Monday, March 30, 2015

-Murder, Mayhem, and Misunderstandings

Ana muses about conflict in stories

Murder is an extreme conflict, but it sets up a predictable story arc in some romantic suspenses. Someone is murdered. More people may be in the villain's cross-hairs. The protagonist needs to figure out who dun it--and stop her-him--before more blood is spilled.

Mayhem is a great word. Havoc. Violent disorder. Wanton distraction or infliction of violent injury.
In paranormal romances and apocalyptic stories, mayhem is the overarching conflict. How will the hero restore order to a troubled or unjust world?

Historical bodice-rippers usually featured a heroine taming a comfortable-with-violence duke or clan chief. In more modern historical romances, the setting provides the conflict-- a time of war or a political struggle. In my historical western, greed is the motivation for kidnapping, as well as the first stepping stone toward love and redemption.

In most contemporary romances, the conflict is much less violent, but no less intense. Assumptions and misunderstandings keep the lovers apart right up through the Black Moment. To this end, we use misdirection in dialogue. We let our characters misunderstand one another.

From Self-Editing for Fiction writers: "Have them answer the unspoken question rather than the one asked out loud. Have them talk at cross purposes. Have them hedge. Disagree. Lie. [These misdirections] go a long way toward making [the characters] sound human." And authentic.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Paula's Sunday Excerpt from 'Irish Intrigue'

Here is Charley's second meeting with Irish vet, Luke Sullivan.

As she passed a children’s playground in a small park, she smiled at the shout of ‘Higher!’ from a little girl on the swing to the young woman who was pushing her.

When her glance shifted to the other figures in the playground, her steps faltered. The man she’d met in the supermarket was helping a small boy on the climbing frame. In a navy fisherman’s sweater framing his broad shoulders, and straight-cut jeans which emphasised his long legs, Luke Sullivan exuded such compelling masculinity that her heart contracted.

She continued past the park. He wasn’t looking in her direction, and she didn’t want to intrude on his family. What would his wife think if she knew he’d invited an unknown woman for coffee the previous day? Especially as the gleam of interest in his eyes indicated more than the usual Irish friendliness.

A sudden movement in her peripheral vision made her look around at the playground again. A black and white collie was bounding across the grass toward the iron gate in the stone wall.

Luke’s voice rang out. “Jed, back here, boy! Jed!”

The dog slithered to a standstill, turned its head, and ran back to him. He picked up the little boy from the frame and started to walk toward her, with the dog following him. Reluctantly, Charley stopped. It would be rude to ignore him despite her opinion of his morals.

“Jed, stay,” he said to the dog, and smiled at her. “Hello again.”

“Hello. You have a beautiful dog.”

Luke laughed. “I swear he thinks every human being has been put on this earth to play ball with him.”

“And throw sticks, Daddy.”

Even if the little boy hadn’t said ‘Daddy’, Charley would have known he was Luke’s son. He was a miniature version of his father, with the same dark eyes and wavy hair.

“And throw sticks,” Luke agreed as he put his son down. “Off you go, Toby, he’s dying to play again.”

Charley watched the boy run off and glanced toward the woman near the swings who was looking in their direction. “I’ll go, too, and leave you to concentrate on your family. Bye.”

Her cheeks burned as she set off. Why on earth had she been so abrupt? Doubts assailed her. Had she over-reacted? Or misinterpreted the genuine friendliness for which the Irish were renowned? Or was it because her heart started to beat faster from the minute she recognised him in the park?

Oh, forget it. Irritated with herself, she continued into the village.

Irish Intrigue, available from Amazon for 99 cents/99 pence
"A great story that holds you from the beginning. Believable characters set amongst stunning scenery. The twists and turns in the plot will grip you and the unexpected ending leaves you wanting more."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

L is for Lazy

Margaret warns about lazy words!

Not lazy writers but about the lazy use of words. I’ve read lots of articles about this and we’re all guilty at times, which means we’re not looking at our writing closely enough. “That” is one word I’m guilty of over-using, but there are lots of others such as very, and, yes, no, had.
If only there was a program we could type our lazy word into and it would give us alternatives. I use a thesaurus but that for instance isn’t in it, and to be completely honest most of the time I can simply delete it without making any difference to the sentence. So why do I use it, I ask myself.
You might also find characters occasionally repeat themselves, even though in a slightly different way. This too is a lazy way of using the wonderful English language. 
Using these words affects the pace of your story and if, like me, you’re a fast reader you don’t want anything slowing it down. You simply want to read to the end of the book as quickly as possible.
So – writers beware. No more lazy words.

L is for Leaving it All Behind

Debra is getting away from it all this week.

Today I am exploring the beautiful island of St. Kitts, WI. Next week I'll have lots to share with you about our week-long cruise, but for now I'll leave you with a snippet of information about today's port of call.

St Kitts, WI - Rainforests, waterfalls, and lovely crescents of sand are right outside your Carnival® cruise to St. Kitts. Cane fields climb the slopes of volcanic peaks, and the ruins of old mills and colonial plantation houses blanket the island. Little St. Kitts remains at heart a sleepy and charming tropical backwater. Cruise to St. Kitts to bask in the Caribbean’s sunny geniality and natural splendor.
Comb the grounds of a 17th-century British fort.
Shop for fresh mangos and guava fruit in the Circus Square marketplace.
Hike rainforest trails to the top of a dormant volcano.
Stretch out on the beautiful white-sand beaches that surround the island.
Snorkel the clear jade seas in the aptly named Smitten’s Bay.

The excursion we chose is a highlight tour of the island.

This memorable island tour includes Brimstone Hill National Park, Romney Manor Gardens & Caribelle Batilk Studio, and a drive through Basseterre.

On this excursion we will:
*Take a drive through the capital city of Basseterre.
*View old churches, West Indian cottages, traditional French architecture and Victorian structures.
*As we leave Basseterre, pass the Cenotaph and look across the Caribbean Sea for views of Nevis on a clear day.
*Drive past the Bloody River, a sight of a major battle area.
*Enroute to Romney Gardens take a look at the Carib volcanic rock drawing.
*Continue with a visit to Romney Manor Gardens and Caribelle Batik Studios. Tour the stunning 12-acre garden setting where local artists produce the fabric and apparel for Caribelle Batik. Samuel Jefferson, the great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the USA, was the original owner of this splendid estate.
*Finally, explore Brimstone Hill Fortress, a 300 year old fortress perched on a 40 acre hilltop 780 feet above sea level.Enjoy a self guided tour of this majestic fortress, also known as "The Gibralter of the West Indies" and is a significant site in the British and French naval history.
*Before returning to the ship, St Thomas Warner's Tomb will be pointed out, along with a panoramic view stop at Timothy Hill.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Local Talk - and Interesting Questions

Paula gave a talk, answered some interesting questions, and gained a fan!
On Monday I was booked to give a talk to a local Rotary Group. I think you also have these groups in America as it's an international organisation, raising funds for and getting involved in various service projects locally and abroad. A friend of mine is a member of the local group, and she booked me to do the talk.
What she didn't tell me (to start with!) was that the membership of her local branch is mainly men. I think there are about 8 women (usually wives) and about 20 men. So I turned up, and discovered that Monday evening’s attendance at the meeting was 10 men, and only 1 woman! And I was booked to talk about my romance novels! Eek!
Fortunately, my talk (which I’ve given several times) concentrates on my path to being published, both in the past and currently (and the differences between the 1960s and now), and also where I get the ideas for my novels, so it’s not solely about the romance aspect.
However, I had to make some quick adjustments! My previous talks have been mainly to women’s groups (and usually my age group) and I’ve been able to make a connection with them by talking initially about the books I enjoyed as a child, which many of them had also read. Obviously the men on this occasion didn’t read the girls’ school stories I used to like, or the women’s magazines where my first short stories were published, so I skated fairly quickly over those.
Once I started to talk about the publication process of my early novels, it became easier, and I could then move on to how different it is now in the electronic age, for a variety of reasons.
The second part of my talk, about where my ideas come from, concentrated on the background of my novels – London’s West End, the English Lake District, Egypt, and of course, Ireland – as well as some of the triggers that have sparked a story in my mind.
I was very relieved that none of the men fell asleep – and also when they laughed in the right places!
The questions at the end were interesting.
One asked how many books were returned from the book stores. It turned out he used to work for a book distributor, took out van loads of books each week, and some weeks later, collected all those that hadn’t been sold, which were then returned to the printer, presumably (or so he said) to be destroyed. He was quite intrigued when I explained that my books were produced by ‘print-on-demand’ printers, and that it was my responsibility to get them into the shops – if possible!
Another asked whether I thought Amazon was destroying traditional publishing by selling books more cheaply than in the book stores. I had to think on my feet about this one, but I did correct his mistaken impression that Amazon decides on the price of books, and that prices are still set by the publisher (or by the author if they are self-published).
An even trickier question followed from someone who asked what I thought of self-published books. I decided to be totally honest and say yes, there were some good self-published books, but equally there were others that were poor!
And the question that had me almost splurting out the mouthful of diet coke I’d just taken was, “How many thousand downloads do you get in a week?’ LOL, I wish! But that led on to a short discussion about how most writers these days sell far fewer than that and also have to do their own publicity and promotion – which I think proved quite an eye-opener for everyone.
Oh, and one man bought one of my books for himself (and not his wife, as several of the others did), and then asked if he could have a photo taken with me, because he said he’d never met a ‘real author’ ever before!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

L Is For Lists

Jennifer answers Debra's question from last week...

I’m a list maker, even though I hate lists. I find them stressful and they cause me anxiety when I think of everything I have to get done.

However, as a writer, I find them essential. Last week, Debra talked about needing to find a new way of keeping track of her character’s traits. Lists are how I keep track.

As a “pantser,” I write whatever comes into my head, as my characters dictate it to me. I don’t plot ahead of time and I don’t work off an outline. As a mom, I have to find time to write when I can, which often means I can go a day or so in between spurts of writing. That means I forget what I’ve written previously. Sure, I go back and reread what I wrote yesterday, but with a limited amount of time to write, I don’t usually go back to the beginning of the story until I’m editing.

Therefore, it’s quite common for me to forget my character’s hair color, eye color or other identifying features. It sounds weird—if I see the character vividly in my mind, why don’t I remember these things? I have no idea. But I don’t. So I keep a list.

My character lists have important information about each character—physical features, likes, dislikes, history…anything that comes up while writing that helps to describe them and flesh them out. With manuscripts that run around 250-300 pages, it’s much easier to go back to my list, rather than page through the words I’ve written. Ideally, I add to it as I write, but worst case, I finish it when I make my first pass-through while editing.

The system works well for me. And then I started working with my agent, and realized I had nothing on her! Her Character List is what mine wishes it could be. First of all, it’s in a table format, while mine is, well, a list. Second, it includes many things other than just physical descriptions and obviously is meant to help someone who hasn’t read the entire manuscript to get a handle on who is in the story and why.

So I’ll be adapting my character list next time around. Not only will it’s function be to help me as a writer, but also it will make it easier for me to fill my agent’s requirements if I’ve done it as I go along.

What lists do you keep?

Monday, March 23, 2015


Ana muses on the length of sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters, and your hero’s member.

Did I wake you up? It is Monday morning, after all.

Short sentences convey the need for immediate reaction. “Run!” “Stop or I’ll shoot.” “Go ahead. Make my day.” “How was your day, dear?”

Short sentences create white space on the page, which is visually inviting to readers.
They also mimic real life. In real life, people interrupt each other all the time. (I’m guilty of finishing my husband’s sentences. I usually know what he’s going to say. He hates when I do it, so I try to do it in my head. Like a game, though I don’t keep score.)

From Self-editing for Fiction Writers:  The simple, purely mechanical change of paragraphing more frequently can make your writing much more engaging. Paragraphing frequently can also all tension to a scene…Whether it’s because sentences tend to grow shorter as the speakers become more upset, or simply because readers’ eyes move down the page more quickly, frequent paragraphing gives dialogue snap and momentum.

Brief scenes also create tension. Things are moving quickly, reader. Don’t stop now or you’ll miss something.

Book chapters seem to be getting shorter, too. I read or heard somewhere that smart authors have short chapters so readers can finish a chapter on their lunch break. I thought that was good advice and switched my chapter lengths from 5000 words to 2500 words max.


Paula posted about how she trimmed her entire story by cutting repeated words and information. She's one smart writer.

James Patterson said, "If you think of the story that you tell that's your favorite personal story, or funny story, it doesn't have flashy sentences. It doesn't have too much detail. It just tells the story. That isn't, for what ever reason, the way most people write books. But it seemed to me that there was no reason it couldn't be the way at least one person writes books. I said: "I'm going to stop writing the parts that people skim."

I tend to repeat by rephrasing. I seem to be in love with saying basically the same thing four different ways. I eventually pick the best one and cut the other three, but that’s time consuming, and my goal this year is to write faster.

The caveat of the post is a big one (pun intended). TRUST THE READER. A reader will remember details and plot arc. She doesn’t need to be reminded in each of the first six chapters why the hero has a broken heart.

Oh, and don’t preface (or follow) dialogue by describing the emotion conveyed by the dialogue. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Snippet From Jennifer Wilck

Today's Sunday Snippet is from my just-rereleased contemporary romance, Skin Deep.

That night, after all the scenes had been shot, Valerie waited for everyone to leave. She didn’t want to answer questions or receive pity.
She arranged and rearranged drawers and tools. The trailer contained three stations, each with its own make-up chair. A long table ran down one wall, with plenty of drawers for storage space. Well-lit mirrors hung above the table. Unable to find anything else to do, and convinced by the silence that everyone had to have left, she took out her keys to lock up. She jumped as a knock sounded at the door, the trailer rattled, and a head peeked in.
“Oh, hi, John.” She expelled a deep breath and willed her heart to slow its frantic beat. “Do you need something?”
“No.” He entered and stood by the door. John Samuels played the lead. At almost six foot three, he dwarfed the trailer and had to tip his head to fit. He folded his muscular arms across his chest and spread his feet apart. “Michelle told me you were not joining us tonight. I thought I would see if I could change your mind.”
Valerie rolled her eyes. “She is persistent.”
“You noticed.” John’s dark eyes twinkled. His mouth widened with a ghost of a smile. Valerie tried not to gasp.
He reminded her of a rugged cowboy—broad shouldered, with a prominent brow, dark piercing eyes, high cheekbones, and a cleft chin. When he smiled, even a slight trace of one, his eyes looked like liquid velvet and his dimples twinkled like stars in the night sky. A five-o’clock shadow covered his cheeks. Her fingers itched to brush against their rough texture, to tease his mouth into a full-blown grin.
“So, what can I say to make you join us?”
As he leaned against the wall in well-fitting jeans and a T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination, Valerie’s mind said, “Sleep with me.” Heat crept up her neck, over her cheeks, and continued to the roots of her hair. A thin sheen of sweat dampened the space between her breasts. She felt the sudden urge to fan herself, like a damsel in distress in an old B-movie. Instead, she ignored her traitorous thoughts. Her balled fist pressed into her tight stomach.
“Tonight, not even chocolate will change my mind.”
She didn’t exactly lie. She had no intention of going to the bar, or of sleeping with him, no matter how her thoughts might try to sabotage her good intentions. She’d been fooled by surface finery before, and it had almost killed her. She wouldn’t let it happen again.
“I will remember that,” he promised. “But next time you will not get off so easy.” His eyes bored into hers for a moment, and then he turned on his heel and left.
* * * *
True to his word, John arrived the following day prepared for battle. With a cursory knock on the door, he dangled a bag of M&Ms inside the trailer, but snatched it back before she could grab them. “We are going out for pizza. I will pick you up in ten minutes.” Before she could answer, he walked out.
Valerie shrugged as she finished her work. The new Valerie never allowed other people to make decisions for her, but she’d practically handed John a permission slip. And, he had M&M’s. How could she refuse?
Ten minutes later, he returned, ushered her out the door and down the steps. Although he didn’t touch her, she could imagine the warmth of his hand on the small of her back, and feel the gentle puff of his breath against her hair. The angle of his body steered her toward the others in the parking lot as if he had taken her by the hand and dragged her with him. An invisible electric charge pulled her. Or maybe it was his Dial-soap scent. That scent—soap and man—made her stomach flip flop. Her uncontrollable reaction to him disturbed her, especially since he appeared unaffected.
He remained silent, strode toward their meeting place, and studied his surroundings as if he expected someone to pop out of the shadows and yell, “Boo!”
Then she saw the brown bag of M&Ms sticking out of his white shirt pocket. Before he could stop her, she reached around and grabbed them, opened the bag and popped three in her mouth.
“Hey, those are mine!” He reached for the bag, but not fast enough to retrieve them.
“Not anymore.” As she danced away from him, she stuck another handful in her mouth.
He brought his hand up to his heart, as if she had wounded him deeply, but the twinkle in his eye gave him away. Valerie had all she could do not to burst out laughing.
“You did not have to take them, you know. I was planning to give them to you later.” He pouted and his dark hair fell across his brow, but not before Valerie saw a flash of a smile turn the corners of his mouth up.
“Oh really? When?”
“After dinner, of course. I would not want to spoil your appetite.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Welcome, Ines Johnson!

Ana is thrilled to welcome Ines Johnson to HWH.

Ines writes books for strong women who suck at love. Aside from being a writer, professional reader, and teacher, she claims she is a very bad Buddhist. She sits in sangha each week, and while others are meditating and getting their zen on, she’s contemplating how to use the teachings to strengthen her plots and character motivations.

She says:
The first time I tried to write a book it took me one year to write the first three chapters because I agonized over each word choice. Now, I believe in fast drafting. Vomit the story onto the page without a care for comma placement. All told, it takes me about six months from the first drafted word to the final polished manuscript.
I take three to four weeks for the first draft, which I call The Dirty. I let The Dirty breath for as long as I am able to be parted with it -usually a week or two. Then I come back and Sweep up the grammar, spelling and plot holes, which usually takes another three to four weeks.
Next, I send The Swept draft out to my trusted critique partners. When it comes back I Clean it up for another three weeks focusing on my weakness, which is setting.

I’m a screenwriter, and so for years, setting only consisted of a Scene Slug. For example:
The Director would take it from there. But fiction readers seem to like more details, so I’m constantly working on giving them more setting description.
Finally, I send The Clean manuscript off to the copy editor for two to three weeks. When it comes back I Polish up all the commas and rethink my overused words. Then I hit publish, and start all over again!
My current release, "Pumpkin: a Cindermama Story" was written in 30 days as a part of NANO WRIMO. Since then its gone through two revisions, beta readers and a copyeditor. I was still trying to upgrade my action verbs as it was uploading to Amazon! Old habits die hard I guess!

Single mother Malika “Pumpkin” Tavares lost faith in fairytales after she fell for a toad. Town royalty Armand “Manny” Charmayne has been searching for his soulmate all his life, whom he’ll recognize at first sight by a golden aura, that only he can see, surrounding her person. Manny doesn’t see gold when he meets Pumpkin, but the more he gets to know her the more he considers defying fate, if only he can convince her to take a chance on love again.


Pumpkin turned and stopped in her tracks. Not because of the near collision, but because of the Adonis who stood before her. Tall and lean with dark, thick curls atop his head. But it was his eyes that arrested Pumpkin. They took her back to her teen years, watching Donnie Simpson on Video Soul; or farther back to Smokey Robinson doo-wopping with The Miracles. They were a pale gray. And he smelled... edible. Like fresh baked, butter croissants sprinkled with earthy spices.

"Excuse me," he repeated, with a slight Southern drawl that was more refined than lazy. He prolonged his vowels just enough to let you know he was Southern, but the consonants he pronounced perfectly. "Are you Heather?"

And of course, he was looking for someone else. "No, my name is Malika."

He looked at her and squinted. Then his eyes rolled past her up the steps of the Department of Family And Child Services building. "Oh, sorry. I thought you could have been one of my volunteers." He stepped away, clearing her path to the entrance.

I thought you could have been one of my volunteers.

Pumpkin looked beyond him to see a voter registration table.

I thought you could have been one of my volunteers.

Part of her knew she should simply walk into the DFACS building to find her cousins and her son, because who knew? LaRon and LaTom could've let him go to the bathroom by himself and just forgotten about him —again. But another part of Pumpkin smarted. He'd taken one glance at her, paired it with her Eubonic-consonant-rich name, added it to her current location, and come away with an incorrect assumption.

"You know, I could have been yours," she said.

He turned back. "Mine?"

"I mean, I have done something like this before."

"Something... with me?"

"No! I've never met you before."

He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, then started again. "What exactly are we talking about?"

This was not going the way she'd planned. But what exactly had she planned when she opened her mouth? Her filter malfunction needed to be repaired soon.

Pumpkin took a deep breath, clearly aware of his smokey eyes watching her with... was that wariness or amusement? Growing up in her family, she had trouble deciphering the two.

"I mean, I have been a volunteer. I've done a voter registration drive before."

Having cleared up that misjudgment, Pumpkin assumed the conversation was over. Only, he looked doubtful at her proclamation.

Pumpkin gave her internal filter a kick. In response it sputtered, "I organized it, actually." Pumpkin gave it a mental shove to keep quiet. And then, "It was very successful, actually."



"Where did the drive you organized —successfully— take place?"

"Oh," she said. "At my school. My college —university, actually. Louisiana State University."

"I know LSU," he grinned.

Good. Grinning meant amused. He had a nice grin, Smokey Eyes. Straight white teeth. Plump lips that stretched wide. Maybe a little too wide. Almost big bad wolf wide.

"Well," she said. "There's a community college with the name Louisiana so..."

"You have a problem with community colleges?"

"No! I just... I just wanted to make sure you knew... which one I meant." Pumpkin wouldn't have thought it possible, but his grin stretched even wider.

"My opinion matters to you that much?"

Definitely a wolf.

Then, in confirmation, his eyes slipped from her face and did a quick assessment of her body: the B-cups she no longer bothered to pad, the stubborn muffin top she'd given up on a year ago, the wide hips that looked voluptuous on her cousins but pear-shaped on her.

"I don't even know you," Pumpkin said. And she had no intention of getting to know him. Wolves blocked the paths of good girls whether in the forest or on the road of life. Pumpkin had no intention of getting jammed up by a man, ever again.

"Yet, within sixty seconds of meeting me," he said, "you offered to be mine."

If you rocked out to the twisted triangle of Jem, Jericha, and Rio as a girl; if you were slayed by vampires with souls alongside Buffy; if you need your scandalous fix from Olivia Pope each week, then you’ll love Ines' books.

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