Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goals, schmoals ...

This won't be a request to post your goals. I don't set them. Never have, never will. I don't know why. Even now, with all that's happened in the past year, I don't have goals except continue on, do better at everything, and survive whatever life throws at me with a good sense of humor. Gee, I guess that's a goal.

No, the topic this week is a retrospective.

Name the most memorable thing that happened to you in 2006 that was not writing related.

He he. That'll make you think, eh? Many of us had writing milestones met, I guess you could say (better than 'goals'). First sales, big contests won or finaled in, award nominations, etc.

No, name something that has nothing to do with writing. Did you finally break par on a tough course? Drive under the speed limit for more than a day in a row (can't claim to that one myself)? Achieve the salary you were hoping for?

This has to be your accomplishment. Not your kid's, or your spouse's (even though we know you're the power behind the throne and should probably get some credit for those achievements).

This is a tough one for me. I'll need to put on the old thinking cap. So much in my life is tied to my 'writing life'. I'll need to ponder this one ...

Party on, Mavens! Here's to 2007 and what it might hold!!!


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Jingle, Jingle

Yes. Our tradition is to open gifts from each other on Christmas Eve. At first I thought it strange, but after more than forty years of celebrating Christmas gift giving this way, I dearly look forward to it.

We start at three, mainly because the group has grown to twenty-four and it's a lengthly process.

Food is prepared and generally everyone is famished when they arrive. This year's menu included:

Salmon Spread
Mexicana Chip Dip
Artichoke Dip
Crab stuffed Mushrooms
Chicken Dip
Tortilla Rollups

For the Main Chomping:
Fruit Pizza
Logan's spiral ham, roasted and delicious
Creamy Shrimp and Corn Soup, yummy
Mexican Cheese Grits
Fruit Salad

Amaretto Cheesecake
Homemade Fruitcake soaked in Whiskey
Pineapple Cake
Homemade fudge

After snacking for awhile, the smaller kids wanted to open gifts, so we obliged.

We sit in a huge circle of sorts, then the oldest grandkids hand out the gifts. We open gifts by age. Youngest first. It's the only time of the year my daughter will admit that her husband is younger than her, (only by three weeks).

We ooh, and aah over each gift.
By the time the grandkids are finished it's time to hit the refreshment table again.

Did I tell you that Southern people expect food at all events, in fact, it is part of the event.

Then the older kids open gifts.

This is the only year that we haven't done fireworks afterward. (That was on my hubby's list.)

By nine, we were finished. The families left, the grandkids knowing that Santa would pass during the night with more gifts.

It seems like a lot of work for a few hours. But I wouldn't trade a moment of it for anything.

Because, once upon a time, I knew a boy who never received a Christmas present that he could remember. So, whenever I think of the excess of Christmas, I'm feeling in my heart that that little boy would have been in such awe. And I remember him with love.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Traditions

Nope, me neither.

Then again, there might be a few. We have a chicken, not a turkey because nobody likes chicken. We have one of my homemade spiced apple pies, not Christmas Pudding, because nobody likes Christmas Pudding. Brandy butter is horrid, so we have custard.

So you might call it anti-tradition. Instead of doing what we ought to do, we do what we want to do. And it works out really well.

So we get up when we want, eat around two thirty, don't turn on the Queen's Speech, watch "Casablanca" (at least I do, just because I love that film), drink, and eat some more. It's a nice day, and we discovered the best way to avoid family arguments and upset is to do what we want, and be nice to each other.

That count as a tradition?

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Holiday traditions ... hmm, I may be traditionless

This was a stumper for me.

Music? I can't carry a tune in a truck, and caroling was never a part of any holiday we had. We participated in assorted carols for various groups we belonged to, but our family wasn't big on singing.

Church? I'm not religious and can't remember the last time I went. My family would go to church twice a year, Easter and Christmas, so I vaguely remember attending services when I was a child, but haven't done so in recent memory. The services were pretty with candles and lots of singing.

Movies, maybe. Watching White Christmas or A Christmas Carol (the one with Alistair Sims). My sister and I used to watch those every year. She and I have the entire routine to "Sisters" memorized from WC, including the 'fan dance'. But those aren't really traditions.

I guess if there's one thing that's constant it's calling others on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Our family can never all get together at the holiday. There's people in Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, California ... and that's not counting the other side of the family, with folks near Philly and in Pittsburgh. I can't remember the last time we all were in one place for a holiday.

So, yes -- that evening phone call when we look at the clock and say, "That must be Lisa, I'll bet they're opening presents now" or "That must be {insert name}, it's present-opening time where she is". Or the times I've called, after looking at the clock and saying, "Well, it's cocktail time, I'll bet they're on the first present".

I'm calling it a tradition, whether it is or not.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holdiay music

My favorite holiday memories center on music.


Christmas carols were among the first songs I learned to sing well. Back in the day, my cousin Hunter who played the piano and sang by ear, would liven up every Christmas party with his beautiful holiday renditions.  I remember this one particular lady all of us neighborhood kids used to torment to sing Silent Night for us.  Ollie would sing for us every time.  We used to giggle at her high notes, but the thing we didn’t realize is that we were being soothed and transformed by her heartfelt music.


Later in life, as I had my own children to soothe, I sang a great deal. Christmas carols are my favorite music of all time, and there’s nothing I like better than singing “What Child is This?”  Even songs with challenging high parts, like “O Holy Night,” hold a special place in my heart. I remember dear Ollie and how she touched us with her music. 


I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season. 


Until next week, Maggie

Maggie Toussaint 



Sunday, December 24, 2006

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition?

That subject line says it all.

Is there a particular thing that you and your loved ones do together? Trim a tree? Open a present at a particular time? Sip brandy from jello molds (see previous post)?

And listen -- I know you're busy. I'm getting ready to get on the road myself. So if you don't reply this week, no problem -- we'll reconvene later.

Have a happy, relaxing, and safe holiday.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hazy holiday memories

I have several fond memories of holidays, many of which revolved around my father, who was a real character. He was often mistaken for Jimmy Stewart. They looked remarkably alike, right down to the tall, gangly physique.

One year he decided we should open a present on Christmas Eve. This wasn't unusual, we often did this. This was accompanied by a special drink (I don't remember the drink -- brandy? gin?) He couldn't find drink glasses that were special enough for this event, so he rooted around in the cupboard and came up with 8 matching containers: jello molds.

These were rubbermaid (tm) molds, shaped like a star or a flower. About 4" high and 4" in diameter. And plastic.

He brought them into the living room with a flourish, filled with Drink of Choice, balanced on a beat-up tray that my mother used as a drip catcher in the stove.

We all laughed so hard I thought we'd have to be hospitalized. He was so happy with his choice of beverage glass and had no clue that these were jello molds. He just figured -- hey, they all matched and they were clean.

We unwrapped many gifts that night, if I recall. I still giggle when I remember the sight of him, coming into the living room with that tray with eight white plastic jello molds balanced so carefully.

I have a lot of memories like this: Hanky Day (when he got about two dozen hankies for his birthday), family vacations (where he regaled us with tales of 'Old Buck', his horse, stories that sustained us through the boredom of driving through South Dakota), Christmas baking with my mother (our assembly line making highly decorated Santa cookies), Prom night (eavesdropping on my sisters as they got ready to go out) ...

All memories with family are holidays, aren't they? I mean, in my mind, some of the memories seem like holidays even though they were just simple get-togethers (family picnics, swimming pool days, bike rides). And although many of the people are gone, I can't say I miss them. I mean, they're still so alive to me in memory. The only difference is that we aren't making new memories together -- I'm doing that with new friends. Perhaps I'm Pollyanna, but to me, it's all good.


Holiday Memories

Ooooh! This is an easy one. My favorite holiday memory happened 3 years ago this Christmas. My kids were still in elementary school and one of our old dogs had just passed away. Our other old dog was blind and pretty much deaf - the one who'd died had been his seeing eye dog. So, poor Bentley was left all alone. And the kids wanted a puppy.

I love puppies.

My husband says he does, but really, he doesn't.

So off we went to the pet store where the kids could play with the puppies. But we weren't getting one. (Don't get me started on the whole puppy mill thing.) But they had fun playing with chihuahuas, daschunds, cocker spaniesl, bichon frises, yorkies, etc. And they begged, "Please Mom, can we have a puppy? You won't have to buy us anything else. We won't even ask Santa for any gifts. Please can we have a puppy? We'll take care of it and feed it and let it won't have to do a thing." (famous last words)

My response, "I am not buying you a puppy."

I bought two :)

One from a woman who owned the parents on a farm, and the other from her daughter who lived down the street and had one of the previous litter's pups.

Two beautiful cocker spaniel puppies, the kind my husband and I could agree on. Two different litters, six weeks apart.

Which meant only one could come home for Christmas.

So, on Christmas eve, I drove to the farm and picked up Vixen. I took her to my parents' house and left her there until the kids were in bed, then went back and picked her up. This little tiny bundle of red fluff with cute little ears and big paws. She and I spent the night in the basement and she never cried once.

Christmas morning, with the kids gathered in the living room, Santa's presents all around them, I walked in with a basket and set it on the floor. Vixen sat completely still. The kids thought she was a stuffed animal.

And then she moved.

"You got us a puppy!"

I will never forget the tears of joy, the hugs, the snub Santa's presents got ( :) ) and the sight of three kids playing with a puppy under the tree.

When all the hoopla died down, a box of puppy supplies was opened and Santa got his due, my middle child looks at me and says, "You lied."

"I did?" I replied.

"Yes. You said you wouldn't get us a puppy."

Here's where my husband chimed in. "Let's give Mom an early birthday present, shall we?" and he pulls out a box from under the tree.

The kids were looking at us funny. My birthday isn't until February. They know it's like a national holiday to me. Matter of fact it's bigger than Christmas to me. He wouldn't give me an early present - I like to be surprised.

So Mom takes the box and opens it veeeeeery sloooooowly.

The youngest grabs one of the flaps and pulls it open. Inside are some dog toys. A leash, like the one we already opened. Another bowl.

The oldest, sweet considerate child that he is, says apologetically, "Dad, we already have stuff for the puppy." Such a sweet moment, both the kid and the surprise I couldn't wait to spring on them.

"Really?" I asked, pulling out the purple dog collar (the other was pink). "Hmmm, what does this say?" I ask, holding up the name tag. (Of course, we've already determined that the other one said Vixen.)

My concerned, not-wanting-to-hurt-Dad's-feelings oldest child takes the collar and reads the name. "Raven..." He looks up with such confusion then wonder... "You bought us two dogs??!!"

The screams, the tears, the hugs, the joy in that room are a memory I will carry with me forever.

I know the SPCA says not to get your kids a puppy for Christmas. Not to buy into the sentimentality of the holidays and bring home a pet, because many of them end up in shelters or neglected. I get that.

But we were going to get another dog anyway. Bentley needed a friend, and, frankly, there was a hole in my heart where our other dog had been. I had to fill it. And Bentley would soon (8 months later, not that we would know that) leave another hole. We were getting these dogs anyway, so why not Christmas?

If a pet is in your future, I say that you should definitely give it to your kids for Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hypervenitlating for the Holdiays

I’m a person who loves routine, and deviations from that stated routine invariably cause distress. I’ve been writing glowing editorials for the newspaper on the closeness of family and the true meaning of Thanksgiving, etc, but it isn’t what I believe in my heart. For me, holidays bring added worries, and I’m not talking about all the gifting, gathering, cooking, decorating, and cleaning.


I’m not a bah humbug, don’t give me presents kind of gal, in fact I love presents, its just surprises I don’t like. We have had a high number of family deaths while on holiday or vacation. My brother-in-law died during a summer vacation.  My father had a heart attack just after Christmas. My father-in-law died of cancer a week before Christmas. Right now I have a dear cousin struggling for breath in Hospice. And there are others, if I could only bring them to mind.


So I’m always glad to put Christmas behind me. I love the blessed stillness of late Christmas Eve, that Silent Night feeling when all is truly calm.  For me, that’s the feeling that I made it through another year. I enjoy that lovely feeling for as long as I can hold onto it.


Then I steel myself for the next round of holidays.


Maggie Toussaint

Coming soon:  House of Lies ;


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Let's talk holidays ...

Yes, it's That Time of Year.

Your topic for the week: name a favorite holiday memory. Just one! And it doesn't have to be a Christmas or New Year's memory -- it can be any holiday, even a personal one, like a birthday.

Is there one that makes you giggle, even today? One that reminds you of something special? One that makes you remember someone special or something that really stands out in memory?

Tell us about it.


Saturday, December 16, 2006


Darth Tater might be cute, but Spike is adorable!

Here is Spike on the wall in front of Graceland.

I have a nice little sofa that sits on my desk which is Spike's resting place when he isn't out traveling about.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


These are all so good!

i can't compete! Especially with Darth Potato.

But I write surrounded by doll's houses. I have two big ones, a small one and a small shop in my living room, and more in the rest of the house. They are my delight, but when you think about it, it's creating worlds, isn't it?

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And here he is ...

The guy who makes me smile

Darth Tater!

Yep, it's Mr. PotatoHead (Tm, R, or whatever is needed) as Darth Vader. He's sitting on my Nec MobilePro 800 (Tm, R, or whatever is needed), brandishing his not-so-dangerous light saber (or sabre, as Lynne would say).

Every time I look at him I laugh. And I've needed a few laughs lately, between work and writing. It's been a struggle these last few weeks. But I just look at old Darth and grin.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Smiling frogs

The absolute closest things to my desk chair that makes me smile are my miniature bean bag frogs. I have one in red leather and one in green leather. They're about the size of a squashed computer mouse. Sometimes they're hanging over my monitor. Sometimes they're resting on my monitor stand. Other times I'm tossing them from hand to hand to get the creative juices flowing. So that's my answer. My frogs make me smile.

Smiles and laughter are important. Share some today!

Until next week, Maggie Toussaint

Okay: what makes you smile?

Sorry for the way-too-thoughtful topic last week. This one should be easier.

Look around your work space. Don't leave your chair, but you can swivel around in it.

Now tell us about ONE item near you that makes you smile. This 'item' can also be a human (if one happens to be standing near), a pet, a book -- the sky's the limit.

What is near you that makes you smile?

Saturday, December 09, 2006


What a difficult topic.

After much thought, thank heavens I'm toward the latter part of the week, it finally came to me.

My daughter's cancer.

A blessing?

Yes, because it drew our family back together in a way I never thought possible. Having a large brood, everyone was involved with their own new families, and yet, when they found out that their sister was stricken, they banded together to give their support. It's been six years, and we're still a tight family.

It showed me that I can't control life. Sometimes you have to accept what is being dealt to you. Whether you like it or not.

Prayer does work.

Enjoy each and every might be your last.

Always, always tell those you love, those precious words, "I love you."

Be like a dog. Enthusiatic when someone you know walks in the door.

I couldn't write during that period of her treatment, and yes, she is well and cancer-free. But I did write an article as I waited for her chemo treatment.
You can read it here.

Yes, it was a blessing, as it made me a kinder, gentler person.

Well, almost.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Remembering the Blessings

Goodness, this week has been one for counting blessings. My car broke down and I had to plunk down my Christmas savings in order to get another one. For days, I was depressed because of the loss, lamenting about my new financial plight, how hard it is to live on disability as a single mother. But then I remembered the blessings within the situation: I am in a better situation financially than many other people in similar positions, that I was able to get financing for another car on my own and without a co-signer. Yeah, the next few months will be tight but I will be fine.

Then, five days later someone rear-ended my new car! Unbelievable! I could have spit nails.

Again I had to remember the blessings: Neither my daughter nor I were hurt, the accident wasn't my fault and the other driver's insurance will pay for the repairs, and compared to the other car, my damage was minor.

The next day my apartment was flooded when a pipe burst. Carpet was damaged and the smell was atrocious.

The blessings here? Well, let's see....

Since I live in an apartment I was able to call the maintenance crew, who called in plumbers. Even though I had to put up a big "stink" about how unsanitary the conditions were becoming while the problem was being investigated, the property manager finally saw the merits of putting us into a hotel for a few nights. When we returned the carpets had been replaced and the pipes repaired. Sure, my daughter and I have been displaced and inconvenienced, but we still have a home, heat on this cold night and food in the frig. I remember the Katrina victims who suffered so much worse and are still not home this holiday season.

On a daily basis, I remember to count my blessings.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006



Okay, there's a lot. I was originally going to say 'good health', because without that, life gets mean. But I live in America, and I can get good health care.

I was going to say, 'My intelligence' (modest mode), but I live in America. Even if I wasn't well-educated and reasonably intelligent, I'd still have a chance at a good life.

So many of my blessings come back to where I live. So I'm going to say, 'Thank you for letting me live in a civilized country that values me as a human being. Yeah, it ain't perfect, but it's better than a lot of the world.'

{soapbox mode on}

In many countries women have no rights, are murdered, tortured, and all with the countenance of the government. Often it's in the name of religion, which often has its basis in politics and control (don't get me started on *that* topic). At least once a week, I read a story of some poor woman or group of women in India, or Asia, or Africa, or the Middle East being stoned to death, beaten, or ostracized for demanding to be treated like a human being.

{soapbox mode off}

Enough said.

Glad to live where I do, when I do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hitting bottom can be a blessing

Life has a way of dumping stuff on you all at once, and my life was no different than anyone else’s.  I was going along, minding my own business, with a career, a husband, a home, and two kids when I realized I was exhausted.  Suddenly my time wasn’t my own and I had Big Responsibilities.  I’d been able to juggle with one baby, but having the second one so soon afterwards changed my outlook on life. It rapidly became apparent that I was stuck on an endless treadmill of changing diapers, scrubbing the kitchen floor, making baby food, and wrestling mountains of laundry down the stairs.   I needed help. 


Lucky for me, things were changing at my church, and we got in a dynamic priest who took the time to see me as a person.  Since we lived so far away from family, my church had become my home away from home.  I’d always been drawn to music, and the music this new priest brought to us opened my eyes to the world within and the world beyond.  I put one kid in preschool and dragged the infant with me to guitar lessons.  You have to understand that I had never had a music lesson in my life, but I always loved music.  I learned to play guitar, and through music began to experience the joys of self-expression for the first time in my adult life.


That was 24 years ago.  Since then, I’ve hauled my guitar to church and played and sang.  Out of this rewarding experience came the courage to try another form of self-expression, creative writing, another long-buried passion of mine. There was a learning curve as I learned how to write fiction, but along the way I made some great friends and learned more about who I was.  Writing challenged me to define what I stood for, what my themes were, and what I wanted out of life.


Maybe other people get this intuitively, but for me, it was a journey.  And, the road is still unfolding in front of me.


Until next week, Maggie Toussaint


Maggie Toussaint

Coming soon:  House of Lies ;


Counting blessings

Name ONE BLESSING that you feel has affected your life in a major way.

Just one? Okay. My arthritis getting worse.

Seriously. A real blessing in disguise. I've had arthritis most of my life, but until the birth of my children, it was a minor inconvenience rather than anything that affected my life to any great degree. A diet to take care of the allergies, the occasional week of pain with my legs strapped up, and that was it.

Then, after the birth of my children, it got worse. I could no longer depend on steady health, and since no one, doctor or not, could predict when an attack was coming on, and an attack, which meant I couldn't walk, could last any time between a week and six months, I couldn't hold down a steady job any more.

So I started wondering what work I could do from home, because I can't sit at home twiddling my thumbs all day. I took up writing seriously, something else that had haunted me all my life.

And, ma, look at me now! Writing my fifth (or is it sixth) Department 57 book, just sold a new historical romance to another publisher, a new world has opened up for me. The best job I've ever had, if not the best paying one!

Lynne Connolly

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hum along with me ... Count your blessings

I saw "White Christmas: The Musical" yesterday. Great play, great fun, especially when it snowed -- on the audience as well as the stage. Of course, when we walked outside it was 5 above zero with a wind chill below zero and it was snowing for real, but it just added to the ambiance (I have to say that. Even if I hated winter, it would be futile to gripe. I live in Minnesota. It's solid Real Winter here four months of the year and almost-winter two months of the year. A person has to suck it up and enjoy it, even if he/she doesn't. It comes with the zip code).

The major theme of the play/song/movie is "Count Your Blessings [Instead of Sheep]". That got me to thinking ...

Name ONE BLESSING that you feel has affected your life in a major way.

The dictionary defines blessing as "(1) short prayer for divine approval {not the kind I'm talking about, no offense} (2) a fortunate occurence". I'm talking about #2 -- something unplanned, out of your control, not designed, that you consider a blessing in your life.

I was going to ask you to name 5, but really, that's predictable, isn't it? ("My family, my kids, my faith, my ...") No, you've got to narrow it down.

Name that one Biggie.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Throw Me Something Mister!

That's how they say it in New Orleans during Mardi Gras...

Throw me something.

I have bought a book just by the blurb on the bookmark. What the bookmark didn't say was that it was a futuristic novel.

When I purchased it, I felt obligated at this point, the author was standing there, I didn't think I would enjoy it. But I did.

So, I think again about bookmarks.

Just how effective are they?

Well, for one, I can never find a bookmark in my house. The house trolls keep stealing them. But they are useful.

When doing a booksigning, hand them out. Even to those who don't buy your book. It's all about name recognitation. People have to see your name at least three times before it sinks in. (I might take a bit longer...the memory is going quicker than I like.)

A bookmark can also have a great picture of your book. (Insert a hunk photo if your cover is a stinkeroo). Put your backlist, your website, your future releases, put a contest, a puzzle, part of a joke (the answer is on your website...but it better be a good joke). Anything that will create interest and stop them from throwing it away.

Some of the better things I've seen that were given away were some fake fangs to promote a vampire book, a stiletto on a keychain that promoted a book with a stiletto on the cover. I personally like the bookmarks with beads, but along with the bead, I'd put a little plastic cover of my book so I'd be remembered.

All of this is something to consider for the day that I do get the call.

But since I don't have a book coming out anytime soon, here's something to remember me by...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Promo R Us

Promotions: what sells it to me

1. Name recognition.
2. Book art and cover blurb

I'll pick up a new author but only if there's something on the cover that attracts me, a quote from an author I like or if the back cover blurb sucks me in.

Bookmarks, doo-dads, pens, all that stuff that's handed out at National Conference? Nope, it doesn't convince me to buy. Heck, I just skim the free books handed out and most of them I don't keep.

No, it's something on the book itself that makes me want to buy. This makes me a bit nervous since my books will be e-books initially and I'm not sure how I'll be able to suck folks in if they can't hold the book in their hands. I'm crossing that bridge soon. Believe me, we'll have more promo topics coming up since I'm gearing up for a big push in December/January.

Do you know what makes me cringe? It's when someone posts and their post is full of typos, grammatical errors, or misspellings. I don't mind the occasional lapse, but if I see an author posting who consistently has problems with grammar, punctuation, or spelling, then that convinces me not to pick up that book. I'll grant you, an editor can work wonders, but they shouldn't have to do so. The author should have all of those 'basics' down pat by the time the book lands on a desk.

Maybe that's setting my standards too high, but I've seen some posts from authors on social loops and other 'closed' loops that made my head spin. Good heavens, if they write the way they post, their books must be a minefield! I know, I know, it's a social loop, it's 'just us girls', it shouldn't matter, should it?

It does. Anytime you post any place with people who are relative strangers, you're opening yourself up to evaluation. Any time you put a picture out there, an illustration, a message someone may read that and categorize you according to what you posted.

The Web has brought us all so much closer, hasn't it? There is no anonymity anymore -- so be careful what you say 8)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sex Sells

And catchy titles don't hurt either :) !

Promo - a subject near and dear to my heart. But right now I don't have a book to promote. I've got a story (Beauty and The Best? American Title III Finalist? Perhaps you've heard of it?) to promote. To do that, I had to come up with something to promote.

First, I looked at what was "catchiest." The name. A play on Beauty and The Beast, fairly recognizable, always gets a chuckle, some inquiries into what it's about. Also, the AT3 connection. Most people have heard of American Idol, even if they've never watched it, so that, too, is instantly recognizable. It's actually my lead-off when I'm talking to "the press." It perks up their interest.

Then I thought about all those marketing classes I took for the business part of my degree (B.S. in Spanish with the closest thing Penn State offered to a double major back in the day for business). Image sells. So, I created a "book cover" that highlighted the story. Unfortunately, I'm not tech-savvy enough to add in the white sofa back with a painted drop cloth hanging over the back and a woman's leg kicking up from behind it, but the one I came up with gets pretty close. And a slogan - Love can be just a stroke away. Hey, sex sells, and innuendo works when you'll have kids looking at the cover. Voila! An image I can plaster all over everything.

Will it work? Who knows? I guess we'll find out when the contest is over.

Of course, then a whole different promotion comes into play if I'm lucky enough to sell this story. What will get people to pick it off the shelves? I think the most important element, other than store placement and book seller endoresement, is the cover. A good cover that's facing out will get me to pick up a book faster than looking for a favorite author. Maybe I'm in a mood for light-hearted, I'll pick up something with bold colors and a "kicky" cover - kind of like Beauty and The Best's as it is now. Or, if I'm in a mood for something a bit more emotional, maybe I'll pick up one with a darker cover. Maybe I want to lose myself in fantasy, I'll pick up something with a castle on it. It depends on my mood. I can tell you that I probably wouldn't pick up a "bodice-ripper" cover. I think those covers have gone by the wayside - they date themselves to the 80s and my perception of the writing would be tainted. Not that the writing wouldn't be good, it's just that story-telling has changed in 20 some years and since I'm writing for today's market and have limited time to read, I'll pick up something that looks current to me.

Sex sells. I love double entendre and innuendo, so something like, Sex and The Single Vampire, could do it for me. Something provocative and fun. A hot guy on the cover also works - but people have different ideas of hot. I'm reminded of an award winning cover that had just a guy on the cover. People raved over it, "oh, he's so hot," "great cover," etc. I personally thought the guy was, um, yucky? and would never pick up that book. I like to create my own image of the hero - unless of course the cover offers a better one :) But looks are subjective, so you do run a risk of having that reaction.

As for bookmarks, pens, and the like...I did bookmarks for AT3 and attached a paintbrush to them for a conference I went to. They were a novelty item, people picked them up. Did they vote for me? I'd like to think so. If anything, it at least made them remember my story when it came time to vote. Will I do items like that if/when I sell? Not sure. Again, if I get bookseller support (and, yes, my local stores have been GREAT about putting my bookmarks out for the public!), then I might. I think getting your name out is the most important thing once you sell and, media hound that I am, I'll try that route. Local girl done good is always a good story.

Other than that, anyone have any ties to Kelly Ripa? Oprah? That'd be the ticket!

Check my website,, on December 18, 2006 to see if my promo helped Beauty and The Best make the American Title cut for Round 3 voting which begins that day.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Promo whatnots


Blogging about promotional material is a bit theoretical for me.  Like JL Wilson, I am just starting out in the publication world.  I will be making these choices for real in a matter of weeks.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.


Name recognition is key.  Let’s face it, when you’re standing there in a store (or library) and you’re looking for something good to read, don’t you check your favorite authors first?  I know I do.  So, how do we newbies break through the name barrier?  One thing that helps is contest wins.  I like to see “Award winning author” on covers – that usually means that people who rate stories have thought highly of the author.  After that, I usually look to see if there’s a cover review by someone that’s a name person.  And having an intriguing cover helps.


Going back to the name recognition theme, although my book will be coming out in 2007, I have been actively marketing my name by volunteering in writer groups for a good many years.  I’ve helped out at RWA Nationals, and I edited a large RWA chapter newsletter for 2 years.  That newsletter went out electronically, which put my name in all 200 members Inbox every month.  I’ve recently taken a board level position at my new writing group, First Coast Romance Writers, as program chair, and I’m the Member News columnist for the Southeast Mystery Writers.  Hopefully, my newspaper columnist job and my magazine job will also help with name recognition.


As for bookmarks and other whatnots, they are interesting, and they are something to put in a person’s hand but I’ve personally never bought a book because of a bookmark.  However, I will probably print them up because I view them as a business card of sorts.  And it is nice to be able to “hand” people something if they aren’t prepared to buy your book on the spot.


I think having a mailing list/newsletter helps, but I would never deluge folks with info – I know I hate that.  As for the big posters in advertising displays, I think that just depends.  If you have a good marketing hook, that will draw people to the display.  But will they pick up the book and buy it? It’s hard to say.


At most writing conferences, I go through my bag of freebies.  I glance at most of the bookmarks and fliers, and they get instantly recycled.  The books – well I flip through them, maybe read a random page or two, and if I’m not hooked, they get recycled too.  Pens I keep, but that’s because I LOVE pens.  So you can probably count on me using pens to promo my work.


And keeping a current website – that matters.  There’s nothing that today’s cyber shopper likes better than to cruise through a site.  I’m counting on the website to interest people in my writing, and to keep them coming back.


Until next Monday, Maggie 


Maggie Toussaint

Coming soon:  House of Lies ;


Sunday, November 26, 2006

What kind of promo lures you into buying?

Okay, now that I have your attention.

Seriously: is there a single promo item that will convince you to pick up a book?

I'm gearing up for promo for my two books coming out next year. I'll discuss my promo philosophy on Wednesday, when it's my Day to Blog.

What about you? We've all seen bookmarks, pens, letter openers, calculators, and Lord knows what else with names of authors and/or books on them. Then in the stores we've seen the big stand-up thingies screaming a book title, or clumps of books sitting out on tables and/or displays, as well as advertisements for book signings.

What sells a book for you -- what makes you walk through the bookstore, browse, then pluck that one book off the shelf and take it up to the cash register?


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Goals and Pen Names

My goal is to have a pen name!

If I followed JL's timeframe, I would have given up five or six years ago. Every now and then I wonder what the point is? The first time it happened, I was in my third day of a serious grumpiness.

The phone rang, my time-travel was a finalist in the Gotcha! contest. I'm sure that the coordinator was shocked when I started to cry on the phone. But, it was a validation that someone out there thought that my writing was good enough.

I know that I still have to learn craft, but now my time has come. No more daily job, the kid is in college, and the house is clean. I can now devote my spare time to seriously working on my writing skills.

Once while riding with some romance authors and one fan, don't ask why she was in the car, she said in all sincerity, "Why don't you use Fifi LaPlume?"

If I were drinking a coke at the time, it would have spewed all over the dashboard.

Fifi LaPlume!

I have a couple of pen names picked out, as my last name won't work. One is for the adult writing, and the other is for children's stories.

Fifi is not one of those names...LOL

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pen Names

I have been considering a pen name myself.!

My name is pretty bland but I like my name and have envisioned it blazoned across a cover. I write contemporary stories and haven't branched out to other genres. Beverly Johnson, one of my favorites, write both historical and contemporary romances under her own name. The two genres are written by different publishing houses so there seems to be minimal confusion. Maybe I can do the same.

I have read that some publishers, particularly the category houses, ask authors to use pen names that sound romantic and have flair. If I'm asked, I'd use one in a hurry. The point is to get published.

I have considered using a pen name for the sake of privacy. Who knows if my kid wants all of her friends to know that I write "those books."

I haven't decided yet, but it's in the back of my mind.

Pen names

Why do it?

Well I write under two pen names and neither of them are trying to hide my identity!

So if you don't want to hide your name, why do it?

Because I write under two genres. After a bit of research, it became clear that people who bought my historical romances, didn't necessarily buy my paranormal romances. So it's to make clear which genre the book is.

Take WICKED INTENTIONS. By the title, it's not immediately obvious if it's a historical or a paranormal and the cover (which I love) is a woman in a bath, through a gauze filter. Still no wiser? Look at the name. It says "Lynne Martin." Now you know, it's a historical.

Using two names also means I can have two different identities, two different 'brands,' for want of a better word. So Lynne Martin is the historian, the woman intensely interested in history, the one who visits country homes and gives the occasional lecture. The one who writes passionate historical romances, well grounded in their period, and full of the adventure of the times.

Lynne Connolly writes paranormal romance. She researches old legends and folklore, and crafts them into a coherent modern world. She's a city girl, loves the dark recesses and secret places you find in all cities, however new. She enjoys travelling, so she can see the places and feel the atmospheres. Bustling cities are her home. her books use the places she's visited, and some of her life experiences to bring a realistic slant on the world we live in today.

And they're both me, both aspects of me. However, some of the fans of my paranormal romances hate history, can't understand the passion for it, and the historical fans can't stand vampires. So now they know which name belongs to them.

You've got to love a pen name!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Goals and how we got there

I came into writing romance by accident. It's a long story which I will tell sometime over drinks -- it's truly hilarious how I read my first romance novel. Suffice it to say, it was a Book on Tape, I was driving, and the narrator got to the steamy part -- I almost drove off the road, I was so shocked!! I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was stunned that such a genre existed. I immediately went to the library, checked out a bunch of books, and read for about two months. Then I sat down and started to write.

I guess my long term goals are (1) continue to have fun writing and (b) continue to be published. [Note that I mixed up my 1 and b -- I did that to see if you're paying attention.] I'm in the middle of a deep rewrite now, and it's not at all fun. I mean, it has to be done. I know it. It's one of those books where I said, 'hell, if an editor falls in love with it and wants me to fix it, I will, but it's okay for now."

Yep. You guessed it. And editor fell in love with it. Now I have to fix it.

I'm curious to see how this all shakes out once I have to start promo for my books. I figure I've got a little bit of time. Books don't come out until next year, so January is my Kickoff Month. I don't want to bore people too far ahead of time. I have no problem firing off emails to relative strangers and even schmoozing at National Conferences with people. Book signings? Not sure about that one. That seems to be a big setup for a Huge Embarassment. I mean, I'll probably give it a shot, but I'll have to see.

Of course, now that I'm facing a possible layoff in my Real Job, I may have a chance to write full time again (I was laid off once before and wrote one of the books I sold, and the other one that I'm doing rewrites on. I don't waste time when I've got it, that's for sure). I'm seriously thinking about getting out of high tech and going to work at the coffee shop. It's not that I don't love high tech work (and I'm good at it, I must say), but I'd like a change. I've been in High Tech since before there was a High Tech (yeah, that long). We'll see what shakes out.

Hmm. That seems to be my philosophy of life ... "We'll see."

[shrug] No use agonizing over it. What will be, will be [cue Doris Day singing in the background].

Hey, for those of you in the States (or who celebrate Stateside holidays), have a good Turkey Day tomorrow. And for those of you who don't celebrate Stateside holidays, have a good day on the Yahoo loops without us Yanks clogging up the airwaves.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

There's an end....?

Responding to JL's question about a cut-off point, my answer is no. Once the floodgates opened, I can't see them closing. Plus, this is something I want. This is my passion.

I always knew it was, but unless, at least for me, it seemed like a pipe dream. You know, it's not practical. It doesn't earn money and it takes time from things that could. It would have taken time from my babies when I had them, and before that, my job(s). In short, I listened to those nay-sayers who said, "what makes you think anything you write would be market-worthy?"

Shame on me.

And, if the American Title finalist status has done anything, it's validated my (and my husband's belief) that what I write can be market-worthy.

But, would I have kept at it if I hadn't started finalling/winning contests? I'll have to say an emphatic YES. I'm at that age now where I don't care what other people think, when I realized that, hey, I'm an adult, I don't have to listen to other people and think their words are gospel. I can make up my own mind, etc. etc.

So I've thrown myself whole-heartedly into this and I'm aiming for an ISBN number with my name attached to it. Stop? Only if the ideas stop flowing, and, honestly, I can't see that happening any time soon. Matter of fact, I wish the CLOCK would stop flowing so I could get my stories on paper faster!

Life interferes with my writing, now, not the other way around. I make time for it. I have to make time for it - or it wakes me up. Seriously. Happened again last night. So, I got up, wrote it down, went back to sleep. It'll be another story someday. I don't know when, or in what order, but the idea's there - insurance, if you will, against the idea of stopping.

I'm glad JL that you beat your personal deadline, because if you had stopped, the public would be out some fabulous stories from a very talented person. :) Congrats to you, Maggie and Lynne for your recent publication news, and here's hoping Donna, Angela and I can join you guys soon!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

-Judi Fennell
American Title Finalist, Beauty and The Best
Voting ends Sunday, November 26, 2006, vote:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Balancing life and writing goals

Writing is one of those things that snuck up on me. Through the years, I gradually wrote more and more. I'm not sure if I suddenly had more time or if the kids activities started taking longer. In any event, I wasn't getting anywhere very fast doing it around my fulltime job and family responsibilities. Once my kids were grown and I was fairly certain the call actually would come any minute, I convinced my spouse to let me try writing full time. My argument was that the windfall of money in my profit-sharing account would cover my lost wages for a year or two. That was May 2002.

Life happened. We had a family wedding. We had health issues. We found we enjoyed having more time together. We down-sized from our five-bedroom house, which eventually entailed a 670 mile move.

The one year stretched to two then three and four. I signed with an agent, I was writing two books a year, and it was just a matter of time until New York came knocking. The rejections were encouraging.

My long-range goal was still publication, but I started rethinking the market. Small presses held a lot of appeal, and in 2006, I expanded my search with small press submissions. Right away, I got a response from The Wild Rose Press for my romantic suspense, House of Lies. The contract came very soon afterwards.

If there is any wisdom in my publication journey, it's to write smart. Keep your eye on the long-term goal, but don't get locked into just one route to get published. Network and find opportunities. They're out there!

Until next week, Maggie Toussaint

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Leaping into the unknown

So I just signed my second publishing contract. Talk about a leap into the unknown! In the last month I've signed 2 contracts and it looks like a publisher might also want a 3-book series.

I set a goal for myself when I started pursuing publication. I gave myself 10 years to get published. My 'expiration date' is 2013. Looks like I beat it and won't have to jerk myself off the shelf, so to speak.

Did you ever set a similar goal for yourself? Did you ever say, 'Hmm, if I haven't sold something by {insert date here} I probably won't and I should quit wasting time on this?' Or did you say, "okay, it looks like this ain't in the cards for me. I'll find something else more satisifying?"

I fully intended to Not Write For Publication if I couldn't get published by a certain date. And if it gets to the point this isn't fun any more, then I'll quit doing it and call it good -- hey, two or three books is good. I'm not aiming for the Pulitzer. I'm not aiming for Name Brand Recognition. I'm not going to quit my day job just because I've got a few books out.

So how about you -- what are your long-term goals? I'll share mine with you on Wednesday when it's my day to blog...


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Oh, how cool!

That's the response I normally get when someone finds out that I'm a writer.

Plus, "Where can I buy it?"

Most people don't realize that just because a book is written, does not automatically mean that it will be in print. Or eprint. (Is that a word?)

When my book does come out in print or eprint (notice the positive vibes I give myself...'when'...not 'if'...when) it won't have my name on it.

Why you ask?

Er....take a look at the spelling of the last name. Most everyone cannot pronounce it, much less remember it to look for my name on the shelf, or even know enough of the letters to Google it.

So, back to my maiden name. Smith.

Yes, I went from one end of the spectrum to the other. But Smith it will be, and the first name is Zoe. It's enough like my childhood nickname that if anyone calls me by that, with my diminishing hearing, I'll look up thinking that someone I know is talking to me.

Writer's don't come out of the closet...they try to get their derriere off their computer chair. LOL

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Shouting From The Rooftops

I've never been what you'd call quiet. As a matter of fact, I believe the terminology used by my best friend in high school was "world's biggest ham." So, obviously, I couldn't keep my writing for publication quiet.

Now with the whole American Title thing happening, it's part of the process. I'd love to go on and on about all my ideas for promotion, what's working for me, etc., but the contest is still going on and while I'm rooting for all of us finalists, I want to win that contract. So, no shameless self-promotion ideas being announced here.

That being said, yes, I do tell pretty much everyone I meet that I'm writing and in this contest. Before ATIII, I would tell people if it came up in conversation. "Oh, what do you do?" "I write." "Write? What? Shopping lists?" (As a stay-at-home mom, I've found some of the ideas of what we do all day a bit less than flattering.) "No, I write romance novels." Then you'd get the big eye roll. Oh, those.

Maggie was right about the reaction the uninitiated into this business give you. Romance novel = bodice ripper. Just goes to show you how often they look at the covers these days. Or realize that Meg Cabot does fall into our genre.

Once I got involved in the business aspect of this career and learned the facts and figures of the romance industry, I'm now able to deflate the bodice ripper image (though do I really want to "deflate" something in romance heh, heh) and turn the tone to the business of writing. Does Stephen King get that kind of snark? Nope. Dean Koontz? Doubtful. Dan Brown? Well, okay, he gets flack for a whole other reason... And don't even get me started on Nora - she's so famous she only needs one name. Like Cher. Madonna. Okay, maybe not good comparisons.

I want to be that some day. Of course the chances are pretty slim. Still, someone did that. It could be me. "Judi" and everyone would immediately know, "Ah, yes. Beauty and The Best was the first. But the rest? Sheer perfection."

Okay, I'll wake up now.

And get back to my emailing about the contest. And let me take this opportunity to say, please vote for Beauty and The Best in the American Title III contest by sending an email to and writing Beauty and The Best in the subject line.

Thank you! Have a great Tuesday!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Shameless self-promotion

Telling others about my writing life was easy for me, after awhile. In the beginning, I was hesitant to tell people what I was doing because of the old saw of people looking down on the romance genre. But the more I learned about the industry, the more I saw how hard romance writers worked, the more I realized there was nothing to be ashamed of. For me, finding the local RWA chapter and networking with other aspiring and published authors helped me to see that my attitude about my writing was much ado about nothing. These writers worked hard, and they made good money.

I originally planned to publish under a pseudonym. That was back when I was writing peer-reviewed journal articles in toxicology for the Army (check me out on Medline, either as MW Toussaint or Margaret W Toussaint) and my husband managed a staff of about a hundered or so people as he worked to keep the government's nuclear sites more environmentally compliant. Since then, I've written at least one romance (or mystery) a year and gone to a lot more writer conferences. People kept telling me I had a "good" name and that I shouldn't bother with a pen name. I've taken their advice, and we'll see where this journey takes me.

I carry my writer business cards with me everywhere. Every chance I can work it into the conversation, I mention I write books, and I encourage folks to visit my website. The lesson I've learned in all of this is that respect comes from the inside. You have to respect yourself first. As for earning the respect of others, I hope to do that through the quality of my writing.

I shamelessly promote myself every chance I get. Visit my website at See, I just did it again!

Until next Monday, Maggie Toussaint

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I'm coming out of hiding

I know, I know. You laugh. Me? Hide?

Here's the deal. None of my friends know I'm trying to get published. Hell, none of 'em know I'm working on a novel, much less finished 10 or so and have 2 accepted for publication.

I just didn't want to deal with that, "Have you finished your book yet?" or "Have you sold it yet?" My writing friends, the one in my RWA chapter, know better than to ask these questions. But Other Friends just wouldn't know how those questions haunt a writer.

But now that I have one contract signed and one in negotiation, I figure it's time. I'm Coming Out.

On the day after Thanksgiving I always host(ess) a party for 6 of my dearest friends. I've known these ladies for 15 years. We've been through breast cancer, illnesses, death of parents, heart attacks, job layoffs, and just about everything else together. I plan to present them with synopses of my 2 sold books, and will come clean about my "other life" as a writer.

I've only been seriously pursuing publication for two years, but it's been hard to keep it all quiet. I mean, I've gone to National Conference, and other conferences, and always said I was 'meeting friends' in Dallas or Atlanta or Reno. I've worked in a lot of different parts of the country, so my Other Friends just took this to mean work buddies. And I was meeting friends -- writing friends.

So this is going to be odd. Once I tell this group of friends, the ripple effect will begin and spread. Now I'll have folks asking "when is your book being really published, like, in print?" and "is e-publishing like real publishing?" and "Gee, maybe I can do this. Can you help me get my book [not finished -- heck, not even started] published)?"

Then, at Christmas, I plan to do the same with my family. They know I've been pursuing publication, but not that I've sold.

Then it's my boss. Yikes. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with that one.

Talk about your ripple effects ...

How widely is your "other life" known? Did you announce to all and sundry that you're writing and trying to get published?

Those who are published or Soon To Be Pubbed -- how did you tell your boss?

I figure there's no rush on this -- my books won't be out until next year, and if they don't come out in paper, I doubt many will rush to download (these are high tech folks but still traditional when it comes to 'I like to hold a book in my hands').

But I'm still tussling with it --

How do you tell?


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pick a hunk!

Great topic!

I can write without a photo of my character, but when you have one, it makes characterization easier.

Check out this photo.

Be still my heart!

I haven't written his story yet. But I'm thinking that he's the one that rides the motorcycle.

Then there is this guy...

Enter Tom Selleck...yikers!

He's the basis for my hero in The Devil Has Dimples. I'm sure you can see why. Only I have him clean shaven. Just looking at his picture makes me happy.

On the heroine side, the photos are harder to come by, at least for me. It's hard to find a heroine's picture that matches the one in your head. However, this picture captivated me.

This is Valerie Quennessen, a French actress whose eyes are fantastic. I don't have a manuscript for her yet, but one will be coming.

I also purchased a copy of People's 20 Years of Sexiest Man Alive magazine, which has some fantastic pictures. The one of Michael Douglas in 1987 was great. His high forehead, dimpled chin, intense!

At my last RWA Chapter meeting, we had a speaker who brought a collage of her book, and once you saw the photos and the other elements that made her story work, you could see the importance of picking just the 'right' photo.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Creating faces

Some writers need to see the character before they can bring them to life.
Others, like me, have an overall picture. I need to know what makes that person tick, what the central nub of their character is.
But that changes. Someone who thinks they need privacy above anything else might find it hard to share with someone, something essential for a romance. So the central facet of their character will fight against what they need, until they come to terms with it. By the end of the story that is replaced by something else, and another central characteristic is there, perhaps, hopefully, love.
A face is helpful, but I don't always need it, because I can see the character in my mind. Sometimes, that chimes with something in real life. who knows what influences what?
For the book I've just turned in, RUBIES OF FIRE, the third Department 57 book, it was Pierce Brosnan, but I didn't have him or any of his characters in mind when I wrote. He was just the type, the suave, efficient secret agent, thrown for a loop when someone he suspects proves to be something he doesn't expect. I never use that device some writers use, of referring to the actor or someone else, as a quick description of my character because I feel that's cheating in a weird way. So you won't find any descriptions of Pierce in the book, unless there's one once the character is well established in my own right!
And sometimes the character comes completely out of my imagination, and appears on the page, fully formed. Like Aidan, the hero of WILDFIRE, or Richard Strang, of the Richard and Rose books. Aidan was just there, waist-length flaming red hair (not auburn, red, think scarlet), kind, longish face, and amber eyes, with a passion for music and natural justice. His music is easier to define - think Page, Clapton, a classic rock style with a power hand and a grunge edge.
Or join me today on the Triskelion loops for Music Day, if you have time. A fun day based on Desert Island Disks, a program where the question "If you are stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life, which 8 records would you take with you?"
See you there1

Lynne Connolly

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I found my face

Or, rather, I didn't find my face (which wasn't lost, actually) but the face I was looking for. I thought one actor might be good, typed in his name, another name came to mind, typed in that one, and voila, face. I used Google and just type "images name" and usually get a ton of pictures.

This is the first story where the hero won't really be a hero. I mean, this is one of my reincarnation ones, so I always have to write two stories. There's the first story, the one where the main characters initially meet. That's what I call deep back story. It never gets told per se but is woven into conversation, etc. when the Real Story starts.

The Real Story is the one we all see and read. It's the 'present day' one, where the h/h have been reborn and are now living their lives. That deep back story permeates their interactions, but it's not really PRESENT.

So I was having trouble because in the deep back story, the guy will be a hero but in the present day he'll be a villain. Or sort of a villain. So I need a scarred guy who could be a hero but also be a villain.

That's why it was so tricky. I mean, if I just wanted a pretty boy I'd go with Hugh Jackman or somebody like that. But I needed somebody with some miles on 'em.

We'll see if I nailed it or not if (1) the manuscript gets bought as I hope it will and (2) it gets written as I hope it will and (3) readers see what I see.

That's what this game is all about, isn't it? Putting it all together.

Back to devising my plot. Oh, boy, this one's a doozy.