The Quirky Ladies is a group of eclectic (and dare I say quirky?) ladies who are passionate about writing romantic fiction. All types of romantic fiction...paranormal, fantasy, historical, erotic and contemporary. Bring it on!

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Quirky Conference

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. The TED conference is a yearly event where the world's leading thinkers come together in an immersive environment to share more than fifty talks over the course of four days, cross-fertilizing their thinking and inspiring attendees. From the pod casts I've seen of the talks (available for free on the web at it is truly a magic environment.

Although it's an invitation only event (but still non-profit), and is prohibitively expensive for the average Jane, it's expanded to sister conferences and has reached the people through it's on-line presence. The feel of the organization is not exclusive, but inclusive and community building. Global community building. Interconnection of the world. Check out the website and start to watch some of the extraordinary videos. We all need some inspiration.

Charlie Rose recently interviewed the current curator of the conference, Chris Anderson, who said that in a world where we fear that globalization is a force that is "dumbing down" the population, this global, almost viral phenomenon centered around the excitement of thinking, innovation, connectedness and new ideas is disproving that. It instead creates hope.

Here's the four minute documentary "A Taste of TED" that should give you a feel for the phenomenon. I hope you get a chance to watch some of the pod casts and find inspiration where you can. I know I need some.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Quirky Bit O' Food

One of the highlights of my recent trip to NYC was visiting China Town. My sis, her boyfriend, and several of their friends who are connoisseurs of Asian cooking, took us to a fabulous restaurant for dinner. Even my picky kids loved the food!

The waitress talked us into a special dish they were offering which celebrated the Chinese New Year. It's called "yee sang" and has a mixture of raw fish, daikon, jicama, candied papaya, candied persimmon, wonton crisps, rice crisps and colorful taro chips. The waitress adds the contents of a red envelope to the top (I thought it was real gold leaf bits, but now I'm not so sure!), and drizzles honey over the salad (for sweetness for the new year). Everyone at the table uses their chopsticks to toss the salad together, ensuring a lucky year for all.

The salad was bright, crunchy, flavorful. What a sweet and symbolic tradition!

Another "quirky" detail about China Town....we loved the outdoor markets. This one had tons of crazy stuff, including a dozen different kinds of dried sea cucumber! Cool!

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interview and Giveaway with Author Ella Drake!

Interview and Giveaway with Ella Drake!

Penny: Welcome to The Quirky Ladies, Ella! I am so glad you're here today. I have really enjoyed reading two of your sci fi/romances, Jaq's Harp and Silver Bound.  Science fiction and romance do not seem like a complementary pairing. Sort of like wearing combat boots with a couture dress. What are your feelings about this quirky sub-genre? How difficult is it to weave sci fi details and romance together in one story?

Ella: It’s not difficult. For me, it’s a natural. No matter where people are, what their setting, there’s a fundamental drive to have relationships whether familial, platonic friendship, or romantic, it’s part of being human. Put a bunch of people on a space station, they’ll form connections. They’ll gossip. They’ll fight. They’ll have sex in the virtual reality room!

Penny: I love stories that put a funky new twist on an old legend or fairy tale. (Can you say Santa Claus? hee hee) Jaq's Harp is a cool futuristic twist on the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk. How did you come up with this awesome idea and what were your sources of inspiration for the bioengineered plants? Did it ever occur to you to make the plants more insidious? I like how the human characters are still the main source of good and evil in this story; there is a satisfying sense of temporal universality of basic human good and evil. Regardless of our technological advances, we will always be the source of our own demise. Very cool.

Ella: The idea came from reading the original fairy tale to my kids and the resulting discussion of why in the world was Jack the good guy? He was poor, sure, but did that give him the right to climb up a beanstalk to steal from a giant and then kill that giant? From there, it was my own imagination taking it to “what if” and wondering what would make it okay for someone to climb up to a castle (mansion) in the sky to steal something. Of course, stealing to make things better, to stop the bad guys, wasn’t too big a stretch. And believing the giant was a bad guy in the original helped, so of course, in my story, the giant would have to be bad. It’d a big game of if this happened, then this might… The beanstalk came from wanting to make the story futuristic but not magic based, so the plant had to be science based. Never occurred to me to make the stalk insidious but that does open interesting possibilities! But yeah, it all comes down to good guys and bad guys in the end, or maybe misguided guys.

Penny: Could you tell us about some of your favorite sci fi stories (books/movies/TV shows, anything) and what premises really appeal to you? Who are your favorite sci fi villains? heroes? (My all-time favorite heroine is Ripley from Aliens...she is the ultimate feminist kick-ass heroine.)

Ella: Ripley is right up there! She’s a fantastic character. A premise that has always appealed to me is the one in The Abyss. The idea that there’s unexplored territory down below the oceans. That movie has a strong heroine lead as well. I think James Cameron knows how to write a heroine. Ripley (Aliens 2), Lindsey Brigman (The Abyss), Neytiri (Avatar), Max (Dark Angel), Mace (Strange Days), Helen Tasker (True Lies) and Sarah Connor (Terminator is one of my favorite movies, though not so much into T 2&3). Basically, Cameron’s entire body of work.
Oh, oops. I got off on a tangent about kick-ass heroines. Who can blame me?
My favorite scifi villain has to be Dark Vader, as he was in the first original Star Wars movie. He was such a scary character when he was first introduced. And of course, my favorite hero is Han Solo. Of course.

Penny: Oh, I totally LOVE the movie The Abyss. Good one! I also love the original's a great sci fi love story, and Sarah Connor is a fabulous heroine...especially her transformation from sweet, regular gal into kick-ass warrior. Nice choice.

What is your writing process like? Do you plot everything out ahead of time? Pants it? Do your stories and/or characters ever surprise you? Do you have a tough time adding in the "spicy" parts, or is that an integral part of the story?

Ella: I’m in-between plotting and pantsing. I usually have an idea, write somewhere between a chapter and three by pantsing it, then I stop and do a rough outline. This outline is generally a bullet list of something like ten points of where I want to go. When I write short, I may only have an idea of where I need to go to get to the end and one or two points to get there. The spicy parts aren’t difficult for me. I think mostly because when I start a story, I already know how much of the spicy the story needs. Some need more than others. I don’t force it there if it doesn’t need to be. The growth of the characters and their relationship are the driving force behind those scenes.

Penny: How difficult is it to write a satisfying story when the word count is low? Do you approach it differently than writing a full-length manuscript? As a reviewer, I find some short stories incredibly satisfying, like an "amuse bouche"--a quickie taste of something wonderful. Other quickies leave you feeling unsatisfied, and wishing the story had been longer. How do you circumvent this problem as a writer?

Ella: Writing short to me means sticking to the barebones essential conflict. Usually this means a minimal of secondary characters, though that can be done if the story needs it. It means dealing with a plot that can be resolved satisfactorily in the space available. It also means paying close attention to pacing. Most importantly, the ending becomes crucial. The close of the story can’t be too abrupt or the reader will feel like they’ve been left hanging. And that ending needs to feel substantial, whether everything is resolved or not.

Penny: Are you planning sequels for any of your books? What projects are you working on now? Is sci/fi romance your favorite genre, or are you jonesing for something different?

Ella: I am planning sequels to both of the stories you’ve mentioned. I’m almost done with a prequel for Silver Bound and I’ve planned a story that takes place after the events of Silver Bound. I’ve also finished the next story in the world of Jaq’s Harp. Hopefully I’ll have more news on that one soon. Sci-fi and paranormal romance are my favorite genres, but I also love historical romance and there are a select few contemporary authors I follow and snap up their new releases like candy.

Penny: Since you're on The Quirky Ladies blog, I have to ask....what's quirky about Ella Drake? Do you have a favorite quirky book/movie/music/food?

Ella: Not sure why, but the first thing that popped into my head with that question was a quirky book that’s one of my favorites, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fford, which in round-about way reminds me of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. That brings me to Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. These three novels are some of my favorites of all time, which is amazing since I mostly love and stick to Romance. But when I read outside of Romance, I love to read books that are a bit quirky. All three of these have what I’d call speculative elements. I guess there’s a bit of a theme, there.
Quirky food. I’ve loved this since I was a kid: Take a small bottle of Coke (it has to be a bottle) and pour a packet of salty roasted peanuts in it & drink/eat!

Penny: Those books sound cool. And your quirky food sounds....well....quirky. I'm not sure I could eat that!

Ella, thanks so much for hanging out with The Quirky Ladies today. 

We'll be giving away one copy of Jaq's Harp to a random commenter. Just tell Ella who your favorite kick-ass heroine is!

Bio: As a child Ella read books under the covers with a flashlight. There she found a special love of elves, dragons, and knights. Now that she's found her own knight in shining armor and happily ever after, she loves to write tales of fantasy, hot enough to scorch the sheets. No flashlight needed.

Ella writes dark paranormal and science fiction romance. She loves to talk with readers and can be found most days on Twitter, Facebook, & Goodreads. She can also be found on her website and her eHarlequin author page.

Jaq’s Harp
Futuristic Romance/Twisted Fairytale/Biopunk -- Short (ebook)

In a world of floating islands and bio-engineered beans, the bad guys are taken down by agents of the Mother organization—agents like Jacqueline “Jaq” Robinson. Instead of accepting her next routine assignment, she sets out on a mission of her own—to destroy Giant Corp, the company responsible for her sister’s wasting illness. Jaq must steal her cure from Giant’s headquarters high above the city…even though she’ll be brought face-to-face with Harper English, the man who left her to go deep undercover at Giant.

For Harp, Jaq had been a distraction the mercenary thought he couldn’t afford. But once he sees her again, Harp knows he’s made a mistake. Even though she vowed he won’t have her again, it’s clear they still have a powerful attraction. Harp’s determined to get a second chance with Jaq—if they can escape Giant Corp and get back to solid ground in one piece…

Please visit her website to read an excerpt of this fantastic story!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Looking For A Quirky Biopunk Sci Fi Romance? Try Jaq's Harp!

It's release day for Jaq's Harp by Ella Drake! Congrats to Ella, a fellow NECRWA member. I reviewed this book several weeks ago at Penelope's Romance Reviews, and I thought I would reprint the review here at The Quirky Ladies. Ella will be joining us on Wednesday, Feb. 23 for an interview and giveaway. Please stop by on Wednesday to chat with her and enter the contest.

From Penelope's Romance Reviews.....

The premise for this story is fantastic. It's a futuristic sci fi take on the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk. I adore funky new twists on fairy tales and legends. Drake calls this book a "twisted fairytale, biopunk romance." What I liked....the sci fi details are awesome. Drake does a tremendous job with her world-building. The bio-engineered beanstalk, the floating "islands," the hovercrafts, the dark, gritty, and desperate feel to life for the poor schmucks left on the surface of the earth, all make for a stunning vision of a world gone awry with technology. I also liked the heroine, Jaq, a lot...she is the quintessential kick-ass heroine, complete with roundhouse kicks, etc etc. The storyline was solid (with bitchy villainess and a-hole villain), had lots of action and suspense, and was extremely well written. Which may have worked against Drake in the end...I wanted more to this story. It was too short for me. The sci fi part worked great, but I wanted more about the characters and their relationship. I tend to gravitate to character-driven stories, not plot-centered stories, but even so....I still was fully engaged in this one.

Grade: B+

(If you haven't tried sci fi/romance yet, this book is a great introduction to the sub-genre. Action packed, filled with cool world-building details, and has a smoky romance, too!)

Happy Monday,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Self-Promotion Is Not A Dirty Word

Guess what I'm doing today? Talking about one of my favorite subjects...promotion for romance writers! I'll be speaking at the NECRWA meeting at Brandeis University at 1:00. (Unfortunately, the Chippendale's dancers cancelled, but hopefully there should be chocolate.)

Here are a few tips on self-promotion to get us started...

1.) Don't post naked photos of yourself on your website. Unless you look like Bo Derek. And even then it's probably not a good idea.

2.) Including 5-star review snippets from your mother is ineffective as a promotional tool.

3.) Choose appropriate sites for your blog tour. Doing an interview on "Flyfishing For Big Boys" is most likely a waste of time and won't increase book sales. Although you never know.

Looking forward to chatting with everyone!
See you soon,

Friday, February 18, 2011

Quirky Bit O' Canine

Need a mop?
A new wig?
A warm, snuggly blanket for winter?
This awesome and out-of-this-world dog looks like a great multi-tasker.

This Hungarian dog is a corded Komondor from the Westminster Dog Show. (It's sometimes referred to as a "mop dog" for obvious reasons.) It was bred to protect livestock. 

I just couldn't resist posting it since it is pretty much the epitome of quirkiness. My daughter got a photo of one sleeping in his kennel at the dog show, but I thought this photo was much more dramatic. You get to see the wonderful movement of those luscious locks!

Happy Weekend,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Circling Back

Sometimes life comes full circle.  Once in awhile, you reconnect with childhood friends, or visit a place and get a sense of deju vu before you remember you had been there before.  Sometimes you pick up a book, get half way through it and realize you've read it before.  Or is that having a senior moment? Anyway, I recently had this strange experience of life coming full circle.

I love Robyn Carr's Virgin River Series.  For those of you unfamiliar with her work, you are in for a treat.  The series takes place in the mythical town of Virgin River (pop. 600), which is set against the picturesque backdrop of the towering redwoods and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California.  Carr paints the town with a colorful ensemble of heroes and heroines, their extended family, as well as the eccentric and loveable towns people populating Virgin River.

While Carr's characters are delightful, many too good to be true, her stories are well written, humorous, and engaging.  She also addresses a wide range of topics such as domestic violence, post-traumatic stress (most of the heroes of her books are war veterans), Down Syndrome, infertility and even rape.  Through the support of the town community, her characters find their peace as well as a road to their own HEAs.  Diving into the next book in the series is like revisiting cherished friends as Carr weaves the characters we've met throughout her books.

In regard to rediscovering old friends and circling back, last fall I heard Robyn Carr speak at the New Jersey Romance Writers conference.  She was as entertaining as her books.  However, she mentioned that she had begun her career writing historical romances, and suddenly a strange sense of deja vu swept over me.  Once upon a time (okay, around two decades ago), my favorite romances were historicals written by a Robyn Carr.  I still own a beloved beat up copy, it being a timeless favorite.  The book was Chelynne.

As first, I didn't believe the Robyn Carr speaking was the same author I loved all those years ago. I couldn't be obsessed with this author's work twice in my lifetime.  Could I?  Yes, I could.

Decades later, Robyn Carr still writes beautiful, engaging stories, and I'm lucky to have found her -- again.  She has a career to envy and I do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Penny's Quickie Quirky Updates From The Big Apple

I'm back! I survived my trip to New York City....42nd Street, Toys R Us, the Natural History Museum, and best of all....the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show! (First photo is an adorable pug at the dog show, taken by my eight year old daughter, Natalie).

Barosaurus at the Natural History Museum.

Anakin and Obi Wan at Toys R Us, 44th Street, NYC.

Statue of Liberty, Lego-Style, Toys R Us.

Topiary Bushes (I mean poodles...heh heh) at Westminster.

A whole bunch of wieners.

Penny, American Girl Doll, and Daughter on 42nd Street.

A Wiener!/Winner!....Chewie, the Sweetest Doxie Ev-ah!

Hope everyone had a festive Valentine's Day! Love, Penny

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chocolate! 'Tis the season.

Chocolate! We all love it, crave it, become obsessed by it, particularly at certain times of the month. (You know what I'm talking about, ladies.) Perhaps it's our inner child demanding to be let out. But chocolate and romance go hand in hand. Think Valentine's Day, so fast approaching. Think the research saying women who eat chocolate regularly have a better sex life. So no wonder romance writers are fascinated by the stuff. I thought I'd include some interesting facts about the substance here. And to find an erudite source, I went to the experts -- articles written for kids. I found the following tidbits in the National Geographic Kids magazine, February 2011 issue, so all the research credit goes to their staff.

Fact #1 Chocolate is made from seeds of the cacao plant, grown only near the equator.

Fact #2 Theobroma cacao is the scientific name for chocolate. It means "food of the gods."

Fact #3 The ancient Aztec believed chocolate had magical properties.

Fact #4 There are 30 to 50 seeds in each cacao pod, which is football-shaped. That can make seven bars of milk chocolate.

Fact #5 Average Americans eat roughly 12 pounds of chocolate per year.

Fact #6 As early as 1000 B.C., the ancient Olmec are believed to be the first people to use the cacao plant.

Fact #7 Just one whiff of chocolate can make people feel happy. A chemical in cacao releases "feel-good" vibes in the brain.

Fact #8 Chocolate has a natural chemical in it that helps suppress coughs, so eat up next time you have a cold.

Fact #9 It would take 15,133,852,800 Hershey bar squares laid end to end to reach the moon.

The magazine lists more interesting facts, but I thought I'd stop here. I need to go now. I've gotten a bit hungry, go figure. If you can resist impulsively searching for chocolate of your own for a few more moments, let me know what else you've come across about this "food of the gods."


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Quirky Bit O' Music

This is a fabulous rendition of Smooth Criminal by the cellists Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic. Enjoy!

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's Sexy?

Honestly, I'm all for the only non-profit community-owned professional sports team in America winning the Subperbowl. Go Packers!

But what I really want to talk about is that freaking Doritos commercial. You know the one...

Maybe it's an occupational hazzard, but I spend a lot of time thinking about what's sexy and what's not. For example, the other day I got it in my head that I wanted to describe something as spongy. And I tried. I really, really tried to work it into my scene - because the object in question does feel spongy. But then I had to accept what countless other authors have no doubt had to come to terms with in the past - there is no way to make "spongy" sexy. There just isn't.

So what is sexy? Love? Yes! Romance? You bet! Erotic romance? Oh, hell yes! Homo-erotic imagry in commercials? It sells! You don't believe me? Look at the picture above again. Is that how your coworkers behave? And note that even Doritos apparently thought they'd taken it too far, since they felt the need to put wedding rings on both the men. Those kinds of details don't happen by accident in advertising.

And what's not sexy? Finger-sucking! Oh, wait... I am certain this can be a very sexy thing to do. If you'd asked me before yesterday, I might have told you that it's always a sexy thing to do. But I would have been wrong.

When that man sucked his coworker's finger into his mouth, I (a woman who I think we can all agree has a very strong fondness for homo-erotic imagry) screeched like a banshee. It was hilarious. It was disturbing. And it sure as heck was incedibly effective marketing (because here I am, talking about it and craving that nacho cheese goodness every time I type the word Doritos). But definitely not sexy.

So does this ruin finger-sucking for everyone? Definitely not. As my wise friend Eric Ruben commented last night, it's not in the dust, it's in the delivery.

And thanks to the Frito-Lay corporation, I have finger-sucking on the brain today. I wonder what I'll write about tonight...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yinz Guys Reddy For Da Game?

It ain't easy being a native Pittsburgher in New England. I am surrounded by rabid Patriots fans. So, I'd like to apologize in advance if I offend anyone while I wave my Terrible Towel and chug some Iron City beers during the Superbowl. I wouldn't want to rub it know, about the fact that the PITTSBURGH FREAKIN' STEELERS are in the Superbowl, and the New England Patriots are....well...probably sitting at home, eating nachos.

No offense. Seriously.

Here's a fun vid showing the awesome superiority of Steel over Cheese.

I don't think we need to get into a discussion about whose hair is better....Troy Polamalu or Tom Brady. (Troy)

Happy Superbowl Sunday!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quirky Bit O' News

Here's a nice Bostonian story. A woman lost her 3-foot pet boa constrictor on a Boston subway car a month ago...she had the snake around her neck (!!!) when somehow it escaped. The lost snake (named Penelope! Win!) was discovered on a subway car this week, and rescued by a train attendant. Penelope's owner is overjoyed to be reunited with her scaly friend. And she's still planning on taking Penelope out into public. Oh joy for Bostonians everywhere.

Happy Weekend from The Quirky Ladies!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Groundhog Day!

It's Feb. 2, time for the most celebrated of all holidays....Groundhog Day. Unfortunately for those of us living in the New England area, the groundhog is unable to make an appearance since he's buried beneath 5 ft of snow, ice and freezing rain. Hopefully he'll survive and drag himself to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the festivities.

Anyone looking for a quirky activity for the day (since we're all house-bound and it's a school snow day!), I would suggest watching one of my all-time favorite movies, Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. It's hilarious!

Best of luck to groundhogs everywhere,