Friday, July 31, 2009

Antagonizing the Prairies

Do you ever root for the bad guy? Have you ever met a character who made you sit up and pay attention, truly fear for the protagonist... and you loved every minute of it? These are the villains worth remembering. These are the antagonists we come back to again and again. Who briefly, secretly, we love a little bit -- at least until they do something horrible to the main character.

"My child, you have come to me my son. For who now is your father if it is not me? I am the well spring from which you flow. When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be, without me?"

While the protagonist is the beating heart of the novel, the antagonist is the spine, the rod that shapes and molds a main character into that person we come to feel for, cheer for, harrow with. Without the villain, there is no story. Without the villain, it is an easy life not worth the telling. The two are inextricably locked together and so a great story, a great hero or heroine, deserves a great villain as well.

Your story may offer a villain, whose actions must be thwarted and who knows she is not doing so-called 'good'. Or it may offer an antagonist, who thwarts your protagonist's actions and believes his path is the right one. Either way these characters must support the protagonist's believability as a real person, and generate the tension which drives the plot. As such, don't they deserve to be human (or vampire, elf, or whathaveyou), rounded, and believable as well?

The best villains, the ones we remember, feel like more than caricatures who cackle malevolently or sit in high-backed chairs and stroke cats. I've read decent books where the villain elevated the whole story and made it shine, kept coming back to lacklustre movies because of a captivating enemy. The best villains compel us, challenge us to linger for a moment in their motivations and think 'You know what, I see where he's coming from.' A character like Hannibal Lecter, for example, fascinates us to the point of dominating our attention despite only 16 minutes of screen time in Silence of the Lambs. Why? Because as alien and atrocious his actions are, he is real, compelling, and challenges us to examine his point of view. We may not agree with his actions, but we can understand why he agrees with them.

Personally, I love to relate to a villain, to linger for a moment in that mindset (regardless of narrative point-of-view), spend time with a human character who also happens to be a murdering psychopath. I like to teeter that little bit, believe maybe, just maybe the villain's got the right idea of things...

"I offered you shelter. I taught you how to survive. I cared for you as a father, as a brother, but what did you do? You took from me. Took everything I had and thought you could just leave."

If you can relate to a novel's villains, believe in their view and their struggle, their motives, you can legitimately fear for their possible success, fear for the protagonist's downfall. You understand why they're doing it, so what if the characters realize the same? What if they agree?

Even in romance, where happily-ever-after is baked right in, a good villain can make the reader wonder how -- how on earth will the hero/heroine possibly overcome such obstacles?

Maybe not the best example of a romantic story (the movie does begin with the words "This is not a love story"), but one of my favourite guilty pleasures in film is Original Sin. Perhaps not the most stellar of movies out there, but the villain utterly saves it for me. I adore Thomas Jane's performance, from his wheedling introduction to venom-spitting conclusion, and his utter sway over the main characters' actions holds the plot hostage until the final minutes with the possibility of several messy endings. The dynamic, compelling, and most importantly real antagonist draws an audience into deeper realms of villainy, eager to see how and if the main characters will escape. If he steals each scene and captivates us, the audience, how can we expect the characters to break away from his influence and persevere?

I'll leave you with a few questions from Donald Maass:

"What does your antagonist deeply believe in? What drives him forward? Why might his worldview be correct? Is your antagonist evil for the sake of being evil?"

So, people of the Prairies, share with me your villains. I want to know who whips the conflict in your current work-in-progress? What drives them forward? How might they justify their actions? If you're uncertain, who are your all-time favourite antagonists and what captivates you about them? Who holds you hostage and makes you hope it never ends?

My name is Hayley, and I'm in love with villains.

(Flickr photo by arbyreed)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Delilah Marvelle

Delilah Marvelle will be guest blogging with us on Saturday August 1. Please join us when Delilah will be discussing the history of the bed. Here's her bio:

DELILAH MARVELLE spent her youth studying various languages, reading voraciously, and playing the pianoforte. She confesses that here ends the extent of her gentle breeding. She was a naughty child who was forever torturing her parents with countless adventures that they did not deem respectable. Confined to her room on many occasions due to these misadventures, she discovered the quill and its amazing power. Soon, to the dismay of her parents, she rather enjoyed being confined to her room. And so, her writing continues. An RWA member and a two time Golden Heart Finalist and RT Nominee for Best First Historical Romance, Delilah Marvelle is thrilled to share her passion for stories. You can reach Delilah at

Hooks: The First Line

What is a hook?

In it’s simplest description, a hook is a piece of information you give your reader to keep them reading. As a writer, there are 3 key places you want to use hooks:
- the first line
- the first page
- the last para of every chapter

For this post, I will concentrate on the first line of your story.

The first line should send a jolt of awareness through your reader, whether it’s your critique partner or an editor. You want them to tremble with the knowledge they’re about to sink into a unique story which will pull them in and keep their attention. Something worthy of their precious time. There are 3 ways I can think of at this time to effectively begin your story: description, action and dialogue.


If you’re starting with description, there’d better be something uniquely interesting about whatever you’re describing. If not, find somewhere else to put it. For an example of a description gone wrong, here’s the first line of When you Least Expect It, Prairie Junction Book 2:

A chocolate covered caramel walked toward him.

The next line goes on to describe Hannah’s appearance: brunette hair, toffee colored short sleeve top and brown pants. However, when I submitted this ms to the Southern Magic’s Linda Howard Award of Excellence Contest, it received a thumbs down from both judges. Why? The first judge said the woman was being diminished by referring to her as candy and the second judge said it was ‘amateurish’. Still, the judges scored me high enough that I was a finalist in the Inspiration category. When the final round was judged, though, this ms came 5th out of the 5 submitted to the final judge who was a editor. How much more of an impact would I have made it I’d had a better opening? I don’t know, but you can be sure I’m changing it before I submit it again.

This first line from Charley’s Saint, Prairie Junction Book 3, is much better:

On Valentine’s Day, Charlene Cameron stepped out onto her verandah, shivering in the cold February air and rubbed her belly as if trying to feel the miniscule body forming inside.

I’ve entered this in half a dozen contests and most often, the judges annotated ‘Great opening!’ because of the questions it raised in their minds. I’m not about to change this line.


Action scenes are exciting if they’re done well. You just have to be careful you don’t drop your reader in the middle of a scene where everything is happening but nothing makes sense. Here’s the first line from my eharlequin Writer’s Challenge* entry, The Passage:

An arrow whistled past Dori’s ear.

From this short sentence I managed to convey the story as a historical piece as well as showing the heroine to be in some type of danger.

But action doesn’t have to equate to physical movement. This first line is from my entry in Rachelle Gardner’s June 08 Prompt Contest:

Daria heard screaming.

The scene goes on to explain what Daria heard. I’ve been told I should have written, ‘Someone screamed’ instead because it would make this sentence less passive. However, I was very limited in my word count and I needed to ensure the reader knew it was Daria, specifically who heard the screaming because the truth of it was, no one screamed at all. As Rachelle said, ‘Anita Mae used humor and a nice suspenseful action sequence to show us a girl on the edge.’


I love starting with dialogue. When I submitted Marry Me, Ma’am? to The Wild Rose Press, the editor who read my partial sent it back with suggestions asking me to make the changes and re-submit. I like that she didn’t suggest changes to the first line:

“Excuse me, but would you marry me, Ma’am?

This line is short, but it’s a paradox, is it not? He’s proposing marriage to a stranger, as signified by the use of the word ma’am and the reader wants to know why someone would take such a drastic measure. So, they’ll read on.

Dialogue can also be used instead of internalizing which I’ve been told is also frowned upon in an opening line. In this eharlequin Writer’s Challenge* piece called The Shepherd, I needed everyone to know Sarah’s desperation, yet she was alone, entombed in the snow. So, I wrote it as dialogue:

“Maybe I won’t feel a thing,” Sarah whispered.

It might be ‘bending the rules’, but it gets the job done.

Have you got a great first line you’d like to share? Do you have a not-so-great first line you’d like help with? I’ve mentioned 3 ways to start a story – are there others? As you can tell, this is all my own observations. Am I missing anything other writers should know?

* If you'd like to check out the current eharlequin challenge, go here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's Your Paranormal Type?

Vampire, lycanthrope or shiftshifter? Those are my top three supernatural beings. Of course, you also have ghosts, spirits, fairies, witches, wizards, time travelers and a few more I’ve no doubt left out. These beings can be found in any number of paranormal romances or urban fantasy stories that avid readers devour on a regular basis.

Paranormal romance done right reinforces the fact that the characters in these novels are people first and supernatural beings second. They may drink blood, sprout fur or transform at a moment’s notice but they are not invincible. They may be immortal but they’re also emotionally vulnerable. The blending of reality with the fantastic, the modern world with supernatural beings, adds a little extra something to a romance. The paranormal romance sub-genre allows for stories with darker undertones. It can also be light and comedic. Possibilities abound for writers looking to add a something different and other-worldly to their writing.

Take vampires, they’ve come a long way from the beings described in ancient folklore. What nasty creatures those legends described, then fast forward to the nineteenth century and Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. I can’t say as I’d care to run into him either, but a member of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, show me a map and point the way. And now we have Stephanie Meyer’s Edward, a deadly but sparkly vampire adored by masses of teenage girls.

Then there is the creature known as loup-garou or lycanthrope or werewolf. The idea of the werewolf seems to stem largely from European tradition. You didn’t want to come across one of these beings lurking about in the dark either. They were not rumored to be friendly but menacing, insatiable beasts. I’ll take the werewolves in Lori Handeland’s novels any day or J.K. Rowling’s Professor Lupin.

Next we have beings with the ability to shapeshift. Almost every culture has some sort of transformation myth. We’ve read human-animal shift stories to our children, The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast and The Shaggy Dog, to name a few. In Native American legend a skin-walker is someone with the ability to change into any animal he or she desires. I’ve fallen for the term skin-walker. It brings all kinds of story ideas to mind.

I’ve recently started a new project. It’s paranormal romance that involves a largely secret vampire society known only to a select few in the human world. Its world building on a very small scale and the first time I’ve attempted to create an alternate existence set within contemporary times. It’s calling me over to the dark side and I’m fascinated by the possibilities. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that even though I’m dealing with the supernatural, the differing abilities of the characters still need to mesh within the confines of a believable relationship. It’s a romance first and foremost. Let’s hope I can keep that in mind long enough to get it done.

“We know a little about a lot of things; just enough to make us dangerous.” – Dean Winchester, Supernatural

Do you enjoy stories with a paranormal bent? Do you have a favorite supernatural being? A favorite paranormal romance author? Ever thought of writing one? Let me know your thoughts on anything paranormal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Today's Theme....

I'm currently writing an article for my writing group newsletter, and the topic is "theme". I took on the "assignment" because it's a subject I'm not really comfortable with--I don't feel that I have a good understanding of theme as it relates to my own writing, and I've never set out to write about a theme, or even to define whether or not I had one in any of my stories. So far it's been an interesting research journey. I haven't completed the article (it's past my deadline, but my editor is the forgiving sort--I hope!), and I'll probably share some of it here when I do, but in the meantime I'm going to share some of the quotes and concepts I've come across along with my reactions to them.

To begin, I went looking for a definition. The dictionary provided one, and I'll likely take it up in my article, but I was more interested in how other writers looked at the subject. I looked through a number of my reference books and was somewhat surprised to realize that only two addressed the subject directly. Rust Hills (Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular) talks about a writer's "special way of looking at things", and the concepts of world view (the way the world is) and sense of morality (the way the world ought to be). Mr. Hills notes that in writing we create a world based on those concepts and we are responsible for the coherence of that world so that a reader is willing to pay attention to "what he has to say" about how the world is our ought to be, i.e. the theme of the book. For Christopher Vogler (The Writer's Journey, 2nd Edition), the theme of a story is "What is the story really about?..... What single idea or quality...?"

When I put those two together and took a moment to think about it I realized that it reminded me of many of the things I've read about pitches and having one-liners ready for time with an editor/agent. Was theme it? As Mr. Vogler said, for the theme of a story "boil down its essence to a single word or phrase". Then I thought, not really. I a pitch, one-liner, etc. is closer to a premise as it is covered in an article by Patricia A Guthrie ( in October 2008) who says that "According to the Wikepedia "The premise of a film or screenplay is the fundamental concept that drives the plot." In her take on premise, it's more a cause and effect statement whereas "theme is the message or messages the author wants to convey." She compares that to the Wikipedia definition of theme: In literature, a theme is a broad idea in a story.........usually about life, society or human nature........usually implied rather than explicitly stated. So I’m thinking that while the broad idea may be included in pitch, I think a one-liner has to be more story-specific.

A comment I found online by Scott W. Smith at took me back to the reason I’m tackling this subject in the first place. He said "There are many ways to attack writing your story and if you read enough of how writers ply their trade you will find quality writers who come from all kinds of angles; plot, character, situation. Another angle is writing from theme. And even those who don’t start with theme have one emerge somewhere in the process." The idea that there's a theme in your writing whether you know it consciously or not is one I've read in several sources, and ties into what Mr. Hills said. Of course some people would have it that romances "boil down" to a single theme: love conquers all. I don't think it's that simple, and in fact some of the sources I've come across in my research indicate there can be multiple themes in a story, any story (in single words: love, betrayal, jealousy, revenge, friendship, etc.), but I'm still working on that article so if you have thoughts on it I'd love to hear them. As usual, I'll check in once I'm home from the "day job" and leave you all to "talk amongst yourselves" until then.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Finding Balance

On July 1, Canada Day, my husband and I went golfing with friends. It was a perfect day. The sun shone, the sky was clear blue and cloudless, and the temperature was a perfect 23 C, about 75 F. As I soaked up sun, (don’t ask about my golf game. My putting sucks) I was very glad my husband and friends had decided on this outing.

I was glad because, left to my own devices, I probably would have spent the holiday holed up in my writing cave, pretty much the same way I have most days. It seems that lately everything I do is related to writing. I’m very aware of the effort and commitment writing and publishing entails. If you want to be successful, you write everyday or most days, no matter what is happening in your life. You do the work, no questions asked.

But maybe it’s time to think about putting some balance into my life. "It's not about 50/50 play/work," says Deborah Gilburg, a leadership development consultant in Holyoke, Mass. "It's really about figuring out how to be sustainable so you can keep your energy flowing, keep yourself healthy in the long term." To be balanced, happy people we need to make time for all kinds of activities, including work and play. How do you find balance between writing and the rest of your life?

If you suspect your work/life balance might be out of whack, try taking the following quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association. Then follow the advice of Personal coach Laura Berman Fortgang in this article by Sherry Rauh, “5Tips for Better Work/Life Balance”. Fortgang says we should figure out what matters to us most by answering the following questions:

1. If my life could focus on one thing and one thing only, what would that be?
2. If I could add a second thing, what would that be?
3. A third?
4. A fourth?
5. A fifth?

Answering these questions should give you your top five priorities. Fortgang says a typical list might include some of the following:

· Children
· Spouse
· Satisfying career
· Community service
· Religion/spirituality
· Health
· Sports
· Art
· Hobbies
· Adventure/travel

So I thought about my top five priorities. What five things really mean the most to me? It was very difficult to narrow it down to only 5 priorities, but I managed to come up with this list:

- My spouse and my daughters
- My writing/having a satisfying career
- My health/exercise
- Hobbies, such as gardening, golf, reading
- Maintaining contact with friends/extended family

Now I need to find ways to implement my plans. The idea now is to do something every day/week/month to support my priorities. So, for instance I will try to go to the gym three times a week, and call or visit friends and family at least once a week. Perhaps my husband and I can have a “date night”, or play golf together. For writing, perhaps it means continued emphasis on being organized, or revving up my promotion activities. I can try different strategies for a while and decide what works and what doesn’t. And although I don’t have it listed here, one thing all the work/life websites I’ve read emphasize is making time for fun. Thomas J. Denham says in “Work Life Balance: Tips and Techniques”, even if you have to pencil it into your schedule, making time for fun and play is essential.

Creating priorities means that you are less likely to say yes to activities that don’t fall into your top five. For example, that might mean a busy mom might buy cookies for the school bake sale instead of taking the time to fire up the oven.

Do you make time for work and play in your life? What are your priorities? Do you believe that all work and no play means that your writing will suffer as a consequence?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Welcome: Camy Tang

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I’m honored to be asked to guest blog today! I’ve known Anita Mae for a couple years now, since I first “met” her online at the Steeple Hill discussion forum boards.

I wanted to talk a bit about my writing friends. Most of them I met before any of us were published, but we bonded because we had similar critiquing styles—blunt and honest.

My writing friends have helped me with my writing career immensely. I can honestly say that a lot of my success is due to them.

They encourage me when I’m discouraged.

They kick me in the pants when I need prodding.

They tell me to “get over it” when I wallow too much.

They tell me the truth about my writing, when it’s good and when it’s not so good.

They love me no matter what stupid thing I do or say or write.

They pray for me.

I fully believe that all writers need writing friends. A writer who is too much alone starts to get too big for her britches and often becomes a “know it all” type of writer, because he/she has no one to keep her accountable. This can be especially dangerous if the writer starts to believe in things that may not be true about writing craft or the writing industry.

A good time to form writing friends is before any of you are published. They know you before any success and aren’t impressed by you or want anything from you—both of which I think are key factors for any writer. You want to remain humble and you want to know your friends don’t have secret agendas.

I always suggest to beginning writers to talk to writers at conferences or online, rather than focusing on editors and agents. At my first writing conference, I met an unpublished writer who became my good friend and a sort of mentor for me in my writing, Sharon Hinck. Hers was the most valuable connection I made at that conference, rather than any of the editors and agents I talked to.

So for those of you involved in writing groups, get cozy with your online buddies! Your career will benefit from your friends.

Thanks for having me here, Anita!

DEADLY INTENT back cover blurb:


The Grant family’s exclusive Sonoma spa is a place for rest and relaxation—not murder! Then Naomi Grant finds her client Jessica Ortiz bleeding to death in her massage room, and everything falls apart. The salon’s reputation is at stake...and so is Naomi’s freedom when she discovers that she is one of the main suspects! Her only solace is found with the other suspect—Dr. Devon Knightley, the victim’s ex-husband. But Devon is hiding secrets of his own. When they come to light, where can Naomi turn...and whom can she trust?

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. She used to be a biologist, but now she is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service.
On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every week, and she ponders frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own...), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind.
Visit her website at for a huge website contest going on right now, giving away fourteen boxes of books and 30 copies of her latest release, DEADLY INTENT.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Setting Links...

Well, People of Blogland, this will be my last blog post for a while. The U-Haul is full to overflowing and we’re exhausted! I had every intention of writing a blog this week, but circumstances dictate otherwise. I hope you all will understand my lack of a full post. As my Internet ends tonight at midnight, I will be unable to log on and check for comments. But don’t think you can complain behind my back, I will be coming back to the blog in a month (sooner if I can find Internet on our trek) and I will be reading this and all the other blogs I’ve missed.

So, for your research enjoyment, I’m posting some links. Last week I discussed setting so I thought it would be good to follow up with some links. I hope you find one or two articles that are beneficial.

Writing Dynamic Settings – Kimberly Appelcline’s article on setting as it pertains to good storytelling. This web article includes some writing exercises.

From Nanofimo, a list of settings and plot elements to jumpstart your writing.

A great bulletin board community to browse. Need to know about medieval town gates and curfew? How about the exact number of rooms located in the Palace of Versailles? Or you’ve put your millionaire and his secretary in the desert and they encounter a sandstorm – how would they survive? For the answers to these questions and so much more, check out this site. This is one of my favorites and I will warn you – it can be a major time suck if you’re as curious as I am!

For tips on how to bring your setting to life, Anne Marble has a great article at Writing World.

For a more tongue in cheek look at setting as it relates to writing romance, check this out.

And, because I found the whole article hilarious, here is Part One and Part Three in Zug’s "How to Write a Trashy Romance" You really should read this.

For the next 5 Fridays some of my writer friends are going to fill in for me. These are talented and articulate women and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy their posts. A regular in our comment section, Hayley will be blogging twice. We get to welcome one of the original Chicks back when Suse sits in for me in August. Then, to round out my Fridays, Helena and Molli are going to pull double duty. I thank them all for helping me out. I can’t wait to get settled and read their entries.

Until later, People of Blogland, have a fabulous August.

Janet (the picture is of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia - a mere 15 minute drive from where I'll be living)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Camy Tang to Visit

This Sat, Camy Tang will be our guest blogger.

Camy's books have won raves for their originality. At last years' ACFW conference, I attended a workshop where a well-known writer said she put a sticky tab on every unique line she came across in Camy's book. She then held up the book and there were tabs sticking out everywhere!

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. She used to be a biologist, but now she is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every week, and she ponders frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own...), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind.

Visit her website at for a huge website contest going on right now, giving away fourteen boxes of books and 30 copies of her latest release, DEADLY INTENT.

Novel, Novella, Novelette

I panicked when Karyn's post about size jumped out at me yesterday. Until I realized it wasn't the size I was working on. Just recently on this blog, someone made a comment that they couldn’t write a complete novel. I’m not sure who said it or in what context, but it got me thinking…

Then on this week’s The Wild Rose Press chat, one person mentioned she couldn’t seem to finish a full length novel, but she had no problem completing a 10,000-15,000 word short story every week. Wow! That’s a lot of words. And if she put them all together, she could write a full length category novel each month. But she couldn’t go the distance in one shot.

She was like a sprinter as opposed to a long distance runner. The sprinter goes all out as fast as she can but soon loses steam and has to stop. The long distance runner starts out slower and doesn’t increase her speed, but keeps going on and on and still manages to run across the finish line. Both are effective in their own race.

Writers are similar. You have your sprinters, like O. Henry and John Steinbeck who are pros at the short story or novella. And then you have your long distance runners like James Michener and J.K. Rowling.

Since I’ve also heard someone ask what a novella and flash fiction was recently, I decided to give a little story length guide. This is what I know of book length. I’m hoping readers to this blog will leave a comment with anything I’ve missed.

According to the typical lengths are:

Novel - 50,000+ words
Novella - 20,000 to 50,000 words
Novelette - 7,500 to 20,000 words
Short story - 1,000 to 7,500 words
Flash fiction - under 1,000 words

Then there’s:
Micro-Fiction - usually a few hundred words with a maximum of 500.

And tweet fiction:
Ernest Hemingway wrote his infamous story in 6 words: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Mr. Hemingway's story would’ve been perfect for twitter since they have a 140 character maximum. In fact, there are writing contests out there for twitter.

One of the most famous examples of novella use is the book, Tales of the Arabian Nights or One Thousand and One Nights. I wonder if the 8 tales in Le Morte d’Arthur would classify as the same?

It seems that eBook publishers are more eager to accept novellas than print publishers. I did some checking and this is what I found:

The Wild Rose Press:
Rosette 7,500 to 20.000 words (ebook only)
Miniature Rose 20,001 to 40,000 words (ebook only)
Rosebud 40,001 to 65,000 words (ebook only)
Bouquet (anthology) 65,001 to 100,000 words (ebook only)
Rose 65,001 to 100,000 words (ebook & print)

Uncial Press: Book-length works (at least 50,000 words)
superlative shorter fiction (at least 5,000 words.)

AweStruck eBooks and Mundania Press:
Novels, novellas and short stories but only if submitted in March, April, Sept and Oct of each year.

Ellora’s Cave and Cerridwen Press 10,000-125,000 words

Nocturne Bites – 10,000-15,000 words (Paranormal)
Harlequin Historical Undone – 10,000-15,000 words (Sexy Historical)
Spice Briefs – 5,000-15,000 words (Erotica)

12,000-120,000 words (but preferred length = 60,000)

Those are just some of the eBook publishers who are looking for novellas. I haven’t even checked the print side of the house.

One thing I did want to mention – a Harlequin published author friend once told me a publisher will take a chance on an unknown writer faster if she is part of an anthology with successful authors. I asked her how an anthology came into being and she said it’s usually up to the authors. Someone will come up with a good idea for an anthology and contact a couple writer friends. They’ll each write a proposal and the one who thought of it will submit to her agent/editor. If it looks good and there’s space for it, there’s a real chance her editor will give it the green light.

For others, such as The Wild Rose Press, you submit your partial as per normal and let them put it wherever they wish whether it’s an anthology or not.

Actually, this would be a good place to announce that The Wild Rose Press is looking for novellas and novels for an American Hero series for the Spring of 2010. Here’s the criteria:
- 30,000-100,000 word Historical (No cowboys)
- Vintage line – 1900-1992 - can be on Canadian or foreign soil but the H/hero must be American.
- American line – 1492-1992 - it must be set on American soil and have an American flavor
- Hero can be either male or female and must make a difference in the life of someone or some people. He/she must go beyond normal heroism.

That’s one example of where you could submit a novella where you won’t have to wait years to see it in print.

So, how long a story do you usually write? Have you tried other lengths? Have you considered other lengths? What is your favorite length to read?

* Thank you to Karyn for mentioning the Nocturne Bites and to Jana for reminding me of Samhain. I've added them in the above list.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Big and Small

Does size matter?

“If size did matter, the dinosaurs would still be alive.” – Wendelin Wiedeking

Is it the thought that counts?

“The best portion of a good man’s life is the little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” – William Wordsworth

Is bigger better when it comes to romantic gestures or is romance in the details? Those small gestures layered into the story to create the strived for romantic chemistry between the hero and heroine, the small hints that lay the groundwork and lead up to the big moments. Perhaps it’s the unspoken show of love that we fall for and love to write.

It was only a little lie. No big deal. She could and would keep it together. Except the stars and the scent of him were casting a spell and conspiring against her. Her craving for open air and space had trapped them together beneath the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt and a zillion other tiny specks of light. The breeze carried a trace of soap, a whiff of man and a fragrance so familiar it made her think of bush parties, bonfires, cheap wine and the back seat of a ’86 Firebird.

“Then this must be my lucky day, Lilypad. I’m all yours.”

She bit down on the inside of one cheek. That he remembered the awful nickname he’d labeled her with when they were kids was a visceral punch to the gut.

“I hated that name.”

“I know.”

“Why Lilypad?”

“I don’t know, I thought of it one day when a bunch of us were catching frogs.”

“You’re such a sweet talker.”

The moan of a loose deck board sounded in the dark. “You don’t want a sweet talker. Remember?” He ran a finger down the side of her cheek. “You want someone who’s going to …”

I’ll stop there as it’s gets a little edgy after this spot. I figure Chase remembering his childhood nickname for Lily qualifies as one type of small gesture. The stroke of his finger down her cheek represents another.

If romance is about the emotional journey of the male lead and the female lead characters then small gestures are equally as important as the big payoff scenes, like the first kiss or love scene or the declaration of love. Since the ending is no surprise, the small and big payoffs need to capture the imagination, have a flavor of uniqueness and be true to the characters and their histories. They must be worth the journey.

I think the small gestures can be as heart wrenching as the big ones. Think of those instances when the giver is unable to articulate his or her feelings. When those three little words are too big to say but the need to communicate won’t be denied. Small gestures give voice to internal conflict. They set the stage for the big gestures and happily-ever-after.

Drop a few examples of your own small or big gestures. What small gesture works for you? Do you favor over-the-top big gestures? Let’s hear your opinions.

Hope you enjoyed my little snippet from my work-in-progress, Common Ground. I was desperate for word count as I left writing this post until the very last minute. I think I’m suffering from post-holiday sluggishness and am only slowly getting back into the swing of things. Maybe I’m experiencing s’more withdrawal.

“Size matters not,…Look at me. Judge me by size, do you?” – Yoda

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blogs and Blogging: Part Two

The last time I was here on Prairie Chicks, I talked about blogs, and the many reasons people, particularly writers, may decide to start one. Now, three weeks later, I am here again to follow up with some much more specific resources. During that time, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on blogging. It was an intensive three-day online experience, and I want to share some of it with you.

The first thing we did was to investigate a vast array of blogs to become familiar with what is currently out there in the blogosphere. I thought I had been reading quite a few, but I soon realised there were many more that would be tempting me in the future so I added them to my list of favourites. I will only mention a few that I have been looking at regularly, or intend to when I have the time, even if it is just to check on the different layouts that various writers have designed.

The types of blogs I like to visit: Some folks use a blog as an online diary, a personal journal to chronicle important events in their lives and careers. Donna Alward’s blog gives us a glimpse into her life at home with her family, as well as her writing process, and of course her publishing triumphs. Trevor Herriot’s Grass Notes gives the Saskatchewan naturalist a place to share his knowledge of the prairie grasslands and the wildlife, particularly birds, that inhabit the area. Thomas Wharton, a novelist from Edmonton, has been writing about his experience at the Festival of Words where he was a presenter on the weekend. It is interesting to get his perspective. (I was an eager attendee at numerous sessions similar to what he describes.) The online versions of newspapers include blogs that chronicle events or provide opinion pieces on travel, fashion, even pets. Check out the Star Phoenix website to find those examples -- the three blogs are way down at the bottom past the news articles.

Blogs about writing and books: There are many blogs dedicated to the world of books, writing, and publishing. They usually deal with the craft of writing, related technologies, or the promotion of books. Others deal specifically with blogging techniques, including tips on what to blog about, blogging etiquette, technical advice.

Starting a blog: I had not seriously considered creating my own blog until I received the major assignment of the workshop. Choose a platform. (Praire Chicks uses Blogger.) Create a blog. Include images (such as the owl, a photo by Saskatchewan photographer Courtney Milne, which I enjoyed adding to this post even though it has no relevance to the content!). Learn how to embed a video, post a blog or two, comment on the blogs of other workshop students. Suddenly, I could see that it might be worthwhile, even fun, to set up a blog that would reflect my interests and provide a platform for my work. So far, in my writing "career" this would be in advance of being published, but the blog itself would serve to display my commitment to the writing process.

Well, I don’t yet have a blog ready to go public, but I am working on it. I need more time to work on the layout and design, colour, images, type of font, etc. etc. But after the intensive period during the workshop when I spent at least eight hours per day, most of it online, though some time was spent offline thinking about the purpose, the title, and the tagline... I am sure that it will see the light of day at some point in the future.

In the meantime ... As I have noted, there are a lot of articles and entire blog sites devoted to blogging. I want to be thoroughly versed in the practice of blogging before I plunge in. So, feel free to check out some the sites that I will be looking at in detail as I learn more about the wonderful world of blogs and blogging (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the links will work!).

If you don’t already have a blog, have you given serious consideration in the last three weeks to starting one? Perhaps some of the links I have provided will help you make that decision. And wish me luck with my (potential) blog.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Famous Last Words

Anyone can write a book. How hard can it be?

Here are some writers who answer that question.

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”
- John Steinbeck

“I’ve never written a book because there’s going to be a lot of money in it, because I know that’s the surest way to take five years off your life.”
- Norman Mailer

“You have to sink way down to a level of hopelessness and desperation to find the book that you can write.”
- Susan Sontag

“For God’s sake don’t do it unless you have to…It’s not easy. It shouldn’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible, and it’s damn near impossible.”
- Frank Conroy

“Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank piece of paper until blood forms on your forehead.”
- Gene Fowler

“If a young writer can refrain from writing, he shouldn’t hesitate to do so.”
- Andre Gide

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at typewriter and open a vein.”
- Red Smith

“Unless you think you can do better than Tolstoy, we don’t need you.”
- James Michener

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
- Samuel Beckett

“Throw up on your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
- Ray Bradbury

“I like to do and can do many things better than I can write, but when I don’t write, I feel like s***. I’ve got the talent, and I feel that I’m wasting it.”
- Ernest Hemingway

“First of all, you must have an agent, and in order to get a good one, you must have sold a considerable amount of material. And in order to sell a considerable amount of material, you must have an agent. Well, you get the idea.”
- Steve McNeil

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon who one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows, that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.”
- George Orwell

“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
- Iris Murdoch

“The first thing a writer has to do is find another source of income. Then, after you have begged, borrowed, stolen, or saved up the money to give you time to write and spend all of it staying alive while you write, and you write your heart out after that, maybe no one will publish it, and if they publish it, maybe no one will read it.”
- Ellen Gilchrist

“I’m in favour of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with the typewriters.”
- Frank Lloyd Wright

“Literature will neither yield thee bread, nor a stomach to digest bread with; quit it in God’s name.”
- Thomas Carlyle

“Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.”
- A.A. Milne

Do any of these quotes resonant with you? Do you have a favourite quote about writing, or an inspirational quote you’d like to share?

Sources: Writers on Writers, by Jon Winokur (Running Press, 1990); For Writers Only, by Sophy Burnham (Ballantine Books, 1994); Advice to Wrtiers, by Jon Winokur (Pantheon Books, 1999).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vince Mooney Picks a Winner

From all those people leaving a comment yesterday, Honorary Prairie Dog Vince Mooney picked as a winner of Julie Lessman's book, A Passion Most Pure...

...Captain Hook ! Woo hoo!!

Sarah, email Vince at to claim your book.

The Chicks would like to thank Vince for a very informative romance discussion yesterday. Lots to dwell on in that post!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Welcome Vince Mooney

How Rewarding is the ‘Reading Experience’ Provided by Your Writing?

Measuring “Rewards-Per-Page” Can Give You an Indication of this Important Success Factor.

I have been conducting an analysis of the Romance genre for the last eight years. In studying over 1000 romance novels I have made many observations. Perhaps the finding of most importance to romance writers involves my “Rewards-Per-Page” index. (RPP)

I was an advertising copywriter and copyeditor for many years. I have written over 3,000,000 words of advertising that have appeared in print. Since no one has to read advertising, copywriters know that they must continually reward the reader in order to keep readers reading. A competent copywriter usually rewards the reader by providing beneficial information that a prospect needs and can use.

Consider this headline:

Will Your Next Manuscript Be Rejected Because You Made One of These Fatal Mistakes?

If you are an aspiring writer, you will probably find the above headline to be irresistible. It would almost be negligent not to read this ad. Even if the ad were thousands of words long, it is highly likely that you would still read every word of the copy if it kept rewarding you with important information.

The trick to getting a prospect to read long copy is to make every sentence rewarding and worthwhile to read. For example, the above ad’s body copy should begin by fulfilling the promise in the headline:

“The number one cause for manuscript rejection is: (state reason #1 here.) Then follow with:

According to leading New York editors, there are three ways to avoid this mistake.. 1) advice goes here. 2) advice goes here. 3) advice goes here. (I think you get the idea.)

Fiction Has an Advantage

While vital information will keep a prospect reading copy, fiction has many more ways to reward a reader than does advertising. Romance writers have dozens of ways available to reward their readers. Unfortunately, some writers seem unaware of this. (As evidenced by low RPP scores.)

Why Bother to Reward the Reader?

You might wonder why an author would be concerned about rewarding the reader. The book has already been sold. Shouldn’t the author be striving for literary excellence rather than be pandering to the pleasures of an anonyms reader? Isn’t a great story reward enough for any reader?

Rewarding Readers is Optional in Literature

If you are writing enduring literature, you don’t have to worry about rewarding the reader on a page-by-page basis. It is often the case with literature that readers want to ‘have read the book’ more than they wanted to actually read it. I’ve read classics that I am glad to have read, but that were very unpleasant to read.

Rewarding Readers is Very Important in Romances

If you write romances, a genre in which the reader already knows how the story is going to end, then rewarding the reader is essential. Consider a romance novel as being a consumable product, say a chocolate cake. Both the novel and the cake will be replaced in a few days by a similar consumable.

The ‘reading experience’ needs to be rewarding on a ‘page-by-page’ basis. (One just expects every bite of a chocolate bar to taste good.) Fans read romances for how the ‘reading experience’ makes them feel as they are reading the novel. Fans know how the story will turn out. Some fans even read the last pages of a romance, while still in the bookstore, just to insure they will get the ending they desire. (I’ve seen fans do this at Wal-Mart.) As such, romances are primarily about the extended, on-going, reading experience that they provide a reader.

Fans are Buying a “Basket of Feelings”

I like to think that a romance fan is really buying a ‘basket of feelings’. Fans know that some themes, like the ‘hidden baby’ theme, will provide a predictable set of feelings. When these feelings are in ‘deficit’, fans can actually develop a craving for a given romance theme.

Discovering an Important Truth about Romance Writing Success

Some years ago I was reading a romance magazine in which some second-tier authors were complaining that publishers pick favorites to promote. Nora Roberts was considered so successful because of all the promotion money spent on her books. Publishers spend a small fortune on ads and in-store, point-of-purchase, displays to promote their favorite authors. One author from the second-tier was singled out as being superior to Nora Roberts in quality because she receives better reviews. However, because of her smaller advertising budget, her sales were only a tiny fraction of those of Nora Roberts.

Better Reviews or Bigger Sales?

Coincidentally, at the time I read this romance article, I had just read and reviewed a book by Nora Roberts and a book by the ‘better’ author mentioned in the journal article. The ‘better’ author did, in fact, have better reviews. I will also freely admit that her book had more literary merit. (That is, it spoke to the human condition and universal values in a much more poignant and enduring manner than Nora’s book did.)

I decided to see how the two books compared on a reward-per-page basis. The ‘better’ author got about 1 to 2 rewards per page (with some pages having no rewards). Nora’s score was about nine rewards per page. (So far, Nora Roberts enjoys the highest scores I’ve encountered. However, Janet Evanovich, Lucy Gordon, Natasha Oakley, and Julie Lessman also score well.)

Reading Enjoyment Sells Books

The rewards-per-page scores mentioned above mirrored my own enjoyment in reading these books. The ‘better’ author’s book had clear literary merit but was dry and dull in many parts. I believe that this ‘better’ author was writing to the needs of the story. She wanted to get the story right. She was viewing the novel as an ‘end product’ to be judged by readers and critics as a whole. This is like a chef saying, “Don’t judge my cooking by each individual course but rather judge it only as a complete culinary experience at the conclusion of the meal.”

Nora Roberts & Writing to the “Reading Experience”

I believe that Nora Roberts was writing to what I call the ‘reading experience’. She was making the ‘reading experience’ as enjoyable as possible on a continuous, page-by-page, basis. Some might argue that writing this way could lessened the literary value of the work. Perhaps it might, however, this comment reminds me of an interview I saw on TV. A music ‘expert’ was asked about Yanni’s music. The expert said, “Yanni’s a fake. He doesn’t know anything about music. He just writes the kind of music people like to listen to.”

The Rewards of Providing a Better ‘Reading Experience”

Nora Roberts book and the second-tier author’s book provided very different reading experiences. After reading the ‘better’ author’s book, I felt like the book was excellent (I gave it 41/2 stars) but I was not interested in reading another one of that author’s books. After reading the Nora Roberts book, (I gave it 4 stars) I felt like reading another one of her books right away. The page-by-page reading experience was far more enjoyable with Nora Roberts. Like many fans, I place greater value on having a more enjoyable reading experience than I do on how highly a book is reviewed.

How to Sell More Books

Based on my research I believe that the way to sell more books is to enhance the page-by-page ‘reading experience’. One way to quantify this illusive measure is by the use of a Rewards-Per-Page index.

Ways to Reward a Reader.

There are many ways to reward a reader. (I keep discovering more ways all the time.)

Please Note: it is important to point out that the RPP index is ‘art’ and not ‘science’. What I might call a reward, another person might not. Some rewards might qualify as two or more rewards on the same index. Scores can also differ by which pages one chooses to use as a sample. I like to use ten pages from page 100 to 110. This is arbitrary. A more scientific study would employ more objective reward categories and use a larger sample, say 100 pages. Therefore, the RPP Index is best utilized to show which authors rate low and which rate high when using the same criteria. This is still very useful information.

Interestingly, a new author can have a high RPP score and still not be selling anywhere near her potential because she is as of yet little known or in a small niche market. How many books would Nora Roberts sell if she only wrote Christian Fiction? Authors with a high RPP score should consider moving to a larger target market and be encouraged to do a lot more personal marketing.

Some Ways to Reward a Reader

1. Give the reader new experiences. Take the reader to places she has never been. Treat the reader to smells, foods, and sights she is not likely to otherwise encounter. (For example, try a new coffee, tea, or other product. Perhaps show a new way to make coffee. The point here is that whatever your plot may dictate, you should still be thinking of ways to give the reader new experiences.)
2. Five-sense your copy. Involve odor, taste and touch as often as it makes sense within the storyline. Use hot, cold, hunger, and thirst. Five-sensing can be used to provide ‘new’ experiences and also used to enhance the vicarious experience your story provides the reader. Nora Roberts is very proficient with 5-sensing her copy.

3. Make the reader ‘feel’ an expanded array of emotions. The phenomena of ‘vicarious experience’ allows readers to feel what your characters are feeling – or at least what your heroine is feeling. These feelings can include: being loved, desired, envied, jealous, victorious, cherished, prideful, fearful, beautiful, approved of, angry, sorrowful, in doubt, joyous, hateful, and feeling betrayed. Janet Dean makes exceptional use of emotions in her first book, “Courting Miss Adelaide”.

4. Anticipatory Events (AEs): create situations in which the reader looks forward to finding the resolution. Secrets work well as AEs. Other AEs include ‘going to a big event—like a dance’, ‘who will win an award’, ‘who will get the job’, ‘what will happen when Mary finally meets her ex?’, Julie Lessman uses AEs skillfully in her “Daughters of Boston” series.

5. Make AEs happen sooner in the story than the reader expects. This is a reward in itself. (Nora Roberts is an expert at rewarding the reader sooner than the reader expects it to happen.)

6. Factoids: facts make the reader feel smarter. Lucy Gordon does this often in her Italian stories. Factoids can include ‘how-to’ items. (Like how an Italian cook might handle a cooking problem such as too much spice in a soup.) Factoids are so popular that the term ‘factoid’ is now in general usage. (As strong as factoids are, a writer must be very careful to seamlessly work them into her writing. Factoids cannot be there simply because the author wants to reward a reader.)

7. Sparkles: the poetic use of words; fresh and unique ways of expression – a selection of words the reader has never heard or seen of before. Sparkles include new terms to take the place of worn-out romance phrases like ‘toes curled’, ‘knees turns to jelly’, ‘took her to where she had never been before’, etc. Camy Tang demonstrates this ability in her new book: “Deadly Intent”.

8. Quips, quotes, and wisecracks. These cover a lot of ground. Ideally these are sayings that the reader can enjoy and perhaps use herself in the right situation. Janet Evanovich’s books are plum full of wisecracks and are a joy to read. In an interview Janet once said that she considered herself to be an entertainer more than a writer. Wow! This goes right to the heart of writing to the ‘reading experience’.

A Few Examples from Available Books:

“His Forever Love”, Missy Tippens, page 12

Her traitorous heart galloped underneath her rib cage. Stop it! I will not let my heart race over this man. This supposed friend.

(Example of ‘emotions’ and ‘sparkle’)


“Deadly Intent”, Camy Tang, page 8

“I need to speak to Jessica Ortiz.”
An involuntary spasm seized her throat. Of course, glamorous client Jessica Ortiz or plain massage therapist Naomi Grant – no comparison, really.
But something in his tone didn’t quite have the velvety sheen of a lover. He sounded almost…dangerous. And danger didn’t belong in the spa.”

(Notice in the above quote: 5-sense: ‘spasm’, Emotional: ‘envy’ of Jessica and ‘self-depreciation’ – she almost ‘feels’ sorry for herself, Sparkle: ‘velvety sheen of a lover’ . AE: ‘danger didn’t belong in the spa’ ).


“Deadly Intent”, Camy Tang, page 12

Back out in the central fountain area, the harsh smell seemed stronger, but she couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. Had a sewage pipe burst? No, it wasn’t that sort of smell. It didn’t smell rotten, just…had an edge to it.

(A good use of ‘smell’ – I can almost smell it myself. This detail enhances the reader’s vicarious experience.)


“Petticoat Ranch”, Mary Connealy, page 49

The man quit rubbing his head. He was staring at her and listening so intently, it was as if every word she spoke was coming straight from the mouth of God. “Earlier you asked me about a name.”
“Clifton Edwards.”
His eyes narrowed, and Sophie leaned closer along with the girls.
“Clifton Edwards, Cliff,” he muttered. “It means something to me.”

(AE: the author could have just revealed the information directly but instead the reader has to wonder: ‘Who is Clifton Edwards to this man? What happens when he remembers the name?’ Mary Connealy makes very good use of AEs in her books. By the way, the answer comes very soon.)


Assignment: Baby”, Lynne Marshall, page 8

Amanda Dunlap prayed this wasn’t fate’s idea of a practical joke.
And there they were, the twenty carefully selected patients, each with three or four of the risk factors contributing to future heart disease – ticking time bombs, as her mentor had put it.

(Above quote is an example of an AE – will patients die, which ones, will the bombs go off?)


Assignment: Baby, Lynne Marshall, page 8

Thank heavens the Mercy Hospital medical director had found a replacement for their satellite clinic. Only one problem remained.
Where was her hero?
While destiny snickered, Amanda checked her watch again – seven-ten.

(Example of AE. Who is hero? Will he show up? What will her reaction be? )


“Courting the Doctor’s Daughter”, Janet Dean, page 13

Opening the side door leading to her father’s office, Mary’s nostrils filled with the smell of disinfectant, a scent she’d grown as accustomed to as the honeysuckle fragrance she wore. The waiting room chairs sat empty. A stack of well-worn Farmers’ Home Journals and Ladies’ Journals cluttered the top of a small stand. She took a minute to clear out the old issues before the whole heap tumbled to the floor.

(Example: excellent use of smell and factoids – magazines of the times)


“A Passion Redeemed”, Julie Lessman, beginning of Chapter 4.

What was he doing here? Again? Mitch sucked in a deep breath, thick with the loamy scent of wet leaves and burning peat, and turned the ignition off. The car sputtered to silence. He sagged back in the seat, surrounded by stillness except for drizzle on the roof of his Model T, the distant yapping of a dog, and the pounding of his pulse in his ears.

(AEs and 5-sensing. Julie Lessman scores very high on RPP. )


“Sushi for One?” Camy Tang, page 310.

“Lex, singles in the entire Bay Area are asking the same question.”
“But I used to succeed in everything whenever I gave my best. Why not in finding Mr. Right too? Or at the very least, a sponsor.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re complaining because you, like practically every woman in the United States of America, can’t find either Mr. Right or Mr. Rich? What planet are you living on?”

(Example of emotional desire to win and of snappy dialogue)

“Sushi for One?” Camy Tang, page 310.

Lex didn’t realize she’d been leaning against the car until the heat began toasting her buns. She scooted away.

(Good use of showing someone who is mentally preoccupied and also how hot it is outside without expressly saying either.)


“A Passion Denied”, Julie Lessman

Brady frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Collin’s chest tightened as he thought of Lizzie and the secret Faith had sworn him to.
“Collin? Something’s wrong – what is it?”
Collin looked away and threaded his fingers though his hair. “Yeah, yeah, there is. I don’t think it’s anything serious yet, but—“

(Secrets are used many times in “A Passion Denied”. Will a character reveal the secret? Will grantor of secret find out? What will happen then? Lots of AEs can be generated by use of a single secret.)


Important: The RPP approach does not supersede writing rules. You still need to know how to write well. Writing a bad book that has 20 rewards per page will only produce a more rewarding bad book. Increasing the RPP may not even merit you better reviews. The higher RPP is designed to enhance the total ‘reading experience’ in order to please readers and make fans more likely to buy your next book(s).

How you might choose to apply this information:

1. create your own RPP index with rewards that you find significant.

2. score your own work – then score an author you particularly like using your RPP system. Compare scores.

3. color code your manuscript in your word processor by giving different color highlights to the five sense words.

4. color code ‘emotions’ – show what characters are feeling on each page. You can use different color type for the different emotions.

5. scroll through your WIP file. Ask yourself – how colorful is my writing and how ‘rewarding’ is my writing? If you’re seeing very little color, you have work still to do.

6. try to increase your RPP score without making the writing seem stilted. (Think of this: ‘a high-concept’ movie is one that by its very nature provides many ways to reward the viewer. If you develop a ‘high-concept’ romance plot, then by its very nature, you’ll enjoy more opportunities to increase your RPP score.)


Do you write to ‘the needs of the novel’ or do you write to the ‘reading experience”? Do you consider yourself an entertainer?

Can you suggest some additional ways to reward the reader?

Vince is giving away a spankin' new copy of Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure to one person who leaves a comment here today.

If you'd like to read more about Vince's philosophy of romance, check his blog at


Friday, July 17, 2009

Setting - The Backbone of Your Story

Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize winning author, said, "Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else..." Think of Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s only novel set on the windswept moors of England. The tragic tale of Catherine and Heathcliff would not be the gothic masterpiece it is if it took place in the Caribbean or America’s Wild West. Bronte’s choice of time and location, her setting, helps establish the atmosphere and mood of the story.

So, how do you make your masterpiece moody and atmospheric? Whether you write medieval, regency, paranormal or contemporary, your job as an author is to convey your setting to the reader in a way that is believable, that will give your story credibility. To do that you will need to build the world in which your characters live. The 5 basic elements of setting, besides time period, are physical locale, customs and manners, lifestyles, and historical events.

The physical locale sets the stage. What does your world look like? Open a word document or get out that notebook and start creating. Begin with the big picture, the geography and landscape of your special world. If your story takes place in a city, determine which city. Leigh Michaels in On Writing Romance suggests that any city under 100,000 people be fictionalized. You can still draw on the experiences of small town living, and no one will question the actual name of the street where your heroine’s bakery is located. But what about your millionaire tycoon who has to run his empire from New York? Then you might want to fictionalize the office tower he calls home. That way you can arrange the building to your story’s need.

You’re not finished yet. Now, get more specific. What is the weather like? Setting, according to Kim Kay in her article It’s Your World: Setting Your Novel, should be used not just as a backdrop to your story, but to enhance it. Your millionaire tycoon, in his Frump Tower, may just get caught there during a wicked snowstorm blowing in off the Atlantic. His mild mannered secretary, who is working late because she has no idea when not to volunteer for extra duty, could also find herself stuck at the office until the roads clear. Suddenly, your story takes a twist. The major plot of getting those two unlikely candidates together is advanced with one night of solitude, one night of vulnerability. The lovely secretary no longer sees her boss as the cold workaholic and the tycoon learns of a woman with a secret ambition.

Keep going, what about other aspects of your world? Knowing the plants and animals that inhabit your world and the industries and resources that fuel the economy all lead to creating a world that is believable. And your reader needs to believe in your world or they won’t believe in your characters.

The next element is to determine the customs and manners of the time and place you’ve chosen. Historical writing is rooted in research. A regency author must know the world of aristocracy: her dukes and barons and the difference between Lord Frump and Lord Richard Mallory, Earl of Frump. She will also be knowledgeable so that if her heroine’s mother is dragging her daughter around on "marriage calls" she will keep them there no longer than 20 minutes.

But those that write paranormal must also explore the customs and manners of their setting. Perhaps werewolves and vampires populate that world with the vampires considered an inferior race. Each race will have their own customs and the interaction between them will be wrought with rules and regulations. You, the author, must know just as much as the regency author in order for your readers to feel the authenticity of your words.

Kim Kay also speaks about using your setting to illustrate character. Imagine the werewolf hero, taught to hate the vampires, finding himself behind enemy lines. Those very customs and manners you have created will determine how he interacts. The expectations and stereotypes he takes with him will play out in his actions, his reactions, and even his dialogue. Now, your well-planned imaginative setting can play a vital role in the hero’s character arc.

Your notebook should be getting full by this point. The fourth element is lifestyles. The houses your characters inhabit and how they move from place to place. The food they eat, their clothes, and their education also fall under this category. Your readers can only see, hear and smell the things you put in front of them, so evoke their senses. Annabelle, the heroine in your Wild West romance, wrinkles her nose at the smell of wet wool mittens mingled with chalk dust. A fingernail dragged slowly over one of the children’s slates, sends chills shivering over her skin. One of the older boys, picking his teeth with a short blade, sneers at her from his undersized desk. Perhaps, she thinks, volunteering to teach while the school marm recovers is not the best way to impress the handsome rancher.

The last element is historical events. Here you need to determine what’s happening (or has happened) in the world at large. Again, it doesn’t matter what subgenera of romance you’re writing. For you to accurately portray your story to your audience, you need to know your world. Your characters are real people embedded in your real story. The millionaire tycoon will know all about the stock market crashes of 1929, 1987, and 2000. Lord Frump, our regency hero, will know of Napoleon and his battle at Waterloo. The werewolf will know the reason why his race is superior, even though, hopefully, by the end of the book he will understand equality and compassion. And Annabelle will know of the railroad buying out the smaller ranchers in order to bring modern transportation to the west.

It’s a lot of work and research, but it will ground your story, make your characters believable, and enhance your plot. You may never use all the details in the notebook that describes your world, but they will be there just in case. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The world only exists in your eyes – you can make it as big or as small as you want to." And remember to make it credible.

So, People of Blogland, what settings have you used in a novel? Have you considered all 5 elements I've listed here? Are there other elements that I've missed? Does setting really do anything for you as a reader?


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vince Mooney to Visit Sat

You do not want to miss the Prairie Chicks this Saturday when Vince Mooney guest blogs with us. I first met Vince as a fellow entrant on the eHarlequin Writer's Challenge board. As a male and philosopher of romance, Vince brings a unique perspective which he willingly passes on to other writers as could be seen when he guest blogged earlier this year with the Seekers.

While Vince was educated to teach Philosophy and History, he was quickly recruited by business. He spent over 30 years as a creative person in advertising and marketing with many of those years as a copywriter and copyeditor.

Vince has his own real estate company and real estate school. An Air Force veteran, Vince loves to travel and has visited over 30 countries. He has lived in Italy and Germany.

For over thirty years, Vince has taught classes in Advertising, Marketing, Communications and Real Estate at the University, Community College, and Votech levels.

Vince searched for his soul mate until his mid-thirties and then, after a whirlwind romance, married his dream girl. They have been happily married for 31 years.

Vince is now writing a non-fiction book on the Romance genre. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife Linda and Aristotle -- his Lhasa Apso.

Check Vince's blog at if you want a fascinating look into the world of romance.

Vince will be drawing one name from all those leaving a comment on Saturday to win a copy of Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure.


Let’s Talk Kissing

Ancient lovers believed a kiss would literally unite their souls, because the spirit was said to be carried in one's breath. ~Eve Glicksman

This post is inspired by the book I’m currently reading – Her Unlikely Family by Missy Tippens. * Spoiler Alert *. In this story, Missy has lots of attraction, interaction and tension between the hero and heroine but not a single kiss on the lips until the end of the book. Oh, they have plenty of opportunities. And they get real close several times but between doubts, fears and interruptions, they never touch lips. Because to do so would change their relationship from friendship to personal.

In the 1990 movie, Pretty Woman, the main female character is Vivian, a high-class prostitute. In that role, she tells Edward, the male lead, he can do anything except kiss her. Why? Because she considers it too personal to be part of the ‘business’. In the movie, the change in their relationship from business to personal is signified when Vivian wakens Edward with a kiss on the lips. Very symbolic. I vividly remember catching my breath at the moment her lips touched his because I knew what it meant and my heart went crazy. Yet, it was just a kiss.

So, what is a kiss?

The Online Etymology says, "Kissing, as an expression of affection or love, is unknown among many races, and in the history of mankind seems to be a late substitute for the more primitive rubbing of noses, sniffing, and licking." Interesting.

The online Free Dictionary defines kiss as ‘To touch or caress with the lips as an expression of affection, greeting, respect, or amorousness.’

We know that Europeans kiss each other on the cheek as a form of greeting. In some religions people show respect by kissing the feet or hands of their spiritual leader. And Greeks are well known to kiss on the lips as a form of greeting regardless of gender.

But a kiss sustained longer than a few seconds is assumed to have romantic or erotic connotations. There’s a good reason for this. According to The Romance Bible your ‘brain center is revved-up by a kiss and starts unconscious preparations for the body to have sex’. In other words, a kiss is an aphrodisiac. How well it works depends on the emotional involvement of the people sharing the kiss. For a woman, the man’s appearance, smell and even the ambiance plays a key role in how she receives his kiss. For a man, it seems to stem more on her appearance and how fast he can undress her. I believe that is why many inspirational novels don’t have the main characters engage in kissing – because men are physiologically the same regardless of where they go to church.

As I’m writing this post, 3 of my kissing memories come to mind:

1. Steve. Slender, blond and very attractive even though his lips were thin. He gave me lots of attention and I really liked him. We only went out on one date before he kissed me. And from that point on, I couldn’t even look at him. He came back to see me a few times but I brushed him off. I still saw him around the military base but I tried to avoid him. You see, I don’t know what it was, but when I kissed Steve, his lips were hard and cold. It was like kissing a piece of steel. I know – previous face plant in a metal locker. I really don’t know if others thought the same. I guess I could’ve asked my roommate to kiss him and see but I just wanted to forget him and the whole experience.

2. Claude. (kload) Tall, dark and a bit overweight but we were friends. My roommie said Claude had a crush on me but I didn’t believe it until he took me home to meet his family near the Quebec border. It was a nice visit. Before we parted, he pulled me in for a big bear hug and pressed a sloppy kiss at the corner of my mouth. It made a slurping noise just before he lifted his head and stepped back. I never saw Claude again. Lucky me.

3. Nelson. Average height, dark and handsome. Sigh. A military policeman. A protector. His face literally lit up when he saw me. If someone had told me that I wouldn’t have believed it, but I saw it myself one day when he walked into the mess and saw me sitting there. And at that moment, I knew he liked me. It was there on his face. I was so attracted to this guy but he had one major flaw. He didn’t like kissing. How could a guy not like kissing? It seems his mother didn’t like kissing and she kept telling her kids that kissing spread disease. Actually, she was right if you look at the health statistics but how can you do that to your kids? I mean I was so into this guy and he’d throw up his arms and ward me off whenever I wanted to lock lips with him. Well, that’s not entirely true because we did our share but not as much as I liked. He did have a very redeeming quality though – he loved hugs. He liked sitting – sometime for hours with his arms around me and cuddling. And he liked holding hands. I think that’s why I overlooked his dislike of kissing and married him. And over the 32 yrs we’ve been together, he’s shown me that kissing isn’t a major requirement to a relationship but rather, an enhancement.

Kissing does have many advantages, though. According to kissing:
- Prevents tooth decay due to a stimulation of saliva which prevents plaque buildup
- Releases tension as you breath deeper and shut out the rest of the world
- Aids weight loss as it speeds up your metabolism and burns calories. (10 calories for every 10 mins or 1 pound every 5 hrs)
- Slows aging since it tones your facial, neck and jaw muscles
- Increases fitness as it gets your heart pumping, pulse racing and gives you a great cardiovascular workout
- Releases pheromones which are the chemical messengers that show sexual attraction
- Promotes self-esteem, happiness and a feeling of being wanted.

Put that way, kissing is very good for your body and soul – if you find the right person to kiss. Which brings me back to Missy’s book. I think the near miss kisses were entirely appropriate for that story. It certainly enhanced the experience and brought an ‘Awh’ moment and heart flutter to me as a reader when they finally sealed their relationship.

I’ll leave you with this kissing quote for writers:

"May I print a kiss on your lips?" I said,
And she nodded her full permission:
So we went to press and I rather guess
We printed a full edition.
~Joseph Lilientha

Do you have a kissing experience you’d like to share? Either a bad one you’d like to forget or a good one you want to remember? Come on, tell us about it…

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Self-Imposed Exile

I’m writing this post, surrounded by the gathering rain clouds and the sound of the wind whistling through the poplars and the birch trees. Rain clouds. Again. It wouldn’t be so bad except I’m parked in a campground in a trailer we fondly refer to as the Upchuck Wagon. Don’t ask. The good news is I’ve been happily turning pages and reading books, whittling down my summer reading list while sipping my current favorite tea, Stash’s Earl Grey Black Tea.

A little update on how I’m doing on my summer writing goals. I think ‘poorly’ sums it up nicely. I had planned on doing some writing while out here on our two-week camping stint. But you know what, I needed a break. The characters in my head are still whispering to me, but from afar as they’re on their own vacays. Lily is with Grace and Kate at the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa in Moose Jaw and Chase recently bought a Harley and is making his way on the open road to the beautiful Cypress Hills. He’s hooking up with a friend for some fishing, some beer and a long overdue conversation. Things are percolating in my head on a mostly silent level, which makes no sense I’m sure, but it’s the best way I can sum it up.

My brain is resting. Or maybe that’s nesting. Maybe it’s coming up with all sorts of good ideas for me to use when I’m back in my office, in my chair, facing the character board I’ve started creating for my new project. Or it’s gearing itself up to start the second revision process on Common Ground. Or maybe my brain cells are so saturated by hamburgers, potato salad and s’mores it can’t think clearly. (Note to self – cut back on the toasted marshmallows, not to mention the hot chocolate.)

I know writers are supposed to write everyday and I do usually write a bit everyday but everyone needs a holiday, a good solid holiday of no writing, a recharging of the batteries so to speak. I’ve had no access to the outside world. No Internet, no blogs and no emails (hubby will be posting this as he’s commuting back and forth to work) and I’m enjoying it. I do miss my cyber friends. There’s always a downside, darn it.

I think it helped that I just finished rewriting Common Ground (and I do mean rewriting, the last half of the manuscript almost completely) and knew I needed to take a break from it, set it aside instead of diving right back in on the next revision. Believe it or not, I’m actually looking forward to this revision, so I panicked a little at first over my self-imposed exile. I feared loosing momentum, ideas dropping into some deep, jet-black abyss never to be heard again. Dramatic tendencies aside, I worried over the outcome of a break from writing. As usual, I’m worrying for nothing. I’m feeling refreshed, ready to get back at it next week. My brain is slowly refueling and restocking.

If you could embark on any holiday you wanted, where would you go? Keep in mind, you’ve just won the lottery, you’re a billionaire, and money is no object. What’s your fantasy vacation? I think one of mine would be renting a villa somewhere warm with a full staff and lots of historical landmarks to explore, or my own island, sun, sand, and surf (no wind or rain in sight), also fully staffed.

Sorry, the cellular customer you have dialed is out of range, so please talk amongst yourselves. Hope you’re having a wonderful summer.