Sunday, November 22, 2015

Old is the new New…

This week, the Rockville 8 brings back one of our favorite guest bloggers, Emelle Gamble!

In July of 2013, the lovely members of the Rockville 8 allowed me to share my re-entry into the world of publishing after a hiatus of several years. In the 1990s, I was a contracted Harlequin Intrigue writer. Which meant I wrote books. Period.

In 2013, I was once again a contracted writer.  SecretSister, a women’s fiction romantic novel about how little we really know about those closest to us, was just published, and I was struggling with the culture shock of how much other than creative writing a small press and indie author was required to do to support her books.

Such as upload. Summarize. Format. Blog. Tweet. Facebook. Contests. Book trailer. Book signings.  Deal with freaking iTunes. Welcome to the brave new world of publishing, where creative ability was only one of the ten skills you needed to survive.  Okay, I thought. I can do this. Because the one thing that wasn’t new about this new world was that the biggest element of writing a book was still the story.

The story of a romance. And a mystery. And a heroine who was tough enough, and smart enough, to triumph in both.  

Since my last blog here, Soul Mate Publishing brought out another novel, Dating CaryGrant, and I self-published a trilogy about an academy award winning actress, Molly Harper, and two novellas, Duets and December Wedding. All were published as eBooks, as well as in audio and paperback formats, which required a bit of additional work of the non-creative type.
All new. All contemporary. 

But I realized I also had those ‘old’ books of mine. Stories I had cut my teeth on and put my heart into, stories which had only been published as paperback novels. So I took the plunge and requested, and received, the publishing rights back to several of the classic romantic suspense books I did for Intrigue.  I did not have a digital copy of these so I worked with a formatter and turned the paper text into eVersions, an arduous task requiring about a dozen passes as a copy editor and a couple of more as story editor. It was often shocking to edit the words of my younger writer self, but it was also illuminating (and not without satisfaction) to change something about a sentence, or a paragraph, or a whole bloody scene because, hey, I am a better writer now!

As I re-read these old books, I was struck by the fact that, although the industry had changed enormously over the last two decades, much had remained the same in the structural design of a romantic suspense novel.

In the stories set in the 1990s, women and men meet, feel a spark, flirt and take a step or two forward, and then back, and then around and around a few times before daring that kiss, that conversation, that night of passion that tells them, yes, something’s happening here.

At first encounter, they generally suspect one another of being a villain, but they quickly realize, based on gut reactions and that tug of attraction, that they can get to the bottom of whatever the danger threatening them is, if they’ll just work together.

Which they do, sometimes honestly, sometimes with ulterior motives.  As they work together, they learn the secrets of each other’s past, current goals, and hopes for the future, and, generally, how much they want to sleep with each other. 

The hardest decision I had to make about these books was how much to update them. Many authors in my position re-write and update their books. They pull the stories into the 21st century, arm their heroines with laptops, cellphones and debit-cards, and delete any politically incorrect references. They change the titles, crank up the C.S.I. technology, and generally erase the 1990s restraint on language and sexual interaction.

I chose to leave mine as they were, set firmly in the place and time where I first created them. And I found that they held up well, for old or new, they had the ingredients of suspense, tension and danger, but in a cozy, less raw tone than much of today’s realistic romantic suspense.

As for the romance, I found it worked too. Harlequin Intrigues were never ‘hot’ in sensuality department, they did however always play up a woman’s strengths and inventiveness and ability. No shrinking violets, these heroines were smart, brave, resourceful, and more than capable of unmasking the villain. And they knew what they wanted in a man, they were just a little less direct about letting him know it.

In today’s world, my 1990 heroines could be considered behaviorally ‘square’ (now there’s an old word and concept). They don’t drink much, never do drugs or get tattooed, and they never say the F word. They also do not sleep with the heroes until the end of the stories. They are also all about their careers, and doing the right thing.

In Stranger Than Fiction, a career woman throws herself into finding out who is behind what looks like a plagiarism scam. In Diamond of Deceit, a banking executive risks everything to save her reputation. When Murder Calls showcases a young, single mother holding down a day job, going to school, and fending off a serial killer.  In Dead Magnolias, the private investigator heroine is as tenacious as a terrier as she tracks down a pair of killers who have been shielded by wealth and power so long they think they are entitled to do anything. And in If Looks Could Kill, a small business owner risks everything to do the right thing.

So…old stories, but new stories to eBook readers. Starring five spunky, smart chicks. And the five hunky guys they love, but don’t ever defer to. Five books that tell the old story of an attraction at first sight that doesn’t make sense at all, except, of course it does.

Just like the new books.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

In Which Keely Makes Her Move

For my birthday in 2013, I bought myself a FitBit. It took me a month to get it out of its box. It took me a year and a half after that to take it off the bookshelf, charge it, and slip it onto my wrist.

Procrastination anyone?

There were REASONS I purchased a pricey toy and didn't use it for so long. They pretty much boil down to that bastard, depression.

Suffice it to say, in the continuing battle with the hoary old dragon, I finally shifted into a headspace that allowed for a change of behavior. Take that, you fire breathing monster.

I started tracking my steps on September 15. Since then, I've walked a total of 331.82 miles. During my most OCD week, I hit 50.3 miles. This is a lot of walking.

What have I learned?

That when I walk, I'm not eating. For a comfort eater, this is big news. I've lost 12 pounds over the last two months. Woot!

That I really, really, really love binging on TV shows while I pace my living room floor in the evening. Long live Supernatural, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and Longmire.

That walking can leave me open to productive thinking or negative stewing and I need to be careful which track I let my brain train travel.

That it's easier to get my step goal in most days than I would have imagined. At work, I take a couple of walk breaks throughout the day and sometimes I'll answer email on my phone or open the mail while tracing a path into the carpet, just I can get my move-groove on.

That focusing on this one thing--getting my steps in--has led to a host of other positive choices:

While I hope never to be a counter of calories, I know make more of my meals, ditching the hidden calories of multiple meals out each week and getting a better handle on portion control. I've schedule both routine and specialist doctors appointments I'd been putting off. I'm making time to write, participating in NaNoWriMo with an "in it to win it" mindset, mostly because I've figured out how to weave writing sprints with walking sessions into a single activity I look forward to. I've begun adding a few other exercises into my day mix things up a bit.

One decision can be a game changer. 

In the prologue of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, author Charles Duhigg recounts the story of a woman who made one decision--to stop smoking so she could make a trek across the desert--which led to her losing 65 pounds, running marathons, getting out of debt, buying a house...The list goes on.

I feel a kinship with this woman. My one decision--to get up and move--has already netted me so much that is positive. I look forward to discovering what other possibilities arise in the future as a result of this walking journey.

Over to you: What habits have you changed that have in turn changed you? What habits in your life are helping you achieve your goals and which would you like to kick to the curb?

And by the way, if you haven't read Duhigg's book, I recommend it. Fascinating stuff.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Five Years of Weight Loss: What's Worked, and What Hasn't

Well, this is the perfect day to write on this topic, because since my last post I have gained eleven pounds. (Wow, it's depressing to write those words!) Actually, 11.3 pounds, if we want to be specific. That drops my cumulative weight loss to 103.8 pounds since January 1, 2010. Sigh.

Part of me really wants to beat myself up over my dietary slack-off, but self-abuse is a waste of time. So let's just jump into the topic at hand, starting with:

What Hasn't Worked (For Me)

1. Weight Watchers. Okay, this may seem like a controversial way to start off this list, but it helps to make the following point: these are things I tried that didn't work for me. They may work for someone else. Weight Watchers is a great program which emphasizes conscious eating and a well-rounded diet. I know a lot of people who have had success with it. But for some reason, I found the point system didn't really fit into my life. Maybe I'm just too lazy for it. I tried it for several months, didn't see a difference in my weight, so decided to move on to something else. And that something else was:

2. Going vegan. About two years ago I tried to go vegan. I'd always been philosophically on board with veganism, especially considering the use of antibiotics and steroids in our feed animals. So, in 2013 I took the plunge: I didn't eat any animal products for about six weeks. At first it was great: I lost a few pounds, and felt really good. But again, laziness took over: I stopped being creative with my cooking, started eating a lot of carbohydrates (it probably goes without saying, but pasta is vegan, and so are french fries). As a result, I was constantly tired, and started gaining weight again. I still feel like veganism is a viable dietary lifestyle for me, but the next time I make the transition, I'll have a better plan.

3. Not paying attention.  This seems obvious, to the point where it shouldn't even make the list. But lack of attention is most definitely at the bottom of my recent weight gain. I stopped keeping track of what I was eating, stopped walking every day. Part of this was due to the fact that I'd hurt my back, and wasn't as able to move as freely (or at all), which also inhibited my ability to cook for myself. More convenience foods, fewer salads, less exercise… obviously it added up.

4. Smoking. I only include this because I think it's one of the silliest things I ever did to try to lose weight: a little over two decades ago I attempted to take up smoking. (Hey! Stop throwing things at me! I said it was silly!). Needless to say, this brilliant plan failed to work, and I tossed the cigarettes before finishing my second pack.

What Has Worked (For Me)

1. WeightNot. I heard about this program on a podcast. Ordinarily I don't take podcasts too seriously, but WeightNot had a lot of qualities that appealed to me: it was all natural (no drugs, just vitamins and herbal supplements), weight loss happened quickly (half a pound to a pound a day) and there was some variety to what I would be eating (although portions were quite small).  So at the end of 2011, I tried the 60-day program. I lost about 60 pounds, and kept off 45. It was difficult, but very worth it. I tried to do another 60-day cycle in 2012, but for some reason the program didn't run as smoothly the second time around. However, I am extremely happy that I did that first round, and anyone who has a lot of weight to lose would do well to check out this program and see if it might work for them.

2. Salad, salad and more salad. Again, this seems so self-evident it's almost silly to mention it. But salad has saved me, especially over the last year.  Eating two salads a day has been one of the best things I've ever done for myself. And no matter what else I eat (within reason, of course!), as long as  have those two salads, I know I'm doing something good for myself.

3. Counting calories. I started counting calories on Thanksgiving Day in 2014, and in that time (even with the recent weight gain) I've lost 34 pounds. This past year has been the longest period of continuous weight loss in my life. Calculating how many calories to eat is a relatively simple process (here's a great online calculator), and I always try to eat the maximum number of calories that I'm allowed. My current range of calories is 1700 to 1900, so I try to eat 1900. This makes for slightly slower weight loss, but reduces my chances of feeling deprived. For me, this has been my most successful action for losing weight.

4. Not thinking too far ahead.  I used to plan out my weight loss ("I'll lose X amount by Christmas, and XX amount by my birthday.") And although the daydreaming can be fun, when you have a large amount of weight to lose it can also be quite daunting. Even if I could lose 50 pounds a year, it would still take me twenty-one months to reach my maximum healthy weight of 173. And although I'd rather reach that goal in 21 months than not reach it at all, that's still almost two years away, which feels like a mighty long time.

So, I've learned not to think too far ahead. Instead, I just think about losing the next pound or so. When I was at 255 pounds, I concentrated only on getting to 254, and I savored every tenth of a pound that I lost. Because every 1/10 of a pound is progress; and in only 880 tenths of a pound, I will finally, for the first time in my life, be a healthy weight.


The activities which have worked for me may not be the activities which work for other people (and same goes with the "haven't workeds").   But everyone has the ability to become healthier, whether that means losing weight, or just treating the body with a little more care and thoughtfulness. So, now that I'm looking at re-losing that eleven pounds (and 77 more), I would love to know: in the journey to become healther, what has (or hasn't) worked for you?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Writing at Home & Away

In case you missed the announcement, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and this November is no exception. Writers everywhere, from novices to old pros, will try to slam 50,000 words onto paper or the computer screen before the first of December. It’s a lofty goal, and one that brings equal parts frustration and elation. 

Of course, not everyone embraces this particular challenge, and even if you’re not a novelist, November brings other writing tasks to complete like addressing those holiday cards, making out the checks that pay the bills, and penning that long Thanksgiving shopping list. These tasks can be much more enjoyable, and can go much more quickly, if you set-up your nest for success. Here’s how:

 1. Cut the clutter to carve out a place just for writing
That’s a tough one, no matter your writing goal. Even if you earmark a spot at the kitchen table that shall remain clear, this means you can get in, get done, and get on to your next task. 

2. Stash some supplies.

·      If your nest is like mine, drawer space is precious, but devote one to scratch pads, pen, pencils, envelopes, and postage stamps so you can get those must-do writing chores done quickly, or you can also get down to brass tacks whenever your creative writing muse appears.
·       If you can’t sacrifice an entire drawer, try a shoebox covered in pretty paper and keep it close at hand in the top of the hall closet. Your To-Do List and your creative side will thank you. 

3. Make it moveable.
·       Rather than worrying about being shackled to your seat, invest in a good lap desk. I love mine. If the family’s watching a movie, I can keep them company and get some work done by taking my lap desk to the sofa. If it’s a gorgeous day outside, I can use it to take my work with me into the wild, too. And I do!
·       Load up a messenger bag and keep it ready to add your laptop so you can dash out the door for a writing date, or to enjoy a change of scene. Mine’s always packed with pens, Post-Its, and even snack bars. A fresh perspective might just increase your productivity, whether you’re addressing invitations or crafting your latest novel.

            So, there you have it. If November means NaNoWriMo or getting those holiday greetings into the mail, you can reach your writing goals with these tips for home and away. But our conversation doesn’t have to end here. What are the must-do tasks you’re working on this November? How will explore your creative side this month? We at the R8 would love to know!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Our Most Memorable Halloween Costumes

It's that time of year! Halloween is spook-tactular, haunt-abulous and scare-tastic. And what's more fun than looking back and remembering the joy of Halloweens past? So this year, the Rockville 8 are happy to share with you, our most memorable Halloween costumes.

 Evie Owens 

The first costume that came to mind was the wizard costume I made for my eldest. Nobody who knows me now would believe this, but I sewed her that costume. It was cheap black cotton but I splurged on the shiny silver stuff I lined the dagged sleeves with. She loved it but I can't put my hands on a picture. She was 11 or 12.

When I was a kid, we went for the kind of costume we could make out of whatever was in the house. I usually ended up as some kind of gypsy. I don't have any pictures of that, either. But one of my best friends at work goes ALL out on the holidays, and last year, on a whim, I joined her. I picked up a cheap purple wig and some false eyelashes and aimed for "animeish." I do have a picture of that and it's memorable mainly because I was doing the online dating thing for a while and I posted the picture there. You'd be amazed how many guys in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area have a thing for women with purple hair. None of them were the right guy, though. Hmmm. Maybe I should have tried a different color...

Keely Thrall 

Most memorable costume: Athena, goddess of wisdom.

Age: 10 or 11 (the costume was memorable, what year I wore it...somewhat less so.)

Why: I was in a Greek gods phase, with my nose firmly stuck in D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Athena was clearly the coolest of all the Goddesses, so smart, so reasonable and clever. So totally me! I got a wooden staff (possibly a broom handle?) and had a little stuffed owl perched on my shoulder (when not in working as my familiar, my brother used that poor owl as a football, tossing it down the laundry shoot for field goals. Stupid boy!). But the best part of the costume was the toga. Mom and I found a vibrant, purple, velvety cotton that draped beautifully. 35 years later (give or take), I still have that fabric and it still makes me smile. It’s a little worn around the edges, but still vibrant. Like me.

Lisa McQuay 

Most Memorable Costume: It's hard for me to pick just one but for our purposes here, I'm going with my Harpo Marx costume.

Age: 13

Why: I wasn't even going to go trick or treating at the ripe old age of 13, but my mother asked me to go with my brother who was 9. We decided to go as Harpo and Groucho. My mother rolled my hair in rags for Harpo's curly hair. I used my mother's trench coat, and an old fashioned squeeze-style bicycle horn my grandmother had given me for my bike. My brother, who is dark, had my father's horn-rimmed science experiment glasses from his college days (we both had hours of fun with those), slicked back hair, and the black suit my father had worn to my baptism. Everyone knew who we were. When we went to the door, my brother said "Trick or Treat" and I blew the horn as Harpo always did instead of speaking. It was memorable because it was my last time trick or treating, but more importantly, it was because my brother and I were a team and because we were able to use things we already had.

Mackenzie Lucas 

Most memorable costume: I dressed up as an old lady, with gray frosted wig, granny shawl, and long skirt and cane.


What made it memorable: I had my picture in the local paper. It was pretty cool for an eight-year-old. And, too funny that my mom used to actually wear that wig. It was really a frosted blond color, but it could easily pass as old-lady-gray hair. ;0) The other very cool thing was that I was able to do a Google search on this article to find the picture in the local paper.

Marjanna Bogan 

I remember wearing Casper the Friendly Ghost. I was 4 - would be 5 that December. I was in kindergarten at St. Patricks Episcopal. And for whatever the reason (and I don't remember now if I ever knew then as a child), we were on Panorama News at Noon on channel 5. Which I think was hosted by Maury Povich. I just remember milling around a stage, there was candy in a bowl, and somehow my costume - complete with a mask that covered my face and didn't allow for clear vision - was a focus.

My second most memorable was my brother's. We were, gosh, in junior high? I was wearing Alec Bourgeois's cut-aways and a bowler. Eugene was in his kilt and carrying his bagpipe. And for one piped song, he was given the mythical Toblerone by the family that gave one out to the best costume each year - and I received full sized packages of M&Ms.

Misha Crews 

Most memorable costume: Okay, so I know this isn't original, but my most memorable costume was dressing like a cat in fifth grade.

Age: 11

Why: Because of the parts that are most important in a cat costume: the ears and the tail. My mother had a fake fur hat which happened to be black, and she generously sacrificed it to make me a beautiful pair of ears and a long tail. The fact that they looked and felt real made me feel extra-catlike. And now that I think about it, the fact that my mother went the extra mile to add that perfect touch is what really made that costume memorable. Thanks, Mom!

Nichole Christoff 

Most Memorable Costume: Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth

Age: 7

Why: After finding a vintage Nancy Drew novel in a box of books in my attic, I was hooked. And when I went back to school in the fall, I was ecstatic to discover my new teacher had the entire, yellow-covered series. I gobbled them up. Reading about a smart girl with a can-do attitude who starred in hardcover chapter books made me feel so grown up! It was my mom who then suggested I be Nancy Drew for Halloween. I wore my blue polyester pantsuit, my white blouse with a big loopy bow, and carried a notebook and a magnifying glass. I felt like a grown-up--and that it just might be cool to be a smart girl with a can-do attitude.

And what about you...?

What's your most memorable costume? Please share below. And Happy Halloween, from the
Rockville 8! 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Moving Forward

Photo: Emily Reed
Lately, the Rockville 8 has been blogging about our life journeys. I’ve haven’t done a post relating to this theme mainly because I wasn’t sure what mine was. But, now I think I know. My journey is to move forward. To reinvent myself, or maybe just go with the flow of progress and growth that’s been interrupted while I addressed my health crises and had the five surgeries required to get back to…well, me. Now that I’m past the medical issues, I feel like a tidal wave has engulfed me. It’s as if I built a flimsy dam to hold life back until I could get back on my feet, and now it’s opened—rushing at me, carrying me downstream at a faster rate than I can sometimes manage.

My current reinvention is taking a certification program for my job. It is intense—eight hours a day, five days a week, complete with tests and homework. The tests are hard. In the last class, half of the people failed the first exam. No one wants to go back to work and tell management they can’t pass the expensive class that the boss funded. Their stress only ramped up my stress.

However, despite the difficulties, I’m discovering that I can do this. I’m working hard, a lot harder than working forty hours a week at my job. This requires evenings studying as well. I’ve had to miss social events that I would normally attend which makes me feel sad and isolated. But, it has forced me outside of myself, if that makes sense. It’s made me reach for something that I wasn’t physically strong enough to reach for a couple of years ago. It’s reminded me that I’m young and need to get back in the game.

Change is difficult. Even good changes are stressful. I’m trying to look at this in the most positive light. Sometimes, when it’s late and I’m tired of studying, it’s not easy to stay positive. But I’m working on it. I’ve been through fourteen weeks of training since the middle of June and I am about to start two more weeks on Monday. I’m plowing through it. I’m surviving. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Top 20 Ways to Make Your Romance Hero a Sexy Alpha Guy

Oftentimes, when I'm between projects and life is crazy-busy, I take a hiatus from writing. I knew my life would be crazy this past month with increased time and responsibilities required at the day job plus the added stress of getting my teenage sons to practices/games/social events/writing those college essays. So I did what any respectable romance reader-writer-mom would do, I fell into a heap of romance novels to get me through it.

For the writers among us, we know reading is essential to our craft. We need to know what’s out there, what other writers who are currently defining our genre are writing, and what readers are reading. We need to look at best-selling authors’ work to try to dissect it to understand why readers are reading it and what they’re looking for in a good story.

Two books I read made me pause to reassess my heroes. The first was an older Jill Shalvis book that was re-released last year, Her Sexiest Mistake, and the second was Katy Evans’ Real. These two books hit me right in the gut. So I had to look at them closely and figure out why the hero in each of these books took my breath away and why I fell so hard for them as I read the books . . . because I want to do the same thing to my readers. I want to give them a sexy Alpha hero who takes their breath away and makes them fall in love all over again.

So here’s what I discovered about writing a sexy Alpha hero who doesn’t come across as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal, but someone who is worthy of the fiesty heroine in my stories.

1.    She perceives him as a sexy bad boy, even if he’s not totally a bad boy in reality. He might have the trappings (look like a tough bad boy, but he’s got a soft, good heart).
2.    His actions are unapologetic and he’s got a take-charge attitude all the times.
3.    He uses his power and strength for good. Always.
4.    He’s comfortable in his own skin.
5.    He’s unapologetic about what he wants--and what he mainly wants is her. He goes after what he wants, even if he’s misguided at times. He’s not wishy-washy.
6.    He’s competent at what he does, whether he’s a high school chemistry teacher or a underground boxer.
7.    Even though he’s tough, he’s got a softer side where we see his protectiveness and compassion for his family members, kids who populate his life, pets, the people he’s claimed as family.
8.    He pokes gently at her flaws and doesn’t let her remain stuck or run away from them.
9.    He serves her and takes care of her at times (makes her a meal, fixes something for her, takes care of a task that is more difficult for her).
10. He sees her--really sees her--deep down. As Michael Hague says, he sees her essence, not just the fa├žade she puts on for the world to see.
11. He’s not afraid to show both his affection or his attraction, no matter how edgy and passion-filled it can be at times. He’s hungry for her, yet he genuinely likes her as a person, too. Her strength, her personality, her quirks. He’s attracted to everything about her, not just her body.
12. Sometimes, he’s a pissed off Alpha male, but he’s always in control of his anger.
13. He’s on to her tricks when she’s trying to pull one over on him.
14. He’s a Saint & a Sinner.
15. When she pokes at him, he doesn’t back down. He stands his ground calmly.
16. He grows and learns about himself just as much from the heroine as from the lessons life throws at him. He’s different with her and for her. He wants to be a better man because of her.
17. He’s a Protector & Provider.
18. She feels totally safe with him, for good reason. He’s proven to her he won’t let anyone hurt her.
19. He’s intense.
20. He desires her above all else--he’s cut her from the pack; and whether he knows it yet or not, she’s the only one for him. Period.

So, there you have it ... my Alpha male theory, based on two books that I recently adored. How about you? What have you noticed you love about the heroes in the romance novels you've been reading? Those Alpha guys who took you by surprise, body-slammed you, and took your breath away? I’d love to hear your list!