Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book of Your Heart

Every book I write IS the Book of My Heart. It all comes from your heart. You created that book out of your love for the craft. But it’s the Book of My Heart while I’m writing it. My next book will again be the current Book of My Heart until it’s finished. Now you’re probably saying “Every book can’t be THE Book of Her Heart.”

Yes, they can. The Laird’s Lady from The Wild Rose Press, was a Book of My Heart. It evolved from the song, How Do I Live Without You by Trisha Yearwood. When I first heard it, I envisioned a woman on a cliff mourning the loss of the man she’d love the rest of her life. I poured my heart & soul into creating Lady Devin and Laird Kyle. When I wrote the last page of the book, I was crying again, but for a good reason. The book was finished and it was a Happily Ever After.

Or The Captain’s Wench, from Devine Destinies. I love the old black & white movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Now my version is a sexy, spicier version, but nonetheless has a handsome sea captain Alexander who’s died and romance novelist Meg who starts out wanting him to go away and ends up wanting him to stay. I gave them a Happily Ever After, but as my readers know, I tend to put a spin on things so that you get to the end of the book and go “Ah, that is so cool.”

And just like me with writing a Book of My Heart, I know all you readers and writers out there can say the same about a book you’ve read. It’s a keeper in every sense of the word. I have several on my bookshelf that I have read over a dozen times each. Come on admit it, so do you (G). Which is why our bookcases, nightstands, floor space is crowded with tons of books we can’t bear to part with.
So from my overflowing home office full of books, I wish you many hours of happy writing, and I hope the next book you pick up (maybe mine) is a Book of Your Heart.

Patti Shenberger
Who doesn’t need a little romance in their life?

Bio – Patti Shenberger has loved writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil.
Her first sale was to a children’s magazine for an article on potato jewelry, but after sitting down with a romance novel thought “I can write something like this” and so she did. That was 15 years ago and she is still going strong with magazine length articles, romance novels, novellas and short stories.
You can visit Patti at to learn more about her books or drop her an email at

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Come a Long Way...

The internet has certainly come a long way.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Youtube, and time wasting activities are just some things we do instead of writing.  A time existed when this new fangle gizmo was a barren world of limited entertainment.  For me, my first interaction with this world wide web was in college in the early 90s.  The university assigned me an email address, which I don't think I ever used.  During those days when I sat down at a computer, it was to write my papers. 

One time, I was in the computer cluster and beside me were two college boys, both of their fingers clacking over the keyboards.  Every so often, their laughs shattered the studious silence.  After a few hours, the boy on the right leaned over and whispered, "That's cool."
I peeked at their black and white screens and scanned their texts.  I couldn't believe what I read, these two were wasting hours emailing each other.  I gave them that look girls in high school perfected and rolled my eyes at them.  Boys and their toys and this was a generation's new toy.  Back then the internet was nothing more than email and porn.  My professors warned us the first day of class that if one of our sources came off the internet then an automatic F was slapped on top of our work.  At the time, nothing posted on this information superhighway was reliable.  This was the beginning of a new computerized world and you couldn't believe it.

Now a decade plus, the net is the go-to place.  While I mailed in my college applications, my niece filled out hers online.  Universities are now scanning their libraries to share the wealth of knowledge collected through the years, classes are given online, and information is a search word away.  To think, that without the world wide web all us FTHers may not find the research we need to finish our WIP, chat and share good wishes or boost each other up when rejection is received, even share our knowledge.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Am I Mad? Or Am I a Writer?

The first time it happened was in the middle of the night. I woke from peaceful slumber, a deep masculine voice ringing in my ear. “You can’t make me do that! I’m no wuss!”

Who was the dark-eyed, dark-haired man protecting his masculinity? Not my husband. Though he does have lovely laughing brown eyes, hubby’s hair is mostly grey and mostly gone. Besides, he was sound asleep, snoring ever so slightly.

The vocal fellow was Carter Whealdon; a complete figment of my imagination, a character in my first novel, The Painted Ladies. I’d made him do something, can’t remember what, that offended his virile soul. And he was making himself heard.

My characters talk to me; all the time, non-stop. They tell me they don’t like the clothes I chose for them, the friends I picked for them, the relatives I dumped on them. Why is it they only complain?

Why can’t my characters cheer about the good stuff that floats out the depths of my imagination? Why hasn’t Danni Parlowe thanked me for gifting her with the above-mentioned hunk? Why doesn’t he whisper sweet nothings to her in the dark of the night?

See this romantic photo? Well, Danni doesn’t care for that tattoo, no matter how sweet and sentimental the verse. My man Carter won't have anything do with this gal unless she's a natural blonde. Sheesh! What’s a writer to do?

Dynamite Imagery /

Go away, people of my conscious deep

I really need my beauty sleep

So on the morrow, at the keys

I finally write some stuff to please.

Do your characters complain or congratulate? Do you listen to them? Are you mad, or are you a writer?

Joan Leacott

heart, humour, and heat... Canada style

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life interrupted, Writing interrupted

January 14th, 2010, I was laid off by my company of seven years. Weekends, late evenings, holidays, family/friend events, nothing kept me away from work because I enjoyed my job, and my co-workers.

When I received the news from my boss, at first, I didn’t know how to process it. Then, it angered me. Over and over again, I complained and shared with my friends that I simply could not believe this had happened to me. Nothing like this had ever happened to ME before.

What do I do with the feelings inside of me? At first, nothing. Only because I had to, did I, come out of my hole in the days preceding my book, Love’s Chance, release. After working for something for so long, here it was in front of me, but I couldn’t enjoy it.

My world was out of order, and even the release of my book was not helping me find joy. I felt a little numb. Disappointed.

My brother, truly one of my champions, brought everything back into focus for me. s@$! happens. Is it really that simple? I don’t know, but it was a kick in the butt, and I got up, and off of mine. My little book that could moved 200 pieces in 2 weeks, and stayed on the Red Rose Publishing Bestseller list for 10 weeks.

I took every emotion running through me, and put it into blog after blog, email after email, and it worked. It helped me focus forward.

Those emotions are still fueling me. I’m currently finishing edits on a piece that I love. It follows Victoria James as she rediscovers herself, family, and love after she loses the things that she thought were important. I’ve joined new writing groups, taken on new responsibilities within others, and opened myself up to possibilities of all types…even starting my own contracting business.

Sometimes life interrupted leads to writing interrupted, but when you come out on the other side it can be absolutely fabulous!

Book of Your Heart

Every book I write IS the Book of My Heart. It all comes from your heart. You created that book out of your love for the craft. But it’s the Book of My Heart while I’m writing it. My next book will again be the current Book of My Heart until it’s finished. Now you’re probably saying “Every book can’t be THE Book of Her Heart.”
Yes, they can. The Laird’s Lady from The Wild Rose Press, was a Book of My Heart. It evolved from the song, How Do I Live Without You by Trisha Yearwood. When I first heard it, I envisioned a woman on a cliff mourning the loss of the man she’d love the rest of her life. I poured my heart & soul into creating Lady Devin and Laird Kyle. When I wrote the last page of the book, I was crying again, but for a good reason. The book was finished and it was a Happily Ever After.
Or The Captain’s Wench, from Devine Destinies. I love the old black & white movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Now my version is a sexy, spicier version, but nonetheless has a handsome sea captain Alexander who’s died and romance novelist Meg who starts out wanting him to go away and ends up wanting him to stay. I gave them a Happily Ever After, but as my readers know, I tend to put a spin on things so that you get to the end of the book and go “Ah, that is so cool.”
And just like me with writing a Book of My Heart, I know all you readers and writers out there can say the same about a book you’ve read. It’s a keeper in every sense of the word. I have several on my bookshelf that I have read over a dozen times each. Come on admit it, so do you (G). Which is why our bookcases, nightstands, floor space is crowded with tons of books we can’t bear to part with.
So from my overflowing home office full of books, I wish you many hours of happy writing, and I hope the next book you pick up (maybe mine) is a Book of Your Heart.
Patti Shenberger
Who doesn’t need a little romance in their life?

Bio – Patti Shenberger has loved writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil.
Her first sale was to a children’s magazine for an article on potato jewelry, but after sitting down with a romance novel thought “I can write something like this” and so she did. That was 15 years ago and she is still going strong with magazine length articles, romance novels, novellas and short stories.
You can visit Patti at to learn more about her books or drop her an email at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Love What You Write!

When I sold Heart of the Wolf, I had no idea it would make Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year, 1 of 5 mass marketed books that made it.

I didn't know that I would now have 8 contracted books in the series, that I would be featured in a Portland, Oregon newspaper where I went to college, or in the alumni magazines for Monmouth University in NJ, and West Texas A & M, Portland Community College in Oregon, or have an interview in a French online magazine.

The Portland Community College article was just released/click download on the picture to the write and I'm featured on Page 5!!

I didn't know that I would be invited to contribute to Make Love Like a Romance Author, a nonfiction book from the maker of the Chicken Soup series, which includes several NY Times Best Selling authors. I didn't know that the first 3 books in the series would sell out and are already in their 2nd printing!

What I did know was that I loved writing Heart of the Wolf, and it came from the heart.

But then my editor asked what else I had written. I'd started series works before, and hadn't sold them. So I had stopped writing series--no sense in writing 3 books and not selling any of them. And though Heart of the Wolf had had a lot of favorable interest, it hadn't sold yet, so I started Destiny of the Wolf, same world, different characters. Except for Leidolf. He was the mystery wolf in Heart of the Wolf and he became the one character I included in each of the first 4 books.

But my editor hadn't bought Destiny of the Wolf by the time I needed to get started on another story, just in case. Same old dilemma. I didn't want to write a sequel to a book my editor might not buy. So I wrote To Tempt the Wolf. Again, new set of characters. And the 4th book, Legend of the White Wolf sold on proposal. Then I was able to revisit characters from earlier books. Book 5 is Leidolf's story, Seduced by the Wolf.

And Book 6, Wolf Fever, is Carol's story, from Destiny of the Wolf.

Heart of the Highland Wolf, Book 7, is also a new cast of characters, but the romance author, Julia Wildthorn, mentioned in many of the books, is in this one.

And Book 8, Dreaming of the Wolf, the current book I'm working on, is Jake's story, from Destiny of the Wolf.

So writing from the heart has resulted in 8 well-loved books, but that's not all. When promotion time comes for the new releases, we must love the book all over again. We write about it--what makes it different from the others in the series. What makes it different from other books in the genre. What inspired me to write it???

And all have inspiration in one form of another. In To Tempt the Wolf, I absolutely love the scenario where a man or woman is "shipwrecked" and doesn't remember who he or she is. I've read various romance versions and so came up with my own.

When I was trying to come up with a new angle for book #7, a coworker said I didn't have any "poor" werewolves. :)

At the time, I'd been dying to write about a Highland werewolf clan because a lot of my mother's ancestors were from the Highlands. So I incorporated some of my true story in with the fictional, made a "poor" Highland hero, and had a blast with Heart of the Highland Wolf, due out Jun 2011. :)

Will there be more wolves on the horizon? You bet! :) I'm currently working on Dreaming of the Wolf, Book 8, and have proposed two more.

So remember, when you "pick up that pen" to write, it might just be your mainstay and you'll need to love it to write more, to promote, to share your love of the world and your characters with readers and fans all over the world.

When you write that first book, it's only the beginning! :)

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Publishing changes: whiplash ahead?

I don't know if you've noticed, but the publishing industry is changing as we speak. If you're a reader, you may not be aware of all the subtle undercurrents. If you're an author and you read any industry blogs, the wave of change must be surprising, especially if you've been in the biz for any length of time.

Authors are bypassing the agency model and pairing with Amazon (and soon, Barnes & Noble) to put their back lists on assorted e-devices. Some authors are going straight to Amazon (witness Joe Konrath's startling news recently). I am still skeptical about Joe's assertion that if the marketing is right and the price is right, an author can make beaucoup bucks on Kindle. I don't have the time to spend that he does on marketing and schmoozing my books, but I'll give it a try in the future, probably, with some books whose rights will be returned to me soon. I'll report back on what I find.

A friend and I had coffee last night and she said, "Look at how much publishing has changed since you started three years ago. Do you have any idea where it will be in three years?"

I never thought it would change as much as it has so quickly. I knew I was on the inside track of the New Wave by going with small publishers, but I thought it might take a decade or more for e-sales to take off the way they have. I always thought that at some point I might re-approach a NY house and look for that "real" publishing contract.

But I don't have that inclination any more. I've seen how authors have to compete for those rare publishing slots. I've been to quite a few mystery conferences lately, and I've heard about it, believe me. A NY contract gives me access to walk-in sales at a bookstore. From what I've heard from other authors -- that isn't much. Only a rare few get some promotional help from their publisher. The rest of the authors are mostly on their own.

I know of a handful of authors who make their living as writers. By 'make a living' I mean those who have no spouse to provide a backup income or who can provide medical coverage. These are people who make enough money to support themselves now -- and of course, their future is dependent on more books and more sales. All of them have a 'side job' as an editor or speaker to supplement their writing income. I can think of maybe ten or so who don't have a side job.

I like my 'side job'. I'm a writer (technical) and I make good money doing what I do. I'm disciplined and I can juggle both jobs: fiction and non-fiction writing. Some day I may walk away from one or the other, but for now they peacefully co-exist. I have 15 books out, I have 3 more coming this year, I have 5 for next year, and who knows what will happen after that?

The way publishing is changing, it's anybody's guess...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Don't Be Ordinary

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an Hour

William Blake (1757-1827) (English poet, painter and engraver) is one of the earliest and greatest figures of Romanticism. He emphasized individual, imaginative, visionary and emotional creativity. He privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in one poem, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”

When I was a teenager my father gave me the talk. Not the one on sex, the one on being an individual. I remember his words like he spoke them yesterday and I am sure I might have dared to roll my eyes like my daughters did when I gave them the same speech. “If your friends jumped off the roof, would follow them? Be an individual, be unique and do what you think is best for you.” I’m not sure he didn’t regret these words at some time in his life because I took them literally and have never followed the crowd.

What I get from Blake’s thoughts is that you should create what’s important to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing a story, picking up a paint brush, taking photos, creating quilts, putting together culinary delights, etc. Creativity is the key. Learn who you are. Do something that makes you unique. Don’t mindlessly follow the crowd. After you are gone, it will be your legacy - an inheritance for your children and friends.

I grew up in a home where artistic talent was everywhere. My mother was not only an award-winning oil painter, but taught herself to play the organ and also sewed and did needle work. My daughter Kellie inherited her painting talent. Having their artwork proves Blake’s theory. They are no longer with us, but their essence is. I take great comfort in that.

When I make a personalized quilt each one grows from my own creativity. I can’t explain the joy I receive in making them and then hearing the squeal, feel the hug, or see the happy tears when they are received. My stories aren’t published yet. When they are, I’ll have a second contribution to romanticism. I love that word now that I know what it means. I’m searching for more ways to use it now.

Have you thought about how unique you are and what you are leaving as your legacy?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rain or shine - it's all about perspective...

We reached 87 in Minnesota.

Today, the sun felt too hot and the air too humid. On a different day, the heat wouldn't have bothered me. I would have grabbed a cold glass of water and said, "see, this isn't so bad." But I'd had one of those days. You know, the kind when things just don't go as planned. So my mood was a bit off and it influenced how I felt about the early summer day.

This is something I consider with my characters all the time when I'm writing. Using their reaction to the world around them to show how they're feeling.

When I originally planned my topic for today, I'd written the same paragraph two different ways exploring what I could show about a character's mood. This is what I came up with:

Scene #1: Not that she wouldn't mind a bit of sun but the clouds didn't bother her. Today, the solid ceiling of vibrant, marbled-gray sky comforted her. She felt safe below them like she did in her cozy studio apartment on a cold winter day.

Scene #2: Blast. What did a girl have to do to see a little sun? Maybe she'd have to pull out that light therapy lamp from the back of her tiny closest in her equally tiny apartment. She'd take anything because the solid ceiling of drab, marbled-gray sky was closing in on her. Suffocating her.

I find it interesting how our emotions can change how we perceive the things around us. As a writer, I love exploring the different ways a setting can support and enrich a story.

Until next month,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A First

On May 3rd a fifty year storm washed away our conference at Opryland Hotel in Nashville. A first. Since this is my first blog I started pondering other firsts in my life. My first high heels…first love…first heartbreak. I know what you might be thinking, but I won’t go there…

All of us remember our personal milestones, those moments we sit back and grin in satisfaction.

My critique group cheered when I finished my first manuscript. Initially, like searching for a new love, I sought an agent who would appreciate me and my work. Test the waters. Well, it’s choppy and windy and rough in that sea, so I tried entering a contest.

The final judge, a New York editor, requested my full manuscript. I shouted YES! You all know the winning gesture––arm pumping with your fisted hand declaring victory. Well, I don’t have much of a bicep but that baby got a workout for several days. I gained another first, RWA PRO status. I’ll proudly wear the pin at this year’s conference in Orlando.

But, alas, like a first heartbreak I later received my first rejection. After the initial disappointment (and lots of chocolate) I worked at shaking off the negative aspects and viewed it as another step up the well-worn stairs to publication.

Writing is such a lonely business. Too often we struggle, moving forward without fanfare or praise. So, I’d like you to pause a moment and then share your own personal writing first. Did you recently wrestle a defiant character to the ground, forcing him to reveal the perfect dark secret? Or have you stretched yourself to attempt a new direction in your writing? Did you stare at those two powerful words “The End” and weep tears of happiness knowing your determination paid off? Perhaps, that impossible scene (you know the one) suddenly shifted, as if in a dream, and your fingers couldn’t fly fast enough over the keys. Whatever the thrill, please share it here and let me be your fan for today.

I salute your hard work and perseverance.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Love of Romance

Since the day my mother gave me my first book, The Lady and the Cowboy by Diana Palmer, I’ve been reading romance. I fell in love with romance and happy endings. I’ve been told that I have my head in the clouds. So be it. It’s a nice place to be. Not realistic, but nice.
One book turned into three turned into too many to count, and I was hooked. Now, I buy anywhere from eight to ten romance books a month. Barnes and Nobel loves me.

When I decided to write my first romance novel, I wrote to Isabel Swift at Harlequin/Silhouette for advice. She recommended I join RWA and the New England Chapter for help. I met a great group of published authors and authors on the way. I served as their treasurer for four years, and handed out roses to those whose books just got published. A heady feeling.
I needed help critiquing my finished manuscript and discovered the From The Heart Critique Group. I learned from trial and error. I had trouble with POV. Some editors only allow one POV per chapter others no more than three. Mona Risk told me to put my hero in blue and my heroine in pink. It worked like a charm.

It isn’t easy to write a great romance. It’s a lot of sweat, tears and frustration. Rejection comes hard, but as a famous author once told me, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
I’ve learned how to critique other manuscripts, to learn the difference between telling and showing, to limit adverbs, avoid passive sentences, to delete words that don’t move the work ahead, and watch the POV. In return, it has helped me to see where I needed help.

I’ve judged contests for many RWA chapters and just finished my third year judging the Golden Heart. As a judge, I highlight the author’s errors and give phrases where it is due. I never slash in red, as it’s their baby and I know how it feels.
In one contest, the contestant liked my critique and asked if I’d do her whole manuscript. I agreed, and Jenn and I have become fast friends. I’m working on her second. I’m happy to say that a lot of books I’ve had the pleasure to help critique have been published.

I’ve written three books and have five chapters done on my fourth. I’ve entered many contests with all three of my books. One is now on an editor’s desk. No promises, but I live in hope. I have eight trophies hanging on my wall here in my computer room. It’s a great feeling.

I was green as grass while attending my first convention. I talked with an author for about an hour. Neither of us gave our names. After lunch, the guest speaker was introduced, the same woman I’d spoken to earlier. I stared as she smiled at me, and I clapped as Nora Roberts took the podium. We laughed as she autographed one of my favorite books from her MacGregor series. When I said my spelling was atrocious, she remarked, tongue in cheek, “That’s what spell check is for.” She’s a marvelous woman and a phenomenal author with a great sense of humor.

You meet a lot of interesting people when you do research. Some are impressed and some are skeptical. I needed museum quality security for one of my books and called a certain company. When I asked for information, the man said I wouldn’t be able to understand their intricate workings. Needless to say, I had to bite my tongue not to snap, chauvinist.
I politely asked if he thought an M.I.T engineer could understand his intricate workings. He apologized and sent the information out the next day. After I read the article, I called back and asked if I could put two sections together and make it work. He said my engineer background showed. I asked his boss if I could use their company’s name in my book. He answered, if I had written it in good taste. I read him the page and a half that concerned his company, and he not only gave me permission, but asked for a signed autograph copy when the book came out.
My husband berated me for lying to the man. What lie? I didn’t say I was the M.I.T engineer. The engineer is living with me. See how you can twist words to suit you. Semantics, my darling husband grumbled.

Another time, I visited my hometown and went to the police station to acquire information on drugs in and around the harbor. The lieutenant kept avoiding most of my questions. When he asked how I was smuggling the cocaine in my book, I told him, and his brows arched. He responded with a simple. “Oh-h?” I could see his brain whirling and expected to be detained.
I figured I wasn’t going to learn much more, so I left and headed for my parents home. As I drove into my parent’s driveway, a police cruiser passed me and turned around. My father opened the front door and waved to the policeman, who waved back. Dad asked what I did to have a police escort home. When I told him, he laughed so hard he had to sit. When he stopped laughing, he said, “I’d love to be there when Charlie goes back and tells them whose daughter you are.” This started his laughing all over again.

So you see, writing has its serious side and its laughable side. You just have to learn to roll with the punches.
So, we keep writing and hoping for that lucky day when an editor says: “We’ll sign a contract.”
Posted by Jaclyn DiBona

Thursday, May 20, 2010



So. I’ve got this manuscript. Or part of one, actually.

It’s taken me eighteen months to get to 40k words. (I know, right??) Much longer than it took me to write any other book. Ever. I’ve plotted. I’ve pantsed. I’ve filled out character questionnaires, GMC-ed, written copious notes in multiple notebooks, and walked around with these people in my head trying to fit their lives together in a cohesive way. I scrapped the whole thing several times (five? six?) and started over.

I entered contests when I thought I finally had it right, finalled in two, won one, both resulted in requests--one for a full, one for a partial.

Happy dance! Time to get this puppy done! I sat down and eagerly set to work.

Eight months later, I’ve totally fizzled. This story simply cannot be told in the way I’ve been trying to tell it. I can’t find the right way to get this romance on paper. It’s like I’ve got the right characters, but am trying to shoehorn them in the wrong story, the wrong life. I dreaded getting out my laptop, opening the file and staring at it. I think I gained weight ‘cause after about 5 minutes I was rummaging around in the kitchen thinking maybe brownies or a granola bar or a spoonful of peanut butter would tell me where to go.

Not so much.

Two weeks ago, I admitted the truth, the truth I think I’ve known since I started this book a year and a half ago--some stories can’t be written. This story can’t be written. And by hiding behind this book, I’ve lost valuable time I could have spent working on one that can be written, a story that might just be The One.

So, I packed it away. I have hope I’ll someday revisit these characters (whom I love), find the way their story is supposed to be told. I changed the background on my laptop (the sight of the other one stressed me out and triggered that run to the kitchen!) and set up a new folder for a new WIP--two of them, actually. I hauled out fresh notebooks and different pen colors. Both of these WIPS feel so much better to me. I can see them and there’s no voice whispering, “This isn’t going to work.”

If there were, I’d listen.

Ami Weaver

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thanks a Lot, FTHRW: Now I Cringe.

First I joined FTHRW. Then I got great advice about craft and improved my writing. But now I am doomed to cringe. And it often comes in threes.

Driving to work, I'm listening to a book on tape, and I hear the line:

Shouldn't there be a better way? he wondered.

Cringe number one. The writing has few problems with point of view (POV). But this is head hopping, and it's distracting.

Then I realize, it's not POV. It's actually dialog attribution:

"Shouldn't there be a better way?" he wondered.

Really bad dialog attribution. So say the experts. And I've come to agree, thanks to my craft-honing at FTHRW. Cringe number two, thank you very much.

The story goes on. But then, just when I am about to be carried away again, there comes insidious cringe number three.

This book I am listening to is a best-selling vampire YA story. (THE best selling) So, I realize, writing well is not a requirement for best-selling status. Neither is editing well, apparently. And these are the people who send me the rejection letters!

Cringe, cringe, cringe. Unavoidable occupational hazard, I guess. But I forgive you FTHRW. I am a better writer than I used to be.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Foreign Hero

When people ask me about the most interesting thing I have ever done, I can’t help smiling as I answer without hesitation, “Traveling.” I visited over fifty countries on vacation or business trips.

Here are some of the fun things I enjoyed and included in scenes of my books:
• Toast with vodka in Russian countries. (See my contemporary romance TO LOVE A HERO)
• Exchange a romantic kiss with my husband on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (See Rx IN FRENCH).
• Sleep in a chateau in the Loire Valley (See my romantic suspense FRENCH PERIL).
• Walk overdressed in bathing suit along a nude beach in Greece (still working on the scene in my work-in-progress, ISLAND OF PASSION)
But I experienced more exciting adventures that I plan to incorporate in future books:
Ride a camel in Egypt around the pyramids and sphinx; feed the turtle in Seychelles Islands; sail through the Norwegian Fjords; photograph the penguins in Chili; swim with baby sharks in Tahiti; smoke the narghile in Tunisia; and many more…

Traveling is not only about visiting monuments and palaces in foreign countries or snapping photos in front of famous landmarks. Traveling opens new horizons, exposes you to different cultures, and teaches you new words. Every time you travel you are indelibly marked by what you see, what you hear, even what you smell.

When I decided to start writing novels I already knew that my heroine would be an all-American gal, educated, assertive and independent. But I wanted my hero to be different from the men she meets everyday at work. I wanted to gift her with a man who measures up to my special heroine. During my numerous travels abroad, I observed the foreign male and study how he could attract my American heroine and be worthy of her love.

As a Director of an environmental laboratory I traveled to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to refurbish laboratories. In Belarus, I dealt mostly with officers, handsome, reserved, aloof at first sight. While writing TO LOVE A HERO, I practically relived my fantastic trips to Belarus and kept a detailed journal. My story highlights the hospitality and warmth of the gorgeous and valiant Belarusians officers who sing, toast with vodka and make a woman feel like a goddess.

The Russian hero, such as the dashing Major General Sergei of TO LOVE A HERO, is a perfect example of alpha hero: a patriotic officer, authoritative and chauvinistic but protective and gallant, honest and loyal.

In France, the old gallantry has survived and many Frenchmen would not hesitate to write a poem to their beloved. The aristocratic male greets a woman by bowing over her hand for a kiss while the average Frenchman kisses her three times on the cheeks. That custom is not only used with relatives and friends but also with colleagues every day at work. Frenchmen love wine and will have un petit vin, a little wine, at lunch on a daily basis. At dinner, a whole bottle is a must.

The French hero is a playboy and a womanizer, determined not to be entrapped, but also a generous and passionate lover.

FRENCH PERIL was inspired by a vacation I spent in the Loire Valley. My husband and I spent two nights in a modernized chateau. I was impressed by the wealth of history of that area and visualized gallant aristocrats entertaining beautiful women in lavishly decorated galleries and plush gardens. Stories played in my mind. I upped the stakes with a missing statue and the murder of a professor to create a romantic suspense, FRENCH PERIL.

The Greek hero is also an alpha hero.

In ISLAND OF PASSION, Greek billionaire Stephanos is broody, passionate, athletic and valiant, in love with the sea, he listens more than he talks and has trouble trusting a woman or handing his heart.

In Mexico, Puerto Rico and South America, I was impressed by the joyful atmosphere. Large families with three or more children are the norm. People dine at late hours. They like music and dance. The father is respected as head of the family.

The Latino hero is romantic, more of a beta hero. Fun-loving, easy-going.
In BABIES IN THE BARGAIN, my sweet and spicy medical romance that will be released on July 03, 2009, Dr. Marc Suarez is adored by the female population of the hospital. He is said to collect sport trophies and nurses’ hearts. But a tragic accident changed him into a dedicated father to his orphan nephew.

In the Middle East, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel, I noticed that young couples do not demonstrate affection in public places. Children are polite and expected to obey their parents without arguments. Religion holds a strong place in family life.

The Egyptian Hero is another beta hero, shy and reserved. Jealous and old-fashioned, he prefers to marry a virgin. Yes, ma’am, they told me that!!!

In my present book I am dealing with Egyptian mythology and avoiding the pitfall of protagonists too serious for my taste. Egyptian gods are anything but gods of commitment.

If you like to travel and love to read, come tour my European romances and my blog.

Mona Risk writes romantic suspense for Cerridwen Press: TO LOVE A HERO and FRENCH PERIL; and medical romance in the genre of ER and Grey's Anatomy for The Wild Rose Press: Rx FOR TRUST and BABIES IN THE BARGAIN, winner of 2009 BEST CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE at READERS FAVORITE and 2009 BEST ROMANCE NOVEL at Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. All books are available at

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Researching Ad Nauseam

Research . . . ah, my favorite topic.

When my husband and I first met, we decided to buy a camera. In my world of BB (that’s Before Bob for you non-texting members), that meant going to the store, having the clerk tell you about the varying features of each manufacturer, and going home with a bag full of camera stuff to begin a new hobby.

Well, this one Saturday we set out to buy a camera. Man, I was psyched about developing this new hobby. What I didn’t know about Bob was his penchant for researching everything ad nauseam.

Despite my frustration of going home empty handed, I ultimately found the value of all that research. Let’s face it, some clerks intentionally provide misleading information just to make that sale. So, the morale of this story . . . or blog . . . is for you to do your homework. Know the answers to those questions before you say something that can be disputed by someone in the know.

So, how does this apply to us as writers? Well, if you’ve ever submitted a manuscript, and neglected to do your research, then you know there’s just so much creative licensing you can apply without writing a disclaimer on the title page.

The Internet is the highway to information. It amazes me how many people ask Google the same silly questions I do. More importantly though, it’s the window of opportunity to learn and not be afraid to focus your story on a subject of which you have no knowledge. It’s all right there just waiting for you to ask.

Need a tutorial on researching the most efficient way on the Internet highway? Check out this site: It’s easier than you think!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering. That camera? It took three months of research before we ultimately purchased the right one. So did I take up the hobby? Umm . . . no . . . but, I did launch another hobby—writing romances.

And, one more tool you should always have on hand, CHOCOLATE—and lots of it. Eating chocolate releases endorphins that help elevate a sluggish mood, it releases stress, and gives you an all over good feeling of well-being.

So, did you have your chocolate today?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Beth Trissel's Interview

Today's spotlight is on award-winning, multi-published author, Beth Trissel.
Beth writes American Historical books with a paranormal twist:
Daughter of the Wind, Enemy of the King, Through the Fire, Somewhere my Love.
Beth was a 2008 Golden Heart® Finalist, 2008 Winner at Preditor's & Editor's Readers Poll and Publisher’s Weekly BHB Reader’s Choice Best Books of 2009. Her latest paranormal, Somewhere My Lass, will be released at The Wild Rose Press on May 26, 2010.

Please join me in welcoming Beth Trissel.
Beth, thank you for spending the day with us. Please, tell us a little about yourself.

Where are you from? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Thanks much for having me. Lovely to be here. I’m from Virginia for the past several hundred years, family wise, but also spent much of my childhood in Taiwan and Tennessee. Between the two, I much preferred Tennessee. Taiwan was pretty primitive in those days. Memories surface when I watch Indiana Jone’s movies of swinging bridges strung between mountain peaks over plunging ravines…natives missing limbs from venomous snake bites….noisy, stifling bus rides with crated chickens perched on women’s laps, children clutching piglets, and men spitting red betelnut juice.

Are there any authors that have influenced you or your work?
The very first historical romance I ever read was Katherine by Anya Seton. Wow, it made an enormous impression on me. Just to name one.

Do you have a favorite book or series?
I love quaint and cozy British author Miss Read in my downtime. I’m weird, I know. I read little fiction, mostly non for research.

What are your hobbies or interests?
I’m an avid gardener, have a burgeoning family with ever more darling little grand babies, nieces…and I’m a British program addict. My mom says I am an Anglophile. Sounds perverted but it just means there are few British period films, murder mysteries, or hilarious comedies that I’ve missed. I’ve seen every Jane Austen based production ever made. Oddly though, I’m also an American history fanatic, but the two are intertwined.

Speaking of, can you tell us more about your books? What inspired you to write them?
I’m a multi-pubbed, in historical and light paranormal romance, author with a passion for the past. Family genealogy plays a significant role in my inspiration. Our roots reach well back into colonial America and much further into the British Isles.

How long did it take for you to get published and what was the journey like?
I was like a sled dog pushing on through blinding snow with rejections galore and no end in sight for 12 plus years (and I even had a good agent at one point) until I finally found the Promised Land, otherwise known as The Wild Rose Press.

Any current projects you're excited about and can share with our readers?
Yes, indeed. I have a light paranormal release coming out at The Wild Rose on May 26th, Somewhere My Lass, a unique suspenseful Scottish time travel and the next book in my ‘Somewhere’ series.

Do you write to music or the TV? Music, mostly Celtic and soundtracks from movies that take me from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ I try to forge ahead and write despite the frequent children’s movies playing in the background when the little people are over – which is often.

Do you plot your story before you write it or do you sit and let it flow? I’m a panser trying to be more of a plotter but not really succeeding. I rely heavily on obsessive research. It’s my armor and guiding light.

Most people see writers as hermits, closed off in a room, clacking away at the keyboard until the final page is typed. Do you consider yourself this disciplined as a writer?
I’m not always allowed this luxury with all the people coming and going, but the cave days are ideal.

They say you can learn a lot about a person by their surroundings. What does your work area look like?
Cluttered, homey, filled with pets, flowers & herbs from the garden. And a lot of toys.

What do you consider your guilty pleasure?
I need to acquire one of those.

And here is a blurb of Somewhere My Lass.

Blurb: Neil MacKenzie’s well ordered life turns to chaos when Mora Campbell shows up claiming he’s her fiancĂ© from 1602 Scotland. Her avowal that she was chased to the future by clan chieftain, Red MacDonald, is utter nonsense, and Neil must convince her that she is just addled from a blow to her head–or so he believes until the MacDonald himself shows up wanting blood. Mora knows the Neil of the future is truly her beloved Niall who disappeared from the past. Although her kinsmen believe he’s dead, and she is now destined to marry Niall’s brother, she’s convinced that if she and Neil return to the past, all will be right. The only problem is how to get back to 1602 before it’s too late. The balance of the present and future are in peril if she marries another, and the Neil of the present will cease to exist. An ancient relic and a few good friends in the future help pave the way back to the past, but will Mora and Neil be too late to save a love that began centuries before?
Beth Trissel's books are available at the Wild Rose Press.

A Fan of Fans

A couple of weeks ago I had the fun of going to the Romantic Times convention in Columbus Ohio. For those who haven’t been to this convention, it is a great place for authors to promote their books in a setting of parties, cover models, and general goofiness. I always have a great time at this convention, which is one of the reasons I go.

Many of the people who go to the convention are readers and booksellers, both of which are good people for an author to get to know. For the readers it is can be an opportunity to meet their favorite authors. For me it is a great place to meet my fans.

And yes, that’s right, in spite of my being a small press author who sells far fewer books than some of my contemporaries, I have fans. And I mean fans in the sense of people who almost know my books better than I do and love talking about them.

At the last convention I had an extended conversation about one of my Gaian science fiction romance books with a delightful young woman who was intently curious as to why in my short story “The Girl In The Box” my hero’s father was acting as a trader in the Outer Colonies. You see in the novel “Promises To Keep” I describe General Garran Doranth as an engineer and inventor, and surely he would have gone back to doing that once the war was over.

And she was right. I’d made Garran a trader so he and his son would be out in space where Ganth could meet the heroine Ami. Otherwise I didn’t have a story. But was that the only reason? Was there a better one for why Garran be  acting as a trader twenty or so years in the future?

Actually I had layered into the story a hint that Garran and Ganth were actively engaged in espionage activities, a follow-on to Garran having led the Gaian military during their revolutionary war against Earth. Keeping an eye on Earth’s activities in the Outer Colonies would be an obvious thing for Garran to do I had thought, and that had provided the reason behind the attempt against his and his son’s life that was also part of the story. I couldn’t go into too much detail on Garran being a spy because the story was only five thousand words, but the hints were there.

I absolutely loved having this conversation with this reader. First of all, even if only a few people are reading my books, knowing they are getting more out of the story than I expected makes me happy. Also I work hard at putting in the subtle hints that there might be more to a story than is just what is on the page. When a reader tells me she often reads one of my books twice, first to get the story, then to see where I’d hinted at what was going to happen, then that work is justified. The reader “got” my story.

That’s why I’m a fan of fans.

Janet Miller/Cricket Starr
Interested in more? See my website

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Where's Your Special Spot?

Rejection can sap our confidence. The only way to get past that is to get right back to submitting/writing again. Easy, right??

For weeks on the heels of yet another rejection, I have been resisting the need to complete edits and start the submission process again. I run through scenes that need changing in my mind, yet words don't flow to the keyboard. I'm "stuck". I know I need to do this. I know my manuscript will sell.

It's time to break the "stuck" cycle and go where I think the best. Six years ago my husband, then fiance, hand dug a heart-shaped rose garden for me. I watched him daily work on that garden simply for the reason I said I always wanted a rose garden. For our wedding, he gave me a bench for the garden so I could sit out there and de-stress. It is the place I go when I'm overwhelmed, upset or just need quiet time.

So facing edits that just aren't coming, I grab pen and paper and head to the rose garden. Although they are not in bloom yet, new growth is evident. I walk around the garden and check out each plant. Settling comfortably onto the bench, I close my eyes and imagine the scene that needs the most work -- the words start forming in my mind.

With pen in hand, I am able to break the stuckness and start the process of revisions. As I progress through the "simple" edits, my confidence grows. Confidence that even after rejections, I can make this into a marketable manuscript. My heart and soul are in this story. I have cried for my characters, with my characters and cheered them through their triumphs.

So now the revisions are done and I have sent out more queries for my baby. The waiting begins again. And in that waiting process there will be times I will be sitting in my rose garden -- peaceful and confident.

Where do you go when your muse is rebelling?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Highway to Hell...or Cai & Arwen's Very Unexcellent Adventure

Ain't nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too
I'm on the Highway to Hell...
Lyrics by ACDC
The hero of my latest story is a big fan of ACDC, so I felt it appropriate to start my blog off with those lyrics. In Sex and Trouble, Rosier escapes his boredom with captivity by blasting heavy metal. I knew when I set off to Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention 2010 in Columbus, Ohio, that I wouldn't be playing a lot of heavy metal, though. You see, I am two people - Cai Smith and Arwen Lynch. One of us, Cai, loves the headbangin' stuff while the other, Arwen, is more of a folkie. We compromise on music and both adore audio books.

When we left Fort Worth, Texas at 5:30 AM Monday morning, we fully expected to arrive at the convention hotel by midnight at the latest since both the GPS and Google Maps told us it was a 15.5 hour drive. Little did we know that the Universe had other things in mind for our journey...

We cruised up the highway to Arkansas--pleased with the time we were making and the journey itself--then on through Tennessee and into Kentucky. And that's where the wheels started to fall off. We stopped regularly for gas, potty breaks and to walk around a bit, stretching those traveling kinks out. On one of those stops at some very nice but nameless roadside rest stop, Cai decided to take her contacts out. Her eyes were tired so it was time for glasses.

Unfortunately, one contact decided not to cooperate. Cai scratched her cornea trying to get the darned thing out. Arwen took over the wheel, but drove only until we reached Elizabethtown, KY. We hit the local ER so Cai's eye could be checked out. Sure enough, she'd injured her eye badly enough to need an antibiotic cream. Two and a half hours later, we were back on the road with Cai behind the wheel once again.

We have a great friendship that goes back many years. One of the things we knwow is that Cai is the driver and Arwen is the passenger. Some day we'll tell you the story of how Arwen nearly drove into a mountain when she saw some unusual animals on the side of the road. "Look! Buffalo," is how that story starts. Cai prefers to arrive alive so she drives the bulk when we go on long trips.

If we ever go on a long trip after this highway to hell excursion, that is! So, there we are in the car, plotting our next book and laughing about the ER being the worst part of the trip. OOPS! Never say that where "They" can hear you. In the darkest part of the night, on one of Kentucky's (and possibly the USA's) most dangerous stretches of highway, we hit a pothole the size of a Newfoundland...I kid you not.


The car shakes and shudders like a bronco on speed as Cai curses and guides the car to the narrowest piece of shoulder we've ever seen. She's so close to the guardrail that Arwen can barely squeeze out of the passenger-side door. Eighteen-wheelers are zooming past so fast and so close that the car vibrates violently. We have blown a tire on a hill about 31 miles south of Cincinnati. This is on Highway 41N and we're also on a bridge. Can you say, "perfect horror movie setup?"

We could.

Once Cai managed to stop shaking, we called AAA. This is when we received the worst customer service EVER! The operator manages to make us feel like the worst idiots in the world because we're on a stretch of highway neither of us has ever traveled before and we don't know what exit we passed last or what the next exit coming up might be. I know it's hard to believe that we didn't mark each exit on the highway that neither of us has ever been on before as we passed it, right? This woman expressed nothing but contempt and irritation while by-passing even the smallest bit of sympathy for our nightmarish situation. The fact that we were calling her with this "emergency roadside issue" at nearly 2AM seemed to have escaped her notice entirely.

She even told us she could not send someone out if she didn't know where we were. Luckily, Arwen and Cai both have GPS phones. We were able to give her the nearest coordinates. AAA will be receiving a very irate letter about that woman's lack of empathy! But she did manage to send us our knight in a shiny roll-back wrecker, Gene! He was our senior by many years.

Gene towed us down the mountain scolding us about our tires and where we were on the road. You felt like your granddad has just told you off! He was a real sweetheart and our hero. After he put the spare (one of those blasted doughnut tires!) on, he assured us we could make it to Columbus if we only went 60MPH. So we did...

When we reached the convention hotel in Columbus, it was 6:30AM EST Tuesday. We collapsed in our hotel room thanking our personal Higher Powers for seeing us safely there - albeit with a tad more excitement than we might have liked.

Have you ever had a "Highway to Hell" road trip? We'd love to hear YOUR adventures!

And, if you like steamy paranormal romantica, check out our hero Rosier in Sex and Trouble, available digitally from Jasmine Jade Publishing-- His adventure involves being released from captivity by a very nice, albeit newbie witch!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Choose the Perfect Pen Name

Side view of hotel reception desk

Hello. I’m Clarissa Southwick.

No, not really.

Clarissa is my pen name. My real last name inspires drunks to make crank calls in the middle of the night. So the decision to go with a nom de plume was easy for me.

Choosing a pen name was hard.

I started by gathering advice from fellow writers.

Here’s the list they gave me:

  • Keep it short
  • Aim for the front of the alphabet.
  • Make it easy to spell and pronounce.
  • Make it appropriate to your genre.
  • Choose something which has personal meaning to you.
That sounds simple enough. I have four children. I managed to name all of them, didn’t I? I studied baby name books, expecting the perfect pen name to jump out at me. But it’s a lot harder to come up with both the first and last name.

When I got stuck, some of my writer friends suggested combining loved ones’ first names. Sabrina Adams, Marie Williams, etc. This works very well if you’re working with uncommon names. But when I googled my family names, I got lost in millions of entries from authors, porn stars and politicians. I might as well be invisible.

Tourists at the entrance to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, NY, USA
I played Ellis Island with my real name. I chopped off syllables, changed out parts, and rearranged the letters. Many writers have done this successfully. But somehow Alderzigera and Zeraglaider still sounded like evil villains from a manga comic book.

I needed a name for a historical romance writer.

In spite of having a last name which gets me ‘randomly selected’ at the airport 100% of the time, my father’s family has been in the United States since the 1620’s. So I dusted off those old genealogy records and looked for ancestors who would have been born at the same time as my heroines.

And there she was, Clarissa Southwick, granddaughter of George Southwick, who died in 1775 at the Battle of Lexington during the American Revolutionary War. I remember being fascinated by his monument in Peabody Square as a child. I googled Clarissa, and found nothing objectionable. Somehow the name just felt right.

Is it the perfect pen name? Well, it breaks at least two of the rules on my list. It’s far from the start of the alphabet, and it is incredibly long. It doesn’t work on twitter and my hand will break if I ever have a book signing. But it has meaning to me, and that may just be the most important rule of all.

I would love to hear your stories Tell me, why did you decide to use a pen name and how did you choose it?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Don't Drop the Ball!

Eighteen months ago, like thousands of others, I signed up with a network marketing company that promised the world. I did my due diligence. They had been in business eight years, so I signed up, to support my writing.

The result was a disaster for my writing. The company took me over; so much so, that I spent the next 15 months neglecting my writing in order to make the big money everyone else seemed to be making. How sad is that?

A publisher had bought “the book of my heart” but when it came to promoting it, the passion had gone. Not only that but I also had a book with another publisher that had to hold its own in the big, wide world because I had lost all interest in promoting it.

The reality was that I lost so much money and finally realised I had to call it quits and get a job. Then I discovered it had been a big scam all along. They’d re-branded themselves so there was no comeback.

Happily, that’s now in the past. I had a small windfall and was able to import one of the books. The moment I did that everything came back. My muse. My passion. My life. I still have the job, temporarily, but I can cope with that because I’m writing again.

And I suddenly realised that at the time, I’d had no faith in my writing, and given time, my writing could possibly have supported itself. Who knows?

Anyhoo,. I just wanted to say, don’t ever give up on your writing, no matter how tempting other offers may sound.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your writing. Don’t drop the ball and most of all, don’t ever give up on your dream.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Citizen’s Police Academy-

I happened to be listening to an RWA tape from a few years ago about the Citizens Police Academy and how it could benefit writers. Here is a brief overview:

Imagine having the opportunity to go behind the scenes of a working police station at minimal cost, and for several hours each week.

Taking a Citizens Police Academy class gives any citizen, and in particular, a romantic suspense writer, an opportunity to work directly with police and law enforcement.

The application begins with a background check. It will be helpful to brush up on the terminology beforehand.

The charge for the course is minimal---normally $10.00 or more. Classes are usually offered one night a week for six weeks, for approximately three hours.

Participants might receive handouts, insider information---a valuable research tool, a T- shirt, coffee mug, and a special license plate for their car.

Some of the classroom experience includes a “ride along” with a police officer out on duty, a self-defense class, a trip to the firing range—to learn how to hold and shoot a gun, and a visit with the canine unit. All are excellent hands-on experiences for writers.

The primary reason these classes are offered to the community is so that citizens will understand why police do what they do and how they do it. It promotes good will and a better-educated citizen.

These details-are priceless in writing any type of police or detective story.

You can come up with conflicts for your hero and heroine. You will learn the correct jargon, and not offend your knowledgeable reader.

For more information, contact the police department in your area.

Please note: Police academies may not be offered in your area. Fees are an estimate, and class schedules, etc. may vary.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Positive Energy For The Muse

By Dawn Marie Hamilton

You know it's a bad day when the page in front of you remains blank. The more you try to think, the more your head pounds, the more frustrated you get. The thought of cleaning the bathroom all of a sudden seems like a fun thing to do.

What do you do when your muse refuses to whisper to you?

Chocolate? Helps for a short while. Take a walk? Gets you through the rest of the day.

When I'm really stressed, and the words won't flow onto the page, I need to get away and clear my mind.

Where to go? So many choices to choose from. How about an escape to nature, a hike to a waterfall? Perfect.

I'm not sure what it is about waterfalls that refresh the spirit. All I can say is when I hear the roar through the trees as I approach, I tingle with excitement and when the cooling mist teases my skin, I feel eased.

Some of my favorite falls are near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Where are yours?

Dark Hollow Falls, Lewis Falls, Rose River Falls are within a hike from the Byrd Visitor Center and Big Meadows. The trailhead for Whiteoak Canyon Falls is located near Skyline Lodge. These are but a few options.

On weekends during the peak of the season, Shenandoah's trails can be crowded, especially the most popular falls trails. When I visit, I try to stay for a few days. Though there are lodges and cabins, my husband and I like to camp. We wake to chirping birds. Eat a camp breakfast while butterflies flutter by. And if we are lucky, we might catch a glimpse of a bear and her cubs as they lumber through nearby woods.

When I return home, my muse is energized, and I'm ready to write the next scene.

The park will celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2011. To learn more about the waterfalls within Shenandoah National Park visit Shenandoah Online.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bite Sized Fiction


When I first started writing, all my ideas ran on for hundreds of pages. That changed when I woke up one morning a few years ago with a complete short story in my head. The two thousand words only took me two hours to write and polish. As I was used to slogging over the computer for months, it was a wonderful feeling to complete a story so fast. My critique partners loved the story, so I decided it was worth submitting to a magazine in the hope they loved it as well. I chose My Weekly in the UK, as I knew the magazine published romances with a touch of supernatural or fantasy.

The editor at My Weekly did love the story and bought it (much to my amazement). Not only was this satisfying in itself, I realised what a useful promotional tool short stories could be. The magazine allowed the author to include a short bio with the story, which gave the opportunity to mention published novels and include a website address.

Short stories also provide the ideal format to try different techniques. I’ve often thought of writing a book in first person, but not wanted to risk all the time and effort involved in writing a long novel in first person, only to discover it doesn’t work for me. But I’m quite happy to take an hour or two to write one or two thousand words in first person, or present tense, to see how it sounds.

Some of the magazines also encourage trying unusual techniques, such as all dialogue. The short form is the ideal place to try all those techniques you’d like to try but never get around to. It’s also so much fun! I have many ideas swimming around inside my head and instead of having to finish 80,000 words or more before I can start a new story, I can write a new one every day if each is only a few thousand words.

Try bite-sized fiction. It’s instant gratification for writers.

The first short fantasy romance I wrote, Jack’s Garden, is now available as a free read on the Dorchester Website. Find the page by following the link on my website at or from my author page on

For more details of my contemporary fantasy romance series and to read book excerpts go to

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

It’s been a wild and crazy week at my house, which comes on the tail of a wild and crazy four months. All of this wildness and craziness has amounted to no writing time. So I spent the last few days trying to decide what to blog about. My first chance to write something in months…precious beyond words…or perhaps not since here I am putting this down in words. Well, I woke this morning still uncertain what to write about and then I re-read Morgan’s spot-on contest post from yesterday and inspiration struck.

As someone who has long been involved with the contest circuit in some facet, I have seen plenty of those red pens and axes at work. Authors tend to get hung up in the “rules” and lose sight of the big picture along the way. They start to heavily sweat the small stuff. I can testify to the fact that I belong to this “perspiring” group. For a long time, I dwelled on each element of my story; agonizing over word count and lines per page, that each comma had its place, that my margins were exactly 1” with the header space factored in, and so on and so on. And then I became published…and I sweated all the harder.

Fortunately, that particular sweating has since ceased. It hasn’t come easy, rather taken nearly three dozen tales and several editors to move past. But I now know that the small stuff is truly incidental. Basic grammar comprehension is a must, as is proofreading your work, and making sure you use a font size that is readable, both in size and type style for the sake of saving your editor’s and/or agent’s eyesight. Much of the other stuff we authors, particularly early in our careers, spend so much time worrying over is quite trivial.

It honestly doesn’t matter if your margins are 1” or 0.9 or 1.1, etc. So long as there isn’t glaring white space running around your paper with a tiny bit of text in the center, you are fine. A few typos are not going to break the publishing bank or lose you that six-figure deal, and many houses nix the majority of commas these days, so wasting time agonizing over those is futile. What matters is the story. If the story is worthy, an agent or editor is going to read it. They can fix typos, commas, subplots and even minor holes in the primary plot. Most of my editors now ask for electronic submittals, so fixing margins and type face or style is as easy as selecting all and changing the layout to what they most prefer. Computer count and manuscript count are close enough that for the longer story (over 60K), it really doesn’t matter which you use. For the shorter stories and ones that rely on publishing to a certain page length, such as novellas and category novellas, you should check the editor’s or house’s preference.

The bottomline is focus on the story, the characters, breathing life into each word and setting the scene so that the reader feels drawn into it. Then share that story with your critique partners or the contest circuit. When you get feedback, weigh it and use it at your discretion, but for those who are nitpicking at commas, margins, type style, etc., don’t waste your time worrying here. These elements should be as simple as a cursory sweep, margins should go where they feel natural, and the rest should be left up to each individual editor or house. Everyone has a different style, and so to change your style to suit anyone outside of the editor or house your story finds a home with, is just a waste of time you could be spending on crafting another masterpiece to net that next six-figure deal.

~ jodi

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Contests: Are They Really Helpful?

By Morgan Wyatt

Your chapter or writing group has probably hosted a contest at some time to make money. The contest theme was something that most of the members felt they could identify.

Ironically when it came time to judge almost no one wanted to—or the few who were willingly did so almost grudgingly. Sometimes the judges had to be brought in from other chapters. What gives? Why the hesitation to step up to the judge’s seat? It could be because most of the club members may have experienced a toxic contest judge encounter. Their worst fears include becoming the toxic judge.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence as a participant and a judge. As a participant, I am alternately excited and terrified about the contest. Excited because contest organizers promote the contest as a breakthrough for beginning novelist, hey, that’s me. Terrified, because I’ve heard all the horror stories from my sister writers. Judges who make Marquis de Sade look like a choir boy.

One friend has decided to stay away from contests after a judge told her it was painful to read her story. Another judge commented on her critique that she wanted the characters to die because they were so horrible. Some judges even ridiculed the names of the characters. The stories go on and every writer has her own crazed contest judge story to tell. It is no secret that many writers limp away bloody from a contest; some even swearing not only never to enter a contest, but even never to write again.

The real question is why does a judge use an axe when an Exacto knife would do the job? Before becoming a judge, I was asked to attend a judging seminar. My experience as a book reviewer got me in the judge door, that and breathing. The first thing I was taught was not to critique the book as if I were a high school English teacher. Spilling red ink all over the paper denoting fragments and run on sentences just to show the writer how worthless her work is.

The submission as a whole is how a judge should look at an entry instead of nitpicking over a misplaced comma or an awkward adverb. What the persnickety judge is really doing is rewriting the story in her own voice. Sure, she thinks it reads better with her tweaks. Does nitpicking really help a writer? Most of us can use a grammar website, grammar check or a colleague to check mechanics. We don’t need the help of sadistic grammarian.

What we do need is someone who can see the whole picture—that’s the job of the judge. It is also the judge’s job to see what is done right and comment on it. When this happens, a writer can create something better than the original. Sometimes this does happen when a writer enters a contest. What usually happens is you get a panel of three judges consisting of the rabid grammarian, the wise judge, and a lackluster judge who manages to say almost nothing. Being human, most of us focus on the grammarian or maybe she is just someone who enjoys exerting power. Rather like the critique group newbie who goes overboard trying to prove that she can spot mistakes.

It is amazing that writers, who believe so much in their craft, willingly hand over their creation to an unknown person. What is more unbelievable we take the unknown judge’s word as the ultimate truth? This person who may or may not have an agenda can stop us in our writing tracks if we let her. This is where a circle of writing friends comes in handy; people willing to tell us if a story works in a non-bloodletting fashion.

It is a mystery that one judge can love a story, while another merely likes it and another hates it; however, is this so different than our own personal choices in reading material? My sister likes true crime; my other sister prefers biographies, while I am a romance junkie. Different judges like different genres and styles. My best advice is concentrate on the person who liked the story. She represents the reader you want to hook. Armed with the confidence that your submission has merit, then, look at the toxic judge’s comments to see if they have merit. Do contests help the writer on her career path? That’s debatable.

On one hand, I’ve been a finalist in a half dozen contests and haven’t been offered a contract yet. Then on the other hand, several published writers remarked that they never were contest finalists. Ironically, they found agents and editors to be an easier sale than most of the contest judges. With this in mind, I try to be a useful judge who notices what is done well, as opposed to just seeing flaws. Keep in mind, judging is always subjective. What I think is a flaw or a mistake may not even make another judge or an agent blink.

Next time, your baby comes back all bloody from a contest, keep in mind it’s all subjective. When your loved one has talked you out of tossing your computer out the window, then you might be able to reread the judges’ critiques. So do contests have value? Possibly, but not the breakout novel success the contest hinted. Rather contests test your resolve, rather like Pilates for the spirit. After countless rejections, a few long nights of curling into the fetal position with a blanket and a romance novel for solace, you emerge resilient ready to write again.