Monday, November 30, 2009

I've Got a Secret

The exercise I posted was to consider a secret a character in one of our WIPs might be keeping. How does this secret affect him/her? What does the character think will happen if others discover his/her secret? What’s at stake for the character?

In my WIP “Twice in a Lifetime”, my time-travel romance set in England in World War 2, Claire has a secret. However, since the story is told entirely in the POV of the hero, Frank Brennan, the reader is not privy to this secret until near the end of the story when it is finally revealed. But even though Frank doesn’t know what the secret is, he knows there is something Claire is keeping from him. Claire’s secret has affected Frank for sixty years, and when he goes back in time to 1944 he is determined to discover what she’s been hiding. I’ll let Frank tell you about it in his own words:

I feel like there is some kind of invisible hand on Claire’s shoulder, pulling her back the minute we get too close. There are moments when we’re so close, our thoughts so in sync, that I’m sure we’ll be together like this for the rest of our lives. And then she suddenly shuts down, pulls away, closes herself off from me, leaving me to wonder what I’ve done to upset her. But when I ask, she denies that anything is wrong. Does she think I’m stupid, that I don’t have eyes in my head? I can see the faraway look on her face, the fear in her eyes. What secret is she keeping from me?

I imagine all kinds of things. She’s secretly working as a spy for the British government. Or maybe her fighter pilot brother is the spy, flying secret missions over Europe. Or perhaps her father is a Nazi sympathizer and she’s protecting him.

All these scenarios are crazy and I know they can’t be true. But at least they keep me from thinking about my biggest fear. She’s in love with someone else.

I see the way Charles Henderson looks at her. His feelings for her are plain for anyone to see. When I drummed up the courage to ask her outright if she was in love with Henderson, she denied it. She said she cared for him deeply since they’ve known each other from childhood. He was one of her oldest and dearest friends, she said. But she claimed she wasn’t in love with him. She claims she’s in love with me.

I want to believe her, I really do. But I keep remembering my first visit to 1944. I keep seeing Claire in Charles’ arms, passionately kissing him. How can I believe she loves me when I have that picture in my head constantly taunting me? Why would she insist she loves me if she is tied to Henderson? Why can’t she just tell me the truth?

If she would tell me honestly that she’s in love with Henderson and we have no future together, it would hurt tremendously but at least I’d have the truth and be able to get on with my life. For sixty wasted years I’ve wallowed in bitterness and anger over her betrayal. She begged me to trust her, not to believe what I saw with my eyes but to listen to what I felt in my heart. But I just couldn’t. Was I wrong? Should I have believed her?

Now I’m back in 1944 and I’m determined to know the truth. What is Claire’s secret?

Secrets affect the ones keeping the secret and everyone around them. Not knowing the secret is sometimes worse than discovering the truth because the possibilities we make up in our heads are often worse the real thing. And, like Frank, we never have any real closure. He spends the rest of his adult life bitter over Claire’s betrayal. Claire’s secret affects all his relationships for the rest of his life. Now he’s got a second chance at love and he needs to decide whether to believe in Claire and her love, or to find out once and for all what her secret is.

So, do your characters have a secret that is hurting them and the people around them? One thing I’m struggling with is leaving hints about the secret without totally revealing it. I want readers to say “I didn’t see that coming, but looking back, it all makes sense.” If you don’t reveal a secret and want to keep it under wraps for a good part of the story, how do you maintain that balance between telling too much and telling too little?

In other news, I begin my virtual blog tour today. I will be at Emma Lai’s blog so please pop by and say hello. To entice you, I have not one, but two contests running at my website. Go to for details and entry requirements. You’ll also see my blog tour destinations. I hope you’ll follow along.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Writing Exercise - Secrets

Sometimes secrets can motivate a character’s behavior and influence how she feels about everything else in her life. Secrets add mystery and tension to a story.

Give a character (or characters) in one of your WIPs a secret. How does it affect her life and her behavior? Is she constantly trying to hide the secret? Or does everyone around already know her secret but stay silent? Have your character tell the secret as if she were in a therapist’s office and could bare her soul without anyone else learning about it. The best secrets are the most surprising ones, the ones that make your jaw drop in astonishment when you hear them.

Here are a few secret scenarios:

A character is harboring a secret that is preventing him from fulfilling his true desire.

Two characters share a secret but it’s not what everyone thinks it is.

It’s an old family secret and there’s only person alive who knows about it. Will she take it to the grave?

There’s a secret and everyone knows about it except one particular character and it happens to affect that character the most.

There is a small group of people who meet in secret at regular intervals.

A character has a secret and if anyone found out, it would destroy his life.

One character discovers another character’s shocking, sad, or terrible secret.

A character thinks she has a very private secret, but actually, most of the people close to her know about it.

A character knows a secret that would destroy one person’s life but save the life of another person.

There is a secret that would affect everyone on the planet but only a small, elite group of characters know the secret.

These secret ideas are taken from There is some good advice here on writing secrets into your stories. I hope you'll play along with us!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Welcome Back Missy Tippens

Merry Christmas! Well, I guess it’s a little early for that. But I have a Christmas book out this month, so I’m celebrating! A Forever Christmas, from Steeple Hill Love Inspired, is on shelves now. It’s the first Christmas story I’ve written, and I thought I’d tell you a little about how it came about.

Last December, I’d sold a book proposal but needed to revise the plot. And one day while working on a blog post for the new Craftie Ladies of Romance blog—where we had the theme of The Twelve Days of Christmas—an idea struck. Here’s the one-liner that hit me:

A woman with a mission. Twelve days till Christmas. Will this single dad grasp the true meaning of Christmas in time to nab the one gift his boys really want: a new mom?

So I had my book idea. And 8 weeks until my deadline.

I quickly divided up my word count by the number of days available, giving myself 6 weeks to write the first draft and 2 weeks to revise and polish. It came out to about 2000 words per day. Very doable…if I didn’t get behind over Christmas.

Well, I jumped right in. I took my Alphasmart and laptop everywhere! I got up early and got right to work on meeting my word count. I wouldn’t stop until it was done. (Of course, I would go pick up my children from school even if I hadn’t finished 2000 words!) :)

Over the Christmas holiday, I took a few days off. But I still had to take my laptop to my inlaws’ house with me. They were kind enough not to bat an eye when I excused myself to go write. I was thankful I could go to an adjoining apartment where my husband’s grandparents used to live. I kept up with my word count, wrote the 4 hours in the car on the way there and back home, and kept right on target. Then I finished a couple of days before my self-imposed deadline! But it was a very rough draft since I had flown through it.

I worked hard over the next two weeks, trying to make it presentable for my editor. But I have to say, I’ve realized I’d really prefer to have a little longer to polish a manuscript. It was finished, and I made my deadline (I’m pretty sure I over-nighted it to get it there!). But it required a lot of revisions. Bless my editor for all her hard work (and her patience)!

I’ve learned that next time, I’ll write more words per day and then allow myself more time to revise and polish—time to layer in all the things that I have to add in since my first drafts are mostly talking heads. :)

What about you? Do you usually get much work done over the holidays? Do you schedule in writing time or do you plan to take time off?

As well as being an author, Missy Tippens is a pastor's wife, mother of three and owner of a home business. Add her church activities like playing hand bells and singing in the choir and you're talking about one busy lady.You can find Missy on the web here:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Meet Jane and Ryan...

Last week I talked about one sheets and although I can’t reproduce them here, I can share with you the blurb for my romantic comedy. I was going to share a snippet of Lady Bells with you, but as of this moment, I hate that story. So, here’s the blurb for Jane and Ryan's story, and a short snippet.

Potatoes or sex? Potatoes offer so many options, sex is, well, just sex.

Mad at herself for the demise of her marriage and the extra pounds she’s packed on since finding her husband in the arms of a Victoria-Secret-lingerie-clad secretary, Jane Green has had enough. The New Year and her thirty seventh birthday make a perfect excuse to take back her life. And she has a step by step plan complete with spreadsheets and timeframes.

That plan does not include one gorgeous personal trainer no matter how hard he tries to wangle his way into her life. Hanging out at her work, showing up at her apartment, recruiting fellow employees in an effort to show off his expertise will not sway her from accomplishing her goals on her own. She’s got to prove to herself and her cheating husband that she is independent and sexy, even in big girl panties and industrial strength bras.

Hmm, maybe gorgeous personal trainer will come in handy after all.

**Author’s note: This snippet is at the end of Ryan’s (personal trainer) first visit to her apartment. He’s interrupted her ‘research’ and has trashed all of her "How To…" books, except one.

He was good. Smooth, syrupy voice pulling her in to his promotional message, implying that she would soon reap the rewards of his personal tutelage. She shook her head. "I don’t want a personal trainer."

Holding up his hands in a surrendering kind of posture, he laughed softly. "Sorry, I tend to get carried away. I really love my job and am always spewing off on the benefits of lifting weights when given the opportunity." He took a step, barely noticeable, but suddenly he was again within her personal space. "I could come and check out your gym at work if you want, give you a few tips to get you started. I know you’ll see much faster results if you incorporate weights into your program."

Jane stepped backward. "The phone is in the kitchen. You should call your cab. Now."

"Right." He did as he was told leaving Jane to stand in her living room surrounded by her hoard of silent personal trainers.

"Can I use your bathroom before I head downstairs?"

"Through there." Her eyes were focused on the book he suggested reading. The lure of seeing better results dangled like a big, sugar glazed donut to her out of shape body. Could it be as easy as he said?

"See you later Jane. Thanks for letting me up and good luck with your program."

She snapped out of her trance and made it to the small entranceway just as he was opening the door.

"You still have my card?"

His smile had expanded into a full lip curl. She could tell he was struggling to control the whole thing getting away from him and actually opening his mouth. All powers of womanhood suggested that that would be a dazzling display, one that would stop hearts. His eyes crinkled with merriment. He pissed her off. "I don’t need a personal trainer."

"I know. Good night." The door shut quietly behind him.

With the damned video still clutched in her hand, she shot the dead bolt on her door, dropped the video on the kitchen counter, and killed the lights. She headed for the bathroom, closing the door and leaning over the sink. He was a seriously gorgeous man and it took her a moment to rid her mind of his image standing there in her living room looking at her. She groaned and turned to the full-length mirror to see what he had been viewing.

"Oh. My. God!" The list! She had taped it to the mirror to remind her of the things that needed to be done, to inspire her every morning when she just wanted to forget the whole thing. It was there, at eye level, for anyone using the bathroom to peruse at his leisure. All of her goals – losing weight, toning up, getting a trendy haircut – were listed including buying and wearing sexy underwear EVERYDAY. She was mortified.

Then her reflection caught her eye. She was dressed like a freak: too big T-shirt underneath a dark green grandmotherly cardigan, sweats that had no real shape with the exception of the requisite legs, and big, pink, fuzzy slippers. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail leaving her whole face open for viewing - no make-up, black circles and blotchy skin.

She pointed a finger at herself. "It’s a good thing that you will never see him again."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Missy Tippens Returns to Prairie Chicks

This Saturday, Honorary Chick Missy Tippens returns to Prairie Chicks Write Romance.

Missy will share her Christmas writing experience as it pertains to her current release, A Forever Christmas.

As well as being an author, Missy Tippens is a pastor's wife, mother of three and owner of a home business. Add her church activities like playing hand bells and singing in the choir and you're talking about one busy lady.

You can find Missy on the web here:

and as a Seeker at

Please join us on Saturday to visit with Missy.

Ruts and Renovations

What? Another week has gone by already? I really don’t want to admit it but I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut. It could be a good rut or a bad rut depending on the way you want to look at it.

From a Nano point of view (POV), it’s a bad rut if you’re going by word count because I haven’t really advanced. I’m working at it every day but going over the same scenes. If this was a Nano project I started from scratch on Nov 1st I wouldn’t be allowed to edit and perfect but this is a work in progress and editing is the name of the game.

From a perfectionist’s POV, I’m really doing some great stuff. I was zipping along editing, revising and adding new stuff in. Then one day when I sat down to write, I realized I should change something from the day before. It was something that would really enhance the story so I went back, revised and then jumped forward again. The next day I sat down and the same thing happened but not for the day before, I needed to go back to the day before the day before. And then believe it or not, the same thing happened on the third day. And the ideas kept coming. Of course, I could have just let it be…but what kind of a writer would that make me if I ignored the good ideas?
I finally finished after 5 days. Yes, you read that right – I continued working on that one scene for 5 days. And by the time I finished, I’d added over 1300 words to the scene. When I sat back to think about it, the original version had lacked progression. It’s Day 8 on the trail for Emma and the outlaws but except for a few words, they didn’t DO anything except ride.

In the new version, the big scene is broken into 2 smaller ones. The first scene has a very tender moment between Emma and Dan, the hero. And in the 2nd scene, Dan is…hmmm…I can’t tell you what happens to Dan… let’s just say there’s an incident with a gun and leave it at that.

The sensory details I added have come from a better understanding of the Wyoming landscape now that I’ve travelled there and can realistically imagine myself being there in Emma’s shoes.

Those 5 days, however, have really made it difficult to reach my NaNo goal of completing the revisions before the end of Nov.

Something else that's interfering with my writing schedule is the contractors in my house. If you've been following my personal blog at all, you'll know I had a 20 square foot hole in the wall between my living room and bathroom. We've been using 2 shower curtains as a temporary wall and although it blocks out most of the visuals, it does nothing for the sound. And believe me, when you're sitting in the living room, you can hear EVERYTHING. We've been waiting for the contrcactors to come and fix it but they've been lagging their feet. I've had friends and relatives tell me to start bugging them. I said, 'NO'. I told them I needed Nov for NaNo and that I'd start phoning the last week on Nov so they'll come the first couple weeks in Dec.

Well, it's started. Which means I can't be out in my cave writing because I'm babysitting the contractors. So far, we have a new soaking tub installed, the new drywall is up, and the wallpaper is has been taken down on the one livingroom wall where they cut into it. Also, the icky borders in the bathroom are down. Today (Thurs) they come back to do all the muddying/plastering followed by painting the adjoining wall, painting the bathroom and putting up the tub surround. Then the next contractors come out to replace the vinyl in the bathroom and the livingroom carpet. I don't like their timing but I'm so glad the wall is back.

So, any renovations going on at your place? Any planned? And how long has it been since you changed the paint and wallpaper?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Was It Worth It?

Well, its work-in-progress week here on the prairies and the last week of NaNo. I have worked my butt off so far this month! As of last night I had written 39,660 words, which is 348 words short of being right on target, but I’m still hoping to make that up by the end. I will say this - there is some heavy duty revising in my future. But was it worth it? Absolutely. In the back of my head I’m already planning what story will be the right one to write next November.

I’ve learned that I can write without revising. I can leave spelling and grammar mistakes unchecked. I can forget about writing in scenes and chapters. I can leave stuff that sucks and move on to create stuff that sucks worse and be glad I did because there’s always a little crumb of something in each ‘section’. I’m learning the last week is very challenging. Thanks, Janet, for listening to me whine.

I’m stalling out far more frequently then I was at the beginning of the month. I tried to blame it on knowing my characters better, on having a better sense of what they would or wouldn’t do in a situation. But that’s malarkey. I’m supposed to be able to write anything, make mistakes, not worry about it. What I am, is tired. Tired of coming up with new stuff when I chomping at the bit to start revising. But I shall resist and keeping working my way towards 50,000 words and November 30th.

Here’s a little snippet from Kate and Seth’s story, the second installment in my Aspen Lake series. I’ve ended up with a lot of dialogue so I’m going to share some of it with you. Excuse any and all other mistakes. First draft remember.

Kate glared at him.

“What?” Or better yet - what now?

“You answered my door. Naked.”

“I’m not naked. I acted out of instinct. And don’t you think you’re over reacting?”

“No, I’m not over reacting. She’s my mother. And you’re … you’re naked.”

“I think your mother is familiar with the concept of sex.”

“Not daughter sex. No mother wants to know about that.”

“And it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s me she saw and not someone more appropriate.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“I’m being ridiculous?”

“What if it had been Marbella Miller on the other side of the door?”

“So what?”

“So what? There are two thousand people in this town. All starved for news about the local girl slash disgraced model who couldn’t keep her life, marriage, or her career together.”

“And having people know we’re sleeping together would be bad publicity when you’re looking for good publicity.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Then you aren’t standing where I’m standing.” He shoved past her straight for his pile of clothes.

“All I meant was, there’s no need for the whole entire town to know we’re friends.” She put the word friends in finger quotes.

“Is that what we are – friends?”

“You’re the one who said it didn’t need to be complicated.”

She had him there. He tossed the blanket aside and yanked on his briefs, his jeans, his shirt, his boots and his pride. Put his thumb to his ear and pinky finger to his mouth. “Call me. I’ll being waiting with bated breath for my next booty call.”

There you have it a little snippet. What have you been working on this month? Getting anxious to finish something and start something new? What are you writing plans for December?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

WIP: Work in Progress? Or, WIP: What is Perfection?

The Chicks have designated the last week of each month for an update on the writer’s life as it applies to our own situation. My title reflects my tendency to want to keep polishing my story, endlessly changing words to make the manuscript better. Yet how will I ever get to a final (perfect) draft when I have trouble getting the first rough draft written? Here is a progress report on what I have been doing this month.

Like Jana, I have two different stories in progress. Since the beginning of November I have been working exclusively on a novel set in the nineteen-fifties. I decided to use the NaNoWriMo challenge to give me a jump start. The idea for this novel, which I have titled Until, was first used in a short story version which was not at all satisfactory. So it is now a novel about two young women, who travel abroad to study at an English university in 1957, their adventures and relationships over one life-changing year.

I used an early draft for a workshop on novel writing in August. The instructor encouraged me with suggestions which simmered in my subconscious for several months. She wanted me to begin the novel at an earlier point in the action. She was actually telling me that I had too many flashbacks and that the back story should be brought forward to give the reader a better chance to see the characters develop before plunging them into scenes that would be the central focus of the story. For a long time, I couldn’t find the right starting point, but one night my muse kept me awake by bringing the story into my conscious mind. By morning, I had a scene all ready to go. This was before I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I have discovered by participating in Book-in-a-Week (the annual SRW activity in January that helps us all to kick start our writing in the new year) that I respond to objectives and deadlines better than a nebulous “I am writing a novel and I get to it when I can” approach. So when I heard that a couple of other Chicks were going to do NaNo, I thought it was exactly what I needed. I started a totally new draft. What the heck, I already have several versions, but I have not looked at any of them since the first of November. I wanted to take a fresh approach, which gives me an interesting assignment for the next stage when I begin to edit and perhaps incorporate scenes, dialogue, descriptions, from those earlier versions.

Whether I meet the word count quota doesn’t matter as much as the progress that I will have made on this novel by the end of the month. I’m behind at this point, but still hopeful I may make a come from behind effort in this last week. And believe me, perfection is not anywhere in the objective!

One thing that I have set aside is research, while ideas pour out without heed to sequence of scenes, length of sentences, proper paragraphing, style be damned, and so on. I have not stopped to look up anything, but as I write I am making a list of items or topics (now numbering 30) that I need to pursue further. After all, although I am very familiar with the decade, I have to confirm that I’ve got it right, that my memory isn’t playing tricks on me. Since it’s fiction, I also need to look up information about things that I never did know or experience myself, in order to write a convincing story. There are books I need to read, maps and newspaper accounts that I want to consult, to fully construct the atmosphere of the time.

Because the draft I am working on is so rough, you won’t be getting a snippet of any sort today. Hopefully, the next time I write about my WIP it will be closer to perfection, and I will be able to share something from it with you. However, I will leave you with a couple of possible taglines: 1. How far will friendship stretch? Across the ocean and back, no matter what? 2. The decade of the Fifties was a time of innocence. Or was it?

The other story is one I have been working on for a long time. (It keeps getting shoved aside by other projects – and is currently shelved in favour of Until.) I call it my "Laura and Fiona story" for want of a title, and I posted some excerpts from it three weeks ago in response to Janet’s exercise which required a character to make an important decision. It is a contemporary novel about a mother and daughter, their relationship with one another, and how their individual romances become entangled with complications. I began with the idea that by writing it I would learn how to write a novel. I heard Diana Gabaldon say the same thing about her first (wildly successful) novel, Outlander. Not that I am expecting the same result. I wouldn’t be surprised if Laura and Fiona end up in a bottom drawer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Very Slow Works-In-Progress

I’m currently working on two projects right now, a contemporary romance entitled “Welcome to Paradise” and a time-travel romance set in World War 2 called “Twice in a Lifetime”. I say I’m working on them, but the truth is, at the moment neither of these manuscripts is going anywhere.

Life has conspired against me the last few weeks. Or perhaps it’s just laziness on my part. In any event the word count on both stories has remained completely and totally unchanged.

I work two part-time jobs and since September both have been at the peak of their busy seasons, requiring me to work extra hours. Then there was all the time I spent getting ready for the conference I attended in October, along with my efforts to organize some promotion for my novella coming out in January. Everything combined together means little time and no energy for my “real” writing. I’m just trying to keep up with blogs for Prairie Chicks. Oh, and did I mention we’re renovating our bathroom?

Whine, whine, whine.

Yes, I know. Some writers continue to write even with two broken arms, valiantly tapping out their manuscripts by hitting one key at a time with a pencil clenched between their teeth. Apparently I missed the memo on how to write while exhausted, overwhelmed and/or incapacitated.

If I sound snarky, it’s because, well, I am. I get very grouchy when I don’t write. For whatever reason.

But even though I haven’t actually done any writing on my WIPs, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I'm organizing a virtual blog tour (more on that next week) so I've been doing a lot of writing for guest blogs. I've also been thinking a lot about my works in progress. In the case of “Welcome to Paradise”, I think I’ve worked out (at least in my head) some of the problems I was having with the story. Janet’s exercise about the hardest thing a character has had to do got me thinking about my character Bridget and what was really motivating her. When I started digging deep into Bridget’s psyche, I decided that what has motivated her all her life has been her fear of abandonment. Her father’s abandonment profoundly affected her. Every relationship she’s had, with the exception of the one with her daughter, has seen someone abandon her, or she abandon them.

Figuring that out has been quite a revelation for me. Now if I could just get it all down on paper!

Here’s short snippet “Welcome to Paradise”. I read this at my critique group last time:

He hadn’t planned to kiss her any more than he’d planned to hold her in his arms. But as soon as his lips touched hers, tasted her sweetness, Jack knew he was lost.

He’d worry about what it all meant later. For now he only wanted to enjoy the woman in his arms.

She made little sounds of pleasure that excited him, even though he knew Bridget could break his heart again the way she had twenty years ago. He placed his hands on her buttocks and pulled her to him. His brain screamed at him to stop even as his body demanded more.

This is insanity.

This is heaven.

Bridget pushed away first. She was breathing hard, and her eyes were huge as she stared at him, a myriad of emotions evident on her face. Shock, surprise, fear, pleasure. Her hand went to her mouth, touching lips swollen from his kiss.

“What was that?” she said, sounding confused.

“It’s been a while for me,” Jack said, trying to sound cool, as if she hadn’t just totally changed the entire complexion of his world, “but I believe it was a kiss.”

Like I said, I’ve been busy trying to put together a virtual blog tour to promote “Burning Love”. Please go to my website at and check out my destinations. I hope you’ll join me as I make my way around the web. Don't forget to also go to my contest page. I've got two contests running right now. And hopefully, I’ll soon find my way back to my “real” writing.

How do you deal with not being able to write, either because of time constraints or writer’s block? Do you get snarky like me, or have you found a more productive way of coping? And has anyone out there figured out how to go without sleep and/or create more hours in the day?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welcome Cathryn Fox

By the time you read this article, I’ll be smack dab in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and will probably be ready to pull my hair out, toss my computer out the window, or sit in a corner and eat copious amounts of chocolate. What is NaNoWriMo, you ask. Well it’s National Novel Writer’s Month. Here’s the link if you want to check it out.

So basically what you do is write like crazy for the month of November, and try to complete a whole book. You’re supposed to turn off the internal editor and just forge ahead without looking back to ‘fix’ anything that feels off. Forget about cooking, forget about laundry, forget about car-pooling, heck forget about showering if you want to…okay, well, maybe that’s not the best advice. Please shower.

Believe it or not, this is a fun experience because Nano is more than about just making a word count and walking away with the bare bones of a book. It’s about connecting with other writers, cheering and encouraging one another on, and forging friendships. My local RWA writing chapter has set up a yahoo account where we all have friendly competitions, pep talks and push one another to reach our daily word count.

So what can you do ahead of time to prepare for Nano?

First, tell your family what you’re doing so they know not to disturb you. I let mine know that "Mom, I need-" is no longer in our vocabulary.

Turn off the phone during your working hours and tell the family to text you only if it’s important. (Why is it teenage girls think everything is important? I can certainly wait until December to hear that someone put a bad facebook picture of her up. Ah, the drama.)

Be sure to delegate chores, and if you can, solicit the help of family members and other relatives.
Put a sign on your door that says, "Disturb only if you’re bleeding from the head." Oddly enough, this has happened.

Drama Daughter: Knock Knock. "Mom I need-"

Crazy Writer: "Stop, that is no longer in our vocabulary."

Drama Daughter: "But Mom I’m bleeding…"

Crazy Writer: "From the head?"

Drama Daughter: "Yes."

Crazy Writer: "Oh."

Prepare easy meals ahead of time, and stick them in the freezer. Spaghetti sauces, lasagne, pizza and casseroles. Heck fast food for a month isn’t going to kill anyone, and if they get tired of it, maybe it will inspire them to cook. That’s my secret evil plan actually.

So those are just a few tips on how to survive Nano month. Sound like fun? You bet it is. Come check it out and I hope to see you participating next year!

Oh, for those with any other advice on how to prepare, or recipes for easy meals I’d love to hear from you. Anyone who leaves a comment gets a chance to win a copy of Instinctive, NAL HEAT!

In Fox's titillating new series we enter Serene, a supernatural playground where sexy shape shifters live behind the white picket fences...

"Cathryn Fox is the next Queen of Steamy Romance." Julianne MacLean-USA today best selling author

Cathryn's website has a complete list of her books, a link to her blog, AND an excerpt from Instinctive.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Perfect Pitch...

Last week I talked about the Surrey International Writer’s Conference from a generalist viewpoint. This week, I thought I’d share my pitch and blue pencil session experience and I’ll try not to use the word ‘wow’.

In preparation for the conference, I spent a lot of time creating and perfecting a one sheet. I had done some research before, finding these two articles gave the best information and examples: and I was also lucky enough to have been at one of the SRW meetings where the topic was one sheets. We had discussed the essential elements and tried to create a one sheet for the movie Stardust. An interesting discussion ensued with everyone having a different vision for the document. We finally agreed that a one sheet was highly personal and would not only reflect the book you were pitching, but also your voice.

Basically, the one sheet includes your contact information and a synopsis of your book. It’s not a query letter. It’s more like a blurb you’d find on the back cover of a book.

Of course you can all guess that I was pitching The Seduction of Lady Bells. And to create a one sheet with the potential to get someone to ask for more, I needed a rock solid summary of my manuscript. The short synopsis on my query letter, which had garnered requests, would be too long. So, I went to work revamping it down to one paragraph. I also wanted a fabulous tagline that would get attention and make you want to read more. I suffered through Hayley’s Synopsis Bootcamp. She made me sweat and pushed me to find the choicest nuggets in my story. Various writer friends were inundated with e-mails asking for their opinion as I wrote and re-wrote. In the end, my blurb rocked.

Then I had to decide on contact info and a tagline, how the whole thing would be laid out on the page, and then make copies. I opted for a stylized feather and inkpot instead of my picture only because I didn’t have a good, professional picture (I didn’t thing the agents and editors would appreciate me in my jammies with my dog, Taz). It was Muriel who pointed out the connection with writing historicals and the feather pen – that had never even crossed my mind. I decided while I was burning the midnight oil, that I should also have some business cards. Thank goodness for computers, cardstock, and a husband who is a genius with technology. I used the same feather pen/inkpot on my cards, made sure all my contact information was there, added the blog address, and congratulated myself on a job well done.

Oh, the excitement escalated. If I wasn’t already rushing around to get ready, I decided I better have two one sheets AND write my taglines on the back of my business cards. The first extracurricular activity was for my Blue Pencil Session. I was going to be speaking with an author of romantic comedy and I figured Lady Bells wouldn’t be appropriate. I had an agenda – I wanted someone to tell me which genre I should focus on. I created another one sheet and changed up the font to be more contemporary, fun. Forced my brain to come up with a great tagline AND a title, and printed off copies of that. Then I had to figure out how to print on the back of my business cards (so it wasn’t upside down and too small to be readable). After all that, I remembered Anita’s advice to have a folder for each project so you weren’t juggling papers while the 10 minute pitch clock was counting down and the next person in line was breathing down your neck. Whew!

Boy, am I ever glad I did all of that. I felt professional as I took the seat at my pitch session with Ms. Valerie Gray of Mira Books. I handed her my one sheet and then used another copy to help me stay true to my pitch. She loved it. There were questions about sequels (because that seems to be a big thing in the publishing world right now), if I had other manuscripts in the medieval romance genre, and if I had an agent. Oops, no agent. That’s OK, she pointed out agents I should talk to and told me I had a viable, interesting story that could do very well, even when medieval romances are not the trend. Just to have someone from the industry look at my writing and confirm its merit had me beaming. I wasn’t looking to sell my book right then and there – I wanted to know that I had a chance, that my story was worth telling, and that my writing didn’t make people wish they had never learned how to read.

Then I did something I never thought I would – I approached an agent after a workshop. It wasn’t the workshop I was supposed to be in, but the one I had chosen was full. Serendipity? I didn’t even know I was sitting next to an agent until I stood up to leave and happened to read her nametag. In a split second’s decision, I stepped closer, held out my hand and introduced myself. When I told her about my pitch and the need for an agent – she asked if I had anything with me. Why, yes, yes I did. And I handed her my one sheet. She read it over, told me it was pitch enough, and asked that I send a partial to her after the conference. ACK!!

The Blue Pencil Session went equally as well. Eileen Cook liked my one sheet, enjoyed the three pages I had brought with me as per conference guidelines, and suggested that I should write romantic comedy. She made my day – this being the second day of the conference and the agent excitement had been the first day. I handed her my card – the one with the taglines – and she liked both story ideas. My time was up as I asked my last question "What about branding?" A topic for a lengthy discussion - which we had later at the book signing.

One sheets and business cards – so worth the blood, sweat and tears! With those tools in my briefcase, I felt professional and prepared. Now I probably should have given out more than just one business card (not counting the cards I gave to the SRW members who were at conference with me), but I know I can always use them again. And because of my work on the one paragraph synopsis, I believe I have a much better handle on writing short blurbs for query letters in the future.

So, People of Blogland, have you written a one sheet? How about a blurb for your query? Do you have business cards? And are you prepared to hand them out at conferences and other writerly functions? I’ve shared my good news (partial request), what good news have you had recently that you’d like to share?

Janet (who was also lucky enough to sign up for a second Blue Pencil with the fabulous Diana Gabaldon - I was just a little starstruck :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prairie Chicks Welcome Cathryn Fox

Join us this Saturday when Cathryn Fox becomes an Honorary Chick. Cathryn's booklist is extensive and she's published with Ellora's Cave, Avon Red-Harper Collins, NAL-Penguin Group, Spice Brief-Harlequin, and has recently signed with Samhain Publishing. Her books are both e-published and print. Check out her website for a full list of her titles, upcoming releases, and her blog.

Here's a section of her bio from -

I've been reading romance novels for as long as I can remember. I just never thought I'd be writing them. In fact, I graduated from university with a business degree and started working in the Finance Department of Environment Canada...shiver. A few years into my career, my hubby, who's a meteorologist, got posted up north, population 800. I quit my job and went with him. At first all the spare time was great, then I got bored so I started to read. Day and night. When I ran out of books to read I decided to try writing one. After all, how hard could it be. Ha!! Well, you guessed it. It was hard!

And this is what Romantic Times Magazine has to say about her latest release, Instinctive -

"Fox's tale of paranormal beings and primal exploration lurking under the surface of a quaint New England town is a winner! The strong heroine and hot panther hero are a combustible combination. This book is hot enough to steam up the windows and exciting enough that you'll ruin your manicure." — Romantic Times Magazine

FYI - anyone leaving a comment on Saturday during Cathryn's visit will have a chance to win a copy of Instinctive. See you then!

Bales, Buckets and Bedrolls

I'm working diligently on Emma's Outlaw which is my NaNo project but keep running into things I need to research so I thought I'd tell you about some of the items that are taking up my time.

If you recall, I did a similar post Jan 15th when I wrote about some of the items Emma carries with her and the research I did to confirm they were available in 1879 in the American West. These items included paper, a pencil and a penknife. I researched many other items while writing this story and thought I’d checked them all but now as I’m editing, others have begged for my attention. Among them bales, buckets and bedrolls. Oh, and hotcakes. And baking powder. *sigh

Bales: I have a scene where Emma and the outlaws put the horses in a small barn for the night because there’s a raging storm outside. So, they tether the horses and break open some hay bales for feed. Several hours after I revised the above scene, it dawned on me that bales weren’t used in the 19th century. I did some research and sure enough, the machine we refer to as a baler wasn’t invented until the 1930’s. There were some stationary balers used around the turn of the century but the hay needed to be brought to them much like an old threshing machine. This wouldn’t have been economical for the land around the barn my travelers stumble across. Result: Find loose hay or have the horses go hungry.

Buckets: At one point, Emma takes her water-filled bucket and puts it on the stove to heat. In my mind, it was a metal bucket so there wasn’t a problem. But wait—was the metal bucket readily available in the old west at that time? I’ve spent hours researching this and although I’ve found old metal buckets for sale as antiques, I can’t find a definitive circulation date. By the 1860’s there was a plethora of tin household items available but the only reference I could find to a metal water bucket started in 1881. Two years too late for me. Instead, I have Emma finding an old lard tin and using that to heat her water.

Bedrolls: Because they take to the trail, they use bedrolls and sleep under the stars. Except Emma doesn’t have a bedroll so Dan shares his. Bedrolls are a lot more padded now than they were 100 yrs ago but they still use a heavy cotton canvas on the outside and a blanket or quilt on the inside. I couldn’t find an authentic photo of a bedroll so I’ll show you the one closest to the one in my book. Well, except instead of plastic buckles, it will be tied to the saddle with rawhide.

While on the trail, Emma does some cooking so I had to research if they had pancakes back in her day, and no—they had flapjacks.

They also didn’t have baking powder for her biscuits so I had to find another leavening agent to activate the baking soda. So far they all need a liquid except cream of tartar which has been around since 800 AD so I’ll use that.

It seems I can’t go a day without wondering about the origin of some word. It’s frustrating at times but I want to be as accurate to the time period as possible so I go through the hardship of surfing the net for answers. I just wish it wasn’t so time consuming.

Have you every slept under the stars without any kind of covering like a roof or a tent? Would you if given the opportunity? Or do you worry about bugs and animals crawling all over you?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Top Ten Female Villains

“A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development.” Agnes Repplier

Female villains are on my minds these days as I have one running around on the loose in my head. She’s doing her best to make my hero’s life miserable and I like to think she’s succeeding with some measure of success. I like being in her head. It’s fun in there.

It’s got me thinking of other female villains or antagonists. And there had been some great ones! So I decided to create a list of my favorites. Feel free to add the names of your own top female baddies in the comment section.

My Top Ten Favorite Female Villains

10. Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. Brought to life on film by the inestimable Meryl Streep. Just once. Just one time I’d like to turn to someone and say: “Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?”

9. Famke Janssen as Phoenix in the movie X-Men: The Last Stand. Haven’t read the Marvel Comics so can’t say how the movie compares to the comics, possibly it doesn’t in any way. This pick might be a bit iffy but Jean Gray to the Dark Phoenix works for me.

8. It’s my way or a lobotomy. Nurse Mildred Ratched (the best female villain name ever) from Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Louise Fletcher won an Academy Award for her Nurse Ratched portrayal. Such a great movie!

7. Who can forget Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery or Kathy Bates depiction for which she won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe? To this day the sight of a sledgehammer gives me shudders.

6. Angelina Jolie as the assassin Fox in the movie Wanted who believes in a twisted “Kill one, save a thousand” philosophy. Also, very nice…tattoos.

5. The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Tilda Swinton stole the show, or the movie I should say, with her portrayal of The White Witch. Is it cold in here, or is it just me?

4. I may have mention a time or two that I’m kind of a Nora Roberts fan. I may have also mentioned in the past that my favorites are her Chesapeake Bay series. This series also includes one of my favorite villains, Gloria DeLauter. Joan Crawford has nothing on this woman. Shudders.

3. How about Rebecca De Mornay as Peyton Flanders in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Out of all the creepy scenes in that movie, the breastfeeding scene is still the one that creeps me out the most, proving you don’t need to hold a gun to be terrifying.

2. Then there is Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell character, a crime novelist / psychopath / leg crossing femme fatale from Basic Instinct. She gave new meaning to the word ‘research’. And proves you do have to be careful of crime novelists welding ice picks.

1. And my favorite female villain of all time is Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction. I don’t recommend her stew recipe. Does Michael Douglas know how to pick them or what?

So there they are, my top ten list. And I didn’t even get to Disney’s female villains: Maleficent, Cruella De Vill, Madame Medusa, Ursula, Yzma, or the Queen of Hearts. Which one’s your favorite? I’d have to say my personal, hands down number one Disney female villain is …

Some great links to blog posts and articles on creating memorable villains.

Antagonizing on the Prairies a blog post by our own Prairie Chick, Hayley.

How Not to Create a Villain found at

Creating Villains People Love to Hate and Villains, both found a Fiction Factor.

Creating Memorable Villains Here’s an interesting blog post written by Jeffrey Hirschberg with questions to ask your villain to help develop his or her persona. Written with screenwriters in mind but well worth a look.

Hope you enjoy the links.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Ring in Fire

Bear with me please folks. I don’t, at the moment, have a character I know well enough, or wish to digress with, to do this exercise of creating for them a life-changing decision.
As some of you know, I have been playing with the idea of writing a book using a second century B.C. ring I have, as a link between stories set in half a dozen time periods.
To get the ring in motion, I have thought about - but not yet written about - a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great. The soldier is the first character to receive the ring because the artist witnesses him make a decision of life-changing magnitude.
So, this will be the first draft of the first scene. I don’t plan to stay up all night with it so it will be a rough, rough draft and feel free to criticize at length. Advice never hurts and you have helped me so many times already with your comments to me and to others.
Edward is obviously not an ancient name of a Mesopotamian, Persian or any other ‘ian’ I suppose, but I need a name tonight and I will research later
Here goes:
The smoke, the fire and the screams, but most of all the roar of a firestorm, ground at him until he owned a rage that exploded within him, to tear at his brain. He shook with it. He thought it would burst out of him like a demon. His terror at his rage frightened him as much as the blood and the fire viciously whirling out of control around him, making the city square worse than Hades could ever be.
He was covered in ash, grime and blood that wriggled down his bare chest in streams of sweat. The heat weakened him, but he, Edward of Mesopotamia, soldier who marched with Alexander the Great, was no longer strengthened by the blood madness that had held him until seconds before. His eyes were opened and he was aware now.
He was stunned, aghast at the sights before him. This walled city of Hanula, once the strongest city in Persia, never before entered by an enemy, had been entered now. Alexander’s army, 10,000 strong, was celebrating, still driven by the fury that allowed it to defeat Hanula’s army. Now, the fury drove it to recreate the city with blocks of the dead and dying, streets full of blood and towers of fire which were rising a hundred feet above the city walls. By morning, this uncontrolled and utterly vicious crushing of liberty and of life of Hanula’s people, would leave a city of the dead. The only thing that would quiver with any life at all would be snakes of smoke rising weakly as the fires burned down to coals and entered the earth below to wait like an animal for another chance to destroy.
Edward’s attention was drawn abruptly to his left. An old man lay in the street struggling uselessly to rise or crawl away before the maddened, stampeding horses, slashed him to death with horrific blows of their iron shod hooves. He was partially covered by a blood-stained robe that might have been white or maybe grey.
What a stupid question to ask himself - the color of his robe - Edward thought. He raged toward the man, sending horses, soldiers, screaming women, children and terrified dogs fleeing from him with his whistling sword as he slashed back and forth before him to clear his way. The old man’s eyes widened but he composed himself in the same breath of time, to face the death he believed Edward was bringing to him. The sword sighed as Edward slipped into its sheath and clanked against the stones, as Edward kneeled to lift the old man into his arms.
A blast of air caused by a disintegrating, fire-eaten building crashing down, blew an opening in the smoke around them. Edward glimpsed a vision of a hell-bent man glowering in the opening, his sword raised with both hands and his legs spread apart to take the shock of the blow he was about to swing down across Edward’s neck; a blow that would tear off his head.
For a speck in time, Edward stared at his murderer, then he deliberately straightened his shoulders and glared defiantly at the man in the vision, kneeling at the same time to lift the old man into his arms.
Alexander himself stared back, then stabbed his sword into its scabbard and strode away into the smoke.
Edward climbed the marble steps of some kind of temple with the old man sagging in his arms. He knew nothing of these people and their gods. He placed the old man on the stone floor as comfortably as he could make him and then slid down beside him, leaning his head wearily against the wall. He pulled off his helmet, dropped it beside him and dropped his forearms onto his bent knees.
“That was stupid you know. He won’t forget. You have brought on your own death by carrying me here. What possessed you?”
“Hate, I suppose”, Edward answered in a voice so hollow it shook the old man.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Secondary Characters - Part Two

Last week in Part One of "Secondary Characters", I discussed the types of secondary characters. This week we're looking at the jobs secondary characters need to do in our books.

Purposes of Secondary Characters.

Comic Relief – These are my favourite secondary characters to write because, unlike the hero and heroine, they don’t have to behave better than most mortals. They can say, and do, outrageous things and get away with them, making them great fun to write. One of my favourite characters from my own work is Josie in “Her Best Man”. She’s the over the top, lovey-dovey newly wed on the cruise ship who can’t take the hint that Sarah and Will don’t want to spend every waking minute with her.

Tragedy – Sometimes the actions or the fates of secondary characters point the way for our lead characters, telling them what to avoid. In Marsha Canham’s book “The Blood of Roses”, the secondary characters Deirdre and Aluinn come to a tragic end at the Battle of Culloden. Main characters Catherine and Alex must fight that much harder to avoid the fate of their best friends.

Rounding Out Characters – Providing families and friends to our characters makes them more rounded, real people. After all, few real people live in isolation so why should your characters?

Providing Friendship and Guidance – Secondary characters often act as sounding boards to the main characters. The heroine can discuss her feelings about the hero with her best friend and the best friend can offer advice. Readers are then privy to the feelings of the main characters.

Pointing out Contrasts – The virtues of a lead character may be illustrated by contrasting her character with that of a secondary character. For example, the hero may come to see the inner beauty of the heroine when it is directly compared to the ugliness of spirit of his ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend may be far more physically beautiful, but she can’t compete with the heroine’s kindness, humility and courage.

Showing True Colors – When heroes and heroines interact with secondary characters they reveal who they really are. For instance in the TV show “The Gilmore Girls” Lorelai treats best friend Sookie with love. Although the citizens of Stars Hollow are quirky to say the least, she shows them respect and loyalty. And although she makes jokes about her parents, we see her vulnerability in her interactions with them.

Advancing the Love Plot – Secondary characters should always advance the plot in some way, especially the romance plot. Perhaps they introduce the main characters. Or perhaps the secondary character is someone the hero and heroine both care about. In K.N. Casper’s Superromance “Her Brother’s Keeper” Krisanne must return to her hometown when she receives the news that her brother is dying. Going back home puts her in contact once more with his best friend and business partner Drew, the man she’d loved and who betrayed her seven years earlier. They must come together to look after Krisanne’s brother in his last days.

What Not to Write

There are certain pitfalls to avoid when building a secondary character:

Stereotypes and Cartoons – While secondary characters should be drawn with broad strokes rather than fine details like the main characters, they should not be so one-dimensional that they feel like cardboard cut outs. Try to avoid the stereotypes that we’ve seen so many times – the scheming other woman, the evil ex-boyfriend, the nasty mother-in-law. Give your secondary characters something that makes them more human and less cartoonish. One of the secondary characters I despise is the precocious/over-precious child. Having raised children of my own, I know that children are not sweet and adorable at all times. Especially teenagers.

Secondary characters that steal the show - These are secondary characters that are so well drawn and interesting that they make the lead characters look bland in comparison. I once read a category romance in which the heroine, a former professional ballerina, left the stage to marry the hero, who was a forest ranger, or some such thing. When the heroine’s former dance partner arrived on the scene, he was so much more compelling and interesting than the hero that I had to ask “You left this guy for the forest ranger?” It made the characters lose all credibility for me.

Same old, same old – If the secondary characters in one of your stories could be interchangeable with the secondary characters in another of your stories, you’ve failed to make them truly unique. Literary agent Donald Maass says “Supporting players in manuscripts are too often forgettable. They walk on, walk off, making no particular impression. What wasted opportunities”.

Secondary Characters who control the fate of the lead characters – A story in which secondary characters scheme to throw the heroine or heroine together, or solve the mystery, or explain things to the main characters that clear up all disagreements and misunderstandings between them, is far less satisfying for a reader than a story in which the heroine and hero achieve these goals by their own actions. Lead characters must always be active and in charge of their own fates.

Do you have a favourite type of secondary character? Do you like series where your favourite secondary characters are given books of their own? Which authors do you believe create the most memorable secondary characters? Do you have favourite examples of secondary characters from books, TV or movies?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Calling All Authors...

On Nov. 9th we received an e-mail from Amy Wilkins about a new digital publishing company, Carina Press. Since then, I've seen some buzz around the world wide web about this wonderful new opportunity for both new and well established authors. Here's some of Amy's e-mail.
Dear Prairie Chicks (love the name!),

As an aspiring author blog, I wanted to share some cool news with you that we hope will be of interest to you and your readers – today Harlequin is announcing Carina Press, a new digital-only publishing house that we plan to launch in Spring/Summer 2010. We are looking to acquire all kinds of stories – mostly romance and erotica, but also other genres like mystery, science fiction, etc. that Harlequin doesn’t usually consider.

...more information – including our submission guidelines, FAQs, and Carina blog – can also be found at

We would appreciate if you could help us get the word out by posting something to your blog, passing it on other aspiring authors you know, etc. – we are looking for great books starting today!


Amy Wilkins - Assistant Manager, Digital Content & Social Media
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
We hope you take some time to click on the link Amy provided. All the information about Carina Press can be found there along with submission guidelines. Carina Press may be just the publisher you've been looking for! If anyone has any other information on this new company, share it with us in the comment section.
Happy writing - and publishing :)

Honorary Prairie Chick Loree's Winners

Loree and Cash have chosen 2 names from all the comments rec'd yesterday.

And those names are:

Carole and Theresa!

These 2 ladies will receive their choice of either Love Finds You in Paradise, Pennsylvania or Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska (her current release).

Loree, thank you so much for sharing a crisp November Saturday with us. Your invaluable experiences as a veteran author have given us both insight and anticipation for our own book signings. I know I'm not the only one who has bookmarked your post for future reference.

I hope your upcoming book signings go well and yes, please, let us know when you have another post for us.

You can find out more about Loree at:

Loree's books can be found at:

Loree can also be found on Facebook, Shoutlife, MySpace, Twitter, and a motley assortment of other social networking sites.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Welcome Loree Lough

Book signings (and why we love to hate them)
by Loree Lough

Say the word “book” to an author, published or not, and you’ll likely see their faces light up. If we didn’t love books, we wouldn’t write them, right?

Say the word “signing”, and you’ll get a slightly different reaction as they flip through the definitions of ‘sign’ stored in their memory banks: Contract with publishing house? Contract with literary agent? Contract to seal a multi-book deal? Or better still, a movie deal?

Put the words together and watch the fun start! This simple two-word phrase can strike terror in the hearts of best-sellers and gonna bees alike. Like it or not, book signings are high on the list of awful, annoying, aggravating self-promotional chores such as enrolling at Internet social networking sites, creating a web site, blogging, and other equally agonizing marketing chores.

Over the years, I’ve logged close to 100 book signings, myself, and they’re higher than childbirth, root canals, and hearing “Yes, that was me kissin’ Bethanie Miller” on my “Most Painful Life Experiences” list.

‘Saddle blocks’, Novocain, and a kick to the shin helped dull the ache of the other stuff, and learning how to “put on” a good book signing made those events less painful, too. In the hope of sparing you some of the discomfort, I’m happy to share some of those learned-the-hard-way lessons here:

First, accept the fact that you’re going to sell books. Lots of them. And accept the fact that as a published author, book signings are part of your job, like owning a computer and having a dependable email program. And accept the fact that you’re gonna have to ‘do’ as many signings as possible to ‘hawk’ your latest novel.

If you can, choose a month or season that somehow 'connects' to your book's theme. (Like, if you write romance, Valentine's Day is a perfect date for a signing!)

If you're blessed to live in an 'author populated' area, invite them to join you. Multi-author signings are perfect examples of 'the more the merrier'.

Don't depend on the book store or organization to 'advertise' for you. Send press releases to the local papers, TV and radio stations announcing the date of the signing.

Don't depend on the book store or organization to provide a nice 'spot' for you to sit, either. Stash a card table and chair in the trunk of your car, just in case.

Don't depend on the book store to know where to 'put' you. You want to be as close to the front door as possible. So make a new friend of that store manager or whichever employee has been forced to don the Author Liaison cap, and volunteer to take over as many of his/her duties as you possibly can. They'll love you for it (and you'll sell way more books)!

Dress up your table with a tablecloth, a vase of flowers, a picture frame or placard that highlights your latest title. Display your books in a cool ‘stacked’ design to catch the attention of passers-by. Put out a bowl of candy or plate of cookies and invite people to have a snack. (They won't be allowed to wander the store while eating, so it's a perfect opportunity for you to talk with them!)

Put out a stack of business cards and don’t be afraid to hand one to anyone who dares make eye contact! They may not buy your book then and there, but you have at least a 50-50 shot at inspiring them to look up your web site. (Who knows, they might just go from there to Barnes and Noble to order your book!)

Don't sit behind the table like a banker whose sole joy in life is saying NO to a loan. Instead, stand in front of your table and smile! Say howdy as folks walk by. Tell mommies the baby in the stroller is a cutie. And tell daddies you really 'dig' their comfy lookin' plaid shirt. The idea is, don't just talk about your book. Give customers a reason to want to stand with you, talk with you. Ask them about their favorite author and book, and find legitimate connections between you and your work and that writer and his/her work.

Do not buy into the 'You can please some readers some of the time, but you can't please every reader' rule! Do you write romance? Then suggest to men who stop by that they should buy your romance for their wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, or mothers-in-law! Do you write hard-boiled detective stories? Tell the women who pause the book will make a great gift for their husbands, fathers, brothers... you get the idea.

The most important rule is, have a good time! If you're laughing and gabbing with someone, people might just walk up to see what all the fun is about... and if they can get in on it, so much the better!

A word of warning: Unless you're already a rich and famous author, don't expect to sell a lot of books. Moving a half dozen copies during an hour-long signing is quite a feat, so give yourself much-deserved credit! (And just between you and me? I attended the signing of a very well-known writer. I figured that since he’s a mega-hit, fans would wrap around the building a couple of times, so I got there an hour before the signing was scheduled to begin. Would you believe that—counting me!—only 21 other people showed up? And the 4’ tall stacks of books surrounding his table? All still there when the store closed!)

After the signing, ask the manager/organizer if you can sign the left-over copies and slap on an 'autographed' or 'local author' sticker on the front. (Bookstores will keep signed novels on the shelves, see, and might just use 'em in gift baskets or as door prizes during their promotional periods.)

Then clean up your mess and any litter left behind by people who visited your table, and return the area to its former neat and tidy state. Thank the manager/organizer on site, and on the drive home, treat yourself to a forbidden snack. You earned it.

When you get home, take a minute to pop a couple of good old-fashioned 'thank you' notes in the mail… one to the store manager, others to any store personnel who helped your hours at the signing table pass a little more quickly and efficiently. That little courtesy will go a long, long way in helping them remember you the next time you call to set up a book signing!

Here's hopin' your signing will turn you into the next bestselling author!

What would inspire you to attend a book signing… and what’s most likely to keep you away?

Loree is giving away a copy of Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska and a copy of Love Finds You in Paradise, Pennsylvania. So leave a comment with your email address to be in on the drawing for one of them.

At last count, best-selling author Loree Lough had 75 books, 62 short stories, and over 2,500 articles in print. Dubbed “edgy, heart-tugging adventures” by reviewers, her stories have earned dozens of “Readers’ Choice” and industry awards. Her current release is Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska.

You can find out more about Loree at:
and of course Facebook, Shoutlife, MySpace, Twitter, and a motley assortment of other social networking sites.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Conference Debriefing...

Hard to believe 3 weeks have passed! Of course, I’m talking about my weekend in Surrey, British Columbia attending the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SiWC). And with our new format here on The Prairies (a week dedicated to our WIPs and a week dedicated to writing exercises), this is the first opportunity I’ve had to talk about the conference experience. I’ll try to sum it up in a word –


A very long plane ride from one coast of Canada to the other ended with a reunion at the airport with Suse, Muriel, and Jana. I hadn’t seen them since the retreat in May – and we had spent so many hours e-mailing each other in preparation for the conference. And the excitement began. All of us talking at the same time, inquiring about health, plane trips, and the most important issue – ‘Are you ready?’ The poor cab driver was stuck for an hour listening to four grown women chatting incessantly. And scenery? Didn’t see a thing with the exception of the Skytrain Bridge that the cab driver pointed out as we crossed the Fraser River. WOW!!!

First on our agenda, get registered. Our conference packages made it all official and seeing the appointments we had made back in June when we had signed up gave me a case of the nerves. This was really going to happen. I was really going to sit across from industry representatives and talk about my writing. WOW!!!

Our conference started bright and early on Friday morning. The ballroom at the hotel was massive – and packed. Writers from every genre were represented and the energy was tangible. Then came the presenters, editors, agents. I sat in the same room as Diana Gabaldon, Donald Maass, Susan Wiggs, Terry Brooks, Anne Perry, Anthony Dalton, Gary Geddes. My neck was sore from craning in order to get a look at those writers who I had heard of, many I have read over and over again, and the agents who I’ve researched and memorized their web addresses. WOW!!!

Every keynote speaker inspired me to be a better writer, to believe in my dreams, and to stay true to who I was as a person. OK, Susan Wiggs tried to convince me to not become a better writer and not pursue my dreams – but that’s OK, Susan, I understood your cryptic, reverse psychological address to the masses. And Terry Brooks – I was laughing so hard, I only remember that one day I’ll be famous when I know George Lucas. WOW!!!

Every workshop I attended contained a wealth of information I could apply to my writing. From the first panel session (Biology and Chemistry: The Science of Romance) where Valerie Gray talked about publishing houses liking the prospect of trilogies and Faith Black confirming that the inciting incident has to include your hero and heroine and happen in the first chapter of the book. And Lisa Rector’s workshop The First 50 pages where I learned to get that conflict on the page, don’t save the good stuff for the middle of the book, and bring in change (sense of change, fear of change) immediately – in other words, think like a reader. Carol Mason’s High Concept Fiction and How to Sell It gave me a new acronym: USP – Unique Selling Point: an honest voice, you not a copy, it’s what makes you different. To my last workshop – Warrior Writer with Bob Mayer. The best quote of the whole weekend was found in that room: The successful writer spends his time and energy acting. The workshop is usually a full day’s hands on affair that got condensed into an hour and a half. I would love to take that workshop. He was so motivational that I went out and bought his book The Novel Writer’s Toolkit. WOW!!!

We met so many great people. Writers, just like us, working hard and dreaming of the day when they’d get The Call. The conference organizers did a great job getting us to mingle at the meals. Various categories were listed on the tables and you could join which ever suited you best. My first lunch was spent with other writers who were attending their first conference. I was somewhat surprised to find that most of the writers at the table were writing for young adults. If that’s not a sign of the hot market, I don’t know what is. Everyone was so nice, talking about their work and interested in what I was writing. Then we met some members of the Vancouver Romance Writers (they held a get together Saturday evening), some of whom you’ll meet in the upcoming months as they guest blog here on The Prairies. And, of course, we found fellow Saskatchewanites at every turn. WOW!!!

I can honestly say the seven of us who went had great experiences. Next week I’ll talk about how my pitch session and blue pencil sessions went. Now, that’s a WOW!!!

So, People of Blogland, have I convinced you to look at going to Surrey next year for a conference? How about any conference? Are any of you fans of the great authors I listed here? If you could hear one author give a keynote address or a workshop, who would it be? If you could go to one workshop on any topic in writing, what would it be? Have you had a WOW moment this week?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Loree Lough to Visit on Saturday

This Saturday, Inspirational romance writer Loree Lough, author of over 70 books, stops in to visit Prairie Chicks Write Romance.

Loree has chosen to write her post on Book Signings. She says, 'Over the years, I’ve logged close to 100 book signings, myself, and they’re higher than childbirth, root canals,...' and then she mentions something about her “Most Painful Life Experiences” list. That can't be right. Can it?

At last count, best-selling author Loree Lough had 75 books, 62 short stories, and over 2,500 articles in print. Dubbed “edgy, heart-tugging adventures” by reviewers, her stories have earned dozens of “Readers’ Choice” and industry awards. Her current release is Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska. (Which is one of the books Loree will give away on Saturday.)

Be Still…and Let Your Nail Polish Dry! (a devotional w/Andrea Boeshaar, Sandie Bricker, and Debby Mayne) becomes available in November ‘09, and recent contracts with Whitaker House and Abingdon will add 8+ titles to the list.

A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, government agencies, book clubs, college and high school writing programs, and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to ‘learned-the-hard-way’ lessons about the craft, and 600 (and counting!) of her former students are now published authors.

Loree and her husband live near Baltimore with a formerly-abused, now-spoiled Pointer whose numerous vet visits inspired the nickname ‘Cash’.

Loree is giving away 2 books on Saturday, so come on over and leave a comment to win one of them.

You can find out more about Loree and her books at:

NaNoWriMo Update: Emma's Outlaw

Okay, so you know it's going to be a good morning when you slice a cinnamon-raisin bagel in half and you're greeted by a smiley face. I suppose I should've taken the photo before I pushed it down into our uneven toaster but, hey, I think you see him smiling at you.

We're just a few days from the mid-way point of NaNoWriMo so this is a good time to take stock of your progress. Or should I say my progress because according to Prairie Chick Karyn's post yesterday, y'all are doing great!

I'm working at it but it's slow going. I don't have the luxury or freedom of zipping through my wip with fingers flying as I latch onto new ideas and click them down before they're lost because I’m revising and editing.

Yesterday, PC Karyn said her wip is mostly dialogue. I say that's great! Because the story is moving forward. All the rest - the setting, the gestures, the sensory details - can all be added in later because they're the decoration to your story. It's the interaction between the characters that is hard to nail down when you're speeding along during Nano.

What I do like about the revisions I'm making to my NaNo wip is that every scene is ending up to be 200-300 words longer after revisions. Considering that I need to lengthen the ms and yet couldn't think of any 'big' scenes to throw in, this is a good way to length it unobtrusively. And I really like the way the story is going. So it's slow, but it's a quality slow if you know what I mean.

Up until Monday, I've worked on my NaNo wip every day or night. Then Tues came along and it all went to pot. I needed to write about my alter ego, Annie Oakley for Inkwell Inspirations to be posted Wed Nov 11th. I knew Annie and I knew what I wanted to write about so it was pretty much cut and dried. You think? I needed references to back up my statements so I started surfing the web. And the more I learned about Annie, the more I wanted to learn. I didn't want just an info article on her life, I wanted to know how she became the sharpshooter she was and I wanted to know the real romance behind her and Frank Butler. One thing led to another and I found an autobiography she'd written about her tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and her problem of obtaining quality powder while overseas. And I learned that Little Annie Oakley was a paradox. By the time I'd finished writing my post, it was almost time to actually post it. Which meant the day was over and no NaNo writing was done.

So I awoke on Wed determined to get my 'duties' done as quick as I can. First on my To Do List was to draft the Thurs Inkwell Inspirations post which will feature Inspirational author Loree Lough.

Now Loree will be our guest blogger here at the Prairie Chicks this Saturday and she’s giving away 2 of her books both at the Inkwell and here so I had to make sure I got all her details right. So there I was adding photos to her post and I remembered I was supposed to be blogging about Annie Oakley. So I scooted over there and found there were 10 comments to answer. Wow! I’d asked them about role playing in their childhood and they answered me! So I spent hours between answering comments and working on Loree’s Inky post. Oh and I snuck in a post on my own blog telling everyone to go check out my Inky Annie post.

Then neighbors stopped in for tea. Now you have to understand…the last time anyone stopped in for tea was last year because everyone knows not to bother me. And these friends who also go to our church know that too but they needed something so it was just one of those things. And anyway, I had to stop and eat some time.

After they left and I’d eaten, I got back to work and had Loree’s post up and ready by the time hubby called me in to supper. My cave is out in the renovated garage we call the rec centre these days. After supper I answered still more comments as well as starting on this post.

My blogging still isn’t over, either. I still have to write a post for my blog so everyone knows I’m blogging at Prairie Chicks today. And then I have to write the announcement post telling everyone Loree Lough will be here on Sat and she’s giving away 2 books. Then I have to draft and schedule Loree’s Sat post with pics so it’ll be ready to go early Sat morning. Hmm - those won’t take any more than a couple hours.

So maybe tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be able to get back to NaNoing. Oh, I surely hope so because the way it’s going, the little guy expects me to take him to his coin club mtg in the city on Sat and that’s a several hour chuck of time gone.

And if you’re still with me, I’ll finally give you my totals, keeping in mind I started with 25,000 words already revised:

Goal: Need 65000 to finish (to make the 90,000)

Today's word count: 0

Total Nano Words: 12914 (39,704 overall)

Nano Goal: 20% accomplished (44% overall)

Targeted Goal: 40% on Nov 12

Ouch. So I’m only at 20% for my NaNo goal and I should be at 40% at this point. It doesn’t mean I won’t make my goal, it just means I have to work a lot harder to make it. Of course, if I'd written all my blog posts in Oct I wouldn't have had to take time to do them now. But it's so much more...exciting to do them at the last minute, no?

Do you write things like blog posts, requested wips, contracted mss and articles ahead of time or do you wait for the last minute?

And if you're doing NaNo and came over for a peek but don't want to make time to comment then I completely understand. I've missed out on FaceBook, Twitter and my regular blog stops this month and I've even had an author email me. That was a surprise.