Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reflecting on a year ago

Savanna mentioned to me recently that I should blog about my experiences of the past year, a year in which I finally, finally got The Call. It's still hard to believe sometimes. I fear I'll wake up and it'll have all been a cruel dream. But each day that I wake up and walk across the hall to my office makes it a little more real.

I wrote and submitted for more than a decade before I sold my first two books on July 24, 2007. So a year ago today, I was still plugging away and wondering if I'd wasted all that time, if the dream would always elude me. I wasn't going to give up, but it was getting harder every day to keep typing, to keep believing. But keep typing I did.

The weeks and months since July 24 have been surreal, to say the least. I sold those first two books (YA titles) to Razorbill, a part of Penguin Young Readers Group. Three months later, I sold my first two romances to Harlequin American after going through two sets of revisions for the editor on the first one. Since then, I've written more, revised a lot, worked on outlines, brainstormed with my editor, strategized with my agent, seen a preliminary cover for my first YA, got my Web site redesigned to reflect to two halves of me (I'm writing the YAs under the name Tricia Mills, the romances under my own name), ordered new business cards and bookmarks, attended my first Romantic Times conference (where I signed my first autograph on a bookseller's tote bag), and booked several appearances and speaking engagements at conferences and reader events. And, of course, since I am a writer (and therefore neurotic), I worried that if I didn't hold on tight, it would all go away. So far, it hasn't. I'm hopeful that I'm just at the beginning of a long, successful career.

Believe me when I say I know how awful it feels before you sell. You are plagued with doubts -- Am I good enough, or does my writing suck? Am I wasting time I could be spending with family and friends or pursuing other interests? Am I being selfish by writing and not contributing more to the family's income? I had all those thoughts and more. But when an editor or your agent calls to tell you you've finally sold that first book, all the rejection, all the doubt, all the hard work, all the sacrifice is worth it. It's a magical moment that is imprinted on your brain forever. You'll still have doubts (Will my editor hate this and demand the advance back?) and battles to fight, but you just have to realize that that's part of the writer's life. Acknowledge it and move on. Because you have more books to write, more stories to share with readers.

If you're still waiting for that first sale, keep plugging along. One of my favorite quotes is "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Don't depend on others to bestow luck on you. Go out and make your own luck.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Real Men Read Romance

Most of us have critique partners and trusted first readers that we depend on to tell us what sucks and what works in our fiction. I am so lucky to have a wonderfully brutal group of people who believe enough in me to donate chunks of their time to help me improve my writing.

And they’re all men.

Morgan and my little brother Jon get the first pass – Jon (Who is going to kill me for posting his goofy devil horns picture. I couldn't help myself!) is my logic man. He can spot a plot hole from a million miles away. Morgan focuses on grammar and clarity. He also always seems to find the threads and story elements that I managed to hide from myself during the drafting process.

My crit group, Smyrna Writers, gets the next draft. Mark and Bob are the group’s core and their insights are invaluable. They’re objective and honest, yet know me and my work well enough to comfortably be able to tell me when I’m being an idiot and when I’ve hit the bullseye.

My friend Al gets the “I think it’s almost done” draft. He’s like a fiction barometer. If I don’t make him laugh, I didn’t do my job.

All of them provide a much needed peek into the male mind and heart that, I hope, makes my heroes much more realistic.

This didn’t really register with me until the subject came up during a message board conversation with Anitra and some of the other TM’s and it made me wonder how many other romance writers have the luxury of feedback from a male perspective. And as wonderful as my guys are, it also made me worry that I don’t get enough female insight.

What do you guys think? Do any of you have male crit partners? Would you if you had the opportunity? Does gender really matter when critiquing romantic fiction?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Playing The Name Game

Let’s face it, names are important. A name gives a person individuality and uniqueness. It can tell that person’s ethnicity, sex, heritage, and geographical region. It can also symbolize many things (such as honor) and have different meanings (such as the strong one). In some cases, there are certain practices that accompany the giving of a name, and even the selecting of a name. There’s even a list out there of sexiest male and female names, and non-sexy names. Names can also reflect the changing time. Did you know that Christine and Paul topped the sexiest names list in the 1980s, but today, Sean/Shawn and Kelly/Kellie/Kelli have replaced them?

We know that names are important, but do we really understand its importance?

As a writer, we spend a great amount of time agonizing over names. Should we use our real name or come up with a pseudonym? How saleable is the name we’ll eventually settle on? Does it match the genre we write in? Where will it sit on the bookshelves? Will it be a memorable name? Is there already a published author (or famous person) already going by that name? Is it an easy to pronounce name?

Our name is one of our most powerful marketing tools. If chosen correctly, it can define in the reader’s eye who we are and what kind of books we write. A great example of this is Madeline Oh. What a fantastic name for an erotica romance author.

I once was adamant about getting a pen name – Mya Shelton. Ran that by my writer friends and the response was something to the effect of, “Shelton? It’s so common.” At the time, I thought, “What was wrong with common?” I wanted to be common. I wanted to blend in and not stand out. But my friends finally knocked some sense into me. Why try to blend in and be overlooked, when you can stand out and be unique? And with that, I began to fully embrace my name, Mai Christy Thao. It has a certain ring to it. It’s certainly unique. And it fits my sub-genre, historical fantasy paranormals. Besides, I’ve already built up name recognition and a brand with my real name. Why change it and start over?

But sometimes, uniqueness can be harmful, especially when it comes to naming the characters in our books. I once read a Regency set romance where the heroine’s name was something like Tianna. Every time I saw that name, it jarred me out of a story. Tianna? In early 1800 England as a proper lady aristocrat? It would have settled better with me if say the book had been set in Barbados around that time period, and her parents had been very fond of the locals. A lesson I took from this was don’t give your character a name for the mere sake of being unique.

Just as there are sexy names and unsexy names, there are also hero names and anti-hero names. Nicholas is one of the most commonly used hero names in a romance. I often hear agents and editors say, “No protagonist with the name Nick or Nicholas”. You don’t see Chuck too often as the hero. However, there’s a thin line between the differentiation of hero and anti-hero names. Damien, for example, is a name that sits on the border of hero and anti-hero.

Understanding the importance of a name and winning the name game may be the one thing that could make or break your story (and your career). Just think, what if Tom Cruise had opted to go by his real name, Thomas Mapother IV? Would Thomas Mapother have become as solid a household brand as Tom Cruise have become?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Romantic Times Booklovers Convention - A Brit's Eye View

First off, if you haven't already done it, check out the previous post, which has Helen's eye-catching artwork for The Magic Knot, and pictures from the conference.

Now -- where to start?

If I had to sum up the RT Booklovers convention in one word it would have to be amazing. We don't have anything like that in the UK. I had a GREAT time. Reporting on everything would take up pages of the blog, but I can give you impressions and some edited highlights that I hope will provide a taste of five hectic days. You can be on your feet and at some event from breakfast time until the early hours of the next day – we did our best, but even Title Magicians can’t keep partying forever!
So – who did I see, what did I do?

The people
One the very best things about the convention has to be meeting the other American Title IV finalists, plus Jenny, Judi and Raz from American Title III and Liz from Romantic Times -- people who already felt like friends. After that, well -- one minute you could be in an elevator with a group of aspiring authors, the next standing beside a writer you’d admired for years -- it's that kind of event. As Mel put it, a very high squee factor! I met so many people, and everyone had something interesting to say. There was the lady who shoots those delectable covers who had tales of putting hunky models through ordeals of nibbling fish, biting insects, and sunburn. Those guys really do suffer for their art! Then the lovely ladies from the Between your Sheets website with whom I discussed Welsh ancestry. The two visitors who came all the way from Belgium, just to be at the convention -- because they love to read romance …

The parties.
Most of the day could be a party, if you wanted, but the big ones – the Fairy Ball, Monster Mash, Ellora‘s Cave’s homage to Hollywood and Dorchester’s shoe fest were something special. Costumes ranged from a simple pair elf ears to the most complex designs, with wings that looked almost as if they might work. Guests could do as much, or as little as they wanted. Judi won a prize with her wonderful peacock shoes and we all danced and had a good time.

The workshops
So many choices, so little time. I sat in on discussions of romantic suspense, psychic romance, new historicals and the intricacies of e book publishing. Everything I attended was fascinating and useful, particularly the practical sessions on pitching and synopsis writing. We’re hoping to have one or two of those speakers as guests on the blog so everyone can share.

The books
Whatever your taste in romance you could get it at RT. There were two huge signings, one for e-books, the other for print, when the noise levels and squeal levels, as someone spotted their favourite author, were high. Bearing in mind the weight of my suitcase, and the cost of shipping, I contented myself mostly with taking names, so I could track down the authors here in the UK. Jenny Gardiner was signing many copies of Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, last year’s AT winner, and I also had the chance to speak to Sylvia Day and thank her for hosting interviews on her blog with all the ATIV finalists, back at the start of the competition.

The give aways
Again I had to be careful but I still managed a pile of books and goodies. The handles on the case may never be the same again. A few other ladies made Sunday trips to Macy’s to buy an extra bag to carry home all that stuff. Now I’m unpacked I can’t find my wonderful collection of promo pens – yes I’m a geek over them, just like Mel. I can only guess that somehow I left them behind. Pause for big tears!! Thank goodness Helen’s Magic Knot pen was in my handbag. For those travelling by car there were hundreds of free books and, in promo alley, tables groaning with every kind of promotional give away, match books, bookmarks, magnets, bags, badges – and the list goes on…

The men
Ellora’s Cavemen are total hunks, and I’d be proud to have any of the contestants from the Mr Romance contest gracing a book cover for me. All the ones I met were charming as well as good looking, but I have to say that they mostly brought out my latent maternal streak rather than fits of lust. I must be getting old! There were one or two other brave men in attendance. Mel’s husband Morgan deserves special mention for courage over and above the call of duty. There were even a few male authors, like Shane Gericke from the Mystery Chix and a Dix group, with whom I shared a table at the Monster Ball.
And of course Fabio!!! And Judi and Katherine have the pics to prove it!

The hotel
The Hilton was still under renovation, which led to some improvisation and use of back stairs, letting guests see parts of the hotel they wouldn’t normally get a look at. My room on the fourteenth floor was lovely but I heard other stories of layers of dust and a total absence of beds, internet connection, phone signal. Everyone knows the story of the missing coffee maker in Holli’s room. Trish came to the rescue on that one, though the rest of us were slightly disappointed not to find out what kind of shape shifting Holli might get up to if deprived of her early morning caffeine blast!

The city
Pittsburgh is a lovely city, with friendly people. I managed to get out and about a bit – to the Rosebud Market on 7th Street for essential supplies of mineral water and fruit, to Macy’s for a little light shopping, to the Andy Warhol museum for lunch and a look at the exhibits and to the O’Reilly Theatre for a wonderful play, called Rabbit Hole, a beautifully acted and heart wrenching piece about a young couple coping with terrible tragedy. And the sight of the three quarter moon over the river at four in the morning was extremely romantic – and no I wasn’t sharing it with anyone. Unfortunately.

The special moments
The biggest moment had to be standing with Helen, when she received her winner’s tiara on the same stage as authors such as Jennifer Blake and Bertrice Small were being honoured as pioneers of romance.
Then there was the moment in the Mr Romance contest, just after the SOS Military Mixer, when George Small, veteran of World War II and looking wonderful in his uniform, was called to the stage. I had a much loved uncle by marriage who was a GI in that war. I remembered him as we all stood to applaud. I’m sure that most of the rest of the audience had a lump in their throat similar to mine.
Then there was the moment when I exited a crowded elevator as Rosemary Laurey, an Internet friend, was getting in. She recognized my accent and we introduced ourselves as the lift doors closed …
I could go on much longer, recalling people and snapshots. It really was a wonderful five days.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Romantic Times Convention and Award Ceremony

By Helen Scott Taylor

I'm delighted to announce that I won the American Title IV contest. This is such an honor considering the quality of the other entries I was competing against. Here's the wonderful book cover Dorchester designed for my book, which will be released in February 2009.
Five ATIV finalists made the trip to Pittsburgh for the Romantic Times Convention. Evonne and I made the trip across the Atlantic from the UK to join Holly, Trish and Mel. It was great to meet up and although we missed the other five who didn't make it this year, we all had fun. Here we are from left to right, my daughter Katherine, Evonne, Helen, Trish, Holly and Mel.

The awards ceremony on Friday was exciting. Chris Keesler from Dorchester called all five of us up on stage before he announced the winner of American Title.

Then I made a short speech of thanks wearing my tiara! I even received a kiss of congratulation from Mr. Romance 2008, Chris Winters.
From left to right, Kathryn Falk, owner of Romantic Times, Helen and Chris Keesler from Dorchester.

Dorchester made a poster of my book cover that I got to ship home! (At great expense. would you believe UPS wanted to charge me $300 to ship it back to the UK!! Needless to say I found a cheaper alternative.)

One final pic that I must show you because my daughter is so pleased to have had her photograph taken with Fabio!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Coffee Time Magic

No, we're not talking Starbucks here. Although, I must admit a weakness for their grocery store mocha blend. And the ice cream ain't bad either. Rather yummy luxurious, actually. However, if coffee doesn't have a lot of chocolate and cream in it, forget about it.
Okay, Title Magicians, I'm posting because my name is on the schedule and I didn't know if our ATIV Winner was posting today. With my absolute blessing, please feel free to blog today, Helen.
In lieu of anything else I'll share a snippet of my virgin review from Coffee Time Romance. Nope, you're not getting the number of steaming cups, unless you check out the full review. I'm going with the positive caffeine-happy approach here.
ISBN#: 1606010131
March 2008
Siren Publishing ~
E-Book ~ $3.99 ~ 148 Pages ~ Fantasy Romance
"This story is very erotic and sensual, with a ferocious carnal appetite that can never be appeased. The syntax is extraordinary, and flows with an almost poetic feel. I do feel, however, that the constant sexual pleasures are somewhat overpowering to the plot line of the story. This being said, I very much want to read Part II, the continuation of Sheridan and Zag’s story. Ms. Kougar has an amazing way with words that very few authors could pull off, and she does so brilliantly."
Lototy ~ Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance
Coffee hot smooch from the Kougar...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Down and Dirty

I remember the first time I had to write a synopsis--I was terrified! How in the world was I going to distill 400 pages into 5 pages? Or worse, gulp, 2 paragraphs for a query letter?

After the quivering terror settled into jelly shakes, I decided to use the reporter technique of: who, what, where, when, how and why.

WHO is my main character?
WHAT does this character want and WHAT stands in their way?
WHERE does this character’s struggle take place?
WHEN does this story take place?
HOW does this character overcome the conflict and HOW are they changed?
WHY should a reader/editor care?

Once you’ve answered these few questions you have the basic building blocks for your synopsis.

This is only one way to start. I would love for you to share your techniques for writing a query letter or a synopsis.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Guest Blogger ~ Nina Pierce ~ The Healer's Garden

Hi Title Magicians, writer magicians, and especially readers. Today I have the privilege of introducing a new author, one of my fellow authors with Liquid Silver Books. Her first novel is impressive to me personally because of the futuristic subject and because of her writing style. Nina's words flow beautifully onto the page, a melodic capturing of the story she tells.
The cover art for her next three novels, gorgeous and romantically sensual ~ you have to check them out on the Books Coming Soon forum page at Liquid Silver ~ anyway Anne Cain's cover art resonates perfectly with Nina's stories and with her lovely writing style. It is that magical blending of the arts, visual and novel, which simply enchants and further enhances a reader's enjoyment.

"Cause… I said"
Thanks for inviting me over to your place, ladies. Sometimes a writer just needs to get out, stretch her legs, and visit another blog! Happy to be here visiting with everyone today! I’m Nina Pierce, new to the publishing world. My debut novel "The Healer’s Garden" (direct link: was a December molten erotic release from Liquid Silver Books. It’s not dark or chilling but it is a suspense story that takes place in an alternative future.
A world left after the devastating plague of the twenty-first century nearly wiped out the male population and significantly decreased the female population. A place where woman have evolved and developed the talents of prophesying, telepathy, telekinesis, and the greatest gift of all—healing.
In this female dominated society, continuing the human population is of utmost importance. The virus that decimated humans has also rendered male sperm incapable of surviving artificial insemination and cloning has yet to be perfected. The government has enslaved acceptable males and decreed that woman must mate with them and birth two infants before the age of thirty.
It’s at the government breeding facility known as the Garden of Serenity that gifted healer Jahara Hriznek meets the mating instructor Brenimyn and so begins their tumultuous relationship.
Brenimyn believes the time is now to rise up and restore social equality for all. He is searching for the one woman prophesied to be his mate and partner in the battle against the government and believes Jahara is that woman. But can Brenimyn convince Jahara to trust her heart and follow him? And will that love be enough to unite them in a coup against the government and bring about a new world order?
I love this couple... love that Brenimyn is willing to risk his life to stand up for something he believes in and fight for the woman he loves.
I was born in the 60’s, but I am not a child of the 60’s. That was an era when men and women laid down in front of bulldozers or carried picket signs or stood up against the government on court hall steps. I’ve never stepped up in public and fought for a cause I believed in. I’m opinionated and not too shy to express myself, but have never gone to jail to prove a point. I greatly admire people who have stepped out of their comfort zone and stood up for a cause.
I love to hear stories of people with that much bravery. Have you taken a stand? Or would you like to? Tell me about it. I’ll be here all day!
(The Healer’s Book Trailer on YouTube)

Psssst...I snuck over late at night and stole these fantabulous reviews from Nina's website.
Reviews for Healer’s Garden
See what Yolanda of TwoLips Reviews is saying about this hot, sexy, erotic romance book. .
Nina Pierce’s The Healer’s Garden is a wonderful tale...(Jahara and Brenimyn's) battle to overcome prejudices and stereotypes leaves the reader cheering for them and their quest to stay together and make a positive change. The characters are well written...The Healer’s Garden is a must read!
4.5 lips
See what Whitney of Simply Romance Reviews is saying about this hot, sexy, erotic romance book. . .
"The plot was unique...Jahara and Bren were great main characters and you find yourself pulling for them almost from the moment they meet. This is a great read and if you are in the mood for a sexy futuristic romance, The Healer’s Garden is the book for you."
Rating: A
See what Denise Kivett of Rogues and Romance is saying about this hot, sexy, erotic romance book. . .
"Wow! What a great read! ... grabs your attention from the very first page, and holds on to it throughout the entire story ... amazingly well crafted with realistic qualities ... Nina Pierce is an excellent writer, and you’ll find yourself pouring through The Healer’s Garden and wanting more...
Heat Rating: 4 Cupid's Aphrodisiac
Violence Rating: 0

Thursday, April 17, 2008

RT - A Squee a Minute

Okay, I have to say that the RT Con is completely insane. In a good way, of course, but still insane. Just in the elevator alone, I’ve seen MaryJanice Davidson (Squee!), Marjorie Liu (Squee!), Jade Lee (Squee!)and Mary Balogh (Squee!). I even passed Bertrice Small in the hallway(Squee-quee!). The only thing keeping me from pulling a Wayne and Garth style “We’re not worthy!” scene every five minutes is that the hotel is so packed, there’s just not room to do it properly. I may be geeking out, but I’m still practical, dammit.

For someone who’s a little crowd phobic, it’s really overwhelming, so I’ve been taking it all in weensie chunks. I’m taking advantage of the workshops, though. I’ve been to a couple of paranormal panels. This morning Trish, Holli, and I heard J.R. Ward and Jessica Anderson talk about world building and pacing. I’ve indulged my pen-whore addiction in the freebie hallway, and I’m dragging my poor hubby to the goody room later before we get ready for the faery ball. First, though, I’ve got to scoot if I’m going to learn how to construct the Surefire Six-Step Pitch.

There are two and a half days left, so stay tuned! :-)

Saved by the … Secondary Character?

I once read a book where the secondary character saved the day – and the girl. Why? Because the hero was off doing something else. Never mind that it was relevant to his personal growth and own conflict. But when you’re getting to the end of the book, shouldn’t he have already gotten all that taken cared of in time to save the day and the girl???

I won’t name the book or author. Actually, I have a confession to make myself. I too was once guilty of this. Yup. *Nodding my head in shame here.*

I wrote this excellent book where the at the end, the secondary character saved the day and the girl. Yeah, my hero was there, but he didn’t react quickly enough. To tell you the truth, he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t want to jeopardize the heroine’s safety, since she had a knife at her throat and was used as a human shield by the antagonist. So the secondary saved the day by coming up behind the antagonist and was able to wrestle the knife away, free the heroine, and killed the antagonist.

To my reasoning, that secondary character had more than ample reason to kill antagonist. The antagonist had raped his 14-year-old daughter. I thought it was a very fitting end. My critique partner, however, didn’t agree. She went at me about not having the hero save the heroine and kill the antagonist. It completely ruined the book for her. And you know what? She was right. That “excellent” book is now collecting dust, waiting for me to go back and change the ending. Thank God for critique partners!

So lesson learned. Have the main character save the day, not the secondary character, no matter how great his/her motivation is. And if there’s a girl to be saved, let the hero do the saving. Common sense, I know, but like I said, even I was guilty of this. Let the hero save the day, save the girl … and save your book!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Live from Pittsburgh!

The Romantic Times conference is under way, and the hotel lobby is currently filled with lots of romance writers and readers. Cover models are wandering around introducing themselves. One of the members of the vampire band that'll be playing later in the week is banging out some tunes on the bar's piano.

It's my first fan conference, so it'll be interesting to see how things progress over the next few days. It's really nice to not be responsible for anything or nervous about anything like I usually am at the RWA Conference. At RWA, I'm usually going about 90 mph and have to make myself a spreadsheet so I know where I'm supposed to be when.

One of the cool things about conferences is I get to meet up with writer friends I don't get to see anywhere else. I've bumped into pal Anna DeStefano, who writes for Harlequin Superromance, a couple of times. I had dinner with Colleen Gleason, Kelly (sorry, I don't remember your last name -- not enough sleep), and fellow American Title finalists Evonne and Holli. When I sign off, I'm going to have to find Holli so I can give her the coffeepot in my room since she doesn't have one and MUST have coffee in the morning. :)

I hear the other two ATers in attendance, Mel and Helen, are here, but I've not seen them yet. I'm guessing I'll bump into them tomorrow.

So, that's day one of RT. The other ATers in attendance will be posting on-site updates throughout the rest of the week, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Hunger...

I started writing somewhere around third grade, as a way to escape my family’s home life, to run from the bullies on the asphalt playground, and for another reason that had and has nothing to do with escape. I love playing with words. I love the sound of words, rolling them off my tongue, curving them on the line with a pen or pencil. And, older, I love the speed with which the keyboard lets me pour them out.

I want to know how the story ends. Any story. The stories I wake up to and rush to write down. The story I catch part of as some movie trailer or television commercial flips by when my kids steal the remote. The stories in the books stacked beside my bed so high I can’t open my end table’s top drawer. I want to know how the stories in my head end.

The ones I don’t have time to write. That’s what this blog is about (you’ve been wondering where I was going with this, right?). I have a very full-time job—professors don’t just teach, they grade. And go to committee meetings. And grade some more. Plus, I’m a Mommy. So, for the most part, I have very little time to write between breaks—weeks, and now months have gone by. I’m hungry. I look at my plot chart and want to cry, or at least stare longingly. I can’t even count down—the day when I can write again seems too far away.

So, since I can’t really write now, I’m subverting my passion into characterization. So many writing advisors, columnists, people who know more than I do, tell me all my characters have to have a goal. What do said characters want so badly they can’t think about it, if they can’t have it? I know I have at least one of my heroines running away from something rather than to something. A problem with the story, perhaps? Or maybe the motive is hidden, an internal desire they know they can’t have (a full-time writing career perhaps) so they never have the guts to say it out loud?

I don’t think a real goal or motive can be something you are able to put off indefinitely without symptoms of malaise. In my psychology world, there is the idea that if you repress your desires too long, too much, you have only a few options. You stop wanting that thing and maybe learn to hate it. Or you start hurting yourself, or get hurt by an inner fire. Or the desire eeks out, some Freudian slip showing who you really are and what you really want. Or you can’t stop thinking about it, tell yourself that if you just do this, then you can have it. You make deals with God.
Do your characters have something they need so badly, that serious repercussions follow--to them—and maybe the rest of the world—if they don’t get it?

Coming Tomorrow: Trish Milburn blogs
Coming Thursday: Mai blogs
Coming Friday: Guest blogger Nina Pierce blogs

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hitting the Road

I'm almost packed. In a few hours the hubby and I will take to the highway in our little Metro en route to Pittsburgh for my very first Romantic Times convention. Between the social events, the writing workshops, and the (squee!) huge book fair, I know we'll have a fantastic time! But what I'm looking forward to more than any of the events, is having the opportunity to meet, face to face, some of the wonderful people I've been talking to online since ATIV began last fall. ATIV finalists and fellow Title Magicians Helen, Trish, Holli, and Evonne will be there, as will ATIII winner Jenny Gardiner, ATIII finalist Judi Fennell, and lots of other American Title alumni.

Are you going, too? If so, let us know so we can say howdy!

If you're not going, never fear. Most of us Magicians are arriving with cameras and notebooks in hand and will blog about the fun, so TM readers'll get bonus content in between the week's regular posts.

All right. Time to stick the elf ears and the monkey slippers in my duffel bag and hit the road. See y'all on the flip side!

Nonfiction: its not just for research anymore

Shelving books in a library can be dangerous. I don't get to do it much anymore because we have the most fantastic page who keeps the carts clean. I swear she's got a clone tucked away somewhere! But when I do shelve, I have to restrain myself from bringing back as much as I put away. I have found interesting things in almost every dewey decimal area, and most of it has influenced my writing in one way or the other.

The me from ten years ago would never have believed the me of today would be a non-fiction reader. She was strictly a novel girl unless forced to write an article or paper that required research. Today, I see non-fiction as treasure. You never know what you're going to stumble across that will spark your imagination.

Inspiration is random and very subjective. And sometimes the more you force it, the less inspired you'll be. But you can guide it a little bit. Most of us expose ourselves to television news, documentaries, newspapers, new experiences, and new people just to give inspiration a chance to hit us over the head with something brilliant. I get just as many inspiration-related head injuries in the non-fiction sections of libraries and bookstores as I do with those other things.

For example, the book Done and Been: steel rail chronicles of American hobos by Gypsy Moon inspired my current WIP about a stranded woman struggling to get home to her daughter who is assisted by the hobo community, most of whom are more magical than they seem. King of the Gypsies by Peter Maas prompted a really bad early epic fantasy that I'm trying to disown. The Miami Indians of Indiana by Stewart Rafert gave the spark for Voice of the Bard. Blowing My Cover: my life as a CIA spy by Lyndsay Moran was responsible for a short story I'm editing, and The Feline Mystique: on the mysterious connection between women and cats by Clea Simon inspired a YA fantasy still in the planning stages. None of these works would exist without the non-fiction books acting as idea catalysts.

I don't have a formula for picking non-fiction for inspiration, but I can tell you what I do. I grab things that catch my eye. Sometimes I seek out books that I don't know much about, and sometimes I look for things on subjects in which I'm interested or familiar.

Do you read non-fiction for pleasure? Which titles have inspired you?
Reading For Writers
Starting May 15th - Abusing the TBR Pile
Every month, I'll post a genre-specific book list for genre fiction writers and readers. The best part? Title Magic readers'll have a chance to win their choice of book from that month's list, just for commenting. Free stuff, for the win!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Paranormal story elements, by guest blogger Liz Jasper

For mystery writers, paranormal elements--used wisely--can be very effective storytelling tools.

When you crack open a romance novel, you know the main characters are going to fall in love and live happily ever after. It may take them a while to figure it out as, bickering, they get led astray by villains and hurl themselves over deep chasms to get back on course. But as a reader, you pretty much know how it's all going to turn out. Even in romantic suspense there's a fair level of security in reading the book as, although there is a bad guy throwing wrenches in the mix, you know who the bad guy is. (Otherwise you'd be reading a mystery novel.)

And that's why paranormal romances are so fun. Add a vampire, witch, seer or shape-shifter and you add a level of uncertainty to the proceedings. The reader has no idea how these characters are going to act in a given situation (hint: not normally) or how their world is going to collide with ours (badly, is a good guess) because they’re not quite like us. The stakes are raised, the hurdles are higher. And as millions of readers have discovered, this added element of mystery in a romance novel can really keep you flipping pages in to the wee hours of the morning.

Adding paranormal elements to a mystery novel is different though--isn’t it? Unlike a romance novel, the point of a mystery is that there’s already a lot of uncertainty. You don't know who the bad guy is. Or, apart from the unwritten guarantee that the murder will be solved, quite how it’s going to turn out. (Mystery novelists have a nasty habit of killing off characters just when you get attached to them.) Surely the mystery itself is exciting enough without having to add to the mysteriousness. But paranormal elements can be used for much more than simply adding to the unknown. For example:

Hiding clues. One of the hard parts of writing a mystery novel is hiding clues. We've all buried them in the middle of lists (“I knelt to the ground and helped Joan gather up the scattered contents of her purse: a comb, breath mints, lipstick, A GIANT GUN, hairspray and about three dollars all in pennies.”) But how much more devious to, say, literally hide them with a kleptomaniac dwarf who pops in and out of our dimension with a snap of his fingers? By the time he's snatched the heroine's favorite little black dress on page eight, her left dress shoe on page fifty and her diamond ring on page hundred and ten, you’ve forgotten he took that deceptively unimportant piece of paper on page 39. Or that there even was a deceptively unimportant piece of paper on page 39.

Revealing clues. Finding believable ways to have your sleuth discover key bits of information can be tricky, particularly if your sleuth isn’t a police detective or a PI. Oftentimes, this leads to making one's characters take absurd risks. (“So I shimmied up the fire escape and, ignoring the sound of the car pulling into the driveway, broke into Mr. Scary’s house.”) Or—and this is a pet peeve of many mystery readers I know--being unforgivably pushy. (“Hi, Mrs. Neighbor, so nice of you to invite me in for tea. I wonder… did your late husband like to dress in women's clothing?”) When you have a paranormal novel, you've opened the door to an infinite supply of ways for your sleuth to find stuff out. If, for example, your protagonist is a practicing witch, she could conjure up the dead person’s ghost to answer questions -- even better, the ghost can send your protagonist on all sorts of wild goose chases where she uncovers more clues.

Obfuscate the villains and good guys. A paranormal character is going to be different from everyone else. He or she (or it) is going to have different values, different goals…and unpredictable responses. Nonetheless, most readers will tend to assign human values to those characters, often in a predictable way the author can exploit for his or her own devious plotting needs. For instance, when a thousand gold bars disappear from the US Mint, a reader might assume that the (obviously power-hungry—look at the way he flounces around in dark robes!) warlock conjured them away. But perhaps this warlock doesn't intervene in petty human thievery. It is the author's job, of course, to play fair by making the warlock's true nature just clear enough at the time of the theft to make his eventual clearing unobjectionable. But making use of a reader’s mistaken assumptions is fair game.

Character development. A mystery novel is primarily about solving a murder. Oftentimes solving a murder requires delving into characters’ psyches, but you don't really need well-rounded characters to solve a mystery, and frankly, an author who spends too much time focusing on character development is going to lose sight of the main plot. On the other hand, without solid character development, your novel will be about as exciting as a phone book. (Fortunately for the reader, it would also be only about 50 pages long.) The trick is to develop your characters quickly. One of the ways to do this is by putting them in unusual situations and seeing how they react. For a cloistered nun, stopping for directions at a biker bar and getting embroiled in a knife fight would be an unusual situation. But you can't have all your characters be extreme examples of narrow segments of society. Here, adding paranormal elements can certainly be an advantage -- exposing your characters to otherworldly things and showing how they react is an efficient way to get a read on someone's character. And as a nice benefit, you can make your protagonist “normal” and still have him be interesting without having to make him a one-legged, gay misanthrope who raises goldfish.

Subplot. What’s a good mystery without a subplot to tweak the tension? Having paranormal elements in your novel can be a good opportunity for comic relief. When you pit a paranormal world against the real one, odd, inexplicable things are going to happen and you can have lots of fun with it. How do you explain to your mother that the detective you're dating is a werewolf? On the flipside, if the novel is hitting a slow spot, the paranormal aspect of your mystery can enhance the pathos, boost moral dilemmas and raise the stakes. What if what is seen as a gruesome murder in your world is seen as a beautiful ascension into the good life in another world? Is it still bad? Or what if a simple kiss were to bind you to someone for life in another world? Would you still do it?

Having said all this, a well-crafted book in any genre has no problem keeping a reader fully engaged. There's certainly no need to add vampires, ghosts or a shape shifting wolf-space alien from planet Xetwon in the fifth dimension to make a book exciting. But as a mystery writer, I like the way paranormal elements give me an unpredictable element to work with. It’s like having another tool in the toolbox.

And as a reader, let me just remind everyone that it’s tax time and I, for one, could use a shape shifting wolf-space alien from planet Xetwon in the fifth dimension to take me away from the gruesome specter of the IRS.

Liz Jasper is the author of the award-winning humorous paranormal mystery, UNDERDEAD. Her next novel, UNDERDEAD IN DENIAL is coming soon. For more information about Liz Jasper or her books, visit her website at

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hunting the Magic Were-Beast

Authors, aspiring authors, are you hunting the magic were-beast?
Pssst...if you’ve settled on were-ducks, I’d give that honking mallard another thought. According to the SmartBitches, Ellora’s Cave has already claimed those quacking heroes as their own. Yeah, yeah...I gotta an old fallin’ down duckstand I can sell ya.
Still ~ still as a full moon werewolf-shifting night ~ are you looking for that perfect were-beastie to star in your next novel?
Howl desperately to the moon, dear that next were-heroine or hero ~ or were-villain elusive? Is your were-inspiring Muse on up with that gorgeous ManWolf, and she’s not emerging from the waterbed den until all her lusty appetites are completely satiated?
Growl-darn the writer’s block, is that perfect were-beast still escaping your imagination? Just as the real were-beasties do, escaping detection by mainstream media and mainstream science?
Yep, I said ‘real’. There are dedicated researchers combing through all the reports turned into law enforcement agencies, including animal control, about beasties that go more than ‘bump *or hump* in the night’. These truth-seeking researchers tromp through the fields and forests tracking down evidence, snapping pics of unusual, unknown tracks, bagging bits of hair, along with the occasional claw-ripped shirt. These intrepid few among us have even been known to set up camp for a night or two, attempting to lure the beasties with their fave snacks. I believe lunch meat was mentioned in one report. Truth to tell, if I were a fierce and cunning were-critter, I don’t think lunch meat would tempt my primal slavering immense hunger. Now frying bacon....
Linda Godfrey, author of Beast of Bray Road and Hunting the American Werewolf, is one such dedicated researcher. Her occasional reports on Coast-to-Coastam, night radio, are beyond fascinating, the stories of encounters absolutely enthralling, not to mention chill-scary entertaining.
Nope. We are not alone, Earth humans. Strange monster critters, magical were-beasts, wherever they originate from...inner earth? And...wherever they lurk...? Are hiding deep, deep inside our forests and caves, their lairs unlocated by Google Earth...yet.
So, if your writer’s imagination is on the fritz, and all you’re visualizing is a set of savage yellow-neon eyes, get a spooky halloween re-charge, investigate were-beast territory on Linda Godfrey’s website: Here is a snippet from Linda’s blog:

November 5, 2007 - Return of the Bearwolf?
It never ceases to amaze me the way these things seem to work. Only a few days ago I had decided to post a note about the Washington County Courthouses's cryptid creature art, and then today I get a call from Mike Lane, the hunter who went looking for the creature's footprints last fall right about this time. He found some, too...bipedal, large and roundish looking deep imprints that indicated something very large and upright went walking through a mushy field across from Holy Hill, and then entered a marsh where the tracks ended. (See photo of Mike standing in front of that marsh last year.)

Inspired by Linda Godfrey’s reports, an excerpt from my WIP, Don’t Cry Werewolf ~
"This should be the spot." Weak, in pain, she shuffled slowly. Focusing on each step, she tried not to stumble, not wanting to fall, hurt herself so severely she’d have to crawl into the isolated forest.
"The lucky spot," she encouraged herself. "The lucky spot where I get eaten by a werewolf." She whisper-sang those words to herself over and over – forging ahead at a snail’s pace.
The night-chilled air wheezed in and out of her lungs. Her feet drug over the dead damp leaves from last autumn. There wasn’t much spring foliage to hinder her way.
"Here, little werewolf," she called out. Again she laughed at herself. She needed a big monstrous werewolf, actually. "Here, big horrible nasty werewolf," she called out instead – several times. She chuckled, faltered, the effort costing her.
Looking upwards at the immense display of tree limbs in the moonlight, she felt the usual quick up and down of her chest, listened to her struggling whoosh of breath. It took nothing anymore to wear her out completely. "Hey, if nothing else I’ll get lost in the forest and die," she murmured philosophically, between her strained puffing breaths. "Maybe only the bugs will get me."
Able to lift her foot again, she continued moving deeper into the old forest. "Death by mosquito – god, that would be horrible. Instead of a thousand cuts. A thousand bites. – The it’s better to be ripped apart. Definitely."
Reaching an enormous tree trunk, she leaned against her palm – the rough bark strangely comforting. "Maybe it’s still too cool for mosquitos." Breathing heavily she turned, leaned back against the trunk, rested. "Death by exposure can’t be much fun," she whispered, huffing huge breaths, hurting breaths. "No, death by werewolf is the way to go."
When her breaths calmed down, she called, "Here, werewolf, here, werewolf." Painfully she shoved from the tree trunk, shuffled from the rough bike trail onto a deer trail. "I may not be as tasty as little red riding hood." Feeling woozy, she slowed her steps. "But I should be good enough for one meal."
Numbness crept into her limbs. She forced one step after another. "Maybe I’ll just die on the trail."
No fresh dinner for you, werewolfie. She sent the telepathic message just in case werewolves were a telepathic species, like most animals. No drugs, I’m mostly organic – even if I’m no spring chicken dinner. She stumbled to her knees.
"Damn!" Pain radiated upwards sharply. Straightening, she grimaced, shook her hands out. I guess a bear will do. Soon as she could, her breathing not as ragged, she leaned forward on her hands, struggled to stand up. Groaning with the pain and effort, she cried out, finally standing up. Geez – not a good night to die. Dragging one foot, exhausted, she continued along the deer trail.
Bear...cougar...maybe a wild pack of dogs...come on, werewolf. Eat me!
She begged. Heart, mind and soul, she begged. *Come on, werewolf. Eat me!* Her eyes shut, she took several small steps. She begged, knowing it had never mattered before how much she’d begged for help. I need a cliff.
She opened her eyes. Nothing, no glowing red eyes. No glowing eyes at all.
I should just jump off a cliff...of course, there’s the whole fear of heights thing. But it won’t really matter once I’ve jumped...I could just pretend it’s a flying dream...Hit.
Her body felt wooden, about ready to collapse. Feeling chilled, she hugged herself – kept dragging her feet forward, tiny steps. She didn’t care. If she simply dropped and died – that would serve her purpose. It’s just that she wanted to know. If werewolves existed, she wanted to know. Before she died.
She figured she was owed at least that...for enduring her pathetic nightmare life. For maintaining her integrity, her goodness as a person, despite the endless brutal trials.
Why not serve yourself up as a meal? And know. It was eco-sound – no land-eating coffin. No energy expended in cremation. Just bloody rent flesh, dinner for a werewolf. Any remaining pieces devoured by nature.
"The natural way to go," she whispered. "Instead of don’t feed the animals at the zoo. Do feed the animals." She laughed silently at herself. "The new cool on YouTube," she muttered. Looking around, she noticed there were no more night sounds. "The zoo’s new slogan – end it here, save a polar bear," she whispered, trailed off. The eeriness tingled her flesh to goosebumps.
Hugging herself unconsciously, she waited, noticed she was frozen. She couldn’t move her feet. A strange dread coursed through her. Yet she was calm, a strange anticipation soared through her. Slowly, slowly, she swivelled her head, looking.
It rushed at her from the darkest part of the forest, fearsome, upright, huge. Shadow-dark in the moonlight. Searing feral gold eyes charged straight at her. Her scream stuck in her throat. She was grateful. Her fast breaths hurt like knives in her throat. It would be upon her soon.
Closing her eyes instinctively, she prayed it was a werewolf. That she would know. Somehow. Fluttering her lids open the next split second, she saw the wolfen features, monstrous and magnificent, displayed beneath the full moon. She nearly passed out from the shock, swayed. His ferocious growl as he ran at her possessed her spine.
Forcing her eyes wide, she watched him launch – fur and bulk and incredible power. His hot breath blasted her neck. His fang tip touched the side of her neck. She fainted.
But not before she thought – goodbye, cruel world.

5-Star Review

All Shades of Blue Paradise by Savanna Kougar
from Siren Publishing ~ ~
recently earned a 5-Star review

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Personal Connections by Guest Blogger, Renee Knowles

Welcome to our Wednesday guest blogger, and my fellow Siren author, Renee Knowles. Renee and I were newbies together. And, boy, am I glad. Her warmth and intelligence on our author loop was helpful and inspiring to me. Not to mention she guided me through an editing snafu I was clueless about.
Renee’s first e-novel with Siren Publishing, Going Topless, will be in print soon, and has earned three 5-Star reviews. Currently, she has a new erotic romance contemporary series called, Pleasure, Inc., contracted with Siren and a regency historical contracted with the Wild Rose Press.
Kinda impressive, isn’t it?!
Okay, I stole this bio from her website. But, why re-invent the writing wheel?
Renee lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and a view of the Rocky Mountains out of her window. (How cool is that?) Renee has traveled all over the world, living in both Europe and Asia. She has also visited Amsterdam twice, the setting for her debut book, Going Topless. Her favorite place to travel to is Italy, and her dream is to own a vacation home there.

Personal Connections by Renee Knowles

I just returned from a fabulous writer’s conference. Aren’t conferences the best? The entire weekend was rejuvenating, fun, and full of great information. I totally enjoy these events. Everybody seems to "get" you there. There’s so much positive energy in the room, and everyone loves to talk about my favorite subject: writing. Although, by the time you’re done, you are tired, have sore feet, and are mentally exhausted. Then it’s time to unwind and take a day or two for yourself.
One thing I found interesting is all the talk from agents and editors at this conference was about personal connections and networking. They were touting the benefits of meeting someone and making that real connection. According to one agent, the majority of her clients came through networking. And to all the agents and editors, this made a difference when it came to taking on projects. Of course, our writing is always the main priority and what will sell us in the end. But finding a way to get noticed is important as well.
This was great news for me as I was teaching a workshop on networking, and after all that editor talk about it, my class was full. Coming from a small business background, I’ve always been a fan of connecting. I’ve met some of my best friends and best business partners this way.
I do think this is a subject writers need to consider. Networking is key to getting your foot in the door. This can be at a writer’s conference, or at your local bookstore, or even at the dry cleaner’s. Everywhere you go there is potential to meet a reader, a bookstore manager, or just a new friend.
I often hear from writers, when I teach my networking class, that they might be shy or just not comfortable in crowds. That is true of a lot of us, I think. As writers, we tend to want to sit home in our sweats and write. (I know I do!) But, forcing ourselves out of our comfort zone actually helps us to renew our writing energy. It gives us a new purpose, and a new zing to our prose.
I know I certainly met some great new friends at this conference, as well as a possible professional connection. So, I guess it’s time to get back to writing. If I don’t have anything to submit, I guess it won’t matter how much I network. But at least now, I’m going back to my writing with a renewed frame of mind and a newfound energy.

Hugs to all,

Sensual, Sassy and Slightly Sinful
Going Topless--"A must read."--5 Flags--Euro-Reviews Siren Publishing
Guilty Pleasures--coming summer 08 Siren Publishing
Courting Trouble--Regency Historical--coming soon! Wild Rose Press

p.s. Happy Aries Birthday to Mai, Lexie and Anitra

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pardon me, but your research is showing ...

We've all read them, those books where the writers have done their research on something -- fish farming in South Australia/hang gliding in the Himalayas/the life cycle of the lesser spotted warbler -- and are determined that the reader will know every scrap of what they found out.

I've tried to read a number of top-of-the-range thrillers and been put off by the high level of interest in the working of guns and computer crime -- but I must be in the minority, because these things sell by the bag load. I suspect, with the thriller, it may be a case of toys for the boys.

I don’t much care for the current trend for books that describe in loving detail all that happens on the autopsy table either, but again, that’s me, because they are very popular and successful.

Is the point where research becomes intrusive a matter of taste? I think it may be. I know that I am more likely to be interested in a description of the moon rising over Capri than I am the detailed working of the internal combustion engine. Sometimes there are points too where the author doesn't give you quite enough. I get particularly irritated when the heroine gives a dinner party, and I don't get a blow by blow account of the food served. But I've been told off by those critiquing my work for including too much detail about what everyone ate. Maybe the person doing the critique was on a diet at the time?

There seem to be fashions in what should and shouldn't be included. I've begun to suspect that there is a how-to book circulating out there somewhere, which suggests that to add authenticity to your manuscript you need detailed accounts of the routes used by your characters while travelling. I've lost count of the number of books in which I’ve waded through lists of street names and numbers, while the hero crosses Chicago/Manchester/Sydney. If I wanted a route, I’d get a map! Music is another of my little quibbles. References to groups I've never heard of add nothing to the story for me, and in fact can lift me out of it. I freely admit though that I know more about Leonard Cohen than I do about Coldplay, so again it’s a matter of taste.

Many writers will tell you how seductive research can be -- chasing up that elusive fact can be a lot more interesting than bashing the keyboard -- and you can always tell yourself that you are actually working. You can understand the desire to pack it all in somewhere. But in the case of research, less really can often be more.

Research, when it's done well, and included with discretion, can be a joy. A subtle way of learning something you didn't already know. I don't want to point fingers, and name names, because I do think that what you get from a book depends a lot on what you bring to it, but I would be interested to know what others feel is their research threshold. What are the details that make you love/loathe a book?

Research will no doubt be one of the topics covered at the Romantic Times Booklovers convention in Pittsburgh, now only just over a week away. Five of the Title Magicians will be there, so if you see us, please say hello. And of course the winner of American Title IV will finally be revealed …

Monday, April 7, 2008

Redefining Sexy – Going Beyond the Physical

Rock hard abs, chiseled features, flawless skin, and unnaturally perfect features. These days, the media has helped to shape the belief that sexiness is all about looks. Matthew McConaughey flaunts his six pack abs and gets named sexiest man of year. Halle Berry’s six zero waist, luscious curves, and flawless features makes her one of the sexiest women in Hollywood. The need to be sexy has led to 12 and 13 year old girls imitating Britney Spears in her prior years, wearing low-cut jeans and flaunting too much skin. The search for perfection has lead to a dramatic increase in plastic surgery in the past decade – recently showing a shocking increase among teenagers and young adults.

Why is it that we are programmed to think beauty is only skin deep? Take a Victoria Secret model. Sexy? Of course! Now, keeping her looks intact, remove her flawless grace and make her extremely clumsy. Added to that, take her self-confidence down a notch. Still sexy? Not really. Cute, yes.

Here’s another take. Give a Victoria Secret model the attitude from hell. She knows she’s all that and a bag of chips, and everyone else can take their opinion and shove it. Janice Dickinson’s attitude can’t touch hers. Sexy now? No way!

So really then, what is sexy? Certainly not the rock hard abs and flawless features that we, as a society, have come to worship.

Last month, I was at Best Buy getting my computer repaired by the Geek Squad. Just the name shouts, “Not sexy!” The guy that was helping me out was your typical Geek Squad attendee – late teens to very early twenties, about 5’3”, curly hair and glasses, probably weighed 115 soaking wet. I wouldn’t have given him a second glance. And then something amazing happened. I watched as every sales associate, and those of his Geek Squad colleagues, kept coming to him with questions or problems. This guy not only knew all the answers, but was able to handle 2-3 problems being thrown at him without showing any hint of stress, impatience, or irritation. What’s more, he handled everything with a smile and confidence. Watching him work and interact with his environment, I thought to myself, “Man, if only I was a bit younger.”

There is something incredibly sexy about a person who knows what he or she’s about. Sexiness is not about physical attributes, but about attitude and how a person carries himself. It is the show of self-confidence without being boastful or arrogant.

We may think we idolize stars because they are beautiful, but we really don’t. Victoria Secret models are sexy because they appear graceful and confident on the runway, and because of the self confidence that exudes in their ads. We fall in love with celebrities because of the characters they portray onscreen and on stage. These characters are often strong and confident. It has nothing to do with the actual stars, whose lives are oftentimes less glamorous than we believe them to be. Take a look at Whitney Houston, for example. When she sings and is on stage and made up, she’s stunning. Her voice and confidence is unmatched. But it’s only a character she plays on stage. The real Whitney … well, you’ve seen enough of her face plastered in the tabloids alongside charges of addiction to know that being Whitney Houston isn’t as glamorous or sexy as it appears to be.

Shahrukh Khan (who goes by the title of King of Bollywood and is probably one of, if not the most, influential Indian celebrity in the world) was asked which of his colleague actresses he thought was the sexiest. His response? “Kajol, because she is genuine and passionate about life, and doesn’t even know how beautiful she truly is both inside and out. That is sexy.” If you know anything about Bollywood, you’ll know there are actresses far more beautiful and loads sexier than Kajol. But what Shahrukh said has merit and shows how truly enlightened he is, and that he’s past the superficial. Shown here is a photo of Bollywood actor, Shahrukh Khan, with actress, Kajol.

Take a look at some of your favorite characters in books, especially the heroes. What makes him memorable? Why is he sexy? You’ll find that it’s not because of his manly looks, but because of the way he treats others (especially the heroine), and because of the way he acts, the decision he makes, and the actions that follow.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dark and Dangerous? Guest Blogger Nina Bruhns Asks...

When I posted a request for guest bloggers on my local chapter’s Chat loop, Nina Bruhns immediately volunteered. That’s who she is. She has served as Programs Chair, organizes our annual retreat (and has added a Master Class and Hermit Weeks at the Beach—check them out at, and has served as Co-President these last two years. Our chapter is small and Nina keeps us going by so graciously giving!

Her writing accomplishments are amazing. They include wins in such prestigious contests as the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award (twice), the Dorothy Parker Award (five times), the Golden Chalice Award, the Beacon Award, the Colorado Award of Excellence, the Lories, the Write Touch Readers Award, and the Aspen Gold, to name a few. Her books have also made it onto the WaldenBooks Bestseller List, as well as been named favorite book of the year by several review website. Recently, Night Mischief was nominated for a RITA Award, and we all have our fingers and toes crossed for her!

Please join me in welcoming Nina Bruhns as our guest blogger this 4th of April!

Nina: Last week, an article in our local paper, the Post and Courier, really got me thinking. Written by columnist Rebekah Bradford, who is wonderful and a great friend to romance novels, part of the new and very welcome thaw in Charleston’s ├╝ber-conservative attitude (read: prejudice) against “those books”, the article was nevertheless somewhat critical of the (alleged) changes which romance novels have undergone since 9/11.

Here’s a link to the article:

The gist of what Bradford said was that she feels the complex, dark and intense romances of the nineties have given way post-9/11 to a genre that is “breezy, full of humor and feel-good emotion.” Okaaay... Well, that brings up several things in my mind. The first being, so, what’s wrong with humor and feel-good emotion!?

But I get what she means. I honestly do. Even if I don’t strictly agree with her assertion that all romance novels are like that now. Because I’ve read a ton of wonderfully dark, complex and unpredictable stories just this past year. My own NIGHT MISCHIEF, which was an October 07 release from Silhouette Nocturne, is an extremely dark and intense read. It is currently up for a RITA Award, which is the romantic equivalent of an Oscar (yay! ☺). So, I would definitely disagree that you can’t find seriously intricate and emotional romances out there today.

Personally, I love writing textured and angsty stories, full of twists and wrenching conflict. But guess what? And here’s the bottom line. They don’t sell nearly as well as the light, humorous, pure entertainment books do. In fact, I used to alternate writing lighter stories with darker, but the difference in sales among my own books is so striking that a couple of years ago I made a conscious decision to stop writing the serious stories I love so well in favor of more light, breezy ones. Luckily, I enjoy writing those also. ☺ In March I had a hero from outer space (I like to characterize THE REBEL PRINCE as “Mork and Mindy meets The DaVinci Code and Sex and the City” – how serious can that be?) and coming in June KILLER TEMPTATION is a sexy romp on the beach in Fiji (okay, there’s a serial killer there, but trust me it’s not the least bit scary). I was lucky enough recently to sell to Berkley (Penguin/Putnam) and those bigger books will be fairly dark and quite complex romantic thrillers. I’m already starting to worry about sales and I haven’t even finished writing the first one... Yikes.

So, I guess I would argue that if indeed there is a predominance of lighter romance fare out there today, the trend is being driven by the number of readers who prefer that type of story and show it with their purchases. As an author, I wish it were otherwise. But there you go. You have to give the audience what they want. Hopefully in another five years it will swing back the other way.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Do you see a trend to lighter reads in romance? Do you prefer them to the darker stories? Or...?

I’d love to hear your comments!

2008 RITA nominee Nina Bruhns

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A few of my favorite things

I’ve been writing since I was twelve so I’ve written in a lot of different ways. At first I wrote longhand on notebook paper. Not very conducive to edits. But then I got a typewriter. I was really moving up in the world! I wrote my first novel over the summer break when I was sixteen. To capitalize something, I had to hit the shift key with my pinky finger and the thing weighed about five pounds. By the end of the summer, I had hands o’ death!

Then around nineteen, I got my first computer. A Televideo with dual five and a quarter floppies. It was the ultimate in high tech. But then, many years later, I got my first IBM clone with not just a word processing program, but a spell checker. Oh, I was in heaven! You see, I think the universe has a wicked sense of humor in that it instilled in me a burning desire to write, but gave me a terrible spelling impediment.

With the invention of the spell checker, my Doubleday Dictionary (held together with liberal doses of duct tape) finally got a rest.

Now, at the tender age of forty-one, I have a very sweet Dell computer with so many bells and whistles I can’t name them all. But still, my favorite thing is the spell checker.

A few of my favorite things for writing would include the invention of the computer, the spell checker, coffee, and the internet. So I was wondering what are your favorite writing tools?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

To E-book or not to E-book

Librarian in Black posted a link to Epublisher's Weekly's 30 benefits of e-books article a couple of weeks ago. For the most part, I agree with those benefits. (Although #22 really doesn't benefit the authors much! And I think that violates most e-pub copyright notices.)

It seems like readers - at least the ones I've talked to - fall into two camps: The "I love e-books so much I want to marry them!" camp and the "I enjoy the sensation of paper in my hands and will never even think about reading an e-book" camp. Either viewpoint is valid! Reading for pleasure should be just that: pleasurable. So there's no sense in jumping on the e-book bandwagon and hating life while you're staring at a screen.

There's something to be said, though, for giving the format a try if you're sitting on the fence. I tend to be a 50/50 reader, where half of my books are paper and half of my books are electronic. I love my paper books! They feel good, they smell good. They're comforting. You can knock out a mugger with a hardback-filled handbag. But e-books have a few features that are very attractive to a very nearsighted, geeky, writer/library lurker/technophile/sometimes insomniac.
  • I can read in the dark. Okay, before you snort, have you ever been the passenger in a car on a long road trip at night with a broken radio? How about a light-sensitive spouse snoozing next to you when you can't fall asleep? I keep my e-books on my Palm handheld and it has a backlit screen so I can read in places that I was previously unable to when I stuck to print books.
  • I can make the words bigger. I'm not even thirty yet, and I'm already getting to the point where I'm checking books out from the large print section of the library. Most e-book readers let you adjust the size of the font.
  • Some of my favorite authors publish e-book originals. Bonnie Dee, Elizabeth Donald, Mark Orr, Lilith Saintcrow, Keri Arthur, and our own Savanna Kouger all have titles you can't buy in paper format.
  • Two words: instant gratification. I can buy books (or check them out since my library has a downloading service) at 2:00 in the morning in my pajamas and start reading immediately without having to use any gasoline or extra time. Which is great for me because I have to drive at least ten miles to get to a non Wal-mart bookstore. Oh. And you don't have to pay for shipping!
  • They're accessible to almost everyone with a computer. I usually stick to books available in PDF format. I don't need anything more than the free Adobe software to read them. Granted, there are lots of different e-book formats and readers out there, but I haven't really come across an e-book original that I have really wanted to read that wasn't available as a PDF somewhere.

Some folks fear that e-books might one day make paper books obsolete. It's possible. Technology changes fast! But publishing moves slow. My opinion? I don't think we're in any immediate danger. If and when paper is replaced by bytes, it will only be when readers are ready. If we keep buying paper books, our publishers will keep supplying them.

I'd love to know what you guys think! Do you e-read? If not, do you want to?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Nice Cup Of Tea....

What do you do when you’re stressed?

In England, the cure for woes of all kinds has traditionally been a cup of tea—heavy on the sugar if you’ve had a shock.

I think for most women who aren’t on a diet, and many who are, chocolate has probably taken over this cure-all-ills role. (It certainly has for me.) And maybe coffee, with its stimulating dose of caffeine, has usurped the humble cup of tea.

I’ve been thinking about this because for a variety of reason both writing related and otherwise, life’s been stressful recently. Unfortunately, I’m a comfort eater. The first thing I turn to is food. But after I’ve dosed up on calories my favorite stress-reliever is losing myself in a good book.

The type of book I choose depends on the circumstances. If I need to retreat from the rat race for a while and chill out, I usually go for fantasy or paranormal romance to take me out of this world. If I feel bruised by something and I’m looking for emotional reassurance, my choice is always romance. I usually pick up historical romance by an author I enjoy such as Amanda Quick, or a short sweet contemporary by an author I trust to deliver an emotionally satisfying read such as Liz Fielding.

When my stress is more due to the monotony of office work or end-of-year tax returns, I tend to opt for something exciting or funny such as J.D. Robb’s In Death series or one of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovitch.

But I don’t need to be searching for a temporary escape from life to dive into a book. I love the luxury of a week-long vacation where I can spend all day reading without feeling guilty there’s something else I should be doing. For days sitting beside a pool, or under an umbrella looking out over the sea, I choose a mystery with a hint of romance such as Michele Scott’s Wine Lovers’ Mysteries.

What makes you want to pick up a book?