Saturday, May 30, 2009

Welcome Missy Tippens

Hi to all the Prairie Chicks! Thanks so much for having me today! Also, I’ll be giving away a copy of my new release, His Forever Love, available now from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. See end of post for details.

In talking with Anita Mae about what to post, I decided to talk a little about promotion—before and after publication. It’s a topic I love, and Debby Giusti, Janet Dean and I have done a workshop on it at RWA National. Actually, our topic was what to do to be ready for The Call, but a lot of what you can do to prepare has to do with promotion in one way or another.

One of the first things you need to do before that dreamed-about call from an editor, is to reserve your domain name and set up a basic website. I reserved mine several years before selling, and I also had a very basic one-page website where I had a short bio and a list of contest placings. I didn’t spend much money at all. And I did it all myself. Then once I sold, I was ready to make everything more professional and to expand the site to several pages.

Another thing to consider: To blog or not to blog? Blogging isn’t for everyone. But a group blog, like the Prairie Chicks, is a great way to get started! It splits the labor and is a lot of fun. And I’ve also found that my blog is easier to update than my website. I can announce a short-term contest or post my blog tour schedule. The main thing you want to consider is your readership. Do you want to gear your blog to readers or to writers or to both? You need to have a focus or you won’t keep readers returning. Oh, and you need to post regularly (yes, I’m preaching to myself here!). :)

Before publication, you have very limited funds for self-promotion. But one of the best things you can do for your career is to save enough money to attend a conference. Of course, local conference are less expensive and don’t require major travel. And they can be wonderful! But if you can manage it, a trip to a major conference is a smart investment.

Two of the best are the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference and the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Annual Conference. I attended both of these before selling, and they were worth every penny. In my opinion, RWA is the very best place for attending workshops. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned through the years in classes taught by the best in the industry (in all genres). And also, in my opinion, if you’re writing Christian fiction, ACFW is the very best place to network—to meet editors and agents and published authors. The publishing professionals seem to be more available at ACFW by hosting tables at meals and taking more appointments.

So, now you’ve done all your prep ahead of time, and you’ve gotten The Call!! (I got mine on the answering machine, by the way. An editor asked me to give her a call, and I knew it had to be good news!) Then I thought I would share of few of the ideas for post-sale promotion that have worked well for me.

First, I had postcards printed at I didn’t have a book cover yet, so I made up cards with a stock photo on the front and my photo on the back. And I gave information on my book and my website/blog address. I handed those out everywhere I had the chance. And once I had a cover for my book, I made new postcards. You can also do bookmarks, but I chose the postcards in the beginning because they were so much more economical to do. I’m just now looking into getting bookmarks made, and seems to be a good place to do that.

And just a quick rundown of other helpful things… Take part in book signings whenever you can, especially group book signings. Take opportunities to speak to groups (local groups are a great place to start), apply to teach workshops, offer to do programs for writing group meetings. Start a mailing list as soon as you can so you can send out promotional material when you have news. Contests/giveaways seem to be a good way to grow your mailing list and your blog/website readership. Once your book comes out, give away copies in contests or a blog tour to help get a buzz started about it (nothing’s better than word-of-mouth promotion!).

Let me also add that some writers get the heebie jeebies just talking about promotion. But I think it is necessary. And even if you shudder at the thought of speaking in front of people, you can find something to feel comfortable with. Anything you can do to help spread the word about your books will help your publisher sell them!

Now, feel free to ask questions or make suggestions! I’ll be giving away a copy of my new release, His Forever Love, today in a drawing from those who leave a comment and contact information.

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. Missy's first Love Inspired book Her UnLikely Family was released in Feb 08. His Forever Love is her current June 2009 release and her 3rd book A Forever Christmas is scheduled for November 2009. You can reach Missy at her website at and her blog at

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Writer's Retreat...

As you read this six of the seven Chicks are on a writing retreat (hello to Karen who couldn’t make it – we miss you). This is an annual retreat for our writing group, Saskatchewan Romance Writers. The last weekend in May is designated Spring Retreat and I, for one, look forward to it every year. This will be my fourth.

A lot of groups offer retreats where the members gather to learn about the craft of writing. Our group uses the annual Fall Retreat for that purpose. The Spring Retreat is strictly for writing. And although we go as a group, our days are spent alone with our pen and paper, laptop, notebooks, and muses (my Evil Editor is left at home). Let me tell you about the retreat and then offer some suggestions to set up your own (before you get all green with envy and quit reading this).

Our destination – St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. This is a working monastery of Benedictine Monks. It is also a part of the University of Saskatchewan campus. We are housed in a small building where there are 11 single bedrooms, numerous (because I can’t remember the exact number – more than 3) bathrooms, a kitchenette (with fridge, coffee maker, microwave, plates, cups, etc), and a lounge with couches and chairs. Within the single rooms there are desks, chairs and adequate lamps. There is no Internet hookup! There are no phones! There is no TV!

As part of our stay, we are fed three squares a day. The food is wonderful and includes fresh baked bread daily. You can eat as much or as little as you want. The added bonus – homemade cookies left on the kitchen table in our little dorm. In addition, everyone is encouraged to bring whatever she wants to eat for snacks. I’ll head to the grocery store before I arrive and stock up on bottled water, milk for my coffee, an assortment of potato chips (and I’ll bring my own ‘special’ beverage for after supper).

The agenda – writing! Last year we procured the space for three days after the weekend, for those that wished to extend their stay. This year, other boarders will be waiting for us to clear out Sunday after lunch; so we’ve opted for a couple of days before the weekend. We’ll gather for breakfast (because the meal times are carved in stone) then spend the morning writing in our rooms. We gather again for lunch followed by more writing in the afternoon (with perhaps a nap or a walk around the beautiful grounds to refresh our muse). The evening meal is taken together and then an hour after supper is set aside for writing. The rest of the evening is spent snacking and visiting in the lounge. We talk writing, life, dreams, celebrations, and so much more. There’s usually a lot of laughter.

Two pieces of business will be given time. We have our official meeting on Saturday night. And this year Hayley is going to do a short presentation on technical stuff (track changes in word, Internet shortcuts, etc). That will take place Saturday afternoon. The rest of the time is our own. How much or how little we get done is entirely up to us (I plan on searching for my voice in Lady Bells – and I want to get some work done on Mac and Gillian’s story).

So, for those of you who won’t be with us this weekend here’s some information on setting up your own retreat:

Time – you don’t need to have a full weekend, or even a full day for that matter. Find a time frame that will work for you and commit to writing during that time. No distractions!

Setting – find a place where no one will disturb you. Set boundaries so that everyone understands what you’re doing. If you can, leave the house. Use the local library or for a longer self-imposed retreat go rent a room at the local hotel/motel. The article I read on creating a retreat for yourself suggested you find somewhere without a TV or Internet access, so if you go the hotel/motel route don’t give in to temptation. Another option would be to find a writing friend and suggest a two-person retreat to cut costs.

Conveniences – Our food is supplied. The cooking is done for us. You may not be so lucky, so plan ahead. Make up meals ahead of time so that all you have to do is pop something in the microwave. Consider buying and using paper plates and plastic utensils so there will be no dishes that need to be cleaned. And remember there’s always take out. The goal here is that you do not interrupt your writing for anything. Of course, if you opt for the hotel/motel retreat, you can either call for room service or take an hour to get out of your room and sit in the restaurant.

Camaraderie – writing is a solitary pursuit. Or is it? I’ve come to learn that writing does not have to be a ‘me, myself, and I’ experience. The eleven of us on retreat gather at mealtime and talk about our writing – well, we talk about a lot of things really and end up being the noisiest table in the dining hall. We also come together in the evenings. So, think about asking a friend to retreat with you. It doesn’t have to be physically together – create a retreat where at the end of the allotted time you’ll meet on instant messenger and talk about your writing. A virtual gathering, if you will. Share your accomplishments. Talk about your writing. Laugh about your muse (she’ll be so tired she won’t even think about looking over your shoulder as you chat). This final step will give a whole new dimension to your retreat – and might give you the added incentive of sticking with your plans if you know you’re accountable to someone else!

So, People of Blogland, have you ever been on a writing retreat? Alone or with a group? Would you consider a self-imposed retreat? Would you team up with a virtual friend to create an Internet Retreat (Betabloggers, we may have to talk)? I’ll check in during the day (there’s a common computer over in the main hall that I can access). Looking forward to hearing about your ideas.

Janet (for sheer indulgence check out these writing retreats and see Hayley's blog for tips on what to pack for a weekend of writing.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Missy Tippins To Visit

Join us this Sat as Steeple Hill Love Inspired author, Missy Tippens comes to visit.

We first met Missy on Feb 19th, 2009 when I posted Striving for Perfection - how one author paces her writing to ensure she makes her deadline. Missy's timeline was extra interesting because she had to write during the month of December. A pastor's wife and mother of three, Missy still managed to get her manuscript mailed by the Feb 14th deadline.
This Sat, Missy will share her experiences with promotion and marketing before and after the book hits the shelves.

Missy is giving away a copy of her current release, His Forever Love, in a drawing from those who leave a comment and contact information on Saturday.

For further information, visit Missy here:

Muse Management Part 2

Muse Management Part 1 introduced you to Allie Pleiter and her workshop, ‘Getting it Done’. I told you how to figure out if you’re a Big Chunky, Little Chunky or Combo Chunky writer. Once you have your writing chunk, you can figure out how many chunks in a week you can write and use that to figure out how long it will take to complete your book.

In a perfect world. Heh

But, Allie says, ‘Life gets in the way’. Not only family and work, but email and research, etc take pieces of your time as well.
To combat this, she said one of the best ways to use your time effectively is to make a list. She says it’s because ‘lists discount emotions.’ Many people think the worst thing they can do is make a list of all the things they need to do. Because it’ll be right there, in your face. But Allie said it’s the most powerful think you can do. ‘That it’s actually been proven, the act of putting that thought process down on paper, tricks our brain into thinking it is measurable and containable. It is probably the number one stress reducer.’ She said it feels containable whether or not they actually are and sometimes, that’s all you need.

And then she said the magic words: ‘Lists manage your muse because they tell your muse what to do instead of your muse telling what you can get done…It puts you back in control.’ A case in point was when she spoke about trying to write and having a friend phone and ask her out to lunch. If she was struggling with her wip, she’d be more likely to go out for lunch than stay and work it out. But if she has a list of things that need to be accomplished, she ‘will make a more intelligent decision’.

So, at the beginning of the week, make one list for all the writing things you need to accomplish, and another one for all the rest of the things that need your attention. If you do it on Monday for the complete week, nothing that happens whether by mail (like a rejection) or phone (like ‘the call’) can derail you from your tasks.

At the time of the workshop, Allie said she was working on four books in different stages simultaneously. She ‘would’ve gone bananas’ if not for her lists. She said everything goes on her list from praying to vacuuming, from exercising to editing, and from grocery shopping to answering the 150 emails she receives each day. If it’s not on her list, there’s a good chance it won’t get done. With her lists in place, she then numbers the tasks because again, this takes out the emotional aspect and doesn’t give her the opportunity to ask what she feels like doing next. Instead, she does what she’s assigned herself to do.

Sorting the tasks are an effective way to make the most use of her time. So if there’s a job you don’t like doing in the morning, save it for the afternoon. Follow a standing task with a sitting one, and a physically demanding one with a restful, mentally challenging one. She said if you take nothing else from the workshop, take this, ‘That taking your to do list and numbering it will make all the difference in the world. You will find you get so much more done.’

But when the next thing on your list is to sit down and write, how do you get your muse to cooperate? Sensory triggers are really important because they don't require cognitive thought:


- Music – Allie knows many writers who create sound tracks for their books. Allie plays the harp and has a CD loaded with harp music. She said ‘her brain has come to realize when that music is playing, it’s time to write…it’s a trigger that doesn’t require any thought process’.

- Favorite Spaces - author John Updike ‘has a different room in his house for each of his writing projects’

- A favorite chair you always use to write or edit in

- Images – she takes images of things that ‘speak to her’ about her books or photos she’s taken on research trips and loads them into her laptop as a powerpoint slide show and she’ll play it before she starts writing. She said when she’s working with four different books, she has to be able to switch ‘worlds’ fast and watching the visual images do that for her

- Casting – when she’s stuck, she goes to the library and checks out 6 months worth of People magazine and casts her book as if she were casting for a movie. She said this has an added benefit when you send them in to the art department because it gives them an idea of who you want on the cover. She said it’s a regular thing now for authors to provide images to the art department for them to ignore.

- Idea envelope – she has one envelope for every book and it’s filled with images and ideas and notes and even metaphors that inspired the book. When she’s stuck, she goes through the envelope.


- Do you always light a candle before you write?

- Allie has a friend who puts her hand over her screen and says a prayer before she writes

- Clothing ie pajamas – Allie said it’s been scientifically proven that your body calms down when you put on your pajamas regardless of your mental state at the time. She calls it a ‘kinesthetic response’ and likens it to a ‘blankie. She said it’s a touch we associate with calm. However, don’t try to write in pajamas you wore while giving irth to your child. And don’t wear the pair you wore when you ran from your burning house. She said ‘if you’re stressing out, go put on your pajamas and see what happens. Your brain calms down’.

Ways to avoid a blank:

- Write until you know what will happen next (especially useful for little chunk people) and then write yourself a note as to where you’re going next

- Stop in the middle of the sentence. She said she just heard that one that day and wanted to try it out. Well, Allie, I tried this last year and I was so proud of myself for being brilliant but when I sat down the next day, not only didn’t I remember, but I was depressed because of it.

What to do when you draw a blank:

- Exercises

- Make a list of the ten ‘What If’s’ for your book. Do it 10 times because you’ll come up with 3 reasonable ones and 6 far-fetched ones and it’s the latter ones that are the goldmine. (Not sure where the remainder ‘What If’ went but maybe Allie will answer is she visits.)

- Explore a setting sense by sense – it’s particularly useful – what does it taste like? Sound like? Smell like? What can he see? She see? What can’t they see? ‘You may find one or two things that give you a plot point.’

- Explore opposites – where would romance be without opposites? Allie says, ‘A vice is a virtue taken 3 steps too far. The guy who is protective and loyal…take him 3 steps too far and he becomes controlling. Every vice started out as a virtue.’

So what’s the purpose of doing all these things? ‘If you don’t have time to plan, you won’t have time to succeed. And when the chips are down, if you haven’t figured out how to plan, you won’t be able to cope very well.’ You really don’t have control over anything because life happens. Deadlines, family, emergencies, all interrupt your writing schedule. ‘
But, you can control your productivity and how stable you are in a high stress or low stress environment.’ It’s what separates the professionals from the amateurs. And if you’re able to manage your muse, you’ll be able to deliver when your editor wants it and ‘that is gold in this business…and you’ll be the one they call for the next project.’

Allie recommends If You Don’t Have Time To Do It Right, When Will You Have Time To Do It Over? by Jeffrey Mayer as the best book on time management.

I’d like to thank Allie for allowing me to post information from her workshop. Allie would like to guest blog some Sat, so we’re looking at dates. Is there anything you’d be interested in her blogging about? Let us know in the comments.

Do you have some little ritual you do to get you ‘in the mood’ to write? A favorite place? Music? Chair? Food? Item of clothing? After reading Muse Management Part 1, did you find your chunk size? What do you think about working on 2, 3 or 4 books at a time?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Touch is one the five external senses and your sense of touch is found all over. The skin is the largest of the sensory organs. A simple stroke of the skin can alter a person’s state of well-being. A touch can tell us temperature and texture; differentiate between rough and soft, wet and dry, and tight and loose. The brain produces a physical reaction to each sensory reference or clue. The beautiful thing about touch -- it’s a two way street. The physical world reacts back.

In the womb, touch develops before all other senses and it is the last sense to fade at death. To me, touch is the most intimate tactile sensation. Your hands being the tools used to explore a tangible world.

There are 100 touch receptors in each fingertip making it our most active sense. You can close your eyes, plug your nose, cover your ears or shut your mouth. You can’t do any of that with touch. It is always there.

Touching is common, be it neutral, negative, or positive and it can reveal the state of mind of a character. You can convey love or hate or subtle tiny discomforts. Emotional response is stimulated by sensation so a hug, a caress, a slap, or a punch can produce a response of love, lust, fear or hatred.

In Mike Klasseen’s article Achieving Sense Perception in Fiction Writing, he states: “Today’s reader expects to live the story through the mind of the character, experiencing the story as if the reader is the character. Effective use of the sensation as a fiction-writing mode can go a long way toward making that experience a virtual reality.” It’s a great article on incorporating the five senses into your fiction writing with reference to when and how and why. It is one of my favorite articles.

If you’re so inclined, you may want to try this writing exercise. Put a number of small items into a bag or box. Reach in and grab one. Force yourself to describe it before removing it. It might help you think of innovative ways to help the reader “touch” what your characters are physically feeling.

Since we’re romance writers I’ll end with a feel for the sensual end of touch and mention erogenous zones. I’m not going to mention the obvious ones because well…they’re obvious but those tantalizing areas like the nape of the neck, the back of the knee, or the small of the back. A stroke along them can produce a wealth of emotion. How about a nibble or nuzzle of the earlobe or the inside of a wrist. Think about someone’s hands massaging your feet. Number one spot, however, goes to the lips and their contrasting ability to be both receiver and seeker of pleasure. Because sometimes ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’.

I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on the article I mentioned so I hope you get a chance to take a look. There is some great information there. As always, your thoughts are most welcome.

“When You Say Nothing At All” by Alison Krauss

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me.
There’s a look in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me.
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall.
You say it best when you say nothing at all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Up the anti

When does the anti-hero become too anti? Are there some actions or behaviours that put a would-be hero right out of a job? Or is it all a matter of the author's skill?

This question comes to mind because of a book I finished last week. Part of a series where each book was written by different authors, it was noticeably different from other books I’ve read by this particular writer. In my experience she doesn’t do alpha heros per se, and that came across in this story where the hero ended up a combination of alpha and beta that just didn’t work for me. His alpha actions seemed forced rather than flowing out of the story, and struck me as being there more for the sake of plot than anything.

I know I’ve read books like that before, and who among us hasn’t? I would have put it in the trade-in pile without finishing if I hadn’t wanted to find out if the author could redeem it (and herself) at some point. I definitely didn’t like the hero (I'll call him Hero A), and questioned whether it was just my irritation with the author, or if there was more to it. In this story the hero wasn’t really a classic anti-hero, and his on-again off-again behaviour confused me. For example, he and the heroine had a heavy backstory and now, after ten years apart, she’s working for a relative of his but under the hero’s direction. In one scene they kiss for the first time since being reunited. Although he initiated the kiss, Hero A takes exception to it as part of a seduction plan on her part and tells her she’s fired. He means it. And though he later thinks to himself that he was being a jerk (he was right about that at least!), he doesn’t apologize or do anything about it until his relative finds out and tears a strip off him. You may have guessed that as far as I’m concerned he was the one out of a job, fired from the position of hero in my mind.

Not long ago I had no trouble with a hero (I'll call him Hero B) who deliberately left an inmate in prison in a state of fear from threats issued by said hero during his unsupervised questioning of the inmate after said inmate tried to have the heroine killed. Hero B knew he wasn’t going to follow through, but the inmate didn’t. So I’ve been wondering what it was about Hero A's behaviour that made it unacceptable for me? I didn’t think it could be just his actions, so was I influenced by my opinion of what I considered plot manipulation? Maybe the lack of just cause?

After turning that over in my head for awhile I’ve decided it was lack of “justified” cause (not quite the same as “just”, a very subjective concept). In the first example the behaviour wasn’t justified even in the hero’s mind, yet he did nothing to mitigate it until he was forced to. In the second, the hero believed his actions were completely justified, even if others might not. But that left me wondering again: what wouldn’t be acceptable even if in the hero’s mind it was? Given the arguments that went on in my head, we could be here all year on this one. Ultimately I concluded that for me it would be a combination of my understanding of the motivation behind the anti-heroic behaviour (in the author's control) and the actual behaviour (does it go beyond my personal line in the sand as it were).

So what’s your experience with anti-heroic behaviour in romance either as a reader or a writer? Are there any guidelines out there about absolute no-nos, or is it a matter of the approach taken on a story-by-story basis?

Now, having said all that I have to advise that I'm travelling for the day job today and tomorrow and unable to access the blog. I plan to check back tomorrow night though so if you have any questions you want me to discuss in particular I'll do that then.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Sales

Some excellent news awaited me when I got back from my mini-vacation over the May long weekend. First of all (drum roll please!) my novella “Burning Love” has been accepted for publication at the Wild Rose Press. I’m very pleased and excited by this news for a lot of reasons, but especially because of how hard I had to work to get this sale. Let me tell you about it.

I originally conceived of this story almost exactly a year ago. I read on Samhaim Publishing’s MySpace page that they were taking submissions for a novella project. Each story had to have an “other worldly” element to it. I’ve had this angel named Angelica floating around in my head for a while. I paired her with an older angel named Hildegard and together they match mortals with their soul mates in Heaven’s Relationship Division. They bring together Riley, a firefighter, with Iris, a young woman prone to starting cooking fires. “Burning Love” is a light-hearted and I hope, humorous look at love.

The deadline for submission for the Samhain contest was May 31 of last year. I worked extremely hard to get my submission ready by the end of the month. And I did it! Even though my story was not accepted, I was proud that I’d been able to write a 20,000 word novella in less than three weeks. Being able to do that gave me confidence to face any deadline.

After a time away from the story, I looked at it again. I realized it had several flaws I hadn’t previously caught. I sent it around to several friends for their input. Using their advice, I revised and sent it off to the Wild Rose Press.

I got my answer in mid January. The editor liked the story but felt it needed work. She gave me good suggestions, all of which I knew would make a stronger story. I assured her that I would be very happy to work on those revisions and resubmit.

I believe it was at this point that I dragged fellow Chick Janet into my story. Through a series of instant messages, we bounced ideas off each other. Janet has a wonderful, crazy, quirky imagination that really suited this project. She can also come up with an idea at the drop of a hat. Armed with the editor’s suggestions and Janet’s wonderful ideas, I made the second round of revisions. I felt I really “dug deep” for these revisions, perhaps working harder than I ever had before on revisions. Going through this process taught me that I do have the capacity to reach way down and make a story better.

I resubmitted and a few weeks later I got a reply from the editor. She was pleased with the revisions I’d made, but there were still things that had to change. Again, I had to agree with the editor. The changes she suggested would make the story stronger. So I took a deep breath and assured the editor that I would be pleased to make the changes and resubmit. Once more into the breach.

I have to admit I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about this third round of revisions. Again, I enlisted Janet’s help. Again, she gave me great suggestions. She also encouraged me when I felt like I couldn’t revise another word. I called on some inner resources I didn’t know I had and finished the job. The results are worth the effort.

I tell you this story not only because I want to share my good news, but also because I want to let you know that it is possible. Sometimes you feel like you can’t make a deadline or finish a project; yes, you can. Sometimes you feel like you don’t have it in you to make those revisions; yes, you do. Sometimes you think you’ll never make a sale; yes, you will.

This is a profession filled with disappointments and rejections. It’s hard not to take rejection personally, and it’s hard not to give up. I’ve been there. But if you can retain your faith in yourself and in your ability to do the work, you’ll be okay.

Oh yes, the title of this post is “A Tale of Two Sales”. What, you may ask, is that about?

I received a second email after the long weekend, and this one came totally out of the blue. Four or five years ago I entered a contest with “Chicken Soup for the Soul” about pets I’ve loved. I entered a story called “The Great Hunters” about my cats. My story is being considered for one of their books called “What I learned from my Cat”. What I learned from this experience is that you never know where your next opportunity may come from so you can never give up.

Do you have a story of perseverance, or a time when you accomplished something when you didn’t know if you could?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Welcome Sherry Thomas

The Book of Your Heart/The Heart of Your Book

I am an advocate for writing the book of your heart.

But I am a latecomer to that position. I did not take that view until after I’d finally finished DELICIOUS, my second book, for the third time.

Why didn’t I think so before? Well, for one thing, I have never had a book that I single out as the book of my heart. I like all my book ideas and can’t wait for the day when I’d have enough time to finish every single last one of them.

Perhaps more importantly, I have cringed at what people call stories of their hearts. Haven’t you cringed at one? At the entirely unmerited optimism of the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed writer who was going to be slaughtered the first time she sent that baby out to the real world, where contest judges, agents, and editors would unleash their relentless scorn upon it?

I mean, a vampire who sparkles? Get out of town!

I used to think, when presented with an unwieldy book of the heart, that the writer needed to abandon ship, pronto. I never said it, but oh boy have I thought it. Just forget it. Move on. Write something else. I then shake my head inwardly as I meet the writer a few months later and she is still at it.

Multiple times during the writing of DELICIOUS, my second book, I’d wished I could just chuck it. The whole setup was nuts. Much better to abandon ship. Move on. Write something else--God, anything else. But I was trapped by my contract, obligated to rewrite the entire book again and again as my editor rejected it again and again. (My discard pile for DELICIOUS ran 250,000 words deep.)

And then, incredibly, miraculously, between the second and the third full draft, something magical happened. I found the story after all that wasted verbiage. I found the heart of the book.
It was a moment of epiphany for me. It’s not that there aren’t ever terrible ideas. There are. But fiction, by its very nature, can be made to coalesce around just about any idea. Therefore, it is rarely, rarely the fault of the idea, but overwhelmingly the fault of the execution that dooms a story.

And a lot of times, when a writer tinkers and tinkers with a story but doesn’t really improve it, it’s not because s/he is over-attached to the idea, but because s/he cannot separate the idea from the approach to the idea.

For example, DELICIOUS began as just another story of a man who falls for his cook. I throw in a fiancée for the man to complicate matters. But the man and the fiancée are together merely for convenience and he sleeps with his cook.

I wrote two versions of that particular story, two very different versions that in the end didn’t differ that much: the man sleeps with his cook in both versions. I thought I needed it to happen, because I write very hot books. How could I write hot books if there is no sex?

It took the failures of both these two versions for me to understand that never mind the hot, I did not have a story when I did not have a true hero. In the third and final version, my hero cares very much for the young woman to whom he is engaged, and as much as he falls completely for his cook, he chooses honor over physical gratification every time.

In other words, I threw out my whole previous approach. I did not tinker. I rebuilt from scratch. As a result, I had my story. (And would you believe it, I also managed to up the hot.)

Come to think of it, I do this a lot. PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, my first book, was a complete rewrite of a manuscript that had been laid aside and forgotten for years. NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, my new release, went through an emergency rewrite this past December. In each case, it is never the story itself that is ditched, but the approach that did not work.
The heart of the story is always there, waiting to be unearthed.

Now I never laugh at story ideas any more—anything can sound ridiculous when taken out of context, and to condense fiction is to take it out of context. Instead, when I cast a critical eye on my story, I do not doubt the fundamental concept, but take a hard look at my approach, whether it should be repaired, improved, or replaced altogether.

When I’m asked for advice to give other writers, I tell them they can write the book of their heart. But first be sure to find the heart of their book. And be fearless and ruthless when it comes to words already written. Toss it all out, if you have to. You have my permission. Heck, you have my encouragement. Do not let the old stand in the way of the new. Don’t be afraid to start afresh.

After all, nobody ever said it was easy to write the book of your heart.

But it is doable.
Sherry's newest release, Not Quite a Husband, hit the shelves on May 19th. For more information on this and her other fabulous historical romances, check out her website.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pep Talk...

*Trumpeted Fanfare*

I am Captain Achiever! Able to accomplish aspirations and dreams at a slow and steady pace. My middle name is Success with a capital S.

After Janet’s post last week on Fear, my self-esteem radar alerted me to the need for intervention here on The Prairies. People! People! People! You are letting my archenemy, Fear, get under your skin. Not to sound cliché, but he feeds off your insecurities.

Let me explain. If you are afraid of spiders, you will probably see more spiders than those who are not afraid of them. Fear produces those spiders. He rubs his hands together in glee as you recoil, shake, or sweat in reaction. Friends and family will ask you what’s wrong and you will point to the crux of your problem. And Fear’s power will be enhanced.

Well, I’m here to end Fear’s reign of terror as it relates to your writing. Most people equate success with money or fame. A fallacy, I say. I’m going to squash that untruth right here. Right now!

The definition of success: The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted ( And, my friends, goal-setting will determine your success.
The larger goal is to become an author, correct? But there are many steps to take before you reach that goal. And with each attempt, each achievement, you are a success. Let’s look at some of them –

~Finished a first draft? You are a success!

~Edited/revised said novel? You are a success!

~Joined a writing group where you can network and improve your craft? You are a success!

~Started a blog to talk about your journey, network, label yourself a writer? You are a success!

~Worked on a query letter, back cover blurb, tagline in preparation for submission? You are a success!

~Let family, friends, and/or strangers read your writing? You are a success!

~Entered a contest or two? You are a success!

~Submitted to agents and/or editors? You are a success!

~Published a novel? You are a success!

And on it goes. You take baby steps to learn to walk and with each accomplishment you are rewarded with cheers and excitement by your parents. Do you walk right away? No! Is that considered a failure? No!

So take the baby steps and celebrate each victory. You are on a journey of many steps. If you focus entirely on the final feat, you will lose track of the path and not only become discouraged, but perhaps give up.

Don’t let Fear win! Don’t give up on your dreams and aspirations just because the road gets tiresome or difficult. Slow, steady, methodical, determined.

I am Captain Achiever!

*Trumpeted fanfare*

I’m not done yet! If I could also address the issue of "Not Good Enough" that was prevalent in last week’s comment section. I once believed I was not good enough to wear the cape of a Superhero. I could not leap tall buildings in a single bound. I could not stop a bullet with my teeth. And there was no way in, well there, that I could shoot web from my arm and then use it to fly through the streets of the city where I live. But then I realized that my ‘not good enough’ thoughts were just that. Thoughts. I could not hold them. I could not touch them. I could not see them. They were just thoughts. And I had the power to change those thoughts.

You have the power to change those thoughts before they become your reality. (Or Fear gets a hold of them and uses them for his own evil machinations.) If you want something, then aspire to that dream. No one will stand in your way. I leave you with this quote from Bertrand Russell.

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

I am Captain Achiever!

OK, where's the fanfare?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Sherry Thomas

On Saturday, May 23, Sherry Thomas becomes an honorary Chick when she guest blogs on The Prairies. Sherry is an amazing author of historical romance. Her debut novel, Private Arrangements (which is phenomenal) has been nominated for two Ritas – Best New Book and Best Historical Romance. Here’s a little about Sherry from her website’s bio page –

Sherry Thomas burst onto the scene with PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, a Publisher Weekly Best Book of 2008. Her sophomore book, DELICIOUS, is a Library Journal Best Romance of 2008. Lisa Kleypas calls her "the most powerfully original historical romance author working today." In addition to enthusiastic endorsements from trade publications and New York Times bestselling authors, her books have also received stellar reviews from many of the most highly trafficked romance review websites and blogs.
Her story is all the more interesting given that English is Sherry's second language—she has come a long way from the days when she made her laborious way through Rosemary Roger's SWEET SAVAGE LOVE with an English-Chinese dictionary. She enjoys digging down to the emotional core of stories. And when she is not writing, she thinks about the zen and zaniness of her profession, plays computer games with her sons, and reads as many fabulous books as she can find.

Check out Sherry’s website and her blog, and then come on back on Saturday, May 23 as Sherry guest blogs about writing the book of your heart. You don’t want to miss this post.

Muse Management Part 1

Another one of the workshops I attended at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference last fall was one put on by fiction and non-fiction author and public speaker, Allie Pleiter. A stay-at-home mom with 2 kids, Allie has learned how to manage her muse to her benefit.

She said the time to learn this skill is before you’re published because you need the habits to be in place before you jump on the published roller coaster ride. The reason it’s so important is because your projected deadline will be one of the first things your publisher asks you. If you’ve already finished the manuscript, she’ll ask when you expect the revisions will be done.

You need to be able to plan around life events and be prepared for any life emergencies that come up unexpectedly. Allie spoke about her first manuscript and the tragedy she faced when her mother died 2 weeks before the deadline. Editors expect you to follow through regardless.

She said when many people get time to write, they sit and wait for their muse, not realizing it can be managed. She believes creativity can be managed, and she’s found the method that will corral your muse:

The key to getting it done is the Chunky method. Your life can be broken up and handled in chunks. A chunk is ‘how much writing can be effectively done in a single sitting without interruptions before the creativity dries up.’

How do identify your chunk? You take 5 sessions of your writing, add up the word count, and divide by 5. So, if your last 5 sessions had word counts of: 540, 635, 590 , 650 and 550 words and you add them up and divide by 5, you’d get an average chunk of 593 words. Let’s round it off to 600. You now know you can consistently write a 600 word chunk at one sitting. Knowing your chunk size is the first step in managing your muse.

But what does that mean?

Allie said this is where it gets interesting. There are different types of Chunky people: big chunk and little chunk. For the most part, not counting full fledged big-time writers, big chunk people are over 1000 words and little chunk under 1000 words at a single sitting.

Big chunk people:

- need a dedicated space in which to write. They are environment driven which means they need certain things around them; certain music playing, kids out of the house, etc.

- tend to write less often and usually need to go away to write (the cabin in the woods)

- need to pay extra special attention to ergonomics. They’re the people whose backs are going to start hurting. They need flat screen monitors vs the CRT with the big back. They need anti-glare coating on their glasses.

Little chunk people:

- are the majority

- have character and personality traits that can help manage your muse

- can write in Starbucks and McDonalds because they can write anywhere and anytime

- can generally tune out distractions and write in noise

- tend to write more often and may write more than once a day

- generally write everyday

Allie talked about a site where the goal was to write 100 words for 100 days straight. You wrote every day, on any subject, but you weren’t allowed to go over 100 words. She said she wondered if she’d be able to stop. But at the end of 100 days, they had 10,000 words.

Little chunk people can use all kinds on technology. A PDA with a fully detachable keyboard which you can pop in your purse or briefcase and take anywhere is a space-age help.

Or, invest in oversize (5x7) index cards which, depending on your handwriting, hold 100-200 words. She said she thought filling out one index card a day sounds a lot more doable than knocking out a thousand words.

She said the guy who did the productivity workshop earlier that afternoon said we tend to think if we can’t do a big chunk, then it’s not worth doing at all.

Allie mentioned a woman who said the most valuable thing she ever learned was to be able to write on a legal pad because she could do it anywhere and any time.

But, there are also Combo chunk people. These are people who employ both big and little chunks:

- Teachers are Combo chunk people because they are little chunk people during the school year and big chunk people during the summer

- Parents are Combo chunk people because they are little chunk people while the kids are running underfoot and big chunk people after the kids are in bed. Allie said her first 2 books were written in McDonalds with her kids running around the ball pit because that was the only way she could do it.

- Some full time working people write in little chunks throughout the week and big chunks on the weekend.

She said parents don’t think in terms of combo chunks. Instead, they have a tendency to think “I can’t get my big chunk therefore I can’t write’.

There are options to both methods. And neither method is more saleable nor more talented.

She said we tend to think of big chunk people as deeper thinkers who write literary fiction while the rest of us write romance novels. But both types can get the work done… it’s just how they go about it.

I think one of the most important things she said was not to feel guilty if you're a small chunk person. Knowing that you are allows you to work it to your advantage.

Next Thurs, I'll tell you what Allie said about harnessing your muse so that you're able to write as soon as you sit down. Plus, more on how Allie teaches writers to come up with a well-thought out method of figuring their deadline using their chunk so they're not just picking a date out of the air when faced with that editorial question: ‘So, when do you think you’ll have it done?”

Are you a Big Chunk, Little Chunk or Combo Chunk person? Do you know your chunk word count? If you're a Big Chunk person, where do you like to get away? Have you tried the 100 words in 100 days challenge?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Squint, Blink and Wink

There’s a reason our main characters are obsessed with looking, gazing, glancing, staring, gaping or glimpsing. When you are dealing with the body language of love, eye contact is the first step in the ritual of finding a mate. It all starts with a look. You catch someone’s eye; maybe you indulge in a little preening, follow that up with a smidge of flirting and, if the stars and planets are aligned, there is body contact.

Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. It’s all about body language. It telegraphs intent, a little lean forward and you’re showing interest and liking. The distance between two people is an indication of how comfortable they are with one another. The person across from you may be saying all the right words but it’s what their body language is saying that’s important. For instance, if the body of the guy sitting across from you is squared with your own, if it’s facing yours, then likely his interest is genuine. His heart and his brain are engaged, not just his libido.

Again with the eye contact. We communicate with our eyes. It’s how we know someone is engaged. It’s that sensual stare that slowly scans the entire length of a body with pauses in all the right places. A slight squinting of the eyes or a knowing look accompanied by a miniscule lift of the chin means you’re on his radar. Women, in turn, might widen their eyes a tiny bit to show they’re interested or open to some conversation.

Believe it or not feet play a role in body language. If his feet are pointing in your direction when he is standing it’s a good indication his is genuinely interested. The same applies to sitting with legs crossed, if his leg is toward you, he’s sincere. If, however, his legs are gapping open or his feet are pointed away, it’s time to decide if a one-night stand is all you’re looking for.

On to verbal communication. If it accounts for only ten percent of our interactions, I guess it’s more about how we talk. The more you are enjoying the conversation the longer you will draw it out. You don’t really want to let this person go. The distance between you will have lessened, you’ll be leaning into each other and making lots of eye contact.

But how does he know when the woman sitting across from him is open to a little body contact? A kiss? We make great use of those lips to show we’re interested. There may be a hint of a smile, some touching or playing with our lips, licking of our lips or biting of the lips. The lips are a giveaway, but you could also start toying with your food, pick up a spoon, twirl a straw, or play with your fingers. We tend to use nodding as a means of encouraging the other person. Also upturned palms show openness and honesty and are an invitation to caress. But since kissing is all about timing, you wait. You watch for that tilt of the head, that slight dip closer. You want the emotional click if you’re searching for something meaningful.

You want to know if there will be chemistry between you. Is he going to make you feel weak in the knees? Are you going to make his palms sweat or his heart race? Whose pupils will dilate first, whose blood pressure will shoot through the roof? Your pheromones have been released. Those colourless, ordourless chemical signals that send an airborne message to the opposite sex engaging the pleasure center of the brain.

It’s not all about looks and money, for women chemistry is about the total package. We love a killer smile, plenty of eye contact, the ability to really listen, and compliments of the sincere variety. We go for confident, relaxed and clean. We’d put a lot on the line for that all-important sense of humor. And we condone alpha male behaviour only because it implies you’re a natural leader. Caution and warning - since we are in possession of fully opposable thumbs, we are not governed by the rules of the animal kingdom.

Apparently, men’s needs are a lot less complicated. Their list of what’s desirable is considerably shorter but that’s a topic for another post.

And guys, please, please, no tired, old pick lines. Women hate that. No -- Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see! No -- Can I have fries with that shake? If that’s all you got, go home and pick up a self-help book on the way there.

What’s this got to do with writing romance? Only that we’ve touched on the problem of too much ‘eye gazing’ in our manuscripts. There is, however, a reason for it. It’s a huge non-verbal communication tool and can’t be avoided. But there are other ways to telegraph attraction and intent. We just have to be creative!

So what’s the number one thing that does it for you? Is it a sense of humor? Do you want a romantic? Someone who actually appears to be listening? Heard any really bad pick up lines? Have you used any in your writing? What’s your current hero’s favorite little touch? Chase loves to tuck stray strands of Lily’s hair behind her ear.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bits and Bobs: A Miscellany

Bits and Bobs:
– idiom for small, remnant articles and things, same as ‘odds and ends’;
– a store in Edinburgh that makes unwanted arts and crafts supplies available with the hope that they can be reused and given a new lease on life;
– also English slang for a collection of small items too numerous or varied to name individually, originating from carpenters’ tool kits that contain parts for a drill, with bits for making holes, while bobs are routing or screwdriving drill attachments

– a miscellaneous collection of various or somewhat unrelated items
[Definitions from various sources, results of Google search]

I must give Donna Alward credit for the first part of today’s title. Occasionally on her blog she uses the expression to describe her activities for the day. I always imagine it means she will be doing a little bit of this, and, more or less, an equal amount of that.

And the relevance to writing, you ask? I’m wondering that myself. However, bear with me.

Lately I have been bouncing around in blogland, where I’ve encountered some interesting topics. I have accumulated a stack of fragmentary thoughts that have landed on my mental "desk" and they are just waiting for me to share them with you.

Have you ever seen a newspaper column where the columnist writes something like the following? "Today I want to get rid of some miscellaneous items that on their own would not make up a whole column." Mind you, I sometimes suspect the writer has searched for a meaty topic and come up empty. Now that surely would not apply to me! Here then are a couple of topics that are on my mind.

Fragment #1: Older Heroines

The other day I began thinking about the age of one of my characters. My story has two heroines, a mother in her forties and her daughter who is 23, each with her own separate love story. Circumstances of the plot cause their stories to intersect in a way that involves the two heroes.

The point to ponder is whether readers are interested in a heroine who is older. Readers of romance, nowadays at least, like heroines who are in their twenties, maybe early thirties, though I think that’s pushing it. Consider the fate of Harlequin’s Next line which featured "second time love with ‘older’ heroine, over 35."

From comments I’ve read, young women don’t want to read about heroines older than themselves, and fair enough, they don’t relate to an age they haven’t yet experienced. And, of course older women like heroines who are younger than themselves – they don’t want to be reminded of their age, they don’t feel older, and they want to escape back to an earlier time in their life. That’s also understandable.

I didn’t find much on the topic. One website had comments associated with reviews of a few category romance titles. Go to

You may also remember the discussion on heroines right here on Prairie Chicks earlier this year. I went back to look at the eight heroine archetypes which formed part of Janet’s post. In the article she cited, there is a link to a response which makes a passing mention of age as it relates to heroines. To refresh your memory, check out

Fragment #2: Women’s Fiction vs Romance

There is somewhat of a connection between this topic and the previous. If Laura, the mother in my story, is too "old"... (I shudder as I type this – oh, to be 45 again! But I don’t actually mean that. Really.)

Okay, let’s start again. Different tack. When I started writing my novel, and I won’t tell you how long ago it was, I thought I was going to write a category romance. SuperRomances were longer then and their plots were more complex. Since then the Next line, already mentioned, has come and gone, and SR’s have been cut back. Now I wonder if I should be aiming for a romance line at all. I’ve been thinking of this for a while, and perhaps the idea was planted during previous heroine discussions (it’s not a bad thing to brainstorm in the comments section, Janet!)

I’m thinking there may be a place for my story about a woman and her daughter in women’s fiction. I have finally decided to just write the story, and worry about where to seek publication later. I believe that is generally a good approach, anyway. (Unless, of course, you have already found your niche and are writing to a rhythm you have mastered. Especially if you have a publisher and an audience waiting for your next marvellous story. That isn’t my situation ... yet.) For an excellent discussion on this, read Lisa Craig’s article, "Women’s Fiction vs Romance: A Tale of Two Genres" at

Would you be interested in reading romantic fiction that features an older heroine? Do you have a favourite older heroine from a novel or a movie? Do you prefer category romance over women’s (romantic) fiction? Will your heroine follow her heart, regardless of her age?

Monday, May 18, 2009

What is Romantic? - Part Two

Last week, I asked several writing friends their views on what is romantic. The consensus was that most wanted a strong hero with a tender heart, ready to risk his life to save the woman he loves, while still remembering the small, important gestures that make her feel loved. The heroine’s romantic gestures towards her hero include stepping outside her comfort zone for her hero. She loves him for who he is, faults and all.

I had three more questions for my friends. Question number three: What is the most romantic thing a hero/heroine can do together, aside from making love?

Karen says swimming together is romantic. I hadn’t thought of swimming as romantic until I read fellow Prairie Chick Janet’s current WIP, in which her characters Gillian and Mac scuba dive together for the first time. The scene was sensual and elegant and indeed, very romantic.

Several writers found quiet moments very romantic. Rhonda believes walking together hand in hand is romantic. Annette agrees. “Walking together. Getting ice cream together. Singing together, really badly. Sharing a big bubble bath and champagne/beer/wine whatever. Even green tea. But sharing it together.” Molli likes a walk on the beach in the moonlight. Joan too, enjoys quiet moments of romance in her fiction. “Sitting together either talking or sharing a peaceful/comfortable silence, possibly while holding hands, or she leaning against his chest or enfolded in his arms.”

Others found action more romantic. Ishbel finds working side by side on a difficult project romantic. Carrie likes her characters to do something more physical, like “hiking, horseback riding, bike riding…cooking together, going for a drive with the top down.” Helena says “running for cover in a rainstorm and shutting out the elements in front of a fireplace, sharing life stories…riding horseback together. Followed by a picnic in view of the Rockies, or some other grand venue.” Hayley says that “dancing is always a lovely, intimate moment between two characters.”

Question number four: What is the most romantic/sexy/attractive occupation for a romantic hero? A heroine?

Karen says “law enforcement, navy seals, firefighters, black ops type guys really make it happen for me.” Annette agrees. “Rescue/military/police/emergency room physician/construction. Men who perform physical labour, put themselves at risk for the sake of others/work for the good of the many.” For heroines the occupations mentioned were bookshop owner, teacher, nurse, lawyer, daycare worker, dance instructor, private chef, writer, visual artist, designer. Hayley says that she doesn’t like blatantly caring/giving occupations for either the hero or heroine. For her they feel like “overt attempts to endear the character to a reader and show how wonderful and generous the character is.”

Others felt the occupation of either character is not as important as what you do with it. Hayley feels contrast is good, such as a creative occupation for the heroine in contrast to an analytical one for the hero. Joan says occupations “depend upon the setting of the story. Something that furthers the good of the group…and what one considers THE GOOD.” Ishbel concurs. “It’s not so much WHAT the characters do, as HOW they do it, and WHO they are inside.”

Question number five: What is the most romantic/sexy/attractive item of clothing a hero can wear? A heroine?

Ishbel says that it “depends on their occupation and on the time setting. I’ve got a thing for sheepskin lined leather jerkins for my medieval guys, tight ‘pantaloons’ with gleaming hessian boots for my Regency dudes, a swinging kilt.” Carrie Ann likes “work pants, …and work boots, cowboy boots, jeans, a little stubble, some dirt on his hands, looking like he didn’t try.” Others agreed that a t-shirt, a well-fitting pair of jeans and work boots are very sexy. On the other end of the spectrum, many chose a well tailored tuxedo or almost any kind of uniform. Helena says that what is considered sexy clothing depends on context, personalities and location.

For Rhonda, nothing is more attractive for a heroine than a simple black cocktail dress. Annette’s taste runs to the demure. “Properly fitted clothing of just about any type, not the sleaze type, but classic… slightly demure is always more romantic than open to anybody’s view.” Molli believes a backless gown is sexy for a heroine. Carrie Ann likes her heroines to wear feminine clothing with a bit of an edge: “an off the shoulder sweater, creamy white and kitteny soft, a pair of jeans, high heeled shoes.”

Thanks to all the writers who helped me wit this survey. My conclusion is that while thoughts on what is romantic/sexy/attractive may vary from writer to writer, we often think alike. And since all of us are readers as well as writers, we hope that what resonates as romantic with us also strikes a chord with our readers.

What are your answers to the three questions I’ve posed here?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blasts from the Past: A Glimpse of Sea Battle

"A galleon," growled Smithy between outbursts. The sound of cannons seemed to ricochet from the stars."
--The Privateer

A deep explosion echoes across the surface of the water. You feel the vibration rattle your vitals from the inside out. Cannon fire at sea was the sound of the Age of Sail. It was feared by some and adored by others. Of all the topics I enjoyed researching for my historical adventure, The Privateer, those blistering cannons echoing over the horizon are among my favorite.

Thank you for having me here at Prairie Chicks, today. I’m really enjoying sharing news about The Privateer and some of the research that went into it.

Studying pirates sounds like fun and it is, but throw in the British Navy and all those heavily rated men-of-war and it is time to get down to serious business. Long guns, carronades, rockets, and even bombs, sailors at sea had one primary weapon for attack and defense and that was gun powder.

Under the supervision of the Powder Room, little powder monkeys (usually small boys who could dodge the melee of a gun deck), ran the supplies back and forth from storage to gun crews. Gunpowder at that time was a mixture of saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal. The powder was kept in flannel bags and it HAD to stay dry.

Gun crews worked the cannons in and out. These unbelievably heavy guns got very hot; men not only had to worry about being crushed by the ricochet of the cannon as it bounced back after firing, they had to worry about burns and explosions, too. A talented and experienced officer was necessary to coordinate the activities of the gun crews with the captain’s orders--a true ballet of destruction.

Besides cannons shooting from side to side (broad-sides), some ships also had chasers, smaller artillery at either the bow or stern, or both. After these avenues were exhausted, it was down to muskets and small arms. Can you imagine it? Two ships brushing up against one another in jerky thrusts as the sea heaves them up and down on her swells. The air is thick with acrid smoke and the screams of men.

Not a pretty picture, warfare, even in the age of gentleman officers and the occasional gentleman pirate. I am now fascinated by the heroine’s experience in novels of sea adventure. Must they always cow below deck? Sure it would have been frightening to hear the tumultuous noises, but I don’t believe the world shaking violently around you as you stood several inches in rising salt water would have been comforting. I’m sure I would have run screaming topside for the commander and thrown my arms around his boots. Or maybe not, because then there’s those sharpshooters in the caps (up in the enemy’s rigging) hoping to put a ball through an officer’s brains. Men.

Studying ships and Age of Sail warfare can add a lot of color to historical prose. This was no dull task for me, as I adore great classic sea fiction. To learn more about the Age of Sail and battle, I highly recommend the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian. May I suggest you begin with the second volume, Post Captain? And don’t forget the superb lexicon for Age of Sail vocabulary, A Sea of Words. You might also check out the Thomas Kydd series and the classic, Horatio Hornblower. Reading and enjoying Age of Sail fiction can not only be a satisfying and exciting way to learn about battle at sea--it may just blow your mind!

~Danielle Thorne
Visit me:
The Privateer:

Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm Afraid...

Over on the SRW’s private blog, where members can post snippets for critique and writing exercises appear weekly (or bi-weekly), a blitz is in full swing. May Blitz to be exact. Those who wish to participate have set goals for the month and report in (if they can) nightly. I always find if there’s a time period and a challenge, I will write – writing will take priority. It’s the reason I love Book-in-a-Week and why others love the November writing frenzy known as NaNoWriMo. Since my life turned on its head at the end of April, my writing goal will not be met – but that hasn’t stopped me from creating the daily posts that include a motivational quote. And I’m trying my best to keep current with the comments and cheering the blitzers on from the sidelines.

On Day 13, because of the whole triskaidekaphobia, I focused on fear. Here’s the blogpost:

"Everyone has a talent. What is rare is the courage to nurture it in solitude and to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads." Erica Jong
There were so many quotes on conquering the fear that sometimes leaves us immobile. Erica Jong is an amazing writer, so she gets the honor on this our thirteenth day of Blitz. Find your courage and write your story. And in the comments tell us (if you want) what is the one thing you fear most about following your dream.

It occurred to me after I posted that I was asking people admit their fears out loud. Most people are reluctant to share what they fear most, down right ‘afraid’ to verbalize the darkness that lurks behind a dream most friends and family believe is unattainable. I decided that if I wanted people to comment, then I had better step up to the plate. So here’s what I fear most –

I will never finish another manuscript.

Craft issues are bogging me down - creating havoc with my story telling. The daunting task of endless re-writes makes me tired just thinking about them. The hours of research to make sure everything I write is accurate so that no one will accuse me of getting my facts wrong. The wild plots I dream up fizzle when I play them out in my mind and realize they are not believable. And the rejections I’ve received for Lady Bells hurt, so why would I subject myself to that again?

This fear haunts me every time I boot up my laptop. When I pick up a pen to jot down a note or two (as Muse whispers in my ear), this fear mocks me. Discussions about works-in-progress make me cringe with the knowledge that this fear intends to keep them forever works-in-progress. This fear threatens to end my dream of novel writing.

When I decided to make this my blog post for The Chicks (and realized just how powerful my fear had become), I went Googling. Here are some suggestions to help conquer the fear.

Name Your Fear – One of the best ways to move on. Well, I’ve named it. It’s still here!

Do Not Give Fear Power – Henry Ford is credited for the quote "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." I've given it too much.

One Step at a Time – I’ll never finish a manuscript if I don’t write. One sentence leads to one paragraph that leads to one page…

Be Bold – Become the antithesis of your fear. Create a world where your fear does not exist. Act as if that manuscript (or two, or three) are finished. A self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

Create a Support Network – Writers are a wonderful group of supportive, enthusiastic, generous people. I am lucky to have that support network in place. And now that I’ve named my fear, I know those friends will help me overcome it. The same way they accept and cheer me on toward my goal of publication.

I'm ready to conquer my fear. I'm going to kick it to the curb, throw it under the bus - whatever other youth slang fits in this situation. And the first thing I'm going to do is to believe that I can finish another manuscript. No - visualize that finished manuscript!

So, People of Blogland, what do you fear? How does that fear stand in the way of your short-term and long-term goals? Do you think that fear holds us back or is it merely an excuse we pull out when our dreams and aspirations seem to be insurmountable? Stay tuned – next Friday I’ll give equal time to fear’s archenemy – success.

Janet (who refuses to be afraid any more)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Danielle Thorne

Danielle Thorne will be joining us on Saturday, May 16 to talk about researching the pirate novel.

Danielle Thorne is an avid reader, writer, and genealogist. Her first novel, THE PRIVATEER, has been released with Awe-Struck Publishing ( and her environmentally-themed romance, TURTLE SOUP, will be out August 7th. She’s published poetry, articles, and short stories for over fifteen years and won an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest 2006 writing competition.
Visit her at to learn more, or follow “DanielleThorne” on Twitter.

Submissions and Results

Instead of talking about the craft of writing, I’d like to talk about the emotional side of it.

Yesterday, Myra Johnson's post over at Seekerville was about “Slaying the Criticism Dragons”. She posted a list of websites “to turn to when you need help slaying the dragons of criticism” and invited readers to talk about their rejection experiences. And the comments flowed in. Of course, I read them, and like many others, was left shaking my head at the cruelty some people can dish out under the guise of ‘helpful advice’. I’m not going to go into it here, but it’s very interesting reading.

At the moment, fear of rejection is very close to my heart. I am waiting on 3 possible career-defining moments, the results of which I’ll find out by email. So yes, I’m checking my email every 5 minutes although with some trepidation as to the actual results.

First is the Gensis contest which is the biggie for the American Christian Fiction Writer’s (ACFW). The results should be announced between May 1-15 and considering it’s the 14th today, you can see why I’m on tenterhooks. I’ve 2 entries in this contest; and realistically have a very good chance of becoming a finalist with one or both of them. This award will be given out at the ACFW conference in Denver. I had such a wonderful writing experience last year at this conference, I am going to attend again whether I’m a finalist or not. However, the thrill of having my name and book announced amongst 600 industry people at the gala banquet is a long-sought after dream.

The second event is more familiar to most of you as it pertains to Romance Writers of America. Each year, various chapters hold contests, announce the finalists and give the awards out at the RWA conference. This year, it’s being held in Washington DC. This didn’t even cross my mind when I entered the RWA’s Faith, Hope, & Love Inspirational chapter’s Touched by Love contest in March. However, when I realized the award would be handed out at the RWA gala banquet in DC, I started hoping to become a finalist. Considering that I entered the same 2 manuscripts as in the Genesis contest, I have just as good a chance of finaling in this one as that. And, because I wanted to tempt fate, I told my husband if I became a finalist, I was going to DC. He just smiled and nodded. He doesn’t think I’m going. Not because he doesn’t believe in my writing, but because it’s so far removed from my comfort zone. But if I final, I dare not NOT go. Stay tuned as these results are due May 16th, just 2 days away.

Finally, I’m waiting to hear if a certain publisher liked my writing enough to request a full submission. This sounds so simple and yet it’s not – because of content. You see, it’s a sweet romance and I submitted it as such. The editor who received it really liked it and said if it was up to her, she’d ask to see the full manuscript. But, she said it wasn’t up to her because she handles the city executive billionaire heroes and mine was too ‘cowboy-ish’. And, because it was, the editors who handle the ‘cowboy’ books want it. She implied the new editors would be contacting me very soon. That was Monday and they haven’t emailed yet. And so, I wait.

If you look at each of the events individually, there’s nothing spectacular about them although each is one step away from publication.

And normally, I would be very disappointed if I didn’t succeed in any one of them but I’d get over it by the next day.

But all 5 of them within a matter of hours or days? (Remember, I put 2 entries in each contest.) I didn’t plan for these events to come due at the same time and I rather wish they hadn’t because once they start coming in, it’s going to feel like I’m bombarded with rejections. And I’m not saying that because I’m starting my pity-party early, but the bald fact is this is a hard market to break into and I’m going to be ecstatic if just one of the 5 is good news.

Is there anything I could have done to avoid this situation? Other than not entering or submitting, no. Just like a published author has many books on the go at different stages, a pre-published writer should have several manuscripts ‘out there’ at any given time. I know the wait for some lines of category books is up to 2 yrs for the manuscript to go from slush pile to final edit panel. So while you’re waiting, you’re writing and submitting, writing and submitting. It’s just the law of averages that some projects would converge on others.

So fellow writers, I’m asking for your help. Over the next week or so, if you find my comments either here or on Facebook, etc getting snarky, I give you permission to sit me down and berate me. Of course, I might be perfectly fine with the situation if I remember there are so many more writers out there with a true gift for writing masterpieces.

But if I know me, I’ll probably be bawling. sigh

And yeah, this might be unorthodox, but it’s my blog today, so there.

Are you waiting for an answer to a submission right now? How many do you have out? What do you have out? Who has it? How long has it been there? Are you frustrated that it’s taking so long? Do you wonder if it even got there? Come on, talk to me about your submissions. I have lots of time to talk today. After all, I’m only sitting here watching my inbox…


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

"I think that men tend to be more romantic than women. When my guys fall, they fall incredibly hard. And they fall forever." Suzanne Brockmann

Goal is the future. Motivation is the past. Conflict is the present. It’s what characters want, why they want it and why they can’t have it. It’s the backbone of the romance novel. Creating it takes skill, planning and careful thought.

Goal (What They Want)
Every character in your story needs a goal. The objective is to make those goals believable and measurable. Your long-term goals will state the characters ultimate wishes or desires. So ask yourself what are their dreams or purposes in life? The goal needs to be clearly defined so the reader can get a sense of what’s at stake.

Short-term goals focus on the immediate needs of the character. They must be met in order for characters to achieve their long-term goal. They create inner conflict, change long-term goals and lead to character growth. Read Writing the Perfect Scene by Randy Ingermanson in which he applies principles from Dwight Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer. He talks about motivation reaction units and a way to incorporate a goal, motivation and conflict into each separate scene. He also talks about sequels and establishing reactions, dilemmas and decisions.

Motivation (Why They Want It)
Motivation stems from the past. It’s the reason why a certain character acts the way he/she does. Every action and decision made by a character is done because the character is motivated by something. That something inspires characters to make choices and take action and the action should be appropriate to the motivation. Motivations need to be realistic and lead to a honest reaction on behalf of characters based on their goals and personality. So how am I going to show a reader why my characters want something? First of all I’m going to create character traits and a personality for my character. Next I will create a backstory or a history. Some of this may come out in the story and some of it may not. I am going to ask myself – why? Why do they want what they want? What are their personal beliefs and core values? What are they willing to sacrifice to get it?

*Goal and motivation will change and evolve as the story progress.

Conflict (Why They Can’t Have It)
Conflict, of course, should exist on two levels: external and internal. I’m going to stick to internal conflict because that’s the part I’m lacking in my writing. The tricky part is creating an emotional (internal) conflict strong enough to carry an entire book. For readers of the romance genre, emotional conflict is the point. It’s why we pick up a book. It needs to be strong and not easily overcome. We want to see them suffer first.

Conflict is the clash between wants and needs. Ask yourself: What stops a character from doing what he/she must versus what he/she wants? Another important question to ask is this: Why is loving this person the worst thing this character can do at this moment? Your hero and heroine want to be together but there are obstacles in their way. These obstacles need to be HUGE. They need to evoke fear and dread. They must expose vulnerability and escalate emotional risk. They must repudiate strongly held beliefs. Conflict is the reason the hero cannot have what he wants. Conflict or obstacles force an emotional confrontation and lead to achieving goals.

Along the way I discovered a couple of great ‘articles’ on developing beliefs and values.

Suzanne Brockmann provides her workshop Tall, Dark and Believable: Creating the “Perfect” Romance Hero in the Reader’s Guide to the Troubleshooters Series on her website as a downloadable pdf file. Scroll down to the end of the page.

Check out Kate Walker’s blog and her recent All About Alpha’s Challenge. Very interesting and contains pictures of Hugh Jackman. Never a bad thing.

Virgina Kantra’s article Developing the Romance in Your Romance Novel. It includes questions to ask to help develop your characters.

Ray-ann Carr’s Emotional Conflict in Romance Fiction lists extensive questions to help you figure out if you have enough emotional conflict in your story.

While researching this topic one thing became blazingly apparent. I need to buy the book Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Deb Dixon. Many people listed it as a must have resource book.

I hope this gives you some place to start if you’re mired down in conflict troubles. I know it helped me. Feel free to share how do you handle GMC? Share examples from your own works. Do you have a system? Any words of advice? Any favorite resources?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

your character is you

My Great-grandfather headed security for Windsor Palace during Queen Victoria’s reign. Not only could he have told us the truth of the supposed affair between the queen and John Brown, he met the greats of his era: French President Raymond Poincaire, Bismark, Kaiser Wilhelm, the Tsarina and all of Victoria’s children. He knew what they ate for breakfast and had opinions about each of them. What wouldn’t I give to know even the smallest facts about them? BUT HE NEVER WROTE A SINGLE WORD!
No doubt he didn’t think what he did each day was of any interest to anyone else. It was a job - with paper work. We all think the same way about our lives. But our lives are important, not only as family history, but in transforming our experiences to give characters realities of their own. The writer’s history is essential to writing fiction.
Mel Brooks, the comedy writer, said, “Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of the writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living in him.” We must make other people see, hear and feel. We have to create the atmosphere around them: sound, light, smell, feeling, temperature.
As a teenager, I spent summers working at a tourist attraction that sits within feet of the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara. After work, I would stand awhile at the stone wall over the brink and feel the roar and the sweeps of cool mist. The odour it pushed my way with the mist was that of fish and algae and an almost metallic smell. The water had the color and texture of lime jello as it slid over the edge.
I dallied along the walk home through the park along the pathway which stands at the very edge of the gorge. You can look down on ancient tree tops and the calm but seething river. One ton pieces of that rock and wrought iron were used to build a barrier between silly tourists and the rocks the size of cars that lay at the water’s edge. The air is always humid and so it carries the fragrance of the roses and freshly cut grass. The river doesn’t seem to flow as it moves downstream. It is dark green by then and it silently boils up constantly, leaving tiny wavelets washing the chunks of limestone at its edge. It makes no noise.
The river is nearly two hundred feet below the park. Across the river, the cement penstocks of the Schelkopf Hydro plant stood straight and unassuming along the gorge wall. The water from above went into a free fall through these huge tubes and, landing hard, spun the turbines that created the electricity. One hardly ever noticed the Schelkopf. It was grey on grey further along than the spectacular falls.
It was a very hot, humid afternoon. I had almost reached the Rainbow Bridge where my brother worked. There was an odd cracking sound that was swallowed up by the scream of a giant and then a deep rumble. The penstocks seemed to move slightly from the gorge wall and then they began to crumble and crash into themselves and onto the wide red brick plant just above the water’s edge. Massive blocks of cement, huge turbines, twisted structural beams and huge amounts of water were flung out into the river and disappeared instantly. In mere seconds, there was only rubble and tortured steel. The river continued to calmly boil. The bodies of four men quietly swirled and were absorbed. The silence was so profound that for a few seconds, I didn’t hear the falls’ roar.
And then I ran.
The story is for my great-grandchildren. The limp, shrinking, clenched feeling of standing still and foolishly believing the tragedy in front of me wasn’t real is what someday I may give to a character experiencing a disaster.
We don’t need to write a comprehensive autobiography, but writing bits and pieces jotted down from our experiences helps sculpt a building block for a character waiting to come to life in one of our books one day.
And, no matter how dull you think them to be, your thoughts and feelings, things you have seen and inconsequential matters you have seen but will never forget; everything about you will be fascinating for generations of your family. Who else can tell them about ration tickets or where you were when you learned of the Kennedy assassination or why your grandfather was a die hard Leaf’s fan? What were waist-high wheat or white-outs or summer thunderstorms on the prairies like in your day?
Who do you wish had written about themselves for you? What do you wish you knew about an ancestor? Was CNN on at your house for days after 911? When you were very young, what did you and your dad do that made you feel so important and big? What did you and your girlfriends do on a Saturday night? What did you wear on your first day of high school? Did you want to play basketball but were no good at it? What did you feel as you first held your babies or saw your first newborn? Can you pick up worms? Do you remember a studebaker? Remember when you were eight and three quarters?