Monday, May 31, 2010

Frustration Reigns on the Prairie ...

... partly because, but not only because, it has RAINED (even SNOWED) in the past ten days! And not just measly little showers. The weather gods have poured and dumped on us. A lot!!! For our American neighbours who are celebrating the long Memorial Day weekend, let me tell you that last weekend, the Canadian Victoria Day long weekend, was cold and miserable. I hope yours is better.

The subheading below our Prairie Chicks banner warns all comers that they might read about thoughts, ideas, jubilations -- all those good and thoughtful avenues that we hope will lead to the fulfilment of our dreams. Notice that the word frustrations is also there. I'm sure everyone has a hefty tale of frustration to tell. I'm not about to launch a contest for the most frustrating circumstance, but perhaps a little venting won't do us any harm. Some of those threads of frustration might lead us into more positive scenarios that will be less nightmarish.

First to get the weather issue done with -- it is the everlasting Canadian theme, after all. Never mind if the campers were sent home early last weekend. So what if our moods take a dive when it's cloudy, day in and day out, and the temperature has plunged so that it is too cold to put the new, fragile plants into their summer beds. The grass in the yard is waving at me, daring me to try to mow between rain and gusts of wind. Surely this slow-moving low pressure system will soon move on.

One would think it would be an ideal time to hunker down and write, write, write. Ah, but therein lies part of the problem. The weather isn't what the calendar tells us it should be, so everything is out of kilter. Including the writing regime. Look at me. I sit, eyes glazed over, watching television that nobody would want to watch. The season and series finales have come and gone. Reruns, only reruns in our 600-channel universe. And playoffs! Well, that would be a bright spot, if only I had more players left in my pool.

Not nice to be outside, nothing I can set my mind to indoors. What's a person to do? Well, I do have a blogpost to write. Another frustrating wall just reared up in front of me. Blank screen, cursor blinking. I do have several works-in-progress I could use as springboards for "thoughts" or "ideas." In fact, because both my novels (as well as a short story that's begging to be finished) are very dependent on place and time, I was about to write about setting. However, there was no way I could improve on the excellent posts that Connie and Janet have done in the past. Click on the label Setting on the left for three previous posts.

I almost got beyond frustration as I re-read their thoughts on the importance of setting, checked out the links, and delved into the book I borrowed from Connie. I think I'm on the right track, because I have already taken a hard look at the novel I'm working on. Setting is so important that part of the revision I have already started involves lifting my story out of its current time period and moving it back several decades. Conflict and misunderstandings have arisen from communication issues that are important to the plot, but would not be credible in the era of cell phones and email. However, they fit perfectly into the fifties when people used telephones for emergencies, but for little else!

You see where I'm going with this frustration thing. By the time I have finished whining, I may have a post almost written. If I'm successful or have a bit of luck, the sun may be shining the next time I raise my head from my pillow.

Frustrating moments are not totally depressing. I don't think that's an oxymoron. Sometimes they motivate me to go looking for something else that beckons from the future; perhaps an event will present itself in that quest for a better day. Aha, summer is the time for festivals. And programs for conferences in the fall are being announced at this very moment.

I love writers' festivals where I can listen to and talk with writers I have read and admired, or others whom I've never met before but I know I'll be a fan forever after the event. I will be attending two this summer. One is The Festival of Words right here on the Prairie, which I attend every year. In August I am also heading out to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia for what will be a fabulous treat, both in terms of the writers who will be there and the setting. (That magical word again. It holds a lot of power in real life, too.) Even if I am in a writing slump during this spell of miserable weather, looking forward to surrounding myself with some of my favourite authors helps me see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The other major event I'm looking forward to is way down the road, but registration opens this week for the Surrey International Writers' Conference. Some of the Chicks and other writer friends from the SRW went last year in October. A few repeats are holding up their hands, and some who couldn't make it last year are about to take the plunge. I am on the verge of deciding to go again. It was an amazing experience. Now if that doesn't get me motivated to have at least one manuscript ready to pitch to an editor or agent, I don't know what will. And the prospect of rubbing shoulders with prominent authors and sitting at their feet (at least in the same room), while they generously talk about the art of writing, offer advice on markets, and generally make all of us feel that anything is possible, whether we are already published or are still seeking that first golden moment ... well, it's inspiring and breathtaking!

Come to think of it, I am grateful that I could spend some time on the websites of all the various festivals and conferences that take place annually across the country. If I had been out pushing a lawnmower or planting my garden, maybe I would have been too tired!

Perhaps frustration has been underrated as a motivator. If I grind to a halt with one endeavour, good old Freddie Frustration shoves me in another direction. Change up the settings, don't always rely on the default. There are many paths on the way to achieving dreams. I must remember not to get discouraged over the bumps in the road, but look for detours that will take me somewhere exciting and different. Even the research leaves me eager to get on with the revisions and the new writing. Now ... to plan what to do when I spend a weekend writing retreat in June. That always recharges my batteries, too.

Without dwelling too much on the frustrating side of things, how do you pull yourself out of the doldrums? Do you have some exciting summer (writerly) plans? Any conferences or festivals that are in your regular routine or that will be a new adventure on the horizon for you this year? Please share. That's what our blog is all about.

Vickie McDonough's Book Winner

Honorary Prairie Chick Vickie McDonough has picked a winner from her Sat post...


Congrats, Liz. Check the comments for more info.

And thank you Vickie, for spending part of your Memorial weekend at Prairie Chicks.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Welcome Vickie McDonough

Developing Characters Using Archetypes
By Vickie McDonough

I’ve often been asked how I create the characters in my books and generally respond, “That’s a tough question.”

It is tough, because like a baby in a womb, a character will start as a tiny idea, then grow and develop as I spend more time thinking about him or her. They sometimes develop because of the plot. Say my character is a marshal—this is probably a good time to mention I write mostly historicals. A marshal is brave, tough, not afraid to put his life on the line, so it’s safe to assume he’s probably an Alpha male. Tall, strong, self-reliant, and a protector of the innocent. Can you imagine a Beta male as a marshal? Think computer geek with a gun. It reminds me of that old Don Knotts’ movie called The Shakiest Gun in the West. :)

I’m not saying you couldn’t have a Beta male as a marshal, but that would be a whole different type of story, probably about a man learning to conquer his fears to protect the people he cares for.

Some writers use character sheets with long list of questions to develop their characters, while others use tests like the Myers-Briggs or The Four Temperaments. What I’ve found that works best for me is a book called The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.

The word "archetype" was coined by Carl Jung, who theorized that humans have a collective unconscious, "deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity.... a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas...." This shared memory of experiences has resulted in a resonance of the concepts of hero and heroine that transcends time, place and culture. Jung called these recurring personalities archetypes, from the Greek word archetypos, meaning “first of its kind.”

Author Tami Cowden states, “These archetypes are not the inventions of my coauthors and me – they have existed for millennia. All we did was name and describe them, and then gather examples from an assortment of cultural media."

 Heroes and Heroines promotes that there are 8 male and 8 female archetypes.

  • The Chief
  • The Bad Boy
  • The Best Friend
  • The Charmer
  • The Lost Soul
  • The Professor
  • The Swashbuckler
  • The Warrior

The book gives a complete description of each archetype, including their strengths and weaknesses, which I’ve found extremely helpful in developing 3-D characters. The Warrior is an archetype I’ve used in several books, such as Luke Davis in The Anonymous Bride. Here’s a brief description of...

The WARRIOR: a noble champion, he acts with honor. This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He's noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under the rules and he doesn’t go along just to get along. Think Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

You can see how this type of archetype would work well for a marshal, a determined rancher, or detective.

  • The Boss
  • The Seductress
  • The Spunky Kid
  • The Waif
  • The Free Spirit
  • The Librarian
  • The Crusader
  • The Nurturer

An archetype I often use for a heroine—think of Jack (Jacqueline) in The Anonymous Bride—is The Spunky Kid. (For those of you who’ve read my book and are saying, Jack’s not the heroine—just wait until the third book comes out)

The SPUNKY KID: gutsy and true, she is loyal to the end. She is a favorite of many writers, and for good reason. You can’t help but root for her. She’s the girl with moxie. She’s not looking to be at the top of the heap; she just wants to be in her own little niche. She’s the team player, the one who is always ready to lend a hand. Think Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Mary Tyler Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, Fiona in Shrek.

So, after I’ve thought about my character some and what they will be going through during the storyline, their character begins to take shape. By then, I know which archetype they are and can use the book to help me develop them further.

Another aspect of Heroes and Heroines is that it shows you toward the end of the book how the different male and female archetypes will clash and mesh. This is fabulous info! Let me show you how I used this to plot in a book I haven’t yet sold. It’s called Gabriel’s Atonement.

Gabriel is a gambler, and he’s a Chief archetype. He’s knows what he wants and goes after it. He’s decisive and can read people well. On the negative side, he’s stubborn, usually unsympathetic, and has learned to get what he wants by using the System rather than being a rule-breaker. He is well-liked among his peers, but doesn’t have a close friend. If challenged, he tends to be amused rather than angered.

Enter Leah, my heroine, who is—no surprise here—a Spunky Kid. She’s a single mother with a young child, a rebellious teen sister, and a grandfather who is ailing to care for. She is reliable and supportive of others and never looks for a handout. Her gutsy perseverance makes up for her lack of experience.

So…Gabriel has accidently killed Leah’s husband, and when he discovers the dead man has a wife and young son, he seeks to return the money he fairly won from the man. Leah doesn’t believe her no-account husband had any money and refuses Gabe’s help. He’s determined to help her whether she wants him to or not. Enter conflict.

He believes his work (gambling) is important, where she believes in God and family. But, when the chips are down, The Chief and Spunky Kid are there for each other. He realizes she is someone he can depend on, while she discovers he’s a man who follows through when others don’t. A grudging respect develops. He learns she can’t be bullied into doing anything she doesn’t feel is right, while her positive outlook on life and her humor bring laughter into his world for the first time in a long while.

I could go on, but I hope I’ve shown you how Heroes and Heroines can help you develop your characters. This isn’t the only book out there that writers find helpful, but it is the one I’ve used the most.

The key is knowing why your characters do what they do. What motivates them? Tami Cowden states, “Any archetype can do anything – the question will always be why.”

For a little fun, which archetype do you think these commonly known movie characters are?

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz
Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone

Vickie would will be picking one name out of those comments leaving an email address (U.S. and Canada only). The winner will have the choice of one book on Vickie’s website.

Second Chance Brides, Book 2 in the Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, releases Sept. 1st.
Vickie McDonough is an award-winning inspirational romance author with 18 novels and novellas published. The Anonymous Bride, Book One in her debut trade fiction series the Texas Boardinghouse Brides, released in April. Vickie was recently voted 3rd Favorite Author in Heartsong Present’s annual readers’ contest, and her book, Outlaw Heart, placed 2nd in the Favorite Historical Romance category. Vickie is currently the ACFW treasurer, and a founding member of WIN, an ACFW chapter in Tulsa , OK . She is a member of RWA, CAN, Women Writing the West, and OWFI. She is a wife of thirty-four years, mother of four grown sons, and grandma to a feisty four-year-old girl.

To learn more about Vickie’s books, visit her website: Vickie is a regular contributor at She’s also a Facebook and Twitter member, although she’s not too active on either.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Do You Have What It Takes to Hook a Reader?

We’ve talked on this blog many times about that all-important first page - the one that will hook an agent or publisher and have her begging for more. Yes, a query is your foot in the door, but as I do my researching for the next batch of agents I would love to represent me, I’m noticing more and more are asking to see pages with that query (pasted into the body of the query, people – don’t attach it for goodness sakes). The standard seems to be five pages, but from all I’ve read and heard (at conference) if that first page doesn’t stand up, the agent’s not going to read any more.

So, let’s have fun today and make this an interactive blogpost! First, I’ll highlight the important information you should think about having on that first page. The items that clue your reader into the story they are about to read.

1. Setting! Is it evident? Does your reader (in this case, Ms. Agent or Ms. Publisher) get a clue as to where this story is set?

2. Genre! Have you included clues within your setting information that allows the reader to understand they are reading the beginning of a Science Fiction novel? Or a medieval romance?

3. Main Characters! Introduce them, please. Or allude to them. Notice I said ‘main’, not the whole company. And make them interesting to your reader right from the get-go.

4. Plot or Theme! There has to be something for the reader to be interested in – and an idea of where the story is going. Now, Bob Mayer in The Novel Writer’s Toolkit suggests you either have plot/theme or main character – you don’t need both. But you do want to hook the reader, so a hint of what’s to come might just get that reader to turn the page (request more).

Easy as pie! And there are the ingredients. So, onto the second part of the post. A little critique session here on The Prairies. In the comment section, if you care to play along, post your first page (in manuscript form, a first page is only 16 lines, around 175 words, but for this exercise you can post a full page, 250 words). I know a lot of us are working on re-writes and revisions; so this might be a great opportunity to throw that first page out there and see how it stands.

Readers – your job is to comment on whether or not the writer has covered her bases. In other words – DID IT HOOK YOU? We’re not looking for a full critique, only whether or not you would turn that page if you were given a book with that first page.

And because I’m struggling with the beginning of Lady Bells, I turn to that again (sorry – getting tired of hearing about it, yet?).


If not for the tiny bells sewn to the end of her girdle ties jangling and tinkling with every determined stride, Willamena Ffenwyck would have taken the group of men gathered in the inner bailey by surprise. Instead, they turned to face her. Then stepped out of her way when it was evident she was not stopping. Not until she stood toe to toe with her brother.

"I thought you told me he was nothing like Lord Lecherous."

"And ‘tis good to see you, my sister." Robert gripped her elbow and led her away from the men. "And a little respect for our dear stepfather, please."

Willamena yanked her arm away, then jabbed her finger into Robert’s mail clad chest. "You gave me your word you would find someone decent."

"You have yet to meet him, but you judge him indecent? What gossip have you been listening to? Or better yet, where were you hidden and what did you overhear?"

She glanced down, but could muster no false shame. She lifted her chin. "He speaks of a serving wench he met last summer. He asks of her whereabouts, not mine. I will not marry a man who negotiates a covenant in one breath, then attempts to kiss a stranger in the next."

She spun on her heel, but failed to take a step as Robert’s hand grasped her shoulder. "Kiss what stranger?"

"Me. He tried to kiss me."


I’d love for you to play along, People of Blogland. Your first 250 words in the comment section – and we’ll comment! And don’t forget to come back and check out other snippets – I know I learn a lot from reading other people’s writing, including how to work that first page.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

This Sat Welcome Vickie McDonough

The Anonymous Bride is one of the most refreshing books I've read in a long time and this Sat, we welcome author Vickie McDonough to Prairie Chicks.

Vickie McDonough is an award-winning inspirational romance author with 18 novels and novellas published. The Anonymous Bride, Book One in her debut trade fiction series the Texas Boardinghouse Brides, released in April. Vickie was recently voted 3rd Favorite Author in Heartsong Present’s annual readers’ contest, and her book, Outlaw Heart, placed 2nd in the Favorite Historical Romance category. Vickie is currently the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) treasurer, and a founding member of WIN, an ACFW chapter in Tulsa, OK. She is a member of RWA, CAN, Women Writing the West, and OWFI. She is a wife of thirty-four years, mother of four grown sons, and grandma to a feisty four-year-old girl.

Vickie will be picking one name (U.S. and Canada only) from comments left on Sat, May 29 until midnight. Please include your email address if you'd like to be in on the drawing. The winner will have the choice of one book on Vickie’s website.

To learn more about Vickie’s books, visit her website:  

Vickie is a regular contributor at 
She’s also a Facebook and Twitter member, although she’s not too active on either.

Where Would You Look?

Twice in the last week someone has emailed requesting links to resources. Since I needed to write a post anyway, I decided to write it on resources I use in case there's anyone else who may need them.

As most of you know, I write historicals so many of my links have to do with daily life in the late 19th century. These include:
- clothing
- food

Horses play a predominant role in many of my stories and I’ve found the simplest answers can often be found using 4H websites geared to youngsters. For example, the University of Alberta  has an online 4-H Horse Reference Manual with answers to almost every aspect of caring for a horse. It includes breeds and colors of horses as well as equipment and tack. If you need specific information like how fast a horse can travel in a day, you can check in with western writer and literary agent, Terry Burns who has an excellent article on his website entitled, ‘How Fast Could They Travel’. For vet care, there are sites like  which covers topics, articles and discussions on horses.

Another invaluable tool I’ve discovered is Yahoo Groups. There are thousands of groups for almost any subject. When we owned goats, I belonged to groups for veterinary care, goat breeding, dairy goats and show goats. There are over 18,000 groups to do with horses. Mind you, some are for horse farms with horses for sale, but that’s only a small part of them. I did a quick search on numismatics because it’s of interest to me and found 94 groups. Anyone need to know about medieval coins? There’s a group for it. What about you fantasy writers… I typed that in the search box and it came back with 843 groups. And yes, there is even a group to discuss the price of tea in china.

While writing Emma’s Outlaw, I realized I needed to talk to someone with knowledge of letterpress printing equipment similar to those used by small newspaper offices throughout the west in the latter part of the 19th century. Naturally, I searched the yahoo groups. After reviewing all the choices, I decided to join PPLetterpress. In the spot where it asks why I want to join, I told them about writing Emma’s Outlaw and how I needed information on Letterpress equipment. Accepted into the group, my introductory email laid out exactly what my story was about and what kind of information I needed. The responses started coming in almost immediately. Oh my. I loved the interest it generated as half the emails wanted to know more about Emma and offered printing career suggestions for her. Several people emailed me privately with detailed information and offered to stand by in case I had further questions. Joining this one group was one of the smartest research moves I’ve ever made. And best of all, it was easy and free.

eHarlequin has a new thread called Medication Station where you can go for medical help from other writers. It started as help for prescription ideas but I see other medical questions appearing. Writers with medical experience can at least guide you in the right direction if they can’t help you themself. You’ll have to become a member of the  first but there are so many valuable threads under the Write Stuff forum, it’ll be worth it.

If I need ideas for my western heroines, a visit to the Legends of America site soon sparks my imagination. This list shows American women in all walks of life including bandits, gamblers, painted ladies, pioneers, physicians and real-life heroines.

What are your favourite research sites?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where do ideas come from?

Whenever I read author blogs or FAQ’s the one question that always appears is: Where do you get your ideas?

Since my problem isn’t one of finding ideas, but of sticking with one and seeing it through to the (bitter) end, I immediately skim over the question. Invariably, I return to it later in the day because I will never have enough ideas. Besides, like everyone else, I am interested in hearing how that particular idea occurred to that particular author to make that particular best seller.

If it were just a matter of coming up with a great idea and writing it, we’d be out of a job. Fortunately/unfortunately, writing is not that simple. We don’t just need ideas at the beginning of a novel. Great ideas should consistently appear throughout the entire story because that’s what makes the story appealing to readers…the continuing conflict and the character’s struggle to over come that conflict in order to achieve her goals. So while I may have a firm grasp on what the story I'm writing is going to be about, I am constantly thinking about how the story will unfold—how the primary characters will act, the decisions they could/should/will make, how secondary characters and their actions will contribute in an interesting way, etc.

I have never heard any author admit that she sat staring at her computer screen for a week and then was suddenly and magically inspired with the million dollar idea. So forget about waiting for inspiration to hit (or for the illusive muse to knock on your door), go out and find it.

Since ideas—even those that appear to have no realistic basis—usually have a basis in reality, here are 5 great ways to become inspired by reality (in no particular order):

1. EAT OUT – If sitting in front of the computer all day wasn’t cause enough for calories to glue themselves to your waistline (especially if you are like me and your computer desk is right next to the pantry), here is another way. Have dinner out. Go to a place you don’t usually frequent; situate yourself where you can see what is going on around you. I’ve found that people tend to be themselves when they are out with friends, especially if food and wine are involved. Enjoy the fact that you don’t have to cook or do the dishes and call it research! (Oh and don’t forget to jot a few notes down.)

2. TAKE THE BUS – Public transportation is rife with interesting characters and there is no better place or time (since you aren’t driving) to unobtrusively observe them. If you are from Regina and you ride the bus, you’ve probably encountered the elderly woman who wears her blue eye-shadow all the way to her hairline. Why? Who knows…but just thinking about the why can get the creative juices flowing.

3. READ NON-FICTION – You’ve heard the adage “stranger than fiction” right? Newspapers. Psychology text books. Self help books. Personal blogs. True stories. Instructional books on writing—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped reading a How to Write… book at page 11 because I was smacked in the head with an idea I just had to put on paper. The more you read, the more likely the story ideas will be chasing you down.

4. LISTEN TO MUSIC – Stephanie Meyer actually posts playlists on her website—the music she listened to while writing the novels in the Twilight series. Every time I hear the song Paralyzer by Finger Eleven this character pops into my head. I don’t know what his story is yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it come out eventually. In this case, it was the music not the lyrics that inspired him (or me to create him).

5. DRIVE ALONE – Sometimes it is good old fashioned silence that inspires me. I was ready to pull my hair out with on particular story when I decided to drive two and a half hours to visit my parents. I talked to myself the entire way, verbally mapping out where the story could go. My parents thought it was strange that I was nearly hoarse when I got there but I was happy to have the plot issues resolved.

Bloggers and fellow writers, what inspires your writing?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

June 1st Q&A with NYT Bestseller Jacqueline Carey

On June 1st, visit Eventide Unmasked for an in-depth Q&A with bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey on her writing process, rich world-building, and trusting your gut! Her new release, Naamah's Curse, hits stores in June, and the first in the trilogy, Naamah's Kiss, comes out in paperback today, May 25th.

Jacqueline Carey is the author of the critically acclaimed Kushiel's Legacy series of historical fantasy novels, as well as The Sundering epic fantasy duology, and the distopian Santa Olivia. Her works feature rich characters, deep alternate history world-building, and a seamless blend of fantasy and high sensuality.

I've also teamed up with the multi-talented Angela Sasser, who also maintains the Night's Doorstep art group inspired by many of Jacqueline's books, and we'll be giving away a copy of Naamah's Kiss along with a custom-made bookmark inspired by the novels!

Read the first chapter of Naamah's Kiss
Read an excerpt of Naamah's Curse

If you haven't yet cracked into Jacqueline's latest trilogy, or you're new to her works in general, now is your chance! Be sure to stop by June 1st and comment for your chance to win!

Crutch Words

I'll return to world-building shortly, but this week I've reclaimed the momentum lost in a very sticky scene that needed to be sorted out, and I confess I'd rather take a good few hours of the night writing my characters into worse trouble within the world of their story than composing a lengthy and detailed post on the building of such worlds.

Instead I'd rather talk writing, and one of the smallest -- and biggest -- problems I encountered in said sticky scene. Crutch words.

We all have them, we all use them, we pray we'll catch them all before submission or publication. It's fine and dandy to say "Don't overuse that word" or "Avoid relationals, be precise" but if we're leaning on crutch words, it can be tough to figure out how to get off the damn things. Even worse, a writer can wind up pushing off one crutch word and stumbling right onto another one.

Crutch words, if you don't even realize you're leaning on them, are noticeable words (or phrases) used over and over again throughout a story. Some readers may not notice them, but others may start picking them out, bracing for them, counting them, or ultimately chucking said book across the room. Crutch words are lazy writing, and nine times out of ten act as telling rather than showing. The tenth time, they're an example of showing that was so brilliant, the author kept using the exact same brilliant phrase over and over. I call these Special Snowflake crutches (you know, because each snowflake is beautiful and unique... until you use it every third page).

Some common crutches and their problems:

Relational words: just, almost, really, nearly, barely; also big, little, small, large, near, far
The problem: These words take the wind out of a sentence. The same as a single verb with a razor edge lacerates a flabby adverb and a weak verb any day, these little relational words destroy the energy of a scene. Did your character 'just' reach the door, or did he reach it? Is she almost a foot away from him, or is she a foot away? A little pile could be the size of a shoe or the size of a child, and only works in relation to something else, so just tell us how big it is.

Time: fraction, moment, instant, while, etc
The problem: These are filler, and nefariously subtle forms of telling. You're telling us time passes rather than letting us feel it for ourselves. Don't give us "For a while she said nothing, and then..." Instead give us "She picked at her nail polish, flakes of 'Strawberry Daiquiri' flying onto the fresh-wiped table. They clung to the wood and her fingers. She sighed, dusted them off, and said..."

Movement: passed, turned, moved, etc
The problem: Again, weak words, but moreso these words are wasted directional cues. Keep telling me your characters are turning before every action ("He turned and said," "She turned to him and smiled," "I turned back to the fire,") and I'm going to start picturing them rotating on the spot like some bad special effect from a vampire movie. Movement gets implied in many actions, and if you need to specify the movement, try stronger words such as whirled, dashed, or spun. If the scene doesn't call for strong movement, you can probably ignore the rotating character. Does it really matter if every reader pictures precisely the same positions you picture your characters in?

Expressions: grin, smile, laugh, smirk, etc; also facial 'expressions' such as sardonic, wry, and the always-vague 'dark look'
The problem: These words can mean so many things, but which one do you mean specifically? Is your character grinning out of happiness, mirth, joy, malevolence? Smirking is even worse, as a smirk always implies a contradiction in emotion: non-sincere positive mixed with something negative, but it could be sarcasm, it could be cruelty, it could be arrogance, it could be wry amusement. Which is it? I don't know, you just said he smirked. The second batch do the opposite, telling you the emotion rather than showing it. What on earth is that 'dark look' every angsty hero and his dog seems to level on people? Do you picture a wry expression the same way I do?

The exercises:

Last post's writing exercise met with great participation, so I thought we'd try the same again this week. Challenge your writer's brain to think outside the box:

1] Lose the crutch: Share your crutch words, and take a look at the crutch words others have listed. Let's pool our resources and try to workshop as many crutch words as we can into other viable options for use in sentences!

2] One man's trash: Those of you who delight in being contrary, take a look at the crutches, or others you can think of, and see what sort of situations you can come up with where the crutch word is actually the best choice.

I'll start (but you don't need to do both).

1] One of my most noticeable crutch words is 'smirk,' which I love to death for my male lead. It really isn't useful, though, and I try to offer variations. Instead, I wound up with Special Snowflake, "the corner of his mouth quirked," or alterations on the same. My alternative for myself: I try to decide what emotion I'm conveying, rather than the default physical reaction, and find new ways to show it. The Bookshelf Muse's emotion thesaurus is excellent for exploring alternatives. Check out the sarcasm/verbal disrespect entry here.

2] When crutches are appropriate? Voice. Some parts of a paragraph are narrative, other parts are very much the character, and a remark like "My heart nearly leapt out my throat" can reflect the tone of the character, such as wry sarcasm. Expression crutches can also be appropriate when the POV character can't tell another character's mood, only the response (such as an ambiguous grin), but that ambiguity should be present in the narrative to convey the same uncertainty to the reader. This is also a style consideration as well (think Hemingway or McCarthy).

Your turn! Which exercise will you choose?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Fiction Writers Should Write Non-Fiction

Several years ago I wrote some articles for regional magazines here in Western Canada. I really enjoyed the experience. Although I found interviewing to be a somewhat daunting experience, it was also very rewarding; I never failed to learn something new and fascinating.

Unfortunately, life interrupted my career as a budding magazine writer. The needs of my then young daughters, the demands of my day job, and an eventual move to a new province, meant that I had to put writing magazine articles on the back burner.

Not long ago I ran across a class at Writer U, ( )where I often take on-line classes, called Magazine Writing for Fiction Writers. Julie Rowe was our instructor and she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, as both a fiction and non-fiction writer. Here are some of Julie’s reasons for fiction writers to write non-fiction:

1. You can actually earn money from your writing! As an e-published writer of fiction, I’m not exactly rolling in the dough, so a little extra income would be nice. With over 5,000 magazines published in North America, there are plenty of opportunities to be published and paid, even if you’ve never written non-fiction before. Julie says: “Magazines buy from new writers. Editors are always looking for good ideas and they can't come up with them all by themselves. A new writer means new ideas told from a new angle.”

Julie also encouraged us to query the big magazines that pay the best rates. “A lot of people make a BIG mistake at this point - they start at the bottom with magazines that pay little or nothing thinking none of the high paying, popular magazines will buy from a new writer. WRONG! A good idea or article is a good idea or article. Period. If it's written well who cares if you've been published before. Previous writing credits can help, but the sale is in the idea, the presentation and the writing.”

2. You don’t have to be an expert to write for a magazine. You just need curiosity and the ability to research. And if you’re a fiction writer you’ve already become very good at ferreting out information. In some cases you may be able to use research from your fiction writing to come up with ideas for magazine articles. Or maybe you can use something you’ve researched for an article in your novel. For instance, if I’m writing an article on propagating house plants, maybe I can make one of my characters in my novel a gardener and give her actions the air of authenticity.

3. You don’t have to limit yourself to writing about just one subject. You can write about anything your curious mind is eager to learn about.

4. Writing freelance teaches you good writing and work habits for your other writing. To have articles published (and to earn money) you must continually send out queries. This forces you to work consistently and teaches you perseverance. Julie says it is also important to keep track of all your queries and their results, organization skills that are helpful in other areas of writing. Since articles are sold on the strength of your query, magazine writing will teach you the necessity of revision. Julie revises her queries 6 to 10 times before sending them out.

5. Magazine writing will also teach you how to work with an editor, and how to deal with deadlines.

6. Having published articles under your belt will help you build writing credentials. When you query editors of fiction, you can confidently state that you are a published writer. I also found that being a published magazine writer helped to build my confidence. If I could be published in non-fiction, why not in fiction?

7. Cross promoting - Julie Rowe says: "Include your pen name for fiction in your byline – Suzie Q. Anderson (writing romance as Judy Snow or AKA Judy Snow). The other way is to develop networks and writing relationships with your real name in magazines. Then, when your novel is due to come out, approach the editors you've been working with and ask if their magazine would be interested in publishing a short excerpt of your novel in their magazine under your pen name. Good Housekeeping and many other magazines do this. You could also write short stories for a variety of magazines under your pen name, thus enlarging your audience for your novels."

8. Validation! Now when your friends and family ask when you’re going to be published, you can proudly tell them the date your next article will appear, and show them the finished product. Julie says her husband didn’t take her writing career too seriously until she received her first cheque from a magazine. After my articles appeared in print, several of my relatives commented on how much they enjoyed them. I knew that for the first time they actually saw me as a “writer”. And to be honest, it was the first time I thought of myself that way too!

Magazine writing takes organization, persistence and effort, but the results can take you from unpublished to published writer. As a writer of fiction, you may already possess some of the skills needed to write articles: research capability, organization skills, determination, work ethic, and a curious mind.

Have you ever considered writing articles for magazines, either in print or on-line? Do you think writing non-fiction would contribute to your fiction?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Tory Richards

It Feels Good Coming Out of the Closet…

I was young when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I loved fairytales, and the whole happily ever after thing. I was naïve enough to believe that’s how life was. So I began penning short love stories on notebook paper. Spending hours in my bedroom writing, when my parents thought I was doing home work.

I’ll never forget the day I told them what I wanted to be when I grew up. Their laughter was a crushing blow I doubt they ever truly realized. I immediately began to think that there was something wrong with being a writer. I was sorry I’d told them. I curled up inside, and from that day forward kept it a secret. I became a closet writer.

So it was with some surprise that I received the requested type writer for my 13th Christmas. It was a manual because word processors and computers hadn’t been invented yet, to my knowledge anyway. I still have unfinished manuscripts, the paper yellow and thin with age, that were typed on that typewriter. And back then I’d typed on both sides to save paper. Eventually I graduated to an electric typewriter, and finally my first computer when I was a ripe old forty something.

The words of those old stories are almost impossible to read today, but I swear some day I’ll put them on the computer and do something with them. One is a historical that is 400 pages!

There were years that I didn’t type a word because life got busy. But the thought of writing was always in the back of my mind, and I never gave up on my dream. I was able to get serious about it again a few years ago. I found the guts to tell my daughter and niece the truth. Mainly because my niece told me one day that she wrote stories. They convinced me to let them read some of my stuff, and encouraged me to pursue my dreams and submit to a publisher. I finally found encouragement after a lifetime of being a closet writer.

It felt so good coming out. And two months after submitting my first manuscript to Whiskey Creek Press I had a contract offer for my book. It was on the publisher’s best sellers list for two consecutive months! What a confidence booster that was, which brings me to my latest release. Talk Dirty to Me comes out with Ellora’s Cave on May 24th, and is my first erotic romance with them. If you like short, hot reads then you’ll love the sizzling story of Blake and Lilly.

Blurb –
Lilly has been in love with her brother’s best friend Blake for years. She lost her virginity to the oil driller on her eighteenth birthday, only to wake the next morning to find him gone. After he pulled that stunt twice more, she swore never to see or talk to him again. But now he’s back for her brother’s wedding, and he’s as sexy as she remembers.

Blake thinks Lilly’s even sexier than ever. Unable to resist one another, they don’t make it out of the airport parking lot before taking up where they left off. As the two rediscover their passion for each other, nothing and nowhere is off limits!

Ellora’s Cave link:
Author website:

One lucky commenter will be randomly chosen to receive a download of TALK DIRTY TO ME! Winner will be announced on my blog one week from the posting date of this article.

A little about Tory Richards…

Tory is a multi-published, best selling author who lives in Florida with her soul mate and three crazy cats. She likes to travel, preferably by cruise ship, and doesn’t like to fly but will if she has to. She collects antiques and art. Loves chocolate, who doesn’t? And good coffee.

Tory has wanted to be a writer since she was a kid, only life got in the way of her dreams. A few years ago, with the support and encouragement of her family, she decided to get serious. Her romances are laced with humor, suspense and sizzling sex.

Talk Dirty to Me is Tory’s first erotic romance with Ellora’s Cave and she vows it won’t be her last!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Summer Contests...

There’s a lot of buzz around the Internet right now about contests. And what better way to kick start the summer writing (or perhaps lack of it) than to send off some entries and sit back and enjoy the cool summer breeze, the gardening, the wine spritzers on the patio (my preferred way to spend the hot summer days). You’re still technically involved in your writing. And when the results roll in you’ll be ready to buckle down in the fall when kids go back to school, the sun retires earlier and earlier, and the nights end up being too cold for wine spritzers on the patio (but not too cold for say a Blueberry Tea).

So, here’s some links to contests taking place over the summer months -

Northwest Houston Romance Writers Lone Star Writing Contest ~ Deadline for the early bird entries ($5 off the entry fee) is May 23rd – contest closes June 6th. First round judges include two published authors and one unpublished; top three entries in all categories go to both an editor and an agent for final judging. Check out the fabulous list of final round judges – and get your entries in ASAP to save a little bit of money.

Having issues with your opening scene (*raises hand*), here’s the Emerald City Opener ~ Deadline is June 1st (electronic entries, no worries). Again, final round judges include editors and agents, but how’s this for an added incentive – finalists will receive a private appointment with an editor or agent at the Emerald City Writer’s Conference in October!

Really need to know if the first 5 pages (a standard request in submitting to agents with the initial query) hooks the reader? How about this contest: The Southern Loisiana Romance Writers sponsor this one and only ask you send the first 5 pages and a one page synopsis. Again, great judges in the final rounds. And with this contest, you don’t need to be a member of the RWA to enter!

The Toronto Romance Writers sponsor another great contest: Not only do all entries receive a comprehensive score sheet from the judges, but score sheets will be returned in enough time for tweaks before sending your baby of to the Golden Heart! Again, final round judges are editors from prestigious publishing houses. And a bonus – all category winners are entered into a separate contest where agent Kristin Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency, will be the judge. That winner gets a three-chapter critique from NY Times Bestselling Author Kelley Armstrong. Entries must be in by June 1st.

Indiana’s Golden Opportunity Contest - has an entry date of June 27th. This contest gives a four page score sheet and offers final round judges in the agent and editor field. This contest also has a Young Adult Category (with the caveat of not having to be a romance) – final round judge there is Holly Root, from Waxmen Literary Agency. First place winners in all six categories go toe to toe for the Best of the Best!

Put Your Heart in a Book offers an in-depth score sheet which judges are encouraged to fill out and add comments. The top three in each category goes through to be judged in the final round by three judges (editor, agent and published author). Entries to be received no later than June 15th.

That should get you started – and really, if you’re waiting for results from contests, why would you continue to work on your manuscript? Go - garden, sip wine, camp – or start a new manuscript.

Any advice from our readers on these or any other contests held over the summer? Did I miss an important one? Feel free to leave the links in the comment section. And another question – how many of you write continuously and consistently over the summer months?

Janet (who’s seriously looking at those opening pages contests)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Saturday's Guest Blogger Tory Richards

Tory Richards will join us on May 22 to talk about being a "Closet Writer". Here's Tori's bio:

Tory is a multi-published, best selling author who lives in Florida with her soul mate and three crazy cats. She likes to travel, preferably by cruise ship, and doesn’t like to fly but will if she has to. She collects antiques and art. Loves chocolate, who doesn’t? And good coffee.

Tory has wanted to be a writer since she was a kid, only life got in the way of her dreams. A few years ago, with the support and encouragement of her family, she decided to get serious. Her romances are laced with humor, filled with suspense and sizzling sex.

More information can be found on her website, blog and the publisher’s websites.

Tory Richards -
Romance with an Attitude Blog - Ellora’s Cave -

The Wrong Seat

I have been sitting in the backyard today. Everytime someone walks past - or horror of horrors - another dog walks down the alley, Pen races to the fence and barks until the danger is past. All animals defend their territory in defense of the shelter, food and safety that territory gives them.

Last summer, I took a friend who was visiting us, to Waneskewin. I have seen it plu-plenty times, so I sat on the low stone wall in the front and waited for her. There was a man sitting on the wall too and we started to talk. He is from Norway where only four percent of the land is arable and we were comparing agriculture between our countries. When his wife and children appeared, we were trying to figure out the percentage difference between hectares and acres. She walked right up to me and stopped six inches away - too close for me to be able to see her face. I was very uncomfortable because she was so close. Instinctively, I felt danger. Her husband is a very handsome man and I suppose she was jealously protecting her own by being aggressive and standing within my safety zone - my territory. (What she thought I would do with a man half my age, with a wife and six children in tow, beats me).

On another occasion, when I first attended a service in my current church, I sat where I always sit in a church - fourth row from the front, right side, at the wall end. An elderly woman appeared and announced that she had sat in that exact place for 69 years. I quickly stood up and declared I would move but she said, "Oh no. Stay were you are," and sat on the aisle side of the same pew. She made me feel terrible. I had invaded her territory and she laid on the guilt with a trowel. But, she had the choice of fight or flight and she chose flight.

How did you feel when you re-entered a lecture hall, where you had left your jacket and books on a certain seat, to find someone else in your seat? First reactions are always anger. That person is occupying your territory! You can tell them so or you can get your stuff and move to a different seat, but you will still be angry. Your territory has been invaded and held at the time. It is the instinct of all animals to fear this. Safety is threatened invariably. You can move (flight) or get them to move (fight), but however you handle it, it will be awhile before you feel calmed again. When, depends on your self-concept.

I will be 69 next week, but my own self-concept is not burdened with 69-year-old internal stuff-and-junk. Despite gray hair totally taking over from dark brown, losing almost an inch of height, developing wrinkling skin and arthritis, I still see myself as, and feel, 27. Intellectually I know I am not 27 and my lovely 36 -24 - 36 is gone forever, but the current (never-you-mind) proportions are not something I think about, unless I look in a mirror. I feel 27 and I don't think about the mirror image unless it is drawn to my attention. I recently tried on a dress and immediately put it away, thinking that was something my mother would wear. Unhappily, it dawned on me that I am older now than Mom was when she died. I AM an older matron. Technically, I am not 27.

Must you read anymore about me? No.

Where this is going is this: your characters have self-concepts, territories and feelings of safety, or a lack of feelings of safety, within their territories. You have to know what they are.

Well, maybe you have to read about me and mine a little bit more. The ms I am struggling with (to the death) has a heroine who is determined, at all costs, to return to her family's horse farm. Her parents are dead but she intends to bring the farm back to the excellence it had in her father's time. Meanwhile, the hero is establishing his own clan territory (demesne) and he wants her there. The conflict is on!

Her self-concept is that of a capable, independent owner and operator of her own territory. She sees it as a duty. She believes she can do it. He sees the flaws in her and knows she can't just step back onto her estate and start raising horses. He promises that if she stays at his home (territory) until she learns how to handle an estate and its people, he will help her establish herself. But, at the end of the year and a day (they are handfast by ancient Scottish law), she must decided between what is essentially her territory and his. He wants her to return and become the full partner in his new life.

He is tried and true and therefore is confident he can handle his future and its requirements. He isn't a bit confident she will return. She has plenty of fears that he will stop her or not help her. Inside, she has doubts about her ability and possible success, but she covers those safety issues with false bravado (flight). He also has fears. He doesn't know for certain that he can attract her back into his life. He is jealous (fight) of the men who will help her, including his own brother whom he sends with her for her protection. There is now a major conflict between his beliefs and hers. There is a strong internal conflict in each of them which translates into external conflict as well.

Do your characters all have a self concept? If they don't, you need to learn more about them until you know everything about them. What are the boundaries of their territory? What happens when their territories overlap with other's? How do they react to invasion of their personal space or territory?

Whether they flee or fight will depend on their past experience as well as their make-up. What happened in the past and how does it affect the present situation?

Is the conflict between hero and heroine real enough to carry the plot? I had to 'do in' my previous heroine and bring in a new one, to have a genuine conflict between hero and heroine in this ms.

Do your characters allow someone else to take their seat or do they move to another chair? Is flight going to work or are they going to stay and fight until they have worked out their territorial differences successfully?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to cheat when writing your novel

I bet that caught your attention. An easy way to write my novel?, you say, sign me up! Maybe, like me, you are skeptical when you see the ads claiming they'll help you ‘write that novel in four easy steps!” Any time I hear the words ‘easy’ and ‘writing’ in the same sentence my eyebrows draw together in confusion. Hunh?

For this blog I’ve dug deep (not that deep) to find potential ways of making the writing process if not easier, at least a bit more fun. Do these cheat methods work? Well, that’s for you to determine. If you have a little fun and they help get you writing, then I say the answer is yes.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for side-tracking you from your writing. Use these "tools" at your own risk!

Name Generator – For some people, they know their character name even before the character is fully formed in their mind. Others keep a notebook to record names they like. Some of us use maps or phone books to find a name that fits and there are always baby books. But if none of these options are working or you really just want a name for a random character in your story, try out a Name Generator. There are many out there (watch out for the ones designed for gamers as you’ll likely end up with a very unusual name—unless you write fantasy and then a dungeons and dragons site might be the right source for you). I like this one found on Brenda Coulter’s site (see bottom of the page):

Online Thesaurus – The thesaurus has long been a faithful writing companion. Can’t find the right word? Look up the wrong word and see what alternatives are provided. Now anywhere you have internet, you have a thesaurus. Check out my favourite online source: (I’m probably not telling you anything new here...)

Plot Generators – If you or your characters seem to be stuck in a rut or if you’ve been staring at a blank screen for two days, take a break and check out these random plot generators. Have fun with them. They might give you the great idea you are looking for.
- NielsonHayden: 
- Future Fiction: -
- A random story-line generator:
Last year Anita wrote a whole post on random generators. Click here to check it out:

Novel writing software – While some online ads boast they make writing a novel easy with their writing software, I am more than a bit skeptical about what the software actually does. Software programs like Kikaboo appear to offer a way to organize your novel (I think it is like electronic storyboarding but haven’t looked into it). While an Excel spreadsheet or pad of sticky notes can be very effective, it might be interesting to check this out:

Personality Quizes – Want a jump start on creating your character profile? Answer some questions based on how you think your character might act, think, or feel in certain situations and you will get a quick profile of your character’s personality. There are a number of resources available online but not all of them are free. Keirsey offers a preliminary test at no cost:

Feel free to share any secrets you use when you “cheat” in writing!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pitch and Polish

Lately I’ve been trying to write the perfect pitch synopsis for my query letter. How in the world do you convey tone, voice and character and summarize a 125,000 word plot in 200 words?

Something I’ve run into over and over has been to develop a “voice” for my pitch synopsis. This is something I struggled with the most. My novel, Indigo Blaze, is Young Adult, but with a dark, edgy feel to it. I didn’t want a lot of snarky, angsty feel to the voice like so many other YA novels. So what did I do? I read book jackets in the same genre as my novel.

In my quest for the perfect pitch, I used my blog to ask for feedback from everyone I knew, and joined an online community called YALITCHAT (Young Adult Literature Chat) where I participated in their “Query Kick Around” forum. Fellow chicks Hayley and Janet provided the best suggestions and feedback, and after it all, my pitch synopsis went through approximately ten changes. I was feeling fairly confident it was my best pitch yet.

Finally, the day came to put my new and improved pitch to the test. I was notified by fellow chick, Janet, that an online forum called was hosting a contest to pitch your novel to literary agents. I promptly signed up, entered two contests, and proceeded to win both.

The first pitch took place with literary agent Laurie McLean of Larson-Pomada Literary Agency on Tuesday at 11:00 am. I was at work, so I took an early lunch break as I waited in the chatroom “lobby”, waiting to be ushered into the “pitching” chatroom. I’ve never used live chat before, so I was rather nervous I would screw it up. There were a few technical problems, such as the server kicking us out two minutes before the pitches were scheduled to begin, forgetting my site password to get back in, and the agent being unable to login to the chatroom. The pitches started about twenty minutes behind, but Laurie was gracious enough to stay until everyone had their chance to pitch.

Once into the “pitching” chatroom, Laurie immediately welcomed me and invited me to show her my pitch. I cut and pasted it, hopeful that all of the feedback I had gotten and changes I had made would impress her. Laurie asked a few clarifying questions and made a few comments – but because I was so nervous, I can’t remember them anymore! At the end, she asked for a partial and a two-page synopsis!

Well, this wasn’t the end of my good luck streak! The next day I was notified about winning the second contest - a pitch to agent Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates Inc. literary agency. I was far less nervous for this pitch, now that I was a chatroom pitching pro!

Kathleen seemed really interested in my pitch, read it twice over, and had some very specific questions and also some pointers for my pitch. At the end of the pitch she told me she liked my premise and wanted to see a partial, but only if I cut 25,000 words! Apparently publishers cringe at anything over 100,000 words! I agreed and off I went to render my ms down (again).

I’m still a little lightheaded about the whole experience, feeling hopeful, but trying not to get too excited. Kathleen Ortiz’s blog is pretty clear about the odds of getting a contract, saying of the 1,600 submissions she has received since January, only about 1% are successful.

My next step is to polish. I plan to read through my ms one more time, to ensure the cuts I made haven’t left threads dangling or ghosts of story lines that no longer exist. Then I’m turning it over to a hired editor to comb it for grammar and punctuation. Am I missing anything? Do you have any suggestions for me, to ensure I put the most polished product forward?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Juggling Doesn't Get Easier; An Earlier Post Revised

I've noticed a recurring theme that echoes in my thoughts about writing, and it pops up often when other writers talk about allocating time for writing, too. I have posted about this previously, so I hesitate to recycle old ideas, but the same issues keep coming back to bite me -- how do I keep all the balls in the air?

Janet's recent post on what she called My New Reality illustrated how often we have to revisit our intentions and renew our vows to The Muse. After all, so many resources stand at the ready for us to deploy, if only we are determined, committed, and positive in our attitude. But those goals do need constant tweaking as we adapt to new circumstances, and we need to remind ourselves that what we set out to do months ago is still important.

Retirement, once a far-off dream, is now my official status. I never worried about what I would do when I retired. All the projects, postponed pleasures, reading and travel that I wanted to do made a long list. And, yes, somehow I would fit in the writing that I never found time to do before. What I didn’t think about was that the length of the days wouldn’t change. So, here I am still juggling all the things I have committed to do and having just as much trouble fitting them into the limited time available as I ever did when I had a full-time day job.

In the nine years since I retired, I have been energised and inspired by the commitment of other writers. And I have become acutely aware that if writing has become my most important objective, then I have to give it top priority over all other activities. To paraphrase Janet's more eloquent declaration: Writing must come first because it is now my job.

So, what prevents me from giving writing top spot? Firstly, I don't make it obvious to others that when I am writing I am busy doing something that is important to me. I have the same amount of time as anyone else on this planet, but it only stretches so far, even if efficiently used. I am often my own worst enemy. For the first time in my life, I thought I had unlimited time, so I began volunteering for activities in my community -- I sit on various boards, deliver meals on wheels, belong to a book club, and am involved in constituency politics. My extended family is very important to me. I like to visit all of them as often as I can. Every once in a while an opportunity to travel somewhere new pops up. So what is a retired gal to do? Juggle!

I have a serious problem with self-indulgence in time-wasting activities that include watching TV and movies (which I sometimes try to fool myself into thinking is "research"), but thank goodness, the season finales are upon us, and a team will soon claim the Stanley Cup. I have a deadline coming up for using all the points I accumulated in the movie rental program that ended abruptly a short time ago. I do consider reading an important activity for a writer, but finding enough time ... More juggling!

The more I know about what it takes to actively write, revise, submit, revise, market, enter contests, revise, and attend useful conferences, the more I know that something has to go. This year I have made some strategic decisions about what I will be dropping out of as I complete some of the commitments I've made. However, writing activities must increase, not decrease, and I will not neglect my family.

In the meantime, my furniture has a perpetual layer of dust that I do not notice when I am writing. I have a garden to plant and the grass needs frequent mowing as growing season shifts into high gear. So not having a full-time job doesn’t make it easier. I always laugh a little when someone says, “Oh, but you’re retired. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.” Are you kidding? I’ll consider doing nothing when I CAN’T do the things I want to do. Please don’t encourage me to waste my precious time.

My task right now is to review my goals and schedules. That seems to have become a monthly exercise which could turn into a daily habit if only I would get serious about making that list of six items and checking them off as they get done the next day. My lifelong tendency to procrastinate is still with me, so it didn't take long to fall off the wagon on that one. (Janet and I were going to be buddies for that resolution, but I didn't have any successes to report, so I guess she knows.)

Over the years I have drafted countless schedules which tell me to sit in front of my computer every day as routinely as I take my morning walk. Hopefully, my renewed commitment to a regular regime will gain momentum, and the juggling will become effortless. If I can make my life simpler, maybe fewer balls will hit the floor due to conflicting commitments.

Well, folks, how do you manage to juggle all your commitments as you try to make time to write? What have you given up in order to focus on writing? Do you have any effective methods to share with us?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Warm Welcome to Stephanie Beck

"Standing By My Words”

Before I got my first contract, I was doing what most new writers do: begging for peer edits. I found a partner, but knew I should have another opinion, so I posted requests on critique sites. I made it clear the genre was erotica and the story was ménage about three sexy brothers and the woman they loved. I assured the possible repliers that the sex was graphic, but the overall tone was affectionate.

Almost immediately I got a reply. I was excited, so I sent out the first chapters. The day after I sent my chapters she sent a reply.

“I respect myself and making love too much to read something this filthy. Do not send me anything else ever again.”

I was shocked. Hadn’t I been honest enough in my post about what the content was? Or was my story that offensive?

About a month later the story, Poppy’s Passions, was picked up by Lyrical Press, so I put that harsh criticism aside in favor of being thrilled. Despite someone calling my work filthy, I felt no shame when owning up to my words. I use a pen name, but I told my friends and family exactly what I wrote. Even my dad knew and was proud of my accomplishment. Having the support of my family and friends made me set aside the doubt I had and I pushed forward with writing.

My next manuscript turned into a heavily erotic BDSM themed novel. I researched and read up on everything I could find pertaining to the lifestyle. I wrote the story as true to life as I could make a situation I hadn’t actually experienced. It was kinky and graphic. Some moments were incredibly hard and wicked. When I was nearly done, I started feeling doubts crawl into my mind.

Did I really think it was the kind of thing I should write? The question didn’t come from the harsh critique or from any worry about what people around me might think. It came from my faith.

I’m Christian and very happy in my choice of faith and practice. As a Christian woman, could I stand by a story with so many sexual themes?

The next Sunday I was still thinking about the story and had even mentally started tweaking it a bit to make it less graphic. Before the sermon started I genuinely prayed to be shown what I should do about the story. I nearly choked on my gum when the pastor announced, loud and clear the theme of the day: Bondage.

I lost track of how many times he said ‘bondage’, but I know it was at least fifteen times in twenty minutes. I really thought about how I felt in that moment, and for sure I didn’t feel dirty or wrong.

Whatever guilt or hesitance I’d still held evaporated as I read my manuscript later that day with fresh eyes. The story I had was one that embraced faithfulness, love and affection. It was a healthy love. The sex scenes were graphic and deeply BDSM, but even with those trappings, the scenes still showed love between two people who held tight to each other and also to their faith. Since Bondage Sunday, I’ve been less hard on myself. As long as the story’s focus is love, then the sex is just trappings and the heat or kink level doesn’t matter.

I believe I’ve found the perfect job for me because I am able to bring people together in love every time I sit down to write. Those couples aren’t always conventional and heck, they aren’t always ‘couples’ but the love is there and it’s a good love.

I’ve also come to terms that my writing is not going to be to everyone’s taste, nor will it fit with all belief systems. But as my early critique partner showed me, if a reader doesn’t enjoy or approve of a story, they can always put it down.

Poppy Maguire is tired of being a loser. Emotionally neglected as a child, she wants to find the courage to leave her family and the job she hates. She desperately wants to make a change. Little does she realize how much of a change sexy brothers Cody, Michael and Trevor Paraby will bring to her life when the friendly shoulders they offer turn into so much more.

Comfort turns to passion and Poppy learns what life could be like in the arms of not one, but three men who love her. But what happens when the pink line on a pregnancy test doubles and she’s expecting twins, courtesy of a Parabys?

The brothers blow her mind by offering her the family and love she’s always longed for. But do they realize what they’re in for? Cody is moving a little too fast, Michael may not be in for the long haul, and Trevor is a bit self-centered.

In order for Poppy to have the extraordinary love she fears she hasn't earned, everyone is going to have to do some growing. But can she break free from the bad seed of her abusive family and have the courage to bloom?

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