Monday, August 31, 2009

The Sagging Middle - Part One

When I start a book, I’m full of enthusiasm and great ideas – for about three or four chapters. And then I hit a wall. I have this wonderful, exciting opening, and often I know what the crisis or ‘black moment’ is going to be, how the subplots will be tied up and how all the conflicts will be resolved in the end. I just don’t always know how my characters are going to get from the beginning to the end. In other words, I suffer from SMS, the dreaded Sagging Middle Syndrome.

The middle is where all the action happens. When I’m reading a good book, the middle is often my favorite part of the story. It’s where we really get to know the characters and the setting. Events occur that force the characters to act, to make decisions, to make choices. Each choice brings them closer to the climax. As a reader the middle is exciting and full of information. So I know how important the middle is to my story. How do I overcome Sagging Middle Syndrome to craft a book as exciting as my favorites? Maybe it would help if I knew what the middle is supposed to accomplish.

The Purpose of the Middle. We can usually state the purpose of our beginning quite easily; to introduce our characters and the problems they face, the setting, the themes we want to explore. We know what our ending has to do; to solve the mystery, to bring our hero and heroine together, to increase the conflicts, bring the conflicts to a crisis point, and eventually resolve them. But what is the purpose of the middle?

Alicia Rasley, in her article, “Tightening the Sagging Middle” says the middle of your story has many important purposes:

- The middle furthers the plot. Most of the events happen in the middle. Each scene should have a distinct plot purpose, and should lead into the next. In other words, each scene should affect the next one and keep building to the climax. For instance, in my romantic suspense “Seeing Things”, each of Leah’s psychic visions gradually begin to fill in the pieces of the puzzle. The information revealed in one scene causes the hero and heroine to chase down a lead in the next scene. Each scene releases a bit more information (with a couple of red herrings thrown in) that brings Leah and David closer to finding his kidnapped nephew. Alicia Rasley says we have to be ruthless in the middle “so that the journey isn't a meandering one with too many blind alleys– every scene should be centered on an irrevocable event that changes the course of the plot."

- The middle is the time of rising conflict. The conflict between characters should increase and the stakes should become higher. For example, Alicia Rasley says that “If the romantic conflict is that the heroine is disguising her identity, then every scene should bring her closer to discovery, and her deception should become more dangerous to their growing love.”

- We get to know our characters in the middle. If readers are given a chance to know our characters well enough, then their motivations for the things they do will make sense and will help further the plot. Writers can also hint at secrets and other mysteries to be revealed closer to the end of the story.

- We get to know the “world” of the novel in the middle. We can explore how our characters feel about the setting. We can show how this world has affected our characters, and the values that are important in this world. World building is crucial in fantasies and futuristic novels, but it is also important to contemporaries. For example in my contemporary romance “Till September” the setting is a farm on the Saskatchewan prairies. My heroine Hannah is passionate about holding on to her farm, to her small community and to her way of life. When she discovers that the hero Quinn is a threat to her world, she sends him away.

- Story questions are asked and answered in the middle. These story questions drive the plot. In a mystery, the main story question would be “whodunit”. In a romance the story question might be “How do these two overcome all their obstacles to get to their happy ending?” Alicia Rasley says that “The middle of the book assembles the "evidence" that will eventually solve the problem or answer the question.”

- The middle builds toward the climax. Every scene in the middle should bring the story closer to this climax. If one of your scenes doesn’t fulfill one of these middle purposes (furthering the plot, increasing the conflict, building the story world, learning about the characters) it doesn’t belong in your story. In fact Alicia Rasley says a writer should try to make every serve more than one purpose.

Next week I’ll talk more about what you can do to prevent Sagging Middle Syndrome. Do you sometimes have troubles with your middles? What do you do to keep your middles exciting and sag-free?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And we have a winner!

Mary Connealy, Saturday's guest blogger just emailed me with the winner of her new book, Cowboy Christmas.

And the winner is...

Deb H

Mary will be in contact with you Deb.

Thank you Mary for sharing an entertaining Saturday with us.

And thank you to everyone who stopped by for the visit.

The Kreativ Blogger Award

Thank you Danielle Thorne and Anne Patrick who both nominated us for the Kreativ Blogger award last week. Thanks for the plug ladies!

So because we won this award, we nominate seven of our favorite blogs for the Kreativ Blogger award and I get to post seven things you might not have known about the Prairie Chicks. I get to tell on my fellow Chicks!

1. First me, Jana. I have two daughters in their twenties. My youngest is studying to be a nurse, and my oldest is working on a Masters degree in political studies. She’s also a world traveller. As I write this she is in Istanbul, Turkey.

2. Anita – She spent twenty years in the Canadian military. She’s completely fearless. Last year she drove all by herself from Saskatchewan to Minneapolis to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Trust me, that’s a long way.

3. Karyn – Didn’t learn to drive until she was thirty-five and it was an absolute necessity.

4. Helena – Helena is a librarian by trade. When she retired a few years ago she moved to a small town in Saskatchewan after living in Alberta for many years.

5. Connie – Connie was born in Niagara Falls, but we Prairie Chicks don’t hold that against her! She is a journalist and spent many years reporting on court cases.

6. Molli – Molli once appeared in a deodorant commercial wearing a bikini, bunny ears and winter boots. The commercial was shot in Winnipeg in February. Apparently the deodorant was especially enticing to bunnies.

7. Janet – Janet met her husband at a tiny airport in the Northwest Territories, although she didn’t know it at the time. When her suitcase was tossed out of the plane, it spilled open, spewing her underwear all over the tarmac. Little did Janet know her future husband was watching from the tower. “That’s the girl for me!” he said to himself. And they lived happily ever after!

The seven blogs we are awarding the Kreativ Blogger award to are:

1. Silver James – Penumbra
2. Hayley Lavik – Eventide Unmasked
4. Lesley Anne McLeod – The Regency World of Lesley Anne McLeod
5. Donna Alward – Emotional, Feel Good Romance
6. Ban Sidhe – Ban Sidhe's Worlds

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Welcome: Mary Connealy

The 3 C's of Romance: Christmas, Comedy & Cowboys

No holiday seems to have the same capacity for joy as Christmas.

That’s why I was so excited when Barbour Publishing let me write Cowboy Christmas.

Christmas stories, done right, have a richness that doesn’t come from things. And in the materialist world we live in, to touch that chord of the true meaning of Christmas can be tremendously powerful and fun all at the same time. I think the reason I love stories like this is because I get as caught up in the commercial whirl as anyone and try hard to remember what it’s really all about. A baby in a manger. God becoming man. The birth that leads to the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of love on the cross.

All great Christmas stories transcend materialism and reveal the true meaning of Christmas. Even non-Christian stories do this with a focus on family or peace but no where is it done better than in a Christian setting and I hope so much that I managed it in Cowboy Christmas.

I wanted a chance to do that with a Christmas book.
I wanted a character who’s heart grew three sizes that day.
I wanted a tiny voice saying, “God bless us everyone.”
I wanted that moment when we all hope we’d be wise enough to abandon our sheep to the wolves and follow a star to where the Christ child lay.

I know, I know, it’s 100 degrees outside. Doesn’t matter, like everything else about Christmas, things start early and my book is releasing in September. So I’m talking about it now.

Cowboy Christmas
A beautiful songstress hiding from danger.
A wounded hearted cowboy who hates secrets.
An evil man obsessed with the wealth he can garner with that stunning voice.
The Rockies in the brutal cold of winter.
A family who takes in a damsel in distress regardless of their suspicions.
And one perfect chance for a man and woman to follow a star that will lead them to true love.
Cowboy Christmas

Leave a comment telling me your favorite Christmas tradition – yes, in this heat! Just do it! That will get your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Cowboy Christmas.

And God Bless Us Everyone.


Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska ranch with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She is the author of the Lassoed in Texas series, Petticoat Ranch, the Christy Award nominated Calico Canyon and Gingham Mountain. A new series begins now. Montana Marriages, Book #1 Montana Rose (current release), Book #2 The Husband Tree (Jan 2010) and Book #3 Wildflower Bride. A stand alone romantic comedy with cowboys, Cowboy Christmas releases in September.
Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night.

You can find Mary:

Thank you, Mary for blogging with the Prairie Chicks.

Friday, August 28, 2009

When We Are Not A-Mused

Hi all - given that I'm filling in for the Muse Queen, Janet, who, as Helena said last week, may or may not have been in touch with her Muse on her trek, it seemed appropriate to further discuss muses and ways to entice them into action, as it were. In order to be sure I was using the term correctly I took a quick peek at my New Illustrated Webster's (well, new in 1992--one wouldn't want to be too quick to replace a classic, hmm?). I found not only some definitions but a bit of history. The noun 'muse' refers to "something regarded as the source of artistic inspiration", while the verb means "to consider thoughtfully or at length; ponder; meditate". Synonyms for the verb include brood (yup, I do that over my stories alright!), cogitate, contemplate, deliberate, reflect, stew, study, think, and ruminate (as in moo-o-o-os??--sorry, couldn't resist).

Historically, the term refers to any of the nine goddesses in Greek mythology who presided over poetry, the arts, sciences, etc.: in alphabetical order, they are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Exterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania--thank goodness I'm writing, not verbalizing, this post. (Apparently there were said to be three muses originally, and I certainly found a number of different counts and names referenced over the centuries, but according to Wikipedia, by the "Classical times of the 400s BC" that had expanded to nine. The most modern version I noted was in the Disney movie 'Hercules' where nine muses were reduced to five--rather presumptuous of them, but then again we are talking Disney here.) Again, according to Wikipedia, "In modern English usage, muse (non capitalized but deriving from the classical Muses) can refer in general to a person who inspires an artist, writer, or musician." Further comments include "Not only are the Muses explicitly used in modern English to refer to an inspiration, as when one cites one's own artistic muse, but they also are implicit in words and phrases such as "amuse", "museum"(changed from muselon—a place were the muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon". You may have heard the term the "tenth muse", which was a compliment given by Plato to the archaic poet, Sappho of Lesbos. Wikipedia indicates that "The phrase has become a somewhat conventional compliment paid to female poets since." Verily, even Shakespeare used it!

So, brief history lesson over (because frankly, I didn't pursue many links on this one), what does it take to lure one of these mythical creatures out into the open (and mythical seems an appropriate concept for them on days when I'm doing some of the aforementioned brooding)? For that I chose to review a couple of the books on creativity I've collected, and methods I've experimented with myself. Overall, the most important tools you have are your subconscious, and the discipline to practise, regularly. No matter what material I read, or re-read, the predominant message in enhancing your creative ability, aka enticing the muse, was to give your brain a specific task, then write, write, and write some more to give it the opportunity to accomplish that task.

For example, in "How to Write While You Sleep and other surprising ways to increase your CREATIVITY", Elizabeth Irvin Ross refers to her Write-Now method and discusses the creative process in terms of stages: preparation (an idea appeals to your imagination, be it for a character, plot, scene, situation, etc., and you begin to analyze its potential, gathering information); gestation (the idea incubates in your mind, evolving and taking shape); illumination (the idea emerges as a finished product); and finally verification (test the idea in conjunction with other story elements to determine whether it strengthens your story or not), which will lead to incorporating the idea, or abandoning it, or to further preparation. I'm just starting through her book, so I can't give you a personal example I've worked through using her approach, but an example she provided relates to the idea of creating a new character for your story (preparation), the character's appearance, voice, behavoiur and personality forming in your subconscious (gestation), the realization after a time--anywhere from overnight to a few months--of the role the character will play (illumination), and once that's considered in context with the rest of the story elements (verification) a decision to include or abandon the character, or to do more preparation (gather more information--why you need him or her, what's his purpose, what he adds to the story, etc.) then repeat the other stages. A scientific approach that can enhance a process we often go through without conscious thought.

In "Writing on Both Sides of the Brain", Henriette Anne Klauser explains that while the right brain "expresses itself randomly--in pictures, patterns, rhythms--and cannot articulate in words", the left brain is logical, articulates in words, and "this articulation is often carping." She provides a number of techniques and exercises to give your right brain, aka "the Muse", equal time as your left (wait your turn, Evil Editor!). I've done some of her exercises, and one in particular was very productive for me: I visualized myself walking into a familiar bookstore, approaching the romance section, turning the book rack, finding my book, turning it over, and reading the back cover blurb. I immediately wrote down what I "read" and used it to clarify the essence of my story.

Everyday Creative Writing (Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink) by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg reviewed a number of exercises, or "prospecting" tools: freewriting, brainstorming, listing, clustering, free association, puzzles, games and computers. I've seen these discussed in a many resources, and as I expect most writers are familiar with them I don't plan to go through them in detail, but if you'd like more info on them just comment with a question and I'll describe the particular tool. Personally, I've found clustering very useful: in my ballerina story it enabled me to see both the similarites and differences in character perspectives. Something these authors mention is to bring a combination of these tools to creative exercises as each tool "tends to work best with specific facets of our minds." They recommend that a writer "become adroit at shifting" from one tool to another; for example, "begin with freewriting, shift to clustering, switch over to brainstorming or listing, look up a word on the computer thesaurus, and so forth".

So how about it fellow "muse-ers"? Do you have any favourite tools, or resource materials, that have worked for you?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mary Connealy is On Her Way

This Sat, welcome Mary Connealy to Prairie Chicks Write Romance.

Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska ranch with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She is the author of the Lassoed in Texas series, Petticoat Ranch, the Christy Award nominated Calico Canyon and Gingham Mountain. A new series begins now. Montana Marriages, Book #1 Montana Rose, Book #2 The Husband Tree and Book #3 Wildflower Bride. A stand alone romantic comedy with cowboys, Cowboy Christmas releases in September.

Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night.

You can find her online at:
Petticoats & Pistols
My Blog
My Website

Mary says she'll enter your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Cowboy Christmas if you leave a comment on Sat about your favorite Christmas tradition.

Change Your Manuscript to Suit the Contest

I've been trying to complete Silent Keeper as well as work on some contest entries. If you follow my blog, you'll have noticed I haven't entered any contests since the spring. That's about to change.

Why do I enter contests? The reason is two-fold; the feedback and the exposure to editors. Take this contest entry I'm working on:

When You Least Expect It (When) is an inspirational. It was a finalist in that category in this year's Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest and although it wasn’t requested by final judge (an editor), I did receive excellent feedback from the first round judges.

So, I’m revising it and will try again. I’d like to enter it in the Southern Heat contest which has 2 final judges—an editor and an agent. That’s too good to pass up. Usually there’s only an editor for the final judge. The Southern Heat contest has 2 categories I can enter When in: Inspirational and Contemporary series. Because it’s an inspirational, I should enter it in the inspirational category, right?

Maybe not.

Remember my ms Charley’s Saint? I wrote it as an inspirational, but both times it’s been a finalist in regular contemporary categories. Final judges are not required to give comments, however one nice editor wrote to me that it was entered in the appropriate category but needed more sizzle. I don’t know if she said that because she sees many entries that don’t fit the category or if she wanted to reassure me the inspirational elements were okay for a contemporary series. Either way, I really appreciated her comment.

Now here’s the thing with When – although it has the 3 way relationship between the Hero, heroine, and God which all inspirations require, the ‘God’ aspect isn’t as pronounced as in some of my other books. So, it could do well in the Contemporary category. I just haven’t entered it in one yet. What a choice.

To help me decide, I looked at the next contest I want to enter: Finally a Bride (FAB). This contest is very special because you can’t enter unless you’ve finaled but never placed first. Yup, that’s me. You know the old saying, ‘Always a bride, never a bridesmaid’. So because both When and Charley’s Saint have finaled, I can enter them in FAB. But, who are the final judges? None other than the same editors who are judging the Southern Heat contest. Well, one is the same and the other one judged Charley’s Saint once before. If she didn’t request it last time, it doesn’t make sense to enter it where she’s the final judge.

Here’s what I’m going to do:
- Enter When in the Contemporary Series category of Southern Heat
- Enter When in the Inspirational category of Finally a Bride
- Enter Charley’s Saint in the Contemporary Series of Finally a Bride

But what about the sizzle? Well, I’m going to add some to Charley’s Saint for the Contemp category and tone it down (yes, that was the judges opinion) for the inspy category for When.

How will I add sizzle? Well according to that one judge in the last paragraph, When doesn't have much to alter. However, here’s some changes I’m making to my main characters:
- looking at each other with a higher level of intensity (awareness)
- thinking about hugging and kissing (carnal thoughts)
- expressing pleasure in each other’s physical attributes

The above changes won’t take away from the inspirational story, however they show a sexten level you don’t find in many inspy books (unless they’re from established and accepted authors). Since I write for both the secular and inspirational market, this isn’t a big deal for me. And before anyone gets all excited about this, the mss will still abide by my ‘closed door’ and ‘no sex before marriage’ rules. I’m not talking about going against my principles, just turning up the heat a bit.

Why would I change my manuscripts like this? Well, this may be my only chance to enter the Finally a Bride contest. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So, what do you think? Would you change a manuscript to suit a contest? Do you have any ideas to up the sexten without being overly blatant? Do you have any questions about contests you’d like answered?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When Characters Come To Blows

Last week I attempted to write a fight scene. Since it was my first one, I wasn’t sure if the little scenario I’d cooked up worked or not so I decided to do a little checking. Turns out, it doesn’t work. For many, many reasons. I don’t even know if it qualifies as a fight scene. It’s more of a manic, killing attack type thing. An arm was ripped off; there was high velocity blood spatter, but not much else. No dialogue, no emotion, very little description, and no use of the five senses.

Soooo, research time.

Here’s what I’ve learned. You have your family feuds, lover’s quarrels, cat fights, and misunderstandings between friends of longstanding, just to name a few, but I’m talking about physical fights with two enemies going at it to the death. In this case there’s really only two types. There are either weapons involved or there are not. Maybe they’re pulling each other’s hair out. Could be they’re hacking each other to bits with swords. Whether your characters choose to take up arms or not, the possibilities are endless. My scene involved weapons. One is armed with a whip, the other, bows and arrows. I know, right! Pure genius.

Oh yeah. Keep it realistic. If you’re using weapons, do some research and come up with the right weapon for the right character. Somehow, I managed to come up with a whip. Snort. For a vampire. Wait, it gets better.

And along with those literal punches there should be some emotional punches. Perhaps a little internal conflict, a small tip off as to what’s going through the heroine’s head. There should be, but there wasn’t. Any emotion. Just blood spatter. And screaming. That’s a bad thing.

Fight scenes must serve a purpose. Well, mine did. Kind of. The insignificant, no-name guy was in her way. What’s a female vampire warrior to do? Exactly! She took him out. But no! Apparently, random violence is bad. Like sex for the sake of sex scenes are bad. Fight scenes should propel the story along, add value and meaning to the story, maybe even contain some dialogue. Who knew!

It appears there’s delicate balance between description and pacing when you’re writing that knock down, drag out fight scene. After all, you don’t want the reader to get bored. Touch on the setting or location, don’t forget to utilize the five senses.

Use short sentences.

Short paragraphs.

Okay, maybe not that short, but clarity and speed are important components to a riveting fight scene. Keep in mind things like honorable verses dishonorable behavior. You don’t want the super sexy hero you’ve spent endless hours creating and perfecting doing something to turn the reader off. Dido, the heroine. Also many articles cautioned against choreographing your fight scenes, as opposed to writing them using the hints above. A chronological listing of the first punch to the last makes for boring reading.

For more information on perfecting fight scenes check out this link at Superhero Nation.

Also check out this link at Fight Scenes 101. This is based on fan fiction but works for any kind of fiction.

How do you handle fight scenes? Got any tips? If you’ve got an awesome website or database dealing with weapons, please feel free to share. Share the names of any authors you feel write fight scenes with panache.

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It goes with the Territory

I am an Anglican/I am ACC/I never falter/While setting up altar/I am Catholic, apostolic and free/Not a Presby/not United/not a Baptist white with foam/I am an Anglican/Via Media boom boom.
Those are the words to a church camp song and a way to introduce my topic - territories. I never thought of characters' territories as being so important in defining self-concept and how that self-concept affects their behaviour throughout the book. Here I was trying to decide how wide the shoulders and how blue the eyes and not realizing this handsome dog had self-concept issues I had to consider. It is his territory vs her territory and how they defend them or give them up that gives the conflict to the story.
I am an Anglican is part of my self-concep in many ways - including the Anglican insistence on not trying to convert anybody to anything and remaining respectfully quiet...via media in fact (middle of the road). I am an Anglican in that, like all Anglicans, I have never sat in a front pew. You can tell an Anglican church easily. Everyone sits at the back. Further more, we tend to always sit on the same side, same pew even when we move to a church in another town. That is our territory. I once sat in an elderly woman's spot when I joined a church in a town I had just moved to, and was quietly informed that she had sat in that spot for 67 years. Suddenly, physically I felt very uncomfortable. That particular spot, in any Anglican church I had ever attended, had always been my territory. To make it worse, she graciously insisted I sit there, creating a new territory for herself. A section of wooden bench created emotional turmoils - conflict - for both of us. In a threatening situation - even one as trivial as this one, fight or flight is our reaction.
We all set territories. Wasn't there a specific desk you preferred in a classroom? Do you sit in the same general area at every writers' group meeting? At a concert or lecture, do you always sit on a particular side, usually a set distance from the stage? When you leave your seat, do you leave your coat or a notebook on 'your seat'? You have set up your territory and that has a lot to do with your self-concept. If someone invades your territory, internal or external, you will have conflict in order to feel safe and not threatened. You will flee or fight.
(If your character sits behind the door with a bag over their head, your plot is in trouble!)
Vanessa Grant goes into detail about the importance of territory and self-concept and since I had never considered it, I am going to tell you a bit of what she has to say but in my words.
Your characters may have the same goal but different ways of getting there - there is their conflict. For example: Two doctors want to save a patient from depression. One thinks therapy and the other thinks medication. This is the conflict that leads to the plot.
In a book I am reading, the hero doesn't trust the heroine but lusts after her. She is in such an emotional turmoil over threats to her children she can't tell if she loves him or lusts after him, but she does trust him implicitly.
She has areas of territory she must defend in order to defend her self-concept. She must see herself as a good mother and as one strong enough to protect her children. It is also important to her that he sees her as desirable and lovable at a time when she doesn't feel lovable or desirable but needs that self-assurance desperately.
He must have her trust in order to defend his self-concept as a strong defender of the children. He is struggling with the fact he is falling in love with her but his self-concept is suffering from a past experience.
I have a sneaking suspicion they are going to marry in the end, but in the meantime, they have some territories to sort out and that is what is making it a good read.
Do you have territories? Will your self-concept make you flee or fight? Do you work out your characters' territories to help you clarify your characters? Have you ever sat in the front pew???
p.s. I have written the non-fiction contest story nine different ways (POVs) and I'm still not satisfied naturally. Thanks again to everyone who took time to give me their advice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Writing for Free?

There was a time, not so very long ago, when people laid down their hard earned money for books. They expected to pay good money for reading material. But recently a new trend has emerged. Readers now expect to get books (or at least ebooks) for free.

Publishers and booksellers are working hard to give readers what they want. A recent story in my local newspaper (in a story from Associated Press) tells of Amazon’s new experiment. In an effort to entice readers to its Kindle ebooks, they are offering many of them for free. For example, James Patterson’s novel The Angel Experiment, which came out in print four years ago, is being offered as a free Kindle download. The response from readers has been immense, making The Angel Experiment a Kindle best seller.

The idea is to offer one book for free in order to entice readers to purchase other books from the same author. It seems to be working for Patterson. The Angel Experiment is the first book in his Maximum Ride young adult series. He is quoted as saying: “We’ve given away thousands of free e-copies. Maximum Ride is big already and we think it could be a lot bigger. That requires getting people to read it.” Maja Thomas, senior vice-president of digital media at Patterson’s publisher, the Hachette Book Group says, “There’s always going to be someone who wants free things. What we’re trying to do is link free with paid. It’s like priming the pump.”

Amazon is not alone in believing that free, or almost free, will entice buyers. In his book “Free”, Wired magazine’s editor Chris Anderson argues that goods sold in digital bytes (like ebooks) can be reproduced so efficiently that their cost of distribution falls to “near zero”. Anderson argues that consumers who have grown up with the Internet do not consider file sharing as stealing. They believe it is so cheap to reproduce, that a price can’t be put on it. Anderson’s mantra is “information wants to be free”. It’s hard to argue with that claim when you can get free online journalism, music files, video games, television shows, movies, and increasingly, books.

Recently, Prairie Chick Anita gave us a link that noted another disturbing trend. Airport booksellers are offering to buy back a book you purchase in one airport for a portion of the sales price when you reach your destination. For example, you purchase a book at the airport in San Francisco, read it on the airplane, and when you arrive in New York, you sell back the book to the bookseller in the airport there for perhaps 50% of the purchase price. But as Wendy Lawton points out in her blog, where does that leave the author? An author’s royalties are based on sales, not number of reads. So potentially a book could be placed in this catch and release program a half a dozen times. Six different people could have read the same book; the book seller could have made back his investment several times. But the author has only been paid once.

I have to admit I have been lured by the siren call of a free book. I downloaded all of the ebooks that Harlequin made available earlier this year for their 60th anniversary promotion. I own a Sony ereader and get regular offerings from the The Sony Bookstore which also offers some free ebooks. But as an author with books of my own in the marketplace, I have to worry: with so many books out there for free, who’s going to put down cold, hard cash to pay for mine?

I’m not the only one concerned about this. Author Joseph Finder, whose thriller Paranoia is an Amazon free read from Kindle, also wonders about the future of this venture. Although sales for his other books have increased and his profile in the writing world has improved, he worries that with all the free ebooks stuffing consumers’ Kindles, iphones and Sony readers, why would they ever have to actually buy a book again? Others worry that consumers will soon expect all literary purchases to be free.

As I constantly tell my daughters as they download free music onto their MP3 players, how long do you think an artist can continue to produce new work if they don’t get paid for it? In his review of Chris Anderson’s book "Free", Winnipeg Free Press book reviewer Morley Walker asks “Who will pay journalists if their work insists on being free? If movie lovers can download films at no cost, why should producers spend $100 million to finance them?”

The publishing world is starting to be faced with the same question: How will publishers and authors survive if more and more books are offered for free, or almost free?

So, writers of Blogland, are you worried about the trend of free books? Do you think this trend will continue? Should we be worried or is this the future of publishing and writing?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Multi-Genre Author: Multi-Headache or Multi-happiness?

Please help me in greeting this week's guest blogger. Award-winning author Susanne Marie Knight specializes in Romance Writing with a Twist! She is multi-published with books, short stories, and articles in diverse genres. Originally from New York, Susanne lives in the Pacific Northwest, by way of Okinawa, Montana, Alabama, and Florida. Along with her husband, daughter, and the spirit of her feisty Siamese cat, she enjoys the area's beautiful ponderosa pine trees and wide, open spaces--a perfect environment for writing. For more information about Susanne, please visit her website at

Greetings! As an author, you have a choice: stick to one genre of writing and build your readers’ base on that, or branch out with different genres. The pros and cons of both choices are many. I’m going to focus on the benefits of being a multi-genre author.

It’s important to have a working knowledge of your particular genre--that’s a given. The best scenario is if you’re a reader, a non-professional aficionado of this genre. As a reader, you know what works and what doesn’t in your chosen genre. Each area has its own vocabulary, its own dos and don’ts list. If, when you write your story, you’re not thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs--ouch! When readers discover a faux pas, they can be oh so unforgiving.

So given these demands on your expertise, why not focus on only one genre?

My answer is simple: why limit yourself? If you feel compelled to switch or combine genres, then I say, follow your dream. To paraphrase the famous phrase in Kevin Costner’s movie, Field of Dreams: If you write your novels, readers will come.

To illustrate, here are a few comments from reviewers on some of my books. What makes these comments even more rewarding is that these reviewers state they aren’t followers of the particular genre:

· This reviewer has never been a fan of Regencies.... TIMELESS DECEPTION is a remarkable exception.--Love Romances.

· For ALIEN HEAT: Normally science fiction is not something I will read. But I have read several books by Ms. Knight and with her writing style I know I would not have a problem reading the story. If you haven’t read anything by Ms. Knight, you don’t know what you are missing.--A Romance Review.

· I’m not a big fan of time travels or paranormals but REGENCY SOCIETY REVISITED is an exception to that rule.--Romance Reader at Heart.

Remember, when your stories are hard to put down, you will attract readers and become established in your different genres.

My personal genre favorites are science fiction, Regency, suspense, paranormal, mystery, contemporary, time-travel, and fantasy. Being a voracious reader at a young age helped me to write in these genres. One thing I thought was missing in most of the novels back then was romance, Naturally, when I started writing, I had to add my own dash of happily ever after, thus my motto: Romance Writing With A Twist.

Blending genres is an excellent way to begin your foray into becoming a multi-genre author. Time travel mixed in with your particular area of writing can be a great method to test the waters. To date I have five Regencies and five time travel Regencies published. As you can see from the above reviewer comments, I’ve attracted a few new fans to these genres.

Surprisingly, Regencies and science fiction are also linked. According to September 2002’s Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine, science fiction fans love the “alien” world of polite Regency society. This interest, the article states, is due to Regency author Georgette Heyer’s prose using “witty dialogue, costumes, rules and conventions of the Regency society...”

Readers of one genre *do* crossover to another!

Here are three of my recent books that blend genres:

· COMPETITORS!--paranormal, murder mystery, romantic suspense. Neanderthals are extinct, aren’t they??

· HAVE CHRISTMAS CARD... WILL TRAVEL--time-travel Regency. Christmas magic sends Meredith back to Regency times to find true love. But what will happen when the twelve days of Christmas are over?

· And my newest, FOREVVER, science fiction, futuristic romance. In the year 2102, the Fountain of Youth exists for only a select few. But you can’t cheat death ForEvver.

Writing is an adventure. With each new genre you explore, you move out of your comfort zone by learning the writing styles and formats pertaining to this type of story. This helps you grow as a writer. It’s fun to stretch your limits and see if you can deliver on a plot or theme. My idea of good storytelling is not only to entertain the reader, but to give the reader something to think about!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Where's Janet?

Earlier this week someone commenting on Prairie Chicks asked: “How long before Janet will be back online?” Yes, my Janet-deprivation quotient has been seriously rising, too. Seems so long since she posted the Nova Scotia picture and bid us adieu. As the U-Haul pulled away, she assured us there would be only five Fridays before she would post another blog herself. ONLY! And how many sleeps is that, anyway?

We have missed Janet’s unique voice on Fridays. In a couple of weeks, though, we will welcome her back with open arms, if not to the actual prairies, certainly to the Virtual Prairie.

Today it is my turn to do a Friday post. My title laments Janet’s absence from these parts. It fits the mood of that close-to-end-of-August syndrome, when vacations are nearly over, when Karyn shops for school supplies along with all the other millions of mothers, and for some oddball reason I am reminded of the Waldo books. The pages are crowded with images that tantalise us, making it difficult to find Waldo behind, under, or in between them. Wish I could find Janet.

In a fit of whimsy, I went looking for her. First, I googled her name. Google didn’t believe that I wanted to search “Janet” but gave me results when I insisted. Well, there sure are a lot of Janets in Google’s world. But I wasn’t looking for the most famous Janet in the world ... Jackson (apparently). Came up first. Ignored her. Then some images of a number of Janets and a video from youtube that probably wouldn’t meet the Prairie Chick standard of decency, so no links. Didn't look at them. Sorry.

I discovered a site called JANET, a reputable site linking all the educational and research institutions in the UK. It started out as JA.NET, a contraction of Joint Academic and network. A reference to SuperJANET. Now maybe I’m getting somewhere. But, no. We know our Janet’s a super writer, a super person, but obviously this is a slightly different realm.

I searched her blogging name, “Janet C.” (You can probably guess how many Janets have the middle initial C.) You’re wondering why I didn’t smarten up and use something to do with writing. I put in “Janet’s Muse” ...

“But you won’t find her there, you know.” I heard a plaintive voice.

“Who’s there?”

“I’m Janet’s Muse, and you won’t find her, because she’s gone.” Oh, dear. I thought she might start crying. (I knew how she felt.)

“Maybe I’ll never see her again.” Sounding even sadder.

“Now, now. Don’t worry. This is just temporary while she .....”

“See, I told you.” I didn’t recognise the intruding voice.

“Oh, shut up, EE. You’re no help at all. Never were, always getting in my way.”

“Is that you, Evil Editor?” Actually, I’ve always wanted to meet him. Janet thinks he’s pretty ruthless. I need ruthless. “Listen, I was trying to reassure Muse. Maybe Janet isn’t working on her draft after all. Holidays can be like that. Especially when you start out as tired as she did after all that packing.”

Muse is pretty sensitive, and not nearly as confident as EE. I turned my attention back to her.

“Muse, I’m sure that when Janet is relocated, she will be needing you. Yes, yes, EE. She will need you, too. You of all ... um, people? ... should know that.”

“But, it was awful watching her drive away, with that little wave ... I thought she was waving goodbye to me, but maybe it was the house, or the neighbours.”

“Give me a break. What a drama queen.”

“EE, don’t be rude.” I didn’t think that Janet would mind if I tried to keep some order.

“Muse, don’t worry if the summer isn’t going quite as you expected. I understand that you thought you’d be sitting on her shoulder the whole time. Think of it. Right now she’s on a road trip across the country, visiting relatives and relaxing, having fun, and she won’t even be thinking about writing ... much. But when she unpacks, she’ll be ready to hit the keyboard, and then she’ll call you. I’d bet the farm on it.”

“Do you really think so? That makes me feel so much better.”

“EE, a little advice. Now, don’t get your nose out of joint, but you know Janet will start with a blank screen. Wait your turn. And please don’t interfere with Muse. Sorry, it’s just that Janet has told me that sometimes you butt in before you should. She’ll let you know when she needs you. Try not to distract her while she’s getting all those fresh new ideas down. Promise me? And Muse, please cheer up!”

“Okay. If you say so.” They spoke in unison. Then they were gone. Maybe Janet called them.


Fact is, I also searched for “writer’s muse” and came up with a few neat sites that I hope you find useful.

For an article entitled, “7 Writing Muse Kickers to Fill Up That Blank Page,” go to a site oddly named language is a virus.

Another article on the topic is found at How to Call in Your Writing Muse.

I also found a blog called Inspired Writing.

Finally, there is a book called The Muse on Writing which purports to be a “helpful reference guide” and covers information for all genres and writers. At the site you will find a complete table of contents, each segment authored by different people, and an excerpt from the first chapter, with details for purchase. Look for it here.

Coming in September: Return of Janet. Hooray!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Susanne Marie Knight

Multi-published author Susanne Marie Knight will be joining us on August 22 to talk about the perils and plusses of writing in several different genres. Here's her bio:

Award-winning author Susanne Marie Knight specializes in Romance Writing with a Twist! She is multi-published with books, short stories, and articles in diverse genres. Originally from New York, Susanne lives in the Pacific Northwest, by way of Okinawa, Montana, Alabama, and Florida. Along with her husband, daughter, and the spirit of her feisty Siamese cat, she enjoys the area's beautiful ponderosa pine trees and wide, open spaces--a perfect environment for writing. For more information about Susanne, please visit her website at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Imagine: Alternate History

Alternate History asks the question, "What if history had developed differently?"

Alternate History is a subgenre of Speculative fiction (science fiction) and Historical fiction that is set in a world in which history has diverged from the actual history of the world. (wikipedia)


Yesterday, Prairie Chick Karyn presented a thought-provoking post: Heroine For a Day. My first thought after reading her post was that I didn’t have time to imagine because I was too busy writing a fiction novel. (Heh) But something happened. I was sitting in my sunroom, hands poised over my laptop and my attention drifted to the trees in the yard. Instead of seeing the trees, though, I started visualizing history. No, that’s not right. I wasn’t just looking at it—I was a participant.

Karyn asked what I would be as the heroine. Any time in history. Any planet in the universe. My mind stumbled. It was almost too immense to contemplate.

I started to weed out possibilities:
- Medieval women have always fascinated me but I deplored their lack of bathing facilities.
- Pioneer women showed their endurance but I’d be bruised after all the bouncing around in the wagon.
- Biblical women walked with grace but I didn’t like the threat of being thrown to the lions.
- Regency women proved their worth but I’d start out penniless or of low birth.
- World War II women got to hang out with men in uniform but I wanted to be more than a nurse.
- Space age women are adventurous but I cringe at the thought of my molecules being scrambled during transport.

You see, I could write a book and put my heroine in one of those stories, but it just wasn’t ME. However, there was one time period I actually wanted to be a part of and that was the latter years of the 19th century, at the dawn of the new country of Canada. But in what capacity? At that time, Canada was roughly 2 parts: the civilized maritime part (both coasts and along the St. Lawrence River) and the vast untamed Rupert’s Land in between. Did I want to be pretty and frilly? Or pretty and practical? (and with reference to Karyn and Jana in yesterday’s comments . . . pretty, practical and skinny?)

No matter how much I wanted to sit in a parlor sipping tea while awaiting my gentleman caller, the raw uncharted territory known as Rupert’s land appealed to me the most. But what would I do there? Fur trapper? Cartographer? Photographer? Sod breaker? None of those excited me. What I really wanted to do was be a Mountie. Not the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the earlier Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) who traveled the west catching the bad guys and keeping the peace.

The germ of an idea began to grow. Back then, all Mounties were men. What if I pretended to be a man so I could join the NWMP? It sounded good but a lot of the land was wide open prairie without a tree to hide behind and…well…men aren’t stupid when it comes to some things. So, I couldn’t pretend to be man, but I still wanted to be a Mountie. How could I do that?

I looked back at Karyn’s list of possibilies, especially where she talks about superpowers and it finally hit home…Karyn wanted me to stretch my imagination to its limit. No boundaries. Anything was possible.

So if the only thing stopping me from being a female NWMP officer was the fact that historically, they were all men, the obvious thing to do was to do away with the men and make it a corps of women. But wouldn’t that change history? Of course it would! And that’s exactly what the subgenre, Alternate History means. It’s a history which parallels the real one but is different due to some quirk. Anything can happen in alternate history. What if:
- Atlantis hadn’t disappeared
- unicorns still lived
- Hitler won the war
- the Avro Arrow survived
- John F. Kennedy hadn’t been shot
- Jesus hadn’t been born (there would be no Christmas)
- there never was a 'war between the states'

So in my Alternate History, women ruled Canada and held the positions of authority. And since the old saying is ‘there would be less wars if women ruled the world’, I decided to change the name of the Northwest Mounted Police to the Northwest Mounted Peacemakers.

Of course, the other well-known saying was the Mountie always got his man. Well, in my Alternate History, my Mountie got her man, too. *wink*

For the discussion today, I’ll give you a choice:
- Karyn’s question of yesterday (because it's such a good one): Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to play along. Be a heroine for a day. What would your choices be?
- if you had to write a piece on Alternate History, what would you choose to write about?

Heroine For A Day

I’ve decided to be my own heroine for a day. Well, more like fifteen minutes really and only in my head, unless I can manage to convince family and friends to play along. Since that seems unlikely to happen, I’m taking my fifteen minutes and running with it because over the next few days I’m about to embark on that most dreaded of activities, Back To School Shopping. Take two kids who hate shopping and add the words back to school and it equals … I don’t even think there are words to describe it.

So, I’m the heroine in the story but lucky me, I’m also the writer which means I get to choose my options.

Genre: First off I need a genre or subgenre. You know, will it be a western, a regency, a paranormal, a suspense, a fantasy, a horror or, the new to me subgenre of romantic space opera. I must live under a rock or something, why have I never heard of this?

My Ride: This is the second most important category and you can bet my pick will not be a minivan. Perhaps a tank, a Harley, a private jet, cruise liner, or an electric car. You never know, I might prefer an appaloosa, a carriage, the stagecoach or the batmobile. The sky’s the limit.

Setting: Where will I hang my hat? Small town, big city, a burrow, a lair, a villa, or a hut. Could it be a teepee, the woods, an intergalactic space station, a ranch, or a castle?

Vocation: A butcher, a baker, candlestick maker?

Weapons: I can have the skills necessary to master one weapon or many, but I must have at least one thing I rely on above all others, besides my wits. Be it knitting needles, a quill, a spatula, a bow, poison darts, or a grenade launcher.

Superpowers: I’m allowed one superpower. It’s only fair. Let me see, I may go with some aspect of Mentalism: telekinesis, ESP, telepathy, or precognition. Or maybe, something along the lines of accelerated healing, prehensile/animated hair, wallcrawling, domination and mind control, or bone manipulation. The possibilities are endless.

Okay, these are my choices. Today, or for the next quarter of an hour, I’m going back to the beginning of the tenth century, somewhere around the year 1153, because I’m pretty sure women in this period were not required to shave anything. Downside, there goes my Audi. However, the prettiest little pony that’s easy on oats and fits easily in the stables has replaced it. I sleep in a castle at night, in the warmest climate available for castle dwelling. I’m totally the herbalist/healer female everyone secretly thinks is a witch and is silently scared of but is very glad lives in the keep because I can cure the plague with a paste made from dandelion root, wild horseradish (it only grows on the side of a very steep cliff every seven years), and beer that’s been brewed under a full moon. This is of course how I meet the great big giant, sword welding, much muscled knight who rides a steed. I cured him. Of everything. Including arrogance. And toe rot. My most deadly weapon is an ancient book of ‘recipes’ passed down to me from my Grandmother, twice removed. I’m serious. It may also contain the odd magical incantation, but you didn’t hear that from me. As for a superpower, I think I’ll go with super sonic hearing. That should make it extremely difficult for man or beast to catch me unaware and sneak up on me while I’m out walking in the woods, collecting my plants and other ‘special’ ingredients. This would also allow me to overhear any evil plots to take over the castle, at which time I would have to consult The Book.

Oops, time’s up. Back to reality for me. I’m off to buy markers and glue.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to play along. Be a heroine for a day. What would your choices be?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More on the “P” word... in “P” for punctuation. And what were you thinking I meant, particularly given last Friday’s post, hmm? There’s no way I can add to that, so I’ll content myself this week with catching you up with the wisdom I’m accumulating through my daily calendar from Lynne Truss’s “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”. Earlier I took you through the first three months of this year with her; today we’ll consider what I learned about commas from April to the end of May.

Before we go on though, why punctuate at all? Well, if you consider that (according to the calendar) there was no punctuation in ancient texts, and that for a considerable period in Latin transcriptions there were no gaps between words either, then put that together with the different ways even a simple sentence can be delivered, the answer to why punctuation was developed in the first place becomes obvious (if it wasn’t already). The calendar gives the example of ‘“Comfort ye my people” (please go out and comfort my people) and: “Comfort ye, my people” (just cheer up, you lot; it might never happen)’. St. Jerome, who translated the Bible in the 4th century, introduced a system of punctuation of religious texts per cola et commata (“by phrases”), to aid accurate phrasing when reading aloud. And apparently he wasn’t the first one to be concerned with giving hints for vocalization. The earliest known punctuation is credited to Aristophanes of Byzantium (librarian at Alexandria)--around 200 BC he developed a three part system of dramatic notation advising actors when to breathe in preparation for “a long bit, or a not-so-long bit, or a relatively short bit.”

In the May 4 entry I read that one essay on the internet seriously accuses ‘John Updike, that wicked man, of bending the rules of the comma to his own ends “with fragments, comma splices, coordinate clauses without commas, ellipted coordinate clauses without commas, and more.”’ Whew! Most of that is beyond me so thank goodness the calendar didn’t even try to go there), but it did go on to comment that there are rules for commas, as for the apostrophe (covered previously), regarding two quite distinct functions: 1. To illuminate the grammar of a sentence, and 2. To point up – rather in the manner of musical notation – such literary qualities as rhythm, direction, pitch, tone and flow.

Commas set off interjections, and come before direct speech. They also fill gaps: “Annie had dark hair; Sally, fair.” Commas are used with such conjunctions as and, or, but, while and yet to join two complete sentences (I wanted to stay up, but I grew tired and fell asleep). And words that must not be used to join two sentences with a comma are “however” and “nevertheless” (with those two you either start a new sentence, or use a semicolon--who knew? Well, actually, I did–I guess some things I was taught in school stuck after all!). You use a comma in a list of adjectives where an “and” would be appropriate (It was a dark, stormy night compared to The night was dark and stormy). You do not use a comma where adjectives “do their jobs in joyful combination “ and “are not intended as a list” (e.g. it was a fluffy white dog).

Commas can come in pairs known as “bracketing commas” in that you use them to mark both ends of a weak interruption to a sentence, or a piece of “additional information”. In that case, theoretically the “interruption” could be removed without affecting the sense of the sentence. If the clause is “defining” no need to use commas; the calendar example was “The Highland Terriers that live in our street aren’t cute at all.” Where the information in the clause is “non-defining”, then surround it with commas: “The Highland Terriers, when they are barking, are a nightmare.” I got a chuckle out of the May 7 example of a “chap playing Duncan in Macbeth who listened with appropriate pity and concern while the wounded soldier in Act I gave his account of the battle, and then cheerfully called out, “Go get him, surgeons!” (It’s supposed to be “Go, get him surgeons!”) Where’s Aristophanes when you need him, eh?

You know the routine by now I’m sure–I’m off to the day job, but I’ll check in this evening for any comments you care to leave. Cheers!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Male Perspective

As a woman writer, I often wonder if I’m getting my male characters “right”. Romances are overwhelmingly written by women. Are the men in our stories too in touch with their feelings to be real? Are we representing men the way they are or the way we’d like them to be? Here are some of my thoughts about things to consider when constructing male characters.

What did you Say? Dialogue is one area where our male and female characters often differ. Women tend to be more verbal, using conversation to talk about their feelings and vent emotions. Men may feel their emotions as keenly as women, but they likely will not talk about them as much.

Vanessa Grant, in her book, “Writing Romance”, talks about a problem in one of her romance novels, “Pacific Disturbance”. In it, her male character makes a long speech to the heroine, thanking her for her work. In “Writing Romance”, Vanessa says she later regretted that speech because it was more like something a woman would say. A man would say “You’re doing a great job.” Short and sweet.

I feel, therefore I am. Most men won’t show their feelings or talk about them as much as women, no matter how strong their emotions. They will likely keep feelings bottled up inside, and often the only sign that they feel anything is through their body language. A clenched jaw or a fisted hand might be the only clue that your male character feels anger. Crossed arms may signal his annoyance and hostility. “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Allan and Barbara Pease, is a great resource for authors. It helps to decipher what gestures, facial expressions and body positions really mean.

When the alpha male does show his emotions, it’s usually a spectacular display. One of my favourite scenes of an alpha male losing control is in Suzanne Brockman’s “Breaking Point”. Max has been in love with Gina for a long time, but has pushed her away because he believes that not only is he too old for her, he’s no good for her. When Gina is reported dead, Max reacts stoically, barely showing any emotion. But when he and a fellow FBI agent go to the morgue to identify her body, they discover that the body is not Gina’s. Max is totally overcome with emotion and relief, and simply falls to his knees, all his feelings totally on display.

Are you really going to wear that? Women tend to be more conscious of their appearance then men, and women are often more critical of their own appearance then men are. Unless he’s feeling self-conscious or insecure for some reason, a man wouldn’t think very much about what he’s wearing. He would, however, notice what the heroine is wearing, especially if she looks particularly sexy. But he probably couldn’t tell her what she’s wearing. Most men, especially Alpha men, wouldn’t be familiar with different types of women’s fashion. If your hero, in his internal monologue, begins thinking about the heroines’ cornflower blue slip dress with spaghetti straps, and fitted bodice designed by Versace, it may not ring true. More likely, he’d be thinking about the short, sexy blue dress that hugged all her curves and showed off acres of creamy bare skin.

Talk dirty to me. Men think more about sex then women do. It’s probably a given that your hero is going to have one or two carnal thoughts about the heroine. Your hero will likely make up his mind quite quickly about the desirability of the heroine as a sexual partner.

A woman may express her love through words or gestures. Men tend to express their love through sex. A partner making love to him is the ultimate affirmation of love for many men.

Me Tarzan, you Jane. Men like to think of themselves as heroes, as protectors and breadwinners. If a woman comes to a man with a problem, he’ll try to “fix” it for her, even if all she really wants to do is talk. Above all, men like to be thought of as useful.

Perhaps the best way to write a good male perspective is to read works written by men. Also, you might want to ask male friends or family to read parts of your book to see if your male characters ring true.

These sweeping generalizations don’t necessarily apply to all men or all male characters. While we want to make our male characters believable, we have to keep in mind that our mostly female readership may not want “real life”, but perhaps an idealized life. Romance heroes are men as women would like them to be.

What do you do to give your male characters the ring of truth? Do you agree that the romance hero represents men the way women would like them to be?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Welcome: Stephanie Newton

Five DON’Ts of Romantic Suspense

In the dedication to Moving Target, I thank my mom, who loves romance, and my dad, who loves a good thriller, for getting me started on a path that really could lead nowhere else than romantic suspense. I love when the characters have a common goal, when the danger mounts, and every scene pushes them closer to their enemy…and closer to each other.

In reading a lot of romantic suspense, and now writing it, I’ve come up with a basic “Don’t” list. Things that I try to remember as I plan and write.


1. Let one character have more at stake. Each character’s goals should be tied to the suspense plot. Don’t give one character more to lose than another. The characters can have different reasons for getting involved—and probably do—but the emotional stakes should be high for both hero and heroine if the villain comes out ahead.

2. Let your heroine make stupid decisions. If your heroine is being stalked and goes into the basement to check out the noise she just heard and ends up in a situation where she has to be rescued, readers are going to throw the book against the wall. If the hero goes into the same scenario, he’s macho and courageous. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.

3. Give your hero and heroine a weak antagonist. Your hero and heroine are not the only ones who should have goals, motivation, and conflict. Your villain should have them, too. When you’re planning your characters, think about why the villain chooses to do what he does. It might be greed, anger, loss, or revenge motivating your bad guy. If the motivation is strong and your villain smart, it heightens the tension in every scene and ultimately makes your hero and heroine look better.

4. Forget that setting plays a crucial part in suspense. The heavy thunderstorm, the seedy bar with threatening patrons, the chattering woods that suddenly go still. Whatever your setting, you can use the details to enhance the tension—or romance.

5. Resolve the romantic conflict before the suspense conflict. This one is straight from the editors. Ultimately we’re writing romance and the last thing that happens in a romance is the happily ever after. We’re going for the big sigh, where we see that this couple who has been through so many trials has finally realized what they have and we believe that they would do anything to keep it. They’ve found each other and now they can start their forever.

Stephanie Newton wrote her first suspense story, complete with illustrations, when she was twelve. A teaching degree, a pastor husband, two kids, and six moves later, she's still writing. She lives in Northwest Florida and gains lots of inspiration from the sugar white sand, aqua blue-green water of the Gulf of Mexico and the many, many unusual things you see when you live on the beach. When she's not in her chair with her laptop, she can most often be found enjoying the water with her family, or at church, where she makes the coffee and her husband preaches the sermons.

Stephanie's debut book, Perfect Target garnered 4 1/2 stars from Romantic Times Review.

Her 2nd book, Moving Target Love Inspired Suspense, is in stores now.

Find out more at

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Heroic Phallus

Yes, you heard me right. I'm blogging on the phallus. We've had a lot of great discussions about alpha males and heroic leads here, and really, it's all the same topic isn't it?

But I suppose first some clarification is in order. I am not blogging on the penis. A penis is a body part. The phallus is a symbol, as a Valentine heart represents ideas we associate with the real heart, but does not resemble one. According to Susan Bordo, the phallus is the penis that takes one's breath away, that conveys awe and majesty. An ideal, rather than a reality, and in a culture that startles at the word 'penis' in plain conversation, the phallus must lurk beneath the surface rather than walk in broad daylight. Rather than the carved renditions of ancient Rome, it is the 2010 Ford Mustang described as "a visual representation of raw power". It is the sleek and dangerous longsword, ever-erect -- never, ever soft. And, I would argue, it is the alpha hero.

After all, what is an alpha hero? He is the superior specimen among men, commanding, masterful. The hero that takes one's breath away. He exists in every genre of romance, and although in one story he may go through a whole box of condoms at a sitting, draw the bigger gun to kill a man in another, or just kiss the heroine's hand from atop a bareback stallion, he is still an alpha, and part of being alpha is being phallic.

Long ago (March), Janet blogged on heroes, with a link to Tami Cowden's Eight Hero Archetypes. Tami describes the Chief, the quintessential alpha hero, "born to lead, ... conquered his way to the top, ... tough, decisive, goal-oriented. He's used to being in charge, so he's going to make a command decision about what to do." This is a man inspiring awe and majesty. This is a man embodying the phallic idea. A friendly boy-next-door beta hero simply doesn’t awe us the same.

I'm sure none of us would argue men (or the vast majority) prize their manhood above all else. We don't talk about it directly, so the whole man comes to represent that phallic ideal, that promise of virility. To quote Bordo, "thinking that one's penis is smaller than it should be is not really about inches but 'about how men are trained by the world to see [themselves] as not enough.'" Cowden gives each of her archetypal heroes a 'trapped in a basement with unconscious heroine and ticking bomb' scenario, and the true alpha hero, she says, cannot make mistakes, but since he's trapped... he's made a mistake, so logically, he gets angry.

In making a mistake, the alpha hero’s phallic strength has been threatened, and the hero might now be dubbed 'not enough' ... or to put it simply, flaccid. The phallic ideal is always erect, never yielding. If the alpha hero shows weakness or ineptitude, it can threaten his phallic majesty, which the author needs to restore if she wants him to stay an alpha. So what does the alpha do? He gets angry, and thus asserts himself actively (gets angry) until he regains control of the situation.

But you might be saying, "Honestly Hayley, don't you think you're reading too much into this?" Well, yes and no, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

Really though, if your sexy alpha hero is trapped in a basement with the heroine and a bomb, what do you want to see? Do you want him to be assertive, maybe even aggressive, and show us he can take charge, or do you want him to flop on that old fold-out sofa and hang his head in his hands? If you said take charge, why? Because somehow the alpha hero just isn't as attractive when he's passive rather than helping the unconscious heroine? Exactly, he's soft, flaccid, and has thus lost the awe and majesty of the phallic ideal. Even though there's nothing sexual, and certainly nothing to do with body parts in Cowden's proposed scene, the alpha hero loses a sense of his virility, which he must recover.

The phallic ideal embodies virile majesty in a non-sexual context (in a sexual context, the real thing affirms itself just fine). We see it in the big guns of cop movies (and the resulting 'noisy cricket' gag in Men in Black), or Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, who tames Donas, the untamable 'devil' stallion. Not a gelding, not a mare, Jamie Fraser has a stallion between his thighs, and don't we know it, ladies? Even in a chaste, sweetheart romance, I bet you don't see many heroes riding placid geldings. In my own work-in-progress, without even planning for it, I gave the hero a longsword, and the antagonist a knife. I don't think anyone wonder who the superior man is. Knives don't inspire awe like a sword.

But as Freud said, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," and this is true. Not every fast car, shotgun, or powerful electric razor automatically becomes phallic. Sometimes that hero is taming a horse for plot reasons. Sometimes you have to give the man a gun, because he's a police officer for heaven's sake! "The proof," says Bordo, "is in the metaphors we use to describe them." War weapons are not always extensions of the soldier's penis, but then there is this description of the explosion at Nagasaki:
"...there came shooting out of the top a giant mushroom that increased the size of the pillar to a total of 45,000 feet. The mushroom top was even more alive than the pillar, seething and boiling in a white fury of creamy foam, sizzling upward and then descending downward, a thousand geysers rolled into one."

I've read some steamy love scenes, but none have come as close to a lurid climax as this mushroom cloud. Regardless of heat level you're including in your romance, you will very likely wind up making suggestions about your hero's 'phallic' qualities. If you do it consciously, all the better.

The romance hero offers a unique type of phallic ideal, which Bordo mentions at the conclusion of her essay. Strength, majesty, and control, mixed with tenderness and mutual recognition -- romance novels celebrate the ideal phallus. Nowhere else, I think, could an alpha hero also bare his soul to the woman he loves, and still emerge a strong, unquestionably awe-inspiring figure. It is up to the author to handle this balance between the heroine’s man and the world’s man, and recognize when the phallus must assert itself. The phallus is a creature of cultural imagination, a symbol rather than a body part, and should an author choose, can be a potent tool for building an impressive alpha hero.

Quotes from: Bordo, Susan. "What is a Phallus?" The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hooks: End of Chapter

For this final segment on Hooks, I’d like to talk about the end of the first chapter. Your reader liked your first line enough to keep reading. She liked the end of the first page and kept reading. And now she’s at the end of the first chapter. Will she keep reading? Or will she shut the light off and go to bed? As a reader, how many times did you tell yourself you’d read just until the end of the chapter and then you’d shut the light off, but when you got there, something enticed you to read on? That enticement is the hook. It’s something the writer shows or hints at that puts a question in your mind. And you feel compelled to turn the page because you just want to see what will happen.

Following are some examples of good hooks:

1. Cinderella Christmas by Shelley Galloway, Harlequin American Romance:

A man waves Brooke Anne into the conference room when she pauses at the door with her cleaning cart. She tries to ignore the ‘suit’ while she cleans. Suddenly he slams down the phone, drops his head in his hands and says he needs a dance partner for the next night and his date has to know how to ballroom dance. Brooke Anne admits she knows how to waltz, rhumba, etc.

Last lines of Chapter One:
He tilted his head. Narrowed his eyes. All at once he seemed to be seeing someone behind the Jovial Janitor sweatshirt. “You may be right about that.”

The Hook: Can she pull it off? Will anyone recognize her?

2. A Soldier’s Reunion (Wings of Refuge ) by Cheryl Wyatt, Love Inspired:

A major bridge collapsed causing vehicles and people to fall into the river and leaving others stranded. Nolan, a pararescue jumper, notices a woman herding some children to safety. She looks like the high school sweetheart he abandoned years ago. He jogs up behind her and listens. It sounds like her…

Last lines of Chapter One:
“How’s it going over here?” Nolan asked.
The woman jerked at his voice. Had to be her. Only one way to be sure. Nolan spoke their secret code.

The Hook: What’s the code? Will she acknowledge him?

3. The Gunslinger’s Untamed Bride by Stacey Kayne, Harlequin Historical Western:

Businesswoman Lily is checking an employee list from her newest acquisition, a lumber camp. One name jumps out at her, that of Juniper Barns, her father’s killer. She decides to visit the lumber camp and avenge her father’s death. At the camp, someone points out the deputy. She heads into the middle of the functioning camp where she’s surrounded by working men.

Last Lines of Chapter One:
She steps around a pile of logs, seemingly unnoticed by the men milling about like work ants. Where had the deputy gone off to?
“Lady! Heads up!”
Lily turned toward the sharp call, just as something struck the side of her head. In a flash of pain and bright light, the world went dark.

The Hook: Will she remember why she’s there? Was it an accident?

4. Broken Lullaby by Pamela Tracy Love Inspired Suspense:

After 3 yrs of being on the run from her mob family, Mary and her son, Justin, are back home where she’s inherited a used car lot. The office building is dilapidated. Broken windows, sloping floors, etc. Mary whispers about making mistakes into the empty room and hears a moan.

Last lines of Chapter One:
At first, Mary thought the prone figure wrapped in an aged blanket surrounded by years of grime and neglect was dead. Then, it rolled over and sat up. Mary screamed.

The Hook: Who’s wrapped in the blanket? And why?

5. The Perfect Couple (The Last Stand) by Brenda Novak, Mira Romantic Suspense:

Tiffany is driving to a remote location to dump the body of her husband’s latest ‘pet’. She hears thumping in the trunk and realizes 14 year old ‘Rover’ is still alive. She phones hubby for instructions. Angry at being interrupted, he tells her to deal with it or else. She balks at first then remembers how much he loves her. He’s spent time and money to tattoo his name all over her body. She’ll do anything for him. (I’m thoroughly creeped out by this time.) Tiffany pulls over to the side of the road and opens the trunk. Black, blue and bloodied, ‘Rover’ pushes past her and runs away crying for help.

The last lines of Chapter One:
She had to get out of sight before Rover attracted someone’s attention. And then she had to think of a way to break the news to Colin.

The Hook: What will Colin do to her? Who are these people? Will they get caught?

All these chapter ending hooks leave questions in the minds of the reader. They don’t all end in the middle of a scene where you’ll get your answer in the first few lines of the next chapter. Some, like the Cinderella story, will develop over the course of the next day as she dresses up for the ball. Or like in The Perfect Couple where you hope they’ll get caught soon but you know they probably won’t until the end of the book. But it doesn’t matter, because you’re interested enough in the story to read the next chapter.

You need a hook at the end of every chapter. If you don’t implant more questions into the mind of your reader, they’ll probably put the book down and nod off to sleep or walk away. If you want readers to say, “I couldn’t put it down until the end,” then you need to keep them interested. Just enough to hook ‘em.

Have you ever kept reading chapter after chapter to the book’s conclusion and lost all track of time? Which authors hook you? Or do you think it’s unfair of a writer to use these tactics to keep readers interested when they should be getting a good night’s sleep?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rituals, Rites and Ceremonies

Rituals have been part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. Take the handshake, which is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand held no weapons. That’s one example of a very commonplace ritual; another one is the offering of the world ‘hello’. Rituals are practiced in a variety of places from fraternities and sororities to chapels and cathedrals. They commemorate important events like the birth of Jesus or Christmas for Christians, the Jewish holy day of Passover or the pilgrimage known as Hajji for Muslims.

Rituals are an important part of every society, past and present. They can be found in oaths of allegiance, coronations and jury trials. They can serve as reminders of the past, show respect or submission, commitment, affiliation or a parting of ways. Now, what’s this whole topic have to do with writing you ask? I don’t know much about world building but I’m guessing creating rituals, rites and ceremonies is a large part of it. It’s certainly fun, even on the impossibly small scale I’m attempting right now.

What about rites? According to Wikipedia, a rite is an established, ceremonious act that falls into three main categories: rites of passage, rites of worship and rites of personal devotion. Likely, if you’re creating a world on a grand scale you may incorporate rites of passage similar to Debutante Balls or religious initiation rites similar to Baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, Vision Quests or Walkabouts. Other rites of passage include everything from first haircuts to graduations and beyond. The writing possibilities are endless and can be as varied as your imagination.

Ceremonies can be celebrations of annual or recurrent events such as the Winter Solstice or Sunday Church Service. It can celebrate irregular occasions such as a coronation or victory in battle. It can include physical displays: dance, processions or the lying on of hands. It can include verbal declarations such as “I now pronounce you ….”

Imagine having the power to say who does what to whom, the power to declare what’s important and how it’s celebrated. The chance to dream up new holidays, reasons for parades, burial rites, new and unique rites of passage, of worship, of personal fulfillment. It a heady thought.

The sub-genre of paranormal romance is one area that allows the possibility of creating different rituals, rites and ceremonies relevant to a culture of vampires, werewolves, witches, shapeshifters, and the list goes on. The purpose of my blog post today was to get me thinking of areas and types of events and ceremonies I could mold, adapt, makeover and possibly incorporate into my story. A couple of new-to-me possibilities have arisen but I’ll have to see what the Beta Bloggers think of them before deciding whether they stay or whether they go.

I am away on holidays this week, camping in the northern part of the province, or else I’d be here looking forward to chatting with you all. If you have any tips or advice feel free to leave them in the comment section as I’ll be going through them upon return. If you’ve come up with some unique ideas and want to share, please do so. Feel free to comment on some of your favorite real life rituals, rites and ceremonies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reading Aloud in a Small Room Behind Closed Doors ...

Now, why would I want to do that? It’s not just for the peace and quiet, although that is part of it. What I am looking for is a space with some potential for echo and resonance, where I can read what I have written and really hear how it sounds. Reading aloud is often listed as one of the steps in the self-editing process. Or call it revision, re-writing, just plain editing and fixing. The importance of this aspect of writing and re-writing was reinforced for me at a recent fiction workshop I attended. It’s on my mind, so at the risk of going over old ground, I want to focus for a bit on how it can help us reach our goal of a finished manuscript.

We’ve all had a lot to say over the past months about revising: what we like, what we hate, how to do it, tips from Janet on how to strike a balance between her marvellous Muse and the Evil Editor that inevitably she must allow into the process. Most writers love to discuss, share experiences, and learn from each other. Ultimately, we all have to find out by trial and error what truly works in our own situation. I hope you will consider the value of reading aloud. I know many of you already do it when you are editing.

The connection between any work of fiction and the art of storytelling is closer than we might think. In most cultures, stories were handed down from one generation to the next without ever being written down. It makes sense then to look at how the oral traditions captivated the interest of groups of people sitting around campfires. In more recent centuries, families and friends gathered in formal drawing rooms to listen to readings from written texts. In both instances, the stories had to speak to the emotions through lively action, fascinating characters, dilemmas of plot, and a flow of narrative that was at the same time natural and dramatic.

We can test whether these conditions exist in our stories by reading them aloud, or alternatively, asking a friend with a good reading voice to read our work to us. Then we can hear how the words flow or trip up the tongue. If a sentence is difficult to read aloud, then it will surely be an impediment to the silent reader as well. Awkwardness of expression, so jarring to the ear when stumbled over in its oral presentation, will also be troubling to the reader’s eye.

Reading aloud can reveal repetition, of words and phrases, more quickly than reading with the eye alone. Unintentional changes in point of view or tenses become obvious when spoken. Actually speaking the words of dialogue that we have put into the mouths of our characters can be mortifying when we realise that nobody uses that many words to communicate thoughts and feelings. When members of writing groups share their work by reading aloud, those following the text on the written page notice that sometimes the words that are being spoken are not identical to what was written. Of course not, because what was written did not flow naturally, or was not dynamic enough, or was too convoluted and needed to be cut short. Reading aloud will reveal whatever needs to be fixed.

Another benefit of reading your own work aloud is to hear the voice as it resonates against the walls. The small room with the door closed is not just to shut out the external world, but to keep the sound of your voice contained in a limited space. This goes beyond the normal concept of “voice” in writing to include the actual sound of the narrative, the dramatic tensions, and the emotions of both dialogue and interior monologues.

Finally, imagine how useful all those reading aloud sessions in your bathroom will be in the future. You will have developed a confident reading voice for all those invitations you will receive to give readings at the public library. Practice makes perfect!

Now for a few links. There are many books, blogs and websites that offer tips and checklists on revising techniques, a few of which I will mention. You will notice that reading aloud is only one of the elements of revising you will need to master. I know some writers dread revision, but I like to look at my early drafts as chunks of ore that need polishing and refining. I enjoy the process of self-editing my work to fully reveal the sparkling qualities of the gem that I hope lies at the core.

I have not read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Harper Collins, 1993, but I found it referenced while I searched for resources. Sounds useful.

Lillie Ammon provides seventeen tips for self-editing, and notes that six of them call for setting the work aside for a time to allow for a fresh perspective each time you go back to revise or proofread yet one more time. Reading aloud is one of the edits she recommends.

For a brief list of ways to clean up your prose, including reading aloud, look at this one.

So, once more the call goes out to the faithful readers of this blog. Do you read your own work aloud? To yourself for self-editing, or do you participate in a writers' group that uses this practice for critiquing each other's work? Have you discovered something unique of any sort that would be helpful to others in the revising process?