Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I Do What I Do?

Recently, the media has been going crazy over the website I Write Like So, I checked it out.  The first time I copied a snippet of my WIP,  the site claimed I write like *insert drum roll here* David Foster Wallace.  The second time, my style matched Stephanie Meyer.  I don't really care who they say because when I type the last word, I write like me.

But I thought about why I write.  Writers have their own reasons to put themselves through the crazy, euphoric states that writers deal with.  For me, the answer is simple.  Adventure.  As a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be an actress.  I wanted to inhabit other people [not in a creepy body snatchers way], to wear their skin and live their lives, to feel what brought them joy or pain and discover what they love dand hated.  I wondered about people's flaws and talents?  I was curious about their lives.  Still to this day, I love to hear people's stories and I often wonder about the emotions that charge through them, the choices they made that they're proud of or wish could do differently.  I love to know what makes people tick.  When people didn't tell me or couldn't, I made up stories.

A favorite game of  mine in the car was concocting stories about the people who lived in the houses  we drove past.  I wondered about their kitchens, the secrets they kept even mundane aspects of their lives.  Soon, the stories weren't enough to stay in my head so I had to put them to paper.  Acting lost my attention after time but I couldn't stop thinking about the characters that existed out there or the ones that I could create.

Now, I spin lives from a few snippets of ideas that float around and grab me.  While I write and flesh out the characters, I feel like I become the heroine with her inner conflict that must be healed or a hero, all Alpha but with his much guarded love deep inside his hard masculine shell.  To put it simply, I write because I want to be a thousand different people whether a heiress, rake or It girl and writing, just like reading, lets me experience worlds and adventures that no travel agent can get a ticket for.
Tell me why you write?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Traveling in My Mind

I’m gone. So sorry, but I’m not really here.

I’m off in a land of make-believe; a land that may have very little to do with reality as we know it. My nose is leaving sticky prints on the glass of the world created by the author of the book I’m currently reading.

Whether the place is populated by blue-skinned aliens, Egyptian goddesses, or plain old folk from Texas; this world has been built detail by detail to enchant me.

How I love to be enchanted!

How I strive to enchant in return. Whether my setting is the urban Toronto of my Painted Ladies series or the fictitious small town of my Clarence Bay series, I seek details that will capture my reader’s imagination.

Deep Forest

The crunch of biscotti and the bitter taste of espresso seat a reader at the bistro table with Caterina, my Italian heroine. The scents of sun on pine trees and rain-soaked earth take a reader for a walk in the woods with Ryan, my small-town hero.

Other than a description of setting, a turn of phrase evokes a time and place. You wouldn’t expect Regency cant to come from the mouth of a cowboy or to occupy his thoughts. Unless, he was a time traveler. Hmm, is there a story in there?

At the moment, I’m traveling in eighteenth-century London with a nobleman just returned from the New World.

Where are you and who are you with?

Joan Leacott

Heart, humour, and heat... Canada style

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What do you really expect?

Okay, so we all do it. We write and write and write, and then we have critique after critique after critique. Then we submit. So, yes, I know that’s the abridged version. But, that’s usually the process we all follow.

But, have any of us taken a short cut or tried to figure out how to speed up the process?
So, instead of finishing the piece you’re working on…you decide to submit, and maybe finish the piece while the multi-submission process is happening around you. Yes, I did it, and I know you’re all slapping yourself upside the head…going no, Angela don’t do it. I know. I know. Too late.

I did it, and I wondered why afterwards. Why did I submit the piece before it was finished? Did I think…I have tons of time, before they contact me—if they contact me—I’ll have it finished? Did I think…it doesn’t matter because no one will contact me? I think I believed the former, not the latter…at least I hope I did, but now , faced with a waiting editor, and a finished, but unedited manuscript…what do you (I) do. And will the piece be as good as it could be with more time and no pressure? I don’t know, but I definitely will try.

But, again, why? Why take the chance? Submission after submission received rejection after rejection, so shock and awe are the only way I can describe an editor asking me for a full manuscript within hours of a submission. I’ve been bouncing off of walls from excitement at the request, but biting my nails because my manuscript isn’t clean.

My question is…when you submit do you really believe it is good enough?

Monday, July 26, 2010

One of the Good Guys or Bad, Do You Think???

To make well rounded characters, even bad guys should have some goodness, to make they real, don't you think? And if they're the good guys, they need flaws that make them real. Sooo, what do you think? Good guy or bad guy?

My beautiful book marks for the conference came in. It has Wolf Fever on one side in a lovely artistic portrait sort of way. Very lovely. Thanks to Sourcebooks marketing department for their lovely book covers and book mark designs. :)And on the other side, the latest 4 titles. :)

Preorders are now available!!!

Per request:Seduced by the Wolf Excerpt

I was at my son's wedding this past weekend, and so not around to post, so I'm going to give a hint of what's to come next week--free book giveaways! Sometimes my publisher gives more than one book to lucky winners! Hope you'll stop in and say hi!!!

First, the GREAT NEWS!!! I sold two more books to Sourcebooks: The Highland Wolf in Paradise, & The Wolf and the SEAL. :) The Highland wolf story continues with one of the brothers from Heart of the Highland Wolf (Book 7) coming in Jun 2011, and the other is about Meara, Hunter's sister from To Tempt the Wolf (Book 3). That makes book 9 & 10. With more to come! :)

But that's not all! Here's the schedule below for August for Seduced by the Wolf as Leidolf wears down a little red wolf biologist in Portland, Oregon and the surrounding area! :)

His first priority is to protect his pack...
Werewolf pack leader Leidolf Wildhaven has just taken over a demoralized pack. With rogue wolves on the loose causing havoc and the authorities from the zoo suddenly zeroing in on the local wolf population, the last thing he needs in his territory is a do-gooder female, no matter how beautiful and enticing she is...

She'll do anything to help wolves...
Biologist Cassie Roux has dedicated her life to protecting wolves in the wild. On a desperate mission to help a she-wolf with newborn pups, the last thing Cassie needs right now is a nosy and entirely too attractive werewolf pack leader trying to track her down...

With rogue wolves and hunters threatening at every turn, Cassie and Leidolf may find their attraction the most dangerous force of all...

First Reviews:

Cassie Roux is red lupus garou. As a child, she was accepted into a pack of real wolves, who cared for her during the difficult years after she lost her own werewolf pack. Her love and gratitude for the wolves led her to become a wolf biologist, traveling the globe to save the wolf and educate the public on this special species. Then Cassie stumbles into the territory of Leidolf Wildhaven, a red lupus garou pack leader. Leidolf has his own problems unifying and healing his new pack, but the scent of an unmated female lupus garou soon diverts this lonely wolf’s attention in a new and delightful direction.

Seduced by the Wolf is the fifth werewolf novel by Terry Spear. While totally a standalone novel, it also allows fans brief glimpses of the continuing lives of characters from her previous novels. I love, love, LOVE this novel! I wish I had more than 5 klovers to offer. Cassie and Leidolf steam up the pages with a delightful courtship dance, and the subplots of secondary characters are just as intriguing and well developed. All the realistic wolf behavior shows the author has done her research homework and adds depth and color that makes the action leap from the pages.

Crystal of CK's Kwips and Kritiques

"No one makes werewolves seem real better than romantic urban fantasist Terry Spear continually does with her “Wolf” saga (see Legend of the White Wolf, To Tempt a Wolf, Heart of the Wolf and Destiny of the Wolf). Her fifth were-wolfish thriller is a strong tale of two dedicated people wanting to d the best for the wolfish populace in the northwest. Sub-genre fans will want to roam Oregon with this lead couple as outside a werewolf, a book by Terry Spear’s is woman’s best friend..." ~~Harriet Klausner, Genre-Go-Around Reviews

There will be free books during the blog tour! I'm excited and will be posting the dates again during the month at:
. :)

8/1 Seriously Reviewed
8/2 Seriously Reviewed
8/3 My Overstuffed Bookshelf
Seriously Reviewed
8/4 Martha’s Bookshelf
Seriously Reviewed
8/5 Anna’s Book Blog
Seriously Reviewed
Seriously Reviewed
8/8 Sun
8/9 Open
8/10 Fumbling With Fiction
8/11 Sia McKye’s Thoughts Over Coffee
8/12 Books 4 Moms
8/13 Love Romance Passion
8/14 Sat
8/15 Sun
8/16 Star-Crossed Romance
8/17 A Simple Love of Reading
Marissa’s Sizzling Hot Book Reviews
8/18 Thoughts in Progress
8/19 Caroline Clemons
8/20 My Book Addiction and More
8/21 Sat
8/22 Sun
8/23 Fresh Fiction
8/24 Debbie’s Book Bag
8/25 Book Junkie
8/26 Fang-tastic Books
8/27 Larissa's Life
8/28 Sat
8/29 Sun
8/30 A Journey of Books
8/31 Night Owl Romance

And here's beautiful Portland where the story takes place. :)

And here is the cover for Heart of the Highland Wolf, coming from Sourcebooks Jun 2011!!! Isn't he GORGEOUS???

Last chance to sign up for the Conflict class! Lessons don't have to be done by
a certain time during the month, and I do personally critique lessons. If you
need some more conflict in your life, ahem, in your mss, join me! :)

August 2-29

Conflict! Conflict! Conflict!
How to Write Conflict in Every Scene!From warriors fighting on the battlefield
and storms that threaten mayhem, to the conflict in relationships from romance
to just plain living around others--EVEN if the individual is shipwrecked alone
on a desert island--conflict is all around us.

For fiction, it's essential to show conflict in every scene, to engage the
reader throughout our tale. Even for nonfiction, conflict in the story makes for
much more interesting reading.

So we will discuss internal/external conflict, conflict in dialogue, conflict in
actions and reactions, conflict in settings, conflict between individuals,
conflict in plot, and subplots, subtle and not so subtle conflicts, and much
more. Every lesson has exercises and I critique your writing samples.

We have 3 lessons per week ($25 for the class).

So if you'd like to find some ways to make those scenes much more conflictive,
join me in Conflict! Conflict! Conflict!To Pay for this Online Writing Workshop
using Paypal,
click here:
Award-winning author of the series: Heart of the Wolf, Destiny of the Wolf, To
Tempt the Wolf, Legend of the White Wolf, Seduced by the Wolf, Wolf Fever, Heart
of the Highland Wolf, Dreaming of the Wolf, The Highland Wolf in Paradise, The
Wolf and the SEAL
, the medieval Highlander series: Winning the Highlander's
Heart, The Accidental Highland Hero,
and the vampire romantic suspense: Deadly
Spear has also written YAs, for the True confessional magazines, and
nonfiction magazines.

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Summertime Blues? Or the Summertime Blahs?

I've been really dragging my heels lately on promoting my latest book (obligatory link and picture here). Part of the reason is because it's out in digital right now, and not in print. I hate doing double-promo (once for digital, once for print). So I tend to center my efforts around the print version, when I promo both release types.

I'm probably doing the book a disservice. It's got a great plot, marvelous hero (Nathan Stokes, one of my more original heroes), and it's set at a casino I absolutely adore (I love casinos anyway, but that's another story!) I should be out there shouting from the rooftops about this book because I think it really ROCKS. But I've been remarkably quiet about it.

I think I've got the Blahs. This is my 17th book and it is SO hard to fire up that old promo machine and get out there and talk about the book. A couple of things are conspiring against me:

  1. It's summer. I live in Minnesota. We don't get a lot of summer, so I try to enjoy as much of it as I can. Which means I'm not as on-task at my computer as usual.
  2. My WIP: I'm nose-deep into a new book and it's giving me fits. I spend most of my time struggling with it. I've almost chucked it once or twice (anyone who knows me knows that this is tantamount to the End Times). I've just now gotten my mojo back on that book and I hate to take a break from it.
  3. I took a month off. Oh, I still went to the Day Job 40+ hours a week, but I just did some editing, some reading, some relaxing. I don't do that kind of thing often. I do it maybe, let's see, once every two or three years? And damn, it was fun! And I kinda wish I could do it again.
  4. I'm not sure what works, promotion-wise. I've been doing this for 3 years now, and I have no idea what resonates with readers, what makes people want to buy a book. Sometimes I feel it's all futile. Other times I feel I've really made a connection. I'm not sure if my efforts do any good, so it's hard to get out there and do...anything. 
Okay, that's all the excuses. The bottom line's a damn good book and I need to get out there and promote it! And I will. As soon as I finish this blog post, and work on chapter 9, and cut some flowers, and...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Speaking of Family

Speaking of family - how unique is it to meet eight second cousins who’ve traveled all the way from Denmark to California? This past weekend I enjoyed this phenomena when I, along with five other cousins who live in California, met eight Danish cousins for the first time. The fact that our grandparents were siblings made it very unique and quite special.

In his early twenties, my grandfather and his brother left their native Denmark and traveled to America on the Lusitania, December of 1909. They left behind their parents, a brother and two sisters. My grandfather settled in Nebraska as a farmer and my uncle decided to try his luck in Iowa. Grandpa returned to his homeland when he was 82 years old and died before he could return to America.

What I found most interesting is that the Danish cousins’ command of the English language was good enough for them to travel here and communicate with us. I feel sad that I didn’t learn enough Danish to speak with them in their language. I grew up hearing Danish spoken in my grandparents’ home and when they spoke English their accent was quite strong. They learned English when my aunt went to school and became Americans.

We’ve always had foreigners in our home and have grown used to so many different accents. I had up to forty-one foreign penpals at one time beginning in 1989. Over the years I’ve lost some of my pen friends, but still write and speak on the phone with quite a few of them. We have added a Dutch son, his wife and their adopted Columbian sons to our family along with our Swedish exchange daughter and her husband. Our Magdalena still considers us her parents. Going through the exchange program was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made

Having many nationalities in our lives, we’ve learned as a family over the years how much alike we all are. Having a teenage Swedish daughter proved that point very clearly. Learning different customs and new ways of approaching life has always fascinated me. We’ve been lucky enough to visit many countries and several of my penpals have visited us. It has enriched our lives and has also helped me with my writing. I love to bring characters into my stories who bring varied nationalities with them. It also helps to have them as a resource when you want to add phrases into your dialogues.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Enthusiasm and Perseverance

In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm... in the real world all rests on perseverance.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I recently read this quote and saw myself. My Random House Webster’s dictionary defines enthusiasm as: lively, absorbing interest; eager involvement. My bone-deep love of storytelling and a keen desire to share my stories is what keeps me enthusiastic. I am bereft when I miss a day at my computer, lost in another world with my characters. I imagine myself published, and busy working on my third manuscript. Inside my head, I already have a two-book deal, signed, sealed and delivered. Dreams are a big part of enthusiasm. When an RWA member announces the call, I whoop in joy for her. We all recognize the effort and time it took for her to win the prize. We tell ourselves, yes, I can, too.

How do you keep your enthusiasm when someone shoots it down? An agent rejecting your query letter is like a hammer blow. And, I’ve taken my lumps from contest judges––crawled into a hole of self-doubt for awhile––but, I focus on the big picture.

This is where perseverance kicks in. Again I turn to my Webster’s dictionary for a definition of perseverance: steady persistence in the course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. Persistence is it, then. I’ll share two of my favorite quotes about Persistence and Determination.

Press On
Nothing in the World can take the place of Persistence.
Talent will not: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.
Genius will not: Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb
Education alone will not: The world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent.

From the 30th President of the United States

Edison failed 10, 000 times before he made the electric light. Do not be discouraged if you fail a few times.
Napoleon Hill

I haven’t reached the destination of published full length romance author yet, but with enthusiasm and perseverance I intend to succeed. I want the same for every writer reading this blog!

When you’re feeling low and need to recapture your enthusiasm, what do you do?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Views on Judging and Critiquing by Jaclyn Di Bona

You will be surprised at what you can learn by critiquing and judging someone’s manuscript. Sometimes, you can spot your own mistakes by judging others. You’ll learn that when you enter a contest, you are going to love, or be hurt by what someone says about your baby. Read it over carefully and if you receive two similar critiques then you need to go over your manuscript.

We need to be constructive, not destructive in your critiques. Not everyone does. In one of my first contests, my heart stopped when a judge said she hated my heroine. She found her to be a ‘bitch.’ Her words. How’s that for a stopper? I figured that was because my heroine came across as a woman proud of who she was and what she’d accomplished.

Another said: ‘who wants to read about two forty-year-olds?’ I felt like yelling, “Hey, we over forty are not dead to romance.” I should say not. Especially when we write romance and I read eight to ten romance books a month.

That reminds me. August is around the corner and I need to remind B&N to hold Terry Spear’s new book for me. Seduced By The Wolf. It’ll join her other four.

You need to learn the difference between show and tell. This took me a while and I’m still learning.
Telling: She looked confused as she read the letter.
Showing: Her brows wrinkled as she read the letter.
Author Shirley Jump is great at showing and telling. Check her out.

An editor suggested I go over my manuscript and delete 50% of my passive words. Had, has, have, was, were and the ly adverbs words. Great. I found my story moved faster.
I had one heck of a time with POV until I put my heroine in pink and my hero in blue. Worked like a charm. Especially when the editor said no more than 3 POV in one chapter.


Jaclyn Di Bona

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Author and an Officer: Stephanie Burkhart

It is my pleasure to introduce Stephanie Burkhart, a multipublished autor and officer who served in the Army for eleven years. Stephanie will tell us about:

Berlin 1988 and Now

I'd like to thank Mona for having me today at Voices From the Heart to promote my book, "Destination: Berlin."

Just a little about me: I was born and raised in Manchester, NH with a hungry appetite for reading gothic romance, especially by Victoria Holt. I served in the Army for 11 years from 1986 to 1997 and spent 7 years in Germany. My time in Europe inspired two passions – my love of history and the paranormal. Currently, I live in California and work for LAPD as a 911 dispatcher.

Destination: Berlin is a "sweet" military romance. When the Berlin Duty Train is derailed in the middle of East Germany, American Corporal Sharon Cates must rely on help from an unlikely source – Soviet Jr. Sgt. Dimitri Nagory to make it to safety.

Destination: Berlin was the first book I wrote. It was released in 2001 and updated in 2007 with maps. The story was inspired by my own trip to Berlin on the Berlin Orientation Tour in July 1988.

So what was Berlin like in 1988?

First, I can't believe that was 22 years ago! How the time flies. In 1988, I was a 20 year old Specialist in the US Army on active duty. My job? 95B – Military Police.

I arrived in Berlin at 0600 am, after leaving Bremerhaven at 1000 pm the previous night. Travel to West Berlin through East Germany could only be a night and the windows in the train were covered.

I had a decent night's sleep and our tour guide meet us right away. He took us to rooms on Roosevelt Barracks. After getting settled in, we were off.

Berlin was a divided city in 1988, and a wall still surrounded West Berlin. It was full of graffiti on the western side, barren facing east. The West was a thriving city with buildings full of color, parks, and the sounds of an urban hub.

One of the places I stopped to see was the Soviet War Monument in the American sector (Tiergarten). It was guarded by two Soviet soldiers. Historically, the Soviets arrived in Berlin first and thought the land the monument was on was going to go to them. When the city was officially divided, the land went to the Americans. They allowed the Soviets to guard it.

The Soviets were notorious for putting up war monuments in Berlin. The most famous is Treptower Park in East Berlin. It houses 5 mass graves with 1,000 soldiers buried in each grave. I had a chance to visit this park in 1988, but I had to wear my dress uniform (minus my nametag) to clearly identify my affiliation with the US Army.

The Americans had no monuments. In 1987 Rudolph Hess finally died in Spandau Prison. (Interestingly, the Americans, British, French, and Soviets switched guard duty on a monthly basis). As soon as he died, the British demolished the prison.

I also visited the Brandenburg Gate, looking at it from the west. The Berlin Wall was right in front of it, filled with graffiti. In 1990, I would have schnapps under the Gate itself while I celebrated New Years with my fiancé.

East Berlin was dull in color. Buildings were brown and gray, covered in soot from burning coal. The most modern buildings were from the 1950's and constructed in dull colors with panels of glass.

I visited Checkpoint Charlie, the only official place to enter East Berlin from the West. I also went to Wansee Lake, a natural border between West Berlin (the American sector) and Potsdam. I also walked on Freedom Bridge, where spy exchanges were frequently conducted. In fact, the Wansee and Freedom Bridge play a big part in the novel's end. hint, hint.

So what is Berlin like now?

I visited in 1990, 1991, 1992, and my last visit was in 1996. In 1996, East Berlin was gaining color and old sooty buildings were getting face lifts. The wall had been completely taken down, uniting two cities. Brandenburg Gate looked like new.

The four allies had left the city by 1996. Now, Berlin is the official capital of a united Germany. The history of Berlin is rich with accomplishments, yet tarnished by war, but one thing is true now as it was then – Berlin is a vibrant, international city which captures the heart of the German nation.

Excerpt from Destination: Berlin
"Have you been to West Berlin?" asked Sharon.
"A couple of times."
"Where did you go?"
"I visited the old Reichstag, Spandau Prison, and the Soviet War Memorial."
"Which place impressed you the most?" Sharon asked.
He put the olives aside and stretched out his legs. "Spandau Prison."
"I went there last year before Rudolph Hess died. It was a fortress. The prison itself was an old brick building surrounded by electric and barbed wire. The walls were thick and sturdy, yet Hess was very frail. It didn't seem appropriate to the prisoner," Dimitri replied.
"What sector of Berlin is the prison in?" she asked.
"The British sector. Every month the guards of the prison rotated between the allies and I accompanied Major Orlov to inspect the Soviet Guards in July 1987."
"Hess was an old man, wasn't he?"
"Yes," said Dimitri.
"How did he die?" Sharon asked.
"He committed suicide," Dimitri answered.
"Do you think Hess should have had more freedom in his waning days? Maybe he would have lived longer," said Sharon. She was impressed with the fact Dimitri had seen the Nazi before he had died.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. He was part of a nation that aspired to dominate the world and no country should be allowed to impose its will on another. That's why we aren't successful in Afghanistan," he replied.
"And why the US was unsuccessful in Vietnam," Sharon added. "The suppressed will always mount a resistance that will challenge the oppressor."
"Very true. The Germans found the French resistance challenging in the last world war," said Dimitri. He yawned. "I suggest we sleep here another night and go to Plaue tomorrow."
"Dimitri, one more thing."
"What happened to Spandau Prison?"
"The British demolished it. The allied government didn't want the prison to become a shrine for any of the neo-nazis," he answered.
"Well, I guess that's one thing our governments have in common."
"I guess," said Dimitri.
She sighed. She would have liked to have seen Spandau Prison. Now it was a slice of history only to be remembered in the books and archives of World War II.

Here's a link to Destination: Berlin's Book Trailer on You Tube:

Destination: Berlin is a Print book only. Here's where you can buy it: Amazon:

Barnes and Noble:


Goodie Time: Post a comment. I'll pick two lucky winners out of a hat to receive an autographed postcard of the cover. Follow me on my blog tour and earn a chance to win an autographed copy of Destination: Berlin. To find out the dates on the blog tour visit my blog, "Romance Under the Moonlight."

Visit me at:
SG Cardin/Stephanie Burkhart Online

Romance Under the Moonlight


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Same But Different

I'm at a writers conference, see, and the editor of the line says there's opportunity for new writers. WhooHoo! She says,

"Just write a story that's the same, but different."

Oh. Almost helpful. Well, let's start with the Same part.

I once heard a jaded, older, white, male, veteran of the publishing industry say,

"All romance stories are the same: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl."

I remember smiling and shrugging at the notion. Then I remember getting a bit miffed at the POV of the aphorism. A tad sexist, no?

For the sake of argument, let's say it's true, but with different wording and an extra step. Let's say,

"All romances are the same: beauty meets beast, they fall for each other, they misunderstand each other, they reunite and commit to each other.

Easy peasy. Now let's move on to the Different part.

Make the beauty a virgin. Pablum to some, but popular with most.

Make the beast a mogul. That's a genre with a few thousand books published every year.

Make the beauty a widow. We're on a roll now.

Make the beast a vampire. Ka Ching!

This is fun, but I could use a little help. Can't we all? Let's share our best ideas for Different, in the form of the imperative:

Make the X a Y.

If you find the formula too constricting, and you have a Different idea that you are sure will knock the socks off the genre, please feel free to stick an adjective or two in front of each variable.

Quinn Tellier

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Memorable Characters

As the critique coordinator and member of the FTH Critiquers for three years, I have critiqued a fairly large number of manuscripts. Add to these an impressive amount of contests judging over the years and the weekly exchange of chapters with my wonderful critique partners. Amazingly I’ve gathered almost as much useful information from critiquing as I have learned from books, workshops and seminars. In a way the latest taught me the theory but critiquing and judging showed me the mistakes I should avoid. The most important thing I learned was that the characters can make a good book or a mediocre one.

When I finish reading a book I really enjoyed, I remain in my chair, meditating for a few quiet minutes on the story I just finished. I often experience a strange mix of happiness and sadness, happiness for the heroine and hero who have succeeded in overcoming their problems or defeating their enemy, but sadness because I have to leave them, to say goodbye. Isn’t that why we love series? Because we can meet again the characters we liked so much and live again with them a part of their lives.

Don’t you agree that creating lovable characters is the most important part in making a book successful? To create believable characters, you have to know them well. Some writers interview their characters. I prefer to live with them. I keep them in my mind and talk to them while walking, driving, eating on my own. My heroine becomes a dear friend, another me. As for my hero, I always fall in love with him while writing his story.

Just describing a beautiful heroine or a macho hunk will not make them memorable. You need to dig deep into their soul and show the reader their real personalities, the side of them they don’t want anyone to see. Imagine a heroine who tries to hide her soft nature under a cold façade, to appear strong and professional in her job while dealing with a family, or a handicapped child, at home. Now we are talking. Add to that, a deception in her past, an attraction to her boss or a colleague that can jeopardize her career or affect her family. That’s raising the stakes.

Readers like to find similarities between themselves and the characters; an attraction that makes them share the characters’ suffering and struggles until the hero and heroine reach the HEA.

Let’s face it. Readers are a bit sadistic. They love to bite their nails and breathe fast as they watch the hero and heroine jumping from the pan into the fire and trying to get out of difficult situations. So don’t hesitate to torture your characters. Don’t make it easy for them. Conflict is the name of the game. Only conflicted people have a story. Happy people are boring. When you hero and heroine are finally happy, it’s time to type, THE END.

Also be careful about the pace of the story. Accelerate the pace with dialogue. During action, use short sentences, scarce descriptions. After a fast scene with high suspense, allow the reader to relax with an introspection that will slow the pace while the characters expose their emotions. Slow-paced scenes should be short to prevent the reader from getting too relaxed and bored. To keep a good pace, alternate short sentence and long ones. Short paragraphs and long ones. Short scenes and long scenes. Often a love scene may break a highly suspenseful situation and keep the momentum going.

No matter what genre you write, enjoy your story while writing it.

Mona Risk writes romantic suspense for Cerridwen Press,
To Love A Hero [The Romance Studio~ Sweetheart of the Week: Ms. Risk is one of those authors who puts together a tale that’s captivates from first page to last]

French Peril [Night Owl Romance~ Recommended Read~ Mona Risk’s characters will enthrall you as they all dance to their own personal tunes]
and medical romances for The Wild Rose Press,
Babies in the Bargain, [Readers Favorite 2009 Best Romance; The Long & the Short, Reviews Best Book of The Week~ This one will keep you on your toes and make you beg for more.]

Rx for Trust [Night Owl Romance~ TopPick Reading]

and Rx in Russian, coming soon.

All her books are available at

If you like to travel and love to read, come and enjoy my international romances. I will take you around the world through stories that simmer with emotion and sizzle with heat~

Friday, July 16, 2010

Punctuation Cheaters List

I don’t know about you, but punctuation is not my forte’. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m comma happy.

At a recent writer’s gathering, I learned most authors suffer from the same affliction as me. To that end, I’ve put together a Punctuation Cheater’s List and thought I’d share it with you. I hope you find it as helpful as I do.



1.Use a period to end a declarative sentence or an imperative sentence
(She was at the party – declarative)
(Speak up. Buy me some chocolate)

2.Use a period to end a polite request.
(Can you tell me your name.)

3.Use a period to end a sentence fragment, which substitutes for a complete sentence.
(Not really. On Friday.)

4.Use periods after standard abbreviations.
(Mr., Mrs., B.S., Dr., D.D.S.)

5.No period after labor unions, radio/television stations/universities, or national/international agencies.

6.No periods after nicknames or commonly used shortened terms.
(math, gym, lab, AI)

7.Use a question mark after a direct question.
(What is your name? Where were you born?)

8.Use a question mark to end a sentence that begins as a direct statement, but ends as a question.
(You saw the accident, didn’t you?)

9.Use a question mark at the end of a question even if it ends with a modifying clause or phrase.
(Is this a photograph of the intersection, referring to Exhibit A?)

10.A question mark can be used after each item in a series of short, connected questions that occur within a sentence.
(Is your favorite pie apple? cherry? peach? Did this accident happen in 1987? in 1988? in 1989? Note: only one space is used in between the series, and notice that it’s lower case.)

11.Use a question mark after a short question that is interjected into the middle of another sentence and that is set off with dashes.
(I will read – where is it? – the letter from Paul. You said – did I hear you correctly? – that you work for Dr. Brenner.)

12.Use a comma before a coordinate conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
(Jim likes to play golf, but Nancy prefers tennis.
Note: One way to be sure a sentence requires a comma is to leave out the conjunction. If you have two complete sentences, it requires a comma, if not, NO comma--Ex: Mary bakes pies and sews dresses.)

13.Use commas to set off (or surround) clauses that contain parenthetical or descriptive information, which isn’t necessary to the meaning of the sentence.
(Mrs. Carr, who is a good cook, baked a pie. Note: If you can take the clause out and the sentence still makes sense, it requires a comma.

14.Use commas to set off appositives that interrupt the sentence.
(My cousin, a singer, lives in Hollywood.)

15.Use a comma or pair of commas to set off a term or name by which someone is addressed.
(Please be seated, Mr. Phillips.)

16.Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives when they modify the same noun.
(Bonnie was a friendly, attractive woman. Here’s how to figure this out. If I said, “Bonnie was a friendly AND attractive woman” it would not require a comma. One more example: Lucy wore a bright red dress. If I said, “Lucy wore a bright and red dress,” it makes absolutely no sense at all so you’d know that a comma cannot be put between the bight and red.

17.Use a comma after an introductory phrase.
(When I went to the store, I brought some milk.)

18.Use a comma after introductory words and exclamations such as “oh,” well,” “why,” “gosh.”
(Gee, I guess I’m wrong.)

19.When “and,” “so” and “but” are used as introductory words, they are not followed by a comma.
(So we got up and left.)

20.Use a comma after an introductory “yes” or “no” if the rest of the sentence could be substituted for the “yes” or “no” answer without adding further information.
(Do you recognize this man? No, I don’t.)

21.Do not use a comma after an introductory “yes” or “no” if the rest of the sentence cannot be substituted for the “yes” or “no” answer or if it gives further information. Use a period instead.
(Did you eventually get to know Mary? No. She lives in Europe.)

22.Use a comma after an introductory “yes” or “no” when an explanatory sentence fragment follows it.
(Did John pick up the papers? Yes, on Friday.)

23.Use a comma to separate two contrasting or opposite items. If the item occurs in the middle of the sentence, surround the item with commas.
(The puppy belongs to Kate, not Jane.)

24.Use a comma to separate words that might otherwise be misread and cause confusion.
(Inside, the dog was barking.)

25.Use a comma before an echo question.
(It’s a warm day, isn’t it?)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Golden Heart Finalist, Autumn Jordon

Today's spotlight is on multi-published author, Autumn Jordon, a 2009 golden-Heart Finalist with EVIL’S WITNESS, a Romantic Suspense set in the beautiful mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. It’s on sale now at the White Rose Press.

Let’s welcome Autumn and learn more about her and about her new book.

Thank you for spending the day with us, Autumn. Please start by telling us a little about yourself. Where are you from? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I still live in the same northeast PA valley which I grew up in. The Appalachian Trail runs along the gorgeous Blue Mountains to our south and mountains heavy with coal border our north. My great-great-grandfather and his brothers, who moved here from Germany, owned and worked most of valley and about seventy-five percent of the inhabitants of the valley today are still blood relatives. It takes quite a few moments during church service on Sunday morning to pass the peace.
Surrounded by cousins, there was always something to do after school and after the chores were done like riding our horses, swimming at the deep hole or camping out under the stars. We were a busy bunch, but I was the one who enjoyed reading book after book and spinning tales. So I guess to answer your question, I always wanted to craft stories which would entertain others.
I haven’t traveled the world like you, Mona, but I’ve always dreamt of visiting exotic places and read about them.

Do you have a favorite book or series?
My favorite book of all time is the Valley Of The Horses by Jean Auel. It’s part of the earth series. I love the detail, the characters, the emotion and the romance in that story.
I enjoy many newer voices too, but I don’t want to run this blog too long.

Speaking of, can you tell us more about your book? What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
Evil’s Witness is a romantic suspense set in my own back yard. The idea came about because of two real incidents that occurred at my family’s business-trucking. We hauled funds for the U.S. Treasury. No, we didn’t lose funds for the treasury, but we did have a trailer of fruit juice stolen. Anyway, I wondered what if tractor-trailers carrying U.S. funds were suddenly targeted by the Russian Mafia, and what if a woman and her children witnessed a heist and became Mafia targets. Who would they turn too and how would they be protected. And what if she fell for the agent who protected them. Hmmm.
Imagine not falling for Sealy Booth. Come one, ladies. I’m I right?

How long did it take for you to get published and what was the journey like?
I had a long journey compared to some authors and a short journey compared to others. I started studying the craft seriously in 2000. So it was nine years until I signed my first contract. I had my share of triumphs (contest places or wins) and my share of downs (rejections) with four other manuscripts. I just kept studying, listening to advice, writing and submitting.

Any current projects you're excited about and can share with our readers?
I’m in the process of writing another suspense involving the Russian Mafia. In this story, a woman becomes a pawn in a money laundering scheme between two mafia princes who want to rule the family.

Do you write to music or the TV?
Music. I have certain CDs that are about worn out. Yanna, Enya, Enigma.

Do you plot your story before you write it or do you sit and let it flow?
I usually write about the fifty pages to get a feel for the characters and then I’ll write a loose synopsis. I know where I want to go, but often my characters come up with some pretty good story points down the road.

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?
Heck no. That’s not me. I have a life, friends, and family and they’re my priority. However, I do spend every moment I can writing, every single day. My motto has always been, Word By Word, Line By Line, Page By Page.

They say you can learn a lot about a person by their surroundings. What does your work area look like?
I have several work spots since I work on a laptop. My office definitely needs a little straightening. So I guess that tells you I feel there are more important things in life than a home that looks like the Merry Maids just exited stage right.
I also spend time outside on my back porch. I love it out there, especially in the early morning, and, as you can see by my hobbies, I love the outdoors.
And then in my living room while my dear husband watches his games, I’m usually tweaking dialogue, interviewing characters and thinking.

What do you consider your guilty pleasure?
Oh, good question. Lying in a hammock, reading on a sunny afternoon when there are about a trillion other things that should be done.

Stephanie Boyd’s world crashes when she and her children witness a blood bath. To escape the wrath of the Russian Mafia, she has no choice but to help the FBI uncover the mafia’s mole inside the U.S. Treasury. While on the run with the handsome agent who is willing to die for them, Stephanie learns the meaning of love.

Agent John Dolton’s break in solving the case that cost him everything is a couple of kids and a beautiful widow. But keeping them safe seems impossible when their every move is foreseen by their enemy. Stephanie and her children soften the loner’s heart and John vows not to fail to protect the family he loves.

Thank you so much, Mona , for asking me to be a guest today.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Packing for RWA and – Walt Disney World?

By Janet Miller (aka Cricket Starr)

In the movie “As Good As It Gets” there is a scene where the heroine played by Helen Hunt is packing for an overnight trip out of NYC. She has an empty suitcase on the bed and an exasperated look on her face and says: “There is no way to pack for this trip.”

I identify with that scene on a fairly regular basis.

The dilemma of what to pack for a trip can be hard in the best of situations. Helen Hunt character’s problem was that she didn’t know what to expect, hence her calling Jack Nicholson to find out if they were likely to go to a restaurant for dinner. For a “blended trip” where a wildly diverse set of activities can be expected, the problems escalate.  I will demonstrate this and provide what will hopefully be a reasonable solution.

My problem is that I’m going to the RWA convention, which is being held this year in WDW and then staying on for several days to enjoy the parks. So I need a wardrobe suitable for touring an amusement park in hot weather as well as business clothes for the conference. To top it all off I also need a formal outfit for the RITA awards that will include dress-up shoes. Difficult for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that I refuse to take a trip like this with two suitcases when I’m likely be hauling back several pounds of books. Better to start out with less than scramble to find room for stuff going home in your luggage.

So I have to come up with a wardrobe that will cover my needs for all events for the convention as well as park touring - a total of eight days of activities that all fits in one suitcase.

This picture is what I’ve come up with.

To the far left are a three pairs of long pants, black jeans, tailored tan capris, and a pair of silky black dress pants. Next are three pairs of shorts and a cap, followed by three colored t-shirts, and a long-sleeved white shirt. The next line is two, patterned button-up shirts, a black silk shell, and a black and white swimsuit. A black cardigan sweater is at the top of the next column followed by a white skirt, and in the last row is a blue silk top with beading, and a gold and turquoise dress. At the far right is my purple roll-up raincoat. My shoes are lined up at the bottom, a pair of water sandals that are great for walking in, tan sandals and a dressy pair of black sandals.

Instead of a business suit I’ll wear the black sweater with black dress pants for a tailored look. Instead of an evening dress the blue beaded top will pair with the dressy black pants for the RITA, and I’ll throw in a black shawl in case it is cool in the hotel. Instead of blue jeans, which I might have packed for a WDW trip, I have black jeans because those dress both up and down, and the tailored capri pants for casual wear at the convention will still work for touring the parks or going to dinner someplace nice.

For daytime park touring the shorts will pair with the solid color t-shirts and patterned shirts, and both patterned shirts can be worn open over the t-shirts to give me a different look.

I have a white cotton skirt because that dresses up well and will go with virtually any of the shirts. Yes, white is risky for wearing at a resort, but there are laundry facilities at the hotel in case of emergency. The dress is in a lightweight fabric that takes little room and will be ideal for the Orlando environment. For the same reason I’m taking the black silk shell. It takes no room in a suitcase and paired with either the white skirt or the black pants and under the black sweater it gives me another business look.

To cope with possible rainstorms I have a roll-up rain jacket that is very informal but no one will need to see me dressed business casual outside of the hotel. All the shoes I’m bringing will stand up to the walking we will do, a must for me as I get sore feet easily. They can be used for most of the events in the hotel including the Rita awards and still be wearable for park touring.

The key to this kind of packing is versatility. A tailored business suit has one purpose only. A black sweater can be used in many ways. A solid color t-shirt is more versatile than one with Tigger on it so I’ve omitted my favorite Disney shirts from this wardrobe.

In addition to reusability how much space an item takes is important. Space, weight, and versatility are the key things to remember when choosing your wardrobe for a long trip. If you positively have to have an evening gown then you must be prepared to give up something to make room for it. I’d rather have a top I can dress down for dining at a nice restaurant than an evening gown I can only wear once.

Everything you see on my bed can be packed into a single medium-sized suitcase with room to spare. In fact I might even have space for my favorite Tigger shirt after all!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lessons We Learn

Where do you learn compassion from? As a child my parents tried to teach compassion to us, teaching us to do the right thing. Yet as we grow and life circumstances change our view on things, compassion sometimes isn't foremost in our mind. What has hit me in the last few days is that there is always a lesson we can learn from our children. One night at the dinner table, my oldest daughter asked if a friend of hers could spend the night at our house. Apparently he had left his mom's house and was sleeping in his car.

Now I'm not against taking kids in -- however, I do question why they have left their house and what is going on with them. My household has rigid rules and yet I find that we always have a lot of extra kids around just to hang out. After a lengthy discussion with my daughter, we discussed how years ago she had stood by this same friend when he was removed from his mom's house due to abuse from his brother. She continued their friendship when he moved out of state and when he finally came back home. Now as they are seniors she still longs to take care of people. She has always had a kind heart.

So agreeing, we have a visitor for the night and again the next night. I look at my children, thinking that something right must have been instilled in them. They know the right thing to do and how to be a good friend to someone.

What lessons do you learn from your children or even young adults you may know? Do we take this lessons for granted or do we allow them to touch our lives, allowing ourselves to learn and grow in our own lives.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Edits, Edits, Who’s Got The Edits?

What is your editing process? As a writing team, ours is probably different from what you might do. Basically, Arwen starts a story – writing 1500 words. She happily sends it off to Cai then sits back waiting for the accolades to roll in. (Of course, it could be Cai who starts the story, in which case, just reverse all the names below. LOL)

Cai whips out her proverbial red pen and proceeds to edit the snot out of Arwen’s clichés and grammar mistakes. She then adds 2500 brilliant words and sends it back to Arwen just knowing that Arwen is going to delightedly accept the changes and breeze through her additions.

Arwen growls as she admits to 75% of Cai’s changes as being good, but fights back on 25%. Then Arwen hauls out her tarot deck to heavily correct Cai's plot gaps and character flaws. She then adds the best 500 words of her life and hits “send.”

Cai accepts 10% of Arwen's rejections on her original edits. Then she sighs and accepts 75% of Arwen's edits while massaging her temples and fighting back on 25%. She reads the minimal effort from Arwen and decides to wait a day or so before adding or editing any more. Adding another 2500 words after a few days, Cai sends the whole shebang back to Arwen and waits with bated breath for Arwen to read/edit and send it back again.

By the time we reach the end of the first draft, we've got a pretty good handle on what is working and what scenes need to be completely re-worked. All silliness aside, this is how we edit as we go without rewriting the same three pages ad infinitum. We find that this gives us a fairly clean first draft. Then we can spend time going back over the whole manuscript tightening character development and making sure our GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) for each character is fully developed.

When we're both ready to call it “done,” our next step is to find a beta reader or two. We think we know where the weak spots are, so we ask our beta readers to concentrate on those areas, but also to point out anything else they come across in their reading that jars them out of the story for whatever reason. With their suggestions in mind, we read the story with fresh eyes and make whatever changes we feel will strengthen the story. In the end, that is what is the most important. What makes the story truly work.

Then and only then are we ready to send it off to an editor with a query letter attached. So what is YOUR process? Do you write, edit, write some more? Or do you write the entire manuscript then go back and edit each scene, each chapter, etc., Let us know, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How to Make the Most of Your Pitch Opportunity

Businesswomen talking
The RWA National Annual Conference takes place in two weeks, and the internet is abuzz with tips on how to sharpen your pitch.

Entire workshops are devoted to squishing characters, plot, goals, motivation, and conflict into the time allowed. With proper preparation, most writers will get a request from the editor or agent they pitch.

You might consider that a success, but the ultimate goal is to sell your book. There’s more to sales than simply advertising. And there’s more to pitching than simply getting a request for a partial. If you want to sell your book, you have to leave your editor/agent feeling like you were worth the time she spent on you. That’s customer satisfaction in the world of publishing.

Speaking of customer satisfaction, think about the last time you felt like you’d been cheated by a salesman. Chances are the problem fell into one of the following categories:

  • The product or service was not as advertised.
  • The work was not performed on time.
  • There was no customer service after the sale.

    Woman executive talking to male worker
    Let’s see what these problems tell us about how we should make the most of our pitching opportunity.

    The Product Needs to Match the Pitch
    When you pitch at a conference, you are presenting yourself as a serious writer. Inherent in that is a promise that you have taken the time to learn the craft, to finish your manuscript, and polish it to industry standards. If you haven’t done these things, then you’re misrepresenting your product. Don’t pitch before you’re ready.

    No matter how well you write, the tone of your pitch needs to match the tone of your novel. If your pitch is plot-based and the novel is character-driven, the editor/agent is going to feel like you misled him. Don’t promise
    Star Wars and send in Little Women.

    Desk calendar
    The Product Needs to be Delivered on Time
    If you’re an unpublished author, your book needs to be polished and ready to send before you pitch it. Ideally, you would send it as soon as you got done pitching. But sometimes, something you see at the conference might give you an idea on how to tweak it and make it better. If that’s the case, it’s best to be upfront with the editor/agent and agree on a time frame for submission. You don’t want to leave them with the impression that you can’t be counted on to make your deadlines.

    Customer Service after the Pitch
    So you’ve pitched your novel, and sent in the partial. If you’re lucky, this will result in a request for a full. But you might be advised to “revise and resubmit.” This is where you get to show off your customer service skills. Listen carefully and make sure you understand what they’re asking you to do. If you agree to the changes, then make them as quickly as you can while maintaining the quality of writing. The editor/agent will be taking note of how easy (or difficult) you are to work with.

    I hope these tips have given you something to think about as you prepare you pitch.
    For those of you who have pitched before, please share your expertise. What’s the best pitching advice you ever received?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

10 Reasons Being A Writer Rocks

Sometimes, the writing life can get you down—the rejections, the solitude, the relatively low chances of big pay…

But this weekend, I thought it would be fun to think of all the reasons why being a writer rocks. Please add your own positive ideas to this list—and spread the love! What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?

10. You can work in your PJs.

9. A trip to the bookstore is a tax write-off.

8. “Not now, I’m reading this book,” is akin to “I can’t, I have a meeting.”

7. It’s weird if you don’t hear voices in your head.

6. When you go to a job seminar, you actually have fun!

5. What other job puts such a high value on otherwise useless information?

4. If your coworker is annoying you, get the leash and take him for a walk.

3. Writing is the perfect fusion of acting (inhabiting character), drawing (indulging in detail of space), performance (a show offered with unmatchable intimacy), social sciences (the study of human behavior), and imagination (possibility is infinite!).

2. To a writer, everything in life--from a skinned knee, to a divorce, to a broken car, to the bottom of a baby's foot--is filled with the potential for inspiration. Everything has practical value in the writing life.

1. With book people, you’ll find kindred spirits everywhere you go.

Best and love,

Lisa Dale
Come join me for book giveaways, author interviews, and book talk!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Terrible Tales of a Technophobe

Don’t you just hate them? Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. Resent might be a better one.

I’m talking about those people who can turn on their computer and get it right, first time. No problems. No hassle. No fuss.

Or maybe a friend shows you what to do on their computer. Looks so simple, yeah?. Uh uh. You can’t wait to go home and try it on yours. But just you wait. What worked on theirs, doesn’t work on yours.

In fact, it’s got so bad now, that even I end up laughing at myself. I expect it to go wrong, and so it does.

When I sign up for a course that tells me what I’m supposed to do, and follow instructions to the letter, my computer is the one that never plays ball. There’s always a different response to what is expected and the course convenor ends up signing me up manually. I just hope and pray that nothing ever goes wrong because I wouldn’t know how to get back.

Surely, the way to stop bothering friends and family and learn from the bottom up is to buy the Word Book for Dummies. That will help me get over the many problems technophobes must endure. Won’t it?

Well, I brought the book that would turn all my computer dreams into reality, confident that all the hassles of compterdom were behind me.

But oh no. Nothing that simple for you, my girl. You see, I never got the response from my friendly PC that the book said I would, no matter how many times I went back to the beginning and started again. Did I miss something? A vital point? You already know the answer to that.

Maybe it’s a conspiracy by the powers that be, and they are having a laugh at my expense.

And take something as simple as this blog. It will be fun to join my chapter sisters in a mutual blog, won’t it? Please?

Uh uh. Problem from the word go. So if you are reading this sad tale, it’s thanks to Mona and her step-by-step, handy-hold instructions that I got it right.
I hope.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Joanne--Sharing the writing of Dave Barry

I am a big fan of the author and column writer, Dave Barry. His writing is thoughtful, witty, and absolutely hilarious. Many writers mention Stephen King's book "On Writing", but not many know that Dave Barry and Stephen King are good friends and play in a rock band together.

Following is a classic Dave Barry post on writing and snakes:

The other day I was sitting at my desk in my home office, doing what I do all day, which is frown at my computer screen. This is tiring work, so roughly 35,000 times a day I have to take a break to eat something, or drink something, or scratch something. At this particular moment, I reached to my left, to pick up my can of Diet Coke, and EEEEEEEEEEEE. That is the screaming sound my brain made when it realized that my hand was, at most, two inches from a live snake. Really. As a south Florida resident, I'm used to having ants on my desk, but they are friendly, harmless, and easy to smush. Whereas this was a full-blown snake, coiled for attack, with its head reared up and its tongue flicking out toward me, which is how snakes communicate the message: "Hah! Perhaps you wish to die for your Diet Coke, Mister No-Topic Writer Man!"