Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Tale for the Season

Debra revisits her Halloween story, The Vampire and the Vixen.

My hero and heroine first meet at a Halloween party/fundraiser for the library. Kelsey chooses a literary theme for the party and invites everyone to dress up as their favorite literary character. Rafe chooses to come as Dracula, and Kelsey chooses to come as the heroine on the cover of a historical romance novel. No particular one...more the idea of one. In the opening chapter, we see other party attendees out on the dance floor. I tried to liven things up by pairing off unlikely partners.

Here's an excerpt:

[...they] found a spot between Robinson Crusoe and Scarlett O’Hara and Harry Potter and Jane Eyre. The vast differences in the dancing couples’ reading tastes made her smile.

Also scattered throughout the ballroom were Willy Wonka, Long John Silver, James Bond, Romeo & Juliet, and Snow White.

So, to get in the spirit of things here with Halloween tomorrow, a couple of questions:

1 - If you could dress up as a literary character, who would you be and why?

(Once I dressed up as Scarlett O'Hara. I love the romantic notions of a Southern Belle. My only disappointment was my hoop skirt wasn't nearly as wide as I would have liked.)

2 - Can you think of a really 'odd' literary pairing such as the dancers above?

If you'd like to read more about Kelsey and Rafe, check out my tongue-in-cheek is-he-or-isn't-he story for Halloween.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Irish origins of Hallowe'en

Paula researches Hallowe’en in Ireland

My current ‘work in progress’ takes place in Ireland in October, and so I needed to check how Hallowe’en is celebrated there. It didn’t surprise me to discover that the pubs and clubs in Temple Bar, one of the ‘tourist’ areas of Dublin, hold Hallowe’en parties, as do many other pubs everywhere in Ireland. There are also many other Hallowe’en events, ranging from ghost hunting at Bunratty Castle in County Clare to a pumpkin parade and firework display at Virginia in County Cavan.

It’s hardly surprising that Ireland celebrates Hallowe’en, since today’s festivities owe their origins to Samhain, a Celtic/Gaelic festival which pre-dates the Christian era. This was celebrated originally in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, from sunset on October 31 to sunrise on November 1, and marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter, the transition from the light to the dark.

Samhain was thought to be the time when the door to the ‘Other World’ opened, allowing the spirits of the dead (the Aos Sidhe) to come into world, and people believed they had to be propitiated with gifts of food and drink. The Celtic Druids disguised themselves in elaborate costumes and masks, probably intended to scare away the evil spirits. They went from door to door, reciting verses in exchange for food. Divination of the future also played a part in the festival, often involving apples or nuts.

Fast forward several hundred years, and in the 9th century, the Church designated November 1st as All Saints or All Hallows Day, to commemorate the saints who did not have their own special day. The night before became known as All Hallows Eve, which, over time, became known as Hallowe’en, and continued some of the customs of Samhain.

In Ireland, the traditional meal at Hallowe’en includes Colcannon (mashed potato with kale and onion), with wrapped coins hidden in the potato for children to find, and the Barnbrack Cake (a fruit bread). In the cake are hidden a piece of rag, a coin, and a ring. If you get the rag, your financial future is doubtful, but the coin represents a prosperous year to come. The ring, of course, is a sign of a new romance, or continued happiness in an existing relationship.

There were other methods of divining the future. One involved leaving an ivy leaf in a cup of water overnight. If the leaf is still perfect the next morning, then the person is sure to have 12 months good health until the following Hallowe’en. If not … well, draw your own conclusions.

Single girls could find out more about their future husband by going out into the fields and pulling up a cabbage. If the girl’s cabbage had a large amount of earth attached to the roots, her future loved one would be rich.

The origin of carving pumpkins is uncertain, but legend says it dates from the 18th century. An Irish blacksmith called Jack made a pact with the Devil, and was denied entry to heaven. He was condemned to wander the earth, and asked the Devil for some light. The Devil gave him a burning coal which he placed inside a gouged-out turnip. This was the original Jack-o’-Lantern.

When the Irish emigrated in their millions to America after the Great Famine, they took their Hallowe’en customs with them, but as there was a bigger supply there of pumpkins, these were used instead of turnips.

‘Trick or Treating’ has evolved from children (and poorer people) going from door to door, and singing or saying prayers for dead souls in return for cakes (known as soul cakes). Until recently, children in Ireland and Scotland were expected to earn their treats (usually apples or nuts) by singing a song, reciting a poem or telling a funny joke.

There are many other traditions, customs, and legends associated with Hallowe’en, which in recent years has grown in popularity here – and, sadly to my mind, in over-commercialisation too, with elaborate and expensive Hallowe’en masks, costumes, and decorations, in place of the homemade ones kids used to be quite happy with!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

First Chapter Fizzlers

Jennifer's struggling with her first chapter...

My WIP has a horrible first chapter. Actually, I’m hoping to improve it so that it’s only horrible. Because then maybe at that point, I can fix it so that it’s actually readable.

You know the phrase, “too many cooks in the kitchen”? Well, I think that might apply to having too many people look at it and give me feedback. Now, before you think I’m trashing anyone but me, believe me, I’m not. In order for it to get to it’s beyond-horrible status, I had to write a pretty bad first chapter.

Actually, I love where I started the story originally. Unfortunately, no one else, including a panel of editors and agents who read it anonymously at a conference and then gave their feedback to the crowd, did. So I changed it. My two critique partners liked it better, and gave their feedback and I changed it again. Then I joined a critique group and the three writers tore it apart. So I listened to them too.

And I ended up with mush.

First chapters are notoriously difficult to write because it’s where you start writing your book, but it’s not necessarily where you should actually start your story. Usually, first chapters require a lot of rewriting and reworking, quite often after you’ve written the rest of the book.

So I’m going to rewrite it.

This past weekend when I was at my writer’s conference, I was very excited to attend a workshop on improving your first chapter. Donna MacMeans gave lots of great ideas, but one of the things I liked the most was her insistence on a “rooting interest.”

Rooting interests are traits that get the reader to “root” for the characters. She analyzed a large number of romances and all the best sellers included rooting interests on every page in the first chapter and then throughout the rest of the book. She broke down rooting interests into three categories: empathy, admiration and humanistic traits.

Her theory is that we care about characters we feel sorry for, we like characters with humanistic traits and we like to admire our characters as well. With a variety of these three types of rooting interests, you can draw readers into your book and make them not want to put it down until the end.

There are many other things a first chapter needs, and I’m going to have to work on all of them. But it’s a start. And once I have it written down, I’ll send it around to all of my critique partners, because, honestly, I really value their opinions. But hopefully, not only will what I write be good, but I’ll be a little better at figuring out what to listen to and what to ignore.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stick to one genre?

Writing is a business as well as a passion. When I put on my business cap, I know it is best to write in one genre to gain a following of readers. I also know series sell.

I can't seem to settle on a niche, but maybe I should. I have WIPs for a historical and a timetravel. I love both stories passionately. I also have an outline for a contemporary suspense and a concept for a 'small town' series.

I am writing as fast as my life (job to pay bills, family that likes meals and expects interaction, sleep when my eyes water and blur) allows. I know I am a chronic debater of all sides of any issue (from word choice to this choice of story to focus on.)

Do I need to be locked in a box (with laptop) until I choose one genre and publish X number of published books in that genre before I tackle the others? I do love the act / art of writing.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Melinda Curtis, today's Friday Friend

Are you still looking for an agent or publisher? Are you ready to sell your books? Are you an established author who is extending her reach and ‘brand’?
Let us know how conferences help YOU and what you do the rest of the year to keep the buzz going.

Let me know what I should do first/most/never. It'll be my first RWA National!
Are you still looking for an agent or publisher? Are you ready to sell your books? Are you an established author who is extending her reach and ‘brand’?
Let us know how conferences help YOU and what you do the rest of the year to keep the buzz going.

Let me know what I should do first/most/never. It'll be my first RWA National!
3 Tips to Writing a Romance Series by Mel Curtis

I’d written one series before starting The Hollywood Rules.  I’m deep into the series now (3 books, 2 novellas) and recently went back and re-read Amber Rules, which launched the romantic comedy series.  Today I’m sharing some of the things I did, both good and rule-breaking.  Here’s what I learned by looking back:

1.     The hero and heroine don’t need to meet on page 1. This is a risk and I wouldn’t recommend doing it if you don’t have a readership already.  Most of my books have some kind of first meet in Chapter One, usually on page 1. I dealt with a later meet in Amber Rules by writing short chapters and seeding the existence of each other via the series’ gossip column. The opening chapters are fast paced, which helps, too.

2.     Details can bog the reader down.  My series is based on the top-secret life coaching principles of Dooley Rule.  Too bad Dooley took his secrets to the grave…or did he? Yeah, my characters are working to unlock those secrets. If I were to rewrite some of the unlocking of his secrets, I might have streamlined the details. But I was figuring it out as I was writing, too.

3.     How many characters are too many? My Hollywood Rules series is a little like Kevin Bacon’s 6 Degrees of Separation (more like 3 degrees).  Everyone knows everyone, and if they don’t, they know them from the gossip column. If I was writing Amber Rules today, I probably wouldn’t seed in so many characters (40+) that I needed down the line. However, one couple I’d keep would be Jack and Viv Gordon, who are featured in my latest release, Breaking the Rules.

To say Jack and Vivian Gordon’s marriage has been rocky would be an understatement. The Gordons have been on a roller coaster of love and lust, but can’t seem to get on the same page at the same time. This power couple needs a time-out to find their happily ever after.  And life coach to Hollywood’s rich and powerful, Cora Rule, has just the solution – have the couple sign their divorce papers in a safe room…and lock them inside.
Vivian Gordon had a problem.
A six-foot-two-inch hunk of a problem.
Sex with Jack hadn’t solved the problem.  Marrying him hadn’t solved the problem.  Leaving him hadn’t solved the problem.
The problem was that Viv loved her husband, but Jack didn’t love her.
It wasn’t as if Jack was incapable of love, as some of Hollywood moguls seemed to be.  No, Jack had passion aplenty, but it was for the NBA team he owned, the L.A. Flash, not for a woman.  Not for Viv.
Viv watched Jack swim his daily laps with strong, commanding strokes.  Heaven forbid Jack didn’t get his laps in.  If he didn’t, he was the biggest shit.
Her Gianvito Rossi black suede lace up heels clicked slowly across the white marble tile as she approached the patio doors in the house they’d once shared.  Her cadence was one of a doomed prisoner being shown the open door of the gas chamber.
This is the end.
And she’d chosen the execution date.

Buy Links:
B&N: will go live 10/22

Special Offers
Readers of the Heroines with Hearts blog can download a FREE copy of Amber Rules from Melinda’s web site October 24-30, 2014.  Three books are currently out in the series.  Link: Username: Amber_Rules Password: blogtour2014

Readers of the Heroines with Hearts blog will be sent a FREE fun, sweet novella set within the Hollywood Rules world by signing up for Melinda’s book release email newsletter. Link:

Melinda Curtis is an award winning, USA Today recommended, Amazon best selling author.  She writes independently published, steamy Hollywood Rules series as Mel Curtis. Jayne Ann Krentz says of Blue Rules: Sharp, sassy, modern version of a screwball comedy from Hollywood's Golden Age except a lot hotter.”  Melinda also writes the Harmony Valley series of sweet and emotional romances for the Harlequin Heartwarming line. Brenda Novak says: “Season of Change has found a place on my keeper shelf”. 
Twitter: @MelCurtisAuthor

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm a Boxed Set!

Debra's Corral Series has just been released as a boxed set.

When I set out to write my first book, I always knew I wanted it to be the first of a trilogy. Earlier this year, the trilogy was completed. The Corral series, as I call it based on the bar where many of the scenes in all three books take place, includes: This Time for Always, This Can't Be Love, and This Feels Like Home. At that point, I figured my dream had pretty much come true. I'd written my series, and it was probably time to move on to something new. (Or continue with some spin off stories, but that's another story in itself!)

Then I remembered that earlier in the year the marketing rep at TWRP sent an e-mail asking about authors with books in a series in order to put together boxed sets on the site. I told her about mine. At the time, Home was still very new, and she said she wanted to give it some time to be a stand-alone before boxing it up with the others. I let that sit on the back burner for most of the year. A couple of months ago I looked back in my archived e-mails and found the original one. I e-mailed the rep and asked if enough time had passed so that we could get the set going.

From there things went quickly. We sent a few ideas back and forth and came up with a blurb:

A small town where good friends gather and rugged cowboys fall in love.

She sent me a couple ideas for cover art, and I chose the one I liked best.

Finally she asked when I wanted the set to be released. I could pick a Thursday. Any Thursday. So I chose last week.

And wa la...I now have a boxed set of my series available in e-book format at TWRP, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobel.

To say I'm tickled pink and thrilled is an understatement. It's like that Brad Paisley song about him thinking life can't get any better...and then it does.

I'm a boxed set!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Too Many Words?

Paula wonders how to cut or condense parts of her current 'work in progress'.

On Monday, our local paper reported on some filming in Manchester city centre for the film ‘Genius’ which evidently centres on the career of Max Perkins. He was an editor at Scribner, and oversaw the works of Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and others. We’ll bypass the fact that Jude Law and Colin Firth were there in my own city being filmed – and I missed them (grr!)

What interested me was the comment in the report about Thomas Clayton Wolfe. He was described as being ‘hopelessly attached to every word he wrote’, and often submitted novels 'hundreds of pages too long'.

Why was I interested? Well, while not wanting to compare myself with an important American novelist, I’m on the verge of a similar problem. Unlike him, however, I recognise that my current novel is probably too long. Most modern romance novels are between 60,000 and 100,000 words (including my previous ones), but this new one has just gone over the 100K mark, with three or maybe four more chapters still to write, so it could end up with 120,000+ words. I know that’s not hundreds of pages too long, like Thomas Wolfe, and I’m not hopelessly attached to every word, so some careful editing will probably get rid of about 5,000 words.

However, I still feel I will need to get it down to under 100K, which means I may have to cut some scenes. My problem is that each scene in my story contributes something to the overall plot and/or to the characters, and is invariably needed for some later development of the story. I keep going through the different scenes in my mind, wondering if I could cut them, but each time I end up saying to myself, “No, I need that scene because … (whatever!)

The other alternative may be to start the story ‘later’ in the plot – but then I would lose some important early scenes, which prepare the ground for what happens later.

I’m in a real dilemma at the moment – and keep hoping ‘something’ is going to jump out and me, and tell me just what I can cut or at least condense!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Trailers

Jennifer learned about book trailers...

I attended my local chapter’s writer’s conference this past weekend and I learned a lot. One of the best workshops I attended was on making book trailers.

I’ve seen authors promote their books with trailers, but I never knew how to do it, or even if I wanted to do it. So I went to this workshop, hoping to learn more about it. And I did!

The author, Susan Ann Wells, taught us how to make a book trailer using PowerPoint, which is pretty much on everyone’s computer. The most effective ones seem to use a few lines of text about the hero, heroine and the premise of the book. There are plenty of free images and music on the web. The workshop was only 45 minutes, so we zoomed through what to do, but she was really smart. She took her notes, self published a how-to book, and also sold it for $5 at the book fair. So now I have her notes, and her more detailed book for use later.

What she showed us looked pretty easy, and I think I might try it as soon as I have some time—probably not until December at this rate.

I’ll be sure to show you my results!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Doing NaNoWriMo

Ana muses about participating in NaNoWriMo.

I registered for NaNoWriMo this weekend. Partly on a dare, partly because I know I respond to pressure.

I tried the writing challenge several years ago, before I had formed many close friendships with dedicated writers. I fell way short of the 50,000 word goal. I may fall short again, but this November I will have people to answer to and daily exhortations of encouragement. 1667 words per day is the daily average.

I have the story outline and character profiles developed.  I have a new laptop  I can take to work and on the road. (I have four craft shows to do on weekends in November.) I need to send my internal editor off on a slow boat for Indonesian takeout. I need to get up early and swear off playing Hayday.

I will do my best, though I do need sleep. It will be fun to try.

Are you?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Galley a Go Go

Debra is one step closer to finishing the final stretch of things to do on One Great Night.

Over the weekend I received the galley files for One Great Night from my editor. I was a little surprised, because I thought I'd be seeing the project in pre-galley format first, but I guess we skipped that step. Now's the time for looking at minute mistakes: misspellings, grammatical errors, misplaced punctuation, etc. Essentially line edits. It's not the time for changing anything about the story or even rephrasing lines or substituting words.

It's exciting and scary all at the same time. It's exciting because a galley is almost the last step before getting a release date. (I'm still waiting on a cover, too.) It's a bit scary because the time for tweaking and changing has passed. The story won't be changing...even in a small this point. It is what it is.

Because of that, I approach this step of editing in a different way. Instead of reading from the beginning to the end, I read from the end to the beginning. I start with the last page. This way, my mind is not wrapped up in the story, and those pesky errors I mentioned tend to stand out more. Another way to do it is to read all of the odd pages and then all of the evens. Anything that breaks the flow of narrative.

I think no matter what the stage, everyone has their own system for editing. I've been to lots of sectionals and heard lots of presentations on it, but it really all comes down to finding what works for you. Writing is a very personal thing. Even in the editing stage.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's in a Title?

Paula considers the importance of novel titles.

I’ve been trying to decide on the title of my ‘work in progress’ – and that has led me on to thoughts about titles, and about what appeals to me or, perhaps more significantly, what doesn’t.

Personally, I never look twice at titles with certain words in them – werewolf, zombie, vampire (sorry, Debra!), ghost, devil, and haunting, for example. The paranormal genre simply doesn’t appeal to me at all.

I’m not a fan of regency novels, and titles containing duke, lord, viscount, or earl tend to put me off, as do the female versions of these titles. Rogues, rakes, pirates, and highwaymen don’t interest me either.

With modern romances, I tend to go for stories about ‘ordinary’ people, so I don’t even pick up titles with words like billionaire, tycoon, playboy, sheikh, or prince (or princess) etc. I’m not keen on an emphasis on the hero’s nationality either (e.g. The Italian’s Bride or The Greek’s Proposal), so Italian playboys and Greek billionaires are doubly off-putting! And don’t even get me started on ‘marriages of convenience’ or secret babies!

So what do I like? If a book’s title attracts my interest, maybe with a title like ‘Home for Christmas’ or ‘A Second Chance at Forever’, I might glance at the front cover but far more important to me is the back cover blurb. That’s the ultimate deal maker or breaker for me.

I’m not claiming my own titles are perfect, of course – but at least none of them contain any of the words that put me off from buying a book!

Are there any book titles that put you off? Or specially attract you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Getting Ready For A Conference

Jennifer's attending a conference...

I’m attending my yearly NJRW conference this coming weekend. New Jersey Romance Writers of America offers a conference with workshops on writing, publishing, technology, social media, pitching, etc. They have editor and agent appointments, networking and guest speakers. It’s a way to meet other romance writers, to learn, and to possibly pitch your story.

I’m not pitching this year. My manuscript isn’t quite ready—the stupid first chapter is killing me—and I don’t need the added stress. What I am doing is planning to attend some workshops and network with a lot of other writers, many of whom I follow on Twitter or am friends with on Facebook or in real life (imagine that!).

I expect to come back with lots of great advice and hopefully, some inspiration. I’ll let you know!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Review to Make Me Smile

Debra received a nice review for Family Secrets.

It's been a long time since I've had an 'official' review for any of my books. I've had some great (and not so great) reviews from readers, but I had nothing from one of those official review sites on my last book, This Feels Like Home. Therefore, it was a nice surprise to find a link from The Romance Reviews in my in-box the other day for Family Secrets.

I'll give you a few of the good snippets, and if you want to read the entire HERE.

In FAMILY SECRETS, Debra St. John has created a well-paced, absorbing tale of divided family loyalties and moving forward in the face of adversity to grasp a second chance at happiness.

...a story that is sure to garner a mix of emotional responses in the reader.

Kudos to Debra St. John for weaving passion and family drama into a thought provoking and satisfying romantic read.

Now this review arrived just a bit late to include on my MIS for the brag page of my new book, but I'm hoping that since the next step is the pre-galley, I'll still be able to sneak this one in. It also reminds me that I really should do a Google and Yahoo! search of my titles linked to my name to see if I've missed any reviews that have been posted out there.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Different writers = Different methods of writing.

Paula looks at what some best-selling authors have said about their writing.

I read an article recently in which 3 best-selling authors spoke about their methods and it struck me how different they are. Each writer, it seems, works in the way that suits them best.

Barbara Taylor Bradford says, “I must know the entire book before I can sit down and write myself an outline. It is very useful as a blueprint, and I try to stick with it. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes I’ve thought it out and got it down, but it’s not right. I always say people, ‘Don’t worry if it’s not right; you’ve got something that you can tackle the next day and then get it right’. I don’t have the method that some people have, which is to write a first draft completely. I stay on chapter one, writing and editing until I am satisfied. Then I move on to chapter two.”

In contrast, Bernard Cornwell says, “For me, the joy of writing is the same as the joy of reading: to find out what happens next. I start with a situation, throw the hero or heroine into it, write the first chapter, and I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen in the second. I know where I want the book to go, I have a destination in mind, but I have no idea how I’m going to get there. I don't worry about style in the first draft. The first draft is about getting the story right."

Jeffrey Archer says, “To people who say, ‘I’ve written a book’, I say, ‘I doubt it; you’ve probably written a first draft.’ My books have had 13 or 14 drafts. You’ve got to accept that it’s a marathon every time.”
He goes on to say, “You have to make sure have to turn the pages. When they get to the end of a chapter, they have to curse you. I love it when people say, ‘Damn you, I sat up all night reading.’ That’s great. That’s what I’m trying to achieve.”

I think my own writing method is a combination of all these! I’m not as disciplined as Barbara Taylor Bradford, in that I don’t have the complete outline first, but I do tend to edit as I go along. Often I’m more like Bernard Cornwell – not knowing what is going to happen next. But I agree with Jeffrey Archer in that you have to make readers want to keep turning the pages.

Which one do you relate to most?