Monday, November 26, 2007

A Day (Days, actually) in the Life...

I don't have to tell you: the annual post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas madness is upon us. And it's getting crazy out there. Add to that, a bunch of back to back trips I've planned for some reason smack in the middle of the holiday season, and I'm almost certifiable already.

I'm also getting ahead of myself here.

First, I do want to tell you about a special Thanksgiving day this year. My husband and I flew to New York (one of those trips I mentioned) then drove to Connecticut to spend the holiday with our younger son, his delightful new in-laws and brand-new wife. Kim cooked a truly delicious meal: tender turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, homemade whipped potatoes, fresh asparagus, green beans, and rolls plus a heavenly sweet potato souffle that melted in my mouth. I must get her recipe. Our contribution to the feast? A store bought pecan pie (I wasn't near my own kitchen) that tasted like a New Orleans praline (I'm drooling again) and an apple-cranberry pie that managed to be both tart and sweet. Believe me, no one went hungry!

Good thing we had all taken a walk before dinner. Afterward we sprawled happily in the living room to re-watch the excellent pictures from the wedding in August and the honeymoon photos of Paris. Ooh-la-la. Right now I wish I was there. Well, I always wish I was there...but today I spent hours and hours at the mall instead.

It was raining and raw outside, and I'm not like Sophie Kinsell's Shopaholic character. No, I don't hate to shop, but I don't love--or crave--it either, especially in a crowd. Because I'm leaving for San Francisco shortly, however, I needed to get a big head start on my Christmas shopping. A large portion of my family lives out of state, in quite a few states, and I'm always under the gun at this point, trying to finish the gift buying, the wrapping, and the shipping of boxes before the last-minute rush begins at the post office and UPS.

I did pretty well today. I have about half my gift buying done and hope to complete more tomorrow, including something for Chirps, my "grand kitty," and Cooper, my "grand dog."

I may not love to shop, but I do love the excitement, the anticipation, and the trappings of Christmas--especially Christmas trees. Every year I buy a new one for my little collection, and what do you know? Today Target had a gorgeous tabletop tree with fruits and nuts on it that I just had to get. All in all, a good day. Progress.

I'll be enjoying Christmas--and another beautiful tree--with my older son and his family this December, and I can't wait to see them. Another special time.

All I need to do beforehand is finish that shopping, wrapping, sending, then write some notes for the Christmas cards I haven't bought know the seasonal drill.

I'm sure we're all in the same boat. Between trips to the mall, I think I'll de-stress in front of a cozy fire with a good book, a cup of frothy hot chocolate, and a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers. Ahhh. Won't you join me?

Monday, November 19, 2007

There's Much to be Thankful For

Back when I was in college I met a woman who became a good friend. She was the Director of Students, but she was only a few years older than I was. She once told me that she was thoroughly depressed about losing a boyfriend. He was a high-profile actor and everyone recognized him. When she was with him, there was an added prestige she garnered from both her friends and his.

When the relationship broke up, the prestige went with it and it plunged her into a place that she thought was dark and so deep she couldn’t claw her way out of it. One night, in the wee hours of the morning when she was unable to sleep, she got up and took a piece of paper. She drew a line down the middle and on one side wrote Good and the other Bad. She wrote down the things in her life that were good and weighed them against those that were not. This list was much longer on the good side of the page.

I have never forgotten this technique when I’m feeling low or feeling that my life is spinning out of control and there is nothing I can do about. The good always outweighs the bad. At this writing Thanksgiving is approaching and I have much to be thankful for. Much to list on the good side of my paper and very little on the not so good side.

I sent in a manuscript this morning (wee hours mind you, but it’s done). That in and of itself is a monumentally good thing. I finished the book, developed the blank page into real live people who I liked and wanted to spend time with.

I have my family, immediate and extended, all well and healthy. I have my romance writer friends, all supportive and eager to share information. I have non-romance writer friends who I’ll see and toast the holidays with.

I have my shopping done for the big meal on Thursday and the beginnings of some Christmas shopping done. I can spend some quality time with my daughter since I don’t have a deadline to keep me chained to the computer. We can do whatever it is she wants to do (within reason). She’s five.

On the not so good side, I have to cook the meal. But then I do get the leftovers. I have to clean the house, both for Thanksgiving and before I begin another writing project. If I don’t, it won’t get done until after the next book. And by then I won’t be able to get into my office.

So you see the good is much longer than the bad. Have a good holiday. Don’t eat too much. And remember the soldiers who are keeping us safe to enjoy family, friends, and a good meal. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thanksgiving is on its way...

although here in Canada, it's already been and gone. So I thought this would be a good time for me to talk about Thanksgiving, sort of halfway between the two holidays.

And I thought I'd talk about Thanksgiving traditions - or maybe more the lack thereof. Thanksgiving isn't as big a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S. and it's not celebrated at all in England (except by ex-pats, I suspect) where my mom and her family grew up and lived until moving to Canada after the war. So Thanksgiving has always been an odd kind of holiday for me.

My dad's family celebrated Thanksgiving but without any kind of fanfare and once my mom and dad split up when I was 12, it went even more on the back burner.

But I like to celebrate it myself. I love the food, I love the concept, I love the party of it. Because every year I have something to be thankful for - many things, in fact. And so Thanksgiving is a way for me to share that thankfulness with my family and friends. I often call both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners my "orphan" dinners, inviting everyone I know who doesn't have family in town, which means that it can be any number from 4 to 14 in my tiny tiny apartment.

I do the traditional dinner - turkey, my dad's stuffing, four or five vegetables, pumpkin pie, plenty of wine and beer. I absolutely LOVE the smell of turkey cooking. My shopping expedition always includes two or three packages of those aluminum takeout containers because I always cook a turkey that's more than slightly too big for the crowd and I really really don't like leftover turkey. I do, however, love all the other leftovers and I eat them for breakfast - the pumpkin pie - lunch - sandwiches with dressing and cranberry sauce in them - and dinner - veg, plenty of mashed potatoes, stuffing.

If the crowd is bigger than 4, I have to rearrange my entire apartment. I have to move many things (furniture, TV, books, small tables) into the bathtub or onto the balcony. I have to pull out my IKEA table and chairs from the very back of the closet and under the bed. I have to move all the furniture in the living to the walls, while managing to leave a tiny space for people to get in. But it's worth every minute of it...

What are your traditions? Where did they come from? What new ones have you added?


Tuesday, November 6, 2007



Determined to prove she's no wilting magnolia blossom, jilted heiress Annie Macy strikes out for New York City to make it on her own. Annie's plan just never involved having a money launderer for a boss…or stealing "evidence" during the company Christmas party. Now with an angry Santa in hot pursuit, Annie jumps into the nearest cab, only to discover her "driver" is P.I. Joe Brady—hired by Annie's meddling family to keep an eye on her. Stuck in a rusty old taxi in the middle of one of New York's worst blizzards, Annie and Joe are dodging the bad guys and heating up the backseat at every stop. And while they are waist-deep in snow and clues and lust for each other, Annie is about to discover the woman she's hidden inside herself for too many years…

CHRISTMAS PRESENCE: THREE TALES OF LOVE by Susan Crosby and Lisa Childs and Donna Birdsell

Christmas Presence by Donna Birdsell

Young widow Astrid Martin wants to boycott Christmas?but her husband's ghost won't let her! Before long she has a tree, even a gift-wrapping job at the mall, where she meets the man who holds the key to her Christmas future.

Secret Santa by Lisa Childs

When Maggie O'Brien receives gifts from a secret Santa, she suspects one of the three men in her life has finally wised up to how special she is. Who's the mystery man—her ex, her boss, or that good-looking car mechanic? Come Christmas morning, will true love be waiting under Maggie's tree?

You're All I Want for Christmas by Susan Crosby

DivorcĂ©e Lauren Wright opts for a Bahamas Christmas getaway—only to be stranded at the airport by weather. But a very personable fellow traveler makes the time fly—and temperatures rise. Bahamas or no Bahamas, things are about to get steamy…


Hi, everybody:

Congratulations to Nathalie and Wakela Runen, who are the winners of the October Next Authors blog contest. Please contact me at with your name and address and I'll make sure your prizes start winging their way to you.

And don't forget to enter the November blog contest - everyone who posts a response to the blog is entered into the contest. The more times you post, the more times you are entered.

The Next authors are doing one more big contest in November and December - to find out about the contest and to enter go to:


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Little Pumpkin Meets Big Boo

I grew up in northeastern Ohio. Back in the day (as the current expression goes) carving a pumpkin face then trick or treating on Halloween was a big deal. Like kids everywhere my brother and I carefully chose our costumes--except for one season when Mom picked that year's outfit for me.

I don't remember why she did, but at eight I was mortified to have to dress as a bright orange pumpkin! Nevertheless, with the promise of treats in mind and my little brother in tow, I loped through our neighborhood in the dark, ringing doorbells and filling our bags with candy, cookies, apples, and more candy. As a big sister, I knew this trek could be a dangerous undertaking. According to suburban legend in our town, an elderly doctor who lived in a spooky-looking brick house with all its shades drawn lured unsuspecting children inside each Halloween--and they were never seen again. This, of course, lent an atmosphere of delicious terror to the pitch-dark night.

Already trembling in our shoes, my brother and I managed to survive the encounter. In fact, somewhat to our disappointment, the doctor seemed perfectly normal. Nice, really. Breathless with relief, we soon ran up to another house on a different block, rang the bell, and dumped our treats into the bags. Heady with success by this time we turned the corner, climbed a set of steps to a porch, and repeated our routine. "Trick or treat!"

But when the door opened, who was standing there, glowering? Not that doctor, who I'm sure was innocent. No, like Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, I came smack up against the frightening Boo Radley in the flesh. "Weren't you kids just here?" he growled with a suspicious glance at my orange pumpkin suit. Busted. I wasn't exactly invisible. We had inadvertently come to the same door, the same house as the one just before. It had a wraparound porch that faced on two streets. We weren't really double-dipping, and like the "evil" doctor, "Boo Radley" wasn't really an ogre. Ah, the imagination of an earnest little girl. Maybe she should have been a writer....

Where I live now, and write, on a mountain far from my hometown, the nights are even darker than the Halloweens of my childhood. Or so they seem. I still love this scary time of year, and things that go bump in the night, and having a pumpkin to carve, not to mention buying candy for this year's Trick or Treat handout (and of course, some Dove chocolates just for me). But my favorite memory of Halloween is that long-ago march through the fallen leaves in my pumpkin costume (Mom's choice, bless her heart). If I still had it, and it fit the larger, more whimsical me, I think I'd wear it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Beware of Those Knee-High Boots!

Brr, shiver--and I don't mean from the cold.

It's almost Halloween, that scariest time of year, and the chills are running down my spine. All around me are signs that Trick or Treat is upon us. The stores are filled with candy and costumes, their aisles covered with gossamer cobwebs, and in my local Wal-Mart there's a pretty scary guy in overalls perched on a tractor, looming right by the check-out counters. He's stuffed, not real, but he does make me pull up short every time I see him. As another sign of the season the grocery aisles are chockablock with fall gourds and piles of pumpkins, both orange and...white? Who knew? My sister-in-law tells me there are blue ones, too, though I haven't seen any. I like my pumpkins the traditional way.

Movies too, I guess.

"Psycho" is probably the most memorable horror film from my past (remember, "Norman? Norman!"), but has anyone here watched "See No Evil?"

The movie has two titles, actually, one for the U.S. market and another for the U.K., but unfortunately I don't recall its other, British name. In either case, like "Rosemary's Baby," it stars a young Mia Farrow, who in this one looks appropriately delicate and vulnerable, the latter in part because (like Audrey Hepburn in "Home Before Dark") she is totally blind.

A quick plot recap: While staying with relatives on their vast British estate, Mia comes home one afternoon--and instantly feels that something is terribly wrong in the house. It's not just the eerie silence. Because of her blindness (recent, if I remember right) her other senses have become more acute, and with growing horror she gropes her way through room after room of the manor house, only to find that everyone in the family is dead. Murdered. Why? She doesn't know. The viewer can see the carnage, but of course Mia cannot.

And she isn't alone in the house. The killer is still there. She can hear him.

On the other hand, he doesn't realize she's blind, and although she escapes (temporarily) he's now after her--the only "witness" to his crimes.

The viewer, like Mia (sorry, I've forgotten her character's name), doesn't see this part, but throughout the film the villain walks around in classic British hunt boots, stomp, stomp, stomp as he tracks, and terrorizes, our heroine. Yet he is photographed only from the knees down. We never see his face.

Is there anyone Mia can turn to? And trust?

Well, a nice romance might help to break the tension, and it does. But it also heightens the fear in both Mia and the audience. Our hero also wears hunt boots! Is he really falling in love with her, protective of her? Or is he the actual killer?

That's a simplified version of the story, but I guarantee it's frightening from beginning to end.

And, in part, glamorous. I like my horror movies to also look good. For some reason a beautiful setting (a fantasy) seems to intensify the conflict, e.g., the everyday, presumably safe environment of this country estate against the heroine's increasing fears for her life. There's also some exciting footage with the horses from the hero's stable, which play a role at the crisis point of the film.

If you can, get a copy of "See No Evil." I highly recommend it.

It'll scare the pants off you. Right on time for Halloween.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Scary Movie

I love masquerade parties, always have. I suppose it’s being able to be someone else for a little while, release the inhibitions and act the part from behind a colorful mask that is appealing. This is probably why I love Halloween. You get to play dress up. I’m in the process of making my daughter’s Halloween costume. I cut the pattern out today and did all the marking. Now I’m ready to sew. She’s going to be a pilgrim. I have an Elizabethan gown I made several years ago for the masquerade party they have every year at the Romantic Times Convention. I’m going to wear it as I take my daughter trick or treating. The gown is beautiful and took me a whole evening to create each sleeve. It needs ironing and the photo doesn’t do it justice, but it is a beautiful gown. Members of my romance writers chapter have occasionally borrowed it for programs, fashion shows and demonstrations.

When I was younger, I used to spend Sunday afternoons in the theater watching horror movies. My friends and I used to love to do the "scare me to death in the dark" routine. And at that time, it seemed as if there was a different horror movie every week. Much like there are continuous teen movies today. If a movie truly met our qualifications, we’d be scared. If not, it was usually laughable.

One of my all-time favorite scary movies is Invasion of the Body Snatchers . It was hard to choose just one to write about, but this one still gives me chills today. It doesn’t matter how many versions of the movie they make, and I see another one with Nicole Kidman is about to be released, the black and white release from 1956 with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter is the best in my opinion. It scared me when I first saw it because it was so real. I knew it could happen. I was convinced that in some small town in America the invasion had already begun. Even though I was and am a logical person, I knew this could happen so quickly and without the knowledge of anyone who could stop it.

I completely empathized with Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy). No one believed him. He was a well-respected physician, and other doctors thought he was crazy. If he convinced anyone, no one else could and if they did it would be too late for them to do anything.

I saw the story as it was presented. At my young age, Id didn’t get the underlying message of a story. It was decades later that I realized there was a metaphor in there for Communism or McCarthyism. For my purposes, it worked. I was scared. And today I continue to be entertained, even though I can see the flaws in the plotline. They don’t detract from the film. Halloween is approaching and I haven’t see it on the television schedule yet, but I’m sure it will be there before the holiday ends. Look for it and enjoy a really fine film.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I can remember watching this movie - which scared me to death - when I lived in Toronto, years after it first came out. It was late at night, I lived by myself, I have this feeling it was in the winter so it was (or felt) especially dark.

Audrey Hepburn is blind and she's on her way home from a trip and a drug dealer puts something in the doll she's bringing home.

She lives in a basement apartment in New York and I think the reason it felt so incredibly scary to me was that I lived in a ground floor apartment at the time, I was about Audrey's age, though I hadn't just flown home from Paris and I wasn't married.

But still, this is probably the scariest movie I ever saw and it wasn't scary because it was violent or because there were ghosts or the devil or some big evil, it was scary because it was incredibly suspenseful.

The bad guy keeps showing up in Audrey's life as she maneuvers her way around her apartment, around the city, and she's blind. I still can't think of anything more frightening...

She couldn't see him, she didn't know he was following her, but things kept moving in her apartment, things kept happening that she couldn't understand.

You need to see this movie if you like suspense - but don't watch it by yourself late at night, okay? I'd never do that again. I have watched it since the first time but I either watch it in the daytime or with someone else. Too scary for me.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Truth? And Consequences

My mother is so mad at me. She’s in the midst of reading Face Time, the newest Charlotte McNally Mystery. It’s being released this week! I say: Hooray. So far, Mom says: I’m sure that’s lovely, dear. You can imagine the tone.

Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.

So anyway. Why is Mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”

It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother in Face Time is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte might want to give up her very successful 20-year TV career to marry some tycoon and become a tycoon wife. No matter that Charlie is happy with the personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and happy with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, even though she’s fearful she’s gong go be replaced by someone younger). Mom also thinks Charlotte (she refuses to call her Charlie, saying, “nicknames are for stuffed animals and men who play sports”) might want to visit the plastic surgeon for some face time of her own.

Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books that are purported to be memoirs are actually true—I find myself fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.

It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you.

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Of course it’s me, dear,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

So I’m wondering, do any of you have a problem with this? Do people “recognize” themselves in your books—and you have to convince them it’s a fictional character they’re recognizing? Would you “use” someone for “art”?

Or if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?

And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just get to the end of the book—it’s not only a mystery, and a romance, but kind of a love story between mothers and daughters. My editor said she had tears in her eyes. One reviewer told me she cried. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)

Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. Creating a new world. New characters and new relationships. And it’s ALL MADE UP.

Okay, Mom?
Do you have a contentious relationship with your mother? (or daughter?) Do you understand each other?
With love to all mothers and daughters...
Hank (okay, it's Harriet) Phillippi Ryan

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's NEXT in November

by Susan Crosby

There was a hot-looking man in her kitchen. And he was cooking!

Maureen Hart had never had a summer so crazy...not even the year she'd become a teenage unwed mother. Now her life was on track with a steady boyfriend and a big promotion looming. And the one person who could derail everything was now waiting on her doorstep!Maureen's estranged daughter desperately needed her to care for her six-year-old son for a while. She just never imagined when she said yes that the child's gorgeous paternal grandfather, Daniel, would insist on staying, as well.

Quarters were getting interestingly close. But Maureen was technically almost engaged...and a workaholic...and a control freak. And totally about to cut loose and indulge in a little fun with a man capable of doing his own laundry!


Thirty-nine-year-old Maureen Hart's life seems like it's moving toward complete satisfaction. She has a serious man, good friends and a possible promotion. Then her estranged daughter leaves Maureen with the young grandson she adores but has never spent any time with. Handsome and unsettling Daniel Cregg, the paternal grandfather, follows. Since her daughter and grandson live with him in Seattle, Maureen feels he stole them from her after his son died. Soon her settled life is in turmoil as she fights her attraction to Daniel and refuses to put her boyfriend ahead of her grandson. I'm Your Man (4), by Susan Crosby, has an interesting, compelling hero, a complex heroine and a heartwarming ending—which might be too neatly tied up but is completely entertaining.
~ Romantic Times


by Peggy Webb

What happens when two women swap lives?

Soap Opera Star Gloria Hart: After losing her celebrated soap opera role, she winds up crashing her Ferrari Spider and getting stranded in Mooreville, Mississippi. Will America's TV goddess discover the role of her life with handsome rancher Matt Tucker playing the leading man? After all, he's the first man she's kissed off camera in over five years!

Married Mom Jenny Miller: Up to her ears in pies she bakes for her husband's restaurant and the trials of an angst-ridden teenager, she's lost touch with herself. Can her budding friendship with Gloria change that? With a few margaritas, a memorable road trip and a little help from each other, these women are about to find friendship, love and their own secret goddesses!

Congratulations to the winners of the September contest

Jenna and Ashley Ladd.

Would you email me at with your name and address and I'll send them along to the prize givers for this month?

And don't forget to post for the October contest prizes...


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book review--The Lost Years

In the past, I'd generally stick to pure fiction in my reading material. I love to get lost in other people's imaginations, and I like that there are no constraints. But ever since I picked a memoir I'd read a review about (A Girl Named Zippy) I've been on a non-fiction kick.

Last night I finished a book called The Lost Years by Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry. It chronicles years of alcohol and drug abuse by a girl (Kristina) who was once an athletic, bright, and popular high school student who had the world at her feet. After Kristina's first drink of alcohol in high school, her life spirals down into an alcohol and narcotic addiction that tears her family apart and leaves Kristina herself broken and nearly dead.

Contance, Kristina's mother, whose marriage is troubled and whose husband is also an alcoholic, is at a loss as to how to help her daughter until she begins to take charge of her own life. As she grows and finds a strength she never knew she had, she realizes the only way to help Kristina is not to help her at all.

I cried several times while reading this book. It is emotionally wrenching and powerful, each scene recounted first by daughter and then by mother, in their own unique perspectives. How they lived through this ordeal, which is no doubt being played out thousands of times every day in this country, is inspirational. I recommend it if only for reaffirmation of the resiliance of the human spirit.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All the Roadrunning

These two talented musicians - and between the two of them they've been around the block a few times - have crafted a CD full of duets that don't feel like they did them just for the money. They work. Their voices are perfect together, Knopfler's guitar (as always) is sublime, and the lyrics are all about love and pain and longtime relationships. I could talk about every song on the CD, but just listen if you can to the first verse from If This is Goodbye, the final song on the CD:

my famous last words
are lying around in tatters
sounding absurd
whatever i try
but i love you and
that's all that really matters
if this is goodbye if this is goodbye

This CD is all about storytelling, about aging and living gracefully, about romance after many years, about surviving. It's about you and me and our memories as Knopfler writes in This Is Us.

You know how there are CDs you only play when you're in party mode and others you only play when you're nostalgic or sad or with your very best friend? And then there are CDs you play as background music. We all have music that works for different times in our lives - this CD begs to be listened to, the lyrics beg to be heard, so don't waste it on background music but do share it with your friends.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September From Both Sides

I didn’t realize when I signed up to blog today that this Tuesday would be the sixth anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy. Certainly that’s one thing to hate about this ninth month of the year because it will always be a reminder of that terrible time in our nation’s history. Because I've lived in New York City twice in my life, as both a single and then a married woman, and because my husband and I still go there regularly to enjoy the city, I feel a special connection to Manhattan—my second home—and a definite sense of loss on this anniversary of 9/11. May all those who were lost, and who did lose loved ones, find peace.

There have been other losses, too, sad to say. Personal ones. Both of my parents died in September—in different years but one on September 19th, the other on September 21st. My maternal grandmother, in fact, passed away in the same year just ten days after my father did. I truly hope that’s the end of that, and bad events come only in threes, no more.

That’s one side of this end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall time of year.

But there’s a better side.

The glorious days are still ahead. What things do I love? The dozen or so hummingbirds that swarm around my feeders, performing their jet-fighter pilot maneuvers as they store up food for their long flight to Mexico to spend the winter. The leaves changing color, becoming a riot of orange, yellow, red on the wooded mountain road that leads to my house, scattering the pavement and beautifying the hills. The cool mornings after a blazingly hot August that shattered old records, the warm, magical, golden afternoons under a true-blue sky, the crisp, cool evenings that hint of winter in the air. The first smell of woodsmoke rising from someone’s fireplace or stove. New clothes—and the rediscovery of old favorites taken out of storage for the season ahead.

Having just returned from Connecticut where my son was married on the last of August—thanks to all for your good wishes, it was a beautiful outdoor ceremony on a beautiful day!—how could I not love September? The post-wedding brunch was held at the bride’s parents’ home on the first of this month and the newlyweds are just getting back from their Paris honeymoon. This season I have a new “daughter,” a new extended family. It doesn’t get better than that.

So how can I not love September, its splendors as well as those poignant memories?

Monday, September 10, 2007

A poem for September...

'Twas the Day School Began

'Twas the day school began, and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, except for my mouse.

As I surfed the 'net and watched the soaps,
and outlined all my writing hopes.

The children were nestled all snug at their desks,
While teachers took roll call and talked about tests.

The stockings they sat in their hampers just waiting,
for someone to wash them but they weren't rating.

This day was for me, for writing and napping, and spending
uninterrupted time on the telephone yapping.

Before I knew it, the kids were returning,
telling me all about what they were learning.

But it's hard to be filled with too much sorrow
when I know it'll happen again, tomorrow!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Happy New Year!

It must have been going back to school that did it. But don’t we all have fiscal years-- beginning in September--imbedded in our consciousness?

Oh sure, there’s the chronological year—Ending in December, beginning in January. New Years Eve, fireworks and all, champagne and black-eyed peas signaling the beginning of that new year.

But I think September begins another, just as deeply felt and deeply meaningful as any December New Year’s Eve.

As the August days zoom toward the end , and those lazy nights having dinner in the back yard get shorter and shorter, and it’s dark so soon you wonder where the day went, it feels like the end, doesn’t it? Of something?

And the ads for back to school fill the paper and the airwaves. And I always feel like I need new—pencils. And new clothes. (Although I always feel like I need new clothes. But that’s a different blog)

Something begins in September. No matter what age I am.

I do remember the clothes I wore on the first day back to school in—maybe 1963? When I was 14. No, still 13. It was still too hot in Indiana for my new all clothes—just because it’s back to school doesn’t mean summer weather is over. But I could not wait to wear my little black and white hound’s-tooth skirt and my big red sweater. I had new penny loafers and clean white bobby socks. My mother insisted it was too soon to wear it, that I would die in the heat. But I would not be deterred. I thought I looked great. I was all set for school, for sixth grade and my new classmates and maybe this year I would finally be deemed cool.

Then I forgot to brush my teeth. I just had time before the bus came to do it. I raced to the bathroom, got a mouth full of Crest—and dribbled a huge pasty glob of it down my front. My red sweater was…well you can imagine.

I frantically dabbed at it with a towel, thereby adding towel lint to the gunky mess. Let’s just leave the rest of it to history. It was a sad event. And I did not make it into the cool group.. (Although it wasn’t only the Cresty sweater. But that’s a story for another blog.)

And now, its September again. It’s beautiful here in New England. The pink and white roses in my garden are struggling to stay in bloom. The sedum are swarming with bees. The dahlias are taking their turns at being the stars of the garden, all lavender-edged white, and fiery red, and huge white blossoms that look like fireworks. The trees are still green, but as I look out my study window, I just saw a leaf fall, floating slowly to the ground. And so it begins.

The apples will be good soon. And the foliage will bring leaf-peepers from all over the world.

Even the sun sign for September is Virgo, the virgin. The symbol of changes to come, and new experiences, and innocence. And the time goes by so quickly now. Picking up speed.

In October, my second Charlie McNally mystery, Face Time, will be released! I can’t wait for you to read it. Soon we’ll race into Halloween, and then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas…and then that other new year. And it will all happen way too fast.

But isn’t September the anything-can-happen month? All you need is some new pencils and some new penny loafers. And to be careful brushing your teeth.

Do you have back to school memories? Have you ever gotten over the September cycle?

Have a wonderful September…and happy new year!


Hank Phillippi Ryan

Saturday, September 8, 2007

See You In September

The first thing I loooove about September is the weather. It cools down from the sweltering heat of August and becomes comfortable. The days are perfect for walking and the nights great for sleep. I can open the windows and let the air in. I can sit outside and enjoy the day.

I also love that the vacation crowds are all gone and while the weather is taking a turn, it hasn’t turned yet. School’s open and all the vacation hot spots are still operating. The prices are slashed in half and it’s perfect for playing the tourist. The guides at the sites have time to answer questions and give you that extra bit of information that most people don’t get.

Fall clothes are also on my lists of things I love about September. Sweaters and sweatshirts, exercise pants, and patent leather shoes. Curling up in front of the fire with a glass of wine or apple cider and Smokey Robinson or Gladys Knight singing in the background is close to heavenly. I’m always cold, especially under air conditioning. It seems I can never find a comfortable temperature and I feel claustrophobic being confined to rooms where the air has to be cooled in order for my body to maintain an energy level where I can work. Honestly, I don’t know what we did before air conditioning, and while I prefer having it, to not having it, it’s not the same as a perfect fall day.

See You In September, I love September songs, and going back to school. See You In September always takes me back to those days. While the song was often popular in June when schools were closing, it was more popular as September approached and I knew I’d get to reunite with friends I hadn’t seen for three months. I was a person who usually traveled upstream. I loved school. I loved learning and the social part of school appealed to me too. Each succeeding year meant nine months of fun and new opportunities. At the time I was going through it, I knew it was the best years of my life.

I love that a new television season begins in September. After a summer of reruns, finally I get to see the resolution of the cliffhanger that the season ending left me with. I get to watch the new programs and find what appeals to me. Now that we have cable and can always choose a new movie to see, the new season still gives me a little jolt. I’m very selective now, since I have so little time for watching television, but I still feel a need to know what the new programs are.

The US Open (tennis) begins the last week of August and ends the second week in September. This is my favorite tennis tournament. It’s in the United States and close to where I live. I’ve spent days on the bleachers in the hot sun watching some of the best players in the world do what they do best. The bleachers are hard, the food is past expensive, the sun can be hot, yet the experience is priceless.

I love picking apples and making applesauce, apple jelly, stewed apples, apple pies, apple cobbler, apple brown betty, apple crisp, baked apples, apple turnovers, and all manner of apple dishes. Apples are the only fruit that I like when it’s cooked. I’d rather eat fruit fresh and raw, but for the American staple, I’m right in there enjoying it in any form. Years ago I used to go to a farm and pick vegetables and then can or freeze them. Then I’d go to orchards and pick fruit, peaches, apples, strawberries, blue berries, pears and make jams and jellies. I still like the apple dishes and look forward to cooking them every year. Nothing is better than a warm kitchen, smelling of apples and sugar, on a crisp September day.

These are all the things I love about September.

What I dislike about September is mainly that darkness comes early. The days no longer have the same amount of daylight. I love the daylight and in September it gets noticeably darker earlier. I get more accomplished when the amount of sunlight is longer. When it’s dark, I feel like my day is over and I should prepare for bed.

But the sunsets in September are spectacular. I can say this about all sunsets, no matter the season. They are all different. In September the sun is a huge red-orange ball dipping in the sky. Even driving home after a long day at work, the sunset commands that you notice it, practically forcing you to look at it. No matter how bad your day may have been, the sunset gives you a sense of wonder.

There’s more to love about September than dislike about it. Yes, it means winter is coming, but that also holds a lot of exhilaration. Embrace September. Enjoy it. And marvel at how much of your life you fondly remember that took place in September.


Contests - The Best is Yet to Read

Don't forget that every month of the year two lucky people who post to The Best is Yet to Read blog get a chance to win a prize from our authors. Don't forget to read the blog and post often...


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

September Song

I love September - it's always a toss up for me whether I prefer April or September, but when it's September, I know that it's my favorite month.

One of the reasons I love September so much is because I live in Vancouver and the evenings in September are the most beautiful of the year. And that's going some because Vancouver evenings (sun or rain or the bi-yearly snow) are incredibly beautiful. Just look at the sky in this picture - it's gorgeous.

Other reasons I love September? Shall I count the ways?

I love the weather, the cool evenings, the warm days, the gentle rain.

I love the leaves changing color. It's not a big event in the rainforest because most of the trees are coniferous, but there are a few streets where there are deciduous trees and the colors are brilliant. It reminds me of the east coast for a very short period of time.

I love the feeling of starting a new year. All of us spent most of our formative years beginning the year in September and that sticks with us, at least it did with me. I tend to do more list-making, more organizing, more goal-setting in September than I ever do in January.

I love the way people come back from vacation rested and ready to go. They want to go out to play, they want to get working, they're ready to get back to their regular lives.

I love the movies in September - this is when all the Oscar contenders start hitting the theatres and I get to see great movies week after week.

I love the way people (including me) in Vancouver eek (eak?) out the last days of summer, wearing sandals and shorts and T-shirts even in the rain and the cool of the evenings, pretending that summer isn't over. Not yet.

I love the way I go to the mall or walk down Robson Street or Denman and not run into hordes of kids during the day. I love 'em but I'm glad they're back at school.

I love the way the Seawall and Granville Island and the Art Gallery and my favorite restaurants go back to their regular non-summer, non-touristy selves. Sometimes they're still busy but they're no longer frantic.

I love that I can buy next year's summer clothes at 50 or 70% off. And because my favorite shoes are sandals, I just know that I'll be able to buy at least one pair that I've been eyeing all summer at a price I can afford.

I love the evenings as they get darker, settling into my favorite chair with candles lit and a glass of wine, and reading a great book and not feeling the slightest bit guilty about not being outside in the sunshine.

September always makes me sing.


Saturday, September 1, 2007


Hi, everybody: ChristyJan and Anne are the winners of the August NEXT contest and prizes will be winging their way to you soon. Email me at with your name and mailing address and we'll get them on their way to you.


What's NEXT IN October?

Two great new books from Hank Phillipi Ryan and Kate, both of which got 4 1/2 stars from RT Magazine.


There's a magic in life—But Ria Sterling has yet to embrace it, because she considers her ability to predict death from merely touching a photograph a curse. She yearns to use her sight to save just one life. On the other hand, tough-talking detective Carrick Jones and his partner profess not to care about saving anyone. But they do need Ria's help in solving a case. Instead, she predicts that Carrick's partner will die. Soon. And when her vision proves true, Ria goes from psychic to prime suspect.—The one thing she can't predict is her instant attraction to Carrick, a man who doesn't believe in the paranormal—only what his five senses tell him. But when danger threatens, Ria finally sees how to use her gift in a unique way. And to show Carrick the inexplicable power of a love where seeing really is believing.—


Seeing is believing (4.5 TOP PICK) by Kate Austin, has it all - - romance, sexual tension, mystery, adventure and a strong heroine. Ria Sterling has a psychic gift. She can look at photographs of people and know if they’re going to die within a couple of days. She accepts her gift and wants to prevent the deaths, but when she correctly predicts the death of Detective Carrick Jones’ partner, the nonbelieving policeman thinks she murdered him. Ria, however, has more amorous thoughts on her mind. She sees a possible future with him, but she also knows, on a psychic level, they are meant to work together to save someone. But with a killer after her, can Ria win Carrick’s trust in time and unmask the murderer? This is a page-turner from start to finish.

Hank Phillip Ryan’s FACE TIME

It's the scoop of a journalist's dreams!
New evidence in an old murder case could set a convicted woman free. Who better to crack the story than Boston's own version of Brenda Starr? Unfortunately, the prime source won't talk, the attorney general is trying to block the investigation, and the more Charlotte snoops around, the more people turn up dead!

An extended visit from her persnickety mother isn't helping. And Josh, the incredibly sexy new love of her life, may be the picture of perfection, but that includes a close-up of a prickly preteen who's not keen on sharing her daddy with Charlotte.
What's a star reporter to do? If anyone can pull it together it's Charlotte, but she'd better hurry, because someone wants her nose out of their news— for good.

RT Magazine’s 4 ½ star review of FACE TIME:

Face Time (41/2), by Hank Phillippi Ryan, returns to the Boston TV world of Emmy-winning investigative reporter Charlie McNally. In her first book, Prime Time, Charlie was almost killed by a sociopath. But she did meet a wonderful man, professor Josh Gelston, and now both romance and excitement continue. When Charlie is approached about helping to clear a woman imprisoned for the murder of her husband, the story seems perfect for sweeps. But soon Charlie and her producer are up against a politician running for governor on a law-and-order platform with the woman’s case as his selling point. Soon there are more murders, and Charlie finds both herself and her difficult but loving mother in trouble. Strong writing and an interesting plot make this a wonderful follow-up.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Summer Book Party

This past week my 16th novel came out. Quite a milestone for someone who never planned to be a writer and didn't start writing until after she was forty. (Before you make me Methuselah, bear in mind that I write really, really quickly!) I had a booksigning, but that didn't really seem like a big enough celebration, so I threw myself a "Sweet Sixteen."

I sent out e-vites, telling people that there'd be Books and Booze, and the acceptances came rolling in.

This is our friend Kate and some of the food. It vanished quickly!

Since I'd be at the bookstore until just before the party, I needed to come up with things I could prepare in advance. And prepare, I did! For two days I diced, chopped, combined and cooked. Everything was a hit.

We started off with Pineapple Martinis. In order to make them you need to first make pineapple vodka by coring, skinning and cutting up a whole pineapple. The piece of pineapple go in a large pitcher and you pour an entire bottle of vodka over them, cover it and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain out the pineapple (don't even taste it, just throw it out. Yuck, right? I knew you'd taste it!). Combine 3 parts pineapple vodka with one part apricot nectar and shake with crushed ice in a shaker. Strain out into a martini glass decorated with a slice of pineapple. Yum!!

I also made baked brie, which is really simple. Just cut the rind off the top of a round brie, cover it with apricot preserves and then cover that with chopped pistachios you've roasted for a while on the top of the store in a little butter. Then bake for 20 minutes at 350. It can't miss.

I did this incredible thing with figs-- cut off the bottoms so that they stand tall, then make an X in the top. Make a mixture of ricotta cheese, toasted chopped pistachio nuts (that you have left over from the brie) and some maple syrup to taste. Top with a honeyed almond and watch them disappear.

I made four different kinds of sandwiches: mini lobster rolls, roast beef and roasted garlic cream cheese on French bread with basil leaves and sundried tomatoes, brie and nectarine sandwiches and "mad hatter" sandwiches, which I found on the net and modified.

Then I made carrot cake cupcakes, zucchini cupcakes (both frosted with cream cheese frosting) chocolate chiffon cupcakes and golden buttermilk cupcakes.

As if that wasn't enough, my dear friend Lynette brought a chocolate fountain and we had fruit and pound cake which everyone enjoyed dipping.

Everyone had a great time, especially me!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Summer's here and it's time for

all those great summer picnic specials - Kentucky Fried Chicken and fries, souvlaki and Greek salad, hot dogs with sauerkraut and fried onions, mustard and ketchup. Ice cream from the Basken Robbins with 42 different flavors or soft serve from Dairy Queen. A burger and a strawberry milkshake from Fat Burger. Fish and chips from Lumberman's Arch.

As you can see, all my favorite summer foods are ones you pick up at the takeout place so, although I have recipes for some summer foods, I'm definitely a picnic fan and a picnic is no fun if you have to work too much to get ready.

I picnic on the beach fairly regularly in the spring, summer and fall and, lucky for me, in Vancouver there are dozens of great fast food places within a five minute walk of the beach. That means your food doesn't get cold before you get it down to the blanket.

But I do have one summer recipe you might enjoy - and it's easy.
Kate's Gin and Tonic
Start with ice, plenty of it.
Add the ice to a heavy crystal glass.
Add one slice of lime, lightly squeezed, to the ice.
Take two ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin - not substitutes allowed - and pour it over the ice and lime.
Add Schweppes tonic as required.
Sip slowly. Think of summer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Shirley's Orange Juice Special

Food! I don’t like to cook. It wasn’t in my genes when I was conceived. I love to plan and prepare huge meals. I suppose I could have been a chef but for the hours. For holidays, picnics, family reunions, huge gatherings, I’m right in there. But this everyday stuff is boring. (“What is it tonight, beef, chicken, or pork – the choices are so limiting.) And a good meal is time consuming. I’d much rather do something else than prepare food.

So I go for the easy to do. In summer, when it’s too hot to cook, I like a refreshing drink, something that’s filling and delicious. If it’s also healthy, that’s just coincidence.

Years ago I went to visit a friend in Austin, Texas. Being from Buffalo, NY and living in the District of Columbia where they know humidity, I’d never felt anything like the heat in Texas. I decided to go for a walk the first day I was there and nearly died of the heat. I got to a small strip mall and ordered something called an Orange Julius. I’d never heard of it before and I’d never tasted anything so good.

They wouldn’t tell me how it was made so I experimented with my blender until I got something that tasted just as good. I don’t know if it’s the same. This is my personal recipe. One morning some of my sons’ diving team friends were here for breakfast. As athletes should have healthy meals, I made them Shirley’s Orange Juice Special instead of straight orange juice. Even the guys who didn’t like orange juice liked this. I hope you do too.

Shirley’s Orange Juice Special

2 cups orange juice
1 large egg
½ cup sugar

Directions: Put the juice, sugar and egg in a blender. Fill with ice. Blend ingredients until they are smooth. Serve in tall glasses with straws.

Note – if you want add a banana for additional fiber and flavor.


I went down to the farm stand yesterday, and found some great stuff. Cantaloupes, fresh corn, peppers. And of course, tomatoes. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. Stacked on carts, piled in tubs, crated in rows.

A tomato glut.

If you grow your own tomato plants you might have it, too. But don't fear, you can be a tomato glut-ton! Here are a couple of my favorite summer tomato recipes.

Fresh summer spaghetti sauce:
Take six ripe tomatoes, core them and cut them in half. Place them cut side up in a roasting pan or dutch oven. Top with minced garlic and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with dried basil. Roast in a 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes or until soft when poked with a fork. Allow tomatoes to cool. Remove skins and place pulp in a large sauce pan. Squish with your hands until pulp is broken up. Cook over medium low heat for half an hour (no lid, but use a screen to cut down on splatter) to reduce liquid. You can also add a little bit of sugar if you like your sauce sweet.

Tomato and cucumber salad:
Slice two cucumbers lenthwise, remove seeds and cut into 1-inch chunks. Cut two tomatoes into 1-inch chunks. Slice 1/2 a medium sweet onion into ribbons. Put all ingredients into large bowl and sprinkle with dill. In measuring cup, mix 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar. Pour over vegetables and stir. Allow to sit in fridge for an hour or two or overnight before serving, to allow flavors to mix. (You can also add two stalks of sliced celery if desired.)

Finely dice two fresh tomatoes. Run half an onion, one jalepeno pepper (no seeds!), and half a sweet green pepper through the food processor. Add chopped fresh cilantro and salt to taste.

There they are! Hope they help you ride out that tomato glut.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Dessert First!

Like most of the country, Tennessee is having a heat wave. Yesterday the high here was 103—thank goodness the humidity has stayed low—with the same predicted for today. The lawn is yellow in spots, and crunchy. So, in this temporarily quasi-desert environment, who feels like cooking?

Not me. I’ve been eating out a lot the past few weeks, especially while my air conditioner waited for the way-too-busy repairman to come fix it. When I do eat at home these days, I’m definitely thinking Cool. Easy. No Cooking.

And why not start with dessert? This one is scrumptious, refreshing, and so simple anyone can make it in a slowed-down summer heartbeat. Best of all, your family or dinner guests fix their own. Just take some…

Luscious, ripe red strawberries (washed, of course)
Sour Cream (you can use low-fat if you like, but the real stuff tastes better)
Brown Sugar
Dip a strawberry in the sour cream. Then drag it through the brown sugar.
Take a bite. And enjoy. As Rachel Ray would say, “Yum-o.”

Here’s another that requires slightly more preparation but not much:

Take one store-bought pound cake (Sara Lee is my favorite because it has a good, firm texture)
Whip one container of cream (the real, heavy-duty stuff)
Add a little vanilla if you wish, some sugar and powdered coffee/mocha mix to taste (the International Coffee brand works great)
Split the pound cake horizontally into three or four layers (your choice)
Slather the mocha whipped cream between the layers then reassemble the cake
Cover the whole loaf with more of the whipped cream concoction
Stick it in the freezer for a while (not too long, just enough to let the whipped cream set a little)
Slice and serve

That’s it! For dinner (before or after dessert), I love the cool mint and garlic flavors in Tabouli, and again it’s a simple dish: spices, bulgur wheat (plumped with water and a bit of olive oil), lemon juice, and fresh tomatoes. I prefer the Fantastic brand (I don’t like most others), and the directions are on the box. Takes five minutes to make. Cool it in the fridge for about an hour then serve. This goes with anything and would be a different side dish for that upcoming Labor Day picnic.

Happy holiday weekend! I’m off to my son’s wedding in Connecticut where I hope it will be cooler. Can you believe this (hot) summer is nearly over? Already?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Alternate endings - oh, yeah

I usually give our bloggers some topics for the month and I've definitely fallen down on my job this month - but I love this topic so thanks for picking up the slack, Donna and Shirley. I've got topics for the end of the month and for next month and, I promise, I won't fall behind again!!!

I make up alternate endings for books and movies (and people's lives) when I don't like what happens. I want a happy ending so I just make it up. I spend hours and hours (usually walking on the beach) recreating the end of a story so it has the perfect - for me! - ending.

Casablanca? Absolutely. Yes, it's a great tragic romance, but I want Sam and Ilsa to get together so her husband dies a hero, Sam fights for the resistance all the rest of the way through the war, and the two of them end up - five years later, in the same bar in Paris. Ta da!

Gone with the Wind. Funny, I don't give Scarlett a happy ending but only Rhett. She doesn't deserve him. I know, I know, that's blasphemy - but... Rhett finally, after many years, meets a wonderful woman, they fall in love and travel the country for the rest of their lives.

Every book every written by Nicholas Sparks. Puh-lease. Can't just one of them have a happy ending? You know what's going to happen before you even open the book. I understand that sometimes a happy ending is impossible - but still. Book after book after book?

I haven't yet figured out a happy ending (except a paranormal one) for The Titanic? Do any of you have any ideas that don't involve vampires or ghosts or alternate universes?

Anyway, that's my short form take on alternate endings.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Own Alternate Endings

I’m glad someone put up a topic. Alternate endings is a good one. I've only seen one alternate ending on a DVD. That was Training Day and I agree the one that was played in the theaters was the better ending. But I kind of like seeing what another version would have looked like.

I think the marketing departments of the movie houses add the extras to entice people to buy the DVD. It’s the "more" you get when you buy a movie you’ve already seen. I never thought about whether I liked the choices or not. I definitely did not like the alternate ending of Training Day. But I have been guilty of giving my own alternate endings to movies and books.

Long ago in a time far, far away, I watched a movie called This Could Be the Night. It’s an old black and white with Anthony Franciosa and Jean Simmons. I didn’t like the ending. It was okay, but I wanted a more Happily Ever After-commitment ending. So in my mind I re-wrote it. And not only the ending, I re-wrote some of the scenes, even added some that weren’t in the movie. For years and years I thought about the movie, but never saw it again. I didn’t even know the name of it so I couldn’t look it up anywhere. And as time will do, it passed and I could no longer remember the actors either. But I never forgot the story or the ending.

My ending.

After DVD’s came out and Turner Classic Movies began releasing the old movies on videotape and DVD’s, I saw the movie again on television and immediately recognized it. I sat down and watched it to the end. But I was confused. It ended too quickly. Where were the other scenes? Surely they wouldn’t cut it. After all TCM shows movies in their entirety. It’s part of their advertising. So why did they cut this one? And the ending? What happened to the ending? This is not the same movie, I thought. But there couldn’t be two. I remembered some of the characters. Then I started to laugh out loud. I remembered. I’d re-written the ending. I’d added scenes that weren’t there. They were only in my head.

This Could Be the Night is the only movie or book I did this to and didn’t remember my own creation. I have changed other endings too. Yes, Gone With the Wind has an alternate ending in my mind. And not just an ending, there are additional scenes with Scarlett and Rhett away from Tara or Atlanta. In fact, they are in Charleston.

Casablanca is my all time favorite romantic movie and the hero and heroine don’t live happily ever after. Even so, I have never changed the ending of this movie. I can’t see any other ending. Even though I wanted Rick and Ilsa to end up together, I could see the bigger stake was world democracy and I was unwilling to fiddle with that even in a movie. At this writing I’m thinking I could fast forward to after the war, when democracy wasn’t an issue, and bring them back together at that point. Of course, I’d have to account for what happened to Victor (Ilsa’s husband), but that wouldn’t be difficult.

I like books that give me an alternate version of the world. I suppose that’s why 1984 was so popular long before the actual year arrived. And why it still works today. 1984 posed an alternate world for the future. Star Trek did the same thing for television and look at the survival of both of these forms of entertainment.

I read Clive Cussler novels. He write male adventure novels and his hero is a former Navy Seal named Dirk Pitt. All the Dirk Pitt novels pose an alternate to something we "know" to be true. For example, in Raise the Titantic, they raise the old ship and find a document that cedes Canada to the United States. In another Abraham Lincoln didn’t die at Ford’s Theater, but was captured by the confederates and spirited away on one of the iron clad ships of the day.

Even Cinderella got my personal ending treatment in relation to the wicked stepsisters. I’m far less forgiving than the fictional character, so I changed the ending to give the girls and their mother their due. Then Ever After with Drew Barrymore was released. Not only does Cinderella have a valid motivation for staying at the house and accepting her plight, but in the end she wins out over the life she was forced into. Bravo!

There are endings I can’t change. I loved American history. At English and French history, I’m pretty good at remembering the details, but when it comes to Russian history, I was never able to follow all the last name changes and the different families that ruled or their titles. So when I saw Nicolas and Alexandra and watched their love story unfold, I didn’t like what happened to them in the end. As I voiced this opinion to my history-major friend, she informed me that I could not change history. So I let that one stand, but I didn’t like it.

Dr. Zivago is a different story, however. That ending I did change. Laura looks back and sees Yuri on the bus. She never lost their daughter. The couple reunite and live happily ever after.

As you can see, I provide my own alternate endings on a regular basis. I wonder how Hollywood would have done it if they could go back and reshoot the endings to some of those classic movies. Would they satisfy my need? I don’t know, but if it didn’t, I can always change it in my mind.

Happy reading and movie watching. Let me know if you too change endings to suit yourself.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Alternate endings

Okay, what's the deal with "alternate endings"? All the DVDs being released these days advertise alternate endings. Do we really want that?

Personally, I want to know how the story ends. Just tell me! If there are three different endings, how do I know which one is real? I remember when the movie Clue came out in 1985, and theaters were playing three different endings across the country. I felt cheated. How would I know if I got the "right" ending?!

That's the point of suspended disbelief, right? We, the readers (or viewers) are swept into an alternate reality for a brief period of time, where the characters are "real" and the events are "really happening."

Imagine if Margaret Mitchell gave an alternate ending for Gone with the Wind (Scarlett finds another guy?)? What if, in one version, the Great Gatsby turned out to just another rich guy? What if Thelma and Louise stopped at the edge of the cliff?

They may be fictional characters, but if a writer has gone to all the trouble to make them real to us, shouldn't their happy endings (or their demise) be "real" as well?

Call me old fashioned, but I want a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just one, thanks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


are Bettye Griffin and dceetee. Congratulations to both of you.

Please email me ( with your mailing addresses so I can have your prizes sent to you.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's NEXT in September

September is the re-launch of the NEXT line with all new covers and great stories from great writers.

Marie Ferrarella and Nancy Robards Thompson lead off the new NEXT with:

DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, by Marie Ferrarella, an RT TOP PIC!

Bailey DelMonico has finally gotten her life on track, and is passionate about her recent career change. Nothing will stand in the way of her becoming a doctor . . . that is, until she's paired with the sharp-tongued Ivan Munro.

BEAUTY SHOP TALES, by Nancy Robards Thompson

Can this "beauty operator to the stars" find her own Hollywood ending?"

Nancy's book was an RT 4 star review:

After being widowed at 35, stylist Avril Carson returns from Hollywood to Sago Beach, Fla., and the sometimes suffocating relationships of small-town life. The women in her mother's beauty shop form a warm, if eccentric, nest, but it's hard to keep secrets ‹ and there are secrets. Emotions spill out from the stress of always knowing everyone's business, and Avril must make a heartbreaking decision. Another complication is a handsome cowboy returning from L.A. to another small town in the area. They meet on the plane, and he pushes for a relationship she may not be ready for. The first-person Beauty Shop Tales (4), by Nancy Robards Thompson, is about forgiveness, letting go and moving on. There's sharply drawn humor as well as pain, and the book flies by.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Only my hairdresser knows for sure

Remember that commercial? I can't even remember what color my hair really is - but that's a small part of aging gracefully for me.

I wonder what I was thinking when I suggested this as a topic for our blog - perhaps I wasn't thinking at all. Because I'm not sure just what that means. Does it mean letting it all hang out and not worrying at all about how or even if you're aging? Does it mean fighting every wrinkle, every sag, every grey hair?

For me, the answer is somewhere in the middle, something about balance.

I'm not the woman I was 30 years ago or even 10 years ago. I'm better. Certainly I'm better emotionally and intellectually. I've learned a lot of lessons - the most important of which for me seems to have been to enjoy the moment. The trick for me, I suspect, is to keep on getting better physically as well.

I don't want to run a marathon. I don't want to go to the gym every day. I don't want to bulk up. What I do want is to feel good in every way and that means walking an hour a day (which is easier than it sounds seeing as I live downtown and don't have a car which means I walk everywhere) and swimming for half or three-quarters of an hour two or three times a week and maybe even (when I get the time) taking a yoga class once or twice a week. I'm talking gentle exercise and mostly exercise that relaxes me as well as energizes me. I'm a big fan of the middle path.

I like the woman I am now. I'm not one of those people who remembers being young as the best time of her life. I enjoyed it, I did, and if you ask I'll tell you about those parts that aren't censored, but you could pay me a million dollars and I wouldn't be a teenager again. Or even in my twenties. I like this Kate Austin.

I like the things she knows and the things she knows she doesn't know. I like the fact that she's way more willing than she used to be to admit that she doesn't know everything - just almost everything. I like the way she can laugh about herself.

I like the way she's willing to make a fool of herself and try something new. I like the way she's open to new experiences and new people. I like the way she'll talk to anyone. I like the work she's doing and the books she's writing. I like the amazing, astonishing, wonderful women and men she's meeting. I like the way she appreciates what she has and who she knows. I like the way she - finally - understands that love and friendship and joy and laughter and tears don't need to be hoarded but need to be shared. I like the way she knows that she's got more than enough of all those things for everyone.

So I guess you could say that I am aging gracefully. And joyously. And I definitely can't complain about that.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Growing Older

I'm older than most people think I am. At my high school reunions I always win the award for the most NOT changed. I kid people by telling them I have an aging portrait that I keep in the attic. My house does have an attic, but it has no floor and I never go up there.

When I was in graduate school one of the questions the professor asked us was to name some things that technology had made obsolete. My small glass of thirteen frowned and scratched their heads. I rattled them off like jelly beans. His comment, "You're a lot older than you look."

Same thing happened with a doctor when I went for a colonoscopy (now you know my age). He looked at me and said, "Why are you here?" These comments made me feel good. If they couldn't tell my age by looking at me, I must be doing it right.

I believe I'm growing old gracefully. Of course, I don't know what my real hair looks like because I keep having it done and redone. But why not? It makes me feel good and I'm the only one that I need to please. I've long since stopped doing things to please other people. That's a strong statement and I don't mean I'm a mean person, but if there is something I want to do, I don't need approval to do it. That's the me that's pleasing me.

I'd say growing old gracefully runs in my family. My parents died at young ages, but some of my aunts and grandparents lived long lives. Now that I'm equal to or older than some of them who have passed away, I can see that at the same age, I look as good or better than they did. I exercise (walking two miles a day) and try to eat right, although I didn't even think of resisting the chocolate at the recent Romance Writers Conference. I don't think that's all of it, however.

You just gotta be lucky.

And since I think I got gipped on the long hair and boobs genes, I at least got the good skin, weight control and non-dimpled thighs ones.

Getting older does worry me some. I have so much I want to accomplish and I'm afraid I won't get to do some things. I have a five year old to raise and educate, and I pray that she's an adult before I pass into the next level of creation.

I plan for the event by keeping things in order like wills and insurance and making sure my family knows where they are and how to get them. I also make sure they know that I have collections of value that they may not realize, like my first edition Nancy Drew novels and a huge non-DVD record collection, the vinyl stuff. Some of those are worth a lot of money.

All any of us can do is take it one day at a time and live it as if there was no tomorrow. And being romance writers, we all believe there is another day to live and love.

Speaking of living and loving, I love that song from RENT about 525,600 minutes. The end of the song says there are 525,600 minutes of love in a year. What a wonderful thing for anyone!

Aging . . . Just Like Mom

Visible signs of aging – oh, the enemy, for sure. For years my goal was simply not to let it get me the way it had gotten Mom. Her fair skin was deeply lined while she was still in her forties. She developed a turkey-wattle chin. When an angry colleague told her she “looked about 95 years old,” she shrugged it off. “I work rings around the woman, and she’s just jealous” – but I knew the insult had hurt. Lesson learned. Nobody was ever going to have the chance to say such things to ME.

As I entered my middle years, Botox became a trusted friend. When my sagging face began to look . . . well, saggy . . . and my double chin grew floppier by the day, I steeled myself for a facelift. It got rid of the jowls and wattle but not the wrinkles. Time had its own plan for etching itself on my skin.

Then my 57-year-old husband, the handsome, fit-looking man I’d lived with for more than 30 years, died of a massive heart attack while hiking in the mountains with his brother. That was six years ago. I haven’t worried about my wrinkles since.

What concerns me now is spending time with people I love, while I still can. Working as much as I can, while I still can. I’ve even had the chance to write a few books about aging women, plastic surgery and all. Time and age, those old adversaries, have turned out to be gifts.

In the mirror these days, I see an aging woman with a pale, lined face, who looks a lot like Mom once did. I wonder now why I ever wanted to eradicate her from my reflection – why any of us do. Except for the wealth of warm memories, it’s all of her that I have left.
Ellyn Bache

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Aging, Gracefully Or Not?

Aging? Who, me?

I don’t like to think about that, but this morning I’m almost forced to admit that time is, yes, marching on. I just got home after nearly a week in Dallas at the annual RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference, and as usual I didn’t get enough sleep.

Who needs sleep when a bunch of normally reclusive writers get together and the much-needed chatter starts flying? It was so good to see people from the various chapters to which I’ve belonged, and still miss, and to meet others among our group of Nexties with whom I’ve e-mailed. The PAN (Published Authors Network) workshops, plus a number of RWA sessions, certainly helped to recharge my creative batteries—one of the best benefits of going to conference each summer. And all those fabulous meals when I’m more used to simpler fare, even sandwiches all but inhaled in the race to finish a book by August? What a treat. It seems safe to say that a great time was had by all.

My stay in the beautiful conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was almost enough to make me forget the hassles of travel. My trip home proved to be quite a challenge—delayed flights, lost luggage (with all my best clothes inside the missing suitcase)—but I’m here. And ready to work again. Never mind that my not-quite-youthful body is still struggling to readjust after that (finally) five a.m. arrival in Chattanooga. My bag, thank goodness, did eventually, and unharmed, show up at my door. (sigh of relief)

But today—yes—I’m feeling a wee bit old. Older, that is.

How else to explain the white face I see in my mirror? Or those new dark shadows under my eyes?

Still, there’s hope. My mother-in-law will turn eighty-nine in October. She still wears makeup, styles her hair in her signature red beehive, and has her nails done, fingers and toes. Last week, while I was in Dallas, she went with my husband to dinner and the theater. She and I are planning a girls’ day out soon to shop for an end-of-summer suit she can wear to my younger son’s wedding in August. She’ll be taking the trip to Connecticut then, a traveler herself at nearly ninety.

Graceful? Yes. Old? I don’t think so.

There have been lots of articles written lately about the now-retiring Baby Boomers. In fact, we Nexties did a workshop at RWA on just that topic, well, and with some sex thrown in for spice. Our somewhat older characters still know their way around a bedroom! Today’s retirees are no longer riding off into the sunset of their years, or plunking down in a rocker on the front porch.
We—and our characters—are moving and shaking and developing second careers. My husband, for example, is in New York right now, building his new business as a consultant to the financial world. He’s been busier than ever since he took early retirement in February! No grass grows under his feet. And then, again, there’s his mother who must have given him that energy and drive, a little of which I could certainly use today.

Right now I’d rather take a nap.

But that’s not going to happen. I have a book to finish for Next. My forty-four-year old heroine and her still-hunky-at-forty-six ex-husband are waiting.

And as further inspiration I’m reminded of my great grandmother who lived to be 105. Even then, she thought of herself as a young bride.

With so many grand examples like these, I’m convinced that the old saying is true: Aging is a state of mind.

Or—to use another clichĂ©—you’re only as old as you feel.

Monday, July 9, 2007

My First Romance

I read my first historical romance novel at the age of 13, SHANNA by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and from then on, I was hooked. I compared all my teenaged suitors to the dashing, steadfast Ruark Beauchamp. Too bad for them. No one could seem to live up to those standards.

Years later, inspired by Ms. Woodiwiss's works, as well as those by Johanna Lindsey and other greats who transformed the genre in the late 70s and early 80s, I started to write my own historical romance novels. And too bad for me, because my own writing could never seem to live up to their standards.

A few years ago, just before I was published, I had the honor of meeting Ms. Woodiwiss at a writing conference in New Jersey. I'm embarrassed to say, I cried. I blubbered to her that she was my inspiration, and yada yada yada. She was very sweet and gracious, and I must say, really embarrassed by my display. But she murmured some encouraging words and gave me a tissue, and it was one of my great writing-related moments.

Afterwards, I wished I would have said something else. Instead of telling her she inspired me to write, I should have told her how many hours of pleasure she'd given me as a reader--a gift I now know, as a writer, is no easy thing to give.

I learned yesterday that Ms. Woodiwiss passed away on July 6th. It was a sad day for romance, indeed.

I hope she is mentioned in tribute at the RWA National conference this week in Dallas, TX. I can't be there in body, but I will be there in spirit, and my guess is that Ms. Woodiwiss will be, too.

Because you simply can't have a gathering of romance writers without her.

Music--inspiration or. . .um. . .what was I saying?

Is music a distraction for. . .
two out of three ain’t bad. . .
What was I saying? Oh, right. Music. Is it a. . .
If you see my reflection on a snow covered hill . . .
Yes, yes, right. So, music.
Here you come again. . .

Hmm. Maybe I should turn off iTunes.

The truth is, I love music–can’t produce a note, can’t even carry a tune. My older sister once said I sounded like a giraffe with a sore throat when I sang. She’s apologized many times for saying it, but has never said it wasn’t true!

Anyway, that’s beside the point. I love --when I’m alone and no one can hear me--to sing to music. Especially country music. I like to clean to it. (Well, as much as I like to clean. . .) I like to dance around to it (when no one’s around to witness that, either). I like to fall asleep to it, I like to wake up to it.

But write to it?

Ha! Words in my head are words on the paper, and if there are lyrics in the room, they are, as you saw at the beginning of this blog, on the paper.

The only time I write to music is in airports and on planes, where I can’t shut out the conversations around me and they begin to appear on my laptop screen (as in: “Well, it started as just a burning, but then the itch started and I don’t know how to tell him, but the doctor says. . .” and “He thinks I’m on my way to a conference in Dallas, but. . .”) Okay, not really. The conversations are always boring, but they invade my brain space and make writing impossible. And so I plug into my iPod. But I only allow myself the classical, non-lyric stuff that is really too highbrow for my tastes (remember I like country music. Gretchen Wilson, Dixie Chicks, etc.) but which block out the conversations around me.

After writing the above, I thought I should take a look at what my fellow Nexties had to say on the subject. Wow. We’re all, it seems, in the same Row, Row, row your boat. . .

Earworms? Thanks loads, Hank. The actual experience of having a song floating in your head isn’t bad enough? It has to have a gross name attached to it?

Anyway, right now I’ve got the music blasting because I’ve finished another Teddi Bayer book–this one is called WHO CREAMED PEACHES, ANYWAY? and now I’m allowed to blast the music and dance. And maybe even have a glass of wine. . .

So excuse me while I crank up the music and dance~ cause we all know you gotta dance like no body’s watching you, sing like nobody’s listening. . .
Stevi Mittman

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Imperfect - Perfect Day


I didn't get to post a Perfect Day post when we were in that subject. I did write one, so late as it is, I still would like to post it. So here goes.

My perfect day is a fantasy since I’ve never actually lived it. I’ve been into reading biographies for a few years now and I read Katherine Hepburn’s Me: Stories of My Life. To sum it up, the book said: It’s All About Me! That would be my perfect day. One in which I was pampered and praised. Not too much praise mind you. Sometimes it can get embarrassing.

I’d begin the day with a relaxing massage. I had one massage in my life and I thought the guy was trying to force the fat out of my body through my pores. I hated it. By the time he finished, I could hardly walk back to my room. I slid into the bathtub and let the soapy water wash the oil off me and then I crawled into bed. However, at a conference in a resort in Arizona, my fellow friends and writers were having massages and raving that they wanted to marry the masseuse. It sounds wonderful and my perfect day would include one of those.

I’d have a light lunch prepared by my housekeeper/cook (who also shops and keeps me on my diet) and while it’s also delicious, filling and nutritious, it won’t add any pounds to my Barbie-doll waistline. Then I’d get dressed to be ready when the limousine comes to pick me up to take me to my booksigning. The line wraps around the block with people waiting for my signature. At the bookstore, my picture is on the store bags and walls. I’ve already checked out Barnes and Noble and know that not all the people on their bags and walls are dead, so I don’t have to die for the opportunity.

My publicist would be there to help with the books and store personnel for crowd control. We know NeXt fans are courteous and friendly, so most of the store personnel’s work is to talk to the people in line and give them papers to write the names they want in the multiple copies of the book they plan to buy. Of course this would be exhausting work for me, but I love this kind of exhaustion.

After a short drink (soft drink) with the publicist where we discuss promotional plans for the next book, I’m returned home for a short nap. I get up to write and the words just stream out of computer. My fingers can hardly keep up with the story the characters are telling. The book pours out of me like an open water faucet. When I finish for the day, I spend the evening with my family and we watch a movie – a love story, of course.

Notice, my perfect day doesn’t include kids or husbands or picnics in the park. After all if it’s perfect. And it’s all about me.


I think they call them "earworms." Have you heard that term? Now that you have, you can’t get it out of your head, right? And that’s exactly why I can’t listen to music when I write.

Don’t get me wrong. When I was in high school, much to my mom’s chagrin I insisted I could not do my homework without listening to music. I had my little transistor radio, and I would put that plastic earpiece in, and bop around to Da Doo Ron Ron or I Get Around or It’s My Party. Dancing in the Street. And then: The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins… And then the Beatles Beatles Beatles. I cried when they were on Ed Sullivan. I was president of the Midwest Chapter of the National Beatles Fan Club. (High school. A blog for another day.)

But I digress.

Now, older and wiser. I’m a television reporter, have been for 30 years, and there’s not a moment of my workday when the television is not on. Sometimes three of them, all turned to different stations, all humming and buzzing in the background. And I ignore it, until my brain (is it the hypothalamus?) picks up on a word or phrase or sound that drags me to the remote to zap up the volume. Extraneous noise? Nope, it’s just the music of the news, and I’m used to it and embrace it.

But in my study, at home, at the computer, working on the next Charlotte McNally mystery--(Which, ta-dah! Just sold to the wonderful Harlequin Next line, and will be called Air Time. There’s Prime Time, on the shelves now as I hope you know, and Face Time, coming out in October. Then Air Time, and then Drive Time! So go meet investigative reporter Charlie McNally, age 46 and counting, savvy smart and successful—and just a tad worried about her age…)

But I digress.

Anyway, at home, working on the computer, I cannot, cannot listen to music. It’s the earworm thing.

What’s an earworm? Let’s say you’re in the grocery, and that Muzak is on. Just in the background. And you have the misfortune to hear "It’s A Small World after All." Ahhhhh. That darn song is going to stick in your brain, humming over and over, forever. It’s an earworm.

How about Saturday in the Park by Chicago? (Saturday, in the park, I think it was the fourth of July…) Ah…stop. Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind…

There’s a commercial for sour cream about "a dollop of daisy." Have you heard that? I heard it once, and sang it for about a week.

Hey, Macarena.

And so, that’s why no music when I write. Or read, even. If it has words, they stick in my brain and play where my own words are supposed to be.
Otherwise, bring it on. Turn it up. Radio. CD’s. Records! (remember those?) But not while I’m thinking about Charlie and her adventures.

Do you have your personal earworms? Tell me—if you dare!

Hope you’re having a prime time of a summer…

Hank Phillippi Ryan

PS. Someone told me: if you get an earworm, the only cure is to sing Jingle Bell Rock. Okay, I know. It sounds weird. But it does seem to work.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Selective Listening

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

I don't normally listen to music while I write--not to have the distraction. I love music of all types from classical and opera to old ballads and country and western. But I tend to get so caught up in the melody, the lyrics of a song, that all of a sudden I'm humming along, swaying to the tune, and I've forgotten that I'm supposed to be writing.

Yet I also find music to be an inspiration.

For a while I wrote books with musical titles: Unforgettable, Just One of Those Things, Oh, Susannah, and Danny Boy. They were all my titles, too, from concept to print! I guess they worked from a marketing department standpoint because no one changed them.

For whatever reason, those titles actually seemed to make my writing easier.

With the memory of the particular song clear in my mind, if not actually floating through the air from a pair of sound-system speakers, the tone of the story became almost automatic. The emotions flowed. Even characterization seemed easier to develop. I don't know why this happened. But it did.

With Danny Boy I made an exception to my no-listening-while-writing rule.

Every morning, before I began to work, I played that song on the piano (maybe I was procrastinating). I'm not a very good pianist, mind you, but I did have an excellent arrangement of that old standard, which--as it does for my heroine in the book--always makes me weep. It was kind of like having a story conference with myself to start the day. I played, I wept, I wrote. Perfect.

And sometimes, without its title, music helps to inspire a story. The germ of Danny Boy, in addition to that song, also came from a Garth Brooks album. In my book the hero is a professional bull rider, and in the song, "Wild Horses," a rodeo cowboy calls his girlfriend from the road in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He knows he must quit the circuit, which he loves, as he keeps promising to do, "before I hurt her more than she loves me."

I love that line.

Its message was exactly what I needed then--Danny's goal, even at thirty-six to keep riding bulls until, finally, he wins the world championship. Yet if he keeps going, following his dream, will he lose the woman he loves but left behind? The wife who needs him to help raise their son?

There's another cut on this album that helped, too, with my book. It's called "Wolves," about the difficulty of being a rancher. It's a sad song that compares a friend's foreclosure by the bank to a pack of wolves bringing down cattle in a winter storm. It's about loss and hope and surviving, and in Danny Boy his Montana ranch is also in jeopardy, though of a different sort.

Oh, goodness. I'm doing it right now: sitting here, listening to that song on the computer, and feeling the inspiration, the distraction, all over again.

Music is, for me then, a little bit of both.

But then, we Geminis do tend to have somewhat split personalities!

And if that helps with my writing--with the next book--that's just fine with me. Maybe I'll do another story with a Western setting.