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I Finally Did It . . .

And I have Niki Burnham to thank for my newest time sink. Yes, I got tempted by an all-knowing, utterly hip YA author to make a go of MySpace and now I am addicted. It’s like going back to school all over again, but in a healthy way, at least so I hope. I sit down at my computer and think, “Who can I friend now?”. I mean, there’s a whole world of people to meet out there. It’s like Ravelry for the non-knitting set. (Okay, if you are a non-knitter that reference just went right over your head. But trust me, Ravelry is the hippest place on earth.)

This all started with Niki having a late night flight out of Seattle, so she came to hang at my house since I live pretty close to the airport. We started talking about the various ways to meet people, readers and booksellers online, via our blogs, our websites, bulletin boards and then she came to MySpace. MySpace?! I cringed, I reeled back in fear. Not MySpace.

Now I had reserved a MySpace page a while ago but never got around to doing anything with it. And when I confided to her that I found the entire place baffling –perhaps its the really pimped out pages that leave me feeling sort of dizzy that kept me from wading in–that and the friending thing, and the “adds” and all the other MySpace-speak that left me feeling like a Romulan at a Klingon convention–Niki in her ultimate hip and cool mode sat me down and gave me a 2 hour MySpace lesson. I’m such a geek, I took notes.

Of course, it took me a few more weeks to really figure it out. This is how bad it is now:

Jane Porter calls me the other day when she’s at the airport (again about 10 minutes from my house) and her flight is totally delayed, so she calls to kill time. And she’s online and we start comparing MySpace features. So we are talking on the phone and sending each other messages via our MySpace pages and laughing that we should be sitting down, face to face and having coffee. You know a real connection. Then we made plans for real coffee and got back to being goofy working seriously on our next books.

But since not everyone heads to the airport in Seattle on a regular basis, I suppose I will have to do with having loads of cyber friends. That was one reason why when I redesigned my website, I wanted it to revolve around this blog. So I could have a better relationship with my friends and readers. I don’t know why sometimes I don’t just jump into things like MySpace, or even Ravelry, where friends can be found with every click. And when I consider how it was just 10-15 years back, making connections with people from all over the world just didn’t happen–but my blog stats show I’ve had people read this blog from all over the world. Wow! Sort of staggering, but also goes to show, that no matter where you go, you can always find a kindred spirit and a good friend. So come on by my MySpace page and friend me! How cool is that?

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Note to self: Don't kill anyone off while they are standing in Parliment

Recently, there was a poll in England for the most ridiculous British laws still on the books. As a writer of British set fiction, I try very hard to adhere to what is lawful and historically accurate. So I’ve made a note of what not to do in my books, as being both ridiculous and unlawful:

1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. (Thankfully, I haven’t done this to anyone, but I am sure there are plenty of times I’ve wanted to send a really annoying character off to their death. Now I know where not to send them.)

2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down. (Well gracious heavens of course that should be illegal. No woman looks good upside down. Her neck runs into her chin and all the bags get really baggy.)

3. In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store. (Lucky tropical fish.)

4. Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day. (Thank Oliver Cromwell, that infamous English killjoy for this one. Apparently he felt it was gluttony to eat them. I wonder what he’d say about a good old fashioned American Thanksgiving.)

5. In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter. (Someone should pass this along to all the folks in those bladder ads on TV. No need for medication, just move to Scotland.)

6. A pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman’s helmet. (Another good thing to know. Does this include morning sickness? Cause I was forever dashing off to the nearest bathroom when I was pregnant.)

7. The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king, and the tail of the queen. (Can’t argue with this one. Are they going to haul the smelly thing away?)

8. It is illegal to avoid telling the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing. (Gads, whoever wrote this one probably also wrote the tax codes, which in comparison seem almost understandable.)

9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour. (Well, what if you want to make fashion statement? Or just a statement? Or your dry cleaners were really slow?)

10. In the city of York it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow. (Note to self, if I want to kill off that annoying character, make them Scottish, send them York on a visit and pack a bow and arrow in their trunk. No, that isn’t the least bit convoluted or ridiculous.)

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Chat with Me — Tuesday Nite

I’ll be filling my chair here, and settling in this Tuesday night (11/6) at 9 pm Eastern time to chat live with anyone who wants to drop by Coffee Time Romance with questions, comments, or if you just want to eavesdrop, that’s allowed as well. I’ll be joined by my fellow Avon author, and recent Speed Dating Librarian wingman, Jenna Petersen. I’ll be dishing dirt on my two series, hinting about Hermione’s book and generally causing rowdiness. As much as you can with a latte in one hand and trying to type intelligently with the other. Drop by!

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Getting Going With A Little Help From My Friends

Gads. I’ve been terrible about getting something together about the weekend–perhaps its because I’m still trying to get caught up after a whirlwind month of social engagements. My husband was a tad grumpy the other day and I asked him what had his boxers in a knot (okay, perhaps that wasn’t the most gracious way to ask and by way of marital harmony, I could have phrased it a little better) and his reply was: “Well, you’ve been gone. Like the entire month. And I’ve had to deal with the kids and every thing.” Do you see the hands up in the air and the look of male outrage? Truly I wept for him having to deal with the kids and the house and the crazy schedule because I hadn’t the least notion what that would be like. Snort.

So now that I am back, I’ve done my ritual cleaning of the office (because said husband, if he doesn’t know where something goes, dumps it in my office–uh, honey, when did I start playing with Bionicles?) And then I started writing. I don’t know–just being around all my favorite writing buddies, listening to some great writing talk, loads of gossip and all that goes on when you spend a month hanging with the writing crowd, I sat down Tuesday and started writing. Like there’s a fire in my chair to get pages down. I’m loving it.

And I have the following folks to thank:

Like Janet Ulbright. She is one of the MOST supportive people I know. Truly she is one of my favorite people to find at a conference. She’s kind and generous and always has this bright wonderful smile on her face. And as you can see, she has great taste in books.

And then there are Terri Reed and Leah Vale, and Nicole Burnham who was off checking out . I love these guys! They make me laugh and hoot and smile more than any other writers I know. Niki and I got very caught up over lunches and driving around and even got a chance to gang up on Leah. We made our goals for the year over drinks and a great lunch and once again dreamed big, spilled out our deepest writing dreams to each other without any worries about sharing something that wouldn’t be understood. Leah, are you writing?! I am!

And then there was someone like Ciara here–who came by the signing–asked to have our picture taken and was so sweet, that on the days when I wonder why it is I spend my days chained to my chair, I will remember her beautiful smile and excitement and let it rejuvenate me all over again.

Thank you, one and all.

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Finding the Mojo

I recently went and heard Donald Maass talk about putting the fire into your fiction–which coincidently will be the name of his next writing book. Years ago, I attended one of his all day workshops and was completely taken aback at his theories and insights on writing. He really fired me back up then and so when I heard he was coming to Bainbridge Island, which is just a ferry hop across Puget Sound, I knew I needed to sign up. I wasn’t disappointed.

He took those of us lucky enough to attend through a series of hands on exercises on how to make scenes come more alive in our writing, putting the fire in them, so to say. For me, it was like finding my writing mojo again. The challenge that keeps writing fresh and fun and interesting. But what I thought was funny was the reaction of other writers there–like what are you doing here?! As if having published a pile of books makes me an expert. Believe me, I am no expert–I just love learning about my craft. I’m curious that way. I always love to hear about other writers’ processes and what they do with their ideas and if one guru or another is worth a Saturday and a trip across the Sound.

I do the same with my knitting. Constantly on the search for new methods, new cast ons, new challenges. I learned the basics when I was about 8–but any craft is a life time process, and the lessons that served me at 8 were great foundations, but I love learning something new. Sometimes it fits with the skill set, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s the learning that keeps it interesting. I think that’s why so many people have unfinished books or UFOs as we call them in the knitting world–you’re stuck with the same skills without upping the challenge.

What have you done recently to “up” the challenges in your life? To explore new skills or ideas?

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My Monday Night MUST

is The Big Bang Theory on CBS. If you haven’t seen this new show yet, please sit down, give it 30 minutes and discover how funny a sitcom can be. This show is hilarious. The story of two highly intelligent geeks who get a new neighbor in the form of a pretty but not overly bright girl named Penny. Penny rattles their regulated, Romulan loving, cyber social world and it is this meeting of Beauty and the Geeks that has me laughing for the rest of the week.

Now first I must confess that many years ago I was in the same sort of triangle. My brother went to MIT and two of his friends moved to Seattle for work and he asked me to show them around since he had moved to California. Karl and Wally were like Leonard and Sheldon prototypes and for me it was always interesting going out with them–we had common ground in that we all three loved movies, so most weekends I would meet them at the movies and while Wally played Junior Mint battle (don’t even ask–I never really understood the rules), Karl would regale me with facts that so went over my humble head, I perfected a feigned look of understanding that has stood me well over the years.

What I really adore about this show is the dialogue–especially Sheldon’s biting observations about the baffling world around him–his take on social trends just cracks me up. This past week, when he lost his job for being so sharply honest with his new boss, I died laughing. Sheldon says what we all want to say–uninhibited by the social cues that make the rest of us shut our mouths. As he unraveled from his job loss, we got a peek inside this child-man who has always been too smart for his own good. It was as heart warming as it was hilarious.

And then there is Leonard. I’ll fess it right up front. I have the worst sort of crush on Leonard. Shy, awkward, and downright clueless, he is the ultimate un-hero, the man inside the geek just begging to be discovered. I’m such a sucker for the awkward hero (hence my lifelong love of Jimmy Stewart!) and here is Leonard, light saber in hand, and really doesn’t that just scream hero hilarious to you?

So what are you doing on Monday nights? If you haven’t discovered this show yet, sit down and watch it for me. Or you can catch up on a few episodes via this link. And after you’ve watched it, let me know what you think. Aren’t these geeks the new Brad Pitt? They are to me!

What is your favorite new show this Fall?

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Where's the lid?

When I blogged about the Dedication in Love Letters from a Duke, I ended up meeting Joey, who also has a son with autism. We’ve exchanged emails and some of you even pitched in and helped Joey with her Autism Walk fund drive. Joey recently emailed me and asked for some way to say thanks to all of you who pitched in and I asked her to join me here in my blog and write about her experiences so every one of you would know how much your donations, prayers and good thoughts helped her and so many other families.

So here is Joey:

Dear Elizabeth,

There is a link on the Autism Speaks website that very eloquently states, “Why We Walk.” It talks about accelerating the pace and progress of autism research. About the sense of hope and determinedness at the Walk events. That the sheer force of combined passion, commitment, and numbers will move the field forward to find effective treatments and a cure for autism. It’s really a beautiful statement. And I agree that it is a great reason to raise money and walk at events like the one we joined in Detroit.

Why do I walk?

I don’t know too much about your little guy, but when Gabriel was two he could say about 5 meaningful words. He had tons of words, but they were all labeling or echoic. In May 2006, he was finally diagnosed with high-functioning autism. At 2.5 years old, he was labeling, but not speaking meaningfully. He did not point or wave and had fleeting eye contact at best.

There was no one there after the diagnosis to tell us what to do or where to go to find services for our son. We heard about how important early intervention was, but had trouble navigating the maze of services. Only because of my mother’s 36 years in social work did we learn about the services available through our county. The resources in Toledo were—and still are—scarce.

We discovered Applied Behavior Analysis and PLAY/Floortime therapies shortly before Gabriel was diagnosed. We immediately set up an ABA/Play program in our home. It was a tough road but he quickly made amazing strides. A whine became “Up! Down! Milk!”

In November, I attended an ABA seminar. Shortly after, Gabriel and I began an intensive parent/child ABA training program. The program was called GIFT of Hope and was 5 days a week, 3 hours a day (plus homework!) and a three hour round trip!

I remember calling my mother in tears after the third day of the program. Gabriel had a full-blown tantrum that lasted 28 minutes! But when he graduated from the program I distinctly remember the feeling of empowerment. The tantrums and other behaviors had greatly diminished and I now knew how to work with my son. I could use relaxation techniques and other behavioral interventions to combat or prevent tantrums. And Gabriel learned how to communicate his wants and needs effectively and his language and social skills were increasing daily!

In March, shortly after our graduation from GIFT of Hope, my husband, Garett, handed Gabriel a sippy-cup full of chocolate soymilk. Gabriel grabbed it and headed on his hoppy-skippy way. And I remember this part so vividly. Something made him stop in his tracks. He turned back to Garett, looked at the milk sloshing up the sides of the cup and then into his Dad’s eyes and asked, “Where’s the lid?” After the tears—there were a lot, but they were happy!—we joked then that we should put the phrase on a T-shirt.

I walk because I want to share Gabe’s story. And it’s not over. Through countless hours of therapy, loads of debt and an altered diet, he is doing remarkably well. He is in a typical pre-school, has friends and talks—literally—non-stop. I hope others will learn from or find comfort in Gabriel’s journey. That’s why I wrote to you when I read your dedication. We need to share our stories and support those who put themselves out there. You made me feel empowered gave me a bigger voice. Most of all, I found comfort in the story of a new friend.

We have received several donations from your fans. I want to thank them personally, but I don’t have access to their email addresses even though they sent money to our page! Please let them know they made our voices even stronger! The Detroit “Walk Now for Autism” event had over 7000 walkers and raised over $520,000. I have added a picture of our team. My husband, Garett, and I are on the ground with Gray and Gabe is behind me with our “Jessica”, Becca.

Thank you again for generously including our story on your page. Your willingness to share with others makes us all stronger. Please let me know when you are out this way. You have a fan and a friend for life.

Joey

I am always willing to share or try to help parents whose children are newly diagnosed, especially those who live in Michigan and Ohio.

My list of beliefs:

I believe that early intervention is key. Time is precious. If something about you child’s development is troubling you, make an appointment their pediatrician. Today. If you don’t get a solid response to your concerns or a referral to a specialist, make an appointment with a developmental pediatrician yourself. I spent over a year listening to my pediatrician tell me there was nothing wrong with my son, that I “was neurotic” and that children with autism “never give eye contact or smile”.

Quality and quantity are important. Intensive therapy (ABA!!!, OT, SLP, Play, RDI) for as many hours as you can manage (recommendation is between 25-40) is priceless.

What goes in affects what comes out. A healthy diet, low in sugar, high in organics can benefit all children and a GF/CF diet does work for some people with autism.

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Twenty Questions

As I was coming out of Central Park last Sunday I walked past someone famous and did a double-take. As did my sister-in-law, Cathy. And we both said at once, “Was that_________?” Of course, Nick had no clue who it was–being only 8. And it turns out it was who we thought it was. So who did we see? You have twenty questions, but please only ask one at a time to give everyone a chance to play.

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Wow–NJ! I'm impressed

I’ve been to quite a few conferences in my time and this past weekend at the NJ Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book conference, I was really, really impressed. This is a great conference. And I don’t say that lightly. This is a great conference. It would be worth skipping National to attend, because it has the added bonus of being right beside you know where. (Read my last blog if that makes no sense).

One of the great things was catching up with two of my favorite Avon friends, Julia Quinn, Kathryn Smith. Here they are showing the love and a level of class and maturity that goes without saying. The respect they show me as a fellow author and again, the love, just moves me. Okay, I’ll cut the crap. Those two are a pair of clowns and I do love them to death. Kate explained to me what exactly “camera ready make-up” means, so I didn’t turn up at my RomanceNovel.Tv interview looking like J.P. Patches. And JQ? She’s such a cool friend. Walked with me through a dark parking lot to Best Buy to get a phone charger, talked girl stuff and then waited outside the plane when we all arrived back in Seattle so we could have a last chat before we parted company. Considering she was in Row 6 and I was in Row 28–she had quite a wait. That’s a good friend.

Sophia Nash, on the other hand, was quite the minx. Not only is she imposingly gorgeous–all tall and blonde, she’s got this air of confidence that just makes you sure you are going to snort milk out your nose on tape. And to make matters more interesting, she’d dug into my past for our interview on Romance Novel Tv, and by the end of the interview had me going between laughing hysterically and blushing 10 shades of red. The funny part was sitting down to do the interview and we are both wearing black and before you know it, we are picking lint off each other and fixing our hair like a pair of monkeys. But since that is a true sign of friendship in the monkey world, that makes us good friends. Believe me, the outtakes from that interview are going to be hilarious. I’ll probably never live them down.

I also got a chance to bump into Eileen Dreyer in the bathroom. Nothing like sharing a moment with one of your favorite authors over a soap dispenser and paper towels. Next time, we will do drinks, Eileen. I promise.

Now here was the part I really loved about this conference: the booksigning. Sometimes conference signings are really a drag–because they last for two hours and after the first half an hour of the conference goers coming through, then you spend the next hour and fifteen minutes twiddling your thumbs, or in my case, happily knitting. No chance to knit at this signing. Fans from all over NJ and NY came to visit, and it was lovely to see so many kind people. Shout out to Santa and Ivanka for coming by! The line to get into the signing–I kid you not–began an hour before it opened. They had warned us about this beforehand, but quite frankly I had thought they were being overly optimistic. Not so. And why wouldn’t they line up? With Julia Quinn and Sherrilyn Kenyon signing, fans came from all over. And the readers were so lovely. I’ve never met so many kind and generous folks. So to all of you, thank you for making my trip so very memorable.

What is your favorite part of conferences? And who would be at your dream booksigning?

Coming Friday: Twenty Questions as to the very famous person I spotted in NYC!

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I love NYC

Let me just get that up front and center. I LOVE NYC. I always have. I find it enormously fascinating, always interesting, and surprising on every corner. So when I got the chance to speak at the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, I was thrilled–because I knew it meant I could go you-know-where.

Now my husband doesn’t get nor understand my love affair with NYC, so I took my son, Nicholas with me. He’s been pestering me to take him to New York since he was four. Yes, four. I promised him way back then I would take him when he was eight–thinking he would never remember such a promise–oooh, he remembered. And in Nick, I found a kindred spirit–a traveling buddy who loves NYC as much as I do.

And the fun part about going to NY this time, even after I’ve visited so many other times was seeing it through the eyes of a child. He brought back all the wonder and joy I felt exploring the city nearly twenty years ago. We visited places I’d been before: The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural Sciences (aka Night at the Museum), Central Park, rode the subway, rode in taxis, saw two plays–all of it accompanied by these gasps of delight and “Wow, Mom! This is SO cool!”

Not often a mom gets to be cool.

Even though it was hot — the 80s in October, who would have thought it? — he trudged alongside me up and down the blocks in the garment district while I searched for new button stores, took the 3 hour time change in stride, and ate more slices of pizza than I thought was possible. If I carry away anything from this trip it is the image of him dancing on the piano at FOA Schwartz, ala the movie Big. He even conned his Aunt Cathy into taking him back there while I was at the conference so he could do it again. The little ham–I don’t know where he gets it.

Best of all, the little squirt did me proud–he went in to HarperCollins and made himself at home, learned how they make book covers, pitched his comic book series to Carrie Ferron and dealt well with having to sit through “a very boring” lunch (his words, not mine) with my editor at my favorite lunch spot (the tea room at Takashimaya.)  Thank goodness I had the forethought to put Garfield, A Tale of Two Kitties on my iPod for him. The only time he really balked was when I had to catch up with Julia Quinn and she was in The American Girl Store.

Word of caution: Do not ask an eight year old boy to set foot inside The American Girl Store. You stop being cool in a New York minute.

So as we flew home last night, and he sleepily curled up next to me on the plane, I heard the best words of all just before he fell asleep, “Thanks mom. I love New York, don’t you?”

Yes, honey, I do. I really, really do.

What are your favorite places in NYC? And if you haven’t been, what would you most like to see?

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