Tuesday, August 18, 2009


If you wrote me in the last couple of weeks, I swear, I am not ignoring you. I just saw a slew of items that my email software had apparently decided goes over there (random folder I did not remember creating) instead of over here (inbox) (you know, the logical place for oh, say, new mail).

I am going to try really hard to get caught up this weekend, so if you're checking here some time after the weekend (8/23) and you have not heard back, please re-send. I may not have seen it.

Also, I have a few letters to Bobbie Faye and she is answering them and I will try to get those posted soon. As soon as I pay her bail. Again. That woman is going to be the death of me, yet.

Y'all take care.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Julie, Julia & Me (and a raccoon)...

(blogged this over on www.popculturedivas.com)...

I feel I ought to step up to a microphone somewhere and look bashfully out at the audience and say, "Hi, my name is Toni. And I love cooking competition shows."

My particular faves are Top Chef (though Top Chef Masters is kinda boring), Iron Chef and even Hell's Kitchen (though I squirm through half of that show, and sometimes wish someone would just give Ramsay a hug).

I love how, on Top Chef, the contestants are forced to create something in like two nanoseconds using cardboard, mustard and a piece of celery and feed 300. It amazes me how they are thrown these challenges where they could not possibly know what to do, and yet, thirty minutes later (for the Quick Fire challenges), they have something that generally looks not
only edible, but quite pretty and tasty. This would never happen at my home, if you were asking me to create something, and I am granting that you would give me a full pantry and an entire stocked refrigerator / freezer. When I open that pantry, I am immediately stumped. There are soup cans in there (I recognize those), and some cereal I'm familiar with, but all of that other stuff? A mystery. (My husband, on the other hand, knows what that stuff is and how to use it. I, very wisely and at a young age, realized that this was the thing he loved and it was to my advantage to stay out of the way.)

It's funny how people [particularly people in the south] look at a woman and expect her to be able to cook well. I used to amass dinners that didn't kill the children. I'm fairly certain that there was a point somewhere back in the Pleistocene era when I concocted meals that were tasty. Uh. Edible (Let's not throw that bar up there too high.) But when the writing took over my brain sometime back when the kids were in elementary school, whatever part of my brain which felt competitive about cooking just... went AWOL. It stopped caring about amount of ingredients or ratio of spices or little minor details like, oh, say, cooking time, aka setting the house on fire.

One time, I madejambalya from a mix. Now, Zatarain's has a really great mix, very authentic flavor (said by the woman whose house was a stop-over for firemen district-wide)... And whenever I was deep in writing mode and didn't want to order pizza (they had my order memorized), I would pull out the Zatarain's box and know that the kids were getting something that they liked, which wasn't horribly unhealthy.

I cooked the jambalya, dished up portions for the boys, and had turned to go back to work when my oldest spat it out and my youngest started making gagging noises. I tried it and sure, I had somehow managed to go slightly off recipe, but it really wasn't that bad. Boys, however, can heap on the guilt factor and make you think they will DIE if they are forced to eat something that is not pizza or cookies, and I was so deep into whatever it was I was writing, it wasn't worth the argument. I gave the dish to the dog and went about ordering something deliverable.

The dog, finicky eater, wouldn't touch it. (She was always difficult about that. Weird dog.) I gathered it up to throw it out in the garbage (I did not have a disposal), and then I remembered the raccoons. Since they'll eat anything--they were tearing through our trash on a regular basis--I figured it would just be wise if I left the bowl out there, let them have at it, and then wash the bowl later. No strewn trash, happy everyone.

We sat outside to watch the raccoons since they came up to the house about the same time every evening. The biggest Cat-Daddy of all raccoons sauntered up. I swear, if there was a barroom for raccoons, this guy would've been the bouncer. The kids were fascinated to watch him, so at least my cooking provided a little entertainment. That raccoon reached into the bowl, scooped up a big handful of jambalaya...

...and spit it out. Spit it out and ran away. Raccoons will eat garbage.

I think that may have been the last day I attempted anything that could be reasonably called "cooking" at my house.

But I am fascinated with cooking shows. I love how they know so much about their field, how much they have to believe in themselves, in their own vision, and how almost every single one of them battles fatigue and self-doubts to push through the competition.

Which is a very long way around to talking about the new movie, Julie & Julia which I saw on Sunday.

I think the device of using the blog written by Julie Powell to delve into the movie works, because honestly, I'm not sure that anyone would really go to a movie if they thought it was just a biography ofJulia Child. The film, however, is so much more than that, more than the quasi-reverent look at Child from Powell's hungry gaze, and the film really does well in showing where women stand with each other, how the current culture perceives who we are and defines us frequently by outside standards--what we've achieved, where we rank, what new ground have we broken, and how to be true to ourselves. How to find ourselves in the midst of the hustle.

Both Julie and Julia faced searching for their dream, each in their own way, and it's amazing to realize that Julia Child faced down her own inner desire to "do something" back in the late fifties--nearly sixty years ago--when options for women were so slim and no one believed she had a smidge of a chance to do what she did.

Meryl Streep is amazing as Julia Child. For her performance alone, I'd rate this a "definite go-to" film.

So how about you? Do you watch cooking shows? Have a great relationship with your oven or have your served it divorce papers? If you like to cook, what is your favorite thing to cook? And if you are like Julia in the movie, who "loves to eat" -- tell me what your favorite thing in the world would be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


There is an occasional letter asking me why I changed the covers on the books from the crawfish trade paperback covers to the new ones. Mostly I explain that the covers are a choice of the publisher, but I do love the new covers.

I do want people to realize that CHARMED AND DANGEROUS and GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS are re-releases of the first two trade versions of the books. I had that on the front page, and then the splash page this summer made that not quite as prominent (and I am sorry for the confusion).

In the mean time, several people have asked how the new covers came about, and I had blogged this over on AccessRomance, but thought I would put this up here for those of you who are cruising by and may have missed it over there:

titled: Covers

I love make-over stories. I have to admit I am a total sucker for those before / after shows, whether it’s house porn over on HGTV or it’s Stacey and Clinton ranting about What Not To Wear. It’s encouraging when something old (as in a house) finds its new potential—when it’s updated, and yet, honors the original design or era of the house. I also love it when Stacey and Clinton help a woman focus not on what the media or public think is “good” or “skinny” or “beautiful,” but instead, help that person focus on what’s good about their body, where they are in life right then. That’s the earmark of a successful make-over: not only showing hidden potential, but doing it for the right reason. I tend to record a lot of these shows and watch them—they’re inspiring.

I just never dreamed I’d be smack in the middle of one myself. Or, rather, that my book would be.

This is the story of a make-over.

Waaaay back in the Pleistocene era before there was an Internet and before I was published in fiction, I picked up books and looked at the covers and secretly wondered what crack the author had been smoking to pick that cover out. And sometimes, I’d assume that their bad taste in covers reflected their skills as a writer—because surely if they thought that cover was appropriate / interesting / not boring, then they probably didn’t have any real discernment about what was appropriate / interesting / not boring and I’d be turned off. Most times, I hate to say, I put the book down.

I kinda sucked, didn’t I?

What’s worse was that as I started to learn more and more about the business, I’d still have a hard time ignoring a bad cover, or a blah one. Even when I learned that the author rarely had cover approval and, honestly would be lucky if she even had input into what went onto the cover. Even when she was a New York Times bestselling author.

And really, it’s difficult to get past the outer package sometimes, when we only have a few seconds to make a snap judgment. Anyone who’s tried on something and thought it looked decent, only to see a photo of the outfit later and that’s when they realized that it sort of rode up that way that it did or, instead of hiding that bulge, might as well have pointed neon arrows at it knows the feeling. We only have to look at the sheer volume of people who posted about Susan Boyle’s bushy eyebrows and choice of dresses to know that even being well-groomed isn’t always enough.

The thing is, the outer package says something about what’s inside, whether we want it to or not. It’ll tell us if that person is stylish, up on the latest fashions, or if they’re stuck back in the eighties. We also get a glimpse about what they want to project to the world—whether that projection is intentional or not.

Now, when it comes to book covers, that cover has to do a lot of work simultaneously. It has to draw your attention away from all of the other books around it (so it wants to be different), and it’s got to communicate what type of book it is (so it needs to have some element that’s familiar so the reader immediately understands the category of book). It needs to tantalize you (so it needs to raise some question in your mind, some element of tension that induces the reader to flip over to the back cover to learn more), and yet, it’s got to feel satisfying (some design element speaks to you, makes you want to pick up that book). That’s quite a lot for a book cover to do.

Then, if the book crosses genres? The job is ten times harder for a book cover.

I didn’t fully appreciate this until I’d sold the Bobbie Faye series. Titled “Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day,” it was purchased with the intent on shelving it in general fiction as a trade paperback original. The series sold on proposal, three sample chapters and a synopsis, and in my mind, it was always a combination of romance and action/adventure. In fact, I pitched as a “southern fried Romancing the Stone.” It’s full-speed adrenaline and sexy bad guys and yet, Bobbie Faye is so take-no-prisoners herself, so tenacious and determined to save her brother or maim everyone trying, that we slammed up against a conundrum of how to convey this.

It is especially hard to figure out how to communicate that to the art department. There is no way an art department could read every book that they have to create a cover for—there’s just not enough time in the day. They work off our attempts to give them enough word-clues that will help generate some sort of mental image about what direction to go in. I love the people at St. Martin’s – and the art department has been very very good to me, willing to listen and work with me and seriously? That’s pretty amazing. So it’s with their permission that I post some of these first attempts that just didn’t work.

Here’s the very first cover that showed up in the catalog.

My editor immediately rejected that one—she didn’t like the tone or the girl hanging out of the truck (though there is a truck that figures into the action). And she wasn’t really fond of the next two attempts (for which I will forever be thankful):

I’m not really sure where the winking theme came from. Bobbie Faye doesn’t wink. She’s pretty damned sarcastic and self-deprecating, and she doesn’t wear hardly any make-up. I could not get past the purple eyes (and neither could my editor). I understand what the art department was going for: fun and yet, dangerous. The TNT there being the “dangerous” part, although that eye shadow gave me a heart attack, so that was pretty dangerous, too. The second example was from the same attempt—how do we communicate sexy, fun and dangerous? Well, we WINK at people… while a truck explodes.

However, one of the reasons I love St. Martin’s is because they weren’t happy with it either, and they tossed all of that out and started from scratch again. That’s a lot of work for an art department to do.

This next design was a result of hiring a model and styling her. The photos actually included a gun in her left hand, but that was cropped for reasons I’m not entirely sure about. I thought the cover was beautiful. This is one of those times where you’ll wear something out that is your absolutely favorite dress, ever, and only a very dear friend who loves you will take you aside and say, “Honey? That thing makes you look fat. Quit wearing it.”

I still like this cover. However, Barnes & Noble (or maybe it was Borders? My memory is failing me here) was essentially that good friend. They looked at the cover copy for the book, looked at the cover and said, “No. This cover does not fit the genre. This looks like a Young Adult novel.”

Well, holy cats, they had a point. None of us saw that aspect of it, but when you hear that comment and then look at the cover again, it does lend itself to a sort of young adult feel, especially with the gun cropped out. Now, if the best friend was with you while you were getting dressed and they didn’t say anything about your dress, but waited ‘til the party and then commented, then that would be very bad and heartbreaking, because there’s not a damned thing you can do about it then. But if they tell you while you’re getting dressed (or even better, when you were first going to buy the dress), then you really appreciate the honesty. It might hurt a little, but you appreciate it.

So we went back to the drawing board, and we all (me included) tried to figure out the direction to go. We all started thinking that maybe some sort of “icon” could work—something that would be on every book and identify it as a “Bobbie Faye” novel. That sounds good, doesn’t it?

That is how the crawfish came to be on the cover. (Yes, it is a crawfish. Not a lobster. Or, as one of my friends put it, a “crawster” – because yes, it is too fat to be a crawfish. But when it was drawn skinnier, it looked like a spider from a distance, and spiders on books are not supposed to be good for sales. I don’t know if that’s myth or not, but I wasn’t going to argue.)

Now, I love crawfish. I love the danger sign. I love the quote from Harley Jane Kozak, who is an awesome writer. Mostly, I loved that I got to keep the original title. Loved loved loved that part. I fought for that title. I fought for those verys in the parentheses to be lower case. (My publisher loved the title. Even when he was agreeing that we were going to have to change it for the mass market release, he still lamented that fact, because he thought it conveyed an essence of the story: dangerous and fun.)

That book was released as a trade paperback original, and then the second one came out last year. It did well, and I’ve been mostly lucky in the reviews I’ve gotten, one thing we all realized was that the books had a lot of romance in them—but the covers did not “say” romance. They really weren’t saying “action” or “adventure” either. And because St. Martin’s Press is so cool, they said, “Let’s take the mass market release as an opportunity to address that.”

How cool is that?

We realized there was no way to shrink that original cover down to mass market size and the words still be readable, really. By the time you put that long title plus my name on a smaller format, it was going to start looking jumbled. Most people don’t really like to parse out something jumbled when they have a hundred other simpler things to look at, so I was completely on board with this change.

Plus, my biggest desire? For people who looked at this to get, immediately, that there was romance in here. There is a lot of heat—and that heat grows through the series. While there is a lot of danger and action and high-wire, high-octane adventure, there is a deepening romance, a threat to that romance, and there is sex. Hot. Fun. Sex.

That crawfish just did not say “sexy,” did it?

So when I got the new covers (and new titles) for the series, I was in love. Love love love. All of a sudden, I could see what the other covers lacked, because this one finally had it. I never even really realized what was missing, ‘til now:

Charmed and Dangerous by Toni McGee Causey

book one is out June 2nd

Girls Just Wanna Have Guns by Toni McGee Causey

book two is out June 30th

When a Man Loves a Weapon by Toni McGee Causey

book three is out August 4th

I love the taglines (courtesy of my editor), love the couple’s playfulness and Bobbie Faye’s humor, but the gun and the titles imply the danger and action inside. I think the colors will pop in a lineup of books, and the titles are fun. (I will always love my first title, but I can see how the shorter titles work so much better.)

Right now, I feel like the “after” in a Stacey and Clinton make-over. I want to keep twirling in front of a mirror, because I’m so thrilled with the outcome.

There are a tremendous amount of amazing books out this summer—and the authors on this site have several coming out that I am champing at the bit to buy. I hope, though, that if you’ve bought all of theirs and you have one more book to purchase, that you’ll consider trying out the Bobbie Faye series. Check here for the back cover copy and the first chapter of the book. There’s also a free (hot and sexy) new short story up on that same page.

All the summery and make-over best to you all,