Sunday, December 6, 2015

Seriously, what is that smell?

So yesterday morning, while my brain wrestled with a plot-and-character problem in Revision One of the Mess In Progress, I invoked one of our favorite post-baby purchases: the Shark dust buster. We call it the Remora--'cause, yanno, it's a little shark. 

The Remora has proven invaluable when it comes to sucking up all the little schmutz (spelling?) in the corners that Wallaby invariably finds and sticks in his mouth. So much so that we just bought a second one (hello, Black Friday sale) for the downstairs. Anyway, there I was while Wallaby sat in his high chair eating his Cheerios, dust busting away with the Remora.

And I smelled something. Again.

It wasn't a good something.

"Ugh," said I to my son. "Did you do that?" 

But like it or not, Arizona and I are both pretty familiar with Diaper Funk, and it wasn't that. It was more like a litter box gone over--except that I had just cleaned the litter box, having smelled Litter Box Funk earlier. Which I was still smelling. Okay, so I missed a chunk. Except I didn't *see* anything hiding out on me. So where was the invisible culprit?

I hunted high and low. I Remora'd cracks and crevices, inside the baseboard, around the litter box … all clean. By the time breakfast was cleaned up, I was walking around, talking to the smell.

"Think you can avoid me forever? Ha! You'll see. I will find you, and I will END you!"

The baby, wisely, decided it was time for a nap.

Some time later, I sat back down at my revisions, determined to make headway on something, darn it, when Arizona came up from his downstairs office for a snack. He came over to me, kissed me, and griped good-naturedly about a client as he made himself a bowl of cereal. Then he headed back downstairs. 

As an afterthought, he stuck his head back around the corner of the stairwell. "Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure?"

Me: "Yes?"

"I may have sucked up a cat turd in the Remora this morning. So you might not want to let the baby play with it until we've cleaned it out."

(Or, yanno, get my face down really close to the exhaust port as I try to suck up whatever stinks. Sigh.)

The moral of the story, and one which I am preparing to bring to my revisions this week? 

Sometimes the thing you're doing to fix the stench is actually the source.

Have a good one, ReaderFriends!

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Great Nano Hangover

On Saturday, I had a strange, out of body experience as I watched myself weep into my husband's chest, wailing, "It's no use! If I don't want to f*ck him, why should she?!"

And I thought, WTF??

The "he" in question is the hero of my current mess-in-progress, the "she" is my heroine, and my very unsexy meltdown came on the heels of my having "won" Nano for the first time, then looking back on my nearly completed first draft, and going, "Oh, shit." 

Because all those notes I plugged in so I could keep writing the stuff I could see, the ones that said "insert tab A into slot B here" to mark where a sex scene should go, or "deepen conflict here, once you figure out what the hell it really is" … Yeah. Now I have to deal with them.

Arizona, to his credit, held me, made "there-there" noises, reminded me that I at some point hate every manuscript, and assured me that I would find lots of reasons to want to f*ck my hero during revisions. 

That, ladies, is the mark of a truly great WriterHusband.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), each November a sort of collective hysteria grips a large subset of the writing community, and a ridiculous number of authors, both published and aspiring, log into the relevant website and pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's 1667 words a day, which doesn't seem like all that much.

Until, of course, life intervenes. Which it always does.

You see, I usually start off the month all swaggering and like "I totally got this" and I launch in and put up some huge numbers in the first week or so, writing like a crazy woman regardless of what else is going on in my universe. Then I make the mistake of looking back on what I've written, and think "Oh, hell, no" and I start revising what I've written, because, damn. Or I get sick. Or someone else gets sick. Or I get a big editing job. Or, or ...

So I've never before made the 50k mark. Until this year.

This year, I was in the perfect place of Nano--I had already written and thrown out two openings for the current story, and finally knew who, what, where and when. I had a detailed outline that I actually had faith I could stick to. I was excited to write each and every scene. And I was going to write and not look back. Cross my heart and hope to … well, you know.

And I did. The first week, I got up at 6 each morning and wrote until 8, when Arizona gets to work and we do the Baby Handoff. I wrote during nap times. I wrote in the evening after Wallaby corked off for the night (he doesn't stay asleep, but darn, he's good about bedtime). 

The second week, my mom came and stayed so I could get in some solid hours of work. The story flowed. My brain churned. I found myself waking up at 5:30 instead of 6, so why not get up and write? Because did I mention I was also keeping up with my usual freelancing gig (science editing), too? And of course trying to Mom and Wife. Let's go to the playground! Let's make oatmeal cookies! If there aren't enough hours in the day, sleep can take a hit. 

The third week, on pace to not just hit 50k, but stretch it to 60k or even 70k for the month, I backed up my morning to 4 or 4:30 and started early on my strictly rationed Diet Coke. Plot twists! New scenes! I gobbled the story and spewed words. 

Week four was more of the same. I passed 50k and won Nano, then kept going! With four days left to write, I was closing in on 60k for the month, and more than 80k in the manuscript … And I realized it was time to start wrapping things up. Yay! Awesome! Party time! 

Except that then I looked back over all those frantic words. And I thought about how how many holes I left in there, and how much work it's going to be to make them as good as I know they can be. And, because I was running on zero sleep, raw emotions and ten months of "hey, let's nurse every two hours" ….

I. Cracked.

Scratch that. I freaking broke.

It started with a sticky nut on my treadmill (long story, maybe I'll tell it next week), escalated to my hero's unf*ckability, and took a detour to "I'm soooo tired and I can't keep doing this." Which wasn't really a detour at all, but the core issue. 

Too much pressure. Not enough sleep. 

But that, folks, is what Nano is about. It's also only one month out of the year, and it's over. In fact, this year I called it a couple of days early.

Yesterday, Arizona got up with Wallaby like he usually does, except instead of writing, I rolled over and slept for three more glorious hours. And the only time I opened my computer was to troll Facebook and order a second Shark dust buster (another long story, tangentially related to the treadmill thing).

And today, 6 a.m. saw me back at the computer, working on revision notes. The goal for next month: Make my hero absolutely irresistible. 

To those of you out there who participated in Nano this year, you're all winners in my book. And you're all (we're all) f*cking nuts. And, as of midnight tonight, officially done and probably very hung over. So be good to yourselves. Cut yourselves some slack. Maybe even take a week before you look back over the crap you spewed over the course of the month. 

I'll try to do the same.

Monday, November 23, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Animal rescue, sexy contractors and book recommendations ahoy!

Every now and then, I put on my extrovert costume, pack a couple of cool jackets and a pair of cowboy boots, and head off to a writers' convention for a few days--bonus points if it's being held somewhere fun. Mostly, though, I go to meet people--book lovers, booksellers, other authors … all the folk who keep fueling the machine that gets great stories into readers' hands. 

And sometimes, I have to go a couple of states away or even partway across the country to meet a neighbor. Like the time, whilst headed to Reno, I stumbled upon a good friend from a local writers' meeting holding down a chair in the Denver airport (shout out, Donna L). Or the Romantic Times book signing in Columbus Ohio, when a reader came up to my table and introduced herself as a fan, and we got to talking. It turned out that she was a Navy wife and mom of three who lived just a couple of towns away from me, and in addition to being an avid reader, was interested in writing romance.

In that moment, when I said, "We've got a great writers' group in the area. You should totally come check it out," I might not have guessed that she was brimming with the raw writing talent--or wicked sense of humor--that she turned out to have, or that five or so years down the road, she would be in her second year as president of that writers' group, my go-to for celebratory (or sympathetic) girls' nights out, and on the brink of having her second book come out!

If you love a fun, sexy and thoroughly modern contemporary romance, check out BOYFRIEND FOR HIRE (and the first in the series, BACHELORETTE FOR HIRE, only $0.99 on Kindle!).

And then there was the time I was at a local writers' convention and someone said, "Have you met Laura Moore? You really should. You guys have a lot in common." A background in riding and showing horses? Check. A career in academia? Check. Romance writer? Check, check, and check! 

Not to mention that Laura made an impression on Arizona. I think he liked that she, as he often does, will sometimes sit back quietly and let a conversation play out, not putting in a word until she has something to say … but that something will be worth the wait. She's clever, insightful, and incredibly generous with her time and heart, and it shows in her contemporary romances, the latest of which has a thoroughly drool-worthy cover, don't you think?

Fans of Virginia Kantra and Robin Carr should check out ONCE TOUCHED, which has a heroine fighting to save her animal sanctuary and a hero photojournalist who saw too much in the war. Seriously. Do it!

If you're a Facebook fan, check out their release party today 4-11 p.m. (I'll be dropping in at some point, and they'll be giving away a copy of one of my books.) Here's the link.

To encourage you to support these lovely ladies and their fabulous stories, I'm giving away two books today: one copy each of Gail and Laura's previous releases. (You don't get the new ones--you've gotta help an author out and go buy them this week, to encourage zee publishers to keep signing them up for more books!) Just leave a comment here (or if you have trouble commenting here, mention that in a Facebook comment and I'll include you in the drawing). Winners to be announced tomorrow (Tuesday)!!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Kitten v. bucket of paint … Doc Jess loses

So it started out innocently enough, as these things tend to do. Arizona and I have been trying to come up with a plan to improve the baby proofing in the bathroom, where we lack a vanity cabinet and have only open shelves for storage, but don't want to invest much money. 

We decided to start by replacing the mirror over the sink with a medicine cabinet that we could retrofit with one of those magnetic baby locks (which are a PITA to install, but withstand lots of tugging). Then, while at Home Depot (ah, how many well-intentioned sentences start thusly when you own a home), we added a few things to the pile--some new shelves for downstairs, and … well, I can't quite remember what else, but suddenly we had spent four times the cost of the (inexpensive, fortunately) medicine cabinet.

Then, of course, when we get home and pull down the old mirror, we discover that there aren't any actual studs in the space where we want to hang the cabinet. Arizona, not being a fan of anchoring anything in drywall, decides we're going to screw a piece of wood to the studs and mount the cabinet to that. Okay, sounds like a plan, and we've got appropriate scrap wood on hand. Bonus, we've also got the leftover bathroom paint the prior homeowners had left for us. 

Er, somewhere.

So down I go into the storage niche, where, with Wallaby's "help" I dug out the paint in question. Which was, when I think about it, probably pushing fifteen years old. It was also nearly empty, and what paint was in there had long ago fossilized. Hrm.

In a blinding flash of I don't want to go back out/I don't want to color match and buy new paint, I decided to use up the wall paint we had left over from having painted most of the rooms upstairs, including the opposite bathroom wall.

First, though, the wall needed some spackle, the new board needed some putty, and the whole thing needed to be washed down. All done either while simultaneously entertaining a kiddo who has entered the 'walk three steps and face plant' stage with a vengeance, or during nap time. 

Did I also mention it was date night for the three of us?

So it was that last night, with Wallaby tucked in bed and Arizona snoring a song of steak-and-potatoes repletion, that I locked myself in the bathroom and painted the darn wall. Which included hunkering down, getting behind the toilet, behind the pedestal sink, and cutting in and around all sorts of annoying corners. And did I mention the need to remove the kitten from underfoot, in the sink, batting at the paint brush …? Which led to her rapid ejection from the project, much to her annoyance. All while CBS played on my computer on the floor, giving me 60 Minutes instead of Madame Secretary because of the football game. 

Eventually, though, I finished. I cleaned up. I turned on the blower, opened the door, and stuck my foot in the gap, in the move that is second nature to 99.9% of cat owners out there.

This time, though, I failed. A medium-size black-and-white blur somehow evaded my foot and my ungainly riposte, and sailed through the two-inch gap between the sink pedestal and the painstakingly painted wall. 

Or, rather, sailed halfway through. Because there she stuck, glued to the tacky light blue paint, looking at me as if to say … well, I'm not sure what she was looking like, because I was trying to decide whether to laugh my ass off or start swearing. I may have done both.

Some time later, when I finally emerged from the bathroom and rejoined my snoozing spouse in the living room, said spouse roused and sleepily mumbled, "Everything good?"

"Yep," said I. "I painted the bathroom and washed the cat."

"Awesome," he mumbled, and rolled over. Then: "Wait. What?"

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Grossest Thing I Ever Ate

When coming up with a new character's backstory--the stuff that I need to know about a person that might never appear on the page, but that I need to know in order to live inside their head while I'm writing--I ask myself all sorts of questions. Like: Where did they go to school? Were they a jock? An outcast? An introvert with a few close friends? What was their first kiss like? Their most recent one? What pets have they had? What pets do they wish they could have? What is their weirdest guilty pleasure?

As of this week, I have a new one: What is the grossest thing they ever ate, and what were the circumstances?

Me? Both of my grossest moments involve mold. One a moldy hot dog that I ate half of (at the cafeteria serving the backstretch of Suffolk Downs race track, whilst waiting for the track vet to look at a horse I wanted to buy), and one a Lean Pocket with a green-and-purple interior that I again half ate before realizing it wasn't the one I had brought that day, but rather one I had forgotten in the barn fridge a month earlier.

Gack. But then again, from such things is penicillin made.

As you might guess, this question arises from life with a terrifyingly mobile nine month old, during Autumn in New England. We're doing better about playing with leaves rather than eating them, but all bets are off when it comes to the sandbox at the playground. (Sand. Nom!) And then there are the unexpected moments of abject parental gross-out.

To set the scene the other day:

Me: *spins ring things on floor, much to the delight of Wallaby and his kitten, Bunker The Terrible* Whee! Look at them go! That one went in your bedroom.

Wallaby: Squee! *waddle-crawl-walks after it*

Me: *takes two minutes to putter in kitchen whilst listening to normal, non-dramatic noises from his room*

Wallaby: Squee! *comes back out of his room*

Me: *sees blood running down his chin and on his collar* Aaaahhhh! *notes that baby isn't crying* ????? *investigates situation, cleans off kid, finds no obvious wounds, but something nasty on the hallway floor …*

Arizona: *comes upstairs* Hey you two. What's up?

Me: You know that tick that Lucy wouldn't let us pull off her the other day? 

Arizona: It disappeared, right? We figured the tick stuff had killed it and it dropped off.

Me: Found it!


Monday, November 2, 2015

I wish I'd thought of that ...

Just a short one today, ReaderFriends, as my mom is staying for a few days to do grandma stuff with Wallaby and let me get in some good chunks of writing time. Yay! But I just had to say …

The other day, our usual biking spot hosted a road race, which made parking tough but didn't really affect our riding, as the gnarly stuff that we ride is the stuff most joggers avoid. When we returned to the car, however, we discovered that we had acquired a postcard under one windshield wiper. 

I was annoyed, but didn't want to litter our 'take out what you bring in' park, so stuck it in the car door. Later, I glanced at it and had to admit it was kind of cool. You see, it was inviting me to a 5k race Halloween night that spanned the 'lose an hour' portion of the headache that is daylight savings.

I'm no runner, but even I was tempted, just for the sheer weirdness of being able to say I finished a race before I began it.

So, yeah. Wish I thought of that. Have a great week, all!


Monday, October 26, 2015

Executive Decision and Sad Cat

Hola, ReaderFriends!

With a busy week staring me down, a book that needs writing, and an hour of nap time in which to write, I'm going to work on the book rather than blogging this week. Thanks for stopping by, and I'll see you next week. 

To make it up to you, here's one of my favorite videos: The Sad Cat Diary. You've probably seen it, but it's totes worth a re-watch :)

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Best Short Dino-Erotica Published Last Wednesday

Have I mentioned that I'm a geek? Well, I am, and I was reminded of that fact this morning, listening to the radio while building towers of random crap for Wallaby to knock over (rinse, repeat). Said the morning show hostess on the radio:

So, there's a new study out today, sponsored by (insert name of undershirt company-Hanes? Fruit of the Loom? I forget). It says that men make more money when they tuck in their shirts at work. Men who tuck make an average of 77k, whereas men who don't tuck make an average of 60k. 

(Insert semi-witty banter with the male cohost, who is apparently a non-tucker.)

Me: Bzzzzzzt!

Wallaby: ???

Me: That's a penalty buzzer on the play. You see, I'll bet you a box of Cheerios that they just compared salaries between tuckers and non-tuckers, and didn't control for profession … Even though I think we can both agree that certain higher-paid professions would, as a matter of course, expect one to tuck in one's shirt, whereas certain less well-paid professions would come with no such expectation. So there's an inherent bias in their calculation.

Wallaby: (knocks over a tower composed of six blocks, a rubber ducky, and three giant LEGOs)

Me: My thoughts exactly.

To give credit where it's due, the hostess mentioned that this was, indeed, the case, and thus the findings of the study should be viewed with some caution. (Okay, she didn't use exactly those words, but that was the gist.) But it got me thinking about other situations where the media lies with so-called statistics.

"Our #1 best selling sofa!" Which isn't terribly impressive if, say, their #2 most popular sofa sold ten units last year and this one sold twice that. 

"100% customer satisfaction!" How, exactly, are you measuring this?

"99% accurate" Do a Google search on how home pregnancy tests define this term. It's an eye-opener!

Which isn't to say that we're not guilty of the same shenanigans in the writing world … My last Mustang Ridge book was a top five Amazon best seller! (For new releases Western Fiction, that is.) If you make the niche small enough, eventually everything is a bestseller. Which really takes the oomph out of the word, don't you think?

Is there a solution? I'm not sure. I don't know if there's even a problem. But I do know that most of us out here on the other end of some of these claims aren't as dumb as the claim-ers are hoping. And then they wonder why a smart consumer doesn't take everything they're told at face value!

Monday, October 12, 2015

How DID you do that to yourself?

Back when I was in my early twenties, working as a landscaper (long story), I sprained my wrist. Upon arriving at the restaurant for a night out with friends, sporting a wrist brace, I got the expected "Uh, oh. What did you do?"

Me: I was pushing a wheelbarrow when the tire hit a rock and the handles twisted. I had a choice between hanging on or dumping a full load of dirt in the client's swimming pool. So. (I lifted my bandaged wrist.) The pool stayed clean.

Friend: Aw, come on. I was hoping for a better story than that. Like you got bucked off or lost your grip on a bar stool or something.

Me: Sorry.

This has, of course, been followed in more recent years with more interesting stories, like The Time Jess Dislocated Her Elbow, Put It Back In Its Socket, And Walked Back To Civilization and The Time Jess Went Over Her Handlebars And The Medic Was Wearing Fairy Wings (it was a Halloween bike ride). 

This past week, however, I encountered a most excellent version of the "How I wrecked myself" story, and (for a change) it wasn't mine. To whit:

Arizona (looking at his phone): What's a clavicle?

Me: Collarbone. Why?

Arizona: GW (his best bud of many years) effed his up and needs surgery.

Me: Ouch! What did he do, go over the handlebars?

(Phone makes beeping incoming-text noises.)

Arizona (reads): He hit a pack of javalinas.  

Me: A what of who?

Arizona: They're a kind of wild peccary, forty or fifty pounds each. I guess he was riding downhill in the dark and didn't see them in time.

Me: ??

Later, there was some gearhead discussion of how GW's suspension had performed while rolling over several of said creatures. Apparently, it absorbed the first couple of bumps, but after that, the javalinas won. (And all ran off into the bushes.) It was agreed that mountain bike suspensions generally aren't engineered for javalina. (And for Chrissakes, autocorrect, I still don't mean 'javelins'!)

I can just imagine the conversation if the question were to arise:

Bike designer 1: Javalina? Really? Who does that?

Bike designer 2: Some guy in Arizona. But maybe we should run some tests, see if we could change the dampening on the shock to absorb bumps like that.

BD1: Test? With what? A bunch of hams?

BD2: Two words: Pig Roast.

BD1: I'm in!

The moral? Sometimes truth really IS stranger than fiction.

Monday, October 5, 2015

I confess: I need a tube in my toilet paper

The other day, Arizona, Wallaby and I were doing the weekly grocery shopping. Or, rather, Arizona and I were doing the weekly shopping, whilst octopus-baby (who is now big enough to ride in the cart as long as it's got a working seatbelt) did his best to put the whole world in his mouth. Although we were cruelly depriving him of his current favorite snacks (mulch, leaves, cats …), he was willing to be placated by, well, pretty much anything he could get his hands on. The yuckier the better.

[I'm not proud. Yesterday, he got hold of the kitty litter scoop. #parentaloversightfail]

Anyway, in the salty-fat aisle (you know, chips and nuts), I went for the usual location of Snyder's Butter Snap pretzels, and stalled, confused by the lack of the familiar brown-and-yellow bags. Thinking the store had done one of those 'we're going to move everything around so you can't find shit' shuffles (which are supposedly meant to get consumers out of their ruts and spur them to try something new, but I'm pretty sure are really some diabolical population-level IQ test that I constantly fail), I stepped back and looked around.

Arizona pointed. "They're right there."

I turned back to the usual spot. Hesitated.

"There. You just had your hand on them." 

Here, I will note that his tone could mean only one thing: we needed to hit the McD's at the front of the store for a small fry, stat. Because for some reason, the combination of hunger and watching me dither over a food choice at the grocery store is one of the very few things guaranteed to put an edge in my husband's voice. 

That, and the traffic in downtown DC. But I digress.

Back to the pretzels--As I looked again, I realized that Snyders had redone the packaging of our beloved butter snaps, from brown-and-yellow to … baby poop? I mean, really. It's a drab, yucky mustard color that somehow does a Predator-worthy camouflage move to blend into the shelves like nothing I've ever seen. Or not seen, as the case may be.

Later (after his fries), Arizona said, "It's like that color that's in every house on every DIY renovation show ever. The one that people immediately say 'Ugh. We'll have to repaint.'"

Which makes me think about branding, and how it can sometimes be a good idea to shuffle things around, while other times it just confuses the crap out of people, makes them feel lost or (worse) means they can't find your work because it doesn't look anything like they're expecting it to. 

And, yeah, we're not talking about pretzels anymore, or not entirely. But that's all I'm saying about my current MIP (mess-in-progress, not to be confused with a WIP--work in progress--because the latter is, yanno, actually working). Instead, I'm going to take my pretzels in the camo-drab bag, and get back to my mess.

Oh, and the toilet paper? Arizona and I are both thumbs down on the new Scott tubeless TP. We're good earthlings and all, and didn't figure we'd miss those little cardboard beauties. But after half a package of fumbling at a time when, well, one doesn't really want to have to fumble, I'm ready to give this experiment a 'fail.' We don't use a TP dispenser (otherwise known as a kid-and-kitten toy), so for us this particular brand expansion is a no-go. But your mileage may vary!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

When I grow up ...

A while back, I remember blogging (not sure if it was here or elsewhere) about how I sometimes still found myself thinking "When I grow up, I'm going to …", as if being forty-mmrmph and a business owner wasn't sufficient to make me a grownup. But some days (most days?) it didn't feel like it was.

At the time, I was willing to say I didn't need to grow up, that I liked still feeling like I had a ton to learn and lots still left to change. So it's interesting to realize that it's been a while since I last thought "When I grow up …"

Maybe it was the coffee table. This spring ushered in Arizona's and my first married furniture purchase (aside from our giant bed, known as The Big Soft, that is), when we upgraded our beat-to-hell sofa for a new one, and traded the ottoman for an honest-to-goodness coffee table called Bob's Enormous Coffee Table. (PSA, be careful when Googling 'bob's enormous'. I'm just saying.)

Though it seems like the obvious answer, I don't think it was having Wallaby that did it. I mean, sure, I'm making decisions for another human being, but how grown up can one be when the day's entertainment leans heavily on making noises like "phhhhbbbbllllttttt" against said human being's tummy, hiding behind a dish towel, and eating Cheerios with one's fingers?

All I know is this past weekend, as I manned up and said goodbye to my beloved Single Girl car in lieu of a new Familymobile, although it felt like a very grown up thing to do--it being my first new car purchase and Arizona's first not-handed-down-from-a-family-member car--I didn't find myself thinking "When I grow up …"

Does that mean I've officially grown up? Hells, no. I've decided it means that I'm no longer worried about whether I'm a grownup, a perpetual twelve-year-old who still thinks fart jokes are funny, or both at the same time. I am who I am, and I'm doing a pretty good job of it. This week, anyway …

Monday, September 14, 2015

Good company on my desert island

This past weekend, Wallaby, his grandma (J-ma) and I went to the Connecticut Romance Writers' fabulous conference. Before, my conference itinerary used to sound a whole lot like: Hang out in the coffee shop and write; go to workshops; give talks; meet with agent; meet with editor; hang out in the bar and socialize. Sleep a few hours when and where convenient; maybe hit the gym or go for a walk outside. 

Now, they're more like: 
Whee! It's five a.m. and we're someplace new! Let's investigate!
Whee! Let's zoom up and down the really long, nicely carpeted hallway and back!
Whee! Breakfast! Let's wear some eggs! Then hug mommy in her conference clothes!
And after that, there are high-level negotiations regarding when and where Wallaby and the Boobs will rendezvous in and amongst me giving talks, going to workshops, etc., and he and J-ma go off for their day's adventures. 
Then I take a breath, and shuffle my identity back to WriterJess for a few hours, before we rinse and repeat the above. 

Which, really, is lovely. But life then doesn't look much like life now, and vice versa. And neither does my writing. Where before, I could tune out the universe and write for eight or ten hours, or longer, these days I get two precious hours in the morning before Arizona starts working, and another couple after Wallaby goes to bed (if I can stay awake that long). Which has led to some self-kicking in recent months--you know, that inner monolog that goes something like:

I used to write fast.
I should have this book done by now.
I can't believe I'm not even halfway done.
This is crap.
No, really, it's crap. Why am I even bothering?
I need to throw out a chapter. That took me two f*cking weeks to write.
I suck.

To say that I wasn't really feeling the love of being at a writers' convention this past weekend would be a gross understatement of my angst. But I was scheduled to give a couple of workshops and see one of my best writer-pals (shout out, Virginia Kantra!!) along with one of my best gal-pals (shout out Gail Chianese!!) and many other awesome friends, so I couldn't very well bail. 

So I went. And to say I felt out-of-step with the crowd would be putting it mildly, at least when it came to talking about writing stuff. I don't have my next book scheduled. I'm not really ready to talk about the Trainwreck-In-Progress. I'm writing … sort of … but …


Then came breakfast on Saturday. I usually sneak out on keynotes, but the speaker was (fabulous mystery writer and Emmy-winning reporter) Hank Phillipi Ryan, who I've known since she first started writing, so I stuck around. I know she gives good talk.

I hadn't expected her to give me an AHA. Followed by a DUH. (Not that she said something stupid, but that what she said made me give myself a big old dope slap.)

Because she talked about Not Giving Up. About how she gets to a point in her writing where she just wants to chuck the whole project in the electronic garbage. About how Stephen King's wife had to rescue Carrie from the trash. About how the book is rarely (never?) as bad as we think it is in that moment, and we should just keep pushing through.

And you know what? Ninety percent of the audience members were nodding. Which was right about when I reminded myself (as I had been doing all week, but this time it stuck) that I always hate my book when it's about halfway done, and it's never as bad as I think it is. Or if it is, I always figure out how to fix it. (And, as they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it.)

Damned if I didn't come out of that breakfast, not just wearing some of my scrambled eggs (thanks, kiddo), but feeling like I was back in the tribe, no longer alone on a tiny little island in the middle of the Sea of What The Hell Happens Next? And knowing that no matter what, I'm not going to give up.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The POV of a Tree (hey, it rhymes!)

As a writer, I've put myself in all sorts of perspectives--or points of view (POVs) over the years, male and female, white knights, villains, children, animals, and everything in-between. My agent, upon reading Nightkeepers, remarked that with all the POVs I used, she kept expecting to hear from the perspective of the big tree at the center of Skywatch.

(I was a little abashed I hadn't thought of that. Because, World Tree!)

The fabulous and mega-bestselling Suzanne Brockmann taught me very early in my career (I was fortunate to share a writing group with her, Lisa Gardner, Hannah Howell, Patricia Grasso, and Judith Arnold, to name a few) to keep my POV pure. In other words, not to use language or thoughts that wouldn't be organic to the character whose head I'm in at a given moment, even if it would make my life a whole lot easier when it comes to descriptions and such.

For example, my cowboy hero might stretch his long legs out in front of him as he leans back against a tree, he probably doesn't note the powerful muscles of his own thighs, or the way his worn jeans showcase his bulge. Unless he's a narcissist or something of a dick, that is, and I don't tend to write those kinds of heroes. My guys is far more likely to notice that his knees hurt or his socks don't match. Or, better yet, how the heroine looks coming toward him with fire in her eyes. 

POV applies to everyday life, too, as we're expected to put ourselves in other people's shoes, to better understand their take on things. And not just people, either. Back when I owned the farm, I spent way too much of my time thinking like a horse--i.e., trying to see the world through the eyes of a suicidal prey animal with long, spindly legs and hooves that could get stuck in the darnedest places. A gopher hole? Obvious death trap. The metal bars covering a window at eyeball height, protecting the glass? Less obvious, but I knew not one, but two horses who rolled around and got a foot stuck way up high, and spent the night hung up by one back hoof.

These days, as Wallaby goes increasingly mobile Arizona and I shift into baby-proofing mode, I'm learning a whole new perspective--that of a small human who sees the world from shin high, thinks everything at twice that height is solid enough to pull himself up on, and doesn't yet get that going face first off the edge of a precipice stops working the moment said cliff is higher than a couch cushion laid on the floor. 

Thus, I find myself going through the house, seeing things with new eyes. Me? I'd never think to pop a dishwasher pod in my mouth and give it a chew. But it's so pretty! And shiny! And it bounces! 


So wish me luck, dear ReaderFriends, and I try to anticipate all the ways Wallaby (in collusion with his kitten) might try to hurt himself, and no doubt fail to anticipate them all. But at the same time, enjoy with me the fun of picturing yourself a foot off the ground, with no fear and the pure and innocent belief that there will always be someone there to catch you when you fall. And have a wonderful Labor Day week :)

Monday, August 31, 2015

It's all Downhill from here

Last week, Arizona, Wallaby, Grandma J and I packed a ridiculous amount of stuff into two cars and went to Vermont for a week, in Arizona's and my first official together vacation that did not involve staying at a family member's house or me doing writing stuff with other authors. Despite a bit of last-minute angst when the owner of our vacation-rental-by-owner was late getting us the code to the key-box, and me coming up with all sorts of disaster scenarios (as you do), there was little to no drama, and the four of us spent a very fun week together.

We hiked.

We did silly tourist stuff.

We took Wallaby to his first playground (where he was far more interested in playing in a puddle than on the swing set, but that's cool, too).

My apologies for the lack of Grandma J footage, but she ducks photos. Trust me, she was there, and we couldn't have had the same fun without her. Because with her and Wallaby off doing grandma stuff, Arizona and I hit the slopes. Not to ski, but to load our mountain bikes onto the lift, ride it to the top, and roll down at breakneck speed.

And, no, neither of us broke our necks, or anything else. In fact, we emerged from a week of gravity riding with minimal wear and tear on both us and our bikes--which, given my history of wrecking myself whilst biking, is pretty impressive. But it got me thinking that a whole lot of my bumps and bruises have come, not while shooting downhill, but while pedaling up.

When you're going uphill, you're putting a whole lot of work into each stroke, trying to balance and counterbalance, steer, plan for the rocks and roots up ahead, and generally keep your helmet over your heels when the whole assembly wants to wobble and prove gravity. (Though, as Arizona is fond of pointing out, I can't actually prove gravity. I can only generate more evidence in favor of its existence. Snicker.)

When you're going downhill, all you need to do is keep your joints loose and your balance more or less upright, and let all that potential energy you gathered on the uphill do its thing. Yelling "Wheeee!" at appropriate intervals is also encouraged.

Which, come to think of it, is a whole lot like writing a book--or at least it's a whole lot like how I write a book. I slog through the first half, wording and rewording, writing, deleting, cursing, and generally feeling like I'm pushing a giant, unwieldy ball of worms up a mountain. But then I get to the top, with those worms turned into story dominos that are poised to fall into place, and I go flick, and send them tumbling down the other side of the hill. I keep my fingers loose and my balance more or less upright, and I write faster and faster, gathering momentum as I roll down the hill.

So now, as Arizona and I do our best to shake off our post-vacation hangovers and get back to our Monday morning routines, I'm encouraged that I've only got another week or so before I reach the halfway point in my current project. The worms are more or less behaving, the dominos are starting to fall into place, and pretty soon I'm going to get to stop pedaling quite so hard and ride the momentum down the hill.

And won't that be fun?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Giving ourselves permission to fall

This past weekend, Arizona and I attended a group mountain bike ride near our Little House in the Trees. Organized by the New England Mountain Biking Association, this is an annual event that we attend every year. 

Last year, I was benched (literally, as I sat my expanding ass on a picnic bench) and felt totally out of the loop of lean, Camelbak-wearing bikers who milled around, talking about their favorite gear, trails, and post-ride beer stops. This year, with my mom watching Wallaby, I was able to don my gear, put in my registration (at a table manned by a guy in a neck brace from last week's ride) and join the fray. 

(To those of you who know me well enough to ask, no, I didn't perform any spectacular aerial dismounts, thankyouverymuch.)

There were roughly three levels of gear on the attending bikers: those who weren't sporting knee, shin and/or elbow pads because they were beginner-ish enough not to have them; those who had what I consider to be an appropriate level of padding for a bouncy-fun ride;  and those who weren't wearing their pads because they were hard-cores freaks intending to ride below their level, whether because they had their kids with them, because it was forecasted to be in the nineties, or just 'cause.

Me? I wore All The Pads, and even did the old hike-a-bike around a couple of obstacles I just wasn't feeling that day. Because after spending the past couple of weeks hovering over Wallaby (who has decided that crawling is so last week and it's time to get vertical), I'm more aware than usual of the whole thud-OW thing. So much so, that I'll confess that I (sigh) bought my kid a house helmet.

In my defense, he's huge for his age, cruising early, and hits hard. And as Arizona said (bless him), "Let's get him started early thinking that when you're wearing the right protective gear, you can push the boundaries."

And you know what? He's right. And it applies to writing, too. With decreasing advances, increasing pressure to do more of the editing and marketing myself, and a kiddo making the sticking-to-deadlines concept a questionable one at best, I am, for the first time in fifteen years, not under contract to a publisher for my next book. Instead, I'm working on two stories for self-publishing, one as Jesse Hayworth and another as Jessica Andersen. 

I've got my crash helmet firmly fastened, my loins girded (whatever that means) and am ready to take the plunge for real. Wish me luck, ReaderFriends. And for you this week, I wish you soft landings and more time spent going "whee!" downhill than working your butt off to pedal up.

With love,


Monday, August 10, 2015

The English Language Really is Whackadoodle

I think I've mentioned my deep respect for my scientific editing clients, many of whom are writing in English as their second or third language, and depend on professional editors like me to help them keep their tenses and participles straight. 

Aside from one or two papers I have sent back to the authors with a carefully worded request that they work with an English-speaking colleague to bring the manuscript up a couple of notches before I take a crack at it (e.g., the one that a Russian scientist wrote, submitted to Google translate, and sent in for editing--yikes!), they're so much better than I could do if asked to be coherent in a foreign language. 

(I've got some high school French to my credit, along with equine survival Spanish: Pas grano por favor, el es muy gordo! As for science? Nope, nope, nope.) 

Okay, so there have been some giggle-worthy editing moments, like an entire paper written about the genetics of rainbow versus Asian crap (aka, carp), and a long-ago college entrance essay (back when I was doing general editing as well) from a girl enthusing about how much she loves to play with blue balls (some sort of rhythmic gymnastic thing, as I recall). And I can always tell which of my clients is doing speech-to-text or dictating to a non-scientist assistant. But that just serves to remind me what a thorny language our English can be!

I've been reminded of this in recent weeks, as I've gotten more aware of what I'm saying to Wallaby, modeling a language that I love to play with, but that has some really whacky rules when you come right down to it. And the complexity!

When training a horse (apologies to those of you who cringe at animal v. kid comparisons, but that's the way I'm wired), I always try to have the same word or cue mean the same thing. "Whoa" always means "stop forward motion," "foot" always means "pick up the clomper in question," "stand" always means "plant all four clompers and stay there," etc. Same with the cats, though as you probably know, cats reserve the right to reinterpret their humans' input at will. 

Granted, Wallaby is going to be capable of far more complexity. But at what point do I introduce it? Right now, "gentle touch" always means "do your best not to use maximum force when grabbing me/the kitten/etc." and "not food" always means "you get two tries for your mouth before I take it away and put it out of reach." But have you ever stopped to think of how many words we use for the same thing? 

Bunker is Bunker. She's also a kitten, a cat, a kitty, and an unholy terror (being four months old now, and in maximum destruction mode). She's black-and-white or tuxedo. She's soft, warm, purring, naughty and adorable, all in turn (and sometimes simultaneously). She's Bunkie, Bunkster, Bunker T. Menace, and Darn-it-Bunker ... 

I'm sure each language has those same issues, but English adds in some real whoppers--like words that sound identical but aren't spelled the same and mean very different things, and, heck, times the same exact word means different things. Is it any wonder my editing clients stumble sometimes? And how amazing that the human brain can learn such complexities starting at such a young age!

Even then, though, I suspect there will always be some confusion as to why things are the way they are. So I'd like to share with you two of Wallaby's biggest complaints to management from this past week:

1. Why is it okay to pick up leaves off the ground and eat them sometimes but not other times? (I was all "ooh, fun!" about eating straight from the garden, then vetoed nibbling on the hydrangea. Mommy is mean!)

2. Why is it okay for Bunker to eat the eggs I drop off my tray, but I can't eat the kibble she drops from her bowl? (Mommy. So mean.)

Still, though, life is pretty good when you've got a kitten and a cardboard box.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Read A Romance Month 2015

Howdy ReaderFriends! Today’s entry is going to be a little different than the norm (shouts in Cheers voice “NORM!”), as it’s part of READ A ROMANCE MONTH 2015!

As a participating author (shout out to Lorelei of Lorelei's Lit Lair for recommending me and crafting a truly excellent kickoff post) I’ve been asked to talk about this year’s theme—the joy of romance—answer some fun questions, recommend some favorite books, and host a giveaway. How cool is that? And seeing that I’ve got a new book releasing on August 4, it’s perfect timing to give a shout out to COMING HOME TO MUSTANG RIDGE and the recently released long novella, STARTING OVER AT MUSTANG RIDGE (only $2.99!).

And now, without further ado …


When I sat down to write about the joy of romance, a new heroine popped into my head, in a little scene of her own, set at my Mustang Ridge Dude Ranch, high up in the hills of in gorgeous Wyoming. I thought I would share it with you! Here goes …

“So…” Anastasia leaned across the long indoor picnic table, nearly putting her elbow in a plate of fat, buttery biscuits in her hurry to get close enough to whisper without actually going to the trouble of coming around the table. “Which one is it going to be?”

Joy leaned in, partly to meet her best friend halfway, and partly because everything on the loaded table smelled so darned good. It better, seeing how Ana had used the luxury guest ranch’s reputation for top-notch country cooking to convince Joy to come with her on the week-long vacation … and conveniently “forgot” to mention that they were booked for Single’s Week.

“I’m going to try a little bit of everything,” she stage-whispered back. “Especially when we get to dessert.”

That got an eye roll. “I’m not talking about food. The men, Joy! What do you think?”

That I’m nowhere near ready for this. Two years ago, she had thrown herself into getting Joy Love Bakery off the ground, vowing she wouldn’t even think about another relationship until she had her life under control. Maybe the business was doing a decent hover these days, but that didn’t mean she was ready to move on. Still, vacation was vacation, and she figured she could tolerate the nametags and awkward getting-to-know-you conversations to get to the trail riding, roping and cattle drive promised in the glossy brochure.

She scanned the long dining hall, where exposed stone work and log beams gave a rustic feel while a well-stocked bar and stage area promised a good time, and pretended to consider the dozen or so wannabe cowboys scattered around the room, mixed with an unequal number of eager faux-cowgirls.

The men came in a wide range of shapes, sizes and coloring, suggesting there should be something for most any girl’s taste. She could almost imagine an auctioneer up there on stage, giving them an auction-worthy rundown: Do you like tall, dark and handsome? Then check out Taylor from Texas. He’s got a great smile, a bit of wear and tear on his jeans, and a good job in the oil fields. Want someone with more of an eco-conscience? What James lacks in height, he makes up for with a great smile and a company that builds zero-energy homes. And the list went on.

“Come on, Joy!” Anastasia pressed. Wearing stiff new boots, skintight jeans and a sparkly shirt that showed just enough of her curves, she fit right in with the other ladies. “Which one is it going to be?”

Wearing boots had some scuffs and her jeans had some wiggle room she thought she would appreciate when it came time to actually ride out on the trails, Joy was fine with being underdressed. It was vacation enough being a thousand miles away from her apron and hairnets—she loved the bakery, but she hadn’t done much else for too long. And this was going to be an adventure, regardless. “I’m going to take my time,” she said, “get to know them. You know, book, cover, that sort of thing.”

Ana made a face. “You’d better pick someone quick and introduce yourself before someone else gets her hooks into him. And don’t roll your eyes at me. That’s why we’re here!” She sighed happily and steepled her hands beneath her chin as she looked down the table. “To meet someone interesting and have a fling—or at least the potential for one. The kind that puts that swoopy rollercoaster feeling in your tummy and makes you feel like anything is possible!”

Was that what romance was like to Ana? Lucky girl. As far as Joy was concerned, romance wasn’t a rollercoaster so much as a steamroller that flattened you and left you behind. “Go on and mingle, already. I’ll be right behind you.” By way of the dessert table, because this called for fortification of the chocolate variety.

“Promise me…” But Ana’s eyes went past her to the door, then lit. “Aha! I knew they wouldn’t have an odd number of singles. And hel-lo, gorgeous! Ooh!” she squeaked, her hands doing a fluttery thing over the biscuits. “He’s coming this way!”

Joy turned, expecting to see the sort of guy who usually got Ana’s inner rollercoaster car starting up the long incline that inevitably led to a fall—six foot or so, broad shoulders, narrow hips, leather and/or ink a plus, along with an I-don’t-give-an-eff attitude that Ana interpreted as being an evolved human being, but almost always turned out to be a literal not giving of an eff.

Instead, she got a guy who was an inch or two under Ana’s magic number, with curly chestnut hair and the face of an imp all grown up, complete with a devilish sparkle in hazel eyes that were locked, not on Ana, but on Joy, with an intensity that said his being there was no accident.

“Aiden?” Her voice went up at the end, heading for dogs-and-bats territory.

The devilishness spread from his eyes to his lips, which curved in a smile that weakened her knees and almost sent her plopping into the mashed potatoes. “Joy. It’s good to see you.” He said it like he meant it, the bastard. Like he hadn’t promised he’d be back from his rainforest gig in six weeks, max, and that afterward they would make plans, make a life together.

This was the first time she had seen him in almost three years.

Ana whipped her head between them. “You two know each other?”

Joy’s insides gave the anticipatory shimmy-shimmy-shake that a rollercoaster car made as it started up the incline, and nerves wrapped her from head to toe. “We … um.”

“Need to talk,” Aiden filled in for her. He stretched out a hand—tanned, broad, capable, dusted across the back with masculine hair and a nick or two that said he still worked with his hands, still tended to forget his work gloves. “Can we take a walk?”

She was tempted to swat the potatoes into the towering stack of corn on the cob on the next table over, and escape in the ensuing melee. Instead, she took his hand and said, “This better be good.”


(And that, folks, is the joy of romance for me—the potential for a wonderful rollercoaster ride of emotions and an amped-up version of a question we ask ourselves every day: I wonder what’s going to happen next??)

(P.S.- Sorry for the cliffhanger. I meant to just have a cute little scene of two people meeting and riding off into the sunset of happily-ever-after, but I’m just not wired that way! If you want to follow this blog and/or sign up for my newsletter, I’ll finish Joy and Aiden’s story one of these days, and let you know how it turns out!)


1 - Tell us about a moment in your life when you experienced sheer joy.

The other day, Arizona and I took the baby for a nice, long walk to get ice cream and hit the beer store (as one does). We passed an older woman in her yard and exchanged waves and a “Hey, how are you? Nice night!”

We hadn’t met her before in the neighborhood, but I recognized her from the T-shirt she wore, advertising a local orchard up the road. I used to stop there sometimes for a cookie or muffin, back when I was living on a perpetually cash-strapped farm up north with my ex, and would pass the farm stand in my travels.

“What would it have been like,” I mused as we kept on going, “to be standing there back in the day, with her ringing up my morning glory muffin, to hear a little voice whisper from somewhere, ‘One day, you’re going to wave to this very same woman as she gets out of her car after work. You’re going to be walking with the love of your life and your son—a baby, at forty-two! The bills will be paid up, and when the cars come by, your man will put himself between you and them, not the other way around’.”

And that, my friends, was a moment of sheer joy.

2 - Tell us about a place that brings you joy, or is attached to a memory of joy.

Once upon a time (aka going on five years ago), I drove down to the ferry dock an hour or so south of the farm in the World’s Fugliest Truck to pick up my date, who was coming over from the island to meet me. As much as we had been emailing fast and furious in recent weeks, he was still a stranger with a computer and some blurry pictures. Would he be anywhere close to the six-four he claimed? Would he be as clever and kind as he seemed online? Would there be sparks?

The answers to those questions and others were yes to infinity and beyond. And these days, when we use that same ferry dock to take Wallaby to visit my in-laws on the island, I always feel that same joy and hear a whisper of This is where the fun began.

3 - Tell us about a sound that brings you joy (or a memory attached to sound — music, laughter, wind chimes… ?)

I love the sound of equine hooves thudding on the ramp of a trailer. Back when I had horses, it meant we were going on an adventure, or coming home from one. These days, I don’t have horses (thus why the bills are paid up, LOL), but I volunteer at an equine rescue, so the noise of hooves on a trailer ramp either means that one of our rescues is headed off to a new adoptive home, or a new rescue is arriving to begin rehabilitation. What joy!

4 - What recent book have you read that brought you joy. (Or a book you read in your life that brought you so much joy you’ve never forgotten it.) Why?

Codependent No More. I know it’s probably not the usual answer to this question, but when I first started reading it at a particularly low point in my life, it was like I had been wandering for a really long time (despite the best efforts of my friends and family) and I had finally found a path I could follow back to myself. That was a moment of joy in the darkness. Even today, with my life in a very different place, I refer back to it now and again when I find myself wanting to cling and control rather than going with the flow. And that brings me back to the joy of my present self.

5 - And for fun, the joy of choice ;o) ~ Pick your Chris! Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Rock, Chris Evans or Christopher Plummer (circ. 1964 aka Capt. Von Trapp)?  

Sorry, I’m going to reject your Chrisses (Is that a proper plural?) and substitute my own geek love: Christopher Gorham, aka Auggie Anderson on Covert Affairs! Love, love, love him showing a blind man leading the rest of the CIA around by their computers, and when he’s shirtless … hello, HAWT!


Please sign up for my newsletter! All new sign-ups this month will be entered in a random drawing for a $50 gift certificate at Amazon or (winner’s choice). The winner will be announced here at my blog on Monday, 8/31.


I love books! Books, books and more books! So, in no particular order, I highly recommend Lois McMaster Bujold (space operas and fantasy), Linnea Sinclair (sci-fi romance), Samantha Cayto (sci fi erotica, etc.), Sherry Thomas (historical romance), Hannah Howell (historical romance), Gail Chianese (a debut contemporary romance author and buddy of mine), Kristan Higgins (contemporary romance and women’s fiction; a buddy, though far from a debut author), and JR Ward (who I suspect needs no introduction (but check out Bourbon Kings!!!) and is my partner in crime when it comes to mooning lake cops, which is a long story, and not yet past the statute of limitations …).


Jesse Hayworth (aka Jessica Andersen) is a farm girl from way back, complete with tractors and livestock. Now farmless and driving a Subaru named Roo, Jesse lives on the East Coast with three kitties she rescued from various bad situations, the husband who rescued her from, and the son who rescued them both from the bad habits of sleeping through the night and going mountain biking on a whim. She loves writing about wide-open spaces, animals, and true love, and she hopes you’ll come along for the ride!