Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Write Romance Novel and Not Lose Your Mind

A writer died, and due to a bureaucratic snafu in the hereafter...

..., she was to be allowed to choose her own fate: heaven or hell for all eternity. Being very shrewd for a dead person, she asked St. Peter for a tour of both.

The first stop was hell, where she saw rows and rows of writers sitting chained to desks, in a room as hot as a thousand suns. Fire licked the writers' fingers as they tried to work; demons whipped their backs with chains. Your typical hell scene.

"Wow, this is awful," said the writer., appalled "Let's see some heaven."

In a moment, they were whisked to heaven and the writer saw rows and rows of writers chained to desks, in a room as hot as a thousand suns. Fire licked the writers' fingers as they tried to work; demons whipped their backs with chains. It looked and smelled even worse than hell.

"What gives, Pete?" the writer asked. "This is worse than hell!"

"Yes," St. Peter replied, "but here your work gets published."

Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.
Jessamyn West

Writing is the flip side of sex – it's good only when it's over.
Hunter S. Thompson

A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it to be God.
Sidney Sheldon

I think I have mentioned my critique partner a time or two on this blog. When she critiques a manuscript, she makes what Jack the Ripper did to his victims look like a paper cut. I firmly believe Atilla the Hun learned everything he knows about decimating an army from my critique partner. And the thing that really ticks me off is – 99% of the time she is absolutely, positively RIGHT. Yeah, I hate her too.

I have, however, come up with a foolproof idea for my next manuscript. There is no way she can find anything wrong with this baby. I have got this one in the bag. And since we are all friends here I thought I’d share. This is a sure-fire method to thwart critics, contest judges and blood red pen wielding critique partners everywhere.

Rule # 1 – There can only be two characters in your book – a hero and a heroine. No friends, no family, no servants, no pets, not another character. Just TWO.

Rule# 2 – There is only one setting in the entire book and it only has one room. No corridors, parlors, bathrooms, and definitely no outdoors. ONE room. That’s it.

Rule#3 – Both of the characters are blind. They can’t see the room or each other so you won’t spend too little or too much time describing anything or anyone.

Rule#4 – Both of the characters have amnesia! No memory, no back story! See! This is really working!

I’ve done my part. How about the rest of you? What ironclad rules of romance novel writing have you been accused of breaking? What else can you suggest to streamline and facilitate the writing of what I am sure will be the romance novel with which not a single agent or editor can find fault? No faults, no rejections. Right? Bueller? Bueller?

REMEMBER : If it’s easy, you’re probably not doing it right !

Monday, February 27, 2012

Xe Sands, Voice Artist

I love stories. I like to read them, see them, and hear them. Audio narration has especially fascinated me. I met Xe, by chance and found her a lovely and informative person. She graciously has agreed to an interview and I hope you find her as interesting as I do!

Tell us a bit about yourself, what area do you live in?
Well, I am a visual and voice artist living in the Pacific Northwest with an unhealthy passion for pastry. I am fortunate to have the love and support of my family, a foundation that makes everything else possible. Ah, I have heard that is a wonderful, if not drizzly part of the country. I also share your unhealthy love of pastry. J Most importantly that is wonderful that your family supports you.

Have you always lived where you are?No, although I have lived here the longest. I spent the first 12 or so years on the East Coast, followed by a similar stint in San Francisco, before moving here with my husband in the early nineties. But my heart remains with the Sutro Bath ruins, Telegraph Hill, and Trader Sams Tiki Bar on Geary. San Francisco is my favorite city as well!

What drew you to audio? Or I should ask how did you start? And what did you do before? Good questions, both –they get at different aspects of this crazy-wonderful thing I’ve chosen to do with my life. What drew me to audio was reading to my daughter over the course of her life (sadly not as often now). All those years spent performing for her gradually grew into the realization that I loved doing it – something that earlier in my life, I never would have guessed I would enjoy. But I do. I absolutely love it, despite the inevitable frustrations. And to be able to do this, something so creative and personally transformative after almost 20 years of administrative work is truly a blessing. 

As for how I started – if you mean professionally, I originally started out volunteering for a wonderful organization, Librivox, which allows volunteer readers to record works in the public domain, which are then free to download. After doing that for several years, I took the plunge and attended one of Pat Fraley’s great workshops on breaking into audiobook narration, and from there started working with my coach, Carrington MacDuffie. Connections led to other connections and eventually to my first professionally produced audiobooks. That is fascinating—How it started as something personal and gradually lead to the career you have now. I bet it was a long road. What kind of stumbling blocks did you hit? And when you did, how did you overcome them?
Oh you know how to ask the tough questions! Well, their were two practical stumbling blocks I hit fairly early on. The first was how to begin approaching publishers; the second was how to teach myself the requisite skills required to work predominantly out of my home studio (as narrator, director and engineer). I overcame the first with a combination of obsession and sheer luck – decided to pursue coaching at the exact time that Pat Fraley was finally teaching a course in my area AND my (then) employer was offering a scholarship for artistic endeavors. The second was overcome by brute force, determination, lots of tears and even a bit of blood. Boy, do I understand the blood, sweat, and tears. I think these are the things that determine whether we truly are meant do to this—because we fight through it.
But perhaps the greatest stumbling blocks are the creative ones that we all hit in our careers. They come up cyclically, I think – essentially you take your skills up a notch and then you hit a plateau and have to reassess. I’m driven and obsessive about the voice side of my art, so when I feel like I’m not quite hitting it, that feels an awful lot like a stumbling block. Fortunately, I have been blessed with mentors and collaborators who give generously of their time, ears and opinions (and patience with my hair-tearing) – and that’s how I move forward, improve, grow…bring you something better. This all sounds familiar, I’m beginning to think as artists-either writing, audio, painting, etc we all hit this. Most importantly building yourself a support group of other artists is what keeps you going. I know it does me!

How long does it take to record a story? I know it is recorded in increments—what is the usual time and are there many retakes at times? Oh gracious – how long does it take? Well, that totally depends on the story and how challenging it is for me to narrate. And each narrator will find different things challenging, of course. One thing is universal, though: when we connect with the story and the book is well-written, it is far easier for it to simply flow through us, than when we have difficulty connecting and/or the writing is less than stellar. 

But in general, I shoot for a ratio of 1:2 – one hour of finished audio for every 2 hours spent in the studio. Some days, this is easy-peasy; other days, not so much. Another thing we share. Writing can be just like that. Some days it flows...others is drags.
As for retakes – goodness yes! There are some words or phrases that just.will.not.come.OUT, which the next day, might come out smooth as silk – you just never know. Oh the  hilarity of some of the things said after you’ve biffed it for the Xth time! Not for innocent ears…
This is intriguing. I know many writers who read their story aloud in the final revision to see if it flows and the dialogue works. (I struggle with dialogue and I have to go over it a number of times).  Had to laugh at the words and phrases that just don’t want to be heard, I can identify.

What is the hardest thing about audio? The most fun? The easiest? Hmm. Well, the most fun is voicing characters that I really connect with who have great dialog. Sometimes banter can be just hilarious.

As for the hardest thing – I’ll answer that two ways.  The hardest thing: living through the hell with your character so you can truly bring their experience through in audio.

A different hardest thing: breathing life into a truly poorly written book, or smoothly delivering lines that just don’t work when spoken aloud.

The easiest thing has got to be voicing something that speaks to you, just flows right up and out of you without effort. Those are beautiful moments.  This reminds me a bit of when I am struggling with a scene. Sometimes it flows…sometimes it is just painful.

I know you utilize a voice coach, is it hard to shed the accent once you have it? What is the one that stayed the longest? The  one accent that left the quickest? (I am odd, these are the little things that I like to know.) Ha! So funny that you ask because, yes, yes it is sometimes. This usually happens when I’ve got to work on an accent for a main character. Most recently, this happened with Finn’s Irish accent (from On Thin Ice, by Anne Stuart), and with Lily’s slight twang (from Secondhand Spirits, by Juliet Blackwell). Because I wanted to be able to deliver their dialog as naturally as possible, I spent days speaking like them to keep the accent natural – to keep it from detracting from the performance as a whole. I can personally attest that “On Thin Ice” by Anne Stuart, was very well done. In fact, it was your sample of how you decided on his accent and voice that made me buy the book. I just had to see how the whole product came together. I was impressed! You did a number of accents in that book and I could easily discern the characters.  I did chuckle thinking you spoke with an Irish accent at home… 
Ha! Well at least I didn’t have a spat with my daughter while using the accent (unlike when I was working on French…ahem). Ha..that is too funny. J

What are you working on now?
I just finished the truly amazing, The Bird Sisters, by Rebecca Rasmussen, which I will get gushy about in just a moment, and am just about to start the very useful, Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, by Tamar Chansky (both for Tantor Audio). That is so neat that you are affected by what you record. I like that, because as an artist-that is important.
What genres have you covered?
Hoo - let’s see…I’ve done romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, YA, urban fantasy, literary fiction, historical fiction, biographical fiction, nonfiction, self-help, thrillers, mystery, classics, magical realism and if you count my Going Public work, also poetry, personal letters, and fairytales J Oh, Urban fantasy—that is what I write. I’m going to have to go check that out!
Urban fantasy is so fun to voice! I can only imagine how fun and freeing it is to write as well. J-I love it. I can take the characters to places that would be hard in the contemporary genre.

What has been your favorite story so far?
Oh that is always such a difficult question to answer because each project gives me something to love, and leaves a bit of itself behind. But right now, it’s a tie between the beautifully written and heartbreaking The Bird Sisters, by Rebecca Rasmussen, and gorgeous and lyrical The Silence of Trees, by Valya Dudycz Lupescu, both of which should release in March. I connected so deeply with both books – voicing them has been a truly moving experience and a joy. I love that you connected with these stories. The fact you did makes me want to read them. 

The most unusual?
Definitely The Vanishers, by Heidi Julavits, which also releases in March. It was such a surreal mind trip, cerebral (to quote a recent review at LitStack) and yet also very visceral. Can’t wait to hear what others think of it. That also sounds very interesting. Now, do you get to choose which projects you work on? Or are you presented with an offer or assigned?

Technically, I always get to choose as I can always say no to a given offer or assignment. But, usually work is either offered and I have the choice to accept/decline it, or I am asked to audition for a particular work (or ask to audition myself). Now that is interesting, I’m glad I asked that. I bet the auditions can be nerve-wracking.

What do you hope to accomplish in audio?
I always hope to open myself fully to the author’s intent and deeply connect with the characters, their history, their stories – and simply allow them to come through as they need to. I always hope to be both fully present and yet completely by the wayside – simply a vessel for the inherent voice of the work to come through so that the listener is completely transported. If I can consistently do that, I’ll have done what I came here to do. Well, it is my time to gush—you did that for me with “On Thin Ice” by Anne Stuart. I was totally captivated by the story. I didn’t even consciously hear the narration. I know, that sounds odd, but that is a skill I don’t have. I certainly appreciate it! 
I am truly touched that you were so affected! And that you didn’t even hear the narration is the highest praise you could bestow – thank you! J

What other projects interest you? And do you have an alter ego?  I run a weekly project called Going Public.  
Can explain more about that?
Ah, now you want all my secrets! Oh why not ;) I’m like that…and I’m insatiably curious- a curse and a gift.J
I do run a weekly project, Going Public, featuring recordings of work in the public domain. The idea originated from an off-the-cuff recording by one of my friends and colleagues of The Wreck of the Hesperus. That got me thinking about all the pieces that I would love to record, but would never be professionally contracted to – letters from Beethoven, fairy tales, D. H. Lawrence, etc. Since starting the project back in September, several other narrators have joined in the fun and it’s become the highly anticipated ending to my week, when I can dive into something that truly appeals to me just FOR me – and then share it with the world. It’s wonderfully freeing…and sometimes, others even enjoy the pieces ;)  If anyone wants to check it out or join us, all pieces can be found on my website: http://www.xesands.com/going-public 
This sounds marvelous. I really will stop by. 

As for my alter ego, she’s a visual artist. Most of my artistic energy goes into my voice work these days, but the visual artist sits at the core of my being, biding her time. These particular pieces were *supposed* to be expressive of motherly angst, but (ha!) they took themselves in their own direction, obviously.  I adore visual art—and I love Between, but there is something so visceral about Taken…! I hope you continue this as well.
I think you summed up my feelings about them both too. J

Thank you, Xe, for stopping by, I hope I can persuade you to come back. 

Thanks for having me, Mary. It’s been my great privilege to be here. 

 As for everyone else—has there been an Audio book you’ve loved?

M.V. Freeman

Xe Sands is graciously giving away an audio copy of "On Thin Ice" by Anne stuart. Please comment for a chance to win. Unfortunately due to shipping costs it is only open to those in the continental U.S. Please write your email at the bottom of your post: janedoe at yahoo dot com. I will post the results tomorrow.  Thanks so much! MELANIE, you won! Congratulations, I do hope you enjoy it.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Interview with Xe Sands, February 27.

Please stop by tomorrow and meet Xe Sands, Voice Artist. Find out how she started voicing audio books, what are some of her favorite narrations, and what she does to relieve stress. She is gracious and easy to talk to and I am excited that she is visiting Romance Magicians.

Plus, Xe is giving away a free copy of "On Thin Ice" by Anne Stuart. I can attest that it's a wonderful book.

I hope to see you there!

M.V. Freeman

Friday, February 24, 2012

Welcome Southern Magic Member Lexi George!

Southern Magic is fortunate to have many traditionally published authors and Lexi George is one of them. If you like sexy, humorous paranormal stories, her books are for you!  Check it out!  The titles alone tell you that they're a fun read!

You can purchase at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, iBookstore, or anywhere books are sold.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


On Monday evening February 20, 2011, I was a guest performer at Open Mike Night at Berkley Bob's Coffe House in Cullman , Alabama, I did a 5 minute reading from my novel MIRRORED and my song writer friend Dennis Kahler performed his song interpretation of the novel. Here are pictures of me giving the reading.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Free (or Almost Free)Tech for Writers

While the issue of whether technology makes our writing lives easier is up for debate (when your motherboard departs this world and takes with it several months of work, you will understand), there is a lot of great free, or almost free, technology out there to help writers. I wanted to use this post as a chance to compile a list of helpful resources.

Editing and Writing

AutoCrit - The AutoCrit Editing Wizard is an instant book editor that helps identify problems (word echoes, grammar, etc.) in work you upload. There is a limited free version. The more functional versions require an annual fee.

 yWriter - Free writing software for writers made by writers (in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Scrivener devotee, but my friend Karen loves yWriter - she says it is better than Girl Scout cookies - mighty high praise).

 Elements of Style - No, you didn't escape this when you left your formal education behind. It is available online so your high school English teacher doesn't cringe when she reads your masterpiece.

Motivation and Creativity

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die - Southern Magic goddesses Jennifer Echols and Naima Simone extol the virtues of this motivational tool that punishes its users with horrible noises, blood dripping from the screen and the munching of written words if you stop writing for too long. The online version is free, but there is a cheap download that you can use when you are sans internet. I LOVE Write or Die. This is a NaNoWriMo must.

Written? Kitten! - Yes, I am the crazy cat lady, so this works well for me. This tool gives you a blank page where you can type. Every time you cross a milestone (100, 200, 500 and 1000-word settings are available), you are rewarded with a warm fuzzy kitten picture. Awwwwww :)

XMind - This is a free brainstorming tool that is easy to install and use.

One Word - One word writing prompts.

The Emotion Thesaurus - I joke that my characters must be perpetually dizzy and have reflux issues based on the way I describe emotions. I have saved these poor souls from tortured futures by using this site to better describe their emotions.


Wallwisher.com - This is a digital version of 3X5 cards. Use it to layout your story and plot lines. It is great for collaborating on stories and planning write-ins.

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat Beat Sheet - Several Southern Magic members (even the pantsers) swear by the Save the Cat method and the beat sheet for plotting a story.


National Geographic's What's in a Surname - This is a fun tool to identify common surnames in the geographic area of the US where you story is set.

University of Wisconsin's Dictionary of Regional English - This helps ou keep your dialogue authentic. It places words and phrases in times and locations.

Google Earth - A must if you are setting your story in an area you don't live.

This list is just a start. Please post your favorite resources in the comments. I'll edit and modify this post in a few days so you can bookmark it and have it available for future writing needs.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Love Stuff

So, I was taking my car in for service the other day, and there it was. Right on the way. A simple detour, a 90-degree turn of the wheel, to find out what love’s all about.

You’ve probably seen the billboards. Lavender background, the name in bubbly red letters outlined in what might represent whipped cream, superimposed over a heart bearing the pink imprint of a pair of puckered lips. According to Google’s helpful categorization, Love Stuff is the name of a “costume store.” But you and I know better.

I didn’t stop right then. I waited until I’d checked out the discreet black loaner with the tinted windows.

The interior of Love Stuff presented more than I expected. Costumes, of a sort. Along with racks and racks (is that a good word choice?) of filmy baby dolls tops with thongs, lacy bustiers, and stockings. Also cases full of props, lotions, gels, potions, magical massage wands, and other specialty items designed to rev up the sex engine.

I think it’s where Madonna bought those over-the-knee platform boots for the Super Bowl halftime show. (When I was watching her strut around the stage, I wondered if she chose them to hide her knee braces.)

The research interlude was interesting, but not all that inspiring. Yes, I can now imagine my characters in fishnet stockings and garters or a naughty nurse costume, or spritz them with the scent of a pheromone mist, but a satisfying romance requires (pardon me, but I’ve been overstimulated) deeper penetration.

And what should pop into my email inbox this Valentine’s Day week but an invitation to check out WebMD and the science of love.

Remember our workshop last summer, when Margie Lawson urged us to include the viewpoint character’s visceral reactions? WebMD informs us that a fifth of a second after you glimpse the hero’s square jaw, your brain dumps a truckload of love chemicals and hormones into your system. The result is a sense of euphoria, a racing heart, and trembling knees.

That’s the love stuff I’m talking about!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Things People Say to Romance Writers

Okay, so I'm too stuck in the middle of my new WIP to deal with a blog entry today, but I didn't want to leave you all hanging. Instead, I thought I'd let you enjoy this most fabulous video created by USA Today Bestselling author Maisey Yates.

Tawk amongst yerselves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day but with a marriage proposal.?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Starts With A Life Changing Call

This is actually my third post I’ve written for today. The first two were so blasted depressing, no matter how I spun them. So I decided on a simpler post. Lexi George did such a great job the other day on her presentation about what she wished she known about being published, I thought I would do a mish-mash of what I’ve learned.

10.  Any funds you receive for an advance (lucky you), and the government doesn’t want, plan to use on advertising and extra copies of your book for giveaways.

9.      Don’t talk about another author by name or book title on Twitter unless it’s good. Though you don’t follow the author or don’t @ or # the name/title, it can still pop up on their TweetDeck search engine. Lesson learned: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. 

8.      Everyone tells you, DO NOT READ THE REVIEWS. But they’re like a car accident on the interstate. Doesn’t matter how often you tell yourself not to look, you find yourself Google-ing and Bing-ing your name and book title. It’s a sickness. Start writing that next book. That helps in keeping your mind on moving forward. Moving forward is good.

7.      When you order your bookmarks and/or collector cards, leave off the release date. That way they won’t look “out of date” afterwards. If someone is interested, they’ll look it up and pre-order. And yes, pre-order is all that’s good and wonderful. Counts against that important release date.

         Oh, some people say bookmarks are a waste of money. I keep several in my purse at all times and hand them out to everyone (check out ladies, car guy, etc.). It’s cheaper than giving away books and you’ll be surprised how many people later tell me they bought the book and loved it. You have to remember many people don’t know a published author. So their curiosity gets the better of them.

6.    Don't rate your book on Goodreads. Sure, you believe your book deserves five stars. No matter that you have a right to believe it, people think to do so is crass. And don't ask your friends to review your book on Amazon unless they do it all the time for many, many other authors. Readers can see what books each person reviews and if only your book or books show up, they will comment and be ugly. I've seen them do it.

5.      RWA offers BookScan and Publisher Alley at a discount. Unless you expect your book to hit the top 100 (sorry, unlikely), don’t worry about BookScan for a while. And Publisher Alley doesn’t track Print on Demand books. If yours isn’t POD, then Publisher Alley might be more interesting to you in the beginning.

4.      Be sure to keep up with your expenses: postage, contest entries, advertising (including bookmarks, collector cards, etc.), conference fees and anything that costs you money to promote you and your book. They can be deductions on your federal and possibly on state income tax forms.  Save the receipts and write it down asap. Otherwise, you won’t remember months later.

3.      Your original purpose of going to conferences has changed. Most likely, you don’t need to pitch a book, so offer a workshop. Get your name out there as much as possible. Networking is still important.

2.      A question I had asked authors several times over the years: What’s the big deal about becoming PAN?  The Published Author Network is RWA’s classification of a published author. I finally (sadly to my face) received an answer last year. Respect. Enough said.

1.      The most important thing is to enjoy every second of being a published author, and the hell with everything else!
I’m sure I should tell you more, just as there is more to learn, but that’s enough for now. Do keep in mind that this is my take on all of this. I would never claim to be an expert or right about my outlook. Your experience may be different. All I ask is that you keep in mind number one.

What would you add (experience or what you've heard from others)?

P.S. Oh, put your book cover everywhere you post if possible.