Monday, January 28, 2013

Why you shouldn't play with your food

Two weeks ago, I bought four avocados with the best intentions.

Well, maybe not the best intentions, which would probably involve something sexy and illegal in 25 states. If you're aware of any illicit avocado activities, please share them so I can expand my repertoire.

But I digress.

I bought the avocados because they were on sale, and I love having them for salads and guacamole. But a busy work schedule got the best of me, and I wound up with a lone avocado going brown and flaccid on my kitchen counter. I knew it was too far gone to eat, so I was delighted when I stumbled across an article touting the beauty uses for avocado.

The article instructed me to mash the avocado with some honey and olive oil, rub it into my damp hair, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes before rinsing it out to reveal soft, lustrous tresses. I followed the preparation directions, then marched upstairs with my bowl to join my gentleman friend in the shower.

"What is that?" he asked, staring in horror at the bowl of brown goo.

"It's natural hair conditioner," I informed him.

"It smells like rotting guacamole."

"It's sorta that, too. But I'm pretty sure I picked out most of the mold."

"There was mold?"

I peered down at the bowl. "The article didn't say anything about mold. Maybe there's a fine line between 'overripe avocado' and 'rotten avocado.'

"I don't think it's such a fine line."

I shrugged and stepped to one end of the shower, leaving my gentleman friend to lather and rinse beneath the spray. I began to massage the goop into my hair, an arduous task considering the length of my hair and the fact that the avocado mess was really more of a chunky soup than a creamy paste.

I was just finishing the application when I looked up to see my gentleman friend staring.

"What?" I asked.

"It looks like someone had explosive diarrhea all over the shower."

I looked around me, then down at the shower floor. He had a point.

"So you're saying you don't find this sexy?" I asked. "You don't want me to have beautiful, luxurious hair for you?"

"Maybe not if you're going to smell like regurgitated salad."

"I'm pretty sure it'll rinse out."

It turned out I was wrong on that count. Since I abhor using a hair dryer and prefer to go to my day job with damp hair, it wasn't until almost noon that I looked in a mirror and realized my hair was still wet. Upon closer inspection, I realized my hair wasn't actually wet. It was greasy. The sort of greasy you can only achieve if you dip your head in a bucket of motor oil and swirl it around for an hour.

I quickly slicked my hair into a bun and checked to be sure I didn't have any important meetings that afternoon.

"I've never seen you wear your hair like that," remarked one of my co-workers a few minutes later.
Anyone else remember the Robert Palmer girls?

Her tone was politely neutral, but I didn't get the sense she was impressed.

"Do I look kinda like one of the Robert Palmer girls?" I asked.

"Is that what you're going for?"

"Not really. I'm just wondering if I can pull this off as a hairstyle instead of a really big mistake."

She frowned. "Is someone eating guacamole?"

So that concluded my experiment with food items as beauty products. I won't rule out the possibility of future endeavors with cucumbers or maybe bananas, but they're not getting anywhere near my head.

Monday, January 21, 2013

3 tips for the multitasking writer

It's a national holiday here in the U.S., and in the spirit of taking a day off, I feel like re-running a blog post from a few years ago. It's one I revisited last week when I wanted to remind myself of my own strategies for jumping between multiple manuscripts. In case it's handy to my fellow writers – or to anyone struggling with multitasking – here are my top tips for bouncing between books.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three tips for bouncing between books

I’ve seriously considered suing myself for whiplash. I might do it if I thought I had any money and wouldn’t look really stupid in a neck brace.

I have a three-book contract for my romantic comedies. When the contract was offered last February, I had already written the first two books.

I started writing the third a few months later, but had to slam on the brakes mid-summer – just a chapter shy of completion – to polish the first two before they were due on my editor’s desk.

I worked on book one, sent it off for critiques, polished book two, got the critiques back on book one, sent book two out for critiques, implemented critiques for book one, got critiques back on book two, implemented those changes, sent both documents off to my editor, and then stumbled blearily to my bed where I slept for a month.

I wish.

What I actually did was dive right back into book three. I was just hitting my groove again when my editor sent revision notes for book one.

As you might imagine, it made me a bit dizzy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled with my editor’s suggestions. It’s just the process of bouncing back and forth between books that’s making me feel like someone is slamming my head into a wall (which can actually be quite erotic if done right).

I know some authors can change gears effortlessly, but I’m not one of them. In case you share my struggle, here’s what’s making the process a bit easier on this round:

Mood music. As soon as I knew I’d be leaping into MAKING WAVES again, I made an iTunes playlist of all the music I listened to when I first wrote it. Then I thought about the elements my editor was asking me to add. More sex? A deeper sense of conflict for the hero? I perused iTunes for songs that had that tone, but still fit the mood of the story. It shifted me back into the right vibe, but the new additions got my brain thinking about what needed to change.

What’s that smell? The olfactory senses are powerful memory triggers, and I often use them for writing. When I originally wrote MAKING WAVES, I had a Pacifica Tuscan Blood Orange Soy Candle burning on my desk. Guess what I went out and bought when I knew I’d be jumping back into that book?

A font facelift. I write manuscripts in Courier, but my publisher requires Times New Roman for a final submission. Not a big deal for me or for them. But this is the first time I’m looking at MAKING WAVES in a different font. It’s like seeing a whole new story. Awkward words I glossed over on my 100th read-through suddenly leap out like perverts flashing me in a dark alley. I’m catching things I never have before, and that subtle shift has been a great way to wake up my tired eyes.

Have you had to bounce back and forth between stories before? Do you have any tricks for returning to the mindset of an old story or shaking it up when that’s required? Please share.

And please let me know if you think I could get anything on that whiplash lawsuit. Maybe a free massage?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I screw up so you don't have to

At the urging of my agent, I recently resurrected an old manuscript I wrote years ago for a line of women's action/adventure novels.

(Sidenote: If you don't know the story of my first ill-fated book deal, go here).

Before sending her the manuscript, I decided to do a thorough read-through to make any necessary updates while simultaneously seizing the opportunity to laugh at my younger writer self.

Though the writing was much more polished than I remembered, there were small things I opted to tweak throughout the story. Several minor characters were named for people who are no longer part of my life, so it seemed prudent to change those references to something more current.

In one such instance, I opted to change the name of a dog from "Herm" to "Bonzo."

A smart writer would use the advanced settings under Microsoft Word's "find" and "replace" feature and select "find whole words only" to avoid problems. It should look kinda like this:

The smart writer would then use "find next" after each change to ensure every edit is properly made.

That is not, however, what I did.

I was feeling lazy, and I simply clicked "find" and "replace all."

The result? Delightful lines like these:
  • Lori had already stripped down to her tBonzoal underwear and was nestled in her sleeping bag in front of the stove.
  •  "I’m not filling my tBonzos with bourbon and slugging it back like water if that’s what you mean."
  • Josh answered by sliding his hand downward, over the plane of my abdomen, past the flimsy barrier of elastic at the top of my tBonzoal leggings.
  • With the little tBonzoometer on my zipper pull now showing temperatures around 30-degrees Fahrenheit, it didn’t take spectacular powers of deduction to realize a 65-degree temperature shift might have an impact on the dogs.  
  • “Look, under the circumstances, there’s only one thing we can do for your hypotBonzoia,” I told him, already fumbling with the zippers and buckles holding him inside his soggy clothes. 
I wrote that manuscript long before I made the switch to romantic comedy. I've gotta admit,  I've never laughed so hard at anything else I've written.

Got any good stories of edits gone awry? Please share!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The dangers of bra shopping

When it comes to fitness, I have a no-jostling rule. I abhor being jostled, and would sooner chew off my own big toe than go for a brisk jog.

Hiking, yoga, snowshoeing, and standup paddleboarding are excellent forms of jostle-free exercise, and I do those activities as often as possible. But the closer I get to 40, the more apparent it is that I need more regular cardiovascular fitness and a routine that lends itself to an assembly of close girlfriends motivating each other to eschew that third glass of wine in favor of bouncing around in sweaty sneakers.

Which is how I found myself signing up to do Zumba. For those unfamiliar with Zumba, it's a Latin dance-based fitness routine centered around the notion that if you shake your butt and boobs hard enough, they will fall off and cause you to weigh less. I'm incapable of shaking anything with rhythm or style, but since I posses the aforementioned parts and enjoy moving them vigorously in certain situations, Zumba seemed like a good fit.

Unfortunately, my existing sports bras were not such a good fit. I bought them ten years ago before I was firmly entrenched in my no-jostling rule, and both bras bear the remnants of five years of kickboxing classes. They're badly stretched and sweat-stained, and one bears a large pink stain from an ill-fated post-workout cocktail hour.

So I decided to go shopping for sports bras. This is like saying, "I decided to remove my nipple with pliers." Very few sports bra manufacturers make their garments for women shaped like me. I require a small band size and stupidly large cup size, which means the typical pull-on style bras sized in small, medium or large are less effective than securing my boobs in place with scotch tape.

Shopping online is a gamble without the opportunity to try things on, so I decided to visit my local REI in hopes of finding something reasonably close. To my utter delight, I located several sports bras in the right size range. I scurried off to the dressing room like a squirrel with a wine-filled acorn and promptly tore off my shirt.

The first bra had straps that weren't sturdy enough, a fact I discovered when one of them snapped and hit me in the eye.

The next bra had my preferred back-hook, but still needed to be pulled on overhead. I managed to get it wedged around my shoulders, where it refused to budge. I tugged, pulled, grunted, and sweated more than I have in any fitness class as I tried to maneuver the garment either up or down. I was three seconds from yelling for help when the bra came off with a sudden boing! flinging me back against the dressing room wall as the bra flew over the top of the stall.

Finally, I found the sports bra that fit just right. I jumped up and down to be sure, performing a series of jumping jacks, followed by a few punches I remembered from kickboxing class.

I bounced around some more, attempting some of the boob-shaking moves from Zumba class to ensure the bra offered adequate support. I flung my arm to one side, smacking my hand against the dressing room wall.

That's when the door flew open. As I stared dumbfounded, a sales associate turned and looked at me. Our eyes met over the go-back rack, and I gave him a friendly wave.

"Hello," I said.

He blinked. "Hi."

"Guess I forgot to lock the door."

He nodded and dropped a hot pink sweatshirt on the floor. "Guess so."

"I'll just do that now," I said, pulling the door closed and latching the two locks I'd failed to notice upon entering the stall.

I extricated myself from the sports bra and put on my street clothes, wondering if the sales associate might qualify for post-traumatic stress disorder benefits under the corporate healthcare policy. When I emerged from the dressing room, he was nowhere to be seen. I imagined him cowering behind a rack of shoes rocking back and forth and humming to himself.

When I marched my purchases to the front counter, the clerk smiled. "Did you find everything you needed?"

I nodded and beamed. "Two bras, a pair of sandals, and a blog post. That'll do it."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dicks and other compelling reasons I love my gentleman friend

In the shopping center closest to my home, there is a Dick’s Sporting Goods. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Dick’s is a national chain with more than 500 stores nationwide offering sporting equipment, apparel and footwear.

And the occasional good laugh, if you have a particular sense of humor.

Lucky for me, my gentleman friend does. Since Dick’s is adjacent to the grocery store we frequent, we drive by it several times a week. It never fails to amuse us.

“Did you hear Dick’s had a really big year?” he asked last weekend as we cruised through the parking lot. “Business has been growing like crazy for Dick’s.”

I gave a solemn nod and tried not to giggle. “It was such a hard year for a lot of retailers, so I’m glad Dick’s kept it up.”

“They’re facing some stiff competition these days. You’ve really gotta give Dick’s a hand.”

“Sales were actually sagging at the start to the year, but profits rose and Dick's finished on top with help from some corporate outreach,” I said.

“That and a little stroke of luck,” he agreed. “I like how their customer service isn’t too in-your-face.”

“I never come out of Dick's empty handed. My only beef is that their women’s apparel kinda sucks.”

“Oh, you should hop on the Dick’s website,” he said. “The selection is good, and their sale price on balls just dropped.”

Once our shopping was complete, we returned home and unloaded groceries as my gentleman friend’s offspring scurried upstairs to hang their coats.

“How much longer do you think we have before the kids catch on to the Dick’s jokes?” he whispered.

“Forever, I hope,” I replied. “Good use of longer, by the way. I almost didn't notice you worked that in there.”

“Thank you. Nice job with working that in there.”
I try.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing in a bubble makes your hands sticky

I have a love/hate relationship with writers’ groups.

You could broaden that to say I have a love/hate relationship with any in-person human interaction that doesn’t involve naked groping. If more writers’ groups had orgies on their agendas, I’d attend every meeting.

I’m an introvert by nature, so I tend to avoid human interaction like porn stars avoid expired condoms. I wrote romance for many years before my agent commanded me lovingly advised me to join RomanceWriters of America (RWA). There may have been some kicking and screaming involved, and not the fun kind.

As it turned out, I was wrong in my assumption that in-person interaction with other writers would be a painful endeavor. I enjoy the camaraderie and knowledge I gain from the monthly gatherings, and I learn something new at each meeting. Sometimes it’s writing techniques or social media strategies, and other times it’s the latest industry gossip. My little brain soaks it up like a sponge (and not the kind you take your pants off to use).

Unfortunately, a large mountain range separates my city of residence from my closest RWA chapter. Making the seven-hour round-trip journey is tiring in summer months, but downright treacherous in winter months when ice turns the roads into cliffside ice skating rinks.

I haven’t made the trip for months, and could feel myself slinking slowly into my introvert cave and gathering large boulders to block the entrance. When an RWA chapter-mate contacted me last week to say her family was vacationing on my side of the mountains and asked if I’d like to get coffee, I had a mixed reaction. I adore this particular author and love both her industry knowledge and her risqué wit.

But did I really want to change out of my pajamas and leave the house?

I decided I did. When I left three hours later, I slammed my head in the car door repeatedly and asked myself, “why the hell don’t you do that more often?”

There’s something about chatting with other authors that rekindles my passion for writing. Even brief conversations leave me quivering with new knowledge and ideas that empower me for my own career.

While it’s true I interact with other writers in online communities and I adore those relationships like a stripper loves nipple tassels that don't chafe, they're not the same thing.

Let’s face it—most authors (myself included) sugarcoat what they post online about publishing decisions, industry interactions, and dollar figures. Authors who don’t want to burn bridges won’t post on Twitter to lament the challenges of working with a particular editor. You won't see many writers taking to Facebook to detail their sales numbers and royalty figures.

But when you meet in person, people are less censored. And when that happens, you get a genuine sharing of knowledge and information that doesn’t happen in online writer communities.

You also get a different sort of camaraderie than you see online. The butt-pats are real instead of virtual, and that right there is worth changing out of your pajamas.

Do you participate in online groups or in-person meetings for your chosen profession (writing or otherwise)? What sort of interaction do you prefer? Please share.

And let me know if you hear of any of those writers’ groups that get naked and grope each other. I’m asking for a friend.