera.

You've gotta love the marketing hook. Indeed, it's true nothing beats a huge stick, though there's a time and a place for being beaten with one.

Um, yeah. The last time I had THAT dream, I woke to discover a Hairy Woodpecker attacking my windowsill (incidentally, Hairy Woodpecker would be a great subject line for some email spam).

Oooh! Let me take a guess at the three questions so I don't actually have to open the email!
  1. Can I get you a glass of wine to enjoy while I fix dinner?
  2. You're such a brilliant writer that I was just wondering  – is there any chance you'll let me read and worship every word you've ever written?
  3. Have you seen the yardstick so I can measure my wood? (What? He's building you a new computer desk!
Of course, not all email spam is dirty. Some offers excellent career opportunities!

Also in high demand – someone who knows how to use apostrophes correctly! It's apparently a rampant problem.
 Oh, and in case you're wondering how I got so lucky  what I did to trigger such a barrage of horrible, filthy email spam, you should know that whatever profiling system the spammers use isn't terribly accurate:

Does sharing the zest require me to open the Viagra spam directly below that one? Because it seems like the two might go together.

So what's in your spam folder? Anything juicy? Please share!

And feel free to contribute a guess about the "3 questions that get women turned on," while you're at it! We owe it to the men of the world to help out as much as possible

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kissing contest winners and a story from my mom!

On Monday I shared the story of my first kiss and invited readers to offer their own first kiss or awkward kiss stories.

Holy cow, you guys didn’t disappoint!

There were too many great stories to share, and I ended up enlisting my mom’s help to pick a winner. Here are a few of our favorites:

Taymalin wrote:

Well, when I was in kindergarten I had my first boyfriend. He was a younger man, not yet in school. His sister babysat me, so I spent a lot of time in his house.

His sister, who was 14, decided that it would be great fun to marry us, so she dressed me up in her mother's wedding dress, and performed a very unconventional wedding ceremony.

When she told her brother to kiss the bride, we ran screaming to his room. We locked her out, sat on his bed and promptly gave kissing a try. I remember it being very silly, but not gross. Though we both said it was very gross when asked. After that we kissed whenever we were alone, which wasn't very often.

He was a very good husband. He even brought me flowers (apple blossoms).

When his sister married my brother (for real, not pretend) our families teased us mercilessly about being married. Especially since he brought his girlfriend as his date to the wedding, the cheater.

Ahh, nothing like a marriage between two five-year-olds to bring a sentimental tear to my eye.

And speaking of young marriage, gotta love the third grade cycle of love and loss:

ashelynn hetland wrote:

When I was in elementary school we always used to get married behind the trees.

Totally legit.

Dylan, "We're getting married next recess."


Next recess my cousin pronounced us married and said we had to kiss. We leaned forward, touched lips, and ran away.

The next recess and last of the day we got divorced.

Third grade was awesome.

While we’re on the subject of lost love, it sounds like this is one doomed love affair that just wasn’t meant to be:

Anne N Kenny wrote:

My first kiss was with a boy who is now 100% into other boys. So there's that... ;)

Of course, young love isn’t all goofy. Here’s one that worked out for the long-haul (and got me a little choked up for real):

jill wrote:

Put me in the 'late bloomer' category! We were eighteen and had met at a freshman mixer dance before college classes started. There were dances three nights in a row, and by the third night we went for a walk outside and he kissed me.

I'm ashamed to admit I don't remember many of the particulars, but we were happily married for 21 years until he passed away, so the kiss must have been a pretty good one. (I think it was his first kiss as well!)

As soon as I figure out how this whole dating thing works, I'll be looking forward to more first kisses, even the awkward ones.

Then there were the finalists that truly left us laughing. Behold…

Laurie Lamb wrote:

The cute new boy from school was also my new neighbour. I was getting to know him behind my house. We were sitting cross-legged and blowing on blades of grass between our thumbs. It was an intense contest to see who could make the most disgusting noise.

Then he suggested we kiss.

He leaned in and barely brushed my lips when we both started laughing. HARD. A generous dribble of spit stretched out of the corner of his mouth until it reached the ground. The wind bent the spit and it touched his arm. That was when he noticed it. I was silent as he wiped it away.

He gripped my shoulders and stared at me for a long time. His expression was so intense. I forgot all about the spit and thought he was going to really kiss me this time.

“Don’t ever tell anyone I drool,” he said.

Angela Perry wrote:

Ooh, I have one for the most awkward kiss category.

I was dating this guy in high school. I thought we were still at the mostly friends stage. I was friends with his brother and sister and mom, and we hung out more than actually "dated."

Then one day, he leaned over, stuck his lips on mine, and proceeded to go to town. I froze. My mind was totally blank. After a few seconds, he pulled back, reached out, and used his fingers to smush my lips into a kissy-face.

"You have to pucker more," he said.

Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with that insinuation, and we didn't kiss much for a while.

While those had us cracking up, our winner (drumroll please) had us both rolling on the ground clutching our sides. First prize – a signed copy of Making Waves – goes to… wrote:

Oh yes! I was 16 and first serious boyfriend... until he kissed me. His idea of a french kiss was to ram his abnormally long tongue down my throat. I started gagging and puked all over the floor of his Cadillac.

Needless to say, we didn't kiss much less anything else as him cleaning my vomit out of his carpet was enough to end our little love affair.

Congrats to Kim for the victory! Send your snail mail address to me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I'll get your signed book in the mail ASAP.

And since I don't want to send any of the finalists away empty-handed, shoot me your snail mail address if you'd like a signed Making Waves bookmark.

Oh, and while I had my mom on the line, I asked her to cough up a kissing story of her own. She shared a couple, but this one is my favorite:

With your father, our first kiss was when we were in high school. We had been friends since 7th grade when my family first moved to Oregon. Your father and I were invited to a New Year's Eve party of a group of freshmen. We were the only “older” kids there, sophomores. I wasn't aware that the person who organized the party had invited your father as her evening's enjoyment. That was not to be though. Your father and I hit it off, danced, talked, and made sure we were together for the first kiss of the New Year. Guess that kiss started something good, since it's now been 41 years, headed for 42. I think I'm glad I didn't have to duke it out with Trudy for your father. I'd have taken her though.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

With lust covered, I've moved on to murder

I am a pacifist at heart. I can’t squish bugs. I cry when I see roadkill. Though I’m not a vegetarian, I’m only able to justify my meat consumption by making up stories about my hamburger’s history as a sadistic pedophile who deserved to die.

I’m telling you all this so you grasp what a big deal it is when I tell you I’ve been on a fly killing rampage.

We’ve had a warm autumn here in Central Oregon, and the result is a late fly hatch that apparently made a group decision to set up camp in my office.

As you might imagine, it’s tough to be a productive writer when you have to stop every 1.3 seconds to bat flies off your computer screen or your person.

It’s possible this is all a reflection on my personal hygiene,and also possible I could solve the problem by not leaving my front door wide open for the breeze.

No matter, the flies are pissing me off.

I began waging war with the closest weapon at hand – a copy of The Great Gatsby.

When one of my housemates came home to find me desecrating a great work of literature with fly guts, he went to the store and bought me a pair of flyswatters.

The flyswatters have made me a more effective hunter, though my lack of aim occasionally results in damage to household breakables or housemates’ faces.

So now my office is littered with fly corpses, and I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m a serial killer.

Does anyone have any good tips for keeping flies at bay without the need for mass murder? I’d love to hear about it.

I’d also love to kill that little bastard who’s crawling across my keyboard right about….NOW!

Monday, October 10, 2011

First kisses, awkward kisses, and a free signed book!

Last week I was scrambling to come up with a blog post idea, so I put it out to Twitter. What should I blog about?

Kristina Martin of Ten Minute Missive jumped in with a terrific idea:

I actually misread it at first as “your first kiss,” but then realized it’s probably the same story anyway.

I was a bit on the naïve side when I started first grade. I was aware that boys and girls were different, which I demonstrated in kindergarten by standing in the restroom beside a male classmate while he peed and I sang Mr. Rogers’ “Everybody’s Fancy.”

But concepts like relationships and flirting were a little lost on me.

So when a fellow first-grader named Derek approached me on the playground, shuffled his feet in the bark chips, and asked, “wanna go with me?” I replied, “go where?”

Once he’d explained the concept of boyfriend and girlfriend, I agreed that sounded like a pretty good arrangement and he went off to play tetherball while I continued swinging on the monkey bars.

After school, my new boyfriend asked me to come over to his house. I have a dim recollection of my mother checking with young Derek’s parents and verifying in person that the house wasn’t a crack den.

Then we were left to solidify our new relationship by playing Candyland. We were having a fine time until his older sister appeared in the doorway and folded her arms over her chest.

“Is that your girlfriend?” she demanded of Derek.

He looked at me and shrugged. “I guess.”

“Have you been on a date?”

“What’s a date?” I asked.

“It’s where you eat something and drink something together.”

Derek and I looked at each other and realized we had not, in fact, been on a date. We were ashamed.

The sister sighed. “You need to go on a date if you’re boyfriend and girlfriend.”

So a neighbor kid was sent to fetch the necessities. He returned a few minutes later with half a Kit-Kat bar and two glass soda bottles filled with water. Derek and I completed our date under the close supervision of the older sister before returning to our game of Candyland.

But she wasn’t done with us. “Now you need to smooch.”

“What’s smooch?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes. “You have to choose,” she explained. “You either smooch, kiss, or make out.”

I was only familiar with one of those terms, and since kissing didn’t sound so bad, I looked to Derek for confirmation.

Derek frowned at his sister. “Now?”

“Yes, now,” she insisted. “Otherwise, you aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“Can we go in the closet?” he asked. “I don’t want you watching.”

The sister agreed to afford us some privacy, so we slunk into the closet and closed the door behind us. I stood there someone’s wool coats brushing the top of my head as I listened to Derek breathing in the darkness.

“Do you want to smooch, kiss, or make out?” he asked.

“I only know what kissing is,” I admitted.

“Me too.”

And with that, he leaned forward, gave me the world’s fastest peck on the lips, threw open the closet door, and fled like he was being pursued by a pack of cootie-infected wolverines.

After that, we decided the boyfriend and girlfriend thing might be a little overrated. I don’t recall an actual breakup, but I do know we steadfastly avoided each other the next time a game of kissing tag broke out on the playground.

Got a good first kiss or awkward kiss story? Please share! And hey, let’s make this worth your while. Best story gets a signed copy of Making Waves.

Let’s hear it!

Oh, and for the record, I’m still not sure I understand the difference between kissing, smooching, and making out. Even so, I’m determined to practice as much as possible until I get it right.