“That Neighbor”

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I am the proud owner of a new grain mill. Isn’t it pretty if you mentally erase that big ol’ piece of plywood that we’ve screwed it onto? Oh, and the C-clamps. Mentally erase those, too.

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Seriously, I wasn’t about to screw that bad boy to my tabletop, so the unattractive plywood is there to stay.

Now, we bought this because we are sensitive celiacs. That means that even the tiniest amount of gluten (say the amount of gluten present in the grain alcohol that floats the flavor in a cup of Earl Gray tea) makes me horribly ill. I’m really fun at a dinner party. Anyway, I can now make gluten-free rice flour, which translates into fresh baked, home made gluten-free bread. Or pancakes. Or french toast. Or garlic toast… Hurrah!

So I started milling some rice. It took an awful lot of muscle,and admittedly took a LOT more time than when my husband puts his muscles into it, but I managed to grind a few cups of flour, and I was quite impressed with myself. Until there was a knock on the door from my mildly annoyed Down Stairs Neighbor (we live in an apartment) who came up to find out why there was a horrible grinding noise reverberating in her apartment below. Sigh! We have a six-year-old boy who is an early riser so we have enough to apologize for to these people.

Anyway, I may now be That Neighbor, but I’m also That Neighbor who can eat bread again. And while the Down Stairs People might have thought they hit the jackpot with a quiet writer who clatters away on her computer all day…. well, maybe I can invite them up for a sandwich? :/

Rocks in the mail

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I don’t often get rocks in the mail, but I did today. In fact, I was hoping this package was the grain mill I’d ordered a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t. Obviously.

It was this:

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As you might know, before writing for Harlequin, I’ve written for other smaller presses, and this particular press had used this rock in a marketing campaign over the summer, and then emailed asking if I’d like to have the rock for myself. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but honestly, how often does someone offer to give you a rock with your book title engraved on it? Not very!  It was a very sweet gesture on their part.

I still have no idea what I’m going to do with it. It’s about ten pounds, and while it might go well in a garden, I live in an apartment… I’ll think of something! Door stop?? Blunt object with which to attack intruders? (PS. Please knock before coming into my home.)

 

An era I can get behind

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About ten years ago, I published my first historical novel set in ancient Judea at the time of Jesus. I went on to write three more in that time period, and I learned something important: if you stick to one time period, every book gets easier because you are building on a foundation of knowledge from previous books. You also get pretty good at it!

So when I decided to try my hand at some historical romances, I needed to choose my time period carefully. Which time period would I find interesting enough to devote several novels toward?

I had a few options that I discarded:

John_Wayne_-_1961Old West–I always thought they’d be fun to write, but they’d been done and done again. I wanted something a little fresher.

 

 

363px-Style45_Lady's_WaistVictorian–I enjoy the dresses and the pregnant pauses in the parlor scenes. The civil backstabbing is delicious and the dresses… did I say the dresses? But again… done.

 

 

 

Viking–Fun! But hard to mesh with Christian romance. (And harder than you’d think to find a copyright-free image for, too!)

Photo by: Southend Museums Service

Photo by: Southend Museums Service

I headed off to my fridge (something I do when I’m grumpy at the creative process) and thought to myself, “I wish I could just watch some Downton Abbey. When does the new season start again?”

And then I knew my time period–Between the Wars, 1918 and on, just after WWI. It’s perfect: fresh, ripe with romance and possibilities for the female characters. It’s a time period full of upheaval and change. Now that’s an era I can get behind!

Plus, the dresses, the jewelry, the soldiers returning home in uniform…

I’ve found my era.

(For historical novels, at least. You’ll still have my contemporary novels coming your way!)

Glue

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With my son in school, I read more. Oh, bliss, I read more!

For the last few days, I’ve been reading Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted. I love Sue Grafton, and while reading this book, I came across a fantastic quote that I can’t for the life of me find again. I’ve searched. I’ve even Googled. I’ve done my utmost to find the passage once more, but I can’t, so I’ll have to paraphrase.

Basically, she says that the Meaning of Life is the goopy, sticky stuff that holds together those random things in our lives and makes it into a whole. We all choose to apply different meanings, I think, and if we look at the unsaid assumptions that make up our story, we know what our glue–our meaning–is.

Photo by: Simon A. Eugster

Photo by: Simon A. Eugster

Every story needs glue. If we take the same basic plot kernels, we can turn them into any kind of story we like. A romance, a mystery, a thriller, a ghost story… We are either the hero or the victim. It all depends on how we connect the dots.

We all look at the events of our lives, the people we’ve cared for, and string them together in a particular way in order to make a narrative. If we look at our story, and look at those unsaid assumptions that make that story make sense, we find the meaning of life… or at the very least, the meaning of our life as we see it.

So what glues together the pieces of your life into a whole? What holds it all together and makes it make sense?

A search for love, a knee-jerk reaction to protect our hearts, suspicion, anger, jealousy, hunger, fear, longing, curiosity, faith… Something glues together your tale, and it gives your life meaning. And when you identify the meaning in your life, is it worthwhile? Is it worth devoting your entire existence toward?

What’s your glue?

Full Grown Woman

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When I was a girl, I couldn’t wait to grow up. Being a grownup would be fantastic! I could do what I wanted. I could wear grown up lady clothes. I could go the bank by myself (the ultimate in my childish fantasies) and talk with authority. I would lay in bed at night, picturing my grown up life…

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And then I grew up.

Ironically, I found myself in a world that idolizes childhood. Women are encouraged to look as young as possible for as long as possible. Women who dress their age in Hollywood are called “matronly.” Oh, and that isn’t a good thing. Women are pressured on every front to act younger, look younger, and feel younger. Our childhood dreams of growing up are met with derision.

You don’t want to be… matronly… do you? Heaven forbid you look like a grown woman!

640px-SandraBullockMay09Call me matronly, but I no longer feel like I’ve achieved something if a complete stranger across the street thinks I’m alluring. There was a time when I took pride in drawing a few looks, and while I do still think I’m beautiful, I’m past trying so hard for it. I’m mature enough to know that beauty lies deeper. While I don’t think it’s my responsibility to be a “hot mama,” it IS my responsibility to be a good mother, a devoted wife and a noble person. My power no longer comes from flirtation, it comes from intelligence. I’ve grown up.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, but I’m a grown woman who enjoys being a grown woman. I like walking into a bank without supervision, and I do talk with authority. You know why? Because I’m a grown woman who has some life experience, who has achieved her own dreams and worked toward something. I have something to offer the younger women coming up behind me.

And that’s a good thing. There is nothing wrong with growing up. In fact, there is everything right about it. I highly recommend it.

 

Braying along with the choir

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So, my newest thing is singing donkeys. I came across this video and I loved it so much that I looked up more videos, and apparently this is an actual donkey thing. They sing!

I’m not a good singer, so I can sympathize with this poor fellow. Sometimes you just have to bray along with the choir–I do every week at church! The people in the pew in front of me exercise great self-control by not looking back.

Being truly terrible at something is part of being a complete person. I don’t know about you, but I despise being around people who excel at everything. Have a flaw–you’re more likable that way. ;)

Lactating mice

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Potato starch probably doesn’t factor into your life very much, and that’s a good thing. Because if you know about the baking potential of potato starch, it’s because you’re riddled with allergies like me.

My name is Patricia Johns, and I’m riddled with allergies. Gluten, dairy and soy, to be precise. All the good stuff.

So in an attempt to start my own gluten-free baking (which won’t exactly save me money, but will at least make some edible bread possible), I realized that I needed to procure potato starch.

Now, this is not the place to learn how to make potato starch. You can learn here or here. But in researching how to make it, I realized that potato starch is some precious substance. It’s like getting the milk of a lactating mouse. It takes a lot of potatoes and a lot of patience to get a very small amount of starch.

This is the starch taken from four fairly large potatoes. (You’re looking for the whitish substance on the bottom of the plate. And that’s a salad plate.)

DSC03207So this week while not writing, this is what I’m doing–making potato starch. I feel strangely victorious after having milked a potato. ;)

 

If sperm whales had thumbs

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In an attempt to get my son to watch educational television, I’ve been watching nature shows around him, pretending that this is my first choice in TV watching.

“Oh, look! A show about sperm whales! This is amazing. Kiddo, don’t even watch this with me. Go do something in the other room. I can’t wait to watch this show all by myself.

Reverse psychology works wonders on this kid.

So, reverse-psychologizing away, I recently watched a show about sperm whales where they showed an actual sperm whale brain next to a human brain. It was massive, and much wrinklier, interestingly enough. I left me a little stunned. We tend to think of animals as beneath us, intelligence-wise, but when you look at those brains side by side, I’m pretty sure if sperm whales had thumbs, they’d be ruling us!

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Then I saw this video of beluga whales playing with kids, and I’m convinced of it. Yes, there is a food chain, and yes animals have instincts, but I’m sure they have souls, too. Just ask a dog owner! You won’t win that argument.

But instead of arguing with people on the internet, watch this: (the fun starts at about :25)

Writers are cruel beasts.

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10616223_879442732083049_1262305916708674891_nWe really are! We have very little sympathy for our characters and put them through absolute horrors for your entertainment.

In sweet romance writing, there are a few techniques we use over and over out of absolute necessity:

1. Kill off the hero/heroine’s parents.
We only have so much space to tell this story, and having supportive parents around to help a character think straight can really get in the way of a quick paced romance.

2. Give the hero/heroine some horrific trauma in their past.
Everyone needs a hurdle, right?

3. Kill off the first husband/wife.
Just clearing space to make this story happen!

4. Kill off wealthy secondary characters.
Wills, wills, wills! They are very useful to a storyline.

5. Leave sweet little orphans on doorsteps and whatnot.
To tug at your heartstrings, of course.

6. Tear characters apart who truly and deeply love each other.
Sorry, folks, happy and balanced relationships don’t make a story.

7. Give someone a disfiguring accident.
To prove that beauty is more than skin deep. Could we do it in a less invasive way? Maybe, but you wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

Anyone checking out our computer search history would probably think that we’re sociopaths, but don’t judge us too harshly. At least we aren’t as cruel as the writers of old fashioned fairy tales!

Leave it to Beaver to keep me from working

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This summer, I had one goal: edit and submit a novel called SMOOTH AS CHOCOLATE.

That probably doesn’t sound like a huge accomplishment given the amount of time I had–a whole summer! But it really was. Granted, when I’m alone, I can get that amount of work done in 2 weeks, but when I’m parenting at the same time with my 6 year old son off of school, it gets a lot harder!

I love spending time with my son, and who doesn’t enjoy summer fun with the kids? But kids demand a lot out of you, and the minute they sense you sitting down or focusing on something other than them, they have a list of requests:

Mathers“Can I have a snack?”

“Can I play Wii?”

“Do you know what I dreamed last night?”

“Is Grandma going to die because she’s old?”

“Will we hear things in Heaven?”

“Do you want to hear a joke?” (Warning: his jokes are long, convoluted and start with a chicken and a road…)

All of my writing needs to happen before about 4 pm, because that is when I end up mentally crashing (having bounced out bed at 6). If I haven’t gotten any work done by then, I can just give up because when I finally get some time to myself around 8 pm, my brain refuses to cooperate and I just stare at the page feeling cranky.

So when I tell you that I’ve submitted SMOOTH AS CHOCOLATE to the Harlequin’s Heartwarming line, it’s a big deal. A big, celebratory deal! :D

Someone suggested I celebrate with chocolate. There is a certain little boy in this home who would agree wholeheartedly!

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