Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ten Things to Distract Me...

This month's issue of Writer's Digest is The Big 10 issue and it inspired me to list the 10 things that distract me from writing.

10.  Cleaning:  I hate cleaning though I love a clean home (doesn't everyone?) However, I feel the need to clean when I hit a rough patch in my writing.  Those moments when I don't know where the scene or characters are heading and the story knots itself up.  Oddly enough, after everything is scrubbed clean the problem has unraveled and I jab away at the keys.

9. Showering:  Unlike cleaning the house, I love showering.  I do this twice a day and in New York City's sweltering summer heat, it could go up to four or five times a day.  However much like cleaning, I become inspired and the ideas flow from me like the water from the shower head.  Unfortunately by the time I get out, I've forgotten all the wonderful ideas.

8. Eating:  This provides me energy and nourishment (unless its candy,  which is plain delicious) so I can slump in my chair and be distracted by #7-1.

7. Answering Email:  Much like snail mail its a great time waster and maybe I'll discover something that gets my fingers typing again.  Most of the time, it doesn't.

6.  News:  I read gossip rags.  I love them.  I don't believe the stories and I don't really care who Jennifer Aniston is dating, where Angelina is in the world yet none of that stops me from pouring over them.  Oh and I don't stop at with the US rags, I read the UK ones too.  Then after that it's onto Huffington Post, NY Times, LA Times and Telegraph.  All great times wasters but inspiration can come too.

5. Sleep:  The body needs it.  I love it.  If I could get a job as a mattress tester, I would.  Besides, I had enough sleepless nights in college--NO MORE!

4. Facebook: A time sucker in a fun way and nothing to help least not yet.

3. Twitter:  Thought this one should be higher?  Not for me.  Like Facebook, a time sucker in the greatest way.

2. Life in New York City:  Being in New York there are a million things to do.  Enough, said.

1. TV: 
Sunday:  True Blood, Drop Dead Diva, Masterpiece Theater
Monday:  The Closer, Lie to Me, Rizzoli & Isles, Two an a Half Men *
                   (Monday-Friday Chelsea Lately)
Tuesday: Memphis Beat
Wednesday: Psych
Thursday: 30 Rock, Community, Bones, Glee
Friday: I can't remember but I'm sure I find something
Saturday:  BBC, HBO, Starz,
Who knows what will be added when the  fall season ends

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Quiet on the Set...

Okay, people, let’s take it from the gal’s point of view first.


She gave him a nice long hot going over, ending with his fine dark eyes.

He glanced away, then back. Who me?

Yes, you. I’m coming to get you.

Eyes a-twinkle, he answered her dare with a slight nod. Yes! She set off across the room, seduction on her mind and in the sway of her hips. He leaned back on the bar, a smile lifting a corner of his luscious mouth.

Cut! Too many words. Let’s try that from the guy’s point of view.


She walked. He salivated.


How do you decide the point of view (POV) character? Yeah, I heard you, whoever has the most to lose in a scene gets point of view. Or whoever has the most to say, if you’re watching word count.

Ho. Hum.

Let’s try something different to help you figure it out. How about if a person who has nothing to lose gets POV?

I heard that snort of disparagement. I also heard the question you wouldn’t voice.

Put POV in the hands of a random stranger who couldn’t care less about the outcome of the scene. But, don’t choose the cool omniscient observer. Instead, choose a curious person (call them Pat) who just happens to be in close proximity and has been on both sides of the scenario. For the example, in my opening, Pat knows what it’s like to be a seducer and the seduced. Being without gender, Pat fully understands and shares the emotions of the man and the woman.

What flows through Pat’s senses? What outcome does Pat hope for? What would surprise Pat? If Pat was permitted one moment of interference, what would Pat do?

Have you got a scene that’s just not working? Let Pat explore your scene. Is the POV decision any easier? Did you get an interesting bonus by way of plot twist or character reveal?

Joan Leacott

heart, humour, and heat...Canada style

Friday, August 27, 2010

To have or not have a sex scene?

Recently, a friend asked me if a sex scene is necessary for the plot of a story. Among his circle of friends, a number of people said, yes. But, for me the answer was no.

But, really doesn’t it depend. What genre? Romance? Horror? Mainstream fiction? Erotica? Well, the last one is a given, but honestly when does sex enhance the story?

For me, sex is used to bring the characters together. To demonstrate the closeness or distance between my hero and heroine. To show character’s growth. And for so many others, too.

I have a short story that doesn’t have a fully consummated sex scene, but it does have a sweet tender sensual moment between my main characters. I believe the moment is just as powerful, if not more, than a full-blown sex scene. It tells a lot about the love between the two characters. It demonstrates one character’s growth because she has had a hard time showing love.

In inspirationals, I believe as much passion is shown with a kiss or the touch of a hand.

So, I don’t know if I believe a sex scene is required for any plot, but I know that I enjoy reading them, but sometimes the mystery of what might happen can be just as tantalizing ;-)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bears from a Werewolf Writer!

Here's what it's like to wake up as a werewolf writer:

First, I wake up with a bang! And Finn is hauling Meara to the carpeted floor in a panic. :) It's serious, sexy, and humorous...because of what he's wearing...or...not wearing. I love it when a scene just comes to me like that! SEALs can be so yummy. :)

And truly, that's often how it happens. I could have stayed up all night trying to come up with the ending hook on my first chapter, but I didn't need to. I just needed for the characters to show me what was going to happen next. With a bang! :) That's coming in The Wolf and the SEAL.

Here's a nice review of Seduced by the Wolf:

And!!! I got another bear order!!! This one is for a McDonald Celtic Clan Bear!

I worked on Montgomery Clan bear last night. Just need to finish him up, and then still need to embroider his paws and need to make his bonnet and sash.

The McDonald Celtic Clan bear is for a brand new grandson born on the 20th, whose father is in Afghanistan. So please say some prayers for his father while he serves our country.

Here is the Campbell Clan bear getting ready for his trip to South Africa! Thanks, Ann!

And here is the confetti bear playing with a purple lei before her trip to South Africa also! Thanks, Sharon!

Each bear has its own unique personality, just like characters in books, and they were excited to be on their way to their new homes. :)

On one of my blog tour posts, a commenter said something about a werewolf writer makes teddy bears? Sure, why not! One of these days, I'll make a wolf bear. :)

But I'm anxious to get back to working on Finn and his dilemma as Meara is squirming to get out from under him. Don't you just love writing stories?

Also, if you have some books at Amazon, this is a neat tracker to see how sales are doing all over the world:

I'm here also today with a free book giveaway:

And another giveaway, this one at Deb's Book Blog:

And another great review, this one from a "fellow" librarian! http://bibliophile2

Yesterday, I posted this on Redroom for Authors and had 360 views! Sometimes a picture truly is worth a 1,000 words. As a retired Army officer, this just tickled me and I had to get a picture of it:

You know, I couldn't have made up anything funnier if I'd tried. Every time I drive by this sign, I've wanted to get a picture, and in fact have tried, but never had a camera that could take a clear shot.

And Deb Werksman, my editor at Sourcebooks is taking pitches!

I may have a new deal in the works there too!

Have a terrific Thursday, keep thinking great wolfish thoughts, and give your loved ones a bear hug for me!

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do all authors go through this?

I was at a meeting with some aspiring writers; I was one of 3 published authors, talking to the group.

One of the other authors said something like, "I started working on a book but it was beyond my talents, so I stopped writing it. I worked on {this one} instead and I hope to return to the other one someday."

Her words really stuck a chord with me because I've been picking away at a book for a few years that I would love to have see the light of day. The problem is: I don't know if I'll ever be good enough to write the damn book. It's a multi-generational story, set in a post-apocalyptic America (sort of "Book of Eli meets the Stand with a bit of Gone with the Wind thrown in"). It's a BIG book: in fact, it will probably be six or seven books if I let it take shape the way I think it should.

I return to it every autumn, without fail. For some reason, winter's approach makes me want to work on that series.I read what I wrote and I wonder if it's good enough, but I keep writing on it, keep it moving forward.

I'll probably self-publish it some day on the Kindle or somewhere (that's the way publishing is going, isn't it? Will there be any publishing houses left?)

Does every writer have "the one that got away" from them? Do we all have that "Big Book" we want to finish? It's not necessarily The Book of My Heart, but it's a story that I just can't put down...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Settings and Plots

Lately there’ve been a lot of blogs written about where we get our ideas for stories. I’ve decided to jump into the fray. For me it's a smell, photo, vacation, painting, performance, movie, kilt, personal experience, and so on. Ideas are around everywhere and when the right moment strikes with the right idea my story begins. I am an author who relies on my characters to guide me along through their story once I place them where I want them.

Setting is easy. I live where my historicals are set and can find living history all around me. We have plenty of buildings left from the 1849 gold rush in California. With camera in hand I have explored most of them, including a saloon that has a savory reputation even today.

Who I choose as my heroes happened when we were in the Highlands of Scotland three years ago. We had stopped at a small eatery and started talking with an elderly couple who were riding bikes. The gentleman said they had just spent time in front of a pile of rocks that was the grave of some Scotsman named Roy. I nearly jumped out of the chair and screamed, “Not Rob Roy MacGregor?” He nodded and graciously gave us directions to the church where the Scot who has been in so many stories I’ve read and loved over the years. Standing in front of his grave in the churchyard in Balquhidder was an experience I won’t forget.
I could almost hear the bagpipes echoing in the tall mountains and Rob Roy yelling as he chased ‘bad guys’ through the glens and mountains that surrounded us. I decided not to join the many authors who write stories set in the Highlands, but rather bring my heroes to the Gold Rush era from Scotland. Those Scottish hunks have a way of stirring my imagination and lure ny heroines to fall in love with them. Life can be so good!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How do I plot thee? Let me count the ways

My problem is plot. Often, in the quiet of the night as I stare at my desktop I wonder if I am doomed. The opening of Ansen Dibell’s book Plot addresses my plight: Coming to Plot the Hard Way.

That’s me, hard way and all. Entering that plot fortress, walking through the dark entrance into a maze of choices, left me frustrated and convinced I’d never find my way to the other end.

I’ll backtrack here to two years ago and full-blown pantser writing, where I ended up with a 105,000 word story. I’d repeatedly tossed one minor conflict after another against the wall, keeping every strand that stuck there, the same as that age old cooked pasta test. I’ve been rewriting the last half of that manuscript, fixing all my dead end detours and misplaced road signs. So I set out this year to find a better way to create my stories.

On the positive side, I’ve been told my story characters shine, my dialogue is good and believable, my setting throbs with scents, and textures and color, but my plots…ah, ,my heart burns with desire, but I’m denied. Premises explode on the page to later fizzle into flat plotlines. I’ve read book after book, taken workshop after workshop, seeking the right fit.

In my epic search I’ve tried several approaches and after hours of tedious effort tossed them aside.

The 3-Act Solution with turning points. My one attempt resides in my computer with no third act. No matter how many times I tried, this process didn’t work for me. Yet, I know this can be effective. It’s just too exacting for my Mexican-jumping-bean mind.

The index card system. Similar to the script writing technique, where each scene is on a card and you shift the cards to create that fast moving, well-thought out story. I now have a pile of cards with no cohesive meaning. Some writers find this a perfect fit. I’m stumped again.

Is it me? I asked my husband if he thought I showed signs of dyslexia. I am left-handed, maybe that’s one reason. Left hand in touch with the right brain, the creative side. So, I decided to create my own system, based on techniques from workshops and a writer’s website.

First, I begin with a log line based on my idea (premise). I struggled with log lines until I took the recent FTH online workshop with instructor Cindy Carroll. What a difference that made!

Second, I work up the hero and heroine character sketches, their archetypes and I identify how they mesh and how they conflict. I use elements of Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict as a guide.

Next, I begin with the log line to write a one page synopsis. Stop, don’t run away with your hands in the air shouting, “No, No, No, not the dreaded One Pager….” Write that one page synopsis before writing your story and see if the premise works. I don’t expect your story to remain exactly like the one pager. Characters do unexpected things, and sometimes their actions are better than what we first imagined.

I use Beth Anderson’s Writing the Tight Synopsis as my guide. You can find a free copy at her website:

My critique group endorsed my one page synopsis. It’s important to run this by someone for input before your next step. Expand that one page synopsis into five or more pages. This includes the subplot action. I feel so happy and confident with my “new” plotting system. I’ve reworked the story a few times, fine-tuning the emotional development between the hero and heroine.

I found my light at the end of the tunnel. This technique isn’t for everyone. I couldn’t use the 3-Act or Index Card System some of you love, but I’ve found my solution to plotting. Do you have a unique way of plotting? I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I was going through some of my papers and came across this article written by Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literacy Agency. Her agency has RWA approval.

In writing, some things change along the way. Some are true and stand fast. The following are Kelly’s top five, she sees all the time. I love the way she explained everything with examples. So much clearer to understand. I wish she mentioned something about POV. That’s my down fall.
Jaclyn Di Bona

1. Using sound or facial expressions instead of the word said. Dialogue should carry the emotion, not an adverb shoring up said. A character can’t: bark, growl, snap, chuckle, howl, grimace, roar, smile, or snarl, etc.,a word. Use said and eliminate said adverbs. Also, don’t’ reverse to read, said she. Save that for the kiddy books.

2. Not using a word for its intended purpose. The worse offenders: pretty and little. Pretty in its intended form means cute, beautiful, etc. Example: “She has pretty hair.” Incorrect.: “She arrived pretty late.” Little in its intended form means tiny or small. Example: “She has a little dog.” Incorrect: “Her dog ate very little.”

3. Passive sentence structure. So many writers have a problem with this. It takes dedication and practice to avoid passive writing. Active structure is A does to B. Passive structure is B is done by A, or, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. Example: Passive: “The soup was stirred by Jane.” Active: “Jane stirred the soup.” Watch for was before words ending in ed. Check: that, had, and forms of to be as well.

Also, phrases pairing was with words ending in ing, which are Progressive Past. Example: “Jane was running.” Simple past [usually preferred]: “Jane ran.” Sentences require progressive past if something interrupts an action. Example: “Jane was stirring the soup when the doorbell rang.”

4. Using backstory or too much internal thought. Don’t write long paragraphs of internal thought or backstory to “info dump” every detail of a character’s past. Break it up. Change to dialogue or action whenever possible. No backstory allowed in the first chapter [at least]!

5. Overusing exclamation points and / or italics. I must stress how unnerving it is to see so many words in italics! It drives me crazy! I can’t stand it! It yanks me out of the story! And if a writer uses too many exclamation points, which denote shouting or mental equivalent, then I’d have a headache if I were reading it aloud!

So, do yourself and the person you’re submitting to, a favor. Read your chapter aloud, slowly, before you submit your partial. Your ear can often hear what your eyes can’t see.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Best Books on Writing

I went to college. And actually graduated. So of course I can write, right?

Right, sort of. I started with a fiction-writing, critique-group class at a Community College. That was an eye-opener. Sure, I could write. However, that's when I began to understand the wide gulf between my prose and that of published writers.

I searched in libraries and used bookstores for 'how to' books that would help me. I found many. I found truly valuable help in few.

Now that I think I write rather well for the two genres that interest me, I look back and remember only two books that had a significant impact on my writing skills.
The first was: Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein. It answered the question, "How should I write if I want to get published?"

The second was: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. It answered the question, "How should I write if I want to impress agents and editors with my professional-caliber skills?"

I mention these two books because they are the only books that I have kept and re-read. All the others didn't seem to 'pop' for me, I guess.

Now it's your turn. Tell me what book on writing wowed you, and made you keep it, and made you re-read it once in a while.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First POV by Carolyn Hughey

When I first began writing contemporary, I decided to write in First POV. My peers tried to discourage me from using this method saying publishers didn’t really like First POV, and my heroine had to be in every scene. And they warned me about how difficult it would be to get the hero’s point of view across to the reading audience.

Well after much consternation and research on the subject, I decided First POV for my contemporaries was it. Hey, if it was good enough for Janet Evanovich, by golly, it was good enough for me. I mean, it wasn’t like I hadn’t tried to write that same story in Third, I did, but it just didn’t have the same ring my snarky heroine needed for those fast comebacks in any given situation.

Here’s what some of my research produced: First person point of view is the most reader friendly. It’s intimate. The reader feels like the character’s best friend. In fact, the viewpoint character will often confide in the reader things he wouldn’t tell his best friend. “The Writing Craft Blog”

So, how can this be so bad? It’s not. To me, reading a fun story in the character’s point of view is like hanging out with her, having a cup of coffee, or better yet, a glass of wine and snacks. I’m giving my readers a front row seat to my heroine’s inner most secret thoughts. Things she might not tell her best friends for fear they’ll laugh at her. That’s means you guys are better than her best friends. You’re like her confidante.

So the humorous contemporaries will remain in First POV, and my Mysteries will be written in Third—for obvious reasons.

Oh and by the way, my hero’s aren’t having a tough time trying to express those views, feelings, or comments. You’re getting his thoughts by his actions, and she’s having a hellava good time sharing them with you.

Carolyn Hughey

[Carolyn, sorry for posting late. I am traveling and in between planes.]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dare to Dream

I started dreaming of seeing my stories published after attending my first conference, Fun in the Sun, organized by my local chapter, Florida Romance Writers, in 2004. I had one story written and was just starting on the other, and yet my new friends in the chapter encouraged me to pitch both. I received four requests that lead to rejections but you should have seen the boost of energy the requests gave me. I wrote daily while imagining myself signing books, attending interviews, becoming the next Nora Robert. I dreamed and dreamed ...

I attended more conferences, workshops, seminars, chats and learned to network with fellow writers who shared my dreams. Here with Carolyn Hughey and Marlene Urso at RWA 2004 in Dallas.

Carla Capshow from the FTHRW chapter won her first Golden Heart. She won a second in 2007. We congratulated her and dreamed of Golden Heart awards.

I met Nora Robert at the 2004 RWA Conference in Dallas and ogled her TWO little statuettes. She let me hold them.

The dream materialized at a FRW conference. I pitched TO LOVE A HERO to Raelene Gorlinski from Cerridwen Press, received a request and later my first contract. I was ecstatic.

My friends surprised me with a party at Olive Gardens to celebrate the release of my first book as ebook. I signed the cover for them.

The dream continued for me and my critique partner. Helen Scott-Taylor won the Romantic Time American Title and was honored at the 2008 RT conference in Pittsburg.

In 2008 I sold my medical romance BABIES IN THE BARGAIN to The Wild Rose Press.

My friend Terri Gary from FTHRW won the RITA.

And my critique partners Joan Leacott (from Toronto) and Helen Scott-Taylor (From England) came to attend the conference.

In 2009 TWRP published my second book, Rx FOR TRUST.

BABIES IN THE BARGAIN won the 2009 Best Romance Novel of the Year at Preditors & Editors Readers Poll and the 2009 Best Contemporary Romance at Readers Favorites.

The 2010 RWA in Orlando was a blast.

Here is a picture of my Playground loop. Most are FTHRW members. And another picture with Terry Spears at the fantastic cocktail organized by our dear Prez Carolyn. Terry told us about her successful career.

I had my first National signing. Imagine Stephanie Laurens, the Regency bestselling author was sitting a few tables from me. Clarissa Southwick from our own Voices blog was a finalist in the Golden Heart.

Angi Plat from my Playground loop won the Golden Heart and Beth Andrews won the Rita.

And the dream continued. Beth allowed me to daydream in front of her Rita.
Maybe... Who knows...

Dream and work hard.
Dream and persevere.
Dreams do come true.
They did for my friends.

How does your story grow?

By Janet Miller/Cricket Starr (and guest Mardi Ballou!)

A while ago I was writing a short story for Ellora’s Cave in my Hollywood After Dark series, about a vampire who took a temporary companion every Christmas to keep away the depression he felt at that time. He called that depression the Ghosts of Christmas Past, which was also the name of the story. So my vampire snatches from the air a woman who has fallen off a building, escaping her own ghosts, and the two of them have a very sensual Christmas indeed. “Ghosts” is one of my favorite short stories for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I honestly loved the hero and heroine and how they came together.

Partway through the story I introduced two additional characters, one a psychic like my heroine, and the other a werewolf named Al Lupas. A self-described “bad dog”, Al quickly became my favorite character in the story and as every author will tell you, this can be a very bad thing. When you have a secondary character spring to life that way  it is so tempting to let him run away with the story and overshadow everyone else. For a 15K story this means disaster. So I did what every other author in this situation must do, I cut Al’s lines to a minimum and promised him his own book.

But now what should I do with a slightly naughty bad dog when I finally got around to writing his story? I had to give him a heroine, but not just any heroine would do. She has to be his match, and what is the perfect heroine for a bad dog? For me it was the perfect lady werewolf.

(If you are mentally seeing an image of a scruffy looking dog with a beautiful cocker spaniel sharing a plate of spaghetti, you aren’t alone. I love animated love stories.)

And so Bad Dog and the Babe was born, out of a need to shut up my over-sexed werewolf. Al was given permission to be as rough as he wanted in the beginning and Barbara Grisloup was the perfect lady. Perfect except that she was in Al’s low-class shifter’s bar, The Dog House, looking for her missing sister and even worse she was in heat. As Al put it, she had no business being in his place of business. Al had to rescue her from a group of sexed up werewolves and the next thing they know they’re in his bed. The first several chapters of this book were a breeze to write, even the love scenes.

And then I had to deal with the mystery. I had a missing sister, and her boyfriend, and it looked like they’d been abducted. By who? Why? Is there a connection to the people at the garbage company the sister and her boyfriend were taking pictures of? Once I got Al and Babe comfortable with each other, I was able to have them following up on clues and investigating the disappearance. I gave Al and Babe a lot of help, mostly characters from the other Hollywood After Dark books so I got to visit some old friends along the way.

I was also able to play with the fact that Al and Babe had different backgrounds and attitudes about some things, which might have ended their relationship faster than a silver bullet. This is one book I really enjoyed writing from beginning to end, and I hope everyone else does as well. It comes out August 25th from Ellora’s Cave.

As it happens my book will be released the same day as a friend of mine, Mardi Ballou, so I asked her to describe how her story grew as well. She gave me this to post.
Long, Slow Ride” was my first cougar story. Though Lori was thrilled and flattered when Jeff paid attention—okay, way more than just paying attention—it took her a while to get over some insecurities and let herself enjoy the man and the ride. At the end of the story, Lori finally “got it” —and Jeff got his woman. Fun as it was to torture them both and make them work for their happy ending, I knew there was lots more about the cougar theme I wanted to explore.

This leads to my new story, “Soap Bloke.” The actual inspiration for this story came from my fascination with the fabulous TV series “True Blood.” I love the show so much, I read every bit of news I could find about its stars and was thrilled to read that Sookie and Bill, a couple on-screen, are engaged to each other in real life. Knowing that they break up in the TV series, I couldn’t help wondering how this might affect their true romance….

With these two threads as inspiration, I began to write “Soap Bloke.” In my story, Gwen and Dirk star in a vampire romance TV show. They’re lovers both on and off the screen. They first got together on another show when the writers wrote a script of them falling in love.

Gwen’s forty, Dirk’s thirty (actually, Sookie is younger than Bill). Gwen has made some enemies among the show’s producers. When they bring in Valerie, a new, younger on-screen love interest for Dirk, Gwen fears history will be repeated. Valerie is ambitious, hot and ready to do anything to move ahead—which includes flirting big time with Dirk. Gwen alternates between vowing to fight for him and bracing herself for the end.

Dirk, who really loves Gwen, is getting a little tired of her insecurities. Very tired. He’s about ready to give up on them. Luckily he finds a piece of rope at a strategic time…

This story was a lot of fun to write—so many chances once again to torture my heroine and hero. Of course Valerie’s been clamoring for her own story, which she will get soon, I keep promising her. But right now Gwen and Dirk are in the spotlight in “Soap Bloke,” a Quickie coming from Ellora’s Cave Aug. 25. I’d be honored if you get a chance to read their story, and I’d love to hear what you think about cougars and this story at

So now that we've told our stories, you can tell us... How does your story grow?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Inspiration Club

Jack London said,
"Don't loaf and invite inspiration. Light out after it with a club."

Isn’t this being a writer thing an interesting gig? We get to make up stories and entertain people. We also get to blame our Muses for those periods of drought, and inactivity. What if it isn't your Muse who is to blame though? What if it really is you?

One thing we've learned is that you can't just invite inspiration. As Jack London said, you really do have to go after it—guns blazing, clubs swinging, full-tilt boogie! Sometimes the club we use is a writers' weekend. We model this after a weekend our friend and fellow author, J.L. Wilson put together. That weekend at Turtle Lake Casino is a twice-yearly event and involves a lot of work, some fun, and copious amounts of inspiration – sometimes accompanied by several glasses of wine.

Our weekends are now in Texas since we both live here. The lovely city of Waco is the halfway point between us. We’ll find a hotel that has affordable prices and split the cost. We try to find a room with a mini-fridge and microwave in addition to an internet connection. We find that bringing our own food helps defray the cost and allows us to spend more time writing and less time worrying about having to get dressed up and go out to get something to eat.

Once in the rooms we get serious. We unpack the wine, the chocolate and the computers—usually in that order. Generally we have decided what we are going to work on beforehand, though sometimes we’ll find inspiration on the way to the hotel and start on something completely different than we’d planned. One of the pluses of being a writing team is that we can work on more than one manuscript at a time.

The last weekend we had resulted in:
  • Over 7K being written on two different manuscripts
  • Plotting an entirely new series
  • Defining characters for this new series
  • Refining some ideas on the new series like who the villain is and who kisses whom—or not
  • Inspiration that carried over to the next week

Just like a good book, you have to pace a writers' weekend. Otherwise your Muse may go into Cranky Toddler Mode. That's where she sits and whines if she is not allowed to do anything else. So we do take breaks. We hop on the treadmill. We go soak our heads aka take a dip in the pool. Checking email is a HUGE distraction so we try to limit that—that means Twitter, too, Arwen!

Then when the writing begins, we are ready. Email, the TV and all other distractions get turned off. Cai puts on her headphones for her music because Arwen is one of those who needs silence to write. This is our version of “lighting out” after that inspiration with a club…but the “club” in question is sometimes just the two of us bouncing ideas off one another.

So…how do YOU light out after inspiration? Do you actively seek ways to inspire your Muse to new and greater heights? Do you find your inspiration in music? Poetry? Art? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

By the way, you can read the first chapter of our most recent release here.

Who Is Marilu Mann?

Marilu Mann is a multi-published author with Ellora's Cave. Her latest release, Sex And Trouble, features a brand-new witch and her sexy demon butler. Her next release is part of a multi-author series titled 1-800-Dom-help. Marilu's story, Needing Harte, is a M/M BDSM that proves love sometimes overcomes control.

Cai Smith and Stephanie Lynch comprise the writing team of Marilu Mann. One email series kicked off their first manuscriptwhich they finished as a rough draft (VERY rough draft) in three and a half months. Stephanie attended the RWA National Conference in Denver in 2002, and had the opportunity to pitch that first novel to an editor who requested a full. Not bad for a first pitch,eh? Though it was rejected, they were started on a quest for publication.

Taking the pre-published contest plunge in 2005, they finaled in six contests and won two others with Changing Hearts. That manuscript was requested by two editors and two agents and was eventually contracted by Ellora's Cave along with its prequel, Changing Times. Those are the first two books in Marilu Mann's Lusting Wild series.Visit them at Marilu Mann - Escape Into The Fantasy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Technophobe moves on

I think I’ve laid the demon to rest.

I took an internet marketing course, part of which included my very own blog. Having messed one up before, I figured it was time I came to grips with technology.

It was wonderful. Everything fell into place first time. Oh yeah?
But it looked so easy. Huh!!

I set up three blogs, one for romance writing, one for affiliate marketing, and one for copywriting. So far, so good. Until…

…I proudly sent it to one of my loops for approval and got several messages back saying it didn’t work. Lo and behold, my demon had struck again. Back to the drawing board.

After several messages back and forth to the blog forum, I finally figured out that I had not given them the right name. So I recreated them. After another freak-out about not being able to centre the picture, it turned out that some of the templates didn’t support that particular instruction. The two I'd chosen being two of them.

Apart to being a pain the the proverbial, I was please to note it wasn’t my fault.


It all works and now all I have to do is line up the widgets with my book covers. Wish me luck.

In the meantime I can now display it proudly on my sig line as all my own work.

If you would like to take a look, it’s
With apologies to Alexandre Dumas.


Starting with the Setting

Last week my crit partners were discussing which comes first, the plot or the characters? Everyone seemed to have a process, which they were capable of explaining in great detail. Except for me. The character-or-plotter-first question left me completely befuddled.

For the record, I am a total pantser. I see scenes play out in my head and I write what I see. Any other method leaves me confused. I can only fill out character interviews and plot points after I’ve finished writing the book. I’ve always been a little embarrassed when other writers talk about process because I didn’t have one.

Until last weekend, when we vacationed in the mountains of Idaho. I was watching kayakers fly over the whitewater on the Payette River when the wheels began turning in my head.

Who was the first guy to try to navigate that stretch of the river? What horrible thing was chasing after him to make him decide he’d rather chance the rapids than stick around and get caught? What if he wasn’t a man but a woman? And what kind of woman would voluntarily jump into that freezing river?

As the pictures began to form in my head, I realized I do have a process, and it begins with the setting. Once I know where and when my characters lived, everything else falls into place.

From characterization to plot and dialogue, every element of the story is influenced by its place in space and time. While it’s true that some goals, like the pursuit of love or money, are universal, the obstacles and conflicts will vary based on setting. The same character, dropped into a different locale, will behave differently.

Setting doesn’t just decorate the story. It is the story.

If you are stuck writing a sagging middle, try changing the setting. It will instantly liven things up.

If you are staring at a blank page and have no idea where to start, try this: Pick a setting. Any setting. Choose the character who is the least adapted to live in that setting. Now you have instant conflict, instant story. That’s why the fish out of water story never gets old.

I would love to hear your process stories. What comes first? The characters, plot, or setting? Do you like to mix it up, or do you always set your stories in the same time and place?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Scene Craft Checklist For Meticulous Writers

Hi all! I'm offering this to members just as a little tip sheet. I refer to it when I double check myself to make sure my scenes are strong. Hope you find it helpful too!

This article is also available at e-zine articles (an article database) if you'd like to use it!

Scene Craft Checklist: Below is a checklist to help writers craft stronger scenes in their fiction or nonfiction (novels, memoirs, short stories, essays, or other creative prose).

  • Does the scene begin on a strong note?
  • Does your scene have a strong setting that supports the action? Do the characters interact meaningfully with the setting?
  • Do you use the five senses to drive home the physical details of the scene and make it come alive?
  • Does the description convey the mood via focus and language choice? Is the mood consistent with the action?
  • Is there strong characterization through present action, with only the most necessary backstory?
  • Are the characters doing something to move the action forward in the narrative present?
  • Is the point of view carefully controlled and consistent-no "head-hopping"?
  • If there are POV changes, is the reader prepared for such shifts with scene breaks or other devices?
  • Is there emphasis on action over summary?
  • Is the dialogue believable? Does each character speak in a unique voice? Is there a good balance of dialogue, internal monologue, description, and summary?
  • Does the scene have one main plot point? Is that plot point moved forward successfully and clearly?
  • Are minor plot points kept to a minimum?
  • Is the scene focused (have you taken pains to make sure that description, dialogue, setting, characterization, summary, and all other elements don't veer off course away from the main plot)?
  • Does the resolution reinforce the mood? Does the resolution of the scene imply further action; Does this scene lead into another scene in order to keep the action moving forward?
  • Does the scene raise questions, deepen conflict, or otherwise lead by pointing to a forthcoming scene? Is your scene "undeletable" so that if you took it out, the whole plot would crumble?
  • Does the scene end on a strong note?
  • Do a visual check. If the scene is strong, you'll have a balance of "white space" and "gray space" with a variety of dialogue, description, and plenty of paragraph breaks-all of which should be visible to a reader who is just skimming the pages
Happy writing!

Lisa Dale

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Joanne--Dave Barry snake story continued

Hi everyone,
I realize this is a writing blog, but last month I shared a great Dave Barry story about how he was writing in his home office and a snake appeared on his desk. So many responded with questions about what happened in this hilarious episode, I thought I would finish the story this month. As always, Dave Barry does not disappoint. His writing is as witty as ever. Here'tis:

Holding the snake with a pair of tongs, I dimly remember bursting out the patio door, with my outstretched arm gripping the tongs as far back on the handle as possible while the snake thrashed wildly. The instant I was outside I dropped the tongs, and the snake, now free to go anywhere in North America, proved that it was in fact the Evil Demon Serpent from Hell by slithering directly into the swimming pool. Head high, it began to briskly swim laps in a counterclockwise direction. "Ha, ha, Barbecue Boy!" it was indicating. "Perhaps you do not have a large enough pair of tongs to handle the likes of me!"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Craft: Polysyndeton and Asyndeton

A craft discussion from Dawn Marie Hamilton

So what are they? Diseases?

No. Rhetorical devices.

I probably should have learned about these writing techniques at some point during my education. But if I did, I don't remember. (Granted, it was a long time ago.)

Recently, I had fun taking Margie Lawson's Deep Editing workshop presented by WriterU, where polysyndeton and asyndeton were discussed along with other wonderful writing techniques. If you have a chance, do yourself a favor and take the Deep Editing workshop. And be prepared to work hard.

Rhetorical devises use language to create literary effect. Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions (And, Or) in close succession. Asyndeton is the opposite, where conjunctions are deliberately omitted. I like the rhythm the use of these techniques create.

Though I wouldn't use them in technical writing, they make quite an impact in fiction. Not something to use in abundance but to sprinkle throughout like a flavorful spice. Since taking the workshop, I've noticed the devices used in many of the books I read. And I've tried to use them in my stories.

An example of polysyndeton from my manuscript, Sea Panther:

The dank smells of stale beer and perspiration and moldy wood, mixed with a hint of urine, assaulted Kimberly as she entered the decrepit bar.

And an example of asyndeton from my manuscript, Just Beyond the Garden Gate:

He took in everything, missing naught, including the plaide wrapped around her shoulders clasped by a familiar brooch, the fabric clutched in a death grip by a delicate hand with elegant fingers, beautiful, unusual, enticing, each nail the color of oyster shells. He clearly imagined the sensual sensation of those fingernails grazing across his bare chest and more sensitive skin.

Both devices used in this excerpt from Just Beyond the Garden Gate, asyndeton in the first sentence and polysyndeton in the second:

The vaporous mist wrapped around him, pressed against him, suffocated him. He inhaled deeply then recoiled, recognizing the exotic oriental scent, the fragrance of peony and freesia and sandalwood. That infuriating sithiche must have come out of hiding. That must be who spun the magic.

What rhetorical devices do you use in your writing? Share a sample with us.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Synopsis Hell

I love every aspect of writing fiction except one. I’ll give you one guess as to what that is. Okay, so the title of the blog gave away my weakness. When a synopsis is complete and my critique partners have given it the thumbs up, I forget what an effort it is to distil into a few pages the salient points of a story that comprises thousands of words. I suppose my mind blocks out the pain in the same way it did after having each baby. Otherwise, I’d never submit myself to the experience again.

But I’m pleased to say I’ve wrestled the latest synopsis into submission and it’s almost ready to go out the door.

My husband’s theory is that writing a synopsis is a left-brain activity, so it’s obviously too organised and methodical for me. Anyone who’s seen my desk knows I’m neither organised nor methodical!

Helen Scott Taylor writes adventure-fantasy romance. Find out more at

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Resurrecting the Tomb

It’s been a long time since I’ve sold a book. More than a year, which for me really is a long time, as for a while there I was selling a new book at least every couple/few months. Then the littlest child was born, the day job became more tedious, and writing life ceased to exist. As long as it’s been since I sold a new book, it’s been longer since I’ve truly written. Well, it had been. I am thrilled to bits to say as of early July, I am finally back at it and hope to send off a (dare I say?) rocking new paranormal suspense proposal to my agent on Monday. Whether that proposal will make it past her desk is anyone’s guess, though I have all the proper digits in alignment that it will render a sale sooner or later. In the interim I am constantly aware that my publishing calendar remains sadly empty. I love fan mail, but these mails that come in eager to know about my next release have a way of bringing me down. I feel awful having to say, “I’d like to know that as well but the muse isn’t finding much play time these days.”

So lately I am thinking about those books that were written several years back, that never did sell, that are collecting dust and yet that I still love to this day. Two in particular come to mind. These stories made it to editors who did pass them on to others in the hopes of a sale. It never came to light, but that they made it that far suggests they have potential. Enough potential to pull them out of that dust pile and resurrect that old material? Try to send it off again? Or is the process of freshening up old material more tedious than that of writing new material? Has my voice changed too much to even try? One thing I won’t to do is put out old material simply to say I have something “new” on the shelves, but I do love these old manuscripts and I do feel they are worth sharing. As strong as newer stuff, that I don’t know.

It’s a fact that writing style and voice changes over time, hopefully becoming stronger. If you picked up a book by your favorite author and the writing wasn’t as strong as some material but the story still a solid one, would you feel disappointed? Would you rather wait a couple years for something new to release? And if you’re an author, have you done this or considered doing so? What was the response? Or what kept you from giving it a try? Dare I attempt to resurrect those tomes, or will it be a waste of time better spent working on new material?

~ jodi

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Writer's Journey

Early on, I wanted to be writer. Even before I could formulate the idea. My mother taught me to read and write by the age of four. As an oops child, books fast became my best friend. In first grade, I inadvertently taught other students to both read and write by passing them notes in class. Ruined the suspense of our reading circle because I informed everyone how Dick and Jane ended. Personally, I think Dick and Jane could have used a little more conflict in their tales.

As I grew, I spent more time writing and less time destroying other children’s reading enjoyment. In the early years, I did receive mixed reviews for my efforts. Some teachers objected to my talking animals and flying people. Sounded a bit like witchcraft. Even though forbidden, I did get a peek at my permanent record being an expert at reading upside down. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Pate, thought I had genuine writing talent. I always loved that woman.

As a teen, I won a few contests, even got paid for magazine publications. Between an active social life and a part time job, I wrote every free minute I could grab. These free minutes were usually available only in school. Not all teachers were supportive of my writing and would sometimes pick up, even destroy my work. To circumvent teachers’ inherent nosiness, all my characters became animals with exotic names. In truth, they were actual people in the school. My on-going comedic novel about the creation of the world, heavily read by dozens of students, but frowned upon by several teachers, would be out in weekly installments. I had friends who scribed different copies for me since the ditto machine was in the teachers’ workroom. That first novel attempt may have been my most read story.

In college, I discovered the joy of research. So much so, I wrote my professor’s dissertation on Charlotte Gillman Perkins. Even though assigned to do only the research and organize it in chronological order, it seemed natural to include a running narrative with it. To say she was appreciative was putting it mildly. She wrote endless references for whatever program or job I wanted. That was my first taste of the power of the written word.

College was as close to writing heaven as I thought possible. Papers were due every week. Fear of reprisal kept me from expressing my joy about these assignments around other students. It seemed like I was on my way to literary greatness at least in my dreams. Sometimes I imagined myself as another Hemmingway without the beard or the hard drinking. Even had two professors warring over me; one thought I should be a poet, the other a fiction writer. Why I couldn’t be both was beyond me.

At that time, I published a great deal mainly in anthologies, and an occasional magazine or book. Then it happened, the separation. Writing was forgotten when I married. Although I never forgot it, it seemed like my husband vehemently opposed it because it was something I did alone. If I’d known writing was not part of the deal, I wouldn’t have married at all.

Children followed, along with several across country moves. My life became full of the business of living. Every now and then, someone would find out I could write. Then I would pen the flyers for the school auction or the column for the weekly church newsletter. Still, I longed for those days of world building and typing out unforgettable characters.

Later on, as the kids left home, I fell into a local RWA group. The women were so kind and encouraging, even those who were multi-published authors. So, I started to write again. At first, I wondered if I still had the spark. The words came fast and furious along with the ideas. The characters spoke to me when I was driving, even when I was asleep. My first real publication was in A Cup of Comfort series book. I was so excited because they were even available at Wal-mart. I waited and waited for them, but they chose not to carry that particular edition at my Wal-mart store. I had to order all my copies from Amazon.

Just as I was getting my writing feet under me, Two things happened. My best friend died, and I divorced. As a result, I moved away from my supportive writing group for a job. For two years, I wrote articles, stories, even poems about dealing with my grief, and published a few. Still, I stumbled around wondering how I could be so foolish to even think I could write. The agent I thought I had went out of business without informing me. Needless to say, it was a dark time, but I continued to write.

Often I see writing as the way I make sense of the world. Other times it is my salvation. I have been fortunate in so many ways. RWA provided me with the chance to sit beside many excellent writers; I have found supportive friends and critique partners, and have published a few e-books, but no major novel yet. Ironically, I had difficulty calling myself a writer even though I had business cards printed up with that particular designation. I am trying. It is all part of the dream. Without dreams, we die.

I’d love to hear about the high and lows of your writer’s journey.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Summer Doldrums

For once, I can say that I am not suffering from the summer doldrums. Normally, by this time of year, I’m sweating and unhappy, suffering from heat and the prospect of another long, hot, dry month ahead.

But this year, I’m actually pretty happy.

Oh, I still have heat rash and chigger bites all over my legs. And it’s hot as blazes outside. But I’ve got a new Regency romance, The Bricklayer’s Helper, coming out on August 6, 2010, and my first paranormal romance, Vampire Protector, coming out in November, and for once, I’m pretty jazzed. And then there is The Necklace, a “prequel” to The Bricklayer’s Helper and I Bid One American, which should also come out soon, although I don’t have a release date yet.

Part of my joy can be attributed to the lovely letter I got from an editor at Five Star/Gale. They publish hard cover books for distribution to libraries and have always been one of my publishing dreams. So, this lovely editor indicated that she loved my book, Whacked!, a contemporary mystery. I’ve always wanted to write mysteries and Five Star was one of my “dream publishers” along with St. Martin’s Press.

While I’m perfectly aware that there is “many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip” I’m cautiously optimistic. If I didn’t just jinx it.

Even if I do discover that Five Star ultimately doesn’t publish Whacked!, I’m happy to be where I am, today. While I don’t have huge numbers of published books, I have 2 Regency romances as well as a couple of short stories and a novella published and that is more than I ever dreamed possible.

Not to mention that on this long, strange journey, I’ve also gotten into gardening, particularly rose gardening with Old Garden Roses that were hybridized prior to 1900. Who knew that one day I’d have over 100 Old Garden Roses growing outside my backdoor, and that the first novel I would ever gt published would be a Regency with a heroine who grows roses smuggled from France (Smuggled Rose).

Now, if I could just work my other hobby, bird watching, into a novel, I’d be way ahead of the game. Despite popular conceptions of birdwatchers as elderly and vague-minded folks, I met my husband bird watching. Getting up at dawn to walk through the woods and listen to the birds sing themselves awake is a lot more romantic than you might imagine.

My husband and I ran a bird banding station for a number of years as well, and were fortunate enough to band birds such as this gorgeous Hooded Warbler. The experience was awesome, and I'll always be grateful to him for allowing me to assist.

So, if you have a hobby or interest that isn’t exactly “mainstream” my advice is to pursue it at every opportunity. It can lead you onto new roads that will take you to destinations you never dreamed possible.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Light Bulb Moment

I hope you will forgive me if I am a little bit tired, a little bit brain-dead, and a little bit late with this post. I just spent and exciting, exhausting, illuminating four days at the Romance Writers of America National conference in Orlando, Florida. Then yesterday morning my husband and I took off for a seven hour drive to visit family in Georgia.

I don’t have the time, space or energy to cover my four days conference experience this morning, but I’d just like to share a couple thoughts with you. The best thing about the conference for me was getting to meet and spend time with writing friends, some I’d never met face to face before. The next best thing was to simply be able to immerse myself in the writing world, away from all the other concerns in our lives.

There were times when I’d see or hear some authors I admire and I’d think, I’ll never be able to… write like that…sell like that…be famous like that… But then other times, I’d be overwhelmed with the feeling that I can do my own version of a writing career.

And though I’ve heard it before – a light bulb went off for me. My writing career won’t be like anyone else’s, just like my writing isn’t like anyone else’s. And neither is my life. But I can make my writing the best that I can make it, and that will lead me to my writing career. The one I’m meant to have.

As soon as I get back from vacation.

So have you had any light bulb moments?


Sunday, August 1, 2010

The End of Summer

In a town with year-round school, this week saw the end of summer vacation. When I had children at home, this was such a hectic time; clothes shopping, backpacks, lunch boxes, school supplies. With the deterioration of our school budgets, we also added tissues, paper towels, and paper for the classroom.

For everything, there is a time and a season, and my days of room mother, field trip chaperone, classroom helper, scout leader, etc. are done.

Just like cycles in your life, your writing can go through cycles. Very active thousand word days and then a week of nothing. Just you staring at the white screen and blinking cursor. A week when your writing sings and days you just know it sucks and no one can tell you any differently.
Like a raft on a stream, learn to go with the flow. Busy days may mean little writing, but lots of errands today could free up the rest of the week for writing. A slow day of little words on paper could be your muse brainstorming the next big scene. A frantic day with 20 kindergartners at the zoo will make you appreciate the four free, precious hours you have tomorrow.
Don't waste your writing time wishing you had more, use every minute you do have. Waiting for the pasta water to boil. In the carpool lane at school. Over your morning coffee. Stretch every moment.

Don’t waste your time with your significant other, children, or grandchildren, enjoy every moment, savor them, store them up for when you are knee-deep in revisions, not getting a scene right, or sure your GMC is non-existent. Those are the moments you drag out those happy thoughts and rejoice on ALL your blessings.