Monday, April 30, 2012

"Z" is for Zombie!

The zombie apocalypse is upon us!  


Okay, not really, but it's fun to pretend.

At the end of October, right before Halloween, there will be the best 5K race in the history of running.  Okay, probably not really that either, but I've never been so excited about anything exercise related before.

The premise is that we're all evacuees, and we need to navigate our way through a zombie-infested forest.  It's a 5K race with twenty obstacles--man-made and naturally occurring--to slow us down.  We'll get health flags, and the zombies, which can crawl, walk, run, etc., will take them from us.  The objective is to get through to the finish line "alive" (with, I'd guess, at least one health flag).  There are even different routes to take to get to the end!

It'll be my first 5K ever, and that in itself will be a big accomplishment because I'm not much of a runner.  And though I know that this race will undoubtedly take longer than a normal 5K because of the obstacles and zombies, I'll be thrilled to get to the finish line.

Thank you to my new followers and to everyone who read and commented on my blog!  The A-Z Challenge was fun, and I'm looking forward to giving it a shot again next year.

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Y" is for Yankee English

One of the reasons we're so happy to be living in the U.K. is that they speak the same language we do.  But that's not entirely true.  And this isn't even counting the extra "u"s in words, like "favourite." But an extra "u" here and there never hurt anyone, and only makes my spell-check go crazy.

Since we've been here, we've definitely noticed a language barrier...though at least it's small enough so that we can explain what we really mean in case of any misunderstandings.

Some differences are slight, and some are major.  Some can cause embarrassment, and others are no big deal.  

Here are a bunch that I've noticed, and because I had trouble remembering more, I had a little help from my Facebook friends.  I'll list the Britishisms first, then the Yankee ones.

Brits will often say, "Can I help?" instead of, "Can I help you?" 

"Cheers!" is often used as a "thank you" or "goodbye," though sometimes it's said with those words.  It's confusing.  Americans usually just say this when making a toast with drinks.

"Way out" is "exit."

"Mind" is their way of saying "watch out," as in, "Mind the gap."

"Fags" are cigarettes.  We'll often warn Brits who are interested in traveling to the states of this one.

Brits say "toilet" instead of "bathroom" or "restroom."  To Americans, this often sounds strange or almost crude, but I've learned to just ask where the toilet is.

On the other hand, "restroom" to Brits can mean "lounge," like a teacher's lounge or similar.  A friend of ours, who brought a cake to her children's school, was told to put it in the restroom.  

"Fanny" is a semi-crude way to refer to lady-bits.  This gives a WHOLE new reason to be weirded out by fanny packs, which are offensive on their own.

Brits have asked us about "cook-outs" and "meatloaf," wanting to know what they are.  They were familiar with BBQs though, and meatloaf was easy enough to clarify.

Of course there are easy ones that most of us have heard before, like "torch" for "flashlight," "jumper" for "sweater," "petrol" for "gas," "biscuit" for "cookie," "crisps" for "potato chips," and "chips" for "French fries."

One more to go!  Get ready for "Z" on Monday!


xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 27, 2012

"X" is for X-Rated

Unless you live under a rock, you've undoubtedly heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey.  If you haven't, Google it.  But I'll provide an extremely abbreviated summary: an erotic novel has made mainstream best-seller lists.  Like, the New York Times best-seller list among others.  It's also gained popularity in many other countries...I've seen displays of it at the Tesco I often go to.  Oh, and people are surprised that women read sexy books.  That part makes me scratch my is that a surprise?  Oh well.

But this post isn't about Fifty Shades of Grey.  It's not a book review.  I'm not sharing my thoughts (good or bad) on Fifty.  Nope.  Sorry to disappoint.  So if you're looking for one of those blog posts with those things called opinions, or are looking to share your own on Fifty, too bad.

Instead, this post is about a common theme in news and articles I've been seeing, often in conjunction with the book being mentioned.  And as someone who also writes erotica, I'd thought I'd share my thoughts on them.

By the way, check out my "E" entry from last year's A-Z Challenge for more on Erotica.  It might be something different than you think.

The other day, one of my friends mentioned that she'd found an article about e-readers and how women are reading erotica on them.  Apparently, people have been catching on that it's much less embarrassing to read a book without Fabio on it.  Seriously, the covers are pretty awesome nowadays, but still...

Um, yeah, this is the new cover for Oliver Twist. Yeah.
Anyway, you can take your X-rated book with you anywhere!  You can read it on a plane, on the bus, at work when your boss isn't looking, when you're supposed to be doing homework, etc.

And it's much easier to cover it up if people want to get all up in your business.

*peeks over your Kindle*

"Hey, what are you reading?"

*hits the Home button to return to main screen listing*

"Oh, just The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty War and Peace."

Obviously, these increased sales have been noted.  As soon as you Google "ereaders and erotica", a ton of articles show up, including news stories from MSNBC.  Here's a link to an article about a small press whose  sales have gone through the roof.  And this isn't an isolated incident.  See, people who would never be caught dead with those books--whether because of religion, they have small kids in the house, or because they live with their parents at the age of thirty among other reasons--are buying the books because they have anonymity, both in reading and purchasing.  They don't have to go up to the check-out counter in Barnes & Noble with an armload of BDSM stories.  Nope...they can click their mouse a few times or tap their touch screen, and BAM.  Instant access to whips and floggers; sexy, brooding vampires; hot male on male action; lick-able gods and goddesses; and irresistible kinks they didn't know they had.

To me, this is an excellent thing.  Not only does it drive sales, which, as a pre-published writer, I'm very interested in following, but it opens up a lot of avenues.  Writing about risque subjects that would have been  frowned upon even ten years ago is now not only fair game, but encouraged.  And, to me, anything that gets people reading, whether it's Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey is a good thing.  So fire up that e-reader, click away, and take a look through that keyhole.


xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"W" is for Writer's Block

As I alluded to in yesterday's V post, I sometimes get writer's block.  I also call it word constipation.  There's something in there that needs to come out, but goddammit, it's not going to when you want it to.

If only it was this simple...

I know there's a lot of people who just assume that we can crank out words on demand.  "What's the big deal?  You have to get this manuscript done by the end of June, so you do it, right?"  Um, yes, but it's a bit more complicated than that.  Writer's block can come on for a number of reasons, and it's like someone has sucked the creativity right out of you.  Your characters can clam up, stress can take over your life, you reach some kind of plot roadblock, etc.

But there are ways around it.  There was a pretty good workshop on writer's block at the RWA conference last year, and while I don't have my notes handy, I do remember that one thing they suggested was to do something else for a while.  Something completely not related to writing or your story.  That does help a lot for me.  Another tip was to do something related to your story, but in a different medium...perhaps you can draw a sketch of a scene or character, or make a collage of things that happen in your story or character traits one of your protagonists have.  Brainstorming, too.  Just come up with random ways one of your characters could react to something, or how they'd solve a problem.  Any one of these methods could help your creative juices begin to flow again.

What do you do to combat writer's block?

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"V" is for Voices in my Head

Before you go thinking I'm a crazy person (I'm not saying I am, I'm not saying I'm not), I wanted to take this opportunity to give you all a little peek into my writing method.

Each author writes differently.  Some write by the seat of their pants and put down whatever comes to mind; others plan out every inch of their stories in outlines so detailed they're practically already the manuscript.  But no matter what you do, you'll have to hear the characters so you can tell their story.
As for me, I hear two versions of the characters.  

One version sits on my desk or shoulder and tells me everything about them, their motivations, etc.  If this version doesn't talk to me or withholds information, I get writer's block.  Also, if I try to make a character act against some core element that they have, even unbeknownst to me, it doesn't work.  

The second version is the one that appears in the actual manuscript and the story.  It's the version that the reading audience gets to hear.

How do you hear your characters?

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"U" is for Unsolicited Manuscript

An unsolicited manuscript is a manuscript that's sent out to an agent or publisher that they haven't requested.

Why am I clarifying this?

Something people assume writers do, is that we finish our manuscripts and send them off in the mail to some big New York publisher, hoping to hear good news.  That's far from accurate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that most of that is now done electronically.  Nowadays, a lot of publishers--especially the Big Six and other NY-based publishing houses--won't accept something they haven't requested to see themselves, or something someone other than an industry professional, i.e. an agent or perhaps one of their editors, hasn't pitched to them.

"And let me mail this off to someone who won't even read it!"
In other words, the average writer isn't going to hit up the post office and send mass amounts of paper to someone who will instantly send it back (if they're that lucky).  They'd need an agent first, which means querying (see my "Q" entry), so that agent can then pitch the writer's book to the publisher.

However, there are many publishers who do take unsolicited manuscripts!  This means that the writer can submit their work to the publisher directly.  Sure, they can have an agent, in which case the agent would take care of that for them, but it wouldn't be necessary.

Overall, the take-home message is to check first with the publisher to find out their submission guidelines.  Do they accept unsolicited manuscripts or not?  Most of their websites are very clear about their guidelines, so writers should consider themselves informed if they've done any research on it at all.

How about you?  Have you submitted an unsolicited manuscript anywhere before?  What happened?

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 23, 2012

"T" is for Tea

I've always been a tea drinker more than a coffee drinker.  Don't get me wrong...I love a good cup of coffee, but someone else has to make it.  Or I'll buy it.  But there's just something about a nice hot cup of tea that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Since moving to the UK, I've been drinking more tea than before.  When I grew up in the northeast, I'd occasionally have hot or iced tea.  When I lived in the south, it was almost exclusively iced tea, and boy did we go through a lot of it.  I would brew it myself and everything...not powdered Lipton crap for this gal.

One thing they have over here that I've fallen in love with is tearooms.  My favorite is Peacocks Tearoom in Ely, which consistently appears on ranked tearoom lists.  You can get the same experience here as going to Harrods, for a fraction of the price.  Not only is their tea--over 50 varieties of loose-leaf, brewed in a pot with a cool mesh container--amazing, but so is their food.  I'll really miss this place when we leave.

Some tea terms that I've learned since being over here is "cream tea," which does not refer to the milk you add to your tea.  That's having your tea "white."  As in, "I'll take mine white with one sugar, please."  No, a "cream tea" is a tea service consisting of a pot of tea, scones, clotted cream, and jam.  It's the perfect afternoon snack.  

I've made tea for Brits a few times, and it's always intimidating, but I brew a proper cup, and no one's complained yet.  Or maybe that's just because they're British. 

What are your feelings about tea?  Do you prefer it to coffee?  Have you had a cream tea?  

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"S" is for Stress

Stress.  We all have it.  And it's hard to define.

But you know it when you see it.

Not too many people know this, but there's both good stress and bad stress.  You can experience good stress when getting excited for a vacation, or waiting for contest results, or during any other positive event.  Bad stress...well, everyone's experienced that.

Bad stress makes you hungry for expensive electronics.

The physical effects are similar, though.  There are all kinds of crazy biological processes that go on during times of stress, but most people are familiar with fight-or-flight responses, sleeplessness, higher blood pressure, and the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) into their bodies.  A lot of people either lose or gain weight from times of stress, from not eating enough, to eating too much, to that pesky cortisol.

Either way, stress needs to be managed or else our bodies wear down.  Ever crash after a particularly stressful event?  Maybe during a finals week?  After a big presentation?  A huge move?  Maybe you felt like you could sleep for a month, or even caught some beastly illness like the flu?

You all know exactly what I'm talking about.

Exercise can help you manage stress.  It helps take your mind off of what's stressing you out, and is good for your body.  Exercise releases natural endorphins (happy hormones) that make you feel better.  For a good workout that also incorporates breathing techniques, which also help with stress relief, I'd recommend yoga.  Even better, the stretching is soothing.

Even this one.

Can't make it to the gym but want to clear your head?  I'd recommend trying meditation.  No, you don't have to chant or sit in the lotus position, but learning to clear your mind is a very refreshing activity.  And the more you do it, the better you get at it.  I used to do it a lot in college, and when I'd been doing it for a while, a nice 15 minute session felt like a refreshing nap without that weird groggy feeling.  It was a win-win.

How do you beat stress?

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 20, 2012

"R" is for Recipe

Doing something a little different today, because I want to shake things up a bit!

I love my crock pot/slow cooker, and I love new recipes for it.  I thought we could do a little trade... I'll share one of my favorites, and you post a comment with one of your favorite slow cooker recipes (or a link to it).  That would make me a very happy gal!

I figured this one out by tweaking a recipe a friend gave me. I added the mushrooms and onion, and loved it.  This recipe would work best with a 4 1/2-6 quart crock pot.

Creamy Mushroom Pork Roast

1 pork loin roast (between 2-5 pounds), trimmed of fat and cut into 3-4 big pieces to fit in cooker
2 cans cream of chicken soup (10 3/4 ounces each) OR 1 family-size can
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (10 3/4 ounces each) OR 1 family-size can
2 (8 ounces each) packages fresh mushrooms (white button, baby bella, etc), sliced
1 medium onion, diced
garlic powder
black pepper

If you use one, line your slow cooker with a slow cooker liner.  In a large bowl, mix the soups, sliced mushrooms, onion, and some garlic powder and black pepper to taste.  Stir well.  Pour half of soup mixture into the slow cooker, then add pork.  Pour the rest of the soup mixture over the pork, making sure it's all coated.  Put the lid on, and cook on LOW for 8 hours or so.  The pork will come out very tender, and the sauce makes a great gravy for topping the pork and mashed potatoes.

Don't be shy...share your favorite!

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Q" is for Query

Querying. This is NOT something I'm looking forward to, but it's a necessary evil.

It's a short letter written to an agent or publisher/acquisitions editor to highlight and sell your book.

Writers can query both written and unwritten material; it can be used to sell an idea for a book that an author will write if contracted by the publisher, but most commonly is used to sell a finished written manuscript.

It's the first impression someone who may buy your work gets of your MS, and it's critical.  You don't get to query again with that person or company if they reject (although there are extenuating circumstances).  It may also lead to an agent or publisher requesting to see your actual MS, or a partial example of it like the first three chapters or so.  That's why this is such a big deal...if you screw it up, you won't make a sale.

Even though they're not long, query letters can be hard to write, and have to be done right.  So, I have this little book to help me. I also have a good support network of writers to ask to critique my query, because there's no better way to get good advice than from people who have done it before.

Most querying is done online via email these days.  That's probably better; the response time can be quicker, and there's less of the dreaded waiting game.  It's also more environmentally friendly...if they request a partial or full MS copy, it's just a click away instead of an hour at the photocopier and post office.

There's no way around just can't avoid it.  So you just do the best you can, and hope you market your book in the best way possible.

Have you queried?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"P" is for Pictures -- Author Pictures

As I near the end of my first manuscript, I've become aware that I need some new professional authory pictures taken.

I've had professionals shots taken before, because, frankly, I look like the devil's spawn in most amateur pictures due to horrifying red-eye.  But I've never had any done with the specific goal of using them for my Twitter profile, Facebook fan page, website, and book covers. There's a certain image I want to convey -- I want them to be professional, but not stuffy or too "staged."  It just wouldn't fit with the subjects I write about.  We've all seen author pics where they're behind a desk or something with their hand under their chin.

Even Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, is guilty of this.

So, I've been scouring my author friends' pictures to find ones I love.  I've found a few that have a style that I like (which could also be due to the photographer as well) so I thought I'd share.

Here are a few of my friend, Laura Kaye, author of North of Need and many others.

I love how the shots are outside, and she looks comfortable in the pictures.

Here's one of my all-time favorites.  The author is Meg Cabot, who wrote The Princess Diaries.

The picture is fun and fairly relaxed, and her feet can even be cropped so it just shows her face and hands to make an entirely different picture.

I'll definitely be getting hair and makeup done for my pictures, and carefully choosing my wardrobe so I'm dressed in something that will both photograph well and not date the picture too much.

Living in a completely different area than most of my writer friends, I couldn't go by any I did a lot of Googling and checked out websites to see the photographer's portrait style. Because most photographers do portraits but don't have "author photos" listed on their price list, I emailed to ask for prices for what I wanted done.  I also requested that I retain the rights to the photos...I certainly don't mind crediting the photographer, but if they retained the rights, I'd have to constantly ask for permission to use a picture for whatever I wanted.  Want to use one for my Facebook author page? Gotta ask.  Want to change my Twitter icon pic?  Gotta ask.  Want to badly Photoshop mustaches on my picture just for the hell of it--or in case I write The Big Book of Mustaches?  Gotta ask. Thankfully, the photographer I have lined up was willing to work with me.  I'm hoping to have the shots done in early May if the weather permits.  I'm looking forward to it!

Have you had professional pictures taken?  What did you think of the experience?

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"O" is for Oatmeal

And when I say Oatmeal, I mean The Oatmeal, a creation of Matthew Inman, a former programmer who now makes his living from his hilarious and well-drawn web comics.  Among other things, his commentaries often focus on observational humor (such as Every time is snows in a big city), current events (Why Netflix is splitting itself in two), real-life experiences (Cat vs. Internet), and my personal favorite, grammar and punctuation.

Honestly, I've learned more about proper usage of certain things through The Oatmeal's little drawings than my whole brick-like Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition.  I even have posters of his grammar comics.

Yeah.  Be jealous.  You know you want them, too.

Here. Learn to use a semi-colon.

Or maybe 10 words you need to stop misspelling.

Or even the difference between two common sayings...flesh out and flush out, courtesy of The Oatmeal.

Why haven't I put any of his comics in this blog post? Because I don't want to get sued for plagiarism.  Go check out the awesomeness of The Oatmeal at the source.

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 16, 2012

"N" is for Novel. And Novella.

This is a question I get at lot: What's the difference between a novel, a novella, and a short story?

Well, according to the RWA's contest-category page:

A “Novella” is a work of fictional narrative prose in the romance genre of 20,000–40,000 words as determined by computer word count. Novella entries with word counts less than 20,000 or more than 40,000 will be disqualified.

A “Novel” is a work of fictional narrative prose in the romance genre of at least 40,000 words as determined by computer word count. Novel entries with word counts less than 40,000 will be disqualified.

And a short story would (generally) be anything under the 20,000 word count for a novella.

There are upper limits, too, typically where the next type of manuscript starts, but in general, publishers don't want to publish a book that's over 120,000 words.  They will for a few reasons, namely if you have a very popular series (or are a very popular author, like Stephen King) and the publisher knows people will buy it.  For instance, the longest Harry Potter book was the fifth one, the Order of the Phoenix, and it topped out at about 257,000 words.  However, the final four in the series were all well over 150,000 words.  The Deathly Hallows was also right around 200,000 words.  If you're not J.K. Rowling, a publisher will either reject for being too lengthy, or see if you can split the manuscript into two or more, because, hey, why sell one really long one when you're not sure if readers will buy it, when you can chop it into two and have two shorter-but-successful ones.

The problem--even though it's not really a problem, per say--is that the word counts can vary per publisher.  What may be classified as one type of manuscript in one place might be a different one somewhere else, or not accepted at all.  For example, a publisher may make the starting word count for a novel 50,000 words.  That is, anything under 50,000 words that's submitted would either 1) not be accepted or 2) classified as something different, i.e. a novella, if the publisher publishes them.

When I started out writing The Curse, I thought it was going to be somewhere in the 30,000 word range, not making it into "novel" territory according to the RWA standards, but more of a long novella.  As of right now, it's not finished and already over 32,000 words.  Will I make it to the magic 40,000 word count?  I have no idea.  If I do, great, if not, that's okay, too.  I'd like to get it up there if possible, though, because I can reach a larger market that way.  Plus, publishers charge more for e-books that are novel-length.

I hope that clarifies some of these common publication terms that are thrown around.

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"M" is for Moving

Don't look so goddamned happy!
I'll just come out and say it.

I hate moving.

I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.

"Where are we going to eat?"
"Well, the floor has some empty space. Let me get the dog bowls."

What don't I like?

The displacement, the disorganization, packing and then unpacking, the living-out-of-suitcases and out of boxes, the whole finding-a-place-for-your-stuff process.  Having to get to know your way around a new place and getting used to a whole new area when you have the sense of direction of a kid who's spun in a circle until they puke.

But there are some things I do like.  I know, I're skeptical; after all, the fiery passion of a thousand suns is quite a lot of hate.  But hate is more directed at the moving process than anything else.  When we find out we're being moved somewhere, I always get excited until I remember there's actual moving involved.

I love finding a great place for our little family to live...yes, I actually enjoy house hunting.  My husband does, too, and it helps that we have similar tastes.  I love that feeling when the house you moved into finally feels like a home.  I love making new friends and enjoying their company.  I love finding new places near our new home to go to enjoy ourselves: restaurants, parks, castles (yes, castles), beaches, etc.  I love seeing parts of the country--hell, the world--that many people only dream of visiting.

Yep, this is pretty accurate. Only it's like this for 3 months.

Moving isn't nearly as bad as it was the first couple of times we did it; the more you do it, the more you get used to it, I guess.  But, that doesn't stop me from dreaming of that day when we buy a house or some land to build on in our happy place, wherever that is, and settle in for the long haul.  Then I will truly feel at home.  Until then, I will be an explorer extraordinaire, even if that means moving.  But, if any of you are working on a teleportation device, hurry up.  I want to buy it, and I have some boxes you can pack it in.

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 13, 2012

"L" is for London

Tower Bridge

London is now one of my very favorite places.  


Millennium Bridge, the pedestrian bridge destroyed by Death Eaters .

My husband and I have been three times so far, and I always can't wait to go back.  We've done some touristy things, like the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour (a must-do!), Madame Tussaud's, the London Eye (also a must-do!), and the theater among other things, and there's still so much that I want to do.

I wouldn't consider myself either a country or city girl...I love living somewhere with space and privacy, but I love having easy access to a city with great shopping, amazing food, and many things to do.

What's been my favorite thing so far?  Oddly enough, the food.  We spent a long weekend there, and ate breakfast one day at this little place called The Breakfast Club.  It's a small chain; there are only a few, and they're all in London.  The one we ate at was in Soho.  The food was amazing and home-made; even our juices (one apple, one orange) were both fresh-squeezed.  So good.  I recommend it to everyone who wants a good meal.
London Eye

All pics in this post are mine, by the way.  You can probably tell from the pictures that the weather is actually quite nice!

Have you been to London?  If yes, did you enjoy it?  If not, do you want to go?  Or where is your favorite place?

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"K" is for Knockin' Boots

Although "kiss" was another promising "K", I did that one last year.

Nope. Instead, this little "K" entry is on the Knockin' Boots Podcast.  It's put out by IGN and Gamescoop; given that, plus the fact that "knockin' boots" is an euphemism for sex (I'm not sure who wouldn't know that, but consider yourself informed), and it's basically dating and romance advice  Apparently they're often shy and not good with reading girls.  Who knew?  To be fair, there are quite a lot of emails from women as well, but I enjoy listening to them all.  In fact, this podcast kept me entertained on a 3-day, 24 hour + ride across the U.S.  I'm pretty sure I listened to about seventeen episodes, but I can't be sure.

And yes, before I get hate mail--hate comments?-- I'm completely aware that not all gamers are nerds, and not nerds are gamers.

My husband listens to the regular IGN Gamescoop podcasts (video gaming news, etc), and he informed me that KB started as a random, every-once-in-a-while episode.  Listeners would email in with their dating or hook-up questions, and the hosts would answer them and give advice: good, bad, and hilarious.  Those episodes got so popular that they started a whole new podcast just for the KB questions.

Questions range all over the romance spectrum.  Frequent ones that come up include how to get out of the dreaded "friend-zone", i.e. when a girl you're attracted to thinks of you as a sexless friend, or worse, a brother; how to break up with someone you're no longer interested in; should I get a "gamer" girlfriend and is it as awesome as it seems like it would be; and how do I manage to have a threesome.

Not only is the podcast hilarious, but the guys (and occasional lady) who host it give pretty good advice.  But I've been known to have conversations with my iPod when I don't agree with something they have to say.  Call me up, guys.  I'd love to be a guest host on Knockin' Boots!

One more thing... They've created a pretty good drink called the Rum Job.  The origins of the drink's name can be found here (click if you dare, the explanation is NSFW), but it's 1 part Captain Morgans Original Rum (or Captain's Morgans, as Greg Miller often says) and 3 parts Orange Crush or other orange soda.  Serve in a plastic cup with ice.

Check out their Facebook page, and remember: even gamers need love, too.  And they make great husbands.

You can find the podcast on iTunes and, I'd guess, other podcasty places.  Just Google it.

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"J" is for Jack

There's a reason this stupid letter is 10 points in Words With Friends or Scrabble.  It's actually pretty uncommon, and nothing super-awesome starts with it.

Except for Jack.  He's my protagonist in the tentatively titled, The Curse.

Being pre-published and finishing my first manuscript, I rarely talk about it.  I guess I think it's going to jinx it or something, and no one will be interested in publishing it.

But I'll talk a little bit about Jack, because my MS will soon be complete.

Meet Jack Harris (Jackson is his full name) who I picture somewhat like this...

Go ahead, stare.

And get a towel for that drool.  It's gross.  I'll wait.

All done?

Yeah.  I know the feeling.

Anyway, back to what I was saying...Jack Harris is in his late twenties.  He's a pharmaceutical sales rep, and lives in Boston. Actually, he's been in Boston ever since he started college...he's a smart guy, and went to BU for his undergrad, and BC for his MBA.  He's successful in his career, but hasn't been so lucky in love, sticking more to, uh, casual relationships than anything else.  Nothing's felt right to him.  He's sweet and loyal, but needs to take the blinders off.

He needs a push in the right direction.

Thankfully he gets one, in the form of some divine intervention.  The Fates have sent a messenger to guide Jack toward the one meant for him.


The end.

Stop screaming at me...I don't want to give away any of the plot.  But if you're interested in a super-short blurb, click on "Novellas and Short Stories" up above.  Though, the manuscript is getting a bit long to be called a novella, and it may end up novel-length after all, in which case I'll just move it over.

Well, ladies and gents! What do you think of this tiny meet-and-greet with Jack?

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"I" is for Interview

Even though I haven't done too many, I rather enjoy doing interviews.  That's probably because the ones I've done have been either through email, a Word doc, or over instant message, where I have time to make my responses. And the ability to edit them.  

Let's face it...I'm not a big fan of public speaking.  I think someone, probably Jerry Seinfeld, said that more people are afraid of public speaking than dying; they'd rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.  

I'm not exactly terrible at public speaking, and maybe it's all in my head, but I always feel like I'm the most socially awkward person out there, especially when talking about myself.  Like all of the words want out at the same exact time, and I end up spewing word vomit all over the poor, unlucky person asking the questions.  

Hopefully, by the time I get my big interview on Oprah (she has her own network now, so she'll have plenty of opportunities to squeeze me in), I'll be practiced and poised enough to give some intelligent, coherent answers. 

"And here she is...Sarahhhhh Alllllllaaaaannnn!"

So, I beseech you, kind readers of the A-Z Challenge on my humble blog...Please give me some pointers!  I know I'll have to give one on the telephone or over Skype eventually.  And then there's that Oprah one.  

xoxo Sarah 

p.s. I do have a couple of interviews out there.  One was done with the Maryland Romance Writers, but the other is here.  Check it out if you have a moment! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

"H" is for Haiku

I suck at poetry.  It never interested me, and for some reason I can't seem to write a serious one.  I think it would be similar if I wrote songs, too.  I'd never be able to do the whole heartfelt Taylor Swift thing...anything I wrote would likely end up sounding like something The Lonely Island would sing.

So, I thought I'd try my hand at writing a little haiku.

It's a three line, seventeen syllable poem; three phrases of five, seven, and five syllables respectively.

From what I've read, haiku poetry usually focuses on nature, so I'll do that because I'm having trouble being creative.

Here goes:


Northern cold winds blow
Freezing my hands and my feet
Gives me runny nose

*takes a bow*

xoxo Sarah

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Intermission post! Happy Easter!

While we're taking a day off from the A-Z Challenge, I wanted to wish a very happy Easter to my readers who celebrate.  Enjoy your eggs, family, and chocolate, but please don't eat the eggs and chocolate together.  Ew.  Don't eat your family, either.  That's not good.

I was just thinking about last year, where my "G" on this day was for Gaga.  I'd bought tickets for a concert in Houston, good seats and everything, and unfortunately my husband couldn't be my date.  After some last-minute searching about a month before, my mother passed the word on to my father that I didn't have anyone to go with, and he had a bunch of time off he could take.  So, he flew down to Houston, and we had an awesome time at the concert.  She's one hell of a live performer.  That memory makes me all warm and snuggly inside, and I'll be sappy for a moment and say that I'll treasure it forever.


xoxo Sarah

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"G" is for Grammar. And Punctuation. NSFW (a tiny bit)

Yes, I know punctuation starts with a "P", but grammar and punctuation go together like peanut butter and jelly, or salt and pepper (the spices, but the rap group would work, too), or Brangelina.  You just can't separate them.

As a writer and editor, I'm rather particular about what I read and write, especially if I'm looking at something in a professional capacity.  I'm much more forgiving of things that are more stream-of-consciousness (like this blog, for example), but most of the time, errors in G&P take me right out of whatever I've been reading and make me want to facepunch something.  Rather than give you a whole bunch of reasons on why I'm anal retentive about grammar, let me go ahead and give you some images of real-world examples. In picture form, because, frankly, I like finding and posting them.

Some of the pictures are a little NSFW (not safe for work) but if you have any kids who can't read yet who are looking over your shoulder, you should be okay.  You're welcome for the hilarity.

And finally, one that my husband knows well...

xoxo Sarah

Friday, April 6, 2012

"F" is for Facebook

Ah, Facebook.

We have a love-hate relationship, you and I.

You're a great way to stay in touch with friends and family from a distance; share photos, news, and experiences; plan trips; meet other like-minded people; and even network for business.  I've met some other amazing authors this way, and keep in touch with the writing community.

You're also a giant horrible time-suck.

This is what you do...

That black spot in the center? If you squint really hard, you can see me flailing around as I check my timeline to see what some crazy person I haven't talked to in years is complaining about (but won't unfriend because I'm a creepy stalker); sift through game requests for Blitzy Farm Mafia Words; scroll to see what my friends are doing and if it's more interesting than what I have going on; and laugh at people who forgot to log out, leave their computer on, and instead get "hacked," i.e. some enterprising friend finds their open page and and posts about their unsuspecting friend's undersized genitals.  

But, for sheer entertainment and connectivity value, you're mostly a good thing.  Like, 70%.  That's a C, Facebook.  A passing grade, at least. 

All of this said, I would be missing an opportunity to mention that I have a Facebook author fan page, and I'd love it if you'd stop on over and give me a "like."  I update on blog entries, things I'm writing, and writing news in general, and love to interact with you and read your posts.  There's a link on the right side-bar, but since I'm feeling generous today, here's the link.

xoxo Sarah

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"E" is for E-Reader

Stand back and brace yourselves...this is an actual informative post.

I know.  Shocking.  

As I imagine that most of you are fairly good with everyday technology, I'm going to talk a little bit about e-readers.  For those of who who live in a cave somewhere, "e-reader" is simply short for "electronic reader", meaning it (and you) can read things in digital form and formats.

It doesn't mean that you can read electricity, smartass.  

The main ones out there (at least that I'm familiar with) seem to be Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook,  and a few others like the Kobo.  The iPad could also be considered an e-reader, because e-readers are basically slightly less complicated tablet computers.  Apple also has apps for reading books on crossover platforms, like the Kindle, that you can install on your computer, iPad, or iPhone.  

What are the differences?  There are quite a few, price notwithstanding.  Most makers make models in a range of prices and features, so just do your research before buying one. 

Most Kindle models (not the new Fire which is more of a tablet computer) have "e-ink" which makes the text and screen look like an actual page in a book.  I have a Kindle, and it's wonderful for reading outdoors, as there is very little glare and the text is visible in high-light situations.  The downside is that you'd need a light to read by, just like a traditional book.  The Kindle Fire and a lot of other e-readers (as well as the iPad) are back-lit like a laptop or smartphone screen.  This allows for great colors, yet can be hard to use outdoors or where it's very bright.  

Connectivity is another.  Most connect to a WiFi network, and some also connect over 3G or 4G networks, too.  Again, it depends on what your needs are.  On a non-objective note, as someone who now lives overseas, I hear a lot of people who have Nooks are irritated that they can't get their full range of use from them unless they're using some kind of IP blocker, or connected directly to their computers.  I'm not positive as to what they're complaining about; I don't own one.  Kindles don't seem to have that problem.  Just keep this in mind if you plan on doing any overseas traveling and taking your trusty e-reader with you.  

Formats...this is a big difference.  Different e-readers read different types of files (Kindle books come in .mobi files, for example) though most will read things like PDFs without any trouble.  

Touch screen?  All the major brands have at least one model that includes a touch screen.  I kind of like that my Kindle doesn't have it; I'm less likely to turn a page by accident.  
Don't use a drill on your e-reader.

Are they hard to use?  In a word, no.  There's a slight learning curve, but they're very simple to use and set up if you bother to read the instructions.  My husband and I got one for my 60 year old mother for Christmas, and she was able to figure it out without any problems, WiFi set up and everything. 

Prices of e-books make the cost of owning an e-reader advantageous.  They're typically a lot cheaper than a paper-and-ink book (no shipping, printing, or other related costs), and make carrying around a whole library of your favorites effortless.  On the other hand, there's nothing like holding onto a real book, feeling the pages beneath your fingers, and smelling the paper and ink.  

For great reviews, check out Consumer Reports (you'll need a subscription for online, or pick up a magazine with reviews in it), or PC World.  Wikipedia's page on e-reader comparisons has a huge amount of information, including breakdowns by whether the e-reader has an e-ink display, whether it supports a certain file format, etc.  Chances are good that you can find one that suits your needs.  Happy reading! 

Do you own one? If yes, which one? Do you like it? If not, do you want one?

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"D" is for Drinking

Okay...first off, let me say that I in no way condone irresponsible behavior.  Have a good time, but drink responsibly, and never drink and drive.  Or drink and text.  I think that does just as much damage...

I enjoy a good adult beverage, especially with the availability of good beer and wine over here.  I should also specify that the only drinking problem I have is the very literal one my husband makes fun of me for--I tend to tip a glass too much when drinking through a straw.  

This kid does a better job than me.

Anyway, since some very creative people have admitted to doing some of their best work while tipsy, I thought it would be a fun little experiment to have a glass of wine or several before trying to write.  Hey, anything to give the creative juices a kick-start.  Worth a try, right?  

Or, as I called it, trying to "do a Hemingway." 

So one night, I had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, then sat down at my computer to get my write on.  

Sadly, it didn't work.  I think I got stupider.

It turns out that my attention span went from "serious intellectual" to "Ooh, shiny!" very quickly and I ended up stalking people on Facebook rather than getting any groundbreaking material written.  

My husband thought I was entertaining, at least until I fell asleep, so that's something.

How about you? Do you have a drink while writing? Does it let the creative juices flow?  Or does it unleash your inner Facebook stalker?

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"C" is for Contests

Contests are fun, motivating experiences for writers.  They can also make you want to run from the stress like the zombie apocalypse is upon us.

It's exhausting blogging hard-core.
I've entered only one contest so far in my limited writing career, and scored fairly well. I'm also shooting to enter another one whose deadline is the middle of this month--you will see my name and picture under "Glutton for Punishment" in the dictionary--and plan on writing and editing up a storm, which is why I'm spending my Friday evening (yes, this entry was actually written in March) doing blog entries for the coming week.  Woo hoo!  Lindsay Lohan has nothing on me for sheer capacity to party.

No, I'm not saying which will jinx it.

Entering contests always freaks me out a bit.  There's always that feeling of should I? Maybe it's not good enough, but I have to get over that.

First I have to find out whether or not the contest will take an entry from my genre or length.  If the answer is no, then obviously I don't enter.  If yes, I look at what the criteria is: what do they want--an excerpt or certain type of scene? Just the first twenty pages?  A random word from page thirty-five?

Also, how much does it cost to enter? I see most contests run by RWA chapters, and they tend to cost between $15 and $35, give or take, to enter, so it's not a decision to take lightly.  Honestly, I'd love for them all to be free so I can enter them all without fear, but it is a good idea for them to charge.  They have to pay for the prizes (if there are any awarded) somehow, and there are admin costs, too.

Once you have an entry ready and sent on its way, the waiting starts.  If an entry is due on October 1st, you might get an email around the middle of December or early January about your placement, or finding out if you're going onto another round.  There's definitely some lag time which can be frustrating, but it has a allow the judges to read and make sure they're doing the best they can.  They can't do a good job if they're rushed.  I've judged contests before, and found it easiest to get through a couple of entries a night, sometimes only one, depending on how long it was.

When you find out how you did, you'll typically get a marked-up version from each person who judged your entry as well as a score sheet to see how they judged the entry.  This is valuable because it's constructive criticism.  Even if you score well, it's nice to see the judges point things out that are working and aren't in your manuscript.

What's your take on contests? Have you entered any before? Thinking about doing one this year?

xoxo Sarah

Monday, April 2, 2012

"B" is for Book Review

Last year I was at a loss to come up with anything starting with "B", and did "blog."

Not this year!  This year, I put on my creativity hat and decided to do "book review" for my "B."

Whether they come from a friend ("OMG you have to read this!" or "This was the most boring thing ever.") or the New York Times, they can affect whether or not you want to read a book.  Because of the very nature of a review, they're not objective, but a reviewer can and should do their best to provide a well-rounded idea of how they thought the book was.  

Because more energy is just what he needs...
What should be discussed in a review?  If I'm browsing through Amazon for something to read, I always appreciate it when reviewers mention several things. 

Plot: Was it fleshed out and detailed?  Was the story slower than molasses, or did it move so quickly and jump around so much it could be mistaken for a toddler given an espresso shot and a free puppy? 

Characterization: Could the reader identify with the characters at all, even if they had nothing in common with them? Were they stereotyped?  Were they boring, flat templates?

Personal taste: Yeah, even though I appreciate an objective review, I want to know whether the reviewer personally liked the story.  Sometimes hearing that something just turned the reader off, or that they liked the story up until a certain point is helpful in making the decision to read something.  On the other hand, it's unhelpful when reviewers are too vague about this.  Just saying that you didn't like how the book ended isn't helpful; say in your review how you wished you'd heard more about how Character A's life turned out, or what happened to Character B. 

Also, balance the positive and negative.  Even if a review is mostly negative, make sure to add whether there was anything redeeming about the book, even if you just liked the cover art.  

Reviews can also help a book get more promotion.  I'm not positive, but I've heard from several authors that once a book gets 50 Amazon reviews, Amazon promotes it more.  But don't quote me on that.  Either way, 50 Amazon reviews is pretty awesome, and authors love knowing that readers enjoyed their work.  

Let me also say that I don't have anything published (yet) for anyone to review, but I certainly hope that people will take the time to do so when I do.  It's hugely helpful for the author, whether the review was positive or not.  

I'm sure I've forgotten some things, but these are some points I look for in a good book review.  What do you look for?

xoxo Sarah

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"A" is for Antiques

Happy "A" everyone!

We've been in the UK for a little while now, and one of the first things people said to us when we moved was that we just had to go antiquing.  Now, antiquing to me was something rich, snobby ladies did on weekends with their girlfriends, or that people did on the sly when they visited the homes of aging relatives.

Oh, come on...who hasn't thought, "Grandma's collection of Civil War thimbles is mine!" when visiting?

I was also under the impression that antiques were generally some huge, ugly piece of furniture it would take a mountain troll to move.

Or some tiny, yet extremely valuable trinket picked up as an afterthought...

Or, even worse, some creepy, kitchy, was-this-made-by-a-toddler-and-why-would-you-even-want-it? knick-knack with a face--surface?--that only a mother could love...

So imagine my surprise when a friend brought me along to an antique store that's run out of the home of a lovely older British couple.  I was instantly taken in by the craftsmanship of the items they had for sale, and the knowledge that the man, a woodworker himself, had about the origins of the pieces.  I fell in love with a desk (mid-1800s Victorian Gothic revival in case you're wondering) and brought my husband back later that week so he could see it.  He was like a kid in a candy store, and the desk was mine.

We have another piece, a cabinet, as well, but part of why I enjoy going is to learn about the history of the items.  I have a lot of respect for the craftsmen who made and carved the furniture and other pieces; these aren't flimsy, throwaway, particleboard furniture.  These will last a lifetime--some already have lasted several.

See you tomorrow for "B", and what are your thoughts on antiques? Awesome legacy pieces that are functional and will last a lifetime? Or dusty, weird wastes of space? Tell me!

xoxo Sarah