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Elisabeth: Marked

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33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

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Linda: Facing It

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:~: Tuesday, February 27, 2007 :~:


That all-important, highly elusive, deeply personal element that can make the difference in your writing success.

If you search for information on this subject on the web, you’ll quickly find that defining voice is highly a matter of opinion. Some believe voice is a reflection of sentence structure, word choice, tone. Others believe voice is more organic, that it emanates from an author’s soul, their life experiences, the way they see the world.

I believe voice comes from all of that and more. I believe voice is a culmination of who you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going. I believe voice is both ingrained and learned, organic and structured. I believe voice can be honed and changed and developed and still be true. I believe an author can have more than one voice.

A great example of this is Nora Roberts—writing as herself in romance and writing as J.D. Robb in her darker suspense series. Two very different voices, true to one very talented author.

In the last few months, I’ve come to relate writing voice to music voice.

(Click on the links below to hear a clip of the song in a new window)

In the country genre you wouldn’t mistake Carrie Underwood for say Martina McBride or Taylor Swift or Shania Twain. Yet, within the body of Carrie’s work, you’ve got a range of styles, from the Before He Cheats to Don't Forget to Remember Me.

I find myself equating this to the same author writing a gritty dark romance and a fluffy, comedic romance or a deeply spiritual romance. We’re still in the genre of romance, just as Carrie stays in the genre of country music, but with a twist to the voice, you’ve got a whole different feel.

There are many musical artists you can recognize from their singing voice or their melody alone. That’s their “voice”, their style…that’s what eventually becomes their signature. One such group that comes to mind is Rascall Flatts. Here are two examples: From Time To Time and Waiting All My Life.

Some authors I can relate this pattern to are Elizabeth Lowell, Tami Hoag and Roxanne St. Claire. Their voice and their work are consistent without being stagnant or repetitive.

What is your view on voice? What do you do to develop yours? What author voices do you love and why? Do you have any analogies that would allow us to view voice in a different light?



This is a subject that's been on my mind a lot lately. Partly because I'm getting them as I'm submitting my current project to agents, and partly because I've been reading through an online workshop about rejection.

My most rejected book garnered 56 rejection letters (mostly from agents) and my second most rejected book has received 48 to date. After that, I stopped counting. *grin* After five years, I think I've developed a pretty thick skin. Most of the time, I can put the rejection out of my mind and move on to the next query or project, but there are those times when getting the rejection still sidelines me for a little while.

The one thing I've learned to do is take what I can from them. I don't make changes to a manuscript based on a single opinion, but if a handful or agents and editors comment on the same thing, their comments give me something to look into to hopefully improve the book. I've given up on analyzing them to try and find hidden meanings. For me, I find that definitely blocks the creativity. I have a file in my desk where the letter goes once I've read it over a few times, and there it stays.

How do you handle rejection? What do you do to get past it and move on to the next project?

:~: Monday, February 26, 2007 :~:

Losing Myself In Research

I admit it. I'm a research guru. Love it. I love looking up things I don't know. I could spend hours on Google, just researching book ideas or story concepts or (as I did the other night) how, for example, scientists can learn so much from one tiny strand of hair. While I don't write historicals, I love books set in rich history - elements from long ago that come into play now. Clues, patterns, historical figures that impact society today. A lot of my books have some kind of rich history associated with the suspense aspect of a story set in modern times.

However, as you probably can already tell, all this research can really bog one down (me!). Someone on my chapter loop asked the other day if we did research before we wrote or during. I admit to doing both. I'll research historical elements first, then specific details as I write. But this can really slow down my forward momentum. If I know there's something in a previous chapter I've marked in red with XXX, it drives me absolutely nuts until I go back and fix it. It's a compulsion I'm trying to fix.

So I'm going with a new pattern, so to speak. I just edited a chapter tonight, and I have five - count 'em - five red-highlighted facts (or not quite facts) I need to look up. These are minor details really - the name of a country club, the name of a waste-treatment facility, a street, etc. It wouldn't take that long to find the answers, but since the writing was flowing tonight, it would have been just enough to kick me out of that forward progress and slow me down. Sometimes you have to get the research facts for a scene right before you write it (I love Google Earth for geography research), and sometimes you don't. With this first draft, I'm going to try to do as much non-research of simple facts as I can and see what happens.

Charlotte Dillon has a great website with a plethora of research links of all types if you're interested (I could spend a whole day here too, though I'll try to resist.)

Do you research before or during a book? And share your favorite (most used) research links with us. Inquiring minds (like mine, who might find something useful) want to know.


:~: Friday, February 23, 2007 :~:

Keeping The Sizzle

When is it most difficult to maintain a sizzling sexual tension? For me, it's after the hero and heroine have physically consumated their relationship. At that point, much of the mystery that drives the early sexual tension has been dissolved. So how do you keep the tension moving forward after that first love scene?

1) Conflict: Although the couple has moved closer physically, the act of making love should serve in some way to continue to push them apart emotionally. Maybe the heroine's fears of rejection are aroused. Maybe the hero feels too much too soon. Whatever the source of your conflict, it should heighten the sexual tension because of course that now they know what it's like to be together, having to resist is that much harder.

2) Memories: Sights, sounds, smells, textures . . . now both the hero and heroine have reminders of their lovemaking. Sprinkling these throughout other scenes maintains and even builds the level of tension

What other methods do you or your favorite authors use to keep the heat going after the lovin'?


:~: Thursday, February 22, 2007 :~:

The Senses

I'm finding that the bad thing about going second to last on theme week, is that the blog posts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have pretty much covered everything I wanted to say. lol

I will say, that in my opinion, the key to killer sexual tension is making use of the senses. It's through a fleeting touch, a whisper of a sound, or a tantazlizing scent, that you can bring the attraction to life and build on it as the story progresses.

The visual sense is probably the one most often used in building sexual tension. Usually, we'll have one character watching another and finding something they are doing incredibly sexy. With men-- this is usually something physical. His soon to be mate might be biting the bottom of her lip, or curling her hair around her finger. Or it could be something even more sublte, like the way she walks or smiles.

Interestingly, with women the visual cues hold as much of an emotional attraction, as a physical one. That's not to say that heroine isn't sexually attracted, but that its often for more of an emotional reason. Say she is attracted by his sense of humor, or his confidence, or a sense of safety/protectiveness she feels while in his presence.

Layering in the other senses, can really add depth when building the sexual tension, though. Everything we notice is through the senses. The whisper of silk as she walks past him. The rasp of denium as he walks past her. Her husky voice, his deep one. The silky texture of her hair/skin, calloused fingers or palms. The key is to use these senses to engender a sudden sharp sense of one character focusing on another. One character really noticing and reacting to another.

I do like Joan's explaination of a forbidden attaction. Or an attraction that if acted upon, will have unwelcome repercussions. My favorite writers mix characterization, use of the senses and some kind of conflict to build killer sexual tension.

:~: Wednesday, February 21, 2007 :~:

Heat in the Sheets

This is a timely subject as I'm taking an online course given by Mary Buckham: Sex Between the Pages: Understanding and Writing Sexual Tension.

Only, after I read the posts thus far, I realized sexual tension isn't something that could be summed up in a few paragraphs. Numerous volumes of information, scientific study and interpretation of those studies exist on just this subject.

On Valentine's Day, my post contained interesting, little-known facts about love—the scientific side of romance. And what I've discovered from both that article and this course with Mary is that sexual attraction is a truly complex, yet basic evolutionary design.

Now, as a romantic at heart, I'm not thrilled with this information. At my core, I believe in chemistry--the intangible kind. The kind that draws you to one man, but not another. The kind that makes it impossible to get that man out of your mind, out of your heart, out from under your skin. Makes it physically and emotionally impossible to resist him no matter how hard you try.

My heart of my hearts floats in a cloud of pixie dust and believes in soul mates.

So, you can see how this might cause some conflict for me. As a writer, I need to understand the indisputable biological facts and use them to intensify the physical element of my romances. But as a romantic, I need to honor my belief in meant-to-bes, in fate and destiny, in the perfect fit and forever love.

I'm still working on it. When I have a major break though, you'll be the second to know.

For now, I can say this about creating and keeping sexual tension:

Sexual = attraction. Tension = conflict

Those 12 steps of intimacy (which I discovered via Mary's class were created by a well renowned researcher after years of studying both humans and primates...not Linda Howard--DUH...) are really just the elements of showing attraction. As the attraction grows, the steps advance. There is some tension involved, considering each step has to be accepted by the love interest to move forward and any rejection cuts the aggressor out of the running (a sort of romantic survivor), but because the signs are subtle, the tension is low.

IMHUO, sexual tension comes from wanting something you can't have, or shouldn't have, for either internal or external reasons. (Of course, both is best.) Something that, when you have it, will only complicate every aspect of your life--some ways good, some ways not-so-good.

And that's just what we want for our heroes and heroines--love and conflict.

I'll leave you with a quote from Linda Howard, one of the masters of sexual tension:

To write really sensual, sexy books, you need to understand the basis of the sex drive, and how extremely powerful it is--not the birds and the bees part of it, but why we make love as we do. You can't write about sex and intimacy until you understand it. You can call them love scenes, or you can call them sex scenes. It doesn't matter what you call them, so long as you understand enough about the genre to know that the emotional attachment has to be there before your two main characters become physically intimate.
~Linda Howard

Which camp do you reside in--the scientific or the romantic?

:~: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 :~:

Writing Love Scenes

I like the theme this week, since about ninety percent of my published books are erotic or very sensual romance. :grin: My post today isn't exactly about sexual tension, but it does tie into that.

I gave a talk at an RWA chapter meeting a few years ago on crafting love scenes. One thing I said that surprised a lot of people was that the most important aspect of a love scene is the emotion. It’s not the actions, but the emotions that make it a love scene. Without them, the scene is really just a list of actions. Love scenes are a terrific place to show the reader the characters falling in love. If the scenes have no emotion, the reader might skim them or skip them completely. The emotions need to be tied to the actions for the scene to be complete.

The love scenes should also be integral to the plot. If the scene doesn’t advance the story, it probably isn’t a necessary element. In that respect, a love scene is like any other scene in the book. It needs to somehow move the story forward.

There also needs to be a big build-up of sexual tension well before a love scene. As a reader, I would much rather see a lot of tension first rather than having the hero and heroine just jump into bed together. Without the sexual tension between them, putting them into bed together too soon doesn’t make a lot of sense. The reader should want them to get together even more than the characters themselves do. That’s where the payoff moment comes for the reader—when the two people they’ve been rooting for finally get together.

One more thing I want to touch on briefly—when writing love scenes, make sure the actions and thoughts of the characters stay true to the characters. If the hero or heroine suddenly starts doing something out-of-character, the reader is going to notice and wonder why they’re suddenly acting so different. A love scene can be great for strengthening characterization, and keeping the actions and thoughts true is also part of what will help keep the love scenes unique to each book, and to each set of characters.

What authors do you think do love scenes well? Do you ever skip those scenes when you're reading? I know I skip them sometimes, if I just don't feel like it's a necessary part of the story or if there hasn't been any tension leading up to the scene.

:~: Monday, February 19, 2007 :~:

Sexual Tension

This week at RWKF we're talking about sexual tension. What it is, how to get it and what about it that keeps you reading.

Because we're primarily romance writers and readers, sexual tension is an important element in our books. If it's not there, the romance doesn't pop, and the reader has no interest in reading forward. Two weeks ago we talked about Happily Ever Afters and why we all like romances. For me, though I know the book is going to end on a happy note, the one thing that keeps me turning pages is that spark between the hero and heroine. What is it about the other person that sets off that crazy attraction? And what is the primary conflict keeping them apart?

I'm reading an RS right now that has virtually zero sexual tension. Two hundred pages into the book and I honestly don't care if the hero and heroine get together. The primary focus of this book is the mystery/suspense plot, and if I were to categorize it, I'd label it a mainstream with romantic elements. The heroine has already told the hero about the defining moment in her past, and we know the hero's defining moment as well. They're working together to solve a crime, there's a spark of attraction (a small one), but there's nothing keeping them apart. They like each other. They're professional, but there's no underlying, I have to have him! oh, I really can't have him! element to the relationship. To me, this book has failed at sexual tension.

Sexual tension varies across the romance genres, but even in a highly suspenseful book where the romance is secondary to everything else, I think it's possible to keep the sexual tension high. So long as the conflict between the hero and heroine is believable, it can be achieved through internals, deep POV, and digging for characterization. If we know the character, understand them, we have a better idea what's holding them up or why they can't give themself fully to the other person. Physically it's a look, a touch, an awareness that never really goes away. Sexual tension doesn't necessarily mean lots of gratuitous sex and nonsensical arguments. It's that spark, that continuing hum, that push pull between the two characters that keeps you reading. Amidst dangerous situations, what is it about these two that makes you root for them? Why do you so badly want them to get together?

If you're a writer, how do you keep the sexual tension high in your books? If you're a reader, what authors, in your opinion, do sexual tension well?


:~: Saturday, February 17, 2007 :~:

The Winner Is...

The Valentine's winner was chosen from the commenters this week out of my DH's lucky baseball hat, picked by by my daughter's friend who was visiting today.

Allison Brennan!!

I hope you like purple, cause you've won a darling pair of snowman earrings and a beautiful scarf, both handmade by ... ME! You'll also receive a Sharon Sala trilogy for that ever-plotting writer's mind.

Email me at ultraswan @ hotmail . com with your address.


We've got more contests coming up next week! Check back!!


:~: Friday, February 16, 2007 :~:

Reading Reasons

As I've been reading the comments to various posts here at Romance Worth Killing For, I've noticed many references to reading for "escape." That interests me because I read for many reasons, but escape really isn't one of them.

I'm a voracious reader, who reads across many forms and genres. I read for information, entertainment and education. To me, entertainment doesn't quite equal escape.

Do you read for escape? Or for other reasons? Or both? If you do define your reading as "escape reading," what exactly does that mean?


:~: Thursday, February 15, 2007 :~:


I watched LOST last night, which started me thinking about heroism.

In literature, when we talk about our main characters, hero/heroine are used almost exclusively in connection to our two protagonists. Of course, in romantic fiction we want our main characters to be heroic. We want them to be bigger than life, someone the reader will respect and admire. Personally, I want this heroic behavior in my hero, but not necessarily in my heroine. The female leads in my books tend to be much more down to earth, much less heroic. (until push comes to shove and its do or die)

My heroes, on the other hand, my heroes are. . .well. . .heroic. They put their lives on the line every day. They wouldn't hesitate to step between danger and an innocent, their entire life is based on protecting others.

They are true blue in every way that counts--except, possibly emotionally. Emotionally they are not always willing to put themselves on the line. I think this is one of the things that intrigues me so much about certain story lines--the ones that deal with the heroic hero--the hero who is willing to die to protect and serve. Who puts his life on the line every day, but is terrified of opening himself up emotionally and giving someone else power over his life and happiness. There is such an interesting dichotomy to these story lines-- how a person can be truly heroic in one set of circumstances, yet an honest-to-God coward in others.

Last night on LOST, they explored what it means to be a hero in every sense of the word. The storyline involved a man named Desmond. Last season Desmond sacrifice himself to save the world. He literally gave up his own life, in the hopes that everyone else would continue living. He did this knowingly and without hesitation. Truly heroic behavior.

Only he didn't die. Instead, he was thrown back in time. Back to a time in his life when he made a horrible mistake, when he turned away from the woman he loved (and who loved him) because he didn't think he was good enough for her. Only now he gets a second chance. Now he can stay with her, ask her to marry him, live the life he always regretted turning down. Or can he? Because as the show progresses, it becomes clear that if he doesn't make the same choices, the same mistakes-- if he doesn't follow the same path he did before--then he won't end up where he needs to be, and he won't save the world. If he stays with her, which clearly he wants to do--then he is sentencing her to death, along with the rest of the world.

In the end, he turns away from her, he follows the path he'd followed the first time around, knowing without a doubt that it leads to heartbreak and regret. And that, to me, was even more heroic than his earlier bout of heroism when he sacrificed his life so others would live. Which was an eye opener for me. Because apparently I view the emotional/mental act of heroism as being more heroic or powerful than the physical act of heroism.

What about the rest of you? Are you more impressed by physical or mental courage?

Of course, this being LOST-- they had to turn this episode around on its ear. But I'm going to ignore what happened in the last ten minutes or so, since it doesn't fit with my analysis of the storyline, or this blog for that matter. (grin)

:~: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 :~:

Little Known Facts About Love & Contests.

Let’s get to the good stuff right away—Contests!
  • 1) Everyone who comments this week—February 12-February 19—will be entered to win a special Valentine’s package: A Sharon Sala trilogy, hand-made snowman earrings and a hand-knitted scarf (pictured here) …courtesy of me!

  • 2) Winner announcement for the Tagline chocolate contest: I decided to go with a tagline that wasn’t included in the postings. And instead of trying to choose out of the many good suggestions made, I added everyone’s name to the hat.

    Winner 1: Chosen by my darling daughter: Maria, Lover of All Things Romantic

    Winner 2: Chosen by my darling husband: Edie, Magical Musings

    Congrats Maria and Edie!!

    Email me at ultraswan @ hotmail . com (no spaces, of course) with your address and your choice of treats—chocolate, sugar-free chocolate, or non-chocolate treat from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

    Thanks to everyone for their assistance!

Okay…onto that all-consuming topic… Loooooooove and all those fascinating little-known facts. (Information taken from National Geographic’s February 2006 publication.)

Did you know…dopamine is the chemical of choice for lovers?

Dopamine creates intense energy, exhilaration, focused attention, and motivation to win rewards. That’s why, when you are newly in love, you can stay up all night, watch the sun rise, run a race, ski fast down a slope ordinarily too steep for your skill. Love makes you bold, makes you bright, makes you run real risks.

This is great news for us RS writers—now our heroes and heroines have scientific reasons for doing brave (or stupid) things.


Did you know…novelty stimulates dopamine in the brain?

A researcher from New York discovered that doing novel things together can trigger dopamine, which can stimulate feelings of attraction. In other words, if your heart flutters in his presence, you might decide it’s love, not anxiety. Research has shown that even if you just job in place and then meet someone, you’re more likely to think they’re attractive.

Maybe that’s why gyms are such meat markets.


Did you know…the best dopamine-inducing first date would be a roller coaster ride?

First dates that involve a nerve-racking activity, like riding a roller coaster, are more likely to lead to second and third dates. Just as in time of stress—natural disasters, blackouts, predators on the prowl—you’re more likely to feel attraction to another sharing the experience.

So put that hero and heroine in the most dangerous situation possible!


Did you know…love and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a similar chemical profile?

An Italian researcher compared lovers’ serotonin levels with a group of people suffering from OCD and another group free from both passion and mental illness. Levels of serotonin in both the obsessives’ blood and the lovers’ blood were 40 percent lower than those in normal subjects.

Our stalkers are chemically challenged—no wonder they’re behavior is so bizarre.


Did you know…serotonin levels could be chemically altered to control behavior?

Serotonin is the star neurotransmitter, which can be altered by medications like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. One researcher believes the ingestion of these types of drugs jeopardizes one’s ability to fall in love and stay in love. By dulling the keen edge of love and its associated libido, relationships go stale.

But not having Prozac or Zoloft or Paxil when you need it can be an even quicker way to kill a relationship. (Or your own sanity—I know!)


Did you know…there is another chemical responsible for long-term love?

Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes a feeling of connection, bonding. It is released when we hug our long-term spouses, or our children. It is released when a mother nurses her infant. In long-term relationships that work oxytocin is believed to be abundant in both partners.

The real feel good drug.


Did you know…there is a way to induce the creation of oxytocin?

Massage, making love and having orgasms stimulates the surge of oxytocin, making you feel closer to your partner and may make your attachment to them stronger.

Maybe that explanation will slow that speedy husband down. Or not.


Did you know…about the sweaty T-shirt study done in Switzerland?

A researcher asked 49 women to smell T-shirts previously worn by unidentified men with a variety of genotypes that influence both body odor and immune systems. He then asked the women to rate which T-shirts smelled the best, which the worst. What he found was that women preferred the scent of a man whose genotype was most different from hers, suggesting the man has an immune system that could provide their offspring with a stronger chance of being robust.

Count me out of that study. Yuck.


Did you know…there is a biological reason that romantic love fades?

The reason love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine that accompanies passion and makes us fly. Cocaine users describe the phenomenon of tolerance: The brain adapts to the excessive input of the drug. Maybe it’s a good thing that romance fizzles. If the chemically altered state induced by romantic love is akin to a mental illness or drug-induced euphoria, exposing yourself for too long could result in psychological damage.

Been there, done that. Don’t want to go back.


What observations have you made about passion and long-term love? Or about passion and its similarity to OCD behavior? Or about love in general?


:~: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 :~:

Starting Where the Action Is

I read two books a while back--one major publishing house and one small press--that were labeled suspense but probably should have been called contemporary romance. In both the books, it took at least 200 pages to get to the present day, and also to get to the real meat of the story. I skimmed the NY house book to get to the end, but I kept putting down the small press book and going back to it later.

For me, the start was just too slow. As a writer, I've always been told to start the first sentence of the book in the middle of the action. Get the reader interested right away. As a reader, I have to say I agree with that advice. When I’m reading suspense—actually, when I’m reading anything, I want to step right into the thick of things. I want to be sucked in from word one.

Backstory can easily be threaded in throughout the novel, in very small chunks. As a reader, I don’t need to know every detail of the H/h’s childhoods. It slows the pace of the book, and a lot of it really isn't really necessary in telling the story. In these two books, the backstory had become an info-dump. Some of the information could have been given to the reader in bits, in the form of dialog or small snippets of internal thought.

I wonder if the authors had known their characters better, would they have needed to tell the reader about the years that had shaped them into the adults they’d become? If an author really knows her characters, inside and out, who they are should be clear to the reader through their actions and their interactions with each other, leaving a lot more room for what’s important in a romantic suspense—the plot, and the romance. This is where the real story is.

What are everyone's thoughts on this? Do you like to read about the characters' lives before they get to where they'll be in the present day, or would you rather get right into the action?

:~: Monday, February 12, 2007 :~:

Location, Location, Location

I love setting. In a good book, setting can be as imperative to plot and character formation as backstory. Why does one character live in New York? Why does the other choose to live on a farm in Iowa? How does where each character lives shape and form who they are? How does the setting of the story affect how each character thinks and acts?

An editor who read my manuscript recently commented that foreign locations are a hard sale, commercially. That comment got me thinking a lot about location and what I write. I tend to write a lot of foreign locations. The opening of this particular book starts off in a cave in the Caribbean, then shifts to Italy, then back to the US. It's a fast-paced book, a race so to speak, and the location is constantly changing. The H/h leave the US one more time, but the meat of the book happens on US soil. I have another book set in Mexico, and yet another idea percolating that starts off at a vacation resort on a tropical island - location yet to be determined. I write about places I've visited, places I want to visit, and areas that interest me. When I sit down and write, I'm thinking about what location is imperative to the plot, not how exotic I can make the setting.

I guess I never paid attention to non-US locations in the fiction I read. Some of my favorite stories take place overseas. Some start overseas and come back to the US. Some are the reverse. I've never picked up a book and said, gee, the heroine travels to Thailand in this book. I won't read it. On the contrary, I've learned a lot about overseas locations based on some of my favorite books. I love foreign settings.

How do you feel about non-US locations? Would you not buy a book if it was set overseas? Would you not buy a book from a new author if it was set overseas? Or do you prefer to read books that are primarily set in the US?


:~: Saturday, February 10, 2007 :~:

Where does our story take place?

Help us choose a setting--for at least part of our online roundrobin.

We've got a firefighter--arson investigator, Nathan. And we've got Eva (or Bella)--a therapist or doctor or ??

Where does their story take place? City, country, suburbia? Is the suspicious fire in a ghetto or an industrial building?

Give us some fodder!!!

:~: Friday, February 09, 2007 :~:

After the HEA

I hope you've enjoyed our first theme week here at RWKF as much as I have! It's been really fun to see everyone's views on the Happily Ever After.

So how do you feel about the "after" the HEA?

There are a few basic ways authors can clue the reader into the characters' lives after they have their ending:

1) Using a former h/H as secondary characters in another book
2) Writing a series where the h/H's story continues
3) Employing an epilogue

As a writer, I've done #1. I've toyed with #2. And I've used #3 a time or two, usually when I needed to fast-forward into the future (Truth and Consequences, coming this summer) or wrap up a hanging loose end (A Formal Feeling, coming 2008).

I've heard, though, that many readers aren't crazy about the use of epilogues. I've never really understood that, because like any tool in a writer's toolbox, the epilogue can be stunningly effective if used well.

What about you? Yay or nay on epilogues? And do you like seeing a h/H reappear in other books? Do you need to see "after" the HEA?


:~: Thursday, February 08, 2007 :~:

The Forever After

Before I get started, I wanted to apologize for not announcing the winners of last Thursday’s contest earlier. I actually have a very good excuse. Up until this morning I haven’t been able to get into any of the comment windows on this blog. Yet suddenly this morning, the window loaded instantly. Go figure. So, now that I have the names of the non-Romance worth Killing For bloggers who have commented, I’ve drawn our two winners.

Paty Jager and Danita Cahill—Come on down!! Or at least email me at theresa.monsey@verizon.net, with your snail mail address so I can get these puppies personally autographed by Karin Tabke and mailed directly to you.

Okay—now that our contest business is taken care of, lets take a look at Happy Ever After. We’ve been talking about this all week and everyone has made some excellent points (and stolen all my wonderful blogging ideas, wah!)

One of the reasons I’m such a fan of romantic fiction is because of the Happy Ever After. When I pick up a book, I know going into it that I will end the book with a satisfied Ahhhhh. Now granted, depending on the book and the skill of the author, some of the satisfied Ahhhhs are much more satisfied than others. But the promise in each book—from the moment I open that first page—is that the characters will be alive, and happy and at least emotionally connected by the last page. I don’t care if the hero/heroine are engaged, or if they’ve declared their love for each other. All that matters to me is that they have obvious feelings for each other by the final scene, and that I’m left with the strong sense that these feelings will blossom into a serious commitment.

Now lets take a look at authors that trick readers. Authors that draw the reader into the story, into the characters, get them emotionally invested in the main characters and then kill one of them off—bringing up a secondary character to act as the hero/heroine. I’ve read two books where the author did this. Hated them. Hated them. Hated them. Now granted, both books were romantic suspense. Both authors were in the process of making the shift from romance romantic suspense—to more suspense with just a hint of romance. But I picked these books up on the promise they’d upheld in their earlier work. I picked them up believing that the two characters (hero and heroine) in the first half of the book would be happy and healthy and in love by that last scene. I let myself become emotionally invested in these people and their budding relationship because I was so blindly certain I was reading a romance. And then BOOM. The hero is killed. I couldn’t believe it. No way. It’s a trick. He can’t really be dead. The author is obviously going to bring him back to life somehow. So I kept reading, waiting to be surprised by how cleverly she resurrected him. Only she didn’t. He really was dead. And that’s when I got pissed. That’s when the book hit the wall and I never picked that author up again.

Now I love suspense. I love it even without the romance involved. And this author has made the shift to pretty much straight suspense. But I still won’t read her. Because I don’t trust her. I don’t trust that she won’t let me down again. I don’t trust that she won’t let me get emotionally invested in her characters again, and then kill one of them off.

Linda Howard is keenly aware of the promise an author makes to her readers, just as she is aware of how emotionally invested readers get in her characters. During an online chat at Writerspace—she mentioned that she got tons of mail asking her to set more books in the McKenzie clan. Everyone wanted her to take up the stories of Zane and Chance’s children. But she said that she couldn’t, that the timeline wouldn’t allow it. Wolf and Mary had been in their 30’s when she wrote about them. And then their sons Zane and Chance had been in their mid-30’s when she wrote about them. Which meant that Wolf and Mary by the end of Chance’s book were already in their late sixties, or even early seventies. If she wrote about their grown grandchildren, (another 30 years in the future)Wolf and Mary would have to be dead. She said the reader wouldn’t forgive her if she killed Wolf and Mary off, (even through old age) they were too emotionally invested in them.

And she’s right. I love the McKenzie books, but I would have hated knowing that Wolf and Mary had died. That happy ever after to me means forever. They don’t grown old, they don’t die, their love doesn’t falter. After I close that last page, the hero and heroine remain frozen in that state of bliss eternally.

Sure it’s a fantasy—but then that’s the whole reason I read romance. For the fantasy. For the feel good ending. There’s enough sadness in real life, in the world around me. When I want to escape, I want to escape into happiness and I want that happiness to last forever.

:~: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 :~:

Your Audience Expectations & Contest

Before I get started on the post, don't forget that yesterday kicked off another contest! How about three of James Patterson's hardcovers? And since Dawn posted yesterday, let's throw in an electronic copy of her novel, Grave Silence.

Okay...let's get to those Happily Ever Afters.

I read an article recently by a suspense author who was working on finding her message.

(If you read this blog regularly or my personal blog, you know that’s been on my mind lately. BTW, there’s still time to win chocolate for Valentine’s Day – just enter your suggestion of a tag line on the blog’s post Got Chocolate.)

This author spoke of considering your audience when choosing a tag line that describes your work, and that choosing a brand is more about how your readers view your work than how you want them to perceive your work. And in a dialogue class, Catherine Ryan Hyde commented on dialogue that might not be completely accurate to the character (i.e. a guy talking to another guy about sex and refering to it as making love vs. screwing, messing around, etc.), but might be something your audience would rather hear.

An interesting twist of the thought process, IMO. So, I took that into consideration as I mulled over my post about Happily Ever Afters.

I see myself mirrored in the audience--mothers, wives, professionals. They're the intelligent, confident, take-charge type. Even if they have to tone it down at PTA, it's in there. They've probably been around the block a few times, and while that may include their bedroom histories, most have been progressive in their education and careers. In that group there's bound to be a number of women who have doused their own dreams to meet their family's needs. Kids, husbands, aging parents. Maybe they've put personal desires on hold for work.

And the reason they’re going to pick up a romantic suspense is the same reason I do: escape. Escape from the daily trials of real life including death, illness, stress, the lousy boss, the lazy husband, the needy friend. While the book may contain similar circumstances, they’re not your circumstances—and there in lies the escape.

An unhappy ending would break that bubble and bring me right back to real life with a cruel thud—divorces, breakups, death, violence, struggle. No thanks. If I’m going to spend the time to read a romance, ride the emotional waves with the characters, I want to get something out of the trip—something good, something happy, something that will lift my heart when I think of it in the future.

I want payoff—big, warm, fuzzy, wish-that-would-happen-to-me payoff. And I want it in a big way.

I also enjoy living vicariously through an author’s characters, experiencing the excitement that passed me by, or that opportunity I never took. I like fantasizing about living in the heroine’s beautiful skin with all that grit and moxie and confidence. I wish I could say the things the heroine says, with all the attitude and timing she has. I love reliving those first glorious, tingling stages of falling in love—the looks, the touches, the first kiss, the fresh, passionate sex. You know—that honeymoon period when all the things you find special and unique about your man (the same ones that will someday irritate the hell out of you) are endearing or sexy.

Therefore, for me, unhappy endings are painful. Physically, emotionally painful.

If I’m not reading romance, if the storyline doesn’t have a romantic thread, of course there won’t be the classic HEA—fall in love, get married, and live…well, you know. But even in other genres I personally need a happily ever after—a just ending—which, IMO, would involve the villain getting nailed (or even better—killed in some horrific way way), and the protagonist enjoying the rewards of his hard work (or suffering).

What do you think your audience wants to see at the end of your novel?


What Is a Happy Ending?

I’ve noticed a difference between books and movies labeled as “romance”. (Yes, I’m sure I’m not the first person to mention this…:grin:…I’ve only been reading romance for a few years, so I’m still catching up.) A romance movie finishes with all the loose ends tied up neatly, and the resolution is generally happy, despite the fact that the hero and heroine may not end up together. The ending is still happy, but it isn’t the type of Happily Ever After a romance reader would expect when they pick up a book. In a romance novel, a reader goes in expecting the hero and heroine to be together at the end. The reader also wants to know the happy ending is going to last beyond the end of the book. If I'm reading a romance, I have different expectations than I do if I'm reading in another genre. I want my romance to end with the hero and heroine together.

I have to admit, I don’t often write traditional Happily Ever After endings. My own books most often end with a Happy For Now ending. The events that lead to this might be different—often “I love yous” are implied rather than spoken out loud, but the end result is the same. It’s a romance, so it’s a given that the characters are in it for the long haul, whether declarations of love are made or not. Sometimes it’s more believable if “I love yous” aren’t said. For me, as a reader and a writer, I want the story to have a realistic end as well as a happy one.

That said, there’s been a lot of talk online lately about less than happy endings, and happy endings that go south in subsequent books in a series—more specifically, when an author kills off a main character. If a reader has invested a lot of time and emotion in a set of characters, they might feel cheated when an author takes one of those characters away. It's a big let down, since the reader has been cheering for the characters throughout the book, living their ups and downs with them, all the while knowing everything will work itself out in the end.

Sometimes a character doesn’t die, but the happiness of the ending is still destroyed. One example that comes to mind is Janet Evanovich’s book Metro Girl. At the end, the two main characters end up together. Even though it isn’t a romance, I expected the characters to be together in the next book in the series. When I read the blurb for the next book and found out they weren’t—because he cheated on her—I decided to put off reading it. I guess most of the time, I still want to believe fairy tale endings exist in books, even if they don’t always happen in real life. I want that happy feeling that comes with knowing, despite the adversity the characters faced during the story, they managed to overcome it and find a way to be together.

What makes an ending happy for you?

:~: Monday, February 05, 2007 :~:

Happily Ever After . . . Why, Exactly?

We're starting something new this week at Romance Worth Killing For - Theme weeks. A couple times a month, we'll pick a topic and each one of us will tackle it in our own unique way during the week. Five different backgrounds, experiences, and view points on the same subject. This week's topic - ironically - starts at the end. We're going to be talking about that magical cornerstone of every romance out there - the Happily Ever After.

I think anyone who reads or writes romance - regardless of sub-genre - loves the happy ending. Really, if you didn't, you wouldn't read it and you certainly wouldn't write it. When you pick up a romance, you know it's going to end well. You can usually tell within the first few pages who the hero and heroine are. At that point, without even reading the whole first chapter in most cases, you already know they're going to get together. So why bother reading if you know they'll make it in the end?

Over at Yahoo! Answers, this question was asked: Why Do You Read Romance Novels? The following are a sampling of answers:

1. It puts you into a fantasy world.
2. It's an escape for me!
3. Because every once in a while they appeal to a cheesy, dreamy/romantic side of me that I don't acknowledge very often.
4. Because they are very interesting and sometimes some of us can relate, or wish that there was a true love out there like in the books.
5. ...they are predictable. In a world filled with uncertainty, [we] want to know that there is a place [we] can escape to where the women are always beautiful, the men always strong and the ending always happy.

Amen to the last one. I pick up a romance novel because I know for sure it's going to end well. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to trials and tribulations, murder and mayhem and the awful parts of life (I do write romantic suspense, after all). Through it all though, I want to know that no matter what happens to the characters along the way, good will overcome evil, the good guys will always win, and that love conquers all.

World Book Day did a survey last year about books with happy endings. Overall they found that:

1. The nation’s favourite happy ending is Pride and Prejudice.
2. A happy ending is the preferred choice of people of all ages, genders and regions.
3. Almost a quarter of people say that reading a happy ending makes them feel better for the rest of the day.
4. The sad ending people would most like to change is Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Tonight, my oldest and I were watching The Natural on TV just before bedtime. We happen to be big baseball fans here, and while the romance between the hero (Robert Redford) and his hometown girlfriend (Glenn Close) was very minor, the happy ending - for himself and his son - made me smile. My favorite books and movies have happy endings - all of them - doesn't matter if they're romances or not. Any Indiana Jones movie, When Harry Met Sally, The Hunt For Red October, Into The Blue, Wedding Crashers, The Lord Of The Rings, The Rookie, Cars . . . the list goes on and on. I can't think of a single book or movie that didn't have a happy ending that ended up being a favorite of mine. People might say that's a girl thing, but my husband - who isn't a big reader - buys just as many movies as I do, and when I look in our movie closet, guess how many unhappy endings there are? Very few.

Most of you reading this are romance readers and therefore must already enjoy the happily ever after element, but I'm curious. What is it about the happy ending that appeals most to you? Be it a romance or not, why do you read books or watch movies with happy endings? And can you think of a single book or movie that had an unhappy ending that turned out to be a favorite of yours?

Also, on a side note, before I forget...

Joan posted the first part of our online read yesterday (scroll down). We need your input to help get the ball rolling. So be sure to visit yesterday's post and help us shape our characters for this fun, interactive story.

In addition, Joan's still collecting taglines for her CHOCOLATE GIVEAWAY on February 14th. In case you missed it, all you have to do is add a tagline to the comment section of her Got Chocolate? post to be eligible for the $40 gift basket from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Don't miss it!


:~: Sunday, February 04, 2007 :~:

Create Your Hero & Heroine

Hey all,

I was supposed to post these picks Saturday, but left for a scrapbooking weekend in the mountains with no connectivity (and no cell service) before I did it.


But here they are. These two were chosen out of 7 males and 7 females by the five of us here on RWKF. Now you get to do the rest! What we need is anything you want to tell us about them: name, age, background, family history, occupation, character traits, bad habits, strenths, weaknesses....etc.

We will use your suggestions to mold our charcters into shape and plot a hot, exciting on-line read for you all!

Check back this week to see how the characters are shaping up (in the comments) and then on Saturday for more news ... maybe even the first installment.

:~: Friday, February 02, 2007 :~:

February Debuts

How exciting is our new debut? I've been waiting for the additions to this blog for weeks, and I'm so thrilled about all the new things going on at Romance Worth Killing For!

In the spirit of celebrating debuts, I thought for today's blog post, I'd share an excerpt from my debut novel, What Mattered Most, to be released February 27.
I hope you enjoy!
Lanie was going to kill him, and he deserved it.

John O’Reilly draped his coat over the back of the leather couch. He hadn’t really forgotten the doctor’s appointment. He’d remembered it – an hour too late, while he was wrapped up in trying to question a near-hysterical witness. That interview had given them a lead begging to be followed up, and he had forgotten to call and beg forgiveness.
Guilt curled through him. The kid wasn’t even here yet, and already he was a lousy father. What would he do when the baby was a reality instead of a lump that nudged him in the back every night?
The scents of vanilla and cinnamon wafted through the entire house. Following the aromas, he took the stairs two at a time, knowing just where he would find her. The weariness of a fourteen-hour day tugging at him, he stripped off his tie and suit jacket. In the bedroom, ivory candles flickered on every available surface – the nightstands, the bureaus, the long, low table at the foot of the bed. Tossing his tie and jacket on the plush chair in the corner, he stepped out of his shoes.
More candlelight drew him to the open bathroom door. Just as he’d expected, mounds of scented bubbles filled the large tub. Cinnamon and vanilla hung in the hot, moist air. Eyes closed, Lanie lounged in the tub, her dark hair piled in an untidy knot at the top of her head. Just above the bubbles, he could see the upper slope of her breasts, droplets glistening in the line of her cleavage.
John inhaled the sweet, spicy air. This was why he couldn’t even walk into a bakery anymore without getting hard. Unbuttoning his shirt, he continued to watch her. She lifted one long leg, pointing red-polished toes in a feline stretch. God, she was graceful, even with the basketball-sized bulge of their baby poking above the water. His shirt fell to the hardwood floor in a soft rustle of starched cotton.
“Evening, Deputy Falconetti.” He knelt by the tub and reached for her foot, kneading the muscles in a soft rhythm. Her ankle, slightly swollen, begged for a kiss, and he obliged, bubbles tickling his nose. “I’m a jerk. Scum. Lower than dirt.”
“Is that an apology, Detective O’Reilly?” Her soft, lyrical voice wrapped around him. She propped her other foot on the edge of the tub, and he reached for it, treating it to the same massage.
“Yeah, it is.” He pressed his thumbs into her arch, and she moaned, her pleasure zinging through him. “I’m sorry, Lanie. I know this was important to you-”
“And your job’s important to you.” She said the words without rancor, but they seemed too smooth, too practiced. “It’s okay, John.”
Okay? That was all? He ran his hand up her calf, watching her face. She closed her eyes and sank a little deeper in the water. “You don’t want to yell at me or anything?”
He opened his mouth and closed it again. Why the need to push the issue? If she said it was okay, it was okay. Only it didn’t feel right. She didn’t feel right.
“Would you care to join me?” She reached out a languid hand to brush a finger down his chest.
“Aren’t we going to dinner?” He had to push the words out, his mouth dry with a sudden rush of arousal.
“I thought we might have dessert first.” She opened her eyes and stunned him with the desire burning in the golden hazel depths. With a lazy gesture, she beckoned him closer, bubbles and water sliding over her smooth skin. “Are you coming in or not?”
“What do you think?” Shucking slacks, briefs, and socks in one smooth movement, he joined her.