Meet My BFF: Courtney Marquez

Photo credit: Eli Marquez

Photo credit: Eli Marquez

The blog challenge for this week is “Meet My Best Friend.” That would be fellow writer Courtney Marquez. We actually met through our day job (we work for the same company, but in different states), but quickly found out we share a love of all things books and writing. That was in 2009 and we’ve been friends ever since. We’re even planning on writing a book together. (I think that’s on the schedule for 2019.)

What’s one thing you’d like all our readers to know about you?
I’m going to tell you one thing which will give you some context for my answers to the other questions. I’m a pretty curious, nosy if I’m honest, person. I tend to have wide and varying interests. I like everything from R&B to bluegrass. Romantic comedy to foreign films. Classic literature to popular fiction. So, just keep that in mind as I answer!

Favorites:

  • Book
    It’s like picking which child is my favorite! I guess I’ll go with the book which has had staying power with me. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series has been a long time favorite. Each book has been more meaningful at different times in my life. However, as a young girl, Anne proved I wasn’t as odd as some may have led me to believe.
  • Author
    Hmmm. I have a few authors where I pre-order their next book as soon as I hear about it. Like, I squeal when I find out the next book has a publication date and an Amazon page where I can go and say “take all my money!” Sooooo, I guess right now I’d say C.S. Harris is at the top of my list. Or maybe Deana Raybourn? But, who can forget Michelle Moran? Okay, I’m totally cheating and we all know it. C.S. Harris it is. And, just for your edification, her next book in the St. Cyr series comes out in March. Oh, I forgot about Margaret George…
  • TV show
    Honestly, I don’t get a whole lot of time for the TV. But, when I want comfort TV, I always go back to Friends. My family can quote them line and episode.
  • Movie
    I’m going with staying power on this one as well. Time is limited with kids and a busy life, so keeping up with movies is tough. I think I’d have to say Die Hard with a Vengeance. It’s Jeremy Irons, what can I say?
  • Color
    Rainbow! I love all colors. They all represent different emotions and memories for me. I gravitate toward blues and greens though.
  • Flower
    Gerber daisies for sure. They are so happy!
  • Food
    We have a saying in my family. “Do I look picky?” We love food! However, I think my favorite is probably this mustard cream sauce over chicken that I make. It’s amazing and only takes 20 minutes to make.

Tell us about your family.
I come from a pretty tight knit nuclear family. My mom, dad, younger sister and I moved a lot due to my dad’s job in the Air Force. When you move every four years and the only constant are those people, it really makes a bond. I have since moved to my parent’s hometown and get to live near a fairly large extended family. I’m married to a wonderful partner. We have two children. Kailen who will be 18 this year and graduates high school in May. And Eli who is 9, going on 25.

What do you do now and what do you want to be when you grow up?
I am currently a brand manager for a fairly large health care organization. When I was little, I had no idea what any of that even meant! For a few years, I wanted to be a marine biologist who studied sharks. Then it dawned on me that I wasn’t great at the STEM subjects. I have always loved to read, so I majored in English Literature. “Maybe a professor,” I thought. I may still be deciding what I want to be when I grow up! Ha!

What are your hobbies?
Reading and reading. I also listen to a lot of podcasts while I do housework or computer work. I’m going to add my kids to this list as well. It’s where I am in life right now.

I know you’ve traveled all over the place. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Visiting is one thing. Living is whole other deal. I think living someplace really gives you a chance to understand a culture and the people. I LOVED living in Cairo in college. LOVED it. I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I loved the people. I loved the crazy activity of that huge city. I loved the mixture of modern and ancient.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Since we’re all friends here, I guess I’ll tell you. I love stroopwafels. They are this amazing little caramel treat from the Netherlands. You can sit the cookie-like creation on the top of your mug of tea or coffee and the caramel inside gets all soft.

If you could only read one genre of books for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
This might actually kill me. Go back to the first question for a reminder about why. I’m sitting here looking at my bookshelves and it’s so hard to decide. I guess I’d probably have to say historical fiction. Ugh. So hard.

What first attracted you to me? Or what do you remember about the day we met?
We sat next to each other at a large meeting. We had to do one of those awkward ice breakers to get to know everyone at the table. You said you were writing a book. That cinched it for me. You were too cool for school.

What do you think has kept us friends? (Read: How in the world do you put up with me?)
I’m always on the lookout for people who will challenge me or look at the world differently. We have some key similarities, but we’re very different. I think that keeps the friendship fresh and interesting. We challenge each other, but in an encouraging way.

Thank you, my dear! Be sure to check out Courtney’s blog and say hi in the comments below.

Mea Culpa! My Top 5 Common Writing Mistakes

Quick Writing Update
I’m busy working away on my non-fiction book on Guinevere – three research books away from writing. I’m going to try to do my own cover and format that myself. Right now I’m thinking a summer release. I’m also researching for Mistress of Legend. I already have some great new ideas on how to improve the draft I have. I’ll probably be writing on that one in late February. I’ll get back to more book-related blog posts around that time.

I’ve also decided to take a break from social media (Facebook and Twitter) for a while. It’s just not fun right now with all the political stuff. I’ll still be on my FB author page, Instagram and Pinterest, if you want to interact. If nothing else, this will give me more time to read/write.

On to the Blog
This week’s blog challenge is “Sorry, Editor! My Common Writing Mistakes.” No one is perfect (even though I like to think I am). No matter how hard I try, there are some mistakes that I make over and over again. My poor editor and proofreader are probably so sick of them. To compile this list, I went back and looked at previous edits to see what they pointed out.

  1. Comma splice – This is by far my most frequent offense. My proofreader is probably sick of writing “Comma splice. Em dash or ellipsis recommended if you want to pause for effect.” Here’s an example of a line I did wrong: “We didn’t have much experience seeking out the spirits; usually they came to us, and privately at that.” It should be “usually they came to us – and privately at that.” I seem to think commas are enough of a pause when they don’t really function the way I think they do in these cases.
  2. “Was” phrases – Because I write in past tense, I have a tendency to say things like “I was walking to the door when it suddenly opened from the other side.” Many times that can be better phrased as “I walked to the door…” The “was” makes the sentence more passive. I have to break myself of that habit.
  3. Forgetting “had” – Again, because I write in past tense, I sometimes forget that when you are talking about the past in a past-tense book, you need to use “had” to indicate the action took place in the past. For example: “My suggestion of a theme had come at the end of a long brainstorming session…” My tendency is to want to write “My suggestion for a theme came at the end…”
  4. Redundant phrases – I think a lot of people have problems with this, partly because of the way we speak. It’s common now to say things like “she was just a tiny little thing.” You really don’t need both “tiny” and “little” since they both mean the same thing. My most common mistake here is “sit down on the chair.” Where else are you going to sit, but down? You can sit up, but when you’re talking about being seated, down is the only way you can go, so you don’t really need that word.
  5. Typos/misspellings – I used to be an okay speller, but as I’ve gotten older and learned to rely on spell check, I’ve gotten bad at it. Part of it is because we don’t always say words the same way they are spelled. Plus, there are some words I have a mental block against, like “convenient.” Typos are more of an early draft thing, but sometimes they make it into the published book. (Eeeeek!) Missing words tend to be most prevalent, I guess because I’ve read it so many times I see it as it is supposed to be rather than how it is. Also, my brain moves faster than my fingers so sometimes not all the words make the transition from mind to keyboard. I seriously love readers who point out the typos they see so I can get them fixed.

Plus, every writer has tics that show up in a book. In Madame Presidentesss, everyone smiled and nodded a lot. In Been Searching for You, people pointed with things a lot – pens, forks, etc. In Daughter of Destiny, I kept emphasising Morgan’s red hair to the point that my editor commented something like, “OMG, she has red hair. We get it.” Whoopsie.

 We all write in some form or another, whether it’s in email, social media, blogs, for our jobs or for books. What are some of your bad habits? Please tell me I’m not alone!

Gimme More! Shows I Binge-Watch

I don’t watch much TV. In fact, the only reason I even own a TV is to see weather reports during tornado season and traffic reports in the winter. I have turned into my college English professor (he didn’t own a TV, which at the time we thought was crazy). I prefer to use the time to read, research or write.

Needless to say, I don’t have cable. The few shows I do watch are through Amazon Prime on my Kindle Fire.

orphan-black-image-orphan-black-36398134-1280-920Orphan Black (BBC America)
I wasn’t sure what this show was about for the longest time, so I avoided it, but one of my co-workers finally convinced me to watch it and I was immediately hooked. I won’t say what the main plot point is in case you haven’t seen it yet, but I can confidently say, there is nothing else like it on TV. I mean, the lead actress (Tatiana Maslany) literally plays 14 characters and she is so good that you forget that they aren’t actually different people. I binged the first two seasons over a single weekend. Starting with season three, I had to watch week to week just like everyone else. Unfortunately, the upcoming season is its last. Should be a good one because they have so many questions left to answer and loose ends to tie up. But they better not kill off Cosima. If they do, the fans will revolt. Or at least I will.

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Original)
mozartI love this show because not only is the writing fabulous, the acting is great and the music is amazing. An intelligent show that promotes the arts! FINALLY! And who would have thought the symphony could be so scandalous? The show is based on a book, which was based on real-life. If I ever get the chance, I want to read it. I need to add it to Goodreads.

I watched the whole first season in one weekend. The second was pretty much the same. I was worried when the third season started in December that it might be getting a little old, but the writers are doing better than ever. I will watch as many seasons as they can keep witty and fresh. Any show with Bernadette Peters is worth watching in my book, and Gael García Bernal (Rodrigo) and Lola Kirke (Haley) have become two of my new favorites. Saffron Burrows fascinates me for some reason, and even Malcom McDowell grew on me. This one is a must watch for any classical music or theatre lover!

Good Girls Revolt (Amazon Original)
good-girls-revolt-tv-show-on-amazon-season-1-canceled-or-renewedThis show follows a group of women working at the fake publication News of the Week in the late 1960s. They decide to secretly band together to file a gender discrimination suit against the magazine because they aren’t allowed to become reporters. Only men can be reporters; women are stuck as their researchers and don’t get bylines even if they rewrite the articles and/or do most of the work. The general plot is based on real events at Newsweek that changed women’s roles in the workplace across the country. But the producers admit to taking lots of liberties (probably the sex and drugs) with the characters. It’s a really great period show and I’m glad it introduced me to actress Genevieve Angelson (who plays Patti), whom I now adore. Amazon shocked fans of this show by cancelling it, even though it is one of their highest rated originals ever. I will never understand that decision. But I also can’t say I HAD to have another season. I enjoyed this one – watched it in 2 or 3 days – but toward the end it was getting a little much.

Murder in the First (TNT)
mitf_s2_g_coverI started watching this police procedural because Kathleen Robertson is in it and she’s my inspiration for Mia in Been Searching for You. I was also interested because Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter) was in the first season and I hadn’t seen him in any other role at the time. Man, can he ACT! One of the unique things about this show is that each season follows a different major murder case from start to finish. The first was about a tech billionaire (Felton), the second about a school shooter (with a subplot about a drug dealer) and the third was about a drinking and driving hit and run involving the DA. And just as I was writing this, I found out there won’t be a fourth season. Excuse me while I go sit in the corner and cry. This was one of the best shows on TV! Please go back and watch it, especially the first season. That is some fabulous, edge-of-your-seating writing and wonderful acting.

I also really want to see Blindspot. I saw one episode on my flight back home from Oxford and was hooked. I just haven’t wanted to spend the money on it yet.

And I will watch any Property Brothers’ show when I’m at my parent’s house, but I haven’t gotten myself to buy any seasons yet.

These aren’t out yet, but I will be binge-ing them as soon as they start, just based on the pilot episode. All are Amazon Originals.

The Last Tycoon
the-last-tycoon-amazonBased on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final book, this show “follows Monroe Stahr, Hollywood’s Golden Boy as he battles father figure and boss Pat Brady for the soul of their studio. In a world darkened by the Depression and the growing influence of Hitler’s Germany, The Last Tycoon illuminates the passions, violence and towering ambition of 1930s Hollywood.” I loved it because the sets, costumes and cinematography are top-notch and the storyline is utterly enthralling. I also have a thing for 1930s Hollywood/New York lately. Something about the glitz and glamour reels me in. The acting is great too, although I really want to introduce Lily Collins’ eyebrows to a pair of tweezers. My new fascination is Jessica De Gouw, who plays Minna, the late wife of the lead character. She’s going to be the inspiration for one of my characters someday; I can tell.

zZ: The Beginning of Everything
This show is based on the novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, which tells the life story of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. While I liked the book, I LOVED the pilot of the show. I think it gives the story the drama and fun the book sometimes lacked. Oddly enough, I don’t normally like Christina Ricci, who is in the title role, but she is PERFECT for this role. Can’t wait to see more!

The Collection
collectionI haven’t even seen a pilot for this, but the trailer looks amazing. Here’s Amazon’s summary: “A gripping family drama and entrepreneurial fable, set in a post-war Paris fashion house. It exposes the grit behind the glamour of a rising business, spearheaded by two clashing brothers. The atelier staff survived one war, but others loom; rivalries and romances pitting family against family, protégés against mentors, the past against the future.” I love shows  about the fashion world (yes, I loved Project Runway when I had cable) even though I’m not particularly concerned with fashion in my own life. I’m hoping this is going to be a great period piece chock full of drama.

Highston
highstonJust when you thought I was all about serious or period shows, I throw this one at you. It’s about a boy named Highston (God, do I hate that name) who not only hears voices in his head, he sees them as celebrities and imagines them as his friends. In the pilot, it was Flea from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And OMG is this show hilarious. It’s also way too relatable for writers.

As I was gathering images for this post I also came upon Flesh and Bone, about ballet dancers, and Maison Close, about brothels and prostitutes in late 19th century France. May have to give those a binge as well.

What are your binge-worthy shows? What else do I need to see?

Couldn’t Do It Without My Family

My dad and I at Penned Con in September 2016

My dad and I at Penned Con in September 2016

This weeks blog challenge theme: How my family survives my writing.

They make it sound like living with a writer is a tough/bad thing. *bats eyelashes innocently*

Seriously though, it’s really me who couldn’t survive without them.

I’m lucky to come from a really supportive family. The only ones who really have to live with my writing daily are my cats (and they aren’t complaining) and my mom. Poor woman has to endure every idea I’ve ever even thought of having – and we talk every night. But I’ve been like that since long before I became a writer so it’s safe to say she developed coping mechanisms long ago. From what I can tell, she just listens (or at least pretends to), provides feedback when I need it, and cheers me on. If she’s ever complained, I’ve never heard about it. It might help that she drinks. So does my grandmother. (And so do I.) We’re all Austrian (I’m first generation American on that side) so wine runs in our blood.

My dad is quietly supportive. If you were lucky enough to make it to Penned Con back in September, you may have seen him at my booth, giving out swag and talking up my books. He’s quite proud of me. 🙂 And if you know him IRL, chances are good he’s talked you into buying a book. (He’s a magnificent hand-seller!)

The rest of my family is supportive as well. My writing being a serious career pursuit was a tough sell for my grandparents (on my mom’s side), but even they have come around to be cheerleaders for me.

I certainly can’t complain.

(And this was the most awkward blog subject I’ve ever had to write about. Thanks, blog challenge.)

Better question: How do all of you put up with me? 

Yes, I’m Obsessed with More Than Books (or these are my favorite things)

What do you mean not everyone keeps tons of makeup in a Caboodle from the 1980s?

What do you mean not everyone keeps tons of makeup in a Caboodle from the 1980s?

I get rather caught up in the research blogging and book stuff around here, so in an attempt to show you the more personal side of me, I’m going to try to complete Marketing for Romance Writers’ 52-Week blogging challenge. Every Friday, I’ll use their prompt for the week to tell you something about me.

This week’s theme is “A Few of my Favorite Things.” I’m limiting myself to five for the sake of brevity.

  1. Crystals – I know we’ve talked about this before, but I collect crystals. I love just to look at them – pretty, shiny – but I also meditate with them and believe in their healing powers.  I have a bunch of jewelry with various stones. My favorites? Selenite, moonstone and citrine.
  2. Makeup – Did you know that if I wasn’t a writer (or a history professor), I’d want to be a makeup artist? I’m not an artistic person – I can’t draw or paint or sculpt – but the things you can do with makeup amaze me. When I was 12, I took modeling classes at Barbizon (yep, child of the ’80s here) and one of the things we learned, besides that I am way too short to be a model, is how to properly apply makeup for everyday wear, as well as color and black and white photo shoots. I was hooked. Then when I was a sophomore in high school, I was on the makeup crew for a play. (Greasepaint is disgusting, but it was still fun to do special effects makeup.) I’ve played around with my own makeup ever since, but never actually pursued formal training. At the moment, I have around 50 eye shadows, 20 eyeliners and 15 lipsticks, plus all the other stuff: brushes, bronzer, foundation, etc.  Favorite brand: MAC, but I’m also getting into MBA Cosmetics and hoping to try out Storybook Cosmetics when their first line comes out.
  3. Cabins, Cottages and Tiny Houses – This started when I stayed at Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat on Whidbey Island, about two hours outside of Seattle for two weeks. There is something about the small space that I find comforting. Living in one also taught me that I don’t need much to survive and I became somewhat of a minimalist. (But I do require indoor plumbing and internet access.) I also loved the wood-burning stove and despite my irrational fear of fire, I hope to have one someday. I’d rather spend my money on experiences than a large house, so a tiny house or a nice cabin would be fine by me. (Says the girl who wants to live in Chicago. Maybe I should amend that to a small apartment downtown?)
  4. Castles – On the other end of the architectural scale, I’m obsessed with castles. I have been since I was very young. When I was 11, I was fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with my mom and grandmother. I tried to count the number of castles we saw, but there were so many (literally around every turn) that I lost count somewhere around 120. My favorite ones I’ve visited are Neuschwanstein Castle and Heidelberg Castle, both in Germany.
  5. Miniatures –  Collecting miniatures and building huge doll house versions of my books is going to be my eccentric old, rich lady hobby someday. I think I like them because I can visualize worlds and stories in them, just like I do with my books. My grandmother actually made several miniature shadowboxes when I was young. But the best display I’ve ever seen is Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I could stare into that thing all day long. If you get a chance to buy/read the book about the castle, you’ll learn just how rare and valuable some of the pieces are. It’s amazing.

What are some of your favorite things? Do we have any in common?