Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guest Blogger Autumn Jordon

Today our guest is Autumn Jordon, a 2009 Golden Heart finalist. She's here to talk about how setting goals helped her to become a Golden Heart finalist. Here's Autumn's bio:

Autumn Jordon, a quiet nut with a reputation for finding trouble, lives with her husband along the Appalachian Trail in northeast Pennsylvania. Crafting stories has always been part of her life. When not working at the family business and not writing, she enjoys her friends, not housework or pulling weeds. She loves meeting new people and making new friends.

It’s so great to be here at the Prairie Chicks Write Romance blog. I loved Jana's post on setting goals. Kudos to you. Goals are important.

I’d like to share a story about a goal I set once.

The year was 2000. My good friend, and critique partner at that time, and I were driving home from the RWA National conference held in Washington D.C. We were so charged after the workshops, the networking , the awards ceremony and couldn’t wait to get back to our computers to write the next best seller. I remember my CP saying, “I’m going to win a Rita.” I chuckled and then responded. “I’d love to just be nominated for a Golden Heart.”

I’ve always set goals in baby steps. I think to do so is also important.


Setting a realistic, obtainable goal and then reaching it will fuel your drive to move forward again and again.

My first step on my quest for the Golden Heart was to start over. I took note of my strengths and weaknesses from critiques and contest feedback. (Note: Ninety-eight percent of contest judges are honestly trying to help—so take note of comments) I attended workshops and conferences and studied. I wrote one book and then another and another. With the enigma of how to write a book behind me, I had more to learn. There still was the editing and polishing process to grasp. Each step was a goal.

In November of 2008, I entered the Golden Heart with my novel HIS WITNESS. Part of me believed I might have a chance to final in the prestigious contest since the work had won the New Jersey chapter PUT YOUR HEART IN A BOOK contest. A recognized contest itself. And part of me thought no way. I still had so much to learn.

Then on March 25, 2009 at 9:02 a.m., I’m late for work. The phone rings. With my curling iron tangled in my hair, I scrabbled for the phone. “Yes.”
“Good morning. I’m calling for Autumn Jordon.”
Oh, God. Just what I needed. A telemarketer. Deep breath. She’s only doing her job. Be nice. I conjured up my own customer relation voice and said, “I’m she. How can I help you?”

“This is so and so…”

I’m really not listening anymore because, one, I’m just waiting for the opportunity to respond, “Oh gosh, you should’ve called me last week. My husband just bought me one. Or I already gave to this organization. A Horace Grainger called. Do you know Horace?” And two, I’m trying to get my curling iron out of my hair, and three, I’m giving my dog the evil eye because now he is lying on our bed, my pillow.

“... from Romance Writers of America.”

(Insert visceral response here like OWL eyes, heart slamming into ribs, lungs collapsing) Okay. This is where she got my attention.

The date? My mind whirled. It’s March 25th. The Golden Heart calls go out. Holy sh*#!

“No, way,” I gasped.

Laughter from Ms. RWA representative. (To this day, I don’t recall the name of the woman who called me. I wish she’d identify herself to me so I could thank her in non-babble gibberish)

“Yes, way. You are a 2009 Golden Heart Finalist. Are you planning to come to Washington D.C.?”

“Are you kidding? I’m packing tonight.” And so it began…

Goal reached.

In 2009 I reached another goal. I signed two contracts for two of my works. My first release, OBSESSED BY WILDFIRE, was released this past Wednesday. It is part of The Wild Rose Press’s Wayback series. Here is a link to the home page.
My Golden Heart entry is now titled Evil’s Witness and will release on June 18, 2010 also through The Wild Rose Press. For more information on either book, please visit my website

Setting goals is important. Making them realistic is the key to success.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Autumn Jordon

Our guest blogger this Saturday will be Autumn Jordon, who will be talking about her experience as a Golden Heart Finalist. Here's her bio:

Autumn Jordon, a quiet nut with a reputation for finding trouble, lives with her husband along the Appalachian Trail in northeast Pennsylvania. Crafting stories has always been part of her life. When not working at the family business and not writing, she enjoys her friends, not housework or pulling weeds. She loves meeting new people and making new friends.

2009 Golden Heart Finalist
Evil's Witness June 18, 2010
& Obsessed By Wildfire January 27, 2010 The Wild Rose Press

Writing from Life

A novel can be completely a work of the writer’s imagination, or it might include elements from real life experiences, or be based entirely on factual events. But wouldn’t that make it nonfiction? Not necessarily. According to Robin Hemley, it is possible to write very imaginative fiction that is based on real life occurrences, and yet be a fictional work. For that to happen successfully, there must be a transformation of facts into fiction. Hemley discusses all the ways that can happen in his book, Turning Life into Fiction.

Hemley mentions two assumptions people make about fiction that upset him. One is when he is asked whether he writes true fiction; he would rather be asked if it is autobiographical than to have it implied that what he writes is like true confessions. The second is the assumption that because something really happened, it makes good fiction. If the incident is irrelevant to the story, it may be totally unbelievable. Hemley believes that fiction is all about truth, though not necessarily about being true.

Authors often use autobiographical material in their first novel. That doesn’t make it a memoir. The reader doesn’t know which part of the novel is based on the author’s life, what may have come from an observed incident or a newspaper account, and what was pure invention. What is required of the novelist is that the material be transformed on the pages into a credible story.

Hemley discusses that transformation from real events to fiction, from anecdotes to scenes, providing examples from his own work and that of other novelists. He talks about searching your own journals for ideas that would add depth to your story. There is a chapter on the craft of writing, e.g. characterisation, plot, point of view, with advice on using these techniques to fictionalise life experiences.

Use of real people may be problematic. Readers may see you, or even themselves, in characters that you have created from a composite of several people. Or you may develop a character that is closely based on someone you know, but place that character in a situation that you have totally invented. Your readers may have a hard time believing that it did not really happen.

Including an incident from real life in a novel will usually lead to the realisation that imagination must be employed. It isn’t enough to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He quotes from the essay, “Becoming a Writer” by Gail Godwin, who writes:”Fact and fiction; fiction and fact. At what point does regurgitated autobiography graduate into memory shaped by art? How do you know when to stop telling it as it is, or was, and make it into what it ought to be – or what would make a better story?”

We are all influenced by the places we know, and he gives pointers on creating fictional settings from actual places. He provides writing exercises at the end of each chapter, and one of his suggestions for evoking a sense of place in your writing is to take a mental tour of the place where you grew up, or where you currently live. Get reacquainted with the map of your childhood, or seek out the stories that are lurking in the streets and alleys of your present neighbourhood through its sights and sounds.

Doing research lends authority to your scenes by injecting accurate descriptions of historical periods, or using particular speech patterns in the dialogue of a particular locale. Research enables you to write with authority on people and places that you have never experienced, by drawing on facts that will support your fiction.

He concludes with a chapter that deals with ethical and legal concerns that might arise from using material that is only thinly disguised as fiction, that provides tips on how to write disclaimers, and that cites some lawsuits that have been brought against writers. Some might have been justified, other instances are coincidental.

That chapter has a section called “Begging, Borrowing and Stealing.” Hemley writes: “It’s hard to be a writer and not alienate someone along the way ... Usually, I tell people to write their stories about their crazy aunts or insane friends and worry about it later. If your story means something to you, if it’s important to you, write it, transform it as much as possible, and decide what to do with it later. Sometimes we feel too much guilt about these things. If you write the story sensitively, if you care about the subject matter, maybe you’ll turn out something beautiful, a celebration and questioning of life in all its complexity, something that you and all your crazy friends can identify with.”

A reference you might find useful on this topic can be found here for an instance in which Victoria Patterson wonders if her book was worth the anguish she caused her parents. And a brief list of ways to use real life in your fiction is found in the article
How to Turn Real Life into Successful Fiction

How much do you use real life experiences in your work? Do they creep in even when you are attempting to write from your imagination? Do people sometimes think you have written about them when such a thing couldn’t be further from your mind? Have you written your autobiographical novel yet?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Holding History

I’d like to show you some of the items I keep on my desk for inspiration while I’m writing. These items are specifically for my current historical, Emma’s Outlaw. When I hold them in my hands and let my fingers slide over them, I feel like I’m holding a piece of history. LOL – well, I guess I actually am!

To start with, here are a couple U.S. Indian Head cents minted in 1897 and 1883 respectively. Emma’s Outlaw is set in 1879 Wyoming Territory so these pennies weren’t even around when Emma was kidnapped. Since they were minted from 1859 through 1909 though, Emma and Dan would have had access to these coins. Penny candy, anyone?

Another item I keep nearby is this 1886 Morgan dollar. However, I don’t touch the face of this coin. Made of 80% silver, any natural oils on my hands will leave fingerprints that turn black over the years. I handle it by the rim when I want to hold it for inspiration. U.S. Morgan dollars were struck from 1878 through 1904 and then in 1921. Weighing 24gms, this hefty silver dollar is supposedly the kind Buffalo Bill shot a hole clean through after a toss up. Other famous people who were known to carry the silver dollars were Billy the Kid, Jesse James and even Geronimo. People of the Old West preferred the silver coins to paper money which made the Morgans the main form of currency in the latter part of the 19th century, second only to gold. Somewhere in my research I’d even read where old timers used to keep a silver dollar in their canteen to ensure water purity.

Prior to the Morgan’s release, the most common form of payment for a drink was an unspecified pinch of gold by the bartender. Silver dollars brought equity to the table which was appreciated by everyone from the locals buying dry goods to travelers and even gamblers.

In the late 1800’s, a silver dollar would buy 50 pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, five pounds of butter, 60 pounds of potatoes, 10 quarts of milk or a pair of moccasins. It would also buy a bottle of bourbon or rye whiskey. Of course you could buy a glass of cheap stuff for a nickel but if the bottle came from a peddler’s wagon, it might contain a dash of pepper, Tabasco, tobacco juice, or even rattlesnake heads to improve the bite.

A complete meal of roast beef or pork, potatoes, 2 veggies, bread, butter, tea, coffee or milk and a piece of pie cost a dime. Travelers stopping at stage stations had to pay four bits or even a dollar even if the meal was horrible.

A bit is one of those words unique to the western frontier. It comes from the Spanish milled coin real (re-al) which was also called ‘pieces of eight’. Unlike the dollar which can be broken into 4 equal ‘quarters’, the real was broken into 8 bits. So the quarter became known on the frontier by it’s nickname ‘two bits’ and 2 quarters ‘four bits’ etc.

The last thing I like to pick up and feel while immersing myself in Emma’s story is an antique 3”x5” Bible. It was quite worn when I bought it at Value Village for just a couple dollars but the 1860 publishing date gives me a good feeling of touching history. I mean, how many people have opened this little book looking for comfort and answers. How many tears have fallen on its pages? This is the type of Bible I envision Emma to have – well, if she’d been allowed to grab a book before they kidnapped her anyway.

You know, while growing up, I remember my step-dad saying, ‘I wouldn’t give you two bits for it.’

Do you have a similar story? Either about two or four bits or another piece of old money?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Word is...

I have this memory of when I first seriously started novel writing. I read an article or a web-post or something—my memory is a bit blurry—what I do recall was that the article talked a lot about words, about how each word has its own unique meaning. While the meanings of words may be similar or may be used interchangeably, no two words mean exactly the same thing. They may seem like they mean the same thing, but in some situations one word will be more appropriate than the other.

It was like a light went off in my head. I realized that words weren’t just words…they were tools.

I think one of the reasons I am such a slow writer is that I am constantly searching for the right word—usually in my head, but sometimes in the Thesaurus. Wait…yes I know…I’m not supposed to worry about things like that in a draft. I know that, I remind myself of that, and yet….

The challenge in writing is that words mean different things to different people. It depend on the person’s filters—filters include the experiences, feelings and values that shape us (culture, socio-economic status, education, location, etc). To each person every word has its own connotations, implications, associations, and impressions.

It is interesting, though, how few people pay attention to the words they chose to use. Think about an email you received, what you hear in the evening news, the lyrics of the songs on the radio. Some of it just doesn't make sense (have you listened to Lady Gaga?).

Some people use the same words all the time: It was a really big storm with really big snow drifts and we had a really hard time getting in to work today. I mean…sigh…seriously? Isn’t there a rule against using the same word more than once in a sentence? There are so many words out there why don’t we use more of them!

According to Oxford, at the very least there are “a quarter of a million distinct English words” []. This doesn’t include technical or regional words or words not yet added to the published dictionary. It also doesn’t take into consideration the various meanings of words (i.e. homonyms or slang uses) or even words borrowed from other languages.

Don’t even get me started on chat room talk (BRB, LOL, ROTFLMAO)—I use them, love them, but are they words? (The answer to this questions may depend on your age!) They are so common in conversation now I bet we'll find them in the dictionary before long (if they aren't there already).

Then there are those people who use words they don’t understand. We all know someone like that! Don’t forget the individuals who use words that only they know the meaning of. Try using dacrygelosis in a sentence. You just can’t do it, not unless you want to clear a room—actually that might come in handy… [There is an online resource for everything and I found one on obscure words:]. For those of you who are wondering, dacrygelosis is a noun meaning: condition of alternating laughing and crying (I kind of like it).

And where did all these words come from? Why do we have different meanings for the same word? Who decided to spell it that way? Why do we have three words to describe the same thing! Perhaps this is my favourite thing about words—etymology!!!

I looked up the word romance at Interestingly enough, the Online Etymology Dictionary says: c.1300, "story of a hero's adventures." It goes on to say that it wasn’t used to refer to a “love story” until the 1660s (to help you put that in perspective, Shakespeare died in 1616). For all of you IT buffs (or those of you who’ve been to the movies lately) I thought it would be interesting to look up avatar. You think it is a modern word created for gamers? Think again. Actually, it dates back to 1784 and refers to “descent of a Hindu deity.” What about the word word? Surely that is an old word. No, actually words predate `word`, which according the dictionary originated around 1462.

So bloggers and blog readers (fyi: blog is short for weblog and was first used in 1998), what is your favourite word?

[I’ll tell you that my least favourite word at the moment is Toshiba since I can’t turn off the French keyboard on my laptop…]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Secret

Has anyone else noticed the cult-like phenomenon of “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne? It seems not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone who wants a new car say: “I’m putting it out to the universe!”, or when a strange coincidence happens: “That’s the Secret!” The concept of our thoughts being so powerful they actually create our reality is fascinating, not far from the paranormal aspects of my writing. According to the Secret, we are masters of our universe, creating our own reality; be it successful or not.

But how true is “The Secret”? When I try to actually conceptualize how the secret works – sending our wishes out to the universe, the universe responds – it seems like such a complex matrix of actions and behaviors, I just can’t quite wrap my head around it. Does the Secret mean that every person is part of this giant latticework of reality, and that me, one little person, can influence them all with the power of my thoughts? Sounds like a great paranormal romance idea, doesn’t it? My internal skeptic screams, “Nonsense!” What do you believe?

I do know there is power in the subconscious mind, working away like the shoemaker’s little elves in the background, beyond our awareness. When we go to bed at night and tell ourselves “I’m going to have a good day tomorrow”; usually it happens. Hypnosis is a perfect example of the power of the subconscious mind, how a suggestion is offered when we are in a relaxed state of being, resulting in changes we make in our conscious state.

So now you are wondering what this has to do with writing romance, aren’t you? Can we use the concepts from the “The Secret” in our writing? To become a writer there has to be some intrinsic belief that we can do it. Belief alone is powerful. It could be the difference between those who talk about writing a novel and those who go on to actually finish it. We also have to believe we will get published. My guess is that those who don’t ever go on to get published probably had some doubt that festered away like an insipid little virus in the back of their mind.

What about our muse? Our muse is kind of like our divine inspiration; but I do think it has to do with our belief that the ideas will come. If we allow writer’s block to exist, it will. If we expect our muse to step in at those difficult moments, it will. I have had way too many weird coincidences when it comes to my muse than I thought possible. Problems get solved in the strangest ways – something somebody says, a movie that gives me just the right idea, a flash of inspiration on a nature walk, and always the timing is eerily perfect. Is this “The Secret” at work?

I really do believe in the power of positive thinking; whether it is “The Secret”, I’m not sure. I believe that I will get published; it may be in two years or ten, but it will happen eventually. Luckily, I also have the perseverance of a camel; the persistence of a bull-dog and the patience of a monk, but most importantly, I have the belief that it will actually happen. I see it in my mind’s eye –the meeting where I sign a contract, the handshake (maybe these things don’t actually happen – I don’t know!), but most importantly, I can actually see my glossy hardcover book sitting on the shelf of a bookstore. It will happen, I don’t know when, but it will. I just know it.

Do you believe in “The Secret” when it comes to your writing? Do you truly believe you are a writer? Do you “just know” the ideas will come to you? Can you “see” that book in print? Maybe “The Secret” is just a placebo effect, and it’s really just our subconscious at work behind the scenes. But just like a placebo, if it works, that’s good enough for me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Storm Warning

The warning on The Weather Network website has been there for three days now. Monday promises to see the end of it as it moves further east. In the southern part of the province the warning bears the dreaded word: Blizzard! More wind, more snow, colder temperatures. These terms are defined by Environment Canada if we care to check the details.

The forecast over the last week predicted the approach of some form of active winter weather. Those innocent-looking little icons indicated snow would fall, whether a few flurries or a major dump remained to be seen. A worrisome factor (for me) was the unseasonably mild weather we have had recently, bringing the temperature dangerously close to melting. Would we get freezing rain, bringing dangerously icy conditions to the streets and highways? Turns out it was a combination of all the above! The snow is piling up, with more to come, and the wind has whipped it into marvellous shapes completely blocking my front steps and driveway. I will not shovel until the storm has passed.

This is a link to a storm picture that someone sent on the weekend to The Weather Network. Listen to this to hear a winter storm.

This is winter on the prairies where I grew up and lived most of my life. Now in my retirement I still live here. By choice. When I was a child, winter weather was respected and we bowed to its dominance over our lives. We did not expect to travel in stormy weather or intense cold. The sensible thing to do was stay home. And we loved it.

We lived on a farm, and there were special occasions, such as Christmas get-togethers when relatives from the city would travel to visit us. This always made my father nervous because he was convinced that city folk did not know how to prepare properly for winter travel. He scoffed at the people he encountered venturing from the city into rural areas wearing low shoes and lightweight coats, lacking warm gloves and hats, and without emergency supplies in their vehicles. He often simply parked his vehicles in the garage during the winter months. But even with this attitude, he sometimes was fooled by sudden changes in the weather.

I remember one winter day my father went to town on business, a distance of about ten miles. By early afternoon, a winter storm had blown up, and it was too risky to try to navigate his way home over the country roads. So he phoned to tell my mother that he would stay put until the storm blew over. I was eleven years old, the eldest of three school-aged children in our family. There was no way to get us home from school, a mile and a half away. The teacher in our one-room school was a relative, and she lived with her family in the teacherage in the schoolyard. Being storm-stayed overnight turned into an adventure, with lots of new snow in which to dig caves and make forts, and in the evening we learned to play canasta. It was more worrisome for my mother who was alone on the farm with my baby brother, less than a year old. The next morning dawned sunny and bright, snow plows cleared the roads, and my father picked us up at school as usual at the end of the day.

I still find a winter storm an event of great proportion, but I don’t fight it. I am happy to stay home, hunkered down keeping warm, curled up with a good book or watching a movie, or better yet, I take it as an opportunity to write! But I have noticed that the prevalent attitude these days is to try to carry on regardless of the weather. The old rural-urban split in this matter doesn’t exist now. People everywhere expect the games will be played, they feel that shopping is essential, and their planned trips must be taken – so bring on the snow plows NOW. Of course, major roads must be cleared in case of emergencies, but I’m talking about the incidental, not the absolutely essential, activities. I also fear that too many people venture out unprepared. They are used to stepping from a warm building to a warm vehicle and back again, without thought of what might happen if they get stranded on a lonely country road or slip off an icy highway into a ditch. We hear too many tragic stories in the winter months.

On a not entirely unrelated note, some people have wondered why the prairies produce so many good writers – W.O. Mitchell, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Lorna Crozier, Rudy Wiebe, to name but a few. Others have attempted to answer. There is a history of support for the arts in general here, which has produced a culture that nurtures artists, including writers, all of whom benefit from programs and grants that are available. But it may also be explained by a sense that something inherent in a population that faces harsh conditions and other adversity results in a survival mentality with an impulse to create. This might be traced back to the pioneer settlement era, but it continues to this day in what is a unique connection to the land and the sky by a community of diverse people who share a strong, common bond.

So, people of Blogland, do you believe your creative impulses are shaped by where you live? Is it important to you as a writer to live in a particular place, or type of geography? How do you deal with the winter climate? Unlike me, do you yearn to get away to a warm place in the winter months? Or do you revel in all the seasons? (I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon. Please excuse me while I check whether I can open my door, or whether I have to shovel through a snowbank to get out!)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Welcome Donna Alward

To Crit or not to Crit… by Donna Alward

One of the things I heartily recommend to aspiring authors is having a critique partner. I say that because I have one, and I simply wouldn’t do without her.

Critiquing is funny business. There are so many considerations! And there are so many ways things can go wrong and to make the relationship and experience a negative one. In the December issue of RWR (Romance Writers Report, RWA) Carrie Lofty did a great article called Writing By Committee, where she talked about critique groups. If you can get your hands on the article, by all means, read it.

I don’t critique by group, but have one critique partner. Still, the article struck a chord because I’ve seen critiquing when it works and unfortunately when it doesn’t. In particular, I liked Cher Gorman’s quote used, because it really applies to how I feel about my critique relationship: "There is a level of trust involved in a critiquing partnership that must be honored for the partnership to work." Cher likened it to a marriage.

I’ve said for a long time that it sounds like a relationship: My critique partner, Michelle Styles, and I have been together since 2003. It does take trust, respect, admiration and commitment.

So today I’m going to share with you what has worked for us.

  1. Look for someone at about the same level of writing as you are. Michelle was at the cusp of success with a few non-Harlequin sales on the horizon and I was at the point where I’d discovered my voice and knew where I should be submitting – Harlequin Romance. Michelle had already penned Gladiator’s Honour which went on to be her first Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical sale. She sold it in 2005; I sold to Samhain and then to Harlequin Romance in 2006.
  2. Check your ego at the door. When Michelle sent me my first critique, I was decimated. I went to the garage and told my husband I should just quit. But I didn’t. After a few days I realized that everything she said was dead on and I wanted to be published more than I wanted to be right. (This was a HUGE concession on my part, btw. I don’t do humble pie well.) Sometimes you need to suck it up.
  3. Give as good as you get. You learn as much if not more from critiquing someone else’s work as you do having yours evaluated.
  4. It’s okay to disagree. There have been times when I haven’t agreed with something she’s said, and when she hasn’t agreed with me. It’s okay. Only the author knows what direction the story is going to go in and why your suggestion might not work. At that point, I try to ask myself, WHY is she saying this? What about this isn’t working? I can usually find another way of tackling it to get my own way but solve the problem beneath.
  5. Find your rhythm. Over the years our critiquing technique has become refined. We have a way of doing things that works for us. Not every relationship is the same, so if you find someone you can work with, who gets you, and has invaluable information, you’ll find your own system. I’m always afraid to critique anyone else now as I am so used to doing it a certain way!
  6. Evolve. As your writing changes, so do your needs. Like any relationship, over time things change. We definitely look for different things now than we did in the beginning, because now we both have several books behind us.
  7. Hold on tight. When you find a relationship that works – don’t let it go. Having Michelle be my first reader is so helpful. She points out holes or inconsistencies with motivation, and I know I turn in a better product to my editor as a result. But she doesn’t have a heavy hand – it’s always my writing and my story. That’s so important.

Finding the right person is not an easy job, and I feel so lucky that Michelle once offered to take a look at a manuscript. She is my biggest critic and my biggest fan, and we trust each other implicitly. That’s a trust that has been built and nurtured for six years now. On my bookshelf, you’ll see a line of pink spines of my Romance hardcovers. You’ll also see a very proud row of purple ones for Michelle’s Historicals.

This month sees the release of the first book in my Cowboys and Confetti duet – One Dance With The Cowboy! Meet the Laramie brothers and visit Lazy L Ranch again in March with Her Lone Cowboy, out in March in Canada in the US and April in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

You can find me on my site at and learn more about my brilliant critique partner Michelle at

Friday, January 22, 2010

Debrief - When's Your Magic Hour?

As you might have guessed reading the last few posts here on The Prairies, a bunch of us have been involved in Book-in-a-Week. This is an annual event our writing group, Saskatchewan Romance Writers, take on to jump start the new year and focus our attention on writing that, hopefully, will continue on during the next 11 months. We set goals and report in daily – urging each other to meet those goals or to stretch even further. But what about after the event? What do we take away from a week of scribbling like mad women? Do we even give it any thought?

I firmly believe that if you’re going to put yourself through such an ordeal, be it BIAW or NaNoWriMo, you should take some time to evaluate after the event concludes. Debrief, if you will – most likely my teaching background coming back to haunt me, I always evaluated the lesson, even if it was just a quick replay of the events in my head. What went right? What went wrong? What felt good? Were your goals too high? Too low? What would you change next time? Can you pick a natural strength that emerged during the week? What was the best antidote to getting stuck? Make some notes so that the next time, you’re ready. This information will also help you in your daily writing habits.

Here’s my evaluation so far:

I am not a morning person. I get up, usually grumpy because I have to get up, struggle to pour coffee into my cup without spilling it, barely move through the motions of a routine to start the day. Now, thankfully, I work from home and don’t have to try and get out of the house on time and get to work in a semi-coherent state while at some point along the road lose my owl-y mood and plaster a smile on my face. I can just plop down in my chair and stare miserably at my computer. Therefore, writing in the morning is not the best time of day for me. And if you think I’m bad, you should see Muse!

The afternoon is a little better. I am fully awake and have had the daily ration of coffee consumed. I’ve eaten breakfast and lunch and therefore am not distracted by a grumbling tummy. But my brain is going at high speed, thoughts of work swirling through my mind and my "To Do" list close at hand. This, I find, is the best time to get the nasty housework, laundry, or other chores done. I have a physical energy that is not conducive to writing. In other words, I can’t sit still.

Now early evening is lounge time. I have a cup of tea right after supper and sprawl on the couch watching the news of the day and perhaps a sitcom or entertainment show for a half hour after that. My brain starts to slow down – anything that needed done had better been done by that time because I don’t want to worry about it after supper (Dinner? Supper? Everyone seems to use a different term for the evening meal – I wonder why that is?). This is also the time when I pick up a word puzzle or Sudoku or the weekly paper, which I devour every word, every advertisement. Writing is the last thing on my mind.

Then around 8ish, I start to imagine. The story I’m working on, the new idea that popped into my head just before I went to sleep the evening before, a blogpost idea. My brain comes alive with characters, scenes, settings. Words come quickly. Images take hold and refuse to let go until I get them down on paper or type them into the computer. With the stillness and quiet I am more likely to listen to what Muse has to say. And I am less likely to skip away to another subject or task that needs doing. 8 until midnight is my ‘magic hour’.

During BIAW, the focus is on writing and meeting goals. To do that, many of us have to write outside of our usual ‘magic hour’. Many of us raise the bar and challenge ourselves to write incredibly high daily word counts. To do that, we must write as much as possible. And we will write during times when our body, mind and soul are not in the mood to write. Many of us are editing and revising, tasks best left to when the mind is fresh and sharp. Not when it’s begging us to turn out the light and go to bed, already!

I’ve learned that I can write at all times of the day once I get my butt in the chair and focus on the task at hand. But I’ve also learned that afternoon is still not the best time. I’m too fidgety. I have too many things to do besides write. There are too many distractions. My ‘magic hour’ is still perfect, but morning is emerging as another great time to get those ideas out of my head and onto the paper. Maybe my brain is still fuzzy from sleep, my dream world still close enough that imagination is easy to grasp and willing to play.

Right now, with a day job to pay the bills, I’m going to use this information and rearrange my day. I was, up until BIAW, focused on the day job’s tasks in the morning. Now, I’m going to spend the next week using the morning hours to write, day job hours in the afternoon, and then my ‘magic hour’ to continue to write. Once I can ditch the day job and write fulltime (fingers, toes crossed), I will use that afternoon time to edit and revise. In theory, and based on my evaluation, it should work.

So, People of Blogland, when do you find is the best time to write? Do you have times of the day that are better suited for revising as opposed to creative, first draft stuff? Have you ever taken the time to evaluate your efforts after a BIAW or NaNoWriMo event?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prairie Chicks Welcome Donna Alward

Join us this Saturday, Jan. 23rd, for Donna Alward's return to The Prairies. We were honored to have Donna kick off our Saturday Guest Blogs almost exactly a year ago to the date - so it's fitting that we have her return as a first anniversary celebration. Perhaps this will become an annual event, Donna?

An avid reader since childhood, Donna always made up her own stories. She completed her Arts Degree in English Literature in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2001 that she penned her first full-length novel, and found herself hooked on writing romance. In 2006 she sold her first manuscript, and now writes warm, emotional stories for Harlequin’s Romance line.

Donna's post will touch on critique groups, both large and small. Just as a side note, Donna's newest release, One Dance with the Cowboy, released this past week. Check out Donna's website for more information on this book as well as her other novels. While you're there, browse around. Donna has a page dedicated to recipes and another with articles for the writer. She also has a great blog that she updates regularly. But don't forget to come back to The Prairies on Saturday for Donna's guest post.

Writing Big

With only a couple days left in the Saskatchewan Romance Writer's version of Book-in-a-Week (BIAW), I’m starting to feel the crunch. Revisions to Emma’s story are coming but I just can’t rush it. I’m such a perfectionist it’s becoming a worry to me for when I’m published – that I won’t be able meet my deadlines because I’m so busy tweaking it. It’s not tweaking for perfection’s sake, though.

One of my challenges for this manuscript (ms) is the requested additional 20,000 words. When I said I could do it, I envisioned all sorts of scenes. At the time I started the revisions, I couldn’t think of anything new and different. Sure, a couple bit scenes here and there, but not one or two huge block-busting scenes to bring tears to reader’s eyes or make their hands fist with rage.

Until now.

Last week instead of doing all the prep work for this week, I took the time off to make a website for my church. I totally got away from Emma’s story. And yet I kept thinking of it at the oddest times – like in the middle of html coding You see, I kept thinking I needed ‘more’ in the story. More excitement. More emotion. More reality.

It was like the extra show that came with the Stargate Continuum (2008) DVD. The director was describing how they needed to make the movie ‘bigger than life’ because it had to be 'bigger' than the TV series. The regular shows use film sets on earth, in space, on jumpers, on a frigate and other spaceships, and on other planets (which all look like BC where the series is filmed). So how to bring something bigger to the screen? I don’t think they succeeded in making it ‘bigger’ as in a block-buster because we saw it on the same large, flat screen TV we watch the regular series and it just seemed like a longer version. But it was certainly as entertaining.

I wanted what the Stargate director wanted.


So last week among the DIV ‘s and ALIGN’S of a 21st century computer language, a scene like you’d find in an old west movie replayed in my mind. As the week progressed, the scene unraveled in vivid detail. Adding it would enhance the ms because it would:
- portray the hero as a Hero in the reader’s eyes
- tie up a loose plotline
- allow readers to feel rage, shock, compassion and humour
- add challenges for the subsequent scenes
The problem was it wasn’t the kind of scene you’d see in your usual inspirational book. Adding it would put me in the ranks of an ‘edgy’ inspirational writer. But it would satisfy my thirst for ‘more’ and be a more entertaining read.

Having decided to write the scene, I began first thing Friday morning when BIAW started. I made good progress on Friday but life with family interfered on Sat and Sunday. Come Monday, I got back into it. In the scene, Emma is sitting by the fire with her foot tucked under her skirt. And it dawned on me while I ate my lunch . . . Emma isn’t wearing a skirt . . . she’s wearing pants. Sheesh. So I had to go back to where I started the scene on Friday and start rewriting. I found a couple more places where I talked about her skirt. I also found two other things I hadn’t been consistent with either. First, I’d written the scene with her in ladies boots under the skirt but when she puts on the trousers, she put on men’s boots. Second, I had her going down to the river to fill a bucket of water yet the only things she has is a couple sacks with some utensils and food. No bucket. At least I don’t envision a bucket swinging from the side of her horse. Their camp is at the base of a butte in the middle of nowhere. So where’d the bucket come from? Since I have her carrying, filling, passing, etc the bucket, that all had to be changed, too. That took up all Monday afternoon.

That left Tues to get on with the big scene which I did with an uncontainable eagerness. The emotional part is done and I’m now working on the aftermath of the event. And this brings it’s own challenges because I’m thinking of using the scene I wrote for the ‘secret’ exercise here on the blog and if I do that, I now have to change things to be consistent with what I wrote on Tues and Wed. It’s like a huge puzzle with all the pieces scattered about and I’m picking them up one by one and seeing if they fit. They may look like they fit but it’s not a perfect fit, so I have to go ook for another similar piece and try again.

Do I need the ‘big scene’? Maybe. Maybe not. There are many romance books out there without any huge dramatic scenes and they do quite well. They’re light entertainment. Look at all the authors selling Chick-Lit and romantic comedies. But I don’t write those.

It’s not that I’m writing the next Gone with the Wind, but I’m in a ‘pool’ of pre-pubbed writers trying to swim out and be noticed for what I write. I want to be known for stories that increase your pulse and stay with you for weeks afterward. I want my readers to forget they’re sitting on a bus or in a Dr’s waiting room and just feel the story. So, I may not be writing a blockbuster movie here, but even a simple inspirational historical like Emma’s story deserves to be the biggest story I can make it. Like Natasha Kern of the Natasha Kern Literary Agency said in her ACFW Denver workshop – think of the worse things you possibly can and make it worse - then write it.

I do believe I’m actually succeeding.

Which do you remember more - books with at least one big dramatic scene or without?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Left Brain, Right Brain Antics

Do most writers think of themselves as right-brained people? I’m a writer and I place myself firmly in the right brain camp. Or I did, until I took a quiz (alright, four quizzes – cue eye roll) on the Internet. I answered a series of multiple-choice questions and results were tabulated by – frankly, I don’t know by who - but they were supplied and they revealed that while I may be slightly more right-brained inclined, I also rely almost as equally on my left brain.

Really? I was shocked and appalled, hence the taking of more than one quiz. But they all came back with close to the same result, even with the whole number and equation-hating thing I have going on. Although, I do have a favorite number, lucky number twenty-seven, but lucky numbers only do you any good if they come in a set of six and they win you the lottery. I don’t buy lottery tickets. I mean, why waste your money, right?

Then I started to think there was no reason why I couldn’t be intuitive as well as rational, be slightly impetuous while keeping it safe. Know as well as believe. And maybe those quiz results explained why I’m developing an appreciation for plotting and, dare I mention, outlining while clutching some of my original pantsing tendencies close to heart.

I’ll always remain a panster deep down inside because who can resist the adrenalin rush of dumping out a story and seeing where it takes you. I learned that during NaNoWriMo, even with its hair-pulling days and let me tell you there were quite a few towards the end. But part of me thinks it would be nice to end up with a cleaner first draft and to have less of a revision debacle awaiting me after I’m done. So before I jumped into November I did a little plotting. Not much but I did up some character charts and attempted a writing exercise I’d definitely do again. All of which helped me get a handle on where I wanted to end up and how I wanted to get there. A quick reference to have at hand encase I got stuck as I kind of, sort of pantsed my way along.

As well, November saw me taking advantage of an opportunity to purchase my first computer writing software, Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Pro, at a reduced price. I’ve been intrigued by his Snowflake Method for a while now. Go to the Snowflake Method article.) I plan on using it when I start revising my NaNoWriMo project, so more about how that worked out in a later blog post.

Not that I don’t like revising. I do. There’s nothing like that fist pumping feeling of knowing you’re in the right mind set and have just reworked a load of crap into the perfect sentence, tweaked and came up with exact right dialogue, or added a wonderful metaphor. To quote Colonel Hannibel Smith from The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.” To go from the insanity of the first draft to a rational, well paced, well plotted, well-written story. At least that’s the plan. To maintain my creative voice within a well crafted story. I think to do that you really have to utilize both your left and your right brain functions.

Do you lead with your left brain or your right brain. Do you enjoy the ‘big picture’ feeling of writing the first draft or do you prefer revising with its attention to detail? Or are you like me and partial to both processes?

And don’t forget our very own, Jana Richard’s novella, Burning Love, is available starting today from The Wild Rose Press. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Some Words on Description

How many of you would say you've a talent for description?

I've heard a surprising number of remarks lately from writers who find description a difficult task. Some wish they could layer in more setting, others feel they go overboard. So how do you strike the right balance?

Voice and Pacing

Most obviously, choose the level of description that suits the story's voice, the narrator's voice, and your voice. Sparse prose needs few descriptors, beyond a hint or two to set the scene. A great deal can rely on the reader's own associations filling in the blanks.

If your style is rich and vivid, or your images need more description (unfamiliar locations, alien races, unusual costumes), you can take a little longer to weave your descriptions, and add more detail. Just beware how long others may be willing to read before they start skimming.

Instead, space things out among relevant action and information. Slip them into movement and action, spread a character's description out over a whole chapter.


Description can't just describe things. It needs to do something.

Don't just describe the boss's hairy arms, but how your protag would love to rip those hairs out. Set the scene in relation to the conflict at hand, or use it to pique curiosity. Tension carries a story not just from page to page, but also from paragraph to paragraph. Give your descriptions more purpose than just window dressing -- lead them toward plot points, character motivations, internal conflict.

Since I could spend all night thumbing through my favourite authors for examples, I hope you'll forgive an example from my own WIP, where page numbers come easier:

Old chipped vases, bronze things green and unidentifiable with age, sat on ledges down dim corridors. Innumerable bits of weathered metalwork escorted me where I hazarded a lord would keep his library, and I could have snatched any number and been off without raising an alarm.

Farther on ornaments bore ancient bits of gem and precious stone, some as large as sovereigns, and I hesitated. I could take three, five, a dozen perhaps, and the gems alone would fetch enough to bribe a Guardsman, barter passage with the Wayfarer’s Guard. It was the safer bet. Any thief would do as much -- but one hadn't.

They're tiny questions but each paragraph has one that leads to the next, and the descriptions come in the context of movement, and things relevant to the character. The point of the scene keeps moving forward.


The appearance of a new character makes another easy culprit for grocery list descriptions. We love our characters, and we want to ensure people share the exact same image of them as we have. Really though, how many do we hang on to?

To quote Stephen King (who has many other marvelous things to say on description, all of which you should read. Right now -- no wait, after this post): "If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can't you? ... We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forge between us."

A few well-chosen details usually do the best job, and, as King points out, those details will probably be the first to spring to mind. For my antagonist, it's all about the mouth, for another it's thin lips and receding hair. Receding, yes, but I couldn't tell you the colour. That never seemed to matter. After your basics, a few character quirks will fill in the rest on their own. If the they stick around, drop another line or two later on and flesh it out.

With arms clasped behind his back, Durance looked me over, twisting a heavy gold ring on one finger. I stood stiff under his scrutiny, returning the same. Little older than Shaw, privilege left Durance slim and soft of line, swaddled in fine velvet. But they shared one thing in common, master and servant—neither gaze missed aught of note. Not my worn boots, not the patch of flesh glaring beneath my rent tunic, torn over an inch below the collar bone.

There's not much description here, but I don't think you'll be lost without his eye colour. I think later I threw in a reference to hair, but only because he was wrenching it all out of sorts.

Do descriptions give you trouble or do they come easily? How much description can you read before you start to skim? Are there specific types of description (character, setting, movement, action scenes) that give you trouble?

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 - Year in Review

It’s January, the start of a new year, the time to look forward and make plans and goals for the year ahead. It’s also time to look back at what was accomplished, or not accomplished, over the past 12 months. I’m a little afraid to look back over my goals for 2009 to see how I did, but I need to do it. How else do I measure if I made any progress towards my goals?

My first step was to dig out my goals for 2009. When I couldn’t find them right away, I realized I had already made a mistake. I probably should have put them somewhere where I could easily find and refer to them over the year.

Most of my goals related directly to my writing. (That’s strange. I usually have at least one about losing weight.) My goals were as follows:

- To finish and send my short story “Wings of Fire” and novella “Burning Love” out before I left for holidays on Feb.22/09
- To finish “Welcome to Paradise” by May 1 and submit to a publisher by Aug.31/09
- Rework “There goes the Groom” by Dec.31/09
- New story to be plotted by Dec. 31/09

So how did I do? Well, I did finish “Wings of Fire” in the allotted time. My writing group, the Saskatchewan Romance Writers, is hoping to do an anthology of “Saskatoon” stories and this short story is my contribution. So I get a big check mark for that one! Yay!

I also completed, submitted, edited and sold “Burning Love” to The Wild Rose Press, and it will be released on January 20, 2010. Double yay! Another check mark!

Now for the not so yay things. I did not complete “Welcome to Paradise” by May 1 and I haven’t submitted it anywhere. A first draft is done but it still needs work.

I didn’t rework “There Goes the Groom”. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it. This was the second in what I hoped would be a series, but it got stalled somewhere along the way and I haven’t been able to revive it. It still awaits on my hardrive.

When I said I wanted to plot a new story by Dec.31/09, at the time I meant a brand new story, something I haven’t work on before. Instead, I pulled out an old idea. I believe I began “Twice in a Lifetime”, my WW2 story, a few years ago before abandoning it. It required a lot of research, and I didn’t know where to go with it. I began working on it again this year, and I’m about 40,000 words into it. I guess I can give myself a checkmark for this one. Another of the goals I set for myself was to overcome my fear of research, and finding information for this story has helped with that. I guess I’m not as enthusiastic about my checkmark here because the novel is not finished, and I know it will require much more work.

I had a couple of goals relating to finding time for writing:

- To protect writing time and not squander it by doing housework etc. during that time.
- To be more productive and not let distractions (like TV) take me away from writing.

With these goals, I think I have to give myself a thumbs down. I had quite a productive first half of the year. From January to the end of July, I wrote pretty much everything I mentioned above. But from August to December, my production dwindled to almost nothing. The only thing I wrote were blogs. And I’m still finding it difficult to back away from the TV. Other distractions sidelined me as well. Normally, I write during the day, preferably mornings. But I was so busy with my day jobs this fall that I was at work most mornings. And afternoons. I continue to find it hard to write when I’m tired, upset or worried. I doubt I will ever be able to change that.

All in all, I think I’ll give myself about 55% for 2009. On second thought, I was part of the successful first year of the Prairie Chicks blog, so I’ll up my mark to 65%.

So now it’s time to look forward. I’ll use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal setting system again this year: I’ll try to make my goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Goals for 2010:

- Complete edits on “Welcome to Paradise” by April 30, 2010. Submit to agent by June 30, 2010.
- Finish first draft of “Twice in a Lifetime” by June 30, 2010. Work on polishing and having it critiqued to Dec.31, 2010.
- Rework “There Goes the Groom” by July 31, 2010.
- Write the first draft of the third story in the series, “Always a Bridesmaid”, by Dec.31, 2010

Am I being too ambitious and maybe a little unrealistic, considering I didn’t exactly burn up my computer with all the words I wrote last year? Perhaps. But I also need to push myself and set goals that are a challenge. I think I also have to be prepared to amend the goals during the year if I change direction, or if any of my goals have proven to be either too difficult or too easy. And this year I’m going to put them someplace where I can check on them more frequently!

About changing goals: I originally wrote this blog in early January, and then inspiration hit. One of my publishers, The Wild Rose Press, is currently running a contest. The criteria is fairly simple: write a novella length mystery/suspense of 20,000 to 65,000 words about a blue diamond. I’ve known about this since at least October, but nothing came to me. And then suddenly I had an idea. So my revised goal is:

- To complete a first draft of “Flawless” during this week’s annual BIAW for members of the Saskatchewan Romance Writers.
- To finish the stuff I've already started!

So, gentle readers, what are your goals for 2010? Care to name one here? It can relate to writing or to any other aspect of your life. Or can you give us a piece of advice about goal setting, or perhaps a link to an interesting website on goal setting?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Welcome Jennie Marsland

I’m sitting down to write this blog, minutes after getting confirmation that the first print copies of my first book are on their way to me. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so it’s a fitting time to reflect on the journey from inspiration to publication. It hasn’t been dull.

I’ve written all my life, poetry, lyrics and short stories, but I’d never considered attempting a novel. Too long, too daunting. Then, in September of 2006, the hero of McShannon’s Chance simply materialized, fully formed, in my imagination. Tall, a bit on the lean side, dark hair and molasses-colored eyes. Cajun mother, British father. A Georgia boy who turned traitor and fought for the Union in the Civil War. I suppose all the Westerns I read growing up had been perking away in my subconscious, because I knew instantly who Trey McShannon was and what drove him.

I was on a camping trip at the time, and couldn’t find anything to write on but paper towel. I grabbed three sheets and a pencil and started writing. I still have those sheets tucked away. Six months later, I came up for air with the first draft of a novel on my hands. By that time I knew I wanted to be published, but I was full of all the usual quaking doubts and fears. Everyone else on earth wants to be published, too. Might as well buy a lottery ticket and hope to win the jackpot.

I hadn’t set out to write a romance. I’d sworn off romance novels in the eighties because I found the heroes arrogant and annoying. I wasn’t even sure that what I’d written fit the genre, though it was a love story. I’d never heard of Romance Writers of America and hadn’t belonged to a writing group for nearly twenty years. Awash in ignorance, I did a little research and decided to submit my MS to a small e-publisher, thinking that even if they rejected me, they’d be more likely to give me feedback than a large publisher or an agent. Then I settled down to wait.

They got back to me the next day, asking for the full manuscript. They said that, with some changes, they would publish. I couldn’t believe it. My first book, on the first try. Overnight.

I shouldn’t have believed it. This was followed by a year of false starts, long waits with no contact, and finally the disappointment of having the company fold while my book was in edits. A year during which I had joined an online forum,, got critiqued by some wonderfully helpful and supportive writers, and lost some of my naiveté. A year I needed badly.

With a much stronger manuscript in hand, I submitted to a couple of large publishers and received rejections. I felt like giving up, but I hadn’t forgotten the thrill of that first acceptance. I still believed in my story, so I sent it to another small e-pub, one that had published authors I knew online. This time, my novel was released in e-book form.

For three weeks, until the company folded.

At this point, I didn’t have much naiveté left. I’d joined RWA and learned a bit about publishing. In spite of my disappointment, I knew I was lucky to have gotten the rights to my book back from both companies. I also knew that, given the present turmoil in the publishing industry, and given that Westerns aren’t currently fashionable, my book could spend a lot of years looking for a home with a traditional publisher. I took a couple of months to consider my options, then submitted to a third e-pub, Bluewood Publishing, the owners of which I knew as authors. Which brings me to the boxes of books I’m eagerly awaiting.

Is there a moral in all this? Several, I suppose. I’ve learned that the publishing industry today is full of risk, wherever you turn, with large companies and small. I’ve learned that I have to write what’s in me to write, whether it’s a hot commodity in today’s marketplace or not. I’ve learned to measure success by pride in a job well done, by growth in my craft and by the friends I’ve made.

Oh, and I read romance now.

McShannon's Chance by Jennie Marsland is available from Bluewood Publishing and Visit Jennie at her website where you can read an excerpt and find out what else she's working on, including some photos of her wonderful paintings.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Little Shameless Self-Promotion!

Today is "Wildcard" Friday here on the Prairies. With nine of us blogging at present that means we have one unassigned day every couple of weeks, so we're taking turns every other Friday with a smorgasbord of treats for you. Today is my turn and I hope you'll bear with me for a little shameless self-promotion!

Only five more days until my novella “Burning Love” is released by The Wild Rose Press ( on January 20 and I’m as excited as a kid counting the sleeps until Christmas! Let me share a blurb and a short excerpt with you:

After causing three cooking fires in her apartment, Iris Jensen finds herself homeless. She lands on Riley Benson's doorstep, looking to rent a room in the beautiful old home he's restoring. It's only for six weeks until Iris leaves Portland, Oregon for her new job on a cruise ship. Firefighter Riley knows exactly what a bad tenant she can be. But he needs money to finish the work on the house he loves. And something about Iris pulls at his heart…

Meanwhile, in Heaven, two angels watch over the young lovers. Angelica and Hildegard work in Heaven's Relationship Division, where angels match mortals with their soul mates. The angels believe so strongly in Iris and Riley’s love that they break Heaven's rules to help them. Can the the angels convince them their love will last a lifetime before time runs out?


Riley looked into her beautiful blue eyes and her smiling face and did the only thing he was capable of doing at that moment.

He kissed her.

Maybe later, he told himself, when sanity returned, he’d think of a hundred reasons why pulling Iris into his arms, holding her tightly against his body, and plundering her soft, sweet mouth was not a good idea. But for now, right now, as she wound her arms around his neck and made tiny sounds of excitement deep in her throat, it felt exactly right.

Heaven. Having Iris in his corner made him believe everything was possible.

He stepped backwards towards the stairs, pulling Iris with him, intent on taking her to upstairs to his room. He suddenly tripped, nearly losing his balance. He glanced behind him and saw the object he’d stumbled over. A set of luggage sat next to the stairs, still bearing tags from the retailer.

“What the hell is this?”

Iris kissed his neck. “I’m sorry. I should have taken them up to my room.”

Iris had bought new luggage for her trip. Her plans hadn’t changed.

She’s leaving me.

The thought acted as effectively as a bucket of cold water tossed over his head. What was he doing? She was leaving in three weeks and didn’t plan to return. The calendar in the kitchen reminded him of that every day. Why start something that would only lead to heartache?

No, this was crazy. Why couldn’t they take pleasure in each other for the next three weeks? Why should they deny themselves what Riley knew would be the best sex of their lives? Why was he throwing it all away?

Because he’d already lost too many people in his life.

And Riley instinctively knew that if he let himself get close to Iris, let himself love her, a part of him would not survive when she left.

“Burning Love” came about as result of a writing exercise, plus the amalgamation of two ideas. At a meeting of my critique group, my friend Kathy placed bits of paper with names of heroes in one container, heroines’ names in another, occupations for heroes in a third container, and occupations for heroines in a fourth. We were instructed to pick a slip of paper from each container. I ended up with Ogden the firefighter and Iris the travel agent. Yes, I said Ogden. I’m not sure where Kathy got that name but I quickly changed it to Riley. Anyway, the object of the exercise was to take this information and create a scenario where these two characters meet. I had Ogden/Riley respond to a fire at Iris’ apartment. She loved to read about exotic places to travel and often forgot she’d been cooking. Later, after Iris was evicted for causing the fire and she was searching for a place to live, she arrives at Riley’s house answering his ad for a room to rent. He reluctantly agrees to rent her the room, as long as she promises never to cook again!

Even though this was just meant to be an exercise, I really liked the little scenario I’d created so I typed it up when I got home and filed it under “Stories to be written at an undetermined future date”.

Fast forward to spring 2009. I read that Samhain Publishing was having a novella contest. The story had to be 20,000 words or less and it had to feature an “other-worldly” creature such as a werewolf, vampire, ghost, fairy or angel. I’m not a werewolf kind of writer, but I did have another story idea in which an angel who is far too preoccupied with clothes and manicures figured prominently. So viola! Riley and Iris would find true love with the help of match making angel Angelica and her friend Hildegard. Angelica has a penchant for the clothes of dearly departed designers and a habit of messing up every job she’s been given in Heaven. Matching Riley and Iris and making sure they live happily ever after is her last chance to earn her wings.

I wrote the novella in record time and sent it to Samhain just before the deadline. My story wasn’t accepted, but I still liked it and thought it deserved a chance. I did some revisions and sent it to The Wild Rose Press. After many, many more revisions I was offered a contract.

The moral of my little story is that writing exercises really do have power. Also, no idea is a wasted idea. Maybe it won’t work on your current story, but sometimes that little gem of an

idea will be perfect in the future!

Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from a writing exercise or put two ideas together from half written stories?
Please visit Jana's website at to enter my current contests and to check out the stops on my virtual blog tour.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prairie Chicks Welcome Jennie Marsland

This Saturday, Jan. 16th, help us welcome Jennie Marsland to The Prairies. You're definitely going to want to stop by - the road to publication has been a rough and tumble one and Jennie shares it with us on Saturday. Her determination and persistance has paid off and Jennie's book, McShannon's Chance, is now available.
From her website bio:

Jennie Marsland is a teacher, a painter, a musician and, for over thirty years, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age and the affair has been life-long. She enjoys writing songs and poetry as well as fiction.

Jennie is a history buff as well as an unashamed romantic. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination, and she believes in happily ever after. She lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, their cat Emily and their outrageously spoiled Duck-Tolling Retriever, Chance.

Check out Jennie's website. It's a great place to find recipes, read excerpts, watch a video, or view some of Jennie's photographs or paintings (she's one talented lady). But don't forget to come back here on Saturday to read Jennie's writing journey.

A Maass of Hard Work

Wow! Joanne and Anne, you have raised the bar on blogging! Do I dare to dare?

Think about you wip for a moment. What would happen if you turned your premise around?
Write down some of the ideas for stories you have tucked away. What if you turned them around? What would happen if Cinderella didn’t go to the ball?
One of my ideas, as many of you know, is to write a series of stories, set in various historical periods which are somehow affected by the Second Century BC ring I have. The ring has started its journey with a young soldier in the army of Alexander the Great, right after a battle. He has the ring and is moving forward in his story. At the end of his story, the ring will (somehow) move ahead centuries and be the chief character in another story. That’s pretty straightforward and not nearly as brilliant an idea as I thought it was. It is pretty ordinary really.
What if he and the ring time travel to be in each story? What if every story’s characters were running away from the ring rather than fulfill their destiny through it? What if the ring is evil? What if the soldier is evil and uses the ring to do bad stuff? That’s better. It is original.
My questions above are ‘brainstorming’. In 99.9 per cent of romances, the first round of plot conjuring is pretty predictable. Protaganist has problem, solves problem, gets the girl and you turn the page to read about the author or his/her next book. Brainstorming, alone or in a group, is an eye- widener and a brain strain to do, but this is where novels, that are unusual twists on the same old theme, become novels that break out.
Donald Maass, highly successful author and agent, urges, “Whatever you do, push your premise and plot lines further. Don’t be satisfied with just a good story. Be satisfied only with a story that is original, gut-grabbing, unexpected, layered and complex. In other words, stop working only when your story is great....It will take a lot longer than you think. Keep pushing.”
I wish those were my thoughts, but the fact is, I bought Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and I am sharing with you some ideas he is urging us to do. It is all to help us break in by breaking out as it were. It is one of those I-can’t-put-it-down books with a strong streak of I-gotta-try but boy, Maass is asking a lot. Brainstorming is but one chapter and look at the change in your thoughts he has brung about already.
His chapter on pitching makes it go from a monumental dragon of a task to a easily manageable kitten of a task. A 450 word novel into a 50 word pitch? Of course. He even does it off the top of his head. See how he does it and you do it too.
In the workbook, he is predictable. (Uh oh. He’s going to get me for that!) in that each chapter has a few pages of commentary, followed by several tasks per chapter. Some chapters have one task; others as many as 48. Anyone who has ever heard him speak knows that he demands tension on every page. That chapter runs to 350 tasks. After you have done that 350 task marathon (putting tension on every page) there are 241 tasks that will make your books unique. Wait until you see the tasks!
Where is your back story? Maass says to look over the first 50 pages of our work and find a scene that describes setting, brings in characters, sets up a situation or is otherwise back history. Take it and put it into your chapter 15. Of course it isn’t apt to fit in your chapter 15. So cut it and paste it wherever you think best, but it MUST be after the middle of the book. Maass thinks back history is unnecessary, but if you must use it, put it where it answers a longstanding question. For instance, my soldier is rebelling against the killing and destroying going on around him. Why? Because he is from a genteel upperclass family and he thought the whole army experience would be a great adventure. He now knows it is a season in Hell. One small incident is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. He snaps and walks away. But I won’t tell you that back story unless I have to and it will be a long way into the book.
Maass is a master writer and he makes it plain that unless we present a story that is original, strong and very well written, we haven’t a chance in the publishing (shark pool) world. His goal isn’t to make us good writers or even better writers. His goal is to make us great writers, and that takes work - lots of very hard work. Is it worth it to you or are you happy as you are?
I like this book - a lot. It is tough. It takes one to a new level of effort. It is impossible not to be changed by it - dramatically - as a writer.
How would your wip work if you turned your premise to the opposite direction? Can you think of three different directions your plot could go? Does easily making pitches come ‘out of their den of iniquity’ and be excellent 50 word pitches appeal to you? Does your wip actually need back story? What does your wip need to ‘break out’ of the humdrum and be one heck of a story?
And what if Cinderella didn’t go to the ball?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Suck My Blood Please, Edward!

I’m going to apologize up front to anyone who has a teenage daughter and has had it up to here with vampires (sorry). I don’t usually read or write fantasy, but there is definitely something extraordinary going on when even the local news is talking about vampires. It’s amazing! If I had any champagne, I would raise a glass to the writers who created these fiendishly handsome men and to the many millions of women young and old who love to read about them.

If you aren’t a fan, you may be asking: what exactly is there to love about a blood sucking creature from the underworld?

Well, a lot, actually. Let’s use Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight Saga character Edward Cullen as an example. I’ve read these books several times and asked for (and received—thank you Santa!) the set for Christmas. I’ll admit to being a little in love with Edward myself (and Jacob of course!!). Why? Let’s break it down…

Edward is inhumanly strong, otherworldly attractive, and impossibly rich. He has the patience of a saint though he can get very angry when those he loves are in danger. In many ways he’s a loner, even though everyone knows who he is (and many admire/desire him). He's intelligent. He’s deliciously dangerous, but wishes he wasn’t; in fact he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. He can be jealous and hard to deal with, but all his other qualities make up for it. He’s brooding and tormented (I mean being with Bella is actually painful for him). And, most importantly, he’s willing to sacrifice his own happiness for the heroine because he’s completely in love with her.

Honestly, what isn’t there to love? Leave out the blood sucking bit and he is every woman’s fantasy.

It isn’t that much different if you look at Bill Compton from Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries (HBO True Blood series). Bill is just a little bit more dangerous (ok, a lot more dangerous but that just means Sookie has that much more to reform). Now TV has also brought to life L.J. Smith’s series The Vampire Diaries in which there are not one but TWO gorgeous, tormented vampires (brothers Stephan and Damon) in love with the same woman (some women are greedy). The list goes on…

Book sales, movie tickets and TV ratings are soaring for these vamps and it isn’t because half the female population has decided anemia is cool. It’s not even because the plot lines are enthralling or the writing is original (because in some cases, they aren’t). It’s because the characters are so appealing. They are strong, flawed and interesting. More than that, Edward, Bill, and Stephan represent the ultimate bad boy. As far as bad boys go, you can’t get much better (or worse) than a vampire. You are their very weakness (or at least your blood is, but since you need that to live…); one slip and you are a mid-night snack (but what's more exciting than being a man's weakness?).

Come on, admit it. Even though you may not be a vampire fanatic you know exactly what I’m talking about. (If not picture James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing…). Every one loves the bad boy; men idolize them, women fanaticize about them.

You love them so much that you WRITE about them. So, what characteristics are essential to a bad boy? Here are a few no brainers:

  • strong (not always in the supernatural sense)
  • attractive
  • rich (sometimes stone-broke is just as attractive as long as it isn’t permanent)
  • loner
  • dangerous
  • brooding
  • tormented
And naturally the bad boy has to fall madly in love with the heroine before the end of the story…

There are a lot of resources available on archetypes. Here is just one link with some thoughts specific to bad boys:

Who’s your favorite bad boy? What do you love about him? Other characteristics you would add to that list?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Manuscript Evaluation Service

Over a year ago, I had an idea. That idea consumed my thoughts night and day, snowballing in my mind into people; so real to me they felt like flesh and blood. Their adventure played in my head like a movie reel on repeat; and every time it replayed it got more intricate and exciting. That was when I got antsy. I had to get this story out of my head, somehow. So I wrote.
Once the first draft was done, I revised it numerous times until I decided it was finished. I knew it still had grammatical problems that I could work on later, but I wanted someone who knew what they were doing to give me feedback on the writing and the story. So I decided to take the opportunity to utilize a manuscript evaluation service.
I had no idea what I was in for. Using this service was a real eye-opener, or perhaps more accurately, a total slap in the face. Don’t get me wrong, I realize being a writer is not for the faint-at-heart; it is notoriously known as a cut-throat, exclusionary business. But my knowledge of this did not prepare me for the feedback I got from the evaluation.
I got the notice in the mail that I had a parcel waiting at the post office. I had been waiting for the evaluation for over three months, so I was fairly certain my manuscript had been returned to me. I brought it home, got into my pajamas, poured myself a cold one and then I tore into it. Or should I say - it tore into me.
In my (paid) line of work, I use a strengths-based approach. I rarely word things in the negative. For example, I might hear a client say “I want my child to stop being so stubborn,” and I would rephrase it to “You want your child to be more cooperative”. The second version is much more palatable to the child, and is more likely to incite cooperation rather than defensiveness. Clearly, in the world of manuscript evaluation there is no such concern about using a strengths-based approach. When I saw the word “ludicrous” on that page, I knew that the feedback was going to be brutally honest.
I pride myself on a fairly solid ego-strength, but reading through my evaluation definitely put that strength to the test. Getting criticism about my writing made me feel kind of like someone telling me my newborn baby was hideously ugly. I had just gone through nine months of creating it, breathing life into it and giving up my personal life for it; just to be told it was so far from perfect it could probably be diagnosed with Pervasive Ludicrous Disorder.
I was righteously indignant and mortified to the marrow of my existence. I searched the pages for the identity of my evaluator so that I could write them an equally scathing feedback. (Of course it’s anonymous – obviously for good reason). I threw the paper copy of my novel into the recycling bin, relishing in the palpable loud thud. I cursed at it, and told it how bad of a baby it was. Then I opened my laptop and I used the cut feature like I was wielding a machete.
That night, my first novel, my pride and joy, went from a 100,000 word document down to a mere 32,000 words. It was admittedly “flabby” before, but it certainly wasn’t anymore, rendered down to the bare bones. Then I took the little skeleton that had once been a novel and completely re-wrote it, my anger causing me to write with a newfound maniacal fervor. I have no doubt it is a better product now than it was before the evaluation. I took my ugly baby duckling, cut it to shreds, and turned it into a beautiful swan; something (I hope) no longer hurts the eyes, or insults the mind.
I’m still righteously indignant, and if my evaluator is out there and reading this, I dare you - stand up and identify yourself! But in reality, the truth hurts. I’m happy I went through the process for a number of reasons: It prepared me for the harsh realities of the publishing industry, it helped open my eye to my blind spots, and it forced me to exercise my resilience muscles. In the long run, it was well worth every penny - even if I did have to go through a hysterical meltdown, curse the heavens and cry myself to sleep for a few nights!