Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lent as a diet plan

Years ago, way back in college and before there was such a thing as the Atkins diet, I gave up carbs for Lent. If you believe the notion that what you give up during this season should be a real sacrifice, then for a college kid giving up pizza, fries and subs definitely qualified as a sacrifice and therefore met the true spirit of Lent. I lost 20 pounds and figured, at least in part, it was because I had God on my side.

Last year I made the same commitment to walk away from many of the foods I love for the forty days of Lent. I'd like to think that generally speaking I have more willpower as an adult than I did as a college kid and that maybe my relationship with God is as good or stronger. What I didn't count on was having a book hit stores right in the middle of Lent.

You may not know this about authors -- or at least this author -- but we fret over everything. We worry the books won't be on the shelves when they're supposed to be and that all of our carefully-timed publicity plans will be for naught. When they are on shelves, we worry that they're not selling fast enough. Those of us who are truly crazed -- and count me among them -- visit every bookstore, grocery store or anyplace books are shelved and for sale. You'd think after all these years and more than a hundred books I'd be over this. I'm not.

I'm also an information junkie. I want numbers. I watch bestseller lists. In other words, I make myself nuts, probably hauling my agent and editor slightly past the edge of sanity with me. Needless to say, there is never a time when I am more desperate for chocolate. In fact, during those days, there's not a carb on earth that's not my friend.

Despite my determination and whatever assistance God was doling out, I fell off the carb wagon about three weeks into Lent last year. Now I'm trying again. My next book -- THE INN AT EAGLE POINT -- will be in stores before Easter (on March 31, in fact), but I am hoping to be so ingrained into a non-carb lifestyle by then that it'll be second nature to me. I am also hoping that any of you who have made sacrifices for Lent will share your stories about what you've given up and how you've stuck to it. I need the inspiration.

In theory 40 days of sacrifice should be doable. It's a finite period of time, unlike those new year's resolutions that are supposed to last forever...or at least until December 31. So, help me out and tell me how you're doing. And if you happen to cross paths with me in a bookstore and I happen to be sitting in the cafe with a scone in front of me, you have my permission to snatch it away. Of course, it's probably best if you first make certain that it is me and not some total stranger who'll accuse you of theft or break your wrist. Having that on my conscience would drive me straight into a tub of ice cream.

Sherryl Woods

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Apple of my eye

Regular readers of this blog definitely know two things about me: I'm a stickler when it comes to customer service and I really, really do not adapt well to change. Those two things have successfully kept me from buying a desperately needed new computer for writing for over a year now. Every time I walked into a store, I was slammed by the reality that once I bought something new I'd actually have to learn how to use it. Add in the sales clerks who didn't seem capable of speaking plain "computer for dummies," and I was right back out the door.

However, last weekend both my email computer and my work computer -- don't even ask --started doing enough weird stuff that I decided I really needed to bite the bullet and go shopping. And since I already more or less knew what was out there in the Windows world, I decided to try an Apple Store for comparison. Oh, my!!!! To the astonishment of the brave friend who went with me, I actually left with a new system...and in a cheerful frame of mind...all in about an hour.

Now keep in mind that I haven't actually turned the computer on yet. I could be screaming my head off by this time next week, but I have survived the intimidation and annoyance phase of the process thanks to a store that actually knows how to treat its customers. Hallelujah!

From the moment I walked into the spacious, bright Apple Store at Aventura Mall in Miami, I knew I was in a new computer world. Greeted by what they referred to as a concierge, I was quickly introduced to a sales person who wanted to know exactly what I needed, then walked me through the process of using an Apple to accomplish that. Danny -- a saint in my book -- talked in plain English and never once implied that I wasn't the brightest bulb on the planet because I didn't have a clue about much of anything technical. Sure, he showed me applications I'll never in a million years need or use, but they were very cool. And for a minute there I honestly thought I could figure out how to use them.

He also pointed out their Genius Desk, which can problem-solve on-site. He told me the Apple tech consultants on the phone are here in the U.S. Both were very reassuring things for someone like me who may need a lot of help when I actually turn this new computer on.

And once I'd made my laptop selection, added in the wireless mouse and keyboard, one of the store managers -- Liz -- brought out the computer, introduced herself and told me to please call if there was anything at all I needed.

The entire experience was amazing, and a bit surreal compared to prior experiences in other stores. As a testament to the fact that this kind of customer service works, the store was packed on a weekday afternoon despite the state of the economy.

Sometime in the next week or so I will actually turn on the computer and install the word processing program and attempt to write something. I have high hopes. But even if something goes awry and I can't figure out what I'm doing, not only do I have other staunch Apple converts among my friends, but Apple geniuses besides! Oh happy day!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Carousels and me

Way back when, I can remember going to Glen Echo, an amusement park in the Washington, DC area. One of the joys of that park was a magnificent old carousel. As you rode it, you could reach out and try to capture a brass ring. I'm sure it could be turned in for a free ride or prizes or some such, but the thrill of actually getting one was enough for me.

During those same years, in my summer hometown of Colonial Beach, Virginia, we also had a carousel on the boardwalk that was the centerpiece of a small area of rides. A small train wound over the grounds along the riverfront as well. There were a few other rides, but those were the two that were most memorable.

Just the sound of the organ-based music takes me straight back to those early years, which was just one reason that a few years ago, I fought so hard to keep the Colonial Beach boardwalk area from being turned into condos. We won that particular battle, though it will be ongoing until someone with foresight actually comes up with a plan to revitalize the area with the kind of nostalgic, family-oriented development that I remember from my childhood.

I was reminded of all this with the publication of my Trinity Harbor trilogy, and most especially of the middle book -- ASK ANYONE -- which pays homage to that old boardwalk and to antique carousels in particular.

Today I had an email from a reader who actually works in a park which has its own Allen Herschel antique carousel similar to the one in my story. I was totally envious, and also thankful that the people in her community and state had the vision to preserve such a treasure and make it available to the public.

I know there are others around the country. If there's a carousel that's been preserved near you, I'd love for you to share the information with us. Tell us where it is. Share your memories of riding on it. Just as important, take your kids to ride on it and let them discover the magic of riding on one of the majestic animals, listening to that distinctive music . . . and reaching for the brass ring.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's in a name?

Quite a lot, at least when you're referring to the title of a book. It needs to be memorable. It needs to catch a reader's eye. It should summarize the story, or at least provide a hint. It should also be decided on before the book is actually in print.

Okay, that last part is made only slightly in jest. Coming up with book titles is an art form that I used to think I understood. Creatively, I like to know that title before I actually put the first word of the story down on paper. Sometimes, it doesn't happen that way.

Oh, I come up with a title. Sometimes, as with last year's NOBODY'S SECOND BEST, it even appears with a teaser excerpt in one of my books in advance of publication. Then comes the word that there will be a change. That's why none of you could find NOBODY'S SECOND BEST in stores last fall. It became WELCOME TO SERENITY.

And now it's happening again. I've been telling many of you about the next Sweet Magnolias book, scheduled for early 2010. This is the much-anticipated story of Ty and Annie. Many of you may have jotted it down on your calendars. Well, get out your erasers. Not only is it no longer to be called BEST FRIENDS...FOREVER, it will be released in March 2010, not February.

Of course, there is good news. It will be the first of a new series of three Sweet Magnolias books, which will be published in March, April and May 2010. I don't have firm titles for any of them. Come to think of it, I don't have plots for books two and three beyond knowing that they'll be about Annie's friends Sarah and Raylene from A SLICE OF HEAVEN, but I will have stories for them very, very shortly. Probably before they have firm titles.

Just a little heads-up from me to you, so you won't drive yourselves nuts next winter looking for a book that's no longer called what I told you it was going to be called. Personally I think this is a little test the publisher has to see if I'm actually learning to be more flexible. How am I doing?

Sherryl Woods
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