Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Harlequin Historical Advent Calendar

Win a Kindle Fire! The Harlequin Historical Authors Holiday Giveaway is back. In the spirit of an Advent calendar, the authors are giving away daily prizes and a Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire. Play every day for more chances to win.

The Rules:

Each participating author will have an activity planned on their website for their special day. You may be asked to comment on a blog, find an ornament, or visit a Facebook page. For each d ay you participate, your name will be entered into the Grand Prize drawing. At the end of the month on December 23, one day from the calendar will be randomly selected. One of the entrants from that day will then be randomly selected to win the Kindle. The more days you visit, the better your chances! My day is 7 December and there will be a Taste of Northumberland bunch of goodies up for grabs. For international readers: THE PROMOTION IS OPEN TO U.S., UNITED KINGDOM, IRELAND, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, AND EUROPEAN COUNTRIES WHERE A KINDLE MAY BE SHIPPED. Official rules and eligibility
Participating Authors

michelle willingham elizabeth rolls charlene sands diane gaston annie burrows elaine golden barbara monajem michelle styles deborah hale marguerite kaye lynna banning carol townend blythe gifford julia justiss terri brisbin ann lethbridge bronwyn scott sarah mallory kate bridges amanda mccabe jeannie lin harlequin historical authors

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tracy Anderson Method: Meta Omni L 5 - L6 Day 4

This was Thanksgiving weekend and my daughter coming home for the first time since I took her  university. There was no way I was going to miss out on eating and socialising. And I also refused to feel guilty for doing so. It was not about being *good* but having that 20% guilt free enjoyment of unhealthy eating. So I did enjoy clam dip with tortilla chips, two types of pie, chocolate cake and quick croissants. I also did not weight myself and kept up with my workouts (including taking a rest day on the Sunday). But now it is back to the 80% controlled nutrition. Splurges are fine as long as they don't become the norm. It is a mental thing -- the weekend is over and therefore it is time to get with the programme again. Weight is much easier to put on, rather than take off and I did make sure that i was well within my green zone before the Thanksgiving splurge started. Hopefully when it comes time to measure and weigh myself when this level is done, I will remain in my green zone!
Among other books I read  this week were The Inflammation Syndrome and Stop Prediabetes Now (both by Jack Challam). I started with The Inflammation Syndrome because of a remark by the TAM community moderator that Tracy had worked hard to remove all possible inflammation culprits from her diet. Basically I wanted to find why I felt so well on her Lifestyle Menu and why I didn't have cravings etc.  The Stop Prediabetes Now came about because I thought it might have more info on obesity, prediabetes and diabetes (type 2) and the whole connection. Prediabetes means you are living a lifestyle that makes type 2 diabetes much more likely. Indicators include a waist over 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women, the need to take naps after eating a heavy meal, and feeling mood swings.  I know I was definitely headed that way in August 2010 as my waist was about 35 inches (it is now 23 inches). And while I don't have any symptoms currently, I am aware that I did have quite a number. Type 2 diabetes is a disease which is caused in large part by lifestyle and if a person changes their lifestyle before the onset of full blown type 2 diabetes or before type 2 becomes firmly eastablished, it is possible to utterly reverse the effects. The recent University of Newcastle study is the most recent confirmation.
Although Challams diets are different from Tracy's, I did find out lots.
For example,  the Lifestyle Menu is definitely designed to stabilise blood sugar. It is a Protein and Produce type diet,  rather than high protein diet. There is a difference. A P and P type diet does emphasise both, rather than exclusively focusing on one particular food group/building block as it were. And the emphasise of the produce is on non starchy, high fibre type fruit and veg.
To stabilise your blood sugar -- the first thing you do need to do is cut out all gluten products and porridge. Oats despite their low GI can cause problems for some people. I know for myself, I feel less hungry when I don't eat porridge for breakfast.  High quality protein like an egg, chicken, turkey or cold waterfish  or fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or kiwifruit will go a long a way towards making you feel full.  Processed foods because of their high sugar, trans fat and high salt content sabotage diets and make cravings worse. Equally eating grain fed beef rather than grass fed beef can lead to more cravings. (I thought this interesting as Tracy does specify grass fed beef in her dynamic eating plan). Caffienne makes you feel thirsty and it is easy to confuse hungar and cravings with thirst. So it is best to cut all coffee. Green tea helps.  Eating slowly and making sure you are consuming nutrient dense food goes a long way. Ease of digestion can really help as your body is getting the nutrients it requires delivered in quickly. Fresh food is best.
This is one of the reasons when they talk about Tracy's diets are being baby food diets that it gets me so annoyed. Tracy is all about pureeing and juicing fresh food, rather than buying jars of baby food. There are sound reasons why she says to steam apples and pears rather than buying apple sauce, for example.  Purchased apple juice and apple sauce will probably have added sugar and stabilisers.  Equally the vitamins do start to deteriorate fairly quickly. You want to consume fresh apple juice within 15 minutes before it starts to oxidise to get the most kick from the vitamins sort of thing.
Anyway I am starting to understand why her Lifestyle Menu worked so well for me and why they do such a good job of containing my cravings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Swooning with Boon and Sara Craven

Yesterday was the Swoon with Boon event at the Stockton Central Library to help celebrate the refurbishment of the library. The library looks wonderful with the books in pride of place. The other speaker was the great Sara Craven.  Sara's first book was published in 1976. She had been a journalist in Stockton before that but now lives in the Midlands.
When I was  at university, and later when I first came to the UK, Sara was one of my go to authors. There was just something about her heroes. So it was a fantastic opportunity for me to hear her speak and generally chat with her.
Sara Craven is wonderfully witty and the entire evening was a joy.
Given how much I love my editor, I now know to be worried if she takes me out somewhere really and truly posh as according to Sara they tend to do that when you are being shifted to another editor. Although her last lunch with her editor was at the Ivy, just because. She currently adores her editor and was more than a bit apprehensive but her editor soon put her at ease.
I loved hearing about Alan Boon and her first editor, the legendary Frances Whitehead, and the past as well as her extensive reading list as a child. It somewhat mirrored my own. Sara chose her pen name (in those days most M&B authors had pen names plus she was a journalist) in part because of her deep love for The Secret Garden.  I happen to love this book and one of the reasons we bought our current house was the garden gave me the feel of a secret garden, waiting to be brought to life again.
Several in the audience said that they had never read a M&B, although their mother in laws were avid readers and because of the talk, they were now tempted to have a go. One lady was very intrigued by my Vikings.
I came back home thoroughly refreshed and ready to really push forward with my current Viking.

Monday, November 21, 2011

TAM L5 Day 3 - 8: Differing Centrics

The big thing this week was the launch of Tracy Anderson's Body calculator. If you know about her Meta, you know that in order to order it, you have to decide if you are hip, glute, ab or all of the above/unsure. For me, I know I put weight on all over and so have always assumed that I was omni.
Lately I have wondered if I was glute but then my stomach still has fat etc etc. Lots of people have and so Tracy and team offered to look at photos but quickly became overwhelmed so they developed a short survey programme.
Two things happened which really enhanced my knowledge. First, a lovely TAM lady emailed to ask if I could tell what she was -- hip or glute as she had emailed Tracy's team and hadn't received a reply. And then the body calculator came out, plus Tracy's team started to reply to those people who  emailed the photos so I could tell more about what the thinking was.
This lady's photos taught me that it is far easier to tell what people are at the start of Meta, then when they are going through it, and you need to know what you are looking for.
This is what I decided about the centrics for the info I could glean.
Glute means you tend to  gain weight  first at the back -- on your backside, your back and the BACK of your thighs and you lose it last there. Your bottom tends to flow into your thighs and you could really do with a butt lift. If you are sitting, balancing on the edge of a chair, your weight will flow to the back.
Hips means you tend to  gain weight first on your hip bones, and the SIDES of your thighs as well as at the sides of your calves. You lose it last there. If you are balancing on the edge of a chair, your weight will flow to the sides.
Abs means front. You have a pot belly.  Depending on your physical condition, you might carry weight on your thighs and hips but really it is the stomach region that gains. In worst case scenarios people will ask you if you are pregnant. Or pat your stomach to make it quiver. Siblings can be such fun when you are growing up.
Omni means you have a combo of problems or simply that you gain weight all over.
People being people often have a multitude of problems and there is a spectrum. Equally people may be more sensitive about one area than another (for example their mother harped on about the stomach but really they have saddle bags) , even though once they start that problem shapes up very quickly. Or they find they were thinking hips but it was really back of hips sort of thing. Plus there is the whole I am putting a hell of a lot of time and effort in, I want to know syndrome. In other words, there are emotions involved, rather than pure objectivity. You try telling someone that her abs are not the biggest problem when she has spent 30 years hating her stomach because she was teased at summer camp. It is hard. It doesn't fit with her body image and that causes problems...
Anyway, I looked at the lady's photos and to my eye, it was obvious she was glute. In her before picture she was sitting and you could see the weight hanging from her thighs, rather than flowing out over the rock. (With me, I think my thighs would have flowed out to the side as well as to the back...) With her other pictures, it was far more difficult because this lady is absolutely stunning and her legs are to die for (imho) except she has a little bit of a bottom and weight to the back of her thighs.
I said glute. She heard back from Tracy's team who said glute. I wiped the sweat from my brow with relief. I think I have FINALLY figured out the rationale. Front, back and sides. But ultimately everything will be sort if you have the patience.
I took the body calculator and didn't measure my hip bone to hip bone right (guessing)  and came out with Hip. I knew this was wrong. I definitely have a stomach. It is less than it was but it is still there. Plus my backside needs a lift and I do put weight on my back. Anyway, I went back, remeasured.accurately and came out omni. I tried again to make sure and again came out omni. I am omni and it suits my ego so I am staying that way.

Omni means all parts are going to be hit and eventually everything will really tone up. I don't have to worry because my front, back and sides are all going to get hit.
 Some of it is being patient and letting Tracy work her magic. It took Gwyneth Paltrow 3 years to get her current body. It took Tracy herself about that long for her body to be pulled in tight. My body has changed so much since 25 August when I started. It is continuing to change.

Because I have also realised that the POSITIONING is really important. The order in which you do the exercises so that the contraction is held is also important, but with the leg lifts (from what I can glean) you work different angles. I have really concentrate on making sure my knee is turned out the way Tracy wants.  But I know she will be working my thighs from all angles and eventually the weight will go from my hips and bottom. And some day, I might not have a pot belly (or loose skin there)

And TOMORROW I will be doing the Girl's Night In: Swoon with Boon lecture at Stockton Central Library at  6 pm. It should be fun. Luckily a friend is coming with me so I won't have to walk in alone and I know there will a friendly face in the audience.  Always useful. The great Sara Craven is also speaking so I will be able to soak up her knowledge. I used to love reading Sara's books when I was a teenager, at university and in my early 20s.  I only hope I give a good account of myself. An account will be posted on Wednesday.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No more excuses

My editor emailed me early today. She really liked my Viking partial and wants to see the full, rather than needing me to rework the partial or put in the next 3 chapters. I had been prepared for her to hate it and have to do both options. But apparently it has a good structure and well-motivated characters. I need to make sure the emotional complexity of the main characters, in particular the hero, is there but other than she is very happy to see the full. (NB I expect her to tear the full apart and help me to make the story as  strong as possible)
Emotional complexity does tend to come for me after the first draft is done. It is no fun knowing absolutely everything. But I will re-read the Collins book so that I can make sure the characters have several inner values which end up at odds with each other.
Anyway I have run out of excuses for not writing. It is back to chunking the words -- ie writing 750 words and then taking a break. It is going to be an excellent story when it is done.
Not getting this story in before the 1 January deadline is not an option!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The TAM Meta Omni: L4 Day 6 - L5 Day 2:The key is balance

This week I did my first measurements since starting Level 4 and reached several key decisions. First was that I do enjoy doing the Dance Cardio first. When I do it second, I tend to fall asleep around 9 pm. Luckily someone on the TAm community pointed me towards a Youtube video of Tracy explaining which one to do first. I do not tend to bulk up and do has loose skin aka surface fat so doing the Dance Cardio first was the correct choice. I have also started really trying to put the everything in moderation/nothing forbidden 80% controlled direct nutrition thing into force. My weight did go down by about 2 lbs. And it is slightly freeing to know that I won't be weighing myself until the end of L5. The weighing myself every day did help me to realise which foods helped to trigger my bloating and weight gain so I am pleased that I did it. It is about learning to eat in moderation, listening to my body and keeping up with my workouts. ANd yes, the holidays are coming up, so it is about having a plan to deal with them and listening to my body when it says it is full, rather than overeating. I don't have to be a fully piad up member of the Clean Plate Club any longer.

 One of the things which really attracted to TAM was Tracy's attitude that she does not promote a diet for life or fad diets. She likes to eat and so workouts. Her appearance on My Last Supper was a case in point. She does have a healthy attitude towards food. Equally I have enjoyed reading the Skinny Chicks book. The author's assertion that people have different metabolic rates and therefore need to think about their individual combinations of exercise and eating hit a chord. Some people have naturally faster metabolisms and don't have to exercise as much as I do. I choose to eat a bit more liberally but like wearing UK size 8, so it is getting the exercise, and in particular the Dance Cardio right for that. Note I have no desire to be a UK size 6 or US size 2.
This journey is about me developing the body I want. It is NOT about the woman with the smallest size wins.
I have noticed much more definition in my upper arms and that some of my loose skin in my stomach region is starting to disappear so this is good as I had no wish to resemble a Sharpie dog.
I also now know that I can take rest days and then look forward to restarting the next day.

Level 5 is much difficult for me than L4. I really feel it in my abs and legs. I am trying to be very precise with how I hold my legs -- the angles and where I put my knee down in the lifts. Part of the whole centric thing does involve the various angles and it is important to really pay attention to how Tracy is doing things. The exercises in each level are often variations on a theme from what I understand but where you put your foot or how your knee is turned out changes. Little things to really activate the cross vectors.
I do feel my body is stronger. I like the buzz I get after the workout and I do crave it.  Another Skinny chick tip which I have put into action is to write a list of changes that I like about my body since starting TAM and to say them out  loud every day. It is about owning my new body, rather than thinking that it is borrowed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

So You Think You Can Write...

Harlequin's Second annual So You Think You Can Write kicked off this week. If you are inspired you can enter your full manuscript in their contest which closes 15 Dec. The best manuscript will be published.  So the website for full details.
However even if you just want inspiration, it is worth reading some of the posts as various editors and authors give hints and tips on writing. Personally I found Leslie Wanger's post on asking yourself Why do I need to write this manuscript really useful. It gave me a whole new way of thinking and opened up a load of possibilities as well as helping me solve a conflict problem.
I loved the Meet The New York Editorial Team video. I have had the pleasure in the past of seeing some of the editors at the RWA and it was great to hear how passionate they are about what they do.  Obviously I am hoping for a London one but the editorial team are just recovering from NV... NY might be lovely but London totally rocks. Not that I am prejudiced or anything...
There is a ton to inspire..even for a multi-published author. So take some time and explore SYTYCW.
It is a wonderful opportunity.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Tracy Anderson Method: L4 Days1 - 6: Secrets of being fit and fab

This last week included a rest day and two dinner parties.  Note the picture is from AMBA and does show off my new figure. The second party proved problematic as I ate too much.  Simon Hopkinson's Stilton biscuits and cheese at the end proved too much. My husband had made this really rich meal -- chestnut and wild mushroom tagliatelle, cassolet, orange and watercress salad and chocolate pithivers. My stomach ached. I had to do the dishes while our friends were still over as I felt so sick. It is the last of the entertaining for awhile and I can back to normal. It is easier when we go out to other people's houses. I really guilty refusing my husband's food as I know how hard he has worked to make it.
Anyway, the scale was heavier on the Saturday so I made sure that I really worked out hard and dialled everything back. The result was that the weight gain has disappeared by Sunday and I am back into my green zone. (Yes I did weigh myself as I knew I'd eaten more than I should)
This week I read The Secrets of Skinny Chicks by Karen Bridson. An awful title for a fantastic book. It should be called the Secret of Being Fit and Fab, no matter what what your jeans size!
It is about looking at how women who are slender or who don't have problems with their body image cope and it is hugely practical. She profiles 21 women and gives 50 tips which are examined in detail with action plans. Most of profiled women are US size 2,4 or 6 with one size 10. The common theme is a six day a week exercise regime. If you want to be size 4 or below, it includes an hour of cardio plus muscular structure work, so it was a huge tick for me there. It is about making exercise like brushing your teeth, something you just do. Very few women look good at my age without working out. End of story.
The women eat around 1600 calories per day but the important thing is that they burn all the calories. If they know they are going to be eating more, they make sure they exercise or dial it down. Everything in moderation. Some allow themselves a designated cheat day.Others just go for the moderation approach as it is a Lifestyle rather than a diet. Once you feel like it is a lifestyle rather than a diet, you are less apt to feel deprived.
When the holidays or dinner parties come up, people who feel good about their bodies develop a strategy to deal with them. For example, looking at menus before hand to decide what to eat if going out to a restaurant or exercising more. If they spend time eating too much, they don't abandon the good work they have already done. It is not an all or nothing approach. They simply return to their programme, making adjustments as needs be.
One of the big take aways for me was the concept of a traffic light system with my weight. To think about it in zones. Red (above 145 or 10 st 5 lbs for me) means immediate retreat to full TAM Lifestyle Menu. Amber (140 - 145 or 10 st - 10st 5 lb) means cut back on portions and watch. Green (under 140 or 10 st) means I can eat  with the family and am allowed a few treats as long as I do the exercise.  The decision of where the zones are is entirely subjective but they should be within a Healthy BMI. Basically I am happy with being a size 4. I don't want to go to a size 2. I want to tone, rather than lose more weight.
A lot of being slender is from your neck up. It is about thinking about those parts of your body that you like and realising that you do have the figure you want (if you work for it).
She also has some strategies for combating emotional eating and other forms of self sabotage.  Except for some of the wording (skinny chicks and gals -- nails on blackboard time for me), the  book was a good read. There are very few books that deal with maintenance after a weight loss and how you restore your body image. This is one.
Much of what she says tallies with what Tracy Anderson's philosophy so that was good.
Level 4 Omni is hard work but fun. I am still really enjoying TAM. I shall see what my measurements are at the end of this level. However, I am v glad that my thighs don't touch any more. There are bits that still need to be toned (I can see them on the photo!) but I am confident that TAM will get me there. Consistency and persistence.
With my writing, I promised my editor my partial today and am not entirely happy with it so I need to work on that. It just needs more depth. Consitency and persitence for that as well! I suspect when it is done, it will be awesome.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Writing: Adding Unpredictability

One of the big buzzwords with Harlequin editorial is unpredictability. However, it can be hard to assess what that means. What it doesn't mean is an end to HEA or indeed the books suddenly not being a romance.
My personal take on this is that is akin to Page Turning Quality and holding the reader within the story. If a story becomes dull and predictable, the reader is more apt to put it down. If she is totally drawn into the world of the story and finds it difficult to guess what is going to happen next and therefore has to keep turning the pages, then the story be definition is a Page Turner. If you can keep the reader (and in this case the hard-boiled editor) turning pages and perhaps even missing a meeting or staying at work late, you will have conquered unpredictability.
How to make the story unpredictable -- it starts with the characters and making sure that they are fully developed and well-rounded. Make sure you really know their personal values and how that translates on the page. In other words, how is the reader going to be super-engaged with the characters? Why is she going to identify with those characters and their journey, and why is that journey going to be different than the 1000 other romances the reader has read?
Characters who are 3 d and who are placed in situations where they have to grow and continually challenged will give  the reader unpredictability.
Long ago, there used to be an idea that Harlequin was written with really tight parameters. By page 6 a kiss and exactly page 128 you had to have some sort of sexual encounter while on page 157, not 158 or 152, they had to have a fight. Ummm, hopefully you can see the idea was false in the extreme and has led many unpublished authors to have more manuscripts rejected. There has NEVER been a precise formula. Ever.
The only thing that is sacred is that the focus is on the growth of the emotional relationship of the couple AND that there is a HEA with a closed story line. In other words, the reader is not left wondering if this couple will be fine. (Very occasionally, Harlequin has done a 2 part story line but these are well-flagged in advance and many readers can't read the books until they have both parts!)
But other than those two bits, the journey and the manner of the journey is up to the writer. It is dictated by the characters and their reactions to specific events. The line is determined by the type of story that  the author pens. For example, all historicals are set in the defined past. Modern/Presents have an escapist glamour about them etc.
So you want to inject unpredictability in to your story? Make sure you start with two strong well rounded characters who are forced to challenge their core beliefs and see where that leads you. And when you are developing the characters, think beyond the cliche and develop the sort of characters which attract you. Who do you want to write about? What are you passionate about? Why will the hero sweep the heroine off her feet? What is about him that makes him a hero in her eyes? Why are these unique characters? Why will the reader want to read about them? How are you going to show their uniqueness on the page?