Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today would have been our much loved son Chris' birthday. It's been two and a half years since his sudden death off the coast of South Africa, but I continue to miss him so much every day. Since he died, I haven't been able to write about him like this, but after a lot of tears shed since last night, I decided it was time to stop crying and celebrate his life!

He accomplished so much over his all too brief time on this earth, and I'm always astonished when every day at least one or two people Google his name. Over two and a half years, that's a lot of people! And every day dozens of readers watch the brief photo slide show that appears on the bottom of each of my website pages: www.shirleytallman.com. A few of the pictures are serious, most of them fun, and some just downright silly. I love them all!

Chris was an adventurer, an avid sports enthusiast, a loving son, brother and husband. He climbed mountains, was an expert snow skier, went on adventure vacations, and lived life to the fullest. He would have made a fantastic father! I was already planning a scrapbook to fill with pictures of he and Sarah's children. He and his lovely Sarah were married only a tragically short five months when he left us. And she's gone through hell since then, believe me! But she's done it bravely and with unfaltering love and devotion to the handsome young man she married! I'm constantly amazed by how hard she's worked to keep Chris, his memory, and his music alive.

Chris was an extremely talented musician. Months before his death he signed a contract with MTV, and thanks to his wife Sarah's tireless efforts, his music has aired on CNN and many other outlets. His music has won posthumous awards and has reached the finals of even more. (My favorite of his songs, "BELIEVE", plays on the photo side show that appears on my website.)

Time and again since that terrible day in April of 2008, people young and old have approached me to tell me some wonderful story about how Chris touched their lives. More than a few young men have actually cried while telling me how Chris was always there for them, or how he could always be counted on -- day or night -- to help them out of a tough spot. He was always tops in my book, but I never truly realized how important he was to others.

Chris touched my life, his father's life, and the lives of his six brothers and sisters, too, in very profound ways. In many ways he was the glue that held us all together. He was the surprise baby we didn't expect, he provided the ongoing nature lessons for his older siblings throughout my nine month pregnancy, and he was the cute little guy everyone wanted to hold, feed and yes, even change! Amazing!

I know he's in a happy place now; of that I have absolutely no doubt!! Probably looking down on all of us (as our granddaughter Danielle said today) with love in his eyes. She remembers him as the happy young uncle who always had a smile on his face, who never failed to hug her, and always said how adorable she was. That's the kind of guy he was.

Gradually, time is helping his family and his beautiful widow to heal, but the emptiness he left in all our hearts will likely never be filled. How can it be? Our son, brother, husband Chris was truly one of a kind!

This evening, instead of crying, I want to celebrate the life of my son, Chris Tallman. Thank you God for bringing that beautiful little boy into our lives. Thank you, Chris, for teaching us how to love unconditionally, to look out for our friends and neighbors (and even a few strangers along the way), for showing us how to have fun and laugh at life's ups and downs, for filling our hearts with music, and most of all for just being you!

We love you forever and with all our hearts. We will always believe!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My first romance novel comes together!

After days spent getting to intimately know the characters in my first contemporary romance novel, SECOND HARVEST, I was finally ready to start writing in earnest.

I'd like to say that at that point the book poured out of me, but it required some practice before I could easily place myself in my hero's and heroine's heads, so that they would react and behave "in character." As harvest time in the story approached, I had to once again refer back to the books I'd found on New Zealand vineyards and wine production. Fortunately, I found the process to be totally fascinating. And as I wrote I was delighted to discover that the vineyard a magical setting for a romance, albeit a reluctant one, and even I cheered as the two former enemies began to fall in love.

I made my deadline with a couple of weeks to spare, printed out my "baby", and lovingly sent it on its way to New York. Then began yet another wait (if you have hopes of becoming a novelist, be sure to develop a generous measure of patience!) Days, then weeks, passed without a word back from my publisher. Naturally my imagination went wild: Did they like it? Did they hate it? Was everyone in my editor's office taking turns tearing it to pieces? Were they so disgusted with my manuscript that I was going to get a call demanding that I return my advance? What the @#%&*! was going on?!

I'd become convinced that a special corner of hell must be reserved for agents and editors who kept writers waiting half a lifetime before letting them know if their "baby" was going to live or die, when the phone finally rang. It was my editor's assistant, informing me in a sweet voice that SECOND HARVEST was absolutely wonderful and had been scheduled for publication the following September. In fact, she informed me, they were already talking to my agent about signing me to a contract to write the second of my three book proposals -- the one set in Japan.

In that one deliriously happy moment, all my anger and resentment toward my publishers disappeared. There was a song in my heart and once again all was right with the world!

(Next: My second romance, FLOWER OF THE ORIENT, is born!)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Good background, now how to deal with the actual romance elements!

When I'd completed my first general research into New Zealand's wine vineyards (I'd have to delve into it more thoroughly as the story progressed), I faced the most important, and for me the most challenging, element in the book: the romance!

It wasn't that I'd never experienced the joy and pain of first love, along with the intense heartache when that love was over. Far from it. The problem I faced now was how to put those feelings into words, then weave them into a passionate and believable story. This dilemma really gave me pause to think and, I admit, more than a few worried moments. In fact, I was terrified. I finally had a book contract, but what if I couldn't pull it off? Sure, I'd managed the first 3 chapters, but the truth was I hadn't given the entire book enough thought, especially not with the guidelines my editor had sent. And while this gave me a fair number of fitful nights, it was eventually to become one of the best "on the job" writing assignments ever. Writing plots with a lot of action, mystery and suspense came fairly easily for me. But it was high time I learned how to make the people in my books come to life. For that's what keeps readers turning the page: truly caring about the characters in a novel and what happens to them!

I don't know how other romance writers do it, but I began by getting as completely into my heroine as possible: Who was she? How had her previous marriage affected her views on men? What were her preconceptions about her brother-in-law who ran the vineyard? Why did she both hate and fear him? What would cause her to defy her fears and fly to far-off New Zealand and confront him?

On the other side of the coin, how would he react to her? Why did he resent her, even hold her responsible for his brother's death? How could they ever work together in the best interests of the vineyard? Despite his anger and resentment, how would he react to the overpowering sexual attraction he felt toward her?

I made copious notes on both of my main characters, and slowly but surely I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Never before had I spent so much time getting to know the people I was writing about. Before long, I felt I knew them almost as well as the members of my family. In fact, in a way they became members of my family!

(Next: My first romance novel begins to come together!)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Do not disturb! I'm being paid to write a romance novel!

Despite the daunting letter I received from my Silhouette editor (see "Guidelines for writing a Silhouette Desire," 9/29/10 blog), it was such a wonderful feeling to be writing a book to contract. Soon I'd receive a check for half my advance ($5,000), then when I actually turned in the finished manuscript, I'd get the second half. After I'd sold enough books to cover the advance I'd be eligible to receive royalties. YAY!

Now all I had to do was to write the actual book. I cleared my desk, made sure my computer was behaving itself (I'd started working on a computer in 1980 and took to it like a fish takes to water. But to state that those earlier computers were extremely temperamental, would be an understatement of gigantic proportions!) and set to work -- following the lengthy guidelines I'd been sent, of course, yet at all costs keeping the novel original. YIKES! Not an easy order.

Once I was ready to rock and roll, I taped the editor's letter on the wall beside my desk, with the more pertinent instructions marked in bright yellow highlighter. I decided that before I started chapter four of the book, I should go back and make some changes to the first three chapters which had been sent to the publisher. Fortunately, this turned out to be no big deal, but I figured the sooner I set the stage for what was to follow, the better.

Okay, now I was ready to tackle chapter four and new material -- and face my first major stumbling block. During my years working as a flight attendant for Pan American World Airline, I'd toured a New Zealand wine vineyard on one of my layovers there. However, the notes I'd taken didn't come even close to explaining the more minute aspects of the business. (I think I mostly wrote about the beautiful scenery, and how impressed I was with hundreds of rows of vines stretching out as far as the eye could see). Now I had to show everything through my heroine's eyes. And it had to be correct!

So, it was off to the library to pour through books on vineyards, including when and how various grapes were harvested, how they were processed, how they were bottled and finally marketed. To my relief, it turned out that there was enough research material on the subject to fill several novels. I made photo copies, took copious notes, and settled myself back behind my desk to begin writing the "all American romance novel!"

(Next: Good background, now how to deal with the actual romance elements!)