Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep...and other stuff like fruitcake and hangovers

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke. Every January 1 we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2010? Here's a list of several such resolutions. I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered. If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance. Following the resolutions, I've added some miscellaneous information relevant to the season.

1. Gain Weight. Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks.

2. Go Deeper Into Debt. You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping. After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3. Spend More Money. This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list. Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4. Don't Get A Better Job. Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5. Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine. Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6. Don't Go Back To School. Look at your current life and time schedule. Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new 60-inch HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks. Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7. Drink More Alcohol. Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new HDTV.

8. Smoke Like A Chimney. When someone chastises you for putting smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9. Stay At Home. If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10. Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.

Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses. Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason. Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved its current status. At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cakelike substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem. Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts. It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…the dreaded hangover.

While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover. According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin. And what are congeners, you might ask? They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic. They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste. They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :) And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning. According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges. The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail). The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover. The credit goes to the alcohol itself

Wishing everyone a happy AND SAFE New Year's Eve and a marvelous New Year. May 2010 bring you happiness and health.

And Peace On Earth for everyone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter. They rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Odin. They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month. It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink. For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city. Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth. Pope Julius I chose December 25. The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion. Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence. As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas. When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston. In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Christmas wasn't a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles). Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany. Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree. Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season. Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol. Today's tinsel is made of PVC. Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season.
And most of all . . . Peace On Earth.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 Winter Holiday Season -- Part 1

The holiday season is here. I was going to say, "What's happened to this year? Where has it gone?" But I think I'll save that for my New Year's blog. :)

As I did with Thanksgiving, I'm doing a two part holiday season blog. Part 1 this week, some miscellaneous holiday season facts and fun. Next Sunday, December 20, I'll post Part 2 – the ancient roots of the Christmas celebration.

It's hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away. And, while Christmas seems to get most of the publicity with shopping ads, Mall decorations, movies, and Christmas episodes of television shows, it is certainly not the only holiday of the winter season.

While at the post office the other day, standing in the very long line with all the other people who had set aside an hour to be there, I was looking at the year's available selection of holiday season stamps. There's the generic winter holiday group of four stamps depicting a reindeer, snowman, gingerbread man, and nutcracker soldier. A Christmas stamp of Madonna and sleeping child. A stamp for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah depicting a menorah. A stamp for the Muslim Eid holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. And a Kwanzaa stamp for the week long African American heritage celebration.

And while standing in line, my mind began to wander to some of the miscellaneous tidbits I'd read.

Why do people kiss under the mistletoe? After all, mistletoe is a parasitic plant you find in the forest attached to and gaining its sustenance from its host tree. The entire plant is poisonous, especially the berries which are extremely toxic. Ingesting the berries causes acute stomach and intestinal pains, diarrhea, weak pulse, mental disturbances, and the collapse of blood vessels. Death has occurred within ten hours after eating the berries. Not exactly what first comes to mind when you think of kissing. :)

The tradition of linking mistletoe and kissing started in Europe. According to Norse mythology, Baldur, the god of peace, was shot and killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. After the other gods brought him back to life, Frigga, the goddess of love, transformed mistletoe into a symbol of love and peace. And to this day, everyone who passes under the mistletoe must receive a kiss.

Then there's the Hunky Santa Show held each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through the Christmas season. And where is this event featuring your anything but typical Santa? Where else but Southern California, at Los Angeles' Beverly Center. This is the ninth year for The Hunky Santa Show. This year's reining Hunky Santa is a fitness model. No round tummy or big beard for this guy!

And what about the place where Santas go to learn how to properly Ho Ho Ho? The Santa Claus School is located in Midland, Michigan. The non-profit school has been in operation for decades and turns out both Santas and Mrs. Clauses from around the globe.

So, the next time you see a Mall Santa, remember that he's most likely not just some guy who stuck on a false beard and climbed into a red suit on a whim.

Don't forget to check back here next Sunday, December 20, for the ancient roots of the Christmas celebration.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Words Of Wisdom From T-Shirts

For the most part, T-shirts seem to have a lot to say. They tell us where their owner went on vacation, what school he or she attended, what kind of car they drive, where they work, what organizations they belong to, what causes they support, and a multitude of other miscellaneous information. Some are serious and others are just fun. I've collected several interesting T-shirt sayings and I'd like to share them with you.

Wine improves with age. I improve with wine.

Everyone has to believe in something. I believe I'll have another glass of wine.

At what age am I old enough to know better?

I before E except after C … weird?

National Sarcasm Society … like we need your support.

If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research.

If I'm talking, you should be taking notes.

Why can't I be rich instead of good looking?

To err is human, to arrrrrgh is pirate.

Searching for the meaning of life, but will settle for my car keys.

Paddle faster, I hear banjo music!

I'm often confused with my evil twin.

Flying is the 2nd greatest thrill known to man. Landing is the 1st.

I'd be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees.

Awww, another Whiners Club meeting already?

Disheveled…not just a look, it's a lifestyle.

I used to care, but I take a pill for that now.

I'm confused…wait, maybe I'm not.

Sarcasm. Just one more service I provide.

Where's the switch that turns you off?

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.

Deja Moo…the feeling you've heard this bullshit before.

Don't worry about what people think. They don't do it very often.

Everything I say can be fully substantiated by my own opinion.

I am the Grammarian about whom your mother warned you.

Ending a sentence with a preposition? That is something up with which I shall not put.

And finally, seen on a Harley Davidson T-shirt: You won't see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist's office.

Have any of you come across any fun or interesting T-shirt sayings you'd like to share?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Now That Thanksgiving Is Over...

I forgot to write my blog for today. Well, not exactly. Obviously I wrote one because here it is. The problem is that I didn't write it ahead of time so I could post it first thing this morning. Right now it's 8:15am Central time and I'm just starting to write without having a real topic or anything firmly in my mind.

How did this happen is the question. And the answer is: Holiday Weekend. Today is the fourth consecutive Sunday that's happened this week. Last Wednesday seemed like Saturday because it was preparation for the next day's Thanksgiving holiday. That made Thursday seem like Sunday. The Friday after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year termed Black Friday because it's the day merchants have covered all their expenses through the end of the year and move out of red ink financial losses and into black ink profits, felt like Sunday. Then the next day, being part of a holiday weekend, felt like yet another Sunday. And today, of course, is actually Sunday.

And speaking of Black Friday…people started lining up at Best Buys here about midnight Thursday for the store opening at 5am on Friday. It was the same at Target and Wal-Mart as well as many other stores in the malls. I did some shopping, but I did it online. Far less stressful and the same good bargains. :)

And if you are the one who had all the friends and family to your house for Thanksgiving turkey with all the traditional trimmings, you've probably been eating leftovers for three days and by now you don't want to see another turkey for a while. :)

So, with four Sundays available to me this week, here I am scrambling to get my weekly blog written so I can post it Sunday morning.

I don't know about anyone else, but recovering from a holiday weekend always feels to me as if I'm learning a set routine all over again from scratch. With tomorrow morning I need to think Monday again. I really don't want to deal with a fifth consecutive Sunday in one week. :)

How many of you braved the crowds to get the super bargains stores were offering on Black Friday? Any of you stand in line in the middle of the night waiting for the store to open? I'm assuming that big ticket electronic items made up most of the purchases…all those flat panel HDTVs and new computers.

And now, take a deep breath and prepare for the Monday morning return to normal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Facts, Myths, And Those Naughty Pilgrims--Part 2

Last week I posted some facts about Thanksgiving By The Numbers. This week, before talking about more adventures of those sexy pilgrims, I have some Mayflower myths to share with you.

Myth: The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the pilgrims celebrated it every year after that.
Fact: The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition. In fact, it wouldn't have been called Thanksgiving because to the pilgrims a thanksgiving was a religious holiday. That feast in 1621 was a secular celebration and would not have been considered a thanksgiving in their minds.

Myth: The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.
Fact: The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was a three day celebration based on the English harvest festivals. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, a decision fraught with controversy. The date was approved by Congress in 1941.

Myth: The pilgrims wore only black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.
Fact: Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the 17th century. Black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions.

But what about the actions and activities of those naughty pilgrims? As with so much in life, there's the façade and then there's the reality. :)

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe. They tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time. As time passed, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws as demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony. The prim women weren't always so pious either. Women were often caught with the evidence of their dalliances: babies. The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another. Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing. Pre-marital sex was severely punished. Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a "lascivious carriage" in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines. If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing. The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch. Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell. Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man. Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations. In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery. William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment. Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress. (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!) However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished. Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage. The pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations." Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful that you aren't a pilgrim. :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Facts, Myths, and Those Naughty Pilgrims--Part I

We all know the story of how the pilgrims left England seeking religious freedom and finally settled in the New World at Plymouth in what is now the state of Massachusetts. And how in 1621 they invited the local natives to share a dinner with them in order to give thanks for a successful harvest and surviving their first year. That feast of thanksgiving was not repeated the next year, therefore it was not the start of the Thanksgiving Day holiday tradition.

From those humble beginnings have come many facts and as many myths about the pilgrims and our Thanksgiving holiday. So, I'd like to take this week and next week to share some of those facts with you, correct several of those myths, and contradict the belief that the pilgrims embodied the very soul of purity and piety.

Let's start with some facts. Here's a list of Thanksgiving by the numbers.

3,000—the number of calories eaten during an average Thanksgiving meal.

12,000,000—the number of whole turkeys Butterball sells for Thanksgiving.

2,000 - 3,000—the number of people used to guide the balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

214—the average number of miles driven for the family get together at Thanksgiving.

1939—the date the Great Thanksgiving Day calendar controversy began (when FDR declared the fourth Thursday of November to be the official date of Thanksgiving).

23.3—the percentage of Black Friday shoppers who arrive at stores before five o'clock in the morning.

12,000—the number of cubic feet of helium in the Big Bird balloon in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

40,000,000—the number of green bean casseroles made for Thanksgiving dinner.

72,000,000—the number of cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce sold for Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that we've covered some facts, next week I'll tackle some myths about Thanksgiving.

What about those pious pilgrims? They certainly have a reputation for being a rigid and humorless group. But there are a few surprises to be found. Even though drunkenness was discouraged, beer was accepted as a drink by men, women, and children. The daily ration on the Mayflower was a gallon a day for each individual. Even sex was not taboo under the right circumstances. They had a matter-of-fact attitude about sex as long as it was between a married couple. It's when sex strayed from being the exclusive right between a married couple that the stories get interesting.

Studies by a group of anthropologists at the University of Virginia found that the pilgrims spent a great deal of time thinking about how to punish those with impure thoughts and actions. Studies also discovered that in 11% of the marriages at Plymouth Colony the bride was pregnant at the time. The same study estimates that as many as 50% of the pilgrims engaged in premarital sex. Definitely not an image that fits the staid pilgrims.

According to the Mayflower Compact, the colony was to establish laws based on Biblical teachings "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith." The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the basis for most of their laws. Adultery? Death. A man has sex with his daughter-in-law? Death. Sodomy? Death. Bestiality? Death. Are you beginning to see a pattern? :)

But interestingly, the pilgrims did not typically enforce the death penalty for sex offenses. There was only one case in which the convicted offender was actually put to death for sex crimes. It was the case of Thomas Graunger, a teenage boy apparently at the throes of raging hormones who sought satisfaction from any and all sources available to him…the farm animals.

According to Plymouth Governor William Bradford, "He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey."

Even though Thomas was the only one executed for a sex crime, punishments were routinely severe even with far lesser sex crimes and usually meant whippings, being put into the stocks, and fines.

In next week's blog (Sunday, November 22) Thanksgiving Facts, Myths, And Those Naughty Pilgrims Part II—I'll demyth some of the Mayflower myths and give you a few more examples of the lusty nature of the pilgrims that they couldn't keep under control in spite of the severe punishments for such crimes including the wearing of the infamous letter A for adultery, a punishment prominently used by Hawthorne in his 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Researching A Setting Can Be Fun

14th Century Tithe Barn - Bredon, England

There's no denying that research is a part of writing whether non-fiction or fiction. And within the parameters of fiction, the genre somewhat dictates how much research is required. Certainly, historical fiction requires extensive research into place and time in order to be accurate with details down to the simplest clothing items. Techno thrillers, legal thrillers, and medical themed novels need to be accurate in terminology, science, and procedures.

But there is an area of research that is often considered trivial or inconsequential in the overall scope of your story. And that's the location where your story is set. Certainly the setting is important, but as a matter of research it seldom makes it to the top of the list.

A contemporary novel set in your home town requires little in the way of research for location. You live there so you know about the terrain, weather, the businesses, the good neighborhoods vs. the bad neighborhoods, streets and highways, tourist attractions, places of special interest and historical interest. That's easy.

But, what about setting your story somewhere that you have never been? If that is the case, you have options available. The most obvious for accuracy is to visit the location—take in the ambiance, make note of the geographic elements, study the activities of the residents, and grab the tourist brochures available in the hotel lobby. All major metropolitan areas have certain 'must see' tourist attractions that are common knowledge around the world. The Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Tower of London, Eiffel Tower. Well known tourist attractions can certainly be included in descriptive passages of your setting or become part of a scene where some action takes place. That gives the reader an immediate mental image reference to go along with your descriptive passages.

Travel and tour books can be a great help for general research information. The Auto Club (AAA) publishes tour books for all the states that includes information about the major cities in that state and certainly the tourist areas. A real estate search of a city will give you knowledge of the various neighborhoods. A city's website will tell you about the educational system, shopping, cultural events, sports activities, etc.

My most interesting research experience was for one of my Harlequin Intrigue novels, THE SEDGWICK CURSE, a romantic suspense written under my other pseudonym of Shawna Delacorte.

My story was set in a small stereotypical village of the type found in the Cotswolds in the English countryside. A large estate inhabited by the Lord of the manor—land and a title that had been in the family for centuries. An annual festival that had been held on the estate grounds every year for over two hundred years. And murder involving the titled rich and powerful.

I needed to research several things. Certainly accurate information about the physical setting I'd chosen. And then specifics (beyond what I'd gleaned from various British crime drama series on PBS' Mystery) about the way local law enforcement interacted with the privileged aristocracy when investigating a murder.

I had already been to England several times and had another trip planned, so I included spending one week in the Cotswolds to do the research I needed. **This is where the fun part of the research came in. :) ** I found a charming centuries old hotel in the town of Tewkesbury and used it as my base to explore the surrounding area.

My research started when I walked into the local police station, said I was a writer doing research for a novel, and asked if there was someone I could talk to about how a local murder would be investigated. I was passed on to a Detective Sergeant who was very helpful and spent about two hours with me, which was an hour and forty-five minutes longer than expected. I garnered far more information than I needed for that specific book, but great research material for future needs.

The next step in my research was the immediate location for my fictional Lord Sedgwick's estate. This was a major stroke of good luck. About three miles north of Tewkesbury is the village of Bredon that had everything I needed, including a large estate that hosted a village festival every year and the weekend I was there happened to be festival weekend. I was able to wander around the grounds, take pictures, and get information about the estate straight from the owner's mouth. One of the buildings on the grounds, the Tithe Barn pictured above, is part of the National Trust and dates back to the 1300s. It is accurately described and used in my book, as are most of the features of the real counterpart of my Sedgwick Estate.

Obviously, traveling to a foreign country to research a location isn't that practical. If the location is a well-known tourist attraction, you will have lots of research material available to you. But what if your desired setting is a typical small town or village in a specific area? That brings us to the more practical solution of creating a fictional small town as the setting for your story.

I have set many of my Harlequin and Silhouette books in fictional small towns. But the one thing these fictional small towns have in common is that they are all patterned after a real place that I've been in the state where I've set the story. And in lieu of that, there's always the ability of taking something like a beach town or mountain village and transplanting it to another state for the purposes of your story.

If there's someplace you've been, a vacation you enjoyed, and you want to recreate the feel and ambiance for your story setting without fear of getting some of the facts wrong about the real place, the best way to handle it is to create a fictional location. Do some basic research on the general type of location you've selected for your story such as a fishing village on the coast of Maine. That will give you basic generic facts for that type of setting. Then you can take the feel of the real life place you visited and impose those memories and impressions on top of your researched facts for a fully realized story setting. Your characters can then impart that sense of place to the readers with the words and actions you give them in addition to your descriptons.

In my novella FORBIDDEN ISLAND by Samantha Gentry, currently available from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romances from The Wild Rose Press), the setting is a privately owned Caribbean island. The Travel Channel has a show about privately owned islands and Sir Richard Branson's Necker Island was one of them. I used that as the model for my creation of Forbidden Island.

Do any of you have any research tips for story setting you'd like to share?
Stay Tuned...Sunday, November 15 and Sunday, November 22...I'll be doing a two-part blog on those naughty, sexy pilgrims. It seems they weren't as pure and pious as we thought.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ten Unbreakable Guinness World Records

The Guinness Book Of World Records has been around for fifty-five years and has compiled an incredible list of achievements in almost every category imaginable.

Over the years, the editors of the book have removed some categories because they chose not to encourage or promote those activities such as bullfighting and excessive drinking. They once published records for the world's heaviest dog but discontinued that because they didn't want to see a pet owner abusing an animal just so they could be listed in the book.

Some records remain on top even fifty-five years after the first edition was published. Guinness has declared them to be 'unbreakable' but admits they might be broken some day.

Here's Guinness' list of ten unbreakable records.

1) TALLEST MAN: At 8' 11", Robert Wadlow holds the record for the tallest man. When he died in 1940 at the age of twenty-two, he was still growing.

2) LIGHTEST WOMAN: Lucia Zarate was 21.5" tall. She had, for a brief time, weighed as much as 13 pounds. At the time of her death at age twenty-six in 1889, she weighed a mere 4.7 pounds.

3) LOUDEST SOUND: The volcanic eruption of the island of Krakatoa on August 26, 1883, sent shock waves reverberating seven times around the globe and was heard 2,200 miles away in Perth, Australia.

4) MOST PROLIFIC MURDERESS: Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory allegedly killed more than six hundred people, mostly young woman. She was finally convicted of 80 counts of murder and locked away until her death in 1614.

5) LARGEST DIAMOND: Found in South Africa in 1905, the Cullinan diamond was 3,106 carats. It was eventually cut into 105 pieces including the 530.2 carat Great Star of Africa and the 317.4 carat Lesser Star of Africa. Both are now part of the British crown jewels.

6) GREATEST WINGSPAN: Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose weighs more than 400,000 pounds with a wingspan of 319 feet which is longer than a football field. It flew only once, in 1947, for about one mile at just seventy feet in the air.

7) BIGGEST PANDEMIC: From 1347 to 1351, bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, killed seventy-five million people.

8) BIGGEST BLOCKBUSTER: When adjusted for inflation and converted into today's dollars, Gone With The Wind is by far the champ with an estimated worldwide take of $5.4 Billion since it's 1939 release. In comparison, Titanic's worldwide blockbuster box office gross is $1.84 Billion.

9) LONGEST POLE-SITTING: Guinness' oldest record is held by St. Simeon the Stylite who spent thirty-seven years atop a pillar at Syria's Hill of Wonders. He died in 459 and for the last 1,550 years his record remains unchallenged.

10) YOUNGEST DOCTORATE: In 1814, 12 year old Karl Witte of Austria became a doctor of philosophy at the University of Giessen in Germany. He spoke five languages.

And as a grand finale … Ashrita Furman holds the world's record for holding the most records – he has 245 world's records.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween's Ancient Origins

The roots of Halloween date back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow). The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter which was a time associated with death. They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic home land. During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomoma were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints' Day. It's now believed that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows. So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes. Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits. They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

Do you have a favorite costume this year? Are you planning to go to a party? Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beware Of America's Creepiest Roads

They've been called urban legends, ghost stories, creepy encounters. But they all have one thing in common—unexplained happenings on dark roads in the dead of night. If you'll pardon the use of the word dead.

Or maybe it's more appropriate than you realize. :)

Halloween is the perfect time of year to explore these creepy lanes and the unexplained happenings. Here's a sampling of some of these haunted roads.

The San Antonio Ghost Track: If you put your car in neutral on the tracks, the car will move off the tracks by itself. And if you cover the bumper in baby power, you'll find child-sized palm prints. The origin of this ghostly tale is supposedly a school bus that was hit by a train. However, be careful if you decide to check it out. There have been reports of bandits waiting in hiding for people to start their paranormal test.

The Georgia Ghost Roads: Travelers late at night along Railroad Bed Road and Old Ghost Road (Robertson Road) see a faint orange light flashing in the distance. As they drive closer to it, a man will appear who is digging a ditch…or perhaps a grave. He turns and walks toward the car, but disappears before he gets there.

Buckout Road in Harrison, NY: The shocking murders committed by Issac Buckhout are believed responsible for the area's many reports of notorious activities such as farms burning, vandalism in a local historic cemetery, and people who claimed to have been attacked by flesh-eating monsters because they parked in front of a specific red house and honked their car horn three times.

Meshack Road in Tompinsville, KY: This is supposedly the original location of the oft repeated story of the young woman in the prom dress who is walking along the road and given a ride by a young man. He gives her his coat to keep warm. The next day he returns to the house where he took her in order to retrieve his coat. The woman living there told him her daughter had died several years ago…on prom night.

Milford Road in Oxford, Ohio: The story of star-crossed lovers. The boy and girl were in love but the girl's father hated the boy. The boy would flash his motorcycle headlight three times and if he saw her porch light flash three times in response he knew it was safe to go there. One night he's killed on the road, but the flashing lights continue to haunt the area.

Mona Lisa Drive in New Orleans: A philanthropist donated a collection of statuary to the city with one stipulation. The statue commissioned to commemorate the death of his only daughter, Mona, would be placed in a special location in the park by itself. One night a car chase ended with a car crashing into the statue and shattering it. After that, rumors began to circulate that Mona lurked in the park where the statue had been, haunting innocent and unsuspecting visitors.

Archer Road in Justice, IL: Resurrection Cemetery is the site of a story similar to the Meshack Road haunting. A young man met a pretty blond at a dance. At the end of the evening, he drove her home. When they reached the cemetery, she asked him to stop. She got out of the car, walked toward the gate, and disappeared. He went to the house where she said she lived and the woman told him her daughter had been dead for five years.

Spook Hill in Burkittsville, MD: In addition to the ghostly reputation courtesy of the 1990s horror movie, The Blair Witch Project, an unexplained recurring happening here is similar to the Railroad Crossing in San Antonio. When driving up Spook Hill, if you stop and put the car in neutral it won't roll back downhill. It will continue uphill as if being pushed. The local ghostly tale claims it's Civil War soldiers who think they're pushing one of their cannons up the hill.

Shades of Death Road in Warren Co., NJ: Yes, Shades of Death Road is the real name of the street, but no one is sure exactly how the name came about. Over the decades many murders have happened along this stretch of road, each its own ghastly tale, which certainly explains why so many different ghosts haunt the area.

Do you have any ghostly tales or spooky happenings where you live?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writer By Accident—Erotic Romance Author By Surprise

I didn't start out to be a writer. My writing career was literally a by-product of a hoped for career as a nature and travel photographer. Even though I worked full time in Los Angeles in the television industry as a production manager, my passion was photography. My dream was to visit marvelous and interesting places, take stunning photographs, have them published, and even sold in galleries. I had a couple of minor successes with my photos appearing in magazines, but nothing of consequence. I came to realize that I had a better chance of marketing my photos if I wrote magazine articles to accompany them. That led to a few more publication acceptances.

Somewhere along the way I discovered, to my surprise, that I really enjoyed the writing process. And that's when my emphasis switched from photography to writing.

I didn't want to write the sweet, traditional romance where a chaste kiss was the answer to pent up sexual tension and desire. There is definitely a place for the sweet romance within the genre and it has lots of followers, but it wasn't right for me.

My first published romance was from Silhouette's Desire line, the most sensual line they published at that time. After having five books released from Silhouette Desire, I had my first romantic suspense published by Harlequin's Intrigue line.

I've always loved mysteries and romantic suspense seemed like a natural combination to me. Whether it's romance where the two main characters become involved with a mystery or a mystery where they become involved romantically, having the romance and mystery together ups the ante for those characters. There is more at stake for them than merely solving the crime or unraveling the puzzle. They now have an emotional investment with each other and the need to protect that growing love. It adds new elements to the story and complications that wouldn't otherwise be there.

My fifth Silhouette Desire was in the final stages of editing when I was told to add another love scene to the book. What? At this stage of the production process I'm supposed to add a love scene in a manner that doesn't make it read like something just stuck in there? As it happened, I had the perfect place to add it. In fact, that was what I had wanted to do when originally writing the book because it was a natural progression of the story. That editorial directive told me they were increasing the heat level for the line.

Even though the sensual content had been increased, I eventually became frustrated with the imposed need to use euphemisms in love scenes and polite terminology that seemed to me to be out of place for the contemporary times and not realistic to the circumstances, whether the situation was a love scene involving sex between two consenting adults or a verbal clash between two angry gang members on the tough city streets. Although hell and damn were acceptable words, they certainly weren't realistic dialogue. That's not what you hear street gangs saying, or the bad guys in a mystery. Not even what you'd hear the good guy cops saying when interrogating a bad guy. Their terminology and dialogue would be much more realistic.

And that brings us to 2005 when I discovered the eBook publishing world while attending the RWA national conference in Reno, Nevada. ePublishers pushed the envelope and didn't impose unrealistic restrictions on their authors yet they still retained the elements that made a story a romance.

Graphically writing the realism of sex is usually referred to as erotic. To some, the word erotic has an unsavory connotation like something you'd purchase under the counter in a plain brown wrapper at an adult book store. But the reality is that erotic romance has two characters working through the obstacles of a relationship, whether it's the internal conflict of emotional baggage from the past or external conflict of what's going on around them, to achieve the ultimate goal of love and happiness. The same process the writer puts the characters through in the sweet and traditional romances. Erotic romance can be part of any romance sub genre such as paranormal, fantasy, historical, etc. They all have the one ultimate goal of love and happiness.

How do things stand now in the romance industry? It appears that traditional print publishers have taken a cue from the realism of eBooks and have accepted that there is a large segment of readers who want their romance books to include erotic elements. They now have erotic romance lines offering up much of the same type of reality that ePublishers provided from the beginning.

And that's how I got from taking nature photographs to writing erotic romance. I still do photography and not all my romance writing is erotic romance. In fact, a have a romantic suspense scheduled for release in January…DÉJÀ VU from The Wild Rose Press, a NON-erotic romantic suspense that caters to my love of mysteries.

And the beat goes on…

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Things NOT To Say At A Job Interview

We all know that going on a job interview is cause for varying degrees of nervous tension. We're uncomfortable, very concerned about making a good impression both personally and with our resume and work history. Saying the wrong thing…misspeaking…is upper in our mind.

All of this discomfort is part of the process. But, there are those who go beyond the bounds of mere jittery nerves. The following comments were actually said during the course of a job interview.

Q: Why did you leave your last job?
A: "I have a problem with authority."

Q: Why should we hire you?
A: "I would be a great asset to the events team because I party all the time."

Q: Do you have any questions?
A: "Cross dressing isn't a problem, is it?"

Q: Why are you leaving your current job?
A: "I was fired from my last job because they were forcing me to attend anger management classes."

Q: Why do you want to work for us?
A: "My old boss didn't like me, so one day I just left and never came back. And here I am!"

Q: What are your weaknesses? [related to job skills]
A: "I get angry easily and I want to jail for domestic violence. But I won't get mad at you."

Q: When have you demonstrated leadership skills?
A: "Well my best example would be in the world of online video gaming. I pretty much run the show. It takes a lot to do that."

Q: Is there anything else I should know about you?
A: "You should probably know I mud wrestle on the weekends."

Q: When can you start?
A: "I need to check with my mom on that one."

Q: Have you submitted your two weeks' notice to your current employer?
A: "What is two weeks' notice? I've never quit a job before. I've always been fired."

The following are random responses and comments made by job seekers at interviews.

"If I get an offer, how long do I have before I have to take the drug test?"

"When you do background checks on candidates, do things like public drunkenness arrests come up?"

"May I have a cup of coffee? I think I may still be a little drunk from last night."

And finally…
[During a telephone call to schedule the interview] "Can we meet next month? I am currently incarcerated."

Most of those sound like they should be part of a "believe it or not" collection. :)
Do you have any job seeking experiences you'd like to share…either as the interviewer or the interviewee?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weird And Wacky Laws

Weird and wacky laws exist out there, no question about it. You can only scratch your head and wonder what the various state legislatures were thinking about when they actually took the time in legislative sessions to pass these strange ideas into law. And to take it a step farther, you can only wonder how some of these laws could possibly be enforced.

Many of these weird and wacky laws have subsequently been taken off the books, however just as many of them are still laws but obviously not being enforced. It would be interesting to know what the penalty would be if convicted of breaking these laws.

Here are ten such laws that caught my attention (and tickled my funny bone).

In TEXAS, an anti-crime law requires criminals to give their victims notice—oral or written—twenty-four hours in advance of the crime they're planning to commit and the nature of that crime.

In WAYNESBORO, VIRGINIA, it was once illegal for a woman to drive a car up Main Street unless her husband walked in front of the car waving a red flag.

In the state of WASHINGTON, it is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at city limits and telephone the local chief of police before entering the town.

In IOWA, one-armed piano players who perform must to it for free.

In ALABAMA, it's illegal to wear a funny fake mustache to church.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, you may not tap your feet, nod your head or in any way keep time with the music played in a tavern, restaurant or café.

In CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, it is forbidden to fish while sitting on a giraffe's neck.

In FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, a person can be jailed for wearing a hat while dancing or wearing a hat to an event where dancing is taking place.

In MINNESOTA, no one is allowed to cross the line into the state with a duck on his/her head.

In DENVER, COLORADO, next door neighbors may not lend each other vacuum cleaners.

And here's a bonus offering that truly boggles the mind:
In MICHIGAN, beavers can be fined up to $10,000 per day for building unlicensed dams, according to letter that the state once sent certain beavers in Grand Rapids. This actually happened! After complaints about flooding on neighboring property, the state sent a letter to the land owner ordering him to remove unauthorized wood debris dams. The reply sent by the landowner was widely circulated around the internet as he pointed out that the "wood debris dams" belonged to beavers and he was not responsible for it. Eventually the matter was dropped and it seems unlikely that this would actually happen again. :)

Do any of you have weird laws in your state or country that have long ago outlived their original purpose but are still on the books?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Do Your Characters' Names Dictate Their Personalities?

There are probably several of you who are like me…you can't start writing your story or even plotting it until you have decided on the names of your main characters. Even though I know who these characters are, have fully developed them, they have to have names before I can continue.

A character's name can say a lot about him or her and even more when a nickname is used. For example, if a character is named Elizabeth, that would convey a more formal type of person. But, give her the nickname of Liz and suddenly she's a lot more outgoing, ready to party. On the other hand, give her the nickname of Beth and you have someone who is more shy or withdrawn. I realize those are somewhat stereotyped descriptions rather than fact, but they do give the reader a feel for the type of character you've created just from the name you've given her. And the same applies to male names. Someone named Henry is one type of character where Hank is a different type of person. You have a Charles who is different from Charlie who is different from Chuck. And look at the different image conveyed when you take a character names Sylvester and call him Sly.

A nickname can also come from some aspect of the character's physical appearance. A character with auburn hair could be called Red. Or someone very tall and thin could have the nickname of Stretch.

A recent survey of 3,000 British teachers said names can peg kids as potential troublemakers. The poll reported that forty-nine percent of teachers said they make assumptions about students as soon as they see the names on the class roster. However, while teachers may roll their eyes at certain names, fifty-nine percent of the teachers surveyed said those same kids are usually the most popular among their peers.

With some characters their names are obvious—no worries or concerns about what to name them. Others seem to cause a lot of frustration. That's when I turn to my baby naming books.

And once your character has a first name that suits him or her, then there's the last name to think about. Where the first name needs to be a fit for the character, the last name can reflect on that character's family background. Sometimes that's an important element of your story and character development, but not necessarily.

On one occasion when I was stuck for a surname, I literally closed my eyes, opened the phone book, and put my finger on the page. And that was what I used as the character's last name. It was a minor character, so I wasn't trying to convey any type of an image or using the name to give information to the reader.

What type of considerations do you use when naming your characters, especially your hero and heroine? Any special tricks you use to come up with names? Have you ever named a character after a friend or relative (I'm assuming with their permission)? Do you keep a list of names you've used so you don't repeat?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I've Learned Things From The Fiction Writing Class I Teach

I teach an eight week beginning fiction writing class at the state university in the adult continuing education non-credit department. It's two hours a night, one night a week, for eight weeks. I teach this class twice a year and have been for twelve years.

The eight weeks are broken up into the basics of fiction writing. The first week is about plot, second week developing characters, and so on. I cover things like point of view, pacing, dialogue, active vs. passive, show don't tell, and other basics of fiction writing. I use examples from various genres without concentrating on a specific one. The class culminates with information about publishing which includes synopsis, query letter, contests, critique groups, submitting to publishers, editing, and other miscellaneous areas.

I gave you that information as a prologue to what's on my mind about my fiction writing class.

I started teaching the class again on Wednesday, September 9th. It always amazes me each time I teach the class…I learn things, too. Well, more accurately, I RE-learn them. There are things I've forgotten that come to mind again when I'm going over the lesson for that night's class. And then there's information I haven't thought about until someone asks me a question that requires me to pull the answer up from the back of my mind and convey it in a manner that will make sense to someone taking a beginning writing class…fiction writing technique information I hadn't considered for a while.

Right now I'm only one week into the current eight week class. A technique I talk about as part of the first week covering plot is the Action-Reaction-Decision combination. This is one of those things I use when I'm writing without consciously thinking about it. Each time I teach this class and define this Action-Reaction-Decision combination, it seems to hit me as a surprise as if I had never heard of it before. :) One character's action elicits a reaction from the other character, then one of the characters makes a decision concerning the situation. It's that decision that propels the story forward and leads to the next situation.

As we know, each scene needs to do something to move the over all story forward whether it's an action scene, dialogue, or narrative internalization dealing with character development. And this is one of those techniques that does just that.

An example of the Action-Reaction-Decision combination: Dressed in a scrap of slinky black, Mary strutted into the club (action). Mark took one look and his blood pressure skyrocketed (reaction). He had to get her out of there before she got arrested (decision). It's that decision that moves the story forward and leads to the next action. Mark grabbed her arm (action). But Mary refused to budge (reaction). She was going to have a drink and dance until dawn (decision).

This feeds directly into and helps support the basic structure and core of story movement which is cause and effect. Something happens and that causes something else to happen which results in moving the story forward toward its conclusion—cause and effect.

Each week of the class I encounter something (at least one thing, usually more) that teaching the class brings to mind, techniques that I had forgotten, things that I did without thinking about them.

The second week of the class is developing characters. One exercise I give the class has them use secondary characters to maneuver the main characters in the direction the story needs. Your hero/heroine still do the work and resolve the story's conflict, but those secondary characters make a valuable contribution to moving the story forward. And secondary characters are fun to work with. They don't have the restrictions that apply to your hero/heroine. A secondary character doesn't need to be in any way honorable or heroic. He can have lots of bad habits, be a compulsive liar, or any number of things the hero and heroine can't.

I enjoy teaching a class about the basics of beginning fiction writing. And, of course, I enjoy getting paid for it. :) But in addition to that, I like being reminded a couple of times a year about some of the specifics that tend to slip my mind…things I do, but don't consciously think about.

Do you have any special writing techniques you'd like to share?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking The Holiday Off

Normally I would be posting a new blog this morning, but I'm taking the holiday weekend off.

We're having a family get together at my mother's house this afternoon where we'll barbeque on the patio and probably play some cards. We're even having good weather this weekend. The rain has gone. It's supposed to be sunny and 80 degrees today. But as I look out my office window, there's a whole lot of fog that needs to vanish before the promise of sun will come about.

This is also sort of a midway point between my brother and sister-in-law's wedding anniversary (September 3) and my mother and step-father's wedding anniversary (September 11). just occurred to me that my niece's wedding anniversary is also this month, September 21st. That will be their first anniversary. Make note to self -- mail Happy Anniversary card.

Another reason I didn't have a blog prepared for today is because I start teaching my class on Wednesday (September 9) so I need to prepare for that. I teach an eight week fiction writing class (two hours a night, one night a week, for eight weeks) twice a year at the state university. My class is in the Adult Continuing Education Non-Credit Classes division. When I started doing this, I thought it would probably last for a couple of years. To my total surprise, I've been doing this twice a year for twelve years. You'd think after twelve years that I wouldn't need much in the way of preparation before starting class. :)

Most of my class preparation consists of going over the eight weekly lessons to refresh my memory and making changes and updates to references I use from books, movies, and television as examples of a specific writing techniques.

Well...I see that I've rambled on here with spontaneous thoughts long enough to actually have a new post on my blog. So, I guess you can ignore the title. I didn't take the holiday off after all. :)

Does anyone have any special plans for this Labor Day holiday weekend?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Time Is Flying

Today is Sunday, August 30, 2009. That means the day after tomorrow is the first of September. For most of the U.S., school has already started. In fact, school was out for the summer where I live the second week of May and started back on August 10th. It really caught me off guard when I saw ads in July for back-to-school clothes and school supplies. Somehow it just didn't seem right. It was the middle of summer, how could school be starting already? When I was in school [back in the dark ages :)], we attended classes until Memorial Day (observed here in the U.S. on the fourth Monday in May) and didn't return until Labor Day (the first Monday in September). Obviously…times have changed.

And didn't Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November in the U.S.) used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season? The Friday following Thanksgiving day the biggest shopping day of the year? And now? It's still the biggest shopping day, but now the stores have already been bathed in Christmas decorations for what seems like weeks. The radio stations start playing Christmas music much earlier than they used to. The Halloween trick-or-treaters have barely cleared the neighborhood streets the night of October 31st and the next morning we see Christmas decorations on the same houses where witches and goblins had reigned supreme the night before.

Then there's the larger scale of time. Wasn't it just a couple of years ago that we were celebrating the Millennium? How many of you watched at least some of the live television coverage of the year 2000 being ushered in from various countries around the world in different time zones through spectacular visual extravaganzas? And there was also the fear of Y2K when everything remotely computer related would suddenly stop functioning and bring the entire world to a halt one little second after 11:59:59pm on December 31, 1999.

And finally we come to the most dreaded acceleration of time. I'm not sure exactly when it started, but for several years now my birthday has come around quicker and quicker. I thought I had only one birthday month per year among the other months. Therefore, only one birthday per year. But now…well it seems like my birthday month is rolling around every seven or eight months. I swear my last birthday was only six months after my previous birthday. Bad enough getting older, but does it need to happen so often? And so quickly?

I'm sure there must be some type of scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but is there any way of stopping it. At least the escalating birthday part. :)

Am I alone in this? Do any of you have the sensation that time is speeding up, especially the turning another year older part?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

America's Least Favorite Foods

A couple of weeks ago AOL posted the results of a poll where members were asked about their least favorite foods. Over 78,000 people participated in this survey. The top twenty disliked foods were determined not only by number of responders who mentioned the food, but also the vitriolic content of their comments. I'm listing the top twenty foods along with comments from the poll.

How many of these are on your list of least favorite foods?

20) Blueberries – "Blueberries taste a little like aluminum to me."

19) Maple Syrup – "Just a whiff of maple syrup and I get nauseous."

18) Cilantro – "Just the smell and taste make me ill."

17) Onions – "Raw onions. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.,"

16) Cooked Carrots – "Raw is fine, but cooked should be illegal."

15) Raisins – "Raisins cooked into a dish remind me of roaches from my old apartment."

14) Peas – "They smell like somebody who hasn't had a bath for a week."

13) Oysters – "Anything chewy that never breaks down like clams or oysters, yuck!"

12) Pea Soup – "Blechh! Split pea soup makes me gag."

11) Sour Cream – "It's like expired chunky milk, I have to hold my nose and look away."

10) Gelatin – "I can't stand to eat Jell-O with the way it wiggles around in my mouth."

09) Tuna – "The smell of it makes me sick."

08) Brussels Sprouts – "Nasty tasting things, but when you eat them cold after having been overcooked, they're even worse."

07) Beets – "They look like they'd be good, but the taste is just vile."

06) Okra – "Okra releases a funky slime when not fried, smells like a gym locker, too."

05) Eggs – "I can't get a hard boiled egg down. The yolk is no problem, but the consistency of the white part makes me turn green."

04) Mushrooms – "Mushrooms taste like dirt."

03) Mayonnaise – "Mayo is the most disgusting substance on the face of this earth. It reeks."

02) Lima Beans – "Lima beans are evil."

01) Liver – "Just the smell of fried liver can make me have an autonomous near-hurl."

Some of the items on this list of twenty least favorite foods came as a surprise to me while others were expected. The one thing I found very interesting was how many times a poll responder gave smell as the reason for the food choice (eight of the top twenty). Smell does directly impact our sense of taste. If we hold our breath (or hold our noses) when putting a bite of food in our mouths, it doesn't have much of a taste without the smell. When you're sick or have a bad cold and your nose is stuffed up, you might try to eat but you find that the food doesn't have a taste.

I do want to point out that not even a hint of chocolate appeared on the list. And for that matter, wine wasn't on the list either. That means my favorite foods are safe! :)

What are your favorite and least favorite foods?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Phobias For The Twenty-First Century

Phobias…those irrational fears of just about anything you can think of. Most of them have been out there for centuries. Some of them have been handed down through families.

But like so many other things, the twenty-first century has brought us a whole new collection of things that provide irrational fears.

Nomophobia is the fear of not having cell phone contact, whether it's due to a dead battery or because your network doesn't have coverage where you are. A fate worse than death?

Vidigameaphobia is the fear of video games. This can cover everything from simply being afraid of the games to the fear that the games could come to life. Wait a minute. Come to life? Hmm…maybe I need to buy that Indiana Jones game after all.

Interphobia is exactly what it sounds like…fear of the World Wide Web. Now that's a phobia to avoid at all costs.

Dextrophobia and its counterpart Levophobia offers us a couple of really strange phobias. Dextrophobia is the fear of everything to the right of your body while Levophobia is the fear of everything to the left of your body.

Coulrophobia has actually been around for a long time and is still going strong. It's the fear of clowns. Didn't Stephen King have a clown as one of his evil entities?

Alektorophobia is an extreme fear of live chickens. Maybe the scope of the fear should be expanded to include people who look like Col. Sanders?

Pupaphobia is related to Coulrophobia. They might even be first cousins. It's the fear of puppets. Not sure what you'd call the fear of a clown puppet.

Sesquipedalophobia, as the length of the word suggests, is the fear of very long words. Wouldn't a shorter word be more appropriate?

Cathisophobia is one that those of us working at computers need to avoid at all costs. It's the fear of sitting.

Genuphobia is the fear of knees. That must be really difficult in summer when warm weather clothing means lots of knees sticking out there for anyone to see.

And here's a bonus phobia to carry us through the twenty-first century. This has to be the ultimate fear: Phobophobia. Yep, it's exactly what it sounds like…a fear of fears.

My primary fear is bugs and other creepy crawler things. My fear is totally rational, of course. Do you have any irrational fears (or rational ones) you'd like to share?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sexiest Spies On TV And In The Movies

What is it about spies that sparks our imagination, whether male or female? Sexy ... Exciting ... Dangerous ... Desirable ... Mysterious. They appeal to us on many levels.

TV Guide recently compiled a list of the top fifty sexiest spies on television and in the movies. For the sake of brevity, I'll only list TV Guide's top ten.

10) Daniel Craig (James Bond--movie)
9) Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible--movie)
8) Diana Rigg (Mrs. Peel in The Avengers--television series)
7) Robert Redford (Joe Turner in Three Days of the Condor--movie)
6) Halle Barry (James Bond--movie)
5) Pierce Brosnon (James Bond--movie)
4) Jennifer Garner (Alias--television series)
3) Harrison Ford (Jack Ryan character--movie)
2) Brad Pitt/Angela Jolie (Mr. and Mrs. Smith--movie)
1) Sean Connery (James Bond--movie)

Relating to the entire list of fifty, there are several things I found interesting.

Three different actors made the top fifty list for portraying the same character. Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, and Harrison Ford all played Jack Ryan in various movies from Tom Clancy novels.

#28 on the list wasn't an individual, it included the entire cast of the television series Mission Impossible with special mention of Barbara Bain and Greg Morris.

All the James Bond actors made the list except George Lazenby. Timothy Dalton was #45, Roger Moore #27, Daniel Craig #10, Pierce Brosnon #5, and Sean Connery (not a surprise) at #1.

And other characters who were portrayed by different actors in the television series vs. the movie. At #38 we had Ann Hathaway as Agent 99 in the Get Smart movie and at #24 we had Barbara Felton as Agent 99 on the Get Smart television series. At #23 we had Uma Thurman as Emma Peel in The Avengers movie and at #8 we had Diana Rigg as Emma Peel on The Avengers television series. At #22 we had a tie of Robert Conrad and Will Smith portraying James West in the television series and movie of Wild Wild West.

Who are your favorite spies in movies and television? Is it because they're sexy? Because of their bravery? Their cleverness? Their abilities to do their jobs? Let me know.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Television SitComs We Loved

Today I want to talk about some of the old television situation comedies with the great ensemble casts of characters that made us laugh and kept us coming back for more every week.

My cable company carries the TVLand channel with its classic old television series intermingled with TVLand original programming. And there's Nick At Night with its slate of newer sitcoms from the 1990s. One of the other channels I have on my cable is WGN out of Chicago. They have a Sunday evening schedule they refer to as Retro Television. They show several of the old situation comedies from the 1970s and 1980s … those shows with the terrific ensemble casts that never failed to entertain week after week.

Let me be a little more specific here. I'm not talking about the situation comedies where the main characters are the mother, father, and children with the stories revolving around the trials and tribulations of that family unit.

I'm referring to those sitcoms with a diverse group of characters where the circumstances throw them together, usually a work setting. WGN has been airing one of my favorites of this type of sitcom as part of their Retro Sunday night lineup…WKRP In Cincinnati. And then a couple of weeks ago I noticed they had added another favorite, Barney Miller, to their Sunday evening schedule which also currently includes ALF and Newhart.

Fun shows with marvelous performers portraying carefully crafted characters, each of whom could easily carry an individual episode of the series even if they aren't the primary star of the series, characters who each have their own distinct personalities and functions within the group.

Some of these ensemble characters are constantly befuddled and confused such as Mr. Carlson on WKRP. Others are the voice of reason amid periodic moments of chaos such as Barney Miller trying to deal with the many oddballs who file through the squad room of New York's 12th Precinct. And still others are totally outrageous such as WKRP's Dr. Johnny Fever. And a special nod to the character of Jennifer Marlow from WKRP, the beautiful sexy blonde who also happens to be highly intelligent and makes no effort to hide that intelligence behind the 'dumb blonde' persona—a refreshing change from the normal characterization of the sexy blonde woman at that time.

So many brilliant sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s that were very successful thanks to a great ensemble cast portraying non-family members who functioned together week after week. In addition to the above mentioned WKRP in Cincinnati and Barney Miller, some of my favorite ensemble casts from those decades are Night Court (every character a true gem), The Bob Newhart Show (his first series where he played the psychologist), and the incomparable M*A*S*H.

I know there are several great sitcoms from that time frame that I haven't mentioned. What are some of your favorite sitcoms from the 70s and 80s? Let me know which ones you liked and who your favorite character is.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot Books For A Hot July

July has turned out to be one HOT month! And it deserves some HOT books.

We've certainly had our share of hot weather during July, several days of temperatures hovering around and above 100 degrees along with high humidity. All-in-all, the kind of days where I don't want to stray very far from the air conditioned comfort of home.

But the weather isn't the only thing that's contributed to the hot days of July. There's also the sultry heat found on FORBIDDEN ISLAND, a privately owned Caribbean retreat, and the blazing SUMMER SIZZLE of a California beach town. It's been a long time since I've had two books released only a week apart, but it happened this July. These two books are incendiary enough to burn up the pages while making you reach for the we need to cool things down setting on the air conditioner.

FORBIDDEN ISLAND is part of the Destination Pleasure series of short story quick reads set in exotic locations and featuring characters who quite simply can't keep their hands off each other. The Destination Pleasure books are available from The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romances from The Wild Rose Press.

Have you ever met someone in passing and immediately knew you wanted to rip off his clothes and drag him to the nearest bedroom? No commitment. No concern about tomorrow. Someone you couldn't get out of your mind regardless of how much you tried?

That's Chantal Stevens problem. All it took was an introduction and a businesslike handshake for her to know Murphy Abbott was that someone. But nothing came of their meeting. He was polite and charming, but seemed in a hurry to leave. She was mesmerized. But that's all the further it went. For the next ten years she continued to ask herself what if until she knew she had to do whatever it took to find the answer to that question, something that would allow her to satisfy her curiosity. Could any man really be as incredible a lover or have as much stamina as her imagination had attributed to Murphy?

So Chantal devised a plan—a deception that would get her an invitation to Forbidden Island so she could meet face-to-face with Murphy at his private enclave in the Caribbean and answer once and for all that elusive question…what if?

But to Chantal's surprise, when she arrives at Murphy's island she discovers she's not the only one who has played the mental what if game during the last ten years. Murphy has his own thoughts about what the weekend will bring.

To maintain the heat level of our HOT July, we should indulge in some SUMMER SIZZLE—an erotic romance novel from Cobblestone Press that's set in a beach town location.

Do opposites really attract? And if they do, is it something real rather than a momentary connection based on nothing more than a hot physical attraction?

Vicki Templeton and Blake Callahan seem to be about as opposite as two people can be. She's compulsively organized, every hour of her day planned out in advance. All her efforts go toward building a financially secure future for herself by working hard and sacrificing today's fun for tomorrow's security. Blake, on the other hand, has learned a painful and emotionally devastating lesson about the emptiness of tomorrow. His experience has taught him that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow so living for today is what's important.

Regimented work schedule versus spontaneous spur-of-the-moment fun. So what happens when these two totally mismatched people each claim to have a legal rental agreement for the same beach bungalow? While Blake plays havoc with her neatly ordered life, Vicki has him thinking beyond today and speculating about what tomorrow.

Can two people who don't agree on much of anything other than the scorching hot physical relationship that nearly bursts into flame whenever they come into physical proximity manage to cohabitate for the duration of the summer? Can each discover the pieces missing from their respective lives? Can the reality of the day match the SUMMER SIZZLE pulling them together?

I hope I've caught your interest and you'll pick up these two HOT reads. FORBIDDEN ISLAND from The Wilder Roses and SUMMER SIZZLE from Cobblestone Press. Check my website for excerpts from these two books, as well as my other current releases.

I'll be posting a new blog next Sunday, August 2. I'm going to talk about old television situation comedies, the ones that had terrific ensemble casts.

So be sure to check back next week for a trip to television's Nostalgia Lane and a visit to some fun shows.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Just Getting Started

Blogging is new to me. I've only done maybe a half dozen blogs at various sites. Having my own blog is definitely brand new to me. Even using an already prepared "point and click" template is a little bit unsettling.

I don't know if I'll stay with this format or end up with something else, but for now I'm using this selection. For one reason, the color scheme goes with my website color scheme. :)

I'd appreciate any comments and/or suggestions.