Saturday, May 28, 2011

Speaking Non-words

photo from

The most common piece of advice about writing dialog is:

sound natural, but not too natural.

Omit the hellos, the how are yous, the weather references, and other meaningless bits that are part of everyday conversation. The dialog must move the story along.

Excellent advice.

But there’s an overlooked category that intrigues me. It’s those little noises that communicate a wealth of information.

I call them speaking non-words.

Here’s a list I compiled of common non-words and my own spelling and long-form translation.

Uh-huh Accompanied by head shake. Yes; okay; I agree; I will; I’m following you.

Unh-uh Also spelled nuh-uh. Accompanied by nodding head. No; I don’t agree; I don’t get it; I don’t want to.

Huh? Accompanied by rising voice inflection and puzzled look. Please repeat that because I still don’t get it; I don’t believe you.

Huh Accompanied by small chin lift and facial shrug. You surprise me, but not much.

Meh Accompanied by small shoulder shrug and head tilt. I couldn’t care less; whatever. (Between you and me, I really want to slap the kid who says this!)

Ew! Repeat “w” to indicate extra grossness. What an awful smell/sight/sound/idea/image!

Blech! See eww!

Eh? Favored by some Canadians, “eh” converts a statement into a question; e.g. “You’re going the movies, eh?”

Pfft! I dismiss that irrelevant detail, no matter what you think.

Finally, there’s a special group of non-words that all mean the same thing.

Um, uh, hm, er I’m buying time while I think about your request; I’m trying to remember what I forgot; I'm about to say something you don't want to hear or make a bad pun

Repeat the second letter to extend the thinking time; umm, uhh, hmm. Not on “er”, because then you get a real word “err”. To drag time further, string a few of these I'm-thinking non-words together; e.g. Umm... er... uhh.

For me, non-words are essential to natural-sounding dialog. Like all goods things, alas, they must be used in moderation.

My list is by no means complete. Do have some non-words to add?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Em dash, female writers, and the state of writing

Poking around other blogs, I came across a link to an article that I thought was really interesting. Not only because of the way the author of the article got the point across, but because of the article. It made me go hmmm.

Read this article. (I'll wait.)


Now, I'm not a grammarian. So, honestly, I can't say that I have an opinion about the use of em dashes, commas, semi colons, or any other form of punctuation. I love that writers take chances and use different methods of expressing themselves. As long as I don't have a headache after I finish a chapter, I'll keep reading. For myself, I depend on critique partners, beta readers, and content and line editors to catch my mistakes and guide me in the right direction :-)

As authors, many of us read a lot. It's simply a form of research, even when it's done for pleasure we continue to learn. The writing styles of authors we love seep into us little by little. Because of that, a lot of us may use techniques that have been developed from years and years of reading other authors' work.

Attempting to express ourselves through a variance in our choice of grammar doesn't bother me, unless someone goes to the extreme demonstrated by the author of the article.

Instead, I write this post because of this reference to Emily Dickinson. "Dickinson's excessive use of dashes has been interpreted variously as the result of great stress and intense emotion, as the indication of a mental breakdown, and as a mere idiosyncratic, female habit." This is not a comment from the author of the article, but a quote from another source.

Is it really that simple? Can we relate the increase of the use of em dashes in American writing: blogs, books, newspapers, etc. to a female habit? Is this a compliment or a criticism? Does it mean that women are weaker writers than men, or strong and in fact influential?

Should we celebrate that the number of female writers has increased to the point that they influence communication: informative and creative? And if it's such a bad thing, why are so many people doing it? Didn't other people before the author of the cited article or the author of Emily Dickinson's Volcanic Punctuation realize this was a bad bad thing? A "female" thing.

I don't know the answer to my own question. But, I'd love to hear what you think.

This is just a portion of "I heard a FLY buzz--when I died--"

I willed my Keepsakes--Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable -- and then it was
There interposed a Fly --

What do you think? Mental breakdown?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

So Little Time...

Heart of the Highland Wolf is nearly here!!! The Highland wolves you've been waiting so eagerly for!

Can you believe it's the 7th book in the series already??? Actually, I've already written books 8, 9, and 10, so it seems like that's eons ago!!! I'm already in the Amazon jungle with the first of the jaguar shifter books right now, which means 4 books ago, I wrote Heart of the Highland Wolf!

Don't ask how I keep the characters all straight. I don't. :) I have to reread the books to do that. And I WISH they would become available in audio book form so I could listen to them in my sleep and through osmosis, I would remember every detail.

So little time...

In just a couple of days the BIG blog tour for Heart of the Highland Wolf begins. Be sure and check out my author blog for the days where I'll be giving away free copies of the books to lucky winners.

In the meantime...I uploaded some new books too. :)

The Dark Fae

Ebook By Terry Spear

Published: May. 13, 2011

Category: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Romance
Category: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy

Available at:
Amazon and B&N
and Smashwords

Alicia's always known she's different--that she can recognize the mischievous fae when they show up to "play" with the humans. Only now she's faced with one highly annoyed dark fae and she's certain he knows the truth about her. She can see him, which means her life is forfeit.

Add to that, his sister arrives, who wants to play, too. And their mother, the queen of the Denkar, will want Alicia's head, once she learns what Alicia can do.

And all because Alicia was attempting to rescue her friend, Cassie, on their beach excursion at South Padre Island, from the wicked fae. Now, Alicia has really gone and done it--and she's thinking she should have let the fae have his fun. Her friend's broken heart would be a lot easier to deal with, than Alicia losing her life.

But it is too late for regrets. As soon as she threw the soda at the dark fae's chest, she had declared war on the fae. And he is happy to take up the challenge.

The Dark Fae has been making Amazon's best selling list, along with Heart of the Highland Wolf!


Allan Thompson arrives in Waco, Texas for a mission of utmost importance--protect a terrorist's mistress from being the next victim on his hit list. But when the mission goes down wrong, Jenny Brant is nearly killed and Allan begins a new mission--protect her at all costs--as her faux husband until she can regain her memories.

Everything about the mission seems wrong--all starting with one Jenny Brant who doesn't fit the profile of the kind of woman Wilson usually hooks up with. Allan and his team must protect her, but at what cost to his own sanity or his heart?

Jenny Brant begins to regain her memories, but when she learns she has a huge inheritance that Wilson wants by marrying her, and the agent Allan Thompson will marry her instead to secret her money away with the Agency's protection, she still can't remember why she would have been a killer's main squeeze. When Wilson's thugs try to return her to him, she becomes less sure of who the good guys are and who she truly is.

The only thing she knows for certain--if someone doesn't take down Wilson, her life is forfeit.

The Tall Texas Order

Ebook By Terry Spear

Published: May. 23, 2011
Category: Fiction » Literature » Romance - Short Stories
Category: Fiction » Literature » Romance - Contemporary
Words: 6959

Lisa has lived all over the States, but when she starts working in Amarillo, Texas, she's ready to settle down with the man of her dreams--if she can prove to herself she has the mettle to become a Texan.

From camping in the Palo Duro Canyon with rattlesnakes and scorpions and wild mustangs, riding the trail on a cantankerous trail horse,line dancing, and watching a friend devour a 72-oz steak, Lisa's having the fun of her life...mostly.

But can she learn to be a Texan? Inspired by several true incidents, the story revolves around a woman who's never settled down for long and a man who wants her to love his home as much as he does...fearing she's bound to leave him sooner or later as she has never been able to set down roots.

The story about the wild mustangs was true, only I'd heard them when I was camping in the canyon with Army ROTC cadets, and I've been to all the places described in the story. The only thing that I still need is that tall hunky Texan!

Wouldn't you like a shot at him too???


Hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! I'm actually taking off some days so that I can...write!!!

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The weed-out

We recently sold our house and are getting ready to move into a new house. I've got a month or two to pack, so I'm not panicked. I've moved 27 times in my life, and my personal record is 4 times in one year. I have no fear of moving, I guess you could say.

This year is no different. Prior to moving, I've been weeding out. Bags of clothing are gone, garden tools that are no longer functional, several boxes of 'why the hell did I buy that?' and 'I'll never use that--give it away.'

I was surprised how easy it was to box up books and give them to the library. I remember moves from one house to another that were composed mostly of books -- box after box after box. Now I'm keeping a few hand-picked selected ones, some reference books, and a few writing reference books. The rest: to the library. I think I've finally gotten to that point in my life when I realize that I'm not going to re-read those books. I have a limited amount of time left in this world (no, the end isn't imminent, but let's be realistic) and I don't want to spend what little precious free time I have re-reading books.

There are some authors I'd love to re-read (Diana Gabaldon springs to mind), but I won't take the amount of time required to read those books. BUT (and it's a big BUT, so to speak), I can download and listen to the books as I drive. This is an excellent way to experience a big book that I just can't commit the time for. I'm almost done 'reading' the Wheel of Time series by Jordan (I'm on book 13 of 15), and after that, I'll toss in a few other authors then tackle Gabaldon.

After my mother died last year (aside: sympathies to you, Janet; I know how you feel) I started to realize how fleeting life really is. She was 33 when I was born. Assuming I have inherited her genetics, I have 33 more years to do what I want to do in life. That was a sobering thought. All of a sudden, all of those "I'll get to it" plans have been re-evaluated and many are shelved. I'm now focusing on what is truly important to me, right now.

So that's why I'm moving, that's why I'm changing what and how I write, and that's why I'm re-evaluating some hobbies and goals. It's been a process of weeding out in more ways than one. I suspect it will continue for many more weeks and months to come.

And you know what? It's fun!

Obligatory publishing mention: The Deadly Landscaping Romances are all out now -- check my web site for details!

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Birthday

I am riding high from my birthday today. It has amazed me at how many friends have taken their time to send me a greeting and best wishes. I've always thought writers are the best kind of friends, now I know beyond a doubt.

As a writer and because I live in the mountains, I don't get out much or have much of a social life. I rather like being a hermit most of the time because I have my muse to keep me company. A week ago I enjoyed three days at a writers' retreat with my Sacramento Valley Rose group and certainly thrived on the comraderie. Like one of the attendees said, "I've never enjoyed being a writer as much as I have since joining RWA. People who don't write, don't understand what I am talking about most of the time and if they did, they don't care."

My mentor, Karen Rose Smith, told me twelve years ago to get into RWA and join a local chapter if I was serious about writing. She opened a door to a great new chapter in my life. I have also joined online groups, volunteered for lots of jobs along the way, and have made life-long friends.

Maybe the best part of writing are the friends, but accomplishing writing goals aren't too shabby either.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Conferences and workshops

I’ve attended three RWA National Conferences over the years and benefited from each. Being with other writers and away from the keyboard lifts your spirits and, as a side benefit, widens your social network.

Last year at the conference in Orlando I attended a reception and kept staring at the blonde woman standing at the cocktail table across from me. I was blown away when I read her badge. It was Rita Clay Estrada! I mean, God, she is an RWA founding member. The RITA award is named for her. Here I was sipping wine with her while a group of us chatted about women writers. How cool is that! Ever the bold one, I asked if another attendee and I could have our pic taken with her. Cell phones are great stand-ins for that camera left in your room. It’s not the best photograph in my collection but I’ll always remember the moment.

I’m sorry to say I am not attending this year’s RWA Nationals in NYC. I’ll miss the excitement and thrills, and I know those of you who are going will have a terrific time. I spend so much time alone in front of a monitor that these outings are my chance at self-renewal as a writer.

Sometimes you find inspiration in your own backyard. I’ve decided to support my local RWA chapter and attend a couple workshops presented by a variety of authors. Last month I heard Jane Porter, Megan Crane and Liza Palmer speak about voice and its importance to you, the writer.

Yesterday I attended the LARA annual workshop, “A Day with Anne Stuart.” She spoke on a variety of topics from writing dark love stories and writer’s block to her survival strategies in today’s complex publishing market.

I came away impressed by her words and awed by her varied and lengthy career. First published at age 25, she’s survived more than thirty-five years in the romance business. With laugh-out-loud humor she peppered the presentation with her candid anecdotes, which left me re-energized and eager to get back to my writing desk.

I’m saving up for RWA 2012 in Anaheim, California, and hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More about editing.

I never thought chemistry would lead me to publishing romance novels! My Ph.D. in Chemistry gave me the proper training to prepare medicinal products, analyze water and soil samples, and landed me contracts to refurbish laboratories in foreign countries.
But apparently I involuntary learned to detect and amplify the chemistry between male and female by throwing conflict at the heroes and heroines.
Now let's talk editing!

Someone said that creating a good book is ten percent writing and ninety-percent editing. Although I believe this statistics to be exaggerated, I certainly spend a lot of time polishing my manuscripts before sending them off to an editor.

For me, editing starts while I am writing. As soon as I type my first chapter, I read it again and again, first to check the story flows well, then for typos, spelling and grammar and finally to make sure that the hook is grabbing enough. By hook I mean, the first line, the first paragraph and the first page. These should be intriguing enough to catch a reader’s—or editor’s—interest. As a result, I keep revising the first line and first paragraph while I continue to write my story. By the time the book is finished, I have at least twenty versions of first paragraphs, all saved. I compare them, send them to my critique partners, and sometimes combine some of them, until I am satisfied with my hook.

While revising my first book for ever—more precisely for three years— I realized that an outline could save a lot of time. Now before starting a new story, I do my homework: an outline for the first three chapters, a summary of the back story, a few lines about the hero, heroine and villain’s characters and one paragraph to summarize the storyline. Only then, do I allow myself to start typing the actual story.

By the time my partial is polished, I am well acquainted with my characters and I have a pretty good idea of where the plot is going.

An outline for the whole book completes my preparations and helps my story to flow. Now I can write without interruption for days and weeks.

To edit the whole book, I tabulate the chapters and scenes, and then check the following items.

Setting: avoid having several scenes in the same setting. It’s boring.

POV: Heroine’s or hero’s. If you have a long book you can add, the villain’s POV.

Hook: strong enough to grab the reader.

GMC: what is the goal in that scene, what is the conflict?

Emotional development: show how the Hero/heroine’s attraction to each other escalates and their romance progresses. You should see a definite increase of tension and emotion from scene to scene.

Action: it’s important to show some stage direction.

Sensual Tension: any eye contact, hand touching, kiss,… Like the emotional development, the sexual tension should increase from chapter to chapter.

Sensorial: smell, sounds and color in the scene. It helps the reader be grounded in the scene.

End hook: Make sure it generates suspense, a question to be answered in the next scene or some emotion that keeps the reader panting.

Pace: how do you evaluate the pace in this scene, fast, medium slow? It should be fast if you have action or dialogue, and slow to emphasize emotion.

In addition to self-editing, I can’t stress enough the importance of sharing your work with critique partners.

You manuscript is ready to go. You need one last reading. I suggest you save the file in Adobe, click on VIEW, and then READ OUT LOUD. It’s an amazing feature I discovered a few years ago. The computer will read your story while you look at the pages on the monitor screen and note on a paper the repetitions, missing words, lack of transition. I prefer this method to printing and reading on paper. But you need one these two methods of final reading to catch the mistakes your eyes have stopped seeing on the screen.
You can reach Mona at and

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 passion.

My current release is Rx IN RUSSIAN. Here's a little bit about it -

Fyodor Vassilov is a Russian widower, surgeon and officer. Duty demands he provide a mother to his four little boys and marry a woman who loves children and a big family.

Jillian Burton is an American pediatrician on a mission to improve medical conditions in Belarus. She blames herself and her ex-husband for their son’s death, and has lost her illusions about men and marriage. When they work together for six months in his hospital, their fascination with one another shocks them both. Can attraction and love overcome guilt, duty, and a clash of cultures?

"Mona Risk writes heroes with heart, heroines with spunk in stories and settings that are simply unforgettable!" -- Roxanne St. Claire, Killer Curves, National Bestseller.

Monday, May 16, 2011



I recently finished writing Dishing Up Romance and began the laborious trek down editing and polishing lane. I must admit, I’m one of those chronic tinkerers who can’t seem to help myself mainly because I edit, then I edit what I edited, and . . . the list goes on and on. So how do you stop being a chronic tinkerer?
Put your manuscript away for a while, if time permits, and try not to look at it again for at least a month. When you pick it up again, you’ll be amazed at how quickly errors appear.
Before you actually get into the editing, give your manuscript a quick read-through fixing only those glaring errors you can see, and for God’s sake, if it reads smoothly enough, leave it alone. I know, I know, this takes a lot of practice because we fool ourselves into thinking we’re making it better. And sometimes we are, but there those are times when we’ve changed a sentence a gazillion times only to find out later it may be right back where we wrote it the first time.

Here are the things I look for when I’m reading over my manuscript:
• Did it grab my attention right away?
• Are my characters goals clearly identified up front?
• Is the pace good? Or did I add in too much minutia that bogs down the sentence and slows the pace?
• Are there descriptive gaps in my writing, or were the descriptions over done? Examples of that might be a scene where your heroine is getting into the car to drive somewhere. Let’s say you described it like this: she got behind the wheel, plopped her handbag on the passengers seat, fastened her seat belt, turned the key to start the engine and stepped on the gas? Was it necessary to give us that much information? I don’t think so. A much better version might be, she slid behind the steering wheel and revved the engine as she pulled away from the curb. See, you knew exactly what I was talking about without me going into so much detail, didn’t you? Edit out the words that serve no function.
• Tie up the loose ends. The other side of the coin on descriptions is not giving enough information. If it’s a setting that people wouldn’t know about, make sure you’re clear and concise—in other words, finish your thought so your reader is in the moment with the character looking at the same things she’s seeing.
• Did you use enough tags so your reader knows who’s talking? One would think if it’s only two people talking, you’d be able to figure out who’s speaking, but that’s not always the case. I’ve done this on a few occasions, and it makes me back up a few sentences to figure it out. To avoid doing this, you don’t even have to use the standard, “he said, she said. You can use a gesture such as: she picked up her glass of water and sipped—she cleared her throat—she brushed a stray strand of hair away from her face. This is what I do to avoid the boring standards.
• And here’s a biggie. Always make sure your sentences read with the action first, then the reaction. If you stop to think about it, that sounds like an easy thing to do—at least, one would think so. Yet there are times when we just write it out and after reading it back we wonder why it sounds funny. Reverse the order of words and see how it sounds.
• Does your dialogue sound realistic for your character?
• Are transitions smooth without gaps?
These are all things you should be looking for. And yes, word changes are important too, but try to use five words to describe it as opposed to twenty.
So how do you know when you should stop editing? My rule of thumb is this: When I feel as though I’m going to throw-up if I read it one more time—It’s time to stop!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The List: Books You Read Over and Over Again

Books you read over and over again…what are they? I asked and you answered. Here’s the list I promised to share with you. In order to shorten the list, I had to delete your comments (sorry); no time to check everyone's spelling. Cheers! Rolynn

  1. THE OUTLANDER SERIES – Diana Gabaldon (Rolynn, Joanne, Terry), When Venus Fell by Deborah Smith (Rolynn)
  2. Charles Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities;’ Christine Feehan's Dark Series, Dark Magic, Dark Destiny (Lynn)
  3. LaVyrle Spencer's first book, The Fulfillment. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. (Jannine)
  4. The Elric series, and others by Michael Moorcock, The Fellowship,The Mabinogian and other Celtic myths (Julianne)
  5. Green Darkness by Anya Seton, Sweet, Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers, and Shana by Kathleen Woodiwiss (Carolyn)
  6. A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux (Sarah, Allie, Carolyn, Linda)
  7. Stephen King's The Green Mile and Tolkien's LORT. Anything by Georgette Heyer and Zane Grey. My all time number one book, A Tale of Two Cities. (Tarah)
  8. Tolkien’s LOTR (AJ)
  10. Zane Grey's books (Cara)
  11. "The Outsiders" by S. E. Hinton. The Stookie Stackhouse novels (Christle)
  12. The Skye O'Malley books by Bertrice Small. (Jill)
  13. Little Women (Ilona, Jill)
  14. "The Eight" by Katherine Neville (Mari)
  15. "In Death" series by JD Robb (Terry, Joyce)
  16. The Wolf and the Dove (Tori, Patsy)
  17. J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series (Laura)
  18. Anything by Jean Plaidy (Steph)
  19. Rebecca by Daphne Du Murier (Linda, Molly)
  20. Books Jayne Ann Krentz, Linda Howard, Lori Foster, Jaid Black, Lora Leigh and Sharon Sala. (Sherry)
  21. Lynn Kurland's novels (Tricia)
  22. *The Lord of the Rings, *The Dragon Rider series of Anne McCaffrey, *Tony Hillerman's Navajo cop series (roseann agrees), *Stephen Jay Gould, *Janet Evanovich, *Jane Austen, Kinan
  23. Anything and Everything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. And Harry Potter! (Amie)
  24. To Kill a Mockingbird (Amie, Kerri, Margaret, Lynn)
  25. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, Persuasion by Jane Austen. Csdaras(a Hungarian courting dance)by Diane Pearson. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh. (Kerri) And then of course, anything by a WRP author! (Kerri, Margaret)
  26. The Magic of You by Johanna Lindsey, Lora Leigh's breed books, Catherine Coulter's bride series (Amy)
  27. Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair, Nalini Singh - in particular Play of Passion, Mine to Possess, Branded by Fire, Kiss of Snow, Beat of Temptation & Stroke of Enticement; Kara Lynn Russell's Keeping Faith (White Rose Press!); Lori Foster - Several - but I actually will reread the An Honorable Man (short story) in its entirety each time I lay my hands on it, and I love Man's Best Friend - both are Best Friends romances; Mandy M Roth – several; Shelly Laurentsen. (Kathy)
  28. John R. Maxim's Bannerman series; David Wiltse's John Becker series. (Veronica)

One of you said: There is something comforting about reading a book over and over. It's like visiting an old friend. And like visiting an old friend, the experience is different every time, because you, the reader, are different. Amen!

Books and my mom...

This is something that is hard to write about but sometimes you have to write about hard things. I owe it to my mom to talk about her and the influence she had on me as a little girl and as an adult.

From the time I was a little girl she encouraged me to read and I read a lot when I was a kid. I was that geeky kid in the library and not the playground when in junior high. Why the library? Because that’s where the books were. My mom’s house is as full of books as mine is, stacks of them in the corners of the rooms, stacked two deep on the bookshelves.

Mom loved it that I became a writer although I think she would have rather I write about murder and mystery than sex. Thrillers were what she loved to read, not love stories. But even though they weren’t her cup of coffee she always loved getting copies of my books and I’d sign them all for her.

Now I’m going to have to collect those books again. You see my mother died almost three weeks ago and my sisters and I are going to have to pack up her house, clear her closets and her bookshelves. It’s going to be a hard job, but as I said before, sometimes you have to do hard things.

Maybe I’ll give the books to one of my sisters, the autographed copies I gave my mom. After all, they love to read too and why wouldn’t they?

We had the same mother.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writer's Block

What is writer’s block? Is it truly something that happens or is it merely something we talk ourselves into believing. Writer’s block has afflicted me lately. However, the more I think about it, the more I throw aside the idea of writer’s blocker.

My thoughts are blocked from what I want to write. I have a solid plot. I have run through different scenes in my mind while I’m driving. However, when I open up my laptop my mind shuts down from what I know needs to be typed. Is that writer’s block or simply a procrastination technique?

Life gets in the way. We all know that. Not one of us lives the life that we paint in our books. I know I have used life as an excuse many times to not put the fingers to the keyboard. Life will never change – there will be stressors, crises, changes. A writer writes through them.

So for now I sit at the keyboard and if I can put all the words I want out there, I write partial thoughts. They will blossom fully as the story unfolds. The excuse of writer’s block has been banned from my vocabulary.

What about you? Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you push through it?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The problem with any unwritten law is that you don't know where to go to erase it. -Glaser and Way

There are always rules. Don't head hop. Don't use fragments. Don't use run-ons. Show, don't tell.

Elmore Leonard would have you believe you should simply "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

Well now, that's easy, isn't it? All you have to do is know exactly what every one of your readers likes to read.

But is it really that simple?

Take the Arwen half of Marilu Mann. She loves descriptive passages. Give her lengthy, detailed narratives where every dress is described down to the stitching on the hemline and she's happy. The Cai half of Marilu Mann would rather have her eyes gouged out. She prefers witty, scintillating dialogue and action to propel her story forward.

A well-known "set-in-concrete-don't-you-even-think-about-breaking-it" rule is no head hopping. Basically this means that you should stay in one character's POV (point of view) for at least the full scene. I can easily rattle off several big name authors who trample that rule like it was a small bug in their way as they head to the bank to cash that next six figure royalty check. There are some who stick rigidly to that "rule" with every book they write, but most don't.

And for goodness sake! Don't. Use. Fragments. Right. I'm betting Faulkner could be used as an example of taking that rule a bit too far. Fragments actually work well in action scenes. The sparing use of them can help punctuate better than the ever-dreaded exclamation point. (Arwen cringes here because she knows Cai is looking at her with that look!!!!!) What? (Arwen LOVES exclamation points - AND CAPITALIZATION for emphasis!!!)

The "show, don't tell" is a good one for the most part but there are times when you just need to tell. Sometimes it is okay to say, "the man sat down in the chair" rather than "the man strode into the room as if he owned the place. Eyeing the furniture disdainfully, he hooked a chair towards him with his foot, then straddled it." Hmm. Here is a case of Arwen preferring one over the other. Cai thinks it depends entirely on what comes before and what comes after...sometimes less is definitely more, at others you can draw out the tension in a scene by expanding it in subtle ways.

So what does that mean for you, the writer?

This all comes back to another "set-in-concrete-don't-you-even-think-about-breaking-it" rule. That rule is TELL A GOOD STORY. This is one that really never should be broken. When you're concentrating all your efforts on telling a good story and the reader recognizes that, they probably won't notice that you've disregarded a few rules along the way.

The true take-away from this? Just keep the rules in mind as guidelines rather than boundaries. See them as fences to help corral your wayward thoughts and words but don't worry if you go free-ranging every now and again. Pushing the limits can be a good thing when done with intention.

And when you can't help but break some of those unwritten codes, remember the immortal words of Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Carribean, The Curse of the Black Pearl "...the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules."

5 Tips for Taking a Great Author Photo

I have never been photogenic. For those who might argue, I offer my kindergarten picture.

Luckily, I figured this out quite young, and I’ve become adept at avoiding cameras. My plan was to be one of those reclusive authors who lives in a cabin in the woods and has her manuscripts delivered to the publisher by secret courier.

Alas, the publishing gods have told me this is not an option in the internet age. Your author photo is an essential part of your marketing plan. You want industry professionals to recognize you. Readers want to interact with a person, not a book cover.

In order to get the dreaded author photo, I had to study what others did naturally. I spent hours looking at pictures and reading photographers' advice.

Here are the most oft-repeated tips along with a few things I learned from my own photo shoot:

Ask for Help: You might not be photogenic, but chances are you know someone who is. If coordinating hair, make-up, and photographer seems like a Herculean task, get some help. Think of the friend who always wants to drag you along for a make-over, or that annoying cousin who tortures you with the camera at family gatherings. Chances are they’ll know where to go for the best pictures, and they’ll be happy to give you advice. (I would never have made it through my first photo shoot without help from my good friend, Peggy Staggs. Thank you, Peggy!)

Set the Tone: Your author photo should hint at what genre you write. Typically, a serious literary work will have a more formal shot, while a romantic comedy can take advantage of a quirky location and unusual colors.

One idea is to match the themes and colors in your author photo with the themes and colors of your website or novels. Before you go this route, consider all the situations where you might need to use this photo. You want something that will work for everything you publish.

Avoid the Clichés: The thinker pose, the author with her cat, the author “surprised” at her desk. All of these are clichés I’ve seen mocked on the internet. It’s probably best to avoid them. You wouldn’t want anyone to think your writing was clichéd. Don’t give that impression with your photo.

Keep Your Hands off Your Head: Typically, authors pose this way either to look thoughtful or to hide a double chin. Whatever the reason, the resulting photo rarely looks natural. If you have features you’d like to disguise, it’s best to discuss them outright with the photographer at the start of the shoot. A professional will know how to minimize any flaws and show you at your best.

Try to Look Comfortable: Nothing is worse than a photo where the subject is visibly cringing, scowling at the camera, or looking to escape. Relax and imagine you’re having a great time. You don’t have to smile, but the best photos are those where the subject looks like he wants to be there. The easiest way to do this? Bring along that friend, the one who always makes you laugh, and the torture will be over before you know it.

No photographer can take a middle-aged woman and make her look like she did in college. But hopefully with these tips will help you obtain a photo which serves all your professional needs.

I would love to hear advice from our readers. What tips do you have on taking a great author photo?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Joanne--A bad hair day for men---Check out Dave Barry's thoughts

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

How does your hair look today?

I’m sharing a hilarious Dave Barry account of his hair-styling adventures. Who said only women care about their hair? :)

Here it is. Hope you enjoy:

“I’ve been trying for more than forty years to get my hair to form a simple part, such as can be found on Al Gore, and Ken, the doll. Every morning after my shower, I attempt to style my hair with a brush and hair dryer. I cannot tell you how hilarious my hair thinks this is. You’re heard of “free-range” chicken? I have “free-range” hair. It laughs and dances in the blow-dryer breeze, humming “Born Free.” When I’m done, it looks the same as when I started. It is no closer to forming a part than Dom DeLuise is to winning the Olympic pole vault.”

Me again! Please leave a comment. How long does it take you to style your hair in the morning?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Celtic Inspiration

For those of us who write Celtic-inspired romance novels and can't spare the time or expense of traveling to the Scottish Highlands, the Emerald Island, Wales or Brittany, we must find our muse closer to home. Fortunately, it's festival time. Grab a hat and your sunglasses and find a Celtic festival, Scottish gathering or Highland games near you.

Last Saturday was the 33rd Celtic Festival of Southern Maryland at the beautiful riverside grounds of Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in St. Leonard, Maryland, sponsored by The Celtic Society of Southern Maryland.

So much to see. So much to do. So little time.

Listen to a storyteller: As romance writers, we follow in the tradition of oral storytellers who mesmerize their audience with tales of passionate heroes and their fair ladies. Of course, ever-after might not always be happy. But it's unlikely to disappoint. Storyteller at right is Margaret Chatham.

Watch athletes compete:
In the 56-pound Weight Toss the athlete stands with his back to (and almost directly under) a crossbar. He grasps the weight with one hand, lifts it in front of him, swings it back between his legs then forward and up in a smooth motion to arc over the crossbar. When the weight lands, it is usually at the heels of the athlete. Gotta love those brave men in kilts!

Enjoy music and dance: Cheer for your favorites in the dance, harp and fiddle competitions then find inspiration listening to the many Celtic musical groups such as Iona, The Martin Family Band and The Rovers.

Discover history: Living history groups conduct demonstrations as Vikings, Swordsmen from the Welsh Court, Border Reivers and Highland Regiments.

Check out The Association of Scottish Games and Festivals to find an event near you.

Dawn Marie Hamilton writes Scottish inspired romance stories. You can also visit Dawn Marie at Castles and Guns every other Tuesday starting May 10.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Going Primitive

Have you ever done something so out of the norm, you know it will be hard to explain it to people? So instead, you don’t mention it. Unless somehow it comes up in conversation, then people can stare at you as if you have two heads. Well, I did and I kept it quiet at first, especially around my extended family.

Many of you are wondering what bizarre thing could I have done that would shock my family? Did I decide on a sex change operation? Maybe I decided to run off with the gypsies. I could have taken up hot air ballooning as a hobby or became an Elvis impersonator since I know all the songs. It wasn’t any of these.

I gave up television. Really, not just avoiding bad reality shows. By cutting off my cable, I even cut off the local channels. No television ever, sometimes I miss it. When I want to watch a movie, I can do that. The biggest casualty from lack of television I figured would be my daughter. She loves cable, especially the Disney Channel. Surprisingly, she found many other things to do such as ride her bike or paint. I found time to write, call relatives and cook. The family is certainly glad about the cooking part.

With the weather turning warmer, I’ll be able to walk the dogs and garden. With the even warmer weather, I’ll be in my pool or working on the landscaping. As for extra time, I have plenty to do with planning my trip to New York and scrap booking. Still, with all I have without television people tend to pity us as if we’re some primitive tribe.

My daughter and I used to eat in front of the television. Yes, I know how bad that is for the waistline. Now we actually talk to each other. She told me the other night that she actually like me. That wouldn’t have happened if we were both staring at the television screen.

Despite the positives, my mother worries I will be surprised by a tornado. I live by the fire department with their extremely loud emergency siren…there is no way I could be unaware. I live in a slab home with no real place to take cover, but I won’t point that out to my mother.

Strangely, not having television is freeing. I did have favorite shows that I would race home to watch. Now when I go out there is no television deadline that sends me racing home. Nor do I spend my free time watching all the shows I DVR’ed. The greatest benefit is that election season is coming up with all its scurrilous commercials and I won’t see a one. Just makes me smile thinking about it.

My rebellious ways have rubbed off on a close friend who recently turned his cable off. As the CSR asked him why he chose to go cable-less, he explained with gas at four dollar plus a gallon, cable was a luxury he could do without.

Are there any other television-free writers out there? Tell me how your life changed when you gave up television?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reruns of Buffy and Angel

It is really bad to watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Joss Whedon created a magical universe with Buffy/Angel. The episodes are a reminder that it was television at its best. And writing at its best.

Whedon is a master at his craft. The character arcs are exquisite, the dialogue shining, and the lessons learned in each hour-long drama are seamless. Teaching a lesson without being preachy is a skill all writers need to learn.

I really enjoyed watching the shows with my teenage daughter. It was great to discuss the hidden lessons in each episode. It might seem like it was about demons, vampires, and monsters, but the true monsters walked among us.

One of my favorite episodes was about a boy using a potion Ala Jekyll and Hyde, but it was really about dating abuse. It was great to show young girls that having a boyfriend doesn't mean he owns you or can tell you what to do.

So, sometimes you can write one thing and mean another. Romance does this a lot. Many romances are based on fairy tales; Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty. For example, Pretty Woman. It might seem like a Cinderella story when the prostitute is rescued by the Prince (rich) Charming, but the true tale is how she rescues him.

So, I'll keep reading romance, writing romance, and watching Buffy/Angel reruns to enjoy how its done.

What tv show or movie has taught you a writing lesson? What is your favorite fairy tale?