Do you believe in the magic of Christmas?

They say Christmas is the most magical time of the year, that miracles can happen on the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I don’t particularly believe in miracles, but there’s still some magic of the winter holidays left in my heart.

I loved Christmas when I was a child, even though my parents were not wealthy and we never had a pile of gifts under the tree. But we were better off than a lot of other people, and I’m grateful for that now.

As I became an adult, the practicalities and problems that come with being a grown-up took away a little of my holiday enthusiasm each year. Stretching the budget, organizing things, breaking my back in the kitchen… The real tree turned into a plastic one to avoid the hassle and the mess, buying gifts turned into a stressful process, even going shopping is less fun every year because of the growing lines and interminable city traffic.

However, this year I believe in the magic of Christmas more than I ever had. Why? Because my friends in the Authors’ Billboard practically put the most amazing present under my tree: a USA Today bestseller badge!

A little over a year ago, the seed of what seemed like a crazy dream took root in my mind: to become a USA Today bestselling author. Not only that, but I realized that if I made it, I would be the first Romanian in history to achieve this prestigious title. Since that moment, I worked relentlessly toward this goal, and I’m still amazed by how many incredible people I met on the way, people who joined me in my journey and fought hard to help me achieve my dream.

Together, we did it with the anthology Love, Christmas 2!

My story in this box set is a romantic comedy called Boyfriend Wanted for Christmas.

THE DESPERATE YET HUMOROUS QUEST OF AN AMERICAN BRIDGET JONES TO FIND A BOYFRIEND IN THE SEVEN DAYS SHE HAS LEFT UNTIL CHRISTMAS

Thirty-three-year-old librarian Andrea Sachse doesn’t have the time or skills to date. No man can ever live up to her dreamy book boyfriends, so why bother? But with her parents looking more desperate each time she shows up solo for their annual Christmas party, this year she’s determined to find herself a boyfriend by any means—fair or foul.

There are so many people I owe this accomplishment to, and who deserve a special THANK YOU:  Carmen, Mimi, my editor Sue, Jackie, all my wonderful co-authors of Love, Christmas 2 and of course, all of you, our dear readers and friends, who bought this box set.

The most meaningful THANK YOU goes to my husband, for being there for me, for believing in me, for offering moral and financial support, emergency hugs, pep talks, for playing housekeeper, tear-wiper, even chef when I was too exhausted, and never complaining when I worked twelve hours a day until 2 or 3 am, for keeping my spirits up with his endless supply of optimism, and for putting up with me – which is no easy job.

Each and every one of you who read this post, this victory is yours, as much – or even more – than it’s mine.  ♥ ♥ ♥

Now do you believe in the magic of Christmas? Here’s something that will make your holidays even more fun:  We’re looking for Santas and Reindeer! Visit our December Contest and YOU could win gift cards, paperback books, and book bundles. Click here to play! 

Wishing you the best holidays ever!

Solar Eclipse Mania and Aliens

On Monday, August 21, I’ll be in the path of the total eclipse of the sun. Big deal. Well, really it is.
I’m sure other areas of the US are going through the same craziness as Oregon is. For over a month now, the front page of the local paper has featured at least one story about the solar eclipse and the impact it will have on the local residents.
Okay, not so much the eclipse itself, but all the eclipse watchers. Highways are predicted to slow to a near standstill between Portland – the nearest major airport – and throughout the Willamette Valley with the influx of over a million visitors. Backyards and open fields will be turned into temporary tent or camper cities (already happening). Public water and septic systems will be overtaxed (not likely). Food and gas supplies will run out or low (no telling). The local economy will boom (hopefully).
Because the traffic is expected to be horrible, garbage pick up has been delayed one day, many local businesses have given employees time off, and non-essential government workers are taking leave (or whatever they call it).
Right now, roads are blocked off in towns around here, not for safety, but to cordon off city blocks for vendors, events, and parties. I don’t know if they planned it this way, but a huge three-day country music extravaganza is going on right now in the Willamette Valley. If these folks came from far away, I doubt they’ll be in a hurry to leave Sunday night. Or if they are, they’re in trouble. I just hope the weight of all these extra people doesn’t cause a major earthquake!
What do people expect out of the eclipse besides a long weekend of partying? Some are saying it will allow the world to see the extra sun (or is it a planet?) that’s been hiding behind the sun.

Here’s a recent picture taken in Dallas, Oregon by Ashleigh Sawicki. Her aunt saw the same thing in Florida as did my friend in Alaska. It’s not exclusive to the United States, either. I hear it’s been sighted in South America and Europe, too. Oh, and if you say it’s just the camera, why would someone take a picture of the sun? Had to be something strange to want to take that shot.
I guess we’ll find out what all the noise is tomorrow. Unless the aliens attack or, gasp, they take out our internet.

No matter what happens, enjoy the life you have, and if it needs improving, be the one to make the changes.

In the meantime, here’s some great diversion. Romance box sets in different flavors!Feeling like a sweet story? Sweet & Sassy is perfect. Need some suspense? Dangerous Encounters and Risky Encounters. Historical fiction: Rebels, Rogues, and Romantics. Paranormal or time travel? Mystic Lovers. Check them all out! All but Love, Christmas are available to read for free with your Kindle Unlimited account. Don’t have KU? Try it for free for 30 days. See Amazon for details.

Follow me on Amazon: http://bit.ly/dhAuthor 

10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO A WRITER’S CONFERENCE…EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A WRITER

malice-signings_11_-_webI’m throwing energy bars, running shoes, “author clothes,” sample books, and 3-oz. travel containers of shampoo, sun block, and mouth wash into a rolling suitcase. I really don’t have the time for this trip…and it won’t do my budget any good. “This is nonsense!” I tell myself. “I should be staying home and writing.” But I’ll drag myself out of bed tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. in order to get to the airport for my crack-of-dawn flight. And I’ll stay in a strange city for 5 days in spite of all of the arguments against making this trip.

Why?

Because there are a ton of really great reasons why writer’s conferences are worth the time, expense, and inevitable travel annoyances. Let me share ten of them with you…

1)      No matter how many writer’s conferences I attend, I always learn something new that will help me write better or further my publishing career. Plus! Conferences are about the only way to meet literary agents, face-to-face, and pitch your book. (Eeeek!)

2)      Attending a large, well-managed writer’s conference energizes me and my muse. We NEED this time away from our comfort zone to recharge our creativity. I know I’ll return home eager to plunge back into my WIP.

3)      The writing community is a shockingly small world. Even if 2,000 people attend your chosen conference, you’ll run into familiar faces and friends you met previous years. This social aspect is healthy and comforting when in a strange city. And besides, now you have a face to put to those emails you’ve been receiving from folks who love to read and write your kind of story.

4)      Most conference attendees—whether writers, readers, literary agents, or publisher’s acquiring editors—are friendly people. They come expecting to talk to others and share their knowledge. Now—how refreshing (and valuable) is that!

5)      If you’re taking writing classes and/or actively writing and submitting your stories for publication, you are justified in using travel expenses and conference fees as business-related expenses when you do your taxes. You don’t even need to have sold your work, yet. You are preparing for a new career.

6)      Writer’s conferences usually take place in large, interesting cities. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the city where this year’s conference is being held, this is a wonderful chance. At least some of your expenses will be offset at tax time, and conference organizers often arrange for fun side-trips—like ghost tours, history lectures, or group walking tours.

7)      If you’re an avid reader of a particular genre, but not actually writing, you may get a chance to meet some of your fave authors. Many conferences aren’t just for authors. They’re for anyone who appreciates their kind of story—whether it’s mysteries, romances, thrillers, children’s literature, or…whatever.

8)      If you’re a novice writer, you’ll get to chat with others interested in what you’re working on while you encourage other writers. And these conversations around the banquet table, in panel sessions, or in the bar will help you learn the ins and outs of the publishing biz.

9)       Publishing is an ever-changing business. By attending conferences where the pros share their insight, authors have a better chance of keeping up with changes that could affect their careers. And readers get to enjoy being insiders!

10)   Conferences are just plain fun! They offer stimulating conversation, time spent with other people who share your interest in writing and reading, plus—auctions, raffles, games, and (sometimes) Dessert Parties that are a chocoholic’s paradise.dreamstimesmall_575330041

So next time you read in Writer’s Digest about a writer’s conference, or hear that a friend is attending one—give it serious thought. It may be just what you need to jump-start your writing, or introduce you to a new author you’d love to read. And if you’re attending Bouchercon: The World Mystery Conference, September 15-19 in New Orleans, stop me and say “Hey!” because I’ll be there, too. If I can just get this darn suitcase closed!

 

Weeding Your (Word) Garden (aka De-Cluttering Your Writing)

GardenEvery gardener knows that flowers and vegetables won’t thrive if you let weeds take over your garden plot. The same is true of writing. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, a short story or hefty book-length project, prose that’s littered with unnecessary verbiage loses its impact.

How do we know what to keep and what to toss out? A good gardener learns the difference between a baby plant they started from seed and an insidious intruder. Before the weeds threaten the desirable plants a good gardener will yank those suckers out of there, allowing vegetables and flowers the nourishment and light they need to survive.

Here are a few tips for weeding your literary garden:

1)      Trim back adjective lists. (The tall, slim, vivacious woman with bright red hair and matching lipstick walked up to him.) Leave one or, at most, two adjectives. Make them the most vivid and specific. Readers only retain one or two details per sentence.

2)      Avoid unnecessary adverbs. Best-selling horror author Stephen King advises cutting all adverbs, but sometimes these colorful words do add to a scene, if judiciously used.

3)      However, be particularly aware of the dreaded -ly form in dialogue tags. (…he said hopelessly; …she commented sulkily.) Instead of tacking on an adverb to label the speaker’s emotion, keep the emphasis on the spoken words, or the character’s actions.

4)      “Would” is often an overused word that clutters good prose. Some writers string together paragraphs full of “woulds”. Search on it and, if you find this particularly persistent weed, substitute the root verb form, which is often more direct and powerful. Instead of “he would often attend the opera,” write: “he often attended the opera.”

5)      Don’t be afraid to use the strategic incomplete sentence. Writers who insist on every sentence following the Subject/Verb/Direct Object pattern often end up creating a stilted, forced style. This is particularly true of dialogue. Real people don’t all talk like college professors, using perfect grammar.

6)      Even a word like “the” can become clutter. (Cluttered: He picked up the hammer, the nails, then the stack of boards and loaded them into the truck. Better: He picked up hammer, nails, and a stack of boards then loaded them into the truck.)

7)      Dig out your “pet” words. We all have them. If you think you might be relying too heavily on one or more words, particularly the sort of word that stands out for the reader, use your word processor to search for it throughout the manuscript. You may be shocked to see how many characters use that same word or phrase in their dialogue, or how frequently you use it as your catch-all word for description. (Frequent weeds: big, large, got/get, just, went, going to…, about to…, etc.)

When I’m editing another writer’s work, one of the first things I do is de-clutter it. Think of it as putting your manuscript on a diet. A slimmed-down manuscript reads with more power, better pacing, and will more likely appeal to a literary agent or publisher. It’s just plain better writing—and that’s something we should all aim for.

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If you’d like to learn more tricks for perfecting your writing, you might want to check out The Extreme Novelist, my book based on the courses I teach in Washington, DC at The Writer’s Center, and for The Smithsonian Associates educational programs. Short story writers and memoirists will also find loads of information to them. You can order the book through any bookstore, or find it quickly here:  https://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Novelist-No-Time-Write-Drafting-ebook/dp/B00WA5FCVK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473169296&sr=8-1#nav-subnav