Thursday, December 22, 2011

H is for Hazards

Like Paula mentioned in her post yesterday, most romance readers expect a 'happily ever after' (or at least a happy ending) to their books. But before that occurs, all sorts of things can, and usually do, happen to the characters along the way, making the reader wonder how in the world the HEA can ever occur.

The big resolve, of course, is usually the emotional conflict. In a suspense, an external conflict must be solved as well. Something that often gets in the hero and heroine's ways are the hazards they face as the story progresses.

But suppose we turn those hazards around and use them as a way to get the hero and heroine together, rather than keep them apart?

Having the hero play the...well, for lack of a better word...hero, is one way to get the heroine to begin to trust him. If she can trust him with her life...sometimes that helps lead her to realize she can trust him with her heart as well.

I've used a 'hazard' in several of my books.

In one it was as simple as the heroine witnessing another character's injury, which brought to mind bad memories for her. It was in the hero's arms where she found comfort and rest from her fears, and reminders of the past love they'd once shared, just waiting to be rediscovered.

In another my heroine's canoe tips over and it is the hero who pulls her from the water, saving her life. This allows her to see she can trust him with her body, and get beyond intimacy issues she has, which eventually leads to her trusting him with her heart.

In another, my heroine twists her ankle, and it is the hero's care and comfort that allow her to see past the 'fun-loving' persona he puts on to the kind and compassionate man beneath: a man she can fall in love with.

Hazards befall our characters all the time. Using them can be one way to establish intimacy and trust between your hero and heroine.

Until next time,

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Ever After?

Most (all?) romance publishers insist that a romance must have a happy ending. Most romance readers read romance as a kind of escapism, knowing that all will end happily for the main characters, which sadly may not happen in ‘real’ life.

It’s interesting to note that ‘romance’ in the grand tradition, like Tristan and Isolde, Romeo & Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, Love Story, often didn’t have happy endings. It’s the tragedy in these stories which make them memorable.

However, women (and yes, it is usually women) pick up a paperback or download an e-book romance, and expect it to have a happy ending.

But is a happy ending the same as a ‘happy ever after’ ending?

Happy-ever-after conjures up an image of the hero and heroine living on Cloud Nine for the rest of their live, with a perfect marriage, a perfect house and perfect children. I don’t think romance readers necessarily want or visualise this.

Romance authors don’t write ‘fairy-tales’. They don’t wave a magic wand so that Cinderella and Prince Charming, after just one evening at a Palace Ball, are reunited and live ‘happily-ever-after’. I never did hold out much hope for that couple’s future together anyway!

Instead, readers of romance want the hero and heroine to work through their problems and conflicts and in the process learn more about themselves and about each other. They want a convincing and satisfying resolution of all those problems, because they feel the hero and heroine have worked hard to deserve it.

Maybe the romance author's job is to bring the hero and heroine to a place where the potential for happiness is restored. This is the happy ending.

They are on their way to creating a life together in which their new understanding of each other will help them resolve future problems. They’re not going to live ‘happily-ever-after’ (i.e. have perfect, easy lives from now on), but, at the ‘happy ending’ of the story, they  are better equipped to develop a lasting and mutually satisfying relationship because of the struggles they've won and the life lessons they've learned.

PS I shall be away waving to Mickey Mouse in Florida when you read this, so apologies in advance for not being able to reply to any comments.

I wish a very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate this festival, and a Happy Holiday to all who don’t. See you all again in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Heroes and the Writers Who Create Them

What is your idea of the perfect man? Is he the strong, silent type, like John Wayne? Is he tuned into his emotions? Is he tall, short, fat, thin? Well-built or well-intentioned? What does he do for a living? What does he do for fun? How organized is he? What does he look like? Is he an arm-chair sports enthusiast or an athlete? What music does he listen to? What are his religious and political views? What’s his relationship with his mother?

If this sounds like a questionnaire on a dating website, it’s not. But it should. Because just as it’s important for someone to know everything about the man they’re interested in, it’s equally important for the writer to know everything about her hero. And as a female writer, that knowledge is essential, because we can’t walk in their shoes.

Most romance writers are women. We can easily relate to our heroines. Sometimes we create them in our own image; other times in the image of a friend or family member. Even if we create them out of the blue, I think women are easy for women to write. Men, less so. We can create them based on our favorite movie star, or our boyfriends, husbands, fathers or sons. But we’re not them. And therefore it’s harder to make them as realistic as our heroines.

In order to make them real, we have to know everything about them. That’s why the questions at the start of this post sound like something we’d ask on a first or second date. The more information we have about our heroes, the more well-rounded they are and the better our readers can relate to them.

Those 3-D heroes also make writing our stories easier. We don’t have to wonder what they’d do next or why they behaved as they did? We don’t have to wonder what they’d think of something (although our heroine might). We know them well enough to have all the answers. So the next time your story flounders and you don’t know what to do next, interview your hero. See where his story takes you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ho Ho Hopelessness

This week I'm celebrating hopelessness. You know--the paragraphs in a story when the heroine loses everything she's worked for. The precise point where she believes she's a complete failure. This is the black moment, when all hope is lost.
Without this critical plot point, there can be no redemption, no summoning of strength as the main character regroups and overcomes, no happy ending. This is when the reader KNOWS the time invested in your story has been worth it.
The word count devoted to the point of hopelessness varies on the story. If the hero is clinging to a scraggly root protruding from the side of a cliff, and the bad-guy sheriff repeatedly whacks the hero's hand with a 2X4, the hero has a few seconds to prepare to die. Then the sheriff stops to savor his impending triumph. He bends down with the 2X4 extended and gloats. The hero summons his strength, yanks on the board, and pulls the sheriff over for a justice-prevails swan dive.
In a contemporary romance, the heroine has lost her job. (She's already lost her man.) She reflects as she packs her belongings into her beat-up pickup--she was a fool to think the cash-strapped city would grant a permanent home to her non-profit community garden when the mega-corporation was willing to pay millions of do-good dollars for the site. Her charity boss knows she slept with the mayor and believes she'll violate any ethics rule to get what she wants. What they don't know is how much she loves Mr. Mayor, despite the insults she hurled at the showdown city council meeting.
She did things wrong. She'll move to another big city, find another rundown neighborhood and start a new garden project. Start by picking up broken bottles and used needles. She's rebounding from defeat and is ready to try again, and her inner manifesto on how to be stronger and wiser.
She goes back into her apartment for the last box. As she drives past the verdant garden, people of all ages from the neighborhood are blocking the street brandishing homemade 'Save our Garden,' and 'We have the Vote' signs. TV news crews are everywhere. Someone recognizes her and urges her out of her truck. The mayor (who is up for re-election) is in a stand-off with the community. She's pushed to the fore.

The music can't swell in a paperback. Words have to convey abject loss so we can get to the triumph. The HEA needs hopelessness.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Welcome Deborah Riley-Magnus

Please welcome Deborah Riley-Magus! I'm impressed with the depth of her practical knowledge about marketing. Read on....


Ahhhh romance! How wonderful! There’s nothing like a beautifully written love story brought to life in words only an author can conjure. The muse sings, the characters crackle on the page and the magic is palpable. Nothing can ruin such a story, right?

Well, yes, something can … the lack of sales can destroy not only the story but the writer. If no one buys your book, what’s the point of writing another? *sigh*

Hi, I’m Deb Riley-Magnus and I’m thrilled to be here at Heroines with Hearts blog. Ana asked me to answer the standard questions – where my ideas and insights come from, what a reader will gain from my book, and where to get it. I’ll be happy to answer those questions … but I’m even more excited about passing on a few useable tips for authors looking for ways to improve their book sales.

First, I should explain that my book, Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Marketing Power Within Your Manuscript is obviously a non-ficton, but I’m really a fiction writer. Well … a fiction writer with over twenty years of background in marketing, promotions and publicity. It was my first career (I had another one in there as a culinary chef – long, yummy story), and throughout my life and professional experiences, marketing promotions and publicity have been my most powerful tools for success.

When I began the process of writing and seeking publication, I did what all writers do, got myself a twitter and facebook account, began blogging and watched what the writing world was doing. I was shocked at how minimal a majority of the marketing strategies were among the authors chit-chattering there. What to me was second nature, seemed foreign to authors, and as I blogged, loading my entries with as much value added information as I could, I found myself becoming The Author Success Coach. Clients and random authors asked questions that led me to teaching online and live workshops and eventually writing Finding Author Success.

Marketing, promotions and publicity are very basic techniques but what really got me excited was how important it was to carefully tweak these skills to serve all the various directions an author can go with their book. The publishing industry has been changing so much and so quickly, authors needed to understand that their sales success is solidly in their own hands. Big publishing houses no longer do the major marketing and promotion for their authors, and small independents simply can’t afford it. Authors? Well, most of us are pretty poor, so what can an author do with simple marketing, promotions and publicity skills to shift the world in their favor? BE CREATIVE!

In the book I explain the simple techniques, then take things a lot further, helping an author understand that no matter how these cut backs in support from publishers might affect you, no matter how your published or self-published, no matter your genre or target audience, there is a fantastic creative way to approach the market that WILL help you and your book stand apart! We’re not talking about paying professionals to do things for you either, we’re talking about easy to implement, inventive ways to burst onto the market.

Okay, so that’s my background. I love taking super inventive approaches to everything, (maybe someday I’ll be invited to come back and talk about my fiction). Now, I’d like to talk about a powerful way to take your book from just another romance, to THAT ROMANCE everyone’s talking about. It has to do with not only reaching out and talking to additional prospective reader audiences … but connecting with them in ways other authors may not be exploring.

Publicity. Publicity is the act or device designed to attract public interest, specifically information with news value as a means of gaining public attention or support.

Well, obviously there’s little newsworthy about another romance on the shelves, but is there something newsworthy inside your book that can spark the interest of a few more book buyers you haven’t approached yet? Let’s explore …

Let’s imagine that your book is a historic romance about a woman who falls in love with a sea captain. Let’s imagine that her father is the lighthouse keeper and the lighthouse is elemental to the story – perhaps she watched for him there during the day, maybe she watches the sea at night from the rocky shores, following the lighthouse beam as it crosses the water.

Okay. How would you take a publicity direction with this book? A few suggestions include:

• Offering a portion of the proceeds from the book sales to a lighthouse organization that refurbishes the historic structures
• Organizing a lighthouse walking tour of a seaside city, reading a small excerpt at each location, all proceeds to support lighthouse maintenance in that city
• Creating a charity for some needy group (homeless shelters, military wives and children support, organizations to protect dunes or seaside wildlife) and give it a lighthouse title or logo

Alright, let’s say your romance is of the paranormal nature. Perhaps you have a handsome werewolf somewhere in there. You could:
• Offer a portion of your book sales to wolf or wildlife protection organizations
• Sponsor a contest, “submit your dog’s picture and tell us about his personality and the one that most inspires the next werewolf character for my book will win you fill in the blank”

When planning your publicity approach to the market, think it through carefully. Make sure it connects with your book, make sure you let the charity know you’re supporting them, and make sure EVERYONE knows that you’re supporting a cause. Announce it on your website, your facebook page, on twitter and if possible, make sure it’s printed on the back cover of your book! E-books? No problem, place your charity support information right up front on the first few pages. Send out press releases to your local papers, online papers and newsletters related to the charity.

Keep this simple and just dig deep into your book. Is there a cancer survivor there? Does your story address a relevant issue, like child abuse? Is your heroine a teacher? Support school program funding. Is she a dentist or dental assistant? Support dental care for homeless children. Uncover the connections and you will uncover a larger audience because trust me … if someone supports a charity and they discover that your book also supports that charity, it’s a win/win!

Oh, and by the way …
A portion of “Finding Author Success” sales is donated to the American Literacy Council. The American Literacy Council’s main purpose is to convey information on new solutions, innovative technologies, and tools for engaging more boldly in the battle for literacy.

Questions? Ideas? I’m here to share! And HEY EVERYONE … I’d like to offer a FREE 10 Tools for Author Success downloadable handbook to all blog guests! Just go to and hit the button for your FREE downloadable PDF!

If you’d like to win a copy of Finding Author Success, just comment here at the blog, ask questions or just say you’re interested and Ana will have a drawing for the winner.

Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Marketing Power Within Your Manuscript.

Even the odds for authors with this one-of-a-kind guide to marketing success! Deborah Riley-Magnus takes tried and true marketing, publicity and promotional strategies and tailors them for the unique needs of today’s author. Every element is outlined and explained for easy implementation. You will learn:

• How to develop a functional and strong book business plan
• The power of developing effective, targeted platforms
• The basics of publicity, marketing and promotion
• How cross marketing works and why it’s magic for an author
• How to personalize it all to your book

Finding Author Success will take away the mystery about gaining sales and increasing exposure for your book and you as a professional author.

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising and public relations as a writer for print, television and radio. She writes fiction in several genres as well as non-fiction. She’s lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and just returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years.

I blog -
I teach -
I fiction –
I write -
I suck -
I play -
I tweet –
I facebook -
I should be sooo tired!

Finding Author Success:
Discovering and Uncovering the Marketing Power Within Your Manuscript.
Amazon Kindle

Amazon Paper

B&N Paper and ebook



G is for GMC

When I first started writing romance, (My first VERY lame attempts were in High School...I still shudder.) I had no idea there was somewhat of a formula to it. Readers expect certain things from a romance. For example, the happily ever after is absolutely required.

However, getting your hero and heroine there isn't just all sunshine, happiness, romance, and love. Your characters have to have goals. More so, they have to have goals that are in conflict with each other's. And they have to have a reasonable and not contrived motivation for those goals.

Yeesh. Who knew?

In a nutshell; Goal is what your character wants. Motivation is why he/she wants it. And the conflict is why it's going to be a problem in conjunction with the other character(s).

Most writers are probably familiar with Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction . (If you're not, you should be!) It's definitely a must for any beginning writer.

Even though I'm not much of a plotter (usually), I always do a simple GMC chart for my hero and heroine before I start a book. It really helps me get some insight into them and figure out where her story, his story, and their story is heading. I tend to figure out the happily ever after part even before writing chapter one, but it's nailing down what happens in the middle where thinking in terms of GMC comes in handy.

If you Google GMC (or Goal Motivation Conflict) you'll get a plethora of worksheets to download or use to help you walk through the steps of giving your characters the goals, motivation, and conflict that will bring your story to life.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Now available: A Christmas to Remember

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


‘They’ tell you that writers should set goals but I’ll start by saying that I don’t usually set specific goals for myself.

I’m aware that many writers decide on word-count or page-count goals - it might be 500 or it might be 5,000 words a day, or it might be a certain number of pages.

What, I wonder, happens when they don’t achieve their goal? Do they feel guilty or frustrated? Do they feel pressured to achieve that magic number of words or pages? Is their writing dictated by the goal rather than by what they’re actually writing? In other words, does the goal become more important than the story? And, maybe the most important point, are they concentrating more on quantity than on quality?

Writing 5,000 words a day means you could complete a 75,000 word novel in 15 days. Even 1,000 words a day would complete it in just over a couple of months. Nice idea! But I can’t work like that. Although I took part in NaNo and completed the ‘goal’ of 50,000 words in a month, I was very aware of how the quality of my writing deteriorated. That story will need a complete re-write.

My ‘goal’ is simply to write the best story I can. Okay, maybe that’s not a ‘measurable’ goal as such - except that I think I CAN measure it. I know when I’ve achieved what I want to achieve, whether it's an emotional experience, a build-up of suspense/tension, or simply a word picture of a scene. I know, too, when something doesn’t ring true and then I work at it until I’m satisfied with it. Sometimes I can write 1,000 words in a day; sometimes I’ll agonise over just 50 words. I once read: For a writer, ‘that’ll do’ is not an option. Maybe my goal is never to say ‘That’ll do.’

I’ll be interested to hear whether you set goals and, if so, what kind of goals?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

G is For Gender

I’m going to add to Ana’s post from yesterday, but I’m going to take it in a slightly different direction. While she focused on paring down her use of gestures—and it’s definitely something writers should do as they’re editing—I’m going to focus on body language to represent (or misrepresent) gender.

First discussed in the 60s (by my great-uncle, by the way), body language is familiar to everyone. Turn on any police drama and you can usually hear some detective talking about body language, micro-facial expressions, or some non-verbal cue that gives away an emotion. As writers, those non-verbal cues are a great way for us to show our characters emotions. It’s much more powerful to see our heroine cry than to be told that she’s sad.

But what about using gestures to show the gender of the character? The gestures we, as writers, use for our characters can emphasize their masculinity or femininity. For example, the following gestures,  are traditionally “masculine”:

·         Tense jaw
·         Clenched jaw
·         Hitting something with one’s fists
·         A bobbing Adam’s apple
·         Swagger

These gestures are traditionally “female”:

·         Pout
·         Wrinkled nose
·         Wide eyes
·         A tongue pressed between one’s lips
·         Breathiness

But what if you want to make a point or emphasize a particular character trait that is outside of the traditional gender role? Can a female character make a “masculine” gesture and still remain true to her character? For example, maybe you have a female character with a very physical job, such as working on a farm, or a soldier. In that case, I could easily see her hitting something with her fists. For a female character that is extremely feminine, there might be a psychological reason for her to react in a “masculine” way. The same goes for male characters. You might want to emphasize their vulnerability or their “beta” status by giving them a typically “female” gesture.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

G is for gestures

I've been ruthlessly trimming body language from my WIP. This, along with excising the word 'that,' are two good ways to trim a too-high word count.
With the best of intentions, I wrote gestures and mannerisms. My characters grinned, shrugged, grimaced, nodded, and sighed. They eyed or raised their eyebrows, or both. They shook their heads, clenched their fists, balled their fists. Their hearts palpitated before sinking into the pits of their stomachs, a physical impossibility unless they'd just been gored by a berserk rhinoceros.
I realized my body language descriptions often echoed the dialogue: She shook her head. "No."
I'm now adding a few back in. Dialogue usually takes precedence over body language, but a well described gesture can serve a valuable function.
It can serve as a pause for introducing a new train of thought.
It can heighten tension by describing viscerally how love / pain / indecision / fear / agony / waiting / suspecting feels.
It adds drama when one character reads the body language of another and seeing a lie. Or the truth.
Gestures. I'm learning to use them wisely.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

F is for Future

One of the biggest perks about writing/reading romance is the Happily Ever After ending. No matter how much angst our characters go through, we know in the end, even when it seems impossible, everything will be overcome and true love will win out. Our hero and heroine get to walk into the sunset and begin their life together.

After the book closes, however, I kind of want to know more. Oh, I don't want to know if the hero and heroine face any more trials and tribulations, I just want a peek into their lives after the HEA. I want to check in to make sure they're still happy as life goes on. I want to see into the future.

This is where a series comes in handy. In fact, this was part of my motivation for writing one. When I wrote my first book (This Time for Always), I included a secondary cast of characters to be used later on in books of their own. Zach got his story in This Can't Be Love, and I'm in the process of revising Jake's story: "This Feels Like Home".

And while it was definitely fun giving Zach and Jake their own stories, it was just as much fun to peek into my earlier characters' lives in each subsequent story. In Always, (spoilers here!) Logan and Sharlie are unable to have children, but they mention possibly adopting. In Love, I was able to show them in the future with their first adopted child. In Love, Jessica declares her love for Zach, but isn't quite ready to get married. In "Home", I included Zach and Jessica's wedding in one scene. (And we also see Logan and Sharlie with a second child.)

In real life, I don't want to know what the future holds, but for my characters, it's fun to get to peek and see where they wind up after the Happily Ever After.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

A Christmas to Remember - available now.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I had something else planned for the ‘F’ word today, but last night I received the final version of the cover of my February release from Whiskey Creek Press, 'Fragrance of Violets'. So I thought I'd let you have the first view of it.

I'm thrilled to bits with it. I think it's fantastic and fabulous!

The title comes from a quotation by Mark Twain: Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

Fragrance of Violets’ is a story of two people who need to forgive each other and deal with other issues in their lives where forgiveness is also necessary.

Abbey Seton distrusts men, especially Jack Tremayne who destroyed their friendship when they were teenagers.  Ten years later, they meet again.  Can they put the past behind them?

Abbey has to forgive not only Jack, but also her father who deserted his family when she was young.  Jack holds himself responsible for his fiancée’s death.  He’s also hiding another secret which threatens the fragile resumption of his relationship with Abbey.

Will Abbey ever forgive him when she finds out the truth?

It occurs to me that the theme of forgiveness, in one form or other, appears frequently in romance novels. So often our characters hurt (deliberately or unwittingly), misjudge, distrust or believe badly of each other. They then have to learn how to put things right, forgive each other, and in the process learn more about themselves and their faults and foibles, so that they don’t make the same mistakes again.

I wonder just how many romances have the words ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong’ somewhere in them? And, because all romances ended happily ever after, of course, all is eventually forgiven and forgotten.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frequency, Frequency, Frequency

Last week, for our “E” entries, Paula talked about editing. One of the things to look for in your manuscript when editing is the frequency with which you use, or overuse words. My critique partner is great at noticing when I use the same word several times in the same series of paragraphs or within the same scene. For a creative person, I really should remember to use my thesaurus more! Overusing words is boring, both for the reader and the writer. The more varied your vocabulary, the more interesting and specific is your writing, and the better able the reader is to disappear into your story.

But using a thesaurus is not the only thing you need to vary your vocabulary. Several years ago, I submitted my manuscript to an editor who was extremely helpful in her response. She rejected my manuscript, but not before providing me a long email with suggestions of how to improve my writing and examples of words to avoid, types of writing to change and resources that I might find helpful. While her opinion is subjective, her advice was so helpful, and so appreciated, that I use it as a “final check” before sending my work off to editors now.

Frequent use of the words “then,” “that,” “nearly.” “seem” and “which” makes writing sound passive. After I finish writing and editing, I do a search for those words and try to get rid of them to make the writing active. The use of adverbs or adjectives ending in “-ly” or “-ing” is also a passive way of writing. Again, I do a search and try to switch them to “-ed.”

Using the same type of phrase too often slows down the pacing of your story. I often do this in dialogue. For example:

"The kids seem to be having fun together. It’s always so awkward when the parents like each other and the kids can’t stand to be in the same room together."

Lily laughed. "Yeah, play dates can be tough. They’re almost as bad as dating. It’s embarrassing when you have to ask some strange mom if their kid wants to play with yours." She watched as Ally paused in her running to wait for Adam to catch up. "Ally loves having a little boy to take care of. She’s in love with babies and little kids."

"I noticed. Usually when Emily has a play date, I have to keep Adam entertained and out of her hair, but the three of them seem to really be having fun together." Kim looked at Lily, deciding whether or not to ask her something. Her blue eyes narrowed and taking a deep breath, she resolutely plunged ahead. "So, you mentioned dating. Are you?"

Try to vary how people speak. Although in real life we may say similar types of things, we shouldn’t do it in writing—be creative!

Ultimately, that manuscript was published, by a different publishing house. But A Heart of Little Faith and Skin Deep, and any other manuscripts that I write are, and will be, stronger due to the advice that this very nice and helpful editor provided. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

F is for Flashback

One way to reveal a character's past is through flashbacks. Flashbacks do interrupt the flow of a story, sometimes testing the patience of an editor or reader. Good writers use flashbacks wisely.
Donald Maas says to write the flashback "in dynamic form: Structure it as an action section, complete with failure." In other words, show the encounter exactly as it took place in the past.
Here's how he recommends writing flashbacks: A present-time story cue sets up the flashback. For example, the heroine sees someone who reminds her of a past encounter. She notices his eyes, or hears a voice she'd hoped never to hear again.
Maas recommends writing two 'had' sentences to take the reader into the past. Then write the flashback in simple past tense terms. Use two 'had' sentences to signal the end of the flashback sequence and pick up the present story.
"Keep flashbacks as brief as possible; trim it to its most pertinent action. If it must run on for more than a couple of pages, split it into two or more flashbacks, bringing us back to the present story in between."
Most importantly, insert the flashback in a relatively quiet moment of the story. Interrupting a dramatic or high action scene with a flashback is not advisable.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Welcome Friday Friend Kellie Kamryn

We're so thrilled to have the multi-talented Kellie Kamryn with us here today. So, without further ado...

Tell us about yourself.
Where do I even begin? I was a gymnastics instructor for 25 years, but have always written for myself. I self-published a collection of poetry a few years ago, and decided to tackle my dream of writing a romance novel. I did, but it sucked! Thankfully, I’ve gotten better since then as evidenced by my 3 releases this past fall.

Tell us about Pleasure Island.
Pleasure Island was the first new piece I wrote after I separated from my husband. It’s about a woman finding herself again after divorce. She goes on vacation and ends up not where she thought she’d be! However, she ends up finding so much more and it’s my wish for those who have lost love to have faith that they will find it again.

What got you interested in writing?
I’ve always kept journals as a kid with short stories, poetry and life observations. My mom always read to us as kids so books have always been a big part of my life. They still are! My kids have hundreds of books, we love visiting the book store and library, and of course I have my own private collection – book shelf and on my ereader!

How long have you been writing?
To be published, I’d say the last five years or so I’ve taken it very seriously. I figured it’s now or never! I don’t want to have any regrets that I didn’t try. So far, so good!

What inspired you to write your first book?
A “what if” idea. That’s where all my stories come from – just this question what if this happened and there was this person… and a story just kind of blossoms from there.

What comes first, plot or characters?
HA! I am definitely not a plotter! I’ve tried that but it frustrated me to no end because as I wrote the story, I never stuck to it. My characters would come alive and give me something totally different and usually better than what I originally came up with. I tend to develop characters and dialogue between them. I love human interaction, so that’s kind of where my stories start and then I create the scenario around that.

How do you come up with the titles for your books?
My titles on the first try are always lame! LOL But I’m kind of weird that I can’t not have a title when I start. At some point before I write “The End” something about the story makes me say, “Yeah – that’s it!” So far none of my publishers have changed any of my titles. One of my erotic pieces (a comedy actually) Monkeys, Sex and Other Birthday Surprises had a lame title. I changed it to that one, and at first the publisher suggested we change it because it was kind of long and the whole monkey thing might make people think sex with animals, LOL. I would have changed it, but a few other people thought the title was different and catchy, and that it made them laugh. That’s what I wanted. So far, readers have said that the title made them curious enough to buy it. Even better are the rave reviews I’m getting on that quirky piece.

What is the hardest part of writing?
Not really the writing itself, but find the TIME to write. I’m a busy mom to 4 kids and the promotion for books (plus having 3 released within a month) is more than I thought it would be. I have so many stories that want to come out, but finding time to write them all, plus edit, etc. is a struggle. I just try to take a breather and remember there is more to my life. When I’m meant to tell another story, I will. (Doesn’t mean I don’t have notebooks full of notes on stories I want to write!)

Do you have an interesting writing quirk?
Probably that I have to have a title to begin a story. I hate seeing “Document” at the top of my screen. Even if it’s lame, I feel like I’ve got the beginning of something. I know – I’m weird…

What have you learned from being a published author that you wish you knew before you were published?
How much you have to promote your own work! I’m not complaining, because I have the opportunity to live my dream and I’m loving that people are buying my books. But it was a bit of a shock to realize how much time it could take up. It’s a good thing I love talking to people! (As you can see from some of my long-winded answers, I never shut up, LOL)

What’s the best writing advice you ever received/read?
A few years ago, and I tell this story all the time, I picked up one of Eloisa James’ books at the library. Absolutely loved it. It was at a time when I’d written my 1st book but wasn’t getting anywhere in the industry because I didn’t know much about it. I emailed her, gushed about her books and then dared to ask her if she had any advice for newbie writers. She wrote back and told me about Romance Writers of America, how I shouldn’t give up because romance is the biggest selling genre in the world, etc. I was in awe that she’d take the time to give me that small piece of advice and encouragement. Recently, I met her again and had the opportunity to tell her this story and how much it’s helped me. Well, voila – 3 books out so far and more in the future!

Any advice for new writers?
I say this all the time – DON’T GIVE UP. KEEP LEARNING. If you want to do this bad enough, find a way.

Coming early next year are the first books in your “Love and Balance” series. I love the concept of involving gymnastics (a big part of your life) into the stories. Can you tell us a little about that?
I haven’t read any gymnastics romances and I wanted to tap into something that would be different, so I created a series around the sport I’ve been involved in for most of my life. Tom Welling of Smallville fame, came to me in a dream and whispered the story idea to me. Jensen Ackles also visited while I slept and whispered another idea to me. They both sort of star in books 1 & 3, LOL Book 2’s hero was inspired by someone I saw at a school assembly and I went, “Who is that?” And then his character was born, albeit with a different personality and profession.
Book 1 – Rebound – An award-winning choreographer must face the only man she’s ever loved then lost when they are teamed up to work together at a gymnastics camp for Olympic hopefuls.
Book 2 – The Perfect Score - The new head coach has barely gotten her beams in alignment when she’s threatened with a lawsuit by a father for refusing to train his brat of a daughter.
These books are different than my erotic novellas. I mean, there is “gymnast sex”, so if you want to know if gymnasts make better lovers, you’ll have to read them to find out! But I’d label them more contemporary romance, rather than erotic. Who knows? My editor might want me to change that!

What made you decide to write a series?
I wrote all 3 books within about six months. As I wrote the first one, the idea came to me for the second, and when I wrote the second, the idea came for the third. I have plans for a fourth, but that’ll be a while. All books are stand alone, but I took a character from the previous one and created their own unique story based on issues that could come up in a gymnastics setting.

What is one question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
I don’t know! How tall are you? LOL People hear my voice and think I’m so much taller than I am, but I’m quite tiny. I’m small but tough!

Where can we find you and your books? for latest releases and buy links. On the site are links for Twitter and Facebook! for GOING FOR GOLD – erotic novella involving a cheerleader coach and a gymnastics coach after a staff Christmas party. for MONKEYS, SEX AND OTHER BIRTHDAY SURPRISES - an erotic comedy

Kellie, it's been so great having you here today! Thanks for answering all of our questions so we could get to know you a little bit better! (And can I say I love the title: "Monkeys, Sex and Other Birthday Surprises"? I'm so glad that one was a keeper!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

E is for Euphemisms and Emotion

Okay...I'm cheating a little here and taking two E words at once. However, since I'm the last poster of the week, I won't be taking a word away from anyone else, and the two words are least in the case of this post.

Let's start with euphemisms.

It's no secret that I'm a 'spicy' writer. I prefer to read books where the bedroom door is left wide open, so naturally I write books with the bedroom door wide open. Sometimes there's not even a door: my hero and heroine might be out by the creek, or in the back of a truck, or on a beach. I like detailed love scenes. However, I don't like my love scene to be a science anatomy lesson. This pulls me right out of the moment. Thus, the euphemism. It's amazing how many ways there are to refer to a man's "stuff" without using a technical term. I think the most technical I've ever gotten is using "erection" (Hey, another E word!), and even that I wasn't sure about, but it wound up working okay in the context of the scene. Euphemisms can be used with women, too. Sometimes it's definitely an exercise in creativity to come up with ones I haven't used before, because, believe me, the thesaurus is no use in this department!

So, all in all, I have this part of the love scene down.

What seems to be trickier for me is getting the emotional aspect. (See? I told you the words tied together.) We had 'hot night' at my RWA meeting the other night (A night specifically set aside for critiquing love scenes.) and one of the comments made about the scene I brought was there was a lot of stage direction, but the feelings needed to be deeper. I really am aware of this, but I'm not sure how to fix it.

For me, it's much easier to come up with the euphemism words and phrases than it is to come up with the emotional phrases during a love scene. Because after all, there's that whole, 'show don't tell' thing to deal with, too.

Anybody willing to share any phrases they've used to show emotion in their stories? 'Cause to be honest, I'm stumped.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Last week I wrote about the first draft of a novel, and the work you then need to do before submitting it.

One good piece of advice I’ve read is to do nothing for a week or so. Catch up on all the housework you’ve been ignoring, go pull up some weeds from the garden, treat yourself to a lunch or dinner with friends – whatever will keep you away from your novel for a while. You’re never going to be completely objective about it, but after a break from the intensity of creating it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

What Next? You may already know where there are weaknesses in structure or characterisation, so the first thing is to get these right. Sometimes you need to incorporate an extra scene, or change one you’ve already written. I’ve also had to layer in (naturally and unobtrusively!) more details about a secondary character who ended up playing a larger part in the story than I’d first anticipated.
Another good piece of advice is to print it out, chapter by chapter, since the ‘technical’ errors (punctuation and spacing etc) and typos are often easier to spot on a printed page, rather than on your computer screen. Read it out loud too. This can often highlight awkward sentences and show where your word flow can be improved.

Watch out for inconsistencies and continuity errors. Have the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown? Did the heroine arrive at work in the morning and half an hour later go off for dinner with the hero? In my current WIP, I know I’m going to have to double-check whether I’ve put the heroine’s ‘office’ at college on the first or second floor as I think I’ve changed its location half way through.

It’s so easy to miss very obvious errors. Here’s a paragraph from a best-selling author, (who shan’t be named but you may be able to guess!):
A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars.
Spot the errors? Fifteen feet away is chillingly close? Can you freeze and turn your head slowly at the same time? How can a mountainous silhouette stare? These are the kinds of thing that ought to jump out at you as you re-read your work.

The next step is to look at your style. Check for clichés and find a different way to express them. Look at your spelling and sentence structure. Do you have a series of sentences starting with ‘She’ or ‘He’? Re-write them and vary the start of each sentence.

Delete unnecessary dialogue tags and/or too many synonyms for ‘said’. The word ‘said’ is hardly noticed by a reader, whereas a plethora of synonyms like retorted, exclaimed, gasped, muttered, ordered etc etc can distract reader from what the characters are actually saying. Find action verbs instead of using adverbs. ‘She said nervously’ can be replaced with an action like lacing and unlacing her fingers. Look for the times when you can show, not tell.

Get rid of redundant actions too. You know the kind of thing (Ana wrote about this on Monday). I just took my own advice and changed: Her phone rang again and she picked it up, then pursed her lips when she saw the name on the screen. Of course she had to pick it up to see the name. So and she picked it up has been deleted.

Be aware of over-used words and phrases. You probably already know the ones you use too much. In Word you can use ‘edit’ and then ‘find’ to hunt for them and change them.

The editing process can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort. There is plenty of other advice in books and on websites about editing, so I’ll end with one last point. Don’t over-edit! Know when to stop ‘tweaking’ otherwise you’ll never have that final manuscript ready for submission.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Endings—It’s More Than “The End”

For me, one of the most difficult things to write is the ending. There are so many endings within a story—there’s the ending of a scene; the ending of the chapter and the ending of the book itself. Figuring out how to strike just the right tone and satisfy everyone can be tricky.

In my head, I often think in scenes, which is great as far as adding to what the characters are going to do or say. It’s also great to be able to sit down and bang out a scene, rather than a few sentences at a time. But sometimes it can be difficult when it comes to moving the reader along. A beach scene will pop into my head, so I’ll scurry off to my computer and get it down. I can get my characters to the beach, show what they’re doing there, reveal what they’re thinking. Are they at the beach to swim or is this a chance to show their attraction to each other—come on, there are probably women in bikinis, attraction shouldn’t be difficult! Is it a sweet family scene, with kids building sandcastles or a couple having sex behind the dunes? Regardless of what’s going on, I can see it in my head, so I can basically get it on paper. My problem, however, becomes how to end the scene. Quite often, the ending that I have in my head is not the kind of hook that I’m told we need to have to keep the reader interested. Sometimes, a pacing requirement means that I can’t end every scene with an “OMG” kind of ending—there has to be time to breathe. Other times, there has to be a smooth transition between scenes, so that the story doesn’t look like a bunch of taped together moments.

I run into the same difficulty when it comes to chapter endings. My critique partner always marks up my manuscript if I end a chapter with a character going to sleep. Okay, I get her point, sleeping is not that interesting. It probably doesn’t move the story along (although it’s quite useful to show time passing) and it might make the reader decide to go to sleep herself, rather than turning the page to continue reading. But sometimes, the chapter just has to end and finding an interesting way of doing that can be tough.

When it comes to ending the story, my idea of where to end the story is often different from my characters’ ideas. I’m a pantser, so I write as the ideas hit me. I start to put my ideas to paper, and then my characters laugh at me and point me in the direction that they want to go. Quite often, the ending I planned at the beginning of the story is not the ending that I end up with. Sometimes, it’s even better than what I expected. Other times, it shows me that I’m not there yet, and I have to keep writing until I write an ending that satisfies both my characters and me (and hopefully, my readers!).

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Webster’s II New College Dictionary defines ‘Ellipsis’ as:
a) the omission of a word or phrase required for a complete syntactical construction but not necessarily for understanding.
b) a mark or series of marks [eg. …or ***] used in writing or printing for indicating an omission, esp. of letters or words.

In their book Self-Editing for Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King discuss a syndrome I have. Namely, feeling the need to describe every move a character makes. Every step she takes.

‘The phone rang. Geraldine walked across the room and picked it up. “Hello,” she said.’

Browne and King suggest editing this to: The phone rang. “Hello,” said Geraldine. Why? Because the reader knows we (used to) have to walk to a phone to answer it.

“When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your readers’ imaginations, you’re patronizing them. It’s the influence of movies and television again—readers are used to jump-cuts from scene to scene rather than long traditional shots.”

I'm editing my WIP with this, and many other, craft caveats. So many swirling in my head. But step-by-step descriptions of mundane actions have become boring to read, and tedious to write. I'm happy to let ellipses do some of my work.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Friend - Anna James

Please welcome Anna James. The second book in her Bradford Sisters trilogy has just been published by Sugar and Spice Press. Shattered Dreams is a contemporary novella about a newly wed, and newly pregnant, couple.

I posed the following questions to Anna, and here are her responses.

1. What sort of schedule do you follow for writing? I try to dedicate at least 30 minutes to 1 hour per day to promoting my books and at least two hours to writing.

2. What tends to get in the way and how do you overcome it? My job gets in the way, family obligations, life in general. The way I look at it is there will always be something that takes away from the time when I could be writing so I do my best to write as often as I can. If I miss a day I don’t beat myself up about it but I do try to write for a longer period of time the next day.

3. Did you plot or pantser your new release? Usually I am a pastser when it comes to writing. I don’t write sequential scenes and I let my characters dictate where I go with the story. In the case of Shattered Dreams – Book 2 Bradford Sisters Trilogy, I actually did some plotting.

4. Did you use any maps or sheets? Why or why not? I used a story outline. I’m not sure why I deviated from my norm. I just found it easier to write this story with an outline versus not having one.

5. Did you slip a real, personal experience into your new release? Not in this particular case although I have used personal experiences in past books.

6. Can you tell us what that was and how you changed it? In my book Isabella’s Dilemma, the hero and heroine, Jake McAllistar and Isabella Sheridan, go to San Francisco for a business trip. While they are there they go site-seeing. They see all the places I saw when I went with my family to San Francisco. I even use an incident that took place on my trip in the book. In another story, To Love and Trust Again (Melange Book Available January 2012 the heroine lives in Buffalo, NY which is where I grew up.

7. Do you have a favorite food or drink while you write, or as a reward for so many completed pages? My favorite sweet is chocolate and sometimes I reward myself with some if I get really inspired and get a lot of writing done.

8. How do you approach editing and revising? I usually incorporate the changes the editor requests. In my experience the changes they request usually make the story better.

9. Do you have critique partners or beta readers? I use my mother as a beta reader and a friend as well. My mother loves romance novels and writes as well so she is a good judge from that perspective. My friend is not into romance novels so if I engage her I believe I’m on the right path.

10. How long between submission to your publisher and acceptance? That can vary from publisher to publisher. I had one story (a short) that was accepted within 24 hours of being submitted and another (a short novel) that took over twelve weeks to be accepted. The novel took longer because the publisher wanted only the first three chapters with the initial submittal. I had to wait and see if they would request more. Luckily they did. But multiple submittals take time. Other things that can influence the amount of time it takes to hear from a publisher include the number of submissions they are currently reviewing. If a publisher is overwhelmed with submissions at the time when you decide to send a story in it usually takes longer for a reply.

11. Please tell our followers something about how they worked with you. Different publishers have different levels of involvement with the author. I have been fortunate in that my experiences with the two publishers I have worked with to date have been very positive. In each case the editors assigned to my stories worked with me to make my stories better – they were more polished. I also worked with the various cover artists to create covers for my books.

12. If you could spend an afternoon with anyone in history, who would it be and what would you do together? Sigmund Freud. I would love to pick his brain on male / female relationships.

Book Excerpt:
Reed walked into the house and found Natalie asleep on the couch. She is so beautiful; he thought and leaned down to lightly brush a strand of hair away from her face. It was pale. That meant she’d been sick again. He bent over and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled. “Hi, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Natalie stretched and sat up. “What time is it?”
Reed glanced at his watch.
“It’s a little after five.”
“Oh no, we’re supposed to be at the house for the barbecue in less than an hour. Why didn’t you wake me?” she asked and stood up. “Oh, God.” She groaned and swayed then dropped back down.
“Honey, are you okay?”
“Yes. I’m just a little dizzy.”
“Don’t move. I’m going to call Max and tell him we’ll have to reschedule,” he said as he pulled his cell phone from its holder.
Natalie put her hand on his arm. “No, don’t do that. I’ll be fine in just a minute. I just stood up too fast, that’s all.”
“Nat, I’m worried about you.”
She smiled wearily. “I’m fine. Maybe if I eat a little something I’ll feel better. Can you get me some saltine crackers, please?”
“Are you feeling nauseous?”
“No, but I didn’t eat anything for lunch—”
“I thought you were meeting your sisters?”
“I did but they ordered fish and I got one whiff of it and had to run for the bathroom.”
“Were they surprised why you told them you were pregnant?” Reed asked and smiled.
“I didn’t tell them.”
He frowned. “Didn’t they wonder why you were suddenly sick?”
“I didn’t give them the opportunity to ask.”
“I thought you would have told them.”
“Why? You know I don’t want to tell anyone right now.”
Reed dragged his fingers through his hair and sighed. “I told Max this afternoon.”
“Damn it, Reed. We agreed to wait.”
“I know, I know but I really thought you’d say something and… Oh, Nat please don’t cry.”
“I can’t help it. I didn’t want to say anything. Not yet and we agreed. Why did you tell him? You know he’ll say something to Nicole and… Oh God,” she sobbed even
harder then turned and ran from the room.

Author Bio:
Hello, I, Anna James, am a romance novel junkie! In addition to reading romance novels, and I have read well over 1000 in my adult life, I love to write them. Specifically, I love to write stories that allow you take a break from everyday life and get lost in a world filled passion, drama and, of course, romance!

My first story was published in July 2010 and I five more published since that date.

Current titles available include:
from Sugar and Spice Press
Isabella's Dilemma
Guilty As Charged - Bradford Sisters #1
Shattered Dreams - Bradford Sisters Trilogy #2 Visions, a paranormal romance

from Melange-Books
Coming Home Christmas Collectibles - A Picture Perfect Christmas (anthology)
Coming January 2012 To Love and Trust Again

To read more about Anna, visit her website:
or Facebook:

Thanks for being here today, Anna.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

D is for Dinner

Okay, so obviously I have turkey on the brain today. Thanksgiving is such a great holiday. It has all the best things in, friends, and food! I for one can't wait to dive into tender, juicy turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet, crisp corn, and spicy pumpkin pie.

But I digress...

Dinner, or any other meal, in a book can really add some depth to your characters and your story. Not to mention that it's a great way to include those five senses that are oh-so-important in writing. It's a great time to add meaningful conversation as your characters get to know one another. It's also such a normal thing to do it can make our characters come to life in a very real way.

The main thing to remember, though, is once dinner is in front of your characters, don't just leave it there. Make sure your characters are interacting with the food. Eating it is an obvious thing, (sipping the wine, biting into crispy, juicy fried chicken, savoring the last spoonful of ice cream from the bottom of the carton...) but there are other things that happen during a dinner scene that can be very telling.

Maybe the heroine is nervous, and no matter how good the food looks, she can't eat a bite.

Maybe she can't wait for dinner to be over (You know, so she and the hero can move on to, um (wink) dessert.) so she fiddles with her food instead of eating it.

Maybe the hero cooks dinner for the heroine. Or she cooks for him. What would they make for each other? Even preparing food can give your characters something to do; some action to counteract all of those dialogue tags.

And of course, food can be sensual...I wrote a scene once where chocolate figured prominently. One of my favorite lines from the whole book sums it up: Zach raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Jess, I have you naked and covered in chocolate. Do you really think I care about the damn bedspread?”

Dinner can be elegant, casual, at home, in a restaurant, or on the go. Where you have your characters dine and what they eat can be an important part of the story. Have some fun with it. Just make sure it's part of the story, there for a purpose.

Until next time,

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Available now: A Christmas to Remember

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Phew, you got there! Hero and heroine have overcome all the obstacles you threw at them and they’ve reached their ‘Happy Ever After’ ending. Triumphantly you write (or type) ‘The End’ and get ready to send off your ms. to the publisher of your choice.

Whoa, hold on a minute! This is the First Draft – and there’s still a lot of work to do.

In this month’s UK ‘Writing’ magazine, one publisher says that most aspiring writers make their first error by submitting far too soon without realising how much re-writing needs to be done. He lists a ‘10-draft’ process: typing out a rough draft, tightening the structure, developing the characters, improving the dialogue, working on the language, restructuring some parts, adding layers of conflict, improving crucial opening pages, more work on character development and finally proof-reading for mistakes.

A pretty scary list, right? I’m not sure it would actually take 10 drafts, since some could be combined. But the important point is that a first draft is very much a ‘first’ and can’t be considered as a manuscript which is ready for submission.

Normally, even in my first drafts, I tend to agonise over language and dialogue, trying to get it right the first time. However, having just taken part in NaNowriMo, with the aim of 50K words during November, I’ve surprised myself by being able to abandon my ‘inner editor’ as I sprint-wrote the whole story (57,380 words) in 21 days.

Okay, so it was pre-plotted (unlike my normal pantser method) as I was trying a rewrite/updating of a novel I wrote in the 1970’s. It did require some serious updating, especially my style, and also some of the content, since the world has changed since the 1970’s. Cell phones and email probably present the trickiest problem in updating because it’s so much easier now for characters to contact each other.

Even so, I’ve been aware that it was what I call ‘lazy’ writing. I ignored my usual careful honing of words to convey the exact meaning I wanted, I let adverbs and speech tags slip by, I repeated my favourite words and phrases (probably ad nauseam), my heroine’s heart did so many jumps and jerks, she’s in danger of an imminent heart attack. I also ignored the detailed research which can often hold me up for a long time. My mantra became ‘I’ll fix that later.’

But, at the end of 21 days, I have a first draft. The hero and heroine finally got to their happy ever after ending. However, I know I’m nowhere near that ending.

Could I submit this as it is now? No way. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a real ‘rough draft’ and, believe me, it IS rough! I know I still have a HUGE amount of work to do. 10 drafts? Maybe that’s what it will need.

How many drafts do you write, and what do you concentrate on improving with each draft?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

(Character) Development--It's All His Fault!

This counts as “D, ” right? ;) I was actually going to write about deadlines, but as I started thinking about deadlines, I started thinking about the pressure of meeting them and the paralysis it sometimes causes. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline for editing my current WIP and I realize that one of the problems I’m having with meeting that deadline is not actually the pressure of that deadline, because really, self-imposed means I can change it (who’s gonna tell?), but rather the development of my character. In other words, it’s not my fault, it’s HIS!

I’ve got a hero who would be wonderful, if only I’d paid attention to that one detail, character development (for the purposes of this blog, this week, it will be referred to from here on in as “development”). Like a lot of my characters, this one is based, very loosely, on an actor I saw on TV. I liked the actor’s looks—not too perfect, but still good looking; approachable; great eyes; and based on the character he portrays on TV, a nice personality. The problem is, he’s pretty bland, especially if that’s all I’ve got.

I hear the mantra, “know your characters” all the time, but when it came time to actually developing him (his name is Nathaniel, by the way), I think I may have skimped a bit. Sure, I have character traits on my outline—I know he’s a single dad, he’s new to congregation (the story is a romance with a Jewish theme), he’s divorced, he likes Sam Adams beer and the author Dan Brown, he has slate-blue eyes, he’s a lawyer and he lives on the Upper East Side of New York. But that’s not enough.

I need to know why he does what he does. He doesn’t like being the object of gossip—why not? He doesn’t confide in people easily—why not? What are his hopes and dreams? What are his desires for his daughter? Does he like being a lawyer? Why did he get divorced? What attracted him to his first wife originally? What attracts him to the heroine now?

Without knowing those things, and more, I can’t possibly develop him into a fully rounded, three dimensional character that readers can respond to, relate to and about whom they can care. And without knowing my hero, I can’t possibly make my heroine someone he’d want to be with and give them the happily ever after they deserve, and readers want. Without developing him further, I can’t move the action along because I don’t truly understand how he’d react or, for that matter, what actions he’d cause.

So, instead of looking at my word count and going, “Uh oh, what other scenes can I add?”, I need to sit down and have a conversation with Nathaniel. Maybe invite him to Thanksgiving dinner to get to know him better. As long as he doesn’t eat the apple pie—I’m NOT sharing!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'll have one Dialogue, please

How does the following paragraph read to you? Is the order logical? Smooth? Does it feel polished?

"I'm sorry," Amy said. "I'm just not ready."
Her hand trembled as she stared down at the small, black jeweler's box.
Her mind raced through her now-familiar list of marriage pros and cons.

There are guidelines to follow when writing action - reaction so sequences are logical and smooth. Evan Marshall simplifies it to F-A-D = feelings/thoughts, action, dialogue.

A heroine's feelings or thoughts come first. This may need a paragraph or a page, or she may have a split second flash.

Then she reacts to what she has felt (or thought) with a physical action. She freezes. She smiles. She looks around frantically. She throws her arms around her lover's neck. The action is justified by her just-stated inner state.

Then she speaks. What she says will advance the story because it will invite a response reaction from whoever is in the scene with her.

Based on F-A-D, the opening pararaph would read:

As she stared down at the small, black jeweler's box, Amy's mind raced through her now-familiar list of pros and cons. Her hand trembled. "I'm sorry. I'm just not ready."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Friend - Rosemary Gemmell

Romy Gemmell’s first historical novel, Dangerous Deceit, set in Regency England, was published by Champagne Books in Canada in May 2011. Her first tween novel, Summer of the Eagles, which is set in Scotland, is being published by MuseItUp Publishing in Canada in March 2012 (as Ros).

Her short stories and articles are published in UK magazines, in the US, and Online, under her full name, Rosemary, and her children’s stories are in three different anthologies. One of her short stories was included in the fundraising book, ‘100 Stories for Haiti’ in 2010. A historical short story was published in ‘The Waterloo Collection’, launched by the late professor Richard Holmes in April 2011. She has won a few competitions and will be a short story adjudicator at the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference in March 2012.

Romancing History

Thank you very much for having me on the lovely Heroines with Hearts Blog – love the name!

A while ago, I changed my Regency blog to the title of Romancing History as I thought it a better indication of its contents since I’m not sticking to Regency fiction, either as a reader or writer. The other reason was because I write historical romance (sometimes) and not serious history books. Does that mean the historical facts don’t matter? Of course not, but perhaps we are allowed to romanticise them a little in using our creative imagination.

We can never truly know what it was like to live in any particular era apart from our own, as “the past is a foreign country” according to L.P. Hartley. So we thoroughly research our period and try to depict the setting, background and everyday life as accurately as possible.  But, wait, we’re writing romantic fiction, therefore surely the characters and their stories are far more important than anything else? Absolutely, but if that were the only consideration, then the story might be transferable to any period of history and still make sense.

So it follows that one of the most important aspects of historical fiction is making sure a particular story and characters could only work within the bounds of their own time. It means grounding the novel in the culture and history of its era, checking that real events actually fit into the time span of the story, and making sure the language is appropriate for the period. That means being very careful to check for anachronisms – words and phrases that would not be in existence at the time. Nothing throws a reader out of a story quicker than reading a 20th century expression in a novel written about a previous era. It’s easy enough to Google a linguistic question, as long as you check the answer with at least two sources.

I love to mention real historical figures if possible when writing about the past, as it is another way of grounding the story in reality. Again we can research historical figures and find out lots of facts about them fairly easily. But part of the fun is taking those bare facts and bringing the character to life through the dialogue we give them when interacting with the fictional characters. For instance, I’ve given words to Lord Byron and Robert Burns in two different novels, and the Duke of Wellington in a short story, while trying to remain true to what is known about them.

One of the pleasures of historical fiction is being transported to another time and place, exploring the lives and loves of particular characters. Hopefully, we might learn a little history on the way, even if it is a romanticised version of the past!

Thanks so much for this, Rosemary. As a former history teacher, I can endorse everything you say!

You can find out more about Rosemary/Romy/Ros at

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Twitter: @rosemarygemmell

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

C is for Country Music

It might sound overly dramatic to say Country Music defined my life, but in a sense it's true.

Growing up, my folks listened to country music. I hated it. Although, my first concert-going experience was to a Kenny Rogers concert. We all got dressed up and the whole family went.

Inevitably, almost as a sign of rebellion, I found a different outlet for my musical taste. In junior high it was Rick Springfield and then in high school the advent of the 80s hair bands had my sister and I going to a different 'metal' concert almost every month. We had a blast. I was definitely an 80s head-banger. It even continued into college where, much to my roommate's chagrin, I had a life-sized poster of Jon Bon Jovi on my closet door. (Jon Bon Jovi still does it for me!)

After I graduated from college, I happened to take a trip to Texas to visit a high school friend who was going to school down there. It was then that country music came back into my life. And there it stayed.

From then on I was hooked, and it led to so many other things, which really did lead me down a certain path in life:

I met my husband at a country bar. We learned to dance together. And fell in love. He's my best friend in the whole world and I owe it all to the music I listen to. (The bar eventually became the setting for my first novel: This Time for Always.) We made friends at the bar (which sadly is closed now) that we still keep in contact with today. Some were even in our wedding. Some of our most memorable moments while dating came while at "Country Thunder", a multi-day outdoor concert/camping experience.

I really do think John Deere tractors are sexy thanks to Kenny Chesney.

Most of my books have somewhat of a country feel. Their corresponding soundtracks are always country. If my hero isn't a cowboy, or something else close to it, he at the very least drives a pick-up truck or wears boots. Certain country songs have sparked ideas which have turned into complete stories.

I even work out to country music most of the time: Toby Keith and Eric Church can rock with the best of them.

And I've learned to love all of those old country classics my parents used to listen to.

There are many folks out there who don't care for country music, but as for me, without it, I wouldn't be who I am today.

Until next time,


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Critique Partners

For NaNoWriMo (the annual National Novel Writing Month) I’ve been rewriting a novel which I first wrote in the 1970’s. In those pre-internet days, I’d never heard of critique partners. I did have what is now called a beta-reader but she was a non-writer friend who read my chapters and helped me brainstorm ideas for the development of the story.

I hadn’t even looked at this particular novel for years; now, having read it again, I’ve realised how much it needed the help of a critique partner. Okay, it was published exactly as I wrote it (without any editorial input), so maybe the style of my writing was ‘normal’ at that time. Now it simply makes me cringe!

I started writing romance again about five years ago and know I was still writing in my ‘old’ style to start with. I only have to look at my first ‘fan-fiction’ stories and the first novel I wrote to realise that. Then I started to change my style.

Why? Because I found two great critique partners. I've never met them - I'm in the UK and they're in the USA, but during the last couple of years, we’ve worked together (and become friends too).

Writing, as I know from when I was writing my early novels and knowing no other writers at the time, can be a lonely job, and it’s good to have a friend who is prepared to read your work and give you his/her honest opinion. The word honest is important. I don’t want just positive feedback with a few ‘nice’ comments, although a comment of ‘Great, this really worked well’ does wonders for one’s confidence. But at the same time, I want a genuine opinion and, if necessary, hard-hitting comments.

A good CP can help you to improve both your storyline and your writing style. They can highlight your word or phrase repetition, overuse of passive verbs and adverbs, and telling rather than showing. I was guilty of all of these but didn’t actually realise it until my CPs told me. I’m sure they could list plenty of other errors too!

Sometimes (often?) we can get too close to our own story and characters. A critique partner comes to it with fresh eyes and can point out the things that you may have overlooked. They can look at the big picture and tell you what is working and what isn’t, where the plot holes or anomalies are and whether the pace of the story is too slow or too fast. They can also help you to brainstorm when your story runs into a sticky patch.

It works both ways, too. Critiquing someone else’s work has the double bonus of helping yourself as well as (hopefully) helping them. I have learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t from critiquing.

Now I’m going through the process of critquing my own 1970’s novel, and the errors I made in the original are jumping out at me. Before I worked with my CPs, I doubt I would have noticed any of those errors.

So this is a tribute to my critique partners – with a million thanks to them both for their help, support, encouragement and friendship!