Colleen Thompson: The Off Season

Colleen Thompson’s latest romantic suspense novel, The Off Season, is set in a small Jersey shore community, Seaside Creek, in the winter. The tourists are gone, leaving their summer mansions to sit empty, risking vandalism and worse. Dr. Christina Paxton, recently widowed, has returned to her hometown to work in the emergency room of the local hospital. Thanks to her real estate agent mother, she’s also house sitting, living with her two-year-old daughter, Lilly, and a retired racing greyhound called Max.

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the-off-seasonThen one night Christina hears words no one could expect to hear from a two-year-old child. “Murder me,” Lilly says. “Bad people.” Lilly’s strange words continue with names and references that take Christina back thirty years, to terrifying memories that no one else could possibly share. Strange dreams, voices through Lilly’s baby monitor, and vandalism drive Christina back into contact with Harris Bowers, once her high school classmate and summer fling, now chief of the small Seaside Creek police department, the last person from her cloudy past Christina would choose to depend on.

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Harris has his own set of problems: the physical after effects of an explosion, a recent not-very-amicable divorce (from Christina’s old friend and recent baby sitter), and a spate of crime in Seaside Creek. He would like to mend fences with Christina, but the barriers erected in the past may be insurmountable.

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As the dangers around her multiply, Christina has no idea who she can trust, least of all herself, as she struggles to keep the secrets of her past, even when those secrets may be at the root of all that threatens her, and her child, in the present.

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The Off Season may be Colleen Thompson’s best work to date (and she has written quite a few excellent romantic suspense novels). Not only are there multiple suspects who might be behind the threats to Christina and Lilly, but those possible suspects have motives ranging from the not-quite-buried past to the present. Add to that the growing tension and rebirth of attraction between Christina and Harris, and you have a true up-all-night read.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

Fall Must Be Coming

When I left for the weekend Friday morning, I looked in vain for any sign of the hurricane lilies that pop up near the front of my yard every year.  Not a hint.  I was afraid that another very dry summer had shut them down.  But this noon when I returned from a weekend on Galveston Island, there they were, three or four full blooms, and quite a few more stalks at various stages.  According to a Q&A piece in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, mine are probably Lycoris radiata, also known as naked ladies because the foliage only appears after the blooms fade.  They’re late this year; they usually bloom in early to mid September, at the peak of the Texas Gulf Coast hurricane season.  According to our local weather reporters, our section of the Gulf Coast has been struck by post-September hurricanes only three times in the last hundred and fifty years.  The last one was a smallish storm called Jerry, which passed directly over my house in October 1985, the only time I’ve ever walked out my front door into the eye of a hurricane.

First Lilies

I spent the weekend on Galveston Island with friends from the Houston Bay Area chapter of RWA, talking about writing.  There was some actual writing involved, and quite a bit of wine.  Also some football games on the big TV in the living room, but the two or three dedicated fans were kind enough to leave the sound off.  Well, the TV sound was off, but there was quite a lot of yelling, too.   Colleen Thompson took this picture of me, and Cheryl Bolen and Leslie Marshman did the organizing.  Leslie won our eternal gratitude when she talked Sean at Mario’s Ristorante in Galveston into delivering pizzas, even though we were a bit outside their usual delivery limit.

Windsong

 

 

At RWA 2013 – Saturday

RWA 2013 wrapped up on Saturday, July 20, with attendees looking increasingly bleary-eyed as we stumbled from workshop to workshop.  In the morning I had a chance to visit with a number of friends, and even met someone from New Zealand who had read my Golden Heart entry–that was a thrill!

I went to a workshop on Key Writing Skills, giving by agent Jill Marsal and Starcatcher (and now multi-published author) Robin Perini.  This was an excellent hour; I have a whole page of notes.  Four main areas: Develop Great Characters (characterization means observable traits, while character is true nature revealed under pressure; goal and motivation always important); Create a Compelling Story (braiding plot and character, internal versus external conflicts); Focus on Story and Pacing (show character changes in every scene, while turning points change the story’s direction); and Revise and Polish (watch out for backstory, telling rather than showing, overwriting, etc.).

The rehearsal for the awards ceremony, a precaution against someone falling off the stage, accompanied by a plea not to drink beforehand, only took about half an hour.  Then I caught a sandwich with fellow Firebird and Lucky 13 Oberon Wonch and her roomie.

I went to two more workshops on Saturday afternoon, “Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts,” by Margie Lawson (I’ve been to Margie’s workshops in the past, but she’s always interesting), and a really terrific presentation of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! methodology by Jessica Brody.  I’m reading Snyder’s book now, and I’m going to see if that helps me plot the new novel I haven’t been making much progress on.

The last event of the conference, on Saturday evening, was the Awards ceremony for the Golden Heart and RITA winners.  Cheryl Bolen, my long-time friend and conference roomie, and I went downstairs about 7 PM and had a glass of champagne (in spite of that warning) while we waited for the VIP door to open.  We made out way to our table near the front and found it full of West Houston RWA folks:  Lark Howard and I as Golden Heart finalists (both in the paranormal category), Sophie Jordan as a RITA finalist (novella), and Sarah Andre standing in for a finalist friend, Krista Hall (romantic suspense) who was unable to attend the conference.  Cheryl, Susan Breeden, Tera Childs, and Sophie’s husband were our guests.  As it happened, the only one of us to accept an award was Sarah, reading a thank you from the absent Krista.  Rounding out the West Houston participation were Colleen Thompson presenting a RITA and Christie Craig, the evening’s emcee (entertaining the audience with her usual humor and standing on a box to reach the microphone).  Winners, finalists and audience all had a wonderful time.

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Sunday, and time to go home, came all too soon.  Somehow I managed to stuff all the free books I’d picked up (yeah, I need more books.  But, she added virtuously, some were for my neighbor who looks after Nutmeg when I’m away) into my suitcase.  Cheryl, Colleen Thompson, and I caught the shuttle to the airport, where a Skycap who had clearly been dealing with ladies from RWA all morning, cheerfully told Colleen that if she could pull “one hardback and one paperback” out of her suitcase, it would slip through under the fifty-pound weight limit.  He was right.

Even with a stop at the grocery store, I was home in time for dinner.  Nutmeg the cat was glad to see me (and the roast chicken I’d picked up on the way home) and I was glad to sleep in my own bed.  But I’m still processing all I learned at the conference, getting in touch with new friends, and catching up in general.

And definitely looking forward to RWA 2014 next summer in San Antonio!

 

 

I’m Back

It’s been at least a couple of weeks since I’ve posted here, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks, with six days in Atlanta for the RWA Conference in the middle.  I’m still recovering.  The Scorekeeper is a three-person office, so it takes some planning beforehand and catching up afterwards for any one of us to be gone for most of a week.

I left on Tuesday the 16th with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson.  We got to Atlanta mid-afternoon, and walked for what seemed like miles before we figured out that the speedy  little train running along one side of the passage would take us directly to the baggage area, apparently located in the next county.  (And I’m not kidding about speedy–anyone foolish enough to ignore the warnings about holding on to the conveniently-positioned poles was likely to be tossed the length of the car when it started or stopped.)

We arrived at the Marriott Marquis before check-in time, left our bags in the designated area, and began exploring.  The hotel is gorgeous, with a vertigo-inducing fifty-story atrium and those speedy glass elevator cars that make some people nervous (I love them).  (And the Best Ladies’ Rooms Ever–over six days I never once had to wait for a stall.  The perfect amenities for a conference attended by two thousand women.)

Tuesday evening I felt like a real social butterfly, having dinner at a nearby Turkish restaurant with the Firebirds (the Golden Heart finalists of 2012) and dessert at a Latin-Pacific fusion place with the Lucky 13s (this year’s GH finalists).  The annual RWA conference is as much about renewing long distance friendships as it is about workshops and industry networking.

On Wednesday I attended the Golden Network retreat, the annual meeting of the on-line chapter for Golden Heart finalists.  This year the planners went straight for the top.  Our opening speaker was Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a fabulously warm and funny lady, followed by Courtney Milan, an extremely successful and knowledgeable pioneer in the field of self-publishing.

Our keynote speaker was the incomparable Nora Roberts.  Yes, that Nora.  Her advice to us, a mixed crowd of published and unpublished writers, was “Just Keep Writing,” a motto she clearly follows: her typical yearly output, she told us, is one hardback suspense novel, two J.D. Robb books, and a paperback trilogy.  Exhilarating and terrifying at once.

After lunch we had a panel of agents and editors, followed by a group of multi-published authors, all answering our questions and letting us pick their brains.  Between speakers our talented emcees, Susan Boyer and Lorenda Christensen, kept us entertained with their rap intros and commentary, sometimes even in sync with their prerecorded accompaniment.  We’re writers–technology is not always our strong point.

Wednesday evening was the annual “Readers for Life” Literacy Booksigning, as crowded and noisy as always, with hundreds of authors singing their books.  The event is open to the public, and this year raised more than $50,000 for RWA’s continuing support of literacy programs.  I managed to restrain myself–after all, I had to get back to Houston with one suitcase and a carry on–but I visited with friends around the room.

WordPress is not being its usual cooperative self tonight, won’t even let me upload a photo, so I think I’ll save the rest of the conference for a day or two.  I had a wonderful time in Atlanta, but I’m still trying to catch up with my ordinary world.

 

 

Reading: Mystery & Suspense

A few weeks ago I won a door prize copy of Barbara Taylor Sissel’s Evidence of Life, a book I might have missed otherwise.  Sissel is a Houston area author, but I don’t know her, although we have mutual friends.   I pedal fast enough trying (unsuccessfully) to keep up with the books of my friends.

But one of those friends, Colleen Thompson, highly recommended Evidence of Life, and as soon as I opened it I understood why.   It’s a hard book to categorize, but literary thriller may come close enough.  It’s the story of a woman, Abby Bennett, whose husband and daughter, on a camping trip in the Texas hill country, disappear without a trace in the wake of a storm and flash flood (yes, that does happen).  In the course of trying to discover what happened to them, Abby learns too much that she had never suspected, about her husband, her family, her marriage and her friends.   An excellent and beautifully written novel.

Falling for FrederickFalling for Frederick, by my friend Cheryl Bolen, was one of the first of Montlake’s Kindle serials, but is now available as a full novel.  I read it in installments, which suited me because I usually read on my Kindle once or twice a week while waiting for an appointment or grabbing lunch by myself.  So when the last installment was delivered to my reader recently, I was nearly caught up, and I found myself sitting up late to finish the story.  Falling for Frederick is a contemporary romantic suspense tale, featuring an American grad student in England, the handsome earl she meets when she’s found crouching over the body of his archivist, knife in hand, a missing (and highly valuable) artifact, and an historical mystery to go with the modern one.  And, of course, a romance.

Yesterday at lunch I opened my Kindle and began reading Concrete Evidence, by my friend and fellow Starcatcher andConcrete Evidence Firebird Rachel Grant.  Although Rachel is considerably younger than I, we have quite a lot in common:  we both studied archeology at Florida State University, worked as cultural resource management archeologists, and married men involved in marine archeology.  So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Rachel’s romantic suspense novels involve archeology.  Fortunately my own involvement in archeology (and Rachel’s, I’m sure) never included the sort of danger the heroine of Concrete Evidence finds herself in.  I picked it up again last night and had to force myself to put it away at 1:30 this morning–I had too much to do today to read all night.  I can hardly wait to get back to it.

Lowcountry BoilAnother of my Firebird sisters, Susan M. Boyer, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel last night at the Malice Domestic Conference, for her 2012 Golden Heart finalist, Lowcountry Boil.  Published by Henery Press last fall, Lowcountry Boil is a wonderfully entertaining mystery (with a paranormal twist), the first in a series.  Huge congratulations to Susan, and to Henery Press, a new publisher with a bright future.

Recent Reading

A couple of weeks ago, when the Romance Writers of America RITA® nominations were announced, I was about halfway through reading The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek, by Jane Myers Perrine, and I was delighted to see it listed as a nominee in the category Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.  I looked for it first in the Inspirational category, because it was published by Faith Words, the Inspirational Divison of the Hachette Group.  But I think the book is right where it belongs.

I had picked Welcome Committee up one night when I wanted something warm and comfortable to read, and it just filled the Welcome Committee of Butternut Creekbill.  It tells the story of a very young, newly-minted minister who arrives in a small town in Texas to take over a church, not knowing what to expect from the congregation or his new life.  Oh, he’s taken classes in church management at the seminary, but that’s not the same as real experience.  And he’s in for some new experiences, particularly at the hands of the Widows, a couple of ladies of the congregation who believe, among other things, that a minister should be married.

The Widows don’t give up on their new minister, but they set meddling in his life aside to concentrate on a damaged war vet and his physical therapist, two characters who have the reader pulling for them from their first appearance.

Jane Perrine, who is an ordained minister herself, never preaches.  She writes about life in a small town church, and about people who try to do the right thing and care about one another.  The next book in the series, The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek, is at the top of my Books To Buy list, and The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek will be out in the fall.

Earlier this year I read another of Jane Perrine’s books, Miss Prim, a Regency romance written several years ago and published by Avalon, recently resissued on paper and for the Kindle by Amazon.  Miss Prim is the story of Lady Louisa Walker, whose staid and well-regulated spinsterhood is turned completely upside down by an old flame who pulls her into wild adventures involving French spies, a race across the countryside, and a mysterious baby.

I haven’t managed a lot of reading time since the first of the year.  Busy at work and with RWA activities, and far less writing than I’d like to claim.  I’ve read three good mysteries, Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen (who really cares about the mystery when the characters are so much fun?), Marcia Muller’s Looking for Yesterday (I’ve been following Sharon McCone’s cases–and life–since she first appeared in Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1977), and Margaret Maron’s The Buzzard Table (Judge Deborah Knott is another series character I have followed from the beginning).

Currently I’m enjoying Colleen Thompson’s Passion to Protect, an edge-of-the-seat romantic suspense novel.  The Steampunk book is on my coffee table, with a book mark very near the beginning.  The book on The Searchers is there, too, without one.  On my Kindle I’m following a serial, Falling for Frederick by Cheryl Bolen.

Yesterday I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble to look for a copy of my Starcatcher sister Amy Raby’s first release, Assassin’s Gambit.  I found it on the New In Paperback kiosk in the middle of the store and stopped to take a picture of the book “in the wild” to send to Amy.  There I was, on one knee with my camera, when I realized a man was watching me.  “My friend’s first book,” I explained.  “Wouldn’t it be more help to buy it and read it?” he asked.  “I will,” I promised, “but I also want to send her a picture.”  Apparently satisfied, he nodded and walked away.  Without reporting me to store security.

 

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