Monday, April 30, 2012

Write a fake word short story, win a signed book!

Reading your comments in last week's post about favorite fake words was some of the most fun I've ever had with all my clothes on.

Choosing a winner was no small feat, but in the end, I think I'm most smitten with the following entry from reader J.R.Mann:

Bitchtits: 1) A name you can only call your best friend because anyone else wouldn't get it. 2) Obscenity you yell. Example 1) "Hey bitchtits, what are you doing this weekend?" 2) "Bitchtits! You just dropped fifty pounds on my toe!" 

I adore that word in ways I can't possibly describe, and intend to integrate it into everyday conversation with all my best friends (most of whom I affectionately refer to as, "beyotch.")

Why stop there with the fun? I still have another copy Believe it or Not, and I'd kinda like to keep the fake word thing going a little while longer.

Below is a list of all the fake words you guys used in the comments last week. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write a 100-word short story using a minimum of five words from the list. You get an extra point for each word you use beyond that.

Entries will be judged on points, creativity, humor, and the unexplainable whims of a romance author. I'll narrow the field to five finalists and commence a round of reader voting like we did in the caption contest a few weeks ago.

Winner gets a signed copy of Believe it or Not and the admiration of all your peers (and J.R. Mann, shoot me an email at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com to claim your signed copy for the addition of Bitchtits).

Leave your 100-word short story in the comments, and I'll review them at 5 p.m. PST on Wednesday, May 2. Finalists will be posted on Thursday, with reader voting to commence after that. Questions? Leave those in the comments, too!

Now here are your words:

Tweedlefuck: Exclamation used in angry moments such as road rage.
Squeeeeee: Expression of extreme excitement.
Wackadoo: Crazy.
Glomp: No definition provided for this one, so make up your own!
Angstian: Defined by angst (i.e. angstian poetry).
Whatchamathingy, do-jobber, and/or thingamabob: Terms used when the actual name of something is unknown.
Conversating: The act of having a conversation.
Fantabulous: Combination of fabulous and fantastic. Replaces awesome as a word describing something totally wonderful and hard to believe.
Diangulate: To position yourself diagonally on a bed so as to make it impossible for others to join you. Usually occurs at midnight when you get up to go to the bathroom (peepulate) and come back to find the husband has repositioned.
Gregacious: Someone who is enthusiastic, energetic, and sociable (particularly women).
Sherpa: (verb) To carry a large amount of stuff from the car to the house. Example: honey, would you Sherpa the groceries and I’ll grab the cat litter?
Squoze: Past tense of squeeze.
WTFery: Events, occurrences, or individuals prompting a general response of disbelief.
Infinimore: More than infinity. Example: I love you infinimore.
Glup: Combination of glass and cup.
Amazeballs: Something beyond amazing.
Pompitude: A pompous attitude.
Grunion: Green onion.
Medimathical: No definition provided for this one, so make up your own!
Mudderfugger: Curseword that’s not quite a curseword.
Fictzophrenic: A person who hears the voices of their characters and then writes about them. In other words, a writer of fiction.
Douchewaffle: An unpleasant person.
Qua-Nong (alt. Cue-nong): Derived from the sound effect that occurs when something dramatic or surprising occurs on classic episodes of Star Trek. Example: “The bathroom door wasn't locked, and I ended up walking in on someone! Qua-nong!"
Kirchkening: The sound representing teeth chattering resulting from fear or cold.

And of course, the aforementioned Bitchtits. Now go forth and create! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's your favorite fake word? Win a signed book for sharing!

I've been writing for my supper long before anyone paid me to make stuff up as a novelist (though I suppose one could argue I've made stuff up both as a journalist and a marketing geek, but I digress).

Not long ago, I was handed a block of text and asked to jazz it up a little. The copy was surprisingly well-written, until I got to the word "impactful."

I'd never seen it before, so I did some googling (pausing long enough to appreciate that "googling" has become a verb). A quick visit to confirmed what I suspected:

Impactful: A non-existent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is. This term is most frequently used in team building seminars and conferences in which said drones discuss the most effective ways to convince consumer zombies to purchase crap they clearly do not need or even want.

I shared my findings with the boss, fully expecting pushback (depending on the dictionary you consult, "pushback" isn't a word, either). After all, I once worked for CEO who was informed that a word he kept using didn't exist. Unconcerned, he had it emblazoned on an enormous plaque in the lobby.

But lucky for me, the boss who suggested "impactful" took things in stride.

"It may not be a real word," he said, "but it should be."

I can't argue with that.

One of my favorite words in the English language is "crazynuts." I'm reminded daily by my iPhone, my email program, and the spellcheck function in my word processing software that "crazynuts" is not a real word.

I don't care.

Because sometimes, there's no better way to tell my gentleman friend how I feel than to say I'm crazynuts about him. If an acquaintance is acting particularly wackadoo (one of my agent's favorite fake words), I can think of no better word to describe the behavior than crazynuts.

Incidentally, while crafting this blog post, I was in the middle of an email exchange with my agent and the publisher of my interactive fiction title, Getting Dumped. When someone used the words "romancy" and "mystery-y," it was all I could do to keep from shrieking, my point exactly!

Do you have a favorite non-word you firmly believe should be a real word? Please share!

And since I haven't given out a free book for awhile, how about I award a signed copy of Believe it or Not to the person with the best fake word?

Share and define your favorite made-up word in the comments, and tell me why it should be a real word. I'll pick a winner at noon on Sunday, April 29 and will announce it in next Monday's post.

Happy wordsmithing!

Monday, April 23, 2012

What's the opposite of cleaning?

As I've shared before, my house has been for sale since last November. The process is drawing to a conclusion, and my realtor called last week to alert me she'd be touring the property with an inspector from the bank.

"Sure," I agreed. "I can stay home and clean all evening, and we can have the place in pristine condition by tomorrow morning."

"Right, see this isn't like all the other showings you've been doing where the house has to look perfect," she explained. "In fact, it's OK in this instance if the place looks a little . . . "

"Distressed?" I suggested.

"Exactly," she agreed. "I know it goes against your nature since you have this urge to clean up for guests, but in this case, it's OK to let it all hang out."

I had a sudden mental picture of the housemates lounging on the sofa in their underwear watching soap operas. The realtor must have had the same mental picture, because she quickly clarified. "Go ahead and leave the breakfast dishes in the sink, the dog toys on the living room floor, and the beds unmade."

"This will be fun," I said, with more enthusiasm than she probably wanted to hear.

I got home and explained the situation to the housemates. One of them was in the process of preparing a dinner of hot dogs stuffed with cheese, wrapped in pastrami, battered and deep fried. He gestured to his fryer with reverence. "So I can leave this out on the counter when I'm done?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I agreed.  "Don't do the dishes, either."

The other housemate grinned and held up his empty beer can. "Want me to leave this on the counter instead of throwing it in the recycle bin?"

I considered that for a moment. "Throw it on the floor. That would be a nice touch."

Suddenly, both boys were overcome with inspiration.

"That dead bird that flew into the window last month is still in the backyard," one of them said. "Want me to go get it and put it on the floor?"

"Yeah!" agreed the other housemate. "Then when the inspector gets here, we can offer to deep fry it for her."

"I haven't done laundry all week, so I can toss my clothes all over the house."

"Oh! We can repair the motorcycle engine on the dining room table."

The other housemate whistled for my dog as he began rummaging through the fridge. "What can we feed you so you have really bad gas tomorrow morning?"

Mildly unnerved by their enthusiasm, I headed to the bathroom to change out of my work clothes.

"Don't flush!" someone called after me.

The next day, the realtor called to let me know the inspection had gone very well. "You did a nice job dirtying it up," she said.

I felt strangely proud. "That was the most fun we've had with any house showing in five months," I admitted.

"I could tell."

Sadly, undoing the mess wasn't nearly as fun as creating it. Convincing the housemates that we don't get to live like that on permanent basis was equally disheartening, though they're already plotting future inspections.

"I've got an idea," one of them told me this morning. "Have you ever seen that show Hoarders?"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The real strippers who inspired BELIEVE IT OR NOT

People often ask how I research my romantic comedies. In the case of Believe it or Not – which stars a hero who owns a bar featuring male exotic dancers – what they’re really asking is whether I got paid to watch men take off their clothes.

The answer? Sorta.

My first exposure (ha!) to the world of male strippers was more than a decade ago. I was sent with a female colleague on a business trip to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Within 24 hours, we’d exhausted all entertainment opportunities available within the city limits.

Then we saw it. A flyer for a troupe of male exotic dancers called, “The Men of Texas.”

We got there a full hour before showtime, which gave us the opportunity to watch the arrival of every female Nebraska resident between the ages of 21 and 101. By the time the men took the stage, we were packed like sweaty sardines alongside several hundred women attired in more Spandex than is legally allowed in most states.

We held our breath as The Men of Texas filed out one by one. There they were, in resplendent glory – a well-tanned musclehead wearing a knee brace. A balding man in a cowboy hat who appeared to be the approximate age of my father. A vacant-eyed blond who would eventually become the inspiration for Jamie in Believe it or Not.

These were our strippers.

The crowd went wild, and bartenders circulated with test tubes of neon-colored liquid. I knocked back two, assuming it was a required step in fully enjoying the performance.

The first entertainer to take the stage was the older guy,who’d traded his cowboy hat for a polyester Air Force uniform secured with Velcro. Another performer cued up a battered boombox with a crackly version of “Danger Zone” from Top Gun.

It didn’t take long for the performer to thrust and gyrate his way out of the Velcro uniform. What remained was a g-string so tattered, I’d hesitate to scrub my bathroom floor with it.

He began to gesture with a pair of flashlights covered in red cellophane, an apparent pantomime of bringing in an aircraft – or in this case, a second stripper. As the two gyrated side by side, one of the flashlights kept flickering out.

I made a crack to my colleague about the sexual dysfunction symbolism, but she didn’t hear me. Her attention was diverted by the third stripper, who had approached from behind and began to hump the back of her chair. So exuberant were his efforts, he knocked her glasses off her face and onto our plate of hot wings.

I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

By then, the other two strippers concluded their act. The blond one approached with a dollar bill and pointed at my cleavage. “I want to put this in there.”

I looked at the crumpled, sweaty money, and tried not to imagine where it had just been. “Isn’t this supposed to work the other way around?"

He stared at me, the neon beer sign flickering in his eyes.“Huh?”

“Never mind,” I said, fishing a dollar out of my purse and feeling a little sorry for the guy. “Here you go.” I stuffed it in the side ofhis thong and reminded myself to wash my hand before eating any hot wings.

He smiled and sauntered off, his well-oiled butt cheeks glistening beneath the lights of the disco ball.

So that, my friends, is my most memorable experience with the world of male exotic dancers. Not very exotic, perhaps, but certainly good inspiration for a romantic comedy.

Got a stripper story of your own? Please share!

I need to wash my hands again.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Alarming things on my bookshelves

Thanks so much to everyone who weighed in on last week's question about the best schedule for my shift to twice-weekly blog posts! Based on your input, I'm going to test out a Monday/Thursday routine and see how that goes. I appreciate all your insights!

Now back to our regularly-scheduled blogging . . .

As an author and the owner of a English Lit degree, I'm required by law to have a minimum of 10 fully-stocked bookshelves in my home. (Sidenote: the Facebook users among you might be interested to see my recent bookshelf refinishing project here).

The problem with having so many books is that you sometimes forget what you own and how its presence might alarm others.

Shortly after we started dating, my gentleman friend began spending more time in my writing office. A photographer and copywriter himself, he's an easy person for me to share creative space with, and I happily made room for him to work nearby.

I was busy writing as he arranged some of his possessions on the bookshelf beside me. Suddenly, he got very quiet.

"Um, what's this?" he asked.

I turned to see him studying this popular title:
My one regret is that I didn't have a camera to capture the "is there something you forgot to mention?" look on his face.

"It's for naming characters in the books I write," I assured him. "Check the bookshelves of every fiction author in America, and I guarantee 90% of them will have one."

Fortunately, he accepted that explanation without question. Unfortunately, I didn't get any smarter about hiding the more delicate titles on my shelves.

My gentleman friend's ex-wife recently dropped off their offspring and needed a few minutes of private discussion with him about kid-related matters. I kept the young'uns occupied in the kitchen with fart jokes while quietly fretting that the office where the grownups conferred looked like a nuclear weapon had been discharged on my desk. Every surface was littered with tax forms, editorial letters, and chewed-up pens. My coaster held a tea mug, a cup of water, and an empty wineglass. I'm pretty sure there was cat puke on the windowsill.

The instant the ex-wife left, I scurried into my office to see whether the mess might warrant a call to the child welfare office. It was then I noticed which title would have been most visible from her vantage-point:
For the record, it's a pretty good book (and yes, it's exactly the sort of fiction you might expect from the title). No one ever said a word about it, which is probably for the best.

My latest round of questionable reading material appeared just a few days ago. A friend who manages a bookstore knows I'm noodling a new story, so she loaned me a title to help me research the heroine's profession.

We were out drinking beer the evening she gave it to me, and when I came home, I tossed it on the kitchen counter and promptly forgot about it.

The next morning, I came down to find the housemates giving me goofy looks. I ignored them and made a beeline for the refrigerator, secretly wondering how I'd drunkenly embarrassed myself the night before.

"So, uh . . . congratulations?" one of them said.

I turned with a well-masked look of alarm. "For what?"

"When's the wedding?"

I stared in horror, my mind doing a slow replay of the previous evening's events. To the best of my recollection, no one had gotten down on one knee in front of me (which is a damn shame, but I digress).

Finally, the other housemate pointed at the book:
Relief flooded my body. "Oh, that. It's research."

They grinned. "Uh-huh. Right."

I'm still not sure they believe me, but maybe that's best. Maybe I'll ask whether they'd prefer wearing fuchsia or lavender bridesmaids dresses.

Is there anything on your bookshelves that would be alarming to others? Please share!

I'll be looking for a copy of How to Dismember Bodies and Get Away With It. Might as well give the housemates something else to ponder.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The passion that keeps you going when it sucks

Besides being a romantic comedy novelist, I work part-time as the Communications & PR Manager for my city's tourism bureau. For two days, I've been job-shadowed by a high school student seeking a career in tourism marketing.

Let's all pause here and shudder at the thought of an underage student learning anything from me, in any capacity, ever.

I spent plentiful time with the young lass, discussing marketing strategies, explaining social media tactics, and convincing her my job involves more than getting paid to drink beer with journalists.

Toward the end of our first session, she pulled out a list of questions her teacher suggested she pose to the professionals she shadowed. I looked around for professionals, and finding none, agreed to be interviewed.

Several questions focused on my career path, and I explained my progression from underpaid journalist to understimulated tech writer to marketing geek. The latter is where I've spent the last thirteen years marketing everything from community healthcare to kids' photography franchises to translation & localization services for the life sciences industry (say that ten times fast and then drink two shots of vodka, because that's the only way to make it sound anything other than mind-numbingly dull).

I explained that the type of marketing I do boils down to being a glorified cheerleader for whatever product or service I'm paid to hawk. Over the years, I have gotten pretty decent with my pom-poms.

She politely refrained from commenting on my pom-poms as she posed another question:

What advice would you offer someone who's just starting out in this line of work?

I thought about it long and hard (and didn't even make the "long and hard" joke while I did so.) Finally, I settled on a reply.

"About eight years into my marketing career, I got cocky," I explained. "I was switching jobs at the time, and I remember thinking I'd be happy marketing just about any product, as long as I was well-paid."

I was wrong.

I learned that the hard way as I found myself failing to get fired up over photo studios and translation services. I reached a point where I thought I might just throw in the towel on the marketing thing and try being a circus clown instead.

"Then, this job came along," I explained. "I've lived in this town for 14 years, and I vacationed here as a kid. I know a hundred million reasons this is the coolest place on earth to be, and I get to spend my days sharing that with people. I'm passionate about the Bend Ale Trail. I get giddy thinking about floating the river or finding the city's best mac-and-cheese. There are days I know I'd do this job even if no one paid me. And that right there is what will keep you going when the job f**king sucks. Because make no mistake about it – there will be days your job f**king sucks."

I didn't say f**king, but I did infuse my monologue with enough passion to make the youngster sit up a little straighter in her chair.

The advice holds for just about any task you undertake. When I began writing fiction nine years ago, I started off writing women's action/adventure romances. I sold my first book to Harlequin Silhouette's Bombshell line, which was canceled a month before my scheduled debut.

I'm glad about that.

Because my heart wasn't in that kind of writing, and I damn well knew it. While I won't claim to be the best romantic comedy writer on earth, I can tell you I'm a lot more passionate about writing penis jokes than helicopter crashes.

And that's what makes a difference when I hit the inevitable low spots in my writing career. Having a passion for what I write is what keeps me going even when the well runs dry.

My high school shadow finished scrawling in her notebook and stood up. "Thank you," she said.

"No problem," I told her.

The next day, I checked back once she'd finished shadowing my four colleagues.

"So after all that," I asked, "which job do you think you'd most like to do someday?"

She thought about it a minute, then pointed at two of my co-workers. "His or hers," she said before looking back at me. "I don't think I have it in me to do yours."

I think it's best I didn't ask what she meant by that. It's also best I refrained from snickering over the phrase, have it in me.

Are you lucky enough to be passionate about your career or some other aspect of your life? Do you find it makes a difference? Please share!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Seeking your opinion on a new blog schedule

For a few months now, I've been plotting something dramatic.

No, I'm not shaving my head and joining a cult that worships bacon-wrapped water chestnuts (though if you know of such a cult, I would happily join it).

I've been blogging here every day, Monday through Friday, for two years, two months, one week, and two days. I began a month before my agent landed me a three-book deal for my romantic comedies, and have blogged faithfully through hangovers and perky mornings, through day-job stress and day-job euphoria, through divorce and new romance, through fears of losing my house and the comedy of acquiring two male roommates to pay the mortgage.

I've blogged through writing highs and writing lows, and through the release of two romantic comedies and one active-fiction romantic caper.

This blog has been an incredible outlet for my creative energy, and a chance for me to connect with some of the most amazing readers on the planet. We've supported each other through a lot of crazy stuff, and I'm eternally grateful for all of it.

But I've been teetering on the brink of too many near-missed book deadlines, and I'm slowly beginning to accept that something's got to give if I want to keep my head above water as an author.

Unfortunately, "something" will likely be this blog.

I don't plan to go away entirely, but I do need to cut back. That's where I'd like your input.

I'd prefer to stick with a set schedule, both for my own sanity and for a little predictability for readers. Do you have any preferences?

I'm tentatively kicking around the thought of a twice-weekly, Tuesday & Thursday posting schedule, but I'm open to other ideas. If you want to make a case for Mondays and Wednesdays, or argue that I can't possibly do anything less than three posts a week without losing half my readership, I'm all ears.

I'm also not ruling out the possibility of eventually returning to a daily blogging schedule. That's certainly possible once I feel like I've gained back a little ground on the writing front.

So how about it, guys? Got any input on the schedule? Please share!

And in the spirit of sharing, here's the best bacon-wrapped water chestnut recipe you will ever hope to find. Enjoy!

Monday, April 9, 2012

On favorite lines and Easter candy

On Saturday afternoon, my gentleman friend and I enjoyed both a scenic hike and a heated debate about the best Easter candy.

He's partial to anything with chocolate and peanut butter. Though I was apparently born without a sweet tooth, I do enjoy the occasional chocolate-covered marshmallow egg.

The conversation got me thinking about a line in my new book, Believe it or Not. It's one of my favorite lines in the whole book, for reasons I can't explain but still cling to like a favorite sex toy that's faded and cracked but still runs fine if you jiggle the batteries and–

About that line.

It's an early scene in the book when Violet first meets the man she wants to like. He's kind and smart and normal and everything she thinks she wants, but soon learns isn't what she needs at all.

She looked up into a pair of warm-brown eyes the color of Cadbury milk-chocolate eggs.

"Can I help you find something?" he asked, his eyes filled with concern rather than creamy fondant.

I originally wrote it as "creamy nougat," but the line editor flagged it and provided a link to a website that explained the actual content of a Cadbury milk-chocolate egg. There was much debate about the proper way to describe it without ruining the line. "Vanilla cream" almost won out over "creamy fondant," and at a certain point in the proceedings, I teetered dangerously close to not liking the line much anymore.

But I still do. It makes me giggle. It surprises me a little each time I read it. It captures the tone I wanted to create, with Violet over-thinking the situation and trying way too hard to find this guy appealing.

What's your favorite candy for whichever holiday you happen to celebrate this time of year? If you don't have one, how about sharing your favorite line from a book?

Or if all else fails, share you chocolate-marshmallow eggs. I didn't get one this year, dammit.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Conversations from the household of perverts.

I walked out to the garage the other day and discovered both housemates in the process of repairing a motorcycle.

Housemate 1: That's not gonna be long enough.

Housemate 2: Want me to use my hand?

Housemate 1: Never mind, I got it in.


I was driving around with my gentleman friend when I remembered it's time to remove the snow tires.

"I need to get these studs off," I said.

He laughed. "I hear you're pretty good at that."


I walked out of office my last weekend and found the housemates sprawled in the living room watching a documentary about beavers. I stood there for a minute and listened, waiting for the dirty jokes or the eruptions of laughter. Nothing. I finally lost it when the announcer declared, "the beaver is stockpiling wood."

Both housemates turned and looked at me. "We had a bet how long that would take you," one said. "I won."


I appreciate that my tax software gives me the option to enter myself, but shouldn't that wait until after I've finished the taxes?

So what's making YOU laugh these days? Please share!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

First the pork, now the balls

I’ve gotten a lot of lovely messages from readers who made the Cranberry Pork Roast recipe I shared from Getting Dumped and managed not to burn down their homes. Way to go!

For those who’ve been asking (or for those who prefer a culinary experiment that doesn’t involve turning on an oven), I’d like to share the no-bake White Chocolate Apricot Balls that are also featured in the story. Enjoy!

White Chocolate Apricot Balls
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 2 cups dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces of white chocolate (look in the baking section, or just a regular old bar of white chocolate will do. You can even try white chocolate chips if you can't find anything else)
This is pretty much the easiest recipe on the planet if you have a food processor. Throw the almonds and powdered sugar in the processor and pulse until the almonds are finely ground. Don't go too crazy or you'll end up with almond butter. Once you've done the nuts, (snicker) throw in the dried apricots and pulse until they're chopped up nice and small. After that, dump in the rum, vanilla, orange zest, and white chocolate. Pulse again until everything's nice and blended.

Here comes the fun part...

Spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray. Then grab a handful of the goo in the food processor and make a ball. You should have enough to form 20-24 balls, so get rolling.

Spread them out on a baking sheet, but don't bake them. Chill them in the fridge for a couple hours (though if you're impatient like me, you can start gobbling them up right away – they just won't be firm at that point, and isn't it always best to wait 'til something's satisfactorily firm?)

So there you go – another recipe from Getting Dumped. Those of you who read the first episode may be interested to know episode #2 is right around the corner. Those who haven't read it yet can find it here on Kindle.

Happy eating! (And reading).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My mailbox made me smile

There are few things in life I love more than a sale, and most of them involve being naked.

The sale you guys created by voting for Making Waves in the Sourcebooks #ebookbracket challenge kicked off yesterday and goes through Monday, April 9. If you haven't read the book yet, or if you know someone with an e-reader who'd enjoy a thoughtful 99-cent gift, you can snag Making Waves for Kindle here or for the Nook here or for other formats like Kobo, iPhone, iPad, Sony eReader, and others here.

Thanks again for your votes, guys!

I'm going to make this short and sweet today and just share something that made me smile recently. I received a thank you note from my kid brother in the mail earlier this week. Here's how he addressed it:

I should point out the letter arrived without incident, which leads me to assume the postman thinks this is my real name.

Those of you who've read my second romantic comedy, Believe it or Not, might have caught the following line in the book's acknowledgments:
Thanks also to Aaron "Russ" Fenske, who may not recognize my name on the cover of this book, because to the best of my knowledge, he's never called me anything but 'Butthead.'

It's true, but it's also worth noting I've rarely called my brother by his real name, either. I'm dimly aware my parents named him "Aaron," but can't remember a time I called him anything besides "Russ" (the name of Clark Griswold's son in National Lampoon's Family Vacation).

So there you have it....a sale, some funny mail, and a family tale. I should totally give up this romantic comedy thing and become a poet.

What's making you smile this week? Please share!

There once was a man from Nantucket...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Real authors probably have a better system for this

A new romantic comedy idea sunk its teeth into my brain last week and began gnawing like a feral hamster on crack.

A smart author would probably devote time to charting a detailed plot and analyzing the characters' goals, motivations, and desires. At the very least, she'd put some solid thought into her hero and heroine's names.

I opted to leave that to the housemates. I found one sipping coffee in the kitchen, and though I wasn't certain he was awake, I decided to pick his brain.

"I'm starting a new book this morning," I informed him. "Name my hero and heroine."

He blinked at me. "Johnny Appleseed. Allie Alligator. Donald–"

"Allie, that's good. That'll work. I've never written an Allie before."

"Especially not with the last name Alligator."

"Right," I agreed. "I might have to change that. OK, now you have to name the hero."

He stared at me blankly for a minute, then looked down at his coffee.

"Hold that thought," I told him. "I have to refill the dog's kibble. You keep thinking."

"Kibble's a good name," he mused as he took a sip of something he probably wished was a lot stronger than Starbucks.

"I know!" I announced. "The hero comes from a big military family. How about a famous military name? Weren't you a history major? Here's a great chance to use that degree!"

He didn't look entirely enthusiastic about the opportunity, but began rattling off names anyway. "Custer. Patton."

"Too redneck. Too gay."

He frowned. "Ulysses?"

"As in Ulysses S. Grant?" I tried to remember eighth grade history class and whether Ulysses S. Grant had a history of beastiality. "Grant's good. I don't think I've written a Grant."

I thought about it for a second as I scooped kibble into the dog's dish. By the time I set the bowl back on the floor, my mind was made up. "Allie and Grant. I like it. Those are my characters' names. Thank you."

He nodded. "I still like Kibble better."

"I know you do."

So there you have it – the new characters I'll be getting to know shortly. I hope I didn't spoil anyone's notions about the hard work and creativity that goes into naming romantic comedy protagonists.

If you're a writer, how much thought do you give to your characters' names? For the readers among you, how much of a difference do names make in your perception of a story? Please share!

I'll be hard at work crafting the fate of Allie Kibble and Grant Patton.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fulfilling my promise to lift my shirt for you

OK, everyone – offer me either your right hand or your backside.

High fives and butt pats all around, because we won the Sourcebooks #ebookbracket Twitter challenge!

From a field of eight Sourcebooks authors who all have a strong social media presence and at least two published novels, Making Waves somehow emerged victorious with the highest number of tweeted votes during the one-week contest period. Thanks to you guys, the eBook version of Making Waves will be priced at just 99-cents April 3-9.

I couldn't have done it without your support, and I'm HUGELY grateful to those of you who tweeted your little hearts out and made it happen..

And now, I'll hold up my end of the bargain (along with the hem of my shirt).

I promised last week that if we won the #ebookbracket challenge, I'd show you my new tattoo. It's a 3.5-inch starfish inked on the left side of my ribcage, and I got it last Wednesday after nearly two decades of contemplating some sort of body art.

It's my first tattoo, and though I generally have a high tolerance for pain, I'll confess right now it hurt like a sonofabitch. Note to self: Next time (if there is a next time) pick a nice, fleshy spot like a butt cheek or a boob.

Here are a couple photos:

Why a starfish? Quite a few reasons, actually.
  • I've had a fondness for stars of the astral variety my whole life. Each year, my birthday coincides with the peak of the Perseids meteor shower, which may have something to with that fixation. Many of my favorite poems have star themes, including Walt Whitman's "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," Robin Schecter's "Venus, or Maybe Mercury," and "Decembrum," by Wallace Stephens.
  • My parents grew up and met on the Oregon coast. Since my grandparents remained there through most of my childhood, I spent a lot of time poking around in tidepools and contemplating a career as a marine biologist. As a globetrotting adult, I gravitated toward destinations with great snorkeling and marine life, like Fiji, Jamaica, Hawaii, Mexico, Barbados, and Australia's Great Barrier reef (the birthplace of my debut novel, Making Waves). Since my parents retired, they've spent part of each year on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which is where they summoned me last year when I was on the brink of divorce and in urgent need of love and support.
  • I've always admired the regenerative properties of starfish. Most varieties can regrow an arm that's been torn off, and some (like the Linckia starfish commonly found in Hawaii) can regrow an entire starfish from a single severed arm.
  • Every writer has moments of feeling the pursuit is futile and no one really cares what we have to say. Years ago, someone shared an excerpt from Loren Eiseley's "The Star Thrower" (commonly known as "The Starfish Story") and it's the thing I always repeat to myself at times like that. The gist of the story is that a man was walking along a beach littered with starfish that had been washed up by the tide. As he walked, he spotted a boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean one by one. "What on earth are you doing?" the man asked. "Helping the starfish," replied the boy as he picked up another. "If they don't make it back into the water, they'll die." The man shook his head. "There are thousands of starfish and dozens of miles of beach here. You can't possibly make a difference." The boy bent down and picked up another starfish. Tossing it into the ocean, he turned and smiled at the man. "I made a difference for that one." Cheesy? A little bit. But on those inevitable rough days in my writing career, I can't tell you how amazing it is to get an email or blog comment saying, "You made me laugh on a day I really needed to, so thank you."
And thank you, dear readers, for all your comments, tweets, emails, Amazon reviews, Facebook posts, and telepathic butt pats. These last couple years have been a wild and crazy ride, and I'm damn lucky to have had you all in it with me.