Friday, February 29, 2008

The Power Of The Paranormal

I'm delighted to welcome Nancy Haddock as our guest blogger this Friday. Nancy writes fun vampire mysteries. La Vida Vampire, the first book in her new series, will be released on April first. Congratulations Nancy! Check out the wonderful cover.

Good Friday, Title Magic readers! I’m sooo delighted to be guest blogging with this outstanding group of American Title Contest finalists! They have The Power!

“The power of what?” you might ask.

For starters, they have the power of the paranormal in their writing. That’s right! Romance promises a brighter future, and the paranormal element in romance -- or in any genre -- brings a touch of mysticism and magic into our lives.

What is your favorite paranormal element in a book? Preternatural beings, such as vampires, faeries, or dragons?

Do you like your paranormal flavor in the form of witches or wizards? What kinds of magical abilities would you claim for your own? Throwing fireballs, making love potions, casting wealth spells?

If you love the paranormal of psychic phenomenon, would you choose to be clairvoyant, clairaudient, clairsentient?

I’ll be honest. My wildest fantasies aren’t about men. Nope, mine are about paranormal powers. I had a blast mixing and matching paranormal abilities in my upcoming release, LA VIDA VAMPIRE, but I have two favorites I didn’t give my main characters.

The first is teleportation! Yep, I want to be able to teleport – and not just to avoid the whole airport scene, or the increasingly expensive not-so-friendly-skies. I want to teleport simply so that I don’t have to pack for trips. Not only would teleporting get me where I want to go, it would let me pop home if I forgot my favorite hairbrush. Handy, huh?

My second paranormal ability – my back up if the whole teleporting thing didn’t work out – is to change clothes with a snap of my fingers. A new outfit appears, the old one goes into the ethereal cleaners, and all without setting foot in a clothing store!

Fun as it is to fantasize about paranormal powers -- and to give our characters a whole slew of them! -- the truth is that we often forget the powers that already reside within each of us. One of those is the power of choice. The American Title Contest finalists exercised their power to submit their work, and in a very public forum! This couldn’t have been easy, but they chose to seize the opportunity. They have The Power!

Next time you’re enjoying a paranormal romance, and really digging the powers the author has given the characters, remember you, too, have the power! Oh, and if you learn the secret of teleporting, give me a call. I’ve got a pot of gold with your name on it!

Nancy Haddock’s debut book, LA VIDA VAMPIRE, is a paranormal mystery romance, the first in a new series from Berkley. LA VIDA VAMPIRE will be released on April 1, 2008 in trade paperback. Nancy gives presentations on the Power of Persistence and other topics, and is currently persisting in her quest to re-learn surfing. To enter her monthly, “Where’s Cesca” contest, visit, and click on the Beach Party page.
LA VIDA VAMPIRE is a RT 4 1/2 stars Top Pick for April.
Mega congratulations, Nancy. I'm thrilled for you. Helen

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

The other night, I was lying in bed beside my husband well on the way to oblivion when he asked, “How fast do you think you’re moving at the moment.”

Despite the fact my mind was fogged with sleep, that question should have been a no-brainer. But as he obviously knew something I didn’t and wanted to share, I gave him the reply he wanted. “You tell me.”

Turns out, the Earth spins at about 1000 miles per hour. So lying in my cozy bed, I’m actually whizzing through space at that speed. Okay. A little mind bending, but I can cope with that concept, as I’m sure you can. Don’t get too comfy though, we’re just getting started.

While we spin at 1000 mph, we travel around the sun at a speed of 50,000 mph. Mind-boggling. Oh yes. Add to that the fact our solar system (our sun and all its planets) travels once around our galaxy every 200 million years at the speed of 100,000 mph, while our galaxy (The Milky Way) is being pulled toward a large neighboring galaxy called Andromeda at a speed of 600,000 miles per hour (167 miles per second!).

The question is, if you combine all the above speeds, how fast are you moving?

I haven’t got a clue!

Any math geniuses reading this?

(Speeds quoted are approximate!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rocking Out

When I was a kid, I always had this image in my head of my grown-up self writing. I'd have a desk in front of a window that looks over something pretty. A Lake, mountains, gardens. I would use a fancy fountain pen and have solitude and quiet all day long so that I could concentrate and create wonderful things.

My adult self is a little bit different. Well, okay, my adult self is 180 degrees away from what I envisioned twenty years ago. These days silence and solitude make me twitchy, so I take my laptop wherever the action happens to be. When I'm not hanging out in my living room with hubby, friends, and cat, I'm parked in the local coffee shop, the break room at work, etc, people watching and pecking away at my latest project. No matter the location, though, I always always have music.

I'm a big fat philistine when it comes to my tunes. I think I own some Mozart somewhere. It's probably still wrapped in cellophane. I need to hear words, beats, riffs, wails. Something that makes me feel my scene. Something that makes me feel my characters. For example, Voice of the Bard was Rock/Southern rock. There was a lot of road music. Tom Petty's Running Down a Dream, Saving Grace, Last Dance With Mary Jane. Sheryl Crow's Diamond Road. Live For Today by 3 Doors Down. That's Anna. My current protagonist, Em, is a lot different. She's Patti Griffin. Natalie Merchant. Marjorie Fair. Sometimes Alison Krause. There's also some Rosemary Clooney in there. Hey, it's weird, but she fits the plot quite nicely!

Music is so important to my process that creating a book's soundtrack is part of the planning stage for me. Right now, I'm working on an outline for a fantasy that's related to American hobo culture, so I get to play with songs like Kimmie Rhodes' Desert Train. And just as my outline and plot may change while I write, so does the playlist. If something I chose at the beginning of the process doesn't feel right anymore, I remove it. If I stumble upon something new that fits my work, I'll add it.

So, what about you guys? Do you need dead silence or do you rock out a little while you write? Anybody have strange pre-writing rituals like mine?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't take it personally!

It hurts when someone tells you something you didn't want to hear. No matter how nicely they put the information it still stings to be on the receiving end of a rejection. The problem is that writers must deal with rejection regularly. A writer's life involves more rejections than acceptances.

In "Don't Take it Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection" author Elayne Savage explores how subtle and not so subtle rejection messages from childhood can follow us into adulthood. These lingering feelings of rejection can make even the smallest slight balloon out of proportion.

For example: you get back a letter from an editor about your novel and she said, "I had a difficult time relating to your heroine" and a part of you reads that as, "I don't like you."

This is obviously an extreme example but always remember not to take a comment like that personally; the editor was talking about your manuscript, and not you as a person. It can be difficult to make this distinction because your manuscript is your baby and you've slaved over it for months, if not years. If they attack your manuscript, it can feel like they attacked you. But look at what she said and you'll see she wasn't even attacking the manuscript; she simply couldn't relate to the heroine. That isn't good or bad; it's just a comment. Analyzing that comment could help you refine and deepen your manuscript.

One part of "Don't Take it Personally!" that relates to writers in particular was about an actor who was disheartened after so many auditions where the casting director said, "you aren't the right type". This actor bolstered her spirits and continued auditioning by remembering it is about selection, not rejection.

This applies to writers as well: editors are selecting not rejecting. Your manuscript might not have registered the right note with this editor but there are many editors. Never let one "selection" letter discourage you, but do pay attention to what they said.

Case in point: Dorchester rejected "Thief" for the "New Voice in Romance Contest" in 2003 because I had too much back-story that dragged the pace. This "selection" letter hurt but I paid attention, and I removed that back-story for later in the novel and then submitted the updated manuscript for American Title, and bingo! I was in. In round three, I got eliminated. But that doesn't mean, "we don't like you", it just means the other entries struck stronger notes with readers.

Elayne Savage in her introduction to "Don't Take it Personally" said, "I discovered that the opposite of rejection is not just acceptance--it's also perseverance." I think this applies to writers as well because the only way I've found to get over a rejection is to learn from it and then move on.

So, what have you learned from your "selection" letters? Did you ever have a big “Ah-ha!” moment that helped you edit a manuscript?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Safe till St. Patrick's Day

I'd like to welcome today's guest blogger Alethea Kontis! Alethea's a real renaissance woman in the world of publishing. She's sold short stories to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show and Realms of fantasy, she's a contributing editor at Apex magazine, small press publisher of Nyx books, author of children's book Alpha Oops: the day Z went first, and, most recently, NYT best selling writer of The Dark Hunter Companion.

She might be a little away from keyboard today, but make her feel welcome so she'll have some Title Magic love when she gets back!

Safe till St. Patrick's Day
by Alethea Kontis
February 22, 2008

"Everybody, it seems to me
Just wants to be
Just like you and me…"
~John Mayer, St. Patrick's Day

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Your life is what you make it. Be careful what you wish for. We've heard these sayings all our lives, and they all boil down to the same universal truth: perception means everything.

I was four when Mom fought the system and got me into Kindergarten. She went to the ends of the earth, her bored daughter in tow, attacking psychologists who refused to believe that her child was performing above her age level. When they finally decided she wasn't full of crap (as I was reading the TV Guide), they let me into school. It wasn't long before I was spending more time in a fourth-grade science class than I did with Mrs. Murray.

My father loves to tell the story of one Parents' Day, when a precocious young five- or six-year old approached him and announced, "Alethea can spell words I don't even know."

It was no secret: I loved school.
Of course, it helped that I had some pretty great teachers. (Mr. Stafford, Mr. Oberly, Mrs. Bowers, Mr. Hendrick…)

I started writing poetry in the second grade. In the third grade, my Aunt Theda taught me algebra and anatomy (she was premed at Duke and needed a study partner). In fourth grade, I learned the International Sign Language alphabet and used it to send secret messages to my friends. When I took French, I filled up the front and backs of test papers writing scenes using all my vocabulary words. I shaded the thirteen colonies with the flags of the states, and the class voted to give me extra credit. I passed notes in Spanish class…in Spanish. I memorized Shakespeare, and Poe, and Byron, and Carroll, and anyone else in the Literature book who lived in a pretty how town. My junior year, I alphabetized the periodic table of the elements and used THAT to send secret messages.

There are words for kids who love school. Nerd. Geek. Freak. Teacher's Pet. Loser. And there were people who made my life hell because of it.

When you're thirteen and your mother tells you that the kids only treat you the way they do because they're jealous…like hell you believe her. There is obviously something wrong with you, you're no good to anybody and never will be, and no one will ever love you. You let the jabs and whispered insults and cold shoulders get under your skin, and you wish you were dead. You shut yourself in your room and cry every day when you come home from school. You're the most miserable person on the planet and no one understands you.

And that's exactly what they want.

What your mother doesn't tell you when you're thirteen is that the rest of your life is just like high school all over again.

Do what you love and the money will follow. That one's true too, but it's really, REALLY (did I say really?) hard to get there. It's work--hard, unforgiving work--but you do it because you love it, you eat sleep and breathe it, and you can't imagine your life without it. It's an obsession. It runs in your veins.

Cut me and I bleed the publishing industry.

There comes a time in a writer's life when the veil falls away and the romance is gone. When you're slogging through the middle of a project you MUST FINISH because you have things like bills and deadlines hanging over your head. It's the last thing you want to do when you get up in the morning, but you have no choice. Then you finish the project, turn it in to the editor, and move on to the next thing. By the time it actually hits the shelves it's a bittersweet reunion, because you've long since been passionate about something else.

I live in a different world, a world of deadlines and word counts and time travel, a world where everyone I meet and everything I do is inevitably part of my next story. I write my own life, and it's a fantastic adventure.

Of course, it helps that I've had some really great teachers. (Andre Norton, Orson Scott Card, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J. Anderson…)

I can't tell you the exact day that I woke up and realized I was on the other side of the Looking Glass…it just happened. And what I saw when I looked back to the Real World was that all those Green People were still there thinking I was some untouchable, ethereal being, and hating me for being happy. I wanted to climb on my soapbox and yell at them, remind them that I was still human. I lost friends and missed family just like everyone else. Last year I was stripped of my privacy and my innocence, was abused and mistreated by crazy cultists, got passed up for promotion, and had my heart broken into a million pieces. I have a laundry list of depressing events, proof enough that I have a right to be just as miserable as all of them.

Suddenly I realized: making me miserable only made them powerful.

Why would I want to lose the magic that makes me ME?

You know, sometimes the grass is just greener. But it's greener because some beautiful man with a passion spends all the time he's not scaling cliffs working to make the world a nicer place to live in. He digs and tills and plants and tends, over seasons and years, and eventually that love shines like an immortal beacon from the top of windswept hills. His garden has every right to be greener, and we should all celebrate him for it.

More importantly, he should celebrate himself.

Do what you love, and the Green People will follow. It's high school all over again. But you can't let that stop you. Ever. You are fabulous. Remember that. The curse of the Green People is that they get to be themselves and wear their misery for the rest of their lives.

You and I only have to wear green on St. Patrick's Day.

I was emailing a friend from high school earlier and telling him about my week. His response was: Who are you? And whose life are you leading?

It's still just me, I told him. But this is my life now. My crazy, happy, beautiful, green, magic and miserable life.

It's no secret. I love writing.

There are words for people like that: New York Times Bestselling Author.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Magic

I had planned to blog only about the magic of our lunar eclipse last night, when Mother Earth separates Lunabelle (my pet name for the moon) from Sol's light. And thus, we earthlings are separated from the bright light enchantment of Diana for a short time. For those astrologically inclined, during this eclipse the sun moves into the dreamy water sign of Pisces while the moon shines her full silvery beauty in the virgin earth sign of Virgo.
In the bone-chill cold, at about nine-thirty, I watched the spectacular and hypnotic lunar eclipse. The heavens were a deep black. The planet, Saturn, and the star, Regulus – and another snow-brilliant white star in the constellation of Leo – formed a triangle to the north side of the moon. So entrancing was this picture, so beautiful was the moon in her finery of radiant red-gold, her veil of transparent smoke, I remained outside far longer than I anticipated, freezing my you know what off...and every moment worth it.
Plans change, as if tapped by a magic wand, however. Yep, an over-the-moon surprise arrived in my e-mail! Upon this day of the lunar eclipse. My fantasy romance e-novel, All Shades of Blue Paradise, coming from Siren Publishing, has been given a release date. March 10, is the lucky day. Okay, it has to be lucky since St. Patrick’s wearin’-of-the-green, shamrock day is just around the corner.
Indeed, the happy, happy dance on cloud nine beneath the dark eclipse of the moon, then beneath Luna’s brilliant luminosity, ensues. Ahhh, perhaps, Sparkles and the other fairies will join me in the glade or behind the barn. Does my golden unicorn await the gaiety? Are the St. Pats’ leprechauns lurking?
Enough...enough! Of such word-sorcery and gushing-spillage. And more about the opportunity of the lunar eclipse.
From my research this is a time to gaze at our personal situation in the world with a realistic eye, then use the tools of Earth to make changes. Or simply make some practical improvements in your life. For example, your home – what would you alter to have it suit you, your particular preferences? A new bookshelf? New writer’s furnishings? Or perhaps, find new ways to organize which will assist you in writing that best-selling romance novel.
Any new works-in-progress being penned out there? Share a small working blurb with us. And if you have a question we can help with, just ask.
'Shamanic Astronomer' AJ McGettigan writes for all of us on the public domain of the website:
The darkened Full Moon with Saturn highlights an opportunity for those willing to take stock of their true situation and act accordingly. Saturn is still roughly trine with Pluto— an arrangement which promotes regeneration and renewal for all conditions ripe for change. Additional details are available at
From the darkness
Rings a tone of new potentials
Karma need not bring fear
When seen with attentive eyes
Old shapes take new form
New choices and new strength
Emerge in opportunity’s light

Lunar Eclipse Magic...yep, the synchronicity is obvious as the full white-shimmer moon above. Since my fantasy aristocratic realm, World of the Blue Pearl Moon, is the series title for All Shades of Blue Paradise. How truly moon magical is that?
Blurb: [Erotic Paranormal Romance]
Beneath the blue pearl moon, Lady Sheridan's fiance, Baron Zaggry, broke her heart into unbearable pieces. Ten years later, she becomes his love slave. Baron Zaggry never discovered why his Sher broke their engagement. Now, he has ten years worth of denied pleasures to enjoy her however he chooses.
For wonderful love scenes, each one with it’s special brand of magic, click on over to Romantic Times. Heart-savor the final two entries of Helen and Trish in the American Title IV contest. Then vote for your fave!
This is the big one. Winner takes all, the whole publishing contract enchilada with Dorchester Publishing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Holding Out For A Hero

What does a hero look like?

A recent Valentine poll amongst romance writers in the UK put Jonny Depp as the top favourite for a hero role model. Pierce Brosnan had the distinction of appearing in that poll, as well as topping the one for ladies who had reached the age of discretion. Looks like the tall, dark, handsome thing is still going strong.

It got me wondering what readers have in mind when they pick up a book and first meet the hero. Is he a favourite actor, or a man you might meet in the supermarket, or maybe a fantasy figure, who exists only in your imagination?

If he’s a werewolf, a vampire or a being from another world, then maybe he does need to be out of the imagination – depends on the kind of people you get at your local supermarket, I suppose.

The question I’m trying to get at, I think, is what do we expect in a hero and what do we ‘see’ when we open a book? Are we looking for a man we might meet or the exact opposite?

At lot of authors I know have a particular actor in mind when they’re casting their heroes – Hugh Jackman seems to be another big favourite. Often for me an actor will be a kick off point – the hero of my current work in progress (I use the word progress lightly – a snail would be moving faster than that manuscript at the moment!) is a dishwater blond, which is unusual for me as my fellas are usually straight out of the TDH mould. I know that the start point for Devlin was the actor Daniel Craig, but Devlin as he appears in my head now doesn’t look anything like him.

Thinking about this piece and analyzing my casting approach I’ve realised that some of the time my heroes don’t have faces. That sounds really weird, but often when I’m writing what I get from both hero and heroine is an overwhelming sense of feeling – pain, desire, confusion – not a particular ‘look’. Who they are is more important than how they appear at a given moment.

As a reader, I often find that I have a totally different picture in my head for hero and heroine to the one that the author has presented – to have the heroine described as a brunette, when in my head she’s a blonde, has brought me up short on more than one occasion. I guess that it’s a bit like that old joke about the scenery being better when you listen to the radio.

How much detail does a reader want about the way the girl and the guy look – do we prefer to fill in our own blanks? He has to be hot – but does who he is matter more that what he looks like?

What are we looking for when we read? Are we looking for escapism or a role model for Mr Right? He might be good for a steamy affair - but would you actually want to live with that guy in the book you currently can’t put down?

I’d love to know how other writers go about creating the man of all our dreams, and how readers respond to a book. Whose face do you see when you turn the page?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Art of Ignoring Reviews

One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of becoming a published author, something we'll all have to face when our books hit bookstore shelves, is reviews. There seem to be a million and one places online for people to post reviews, which only increases the chances that we'll eventually see something written about our work that doesn't particularly make us happy. I've heard published authors say that they don't read their reviews, but I'm not sure I'll be that strong. It's actually kind of strange that I would care so much about my reviews considering I rarely consult reviews when choosing my own reading material or which movies to watch.

I admit that years ago I did consult the reviews on at least one romance review site, The Romance Reader. Most of the time, I tended to agree with them. But I've seen lukewarm or even bad reviews for stories I've enjoyed. Think about it -- how many times have you loved a book or movie only to find out someone you know hated it? My husband and I love O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but two other members of our family think it's one of the worst movies they've ever seen. One of my favorite movies is Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis, but my husband can't stand to watch it. When the movie Stardust came out last year, I don't think it got very good reviews. But when I watched it last week, I really enjoyed it. It was a fun combination of fantasy, humor, a quest story, and romance. I liked the performances given by Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert DeNiro. And we've all heard the stories about movies that got bad reviews but racked in big bucks at the box office.

Maybe I'm easily entertained or maybe reviewers go into reviewing a movie or book with the mindset of, "I must find everything that could conceivably be wrong with this." Granted, there are books and movies that deserve their horrible reviews. Gigli, anyone? Gah, the worst movie I've EVER seen! I saw an article recently that said it even eclipsed Ishtar (which I've not seen) as the worst movie of all time. But there are stories in various forms that receive what I feel are undeserved negative reviews. I don't know if the reviewers are just harsh, they're having a bad day, or negativity, for whatever reason, tends to draw more traffic.

I saw another online article recently that questioned the relevance of reviews, particularly for movies, because people tend not to pay attention to them if they are negative. The article's author stated that while negative reviews might not end up having a negative effect (unless, of course, it's an overwhelming chorus of horrible reviews), lots of positive reviews tend to create positive buzz and word of mouth. Maybe we all trust word of mouth passed along to us by friends more than reviews by faceless critics. Maybe we just don't want someone else telling us what we should and shouldn't like; we want to make up our minds for ourselves.

So what about you? Do you pay attention to reviews? Have you ever enjoyed a book or movie that was panned by reviewers? If so, what was it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Apology

Dear All,
Please accept my sincere apologies...
Nina Bruhns was scheduled to guest blog for
us today, but was unable to do so...I'm scheduling
her again for April 4.
Thank you so much for tuning in, and
please come back next week for
all of the other wonderful blogs--
and a great guest blogger!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Is In The Air!

After a quick search on Wikipedia, it seems that the ancient Saints going by the name Valentine had naught to do with courtly love. So our modern romantic Valentines’ day is a bit of a misnomer. The link with romance might have its roots in the fact that February 15th was celebrated as a fertility rite in some cultures.

For example, on February 15th in ancient Rome, noble youths would run naked through the city striking those they met with shaggy thongs. (Now they just run you down with their mopeds!) Women of rank would get in the way and hold out their hand to be struck believing it helped them become pregnant. (Yep--naked Italian guys are good at that!)

The romantic traditions we now associate with Valentines’ day were probably born in 1382 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules to celebrate the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese
his make [mate].

The ancient tradition Chaucer appears to have invented then took on a life of its own, becoming the celebration of romantic love we know today.

As we on Title Magic spend most of our time dreaming up romantic situations for our characters, we thought today we’d look a little closer to home for romantic moments from our own lives.

Anitra has a lovely story about a boyfriend at school that is sure to make you smile:

I guess the most romantic thing was when my boyfriend would put little notes in things, like in my lunch bag. He would put a slip of paper (like a fortune cookie) that said things like: I love you. I melt when you smile. You rock me better than Metalica (a heavy metal band he really liked). Once he had a series of them that when strung together made a poem--it was very sweet. I still think of him to this day, especially when I get fortune cookies.

Trish has a cute story about her thoughtful husband. (Who wouldn’t love a man who leaves you candy bars!):

This is a really simple story, but it was so cute. One day a few years ago, I went out to my car to go to work. When I looked in the driver's seat, however, there was a little stuffed puppy holding a 3 Musketeers bar, my favorite candy bar. My husband had put them in my car when he'd come home from work the evening before. That made me smile all day, and I still have the puppy though the candy bar is long gone. :)

Lexie remembers back to early days when she was dating her husband:

Let's see...the most romantic thing my husband has ever done...when we were dating, he did various military training stints. He drove, along with a VMI buddy, from El Paso, Texas to Roanoke, Virginia without stopping other than for drive-thrus. When he arrived, he threw pebbles at my dorm window. He must have been exhausted, because he actually woke the girl below --from China, whose English wasn't so good!

Evonne has a more practical take on Valentines’ day!

Romance doesn’t have to be about red roses, though they’re nice too!
I always say that one of the most memorable things a Significant Other ever did was buy me a saucepan. Something dreadful happened to my favorite pan – it may have been my only pan. We were very young, he was still a student and I was in my first job. I was working in a wonderful old building in the middle of a park – no shops for miles. He had a summer job in a posh shop in the West End of London, selling audio equipment. I asked him, without much hope, to get me a replacement. I was over the moon, much to the amusement of all our friends, when he arrived home with exactly what I had asked for. It wasn’t about the saucepan – it was about the fact that he had listened and taken the time and trouble to go looking, in his lunch hour, for the right thing. Of course, the fact that he was very fond of his food might have had something to do with it too!

Savanna wasn’t about to let the lack of a significant other spoil the night for her:

One of my best valentine's day celebrations happened when a girlfriend and I arranged a party at an apartment clubhouse. We were both without a boyfriend and knew a lot of other friends in the same romance-deprived boat. We decorated, had everyone bring their favorite foods and music. We all had an absolute blast being with each other that night. The food was great, the dancing even better. It was disco fever valentine-style. Everyone let loose with lots of laughter and lots of hugs. Those of us who loved to dance, it was our night, all night. I'll never forget it, and will always treasure that valentine's day.

Happy Valentine's Day, Savanna

For someone who claims not to be a romantic, Mel has a lovely romantic moment to share with us:

The hubby and I aren't the most romantic couple on the planet. Most of it is my fault. I figure flowers die and I make my own jewelry, so why expect him to bother with all of that? Last year, though, we decided to get married for our tenth anniversary. He took me to Gatlinburg, TN where we hunted down a justice of the peace. We said our vows with Matlock playing in the background and snagged a cabin in the mountains where we watched it snow from the hot tub on the porch. It was beautiful. Chances are, we'll never be that romantic again. But we'll always be that happy.

Finally I come to myself. Mine is a romantic moment in the making!

I feel rather sheepish admitting this, as I’m a romance writer. But I’m not the romantic in my relationship, my husband is. He’s the one who always remembers our wedding anniversary. I’m the one sneaking out to buy a card at the last minute. This year is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. My darling husband has secretly (or not so secretly because he left the search window open on the computer) found a hotel near the place we met, so we can return to the scene and relive the memories of our first meeting. There is one snag. Our first meeting was on a remote Scottish island! Not that I dislike remote Scottish islands, but I’d rather have a weekend break in Edinburgh. It still takes us across the border into Scotland, so honor should be satisfied. I think we’ll go for the compromise arrangement: a day on the island of Millport and the rest of the long weekend in Edinburgh. Marriage is all about compromise after all!

Hope you enjoyed sharing our romantic moments on Valentines’ day. We’d love to hear yours!

Happy Valentines’ Day from all of us!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reading for Writers: Books That Suck and the Readers Who Love Them

As the facilitator for my local indie writers' group, there's one question I hear from new writers and non-writers more than any other: why is peer critique important?

Why, indeed? Well, there are the obvious benefits for the recipient of the critique. The feedback you get from peers lets you know what works and what doesn't from a readers' viewpoint. Also, exposing your work to people on a regular basis can give you confidence for the submission process and potential post-publication criticism. What's not as obvious is that peer critiques help the critiquer just as much.

When you do a peer critique for someone, you don't just hand the manuscript back and say, "I liked it!" (And if you do, your writer friend will be grumbling at you behind your back.) You tell her, "I liked it! Except for..." And then you give reasons. You tell her why you fell in love with the hero. Why you felt the mother/daughter relationship wasn't very believable. You tell her how tired you got of the gazes flying and the fingers wandering by themselves. And after the critique is over, you remember these things. And when it comes time to edit your own work, you might think twice about letting your heroine's eyes follow someone across a room. Because, really, who wants carpet lint on their eyeballs? Yick! (Can you tell this is a particular peeve of mine?)

A few years ago I read a post on Holly Lisle's blog about how she was analyzing the structure of books from the genre she was aiming to break into at the time and that's when I heard that wonderful clicking noise in my head: Just like peer critique, it's not enough to just read published books and determine whether you liked them or not. Not when you want your work to be among them on the bookstore shelves. You have to scrutinize them, too.

There are a few things you should keep in mind before you start picking apart all the books on your keeper shelf:

  • It's not very realistic to spend the same amount of time on a single published work as you would a peer critique. If you're like me, your To Be Read pile is already out of control and slowing down isn't an option! Besides, these books have already been edited by professionals and they don't need us to go spelunking for typos.
  • It's also not very realistic to try to analyze everything you read for pleasure or you'll burn out. Reading will start to feel like a chore instead of a hobby. So be choosy.
  • You won't learn as much by just reading the good stuff. (Besides, picking apart the sucky stuff is a lot more fun! MST3K fans can attest to that.) Select a short list of recent releases that are of varying quality and popularity. I'll be posting recommended lists in a variety of genres on a regular basis after completing this series.
  • Creating a venue for your criticism can do wonders for your motivation! You may or may not want to do this, but I decided that if I was going to do all of this work, I might as well share it with somebody. So I started reviewing for The Long and Short of It, and I do some contest judging. Be careful, though. You don't want to say something to alienate someone you'll meet at a conference, social function, or in the blogosphere later. Anonymity or extreme diplomacy is important when you're a writer critiquing in public.

When you settle down to read, make sure you have a notebook and a pen handy.

The very first thing I do is make a note of the structure. Holly's right. Books in the same genre/subgenre are similar this way. A James Patterson thriller is going to have lots of little chapters heavy on the action whereas a Robert Jordan epic fantasy is going to have longer chapters with more blocks of description. So I write down how many pages the book has, how many chapters, and how many pages are in each chapter. You could even go as far as breaking it down by scenes within chapters if you think you'll find that helpful.

While you read, make notes. You're not necessarily looking for typos or grammatical errors, although if they bug you or there's an excess of them, you can certainly mark them down. What you are looking for are the things that yank you out of the story. The things that give you pause. An oddly worded phrase. Clumsy dialogue. Illogical plot points. Character inconsistencies. Even factual errors. Confusing head-hopping. Anything that makes you think, "Eh?"

Don't forget the stuff that makes you go, "Wow!" Write down what you liked or the things you think the writer did exceptionally well. Using the omniscient point of view without giving the reader a headache, for instance. Witty dialogue. Did the book elicit strong emotion? Did it make you laugh?

All of these things are the "whats," and for every what you need a "why" and a "how." For example, understanding why that dialogue is clumsy (unnatural speech or overused regional dialects) and how it might be improved. Why that scene made you cry (reader manipulation by word connotation, good set up of the pay off) and how you might use these things in your own work.

When you're done, you'll have a ton of data. How you manage all that stuff depends on your writing process and your organizational style. I tend to be more organic than organized. I take the bare minimum of notes, and make a journal entry about the whole thing when I'm done. I internalize things better when I babble to myself in a notebook or in a Word document. I'll occasionally go back and read my thoughts just to refresh my memory, or to see if there's something I have forgotten.

Folks with a more organized mind might find an index card file handy for this. A section for characterization, a section for plot, a section for little things that drive you crazy like my fuzzy eyeball thing, etc. Each card should contain the what, why, and how for each issue. This could also translate to a database or a spreadsheet for writers with techy leanings. Ultimately, there are as many methods of dealing with the results as there are writers who devise them.

There are many ways to improve your writing, but I believe that this is one practice that can give you an edge that most unpublished writers won't have. At the very least, you'll better know your market. At most, you'll have a good things/bad things epiphany that will change the way you look at literature forever. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle by finding helpful new techniques as well as annoying elements to avoid every single time you analyze a book.

Reading for Writers Series
Books That Suck and the Readers Who Love Them
March 13: The Care and Feeding of Your Local Librarian
April 14: Nonfiction - Not Just For Research Anymore

Series Coming Soon: Abusing the TBR Pile - Readers' Advisory For Writers

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jenny Gardiner - Sleeping With Ward Cleaver

Greetings from the magical realm of American Title. Jenny Gardiner, winner of American Title III is our guest blogger. I am so proud she is with us today. Without her generous guidance, I fear we Title Magicians would have spun our wheels, before understanding what it took to gather in those all-important votes. More importantly, Jenny helped us to understand the real opportunities available to us in the publishing world because we were finalists.
Jenny's warm charm, her deep insights and her kitchen-knife sharp wit nearly jump out of the pages of her novel, Sleeping With Ward Cleaver. Enjoy this modern day feast of relationship wisdom, where love wins.
Thank you, Jenny, for being our guest blogger.

I am thoroughly convinced that modern love remains the same, no matter how old or how new it is. In his song of that name, David Bowie warns, "don't believe in modern love." If you ask me, I think you have to believe in it--it's been around so very long, how could it be wrong?
Lately I've borne witness to modern love of the teenaged variety. Now, I've been parenting teens for several years, and rarely do I truly get a glimpse into their cloistered world; my kids usually make certain that I'm excluded from that elite club. However not long ago, we hosted French foreign exchanges students, and because of the many events slated at which host families are requested to be in attendance, I was the beneficiary of a thoroughly modern education in modern love, international style.
A group of bleary-eyed teens from a small town in France arrived at our high school parking lot, full of trepidation, not quite sure if they would be stuck with lame hosts (and hosts worried they'd be stuck with lame guests!), and probably wondering what their American counterparts would be like. In a few short days we watched with amusement the transformation from apprehension to near aggression--that is, when it comes to pursuit of that elusive concept, modern love.
It was interesting to observe these teens' progression from virtual strangers with very little evidently in common, to friends, in a matter of a few short hours to, well, what definitely appears to be more than just friends...
Mid-way into their visit, we attended yet another gathering for the group, this one to watch France take on England in the rugby world cup. While rugby was the excuse for the gathering, there were far more than scrums on the minds of these kids, who--a mere hour into the party--were found flirting with one another, some making out in the barn out back, others sitting in the laps of their American counterparts, many swapping spit and a few mad gropes wherever they could.
It was downright refreshing (well, until we noticed one of our kids was involved)! But seriously, what it did do was bring back that feeling of what it's like to fall in love again--with someone you hardly know, but you know it feels right, and you're willing to sort of put it out there for all to see because the passion takes over the logic, and even if under normal circumstances you wouldn't be caught dead with your parents seeing you in a clinch with a kid you barely know and with whom you can hardly communicate (at least verbally!), well, under the circumstances, it just happens.
Ahhh...if only we could bottle that raw, fervent emotion and uncork it when we need it most, imagine how much better off we'd all be! Especially because eventually that powerful passion fades. After all, such intensity is hard to sustain, so how could it not?
This was a theme I wanted to explore when I wrote Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. After that ardent passion fades and mundane reality takes over, after the happily-ever-after: then what? You fall in love, get married, and expect things to be perfect. But then you start to take each other for granted and life takes over and kids come along and life is more about survival and trying to keep your head above water than worrying about stoking the fires of passion that once overrode everything else. I've seen enough marriages not be able to forge past those hard times (my own parents included), so I loved the idea of creating a couple who are at the point of deciding whether their marriage is salvageable, and if so, how in the world are they going to fix it? It's something I think a lot of people experience in their own lives and I figured they could relate to. Maybe it's my attempt to create a happily ever after, re-dux: to give readers a chance to feel what it might be like to fall in love all over again, this time with the same person.
It broke my heart to bid farewell to a lovely group of French teens, many of whom fell crazy in love for kids who live an ocean away--not exactly a recipe for sustaining a viable relationship. But at least they have had the great fortune to experience that forcefield that everyone eventually comes to recognize as love. And whether it's modern or not, fact is, it's as old as the hills, and most of us would give anything to experience that feeling again and again.

American Title III winner, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, (Dorchester/Feb. 2008) &

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Sense of Proportion

A Sense of Proportion

I include the picture of myself, a little bit older than Trish,
not to copy her idea but because I was struck by the similarities. While it may sound trite, I find we all share so much!

And considering our similarities, from the pictures we posed for as children to our tastes in books and chocolate (I actually don’t have a clue if my fellow Titlers have the same taste in chocolate, I just assumed:), my thoughts jumped to the news this past week. Tornadoes touching down seemingly out of nowhere, definitely at random, children shooting other children, and, in our local news, two young men from the best of families sentenced to ten years in adult prison. The last hit me particularly hard since my own son is a freshman in high school.
He’s 14 to their 16, but two years is not a large gap to a parent. Their families didn’t sound so different from our own.

Since we do share so many similarities, it’s the differences that stand out. I’m reading three books on writing techniques right now (yes, I know that’s different, but each has its own time and place--one is read at my daughter’s swim practices, etc.) and several of them mentioned a sense of proportion. If a character spends a lot of time on your pages, he must be important. If a character does a number of things that aren’t so nice, he must be the villain.

This doesn’t apply just to characters. If a setting is described in detail, if the characters spend a great deal of time there, the setting must be important. The setting or characters allotted so much time must be important, not just to the author because she loves the mountains and kids, but because THIS setting and THIS character are crucial to the plot. One other piece of advice I picked up, and I’m going to use very soon, is that this setting and this character might be important for a very different reason than you’ve led the reader to believe. A mystery will have more punch if the villain is not the only one doing mean things, or if the REAL villain is not the one doing mean things all along. But, we have spent a lot of time with the villain/hero, we just didn’t know why.

So, the lesson I’ve learned and which may or may not be helpful to you, is keep a sense of proportion. In life and in our writing. Appreciate that, when your son brings home a D in Biology, he didn’t rob a Food Lion and he did come home. A sense of proportion lies in knowing where to put our time and our word count--where they NEED to be.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Guest Blogger Patricia Sargeant

Our guest blogger today is Patricia Sargeant. I met Patricia during a contest and we became fast friends. In the midst of her amazing journey from contest final to publication, Patricia wrote an e-mail series called the Road to Publication where she shared the nitty-gritty details of what it was like to go through the process. Her trials and tribulations inspired me and yet cautioned me that being published is just the first step . . . there is so much more that comes after. So please, put your fingers to the keyboard and help me welcome Patricia Sargeant!

Closing doors, opening windows

How Julie Andrews kept me sane

Thank you very much, Anitra, for inviting me to visit with you and your Title Magic community. It's an honor to be here. This is a beautiful blog, and I can definitely feel the magic.

A couple of weeks ago, Anitra and I were discussing how important it is to remain optimistic during the publishing journey, whether you're published or aspiring to become published. She told me her mother often remarked that, when God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.

I love that line. It's full of optimism and inner strength. I'd heard it in the Julie Andrews movie Sound of Music. There's a scene in which Julie Andrews's character, the novice Maria, confides her heartache to her Mother Superior. In response to Maria's pain, Mother Superior assures her, "When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window."

Recently, a door closed for me--with a seemingly resounding thud--on a romantic suspense proposal. My agent explained my editor didn't want the proposal. Before my heart could shatter and blow away with the wind, my agent continued, "She doesn't want that proposal, but she wants you. Can you write something else?"

Can I write something else? Quick, someone pass me a block of wood so I can prop open that window.

Rejections sometimes seem never-ending. Every whisper of hope I hear, I hook up to my surround-sound stereo system. Let me know if you want to borrow it.

So the window's propped open, and the whisper's nicely modulated on a repeating loop. My Muse is being generous and kind. Little did I know Julie Andrews was about to make another appearance.

I submitted a new story idea to my editor and waited nervously for her feedback. She liked the idea, but needed it to be bigger. Can I make it bigger? After a critical look at the synopsis, I decided yes, I can make it bigger. I fleshed out a couple of plot points and submitted the revised version.

We're going in the right direction, my editor responded. But it needs to be even bigger. Can I make it even bigger?

My stomach heaved. I got chills. My forehead started to sweat. Does anyone else recognize the symptoms of Self-Doubt? Then in walked Julie Andrews in her Mary Poppins costume. Do you remember that movie? If not, run--don't walk--to your nearest video rental store. Julie offered me a "Spoonful of Sugar" to help the medicine--also known as revisions--go down.

I recognized my editor was making me stretch beyond my perceived limitations. My options were to take the medicine and grow, or crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. I did what every writer does; I knuckled down and found a way to make the story even bigger. My editor was satisfied and I was thrilled. Best of all, the revision tips my editor shared with me will help me make other stories "even bigger." Powerful medicine, indeed.

That's how Julie Andrews kept me sane.

Anitra, thanks again for the invitation. I've had a blast. Best wishes to you and the other Title Magic bloggers for great writing success!

Win an autographed copy of On Fire by Patricia Sargeant! Simply enter a comment, then check back Monday afternoon to see if Patricia chose your name in the random drawing. Patricia will post her email for the winner so they can contact her to collect their prize.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Magic of Horse Valentines

In my grade-school days, and until I was fifteen, I had a shy streak a mile wide. There were a few exceptions to this rule -- when I was being a tomboy and playing sports with the boys. Or, if I was fascinated with a subject in school (often), I'd forget to be shy and come out of myself for a bit. The other exception, if my Aries temper was triggered by bullies (not often).
So, you may wonder at this point, what the heck does that have to do with 'the magic of horse valentines'? In third grade (1958), I had this incredibly marvelous teacher who noticed how much I loved horses. Okay, it was probably all the doodling I did of horses on my papers, the books I chose to read and however I could include horses into my assignments. She brought my love of horses to the attention of the other kids. And guess what! The magic happened.
Through fifth grade I received horse valentines. From the most cheesy -- Whoa! Will you be my valentine? -- to the elaborate and expensive, a Hallmark Rocking Horse complete with red yarn that you 'sewed' around him. There were palominos and painted ponies with red-cheeked cowgirls -- Yippee! Be my valentine. Eager cowboys covered in freckles astride their stick ponies were stuffed into my box (oops, freudian slip...too many sexy cowboy covers). Their cowboy hats too big, with rope in hand, they tossed the loop around 'If I rope you, partner, will you be my valentine?'
Being in love with valentines already -- it was love at first sight I tell you! My heart went pitty-pat euphoric at the very sight of red and pink lacy hearts. Hummm...let me think, was my passion to read and write romances already showing at that tender age?
Do ya think?
My dad helped me make my first valentine's day box out of the requisite shoe box with red and white tissue paper, of course. Later we graduated to red foil and fancier hearts. One year he wrapped the shoe box entirely in aluminum foil, then we placed on pink, white and red heart doilies. Yep, it was an original. And I loved it.
And oh, in those childhood years, did I ever treasure each and every horse valentine. Did I ever cherish that one magical day of candy hearts, of putting my valentines into every classmate's fancifully decorated red, white and pink box -- I swear I felt like the good fairy tripping about, despite not having Tinkerbelle's fragile wings or Glinda's wand, that ever-beautiful good witch of Oz.

And no, the magic wasn't because I received my precious horse valentines, but because it meant the kids and their parents cared enough to give them to me. Shy little, mostly invisible me, who never did get the 'hang' of how to fit into grade school society.
Caring and kindness, yep, that was the real magic of my horse valentines.
Valentines are offered as true gifts of the heart to those we love. Just as my romance novels are gifts of love written from my heart. Often horses star in my stories, racing against the wind, competing in equine sports game I create for their world. As dressage is a sport derived from training horses for war, the Braverth in All Shades of Blue Paradise is an ancient battle-sport for horses.
Yes, horses forever live in my heart, how could I not include them?
The question: How have valentines magically made a difference in your life, in your writing?
With Valentine's day just around the corner...yes, romance lovers all, the love scene entries for the American Title IV are just around the corner. Two finalists remain, and this will be your chance to decide on your heart-tingly favorite.
And! On February 12, Tuesday, Jenny Gardiner, author of Sleeping With Ward Cleaver and last year's winner of the American Title III, will be our guest blogger on Title Magic. I'm feeling tingly with anticipation. Jenny is warm and witty and wonderfully dynamic. Plus just downright inspiring.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch

Doing this post I feel like one of those reporters standing outside the Odeon Leicester Square, waiting for the stars to arrive for the newest big film premiere!

When I arrived at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington for the awards ceremony for the 2008 Romantic Novel of the Year the red carpet was already out. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me, but for the six short listed finalists who were outside in the unexpected sunshine, having their picture taken.

Once inside and pointed in the right direction for the suite where the ceremony was taking place, I knew at once that I’d reached the right place from the decibel level - one hundred or so authors, agents and publishers, meeting, greeting and generally preparing to have a good time. There were many friends I hadn’t seen for a while, and plenty of catching up to do. Everyone was dressed for the occasion – a lot of very smart suits, a sprinkling of sparkly stuff, and some very nice jewelry - what Nora Roberts termed ‘day-time diamonds’ in one of her books. I had a chance to speak to Catrin Collier, the friend who was one of the short listed authors, who was suitably glamorous and clutching a copy of One Last Summer, on her way to be interviewed for the TV. It didn’t seem like five minutes before the toast mistress and her staff began shepherding guests through into the dining room for the proceeding proper.

First there was lunch – guinea fowl followed by individual mulled wine souffl├ęs – absolutely delicious and a total puzzle as to how they got them to stand up long enough to serve them!

Once coffee was circulating it was time for the main event – the presentation of the award – two awards in fact - as there is also a prize given for the year’s best category romance. Appropriately, in their centenary year, all the contenders were Mills and Boon writers; Liz Fielding, Julie Cohen, Lucy Gordon, Kate Hardy and Fiona Harper, with two books nominated. The prize was judged by RNA members Trisha Ashley and Katie Fforde and went to Kate Hardy for Breakfast at Giovanni’s.

Then it was the turn of comedienne Helen Lederer, one of the 2008 judges, to speak on the main award. She immediately got all the would-be published authors on her side by talking of her own writing ambitions and confessing that the first person she saw when she walked in was an agent who had just turned down her manuscript, and the second person was a publisher who had done the same.

A video presentation on all the finaling books showed how different they were from each other – as Helen has pointed out previously on Title Magic, the RNA award has a very wide interpretation of what constitutes a ‘romance’. If it has a central love story then the book qualifies.

On this occasion three of the contenders were ‘historical’ writers - Catrin, Maureen Lee and Catherine King, three were contemporary - JoJo Moyes, Freya North, and Adele Parks. The judges praised all the finalists, (Catrin got the distinction of the comment that hers was a read that took up a whole box of tissues!) but the judges’ choice proved to be Pillow Talk by Freya North, the story of a sleepwalking jeweler and a handsome, insomniac teacher – a ‘what if’ that raises untold possibilities. In accepting the award Freya referred to the loss of a close friend while writing her previous novel Home Truths, as a result of which she had decided to donate her winner’s prize to the charity Cancer Research – a touching gesture in memory of a friend.

After that there was a chance to mix and mingle – I didn’t get to wow any publishers or agents with my powerful sales pitch, but it wasn’t really that sort of event. I met many old friends and had the chance to thank them in person for the support they gave me in American Title. In particular it was good to speak to Jean, otherwise known as JG Goodhind, on the sucess she is having on both sides of the Atlantic with her cosy mysteries, set in the beautiful city of Bath and featuring Honey Driver, a hotelier who collects antique underware.

It took nearly an hour for the staff to persuade everyone to adjourn to the bar and other areas of the hotel and when I left, to revisit some old haunts in Chelsea, where I used to live, there were still clumps and huddles of authors networking/gossiping in corners.

All together a fun event. I don’t know whether Helen or I will ever get to be one of those finalists in some future time, but it’s certainly something to dream about.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I was a teenage wallflower

I helped my mom move recently, and during that move I happened upon a box filled with my school photographs. Okay, the first-grade one (at left) was cute, but let's just say there were some really unattractive years caught on film (which I will not be sharing here). Even when I managed to get a decent haircut, master the intricacies of makeup and '80s big hair, and spring for some contact lenses, I still wasn't burning up the dating scene. I, like many of you out there in blogland, spent many a high school dance cast as the wallflower, pining away for that cute boy to ask me for a spin around the dance floor. Sigh.

With such a dismal dating history before heading off to college, it's a wonder every romantic notion wasn't squashed out of me. And yet, I never lost my romantic streak or my love for romance stories in books, on film and on TV.

I've been a writer long enough that I've realized many of us writers had less-than-stellar social lives in high school. We weren't the belles of the ball or sitting at the top of the popularity ladder. And quite often, we were the geeks, the nerds, the bookworms -- in other words, the people who did well in school and -- gasp! -- even liked it. I've come across this similar background in writers so often that I wonder if that type of high school experience lends itself to molding creative types. When all our classmates were out on dates on Saturday nights, were we reading and watching movies and daydreaming about our own happily ever afters? When you have an empty social calendar, do you daydream more? If so, I'm kind of glad now that I wasn't a date magnet back then. Of course, it sucked at the time, but I like the person I became in the long run. I feel very fortunate to be a writer and to have met so many fabulous writers, many of whom I now consider good friends.

What about you all? Do you think there's anything to this theory? Or has my brain short-circuited from staring at my computer screen for too many hours a day? :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Upping the Tried and True

Last night I watched the commentary on Season 1 of the hit show, Heroes, from creator Tim Kring and it got me thinking. He talked about how he wanted to do a “superhero” show but since the world was already saturated with well-known favorites, such as Batman, Superman, and Spiderman, he wanted to come up with something fresh and creative that would draw the viewers’ interest.

Such is the way with writing. How do you take a popular theme that’s been done a hundred of times, like Cinderella or secret baby, and make it fresh, original, and interesting enough to have a reader want to read your book? And what about characters?

Something that really connected me to the show Heroes was that Kring’s desire to create a show of superheroes, or people with supernatural powers, resonated with the desire of many authors to create books with characters and motifs that have already been done before. What could be done to make it different enough to keep a viewer (or reader) interested?

In Kring’s case, it was to make these characters as ordinary as he could. They were normal people, just like you and I, from all walks of life, with their own family/personal/marital/emotional/work problems and every day issues, who discover they have a supernatural power and from there, you see their struggle as they learn to cope with that power, whether they want the power or not, and how that struggle affects them as they strive to continue to lead a “normal” life. Making the characters ordinary people really resonates with the average everyday person.

It’s the same with writing. Take the paranormal market, for instance. The market has been saturated with werewolves and vampires. So for an author struggling to break into the paranormal market, or for one already there who wants to stand out from the rest of the crowd, how do you make your vampire or werewolf stand out from another author’s vampire/werewolf? J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon are great authors who have accomplished this feat.

Instead of elaborating more, I’d like to hear your opinions and suggestions on what kinds of twists you can put on a tried and true theme/character to make it stand out from all the others that have been done.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Last day to vote for this round

Super Tuesday is only three days away, but voting in the fourth round of the American Title contest ends tomorrow! The four remaining finalists -- Holli, Mai, Helen and myself -- would appreciate your support. To read this round's entries (dialogue scenes) and vote for your favorite, go here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Body Language: A Writer's Secret Weapon

I'm delighted to welcome our guest blogger today, Margie Lawson, psychologist, presenter, and writer. I've taken all of Margie's courses online over the last few years and can personally vouch for how they have helped me improve my writing.

Thank you for inviting me to guest blog on Title Magic. I'm pleased to spend the day with you all.

Body language rules. A whooping 93% of how you are perceived by others is conveyed through your body.

That’s huge – 93% of your communication is nonverbal. What a powerful communication tool.

I’ll explain Secret Weapon from the title. If the title read: Body Language: A Writer’s Secret Tool, not only does it sound dorky, but it has no power. And anyone who has taken my editing courses knows I’m all about adding power. ;-)))

Back to body language being a powerful weapon. It’s only powerful if you know how to load, aim, and fire.

Often – the way someone hopes to be perceived backfires. Their words are pitch-perfect, yet their body language discounts their words. When people are nervous, their nonverbals may interfere.

Body Language Backfire – Letting Your Anxiety Steal the Show

At times, we all get nervous. Psychologists call it Anticipatory Anxiety.

What makes writers nervous?

*Pitching to agents and editors
*Introducing themselves to the booksellers
*Introducing a speaker
*Being a panelist
*Presenting a workshop
*Doing a book signing

When does Anticipatory Anxiety morph into Debilitating Anxiety?

When people focus on their visceral responses – e.g., hammering heart, dry mouth, sweaty hands – instead of focusing on the things they can control. Those elevated visceral response sets are normal. They reflect the importance of the upcoming experience.

If you focus on your anxiety symptoms, your face, your posture, and your voice, will broadcast your discomfort. You’ll be distracted by your nervousness. When addressing your audience (agent, editor, or group), you’ll lose confidence and you may lose your thoughts.

Focus on things you can control: what you are telling yourself (positive self-talk) and your body language.

Body Language on Target

Most of us are aware of our facial expressions, but some people may not be tuned in to how their voice, posture, and mannerisms can influence others. Your nonverbals tell more than you know. Become a nonverbal communication expert.

Writers also need to be experts at body language so they can write fresh nonverbal communication for their characters and imbue their writing with psychological power.

Since a high percentage of writers are introverts, monitoring their nonverbals is crucial. When they step outside their comfort zone, their discomfort shows.

Displaying anxiety is not a good plan. Audience members are easily distracted by nonverbal indicators showing the speaker is ill at ease. They may be more focused on the speaker’s anxiety than on what they are saying.

Remember that hefty 93%? It’s all nonverbal. The words (without voice inflection) convey only 7% of a message. If words and your body language are incongruent, others believe the body language.

How can you use body language to present yourself as confident?

From the moment you enter a room: Walk with an easy stride. Make eye contact. Smile. Pretend like you are having a good time. Tell yourself positive things.

Posture: Stand tall. Head up. Shoulders back. Arms relaxed at your sides.

Beware: No fidgeting fingers. No clasping items to your chest as a psychological shield.

Handshakes: You all know this. Firm. Use your full hand. Make eye contact. People who are anxious often make their handshake too light, limp, partial hand, and retract too quickly.

Voice: Volume – With every word, speak up. Keep your voice steady and your volume strong. If you are soft-spoken in public, practice increasing your volume. Stand at one end of a large room (or hallway, or outdoors) and speak twice as loud. Place a hand on your diaphragm. Feel your diaphragm working when you speak. Project. Push yourself to speak louder and louder. I promise -- you will not speak too loudly in public.

People who speak softly are often perceived as tentative. Unsure. You want people to hear your words and consider you sure of yourself.

Voice: Rate of Speech – If you typically rush your words when you’re nervous, watch out! Some listeners will be put off with your rate of speech. Others won’t catch everything you’re saying. If you speak too slowly, others will lose interest. They’ll lose your message.

Voice: Tone and Inflection – Tone is an easy fix. When you increase your volume, your tone will improve. No airy, wispy voice tones when you have appropriate volume. Adding emphasis on some words with changing voice inflection keeps you from speaking in a monotone and keeps you from seeming monotonous.

Tips to improve your vocal cues: Tape record yourself. People usually hate hearing themselves speak on a tape. So? Do it anyway. :-)))

First recording: Read your Work In Progress. When you listen to it, you’ll catch echo words as well as areas that need to be tightened, expanded, tweaked . . . It’s a double win: a valuable exercise for your WIP and good speaking/taping practice too.

Second recording: No script this time. Pretend like you’re introducing yourself to one person. Play both roles.

Third recording: Present the opening of introducing a speaker, part of a panel, your workshop, or your book signing. Your opening lines are critical. When you have the first few minutes of speaking mastered, you will feel confident. You’ll command the room.

Review those recordings. Take notes. Record yourself again. And again. You’ll hear your um’s, er’s, and uh’s. You’ll decrease those stalling utterances every time you practice.

If you don’t have a micro-cassette recorder, treat yourself to one. You deserve another toy. You can use it to capture story gems too.

Mannerisms: This one is the toughest. It’s more about what not to do, than what to do. Everyone has idiosyncratic mannerisms – and doing a few of them while you speak is fine. Tuck your hair behind your ear. Adjust your glasses. Clear your throat. The challenge is to not repeat these mannerisms, ad nauseum. The higher the anxiety, the more frequently some mannerisms are repeated.

We’ve all seen speaker’s make presentation errors. What have you seen?

Have you noticed how many times they repeat a gesture or action? Is it distracting?

Beware: Self-touch Behaviors -- This isn’t what you think!

They are those little actions like touching your face (cheek, eyebrow, lips, nose, ear), or near your face (throat, jaw, back of neck, behind ear, hair), or hands and arms.

Self-touch behaviors function like polygraphs. They accelerate when anxiety is high. When in a job interview, the interviewee may touch their face 15 times in 30 minutes, totally unaware of their self-touch behavior.

When suspects are interrogated by police, self-touch behaviors sky-rocket.

When anyone is nervous in a social situation, self-touch behaviors escalate.

Keep this dynamic in mind for your characters too. ;-)))

Anxious speakers display a slew of self-touch behaviors. If you stop and think, you’ll probably identify some of yours.

Many of you know that I spend half my life (hyperbole!) presenting in front of groups.
I’m continually monitoring my body language and using it to put people at ease, to engage everyone in the group, to emphasize points, and to have fun. One of my goals is to have fun presenting. :;-)))

When I’m tired (yes, I do get tired!), by about 3PM in a full day master class, a few of my self-touch behaviors slip through. Self-touch behaviors are comforting. I tuck and retuck my hair behind my ear. I lightly touch the side of my neck. I lick my lips more frequently. I’m aware of my funky self-touch behaviors, and hopefully nix them before they get annoying.

Wrapping Up

I hope this blog motivates you to MONITOR and MODERATE your body language. It’s a powerful secret weapon.

What I shared here is a small slice of the world of body language. I’d need a couple hundred more pages to cover facial expressions, eye and lip messages, spatial relationships, the power of touch, ideomotoric shifts . . . I could write a book on nonverbal communication for writers (and I am!). Writers need to know the full range of body language and how to write it fresh for their characters.

NOTE: I teach Empowering Characters’ Emotions on-line in March. I cover how to write the full range of nonverbal communication in depth. :-)))

Thank you for joining me today. I appreciate you sharing part of your day with me. ;-)))


I’d love to hear your body language stories. Have there been times when you’ve used your body language to convey confidence you didn’t feel? How did it go? Did you feel more confident? Any positive spin-offs?

Chime in – I’ll respond as time allows during my work day. I’ll be on-line all evening.

Want to have a chance to WIN a Lecture Packet?

Anyone who posts a comment has a chance to win one of my LECTURE PACKETS (a $20 value):

1. Empowering Characters' Emotions
2. Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More
3. Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

Each Lecture Packet is power-packed with over 250 pages of lectures. They have the potential to change your writing world.

If you’re a reader, not a writer, my Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors lectures apply to you too. ;-)))

THANK YOU again to Helen for inviting me to guest blog today. All of these writers are incredibly talented. I look forward to seeing all their novels in print!


Margie Lawson--psychologist, hypnotherapist, presenter, and writer--teaches writers how to edit to speak to the readers’ unconscious. She developed psychologically-anchored editing techniques and systems that add emotive power.

In 2008, Margie is presenting 15 full day master classes across the US and overseas, including Australia and New Zealand. Please visit her web site to see her live master class schedule:

Margie teaches two editing courses on-line. Empowering Characters’ Emotions (ECE) is offered on-line in March. Writers will learn how to write the full range of nonverbal communication, how to write fresh, how to write the Four Levels of Powering Up Emotion, and how to use her EDITS System.

In May, Margie teaches her advanced editing course on-line: Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More. Writers will take the EDITS System deeper, learn her Five Question Scene Checklist, dig deep into more editing techniques, and explore 25 rhetorical devices to take their writing to a higher level.

Margie also developed Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, a power-packed on-line course and master class that helps writers defeat their self-defeating behaviors by accessing the writer’s strengths. Lectures from each of Margie’s on-line courses are offered as Lecture Packets through PayPal from her web site. Please visit her web site for registration information: .