Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Past Relationships

I don’t know about y’all, but there are a few skeletons in my closet. Bad relationships that I’d really like to forget I was ever involved in. Quite often the reason for the demise of said relationship was entirely my fault…although, sometimes it wasn’t.

But I can honestly say that I don’t have any desire to rekindle any of those relationships. They ended for a reason. A good one. However, I’m intrigued by the question of whether or not two people can make it work better the second time around. And that’s what I explore with What Might Have Been.

For Ainsley and Luke, their relationship died. Both of them were responsible for killing it (although Ainsley would say that Luke should shoulder the responsibility). Each of them had issues and made bad decisions that ultimately led to the destruction of their future. And given a choice, neither one of them would say they ever wanted to try to make a go of it again. But Fate (and I) have a way of throwing people back together. I don’t know about Fate, but I like to see the sparks fly when it happens.

Obviously, because this is a romance, we all know that Ainsley and Luke eventually work out their differences (and deal with a pesky secret Ainsley’s been keeping for 8 years). My question today is have you ever rekindled a past romance? Do you know anyone who has? Have you ever run into an old boyfriend/girlfriend and been happy to learn you made the right decision? Do you enjoy reading books about second chance relationships?


I love to hear from readers! Visit me at to hear about my latest news and upcoming releases. And don’t forget to check out What Might Have Been - on shelves now.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Luddite Blogger

My husband and I have just been spending some quality time together while I tried to sign in and compose this blog. For whatever reason, the default e-mail that showed was his newly created gmail address. Since he had recently created the account to access some software for his phone, I knew he had done something that affected my ability to sign in to our blogspot. Not to be deterred, I went to my "Groups". The blog was not there. By now, I was really panicked. I bellowed for him to come downstairs to help me fix what he had screwed up.

I guess this would be a good time to say he doesn't blog and he isn't familiar with the "Groups" designation on the Yahoo site, so we were handicapped from the getgo, although he is familiar with every gadget and electronic gizmo that has ever been invented. I am the luddite who resists any technological change. He is my polar opposite but most of the time it works, but not today.

Yesterday I fell for his reasonable explanation as to why he needed to upgrade his perfectly fine phone to some Android something or another. It seems his Palm Pilot is beginning to fail and he needs to access the information on it in order to do the work that pays our bills. Fearing that our financial stability was in peril, I readily agreed he could go out and get this new phone that could perform both functions. In fact, I urged him to do it right away. Little did I know he would change all search engines, browsers and homepages while enabling this latest technological wonder. He swears he didn't do anything that could have changed all these things but the fact remains, they had changed.

After fifteen minutes of increasingly escalating emotions on both of our parts, he now knows more than he'd ever like to know about blogs and our website. I, on the other hand, finally gained access to the blog, with a subject matter to boot. I know how to navigate the new web browser, and both of our blood pressures are slowly returning to normal.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

And The Winner Is...

Congratulations to Paula Graves! Her book, CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING, is a finalist in the RITA.

Congratulations to Gwen Hernandez! Her entry, BLIND FURY, is a finalist in the GOLDEN HEART.

For information about these great awards, click here. Otherwise, think of them as romance writing's OSCARS®.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why I write when I don't want to.

Its easy not to write.

I'm unpublished. I have requests for my work, but the people who requested my work aren't waiting at the edge of their seats until I send them my story. I have no deadline. I have a day job, that requires my focus and a family I need to pay attention to.

My writing sometimes is forced to be secondary.

Still today, I sat down and revised seven pages and wrote over 120 words. It may not be much, but its more than if I didn't do anything. I didn't want to do it.

Personally, what I wanted to do was take a nap. I wanted to finish a book that I've started reading.

What stopped me?--I want to succeed.

There is only one way to succeed in writing. You MUST write. For the past 61 days, I've written daily or revised. I haven't taken a day off. I made a promise to myself that I would learn to over come my weaknesses in writing and to move forward.

How can I do all of this?

I write when I am inspired. Most importantly, I write when I don't want to. Do you think that in my day job that I can go in and tell my boss that I 'don't feel' like doing my work? I may not be the most important thing in my day job--but it needs to get done. Just like your stories need to be written. Your stories don't write or revise themselves.

You must write.

Sure, you get sick. Your dog chews your couch. Your friend is going to pieces because she backed into the garage door. Maybe, you have meetings you have all day long and then you have to spend the rest of the evening bringing kids to a sport for practice or to play. Where is the time?

Believe me, I have plenty of excuses. Sometimes, I just don't want to work on those passive sentences. I don't want to figure out where the heck I have put the comma or get my heroine out of trouble--or into it.

When I hit resistence in myself I have to ask myself--WHAT DO I WANT IN WRITING? I want to succeed. I want to be published. I want to write.


Write when you don't want to. You can write one sentence at a time. I write at least 100 words a day. (ALL of us can write a 100 words). Its simple, it's easy and I may delete them tomorrow. Doesn't matter --I write them.

Do you write when you don't want to? If you do how do you push through? If you don't--why?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm reasonably certain that I suffer from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it:) New Year's Resolutions do nothing for me. I make them, as do millions of others, but as the cold, dreary days of January drag as if with weighted snow boots into more of the same in February, I can't seem to care. I catch myself watching the digital numbers on my car's dashboard each afternoon on the way home from work to see if the sky is lighter just a little bit longer than the day before. And then finally, more daylight - YES! As the days continue to lengthen and the temperatures rise, so do my spirits and energy level. Now that myriad list of unattainable goals doesn't seem quite so unattainable anymore. Plots to structure, pages to write, pounds to lose - okay, maybe I'm getting a tad carried away here, but that's what spring is for... New heights (and weights) to aspire to!

How about all of you? Is there an added "spring" in your step these last few weeks? Or if that little extra is present all year long, please share your tips for staying upbeat and motivated even when the weather is not cooperating!

Have a wonderful day!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How about those kids?

Oops! I didn’t realize it was my blog day. With a promise to do an awesome blog next month (I’ve never done an awesome blog so that should be a challenge), I want to get a few opinions regarding having children in romance books, since there are many who seem to have strong opinions on the matter.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you think having children in romance books detracts or adds? Or are you neutral as long as it’s a good story? I don’t feel strongly one way or another but I know there are those who do so let’s hear it. Thanks, all!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Four Days until THE DEVIL'S HEART!

I'm excited to share with you that my fifth book is coming out from Harlequin Presents in FOUR days! I can hardly believe it. My first book came out a year and a half ago. I was so excited about that book -- about seeing it listed on the first time, seeing the cover, finding it in the bookstore, and hearing from readers. It was such an amazing time for me.

And I can tell you honestly that I'm just as excited over the fifth as I was over the first. The Devil's Heart marks my first foray into a South American setting. The story starts in New York, but mostly takes place in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Argentina.

RT Book Reviews said, "Lots of conflict, hot love scenes and a satisfying ending make this an entertaining read."

A diamond, and a deal with the devil…

Francesca D’Oro was just eighteen when darkly sexy Marcos Navarre swept her up the aisle—then fled before the ink on the marriage licence had dried. Marcos might have given Francesca a jewel for her finger, but he stole another: the Devil’s Heart—a dazzling yellow diamond he believed belonged to his family…

Years later Francesca, no longer so youthfully naïve, is determined to reclaim the precious gem! But she’s forgotten that Marcos lives up to the treasure’s name—and dealing with the devil is always dangerous!

Marcos and Francesca captured my heart and I just couldn't stop until I gave them their happy ending. It wasn't an easy book to write. They both have heartbreaking pasts that affect who they are today. But, as always in a romance novel, everything works out in the end. In fact, my husband was complaining about a movie he watched the other day. It was a foreign film about an arranged marriage (for immigration) that turns to love -- but the heroine dies before the hero can tell her he loves her. Hubby was not happy with this outcome. I told him he should read a romance novel instead. ;)

We don't do that to our characters, thank heavens!

For more information about The Devil's Heart, including an excerpt and some Behind the Book info, visit my website. And if you pick up the book, I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fated for Success

Rebecca Zanetti's debut novel, Fated, is a steamy vampire tale that blends science and the fantastic. It sucked me in immediately (pun intended).

Rebecca has worked as an art curator, Senate aide, lawyer, college professor and a hearing examiner - only to culminate it all in stories about vampires and science. I think her career choices prepared her well!  Rebecca was gracious enough to allow me to interview her for our blog. 

Hi Heather! Thanks for interviewing me!

Fated’s heroine is Cara Paulsen. Who is she, and what troubles plague her in Fated?

Cara is a single-mother and a down-to-earth scientist. So when a 300 year old vampire shows up claiming she’s his mate and that the bad vampires are after her daughter…ah…she doesn’t quite go for it. She’s also an empath, a fact she’s denied to herself since childhood. So she has to deal with protecting her daughter, a dangerous attraction to an over-the-top alpha male, and the reawakening of her unwanted empathic abilities.

Talen, a 300 year old vampire, is your hero. What sets him apart from the vampires we’ve met in other stories?

Well, he is absolutely honor-bound and believes wholeheartedly in fate. And if fate isn’t going his way, he changes fate, so he can still believe. He’s also hot-blooded, can venture into the sun and normally prefers a good Cabernet to someone’s blood.

What was your favorite part about writing Fated?

Honestly, Talen is so alpha-male that when he falls in love and shows his sweet (and slightly clumsy) side, I just melted.

Urban fantasies and paranormal romances pose unique world building concerns. What was your process for creating the world in which Fated is set?

You know, the world just unfolded on its own. After the first draft I had to go back and edit, make sure the world stayed consistent, but I just let it evolve naturally. I’m just finishing up book three (HUNTED) and the world is still evolving as I go.

Fated has some steamy scenes. How did you prepare your friends and family for what they were going to read?

I provided ample warning. So far nobody has listened to me. In fact, during the book launching, I know several of my friends hid behind the potted plant reading page 55. But they seemed to enjoy it. I did a blog entry called “My Dad is Going to Read My Book” awhile back trying to deal with this fact. Also, I’m on the Board of a nonprofit in the area with a couple of Catholic nuns, and they bought the book. I warned them…and they completely ignored me.

What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a complete panster. If someone needs an outline from me, I have to write the book and then go back and outline.

What is the worst writing advice you received?

Nobody wants vampire stories any more. Don’t write one.

What is the best writing advice you received?

Write what you want to read.

What is your next book, and when can we expect to see it?

CLAIMED is the second book in the series and will be out on October 25th. It features Dage Kayrs, the king of the vamps, and Emma Paulsen, a genius geneticist. The war between the vampire nations heats up and the virus plaguing the good guys increases in power. Emma’s not real big on trust, and Dage isn’t used to anyone standing up to him. They have a bit of a conflict.

Thanks again to Rebecca for visiting our blog for this interview!  You can follow Rebecca on Twitter, Facebook, and/or her website.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Tomorrow I will be interviewing Rebecca Zanetti, author of Fated.  To wet your appetite for the interview, please check out the trailer for her debut novel:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Don't Bury Your Lead

The first feedback I received in a novel writing course was, “clearly publishable,” but “too reportorial.”After years of attempting to eliminate all traces of the objective style drilled into me by journalism professors, I’ve finally discovered that I don’t have to discard all the old rules to pursue of creative writing.

For example: Don’t bury your lead.

In journalism’s inverted pyramid structure, the lead is supposed to provide the five Ws, and an H as well, if you can fit all that information into 36 words or fewer. The point is to convey the most important facts in the beginning, so that if the newspaper runs out of space and only the first paragraph of your masterpiece fits into the available newshole, the public still gets the gist of the story. This seems contradictory to the idea of slowly revealing a story over 325 or more pages.

But look at what a lead can do. Sunday’s top story in The Birmingham News packs who, what, when, where, why and a hint of how in 35 words.

Japan's nuclear crisis intensified Sunday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns and more than 170,000 people evacuated the quake- and tsunami-savaged northeastern coast where fears spread over possible radioactive contamination.

The lead offers presents the latest development in a heartbreaking disaster and serves as a dramatic hook that draws you in to the full story.

If the story began instead with the fact that Japan is an island nation that lies on a major fault line, you might not continue reading long enough to learn that a natural disaster had occurred.

The important thing is to keep people reading. When I advise volunteer or not-for-profit PR writers, I find that they—like freshman journalism students—almost always begin their stories with a justification for their important causes. Around the third paragraph, they’ll announce that because of the great need previously described, they’re having a fund-raising event.

No matter how worthy, the cause isn’t news. It’s a pile of backstory, and it won’t pull readers far enough into the story to find the buried lead.

Agents and editors are quick to make a similar distinction. Unless we keep them reading, they’ll never find out how lovable our characters are. In fiction, we call it in medias res—but it works for me to remember not to bury the lead. Someone—heroine or villain or nature—has already acted. The heroine must react, and it’s in the reactions of the cast of characters that the story unfolds.

Tell me—is there a rule you learned in another occupation that benefits your fiction writing? I’d love to know!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Bookshelf in Your Mind

In my past life, I taught literature. I was an Academic. I looked down my nose at the Nora Roberts and other Fluff that my mom read each summer. I read real Literature. I read the Greats. I forced my students to wade through the greats. And I loved it.

Then I hit a rough patch back in 2008 and I needed happily ever after instead of "Isn't it pretty to think so?" at the end of the books I read. Someone handed me Outlander. Outlander lead to Karen Marie Moning which led to Mary Balogh which led to me bringing home 10 or more romances a week from my local library and devouring them. Eventually, I had to turn to Nora Roberts. I didn't have much else left. And I fell in love with her, too.

At first I told myself (and my husband, who seemed kind of concerned with my sudden change in reading habits) that it was research. I was learning the genre so that I could understand how it worked.  Partially, I was still experiencing a residual academic shame for the scantily clad couples on the covers of the book I was checking out each week.  But I was also partially telling the truth. I really did want to figure out how those writers managed to take stories that seemed like the same plot over and over and make them fresh and engaging. I wanted to figure out what drew me to those stories.

I've read a ridiculous number of books in the last three years, and almost every single one of them was a romance. Reading that widely and deeply did more than just make me happy, it taught me the genre. I always used to tell my students that 90% of the grammar we know and understand, we memorize when we read without even trying to.

I think that's true for writing as well.

The majority of what we know about how to write comes from reading. We intuitively know how to punctuate and represent dialog because we've read dialog. We know where chapters should break, because we've read so many novels that we have an intuitive understanding of where the action drops off. We know how to create drama and avoid cliches (we hope), because we've read both good and bad versions of each.

We each have our own personal narratives about reading. We each have a book that made the difference in our life or an author that we admire and want to emulate. Being writers who focus on romance, we read the kind of novels we want to write, because we love the stories and because each time we pick up a Julia Quinn or a Linda Howard, we are learning something about how to improve our own craft.

But how many of us read beyond our genre?

I don't really miss my past life. I like what I'm reading now, and I don't have any desire to write Great Literature. In fact, I'll be the first to tell you that what we know today as "Great" was mostly all popular at one point or another.* But the books I read before have made me the writer I am now, and I do think that going back to authors who have stood the test of time can help ANY writer learn something about writing. I don't think that a Faulkner or Twain is more important than a Nora Roberts or an Eloisa James, but I do think that sometimes what we think of as Great Literature can help us learn something about how to use language in amazing ways.

If you haven't read a lot of dusty old literature lately, here are a few of my favorites that you might want to try on for size**:

If you want to learn how to craft realistic dialog:
No one does it better than F. Scott Fitzgerald. Did you hate the Great Gatsby in school? Try it again now. Better yet, read his short stories. Most of those were written for magazines and meant to be popular. Plus, Fitzgerald had this way of crafting the most brilliant images from the most unlikely adjective and noun pairings.

Everyone read Mark Twain in school, but go back to Huck Finn as an adult and watch how he is able to capture the way people really talk, curse words and all.

If you want to learn how to show and not tell:
You must pick up Hemingway. Forget what you know about the old guy who went big game hunting and drank himself to death.  Read his early work. In the 1920s he was in his early 20s and still had some of the romantic about him. Read up on his Iceberg Theory before you start, so you understand what his books are doing, and then dive into A Farewell to Arms or, if you want more about writing specifically, A Moveable Feast.

T.S. Eliot- The Waste Land is difficult, but there are enough online guides to help you get through it, and "The Hollow Men" is dark and eerie. Eloisa James referred to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in her most recent book. She has it posted on her website. Eliot had a theory about using images to represent emotion in poetry that can help even novelists.

Do you need to figure out how to craft deep POV?
Try your hand at Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. It's not an easy read, because the 3rd person omniscient narrator keeps switching from one character's consciousness to another's--without warning--but if you can figure out how she makes those transitions, you can figure out how to make your own third person narrators stronger.

Are you writing historicals?
Then I'm sure you've already read every Jane Austen and Bronte Sister already. But you might want to also try some Henry James or Edith Wharton. Both authors were part of the Realism movement, so they were focused on verisimilitude--especially the minutia of everyday life. I know, they're American, but books like Portrait of a Lady and  The Age of Innocence also are really wonderful examples of how to build a concrete world in a novel.

Do you want to read something with a strong voice?
Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is a must. It's narrated by a character named Tim O'Brien and is so compelling that you'll forget that the narrator isn't really the author and that the book isn't a memoir.

Anything by Toni Morrison. Okay, maybe not Love--that one just felt like Morrison doing Morrison. But The Bluest Eye or Song of Solomon or even Beloved, maybe especially Beloved, are completely wonderful. She has this way of capturing the voice of an oral storyteller in complex novels that is simply brilliant. And what she does to language? Wow.

Or if you want something more fun, look to hard-boiled detective writing. The works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler epitomize the straight-talking, cocky American detective.

My favorites for absolutely beautiful, lush writing that takes language and transforms it into art?
William Faulkner- He's rough, but if you start with something like Light in August, he's very readable. If you want a ridiculous challenge, take a look at some of his completely grammatical paragraph-long sentences in Absolom, Absolom!
Cormac McCarthy- He's really dark, but a master of language. All the Pretty Horses is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Dorothy Parker- Her short stories seem simple and fun, but they're doing a lot more than you think.
Ralph Ellison- Invisible Man has some of the most memorable images I've ever encountered.
Zora Neale Hurstone- Their Eyes Were Watching God is a poignant love story told using African American vernacular.

But enough about the writers and books that influenced me before I came to romance-- What's on the bookshelf in your mind? Are there certain writers, "great" or not, influenced your writing? Are there books you know you really should read but just can't quiet make yourself? 

*Seriously, I wrote a whole dissertation on it.
**I studied mostly 20th century and American, so my preferences are definitely slanted that way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Words of Wisdom from Author Jay Lake

A few years back I stumbled across an essay titled "Jumping Off the Cliff, Looking for Water on the Way Down". It was an essay about writing being an act of faith, writing despite obstacles like self-doubt and cancer. That essay inspired me then and continues to inspire me today. That essay introduced me to author Jay Lake, a talented and established writer in the science fiction and fantasy realm, and led me to hunt down his books.

Recently, I got to participate in a Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer's Chat with Jay Lake on twitter. For those of you who are totally into Romance, that's like a tete-a-tete with Nora Roberts for me. Thank you to author Bryan Thomas Schmidt for arranging it. Anyhoo, I got to ask questions, listen to other questions and hear Jay's answers. Again, I came away inspired.

Being writers, I'm sure all of us can learn from another writer's wisdom, no matter what the genre. So, with Jay & Bryan's permission, I'm going to share some of my favorite quotes from the chat. Blog readers, I present you Jay Lake:

"I can gin up a story from a very small seed. It's one of the pleasures of the craft for me."

"Publishing is meritocracy, but it is not a just meritocracy"..."Which is to say being good is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success."

"Write more" just means whatever you're doing, do more of it. Plus I'm a big fan of putting down the tv and the videogames...Nothing wrong with entertainment, but things that scratch your plot bump will keep you from writing...The question is: do you want to be a producer or a consumer?

"Nobody is born a literary genius...You would expect to practice a martial art or a new instrument or a foreign language. Why wouldn't you practice writing?"

"And write new stuff. Don't spend years laboring over your Great Work. Trust me, it's not that great. Go write another one."

Regarding reading to write: "Absolutely. It's called filling the well. Imagine a chef who never ate anyone else's cooking. But time is an issue."

"Writing has really interfered with my reading career."

"I talk openly about the cancer because so many people don't. I get more fan letters off my cancer blogging than off my fiction."

"Re outlines, for short fiction, never. I 'follow the headlights' For novels, always. But the process changes every time."

RE: breaking in:
"I wrote and submitted regularly from 1990 to 2001 before making my first sale."

"Probably about 800,000 words of first draft before I broke in."

"At this point, I've probably written close to 3,000,000 words of first draft. Sold over 2,000,000 of those words."

"DId I ever want to quit? Lots of times. But I kept going. Because, well, this is what I wanted."

About Submitting & Rejections:

"And yes, I still get rejected all the time. More often than I get accepted, I think."

"Submitting fiction is kind of like dating. It helps to be cheerful and bullet-resistant."

I hope you enjoyed meeting Jay. To learn more about him you can find him at and, also Facebook and Twitter.

Until next time, Happy Writing & Reading!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

He Said What? She Said What?

In my manuscript, OUT OF THE SHADOWS, a final judge said recently that my dialogue between my hero and heroine was a “little iffy”. What the heck does that mean?

So in effort to figure that out, I pulled the dialogue out of the first scene where the hero and heroine had a “date.”

Boy, was I surprised. I could read the dialogue and tell what was going on in most of the story. Then again, I not only wrote the thing, I’ve read it like a zillion times. But something else jumped out at me. The parts where the guy talked didn’t come through…well…sounding like a guy. A tough guy. And it needed to show more of the characters' personalities in the story.

The final judge was an editor and a guy. So he should know.

It made me curious about other authors and their dialogue. Here are examples from a couple of my favorite authors.

“What’s on your mind, Mr. Calebow? Other than the obvious.”
“The obvious?”
“Football, of course.” I can’t imagine that a man like you thinks about anything else. I know my father didn’t.”
“Now you might be surprised what a man like me thinks about.”
“Sorry, Mr. Calebow, but I already have more jockstraps hanging from my bedpost than I know what to do with.”
“Do you now?
“Athletes are s-o-o-o exhausting. I’ve moved on to the sort of men who wear boxer shorts.”
“Wall Street?”
The conversation is between Phoebe Somerville and Dan Calebow in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s IT HAD TO BE YOU. Note how much it says about the heroine and how the hero keeps his comments short. Just like a man.

“Is there some boon I can grant you, Lady Alys?” “Or are you simply here for the pleasure of my company?”
“I want you to choose me.”
“Choose you for what?”
“Richard said he’d offered either of us as…. I mean to say, he wanted you to….” “I want you to choose me.”
“Because it would kill Claire.”
“You’ve been listening to too many fairy stories, Lady Alys. I don’t eat children or maidens. Your sister would survive marriage with me quite handily.”
“She’s high-strung.” “Willful.”
“And you aren’t?”
“No!” “I’m really very meek and quietly behaved.”
“I’m not certain your brother would see it that way.”
“I would cause you no trouble.” “I would keep out of your way, I would ask no questions, I would be the perfect wife.”
“Was this your sister’s idea?”
“Oh, no!” “She would never ask me to sacrifice myself in such a way. It was entirely my own idea.”
The conversation is between Alys and Simon in Anne Stuart’s LORD OF DANGER.
Note how it shows how the heroine is the opposite of what she claims and the hero knows it.

Interesting how information comes out about the characters. Try it in your stories and let me know how it works out.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Finish the Darn Book: Where to Start?

It's early in the year, and we're determined to get at least one book finished before 2012 gets here, right? We're going to finish the darn book. But how do you get past that first page, sitting there blank and taunting?

Some people jump right into the story. Then they end up cutting out the first chapter or so of backstory and exposition and start the book around what was originally chapter two or three. Other people, including yours truly, figure out all that backstory and exposition in the plotting phase, and then they take the time to figure out the point in the story where the initial change—the inciting incident—occurs. What event or change throws our hero/heroine into the middle of the story problem?

Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, the inciting incident is the inciting incident. It doesn't change based on your style of writing. All that differs is how you reach the point where the story is supposed to begin.

People will give you helpful hints—start with a catchy first sentence. Start with dialogue. Or, my personal favorite, start with a gunshot or a bomb blast. Any of those things works just fine. They all work just fine.

But they won't save your beginning if you've started in the wrong place.

I wish I could tell you a failsafe way of figuring out where your story starts. Take the idea of starting in the middle of the action. The book I just finished could easily have started with my hero and heroine taking gunfire unexpectedly. That does happen in the second chapter—so why didn't I start there?

Because, as exciting and heart-pounding as that moment might have been, taking gunfire wasn't the real moment of change for my characters. The change came when the heroine—a former CIA agent hiding from life in a small mountain town—discovered that her past had found her. And the hero was part of that change—manuevered by a CIA master spy into calling an anonymous phone number, he heard the voice of a woman he'd once loved but thought he'd lost forever.

That's my inciting incident. Gunfire alone wouldn't have sent my hero and heroine on the journey on which they embarked. Finding each other again, in the heart of that danger, is what spurred them to the actions they took once the gunfire started.

So, whether you're plotting ahead or writing organically, you still have to ask yourself the question: what is the one thing that could happen to make my hero and/or heroine leave behind their settled, comfortable lives and embark on this strange, scary, exciting and difficult journey?

Find that answer, and you'll know where to start your story.

And now, an exercise for anyone who wants to participate: in the comments, tell us, briefly, the inciting incident in the book you're writing at the moment, and why you think that's the moment of change that calls your characters to their adventure.

Alternative exercise, if you're still struggling with finding your inciting incident: tell us what you're struggling with. Maybe we can help you figure out your inciting incident—sometimes, it's easier to see the details from outside a problem rather than inside it.

Now, get posting!

Friday, March 04, 2011

There's no shortcut

I used to be a nervous speaker. In college, I’d give a presentation in front of the class and not even remember it afterwards. I couldn’t tell you what I said, if anyone was watching me, or whether a 500-pound gorilla walked through the room during my speech.

Fast forward to grad school. After three years of Toastmasters, four years of teaching, and countless class presentations, I still got nervous, but now I was aware during my speech. The ultimate test came during graduation when I stood on a stage in front of about 400 people. I spoke for five minutes, fully in the moment the whole time.

I could see the expressions on the faces of the audience. I could hear the little shouts of encouragement. I was in control of the pace of my speech, and knew exactly how far along I was. And at the end, I remembered it all.

That was a great moment for me, but it only happened because of practice.

The other night I had a similar experience during a sparring session at Kung Fu. For years, sparring has been my biggest hurdle. I’ve seen progress, but I still struggle to find the opening in my opponent’s armor while still protecting myself.

This time, however, I was able to broaden my vision and not only block more of her attacks, but I was aware of her vulnerable spots too. Again I was struck by how long it takes to progress, and how important it is to practice.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this: writing. We all start at different levels, but no matter where you are on the path, you can’t shortcut the process. I’d like to think that every book I’ve written has been better than the last. I could no more have written my most recent MS two years ago than I could have given that graduation speech as an undergrad.

No matter what you're trying to do, there’s no shortcut to excellence. You must deliver the speeches, take the blows, and write the words.

I don’t think practice makes perfect. What is perfection anyway? But I do think practice makes better. And maybe even really great, if you work at it long enough.

I ended that graduation speech with one of my favorite quotes, and it sums up perfectly what I've been trying to say.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. —Aristotle

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I didn't Know What I Didn't Know

Dear Readers and Romance Magicians: I'm in the middle of a HUGE revision (more about that later) so I thought I'd share a portion of a blog I wrote about becoming a writer because I didn't know what I didn't know. I hope you enjoy this retro read. 

During my summer vacation I visited with my dear friend in Oakton, VA. Her mother is a super person and had come along to the pool with us (along with dear friend's darling daughters aged 4 & 6) when we hung out. We got into some interesting conversations while we lazed around the pool deck. My friend's mother brought up a New York Times series about the concept YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW. We had a lot of fun with the play on words, but based on our conversations, it's really about the human ability to deny the existence of problem before they undertake something or to not know what problems lie ahead of their efforts to perform some task.

Okay, she used a bank robber who believed if he rubbed lemon juice on his face, no one would see his face in a photograph. He didn't know what he didn't know. Obviously or he wouldn't have attempted his bone headed attempt to rob a bank with lemon juice on his face. I know that lemon juice doesn't prevent my face from being recognized. I know what I know. But had I known five years ago what I know now, would I have begun writing?

I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't know how hard it was to get published. I didn't know how painful it was to revise. I didn't know how frustrating the task of unthreading a story multiple times and sewing it back together again would be to perform. I didn't know how much I had to know about plot, craft, POV. I didn't know about RWA, writing chapters, and online writing classes. I didn't know that I would stop doing everything I was into doing to give my heart to writing.

I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't know I'd meet amazing people who didn't know what they didn't know. I didn't know that I'd grow tough skin and learn to deal with rejections. I didn't know that I had more than one story in me. I didn't know that I had something to offer other writers as a reader, a judge, a friend, a motivator. I didn't know what I didn't know.

I'm glad I didn't know what I didn't know. If I had known about the hard stuff, I might not have started writing. And then I wouldn't have learned about all the wonderful, good stuff about writing.

I'm sure I don't know what I don't know about many more things. I'll leave the gathering of the knowledge to time, experience and the pursuit of knowledge.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Interview w/CJ Lyons about co-authoring Rock Bottom w/Erin Brockovich

Writing is a lonely, rocky business, especially if you're unpublished. But sometimes you meet a professional who's survived the potholes, turned the dream into reality. You look at this person, read her story and are inspired to keep on writing. More than that, this professional writer takes time to encourage and advise you. Not only is that uber cool, suddenly there's a bit of sanity in the unpredictable world of pursuing a writing career. I met CJ Lyons at a masterclass workshop at the Pen to Press Writers' Retreat last year and she's been that professional who kept me from walking away from my dream.

Today is the release day of CJ's latest work, ROCK BOTTOM, written with famed activist Erin Brockovich (yes, the one who inspired the movie). To celebrate my friend's hard work I'm presenting an interview about the new book and the collaboration. I figured as writers, we'd all be curious and interested to learn. Obviously, she's one busy chick today, but CJ said she'll drop by later in the day. Enjoy!

1.What is Rock Bottom about?

ROCK BOTTOM is about a woman who returns to her small-town West Virginia home after leaving ten years ago as a pregnant teenager and joins the crusade against mountain top removal mining that is destroying her hometown.. At its heart, the story centers on an adult child returning home and discovering the true meaning of family.

2. What inspired you to write the story? How did you go about researching it?

I was flying to Toronto to teach one of my master classes in writing and we flew over West Virginia. I'm from Pennsylvania and spent a lot of time in West Virginia but this was the first time I'd actually seen it from the air. When I saw the ravages of the mountain top removal mining I was moved to tears--it was just so very wrong, so unnatural, that I felt vertigo as if I'd been transported to some alternative universe where nothing made sense.

The research was actually fairly easy because there is so much overwhelming evidence of the damage done by this form of mining that it's impossible to ignore--in fact, I worried that it was all too obvious, how could anyone in their right mind support this practice?

3. What was it like working with an internationally renowned activist and personal hero Erin Brockovich?

Great fun! Erin has always been a hero of mine, so this was a total fan-girl experience for me!

4. So how did the collaboration come about?

Her publisher called and asked if I'd be interested. Turns out, Erin enjoyed the strong women I populated my recently concluded Angels of Mercy series with, and liked the fact that they weren't "superwomen" and perfect, but rather human and flawed.

After an initial squee of delight, of course I said yes!

5. What are some special challenges of a co-authored project?

Erin is so very busy and always on the road--I'm not sure we were ever even in the same time zone while we worked on ROCK BOTTOM. Thank goodness for cell phones and email!

6. What did you enjoy the most?

The challenge of trying something new. This is my first book that had no medical elements and my first attempt at first person point of view.

7. How did you develop AJ's character?

We knew we couldn't take Erin's character from the end of the movie so we decided to make AJ a younger version of Erin, someone who had tasted success but then lost it all and had to start over. Both Erin and I have had the experience of returning to our hometowns after some success in the "real" world, so we thought that was an interesting dynamic to explore in AJ's character, since it is so universal.

8. Given your medical background, the Angels of Mercy medical suspense series seemed like a natural fit. What was it like creating a whole new world?

I love trying new things and challenging myself in my writing, so this was actually exciting. While it was hard to say good-bye to the Angels world in my last book, CRITICAL CONDITION, it was fun to have a whole new world to play "god" in.

9.Tell us a bit about your writing process?

I don't have one! I'm a seat of the pants writer, don't really have a schedule or plot any of the story ahead of time, so I'm as surprised by the twists and turns as I hope the reader will be.

10.What are you working on now?

I just finished the sequel to ROCK BOTTOM, titled HOT WATER. It was also great fun to write because there was a ton of research I needed to do and because half of the book is set in South Carolina close to where I now live. HOT WATER will be available October, 2011.

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller.

Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. You can learn more at
and for free reads, "Like" her at