Friday, February 27, 2015

H is for Holidays

Margaret looks at how holidays have influenced her books.

A relative once said to me, “I always know where you’ve been on holiday because of where you set your books.” And it’s true. In the early days of my writing career I always wrote about places I’d visited or by borrowing books from the library. Mostly, though, I combined it with holidays.

I waited for ages once to question two scuba divers who I’d spotted in the sea off the coast in Cornwall. Fortunately it was worthwhile because they willingly answered all of my questions.

On another holiday I visited a private airport because I wanted to know what it felt like to fly in a helicopter. I had a fantastic time talking to two guys and if it hadn’t been for petrol rationing at the time they would have given me a ride. I’m not sure I would have accepted. I’m definitely a feet on the ground sort of person. Although I have to admit I’ve been in a helicopter since (persuaded by my husband and children) and to forget my fear I concentrated on taking photographs.

The very first time I went on a cruise ship was not for a cruise (I couldn’t afford it in those days) but because my hero was a doctor on a cruise ship. I sent a letter to the cruise line asking if I could look over one of their ships. They happily agreed and I was given a guided tour of the whole ship, including the hospital where no one is usually allowed unless they are ill. And as we were down in the south of England my husband and I turned the whole trip into a holiday, spending several more days along the coast.

The Lake District has featured more than once in my books. It’s one of the most beautiful areas in the UK and I’ve spent many holidays there – for both research and pleasure. My recent e-book, Rachel’s Redemption, was set there following a holiday. I was able to visualise the exact spot where my hero kissed the heroine for the very first time.

Although the internet has changed the way I do research I cannot help wondering whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good for finding quick answers. But is it good for our health? Wouldn’t we be far better off in the great outdoors?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

H is for Houses

Debra wonders what our characters' home say about them.

Where do your characters live? Is it a sprawling ranch house? A high rise condo? An apartment over a store? Is it in a big city? A small town?

What does their home look like on the inside? Traditional and cozy? Sleek and modern? Sparse because they spend more time at the office than at home? What is the color scheme? Cool blues or greens? Earthy browns and tans? Soft whites and greys? Do they have artwork on the walls? Picture of their friends and family on the mantel? What kinds of books or DVDs or CDs are on the shelves?

Our characters' living space can give us a lot of insight into their personalities. We can learn a lot about them by exploring the place they call home.

Therefore, when describing the space, we shouldn't skimp on the details. However, every detail should have a purpose. Are there piles of clothes on the bedroom floor and dishes in the sink? Our heroine is messy. Are the glasses lined up in parallel rows and the couch and loveseat form a perfect right angle? Our hero is precise and organized.

The sea scape on the bathroom wall tells us even though our heroine lives up in Wisconsin now, she misses the sandy beaches of her childhood home in Florida.

The Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and Brad Paisley CDs tell us our hero likes country music. The weight set in the spare room and the fruits and vegetables in the fridge tell us being healthy is important to him.

Do the pictures of nieces and nephews on the end tables tell us the heroine longs for a family of her own? Or that family is important to her?

It's easy to get carried away in describing a place. We let our imaginations run wild as we create the perfect space. But don't forget, the space needs to be perfect for our character, not a magazine spread.

Even the phrasing can matter. In This Feels Like Home, the heroine never referred to her condo in the city as home. It was her house. Or her condo. Or back in Chicago. As her relationship with the hero deepened, the word 'home' was used for his apartment to show the growing connection between her and the hero. Home is a more emotional word than house: each brings different connotations.

In our stories, each and every word matters and should have a purpose.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Handy Hints

Here are a few hints Paula has picked up here and there:

1. If your work makes you feel—cry, laugh, explode—the chances are your reader will feel too.

2. Avoid delusions of literature. Too many fancy words get in the way of what’s going on and will make the action and characters harder to see.

3. You will write a lot of words that you don’t need as you get to know your characters. They can hold up the flow of the story. Cut ruthlessly.

4. Look for the sentences that should be paragraphs and the paragraphs that should be sentences. Look for the places where you’ve waffled on about something which you could deliver in a line, and look at where you’ve delivered something in a line which is worth expanding into a paragraph or scene.

5. When you start a story everything is provisional until you have finished it so don’t over polish your beginning – you may end up having to cut it anyway.

6. It’s better to push on to the end of something than agonise over sentences. The whole thing will need redrafting anyway. (I keep trying to tell myself this, but I still agonise over sentences, even in a first draft!)

7. When you think you have finished a piece, accept that the hard part now starts – turning the raw material into something better.

8. Avoid superfluous dialogue. Dialogue should tell the reader more about the character or move the plot forward. If it doesn’t, cut it.

9. Break up dialogue—you are not writing a movie script. Use actions or movement—but not too much or your readers will get dizzy.

10. Ditch unnecessary tags in dialogue—but don’t have your characters calling each other by name all the time (people don’t in ‘real life’)

And finally, here’s something I saw today on Facebook:

"Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people only learn by error. "
William Faulkner, The Paris Review (1956) much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him."


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who Are Your Characters’ Helpers?

Jennifer talks about secondary characters...

Unless your characters are either a) living in a bubble or b) the most enlightened minds in the world, your characters need some sort of a helper in order to understand how and why they’re doing something.

Our characters don’t live in a bubble. As Ana mentioned yesterday, they have a history that affects their today and their tomorrow. They interact with people and they react to events.

If our characters were the most enlightened minds in the world, chances are, we wouldn’t be writing about them, since there wouldn’t be a story there. We wouldn’t need to see the trials and tribulations they go through in order to reach true love. They’d snap their fingers and live happily ever after.

Therefore, they need helpers. In my books, those helpers are family, friends and children. In the manuscript that’s out with my agent currently, my character, Cassie, has close friends in whom she confides her fears and her feelings. They help her work through things and sometimes even push her toward the hero. They also meddle a little in her affairs by going directly to the hero and warning him to be careful, telling a little about her backstory and providing hints to the reader.

In my current WIP, Book 3 of my Women of Valor series, both the hero and heroine have family who help the reader understand their psyche. By seeing them react with their mother’s (especially the one mother who never lets anyone forget ANYTHING), the reader gets to see what makes them tick. The heroine also has a nephew, who’s seven. He helps explain things in a childlike way and is a great tool when something has to be explained step by step, but I don’t want to make the reader feel like an idiot.

These secondary characters are fun to write and develop and sometimes, it’s like laying out the pieces of a treasure map. They’re the reader’s guide to finding the X (and the O) on the journey to happily ever after.

Who are your helpers?

Monday, February 23, 2015

H is for History

Ana muses on history.

Not mine, though. That I'll save for the psychiatrist's couch.
I'm thinking history in stories.

It's obvious that historical novels are tied to a historical period, and the characters have to act within that period's historical realities. Places, dates, transportation, food, clothing, social mores.

Timetravel stories must also abide by what we know of history if the character goes back in time. A travel into the future story is more unencumbered, but veers quickly into paranormal genre.

But in a sense, every character lives in a history. The history of their town or city. Setting involves history. Does he live in a modern section of town, but was born in a crumbling slum. Does her father owe gambling debts that she is forced to pay off to protect her younger brother? Her father's history comes into play.

I guess I am using the word 'history' in a liberal sense. But it's more than backstory. It's the vibrant setting we strive to create, and the dynamic interpersonal worlds our characters inhabit.

Every day, yesterday is history.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Paula's Sunday Snippet - another sneak preview of 'Irish Intrigue'

Continuing the first meeting between Charley and Luke in a small supermarket in Clifden, County Galway:

"Hunter was my mother-in-law's maiden name. Maybe you share the same ancestry.

"Maybe." She'd no intention of telling him it was her married surname. "I've never done any family history research."

"Me neither. Can't run the risk of finding ancestors who were sheep stealers, or cattle rustlers, or horse thieves. Could ruin my reputation."

Intrigued, she raised her eyebrows. "Why?"

"I'm a vet. My clients might think I'm out to steal their animals."

She laughed. "I don't think thieving is in one's genes."

"Ach, I'm not so sure. I once stole six daffodils from the churchyard for my mam on Mother's Day. I 'fessed up at the end of the day, though. Guilty conscience, it was."

"How old were you?"

"Seven, and I'd spent all my money on a card for her, so I couldn't afford any flowers."

"I'm sure she understood."

"She was relieved, 'cause she thought I might have nicked them from the shop in the village. But she made me buy and plant six daffodil bulbs in the churchyard later that year."

Charley smiled. "Wise lady."

"Aye, taught me a lesson I never forgot."

"So your clients probably aren't in any danger of you becoming a horse thief."

He laughed, a deep rich laugh that sent a ripple through her. "I hope so. Anyhow, what brings you to this neck of the woods? We don't see many visitors here once summer's over."

She hesitated before deciding vagueness was the best response. "I have a temporary contract at a hotel near Lough Doona."

"And you're English, aren't you?"

"Yes, I've just flown over from London."

"London? Sure, and you'll find things somewhat quieter here."

"Of course. Do you live locally?"

He glanced down at his brown cords and mud-spattered black boots. "Aye, I suppose I do fit a Londoner's image of an Irish culchie—country bumpkin to you, but I clean up quite well when I'm not working."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean—" Momentarily flustered, she saw his eyes crinkling in amusement again. "I didn't even notice what you were wearing. Your Galway accent gives you away."

"Oi be born and brawt up here, so will ye let this culchie buy ye a cuppa tea?" he replied in an even broader accent which made her laugh. "Just to show there's no hard feelings," he went on in his normal voice. "There's a pub across the way that serves tea, or coffee, if you prefer."

Recognising the gleam of admiration in his eyes, but recalling his phone call about some kids and his mention of a mother-in-law, she shook her head. The last thing she needed was a philandering married man who accosted lone women in supermarkets. "Thanks, but I must finish my shopping and then carry on to—to my friend's place."

The small white lie slipped out. Although he seemed genuine, common sense warned her against admitting she would be alone at a cottage in an Irish village.

'Irish Intrigue' will be released at the beginning of March.

Friday, February 20, 2015

G is for Gift

Margaret looks at the gifts we receive and give

Is being able to write a successful novel a gift? Or is it luck? Or is it in fact plain and simple hard work? I’m in two minds. The gift of being able to string a few sentences together is within the capabilities of all of us. But to expand those words into a full length novel is far more than a gift. In essence it means taking that gift of being able to write those few words and adding to them until they become a whole book-length story.

If only it were that simple!

Writing is as draining as doing a manual job. Believe me, at the end of a day’s writing I flop down in the nearest armchair thoroughly worn out. The gift! Is it worth it? A gift is also a present, so isn’t that what writers do – give their readers the gift of their imagination? Although it takes many months of hard work it is ultimately our gift to the people who read our books. I read, we all read, and I appreciate all the hard work that has gone into the books I read.

My six year old grandson wrote a story the other day. Only one page but it was a story he had thought up and written down so that we, his family, could read it. He was so proud.

So next time you read a book, think of it as a gift from the author.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

G is for Good Guys

Debra takes a look at good guy heroes.

I tend to write good guy heroes. They may not be looking for love or they might not want their heart to be broken again, so they're not always ready when the heroine shows up, but deep down they are good guys. If anything, they might be too perfect. My heroes are always good looking. They have good jobs. Good friends. They get along with their families. They're tough, masculine, and sexy. Definitely not beta heroes, but not quite alphas either.

Am I stuck in a rut? Perhaps. For me, I guess, romance all comes down to the fantasy of finding the perfect guy and realizing he's just as crazy about you as you are about him. Real life can be depressing. When I read and write I want something larger than life. Maybe even too good to be true. (Of course there's also the fantasy of taming those bad boys to reveal their tender sides.)

Maybe this means my conflicts are only superficial, and I need to dig deeper into my characters.

Maybe it's simply my niche or my style. Readers always know what type of story to expect from me.

Once, I strayed slightly from the good guy mold. My hero in An Unexpected Blessing is an ex-con. But by the time the heroine meets up with him, he's certainly seen the error of his ways and wants nothing more than to go straight and be a good guy: for himself and for her, too.

As part of my "Holidays at The Corral" spin-off series, I am envisioning one for the Fourth of July that will feature a Marine: a vet who comes home scarred both physically and emotionally. This will be quite a departure for me. I'm not sure I'll be able to pull it off. I'm used to delving into the good guy's head: exploring the psyche of a wounded warrior will be a whole new experience for me.

Do you prefer a certain type of hero?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Genres - what are the most popular?

Paula looks at the most popular genres on a recommendations website:

One website I belong to offers daily suggestions of books based on the genres each subscriber likes. Subscribers can also specify their preferences based on language, violence, and sexual content.

Authors may request their book to be featured, as long as it has at least 10 reviews and 4.0 rating or higher, and there is a small charge, which depends on the genre of the book.

I found it interesting to see which genres are the most popular.

Here are the top ten:
Mysteries (40,507)
Thrillers (39,574)
Historical fiction (39,466)
Literary fiction (38,825)
Women's fiction (38,618)
Science fiction (38,579)
Contemporary romance (38,269)
Romantic suspense (38,041)
Young adult (38,030)
Biography/memoir (37,679)

Genres like paranormal, urban fantasy, detective, action and adventure, and horror all came much lower down the list, as did some of the sub-divisions of romance: erotic, historical, comedy, religious/inspirational, western, and gay/lesbian.

I was glad to see contemporary romance featuring in the top ten – especially as you meet so many people (or at least I do) who claim they ‘never read romance.’ At the same time, I wondered about the distinction between contemporary romance and romance suspense, since surely all romances contain (or should contain!) some element of suspense. Yes, the readers know the hero and heroine will come together in the end, since this is the hallmark of a romance, but they should be held in suspense wondering just how this can possibly happen after all the problems and conflicts we writers throw at our characters!

I also found it interesting, and quite surprising, that some of the sub-divisions of romance did not feature in the top ten, particularly historical romance. Maybe readers have had their fill of Regency rakes and scoundrels – or of poorly researched so-called historical romances. As for erotic, it seems that for every person who liked 50 SoG, there are at least 50 (maybe a lot more?) who either didn’t read the books or started one and never finished it.

I think I’ll stick with my contemporary romances! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What Are Your Goals?

Jennifer's working toward 30K words...

This month, I’m participating in JeRoWriMo (or, as my husband likes to call it, Ramalamadingdong), which is my local romance writer chapter’s take on NaNoWriMo. For the month of February, we have the goal of writing 30K words. It comes down to 1072 words per day.

I’ve participated in this challenge before and found it useful for the discipline. I knew that every day I had to prioritize my writing over almost everything else. My kids and husband pitched in so that no matter what, I could write.

This time around, I’m finding it’s not the discipline that’s sticking with me, but the looming deadline. I HAVE to write at least 1072 words, or I’ll have more to write the following day to make up for it. For some reason, I’m not enjoying it as much.

I love writing. And I love being a writer. But I’m not sure I’m liking what I’m writing. Maybe it’s the story. Maybe it’s the lack of planning I put into this story. I’m not quite sure who my characters are or where they’re headed, other than to a “happily ever after.”

This challenge is helping me write Book 3 of my Women of Valor series. I still don’t have a title, and so far, I think this book is turning out to be a New Adult romance, as my characters seem young. So maybe that’s why I’m not liking it as much.

I’m not sure much is happening plot-wise and I keep leaving myself notes of things that need to be filled in when I go back and edit. See, we’re not supposed to edit during the challenge. Now, I don’t usually edit as I write, but if I find a problem, I do go back and fix it. I’m not doing that now, so maybe that’s my problem.

My heroine was going to be a museum curator. Except, I don’t know anything about museum curators and all my research indicated that what I wanted her to do, and what she’d actually do as a curator, was so different that I ended up choosing a different profession for her.

Some days the writing comes really easily and others it’s more difficult. I’m determined to see this through to the end and I need to get this book written, so 30K words are very helpful. I’m just not sure they’re the right words. But maybe I’ll surprise my self when I reach the goal and start rereading what I wrote.

Monday, February 16, 2015

when is it GOOD enough?

Ana asks: When do you know your story is good enough to send off or self-publish?

I have typed 'The End' twice. The first time, I was naive and believed I'd penned a bestseller.
Crash-landing was rough, but I survived.

The second time, I knew my story was unsubmittable. It did not follow traditional rules for time travel romances, and self-publishing was not on my radar. (Thank goodness. The story needs another go-through with critique partners before it goes to to-be-determined editors and beta readers.)
The heroine does not go back in time until the first plot twist. Usually it's by the end of the first chapter or early in the second chapter.

I believe in the story enough to step out on a limb plot-wise and character-love-story wise, but this means I need to have everything else darn near perfect. Offer no easy excuse to be rejected or receive a slew of one star reviews.

So, oh wise and experienced ones, how to you know...when do you know your WIP is good enough to   fly out the door?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Snippet Sunday: Excerpt from A Heart of Little Faith by Jennifer Wilck

He stared at her, bedazzled. He only intended to look for a moment, but she turned around and met his eyes. Caught red-handed he contemplated turning around, but that would be cowardly. He couldn’t continue to stare at her without appearing either moronic or rude, especially since he hated when people stared at him. He inhaled and tried to muster up a smile, when another man approached her. Breaking their gaze, she turned and smiled at him. Gideon inched closer. He heard her engage the other man in casual conversation before she gently excused herself. As the other man walked off, she turned back to Gideon and smiled. Her green cat eyes pierced his soul and made him believe she could see right through him. He continued to watch her, entranced.
“Hasn’t anyone taught you it’s impolite to stare?”
Struck by the irony of her question, he burst into warm laughter and shook her outstretched hand. Her soft cool hand fit completely within his hard, callused one and he closed his other hand over hers. He felt the delicate veins beneath her skin, her pulse beating in her wrist and wished to prolong the skin-on-skin contact for as long as possible. Reluctantly, he let it go. 
“I’m Gideon.”
“Are you a fan?”
Lily stared at him blankly for a moment and blinked quickly. “Oh, of the artist’s?” She turned once more to look at the painting, tilting her head to the right. “Not exactly. He’s a little too…”
“Much? Bright? Vulgar?”
Lily laughed. “I see you’re a huge fan. No, maybe, I don’t know. The colors are cheery, if only maybe there weren’t so many. But looking at it does brighten my mood.”
“Bad day at work?”
“Terrible. But why are you here if you don’t like the artist?”
Gideon turned and pointed to Samantha on the other side of the room. “She’s my sister.”
Lily raised her eyebrows as she looked over at the gallery owner.
“Oh, Samantha’s my best friend. I didn’t realize you were her brother. So I guess she roped you into this too?”
He sat back and gave her what he hoped was a relaxed grin. “Brotherly duty, or some such nonsense. Apparently I pulled one too many pigtails as a child and this is my penance.”
Lily laughed. She has a great laugh, he thought. It lit up her whole face. “Samantha had pigtails?”
The two of them turned to look at Samantha, currently sporting short and spiky jet-black hair, with small rhinestone barrettes scattered throughout. “You’ll have to fill me in more later,” Lily added, as she stifled a yawn.
“What, is it my stimulating conversation, or these garish paintings that bores you?” Gideon asked, one eyebrow raised.
Lily apologized. “I’m sorry. I had a long day at work and I’m exhausted. I wasn’t even going to come, but Samantha begged.”
“She tends to do that. I’ve told her it isn’t a pleasing trait, but why should she listen to me? I’m only her big brother.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

F is for Fun

Margaret wants to have fun!

It’s no good trying to write a book unless you enjoy it. Writing needs to be fun. Take the fun out of writing and it becomes a chore. I’m not saying there are times when it doesn’t feel like fun. The occasions when my hero or heroine won’t behave themselves, for instance. But on the whole writing is a pleasurable, satisfying, worthwhile experience.

On one of my bookshelves I have a book called “When The Fun Begins” It was a Sunday School prize. It’s about four girls who are about to leave school and jobs are being suggested to them by their headmistress.

The first job was a junior for clerical work in a Hairdresser’s and Beauty Parlour. The second, junior clerk for a big bookshop in London’s West End. The next for a junior in a big office in the City – some shorthand and typing, plus going out to buy cakes for tea, etc. And the final one in a small general agency office where she would make herself useful. When the girl asked what the agency did she was told a little of everything – taking children across London, recommending schools, doing shopping for people, typing manuscripts, and so on.

It was the typing manuscripts bit that amused me. I know how laborious it can be. I’ve been there, done that. But I couldn’t help wondering how different it would be if you were typing out someone else’s work. Would you feel like changing anything? I know I would. I’d be so tempted. Or I’d want to say, “Don’t you think it would read better if ………” Presumably it’s because I’m a writer and I see these things better than a reader would. After all, it is what we have editors for.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

F is for Fingers Crossed

Debra awaits word from her editor about a contract.

Once again, I'm in the fingers crossed period of a project. (Don't get me wrong, this is a fabulous place to be!) I submitted a query and synopsis to my editor last week, and she did a read-through early this week. I got an e-mail from her today saying she loved the story and was putting in a request for a contract and would keep me posted. Yay!

This has been an extremely fast-moving project for me. I was able to write the story quickly and a fortuitous snow day last week allowed me to get it submitted earlier than I thought I would. I also learned that as a repeat author with TWRP, when I send a query, I can also send the full mss. My editor called it a perk of being a regular. It's a fantastic perk if you ask me. Now, instead of going through two phases of crossing, hoping for a request for a full based on a query, and then two, more hoping for the offer of a contract...I'll only need to do it once.

While waiting to hear from my editor, I did make an attempt to start a new project, but I have to confess I didn't get very far. Basketball season is in its last few weeks, and I have two or three night-time commitments from now until the end of February. Not to mention my Community Ed yoga class starts up again this week.

However, once basketball season is over, I have my fingers crossed that I can jump right back into the writing routine I established while working on my latest submission. My dream plan would be to have two writing times each day: one for working on edits if a contract is offered on my Corral spin-off, and another time for working on a new project. This might be a bit too ambitious, but we'll see. It might have to be an every-other-day type routine. Of course to get any of this work done, I'll need to uncross my fingers so I can type!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Paula wonders what to do next…

After sending ‘Irish Intrigue’ to my publisher last week, and hearing from her the next day that it will be fast-tracked through the editing/cover art process so that it can be released on (or even before) St Patrick’s Day, I’ve spent the days since then floundering in uncharted waters.

Maybe it’s because ‘Irish Intrigue’ took me so long to write in the first place, followed by an intense couple of months editing and word-cutting. I seem to have breathed, eaten and slept this novel for the last twelve months (and even longer if you count the first two abandoned drafts!). In a sense, I feel ‘burnt out’, even to the point of thinking, ‘I don’t think I can face writing another novel!

I know this feeling will pass, and I do have a vague idea about another story. In fact one of the characters in ‘Irish Intrigue’ suggested it to me! I even have its title – ‘Irish Secrets’ – and a very basic one-sentence scenario, but that’s all. I know who the heroine is, and have a possible hero in mind, but I don’t really have much more than that. I can’t even fix a first chapter in my mind, because I have no idea where the story will actually start! I’ve let my mind revolve around the idea, but nothing – and I really do mean nothing – is jumping into my mind, not even a first sentence!

I can’t recall ever being in this situation before. I’ve usually had at least an opening or a partly formed idea in my mind, but at the moment nothing seems to be developing.

Maybe I need to do some research on what I think will be the background of the story and hope that will inspire me and/or spark some ideas – or maybe I need a pub lunch with the friend (a reader, not a writer), who has proved to be a fantastic brain-storming partner. I will never forget how, with just 4 words, she solved a problem I had been battling with in ‘Irish Intrigue’- which eventually led to one of the strongest chapters in the story!

I’m sure I will get over this temporary glitch – but at the moment, I am definitely floundering!