2 Blondes, 1 Redhead & a Reviewer

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Good Teacher, Bad Teacher

I’ve had a few, like everyone else.

Bad teacher was Miss Cauble in the third grade.  She was the worst teacher I’ve ever encountered. She left a lasting impression and not a good one.  While teaching multiplication she would say ‘Two Times Two.’  I was learning to tell time and kept looking at the clock, confused.  If she had said multiply, then my 3rd grade mind would have eventually understood. But she used two different terms and the ADD dyslexic child could not understand.  So instead of explaining it right she called me stupid and put me in a room between classrooms.  She yelled at me (though teaching was HER job) called me dumb and actually spanked me when I didn’t understand her points.  I was scared. What had I done to make her angry and talk to me this way? The entire class saw it, and when I was released from my prison, I refused to go back.  I hid behind the door and just cried, feeling and thinking I was stupid.  A boy, David Davenport found me behind the door, comforted me and told me that she was wrong.  He was my hero but I was so ashamed that I walked home in tears. Never told my parents either since I thought I’d be blamed and the teacher was right. Thirty years later my father heard the story and nearly cried.  He was furious.  That was a comfort but I struggled through school and even more because I had that black cloud from one teacher.

For years it hung over me, so when you think what you say doesn’t impact a child, you are dead wrong.  To this day, I wish the woman ill.  And I love the 5th grader, David Davenport for just being my hero of the moment.

That said, the great teachers… there were two. Mr. Bemiss my high school history teacher.  He was the type that injected personal story of the players in history into learning and that made me want to know the people of history, not just the facts.  We played games, and once in a while he dressed the part of a historical character.  To this day, history is my first love.

The other was my English Lit teacher, Mrs. Striker (not sure of that name, folks, I’m old) but she managed to make Dante’s Inferno fun and exciting.  Her own love of English Lit was hard to ignore and like Mr. Bemiss, she injected the life of the writers into her lessons and the motivation behind their written words.  I was already a closet Stephen King fan, in the closet because I didn’t think my strict Catholic parents would like their child reading about demons and vampires.  I hide the books.  Yet Mrs. Striker opened another door to historical documentary. I know, a real snoozer, right?

In the beginning of the year she assigned a term paper on a historical character and I chose Vlad Teppes, Count Dracul. Yes, that one.  I was the only student who turned the paper in on time and I received an A minus. The minus because the last sentences were my opinion and this was a study, no personal opinions allowed.  I can look back and see my interest in creating the world of Vlad Teppes for the reader, my teacher.  As a student, I made A’s in three classes, Art, History and English Lit.  I squeaked through math and science but its history and English lit that let me graduate.  I swear.

And yes, that Miss Cauble crap hung over me even then. I feel I would have done better in school without her words ringing in my ears all the time.

Not unlike my writing career, I was stunned someone wanted to read something I wrote and then terrified they’d find out I wasn’t smart enough to be a real writer.   This is after writing non-fiction for three international magazines, two newspapers, and publishing fifteen books!  To this day I like surrounding myself with people who I feel are smarter than me.  I love learning.

So for those two teachers who enlightened me, thank you. I’m forever grateful for your inspiration. Your direction sent me down this writer path.

For Miss Cauble, I hope you’re suffering in school hell because I’m certain I wasn’t the only little kid you traumatized for life.



I know everyone is either cooking or preparing to cook.  In my house this year, its a southern Thanksgiving.  That means Fried Turkey ( I capitalize because it is SO good) instead of roasted, along with he classic southern sides, potatoes salad, cornbread, mac’n cheese.  Good thing for me, less work!

Now, for your celebration next year, here is the best recipe for Sweet Potatoes.  Its almost a dessert, looks good on the table and beware, this makes fairly generous portion.   It’s my mother, Kay Castellana’s recipe and its always a big hit.


3-4 cups sweet potatoes

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1/2 cup chopped pecans or raisins (or both!)


1 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup butter

1 cup pecans (chopped)

Cook potatoes and peel, blend till smooth.  Mix with all other ingredients, except topping and spoon into a 9 X 13 pan.  In a bowl, add brown sugar, flour, and softened butter, cut with pastry cutter until crumbled.   Toss with pecans.  Spread topping, bake at 350 for about a half hour, until the edges bubble.  Mangia!

Freezes well, uncooked.  Thaw completely first.    Unless I’m cooking for a crowd, I always freeze half in small foil pans.

A tip for peeling sweet potatoes: after they are boiled, drain and toss a dish towel over the bowl and just wait a few minutes for them to cool.  The skin will separate and all you have to do is pinch the end and it will literally shed right off, whole.  no handling, no burn, no yuk.  Now blend away!

Happy Turkey day, y’all!




Mmm, mmm – Rachel Ray!

In the December 2012 issue of the Rachel Ray magazine, I found an appetizer that I can’t wait to make – Potato Snowball Poppers 🙂
From the looks of it, they’re bite sized twice-baked potatoes with a kick. Ready?
20 baby white potatoes (1 1/2 pound)
salt and white pepper
3/4 sour cream
3 tbsp. prepared horseradish

step 1 preheat oven to 350 – cut a small sliver off each potato so it stands flat when filled . Place the potatoes in a medium pot, bring to boil, between 10 -12 minutes. Drain and let cool
step 2 using a melon baller or a measuring spoon, hollow out each potato. reserving scooped flesh in a medium bowl. Add the sour cream and horseradish and smash with potato masher, season with salt and pepper
step 3 spoon the mashed potato mixture back into the potatoes, bake on baking sheet for about 15 minutes

I love this – it sounds simple but really tasty and easy for people to snack on. I will let you know next week how they went over!

I am thankful for so much in my life – trying good food is just one more thing to add, lol. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone – I wish everyone a day filled with love!


A last minute add to your menu


I do not like cranberry sauce, not freshly made or in a can, I do not like it Sam I am.

So my solution . . . Pineapple stuffing.  It gives that same sweet/tart but without the cranberries to yuck it up (though my sister adds cranberries to hers).


Here goes (easy as pie)

1 can crushed pineapple

8 slices of white bread cubed

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 eggs beaten

Mix butter, sugar and eggs, fold in pineapple and bread cubes

Bake in a greased pan at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

This is also great with pork chops or really any part of a pig.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Characters… they ARE the story!

Bad characters and good plot?  No one will remember your story or want to read it or care about whatever plot is going on.  Great characters and average plot?  How many books can you name where you fell in love with the character and could care less about the story.  As long as you got to read their life, you’re all over it.  (Me too)

I learned early that Characters make the story and if you slack, no one will read the book, let alone buy it.   So for 20 years and 37 books my method of madness– know the character’s past.

We each are the sum of our life experiences.  Each of us has childhood issues we still deal with, or traumas that have changed our views.

Personally, I’ve done some things the average person will never have the opportunity to do.  Drive an Armored Personnel Carrier onto a beach?  Rappel down a cliff to scuba dive in the East China Sea?  Fire a 50 Caliber machine gun?  Or move an entire household across the country ALONE.

Think about what you have done in your life, and then work it into a character.

Below is a list of questions to ask your character.  Not yourself.  You have to cop the attitude of someone who has say… lived without parents or had everything in the world at their fingertips and still think there is more to life than good schools and spending cash. Or a car from Daddy.

The writer has to get in the head of the character and respond according to their past. That’s what makes a good one.

Feel free to use them to make your own character analysis.  I do one for character, especially the villain.  He or She is the hero of their own story.

Personal Information: description of the character, basic stuff.

Job/Talent necessary for this story?    What made them chose this profession?

What is their role in this story?  The Goal, the motivation behind it, and the conflict.  Who is stopping them?

What were they doing 24 hours ago?   Why did they do it?

What does character NOT know about the central conflict at the start?

What’s the McGuffin? (That elusive thing they are all searching for, if any)

Where did they spend their last vacation?   They go alone?

Family, Siblings, and the relationship?  What have they experienced that left marks?  Mental and Physical.

How were they raised?  Some background here.  (I was raised with a ‘pay it forward’ attitude, how about them?)

Who do they owe for the good/bad traits in them?   What are they?

Secret fear, talent, & wish?   What are they looking for, if anything, in their lives?

What they love about the opposite sex?  What they hate about the opposite sex?

How is their goal connected to the hero/heroine?

Favorite meal music, drink?  Bad habits?  Favorite saying?

What pushes their buttons?  Little and big ones.

Who could they count on for back up in a tough situation?

What would they be willing to die for?

What’s their Achilles Heel?  Could it bring them down, and in what way?

A personal conflict they struggle to hide or deal with?   Is it part of their Achilles heel?

What’s missing from their lives?   (They don’t have to know it’s missing)

What’s the 3 MAJOR tuning points for this character in this story?

Does this character have a conflict with anyone else?

What are the Heavies (the bad guys)doing to this character?

There are more that you can ask your character but these are the basics for getting a feel for them.  I always gain plot points to work in when I do this. Some, like Rhonda Pollero do this with soft ware (get ready for her plotting books coming out soon)  I need the paper and pen, to sit away from the computer and all the trappings of a writer and just dive deep.

That’s my take.  Any tips YOU do for creating characters we love and hate?

who are you again?

Definitely read Babe Rhonda’s post on this! She is, as usual, much more prepared and detailed. She’s also talking about a cool program I want to try call Write Way Pro.
The character sheets transfer over to the next book, and since I write series, that is huge. I forget already, from book to book, heck, chapter to chapter!
I have a hard time remembering my own name, let alone my characters 🙂
So, hints to make a character come to life? Tiny idiosycrasies than make them unique, like you and I are unique. When I get stressed, I read the Enquirer, or Star magazines. I dive into the Kardashians rather than be upset. My husband has the best hair in the internet – it’s a thing. What can your character do/have that is original? Does your character have an allergy to strawberriies? What does that mean for her in the book? Is the hero a doctor, or an allergist? Just thinking about these two starts the idea of a story.
Make it personal, and remember to include, with a light hand, the little things.


Are they real or fake?

Crafting a character is like giving birth, only without the pain and drugs.  Well, I guess it could include drugs.  Over my 20-year career I’ve seen hundreds of version of how to get to know your character.  The one thing I’ve learned is there is no right way.  Only you can determine what and how much you need to know in order to make your characters jump off the page.

I touched on this topic at a workshop I did for Florida Romance Writers this past weekend.  My approach has changed over the years and I now use WriteWayPro© exclusively.  It’s an organizational software program that has many helpful features. Among the most precious to me is the ability to upload a photograph.  I’m a visual learner, so being able to create a character info sheet with a picture there really speaks to me.  I get pictures from soap opera sites (they have cast members from birth to death, so good pickings), off facebook, off magazine sites – you name it, I’ll harvest it.

Once I have a photo, I do my general history.  Height, weight, hair and eye color and I even give them a date of birth.  Why?  You wonder.  If you’re doing a series you may need to have your character age, so giving them a birthday keeps you from going back into an earlier book for the answer.  I’m also hung up on birth order.  The oldest child in a family is often the most responsible one.  The middle child is the peacemaker.  And the baby craves attention and is more of a free spirit.  The baby of the family is also more suborned since he/she is accustomed to getting his/her own way.

I’ll admit, I used to go through a whole series of questions but I’ve slacked off.  Shame on me.  Only about 80% of what you know about your character should come out of his/her mouth.  Instead you want to convey their personality through action.  Remember that baby in the family?  If she flies off the handle over something insignificant, you’ve shown her flaw without telling me.  Show don’t tell applies to characterization too.

So now I ask three questions I learned from NYT best-seller Leanne Banks:

What is the characters secret wish?

What is the character’s greatest fear?

What is the character’s super power?

Those three little questions will help you build conflict almost instantly.  For the sake of this blog, let’s do one for a hero in a romance novel.


Name:  John Doe            35 6”4, Black hair, Blue eyes, 195 pounds

DOB 7/29/97 – has tribal tattoo on left arm

Only child, parents deceased


Secret wish:  To get married and have a family

Greatest fear: Intimacy, has been hurt in the past

Super power: Eidetic (photographic) memory – see, no tights and capes, just a trait unique to him that no other character has.


So from the wish, fear and power I know I have to pair him with a woman who loves intimacy but doesn’t think she’s ready to settle down yet.  Voila – instant conflict.  All I need to do is decide why she’s gun shy and then come up with a compromise position – if not one of your characters gives up everything for the other one and that’s just a bad idea.  When I read that I think those people might stay together for a year or two before the resentment builds and they either get divorced or have some intensive therapy.  And yes, I do know they aren’t real but I do get invested when I’m reading.


Most importantly, you have to come up with a system that gives you the knowledge you need to write a well-rounded character.  Trust me, they don’t come to you as you’re writing.  If you wait for that to happen, be prepared to do a lot of drafts.


Happy writing!

Come on in!

I’m taking Amy’s day today! She was without power, so since I forgot on my day, I’m filling in here.
We are talking interuptions this week – I have to share that for the most part, I write when nobody else is at home, or during football games when nobody is paying attention to me anyway, lol. When my family is home, they want (usually) my attention. They can get snippy when I’ve been on deadline for book after book, so I try and balance my time better.
However, when I am on a serious deadline they all know that a closed door means no interuptions, unless you are bringing me food/drink, in which case, come on in, lol.
Now, when I am in procrastination mode, I am my own worst enemy. I will suddenly find facebook interesting instead of annoying, or decide that reading through all the marketing tips from the last month is a good idea. If I manage to leave my chair, then I could be cleaning anything from closets to kitty litter.
Exercise is another thing that interupts my writing day. No laughing, cause it’s true, hahahaha. I haven’t figured out how to fit work, exercise, writing and family time all in the same day with any degree of productivity.
That said, it’s time for me to watch my one hour of television before bed. Tomorrow is another day!


The biggest challenge as a self-employed person is time management.  And even the best of intentions can be derailed by a pace-stopping interruption.  As sad as it is to say it, mine usually comes in the form of a family obligation or requirement.  My husband and daughter are fairly well trained but every now and again a situation crops up that completely screws up my work schedule.

Driving is the biggest cause for interruption.  I’ll be on a roll and suddenly I have to stop mid-paragraph to drive my daughter to some class or function.  Number two on the list is my husband’s politeness.  Again I’ll be on a roll and he’ll stick his head in the office door to offer to make me dinner or some other kind but concentration-breaking nicety.

My solution?  When I’m on a tight deadline I place crime scene tape over my office door as a warning.  The warning isn’t always respected.

I’ve also developed a bad habit.  When I’m interrupted, especially if it’s last minute, the first paragraph when I get going again is usually an info dump of the chapter to date.  I don’t realize I’m doing it but when I go back in to read, I can spot any instance where my butt has left the chair.

So what should you do?  Guard your time.  Let everyone know that you’ll be unavailable.  Don’t answer the phone unless it’s an emergency.  Know your pace and map out your schedule.  I work on a chapter schedule.  If I sit down at my computer my goal is to write one chapter that day.  I know that takes me roughly six hours, so I let everyone know I’m not to be disturbed.  I know others who work by word count.  Be realistic in your estimates and deadlines.  For example, I don’t schedule anything between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  Why?  I learned from experience that A- life is too chaotic then and B- publishing pretty much grinds to a halt in December.  If I set a winter deadline I always set January 31st.  Turn away the moochers.  People often confuse being self-employed with not working.  When my son was young every time there was a snow day or a teacher conference my neighbors would call on me to watch their kids since “I didn’t work.”  It took me a very long time to explain that I was working and no, I am not a babysitting service.  Don’t feel guilty.  It’s no different than any other job, it’s just location.  Your friends and neighbors will understand eventually and you can be proud of yourself for setting boundaries.

Do you have any time management tricks?

Ghosts and Woo woo stuff. Are you a believer?

Paranormal?  Ghosts?  Are you a believer?  Or feel its total BS?

Yup. I believe.  But then, I’ve experienced the unexplainable.  If you haven’t, then skepticism isn’t a surprise.  I’m cool with that.  I don’t need you see my side.  My experience over 35 years ago is still very clear in my mind.  So much that I turned the events of that strange night into a time travel novella for an anthology. Back then, my friends and I went Ghost Busting long before the movie or TV shows.  Beaufort teems with stories.  There is a Ghost tour tonight, in fact.

The nature of writers is to question, pick it apart and beyond envisioning a story in a fractured detail, I’m more interested in other people’s experiences and their perceptions.  I just like hearing the stories.  Do I believe all those shows on TV?  Oh hell no.  Some are tastefully done, yet most (trying to catch on video) are laughable.   I view all television with a philosophy that “Every moment on TV is a lie.’  It’s all got some spin on it.  The only factor swaying me is my experiences years ago.

So, what’s your theory?


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