2 Blondes, 1 Redhead & a Reviewer

Archive for the month “August, 2012”


OMG this post deleted itself.  Here it goes again.

I get a lot out of brainstorming. It’s tossing an idea or a piece of an idea around like ping pong, it gains weight as I go along and fleshes out.  My plotting side of my brain is a little slow and I need my ducks in a row before I can get past chapter 3.  My plotting side is the logic, the left side makes me question every detail. The left writes the fiction and finds the twists.  I ask Why did they do that?  What if?  and if their motivation to take the story to the bitter end.  No two writer write or think of stories in the same way so when you plot with a partner, it gives you different perspectives.  I love that.  Other writers thing outside the box more than I do.  

I often brainstorm in my office. by pacing and talking to myself as if I’m talking to another writer. I speak into a min tape recorder then review it for something to keep the story going.  Weird but it helps and if it doesn’t, I just pick up the phone and plead for help.   


It was a dark and brainstormy night . . .

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  This is a concept near and dear to my heart.  I love, love, love brainstorming.  I actually like doing it for other people more than for myself.  I love the ‘what-ifs’ of writing.  And I like coming in out of the blue and tossing out ideas to my buds.

I’ve been brainstorming for years.  I am blessed with a great group of friends who are always willing to help me work my way out of whatever hole I’ve dug for myself.  For us it basically works like this:

{Friend’s phone rings} Hello?

{Me} I’m screwed.

What’s wrong?

I don’t have enough conflict to sustain the book.  It’s now a short story.

Tell me about where you are in the story.

{Long recap}

Sounds like you’re rushing it.  Have you thought of X?

Um, no, but I don’t really like that.

How about Y?

Y could work.  Thank you! {I get giddy}

Okay, so maybe it’s a longer conversation.  We touch on characterization, plotting, pacing, conflict – you name it, we bounce ideas off one another.  The key to making this work is having a brainstorming buddy who is familiar with what and how your write.  My brainstorming buddies know better than to brainstorm an angst-ridden subplot because they know this isn’t part of my skill set.  The other thing you really need is trust.  Make sure your brainstorming buddy will tell you the truth.  If you want to be told how special you are, call your mommy.  If you want an honest critique of where you’ve zigged instead of zagged – brainstorm.

The other advantage of brainstorming is plotting and pacing.  By running your plot past your buddy, you can often hear and see the places in your plot that are weak and/or unnecessary.  The same is true of pacing.  Recapping your story gives you a better handle of how the book is moving.

Brainstorming should help you, not defeat you.  Find the right person or people and your manuscript will shine.

Reviews, opinions…everybody has one

It’s not always a good thing.

This week I have been whipped with a wet noodle with one stroke of the keyboard, and with another, told that I am creatively brilliant. I’ve been told my writing was wonderful, until it turned into porn. Here’s a favorite- that my teenage character would have learned his lesson better if he’d lost an appendage. I am not making this stuff up. My Wiccan series? Some anonymous poster gave me two stars and insisted I needed to do my research – I obviously knew nothing about the Wicca religion. Anyone who knows me should get a great laugh out of that one.

The truth is writing is subjective, and if you didn’t like a book, please feel free to share your reasons with the world. But you don’t need to spend five paragraphs sharing that I, the author, personally pissed you off. I can guarantee that was not my intent, lol.

My purpose for writing is to provide entertainment. My goal when sitting down to the keyboard is to write a story that takes you away. However, unless you are my mother who loves everything I write because she genetically is programmed to do so, not everyone will like historical romance, or young adult paranormal, or books written in first person. Some people only read mysteries, and can’t stand kids. It’s okay – we are so lucky because we have a lot to choose from. You do not have to like my book. But I sure hope you do 🙂

I suck

First, bad reviews come with the territory.  If I could write a book that appealed to everyone on the planet, I’d be a very rich woman.  But the tone and tenor of bad reviews has expanded thanks to the internet and its anonymity.

So let’s start with the old.  Back when I was writing for Harlequin I used to get a letter from the same woman after every book was released.  Included with her letters were the pages of my sex scenes with big red circles around the consummation scenes.  Then her letter would blast me for being personally responsible for the aids epidemic and teen pregnancy because my characters never wore condoms.  I always wanted to write her back and say, “yeah, well, they can’t get aids or pregnant unless I write that in because they aren’t real!”  But instead I’d stew for about 30 minutes, then forget Condom Cathy.  Especially once I found out she was writing the same letters to many Harlequin authors.

On with the new.  Now it’s a tad tougher.  Between Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, publisher’s sites, etc. it is a whole lot easier for someone to offer a critique.  And they can do it while hiding behind some silly screen name.  It isn’t the critique that bothers me, it’s the fact that people don’t have the stones to sign their name.  IMHO, the worst site (And my editor at Simon & Schuster said the site is useless and they pay no attention to it) is Goodreads.  People go in and give a book a single star but they often don’t explain what they found so distasteful.  How helpful is that to other readers?  Maybe the critique hates funny dialogue or wants more romance.  Well then say that.  The next person may want more funny and less romance.  At least pretend to be a place to exchange valid information.

Then lastly, the direct email . . . yes, you can reach me through my website and yes, I eventually get around to reading each and every comment.  After FAT CHANCE was released, I received a strongly worded email from a woman who took great offense to a line in the book about Finley having homeowner’s Tourette’s.  She accused me of making light of a serious disease and promised me she’d never buy another book of mine.  STUPIDLY I responded to her, explaining that for me, it was an analogy, much like saying something was eating away at a character like a cancer.  That’s not making light of cancer and more than I was making light of Tourette’s.  Bad, bad move.  She came back at me telling me I had a sick sense of humor if I thought mocking the sick and infirmed was funny.  I thought about it for a while, then just wrote her back and suggested that perhaps my books were not meeting her reading needs.  What I really wanted to do was tell her to get a life, but I restrained myself.  Moral of the story . . . if my reply is anything other than thank you, I don’t bother responding, I let my assistant Susan handle the hate mail.

Off Topic, A celebration

I’m ditching the blog topic today in lieu of a celebration.  Today, my parents, Catherine & Alphonse Castellana celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.

Amazing isn’t it?

My parents are soul mates.  They dearly love each other and we saw it every day growing up, and still do.  I look back and see a great childhood.  Mom says she wished she’d done more with us, more playing and I tell her, my fondest memories are of us feeding old bread to the ducks in a pond and having a picnic. Or reading stories to us while we had lunch.

I remember clearly at 13, seeing my parents before the Marine Corps ball. My father was impressive in his formal dress uniform, and my mom wore a sleek black velvet gown with a slit up the side.  Her hair was swept up and showed off the sparkling band collar of the gown.  Sleeveless, it was like the cover of a magazine.  It was the first time I saw my mom as a women, her beauty and poise that now, reminds me of Audrey Hepburn.  Mom is an avid reader and loves mysteries.  Books were always in our house and loving the written word is something we share.

I get my creativity from my father.  He’s an artist and all while he was a Marine, he made things.  He made pixies for me when I was five.  He’s a master sculptor now and his work fills their church in the Stations of the Cross.

My dad understands that mom can’t relax completely in her own house. Mom ‘has her apron on’ as Dad says.  So he takes her away from it on little vacations to her favorite spot, a seaside inn.  They understand each other and are always considerate. We never saw them argue or share a cross word.  Respect for the other was felt.  They were tough and strict but I’m grateful for that.  I can honestly say, I was raised right.

So on their special day, Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad.

I love you.

old is better than dead

So maybe my opinion is skewed because when I think of the alternative to not growing older, say, like, being dead, the crow’s feet around my eyes don’t bother me so much. I didn’t get the good genes, either, Babe Rhonda (though you look pretty damn good, lol) and I have the hint of spider viens and a second chin. Botox is sounding better and better, but my fear is looking like Joan Rivers. I could exercise more, eat less, bathe in oil of old lady, but the truth is – I don’t want to work that hard!


Now, my opinion at 55 might be different than it is at 45, and I could just change my mind. I’ve had the photofacial and microdermabrasion – once. It was great! If you’ve got the weekend to recover. I will need an eye lift, just because I can’t see very well with it dangling over my lashes. As for the rest, we will see. A fiftieth birthday present to myself might just be a two week vacation in Costa Rica, lol


I think Meryl Streep is gorgeous, and Kris Jenner – Blythe Danner is a stunning woman. It makes me sad to see the pictures of Botox gone wrong…who are your faves?


Happy Wednesday – oh, and just a reminder, the FRW Golden Palm Contest has been extended to Friday Permission to Forward Granted


Angela James, Executive Editor Carina Press

Leslie Wainger, Editor at Large Harlequin

Elaine Spencer, Agent with Knight Agency

Micki Nuding, Sr. Editor Pocket Books

Then submit your entry today

Don’t delay

We’re low on entries in certain categories

Three first round judges per entry; lowest score is dropped

2012 Golden Palm Contest

Sponsor:  Florida Romance Writers

Fee:  $20 for FRW Members, $30 for all others

Deadline: Midnight, August 15, 2012

Entry: Maximum first 25 pages. Electronic Submission only.

Contest Fee:  Payable by PayPal or Check.

Getting up there in age

Plastic surgery isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Take Priscilla Presley.  The once beautiful woman had a facelift that left her looking like she’s standing behind a B-52 engine at take-off.  I almost didn’t recognize her when I saw her on an episode of Oprah.  If her daughter hadn’t been with her, I’m not sure I would have put two and two together.  Sometimes you can go too far.

Who has aged gracefully?  Michelle Pfeiffer.  I swear the woman still looks like she’s 35 when she’s actually 54.  Wouldn’t mind aging like her and from all accounts, she hasn’t had anything done.  Talk about great genes!

I know we’re supposed to be talking about women who’ve aged well . . . or not.  But in a nod to the Olympics, I have two words.  Bruce Jenner.  I swear, his ears are on his cheeks he’s been so tucked and tightened.  He’s a walking advertisement for what not to do to your face.  Like Priscilla Presley, his mouth is drawn into a taut line and he blinks and his scalp moves.  I’m old enough to remember when he won the decathlon in 1976 and at the time, he was the Olympic hotty of the games.  Now that he’s been relegated to the Kardasian stepfather, he looks more like a billboard for don’t let this happen to you.

I’m not anti-paint and body work.  I like my botox and I’ve had a lid lift.  Nothing major though and I’d be a little afraid to get any of that done.  The last thing I want to do is look like Priscilla.  Too bad I have a bad gene pool.  But maybe with enough moisturizer I can make it to the end without a major overhaul.

So if you could have anything done, what would it be?

Can you sympathize with a cartoon character?

Yes, sometimes, I can relate to them.

I should say, I love cartoons.  I especially love Pixar films.  I even tried to buy into the company 20 years ago after “Brave Little Toaster” was released.  It was privately owned then and I couldn’t.  I’m a fan of How To Train Your Dragon. The animation is amazing but back to the subject….

I relate to Underdog. I’ve always loved the ‘success without trying’ and failure that turns to success. Let’s face it, Underdog wasn’t strong or big or handsome. He could fly, always a plus but I relate to Underdog in that everyone expected great things from him, but he didn’t.

And of course, that he was good.  Sweet Polly PureBread was his girl and she was strong but when she needed him, she believed he would save her.  I think I relate because of that belief in the good soul of another person.

I was raised to see that in people and being a writer, when I see pain inflicted on someone, I also see what made that angry guy do it. It was helpful raising my son, who was bullied at age 10 and when I asked him why, he said the bully is in remedial classes when his twin was not.  I felt, he was trying to be tougher because he feels he’s not smart.  Nick eventually extended the olive branch and made friends with the bully. The boy, we later learned, was abused by his father.

When my oldest was young I created a character to tell stories for only him. Blocko Huffnagel was a Marine’s kid, with a buzz cut red hair and big for his age. With this cartoon character, I showed life lessons while making it fun. I have a sketch on my bulletin board I did nearly 25 years ago.  Someday, I’ll let that story to my grandchildren.


PS thanks for the correction Dennis. =)

Animated Me

Deciding which cartoon character I was like turned out to be very difficult.  There wasn’t one that fit just right.  So in the end I picked Jane Jetson from The Jetsons.

Why Jane?  Well I’m embracing the fact that she had a limitless number of electronic toys to make her everyday life easier.  I’m nothing if not a techno junkie.  My like is ruled by my cell phone reminders ringing and unfortunately if it isn’t in my cell calendar, it isn’t going to happen.

I’m not above microwaving a meal.  Be it leftovers or something from Stouffers, I’m more than happy to give it a sap and serve.  (The only exceptions are potatoes and bacon).

Even when I used my ovens, I set them to cook, then program them to hold food at a certain temperature until dinner is served.

I have wireless everything.  I can be working on my lanai and with just a few clicks, I can send anything to the printer in my office.  I have cloud for my phone and iPad so everything is in sync.  I use my webcam to chat with family and I even have voice to text on my voicemail (if someone leaves a message on my home phone I get a text on my cell with the message in text).  And don’t try to come between me and my Siri.  (For a little fun go to

Oh, and Jane had a live-in maid – a fantasy of mine.

But that’s where Jane and I part ways.  After all, the Jetsons were from a different time.  Poor Jane was relegated to a typical housewife role.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being a housewife, I’ve just never been very good at it.  Luckily I’m married to someone who cooks, cleans, irons and does laundry without being asked.  Jane had to live vicariously through her husband and children.  Not for me.  My daughter is a dancer and I watched one episode of Dance Moms and cringed.  Unfortunately it is very close to reality.  I don’t even go into the studio unless I have to.  I’m glad my daughter has a passion for something but it’s her passion, not mine.  The same is true with my husband.  Sometimes I feel like I’m married to ESPN.  He’s a sports junkie and I have no plans to cultivate an interest in sports just so we can have some time together.  He’s welcomed to hang in his man cave and OD on Olympic coverage, I’ll take a pass.

Oh, and one more thing – I’d kill to have Jane’s body.

Gilded Age, by Claire McMillan

Gilded Age

by Claire McMillan

I’m sure I picked up this one because it’s set in Cleveland, not too far from where I currently reside.  Since it is set amid Cleveland high society, not something I am all that familiar with, I knew I would probably recognize little, aside from specific landmarks and locations.  I was right about that, although I’m sure someone in the know about such things would have recognized a great deal more about the subtle and the not-so-subtle nuances of Cleveland society.  This being said, I found Gilded Age to be an engaging, cautionary tale about societies in general and the expectations that are placed on the people “lucky” enough to be members of the moneyed social scene.

A contemporary House of Mirth is how Claire McMillan’s debut novel is being billed by the publisher.  Quite an accomplishment for a first novel, and a well executed one at that.  McMillan has done a fine job of updating Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart in the form of Eleanor Hart.  As the novel opens, Ellie has just returned to Cleveland, where she grew up, after a failed marriage to a high society New York playboy.

Gilded Age, like The Great Gatsby, is told by a narrator who is on the periphery of the story, rather than fully engaged in it.  Unlike in The Great Gatsby, however, this narrator is nameless, though no less committed to telling the main character’s story with a passionate and sympathetic, if distant, voice.  The narrator was Ellie’s childhood bff, though they’ve drifted apart over the years and moved on to very different lives (though both are still firmly planted in high society).   There are the parties one needs to make an appearance at, and the scandals which occur either at the party or that are discussed before, during and after.  Not surprisingly, the double standard is alive and well in Cleveland society, and Ellie gets burned by it on several occasions.

While the narrator wants to sympathize with Ellie’s downfall, she is happily married and pregnant with her first child—not a good time to be associating with a woman who is not only fresh out of rehab, but who is also, quite literally, digging her own societal grave.  That is not to say she doesn’t feel sympathy, she just has to be careful who witnesses her acting on it.

Ellie’s story is a sad but, unfortunately, familiar one.  Everyone wants to be friends with her and the invitations abound—as long as she plays by their rules.  But when Ellie tries to march to the beat of her own drum, backs turn, noses go up, and invitations dry up.  Being different, as we all know, often means being lonely.  Clearly, loneliness is something Ellie–who had always been the life of the party, turning heads when she walked into a room, making everyone loosen up and enjoy–is not at all used to.   It’s the age-old dilemma of where does one turn when seemingly the whole world turns against you.

Yes, Gilded Age is a lesson in morality, but it’s a well-written, entertaining one that is sure to hold your interest no matter where you fall on the social ladder.

Bonnie Crisalli

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