Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Durango, Colorado

For me some of the most breath-taking scenery I have ever seen is in Durango, Colorado. We took a trip there a couple of summers ago. Magestic mountains greeted us each morning as we had our breakfast out on the deck.

Best of all in Durango is the narrow gauge railroad that still runs out of it and through the mountains up to the mining town of Silverton. Each day we'd wave to its passengers as it passed by the house on its daily trip up the mountain.

One day, we were privileged to ride. We boarded the train in the morning, decked out in our shorts and T-shirts. As we wound our way up the mountain over train trestles and lakes, and through the most gorgeous scenery I've ever seen, we added layers as the temperatures cooled the higher we climbed.

At one point, as our train snaked along the tracks, I was able to lean out of the car I was riding in toward the rear to take a picture of the front of the train as it wound around a mountain pass. A steep drop off greeted us on the right, a sheer wall of rock on the left.

Up top, we had time to disembark and have a little lunch before exploring the historic town of Silverton.

The thick forests on the way back down brought to mind the age old question: "If a tree falls in the woods when no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?"

While in Durango, we also took a side trip to Mesa Verde National Park where we were able to see the ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings: remarkable monuments to our Nation's past.

For me, coming from the flat prairie-land of the Midwest, the majesty and grandeur of the mountains is almost impossible to describe in all its breathtaking awe. It was an experience I won't soon forget.


A scene which took my breath away

A scene which took my breath away?

Which shall I choose? The first sight of the Manhattan skyline against a bright blue sky as my plane came into land at Newark airport? The perfect reflection in a still lake of the snow-topped mountains in the Canadian Rockies? The contrasting bands of vivid colours stretching across the flat land of the Dutch tulip bulbfields? A beautiful deserted beach at Malibu, with the sun shining on the white sand and the surf from the blue ocean breaking on the shore? A small town in Provence, clinging to the side of the steep hillside almost as if it had grown out of the rocks? The wide expanse of grassland where Pickett let his charge at Gettysburg? Or maybe the first sight of that ominous watch-tower over the railway line that led into the infamous death camp of Auschwitz?

So many scenes, so many memories. But there’s a beautiful Irish song which says ‘you will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh, and see the sun go down on Galway Bay.’

I first went to Galway about four years ago. We arrived too late in the evening to see the sunset on the first night. The following day we went south into Tipperary and Limerick and thought we might get back in time for the sunset. But then we were held up in traffic on the ring road around Galway City. ‘The sun going down on Galway ring road’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

But on the third day we were travelling down from the Connemara mountains towards Galway Bay as the sun started going down. The sky gradually became pinker, the small dark clouds were silhouetted against the glow.

Eventually we found somewhere to park near the shore, and went down on to a small beach. We stayed there for over half an hour, watching the most glorious sunset I have ever seen. As the sun descended to the horizon, the sky turned from pink and yellow to a rich orange and deep gold. The clouds too changed colour until they looked like fiery smoke. All this glorious colour was reflected in the water of the bay. The only sound came from the gentle and almost hypnotic swishing of the small waves which were like rivers of molten gold as they broke on the shore.

Watching the ‘sun go down on Galway Bay’ was truly an unforgettable sight.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Our assignment, which we have chosen to accept

"Describe a place where the scenery took your breath away."

An ancient city that once cradled modern civilization, Asmara, Eritrea shocks me, a 16-year old from New Jersey. It is teeming with tall, slender people. Men in long, pale robes run down sidewalks balancing baskets heaped with cactus fruits at both ends of long poles. The women wear gauzy white dresses and head shawls edged with colorful borders.

It is a third-world place with beggars and people sleeping on the sidewalk. The streets are crowded with small cars whose drivers honk incessantly and gesture their chronic displeasure with one hand. The merchants are Italian, leftover from Italian occupation in the late 1930’s.

My parents’ house is surrounded by a wall with broken glass cemented along its top. We have a day guard and a night guard. Both nod and smile and repeat, ‘Yes, mister,’ ‘Good day,’ and ‘Thank you very much.’ My dad works at the American consulate. His job is to monitor the simmering Eritrean rebellion against Emperor Haile Selassie, ensconced to the south in Addis Ababa. He shows me a radio and tells me if I ever hear it turn on, it means a war has started and we’ll need to evacuate right away.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday 'whatever you want' post!

Following on from a suggestion made earlier this week that we could have an 'open' posting on Sunday - about whatever we want, I thought I'd start the ball rolling. And because my fellow bloggers want to know about my 'dream come true' which happened two weeks ago, here it is!

I've adored Martin Sheen for over 30 years, ever since I saw him in the TV mini-series 'Blind Ambition' which was about Watergate. I fell in love with him all over again when he played Jed Bartlet in NBC's 'The West Wing'.

So when I heard that he was appearing on stage in LA in Feb-March this year, I finally made the decision that this could be my one and only chance to see him in person. Two of my 'internet' friends (also Martin fans) said they would be in LA to see him one weekend in March. So I booked my flight and hotel, and one of the Texans booked the tickets for us. I said jokingly 'D'you think if I write to Martin and tell him I'm coming from the UK to see him, we'll get an invitation backstage?' Big joke, ha-ha, wishful thinking, wild fantasy. But I wrote, and a week letter got a reply from him - inviting us backstage! I was shaking with shock for a couple of hours after I got that letter.

So the day, or rather the evening, arrives. We settle ourselves in the theatre, the house lights go out, the stage lights come on, and he walks on to the stage. Wow, it really is him - in person! An amazing performance in 'The Subject Was Roses'. In the 1960's he'd played the role of the son in the Broadway production, now almost 50 years later he was playing the father. A powerful play with lots of laughs but also some high drama.
At the end, we find out where the stage door is, knock and we're admitted. And OMG, he's there, it really is him! Is this real or am I dreaming?
We watch as he talks to various people who are waiting around to greet him, we talk for a few minutes to his son Ramon, and then the moment finally arrives.

'Hi, Martin,' I say, "I'm the crazy person who's come from the UK to see you in the play."
He grins. 'Ah yes - did you get my note?'
That's the note I've been guarding with my life ever since I received it!
I give him a gift I brought for him and tell him it's from Ireland. His face lights up at the mention of Ireland (his mother's home country) and we spend a few minutes talking about various places - Galway (where he did a semester at the University there - we talk about some restaurants there that he mentioned in a interview), the Catholic shrine at Knock, and his mother's home town in Tipperary. He hands me his insulated mug of tea while he puts my gift in his bag - 'Would you mind holding that for me for a minute?' Would I mind? I'm holding Martin Sheen's mug of tea!

I ask him for a photo with him, he says 'Yes, sure' and puts his arm around my shoulder while I put my hand on his back. Is this for real?? My friend snaps a couple of photos. Then he asks if we've met his son, and beckons Ramon over for a photo.
Ramon now puts his arm round my shoulders, and by now Martin's clutching his mug of tea again (I still can't remember when I gave that back to him!), so I slip my arm through his. Did I really do that? But at the time it seemed perfectly natural, because he was just so 'normal' and friendly and easy to talk to.
After the photos we talked for a few minutes more about the play, about the possibility of him doing another film in Ireland (sadly, it's not likely to happen, lack of finance) and even a brief mention of Charlie's current problems.

He's amazed when we say we're coming to see the show again the next night. "Hey, come on," I say, "I've come from the UK, of course I'm coming to see it twice." He and Ramon laugh, then commiserate with my early start to get to LAX on Sunday.
Then they say their farewells and go into the elevator down to the parking lot.

We go out of the stage door - and my knees suddenly turn to jelly.
I met him - a dream come true!

Friday, March 26, 2010

This Friday's Friend is Lois Greiman!

Award-winning author Lois Greiman’s 6th Chrissy McMullen mystery, “Not One Clue,” will be released on March 24th 2010.

Lois, thanks for this interview!

1. On your website, you describe “Not a Clue” as another ridiculous Chrissy McMullen adventure. Why?

Chrissy is one of my all time favorite people. But she tends to get herself in some ridiculous situations.

2. Chrissy McMullen is a stand-out protagonist. I will buy this sixth book in the series expecting her to be as quirky as in your previous books. How do you keep her fresh—and yourself interested?

Believe me, the quirkiness continues, but that’s just because she is what she is. I don’t seem to have to do anything to her or for her. She came to me fully formed and tells me in each book how she will react to the world around her.

3. Jack Rivera is dark, sexy, and (so far) uncommitted. Do you see him changing? If he does, would this disrupt the series? (Does Chrissy really want him to settle down?)

Chrissy and Jack are both evolving…growing up a little, falling in love a little. Even if they do settle down, I don’t expect them to ever truly grow up. Their relationship will always be fractious and lively.

4. What big three craft do’s or don’t’s do you wish you would have known when you started writing?

Hmmm, I wish I had a good answer to that, but the truth is, everything keeps changing in publishing. I believe in writing what you love and writing a lot. It’s never going to be easy, but word count is king. Keep putting words on paper, keep expecting a lot of yourself and good things will happen.

5. I deliberately read first and latest books in a series by a multi-pubbed author, then go back and fill in. Good writers get better over time, yet I fear that authors like you have raised the bar too high for a beginner like me to break in. Do you think that is true? Why or why not?

Well, I know I am now in love with you. So thanks for the compliment, but no, the bar’s not too high. I frequently read work by unpublished writers that is superior to a lot of books in print. It just hasn’t seen the light of day yet. That takes time and persistence and hard work and well…you know the drill.

Lois Greiman was born on a cattle ranch in central North Dakota where she learned to ride and spit with the best of them. After graduating from high school, she moved to Minnesota to train and show Arabian horses. But eventually she fell in love, became an aerobics instructor and gave birth to three of her best friends.

She sold her first novel to Avon Books in 1992 and has published more than twenty-five titles since then, including romantic comedy, historical romance, children’s stories, and her fun-loving Christina McMullen mysteries. A two-time Rita finalist, she has won such prestigious honors as Romantic Times Storyteller Of The Year, MFW’s Rising Star, RT’s Love and Laughter, the Toby Bromberg for most humorous mystery, and the LaVyrle Spencer Award. Her heroes have received K.I.S.S. recognition numerous times and her books have been seen regularly among the industries Top Picks!

Currently, she lives on the Minnesota tundra with her family, some of whom are human.

Lois Greiman

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Hi All,

I'm the newbie blogger here at Heroines with Hearts. I'm really glad to be aboard, and I look forward to contributing.

First, just a little bit about myself (in standard bio format!):
Debra St. John has been reading and writing romance since high school. She always dreamed about publishing a romance novel some day. Her debut release, "This Time for Always" is a Champagne Rose and Rosebud bestseller at The Wild Rose Press. "Wild Wedding Weekend" is due out April 9. "This Can't Be Love" will be her third title with The Wild Rose Press. She lives in a suburb of Chicago with her husband, who is her real life hero. Debra is past president of her local RWA chapter and has also served in the capacity of advisor, manuscript chair, and secretary.

Visit her at her website, Or check out her posts on Sundays at the Acme Author’s Link. She also posts on Thursdays at the Heroines with Hearts Blog.

At any rate, I came up with six six-word stories for today. Some turned out pretty well. Some sound more like opening lines. Let me know what you think!

The groom kissed his beautiful bride.

Can I have chocolate with that?

The moon shone with silvery light.

She's the safest ship on Earth.

Bite me. My soul is yours.

Oh no! The elephant has escaped.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Margaret Blake's Six Word Story

Margaret Blake posted:
"Alas she married him. Big mistake!"

Wowzer. That's good, too

Six Word Stories

I'll start with a personal 6 word story:

"I met him. Dream came true."
(Him, of course, being Martin Sheen!)

Here are some more that have flitted through my mind in the last couple of days:

"He was proud, she was prejudiced."
(That one reminds me of my 'second' favourite man, Colin Firth)

"Eight whiskies. Didn't see red light."

"Fell in love with Mr Wrong."

"Smiling, he read his own obituary."

"His body was cold. She smiled."

And a couple of 'borrowed' ones:

"I came, I saw, I conquered.'

"Saigon. Sh.t, I'm still in Saigon."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is less more?

Wow, this is a tough one. I guess it would depend on what you're talking about!! (Sorry, couldn't resist)

Short story using six words or less...

Flying high without a parachute.

Can you tell a story in six words?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is Less More?

Writers cut repetitive words and paragraphs that don't advance the story when we edit. We ask our critique partners to find what we miss.
We want our story to be perfect when an editor or agent sits down to read it. We want to make the cut. But how far should we cut?
A complex story can be told in 60,000 words or even 6,000 words. It is possible to tell a short story in 600 words. One would really have to edit to tell one in 60 words.
What about 6 words?
I read last week that, to rid himself of a pestering fan, Ernest Hemingway scribbled on a bar napkin: "For sale: baby shoes. Never used."
I wondered if we could do it.
This week let's everyone (followers, too) post 6-word stories.

So far, I have come up with two:
"Patient climbed, waved, jumped. Never landed."
"Last in, he sealed the vault."


Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Friend Jannifer Hoffman

Jannifer is a multi-pubbed author. Her latest novel, “Blood Crystal,” was released in e-book format by Resplendence Publishing in January, and will be available in print in April. (It is wonderful!) The fourth and last book of her current series is “Random Fire.” It will be released in June 2010.

Jannifer is cruising to Brazil right now (lucky her!), but she will be checking in to answer your questions.

Thanks for being here, Jannifer!

1. You have now three books in your Douglas family series. “Secrets of the Heart,” “Secret Sacrifices,” and now “Blood Crystal.” What traits do the Douglas family members have in common? What links them together?

While they do have their individual issues they all have a loving family background. Plus they have a wonderful camaraderie amongst themselves. I am now working on Random Fire, the fourth and final book in the Douglas family series. I love doing that family but it’s time to move on. By the way, Random Fire brings in the sister, Katie, from Rough Edges. That’s due out June 1st. Providing I meet my ,ugh, deadline.

2. “Blood Crystal’s” hero, Stephan, was wounded in Afghanistan; at the outset, his life is in shambles. The war experience is not one a civilian can truly understand, according to my husband, a Vietnam vet. Did you research with someone who served in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan? If so, what surprised you about his or her accounting of war?

I didn’t talk to anyone in particular, but I’ve read so many of the stories of men and women who’ve come back. I hope I captured at least some of the trauma they suffer.

As an added note, this was my favorite story to write. The character Stephen is molded from my brother, Patrick Quaschnick, who died in a plane crash in 1991. A lot of the skydiving and flying events came from him and many of them actually happened. Stephen’s enthusiasm and zest for life are carbon copied from Pat

3. Your first paragraphs, first pages and first chapters could (should) be used as teaching examples. You set the setting, introduce the plot, show the characters and their backstory without any superfluous words. Have you perfected this to the point where you can just do it, or do you pare away until you “get it right?” How do you know when you get it right?

I know its right when my editor says it is LOL But before she ever sees it, yes, I continually write and rewrite. I’m a pantser, I often let my characters take the lead- -to a point. Also my favorite part of writing is the first pages. I love to have an eventful first meeting of the hero and heroine. Incidentally, I look for that in books I read too.

4. Your website is fantastic. You post entire first chapters (something I think is a great idea.) Why do you do this? Have you experienced any downsides?

No downsides, my fans love it. I imagine those that don’t, don’t read them. It gives them the choice, however. I guess since they get the first “eventful” meeting of my main characters it could be a good invite to read more. Personally I’m not crazy about reading first chapters, I’d rather just read a two or three page excerpt.

5. What can you tell us about working with Resplendence Publishing? Was it hard to get “Secrets of the Heart” accepted?

No, not hard at all. They took both SOTH and Secret Sacrifices at the same time. They wanted the rest before they even read them.

RP is wonderful to work with. When I get stressed about a deadline, they are soooo nice.
And what can I say – they love my books. That makes them okay in my book. Oops, sorry for the pun.

6. Do you have a new series planned? How far ahead do you stockpile story ideas?

As far as a new series, I am going to start with the first book and see where it leads. And no, I do not stockpile stories in my head. I don’t sleep when I’m writing as it is with only one story milling around in my head. I do plan to start my next project while I’m on the cruise. I have to submit Random Fire the day before I leave.

Thanks for being here, Jannifer. I can’t wait to read Random Fire.

Thanks for inviting me. It was fun.

Jannifer’s books may be ordered through her website, or from Resplendence Publishing.

An excerpt from "Blood Crystal":

She wasn’t looking forward to scorching her hand again, but it was the only way to find out. Sitting on the toilet seat with the towel in her lap, she cautiously pressed her index finger against it. Nothing happened. Then she squeezed it between her index finger and her thumb. Still nothing.
Thinking maybe it had lost its ability to get hot, she picked it up and wrapped her fingers around it prepared to release it quickly if it heated up.
It turned to molten fire almost instantly.
Stifling a screech, she dropped it back in the towel but not before it had done its number on her hand. Her palm was bright red and burned like the fires of hell. Worse than she remembered it before. She ran cold water in the sink and held her hand under it. As she did she stared in mixed wonder at the translucent pale crystal nesting so innocuously in the towel on her lap.
She gritted her teeth against the pain in her hand and wondered how she was going to explain it to Stephen if the magic balm trick didn’t work. Using the fingertips on her good hand, she quickly slipped the crystal back into its bag, put that back in the paper bag and returned it to the zippered pouch, all the while groaning that the whole thing had been a stupid fantasy idea. This was the twenty-first century after all, and she was a grown woman with an adult brain. None of that, however, explained the crystal getting hot in the first place though. Well, there was only one way to find out.
She stood up, glancing in the mirror as she unlocked the door. The bruise on her cheek had darkened and was still sore when she touched it. She stared at her image for a moment then reached up and pressed her enflamed palm against the bruise.
She held it there for a good minute, rubbing it as she had with Stephen’s leg. She could feel the heat from her hand, but the palm continued to burn, her face was still bruised with no change whatsoever. There was only one thing left to try.
Knowing she had to do it while he slept, she walked quietly to the bed carrying her backpack. She left the backpack on the floor and crawled into bed beside Stephen. He was on his side facing away from her and still naked with his injured leg exposed. She took a moment to
admire his beautiful muscular body. If she hadn’t handled the crystal she could have lain down against him and gone to sleep, but sleeping was out of the question the way her hand throbbed.
Remembering that first night when she’d wakened him and he all but attacked her, she was amazed at how relaxed he’d become.
Moving slowly, she placed her hand on his thigh holding her breath when he moaned and shifted his weight a couple of inches. She remained still for a moment, letting her hand rest on him. His skin felt cool to her hot touch as it had the first time she’d ministered to his leg. Slowly she started rubbing. Her hand felt better, but she attributed that to the coolness of his leg. His breathing suddenly increased and his fist on the pillow clenched and unclenched several times. Finally he sighed, mumbled something in his sleep, then laid still while she rubbed her magic balm over the rough surface of his wounded thigh.
Her last thought before she fell asleep was maybe she could tell him she scalded her hand in the shower when the water got too hot.

Jannifer grew up in on a farm in North Dakota where she attended a one-room country school. She’s always been a fervent reader and the books didn’t always turn out the way she wanted them to. So she started creating her own stories.

She started writing on an ancient black Remington upright where she created Ceremony of Deception by rewriting it at least thirty times. After about the tenth rewrite she realized she really didn’t know how to write so she took every writing course she could possibly find, including script writing. In one of the classes, she met a woman who invited her to join her writers group. She highly recommends that to anyone wanting to write. She can’t count the number of times those faithful people read, and reread, Ceremony of Deception.

After writing two historicals (one remains unfinished), she decided to go to contemporary – less research, or so she thought. HAH! The Douglas family name came from a favorite cousin who is no longer with us. She admits that writing a family series came from reading both Elizabeth Lowell and Johanna Lindsey. Two of her favorites. She remembers thinking they didn’t write fast enough. When she hears that now from her own fans she still shakes her head in awe.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Start with ...

Working out just where to start telling a story is quite a challenge. If you start too slowly and include too much backstory, the reader is likely to get bored as they wait for the action to start. But if you start too fast, the reader can get confused and give up.

You have to seize your readers’ interest in the first couple of pages. My stories tend to start with the heroine, but within the first couple of pages she meets (or meets up again with) the hero. Immediately these two are faced with a challenge, a change in circumstances or some kind of conflict. The reader knows they will end up together but needs to start wondering right from the beginning how on earth that is going to happen. You have to make them curious enough to want to read on.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Start with....

I noticed in my novels that I start with dialogue. If I started it with something else, its not too long after that there is dialogue.

For me, I get bored with too much description in a novel, therefore, I tend to write as little as possible. I've had CP's tell me to add more, and that's fine because they are reading it for the first time.

As for backstory, I try to add it within each character's POV whenever appropriate.

Example: She hated when John touched her back that way. It was something her father always did when he was lying to her mother and wanted her to go along with him. So she couldn't help but wonder if there was something in John's touch she should be aware of.

How do you start your novel?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Start with the action

Modern craft books stress that back story should be incorporated into the story--preferably after page 25. There is no need--and no market-- for paragraphs (or pages) about the heroine's childhood, or the hero's history.

For years, I didn't "get" it. Nora does it. So did Jane, and her first lines are used routinely on quiz shows. I thought of my first pages as a Lifetime Channel movie's opening credits montage: scenic, descriptive, hookbaiting.

That's another five dollar writing term: 'hook.' I've studied hook books. I know the opening sentence, the opening paragraph, the last sentence on page 1 are important. So is the end of every chapter.

I'm actually good at chapter endings. Just not page one. But I'm beginning to see light.

At yesterday's Talking Stick editorial board session, five of us voted up or down on over 200 submissions. Half were poetry. (Wait two weeks to ask what I think of prose poems.) The other half were short stories and essays. We were astounded at the number of entries where we voted to:
1. publish if the author agreed to delete the first page.
2. reject because the first 300 words were unnecessary.

We debated how much time it would take to write a "delete backstory" comment in our rejection letters. We wondered if people would take to heart this tip if we added to our submission guidelines for the 2011 edition.

We decided to reduce word counts. Creative non-fiction from 1200 to 800; fiction from 1500 to 1200.

It was outstanding how many essays were submitted under fiction--no doubt to circumvent the word count limit. (We weren't fooled--after the 5th one.)

The point of my rant is that every story or essay was stronger after a trim. And it was pretty easy to see where each needed to start--probably because I was not editing my own work.

Yesterday's judging elevated a prime directive to my frontal lobe: Start with the action.

It's all becoming clearer.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Friends with Beth Solheim

Beth Solheim’s cozy mystery, “At Witt’s End,” is now available in both electronic and hard copy from Echelon Press,, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores.

Beth, thanks so much for being here today!

1. I love an older—and eccentric—protagonist. Introduce us to Sadie Witt and Cabin 14.

Sixty-four-year-old Sadie Witt is the proprietor of the Witt’s End Resort in northern Minnesota. She’s also a death coach—not for the living, but for the recently departed. What a shock to learn anyone checking into Cabin 14 never leaves alive. Cabin 14 can be lively, or dangerous, depending on the motives of Sadie’s guests. And, each guest arrives with a deadly agenda.

Don’t let Sadie hear you say she’s fashion challenged. Mini skirts, halter tops, spiked hairdos and an asp tattoo are the norm for this spunky senior, who is a complete contrast to her prissy twin sister, Jane. And, much to Jane’s dismay, Sadie insists on purchasing a used hearse. With a little renovation it will make a dandy shuttle for the resort guests.

2. Your website says you researched funeral homes. Did you learn anything that surprised you?

To be honest, fear of the unknown was more an issue. Other than attending funerals, the technical aspect of death is a topic I know little about. The first time I visited a funeral home to research the industry, I wished I had chosen culinary arts or construction or anything other than funeral homes as one of the plot settings in my mystery.

What impressed me most was the professionalism displayed regarding social strictures, customs, dignity, legalities, family decisions, and the role funeral directors play as counselors.

3. You infuse the setting of northern Minnesota into “At Witt’s End.” Can you share tips on how to do this successfully?

I love northern Minnesota! It’s a natural setting for the Witt’s End Resort with the scents, sounds and summer events that dot the landscape. I live in a resort community and there’s a wonderful bustle when vacationers arrive. Their excitement is palpable. I tried to portray that passion and transport readers into Sadie Witt’s world by depicting the vistas, the waves lapping on the shore, the sound of wind skimming the pine tops, and the laughter and joy emanating from the resort guests.

4. What can you tell aspiring authors about Echelon Press? How are they to work with? How did you secure an invitation to submit?

Karen Syed of Echelon Press is wonderful. This has been a tremendous learning experience and she eased me through the process. Echelon is mostly an ebook publisher, but they release ten print books a year. I had just lost my agent due to illness and thought I’d submit to small presses who accepted unagented submissions. I waited three months and then two publishers expressed interested. Echelon Press made the first offer and it included a two-book contract for both ebook and print. I was very, very fortunate.

5. How are you creating your marketing plan for “At Witt’s End,”
especially now that it will be a series? (Book two, “Outwitted,” is written, I understand, and your third book’s title will be picked through a contest.)

I began my marketing strategy within a week after signing my contract. Echelon Press indicated what they required and that was an excellent starting point. Marketing for At Witt’s End included developing a website, my Mysteries and Chitchat blog, my Reading Minnesota blog, a brochure and bookmark to mail to libraries and bookstores across the country, a blog tour, setting up my book launch and selecting bookstores and book fairs to hold book signings. I’m also teaching writing workshops throughout the year and speaking at events. Promo is an ongoing process and it amazes me how new avenues open keep popping up.

Thank you for the opportunity to guest blog on Heroines with Heart. I am on the road today but will check in to answer questions or comments as best I can.


Like the main character in her Sadie Witt mystery series, Beth Solheim was born with a healthy dose of imagination and a hankering to solve a puzzle. She learned her reverence for reading from her mother, who was never without a book in her hand.

By day, Beth works in Human Resources. By night she morphs into a writer who frequents lake resorts and mortuaries and hosts a ghost or two in her humorous paranormal mysteries.

Raised and still living in Northern Minnesota, she resides in lake country with her husband and a menagerie of wildlife critters. She and her husband are blessed with two grown children and two grandsons

Monday, March 8, 2010

Judging Contests

Last week I judged five entries in The Passionate Pen Contest.

This week I am judging 200+ poems, short non-fiction, and short stories for our local writing group, Jackpine Savages. On Sunday, the five judges will meet in a marathon session and decide which submissions will be published in our annual 'Talking Stick' publication.

Judging is volunteer work I am happy to do for selfish reasons.

I entered two contests five years ago, hoping I was a diamond-in-the-rough. Depressing scores dunked me into vats of cold water. I realized how much I had to learn about the craft of storytelling. I immersed myself in local classes and on-line workshops. I studied novels and writing books.

Then I volunteered to judge contests. I wanted to assess the caliber of current competition, gauge what was 'in' in story lines, and learn from rising stars.

After multiple contests, I can say with certainly that I read and re-read each entry hoping to be dazzled. Most of the time I am not. The plots are usually great. The characters well developed. It is the execution that is weak. The errors are the kind I have made--and I am working hard to keep from making now.

Marie Force is a judge for the BMW of contests: the Golden Heart. She has a list of ten craft errors she sees most often. She is willing to share it if you contact her at Please let her know you are "calling" from this blog post.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Friends with Margaret Tanner

Our Friday Friend today is Margaret Tanner who is an award winning multi-published Australian author. She loves delving into the pages of history as she carries out research for her historical romance novels, and prides herself on being historically correct. No book is too old or tattered for her to trawl through, no museum too dusty. Many of her novels have been inspired by true events, with one being written around the hardships and triumphs of her pioneering ancestors in frontier Australia. She once spent a couple of hours in an old gaol cell so she could feel the chilling cold and fear

Her favorite historical period is the 1st World War, and she has visited the battlefields of Gallipoli, France and Belgium, a truly poignant experience.

Margaret is a member of the Romance Writers of Australia, the Melbourne Romance Writers Group (MRWG) and EPIC. She won the 2007 Author of the Year at

Margaret is married and has three grown up sons, and a gorgeous little granddaughter.
Outside of her family and friends, writing is her passion.

HWH: Welcome, Margaret and thanks for being with us.
Let’s start at the beginning – we all have different reasons for wanting to write. What was your reason and when did you start?

MARGARET: I have always wanted to write and in fact have been writing in one form or another since I can remember. I wrote poetry first, sad little ditties that used to make me cry. Then I graduated to short stories. Once I was married my husband worked night shift, so I started writing romance novels.

HWH: How easy/difficult was it to get your first book published?

MARGARET: Very difficult to get published. I have had so many near misses over the years, I couldn’t begin to count them. As for rejections, I could paper one of the walls in my house with them. But I never gave up on my dream to be a published author and after about twenty years I finally had my first novel accepted. Several more followed in quick succession.

HWH: All your books have a historical setting. What attracts you to writing historical romances?

MARGARET: I adore history, always have. The research really is a joy. I love dusty old books, museums and cemeteries. They are such a source of information. And I guess I am a sticky-beak. I like to know how people lived in bygone days, like to wonder whether I could have coped with all their trials and tribulations, and I am fairly convinced that I couldn’t.

HWH: You’ve said your favourite period is the First World War. Can you explain why and also what kind of research you do?

MARGARET: Now, you have really got me going. I think it is a fascinating period of time. A dark and tragic time that practically wiped out a generation of young men. Here in Australia, in some country districts, nearly all the young men were killed or maimed. All the male members in some families wiped out, once thriving towns turned into ghost towns. I want their stories to be told. Want people to hear about their bravery and remember their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of the girl friends, mothers and wives who waited, sometimes in vain for their men folk to return.

As for research. I have read history books, diaries, and a few years ago I interviewed a couple of elderly uncles who served in the 1st World War. These old men were in their nineties, yet their recollections were vivid.

On two occasions, I visited the WW1 battlefields and cemeteries in France and Belgium, a truly moving experience.

HWH: Like you, I’ve visited many World War 1 battlefields and cemeteries and always think what a tragic waste of young lives they represent. And, of course, each one had their own story, as did the family who lost a husband, son or brother.

How do you plot your novels? Some writers work from a long synopsis, others let the characters take them. What do you do?

MARGARET: An idea just pops into my head and I start writing it out in long hand. No plotting or synopsis, just a vague idea where the story is going.

HWH: Which reminds me of the wonderful phrase Ana found last week – ‘a liquid plan’! I think more of us work like this than the ones who plot in detail!
What do you think makes a good romance novel?

MARGARET: A strong hero and heroine, and an interesting background.

HWH: Yes, at least now the heroines can be as strong as the heroes, and not the helpless wimpy heroines of romance novels fifty years ago!
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received/read?

MARGARET: Never give up on your goal of being published.

HWH: Excellent advice! Perseverance seems to be the name of the game.
What’s your cure for ‘writer’s block’ or when you get stuck somewhere in a story?

MARGARET: I don’t ever seem to get writer's block, my main problem is making enough time to release all the characters and plots swirling around in my head.

HWH: That’s a very happy situation to be in! So, of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?

MARGARET: My favourite character is Harriet (Harry) Martin, my heroine in ‘Devil’s Ridge’. She masquerades as a boy to take a job with her shell-shocked brother on an isolated farm and falls in love with her boss, but of course, can’t tell him, because he thinks she is a boy. Leads to lots of misunderstandings. This is set during World War 1.

HWH: Please tell us about your latest release.

MARGARET: ‘Wild Oats’ is published by The Wild Rose Press
The effects of World War I on the life of beautiful, beguiling Allison Waverley are catastrophic. Seduced by an English aristocrat, Phillip Ashfield, and left pregnant, she is on the verge of suicide when her childhood sweetheart, Tommy Calvert, intervenes and marries her. But Tommy is destined to die on the Western Front.
When Phillip returns and kidnaps his son because his wife cannot give him an heir, Allison finds support and a lasting love from an unexpected source.

Phillip Ashfield uncrossed his cramped legs and stood up to reach into the overhead luggage compartment. What an imposition, having to manhandle his own luggage.
“Good God, man, when you’re in the colonies you have to look after yourself.” He remembered the advice he’d received from Tony, one of his friends from Eton. How true. Godforsaken bloody backwater.
If his father hadn’t been so ill, he would have refused point blank to come out to Australia. Had his mother not been so distraught about the old man, he would have ignored her entreaties to visit relatives at the back of beyond.
God, it was hot. The temptation to loosen his collar became almost unendurable. He wore the latest summer fashion for 1914, a three-piece suit with a shaped coat that had a vent down the back. His linen, as always, was the finest money could buy. Neither one helped keep him cool in these temperatures.
The door leading from the carriage slid open and, even with the swaying of the train, he started moving down the narrow passageway, glancing out the window as he did so. They would reach Dixon’s Siding in ten minutes. The conductor had assured him of this a few moments ago, but he was taking no chances of being carried on. If he missed his stop, God alone knew where he might end up.
“Damnation.” The train shuddered and slammed him against a window. As he straightened up, he watched without much interest as two horsemen broke out of the forest. No, it was called bush in Australia, he reminded himself. One must get the colloquialisms right. More advice from Tony. Young fools were racing the train.
“What the hell!” He almost went sprawling over a small battered suitcase dumped in the middle of the corridor.
Steadying himself with one hand against the wall, he gazed into a pair of the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen.
“I’m sorry, but you should have watched where you were going,” the girl said with a humorous lilt to her voice.
She looked about seventeen or so. Her hair, the colour of ripe corn, rippled about her shoulders in a tangled mass of wayward curls.
“Now look here, Miss...”
But she wasn’t listening. “Come on, Tommy! Come on,” she urged, her head and shoulders poked through the open window. She waved and jigged about so much Phillip feared she might fall out of the train altogether.

Margaret’s website is:
‘Wild Oats’ can be obtained from The Wild Rose Press:

Margaret will be visiting us again in July when her next novel ‘Frontier Wife’ will be published by The Wild Rose Press

Thanks very much for being with us, Margaret, and very best wishes for your new releases.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


In a romance novel, the main conflict is an emotional one. The hero and heroine both bring to the story their own personal backgrounds, personalities, characters and feelings. Inevitably, they clash (if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story!).

This may be because of their own individual experiences. For example, the heroine may be so wrapped up in her career that she thinks she hasn’t time for any relationship with a man, the hero may have had a bad experience in the past that makes him wary of trusting anyone.

But if the whole story involves these two discussing/agonising about their own personal emotional issues, it might as well take place in a psychiatrist’s office! So there has to be conflict between them, as well as within them. This could arise because one of them upsets or angers the other in some way, or because they are fundamentally opposed to each other about something that matters to them both.

This is where the external conflict comes in which can intensify the emotional conflict. The external conflict comes from the plot, the situation in which they find themselves, or from other characters in the story.

Creating a story involves interweaving their internal conflicts with the external ones, and piling on the pressure with a gradual build-up of conflict, tension and seemingly insuperable odds. The reader knows they will get together for the HEA ending, but can’t see (just as the characters themselves can’t) how it can all be resolved.

A Happy Ever After ending involving something coincidental, or contrived, or instigated by another character, leaves the reader dissatisfied. The hero and heroine have to resolve their own conflicts, in a way that is realistic and satisfying.

I can do no better than to repeat here a quote I once wrote down (with apologies that I cannot quote the source): “The best romances are built around a complex emotional conflict that's played out in an equally interesting and tightly connected context - one that forces the characters to deal with each other and their issues.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Story conflict

Conflict must be strong enough to drive the plot.

Three survivors of a Himalayan airplane crash--a woman, her husband and her lover--have just two useable canisters of oxygen. This could be the premise for a short story or 80,000 words.

A full-length novel would have emotional backstory, blow-by-blow action of keeping warm, stopping bleeding, frostbite, the relentless deterioration caused by oxygen deprivation. Who will be sacrificed (and how), and what life will be like for two of them after they are rescued.

In this disaster example, the crash and survival are technically interesting. More interesting will be the emotional fencing between the lovers. The lies and confessions. Whispered conversations and eavesdropping. Whom does she love more and why? Who will betray whom? Who will panic first? Will the truer love sacrifice himself to save her?

Conflict can be external and internal. "Mary Buckham and Dianna Love say your heroine "should not be able to reach her External Story goal (being rescused) without making a major internal change. Each conflict should force her out of her comfort zone to make changes in degrees, then escalate to a climax far greater than the first conflict."

A story starts at a beginning: hero and heroine in a setting have a problem. We write their journey throwing up obstacles and hurdles, knowing it will end at a HEA. I am watching my character arcs as closely as my story arc.