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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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:~: Thursday, May 31, 2007 :~:

Review: HANDS ON by Amie Stuart

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about the fact that, as a literary criticist, I am a deconstructionist who likes feminist literature.

What, you ask, does that have to do with Amie Stuart's new Kensington release, Hands On?

Well, being a deconstructionist in terms of literary criticism, means I'm always looking at layers and meaning. (Wayne, by the way, is a literary theorist -- something to do with centers and margins. He's pre-Modernist, I'm post-Modernist. We agree to disagree on books a lot.)

Having a strong bent toward feminist literature means I'm always looking at how women are portrayed in books. I like strong female characters. One thing that interests me about the rise in erotic novels targeted to women is how sexual relationships can be used to show female empowerment.

Stuart definitely delivers.

Lexi, Lanie, and Carlotta have blue-collar, mostly male-dominated professions (construction, auto repair, electrical work). They're not intimidated in the least by gender issues thrown their way, and come Friday night, when they hit one of Houston's hottest nightclubs, these ladies are definitely in control.

Although the book is divided into three novella-length sections, it really works as a whole. Each female protagonist has her own story (full of veddy, veddy hot sex), but the three pieces add up to a bigger story, one of female friendship, support and triumph. These women are winners through their own grit, strength and determination.

Although I really liked the rather sweet (yet sexy) romance between Lexi and her hero and I loved how Lanie's novella ended with a major personal triumph on her part, after re-reading, I've found that Carlotta and Devon's story resonates with me the most. Carlotta is definitely a woman in control, determined not to need anyone. Devon is all about teaching her lessons in trust and that giving up control can lead to deeper strength. (Can you tell I loved Devon?!) His show of vulnerability when he tells her he loves her is fantastic and sigh-inducing.

Okay, let's talk style. Stuart rocks. In three first-person voices, each character is distinct and strong, yet Stuart's writer's voice shines through, sassy and fresh. Because I can't read without mentally editing and picking now, I did notice one "swelling" description that comes up more than once, but hey, I can overlook that for a strong voice, awesome characters, great conflicts, and satisfying resolutions.

Oh, and did I mention the really hot sex? If you like a spicy read where the sex is connected to the plot, not serving as the plot, this is definitely a must-read.

All-in-all, Stuart's Hands On was a book that I couldn't let go of (I read it straight through in one sitting, something I don't do often and reread to savor, something I do even less often).

Go hence. Buy a copy. You won't be sorry. (And you don't have to be a literary theorist or deconstructionist to enjoy it. I promise.)

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:~: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 :~:


As nationals creep up on us, I notice quite a few courses available on pitching.

I've never been to nationals (will go next year for sure since it's in a city I've known well all my life and is close to my parents) but a big part of the conference is the opportunity to pitch to agents and editors.

I've never pitched to an agent or editor, either. And, I hope I never have to--in real life, anyway. I can do just about anything on paper, but sit me down face-to-face and I may as well have had my tongue cut out.

But I think I've got a couple of ideas that might help hone that fine elevator pitch to start off an agent/editor appointment, a one-liner that catches interest and lays the foundation for the rest of your pitch.

First idea:

I recently took a course on High Concept offered by Calgary RWA, something I believe you need in your pitch to catch the attention of a publishing industry professional. The instructor, Lori Wilde, has been published by three different houses--Warner, HQN and St. Martin's.

High concept is one of those elusive ideas that hangs back in the shadows and dodges the light. But Lori did a fantastic job of outlining the elements that make up high concept and then breaking them down into digestible, understandable, applicable terms. I recommend taking the class when you get the opportunity.

Today, I wanted to touch on the idea that, while honing your pitch for nationals, consider tweaking it to include high concept. HC, after all, is designed to enable you to deliver your ideas to an agent or editor succinctly, clearly, powerfully.

Lori said:

There are five central components to the high concept:

1) It's different.
2) It's universal.
3) It has instant emotional appeal.
4) You can immediately visualize the entire story.
5) It can be stated in one sentence.

As I mentioned, Lori breaks these down and gives lots of examples in her class, but I found the list itself immensely helpful. I hope you do too.

Second idea:

This was a suggestion given by Randy Ingermanson, author of The Snowflake Method of Plotting. He said that to get an idea of how to write a one-line summary of your book, habitually visit the NYT bestseller list and read theirs. It's a fantastic idea, kind of like learning to write book jacket blurbs by reading other book jackets. So simple it's easy to overlook.

So, here are some examples from Lori's HC class:

  • A cocky cop must find a way to save people stranded on a city bus that will explode if is slows below 55 mph. —Speed

  • Videotape kills anyone who watches it within a week. —The Ring

  • Embattled husband-and-wife assassins wind up hunting each other. —Mr.and Mrs. Smith

And here are some examples from the NTY bestsellers list this week:

  • A man whose wife has been kidnapped has 60 hours to come up with a huge ransom. --THE HUSBAND, by Dean Koontz

  • A doctor’s decision to secretly send his newborn daughter, who has Down syndrome, to an institution haunts everyone involved. -- THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, by Kim Edwards

  • Detective Lindsay Boxer and the Women’s Murder Club investigate unexplained deaths at a San Francisco hospital. -- THE 5TH HORSEMAN, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

  • A woman returns to her hometown and re-examines the troubling events of her past. -- SUSANNAH’S GARDEN, by Debbie Macomber

  • An Afghan-American returns to Kabul to learn how a childhood friend has fared under the Taliban. -- THE KITE RUNNER, by Khaled Hosseini

  • A young widow fights back when intruders storm her bed-and-breakfast in rural Idaho. -- COVER OF NIGHT, by Linda Howard

  • A political operative investigates the murder of a former senator. -- DEAD WATCH, by John Sandford

If you study HC, you start to see which threads to pull out to attract agents and editors. If you read enough of these, you start to see how your stories fall into the template.

Share some of your tips on creating one-line summaries of your novels, and share examples with us. I'll work on mine and post them in the comments later.



Almost everyone is afraid of something. I'm afraid of heights. Very afraid. I can't look down from my second story deck without getting a sick feeling in my stomach. I remember being a child and taking a trip to the Sears Tower with my parents. They got a little upset when I wouldn't move two feet away from the elevator doors to look out over the city with the rest of my family.

I'm also afraid of spiders. When there's one in the house, my oldest son has to take care of it for me because I'm such a wimp.

I know these two fears very well, have lived with them for years, and yet I rarely write such fears into my characters. Actually, I very rarely give my characters real internal fears. Their fright generally comes from outside sources. Giving fears and phobias to characters can add another layer of depth, but for some reason I don't often think to give them those traits. I think, for me at least, I'm not getting to know my characters as well as I should.

Do you have any fears or phobias? Do you give them to your characters?

:~: Monday, May 28, 2007 :~:

Children in Fiction

Happy Memorial Day to everyone, albeit a little late. Sorry I was MIA. We went away for the weekend and I only just got home this evening. Whew. I'm tired. It was a fun weekend, but lots of work with the kids. As I've said before, a vacation with the kids may be a blast, but for the parents, it's definitely not relaxing.

I started reading a book this weekend that has kids in it. Twin four-year olds. Because I have a newly-turned five-year-old son myself, I easily related to everything the heroine was going through with her boys. The author's descriptions were really great, especially of the boys bouncing off the walls, chaos running supreme, followed by the heroine losing it with them, cooling down, then going back in to apologize to the little devils for nearly blowing a gasket (been there, done that). As well-written as the book was though, I found my mind wandering. See, I LIVE that myself every day, and it's nothing new. If anything, it reminds me of the power-struggle I had with the five-year-old fifteen minutes ago when he wanted to play PlayStation and I told him time was up.

We've had discussions here about why you pick up a book in the first place. Some people do it to escape from real life. Some people do it for entertainment. Whatever the reason, in this case, reading about other parents' kid-struggles isn't escapism for me and it definitely isn't entertainment. For someone who doesn't have kids? Probably a completely different thought process going on.

Do you like reading or writing books with kids in them? I have writer-friends who say they love kids, that they're part of everyday life, therefore they like to write books with kids in them. I like kids too, but I find myself changing my thinking as my kids go from one stage to the next. When I had one child, my books (reading and writing) included a token child in it somewhere. But now that I have three and my life is spent chasing them (and they are young and rambunctious right now, so maybe that has something to do with it), I find I choose books with no kids, or I write books with no kids. For me, that's the escapism. I love my children, but sometimes I need a few minutes away from all that motherhood stuff.

What about you?


:~: Friday, May 25, 2007 :~:


(Sorry I didn't make it back to post another excerpt yesterday -- was busy helping to graduate eighteen seniors, now new alumni!)


(This excerpt is unedited)

He began unloading his own purchases, aware of her glances in his direction. She slammed the cargo area door closed. After a moment’s pause, she approached him, her shoes clicking on the pavement like angry castanets. Jason settled the bag holding his milk and ice cream in the corner of the truck bed and watched her approach.

The bright security light glinted off the elegant silver studs in her ears. Anger glittered in her eyes, and he stiffened. She marched up to him, her hands resting at her hips. “It’s probably not my place to say this, but I’m going to anyway. This job in Haynes County and your loyalty to your cousin are going to ruin your life. You need to get out, Jason, before you get sucked in.”

“Didn’t we have this same conversation last night?” He nestled a bag of canned goods in front of his milk. “I need this job. I need the money.”

Her gaze flickered toward the bags of groceries, and he could sense the thoughts tumbling through her mind. She thought he was already selling out, taking payoffs.

Sadness settled over her features, tugging the corners of her mouth down, wrinkling her brow. “There are other jobs out there. You don’t have to do this.”

If she only knew. He rubbed a hand over the tightness at his nape. “Yeah, I do.”

“Why?” She threw her hands skyward. “Just tell me why. Make me understand. And don’t give me that crap about family loyalty. The only person Jim Ed has any true loyalty for is himself.”

He shrugged. “He’s faithful about visiting Billy up at Reidsville.”

“Do you really think he’s going to look out for you?” She shook her head, dragging one hand through her hair, the short wisps standing out, begging his fingers to smooth them. “How do you know he’s not setting you up to take the fall for some of his shenanigans?”

A bark of laughter escaped him. “Shenanigans? Did anyone ever tell you, Miss Palmer, that you have an old-fashioned vocabulary?”

She muttered a word sure to have offended the old-fashioned English teacher they’d shared in high school.

He lifted his eyebrows and muffled his laugh this time. With a quick shove, he sent the cart into the buggy corral and turned to face her again. “Why do you care? Does it matter whether you’re slapping cuffs on me or Jim Ed?”

The question brought her up short. He could tell by her rapid blinking. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, it does. I don’t want to see him bring you down, too. You deserve more than that.”

The quiet words ricocheted through his brain. She thought he deserved better. No one – no one – had ever said that. While he tried to digest the idea that the girl who’d always been out of his reach thought him worthy of more than he had, she stepped forward, a hand gentle on his arm. “You have to get out now. Before it goes any further.”

I can’t. The words refused to leave his lips, his brain short-circuiting since all he could focus on was the warmth of her hand against his bare skin. He stared at her, her eyes dark and luminous. The muggy air pressed in on them, enveloping them in the silence of the deserted parking lot. Heat radiated from her skin on his, desire invading his blood stream, traveling through his body.

Don’t do this, man. Step away. Get in the truck and leave her alone before one of you gets hurt. Or dead.

I can’t.

“Jason?” Her lips parted on his name, and the desire hit his gut hard, even weakening his knees for a moment. God, he wanted to taste his name lingering on her full bottom lip.

With a hand on the truck to steady himself, he bent his head and covered those parted lips with his own. Her soft mouth moved against his, and her hand tightened on his arm. Making a small noise in the back of her throat, she swayed closer, and he drank in her unique taste – mint mingled with something sweet and wild.

His tongue danced across her lips, seeking permission to invade. Her palm moved up his arm, then her arms were around his neck, mouth open under his, her body aligned with his. The tip of her tongue tangled with his, tasting, teasing.

With a groan, he backed her against the truck door, not sure his legs would support him. Wanting pulsed in his abdomen, below his belt, through his entire body. He wanted her naked, stretched out beneath him on the purity of her white sheets, making those same breathy little sounds as he made love to her. The image exploded in his brain, and a moment passed before he realized her hands had slid to his chest and she was attempting to lever him away.

He pulled his mouth from hers, his breathing coming in unsteady gasps. Her fingers curved into the oft-washed cotton of his T-shirt. He nuzzled his nose against the curve of her ear. “Go home. Forget this happened.”

She slipped closer, heavy breaths pushing her breasts against his chest. Her cheek brushed his, and her knuckles moved, an inadvertent caress. Her clean scent filled his head. “Say you’ll quit. Get out before it’s too late.”

“I can’t.” Forcing his hands from her body, he reached for the door handle and wrenched the door open, rusty hinges squawking. Feeling her gaze like a continued touch, he climbed into the cab and started the engine. He pulled onto the street, aware of her watching him leave.



:~: Thursday, May 24, 2007 :~:


I'm running a "School's Out!" contest over at my personal blog this week. Through Friday evening, I'll be posting excerpts from my current and future releases. Saturday, I'll draw from all commenters for two downloads of What Mattered Most, my current release from Samhain Publishing.

Today, I'll be posting excerpts from my upcoming June 2007 release, Truth and Consequences, here at Romance Worth Killing For. Commenting here also gets you entered into the "School's Out" giveaway.

I'm really excited about the release of this book. Jason and Kathleen are one of my favorite couples. I enjoyed writing their story, and I'm hoping it will strike a chord with readers. Here's the book blurb:

When deceit and desire collide, the results can be deadly . . .

Book One of the Hearts of the South series.

For undercover FBI agent Jason Harding, coming face to face with the grown-up version of his adolescent dreams is a nightmare. Kathleen Palmer sees him as a despicably corrupt small-town law officer and a murder suspect. Trapped in a web of his own making, he must see his mission through to the end and bring down the crooked cops who’ve run Haynes County for decades. To do so, he must betray the only family he’s ever known and fight his growing love for Kathleen, a relationship that could get one, or both of them, killed.

Determined to uncover the truth, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Kathleen struggles with her attraction to the one person who’s awakened her since she buried her heart and emotions in her son’s tiny grave. Listening to her heart could destroy all she has left in life – her career and reputation. When the truth about Jason’s identity surfaces, they both face unimaginable consequences: Jason may lose his life and Kathleen the man she loves.


And an excerpt . . .

{The following is unedited}

Jason stared at the early model Grand Wagoneer in his driveway. He pulled to one side, steering with one hand while the other unsnapped his holster. No one had any business being on this isolated piece of dirt, and this presence had alarm burning in his chest.

They knew who he was. It was all over.

Heck, if they knew who he was, he was all over.

Images burned in his brain – the two dead boys, the cold, lifeless expression in Jim Ed’s eyes, blood splattered on a cracked windshield.

Stiffening his spine, Jason pushed the truck door open. He’d never been a coward, and he wouldn’t start now. Hand on his gun, he kept the cab of the truck between him and the Wagoneer, watching. The driver’s door opened, he tensed, and the interior light flashed over fiery hair. Fiery, just-tumbled-out-of-bed hair.

For a moment, he relaxed, the awful fear of discovery and retaliation subsiding under a wave of relief. A different fear flooded into the wake. He shot a glance at the trailer where he’d grown up, the only piece of dirt he could say he owned, and compared it to what Kathleen Palmer was accustomed to – her father’s acres of hunting land, the big white house she’d grown up in, with its Grecian columns, huge crystal pendant light on the porch and widow’s walk. The old inadequacies rushed in on him, waves on a shore.

He grabbed on to his old life preservers, the anger and resentment, and walked around the front of the truck to confront her. Her hair framed her face in a halo of wispy fire. The dim light made it difficult to tell if her eyes were brown or black, but he knew they were a warm brown dappled with gold. God, even her eyes were rich.

His gaze followed hers to the trailer and back to his truck. In those incredible eyes, he was nothing. The ache made him grit his teeth. Thumbs tucked in his gun belt, he slumped in a negligent posture he knew his high school teachers would remember. The poor kid who didn’t give a damn.

“Missed me, did you, Palmer?”

She fixed him with a disdainful look. “I have a few more questions. I’d like some straight answers this time.”

And he’d like her gone. “I’m busy.”

Her mouth tightened. “We can do this here, or I can drag you into Moultrie and make it last all night.”

Oh, my God. The words punched into his gut, mental pictures exploding in his head. Here. Elsewhere. All night long. He watched her, remembering her high school reputation as somewhat of a prude, an innocent who blushed at off-color jokes and never allowed a hand to venture to the hallowed ground beneath her cheerleading skirt. He was willing to use any weapon he had, just to get her out of here. For her safety as well as his.

He eyed her, letting his gaze take a lazy exploration of her body. “Baby, I bet you could, too.”

Awareness dawned in her eyes, and her mouth thinned to a nonexistent line. “Harding-”

“Call me Jason.” He poured all the bedroom innuendo he could into the words. Need stabbed his gut. What would his name sound like on her lips?

Furious color played over her cheeks, visible even in the bluish vapor light. Her long indrawn breath was audible, and she flipped open that damn notebook again. “You said that you arrived on scene the same time as Investigator Calvert from Chandler County.”

He ignored the question and stepped closer. He was going to make her hate him, and regret stabbed at him. What if he’d met her again in another life? One where he wasn’t a dirt-poor, desperate cop, so desperate he’d cover for a murderer? A life where they were equals, where she could look at him with respect, maybe admiration.

So close her scent of Ivory soap filled his nostrils, he reached out to finger one of those wild wisps. “If you make it last all night, do I get to call you Kathleen? Or is it always Agent Palmer?”

Hands shaking, she closed the notebook and took a step back, colliding with the Wagoneer. “You don’t get to call me anything.”

“Don’t you know this county’s dangerous?” He leaned closer, his breath mingling with hers. Her eyes dilated, and he felt her pull her stomach muscles inward. Avoiding contact with him. Afraid of contamination. Bitterness gnawed at him again.

“I’m not afraid of you.” Her voice was soft, steady.

Jason rested both hands on the hood, trapping her between his body and her SUV. Her body heat seared him, but the sensation brought no pleasure – just a nauseating regret that she’d never let him touch her, not willingly. He forced a smile, using Jim Ed’s for a pattern. For a moment, he was afraid he really would throw up.

“Well, sugar, maybe you should be.” He held her prisoner for a moment longer. Stepping away, he indicated her truck with a flourish worthy of an Arthurian knight. “Go home, Kathleen. Forget about those boys. Just let it go.”

She didn’t say anything else, but climbed into the Wagoneer and fired the engine. Jason didn’t wait to watch her leave. With the sound of her departure following him, he walked into the trailer that had once been his home.


I'll be back later today with more!


:~: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 :~:

White Bread

I spent the weekend in Hollywood with my daughter and her Girl Scout troop of 10 girls ages 10 & 11--we went to Universal Studios with their cookie money.

(Great girls, btw. We had a great time.)

On Sunday, we ventured downtown to Hollywood Boulevard and The Walk of Fame.

I'm going to be a bit non-politically correct here, might even make a couple people mad--just remember this is only my opinion...

I was highly disappointed. Its a very dirty part of the city. And that Hollywood sign, the one in the hills that they show on television all pristine white surrounded by lush mountains, looked about ready to topple over. It was dingy gray against dry, brown hills covered with ragged patches of sage brush.

On Hollywood Blvd, there were so many costumed out-of-work actors/actresses begging for tips after a quick shot of the camera it was like strolling through Tijuana with every merchant promising the best deal, nagging you to buy, attempting to charm you into their store. (And more than one of these wanna-be actors looked like they were out there to fund their drug habit.) There were the music artists snapping headphones over the ears of the unsuspecting tourist to try and get them to take their latest CD for a "donation", the homeless weaving palm leaves into roses and crosses and laying them out for sale over the star's stars.

I weaseled my way out of traipsing through Ripley's Believe It Or Not, The Wax Museum and The Guinness Book Of World Records Museum with the girls, left them to the troop leader and grabbed a soda at McDonald's. There, while I sat amongst the bizarre population of Hollywood Blvd, I realized something -- about myself and my writing: I live a white-bread life, so my characters come out like boring, flat Wonder instead of varied, interesting, rich seven grain loaf.

I used to work in San Francisco--I've seen people from about every walk of life. I'm no stranger to the rich, famous, entitled, selfish, arrogant, deranged, violent, crazy, poverty stricken, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, disease ridden, anything-goes, trying-to-find-themselves population of big cities. But after a couple hours of people watching over the weekend, I realized that I've been cloistered in my suburbs too long. I need to get out more!

For the life of me, I can't seem to create quirky, interesting characters. I've got my hero's and heroines down, going deeper with my villains, but the rest, those secondary characters or the one scene wonders? Boooring.

What writer do you think does a good job with different characters--the really memorable quirky ones (not necessarily h/h/v)? What are your methods for developing that type of character in your work?


:~: Tuesday, May 22, 2007 :~:

Changes and distractions

My oldest turned thirteen today. It's sort of a scary thing, knowing he'll be able to work next summer and get a learner's permit in three years. Even scarier is the fact that my middle one is twelve and my youngest is ten...so in about eight years I'll be all alone here.

I was thinking earlier about how hard it can be to motivate myself to write when I'm home alone all day and the house is quiet. Almost too quiet. When I first started writing, my youngest was in preschool and I learned to ignore the distractions and find a few minutes here and there to get a couple of paragraphs done--mostly late at night after all the kids were tucked into bed. Of course, back then they went to bed at seven o'clock. :grin:

Once my youngest started school full time I started writing full time, and my schedule slowly shifted. It's been a few years and I'm still not used to it. I'm looking forward to the summer, when I'll have those distractions again.

Has your writing schedule changed since you started writing? Do you have trouble writing with distractions, or have you learned to work around them?

:~: Monday, May 21, 2007 :~:

The Pros and Cons of Researching As You Go

I'm currently smack-dab in the middle of the wip, and as I've been writing by hand while my computer's been in the shop, I've learned something interesting. I am an as-you-go researcher. I generally research a good deal before sitting down to draft the first chapter, but as I go along, I tend to look up information on an I-need-this-now basis. It's worked for me in the past, especially as my characters are careening around cities I know very little about. (Google earth is awesome for this, by the way!)

However, the downside to researching as you go is that you can easily get bogged down in details. I can waste almost an hour looking up street names and bus lines and what store is on the corner of 47th and Main or what route takes you into Amish country in Pennsylvania. And if I need to know the name of the God of Rain in ancient Egypt? A few clicks of the Internet and I can usually find what I need. Of course, I generally find way more than I need, which takes away some of my writing time and can lead to a plethora of unproductive hours of web-surfing.

So now that I have my computer back, I'm trying something new. I have little red XXXs all through my manuscript for things I need to look up. Street names, intersections, places where I need a historical reference. I've set aside writing time and researching time, and instead of wasting hours reading on the net, I've printed out pages of data which I can read whenever I find the time (like when I'm stuck at the pool waiting for my kids to finish their swimming lessons, or when I'm sitting in the car waiting to pick one of them up from an activity). I already know this book is going to take a couple of revisions because the plot is more intricate than I've written before, so I'm trying not to be a perfectionist along the way like I've been in the past.

What about you? Do you research before or after you write that first draft? Or are you a researcher-as-you-go? What researching tricks work for you?


:~: Friday, May 18, 2007 :~:

A Fresh Approach

I have final line edits on TAC. They're nothing major, but the FLE did raise an important concern with my timeline. I'm thinking it's easily clarified, but it brings to light a more important topic.

The need for a fresh read.

Often, we, along with our CPs, and yes, even our agents and editors, look at a piece over and over again, until the details blur into the big picture.

This has me convinced that I may need a beta reader -- not a CP, but a person who would read a finished MS before I subbed it anywhere, someone to look at the piece as a whole, kind of a first reader.

What about you? Do you use a beta or first reader? If so, what has your experience been?


:~: Tuesday, May 15, 2007 :~:

Story Funnel

A story is like a funnel--a backwards funnel, where the narrow end is the beginning and the ever-widening cone gives way to more and more information until the end where you can see the whole picture.

The beginning of the story starts with the seed--the core idea, the inciting incident, which, often, will appear again with substantial meaning in the full story circle. In this seed, we involve core characters with clear GMC. As the story funnel widens we bring in sub-plots and secondary characters; we develop setting and structure and theme. In the end, we bring the reader to the widest portion of the cone where they can see the entire structure and even look back and see how it was built.


I'm revising Safe In Enemy Arms...again...and many of my agent's comments revolved around this idea (at least, my perception of this idea). She spotted problems like:

  • Too many characters introduced too quickly -- the reader needs to identify with the core characters before they get confused by secondary or less important people.

  • Too many point of view changes -- the reader identifies with a particular character by remaining in their point of view long enough to get a grasp of their GMC, their challenges, their fears, their desires, their flaws. Too many povs and the reader ends up not fully connecting with any.

    (An aside to this comment -- a judge recently commented on one of my manuscripts that too many pov shifts slows the story down because shifting from one head to another always puts the breaks on the story while the reader adjusts. An interesting perspective, considering I often use pov shifts to speed up the pace, and a potentially powerful technique, which could be used many ways depending on how the writer employs it.)

  • Too much information too quickly. Let the plot points unfold naturally, don't force it.

  • Slow down, elaborate on the important elements of character -- what makes them unique, what makes them likeable, what makes us want to root for them.

I find myself struggling between two writing techniques -- fast pace and deep characters. The two are often polar opposites in technique. To keep the pace up, something's got to be going on -- movement, plans, secrets, something. To build deep character, time has to be spent on emotions, goals, struggles, qualities. And there in-lies the trick -- building character via plot OR allowing plot to divulge character.

So much easier said than done.

As a result, what I've found in my work, or rather what my agent has found and astutely pointed out, is that I have conditioned myself so thoroughly to keeping things moving quick, quick, quick that I often don't spend enough time on the key character traits the make my hero/heroine/villain "sticky" at the beginning. (Sticky meaning the reader wants to stick around because they have to know what happens to the h/h/v.) At the same time, I'm trying to keep the reader interested in my plot and the characters by leaking little bits of plot or personal information too soon, which causes the story to become confusing rather than intriguing.

Ah, the balance game. How do you play it?


:~: Monday, May 14, 2007 :~:

Choose Your Own Adventure

Now that vacation is over and I've returned to the real world, I've had some time to get my head back into the writing mode. My computer is (finally) home (yippie!), and my plan is to spend all day uploading files I need to work on and get myself back into gear. But first, since we are five RS authors and today is my day to blog, I thought I'd talk a little about what makes a good romantic suspense novel.

I picked up five RS books to take on vacation with me. I ended up reading one, and that was primarily on the five+ hour flight home last weekend because I was bored and had nothing else to do. Normally I'm a reading fiend on my vacations, but not this time. Why? Simple. None of the books I took with me held my interest after chapter one. The one I did end up reading was your typical "investigation" book. The hero and heroine were working together to solve a mystery. And while it was entertaining, the writing was good, and the characters were likable, had I not been stuck on a plane, I'd have put it down.

The more RS I read (and write), the more I see this delineation within the romantic suspense genre. I think of them as the leaders of the pack and the followers. On one hand you have your standard investigative type books. These are the followers. The hero or heroine are typically police officers, FBI agents, private investigators, bodyguards or members of the military, following someone else's lead (like the big bad villain who's out killing young girls for no apparent reason). Sometimes your main characters are "everyday people" (i.e. retired police officers, FBI agents, or members of the military with specialized backgrounds), but these seem to be few and far between. In all investigative books, the hero/heroine are searching for answers to some sort of mystery. The bad guy is leading them along...doing something here, leaving clues there, and the heroine and hero are out to solve the mystery, save lives, and in the process, save themselves. They often team up to find the answers they need. The romance always develops from this close proximity of working together.

On the flip-side you have "chase" books. I think of these as the leaders. Someone's after the hero or heroine and, consequently, the main characters end up running for their lives, leading the bad guys along behind them. Sometimes they're running to find something or someone first. Sometimes the main characters aren't sure why they're being pursued in the first place (i.e. stalker books) and they have to figure out the "why" along the way. For the most part, chase books tend to put the hero/heroine's life in danger more often than investigative books. As the reader, you don't know what's around the bend. The tension is higher, the pace is faster and the romance is more volatile because there's little down time to "get to know each other".

I admit to liking "chase" books more. And all five books I took with me on vacation were investigative books, which explains why they didn't hold my interest. While forensics interests me (I was a science teacher in my previous life), the mundane questioning of witnesses that accompanies standard investigations bores me to tears. I read for entertainment, not rote memorization, so after about the third or forth witness in a novel, I tend to forget who said what and when, and those are the minuscule details you have to pay attention to in an investigative book so you can put all the clues together. This is the same reason I don't watch any of the crime scene shows on TV, which are wildly popular these days.

It used to be that the "chase" RS books were more prevalent on the shelves, but with the popularity of shows like CSI and Law & Order, I notice more and more RS books leaning toward the investigative side. So what do you think? As with all trends, this RS delineation will shift and jump and morph as time goes on, but what kind of RS books do you enjoy reading? The investigative ones, or the chase ones? And what would you like to see done differently in the RS genre to spice things up?


:~: Wednesday, May 09, 2007 :~:

Finicky or Demanding?

As I mentioned in my post last Monday, I'm a finicky reader. But recently, a revelation came to me while judging a contest, and I now think I'm more demanding than finicky.

I've noticed a familiar thread that causes my interest to wane: lack of consistency. Character consistency, to be more specific.

About a year ago, I began an intense search into the craft of building characters. My goal was to create heros and heroines that "jump off the page", characters "the reader continued to think about after they’d closed the book". If you've studied character development at all, those phrases are familiar. They establish...The Gold Standard. Although whose Gold Standard is a bit murky.

But I digress...

We strive to create characters who are unique and quirky, deep and motivated, compelling and flawed. But what I've found lacking in more than a few novels is the development of a character-related element that, IMHUO, is more important than any other single element: character consistency.

In the perfect novel (somewhat like the perfect house--there is no such thing), plot stems organically from character, takes on purpose, and thusly forms the character arc. Goal, motivation and conflict--the all-essential GMC--also stems from character. Without character you have neither plot nor GMC. Without plot and GMC, you have no story. Therefore, when characters are not consistent, the entire story goes wonky (that's a highly technical term, in case you didn't know.)

This is important on a fundamental level because lack of character consistency creates doubt in the reader. In other words, poor character consistency can damage author credibility or, even worse, destroy it. And if the reader can't trust the author, no matter what that author does or doesn't do, won't matter. The reader will put the book down and you can bet the next time they're trying to choose a read, that author will be one they steer clear of.

One of the books I read recently had an ex-military hero who I found inconsistent in a number of ways. Besides the obvious frustration that caused, I realized that because I didn't believe in the core of this character and his actions, I began doubting every other aspect of the story. I inspected the heroine's character more closely and, not surprisingly, found inconsistencies there that irritated me as well. Even the secondary characters were skewed.

Halfway through the book, it became obvious that the author had manipulated the characters to fit her plot. But because the characters weren't solid, the plot was weaker than it could have been, or should have been.

I'll give you examples of only a few of the inconsistencies I noticed in the character and attempt to illustrate how they affected the plot.

The hero was ex-military who had turned private investigator.

  • He repeatedly ignored his gut feeling about a situation he was observing. Continually disregarded his intuition about the actions or character of those he was investigating. I found those actions highly inconsistent with ex-military turned PI. And when those oversights gave way to plot points, I felt cheated as a reader, manipulated into going where the author wanted me to go instead of following the characters through their story.

  • Upon meeting the heroine, the hero is immediately attracted to her, but covers with a disinterested machismo. In the next chapter, and in a dangerous situation where he should be protecting the girl, one deep look into her eyes and he's frozen. His mind drifts. Not good. Not smart. Not consistent with a military role. But that's what the author used to build the romance--an intangible connection he saw in her eyes.

  • To make his character even less consistent, in another confrontation just pages away where the heroine is still present, he doesn’t hesitate to use those ingrained military skills to fight off three armed men, jump out a window and plunge into a body of water where he saves himself.

Believe me, I searched for justification. If you're going to go off-road with characterization, justification is a must. But it wasn't there. What weak offers were made, came too little too late, like an afterthought. I could almost see the gap in the process, where a critique partner pointed out the inconsistency and the author went back and added in what she thought would carry the justification. It didn't work.

Honestly, the story had a lot of good pacing, twists and turns. I think the author has a lot of talent. But all that was shadowed by the inconsistencies which dragged an otherwise potential success down several levels.

This is a complicated subject that touches on so many tangents and aspects of writing, I couldn't possibly cover it here. But I wanted to bring it up because I think character consistency is a primary building block for superior story structure and a key factor in author credibility.

Any thoughts on this? Examples of strong character consistency or lack-thereof and how it supported or damaged the story? No names or titles (unless we're making positive comments, of course), just examples.

Love to hear your opinions--including the ones that say I'm way off the mark. I'm a writer, after all--I've developed a fairly thick skin.


:~: Tuesday, May 08, 2007 :~:

Spring Cleaning

Sorry I missed my day to post last week--I was on the couch with a virus during the early part of the week.

The past couple of days, I've been working on spring cleaning my house. Today, it's the closets. It's been a few years since I've cleaned them out (actually, more like eight) and I'm sure there are plenty of things in there I can get rid of.

Once I'm done with those, I need to move on to my computer files. I'm usually okay at keeping those more organized than my closets, but there are also a lot of notes and old emails that are just taking up space, and some story ideas that aren't going to work that I need to clear out of the files. The hard part is figuring out which things need to be saved to disk, which should stay on the computer, and which ones really need to go. I don't know about anyone else, but for me it's an all day event. Probably because I let the stuff build up for so long before I start weeding through it.

Do you keep your writing files organized? If you spring clean your computer files, how do you tackle the job?

:~: Monday, May 07, 2007 :~:

Lost . . . Non-TV Version

Ever feel like you are so totally behind the curve, you don't know whether to step on the gas to catch up with the car miles ahead of you or drive off that steep cliff into the roaring Pacific below?

Okay, that was a really bad analogy, but that's me. I'm still without a computer. Still only able to use DH's computer in the evening when he's not working, and after a week on vacation have so many emails to wade through, I don't know where to start. *Sigh* Hence why this post is so late today. (Big apologies by the way. Contrary to what Joan said, I'm not still surfing in Maui - that was last week - this week I'm back to my everyday ho-hum, waiting for the computer nerds to fix the problem they created with my computer and ship it back to me. Not that I'm bitter about it or anything.)

There are some advantages to being without a computer. I'm actually making progress on the WIP, albeit handwriting my scenes - which is something I've never done before. I do have to say, it's sort of invigorating. Different. Kind of fun (but I still miss my computer). I'm not wasting time researching on the net while writing, neither am I jumping over to blogs or email when I should be writing. However, on the flip side, I feel totally out of the loop. I don't know what's happening with anyone. Certain people who shall remain nameless aren't emailing me because they know I'm not around to respond (not that I want to make them feel guilty or anything).

Here's what I know so far thanks to perusing blogs this evening:

Joan finaled in the Daphne. (Way to go, Joan!!)
Lin sold another book to Sahmain. (Congrats, Lin!!)
Karin Tabke sold two more books to Pocket. (Awesome news, Karin!!)
Lexi Connor finaled in the Put Your Best Hook Forward Contest. (You go, girl! You're on a roll!)

So I'm using this blog as an excuse to ask for help. Take pity on me and gimme the 411. What's happening with everyone?


:~: Sunday, May 06, 2007 :~:

Syntax Basics, Part 2

Okay, if you've used the syntax chart (see Syntax Basics, Part 1 for the link), you've had an opportunity to look at your favorite author's use of sentence structure. Of course, the style of syntax will change depending on the scene -- often authors will use shorter sentences to convey a sense of urgency and longer sentences to slow down the pace. (Bradbury is a genius at this -- also, his use of loose or periodic sentences is fabulous).

Now, it's time to use the syntax chart to take a look at your own work. Of course, you don't want to chart your entire manuscript, but you might choose three or four sections and chart those. You can then use the chart to analyze your own sentence patterns and whether those patterns or even verb choices are overused.



:~: Saturday, May 05, 2007 :~:

Syntax Basics, Part 1

I apologize for posting late, but I have the flu and yesterday I was responsible for pulling off the school's annual talent show. Okay, I was responsible for the kids I delegated that task to, but still . . .

So what is syntax? Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the English student joke -- it's what the church charges sinners. Nope, sorry. Syntax, as scary as it can be to a roomful of ninth graders, is simply the arrangement of words and phrases into sentences. Sentence structure. No real biggee, right? Everyone knows how to write a sentence. My ninth graders always want to know, "Why do we have to look at this? It's just sentences."

Wrong. It's not just sentences. Syntax is an important facet of a writer's style, affecting everything from pacing to fluidity. So how do you analyze syntax, in your own work or another author's?

First, you need a piece of writing with a minimum length of fourteen sentences -- you can do more, of course, but fourteen seems to work well for showing patterns. Also, it's not an overwhelming amount of data to analyze once you're finished. (Oh, forgot to mention -- you want this to be a piece of narrative -- this doesn't work as well with dialogue, although I've seen students do it).

For my advanced comp students, I have them first analyze a favorite author's syntax before tackling their own. Some suggested authors: Stephen King ("The Last Rung on the Ladder" works well), Ray Bradbury (fantastic loose sentences), Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Toni Morrison, Flannery O'Connor, Joyce Carol Oates. Anyone works. If you like a particular author's style, choose a piece of her writing to analyze.

Got your piece to be analyzed? Great. Now, download the syntax chart. Fill out each section of the chart. Special features might include figurative language, passive voice, imagery, functional fragment, inverted structure -- anything that jumps out at you. Under the verbs column, list every verb in the sentence, whether it is the main verb or the verb in a subordinate clause. Count the number of words per sentence (we'll use this later). Finished? Now, look at the chart. What do you see?

Leave your answers in the comments section, and I'll be back later today to talk about Part 2 -- Using the chart to analyze your own use of syntax.


:~: Thursday, May 03, 2007 :~:

stealing characteristics

I blogged over at Magical Musings on Tuesday about naming secondary ( or even primary characters) after family members, crit partners or writing buddies. I don't mean using someone as a model for the character--just borrowing their name.

In this post I'm going to take that bit of borrowing even further. Yep, I mean sneaking their characteristics into certain characters in a book. I bet we all do it, often without even realizing it. We pattern certain characters after people we know, or we've met, or we've heard of. Rarely, do the people we steal from recognize themselves in our words (thank God) but often other people who know them and read our work, will recognize the characteristics.

I've been dying to pattern a character after my Grandmother. But I haven't to date and probably won't, because I'm sure she'd recognize herself and it would hurt her feelings.

But really, the temptation is terrible-- and a conversation I had with her last night pushed that temptation up an entire level.

The thing about my grandmother is that she has this need to own the best. Her car is the best car ever made. It has the smoothest ride, the most leg room, the most comfortable seats. She tells us this every time we go for a drive with her. She'll go on and on about how everyone loves and raves about her car. Her house is located in the best part of town. The very best. . . and everyone tells her so. Her vacuum cleaner is the best model on the market. Cleans the floors and the rugs better than any kind of vacuum you can find. And her dog ( of course) is the best, the loyalist, the smartest, the cleanest dog that anyone has ever met.

So last night I called her up for a chat, since my parents are on vacation and my Grandmother gets lonely without my mom's nightly phone calls. And we chat for a while. I tell her about the rain, and how I love it since I don't have to water the yard. And she tells me she didn't get any rain--which is why her house is in the best part of town, because it rarely rains. (grin) And I repeat that I don't mind the rain. And the grass looks great. To which she replies that the rain will just make the grass grow faster and it will have to be mowed faster. And that her grass is the best you can find because it doesn't grow that fast. She only has to mow it once a week. So I say that's okay. I don't mind mowing it. And I only mow mine once a week too.

The conversation deteriorated rapidly from there. It went something like this.

My Grandmother-- "Well if you're mowing it once a week, you must be keeping the grass too short. My grass grows to two or three inches before its mowed. That's the best length for grass. It's healthier. If you let it grow out you'd only have to mow it every two weeks."

Me, trying to be diplomatic. "I like to keep mine shorter. So once a week is just fine."

Her--"but that's not good for it. It shouldn't ever be shorter than two inches. That's what mine is. And everyone tells me my lawn is the nicest they've ever seen."

Me, thinking fast. "Well I like mine shorter so I can see the dog poop. It's hard for me to see the dog poop if the grass is too long."

Her-- "You know Marmaduke's (her dog) poop disappears. I don't have to worry about about it on the lawn because it's simply gone in no time."

Me-- "He's probably going in the neighbors yard." (big mistake. Ohhh boy. Big mistake)

her-- "Oh no. Not Marmaduke. Why everyone tells me he's the best dog they've ever seen. He never poops in other people's yard. His poop disappears because of what I feed him. It's the best food on the market. Not only does it make his poop disappear, but his poop doesn't stink. Everyone tells me how he's the only dog they've ever known who's poop doesn't stink."

Honest to GOD!! this is exactly how this conversation went.
She must have taken my silence at this statement as disbelief.

"It's true." she said, her voice climbing. "His poop doesn't stink in the slightest. You'd never even know he went poop. You're just like your mother, she doesn't believe me either."

Which begs the question--well two questions actually--just what are my mother and grandmother talking about on their nightly phone calls? And has she actually gone out and smelled Marmaduke's poop? ( my grandmother, not my mother) Eweeee.

"So what do you want to do for Mother's day?" I ask her, trying to change the subject,

Only she isn't going to give in so gracefully. "I want you to come out and smell Marmaduke's poop." She tells me without missing a beat.

Ahhh.....like NOT.

You can see why its such a temptation to pattern a character after her. . .but then again, nobody would find such a character believable.

:~: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 :~:

When Life Overwhelms

I had another topic slotted for today's post -- character consistency and how it lives at the core of a good novel.

But life overwhelmed me. I didn't get it written. And today, as I head off to another ten hours at the day job (filling in for a sick coworker), I considered copping out of the blog altogether. There are moments when you just can't do it all.

But, instead, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reach out to all of you who deal with the same things on a daily basis--work, husbands, kids, laundry, PTA, extended family, friends, health, grocery shopping...etc.--and see how you handle life when it overwhelms.

We all come to some level of comfort in our lives. We have to. At some point we learn how to say no, to juggle responsibility with passion, to seek a happy medium.

I'm a little like the injured human body when life comes at me at sixty miles per hour--I back off any unnecessary activity and focus on the basics of repair the way the blood rushes to a bodily injury to provide oxygen and nutrients in an effort to cure.

(That's why there are stacks--and I mean STACKS--of laundry everywhere, why there's no decent food in the house, why I planned to back out of the blog today, etc.)

Hopefully, next week things will slow down and I can spread myself out again.

Share with us how YOU do it. How you fit your passion of writing in when life comes at you at sixty-miles per hour.