Happy New Year!

On this, the last day of 2013, I would like to take a moment to wish all of you a very happy and healthy 2014!

Since I copped out on writing a real blog post last week, I thought I’d give you all a thrill today by sharing some of my New Year’s resolutions with everyone.  My immediate family is sick of hearing about them, so I’m inflicting them on a whole different group of people.

First, I want to improve my writing.  It is said that practice makes perfect, but is there such a thing as perfect writing?  I don’t believe there is.  I believe that practice makes better, so I’m going to get more practice.  My second novel is due to the publisher on June 1st, so I know I’ll be writing and revising until then.  I have some ideas rattling around in my head for my third novel, so I’m hoping to start it right after the manuscript gets sent off to my editor on June 1st.  And after that?  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even try my hand at NaNoWriMo in November.  The important thing for me is to keep writing and keep improving.

Second, I want to get better at using social media.  I want to Tweet more often.  And I want to update my Facebook status more often.

Third, I want to take more pictures.  Pictures of people, of things, of places.  Posed pictures and candid pictures.  And I want to print them out and put them in albums that my kids can hold in their hands and peruse.  We took so many pictures when the kids were small, but we’ve slacked off as they’ve gotten older.  And those we have taken remain on camera cards or phones or the computer.  We love to look through the old albums, and I’d love to have more of those.

Fourth, I’m going to replace the closet doors in each of my children’s rooms.  They’ve been off their hinges for two years now, and that’s just embarrassing.

Fifth, I want to clean out the attic and the garage.  If you haven’t seen my attic or my garage, consider yourself lucky.  I could work on nothing but those two spaces all year and probably not finish them, so I’ll be happy if I just make some visible headway.

Finally, I want to run a 5K.  I am not a runner, but I’d like to give it a try.  I have one in mind, and if I actually sign up I’ll let you know how it goes.

Next year at this time, I’ll let you know how I did with my resolutions.  While I hope to accomplish everything on my list and many more things I didn’t mention here, I guess my main objective is to, at the very least, make some progress toward each of my goals.  And if I think of a new resolution before the end of 2014 (I can guarantee I will), I’ll try to implement it right away and not wait until a new year begins to make changes.  Do you have any resolutions for 2014?  Care to share them?

Until next week,

Amy

What’s on Your TBR List?

This week I thought I’d share with you the titles that are on my To-Be-Read (TBR) list.  Some of the books are new, some are old.  Some are by authors I’ve read before, some are new to me.  They run the gamut of genres.  And this list is by no means exhaustive.

Before I can get to any of the books on my TBR list, I need to finish the one I’m reading along with two others I’ve got stacked on my nightstand.  I’m currently reading The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters.  She is the very talented writer of a series starring Egyptologist Amelia Peabody and Peabody’s entire family.  Peters creates a mind-boggling cast of characters that are always fresh and always entertaining.  Though the main characters always manage to find themselves in the middle of danger and intrigue, there are moments in Peters’ books that make me laugh out loud.  I haven’t read her books in order, though I probably should have, if only to follow the stories of her family members as they make their way through the years around the turn of the twentieth century.

The two books I’ll read next are Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist and Death of a Dentistboth by M.C. Beaton.  Agatha Raisin is the heroine of a series of cozies set in the English Cotswolds.  She is feisty and sarcastic with just enough vulnerability to make her endearing.  A smart, driven woman who retired to the English countryside after building and later selling a successful public relations firm in London, Agatha uses her business savvy to her advantage in solving the crimes that disturb the peace of the Cotswolds.  Death of a Dentist is part of a series starring Hamish Macbeth, a Constable in the Scottish highlands who finds challenge and contentment with the mysteries in his small corner of Scotland and whose love of the highlands and determination to avoid career advancement are part of his undeniable charm.  I look forward to every adventure of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth.

And now here’s more of my TBR list:

The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman.  This book is set in World War II Germany and is the love story of a young German woman and the Jewish son of her employer.  It’s gotten great reviews.  I first heard about Ms. Wiseman in a newspaper article published in my hometown, where she happens to be a local author.  Full disclosure and shameless plug:  this book is published by Kensington Publishing, which will be releasing my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, in July 2014.

What She Left Behind, also by Ellen Marie Wiseman.  This book sounds amazing.  Since Ms. Wiseman explains it better than I ever could, I encourage you to visit her website at http://www.ellenmariewiseman.com.

Crescent City Mystery Series by Holli Castillo.  This series currently consists of three books, all of which are set in New Orleans:  Gumbo Justice, Jambalaya Justice, and Chocolate City Justice.  They feature NOLA prosecutor Ryan Murphy, an outspoken woman who has more than just crime scenes to keep her busy, including cops in the family, romances, and Hurricane Katrina.

They Call Me Ace and the Sandi Webster Mysteries, all by Marja McGraw.  I’ve been following Marja’s blog (http://blog.marjamcgraw.com/) for a while now and her writing is delightful.  She’s funny and thoughtful, and I’ve asked for these books for Christmas.  They Call Me Ace is part of the Bogey Man mystery series, a witty, fun, and intriguing group of books featuring a Humphrey Bogart look-alike.  I highly recommend Ms. McGraw’s stories!

When Angels Fall:  A Benedetti Renaissance Mystery by Hillary Corby.  Ms. Corby loves all things Italian as well as historical mysteries, and this book received great reviews for both.  I am looking forward to this book!

Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir.  This sounds like a fantastic biography.  If it’s half as good as Ms. Weir’s Mary Boleyn, I will enjoy it very much.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This book is about a long-held secret and its devastating impact on the present.  If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to read Sarah’s Key by the same author.  It is a haunting story.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins.  A friend of mine suggested this one, and it sounds great.  It’s about the traits that help “outsiders” thrive after high school.  I hadn’t heard of Ms. Robbins before last week, but I intend to read this book soon.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  This is a book about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, and her time with Ernest in 1920s Paris.  Though I have always been a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing, I became interested in Hadley when I read Z:  The Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald a few months ago (a fabulous book).  The Paris Wife has gotten great reviews and I can’t wait to get a copy of it!

As I mentioned above, this list is nowhere near complete.  Writers are readers first, and I’m always adding to it.

What’s on your TBR list?  I’d love to hear about the books you’re reading!

Until next week,

Amy

Some Good News for a Change

Last week my son and I were in the car and the news came on.  “Mom,” he piped up from the back seat, “doesn’t it seem like the news is always bad?  Doesn’t it seem like the news is getting worse and worse all the time?”

He has a point.  And it’s too bad that he has to learn that at his age.  The news we see and hear on television, on the radio, in the newspaper, and online is almost never good.  It’s filled with stories of mayhem, death, war, and general unpleasantness and misery.  And it’s nearly impossible to shield kids from it.

So in this season of hope and joy,  in which, as “The Christmas Waltz” reminds us, “every song you hear seems to say ‘Merry Christmas,'” I started searching for some good news that I could report here.  And I found a few things!

My daughter told me about a man whose dying wish was to perform a random act of kindness for a stranger.  He didn’t have much money, so his family received some donations, went to a pizza parlor, and tipped the server five hundred dollars.  The family’s act was so successful and heartwarming that they decided to continue to raise more money to perform other random acts of kindness for restaurant servers.  If you’d like to read more, visit http://www.aaroncollins.org.

Here’s another one:  when a traveler at the Tampa Airport had to step out of line because his credit card had been declined, he returned to the line to discover that a stranger had paid his baggage fee.  The stranger’s only request?  That the traveler pay it forward at some point.  Read more at http://www.pifexperience.org.

And another (two, really):  a nine-year-old boy’s bike was stolen from his school in Fresno, CA.  It was the second time his bike had been stolen.  When students from Fresno High School heard about the boy’s plight, they went from classroom to classroom and collected enough money to buy him a new bike.  A group of high schoolers presented him with the bike at his school one day.  I got chills reading the article.  But wait!  There’s more.  The boy’s family will match the price of the bike and donate it to Off the Front, an organization that provides bikes for needy kids in Fresno.  The organization can now get bikes, helmets, and locks for three other kids.  See http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?id=9301992 and http://www.offthefront.org/.

Finally, a stranger made a busboy’s day at the Cavalier Diner in Charlottesville, VA.  The boy saved up enough money this year to buy an iPad to help him with his homework.  Unfortunately, the iPad was in a pile of cardboard boxes at the boy’s home; the iPad was accidentally thrown into the family’s firepit with the boxes and burned beyond repair.  An employee of the diner was telling a group of people about the incident when a man overheard her talking.  He asked several questions about the boy, paid his bill and left, then returned later with a gift card in the amount of an iPad.  He didn’t want to be identified; he just wanted to make a difference.  Find the story at http://www.nbc29.com/story/24106866/random-act-of-kindness-renews-holiday-spirit-at-cavalier-diner.

See?  There’s a lot of good news out there…you just have to hunt for it.  News outlets have better ratings when the news is bad, so not much good news makes headlines on the airwaves or in the papers or in cyberspace.  I’m sure you’ve heard the term “pay it forward.”  The website that I mentioned above, http://www.pifexperience.org, has some great ideas and stories about random acts of kindness and paying kindness forward to strangers in need of a smile, a meal, or a kind word.  I urge you to visit the site and read some of the anecdotes.  They’re inspiring.

So try performing an  act of kindness for a stranger this holiday season.  If you’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of an act of kindness, pay it forward and tell me about it.  I love to hear good news.

Until next week,

Amy

What if Your Book Were a Movie?

I would be lying if I said I had never dreamed of having my first book picked up by Hollywood and made into a blockbuster.  So in the spirit of indulging a wildly optimistic imagination, I’ve decided to do the leg work for the casting people and make suggestions for the roles of the characters in my book.  By the way, it’s called The Secrets of Hallstead House and it will be out (in book form, not in theaters) in July, 2014, from Kensington Publishing.

The main character (I prefer to think of her as the star!) of the story is Macy Stoddard, a twenty-year-old nurse who moves from Manhattan to one of the Thousand Islands in upstate New York.  Her parents have recently been killed in a drunk driving accident and her boyfriend, unable to deal with her emotions following the accident, dumps her shortly thereafter.  She needs a change of scenery so she takes a new job.  Her new patient is an elderly woman recovering from hip surgery.  Macy learns of old secrets on the island that will change her future and that of all the others on the island.  As she learns about life on the St. Lawrence River, she also must learn more about her own past.

In my humble opinion, Macy should be played by Zooey Deschanel.

The two main male characters are Will Harper and Pete McHale.  Will is about forty and the nephew of Macy’s patient; Pete is in his early thirties and a handyman on the island.  Neither man thinks Macy should be on the island, but for different reasons.  I won’t say anymore about them.

Except that Will should be played by Edward Norton.  And my choice for Pete?  Casey Affleck.

Macy’s patient is Alexandria Hallstead.  She is seventy-two and runs a family oil company.  Determined and strong, Alex harbors a shocking secret that Macy doesn’t see coming.

I wonder what Dame Judi Dench is up to these days?  Other than starring in Philomena, of course.

There is an older couple, Valentina and Leland Bryd, that live on the island.  Both are miserable and want nothing to do with Macy.

I think Annette O’Toole would be delightful as Vali, and I picture Leland being played by James Cromwell.

There are two other characters in The Secrets of Hallstead House:  Brandt Davis and Giselle Smythe.  Brandt is in the Coast Guard and Giselle is a television news anchor.  I can’t really say too much about these two without giving away spoilers, so you’ll have to read the book to find out more.

For Brandt, I think Orlando Bloom would be great.  And Giselle can only be played by the great Naomi Watts.

So for all you casting directors out there, I’ve done the work for you.  All you have to do is make a few calls.

Do you have dream characters for your books?  I’d love to hear the people you’ve chosen!

Until next week,

Amy