Thursday, January 31, 2008

Love at First...Sentence?

We talk a lot in the writing world about the need to grab our reader’s interest in the opening pages of a book. Not until the American Title Contest though, did I give serious thought to the potential power of the first sentence.

Certainly some books have incredible, memorable openings:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

“Call me Ishmael.”(Melville, Moby Dick)

But those are well-loved classics. Would we think those lines so great if we didn’t know the stories that follow them?

Curious about how the authors of today are crafting their first lines, I grabbed a few favorite books off my shelf. See what you think of these opening sentences:

1. There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.
2. His footsteps were soundless, but Victoria felt him moving.
3. Anthony Bridgerton had always known he would die young.
4. I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first.
5. One fine August evening in South Carolina, Agnes Crandall stirred raspberries and sugar in her heavy nonstick frying pan and defended her fiancé to the only man she’d ever trusted.

As with the classics above, my opinion isn’t unbiased because I know the stories that follow them, but all five of these first lines set a tone and pull me right along to the next sentence. The books and their clever authors are:

1. Janet Evanovich, One for the Money.
2. Colleen Gleason, Rises the Night
3. Julia Quinn, The Viscount who Loved Me
4. Patricia Briggs, Moon Called
5. Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, Agnes and the Hitman

What are the opening lines of some of your favorite books – and was it “love at first sentence?”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Magic of New Atlantis

Atlantis – I was magically hooked the first time I heard that name spoken for one of the mythical lost continents, before Donovan’s mystic radiant song, Atlantis, burst onto the scene – at around the age of fourteen.
Atlantis -- it was as if an ethereal burst of stars lit up my insides and glowed in my eyes. I read everything I could find on the antediluvian land Plato spoke about, as a high spiritual and technological civilization lost to a catastrophic deluge. This included the references made to Atlantis by the American Prophet, Edgar Cayce, in his readings. Through the years Atlantis has always haunted me, the seductive ghost remaining beside me. Yes, I have continued studying, researching and listening to those experts in varied disciplines, from hard science to psychic channeling, who have accomplished the most spectacular presentations of the truth – that, indeed, Atlantis did exist. And was the progenitor of many ancient civilizations, Egypt being the most popular and the most recognized.
While I have not studied every tome written on Atlantis, nor am I fanatically researching the last tiny detail put forth, I have let this legendary land and time live within me and live in my imagination. In several lucid dreams I have lived in Atlantis – another life time? I believe so.
I was so fiercely enchanted with Atlantis and it’s terrible demise, that I wrote a short story about the last day on Atlantis as it explodes, then collapses into the ocean. This was for a creative writing class in Junior College (mid 1970's). Never did I dream writing a fictional story about this world-shaking event in our pre-history would end up becoming a lasting scar on my writer’s psyche.
My story was all set to be published in the college literary magazine when I was suddenly informed that would not be happening. Stunned beyond any pain I can express here, I was told I’d plagiarized the story. A bit hard to do, since I hadn’t read anything for several years – you know, with all that reading for college classes.
Nope, I simply wrote the story without any other book on Atlantis, fiction or non-fiction, in front of me. Yep, all in my very own little words. I never was able to convince anyone of that truth, at that time. I even asked to be shown what book I had plagiarized. It never was produced by anyone involved.
May I say, as I write this blog, I realize revenge can be sweet. Indeed, deliciously sweet. Although, revenge was the last thing pouring out of me, out of my imagination, as I wrote about the future rise of Atlantis and the love story between Kalypso and Zhryphus.
No, New Atlantis poured out of my soul, out of my wildest heart – out of my unsinkable Spirit.
With the benefit of hindsight, I believe writing a story about Atlantis rising was inescapable and is, if I am courageously honest with myself, part of my destiny.
My American Title IV entry, Murder by Hair Spray in Gardenia, New Atlantis – spun and formed in my imagination, turbulent as a sea storm – then sprang forth onto paper and onto my computer screen like Poseidon’s powerful emergence from the ocean.
Below is what you would have seen, had I not met my contest ‘demise’, and yes, Flavia darling, that includes my endless first line.
Is this a good time to congratulate Holli, Trish, Mai and Helen, for their powerful rise in the American Title IV competition? Congratulations, Title Magician buddies!
If you haven’t had the reading pleasure yet, click on over to the Romantic Times website. Indulge your paranormal senses, then vote.

Murder by Hair Spray in Gardenia, New Atlantis
by Savanna Kougar

First Line:
The evil cloud of hair spray dominated the air in guest room 666 at Gardenia’s only motel, The Eternal Magnolia – so named because it was surrounded by a park-like acre of Magnolia trees, saved despite the cataclysmic weather, wars and land changes on Earth.

Heroine and Hero:
Sheriff Kalypso Sun Wing is 100 years old in the year 2051. A rebel at heart, an artist by soul, she survived the sterile fifties’ suburbs, the revolutionary turbulence of the sixties, the disco guru seventies. After the suicide of the man she loved, Kalypso barely survived the designer eighties, the fast-forward nineties. In the 21st century Mother Nature rebelled. Kalypso battled for freedom. She never knew why she survived. Until Atlantis rose. Once again.
Agent Zryphus Dolen Vasquoz chose an enforcement career on Earth for several reasons – his fascination with primitive worlds, to make his own way outside the family heritage, to keep official watch for his own Worlds – and, Zerculeon men find Earth women highly desirable, like the gods of old they rival in strength. Since there aren’t enough Zerculeon women, it’s a match made in intergalactic heaven. Especially when Zryphus gets a real eyeful of the Sheriff.
Story Summary:
In 2051, murder is rare in New Atlantis. The risen land of the antediluvian empire, Atlantis, is now a sovereign land colonized by freedom fighters from the former USA, survivors of the Conflicts fought against the New World Order’s attempt to openly rule the world. A Jackie O look-alike is murdered inside her Gardenia, New Atlantis motel room. To Sheriff Kalypso Sun Wing it looks like the horrific work of a serial killer from the Federal Union, the Hair Spray Killer, his unlucky thirteenth victim. In a gesture of cooperation she invites the Federal Union Agent in charge of the case, Zryphus Dolen Vasquoz, to assist her in the investigation. Arrogantly, Agent Vasquoz assumes he will be taking over, a notion smashed by the Sheriff. After all, she’s in charge and women run New Atlantis. The battle of the sexes sizzles between them immediately. Zryphus has found the woman he wants to marry. Kalypso has sworn off men forever. Since the protection of citizens is her highest priority, she needs his help to swiftly capture the notorious Hair Spray Killer, a chihuahua shifter – and help her figure out who wants the diary Jackie O may have been murdered over – a newly found diary written by Jacqueline Kennedy during her White House years. When the Hair Spray Killer comes after Kalypso, Zryphus won’t let her out of his sight or their bed. However, the hidden group pulling the Killer Chihuahua’s strings, wants New Atlantis under their thumb – using every necessary evil.
Dialogue Scene:

"Why the nice treatment, Zryphus? I was dirt under your shoes when you first arrived?" Sheriff Kalypso picked up the mascara wand. "Black, black. Just like I remember."
"Sheriff," Deputy Anna called out, "finished the personal item scan. Got the body ready for transport. We’re on our way. I’ll leave the door open. Keep airing the room out."
"Thanks, Anna. You know where I am." Kalypso picked up a compact case – solid rich elegance in design. Opening it, she studied the pasty covering. "Looks real. But I never used this stuff. Couldn’t stand it. Used the sheer version they came out with – when I used makeup. – You haven’t answered my question, Zryphus."
"Bluntly, Kalypso...I want you in my bed."
Placing the compact case down delicately, Kalypso absorbed the shock. "No, I don’t think so," she slowly enunciated.
"Have a lover?" Zryphus handed her the powder case.
"None of your business, as they used to say. – Looks real. Mind if I test it with my finger?"
"Please. – You don’t have a lover. Neither do I."
"Probably because you’re married or in a committed partnership. Or you just ended an affair – something like that. No!" Kalypso shifted gears. "Feels real, smells real. Are you aware of a company, or maybe a small business that creates these replica products?"
"Three, to be exact. Can’t tell where these originated. – I’m a one woman man, Kalypso. You’d have all my attention."
"No thanks. I politely decline. – Eyelash curler. Never used one. Always looked barbaric. – Brow tweezers. Unfortunately tried this a few times. Way too painful."
"I’ll convince you. – What’s this?"
"Eyebrow darkening powder. – No, you won’t. I don’t like men when it comes to relationship crap. Perhaps you don’t know much about our social structure here. Women rule."
"I dominate in bed. In our passionate relationship."
Mystery o’ great mystery of life, Magicians All, once again, my past collides with my present. My starry-eyed fascination with Atlantis collides with my land-risen futuristic world of New Atlantis. Yes, I admit it, the magic of New Atlantis continues the magical spell cast over me, the instant I heard the name, Atlantis.
Sparkles, our resident fairy, is waving her purple sparkly wand around powerfully these days. A flashing huge poof! And Proof. Congratulations to Anitra for The Call.
And a mighty big congratulations to Siren Publishing for being voted The Best Publisher, 2007, Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll.
Yes, a shameless hussy hug and plug follows. My fantasy sizzle novel, All Shades of Blue Paradise is on the Coming Soon page at Siren Publishing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Furry Truth

"Lastly, you need one cat, although two are better. Cats keep you from taking yourself too seriously. They are also good judges of literature. If a cat won't sit on a freshly typed page it's not worth much. Think of your cat as the original Muse." --Rita Mae Brown on essential writing tools from the book Starting From Scratch: A different kind of writers' manual.

This is one of my favorite writing quotes. Not for its inspirational value, or its usefulness toward future publication. It resonated with me as I, too, believe in that particular Furry Truth.

Jane is my "original Muse." We got her from our lovely landlady whose Siamese got out a few days before her spay surgery was scheduled. (Whoops!) Six weeks later, we left her house with a carrier full of tiny p.o.'d yowling feline. I hadn't grown up with cats, so neither she nor I were really quite sure what to do with each other. Luckily my husband had kitten raising experience, so we got through those first days relatively unscathed.

Like most cats, she has a very defined personality that emerged early. She likes to perch on high places like my bookshelves, kitchen cabinets, and the top of the bathroom door. She loves to sing and tends to do so as soon as we settle down to sleep at night. She refuses any real food like tuna or chicken, opting for kibble and treats that have been processed within an inch of their lives. (She does like cheddar cheese. Which I think is weird, but to each her own, right?) Oh, and I almost forgot her homicidal tendencies. Lying in wait near the bathroom door, waiting for the moment when her nearsighted human will eventually stumble past in the dark without her glasses so she can launch herself at her human's ankles. I suppose it's natural, then, that living with two avid readers, one of whom is a writer, that she'd quickly develop an affinity for paper.

I have found her curled up in my purse on top of the paperback I keep in there. She stands guard over my current manuscript. Of course, most of the time this involves scattering its pages all over the living room to find just the right one to sleep on. (This has taught me that rough draft page numbering is essential, although, taken in the context of Rita's quote she could just be picking out the good bits!) And sometimes, in the early morning or late at night, she'll climb up into my chair while I write, sniff at the tip of my Uni-ball pen and settle in for a good purr and snuggle against the spirals of my notebook. I think those are the times when we love each other the most.

A few years ago, when I got brave enough to start lurking around and, eventually participating in the online writing community, I noticed a good number of us have special relationships with our cats. I've enjoyed reading about Pandora and Boomer's antics on Laura Anne Gilman's blog, and Elizabeth Bear's Cat vs. Monkey posts. There have been entire books written on the subject like Cat Women and Writing With Cats. And sometimes the fuzzy ones themselves pipe up on the subject. Although their opinions of us are usually a lot less flattering than our opinions of them.

There are many cat people out there, but it sure seems as if writers have taken that concept to the next level by making their feline friends a participant in their writing process. I admit that I do this. Jane and I work well together with me muttering to her about secondary plots and pushing her off the keyboard and her ignoring me and doing her best to get in the way. I bring the words, she provides the attitude. And sometimes it's nice to have another warm-blooded breathing being in the room with me as I plug away. She keeps the process from becoming too lonely and, yes, she does keep me from taking myself and my process too seriously. Even if it takes the occasional nip on the ankle or the strategically dumped glass of water to do it.

As prevalent as the cat/writer mythos is, it's important for us to remember that not everyone believes in the Furry Truth. Some writers are *gasp!* dog people. Like Katie Macalister's Rancho Doghair, for example. Others have gerbils, hamsters, pet rocks, or snakes. One of my group buddies has a goldfish he's particularly fond of. Theoretically, these special animals can keep a writer company just as well as any kitty. But for me, none of them can keep me grounded, working, and on my toes as my Janie.

Now it's your turn to tell me about your special animal. Do you have a Poodle muse? A pride of Persians? An iguana named Harvey who sits on your shoulder? How does she contribute to your writing process?

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Call

They say “The Call” comes when you least expect it. I cannot tell you how true that is. I was cleaning the grill on the air intake of my heater when my call came. Lee Duncan, the contest coordinator for the Launching a Star Contest, called because one of the final round judges, Roberta Brown, wanted my personal information. Lee wanted to make sure I was okay with that.

I would love to tell you that I handled “The Call” with suave aplomb but no. I didn’t. I gave my information to Lee with quivering excitement for I’ve had my manuscripts requested from contests but never had anyone request to contact me personally. Deep down to the sticking place in my heart I knew this was my moment. How inglorious to be scrubbing a heater intake vent!

Within a few days, Roberta called me. We hit it off right away and talked for an hour and a half. Best of all Roberta loved my story VIRGIN HARVEST and wanted to represent me. No pussyfooting here but a resounding cheerleader who said my story was unique, wonderful, and amazing. I struggled for years and this was the moment I had strived for. The moment I had dreamed of. And this moment happened less than two weeks after I was eliminated from American Title.

Because of the constraints of the American Title contest I couldn’t tell anyone I had been eliminated. By the time I could tell everyone the bad news, I had signed with the agent of my dreams. What made signing with Roberta even sweeter was she represents a friend of mine, Patricia Sargeant, who will be guest blogging with us on February 8. We always thought it would be fun to be “agent buddies” and after long last, we are.

I wouldn’t have made it to this moment without the help of friends like Patricia, my ATIV buddies, fellow RWA writers, RWA chapter contests, and my amazing family. Thank you all for sharing your insights, your personal struggles, and just sharing the roller coaster ride that is the writing life.

Thank you for letting me break my big news here on the Title Magic Blog. I thought this would be the perfect place since I really feel it is magical news! I would love to hear your tale of the call or who your dream agent or editor is.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Lighter Side Of Dark

I'm delighted to welcome our Friday guest blogger this week, Amanda Ashby, with her thoughts on the lighter side of paranormal romance.

First up I’d just like to say major congratulations to all the American Title finalists. It’s such a fabulous competition and you’ve all done so well to be part of it. Anyway, when Helen first asked if I’d like to do a guest post on Title Magic, I instantly agreed since there’s nothing I like more than prattling away on someone else’s blog. Then she mentioned that perhaps I could talk about humor in paranormals.



This could be a problem since when it comes to being classed as a paranormal writer I always feel like a bit of fraud because in my head, paranormals are about dark broody alpha vampires who might not like the light but have no problems going shirtless whenever possible. However, the truth is that paranormals, by the very nature of their definition (something that can’t be explained by normal rules and theories) can be anything you want them to be and so I guess that on a technicality I do fit in!!


Anyway, the reason I like to write books with paranormal elements in is because you can create such extreme situations to put regular people in and then stand back and watch them try and get out it! Yes, I know it’s cruel, but it’s one of perks of being a writer.

When I wrote YOU HAD ME AT HALO my heroine is so pissed off at waking up dead in heaven she thinks things can’t possibly get any worse. But of course because it’s a paranormal, things can get a whole lot worse than dead and she soon finds herself back on earth, stuck in a guy’s body (while the guy is still in it). For me the humor comes from the fact that my heroine tries to deal with this extreme, abnormal situation in a regular sort of way – well regular considering the fact she’s a self-absorbed twenty-two year old girl.

The other great thing about putting normal characters into paranormal worlds is that they then have the burden of hiding their new found truth from other people, or risk the chance of looking insane – always good for a laugh. In my upcoming young adult book, ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HIGH, after my heroine turns her school into zombies and is busy looking for the cure, she still has to work around the normal conventions of dealing with her big sister and her mother (not to mention trying to ensure they don’t become zombie chow).

The book I’ve just finished is slightly different in that the heroine already knows the world isn’t normal because she is a fairy slayer at an elite training academy. In this book I think (hope) the humor comes from the fact that being a fairy slayer makes her the laughing stock of the entire place, something she is desperate to change.

The one thing that all my books tend to share is that whatever the world or the situation, the heroines are driven by goals that are very real and relatable to. They’re not trying to save the world, they’re merely trying to save their own worlds from imploding and I hope that it makes the paranormal elements of the story more believable because of it.

So, to sum up, my tips on writing humorous paranormals are to be cruel, isolate your characters from everyone else and don’t forget to give them solid believable goals. Oh, and if all else fails bring in a pack of flesh hungry zombies to liven things up, because, if nothing else, it will stop a saggy middle.

Find out more about Amanda Ashby!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kept Awake by Aliens

It started with the strange lights in the sky...

Actually no - it started at the local railway station, which is just down the hill from where I live. At the back of the regular station is the headquarters of the Steam Railway Society, which has a large collection of locomotives and other vintage equipment. I was crossing the bridge to the station proper one morning when I noticed there was building work going on. A fence had been erected part of the way across the track and some of the old cranes had been moved down close to it. Plus there was a large, mysterious looking hump, under a tarpaulin. The fence was puzzling. Placed as it was, it didn't seem substantial enough to keep out intruders. It looked a bit like -- well something from a film set.

I didn't think any more of it until I was coming home from work a few nights later. The bus turned on to the Island, under the bridge, and the whole world seemed to be lit up. There were enormous lights towering over - you've guessed it - the railway station.

It didn't take the locals long to find out that the filming that was going on was for the TV series Doctor Who, or that the whole set was to be blown up on the following Wednesday. This was the first series of the new Doctor Who, starring Christopher Eccleston, a lot of which was filmed in and around Cardiff.

The filming went on for almost a week of very cold February nights and it was light enough to read in the garden at 2 a.m. Neighbours at the bottom of the hill had a grandstand view. I had to go and stand at the end of the street to watch murky shapes creeping about the eerie looking station. It didn't make a lot of sense and it was too darn cold to hang around for long, but it added a little excitement to life and I was quite sad when Wednesday arrived. There was no window shattering explosion but the lights were gone the following evening.

Then there was a long wait until ‘our’ episode was screened. We knew by then that it was the double part one set in World War Two - The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The station had been transformed …..

Many of the scenes take place on the bridge that users of the station cross every day. And the hump under the tarpaulin was the alien space craft. The rather ropey looking fence was changed on the screen to something solid and sinister.
The power of illusion ….

As a foot note to this - the current Doctor Who is, of course, David Tennant, an actor whose career I've followed since his early days at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford on Avon. He’s back there this year, playing Hamlet, with another favourite, Patrick Stewart, aka Jean Luc Picard, as Claudius – rumours that swords are to be replaced in this production with light sabres have yet to be confirmed …

Yes, I do have my tickets, but I’m waiting until November when I can also see Mr Tennant in Loves Labours Lost as well as Hamlet. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it then …

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Devil In The Machine

Is it possible for inanimate objects to be evil or imbued with dark forces?

After the weekend I’ve spent fighting to retrieve documents from my daughter’s dead computer, I’m starting to think it is. I intend to have a ceremonial burning, or maybe dismembering, where I rip out its wiry innards, before we bury its rusty metal carcass in a deep, dark hole at the bottom of the garden. Umm, maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Supernatural. (Can never get too much of Dean and Dan!)

Why do some people always have problems with electrical equipment? My poor husband suffers. He only has to try for one copy and the photocopier chews up the paper. Yet, the photocopier likes me. Maybe it all comes down to patience and understanding. Treat the machine with care, use it carefully, and it behaves. Cut corners and it plays up—a bit like children and pets.

There are scientists who believe that inanimate objects can be infused with power—good or evil. And the premise is rife in fiction. I’m sure everyone can think of a story based on this idea. (Anyone read LOTR lately?) Is this pure fiction? Many people believe it is true. Cultures throughout history and world wide from the ancient Egyptians to the Celts believe that objects can be cursed or blessed to bring good or bad luck.

Tales of cursed places include the Bermuda Triangle and numerous places in Ireland.

More recently, experiments carried out by various governments have tested the theory that an object can be infused with bad energy to make the owner sick or even die.

There are just as many tales of objects that carry healing power or the power of good luck. One of the best known is the Blarney Stone at Blarney castle in Ireland. Could this all be superstition? Does the effectiveness of the objects curse or blessing depend on the recipient believing in the power? Are the effects just a product of the human imagination?

I believe objects can carry power—good and evil. What about you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm a sucker for a (sci-fi) romance

It probably all started with Princess Leia and Han Solo. I've never been a big reader of science fiction, but I love to watch sci-fi TV shows and movies. And to me, a romantic at heart, it's made even better if there's a love story in the mix.

Sure, I loved all the action in the original three Star Wars movies, the story of good versus evil, but what part of The Empire Strikes Back did I watch and read (I did read the novel) over and over again? The part where Leia and Han confess their love to each other moments before he's frozen in carbonite. This movie was released just days before I turned 10, so I was in full possession of my romantic streak early.

In the more recent Star Wars trilogy, I even rooted for Anakin and Padme, even though I KNEW it wouldn't work out in the end. That, my friends, is an incurable romantic.

Fast forward to 2002. Firefly debuted on FOX. Being a fan of sci-fi and westerns, I was very, very excited about Joss Whedon's mixture of those two genres in this fantastic show that FOX -- grumble, grumble -- didn't give the chance to grow its audience that it deserved. Did I mention grumble? The dialogue and banter was great (which is a Whedon hallmark), it was full of fun action and scary bad guys (Reavers -- shudder!). Again, however, it was a budding romance that was one of the high points for me. I loved seeing how the ship's engineer, Kaylee, and the doctor, Simon Tam, circled around each other until they finally got together in Serenity, the feature film based on Firefly.

Staite's character is one half of the latest burgeoning sci-fi romance that has me on the edge of my seat, on one of my favorite shows, Stargate Atlantis. On the recent episode "Quarantine", Staite's character of Dr. Jennifer Keller is trapped in the infirmary with Ronon Dex, a Satedan warrior who is often the Atlantis gang's muscle. The longer they're trapped, the more they talk and reveal to each other about their lives. Then the looks begin to pass between them, and you cheer that this tough guy who has a loss in his past he doesn't often talk about and this brilliant buy shy and timid doctor who has never felt she's belonged anywhere might be on the road to romance. In fact, they're on the verge of kissing when the cityJewel Staite, who played Kaylee, is now one half of another shuts down the automatic quarantine and they are able to leave the infirmary. Just when I was afraid that this might-be romance might come to nothing more than the product of being trapped together, a scene near the end of the episode still has Ronon and Keller giving each other some glances that other members of the Atlantis expedition notice. Yay! I can't wait to see what happens.

So, any fans of sci-fi romances out there? Any of you watch Atlantis? If so, what do you think of the Ronon-Dr. Keller pairing?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Another writing contest!

Per the request of several Title Magicians here, I’ll talk a bit about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

This is the first time, along with Penguin Group and CreateSpace, has initiated this contest. It is an international contest that covers all sub-genres of fiction. Entries into the contest were required to be completed manuscripts where the author still retained distribution rights at the time of entry, and was capped at exactly 5,000 entries. From those entries, only 835 made it into the semi-finals (36 from the romance category!). Entries in the semi-finals are then placed on for people to download (a free excerpt) to read and review. On March 2nd, at the conclusion of the semi-finals, the ten entries with the most reviews and highest ratings will go on to the finals. All semi-finalists also get their manuscript reviewed by Publishers Weekly. That review is posted as well, or will be, as soon as they get the reviews in from Publishers Weekly. The ten finalists go through the process again of getting reviewed by people with an Amazon account, where the three top entries will land on the editors’ desks at Penguin who make the final decision on a winner. The winner gets their book published.

From now until March 2nd, you can have a say in who gets to move on. Fellow Magician, Lexie O’Neill and I have both made it through to the semi-finals! We encourage and welcome all reviews. Heck, we’re on our knees here. I’m not above a little begging. =)

Lexie’s entry, THE EDDY COMPLEX, can be found here:

And my entry, THE PROPHECY, can be found here:

Or just go to to access the front of the contest, then click on the Romance category link, and look for us by our titles. We’ll need all the buzz and reviews and stars we can get. Let’s help prove to the world that romance is not the ugly step-sister of literary, science-fiction/fantasy, or historicals! If enough fans show support for the romance authors, I firmly believe the romance genre will be looked upon with a little more respect than it’s currently receiving. We love romance, and we’re not afraid to write or read it!

That’s my soapbox talk for the day. I’ll leave off with the blurb for THE PROPHECY and hope that you’ll stop on by at to download the free excerpt and cast a helpful review.

THE PROPHECY – ABNA semi-finalist
Historical Fantasy Romance
Antiquities specialist, Kate Madison, is close to proving the existence of a mystical land called Zenith. Then she learns her father has less than six months to live. When an ancient scroll catapults her into Zenith, it's a race against death to return to her father. But how does a modern-day girl prove to a warrior-dominated kingdom that she'll save them from certain doom if she can't save herself from falling in love with a man not of her time or place, and returning to her world first? King Warwyck Lyonn of Argun has vengeance on his mind and an ancient curse to end or a great evil will be unleashed. The last thing he needs is a strange woman from another time and place. But if the prophecy is to be believed, then saving his kingdom means enlisting Kate's help. When confronted with the choice between saving his kingdom or losing Kate, will he sacrifice the fate of the kingdom for love, or risk his heart to fulfill THE PROPHECY of Argun?

**THE PROPHECY is actually the first book in my Zenith fantasy series. PRINCE OF DARKNESS, my American Title finalist, is the second book.

END NOTE: Don't forget that today starts the beginning of Round 4 in the American Title Contest. Round 4 voting will be based on best dialogue scene and will run from today, January 21st through Sunday, February 3rd. We're gearing down to the end here. Only one more round to go after this. Please take a moment to head on over, read over the dialogues, and vote for your favorite Title Magician. We all truly appreciate your continued support of the contest. Here's the link to check out the dialogues:

Friday, January 18, 2008


I would like to welcome our guest blogger this Friday, debut author Mona Risk.

Perseverance: Is it the key to success or heartaches (and prospective heart attacks)?

It’s a strange question I‘ve been asking myself today while going through a rollercoaster time to say the least.

Last week I received two rejection letters and two requests. The editor requesting revisions for one of my manuscripts quit the publishing company after working with me for a year and promising a quick response.(?!) AND my first book was released yesterday.

Maybe I should rephrase the above paragraph in fewer words. Emotional words: Disappointed. Anxious. Relieved. Depressed. Joyful. Delirious.

If I keep hyperventilating the way I’ve done all last week, I am heading straight toward a heart attack. Can my poor heart accommodate so many emotions crammed in one week? Eventually I hope all my manuscripts will find a happy home. I believe it because I want to believe it, because without faith in myself, in my writing, my muse would hide, sleep would elude me and my heart would hammer, race, slow, and hurt.

So I decided to send the requests and then ignore them for the moment, forget about the departing editor until a new one reminds me of her existence, and celebrate the release of my first book, TO LOVE A HERO.

I am published. Yeah!!!. My first book, the book of my heart, TO LOVE A HERO came out yesterday at Cerridwen Press. I cried with joy last May when I received the Call. I thought it was the culmination of my dreams. Let me tell you about my Call.

It all started ten years ago. In a different life, I was Director of the Analytical Division of an environmental company. I supervised a staff of chemists performing analytical tests, and I worked on various government contracts. A monotonous predictable life that suddenly changed when I won a contract to refurbish a military laboratory in Belarus.

I traveled fifteen times to Minsk, capital of Belarus, and was well received by everyone. I worked with colonels and generals, chemists and engineers. I was invited to their homes and became friends with their wives. During the inauguration of the lab we were featured on their national TV. Needless to say, I fell in love with the country.

Five years later, I wrote my first book, TO LOVE A HERO. Through my novel, a fictional story about an American chemist and a Belarussian officer, I lived again my fantastic trips to Belarus. My story highlights the hospitality and warmth of the gorgeous and gallant Belarussians officers who sing, toast with vodka and make a woman feel like a goddess.

The hero, Major General Sergei Fedorin, has pledged to cleanup his country of the nuclear pollution that killed his wife and threatens his nation with cancer. American aid allows him to start his mission by refurbishing an old military laboratory. The patriotic Sergei is a true hero in his country who protects millions of citizens. He is watched and scrutinized by everyone, admired and revered, but not allowed to breathe, or love, or live a personal life. He accepts it all because of his love for Belarus.

BUT…When the lovely Dr. Lornier stumbles on the escalator of the airport straight into his arms, Sergei has more on his mind than nuclear pollution.

Raised in boarding schools, Cecile learned to fend for herself at an early age. She buried her loneliness under long hours of study and work. Now she’s determined to excel in her first international contract. So many people are watching over her shoulders: her boss at EAL; the government auditor who came with her to Belarus; the chauvinistic Belarussians officers; the treacherous Colonel Roussov who would go to any length to destroy Sergei; and especially Rob, her ex-fiancé, the sleaze ball who snatched her promotion at EAL. Nothing can detract her from her mission

BUT… In Belarus, a Russian country dominated by male chauvinism and intrigues, Cecile finds much more chemistry than she bargains for, and in the arms of General Sergei, she learns that chemicals are not the only things that can generate heat.

Can she betray his trust to save his career? Would her love cost him everything he valued?

I had a lot of fun writing this book and I hope you will discover a new country and interesting culture while reading TO LOVE A HERO.

Writing a book is one thing. Seeing it published is another. During my journey to publication, I often pondered if it wasn’t easier to refurbish the lab in Belarus, struggle with the chauvinism of my foreign clients and pass the thin-comb inspections of government auditors.

I wrote my book in three months and spent four years editing it. I entered my manuscript in numerous contests and edited according to judges’ comments, submitted to innumerable critiques and edited according to CPs suggestions, requested help from wonderful mentors and edited according to pertinent advice, and I edited, and I edited…for months, for years, while trying to save the plot and create my voice.

Last year at the FRW conference in Miami, Raelene Gorlinsky was sitting at a table waiting for the next writer to come and pitch her story. I stood at the door of the room admiring her adorable hat. No one showed up. A writer asked who was the lady with the hat. I said. "She's Ellora's Cave's publisher." Behind me the coordinator answered, "And Cerridwen Press's. But her last one didn’t show up. Do you want to go?" That made me jump. I hadn't planned to talk to Raelene and I didn't have a pitch, but a minute later I sat in front of Ms. Gorlinsky trying to summarize the book of my heart. Raelene smiled, asked questions, and I relaxed.

A week later I sent my requested material to Cerridwen Press and a month later came the first e-mail from Helen Woodall requesting the whole manuscript. By then my mother had been rushed to the hospital with congestive heart failure. I copied my manuscript on my laptop and stayed at the hospital all day, helping my mother drink and eat, and in between, reading, editing and revising. I sent my manuscript to Helen after two weeks.

It was 7:30 am on May 15. Still half asleep from a late night, I saw Helen's e-mail address on my e-mails and the heading, TO LOVE A HERO. I froze unable to open it and called my husband. He clicked on the e-mail and hugged me before I could even read it. Cerridwen Press would like to offer you a contract. Oh my God. I cried and I laughed. We bought a box of chocolate and took it to the hospital instead of champagne.

I was a published author. Finally. I wrote an acceptance letter to Helen, a delirious letter, that was far from professional.

Check to order for TO LOVE A HERO, a sizzling love story in an exotic setting.

Did I reach my goal? Hu…I guess….I’m not sure. Now I have to promote my first book, blog about it, send it to reviewers, bite my nails while waiting for their comments, sell it, sell as many copies as I can. And then write another one.

The road to publication is a long one, sprinkled with emotions, with tears of frustration and shrieks of joy. The end of this bumpy road is too far away to even glimpse. Put your hand on you heart, take a deep breath and keep going my friend. As a writer you have too much passion to stop.

Find out more about Mona Risk and her books.

Buy Mona's book To Love A Hero.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Tax Man Cometh

Guess who's coming to town now that Santa has gone back to the North Pole? The Tax Man. Tax time is coming sooner than you think and writers everywhere are gearing up to pen the most vexing manuscript of the year: IRS tax forms. If this is the first year you've made money with your writing--congratulations!--but you might be wondering just how to handle filing your taxes.

If you are comfortable reading the cryptic and frankly Byzantine IRS rules, then have at it, but if you can't make heads or tales out of them, you might try a program like Turbo Tax. With basic questions, this program can help you organize everything and enter the correct amounts on the right lines of your 1040 and Schedule C.

If you've raked in oodles of money you probably need to hire a certified public accountant (CPA) to handle your tax returns, but for those earning modest amounts, places like H&R Block can do the job at a reasonable fee.

Regardless of how you choose to handle your taxes the best thing you can do is be prepared. Throughout the year, keep track of your income such as advances, royalty checks, and any speaking fees or honorariums. You'll also want to track your expenses such as travel, postage, agent fees, writing materials, and any contest entry fees. If you are not comfortable using a spreadsheet such as Excel or Quattro Pro a simple spiral bound notebook will work just fine. It doesn't have to be fancy it just has to keep track of everything you get or spend.

Also, check out the September 2007 issue of the Romance Writers Report for an informative article by Dianne O'Brian Kelly. Dianne is a CPA/tax attorney and a talented humor writer. In her article "At a loss for Words? Claim those tax deductions!" Dianne discusses some common misconceptions about deducting expenses even if you haven't shown a profit. Diane has other tax information on her webpage at

You can find detailed information about any tax form at

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Magic of a Real Unicorn

Good Readers and Title Magicians All, recently my past has been colliding with my present. No, not just the one magical example that I will speak about in today’s blog. Nay, the count is many times over now. I suppose this is bound to happen, if you live long enough. Yes, I have definitely lived long enough. Crones of the world, unite, I say! Staffs raised triumphantly.
Once upon a time, when magic emerged like a dandelion from beneath the technology of our industrial age...and the frolic of dancing had come upon the land again...disco. Once upon a time, I viewed a real live unicorn – in all it’s beautiful white-silky coated flesh. The enchantment was nearly overwhelming, even though it was the unicorn of medieval tapestries, and not the horse unicorn of my fantasies.
If you have ever been to a Renaissance festival of ye older years, you may have also seen these magnificent beasts, these unicorns from ages past, reborn again unto our land.
So, begins my Crone’s tale (on a disappointing note: no shapeshifter’s furry tail yet despite the spells and mind concentration).
Mid 1980's, the advertisement was in the newspaper...full page, in black and white, a picture of the mythical beast with one of its owner/creators, Morning Glory. Mom and I stared in sheer bewitched fascination at that ad. We studied, trying to see anything about that huge jutting horn that looked fake. Anything! What further intrigued us was that Morning Glory and her unicorn were going to be at Hall’s department store on the Plaza. Hall’s, now long disappeared from Kansas City’s world-renowned Plaza, was comparable to an upscale Dilliard’s department store. Shopping land of the snooty, chic and definitely rich.
Loving all things magical, especially beasties, and loving all things genetic – that is, we were creating our own breed of super dogs, mom and I couldn’t resist this opportunity, even though it meant arranging time we didn’t have to get there. Fortunately, when we arrived there weren’t many people gathered around the roped off platform area. And there they were, the exquisitely lovely Morning Glory and her amazing magnificent, obviously very male, unicorn – looking exactly like the unicorn laying beside the maiden in the medieval tapestry we’ve all seen. While staring, besotted fool-like I’m sure, mom and I peppered the gracious Morning Glory with questions.
How? When? The genetics of the unicorn. As I recall, she explained that they, she and her husband, had found ancient medieval manuscripts describing how to create a unicorn from a certain breed of goat. Wisely, she gave away no real secrets in the process (currently under patent), they had successfully used. When we could finally tear ourselves away – the unicorn having provided a further demonstration of his reality by taking a giant pee on the floor – mom and I puzzled and pondered over our adventure into true sorcery as we drove home.
As the years passed, I had the sweet enchantment of glimpsing these unicorns of Morning Glory and her husband, at the Ren Fairs. I also knew they were eventually featured in the Barnum and Bailey Circus, only because I would come across the advertisements.
Hold your wands back, magicians! This is where my past and present collision occurs. Sunday night, January 14, 2007, with Ian Punnett on Coast-to-Coast am – the Wizard Oberon Zell Ravenheart was the featured guest. Husband of Morning Glory, partner in creating the real live unicorns, he has written a new tome, A Wizard’s Bestiary.
Wizard Oberon Zell Ravenheart is an incredible man, a man of true wisdom in many ways. Perhaps not the flash and magic of a Harry Potter, he’s real, just as his unicorns were real. I recommend listening to his interview and checking out his website (, including reviewing the many tomes he has written. If you’re a writer of the paranormal, and all things mystical – if you desire an entrancing trip inside a real magical world, use your finger wands and fly on over to see Oberon Zell’s story, the photos of his unicorns, photos of him and Morning Glory – or, if you just want to experience one of the best, most magical things to occur in the eighties, go to the website, Sideshow World (
Being of the Flower Child generation, it was easy to realize back then, that the very lack of magic in our age of the industrial military complex, was one of the dynamics in creating the counter-culture. Where, once again, magic revived itself. Becoming the weed, the dandelion, the dandelion blowing in the wind...the seeds of change...that cannot be stamped out, nor poisoned out of existence. Nay, not to be destroyed forever by those who refuse to believe and by those who would use it to rule over us.
Magic surfaces everywhere now. The Medusa of the modern day world. Cut off one serpent strand of hair, and two more fantastical novels are published. Everywhere, in every domain magic – magic in it’s myriad of forms and lights, lives...and wants to thrive among us all.
Indeed, the magic of Morning Glory’s real unicorn, straight out of medieval lore, in the prominent middle of Hall’s department store, lo those many years ago – sparked the magic in my heart to a higher, fiercer flame...for which I am eternally grateful.

Title Magician, Lexie O’Neill, is a finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough contest. Check out her entry, The Eddy Complex, in the romance category at

If you haven’t taken a quick peek yet, here’s my reminder to check out All Shades of Blue Paradise on the coming soon page of Siren Publishing. In the World of the Blue Pearl Moon, every shade of blue has its own fantasy seductive quality.
Blue unicorn...hum...? Just a Muse-whispered thought for another story...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reading For Writers

I don't know if you all realized it, but here at Title Magic you have access to your own personal library paraprofessional. Which means I'm the chick who sits at the front desk of your local library and gives you lists of good books to read. I'm also the person you yell at when you have overdue fines. Try not to do that too much, though, or I'll revoke your library card! *evil laugh* Okay. Not really. But do be nice to your circulation clerk. We choose to work in libraries out of love of the written word and we can be one of your best friends on your path to publication and beyond! (More on that later.)

A big part of my job involves evaluating books and telling people what to read based on their tastes and their passions. These skills have been invaluable to me as an apprentice fiction writer and it occurred to me that this is one thing that I can actually teach others about the craft. So I've constructed a three-part blog mini-series called Reading For Writers.

February 13 - Books that Suck and the Readers Who Love Them: Why analyzing some of the books you read can impove your writing and how to do it.
March 13 - The Care and Feeding of Your Local Librarian: What libraries can do for you and your work beyond the Dewey Decimal System.
April 14 - Non-fiction - It's Not Just for Research Anymore: Finding information and inspiration while reading non-fiction for pleasure.

And starting in May, I'll give you some fodder on which to test those Reading For Writers skills with an open-ended series called Abusing the TBR Pile. Each month I'll post a custom-made reading list just for writers with a sampling of the best, worst, popular, and obscure titles in a specific genre or sub-genre.

So, I have a couple of questions for you guys. (Lurkers too. Don't be shy!)

1. Does this sound like fun, or more of a dental appointment type of thing?
2. What genres are you all interested in? We Title Magicians pen paranormals, but that's not our only focus. Heck, I don't even write romance exclusively. (Yes! Yes! My shameful secret is out!) So spill. What do you read and write?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Shameless Promotion--but not for me, but my RWA Chapter

One of the topics I promised would be on my agenda for this blog was the LowCountry Romance Writer’s Association. I have been a member of LRWA since 2002—the same year I came back to writing and the same year I joined RWA.

The story of how I learned about LRWA is a bit paranormal in itself, or at least made up of a series of small coincidences. I’m an avid reader (aren’t we all?) and took my children to the library very regularly when they were younger (now they prefer to spend my money at Barnes & Noble). The local library very wonderfully sells used books on the cheap, sometimes a quarter a romance. I picked up one of those paperbacks and found it to be autographed. Cool. The story took place in Goose Creek—my hometown. Cool again. So I read it, and told my husband about it. Within a week, Books A Million advertised a book signing with the author of said book as one of the featured authors. Hubbie showed me the ad. I went.

And such is history. The author of that book was Carolyn Davidson, one of the wonderful ladies in our group. She has been a kind and wonderful mentor, as has Nina Bruhns (watch for her as a guest blogger in February), Dorothy McFalls, Bonnie Joyner, April Alsup, and so many more. D’Joy Foster took my picture for the American Title contest since I had no inkling I’d final and no professional picture. Joining a RWA chapter is good.

Now, the shameless promotion part. LRWA is a very small chapter and right now we’re struggling on the membership side, but we do some wonderful things. Throughout the year, we host online courses by wonderful instructors. Starting last year, we now host two a month—for very nice prices. In the fall, we host a Beach Retreat on the Isle of Palms. And, again, starting last year, we increased our offerings here as well—there are two hermit weeks where authors just write with socializing at meals (if you choose). And, drum roll, please, there is a Master class the week before the retreat—where both Jenny Crusie and Alicia Rasley are scheduled as teachers for 2008! I’m signing off now to reserve a spot before they’re all gone—and Good Writing to All!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Top Five Grammar Gaffes

As our guest blogger this Friday, I'd like to welcome Kelly Mortimer with her insights on grammar.

Hi Everyone,

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency. A literary agent wears many hats; some are voluntary. I’m an editing agent. That’s voluntary. So, what does that mean? I line edit manuscripts as I read them, as a copy editor for a publishing house would. As an unagented writer, you need to self-edit.

Why? Because you want an agent/editor to READ your submission, not stop after the first paragraph, or line, in some cases. Some say grammar doesn't matter, that a good story is enough. Truth is, the competition’s fierce. Only 1 in 1,000 submitted manuscripts get published. An unpublished author needs every edge available to break in. The cleaner your work, the better shot ya have. So, what are some “red flags” that tell an agent/editor you’re a rookie? Here are my top five, which I see all the time.

(1) Using sounds or facial expressions instead of the word said. Dialogue should carry the emotion, not an adverb shoring up said. A character can’t: bark, growl, snap, chuckle, howl, grimace, roar, smile, or snarl, etc., a word. Use said and eliminate said adverbs. Also, don’t reverse to read, said she. Save that for the kiddy books.

(2) Not using a word for its intended purpose. The worst offenders: pretty and little. Pretty in its intended form means cute, beautiful, etc. Example: “She has pretty hair.” Incorrect: “She arrived pretty late.” Little in its intended form means tiny or small. Example: “She has a little dog.” Incorrect: “Her dog ate very little.”

(3) Passive sentence structure. So many writers have a problem with this. It takes dedication and practice to avoid passive writing. Active structure is A does to B. Passive structure is B is done by A, or, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. Example - Passive: “The soup was stirred by Jane.” Active: “Jane stirred the soup.” Watch for was before words ending in ed. Check: that, had, and forms of to be as well.

Also, phrases pairing was with words ending in ing, which are Progressive Past. Example: “Jane was running.” Simple Past (usually preferred): “Jane ran.” Sentences require progressive past if something interrupts an action. Example: “Jane was stirring the soup when the doorbell rang.”

(4) Using backstory or too much internal thought. Don’t write long paragraphs of internal thought or backstory to “info dump” every detail of a character’s past. Break it up. Change to dialogue or action whenever possible. No backstory allowed in the first chapter (at least)!

(5) Overusing exclamation points and/or italics. I must stress how unnerving it is to see so many words in italics! It drives me crazy! I can't stand it! It yanks me out of the story! And if a writer uses too many exclamation points, which denote shouting or the mental equivalent, then I’d have a headache if I were reading aloud!

So, do yourself, and the person you're submitting to, a favor. Read your chapters aloud, slowly, before you submit your partial. Your ear can often hear what your eyes can't see.

More about Kelly:

Kelly Mortimer started Mortimer Literary Agency with one thought in mind: There were too many great writers who couldn't get their foot in the door. She's only 5'4”, but she wears a size 8-1/2 shoe, so she thought she could help. And she has, selling manuscripts for her first two clients in the same week.

In her agency's first full year of business, the American Christian Fiction Writers nominated Kelly for their "Agent of the Year" award.

Kelly finished as #11 on the Publisher’s Marketplace list of “Top 100 Dealmakers, 2007” – Romance Category. Boo-Yah!

Kelly has a background in business (she's always giving everyone the business) and has a secret government clearance (really), so your dirty laundry is safe with her.

She has a degree in contract law and has many character witnesses (at least 100 people will attest to the fact she's a character). Being Italian, she loves to chat with editors, booksellers, and writers, unless, of course, her hands are full.

Kelly knows the literary business and will use her maniacal type-A personality to work her heart out (yes, some agents DO have hearts) for her select family of clients. In order to be accessible to her authors, her client list will remain short. As more clients need less of her time (sniffle, sniffle), she'll be open to adding more writers.

She wants to ferret out those unpublished authors whose manuscripts are great as is, but no one'll give them a chance, or those whose manuscripts are close, but need some work to catch an editor's eye (she provides every client with a mitt).

Kelly’s personal service includes:
Returning her clients’ calls and e-mails within 24 hours (on weekdays) unless she didn't receive the message, or she’s dead, in which case clients have her permission to seek other representation.
She’ll give a client’s first manuscript a full line edit, along with her best suggestions for making the work shine. Warning: She’s disgustingly honest (but not mean), and loves heckling (c'mon, she’s gotta have SOME fun). She’ll edit the client’s other manuscripts as needed until they sell and get an editor (who’ll be disgustingly honest in her stead).
She’ll send manuscripts out to pre-selected editors in a timely manner (usually a few days)
Kelly sends her clients a monthly report so they know who has what, where.
She’ll believe in you and give you pep-talks as needed, or slap you around–her choice.

Kelly can't promise you'll get published. The book-buying business is subjective. She might think your writing is the next best thing to a heaping bowl of pasta, but 100 editors might not (some editors have no taste!). Still, she'll travel far and wide, search every newsletter, read every blog, scour every avenue (including Boardwalk and Park Place), to find the editor who wants to buy your manuscript.

Having a big-name agent from a large agency representing you might be great. Kelly feels: It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog.

Check out Mortimer Literary Agency here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Move Over, Carl Sagan

The man in the office next to me, Bob, is a pretty smart guy. He’s the assistant director of our lab and if you have data you want analyzed – well, let’s just say Bob can make numbers dance like Margarita-soaked writers at a gay karaoke bar. (A comparison which, if you were at a certain nightspot during the Romance Writer’s of America convention in Atlanta a couple years back, would impress heck out of you.)

The other day, Bob voiced his opinion that writers are Interpreters of the Cosmos. After immediately deciding that he’d never read anything of mine since I have enough trouble interpreting the washing instruction tags on my clothes let alone the cosmos, I gave his idea some thought.

If one defines “cosmos” as the world around us, then what Bob says makes absolute sense. Each story is a lens through which the writer explores human interaction and shares their world view with us.

Mary Janice Davidson makes us laugh as we ride along with Betsy, a woman/vampire dealing with a world and a position of power she doesn’t want. Nora Roberts enthralls us as we grow with Eve Dallas, a tough, honest cop learning to love and overcome extreme childhood abuse. Suzanne Brockman takes us into the hearts and minds of the men and women warriors who fight for us. These authors interpret our world in fresh and inventive ways. They give us insight into human nature and light corners that might otherwise have remained dark.

Carl Sagan helped us navigate the mysteries of the ever-expanding universe, but writers can show us new paths through the world we walk every day. They truly could be considered Interpreters of the Cosmos.

Like I said, Bob is a pretty smart guy.

Okay, so of course I started to think about books that have impacted my view of life. The first thing that came to mind was the Fellowship of the Ring. I devoured the series, caught up in the adventure. But I was also engaged by Tolkein’s view of the cosmos - his belief in good triumphing over evil, the power of community and trusted friends, the necessity to persevere even when you don’t believe you can reach your goal.

How about you? What books or authors have Interpreted the Cosmos for you and changed or affirmed the way you think about the world?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ivory Towers

I'm not thinking of the kind that you get in fairy tales, but the kind inhabited by writers when they're practicing their craft. (Or, alternatively, sitting staring into space, wondering where they lost the plot and why their hero and heroine have stopped talking to them.)

It's a cliche that writers don't usually get out much - considering that several that I know write in their pyjamas at odd hours of the night, covered in coffee stains and crumbs, perhaps that's no bad thing.

The alone-ness of the act of writing often means that belonging to writers' organisations and critique groups takes on a special importance.

Today I decided I'd talk a little about an organization I've belonged to for a number of years – the Romantic Novelists' Association. (Helen is a member too.)

While there are many writers' circles, reading groups and creative writing courses in the UK, the majority of professional organisations over here will only accept published authors into their membership. The RNA is an exception to this - they not only welcome unpublished as well as published writers, but also run an annual contest for new writers who have made it into publication. As a ‘New Writer’ you are expected to submit a manuscript every year for a professional critique from a published author – a service that has helped polish many manuscripts that have subsequently made it into print.

Membership of the RNA gives you the chance to attend meetings and conferences – those are the chance to learn things. Then there are the parties -- with that all important opportunity to network, drink wine, gossip, admire everyone’s posh frocks, and generally have one heck of a time – when writers do get out of their ivory tower, there’s usually no stopping them –

At the beginning of next month there will be a big social occasion for the RNA which has a serious purpose at its heart – the award for the UK Romantic Novel of the Year. The long list for this major award, chosen by a panel of readers, features 20 books across a wide range of genres – chick lit, regional family sagas, historical novels – they are all very different, but they are all guaranteed to be an excellent read. If you want to take a look at the long list then check out the new link to the RNA which I’m adding to Title Magic’s list – at least I hope I am. If I can’t get it to work then I shall be screaming for super tec help from Mel – or Trish, or Mai. I know one of them will come galloping to the rescue.

Anyway, away from my techno deficiencies and back to the award. In the next few days the long list will be reduced to around six books by another round of reader recommendations. Then it’s down to a panel of judges to make the final choice.

The contest has a special significance for me this year as a fellow Welsh author and inspirational friend Catrin Collier is on the long list for her book One Last Summer. It’s a poignant and carefully researched novel that draws on her own family background to weave a fragile love story into an account of a woman trying to hold her home and family together. The story begins in Prussia, in the turmoil of World War Two, but has its conclusion in the present day. I really hope that Catrin makes it onto the short list and has a chance at the prize.

I’m hoping to be in London for the lunch when the winner is announced – definitely an occasion for the posh frock - some of the biggest names of romantic fiction on this side of the Atlantic will be there – if I make it then you’ll hear all about it – that’s a promise.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Preoccupation With Mirrors

Someone I know broke a mirror the other day. Being the grounded, rational person I am, my first through was, ‘Tsk, tsk, seven years bad luck for you, laddie.’ Then I paused and wondered how luck, or more precisely lack of it, could be linked with breaking a piece of silvered glass. Granted, it makes sense that the symbolism of shattering one’s own image might make one a tad uncomfortable—but seven years bad luck? Where does seven come into it?

Twenty minutes of Internet research later, I had my answer. :-)

The superstition was born long before the modern glass mirror. In days of yore, folks who wanted to check their appearance didn’t pause by the hall mirror on their way to the front door, they found a convenient puddle to check their reflection. If the image in the water was distorted this portended the viewer’s death. (Moral of this story is obviously don’t look at your reflection when it’s raining!)

With the advent of the glass mirror, beliefs modified. People imagined the reflection was an image of their soul. Ergo, if the mirror shattered, so did their soul, and the person would die. (Interesting aside; vampires where thought to have no reflection because they have no soul.)

The Romans seemingly commuted the death sentence for shattering one’s soul to seven years bad luck because they believed it took seven years for life to renew itself. And of course, the Romans being the Romans, they devised a solution to the bad luck problem. Bury the broken pieces of the mirror deep in the earth and all will be well.

The mirror seems to be the focus of many other superstitions. Here are a few of the stranger ones:

When someone dies, all mirrors in the house should be covered to prevent the soul from getting trapped in a mirror. (Some think the Devil created mirrors for this very purpose.)

If a mirror falls from a wall it means someone will die.

The Ancient Chinese believed mirrors frighten away evil spirits who get scared when they see themselves.

If a woman sits in front of a mirror and eats an apple before brushing her hair, she’ll see an image of her future husband behind her shoulder.

Mirrors and reflective surfaces such as water and polished metal have long been associated with magic, often used for scrying. Throw in dark mirrors, mirrors as windows on the past, future, and alternate realities—the story possibilities are endless!

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Magic of the Superheroine

The new year of ONE, is all about the magic of the Superheroine.
Indeed, the kick-butt soft-hearted Superheroine of the Age Aquarian.
Hey, it sorta rhymes. A tiny brain idiosyncrasy on my part, please forgive.
Wonder Woman! ‘beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules’...Founder of the Justice League. Where are you my Amazonian Princess when we all so desperately need you? Still out in TV land?
Who can ever forget Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman? That red, white and blue starry costume representative of all that is good about America. Truth, justice and the American way. And lordy, lordy, did she have ‘the’ sexy curves! That waist beneath her impressively-sized bosom, do you even see a celebrity these days with that waist, those gorgeous generous curves anymore? Well, Delta Burke, but she was ridden out on the rails proclaiming anorexia as the new beauty standard. But, as usual, I digress. Yes, Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman captured my imagination, urging me toward comic book land more than any other superheroine at that time.
Comic book land, where Wonder Woman lives in pulp perpetuity. Always within our cultural consciousness. She lives as that splendid strong archetype, a woman saving the world for us all, for everyone she loves – and often saving the world from itself.
Wonder Woman like every superheroine lives in my daydream world, my author’s fantasy world, where I live as a superheroine. Where I create my novel’s heroines. For example, Sheridan in All Shades of Blue Paradise, must help save her beloved equine lands by agreeing to ride in the savage horse game of Braverth, against a man who is brutally devoted to her defeat.
Yep, Wonder Woman, I could certainly use the lasso of truth. Big time use it! And I certainly need your awesome bracelet shield these days. Why? Injustice has become the norm in our culture. Is that one very obvious reason a lot of us ‘long’ like the poor smitten sod...or we crave, desperately crave Heroes. The heroes of our romance novels?
Heroines and Heroes...ergo, dear Superheroine Magicians, the fan-sensation tv show, Heroes. Don’t we all wish? It was true. I know, I do.
Isn’t it time we all arrived to our Power...because it takes all of us Superheroines...all of us arriving, as the slayers in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer arrived. These girls becoming women came forth to save the world – the only way it could be saved, by arriving at an understanding of their power, then, by accepting their Power. Using their Power.

How did this blog come about? Pat, one of the American Title IV finalists for her entry, A Touch of Heaven. Currently Pat isn’t blogging regularly with us, but she always has an open invitation.
Below is the loop message which inspired Superheroines:
Pat! If you're still out there. I would so luv for you to blog about your entry into the 'Create a Superheroine' contest, and about the contest itself. Haven't heard of that one! Big fan of the tv Wonder Woman, if you can do her better, I want to see it! Savanna
Let's see how it goes. I sent in two concepts, but the editor only responded to one. If anyone else is interested, the info's in the Newsarama section of the Comic Shop News website ( You'll have to do a search because I think the thread's been archived ("Create a Superheroine" has been working for me). This is a legit contest with a legit comic book publishing company, targeted at writers. You don't have to know how to draw. The writer has to split proceeds 50/50 with the artist, but I'm cool with that. Deadline for round one, the one-paragraph "pitch," is January 31. Ten finalists will be chosen to submit 5 pages of script for their book. Five entries will be chosen from that and Newsarama readers will vote on their favorite. Winner gets to write a 3-issue miniseries. Gee, this all sounds so familiar.
Does this count as a blog entry?

Yes, Pat, it does count!!! And Sparkles, our resident fairy, shoots sequin-clouds of good luck your way from her fiercest wand of Power.

For any heroine or hero interested, details of the ‘Create a Super-Heroine’ contest can be found at Newsarama. Like Pat suggested, which I did, if you Google it, the page access pops right up, and there is an e-mail entry link provided.
But you have to be faster than Wonder Woman’s whip, the one paragraph story synopsis must be ‘e-mail’ sent by January 31, 2008.

p.s. If you want a sneak peek of the cover art and the blurb of All Shades of Blue Paradise, hit the Siren Publishing link located with the other links, and look on the Coming Soon page.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Colleen Gleason's Cover Epiphany

Welcome Colleen Gleason to Title Magic as this week's featured guest blogger.

Colleen is the author of the highly acclaimed Gardella Vampire Chronicles, a series about a female vampire hunter living during Regency England (yes, a Buffy in the time of Jane Austen)...and the three men who love her.

J. R. Ward called her first book,
The Rest Falls Away, "Sexy, sophisticated, surprising!" and The Chicago Tribune described Rises the Night as "deliciously dark and delightfully entertaining."

The third volume in the series about Victoria Gardella Grantworth,
The Bleeding Dusk, will be released in February, and has received a Top Pick from Romantic Times (one of our favorite magazines).

So if you haven't yet had the chance to read about Victoria's adventures--and form your own opinion about which hero she should end up with--you still have time before
The Bleeding Dusk hits the shelves.

In the mean time, thanks to Colleen for sharing her Cover Epiphany with us!

Thank you Holli, Trish, and everyone else that I don't know personally! Congratulations to you all for such an amazing achievement and good luck to all of the Finalists for the rest of the contest...and in all of your publishing endeavors.

I'm delighted to be here to share my experience with the whole cover-design process--something I'm sure you'll all be dealing with soon.

I wrote nine books before selling to a major New York publisher, and worked with a reputable, well-known agent for more than two years before she called to tell me that NAL wanted to buy the first two books in my historical vampire slayer series.

It was a dream come true—something I’d strived for off and on for more than a decade—and the culmination of lots of hard work.

But the fun—and education—was just beginning. I got the phone call in September 2005, and my book, The Rest Falls Away, was released on January 2, 2007. Fifteen months later!

I did a lot during those fifteen months, including writing the second book, but one of the most interesting things that happened during that time is the epiphany I had in relation to book covers.

As an author, I have a certain idea of what I think the cover of my book should look like, based on personal preference and the type of book it is.

Colleen’s Personal Criteria for Her Book Cover(s):

* The design should be eye-catching
* The characters should be depicted accurately
* The scene portrayed should actually have occurred in the book
* It shouldn’t be cliché, and I’m personally not fond of clinch covers (especially since my books aren’t strictly romance)
* I’m not crazy about cartoon covers either

I couldn’t, of course, give this list to my editor; and even if I had, she wouldn’t have passed it on to the art/marketing department. Besides, NAL’s Signet Eclipse line has, in my opinion, some of the best covers I’ve ever seen.

Thus, I was blessed (and I do mean blessed) with a fabulous cover for The Rest Falls Away. I really couldn’t have asked for anything fresher, more unique or more eye-catching. It fit all of my criteria, and then some.

So…I was very excited to see what NAL was going to do with the second cover in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles series. The book Rises the Night was released last June, and it’s a continuation of the story of Victoria Gardella Grantworth, who learns that she is the next in a long family line of vampire hunters.

And here’s where I really began to understand book covers.

When I got the cover for Rises the Night, I wasn’t nearly as crazy about it as I was for cover of The Rest Falls Away. Oh, it’s very striking and beautiful in its own way, but there were things about it that weren’t “right”—in my naïve, inexperienced opinion.

First, there was a man with a bare chest on the front cover. (I’m not fond of covers with clinches, as I mentioned above…nor am I particularly fond of bare chests on them either.) (Not that this bare chest wasn’t lovely to look at…it is! It definitely is!)

Secondly, the man depicted, who was supposed to be Max—a prominent character in the series—looked too young, and his hair was wrong, and the expression on his face wasn’t quite right. Yadda yadda yadda.

Plus the cover has a sort of manga look to it, which, although it’s different, I did realize isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As you can imagine, I was a little disappointed. After all, based on my criteria, despite the bold color and that fabulous stake he’s holding, it just didn’t fit.

And that was when I had my Cover Epiphany.

That was when I realized that I was only the author of the book (and I don’t mean “only” in a derogatory sense). Although I have a background in art and design, and I also spent eighteen years in sales and marketing, I’m not an expert in this area. I’m really not. I can write the book, I know who the characters are and what’s going to happen and boy, can I put words on paper…but as for positioning it and marketing it on a global basis…my experience is limited.

Once I recognized that, I relaxed.

The art and marketing personnel at NAL do this for a living. The sales reps and my editor and my publisher all know much better than I do what makes a cover pop off the shelves, draw attention, and what sets it apart.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what we want? The absolutely most important thing a cover needs to do is to draw attention. It needs to make the person pick it up.

Pick it up.

Because once someone has picked it up, or seen the cover image somewhere and wanted to find out more…we’ve taken the first step toward that all-important sale.

And these are facts:
  • Covers with bare-chested men sell really well
  • Covers with dark-haired men on the cover sell really well
  • Covers with bold colors sell really well
Also, manga was becoming so popular, especially with the younger edge of my target market, that having a cover with a bit of that feel to it could only help in catching the attention of those fans.

Thus, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter so much whether the cover accurately portrays the book, characters, or events within…it’s most important that the cover attract attention and give the potential buyer a feel for what the book is about.

After all, how many times have you picked up a book (because of its cover) and, after reading the book, stared at the cover and said, “But that didn’t happen in the book!” or “Well, I don’t think he looks like so-and-so!”?

I know I don’t. If I like the book, I like the book, and the cover has little to do with it once I’ve made the purchase decision. But the cover has a whole lot to do with whether I pick it up in the first place!

And that, my dear readers, is what I learned in my Cover Epiphany: as the author, I expect the cover to show exactly what’s going on in the book, what the characters look like, and what happens.

But it doesn’t have to. All it has to do is get someone to pick up the book. The rest of it—whether the book holds their attention, whether the characters are well-drawn and the plot tight and interesting—is up to me.

And shortly after that Epiphany, I received the cover for my third book, The Bleeding Dusk (coming February 2008). And, in short, it left me completely breathless. It’s gorgeous, yes?

So…What kind of cover makes you pick up a book?

You can find out more about Colleen's books at her Web site, or visit her blog, which she updates regularly.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Magic of One Spirit

The new year, 2008, is the magic of ONE. 2+0+0+8 = 10 = 1+0 = 1, ONE. Simple if you’re familiar with numerology, originally brought forth by Pythagoras. No, he wasn’t just a math genius guy. He was also a man who studied the sacred vibrations of numbers, the harp string vibrations of our world. Or frequencies, what our universe is composed of, what we are all composed of at the subatomic level, according to the quantum physics’ geniuses, the ones who speak of other dimensions as reality now.
The magic of ONE. What’s your vibration, baby? Sort of like my boomer generations’ what’s your sign? ONE is the pioneer’s spirit, those who built our beloved country. Now those who adventure into space, those who roam over the globe and beneath the oceans searching for what has not been discovered yet. Hey, Bigfoot is still out there. Or as Fox Mulder of the X-Files said, the truth is out there.
ONE, ambition and drive and aggressive focus for getting done what needs to be done, for bringing forth your dreams, for achieving the new world, whether it’s your personal realm, or contributing your magic to our world. ONE is bringing forth the renaissance, born from what has been, and born from all of us, the ONE SPIRIT of us all. Yes, it’s the magic of our words written as novels, the magic of brushing art upon the canvas, the magic of a sculptor’s hand as the clay is shaped. It’s the magic of shaping and creating life. Your life and the lives of us all upon this world, upon this Earth.
ONE is also about winning. The year of ONE is the time for all of us who have worked hard toward our goals to gain whatever is rightfully ours. Yeah, on a side note, this Title Magician is more than eager for this welcome turn of events! To state it with excessive mildness. Yes, now is the time to ask yourself, what victories do you want in your life? And what victories do you want against the current dark forces running this world? BTW, Darth Vader is resurrected, and very much alive, in case you haven’t noticed.
ONE is also about wanting to be heard as an individual. Your individual voice. Your individual ideas. Everything you value most – mind, heart and spirit. Everyone’s voices raised up to the heavens – for, the tidal force of ONE SPIRIT will be heard this year.
ONE will be fast-paced. The hyper speed of a starship, I ask? Can any year be faster than last year? I ask in personal reflection, my head spinning like an out of control gyroscope. No, not exactly unusual, but how fast can a head spin?
This year of ONE is also about regeneration, the regeneration of the human will, the magical regeneration of our imaginations into higher, more rarified fantastical realms – those other dimensions out there. Picture this writer rushing to explore even more of her fantasy otherworld realms.
Another key aspect of this ONE year is our ability to reclaim more of our personal power, more of our personal magic to create our lives. Always a good thing IMHO. For, it is this personal magic, this new sorcery creation of our lives which will bring forth our highest-inspired renaissance upon the world, and within our own individual realms.
May I humbly suggest we bring forth more playfulness into our ONE year? Ever turkey leg-enjoy the merry and ribald atmosphere of the Ren Festivals? Yes, my fellow magicians, there is a great and sorry dirth, or dearth, of playfulness upon our Land (except as I’ve read, at the Romantic Times Conventions, fairies and vampyres and mermaids and all wild things, where all manner of jolly and naughty wildnesses ensue). As well, there is a tremendous and sorry dearth of the regal color-sumptuous gowns of the Renaissance in our world. Okay, I admit it I just want more excuses to wear them.
Playfulness, imagine puppies tumbling and frolicking with each other. Imagine kittens racing like mad things, wrestling with each other – playing. And here, I whisper into Sparkles, our resident fairy’s tiny petal ear...fairy dust, fairy dust over one and all...wave, wave your purple star wand, so delicate and so shimmery...playfulness, yes, more – much more playfulness, I say.

And now, there are Four Title Magicians remaining in the American Title IV contest.
Congratulations on your advancement.
I shall tempt the goode and generous-hearted readers with the hope that all of the American Title entries may be posted for your enjoyable reviewing.

Happy One Spirit year to all! Savanna Kougar

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brave New World

I'm not going to talk about the novel by Aldous Huxley, but my foray into the brave new world of iPods.

See, I got an iPod for Christmas. It's not a new iPod but a "re-gift". Every year my family tries to find things that we have, but don't use, and "re-gift" this item to someone who can use it.

This is actually a good thing because the "re-gifter" can reduce clutter and make the "re-gifties" Christmas fantastic. This year, my dad "re-gifted" me an iPod. He's had it for a few years and just never used it. My dad is an audiophile (he's really into sounds) and the iPod just doesn't reproduce sound quality like his spectacular stereo system. Hell, if I had his ballistic speakers, I wouldn't need an iPod either! :)

Now, I've never owned an iPod before and I'm excited to figure it all out. But it's a brave new world to me. I'm sure my nieces and nephews would have this thing wired in about 10 minutes--me? Oh, brother! It took me an hour just to figure out how to hook the darn thing up and then getting songs on to it? Criminey! I'm so lost and the instruction manual isn't much help. Apparently, I'm supposed to lay my hand upon the manual and understand by some kind of magical osmosis. I tried that and it didn't work either.

What I figured out was I just have try things and when they don't work, try something else. As I was playing with my nifty new toy I decided the iPod was metaphoric--just as I try things in life and they don't work, I can try something else.

Nothing is written in stone. I can switch gears because I have nothing to lose. I could put all kinds of junk onto the iPod and if it didn't work out, I could just delete everything and start over. I can do the same thing with my writing. I've written pages and pages and then decided I didn't like them, deleted them, and started over.

So as I spent Christmas morning playing with my iPod I took stock of my life and the things that I do and realized nothing is cast in "forever" unless I allow it to be so. If I don't like my weight, I can change it. If I don't like how much TV I watch, I can change it. Oddly, I found learning about this handy-dandy device immensely empowering--I can change my whole life if only I chose to do so.

This segues nicely into my resolutions for the New Year. I would like to change a few things in my life and after programming and re-programming my iPod, I now know that I can change anything if I want to. The trick is that I have to want to change it and then take the time to learn how to change it.

How about you? Is there something in your life you would like to re-program this year?