Saturday, April 28, 2012

Writing Lesson in Music Class

As mentioned in my last post, I'm taking piano lessons. With five kids, my immigrant parents couldn't afford them. Now that I have lots of time on my hands, I'm treating myself to something I've always wanted to do.

In the last while, I've attended quite a few musical performances. Some of astonishing virtuosity. Others...not so much.

One virtuoso we were privileged to hear is Thomas Pandolfi. Totally blew me away. Between pieces, Thomas chatted about his work with Chopin's études.

An etude is a study, or exercise, composed to develop a particular technical skill like moving one hand over the other. Thomas also mentioned studies by Hanon. In 1873, Charles Louis Hanon wrote a book of finger exercises for beginners like me.

Recently, my piano teacher assigned me some studies written by Carl Czerny (1791 – 1857). Beethoven was Czerny's teacher. Czerny in turn taught Franz Liszt who went on the write some real finger-twisting studies.

The music I'm using has been studied by countless students before me and will likely be played by countless more after me. Though Thomas is a genius, he likely played them, too. The continuity is awe-inspiring and comforting.

Everybody starts in the same place.

So what's all this got to do with writing?

Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are familiar names to writers of romance, paranormal and mystery genres.

It doesn't matter if a book is issued in vellum, parchment, paper, or bytes, all writers are part of the continuity of the story.

And whether that story is told in music or words, we all start in the same place--with a wish in our hearts to entertain.

© Joan Leacott 2012, x-posted at

Friday, April 27, 2012

I lost my mind at RomanticTimes!

Okay, okay, yes, I've read the other posts about RomanticTimes, but I had to write this one any way.  Why?  Because why not?

I've never attended a live writers' conference.  Online, yes, and as much fun as those were--networking with other authors and online classes, the energy of RT absolutely blew me away.

I ran around like a preteen at a Justin Bieber concert!  Ridiculous.  No time for eating or sleeping.  I swear I'm five pounds lighter.

And did I mention that I only signed at one event instead of both because J.R. Ward and Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris and Nalini Singh were signing, and of course, I had to stand on line :-)

I hate that I didn't get to meet any of the members of FTHRW while I was there, but below are a few pictures of some of my favorites!

Although I've only seen one season of TrueBlood, I've read every Sookie novel!  Love them!

Okay, I think the goober smile says it all!  ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Brenda Jackson, Kimberly Kaye Terry and me!

Yes, that's Anne Rice!

Can you see me back there?  Patricia Rosemoor, Sherill Bodine, and Rebecca York!

I really do have too many pictures, so I'll stop here.  I had the best time, and I look forward to attending again next year.  I hope that I'll get to see you there.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why do we go to conferences?

(apologies in advance. I am once again traveling and will be in transit when this comes out, so I can't comment. I'll try to come back and check in when I settle back down again).

Like some of you out there, I got back from RT a week or two ago. That is one heck of a conference: non-stop socializing, really, with readers, other authors, friends.

I used to go to the RWA National Conference, but I don't go any more. I used to want to Learn: go to workshops and try to figure out this whole publishing thing. I took notes, read the programs, debated which session to go to, and ultimately, ended up sitting in and listening as closely as I could, because I was sure I'd find The Secret there.

Nope. It wasn't there. So I stopped going to Big Conferences, and, after I was published, I went to small ones where I could connect with readers. It made sense. I was with a small publisher and I couldn't compete at big conferences with the Big Name Authors. Small conferences are fun and I enjoy it, but something was missing. I missed that connection with other authors, people who understood what I was going through as a published author.

This is the first year I've been in RT in a while, and I realized that's why I like conferences like that: to connect again with people who have been on the same journey as me, those who have published, are trying to get published, and are considering new publishing opportunities.

But regardless of how much I enjoy hanging out with my friends, conferences are draining experiences. There's the travel, and the socializing, and the strange beds and food, etc. In fact, I wrote a series of conference mysteries ("Writing Can be Murder") in which I kill off various authors at different conferences (one of which I based on RT). In the books I tried to capture the swirl of emotions that teem at these kinds of venues: anxiety, nervousness, joy, concern, ennui, bravado ... you name it, the emotion is there. Every person at a conference is in a different "Place" -- trying to be published, trying to get close to a cherished author, trying to climb the success ladder ... you name it, it's there.

I realized this year that I'm going to conferences (one or two a year) just to be among people who get it, who know what it's like to be published, to be seeking readers, to want to put your words out there for others to read. It's important to connect again with others like yourself and get that support. Online groups like FTH are great, but there's something about that face-to-face chat in the bar with someone that is priceless.

I hope you get a chance to attend a few conferences and hang out with your peers. It can be a blast -- and don't worry, I promise I won't kill you off in a book!

Want to read my mystery about murder at an RWA-type conference? Check "Autographs"

Want to read about a murder at an RT type conference? Check "Surf"

How about a small conference (totally made up)? Check out "Mayhem"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Settings For Spice

My stories are set in the Gold Rush era of 1849. Because we live where this interesting part of history happened, I look for something new every time we go out on drive. I've always been one to watch people and try to figure out who they might be and what kind of life's experiences they've had. Now I watch scenery, search out old buildings, travel through gold mines, see which trees are blooming and when. It's quite interesting to pay attention to your surroundings, especially when you see or find things you weren't aware of in your community. My husband says it's like taking a three year old out because I get excited with each new discovery.
We have a herd of buffalo alongside the highway near Sacramento. When we first noticed them, there were only two animals. Now there are several that we watch for every time we travel through that area. We live in the Sierra Mountains
and in the past week we had two silver foxes run across the backyard. I noticed when they ran, they had a arrogant tilt to their head. We have six deer who are around the yard. I love to watch the graceful way they walk and wonder how their heads can hold up those antlers. As I was driving down our road the other day, a vulture flew slow and low over my car. I got a close look at his red head. Not such a pleasant type, if you know what I mean. We also have characters who've lived here all of their lives. I notice their dress, listen to them talking about events they remember happening in our community and stories they'd been told by their grandparents. These are the spices I use for my stories. It's so much better for me to allow my surroundings to help me write my stories rather than grabbing them off the internet. I realize how lucky I am to have the spices at my fingertips and I use them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Seeing the World thought my sons' eyes by Stephanie Burkhart

First, I'd like to thank Mona and the Ladies here on the blog for having me today. Just a little about me: I'm a romance and children author. For my day job, I'm a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. Love California wine, traveling, and watching Dancing with the Stars. My latest release is a YA mystery, "First Flag of New Hampshire." The premise is simple. Can Alyssa and Miguel solve one of history's mysteries – where's the First Flag of New Hampshire?

I was so excited to hear Vivian at 4RV Publishing was going to publish this story because the inspiration behind it was the American Studies class I took as a Junior in High School over 25 years ago. That's how much its resonated with me. I also draw inspiration, resilience, patience, and smiles from my sons, Andrew (10) and Joe (5) and so I dedicated the book to them.

My dedication reads in part, "I can't wait to see New England through your eyes." My sons, though, are growing up in California. I was born and raised in New England. (Manchester, New Hampshire)

So what do I see through my sons' eyes?
My son, Andrew, is 10. He goes to 4th grade and wants to be in the middle. He figures it’s a good place to be. Not too popular, but popular enough not to get picked last. He likes reading Percy Jackson and Magic Tree House, but his penmanship is poor. He loves to play football. He's hooked on DWTS and begged me to sign him up for dance. Brave soul he is, he takes jazz and hip hop – 14 girls and him. Andrew likes to laugh and loves Amelia, our dog. When I play Super Mario Brothers with him he thinks nothing about carrying my character through half the game just to be helpful. That's Andrew – he's a generous soul who likes to have fun. He's not much of an explorer as I was at his age, but he's always showing me something new.

Joe is 5. He goes to Kindergarten and loves ice cream. Joe likes to read. He takes hip hop dance too because Andrew does. He's been going to gymnastics class since he was 20 months old. He likes to go to the movies. He also has sensory issues. Joe's sensory system doesn't process input the way we do. He's had speech therapy, occupational therapy, and child development therapies between 20 months to 3 years. The early intervention was instrumental in the successes he's had today. He mainstreams in all the classes he takes, but still needs occupational therapy for fine motor skills. His biggest challenge is regulating his senses. He gets better and stronger with maturity and I'm proud of the progress he's made. Joe doesn't like nicknames. He loves Super Mario Brothers too and he'll even carry my character. He's not usually game to try new things and has to be "eased" into it. He likes to go to church with his family, but sitting in a pew is hard for him. Joe has constantly challenged me to be a better parent.

These are my boys who give me a glimpse of the world through their eyes. They remind me to speak honesty and openly – from the heart in everything I say and do.

Who would you dedicate a book to and why? If you're an author, share your latest dedication with us.

Hunt For the Flag Giveaway:
Answer the following questions about New Hampshire. I’ll pick a winner to receive a spring book bag (made by my talented friend, Lori Powell), full of goodies to include a GC to Starbucks, chocolates, a magnet and more.

How long is New Hampshire's seacoast?

BONUS: Who is the only US President from New Hampshire?


Find me on the Web at:






Sunday, April 22, 2012

Three Weeks in Bayawan, Part 2

Do you recognize this Filipino dish?

It’s called Biko, sticky rice, malagkit (literally "sticky" in Tagalog). A mix of glutinous rice, coconut milk and brown sugar, its flattened in a serving plate.

My last blog covered the unusual mode of transportation (pop-pots and tricycles) in Bayawan during my visit to the Philippines. Today I’ll share some traditional Filipino foods. In March I mentioned dishes such as dinuguan, sisig and biko. I’ll also show you wonderful grab-and-eat favorites, buko and jackfruit. Most of our meals were homemade, rich in local island heritage with a few surprises. My husband and I took a culinary journey since our hostess Rose knows her way around the cutting board and kitchen.

First, take a peek at the local produce sold at the Saturday market near the beach. People barter here with a lively sense of community and smiles. This jackfruit caught my eye instantly.

Back from the market with our portion of jackfruit in hand, we prepared for afternoon snack time, Merienda. Getting to the heart of jackfruit isn’t a simple task. You must finger out the large seeds, leaving smooth pale yellow segments to pluck from a bowl. The taste is fresh and clean on your palate.

In the nearby barangay (village) of Mabuhay during a family visit, we had plantains deep fried with caramelized brown sugar. Served on a handy section of washed banana leaf, they are a delight, quickly devoured while sitting in a native house, open to the ocean breeze.

In Mabuhay our hosts hoisted down a big stalk of young green coconuts.

I despise shaved coconut and refuse anything that has coconut flakes. I doubted I’d enjoy buko (young coconut). One taste of the pudding-like flesh of a young coconut and I was hooked. It is delicate and light, and doesn’t even resemble what they call coconut back home. This was the real deal. Now I understand why you learn how to shinny up a tall coconut palm.

I won’t share a photograph of two dishes we ate because, well, to most Americans they are not appetizing once you know the ingredients. One is Sisig, which consists of finely chopped pig’s ears, cheeks, and snout in a sizzling sauce. The other dish, dinuguan, is a Filipino savory stew of meat and/or offal. In our case pig intestines simmered in a rich, spicy dark gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili. Not wanting to appear wimpy, we ate small portions. Don’t Europeans adore their blood sausage along with some other dishes based on animal blood? The dinuguan offered the best flavor, though the intestines were on the chewy side. The sisig was a harder sell. I kept imagining Babe, that charming movie piglet from Australia.

On a familiar note we made guacamole from a variety of locally grown avocado.

A friend of Rose’s on Mindanao grew a foot long avocado. Now that would be something to see! I could go on and on sharing the many dishes Rose prepared for us, but I'll save that for later in the year. I hope you enjoyed this brief culinary exploration of Filipino food.

What is the strangest food you have ever eaten or imagined eating?

Friday, April 20, 2012


I was looking up the Latin root for victim and victory, thinking if it was the same I could contemplate how these words could become so opposite in meaning. Webster said victim is from Lat. victima. Victory is Lat. victoria, victor. Close, but no cigar.

Then I spied victress: A woman who defeats an opponent. This word isn't used very often. I went on a hunt.

We use heiress but not huntress. Actress but not doctress. Baroness but not conductress. Why don't we use ambassadress? Aviatress? Adulteress? Why have some words that denote 'woman who does ....' fallen into disuse, and others stuck?

Will women reclaim these words in the future? Will we be happy with gender neutral descriptors: doctor, lawyer, banker, president?

What would an alternative universe be like if women had held power in the past and men were struggling for equality? Would they want to be doctresses?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Letter to my readers

I want to address this post to my readers, to all readers.
All contributing members of this blog are writers, mostly published authors, or about to be published. We spent years learning, reading, critiquing and perfecting our writing style.

For each book, we sweat for hours, days, weeks and months, squeezing our imagination and typing non-spot. Then we gathered our courage and submitted to editors, exposed ourselves to rejections, or suggestions on how to improve. We developed a tough skin and learned to accept criticism and comments. We did our best, for you, the readers.

Now we are proud to offer our books--some at a very cheap price of 0.99 cents.
After months and years of hard labor, all we want is your approval, dear readers. We just want to hear--or read-- you saying: “I love your story.” We would give our souls to hear you say these words. So please say them. Say these words. Say, I love your story.

Write positive reviews to acknowledge our effort. Tell us you appreciate us. We don’t ask for money or gifts. We just want and crave your appreciation. Please, give it to us. Help us breathe better, help us believe in ourselves. Help us have confidence in ourselves so we can write better and better books.
As a French author said two-hundred years ago: “Criticism is easy, but real art is difficult.”

Here are some of the books I recently self-published at 99 cents. Please, leave a review for each. Thank you, for hearing my plea.



Sunday, April 15, 2012



Ever stop and think when you were the happiest? Or what was the best year of your life? We tend to think of childhood years as being golden or the time we first fell in love. Not so, with British females, who tend to regard that magic time as thirty-three. Friends United took a poll of women forty and over residing in the UK. The majority picked thirty-three. Why you might wonder?

Different reasons, some felt they’d grown up enough that they didn’t have the naivet√© of a teenager or their grandiose expectations. Still others found themselves more settled with an appropriate husband and children. Both spouse and offspring were still young enough that there weren’t major power struggles. Some found great joy in their professional careers, while others remarked on having a strong social network.  A few women commented that by their thirties, they finally had enough money to do what they want.

  Was thirty-three a magical age for me? I pretty much slept walk through it. I worked full time, had a long commute, and three children under nine. I also spent four nights a week at college finishing my master’s degree. My meteorology professor commented that I napped through most of his class. What do you expect at nine-thirty at night? Can’t say it was the highlight of my life. It did make me wonder what makes life better, more special, even magical.

Dr. Simon Clark, the founder of eHarmony, believes that the right person has a beneficial aspect to all facets of your life. With the right guy, you tolerate nonsense at work with only a wry eyebrow lift and grocery shopping with a smile. Dr. Clark also believes if everyone found their perfect match the world would be a happier, more peaceful place. Of course, he adds that people currently seeking a mate almost seventy percent will not select their best match; which, of course, explains our divorce rate of 52%. The other eighteen percent are unaware they’ll ill-matched.

With that in mind, not all the British women who responded where married when they were thirty-three. Perhaps many had just escaped a bad pairing and were glad of it. The married ones were content in their marriages. They had what they always wanted a home, husband, family, and a career.  Or maybe it was just their age. A new study by economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew Oswald of Warwick show European happiness starts rising around the mid-thirties, but not so with an Americans. We must wait until mid-forties to find our happiness meter moving upward once again. They also added we are not as happy as our grandparents despite having more wealth and technology.

Many American women commented that they came alive at fifty when they decided to not care what other people think. That’s what the Red Hat Ladies are all about. Just doing things you want to do because well, you want to. No long drawn out explanations why you’re eating ice cream for breakfast. Women are usually the ones who stick to social rules never realizing that most things they adhere to matter little.

What is the best year of my life? I’d have to say right now. At 51, I am living the life I want. Because my children are grown I am able to indulge my passion for travel. Sometimes I do eat ice cream for breakfast.  Other times I say exactly what I think, and no one seems too shocked. Best of all, I am marrying my soul mate. Given another year or so, and I might think 52 is the best year of my life.

by Rolynn Anderson

As I write to you I am winging my way home to California after an amazing four days at the Romantic Times Conference in Chicago.  Sorry I’ll be a little late posting this blog…this is the first open slice of time I’ve had for days!  By the way, I had a chance to meet FTH’s own JL Wilson, my intrepid mentor (a blog writer for Voices, as well).  It’s so much fun to put faces to loop names and learn from our veteran writer/publisher friends.

I’ve attended scores of small conferences, so the scale of this giant one took my breath away (I’ve never had the pleasure of attending a National RWA conference, you see).   Add to that, this conference was attended by avid readers (adult and YA).  What an experience!  Hundreds of women hauling suitcases of books to be signed by their favorite authors (Ann Rice and J.R. Ward, to name a couple).  Lines of fans snaked through the Grand Ballroom for a chance at two minutes of conversation with their favorite authors.  Reader goals: get autographs, dress up in period costumes, find new books to read in their genres, hobnob with other fans, collect piles of books, party…and always…talk to their idol authors.  500 authors sat in an enormous room with a thousand fans milling around-three different days.  The noise!  The excitement!  One author came with body guards, for heavens sake.

We can all dream about readers lining up at our tables, eager to tell us how much they love our novels.  Bodyguards?  Maybe not.  But one thing for sure…we have avid readers out there, breathless to read our stories.  Let’s give them what they want!

LAST RESORT on sale now, print & download
Wild Rose Press:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hello from RT!

This April 14th I'm posting from the RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago, Illinois. For those of you who aren't familiar with this convention it is a non-stop celebration of books and the book business with seminars, parties, and even costume balls.

The convention has changed a little bit over the years. For one thing, there used to be a big emphasis on the beefy gentlemen who grace the covers of our books. There is less of that these days, but you can still see the well-developed upper torso and charming grins of the occasional male model at the events. Also the RT convention used to have a great deal more readers and book sellers than writers, and now you can see far more published or aspiring authors attending.

To accomodate those writers there are now a number of writing oriented seminars. For example there is one entire track this year across three full days of the convention on self-publishing, from where and how to put your writing up for sale, to when and how to promote it. There are so many options, and lots of opinions on the best strategies, and the only clear thing is that it is a viable option for many writers, regardless of how they go about it.

Feels a bit like a gold-rush with people pointing their fingers and saying "Go to the Internet. There's money in those iPhones, Kindles, and Kobos!"

I have my own stake in that hopefully fertile ground with a couple of my backlist stories, The Girl In The Box and Imperfect Judgment, both of which are science fiction romance books and both of which are up at Smashwords and Amazon.

I was on one panel discussion on Wednesday where we discussed Erotic Romance, which strangely seems to have just been discovered, again, by the world with the hype around "50 Shades of Grey". Those of us who have been writing "Mommy Porn" for the past ten or more years are somewhat amused by it all, but hey, when someone's book starts selling like crazy, it can't help but lift the rest of the books in that genre.

So there is a business side to going to the RT convention, in addition to the promotional aspects. But first and foremost, RT is a fun convention, with lots of opportunities to play games, dress up, and enjoy the company of other writers, readers, and industry professionals... before heading back to your lonely little office to write or rewrite that next title.

Janet Miller/Cricket Starr

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Editor Devil's Guide to Characters by Christine Fairchild

Like most writers I know, I have a shelf full of reference books on various aspects of writing, from setting, to dialogue, to characters, to plot, and so on. We, as writers, are always looking for that edge that will make our writing sharper, stronger, and richer. Writing is one of those professions where the learning and growing continues over time. For all the books I have on writing, though, I tend to revisit certain ones over and over when I need help in getting my story right.

I have a feeling that Christine Fairchild's The Editor Devil's Guide to Characters will be joining them. When Christine announced on the loops I belonged to that she had her guides up, I ran over to Amazon to take a look. They sounded useful and relevant and I picked up not only her guide on characters but also her guide on dialogue (The Editor Devil's Guide to Dialogue).

I'm only in Lesson 2 of her Character's book, but already I feel like I'm getting so much out of it. With in the first pages I had an "aha" moment. You know, when something suddenly clicks. I'm a big believer in Debra Dixon's GMC, but I always get tangled up when I'm working on the internal motivation. The reason the reason the character wants this goal is X, but X isn't really what the character wants in the end, but it is what the character wants in the beginning so how do I clarify that for my charts? It's always been a bit messy for me. Within the first pages of Christine's book, she defines how a character has a Want at the beginning of the story that will develop into a Need at the end of the story and I thought "Eureka!" That's it exactly and it's all very clear. By laying out motivation as starting out with a Want and ending with a need, it becomes clear how to map out a character's progress.

Every page of this Guide is chock full of useful information that will make you think as a writer about your characters and how to dig deeper to get the most out of them. As I'm reading this on Kindle, I kind of want to go back to the beginning and take notes. Just in the short amount I have read there has been a lot of information to digest, and in the electronic form it's hard to flip back to a certain page.

The only quibble I have is that the formatting on one of the charts was cut off. I am going to download the book on my iPad and see if the larger screen makes a difference in how it looks. Other than that, though, I think this Guide is a great addition to any writer's shelf.

For more information, visit Christine Fairchild's blog, Editor Devil: