Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Looking Forward

Christmas 2005 is part of the past. The week between it and the new year always finds me thinking about goals for the new year. I rarely do resolutions, but me and my family always 'do' goals. New Year's Day (or the first opportunity to get together after it) we have a nice meal with the traditional good luck fare, including black-eyed peas. No one eats them cause no one likes them but we can't afford to take the chance we won't have good luck. (If anyone has a recipe that makes them tasty, let me know, would you? Or better yet, let me in on the tradition that ties massive amounts of chocolate to good luck for the New Year.) Then we get out a bottle of champagne, the nice crystal and The Goal Sheets: last year's so we can evaluate how we did; and nice blank ones--a whole blank slate--for the new year.
Our goal sheets include sections on Professional, personal, physical, mental and emotional, financial, home and family and one last section that we call "the Stars." (That is for something we truly suspect is out of reach but something we'd like to strive for anyway.) Though we never quite acheive everything we had hoped to, we're often surprised at how well we've done. And it's really fascinating to see that we've even made measurable progress on some of the unrealistic things we've written under "the Stars." And often, what seemed unrealistic three or four years ago, we're putting under the realistic areas of our goals this year.
How do you end the old year and prepare for the new? What are your "traditions"? What are your thoughts as you think of 2006? I hope you'll share.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Prey

When I got married in 1993, I was never really stressed, but about a month before the wedding I had some nerves and anxiety. I worried about the dress and the flowers and the cake and the reception and whether so-and-so was coming, and why did so-and-so send regrets and whether I was ready for marriage. Basically, everything.

But the night before my wedding day, I was at peace. Calm. Unflustered and mellow. I walked down the aisle slowly, smiling, stress-free.

That is how I feel today.

A few weeks ago, I worried about my release date. I worried about the book. What if no one bought it. What if they bought it but hated it and didn't buy the next one. What if there was a glaring typo that changed the entire meaning of a sentence. What if I didn't sell-through. What if my friends read it and wonder what I was smoking when I wrote it.

But today, I'm not stressed. Not about the things I can't change. Not about the things I can't fix. Not about whether people love or hate my characters or think I'm a great writer or wonder how I got a contract.

Because I know there's no turning back. The book is done, it's out, and I'm writing the next story.

So . . . what's THE PREY about?

It's a romantic suspense . . . because I love suspense, and romance raises the stakes. What's better than two people in danger who must risk their lives to save their loved ones? Or right terrible wrongs? Or stop a vicious killer before he strikes again? When they are in love, everything matters more.

My one-sentence pitch is: Ex-FBI agent turned crime fiction writer wakes up one morning to discover someone is using her books as blueprints for murder.

I have an excerpt posted on my webpage. If you click on my webpage, you can see a brief book trailer in flash--it only takes about 30 seconds to load on a dial-up, and it's instanteous on high-speed internet.

So. Today is the day. I'm off to participate in my first book signing. I won't be alone, my good friend and fellow blogger at Murder She Writes, Karin Tabke, will be out in the trenches with me.

And now I can finally say I am really published.

Monday, December 26, 2005

What was I THINKING?

The refrigerator is stuffed with leftover food--way too much for my husband and I to eat. The candy dishes are filled to the brim with candy that I should never have bought. There are stacks of soft drinks in the utility room--and neither Dick nor I ever drink soft drinks. And the desserts! I froze half a cake that one of our guests left with us, there's 3/4 of a pumpkin pie in the fridge, as well as a big chunk of the flan cake our daughter Kim brought yesterday.

So what's the point I'm trying to make?

Have no clue. Maybe that excess is part of the whole Christmas experience? Or that I've never learned how to plan a holiday meal? Or maybe that it's all the fault of our cavemen ancestors. To them, having lots of food meant they would survive another day.

No matter. Christmas was wonderful in the Kay household and I hope it was wonderful in yours.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Did Anybody Get the License Plate of that Sleigh?

It’s Christmas Eve. Now, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how many other trips you need to make to the maul to pick up last minute gifts today.

While I was having my coffee this morning, I started thinking about novels set around the holidays. Publishers obviously love them. Or at least they think this is something that appeals to readers. As for why I say this, well, walk into any Barnes and Noble today, cruise the fiction aisles, and you're likely to see lots of Christmas-themed novels. Personally, I've never written one myself but I do confess that I've probably bought a few over the years. (Usually either because they were written by a friend or were a gift for someone else.)

So, my question to you all on this snowy Christmas Eve is this: What are your feelings on Christmas-themed novels? To the authors, do you write them? (If so, are the sales for those books any better in your opinion?) To the readers, do you like reading them? (If so, do you make a point to seek them out in the bookstore?)

Now, speaking of Christmas, leave it to the folks at NORAD, the bi-national U.S.-Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of the United States and Canada, to find a way to keep tabs on Santa’s travels on Christmas Eve. This is their 50th anniversary of their doing it, too, much to the delight of children in Canada and the United States. You can track Santa here.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Authors at Sea eggnog bread

Okay, this isn't technically about writing, but it sort of is, because I got this recipe from the Authors at Sea newsletter. Btw, the cabins are going quickly for the April Mexican Riviera cruise, so if anyone's interested, check it out at (one of these days I'll figure out how to make a URL into a blog hyperlink) and there are coupons for $250 off in the back of all the Authors at Sea books, which would include BLAZE.

Anyway, the newsletter included this recipe, which is too, too terribly tempting for those of us who are trying to avoid goodies this holiday season, but it looks too tasty not to share. Also, several members of my JoAnn Ross online writers group have tested it and unanimously declared it scrumptious! I'll be baking it tonight while I wrap presents.

Eggnog Bread Recipe:

1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup eggnog
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (or you can use regular salted, just omit the salt in the recipe)
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 1/4 cup all purpose-flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat the egg with an electric mixer on low speed. Add the sugar, eggnog, melted butter, and rum, and mix until well blended. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the nutmeg. Add to the wet mixture all at once, mixing just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Scrape into pan. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly cover it with aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

From Something Warm from the Oven

Thursday, December 22, 2005

From a Reliable Source...

Google's Book Scan Project in Hot Water Again

According to Business Week Online, Google’s ambitious plan to scan the entire contents of libraries has hit another snag. But it’s not threatened lawsuits from angry publishers or author organizations this time. It’s from the libraries whose public-domain books are being scanned. And what has gotten them so annoyed with Google? Well, it seems that many of the books already scanned have numerous errors in them – like blurred words, missing pages and truncated text.

Read more about it here.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Yes, I'm counting the days. Ten. Ten days until my first book is released. It's a scary and exciting time.

So, since the anticipation is truly agonizing, I thought I'd pose a question for the writers and readers out there.

For writers, especially those who've been through this a few times: What do you do? How to you deal with the anticipation of your on sale date? What do you do on release day? Open a bottle of champagne? Visit every store within driving distance? Call your friends? Hide in bed? Treat yourself to a night out on the town with your spouse or friends?

For readers, if you have a book you're waiting for, do you go out of your way to find out what the release date is? Do you buy it on that day or week? Pre-Order it from your local store or an on-line retailer? When you get it home, do you start reading right away, or wait until you know you'll have a couple uninterrupted hours so you can lose yourself in a book you know you're going to love? Do you find yourself waiting anxiously for the book to hit the shelves because you know you're going to entertained for a spell?

I'm curious. So please share!

Monday, December 12, 2005

My Letter to Santa

Do you remember when you were a kid and you’d write your letter to Santa every Christmas? Well, I remember writing mine. I’d agonize over that letter to the Supreme Gift Bringer for days. If I sounded too pushy, I’d end up getting clothes. If I wasn’t pushy enough, I’d end up getting clothes. (And trust me on this. Getting clothes was like the ultimate Christmas morning letdown for a kid.) I figured that letter to Santa was the Single Most Important Letter I’d ever have to write, so I wanted to make sure I got mine right.

(Oddly enough, when I grew up, I found a whole slew of other letters that would fall into that same category: Letters to prospective agents, query letters to editors, etc. LOL.)

The big thing for me in those letters to Santa was deciding what present I wanted most out of all the things on my Wish List. Now, I knew Santa – he usually gave me one big one and lots of other small ones. (Plus the aforementioned clothes.) So, I’d spend a few days agonizing over that decision. What was the One Big Present I wanted above all others?

Anyway, as I sat down to write this blog entry this morning, I started wondering what One Big Present I’d ask Santa to bring me this year...assuming, of course, I were still writing him letters. (And I’m not saying that I am, mind you. I’m just saying “assuming I still did.”) I can think of lots of things that I want: More time to write, a fabulous new agent, an even more fabulous new contract, hitting the NY Times list, moving from Snow Hell to a place that didn’t have winter ten months out of the frigging year.

All of them are great, but choosing just one for my One Big Present...ah, that’s the challenge, isn’t it?

So I thought about it over coffee and I think I have mine. My question to you all on this snowy December morning is this: If you were to write a letter to Santa this year, what would be the One Big Present you wanted above all others?

Here’s mine:

Dear Santa,

I’ve been a good writer this year. No, seriously. I’ve been good. I’ve written (mostly) every day and I’ve hunted down and killed (mostly) every adverb I’d seen in my work. This year for Christmas, I’d like to have a fabulous new agent who’ll love my voice and inspire me to become an even better writer.

Thanks, Santa. I’ll leave some green tea and fat-free cookies under the tree for you. Please tell Mrs. Claus I said hi.


Inside a Writer's Brain

I sponsor an after-school writers club for third and fourth grade students. We're using Ralph Fletcher's book, A Writer's Notebook (Harper Trophy, 1996), a great book about how to keep ideas for later. One of his quotes jumped out when I was reading the book to the students. He states that "Writers are like other people, except for one important difference. Other people have daily thoughts and feelings, notice this sky or that smell, but they don't do much about it. All those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and opinions pass through them like the air they breathe. Not writers. Writers react."

For much of my early life, I didn't realize others didn't have stories going on in their heads all the time. I used to entertain my little sister at bedtime with an ongoing story, adding a chapter every night. Not until I hit upper elementary and was writing stories for reports did I find out that others didn't think the same way that I did.

I always have a story, maybe even two, going on in my head. I can be shopping, the list in my hand, picking up milk, bread, spices. . . and my characters are having an argument about the committee they've been forced to co-chair. Or I'm wondering if maybe I should change the setting, the main character's name, get rid of the great-aunt in this book or maybe beef up her part. All while I'm perusing the aisles, thinking about dinner plans, writing my check.

Fletcher's comments helped me recognize the difference between writers and nonwriters. It's not enough for us to look at a beautiful day or to listen to a conversation in a restaurant between two obvious lovers. We don't even file it away in our brain under 'interesting experience.' Instead, we wonder if a storm might be brewing that will wreak havoc with our almost-to-get-together hero and heroine. Maybe his ex is about to walk in. What if she stops at their table and casually mentions how much she enjoyed seeing him the other night? Or what if someone runs into the restaurant and orders them all onto the floor? Other ideas popping into your head?

So, the question is. . . are we writers because we notice things and put our imagination to work? Or are we writers because our imagination kicks in and we see the possibilities? The chicken or the egg?

Ever think about what you would do with your time if you weren't writing? What would fill your head if characters weren't talking to you?

Friday, December 09, 2005

From a Reliable Source...

Harlequin has announced that as of July 2006, The Signature Select program will cease publication. This decision has been made based on current market conditions, and Harlequin’sdesire to react more quickly to changes in the marketplace.
They will publish all the books they currently have in their inventory but books scheduled after the July 06 date will be moved to other lines.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

From a Reliable Source...

Score One for Our Side!

"Literary agent" Martha Ivery pleaded guilty on Monday to all charges of taking money from unpublished authors in a scam to get their work published. Read about it here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Book in the Hand . . .

Yesterday, after picking my kids up from school, we passed the UPS guy leaving the neighborhood. Half-jokingly I said, "Hey, maybe he left my books!"

We got home and there they were!

Two boxes of The Prey due in stores on December 27, 2005.

To say I was excited is an understatement. I jumped up and down a bit and cleared a shelf in my bookshelf (no easy task!) to display my books.

The thrill of actually holding your book, especially after so much time (I sold this one in March of 2004!) is indescribable. I started reading it. My kids loved that they were mentioned in the bio (not by name, but that I live with my husband Dan and "five children" in Northern California, LOL.)

It sounds trite that having my book published is a dream come true, but it is a rare writer who hasn't harbored this dream since childhood.

Publishing is a business, but the writing itself is an act of love. I'm going to savor this joy for a day, then get back to work on my next book. And try not to countdown the next three weeks until the books are in stores.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

to JoAnn Ross on the news that the book she is currently writing, IMPULSE, has been selected for Random House Audio Books, even though they rarely buy mass market.

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

to Patricia Kay for a new contract with NeXT for two books. The first is a story tentatively called FINDING GRACE, about a highly successful attorney in a NY law firm whose younger sister dumps her baby on Grace's doorstep, changing her life in drastic ways. The second is tentatively titled THE LOTTERY WINNER and is a story about a divorcee with three kids and very little money who wins $28 million in the lottery. She'll learn that money doesn't solve all problems and often creates a
whole new set.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Place to Write Wrongs

I was always one of those kids with a keen sense of fairness. I drove my parents crazy protesting that my brother didn’t have to do the dishes (or much of anything, as far as my sister and I could see). I irritated local officials and principals alike by railing against the local soapbox derby’s boys-only rule and the requirement that all girls take home economics. Sunday school teachers nursed headaches after I demanded to know why a just and loving God would send pagan babies to burn in the eternal torment of hellfire if they died without hearing our version of religion.

In other words, I had a penchant for asking the tough questions. It didn’t stop when I grew older, but gradually, I came to understand more of the world’s complexities – and the social consequences of warring against every inequity I noticed. Still, that didn’t make things fair, so I turned my frustrations inward, pouring them into fictional worlds where I could tease out the shades of gray, decipher my version of justice, and dispense it accordingly. In my queendom, the good guys (of both genders) are rewarded. Even the less-than-perfect who try hard end up with good outcomes, albeit after suffering a lot of growing pains. And the villains? In the end, they get theirs, just as villains should.

It’s incredibly satisfying. Much more so than the evening news, where ongoing conflicts show no signs of easing, where the worst of criminals all too often get away after shattering the lives of innocents, where greed triumphs over nature, and my stomach ties itself in knots. The Queendom of Justice is a respite, too, from daily life, where teenagers whine, bills mount, dogs urp on the carpet, and my mother in law gets away with telling me my clothes are tacky just because she’s old.

Is it any wonder that writing fiction is addictive and that books with happy endings ease the stress of so many of faithful readers? Something in all of us (except those musty-fusty critics who inexplicably turn their backs on the uncomplicated joy that drew them to stories in the first place) yearns for a world where, without exception, the mystery is solved, the mortal threat vanquished, the evil punished, and flawed yet worthy human beings find the love that they deserve.

Come with me, and I’ll take you to such a place in my books. Or follow me to a library, and I’ll take you to an endlessly varied galaxy of just worlds, each one a place of respite for the soul.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Yes, today is my birthday which is why I chose today's date to blog. So I could reflect on this day with all of you. A couple of interesting things about November birthdays; when I worked at Catholic Charities all of my female co-workers had November birthdays, they were all Scorpios. This is an important fact because my sisters are Scorpios, therefore I always know how to handle Scorpian women friends. And more importantly all of my best friends have November birthdays, here again all Scorpians. I'm sure in the world of numerology this must mean something, but I don't know what. The thing about birthdays is that they come around every year at the same time. This year I'm forty six. Yikes! Looking at that number in print makes me realize how fast the years are flying by me. I think non-writers look at their birthdays in different ways than writers do.
Before I was published I never really looked back on the year or forward to what the next twelve months of my life would bring. Of course that could be because my birthday falls right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. And I was too caught up in hoping my family would remember my birthday! Most years I was given the combo birthday/Christmas gift (and I still get asked in mid-November what I'd like for Christmas when I haven't even had my birthday yet!) A very big bummer and I imagine the only thing worse would be a having a birthday fall on Christmas or New Years Day. Oh and what about all you poor leap year babies? The birthday that only rolls around once every four years!
My best birthday was the year I turned 41. That was the year my first book was published, forever changing the way I view my birthdays. Now I look at what I've accomplished in my career. How many books I've had on the shelves and what's in the pipeline for the next 365 days. I'd like to have a contemporary book published. Right now I've only sold historical romances. I'm working on a proposal for a contemporary series set in Northern California. This hasn't sold yet, but I'm ever hopeful it will sell.
As much as we may hate the way time goes by, it's good to remember that special day once a year which defines us. Taking one day in your life to reflect on the good, the bad, the ugly and all that falls somewhere in between can be an enlightening experience.
So here's to all my fellow November 30th Sagittarians, enjoy your day, take a walk, read a good book, and most importantly be kind to yourself today.

Tracey J. Lyons

Creating in the Middle

Well, now that the turkey is finally -- yay! -- gone and the pumpkin pie has morphed its sneaky way onto my hips, I've officially entered the holiday zone of decorating, cookie baking, shopping, gift wrapping, house guests, and all the other Christmas activities. I love this season, but every year it becomes a Herculean juggling act to squeeze everything into each hectic, twenty-four hour period counting down until Dec 25th. It's always tempting to use the holidays as an excuse not to write, but invariably, year after year, I end up with December 30 or January 1 deadlines.

Eric Maisel, in his terrific book, COACHING THE ARTIST WITHIN, describes what he calls creating in the middle and has given me permission to share a bit. The ellipses indicate places where I've skipped part of the text for brevity, which has never been my strong point, but, since hope springs eternal, I continue to try. :D

"People do not create in a vacuum. In fact, in human affairs there is no such thing as a vacuum. People are born into this or that religion. They learn a certain language and are formed by that language. A war comes and changes everything; a drought comes and changes everything; menopause comes and changes everything. They must work, they must eat, they must deal with paying taxes and the images on their television screen and the values in their town. This is no vacuum! ..

.."James Jones, having made his fortune from books like From Here to Eternity, thought to help some poor writers he knew by giving them enough money so they could quit their day jobs and write. He gave them the money; they didn't write. Money was never the issue. Everything was the issue. You must be able to create in the middle of things, or else you will not create. You must learn to take whatever practical and psychological actions are necessary to combat the anticreating forces that surround you and live within you. . .

. . .Some determined artists weather even the most severe crises. But for most of us even ordinary, everyday crises stop us in our tracks. Most of these crises are internal, emotional, and existential, crises of faith and self-doubt, crises of self-recrimination and self-incrimination, crises of and meaninglessness. Sometimes it may seem as if nothing much is going on. You come home from work, have a little dinner, then turn on the television instead of turning toward the novel you hope to write. What exactly are you in the middle of there? Don't you have a "perfectly free" few hours in which to write? Absolutely not. To believe that just because you have no particular errands to run or duties to perform means that you are somehow not trapped in your own personality and your own culture is not to understand what being in the middle of things means. . .

. . .You must learn how to create when wars are raging and when your hormones are raging. You must learn how to create even if you hate your country's policies or your own painting style. You must learn how to create even if you are embroiled in a bad marriage or living alone and lonely. You must learn how to create even if you work eight hours a day at a silly job or, sometimes worse, find yourself at home all day with time on your hands.

If you wait for a better time to create, better than this very moment, if you wait until you feel settled, divinely inspired, perfectly centered, unburdened of your usual worries, or free of your own skin, forget about it. You will still be waiting tomorrow and the next day, wondering why you never manage to begin, wondering how you did such an excellent job of disappointing yourself. "

I'm keeping Maisel's book next to my computer for the next few weeks for reinforcement. Meanwhile, what tricks do y'all use to create in the middle of things?

Also, although this is totally off topic, Rob Gregory-Browne, a thriller writer friend who blogs, recently "tagged" me to do the following writing exercise and post it on my blog. (Which would be here.) And now I'm tagging our other bloggers.

1. Take the first five novels from your bookshelf. (Or, as I did, just choose at random.) Write down:
2. Book 1 -- first sentence.
3. Book 2 -- last sentence on page 50.
4. Book 3 -- second sentence on page 100.
5. Book 4 -- next to the last sentence on page 150.
6. Book 5 -- final sentence of the book.
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.
8. Feel free to "cheat" to make it a better paragraph.
9. Name your sources.
10.Post to your blog. (If you have one. Or just share it here.)

Here's mine: The little girl huddled, shivering, in the back corner of the closet. Reportedly she ordered the girl's blood to be drained into a bathtub and bathed in it. "Good to know, I managed." "It's harder to cut really deeply than you think." I wonder if they truly realize how lucky they are.

Chill of Fear by Kay Hooper
Serial Killers, the Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky
Sacred by Dennis Lehane
Mind Prey by John Sandford
Sounds in the Dark by Michael C. Keith

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sending Our Babies Off

Today is my oldest son's birthday. He's in his senior year of high school and I've decided that time is not linear but more like Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time. Wasn't it just yesterday that he was sitting in my lap while I read to him? Now we're filling out university applications, gathering data for scholarships, and starting to think about what will move with him and what we should store or give away.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

A common analogy for writing books is that of giving birth. The analogy usually deals with those months of preparation before the birth, equating the ups and downs of finding the right words, the right conflict, and the perfect characters to the mixed feelings of pregnancy: the pain and discomfort, the joy and anticipation.

But now I've discovered another aspect of this analogy, that of sending 'my baby' out into the world. Right now, my son goes off and I know he'll be back. He'll sleep at our house, eat at our table, drive our car. . . be part of our family in a very physical way.

Soon, though, he'll be going off to sleep at his own place, eat at his own table, park his car in his own driveway. I can still talk to him via phone or e-mail but it won't be the same. I won't know when he comes in at night. I won't know that he's eating all the right foods. I won't know all of his friends.

And so it goes with our manuscripts. It's okay to write in the privacy of our own space, to critique with friends we know, to make those final, final! revisions. But time marches on. At some point, if we're going to have readers, we have to send our babies out into the world.

I know things will be fine with our son. We've been preparing him (and us) for this day since he was born. Our goal as parents is to send our children into the world as productive citizens, ready to make a difference to their communities. We'll stay in contact, ready to help if he needs us, but trusting that he can go it alone.

We have to do the same with our manuscripts. We may lose sleep once that manuscript is in the mail, we may check listings to see how the published book fares in the rankings, we may beg understanding from our writing friends when the manuscript comes back.

But the first step is letting go. How else can our stories ever grow up?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Scornful Critique

Since no one has posted today, I thought I'd bring up an article I saw in today's Wall Street Journal. In the article ("Chick Lit Revisted," Nov. 26, 2005), Joanne Kaufman takes a scornful crack at the world of women’s fiction. She begins by mentioning the recent movie deal by the “unfathomably prolific” Danielle Steele, calling her work “contrived,” “cliched,” and filled with “Hallmark prose,” not to mention “plodding and dull-witted.” But instead of limiting her opinion to Ms. Steele’s work, she goes on to comment on the genre of women’s fiction as a whole. According to Ms. Kaufman, although the genre has evolved in recent times, “intelligent design isn’t a factor.” Judith Krantz? Barbara Taylor Bradford? According to Ms. Kaufman, “one does not discuss their books in terms of literary merit. They have very little of it.” (Although she does admit that their work ends with the reader being “uplifted by the protagonist’s successful struggle against the odds”). And the entire chick lit movement is discounted as filled with “brisk frothy reads”.
Now, Ms. Kaufman is certainly entitled to her opinion but I have to wonder where this scorn is coming from. Any guesses? And I'd think that rather than deriding women's fiction, Ms. Kaufman could write a far more interesting article about why this fiction is so popular.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Being thankful

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for today? I have so many things I could mention but at the top of my list is the fact that this year, my life-long dream came true. My first book hit the shelves and I officially became a published author. All those years of dreaming and writing, struggling and studying, producing failed manuscripts, receiving rejection letters, attending critique groups and conferences -- it finally all paid off. I feel grateful and priviledged to be part of the small percentage of writers who actually realize their dream. So when I sit down to eat that turkey today, I will give thanks for my book. How about you?

Monday, November 21, 2005

About Finding That Perfect Match, aka Agent Hunts

The other day, someone asked me how she could find an agent for her first, as yet uncompleted novel. I gave her the standard answer without even thinking about it: "Do your research," I said. "Find a copy of Writers Market, subscribe to Publishers Marketplace, get a list of agents representing the type of book you’re writing, then check them out online at places like Preditors and Editors."

But then, later that day, I began to think about the process of finding an agent – or rather, the process of finding the right agent at the right time. Sure, all of the things I mentioned above are important, but there are also a lot of intangibles that factor into the search. I mean, the agent that’s right for me when I sell my first book may not necessarily be right for me when I sell my tenth. Or when I switch genres. So, here’s the question for the day:

How do you know when you’ve found the right agent for this stage of your writing career?


How will you know when you've found "The One"?

Will she – or he – come equipped with a flashing neon sign that says, “Hi! I’m the right agent for you!”?

Will the ghost of Eudora Welty suddenly appear and give you a serene nod of approval? (Okay, that one probably only applies to other Mississippi writers, but you get the idea.)

Or, will you simply feel it in your gut the first time you two talk?

How will you how when you've found your perfect match?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The OMG Moments

There are some moments in writing that always make me think, Oh my, God! The first is right after I sell a book. I look at the three chapters I have, and the first thought that crosses through my mind is: OMG, how am I ever going to write 400 pages?

The fear, at that moment, seems almost paralyzing. It's daunting to know I have only about 60 pages, and somehow, some way, I have to add to them and create a whole book. What I do to function is push the idea of 400 pages out of my head. I just have to write 4 pages a day. Anyone can write 4 pages, I tell myself. Four pages is doable, and not overwhelming.

The second OMG moment is when I near the end of the first draft. I look at my page count and think, OMG, I really did get 400 pages. Actually in my case, it's always well over 400 pages, so the moment is two part for me. The first is wow, I really did get a whole story added to the end of those 60 pages. The second moment is OMG, how am I going to wrap this story up without going way, way over on page count. (The Work In Progress is looking at a first draft somewhere between 475 and 490 pages. How did I get so verbose?)

Needless to say, this is a very satisfying moment. I did it. I have a story! Of course, I also know that I'm going to need to look for things to cut as I revise, but at least I have something that can be worked with.

Then there's the OMG moment that comes with editorial revisions. The amount of work always seems so daunting in comparison to the amount of time I'm given. I'm lucky I have good friends who can help me break down what I need to do into manageable segments. That's the key for me, feeling as if I have a handle on everything, and thinking of it in pieces so that it doesn't feel so overwhelming.

The final OMG moment is when I hold the finished book in my hand. I'm still relatively new with only three books published, but I can't imagine a day when I'm not amazed by holding my book in my hands. Physical, tangible proof that I created this story and brought it all the way through to the finish. The thing that's strange is that it takes me a while to accept that this is really my book and not someone else's. It still doesn't quite feel real to me. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will.

So as a writer, what inspires you to awe and/or panic? What moments make you think OMG?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Books that last

Someone forwarded this quote from The Washington Post, an interview with reviewer (I believe) Michael Dirda, to a loop I'm on. I found it very interesting for all sorts of reasons.
Question: [...] Are there books that for whatever reason you despise?

Michael Dirda: Despise? Well, I think there are meretricious books, books only written to make a buck. This usually includes about half the best seller list. I think most nonfiction best sellers are utterly ephemeral--I mean, really, in a couple of years Bill Clinton's memoirs will be read as often as RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. Then there's diet books. Self-help books. Jumped-up magazine articles from the New Yorker. The novels of Judith Krantz. Anything regarded as snarky, edgy, on the cutting edge, hip.

Oh, these have their place, I suppose. But I prefer seriously experimental fiction, heartfelt Harlequin romances, [and] books where real scholars present the work of half a lifetime.
(The title of this blog is supposed to be linked to the original article, but one must apparently be a registered subscriber or something to peruse the entire thing. This snippet is quoted under "fair use.")

How interesting, though, that someone would find a "heartfelt Harlequin romance" of more value than a political memoir.

It's that "heartfelt" that's the secret, I think. Romances, of whatever hue, must be heartfelt or how can they claim the title of romance? We as authors have to reach down deep and offer up the beating of our own hearts so that we can touch the hearts of our readers.

What about you? What books do you "despise"? Or maybe not despise, exactly, but don't care much for? What are you overdosed on? I'm with Mr. Dirda on the diet books and the political ranks of both leanings. And I think I'm beginning to overdose on books with whiny, depressed characters. (Off to vette my books for whining...)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

So, What's In a Name Anyway?

The other day, I was talking with a writer friend who is thinking of taking on a pseudonym after having published eight novels under her own name. She thinks she has no choice. The sales figures for her last couple of books weren’t so great, and her editor rejected her proposal for her option book.

Or proposals. She submitted three of them. All rejected.

Her agent suggested she consider a name change and starting over with a new publisher, which would pay her a much lower advance. (Ouch.) The agent pointed out that since bookstores can now track book sales with point-of-sale technology, pre-order sales figures on new books by the same author drop dramatically when that author’s last book didn’t sell well. That smarts. I mean, sometimes the reason a book doesn’t sell hasnothing to do with the author or the quality of the writing.

Now, as if that wasn’t depressing enough, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how the use of pseudonyms by authors trying to rebound from poor sales figures is on the rise.

(Okay, the Diana Diamond/William P. Kennedy example was hilarious. I wish I’d caught his appearance on Regis and Kelly in that blonde wig. )

So what do you guys think? Would you, as a writer, consider changing your name and adopting a pseudonym if you were told it was the only way you could publish again? And how do you, as a reader, feel when you find out that a writer has done that?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Love in time of war

Romance is the most popular and vibrant genre of fiction in the United States and many other parts of the world. A recent article in Newsweek, "Bad Dates in Baghdad", offers vivid insight into why love stories have such extraordinary power.

In war-torn Iraq, according to the article, "going out takes all the determination, ingenuity, and nerve a young couple can muster." One pair of lovers was dragged out of their car by AK-47-wielding religious vigilantes. Only by bluffing the gunmen into believing they were married did they escape without injury. If you want to have a romantic dinner, you're out of luck. Few restaurants stay open after dark because in doing so, they risk being blown up by fundamentalists who disapprove of the mingling of the sexes. Picnicking male and female college students in Basra were beaten with steel cables and rifles so violently that many were hospitalized. They had dared to dance and sing in a park.

Despite these deterrents, one Baghdad gift shop owner hires three extra employees to handle his busiest time of the year: Valentine's Day. Lovers flock to Baghdad's Jadriya Lake, "a heavily guarded pleasure garden". Newly available technology helps out Cupid via cell phones and Internet chat rooms; one student has two Internet girlfriends he's never actually met. Perhaps the most heart-rending comment though came from a young couple who took a vacation in Amman. What did they do that thrilled them the most? "We walked and walked and walked," something they wouldn't dare do in Iraq.

A young woman summed up the fraught situation by saying, "It's very difficult for a man and a women to have a relationship here. But you have to try." That sort of courage is the stuff of romance novels.

Can you imagine not being able to just take a walk with the person you love? I can't. It's something my husband and I have treasured doing since the days we first began dating. What simple pleasure do you most enjoy sharing with your loved one?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Where the wild stories are

Stephen King has said that when people ask him where he gets his stories, he tells them about a factory somewhere in Oklahoma. Jennifer Crusie talks about the "girls in the basement" sending up ideas. Other people also refer to girls in the basement--maybe even before I heard Ms. Crusie do it. Some call it the "collective unconscious" or "the well."

I have a swamp. It bubbles and oozes. There are alligators. Things rot in there. They ferment. And every so often, something will come bubbling up to the top. I grab it out with this hook thingie and look it over. Sometimes it's ready. Sometimes I have to toss it back in the swamp to bubble some more. Sometimes I even have to jump up and down on it to make it go back under because I don't have time right now for whatever it is under all that ooze.

Yes, I realize this is kind of an icky metaphor for my subconscious, and that I am probably strange to visualize it this way. But hey, I'm a writer. (And I write that weird fantasy stuff.)

What about you? Where do you get your stories? A factory? A basement? A swamp? Or someplace else, perchance? Or are you more normal than some of us and haven't ever seen what the place looks like...?

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I have found that when it comes to my reading, I have to be in the right mood for a particular book to be drawn in to reading it. For about half this week, I haven't been in the mood to read anything at all, which I find totally depressing, because my 2BeRead pile keeps growing and metastasizing to take over not only its designated bookcase, but the bookcase designated for keepers and research books, the floor in my office, the end tables, the totebags for carrying various supplies to various places... well, you get the idea.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a nice, juicy series romance. Sometimes I want to read something that will carry me to the far reaches of the universe, or maybe my imagination. Sometimes I want something a little bit scary and tense, with some nice romance to go along. Sometimes I want to read about relationships, not necessarily romantic. Sometimes I want some history with the romance. Sometimes I just want the history, no romance, thanks. (Not often, though) And the weird thing is, I never really know what I'm in the mood for till I walk up to the bookcase (or the pile) and start looking through it.

Does your reading suffer from moodiness, or are your moods more consistent than mine? Do you indulge your moods?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Invoking Nora

Yesterday I had a book signing in Martinsburg, West Virginia. This signing was part of a big, city-wide book festival and I was ensconced in the flower shop on the main street of town. Foot traffic into the store was light all day but when someone did come in, I found myself faced with a dilemma -- how to get them to come over to my table and (hopefully) buy my book.

Never good at chit-chat, I tried the usual technique of making some non-threatening (and probably inane) comment about the weather. For the most part, this approach didn't work. The people would answer the question, wander around the store without looking at my book and then leave. I tried just smiling. I pretended to look busy. Nothing seemed to lure people into looking at my book.

Then, quite by accident, I asked a woman if she liked to read romance novels, such as those by Nora Robets. She immediately perked up, hurried over and began to talk. And she wasn't the only one. Person after persona reacted with the same enthusiasm whenever I invoked Nora's name.

Now, I should explain that Nora lives very close to here. Everyone in this area knows that she is local. And I discovered yesterday that they are very proud of her success. They beam when I mention her name. They get all excited and want to talk about her books. They are even more interested when I mention that I know when her next book signing is (December 10th) and where (Turn the Page bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland). If they haven't been to one of her signings, they want to hear what they are like. If they have, they invariably indicate that they want to attend another. One woman happily shared that Nora once let her wheelchair-bound mother cut through the long line at a book signing and have her picture taken with her.

All of which made me feel very good. I like knowing that people are proud when a local person becomes famous. I enjoy seeing the pleasure in their faces when they talk about her books. It's comforting to know that when person succeeds in life, others share the joy -- even strangers.

And most of all, what a testimony it is to the power of her books!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Want to save the species? Read Romance!

Anyone catch the New York Times piece on Literary Darwinism ( It postulates that literature is driven by societal forces and its main object is to instruct future generations in the knowledge they need to successfully propagate the species.

Interesting. It makes sense, especially with “classic” novels. Othello teaches us that homicidal obsession is not the best path to successful mating while The Odyssey demonstrates that perseverance and patience are pretty good traits if you want to pass on your DNA. As You Like It has a lot to say about the importance of fidelity while A Tale of Two Cities reveals that one man’s sacrifice for the greater good is worthwhile if it allows another to successfully mate.

So what would a literary Darwinist say about romance? I suspect our works of fiction would score fairly high when analyzed. Let me take a stab at dissecting my own work.

In BLINK OF AN EYE (Tor Books, May 2006), the first in the Hart and Drake series, an ER doctor refuses to stand on the sidelines when it comes to protecting her patients. Her impetuousness almost gets her killed. The hero is a police detective who observes situations in minute detail before taking action. His reserve also places them both in jeopardy.

Hmm…doesn’t bode well for future generations if these two can’t live long enough to do some serious, hot and steamy propagating.

Never fear, once they begin acting together as partners, they find the strength to save each other and defeat the bad guys. And yes, some heavy-duty propagating action follows (and continues into the next book, SLEIGHT OF HAND).

By emphasizing the importance of not only finding a sexual partner but also the need to cherish and respect each other in a committed relationship, our Happily-Ever-Afters have a lot to teach future generations. Not only do our heros and heroines end up satisfying their own urgent imperative to propagate the species, their relationship provides an excellent environment to raise future generations and the balanced nature of their partnership creates enough extra energy that they actually have time to occasionally venture forth and save the world.

Seems to me as if humanity has a lot to thank us romance writers for!

So, next time someone dismisses romance as a genre, tell them we’re not just writing stories to entertain, our stories may just be the key to survival of the species.

Personally, I think we can use all the help we can get. What do you think?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Diamonds, chocolate...or movies???

Funny you should mention product placement in novels, Bron. I thought my upcoming release, Lights! Camera! Fiction: A Movie Lovers Guide to Writing a Novel, was a logical match for a movie rental company such as Blockbuster or NetFlix since the assignment for each 'lesson' in the book is watching a movie. Wrong. I was told (snottily by one of them) that they did not "do cross promotions with books."
So I became an affiliate.
And here's a little shameless promo: Want to help prove that product placement or cross-promotion with books is a great idea? Go here:
Get a month of Netflix free. On me. Try it. If you rent three or more movies a month, you'll love NetFlix.
Who knows, maybe diamonds and chocolate will be next if companies see the value of a little cross promotion.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Dreaming of Diamonds … or Chocolate

This weekend several writers' loops pointed me toward a press release announcing a new licensing agreement between Harlequin Enterprises and NASCAR. In case there is any reader who doesn't know -- and let me quote the joint press release -- Harlequin is "one of the world's leading publishers of women's fiction and the global leader of series romance" and NASCAR is "the largest sanctioning body of motorsports in the United States."

"Under the agreement, Harlequin will publish a variety of women's fiction titles that will be included in the NASCAR Library Collection… The novels, by some of Harlequin's bestselling authors, will have plotlines centering on NASCAR and will bear the NASCAR brand on their covers. The debut title in the new program, IN THE GROOVE by award-winning author Pamela Britton, will be published on January 31, 2006 to coincide with the Daytona 500.

"We are thrilled to be NASCAR's first partner in fiction publishing and to bring our entertaining and enriching editorial to its audience," said Donna Hayes, Publisher and CEO of Harlequin Enterprises. "NASCAR has one of the largest and most loyal bases of female fans of any sport in the United States and we are delighted to publish novels that will appeal specifically to them."

Read more here, or if you want the editorial perspective here.

I should point out that my interest here is purely academic. I am not a motor-racing fan and I know this (picture my index finger and thumb one millimetre apart) much about NASCAR, but the idea caught my attention. I spent some time wondering if other collaborations were possible ... and couldn’t think of anything on the same scale of possible readership.

My daydreaming shifted, as it tends to do on a lazy Sunday morning, to product placement in books. I remember reading something a year or two back about a product placement deal between, from memory, Faye Weldon and a jewellery company. Wouldn't it be nice if the deal were paid in diamonds?

That thought led me to consider the specific products mentioned in my books. Yes, there are diamonds in A RICH STRANGER as well as some upmarket designer names and a specific model of Jaguar. We are talking a RICH guy, after all! Wouldn't some of those free products be nice? *g* But, hey, I'm not greedy (and only slightly delusional.) I'll settle for a carton of Tim Tams, my heroine's chocolate of choice in THE RUTHLESS GROOM.

How about you? What product would you place in your book on the promise of free goodies? Or what organization would you love to collaborate with to produce books for a specific market?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Commandments for New Authors

Because my publisher buys a lot of new authors, I've seen over and over the pitfalls that new writers fall into. I'm hardly a veteran myself with only three books out, but I've learned a few things with each new release, and I came up with these commandments for new writers. I'm still struggling to follow all of them myself, especially the not obsessing about things which I can't control.

  1. Thou shalt not Google thy name or thy book title
  2. Thou shalt not check thy Amazon or thy numbers every hour
  3. Thou shalt not lurk on message boards where books are discussed
  4. Thou shalt not read reviews of thy book (Unless first vetted by a trusted friend)
  5. Thou shalt not call Ingram for sales numbers (At least not more than once a day)
  6. Thou shalt not compare thy career to that of other writers
  7. Thou shalt not obsess over that which you have no control
I wanted to come up with 10 Commandments, but as you can see, I fell a little short. Anyone have any advice to add?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Random House goes Hollywood

According to Publishers Weekly and several other industry sources, Random House has formed a partnership with Focus Features (part of NBC/Universal) to produce movies -- from RH books.

From what I can tell from the news reports, I can't see a downside to this. According to RH, no author will be required to sign over film rights (which can be worth a pretty penny) if they sign with the house, but the production company will only make movies from RH books.

They're not looking for "blockbusters" and have a moderate budget (well, for Hollywood it's moderate -- $20M a movie) which means the big name authors (Dan Brown, John Grisham, etc) wouldn't be considered.

But, that means they would be looking at the smaller, visual, solid stories. At least, that's my interpretation.

What do you all think? Is there a book that you think would make a great movie, but might be overlooked by the traditional Hollywood studios?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

From Publisher's Weekly

Kensington Gets Kinky With Aphrodisia

by Rachel Deahl, PW Daily -- 10/28/2005

Kensington Books is launching a new imprint to bring "erotic romance" to consumers on a bimonthly basis. Dubbed Aphrodisia, the imprint will launch with four books priced at $12.95 and $13.95. The impetus for Aphrodisia came about, according to v-p and publisher Laurie Parkin, out of a recognition that a number of erotic stories which first appeared online were making it into the retail market. Referring to the success of Kensington's Brava imprint, which, she says, attracted new readers by upping the "level of sensuality and mix of new and bestselling authors," Parkin hopes that Aphrodisia will proceed in much the same way.

The imprint will include an e-book component that will let consumer purchase Aphrodisia titles discreetly. The e-books, which will be sold through and, will also have lower price points at $6.99 and $8.99.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

From a Reliable Source...

Personnel Changes at Kensington

Kensington Publishing editor-in-chief Michaela Hamilton will now become editor-in-chief of the company's Citadel Press line, overseeing its "repositioning and expansion." At the same time, Hamilton will "continue to work with her authors from the Kensington side and to acquire titles across all of the company's imprints, especially thriller/suspense novels, and will oversee the true crime program for Pinnacle."

Kensington editorial director John Scognamiglio will step up to editor-in-chief of the imprint.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sighing over Signings

Every aspiring novelist dreams about doing a book signing, right? It’s a signal that we’ve made it, that we’ve actually published a book. And we can picture it all so clearly in our minds -- sitting at a linen-draped table, smiling confidently while television cameras roll and long lines of fans clutch coveted copies of our best-selling books.

So why was I so reluctant to let my local Walmart set up a book signing for the release of my debut novel, WHERE HE BELONGS, this month?

Well, for one thing, I’ve already agreed to do two other book signings in different cities. One will be with multiple romance authors. That seemed safe enough to me – if no one shows up, I can spend the time chatting with my friends. And I’ve already enlisted all my coworkers to attend the other.

But the Walmart signing will be during the week when most people I know are working. I’ll be by myself – sola – sitting at that table. Plus, I’m a new writer. I know I won’t have hordes of dedicated fans anxiously waiting to buy my first book.

No problem, you say? I should just chat up my book as shoppers pass by and let my friendly smile and warm personality lure them into buying my book? Oh, please. I’m a classic introvert – I love talking to people one-on-one but am very awkward at mingling. And I don’t enjoy the whole selling/buying process, either. I’m the type who even averts her eyes and scurries past the person giving out free food samples in the supermarket just to avoid a sales pitch.

Then why didn’t I refuse to do the signing? Well, for one thing, the manager sounded so excited about hosting it that I couldn’t bear to turn her down. And then I thought that just maybe I’d get lucky and meet a friendly reader or two.

So what do you think? Am I doomed to spending a lonely afternoon giving people directions to the bathroom? Is there anything I can do to make this event a success? Would anyone like to commiserate about book signings gone awry? Offer tips? Is the whole book signing experience worthwhile –- for readers or writers?

Monday, October 31, 2005



From Alesia, celebrating Release Day!

The Naked Truth, What do "being Pygmalioned" and evil fortune cookies of death have in common?

Today is that happiest of writer days, Book Release Day. This is the day that you get to relax, stop working, and drag your protesting children to the bookstore to Oooh and Ahhh over your newest release on the shelves. With your name on it. Naturally, having carried your little darlings for TEN MONTHS in your womb, they will be properly appreciative:

Me: It’s Release Day.
Them: Not again! Didn’t we just do this?
Me: That was in July. Don’t you want to see Mommy’s book?
Them: Emily’s Mom bakes cookies. Why don’t you bake cookies?
Me: I’ll BUY you a cookie at the bookstore.

Them: Okay, we saw it. Can we go to the kids’ section now?
Me: You didn’t say Ooooh and Ahhhh.
Them: Oooh, Ahh. Can we go to the kids’ section now?

With adulation like this, is it any wonder writers are neurotic?

So, to celebrate the release of my fun chick lit anthology, THE NAKED TRUTH, with my story, THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT GUYS, here is one of protagonist C.J. Murphy’s columns:

The Naked Truth About Guys, by columnist C.J. Murphy

Sports as Religion

A Guy may not be able to remember your birthday or your mother’s name, even after you’ve been dating for six or seven years* [*see: Guys as Commitmentphobes], but he remembers every stat of every player currently active in the NFL, NBA, and the European soccer league.

Plus all the stats for players who retired twenty years ago, and even those for players who are, in fact, dead.

This is nothing personal, it’s just how the Guy brain works. In every official medical pie chart of Guy Brains, as designed by actual brain doctors, you will see a breakdown like this:

25% Completely useless trivia, like the fact that Popeye said “Open, Sez Me” instead of “Open Sesame” in a cartoon he once watched twenty years ago;

18% Job-related stuff, like which VP at his office has the best handicap and should be schmoozed up before the annual company golf scramble.

53% Arcane sports stats, like how many times his favorite pitcher scratches his crotch before throwing a curve ball; and, finally:

4% Relationship issues. But, before you get excited, this includes every relationship he’s ever had, including the biggies, like with his dog Sparky back in sixth grade. Therefore, the actual percentage of a Guy brain that is focused on you and your relationship at any given time is approximately .0001.

Until next time, remember: Guys! At least they’re good for the sports questions in Trivial Pursuit.

And also remember, it's Book Release Day!! So, you know, please buy the book! Ooohing and aaahhhing challenged nature aside, I still have to feed the little darlings . . .

Plus, it's a 4 for 1!! With exciting stories by Donna Kauffman, Beverly Brandt, and Erin McCarthy! So have fun and get naked!

In honor of Book Release Day, this week I'll be giving away 5 copies of my holiday anthology, SHOP 'TIL YULE DROP, to five randomly-chosen people who e-mail me at with BOOK RELEASE DAY in the subject line. Good luck!!


Alesia, who still oohs and ahhhs, even on her 9th (counting collections) book. I LOVE this job!!!

And please visit me online at my website!! I'd much rather answer reader mail than work . . .

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Grab some cider (mine looks suspiciously like white zin for some reason), turn out the lights and take a trip to Castle of Spirits and read some ghost stories, as posted by their readers.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

From a Reliable Source...

Stehlik to Take Over at Avon

Liate Stehlik has been hired to serve as svp and publisher of Avon, reporting to HarperMorrow group publisher Michael Morrison, starting at the end of November. Stehlik fills a slot that has been vacant.

Avon executive editor Carrie Feron, who had been reporting to Morrison, will now report to Stehlik. She has been associate publisher at Pocket Books since 2001.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What's in a Name (Or at Least a Book Title)?

Often, readers are surprised to learn that very few authors have control over book covers, which are left in the hands of the publisher's marketing department. Though we're usually asked for input, often in the form of character description or scene descriptions, the details can take a back seat to getting across the story's sales hook.

Authors' working titles, too, are often altered or scrapped in favor of something considered more sales-worthy by the publisher. After the publication of nine books, six of which had their titles changed, I've found it never pays to get overly attached to your creation's moniker. Of my historicals written as Gwyneth Atlee, Futile the Winds (named for a line of an Emily Dickinson poem, "Wild Nights") became Night Winds. This was a good call, as people kept thinking I was saying "Feudal" and expecting a medieval instead of a Texas hurricane story! Two titles I fought for (and ultimately lost) were Thunder on the River and Fire on the Water (about the explosion of the Mississippi River steamboat Sultana during the Civil War). After a decision from marketing that the titles didn't sound romantic, the related books were renamed Against the Odds and Trust to Chance. Those didn't sound romantic to me, either. My first contemporary romantic suspense, Fatal Error (written under my real name, Colleen Thompson), was initially titled Heart Drives (a computer-related clue to the central mystery figures prominently, as does a strong romance). The change was probably a good one, since a lot of mystery/suspense readers (especially males) wouldn't pick up any book with "Heart" in the title, and the story was cross-marketed to both romance and suspense readers.

I must be getting a little better with titles, because my next three romantic suspenses (all from Love Spell Romantic Suspense), Fade the Heat (Dec. 05), The Deadliest Denial (May 06), and Heat Lightning (Nov. 06) are all keeping my original titles. At least as far as I know.

I'm always curious about original titles of books I've read. Does anyone want to share one?

Friday, October 28, 2005

New Guidelines for Silhouette Desire

The requirements for popular category line, Silhouette Desire, have just been updated and posted to the publisher's website. Click on the title to check out the updated guidelines.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

In praise of Libraries.

Alfie's lovely post from Wednesday had me thinking back. I remember my 3rd grade teacher reading our class Where the Red Fern Grows and sobbing our collective eyes out. Later, in college waiting tables for the summer, I got to serve the author. Gave me my best tips ever--though not the writing kind. I didn't have the nerve to tell him that was my goal, even then, to write books.

I don't really remember any one particular book though. I remember going to the Idaho Falls Public Library every Saturday and checking out four books and hating it because even in 2nd and 3rd grade, four books wasn't enough. And when I was sick and Mama went to check out the books, she always got biographies and "improving" books instead of the fairy tales and animal stories I wanted.

I read every single Walter Farley horse book, every Albert Payson Terhune collie book, every color of fairy tale book, all the Mary Poppins books... I read almost everything they had in that library before we moved to Houston in time for me to start 5th grade. I was in book heaven, because in Houston, they didn't limit the number of books a girl could check out.

I remember riding my bicycle to the Sharpstown branch library and trying to maneuver my way home again with ten books in the basket on the front. It was in the late 60s, a time that was rapidly becoming less innocent, but I'm still amazed my mother let me pedal through all that traffic (awful, even back then) at 14 or 15 years old just because I NEEDED more books.

I'm still a binge reader. I find a new author I like, and I grab hold of everything they've published and slam it down. Which is why I have a mountainous TBR pile. Since graduating college and getting married, I've lived in small rural towns with small libraries. I tend to rip through their shelves in a few months and then have to go back to buying my own books. A lot of them get donated to the local library. I'm currently serving on the local library board and have been president of the Friends of the Library. (A much easier task than it might be when you live in a town of 1800--and yes, we have a fine library.)

I believe in libraries. Where else can a child discover how to dream?

Memorable Lines

Great lines stay with us. Is there anyone who's watched GONE WITH THE WIND who doesn't remember Rhett's infamous line to Scarlett? Even people who haven't seen the movie know the quote: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. In Jaws, the memorable line is: You're gonna need a bigger boat. I can even visualize the scene where this takes place as clearly as if I were watching the movie. It's that evocative. We appreciate great lines so much, that the American Film Institute even did a television special titled AFI's 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.

Of course, this started me thinking about what lines from romance novels have stuck with me long after I've read the book. I narrowed it down to my top five.

Is there anyone who's read Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Mountain who doesn't remember the first line of the book?

  1. He needed a woman. Bad.

I saw this quote in a topic on the old Prodigy bulletin boards. I'd never read Linda Howard before, but I found it intriguing enough to go shopping and pick up the book. As soon as I finished the story, I went looking for every other book Howard had written.

Which other lines made my personal most memorable list?

Jayne Ann Krentz has written a lot of great books, with many, many great lines, but my absolute favorite is from PERFECT PARTNERS.

  1. "Good news, Dixon," he said thickly. She doesn't need therapy."

With this line--and the heroine's actions--the hero puts her cheating ex-boyfriend in his place, and sends him running back home.

Another of my favorite bits of dialogue is an exchange between the hero and heroine of Debra Dixon's BAD TO THE BONE. At this point, they've just finished making love and the ramifications are registering.

  1. "My medical history is clear."
    "Yeah, well, if your fallopian tubes are, too, we're in big trouble," Sully snapped.

This is a Bantam Loveswept from 1996 and I love this story so much, I keep buying backup copies. I always want to be able to reread it when the mood strikes.

This next quote is one of those lines that has really lodged itself in my head. I'm not sure exactly why, but there's just something about this bit of dialogue from Linda Lael Miller's HERE AND THEN that gets me shivery.

  1. "If there's no baby inside you now," he said huskily, "I'll put one there when I get back."

This was a time travel romance from Special Edition.

To close out my top five I chose Julie Garwood. I adore her books, and they're filled with great lines that are laugh out loud funny. It's impossible to narrow it down to one, but for the sake of brevity, I will.

  1. He never knew what hit him.

This is the opening line in Garwood's THE PRIZE and truer words have never been written. Throughout the book, the heroine continually stuns the hero, but there are a few times when he returns the favor.

Thinking about these lines, though, made me wonder if the authors themselves loved them as much as I did? Did other writers even have favorite quotes from their own books? So then I started wondering about the stories I've written. Are there lines that readers remember and enjoy? I know what some of my favorites are.

In my second book, THE POWER OF TWO, my favorite moment was a bit of dialogue that I wrote during the revision process. It comes while Jake and Cai are in bed, and he stops her from touching him, telling her he needs time to recuperate. Cai's response?

"I thought you Special Forces guys had stamina.

There was a lot of stuff I thought was fun in my current release, THROUGH A CRIMSON VEIL. That makes it much harder to pick my favorite, but I think I have to go with what Mika says to Conor in chapter three. He's trying to resist his need for her, and she's pushing him. Before he loses his head and gives in, Conor lifts her off his lap and puts her on the kitchen table—right into a pool of spilled orange juice.

"Conor," she purred with a smile that made him twitch, "there are more pleasurable ways to get my panties wet."

Now that I've talked about lines I've really enjoyed in my books as well as other author's stories, what quotes have stayed with you?

Patti O'Shea
Through a CrimsonVeil

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Toughest Part of the Book

People always ask me, what's the toughest part of writing a book. My usual answer, "The part where I have to sit down and do it," isn't quite true. There are sections where my fingers fly, where I'm simply transcribing the moving pictures in my head. These are often action scenes, and many times they're so sharply-drawn, they require very little editing.

And then there are those other parts, the parts where I struggle for each word and end up rewriting the scene a minimum of four times, adding layer after layer like watercolor paints. For me, the toughest of all are the love scenes, probably because self-consciousness arm-wrestles with my muse. I worry about purple prose. I fret over anatomical impossibilities (or at least unlikelihoods) and the difficulty of making this union between these two characters fresh and unique when the act I'm describing is as old as, well, sexual reproduction. Then I think about my mother-in-law, who's sure to scold me once the book comes out. And everybody knows, sex and shrewish m-i-l commentary don't mix!

Finally, after a Herculean struggle that takes many times longer than any other section of the book, I'm finished. And mightily relieved.

So am I alone? If there are other writers out there, which part of a manuscript do you find the toughest?

Chain mail, no. Chocolate, oh yeah!

Folks often ask me what goes on at a romance writers’ conference. I’m afraid it’s a lot less exciting than people envision. There are no cover models wearing chain mail over bare skin (ouch!), no fancy dress balls, no feather boas (well, maybe a few for fun); just a bunch of writers talking about…writing. Although we do have workshops on things like “Building sexual tension” which can be pretty interesting. The reason I was thinking about this is that I just returned from the New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference so I thought I’d share my own (admittedly slacker-ish) schedule.

I always volunteer to do registration. This year, the Powers-That-Be assigned me to speaker check-in where I was able to indulge my inner celebrity-hound by chatting with Christine Feehan (and her lovely daughter), Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Madeline Hunter and …well, you get the picture…all the writers we love to read. I handed out the speaker thank-you gifts which included homemade chocolate fudge AND brownies.

Next was the Published Authors’ Retreat where we spent three hours in informal discussion groups talking about everything from best-seller lists to burn-out. Coincidentally, one session was about blogging and, thanks to “2 B Read”, I could even contribute to that one. During these discussions, we consumed quantities of wine, Diet Coke, and chocolate.

The evening brought the Golden Leaf Awards for published fiction (I even got to present one; it was very cool to say, “And the winner is…”). Then we adjourned to a magnificent dessert buffet for more chocolate and more gabbing.

Saturday morning it was well worth getting up for breakfast because Mary Jo Putney gave a truly inspiring speech, reminding us all of why we love writing romance. Workshops and agent/editor appointments followed. Lunch brought another terrific and highly entertaining address, this one by Lisa Kleypas (who, being a former beauty queen, looked absolutely dynamite, despite claiming that she “had never found an occasion she couldn’t overdress for”). Dessert was, of course, chocolate.

More workshops filled the afternoon. The two terrific talks I attended were Teresa Bodwell’s “Legal Issues for Writers” (did you know you can say “Rollerblades” but you can’t say “rollerblading” without getting into trademark trouble?) and Liz Maverick’s “Book of your Smarts” (great lessons in thinking outside the box when approaching editors and agents).

The Literacy Book Fair found me in the giant ballroom where over seventy of us authors signed our books and chatted happily with our readers. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the Literacy Volunteers of America, a very worthy cause. (Can you imagine not having the pleasure of reading?)

Sunday was the inaugural NJRW Booksellers’ Luncheon, our way of saying “thank you” to all those wonderful fans of romance who hand sell our books. There were tables displaying marketing ideas and goodie bags crammed to bursting with books, bookmarks, and other useful selling tools. With all those book lovers in one room, the atmosphere was downright electric. And we had chocolate for dessert.

Lots of people go to different kinds of conferences for work and for fun. How different are your conference experiences from mine?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Story Must Go On

Last week my family and I came back from a family trip to find that our doggie had had a heart attack a few hours before we got home and died.

Everyone went through the normal sadness and shock (since we’d talked to my mother earlier in the day and the dog was fine). We comforted the kids and talked about death and made promises about future dogs.

Then I spent the rest of the week getting rid of pet beds and leashes and everything that had belonged to the mini doxie we all loved so much. But every chance I got, I sat at my computer to work because I have a deadline at the end of this month that has to be met no matter what happens in my personal life. Except there was a problem . . . I didn’t feel like writing.

Like the kids, I was sad, and after 13 years of listening to the sounds the dog made around the house, or having her lay on my favorite chair that she claimed in my office while I worked, now there was a void.

As writers, we have to be able to step out of ourselves and into a character’s head and feel whatever emotions that character is feeling. I realized that I could do that, but I just didn’t want to. I didn’t care about my heroine’s problems and I didn’t want to write anything funny or witty. I wondered how authors who have lost friends, and husbands, and parents, and the most horrible of all, children, can ever sit at their computer and write again. Then there are those that may have lost their homes and all their possessions in these hurricanes that won’t quit. There are numerable mini and major tragedies that happen to us all the time and yet we still have to produce and find inside us the story and all the emotions that are needed for a satisfying read.

So even though I didn’t feel like writing, I thought of my agent, and my editor and readers who will hopefully one day read my book – who deserved to be treated to the best story I’m able to write, no matter how I’m really feeling -- and I wrote.

By the end of the week, I thought of how lucky we writers really are. Mentally stepping out of ourselves for a while IS actually a great gift. Just like readers pick up a book to be transported to another time and place, and to leave their everyday problems behind for a couple of hours, writers do the same when they write. This is why books are so important for our souls.

Now, would I have been able to ‘get on with life’ as quickly if my loss had been a human family member? Probably not. But, I want to think that though it would have taken longer, my books and those of my friends still would have helped. For this reason, I’m grateful to all my favorite authors who continue to write -- no matter what. So, off I go polish my book, which will meet its deadline.

A Tale of...Change

When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher read to us everyday after lunch. She'd read a chapter or so--or if it was a long chapter, just a scene--and usually read the-Where the Redfern Grows-and-Old Yeller-age-appropriate stuff...until late winter, when she began a grown-up book, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

We 11 and 12 year olds were bored at first and moaned and groaned about it among ourselves...for a very brief time. Then we became engrossed. When she reached the third part of the book, (Book the Third, Dickens called it) it was a beautiful day in the early spring. I remember looking at the sunny expanse of playground outside as she read and feeling a surreal sense of displacement that it could be so wonderfully warm and bright and yet I felt like I was in a city's dingy shops and visiting dark and dank prisons and creeping through alleyways and places that made me feel cold and shivery for the characters I cared about so much.

She read the normal chapter and we all begged for more. Since we begged most days, through most books--hey, the longer she read, the less work we had to do--I'm not sure what was different about our begging on this day. But she continued. Every time she started to put the book away, we pleaded with her not to quit. When it was time for afternoon recess, she put the book down and we offered to give up recess if she would just keep reading. (We took a bathroom break and hurried back to class for more.)

When it was almost time for the closing bell, we were into the part where Sydney Carton was about to enter the jail to visit Charles Darnay and only a few chapters from the end. Mrs. Hinshaw, definitely one of the teachers who most influenced my life, quit long enough to go to the office and have them call our parents to tell them we would be late. She promised to make arrangements to get those who rode the bus home. Then, as the time for school to be out came and went, as the buses rolled for home, she continued reading. By the time she reached the part where Sydney Carton gave up his life so the woman he loved could have the man she loved, I--and most of the girls--were sobbing uncontrollably. (I don't remember what the boys were doing, which is amazing in itself and should tell you exactly how dramatic the experience was for me since I was boy crazy at the time and always paid attention to what they were doing.)

Mrs. Hinshaw was hoarse by the time she closed the book. And we were all stunned into silence by the experience.

And my life was changed.

I'd always been a reader but from then on, I was an avid one. I couldn't imagine not having a book around and each time I opened one, I hoped and expected and craved some kind of emotional or exciting or renewing or exhilerating and wondrous trip. Though it was a long time later that I realized I wanted to be a writer, I know Mrs. Hinshaw's reading of A Tale Of Two Cities planted the seed. That book and the whole experience made me realize the power of stories and words.

I've read lots of books since then that have affected me and my life in varying ways. (Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you about them all.) But I would like to know, what books have had an impact on you? What books have made you different in some way? What books have you read that have somehow changed your life?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pirate Books -- In or out?

I went to our local conference last weekend. I got to meet Jennifer Blake, Linda Castillo, Susan Andersen and Linda Winsor -- all fabulous authors. They gave me a lot of insight and all of them said that their publishing careers were rife with ups and downs. It is a wacky business and no matter how well you plan, things don't always go the way you want them to.

I visited with two literary agents and an editor. I had submitted early to one of the agents so she could get familiar with my work before we met. She asked me how many Pirate books I had seen on the shelves lately and I said, "Hardly any." She told me that I should have gotten a clue that those kinds of books were not popular with the publishers because they didn't sell well in public. I told her that I've had a couple of readers asking me if I would write one -- and if there weren't any on the shelves, I was thinking it was about time someone wrote one! But after talking to her, I was really disappointed because I love my pirate story -- and I was dreading talking to the editor because I was going to pitch a book that "wasn't popular." Anyway, after I started my pitch, the editor from Bantam said she loved the premise and wanted to see it right away. So I was tickled pink!!! The other agent I had an appointment with was also thrilled to hear I had a pirate book (she said she loved playing some electronic pirate game that I wasn't familiar with -- does anyone know of one?), and she wants to see my material. So the day ended very nicely! :)

After having this experience, I decided to create a poll to see who likes pirate books. Please visit my official home page to vote. I need everyone's input! I'll close the poll at the end of November, 2005.

Thanks! Gloria

That magic moment

Lately I’ve been trying to make a dent in the towering stack of books beside my bed. This pile consists of new books that I’ve set aside “to be read” and also some old “keepers” that I’m reevaluating to see if I still want to keep them (or make shelf-space for new ones). Unfortunately, my husband gets upset if I suggest simply buying more bookcases:)

So last night I found myself reading a book I’ve had sitting by the bed for a year, and I got to the part where the hero and heroine meet and he is intensely attracted to her. And suddenly, I felt that excitement, the knowledge that I LOVED these characters and wanted to keep reading all night and stay in this world. I wanted to vicariously experience this love affair and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Of course, I eventually had to sleep, but when I woke up this morning and saw the book on my bedside table, I found myself wishing I could spend the day reading. I’m now completely caught up in the story and can’t wait to get back to it – I even find myself rationalizing why I can put off writing my own book to read that one... And every once in a while I catch myself thinking about the book and get that jolt of anticipation and excitement that I have a great book to read tonight. It is exactly this feeling that makes us love reading – and writing. It makes me wonder how people can not like reading. Haven’t they ever experienced this?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ten Things I've learned from LOST continued....

I’m back! Here are the last five things I’ve learned from watching LOST. True LOST fans will understand my method of counting. Sorta. :-)

4. Surprises and shocks are great fun, but anticipation is agony!
We all love the shocks we get from watching LOST. Remember the time the airplane pilot was suddenly whooshed out of the plane? Or the time we discovered that Locke had been in a wheelchair before the crash? Or the time we first saw the numbers on the hatch? More recently, the shock of seeing Desmond’s face for the first time in the hatch and realizing Jack has met him before. We know more surprises are coming, and we keep showing up for the thrill. But it was no surprise that for the season premiere they were going to descend into the hatch. We all knew it. We saw them blow the lid off and look inside. Then, all summer long we had to wait. And wait. Anticipation is a powerful and cruel force! (Just ask some pals here who didn’t want to wait one day for the rest of this list!) What a great way to hook in a reader, whether it’s at the end of a chapter so the reader can’t go to bed even though it’s 3 am. Or maybe it’s at the end of a book that’s part of an ongoing series. Anticipation never lets us off the hook. All summer long the speculation grew. What was in the hatch? Was it cannibalistic headhunters (that was my daughter’s favorite), a strange cult, an experiment gone bad, the Others, or even aliens? By the time the season premiere arrived, millions of viewers were desperate to go into the hatch! Wouldn’t we love to have readers that hooked?

8. Excellent writing never takes a break.
As writers, we have to maintain the quality with each page, each chapter, and each book. Readers/viewers may love you today, but they can be easily disappointed tomorrow. I’ve gotten into the habit every week of checking online reviews that fans post about LOST. They are so accustomed to the high quality of writing, that they have become rather critical. And they’re extremely hungry for answers that are not forthcoming. Their frustration shows. It’s a scary thing for a writer. We work everyday with a fear hanging over us. Is this book as good as the last one? Am I still improving as a writer? Will my readers enjoy this and keep buying my books? All we can do is keep doing our best and never, ever take a break.

15. It has to make sense!
At some point, questions have to be answered. The plot has to move forward. Decisions have to be made. Sure, we write fiction. In other words, we’re telling a pack of lies. But there must be a truth to it. Characters must be true to themselves. Results have to be believable. And it all has to make sense, or you can lose the reader/viewer. LOST is really out there. It’s plain crazy, but we’re buying it. They’re making us believe it, and that is amazing!

16. To keep the suspense building, the best answer gives you an answer, but raises more questions.
LOST has a great way of answering questions in a way that only leads to twenty more questions. The result makes us bang our heads against the wall, but it certainly keeps us hooked!

23. Never underestimate the intelligence or imagination of the reader/viewer.
Fans of LOST have been keeping up with a large cast of characters. Now that the tail-end survivors have been found, the cast is growing even larger. The plot lines keep increasing and becoming more and more complicated. And we keep finding new ways that the different plot lines and characters interconnect with each other. It’s an amazing load of information to process and remember. Not only do the viewers handle it, but they love it!

42. That last one was actually number 10, but I have to complete the number cycle or something terrible could happen! LOL If that statement lost you, then you need to be watching LOST.
Seriously, this shows presents a fabulous display of writing expertise. The writers wield all the tools—great characterization, backstory, inner and outer conflict, dialogue, hooks, superb plotting. It’s all there, and it all works together so well. It is truly a great how-to manual for writing fiction. And it’s fun!

Kerrelyn Sparks
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ten Things I've Learned from LOST

I admit it, I am thoroughly hooked on the TV show LOST. For me as a viewer, it’s a great thrill ride. But as a writer, it’s like being immersed in a living how-to manual. I’ve never seen a show that displays Point of View or Inner Conflict as brilliantly as LOST.

What I’ve learned as a writer:
1. Good plot plus good characterization equals GREAT success.
The plot is fascinating. It’s a mental jigsaw puzzle that keeps us glued to the television every week, hoping to glean a few more tiny pieces to the puzzle. A great plot is addictive to our brains. We must have more! On the other hand, good characterization is what appeals to our heart. It makes the characters so real, we can feel their pain, sorrow, fear, and joy. When you manage to combine the two—great plot and great characterization, you’ll have a sure winner!

2. Even with a large cast of characters, each one can be real and three-dimensional. This goes way beyond a well-developed hero and heroine who are backed up by a set of cardboard, interchangeable secondary characters. Without the strength of those supporting roles, the whole story can collapse. Each character in LOST is unique and fully developed. They each have strengths and weaknesses. They can be used as symbols—for instance, Jack is the Man of Science while Locke is the Man of Faith. They can be used as opposites—Jack is a Boy Scout compared to Sawyer as the ultimate Bad Boy. Irony within a character is effective. Charlie is a sweet angel, cursed with a hellish weakness for drugs. Michael had lost his rights as a father only to regain them right before the plane crash. And now, once again, he’s lost his son. Sawyer and Kate have both done terrible things in the past and are in serious need of redemption. Who will Kate choose—the heroic good guy Jack who symbolizes what she’s always wanted to be, or Sawyer who can understand her like no one else. Even Shannon, the Survivor Barbie, is showing an interesting growth arc. She started out completely self-absorbed and manipulative, but she’s lost her brother and now, she’s taking good care of Walt’s dog.

3. Inner conflict is most powerful when the writer shows how trouble from the past relates to the current trouble. LOST does a fantastic job on this every week! Here’s a good example—after suffering through everyone’s reaction to his winning the lottery, Hurley is frantically worried about how everyone will react to him being in charge of all the food in the hatch. Frantic enough that he considers blowing it all up.

4. It’s very cool to show a theme in a parallel fashion—either in backstory and current story, or through different characters. Last night, Locke hit the theme on the head when he said he was no longer lost when he stopped looking. In backstory, we see that Jin was searching for his future and Sun was searching for a husband. When they stopped looking, they found each other. In the current story, Sun found her lost wedding ring when she stopped looking. At the end of the show, the men convinced Michael to stop looking for Walt. We can only hope that by not looking for Walt, they will find him!

5. Point of View is a powerful tool! It’s a great way to manipulate what the reader/viewer knows or doesn’t know. In the season premiere, we were in Jack’s POV as he went into the hatch. We were as lost as he was. When Desmond shot off his gun, we yawned and thought ‘So what?’ The next week, we saw the same scene through Kate’s POV as she crawled through the ventilator shaft. When the gun shot off, the bullet barely missed her and I jumped in my seat! But Jack was still standing there like it was no big deal. Because he didn’t know Kate was there! For any beginning writer who’s having trouble with the concept of POV or inner conflict, I would recommend watching LOST. Not only will you be wonderfully entertained, but you will learn so much!!

Tomorrow, the last five things I’ve learned…

Kerrelyn Sparks
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire