Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays
from Our Families to Yours!

May the Peace and Light of the Season Touch Your Heart 
This Year

The Eight

Sunday, December 14, 2014

On the Side

The last time the Rockville8 featured my friend and critique partner, Lavinia Kent, was September 25, 2011. She had a fabulous cover then...the But she has THREE fabulous covers, now.


If she wasn't such an awesome person, I could almost see myself being a tiny bit jealous.

But she IS awesome, as well as a fabulous writer, so I am very happy to bring her back here, to talk about those tricky side characters... and don't forget to leave a comment, if you want a chance to win an electronic copy of Mastering the Marquesswhich will most certainly whet your appetite for her January and February releases!


How often, when reading a book or watching television, do you come across a character you want to know more about?  I don’t mean those not-so-hidden hints that tell you who the next book is going to be about, but some side character who isn’t quite traditional hero/heroine material, but rather offers a slightly different view of the world?

As a writer, I am always tempted to fill in the blanks.  I lie in bed at night thinking of these character’s stories, both from my own writing and from other sources of inspiration.  I’ve built elaborate plots filling in how thief Bela Talbot escapes from hell in Supernatural and finds redemption; how Jenny, the Doctor’s daughter in Doctor Who, goes off to have her own adventures; what actually happens to Buffy.  (I know that there are graphic novels that fill this in, but I had my own stories before I’d heard about them, and I did not want to face a different reality.)  And I can’t even begin to think of the number of romance triangles in which I have fixed what really happens to the other guy.
Faith after

When it comes to my own writing, this can be a little bit trickier, because the side characters that I love have a way of taking over scenes and then must be beat back.  My most recent character to run rampant was Ruby, Madame Rouge, in Mastering the Marquess.  She was firmly designed to be a side character, someone to provide support and conversation, a sounding board for difficult conversations.  I certainly couldn’t imagine writing a book with a brothel owner for a heroine.  I’ve read those books and enjoyed them, but they weren’t the stories that filled my head.  But Ruby, with her deep husky chuckle, had different ideas.  From the first scene she entered, she let me know that she had a story to tell and that it was far more interesting than anyone else’s. 

I tried to fight back.  I cut her scenes.  I forced her to stay in character.  I didn’t let her wander off on her own.  She refused to go away.

I finished writing Mastering the Marquess, while firmly keeping her in place, and I thought that would be the end.

And still she didn’t leave.

And so, as I waited for my revisions, I began to play, writing a scene or two about her, discovering her dual personality, the one she showed to the world and the far softer one she only let out when alone in her room at night.  I discovered what had led her to become the woman she was, and what she secretly longed for in the futureand those few scenes grew and developed, until suddenly I had finished Revealing Ruby, my novella that will be released in January.

Writing Revealing Ruby allowed me to explore and have fun, while pushing at the boundaries of how I’d always imagined my heroines.  Ruby showed me that sometimes the side stories do need to be told, and that there can be some wonderful surprises along the way.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that Ruby didn’t fight for more space in Bound by Bliss, the second full-length book of my Bound and Determined Series (coming in February), or that she isn’t still fighting for her own book.  She is quite determined to ride (or sail) into the sunset of her own happily ever afterand I am beginning to agree with her.

What fictional side character would you like to know more about?  Who has stayed in your mind and made you pray for her reappearance?  Let me know and I’ll gift one lucky commenter with an e-copy of Mastering the Marquess.

Thanks for having me,

Lavinia Kent

Monday, December 8, 2014

Santa Baby

The incomparable Eartha Kitt, singer of "Santa Baby"
and the best cat woman IMHO.
Photo credit:
I always have visions of a perfect Christmas. I really, really do. But then reality sets in. Between the frantic traffic, the zip-up robe for your mother that you can’t seem to find anywhere, and the awkward work holiday luncheon that you have to attend even though management says it’s optional, the holidays can be a difficult time. But in-between wrapping presents in the eleventh hour and sweating over the oven, I like to reflect on what I would like Santa to bring to me. Marjanna listed the things she was thankful for a couple of weeks ago. This is my wish list, Santa Baby.

1. Peace on Earth. Enough said.
2. A really sexy pair of shoes that is also comfortable. I think that this is like searching for Sasquatch who, if he exists, never wears shoes. This thought somehow pisses me off more. Better move on to number three…
3. A small hovercraft that would fly me to work and land me next to my desk. I hate commuting. I hate fighting to get there, wearing work clothes and dress shoes and then fighting my way home. Please refer to points one and two for further clarification.
4. One last chance to talk to the ones I love who have died. I’d make sure that they knew how much I love them, how they live on in those they left behind, how grateful I am for what they gave me and how I look forward to seeing them again. Plus, maybe one of them can explain the JFK assassination, what happened to Jimmy Hoffa and what anyone ever saw in toe socks.
5. Time to read. I mean really read, quietly, with no distractions, no worries and plenty of snacks in arm’s reach. One day, I’m going to go on a sabbatical for the weekend at an Embassy Suites with a stack of books and a ready supply of my favorite snacks. The free breakfast will satisfy me then I can sustain myself with snacks while I kick back and read all the books that I’ve been wanting to get to.
6. That my car would last me to old age. I despise car payments, thinking that as soon as I drive this over-priced beast off the lot, it drops in price in leaps and bounds. And I double hate looking for said beast. Haggling over prices and options makes me feel as dirty and used as a hooker on Saturday night.
Eartha Kitt, at the height of her power. She
died on Christmas Day in 2008.
Photo credit:
7. That my child will have a good, happy and productive life where she uses her skills to the utmost of her abilities, reaches her incredible potential and finds the love of her life who will be good to her and to whom she will reciprocate the love and caring. This is the prayer of most parents I know.
8. A red toy poodle name Lucy. Yes, I already have two dogs. This would be my last. But I have this strange, homesick feeling that someone is missing.
9. My husband will continue to be who he is. Despite all of the hard things that happened to us in the last couple of years, we can still laugh like teenagers over something silly, which we did today. I mean out of control, wheezing and eyes tearing. We were at our daughter’s recital, something funny happened, and with one look at each other, it was game on.
10. That I am as good a friend as my friends have been to me. I hope to live up to the incredible people whom I’ve been blessed to call friends.

Santa, I know this is a tall order. I understand if you can’t do it all. Even one of those would be great. After all, you have a lot of other wishes to fulfill.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Conversation with Nic's Main Character

This week, the Rockville 8 and I rock the house as we celebrate my debut, The Kill List: A Jamie Sinclair Novel! To kick-off the ebook’s launch, I imagined sitting down for an interview with my main character, Jamie Sinclair. Over a cup of piping-hot coffee and a sticky, sweet treat at an M Street patisserie in Georgetown, our conversation might go like this:

Nichole Christoff: Jamie, like a long line of Mystery, Thriller, and Romantic Suspense protagonists before you, you’re a private eye. But your business card also says you’re a “security specialist.” What comes along with that job description?

Jamie Sinclair: I’m glad you asked, Nic. I serve high-risk, high-profile clients who call me when their safety is on the line—and calling the police isn’t an option.

NC: Wow. You mean like that big city mayor who ran for president a few years ago? Or that sports star who’s in all those underwear ads?

JC: I can’t really comment on the identities of individual clients. But you've got the right idea.

NC: Well, in The Kill List, you tangle with a TV news anchor’s stalker before your ex-husband claims he needs a security specialist when his little girl is kidnapped. To help him, you return to the army post where you were raised by your tough-as-nails father. Why on earth did you decide to take this case?

JC: I’d have been happy if I never saw my ex again. But this child's in danger and it’s not her fault her father is a jack—I mean, a crumb. Besides, her disappearance hits a little too close to home—and the secret reason my marriage fell apart.

NC: In the course of your investigation, you meet the fictional military police commander at the post, Lieutenant Colonel Adam Barrett. The two of you make quite a pair. He certainly makes it clear he thinks the world of you!

JS: No comment, Nic.

NC: Okay, okay. To keep this interview rolling along, I’m going to steal—ahem!—borrow a question my pals Evie Owens and MacKenzie Lucas came up with. Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Downey Jr, or Benedict Cumberbatch?

JS: Cumberbatch. Definitely.

NC: Hmmm... Back to Adam Barrett… Will you be seeing more of him in the future?

JS: You tell me. You’re the author.

NC: I’ll rephrase the question. Do you want to see more of Adam Barrett in the future?

JS: *blushing* I, uh…well…hey, isn’t my sequel coming soon from Random House?

NC: That’s true! Jamie and another familiar character return in The Kill Shot on March 17, 2015.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! Thanks for celebrating my debut with me. Read on for a bit more about The Kill List: A Jamie SinclairNovel available now everywhere ebooks are sold.

In this taut debut thriller, Nichole Christoff introduces a savvy private investigator with nerves of steel—and a shattered heart.

As a top private eye turned security specialist, Jamie Sinclair has worked hard to put her broken marriage behind her. But when her lying, cheating ex-husband, army colonel Tim Thorp, calls with the news that his three-year-old daughter has been kidnapped, he begs Jamie to come find her. For the sake of the child, Jamie knows she can’t refuse. Now, despite the past, she’ll do everything in her power to bring little Brooke Thorp home alive.

Soon Jamie is back at Fort Leeds—the army base in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens where she grew up, the only child of a two-star general—chasing down leads and forging an uneasy alliance with the stern military police commander and the exacting FBI agent working Brooke’s case. But because Jamie’s father is now a U.S. senator, her recent run-in with a disturbed stalker is all over the news, and when she starts receiving gruesome threats echoing the stalker’s last words, she can’t shake the feeling that her investigation may be about more than a missing girl—and that someone very powerful is hiding something very significant . . . and very sinister. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving, I offer you this list. It is not exhaustive, but it is true. I hope that as you read this, my list, you will take a moment to meditate on what you are grateful for.
20 things (because 20 has a nice round notion about it) I am grateful for:

1. My family. More specifically here, the creativity that has been fostered and expected within my family, in all sorts of ways, from my grandmother's painting to my nephew's cooking, from mom's doodles while she was on the phone with her sister to my sister's ceramic pots, from great-ancestor's quilts to my cousin's piano accompanying, we are a creative family. It allows me to play with words, with fabric and with ingredients at will without ever feeling I am wasting time or accomplishing nothing.
2. My friends, who have accepted me, loved me, housed me, fed me, entertained me, listened to me, laughed (with and at) me, introduced me to new ideas or new music or new authors or new people, and just generally (and all the time specifically) made this world a better place for me.
3. My years living abroad in Europe and Africa. I was lucky to have done what I've done.
4. Dr. Marshall M Parks and the miracles of this Wesurgeon's hands that operated on my eyes not once but 3 times, so I'm not wall-eyed and can see out of both eyes.
5. The women of Briggs Baptist Church who chiseled within the foundation of my faith as a child that gender has nothing to do with my service to God and my roll within the church. Just do the job I'm meant to do and be the person I'm meant to be.
6. Nora Roberts for writing romances that made me laugh when I was in high school. They couldn't all be about desperation and maimed men and sardonic eyebrows and rain-slicked anoraks.
7. Words. And whoever first came up with the idea that they should be used to tell a good story, and not just report the best hill for tasty roots or where the saber-toothed tiger was last seen.
8. Re-runs. I love watching M*A*S*H* and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and early seasons of NCIS; these shows are like Macaroni and Cheese, warm and filling.
9. White-Chocolate-and-Raspberry Cheesecake and Key Lime Cheesecake.
10. My job. I may complain about it from time to time, but seriously. I am employed and paying my bills is still a sweet pleasure.
11. Libraries. I rarely go to one these days, but I have borrowed books, been to lectures, watched filmstrips, written, studied, and been amazed. All in libraries. (and now I am wondering why don't I know more librarians? )
12. The Rockville 8. Women who laugh and write and drink and support and read and inspire and create and did I say laugh?
13. Friday Night Videos because I did not have cable or M-TV or HBO as a kid, and I had to rely on FNV to introduce me to the visual feast of Peter Gabriel and The Police and Thomas Dolby and the list goes on.
14. And while we are on the subject of the 80s, I am grateful that I got to see The Who and the Police and the Eurythmics and Talking Heads all before they turned 60 (or 50 or perhaps even 40), and their voices dropped an octave or so.
15.  Weekends and that I no longer work three jobs. The sweet pleasure of sleeping in and drinking coffee in my jimjams while sitting in my big chair with my feet propped on my hassock and nothing to do but walk my dog and figure out what I'm having for dinner.
16. The idea of Hero and Heroine. That the world still has a goal, a zeal, a notion to be better, to be more, to become.
17. Dogs. Mine is sweet and funny and cuddly and old and such a beta animal.
18. Parks and open space and woods and forests and gardens and places to go outside that are beautiful and fresh and green. (especially if I only have to do the walking, sitting and enjoying)
19. Pioneers. People who go forward and try and do it first and pursue the unknown, be they women like Amelia Earhart or Beryl Markham, or Hearty Pioneer men and women who hopped on covered wagons and headed west, or my direct ancestors who actually got in the boat so I didn't have to.
20. Retreats. Writing, religious, sewing. I am grateful for the weekends away with like-minded women and men, to pray, talk, write, brainstorm, create with others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Notes To Self from The Writer Unboxed Unconference: Risk Aversion, Agency, Make a Mess

Earlier in November I had the great good fortune to attend The Writer Unboxed first ever UnConference. It was mind-blowingly awesome and my take-aways were many, but three in particular keep rolling through my system a couple of weeks later. As Lisa Cron would urge, it's time for me to get specific:

Risk Aversion:
Meg Rosoff led a session on voice that consisted of 40 questions to ask yourself. Ranging from What is something you really love, to If you died tomorrow, how would you spend your night, to Is there a person you'd like to change places with, the questions were designed to drill down into issues and themes that resonate deeply within you and which you could use consciously to inform your writing. What you choose to write about is as important as the words you string together. Voice is more than vocabulary and syntax.

One question we spent some time in the session on was Name a turning point in your life. In sharing a catastrophic event from my early adolescence, I realized not so much that it still affects me today (I knew that) but HOW it affects me. I am a risk averse person. That shows up in my writing in characters who avoid conflict. Ah! Epiphany-ville!

Who wants to read a book with no conflict? Not me.

Note to self: Beef up your conflict.

Time and time again, session after session, in group chats or tete-a-tetes, the same encouraging message was shared. Only you have the power to prevent forest fires. No, seriously, the message was only you can write your book and if your draft is currently broken, YOU CAN FIX IT. You've got the power (and so does Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty).

Nora Roberts says she can fix a broken page, she can't fix an empty one. Well same here and same for you too.

Note to self: You can do it!

Make a Mess:
The last day of the conference, Donald Maass presented his Writing 21st Fiction Century workshop (totally fab, if you ever have a chance I recommend taking it). His take on writing? If it's tidy, you're not playing. Make a mess. Don't be afraid to turn your characters' lives inside out, squeeze out all the layers of emotion, really get into your stories' guts and twist them (but let that be the only gut twisting allowed anywhere near your MS. As Mr. Maass rightly decrees: telling your reader about a character's guts twisting is not the same as making your readers' guts twist FOR the character).

Not to self: Go make a mess!

Are you ready to make a mess?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Confessions of a Clutter Junkie

Part One: The Junk Attacks

Last month, I moved out of a house that I'd been living in for over fifteen years. The change has been a welcome one: our old place was a one-bathroom, two-bedroom-plus-oversized-closet house which we outgrew years ago. In our new place, we not only have an abundance of bathrooms, but enough elbow room that I can turn in a complete circle without either bumping into a pile of stuff, or stepping on a cat.

That's the good part.

The not-so-good part is this: I have. A lot. Of junk. A lot.

The "junk" has been collected with the best of intentions: it's mostly books, dvds, and family treasures. But best intentions or not, that stuff takes up space. And gathers dust. And sometimes gets knocked over when you're rushing around trying to get ready for work in the morning.

Part Two: The Fantasies Form

So, thinking myself extraordinarily clever and efficient, I decided that instead of trying to move everything, we would donate a lot of our excess. But then the obvious truth smacked me in the face like a dust mop: just because I wasn't taking something to the new house didn't mean it didn't have to be packed. Like it or not, I couldn't just use a bulldozer to shovel it all into a pile, then put two fingers into my mouth and whistle for the Salvation Army to come pick it up (although the bulldozer was a frequent fantasy).

(Speaking of fantasies, I also invented a fantasy device which is basically a giant vacuum tube that would have allowed me to press a button and all my stuff would be sucked out of the old house, into the new. There are a few mechanical issues to be worked out, but as soon as technology catches up I'm sure it'll be a big hit.)

During our Great Pack-Up, I often told my family that we were going to become minimalists. "From now on," I'd say, "we're not going to own any more possessions than we can carry on our backs!" This idea didn't go over well, of course. And since I'm not up to carrying a sofa and flat-screen TV on my back, even I had to admit it wasn't really a practical plan.

Part Three: The Truth Becomes Unavoidable

So, the bulldozer was out, and living out of a backpack wasn't looking too workable (where would we have put the catboxes?). Although our former residence was small, the sheer volume of our possessions was astounding, and until it was time to move, I had allowed myself to just keep accumulating. Even now, after the bulk of the move is done, I own too many things that I don't use. That kind of abundance doesn't make me feel happy or prosperous; it just makes me feel exhausted, and a little sad.

Then, a few weeks ago, I read Marjanna's post here on the R8, The Burdens (and Vintage Kitchenware) We Carry that Aren't Our Own, and I realized that I'm not alone. Marjanna has been dealing with a similar challenge: helping her mother move from a house to an apartment. And packing her mom's kitchen, with its collection of memorabilia disguised as labor-saving devices, had been particularly difficult.

It seems that living with an overabundance of Stuff has become a common affliction. Kitchenware, clothes, electronic devices... so many of us have Too Much Stuff Syndrome. But the good thing about having a common affliction is that there are usually many people who are looking for a cure. I went in search of a few of those who have found a way to assuage the pain of possession. As usual, the Internet held all the answers.

Part Four: The Answers Begin to Take Shape

Online, I found three resources which have been particularly helpful:

The Minimalists - The very popular blog of two thirty-something guys from Ohio who found balance in their lives by reducing their possessions and hopping off the corporate track. I perused their blog for information and also listened to their audiobook. My biggest takeaway from the book was this realization: The things I own do not define who I am.

The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno - I'm always attracted to "journey stories": tales of people who have made a dramatic change in their lives and have come out better on the other side. This book is the story of a man who reduced his personal items down to 100 things, and lived that way for a year. Biggest takeaway from this book? Sometimes we buy things as a substitute for doing things. In my case, this would include an embarrassing number of blank journals. Those empty pages made me feel like a writer, because they "reminded" me of all the words I could write in them... but then never did. Weird, I know, but that's how I ended up being a clutter junkie.

Tiny - This is a documentary which I actually watched on Netflix some time ago. Although the description reads, "A young couple with no construction experience attempts to build a tiny house in this documentary that contemplates shifting American values," the thing I loved most about it was the pretty pictures: seeing how a variety of people had created big, beautiful lives for themselves out of tiny little homes. From this documentary, I took away the knowledge that if you want to live large, sometimes you have to build small.

Part Five: The Next Step Develops

Although I'm not quite prepared to live with only 100 things, or in a 100-square-foot home, I am more than ready to simplify my life, and that includes whittling down what I own to the things I need and love most. I'll let you know how it goes over the next year or so. In the meantime, do you have any tips for me, or any stories to share about having too much stuff?