Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Random Thoughts on Blogs and Blogging - Part One

At the risk of appearing obsessed by the idea of blogs and blogging (since I keep mentioning blogs in some way or another in my posts), once more the topic is at the forefront of my attention. I feel the need to know more, probably because I still feel very new to the game of blogging. After all, this is only my sixth post since I joined the Chicks as a regular back in March. Until then I was not even in the habit of reading blogs. Yet every third Tuesday, in rotation with Connie and Molli, I put on my blogging hat and try to make it sound like I know exactly what I’m doing!

Fact is, the more I discover about blogs and blogging, the more I want to know. So I have decided to investigate this world more thoroughly, and at the same time share with you what I am learning. That’s why I have labelled this as part one. A second part will come your way later in the summer. In mid-July I will be participating in an online workshop on blogging – and I hope to learn a lot more about the practice of blogging.

Why have a blog, anyway? One of the first things I’ve noticed is that there are many, many reasons to have a blog. Some people, from all walks in life, use a blog as an online diary, a personal journal to chronicle important events in their lives and careers. These are probably the closest to the original definition; the term comes from “web log” and it has been around for more than ten years. Some people have used blogs from the beginning to share their knowledge and opinions with whoever is willing to read them. Other blogs are offshoots of the print world, so the online version of newspapers will include blogs that offer commentary on important national and world events, but also opinion pieces on travel, fashion, even pets. Blogs, as well as some of the newer methods of instant networking (Twitter, for example), are playing important roles in getting critical information to the public in political campaigns and in oppressive situations around the world. Blogs range in content from the very frivolous to the most serious imaginable.

Various types of blogs: There are niche blogs that deal with specific cultural or media subjects, including art blogs and video blogs which both include a large visual component. A niche subject area that is important to me includes the world of books, writing, and publishing. Whether group efforts like the Prairie Chicks or individual authors who write in genre-specific or literary categories, these blogs usually deal with the craft of writing, related technologies, or the promotion of books. Some blogs are online versions of print publications that have always provided information about the book trade, but now are able to do so in a more timely fashion online. For example, lists of award winners in all the various categories are posted the morning after the presentations are made. No more waiting for the next monthly issue or even the daily newspaper to land in the mailbox.

Writers as bloggers. I attended a conference session a couple of months ago that dealt with all the social networking tools that writers should be using to promote themselves and their work. At the top of the list, of course, were websites and blogs. Nearer to home, we have seen a series of excellent guest bloggers on Saturdays sharing their expertise, but also promoting their most recent work or their entire body of work, during their visits to the Prairie Chicks. I am told that some of these authors are on “blog tours” when they visit us. So some blogs provide opportunities for a virtual book tour (without all the air travel!).

When to start a blog. The next consideration for me will be a blog of my own. I have heard other unpublished writers wondering about the value of a website or a blog. Among the Chicks and members of the Sask Romance Writers there are writers at various stages, published and unpublished, who have either or both. Others have neither. So it seems to be personal preference. That is one of the areas I want to explore in the workshop next month. I am hoping that my next post on blogging, three weeks from now, will be full of practical ideas.

In the meantime ... I would like to hear from you, our regular and/or occasional visitors to the Prairie. Do you have your own blog? If so, what is its purpose? How frequently do you post? Do you also have a website, or do you have a website but not a blog? How did you decide? Does the time spent on your blog have a negative impact on your major writing projects? Do you feel it’s worth it in terms of connecting with other writers and your readers or potential readers? I look forward to your opinions and comments on any aspect of blogging.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Organized Writer: Cleaning Out My Word Files

An organized space is an organized life is an organized mind.

I’m moving along in my quest to organize my life. I’m proud to say my hotmail and yahoo Inboxes are nicely cleaned. I still have a way to go on my main email account, but I’m working on it. But unfortunately, I’ve got more work to do.

My Word files are kind of a mess. I’ve got unneeded files, old edits, and just plain junk clogging up my harddrive. I have files that should be placed in folders for easy retrieval. This would save me from having to search constantly for files. To date, I haven’t taken the time to clean and organize. The time has definitely come.

Here are some tips on organizing Word files that I’ve picked up:
Figure out what to save and what to pitch. The things that are important to save are up to the individual user. But there are a couple of rules of thumb. Sally McGhee writes in “7 Tips for Managing Files” that files are much like clothing. If you haven’t worn an article of clothing in the last year, you probably never will. Same with Word documents. If you haven't used a file in a year, you probably won't. And do you really need a folder with 300 jokes?

Give your files unique and easily recognizable names. For an author, a file name is usually the name of novel or short story being worked on. But sometimes there are many components with the same name. For instance, I will have a synopsis for each novel, sometimes more than one (long and short versions). I’ll have query letter letters as well. For my published works, I have Author Fact Sheets, covers, advance reading copies, blurbs, excerpts, reviews, etc. Some articles suggested using abbreviations, as long as they make sense to you. So for example, if I wanted to group together everything I have for my published book “Her Best Man”, I could name things in the following way: HBM/AuthorFactSheet, HBM/Cover, HBM/Excerpt, and so on. Then I could take all of files and move on to the next tip.

Use folders and sub-folders for organization. Aside from a sub-folder containing blogs, I currently have everything lumped into a folder called “My Work”. Things need to be separated for easy retrieval because right now I have to go through the whole mess to find what I’m looking for. So each novel is going to receive its own folder, and everything associated with that novel will be filed there. Most articles I read say it’s probably best to stop at sub-sub-folders. If you need more than 3 folders, rethink your organizational method.

Set up Active and Archive folders. This is a tip I wish I would have read about a long time ago. In the Active folder, store only those files that you are currently working on. In the Archive folder, store files that are completed. This way you’re not wading through old information to get to your current project. In my case, I would file the folder containing all my information on “Her Best Man” in my Archive folder. I’m not working on it, but I still need quick access to these files because I am actively promoting the book. For files that you still want to keep, but you no longer need quick access to, consider taking them off your computer completely. Store on an external harddrive or burn to a CD. Make sure they are labelled appropriately. For more information on setting up an archive folder, check out this website.

Set Your Software To Save Files In Correct Location. After you have created your folders and subfolders, go into your software settings to have the programs automatically save files to the correct new folders. For instance, you can set Microsoft Word to automatically save documents to your “My Documents” folder and your browser to automatically save downloads to your “My Downloads” folder.

Back Up Your Computer. After you organize all your folders, make sure to do a backup of your Documents or My Documents folder. Not only will this save your files, but will preserve your new structure in case your computer crashes. For more on backing up your computer, check out Tip Dude’s Top Ten Tips – Backing Up Your Computer

Keep On Top Of Your File Organization. After all this work, you don’t want to let your files pile up again. Stay on top of your files and make sure they go in the correct folders or subfolders. You may want to do this daily, weekly, bi-monthly or even monthly. Unfortunately, this is usually where I go off the rails. Sigh.

Are your Word files lined up in precision or do they lounge in mass disorganization on your harddrive? Do your Word files get out of hand or do you immediately find a folder for it? What’s your best organizational tip for keeping emails, Word files or paper clutter in check?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Julie Lessman's Winner

The winner of Julie Lessman's Saturday's post is:


Sit tight, dolleygurl and Julie said she'd be in contact with you to find out which of her Daughters of Boston book you've chosen.

We'd like to thank Honorary Prairie Chick Julie Lessman for taking time out of a busy schedule to come and blog with us on Saturday. Your post on romantic tension produced a lively discussion which we'll be referring back to it as a valuable resource.

Thanks, Julie. Come on back when Katie and Cluny's story comes out, eh.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

QUICK, DIAL 911 ...


Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I am addicted to romance. I suppose that’s not as bad as being addicted to Twinkies or Ho Hos because at least it won’t slap extra pounds on my hips. But it does compel me to hunt down romance in every conceivable form like a heat-seeking missile. Books, movies, date night with my husband or just getting a “fix” by writing my own romantic novel—to me, it’s all good.

And God help me, I don’t think there’s anything I love more than writing romantic tension. Every writer has their own style, of course, but being a drama queen, I tend away from subtle and sweet to that heart-pounding, breath-halting emotional tension that, for me, sets the page on fire. I suppose you could label me a romance arsonist because you see, as an edgy Inspirational author, it is my goal in life to set the reader on fire—both for God and for romance.

So recently, when I had several people express an interest in learning how I create romantic tension in my books, I had to sit down and really think about it. And what came to mind for me is drama – “raising the stakes,” as Donald Maas taught me in his excellent novel, Writing the Breakout Novel. Taking normal, loving characters and ratcheting up their emotions to the next level with dramatic situations that push them to the extreme. Upping the ante, if you will, by infusing the page with emotions and words that escalate the heartbeat, cause the breath to still in your throat.

Now, every writer has their own methods of adding romantic tension, but how do I like to do it?

1.) Well, one of my favorite ways is with ANGER, because let’s face it—nothing is more tense than anger! Following is a scene from the third book in The Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Denied, which released May 1st. In this scene, we have the mother and father, Marcy and Patrick, who, by the way, have the best marriage on the planet, in a tense fight scene that is almost foreign to their characters (i.e. raising the stakes to the next level). Not only do I utilize gruff action to build the tension, but at the end of the scene, I use short, bullet-fire dialogue to escalate it even more.

She was met with a cool blast of air when he snatched the covers from her body and flipped on the light. “Get up, darlin’, I’d like to hear all about your evening.”
Marcy sat up and put a hand to her eyes, squinting at the blinding light. “Patrick, have you been drinking?”
His laugh was not kind. “Yes, Marcy, I have. A man will often do that when he learns his wife has been unfaithful.”
She pressed back against the headboard, alarmed at the brutal look in his eyes. “That’s a lie! I have never been unfaithful.”
“Not physically, I’m sure.” His look pierced her to the core. “At least, not until tonight.”
Fear paralyzed her. “I fought him off, Patrick, I swear I did. He’s a liar.”
“Funny, he said the same about you.”
He took a step forward, and she cowered back. Her husband had never laid a cruel hand on her. But this man was not her husband. “Patrick, you’re tired, and you’ve been drinking. Come to bed, and we’ll discuss it in the morning.”
“Did you kiss him?”
“No, of course not!”
“Did he kiss you?”
She gasped for breath.
He gripped her arm and shook her. “Answer me!”
His eyes glittered like ice. “Well, Mrs. O’Connor, and how do I compare?”

2.) Another way I like to create romantic tension is through the element of SURPRISE. Have the characters do something unexpected that jolts the reader as much as it does the character it’s happening to. Here is a scene from my current WIP, Refuge From the Storm, which is Katie O’Connor’s story, the fourth daughter in The Daughters of Boston series. I tried to build tension by implementing surprise with a touch of humor.

He nudged her chin up with his thumb, and her lips parted with a sharp intake of breath. And then he saw it. The gentle rise and fall of her chest, the soft rose in her cheeks, the skittish look in her eyes, flitting to his lips and then quickly away. Comprehension suddenly oozed through him like heated honey purling through his veins, quickening his pulse. Could it be? Was it possible that cold, callous Katie O’Connor was beginning to warm up? To him, of all people—Cluny McGee, the leper from her past? The thought sent warm ripples of shock through his body, thinning the air in his lungs.

His gaze gentled, taking in the vulnerability in her eyes, the fear in her face, and all he wanted to do was hold her, reassure her. As if under a spell, his gaze was drawn to her lips, parted and full, and the sound of her shallow breathing filled him with a fierce longing. “Oh, Katie,” he whispered, no power over the pull he was suddenly feeling. In slow motion, he bent toward her, closing his eyes to caress her mouth with his own. A weak gasp escaped her as she stiffened, but he couldn’t relent. The taste of her lips was far more than he bargained for, and he drew her close with a raspy groan. With a fierce hold, he cupped the back of her neck and kissed her deeply, gently, possessive in his touch. His fingers twined in her hair, desperate to explore.

And then beyond his comprehension, her body melded to his with an answering groan, and he was shocked when her mouth rivaled his with equal demand. Desire licked through him, searing his body and then his conscience. With a heated shudder, he gripped her arms and pushed her back, his breathing ragged as he held her at bay. “We can’t do this,” he whispered. He dropped his hold and exhaled, gouging shaky fingers through disheveled hair. His gaze returned, capturing hers and riddled with regret. “Believe me, Katie, as much as I want to, I’ve learned the hard way to take things slow. I should have never started this, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Forgive him? She stared at him through glazed eyes, her pulse still pumping in her veins at a ridiculous rate. She never wanted this, couldn’t stand the sight of him, and now here she was, tingling from his touch and desperate for more. Addicted to the “King of misery.” The very thought inflamed both fury and desire at the same time, muddling her mind. Dear Lord, she was torn between welding her lips to his or slapping him silly. With a tight press of her mouth, she opted for the second and smacked him clean across the face.

3.) Of course, One of my favorite ways to escalate romantic tension is through INTERNAL MONOLOGUE, those deep, dark thoughts inside the characters’ minds that tell you they’re heading toward trouble. In my opinion, nothing builds tension better than internal monologue. Here is a scene from book 2 in The Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Redeemed, where the hero wants nothing to do with the heroine, but finds his defenses slipping as he helps her do the dishes. I start off in her POV and then switch to his to give the reader the impact of both of the character’s thoughts.

He moistened his lips, then slowly lifted his eyes to hers. “I need this.” His fingers skimmed across the towel on her shoulder, causing the air to still in her throat.

Dear God, what was happening? It was as if he had no control over his hand as it strayed from the towel to the soft curve of her neck. A tilt of her head, the blush of her cheeks, and suddenly he was two different men. One whose every muscle, thought and desire strained toward wanting her. The other, a distant voice of conscience and memory, quickly fading with every throb of his renegade pulse. Curse the effect of the wine! What else could explain this driving insanity pulsing through him right now? His fingers burned as they lingered, slowly tracing to the hollow of her throat. Against his will, he fixated on her lips, lush and full, staggered at the heat they generated. What was he doing? He didn’t want this.
Yes … he did.

All night he’d felt it mounting, a desire in his belly that grew tight at the sound of her laughter, the lift of her chin, the light in her eyes. A woman with cool confidence around everyone but him. Call it the wine. Or the fact he hadn’t been this close to a woman for well over a year. Or the intoxicating awareness that his very presence seemed to unnerve her. Whatever name it bore, it had him by the throat, taking him places he’d vowed he’d never be.

She blinked up at him, eyes wide and wondering. He was taking her by surprise and knew it. But no more so than him. He stared at her lips, feeling the draw and unwilling to fight it. His fingers moved up her throat to gently cup her chin, his eyes burning with intent. Slowly, carefully, he leaned forward, his mouth finally reaching hers, his breathing ragged as he tasted her lips.

A soft mew left her throat, and the sound ignited him. He pulled her close, his mouth demanding hers. She moaned while he pressed her to the counter, holding her there as he deepened the kiss. With a deep groan, his arms swallowed her up, drawing her small frame tightly against his. He pressed his lips to her hair, allowing her scent to flood his senses … to consume him.

Just like before.

His heart seized. What was he doing? The more he touched, the more he wanted. But she had ruined his life. Dashed his hopes. Destroyed his dreams. Dear God in Heaven, he wanted her … but he didn’t want her.

4.) Now I know this will shock some POV purists out there, but I find that POV shifts within a scene are an effective way to escalate tension. To me, there’s something compelling about being inside the hero’s mind, then immediately switching to the heroine’s reaction. Here is a scene from A Passion Denied that relates what the hero is feeling but doesn’t want the heroine to know he is feeling, then switches to reveal the heroine’s reaction. Brady is teaching Lizzie how to fish with a rod and reel.

He put the rod in her right hand, then circled her from behind. He grasped his hands over hers. All at once, the scent of her hair and the nearness of her body distracted him, sending a jolt of heat searing through him. He fought it off, chewing on his lip as he forced himself to concentrate on the casting. “Okay, you hold the rod here, then release the button, then lift the rod like this …” His arm gently guided hers up and out, landing the lure in a perfect cast that rippled across the water.
“I did it!” she cried.
“Yes, you did. Now press the button release again so you don’t lose your line.”
She notched the button and turned, her face flushed a delicate shade of excitement. With a giggle, she threw herself into his arms, almost gouging his eye with her rod as she hugged.
He closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Oh, Brady, this is so much fun! Can I do it again?” She pulled away and stared up. Her violet eyes brimmed with excitement.
He smiled, and then his gaze dropped to her full lips, forcing the breath to congeal in his lungs. He cleared his throat and stepped back. “Sure, Beth, you try it this time.”
Lizzie blinked, feeling a flutter in her stomach. What on earth just happened? One minute Brady was teaching her how to cast, and the next … She spun around to hide the heat that crept in her face and quickly swallowed her shock, desperate to focus on the rod in her hands. But his eyes … sweet saints, they’d had the same dreamy quality she’d seen in Michael’s, a kind of half-lidded stare that settled on her mouth, causing her heart to stop. She drew in a ragged breath and steeled her jaw. No! It was nothing more than her imagination, playing cruel tricks on her. “Focus, Lizzie,” she muttered under her breath, squinting at the lake as she swung the rod. The lure plopped into the water with shocking precision. Her lips flattened in grim satisfaction. Good! Maybe I can hook some fish, if nothing else.

5.) And, as with all writing, I find that strong, dramatic verbs are a must to conveying tension of any kind. Whenever I write a tense scene, I literally pour over my literary Bible, The Synonym Finder, by J.A. Rodale, to come up with the most powerful verbs I can. Here is a scene from A Passion Redeemed in which the hero realizes he’s falling for a woman he doesn’t want to fall in love with. Uh, you think he’s ticked?

He wheeled around and bludgeoned his way through the crowd, riling customers on his way out. Outside, the bitter cold assailed him, tinged with the smells of burning peat and the slight whiff of horses. He could hear the faint sound of laughter and singing drifting from the various pubs tucked along the cobblestone road. His anger swelled.

He hurled his car door open and tossed the bottle on the passenger seat. Mumbling under his breath, he rounded the vehicle to rotate the crank, gyrating the lever with such ferocity that it rattled unmercifully. The engine growled to life, its vicious roar rivaling the angst in his gut. He got in the car and slammed the door, slapping the headlights on with a grunt. With a hard swipe of the steering wheel, he jerked the car away from the curve and exhaled a loud breath.

It was happening again. He was finally past the pain of one sister and now it was beginning with the other. He gunned the vehicle down Lower Abbey Street, nearly hitting a pedestrian who probably wouldn’t have felt a thing, given the near-empty bottle in his hand. He gritted his teeth. That’s what women did to you—drove you to the bottom of a bottle where you drowned in your own liquid travail. He yanked his tie off, loosening his shirt to let the frigid air cool the heat of his anger. Thoughts of Charity suddenly surfaced, and a heat of another kind surged through his body. He swore out loud, the coarse sound foreign to his ears. He turned the corner on a squeal. The bottle careened across the seat and slammed into his leg.

He’d been without a woman way too long. Once, his appetite had been voracious. But Faith had changed all that. Her sincerity, her purity, her honesty. She had ruined him for other women. Since she’d left, he’d had no inclination, no interest. No desire.

Until now.

6.) Finally, for me, the key to writing romantic tension is to FEEL the scene before hand. This happens a lot while I’m on the treadmill listening to worship music. All at once, a dramatic line or action will pop into my head, and before I know it, I’m scribbling a scene down with the pen and paper I keep close by. I think on it, imagine it, plot it in my mind. And when I’m finally writing it, I use everything at my disposal to feel the scene—from personal memories to movies to song lyrics—anything that will help me to intensify my feelings and therefore heighten the drama. Heck, I even keep a hand mirror by my computer to study emotions on my own face, as well as jumping up to enact certain scenes. Although, this has become somewhat awkward since my husband has started his own business and now sits behind me in my home office. Sigh.

So, what do you do to build heat in your romantic tension? Go ahead and tell me ... show me with examples ... because I’ve got the fire department on speed dial and a fire extinguisher close by. And frankly, I’d like to learn a few more tricks for stoking the fire, because as far as I am concerned, when it comes to romantic tension, there’s no such thing as too much heat.
Julie will be giving away one book from her Daughters of Boston series as seen in this photo - winner's choice. Just leave a comment today with your name to get in on her draw.

You can contact and find out more info on Julie through her website at

Julie Lessman is a regular contributor of Seekerville which you can find at http://seekerville.blogspot.com/

Friday, June 26, 2009

Samantha Hunter's Book Winner

Thank you, Honorary Prairie Chick Samantha Hunter for blogging with us on Saturday.

And the winner of Samantha's current Blaze release, Hard to Resist is:


Hayley, please contact Sam at samhunter@samanthahunter.com to claim your book.

Well, that was a fun day!

Summer Time, Summer Time...

Summer officially donned this past Sunday. The longest day of the year heralding warm weather, lazy afternoons, and…tons of stuff to squeeze into two short months! With gardening, kids off on holidays, picnics, camping, trips to the beach, and nights where the sun’s warmth allows for sitting on the deck visiting with friends and neighbors, our writing just may take a back seat.

Writers write. That’s what we’ve been told – over and over again. But what’s a writer to do when Summer lures us into sitting in our loungers to soak up the sun’s rays, sip a cool lemonade, and read a great book? As an unpublished writer I don’t have the joy of deadlines tapping me on the shoulder and forcing me back into the house to work. As an unpublished writer I can ignore Muse’s call, promise her that I will get back to work when it decides to rain. After all, here on The Prairies Summer is taken very seriously – more so when the winter we’ve just endured seemed colder and longer than any in recent history.

In past years, I wrote on rainy days. Or in the middle of the afternoon when only ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ would be caught dead sitting in the sweltering heat. But that didn’t last long once I started working full time at a job where summers off were not the norm (ah, the joys of teaching – holidays!). My weekends are the only time I get to enjoy the mid day sun – and I gladly join those Brits and their canine companions. So writing took a back seat.

But the more I write, the more I read about writing (practice hones the craft), and the more I want this career, the more I realize I need to create some goals to see me through the temptation of Summer. And like other times in the year, I need to set short term and long term goals that once accomplished will get me closer to my realization of being a published author with deadlines tapping me on the shoulder.

I won’t go into goal setting here. I will direct you, if you’re interested, to this website that helps you to set goals (if you’re not already a goal setter). I've used SMART Goals when I taught and in my own personal life and they really do help a person to focus. This website is pretty extensive; so have a look around, you might just find a way to set goals that works for you. I will, however, share with you my summer plans (because they do effect the blog) and my goals.

In four short weeks the entire contents of my house will be in cardboard boxes. A giant self-moving truck will be pulling away from the curb with The Husband and a good friend starting out on a journey of 3000 miles to the East Coast of Canada. Lucky me gets to stay behind to clean the house, deal with the power, phone, real estate business before heading to my mom’s to await The Husband’s return. He’s flying back – he and his friend have decided to make this trip a "Golf and Move" one. Yes, they are going to be golfing their way across Canada in a self-moving Truck (only a guy would think of that – and I just may have to use that in a book at some point in time). When The Husband returns, he, the dog (who’s picture adorns my blog this week), and myself will head out – camping our way across many provinces to our new home. We are due to arrive (and move into our new home) at the end of August.

Because I will be without Internet access for the entire month of August, with the exception of a trip to an Internet cafĂ© or library, I will not be blogging on Fridays. I have invited some wonderful writer friends to blog for me so there will still be some great posts here for you to read. I will also be without my distractions (solitaire, blogs, etc). My goal for the summer – with all that time on my hands – is to finish (yes, your read that correctly) Gillian and Mac’s story. It’s all there, in my head, so I figure this is the perfect time to get it on paper. And I’ve put that goal out here for you all to see. Talk about accountability!

To celebrate the beginning of Summer – and the fact that today is the last day of school for many children and I am still a teacher at heart – let’s use the comment section to share our summer plans (opposite to "What I Did On My Summer Vacation"). While you’re at it, perhaps you’d like to share your writing goals – do you have specific work you want to get done over the next two months? We'll come back in September and see how well we stuck to our plans. And a final question, People of Blogland, what’s your favorite Summer activity? As you can see, Taz loves to run through the sprinkler.

Janet (who is very glad she will continue to be a Prairie Chick, even though she won’t officially be living on The Prairies)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Welcome Julie Lessman

Get your fire hoses handy, folks because Julie Lessman is here on Saturday and she wants to start a fire!

Julie's bio says: Julie Lessman is a new author who has garnered much writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. She is the author of The Daughters of Boston series, which includes A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Redeemed, and A Passion Denied.

I say: Not only are Julie's books causing a momunmental stir in the inspirational historical romance market today, she's turning the tide for the rest of us who write inspirationals and believe people experience romantic tension regardless of their faith. Personally, I have read and reviewed Julie's books and have given them a 'Sensual' and 'Excellent' rating, with each book more intense than the last. And while I'm at it... somebody remind me on Sat to ask Julie how many times she was rejected while pitching the A Passion Most Pure, first book in this series. Talk about perseverance.

Julie will be giving away one book from the Daughters of Boston series as seen in this photo - winner's choice. These aren't category books, but full size 450 plus pages. Leave a comment on Saturday to get in on Julie's free book.

You can contact Julie through her website at http://www.julielessman.com/.

Love Doesn’t Always Come First

Hello and thanks for having me here. I’m so happy to come by and talk about Hard to Resist, and some thoughts on writing for Blaze, Harlequin’s sexiest line. When you open the pages of a Blaze, you’ll find a range of sexuality and sexual expression in Blaze characters, just like you would in real people. Not everyone does the same thing, the same way, for the same reasons – which brings me to the epiphany I had a while ago about sexual motivation.

The fact is, for a lot of books, and for a lot of people in the world, sex comes before love. But what motivates a character to have sex, with this particular person, on this particular day? I think this is a very important question for anyone who is writing Blaze or similar types of romance to ask. So what is sexual motivation when it comes to writing a romance novel?

It’s simply this: your character’s decision to have sex has to be emotionally motivated. Period. This, to me, is an integral factor to every Blaze I write. In any book I write, actually.

And no, horny is not an emotional motivator (though it certainly might move things along a little.) But underneath the horny surface, your character is always driven to have sex for some emotional reason. Are they lonely? Hurt? Afraid? Needy? Angry? Hopeful? Vengeful? Etc. What emotional need is being satisfied by having sex? I think if you can’t answer this question, you need to dig deeper, or you are in danger of your characters having truly meaningless sex.

People might say, well, they have sex because they are motivated by love. This is true when your love scene comes at the end of the book, but not when the characters meet early on. I think Blaze has, to some extent, suffered a reputation of people thinking our characters jump into bed together for no reason – that’s simply not true. Sex is never just sex, a common refrain in Blaze. The emotion that leads them to have sex may not be love, but it could be any number of other things, and that’s where the story is.

My heroine in Hard toResist, for example, has led a happy and successful life. Lacey has a great family and a wonderful career – until she meets the wrong guy who abuses her, hurts her, and almost kills her. Because this is such an interruption in her “normal” life, she can’t accept that she has been a “victim.” She can’t deal with it, and tries to dismiss it. Her fear has interrupted her natural attraction to men, and she knows something is wrong, though she tries to rationalize.

Still, we meet her at a point where she wants to heal. She wants to want, to desire, but she’s so very afraid – so the desire not to be afraid, to be safe, to be healed, is what drives her into the arms of Texas Ranger Jarod Wyatt (that, and he’s incredibly hot.)

However, I think she also senses she will be safe with Jarod – so there is the need to heal, the need to be safe…maybe even the need for love. All of these things motivate her when she has sex with him (and we’ll give the girl some credit, she does resist for a while, but he just becomes too irresistible).

It was an interesting decision, how to write that scene, and the first sex scene is pretty graphic, rather than slow or gentle. She really goes for it. Lacey doesn’t want to think, she doesn’t want to feel anything but the sex. To me, that made sense in her situation. Obviously, she starts to feel a whole lot more as the book progresses, and she discovers that while sex certainly was one element of her relationship, the healing really comes through love, and through feeling safe enough to share her fear.

But it started with feeling safe enough to have sex.

Jarod has his motivators, too, but I’ll let you find out those for yourself. ;)

I could probably go through each book I have written and think about what emotion was driving the characters to have sex when they may or may not have known each other all that well, or maybe when they knew it wasn’t a great idea, or when they were completely fooling themselves – sometimes they are the last ones to know why they did it, and again, that’s where your story is.

So, I hope this makes some sense, and I’m here today to talk anything about motivation, my books, and Blaze. Feel free to ask any questions, and I'll do my best to answer.

If you are following my blog tour, this is the next to last stop, and if not, I hope you’ll chat anyway, and I’ll choose one person at the end of the day to win a copy of Hard to Resist and cute little book mark.

You'll find Samantha Hunter at her blog,
Love is An Exploding Cigar, and around the eHarlequin boards.
You can also follow her at Twitter and Facebook and at http://www.samanthahunter.com/.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Love Affair

“I just want to live happily ever after, every now and then.“ Jimmy Buffett

I’m a romance junkie. It started in my teen years, around sixteen or seventeen years of age. In desperate need of something to read (okay, maybe I asked repeatedly to read one) I picked up one of my Mom’s Harlequins. What ensued was the beginning of a love affair with happily ever after. I only read the occasional one, but once I moved away from home I kept a stash handy. You know, to read on those nights we decided to rent movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Once back home and snug in my bed and needing to keep images of chainsaw welding psychopath at bay I’d pull out a Harlequin. Lulled by the promise of happily ever after, I would fall into a peaceful sleep.

Of course my real life looked more the Happily N’Ever After movie. Some of my dates were decidedly more like the vain and clueless Prince Humperdink and rather less like Rick, who’s the true hero of the story.

Rick: What's goin' on?

Mambo: [watching Prince Humperdink storm the castle] There's the dashing prince, he's charging, he's wielding his noble sword, with... with fiery determination, he's falling off, he's falling off the steed, he fell off... he's on the ground now, he's on the ground, he's lookin' for his noble sword...

Rick: I'm almost startin' to feel sorry for the guy!

Mambo: He's feeling around, is that, he has a stick.

[Humperdink shrieks]

Thankfully, I did manage to meet my Rick equivalent.

For the next few years I read only occasionally. Working, socializing and later on a book club to feed the need to read kept me busy and I didn’t set aside much time to read romance. But eventually my eyes wandered back to the happily ever after section in the bookstore. It wasn’t until my late twenties when I picked up a novel featuring the Malory-Anderson families that I discovered my first must buy author, Johanna Lindsey. My seduction by the romance genre was back on track and my love of historical romance began.

Then Johanna Lindsey quit writing for a while, or at less I couldn’t find anything new, and someone recommended another author. So off I went to the bookstore looking for something written by an author named Nora Roberts. She didn’t write historicals but I was desperate. I bought the first book in her Chesapeake Bay series, went home and fell absolutely in love with the story. The next day I went back and bought the other two in the series. I had my second must buy author and that series is still one of my favorites. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve reread Cameron, Ethan and Phillip Quinn’s stories. Nora Roberts still retains a space on my must buy list.

Since then I’ve accumulated quite a list of must buy authors. My love affair with the romance genre continues and will continue for…forever, only now I write happily ever after as well as read it.

Do you remember the title of the first romance you ever read? Do remember the name of your first must buy author or how you found out about them? When did you first start reading romance or fall in love with a specific genre?

Of course, the best HEA exists in reality and is the one you make for yourself.

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” Denis Waitley

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Thursday Welcome Samantha Hunter

You all have a treat on Thursday as I relinquish my blogging day to Harlequin Blaze author, Samantha Hunter who will post about writing for Blaze and sexual motivation.

Sam lives and writes in Syracuse, New York with her handsome devil of a husband and her pets. She's been writing for Harlequin Blaze since 2004, when she sold her first book, Virtually Perfect. Hard to Resist marks her 11th Blaze, with number 12 on it's heels (Caught by Surprise, an eHarlequin Online spin off of book #13, Caught in the Act, Oct '09). Sam taught college and technical writing for several years before deciding to write full-time, and loves to sew and garden. You'll find her at her blog, Love is An Exploding Cigar, and around the eHarlequin boards. You can also follow her at Twitter and Facebook and at http://www.samanthahunter.com/.

Samantha will choose one person at the end of Thursday's blog to win a copy of Hard to Resist and a cute little book mark.

Why are you a writer?

Why are you a writer? Why aren’t you a pianist, a speed skater, a waitress, an elephant trainer or a fanatical house keeper?
Has being a writer always been a dream you are incredibly enthusiastic about or are you just giving it a go?
What is a writer in your own words? Are you a Writer or a writer?
How did you become a writer? Was it a teacher who excited you about writing or something you did in math class as an alternative to running screaming from the room? Was it an excellent book you read that motivated you? Which book?
Does reading make you write? Change your way of looking at dreams? Exercise your brain? Make you fall in love with a hero? Wish the heroine was a friend?
I have written since public school. Mostly, I wrote letters to relatives I had never met - a great aunt in England and a great uncle in South Africa. I wanted to know things about them, and of course, told them all about me - which was no doubt made them chuckle.
By highschool, I had to write every day at the sharp end of the pointers of an English grammar and literature teacher and a History teacher. If I had to write a story about what I did that summer, I might as well make it interesting, if not fictional.
History turned me on. If I read about a historical figure, I just had to tell somebody all I found fascinating about that figure. That, I enjoyed. Fortunately, I had those two teachers nearly every year and they encouraged me to write, write, write. A heavy dose of grammar and Miss Forth's demand that I get to know historical figures personally made an infinite difference in my writing. Because I was reasonably good at writing, I had to write essays on all the topics, while the other students got to pick a limited number from the list. (Good in retrospect only).
A Grade 13 Latin teacher told me that if I memorized the entire set of verb forms at the back of the book for the next day, she would teach me Latin. I needed Latin lit and Latin grammar (two courses then) to enter university. (I was especially motivated because the alternatives were trigonometry and chemistry). But it was Mrs. Sharpe who supported me and showed me how to find out what was in the works of Roman writers and how to use what I learned in Latin grammar to improve my writing.
I truly owe those three teachers!
Since writing was what I did best, I leaned more and more toward it. In university, I hated English classes and loved Geology but eventually ended up in Journalism School since knowing the difference between sandstone and limestone wasn’t going to use much writing skill.
Eventually, I became a journalist. I loved it! I got to ask people a zillion questions about themselves. A managing editor once said I was a teacher and actually, helping people understand was a real motivation in writing about crime and justice.
In grade two, our teacher insisted we read with expression. That had an odd result. Later, as a mother of four, I started reading dozens of folk tales and then telling them, with a great deal of acting and expression, in our kids’ classrooms. (I’ll have you know I do a damn good dragon!) I did it for years and eventually had my own Global television show. The best part was that I was helping kids learn story lines and to read. That 'read with expression echo' from the past was motivating kids to read today; to learn that reading didn’t need to be boring at all if one put a little umph into it. They liked it when a story wasn’t ‘flat line’. The teachers thought it was the best assistance to helping kids like writing and reading.
I wrote a book because Maggie Siggins and a publisher asked me to and I was bitten by the book bug. But, I liked telling stories better than writing creative non-fiction, so I am now giving romance writing a try. Besides, it is lovely to have a goodlooking, sexy guy in my life (in addition to Husband of course).
I am a journalism and non-fiction writer because I like it and I am very good at it. I am a fiction writer because I want to learn its secrets.
Why are you a writer?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting To Know You

I’ve always found the better I know my characters the easier it is to write my story. If I know my characters inside and out, if I can identify with them, I’ll know what they’ll do in any situation. Their actions will grow out of their personalities and are natural and consistent. In other words, they react like “real” people.

So how do I get to know my characters? One way is by using a character sketch. The character sketch covers everything from physical attributes and educational background, to attitudes towards sex, his/her family, and life in general. I like these two character sketches that I found on-line. The first one includes things to be aware of when assigning traits to your characters, and the second one has many interesting questions to ask yourself about your character. I’ve used this one for many years:

1. Name, age, birthday, birthplace.
2. Body type: height, and weight; short description of overall appearance; general impression she/he gives.
3. Details of physical appearance: color of eyes; color of hair and complexion; frequent facial expressions; way of moving and walking; sound of voice. Characteristic mannerisms and gestures.
4. Dominant character traits. Which get her/him into the most trouble? Basic personality: extroverted, introverted, independent, insecure, other.
5. Taste and preference in dress: favourite outfits, jewellery, makeup if applicable.
6. Personal history and background: Are parents alive? Siblings? Role in family when growing up; type of childhood.
7. Previous relationships with opposite sex. If married before, describe marriage. If divorced, how bitter? If widowed describe feelings about deceased spouse. If single, what past love experiences? Attitude toward sex, toward own sexuality, toward opposite sex.
8. Educational background and current profession: skills, responsibilities, goals, daily responsibilities in present job.
9. Personal goals, dreams hopes, and philosophy of life.
10. Hobbies and talents, outside of professional skills.
11. Problems character is facing as the novel opens, both emotional and practical.
12. Past experience that provides motivation for character’s decision and action in relation to problem or problems that arise(s) as the story develops.
13. How will character’s decisions and actions complicate the resolution of the problem?
14. Write a paragraph summing up the essence of this character’s personality. Now reduce it to one line.

The character sketch is not written in stone. As you write you may add to your knowledge of your character as you get to know him/her. I suggest revising your sketch as you go.

Another great way to get to know your character is to interview them. Yes, I do know we are talking about a fictional character, but treating her like a real person helps to make her come alive for your readers. Vanessa Grant, in her book “Writing Romance” offers this advice and some sample questions to ask your character:

1. Ask a friend to be your interviewer. A writer friend is best: he or she will understand what you’re trying to do.
2. Record the interview. Recording will eliminate the distraction of taking notes.
3. Give your interviewer a starter list of questions, then tell him or her to wing it, ask anything at all.
4. Slip into character and answer all questions in the first person.
(Note: it is possible to simply interview your character yourself using a recorder, or a keyboard. Whatever works for you.)

Sample Questions:
- Where and when were you born?
- Tell me about your parents.
- Was your family rich, poor, middle class? How did this affect you?
- Which parent were you closest to? What’s your relationship today?
- Any siblings? Tell me about them. What’s your relationship today?
- What’s your education background?
- Did you like school? If not, why not?
- Did you have a pet?
- Ever been married? What happened?
- What do you consider your best physical feature?
- Do you read? What kind of reading? Books? Magazines? Newspapers?
- What makes you angry?
- What do you care about most?

Sometimes it’s helpful to look over a list of personality traits to narrow down those you want your character to have. This list also includes the corresponding negative trait in addition to the positive trait.

How do you get to know your characters? Do you fill out character sketches or conduct interviews? What other methods have you used? For fun, check out the character sketches for the former Canadian TV show “Due South”, particularly the one for Constable Benton Fraser, just because he’s cute. But seriously, this site gives an idea of how sketches are created and used.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Christine's Book Giveaway Winner

We'd like to thank our newest Honorary Prairie Chick, Christine Rimmer, for taking the time to blog with us yesterday.

Christine has picked a name from all the people who stopped and left a comment and the winner of a free book from Christine's booklist is:

Deb H

So Deb, please send an email to Christine at christine@christinerimmer.com to claim your free book.

Thanks everyone. It was a great discussion. Happy writing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Plot Group: Three Days, Five Authors, Ten Stories…

by Christine Rimmer

Hey, everyone. So nice to be here. Thanks, Anita, for inviting me.

As you can see from the title above, I’m in a plot group. What’s not to like about that?

A lot, I would have answered if you’d asked me that question six years ago. For the first twenty years (!) of my life as a romance author, I was the ultimate in solitary creators. Critique groups? No, thank you. Critique partners? I don’t think so.

And plot groups? No, not for me.

That is, until my longtime friend, Susan Mallery, just happened to mention that she had an opening in her plot group, which meets in Las Vegas twice a year. I was intrigued. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe because Susan is really, really good at what she does. Maybe I wanted some of that. Maybe I was beginning to see myself as getting just a little bit stale. Hey, after fifty or so books, approximately how many I had written at that time, I needed a new way to look at my writing process.

So I signed on for Susan’s plot group as a trial. I loved it from the first session that first group I attended back in 2004. And today, I can’t imagine my writing process without plot group.

And it’s about more than just the excitement of having five great writing brains go to work on your story idea. It’s also totally practical. When I started with my plot group, I turned in three solid series books a year. Now, I turn in four. Plot group has not only improved my books, it’s made me a faster writer. I don’t have to waste so much time wandering in the wilderness of my own story idea. At plot group, I hone what I start with. Then, when I sit down to write a synopsis, I’m already at least halfway there. It’s a real breakthrough for me.

Yes, it’s true. Even longtime authors can learn very effective new tricks.

Here’s how we do it. A week before we leave for our three days in Vegas, we send each other basic starting material for two stories each. It doesn’t have to be much. Just a starting conflict and a bit about the characters is enough. Or more, if further progress on the story has been made.

Once in Vegas, we meet for two sessions per day, two books per session, with plenty of down time in between to eat, read, gamble, watch moves, whatever. We like the more modest away-from-the-strip casino hotels. With lots of restaurants on-site. And a gym, and maybe a shopping mall nearby. Keeps prices reasonable and options open.

All sessions are a half hour to ninety minutes. We give as much time as is needed to get character goals, character conflicts, opening scene, major turning points, black moment, escalating bad stuff, and scene ideas. We double-tape each session to allow for technical glitches. And we keep it way simple: cassette tapes, hand-sized cassette recorders. We each go home with two sessions, two books each. Having the sessions on tape is just fabulous. When I start a new synopsis, I pop in a tape and transcribe as it plays. The whole session is there for me, alive and immediate. I’ll add in notes to myself as I transcribe. Sometimes, once I’m working with the plot on my own, I’ll change it up considerably. I always add and take away from whatever we plotted. But I have so much to start with, so many options. My synopsis takes me a couple of days now—as opposed to weeks when I was plotting by myself.

Yes, we have rules. Simple ones. We all try really hard not to talk over each other, to speak clearly and loudly, so there’s no mumbling on the tape.

The owner of the story has to lead the session, keep it on track, speak up when she doesn’t like the direction we’re taking. No matter how brilliant we think we are, we promise to respect that author's opinion and go in a different direction.

We each must come with a starting place for each story. If a session goes badly, we rewind and start again, take a break if we have to, and then come back with it. We have spare sessions in the schedule for books that just don’t seem to come together.

And lastly, all idle chit chat, gossip, confessions and discussions are held in the highest degree of confidence. If anyone violates this rule and gossips about a plot group member outside of plot group, she will never be asked back—and the rest of us will make a point of saying rude things about her at every opportunity. This one is not a joke. We all put ourselves on the line at these sessions and we need to know we're in a safe environment.

And that’s it. I love plot group. Beyond the professional value of getting more books—and better books—out of the interaction we share, I get a chance to get away to my own private writer’s retreat twice a year. It’s a real battery recharger.

No, you don’t need to go to Vegas. You can do it with fellow writers at someone’s house, just for a day. Or even an evening. You can rework the format to fit your own needs and budget.

But if you’re not already in one, a plot group is definitely something to consider. Take it from someone who’s been in the writing business since time began. It never hurts to learn a few new tricks.

So, chicks. Do you have a plot group? If so, how does yours work? I love to take questions, as well as suggestions.

Christine will be giving away a signed book from her backlist—winner’s choice, subject to availability—to someone who comments on today’s blog.
Christine Rimmer has written sixty-five contemporary romances for Silhouette Books, Harlequin Books and HQN. A reader favorite, Christine’s stories consistently appear on national bestseller lists, including the Waldenbooks and USA TODAY lists. She has won Romantic Times BOOK review’s Reviewer’s Choice Award for best Silhouette Special Edition. She has been nominated three times for the RITA and four times for Romantic Times Series Storyteller of the Year.
A Bravo's Honor is Christine's current release.
More info on Christine Rimmer as well as her backlist can be found at: http://www.christinerimmer.com/
and http://christinerimmer.blogspot.com/

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Story for the Telling (Part Two)

For those who missed Part One, here's the link.

The Master Storyteller nodded his head. "You have plot, characterization, and your craft has improved."

The little girl chewed her lip. She wanted to pump her fist in the air, but restrained herself in front of the Master Storyteller. She was sure he could see her heart hammering in her chest.

He drummed his fingers once more, then pushed the sparkly binder toward her. "But your story lacks voice." And he flicked his wrist in dismissal.

She blinked, aware that she was to retrieve her story and leave the presence of the Master. But she couldn’t move. "Voice?" While she waited for some kind of clue as to what that meant, she racked her brain for knowledge of the concept.

"Voice." And he called for the next appointment.

With her binder once more clasped to her chest, the little girl moved toward the door. She hesitated, but this time the doorman only shrugged his shoulders and offered her a sad smile. At the entrance to the palace, she glanced around the courtyard unwilling to leave the city. She had come too far to walk away from her dream and with a renewed resolve decided she was in the perfect place to discover more about ‘voice’.

It was only mid day, too early for all the storytellers to be sharing their tales, but there were still plenty for the little girl to listen to. She stopped at the first fabler and focused on his words and the small crowd gathered around. When he had finished, and the audience had shown their appreciation with a smattering of applause, she stepped forward to ask him about voice.

"You must read extensively. The stories you enjoy the most should be the ones you write. I read every day."

She thanked him and moved further into the city. Another storyteller in the midst of entertaining an even larger crowd drew her attention. His story made her laugh along with the audience and she juggled her binder in order to applaud his efforts when he finished. As before, she approached him once the lingering fans had left.

"Write. Write as much as you can and for other reasons than just to tell your story. My journey here included a stint at limerick poetry and couplets in the Land of Rhyme."

With a heartfelt thanks the little girl continued her quest. So far the storytellers who were good enough to work in the City of Tales had alluded to reading and writing. But she did read and write and obviously that was not enough to give her story the uniqueness the Master Storyteller required.

She passed a few more minstrels as she contemplated her voice. A noise to her left pulled her from her reverie. A tremendous group of people was gathered around what the little girl could only surmise to be a fabulous storyteller. She nudged her way through the crowd until she stood at the front and stared in wonder at the tiniest man she had ever seen. He sat upon an upended apple crate, engaging the audience in a story of epic proportions.

By the time he had spun his tale, she and the crowd behind her were entranced. Moments passed in complete silence until the tiny man stood up and bowed his head, breaking the spell and inciting a rousing cheer, thunderous applause, and loud whistles of appreciation. While the crowd slowly dispersed, many going up to the storyteller and offering personal thanks, the little girl took the time to dry her eyes. The beautiful words had moved her to tears.

She waited until the stragglers had left and asked the storyteller about voice, sharing what she had learned from the others. He gestured toward her binder and asked if she had written a story. She said she had and waited to hear his wise words on finding her voice. She was surprised when he asked another question.

"But is it a story for the telling? Have you told your story aloud?"

Of course she had read her story aloud finding the practice helped in perfecting her craft.

"Not the words on paper. Not the way you have written them. Have you read your story from your heart?"


He gestured for her to sit, then he paced before her. "Do not dismiss what the others have told you for reading and writing are very important in learning who you are as a storyteller. But how you tell a story, from your heart, is the key to defining your voice. Anyone can put words upon paper, but each of us has a heart that beats differently. Speaking your story bypasses the mechanics and lets your uniqueness as a storyteller shine through."

Her mind whirled at the storyteller’s insight. Finally she understood why the Master Storyteller dismissed her. She had a story, but it lacked heart. No, it lacked her heart. She jumped up from her seat and thanked the tiny man profusely. He nodded his head and wished her luck.

As she ran through the city, her heart hammering in her chest, she passed the doorman on his way home. He called to her, "Where are you going?"

She slowed only enough to shout back at him over her shoulder, "I must go home and get to work."

"Will you return?"

"Oh, yes. And this time with a story for the telling."

So, People of Blogland, what say you about voice? Do you have any other tips besides reading extensively, writing lots, and reading your story out loud to help a writer find her voice? As a writer looking for her voice, I look forward to your insight and suggestions.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Welcome Christine Rimmer

Join us this Saturday when we welcome Christine Rimmer:

Christine Rimmer has written sixty-five contemporary romances for Silhouette Books, Harlequin Books and HQN. A reader favorite, Christine’s stories consistently appear on national bestseller lists, including the Waldenbooks and USA TODAY lists. She has won Romantic Times BOOKreview’s Reviewer’s Choice Award for best Silhouette Special Edition. She has been nominated three times for the RITA and four times for Romantic Times Series Storyteller of the Year.

A California native who first longed to be an actress, Christine earned her theater degree from California State, Sacramento and then went to New York to study acting. Later, she moved to Southern California, where she began her writing career with short stories, plays, and poems. Her poems and short stories were published in a number of small literary journals. Her plays were produced at The Back Alley and Group Theaters in Southern California and have been published by Dramatists Play Service and West Coast Plays.

Visit Christine at her website, http://www.christinerimmer.com/.

Christine will be giving away a signed book from her backlist—winner’s choice, subject to availability—to someone who comments on her Saturday blogpost.

Stepping out of My Box into the Unknown

This week, one of my efriends gave me a compliment that has stuck with me. I find myself thinking about it at odd times of the day and feeling good. It’s because I stepped out of the box into unknown territory. And survived.

It started when eharlequin announced the second ‘Pass the Plot’ challenge a couple months ago. You see last year when they announced it, I jumped at the challenge but then withdrew my name when I realized it was a Blaze author leading the team. And I’ve regretted it all year.

So this year when they announced Harlequin Historical author Joanne Rock would lead another Pass the Plot, I put my name in for the challenge. You'd think I would've checked Joanne's backlist because I would've seen that she writes medievals like this book cover here, but I didn't and now I'm glad I didn't. Because when the list came out, I was chosen to write Chapter 7 of a Scottish historical set in Northumbria, 1150. I was fine until I read Joanne’s first chapter. Then I panicked. The Scottish brogue was thicker than a pair of Arctic mitts. We’re talking the middle ages here, folks. Yes, I’ve read and enjoyed many medieval stories, but I’ve never written one. I always allowed my story ideas to fade away because I was too scared of screwing up the clothing or language or weaponry or something.

Yet my name was ‘out there’ for all 2000 eharlequin members as well as anyone else who happened by the site to see. There was no going back this time. So, I settled in to wait for my week. Every Monday, a new chapter appeared on the Pass the Plot board. Every chapter seemed to increase the brogue, the conflict and the sexual tension. Every day increased the worry I’d make a tremendous fool of myself. Meanwhile, my week crept up on me.

And to top it off, we would get points for using certain words and phrases. The writer who received the most points would take home the Pass the Plot title for ‘bragging rights’. And you should’ve seen the list! Well, look, here it is:

Keyword/Phrase List:

Aye=1 point

Sword=1 point

knight=1 point

mount(s)=2 points

behemoth=2 points

Highland(s)=2 points

"Curran of Donedin"=5 points

"Nessa of the Glen"=5 points

"Siobhan cackled"=5 points

"her furious heart"=10 points

"the knight’s broad, muscular thighs"=10 points

"she would have no lands, no dowry and no future" = 20 points!!

Fun list, eh. The ‘behemoth’, and ‘the knight’s broad, muscular thighs’ were intimidating. And if you put those together with 'mount' and 'her furious heart' you could have raise some heat!

Then on June 8th, Nancy Holroyd’s Chapter 6 went up and wow, did she up the stakes. Not only had she thickened the brogue, but she wrote a moving love scene after the hero and heroine married via a handfast for a period of ‘a year and a day’. Nancy ended her chapter with Nessa and Curran along the right side of a cave wall trying to evade capture. And I had to write the next chapter. Yikes!

During the week I thought about the story but I didn’t have any clear indication of what should happen to them next. However, the one thought that kept running through my mind was where Nancy had Curran tell Nessa to keep to the right and stay close to the wall. He even warned her not to go straight or left.

So Friday when I sat down to write Chapter 7, I asked myself, why not? What if she did go left? What would happen? And just like that, my 1000 word chapter fell into place. I had to surf the net a couple times for Scottish brogue. Then, I almost screwed it up when I was about to email it to Dee Tenorio, the hostess of the board, but I decided to wait until Sat morning and look at it with fresh eyes. Am I glad I did! To keep the continuity, I had copied and pasted Nancy’s last couple chapters before starting mine. Then I wrote out about 1200 words and tightened it down to 1000. But the next morning something nagged at me and when I looked at it, sure enough, the word count included Nancy’s paras. So, I had to add in another couple hundred words to bring it back up to 1000 words. Phew!

I waited until Sun morning to check it again. And again. And finally I emailed it off to Dee.

Sure enough, Monday morning, my Chapter 7 was added to the Board. I eagerly read it and found where I’d put the word ‘anguish’ in 2 sentences close together. How’d I miss that? And of course I spotted a couple other little things I’d tweak if I could.

I’d gone on the discussion board saying I couldn’t match the 142 points by Jane H back in Chapter 2 and so I was going for the adventure, but still . . . eagerly, I looked for my Keyword total . . . and there it was . . . TBD. What? Hmm, I’m not sure what that means or if they’re just trying to add suspense to the challenge or if I screwed up some of the phrasing and they don’t know what to do with it.

I think the best compliment I received, though was on Facebook from my efriend JodieG who said, ‘LOL, Anita Mae! You used them quite well, without crossing any line I know you don't like to cross. Good job!’

Yep, I stepped out of the box and put myself in a potentially compromising situation. Except I found an alternative. I’ve heard horror stories from writers where they are forced to compromise themselves because an editor wishes certain words, phrases or scenes to be used and the contract has been signed and the advance spent. But there is always an alternative. You just might have to dig a bit to find it.

Have you faced a situation where someone wanted you to cross your personal line? Do you have a personal line? Or would you do anything to get your book published? Have you stepped out of your box and signed on for ‘the unknown’? Would you if you had the chance? Have you read my chapter 7 of Pass the Plot?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Every Romance Writer Needs

“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

What Every Romance Writer Needs

A pin up board. Pictures of gorgeous guys tacked up on your wall or tucked in a binder, or stashed in a computer file. I’d be lost without visual aids. They’re so very …inspiring. You might want to take a couple of seconds to dig up one or two likenesses of your heroine, too.

A favorite pen. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyhow, check out the BIC Z4+ Stick Roller Ball Pen a try. I love my pen!

At least one reference book. Perhaps a great thesaurus like The Synonym Finder – J.I. Rodale because my brain cannot possibly house one thousand, three hundred and sixty-one pages worth of synonyms.

Mood music. Must. Have. Music. To. Write. (Must also have my Deserving Thyme soy candle but that’s another story!) Who could survive without Loreena McKennitt’s The Lady of Shalott or Cold Play’s Viva la Vida, or Meat Loaf’s Cry Over Me, or Duffy’s Stepping Stone, or …well, you get the idea.

At least one favorite web article. I have two: Randy Ingermanson’s Writing the Perfect Scene and Mike Klaassen’s Achieving Sense Perception in Fiction Writing. Please, please, please, check them out if you haven’t already.

Writing friends. You need at least one person who can appreciate the concept of needing to put words to paper. One person who understands the insatiable need to write and supports your efforts to do it properly. A whole group of them is even better, so go ahead my friends – take a bow!

One unused copy of The Elements of Style – Strunk/White/Kalman. That’s unfair, I’ve used it. Once. I know, I know, you can tell.

An idea. Or a stack of ideas. Or a truckload of ideas. To be found everywhere.

A favorite author. You have to have at least one, if not several. To be a writer, you need to be a reader. I’m pretty sure someone famous already said that but I’m too tired and lazy to look it up.

A thick skin. I’ll let you know when I acquire mine.

Mostly importantly, a deep and abiding reverence for HEA. I love happily ever afters and have loved them since I was a teenager. I can think of no better genre to write then romance.

What’s your opinion of what every romance writer needs?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Punctuation--not necessarily a dry subject

It seems lately that I’ve written about writing a lot more than I’ve actually been writing, and here I am doing it again. Nevertheless, whenever I am writing, one aspect of it that I tend to take for granted is punctuation. It’s been so long since I ‘learned the rules’ that I’m sure they must have changed by now, given that the English language is alive and kicking, thank you very much, and thus continues to evolve. And whether the rules have changed or not, my approach is to punctuate so that what I’ve written sounds right to me, Strunk & White be dam— er, notwithstanding.

I do, however, know that there are rules, and that if I’m ging to ignore them I’d best be aware that I’ve done so so that I don’t leave a reader with an unintended reaction. So, when I spotted a daily calendar for this year based on the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Tress I picked it up for the office and looked forward to learning about ‘The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.’

It’s been interesting, humourous, and yes, educational (did you know there really is an Apostrophe Protection Society in Britain?). As I tore each page off I found there were some I decided to keep as reminders for myself, and after collecting these for almost half the year I realized you might find some of the observances interesting, humourous or educational too. So here are some of the comments I plan to remember whether I’m writing, or just writing about it.

To begin, on January 12th I read “punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language: they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.” Nicely put, I thought. On January 22nd I read “Puncutuation directs you how to read, in the way musical notation directs a musician how to play.” I liked that, too. On January 14th I was reminded of the consequences of mispunctuation, particularly in our ‘new’ age of emails, illustrated as: “A Woman, without her man, is nothing.” versus “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” (Worth pause for thought, that one, hmm?)

Then on January 23rd I learned that “the comma was first used by Greek dramatists two thousand years ago to guide actors between breathing points.” I realized that my own approach was a version of the same thing; that wasn’t exactly an ‘aha’ moment, but it was something like it. Later in the month I learned that the initial letter of a sentence was first capitalized in the 13th century but that wasn’t done consistently until the 16th, and that only 200 years or so ago all nouns were also capitalized. Who knew? Obviously not me.

On February 11th I discovered that 17th century printers began to insert “an apostrophe before the “s” in singular possessive cases (“the girl’s dress”) and from then on quite frankly the whole thing has spiralled into madness.” A number of examples were provided throughout the balance of the month that certainly illustrated the “spiral” effect; one in particular involves the “confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) with the contractive “it’s” (with apostrophe).” We often forget that possessive determiners and pronouns do not have apostrophes. We wouldn’t add an apostrophe to ‘his, her, our, their' or 'hers, mine, yours,' etc., so why do we often treat ‘its’ differently when it’s ‘its’ turn (got that??). Bottom line: if you could say 'it is' or 'it has' then you should use an apostrophe, otherwise not.

On March 2nd I read about the use of the apostrophe in Irish names and that the idea that it’s a contraction of the word “of” is erroneous. It’s actually an anglicisation of “ua”, meaning grandson. March 3rd brought an interesting comparison, and I quote:
One might say that while the full stop is the lumpen male of the punctuation world (do one job at a time; do it well; forget about it instantly), the apostrophe is the frantically multi-talking female, dotting hither and yon, and succumbing to burn-out from all the thankless effort.

(Couldn’t resist sharing that one, or one of the punctuation ‘horror stories’ that followed and brought to mind.... well, see for yourself with this quote from March 12th.)
"Unintentional sense from unmarked possessive:
Dicks in tray (try not to think about it)."

So there I was, only a quarter of the way through the year, and already collecting bits of paper hither and yon, as it were. Two months plus further on and I continue to enjoy the daily tidbits. Even if most of today’s romances are written with shorter sentence structure, I think there’s still room for writing long as long as the punctuation is good. For someone inclined to produce run on sentences without breaking a sweat, it’s definitely a good idea to reinforce the concepts of punctuation overall. And from the examples I've shared above, you have to watch what you're doing with those punctuation marks no matter how short the structure. If you have an appetite for them I’ll share more of my discoveries in future posts, but for now, and as usual, I’ll check in later today, i.e. after work, to see how you’ve ‘talked amongst yourselves’.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Organized Writer: Clearing out My Inbox

I recently had a garage sale. Not only did this give me the opportunity to make a few bucks, I was able to do a little decluttering. Clearing out physical clutter also results in clearing out emotional clutter. So in the spirit of making a clean sweep, I decided to tackle some of the mess I have accumulated in my Inbox.

Like many people, I often get an email I don’t know what with. I can’t throw it out because I may need it someday, but I don’t know how to organize it, and so I postpone any decision. The result is an Inbox stuffed with close to 2,000 emails. Clearly, this can’t go on!

For help in organization, I turned to my friend Google. Some of the best information I found came from Sally McGhee in “4 Ways to Take Control of your Email”. Ms McGhee says the first thing I have to understand is the difference between a reference email and an action email:

- Reference information is information that is not required to complete an action; it is information that you want to keep in case you need it later. For example: information from my publisher.
- Action information is information you must have to complete an action. For example: a list of edits my editor wants me to take a look at.

Let’s deal with reference emails first. As much as one third of the emails I receive may be reference information, so it is important that I have a system in place to deal with these emails. First, I must identify my objectives. What is really important for me to keep? What will help me achieve my goals? I currently have a folder called “Jokes” jam packed with jokes and gags I’ve received over the years. Do these jokes help me in my aim to be a better writer and to publish my work? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s time to get rid of them. Identifying my objectives and goals will help me decide which emails to keep and which to pitch. Here are some other ways of deciding what to keep:

- Can I find the information somewhere else, such as the Internet?
- Am I likely to refer to the information in the next six months? If not, I should delete it.
- Does the email contain information I am required to keep for some legal reason? If not, delete it.

Once I decide what to save, I must create a folder in my personal files area in which to keep them. For example, one of my folders may be “Publishing Information” with subfolders listing my three publishers. That way when important information arrives, I can slip it into the appropriate folder for easy retrieval later. Name folders in meaningful ways for you. For more information check out Sally’s McGhee’s article “Create an Effective Reference System”.

Now that I’ve figured out how to save reference emails, I need to deal with the rest of my daily emails. This is my dedicated email processing time. I want to tackle this job when I have few or no interruptions. My objective is to bring my Inbox to zero, so I need to get through them as quickly as I can. There are four things I can do with each action email:

Delete it
Do it
Delegate it
Defer it

Delete it. The same criteria for deciding what to keep as reference material is the same for deciding what to keep as action material. If the email is not important to my main objectives, if the information can be found elsewhere, if I will not be referring to the information in the next six months, or if I am not required to keep the information, then I can delete the email.

Do it. Can I deal with this action email in the next two minutes? If so, I must do it now.

Delegate it. Is this something someone else can deal with? If so, I must delegate it now.

Defer it. Any email I cannot delete, delegate or deal with in the next two minutes must be defered. Because this is my dedicated e-mail processing time, I need to defer it and deal with it after I am done processing my e-mail. About 10 percent of e-mail messages have to be deferred. To make sure I don’t forget about this email, I can turn it into a “Task” in Outlook, or set up a reminder to deal with it later in the Calendar feature.

It’s going to take me some time to get through my backlog and bring my Inbox to zero. Sally McGhee suggests I devote a little time on it everyday. But the results will be worth it.

Do you clear your Inbox everyday? Do you have a system in place to keep important emails? Or do you accumulate emails, never quite knowing when to delete?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Working the Middle Out of Your Middle

by Cheryl St John
Moving on With the Story
Research on long-term space flights has revealed that astronauts experience the most physiologically difficult leg of their journey at the midway point. The travelers reported more lethargy, irritability and homesickness halfway through the mission. Comparing it to the journey of writing a book, I can see that it’s because the initial excitement has abated, and yet home (the end) isn’t yet within sight.

You’ve probably been on a long car trip with children. Which stretch would you say was the most difficult? No, really, you have to pick ONE. The middle perhaps? You probably had to come up with some creative ideas to keep your kids from killing each other and to save your sanity.

Everything after chapter three until you reach the black moment and resolution is the middle. You spent three chapters introducing your characters, setting up the conflict, creating a dynamic hook, showing your setting, hinting at the backstory and teasing the reader with the promise of this adventure. That’s a whole lot of finesse and fine-tuning and planning and execution. And now, you’ve walked into a gray area/the twilight zone/the unknown and perhaps even uncharted center of the story. Gulp.

Here’s where self-doubt raises its ugly head. You’re the one who’s going to have to tune out doubts and do some self-talk. Seriously. If you want this badly enough, you’re going to have to believe in yourself and start thinking more positively about your ability to accomplish your goals and learn in the process.

What if this is a fluke?
Then you haven’t really tried or given yourself a chance. You’re allowing fear to stifle you.

What if I can’t really do this?
What if you can? All the techniques of writing are learnable. The storytelling gift is one you’ve been given, and you have the desire inside or you wouldn’t be doing this. The only one who will stop you is you.

What will my family think if they read it? Yikes, there’s sex!
A logical consideration. You have to decide whether or not this worry will disturb you enough to hinder you. If you’re not comfortable with it, maybe you need to consider another genre. More likely than not, however, they won’t be shocked. Or they will simply choose not to read your work. Not everyone loves everything we write (or do for that matter).

What will my friends and fellow writers think if I show this to them and it’s not good?
Your fellow writers will think you’re brave for being open to their opinions and evaluations. Even if it’s not good, you will open yourself up for help to grow and learn. And those friends? I’ve learned they like it all, even if it’s not good! LOL They’re not editors or reviewers.

What if it’s not good?
Congratulations. You don’t think every word you write is gold. And you’re willing to be coached. You will succeed with that attitude.

What if no one ever wants to publish it?
If you never sold anything you wrote, would you still want to write? Is it a desire you can’t turn your back on? Taking classes and actually putting words on paper are more than many people accomplish. There are plenty who like the IDEA of being a writer, but not the work involved. Those willing to do the work are those more likely to sell, obviously.

Nobody has a crystal ball considering your future in publishing. Believe in yourself and have a positive attitude. If you submit something and turn around and say, “I hope I get rejected quickly and get it over with,” you’re shooting yourself in the foot with your attitude.

So you’ve got three chapters all spiffy and shiny. Now what? You’ve just figured out who these people are. Any time during the chapters that follow, you might need to go back to the beginning and adjust for the growing knowledge about your characters. Stay open to their development. But don’t go back and get bogged down in rewriting the beginning because you can’t seem to go forward from the middle.

Speaking from experience here and talking to self: “Yes, you can. Stop whining.” How many people do you know who have never moved past the beginning of their first book? What is stopping them? Lack of confidence. Fear of failure. Fear of success.

How many people do you know who have written several first three chapters, and then flail and flounder and don’t finish that project, but start another? Why? Fear. Laziness. Writing a book is hard work. Maybe they didn’t plan the book well enough in advance and there really is nowhere to go now. Perhaps they wrote a great first meet and everything was downhill from there. Maybe they weren’t listening to the part about needing conflict to sustain the middle—or missed that class altogether. Maybe “they” is you? If so, there’s help for you. Recognize and choose to fix it and finish the book no matter what.

There’s nothing wrong with going back and rereading the beginning to recapture the initial excitement. Read the synopsis. Read over the notes you made and the character sketches, if any. Figure out what it was about this story that caught your interest and made you want to tell it. Read all the way to where you’ve stalled, but then keep moving forward.

Finish the rough draft
If you don’t think it’s perfect; you can always go back and fix it.
You can fix crap, but you can’t fix nothing.

Be Convincing
Convince the reader to care about your story and your characters.

Convince yourself you care about this book

Use all the tools you’ve been given in the workshops you’ve attended. Read and apply The Techniques of The Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. If you’ve read it before, read it again. I still refresh myself in the middle of the book. You have to do whatever it takes to move forward.

Paralyzing Perfectionism
I am a perfectionist, often a discouraged one. I make my husband crazy with my obsessive need for alignment and perfect paint jobs, just to name a couple of things. I’m one of those place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place people, so I get perfectionism. I do. And your finished manuscript should be as perfect as you can make it, no doubt about it. This is a competitive market.

But perfectionism has no place in your creative outbursts or your brainstorming or your first drafts. Perfectionism will suck the life out of your voice and make you crazy. Raise your hand if this is you: A small detail will hold up the completion of a scene. A bit of research you need puts a halt to your day’s writing until the fact is found. You rewrite dialogue ten or twenty times to get it just right. You rewrite narrative and replace words with better words and use your synonym finder and reconstruct sentences until they are, yes, perfect.

Don’t misunderstand me. Writers are rewriters. We edit. We adjust sentences. We reread and tweak. But if you’re repeatedly going back over the same scenes and chapters, it’s possible that you’re stripping away every ounce of spontaneity and replacing your voice with what you think is a better voice.

I never knew I had a voice until my editor told me so after I’d written about four books. “Really? I have a voice? Wow, who knew?” Voice is your personality on the page. It’s the way you phrase things and your word choices and the way you string sentences together. You don’t have to THINK about it. When you’re being real it just happens.

Here’s an exercise to get past perfectionism:
Turn off your phone. Set a timer if you have to and don’t let yourself stop until it goes off. Wherever you are in your work in progress, place your character in a new scene where s/he receives something. A letter, a gift, a lab report, a bill, a punch in the nose. (Be creative; that’s your job.) Now close yourself off in your writing cave for at least fifteen minutes, but half an hour would be awesome. Picture the scene first.

Close your eyes and see the scene where your character receives something. How does s/he receive it--graciously, scornfully, morosely, credulously, reluctantly? Now write the scene without stopping to edit or find a synonym. If you don’t know something, leave an asterisk and come back to it later. Use dialogue and include FEELINGS.

When the timer goes off, you can go back through and correct spelling and grammar and fill in asterisks if you want to. But then save that file and don’t look at it for a while. Go back to it later, print it out and read it through.

Did you learn anything about your character that you didn’t know?
Do you see anything in your writing that impresses you?
Is there anything here that you can use now or later?
How hard was it for you to write without editing and rewriting as you went?

I’d love to hear how you do!

Cheryl St John has authored over 35 Harlequin and Silhouette books. She has been nominated for RITA awards, received Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice awards, and her Harkequin Historical BIG SKY BRIDES anthology climbed to #35 on the NYT list.
Cheryl's first ever Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical THE PREACHER'S WIFE is her current release on shelves now.
If you'd like information on Cheryl's monthly classes for writers, check her schedule at
Cheryl has a spanking new website at http://www.cherylstjohn.net/ but for an added treat, check Cheryl's old website for 'Things An Author Hates To Hear - And The Answers You Can Expect'. (Although I'm not sure how long this one will be on-line.)