Monday, January 31, 2011


FRENCH PERIL is a romantic suspense set in the historical Vallee de la Loire, in France. I will let my characters introduce the story.

Characters’ Introduction:

Cheryl Stewart: I’m worried about my mentor, Professor Howard. He went to lunch with a prospective graduate student, a man from Malaysia, but became sick during the lunch and was rushed to the hospital for food poisoning or heart attack.

Professor Howard asked me to go to France on his behalf and help a French count with the restoration of a chapel and the search for a valuable statue that had been missing since World War II.

What could be more exciting than spending a couple months working in the plush Loire Valley, in France? I will have to live in the count’s chateau. The same count I saw at Harvard three years ago. The handsome playboy was so busy entertaining gorgeous women he didn’t give me the time of the day back then. I bet he won’t remember me.

François de Valroux: I am searching for an invaluable statue of the Virgin Mary that used to adorn the chapel of my chateau. The statue disappeared during the war bombardment. Was it destroyed? Did my grandfather hide it?

I have been impatiently waiting for Professor Howard who did a lot of research on the subject. I can’t believe he skipped our appointment and sent his graduate student. On the other hand, Cheryl is such a lovely young woman I can’t say I am too disappointed. Between you and me, I can’t resist a pretty woman. What can I say, it’s in my genes. I come from a long line of glorious adulterers and fabulous lovers.

When the Boston Hospital calls to announce Cheryl’s mentor died, I do my best to console her with a hug and a kiss, and pledge to protect her. It’s my pleasure. Huh…I mean my duty.

For her own safety, I ask her to keep the search for my statue secret from the five other students training on the chapel reconstruction.

Edith Blaise: I consider myself François’s current girlfriend. I want him badly but I also have a weakness for his title, his fortune, his chateau and its treasures. I won’t let anyone interfere with my goal of becoming the next Countess of Valroux. Certainly not, the American student, a nerd who lives in a pair of blue jeans and finds her happiness in old stones and computers.

Adriaan Van Deem: I come from Amsterdam. I’m studying archeology and I can’t resist the appeal of old stones. Especially if they have a high monetary value. It wouldn’t hurt to befriend the American student who seems to know a lot about the missing statue.

Juan-Pablo Rodriguez: My correct title is Don Juan-Pablo. I hail from the Universidad de Madrid and I am preparing a doctorate in the history of Romanesque churches. I’m a gallant man who always compliments a beautiful woman. Of course, I also like artistic treasures.

Roberto Cantari: I live in Milan, but I was born in Sicily. Women love my dark looks and I love women. People often ask me if I have mafia blood in my veins. Who knows? My nonna raised me and prays all the time that I remain an honest man. I respect my nonno, the most powerful and richest man in Palerma. I would do anything to please my grandparents. Anything…

Chuck Minho: I was born in London. I am a quiet man who doesn’t talk much, but I don’t miss anything going on around me. I don’t like the looks the American girl gives me. Dirty looks. As if she suspects me of killing someone, just because I look Chinese.

Karl Boderman: I’m studying art, painting and sculpting at the University of Berlin. I can’t believe the show these young studs put when a pretty face shows up. I don’t trust any of them. If you want my opinion, I don’t think they are who they say they are. But then…I’m not too.

Bernard: I am the old butler. I was raised in the chateau. My father served François’s grandfather. I love François as if he was my own son and I want to see him married with a good French woman. Mademoiselle Edith seems to love him. She’s always visiting and staying in the chateau, in the room next to his. But I think François is attracted to the American student. He asked me to put her in the room next to him, on the other side. I don’t like that. François sandwiched between the women’s rooms. I don’t like it at all. Especially that the rooms in this old chateau have secret communication doors.
My fondest dream is to find the statue and put it back on the altar of the reconstructed chapel. But someone hit me in the dark and asked me questions about the statue.

Cheryl: I pledge to go after Professor Howard’s killer and find the statue to honor my mentor’s memory. Things would be easier if I wasn’t so attracted to François.

François: Cheryl is careless and exposing herself to danger all the time. I’m constantly worried about her. She has turned my life upside down with her determination and bubbly laughter. I’m ready to give up the search for the statue to ensure Cheryl’s safety, but she won’t let me.

Together we need to find out:
Who poisoned Professor Howard?
Who hit Bernard?
Who broke into Cheryl’s room?
Where is the statue?
Why is François jealous when the students flirt with Cheryl?

FRENCH PERIL available at Ellora's Cave Blush and

Night Owl Romance: Recommended Read Mona Risk will pull you in with her amazing characters and in-depth twisting suspense... Travel has never been this suspenseful nor this cheap!
Review Your Book: 4 stars In French Peril, Mona Risk creates a swirling air of mystery around the excavation of a chapel ruin... French Peril is a great contemporary romantic read.
The Romance Studio: 4 hearts This is a wonderfully exciting romantic suspense novel. The characters are appealing and the setting is very romantic, a chateau in the Loire Valley.
TWO LIPS REVIEW: 4.5 lips Pick up French Peril, a sweet mystery romance you’re guaranteed to enjoy.
Coffee Time Romance: 4 cups French Peril is a great romance with an excellent mystery. Ms. Risk writes outstanding dialogue and this, combined with the lushness of the Loire Valley, are the final elements that make French Peril an excellent story.
Publishers Weekly Saturday Blurb Barbara Vey's Special Beyond her Book Blog ~ Who wouldn't want to lose themselves in Mona Risk's French Peril? Traveling to the beautiful French countryside, staying in a marvelous, ornate chateau, eating fine food and drinking the chateau's wine, and let's not forget the charming and handsome host. Sign me up, Ms Risk, I'll be looking for your next foreign escape

If you like to travel and love to read, come and enjoy my international romances. I will take you around the world through stories that simmer with emotion and sizzle with heat. Meet the spirited heroines and the alpha heroes who share irresistible chemistry.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sandra Cox

Today I am pleased to welcome mutlti-published author, Sandra Cox, who will tell us about her Most Unusual Lovers in her recent released romance novel, MOON WATCHERS

Do you and your significant other seem polar opposites? He likes sports, you loathe them? You love the ballet, he’d rather take a beating that watch dancers on their toes. Well believe it or not there’re lovers who have even less in common. Let’s take a look at my new book, MOON WATCHERS.

Blurb: Jolene Sayer has a serious problem. She’s afraid the guy she’s fallen for is a vampire. Under any circumstances, this isn’t a good thing. But when you’re a werewolf hunter and your cousin and uncle are vampire hunters, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

At that moment two wolves’ heads appeared in the window with glowing crimson eyes.
Braden arched a winged eyebrow.
I sighed. Even if I were more mentally nimble, it would be hard to convince anyone, especially Braden, those were ordinary wolves out there. “What gave them away? The glowing red eyes?” I asked sarcastically.
If Braden was indeed a vampire, he probably had no problem with the concept of Weres. And what a lovely thought, locked inside with a vamp while Weres howled and thumped outside at the door. It made a girl feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The thumping at the window grew more frenzied as another wolf, then another, threw themselves at the window.
“Just what did you do to piss these guys off?” Braden looked at me and marveled.
“I have no idea. But I certainly intend to find out.” I looked at my window and wrinkled my nose as rivulets of drool from the frenzied undead ran down the acrylic plastic.
My teeth clicked as I ground them together. I was used to fighting werewolves but I didn’t like the odds. There had to be a half a dozen at the window now and from the howls at the door that many more in the front.
I raised my sword in my right hand and my knife in my left as I plotted my strategy, or tried to. Unfortunately, my mind was blank.
“Hmm?” I couldn’t take my gaze off those red eyes and glistening fangs that jumped at the window. I sent a prayer to the powers that be for the thermoplastic synthetic resin windowpane and solid oak door to withstand the constant beating they were taking. What if those creatures kept it up all night? They have super human strength when the moon is full.
“Come here and lean against the door.”
“Why?” I stared at him, uneasy, and shifted my weight to the balls of my feet then rolled back on my heels. Even though just to look at him sent electric sparks surging through my system, I didn’t trust him and certainly didn’t want to be within fangs distance of him.
Beneath the casual pose I could feel the impatience that ran along his skin. He looked at me. That was all it took. I walked reluctantly and against my will toward him, pulled along by that powerful magnetic gaze. God, if he’s a vampire please let him be of the pranic variety. Just in case my prayer went unanswered I kept my sword and knife raised.
He looked at my weapons. A grin flashed across his face. “Lean against the door.”
I held my weapons and pushed my shoulder against it. As soon as I did, he walked to the window. Without his weight, the door vibrated harder than ever. I swear I felt a splinter in my arm.
His feet splayed, his fist on his hips, he stood with his back to me and faced the window. Power radiated from him. I could feel it like a cloak…or a shroud.
The wolves outside the window whimpered and back away.
Icy fingers of fear crawled up my spine. The hair on my neck rose. Moonlight pooled around his tall muscled body and threw a long black shadow across the floor.
Inch by inch the wolves backed up, whining, uneasy. The thumping at the door ceased.
What the--? This is way past weird. I don’t know of any pranics with this kind of power. I locked my wobbly knees and lifted my chin to fight against the trembles. I knew if I gave in to it, I would shake so badly, I’d bang against the door like those ravening werewolves were only moments before.
I waited, dreading the moment he would turn to face me. The seconds stretched.
He swung around. His mouth closed. Relief like a monsoon swept through me. At the moment, I didn’t think I could deal with the man of my dreams if he drew back his lips and exposed fangs.
“What are you? Who are you?” I asked through teeth that chattered.

Moon Watchers, the second in the Hunter Series, can be purchased in paper or e. Vampire Island, the first in the Hunter Series, can be purchased at:
Vampire Island is also available on Amazon and other e sites.

To celebrate the release of Moon Watchers, I’ll be running a contest from Jan 15 and Feb 2. The winner will be announced Feb 5. To enter just leave a comment at and mention Moon Watchers and Voices

What do you win?
An autographed copy of Moon Watchers
A Starbucks gift certificate to buy your mocha or latte with
And a fun necklace that has a protective cross to safeguard against creatures of the night, a blood drop stone to remind shape-shifters you are protected and a star since our winner will be the star of the contest.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Terrible Confession

I have a horrible secret to confess.  I hate weddings.  I know—shocking a romance writer who hates weddings.  Please don’t take away my RWA card.  
I grasp the concept of people having a splendid affair surrounded by the people they love.  Yet to me sometimes I wonder if it’s that just a chance to show off.  Bridezillas demanding in a screech tone that everything must be perfect and seeming to be ugly people.  If I were the groom and saw my future wife acting in such a way I would snatch back the ring and hock it so I could get away from the monster. 
But another reason why I don’t like them is that the wedding day is just the beginning of the story.  It’s one day in what is rarely a lifetime.  I rather celebrate the couple’s fifth year anniversary or if the husband loses his job and together they make it through.  Or when if one become ill and the other is right at the side of the bed.  Those are the moments of we writers force our characters into and they have to overcome for their love.  Isn't that what marriage is about?  Better or worse, sickness and health, rich or poor.   
Romance novels might end with a wedding but that’s when the real story begins.  That is why the bride and groom stand side by side at the altar and where they have to be for the rest of the marriage.   
For this romance writer, the true romance is in the everyday whether washing dishes or picking up you husband’s socks because he can shot a basketball from the free point line but can’t get the hamper.  Or the wife who wants to talk during the Super Bowl and hubby keeps his eyes on the game and nods while making a grunt of agreement.   
Like every character, we have flaws but when loving someone means you just have to accept it. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Goals—Biters or Boosters?

Joan circa 1985

Last month, while scanning the family album for this blog, I came across a photo of myself circa 1985 and wondered. What had I dreamt of, what were my goals?

All during my working life, my goals were set by my boss—complete this report now. My personal life was pretty much take what comes.

Now I’ve left the workforce—the best bad thing that ever happened to me—and become an aspiring author, student of the piano, and occasional artist.

I set goals for my writing after I drafted my first novel, but life bit hard with two family deaths in two consecutive summers. My muse went dormant during those years. Last summer I set a goal to write 1,000 words a day—and gave myself a dose of carpal tunnel syndrome. Boy, that bites!

The bad luck rule-of-three should now be done with me.

I’ve bravely set new goals for 2011—goals that won’t bite. I’ve deliberately included free time. When my butt is not in the chair and my fingers are not on any keys other than my piano. I’ve scheduled two down-days per week for fun stuff with my dear husband and my good friends, and a full month after I’ve drafted my third novel. Why? If I know an off-day is near, I’ll be more focused during my on-days. Hopefully, this will save my sanity and my wrists.

I’ve also allotted time for a special project. I’ll re-purpose the sewing-room into an office, starting with a thorough clear-out and ending with re-decorating. I view the process as a re-commitment to my writing. Stay tuned for before and after photos.

Instead of goals that wear me down and bite my butt, I’ve created goals to boost my creativity and still let me enjoy my beautiful life.

Do your goals bite or boost?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rewrites and Submissions

I’ve been doing a series of posts lately about submissions. Probably because I recently submitted a piece near and dear to my heart, and I don’t think I have enough fingernails to wait this one out.

But, I’ve submitted to New York houses, small press, and epublishers. The difference in their rejection letters amazes me. From standard form letters to informative constructive criticism.

I’ve decided that I prefer the latter. Especially if they provide criticism and then ask you to resubmit :-) Why? I guess the reasons are obvious. But, I think the most important reason for me is because I received some feedback. I feel like my story didn’t go unnoticed, and wasn’t readily thrown into the circular recycle bin. And, of course, if they ask for you to resubmit you get the wonderful “do over”.

But, what happens if you have an editor provide you with wonderful constructive criticism, and asks you to resubmit, and after doing so they reject your manuscript? How does that make you feel? Well, I’ll tell you it made me wonder why I spent so much time on the freaking rewrites. The story was rejected because they had received other stories that were similar, so I had to wonder why I was asked to do the rewrites and resubmit.

After I made it through my hazy maze of disappointment, I realized that I truly was thankful for the rewrite opportunity. It was as if I had one of the best critique partners ever. I really believe I delved deeper into the characters than I had originally. And even though that house didn’t accept it, I believe it will be accepted by another.

So, how do you feel about being asked to do rewrites for a submission, and being rejected? Or, being asked to do rewrites in general?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Far Out Goals

Normally, I say if you're going to make a goal, make it attainable. But sometimes, we need to push ourselves. And so I've got a way out far out goal to accomplish by this weekend. I have to work the weekend after next, so this is it.

I want to reach the halfway point over the weekend on The Highland Wolf in Paradise.

I finished a third of the book by last weekend.

Is making it to the halfway point on the book by this weekend doable? Sure, if I write a 1,000 words a day and write 5,000 this weekend. I can do it. Can I write a 1,000 words a day when I have to work also? Sometimes.

I have 10,000 words to write this week. I wrote 10,000 the last two weeks, which is why I'm way ahead of schedule, and this book isn't due until Dec, I believe. Or maybe earlier. I can't remember. But I'm ahead of schedule anyway. But before I was thinking of a weekly word count goal, I was thinking I'd have the book done by the end of March. Not so. It wouldn't be finished until April.

And that's why I began making far out goals. I want it done by March. I have it in my head it's going to be done by March.

Will it be done by then?

Only time will tell.

Do you ever set impossible goals for yourself and attain them?

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mentoring and what we learn

I have been a mentor for a year or more to a fellow Kiss of Death RWA chapter member. It isn't an onerous job -- we email occasionally, I've read her synopsis & query letters, we chat about publishing opportunities, and when she made her first sale, we talked about contracts, cover art, etc.

Lately we've been chatting about promotion. Her first book will release this spring and she's so anxious (remember that feeling?) She wanted to hire a marketing professional to "get out there and talk about her book." She asked a lot of questions of me: who to hire, where they should promote, etc.

I gently pointed out that unless she was with a major publisher (she isn't) she shouldn't expect to make a ton of money and that really, readers want to make a connection with the author, not with a publicist. That entailed a discussion about blogs, and how to blog, and where to blog, and what to do when you blog...

Anyway, the point of all this is: it showed me how much I have learned in the four years I've been published. I well remember that panicked feeling of "how do I tell people about my marvelous book!" and "I must talk about it today, on the day it releases, or...or..." (Not sure what came after 'or' but it felt dire). I've learned that promotion isn't about the one book. It's about your writing, which means it's about all the books, all the writing, all the things you're learning along the way.

Now I have to laugh, because one piece of advice I gave her was "don't sweat a blog post. If you're scheduled to blog, sit down and write what comes into your head. Don't spend a ton of time agonizing over it."

And you know -- that's exactly what I did. I sat down, knowing I had to do a blog post, and I thought, "What to write about? Oh, hey: how about practicing what I preached."

If you get a chance to mentor, give it a try. It's amazing what you learn about yourself in the process!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Author Pearl Buck

When I was in my teens, I stumbled across author Pearl Buck (1892-1973) and became hooked on her stories. She gave accountings of China, their customs and beliefs. I loved traveling to a land that she obviously loved.

Pearl Buck grew up in China, where her parents served as missionaries. She lived in China until 1934, with the exception of the years she spent at universities. Pearl Buck began to write in the twenties; her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, appeared in 1930. It was followed by too many titles to account.

My favorite story of hers was Peony. It’s a story set in 1861 China about a young servant who, at an early age, was bought to take care of the son in the Jewish House of Ezra. She grew up playing with David, and as the two became older, Peony became not only his servant, but his friend.

David saw that Peony was a beautiful and very kind person. She had been a wonderful servant to him, but more importantly, she had been a true friend. David fell in love Peony, but to confess his feelings and come to terms with them was simply out of the question. He could not marry her due to the differences in their race, social standing and religion.

Pearl Buck’s moral to the story: Good and bad must be weighed, and one can determine that with all the sadness that life produces, happiness can be found in each and every situation.

When I was in my twenties, I read the story again and was surprised to find the plot was far different from what I had remembered. When I was in my fifties and found the book on my bookshelf again, I read it for the third time. Amazingly, the plot once again didn’t resemble what I remembered from reading it either of the previous times. This got me to thinking. The plot obviously hadn’t changed, I had. Our life’s experiences reflect how we perceive stories. It could certainly explain why we get such a range of scores in contests.

Have you ever had an experience like this? I suppose as we age and experience life, we all change our attitudes and the way we see life. I’d like to think that I seek out the happier moments to remember.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I burnt the toast! Talk about hot buttons…

This actual incident ran like a dramatic movie scene. While preparing breakfast recently I did the unthinkable in my home. My husband––a retired fire captain––isn’t a man who easily overlooks the idea of setting our kitchen on fire. This might have happened if the stink of blackened toast hadn’t caught my attention in time to prevent a disaster. Black smoke engulfed our kitchen. We closed the swinging door, preventing the god awful smell and smoke from rushing into the rest of the house. As it stands, a permanent brown tint now mars one side of our refrigerator where the toaster sat on the counter.
What followed reminded me of the various hot buttons people attach to themselves over the years. We turned on the vent fan, opened every kitchen window and the back door. My husband looked around for a few seconds then left me alone. Our meal sat cooling on the table. Smoke billowed out the windows. I think my failure to see this coming––well, that fact overcame him with a mix of powerful emotions. Hot-button time. Rather than accuse me of not “watching” the toaster he decided to flee. Perhaps he cussed out the toaster in the other room, rather than berate me. It might sound unfair, but fairness has little to do with personal hot buttons.
For thirty-two years my husband witnessed people’s mistakes and the cost. He’s alert to every danger in our home. He’d rather die a thousand deaths than have his old fire buddies arrive, sirens blaring, to extinguish “our” house fire. I understand his strong feelings and his pride. I worked five years as a fire dispatcher. But sometimes things happen. God, he hates those words…which is another hot button for him.
I decided to explore the definition of hot button. Here’s one from a website citing The American Heritage Dictionary. Hot button, noun. Slang. Something that elicits a strong emotional response or reaction. My Random House Webster’s Dictionary lists hot-button (hyphenated) as an adjective with the definition: exciting strong feelings; highly charged; emotional; hot-button issues (1985-90).
I’ll skip the political side and focus on the personal. One part of writing I find satisfying is the task of identifying a character’s internal hot buttons. Once you know a character’s back story the hot buttons appear like dandelion seed balls in the grass. Blow lightly and a few seeds drift away. Puff hard and you unleash a storm. Maybe the old French name says it best, “lion’s tooth.”
I view personal hot buttons as paths to “micro-tension.” I’ll quote from the Donald Maas book The Fire in Fiction. He defines micro-tension as “the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds.” From a writer’s perspective the burnt toaster episode offered a variety of reactions, from walking away to a conflagration.
Fortunately, I wasn’t writing the scene to hold a reader’s attention. Our relationship remains intact. My husband chose the higher road. The guilty toaster now sits outside on the cement stoop. I wanted to fling this malfunctioning piece of junk into the trash. No, said my ever-curious husband, adding, I want to see why the toaster failed.
He just hit one of my hot buttons. Why can’t he just toss things out?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Faster I Go.....

The Behinder I get. Or so it seems. I'm very much a 'to do' list kind of person. Each day I'm not finishing that list, adding the leftover stuff to tomorrow's lists, and freaking out at the new list.

If we knew what hard work success would carry with it, would we try so hard to attain our hopes, dreams, and wishes? My answer would be yes. Even with all the hard work attached, success is very heady stuff.

My dream of being published is coming true next month and everything involved with it is so surreal. And so much work. LOL I'm hoping it is true what they say about only getting something great when you are ready to receive it.

If we knew when we sat down at that typewriter (me, at the beginning, in my 20's) that it would lead to story dilemmas, character meltdowns, reaching the end, learning to write a query letter, write a synopsis, search for an agent or editor, get one, revise, edit, cover art we hope we like, more revisions, writing blurbs, getting a website, learning to social network, promoting one book while writing the next one, and the one after that one too, would we still work so hard to reach The End? yes yes yes, a million times yes!!

If you could send a message back in time, what message would you send back to your beginner writer self?

Jill James

Tempting Adam, The Wild Rose Press, Feb. 16

Monday, January 17, 2011


Recently my husband and I were at a local diner, having breakfast, when I overheard a conversation, between two men, I assumed were truckers. The topic of the conversation was Escort Services. Yes, that kind of Escort Service. I was talking to my husband, when I picked up pits and pieces of their conversation that made me stop and listen. One of the men told the other one, how the service worked. In those moments I wished I could record them. I carry a small recorder in my purse, not for this purpose, but to record ideas for my WIP, while driving or when I'm away from my notebook and computer.

This would fit in perfectly if my batteries weren't dead. Still, I had another way to capture what I wanted to remember, I pulled out my smart phone and started to take notes, as my husband looked away embarrassed by my sudden interest in perfectly ordinary strangers conversation. They were ordinary, but the conversation was not, it was anything but.

It is moments like this, that we get information and ideas for our stories. It’s what makes our imagination swirl and move up and down with a new story as it’s born. The men finished and left before we did. What they left me with was some very interesting information, not only how a Escort Service works, but how men, who use the service, see and feel about the young women who are a part of that business.

Would you have done what I did? Take notes or try to record the conversation?

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Recently, I had a professor critique a mystery I’ve been trying to get published. I’ve been working on this mystery for over four years. I’ve read it, re-read it, had others read it, and still there were omissions of punctuation. Nothing major, but still omissions nonetheless.

So, I set out to find some helpful tips about how to find those buggers before it hits the publishers’ desk. I thought I’d share them with you.

1. Always print your manuscript out in its entirety: Reading it on the screen is very different than reading a hard copy. Pull out a ruler and cover preceding sentences so your eyes are totally focused on one sentence at a time thereby making it easier to catch errors.
2. Read it twice: The first time, read it slowly to make sure the sentence makes sense and you haven’t left anything out. Read the second time for grammatical or structural errors. Now I know some of these manuscripts are pretty long, so doing this in increments is a good rule of thumb to follow.
3. Pay special attention to edited sentences: Oh yeah, on this one. I always reread an edited sentence on my monitor to see if it makes sense, but again, reading it from a hard copy is as if my printer has jumbled the words when no one was looking. It’s amazing how different the reading is in hard copy.
4. Reading your sentences backwards: This works extremely well for picking up errors. Interestingly, I know this method, and yet I haven’t applied it to my own work. Hmm, I’m seeing a pattern here.
5. Read your manuscript from the bottom up: This method actually works best for grammatical and technical errors, not so much for content or organization.
6. Finally, grab a partner and read aloud from the computer while the partner is following from the hard copy. This is a double win making it easier for you to edit your work at the same time.

What methods do you use for proofreading?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My New Sachet: The Scent of a Book

My New Sachet: The Scent of a Book

from Rolynn Anderson

I admit I used to be a little nervous about e-pubbed literature and e-readers. I grew up with books and bookstores and like my friends, I could get a little emotional when I thought about the disappearance of hardback and paperback books going the way of LP’s. But my shelves are chock full of books that I can’t make myself throw away, leaving no space for new ones. What’s more, when my husband and I go boating for months at a time, we don’t have room or the weight allowance to bring enough books along. Call me fickle, but I transferred my allegiance to a Kindle with scarcely a look backward.

My friends haven’t adjusted so quickly. They’re still in shock that a population could turn their backs on printed books. So I asked them how I might help them transition to e-readers. Their response? They say it’s the smell of a book they’ll miss the most. So, while I market my first novel, LAST RESORT (soon to be available e-pubbed OR printed-on-demand), I’ve decided to make some extra money by developing and selling a sachet that smells like a book. My concoction will emit the odor of ink-on-paper, woodsy with a hint of chemicals…that marvelous bouquet that blasts you when you thumb through a paperback, priming it for a reading.

I’ve already applied for the patent and I’m contracting with some nice folks in L.A. who make stink bombs. They’re convinced my invention will be a big seller to any readers over 25.

Naming my fragrance comes next. Odour d’ Libre? Book Tang? Heaven Scent? I’m still open to possibilities. But how to use the sachets is a given. We’ll affix the potpourri’s to our e-readers, sit back in our chairs, beds or beach towels, and read to our heart’s content, the aroma of a ‘real’ book blending with the words we read. Nice way to transition from print to e-pub, don’t you think?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Deconstructing a book

At the end of this this month I'm going to run a workshop over at a author resource website where I will deconstruct one of my favorite books from the past three years, For The Earl's Pleasure by Anne Mallory.

For the Earl's Pleasure was written by an author I know personally and I like her writing in general but this one book went much higher in my estimation than normal. The deconstruction class will be to analyse just why this book is on my keeper list.

So how does one deconstruct a book? I guess there are a lot of possible ways you can do it. I think for me what is important is to list the various criteria that makes a memorable book and describe how the book I'm studying fulfills them. For me the criteria would include:

1. Characters you want to root for. You want to fall a bit in love with the characters. It helps if they change over the course of the story, particularly if the change is brought on by the circumstances of the plot in a logical fashion. I think that happened with the characters in this book.

2. Sparkling, often funny, dialogue. I love good dialogue, where the hero and heroine are constantly exchanging witty and sometimes biting remarks. I like to write dialogue like that myself so I love reading it in another person's work.

3. A plot that keeps me intrigued. In this book the plot has quite a bit of complexity and I remember when I read it the first time I couldn't guess who the villain was until he was finally revealed. But when he was it was a "aha, that makes sense" moment. Very nice. Also this book has a serious paranormal element even though it is technically a Regency romance and the paranormal aspect of the book is essential to the plot and the character development.

4. A satisfying ending. This is romance, so of course there was a happy ever after ending. But even more the ending entertained me. The outcome was expected but arrived in way I couldn't completely predict.

So what I intend to do is examine this book carefully and show just how Ms. Mallory accomplished writing a keeper book. I'll look at how the paranormal element is used in the characterization and the plot. I'll describe the heroine and hero's goals, motivation, and conflict. I'll give examples of the dialogue and how it kept me entertained.

It will be fun for me because I always enjoy talking about books that I like and I love explaining why I think a book works. If people learn from the discussion so much the better.

Besides it is a good excuse to read the book several times over the next couple of weeks and what could possibly be wrong with that?


Thursday, January 13, 2011


As we pass through stages in our lives, how do we flow with the changes. Do you fight change? Or adapt to the changes well?

As I look back over my life as I enter yet another new phase, I contemplate the changes I have been through. The changes of having children, going through a divorce and remarrying have been challenging at times. There are many things in my life I would never change, and yet there are some things that I am regretful for and would change in a heartbeat if I could just do it all over again.

As I was turning 40, ahem, I mean 29 again, I was the point in which I decided I hadn't done anything with my life that gave me a sense of accomplishment. Yes, I had three children, one of which was high functioning autistic, I had been through a divorce and gotten remarried and was riding the wave of blended families, stepchildren and trying to figure out how to just get through life at times. This was the moment in time I decided I was going to write the book I always wanted to write. It was at that moment I started seriously pursuing writing for publication.

It hasn't always been an easy road, but one that has its rewards. Along with the disappointments, I have found many wonderful friends to know that feeling of rejection and the feeling of finishing that manuscript. As I continue to write, I look at my life and see changes continue to happen. A maturity in handling different stresses that comes with age (and wisdom, I hope) and learning what really matters in life.

I continue to write for publication. Writing can be therapeutic for the times in my life I just wanted to forget. Yet, even as I continue writing I find myself more and more realizing the importance of family being around me. Maybe that is because my kids are getting older, one already gone off to college and the other two not far behind. I suddenly can see the years of kids being gone and the house being quiet getting closer and closer. My hope is that as I go through these changes, my writing will mature with me and change as well.

How does change affect your writing?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tis but thy name that is my enemy

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague,
What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d

Romeo and Juliet; Act II by William Shakespeare

No, this isn't a post about Micah Keeps Vigil -- even though he is fond of quoting the Bard. This is about that one thing we all have. Even that artist formerly known as. Names. So…really…what is in a name? I’ve always been fascinated by names. Where parents get them. Why they spell them the way they do. All different reasons for names and all different names that people come up with.

During the course of working ‘the day job’ I frequently come across ‘different’ names. I like to make note of these, keeping them in a special folder on my computer just in case I ever get stuck for a character name. Of course I can't use the exact ones but it's always fun to see what names come through. Have you got some you love? In one half of Marilu's family tree, there is a gentleman by the name of Shepard. Not so bad until you learn that is first name is Germanicus. That's not even the worst. Have you ever researched your family tree to giggle over "those" names?

Some people today name their kids very different names – can you think of a few? What about:

  • Moon Unit
  • Fifi Trixibelle
  • Pilot Inspektor
  • Sage Moonblood

I also like to search for “the meaning” of some names – some of the websites I used to find character names are:

What draws you to a particular name? Are there some names you feel are overused in fiction? My publisher actually supplies a list of “overused” hero names and strongly suggests that authors find other names for their main characters. Do you think there are names that you never want to see in print again?

Are there names that make you picture a certain person? If I say, “George,” for instance, do you think Washington or Clooney? What about Sean? Connery or Penn? What does a Stanley look like to you? A Stella? Let's play the name game.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Choose a Writing Contest

Recently, I was discussing 2011 writing goals with some of my critique partners, and several of them mentioned that they would like to enter more writing contests, but didn’t know which ones to enter.

The Golden Heart is the biggest annual contest for unpublished authors, but there are plenty of smaller chapter contests, which will give you excellent feedback and credentials to put in your query bio. Stephie Smith has a wonderful chart listing all the RWA chapter contests here.

With so many contests to choose from, here’s how I decide which ones to enter:

Decide what you want to get out of the contest. Your choices will be different depending on whether you hope to final, are just looking for unbiased feedback on a new idea, or need to have that all-important query letter/synopsis critiqued.

Cost: Writing contests are one place where you don’t always get what you pay for. Some of the most expensive contests offer the least amount of feedback. If cost is a problem, choose a less expensive contest which only looks at those all important first few pages, like The Great Beginnings contest. Or look for free contests on writers’ and publishers' websites. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a free contest that garners national attention.

Look at the Score Sheet: Most long-standing RWA chapter contests will post their score sheets on their website. Go through it line by line and make sure it’s a good match for your manuscript. Some contests have different score sheets for each category and that can work to your advantage. You don’t want to send your coming of age story to a contest that only judges sexual tension.

Categories: Make sure there’s a category that suits your work. A romantic suspense will probably do better in its own category than lumped in with all the other contemporaries. It’s all about judge’s expectations. If the judge is looking forward to a secret baby story, and you show up with a serial killer in the prologue, you’re probably not going to do well.

Your manuscript may do better in a special interest chapter contest. For example, The Hearts through History Chapter offers the Romance through the Ages contest where categories are divided by historical eras. This allows a manuscript with an unusual setting the opportunity to succeed on its own merits rather than get lost in the avalanche of regency entries, which are the mainstay of the historical category in other contests.

Prestige: Over the years, some contests have built a reputation for consistently providing tough competition and garnering requests from editors; I would put The Golden Pen, The Emily and The Daphne in this category. I’m sure our readers will tell us of other contests which are equally well-known.

Judges: The most important element in any contest is the judges. Check out the first round judges. Who are they? Are they trained? How many are there. Generally, the more first round judges, the better, especially if the lowest score is tossed out. The Winter Rose is one good example of a contest which offers four judges and consistently provides excellent feedback.

The final judge is equally important. Is it an editor who acquires what you write? Or an agent you would like to work with? You may not expect to final, but chances are, if you’ve come this far, you’re better than you think you are. Plan to win and enter accordingly.

Contests change from one year to another. If you enter enough of them, you will eventually have horror stories to tell: The one that lost your entry, the judge who gave all zero’s on a scale of one to ten, or the judge who swore she would personally make sure you were never published in the United States or Canada. But there are also those favorites you come back to year after year, looking for good feedback and hoping to catch the eye of a top notch final judge.

I would love to hear your contest stories. Which ones are your favorites? How do you decide which ones to enter?

Monday, January 10, 2011

5 Tips To Beat Stress When You’re Trying To Do It All

Hi everyone!

I must apologize: I missed last month because I was on a tight deadline. Along with the Christmas chaos, I had a book due to my editor at Berkley by Dec 31. It was one of the most insane months of my life.

So I rushed. I tucked in and hunkered down. I stopped seeing friends. I stopped cooking for myself and grocery shopping. I stopped calling my mom.

I kept telling myself: December 31. Just think of December 31.

I got it done. And now that my book has been turned in, what did I discover about the light at the end of the tunnel?

A whole lot more tunnel.

The things is, as writers, we’re always busy. Even when we’re not writing with a pen or a keyboard, we’re writing with our brains. There’s no turning it off.

So after taking a long, hard look at my "schedule" (aka, working 'round the clock), I wanted to offer a few tips that I discovered to make the sheer insanity of the writing life a little easier. I offer them to you in a spirit of helpfulness and good wishes—and I encourage you to add your own tips in the comments section below!

Make a schedule. Perhaps you already do this, but I’m just newly learning the lesson of how important it can be to create and stick to a schedule. I’ve blocked out each hour of my work week—with allowances for flex time and the occasional funk—and I’ve even left certain hours as “work free” hours. I like knowing that “Tuesday evenings mean I can meet a friend for dinner and a movie.”

Notice things that make you relax. Practice mindfulness. Don’t just take a shower—notice the feel of hot water, the smell of your soap. Don’t just eat; savor. Even foods you don’t love. All time is precious.

Reward yourself. If you’re tracking your progress and work hours with a journal (I’ve started keeping a day timer) then reward yourself when you do well. Your reward doesn’t have to be huge. It can be as simple as: “Tomorrow, I will treat myself nicely and think only kind generous thoughts toward myself.” Or it can be cheesecake. (I like both!) Either way, pause to acknowledge your personal successes and embrace any “failures” with equal love and affection.

Treat yourself as if you were a three year old. This is a silly thought, but so helpful. Talk to yourself like you’re a little kid. When you’re exhausted, tuck yourself into bed. The world will be okay without you for a while. Of course—having a realistic schedule you can work with makes it a lot easier to treat yourself gently.

So…that’s all for now! Now that my books are turned in, I’ll be gearing up to start promoting my April release, Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier.

Can I share this great blurb author Karen White so awesomely offered? (I’m a little proud.)

"Slow Dancing on Prices Pier is a charming and wise tale of second chances and forgiveness, peopled with characters as full-bodied as the coffee Thea brews. This book goes down as smoothly as a cappuccino and is just as satisfying. I loved it!" --Karen White

Thanks for reading!

Lisa Dale

PS—Please feel free to come hang out on my blog, where I give away multiple prizes every month to readers who leave comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on reading, writing, and living the curious life!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Do You Believe In Second Chances?

It’s funny, but every month just as I think I have nothing to blog about, something pops into my mind when I sit at the computer, and away I go.
This month is no exception. It isn’t directly writing related, but it can have a bearing on it.
It’s about a miracle that happened in my life at the end of 2010. I’d been having a bad time financially, a carryover from 2009, but towards the end of 2010 a shift occurred.
For the past five years I had belonged to an Australian financial education system teaching sound financial strategies. It was expensive and I felt I’d wasted by money because, unfortunately, I had done nothing with any of it. My five years was up and I had no way of ever getting back my privileges. My fault. I take full responsibility.
Towards the end of last year, I was listening to a webinar with a woman speaker known to us all, who said she had just banked money that would take her over the (AUD)$1m mark. I realised as she was speaking that she’d been in the organisation for five years—as long as I had.
It was a wake-up call. But how to find the money to rejoin?
About two weeks later, I got an email, saying that through someone else, I qualified for a FREE five-year scholarship to the organisation. I applied, and within three days had my scholarship confirmed and all privileges would continue seamlessly.
Talk about a miracle.
Now I listen to a lesson every day on the home study course, determined that this time I’ll get it right. I believe I got that scholarship for a reason, and I will make good the faith the Universe must have in me.
It was about that time that I realised that 2010 had gone on to get better as the year progressed. Other little things kept showing up for me—two book sales and a job change for starters.
Has anyone else had things like this happen, when you just know God is watching out for you even though you have been stupid?
Sorry to go off the writing track, but I just had to share with friends who would understand. It’s the kind of coincidence that would be called too far-fetched in fiction.
Thank heaven, it’s twenty eleven.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dave Barry's cleanliness: Man vs. Woman

Hi Everyone,
I had my blog for January all written, but I when I saw this Dave Barry post on my monthly calendar, I had to share it. In this post, he makes a case on how much "cleaner" a bachelor is than a good housekeeper. Enjoy!

"There was an article that appeared recently in the New York Times, concerning household cleanliness. The article stated that your kitchen--yes, YOUR kitchen--is basically a festering swarm of potentially deadly bacteria. The most interesting part of the article concerns a discovery by a University of Arizona microbiology professor names Dr.Chuck Gerba. He has found that people who had the cleanest-looking kitchens were often the dirtiest. Because "clean" people wipe up so much, they often end up spreading bacteria all over the place. The cleanest kitchens, he said, were in the homes of bachelors, who never wiped up and just put their dirty dishes in the sink. That's right: You so-called "good housekeepers" with your so-called "cleaning" are in fact smearing bacteria around, while we so-called "slobs" are, by courageous inaction, making the world's kitchens safer for everybody. There is no need to thank us. All we ask is a little respect."

Me again: Ha! Do you agree?

Friday, January 7, 2011


I've recently read numerous pessimistic discussions on various writers' loops complaining about the state of the publishing industry. Negativity spawns negativity, and I found myself depressed. Then I remembered an inspirational quotation I kept in my planner during my corporate career. You've probably read the passage somewhere before, but I needed the reminder and wanted to share the wisdom with you.

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.
It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our Attitudes.

~Charles Swindoll~

One of my goals for 2011 is to maintain a positive attitude.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year--a year where dreams come true. Dare to dream!

Dawn Marie Hamilton

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

With the start of the New Year it’s time for me to launch into my latest creation after taking three months away from writing to work on my daughter’s new home. I am looking forward to changing out the paintbrush for the pen (or computer keyboard).

Lots of ideas have been circulating in my head during my three-month break. Now I have to pin down my favorite idea and make a story out of it. But I’m doubting myself. Despite having written a number of books, a nasty little voice in the back of my head tells me I can’t write another one. When I go straight from writing one book to writing another I am fine, but if I take a break between books the doubts have time to creep back.

Once I get underway with the story the little gremlin in my head who wants to deter me goes back in his cage. I used to think that after I’d written a few books I would get over this but obviously not.

How about you? Do you doubt yourself between books?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

LeBron James aka King James

Let me start by saying I’m not a sports fan. Let me add--I’m not allowed to watch the Steelers at all. Every time I walk into the room when they’re playing something bad happens on the field. So, I’m banished.

However, my son-in-law, Rich, is a huge sports fan. When we were visiting over Christmas he mentioned that LeBron James, a former Cleveland basketball player now playing for Miami, made a comment about not wanting to play a game on Christmas Day. Let me say--Whaaaaaaa! Big freaking baby! He's turned his Cleveland fans against him when he went to Miami as a free agent, now he whined about playing basketball on Christmas.

He plays--plays for a living. Sure, it’s a professional sport but it’s still a game. Does he think the firemen, hospital staff, police, and others want to work on Christmas? Did he even consider how many military men and women won’t be home for Christmas--not even in the same country? What makes him so special?

LeBron is still a baby in the game of life and he grew up watching sports on Christmas Day, yet he took basketball as his career. Just as each nurse, cop, and fireman knew they’d be working or called out on that day when they choose their careers but they sure don’t make the money the he makes. As for our military men and women--they live with the knowledge every day they may not even seen another Christmas Day.

I can understand his desire to have the day off but he does have other options. He can celebrate the holiday on another day. Many of us have to do that so we can be together as a family. Is he so special, in the game of life, he can’t see anything but his needs? Our military men and women don’t even get that option.

What’s my aim here, you’re probably wondering? How many of us will feel this way about our fans if we make it big? Do you think Queen Nora (LeBron is King James) ever gets tired of the long lines of fans wanting her signature at the conferences she attends? I see her patiently sitting at the table and signing, signing, signing. I can’t say she’s always smiling but then again, I’m not always smiling either. I have her signature and several others too and I’ve stood in those long lines and yet every author has thanked me, yes--thanked me, for stopping at his or her table and getting his or her signature. Writers are a rare breed. We may do all of our work at home but every writer I’ve met appreciates his or her fans.

Maybe King James needs to meet Queen Nora to learn how to be gracious to his fans and how not to keep offending them.

Denise Pattison

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Shirley Valentine Manifesto

Once a year, I pull out the Shirley Valentine movie starring Pauline Collins. This 1989 movie details the dynamic growth of a Liverpool housewife who finds herself trapped in a meaningless existence of repetitive household chores devoid of purpose and social contact. Pauline Collins as Shirley talks to the kitchen wall about how her life de-evolved into its present state.

I first saw this movie when I was in my twenties. I saw the original British version which was put out in the art cinemas a few years earlier than the 1989 version. At that time, I was young, in college, and in control of my life. I can even remember my boyfriend who would jump to honor any request I might make. While I thought the movie was amusing I didn’t understand the feeling of being out of control that Shirley experienced in the first part of the movie.

The next time I saw the movie was when I got it for Thursday movie night, as a single parent of three kids. I’d watched the Disney movie with the kids and put them to bed, then, I watched my own movie. This time when Shirley wonders what happens to all the bright possibilities she had for her life while she was still in school I understood. Glancing around at my small living room with its shabby furnishings, I knew this was not the life I had envisioned for myself. My plans included everything from being a park ranger to flight attendant.

Each time, I watched the movie I came away with a new quote or insight. Like so many of us, Shirley bemoans her age that she is forty-two and it is too late to change. When her attitude changes, she is ONLY forty-two and has an equal amount of time in front of her. This was what I needed to hear because too often I thought I was too old or it was too late to start something. How foolish I have been to allow myself to be contained by a number. Suddenly I find myself blossoming like Shirley when she arrives in Greece when I cast aside the age barrier.

Remember how The Wizard of OZ started out in black and white then went to color when Dorothy lands in OZ. Shirley Valentine is a bit like that because all the shots in England are mostly gritty, dark and rainy reflecting Shirley’s unhappiness. In Greece she is framed by blue water and clear sunny skies—who wouldn’t be happy in that environment? Shirley grows by examining herself and what she wants out of life. Even though she knows she will be facing social disapproval by not fulfilling her role as wife and mother she decides to take care of Shirley for a change. The new Shirley grows more beautiful with looser hair, an unworried face and tanned skin. A friend of mine commented that the new Shirley wore comfortable, but colorful clothes.

Why is this movie my personal manifesto? Too often I get tangled up in projects and activities that have little to do with me. I may be completing missions that others started, but chose not to finish. Pretty soon, I lose sight of who Morgan is and what she needs out of life. Often I end up doing things because I think no one else will, which is true. What I fail to see is maybe it needs to not be done. The only thing I get out of it is frustration and exhaustion. Then it is time to sit down and re-evaluate my life. This movie is an excellent reminder to do just that.

It has inadvertently encouraged me to buck the expected. When I started telling people “no,” I gave long winded excuses that left me drained and laden with guilt. Now my no is simply no. Did people hate me because I refuse to be the person who got things done? No, actually it was just the opposite that's when I became more approachable. I give some the credit to plucky Shirley Valentine who gathered up her gumption and went for what she wanted. True, I wouldn’t mind flying to Greece and staying. My Greece is North Carolina and I’m definitely going.

Is there a movie out there that can serve as your video manifesto?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Characterization & Shifts in Focus

Dialog, Focus and Characterization

All of us know those gremlins who like to beat up writers who dare to use passive voice, and we all grit our teeth when those gremlins incorrectly identify passive voice by ruthlessly searching for the word “was”, but did you know that passive voice can be your best friend? Or, maybe not best friend, but at least a hanger-on, because it lets you manipulate the focus of the sentence.

First, I should clarify one thing: passive voice is the focus of the action. If the action happens to the subject of the sentence, it’s passive. If the subject performs the action, it’s active. Passive voice is often used when the writer wants to maintain focus on the subject, rather than the doer of the action. For example: she was hit by a bus. That’s passive, but it’s the best way to frame the sentence because you want to keep the focus on the woman. Who cares about the bus, except in the horrible context of it being the cause of her demise? If you change that to active voice: the bus hit her, then the bus is more important than the woman because it’s the subject and focus of the sentence.

But beyond that, how could passive be good? Lots of ways. But one of the more interesting ways is deflection of responsibility because active/passive voice selections change the focus of the sentence.

How does this impact characterization and dialog…that’s where this really gets fascinating. The use of passive voice is a terrific tool to craft a character’s dialog to show either consciousness of guilt, or simply indicate lying. Let’s look at two examples.

A Good Character Feels Guilty

Let’s say you have a basically good character, but she’s done something she’s not proud of. In fact, let’s say she got involved in something really terrible that she feels guilty about. We’ll call her Clarissa. Now Clarissa is a taxi driver in your story, and she picked up a passenger who was late for a plane. Clarissa wants to get that passenger to the airport, so she’s speeding when she rounds a corner and…runs over a little old man.

When she’s questioned about this, she might say, “We turned the corner and this man came out of nowhere. He stepped right out into the street in front of the taxi and got clipped by the fender.”

If pushed, she might even say, “He got hit by the taxi.” Or possibly, “The taxi hit him.”

The most important points to recognize in that dialog is that, whether its stated in passive voice, e.g. he was hit by the taxi; or active voice, e.g. the taxi hit him; nowhere does she flat out state, “I hit him.” The taxi hit him, as if the taxi was acting under its own volition. She is using both active and passive voice to shift the focus away from herself—to make her seem less responsible.

A good person will do this when the truth is painful and difficult to accept—she’ll try to shift responsibility to either the man (he stepped out of nowhere) or the taxi—so she doesn’t have to admit to herself that she did something so terrible.

A Bad Character is Lying

In a very similar way, law enforcement staff will watch for shifts in focus—and passive voice is a good clue to this—when questioning a suspect. Keep in mind that bad people almost never believe they are bad. If they do bad things, it’s because they were forced to do so by external forces. This means, they will frequently use passive voice, because that reflects their feeling that they were forced to do something—the action happened to them and—not the reverse.

Let’s take the classic: a man who beats his wife. Fred has been dragged to jail because he killed his wife and now the cops are questioning him.

“What happened, Fred? How did she die?”

“I didn’t do nothing.”

“Your wife’s dead from a blow to the head. There were witnesses.”

“So what?”

“You were seen arguing with her. A neighbor called the police. When they arrived, they saw you through the kitchen window.”

“What’d they see? Nothing!”

“They saw you hit her. Now why don’t you tell us the whole story?”

“Nothing to tell. She got hit by that dang skillet, that’s what happened.”

“How’d she get hit by a skillet?”

“Well, she asked for it.”

“Really? How?”

“Well, I’d just got home and was drinking a beer when she started yelling at me for being late and burning the dinner. The skillet was right there on the stove, full of burnt potatoes, and she’s yelling and screaming about it. I was just trying to drink my beer in peace, but she wouldn’t stop. She kept yelling about them burnt potatoes. She got herself in such as tizzy that something had to be done and the skillet was right there. So she got one upside the head. With that damn skillet.”

“You mean you picked up the skillet and hit her with it?”

“I mean she was hit by that damn skillet to make her stop yakking about those burnt potatoes.”

“You hit her with the skillet.”

“The skillet hit her. She asked for it! It weren’t my fault and those cops know it! It was the only way to shut her up.”

“I guess you shut her up, all right. For good, this time.”

You’ll note both active and passive peppered through this dialog. The important thing to notice is how Fred keeps shifting the blame to his poor wife and the skillet. As if the skillet could leap up from the stove and bash her without any action on his part.

Passive and active voice are all about focus, and interestingly, so is characterization!