Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing Realistically About Chronic Illness

Me having a Remicade
infusion for my Crohn's
Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. For those that haven’t heard of it (and many haven’t), it’s an autoimmune disease of the digestive system. It can directly affect any part of the digestive system from your mouth all the way through, and it has quite the resume of extraintestinal complications as well. Let’s just say it ain’t fun.

A few years ago, I was excited to find a novel with a main character with Crohn’s disease. Anything involving frequent frenzied trips to the bathroom is not something that is generally discussed, much less written about. When I finally got the book, I ripped through it.

To say the book sugarcoated Crohn’s is an understatement. In a book about a character with a digestive disease, the word “toilet” wasn’t mentioned once. (I searched the book on my Kindle.) The effects of the disease and its treatments were glossed over, and how a chronic illness - much less this chronic illness - affects a relationship was not realistically portrayed.

(Don't get me wrong. I liked the book. I just wanted the Crohn's experience to be better described.)

I’m working on a book in which the main character has Crohn’s disease. Charlie is diagnosed when many are: right before he goes under the knife. His whole life is changing, and he’s just beginning to figure out how to live with a chronic illness. I will make sure the word “toilet” is in the book at least once ;)

But I also need to write a story about an illness I have without writing about my illness. I could curl your hair with some of my war stories, but that’s not all I want Charlie’s story to be about. I want to be realistic without being gloomy. As much as having Crohn’s sucks, I also have a good life otherwise. I am surrounded by love and support. I accomplish, I travel, and I celebrate, all despite the limits chronic illness places on me. I want Charlie to do the same.

If you have a chronic illness, have you found novels that realistically describe what it’s like to have the illness? If you’ve written about a chronically ill person, did you find it difficult to make sure your story still made the reader feel good at the end?

Kerry's website | Kerry @ Twitter | Kerry @ Facebook

Monday, January 28, 2013

Exercise of Futility?

I do not like wasting others' time. Writing is no different. I am blessed with both a wonderful writers' group and an awesome new critique partner. They are always generous with praise and provide helpful insight on ways to make it better. Yet, I am in the initial stages of my WIP and, though I know where I want things to go in the big picture, I am struggling writing the page-to-page. So, I find myself cringing each time I submit something to them.  "Rough" draft is very much an exaggeration.  I know without hesitation that my WIP will take several drafts before the story is complete and I even consider querying.

I'm curious what your rule-of-thumb is when submitting to critique partners or writers' groups?  Do you believe it is a waste of their time and talents to submit as you write? That a writer should wait until that first rough draft is complete before subjecting others to it?  Or do you believe it is simply part of the process?

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Be sure to come to the Birmingham Public Library's Local Authors Expo on February 2, 2012 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are over 100 authors attending and willing to autograph and talk about books. And yes, there are several Southern Magic members attending and signing their books.
Frederick J. Arceneaux
Betty Bolte
Katherine Bone
Jennifer Echols
Mary V. Freeman 
Debra Glass
Laura Hayden
Suzanne Johnson
Jared Millet
Christy Reece
Carla Swafford 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Location as a Character: Knowing Your Place

Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar, the third book in the demon hunter series, comes out January 29, 2013.  While there are many crazy characters in the series, there’s one character I could not do without:  Hannah, the small South Alabama town that is the setting of the books.  Without Hannah, there would be no magic, no supernatural hijinks, no Southern crazy.  The town of Hannah is the source of the magic in my books and a magnet for the strange, scary, and wonderful. 

Ever hear the mantra ‘Location, location, location,’ in reference to property value?  Any real estate agent worth his or her salt will tell you that similar homes can increase or decrease in value, depending on that one vital selling point: location.

The same rule applies in writing.  Where and when you set your story affects it in a myriad of ways, including genre placement, marketability (that constant ever-changing thing that editors and agents are looking for), shelf space in the bookstore, even readership. 

Make that especially readership. As readers, many of us have auto buys.  Love tea and ballroom romances? Historical romance is your style.  Do you prefer your mysteries set in the bustling heart of a big city, or intimate and cozy?  The mystery component is important but the location is the thing.  Love adventure on the high seas?  A pirate’s life for you.  Adore tales of romance in exotic places?   Settle down with a Harlequin Presents. Want to be taken out of this world?  You may be a fantasy/sci-fi reader. 

See?  Location matters. My stories wouldn’t be the same if they were set anywhere else.  Here are a few ways the setting has affected my stories.

1.       Culture clash—I love the collision between my stoic, alpha male heroes and my Southern heroines. Talk about apples and oranges, yin-yang, chalk and cheese, chocolate versus vanilla—my poor demon hunters spend a lot of their time trying to decipher the strange speech of the locals, not to mention the unaccustomed emotions my femmes fetales engender in their frozen, medieval little hearts.  The small town location is ripe with possibilities that affect the stories.  Anything and everything happens in Hannah.

2.      Climate and weather—nothing like a sultry Southern night to bring out the romantic in your demon hunter.  But make sure he puts up a shield spell to ward off the mosquitoes. We grow’em big down here, people. Big.  We’re talking the size of sparrows.

3.      Jobs and resources:  farming, timber, and tourism are the big money makers in Hannah. And gossip; gossip is a natural energy source in my imaginary little town. Magic aside, Hannah is a typical small Southern town, with one grocery store, a drug store where everyone knows your b’ness, a hardware store, one beauty parlor, a drive-in and a meat and three.  The size and location of the town affects the story, sometimes drives the story.

4.      Recreational activities—how do the locals pass the time?  Eating, drinking, going to church, hunting, riding around in pickup trucks, and football are big whoopee doo deals in Hannah.  And then there are the Peanut Festival, the Grand Goober Ball, and the Halloween dance at the country club, where everyone dresses in costume.  And I’ve got a mud bog in me I am dying to write.  Yee-hah!  Try writing that in the Big City!

5.      Sex—yes, I said s-e-x.  The location of your story affects when and where your characters do The Deed.  In Demon Hunting in Dixie, Brand, the hero, gets his van cherry popped when a certain Southern gal has her wicked way with him in the back of a delivery vehicle. Do that on a busy city street and you’ll get a ticket! Plenty of woods for making whoopee in and around Hannah.  In the novella, The Bride Wore Demon Dust, Bunny and Rafe make love on the beach with the moon and the stars for lighting and the ocean waves as a soundtrack.  In Demon Hunting in the Deep South, Evie and Ansgar get it on in a backwater lagoon.  Talk about the call of the wild!  In Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar, Beck, the heroine, has a very romantic interlude with the sternly handsome captain of the Dalvahni on her porch overlooking the river. All of these love scenes were driven by location.

So remember: Location, location, location.  My books wouldn’t be the same without Hannah.  She’s as vivid and alive as any place I’ve ever been. 

As we say in the South, she’s a real character.

Giveaway!  I'm giving away three copies of Demon Hunting in a Dive bar.  Leave a comment and enter your name to win!  (US only)  (I will announce the winners tomorrow, with instructions on how to send me your address.)

 [Updated at 8:00 p.m., January 24, 2013]

The winners of the 3 books are:


Email me at with your
snail mail address!  You have until 8:00 p.m. January 28, 2013, Central time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Endings Are Such Sweet Sorrow

Yes, I know I've changed up a classic, but for anyone who has come to an end of a book or series, they understand it's so hard to say goodbye.

Recently, I was hooked on a new TV series called The Mob Doctor. It had everything that I loved to watch. Medical drama, mobsters, a love triangle and sexy men. You knew that last was coming, right? Well, it appears they've cancelled it. So sad. I loved William Forsythe's role. He's got a great voice. The last episode wrapped up several plot lines. At least, they were kind enough to do it, but I really wished they hadn't killed off my favorite character (William). I like to think he's still alive and looking after his daughter, Grace.

Thankfully, Anne Stuart hadn't disappointed me in her ICE series. I so wanted her to keep going and thankfully she self-published ON THIN ICE. It was as wonderful as the rest of the series. Yet, I still want MORE!

And now, I come to the end of THE CIRCLE series with CIRCLE OF DECEPTION. It will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the series that got me published. I had hoped to write at least three to five more books in the series and with the publishing industry as it is, I may still do it one day.

In fact the other day, I sent out my newsletter and my mailing list received the first scene in Jack's story that revealed his heroine. I'm hoping to finish his story one day.

Do you have a series (TV, Movie, Book) that you miss so much?

By the way, I'm celebrating the release of the paperback version of CIRCLE OF DECEPTION today! Isn't it great how I have two release dates per book?  LOL!

GIVEAWAY:  Five lucky commenters will receive CIRCLE OF DECEPTION in Paperback (US only) or e-format (US or International) - commenter's choice. (Sorry, Southern Magic, Heart of Dixie and Gulf Coast Chapter members can comment but are not eligible. Only fair. You're like family. Oh, yes, family not eligible too.)

[updated at 8:54 pm January 22, 2013]

The winners of the 5 books are:  

Shellbelle (no email)
deanna (no email)

And what the heck, the others too.
Carey Sabala (no email)
Bama (no email)

I'll be in contact with you if you left an email. If you don't see an email from me tonight, send it to me at carlaswafford @ You have until January 26, 8 p.m. central time USA.

Don't feel bad for Lexi and Naima. They're family. Then again, maybe you should.  LOL!

Thanks, everyone!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fifty Shades of Character

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Kahlil Gibran

                                             Yes, I'm going to talk about it. THAT book. You know the one. I wouldn't have read THAT book at all, not even out of curiosity, had I not received a late night phone call from Paris, yes THAT Paris, not long after THAT book hit the lists. Someone whose opinion I trusted told me I had to read THAT book. So, I did. And when I finished the first one I immediately downloaded the second one and then the third.


It took me a while to discern that as well. And it all boils down to CHARACTER. The books were not well-written. The author broke all sorts of rules. Now anyone who knows me knows I am not the biggest fan of rules myself. But, if you're going to break them, especially as a debut author, you should at least pace yourself. This author did not. She used cliches like my brother uses barbecue sauce. She ran over the rules like a Crimson Tide defensive lineman through a Notre Dame offense. But the one thing she did that drew me in and would not let me go was this. She created a character I could not let go. I was at once fascinated by and repelled by Christian Grey. As I got to know him I wanted to know more. I began to feel for him, to root for him, and in the end I wanted to know he was going to be alright.


 How do we go about creating characters so memorable, so mesmerizing that readers cannot bear to look away not even to sleep? I've been mulling this over for a bit and here are a few of my thoughts on character.


Speaking of breaking the rules, Loretta Chase started Lord of Scoundrels with a prologue in omniscient point of view - something THEY (whoever THEY are) tell us is a big no-no. But in this prologue we meet Dain, one of the most unique, rude, overbearing romance heroes ever written. We find out about his childhood, about the things that made him who he is and we hurt for the little boy and want the man to find love, after the heroine shoots him to get his attention, of course.

Give your characters a unique backstory. Make them interesting. Evoke a reaction in the reader. Introduce them in such a way the reader loves them, hates them, is intrigued by them, can't look away, wants to find out what makes them tick. You, as the author, know their entire life story. Not all of us are Loretta Chase. We can't present a character's entire life story at the beginning of the book, but we can sprinkle the bits that will grab the reader onto every page. Train wreck or abs from 300, make it something the reader simply cannot forget about the character. They will keep reading.


"Lucinda," she finally returned most cordially, "if I were to be marooned on a desert island for the remainder of my days and must needs choose between your company and that of an organ-grinder's flea-bitten monkey, I should not hesitate a moment before opting for the latter. If I could not be assured of intelligent conversation, at least I would not be subjected to your aping recitations that ceaselessly roam between the boundaries of the Land of Idiots and the Kingdom of Twits. Besides," she added glibly, "if pressed, at least I could eat the monkey."

From - The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane by Kasey Michaels

If you haven't read this book you are missing a real treat. Each and every character is an absolute gem of quirks, foibles and idiosyncratic mayhem. Just the quote above lets your know the speaker is a no-nonsense lady who refuses to mince words. Put your characters in situations everyone can relate to and then let them handle said situation in a way that makes the reader laugh out loud, cry, scratch their head or gasp in surprise. We all know how we would behave in any given situation (most of the time,) take the expected response and give it a twist. The reader will keep reading to see what said character is going to do next. 


Any Southern woman who has read Lexi George's DEMON HUNTING IN DIXIE cannot help but relate to Addy Corwin in a BIG way! Are you kidding me? Southern belle, marriage or death Mama, witchy with a B enemies, eccentric relations and a brother with issues - not just Southern families, but all families have these. We can relate to Addy Corwin. We want to hang out with her. We want to see what she is going to say or do next. That's relatability. 

We don't want to read about ourselves. We want to read about the people we might be if we lived in the worlds of Dain and Jessica or Addy and Brand. So as unique and quirky and glorious as the best characters are there has to be something that connects the reader to them, some common ground. We want to see ourselves as these characters or sometimes we imagine ourselves as the sidekick - you know, we go along for the ride with none of the danger and heartbreak. Take the relatablity and make it extraordinary. Or make the extraordinary relatable.


Now with all of that said, there is one more thing you might want to try to create characters that will live in a reader's mind long after they have read the last page. It's a tough one though. Anna Campbell's Regency Noir CLAIMING THE COURTESAN caused quite a stir when it debuted. The hero, Kylemore, is one of the most irredeemable men to pop up in romance for a long time. And frankly the heroine, Verity, is no peach either. They are both scarred, selfish, greedy, petulant and their relationship isn't a train wreck. It's the Hindenburg. But readers couldn't look away. They had to see how on earth these two people could be redeemed let alone end up happy together. Campbell walked that fine line and won. The book was nominated for a Rita. And it remains one of my favorite romance novels of all time.

This sort of characterization is risky. You have to walk a fine line between making the characters damaged and broken or completely irredeemable. It's a tough job. I can think of at least one much-touted romance novel (And no, I am not going to name names.) which, for me, did not succeed. By the end of the book the hero was redeemed in my eyes, but I was screaming at him "Run, buddy. You deserve better than her!" Not the way a romance should end.

SO, those are my thoughts on how to make unforgettable characters, the kind of people readers want to imagine themselves as, or hang out with, or cheer for. What about you? What ideas do you have for creating amazing characters? Do you think characters make the story or is it the other way around? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What's in a Cover?

This is a very interesting article about e-book covers. I don't necessarily agree with all her thoughts, but she makes some excellent points!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Meet the Fabulous Rachel Van Dyken

I had the pleasure of meeting New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken at the Moonlight and Magnolias conference this past fall.  She graciously agreed to this interview. I am positive you will love her and her books as much as I did:

You are a prolific writer. Why do you write (and how did you start writing)? 
I write because my mind won't shut up! I have so many different story lines going on at any given time that I'm pretty sure if I didn't record some of the stuff I'm thinking. My head would explode! ;) I was a school counselor for five years. In between sessions with kids I would work on books in hopes to kind of distress. It was an emotionally trying job and it was kind of my escape from everything. The rest is history!

You write in multiple genres. Is it challenging to adapt your style among historicals, young adult, paranormal/gothic, etc.? Do you have a favorite genre you write in?
At first it was really challenging. I was writing my regency series House of Renwick and I would switch between that and my contemporary Compromising Kessen, and all of a sudden the speech would change. I'd have to go back and delete everything because my characters were saying "Devil take it!" In 2012! Now, I am able to balance it out more. I know how to change my voice a bit depending on what I'm writing. While writing Whispered Music, my regency retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I was also writing a contemporary, The Bet. Both books had interesting secondary characters and some fun love triangles. It actually helped to be able to bounce between stories when I felt drained! I think my favorite genre is regency. I have a weakness for rakes and wounded heroes. I want to see the bad boy get knocked off his feet by the independent woman. The regency period provides the perfect environment for the gentleman to seduce the lady only to find out that the lady plans on seducing him first. It's delicious, and I love it!

What is your writing process? You work on multiple books at the same time what are the challenges and benefits you experience in doing that?
The biggest challenge is remembering your characters names and also focusing on the voice of that certain novel. I think it's important to work where you are inspired. if I'm not feeling the whole historical thing, I switch it up. I think it also makes it easier for me not to hit a slump. When I get blocked I just move on and go to something else, I try not to put pressure on myself. In doing that I'm able to relax and enjoy myself! I also have some readers that prefer the historicals so its always a fun challenge to try to get them to jump genres and enjoy something different!

Why did you choose to submit to Astraea Press?  What is it like working with Stephanie Taylor/having an editor who is also an author? 
I saw Astraea Press on a blog and noticed that they were a new publisher specializing in sweet romance. I knew that I wanted to be a sweet romance author, so I submitted to them, and was completely shocked when they accepted my manuscript! I love working with Stephanie. I couldn't ask for a better company or a more wonderful woman! She is brilliant with her company and also personally edits most of my manuscripts. I can always trust her to be honest with my work. She makes me as an author want to work harder.

What are you working on? 
I'm currently working on my London Fairy Tale series. I'm doing a regency retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  It's the third book in my fairy tales series and it focuses around Hunter Wolfsbane Duke of Haverstone. He's a very damaged and hilarious hero who is both Hunter and Wolf. He's also a spy for the crown. His partner is a woman, though he despises the fact that she's of the opposite sex. He finds her not only distracting but extremely attractive, she goes by the name Red. The story has been so fun to write and I'm excited for the finished product this Winter! (The Wolf's Pursuit has an anticipated February 2013 release date).

I'm also working on a contemporary romance about two brothers pulled between the girl next door. It's called The Bet, and should also be releasing soon. :) And because I clearly have too much time on my hands, I'm simultaneously working on a new serial regency that will be up on my
blog in weekly posts called "The Spinster Club," it will eventually be made into a novel. :)

What appearances will you be making in the next year? 
I'll be attending RT in Kansas City. I'm also a featured author at RomCon in Denver and I think I'll be attending a few more conventions as well!

You can learn more about Rachel at her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter (@RachVD). She is also on Goodreads.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Birmingham (AL USA) Local Authors Expo

Be sure to come to the Birmingham Public Library's Local Authors Expo on February 2, 2012 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are over 100 authors attending and willing to autograph and talk about books. And yes, there are several Southern Magic members attending and signing their books.

Frederick J. Arceneaux 
Betty Bolte 
Katherine Bone
Jennifer Echols
Mary V. Freeman 
Debra Glass
Laura Hayden
Suzanne Johnson
Jared Millet
Christy Reece
Carla Swafford 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Last call!

'Reading a book in a sunny afternoon' photo (c) 2010, Pedro Ribeiro Simões - license:
Authors, rush to the computer now to fill out an entry form for the 2013 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for novels and novellas published in 2012. 

Genres include contemporary, romantic suspense, inspirational, paranormal (FFP), historical, and young adult. To qualify, books must show a copyright of 2012. Self-published works are not eligible. 

Judges are unabashed romance readers, booksellers, and librarians. 

The entry deadline is only days away--Jan. 15. Electronic submission is best! And if you order books from Author, Author! by Jan. 15, we’ll consider them on time. 

Yours could be one of the first-place winners featured in a full-page RWR ad. 

Find out all the specifics on our web site--

Good luck in the competition!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Old Year, New Experiences

Alicia Hunter Pace AKA Jean and Stephanie        
We hope everyone had wonderful holidays filled with all the fun things you love.  We were both lucky enough to spend time with friends and family.  We must have been very good girls because Santa was great to us!

 I know that this time of year we are all looking toward the new year and thinking about what we want to accomplish.  It is great to look back and celebrate successes of the past year.

We had an exciting first this holiday season--finishing a book that was already sold.  Since I teach school we have often used my holiday time to work on one project or another--whether it was finishing up a manuscript, editing,  or plotting an idea for a new work.  This year that was all different.  We were working on a deadline to turn in the next book in our Gone South series, due to Crimson Romance January 31. We were determined to turn in a great book as close to error free as possible, on time.  I am happy to report that we were successful!

We had always worked toward self-imposed deadlines, but if we fell short no one knew but us.  To have someone expecting a book was a totally new experience. But we were no strangers to new experiences this year.  In 2012, we commissioned our first professionally done covers for our fantasy series, the Elven Brides of Lochmoor, and self-published them on Amazon.  We sold our first book when Crimson Romance bought Sweet Gone South. Then they bought the next two books in the series on proposal.  Now we really had to get our act together--new webpage,  new blog, new press release, new way of looking at the publishing world!
I know that many of you had some fantastic first experiences during 2012. Let's celebrate them!
What are some of the best first things that happened to you last year?

Friday, January 04, 2013

Timing Is Everything...Or Is It?

My first book was a baby that was born and then reborn. In the process of editing, my original file got corrupted. After countless hours trying to recover the file, by myself and professionals, I was only able to recover about five thousand words of the sixty thousand word manuscript. What remained was the beginning and the end of my book. I had to go back and recreate the middle of the story.

After several days of mourning my loss, I went in to re-write the book with a positive attitude, determined to make the story better. One of the speed bumps that I encountered along the way was the recreation of the first love scene. It was the only one I intended to describe in depth.

The first time I wrote it, the time was between midnight and two in the morning, a good time to write about things that go bump in the night (pardon the pun). The second time, it was eight o’clock on a sunny Friday morning and I just couldn’t get in the mood. I decided to do a less detailed love scene and possibly add to it at a later time.

Later, when I read it, I liked the brevity. As a reader, I like the lead in and the after-glow, my mind already knows what happens in the meantime (exchange of bodily fluids).

I wondered if the timing of writing the scene really had that much of an effect on the detail I decided to go with (or not to go with in this case).
Do you as a writer have a favorite time for writing the juicy stuff? How about as a reader? Is it really hotter after dark? Or can you get just as steamed up on a sunny Friday morning?
Post a reply and be entered in a drawing for a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Be sure to leave an email address so I can contact you if I draw your name. ; Follow Me on Twitter ; Meda's Blog