Monday, June 30, 2008

Recent Reads

Well, came back from a very enjoying three days of camping in the mountains with a cold. Not just any cold, but a summer cold. Ugh!

So amidst the headache, stuffy nose, and feelings of misery, I decided to catch up on my reading list and see what I could do in diminishing my TBR pile. Here are quick reviews of what I’ve discovered (or re-discovered):

The Darkest Pleasure
By Gena Showalter

This is the third book in Gena Showalter’s newest series, the Lords of the Underworld Trilogy. Harlequin released the trilogy back to back – how I think all series books should be released! – with The Darkest Night in May, The Darkest Kiss in June, and The Darkest Pleasure in July. And yes, I know it’s not quite July yet, which made me especially happy to see The Darkest Pleasure on the bookshelf! This is a series that puts a different twist on the myth of Pandora’s Box. If you love a fast-paced, action-packed, sexy read with an interesting, never-before-seen plot, eat-your-heart-out alpha heroes, and heroines who don’t back down from danger – or the men who represents it – then this is the series for you!

Reyes is a man possessed. Bound by the demon of pain, he is forbidden to know pleasure. Yet he craves a mortal woman, Danika Ford, more than breath and will anything to claim her – even defy the gods. Danika is on the run. For months, she’s eluded the Lords of the Underworld, immortal warriors who won’t rest until she and her family have been destroyed. But her dreams are haunted by Reyes, the warrior whose searing touch she can’t forget. Yet a future together could mean the death of all they both hold dear …

Worth Any Price
By Lisa Kleypas

Once again, I re-discovered my love for historicals. Lisa Kleypas has always been a favorite author of mine. She writes engaging, very sensual, very sexy stories that transport you and every time. Kleypas, along with Stephanie Laurens, in my humble opinion, are two of the handful of authors who pioneered HOT historicals set in the English Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras. If you enjoy historicals and have never read a Lisa Kleypas book, you’re certainly missing out!

What is the price of love? Nick Gentry is reputed to be the most skillful lover in all England. Known for solving delicate situations, he is hired to seek out Miss Charlotte Howard. He believes his mission will be easily accomplished – but that was before he met the lady in question. For instead of a willful female, he discovers one in desperate circumstances, hiding from a man who would destroy her very soul. So Nick shockingly offers her a very different kind of proposition – one he has never offered before. He asks her to be his bride. And he knows that this will be much more than a union in name only. For he senses what Charlotte does not yet know – that her appetite for sensuality matches his own. But what Nick learns surprises him. For while London’s most notorious lover might claim Charlotte’s body, he quickly discovers it will take much more than passion to win her love.

The Very Thought of You
By Lynn Kurland

Okay, what more can I say. The mere mention of the author’s name says it all. Lynn Kurland is the standard for a satisfying read, every time. She’s an author who hasn’t given in to the demands of romance trends. She stays true to her stories, which are sweet, tender, historically accurate, and very satisfying love stories. Her stories will touch you, make you laugh, make you cry, and make you care for each individual character that is portrayed. I admit, I read love hot romances. The hotter, the better. Lynn Kurland is the ONLY author I read that doesn’t do HOT, and I’m not left feeling bereft and wanting more. She layers layers of sensuality with witty and engaging dialogue, and memorable characters that stay with you long after the book has finished. After putting down a Lynn Kurland book, I always sigh, thoroughly satisfied. I dare you to read a Lynn Kurland book and not enjoy it!

Alexander Smith had found success in the world of corporate takeovers – but not happiness. That had always escaped him … along with true love. Then, at the MacLeod Keep in Scotland, he found a pirate map that miraculously answered his yearnings – with a journey to another time. And when he was captured in Medieval England by Margaret of Falconberg, a fierce beauty hidden in knight’s armor, he rediscovered his own chivalrous – and passionate – heart …

Surprise Read:

By Colette Gale, An Erotic Novel of The Phantom of the Opera

This was an enjoyable, surprising read. It takes the tale of The Phantom of the Opera and puts an erotic twist on it. The story is definitely one you’ve never heard before. It is the story of The Phantom of the Opera as it’s never been told before. This book is for all the women who thought Christine should have stayed with the Phantom.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

TM Welcomes Kris Kennedy

Please join me in welcoming debut author, Kris Kennedy to Title Magic. Wife, mother, psychotherapist and romance writer Kris Kennedy has been writing romances for seven years, with some time off for sleepless behavior following their birth of her son. She, husband, son, and dog live in the Pacific Northwest, where mountains abound. (So does rain.) She writes hot, sweeping historicals, and firmly believes every woman deserves to take care of herself with a good book. She’s working on writing some for you now. You can visit her at Kris is also a double Golden Heart finalist as well.

Q: Thanks for taking the time out to stop by, Kris. We’re very glad to have you. The ladies here at Title Magic would like to know what you like to read. Can you give us some of your favorite titles?

KK: I am SUPER happy to join the illustrious group of AT finalists as a guest blogger! Thanks for having me!

Like most readers, and certainly most romance readers, I would read the phone book if needed. But I love sweeping books with a dangerous feel. I am a sucker for good dialogue. And I really need a good pace, w/ things changing. I don't much care WHAT changes--character conflict, plot twists, new information, etc, but I need constant shifts.

But I guess, in the end, I love being transported, so I'll read anything that does that. Historicals, though, hold my heart.

Oh, and I read craft books. Devour them. And the historiy books. You know, the awfully expensive ones. Love ‘em. My husband will look over slowly while we're laying in bed, and I have some huge, hard-back book pressing creases into my chest, with a title like "England Under The Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1216,” and he'll just shake his head at me.

Q: Wow, great answer! I’m a sucker for something that will transport me as well – especially historicals. And I absolutely LOVE those big, expensive scholarly historical books too! Now, do you prefer alphas to betas?

KK: Wheesh! Tough question! I love 'em both. :-) I think a determined man is incredibly sexy. I love men who know what they want and go and get it. But I don't necessarily like them knocking other people out of the way as they go. I love great intensity bound by great restraint. Men who want something BAD but are willing to hold themselves in check for a good reason (respect for the heroine, a larger goal, morals, etc).

Q: Sounds like my kind of man! What do you do when you're not writing? (i.e. quilting, spelunking, skydiving…)

KK: All of the above. In fact, I am sending this via my Blackberry, from a cave set deep in the Cascade wilderness . . . Kidding! What I really like to do is spend time w/ my son and family, and write. And read. How totally boring, I know!

Okay, I like to camp, and hike, too. And I like to sit with my girlfriends around a fire pit under the stars, and drink wine. 'Course, I DO more than that. I am a psychotherapist, and do consulting to help other clinicians work with self-harming women. I also do a kickboxing training.

Q: Well, I know for certain that spending time with the family isn’t boring. As a writer, those occasions are very rare, so we all treasure them. You recently made a first sale. Congrats! Can you tell us who the book was sold to, and give us a little bit more about the book?

KK: Ah, the thing I'm worst at--selling myself. And 2nd worst at--blurbing.

John Scognamiglio at Kensington bought the book, which is a medieval (yea! We need more medievals!), set in England during a time known as The Anarchy, mid 12th century. I do have a little blurby thing, and a fun excerpt, at my website:

Q: Wow! Must have been very exciting. And yes, I’m in agreement that we definitely need more medievals! What was your journey like from aspiring author to that first sale? Or the highlights of the journey?

KK: Does Pink Eye count as a highlight? LOL My son had pink eye and I was holding a warm compress to his eye when my agent called w/ the news. And all I could think was, "Am I spreading Pink Eye germs onto the phone?"

So, I held the compress to my writhing son, 'ohhh-ed" and "ahhh-ed' with my agent, & tried to get out an environmentally-sound cleaner so I could wipe down the phone before someone else touched it and got infected.

Q: In your case, I’d definitely say Pink Eye counted! What will the book be called? We're aware Kensington didn't like the title you originally had and you'd asked people to vote on suggestions on your website. How did that end up? Have you agreed on a title yet?

KK: I love that so many girls who came to vote!! I got the most wonderful suggestions. In the end, my editor suggested The Conqueror, b/c the hero in it is so strong a character. He's majorly alpha, but the kind-of alpha who keep setting his own goals aside to rescue a woman who so obviously needs rescuing. Twice! Even when there's a kingdom at stake. :-)

Q: I think your editor chose a wonderful title, very fitting for the book. Clearly you have the magic, since you're a double GH finalist. Can you put your finger on what actually sold that particular manuscript?

KK: LOL. I don't know about magic. What I do believe in is persistence. I believe that persistence, with a modicum of talent, will persevere every time.

Does that make me determined, with a modicum of talent? ;-)

I don't know exactly what it was that 'sold' this book. It’s a book with that sweeping feel (I hope!) very sensual, and will hopefully totally transport the reader and make her sigh. :-)

I'll say this, too: I think Kensington is doing a great thing with their Debut Author program. The books sell for less money, which is designed to entice new readers to take a chance on a new author. So, you're looking at a book that *sounds* good, by an author you never heard of. Are you going to plunk down $7 or 8$ on it? Maybe. Maybe not. Are you going to plunk down $3.99 or $4.99? Almost certainly.

Q: I do agree with you about the debut author program at Kensington – and about persistence. So many times you hear authors say that, and it’s completely true. Although I still think there’s a magic touch in there somewhere. Come on, two Golden Heart finals AND a contract?! How long from first submission to first sale? Did you send the manuscript out yourself, or try to find an agent first? What speedbumps on the road to publication should a first-timer look out for? It doesn't get any easier, does it? (I think we all know the answer to this last question!)

KK: LOL--I seriously doubt it gets any easier, although I'm still so new to the process that I wouldn't venture to say for sure. Here's what I DO know--the world is saturated with books. And potential readers have lots of demands on their time & money. So I'm focused on promotion to a startling degree. Of course I'm working on writing a fabulously sensual, riveting second (and third, and fourth, etc) book. But I have already submitted a marketing plan to my editor, and have spent hours planning where/how much to spend on ads, contests, review sites. etc etc.

Q: Very smart move on the marketing. Perhaps you’ll stop back by at a later date and blog about marketing and promoting? *hint, hint* When will the book be released?

KK: I’d love to comeback and chat about marketing! The book is due out in Spring, 2009. I haven't yet got a release date, but I have remarked on how much I'd love an April or May release. And we all know about the power of love . . . . :-)

Q: Very sneaky tactics on the release date. Fingers crossed it’ll fall on one of those months!

It’s been a pleasure to have you with us today, Kris. Are there any last words you’d like to say to the readers?

KK: If anyone has made it this far through my blather, I'd love to hear from YOU! What makes you buy a book? Beyond genre, what makes you plunk down money? What kind of experience are you looking for? And what gives it to you?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Welcome Chris Winters!

When we were in Pittsburgh in April for the Romantic Times Convention, some of us had the pleasure of meeting Chris Winters, Mr. Romance 2008. Chris is more than a handsome face and yummy body, he’s a lovely guy with a great sense of humor. Today we’re delighted to have Chris visiting us on Title Magic to answer our questions to give us a little insight into what makes him tick!

Q:In many people’s minds, models are like superheroes—super perfect and a little unreal. If you could be one of the well known superheroes from film or fiction which would you choose and why?

CW:Neo, from the Matrix. Because, although He was the One to many, he believed he was not, and asked a lot of questions based on his own experiences. He had many powers that came to be just by believing and faith. Neo had lived by theories and those theories were challenged by the levels of challenges he faced. Each challenge was different and puzzling, but Neo, through faith, had an answer towards an experience.

Q:Which superhero or villain would you rather not meet in a dark alley?

CW:I typically do not frequent dark alleys, but if I did, I would say DarkSeid. He's a fictional super villain. His powers are stamina, intellect, speed, and a few powers! It used to be myself, because when it's quiet and you are alone, your mind likes to do it's best to totally mess with you! (laughs)

Q:Which superhero woman would you like to meet and why?

CW:Wonder Woman! Point blank! Golden Truth rope? Hot legs, and a take control type gal? She's hot and always been a fantasy of mine.

Q:In an ideal world, what will you be doing in five years time?

CW:Good question! It's hard to say, actually, due to the many things that intervene my life, or the people I meet. So prognosticating my future would be a bit arduous, however, I plan on doing more television film work. I have goals, and to accomplish those goals, I accomplish objectives. I always tend to accomplish most of them because I am so determined. I hate given into failure, although I experience plenty of it. It’s my mindful stamina that keeps me going.

Q:What’s been the most romantic moment in your life? (That we can print!)

CW:The most romantic part of my experiences, I would say, is after sex you press your bodies together, right before sleeping. It’s the binding when two people hold each other and the way the skin feels. I love that feeling and I love to touch! So even after sex, holding each other, I typically rub her skin. Her legs. The small of her back. Her hair. I love to place small kisses on the back of her neck. Touching is very important! Holding a person is endless time passion.

Q:What’s your definition of romance?

CW:My definition of romance is the simple little things in life. Most think it's candle light dinners, a one day valentine's day perhaps. I say romance is a physical, mental entity. A simple caress of one's face. Just turning around and looking at them, and then having them catch you doing it. The flush of her feelings tides over, and she knows that I desire her. Perhaps, me opening the door for her, which I usually do. That's ANY door!

I also feel another important aspect is, when you come into a room full of people, you want to make your person feel important, or wanted. For example, I will tell the waiter to flirt with my woman, just to have her know she is attractive. I like it when she feels sexy, just by me showing or telling her. IT turns me on to know the guys in the room think my gal is attractive. To me, getting a person to KNOW they are
important as opposed to having them THINK they are important is romantic. It’s just the simple things.

Q:I know you’re writing a book. What’s it about?

CW:Oh, it's totally different from the romantic scene, full front. However, I will have some romance in it. It’s more of a science fiction type thing. I want to share my story concept by including my concept treatment passage:

Invisible War is a story that depicts human suffering and survival towards the destiny of human destruction. In essence, every object that exists has a continuous invisible war or conflict. The main character in the story is struggling to find himself, in addition, to stopping the person who has become the Redeemer of the world. This Redeemer is nothing but the Influencer of many, who ultimately wants the human race controlled, contained, and ultimately destroyed. During all this conflict, many factions are playing against each other in a power struggle for land,
water, and religious control. These factions believe that they will be ‘the one’ that will up rise and bring stability and law to Earth, when in the end, they were just a controlled force to destroy the other in attempt for total destruction.

In the time of The Coming, of the Ends Of Earth, humans will consistently build and re-build, hoping that peace and structure will enter their lives. The followers of many shall flock to the powers that be and in hopes that a structured society will prevail, only to find that their destiny lies within their own paths, and influenced by the destiny of others.

Invisible War is a story that opens the mind of questions. It is a story of compassion and determination. It is a story of mind psyche in which will help liberate the mind into knowing that the events of reality are separate from the events from the mind. Our bodies are the transport, and our minds are the tool to get us to our destiny…
…to our end.

Q:What’s your favorite part of writing? And your least favorite part?

CW:My favorite part is designing the world, technology and the entity existence. It’s the theories, the laws, and the characters who have little things that describe themselves in and the contributions to the story. The least favorite part, I would say. Getting mind blocks. Time would be factors as well. I hate when I am working on something, and I have 5 million other things interfere. Another problem is English. I am so horrible at it. (Laughs)

Q:When you write, do you wait for inspiration or write every day no matter what?

Inspiration has already been defined by the mind that already inspired itself. One cannot write just to write, unless they want to write documentation. One must write because it is something the mind takes in, and creates a world from the world you already created. Once you have the reader 'see' what you 'see', that inspiration has already spawned into them.

Q:I know you also do some acting. If you could have played any existing role in any movie what would it have been and why?

CW:I would like to play a person who would be going through a life termination illness. The research, the role, the character, and the struggle alone would be gripping. I could imagine how a person would go through something like that. Playing a villain is predictable, as well a hero. Playing a person's struggle isn't.

Q:What’s your favorite vacation spot and why?

CW:My favorite vacation spot that I like are places where I feel as if I am not near home. It could be places where I close my eyes and feel as if I am no longer worrying about everyday life. Vacation has many different meanings, but to me, spending money and lavish lifestyles aren’t vacation. Vacation would be where you could go, and feel as if you were a child again, playing, freely as if life with laughing along with you.

Q:Who’s your favorite Flintstone, Wilma or Betty?

CW:GOOD question. I kinda like the woman who takes charge like Wilma. Domination is really fun! However most women love dot be dominated, and I love it too. So I would have to say.... Betty! I love dark hair! Something about that gal. I think it is the quiet submissive type. You know, she's probably a little freak in bed. That's hot! (laughs).

Q:Oh, and final question from Savanna—do you like redheads, a redhead that purrs like a sex kitten and has a temper like Maureen O'Hara in the John Wayne films?

CW:I have to tell you this: Red heads, especially who have that auburn hair, those sexy blue eyes, and who look at you precisely like a cat, is very sexy. Tempers are hot, only when fighting in bed. A purring kitty is always nice.... Especially when she lies in my lap, as I pet her... Just like a good lil' kitty.

.:Chris Winters:.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Location, Location, Research?

Two years ago the West Coast Crime Convention, which is usually held on the West Coast of America, made a special guest appearance in Bristol -- the west coast of England. The organisers enjoyed it so much that they decided to create an annual event, using the American model, and Crimefest was born. The first one took place in early June this year, and a good time was had by all.

As Bristol isn't far from my home, I was able to hop over as a daily visitor. (Although this did involve crossing from one country to another.) I think everyone enjoyed the international mix of authors -- British, American, Canadian, Scandinavian and probably others that I didn’t find out about. So many panels – so little time. Sessions ranged from an interview with Jeff Lindsay, the creator of Dexter, to a very funny panel devoted to animals and crime – mostly cats, a few dogs, the occasional horse -- and a parrot.

The panel that got me thinking for this post was billed as being about location. Three authors who set their books in Scotland and the north of England -- Anne Cleeves, Aline Templeton, and Sue Walker -- and Louise Penny, whose village of Three Pines is set in Quebec. All talked knowledgeably about the importance of atmosphere, the relationship between story and setting, and the delights of visiting their chosen area in the name of research. Yet, as they were speaking, I realised that all of them were also talking about places they had created -- they were often writing about fictitious locations within a given landscape. What they invented had to be authentic, and make sense in its context, but they were dropping in the perfect house, a village green, even a whole new police force, when they needed to - and they were having a great time doing it. In other words, they were world building.

In apparent contrast, on a panel on police procedurals, author Lesley Horton outlined a different approach. Her gritty crime is set firmly in Bradford and her research has involved attending crime scenes, investigating the trajectory of a bullet in a drive-by shooting and being locked in a police cell -- not something she recommends, not because of claustrophobia, but because of the boredom of staring at four walls. Yet within that hard-hitting setting, she has also created the private lives of her detectives, in particular her Asian sergeant, who copes with competing loyalties to his job and his family's expectations. All world building.

All authors invent things. Making up stories is what it’s about. At the furthest extreme, if you're writing fantasy, paranormal, or sci-fi, then you have a complete world to create, with its own laws and logic. Even, if you follow Tolkien’s model, its own language.

The whole thing got me thinking about the spectrum between research and reality and creation of alternative worlds. Is creating more, or less, difficult than research? If you’re world building from scratch there is no one to tell you that you got that wrong, but on the other hand, everything is down to you. You need it all in your head before you begin. Research can take you into some interesting alleys and byways. I know, I've been there. I think most authors will admit to doing far more research than a book warrants. It adds richness and texture, but it's also a very seductive displacement activity, if you're not careful.

So -- research at one end of the spectrum, world building at the other, crossing somewhere in the middle?

I'd be interested to hear others thoughts on the subject.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Editing Down the Road Less Traveled

Blogging today caught me by surprise—I need to have reminders a week ahead! Anyway, summer is in full force…I’m grading student papers as the first summer session winds down at the college, my daughter has swim practice or a swim meet every day of the week, plus art camp in the mornings.

And I’m writing! I’ve been getting in some ten pages a day days, which don’t rival the 20 page a days I got in a few years ago before even my summers got so busy, but I’m happy. So, I’m now at the halfway point for my current work in progress. Time for taking stock, checking my plotline, and for me, that nasty word, editing.

Since this is “only” my fifth or sixth manuscript, depending on if you count the ones I didn’t finish or the one I wrote PK (pre-kids, this may not be as well-known an acronym as some I can’t figure out), my method may or may not be the best. But this is what I have gleaned from several sources over the years…

I print the whole shebang out. Using Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days method, I cut the pages apart to distinguish scenes. My method—I listed the scenes with a bullet on each. Next to the bullets—I might type this out the next time, this time—I write who’s POV this scene is in (would it be better for someone else to tell this particular part of the story), what day is it (does anyone else have to count? I’m also creating names for the units of time in the world I’m creating), how many pages am I devoting to this scene (some need more, some need less), and where does this fit into the traditional plot line of black moment and so on.

I also finished moderating an online course about editing. This course was taught by Jane Toombs and Janet Walters…whose book is titled Become Your Own Critique Partner. I won’t, of course, give away everything they taught in their course, but here are some of the pointers I took away with me. First, we may need to ask ourselves, why is this scene in here anyway? If there’s no purpose, consider cutting your baby. Of course, there’s show and don’t tell, but what I took away is permission to write horribly at first and then go back in and rewrite those sections where I lapse too much into narrative and not enough into showing. Also, it’s not enough to be told to show and not tell. I need examples. One method is to look at the best writers and list their verbs; another is to list the descriptions they use. I have real trouble with using like and as too often.

The final source I’m relying on with editing has already been mentioned on this blog by Mel—Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Benni Browne and Dave King. I already had that one on my shelf, had read it dutifully last winter, but now I find it most useful when I’m actually in the process of editing. I’m going to take just one point from the book…again, about the show and tell. You can overdo it. If a scene is not that important, summarize it and move on. Right now, I have scene after scene full of dialogue and little narrative.

So, it’s (hopefully—once I’m done grading papers) back to the editing board.

And…to share why the quirky title. My daughter read to me from Lemony Snicket this past weekend…The author wrote that he knew a man once who took the road less traveled. The road was beautiful, but because it was less traveled…when some night creature attacked, and he screamed, there was no one there to hear his cries for help!

Certainly the way editing makes me feel sometimes…and I thought the road less traveled was only meant to be the beautiful, peaceful one.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Guest Blogger: Diane Whiteside and her Sure-Fire Six Step Pitch

Today, we'd like to welcome guest blogger Diane Whiteside to TM! I had an opportunity to attend a pitch workshop that she and Treva Harte conducted at RT back in April. Their technique made so much sense to me that I left the room feeling excited and ready to tackle that cover letter again!

Diane, thanks for agreeing to share your technique and your Friday with us!


Hi, Mel! It was great meeting you at RT! Thanks for inviting me here to Title Magic to talk about my Sure-Fire Six Step Pitch, a method for cramming a beautifully layered book into a ten-minute pitch.

Once upon a time, I was [more or less] happily employed writing non-fiction. Then I ran into a real-life story, which hit me over the head and demanded that I retell it as a romance. After years of struggle, I found myself at my local chapter’s annual conference holding an appointment with the only editor in New York or small press at that time who might publish that book.

Talk about pressure? I was scared spitless! What could I possibly say to convince her to buy my manuscript?

My first breakthrough was realizing I didn’t need to convince her to buy my manuscript. This appointment was like a business meeting, almost like sending out a resume. I wanted her to be so smitten by my pitch that she’d ask me to see my manuscript, which is a much easier thing to pull off than selling it.

Whew! My breathing started to slow down. But I still had that ten-minute appointment staring me in the face. Ten minutes…

Breakthrough number two: treat this appointment just like a business meeting. Use time management and presentation techniques from business. Ten minutes is basically the same amount of time it takes to present SIX PowerPoint slides.

Ah ha! In my ten minute appointment, I could present
A TOTAL of SIX slides,
Each containing FIVE bullets,
Preferably 6 words per bullet but no more than 20 words per bullet.

Just to make it more fun, every word counted, even the small ones like a, and, of, the, etcetera.

Are you with me so far? Great!

But what on earth would I fill my six slides with?

Breakthrough number four: I asked my buddy, Treva Harte, the editor-in-chief of Loose-Id Publishing. After some brainstorming over really good Thai food, we came up with the following.

Number One: Always tell the genre, your manuscript’s approximate length, targeted line (if you know), and your name and contact information (however casually you want to say it). Treva gets very testy about this last bit. Me, I’ve heard legends about pitches being given for “the brunette drinking mojitos in the bar.”

Number Two: Always tell what makes your manuscript special. Focus on conflict, emotion, and what makes your manuscript unique.

This all sounded like really good stuff but I still only had ten minutes and six slides! I loved my characters! I could bore my friends for hours with my plot. I had albums of pictures of my setting. How on earth could I condense this?

Breakthrough number five: Code words. (To borrow a phrase from spy novels.) Every genre has its own set of “code words” which summarize important aspects of the story. If I used code words, I could say a lot about my story in a very few words. If I combined code words or contrasted them, I could heighten conflict and emotion.

For example, everyone has a pretty good idea of what a “modern day Cinderella story” is, when describing a romance. Poor girl meets rich boy, nasty stepmother gets in the way, yada yada yada. Right? “Navy SEAL” is a code word for hero, which has different implications from “English duke.” Similarly, “The Ton” is a common setting for Regency romances, as is the “royal court” for medieval romances or “high society” for twentieth-century romances. While similar, each of those settings has their own rules, which are subtly different to the cognoscenti, and a futuristic author would carefully select which one she wanted to base her world on. Code words can come from almost anywhere, including movie or book names.

Now I could see where I was going! It was hard, though, and it took me over four hours to write that ten minute pitch. I came up with an outline for those six slides along the way, which friends have used.

Hey, I was on a roll! I came up with a two-minute pitch by reducing each slide to a single bullet.

Gritting my teeth, I came up with a ten-second pitch by reducing those six sentences to a single sentence. (One clue: genre and length each became a single word. I got setting down to a single word, too, because my manuscript was a historical.) Of course, it’s easier to come up with a ten-second pitch if you start with the code words. For example, the pitch for my fantasy ménage is “THE MUMMY meets MURDER ON THE NILE – and the men who loved her then still love her now.”

Thankfully, my dream editor asked for my manuscript and it became THE IRISH DEVIL. You can read more about it here or read its first chapter here.

What do you think? Does this sound like something which could work for you and your manuscript? One friend uses it as a test for how well she understands her manuscript, even when she’s not planning to pitch it.

Good luck with your pitch!

Diane Whiteside

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Great Harriet Klausner Debate

If you’ve ever browsed for books on Amazon you’ve no doubt read a review by Harriet Klausner. She is the number one reviewer. At the time I wrote this blog, Harriet had reviewed 16,630 books.

Not only is Harriet quite prolific (on December 9, 2006 she reviewed 59 books) but she loves everything she reads (she rates a book as either a 4 or 5 stars out of 5 stars).

The great debate is over whether or not Harriet is a real person. Now on Amazon, Harriet has one of those “real name” badges on her profile but I’m just not buying it because the math doesn’t add up.

Despite her claim that she is a speed reader, I find it impossible that someone could not only read 59 books in a day, but also write a review on each one.

To get a grasp of how absurd this is let’s say the average book is 300 pages. So 59 books x 300 pages = 17,700 pages. Let’s say each page has 250 words so 250 x 17,700 = 4,425,000 words. Let’s then assume she is a ballistic speed reader with a rate of 500 words per minute (200-300 is considered average) so 4,425,000 divided by 500 would be 8,850 minutes, which would be 147.5 hours.

Far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day. Mind you this doesn’t include the time it took to write the review. Well, maybe with all that speed reading she’s developed a device that slows time.

Even if I make the numbers extremely conservative with an average book at 200 pages and only 200 words per page and up her rate to 1000 words per minute I still end up at 39.3 hours. Sorry folks, but the numbers just don’t compute. And numbers don’t lie. I know this as an accountant. You can get creative with your numbers but numbers themselves can’t be forced to lie for you.

And don’t think for a moment I’m the only one to notice this. Below are several links to others who have pondered this most compelling mystery.

Harriet Rules
Google search
Harriet Klausner's Home Page

So why did I bring this up? Well, it’s been bothering me for a long time. I expect people to read the books they review. I dislike “puff” reviews just as much as I dislike “revenge” reviews--that’s where one writer will trash another writer’s work out of jealousy or an overactive competition bone.

Harriet reduces the fine art of reviewing to a simplistic formula. (Er, to get what I mean, all she had to do was read the back blurb, the promo material, and one or two lines of the actual book) When I see her reviews, I ignore them, because in my humble opinion, they are meaningless.

Will we ever know who the real Harriet Klausner is? Does it even matter if she’s a collective of reviewers or simply a tool to give good reviews to almost everyone’s book? I guess the reason why I care is that I like to read reviews but I always take them with a grain of salt. Harriet Klausner annoys me because her reviews are “puff” without any real insight.

I open the floor to comments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guest Blogger ~ Monica Burns ~ Sex, Language and Readers

Welcome to multi-published romance author, Monica Burns. First of all, let me tell you Monica’s writing is just gorgeous. It is an elegant and lush style which makes me feel as if I’m oh-so-sensually and sinfully wrapped in velvet and silks, just waiting for my perfect lover. Do yourself a favor, if you aren’t familiar with her books, yet, grab some time alone and indulge in her website. You will enjoy.
Welcome Title Magicians, welcome everyone, I invited Monica to blog with us about an important topic. I consider this is an extremely important topic simply because it affects all of us as authors, aspiring authors and readers.
How much romance, or how many love scenes are too many in a romance novel of any genre, from contemporary to shape-shifter to time travel? How many scenes are not enough? Or, more to the point of this blog, what do you want in your erotic romance, whatever your fave genres? How many sex scenes, what kind? How hawt do you want it? Is there ever too much? Sex, that is. Graphic sex, more specifically.
Do you want more plot? Do you want more expression of feeling, of love? How about the motivations of the heroine, and of the hero ~ or the heroines, heroes, however many there are, or how they are paired.
Well, Monica had an opportunity to sit down with readers and discuss what they wanted in their romance novels. So, I consider what she learned about sex and language, to be of the utmost value and importance to us all.
Once you’ve read about Monica’s experience and her conclusions, please weigh in with your own knowledge and insights. As a reader, what do you want? We authors and aspiring authors truly want to know.

Sex, Language and Readers

Quantifiable Sex

Writing sex is one of the hardest things I do as a romance writer. Why? Because sex is the most intimate of exchanges between two characters. You have to dig deep to make the scene meaningful. Lately, I find myself questioning whether or not I have too many sex scenes. I mean what is too much, and can one consider sex in romance as quantifiable?
In May, I discussed this topic with some really savvy romance readers. I think it important to note that only a couple of these readers have read my work. So I wasn’t in a fan club setting (although one can dream). Also, none of these women are writers, nor do they have a desire to write. This made their commentary free of the influences most writers have about romance in general. Inclinations such as the fear of competition some writers have, preconceived definitions of romance, craft "rules" such as GMC, character ARC etc. Listening to them exult and disdain about erotic romance and romance in general was a breath of fresh air because there were no preconceived notions. It was simply about what they liked and didn’t like about romance and erotic romance.

First off, these women LOVE sex in their books. They love ménage, m/m, m/f/m, UATW (up against the wall) sex, forced seduction, you name it and they love it. However, in our discussions they expressed extreme dissatisfaction with a lot of romance published today. They stated flat out that the erotic romance books they’ve been picking up recently seem to have sex scenes ad nauseam.

"I Would Write of Characters" — Ellen Glasgow

As a writer, I had preconceived notions as to why they were dissatisfied, but I didn’t share my opinions until after they listed their specific complaints. Their comments only reinforced my beliefs. These readers know the who, what, when and why of sex in a romance. But the most important element to them is the question of why. Without the why question being answered the book doesn’t work for them.

These women were emphatic about their need to understand what drives the characters either to have sex or what the characters are feeling during sex. All of these women stated that too often the sex in romance feels like it’s just thrown in to meet a story quota. It’s their biggest gripe with the romance genre today. They just don’t get the connection with the characters that they want.

They’re not the only ones expressing their opinions on this issue. I’ve heard similar rumblings in other reader places such as Dear Author and readers are possibly beginning to speak with their pocketbooks as well. The grapevine says Pocket Books reported their erotic romance line is slowing down (I’m sure the economy is part of that trend, but not the entire part).

Some people might say this "too much sex in romance" discontent is probably driven by authors or aspiring writers who write outside the erotic romance / erotica subgenres, but I don’t think so. Even if that were the case, it wouldn’t matter. If characterization isn’t a major component of the bedroom sex, then the sex doesn’t belong in the book. Without characterization you’ve got Part A going into Slot B, and that kind of sex is boring to read.

"Language Is Wine Upon The Lips" — Virginia Woolf

Compounding this "too much sex in romance" is the aspect of reader complaints about foul language. I applaud sex and foul language in romance when used appropriately and judiciously. For me, it MUST always be tied to the characterization. I once had a reviewer slam me for using the word cock too many times for her taste. I didn’t really agree with the reviewer, simply because the hero wasn’t a gentleman, he was a self-made man and the word cock was a part of his character. But I paid attention to what she was saying about my word choices. It occurred to me that if I overused a word it lost its impact on the reader.

There’s nothing more powerful than the F-word used at a point in the story where that’s the only word that will do. But using it every other line reduces the word’s impact. The same can be said for just about any other sexual word a writer uses. Not to mention the clinical sounding ones. Some erotic romance / erotica I read makes me wonder if the majority of women really use words like clit, clitoris, penis, etc. during sex. Sometimes I think we’ve swung from extreme purple prose to extreme clinical prose. Surely there has to be a happy medium somewhere in there. Just like characterization is integral to a sex scene, a foul word is inherent to the character and their motivations. Overusing it makes the reader go, "Enough already!"

"O, What Learning Is!" — Shakespeare

In the end, all of these rumblings don’t tell me anything I wasn’t expecting. I’ve known from the beginning that erotic romance would eventually become a saturated subgenre and that the spaghetti that sticks to the wall will be from writers who use great characterization and story lines as well as weighing every word they put on the page. Whether the gripe is "too much sex in romance" or prolific foul language in romance, I think writers can take away a great deal from these types of reader complaints. As Billie Jean King said, "It’s about learning your craft." Tennis might not be writing, but craft is craft. You need to practice it to be good.

So what do you think about sex and language in romance?

Dangerous -- 4.5 Stars, RT BOOKreviews "A pretty good read" -- Mrs. Giggles
Mirage -- Top Pick, Romantic Times BOOKreviews
P.S. Talk about exquisite and powerful cover art! Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Magic of CatWoman

Okay! After a day that should have been Friday the 13th with black cats crossing my path at every turn *I won't go into the gory details* I have totally forgotten my blog for today. Truthfully, I was utterly exhausted and just fell into my bed without a clue I should be writing my blog.

So, I have been working on a novella for Halloween titled Black Cat Beauty. Duly note the synchronicity, Title Magicians and dear readers.

Here is the first draft of the blurb:
A private Halloween party in a gothic mansion hidden in the Hollywood Hills. Add one party crasher, Sable Kiki, a naughty black cat with a sexy wild human side. Her assignment: find out the truth from Devon Zant, a movie star on the rise to super stardom.

For me all the various incarnations of Catwoman hold a feline mystique, a feminine power I am irresistibly drawn too, that I envy, and wish I could release in myself more.

So, for your enjoyment, here are some pics of CatWoman in all her tv and movie incarnations.
For the first person who can tell me all the names of the actresses, you will win a free PDF copy of my e-book from Liquid Silver Books, Red Lioness Tamed.
All Shades of Blue Paradise [World of the Blue Pearl Moon, Book I] ~ available from Siren Publishing ~ ~
Red Lioness Tamed ~ available at ~
Pleasures of Blue Lotus Oil [World of the Blue Pearl Moon, Book II] ~ coming from Siren Publishing
Tangerine Carnal Dreams ~ coming from Aspen Mountain Press
When a Good Angel Falls ~ coming from BookStrand in Summer 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Abuse the TBR Pile!

It's Abusing the TBR day! And I've changed the format! Already!

Monday morning is no time for market research. Especially when I haven't had my coffee yet. And I figured it'd be more fun to talk about the new books we're drooling over.

So, from here on out, Abusing the TBR pile will focus on all the good stuff coming out each month. I'll post the ones I plan to add to my TBR pile. You guys tell me what you're going to read. And if you comment by 11:59 central time, you'll be entered in a drawing to win a paperback book of your choice (as long as it's still in print!) or a gift certificate to Fictionwise.

My June TBR list is pretty sf/fantasy heavy. There are lots of great paranormals coming out this month!

The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey
I have been a Lackey fan since I read the Arrows of the Queen trilogy in High School and I love the Godmother series!

Horse of Whispers by Margaret Lucke
I love gothics, and this one seems like it'll have a dark, mysterious feel to it.

Walk on the Wild Side by Christine Warren
Okay, I can't resist a book that features a Tennessee librarian and werelions. I just can't.

Lover Enshrined by J.R. Ward
I am a Ward fangirl. I admit it. She had me completely hooked after Zsadist. I have a HUGE thing for flawed and broken heroes, and you can't get any more flawed than the Brotherhood.

Nightkeepers by Jessica Anderson
I also have a huge thing for mythology. I've wanted to read this one since I heard her talk about research with Ward at RT.

A Curious Affair by Melanie Jackson
This one looks like a paranormal cat mystery! I really liked Jackson's goblin paranormals.

Spectre by Phaedra Weldon
I stumbled across Weldon's first book, Wraith, completely by accident. If there was buzz, I never saw it. But I loved Weldon's funny, quick tone. For that alone, I'd pick up this one!

Personal Demons by Stacia Kane
Okay, I'm cheating a bit because I already read this one. I got my paws on it at RT, and devoured the whole thing on the way home. (My lovely hubby drove the whole way so I could read!) This book holds the record for shortest time between TBR pile and keeper shelf!

Your turn! What are YOU drooling over this month? Any recommendations for me?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday the 13th

I noticed a hole in our regularly scheduled blog and at first I couldn’t understand why since we normally have a guest on Friday but then I realized today is Friday the thirteenth. Oh! That explains it. Who wants to post a blog on such an unlucky day?

Well, me, since I have no fear of Friday the 13th. (This statement practically guarantees I’ll be struck by lightening--so stand back!) The photo above is my dog, and I got her on a Friday--not a Friday the 13th--but she is one of the best things that ever happened to me. That is her first snow storm thirteen years ago. Just look at her face! If you fall instantly in love then you are in good company. Everyone who meets her can't help but long to cuddle her and give her treats!

But it got me to thinking about how 13 became such an unlucky number.

Well, in numerology, 13 would be distilled to 1+3 or 4 and that’s not an unlucky number. 4 is considered positive as practical, disciplined, loyal, and organized. In the negative, 4 is considered unproductive, incompetent, lax, inflexible, and crude.

However, an even dozen is considered by many the perfect number but a baker’s dozen is 13 (so he can have one of the treats--that’s what I think, which still doesn’t make 13 a bad thing!)

So, let’s go back to the number 13. A quick Google search yielded that 13 is considered bad luck in “English, French, and Portuguese-speaking countries around the world, as well as in Austria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Philippines.” --(quoted from Wikipedia)

Triskaidekaphobia is the name given to the fear of the number 13 but sometimes this fear is called friggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, “Similar superstitions exist in some other traditions. In Greece, Romania, and Spanish-speaking countries it is Tuesday the 13th that is considered unlucky. In Italy, it is Friday the 17th.”

No explanation was given and I was too lazy to look it up because I wanted to talk about Friday the 13th. So what gives with the U.S. superstition? Well, there are those creepy movies but that springs from a pre-existing superstition.

Some think the fear goes back to the Last Supper with the thirteenth person being Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. Also, Jesus was crucified on Friday and the great flood began on a Friday, so a lot of nasty biblical stuff happened on a Friday.

But other people think 13 is evil for a coven of witches has some power with 12 members but more with 13. Interestingly, I ran into some ideas that 13 was evil in that most women have, on average, 13 menstrual cycles a year. Sounds like a bit of misogyny to me! (Er, the picture to the side is me wearing my favorite sweatshirt with the number pi as a joke--Cow Pi. Now I got this shirt on a Friday the 13th so that's why I included the picture. I have destroyed six copies of this sweatshirt as it is my favorite!)

Friday and the number 13 are also related to capital punishment in British tradition, where public hangings happened on Friday and there were supposedly 13 steps leading up to the noose.

Personally, I think you learn the fear of Friday the 13th just like you learn the fear flying. We are taught our fears through our culture. If you *think* Friday the 13th is unlucky, you are right. If you *think* Friday the 13th is just another day, you are right.

It comes down to what you think, what you expect. So, if any of you are brave enough to read the blog today, what do you think about all this Friday the 13th stuff? Have you had bad luck on this day or, like me, have you found your luck rather good on this day?

Guests - Past and Future

Welcome to Friday 13th on Title Magic. Superstitious? Us?

No guest today, after Terry did such a great job blogging with us yesterday about handling the back-story, but a chance to catch up on previous guests and look forward to the future.

Amanda Grange gave us a fascinating glimpse of how she re-imagines Jane Austen's stories from the point of view of the hero when she guested with us in March. She’s currently revealing more about how she goes about her much applauded diaries, with a series of blogs on the UK historical romance site She’ll be blogging on the 6th and 21st of each month and says that the blogs might interest new writers, even if they're not writing historical romance.

Sarah Mallory, our guest in May, will be one of the speakers at a Regency Romance Day (Tomorrow, 14th June) at Manchester Library, which is currently hosting an exhibition 'And then he kissed her …' celebrating 100 years of publication of Mills and Boon in the UK. Early visitors report that it is not only a centenary event but a fascinating social history, in a beautiful building that is well worth a look in its own right.

And to come on Title Magic?

Next month Louise Allen will be with us, talking about her linked series for Harlequin/Mills and Boon -- 6 books, following the lives and loves of Those Scandalous Ravenhursts. Seven cousins – the grandchildren of the Duke of Allington – are at the heart of six stories charting their sometimes rocky, and always scandalous, paths to true love. Dangerous Jack, Outrageous Bel, Shocking Gareth, Disgraceful Theo, Bluestocking Elinor, Notorious Eden and Piratical Clemence.
The first book in the series, The Dangerous Mr Ryder is out now, to be followed soon by The Outrageous Lady Felsham.

Something to look forward to next month on Title Magic.

And after that? Well, now --which month of the year is the spookiest? Title Magic has a theory. Stay with us and find out more.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Guest Blogger ~ Terry Odell

Happy Summer All. Grab those special books you love to escape with, and head out to the pool or to your backyard lounging chair, and indulge your reader's appetite. Terry Odell's romantic suspense novels are a perfect fit for summer. Her clear descriptive writing style will carry you away effortlessly into a story packed with hang-onto-your-teeth twists and turns. But, most importantly, ends with the triumph of love.
For all of us authors and aspiring authors Terry discusses a topic that is vitally important to a successful novel, how to use backstory. What does your reader need and want to know about the main characters? How much is too much? And when is there too little backstory?
Welcome Terry, thanks for joining us today. And thanks for all of your insightful comments on Title Magic.

When Savanna invited me to guest on Title Magic, I was thrilled. Then I panicked. What could I possibly add that hasn't been done before (and probably better)? What to blog about? She suggested a craft topic. Not a specific topic, mind you, just "some kind of how to" column. She also said to be sure to include cover art. Since I can't possibly play favorites with my 'babies', I sent her to my website and begged her to pick a cover she liked. She selected Starting Over, so that's my jumping off point.
After typing "The End" on my first novel, Finding Sarah, I went through a period of post-partum depression. Eventually, I came out of my funk and it was time to start over. I created a folder in my computer, named it "Starting Over" and plunged in, literally 'starting over' to write another book. Colleen McDonald, one of the secondary characters in Finding Sarah demanded her own story.
Which leads me to the real topic, which is back story, and where to start the book. Now, where to start the book is not the same as where to start the story. (See, everything up to this point has been back story, and the post might be better off if I'd omitted it, but I figured show, don't tell, right?)
When I wrote Finding Sarah, I didn't know a lot about Colleen McDonald because I didn't have to. I created enough of a past for her so she could deliver her lines properly, but not much more. For her book, though, I needed to get inside her head—find out everything about her. And because I was feeling guilty for bugging my sister-in-law for all the details about Oregon, where Finding Sarah was set, I decided my cop, Colleen, would move to Orlando, to a neighborhood where all I had to do was look out my window. But why would she move? And thus, the back story began.
The first draft of Starting Over began with Colleen in Pine Hills, Oregon, relating (at great length) the after-effects of the "inciting incident", a domestic call gone south. From there, we followed Colleen to Orlando, where I showed in great detail my familiarity with the airport and what it's like to travel to my town. Then we watched her explore her new home (establish setting), with a few demonstrations that she still didn't have her act together (her inner conflict), a call to her mother (dutiful daughter), and on and on.
This was all very necessary information. But I was the only one who needed it. For the reader, it was one big, long … "all right, but where's the STORY?" So, the opening Oregon scene was written as a prologue and cut to two pages. Content of the first eight chapters became condensed into three.
The result? Chapter One's opening, as published:
In the steamy cocoon of the shower, Colleen’s fingers found the dimpled scar the bullet had left on her thigh and the long, straight one where they’d repaired her femoral artery. She knew they were no longer a garish red, but she refused to look at them. Thankfully, the exit wound on the back of her leg was out of sight unless she really worked at seeing it. The ugly reminders that screamed "failure" remained, long after the physical pain had gone.
She watched the sudsy water swirl down the drain, willing it to take her memories along.
Get a grip. It’s over. Forget Pine Hills. You made your choice, so get on with your life.
She declared yesterday a do-over. Hell, as long as she was changing the rules of time, the last three months never happened. But then, she’d still be a cop in Pine Hills, Oregon, instead of a basket case in Orlando, Florida.
Consider back story as cocktail party conversation, especially in the opening chapters. When you meet someone new, do you pour out your entire life, how you broke your arm ice skating when you were six, so you're afraid of winter; or how your brother's an alcoholic, so you only drink club soda; or that your cleaning lady broke your favorite platter which you inherited from Great Aunt Matilda who had a big mole on her chin, with three hairs sprouting out of it and smelled like rosewater so you can't abide the scent of roses? If you answered 'yes', do you watch your new acquaintance's eyes glaze over?
Look at the Indiana Jones movies. We knew in the opening gambit of Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indy was afraid of snakes. This was good foreshadowing, because of course, there had to be a scene where he would confront the slithery rascals. But … wasn't it movie number three before we learned why he was afraid of snakes? Did not knowing in any way diminish the enjoyment of movie number one? When he freaked at the snake in the plane, did anyone want the movie to go back and show why he was afraid? I doubt it. Likewise the scar on his chin. You might have wondered how he got it, but did it impact the story if you knew or didn't know?
In reality, the opening of the third movie was all back story, but it worked because it wasn't the true beginning of the series. It laid foundation for Indy's character, but by now, everyone loved him and was happy to learn more about his childhood. And there was that feeling of being an "insider" because we knew what would happen years later. Although this was the movie's opening, it was really more like chapter twenty in a full-length novel.
Think of back story as an IV drip, not forced gastric tube feeding. Before you write a scene, ask yourself: 1) Does the reader need to know this? And 2) Does the reader need to know this now? This is, of course, after you've decided that the scene addresses sufficient plot points to advance the story, which is another topic altogether.
Your characters have pasts, which helped make them who they are on page one. Just don't feel obligated to tell the reader every single detail. Let the characters discover each other as the relationship develops.
And, as a follow up, there's another kind of back story. If you've got connected books, how much of Book One do you re-tell in Book Two? On the one hand, it's fun to give returning readers that 'insider' moment when they know who the characters are, and what's happened before. On the other hand, you risk pulling readers out of the story if you stop to explain who everyone is, and how they got to where they are. But that's a topic for another day.
Available from Terry Odell:
Finding Sarah (digital and print) – 2nd Place: The Lories, Published, Romantic Suspense
What's in a Name? (digital and print) – Finalist: Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence;
The Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence
Starting Over (digital)
Hidden Fire (digital)
Get some behind the scenes peeks at the writing process on my website,
Details, first chapter reads and buy links at
And check out my romance short stories (digital) with
The Wild Rose Press.
Terry Odell was born in Los Angeles and now makes her home in central Florida. An avid reader (her parents tell everyone they had to move from their first home because she finished the local library), she always wanted to "fix" stories so the characters did what she wanted, in books, television and the movies. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write rapidly became a romance. With her degree in Psychology from UCLA, she loves getting into the minds of her characters. When she's not writing, she's reading. She also volunteers for the Adult Literacy League, training new tutors, and spent ten years as the administrative assistant for a scientific organization devoted to the study of marine mammals.
Prior to publication, her manuscripts won several awards, including the Suzannah, the Gotcha, and the IGO. Her published romantic suspense novel, What's in a Name? was a finalist in the 2008 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence contest and also is a finalist in the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award contest. Finding Sarah is a second place winner in The Lories, Published Romantic Suspense division.
Terry lives in Orlando, where you can probably find her reading when she's not creating new dilemmas for her characters. Look for her newest book, When Danger Calls, from Five Star Expressions in December. Drop by her website,, or her blog,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Call, Part II

I wanted to share with you the second part of my “getting the call” story. You can see the first post here.

On Friday June 6th my agent, Roberta Brown, woke me up with a phone call. I was asleep because I'd worked until 11:30 p.m the previous night at my "regular" job then worked until 2:00 a.m at my "favorite" job, which is writing. She apologized and said she would call back later. I told her there was no way I was going back to bed because I knew she wasn’t calling to chat.

And I was right.

Roberta called to tell me John Scognamiglio of Kensington was offering a three-book deal for my novel, Virgin Harvest.

Now mind you, I was not fully awake yet so I had to pinch myself three times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. (I have a bruise on my butt to prove this!) I was also miffed that I had been sleeping--why couldn't I get "the call" when I was actually doing something like writing?

I wasn’t dreaming, but the enormity of everything took two days to sink in. When it did, my reaction was something like, “Oh my God! I’m finally going to be a published author!” and then I panicked, "Oh my God! I've got to write two more novels!"

Virgin Harvest will come out next summer under the Kensington Aphrodisia line. I have my deadlines for delivering the other two novels (both erotic romances). I can’t wait to see the cover art and from what I’ve heard about John, he’s going to be a wonderful editor to work with.

I found this out the morning I was leaving on a vacation to Moab, Utah, where I hang out with my dad and we go white water rafting. (The picture is me navigating Rocky Rapid, the most technical rapid on this part of the Colorado River.)

Needless to say, we had a huge celebration! My father is my biggest, best-est, cheerleader since I lost my mother three years ago. I am very, very blessed in that my entire family supports me completely. My brother called from Belize to give me a hug over the phone and my sister stalker-called until she got through to me at my father's house. All this just to say, "You go, girl!"

I've also gotten a ton of emails from supportive writer pals and I'm so overwhelmed I'm almost in tears. It's been a long road for me to get to this point. I wouldn't have made it without the support of my family, my friends, and my writing companions.

I wanted to share but I also wanted to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who helped me along this path. I know deep down to the sticking place in my heart, I couldn't have done this without you!

Thank you so much for letting me share my news!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence of book cover art on readers’ buying decisions as I now have my own book cover to consider. This has made me analyze how much cover art affects my own inclination to pick up a book.

The old adage ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ may be true, but I’m shocked to discover that I do. When I stopped to think about my own choices, I realized cover art is the single most important factor in my decision to pick up a book--or not.

When perusing the Internet, I came across a blog by four literary agents discussing the importance of book cover design. They had a selection of covers they’d voted on to determine their impressions of them. They didn’t agree on every cover, but there was consensus between them on the best and the worst. Strangely, the one they liked least was my favorite. If I walked through a bookstore, most of the covers they liked wouldn’t even have caught my notice, let alone induced me to pick up the book. This raised another interesting aspect of cover art—target market. These agents deal mainly with ‘literary’ works rather than genre fiction. I can only assume the covers they liked reflected this preference. I, on the other hand, prefer genre fiction, and the cover I liked best out of their selection was the most ‘commercial’ in appearance.

This made me realize cover art doesn’t have to wow everyone who walks past the book in the bookstore, only the target readership.

This explains why the covers I find most compelling are usually on historical romance. (My favorite genre.) When I flip through Romantic Times it’s always the lavishly dressed couples wearing (or partly wearing) Regency fashions that catch my eye—followed by the paranormal covers if they are imaginative.
Other covers I love are fantasy covers such as C.L. Wilson’s wonderful covers for her fantasy romance series. This obviously reflects my love of fantasy.

I read recently that when a UK publisher reprinted some classic novels and gave them modern covers the sales figures jumped, despite the fact the books were unchanged.

I will pick up a book with an uninspiring cover if it’s been recommended to me, or if the author is one of my favorites. Although I discovered recently that unappealing cover art can stop me buying a book even if I like the author.

I’ve read all of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and enjoyed the books. When I heard she’d written a science fiction story called The Host I intended to buy the book—until I saw the cover. The reviews for the book are good, the blurb sounds interesting, and I’m sure I’ll like the book, but I can’t get past the cover. This first edition is hardcover. I hope they change the cover when it’s released as a paperback.

What about you? Do book covers play an important part in your fiction buying decisions? How do you feel about the covers shown above?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Back to the Beginning

June may seem a strange time to talk about beginnings. After all, we’re in the middle of the year, not the beginning—whether we’re talking about a school year or a calendar year. Okay, maybe it is the beginning of the fiscal year for many, but I’d rather not talk about money:)

Instead, I want to talk about two different types of beginnings that are very appropriate to discuss at this time of year…going back to those goals you set in January (you did, didn’t you) and going all the way back to whenever you might have started your writing career. The first won’t take long and won’t be painful (I hope). Remember those goals you set for yourself at New Year’s? So many people fail, give up, and that’s the end. It doesn’t have to be…think of this as forgiveness month, feel free to start back on the path toward your goals--whether in writing or losing weight. Look back over your list—I always write mine in my day planner on a separate page and actually check off the long-terms when I reach them.

Okay, now to the second type of beginning. I joined RWA in 2002. I took creative writing courses in college, wrote a manuscript, sent it in cold, received a form rejection letter, and stopped. I had no idea how the business worked. To be truthful, my college classes—at a school well known for its writing program—didn’t even teach us how to write anything longer than a short story. I was lost.

So, I didn’t write other than poems between the years 1986 and 2002. I joined RWA when my children were both in school, I was established in my day job, and ready to go. I’ve attended my local chapter meetings regularly, have served on the board, and attended one Nationals. Oh, and I’ve attended many local master classes.

I still don’t believe I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I want to start a discussion about how writers can better mentor other writers. First, if I were to start all over again, I’d have a reading list for new authors in order of digestibility. The book I remember hearing about first was The Writer’s Journey. I think it’s too esoteric for a beginner. There’s also Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, Deb Dixon’s GMC, and Donald Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel. All of these may belong to an advance class. To be honest, I only read Deb Dixon two years ago, and the others THIS year. I didn’t see a future in this field so I only wrote and went to meetings. AT changed that for me.

I think it would be helpful for RWA chapters to have a New Members notebook, or maybe even files available on the Yahoo groups lists we all seem to have. The first page would be reading materials—and start with something simple like, “Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies.” I’m not kidding—I found that the most helpful for an overview of the writer’s process.

Next, I would include a timeline—not of things out of the writers’ control, but things within his/her control. For example, the writer could have a goal for writing a chapter, three chapters, finish a manuscript. Analyze novels in his/her chosen genre. Research agents in his/her genre. Research publishers in his/her genre. These tasks may seem simple, but to someone just walking in to a meeting wanting to write a book, knowing where to begin is overwhelming. Not only that, smaller chapters like the LowCountry RWA need to tailor their meetings toward all members—some of whom have published in the double digits.

Finally, for now:), I just attended a Congregational Meeting at my church where several new members stood up and said, I’ve never been in a church—how do I get started? The church assigns new members a shepherd, someone to help the new people steer their way through the tough parts. I propose that RWA chapters assign new members a mentor. Not a critique partner (I haven’t had one stick yet, the ones I have had are now sick, pregnant, or the wrong genre), those are too personal. A mentor would simply be available for questions. I understand how busy we all are and many just want to write, but… Chapters everywhere are struggling to get their work done. Contests are closing because they can’t find judges.

Just think—if you make the new members feel welcome, they’ll stick around, and if they stick around, you can get out of some work!

So…what do you think (I may have sidestepped into chapter business, sorry)? If you were going to advise someone at the beginning of their writing career, what would you say?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Secrets to a Perfect Pitch by Guest Blogger CJ Lyons

Please join me in welcoming award-winning medical suspense author CJ Lyons as she explains the secrets to successful pitching, tips to engage an editor or agent, and reveals the creation of a high concept. As a pediatric ER doc, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. CJ loves sharing the secret life of an urban trauma center with readers. She also loves breaking the rules; her debut medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, is cross-genre to the extreme, combining women's fiction with medical suspense with thriller pacing with romantic elements and is told from the point of view of the women of Angels of Mercy's Medical Center. Publisher's Weekly proclaimed LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), "a spot-on debut….a breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" and Romantic Times made it a Top Pick. Contact her at

CJ is a rather recent addition to the LowCountry Romance writers, but you couldn't tell from her level of involvement--or her feeling like a member of our group! She has taught classes at Thrillerfest, RWA National, and, of course, here in Charleston. Her first book, Lifelines, came out almost two months ago and I'm in the middle of devouring it right now (I go in order when reading my TBR pile--I'm a little bit behind). So, please enjoy...

CJ has received requests for manuscripts every time she pitched. She’ll help you feel more comfortable during your pitch session and more confident with your pitch.

If you'd like feedback on your own work, feel free to share a one paragraph summary of your manuscript, your pitch, and if you have one, your high concept in the comments.

The Pitch is a writer’s best friend.

Why? Because it's what you'll use every time someone asks you to tell them about your book. Agents, editors, elevator folks, Great Aunt Martha. Whoever.

So you need to polish it and since it's verbal, shorter is better. No more than 25 words total, 10-15 is better.

Short, sweet, memorable. That's what you're going for—hey, I didn't say it would be easy!

There are several different types of pitches. Here's how I define them:

--an elevator pitch, a very quick, easily memorable way to let someone who has never read your work know what it's going to be like (note: not what it's about, but what they can expect).

For my new medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, it is: ER meets Grey's Anatomy

Implying that it has the edgy realism and non-stop action of ER, but also focuses on relationships like Grey's Anatomy.

I think elevator pitches were invented by all those ADD Hollywood types

It's your down and dirty answer to: what is your book like? It's a comparison, not an explanation or description.

The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known (like Indiana Jones) or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read

--another pitch is more descriptive. Start with your book's hook line (also known as "tag line" or "log line").

These are those throw away lines that scream at you from book covers. Also look at movie posters and ads--they use hook lines a lot.

JAWS: don't go into the water, ALIENS: in space no one can hear you scream, etc.

These hook lines are useful in query letters to hook the reader and transition into your blurb.

For LIFELINES, the hook line is: July 1st, the most dangerous day of the year.

Notice what a hook line does that's different than an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a comparison. A hook line gets the reader to ASK questions, builds that emotional velcro by getting them involved.

For LIFELINES, readers might ask: why is July 1st the most dangerous day of the year? What will happen then? Who is in danger? What kind of danger? Etc

These hook lines are also great to use on websites, business cards, etc. Often, they'll end up on the book's front cover.

Okay, so you have a hook line. Sometimes that's all you need, the conversation will evolve naturally from there. Other times you use it simply to attract attention and move into a more detailed description. So be prepared, either way.

--high concept pitch: also quick and dirty, but here you're going farther than a simple comparison.

Instead of comparisons you use ICONs or universal concepts to connect your fictional world to the world of your audience. This creates emotional velcro with your audience, leading them to be interested enough to want to know more!

To do this, you need to do two things:

First, find a hook. This is the unique spin that you have put on your story. This means narrowing your search to one small part of your story. Start with your blurb, usually the hook will be apparent there. If not, keep looking

Basically you're boiling your novel down to one and only one unique concept--whatever it is about your story that will create an immediate emotional connection or spark interest.

Second, tie this unique hook to the larger world by using universal icons and feelings, implying that society at large is affected. Something that brings this hook specific to the time and place of your novel into the ordinary world of your audience.

You're building a bridge here, connections, emotional velcro....whatever you want to call it, it needs to be so easy to grasp that anyone can feel it immediately.

One of my favorite high concepts: ALIEN's. It was: Jaws on a spaceship.

The unique hook = spaceship. Unique because no one has been on a spaceship, it's something unfamiliar to the ordinary audience.

The universal icon = monster (Jaws). Everyone has had childhood fears of monsters under the bed. We all know and understand fear, nightmares, terror. In fact, a large segment of the movie going audience (Alien's target audience, in fact!!) pays good money to feel these emotions!

Add the two together and we have a universal fear of monsters combined with no where to run (trapped on a spaceship). A powerful one-two punch!!! Feel how it evokes an immediate visceral response as well as intrigue???

The audience hearing this high concept immediately squirm in their seats, ask themselves: where can the people on the ship run? How can they fight the monster?

AND, the movie makers tied this high concept into their advertising by using a tag line of: In space, no one can hear you scream....

But note—there is no mention of character names, no long, involved psychological profiles, nothing except the bare essentials needed to pique the audience's attention.

That's the beauty of the high concept, it strips everything away except what you need to intrigue your audience.

Another example. David Morrell's recent book, SCAVENGERS used as its high concept: a scavenger hunt (unique hook) to the death (universal concept). The tag line used in advertising: Some secrets should remain buried...

Pretty obvious David's audience are lovers of thrillers/suspense, and wouldn't that audience immediately respond to that high concept? Be intrigued, think, hmm...I want to read that book, wondering what this master of suspense has in store for them.

Stephen King is also brilliant with high concepts. CUJO: rabid dog (hook) terrorizes town (universal fear). SALEMs LOT: vampires (unique hook--at the time) terrorize town (universal fear), CARRIE: prom queen (hook) terrorizes town....okay, anyone think King is writing sweet romance? Or has he earned his title of the King of Terror?

So much depends on knowing your audience that it's hard for anyone else who hasn't read the entire book to create a high concept for you. It all depends who your target audience is and what kind of emotional experience you want to promise them.

Often, because the high concept is such a tiny taste of the entire book, as writers, we get frustrated because we're looking at the big picture. We just spent months with these characters, we want to share them with our audience, expand on them, not boil them down to a bare skeleton

But think of it this way--if you boil down a compelling high concept then the reader will spend hours with your characters and story as they read....after they pay their money for the book, of course, lol!

The high concept isn't a synopsis or blurb, it's merely a way to give your audience a sneak peak of the emotions they'll feel while reading your book.

And not every book lends itself to a high concept, so don't get too frustrated if this doesn't seem to fit your work!

But no matter which kind of pitch you use, you'll probably need a more fleshed out description. Something that conveys very quickly what kind of book this is, what it's about (or who it's about) and what stands in their way.

Again your goal isn't to give away everything but rather to raise interest and more questions in the listener's mind.

Try starting with your theme or premise, add in your main character and their goal and main obstacle.

This is hard, very, very hard!! Be patient, keep trying, brainstorming power words, re-arranging and most importantly practicing saying them aloud. Pitches are verbal so they need to sound smooth, natural, not awkward or stilted.

The only way to learn how to do these is dive in and give it a try!

Thanks for reading!