Category Archives: writing

Stuff and Nonsense

Some of you may be aware we had a bit of a tangle on the Dark In Death Discussion thread last week. A reader had strong (very) objections to the word skank as used to describe women Eve and Peabody warned about possible danger.

I don’t want to get more specific on the plot itself as some of you may not have read the book.

However, I will say, in this case, one of the women the reader sees in interview is wearing cock and ball earrings. The other has Sexy Bitch tattooed over her well-displayed chest. They are, basically, party girl groupies looking for the next score–sex, drugs, action. Whatever.

Peabody uses the term.

The reader had many objections–terrible to denigrate women (such terms are NEVER used to describe men)–cops would never use such terms (she included skirt and sidepiece in this claim) as they would be ‘raked over the coals’ for doing so. And it was her opinion as I wrote the book, I am therefore sexist and should correct this in the future.

Well, bullshit on all counts.

First, as I pointed out–pretty politely at first–I am not my characters nor are they me. And cop talk is cop talk. I also reminded her that a recurring sub-character is nicknamed Dickhead.

Not good enough–even when a couple of other posters who have some experience working or being around cops explained that yeah, cops talk to other cops in often harsh shorthand.

The reader escalated, got very personal and rude–not only to me at the end, but to other posters–until Laura had to step in, tell her she’d crossed all kinds of lines, and banned her.

First, I’ll say Laura doesn’t take banning a reader lightly. It has to be extreme, and this was.

It occurred to me during this incident, that the particular reader obviously didn’t get one of the main points of the book–from the perspective of the character whose books are being used to plot. murders.

This is fiction. This is a story. We who write try very hard to craft entertaining stories with compelling, interesting characters. We’re not writing about ourselves when we write fiction, and the actions, dialog, internalization, motivations of those characters must fit those characters. Not those of the person writing the story.

Just to take Eve Dallas as an example:

I love to shop; she hates it. She drinks gallons of coffee; I don’t drink it at all. She has a cat; I have dogs. Shoes for her are something you walk in. For me, shoes are . . . pretty much everything. I’ve never been in a physical fight–and hope that continues.

I could go on and on.

Part of the fun of writing is creating people, and the writer may have little in common with those people. Their worldviews may or may not mesh. Their backgrounds are very unlikely to.

Some readers may project the writer into the character, but that doesn’t make it true.

Moreover, it’s always struck me as very strange that certain readers will ask, insist even demand that I write what they want, or stop writing what they don’t.

You must stop using the word fuck! People don’t talk that way.

First do you live in the actual world? Second I’ll use whatever word I like as you’re not the boss of me. And more to the point, if my characters use this very versatile word, it’s because THEY’RE using it.

Your books have too much sex. Your books need more sex.

My books have the amount of sex that I, as the writer, feels suits the story and the characters having sex.

You need to go back to writing nice, sweet romance.

No. I need to write what I’m driven to write.

I’m sending you this religious pamphlet because you use the name of the Lord in vain, and I’m worried about your immortal soul.

Thank you for the thought, and maybe you shouldn’t read my books.

You write about witchcraft so I believe you’ve embraced Satan.

(Yes, all the above are true stories.)

Does a reader honestly believe I’m going to read one of these posts, emails, letters and say: OH! Sue in Tulsa doesn’t want any swearing in my books. No more swearing for my characters!

Or I won’t write about fictional witches because I’m suddenly afraid I’ve invited Satan into my life?

These readers don’t know me, and yet feel perfectly righteous about telling me I’m immoral or sexist or an animal hater (killed a fictional cat in a book once) or whatever their personal values dictate.

Laura gets most of this–and recently got an all-caps rant on my language, which included a slam at Diana Gabledon for using fuck in her books. Which the raging reader claimed hadn’t been invented by the time of Outlander (which she called Highlander in the screed). Well, as Laura said, she supposed the reader had never read Chaucer whose work well precedes the Jacobite Rebellion.

Readers don’t get to dictate. They don’t get a vote. They have tremendous power–to buy or not, to read or not. The reader who provided the springboard for this blog claimed that since she’d read the book, she had the right to critique it, and obviously all I wanted was constant praise.

Well, I’d rather get praised than slammed. Human here. Yet over three decades I’ve somehow managed to shoulder mixed or poor reviews, or handle readers’ individual complaints.

However, reading the book doesn’t give anyone the right to hurl personal insults at the writer of the book. That’s not a critique on the work.

Let me add that the fall back–you just want constant praise–is the often-used blast that usually comes when the person’s losing an argument.

It should be a clue when a reader is alone in an opinion in a group of other readers, when reasonable responses have been given. Instead of buying the clue, this type of person then hurls those insults at everyone.

And honestly, when one claims I’m sexist and need to knock it off because a cop character in a story uses the term to describe women whom I deliberately crafted to earn the designation, I tend to believe that particular reader is a little scary.

I know perfectly well some will read this and be insulted–claim I’m disrespectful to readers. But I don’t push readers into one lump. You are not the Borg. And some individuals who happen to read need to learn to separate reality from fiction. And need to understand my world–personally and professionally–doesn’t revolve around their demands.

To end this on a happier note, I spent yesterday in the kitchen (catch Eve doing that!). I made a couple of rounds of sour dough bread, which I’ll freeze as I made a pretty amazing beef stew with dumplings.

Sourdough with poppy and sesame seeds. Photo by NR
Beef stew with dumplings. Photo by NR

Leftovers tonight! So my afternoon will include reading someone else’s book.

Nora

Note from Laura:  As Department Head of Answering Letters,  I see a lot of fascinating messages.  There are the ones that move — loving stories about readers and the people in their live, for example the widower who reads the In Deaths because Eve reminds him of his wife, or the people who share how reading brought them closer to family members, or how just reading one of Nora/JD’s titled helped a reader out of a morass of depression because she saw a woman of strength in that book.

As the Department Head of Reading Complaints, I see all the examples Nora listed above.  With a few extra thrown in like “I’ll show you!  I’ll borrow your books from the library!!!” As a daughter of a librarian, sales to libraries are golden for an author so I just smile and wish them well.  Recently, a woman complained on behalf of herself, her mother, her sister, their hairdresser and other assorted people  (many of these come in from the group spokesperson) about Year One and how they just didn’t like it and all agree Nora should write happier books.  When I replied that maybe they’ve just outgrown Nora and should stop reading her for a while she came back with “You’re telling me NOT to buy Nora’s books???”  Well, yes. Borrow them, give yourself a break.  How does it serve anyone’s purpose for you to set yourself up to be miserable?

I’ve taken to charting when the standard complaints come in.  Around a full moons I see a rise in language complaints.  There are two full moons this month, so I’m extra braced.

Recently there’s been an uptick in emails like this one:  “Please stop showing so much of your boobs on morning television.  My 12 year old son is in the room and he doesn’t need to see it.”

She meant to write to Norah O’Donnell of CBS The Morning.  But I had a good laugh thinking of our Nora flashing the nation on morning TV.  And then I sent a correction.

Laura

 

Home Alone Adventures

Which is exactly what I don’t want when BW goes on his winter break. What I want is a quiet house, little to no cooking, and hibernation routine.

The first disruption in this planned bliss happened when I had to go back to the dentist because they found a stupid cavity on my regular check up. Still quick and home, get to work and all’s well.

It worked that way for several days. Just me and the dogs. Get up, feed and water dogs. Go to work. Let dogs in because it’s freaking cold, but dogs behave so continue work. Put dogs out at workout time–except for a single digit day where I didn’t have the heart leave them outside for 90 minutes. But they embraced their good fortune and behaved.

Parker’s “I’ll be good!” pose. Photo by NR
Atticus with toys. Photo by NR

Sign books if it’s signing day, and have the wonderful Janeen bring me a salad from Vesta. Feed dogs. Feed self.

And since I have galleys, do galleys in the evening in the quiet.

Put dogs out, let dogs in. Rinse and repeat until bedtime.

This is great!!!

Great for me, and great for BW who’s enjoying the balmy breezes of Hawaii.

Then Tuesday happened. My lane is already an ice rink–which Logan reports on his after-school visit is pretty awful. And he’s pleased because all his teachers said there probably wouldn’t be any school Wednesday. I’m out of the loop–why not? Ice storm coming.

So I check, oh yes indeed. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, starting any minute, and through the morning. With forecasted accumulations of an inch on the ice.

That’s very bad.

I call my weekly housekeeper who comes Wednesday, tell her don’t even try it. It’s already bad, and it’ll be worse. Stay home.

I plan to call my amazing landscaper guy after the storm to have him spread salt or whatever works. No point doing that until after.

We get a little snow, but mostly it’s that freezing rain, and everything’s covered with ice in the morning. And it’s still spitting down. What do I care? I’m going to work right upstairs.

Ice! Photo by NR

Morning routine–with a little nervous in taking out recyclables, but I’m careful. Dogs in, dogs out, work, work. Stop work to call landscaper. Go work out. Cold, gloomy, icy, but I don’t care.

I’m a little amazed to hear my guy out there while I’m sweating in the gym. That was fast.

Fast enough Janeen’s able to bring up books. Sign books. Bye, bye.

Feed dogs, consider feeding self.

And the lights flicker, everything beeps, then goes out.

I’m not initially worried. I have a full-house generator. I wait for few seconds to hear that muffled roar. Instead, I hear a roolf–roolf sort of grinding, and no power.

This is not good.

As this has never happened before, I’m baffled. Am forced to call BW to ask who to call. It’s single digits, and we have no heat, no light, no water, no nothing.

Somehow he finds the number for the people who installed the generator years ago. They’ll send someone within the hour.

Meanwhile Logan and I are texting as their power’s out, too. Normally, I’d have them all come up here in the light and warm, but I have no light and warm.

I stick a mini flashlight in my pocket, get out full-sized ones, light candles, light the gas fireplace. 

Talk to generator guys. Service guy is finishing up another emergency call and will head out.

That grinding worries me a lot. I’m no mechanic but it sounds like something going to burn up or just can’t get going. What to do if we can’t get it fixed and the power doesn’t come back?

Possibly call the inn, see if there are rooms. But that would mean I leave my dogs out in single digits all night. And I’m not entirely sure now that it’s dark, temps dropping, I can get down the lane.

Pace, mull, worry. I can only use my cell, which I’m busy charging with a portable charger, and cell service is iffy here. But the service guy gets though, is on his way.

Maybe we’ll get lucky. I keep Logan and the gang updated. I could send them to the inn if necessary. Just not sure about leaving the dogs out all night so I may need to tough it out.

Meanwhile the smoke alarm and house alarm are beeping constantly as there’s no AC. I have a raging headache by the time the very nice Robert arrives.

The dogs are thrilled! Another human.

He goes down, gets to work. He works quite some time.

And nothing.

Comes back up after this some time, tells me they’re going to try to get me a portable generator as mine’s going to need more work. Apparently it hasn’t been serviced in a decade, was low on oil, etc, etc.

I feel my head explode. This is BW’s job. He has his jobs, I have mine. Why do we have no maintenance contract on an essential tool? I say to Robert, when my husband gets home from Maui, I’m going to beat him with a hammer.

Robert laughs. He doesn’t know I have a hammer and I know how to use it.

He goes out because it’s easier to get cell service outside. I hear him go down, work some again. Then he comes up. They haven’t been able to find a portable for me. He’d tried another fix, but no luck.

They’ll come back in the morning, he’s so sorry.

Not his fault, and he’s been out there in the cold and dark for over two hours.

As we’re talking, the lights come on, everything stops the stupid beeping. I’m afraid the universe is messing with me. I ask Robert. Is the power really back on?

He grins. Oh yeah, you got power.

Such is my state that I say out loud and with extreme joy: Oh, fucking A.

He laughs again.

Text Logan, and yes, they’re back in business. We exchange virtual high fives.

Somewhere around eight-thirty, I finally feed myself.

And when BW calls we have a very unhappy conversation. He’s genuinely and sincerely sorry — but sorry don’t cut it, pal. LOL.

I probably won’t beat him with a hammer–but I’ve already arranged for semi-annual maintenance. This will never happen again.

I have to say through those four stressful hours I thought about the people in Puerto Rico who’ve been without power for months. It makes me sick and sad. I could’ve camped out in here for a night–did it for longer than that before the generator (which is why we have one). I had places I could go if the outage lasted more than a few hours.

For me, this was an inconvenience–fairly serious as it’s cold and there are grandkids and animals to think of. But basically an inconvenience.

And an adventure I could’ve done without.

But things are back to normal. My lane got a second hit of salt–because it’s bad out there. I scrubbed a couple of floors because my housekeeper couldn’t make it here. I found a bucket of ash to throw over the worst of the ice on the way to the trash and the bird feeder–though it’s still pretty dicey.

I’m getting my work done, my workouts in, and my house is nice and quiet.

It’s another gray and gloomy day, but due to that second hit of salt, the flower delivery guy made it up the lane. And I have such pretty, cheerful flowers sent by my editor. Dark In Death hit number one! Yay! 

#1 on the NYT flowers. Photo by NR.
More flowers.

I also have my monthly flowers–when it’s gloomy, flowers bring the light.

I have the fireplace going, candles lit, happy dogs, and I believe I’ll pour myself a glass of wine when I finish this, maybe settle into the quiet with a book. 

Antidote for gloom. Photo by NR

And hope my only adventures are inside those pages.

Nora

Work and Reward

I’ve been working pretty hard since our return from France. I like working hard, so that’s all good. But I like play time with pals, too. I had a great day/evening/night with good girl pals this week on our Try To Make It Annual Girls In Boonsboro trip.

I get into town early enough to take a new class at Fit In Boonsboro with my pal, JoAnne. Grabbed 45 on the elliptical first, then did 45 of boogying cardio after. Got my 90 in, and had fun doing it. That’s some work.

Reward came with lunch and champagne at Vesta with Jo, Laura, Pat, Mary Kay, Mary and Elaine. Good food, good pals, good wine.

Then it’s shopping–lots of opportunities for that in B’Boro. Josie’s On Main first stop geographically.

This mug caught Laura’s eye at Josie’s. Photo by Laura

I found myself a fun Witch Please tank that amused me–and has already been worn for a later workout. Among other things I picked up a few Christmas gifts, then we wandered down Main to Gifts In Boonsboro. Earrings! A gorgeous vase I’ve had my eye on–and a gift for my pal Ruth in Michigan. A just because as the black/white/gray soft as a cloud hand-made afghan said I Am Ruth’s. 

Among the amazing art on display at Gifts– a wedding cake of Savor the Moment pages. Photo by Laura

Onto TTP for more, and whee, they’ve put Stephen King’s new book written with his son Owen aside for me. Can’t wait to dig in.

Reward!

Then on this perfectly gorgeous October afternoon, it’s time to check into the inn, hang out in The Courtyard. More bubbly, yummy snacks, those good pals–and a couple of fun guests. 

The ingredients for a leisurely spell in The Courtyard. Photo by Laura
The very surprised Jane and Michelle. Photo by Laura

And presents for me as my birthday’s coming. Cake, too. That’s a good deal.

I nearly forgot the photo! Photo by Laura

Before the evening ends, the webmaster for our businesses stops by on his way home from a Boy Scout meeting. He has his amazingly adorable son–also Owen. Owen is one of the top popcorn salesmen for the Scouts–and it’s easy to see why when he starts his pitch. My fave is when his dad said he could get the key for the storage place, break in and get the forms. Dad, says Owen, how do you break in with a key?

I bought the 22 pack of microwave Movie Theater (extra butter!). It’s delicious.

A fun day, a quiet night, another morning workout, then mmmm breakfast. I’m not a breakfast eater but it’s hard to resist the offerings at the inn.

All in all a lovely reward.

Then back to work.

Thursday my perfection of a hairdresser comes to do my cut and color, give BW a trim, get Logan’s hair cut before he catches the bus for school. This time Logan has a picture of the cut he wants. Harold makes it so. The result is a seriously happy teenage boy. Handsome, too. 

Logan. Hair by Harold. Photo by Nana.

And back to work. Sticking hard with it to get it off to my agent and editor before I pack for a week in NYC. Another reward.

Flowers come–calla lilies. Every year I give myself the gift of flowers every month. It makes me happy, especially in the winter. 

The calla lilies in bloom. Photo by Nora.

Friday I make red sauce for pasta for Kayla our running girl. She has a meet on Saturday. Logan, however, is done with pasta every Friday and gets to pick the main meal. He wants Grandda’s flank steak, my roasted rosemary potatoes. 

Aforementioned potatoes. Photo by Nora

We make this so. And I get more cake!!

Saturday I pack, or mostly. Workout first, then figuring out what I need for a fall week in the city. And then–reward–I take the DVD of Wonder Woman BW gave me and gorge on it and Owen’s popcorn.

Today, Jason and Kat will be here for a foundation meeting and dinner. BW made extra flank steak with this in mind. I have to make more potatoes, and they went over pretty big on Friday night.

Tomorrow, finish packing–not much there–and start refreshing myself on the Chronicles Of The One trilogy before I start writing the final book.

Work and reward. It’s a nice balance. Reward yourself!

Nora

Provence, France Day 10

Tickle Tickle! Photo by NR
Eggs Benedict. Photo by BW
BW’s caption: BE apres Cizing It Up. (Laura has her doubts on this — I READ the blog posts.) Photo by NR

Only two insistent ant fitness buffs for the morning. I was a little lonely.

On this gorgeous day Jason and Kat take off in a quest for yarn. I had a lovely, lovely swim, a round in the hot tub in reward for the workout.

Then, thanks to my promptly arriving charger, settled down to work for a couple hours. How about some cheese and bread with that? Don’t mind if I do.

For a couple of hours, my body sits in the woodsy shade of Provence and my brain goes to New York in 2061. It’s a very fine deal for me.

Stretch it out, have a bellini. Seems fair.

Then BW and I stroll (climb) stroll to Le Spa. This is BW’s second trip, my first. It’s gorgeous.

Airy and fragrant and wonderfully calm. Up a few stairs a glass window presents the beautiful indoor pool and its lounging area. We sit in reception a few minutes before we’re led to our respective locker rooms. More quiet, more pretty, more fragrant. I’m into the plush robe and slippers, then go into the relaxation room.

Nice!

Several lounges–adjustable for your comfort. Glossy magazines. I test my very poor French reading and admire the photographs. My masseuse fetches me, guides me into my pretty massage room. In minutes I’m down, she’s back and it begins.

Ah.

My choice of oil scented with lemongrass. Hot stones seeping into bones and muscles tested by climbs, workouts and horses. Good. competent, soothing hands. I drift in and out–my favorite state during a good massage. Not out so you wake up, think: What? Not fully awake so the brain doesn’t rest. The floating stage, and it’s perfect.

I tell her so when it’s finished.

Still in the dreamy state, I meet BW back at reception, and back home we go.

I decide to continue to relax there, which requires another bellini.

Jason and Kat return just about five o’clock. An adventure!

The yarn store Kat earmarked was closed for August–the traditional holiday month. Not to be discouraged, she found another in Nice, so on they drove. But that one, closed as well. She figures they figure who wants to buy yarn in August any way. Since they’re in Nice, they go to the beach, have lunch. And Kat gets to dip her feet in the Med. Jason regrets ordering a salad, which proved to be huge–after he sees someone served a hot fudge sundae. An enormous sundae.

Nice street scene. Photo by kat
Sweet selfie. Photo by kat
Classic farmland scene. Photo by j a-b
Giant Jason. Photo by kat

Kat drives to Nice, Jason drives back. I remain the only holdout. But really, think of the humanity.

We talk our day on the terrace, talk about where to have dinner as we’ve decided to explore off-campus. In their efficient way, they’ve taken photos of menus of a couple of our choices.

We choose one, casual, and clean ourselves up.

Beautiful, balmy evening after another hot day. We run into–I believe it’s Phillipe, head concierge and chat while I car’s brought around. He doesn’t know the restaurant we’ve chosen, but we promise to report back. (Jason tells me I misspelled Eladia’s name in a previous blog.)

Jason’s taken himself off on foot as it’s just a bit over a mile and he wants to hit his step goal for the day (I have sufficiently crushed all comers in our Work Week Hustle). Kat, faithful navigator, directs us. Wind and wind and wind, and . . . there.

It’s in or really by a kind of shopping center, and some flats. Wide, open air, lots of tables. A cheerful waitress with a little English. I choose some wine, and that goes smooth and easy. Vin rouge always works.

Le group. Photo by kat

She brings out a little chalkboard with the daily specials on it–and BW spots paella. That’s a favorite. It has a further description in French Jason and I puzzle over then decide is at any time over the weekend.

They have spaghetti arrabiata, which is a favorite of mine. Salade verte. Perfect.

BW inquires about what’s in the paella, as this often depends. The waitress only has French here, explains–and uses mime–it’s adorable. We got the shrimp, the mussles, the chicken (we’ve got that much French), but we’re all stuck on another ingredient until she draws a picture. An octopus (or squid). All five us are pleased with each other, and since all the ingredients suit BW, we order.

There’s a cafe across the way closing for the night. One of the residents of the flats is standing on her tiny balcony brushing her teeth. People begin wandering in to take tables. I have a view of the hills throughout.

The food’s really, really good. The service fun and bright. This is obviously a neighborhood place, and we hear only French. We all agree we’d certainly come back, and that’s before dessert.

Hey, hot fudge sundaes–and oh God profiteroles. Jason and Kat will split the sundae, BW and I the profiteroles. Meanwhile, a family with a young boy–three or four–and a very new baby are dining. The boy is entertaining himself creatively with action figures. Another big table is full of women so we figure a girls night out. Families and groups all around us, and the little boy’s in his own heroic battlefield. He’s really cute. We hear music from a nearby restaurant, and after a bit realize it’s karaoke!

Dessert comes, and oh my. I may not be able to fully finish my share, but I make a strong attempt. The long, lazy and satisfying meal has taken us deep into the evening. But we feel obliged to walk over and check out the karaoke.

Dessert!!! Photo by ja-b

It’s a pizzeria with a generous outdoor area. Lots of tables of people eating while others take the mike. We watch two girls bravely attempt a song. Not one I’m familiar with, and in French, but vastly entertaining.

Back home we go, and to bed as we hope to leave earlier this morning for the Saturday market in Fayence. No time to workout! Jason, Kat and I will start head-to-head on our Weekend Warrior Challenge.

I think I’ll try out my fun new shoes.

Nora

Today’s #randomkatness:

Bread IS art. Photo by kat

Note from Laura:  Here in the real world, I’m at a family wedding this weekend.  Sunday’s post could be a little later due to long party tonight and somewhat cranky wifi.  Will do what I can!

Provence, France Day 15

Clouds over Tourrettes taken from villa patio. Photo by BW.

Before and after shots of BW’s Cize experience in yesterday’s blog. He worked it for 40 minutes! He joined me for that session after I did 50 minutes Bootcamp Boogieing with Petra Kolber. *

Back to normal for me and my system.

Jason and Kat head out, for their walk, a trip to the market and the bakery. On return we discuss vital matters such as: is pizza a kind of open-faced sandwich (as well as a pie) as it’s cheese on baked dough with toppings. Maybe.

This discussion launches from the fact Kat and Jason have picked up some lunch meat and what’s billed as sandwich bread. And I had a little conversation with the housekeeper regarding leftover pizza, wherein I remembered the word for lunch, in explaining why we’re keeping it rather than having her take it away.

Oui, bien. Pour le dejeuner!

I work in my shady spot, going back to NYC in my state of mind for a couple hours. And now and again surface enough to hear golfers through the trees.

Our men prepare to leave for their glider experience. And are back in ten minutes or so. Short flight?

Wrong day. LOL. Gliders booked for Friday.

So we settle down to our various pursuits. Some reading, some work, some conversation. Some planning for the last days of our holiday.

Playground near the villa. Photo by BW.
18th tee — just below the villa. Golf with a view. Photo by BW.

Jason’s discovered our foundation has its 17th anniversary on Friday–I think it’s Friday. We’ll have a little celebration, maybe here, maybe back at the open-air restaurant we call The Scrublands as the French name (which I can’t remember) translates to just that. Maybe there’ll be karaoke again!

We clean up, dress up for dinner here at the main restaurant. I leave a little plate of torn up lunch meat for the mama-to-be cat in case she comes by while we’re gone.

BW and I head up first for a drink at the bar. He orders some kind of fancy gin drink, and I go for what’s called a Sparkling Jasmine. Champagne, peach juice and jasmine syrup. 

It’s fascinating to watch a good bartender build a drink–and this one is very good. My favorite part of BW’s build is the graceful swirling of a long thin slice of cucumber onto the top, then dashing just a bit of what the bartender explains is barbecue bitters (from Memphis!) and a carefully placed grind of black pepper. 

Basil Collins made with Hendricks Gin (BW’s caption). Photo by NR with BW’s phone.

BW is pleased with the results.

My drink is absolutely lovely. A blend of gorgeous flavors and so very smooth.

The tender shows us the various bitters they have to work with–and some home-made. Saffron bitters, vanilla bitters, I think caramel. What drink wonders embrace these?

Kat and Jason join us, so it’s out (past the sinful dessert display) to our table. 

Temptation row. Photo by kat.
A closer look at Temptation Row. Photo by BW.

It’s a gorgeous night for eating outdoors, with a bottle of smooth, local red. I should take pictures of the wine bottles, but too late now.

A family group celebrating–we think–a birthday has a table nearby.

The service here is unilaterally friendly and as smooth as the wine. When you add fabulous food, it adds up to a very happy dining experience. Blue skies, warm air, good food, good wine, good company. It doesn’t get better.

King of the rock. Photo by kat.
Tray of petite pains. Photo by j a-b.
Dinner plate. Photo by BW.

Until you add that dessert.

They have what will always be pie-cream-pie for us. It’s very large, so Jason and I split it. Kat feels obliged to order the macaroon dessert (it’s France, after all). It’s pink and pretty–and delicious. BW got some creamy, glossy thing I can’t identify–but again, delicious.

I cannot express the fabulousness of the pie-cream-pie. Which is actually cake-cream-cake with pretty berries. Jason points out that when halved it looks like a crazy, toothy smiling face. When eaten, it brings a tear of joy and gratitude to the eye. Whoever baked this magnificence should rule the world. There would be no war, no sadness, no strife if every meal ended with pie-cream-pie.

Pie-cream-pie? Cake-cream-cake? Doesn’t anyone else see The Cookie Monster’s French cousin (Laura’s comment)? Photo by j a-b.

We wander around after, find a little lounge area and start to take a selfie. The bartender cheerfully comes back, and takes a photo for us. Our night is commemorated.

A group never afraid of color. Photo from j a-b’s phone.
Balls. Photo by kat.
Awww. Photo by kat.

We walk back–I might have rolled.

I check, and the little plate I left for the cat is licked clean. So she, too, had a nice little meal.

Hang out a bit, read a bit, then lights out.

To answer a question from yesterday, I don’t know how long it takes to write the blog every morning. Depends. Some days we’ve done more than other days. I just start, then end when it’s done. And that’s pretty much how I write everything!

Today we’ve all got appointments at the spa. Massages for the gang, and a facial for me. But those are hours away yet. Workout’s coming up. My mood after will determine whether I work on my book or read one. I think a swim should work itself into the day.

Right now it’s cool enough for a light hoodie on the terrace, but that will change as the sun gains strength.

Nora

*Note from Laura — there’s that time/space continuum thing again!

Today’s #randomkatness:

Huge butterfly. Photo by kat.

A Lot of Bits And Some Pieces

Just not much going on around here because it’s hibernation time.

Delighted to report that Logan–who’s grown another inch according to the Nana Hug-O-Meter and verified by measuring tape–scored a three-pointer to help his team win his basketball game. And Kayla–running the 3200 and the 4×800 relay–helped the Boonsboro Girls Indoor Track Team win the State Championship.

Kayla (left) in relay. Photo from HeraldMailMedia.com

Pretty sweet all around.

Meanwhile after work and workouts, I played (a little obsessively) with a Christmas gift from Jason and Kat. When we vacation together, we do fun panorama photos, with staging and considerable choreography. So for Christmas, they got me a jigsaw puzzle comprised of four of those panos. Fun, challenging and unique. And accomplished! Even if a piece appears to have gone missing from Sorento.

The perfect gift

I’m also thrilled my newly reupholstered living room furniture is now in place. And relieved it received potentially future interior designer Kayla’s approval. I like the cheerful, bright and warm look of it, and that I successfully played off the bird pillows I’m so fond of, and the gorgeous throw my agent brought me back from a trip to India.

Otherwise I’m deep into the book, socked in and happy to be so.

Since I’m here, I’m going to (once again) address a few points, as apparently there’s been a revival of chatter, misinformation and odd assertions on the internet.

Roarke is Roarke. Period. No, no, a thousand times no, he was not named Patrick after his despicable father. He is not, has never been a junior. He is very simply, now and forever–before and after and always–Roarke.

Readers dissatisfied with that are just going to have to accept it.

And just because Roarke rhymes with stork doesn’t equal baby. There will be no baby, biological, adopted, fostered, in dreams or conceived by Eve and Roarke in an alternate universe. (Also no to pregnancy scares which is just silly.) This is simply not going to happen for reasons I’ve explained many times. And no, Eve and Roarke will not babysit for Bella. Why in God’s name–seriously–would they? I really think Mavis and Leonardo can handle finding their own child care when necessary.

Eve will not find long-lost relations. This will not happen. Period. Done. Please??? And her father is DEAD. Really most sincerely dead. Doornail dead. Dead as Moses.

Supporting characters will not take the spotlight as Eve and/or Roarke are sidelined by injury, kidnapping, amnesia or alien abduction. They are, and will remain supporting characters.

I’m never, ever going to ask for reader input into storylines. I do not, as some believe, take reader suggestions and work them into a story, or adjust future stories, character traits, dialog or actions due to reader chatter (be it positive or negative). I write in my own little bubble, and that’s never going to change. If a reader feels ‘it’s time’ I shake things up, freshen things up, it may be that reader needs a break from my work. Nothing at all wrong with that.

In very practical terms, in logistical terms, by the time the chatter starts on a new book, the next is already written and with my publisher–and often the next two as the books are published every six months, and my personal process is to work about a year ahead of publication.

So the chatter doesn’t apply for me from a practical or a creative standpoint. Especially from the creative side.

As a writer, as a creator of a long-running series with recurring characters, I have to think both of the long view and each individual book. It all has to make sense within the world created, for the characters drawn, for the interpersonal relationships of those characters.

Trust me, I know the world and the characters.

Now, I’m going to drop myself into a different work with different characters. I like it in my bubble.

Nora

Time and Time Away

After the rush and fun of the holidays, BW and I spend a week away with friends and family at a resort/spa a convenient couple hours drive from home. We’ve been doing this, we figure, for about fourteen years.

The front entrance. Photo by Laura
The snowy landscape. Photo by Laura

It’s a lovely, lovely break. It’s familiar for this creature of habit, it’s comfortable, and it’s pretty.

This year it’s also COLD! Seriously cold, and we’ve had a pretty (since I’m not out in it) snowfall. I had my first emotionally focused therapy at the spa a few hours after our arrival, and just let everything go. That’s the best. It’s relax and recharge time for me. Read lotsa books time, work a little here and there time, and cook not at all time. And it’s an extra gift to spend that time with people you love and enjoy.

I’ve finished two books, and will start another this afternoon while I wait for my mmmmm deep tissue massage. Which I earned  as I went full out for a two full hour cross-training workout this morning.

I’ll come back, pour myself a glass of champagne then think about what to order for dinner, the one I’m not cooking.

I had a good, solid stretch of writing one day between workout and a facial. Good deal. I worked on a non-book-related project and did a little shopping. When I go home, I have a routine doc’s appointment, and then an event on the weekend, followed by hosting at our house our Kayla’s State champion girls cross-country team.

Girls rock!

Squeezing writing in there as I go. But that’s days away.

I love what I do for a living, love the time and the effort I’m required to put into crafting a story I hope readers will enjoy. I love being able to take some time off with friends and family, love spending the weekend making soup and bread or whatever appeals in my own kitchen. Because I love all of that I’m bound to do a better job of it than if I disliked or resented it.

Here’s what I don’t much like, and more have no real skill for. Handling social media. Coming up with topics for Facebook that will engage readers and make them happy. Laura is queen of all that. If I had to handle it? I wouldn’t have FB pages. Simply wouldn’t. I’d resent every minute I had to scratch my head over what to write, and detest every minute it took away from the work I love. So I’d simply eliminate the annoyance and distraction, and focus on what I love, what I’m good at, and what I owe the reader. My best work.

That’s the bottom line. A writer of fiction owes readers this: The best book he or she can write at that particular time. She also owes them gratitude, of course, for reading, owes them basic courtesy if and when she engages with readers IRL or on line.

And, that’s it.

Though some may disagree I don’t owe readers FB pages or blogs or contests and give-aways to repay them for reading my books, whether they buy them, listen to them, borrow them. I owe them a good book. FB is a marketing tool and a great way to communicate. Laura does an amazing job of crafting posts, selecting photos or quotes that springboard reader conversations. I would not, though I do scan the posts, sometimes the comments, and if it applies, add a comment of my own.

I enjoy writing this blog when I have something to say, or can document through words and pictures something I think readers will have fun with. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. Actually my Jason gave me the basic thrust of how to handle blogging here when years back I whined about it. Days in the life, little bits and pieces with photos, fun stuff, personal stuff.

Okay, I think I can do that, and so far, so good.

In the normal course of events, I write 40-50 hours a week. Parts of that schedule maybe eaten into now and then by the business that surrounds writing. Generally I proof galleys in the evening, not during work hours. I sign, routinely, four tubs of books three times a week, not during work hours.

In there I live a life I really enjoy. It’s a really good balance for me.

If I added in what the amazing Laura does, that balance would tip, and tip hard. I’d be unhappy, and believe me, so would you, the reader.

So for those who might wonder why I don’t write all the FB posts, there’s the answer. It’s certainly not because I don’t value the reader, new ones, or ones who’ve read me from day one.

It’s actually because I very much do.

Anyway, I think I have time for a glass of champagne before that massage. After all, this is time away.

Nora

Courtyard chairs waiting for spring. Photo by Laura

Note from Laura (did you expect anything else?):   Since the very first FB post in 2008, I’ve signed what I post though many speed readers do miss it.  For everyone who pays attention, they know it’s me.  And that NR chimes in when time allows.

While neither of us would ever want to live the other’s life, Nora and I have developed a rhythm and understanding and synchronicity over the past 12 years works.  I know what it’s like to be a faithful reader.  I also see clearly how routine and hard work built a career that spans three decades of quality storytelling.

I see the (imo) whiny “why doesn’t Nora love us?” comments and think “she does — she gives you multiple books every single years.” And so we’ll continue to not fix what ain’t broke.

New Directions

A long time ago, on a hilltop far, far away, I started writing category Romance. With two pre-schoolers to run herd on, I fed my appetite for reading with short, satisfying Romances I could gulp down during nap time. So when stuck with said pre-schoolers inside for a week during a blizzard, I began to scribble down one of the stories in my head in a notebook. It was intended to save my sanity, and became a career and a passion.

Writing Harlequin-style Romances was a natural choice as I gobbled them during this time period. I’d grown up reading everything–everyone in my house read everything– but at this particular turn of my road, category Romances comprised the bulk of my reading.

My career roots in Romance spread over the next decade or two. One of the appeals to me was this was a genre that could, and did, include everything. You could, especially when the genre and the market evolved, add elements of mystery, suspense, paranormal, horror, comedy, fantasy. As long as the story contained a core romantic relationship, tied things up with a happy ending, you could rock on.

I continued to write category even as I expanded into writing mainstream novels, and produced 100 books for Silhouette before I turned off that road. With Bantam, then Putnam (which became Penguin-Putnam which became Penguin Random House), and now St. Martin’s Press I wrote and continue to write Romantic Suspense, I wrote trilogies–straight relationship or with elements of fantasy and paranormal. I began the In Death series as JD Robb.

The In Death series certainly took me onto another lane of the highway. I thought of these as relationship mysteries/police procedurals with continuing characters set in the near future–which gave them a science fiction light touch.

Mostly they were and are fun and interesting stories for me to write, with core characters I adore and enjoy. That makes them tremendously satisfying creatively.

The Romantic Suspense novels I write drive down another lane on the highway. They’re not a part of a series, sometimes have more than one romantic relationship, generally have other non-romantic relationships–friendships, family–as writing about people is what I do. For these it may be a setting that flicks on the light bulb, or a character type, or a situation. For The Obsession, for instance, that flash was: What’s it like to be the child of a serial killer?

As I write without much of a structured plan, relying more on Let’s See What Happens next, I have to be very engaged in the story, very connected to the characters to see it all through. That first flick on has to pull me in.

The trilogies I do wind down another lane. For these everything’s broader and interconnected. The concept has to tell me, this needs more room, and has a theme or goal that can weave through three books. Whether straight relationship, like the Born In trilogy, or The Bride Quartet, or with those paranormal elements, like The Circle Trilogy or Three Sisters Island, the initial concept always included that central romance, and the romance highlighted in each book would be resolved in that particular book.

I conceived them as one big book in three distinct parts, each containing–whether it be mortal, wizard, business-woman or vampire–that elemental romantic relationship.

Writing on those different lanes of the highway has served to keep me fresh and creatively satisfied–and it seems to me gives readers a lot of choices in my work. Some like the Robb series, some don’t. Some like the more traditional relationship, some are eager for the more magickal, others prefer the suspense.

But when you offer a variety, the downside is those who prefer one gripe when you offer another. That’s just how it goes. If a writer discovers how to satisfy every reader every time, I really want to have a sit-down with him or her and learn the secret. But in the meantime, I have to pay attention to that flick of light and turn down the road where it shines for me.

And so, some time ago, that light flicked on a turn off the highway, a detour, an unexplored road. It’s a little risky to take that turn, see where it takes you. But it’s also exciting. And challenging.

The flash of this light didn’t beam on the Romance of my roots, or how my own work has evolved around it, and frankly, away from what the genre is today. It shined on something different, something I saw as more a Fantasy saga. Relationships, absolutely. Books and stories for me are all about the people in them, how they relate, or don’t. Touches of romance, sure, but at least in the opening book, the story can’t center on a central love story and hold for the rest.

I thought about it for quite awhile, played with it in my head, chewed on it, studied the concept from different angles. The light didn’t dim, so I turned off and followed it.

Year One — the first of this different sort of trilogy — begins a journey, for me as a writer, for the characters within, and hopefully for the reader who wants to take a chance with me. It begins with a global crisis, a pandemic that wipes away much of the population and opens a door to magicks. Black and white, courage and cowardice, the determination to survive and rebuild, the evolution of powers for good or ill. And the light again, that’s hope and love and bravery that shines through.

The process of structuring this story–and laying the groundwork for the two that will follow–presented a creative challenge, the need to take a leap, a lot of sweaty work, a larger cast of characters to develop and connect to, multiple relationships to weave, the logistics of world building. Because even when you’re basically destroying the world, you’re building another.

For the first time in too long to remember a book woke me up at night, or kept me up. What do I do about this, how will I resolve that, how does that even make any stupid sense? It wouldn’t leave me alone, so I knew it had me, however it turned out. I had to follow that light and see where it took me.

Writing it proved hard and bumpy and frustrating and tremendous fun. Finishing it was, for me, monumental. The relief that my editor didn’t say WTF when she read it, beyond enormous. It matters, a lot, to be satisfied with a finished manuscript. It matters, a whole giant bunch of a lot, when an editor a writer knows and trusts, whose purpose is to publish, package, market a book and help it be the best it can be, gives the work two thumbs up.

I already know the following two books that will comprise this trilogy will be hard and bumpy and frustrating and fun. But I’m on the road now, and I’m enjoying the scenery.

Normally, I wouldn’t have a lot to say to readers about a book that won’t be out for a year, or a trilogy that’s only just begun on my end. In this case, since it’s different, since it’s not Romance or built on the framework of the genre, and is a turn off onto a new road rather than a different lane, I thought it fair to let those who follow my work know something else is coming.

I understand some might think: But this isn’t what I want from her! That’s okay, don’t worry. The In Death series will continue. The Suspense novels with that core love story (or stories) will continue to pull me in. But you’ve got to follow the light, go where ideas pull you. And hope that readers take the journey with you.

Nora

Day Seventeen: Sorrento

A misty morning over the sea with skies that range from broody to blue. The blue wins as the morning spreads.

Kat and I decide on another Shaun T, one we haven’t tried yet as it’s on the last disk in the set. Whoa!

40 minutes of fast, fancy footwork. I would love to conquer this one–and that’ll take some time. Still, it keeps us moving, moving, sweating, sweating and laughing. I’ve decided laughing burns more fat and calories. I’m sure of it.

BW joins us–and was warned!–for the 8 Minute Abs. Now we are three groaning our way through it.

From there Kat and I want some upper body. Rather than bands, Kat’s idea is to use our jumbo water bottles. They may only be a little more than three pounds, but it adds a challenge. 30 minutes of this! I can’t remember the DVD. It’s part of Kat’s Beach Body collection, but when it shifts to the push-ups section, Kat drops down on the mat, and I stay up, with bottles doing tri and shoulder work. My weak right wrist won’t handle the push ups. This turns out to my advantage as Kat gasps and moans through them.

A biting fly is hounding Kat, just won’t stop nipping at her. Our Kat is one who’ll capture a bug in the house, gently, gently release it outside. So when she finally smacks, smacks, smacks, the fly into the patio with her water bottle, snarling: Die! Die! Die! It’s a moment.

We emerge, once more, sweaty, righteous girls. The fly was toast.

By the time I’m out of the shower, dressed and set up for the day, my gang’s left to find the post office in a town between here and Sorrento. Just me and the cat for awhile, and my holiday workstation with the view of the sea.

Wall o'pasta in Sant' Agnello. Photo by BW.
Wall o’pasta in Sant’ Agnello. Photo by BW.

Shortly after the gang returns I surprise myself by finishing the book. I’d hoped to make some good progress, but hadn’t counted on finishing. Go, me! But in not counting on finishing, I hadn’t done the usual spell check document by document as I went, thinking it would be simpler to do all that at home on my desktop rather than the Surface I only use a few times a year.

No problem, I think, and start.

Let me explain I use an ancient DOS WP program–I will never give it up! And my favorite geek–Jason–has found a way to install this on all my comps. I write in three chapter documents, so run spell check on the first three chapters. However the internet won’t reach my pretty station, so when I hit a word the program doesn’t recognize, and I don’t know how the hell to spell, I need to come into the kitchen, do a search for the word on my iPad. Not much of a deal, and this routine continues up to doc 6 out of 8 while the rest are watching–and commenting–on a triathlon on TV inside.

Moving along here, very happily. And suddenly, on my misspelling of barracuda, it all freezes. Can’t correct (I KNOW how the spell the damn word!), can’t escape, can’t nothing.

Call my beloved geek. Even he is puzzled by this, fiddles and fools, finally finds a way for me to escape and start the doc over. I do so with him hanging out in case. The in case happens, again on barracuda. Well, jeez, what’s with this? He thinks perhaps the program’s caught a bug, but he runs it on his device, no problem. I’m able to zip through spell check on the remaining docs, no problem.

So baffled, all around, we’ll deal with it all later. And I manually spell check the wacky doc. Apologies in advance to my editor. 

But finally, involving a lot more time and frustration than it should have, it’s done. I find the quotes I want, move into the kitchen, and through the magic of the interwebs, send the book from our holiday villa in Italy to my editor and agent in New York.   [Note from Laura:  I forget the title, but it’s an In Death. Since it won’t be out for a year, we’ll wait on that a bit.] 

Satisfying, and let’s have a bellini!

Hell, let’s have two!

I’m in time to watch the final leg of the tri–two Brit brothers well into the lead on the last grueling section. It makes it sweet to think about these brothers training together, making the Olympic team together, running now almost side-by-side on that last leg. In the last couple miles (MILES!) one bro pulls away into a clear lead, but second bro is holding firm onto second. In the last, nearly to the finish line, first bro takes a Brit flag from one of the cheering onlookers, and carries it with him across. It’s pretty great. He slows down, actually looks behind him–I like to think he’s looking for his brother–before he crosses that finish.

Then he just lies down on the track. His brother crosses about 12 seconds after, I think it was, drops down with him. They clasp hands, pat shoulders. Yeah, it’s sweet.

It’s time to change for dinner and the short drive back to the first panorama restaurant we enjoyed. Even that short drive involves hairpins and on-coming scooters. The view, the food, the happy service make it all worthwhile. Some local red, pasta and pizza, salads so fresh they deserve to be slapped. And the moon peeks round and red over the horizon. That red wash adds the exotic even as it fades on the climb. La Luna is just as striking tonight as it was last.

La luna sul mare. Photo by Kat.
La luna sul mare. Photo by Kat.

A short ride home–we have gelato at home. Mmmm. A fat white moon sailing starry skies, a bowl of gelato. A perfect way to cap the day.

Night sky full of moon. Photo by Kat.
Night sky full of moon. Photo by Kat.

Today’s our last day in Italy. I’m going to appreciate every moment–even if we do 8 Minute Abs!

We have plans for some fun family pictures around our holiday home. But for now my gang’s still sleeping. I think I’ll take a little walk around, rub some rosemary on my hands and enjoy the view. 

BW on the edge. Photo by BW.
BW on the edge. Photo by BW.
Because it's there. Photo by BW.
Because it’s there. Photo by BW.

Nora

Day Four: Capri

Photo by j a-b
Fancy dinner calls for a fancy couple. Photo by j a-b

In the spirit of mixing things up, we take a lazier day after the day of The Big Hike.

This doesn’t mean skipping the morning workout, and Kat’s got some Piyo DVDs. They aren’t for weenies! A forty-something minute session gets the blood moving and the muscles stretched. Then it’s time for my three companions to get their massages. I opt to do a cardio workout as I’m getting TWO spa treatments.

By the time I get out of the shower, everyone’s back and blissed out. It’s handy I can just wear my robe to go down a couple flights of stairs to the spa. Which is lovely and quiet and friendly. Clearly everyone there wants you to have a perfect time. My hot stone massage was a perfect time. All those muscles I challenged on the hike, and in the morning’s workout get a good, deep rub, and that heat? Ahhhh.

I’m pretty blissed myself by the time I walk back to the room. And there, my fam is preparing to take a trip on the chair lift that runs beside the hotel–and way, way up. The way, way up has already answered the question of whether I’d want to go. I settle down to work for the hour or so before my facial. The minute I start I’m back into it and realize I wouldn’t mind a solid three or four hour session at the keyboard. But I have the spa calling.

It literally flies by, that hour, so I’m surprised when I check on the time and see I have to leave right now! So still in my robe–and it’s an added bonus to spend the bulk of a day in a robe–I head down again. I’ve chosen a facial that involves oxygen being blown onto (into?) your skin. Not sure how it works, but it feels like your face is being quietly airbrushed. It’s lovely and relaxing. It also involves a neck and shoulder massage, a soothing mask, hand massage. All together, more bliss. And after my skin looks and feels amazing.

I can see why celebs come here for a week just for the spa treatments.

My gang had a great time riding high above Capri, have the photos to prove it–and had some gelato to cap it off.

Photo by j-ab
Reason # 1 why Nora is not on the lift. Photo by j-ab
Reason #2 why Nora's not on the chair lift. Photo by J a-b
Photo by J a-b
Photo by Kat
…but you have to admit the view are worth the ride. Photo by Kat
Photo by j a-b
The intrepid exploriers, very high above the water. Photo by j a-b
View of Naples from Anacapri. Photo by BW
View of Naples from Anacapri. Photo by BW
The daily gelato. Photo by j a-b
The gelato reward. Photo by j a-b

Housekeeping’s here, and one of the ladies apologizes for not speaking English. Then speaks it perfectly in a conversational way–to ask if we’re enjoying our stay, to tell us we’ll love Sorrento and so on. My Italian’s pretty limited to hello, goodbye, good day, evening, night. And various foods. It always impresses me how Europeans have at least a conversational command of so many languages. Americans should do better there.

I’ll add everyone in our hotel has been a delight–friendly, personable, accommodating. Just as the shopkeepers, the waitstaffs around the island have given off that happy, welcoming vibe. More than making a sale, providing a meal, making the bed, checking you in or out, it’s service. Lovely, competent and cheerful service. It makes all the difference.

But now it’s time for me to actually get dressed. We’re going to take ourselves a walk down a quieter area–still shops to play in. A few more gifts to select and friendly shopkeepers to chat with as the light softens toward evening. We can hardly leave Capri without buying a pretty bottle of limoncello. It would just be wrong.

We wind our way back to the restaurant where we ate our first night. I want nothing more in this world than their pizza. Well, maybe some wine to go with it. It’s all as cheerful and delicious as before. Honestly, nobody prepares food like the Italians, or sees to pretty details as flawlessly. We have our easy, fun, yummy meal–pizza for me and my boy, eggplant parm for Kat, a tuna dish for BW. A little dessert. Nobody walked home hungry.

Photo by j a-b
Photo by j a-b
IMG_0158
Salad, pizza, eggplant parm. Photo by Kat.
IMG_0160
Laura’s guess: BW’s tuna dish. Photo by Kat.

Today, post workout, we have to gather our things, organize, repack what we unpacked. We’ll say goodbye to our amazing home here, and the beautiful island of Capri.

Time for a boat ride. At least, for my shaky system, it’s a short one. And by mid-afternoon we’ll be on Sorrento.

New adventures await!

Nora