Sunday, December 31, 2006

Writing Cinematically II

After writing in a vacuum for years, thinking I was so different from everyone else and feeling alone, it’s wonderful to be part of RWA and Southern Magic, and to find out that I have much more in common with other writers than I ever would have thought. So it was gratifying but not really surprising to read Paula’s post on Writing Cinematically, because I use some of the same techniques. I write romantic comedy, but my favorite example of this genre isn’t a novel at all but a movie: The Sure Thing, directed by Rob Reiner and starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga. And one of my favorite books on writing is Writing the Romantic Comedy--we’re talking screenplay, not novel--by Billy Mernit.

What this book offers is a roadmap for plotting a screenplay (or book). It sounds a lot like Paula’s three-act structure of screenplays, or like Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan, or like the Discovering Story Magic plan that the members of Southern Magic have fallen in love with. All these roadmaps have many features in common, because they’re all describing a similar satisfying plot. Maybe it’s because Writing the Romantic Comedy is specific to the genre I write, but something about the language of this roadmap clicks for me better than any of the other roadmaps I’ve seen. A summary:

1. The Chemical Equation: Setup--A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or the antagonist’s) current status quo.

In The Sure Thing, we see John Cusack’s 18-year-old character, Gib, strike out with girls at his New England college. At the same college, Daphne Zuniga’s character, Allison, misses her long-time boyfriend across the country.

2. Cute Meet: Catalyst--The inciting incident that brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come.

Gib and Allison have a study date that goes terribly wrong. Now he thinks she’s uptight, and she thinks he’s a pervert.

3. A Sexy Complication: Turning Point--Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal.

At Christmas, Gib hitches a ride across the country to visit his high school friend (Anthony Edwards) who has lined up a beautiful “sure thing” for him (Nicollette Sheridan). Allison hitches the same ride to visit her boyfriend. Forced proximity! Also, the driver (Tim Robbins) is hilarious and, to Gib and Allison, very annoying. It’s worth it to rent this movie just to hear him sing show tunes.

4. The Hook: Midpoint--A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship.

Gib and Allison find that, rather than fantasizing about Gib’s sure thing and Allison’s boyfriend, they have begun fantasizing about each other.

5. Swivel: Second Turning Point--Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his stated goal--or vice versa--and his goal shifts.

Allison overhears Gib tell the truck driver with whom they’re hitching a ride that he has a sure thing waiting for him.

6. The Dark Moment: Crisis Climax--Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever.

After trying to make each other jealous at a college party, Gib leaves with his sure thing, Allison with her boyfriend. But, still wanting each other, neither follows through.

7. Joyful Defeat: Resolution--A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist.

Gib and Allison return to their New England college after the holidays and get together--in freshman English class. Perfect!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Writing Cinematically

A few years ago, before I sold my first book, I had grown wearing of banging my head against the same publishing brick walls over and over again, and decided to take a break from novel writing. But I couldn't just stop writing cold turkey, so I took a stab at screenwriting. I thought it would be a cool change---it's all dialogue and action, right? I can do dialogue and action!

My friend Jenn and I joined a scriptwriter's group and started working on one-hour TV drama spec scripts so we'd have something in our portfolio. And we managed to win a couple of contests and catch the eye of an agent and a literary manager, but when it became clear that to do what we wanted to do, we'd have to move to Los Angeles, we both decided that we just didn't love it enough to make that big a change in our lives. She had a good paying job in New Jersey; I had a good job here in Alabama and all sorts of family ties. So I bid screenwriting goodbye and returned to my first love--novels.

However, my foray into screenwriting wasn't a waste, because I learned some valuable lessons about writing that have helped me tone and shape my prose fiction. I thought I'd share a few of those lessons with you.

1) Show, don't tell. We've all heard this one. But in screenwriting, this rule is taken to the extreme. In fact, I've heard some screenwriting teachers stress that you should be able to tell your story almost entirely through action, without any dialogue at all. I've never gone to that extreme, myself, but writing scripts does force you to put all the action on screen. Everything has to happen visually. You can't get away with long passages of description and narrative in a script.

2) Subtext, subtext, subtext. In novels, writers have the advantage of delving inside the minds of their characters, but in scripts, the character's thoughts and emotions have to be expressed visually and through what's not said as much as what's said. That same spare use of internalization can be used in novels as well. Let the context of dialogue speak for you.

Here's an example from my current WIP:

"Oh. You again."

Maddox looked up to find Charles Kipler standing in front of him. "Chuck! fetching lunch for the missus?"

A glint of humor lightened Kipler's eyes, catching Maddox by surprise. "Yeah. You, too?"

Maddox looked down at the take-out ticket in his hand. "She said she wasn't hungry. But she needs to eat."

Kipler sat next to Maddox, flipping his own take-out ticket between his fingers. "Did Ms. Browning tell you what she and Celia spoke about?"

"You don't know?"

"No."

Maddox shook his head. "Me, either."


Maddox is my hero. Charles Kipler is the personal assistant to Celia, a celebrity psychic. Maddox has been giving Kipler a hard time about being Celia's lackey--her "cabana boy," as Maddox puts it. But in this scene, the conversation with Kipler forces him to see that his relationship with Iris Browning, the woman he's falling in love with, is also plagued by walls separating them and putting him on the outside just as surely as Kipler is doomed to live on the periphery of Celia's life. I don't come out and say that in this exchange of dialogue. But by parallelling their situations--they're both standing in line to buy food to offer the women they're trying to please--we see that Maddox is dissatisfied with his outsider position in Iris's life.

3) Start a scene as late as possible and end it as early as possible. In screenwriting, time is money, and the shorter you can make a scene the better. It keeps the story flowing quickly, keeps up the pace, and it doesn't bore viewers with unnecessary details. When you're writing a scene, read it over and see if you can start the action any later and end it any earlier. For instance, if your scene ends on a phone call telling the hero that there's been an accident, you don't have to show that conversation. Let the hero answer the phone, someone on the other end says, "There's been an accident," and then do a time shift to the next scene, which is the hero dealing with the aftermath of the accident. The who, what, when, where, why and how can be dealt with during the action of that next scene, and it keeps the story moving forward without bogging it down.

4) Use the three act (or four act) structure of screenplays to help structure your novel. Most people are aware that plays and screenplays are usually based on the three act structure. Let's say your screenplay is 120 pages long (1 page = 1 minute of screentime). Your three act structure would divide your story into Act 1 - the introduction/setup (approx. 30 pages), Act 2 - the complication (approx. 60 pages) and Act 3 - the climax/resolution (approx. 30 pages). Your novel can be similarly divided. If you have, say, 12 chapters, the first 3 chapters will be setting up the characters and the story goal, ending on a twist that pushes you into Act 2, which will be the middle six chapters, in which you introduce a complication that forces your hero/heroine to change their plans and try new ways to reach their goals. Act 2 escalates in conflict and tension to the black moment, which happens at the Act 2 turn. It's the point at which you see no way for the hero and heroine to possibly meet their goals. Then, in Act 3--the last three chapters--you provide that solution, give the characters an exciting and rewarding climax, and you resolve the conflicts and end the story.

Now, this is flexible. It won't always be neatly divided into those page or chapter counts. But the basic structure is sound, and it follows the story pattern we've all learned about over the years.

A great movie to watch to study how the three act structure works is, believe it or not, LETHAL WEAPON. The scene in the desert, when the bad guys have Murtaugh's daughter, have disarmed and disabled Murtaugh, and then catch Riggs, who's hiding to back up Murtaugh, is the quintessential Act Two turn. It's the blackest of black moments, when all the good guys' plans have been shot to pieces and you don't know how they'll possibly get out of the mess they're in. Every time I'm trying to come up with a black moment for my book, I think about that scene and try to evoke that same sense of hopelessness I got when I saw that moment the first time around.

Screenwriting isn't as easy as it might look. It requires very visual thinking and a good feel for dialogue and action. But even if scriptwriting isn't for you, you can take lessons away from the genre and apply them to your novel writing to write a stronger, more exciting story.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stuck in the middle

Well, Christmas has past and we are waiting for New Year's Day to get here. We have been celebrating Christmas since Thanksgiving and it's now time to take the tree down and put the front yard and front porch back in order. It's time to start thinking about 2007 and the resolutions we may or may not keep past the first week. For me, this waiting time between the two holidays always seem to drag on.

This year I plan to make the most of the few days we have left in 2006. Luckily, I was able to take this week off from work so I have time to play. Before I do play, I'm taking down my tree, undecorating the front porch and mailbox. Then I'm making myself sit and write. I've been writing in my head for the past 3 weeks and I'm beginning to feel overloaded. My pre-resolution is to write 15-20 pages on my book before Sunday midnight.

Does anyone have any pre-resolutions they need to work on before Sunday night?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Well, lucky me, gets Christmas to blog. I have a birthday in two days, but bemoaning my birthday on Christ's birthday didn't seem right. So, I attempted to come up with a topic befitting the day.

The madness is over. The malls and shopping centers are quiet for a day. The last minute shoppers have finished. The trip for Santa and his reindeers is at an end. Presents have been exchanged and opened. We can breathe and take time to enjoy family and good food.

This is the second Christmas without my mother. The memories will live on forever. She and my aunt always alternated Thanksgiving and Christmas lunch, but you could always count on me and my husband and my brothers and family being at my mother's on Christmas Eve. She put out food no one ate. I received gifts I didn't want and I'm sure, gave gifts they didn't want, but we were together. That was what was important. Everyone will be at my aunt's for lunch today, but there will be a hole left by my mother's absence.

Tomorrow the madness will start over again as people exchange presents and hit the after Christmas sales. I'm sure some stores don't even wait until after Christmas day. Living in the middle of the Bible belt, most of our stores will be closed. I can't even buy alcohol legally in my county. I'll leave the shopping for others. I'll be home back to my old routine or trying to start a new routine so I can lose weight.

What's your favorite Christmas memory?

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May all your dreams come true in the new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Nontraditional Tradition

Every family has its beloved holiday traditions, and mine is no different. However, I doubt many families have a tradition that involves a tacky, fluorescent pink negligee.

It started one fall about 40 years ago when my mother and aunt were lamenting their status as football widows. As a joke, my mom sent my aunt Bobbie a gaudy, tasteless two-piece nightie in an eye-burning shade of pink. Her thought was that perhaps Aunt Bobbie could use it to lure Uncle David away from the television set. We never knew if it worked, but the nightie took on a life of its own. It began appearing at various family occasions over the years, such as the going away party Bobbie gave my parents the year they won a cruise. And when I opened my suitcase on my honeymoon, there it was.

Then it took a starring role during the Dirty Santa game at our annual family Christmas gathering. My siblings and relatives were incredibly devious with their covert nightie operations. It’s been found tucked into pockets of shirts, hidden underneath a layer of chocolates in a candy box, and lurking inside a duffle bag. The most ingenious hiding place was the battery compartment of a really nice flashlight.

Sadly, my aunt passed away a few years ago, and my mother followed soon after. I was the lucky nightie recipient the last Christmas my mom was alive. At the time, I wondered if perhaps it were time for the nightie to retire (so to speak). The game had lost some of its sparkle without the two instigators. But then I thought about how much joy Mom and Bobbie’s playfulness had brought our family. We missed them both terribly, but we knew they were giggling together somewhere and making mischievous plans. I made a decision. The nightie went into mourning for one year, and then reappeared the next year. I must say, it’s more loved than ever before. Each Christmas, I like to think that Mom and Bobbie pull up ring side seats to watch our madcap gift exchange. And that they’re very pleased that we’ve continued this unorthodox tradition.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good nightie.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Perfect Gift

Here it is, another Christmas and I am once again feeling battered from the elbows of all those last minute shoppers or bruised from shopping carts smashing into me as I literally race through the aisles, hoping the latest and greatest 'thing-a-ma-jig' hasn't been taken.

I always feel harried and worn out this time of year...unlike many wise shoppers who begin their shopping the day after Christmas for next Christmas. I tell myself every year I'm going to do this and I never do.

As I showered this morning in preparation to go out once again to search for that perfect gift, I realized that I'll never find it. Yes, I can buy gifts my loved ones can use or think they want. They'll bring smiles to my niece or nephew's little faces and provide a few hours of entertainment, but it'll never be that perfect gift. And here's why. That perfect gift can't be purchased with money.

What is the perfect gift? What would I give if I had the power to do so? I would give peace on earth. I would do away with disease, illness, abuse, poverty, mean thoughts, pettiness, jealously, envy and all the things that create sadness. In its place, I would give laughter, joy and thanksgiving to all.

Since it's not within my power to do this, then allow me to wish it for all of mankind and most especially my Southern Magic family. May peace, joy, happiness and health follow you into the new year and beyond.

Now I'm off to find that almost perfect gift.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

So much to do and so little time








With the end of the year around the corner, I find myself having to finish up several tasks before our January chapter meeting. And that doesn't count personal and paying-job obligations. So in honor of reserving my time and in the spirit of giving, I present to you lots of eye candy.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

For writers, every day is Christmas

In celebration of her first book being published, one of my friends had a bracelet made with beads that spelled out the title and charms that represented events in the book. If I remember correctly, she got the idea from Jennifer Crusie.

What a cute idea! If I'd treated myself when my book came out, I would have gotten a bracelet like this. But the months went by. Just recently I went to Wal-mart and splurged on a $2 frame for the MAJOR CRUSH cover flat for my office.

What about you? Do you reward yourself for your writing milestones? Or is writing itself reward enough?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Grace Notes

I spent a large portion of the past week at work laying out a self-published book for my boss's brother, Robby, who is dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a horrific disease with no cure, that kills you in stages, robbing you of control of your body but leaving your mind intact.

Robby started writing columns for his local paper earlier this year. His disease has advanced to the point that he's barely able to move and speaks in guttural spurts that only his wife seems to be able to interpret, but he's managed to write a series of amusing, intriguing and heart-breaking columns on life, love, loss and the disease that's taking him inch by inch.

I look at Robby, at the strength and grace he brings to the final chapters of his life, and I feel so ashamed when I decide I just can't write today because my back is a little achy or that touch of arthritis in my fingers makes typing seem like too much to contemplate. Robby doesn't write for money or for recognition; he writes because he still has something to say about the world he lives in, and he wants to get it out before he's gone.

I'm going to buckle down this weekend and get some new pages done on my WIP, and maybe I'll even start plotting the next book I want to tackle. Because I can. Because I'm alive, and relatively healthy. Because of Robby.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What's in a Name?

How do mothers come up with names for their little munchkins? Having no children (yet) I’ve heard from friends and family that sometimes the names just hit you and they attach to your child. Other times you are grabbing at anything but nothing is sticking. Being childless, unless you count my two cats and one goldfish, I’m pushing hard to give birth to characters. Although they already have their own personalities, moods and, at times, their own language, their names are escaping me.

What about last names? Where do they come from? What about foreign names? How do you make them up? Have you ever been at a lost for a name?

Please share your ultimate wisdom.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Today is December 11. Experts say this is the worse time for depression and suicide. Thirteen days until Christmas and fifteen until my birthday. How depressing! My printer bit the dust. Have yet to hear from the job I interviewed for. I haven't heard from my query. I finished my shopping yesterday. Taylor Hicks new CD comes out today. I'm still breathing. Life is made up of the bad and the good.

Unfortunately, I'm a glass half empty type person. No matter how good things are, the bad seems to be more heart-felt. I have much to be thankful for and I do thank God every day. I guess I need to pray to be more positive.

You're wondering where the ugly comes in. That would be my new driver's license picture.

So, are you a glass half full or glass half empty person? How do you handle the bad stuff?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

That's My Nerve, and I Wish They'd Quit Hitting It!

Warning: Rant Ahead

There's an interview with Bill Bryson in the January 2007 issue of The Writer. I love his books, so I started reading the article with great anticipation, soaking up his words and storing them for future reference. I even felt a sense of encouragement when he mentioned that all published writers started as unknowns. Then this sentence, addressed to the unpublished, had me skidding to a halt: "You have a much better chance of becoming a published author than, say, a major league baseball player."

Uh...no.

A major league ball player, a nationally known nightly news anchor, a Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter, countless actresses and actors -- all have a better chance of being published than I do. And indeed, all were published before I will ever be.

[Karen kindly and gently pointed out that I just might have misinterpreted Bill Bryson's comment; i.e. that it would be easier for me to get published than for someone to become a major league baseball player. My apologies to Mr. Bryson! But I still get worked up about celebs "writing" books.]

Oh, I know the publishing companies are just trying to make a profit, and big names mean big bucks. But, dammit, it makes me mad. Writing is hard. And every time a celebrity goes on Good Morning America touting her latest bestseller, I feel as if every moment I spend in front of my computer, carefully crafting, thinking, and creating is futile.

I try to shrug it off with "Oh, well. She didn't really write the book herself" or "The poor copy editor must have had her work cut out for her." And to be honest, it hasn't stopped me from writing. It hasn't dashed my dreams. But sometimes I wonder if maybe I need to adjust my career path. I'm sure Simon & Schuster would snap up a book by the first female major league baseball player. I think Academy Sports has baseball gloves on sale this week...

Celebrities as authors: What do you think?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In Over My Head?

You know that old saying, 'Don't bite off more than you can chew'? Recently, in my wip, I've felt that way. The story started out as a simple tale of betrayal and redemption. Now it's morphed into this complex story of international intrigue and deception. Bullets are flying and people are performing heroic feats. Right now, my characters are sitting in a restaurant in Paris, waiting for me to tell them something to say. And here I am at my desk in Alabama, trying to pretend I don't see their confused and worried looks while I mutter to myself, "There's no way can I write this."

I believe it's a good story, very high concept and hopefully, someday, a doggone good read. However, I'm afraid it's more than I can handle.

So what's the solution? Give up and admit defeat? I'm not big on giving up, so I'll plug along. But I was wondering if anyone else has ever had this feeling. If so, what did you do about it? Did you overcome your doubts and fears and do it anyway? If so, how? Were you pleased with the outcome?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Linda Howard Award of Excellence


Speaking of contests. Check out this stack of entries I'm about to send to first round judges. And to think that this is over 50 sets (x2 = 100) fewer than last year. Of course, today is the last day for me to receive the mail postmarked 12/1/06. So there may be more.

Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence

I wanted to remind you that the deadline for Southern Magic's contest for pubbed authors, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, is January 15. There are so many things to love about this contest!

Our judges are avid romance readers and booksellers who can't wait to get their hands on your books! Many of them tell me they look forward to the contest all year because they find new favorite authors this way.

We have a YA category, which is a bit unusual in my experience, and a novella category. Romantic suspense is divided into series and single title. Contemporary entries are divided into short series, long series, and single title. We also have a paranormal/fantasy/futuristic/time travel category, inspirational, and historical. We offer a 50% discount on the entry fee after the first book, so if you have more than one book to enter, we're a great choice!

We welcome e-book entries if they have a 2006 copyright date and are published by a RWA-recognized publisher. E-books do NOT need to be published as print books to be entered in this contest. However, we do ask that you print your e-book like a print book, with pages printed on the front and back and bound together (e.g., Kinko's binding), for the judging process.

Please e-mail me at echolsjenn@yahoo.com with questions, and tell your friends about us. I hope I'll open a package to find your entry soon!

2007 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence

The Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, sponsored by RWA chapter Southern Magic, was conceived in honor of multi-RITA Winner Gayle Wilson to award excellence in published romance fiction. The contest is judged by avid readers of romance and booksellers. The winners of each category are awarded a gold bookmark engraved with the author’s name and the book’s title. Winners will also be included in a full-page RWR advertisement.

Eligibility: Participation is open to all published authors of novel length romance fiction published by an RWA-recognized publisher. Books must have a copyright of 2006; entries must be received by January 15, 2007. Electronic books may be entered provided they are presented in print book format, published through an RWA-recognized publisher and complete with copyright page produced by the publisher with print on both sides of the page.

Entry fee: RWA Members — $20 for first book; $10 for subsequent books.
Entry fee: Non-RWA Members — $30 for first book; $15 for subsequent books.

Author must provide three copies of the entered book, which will not be returned. Finalists will be notified approximately March 1, 2007. Winners will be announced on March 31, 2007, at the 2007 Romance in the Magic City Conference in Birmingham, AL. All finalists receive a certificate. Winners receive an engraved gold bookmark and inclusion in full page RWR ad. Authors may enter more than one novel; however, the same novel may not be entered in multiple categories.

Categories for entry:

Short Contemporary (Under 70,000 Words)
Long Contemporary (Over 70,000 Words)
Historical
Single Title Romantic Suspense
Series Romantic Suspense
Paranormal/Fantasy/ Futuristic/Time Travel
Contemporary Single Title
Young Adult
Inspirational
Novella (20,000 – 40,000 Words)

Judging: All entries are judged by avid readers of romance and booksellers. The top two scores are added to form the final score. Lowest score is dropped. In the event of a tie, ties are broken using the dropped low score.

Books are given to the judges as a “thank you” for judging. They are not returned. Scores and finalist placement are not revealed. Score sheets are not returned. The decision of the judges is final.

Send entries (three copies of book, entry form + entry fee) to:

Jennifer Echols
P.O. Box 190032
Birmingham, AL 35219

Questions?
Email: echolsjenn@yahoo.com

Find details, past winners, and a downloadable entry form at http://www.southernmagic.org.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Romantic Suspense Junkie



The top ten clues that you're a Romantic Suspense Junkie.

10. You suspect every grieving widower of having "a hand" in the death of his wife.

9. You see a report of a wreck on the interstate and shout at the television "the boyfriend did it!"

8. You believe you can solve any crime if your husband was a sexy police detective.

7. You suspect the clean-cut guy in your office of being a potential serial killer because he has "that look."

6. You eye the small sunken area in the backyard and wonder if a body is buried there.

5. You eye the small sunken area in the backyard and wonder if your husband plans to bury you there.

4. You feel a need to explain to the checkout boy that you really use the black plastic bags for leaves.

3. You leave the shower curtains open during a shower.

2. You drive past your house believing the car in the rearview mirror is tailing you.

1. You become worried that your husband is plotting your death because he’s being too nice after watching a marathon of Cold Case.

What clues have you found?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Getting back in

In September, I had about 75,000 words written on a single title romantic comedy for adults when I suddenly got a new rush deadline for a YA novel. So I had to put my sexy twenty-eight-year-old hero in deep freeze and go into teen mode. Now I've turned in my YA, and I'm trying to thaw Jacob out. Poor baby. He is s-s-so c-c-c-cold.

I know juggling projects is common in this business. Multi-pubbed authors have a due date for one book around the same time another book is released and they need to be concentrating on publicity. Or, just when they're writing the climax for one book, they get a revision letter for the last book, with the revisions due...yesterday. The ability to juggle projects is part of what makes a successful author.

I'm new to this, so I'm slowly developing some tricks to get myself back into a book I've had to set aside. First, I make a soundtrack of songs to go along with the book I'm writing. When I come back to it, I come back to the songs. Second, I cut out photos from magazines of the hero and heroine and possibly the villain, and put them on my bulletin board. When I come back to the book, the photos go back up. These audio and visual cues seem to help get me back to that place when I read the whole manuscript and my notes all the way through.

Do you have trouble manuscript-hopping? How do you outsmart yourself?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Now, for something completely different

It's December, and that means holiday parties. We writers are, by nature, not the most social of creatures sometimes, but it's hard to avoid a party or two during December. But if you're like me, you don't have the time or inclination to slave over a hot stove for hours preparing your contribution to the holiday get togethers.

So I thought for my blog contribution today, I'd give you a couple of easy recipes for party goodies to take the next time you're called upon to bring something to snack on.

First up--easy peanut butter cookies. Three ingredients, one bowl, no fuss

1 c. sugar or Splenda
1 c. peanut butter
1 egg or egg substitute

Mix until well blended. Scoop out in spoonfuls onto a cookie tin sprayed with Pam or other cooking spray. Flatten slightly with fork, making criss cross pattern if so desired. Bake at 300 degrees for 8 - 12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Cool and serve. They're crispy, rich, delicious and sooooo easy.

The next one is also super easy--it's Ranch dressing flavored oyster crackers. Take a package of oyster crackers and dump them into a large plastic zip-lock bag. (one-gallon size is ideal). Add approximately three tablespoons of oil (olive, canola, vegetable--your choice) and shake the bag to thoroughly coat the crackers with oil. Or, to cut down on the calories a bit, you can also spray them with a cooking spray. The main thing is to moisten the outside of the crackers so that the flavorings stick. Once the crackers are coated, add salt and garlic powder to taste, plus one package of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix powder. Shake again until all the crackers are coated with the flavorings, then spread the crackers on a cookie sheet or in a shallow baking dish. Bake at 300 until the crackers start to slightly brown. Remove, cool and serve in a bowl or a tin.

These also make great, easy gifts for the holidays, too.

Do you have any easy, no frills recipes to get us through the holidays without taking too much time away from our writing?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Does Length Matter?

No, not that! I'm talking about length of chapters. Short chapters make for a faster pace, but it's not unusual to have longer chapters in historicals.

In my current WIP I struggled to leave each chapter with a "hanging" ending that hopefully makes the reader want to continue reading. However, with editing and polishing, they have grown a wee bit long. So, I've decided it's time to go back through and recut my chapters. Over 60 pages in three chapters is too much.

As a reader, do you have a preference on chapter length? Does it matter with the genre or sub-genre you're reading?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Speaking of the Weather...

At the end of this week, it will be December. And in Alabama, that means we could have sunny days with temps in the 80s or brittle gray days with a wind chill of 12 -- sometimes both within the same week!

Weather has always fascinated me: I'm the one who has to go outside, with eyes peeled skyward, when our area is under a tornado warning. The Weather Channel is my favorite television station. I even watched a pro football game tonight just because it was played in a snow shower.

I've written about a river flood that strands a hero and heroine, a tornado that forces a heroine to face her fears, a blizzard that isolates a heroine in her home, and a child who disobeys her parents to save someone during a hurricane. I was cautioned by those with more experience to avoid using weather as a plot device; that it was the mark of an amateur. I tried to clean up my weather act, but it just seemed false. Don't get me wrong -- I didn't zap a villain with a lightning bolt or whip up a storm half a continent away just because I needed to delay a heroine's flight home. But come on! Life isn't all 72 degrees with a gentle breeze out of the southwest.

How do you incorporate weather into your stories without it becoming a coincidental or convenient plot device?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Great Discoveries

Lately I've been doing a lot more reading than writing. As much as I love to revisit my old favorites and relive those wonderful characters and stories, I adore finding new authors. Well, new to me anyway. It's like I've made a great discovery and I have to tell everyone about my new find.

A few months ago, I discovered a debut historical romance author that I fell in love with. Admittedly, the cover caught my eye, the back blurb sounded intriguing and so I swallowed the hook and purchased the book. I loved it. The story starts out incredibly steamy...think an Alabama August afternoon and add ten degrees. But then it turns into this incredibly sweet love story. I've read it three times, maybe four and believe it or not, still cry when it appears their love is doomed. Even though I know it ends happily, my heart still wrenches with despair. That kind of emotional turmoil just turns me inside out. The book? Passion by Lisa Valdez. Be warned, it is erotic but also an incredibly romantic story.

The other day I discovered Ann Stuart. She's not new, but she's new to me. Based upon something Carla said, I thought I'd give her a try. Wow! The characters were very complex. Now, I've got to go back and find the first one. This one was Cold As Ice. I think the first in this series is Black Ice. I'll be honest and tell you that I'm not absolutely sure that I like the main characters. However, they are incredibly complex and different from any others I've read in years. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of her books.

What about you? Have you made any great discoveries lately? If so, who are they and what's the name of the book?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Being Thankful For The Perfect Happy-Ever-After Ending

With each book I finish I find myself trying to make the last chapter just as exciting and emotional as the rest of the book. As many authors, I want the reader to enjoy the last pages, instead of skipping over paragraphs to see the last sentence. I feel the final chapter should tie up all the loose strings of the plot(s) and place a pretty bow on top of the hero and heroine’s relationship.

And a couple times I felt a need to write epilogues. You know, when you completed the last regular chapter, and the couple had sworn their undying devotion to each other immediately after killing or locking up the villain. When I wrap up the story with a quick BANG at the end, I feel a need to show the happy couple some days or months later.

The reason I’m blogging about this is that I read several books lately that struggled with their endings. I caught myself skipping the final love scenes -- seen that, been there -- or the long drawn out "I love you" "No, I love you more" scenes. Or they decide to rehash the last few chapters in the final scene of the last chapter. Borinnng! I was paying attention, folks!

So tell me about the endings that you loved or detest. And to keep in with the holiday, let me know what authors, published and unpublished, you’re thankful for their help, encouragement and just plain ole being there for you.

Myself...I’m thankful for Kelley St. John for helping me in so many ways that I cannot even begin to recite, Debbie Matthews for hanging in there and reading some of my worse WIPs, for Elena Pedri who listened to my rants and still likes me, for Christy Reece who gives me some of the best suggestions for my WIPs and the best VP a chapter president could have, for Susan Gail and Larry Keyser who works so hard for Southern Magic and a joy to be around, for every member of Southern Magic that volunteers to help at each of our functions -- couldn’t do it without you -- and for the published authors that support Southern Magic by participating in the Romance Readers Luncheon every year. I’m so thankful to know YOU.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Good news and bad news


Good news: I sent my latest novel to my agent this morning.

Bad news: My house looks like I've been working hard on a novel. And my in-laws are coming tomorrow.

In other words, I do not have any eye-hurting brilliance left to blog this afternoon, and I need to trade in my keyboard for a sponge and a bottle of 409. Here's hoping we can all find some balance (and some time to write) this holiday weekend!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Bad Case of the Don't-Wannas

I'm in a terrible place for a writer---smack-dab in the middle of the Don't-Wannas. Don't wanna write. Don't wanna research. Don't wanna plot. Don't wanna do anything but play solitaire, read blogs, hang out on message boards and sleep. Maybe it's the recent change from Daylight Savings Time to regular time, or the colder weather, or the impending madness of the holidays, but whatever the reason, I'm having terrible trouble getting my mind into writing. I'm waiting to hear from my editor about line edits on the most recently purchased book and her thought on the partial of book three, and for some reason, the writing part of my brain seems to think that's permission to be a complete slug.

I can't be the only person this happens to. But if you're looking for me to come up with good advice about how to get out of it, you're out of luck. Instead, why don't y'all share some of your sure cures for the Don't-Wannas?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Memorable Male Looks

JoAnn blogged about memorable kisses, but what about looks. That way a man looks at a woman when he knows for the first time he wants her. For me, there is one memorable "look" from the movie HAREM. First, a synopsis about the movie--

From imdb.com: Jessica, a young British girl (Nancy Travis), goes off to Arabia with her father to be with her fiancée (Julian Sands) when he's called there suddenly on diplomatic duty. On a tourist journey she's kidnapped by what appears to be a Beduion tribe and sold into the harem of the Sultan (Omar Shariff). The man that took her captive (Art Malik) is not actually a Beduion but an Oxford educated revolutionary who traded Jessica for the release of his friends from the Sultan's prison. As her fiancée struggles to free her from the harem he inadvertently hires the very man who put her there to get her out. Meanwhile, Jessica is fending of the Sultan's advances and coming to know a new way of life. Romance, political intrigue, and the jealousies of the harem all threaten Jessica's narrow view of the world. If she escapes will she actually be able to return to life in Victorian England?

When Art Malik's character goes to retrieve her, he enters as an eunuch. His first sighting is as she's being carried into the sultan for the first time. The look on his face is so-- Excuse me, while I fan myself. Erotic. So much is written into his face without uttering a word. Without touching her. And no, Carla, he doesn't go through the procedure to actually be a eunuch.

Any male looks that make you go up in flames?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kissin' Tells (or Rather, Shows)


I first saw this magazine advertisement when I was a sophomore in college and an avid reader of Glamour magazine. The illustration still takes my breath away today. I love to imagine the scene just a moment before, when the violinist makes the decision to finally act on his passion. You know it's the first time they've kissed, and more than likely, it won't be the last.

There are two first kisses from movies that I love to watch over and over when I want to be inspired. They never fail me. The "explosion of passion" version is from The Last of the Mohicans; the scene where Hawkeye and Cora search for each other among the throngs in the fort. When their eyes meet, he simply takes her hand and leads her to a secluded spot. Oh, man--I get chills every single time. Powerful!

The other (the "smoldering burn" version) is from a little-known movie called Dear Frankie. The Stranger (Gerard Butler) puts Lizzie's son to bed and then he and Lizzie walk to the door. They stand, and slowly their faces draw closer and closer. It's agony! I want to screech "Kiss her already!" But it's a delicious agony, and when he does, I just sigh and hit rewind to put myself through it again.

What are your favorite movie kisses that you love to watch over and over for inspiration?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reading But Not Writing

I love all kinds of romances. If the basic elements of romance are there, no matter what time period, I'm a sucker for a good love story. But like everyone, I do have my preferences.

I write contemporary romances, with quite a lot of sizzle, a little bit of suspense and some humor. I feel comfortable writing contemporaries. It seems natural and right, a good fit for me and I do love to read them. But contemporaries are not my absolute favorite read. I devour historicals like chocolate ice cream. As a teen, I fell in love with Kathleen Woodwiss' The Flame and the Flower, then later on discovered Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, Andrea Kane, Nicole Jordan and so many more I can't begin to name them all.

So, why do I write in one time period but actually love to read in another? I don't know. I've never tried writing a historical and have no real desire to try. I just know that I love reading them.

What about you. Do you write in one sub-genre but really love another one?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest

**PERMISSION TO FORWARD GRANTED AND APPRECIATED**

Southern Magic, the Birmingham Chapter of Romance Writers of America®, is pleased to announce its 2nd Annual Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest for unpublished writers.

Enter: Up to first twenty-five pages
Fee: $20-$25

Deadline: Postmarked on or before December 1, 2006
Eligibility: RWA Published (see rules) & Unpublished Authors
Judges: Published, PRO, all trained or experienced in judging

Top Prize: Engraved Silver-type Bookmark and winners will be announced at the Southern Magic's Romance in the Magic City conference.

Categories/final judges:

Series Contemporary: Susan Litman, Assoc. Editor, Silhouette
Single Title: Abby Zidle, Editor, HQN
Suspense: Devi Pillai, Assoc. Editor, Warner
Historical: Alicia Condon, VP, Editorial Director, Dorchester
Unique Genres: Selena James, Exec. Editor, Kensington
Romantic Sensual & Sizzling: Brenda Chin, Assoc. Editor, Harlequin

***Note that synopsis is required of finalists***

For entry form, score sheet, and rules, visit our website at http://www.southernmagic.org/, or send email to carlaswafford@charter.net

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pick Your Vice


Every night I sit at my desk and try to make myself write. But I find ten thousand other things to do. From answering emails about our chapter contest to promoting the luncheon to playing Pop-It. Most of today, I knew I needed to write this blog, but found myself downloading pictures off my camera, chasing wasps, looking for something to eat, and contemplating cleaning my desk. It’s a mess. See. If I had widened the frame a little you would have seen a stack of books to one side. Part of my to-read-pile.

I have a love-hate relationship with writing. I love to read the finished product, but hate how slow I write, how I doubt every word I place on paper, and how my vocabulary fails me most times. When I play Spider Solitaire or Pop-It, I can forget all my worries and mindlessly click on cards or balloons in a game induced daze.

My questions are, what do you like to do to waste time (besides answering this blog)? And more important, how do you organize your desk?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Here they come

As the holidays approach, a lot of writers are probably thinking of taking a vacation from their writing. Maybe they consider their writing work and want to take a break from work, like everybody else. Or maybe they consider their writing a hobby, and they have no time for hobbies while they’re cooking for the family (a foreign concept to me, but I understand that some people do this).

I won’t be taking a vacation, for a couple of reasons. I have deadlines to meet—and deadlines make me happy! Also, I find the frenetic pace of the holidays winds up my brain and feeds my writing. While the rest of the clan lies slack in the La-Z-Boys in a tryptophan-induced slumber, you can bet you’ll find me outside in the sunshine, scribbling madly.

In January, when everyone hunkers down and gets back to work—that’s when you’ll typically find me reading a lot and sleeping late due to exhaustion and vitamin D deficiency. I’ll try not to let that happen this time around. Reading is fine, but I need to get one of those special lamps to avoid seasonal depression. I’m so much happier when I’m writing.

How about you? Does Thanksgiving signal putting on the brakes or full steam ahead for your writing?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Writing to a Soundtrack

I thought I'd bring out an oldie but goodie topic---writing to a soundtrack. Do you do it? I do. At least, I usually create a playlist for my computer and a compilation CD to play in my car when I'm working on a book. I try to pick music that captures the mood and theme of my story, or reminds me in some way of my characters. I don't always write to the music, but I like to surround myself with it to keep me in the mood for writing.

My current WIP has a couple of emotionally-wounded characters and so a lot of the songs on my playlist are melancholy. I've written other books where I went for a creepier vibe or a more romantic vibe. The playlist for my August 2007 release, FORBIDDEN TEMPTATION, featured a lot of songs about alienation, because both my heroine and my hero were alienated in some way from their family and friends.

What's on your book's soundtrack?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting...my way ;)

Okay, it's voting day. And while you're already in voting mode as you head to the polls, I thought you'd also like to have a little fun voting online as well.

So, here's Kelley's poll for the day...

The following photos were used for various heroes in my current and upcoming releases. Choose your favorite.


Blaine Wilson - Bill from Good Girls Don't
~ December 2005















Jude Law - Ethan from Real Women Don't Wear Size 2
~ September 2006

















Hugh Jackmann - Ryan from Kiss and Dwell
~ to be released May 2007
















Viggo Mortensen - Gage from Ghosts and Roses
~ to be released July 2007
















Jake Gyllenhaal - Dax from Shiver and Spice
~ to be released September 2007

















As I said, today is voting day :) So vote for your favorite! I'm eager to see who wins this election!

Kelley

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Wonderful Day!

Yesterday, November 4, the Southern Magic Chapter held our 3rd Annual Readers' Luncheon at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham. Teresa Medeiros was the keynote speaker. She was wonderful, of course. Carla and the other ladies did a great job. As usual, I did not win one raffle. I am the unluckiest person around. Apparently, the readers enjoy the day, because the same ones return year after year as well as attending our sister chapter's (Heart of Dixie) readers' luncheon in May.

The energy of the readers' luncheon is indescribable. Over a hundred women and men brought together by their love of books and reading.

What's your favorite part of the luncheon?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ha! I'll Show Them!

Last week I blogged about the nicest thing anyone ever said about my writing. I don't know about you but I need to hear those things, because doggone-it, they're few and far between. They often keep me going when I think about giving up.

I'll admit that I've been pretty lucky when it comes to constructive criticism of my writing. Most people have either been incredibly kind or possibly very good liars. I don't try to analyze why they said what they said. I usually smile gratefully and move away quickly, hoping they won't change their minds.

But what about the ones who aren't so kind or even constructive? What about the ones who are just downright mean? Yep, they're out there folks and if you've not run into them yet, well...good for you.

I will admit that when I run into a not so nice critic who says something disparaging about my work or writing, it usually ticks me off so badly, I get in a, "Ha! I'll show you," mood. And what do I do? I make myself do better. Whatever the comment was, I take it apart, examine it, ask myself if there is truth in it and if there is, I do my dead level best to improve. Of course, this is after much chocolate, a few swear words and yes, sometimes a few tears.

The nice comments are wonderful to hear, but I'll admit, it's the criticism, constructive and sometimes just plain cruel that make me work harder.

The most hurtful comment anyone ever gave me? A fellow writer told me I was a good writer but not a good story teller. Ticked me off but good. Though I still think she could have told me in a much more tactful way, it forced me to take a good, hard look at my work and hopefully improve.

So what about you? What was your "Ha! I'll show them," comment?

November Release

Check out best-selling Linda Howard's newest.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Writer's Best and Worst Tool

Over the years, especially since 1998, I've become dependent on the internet. I read and send emails (hundreds a day as a lot of my paying job involves corresponding that way), read blogs, and research in the internet.

Though you have to be careful what information you use from the wide world web, you can find a website for almost everything. It's wonderful.

But as with all things, it has a bad side. Before you know it hours have passed and I've not written one productive word. I mean productive as in words in a manuscript. You know, as in completing a book.

With that said, let me give you some of my favorite sites.

Your Dictionary - 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English.
This is so cool. I hadn't realized I pronounced most of these words correctly. I always worry about that. Stuttering as a child, especially for one that loved to talk, was rough and made me work hard on my pronunciation.

Quoteland.com
I'm editor of another chapter's newsletter and I've found this to be helpful. Plus occasionally I'll need it for a WIP. It's so much fun to see what you can come up with. For example, "Surfing on the Internet is like sex; everyone boasts about doing more than they actually do. But in the case of the Internet, it's a lot more." Tom Fasulo

WORDORIGINS.ORG
I believe Deborah Matthews found this one for me. Only writers would get a kick out of finding out how a word came to being.

See what I mean. Such great info, but if you're not careful so much time can be eaten up by nothing.

What about you? Where do you like to hang out on the internet and wast...uh...search important information?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A query about queries

Today at the meeting, Rick asked me what bio info I put in the query letter that got me an agent. I promised I'd post the letter. Here it is, with some explanation:

I saw on publishersmarketplace.com and your web site that you have made many recent sales of single title romances. I thought you might be interested in YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART, a single title romantic comedy of about 98,000 words. This novel is complete, and I have not submitted it to publishers.

[In actuality, I would tailor that paragraph to say exactly what the agent had sold that made me think he or she might like my novel too. You absolutely must do this. Your research on the agent should happen before you query the agent, not after the agent offers you representation. If you have two offers, of course you must weigh them against each other. But you shouldn't query anyone you're not almost positive you'd want to represent you. That would be a waste of your time and theirs.]

As a record company’s top agent in public relations crisis management, i.e., babysitter to the stars, SARAH SEVILLE just spent nine months in Rio trying to keep rock singer Nine Lives out of jail long enough to record his new album--and barely succeeded. Now she needs a triumphant success so that she can claim her promotion in the New York-based job she loves. Trouble is, her new assignment is to prevent the breakup of the raucous country band the Cheatin’ Hearts, headed by sexy QUENTIN COX. As she edges closer to Quentin, she discovers layers of secrets. It seems Quentin is taking the spin doctor for a spin.

The Cheatin’ Hearts have stayed on top of the charts two years following three rules. Rule One, no sex with other band members. Rule Two, no sex with reporters. Rule Three, no sex with record company spies. Quentin figures he’d better follow the rules, because he made them. And because if you break a rule, you’re out of the band. But he can’t resist this beautiful pink-haired girl, and inevitably he breaks Rule Three with hot Sarah Seville. As he falls for her, he finds out that she has plenty of secrets of her own, and one of them comes knocking on her door: what really happened to her in Rio.

[Two-paragraph summary of the book, styled like back cover copy.]

I’m a PRO member of Romance Writers of America. YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART is my ninth completed manuscript. I am a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and composition at the University of Louisville, and I have taught writing at Louisville, the University of Kentucky, and Auburn University. I have also edited and written for numerous newspapers and professional journals. I now live in Atlanta, where I work as a freelance copy editor for medical publications.

[If I had to do this over again, I would compose this paragraph as carefully as I composed the paragraphs about my book. I also might take out the "ninth completed manuscript" part. I think the jury is still out on whether this makes me look like a Dedicated Writer or a Loser. But in general, you want to list anything you've done that lets the agent know you can be the professional writer publishers need.]

Please find a SASE enclosed for your response. Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Please share your successful letters! Or if you have questions about your query, maybe we can help you. Post the parts that are giving you trouble.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Meanie Weanie

Let's look at the opposite of Christy's blog. Luckily, I've never had anyone say anything mean or nasty to me about writing romance. At least not to my face. I know authors who do get mean things said to them. Sometimes the person may not even knowing what they say is hurtful. Or have someone grab your book and read just the lovemaking part and laugh. Are they jealous or just trying to be witty? Violence is not a good response to these people.

Miss Snark's June 9 blog had some interesting suggestions to the "When are you going to write a real book?" question. http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2006_06_04_misssnark_archive.html

Even Dear Abby got into the act in her Sept. 2 column http://www.uexpress.com/dearabby/index.html?uc_full_date=20060902 , but she responded to the letters she received and admitted she hadn't read a romance in years.
http://www.uexpress.com/dearabby/index.html?uc_full_date=20061019

Susan Combs, who wrote one romance novel in the '90s, is being called a pornographer by her opponent in the Texas Comptroller race. Fred has excerpts on his web site. You can guess what parts of the book he's posted. But if he really thinks her book is pornography, doesn't posting the excerpts on his web site make him a purveyor of pornography?

Has anyone ever said anything mean or hurtful to you about your chosen genre? If so, how did you handle it?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Word Nerd


When my husband and I started dating, one of the first things I learned about him was that he loved board games. This did not thrill me, as I have never, ever won at Monopoly, backgammon, or even Candyland. Of course, he beat me at any and all games that involved strategy, money, and world takeovers. One thing saved the relationship: I could chew him up and spit him out at Scrabble.

I have always loved words. I bet I was the only kid in all 12 years of primary and secondary school who adored vocab. My favorite words – discombobulated, loquacious, and pithy – come from those lists. I don’t think I’ve ever used any of them in my writing or even in conversation (and certainly never in the same sentence), but if I ever do, the feat will give me great pleasure.

Hmmm…

"Discombobulated, Eleanor stumbled into the senator, whose loquacious demeanor belied the pithy speech he had just given."

Okay, it’s not Faulkner, I know. But it was fun trying.

What are your favorite words?

JoAnn Weatherly

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Reminder about our Wonderful Luncheon!


***Permission granted to forward***

Come and join us at the Wynfrey Hotel (http://www.wynfrey.com/) on November 4, 2006,
Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Southern Magic presents NYT best selling Teresa Medeiros
and welcome speaker Harlequin/Silhouette author Lyn Stone.

Over twenty romance authors will be in attendance along with
Kay Stockham, Gayle Wilson, Debra Webb, and Linda Winstead Jones.
To see the complete list go to www.southernmagic.org/smrl2006.html .

Door prizes!!
Be prepared to purchase raffles for chances at baskets loaded with books
along with the popular Get Your Name In a Book!

A Book Signing (open to the public) will follow the luncheon.
Registration: $25 ($20 for S-M Members)

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Nicest Thing

I have to admit, sometimes I get down. I wonder if I'll ever see my book on a bookstore shelf, attend a booksigning as an author or see my book for sale on Amazon. Yes, I know there are still problems and disappointments after publication, but even knowing that, it's still what I want and what I'm working toward.

To keep me going in my darkest days, when my dreams seem more and more out of reach, I sometimes review nice things people have said about my writing. That old fragile ego just has to have some strokes and believe it or not, chocolate doesn't always work. The "I couldn't put your entry down," and "you've got a gift" for this or that, is extremely nice and I would pay money for people to tell me this all day long. But when I think back on the nicest, most rewarding and uplifting thing anyone has ever said to me about my writing, I have to choose a comment by a young college student I used to work with in Indiana. She was in her third year of college and fairly new to reading romance. One day, she asked if she could read one of my manuscripts. Me, being the shy, introverted, modest person that I am, said, "Absolutely! I'll go home and get it for you right now."

I was on pins and needles the entire weekend, just knowing she was laughing up a storm. Yes, I'm also insecure. When I saw her on Monday, she told me she was mad at me because she stayed up all night reading my book instead of studying. Well, that was a nice thing to say, but I also know that when I was in college, I would sometimes rather read a cereal box than study, so I didn't take that too much to heart. But weeks later, just in a casual conversation, she told me during Thanksgiving dinner with her family, they sat around and talked about the most memorable characters in books they'd read that year. Ones that had a major impact on them. She chose my heroine in my book as the most memorable character she'd read that year. The poor girl was somewhat startled when tears sprang to my eyes and I threw my arms around her. I don't think she anticipated what that statement meant to me.

I know that we learn more from constructive criticism than we do from compliments, but sometimes, it's so nice to know that you've touched someone or entertained them. Just remembering those comments often keeps me going.

What about you? Will you share the nicest, most uplifting comment someone said about your writing. Come on, it doesn't hurt to brag a little.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

And the story continues...

In the 1970s, the trend started for movies to continue a story until you had numerous parts. Such as Star Wars, Part IV, V, VI and then Part I, II, III. And soon we will have another Rocky movie. Is that number 8 or 9?

Then in the 1980s, I started to see books doing the same. Sometimes you would have the same hero and heroine, but more often you would have stories from the previous secondary characters' POV.

Now, myself, I like the secondary character stories, though I always had problems with having the hero and heroine in more than one book. I don’t know why, but when I read their story and come to the end, I want to think they are happy and no more problems will come their way. So give me the secondary characters, and leave the original hero and heroine alone.

And from what I’ve seen in readers’ websites, they love the secondary character stories, too. They want to know everybody in every book is happy. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the "good" ones. Even the villains, if they live, need a resolution and be saved from themselves.

The only problems I have with some secondary character books are when the previous hero and heroine show up and almost take over the book. Or the author feels compelled to tell you about the other story and the role the now hero or heroine played. Usually too much unnecessary back story.

Do you have problems with continuing books? Secondary characters? Or series?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Location, location, location

I’m more than halfway through my new YA due December 1--actually, I hope to finish it on Halloween. Scary! I’m not writing any faster than I usually do. I’m not sure I’d be able to speed the process up if I tried. When I “write,” it’s about 10% pen to paper and 90% staring into space.

What I have done in order to meet this deadline is cut out all the procrastination, such as blogging *cough*. Also, I can’t have my regularly scheduled nervous breakdown for this book. There’s no time! And I need to play every trick I know on myself to keep myself from getting blocked.

One of my favorite tricks is changing the location where I write. I write a lot at home, of course, but there are several problems with this. There’s a computer with the Internet on it. There’s housework (and contrary to popular belief, I do do some of this). Lately when my husband has the day off at home between business trips, he feels compelled to fire up the power drill and/or the bandsaw. But most importantly, I’m staring at the same four walls I’ve been staring at for the last few books. A change of scenery is an instant brainstorm for me.

So, besides my daily jog (I’m training for the Vulcan Run on November 4, and I’m up to 4 miles; again, *cough*), I try to get out of the house while my son is at school, armed only with a printout of my writing so far, a pen and notebook, and my iPod to ward off the loud conversations and Frank Sinatra songs that sometimes prove distracting at Starbucks.

The Starbucks in Vestavia Hills has figured out who I am. I’ve been there enough in the past few weeks that I’m a “regular.” They finally asked if I’m a writer, and I had to tell them the truth about my book, since I discovered when I was a teenager that I’m a really bad liar. So, always preferring the incognito, I have switched to the Starbucks in Homewood. I’ve also had success writing at the Vestavia Hills library and at Central Park in Homewood, watching the skateboarders (and, I’m sure, getting a reputation as “creepy writer lady”). All of this may shift several more times before Halloween. I wrote a large portion of MAJOR CRUSH while working out on the elliptical machine at the YMCA.

Where do you write?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Southern Magic Author Website Spotlight

Go check out Rhonda Nelson's website and in particular her blog. She's a hoot and her books are hot!

http://www.readrhondanelson.com/blog/


Hey, it's turning out to be a Rhonda Nelson month.

Monday, October 16, 2006

To Heck with the Rules

I have a new litany. THERE ARE NO RULES! In writing that is. I'm amazed that we've come to a point where some writers say or imply that there are a set of rules writers must follow. As if their way is the only way. The only rule is to write a good book.

You probably have heard them as well. They include: The hero/heroine meeting in a certain amount of time. Only one point of view (POV) per scene. No prologue or epilogue. No sports heros. Never use was. And some contest judges feel compelled to use these rules when judging contests.

All books are not round pegs, but some seem to want to force all into a round hole. Editors want good books. Period!

Now, I'm not advocating not thinking about your manuscript. Certain things may keep the editor from getting to your wonderful prose. Things like a lot of typos or a hard to read manuscript. Or a failure to interest her/him at the outset of your manuscript.

So, what "rules" do you trample underfoot in your writing?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Nora's Town

A few weeks ago, I visited a place I had never been before yet knew intimately. Even though I couldn't pronounce its name, its most famous inhabitants -- Maggie Concannon, Rogan Sweeney, Brianna Concannon, Grayson Thane, Shannon Bodine, Murphy Muldoon -- are almost as dear to me as my own family members. It's called Kilmihil, in County Clare, Ireland.

Devoted Nora Roberts fans will recognize it as the tiny village that the larger-than-life characters of her "Born In" series call home. Born in Fire was the book that swept me off my feet, scooped me up, and carried me across the threshold into the extraordinary world of romantic fiction.

When my husband and I had the opportunity to spend a Saturday exploring the Shannon River region of Counties Limerick and Clare, I timidly asked him if we could go to Kilmihil. "We don't have to stop or anything; I'd just like to drive through it," I said. Frankly, I was worried. What if it wasn't what I had envisioned when I had become completely immersed in Nora Roberts's story? What if a gigantic billboard announced "Welcome to Kilmihil -- Home of the Concannon Sisters!" or Murphy Muldoon lookalikes wandered the streets signing autographs?

But I needn't have worried. It was exactly as I had imagined it. Neat storefronts lined a quiet, narrow street. A few villagers intent on their business dodged the parked cars pulled halfway up onto the sidewalks. The small petrol station sat deserted; no customers qued up for gas.

Still, my uneasiness didn't go away. Why did I feel so stupidly hesitant? I suddenly realized that it was because, well, this was Nora's town. I was a trespasser, an intruder. I fully expected someone to point a finger at me and say "Hey, you there -- you Nora Roberts wannabe! What makes you think you can walk these streets! Go away! You don't belong here!"

My husband had other, less insane ideas. "Let's stop for lunch," he said. Before I could protest, he had pulled the car up on the sidewalk, hopped out, and was standing at the entrance to The Fiddle Head pub. I took a deep breath and followed him in. No turning back now.

It's amazing how a pint of Guinness, a bowl of potato-and-leek soup, and homemade soda bread will vanquish fears. My sighs of delicious contentment must have been audible, because one of the older gentlemen at the bar turned and smiled at me. "Did you enjoy your meal, then?" he asked. I nodded, my mouth still full of bread and butter. He picked up his pint and walked to our table. "Are you on holiday?" he said. I had stuffed another piece of bread in my mouth, so my husband answered. "Yes, in a sense. Our daughter is studying traditional Irish dance at the University of Limerick, and we've just brought her over to get settled in." His face lit up. "Oh, is she now! I was All-Ireland Irish dance champion in my day!" he said, and struck a dance pose. The last of my shyness disappeared. He introduced us to others at the bar, and soon we were chatting, discovering almost-family connections, and having some laughs.

Later as we drove away, my husband said, "Now aren't you glad we stopped?" I could only smile.

And guess what. Kilmihil may be Nora's town, but she's gonna have to share it with me.

JoAnn Weatherly

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Southern Magic author's October release


Be sure to check out Rhonda Nelson's newest.
Another wonderful Southern Magic author.

From Harlequin's website:
Former Ranger Guy McCann has built a reputation for pulling off the impossible. There's never been anyone who's dared more, done more…. Still, he's nervous when his former commander, Colonel Garrett, calls in his "favor." The last two guys who paid ended up married! But that's not about to happen to this Guy….
Special Forces training instructor Julia Beckham knows she's a little uptight…but she's trying to fix that. And who better to help her loosen up than her new partner, legendary maverick Guy McCann? She knows Guy's in a hurry to move on and leave the military behind him. But he can't do that until she decides to let him out of her bed….

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pushing Your Agenda or Alienating Readers

How far is too far? With mid-term elections coming up and tempers rising faster than my blood pressure when I see pictures of Hugh Jackman or The Rock...sigh... Uh, sorry, lost my train of thought. With so much controversy now and, lets face it, always, how far do we want to push our own agenda?

I'll be honest, I've read a few books, articles and even posts on different loops that so irritated me, I've stopped buying a particular author's work. Is that narrow minded of me? Probably, but I'm only human. If someone's particular view on politics, religion or even some non-controversial subject offends me, I'm less likely to buy their work in the future.

No, I don't expect people to think like me and heaven knows, I'm wrong many more times than I'm right. But neither do I want a particular's authors view of controversial subjects thrown at me. I want a good story, not their political views. Even if I happen to agree with them, I don't think it's appropriate. It pulls me from the story.

As writers, we walk a fine line to stay neutral and never offend anyone. I don't think that's even possible. Even though we're writing fiction, we have to keep the story as believable as possible and therefore, someone will always disagree with something we've said. I'm sure, though I'm not published, that I've offended one or more persons in my writing, for one reason or another, without meaning to. But controversial subjects that we all seem to have strong opinions on, I steer clear of and greatly appreciate others who do the same.

What about you? Does reading an author's work where you can clearly see their particular views are being pushed offend you, or do you overlook those issues? How do you keep your own views out of your work, or do you even worry about that?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Love Those Bad Boys! But What is Too Bad?


Not too long ago, I won a critique from a well-known author and when I received her comments back, I had expected some deep insights on the pluses and minuses of my WIP. She didn’t let me down. Some I agreed with and some I didn’t. One that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on was whether or not my hero was redeemable.

I’m sure you’re wondering what did he do that was so terrible? He was an assassin. No. He wasn’t CIA. Nope. Not even a secret agent of any type. He was a hitman. A hired gun. A bad man.

As a young man, others had realized how talented he was with a rifle. Circumstances push him into using that skill to make a living until the day he receives a contract to kill his dad. No way can he do that! His love-hate relationship with his dad never meant he wanted the old man dead. Weighed down with guilt from his past lethal jobs, he decides to end his life by allowing his enemies to catch up with him. Before they discover his location, he meets the heroine. An introvert living on the edge of life, she needs a man to show her how sexy she truly was beneath her baggy clothes. He figures he’s the man for job. Besides, he owes the fates one good deed before he dies.

Think of My Fair Lady meets the Sopranos.

Anyway, I believe he’s redeemable. By pointing out the men he’d killed had been drug pushers (contracts from other drug pushers) and other scum of the earth. Plus he never kills once he meets the heroine. I refused to take the easy way out by giving him a badge.

I guess the reason I feel he’s redeemable is all based on my faith. My faith teaches me that everyone is redeemable once they’ve learned the errors of their ways. Along with a couple of other important points I won’t get into as this blog is for writing.

So my questions are: Do you still love bad boys? How bad is too bad? What is your favorite type of bad boy?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Dark Side

Even though he’s never seen Star Wars, my 5-year-old wants to be Darth Vader for Halloween. He’s taken to drawing pictures of Darth Vader at school, frightening the kindergarten teacher. This is no surprise to me. He’s inherited my Dark Side. Everybody who knows me knows I have a dark, dark soul.

I’m supposed to be writing teen romantic comedy here, but two recent reviewers have said MAJOR CRUSH is surprisingly dark for its cartoon cover. My publisher turned down the book I wrote as a follow-up because it was darker still. They wanted me to write another book for the cartoon cover series. And now I’m second-guessing myself, wondering if I’m leading these new characters down the same path of eeeeeeeeeeevil.

Actually, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a lot of darkness in comedy, even romantic comedy, even teen romantic comedy. Characters can have heavy hardships in their pasts and the book can still be funny. Deb Dixon said so at our workshop!

But here’s the problem I’m having. In another book in the same series as MAJOR CRUSH, Aimee Friedman’s A NOVEL IDEA, a chicklet finds love when she starts a reading group. Near the happy ending, the narrator says reading the same author over and over is like visiting an old friend. So the second book I write needs to be close enough in tone to the first book that readers think the same old friend wrote it! And even though there are twelve writers producing books for the MAJOR CRUSH/A NOVEL IDEA series, readers have some expectation the same old friend is writing all of them.

I’m not sure how to solve my problem with darkness, except to keep it in the back of my mind along with the other 1,238,490 things I need to keep there when writing any novel. Because if I really tried to write a lighter book, I would be breaking what I consider the most important rule of all: Write the book you want to read.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Does Age Matter?

Over the last two months I've been to more doctors and been prodded more than I have in years. They seem to throw the reference of my age around a lot.

Several years ago because of my age and family history I started having a mammogram yearly. "At my age" I now needed a colonoscopy as well as a bone density test.

With my recent move, I've had to acquire all new doctors, which hasn't been fun. Though, the female gynecologist is more thorough than my old one. Yesterday I had a D&C to check out a problem.

You're probably thinking this is TMI. But it got me to thinking about the age of our heroines. They tend to be young in the majority of books. Occasionally, you see a book where the heroine is older, but not real often. The heroines I write for my Regency historicals tend to be on the younger side and inexperienced, yet eager to learn when they meet the hero.

They say age matters in fine wine. You can't have good sauerkraut without letting the cabbage age. A new love is no less exciting with age. So, why does heroines tend to be younger? Or maybe it's just because I'm older they seem young.

What age heroines do you write and why? Does she resemble you and your life experiences? Or is she younger? More inexperienced?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What Drives You Crazy?

As writers, we strive for perfection, though most times we don't make it. I know I never have. Even in published books, there are mistakes that weren't caught. Sometimes, as a reader, they're easy to see and we wonder why they weren't caught before publication. Simple human error.

What about those things that were actually intended though? Those things that, for whatever reason, the author and publisher deemed fine, but as a reader, it drives you bonkers? I just read a book by one of my favorite authors. Normally, I love her writing, but her dialogue this time almost drove me to put it down and stop reading. Her characters continually said "okay". This is normal speech and I say it a lot myself. However, repeated over and over again in dialogue seemed awkward and affected. And, to make matters much worse, or at least to me, okay was spelled OK. Yikes! That's like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Of course, what drives one reader crazy, is perfectly acceptable or invisible to another reader. Everyone seems to have their own hot button. And everyone seems to have their own favorite(s) in their own writing that keeps getting said over and over. I have a tendency to write, 'the fact of the matter' a lot. Weird, huh?

What about you? What's your hot button when you're reading? What do you hate to see or what pulls you from the story? Also, what about your own writing? What are your 'demon' words or phrases you have to watch out for?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A change in the Romance Readers Luncheon

I have sad news. Sherrilyn Kenyon had to cancel her trip to Birmingham for the luncheon. She wanted everyone to know this was a hard decision - in fact, this is the first time she's cancelled with anyone. St. Martins asked her to participate in a charity signing in Louisiana for the hurricane victims that same weekend.

I told her that everyone would understand her decision and that we're glad we can still get her for the conference next year. (Have to look at the bright side, heh?)

Besides, we still have Teresa, Lyn, Gayle, Deb, Rhonda, Bonnie, Jennifer, Paula, Giselle, Kathleen, Kelley...

You get the idea. :-)

Be sure to come and enjoy the Romance Readers Luncheon. So many "old" friends to chat with and new ones to meet.

Come and join us at the Wynfrey Hotel (http://www.wynfrey.com/) on
November 4, 2006,
Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Southern Magic presents NYT best selling Teresa Medeiros
and welcome speaker Harlequin/Silhouette author Lyn Stone.

Over twenty romance authors will be in attendance along with
Gayle Wilson, Debra Webb, Rita Herron and
Linda Winstead Jones and many more.
To see the complete list go to www.southernmagic.org/smrl2006.html

Door prizes!!
Be prepared to purchase raffles for chances at baskets loaded with books
along with the popular Get Your Name In a Book!

A Book Signing (open to the public) will follow the luncheon.
Registration: $25 ($20 for S-M Members)

Monday, October 02, 2006

What is the next fad in romance?


When it comes to writing, everyone wants to know what’s the next big thing. I wish I could tell you. I do know that I might be writing it. Or you might be writing it. Or someone may have already written it.

No. I’m not psychic. No. I’m not some business genius. I’m observant and this is what I believe is happening.

I do know that paranormal isn’t finished yet. I believe that vampires, unless it’s completely different, are waning. That’s sad for me, since I love vampires, but the books I’ve read and seen lately often do not hold my interest. Nothing wrong with them overall, they just don’t get me excited about reading more. But remember that there are more aspects to paranormal we can explore. Some that may surprise us to the point, we wish we had thought of it.

I do know that romantic suspense is still selling strong. But I have several non-writing friends (yes, really) that love romantic suspense, but they admit that they’re becoming burnt out on serial killers and women who are too brave for their own good. I believe that you will see a few more years of romantic suspense before a new verison of romantic suspense takes its place. What is that? I have no idea. I will say that everyone loves a mystery. But like I said, I’m no psychic.

We already see chicklit evolving into a new genre with lasting appeal. Young adult books I believe will become stronger and bring in new readers. I’m happy to hear westerns are making a comeback. I miss the gunslingers. We see Regencies have evolved into longer and sexier reads. It might be a while, but I believe medievals will come back strong again. Of course, that might be more hopeful-wishing on my part.

Do you want to write the next fad? Then start reading everything. I don’t mean just current fiction. Read some current and past history. You will be surprised how many ideas out there are waiting for your own personal stamp.

Now if only I could figure out the stock market...

What fads do you see fading or becoming strong?

P.S. I thought I would share with you a picture I took in Alaska two years ago.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Once again, a Southern Magic author made the finals


Congratulations, Debra Webb!!! Her book, The Enforcers: John Doe on Her Doorstep, is a finalist in Georgia Romance Writers' 2006 Maggies for published authors, Long Contemporary category. Click on the book to purchase.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

2007 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence contest for pubbed authors

I received a biiiiiiiiig package in the mail last week. You know what THAT means. I'm the contest coordinator, and it's Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence season!

Some of the things people love about our contest are the Young Adult category, the Novella category, and the fact that romantic suspense is divided into two categories: Single Title Romantic Suspense and Series Romantic Suspense. I hope you'll enter! You can find details, past winners, and a downloadable entry form at http://www.southernmagic.org.

2007 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence

This contest was conceived in honor of Multi-RITA Winner Gayle Wilson to award excellence in published romance fiction. The contest is judged by avid readers of romance and booksellers. The winners of each category are awarded a gold bookmark engraved with the author’s name and the book’s title. Winners will also be included in a full-page RWR advertisement.

Eligibility: Participation is open to all published authors of novel length romance fiction published by an RWA-recognized publisher. Books must have a copyright of 2006; entries must be received by January 15, 2007. Electronic books may be entered provided they are presented in print book format, published through an RWA-recognized publisher and complete with copyright page produced by the publisher with print on both sides of the page.

Entry fee: RWA Members — $20 for first book; $10 for subsequent books.
Entry fee: Non-RWA Members — $30 for first book; $15 for subsequent books.

Author must provide three copies of the entered book, which will not be returned. Finalists will be notified approximately March 1, 2007. Winners will be announced on March 31, 2007, at the 2007 Romance in the Magic City Conference in Birmingham, AL. All finalists receive a certificate. Winners receive an engraved gold bookmark and inclusion in full page RWR ad. Authors may enter more than one novel; however, the same novel may not be entered in multiple categories.

Categories for entry:

Short Contemporary (Under 70,000 Words)
Long Contemporary (Over 70,000 Words)
Historical
Single Title Romantic Suspense
Series Romantic Suspense
Paranormal/Fantasy/ Futuristic/Time Travel
Contemporary Single Title
Young Adult
Inspirational
Novella (20,000 – 40,000 Words)

Judging: All entries are judged by avid readers of romance and booksellers. The top two scores are added to form the final score. Lowest score is dropped. In the event of a tie, ties are broken using the dropped low score.

Books are given to the judges as a “thank you” for judging. They are not returned. Scores and finalist placement are not revealed. Score sheets are not returned. The decision of the judges is final.

Send entries (three copies of book, entry form + entry fee) to:

Jennifer Echols
P.O. Box 190032
Birmingham, AL 35219

Questions?
Email: GWContest@southernmagic.org

Friday, September 29, 2006

Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time

It's once again time for Cullman's Oktoberfest.
Cullman's roots are of German origin. Cullman is named after the colonel who founded it, though the name is Americanized. Just like they Americanized my great grandfather's name from Mueller to Miller.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with writing. The idea had always been there, deep inside me, to write a historical set in the Cullman's early days, but put off because it entailed so much research. Lately, the idea seems to be growing, demanding attention. I've even thought of a new scenario for the new Steeple Hill historical line. Like any good historical writer, I immediately ordered some reference books.

I have no real way of picking and choosing from my ideas. Which story I work on is quite haphazard. How do you choose between your ideas? Do you ever start one just to set it aside?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

So What Are You Afraid Of?

I have a secret. One I believe is shared with millions of writers, both published and unpublished. I'm afraid to write. Yes, you heard me. I'm afraid to put words down on a page. Writing consumes my thinking, but fear of writing often consumes it more.

Not ready to admit you're afraid? Don't be embarrassed, neither was I, until I read an excellent blog last week written by the wonderfully talented romantic suspense author, Allison Brennan. The things she talked about resonated with me and I could no longer deny that my biggest problem in my writing was the actual fear of it.

What am I afraid of? Oh my gosh, everything.

What if my writing is absolutely awful? What if I think it's wonderful but others think it stinks? What happens when I send my work out and rejections start piling up? How can I go on when I can't seem to find that one editor that loves my voice and 'gets' me? Should I just give up?

Then, what if the seemingly impossible happens, and I sell? How do I stand up to the reviews? It's hard enough to withstand well meaning comments of contests judges, critique partners and the few family members I allow to read my work. But this is bigger, much bigger. My work is finally out in the cold, cruel world and that world could care less about how hard I've worked and what I nice person I am. Yikes, I get shivers just thinking about it.

And, what if I sell and I'm a one book wonder? What if I can't sell my second book or third one, or fourth? Should I just give up and say, well, at least I got published?

I'm sure there are fears I've not even realized I have or others that will appear with time. But what are my choices? Do I just give up, because I'm too afraid to try? Do I let fear control my destiny? Can I live with myself, if I do?

My answer is a resounding NO! I have to write -- as Allison put it -- "write through the fear." I have stories inside me to tell, I have to write them down and I have to share them. I can't let my fears control my need to create. No, the fear won't go away, but hopefully my need to write will overpower any fears that attack me.

So what about you? Are you afraid to write? What's your biggest fear and how do you write past it?