Friday, March 27, 2015

Engaging Novel Interview

Engaging Novel Interview

Today I’m going to do something a little different. Instead of interviewing an author or writing about my own work, I will interview a Southern Magic author’s novel. This will work basically like a book review except it will only cover the first 16 sentences of the novel. See if you can guess what story this is, and who wrote it.

“Word has it Taylor nailed you last weekend,” Mike said between swigs of beer. “Please tell me you didn’t screw that jock douchebag.”

I might be the only seventeen-year-old in the world confused about her virginity status, but I at least knew I didn’t have sex with Brandon Taylor. I could tell by Mike’s suggestive grin under that blue Seahawks cap that he was only teasing me, but after an entire week of denials and explanations, his comment pissed me off anyway. With the way rumors flew around Ridgeview High so quickly, I might as well have had sex with Brandon.

I should probably thank my lucky stars that no one had made a video of me yet. That happened once to a girl at my school. It hadn’t been anything serious like a sex tape, but she was now forever linked on the internet to the guy she’d been talking to. I couldn’t imagine myself forever linked to someone.

Except maybe with Will.

“What the hell kind of question is that?” Will asked, sounding irritated next to me. He only used that tone when seriously peeved, and I glanced at him before looking back at Mike, whose back straightened slightly as Will glared at him with one of those unblinking, challenging stares guys do with each other.

The silence continued until even TJ turned from the television to look between them.

“Missy knows I’m joking,” Mike finally said from his cross-legged position on the floor, shrugging as he turned to the movie.

I turned to the movie, too, even though I had zero interest in what we were watching. Cable sucked. (16-sentence exert)

1.     Does it connect the reader with the protagonist? Yes. We find out her name is Missy.

2.     What is happening? Yes. She’s sitting around watching cable TV with 3 others.

3.     Is it dramatized? Yes. It’s played out before our eyes with dialogue.

4.     Does the action move the story forward? Yes. They are talking about the rumors being spread and the issues in high school associated.

5.     Does what happens have consequences? Yes. If her friends are still bugging her about the rumors being true though they aren’t, she could have an uphill battle. Plus, they are drinking beer and are underage. Questions on whether or not parents will catch them.

6.     Does the protagonist do something? Yes. Missy disputes the rumor

7.     Does the protagonist desire something? Yes. Someone she can connect with.

8.     Is the action current? Yes.

9.     Is there enough setting? Yes. We know it’s a bunch of kids watching TV drinking beer.

10. Does what happen raise a story question? Yes. Missy is confused about her virginity status. Either she is or isn’t, why is it confusing? This points to a deep plot full of emotion.

I give the start of this story a full 10 points because all questions were answered with a yes. So, what do you think? Is this a story that you’d like to read? I’m intrigued myself and want to know how it ends. Below is the Novel name and a short summary as well as the Author Bio. The author, Callie James, has offered a free Kindle version of this story to anyone who leaves a comment on this review with their email address.

Hope you enjoy my review,
Philisha Byrd Stephens

INNOCENT by Callie James
Will Moore has been Missy Jamison’s best friend for years, and until recently, she hadn’t considered going "there" with him for fear of losing the only relationship she trusts. But senior year is almost over and dating other people hasn’t worked out, not with Missy’s crazy home life constantly pushing her further into Will’s safer world, making her attraction to her BFF more difficult to ignore.

When a forgery incident at school lands Missy under house arrest and banned from spending time with Will, she’s unable to ignore her dysfunctional home life any longer. In a desperate attempt for self-preservation, Missy finds herself back with Will and this time things are different.

But the direct violation of her mother’s edict proves the perfect catalyst to push her pill-popping mother over the edge and Missy’s home life past the point of no return. Now her only chance for normalcy will require Missy to ask herself if staying silent for so many years was truly about protecting herself from her past, or more about protecting a mother who never protected her.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Giveaway and Creating Stars by Peggy Webb

Once in a blue moon, someone special inspires a story that has to be told. As I watched my Aunt Maxine’s journey with her donor heart, I knew that someday her courage and gratitude would undergo the magical transformation that allows an author to spin fact into fiction. 

Aunt Maxine became the world’s second longest living recipient of a donor heart, and she lived every day as if it were a gift. You’ll find the best parts of her in Stars to Lead Me Home.

But Stars is much more than a story about borrowed hearts. It’s about marriages that fall apart and hope that keeps us going. It’s about finding home and cherishing friends who  laugh with you, cry with you and grab the nearest shovel to start digging if you say, “Help. I’ve got a body on my hands.”

Maggie and her friends are people you know. They are the women next door you’d like to invite over for a cup of tea. They’re the women you gravitate toward at parties and take shopping and sit beside at church and share your secrets with. If you loved Driving Me Crazy you’ll love Stars to Lead Me Home. If you enjoyed Talk Before Sleep (Berg), The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (Wells) and Steel Magnolias ( Harling), you’ll enjoy this novel!   

Early reviewers call Stars to Lead Me Home the “Must Read book of the year” and “the kind of book you can’t wait to share with your friends.”  You can save forty percent by preordering.  

Grab the book then hop over to my blog where I’m giving away a $50 bookstore gift card! All you have to do is leave a comment on any post during the month of March for a chance to win.  I’ll see you there!

Buy links for Stars to Lead Me Home:

Happy reading!


Monday, March 23, 2015

How NOT to word a sponsored Facebook ad

We all have our pet peeves when it comes to advertisement. I'm pretty easy going, so not a lot bothers me. I figure people are doing the best they can. I also know I'll have my share of missteps, despite my best intentions and efforts.

BUT, there is one thing I cannot excuse when I see a sponsored Facebook post from an author.

THIS BOOK IS HOTTER THAN <insert most recent, bestselling steamy novel>.

THIS HERO IS BETTER THAN <insert most popular hero>.

THIS BOOK IS WRITTEN BETTER THAN <insert most recent, bestselling romance>.

I've read the comments under those Facebook ads. The majority don't see it as a problem. They will tag friends to take a look at the new book. But, there are definitely readers who are willing to state that they've read both books and they are not comparable.

Some readers feel like they should defend the author or book or hero being usurped. And that is not a good path. The last thing you want to do is offend the serious fans of a beloved author. Not because it's a bad business move, but because it's BAD!

It also comes across as riding that author's coattails. If a few authors strategize to cross-sell, that is a different situation, of course. Sidenote: I would love to read a book from one author which takes place in the world of another. Like when you were a kid and Laverne and Shirley made a guest appearance on Happy Days! Or, more recently when the Flash and Arrow have crossover episodes. Exponential goodness.  I digress....

Do you have any advertising pet peeves? Feel free to share!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Reading, Creativity, and the Reality of Life

I won't lie...I totally forgot that I had to write a blog post today.

Like many writers, I have a day job. As of Monday of this week, I now have two (at least for a short period of time). I took a freelance editing job with really tight deadlines, and, while the extra money is great, the extra work (as expected) has sucked up an amazing amount of my surplus time. For the next several weeks, I don't have a life...which also means that my reading life is suffering.

Reading is so important to me. In fact, whenever someone asks me to tell them about myself, one of the first identifiers I throw out there is "READER." I hadn't thought about this until recently. I was listening to an episode of the "Reading Lives" podcast, and I heard the host ask the guest something like, "When did you start to self-identify as a reader?" It was almost shocking to hear. And then I realized that being a reader is totally part of the way I look at my identity.

And...bringing this back to the opening of my post...I think not having as much time to read right now is really making me look at the  important role reading plays in my daily life, as well as the way my creativity suffers when I don't read for pleasure.

When Sylvia Day came to our Readers' Luncheon this past year, she discussed the important role reading plays in her creative life. I am realizing the same is true for me. When I am not reading, my writing life/creative life suffers.

I realize this will be short term, but I will be so glad when I have the luxury of going back to my "routine" of having plenty of time to read, think, and create.

So what about you? What feeds your creativity? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. Follow me on Twitter!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Are Contests for Non-published Manuscripts a Waste of Time?

I want to talk about unpublished contests. They were everywhere at one time, but I've seen a decline of contests and entries for the last several years. 

We know why the numbers have become smaller. Self-publishing.

Of course, anyone can be published with a mere push of a button. Doesn't everyone want a shortcut to a successful career? Hey, a few have reached that. But out of the thousands upon thousands of self-published books, ninety-plus percent are not best sellers.

Sure, there are contests out there for self-published books. But wouldn't you rather enter your unpublished manuscript into a contest and get feedback before the whole world sees it?

I believe that all unpublished (author) contests should take a long look at their rules (and some have already) and allow any author to enter.  That will help with their number of entries and increase their revenue.

Thankfully some have allowed published authors to enter as long as the manuscript is unpublished and in another category than what they're published in.  E.g., Show Me The Spark, Great Expectations.

Or just that the manuscript to be unpublished (can be same category). E.g., Tara, Hot Prospects. 

So here's my list of good things that come about entering 'unpublished' contests in case you've forgotten.

1) Where can a person receive three critiques of twenty-five pages or more, and cost only $10 per critique? 

2) If you final, your latest manuscript is placed in front of an editor or/and agent. Plenty of people out there say they don't need to write for a big five publishing house. Congratulations. Then that means your books are selling like hot cakes. But we know that's probably not true. And despite what you think, there are authors who write for their dream publishers and got there through contests. Paula Graves is one that comes to mind.  

3) And if it is a finalist and you don't get a request, that doesn't matter. It's great info for a query letter. Side note: If you final in several small contests, just mention the number of contests, not the names.  The editor might not recognize the names. But if it is a big one (Molly, Maggies, Golden Heart), then certainly mention the name.

4) If nothing more, sometimes it's nice to have an ego boost when your entry is a finalist and one of the judges tell you they can't wait until it's published.

So the answer is NO. It isn't a waste of time.

Former Contest Diva
Carla Swafford
Look for me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, & Google+
Time Magazine, [Circle of Danger] ". . . involves deadly assassins, drug lords and doing it."

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Origins of Love

I can't help it. I'm a word nerd.

I love to research the etymology of words. It amazes me to discover how long a word has been in use, especially if it continues to mean the same thing to generations of people across centuries.

Take the word LOVE. 

As early as the 13th century, the word love was applied to a beloved person and love letters were sent to the one you cared for the most. The roots of the word are all over the map (no doubt because love is a universal concept). The Germanic Old English lufu sounds close to our modern pronunciation of love. The Indo-European root in Sanskrit lubhyati is a little more carnal with a meaning closer to "desires". And the Latin libet means "it is pleasing". Incidentally, libet is the root of the modern word "libido".

I laughed out loud to find that love and sex have been linked for so long. Granted, neither are required in a relationship and can exist on their own, but it says something profound about humans that we want to establish closer bonds with the people we are intimate with.

The word ROMANCE is linked to the language it originated from. 

It derives from the Old French romanz, French being a "romance" language or one based on Latin. The early romances were tales of knights or heroes told in verse to entertain the lords and ladies of the courts of Europe. It was from these tales of knights that the concept of chivalry and courtly love arose.

These brave knights fought for the honor of their fair lady with a pure heart, their carnal trysts forbidden by arranged marriages which could not still the beating of their great love.

I rather like the fact that these stories of love overcoming the obstacles of class, culture, and socio-political pressures are almost the opposite of the modern romance--a story of a character overcoming physical, psychological, or cultural obstacles to finding a love that will diminish those barriers and give them a happily ever after. The HEA is a definite modern attachment to romance, or should I say "evolution". Whereas in the older French tales, lovers would run away to be caught or killed or worse, commit suicide, the modern tales offer the lovers a lifetime of love together. Definitely an improvement in my book!

So what about you? Have you ever looked up the origins of a word and been surprised by what you found?

AIDEE LADNIER is a writer who loves quirky characters. You can visit her website at or meet her at some of her favorite social media sites:
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Friday, March 13, 2015

What does the "Blurred Lines" verdict mean for publishing?

T.S. Eliot suggested "good writers borrow, great writers steal." A recent jury verdict in the music industry proves that following this advice can be costly.  Very costly.

"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams was the song of Summer 2013. Its melodies and beat were familiar. Very familiar.  Marvin Gaye's family said they were too familiar - like Gaye's "Got to Give it Up."  And as is the case in any modern story, litigation ensued.

Thicke admitted in a GQ article that preceded the litigation that he and Williams were listening to "Got to Give it Up" in the studio and decided they should do something similar.  He admitted to being deeply influenced by Marvin Gaye's music.  And with this, the debate began as to what difference existed between "being influenced by" and "copying."  This week, a jury found the difference would cost Thicke and Williams $7.4 million dollars.

The debate won't end with music.  Numerous books that have hit the best seller lists are admitted heavily influenced by other works.  This raises the question as to how the "Blurred Lines" verdict will translate into publishing.  Will works that started as fan-fiction and then were later modified into their own world fall into the category of "Blurred Lines?"  Where will the line be drawn?  In the "Blurred Lines" case there was no allegation that the song was stolen or plagiarized, just that heavy similarities suggested that the "Blurred Lines" was benefiting from the good will or popularity of the original work that inspired it.

T.S. Eliot's writing advice inevitably will lead the publishing world to question the Blurred Lines in fiction between "deeply influenced" and plagiarism.  What are your thoughts?

You compare, "Got to Give it Up"

To "Blurred Lines"

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Midnight's Better Than 2 AM

I come from a nocturnal family, so staying up half the night isn’t out of the ordinary for most of us.  (As vampires, we tend to burn in the sun.) But since most of the world sleeps at night, I’ve adapted in adulthood to sleep when it’s dark and work during the day.
There’s just one little problem: I’m better at night. (Like all vampires. Why am I not writing paranormal?) I’m more focused and more creative. I accomplish more in less time. It helps that there are fewer distractions since the rest of the world is snoozing, but I have more mental clarity. Whether to stay up later or not has become an area of struggle for me.
I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, proper nutrition (mostly), and enough sleep. We tend to not prioritize the latter very highly. As productive members of society, accomplishing tasks sometimes takes precedence over taking care of ourselves. Our bodies aren’t machines and we need sufficient downtime/sleep. If we don’t get it, bad things happen, such as premature aging, hormonal imbalances which lead to disease and weight gain, memory loss, and lack of sex drive. Ouch. No thanks.
Way past my bedtime...
My goal is to get to bed by 10 PM and get up at 6 AM. When Hubba-luv’s not working out of town, I hit the marks ninety percent of the time. Unfortunately, when he’s away, I don’t sleep well. And since I know I can escape into my writing, I do. Until two in the morning. It might not be so awful if I could sleep in, but my cat has an internal alarm clock and the loudest repetitive trill I’ve ever endured. A pillow over the head does not do the trick. Neither does locking her out of the bedroom or putting duct tape over her mouth. (I’ve never actually tried the tape, but I dream of it at times.)
Wake up! Don't make me tell you again.
I’m a creature of habit. Once I establish good habits, I can keep going like the Energizer bunny. When my routine gets interrupted, I’m in trouble. It takes weeks for me to return to my normal. So even after Hubba-luv returned from his most recent trip, I continued to stay up until two. I put my foot down one night and said to myself, “Ten tonight. No later.” At midnight, I shut down my computer. Hey, midnight’s better than 2 AM, right? If I can keep working my way backward, then I may get in bed by my goal time in the next few days.

Is there a time of day when you’re better? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you have too much to do and too little time to do it? Please reassure me I’m not the only one who wrestles with these issues.

Monday, March 09, 2015

"You did NOT just go there!" How to Write a Book Review

Writers, in general, start out as readers. And in the romance world, one of the best ways to help each other - whether as fellow readers or as fellow writers - is to write a review. A well-written review can help a books' sales immeasurably. It can also give an author who is a little uncertain just the right boost to keep them in the game. (All writers who don't need that sort of support every now and again, take one step forward, so the rest of us can pimp slap you. Twice.)

However, a poorly written review or one written in the wrong tone for all the wrong reasons can do far more harm than good. Ever read a review that was so obviously by the author's mother you expect the review to suddenly tell you to "Sit up straight!" or ask "What are you eating? Don't you know how bad that is for you?"

Or how about the review that is so bad you just know the author's husband's ex-wife got together with her girlfriends, two boxes of wine, some chunky monkey ice cream and painted each others toe nails while they wrote the review?

In the interest of fair play and my not having to deny I know you when I read one of your reviews, here are a few tips :

1. Spell check is your friend. If your review looks as if you are in serious need of "Hooked on Phonics," you are not doing the author any favors. No matter how wonderful her "charractors" are, unless the reviewer is talking about thespians who moonlight as cleaning ladies, one begins to doubt a reviewer's veracity when their spelling and grammar indicate the last thing they read was "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."

2. Do not summarize the entire book scene by scene. If your review can be used as Cliff Notes to pass a midterm exam on the novel, you are the person who has already seen the movie and tells the ending in a stage whisper Helen Keller could hear. In Alabama, that can get you dragged behind the theater, doused in orange Crush and feathered in buttered popcorn. It is okay to tell a little about the story,  but remember a review is to express your opinion of the book, and it is also a tool to encourage other readers to buy the book. You know, so they can read it themselves.

3. Do not gush. Nothing sets my "Relative Radar" or "BFF Alert" off like a string of adjectives so gooey I have to go to the dentist after I read it or at least grab a towel to dry the slobber off my monitor. I have met some of my all-time favorite romance writing heroes at RWA conferences. I've met Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, and even sang in a master class for Luciano Pavarotti. Somehow I managed to stutter things like "Thank you." "I greatly admire your work." and when I met Vincent Price I even managed to get out "You, sir, have haunted my nightmares for years." (I got a wonderfully wicked laugh out of him and a hug.) Whether you are reviewing a famous author you admire greatly or your critique partner who has talked you down off the ledge more times than Kim Kardashian has made unfortunate fashion choices - read over your review carefully and take out at least half of the adjectives. Now, if I meet Gerard Butler or Richard Armitage all bets are off. I'll climb Gerard or Richard like a low slung magnolia tree and bite the first one of you who tries to pry me away. Fair warning. The review will consist of one word "MINE!"

4. Tell the reader how the book made you feel. Did it draw you in? Did it make you think? Did it keep you up all night? These are the things a potential reader needs to know. What did you learn? What did the characters teach you? What journey did they take you on as they traveled to their HEA? Did it make you laugh, or cry, or shudder? People read to be entertained, but they also read to feel. Of course, if the book made you want to throw it against the wall or throw up like a frat boy on a three-day football weekend, you will want to use some tact in expressing it. Remember, folks, tact is the ability to tell someone to "Go to hell !" in such a way they ask you for directions.

5. Do NOT compare one author to another in a way that has people lining up for a fight night between the two of them. Telling readers if they like Author A they will like the author you are reviewing is perfectly fine. Telling readers the book you are reviewing makes Nora Roberts' latest read like the federal tax code is not only useless to the author of said book, it may well get you both hanged naked by a feather boa over a pool of  hungry tax attorneys and pelted by day old bon bons until you see the error of your ways. If you like a book enough to review it (or dislike one enough to review it) find a more creative and succinct way to say so.

6. So what do you do if you don't like the book? Back away slowly and run for the hills? It is possible to write a review of a book that didn't speak to you without coming off like that self-righteous, hair perfect, size two cheerleader with whom you went to high school. First, tell what you did like about the book. If all you can think of is the font the author's name is in on the cover, you MIGHT want to take that run for the hills option. However, if you can list a few things the author did well and then couch the things you didn't care for in terms that don't cut like a barber's razor - go for it. Be honest. About the writing. If you have met the author and she is a four star *itch, don't use a review to take a cheap shot. And don't write a two page essay on how you would have written the book differently and you would have won two Ritas and a Pulitzer with it. A negative review is like breaking up with a boyfriend. Say what you have to say as nicely as possible and then get in the car and drive away before that sucker finds a gun and starts shooting.

These are a few of my tips for writing a book review. What are some of your tips? What are some of your absolute DON'T's? Do you read reviews of books you are considering buying? Why or why not? Do you read reviews of your own books? Why or why not? What do you look for in a review? What makes it helpful?

Lets talk reviews!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Corny Jokes and Writing- March 4th

Today is March 4. In our family, we have a corny joke about this day and even have a contest of sorts to see who can say it first. My dad beat me today by sending me an email at 5:30 am- no fair that he gets up before me.

My paternal grandmother started this tradition. She died at age 60 of a brain tumor and would have been 99 tomorrow had she lived. I miss her still. She was wonderful and supportive and had you asked any of her grandkids or kids, each of us would have said we were her favorite. She just had a way about her that made each person she spoke to feel special and loved. Everyone should be blessed enough to have such a lady in their lives even if it's for a short time.

Her joke that continues after her death and in memory of her is:  "What's the date that soldiers hate?"

"March Fourth."

Yes, it's lame and silly but it's a fun family tradition for once a year.

I have, many times, used such real life silliness in my stories. I am a firm believed in drawing from what you know and experience to add authenticity to the work. The more real the fiction can sound, the better the journey for the reader. I haven't used this joke in a piece of fiction yet  but want to if I ever write another story with a military hero or heroine. I can totally see the heroine asking the hero this question and him giving her a look like she has three heads.

What kind of true to life things do you like to see when you read?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Review Rollercoaster--It Might Make You Dizzy

A new book release is a rollercoaster of a time that never gets old—and, so far, hasn’t gotten easier.
            Deep inside, beneath the thin veneer of self-confidence and fairy-dust sprinkles of excitement, is the fear: What if it’s not good enough? What if everyone hates it? What if this is the book where everyone finally figures out that I suck at writing?
            Yep, it happens with Every. Single. Book.
            I always say I won’t read the reviews, and it’s true that after a couple of weeks, I do stop reading them. But those weeks before the release and immediately after? I can’t help myself.
            And so it is that I have hesitantly begun scouring for early reviews of my April 21 release, PIRATE’S ALLEY.
            OMG, Publisher’s Weekly says it’s disjointed and hard to follow.
            But wait, OMG, RT Book Reviews says it has the perfect elements of urban fantasy and, even at book four, is clear enough for a new reader to get lost in it.
            Oh no, OMG, someone gave it two stars on Goodreads. Oh, wait, that “review” was filed before I’d even finished writing the book. How exactly does that work?
            And there you have it. The good, bad, and ugly of book reviews. 
            To post a “review” on Goodreads, one is not required to have actually read the book. Some readers use the rating system as a way to prioritize their reading lists.
            Some reviewers don’t understand the system. Here’s my favorite one-star review from Amazon on another of my books: “Great read—couldn’t put it down.”
            Some reviewers don’t understand the genre. A two-star review of one of my romantic suspense titles: “This is awful; it scared me, and it kept me awake all night thinking about it. The bad guy is just horrible.” To which I mentally high-fived myself. I mean, it’s romantic SUSPENSE, right?
            My all-time favorite review: “I can’t believe a woman would use such language in her writing.” He'd really be shocked if he knew my advanced age and conservative upbringing.
            So here’s the point that I eventually remember: I’m neither as horrible or as sprinkled with unicorn glitter as anyone thinks. I’m glad people are reading the books. If I’m fortunate, more will love them than hate them. If I’m really fortunate, they’ll look for other books I’ve written. Otherwise, well, I do have a pension to look forward to.
            This is the irony of a writer’s life. Most of us are introverts (extremely so in my case), yet we do work that goes in front of (we hope) thousands of people we don’t know, who will judge it, often publicly, sometimes harshly.
            Which is their right. Because once the book is out and we’ve sullenly donned our marketing hats and scared ourselves silly trying to be publicity-hounds, our job with that particular book is done. Then we turn to the next one and, before long, we’re again taking sneaky peeks at early reviews that will send us hiding in a corner one moment and dancing with glee the next.

            But it’s a fun ride. Right?