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Articles about the soppy, floppy, saccharine sweet nature of Christmas stories always make me laugh (bitterly).  I’ve written a lot of holiday themed books.  Two novels and three short stories for Christmas, and a novella and a short story for Halloween (although I doubt I’m allowed to count those, since no one ever complains about Halloween romances, because there aren’t any).

But my own personal relationship with Christmas, is problematic, to put it mildly.  Actually I think of is as post apocalyptic.  It’s the season where the crazies come out, and are hard to escape from, since the rest of the world is totally shut down and you can’t even guarantee a trip to McDonalds won’t end in a sign that says “Our employees are spending the day with their families.”  If you haven’t stocked your personal bunker, it’s hard to survive the day.

In going home for Christmas, there was that one memorable year where we had three meals from a gas station… Or perhaps it was the one with the argument, after the ceiling fell in…

And I mean that literally.  The ceiling fell.  I found it upsetting.

Mostly at Casa de dos Quesos, we phone it in for the family visits, then lock the door, open the cookies, poor the rum in the eggnog and wait for Doctor Who.

Anyway.  I write Christmas stories.  For the most part, they are happy stories.  They at least end happily, because they are romances. It’s not my favorite time of year, but I think of it as being like physics.  I believe, wholeheartedly, in the potential energy of Christmas.  Peace on Earth, good will towards men, and light shining through darkness are all concepts I am firmly in favor of.

But none of these things occur magically, due to the date on the calendar.  They have to be worked for, and they are a group effort.  And in most families, not everyone wants to be a team player.  My Christmas stories tend to be a little  prickly, compared to the totally the warm and fuzzy.  There is usually at least one character that would just as soon avoid the whole season.  In my latest story,

my hero is Indian, and on the Hindu side of agnostic.

I’m pretty proud of that one.  And to anyone who thinks it is a sickly sweet story: Did you read it all the way to the end?  If so, I worry about you.  Seriously.  You have some issues.

And in case you’re wondering, Christmas around here was pretty good, despite some recent troubles.  There was that moment where I announced that the Doctor Who Christmas special had better not be as weepy as most of them are, since I wasn’t in the mood to cry.  But how could it be?  Because the Doctor was getting a new companion.  And it wasn’t likely that Steven Moffat would kill her off in the very first episode…

Happy Holidays, everybody.

Why Americans are Xenophobic

In one of those trips down memory lane (which we really need to cut out if we don’t want to look like old farts) my husband and I spent some time trying to explain The CBS Children’s Film Festival to #2 Son.

For those of you not old enough to remember this:  back when there were only a couple of channels to watch, it was on CBS on Saturday mornings, after all the good cartoons were over.  It was hosted by Kukla, Fran,and Ollie.

Oh the horror...

They think it's Christmas, but it looks like Halloween to me.

This was a woman, and two very ugly puppets.  Fran was a middle aged (ie impossibly old) woman with big hair.  Ollie was… I’m not totally sure.  I think he was supposed to be an alligator.  But he had fur.  And leopard spots.  And Kulka was a clown.

Apparently they were a throwback to some era when people thought clowns were funny.  But to me and much of my generation, they were just baffling and kind of scary.  Think King Friday and his lot, but without Mr. Rodgers to tell you that the puppets weren’t actually demonically possessed.

Kukla, Fran and Ollie would chat for a bit, like Sherri Lewis and Lambchop, gone horribly, horribly wrong.  And then they would introduce the movie for the week.  It was always a “foreign film”.  And probably meant to give us culture.

It didn’t work.

The DH and I tried to remember the specifics of these movies, and other than the cold chill down our spines thinking about them, we mostly drew a blank.  I remember a Cinderella movie that I loved so much I actually found it on DVD and bought it a couple of years ago.  And I think an English movie with a man in a rabbit costume that wasn’t too bad.

And then there was everything else.

The DH could remember the one where the two kids built a raft and it capsized and the little girl drowned.  I vaguely remember that a lot of these movies seemed to involve kids dying at the end.  Or that Japanese one with the fat kid that got bullied, and then his best friend moved away, or he did…  It was an endless parade of poverty, orphans, and bullies with a fair number of lost dogs thrown in case we weren’t miserable enough.  In short, it was every childhood nightmare I could imagine, plus ugly puppets.

I remember turning this on every Saturday about noon, and seeing one of the endlessly rerun slate of movies, thinking about foreign children and the way their fabulous adventures all seemed to end with one of them in a coffin.

And then, I was supposed to have a sandwich, and go out to play.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend kids!

If you still can.

A Star is Born

I spend too much time looking at reviews.  Because I am an author, and therefore neurotic.  And have no one to duct tape my hands behind my back to prevent me from setting up Google Alerts.

Although I may jump around the office and swear a bit when I find a negative review, I don’t really care all that much.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion.  Even Jesus Christ did not get a one hundred percent approval rating.  I wasn’t expecting one.

And extra points to you, if you can come up with something negative, but creative.  I like those.  To the person who said something about my story leaving a stench in your brain that took a month to clear?

I’m glad my book stuck with you that long.  I remember your review, as well.  It made me smile.

My absolute favorite review so far was one that gave me 2 stars and said, “I did not read this book.  How do I leave a review?”

I recommend getting a blog.  You can say anything on those.

But in the internet time not devoted to ego-Googling and self obsession, I get to see how other authors deal with reviews.  Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong.  I could go the R J Ellory route, and write 5 star reviews for myself while sandbagging the competition.

Or I could go the John Locke route and buy good reviews in bulk.

#1 son also explained that it is possible to buy Twitter followers.  One of his friends is did it and is getting free stuff from companies who want him to tweet about them to his imaginary friends.

It’s not that I don’t understand the temptation.  I’ve just sent out another round of review copies, before the release of  Two Wrongs Make a Marriage.  And I already know that some of these free books are going to result in nothing.  Reviewers are busy.  It’s hard to get them to take the time to hate you, much less write a quotable love letter.  I value whatever mentions I can get.  Even the bad ones.

If I’ve never said it before, “Thank you, reviewers!” (Sincerely)

And another totally, insincere, eye-rolling, sarcastic “thanks a whole bunch” to the folks gaming the system.  If it weren’t for you, I probably wouldn’t have bought a couple of highly praised books, only to through them against the wall and demand to know what is wrong with people who would give such a POS five stars.

And while we’re at it, how did the author get so popular on Twitter?  (I think I know).

Because of people like you, we never would have gotten this comic from xkcd.

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/star_ratings.png

I also never would have had to contend with someone commenting on one of my better reviewed books Need to Know, that those five stars had to be from my mother, or something.

If that person had met my mother, he/she would know that she’d never have given me a 5 star review, much less several of them.  I am pretty sure she thinks sock puppets are made with real socks (which she does not wear).

Unless you think a sock puppet could be made from orthopedic compression hose.  But I don’t know if it would give five stars either.

There is also the fact that, when the subject of my writing ability comes up around the old homestead, we are headed towards an argument.  My father insists that it came from his side of the family.  And my mother insists it came straight from Jesus.

Like Jesus was looking for a career with Mills & Boon.

Maybe my mother would give a five star review, after all.  She definitely gives Jesus two thumbs up.

Like all historical romance novelists who have revisions due this week, I went to see The Expendables 2 last night.

#1 son seemed to think that the first Expendables wasn’t that good.  Clearly, college is giving him fancy ideas.  I argue that, having already seen The Losers and The A Team, that summer, The Expendables was clearly brilliant.

I had to search backward through the Watchmen movie to even remember the title of The Losers (the rejects? The replacements?  The one that had the guy who played the Comedian in Watchman, and that other guy who is not Ryan Reynolds, but actually, Chris Evans before he became Captain America and I started liking him).

The best thing about The Losers was the way the film broke when we saw it, and we got free passes to see another movie.

But I digress.

We are up to Expendables 2, now.  I am going to spoil it for you.

Actually, I don’t know if I can.  If you have seen any action movie in the last thirty years, you already know the plot.  There is a screen writing credit, but I don’t know if it’s accurate since the stars probably just brought old scripts, shuffled them together and read random lines of dialog.

Almost everyone you can imagine is already in there.  But time and gravity are doing things to necks and jaw lines.  It is like watching an aquarium full of turtles.  Except the turtles all have guns.

Sorry, Arnold.  You do not look the way you did when you made True Lies.  But then, I don’t look the way I did when you made True Lies, either.  We’ll let it pass.

And almost everyone includes Chuck Norris, which I actually view as a minus.  I used to go to Chuck Norris movies, because I love my husband, and want him to be happy.  But the last time I went to one  in a theater, I fell asleep.  And that was over 20 years ago, when I didn’t need so many naps.

At the Vietnamese nail salon I go to, they tend to play Walker, Texas Ranger on the TV.  I hate Walker.  And all his friends.  And the stupid theme song.  The eyes of a ranger are upon me?

Well stop staring.  You’re creeping me out.

But it would cost at an extra thirty bucks to go to a Walker-free day spa.   And my annoyance level even for Chuck Norris, caps out around $25.  And he kind of has to be in this movie, since it’s like having a complete set of trading cards to get him.

The only one missing is Steven Segal.  And I hope they never play that particular card, because I hate him worse than Chuck.

And I really like Jason Statham.  There is a lot of him in this movie.  But he keeps his shirt on at all times, which is a wasted opportunity, in my opinion.  It’s like a fully clothed Ryan Reynolds.  Who wants one of those?  Taking off a shirt can make me forgive a lot in a weak performance.

But seriously.

If you don’t want to know more about the plot, you should probably stop reading.

Say, if  you don’t want to know that Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a villain named Vilain (spell check is our friend. Just put another L in there and call it a day)

Or if you don’t want to know that there is a mine full of plutonium, or something.  And Jean Claude will sell it and destabilize the world.  Except at the end, the CIA gets it.  But that’s OK because they totally knew where it was already, and I am sure we can trust them with it.

Or if, even though the preview said “Helmsworth” it meant Liam and not Chris.

Which is probably why he is stuck as a painfully earnest character named Billy, who calls everyone Sir and who everyone calls Kid.  And who started mercenary-ing because someone killed his dog.  And is only going to do it ‘til the end of the month, but he is so painfully nice that he gives notice before quitting from a suicide squad.

Did I mention that he has a really nice girlfriend back home (or in France.  Which we are calling back home for the sake of analogy).

I gave #2 Son these clues.  And he said,

“What?  Is he dead?”

I’m not telling.  Because that would spoil the movie.

Olympic Bat minton

The war with nature continues at Casa de dos Quesos.

In the beginning of summer, I learned that the first words out of your husband’s mouth in the morning should not be

“We need an exterminator.”

Four raccoons and six hundred dollars later, we were alone in the house again, with a capped chimney.

Sort of alone.  I do not count mice.  It only depresses me.

I do not know where the raccoons went, after they were put in the van.  I am choosing to think it was a raccoon play land, with lots of open garbage cans.

It’s really kind of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing.

But the other day, when I came out of my bedroom in the morning and found a pair of badminton racquets propped against the wall, I knew it had been another fun night in the country.

The bats are back.

Now, before you start in on me about bats being endangered, and cruelty to animals in general, let me assure you that I love animals right up to the point where they cross my threshold.  As far as I can tell, bats are not endangered around here.  We don’t have a lot of them, but we have all we need.  And about once a year, one of them gets into the house.

If  you can’t manage to chase it out of the house, a badminton racket is one of the best solutions.  It screws up their radar.  It also has a long reach, makes a good bat spatula for scooping stunned bats and is light enough for even a non athletic person to use.

It is also more practical than #2 son’s first instinct, which was to sit living room recliner waving his laptop over his head trying to scare the thing away.  I am taking his word on that, since I had already gone to bed.

The dog does nothing.  The cat is semi retired.  If she is hunting, she goes for things that are not so much work.

Last year, it was one day after #2 son went off to college.  The DH went to bed early, and I was sitting alone in the living room and feeling kind of empty nesty.  And then, I wasn’t alone anymore.  A huge bat did a couple of laps and disappeared.

It tried the same thing the next night, and I saw it go down the basement stairs.  I closed that door and stuck a post it note saying BAT on it.

The next night, I made my husband stay up with a racquet and limber up for a backhand.

The bat did not show up.  My husband gave me a skeptical look and went to bed at midnight.  I have not seen him for a year.

I was gas lighted by a bat.

If this is the same one, I hope #2 son hits it out of the court.

We are also having issues with bees around the edge of my fishless fish pond.  At first, I was worried that these were wasps. But the longer they stayed, the more obvious it became that they are escaped honey bees from the neighbor’s hives.

They crowd an inch deep around the waterfall, not bothered by the fact that the pond belongs to me.  And that, as an impressionable writer, I might be imagining scenes from The Killer Bees.

Apparently, they have not seen this movie.  They fly on a regular commuter route back and forth from the neighbor’s house.  Thy slam into me as I walk out to get the mail.  They excuse themselves and go around.  Then they come back, and bring their friends.

I am getting used to it.  And coming to the conclusion that it may be necessary, in the future, to put in a fountain just for bees.

Yesterday, I went to the Wisconsin State Fair, and stopped at the honey producers booth.  I bought some honey and asked about the bees.

Apparently, they are not just drinking up my pond.  They collect drops of water.  They carry them back to the hive.  Then they flap their little wings to evaporate the water and cool the hive.

I am providing central air for bees.

A career of Olympic proportions

I spent most of the last week in Anaheim California at the RWA national convention, shaking hands and pushing books on people.  I don’t know why I bothered.  There was a much easier way to get famous.

Thy Olympic opening ceremonies were held while I was gone.  And when this girl walked past the camera the internet went crazy.

 

Christine Merrill Olympic athlete
This Christine Merrill is running the 400 meter hurdles for Sri Lanka.

World class geek and romance writer

This one is not.

 

But this did not keep many hopeful people (probably guys) from googling me by mistake.  Since I can see the search terms, I have a pretty good idea of the things you want to know, and have prepared this

Handy FAQ About Christine Merrill

How tall is Christine Merrill?

5’ 5” on a good hair day.

 

What is Christine Merrill’s best time?

I do like to go to the movies.  But I think my BEST time would be dinner and
a Broadway show.  And make sure those are orchestra seats and not balcony.
Christine Merrill is not a cheap date.

 

Is Christine Merrill married?

For 28 years.  But thanks for asking.

 

Was Christine Merrill the hottest thing in the Olympic opening ceremonies?

Modesty prevents me from answering this one.  But Ryan Lochte looks pretty good when you beach him and dry him off.  And I suspect that some of the modern pentathletes are hottest, since you pretty much have to be Zorro to compete in that.

 

How did Christine Merrill manage to be born in Bakersfield CA and still run on the Sri Lankan Olympic team?

If I told you, I’d have to kill you.  Let’s just go with witness protection program
and leave it at that.

How does Christine Merrill find the time to train while still writing such fantastic books?

Being an Olympic athlete who writes is no big thing.  The real trick is also maintaining the successful painting career along with the photography studio and  the inspiring Youtube videos.

I’ll give you a hint.  It involves clones, and will end in world domination.

How does Christine  Merrill manage to hurdle when I saw her tripping over a threshold in Anaheim just last week?

I am wondering that myself.  I am going to claim that the limping at RWA was a result of a training injury and had nothing to do with walking Disneyland on an arthritic ankle.  I suspect, if I were being chased, probably by zombies, that I would attempt the 400 meter hurdles.

And then I would be eaten. As they say in Zombieland: Cardio.

What can I do to support Christine Merrill in her quest for gold?

For starters, you can buy my books.  Get NEED TO KNOW people love it.

Or at least download the free ebooks.  The Inconvenient Duchess is already free in
most places where ebooks are sold, including Barnes and Noble. It is supposed to be coming to Amazon tomorrow.

 

 

 

On the road again

hello again.
I’m on my way to Anahiem for the annual RWA conference. which means that I have undergone my annual scan an pat down from the TSA. I swear to god, folks, it’s just me under this dress.  There is nothing to search for.

I’m flying Frontier, which means, in addition to the usual per flight drill, I get to learn the name of the animal painted on the tail of the plane.

It’s Andre. He’s an antelope.  I do not understand the choice.  He might live on the frontier, but he does not fly.  Why not an owl.  Or an eagle.

Or a pig.  Considering how often I blog lately, a flying pig is appropriate.

But enough about the flight,you say.  What else has been going on at Casa de dos queso?

As usual, lots of writing.  The next book is an October release: Two Wrongs Make a Marriage.  It will be accompanied by an Undone (Christmas themed and unnamed).  The book after that is finished.  The book after the book after is started.

I’m also about a quarter of the way into a sequel to Need To Know.  I’m calling it Wetwork. 

But seriously, you say.  What about the dog?

At least you should.  Havoc has been supplying blog material. He’s made a new friend.  At least that’s what he thinks has happened.  There is a woodchuck living in the backyard.  The dog has been trying to play catch with him.

Not tag, mind you.  Catch.  The DH returned, disgusted after a recent walk because Havoc had rolled his ball into the burrow.  Retrieval was impossible.  The hole was deeper than arm’s  length, and still sloping downwards.

DH explained to the disappointed that this toy was gone forever.

But Havoc is not a quitter. The next day, he returned with a different ball and lost that as well.

A slightly more frustrated DH told the dog he was an idiot.  Then he grabbed  a shovel and filled up the hole.

The next day, the woodchuck cleared the entrance to his house, and returned one of the balls. 

Havoc said “See?  I told you so.”. Then he dropped the ball back  in the hole.  The next day, he dropped the Kong down as well. Probably on the theory that to get something, you have to be prepared to sacrifice.

It took about a week before Woodchuck cleaned house enough to return the Kong.  We are still waiting on the balls.

We could live in peace with this animal, if he weren’t also coming right up to the house and stealing vegetables from my pitiful garden.  I suspect he also dug up one of my new roses.  Not to eat. Just to dig.  The rose bush  was left at the side of the hole.

I replanted.

He redug.  And this time, he hid the bush to keep me from spoiling the hole.

As bugs bunny would say: THIS MEANS WAR.

I have seen the dreaded beast once.  With four acres to share, He was I standing about two feet from the front door.  Probably waiting for the dog to come out so he could kick Havoc’s ass.  The thing was huge.  And he has more balls than my dog.  Since Havoc is neutered, he has four more balls I than the dog.

So far the live trap has been ineffective.

Did you know that the Red Ryder bee bee gun comes in pink? I am normally a pacifist.  But this is about to change.

Daddy, I’ve got cider in my ear

Hello again.

It’s been a while, which seems to be how I start every blog post.  I am back, at least for today, with goals to write more (as always).   Lately, other than multiple deadlines, I have been going through “some things”.  “Having issues”.  Cryptic enough for you?

We will boil it down to, “taking care of parents”, and for now, we’ll leave it at that.  I am probably saving it for the dramatic memoir worthy of the Oprah Book Club.  Although the ship for Oprah books has sailed, since she has stopped telling America what to read.  But at this point, I can tell stories that would make James Frey ask if I was full of shit. And things just keep getting weirder.

But, aside from all the drama, I have been saving up a few stories that are blog worthy.  I went to the RT convention and The Chicago Spring Fling Conference, and had a good time at both, meeting several fans.  Shout out to Daria!

You probably thought I’d forgotten you.  But you totally made my day at that signing.

And now, for the rest of the story.

#2 son, Sean, is due back from college tomorrow, and will be returning mostly in one piece.  And with most of the money he left home with.  In our last conversation, he told me he did not need more phone minutes because he has “13 texts left” before he runs out of time.

My apologies to his girlfriend, but I seem to have raised one of the cheapest human beings alive.  Although they seem to be well suited.  They spent one date together in the freezing cold, waiting for a pizza place to open, and both won a year’s supply of pizza coupons.  And she went willingly.

Sean told me that, at one point, he took off his glove and was convinced he had frostbite.  And then realized that it was chocolate from a brownie on his hands and not blackened flesh.

So it’s all good then, I guess.  He is eating for free, and still has all his toes.

But before we turned him loose, we seem to have forgotten one lecture.  Ever seen Teen Wolf?  It is an awful movie, except for one line, which, as I remember it is:

Never play poker with a guy named after a city.

This rule is good for most betting.  Realize that, when  something seems like it can’t lose, there has to be a catch.  So if, in my son’s case, you have never seen the track team’s steeple-chaser run, you probably shouldn’t bet on him at all, much less betting against him.

Or maybe, after growing out your hair for a year, until it reaches ridiculous lengths and is do thick and curly that it makes the labradoodle jealous, maybe…

Just maybe…

You will lose your hair in a bet.

With my son in a tank t-shirt with his nearly shaved head, Sean feels he is 30% more likely to commit a hate crime.  Not with a Nerf gun, you’re not.  Although he does kind of look like he’s seeking a summer internship in a meth lab.

finally, she picks a winner!

I am finally ready to send out some prizes in the great “what do we name the book?” contest.

Since no one was close to the chosen title Two Wrongs Make a Marriage I threw everybody’s name in a hat and had objective (or is that apathetic?) #2 son pick some names.

 

Cristine C, send me an e-mail with your contact info, and I will send you

The Ladies in Disgrace trilogy.

Likewise,

Deililly

and

Dori

Send me addresses and I will send you each a copy  of Lady Priscilla’s Shameful Secret (or the book of your choice).

And thanks for playing!

Will Work for Food

I spent the month of February at the doctors.  For no particular reason, other than that I am a fan of preventive and diagnostic medical care.  So I go all the necessary pokes and prods and tests to prove that I am good to go for another year.

The final result?  I am healthier than I have any right to be.  Everything is normal, or damn close to it.  Medically normal, anyway.  Still crazy after all these years…

But I need to lose weight.  I announced that going in, to save the medical professionals time.  My favorite LPN replied that she asks “How can I help?” instead of telling people that they need to go on a diet, because they already know.

And she’s right.  It’s not like any fat person goes to the doctor, steps on the scale and goes “#$%#$%%$# where did that come from?  I was 120 pounds when I woke up this morning.”

Any way.  I decided to take action in advance of the appointment, and dragged my husband onto Nutrisystem for a few months.  And I am sure it will be only a few months, because I am traveling in April (see my updated appearance page). And if I am still eating out of little plastic trays and moisture sealed bags, you had all better keep out of my way.  I will be so hungry by then that I will leap over the autographing table and savage you like a wolf.

It’s hard to get noticed at RT because the place is so big and so busy.  But I’m betting the Regency historical author in the M aisle, chewing on a bloody bone, would make all the authors behaving badly blogs.

Let us say that, after a month, the pair of us left in casa ‘almost totally cheese-less’ are smaller, but a little sensitive to the presence of food.  When anything with fat or flavor passes by, our heads come up to track the scent like we are posing for National Geographic.

This morning, my breakfast was a protein shake, and a patty that did not have the nerve to call itself sausage.  I share an office with my husband, and was sitting at my desk, hunched protectively over the little thing.

Between us is the dog, who is a bag of bones under a cloud of hair and cannot spare a pound.  In the last month, his begging has taken on an air of desperation.  I should probably order him a pizza just to keep up with his metabolism.

On the other side of the room, the DH’s chair spun to face me.  “What are you eating?”

I waved the empty plate at him.  “You can smell it?”

DH:  “It smelled like sausage.  Or maybe urine.”

ME:  “ So you wanted to know if I was having breakfast or had wet my pants?”

DH”  “Yep.”

ME:  “It was a maple flavored.  Kind of sweet.  If it was the other,  I’d have had to be diabetic.”

In other news:

A title for the next book has been chosen:

Two Wrongs Make a Marriage

So, no one called it.  But it matters not.  Thanks for playing, and I will gather the names this week, and give away some books.