Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Trouble with men

It's a dreary, rainy day and several men are giving me trouble. First, I'm struggling to make a fight scene (somebody is resisting arrest) more realistic in my WIP. Then there's Number Two Son, in the next room playing Beck (the haunting, depressing "Sea Change") so loud every window in the house is rattling. ("Turn it down!" I bellowed. "But it's Beck!" he shouted back at me.) So I came online to check my e-mail and found some cranky guy telling me what an idiot I am and suggesting that I rename this blog, "No rules. Just tripe." (Okay, that did deserve a laugh.) And then I read this e-mail from my Number One Son, who is supposed to be grateful for all I have done for him in the past 23 years, beginning with giving him birth:
I discovered more good music - Townes Van Zandt.

Why did you let me go through life not knowing about this guy?

And there you have it, folks. The reason I am unfazed by nasty e-mails from strangers is that all of my energy is required to defend myself from oppression by my own children. Long before I was failing to please all of my blog readers all of the time I was striking out in the Good Mother game. So I'm sorry, cranky blog readers, but you people are a dime a dozen and you're just the tiniest blips on my radar screen.

Tristan, I apologize for failing to provide you with the complete musical education you deserved. Yes, I did follow the Texas troubadours in my younger days (Oh! I don't think I ever told you about Jerry Jeff Walker, either) and "Pancho and Lefty" (Van Zandt's version, not Willie's) was always a favorite of mine. I really should have shared that with you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Does every writer need a blog?

Via The Internet Writing Journal, here's a strong hint for authors from publishing veteran Jonathan Karp as quoted in Business Week:

"Writers have to be promoters if they believe in their work. Blogs are a way for authors to communicate directly with readers and establish a personal connection. It's a way to reach readers who may not attend bookstore events, and it's more convenient for authors, too. I haven't met too many writers who were eager to fly to Houston for a day -- though I'm sure Houston is lovely this time of year."
First of all, as someone who grew up in Houston and who has been back in August of almost every year since (this particular August having been one of the notable exceptions), I had to snort at Mr. Karp's remark about Houston being "lovely" this time of year. He must not be talking about the Houston that's snuggled down there in the nation's armpit, which is otherwise known as the Texas Gulf coast. I've got nothing against Houstonians, but even they don't call their sweltering, traffic-clogged city "lovely" in August.

But back to that stuff about authors needing blogs. Do they really?

I don't believe so. Blogs may indeed be "a way for authors to communicate directly with readers and establish a personal connection," but the jury's been out for quite some time on whether--apart from a very few notable exceptions--the typical author's blog has any appreciable impact on book sales. It's easy to believe that they must, especially if the blogs in question get good traffic, but there's actually no way to determine how many people read a blog and then rush out to buy the author's next book.

Why do it, then?

I do it because it's good writing practice. And it's fun. And hey, it might sell six or seven more books next spring; who knows? But I wouldn't blog if I didn't enjoy it. Frankly, this would be an awful lot of work just to sell an extra handful of books. So I can't help but think most authors would do better spending their time writing more books rather than jumping on the blog bandwagon. If they don't really have time and their hearts aren't in blogging and they aren't going to learn how to promote their blogs and get good traffic, what's the point?

When I started blogging eight months ago, I encouraged many of my author friends to try it. Now I wish I hadn't. Blogging takes so much time and effort, I'm not surprised that so many authors who begin blogs allow them to fizzle out. Even the authors who have continued posting regularly don't seem to have the time or energy to go through all the hoops required to entice new visitors to their blogs. And I hate it that my friends feel guilty for not doing something they "should" be doing.

So I'm going to disagree with Mr. Karp. Authors don't need blogs. Or even websites. An internet presence is not the only promotional tool in the box. And rather than use tools that feel clumsy in her hands, each author should consider her own abilities and desires and then promote her books in the way that works best for her.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Photo: White roses

I love my cousin Cindy, and not just because she always seems to know when I need a dozen white roses.

I can hardly write without fresh flowers in my office, but the drought in our area has made for slim pickings in the garden this past month and the mums and Japanese anemones aren't quite ready for cutting yet. That made this bouquet of snow-white darlings doubly welcome when they arrived on Friday afternoon.

Click on the photo to make 'em grow.


On a more serious note, the blogosphere's buzzing with talk of Hurricane Katrina, and this morning Terry Teachout has put together a very helpful collection of blogs and other sites that are being updated regularly.

I've been praying, of course.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Q&A free-for-all

This will be an ongoing project, so I'll toss a link in the sidebar.

Yes, these are actual questions from actual readers of "No rules. Just write." If you'd like to ask a question, please add it to the comments here. As you are about to see, pretty much anything goes.



What's a smart woman like you doing writing romance novels?

I'm afraid my hands aren't steady enough for brain surgery. And although I'd love to do rocket science, I don't want to leave my family and move to California, which is where The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is located. So I just content myself with writing romance novels.


Does your husband know about you and Terry Teachout?

Yes. Not because my husband reads this blog, but because I'm always gushing about Terry at the dinner table. If you're new around here, you'll soon figure out that Terry is my blogging hero. He once thrilled me almost senseless by quoting me and linking to my blog. [Update, October 2, 2005: He just did it again. Woo-hoo!]


Why do you hate Harry Potter?

I don't hate Harry Potter. I don't even know Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books about him, either. But one day when I posted that the J. K. Rowling books just didn't interest me, a couple of rabid HP fans got a little nasty. I fended them off, but because I'm a dreadful tease I just can't resist chanting, "Harry Potter, Harry Potter" at every opportunity.


Why do you use Blogger?

Because that's how I started, on December 27, 2004. I wasn't sure blogging would be right for me, so I chose Blogger for my test drive. Now that I'm a dedicated blogger with a bunch of loyal readers, I don't want to upset the apple cart. Since BrendaCoulter.com is my website, BrendaCoulter.blogspot.com seems to make sense for the blog. I guess I could host it on my own site, but I don't believe BrendaCoulter.com/blog would be a more memorable address than the one I already have. Everyone knows "blogspot," right?


Do you really drink as much coffee and tea as it sounds like?

Probably more. I make a full pot of Earl Gray tea (Twinings brand, loose) every morning and slurp down 4-6 cups. For some reason, my husband and I never fell into the morning coffee habit, although we order coffee for breakfast in restaurants and we sometimes make it on Sunday morning. To us, coffee has always been an after-dinner treat, something to put lots of milk in and enjoy with or instead of dessert. I don't have a problem with caffeine, so I can drink the "high test" stuff even late at night. And I do. We live within easy walking distance of both a Starbucks and a traditional coffee house, and there's a Caribou Coffee just one mile away. Life is good.


Why do you call your husband your hunka burnin' love?

That's "hunk o' burnin' love." Don't you remember Elvis? Actually, I never cared for that song, but one day I was kidding around and addressed a birthday card to "My Hunk o' Burnin' Love." Soon he was signing notes and cards to me, "Your HBL." Our boys were teenagers when they caught on. They would often answer the phone and then bellow, "Mom! It's your hunk o' burnin' love!"


How much has your average advance been? What percentage of a book's asking price do you recieve as your portion of the royalties?

Harlequin is fiercely competetive in the publishing world and they get really steamed when their authors discuss advances and sales figures in public. But I can tell you that royalties are a percentage of the cover price, regardless of whether the retailer discounts the books. So it doesn't matter to us Harlequin authors whether you shop at Barnes and Noble or WalMart.

For a more detailed discussion on what romance novelists make and why "averages" are profoundly meaningless in this business, check out this page of my website.


Why do you hate country music?

Well, it's all those twanging guitars and whining singers. And I could never get into all those story-songs where some lovesick cowboy's ex-wife swipes his brand-new truck and his last bottle of good whiskey and runs off with his best friend's dog. Just a flaw in my character, I guess.


When is your next book coming out?

A Family Forever, my second inspirational romance novel, will be a March '06 release from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. You should see it in stores by the tail-end of February. Check my website for details.


If a train leaves Cincinnati at 4:30am heading east at 45mph, uphill and into a 15 knot headwind, and a prisoner weighing 207 lbs with a harelip, mousy brown hair and a permanent limp escapes from the Fairfax County jail at 11:17am, straps rocket skates on his feet and zips north up the interstate at a rate too fast the Highway Patrol's radar guns to measure, what is the reason we were given these inane word problems in math class? Show your work.

Oh, come on. That is absolutely the stupidest thing I've ever

Dear friend, your highly imaginative question and your vivid description of the escaped prisoner suggest that you missed your medication today will be a great novelist one day. Congratulations!


Do you believe there is EVER a situation when chocolate is not called for?

I can't think of one.


Who are your very favorite contemporary romance authors?

I was hoping nobody would ask that question. I usually fudge and say that I don't really have favorites, but that's not strictly true. I never miss new releases by Jennifer Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips because both of those women hit my funnybone hard. But they don't share my Christian worldview, so I often squirm at some of the situations and themes I find in their books. I'm afraid I haven't yet found a Christian author I like nearly as well.


Who pays for all of your book touring/conventions/hotels/flights/signing expenses?

Yours truly. My biggest expense is the Romance Writers of America Conference, which I make a point of attending each summer. That can run up to $2,000 for registration, air fare, hotel, meals, and taxis, but of course I write it off as a business expense. I don't do book tours and I've done only two signings because I don't particularly enjoy them.


When you were writing A Family Forever, what did you learn about yourself and God? How has that impacted your life since?

I write for my own entertainment, but also in the hope that my stories will give others a few hours of wholesome reading pleasure. I am neither searching for nor trying to teach spiritual lessons in my stories. In my mind, writing romance is simply good, clean fun. So you might as well ask what I learned about myself and God when I completed a Sunday crossword puzzle or went for a walk or baked a birthday cake for a friend. Sure, we can find spiritual lessons everywhere. But the act of writing this book wasn't a unique opportunity for spiritual growth.


Would you/could you please give us a hint of the book(s) to come?

I would if I could, but I can't. As of this writing (April 4, 2006) I have not yet sold my third book. Thanks for asking, and please be assured that when I make another sale, I'll splash the news all over my website and probably this blog, too.


When writing romance novels, is there a standard word/page count that is recommended (amount of words/pages), or does the length matter much for this genre?

Length matters a great deal. Many publishers have very strict word-count guidelines. You can often find that information at publishers' websites, but if you don't, just send 'em a self-addressed, stamped envelope and ask for their guidelines.

Yes, this means you should probably have some publishers in mind while you write. Otherwise you might paint yourself into a corner.

Friday, August 26, 2005

That is so not funny

I'm sorry, but couldn't they have found a better name for this magazine? In Wednesday's Guardian there's a cute article about a magazine for oldsters, "Saga," that will be handing out writing awards next month:

Senior citizens, often considered harmless if inert, can acquire a capacity for rat-like cunning and far-flung exploits. This was the guidance yesterday of Saga magazine, which specialises in the age group, and it can call witnesses to prove its point.

Exhibit A is the actress Joanna Lumley, who has found a foolproof alibi for smoking in public.

Exhibits B and C are Terry and Monica Darlington, who at the ages of 69 and 68 sat down one night, thought: "We could bore ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, or have a bit of an adventure. . . ."

Joanna Lumley's autobiography, No Room for Secrets, and Terry and Monica's story of their voyage, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne [sic] are on a seven-title shortlist announced for the Saga award for wit.


While I can hardly wait to become known for my rat-like cunning and far-flung exploits, when I am old (and 49 is not old, I don't care what my Number Two Son says), I don't think I'll aspire to this particular prize. It would be too embarassing to win. I can just imagine being handed a golden statuette in the shape of some wrinkly, droopy person, and I can tell you right now that the kid who was mentioned parenthetically a couple of lines ago would just roll his eyes and congratulate me on winning a "Saggy" award.

No thanks.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Three posts in one day!

Well, this one isn't a real post. I just popped in to say that I'm putting together a FAQ (a list of Frequently Asked Questions) for this blog and I'd love it if you'd send me some questions so I don't have to make any up. You know--stuff like, "Why do you hate Harry Potter?" and "Who's the best blogger in the 'sphere?"

If you have a question, please post it as a Comment, below, or zap it to this secret e-mail address. Thanks!

Was everybody asleep, or what?

Regular readers of this blog know it's powered alternately by Earl Gray tea (Twinings, loose) and Starbucks (or sometimes Caribou) cafe latte. As a matter of fact, that photo over there on the right is me toasting you all with a "venti"-size cup of Bucky's best.

So I can't believe that none of you thought to send me this link. I had to discover for it myself over at Cindy Swanson's Notes in the Key of Life. Although I guess that wasn't such a hardship, because Cindy's blog is fun. But, still. One of you should have told me there was a video on the internet to go along with Kristin Chenoweth's adorable novelty song, "Taylor the Latte Boy." You really should have.

The video is charming, although that shot of "Kristin" drinking a mocha with whipped cream instead of a cafe latte almost ruined it for me; I take my latte that seriously. But, oh! The romance!

Taylor the latte boy,
bring me java, bring me joy.
Taylor the latte boy,
I love him, I love him, I love him.

Is there a book in you?

It is quite wrong to portray publishing as an impenetrable cartel - if anything it's too open to unknown writers

That provocative statement is the subheader of an article in this morning's The Guardian:

Curiously unsatisfied with the idea that being a successful novelist requires the ability to write books that a consistently large number of people are prepared to buy, jaded scribblers search instead for an explanation that will permit them to retreat with their pride and delusions intact. As W Somerset Maugham put it: "I have never met an author who admitted that people did not buy his book because it was dull."

Oh, ouch.

The truth is a disproportionate number of publishers are wide-eyed idealists with a frightening propensity for chucking good money after bad. As much as agents and editors may feign a cool professional insouciance, most dream of stumbling across The Next Big Thing and securing their place in industry history. While veteran authors languish in the mid-list doldrums, jammy first-timers rake in vast advances on the promise of long and lucrative careers, which frequently fail to materialise. Publishers act with one eye on posterity, leaving their accountants with ulcers the size of kumquats, and the UK book market saturated with newcomers brawling over a limited readership.

Excuse me. Could I just point out that those veteran authors languishing in the midlists were once jammy first-timers, themselves? Sorry. Please continue.

Despite this, there will always be luminaries such as GP Taylor who are happy to curry favour with the disaffected and untalented. Enthusiastically promoting a competition with the aim of finding "the next JK Rowling", Taylor made the bizarre claim that "for the first time ever, a publisher is going to offer someone totally unknown the chance to be published". I daresay there are numerous examples of an author brokering his or her first deal over champagne at a garden party, but the simple fact is that unknown authors are being taken on every day, and frankly, publishers and established authors suffer because of it. The British publishing industry is crying out for a high-profile hothead to disabuse thousands of needy, bumbling timewasters of the notion that nascent masterpieces stir within their loins.

I'm not sure I understand that part about the "needy, bumbling timewasters." What about the author who has worked for ten years, selling nothing, and who "suddenly" becomes a critically acclaimed NYT bestseller? At what point was she transformed from needy, bumbling timewaster to Serious Novelist? Was it the day she signed her first contract, or the day her book hit the List?

By the way, I've said before that while anyone can get published, it's a certainty that not everyone will. I'm not going to use the word "luck" because I'm a strong believer in the soverignity of God, but it takes something more than raw talent and hard work to get published. If a writer approaches the wrong publishers at the wrong times, she's not going to sell.

If anything, the British publishing industry is too open to new writers at the expense of skilled stalwarts. Cheap as chips enterprises such as the Macmillan New Writing imprint saturate the market and harm the prestige of publication. Picking authors before they're ripe represents a bad deal for all concerned. Instead of promoting an attitude of "everyone has won and all shall have prizes", the industry needs to remind people that brilliant writing is very, very hard, that there are many dragons to be fought on the way to publication, and that perishing in the battle is no shame.


This free-market cheerleader disagrees. I'm thrilled that it's possible for the needy, bumbling timewasters (like me!) to get published. I don't believe there are too many books in the stores, and I'm glad literary snobs like the one who wrote this article aren't limiting my choices and preventing me from enjoying fun books that probably wouldn't meet his rigid quality-control standards.

It's a fact that the public's reading tastes have changed dramatically in recent years, and publishers are still scrambling to catch up. But the kind of quality control advocated in this article shouldn't be a concern of the publishing industry; those judgments should be made in the bookstore. Let the reading public decide which books are good and which aren't worth killing trees for. Sooner or later, the publishers will catch on. They're pretty smart that way.

And if they're not, surely an occasional dope-slap from their accountants will steer them in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

No rules: The magazine

If I owned a print magazine, the inaugural issue might look something like this.

Wondering what your magazine would look like? Pop over to Flickr and in about five minutes, you'll know. Be sure to come back here and leave us a link in the comments if you want to share.

If any of you would like to write an article to go along with one of my spoofy headlines, please have at it. Go ahead and make up facts and quotes to your heart's content. Make me laugh, and I just might post your article here and give you a reward. (If you can't read the headlines, click on the pic and make it bigger.)

Note to sharp-eyed Canadians: I know, it was a cheap shot. Sometimes I just have no heart at all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Endearing plot and sweet characters!

Someone hinted the other day that all those "five-star" reviews of my first book by Amazon customers weren't genuine. While that comment appeared designed to take me down a peg, I just chuckled. Whether "EL" believes this or not, my self-esteem isn't derived from what strangers think about my writing.

While I'm pleased that my first book received so many good reviews (in point of fact, I've been able to find only one bad review on the internet--if you know of any more, please shoot me a link), I really don't care as much about them as you might imagine. Sure, the gushy ones make me feel all warm and fuzzy, and they're great for quoting on my website. But what do they mean, really?

I believe they can help create "buzz," so I use them. But I don't think they have any measurable effect on book sales. As a reader, I've never found reviews to be accurate predictors of whether I'd love or hate a particular book. What I'm looking for in a review is a sense of the story. Because I realize not everyone likes and hates the same things I do, the reviewer's praise or condemnation of the book is immaterial to me.

Yesterday I found this stinky review of my Finding Hope over at Bookcrossing. I am so far from being wounded or embarassed by it that I am willing to quote it here in its entirety:

Ugh. Ick. Bleh. Terrible. Couldn't read it - couldn't finish it...so trite, the author works SO HARD to make this plot endearing and her characters 'sweet'...it made my stomach ache!

Um, okay. Let me just object to the reviewer's assertion that I worked hard to make the characters sweet. I think I'm a better authority on my intentions than she is. Still, I'm cool with the fact that she didn't like the book.

I love strawberries and ice cream, but I do not love strawberry ice cream. Rum Raisin? Sign me up. Cherry Garcia? I am so there. Even plain ol' vanilla has its charms. But strawberry? No thanks. It's just plain wrong, that's all. I can't explain it to you. Neither can I explain why this reader despised my book while others have called it their all-time favorite romance novel.

That's why I'll never submit to the emotional tyrrany of bad book reviews and snarky comments from readers of this blog. If I don't allow the good stuff to overinflate my ego, I'll never have to worry about the bad stuff making me cry.

But speaking of reviews, have you ever noticed how movie and book ads spin indifferent or even bad reviews to make their films or books sound like huge hits? I've just come across this fun page over at Gelf Magazine that shows the spurious quotes alongside what the reviewers actually said. Here, for example, is a "quote" used to publicize the movie "The Bad News Bears":

Jami Bernard, New York Daily News: "There's plenty of good news for the 'Bad News Bears' ... a comedy that comes out swinging!"

Actual line: "There's plenty of good news for the 'Bad News Bears,' Richard Linklater's remake of the hit 1976 comedy about an underdog sandlot team that comes out swinging."


Or how about this book blurb for Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World:

Joe Queenan, New York Times Book Review: "An eccentric, fascinating exposé of a world most of us know nothing about."

Actual line: "Foer has overplayed his hand here; the fact that soccer can be 'linked' to so many cultural phenomena does not mean that it 'explains' them. But Foer's book is such an eccentric, fascinating exposé of a world most of us know nothing about that his inability to prove his central thesis seems almost irrelevant."

So, back to my own stinky review. Maybe I should give it a little spin and post it on my website. Hmm. What do you all think of this:

"Endearing plot and sweet characters!"

Monday, August 22, 2005

You say you want a revolution?

As reported in The Book Standard, this idea sounds clever until you think about it:

If you walk into your local bookstore looking for a copy of George Orwell’s 1984, you may just happen upon a cryptic note in its place from a group called The Ministry of Reshelving.

Though they may sound like a gang of vigilante librarians, the Ministry, which was founded only 12 days ago, is in fact made up of people looking to make a sly political statement in a playful way.
When I first read this story, I smiled. Someone clearly has a fertile imagination and a wicked sense of humor. But then it occurred to me that if I owned a bookstore, this might not be funny at all. Somebody will have to reshelve those books. Somebody will have to find them for the customers who can't. And after the bookseller has explained this little prank to the tenth or twentieth puzzled customer, I don't imagine the joke's going to seem funny anymore. Especially if the booksellers don't agree with the protesters to begin with.

And what if other groups began reshelving books? Wouldn't that be a nightmare?

Protest groups should never attempt to garner attention for themselves by imposing on innocent bystanders. Not only is that bad manners, isn't it a bit ridiculous to attempt to highlight government oppression by oppressing others? Shame on The Ministry of Reshelving for taking its protest rally into bookstores uninvited.

[Founder Jane] McGonigal says that having the Ministry send its message through bookstores was ideal because they are, she says, the closest thing we have to a café culture. “It’s important to show that there are small things you can do to make a statement and bookstores are very much a public plaza for our time. . . .”

Perhaps McGonigal ought to consider that bookstores don't exist to provide a "public plaza" for airing our political views, but to sell books.

I like to think I have a sense of humor, but this childish stunt just isn't amusing.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Excuse for not blogging #791

So it's Saturday morning, and I always blog on Saturday mornings. But this Saturday morning I'm so caught up in the romance novel I'm working on that I grumbled inwardly ("Gotta blog, gotta blog") as I dragged myself to the internet just now and paged through a bunch of blogs and news sources to find something that interested me enough to write about here.

I came up empty.

Oh, the blogosphere hasn't changed. There's still lots of juicy stuff out there. But this morning none of it has managed to divert my attention from my novel, so I'm giving up and following my heart back to that.

I'm logging off now. Make it a great weekend, everyone.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Search me

When I was a kid, those two words meant "beats me" or "darned if I know," but now they just make me think of airports. And Google. Yes, I've been looking at my referrer logs again.

For those of you who don't know, a "search string" is the word or words you enter in a search engine when you're hunting for something on the Web. When the results pop up and you click on a site, that site's referrer log (a record of visits to the site) will show the search engine that sent you and the words you used to search--that is, your search string.

I get a lot of traffic from the search engines, particularly Google, and it's always interesting to see how new people discover my website and this blog. Sometimes the search results are tremendously flattering, like this one I saw a couple of months ago:

best romance novelist ever
I'm the third result returned by Google for that particular search. And don't think for a minute that I haven't bragged about it to all of my author friends. But while I do realize that particular searcher was probably just a fourth-grader working on a report for English class, I can hardly believe I beat out Jane Austen for the honor. Thanks for noticing me, Google!

But then I get stuff like this:

I HATE BRENDA
Yes, it was all in caps, the online equivalent of shouting. I guess somebody was pretty worked up. MSN directed that person to my blog several days ago. Like I'm the only Brenda on the internet? Give me a break.

Here's another one that made me blink. This person came to my blog last night:

bad romance novel writing
Okay, MSN, what is that supposed to mean? When somebody says, "bad romance novel writing," you automatically think of me? Thanks a bunch.

MSN was a busy little search engine last night. They also sent me a visitor who wanted to know:

how to write a romance novel in thirty days
Sorry, friend, but I don't have a clue. I suggest that you try Google.

I can't decide whether to be glad about being visited by this next searcher or not. Also from last night:

no rules
Flattering as it is that Yahoo is so familiar with my blog's name that it shot the questioner straight over here, I'm a bit worried. What if there's now a crazy anarchist bent on undermining my authority over this little blogdom?

I really have to stop looking at my referrer logs. Thinking too much about these search strings can't be good for my ego or my digestion.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Defending Posh from the book snobs

I read the other day that Victoria Beckham claims never to have read a book in her life. Although many in the blogosphere were Horribly Shocked, I didn't think it interesting enough to blog about what the former Spice Girl and soccer star David Beckham's wife does or doesn't read. But this morning I did brake for a thoughtful article chastising the book snobs who have weighed in on Posh's reading habits. From yesterday's The Guardian:
Since when did a regular quota of suitably serious reading matter become obligatory? And who decides what's worthy anyway? If Victoria Beckham swallowed a regular dose of sugary chick lit or violent slasher chillers, for example (well, they're books too), would it somehow make her reading habits more acceptable than the fact that she happens to "love fashion magazines"?

It's an excellent article, although (here comes an inside joke for regular readers of this blog) I did wince a bit when Harry Potter was mentioned. Here's another of the parts that resonated with me:


. . . it's an unfathomable mystery why some people love cooking, others adore potholing, some can't abide either. It's probably about as likely that Mrs Beckham will be found with Middlemarch open on her bedside table as it is that I will learn the difference between Versace and Gucci (or care less about it). It's also probably about as likely that she would enjoy Dorothea and Casaubon as it is that I would get any fun out of going to the Prada sale.

Middlemarch. Yeah, I'm there. But what are Versace and Gucci? Some kind of pasta dishes?

Look, I'm all in favor of novel reading. I sure tried hard to turn my kids into readers. (So far I have a 50% success rate, but Number Two Son is just out of high school, so I haven't lost hope.) But I don't like to see novel reading used as a litmus test for intelligence and social relevance. And I really don't like hearing people trash the reading choices of others.

I have said that I don't care for chick lit. And yes, I've read several of the books now. Just yesterday I finished Kristin Billerbeck's She's Out of Control, the sequel to What a Girl Wants, which I read a month ago. And for those of you who think Christian chick lit isn't "real" chick lit, I'll add that I have also read some industrial-strength chick lit, including four Marian Keyes's books.

Billerbeck's books are charming and Keyes's books are clever, but reading chick lit is about as exciting to me as reading the back of a cereal box. And to be scrupulously honest, I haven't read the books so much as skimmed them. So why did I pick them up at all? Well, because I thought I might be missing something. And they were mildly entertaining. But I'm moving on now, going back to the books I find wildly entertaining.

I have made jokes about chick lit, and certain short-tempered bloggers can always be counted on to send me traffic whenever they believe I'm disparaging the genre, but what they don't get is that I'm actually not all that interested in what other people choose to read. There's nothing wrong with chick lit, just like there's nothing wrong with golf or strawberry milkshakes or Siamese cats or country music or [deep breath] Harry Potter books. I just don't care for those things, okay? So from time to time I'm going to make jokes about them. If you don't appreciate that kind of humor, you probably ought to find another blog to read, because that's what you're going to get if you stick around here.

But back to Posh and her fashion magazines. I don't know whether the woman is Mensa material or not, but I wouldn't presume to judge that based solely on the fact that she doesn't read books. Yes, I think she's missing out by not visiting fascinating worlds like Middlemarch. But she'd probably be just as amazed to learn that I don't see the point of pop music and shoe-shopping. Heck, I don't even think David Beckham is sexy.

This is diversity, people. It's a good thing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Happy birthday, Skeezicks!

I started writing my first romance novel on a whim. I worked two or three hours a day for several months (I was a fulltime homemaker, so I wrote while the boys were at school and my hunk o' burnin' love was at work), and nobody knew what I was doing. Not because I was ashamed of writing romance, but because I was afraid talking about my book idea would kill some of the magic I was discovering on my own.

"What are you doing?" my husband asked one night when I was so caught up in my story that the writing had begun to spill over into the evening hours. "Writing the great American novel?"

"Well, as a matter of fact . . ." I wasn't sure how "great" it would turn out to be, but I told him I was indeed writing a novel.

"Huh. Well, that's good," he said, and went back to his newspaper.

My husband believes I am brilliant. If I told him I wanted to run for President, he'd go right out and have some Vote for Brenda buttons made up. So when I told him I was writing a novel he took me at my word. It never occurred to him that I might fail. He's blind that way.

The truth is that I've failed at many things over the years. My husband is invariably surprised by my failures, and immediately shrugs them off. If his wife can't do something, it probably can't be done. I repeat, he's blind that way.

And so is my sister. She believes I could flap my arms and fly if I put my mind to it. But the rest of my family and friends only raised their eyebrows or quickly changed the subject when I told them I was writing a book. Some of them even laughed, believing I was making a joke. I know they love me, but it couldn't have been any clearer what they were thinking: Brenda is 45 years old. If she had the talent to write a book, she'd have done it before now.

I like to tell people I'm a self-motivated writer. I enjoy the fellowship of other writers, but I can do this without their encouragement. In fact, the first contact I made with other writers was after I sold my first book. But sometimes I wonder if I could write without the unwavering support of my husband and my sister. I am profoundly aware of how God has used them to bless me.

My husband doesn't read my blog, but my sister does, even when she's supposed to be working. And today's her birthday, so I just wanted to tell everyone how great she is.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Build your dream bookstore

Operating on the assumption that everyone who reads this blog is a wild-eyed booklover, I thought we might talk today about bookstores. What's your favorite bookstore? What makes a good bookstore? Do you think Barnes and Noble is as good as it gets (they do, after all, carry Moleskine notebooks and they sell Godiva chocolate at the cash registers), or do you love little indie stores where the coffee is free and overstuffed chairs can be found in quiet corners?

Do you ask for book recommendations from salespeople, or do you prefer to be left alone to explore? Do you like everything neatly organized, or is it more exciting when you never know what you might stumble across next?

If you're in love with your neighborhood bookstore, please tell us all about it. And if you haven't yet found the perfect bookstore, why not "design" it right now and share it with us?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Gutsy, nutsy Dave Long to dissect own book

Author, Bethany House editor and--more importantly--one of my favorite bloggers, David Long is planning to pick apart a CBA ("Christian Booksellers Association") novel on his excellent blog, Faith*in*Fiction. In full view of his readers (who will be encouraged to participate), he will dismantle the chosen book like an old pocket watch and figure out what works and what doesn't.

If you're a careful reader, you'll have noticed that I just mentioned Dave is an editor. And you must now be wondering how on earth an editor could do this sort of thing in public. He can't very well critique a book from his own house, can he? But ripping up something of the competition's might look a bit sour-grapey.

That's why Dave has resolved to sacrifice one of his own books for the cause.

Yeah, the guy's nuts, as the ever perspicacious (and singularly unsqueamish) J. Mark Bertrand was quick to notice. Dave has tapped Mark, who earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston, to assist him in this endeavor. Let's cut to a blockquote from this post over at Dave's place:

The book that Mark and I are going to be examining is Ezekiel's Shadow.

Mark’s response when I asked him to participate is classic enough to quote:

“This is kind of like getting a request from a friend who wants to saw off his own head but needs help getting through the back half of the neck! So naturally, I accept. I'd hate to see your head lolling off the side, held on by half a vertebrae. Let's make a clean job of it. Thanks for thinking of me.”

My reasons on the surface for selecting Ezekiel’s are easy.
1. It’s out of print, OP, so BHP doesn’t stand to lose anything.
2. I wrote it, so it’s not like I’m attacking another author.
3. It’s flawed.

Whether there are deeper, darker reasons for my choice (morbid exhibitionism, the desire for vain self-flagellation, masochistic narcissism) I’ll leave to you armchair psychiatrists. All I know is that I want to talk about a CBA book critically and my position here doesn't allow that without me being reprimanded or fired. (Either of which I'd deserve.) So this is, pretty much, our only choice.


Wow. This promises to be a wild ride. Bookmark the site, everyone, and don't miss it.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Step away from the blog

I sure hope nobody was linking to yesterday's post (Friday the 12th), because I accidentally deleted it just now, along with all the comments you nice people left there. But if I recall correctly (and all bets are off on that; I'm a bit distracted this morning), the post was a rerun of this one.

Well. That's what I get for trying to blog while talking to my in-laws, who are visiting for the weekend. (It's not that they're scary people or anything, it's just that I pretty much stink at multitasking.)

Sheesh. You'd never catch Terry Teachout doing anything this dumb. If you people want to see some quality blogging, cruise on over there. I'd better get back to my guests.

Summer Reruns: Get rich quick! Write a romance novel.

One more recycled post, and then we'll go "live" again on Monday. Hope everyone is having a lovely weekend.





Get rich quick! Write a romance novel.
Posted December 28, 2004

Cruising About.com this morning, I got lost and ended up on this page for freelance writers, which said:

Romance novels not only bring decent income, they provide excellent training for more serious writing.
Don't bother to click through -- there's nothing much besides ads on the page. I'm merely providing the link so you'll know I am not making this up. Can you believe someone actually packed that much stupidity into a 15-word sentence?

If my romance-writing friends are finished gnashing their teeth and rolling their eyes, let's continue.

I'm a member of Romance Writers of America and I'm on hugging terms with roughly a hundred published romance writers. Yes, many of them are names you would know. But very, very few of those people are what you might call wealthy. In fact, most of the published romance novelists I know have other sources of income. "Real" jobs that provide them with a regular paycheck, health care benefits, and a retirement plan. (Although a few savvy writers, like me, have spouses who provide those things.) These women (and even a few men) are writing romance because they love writing romance. Yes, they're hoping to get rich doing it, but anyone who's played this game for a while knows just how heavily the odds are weighted against us.

Which brings us to the second part of that clueless quote, the suggestion that writing romance novels will not only pay off that Lamborghini in your driveway, but will also provide you with "excellent training for more serious writing."

Trust me, this drivel was not written by a published romance novelist. I know that because published romance novelists are, by definition, not stupid people. Unless, of course, you consider it stupid that we spend hour after solitary hour for months on end writing stories that are not going to snag us a $50,000 advance even if and when we do manage to talk our editors into taking a leap of faith and publishing them.

Harlequin Enterprises has told its authors that each of them is "one in a thousand", meaning that something on the order of one manuscript out of every thousand submitted to Harlequin/Silhouette/Steeple Hill is ultimately accepted for publication. You may or may not consider romance novels to be Great Art; that's something we could have some interesting discussions about. But please don't tell me or any published or aspiring romance author that this business is easy to break into, a great way to earn a quick buck while you hone your writing skills and position yourself to do some "serious" writing.

Romance writers are deadly serious about their writing. They sweat and bleed, swear and plead as they birth page after page after page and then somehow (this part's magic -- I can't explain it if you haven't experienced it for yourself) manage to pull it all together and produce a deeply moving love story. So the suggestion that anyone who has a modicum of writing talent and no respect for the genre could effortlessly imitate the work my sister authors are producing is not just breathtakingly ludicrous, it's downright insulting.


U P D A T E

Someone has already pointed out that what I quoted is not found on the About.com page. I originally posted this entry eight months ago, and it appears that since that time, the About.com people have wised up and deleted that dumb sentence. It's still showing up in this Google cache, however, right at the top of the page.

No, friend who e-mailed, I don't mind your "nitpicking" in the least. Things do change on the internet, so I should have checked out the old link before I posted.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Link party!

Yesterday I swept through my link list (over there on the bottom right-hand side of this page) and deleted a bunch of links to blogs that haven't been updated in more than a month. If any of you people start posting again, please let me know; I just don't like to frustrate my browsing friends by sending them to dead blogs.

If you're a blogger who makes regular visits here, maybe you'd like to trade links. You can e-mail me if you like, but I check Technorati every couple of days, so I generally figure it out when someone's linking to me. I'll give your blog an eyeball and in most cases, toss up a reciprocal link.

There are some really good blogs down there on my link list. Check them out.


My monthly column is up at Romancing the Blog. This one contains some surprising facts about inspirational romance and asks the provocative question, Does inspirational romance always have to mean Christian romance? Come over and tell us what you think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Photos: Sunny day in the garden

I'm not in the mood to write this morning (hey, I posted twice yesterday, I think I'm entitled to a pass) and I haven't given you any pics in a while, so here are three shots taken in my garden on a recent sunny day. Click on 'em to make 'em big.



Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My last post (and it's a shortie) on the RWA Conference

This afternoon all Romance Writers of America members who attended the recent conference in Reno received an e-mailed invitation to take part in an online post-conference survey. I clicked on the link just now and completed mine. It took just a couple of minutes, and I was very pleased with the questions that were asked and the abundance of white space that was provided for my comments.

Yes, they asked what I thought of the awards ceremony.

The survey was very nicely done, and I think it demonstrates that the RWA leadership is already making good on its promise to correct the mistakes that were made with regard to the awards ceremony.

You may be interested to know that only 2,100 of RWA's 9,000+ members actually attended the awards ceremony, and that a large portion of the bloggers and commenters who have been complaining about the video presentation never saw it with their own eyes. Further, some of the RWA board's (and particularly the RWA President's) most strident critics aren't even RWA members. I think that puts things into perspective.

I'm closing my file on this thing now. I just wanted to encourage all RWA members who were at the awards ceremony to participate in the survey and make their voices heard. The members who weren't in Reno can express their concerns about the botched program by writing to one of the board members.

As for the rest of you, please excuse us. This is a family matter.

Harry: not quite so scary now

After I got lambasted because a certain Harry Potter fan took exception to this lighthearted post (read this follow-up post and the comments and you'll see what I mean), I haven't dared utter a peep about the bespectacled boy wizard here on the blog. But I can remain silent no longer. Just now as I was cruising the internet for something to blather about, an article over at The Book Standard (link coming up in a minute; your patience is appreciated) gave me a good belly laugh. At the risk of earning myself another spate of criticism from Harry fans, here's the salient part of the piece, which is talking about the latest HP book:
The book has also been the top-seller in every single one of The Book Standard's 99 local-area charts. But this week, a glimmer of hope appeared for other authors, as The Book Standard charts registered a change—one single change: The Bristol–Kingsport–Johnson City, Tenn., area has a new chart-topper—and it’s not a bestseller from Patterson, or from Cornwell, or even from David McCullough. It’s Surrounded by Idiots, a book of essays written by conservative talk-radio personality Mike Gallagher.

I have no idea who Mike Gallagher is or whether his essays are anything I'd enjoy, but I'm still going to blow him a big, smacky kiss for writing the book that knocked the boy wizard off his broom in that one region, at least, making it possible for The Book Standard to title its article on the historic upset thusly:



Now there's a visual. I just think it's a crying shame they didn't run a New Yorkeresque illustration along with that great title.

Yes, I know; I'm a horrible person.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The old bag's mailbag

We had a weekend houseguest, so I knocked off blogging for three days, but that didn't prevent my e-mail inbox from being flooded by people who disagreed with my response to the RWA awards ceremony brouhaha. Some messages were polite, others quite offensive, but each writer desired me to answer his or her point-by-point challenges. Since I've never received this many private e-mails about a single blog post, I can only conclude that this was a concerted effort to innundate me with mail on the subject. I think it's particularly telling that I recognized none of the e-mailers' names and that none identified themselves as regular readers of this blog.

I sent the same brief reply to everyone who wrote:
I regret that I'm unable to address your comments about the awards ceremony. The blog is something I do for fun, and I'm afraid I don't have any extra time to engage in private correspondence to explain or defend what I've posted there.

You're welcome to post your comments on the blog, where I will respond when I find the time, and where other people may wish to engage in a discussion with you.

Thanks for reading my blog.
Friends, this blog is not my job, it's my recreation, and I have only so many free hours to spend on it. I don't owe anyone a private e-mail debate, and those of you who are spoiling for a fight are going to be disappointed if you try to engage me that way. If you want to take issue with something I write on the blog, the place to do that is here on the blog. You need not be registered with Blogger to post a comment, and if you prefer to post anonymously, you can certainly do that.

If there's something in particular you'd like to see me post about or if you have suggestions for making this blog more interesting, by all means shoot me an e-mail. The only kind of e-mail I'm discouraging is the kind that challenges me to defend facts and opinions I've posted here.

I don't mean this to sound unfriendly, but there is a lot more to my life than this blog. I'm doing this for fun, so if it ever stops being fun, I'll shut this puppy down in a New York minute.

Now. Comment if you dare. ;-)

Friday, August 05, 2005

Summer Reruns: Ten things I've done

"Losing" Monday and Tuesday knocked me off schedule for the entire week, and as we're expecting a houseguest a few hours from now, I'm checking out until Monday. But instead of leaving you with nothing to read today, I've dredged up an old post. Unless you've been digging around in my archives (and there's certainly no crime in that) it will be new material to most of you.

You kids stay safe and play nice while I'm gone. Thanks for reading No Rules.



Ten things I've done
Posted February 28, 2004

I haven't seen this, but according to the infallible Terry Teachout, these lists are appearing all over the blogosphere. It's Monday morning and I'm supposed to be working on my taxes, but this sounds like more fun, so here right off the top of my head is a list of....


Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't

1. Almost drowned in Niagara Falls. (Okay, it was a hotel pool in Niagara Falls, Canada. But I would have drowned if my mother hadn't been watching closely and jumped into the deep end just in time to save me.)

2. Allowed a snake wrangler to demonstrate the "harmlessness" of a very long, very fat black snake by draping it around my shoulders. As I held the reptile's head and smiled bravely for the clicking cameras, I felt the smooth, leathery tail wind itself around my right thigh and begin to squeeze.

3. Went out with a guy twice and then said yes when he proposed on our third date. (We'll celebrate our 30th anniversary this July.)

4. Sat next to the president of my city's Chamber of Commerce on an airplane and told him how great our city was -- because I had misunderstood him and thought he was making his first visit here.

5. Parachuted from an airplane way back in 1980, when it was still a pretty risky thing to do. (Now they have t-shirts that say, "Remember when sex was safe and skydiving was dangerous?")

6. Accompanied by several nerdy friends, dragged my telescope to the top of a cold, bare hill in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night to be among the first to view the 1986 return of Comet Halley.

7. Laughed at my 13-year-old child when he told me he had broken his arm playing touch football. (Well, he wasn't screaming or anything.) The next day he couldn't move his fingers so I took him to our doctor, who gave me a long, hard look as he pointed to two fracture lines on the x-ray film.

8. Saw a dead whale wash up on a beach in Nova Scotia several hours before it was reported on the news and identified as a very rare species.

9. Told a bestselling novelist that I thought the only really good novelists were dead novelists. (I was gushing about my love of the classics. And, yes -- this was before I ever thought of writing a novel.)

10. Put down a romance novel, said, "I bet I could write one of these things," then wrote a complete novel and sold it on the first try to a major publishing house with no revisions. Yeah, go ahead and hate me.

Now go read Terry's list, which is way more interesting than mine. And then maybe you'd like to add your own list in the "comments" section, below.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

For RWA members only

I thought I was finished talking about the RWA Conference, but three people have asked what I thought of the RITA/Golden Heart awards ceremony last Saturday evening. Yes, I was there, but it isn't that I "glossed over the debacle," as one e-mailer accused; rather, I didn't see it as as a debacle but merely a series of unfortunate calls by the organizers and a program that was best forgiven and forgotten.

Silly me. I should have known the blogosphere would be abuzz with this subject because that's what RWA members do when they're not writing books -- complain about the current RWA leadership and what those volunteers are doing to ruin the lives of romance writers and screw up the entire romance industry.

At the risk of sounding as self-absorbed as I actually am, I will reiterate that this blog is about things that interest me. And you know, I'm just not all that fascinated by the RWA dust-ups du jour. But I figure if three people go to the trouble of asking, a bunch of others must be interested in what I think about this. So here you go:

My Impressions of the Awards Ceremony and the Ensuing Outrage, Including My Dismay that even the Redoubtable Ron Hogan Saw Fit to Mention the Contretemps on His Otherwise Excellent Blog

The program was too long. The theatre was too crowded and too hot. And every ten minutes or so, the spotlights would play over the crowd and hit us right in the eyes. I was shocked that a bunch of romance writers couldn't write a better script. The jokes weren't funny and the segues were clunky--yet all were conceived by people who write wonderful books. Go figure. And while I understand that the video montages were meant to show how the world has changed in the 25 years since RWA's inception, the program would have been more appropriate and entertaining if it had focused on the history of RWA and the romance industry rather than the events that have shaped our nation and the world. (What did mention of the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, the appointment of the first woman Supreme Court Justice, clips of President Clinton saying, "I did not have sex with that woman," and shots of the Space Shuttle Challenger--although not its subsequent explosion--have to do with writing romance?)

To those who are snarking throughout the blogosphere that the program was a heavy-handed political statement meant to appeal to right-wingers and Christians, I say, hogwash. I'm an evangelical Christian who (mostly) votes conservative, but I wasn't moved to cheer or applaud any of the video clips. Feel better now?

As for the big stink about Nora Roberts refusing at the last minute to emcee the program because she objected to its content, I understand why she bowed out, but she should have stuck with her original statement. That last bit about supporting RWA but not the current president didn't come off as particularly classy.

Friends, we're talking about a one-time show put on by volunteers for an audience of 2,100. It wasn't filmed or taped. I figured the blogosphere brouhaha would die down in another couple of days, at least I hoped it would, and then this morning I saw a post about it on Beatrice and felt trapped into answering the challenge of the three individuals who had e-mailed me yesterday.

If you non-RWA members don't understand any of this, don't worry; this is not about curing cancer or lowering the price of oil. It's not even about--as it should be--writing romance. It's just another day at RWA. We creative types must always have something to argue about.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sell my book! (Why this author loves used-book stores)

I know I'm a disappointment to many of my fellow authors, but I have never believed buying used books cheats authors out of royalty-producing sales. I've seen my first book selling on eBay for one dollar and on Amazon for one penny (those sellers make money by charging more for shipping than they actually spend on it) and that doesn't insult me in the least. Yes, writers make royalties only when new books are sold. But I've never subscribed to the prevailing opinion that your selling a used book cheats me, the writer, out of royalties.

Why don't I think that way? Because I, too, have bought used books. Many times I have purchased used books when I've wanted to test-drive new authors and genres. And believe me, nobody missed out on royalties because if the books had not been available to me used, I would almost certainly never have bought and read them.

In my previous post on this subject I made a distinction between authors attracting "customers" and cultivating a readership. I'm still taking that long view, partly because I just want my stuff read, even if people are going to read it without making contributions to my husband's sports-car fund. But do have a mercenary side, and that part of me firmly believes used book sales actually help create a market for new books, which in the long haul must increase authors' earnings.

For the past two years, every time I have received an e-mail from someone who has enjoyed my Finding Hope, I've thanked the sender and encouraged her to share the book with her friends. I'm wildly in favor of sharing books, whether that's between friends, through libraries or book-swapping clubs, or via used-book stores. The way I figure it, if a few thousand people have ended up reading my book without paying me for the privilege, that's a few thousand more people who know my name. Surely some of them will run to the bookstore in March and buy my second novel so my husband can get those sexy wire wheels he wants for his '69 MG.

I've said all this before, but I'm bringing it up again today because I've just found a New York Times (registration required) article that backs up my theory about used book sales creating markets for new books (the italics in the blockquote are mine):

True, consumers probably save a few dollars while authors and publishers may lose some sales from a used book market. Yet the evidence suggests that the costs to publishers are not large, and also suggests that the overall gains from such secondhand markets outweigh any losses.

Go read the whole article. And then if you've got a copy of Finding Hope that you're not planning to read again, why not consider giving it away or selling it? The author hereby gives you her blessing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

There's no place like home

Finally, after a 42-hour "layover" in Denver, I am blogging at you from behind my own desk. I had to pay $189, the "walk-in rate" for the hotel room last night (United Airlines paid for only the first night, even though they couldn't get me on a plane yesterday). With taxes, this morning's hotel bill was $215. Add to that my $48 cab ride on Sunday night (the hotel gave me a free return trip to the airport this morning, bless 'em) and thanks to the screwy customer service policies of UA, I am out a total of nearly $300, including what I paid for meals.

Yes, the airline gave me some meal vouchers, but not nearly enough. Those folks actually appear to believe that one can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in airport or hotel restaurants on $19 a day. If you don't think that's hilarious, you've never bought a meal in a Denver hotel.

Want another good laugh? United Airlines appears to believe $75 in travel vouchers (good off the purchase of my next ticket) adequately compensates me for a 42-hour flight delay that cost me almost $300 in cash.

Ah, well. I did get some good writing done yesterday in the hotel room, and my friend Janice put things into perspective by writing in an e-mail that it was a blessing my plane was on the ground and not in the air when it gave up the ghost.

I'm going to go unpack now, and then I plan to write for the rest of the day because that's not "work", but fun, and I'm in serious need of fun. Tomorrow we'll get back to blogness as usual, with no more whining about my travel woes.

Thanks, everyone, for coming to the pity party I threw for myself. I feel a lot better now.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The neverending business trip

I was exhausted after all that conferencing in Reno, but my Sunday afternoon was going pretty well. My flight to Denver was right on time, so after an hourlong layover and another 3-1/2 hours of flying, I'd be home.

Or so I thought. As it turned out, my flight out of Denver was cancelled.

Oh, I mean really cancelled. I'm not talking about the kind of cancelled where they put you up in a hotel room for the night and then get you on a plane first thing in the morning. Friends, my flight doesn't leave Denver until Tuesday morning.

The airline is comping my hotel bill for tonight, but I'll be on my own tomorrow night, which is part of the reason I'm not giving these people any points for customer service. They were supposed to line up a shuttle to get me here (I was to pay $30, round trip), but that promise was as empty as several others that were made to me this evening, so I had to improvise. This hotel is right on the edge of downtown Denver, which means my cab fare, with tip, was $48.

Not that I cared. By the time I rescued my bags it was nearly midnight and I would probably have offered my firstborn son (sorry, Tristan, but Mom has had a very trying day) to anyone willing to take me away from that airport. After waiting two hours on a sick plane that the maintenance guys weren't able to resuscitate, I'd had to stand in a customer service line for two more hours. After that I felt downright British as I queued up yet again, this time for the privilege of waiting 90 minutes before earning the right to take my luggage to the hotel with me.

I made it to the hotel just after midnight (and got a "smoking" room, which I'm bummed about because I suffer from chronic bronchitis). I hadn't eaten dinner, so as late as it was, I dropped off my bags and returned to the lobby, where I managed to score a great chicken sandwich from the bar. I felt a lot better after that, especially when a sympathetic server named Diana (I meant what I said, Diana, so be sure to e-mail me) fixed me a tall, icy Coke to bring back upstairs. Then I unpacked my stuff and sat down in front of my computer to blog about my awful evening and drum up some sympathy from you people.

But I think I'll stop whining now and go to bed. I'm planning to sleep late in the morning, and then I'll write all day tomorrow and half of tomorrow night. I might check in with you tomorrow, but I'm making no promises. So until . . . whenever, friends, everyone stay safe, do good work, and don't fly United Airlines.