Monday, November 29, 2004


Correction: further info reveals the person kidnapped was NOT from our office. She is someone I know, however. And unfortunately, she’s still being held. Lawlessness is the order of the day in Haiti. No police force. This is the reality.

Hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was good. I actually had time, between burning dinner and trying to catch up on chores, to read. Marilyn Pappano’s “A season of miracles.” Wonderful, heartwarming book. I tried writing this weekend. Managed to edit some pages. Read over the chapters I had written for Rashid’s story and realized I needed some light humor in the second, so rewrote it. I like the results. He loses his virginity in the first chapter. Sex in the first chapter! I never do this, yet he told me “Ok, I must have sex now. Right now.” So I wrote it that way. And I love how it turned out.

I’m slowly wigging out because I have two weeks to prepare for Christmas as I’ll be in Haiti the whole week before the holiday. Our house is not decorated, and I have no shopping done, no gifts sent. Every year I try to bake cookies. (Note to self: Alert fire department when the baking mood strikes.) Every time I try to bake cookies, they burn. I’m surprised Santa hasn’t sued me for all those years I gave him gas from the lumpy, burnt cookies I left trying to bribe him for a Barbie doll.

And there’s something I must admit. I harbor a secret desire to roast the Pillsbury Dough Boy. He irritates the heck out of me. He’s too perky. I want to take the fat little nancy dough boy, stuff him into the oven, turn it up to 800 degrees and watch him explode. I never feel this way about the Keebler elf. It’s just Dough Boy’s asinine giggle that irks me. Or maybe it’s merely the Christmas stress.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Sister Mary Bazooka

My stomach is in knots. Someone from our Haiti office got kidnapped. She is negotiating for her life. We are still going there next month, but now they are talking of armed guards accompanying us. We work with missionaries. What armed guards? Nuns with guns? Sister Mary Bazooka?

I know Haiti is dangerous, but hells bells, as Mom would put it, something like this hammers it home. I have a friend who got kidnapped a couple of years ago. They blindfolded her and held a gun to her temple and threatened to blow her head off. To this day, she still cannot sleep at night. Each time I visit, I bring her stacks and stacks of books. Romances. She reads English books, which are hard to find. For her, romance truly is an escape into another world.

And some people scoff at romance and call it “crap.”

I can't rejoice in anyone's good news right now. I'm too worried that this person from our office will end up like Margaret Hassan, dead in some street with a bullet to her head. Worried about my safety when I travel to Haiti next month. Worried about this horrid depression sliding over me. It's crippling me. What’s the point of trying to write or sell another romance? How can I even talk about this with my “ordinary friends” who don’t understand the kind of work I do and the circumstances I sometimes face?

WHY does this work have to be so hard? Maybe we should recruit nuns with guns. Sister Mary Bazooka, equipped with an M-16, cheerfully wending her way through slums, doling out food to the hungry, and poking the gun’s muzzle into the faces of thugs who try to kidnap her.

In her thick Irish brogue Sister Mary Bazooka warbles to the startled gunmen, “Saints and begora, ye be trying any of your funny stuff on me and I’ll send yee fer a talking to with the Father right away. And I’m NOT talking of Father O’Hara, either. The Big Guy Upstairs. The one that’s gonna kick yer arse to the ‘down’ escalator and toast your nuts like they was Girl Scout marshmallows. Yee feeling lucky today, boyo? Huh? Huh?”

Monday, November 22, 2004

Holiday cooking anxiety

Spent all day Saturday with DH and FIL on board a gambling cruise. I read every word on the page proofs for THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE. And I realized how very much I do like this book and the characters. It is a fun read and has emotional scenes in it. I snickered still over the “banana scene.” It’s a more angsty book than my previous two. And as I’m reading over Rashid’s character, I realized how much I am called to do his story.

But is it worth it for a book that probably will not be bought?

No answers here. My brain is too tired. Instead, I am ruminating over the turkey hotline. And the 9-11 calls they receive. One guy who used a chainsaw to cut the turkey in half. I am fretful now in my Holiday Preparation Anxiety that I lack the necessary power tools to prepare a proper Thanksgiving meal.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Odd couple sex

So I’m trying not to think about Margaret Hassan’s death. I’m trying not to think about a lot of things, such as my trip to Haiti next month. Or the state department warning how dangerous Haiti is because of increased violence, carjackings and kidnappings.

Instead, I’m diverting my mind by thinking about sex.

Sex and pairing up odd couples in bed. Famous characters/celebrities, past and present. How would they react to each other? Kind of like that reality show, Wife Swap, only they’re in bed, not just doing the housework. So far I’ve come up with these:

Mr. Spock & Samantha from “Sex & the City”: Samantha is fascinated by his pointed ears, and wonders if they are an indication of something equally odd and kinky on other body parts. Mr. Spock, being a Vulcan, and only experiencing the mating urge once every seven years, does not think Samantha’s inclination to “lick his nipple like a chocolate-covered cherry” is logical.

Robert DeNiro & Laura Ingalls from "Little House on the Prairie": Laura is totally confused as to why DeNiro wants her to wear Victoria’s Secret crotchless panties instead of her nice white lawn nightgown.

Yoda & Miss Piggy: Yoda tells her “There is no try. Only do.” She replies, “Yada Yada Yada, then DO it instead of trying” and decides to relinquish her penchant for little green creatures, even Kermit the Frog.

Mrs. Cleaver & Howard Stern: She insists on clean white sheets and doing it under the covers and worries the Beaver might accidentally walk in looking for Wally. When he leers at her and tells her what he would love to do to her Beaver, she hits him over the head with her iron.

Adrian Paul in “Highlander” & Roseanne Barr: She grabs her crotch and starts braying “America the Beautiful” as she undresses. Adrian wishes he were time traveling back to Yee Old Scotland and seriously contemplates the joys of living as a monk.

Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings” & the Wicked Witch from “The Wizard of Oz”: She insists on being on top and wearing ruby spike heels. She sneers and says her broomstick is bigger than his staff. Disgusted, Gandalf hoses her down with a bucket of water and trots off to seek a little action with Glinda the Good Witch because he secretly loves the way she wiggles her magic wand.

Judge Judy & Donald Trump from “The Apprentice.” Battle between the bedsheets. He does the “cobra” and tells her she’s fired after she proclaims sentencing on his technique. AND criticizes his hair.

Cartman from “South Park” & “Sponge Bob”: Let’s not even go there…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Margaret Hassan

Oh dear God. She’s dead.

Margaret Hassan, the director of CARE in Iraq, who was taken hostage, has been killed. Apparently the mutilated body of a Western woman found on the streets of Fallujah a few days ago was her. There’s a video that may show her death. She cried and pleaded for her life, but they killed her anyway.

How could they do this? A woman who was in Iraq for 30 years, helping the people? An aid worker who married an Iraqi? A woman who reached out to those whom the world ignored, and helped the poor and the vulnerable? A woman who cradled the sick and dying children of Iraq in her arms, fighting to save them with medicine they desperately needed?

She was a Muslim. Born in Ireland, she converted to Islam when she married her husband, an Iraqi.

I told myself I wasn’t going to talk politics on this blog. I’m not. But I’m heartbroken for her, for her family, for all the Iraqi people who will suffer from this tremendous loss.

I’ve traveled to many Third World countries. I know people who lived and worked in dangerous places as aid workers. One woman I know saw a man shot and killed in front of her. It’s not an easy job. The suffering and misery you see each day, can wear you down. But the forlorn faces of the people, the quiet despair of the children, tugs at you. You realize the enormous need and the good you can do, and you find the strength to go on.

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my job working as a writer for an international aid organization. In 11 years, I’ve traveled to Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Guatemala…and many other countries. I’ve lost count of all the trips. But even when walking through streets harbored by Jamaican gunmen, where people were killed only the day before, I’ve never felt threatened. The first time I worried about being in danger was my trip to Gonaives after the floods. I can’t imagine living and working in a volatile country, seeing the suffering and faced with danger yourself, and yet you cannot leave because you are fully committed to the people.

She didn’t leave. It was her home. Her people. And now she’s dead.

May her legacy of working tirelessly for the poor not die with her.

Galleys and first moments

So last night I’m reading over my galleys for THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE and I’m laughing at the humor, blushing at the love scenes. One of the most significant scenes is where Kenneth and Badra share a moment of passion in his library. Quite symbolic, because she was illiterate in THE FALCON & THE DOVE and longed to learn to read. In COBRA, she’s literate and is very proud of it.

Kenneth says to her, “Give me back my desert, Badra. One kiss, one small memory of the home I left behind. Kiss me, Badra and let me taste Egypt once more.”

As I’m reading, DH (dear hubby) is beside me on the couch watching TV. I get to a funny section, read a line aloud to him, and he just grins and shakes his head.

Then he looks at me and says, “So how does it feel?”

I ask, “What feel?”

He points to the book. “That. Finally seeing it typeset. Knowing it will be published, in print and not just on your computer.”

And I’m staring at the pages and I smile and say, “It feels good. But you know what? Nothing can ever feel as good as the first book.”

It’s true. The first book, the first set of galleys, the first time you see your cover with your name on it and know, “This is my book. My name’s on it!”

The rush of excitement is incredible, especially if you’ve struggled for years to get published. Especially if you have a few yellowing manuscripts tucked beneath the bed that are battle scars. Or judges’ comments from entering contests that pinch, but ultimately can be helpful.

All those wonderful first moments which come with a first book. My first booksigning took place at the 2002 RT convention. I’ll never forget walking into the auditorium and seeing my author name placard… and a stack of THE FALCON & THE DOVE beside it. I didn’t think Dorchester could get the books there on time. They did. I stood there and cried. And Leah Vale and Nancy Warren, who were flanking me, asked what was wrong. I just pointed to the books and blubbered, “My book! It’s my first one!”

And they immediately understood.

Having a third book in print is wonderful, but the first one is like making love for the first time. You never forget it. And if you’re very fortunate, it will be an experience you’ll cherish for years to come.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The FALCON has flown the coop

Here I am, waxing poetic about writing, returning to the craft of writing and guess what? I ran into one of those author problems. I found out that my first book, released in Nov. 2002, is out of stock with the publisher.

Yup, THE FALCON & THE DOVE is listed on their web site as being out of stock. Gosh, I'm hoping it's a mistake. Because my second book released Dec. 2003, THE TIGER & THE TOMB, is out of stock as well.

I feel like a mom whose chicks have flown the nest. And now I'm worrying about if they'll go back to press. Because it's a reader thing. COBRA, my May release, is a continuation of the adventure. The heroine is Badra, a secondary character from FALCON. I know how frustrating it is to want to read a book that is either out of print or difficult to find. This happened a few years ago with Judith Ivory's first book, BLACK SILK. My friend and CP, Julie, raved about this book, which Judy wrote under her real name, Judy Cuevas. I hunted and hunted for that book. In used bookstores. Online. No luck. It became like a treasure quest.

Then finally, Avon re-released it. But it took YEARS. It was worth the wait.

I have my little cache of both FALCON and TIGER under my bed. I'm keeping them in reserve should they never go back to press. Like the buried treasure Badra and Kenneth seek in Cobra. They're in the pyramid, digging and suddenly...

Badra, shrieking with joy: There's something down here. Do you think it's the jewels of Princess Meret?

Kenneth: Let me fetch the light. Let's see...

They both tunnel with their hands, eager to find the long-buried treasure of the Pharaoh's daughter. Suddenly they hit upon the outline of a box. They brush the dirt the carton with great excitement.

Badra, staring and reading aloud. THE FALCON & THE DOVE. THE TIGER & THE TOMB. Books?

Kenneth, grumbling in English and Arabic: I sailed thousands of miles, risked getting assasinated in my bed, braved the scorching sun for a box of lousy romance novels?

Jabari, suddenly appearing out of the shadows and snatching a copy of FALCON: It is not a lousy romance novel. It is my story. Pay your sheikh more respect.

Kenneth, glaring: Hey, listen I got NO lines in that book and just a couple of name mentions.

Jabari: So you have no wish to keep it. Very well, since I am now out of stock, I will just take this copy with me...

Badra, smiling sweetly: I think not, Jabari. It's our treasure. We found it.

Jabari stares in outrage.

Kenneth: Fork over $5.99, bud. Plus tax.

The writing beast

A friend's email today was like a beacon shedding light on a dark horizon. She noted that we romance writers are pressuring ourselves to get published, publish more and keep publishing more more more more. Whatever happened to the craft of writing? She noted, “The only thing we can control as writers is the writing.”

Excellent point. Whatever did happen to the craft of writing? Are we romance writers these days too concerned about what’s selling, how to get published, pitch your work to an editor/line, how to network, how to sell MORE books, how to market yourself, that we’ve neglected the basics? What about quality over quantity? As writers, shouldn’t we strive to challenge ourselves, to draw from deep inside the well? If the market pushes us, always the market, the market like that nursery rhyme, then are we neglecting what really counts?

What drew us originally to write? If you had to give up writing, could you? Forget the quest to become published, or publish again, the money (what money, lol!!!), the drive to move up into a lead slot or make the LISTS. Just think of never, ever writing another scene, another paragraph, another word again.

Could you do it?

There’s a quote I have on my computer. It’s by George Orwell and reads, “"Writing... is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

Cynical? Oh yes. True? Oh yes. Writing IS a horrible, exhausting struggle. It’s a beast that lays its claws into you, a demanding monster riding on your shoulder like a grim vulture. And yet, I could never relinquish my beast. Even amid the horrible torrents of self-doubt. Even when the nagging critic whispers into my brain and says, “Hey? You know that paragraph you wrote? A monkey sitting at a computer could have written better. No, a one-armed monkey could have written better.”

The only thing we can control as writers is the writing. We are driven by the mad monster endlessly lashing us onward, the grinning demon that will not release its powerful grip. And amid the madness, pain and struggles, we find kernels of joy, like secret, buried treasure winking at us in the sun.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Warriors & turkeys

Wow, so long since I’ve written in here. Truth is, I’ve been “blogged down.” Okay, bad pun!

So much going on, and today I glanced at the calendar. Ever have one of those, “AAAKKK” moments? The kind you get when you realize Thanksgiving is only 2 weeks away. That little fluttery feeling of panic that says, “Hello! Guess what, the HOLIDAYS are almost here.”

Thanksgiving, which means cooking A Big Family Meal. Even though we don’t have a Big Family Gathering. This year, friends invited us over. I’d love to go. Honestly, I can’t cook. I burn water. But DH loves turkey leftovers. He insists on doing the bird each year, otherwise, our turkey would resemble something tossed into a nuclear reactor. Heck, it would probably even glow green.

I wonder about Big Family Gatherings during Thanksgiving. I mean, are all the Hallmark and grocery store commercials true? Does everyone smile and bill and coo at each other? And what if you took a family totally unaccustomed to the Thanksgiving tradition and put them into a similar setting?

I envision forcing Egyptian Khamsin warriors to cook Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve invaded my kitchen and in total silent amusement, I sit back to watch.

Jabari: This bird, one calls a turkey, it is taking a long time to roast. I think Ramses should have bought a smaller fowl.

Ramses: You are the real turkey, Jabari. Perhaps we should roast you.

Jabari: Shut up and boil these small round white objects, Ramses. Or do you not know how to boil water?

Kenneth: They’re called potatoes, Jabari. Will someone tell me when the oven is free so I can bake the rolls?

Rashid, reading package back of corn: Microwave ten minutes. This looks simple enough.

Jabari, frowning at jar of gravy: Who is this Mr. Heinz? And why should we put his sauce on our food?

Dinging sound. Rashid opens microwave and eyes soggy, heated box of corn. Mutters: This does not look appetizing at all.

Kenneth, snapping at Rashid: You bloody fool! You’re supposed to take the corn OUT OF THE BOX before you microwave!

Rashid, bristling, removing scimitar: Call me a bloody fool? Prepare to defend yourself!

Kenneth, taking electric carving knife and assuming dueling position: Go ahead if you are man enough!

Jabari, snapping: ENOUGH! Stop this foolishness and help me determine if this bird is done.

Ramses: Check the red button. Has it popped out yet? That is how I know Katherine was done when she was pregnant with the twins. Her belly button popped out.

Jabari takes turkey out of oven. Foul smell hits the air. Men look down silently at burnt bird:

Kenneth to Jabari
: You were supposed to move the innards.

Jabari (defensively): I am sheikh of the mighty Khamsin warriors. Not CHEF of the mighty Khamsin warriors!

Kenneth, sighing: Let’s go to Cracker Barrel.

Rashid, nodding: We can take my camel.