Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year...A New Book.......

BEDEVILED is coming! BEDEVILED is coming!!

Oh, wait. Maybe you don't know about BEDEVILED yet. So um, why would you care that it's coming?

Okay, let me start that over. On the left, is the cover for BEDEVILED. Gorgeous, yes? I think so. And even better, it's a terrific story if I do say so myself!

Sure, I may be a little biased, since I wrote the book, but let me tell you a little bit about it and you decide...

See, I love paranormal. The weirder the better as far as I'm concerned. But I also like my otherworldly books to have a sense of humor. Needless to say, BEDEVILED does.

The book starts out with Maggie Donovan going to return her ex-boyfriend's ABBA cd's only to find him being eaten. When it looks like she's going to be dessert, Maggie fights back against a creature like she's never seen before. In the incredibly clumsy battle for her life, Maggie inhales what looks like gold dust. Turns out, it's Faery dust and it's already beginning to change her life! Suddenly, she's super strong and has a tendency to float at the most inopportune times. And just when she thinks it can't get worse, it does.

Culhane, a centuries old Fenian Warrior for the Fae arrives to tell Maggie that she is the Destined Queen of the Fae. The only trick is, she has to defeat evil Queen Mab to claim the throne. No problem, except that Maggie doesn't know how to fight, doesn't have time to fight and hey, has zero interest in being the Queen of a world she never even knew existed until like five minutes ago!

But as she and her family come under attack, Maggie discovers that the only way to keep everyone safe is defeat Mab and become a queen whether she wants to or not. Of course, her sister Nora loves the whole Fae thing. And Nora's daughter Eileen researches Otherworld and peppers her befuddled aunt with facts and tips. Then there's Bezel, a two thousand year old pixie with an attitude, who shows up to train Maggie for her coming battle.

And did I mention that Culhane and Maggie have a much deeper connection than she knows? That this Fenian Warrior will do anything to claim her as his? And oh yes, Culhanes also got this pesky little connection to Mab, too.

Things are hopping around Maggie Donovan as she tries to become the Queen of Otherworld! I really hope you all rush out and buy it!!

BEDEVILED hits the shelves on Jan 6th! Be sure to look for it! Or, click on one of the links in this blog and preorder if you want to make a writer happy!

Either way, I wish you all peace and joy and good health in the coming new year!

And always, I wish you great books!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking Back and Forward

I want to thank Lee Hyat for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this blog. Now that the whirl of Christmas is past, it seems a good time to reflect on the past year and the year to come. As a writer, I have much to be thankful for this year. I've seen several new books on the shelves in 2008, including my brand new release, A Man To Rely On. (More about that in a bit.)

Obviously, this has been a year of ups and downs for everyone. My nature is not to dwell on the downs, but I think I also sometimes don't stop to savor the ups enough. So one thing I hope to do in the coming year is to Enjoy Every Blessing — both large and small. A beautiful day? I'm going to get up from my desk and enjoy it — even if I only have time to walk out onto the back deck for a few moments and take a deep a breath. I'm going to take those few moments. A yummy desert? Instead of gobbling it down, I want to savor it. A new sale? Time to break out the champagne!

As for those downs — when bad news or tough times or disappointments come my way, I'm going to focus really hard on all the things that are still going right — even if it's something as small as a good cup of tea to enjoy and a new book (or an old favorite title) that I'm looking forward to reading.

And speaking of books, I read a lot of great books in this past year, but my To Be Read pile still towers, so another goal I have for the new year is to Read More Books. I'm not sure how I'll do it, but I plan to find a way!

On the writing front, I want to continue to Work on Improving My Craft. I'm going to read some new how-to books and review some of the ones I have. I also want to take some classes and workshop. I have over three dozen published books to my name, but I know I still have a lot to learn.

As for the books I've written, I promised to tell you a little about my current release, so here's a little blurb "Marisol Luna returns to her hometown of Cedar Switch, Texas in the aftermath of a sensational trial in which she was acquitted of murdering her basketball superstar husband. Her childhood friend, Scott Redmond, isrebuilding his reputation after a few missteps of his own. She was the woman he couldn't forget. He was the kind of man she'd always wanted. But is love worth all they will have to give up to be together?"

"Cindi Myers' A Man to Rely On (4) is a story about recovering from tragedy. Both Scott and Marisol are dealing with painful pasts, and Myers does a wonderful job depicting their emotions and fears." Romantic Times (4 stars)

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

A Man to Rely On
collected about a dozen rejections as I submitted the story in various formats and guises over the years. It has, in turn, been written as women's fiction, romantic suspense, and finally, as romance. Finally, at Superromance, I knew I'd found the perfect venue of this story about two characters who simply would not leave me alone. Which brings me to my final goal for the new year. I Won't Give Up. Whatever dreams I'm pursuing in the coming months, I won't let a few setbacks or hard times keep me from going after them. I'll pick myself up, dust myself off and take another shot. A Man to Rely On proves that when the timing is right, everything comes together.

What goals or dreams do you plan to pursue in the coming year?

I'm Cindi Myers. You can visit me online here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The List of Dates

I have a couple of friends right now who are going through the mid-life dating ritual, and they've asked me for advice and writing help. This is what happens: If you are writer, people think you can write anything. Of course, this is not true, but having someone to call for obituaries, birth announcements, thank you notes, hate mail, and dating ads is very convenient.

Because some of my friends are of a certain age and suddenly single, they want to put their ads up online and commence the dating ritual of the currently separated and divorced The problem for me is that even though I’ve recently come through the other side of a dating spell, I've never been a big dater. My technique was to meet someone and move in with him as soon as possible.

Sometimes, this isn't the best plan, but it always worked for me.

So when I found myself having to go out on dates, I was rusty. Maybe I wasn't rusty as much as completely shiny and never tried out at all in the dating arena. In fact, when I came fresh onto the dating market when I was 43, I think the last "real" date I went on besides to one my former spouse took me on before we moved in together was a date in 1979 with a man named John Gonzalez. He was going off to be a doctor, and I had hopes for a big house and a life of ease, but it just didn't work out.

You may find what I have to say below ruthless and mean. I've lumped whole swathes of men into groups, but please forgive me. I am sure there is a list somewhere with my name on it. Maybe I’m there, right under the title “Neurotic Bitch.” But for the sake of this lesson, I've merged many people into few slots, as a primer for those out there and my friends starting out in midlife dating. Below, I share some of my hard won notes of female/male, heterosexual dating so that when you go through them yourself, you will say, "Why does this feel familiar?" My point would be, you can't escape any of this.

The first date I will detail is the Mr. Perfect date. I had one of these, and from the moment I met Steve, my life seemed magical, a word I should have recognized as suspect after having heard it bandied about in regards to real estate. But meeting Steve was, indeed, magical. He walked into the restaurant, and my heart did a nice little flip of happiness. The photos he’d put up on his ad hadn’t been lies. He was tall, good-looking, and dressed impeccably in a jacket and pants and slightly purple but not too purple dress shirt. He smiled as he recognized me, and as he took my hand to help me stand up from the couch in the waiting area, the soundtrack of our date swelled.

When seated, he began by appreciating me. My outfit, my looks. He asked me why I didn’t write that I was so fit, “so buff.” He complimented my dating site ad, saying, "It was the best I'd ever read." Of course you can imagine the double impact of that statement on a writer.

And when talking about his past loves, he was considerate, giving me his feelings not railing against the various women. He talked glowingly of his children, one his, the other two stepchildren that he never, ever considered "step" in any way.

At one point, he smiled at me, shook his head slightly, and said, "This date is absolutely delightful."

As the wine began to flow, as the food came in its delicious small plates, I realized Steve was the perfect man. When the meal finally ended, he walked me to my car and gave me the perfect small yet sexy kiss.

I never heard from him again.

Okay, I'd like to tell you that I didn't email or call him after waiting the requisite day or two. I want to fake my dignity, calm, and élan in the face of such a strange and surprising rejection. But I did email once, trying to figure out what happened. I said what a nice time I’d had meeting him (a broken rule right there, emailing the guy first. Steve taught me that). And then I sort of went into my own pathetic little whimper, asking if I had said something wrong. Had I made a mistake?

Mr. Perfect didn't answer.

Now, I think that he was probably a guy who did the perfect date routine as a matter of course. Maybe he has a first date fetish. I am not sure, but don't be surprised to have one of these. In fact, Steve is probably still around waiting for you, ready to take your call.

The next date is The Dumper. I had a couple of these, but the one who stands out most clearly is the man who spent about 4 and 1/2 hours telling me the story of his last breakup. From the time we sat down at the restaurant to the end of the walk we took afterward, I learned the entire history of their meeting, their life together, and their breakup. I learned his past only in order to understand his relationship with Tammy. Tammy this, Tammy that. Tammy, Tammy, Tammy. I knew what she liked to eat and what she hated in the bedroom. I knew her children's' names and her parents' occupations.

As a dating technique, guys, this isn't a great one. Not very sexy.

Because Mr. Dump was local, I ended up spotting Tammy eventually, and I felt like going up to her an asking about the plantar wart on her right foot. But I refrained. I also refrained from further dates with Mr. Dump.

The deal with The Dumper is that he’s not ready to move on. He thinks he is. After all, he’s asked you out or put himself on a web site looking for a new partner. But he might have to go on 50-100 dates before he’ll be able to stop telling the Tammy story, the tale getting better and more detailed each time.

Mr. Dump and I became very casual friends, and in the three years since I first met him, he’s still bringing up Tammy’s name. Not quite as much, but Tammy is still the wallpaper of his mind.

The next date is Mr. Victim. Oh, how he has suffered, and he's happy to tell you about it.

Everyone is against him. His family, for one. His brother has taken over the family inheritance and ancestral home. For two, his boss is against him and has an evil plot out to get him fired. Everyone at work is involved in this plot, talking about him behind closed doors. And three, his ex-wife wants to rob him blind. His children barely speak to him. Finally, his friends don't pay attention to him even though he moved to this very spot to be closer to them, and dating has been a disaster, everyone hurting him.

One date I had with Mr. Victim involved a car ride wherein he told me the painful and relentless pattern of abuse he faced from everyone forever, starting with his father and ending with his last girlfriend. After one date with Mr. Victim, why would you ever imagine you wouldn’t or won’t be lumped into the annals of “Those Who Done Me Wrong.” Trust me, after you don’t accept a second date, your name is right up there, ready for the telling.


Mr. Head is smart, so smart. He's read everything and likes to argue about politics, literature, science. But Mr. Head doesn't seem to have a body. He folds in on himself like a snail, and it's clear that he doesn't ever really want to get close physically. He actually might not have hands. You will recognize him immediately, and unless you don’t want to ever be touched, you will escape Mr. Head after one date. That is, unless you think you’ll change him into a sex fiend with your abundant charms. My advice? Don’t bother trying.

Mr. Body is the opposite. He doesn't say anything much beyond, "Wow, did you see that shot?" and then he wants to dive under your dress. Sometimes, a nice dive under the dress isn’t bad, but don’t expect him to take you to you about The New York Times bestseller list later.

Mr. Caller won't even go out on a date with you, at least, not for a very long time. Mr. Caller is a bit tentative. Okay, let me put it this way. Mr. Caller is a chicken shit, and sometimes, for good reason. He knows he’s not ready to present himself to the dating world, but he’s out there anyway. He just wants to talk, maybe to pretend that he has a girlfriend to talk with. I once talked with a man for three weeks on the phone before getting him to agree to go out on a date. We decided to go to a play (not a great way to get to know each other in terms of talking), and I recognized him by his orange shoes. Later I found out he had three roommates, no full time job, and no prospects of one. I might have been able to deal with some of that, but then he ate sardines at our meal after the play, and fish bones in teeth, plus orange shoes, plus no job led me to say, "Next!"

Mr. Okay is, well, okay. He’s someone to hang out with for a while until you can gear up to meet another man. Remember that online dating can be exhausting, and it’s nice to find a place to land for a week, two weeks, a month. But don’t stay with Mr. Okay longer than that or you will end up having to break up with someone relatively nice, someone you don’t want to hurt.

My Mr. Okay was a very nice man, sweet, charming, but a man with whom I could not imagine kissing. Not for one second. We had a nice lunch, an interesting excursion to a hockey game, but when I stared at him in the darkened car cab at the end of date two, I knew that if he laid on hand on me, I might flip out.

I wrote to him that night telling him that I didn’t see us going anywhere physically but that I could be his friend, and he wrote, “Okay, well, I don’t need any more friends.”

Either did I, actually. So maybe if you feel okay about Mr. Okay, it’s best to end it all after date one.

I'm depressing myself and maybe you, too. So here's the good news. You have to date Misters Perfect, Dumper, Victim, Head, Body, Caller, and Okay just as a warm up for Mr. Right. Who is Mr. Right? How can I help you spot him? What are his characteristics, abilities, personality traits?

I can’t tell you. Sorry. Mr. Right is someone who may even share qualities with some of the other fellows above. But it won’t matter because the combination will work. But if Mr. Right comes along too soon, you might not be able to recognize him. Contrary to popular belief, the sound track of falling in love does not swell upon first meeting the man of your dreams, and you have to be paying attention or you might miss him. But all this hard and hearty dating (make sure you treat each date like an interview and you will be fine) helps you see the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Perfect. Mr. Right is perfect, perfect for you.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Thursday, December 25, 2008

How do you spell.... -- Lee Hyat

I'd like to wish all our Totebag readers a very peaceful and joyous Holiday Season! Whatever your faith, I hope you're having a fabulous winter, with lots of good company and plenty of laughs. :)

I've been giving thanks for all that is good in life and lately it's made me focus more than usual on my kids. Now that the Twilight mania has calmed down a bit (for teenagers and moms alike), my daughter is totally focused on the upcoming Jonas Brothers 3D movie. She was curled up on a chair in my office the other night, chatting about them with a friend and it was really quite a hilarious conversation. I won't go into it (I value my peace but yes, i was eavesdropping... shamelessly.... )but anyway, that bit of eavesdropping did spark the idea for my topic!

I've got a few questions for you, should you wish to play my game. I'm going to include my own answers with the questions, just to show you there are no right or wrong answers. :)


Question #1 - How do you spell "Delicious"?
My answer - H-U-G-H-G-R-A-N-T

Question #2 - How do you spell "Gorgeous"?
My answer - R-O-B-E-R-T-P-A-T-T-I-N-S-O-N

Question #3 - How do you spell "Dangerous"?
My answer - S-E-A-N-C-O-N-N-E-R-Y

Question #4 - How do you spell "Sarcastically Funny"?
My answer - H-U-G-H-L-A-U-R-I-E

Question #5 - How do you spell "Dreamy"?
My answer - G-E-R-A-R-D-B-U-T-L-E-R

Now it's your turn. Please answer the five questions here, on the blog, and then send me an email at with your full name and mailing address. Be sure to mark the subject heading Happy Holidays-2.

One lucky winner will receive the following books as a prize -

PANE OF DEATH - Sarah Atwell
UNLEASHED - Lori Borrill

Winner will be announced here on the 26th of December. :) Good luck!

***Laurie G from FL is the winner! Congratulations! Your prize will be in the mail soon. :) Thanks to everyone who played the game!***

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Grandma and the Prince: Part 2 - Barbara Bretton

(Part 1 can be found here.)

No matter how many questions you ask, no matter how many stories they tell, the truth is you'll never know everything there is to know about your family.

In a million years I never would have guessed that the photos of my grandmother and her prince were the key to the Big Family Secret I wouldn't know about until just before my father died in 2001.

After sifting through the photos and trying to make sense of it all, I picked up the phone and called my parents.

"About Grandpa Bert," I said, after taking a deep breath. "Did he have a nickname?"

My mother was quiet for a moment. "As far as I remember, Bert was his nickname," she said.

"Are you sure he didn't have another nickname?" I persisted. "Maybe something just Grandma called, maybe, Prince?"

Silence from my mother and then, "Let me put your father on."


"So who is this guy?" I asked him. "What's the deal with this Prince Mohindin?"
"I think he was an Arab sheik who rented an estate on the North Shore every summer."

For once in my life I was close to speechless. "You're kidding," I said.
"Aren't you?" My grandmother and a Long Island sheik? That was too much even for me and I tell lies for a living.

"I wasn't more than four or five," he went on, "so I don't remember too much. He had a penthouse apartment in Manhattan and a Turkish aide-de-camp named Ziggy who looked like Peter Lorre."

"I don't understand," I said. "I thought you were a middle-class family from West Hempstead. What were you doing in Gatsby country during the Depression?"

Of course he couldn't answer that. When you're five years old, you go where your parents go and you don't ask questions.

"We were up in Sea Cliff that summer," he said. "We used to see J. P. Morgan's yacht gliding across the Sound." He and his sister Mona and their cousin Jackie played on Morgan's Beach. They climbed the huge boulder that jutted out into the calm waters and pretended they owned everything the eye could see. "The rich people didn't stay much east of Syosset back then," he said.
They congregated like great sea birds in Great Neck and Sea Cliff, Oyster Bay and Glen Cove. I'm not sure Glen Cove even has a railroad station any more but, back then, the town was about as tony as it got . Take everything you ever read about Fitzgerald's North Shore of Long Island then multiply it by five and you're getting close.

I'd always assumed both the Fullers and the Dimlers had lost their respective fortunes by the time my Grandpa Bert and Grandmother El met and married but maybe I'd been wrong.

"Were you rich?" I asked my father.
"I don't think so," he said, "but we did have a housekeeper for awhile."

"That's more than we ever had," I pointed out.

"Lots of families had housekeepers back then. It wasn't that unusual."

I reminded him that simply having a house that needed keeping was kind of unusual during the Depression. It seemed like the perfect time to cut to the chase. "Did Grandma have an affair with Prince Mohindin?"
"I was five years old," he said again. "I don't know what they did. All I can tell you is that the Prince was an artist and he gave Mother a painting and two sculptures."

"Where are they?"
You could almost hear him shrug. "The painting might have gone up in the fire."

"What about the two sculptures?"
"I didn't see them when we closed up the apartment. Your aunt probably took them after Mother died."
And that was that.

Except it wasn't. The puzzle of my grandmother kept me awake nights. It didn't make sense. Hadn't she sat with me weekend after weekend in 1976, telling me her life story for the tape recorder? My savvy, story-telling grandmother who always said, "Stop the tape," when she got to the juicy parts. I knew there had been men besides her husbands. Wasn't she the one who'd said she'd lived a woman's life, experienced everything a woman could experience?
I knew about Rudi, the retired businessman, who fell in love with her when they were in their sixties and would lie on the floor kissing her feet while she did the dishes. (I should have warned you, shouldn't I? Sorry!) I mean, Grandma El (my father's mother) had become engaged to Grandpa Larry (my mother's father) when I was three years old. (My Uncle Budd's comment was legendary: "Holy #@*#, this is Queens not Dogpatch!") She wasn't beautiful or even pretty but she loved men and they loved her back right through to the day she died at 90.
But for all of her openness, all of those hours of family history that she willingly related to me, she left out one minor bit of information: she never told me about her first husband, Max.
A man I'd never heard about who happened to be my grandfather.
(Author's note: my research shows me that Prince Mohindin was probably from India.)
PS: I'm Barbara Bretton, author of CASTING SPELLS. You can find me here and here and here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays! - Lee Hyat

Happy Holidays! To celebrate the season, I'm giving away the following books today to one lucky winner -

THE ROMANTICS by Galt Niederhoffer

"The Romantics is a smart, edgy novel that is wickedly insightful about class and privilege, amusingly cynical about love and friendship, and thoroughly entertaining throughout. Galt Niederhoffer is an elegant prose stylist and a shrewd social observer."—Tom Perrotta
Laura and Lila were once as close as could be--college roommates at the center of a tight-knit group of friends. But the friendship has wilted a bit. Now, ten years after college, the friends--and the boyfriend they shared--have reunited for Lila’s wedding at her family’s seaside estate in Maine.
Laura is reserved, single, and the only Jew in the group, while the bride, Lila, is a WASP-y moneyed golden girl, and the groom, Tom, a swim team star from a working class Catholic background, is a perfect paradox of confidence and confusion. As the wedding draws near and wine flows faster, the disappointments and desires of the reuniting friends come quickly to the surface. A drunken game on the estate’s dock goes awry when the revelers are pulled out to sea by the current. When they swim back to shore, they are short by one—the groom. The search throws the group’s shifting allegiances into relief and results in new betrayals as well as confessions.
With Lila’s family’s picture-perfect Maine summer house as the backdrop, Laura not only sees her old friends in a new light, but reassesses herself as well—is she the only one of the group destined to be unmarried into her thirties? Was it always this obvious that she was the only Jew in a pride of WASPs? Struggling with the traditionally thankless role of maid of honor—not to mentioncontending with Lila’s formidable mother Augusta—Laura also realizes she can't stop thinking about her complicated, long and intense relationship with the groom. But isn't that relationship far in the past?
A wry observer of cultural and social mores, Niederhoffer creates a pitch-perfect group of characters and a winning novel about friendship, class and love.

CAPTIVE DREAMS - Angela Knight & Diane Whiteside

Celeste and Corinne Carson are more than sisters—they're both bestselling writers, each with an alpha-male hero who fulfills the wildest fantasies of readers. For Celeste, it's Jarred, a conqueror from the future. For Corinne, it's the barbarian Mykhayl from a world long ago. Devilishly sensual warriors, Jarred and Mykhayl have something in common with themselves—they're both far more real than their beautiful creators could have imagined.
Fearing that the sisters are baout to write them off with a single stroke of the pen, Jarred and Mykhayl decide to exact hot, sweet revenge. The plan? Kidnap Celeste and Corinne, spirit them away to the very worlds of which they wrote, and force them to surrender to the sublime punishments of their own uninhibited imaginations...


If Lord Phillip were not in pain, he'd consider himself lucky to be in a hospital full of women, albeit nuns. His reputation has preceded him, but as he stays on, his thoughts of novitiate Angela Palmerston grow nobler-as her thoughts of him become less than holy . . .


Maggie O'Neill reluctantly volunteers to care for her bedridden, oh-so-perfect sister, Mel, but strange spirits threaten to divert her attention. Then a friend of Mel's loses her husband to a dreadful fall, and the police call it an accidental death. Maggie's not so sure, and sets her second sights on finding a first-degree murderer.

For a chance to win, please send an email to with your full name and mailing address. And please be sure to mark the subject heading as 'Happy Holidays - 1'.
Winner will be announced here on the blog Dec 24th.
And Season's Greetings to all!
***Lori P. from NC is the winner! Congratulations! :) I'll get the books in the mail in a few days! Thanks to everyone who sent in an entry!***

Monday, December 22, 2008

Writing Networks - Wendy Toliver

Hello, I’m Wendy Toliver. I’m a Simon Pulse author with two romantic comedies: The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, which came out exactly a year ago; and Miss Match, launching Feb. 10, 2009. And I’m pleased to announce that my original title, Lifted, sold just last month (also to Simon Pulse) and is scheduled to be published spring of 2010.

This fall, I was invited to present a luncheon keynote speech at the League of Utah Writers Conference. I chose a topic very near and dear to my heart, and since this is a time of year we like to reflect on what makes us happy and what we’re thankful for, I’d like to discuss it here today.

Many people believe an author lives in a bubble, where she writes, writes, writes and occasionally takes a break to eat or use the restroom or (if she’s lucky) sleep a few hours. This is sometimes unavoidable. However, I don’t enjoy being in my bubble. I long for human interaction.

I’m guilty of being “a social butterfly,” so finding fellow writers was a natural step for me. When I first started writing, about six years ago, I answered an ad placed in our local paper by international columnist Drienie Hattingh. She was searching for people to start a critique group. Since then, the original group grew and branched out, but the two of us remain close and still critique each other’s work and support one another’s careers.

To further grow my writing network, I joined RWA and met wonderful people at their national conferences. One such person, YA author (Sorority 101 series w/a Kate Harmon and the forthcoming Ghost Huntress series) Marley Gibson, not only helped me with my writing and kept me updated on industry news, she introduced me to the fabulous Christina Hogrebe who became my agent and quickly made my dream to be a YA author come true.

Conferences are a great way to build one’s network, and Drienie Hattingh and I partnered up to bring the first annual Eden Writers Fall Conference ( to life last year, with plans of a second conference in 2010. But for the writer who’d rather network from the home or office, the internet offers many options. There are an abundance of social sites, like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. There are also many Yahoo! Groups to join, or you can even start a new one that serves your specific needs. Blogging is another great way to network. (Of course, these options can also help grow one’s audience, which is always a good thing.)

This year in particular, my writing network grew by leaps and bounds. Much of it is due to a blog my friend and author of The Second Virginity of Suzy Green, Sara Hantz, started with a dozen other YA authors. Another way I grew my network was by promoting my first novel within the community, from school visits to book signings, book clubs to TV interviews. I also joined SCBWI and a Yahoo! Group of Utah-based nationally published children’s book authors and illustrators.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep growing and nurturing my writing network. I’m so thankful for everybody who’s helped my dream to be an author come true—teachers, parents, siblings, relatives, husband, sons, friends, fellow writers, and the great folks at Jane Rotrosen Agency and Simon and Schuster. Cheers to you all!

YA author Wendy Toliver lives in the Utah mountains with her husband, three little boys, and other various wildlife. Visit her online at,, and

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Festival of Lights - Melina Morel

In nearly every culture there seems to be a winter festival of lights. I would guess that these emerged spontaneously all around the globe, driven by a human need for cheering up in the midst of a cold and dreary time of the year when vegetation has withered, nights are long, and people are cranky. We humans need a reason to be happy in the face of winter’s gloom. In some cultures, alcohol supplies a lot of the winter cheer, of course, but I’m talking about folk traditions that are more PG.

With the downturn in the economy, I was wondering if people were going to light up their houses, yards and anything that will stand still the way they have in previous years. I can remember places that were practically a “must see” for everyone when I was a child. Lights on everything. Moving figures. Life-size mangers. The bigger the better.

One of my favorites was an area in a neighboring town that may have been part of a Christmas tree market. Memories are a little fuzzy, but it seems that parents would take the kids there to check out the trees, and while Mom and Dad were attending to the business of choosing Scotch Pine or Douglas Fir, the kids could go through a brightly lit maze loaded with decorated cut-outs of gingerbread castles, Santa figures surrounded by elves, reindeer and at the end of this dazzling wonderland, a meeting with Santa himself, who would patiently listen to you while you rattled off a list of every toy you had ever seen in the ads on TV. And if Mom and Dad had paid for an “extra,” you went home with a brightly wrapped present that generally turned out to be a coloring book. Hey, it came from Santa, so it was great.

Later on, when you were older and either had a car or had friends with cars, you went on the holiday grand tour. After dark you drove all around your town to gawk at your favorite light displays from years past, took note of the newer ones, commented on additions to old favorites and got together with your best friends, cousins or boyfriends to go to nearby towns with outstanding displays that involved outlining entire houses, yards, fences and anything else that could be wired.

I remember one house in a fancy suburb a few towns away that was almost an institution. This guy had every imaginable decoration on his property – including his piece de résistance, a tribute to The King. Not the Baby Jesus. Elvis. Display aficionados adored it. His neighbors hated it. I believe there was talk of a lawsuit to ban cars driving into the area and clogging up traffic all the while it was on show. That was the down side of the winter extravaganza, of course - the fans who waited all year to see what the proud homeowner would come up with next, and the furious neighbors who ground their teeth at the real inconvenience and probably muttered about “all these people from who knows where,” jamming up their streets and blocking exits.

One of my friends from work once told me she used to take her parents from Ecuador on a tour of light displays in my town when they came for a Christmas visit. They loved it, took pictures, and considered it a real highlight of their stay in New Jersey. Inca gold they could see back home. New Jersey had millions of Christmas lights and people who weren’t afraid to use them. They thought it was fantastic and found the natives really clever!

Melina Morel

Melina, who wrote the paranormal thrillers DEVOUR (2007) and PREY (2008) is currently working on a third novel in the series. Her newest vampire tale is tentatively slated for 2010.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Romance - Lori Borrill

I'm very fortunate this year in that I finished my last Blaze just before Thanksgiving and my next deadline affords me the luxury of taking December off. Since last year we were moving over Christmas, we didn't so much as put up a tree. To make up for it, we're going all out this year, doing all the decorating, baking, and movie watching that we didn't have time for before.

And, along those lines, I'm making a point of reading some Christmas-themed romances during my hiaitus.

In my holiday shopping travails, I picked out the following titles for my Christmas reading which are waiting in my TBR pile. I'm curious to know if anyone has read them and what you thought:

I love Brava anthologies, and Jingle Bell Rock had a ton of my favorite authors. I mean, who can go wrong with Alison Kent, Nancy Warren, Lori Foster and Janelle Denison all in one batch?

I picked this one up because I liked the theme: Two people stranded on a deserted island. Plus, with the weather getting cold, I thought the added tropical setting would warm up the holidays.

I'm a big Jamie Sobrato fan and this was her first endeavor in writing short stories. And I think in general, there's something about the rush of the holiday season that makes it suitable for the shorter reads. This Blaze anthology centers around fireman. How can you go wrong?

So what's on your holiday reading list?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Italian Prince, Wedlocked Wife - Jennie Lucas

by Jennie Lucas

What was your worst job ever?

Mine was working at a gas station when I was 21. Working my way through college, I took the swing shift making $4.50 an hour, working 10 hour shifts without breaks. I worked alone and felt vulnerable late at night.

It was a bad time in my life. As if my financial situation weren’t difficult enough, I was also forty pounds overweight and engaged to a man who was all wrong for me.

But the dark time turned out to be the classic darkest-before-the-dawn cliche. Things started improving when my fiancé cheated on me and dumped me. I found a better job at twice the pay, the forty pounds fell off almost without effort, then—best of all--I met my husband the following year.

My new book Italian Prince, Wedlocked Wife was inspired by that gas station job. Except Lucy Abbott’s situation is far more dire than mine ever was, because at twenty-one, she is not trying to work herself through college—instead, she is the sole support of her baby daughter.

She'd come home from the grocery store at Christmas when she was nine months pregnant to find her fiancé had deserted them to poverty. A year later, she is struggling to support her baby with minimum-wage jobs.

Then a dark Italian prince comes into the gas station one snowy New Year's Eve. Punching out her lecherous boss, Prince Maximo d'Aquilla kisses Lucy senseless, blackmails her into a forced marriage, then whisks her and the baby away into a life of luxury in Italy.

I wanted Lucy to meet the man of her dreams who would ultimately love her as his princess bride and love her baby as his own child. I wanted all her money problems and fears to disappear forever. I wanted her to finally find her prince, like I did.

Italian Prince, Wedlocked Wife comes out in few days--just in time for New Year's wishes. Please visit my website to read an excerpt, or enter to win a signed copy of Sharon Kendrick's book The Greek Tycoon's Baby Bargain.

I hope you have a lovely, magical holiday season. See you next year.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SNOW - Donna Alward

When I lived in Calgary, a lot of people would complain about the winter. Sure, we usually had a couple of desperately arctic cold snaps where it would dip somewhere around the -40 C mark. Brrrr. And if you drove a little over an hour, you'd be in the mountains and there was lots of the white stuff. But Calgary itself - well, a heavy snowfall warning or winter storm advisory is anything around 10 cm which makes me laugh. We really didn't get a lot of snow. Lots of blow, but not huge accumulations. And the snow we got rarely stayed. A warm chinook wind would come over the Rockies and drip drip - it would all be gone. This is a pic of me last year, feeding birds in Carburn Park in December.

After 12 years, I'd kind of forgotten about winters in the Maritimes - until recently.

We had 2 November storms, one that put the power out for 12 hours and the second - only three days later - that dumped 3o cm of snow on us and that had a 12 hour wait for the snowplow to clear our street. And this is just the beginning. My kids were thrilled. And it brought back all the things I remember about growing up on the East Coast and the multi-functionality of snow.

There's the obvious - snowman building, snow forts and snowball fights. In Alberta, with the exception of a late spring storm, the snow isn't that WET. So it doesn't stick together. Here, though, it tends to be heavier and you can roll to your hearts content.

It's a bit of a drive, but there's downhill skiing - not quite the same as Lake Louise or Sunshine Village in Banff, but there are several smaller ski hills that are lots of fun.

There's cross country skiing - boy, did I do this a lot as a kid - and one of the things I love about where we're living now is that we are close to the power lines, where there are always snowmobile trails to ski on. I might have to invest in a new pair and get in shape! It's brilliant exercise.

And of course, if you're not into cross country, there's snowshoeing. Actually, a bit more practical as there is no need for special boots, and they work better than skis when there is no path and the snow is deeper (which is why they were invented in the first place).

Then, there's indoor fun with snow. Two things in particular - maple candy and ice cream. We didn't make it often, but there were times after a fresh snowfall that my mum would heat up maple syrup and pour it over a pan of snow to make taffy. Mmmmm. And one of my favourite memories of winter growing up was homemade ice cream. We'd have a few neighbours in, go out to Currie's farm and get fresh cream, Dad would get coarse salt...Mum would mix up the cream bit and Dad would pack the ice cream maker with snow, and then it would crank away. We always made a tub of vanilla and one other kind. And mum always took strawberries she'd frozen out of the freezer and mashed them and mixed them with sugar to put on top. We'd have a grand old time while it all set in the freezer, then take it out and have a wonderful treat.

All in all, despite the shoveling and the sometimes inconvenience, there's a lot to be said for snow.

What are your favourite things about the white stuff?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Countdown to Christmas! - Tessa Radley

10. Today – make a final Christmas list, all those last minute tasks.
9. Last hints for stocking fillers for my TBR pile (I always love Christmas novellas)
8. Put my feet up after going shopping and listen to my favorite Christmas CD.
7. Call my mom thousands of miles away—only a week until Christmas!
6. Bake Christmas cookies—I'll have helping hands. (Why does baking always taste better when someone else does it? I don't even mind the tidy up.)
5. Carols by candlelight – love those!
4. Wrap presents (for sure I'll run out of paper) and put them under the tree…
3. Take the neighbors' a Christmas cake – I have wonderful neighbors.
2. Read "The Night before Christmas" to the whole family in front of a tree lit with flicking lights (yearly ritual).
1. Very special time…Christmas Day!

So what's on your list?

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Arrested Development-- Alyson Noel

No, I’m not referring to the defunct TV show (why—oh why were you cancelled?)—I’m referring to me. Apparently I’m deeply mired in a case of arrested development, which probably comes as no surprise to those who know me, though it does kind of surprise me.

I guess writing teen fiction makes it easy for me to insist that my more juvenile tendencies are solely due to all the “research” required in order to capture the teen voice.

Beginning all of my sentences with, “Oh my gawd!”-? “Research.”

Attending the midnight showing of Twilight and squealing when Edward came on screen? No question. Definitely falls under “research.”

Blatantly hinting for a new iPod and Ugg boots last Chrismukkah, then jumping up and down in excitement when I got them? So obviously in the “research” category.

Braces at forty??? Please. Just how far do you think I’d go?

Apparently, that far.

And while I’m told there are plenty of adults who get braces—according to one orthodontist I saw, adults make up a good amount of their patient load—all I could think as I gazed around a room purposely decorated to make it seem as though we were sitting inside a ginormous aquarium is—Really? And is that why you offered me a game of pogs when I checked in?

Seriously. The only adults I’ve seen in there so far are the ones chauffeuring their kids to and from their appointments. And while you’d think it would be research heaven to sit inside an aquatic themed room with a giant orange fish eyeballing me from its place on the wall and a seemingly never ending supply of pogs and Teen People—well, I’m sorry to say it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be.

Because the truth is, I feel kind of silly. Like I’ve taken this whole YA research thing way too far. And now, after hours of examinations, forms, and x-rays, it’s beginning to feel like it’s too late to turn back.

But that’s exactly what I was planning to do the other day when my husband and I stopped by Burger Bar on our way home from Las Vegas. I was cutting into my turkey burger with a knife and fork—(my front teeth don’t meet, making them useless for biting, tearing, eating, and just about everything else but smiling for photographs)—when it struck me. The epiphany. A true, Oprah style, light-bulb moment. Because the moment I brought my fork to my mouth, I gazed down at my plate covered with tiny bite sized pieces of hamburger and thought: Oh my gawd! Talk about juvenile!

And that’s when I decided to go for it. No whining, no complaining (well, maybe a little), and definitely no looking back. I mean, so I’ll spend the next year as a metal mouthed brace face, so what? Next time I eat a hamburger (and I average about one a year) I’ll eat it with dignity. And pride. And hopefully without a fork and a knife.

Besides, think of all the research it’ll provide!

But even though there’s no doubt my next protagonist will sport a mouthful of shiny metal braces, I’ll be kinder to her than life was to me—she’ll wear them as a teen, I won’t make her wait until she’s an adult!

So how about you—just how far are you willing to go in the name of “research”? And do you have any tips on wearing braces??

Happy Holidays!!!

Alyson Noel is the author of seven novels. Her upcoming, THE IMMORTALS series, begins with EVERMORE on 02.03.09, followed by BLUE MOON on 08.04.09, and three more untitled books for 2010. You can visit her at:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

'Tis The Season To Be Jolly - Christina Hollis

I hope it’s not too early to wish everyone a happy Holiday season. We’ve had some lovely seasonal weather already in England, with sharp white frosts and extravagantly starry nights.

This is always a special time of year, but today I’ve got some extra news to share. December 2008 sees the UK release of my Modern Romance, The Ruthless Italian’s Inexperienced Wife. Seeing it on the bookstore shelves is a lovely early Christmas present for me. I hope you like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s the story of nanny Cheryl Lane, who walks straight into a honey trap when she is employed to care for Marco Rossi’s orphaned nephew. On Marco’s own private tropical island the sun, sea and golden sands work their magic. But there are problems ahead. Marco is a man in demand. Cheryl is a country mouse, unprepared for the stress of being a billionaire’s wife. He doesn’t understand her distress. They are drifting apart, until Cheryl discovers why Marco is so resistant to romance.

My second bit of news comes from closer to home. It’s just a mouse click away, in fact. My website has had a facelift (it was much less painful than having one myself!) and I’d love you to drop by at to see what you think.

I hope you and the ones you love have a calm and peaceful holiday. Have a happy New Year, too. I look forward to seeing you in 2009!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What would we do without cranberries? : : Anne McAllister

I've been reading all these wonderful pieces here at Tote Bags 'n' Blogs and trying to figure out something useful to contribute to the discussion when, let's face it, I really should be doing revisions. They are due on Monday and I've got a fair amount left to do.

So . . . I decided that I would share a couple of easy recipes with you that I got from the side of a box and the food section of a newspaper so long ago that I can't remember when. But for years now I've used them and modified them and every year my kids -- and now grandkids -- and I make them whether we're together or apart.

Hope you'll give them a try if they sound appealing to you!

Cranberry & White Chocolate Biscotti

  • 1 package cranberry quick bread mix (take your pick of brand) or you can make the dough from your favorite biscotti recipe and just add the other stuff. I go the quick route myself
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten (but not within an inch of their lives)
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips -- whatever brand you can find. Some are marketed as vanilla chips. Um, no.
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds (I have dyslexia when it comes to almonds. I can't remember which are slivered and which are sliced. But logically you don't want the flat ones which seem sliced to me, you want the other ones. Unless you don't like the same kind I do. Suit yourself)
  • extra flour as needed
  • powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 350 or whatever the equivalent is in your country. Grease a large cookie sheet.
Combine the bread mix, melted butter and eggs, stirring them together (but again, not beating them to a pulp. Go gently here).

Work in enough flour that you can handle the dough without it sticking to your hands. Make a ball of the dough and cut it in half. Shape each half into a sort of flat loaf-like shape about 9" long and 3-4" wide. It should be maybe half an inch thick. Set both loaves on the cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. They spread. Make sure you have enough room.

Bake the loaves at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until light brown. Don't overbake. Removed from the oven and let cool at least 15 minutes. Go walk the dogs or write a page. Then come back and go to the next step.

Turn the oven down to 250. Cut the loaves into slices about 3/4" thick. Separate the slices on the sheet so that they are not touching, but leave them all upright. If you need another cookie sheet in order to give them space, use one.

Then put them back in the oven and go for another walk or go write several pages and come back at least half an hour later. If they are golden brown and looking crisp, they're ready. If not, leave them in longer. Go write some more. Go read a good book. Turn the oven off and let them sit there. Come back sometime and get them out and let them cool. This is an inexact science. If you like them really crispy leave them in the oven longer. If you want them slightly chewy, take them out sooner. When they are cool, dust them with powdered sugar.

If you think you'd like more cranberries than are in the quick bread mix, you can add dried or chopped fresh cranberries. The dried are probably better in terms of keeping the crisp dry texture. It depends on what texture you prefer.

Cranberry Cookies with Orange Frosting

These are seriously ambrosial if you are fond of cranberries and oranges. If not, go find some chocolate.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1 tsp grated orange peel
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1 egg
Mix all the above together using either spoon or electric mixer.
Then stir in:
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Then stir in:
  • 2 cups chopped cranberries (this is the annoying part. Chopping cranberries is one of my least favorite activities, so you know these have to be worth the effort of chasing cranberries all over the kitchen as they roll off the cutting board. No, I don't have a food processor. If you do, you'll like these even better.)
Heat the oven to 375. Grease cookie sheets. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls on the cookie sheets. Keep about 2" between them. They spread. In fact, if your dough seems very sticky, add more flour or they will spread waaaaaay too much. If you have used butter you will have to watch them to be sure they don't burn. If you've used margarine, probably not so much, but it didn't say margarine, did it?

Bake 12-14 minutes. These get done fast, but you can't take them out too early or they simply crumble (but crumbs of course are calorie free, so there is an upside). Cool them on wire racks at least 30 minutes. Go write some more. Go jog. If you're going to eat very many of these you're going to want to work out in order to feel entitled to them.

When they are cool, frost them with a mixture of:
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • enough orange juice to make a soft spreadable frosting.

It's making me hungry just writing this. But I can't indulge until next week. Not until the revisions are gone.

What are some of your favorite holiday recipes? You don't have to give me all the ingredients -- just name some.

The one that makes my tastebuds leap up and head for the kitchen will win a copy of my January release, Antonides' Forbidden Wife -- in which PJ actually does cook for Ally, but they eat fresh pineapple for dessert. Sadly, not a cranberry in sight.

You can read an excerpt by clicking on the link.

Friday, December 12, 2008

This Is How The Story Goes - Lauren Dane

All of my books begin with a wisp of an idea. Sometimes it's a song, or I have a dream, or I see something that jogs my creativity for a story idea. The book formerly known as Battlefront, now UNDERCOVER, is no different. It all started with a picture of Dominic Purcell.

I’d had a flash of a scene where a hardassed warrior woman punches out an ex-lover when she’s put under his command, living in my head for a while. And then I was reading my husband’s copy of Best Life magazine and I saw that picture and I said, “There he is.”

Essentially I had my hero, or one of them and the scene where he and Sera, my heroine, are reunited after being apart for ten years. He’s big and muscled, bald with markings of his rank and station in life on his skull. Basically, it wasn’t hard for me to write the scenes where he dominates her because he embodies a very dominant man and I only needed to fill in his personality.

Counter to that harsh, jagged-edged masculinity is Brandt, the other hero. Where Ash is arrogant and outwardly dominant, Brandt is the kind of man who wears tailored clothing over his tightly muscled form. Where Ash is bald and marked so publically, Brandt’s black hair hangs past his butt. He’s smooth and his dominance comes from the inside.

These two men form bookends to Sera, who is conflicted. And Sera, she’s only like Sera. Tall, thin, whip-smart and battle-hard. But she’s also beautiful in her own way and the longer she’s with these men, the more beautiful she feels. Her heart was broken by Ash. Ash, who was forced into a political marriage but despite being forced, it still left her alone. She’s had to rebuild herself into a woman who doesn’t need anyone. She’s the one who is needed. She is the one who leads, but despite her feelings of rage toward Ash, she loves him still. She’s put into a situation leaving her open to creating a relationship with Brandt and pretty soon, they’re all in a tangle of their own making, exacerbated by outside forces.

So I built the story, layer by layer. I wanted a futuristic setting because I liked building the world with its strict class layers and political intrigue. At the same time, I didn’t want to create a world with so many terms and names to attempt to be “futuristic” that I alienated and confused readers either. So a shoe is a shoe. A bra is a bra. Time is a bit different but the explanation is fairly simple. There’s a line to walk, just like with paranormals where the suspension of belief has to be carried off. But it’s also why I absolutely love to write paranormals and futuristics. It’s my world! I can do anything I want. There’s responsibility to make it a believable place, but it’s mine.

I had a great time writing the book. I loved each of the main characters, loved their flaws and their strengths too. When my agent read the proposal she wrote me back and said, “This is the one. I can feel it.”

She was right. As she often is, LOL. It took about five months to hear back but then it all happened very fast. My little scrap of a scene with the heroine punching out the hero combined with that picture of Dominic Purcell turned into nearly 100,000 words.

Sometimes a story is with you a long time. It takes years to sell it or it gets sold but doesn’t come out for a while after that. My novella Stripped in the Vegas anthology took four or five months total from being asked if I was interested in writing something, writing it and pitching and selling it. But then it took about a year and a half after we sold it to get it released! Undercover had been in my head in the form of that little scene, for about a year before I saw that picture. And now it’s here.

I hope you all enjoy it!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reviews? - Anna Campbell

by Anna Campbell

As regular readers of my blogs know, I have a book out at the end of this month (the 30th December, not that I'm counting! MUCH!).

After over a year since my last release, TEMPT THE DEVIL hits the shelves this month. I hope that brooding, sexy gaze is staring out at you in a local store soon.

I hope he's tempting you! He sure tempts me!

The month leading up to a book's release can be quite a nervous time because it's when you get hit by a lot of REVIEWS!

So far, and I blush to boast, all the reviews for TEMPT THE DEVIL have been of the kind that my mother would write. Romantic Times even went so far as to call it "unforgettable powerhouse romance."

Isn't that nice? It was also nice to be chosen as a January Top Pick and to see my gorgeous hero the Earl of Erith awarded a K.I.S.S. (Knight in Shining Silver) Award.

If you'd like to read more reviews, I've put excerpts from a couple up on my website in the Latest News for December.

While you're there, why not check out the contest where you can win one of three signed copies of TEMPT THE DEVIL? Just tell me what tempts you! Oh, and if you want to read the blurb and an excerpt from the book, visit the books page. Perhaps that might tempt you too!

Something else to tempt you is a trivia contest All About Romance After Hours are running. They've got three copies of my second Avon historical romance UNTOUCHED up for grabs. The contest closes at midnight on 11th December so you've got plenty of time to enter!

Something else to tempt you in December is the 12 Bandita Days of Christmas over on the group blog I share with 19 other fantastic writers. We're giving away rooster-themed prizes from December 12-24, culminating in a major prize on the 24th. Why roosters? Aha, become a regular on the Romance Bandits and you'll discover all!

Then on Christmas Day, we're giving away a humungous hamper of Bandita goodies to someone who manages to wrench themselves away from their presents long enough to comment. Seriously, this is a prize worth winning so if you have a chance on 25th December, pop by and wish us the compliments of the Season!

And while I'm talking about goodies, my good friend Annie West has an amazing contest going on her website right now (closes at the end of December). You can win signed copies of EIGHT latest releases from Aussie authors Anna Campbell (um, that would be me!), Annie West, Robyn Grady, Christine Wells, Carol Marinelli (two books), Melissa James and Nicola Marsh.

As this is my last post for the year, I'd like to thank everyone at Tote Bags for the lovely warm reception I always get here. It's such a nice, friendly blog to be a part of and I'm in awe of my sisters in crime (well, romance!) who blog here. I'd like to say a special thanks to Leena who wrangles us all and makes sure the blog is there. I'd also like to say thanks to everyone who comments on my blog each month. I always thoroughly enjoy the conversations!

Happy Holidays to everyone, however you celebrate the Season. See you back here for a rocking New Year in January 2009! Whoo-hoo!

Now, my question for you is - how much attention do you pay to reviews? Can a review convince you to buy a book?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree! - Jenny Gardiner

By Jenny Gardiner

I’m a sucker for the Christmas season. Always have been. Don’t know if it’s the deluded optimism the holiday thrusts upon us, or just a strange affinity for otherwise maudlin songs dressed up as cheerful seasonal chestnuts. I mean, let’s be honest, at any other time of year, who would actually listen wistfully to a yawner like “The Little Drummer Boy”?

Whatever it is, I have always ensured that my family gets into the holiday spirit, starting with finding the perfect Christmas tree.

When I was a kid, the search for the ultimate yuletide tree took us to the nearest gas station: hardly a romantic venue from which to choose the centerpiece of our holiday decor. We’d pile into the station wagon for the three-block drive to Buck’s Esso station, spill out onto the oil-slicked parking lot, mull over three or four already-netted spruce trees, and then dad would haggle down the price. End of story.

Ah, so I was determined to rewrite that tradition with my own family. Early in my marriage, we decided the most festive tree-acquisition could only be achieved by cutting down our own (plus you get the added benefit of the needles actually staying on the tree all month rather than littering the floor). Because we lived in citified Northern Virginia, the cachet of escaping to the “country”--i.e. the closest remaining patch of farmland untainted by greedy developers--only added to the allure.

But one year, I found myself almost wishing for the chance to just pop down to the local gas station to buy a tree…

That year, my husband and our three children, all under the age of four, trekked to the Clifton Christmas Tree Farm, where awaiting us were candy canes, hot chocolate, homemade wreaths and the typical abundance of forced holiday cheer that we craved.

I had whipped my kids into a tree-chopping frenzy, and so they took their task quite seriously. For forty minutes, we foraged throughout the whopping half-acre “farm” until we found the perfect tree: seven feet of holiday splendor, as wide as it was tall, perfect to fill our cathedral-ceiling’ed living room and flood us with the Christmas spirit.

The kids took turns on the ground with the saw while my husband supervised the chopping honors. Their excitement was palpable. We dragged the tree back to the cashier stand where the farmer’s son coiled the netting around our white pine. The kids stood by, sucking on candy canes, sipping hot cider and petting the farmer’s dog, who’d recently wandered over. I was just about to retrieve the car to load on the tree, when Fido lifted his leg.

“No!” I shouted in what seemed like a frame-by-frame slow motion, as a steady stream was released onto our perfect tree.
For a moment we stood stupefied, not knowing what to do. But we weren’t about to keep a tree covered in dog wee, so we grabbed the kids’ hands to head back into the wilds to hunt for a replacement one.

Until our kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that this tree was the one, the only. They threw themselves on the ground, flailing and crying, thrashing and moaning, like something from a Greek tragedy. They wanted their special tree, and nothing else would suffice.

Their wails did not subside until we relented, and agreed to load up the tainted tree.

The farmer found a makeshift bucket, filled it from a nearby stream and doused the offending urine from the tree. We loaded it onto the roof of the car, and went home.

I have admit, I sort of detached emotionally from the tree that year. Couldn’t quite get over the psychological hurdle of having a tree the dog peed on in my living room. Somehow it clashed with the whole festive notion.

But for my kids, the tree was just about perfect, despite its incumbent flaws. And maybe that’s exactly why I like the holidays so much: because at this time of year, we’re all a little more likely to forgive the small things in order to see the bigger picture.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and don't let those disruptive moments get the best of it!


..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
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((¸¸. ·´ .. ·´Jenny-:¦:-
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