Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are You a ReReader?

My TBR pile is overflowing. Literally. This is what the area next to my rocking chair in the library looks like.

Not to mention that I've downloaded a bunch of new books to my Kindle. Some of them I'm saving for my cruise in March, but I do want to get to the Christmas ones this season.

So what am I reading? The Twilight series. For like the dozenth time. And I'm not exaggerating. I picked them up after seeing the final movie (twice) when it premiered a couple of weeks ago. I'm almost done with Breaking Dawn. We're not talking short stories here. These are big books, 500, 700, 800 pages plus.

I'm not sure what it is about these books that makes me come back to them time and time (and time) again. Yes, I love vampires. And yes, I have a huge crush on Edward. There are lines and sections of each of the books that I literally have memorized. Yet every time I sit down and read them, I love them.

I've reread other books, too. Probably not as many times as these. But there are books I always come back to. Why is it that with a huge pile of books I've never read before and revisions to do on my own mss waiting for me, I pick up something familiar? I think that must be the ultimate compliment to an author. To enjoy something s/he has written so much that you return to it again and again.

I had a compliment like that once. Last year in a review for A Christmas to Remember the reviewer said it was a book she'd read again. "I know I will keep this and read it over and over again every year." - MDobson, Sizzling Hot Book Reviews.

So, how about you? Are you a rereader? Or is once enough for you?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When you feel like giving up ...

I'm about three-quarters of the way through my current story but recently I've become more and more dissatisfied with it. There's something not working, but I can't decide what that 'something' is. On Sunday evening, feeling particularly dispirited, I put the following on my Facebook page:

Do you ever get to the point where you feel like deleting the whole of your 'work in progress' and forgetting you ever thought of this story in the first place? That's where I am right now!

The replies and comments I received were interesting, and I think they’re worth summarising here. If nothing else, they show that other writers experience the same feelings! There's also some very useful advice. I’ve alternated colours to show the comments from different people, and given them in the order they appeared, but have left out my own replies to the comments.

Yes. Every WIP at some point.
Keep going! Keep going!
Hold on there. You're too close to the baby to call it ugly. Go away for a few days and let the characters sink into your subconscious, let them talk to you a little. Come back with a fresh mind and a renewed body too. Funny how rest and lots of REM can salvage a WIP
Sometimes in revisions, I get so sick of these people I wish I'd never created them. But when their story is published, I always love them again! Absence makes the heart grow fonder so take a short holiday from them and see what a difference it makes.
Have you thought of flipping the characters on their ears, giving them an all-new tension that they didn't have before? Tension drives conflict, conflict drives passion, passion drives...oh, you know the drill.
Not just you. And some stories just have magic, heart, crunch you simply can't walk away from. Sometimes all you need to do is wait for the chops to write it or let go of the idea of perfection. The latter is usually what stands in my way. i.e. what I wanted the story to be is not what the story IS.
I’d put that sucker away for a year.
It sounds like you need a long walk and a break and let this story reconvene in your head.
As the saying goes, you can't revise a blank page. I like your idea of going back to the original version, whatever that is. It's undoubtedly the one that made you start writing in the first place. Step back and let the characters tell you their story.
Every time!
Don't do it!
Give it a couple of days and suddenly you'll know.
I have a story I've been writing for about 3 years, keeping getting lost in it. Maybe you need to do what I've done (more than once). Put it right away and begin a completely new one. Your mind will be much fresher when you finally return to this wip, you'll probably see what’s happening to hold you back straight away.
Leave it alone for a month. Then you will know what the problem is and be able to fix it!
Just been thru that exact process!
Certainly have. I think I'd follow the  advice to leave it alone for a month. I had one, and kept going. It took three times as long to write.
You're trying too hard! Step back, write a short story and see what happens... Step out of your comfort zone! Pen a scary thriller.
Don't destroy it. Put it on the back burner. Let it lie for a year or so, then go back and see if it is worth saving.
Have you thought about getting some feedback on it from someone?
Let your mind drift to other scenes, other characters . Let this one stew a bit longer. Some of mine have been around for years.
Yes, know that feeling only too well.
I'm feeling that way right now too. I'm working on a novella that's taking me longer to write than a full length book.
Hang in there. Breathe....
Oh yes. You stare at the screen blinking fast, then scratch something till it bleeds--anything rather than just walk away, which is the only thing that works.
* gasp * Oh No! Stop! Don't do it! You will find the way in this story. I have complete faith in you. :)
Keep going, girl
Don't do it. Set it aside and work on something else. I have one coming out soon that I've been messing with off and on since 2009. I finally figured out the issue about a month ago and fixed it. so, it could just need to simmer for YEARS! LOL!
Good luck. I messed with mine between stuff forever and it finally gelled. Yours will.
Yes! But don't do it. Just let it stew for a while and all will work out.
Keep plugging along.
Don't give up on your story. Maybe take a break, then start reading it from the beginning, and I'll bet you find that your story hasn't given up on you.
What’s interesting is that while some encourage me to keep going, others say to leave it – for anything from a few days to a few years!
I haven’t included the final few comments, when a three way conversation compared the whole writing process either to knitting with fog, or carving granite with a teaspoon, or wading through porridge – and sometimes you feel like you’re doing all three at the same time!
Anyway, as a result of all this, someone has offered to read the first few chapters and tell me what she thinks. I’ll wait for her verdict before I decide what to do!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wherever You Go...Is Important!

So as I sit here at my dining room table—a few months ago we talked about where we like to write, and I usually spend my mornings sitting at the dining room table—I’m looking out the French doors at the snow falling. I’m not a big snow person. While I like the actual white stuff, I hate driving in it, and I have this unreasonable dread of school being cancelled. That could be because we went through two weeks of either no school or hardly any school due to Hurricane Irene, just came off a 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving, and I don’t think we’ve had more than three full weeks of school this year, but I digress. I do actually like the look of the snow, once there’s enough of it on the ground to cover all of the grass, and before it turns black from the passing cars.

Anyway, watching the snow fall made me think of the importance of your setting in your story. Action carries you through; characters give you someone to love or hate; but setting? Setting puts the reader in your story. It gives them a chance to visit the place you’re writing about, to travel to an imaginary world. Think about the classic books you read growing up. I was not a fan of Willa Cather or of John Steinbeck—too depressing for me—but they created a South and a mid-West that sticks with me today. My daughter just finished reading a book, Ruined, by Paula Morris, and because of that book, she wants to go to New Orleans. It’s not just travel books that create “place;” it’s novel and romances and westerns and mysteries, too. It’s fiction and settings are important.

I’ve been told that starting out a book with a description of a physical place is not the best hook, and maybe that’s right. But I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to do either. It’s a great way to incorporate many of the senses. If done well, and I’m not saying I’ve necessarily done that, it can put the reader inside the story, can sit them on the shoulder of your character, or in the corner of the room.

Here’s the opening of my WIP, which currently starts with describing the setting. I’m not necessarily going to leave it as the opening. I see the positives and negatives of doing this, and I’m still deciding. But I love the description and had fun writing it.

Samara ducked into the corner grocery store and swiped rain-drenched hair out of her eyes as she looked out at the street. Rain poured onto the Manhattan sidewalk in silver satin sheets. Cars splashed water onto the ankles of passersby with enough force to soak through the pant legs of irritated men and puddle inside the high-heeled shoes of unprepared women caught in the storm. Umbrellas prodded one another for space as people rushed from offices to subways, huddled in doorways and flagged down already full taxis in futile efforts to avoid the rain. Muttered curses at the weather mingled with hoarse apologies as commuters bumped against one another in their hurry to get somewhere—anywhere—dry. But those sounds were muted by the shuck-shuck-shuck of windshield wipers and the squeal of brakes on slippery streets.

The water poured down the front window of the store and blurred the sharp headlights of the passing cars into fuzzy, undulating splotches of yellow that danced before her eyes. She smiled. They reminded her of Shabbat candles. She closed her eyes for a moment and time slipped away. In an instant, she was back in her grandmother’s warm, dry kitchen, her face pressed against a wide, warm bosom. The arms circling her promised safety, security and unconditional love. Her grandmother’s heartbeat thumped against her ear and infused her with calm and confidence. Her cousins chattered and the grownups laughed. China and utensils clinked. It was Friday night; the smell of brisket and challah filled the small, noisy apartment with mouth-watering scents of carrots, onions, garlic and yeast. Her stomach growled and the sound yanked Samara back to the present. She was hungry. With a shake of her head, she reached for a shopping cart and headed down the aisle.

Forgetting for a moment that I wrote this, because I’ll admit, I’m biased, I like detailed descriptions of setting. I want to know where my characters are and why their location is so important. For this character, one of the things this particular setting does is bring her back to her childhood. That serves to tell the reader some important things, one of which is that she’s Jewish. Since the story I’ve written is a romance that takes place around the Jewish holiday of Purim, it’s important the reader knows this. This setting conveys warmth. It also gives the feel of New York City; anyone who’s been there in the rain can probably recognize it.
I don’t know, maybe I’m biased toward my own writing. But regardless of these particular paragraphs, I do feel giving the setting early on, if not immediately, is important. What do you think and how do you do it?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Story Arcs

Aristotle is credited with analyzing the art of story-telling. He defined a story as having a specific beginning, middle and end. When beginning is tied intimately to the end, the story takes on life--a complete being that "lives" because it is written that way.

Since Aristotle, many adaptations of his three-act story structure have been posited.  Shakespeare's plays had six or seven acts because candle wicks needed to be trimmed during performances. Modern filmmakers think in terms of four acts: Act 2 has two parts divided by a midpoint incident.
Novelists, consciously or unconsciously, write in acts punctuated by story events like "plot points," "inciting incident" and "black moment."

A romance's Act 1 sets up the heroine's present situation, defines her current life, her ordinary world. At the inciting incident, something presents a problem or challenge --the loss of a job, return of abusive husband, opportunity to grasp a prize heretofore unobtainable. This propels her directly in the path of her future lover.

At the First Plot Point, about 1/4 into the story, she has to make a major choice. She crosses the Threshold. It is a point of no return. She can't go back to her old life.  Act 2 begins.

During the first half of Act 2, she struggles and fails. Everything she does trying to fix her problems only makes things worse. At the Act 2 midpoint, she realizes she will have to take an ultimate risk, do things she heretofore never dared. She tries harder and harder, and the antagonistic person or force counters her every move. She wins skirmishes and still loses ground.

At Plot Point Two, she faces the reality that she needs to risk everything, even if it means her friends forsake her. Put her life on the line. She sees the potential reward on the opposite bank of the raging river in front of her. She may fail, but not trying to cross is no longer an option. Bruised but wiser, she jumps into Act 3.

In Act 3 things come to a climax. She resolves the issues that have arisen on her journey, first for others, then for herself. The biggest, baddest, hardest problem is resolved last. At the black moment, it appears she has failed. Then she triumphs. She is resurrected. And the story ends with her HEA.

All stories need some version of this story arc to be satisfying. (Think marketable.) Authors often write a first draft then go back and layer in conflict. Other authors pre-plot the main turning points, then write with these intermediate goalposts already in mind. Either way--and there are many permutations in between--is right and good.

The end result is what matters. A story that satisfies our boundless need to share the experience of being human.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

The house is clean.

The pie is baked. It's my first attempt ever at homemade pumpkin pie...I hope it turns out okay! (At least my sister's also bringing an apple pie...)

The turkeys and Pilgrims are on display.

And the table is set.

Now all we need to do is wait for the company to arrive!

Happy Thanksgiving! many blessings to you and yours.


An Unexpected Blessing - A Thanksgiving novella from The Wild Rose Press
Also available for Kindle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do romance stories need a villain?

Last weekend, Ana and I had an email conversation about villains that made me wonder about the role of a villain in romance stories.

In ‘His Leading Lady’, I brought in a character who turned fairly nasty towards the end, which added an extra layer to the story. In both ‘Fragrance of Violets’ and ‘Changing the Future’ I had minor characters who revealed information, one out of malice towards the hero (although not necessarily wanting to split hero and heroine up), the other who did hope to cause problems between them because she had her sights set on the hero. Were they villains? I tend to think of them both as characters who threw a spoke into the wheel and created extra problems as a result. In ‘Her Only Option’, the ‘villain’ of the piece isn’t actually revealed until late in the story, which is part of the mystery of who is behind various threats aimed at the hero and heroine. In my recently submitted ‘Dream of Paris’ it’s the ex-fiancée who causes problems, again not directly aimed at splitting up the hero and heroine, but certainly causing the heroine a lot of anguish.

I began to wonder whether there needs to be a villain, or at least an antagonist, in romance novels. Although I’ve had characters who’ve caused problems for the hero and heroine, I’m not sure I would call all of them ‘villains’ or even antagonists.

Is it necessary to have a third party who is jealously or maliciously trying to destroy the relationship between the hero and heroine (for whatever reason)? Or can the ‘antagonist’ be the circumstances in which the main characters find themselves, or the events that happen which seem to be beyond their control? Or maybe the ‘villain’ is their own doubt, distrust or uncertainty, either about themselves or about each other?

I’ll be interested to know how you feel about villains - and/or the kind of ‘villain’ you’ve used in your romance stories.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What’s In A Name?

The title of you book is important because it gives the reader her first impression of your story. Do it right and your book title will reflect the type of story you’ve written. It will entice your reader and encourage her to pick your book over the multitude of others out there vying for attention. Do it wrong, and your book title will give your reader the wrong impression of your book or just make the reader think your book is boring.

There are many ways to come up with a title for your book. Sometimes, it’s a phrase from your actual story. Sometimes it’s a literary quote. Sometimes it’s a pun or a play on words.

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency, wrote a great blog post in 2010 about how to go about finding the perfect title for your book. You can find that blog here. But some of the suggestions she gives are:
  • Find other books in your genre and study their titles
  • Use visual words
  • Use a thesaurus
  • Make sure your title is different from what’s already out there

When I wrote A Heart of Little Faith, I took the title from something the heroine said to the hero. When I wrote Skin Deep, I picked the title based on the idea of beauty being only skin deep. And for my current work in progress, The Seduction of Esther, well, it kind of just popped into my head—we’ll see if it gets changed if it ever gets published!

How do you pick your titles?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's your favorite body language tell?

I was searching sites for a body language “tell” yesterday and came across this list by Mack LeMouse in BODY LANGUAGE SIGNS OF LYING.  The science behind these may not be certain, but I thought some ideas here were potentially useful.
A woman ready for more intimate interaction will: (Think Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.}
Expose her wrists      Expose her neck       Caress her own leg
Fondle a cylindrical object          Open her mouth slightly
Play with her hair       Blink a lot         Slip her shoe on and off
Cross her legs and point them to you (crossing the legs makes women look thinner)
Point her foot at you           “Accidentally' touch you a lot

Males flirt, too. Someone's interested in your girl if…
He points his foot towards her          His pupils dilate
He 'accidentally' touches her a lot    He tucks his fingers in his belt
He puts his hands behind his back, thrusting forward his chest

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Friend - Lynette Sofras

Welcome to today's Friday Friend (and my friend), Lynette Sofras.

A former Head of English, Lynette gave up her career in education almost three years ago in order to focus on her writing.  Since then she has published three contemporary romances: The Apple Tree (December 2011), which won the grand prize in Inspired Romance Novels' writing contest; Wishful Thinking (April 2012) and Shopping for Love (June 2012). In Loving Hate (November 2012) is her first romantic suspense and a more speculative psychological drama, Killing Jenna Crane, is due for release next month.

Lynette lives with her family in an early Victorian cottage in a historic village in Surrey. When not writing, she is an avid reader, loves catching with friends, films and the theatre and can occasionally be seen trying to tame her rather wild garden and keeping the family's eccentric cat out of trouble.

Should we like our heroes and heroines?

I reviewed a novel recently which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, but it occurred to me part-way through it that I really couldn't warm to the main character.  This in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the story and nor did it affect my rating, but it did make me wonder whether the writer wanted me to like her or not.  It also got me thinking about whether other readers need to be able to like and empathise with the hero or heroine, especially in romances.

This in turn made me think back over some of the reviews of my stories which criticised the hero or heroine and the readers made their feelings evident in their ratings.  One reader shocked me by accusing one of my heroines - who had been pressured into becoming a doctor and later regretted it and yearned to leave the profession - of being thoroughly selfish for having taken up a place at med school and depriving someone else!  I simply hadn't considered that when I portrayed her unhappiness and dissatisfaction.  My aim was to create sympathy for her situation, not anger.

Another reviewer said one of my heroines "tended to act TSTL for a little", which my son had to translate as meaning "too stupid to live".   I still smile at that.  My heroes too have come in for criticism at times. One was reprimanded for being unintentionally thoughtless in forgetting to mention something to the heroine (which he had dismissed as trivial) and another for going against his own principles after criticising the fault in someone else.  I dread to think what readers will make of the main character of my forthcoming release Killing Jenna Crane - he's a famous and successful author who is decidedly unlikeable - and that's quite deliberate!

Fortunately, however, on the whole, readers seem to connect with my characters and feel they can relate to them and that pleases me enormously.  They hate my villains, which is as it should be, empathise with my heroines and some even develop crushes on my heroes.  One of the sweetest comments I received was from a reader who said: "I want to find my own Nicholas. If I ever find anyone half as decent and loving as that man then I will be a happy woman."

I would love to hear opinions from readers and writers on this subject.  Should we like our heroes and heroines as writers and how important is it for us to like them as readers?

In Loving Hate - released 09 November 2012
MuseItUp bookstore:
How far will the rich and powerful go in order to achieve their goals? That is the question Lyssa must decide when she finds herself caught between two formidable adversaries: powerful business tycoon and shipping magnate, Alex Andrakis and close childhood friend, ‘Dynamic’ Nell Winters, brewery heiress and prolific businesswoman.
Following the failure of her marriage in Greece, Lyssa returns to her family home in London, to discover that her mother, a once-celebrated actress, is now facing crippling debts.  When Lyssa begins to investigate these, she becomes embroiled in the intricate business dealings of Nell and her arch-rival Alex.  Irresistibly drawn towards widower Alex and his unhappy young son, Lyssa begins to uncover some unexpected and disturbing facts.
The more involved she becomes, the more shocking are the discoveries she makes.  The conflicts culminate in a frightening battle for survival as Lyssa finds herself the prime target between the possessive Nell and obsessive Alex.   With her loyalties deeply divided, can Lyssa make the right choice for everyone concerned?
Find out more about Lynette at her blog and website:
Thanks so much for being our Friday Friend today, Lyn - and we wish you every success with your all your books. Shopping for Love is definitely my favourite so far, but I haven't read your latest release yet! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life Imitating Art

As many posts have shown recently, our writing often is inspired by real-world moments that catch our attention for some reason. But what happens when it works the opposite way? This week a real-life happening occured that was right out of the pages of my new novella, An Unexpected Blessing.

In the story, my heroine, Katy, is a firm believer that Thanksgiving should get its due and be celebrated before any thought of Christmas takes place. Katy is a woman after my own heart. I modeled this part of her character on my own thoughts about the subject.

In one scene, she comes to the door and sees the yard covered in snow. She is not happy. It goes something like this:

One morning Katy opened the door to Joe’s smiling face. Her answering smile faded as she noticed the snow shovel in his hand.
“Why do you have that?” she demanded.
Joe looked down, then his gaze flew to hers. She immediately read the wariness in his eyes, but was so dismayed by what the shovel meant she didn’t take the time to reassure him she wasn’t harboring any thoughts of him doing violence. For the time being, she ignored the sadness slipping through her. She didn’t want Joe to think she was still afraid of him, but at the moment, a more immediate matter occupied her attention.
She peeked over his shoulder and moaned. A light dusting of snow covered the lawn. It sparkled in the sunshine. But she couldn’t appreciate its beauty. “No,” she whined. “It’s only November. It cannot snow.”
Joe raised an eyebrow.
She paused in her tirade to appreciate the effect it had on his face. But only for a brief second. “Snow is for Christmas. Not Thanksgiving. Ugh.”
He chuckled. “Wow. You are really hung up on that, aren’t you?”

In real life it went something like this. I was driving home from a meeting on Monday. A few flurries fluttered through the air. As I got closer to home, a few turned to many, which was extra apparent in the shine of the street lights. I announced my displeasure to my hubby as soon as I walked in the house. By the time I went to bed, some of the snow was starting to stick. In the morning I woke up to this:
Ugh. Ugh. And Ugh.

Luckily, just like in the story, it melted in an hour or so and we were back to the proper ground covering for Fall.

It made me think...if I would have known I was so good at predicting real life with my stories, I would have included something bigger and better. Maybe in my next book my heroine will win the Lottery!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do you eavesdrop?

I try not to be an eavesdropper, but sometimes you can’t avoid it when people are talking loudly in a café or coffee shop or on a bus or train. I think the most interesting ‘eavesdrop’ I ever heard was ‘Well, he had to kill her after that, didn’t he?’ I only hope the speaker was talking about a movie or something on TV!
Next time you’re with a group of people who are chatting together, take a mental step backwards for a few minutes and listen. The chances are the conversation will include a lot of half sentences or phrases, broken up by pauses or interruptions. Many people will start a sentence, hesitate, and then start again, or go off at a tangent. There’ll probably be plenty of words like ‘erm’ or ‘well’. Grammar rules will be broken. There will be very few ‘long’ words, and maybe some wrong words will be used.
We’re told we should write natural sounding dialogue in our stories. However, if we did this, our readers would probably become exasperated because much of it would be jerky, repetitive, even incomprehensible. I’m reminded of a TV mini-series about President Nixon where every so often the characters would reproduce some of the dialogue from the infamous tapes. It was glaringly obvious when they moved from the smooth scripted dialogue to the fragmentary dialogue of the tapes.
Writing dialogue as it tends to be used in everyday conversations would be equally as disastrous as having our characters speak to each other as if they were at a public meeting (to paraphrase how Queen Victoria complained about the way Gladstone spoke to her).
So how do we write dialogue?
The trick is to make the dialogue seem real without actually reproducing everything we normally hear in everyday speech e.g.
Omit ‘um’, ‘er’ and ‘well’, unless you specifically need your character to appear hesitant.
Use contractions – don’t, couldn’t, can’t etc.
Let your characters use short sentences, not long convoluted ones, or speak in phrases. Have them break off mid-sentence occasionally, or interrupt another character (but not all the time – unless that’s one of their bad habits!)
Don’t have them making ‘speeches’ (unless they really are making a speech). If they’re describing or explaining something, have the other person interrupt or ask a question, to avoid having any lengthy monologues.
Don’t use dialect that might be difficult for a reader to understand. Slip in an odd word to give a flavour of an accent or dialect, but let the reader imagine the rest.
Don’t have your characters calling each other by name all the time. Generally speaking, people don’t tend to do that.
Don’t turn a casual conversation into a stilted one or, conversely, into one that’s too flowery. I’ve read conversations that sound as if they have been lifted out of a 1930’s movie, and others where the heroine (and sometimes the hero too!) use ornate, fanciful phrases that people would never use in everyday speech.
A final tip is to read your characters’ conversations out loud. I can usually ‘hear’ my characters speaking in my mind – but there have been times when, on reading out loud, I’ve winced at what one of them has said, or how they’ve phrased it, and I’ve then changed it to something that hopefully sounds more natural.
What other tips do you have for writing dialogue?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I’ve been totally unmotivated lately when it comes to writing. Just the thought of sitting down at my computer to write is unpleasant enough for me to find any number of other things to do—even laundry! I’m uninspired and discouraged.

One reason I think is that I submitted to an editor who was offering to provide feedback with rejections, as a “one time only” kind of deal. So I sent her my manuscript. I knew it wasn’t ready; I knew it would be a no. That’s why I sent it to her in the first place—for the feedback! But when I actually got the rejection and the feedback, I was discouraged. I shouldn’t have been, but I haven’t submitted anything for awhile and I forgot to steel myself beforehand.

Another reason was the storm and the mental stress. We suffered no damage and lost no power, but our town did and all the surrounding towns as well. The kids missed a week of school and we housed friends and family, as well as provided daytime refuge. My house was chock full of people and it was exhausting. I’d fall into bed each night and try as hard as I could, but the ideas that usually fill my head right before I fall asleep didn’t come. It was a blank. And when I slept, I dreamt of fires and other disasters.

But there has been some good that’s come from all of this. Now that life has calmed down, I feel rejuvenated and excited to start writing again. The thought of sitting in my house, alone (finally!), and being able to write is something that I’m looking forward to now. I’m even contemplating going to the library to do some research (my least favorite thing to do).

And I’m finally looking at the feedback as I had originally intended: an opportunity to improve what I knew deep down really did need improving. And honestly, there was also positive feedback that I’m going to pay more attention to now, rather than ignoring it and only focusing on the bad.

The inspiration is coming back and I’m motivated once again!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Welcome Nancy Herkness!

Please welcome our Friday Friend, Nancy Herkness. A graduate of Princeton University, she majored in English literature and Creative Writing. Her senior thesis was a volume of original poetry.
Working first in retailing as a buyer at Lord and Taylor and then in data processing, Nancy finally took the plunge: she quit her job and penned the romance novel she’d always wanted to write. She put her literary career on hold when her first child was born. Once her youngest child was settled in first grade, Nancy returned to the word processor and wrote A Bridge to Love which was published by Berkley Sensation.
Chosen as one of three “Best Up and Coming Authors” for 2003 in Affaire de Coeur’s Readers’ Poll, Nancy’s work has won several awards, including the Golden Leaf, the Write Touch Readers’ Award and the Aspen Gold. A member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, and Novelists, Inc., she also writes book reviews, press releases and newsletters. Nancy lives in a Victorian house with her husband and two mismatched dogs and cheers loudly for the New Jersey Devils hockey team.

Changing the scenery

I live in suburban New Jersey, only twelve miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel to New York City (and right in Hurricane Sandy’s path, alas.) However, I grew up in a very different place: a tiny town in the mountains of West Virginia where my friends and I rode our ponies around town the way some kids ride their bicycles.  When I moved to New Jersey, I adopted my new state wholeheartedly (except for the Jersey accent—I’ve never lost my West Virginia twang).

 I even set my first three books in the New York metro area.  A Bridge to Love unfolded in a suburban commuter town much like the one where I live now.  That book’s climactic scene took place on the iconic link between New Jersey and New York, the George Washington Bridge.  My second book Shower of Stars moved between a small village on the Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania’s beautiful Pocono Mountains, and the grit and glitter of New York City.  Music of the Night, my foray into romantic suspense, was firmly entrenched in the culture of the classical music business in Manhattan, where I took readers backstage at the famous Carnegie Hall.

However, there comes a time when a writer needs a change of scenery.  It might be necessary to re-inspire her Muse or to recharge her career or just because she reaches a new stage of life.  Honestly, I’m one of those people who looks steadily forward, never back. My parents still live in West Virginia so I visit regularly, but, as I mentioned, I embraced my new identity as a Jersey girl (no pumping my own gas!) without reservation.  Yet suddenly I felt the creative need to go back to my roots in the state John Denver calls “almost heaven”. 

Take Me Home (released Nov. 6) sprang from that urge.  It is a book set firmly in the rhythms and scenes of my childhood.  I use the names of the families I grew up among, jumbling up first and last to avoid involving any real folks, of course.  I wanted to convey the particular ethnic mix of those who settled there and bequeathed the distinctive music of their proper names to their descendents. I sprinkled a touch of the country accent into their speech, just enough for the reader to know she has journeyed to a slightly different world.

In the background of the story, the beautiful, ancient Appalachian mountains stand ever present, their soft blues and greens draped over them like velvet.  They offer my characters what they always gave me: strength, peace and a sense of perspective.

And there are horses, because I spent so much of my childhood on horseback.  Even after shoveling my pony’s manure every day, I still think of horses as magical creatures.  It seemed right to create a “whisper horse” in my story, a special creature who is happy to listen to your problems and help you carry their burden.  

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about going back to my roots since I’m all about moving forward.  However, it’s been strangely moving to conjure up the sights and sounds of my youth.  Places and events I hadn’t thought of in years are surging to the front of my brain.  Some of them I get to change for the better in my novel.  The darker memories provide fuel for the obstacles my characters face.

 Equally wondrous has been the challenge of capturing these flickering memories in words, knowing that I will be preserving my (slightly fictionalized) impressions forever.  Us writers love the whole concept of our words being immortal, you know.

As for my Muse, she’s loving the change of scenery.  She dances over the mountains like she was born there.  Come to think of it, I guess she was.

Nancy is delighted to report the news that Take Me Home is the first in a series of Whisper Horse books set in the fictional town of Sanctuary, West Virginia.  For more information on Nancy’s books and to read an excerpt from Take Me Home, please go to

When Claire Parker left Sanctuary, West Virginia, she thought it was for good. But now she’s back, reeling from an ugly divorce.

Readjusting to small-town life is harder than Claire expected, so she’s surprised, and grateful, to find companionship in Willow, an abused Thoroughbred mare. Willow is Claire’s “whisper horse,” and they share a special, rare bond. Except Willow isn’t the only one helping Claire heal; Willow’s ruggedly handsome veterinarian, Dr. Tim Arbuckle, is sympathetic…and secretive.

Devastated by his wife’s death, Tim thought he’d never find love again. The stoic, sexy doctor was sure he’d left his heart behind when he came to Sanctuary. But Claire stirs up emotions he thought he’d buried long ago. For the first time, the doctor tries to see past his grief.

When Willow falls gravely ill, Tim and Claire must work together to save the horse’s life and to find a love so encompassing, so intense, their lives will never be the same again.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Social Networking

I'll be honest, I have a Facebook page, but I don't use it much. I jumped on the bandwagon a while ago, but decided I'd only use the page for promotion of my writing career. Trouble is, a lot of the people who have friended me are actually friends and as such share non-writing releated tid bits which appear on my page. Then, I'm friends with some authors from whom I also get personal tid bits of information. And this past summer I 'cheated' a bit and posted some personal items on my page.

Now I will be the first to admit, I'm no where near an expert on Facebook. In fact, I'm pretty much a total idiot. I need one of those books, "Facebook for Dummies". I'm sure if there's not one out there, there will be soon.

I guess my first mistake was signing up under only my author name and not my real name. In that way I could have better separated the business end from the friend end. I guess I can still do that, but it's definitely a project for when I have a good chunk of time to devote to it.

A friend was kind enough to set up a "Friends of Debra St. John" page for me. But I use that even less than my regular page.

It's just so confusing to me. There seem to be multiple pages that 'belong' to me and it's anyone's guess which one is going to pop up when I log in. If I had more time to devote to it, maybe it would make more sense and I'd be able to use it as a better marketing tool. But I don't. So alas, much of the time my page just sits there...not doing a whole heck of a lot.

All that said, I am going to 'host' a virtual release party on Facebook in a couple of weeks when my new novella comes out. We'll see how that goes. It took me forever to figure out how to send the invite out, but I think I located the proper 'button' and will get that announcement out next week.

So, how about you? Any opinions about social networking? Likes? Dislikes? Successes? Failures?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Coming November 21 for Thanksgiving - An Unexpected Blessing

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Turning Points

Question: What’s the link between Enid Blyton, Mills and Boon, ‘The West Wing’ TV series, and an American Civil War battlefields tour?
Answer: They’ve all been turning points in my writing career.
I’ve always made up stories in my head, but it was when I was about nine and discovered the school series ‘Malory Towers’ by Enid Blyton that I started filling exercise books with school stories. My heroine was the same as Enid Blyton’s but I gave her different friends and different adventures during her six years at the school.
During my teens, I turned to writing romances – very cheesy ones, but half a dozen friends waited eagerly for each instalment. Jump forward about ten years to when my first daughter was a baby. I needed something more brain-stimulating than ‘baby-talk’ and started to rewrite one of my teenage stories. Initially, I wrote it simply for myself, but then decided to submit it to Mills and Boon. To my amazement, they accepted it, and gave me a contract for two more novels which I duly produced during the next two years.
When M&B were taken over by Harlequin in the 70’s, their ‘formula’ changed completely, and the stories I wanted to write didn’t fit that formula. I did have another novel accepted by a different publisher in 1980, but apart from some short stories, that was the end of my fiction writing for several years.
In 2005, I had no idea when I first became hooked on the TV series ‘The West Wing’ that it would prove to be another turning point for me. It led me into the world of fan-fiction, and eventually (and very tentatively) I started to write my own West Wing fan fiction stories. I was quite happy doing these and didn’t even consider doing anything else until...

Until 2008 when I did a week’s tour of American Civil War battlefields in VA, MD and PA – and happened to meet a Harlequin author who was also doing the tour. She encouraged me to start writing novels again and when I got home, I hunted out some old half-finished stories.

The rest, as they say, is history. I've had four novels published since June 2011, just submitted a fifth one (fingers crossed!), and I’m half way through a sixth. There have been other turning points along the way – not least finding my two fantastic critique partners, ‘meeting’ other writers online, many of whom have become good friends, and, of course, my trip to Egypt two years ago which inspired my latest novel, 'Her Only Option.'

What have been your 'turning points'?


Sunday, November 4, 2012

People Watching = Future Characters

Yesterday I worked a craft fair booth in a nearby town. Sue and I arranged four tables in an L-shape and displayed my soup, seasoning and bread mixes, and jams. The doors opened at 9, and we started sampling: taster cups of Cream of Wild Rice Soup and Wild Rice Salad dressed with poppyseed dressing. Containers of salsa, dips and cheeseballs, made from mixes we make at work, and small bowls of jalapeno jams poured over cream cheese were flanked by baskets of crackers and stick pretzles, for dipping and spreading.

We went to sell product, and sampling is the way to do that. It is also a great opportunity to people watch.

Little old ladies eat like we are a post-depression buffet. Like seventh grade boys, they look up after each bite to see if we are "on" to them, trying to eat as much as they can before time runs out. They sidestep down the line, taste everything, then say they aren't sure and will need to taste everything again before they can decide whether to buy. A variation is they move on after the first round, then return a half hour later and say they need to refresh their memory. The ones with small shreds of conscience will buy a three dollar dip mix.

Parents fall into categories. Some scoop up handfuls of pretzles and hand them to youngsters in strollers. Others invite their offspring to sample only to decide summarily which goodie will be liked, never giving the offspring a chance to try for themselves. Others remind their children not to double dip, and to move away after a respectable number of tastes. Still others (the ones I dislike the most) will hand their kid a pretzle dipped in habanero hot sauce and hoot with laughter when the kid starts to cry.

The best (IMO) customers rush up, say we are why they came to the craft show, and buy $100 worth of soup mixes to restock their cupboards. Others shop for gifts. Hell's Kitchen Hot Sauce is invariably a stocking stuffer for a son-in-law. It's nice to hear shoppers comment to other shoppers that our mixes are the best.

So... characters and clothes. I saw an older middle-aged woman in bell bottoms and a peasant blouse. Women with rings on every nail-polished finger. Lots of knee-high boots, including a pair that were a cross between leopard and paisley. (My calves are too big for high skinny boots, so I was almost jealous.) No dresses. Slacks or jeans were everywhere, granted this is Minnesota, but it was in only the low 40's and we have no snow. (I wore black jeans. I was working.)

1% of men attending craft shows come to shop. 93.3% of the men don't want to be there. You can tell by their faces. They stand patiently behind their wives, open their mouths when told to (for a sample), then say, "It's up to you, dear." The remaining 5.7% are either working a booth or there with their girlfriends. The latter hold hands, overtly happy to be close together in public.

Faces and body shapes become a blur after eight hours, but embedded in my mental montage is a host of characters. Just waiting for their turn in my spotlight.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Weekend Gettaway

I can't believe it's November already! Time sure flies when you're having fun...and it really has been a fun Fall so far.

Last weekend we headed up to Door County, WI with the rest of the family. (Sixteen of us all told!) It's been an annual trip for the last five years. It was a beautiful weekend: a bit chilly, but sunny. Most of the leaves were gone from the trees, but the forest floor was laden with them, and our hike was satisfyingly crunchy. My niece is an avid photographer and was gracious enough to do a family photo shoot for us. She took over 250 pictures in the space of about fifteen minutes. She's already edited them down to 110, which she'll put on a disc for everyone and deliver at Thanksgiving.

Spending time with family was wonderful. We celebrated birthdays and the end of my sister-in-law's year long battle with Breast Cancer. We had fun splashing in the pool at the resort, played cards, and ate lots and lots of yummy food.

It was the perfect long weekend gettaway. Each year we do similar things, but find something new to do as well. This year we had a blast skipping rocks from the shore of Sturgeon Bay. I took about 150 pictures that I'll turn into a scrapbook. Every year I bring the previous years' books and we spend time reminiscing and do-you-remembering.

We're already planning next year's trip. Maybe a little earlier to try to catch a bit more of the colorful trees and perhaps weather that's a tad bit warmer. But no matter when we go, one thing's for's definitely a time for making memories and having fun with the people we love.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


An Unexpected Blessing - coming November 21