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January 2017

Reflecting and Looking Forward

My husband and I just passed the one year mark since we sold our house, packed up and moved to the Florida coast. It was the culmination of close to two years of work to downsize and simplify. I admit I envisioned calm, serene, simple days ahead during which I’d take leisurely walks on the beach and write flowing prose. Well, 2016 had other things in store.

new-years-eve-1941665_1920My father-in-law got really ill and my husband had to spend three and a half months in Kentucky with him while he was hospitalized and then as he recovered. No matter where you stand, no one can deny that 2016 was a year of upheaval and too much ugliness. We also lost a lot of iconic figures from my youth. It was so bad that people began to dread seeing a person’s name trending on Twitter or Facebook, afraid they’d also been claimed by 2016. I mean, it was truly a sucky year for celebrity deaths. George Michael was one half of the duo Wham, whose album Make it Big was the first cassette I ever bought with my own money. I grew up with the original Star Wars series, so Carrie Fisher’s death was traumatic. And the cast of my all-time favorite show, Firefly, will never be able to all be together again since we lost Ron Glass, who played the wonderful Shepherd Book. On top of all this, I began suffering from a particularly nasty case of burnout. Where once I could write 15 pages a day with little problem and turned in my books early, I struggled to get two books finished and turned in on their due dates. I wasn’t late, but it felt like it to me. Cutting it that close causes me stress.

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At the National Naval Air Museum on Pensacola Naval Air Station, home to the Blue Angels.

But the year wasn’t all bad. I did go for walks on the beach, bought myself a beach chair and umbrella and would sometimes take them to the beach to work. Though I still really miss my friends in Nashville, I got into a pretty regular schedule of long lunches with the two other writers I know in this area, Lenora Worth and Sherry Lewis. My husband and I have done a little exploring, visiting the National Naval Air Museum in Pensacola and the lovely Eden Gardens State Park in Santa Rosa Beach. I met some really cool actors at DragonCon, including a personal favorite, Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. I attended my first writing conference in two years in September. And contrary to my natural tendency to want to please people, I got up the courage to renegotiate the delivery dates on the final two books on the current contract so I didn’t have a mental meltdown. The relief I felt after doing so was tremendous. I felt like I had time to take some deep breaths, not work over the holidays and take some time to refill my empty well of inspiration.

The fishing pier and beach a couple of miles from our apartment. A lovely place to go walking.

The fishing pier and beach a couple of miles from our apartment. A lovely place to go walking.

Before moving, January was one of my two least favorite months. In Tennessee, it is often gray and cold. I hate being cold and the gray weather was depressing. Today (it’s Jan. 11 as I write this), here in Florida it was sunny, in the 70s and I had the windows open. This difference helped me to make plans for the year ahead. Yes, there are goals related to writing, but I made the decision to not push myself so much and to do some fun things I’d been putting off. Thus, I signed up for a beginning sewing class (with the idea of eventually being good enough to make my own cosplay outfits) and I’m getting back into genealogy, including doing one of the Ancestry DNA tests to learn more about my family history. I’ve already signed up for the Novelists, Inc., conference this fall, and I’ll be attending the Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando this summer. And Disney fan that I am, I plan to have some Disney parks time in there too since the conference is being held on property. I’ll be back at DragonCon, letting my geek girl flag fly with my geek girl peeps. I set a goal on Goodreads to read 50 books this year, and I plan to meet that goal.

goal-976853_1920And if I don’t finish everything on my to-do list each day? Well, I’m going to try not to stress about that. One of my main goals is to alleviate all the stress that is under my control. I think I’ll be happier and healthier. I’m going walking every day and listening to books and writing-related podcasts. Basically, I want to craft my days so that I lead a happy, well-rounded life.

Do you plan for the year ahead? If so, did you approach anything differently this year?

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Music to My Ears

If you were to peruse my playlist, you might find yourself scratching your head. I have a rather eclectic taste in music, and what I listen to depends a lot on my mood. I don’t typically listen to music when I write like some writers do. I’m a “write in the quiet” kind of person. I’m too easily distracted by the lyrics and want to sing along instead of concentrating on my story.

I have come to a point in my life where I now hear songs in the grocery store, sometimes in Muzak form, that were popular when I was a teenager. I’ve darn near danced to After the Fire’s “Der Kommissar” while shopping for produce.

With my bestie, author MJ Fredrick.

When I first started to develop my own musical tastes, I gravitated toward pop. I used to listen to America’s Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem each week. I can remember having a tape recorder sitting next to the radio so I could record my favorite songs. I’d hate it when they cut them short, talked over them or someone came into my room and said something, thus ruining the recording. My first true favorite band was Duran Duran. I still own a Duran Duran T-shirt, though not from that era. I bought it to wear to an ’80s-themed birthday party. The first cassette I bought with my own money was Wham!’s Make it Big.

As I moved into high school, it was all about rock and the hair bands. I started going to concerts of my choosing (Poison, Warrant, KISS) rather than the third-tier country I’d been dragged to in my youth with my parents. (NOTE: As an adult I lived in Nashville for 21 years, literally 12 miles from the Grand Ole Opry, and I still don’t like country music, except for the occasional song and Johnny Cash.) I watched Headbangers’ Ball on Friday nights because we lived in the boonies and didn’t have MTV.

My love of rock and metal has survived into my current mid 40s. I still routinely turn up the radio loud in my car and rock out while everyone around me is listening to country or, shudder, talk radio. I listen to bands like Shinedown, Ghost and Metallica. But the part of me that loves TV and movies also discovers a lot of music that way, some of it rock and some of it indie. One of my newest additions is “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, which is in the trailer for Logan, the upcoming Wolverine movie. Another is Ruelle’s “War of Hearts”, which is used in this scene from Shadowhunters (Warning: Spoilers!)

I’m a huge fan of movie soundtracks, traditional Chinese music (such as that on the House of Flying Daggers soundtrack), and Celtic music, both traditional and Celtic rock from bands such as Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, Seven Nations, Enter the Haggis and others. I also love Scottish pipes and drums from bands such as Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Okay, your turn. What is your favorite genre of music? Favorite singers or bands? Do you have eclectic tastes, too? What genre is your least favorite or like nails on a chalkboard to you? What are the latest songs you’ve added to your playlist.

Note: You can click on any of the hyperlinks in this post to hear samples of the music mentioned.

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When Ideas Come Buzzing Around

The Bad Girlz have been talking about “plot bunnies” (a term for something that sparks a story idea) and what some of our most memorable have been.

My weirdest bunny was a wasp.

It’s fitting really, since sometimes an idea will start buzzing at the edge of my subconscious, disconcerting me. My anxiety runs the gamut from “what if I can’t do this idea justice?” to “when the hell will I have time to tackle this idea on top of my other commitments?” and the neurotic classic “what if someone else beats me to an even better version of this idea?!”

Yeah, ideas can be uncomfortable, but at least I’m not outright allergic to them, as I am with wasps. After I was stung on the leg once, the swelling was so bad I couldn’t wear pants for over a week. Thankfully, I’ve only been stung three times, but all the scenarios were the same: Tanya was minding her own business, winged red monster drops from the sky, HOLY SHIT WHY IS MY SKIN ON FIRE? Oh. Wasp sting.

The last time it happened, my husband and I were honeymooning on a tropical beach. This resulted in a first aid intervention where nobody spoke the same language but there was a lot of animated gesturing toward my butt. So, anyway. Wasps. Don’t like ‘em.

After my honeymoon but before I sold a book, I was house-sitting for a friend. She’d given me the code to open her garage door/disarm the alarm so that I could enter the house, but there were three wasps circling the key pad, looking as if they were considering a new place to call home. I didn’t know what to do. Short of breaking a window, that key pad was my only entrance into the house. The dogs inside (BIG dogs) had obviously heard me drive up and were barking like crazy. If I didn’t let them out soon, there could be accidents or exuberance-based damage. I sat in my car, feeling like a fear-riddled moron, hoping the wasps flew away.

And I started to imagine a heroine who had her life in total order (so, clearly the opposite of me) and is used to being seen as poised and in charge. But everyone has a vulnerability. When she was a kid she fell into a wasp nest and is now seriously phobic. She meets the hero as he’s trying to propose to his girlfriend at an outdoor restaurant when the heroine runs from a wasp and crashes into his table. Once I got in the house, I started jotting notes about this heroine and by the end of summer, I had a full manuscript.

In the writing world, sometimes we have face-to-face pitches with editors at conferences. My first one was a disaster. Actually, disaster would have been an upgrade. I was so nervous I forgot my own name and began babbling all of my faults (“I’m not sure I’m funny.” “I can’t write a sex scene to save my life.” “Mine may be the worst synopsis you’ll ever read.” WHY, TANYA, WHY? For the love of humanity, stop talking!!!) Anyway, the editor was stone-faced throughout, probably wondering how far away the nearest hotel security personnel was. Then I said something about the wasp-fleeing heroine crashing into the hero’s table while his marriage proposal is getting rejected and the editor cracked a smile, praise the Lord. She requested the first three chapters of the book and called me two weeks later to ask for the whole thing. She didn’t buy that story, but it was the first time I got close to a sale and she DID buy the next romantic comedy I sent her (The Maid of Dishonor, still available in ebook.)

I still don’t like wasps. But sometimes when I see one through the safety of double-paned glass, I have to grin. You never know when an idea will strike or how it might help your career.

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42

Now that I’m 42, I have the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” right? Probably not, but in honor of my birthday, here are 42 things I’ve learned so far in life:

  1. Tortilla chips have A LOT of calories.
  2. Elementary school math is hard.
  3. Helpful cats are (not) helpful.
  4. Some people are just sorry.
  5. Most people are awesome.
  6. Professional jealousy is not only a waste of time but also detrimental to your career and general well-being.
  7. I have privilege; I need to look for ways to help people who don’t.
  8. You’re never too good to move chairs.
  9. Parenting is hard
  10. Parenting is rewarding.
  11. I really need to stop procrastinating. (I say as I type this post the night before it’s due)
  12. No experience is wasted if you learn something from it—even a trip to the DMV.
  13. Find home repair businesses over in Hiram or Paulding County rather than metro Atlanta. (My shout out to Ragsdale who’s helped me with HVAC, plumbing, and recommending the person I needed to fix my gas fireplace)
  14. Traveling is better than new furniture.
  15. Experiences are more valuable than things.
  16. I can run a marathon.
  17. I shouldn’t have run a marathon.
  18. What seems horrible in the moment may turn out to be for the best in the end.
  19. Treat every Christmas with your loved ones as if it might be the last. Take a moment to be grateful.
  20. Life is too short for the cheap chocolate.
  21. Surround yourself with good people. Be thankful if your family falls under that category.
  22. It’s harder to write good comedy than good tragedy.
  23. But tragedy sells better and is taken more seriously.
  24. Listen for the subtle nudges of the Holy Spirit.
  25. There really is no time for love, Dr. Jones.
  26. I have to exercise on a regular basis. Dammit.
  27. I have to call my legislators; I’ll have to call them no matter which party they represent.
  28. A good story trumps beautiful writing every time.
  29. As my age increases, my patience decreases.
  30. If you need help, ask for it–no matter what.
  31. Learn to say no.
  32. But learn to say yes to the things that frighten you but are good for you.
  33. Help those who come behind you. There’s no need for everyone to suffer.
  34. No, it’s not fair that I have to limit myself to less than 1300 calories a day if I want to lose weight.
  35. Persistence is the key to success. Never give up, never surrender!
  36. As Ms. Kelley always said, believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.
  37. Get a housekeeper; life is short.
  38. Hummus is good; a nice red blend is better.
  39. As my Daddy once told me, never take more than you can carry.
  40. As my Mom always says, my rights end where the rights of others begin—and vice-versa.
  41. Other people don’t use the word “heifer” correctly, and I can’t teach them.
  42. Always get up sexy.

 

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Romance Novels: Feminist Manifestos?

Well, I’m late posting, and I really hate being late, but let’s all admit last week was pretty insane no matter which side of the aisle you occupy. Even if you aren’t American, I have the feeling the US election resonated around the world. The fear and uncertainty is real even if some don’t want to acknowledge it.

How does the state of the country apply to romance novels, you might ask? Aren’t romance novels fantasy fluff for women? Certainly, romance novels should be inclusive and entertaining. After all, genre fiction is a form of escapism. But that doesn’t mean that genre fiction, and romance in particular, doesn’t have an underlying theme and something to teach us about honor and respect and what it means to be a hero.

At their core, romance novels are basically feminist manifestos. By examining romance novels through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Journey of a Hero, the *hero* is identified as the *woman*. A romance isn’t a romance unless the WOMAN obtains her goals, which can be defined on the highest level as sexual, emotional, and material satisfaction. In a romance, the woman always wins.

And if you read romance, you believe in equality! You believe that women deserve respect! You believe women shouldn’t be marginalized! You *want* women to win!

How does this theme work its way into the books I write? By allowing my heroines to save themselves. By giving the rest of us (myself included) a blueprint for how to handle an abusive relationships (personal, workplace, etc.) By giving my heroines the words needed to stand up for what she wants. By giving an example of what a respectful, loving man can be. And, hopefully, by showing women that they deserve to “win” their goals, whether that’s a healthy relationship or freedom from an unhealthy one.

In my opinion, romance novels are going to gain in importance, and it’s vital for writers to not get discouraged and keep writing. It’s just as vital for readers to keep reading and to pass on their love of romance novels to their daughters.

The written word is a powerful, life-changing medium, and we’re going to need it!

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The Right Plot Bunny At The Right Time…

I’ve already written at some length about my weirdest plot bunny. So for this month’s theme, I’m going to focus instead on what has, thus far, been my most important plot bunny.

The beginning of 2014 found me at a pretty low point in my life. I was struggling with fertility issues, with the loneliness that follows an interstate move, and ultimately, with my career. I’d released a number of short books, but I wasn’t getting a lot of sales traction, and try as I might, I couldn’t seem to finish anything. This was compounded by my fixation on completing a full-length novel and my refusal to do anything that resembled plotting.

Finally, in what at the time felt like a Hail Mary pass, I scrapped everything and started one more manuscript—one I was determined to finish. I threw everything I loved at this project. Paris. Art. Museums. Sex. Sex toys. A dude who looked like Sebastian Stan. An art student grappling with her own self-worth, and perhaps more importantly, the worthiness of her ambitions to make it in a creative field. (No, there’s no deeper meaning there. Why do you ask??)

While actual plotting remained a hard limit, I took the time to at least map out the basics. I decided I didn’t care if it sold. It was all stuff I loved, and it was stuff I wanted to write about. Sure, I threw in a billionaire plot line, but that was incidental, at least in my mind.

Then I sat down. And I wrote.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. My usual stalling-out point of 25,000 words flew by, and then 50, and even 75. Finally, at 90,000 words, I typed The End, and for the first time in so long, I sat back in my chair and I felt good about what I had written.

Good enough that when, by a lucky confluence of events, the opportunity to get my work in front of an agent’s eyes came my way a few weeks later, I was ready. I sent it off. I signed with that agent. And before I knew it, I had a three book deal with a New York house. Seven Nights To Surrender hit shelves about a year later, making one of the greatest dreams of my life come true, and the third book in the series, Nine Kinds Of Naughty, comes out next month.

Many people will tell you to write the book of your heart, and that your passion will show in your work, propelling you to success beyond your wildest dreams. I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. But for me, pursuing my own passions in my writing was a key to achieving my goal of finishing a novel, and eventually, to reinvigorating my career. I hold on to that every time I hit a rough patch.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right plot bunny at the right time.

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My Plot Bunny is a Poodle!

For this cycle’s theme of weirdest plot bunnies, I’m sort of at a loss: all of my bunnies are weird! I write about what I love, and that includes a few things that are fairly niche. Semi-obscure middle aged musicians as romantic leads, 1950’s tourist traps, muscle cars, the nobility of rescuing a rundown motel, and a marine invertebrate or two have all inspired my stories. Not usually all in the same one, but hey, the rich tapestry and all that…

But one element has always found it’s way into my story: the dog–usually a poodle. It might not be a main character (or it might be), but he or she is always there. Why? Because every word I’ve written this past 20 years for school, work, or this insane journey called writing fiction for publication, has been supported and accompanied by a fluffy friend curled up at my feet or right by my side, including these words I’m typing today. Sometimes life may be hard, stressful and sucky, and every word may feel like a hard-earned failure. But all along, no matter what, I’ve had the uncomplicated love of a fluffy little friend. So, to Rosebud and Busco in Doggie Heaven, and Leonidas (pictured below), I dedicate this post to you.

Do you have a special pet you’ve written into a story, or one who’s just a writing buddy? I’d love to hear about them!

S Carroll Lee Selfie

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It’s Not Just Romance…

Happy 2017 everyone!! I’m starting the year with a personal post ( a day late–sorry!!!). Because I want to start the year off the way I want the rest of the year to go. With kindness, love and positive energy!

Many of us read to connect, right? We want to feel all the emotions. We want to be one of the characters. Or we want to be kissing one of the characters. 🙂

When I started writing, I didn’t just think about character arcs, the love story, the plot and the big black moment. I wanted my book to TOUCH someone–maybe even CHANGE someone–or HELP someone. Is that weird? I don’t know. I just know that I wanted readers to walk away with all the warm fuzzies and a moral–if you will.

One of the biggest compliments I received on DELAYED PENALTY, the first book in my Pilots Hockey series, came from an editor during the query stages. The editor told me that he loved the book– and he didn’t like sports romances at all. (I’m paraphrasing).

DELAYED PENALTY is a story about an interpreter who falls for her client – who just happens to be a Hot Russian Hockey God. But the story isn’t all about hockey. In fact, hockey is not even the majority of the story.

The story is about Auden, a teenager on the verge of adulthood, still dealing with the constant cycle of grief and loss stemming from her father’s early exit from her life and her mother’s death. And trying to accept love when all she’s ever known is abandonment.

As many of you know, the grief from the loss of a parent (or anyone) doesn’t just stop. Not after a month. Or a year. Or 30 years. You don’t “get over it.” You learn to live with it. Auden’s backstory was  somewhat based off my own background. I, too, lost my mom very young. Every time something big happens in my life, I go through the stages again. The Denial, the Anger, the Bargaining, the Depression and the Acceptance. (5 Stages from: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ 1969 book “On Death and Dying“). After thirty years, the grief cycle is on a lesser scale, but I still go through it.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to share my books with my mom? Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear her say she’s proud of me? No matter how many years pass, those thoughts are always going to pop into my head. I’m always going to pine for that approval, that unconditional love that only a mom can give.

I dedicated DELAYED PENALTY to all the Motherless Daughters out there. (SPOILER, sorry).
Though I’ve highlighted DELAYED PENALTY in this post, but I tried to do this with all of my books  If a fictional, Contemporary Sports Romance can help someone through the stages of grief, help them understand their feelings and realize they aren’t alone in those feelings, I’ve done my job as an author–and as a human being.
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Have you read a book that you thought would be a “fluffy” fun read, but ended up being affected by it?
Let me know in the comments. 🙂
Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Hitting the Ground Strolling

Am I the only one struggling to dive into 2017?

I know it’s the third day of January already, but my mind is still on vacation. I’ve never been a “Hit the ground running” sort of person. Instead, I prefer to hit the ground, take a few minutes to appreciate the change of scenery, chat with a friend, maybe even find a gift shop on whatever ground I’ve hit, grab a snack for the road, then wander forward. And that’s how I’m hitting the ground in 2017.

I had an amazing vacation! One of the best ever! Did it involve an exotic beach or a ski lodge? Um, no. To be honest, I did nothing and it was perfect! I finally saw the new Star Wars movie. I binge watched a season and a half of Pretty Little Liars. Every night I played board games with my family. When I wanted to get out of my house, I wandered through shops and looked at all the pretty things. Then I decorated some blank spots on the walls with the pretty things I found when I was out. For me, this was the ideal break from life.

It seems like a lot of my conversations lately with my fellow Bad Girlz have centered on the theme of how stretched thin and exhausted we’ve collectively been. There haven’t been enough hours in the day. Our to-do lists have gotten longer and longer. And the pace of life has had us running even when we’d rather stroll. Then the holiday season arrived…

My hope for this year is that we can take time every now and then to do what brings us peace.

In an effort to make this happen in my life, I’m going to keep making time after vacation to occasionally wander through a shop or two. I’m going to continue to decorate my house. And I’m going to cherish every second I get to spend with my family, because these are the things that bring me peace and happiness.

The new decor in the Monkey's bathroom/ my laundry room. ;)

The new decor in the Monkey’s bathroom/ my laundry room. I had a blast working on this over vacation.  And I *might* have ordered DC female superhero fabric to use to make a window valence.  😉

game-room-so-far

The early stages of the new game room. I’m waiting to get the vintage board games I found back from the framing shop to add to this wall. I can’t wait! 🙂

As I wander slowly into this New Year, I’m looking forward to a few dates on the calendar like the When the Heart Dreams Reader Event on February 11th where I’ll be the emcee! And I’m anticipating the release of The Wicked Heir on July 1st. And somewhere in between those dates, I’m excited to spend the day shopping, reading a book, or doing absolutely nothing just for me.

fullsizerender

Sometimes it’s nice to do nothing.

What will you make time for in 2017?

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