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An Adult Version of Harry Potter

This week I'm enjoying The Magician King by Lev Grossman.  It's a sequel to the 2009 The Magicians.  For those of you bemoaning the fact there wasn't a new Harry Potter movie or book out this holiday season, The Magicians might help ease you over the hump.
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren't black and white, love and sex aren't simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

Christmas Romance - Does It Work For You?

When people ask me how I got into writing romance, I shrug and tell the it's because I have a squishy heart filled with flowers and rainbows.  I looooove romance, the schmaltzier the better.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that I adore watching all the Christmas movies featured on ABC Family, the Hallmark channel and Lifetime.  Yup, I am that woman.  Love 'em all.  Maybe it is the emphasis on large family gatherings (I'm an only child), or the way the small towns twinkle under a frosting of snow (I'm from Los Angeles, where it usually hit 68 degrees on December 25 - geez, my childhood really messed with my world-view, didn't it?), but they make me happy.

So why not write a Christmas-themed romance?  The holiday does come every year, so demand would be high for my book, and it would have a guaranteed shelf life.  As a side note, my local library has a wait list 12 people long for Christie Ridgway's Must Love Mistletoe, and it came out five years ago.  It isn't as trendy as, say, vampires, so the road to publication might be a tad less crowded.  And I'm certainly a big fan of the subject matter. 

I thought about it for a few days in August, when I was mulling which project to embark upon next.  Perhaps the sticky heat of the Ocean City beach wasn't the ideal time or place to mull, but I don't think it colored my decision.  I don't want to write a Christmas romance.  At least, not now.  Not because I'd have to play carols for six months straight and drive my husband bonkers.  Not because I'd gain ten pounds from eating spritz cookies and calling it 'research'.  Despite all the sound business reasons to give it a whirl, I'm passing because I don't want to ruin Christmas. 

Romance novels are full of love and sex, sure, but they are also full of conflict.  And I just can't do it.  I can't inject heart-wrenching conflict into my favorite merry season.  Perfectly happy to see the result when others do it, but I don't have it in me.  I can't be the one to knowingly ruin Christmas, even if I'd be the one to make it all happy snowflakes and wrapped engagement rings in the end.  Does that make me a wuss?  Maybe.  But there are lots of other holidays out there for me to explore.  I'll make sure to be open to any stray story ideas on New Year's Eve...

Color Coordinated Christmas Salad

Are you one of the people who thinks there's never enough red and green this time of year?  If so, and you're still planning the big Christmas feast, this recipe will be right up your alley.  Cooking Light is the genius behind this Warm Spinach Salad with Mushroom Vinaigrette.  The bright green spinach and almost burgundy radicchio make every salad plate accordingly festive - and it's yummy, too!

Ingredients

  • 6 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups torn radicchio
  • 2 tablespoons (1/2-inch) sliced green onions
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 hard-cooked large eggs, quartered lengthwise

Preparation

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.
Remove and discard stems from mushrooms, reserving caps. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushroom caps; sauté 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add sage, thyme, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
Pour mushroom mixture over spinach mixture, tossing well to coat. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Place about 1 cup salad on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 2 egg quarters.  Serves 4

Angels vs. Humans

The Christmas season strikes me as the perfect time of year to recommend Angelology by Danielle Trussoni.
An innocent nun (well, that's sort of redundant, isn't it?) discovers proof that angels once truly existed - and might still.  The Rockefellers (yup, those Rockefellers) have hunted these artifacts for decades.  Suddenly she's swept into the middle of a war as old as time between the Nephilim, the evil children of angels, and humans.  How are we supposed to fight a war most of humanity doesn't even know exists?  These aren't your feel good, white-winged Christmas carol angels.  They are hard core beings, who've nursed a grudge for centuries until their bitterness colors every decision.  (Don't worry - there are still some good angels out there!) This book is full of intrigue, action, suspense, mythology and an epic amount of brilliantly conceived world building.  Sort of a National Treasure meets DaVinci code meets Greek mythology.  Give it a try!

Six Sentence Sunday!

Ah, the first kiss.  Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, often unexpected.  Today's excerpt is from my recently released book, Cruising Toward Love.  At least, it should be their first kiss, but a few things go wrong the second before their lips touch.  Here's the moment where it is all still good....

Reed laced his fingers tighter through her hair, tilted her head back to get the angle just so. This could be his only shot at tasting her, and he didn’t intend for it to be anything less than perfect. He might not be the bad boy she imagined, but he knew his way around a pair of lips. Eagerly he lowered his mouth to hers, but stopped a hair’s breadth away. Reed waited.  Sure enough, her lips parted in anticipation.

Unavoidable Sex

I'm enjoying my WIP quite a bit. At 30,000+ words in, I know the voice of all the characters, and I'm deeply embedded in the story, so the words flow out rather easily. This is the fun part. Choosing and tying together all the different threads of the plot and characterizations was difficult, but now it has all come together and I am sort of letting creative gravity carry me forward.  I love this part!
Except....there is one more hurdle to cross. One more Kilimanjaro sized speed bump to cross. The sex scene. I call it unavoidable for two reasons: I write romance and it is expected, and the character arc is leading there with flashing runway lights.  After all, they've kind of been infected by a sex demon, and they're falling in love. Its gotta happen! And it has to happen in the next two chapters.

Of course, because I'm a plotter, I know exactly how it will happen. The overall scene, I mean. But I don't know how IT will happen. The act itself. The dirty deed. Who's on top, when they switch, etc. Whether to have it in the heroine's POV, or the hero's.  This is the part I hate. My official least favorite part of being a romance writer. Having sex is spectacular, talking about it is fun, reading it is great, but writing about it can be extraordinarily painful.

Suddenly your options for description and dialogue are limited to a set number of body parts. Then it becomes a numbers game. How many times have I said kiss and lips? How many times did he stroke or caress her breast - because it can't happen too many times in a row. My old friend the thesaurus only helps so much. Tingle, quiver, shiver, thrill, chill.....same thing. No repeats! Lick, touch, slide (I'll never use fondle, because I can't stand the word - it has a very negative connotation to me), brush, lave - there aren't that many options. He's excited, she's atingle, and now what the heck happens? It can't sound too clinical, but it still needs to sound realistic, since I don't write Regency novels where things can be cloaked in euphemisms. But I still need to sneak in the romance, since of course their joining will be like none before, opening both of them to the realization of true love. That is a lot of pressure to put on the simple act of inserting Tab A into Slot B!

Please tell me I'm not the only one. That somebody else out there thinks the sex scene is one of the most difficult pieces of the writing craft. And now I'm going to dig up my sex scene music from my last book, and hope it still gets the job done this time around.

Need a Reprieve from Winter?

Winter might not be here yet according to the calendar, but ooh baby, it's cold outside!  Slippers are now mandatory, and afghans are heaped on every couch and the bed.  Thanks to questionable insulation in our 150+ year old house, we even have to run a space heater in the bathroom in the morning.  If you're like me and are already frozen to the core, I've got the perfect book for you.
The Cactus Eaters is an hysterical travel memoir which chronicles a two person attempt to hike a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada.  2,650 long, dusty, hot, bear-infested miles in all.  The author and his girlfriend have never even shared an apartment, but foresee no issues with spending six months trapped together 24/7.  (Spoiler alert - it doesn't all go well!). 

Their lack of preparation and experience causes problems almost immediately.  Many reviewers sited this couple as too stupid to have survived this adventure.  Well, they did survive, but their misfortunes are a gift to readers.  Because truly, when a guy 'accidentally' bites into a cactus and gets 50 spines lodged in his tongue (and most importantly, you know he's okay because he wrote the book), you will laugh until you cry.

The prose is tight, the descriptions utterly evocative, and the humor self-deprecating and witty.  Mr. White takes you along with him, to where you almost feel the aching, blistered feet and dusty desert air.  This will also make a great stocking stuffer, as this book will appeal to all ages and both sexes. 

Six Sentence Sunday!

Welcome to Six Sentence Sunday!  Today's excerpt is from Chapter Six of Cruising Toward Love (which coincidentally, makes a great stocking stuffer!).  Callie gets one look at the ship's photographer and instantly wants more...

“Yummy. Do you mind if I call dibs?” Callie asked as they crossed the gangplank.
“I think you already did. Looked to me like you not only called dibs, but boxed him up, added a bow, and expect him to arrive in your stateroom right along with your luggage.”
“The brochure said, and I quote, this ship will cater to your every need. And my need is for a tall, slightly nerdy hunk.” Callie winked.

Murder in a Winter Wonderland

I adore Christmas - the carols, the sappy holiday movies, the over-the-top decorations always give me a thrill.  But every now and then all the schmaltz gets to you (usually by your third trip to the mall and the fourth time your computer crashes in the middle of a huge internet order).  So here's a book that still gives you a winter wonderland setting, but with the icy sting of murder.
Stephen White is a prolific mystery author.  All his books revolve around Alan Gregory, a Boulder, CO psychologist.  I think the series is up to #16 by now, and they are all terrific.  This particular book is a great introduction to the wonderful cast of recurring characters, married with a taut suspense plot.  You can count on finding strong character development, amazing setting details and subtle humor in all of his books.

This mystery starts off with a literal bang when there's a shooting in his office.  A subplot covers the unusual treatment Alan Gregory offers a young patient who survived a ripped from the headlines plane crash.  Alan has a complicated love life that adds to the dramatic tension assailing him from all sides as his partner is attacked, Alan barely survives a brush with death, his office is broken into, and about a dozen other moral, ethical and action-packed twists and turns, all leading to one heck of a climax.  I highly encourage you to discover the grittier side of Colorado and try to unravel this mystery.

Six Sentence Sunday!

Welcome to Six Sentence Sunday!  Today's excerpt comes straight from a big, Greek rehearsal dinner, where things heat up between the best man and the maid of honor - neither of which can stand the other.  Here's bit of Chapter Three of Cruising Toward Love:

Slowly, he dragged his finger down, down the straight line of her sternum to trace along the top of her neckline. First one side, then the other, finishing by dipping into the hollow between her breasts.
“The way you look in that dress—especially since most of your good parts are on display out of the dress—standing next to me is the last place I think you should be. I’m picturing more of a horizontal position. With me on top. At least for starters.”