Wednesday, September 29, 2010

As a Doornail

The publishing industry says that chick-lit is dead.  As a reader and a person who loves the frothy tone, I disagree.  When those pastel colored books hit the market I purchased tons of them and lost myself in the good times, which was so needed after 9/11.  Now with the great recession, escapism is much more in demand.  I've been pulling out the old ones that I loved such as Shopaholic series and those written by Marian Keyes and I've hunted for new ones.  Recently, I purchased A Vintage Affair and Nancy's Theory of Style. 

So is chick-lit as dead as a doornail?

NO!  It has changed, become deeper no longer about the girl trying to get the fabulous shoes.  That excess doesn't fit today's world.  But us reader still need to escape to a world that leaves us emotional satisfied. 

People might say that we get it from Women's Fiction. I think those two genres are like twins they might look the same on the outside however look beyond the cover and you'll see the difference. 

In this market, chick-lit must finds its place.  The genre must grow up and use the experience us writers and readers have learned from its big crash.  How?  That's an answer I don't know but someone must.  I can't wait to read that book.  Maybe I'll be the one to write it.   

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Out-of-Head Experience

Sally and Tom are having a knock-down-drag-out battle of the sexes. Their repartee is blistering the air around them. Sexual tension seethes like a volcano, spewing steam and lava.

Can you hear it? Oh yeah, the dialog’s easy and lots of fun.

Can you see it? Even easier.

Can you feel it? Umm, not so much.

Why? Are you writing from inside your characters’ heads? Is your scene overloaded with internal monologue? Possibly.

Here’s an exercise to help you get out of their heads and into their bodies. Sit relaxed in a chair. Assume the identity of one of your characters--let’s try Tom. Fill your head with his words. Absorb the emotions behind the words. Now think--how would he mime those emotions and thoughts?

Mime? That’s right, get up out of your chair and mime. Skip the white face and go straight to gesture and movement and inarticulate sound.

Tom is angry. His hands are fisted, his shoulders tight, his breath constricted, and he’s yelling. That’s all true, and it’s all reactions confined to his head and torso that Sally might not even notice. Try using his limbs to express his anger. Does he throw up his arms, pace the room, slam a door? Now he’s moving around in the setting you’ve chosen for this fight. Even though he’s muzzled him, he’s still expressing his emotion.

Now let’s go back inside his head. Under the anger is lust. A fine line separates the two. In typical romance fashion, he’s got a woody hard enough to bend nails--the hammering kind, not the manicuring kind. What’s going on with his other four limbs?

Do you remember the delicious swoon-worthy kiss that Rhett Butler gives Scarlett O’Hara when he leaves her on the road to Tara before he goes off to war? Whew!

That’s what Tom wants to do to Sally. How do his arms and legs show his emotional conflict? One way is that his pacing swoops in and around the delectable Sally as he moves about the room. The anger drives him away, the lust draws him back. Another way is... you tell me.

How does your Tom or Sally mime the emotion and the thoughts that will make this scene pound in the hearts of your readers?

For inspiration, search the fabulous Emotional Thesaurus at The Bookshelf Muse.

Joan Leacott
heart, humour, and heat...Canada style

more posts by Joan

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Critique Massage

In the movie Because I Said So, Diane Keaton’s character goes to a spa with her daughters. She insists on wearing her turtleneck for a massage. Sounds a little stupid, doesn’t it? I know I laughed myself silly at that scene because it reminded me of my first massage. The masseuse assured me I could wear a swimsuit, a two-piece one. If I were okay with wearing a bikini in public, then I would own one. I did survive that first massage because I relaxed and allowed myself to trust. It didn’t hurt that the guy was a total hunk.

It made me think critiques are a lot like massages. We all seem to like both in theory. I’ve talked to several of my friends and almost none of them have had massages. They’d like to, but they can't bring themselves to get on a table facedown and trust their body to a stranger. Same with critique groups, most people who swear they’ll never attend have had a bad experience. Often their experiences come rather vicariously. A friend of a friend endured horrible humiliation at a critique session; therefore, all critiques will follow the same pattern. What would happen if we applied the same reasoning to everything?

Who hasn’t had a book-worthy bad date? I had one write me a three-page critique on what I could do better. That didn’t stop me from dating. It did stop me from dating him, though. Same with massages, I had one woman put me in such extreme pain that she advised me to take three extra strength Tylenols. An unfair or hostile critique should be regarded the same way my review writing date was. Quite frankly, not all critique groups or partners are a good fit. Just like not all masseuses will suit.

A friend of my mine writes explicit romances and then tries to have them critiqued by church ladies. It isn’t working out well. RWA has several different genre groups. Inside these groups, you can often find the right person or persons to critique your work.

Critiquing is a trust relationship. You really are pulling off the turtleneck to submit yourself to a critique massage. A good partner knows to give equal praise and to recognize growth in your craft. Occasionally, you may not agree with a critique, that’s okay. Go with what feels right. In you’re feeling really mellow about your critique group, you might be ready for an actual massage.

I am very grateful for my critique partners. They are right up there with my actual masseuse. Yes, ladies, I am shallow—he is a hunk, but very good with his hands. When he is done, he always says, "Enough torture." I manage with effort to slide off the table.

I would be interested in hearing about your critique and massage experiences, both torturous and heavenly.

Can writers handle the business side of writing?

When we decided to become professional writers, and I use the word professional to determine a difference between those of us who write without receiving any sort of compensation, and those of us who do regardless of how many zeros follow that first number ;-)

From whenever you made that decision to submit your work to a publisher to when you received that first sales phone call…did you ever stop and think about the business side of writing?

Where did you expect to fit within your publishing house? How important do you rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 to your publisher?

I am a member of so many different writing groups, and I read so many boards that it still continues to amaze me when I read things that lead me to believe that the answer to the questions above is 1 (where 1 is the most important).

We as authors have stories that we want to tell. We hope (although there may not be) that there is an audience, and a publisher that cares about those stories.

But, what I think authors forget is that writing is a business. Publishers are in the business of selling books for money. You might have the best agent in the world, but that agent won’t be able to sell your book on the streets out of the back of his/her car if he/she can’t convince a publisher to pick it up because it will appeal to a certain audience. If that audience doesn’t buy in…you can bet your next book will be holding up the legs of a coffee table near you.

In your writing career, how many publishers have you had? How many contracts have you lost or broken? If you took emotion out of it: they didn’t return my calls, they didn’t answer my emails, is your publisher a good business? Do they have good editors, graphic designers, public relations, etc.?

Can writers handle the business side of writing?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

St Francis Wolf Sanctuary

Adding realism to fantasy--but also, to promotional blogs!!

I've had fans ask if I've been around wolves, and I'd wanted to visit a wolf sanctuary, knowing there are several around the country, but way far away. Then someone asked if there might be one close by. So I did some research and found one 2 1/2 hours away in Montgomery, Texas. So with two fellow librarians, we went on an adventure and visited the wolf sanctuary and a fun time was had by all.

It was hard to get a picture of the carved wolf head beyond the gate, but here is the gate to the estate of the St Francis Wolf Sanctuary.

I wanted to share a few blogs about the various animals/sightings, and am working diligently on Heart of the Highland Wolf edits since it's due on Monday. So I've really got to get back to it. But here is the first of the stories.

Part of the reason I write that my werewolves have long lives is I don't want them to lose their mates at an early age. This is a part wolf, part dog, but looks very much like a wolf and acted like one, who lost his mate, Spirit, three weeks earlier. This was the first time he came out of his home to sit on top of it after losing her.

He actually came to the fence and howled a couple of times, but it was hard to get a picture of them howling. They'd howl, then pace and with their long legs, moved very quickly.

One thing that can distinguish a wolf from a wolf dog is the narrow chest, longer legs, and many constantly paced around their pens. Arctic wolves do have shorter legs and ears though. Arctic wolves are gray wolves also.

But he really did come out of his grief somewhat to finally come to the fence and participate a little in the excitement caused by visitors and volunteers who were there to see them and that was good to see. He was very alpha--his ears always perked up. I'll show a very beta wolf also--and how different the posture.

The Beta Wolf

This was one of the wolves that was walked when we were at the St Francis Wolf Sanctuary. She's a beta, as you can see from the way she stands. She was thrilled to go for a walk, yet she kept her ears back, her tail tucked between her legs, her body slightly bowed.

She has always lived alone, so she stays alone in her pen, while all the other wolves or wolf dogs had companions. But those who managed the sanctuary felt she wouldn't allow anyone in her pen to share it. She's the only one of the full blooded wolves that they walk. She loves the man who walked her here, but some women, she doesn't like he told us!

When you see the wolf like this, it reminded me so much of one of my standard poodles, how she would do this on occasion.

I'm wondering, though, if she found the right male, would she be happy to share her pen with him?

Of course, she would. :)

Remember, whether a beta wolf or alpha, everyone deserves a delectable mate!

Scent Rolling

This is the beta Arctic Wolf scent rolling. Dogs will do this also, and bring back the "delightful" smells they've picked up--the scent of dead animals, etc, to their pack. Our yellow Labrador Retriever would love to do this after we gave her a sweet smelling bath. Not to her taste. :) She would prance around, telling us how she was dying to go outside right after her bath and once we let her out, she'd scent roll to gather something nicer smelling to bring back inside with us--to share her good fortune.

Here, the she-wolf looks like she's just taking a nice nap in the open field. Her nose is buried in the grass--taking in all the delightful aroma. :) Her pen was just as grassy and comfy, but she wouldn't have the fun of smelling all the little animal fragrances that collect in the surrounding area--rabbits, mice, all those tasty treats.

This was the wolf dog who had lost his mate and for 3 weeks stayed in his den. But here, he actually came out to the fence and howled near us.

When the wolves howl, it was pretty quick, so capturing a picture of them with their head tilted back and giving off a howl was hard to do. The volunteers said that they normally didn't howl much during the day, and one of the wolves was doing all of the howling at first. Then several began howling.

Here is a wolf and a wolf dog--the wolf howling. She howled constantly, then later some of the others howled. But she was the first. She was very alpha, scent marking and scratching the ground with her paws.

And here is some good news:
A nice review at Reviews and More by Teresa Hissong!

Do you have a wolf sanctuaries near you? I'd love to go to another!

Have a super day!!!

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Let's put this in perspective, people, okay?

It seems like every time I turn around, some new surprise is happening in the little niche of the publishing world with which I am familiar. People are changing publishers, publishers are changing policies, agents quit to become editors or vice versa.

I'm not sure if it's just because I'm getting older, but it seems like the pace of this is happening faster and faster. Or maybe it's because I'm still not sure where I'm going with this career of mine.

There's nothing wrong with where I am. I have a lot of books out, I enjoy writing, I enjoy my day job, and I like the way it all fits together. But I always have this nagging feeling that maybe I should be doing more -- looking for an agent, or looking for a New York contract, or trying to self-publish, or doing a bit more promo.

I wonder if this is just human nature, to constantly wonder: Am I doing enough?

And just when I think this kind of thinking is important, someone gets ill and I discover what the really important things are in life. I think a health crisis for a loved one is a reminder to us: it's really just a job, people. Don't sweat it. There are other things far, far more important in this world.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The other day my thirty year old daughter and I went on a great adventure together. We explored a gold mine that dates back to the California Gold Rush of 1849. For seventeen years we’ve said every spring that this year we would go to the state park and explore the mine. My current story is set a couple of years after the gold rush and entails the heroine inheriting a gold mine tunnel. What more perfect time to make that visit.

I’ve mentioned how my daughter always has time to share in my enthusiasm for writing and more times than not has helped me with plotting. We have lunch once a week and during part of our meal we do plotting. Someone told me I was blessed to have a child and husband who support my love of writing. I know how blessed I am not only with my immediate family, but also with my writing family. I want to share just how wonderful my daughter is. I received this beautifully written document for Mother’s Day. She wrote it from her heart. It’s titled Through Her Eyes and, I might add, my daughter has had no writing experience.


As a mother watches her baby sleep, she can see a glimpse of herself in this tiny creature. She strokes her daughter’s long, delicate fingers and bends down to kiss her little turned up nose while whispering I love you more than you’ll ever know.

As the child grew there was a laughter that filled the air, and the mother remembered there was once a time in her own childhood where she laughed as though it came deep from within her heart. That memory came to her often and a gentle smile would seem to wash over her face bringing happiness to her soul…

Watching her mother sleep she slowly covers her with a blanket while whispering I love you more than you’ll ever know. When she laughs, she does not hear her own voice but that of her mothers. Those are the moments she feels happiness in her soul. Looking within herself, she can see a strength and courage to never give up, as that is something she and her mother share. Believing in yourself and always going after your dreams has been a life lesson her mother has shown her. She knows she is slowly becoming more like her mother everyday and that brings a great joy and comfort to her heart, as her mother is one who she truly admires.

You can see that these two spirits share a bond like no other, that is the love of a mother and daughter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Critique Partner: How I found one

I had read about critique partners on several loops and knew the time had come to search for one. I wanted someone who was at approximately the same state of career development as I am and someone committed to publication. Imagine my surprise and excitement when nine PRO members responded to my email.

One by one, my prospective CP’s and I took to the dance floor. This led to back-and-forth emailing, introducing ourselves and clearly stating the timeline we each envisioned for exchanging work. I wanted a CP who would agree to critiquing one chapter per week, keeping the door open for brainstorming premises and sharing synopses, if needed. Still, I based finding a good fit on several more important points.

Next, began a “trial run” by exchanging and critiquing a chapter. This can be a sticky process, requiring a combination of honesty and tact from both parties. If the other writer’s critique style didn’t seem a good match, or if either of us felt the other writer was at a different point in the craft, we would go no further. Parting as professionals is paramount.

Reading and critiquing the exchanged chapters proved fun and well worth the hours-long effort, which spanned close to two weeks. After this intense period I found what I felt would be the best partner. Fortunately, she wanted me, too.

I’m happy to report my new critique partner and I enjoy a lively exchange of work, which has re-energized not only my writing and editing, but my overall outlook. I only wish I had taken this step a year ago.

Today I think about ways to streamline finding a CP, but can’t come up with a better plan. Mine worked for me. The side benefit, bonding with a new friend, is the sweetest bonus.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What is up with all the Zombies!

Right now zombies are hot in the world of books and movies. Okay, let’s just say, their hot right now everywhere, YA, romance, and horror. Horror was their original home, but like all good demons, they moved next door to all the other genres.

Now I like a good Zombie story as well as the next person, Zombie Land was funny in its own odd way. My all time favorite was Will Smith’s, I am Legend (but then who can resist Will). So why are these really disgusting creatures so popular? I can’t figure it out. There doesn’t seem to be a good ending to there, ummm, lifestyle or illness, whichever comes first. They are ugly, on a good day. Even my all time favorite Vamps, steer clear of this individuals, because well, Vamps are dead, but these guys are just plan nasty. I like to think Eric of True Blood, before I even can consider imagining a sexy zombie. But yet they are everywhere, and agents are screaming for zombie stories. Cup a hand to ones ear and you can hear a faint howl for the creatures coming from the east. Sort of sounds like zombies to me.

My question, how does one write a romance, based on the Night of the Living Dead, with your neighbor eating the guy across the streets heart? Yuck, a very unpleasant idea. But that is what zombies are all about, just really gross stuff, still the world of entertainment with all the blood and guts, screams for zombies.

Now take for instance books. I got curious and did a bit of research for this blog, and found a lot of books on zombies, I mean a lot!!! A ton!! Which means, pretty soon Agents will be screaming no more zombies. Then those howls from the east will stop or change their tone. In my research, (I love research) I found list after list of books with ‘zombie’ in the title, everything from:

Zombie vs. Unicorn (if one can imagine a magical creature taking on the living dead)

The Zombie Survival Guide

Zombie Wars

Zombies: A field guide to the walking dead

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (top of the list right now)

Zombies for Dummies (Really someone needs to tell these folks they don’t exist.)

Zombies: Encounters with the hungry dead

Zombie Fallout

The Zombie Chronicles

Zompoc: How to survive a Zombie Apocalypse

I could go on and on. The list was unbelievable. You name it a zombie was involved and did it. It’s even more popular then vamps. At least Vamps are good looking, as are werewolves, which I think True Blood and The Vampire Diaries can attest too. And you can talk to them, they are sexy, fun and yeah a bit demented but hey years of living through time can do that to you! Zombies on the other hand, are just zombies.

Just like Vamps and werewolves, zombies are becoming a legend in our time. They started in 1968 with the original movie, Night of the Living Dead. The stars were unknown at the time, and remain so, with this low budget horror flick. But it did spurn a new type of legend that over forty years later has risen from the dead a vengeance and appetite for what else each other.

So what do you think of the ghouls that are so grossly popular right now?

Lee Lopez

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yoga Anyone?

So here I am, no Yoga for 12 days. Okay, so I was at the beach in Cape May, New Jersey with the family. Sure, I did the daily brisk walk down the Boardwalk and back, but apparently, it wasn't enough. Not according to my sore muscles since returning to my Mudra Yoga classes.

I'm going into my seventh week, and I'm doing quite well with the poses . . . well, except for last night. How quickly my body screamed and resisted those poses I'd become so familiar with before vacation. Seriously, I'm a dedicated exercise person. Hell, sitting in front of the computer all day does something bad to your body. It's like your butt becomes the width of the chair. I'm not letting that happen to me. No way, Jose. As a result--you know, vanity and all that jazz, I exercise in the morning for a half hour 5 days a week, and become a Yogette in the evenings for an hour, 4 nights a week. I tried the 7 days a week exercising, but I just can't seem to make it happen. Hey, I figure my body is trying to tell me something, so I'm listening.

So back to yoga. Two of the yoga days are dedicated to kick-ass advanced classes and two are more manageable--okay, more for beginners, but nevertheless, still good with all the stretching. It's at a slower pace--restorative for all those tough poses I tried to twist my body into during the advanced days.

And speaking of which, the kick-ass instructor, the young whippersnapper that she is, moves fast. Here I am last night feeling all good about my 'downfaced dog' and when I look up, she's already onto 'upward dog facing'. Am I ever going to be able to move as quickly as she glides into those poses?

Well, third day this week, I'm doing my poses and she calls for the 'side plank' pose. I get my tired body ready to show my instructor I'm good at this, and you know what? I fell over. Yep, that's exactly what happened. LOL Talk about being embarrassed!

I think the next time I go on vacation, I'm taking a yoga DVD with me. Now onto to Zumba classes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Notes on a train

The Italian countryside flies by as our train smoothly moves from Venice to Florence. A while back we passed through Padua of Taming Of The Shrew fame and before we get to Florence we’ll see Verona. Or at least I hope we’ll see Verona, at least a little bit more than what we saw of Padua. All I saw there was a distant hint of towers and the dome of some kind of big church.

We just spent three days in Venice, a city where cars are replaced by boats on narrow canals, but since the place really is walking distance no matter where you are going, we spent most of our time wearing out our shoes. This is our yearly “big” vacation and we’ll spend most of our time on our feet when not on trains or planes or in the rare automobile. In two weeks we’ll visit Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. All romantic destinations with just my husband and myself. A fine recipe for some cozy times together. I won’t get a lot of writing done but then again sometimes you need to recharge the batteries on your own relationship rather than write about the ones in your head.
On the other hand, I will have several hours of train travel to write… if I can tear my eyes from the lovely green fields rushing past. In the meantime I can tell you I got a great 4.5 star review/Top Pick from Night Owl Reviews for Bad Dog and the Babe.

Wait a minute… is that a CASTLE on the top of that hill?

Sorry to make this short, but I have to go now.

Janet Miller/Cricket Starr

Monday, September 13, 2010

Where Does Your Motivation Come From?

What happens when we have our feet pulled out from under us? I have recently come back from a hiatus from writing as personal crisis in the family took all motivation from me to be involved in anything writer related. No words flowed onto the empty screen, no desire to communicate with my writer friends. Life suddenly became hollow and undesirable. How do we allow personal circumstances not to deter us from writing?

When life gets in the way, we easily push the writing aside. Yet we carry on at our day jobs as a necessity. Days you don’t want to work, you force yourself out of bed and into the office just because that is where the paycheck comes from. When does the writing become top priority in your life? How do you break through the personal circumstances and push out the story anyway? So much emotion can come from your personal circumstances to make your story enriched. But the idea of making it actual happen can be fear gripping. Life can push you on and motivate you or it can paralyze you.

Pushing through my fear this past week, I was able to finally put words to empty screen after three months of complete emptiness. Writing is something I love, yet couldn’t motivate myself to do it because I lost my biggest supporter of my writing. Pushing through that fear was freeing. Showing up for a writer’s meeting locally was another motivator. What motivated me to continue? Writer friends that continued to send me emails, messages encouraging me to continue.

Where do you find your motivation when it feels hollow and empty?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

After all those years in Asia, I don't have to do promotion anymore. We just release a Jackie Chan movie and - Boom! - people go. ~ Jackie Chan

I do promotion when it is necessary, but I always want to get back to the music.~Enya

Oh how I wish I could be like Jackie Chan or Enya. To be able to release a book and – Boom! – people reading…it would be lovely. Sadly, that is rarely the case for most authors. You have to build your audience. You have to encourage them to read your words by promoting yourself. There are many ways to do this.

One thing published authors must take into consideration is promotional materials. I'm not talking about promo where you talk about your latest book. I mean the tangible stuff sometimes referred to as SWAG. That's a slang term for free promotional items. SWAG, aka Stuff We All Get, can be anything from bookmarks to t-shirts.

I've used pens, coffee cups, bookmarks and postcards in the past. Honestly, however, paper promo is not really SWAG per se because it is paper. Consider things like beach towels, lunch bags, jump drives, water bottles, stress balls and jar openers instead. You want something the reader will keep using so that they keep seeing your name. This is part of that old marketing adage sometimes called the Rule of Seven.

“The customer needs to see an advertisement seven times before it is effective.”

That generally means seven times but in as many different mediums as you can afford. So a book video, a bookmark, a good review—all of those are marketing in terms of being seen. If you can get something physical in the reader's hands, then you've upped the ante considerably!

Pens are one of the most common swag items. I personally like pens that work. I still have pens I got at RWA conferences three years ago.

One enterprising author put her name and book cover on water bottles. While this is a great idea, it's temporary. Raise your hand if you did NOT throw away the water bottle once it was empty.

That's what I thought. But sometimes, that's okay. I still remember that author's name (Kresley Cole for those who are curious - LOL) and even that the book cover had a ship on it so it must have worked, right?

One difficulty is finding the right source for your promotional items. I want the most bang for my buck just like everyone else. So I find 500 jar openers at one site for .50 each. What about this other site where I can get 650 jar openers for .35? Get your calculators out, darlings. This is where that high school math comes in handy. 500 jar openers at $.50 each is a grand total of $250.00 whereas 650 for $.35 is $227.00. Houston, we have a winner!

But do we, really?

Let's say the second site has an art set up charge of $90 plus shipping and handling BUT the first one is only $40 and if you order by Friday you get free shipping. Well that just bounced the 650 up to $317.00 which brought them up to $.48 a piece. So they are still cheaper than the first site per item but it may be a win for your pocketbook to stick to the $250.00. Or you can team up with another author and cut your cost even more!

For the Romantic Times Booklovers Conference in 2009, I joined forces with Ashlyn Chase to purchase 1000 coffee mugs.

By splitting all the production and shipping costs we were able to get a nicer swag item. It was popular for sure!

Other authors have also combined their money to come up with bigger items for that conference. C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp offered the cutest lunch bags that were handed out at the 2009 RT Awards that were just stuffed with books. I use mine on a daily basis - good advertising for them, right?

Some good sites to look for promotional items are:


You can also ask your fellow authors who they use. Pay attention if they tell you that the customer service was not good. Bad customer service is never worth the money you save.

For my publisher's convention, RomantiCon 2010 this October in Ohio, I will be offering mini bottles of Tabasco with my name, website and tagline.

Here is the actual size.

My plan is to put these out with my business cards and some postcards featuring my latest book, Needing Harte, with the tagline "Add a little Spice to your Life." This story is my first novella-length M/M set in a BDSM world and will release on October 6. You can find that here.

Needing Harte

Harte Donovan has a problem. A murder leads him to wanting a sexy stripper bound and naked in front of him. He can’t let his secret desires ruin his career as a detective. When he’s given a mysterious business card, Harte discovers a side of himself he intends to fully embrace.

Ramey Nichols strips for a living and he’s not willing to pretend to be something he’s not. When this sexy submissive meets the closeted cop and unwitting Dom, something has got to give. That something might just be Ramey. Ramey knows what he wants, and more than that, finds himself Needing Harte.

This is part of a brand-new series called 1-800-DOM-help

So what kind of swag do you like to get? Do you still have anything from conventions past? If you have a great promo place, please share it with us.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to Find the Perfect Writer's Conference

It seems like RWA Nationals just ended, and yet announcements for regional conferences are popping up everywhere. With so many choices, I had to stop and ask myself why I go to conferences, what I hoped to get out of them, and what makes one conference better than another.

I should probably start with a disclaimer and admit that I'm not a regular conference-goer. I've only been to two: RWA Nationals in Orlando and Emerald City Writer's Conference in Seattle. Both times I decided to go to the conference because I'd finaled in a contest, and both times the big thrill came from meeting online writer friends in person.

This year, I thought I would purposely choose a conference instead of merely tagging along wherever my chapter sisters took me. As a first step, I asked my fellow writers why they went to conferences. Here are some of their responses:
  • To make a personal connection with writers, agents, and editors
  • To hear what different publishers are looking for
  • To promote a novel
  • To discover the latest trends and industry news
  • To hear speakers or workshops that aren't available online
  • To learn new ways to write, organize, or self-promote
  • To be inspired by published authors
Before you pay your registration fee, consider all of these points. Who are the speakers, editors, and agents attending, and which workshops will be presented? Does the conference seem to draw people who are at the same stage in their careers as you are?

Equally important are the logistics. Is the conference near your home, or some place you've always dreamed of visiting? Will you know anyone there to keep you company and share expenses? Does it come highly recommended by people you trust?

Although I've only been to RWA conferences, I'm also intrigued by conferences for other genres, such as Thrillerfest, and conventions which focus on the reader, like RomCon.

Perhaps most tempting of all are conferences offered on cruises or in unique locations like the Matera Writer's Conference in Matera, Italy or the Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii.

With so many excellent choices, it's no surprise that I can't make up my mind. I would love to hear your conference recommendations.

What do you look for in choosing a conference? Is there one you return to year after year? Why? What makes it stand out above all the others?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Writing Magic?

So, even though I’ve got a couple books published and a couple more coming out, I’m constantly improving my technique. If each book I write isn’t more intense than the last, then I’m not doing my job.

As part of my self-imposed endless schooling, I like to reading “how to write” books. Yes, the material gets old. Yes, I know “show don’t tell.” But still, I head over to the store, buy a new one, and get out my pen, sticky notes, and highlighter.

I find that reading “how to’s” while I’m working is a great self-check for me. As I write I jot down specific notes about my own manuscript. Are my secondary characters truly strong enough, or am I letting myself get lazy and settling for “okay”? Are all my scenes like fire on the page? Or am I becoming complacent and accepting writing that’s merely lukewarm.

At the moment, I’m reading The Fire In Fiction, by Donald Maass—who also wrote what might be my all-time favorite how-to, Writing The Breakout Novel. In the introduction, Maass talks about writers who talk about their work in an “I don’t know what happened; It just came to me this way” type of narrative. He writes:

It disappoints me when authors perpetuate the myth that writing is magic. Some allow it to be so. It’s a shame that those writers fail to understand their own process.

Obviously, I’m a person who love the mechanics of books—I probably would have gone to school for narrative theory if I wasn’t going to give it a go as a novelist. And I like what he says here. We should understand our own processes. Writing is not magic. It’s grunt work.

Once, after a huge snowstorm, I heard my neighbor shoveling snow at two o’clock in the morning, and the sound of the shovel on the pavement was the loneliest, most exhausted sound I’ve ever heard—the sound of having given up, and then gone on. I think writing can be like that.

But I have to confess. My new manuscript? It’s going really smoothly. I feel almost as if I’m coasting downhill. The characters are leading me with a force that I’ve never quite felt before. I’m not reaching for action—it’s simply there. The settings are fascinating without my muscling them to be so. And the plot arc—always such a tenuous thing, and myopia-inducing—seems to be laying out well.

In short, it does feel a little like magic. I’m in a giant soap bubble—and I feel that if I sneeze it will pop around me. I pray it lasts!

But if it doesn’t—that’s okay. I’ve never really believed in magic. As Maass says, magic doesn’t write books. “Butt-in-chair” time writes books. That, and a good hard look at technique at the advice of a trusted writer.

What do you think? Have you ever had that “magic” feeling? Do you have it all the time? Eight percent of the time? Sixty? Never? Is it necessary?

Happy writing!

Lisa Dale

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Revving up the engine

After my long hiatus, I’m back at writing with a vengeance.

It was only a matter of time, of course, but I never want to go through that ever again. I hope you never have to either.

It irked me when I could see all that time, energy and money spent on how-to books, and on-line classes, (I’m a workshop junkie), not to mention all the hours spent sitting at the computer writing into the night, disappearing down the plughole.

Happily, it’s all in the past.

In a concentrated effort on the part of the Universe, everything happened at once.

It began with the Romance Writers of New Zealand national conference when we hosted Christopher Vogler as one of our speakers. He conducted an all-day workshop and I’ll swear his carefully chosen words were written with me in mind. He certainly made me sit up and take notice.

Hard on the heels of the conference came an amazing workshop that really got my engine revving. Titled The Book Factory, if you ever get the chance to take part, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The teacher, Kerri Nelson, teaches you how to work on more than one book at a time, several in fact, have a clean and tidy house AND get some exercise. Just seeing what she juggles in her busy life is enough to make anyone want to lie down and have a rest till they feel better.

Thanks to that workshop, I’ve now fished out some manuscripts that have been languishing on my PC, and start working on them again—three at once, including Book One of my Egyptian trilogy. Woohoo!!!

The cherry on the top is a new contract. And I’ve just sent the first round edits off to my editor in good time

Now, what’s next?


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Sleep-Deprived Writer--by Joanne

The Sleep-Deprived Writer

“There is no hope for a civilization which starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock.”
--Author Unknown

I’m a little late posting this blog today because I fell asleep.
(Just kidding---I couldn’t resist!) :)

This past week, my son raved about a movie he recently watched entitled “Insomnia”. This movie was made in 2003. The lead actor is the brilliant Al Pacino, and the movie is directed by the just as brilliant Chris Nolan. The setting is Alaska, and Al Pacino is a cop who cannot sleep.
I won’t tell you what happens, as I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it.
And although sleep deprivation is not insomnia, it is a very serious condition which can and does upset many people’s lives.

Sleep deprivation is defined as “the condition of being robbed of sleep”. Not getting enough sleep can lead to loss of energy, blurred vision, nausea and confusion. It is a risk factor for several serious illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

In once recent article, “Sleep deprivation has become one of the most pervasive health problems facing the United States. It is estimated that people on average now sleep one and a half hours less than people did a century ago. Some experts are even beginning to wonder if widespread sleep deprivation is having an effect on America’s brainpower and creativity. They are advocating that sleep deprivation be recognized with the same seriousness that is associated with the impact of alcohol on society.”

Further on in the same article:
“A person who loses one night’s sleep will generally be irritable and clumsy during the next day and will either become tired easily or speed up because of adrenalin. After missing two night’s sleep, a person will have problems concentrating and will begin to make mistakes on normal tasks. Three missed nights and a person will start to hallucinate and lose grasp of reality. Someone who gets just a few hours of sleep each night occurs a large “sleep debt” and can begin to experience many of the same problems over time. A 1997 study found that people whose sleep was restricted to four to five hours per night for one week needed two full nights of sleep to recover performance, alertness, and normal mood.”

Our modern society promotes sleep deprivation, whether it be staying up too late to surf the internet or watch a favorite TV show, or getting up early to begin the endless tasks of our busy lives.

How does an author incorporate writing into an already packed schedule and still get enough sleep? Do we use a stopwatch while we surf, hire a maid, or enlist the help of our family and friends to carve out some much needed rest?

Please share your ideas. I do all of the above, except for the idea I like best--hiring a maid!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Watch For Fallen Rocks

Inspired by the memory of Rodger Fred Hamilton 1921 - 2010

I was driving through the mountains with my husband and noticed a sign warning "watch for fallen rocks." My thoughts flashed to my father.

He was a worker and a builder and a hunter and a gardener. He was a dreamer. He was a storyspinner.

Our family camped, and as we traveled cross-country on vacation, he'd tell us tales at night by the campfire. One of my favorites was a story about a renegade Indian chief named Fallen Rocks.

At dusk, the smell of wood smoke drew us near. I remember sitting by a warm fire on a cool night, snug in an oversized red hoodie, dirty toes sticking out of worn yellow flip-flops, antsy with anticipation. My father sat on a downed log across the way, smoking a pipe filled with cherry-flavored tobacco, the scent mingling with the smoke from the fire. Golden light lit his face, and his brilliant blue eyes sparkled with mischief as he spoke.

His story, in brief, with a wee bit of embellishment...

In olden times, large herds of elk traveled from the high meadows of the Wyoming Mountains to graze in the lower valleys for winter. Fallen Rocks was the leader of a great nation of people who followed the elk's migration. One year the snows came in relentless blizzards, freezing man and beast alike. Food became scarce, causing illness and death.

Government men visited the camps, bringing food and medicines. But the offering was tainted and more of the people grew sick and died.

Having been betrayed by the men pretending assistance to the tribes, Fallen Rocks summoned his strongest braves to a council and, adorned in war paint and feathers, the band rode their mustang horses against the pale faces. Greatly outnumbered, Fallen Rocks and his braves were killed.

An indignant Great Mother couldn't allow such an injustice and chose not to release their spirits to the after world but transformed them into Guides. Their ghostly forms are seen riding along mountain passes--even to this day.

So when you travel in the mountains, keep an eye out for Fallen Rocks.


Dawn Marie Hamilton, author of Sea Panther, a 2010 Golden Gateway Contest paranormal finalist.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Destressing With A Book

What do you do when you’re stressed?

In England, the cure for woes of all kinds has traditionally been a cup of tea—heavy on the sugar if you’ve had a shock.

I think for most women who aren’t on a diet, and many who are, chocolate has probably taken over this cure-all-ills role. (It certainly has for me.) And maybe coffee with its stimulating dose of caffeine has usurped the humble cup of tea.

I’ve been thinking about this because for a variety of reason both writing related and otherwise, life’s been stressful recently. Unfortunately, I’m a comfort eater. The first thing I turn to is food. But after I’ve dosed up on calories my favorite stress-reliever is losing myself in a good book.

The type of book I choose depends on the circumstances. If I need to retreat from the rat race for a while and chill out, I usually go for fantasy or paranormal romance to take me out of this world. If I feel bruised by something and I’m looking for emotional reassurance, my choice is always romance, usually in a genre I don’t write. I have a weakness for a good Harlequin Presents to give me a dose of contemporary fantasy.

When my stress is more due to the monotony of office work or end-of-year tax returns, I tend to opt for something exciting or funny and I’ve recently been reading Little Black Dress chick lit.

But I don’t need to be searching for a temporary escape from life to dive into a book. I love the luxury of a week-long vacation where I can spend all day reading without feeling guilty that there’s something else I should be doing. For days sitting beside a pool, or under an umbrella looking out over the sea, I choose a mystery with a hint of romance.

What makes you want to pick up a book?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Belly Dancing and Nationals

What do belly dancing and going to Nationals have in common? Nothing on the surface, I wanted to do both and felt I was too old to do either. There are times I look at younger, published writers and wonder if it is too late? I look at younger dancers and think how I used to have abs that flat.

Both writing and belly dancing require instruction and practice to get better. My goal was to practice every day, although I didn’t always. That’s why weekly dance classes, chapter meetings and writer challenges kept me moving forward. My dance teacher would chide me if she could see I hadn’t practiced appropriately. My critique pals were more gentle. In the end, I was working toward a goal in both.

In writing, it is getting published. Nationals would be my foot in the door since I had an interview with an editor. In belly dancing, I had to dance in full costume in public with my last dance occurring in an Egyptian restaurant. It was also an improv class, which meant I didn’t know what I was going to do until I heard the music. It was a form of thinking on your feet, which I think a pitch session is.

You go in knowing you are going to talk about your book, but you don’t know what type of response you might get. The restaurant patrons can have various reactions, not unlike editors. Some are excited to see you that’s the whole reason they came. Others are clearly bored, while others act annoyed. In dancing, you keep smiling never let them know how you feel about their reaction, but move on to a more receptive audience. I think that is a good advice for everything.

It’s funny that I thought I was too old for both writing and dancing. I’ve been dancing for about two years now and have seen many young women eagerly join, but quit a few weeks later when they realize how hard it really is. There were an equal number of middle age women quitting too. It isn’t about age. I’ve heard the oldest belly dancer is 92 and she’s still dancing and teaching. It is more about determination and trying. Currently, I am dancing with ladies from 19 to 67. The one factor they all have in common is they love dancing. Writing is like that.

Next year, I will be fifty. I find this hard to believe unsure how I lived this long, but it is a signpost age for me. A signal to do the things I always wanted to do, but only talked about that’s why I decided to spend the money to fly to Orlando. That’s why I signed up for a dance class that was so far out of my comfort zone that it was in the next galaxy. Without conflict, our characters don’t grow and neither do we.

As for Nationals, they were wonderful. I saw many writers I knew, made new friends, and gathered up lots of books. My pitch went well and the editor asked for a partial, first pre-pub step. After that massive high, it was time for my belly dance graduation.

The dancers attired in heavy makeup, coin belts and veils were ready. To compensate Samir, the restaurant owner, we ordered food and drink. My fellow dancers and I knocked back drinks hoping the patrons would leave. They didn't. We warmed up with a group dance. All the dancers whirled and shimmied around the tables. That wasn’t too bad, but I knew my solo was coming, my graduation solo.

Assuming the position, I waited for the first notes of the song, smiling at my fellow dancers while wondering why I put myself through this kind of hell. Some of my fellow dancers chose to pass on graduating. Many were too self-conscious. They spent weeks working up to the restaurant dance only to bail at the last minute. Many writers slave over a manuscript they never submit because they’re afraid. Don’t think I wasn’t self-conscious, especially with the owner staring at me, he was used to professional dancers.

Mentally, I told myself to work the audience. Most of the steps came as I heard the music, a few I threw in as my teacher yelled encouragement. I had to sidle by the owner to make my circle of all the tables. My teacher encouraged me to stay with the owner and dance for him. Are you crazy I wanted to yell at her. In truth, I guess it was no worse than pitching to an editor. The song lasted forever, but there were many encouraging yells from fellow dancers and their husbands.

I did it. I pushed myself into public performance in both writing and dancing. Hard work involved in both, and even more hard work to come. Belly dancing and romance writing are such a perfect combo in my humble opinion. What hobbies or pastimes do you have that compliment or enhance your writing? If you're wondering, that's not me in the photo. Wish it was. :)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Compromise and the Writer

I’m really curious to know what writers and readers think about this topic. I have no answers, and after writing for fifteen years, I’m no wiser.

Each time I get an idea for a new story, I’m reminded that the idea may not be “bankable”. That is, that the idea has no commercial merit. For most writers, that’s a death knell and while they may play with the idea or even write the manuscript at odd hours of the night, they don’t consider it to be important to their career as a writer, because to have a commercially viable career, you have to compromise nd write what will sell. Your manuscripts have to have commercial merit. As one writer put it: you write your first draft for yourself, i.e. something that you’d like to read, then you scrap that and rewrite it for your target audience.

My reaction, “Huh?”

Sure, I understand that unless you are writing literary fiction, there are certain things you have to do to make a book viable. Things like having an actual plot and interesting characters. But that’s what confuses me. I mean, if you’re writing your first draft for yourself and it doesn’t have interesting characters or a plot, are you going to like it? Come on, you’re a reader, too. So if you write something you—as a reader—would like, then what the heck are you talking about when you say, “rewrite it for your target audience”?

Should that rule be: write what you like to read?

Perhaps. But even that’s poor advice if the stuff you like to read isn’t currently popular. Or it hasn’t been published for say, a hundred years or so. I know a lot of writers have encouraged me to write what is popular (e.g. very sensual romances) in order to get bigger contracts with the huge conglomerates in New York and get all that great prestige and money. (I’m published with smaller presses who seem more open to books that don’t fit current trends.)

But then I think…okay…except…I don’t read any of that stuff, because I don’t like it. So it’s really hard to write something you can’t even stand to read. I’d rather just not write than make that kind of a “compromise”.

It’s sort of like—if horror didn’t sell anymore—telling Stephen King to write medical romances. He might be career-oriented enough to shrug and do so—I don’t really know. Certainly all my other writer friends have not only sucked it up. They’ve gone ahead to write things they may not exactly like—or at least that’s what they say. But the thing is, when I ask them what they are reading, the answer is: they are reading pretty much the same things they are writing, and they love the books. So-in fact, they are writing what they love to read. (Please note that in my example, I’m assuming Stephen King isn’t actually sneaking off to the closest to read medical romances. If he is, well, then it’s a bad example.)

In the end, I don’t think writers are really making the huge compromises they “say” they are making to produce saleable manuscripts. Mostly because on some level, they like what they are writing well enough to read it for pleasure.

Maybe the seemingly conflicting advice of “write the story of your heart” and “this is a business, you have to compromise to publish” isn’t conflicting at all. I don’t know. And maybe it is true that those who won’t compromise are prima donna babies that won’t get published. Maybe.

But I think the real advice is: Write the story of your heart and edit it sufficiently to make it publishable.  And that advice it breaks down into two paths.

1) The Stephen King/J.K. Rowling path. Write the story of your heart and make sure it’s the best story ever written. I’m sure there were “compromises” made during the editing of these brilliant author’s works, but here’s the thing: they did not compromise to the point of writing a story they wouldn’t ever want to read, or to fit nicely into an existing genre. They pretty much re-invented their genres. (Horror and fantasy existed for many, many years before these writers—they just caused the relatively small genres to surge forward in popularity.)

Of course, how many of us can claim even a particle of their talent or brilliance?

The downside of this approach is that very few writers can get the story of their heart published, for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with the lack of an obvious marketing niche that agents and editors can identify to make a success of the book. Sad, isn’t it? But that’s what the world of ebooks is all about, really. You may not get rich, but you might find one or two readers who like your story.

2) Genre-first Writers. Write the story of your heart, put it in the drawer, and then write a story to fit specifically within a popular genre so you can sell it. The grown-up writer. The writer who knows that writing is a business and that means that the work isn’t always going to be fun, and you aren’t always going to be able to write what you want , so just suck it up and enjoy the money.

Hmmm. While I’m no King or Rowling, I guess I’m not a grown-up writer, either. Because I don’t see the point in writing what I wouldn’t read if you paid me a million dollars. Although, if you paid me a million-and-one dollars, told me I could retire, and promised I would never have to read such a book again, I might agree.  I might even write one, although I suspect I’d never write another word.

Which would be a shame.

In the end, I love to write too much to stop, and too much to write things I would never read. And I have sold. In fact, The Bricklayer’s Helper, my second Regency romantic mystery released by The Wild Rose Press.

So maybe there is still hope for us prima donna babies.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Love Edits

I love getting edits. Am I crazy? Or am I not the only one?

When I first sold, my biggest fear was not being able to complete edits. At least not right. I mean, then the editor would really know she made a mistake and should never have bought a book from that woman posing as an author. :)

I got over that fear long ago. Especially after getting one set of edits on a contracted book when the editor said she didn't like the beginning or the ending, and oh, by the way, she didn't believe the hero and heroine loved each other. (!) I had a rock in the pit of my stomach after I got that e-mail, let me tell you. I couldn't help but wonder why she'd even accepted the manuscript. All I could do was tell myself she did it because she was certain I'd be able to revise the manuscript to her satisfaction. And I did.

Tonight, I just sent back first edits on a short story to be released this fall from Samhain. They were pretty easy, compared to edits like the one above. I was shocked as I went through it how many typos I still caught (yeah, ones that she hadn't caught either) and all the repetitions she did find. But here comes the reason that I love edits.

There's always a better book when I come out the other side.

That's what editors are for. A good editor doesn't want to change your book, she wants to make it the best that it can be. I've been blessed with wonderful editors who have, without exception, made my work much better than it was before they got their hands on it.

So no matter how crazy I make myself trying to rephrase awkward sentences and add more motivation and tighten a slow beginning - I'm glad I've done it. Each round of edits makes me a better writer, too, because I (hopefully) learn from my mistakes and catch more problems before the manuscript ever gets submitted.

So there you have it, the reason I love edits. How about you?


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Muses

These are my muses - Ralph and Rita Mouse. They were gifts over the years from my mother-in-law. Ralph is in the teacup. He is my main muse. When I'm stuck with a problem with my plot, or don't know what my hero or heroine should be doing, or just a down moment I just look up to the window sill and there is Ralph. He cheers me up, he whispers in my ear what I'm missing.

A couple of years ago I got the mouse in the shiny high heeled shoe. She didn't have a name. My MIL said she was good luck for my writing. My daughter, Jennifer said, "Her name is Rita." I was so teary-eyed; my family had been listening to me. They knew my dreams, they wanted me to achieve them, they knew about the Golden Heart and the Rita. What a family!

Too many times in the romance industry I hear sad stories of dreams crushed, husbands who don't LET their wives go to National, or who actually belittle the stories we create and rip them - literally - into pieces.

We have to treasure those who support us and our dreams. Hug the husbands and wives you GET IT, reward the children who give you that quiet hour to write each evening, the families who understand you are trying to reach your dream. Thank the spouse who bought that first computer - in 1991 - so you could write the book of your dreams, the one that didn't sell until 2010. Take note of the family budget that includes Internet so you can stay connected to the world while locked in your own imaginary one.

Do you have a muse? Do you have a support team for your dreams?

Jill James