Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Characters

When I first started writing, I thought I was writing plot-driven novels because I write suspense. Suspense means action and murders and plot-twists and things happening.

But as I continued writing book after book, I realized that it wasn't the plot that was propelling my stories forward, it was the characters themselves. No matter what hurdle I threw at them, they had choices to make. And those choices were made because of who they were, not because of what "needed to happen" in the story.

With children, we gradually give them more responsibility and choices to make so that when they leave home, we hope they've learned enough to make the right decisions. We're not always going to be available to tell them what to do (and if we try, they may not listen!)

But characters are grown-ups. They're individuals capable of making their own choices. I finally let my characters grow up and leave the nest. I can't tell you how hard it was to give up that control. Here I had nurtured and created some wonderful, brave people and what? I had to let them screw up? No! But the truth is, yes. Characters make mistakes just like real people. Their choices are based on their life experiences, only their life experiences are what we've given them in their backstory. Or, what they've told us.

In THE HUNT, my heroine Miranda Moore is the sole survivor of a brutal serial killer who rapes and tortures women. I sort of understood her, knew her. Her mom wasn't around. Why? I didn't know until I started the chapter where she talks to her dad. Then I learned that her mother died of ovarian cancer when Miranda was six and that's why her dad left his fast-paced corporate job for a quiet life in Montana.

I knew that Miranda had been physically scarred, but I didn't know how it truly affected her until she looked in the mirror after a shower and knew exactly how many scars were on her breasts. It was a short, powerful scene that I never knew I would write until it happened.

Character is not just reserved for the hero and heroine. A story is richer because secondary characters add depth, conflict and emotion to the story. A villain needs to be real, not just a caricature of evil. Why is he the way he is? Why does he hurt people?

These are the things about characters that they know, and they tell us when they're ready. When we, their storyteller, allow them to be themselves. When we're ready to listen.

Isn't it true that we remember books based on the characters more than the plot? The last book you absolutely loved, why did you love it? Because of the cool plot, or the fascinating characters?

So while I write suspense with a lot of external things going on, first and foremost I write about characters. They're driving the story because without them, everything is simply a series of meaningless events.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Reading 4 Pleasure

One of the worst things about becoming a writer is the way it has affected my reading. Ann asked in the previous post, how we indulged ourselves. And the question bugged me all day. I *used* to indulge myself by reading. It was my greatest pleasure. (Well, up there close to the top of the list, anyway. And one of the few great pleasures you can do--and in fact, do best--by yourself. ) And it was such a guilty pleasure. There were always things that I should have been doing. It made it seem all the more like I was giving myself a treat, which made reading a real indulgence.
Then I started actively writing and found myself critiquing everything I read. That took some of the joy away. As I became a better writer, I learned not critic quite so extensively, partly because I also learned that I didn't have to finish every book I started. If I can't get into the book enough to shut the critic up, I quit reading. As I became more secure in the strength of my own writing, I felt less obligated to 'learn' something from every book I read. That also took some of the pressure off and gave a little of the pleasure back. I also gave myself permission to go back and study later--I don't have to stop in the middle of the book and examine how or what the author did so right--the books or passages that impress or blow me away, that helped bring back some of the enjoyment. But where is the indulgence? Where's that guilty sense of pampering myself, just because I settle down with a book?
Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that I read very few books, for no other reason than I want to read them. There is never enough time. My 2 B Read pile, if all stacked together, would rival Mt. Kilimanjaro. But when I start looking at the various stacks for what to read next, at least 2 dozen books seem to holler, "Hey. Me, next. You *need* to read me." There are research books, books from a publisher or market I'd like to submit to, books by friends, books to judge for some contest. In other words, books I *need* to read for some reason that has nothing to do with the pure joy of reading. That doesn't mean that I don't find books I enjoy along the way. (One of last year's RITA books was a surprising joy, especially since it was in a subgenre I don't normally care for.) It all means that reading isn't the greatly anticipated indulgence it used to be.
It isn't even as much fun to buy books. I remember when a couple of hours wandering in a bookstore brought almost as much pleasure as reading. The big challenge was not buying more than I could afford. Now, I rarely find myself buying books that don't have some 'reason' attached to them. It's like reading has become part of my job. (And I remember when that thought would have excited me sooooo much. Getting to read as part of my job? Who could ask for anything better?)
I know I can't be the only one who has felt this way. So, how do I 'fix' it? How do I bring back the passion and the joy of it? I sure hope someone has an Rx. I sorely miss the guilty pleasure.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Indulge Yourself

Used to be, every holiday I’d lock the bathroom door, leaving my husband to deal with the girls, and take a long, luxurious bubble bath. Inevitably one daughter or another (we have three) would knock on the door and demand to come in. Because t I needed that small piece of alone time I ignored their pleas. But someplace along the way the baths stopped. Too busy to spare the time, I guess.

Now my daughters are grown and on their own. Even so, it took a friend’s thoughtful gift to lure me back to the tub. For my birthday, this friend bought me six Lush bubble bath balls, each with a different scent and shape. I’ve been using those balls, half at a time—they’re big!—for a Sunday morning indulgence. So pleasant to relax in a scented, suds-filled tub, listen to music, and let my mind wander. I always emerge feeling relaxed and revitalized, ready for whatever the day brings.

What do you do to indulge yourself?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

When Art Imitates Life (or something like that)

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I hate winter.

No. Seriously. I hate it. I hate the shivering as I climb out of my warm bed in the mornings and run across the cold hardwood floor to the bathroom. I hate the feeling of icy slush that gets inside my shoes whenever I go outside. I hate having to drive in snow and I hate having to walk in snow, and I especially hate having to move the snow that is in my driveway, whether by shovel or snowblower, which pretty much covers all aspects of snow.

Bottom line here, people, I hate winter.

So, is it any wonder then that the protagonist of my latest WIP hates winter, too?

Now, I’m not talking about a mild dislike of winter. Nope. She actually hates it. Read a few chapters and you’ll know what I mean because she comments on it. A lot.

(Probably too much I’m thinking, which is why I’m constantly having to go back and edit.)

Now, I remember back in the 1990’s, I had this heroine in a romance I was writing for Bantam who seemed to be obsessed with food. I’d re-read scenes I’d written a few days later and find paragraph after long (boring) paragraph that described food. Food she ate in a restaurant. Food she was thinking of eating when she got home. Food she’d eaten when she was a kid. I mean, seriously, the woman was obsessed with food.

My CP at the time had called me and said that I either had to stop dieting while I wrote the book, or—

Okay, she didn’t have a second suggestion. She just said I needed to stop dieting while I wrote the book. The thing was, my own obsessions were beginning to overshadow the obsessions of my characters.

So, my question for this snowy (what else?) February morning is...

For the writers out there: Do you ever find your characters have taken on your own obsessions? If so, how do you handle it?

For the readers out there: Have you ever suspected that this was happening? If so, how did it affect your enjoyment of the book?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Olympic (and Writing) Dreams

I have reached the point where I've realized that I must give up on a long-held dream. It's time that I face the facts and accept that some things just aren't meant to be.

Yep, sad as it is to admit it, I will never win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Even in the alternate universe where I actually learned to ice skate, if I haven't won one by this age, it's not going to happen. When they awarded the medals last night, I knew it was over for me.

I've always been fascinated by ice skating. When I was little my parents took me to see the Holiday on Ice show. I guess there was some kind of licensing tie-in with Peanuts because Snoopy from the show visited my kindergarten classroom and we "skated" around by taking off our shoes and sliding around on the floor. I have vague memories of "skating" around the house, possibly while wearing my ballet recital outfits (Mom may have to verify this). I first became aware of the idea of figure skating competition during the 1976 Winter Olympics when Dorothy Hamill won the gold medal. I dressed my Barbie doll in her ballerina outfit and a pair of short boots, and she skated along with Dorothy. But we didn't have an ice rink anywhere nearby, so it was pointless to dream of skating. I kept up with ballet, then switched to gymnastics early that summer. Later that summer, Nadia got a perfect ten at the summer Olympics, so it was gymnastics for me for a while. I did watch skating when I got the chance, and I got my parents to take me to the Ice Capades when Tai and Randy were starring.

I didn't really start thinking seriously about skating until the 1984 Winter Games. That was when I caught myself choosing and even editing my music for my short and long programs, as well as drawing designs for my costumes. I'd been on ice skates once in my life, when I was at a shopping mall rink in Dallas a couple of years earlier, and since I'd managed to stay upright and even start building speed in that first time, I convinced myself that I was a natural. In my dreams, I decided that when I went to college in a city that actually had an ice rink in it, I would start taking lessons and then stun everyone with my prowess. I started exercising at home so I'd be in great shape for when that time came.

Of course, I soon got sidetracked by other things. I was in the band and the drama club. I went through a phase where I was going to lose weight and be a cheerleader (that didn't happen). Mostly, I wrote a lot. I filled a lot of spiral notebooks with the beginnings of stories and with story ideas. When I went off to college, I did go to the local ice rink a couple of times, but I used that time in my life to explore a lot of things. I took fencing, was involved in professional and service organizations, took voice lessons, got back into ballet, tried to get back into gymnastics (my body objected), and learned ballroom dancing. I was also writing, taking journalism classes, still filling spiral notebooks and later computer disks, and taking other classes I thought might come in handy for writing (I took fencing primarily so I could write about swordfights in fantasy books -- along with almost every other person in that class. We tended to throw a lot of bad fantasy cliche dialogue into all our bouts.). I used to criticize myself for being so scattered when it came to interests, but now I realize I was training myself to be a writer because you do need that variety of experience to bring to your work.

I guess I must not have wanted that gold medal enough, considering I've had an ice rink in my neighborhood for the past twelve years -- in walking distance! -- and for six of those years it was only a few blocks away, and I've never gone there. That hasn't stopped me from daydreaming and choreographing my programs every four years. I did reach the point where the dream was in that alternate universe where I'd actually carried through on all those grand plans (as well as not having bad knees that can't handle high impact anything or bending deeply with a lot of weight on them). I even mentally took up ice dancing for a while because I thought that was more suited to my abilities. But now, though, I have to accept that I won't even have that alternate universe gold medal. And I'm okay with that because in my universe, I think I've done the equivalent. I wouldn't trade the things I've done for a life spent doing the kind of training it takes to reach the top in a sport like that.

There are some lessons from this that can be applied to writing, or to any other dream:
1. Wanting it isn't enough.
You have to actually do something about it. If you want to be a figure skater, you have to actually get on the ice. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Yeah, I know, duh, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who find out that someone is a writer and then say, "I've always wanted to write a book," but have never written a word. If you're not doing anything about it, then maybe you don't want it as much as you think you do. It makes a nice daydream, but if you're not willing to take the steps to get there, that's all it will ever be. If I can live within blocks of an ice rink and never go skating, I never honestly wanted to be a skater.

2. You have to do the right things to reach your goal.
All of my off-the-ice cross training, ballet classes and the like would have come in really handy if I had decided to take up skating, but those things did me no good toward the skating dream because I never actually learned to skate. Sadly, I see a number of would-be writers making the same mistakes. They write a lot of beginnings but don't finish books. They win a lot of contests, but they never submit to editors or agents. They go to a lot of conferences and workshops, but they never get around to really writing anything because they want to learn it all before they start. Contests, conferences and workshops can all be helpful, but they won't help you reach your goal until you write a book and submit it to someone who can help you get it published. Period.

3. Sometimes, hard work and desire aren't enough.
Writing groups are great for support and encouragement, but they're also bad about spreading what could be described as false hope. There's an often-repeated mythology in these groups that if you want it enough and work really hard, someday, you'll be published. I'm sorry, but that's not true. For one thing, talent really is a factor. So is luck. So is timing. There are a lot of people out there wanting the same thing, and the odds are against you, even if you are good. Look at Michelle Kwan. She's considered to have been at the top of her sport for about a decade. She's won numerous world championships. But she's never won an Olympic gold medal. There were 30 women who went to the Olympics for the figure skating event -- out of the ENTIRE WORLD. Think of the thousands of other women out there who had skills not far below that level, who were very, very good, but who didn't make the cut. Three women from the United States are competing, and it's a good bet that some of the women who didn't make the cut there could have beat some of the women from other countries who did get to go. But that's the way it works. Agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions a week, and each publisher (aside from Harlequin) only puts out a few books a month. Do the math. It's all about getting the right manuscript on the right desk at the right time. Sometimes, someone less talented who hasn't worked as hard will sell just because of having the right material at the right time, just as a possibly less-talented, less-experienced skater will win the medal because she happened to be better on the night that counted.

4. You have to love it enough to do it for its own sake, not for the ultimate reward. Otherwise, you'll go nuts.
If your life as a skater is worthless without an Olympic gold medal, then you may as well give up now because they only give one of those per event every four years. You're not going to drag yourself to the rink day in and day out unless you enjoy it for its own sake, unless skating brings you some kind of pleasure. That's not to say you shouldn't aim high, just that you need to be able to appreciate the process along the way enough that if you never reach that lofty goal, you won't feel like you've wasted your life. It needs to bring something to your life beyond just that one medal. The same goes with writing. If you don't enjoy it enough that you'd do it even without the hope of publication, if you wouldn't be making up stories in your head no matter what, then you'll only make yourself miserable if you keep slogging away just because you want to make some money eventually. If you do luck out and get published, you're still going to have to keep writing, and you'll be writing to deadline, so you'd better find some pleasure in it because it only gets harder. There will be days that aren't fun, but if the only thing that will make you happy with writing is selling a book, then you're setting yourself up for misery.

I guess the bottom line is that focused work is what separates goals from daydreams, whether you're a writer or a figure skater.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The shape of things to come

Remember a few years ago when the conversation was all about ebooks and whether or not they would change publishing forever?

Ebooks haven't become the rage many were predicting ten years ago, but they are definitely here to stay. And they have changed the way many people read. (I suspect it will continue to change things, slowly and subtly, for many years to come.)

Here's a new one: how about free books on the internet? HarperCollins is 'publishing' a non-fiction book, sponsored, not by sales but by advertising. No one is predicting that this is the wave of the future, but it is an interesting concept. And if it's successful? Well, you know publishers mostly worry about the bottom line. How could a trend like this affect the way people read or buy books?

Or how about this one? (If you're lucky) Stephen King may call your cell phone. This is mostly promo, but it's interesting. And this is where you make sure he has your number.

Do things like this have long term impact on the way readers chose or read books and how our industry does business ? Look into your crystal ball and tell me how technology is going to change reading and writing (for fun and profit) in the next 10, 20 years. What's next?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Champagne, confetti and congrats...

...to Pam Mellor whose book, Pleasure Beach, was shown in a USA Today article on the popularity of erotic romance, and to Eve Silver for her latest contract offer from Kensington for three more historical gothic romances.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Plot and Prejudice


I’ve got a contest running over on my site where I ask readers to tell me some of the things they like or don’t like in a romance novel. One reader said, somewhat sheepishly, that she liked secret baby stories. Another liked the marriage of convenience plot. Still another said she couldn’t stand heroines who were TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Kick-ass heroines are popular, but in the regency period when my novels are set, a heroine who is too kick-ass is going to get her sweet little derriere booted out of Almack’s.

I confess as a romance reader I come to a book with certain expectations...well, prejudices, really. Like CJ’s judge, I’m not a fan of short heroes. I don’t care for regencies set in France. I like paranormal, but usually not in my historicals. As a writer, however, I want to push the envelope. I don’t want to tell the same story everyone else is telling--or the same story I wrote in my last book. Yet I do feel a need to stay within general expectations. If I go too far a field, not only won’t my editor like it, more importantly, my readers won’t. And really, once I get into a story, the characters take over and tell me what to write.

So, what are your plot prejudices? Any plots you love, plots that are almost an autobuy? (It's okay if you like secret baby amnesia cowboy stories!) Would you pick up a book with a Transylvanian hunchbacked dwarf as a hero or is tall, dark, and handsome the only way to go?

I need a Hero!

Who do you think of when someone asks you who your hero is? Is it a real person or a fictional character? Is he tall, handsome, smart, rich? Or are there other qualities that are more important?

I was doing my usual end of the year de-cluttering—which basically involves moving piles of junk into new piles—when I came across a judging sheet from a contest I entered when I first joined RWA. Now, I’ve only entered 3, maybe 4, contests so I don’t know if this judge was typical or not, but her response to my entry is something that I’ll never forget.

See, my hero wasn’t six feet tall. A fact that actually endeared him to the heroine but that caused this judge to deduct multiple points and to write in several areas of the score sheet comments along the lines that I was “obviously a novice and knew nothing about the conventions of the romance genre”, that my novel “although well-written will never make it past a first reader at any publishing house unless you change your hero”, and “no New York editor will ever buy a book featuring a hero less than six feet tall.” There was more of the like, but you get the drift—she loved the story, liked the characters, but in her mind the entire work failed because of one physical characteristic.

At first I laughed. Especially as these results came on the heels of my Golden Heart final, winning the Golden Gateway and receiving my first book contract—not for the novel she judged, that was a work-in-progress. But then I realized that I was very much indebted to this judge and her comments.

Why? Because she made me think. She made me take a good hard look at my characters and consciously decide what I wanted readers to see, feel and think about them.

To do that, I examined my own personal heroes. I have three men that I truly admire—two of whom that I’ve actually been fortunate enough to meet.

The first is Joe Paterno. If you don’t follow college football, you probably don’t know Joe Pa. He’s 79 and the long time coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. This year he brought my Lions back from several heart-breaking losing seasons to a fantastic season that was only one second shy of perfect. But Coach Paterno’s mastery of the art of football isn’t why he’s my hero.

Joe Pa is my hero because in all his years, winning or losing, he’s never lost sight of the fact that football really is only a game. He’s always focused on the people playing the game, these young boys entrusted to his care and tutelage and who, for the most part, leave the program as men of principal and honor. His teams have had some of the highest graduation rates, highest GPA’s, and highest rates of post-graduate degrees of any in the nation. Joe (and his wife Sue) tutor “their kids”, have donated heavily to build a new library at Penn State, and have always opened their arms and their home to any player in need. Joe Pa is a gentleman in the true sense of the word.

My second hero is Gene Krantz. Yeah, you remember him from Ed Harris’ portrayal in Apollo 13. He’s the guy who coined the phrase “failure is not an option” and who literally saved lives by thinking outside the box. In this case, by configuring a square box, a carbon dioxide scrubber, to fit into a round hole. He’s also known for wearing vests that his wife made him during each Apollo mission he worked on. Cool under fire, knowing when to follow the rules and when to scrap the rule book, a guy you could depend on without hesitation.

My final hero is my Uncle Vinny. No laughing, that really is his name. On a school teacher’s salary, he and his wife raised five wonderful kids (I’ll never live it down if any of my cousins are reading this!) and created a home that was always filled with music, laughter, warm comfort, hot food and endless hugs. He taught me that any dream worth having is worth sacrificing for, that people come before money or reputation, that some principals you must defend or risk losing part of yourself by compromising them, and that when you look at the big picture, there just really isn’t a whole lot in this life worth getting too upset about. If you have your health, your family and a job you love, then you’ve got it all—so go, enjoy it already!

So those are my heroes. None of them are tall, dark or Hollywood handsome—I’m sure my judge would have given them all low scores. But I strive to include part of them into all of my fictional heroes. The best compliment any reader could give me is not when they tell me, “Ohhh, that Drake is soooo hunky and handsome, he made me melt!” Rather, it’s when someone says that they’ll never forget Drake (or any of my heros), that he inspired them or made them wish they could meet a man like him in real life.

When that happens, I thank Joe Pa, Gene and Uncle Vinny. I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

So, who are your heroes? What makes them stand out, become unforgettable, inspiring?
I’d love to know!
CJ
Cathryn J Lyons
No one is immune to danger….
BLINK OF AN EYE, “a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” --Sandra Brown
www.cjlyons.net

Monday, February 20, 2006

Book Thoughts

Read a number of books last week. Got a second round of Rita books to read this week. (I read fast, so I figured I ought to do what I can--especially since that Book That Wouldn't End finally did.)

Anyway, last week, I read Catspell by Coleen Shannon; A Vision of Murder by Victoria Laurie; To The Brink by Cindy Gerard; My Lady Gamester by Cara King; Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast and Shadow Touch by Marjorie M. Liu

Hmm. Seems once again, I bounced through at least three different genres--maybe four, since the Laurie book is shelved with the mysteries in the store, not romance. (Her "detective" is a professional psychic with an FBI boyfriend--in this book, she invests in a house to "flip" that's haunted and gets in trouble while she's trying to resolve the haunting.) I liked all of these books, but two of them really punched my buttons.

I really loved the Gerard and the Liu books. Cindy Gerard also writes for Silhouette Desire--her bodyguard books must satisfy her inner need for suspense. This one is a very taut adventure suspense that travels from Florida to the Philippines and back, with a hot, believable reunion romance threaded through it. I even liked the flashbacks.

Marjorie M. Liu's book follows her debut Tiger Eye, but the books are so loosely connected, it doesn't matter if you've read the first one or not. The hero is a Russian with a paranormal talent--he can read history from everything he touches. The heroine has her own talent--healing. They're kidnapped by the same evil organization and encounter each other while being dragged through the corridors. This is another taut thriller with some very interesting additions and some great angst.

What have you read lately that you really loved? Why did you love it?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Other Obsession

Regular readers of this blog might have noted my post of a week or so ago in which I blogged about Binge Writing--the kind of writing that takes place as one is sliding into the end of a book.

Then there is the other sort of obsessive writing. The kind that takes place when one is beginning a new book. Most professional writers (whether published or not) tend to begin a new story almost as soon as they finish the old one. We might take a week or two, or a month, or a few days off. We might plunge in immediately upon sticking the previous book in the mail. (This is especially true for those with tight, back-to-back deadlines *cough*JoAnn Ross*cough*)

But I've found, no matter how long or short a time I take off between books (and I'm one of those that usually needs at least a day or two just to clear the brain), once the new book is launched, I become almost obsessive. The characters fill my mind. Plot points buzz around, possibilities crowd each other. I'm anxious to get started every day--even on the weekends, when I usually don't write--just to see what happens next.

Sometimes whole books can be written in this white heat of excitement. Most often, the obsession fades into the sort of day-to-day slog that can make writing sound no fun at all. But while I got it, I fully intend to enjoy it.

--Gail (happy with the sexy Victorian steam-punk blood magic fantasy she's started)

Friday, February 17, 2006

From a Reliable Source

HarperCollins's Avon Books imprint is expanding its reach in one of the strongest genres of women's fiction, erotica, and launching its own line to produce trade paperbacks on the topic: Avon Red. Noting that the popularity of the genre is "increasing steadily," Avon's publisher, Liate Stehlik, said the imprint will look to "provide the best, most sophisticated erotic fiction available."

Following other romance publishers like Kensington, which announced its own erotica-dedicated line called Aphrodisia in October (PW Daily 10/28/05), Avon will also publish its new imprint's titles as e-books (a format which is particularly popular among readers of the genre). Avon Red will launch in June with two anthologies—Parlor Games and If This Bed Could Talk—with plans to release one title per month beginning in September. The imprint has already signed six titles in total, among them Toni Blake's Swept Away (September) and Cathryn Fox's Pleasure Control (December).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Call

The Call came last Tuesday, right after I drove away from school, my day job. I almost didn't answer the phone. I was in the car and figured it was probably one of my sons calling. Whatever they wanted, we could discuss it as soon as I made it home.

But I was still in the parking lot so I flipped open the phone. Maybe a ride hadn't come through.

"Terry, this is Paula, from Harlequin."

I pulled over.

The rest of the conversation is somewhat of a blur. Of course, I couldn't find the notebook that I always carry in the car (located it as soon as I pulled into the driveway and reached behind me for my purse!). I had to rely on my memory when I recounted the tale to my husband but the gist of the discussion came through loud and clear: "We want to buy your book!"

During my beginning writing years, I used to daydream about The Call. I wrote dialogue in my head for the editor and me, envisioning the kinds of things the editor would tell me. I wasn't sure what would be said, since I didn't have a writing group at that time and had never talked to a 'real author.' I had to rely on my imagination. I have to admit, some of my daydreams probably bore a strong resemblance to Ralphie's, from A Christmas Story, when he writes the greatest theme ever!

My first call came several years ago. Only certain aspects of that call are clear, also. Where I was standing when the phone rang. The fact that my mom was visiting and sitting just a few feet away from me. But just thinking about that afternoon can bring back the thrill of knowing that my words were going to be published, that my name was going to be on a book. Better than any daydream I ever had.

At one time, I wondered if the excitement of getting The Call would diminish. There would only be one first call, one first book. Would my heart race and my breath catch the next time?

For me, it does! I think it's because each book has been a new and exciting adventure. The Call last week was my first call from Harlequin and it's for a new line. The book is one that has been close to my heart since I first wrote it. It's a little different than my other books, longer in both words and time period, and not the type of book that was being published. But the story wouldn't leave me alone, I had to write it, and then I bided my time, writing other things. Once I heard about Harlequin's new line -- first called Epic, now Everlasting -- I knew where I was going to send my manuscript.

This week, I've been bombarded with congratulations from friends in town and online. The outpouring of good wishes have kept me smiling so much, I feel like I'm back at my wedding. When I'm in the midst of the revisions and business aspects of this new adventure, that's what I'll fall back on to keep going.

And, of course, the thrill that winged up my spine when I heard those first words: "Terry, this is Paula, from Harlequin."

So, how does/did The Call affect you? And, please, let me know the excitement never goes away!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

to Stephanie Feagan for her sale to Natashya Wilson at Silhouette Bombshell. Tentative title is BLOWOUT and the book is about a petroleum engineer who fights well fires and searches for those responsible for a succession of blowouts that spark a worldwide oil crisis and the possibility of another World War.

A Valentine's Bouquet

Even though my backyard is filled with snow and ice, I have a vase of tulips on my desk. They remind me that spring is just around the corner, but they also have a special significance for my life as an author. They are a gift from my local Romance Writers of America chapter for my book sales for 2005. And the wonderful part is that I wasn't the only one to receive a bouquet.

Every year, on the Sunday closest to Valentine's Day, my chapter celebrates its achievements with a Valentine's Brunch. We've done it for 11 years, ever since Harlequin author Joyce Sullivan introduced the tradition. It's a chance to recognize all those accomplishments it's so easy to overlook in a busy life and career. A book sale. A good placement in a writing conference. Volunteer work for the chapter. We even have awards to take the sting out of dreaded rejection letters. And the highlight is the Jo Beverley First Book Award, named for one of the founding members of our chapter.

I received my first book award two years ago. There is my book cover on the wall, beautifully framed, to act as inspiration. This year, it was a delight to watch our latest winner glow as she accepted her award.

Now it is my chance to 'pay it forward'. Next month, I'm giving my first solo writing workshop. I've called it 'Burning Up the Page' and, surprise, it's about writing erotic romance and love scenes. Even though I write erotic romance, I'm one of those shy and retiring authors, so no doubt I'll blush the whole way through. But by giving a workshop, I will have challenged myself and will have met another goal.

And that's why my tulips make me smile. They remind me that good things blossom when you have support to reach for your dreams.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Cupid's Arrow is coming your way!

In case you may have missed the ads in magazines, billboards, and on Television, today is Valentine’s Day. First let me wish you all a day filled with life’s little pleasures, like chocolate and champagne, and a day filled with love.

I decided to ask our other PASIC members what their fondest memories of Valentine’s Day past are.

In their own words:

Hubby once gave me a 4 x 4 piece of plain paper, with the pencil drawingof a heart, and in the center of the heart was simply "Gene loves Geri". Thirty-six years later, it's still my favorite Valentine, as faded anddog-earred as it is. --Geri Buckley--

My husband once took me to a bagpipe concert on Valentine's Day, even though he doesn't care for the bagpipes (I love them). We sat right near the stage, too. I'm still impressed that he sat through a couple hours of piping for my sake.--Gail Barrett

What I love about Valentine's Day is sending valentines to my kids. My dad used to send each of his kids a valentine, every year. And he lived with us. It was so cool to open the mailbox and find a card from him. So now I try to do that with my kids, though they're grown. I add a treat, too, some goody I know they'll like. Makes me feel goooood.--Ann Roth

It's not the flowers (though I usually get them and love them), but my fella truly understands me. He worries about me when I go too long without writing. My FAVORITE card is from my youngest (now 19)--When he was in kindergarten, he had to start wearing glasses. And somewhere in there, his big brother (who was 11 when Robert was 5) let him watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All of a sudden, everything the little guy drew had fangs. Dinosaurs. Dolphins. Anyway, that year, He made me a Valentine person--a heart with accordion pleated arms and legs--and the face of the Valentine had glasses on...and fangs.I LOVE that Valentine.--Gail Dayton


As for me I saved every Valentine’s Day card my two sons ever made me. Now that they’re all grown I sometimes come across them and remember those tiny hands making something to make me feel special. I still think homemade cards are true gifts of love from the heart.

Have a truly wonderful day!Tracey

Monday, February 13, 2006

If Not Now, When?

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now -- when?"

-- Hillel


Recently my father-in-law passed away. Grief has hit me in unexpected ways. I think about how short the human lifespan really is.

My father-in-law lived nearly 91 years, which is but a blink in time. On the other hand, 91 years is along life span for human beings. A person can accomplish a great deal in 91 years. I suppose that’s why the above three questions have been on my mind.

Social and family issues aside (those would take a whole other blog ...), I’ve been thinking what I want to accomplish as a writer. Which brings me to three friends, all writers. I named us the Goal Girls because when we get together, setting and reviewing goals are our main purpose. We meet roughly every other month to review our goals and when necessary, tweak them. Most important, we hold each other to those goals. So they’d better be concrete, reachable, and measurable. We also drink coffee, eat lunch, laugh, cry, gossip and occasionally meet for something non-goal related, like have our Tarot cards read.

A few weeks ago we met to review our one and five-year professional goals. Putting this plan together was hard! But the Goal Girls know that in order for the Universe to provide, we must set concrete goals for ourselves. I like to set hard to reach (but not impossible) goals for myself. Looking at the three questions above) if I don’t push myself to excel, who will?

Helping my writer friends, in particular the Goal Girls, accomplish their goals and dreams is what I will do to answer the second question.

The third question, if not now, when? Applies to all of us. It is so easy to put off chores or hard work with excuses. How many of us have never said, “I’ll do it later?” I catch myself saying that more than I care to admit.

I guess what I’m saying is, despite the short time we are here (if you believe in reincarnation, and sometimes I do, I’m talking THIS life), we can accomplish a great deal, especially we have a concrete (though fluid and changeable) plan in place.

Happy goal-setting!
Wishing you your wildest dreams....

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sunday thoughts

It occurs to me that I don't actually have any Sunday thoughts. Sundays are for not-thinking. And church and naps and and working the NYT crossword puzzle (which I'm not sure qualifies as real thinking--and I didn't cheat today but a little tiny bit) and stuff like that. And for reading.

Is there anything better than curling up with a good book on a lazy Sunday afternoon? And now that I've finished the Book That Would Not End, I'm taking a few days off to read.

This past week, I read four really good books in four different genres/subgenres. Anne Stuart's The Devil's Waltz is a Regency era (I think--19th century British, anyway) historical romance with her patented so-bad boy. Rachel Gibson's Sex, Lies and Online Dating is a contemporary romantic comedy with a dash of suspense. To the Brink by Cindy Gerard is a hard-driving romantic suspense adventure-in-the-jungle, and The Destined Queen by Deborah Hale is a romantic fantasy about a war of liberation with magic. I enjoyed every one of them immensely. (Hmm--I read Cathie Linz's Good Girls Do, as well, but couldn't find it when I went looking for this week's books...it was great too--a really fun romantic comedy with depth, about a librarian and a bad boy.)

I think I read so many different types of books first, because it takes a lot of books to fill me up, and second, because I'm the type that likes a lot of variety. My dad has lived on the Breakfast of Champions--his bowl of Wheaties--as long as I can remember, and my mom's about the same. I want something different nearly every day. (Though I do occasionally binge on Honey Nut Cheerios several days in a row.) When I order fajitas in a restaurant and people ask whether I want beef or chicken, I usually say "Can I have both?" And I like my quesadillas with spinach and chicken. Same thing in my reading. I want it all.

Anyway, I acknowledge that I probably read in more romance subgenres than most but what are your favorites and why? Which subgenres do you read outside the one you write (if you're a writer)?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Making Gold out of Silver Amalgams

There's not much worse, in my opinion, than sitting for 4-1/2 hours (count them!) in your dentist's reclining version of Dante's 9th Level of Hell (Click here for a test to see which level of Dante's hell you'll be banished to). My dentist warned me that it might be a long visit and said I might be as long as 3 hours -- the big fibber.

So on Tuesday I went prepared with things to keep me busy. I brought two novels, C.S. Lewis's Literary Essays, my Alpha Smart, notebook paper, notes from my work in progress, and even a Land's End Overstock catalogue.

The first hour passed rather pleasantly. I finished reading the first novel and cracked open the second. It seemed familiar. By page 3 I realized I'd read it two years ago. The catalogue only held my attention for about 5 minutes until I realized that all the sizes were far too small for my soccer-mom body. Next I began reading C.S. Lewis and while I am fascinated by his essays, even in the best of times (and the dental office is way below worst of times) I have to do mental gymnastics to keep up with him. Wasn't gonna happen.

After 37 shots of novocaine (okay, it wasn't really 37, it just seemed like it), the second hour passed with hair-raising accoutrements being crammed inside my pea-sized mouth, then being forcibly evicted -- like a tenant who has overstayed his lease.

During the next break, my brain was in no condition to return to good ol' C.S., so I then opened my book notes. I'm writing a romp, but couldn't feel less romp-like, so I discarded that idea as the dentist returned and ripped my lips from my face (well, that's what it felt like).

I needed a different story. Perhaps I should write something involving a serial killer with a tooth-fetish? A Frankenstein-ish creature with a drill? A beach-bum hopped up on nitrous-oxide?

When I was given a break after the third hour of agony, I ran for the bathroom, locked the door and wondered what they'd do if I refused to come out and return to the torture recliner?

The cute dental assistant Intern tapped nervously on the door after about 15 minutes and asked if I was still conscious. I assured her I was (earlier I'd assured her that I wouldn't bite her but only kept that promise for the first 2-1/2 hours, so I'm not sure she believed me this time). She asked if I planned to come out. Now this Intern was really sweet, really young, and this was her first day ever working in a dental office after 8 months of schooling. Could my conscience handle the responsibility of scaring her off the job? Ohhhh, yeah. It could. I truly thought about opening the door and running for the exit.

The problem was that my tooth had been readied, but my temporary crown was not on it yet. Once the novocaine wore off, I'd regret skeddadling before the dentist finished with me. With a sigh, I agreed to return to the hot seat.

Another hour and a half later, I finally got to leave, but was hell-day over yet? Not by a long shot. At the desk on my way out, I was forced to pay big bucks for my anguish.

I plan for revenge, though, because I managed to plot a new story with oh-so-coincidentally a villain whose first name is identical to my dentist's. The last time I had a long visit like this one, I ended up plotting (and selling to a confessions magazine) a short story about an evil dentist. Pay back can be lucrative :D -- Kathy Carmichael

Thursday, February 09, 2006

That's Amore!

Love is in the air, or so the song goes. February is the month when all the world celebrates love and romance. Valentine’s Day in the middle of the month brings it all to a peak with cards and flowers and gifts and romantic dates. But, heck, we’re romance writers--we celebrate love and romance every day of the year. Love flows through every part of our writing. Love is the most important element of the novels we write. We plan it, we feel it, and we allow our readers to experience the highs and lows of it in everything we create.

We know how important the relationship between men and women are. We build stories around, under and through relationships. We know how important it is to express our feelings of love. It those expressions and vows, or lack thereof, that give conflict and motivation to our characters. It is how we and our readers know that those characters are alive and worthy of a happy ending.

In February however, we allow ‘normal’ people to share in the wonderful world of love. During the rest of the year, we blend in (or try to!) with the rest of the world and tout the glories of being in love from behind the scenes. In February, we are no longer those somewhat strange outsiders who hear voices and see visions and write words that we are compelled to write by some internal force too strong to ignore - we are in the mainstream. Love is in the air for everyone and that includes us!

I urge to you sit back and enjoy this month because once it ends only writers of paranormal romance get to be ‘normal’ in March -- those who write of the ‘fae’ and ‘little people’ and ‘fairy circles’ will have their moment as we approach St. Patrick’s Day. For now, smile a bit smugly when someone wishes you a Happy Valentine’s Day because you know that they celebrate love and romance but once a year while romance writers enjoy it every day!

As in the past, romance authors have been asked for more interviews and invited to more events and activities during the two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day than any other time of the year and I'd like to mention two of
them for anyone interested. This Thursday, February 9, 6 romance authors will be serving as 'romance experts' in a Pitney Bowes event at Grand Central Terminal in NYC! Pitney Bowes is providing Valentine's Day greeting cards and the postage to send them to anyone in world at their exhibit about the importance of communication in Vanderbilt Hall. Please stop by and say hello if you're in the area between 7am and 12noon.

The second one is the CBS Sunday Morning Show on Sunday, February 12th from 9:00-10:30am -- the program is scheduled to be about the romance industry and will feature some of the events from last year's RWA Conference in Reno, NV as well as interviews and film about romance readers' groups and authors. Take a peek and see how it turns out-- hopefully it will help us to share our enthusiasm about happily-ever- after with the rest of the world.

Happy Valentine's Day - enjoy our day!

Terri Brisbin

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Champagne, Confetti, and Congrats. . .

PASIC member Janice Maynard not only received a glowing review on WNBC.com for her January release, Suite Fantasy, in a terrific interview, she also -- to quote WNBC columnist Michelle Buonfiglio -- "shared intimate secrets about sexual fantasy, monogamous love, and the Carter administration."

When asked what had inspired her to write Suite Fantasy, Janice responded, "We see and hear so many sleazy sex stories on the news and in movies. But psychologists tell us that fantasy can be an important part of a healthy sex life. I wanted to write about something really exciting that happens in the context of monogamous love. I basically let my imagination run wild, and Suite Fantasy was the result."

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

to Terry McDermid on her sale to editor Paula Eckelhoff for the brand spanking new Harlequin Everlasting line. The epic's working title is Family Stories. It follows a couple through 75 years of marriage and is seen through the eyes of their 3 daughters, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.
Though the series will launch in February 2007 , they haven't told Terry her pub date yet.

P.S. With all the good news lately, the confetti is getting rather deep in here, JoAnn. Where's that Bayou Bad Boy hunk you promised to send to sweep up?

2 B Watched!

Our very own Terri Brisbin will appear (in what she promises is her very best disguise as a glamorous romance author) on the CBS Sunday Morning show, this Sunday, February 12th from 9 to 10:30. (EST? CST? Check your local listings.) She and Eloisa James were filmed at a Romance Readers group for a segment the show is doing all about the romance industry. You won't want to miss it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Judging a Book by its Cover

We’ve all done it, walked down the aisles of a book store in a desperate search for just the right thing to read. In the mood for something different, a new author to try. So we reach out and grab…

Wait. Stop right there. Why are you grabbing that book?

Most likely because of the cover. Which happens to be a bit of a sore point for me right now because my debut release, BLINK OF AN EYE, has been delayed because of problems with the cover. That’s right, not a single word in the book has changed, but since what’s on the cover can make or break a new author, BLINK is on hold.

As much as I was anticipating BLINK’s release (and those who know me were anxiously awaiting it so that I could shut up about it already, LOL!) I see this as an opportunity. A chance to get a really smashing, eye-grabbing, you must buy this book or die! cover.

But, hmmm….what to put on the new cover? One thing my editor did ask was that I send her a new head shot. The one they’d previously chosen made me look “too kind”. Kind is bad? I asked. For an author who writes dark, edgy suspense it is, she answered. That’s what we want, a picture of you that’s dark and edgy. After all, all your books are about how no one’s immune to danger.

Oooookay, I sigh. Despite the fact that having my photo taken ranks up there with root canal in my list of things to avoid, I sign up to have another photo taken by a professional. Although by then, I’ll probably be so dark and edgy after waiting for BLINK to be released, that I might pose with a scalpel pressed to my throat or clenched between my teeth!

BLINK has been blessed with fantastic cover quotes (Sandra Brown, Heather Graham, Susan Wiggs, and more). The short synopsis of the book on the back cover and inside flap were good, catchy and compelling without revealing too much of the plot. The main problem was the actual cover art—the one thing on the cover totally out of my control, of course.

So what makes for a good cover?

For a look at some fantastic ones, check out our own PASIC finalists in the Houston Bay Area RWA’s cover art contest. Now those are some eye-grabbing works of art!!

As for what I want, I told my editor the only things I was opposed to were a woman running away or an image of a woman being victimized. Isn’t anyone else out there sick to death of frightened women racing down dark alleys, the shadow of a menacing man following them? The women in my novels are strong, smart and stand their ground, a fact that can get them into trouble, but that’s another story. And I’ve worked with far too many real-life victims to have that kind of image broadcast on my book covers.

But how do you make a cover strong, smart, sexy, appealing and able to sell an unknown author? What kind of images grab you? Make you want to plunk down $25 of your hard earned cash and take a gamble on a new author?

Anyone with the answers, please share them! And who knows, your ideas might end up helping to create a new cover for BLINK OF AN EYE!

Thanks for reading!
CJ

Monday, February 06, 2006

Confetti and Champagne!

Congratulations to our own JoAnn Ross (BLAZE) and Colleen Thompson (FADE THE HEAT) who finaled in romantic suspense in the new book cover contest sponsored by Houston Bay Area RWA!!! Our fabulous PASIC prez Kerrelyn Sparks (HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE VAMPIRE) finaled in paranormal!!! And last but not least, Teresa Bodwell (LOVING MERCY) finaled in historical!!! Check out their awesome covers.

AND one more! Geri Buckley (FOR PETE'S SAKE) finaled in the single title/mainstream category!

Woo hoo! Let's hear it for some awesome artists and the fine writers who gave them the inspiration!

Monday Musings...

The other day, one of my neighbors came over for a visit.

While we were sitting in my living room having coffee, I couldn’t help but notice all the furtive glances she was shooting at my TBR pile.

Okay. It’s not really one pile of books. It’s more like five piles. (And those are just the ones in my living room. I have more in my bedroom. And in my office.) I have the books sorted by their TBR order, though the order is constantly changing. Some new releases go to the top of the stack (because of great PR, for example) while others get moved down a little.

Anyway, there we were, sitting in my living room, making small talk when she suddenly turns to me.

“Why do you have so many books?”

She’d had this look of semi-horror on her face when she’d asked me the question, too. I’d seen that look before. It was the look of a non-reader. It was as if she’d just discovered one of her neighbors had a meth lab in their living room, instead of 20 odd books waiting to be read.

Anyway, as I sipped my coffee this morning, I started thinking about my TBR piles and how non-readers can’t understand the concept of buying more books to read when you haven’t finished reading the ones already stacked in your living room. But she did have a point, I suppose. It’s probably time I started making a dent in at least one of those piles.

So, my question for this soon-to-be-snowy February morning is this: How many books do you usually have in your TBR pile(s)? And how do you decide which books to read first?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yeah, honey, I'm working...

Today, I'm supposed to be working on my book that's due March 1, as well as a proposal due Monday. Oh, and the one due the 13th. The deadlines are stacking up, fast and furious, and I am resolutely sitting in front of the computer...

Playing FreeCell.

Hello, my name is Shirley and I'm a FreeCell addict.

It's the dang statistics that get me. I want to see my percentage of wins increase. If I lose a game, I have to play, and win, two to make up for the lost one. Otherwise, my stats will go down. I tell myself I'm keeping my mind sharp for old age (despite the fact that I haven't yet crested the hill). That I'm giving my overworked hands a rest. That I do it for relaxation.

Yep, I'm a true addict. I'm justifying, you see. Giving all these more or less plausible reasons why playing FreeCell (instead of working) is a good thing for me. Every time I try to quit, I start dreaming about putting red Jacks on black Queens. Replaying lost games, knowing if I had moved that five instead of the four, I would have won.

People have told me to delete, to expunge the FreeCell devil from my computer altogether. Being that it came pre-installed with Windows, I tell myself something dire and cosmic will happen if I mess with Windows.

Uh-huh. That's what I said about that donut I crammed in my face yesterday, too.

FreeCell does have its merits. It requires just a bit of skill and strategy and when I am stressed, it's an instant soother. Until I look up and realize I've spent a half an hour moving cards around. Then I panic again about work.

Starting today, I am not playing FreeCell anymore. Not until all my projects are done. But wait. I haven't finished game #28159. If I resign the game, it goes down as a loss. FreeCell doesn't understand noble intentions.

Okay, one more game and then I'll quit. I promise. :-)

Shirley Jump

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why do you write erotic romance?

My latest book, BAD BOYS AHOY!, released this month and because of that I did a lot of interviews as part of my promotion plan for the book. One of the interview questions that came up with some regularity asked why I write erotic romance.

Interviewer: Have all your books been erotic romance stories? Why do you think you're drawn to that genre?

Sylvia: Yes, I write exclusively erotic romance. In my stories, the pivotal turning points of the romance happen during the unguarded intimacy of lovemaking. Afterwards, the increased sexual tension between the characters as they struggle to stay emotionally distant while physically craving each other is powerful, and oftentimes heart wrenching.

That's where the joy of writing comes into play for me. Those moments in a love story are what make this job my dream career.


...the pivotal turning points of the romance happen during the unguarded intimacy of lovemaking.

Basically, the sex can't be removed without damaging the story. Yes, the sex is hot and graphic, but the reasons my characters are having sex with each other are emotional. It may not be love (at first). It may be fear of intimacy, or anger at unfamiliar vulnerability. The range of emotions is wide, and each unique character has their own motivations, but in my stories falling in love happens while falling into bed.

I love it. I love writing the angst, the emotion, the passion, the romance. One of my editors, Kate Duffy, said, "Erotic romance is sexual love and desire combined with deep emotional commitment. It is not erotica. It is, first and foremost, romance, exemplified by its sexual expression."

I love expressing romance through physical intimacy, and I'm grateful everyday that the market is embracing the genre so warmly.