Monday, August 25, 2008

Four-legged Writing Assistants

Some writers no doubt have neat offices where they sit at a desk and churn out their prose. I however, work in a recliner with my 'writing assistants' snugged at my hips. Allow me to introduce Susie and Mack.
Susie is a 15 year old poodle mix (the little dark face that's blending in with the recliner). She's been with us for 10 years. We picked her up at the pound. Some long-haul truckers dropped her off because she was sick. She'd been abused. When you run your hand along her side, you can feel a bump where a rib was broken. When we first brought her home, a man wearing a ball cap would send her into spasms and it took her six months to warm up to my husband who is the kindest of men. She is the sadder but wiser dog. She knows there are meanie-heads in the world. But she's having a happy life now.
Mack, a 3 year old Irish Jack Russell, came to us by way of my sister and brother-in-law. He is the product of a puppy mill and when he was born with undescended testicles, the breeder was going to put a bullet in his brain. My tender-hearted brother-in-law rescued him and paid for the surgery that took care of his birth defect. Unfortunately, their elderly dog didn't think much of little Mack, so we inherited him. Mack is a delight and surprisingly calm for his age and breed.
My dogs enjoy writing. It's a chance to cuddle for extended periods of time. When I take breaks to walk them, it gives me an opportunity to rethink scenes or gain a fresh perspective. And when I read my work aloud, Susie and Mack are uncritical listeners. I'd be lost without them.
So thanks for letting me share my four-legged friends with you. If you're a writer, where do you write? Do you have a pet that inspires you? If you're an animal lover, do you have a 'rescued pet?' Aren't they the best!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A New Favorite Author

I'm still reading DELICIOUS (perhaps I should say 'devouring' this totally delectable story), but I have to gush about Sherry Thomas' amazing talent.

Her characters are so fully formed, so achingly human. I am in love with them all. The story is luxuriously told, erotic, a feast for the heart and the senses.

Her use of language is exquisite. She doesn't write down to her readers, peppering her prose with words like 'sybaritic' and 'soigne.' But it is her metaphors that make me sigh and despair of calling myself a writer. She describes her hero's boyhood, when he knew the grinding hunger of poverty and how just before his mother left him forever, she used the last of her money to buy him a boiled treat. He said the sweetness of the candy was 'like sucking on God's thumb.'

I put the book down and wept.

As soon as I finish Delicious, I have to find her debut title Private Arrangements. Sherry Thomas is a gift to historical romance. I urge you to buy Delicious today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Frustrated at a higher level . . .

I just finished reading my friend, Elizabeth Boyle's most recent blog.

She is a New York Times Best Seller. She's won a RITA! (That's like winning an Oscar for a romance novelist). She's an Avon Super Leader with 13 titles to her credit. She writes inventive, fresh, sensual, witty historical romance. The kind of book other writers read and say to themselves, "Darn! I wish I'd written that!"

And she's fretting over her next release as if she were a debut author.

Heavy sigh. I keep hoping there will come a time when I can just write and not worry about promo or buy in or sell through. When I can get over my sense of inadequacy and enjoy my accomplishments.

What I'm seeing in my friends who are a little further along the publishing path than I am is that they are all still a bundle of self-deprecating nerves. We never think our writing's good enough. We never stop worrying. We always gloss over the stellar reviews and obsess about the luke-warm one. God forbid we get a bad one. That'll put us in a real tailspin.

So it appears I've chosen a career guaranteed to give me frown lines.

Unless I can find a way to enjoy the journey, to take my joys where I find them instead of worrying over the ones I fail to achieve. Once I type THE END, there are very few things I can do to insure the success of my book. And if I did all that people recommend to promote my work, I'd never find the time to write another.

I'd really love to hear from you. If you're a writer, how do you handle the dichotomy between expectation and reality? If you're a reader, did you have any idea writers were such neurotic messes? Any suggestions?

And oh, yes, while I'm stressing, let me remind you about MY current release, PLEASURING THE PIRATE, available at your bookstore now or at Amazon! Shiver me timbers, I'd admire a good sell-through! Aarg!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Running the Writing Marathon

Watching the Olympics this week, I was mesmerized by the women's marathon. First, the idea of anyone running 26 miles impresses the heck out of me. When 38 year old Constantina Tomescu from Romania pulled away from the pack, I was spellbound. Every now and then, she checked her watch. She wasn't running against the other athletes. She had a plan. She knew exactly where she needed to be all along the route in order to finish like she intended. She was running her own race, running against her own time.

I thought it was a little like writing a novel. Ok, I know only a writer would make that sort of leap, but hear me out. Writing a novel is no sprint. It's a distance activity. When I start a new manuscript, I know I will live with this cast of characters in my head for months.

Like a marathon runner who can't let another runner dictate her race, I can't compare my progress to anyone else's. My story is my own. I'm writing against my own synopsis. Another writer may breeze by on the way to THE END, but if I keep at it, I'll arrive at my own finish line as well. Speed isn't the issue. Finishing is.

There's pain in a marathon. Watching those women run, I saw agony on two legs. Sometimes, there's pain in writing as well. Writing means you have examine parts of yourself you may not be comfortable with. All my characters, the good, the bad, the downright horrible come from some place inside me.

Sometimes, the writing itself is not going well. I may be experiencing 'word constipation'--I refuse to think of it as writer's block. I have to power through a rough patch, knowing I'll come back and redo it later.

At the beginning of a new story, 400 pages seems like a distant finish line. But if I keep plugging away at my plan, if I keep racking up my page count, I will complete the writing marathon and meet my goal, the big THE END.

Now if only writing 400 pages would burn as many calories as running 26 miles!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Post to Win A DUCHESS!

Hi all,
I'm blogging today at MuchCheaperThanTherapy and one lucky poster will receive a signed copy of DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS. So please pop over and say something! YOU just might be the winner!
PLEASURING THE PIRATE, "A delightful, witty romance" ~ All about Romance, Available Now!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Food as seduction, hmm?

I know you're expecting me to talk about strawberries and champagne, but I'm not. If I want to show my husband I love him with food, I make meatloaf. It's his favorite dish. Even if we go out to eat, no matter what fancy or exotic dishes are available, if there's meatloaf on the menu, that's what he'll choose.

When I make him meatloaf, it means I'm paying attention to what he likes--the first rule of seduction. Then there's the labor-intensive thing. Making meatloaf is something I can't just toss together at the last minute. I have to plan ahead and take the time to grind up the ingredients. It means I've been thinking about him. That's always seductive. There's no way to stir up meatloaf with a spoon. You have to smoosh it up with your hands. Very sensual.

Now meatloaf may not work for every man, but for my husband, nothing says loving like a fresh meatloaf baking in the oven when he comes home. It works every time it's tried.

Hmmm. Wonder if there's time to whip up a meatloaf tonight?

Here's the recipe:
1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
1 large potato
1 carrot
1 onion (vidalia, if possible)
1 egg
1/2 cup of Heinz 57 sauce (or whatever ketchup type sauce you prefer)
4 ounces of grated cheese

Grate the potato, carrot and onion and mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, reserving half the cheese and sauce for later. Shape into a loaf and place in an ungreased baking pan. Spread the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

Serve while wearing a sexy nightie and let the meatloaf work its magic.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just because I have a phobia doesn't necessarily mean I'm nuts!

I've flown through mountain passes in a small plane piloted by my husband. I've taken off by myself in a European city where I didn't speak the language with a map in one hand and a phrasebook in the other and played tourist to my hearts' content. When our kids were little and rattlesnakes were reported in our neighborhood, I didn't hesitate to kill the snake in our backyard with a hoe. I've ridden an elephant. (Not recommended. They have a very bony spine!) I don't consider myself a fearful person.

But a bus ride nearly did me in this morning.

The Orange line on Boston's T was down today and so we boarded a bus to head for church. We were crammed in like cigarettes in a pack. I mean pressed up against total strangers in a way I normally reserve for my family. Or maybe even just my husband. I could feel my fellow riders breathe. The bus jerked and swayed through the traffic and I've always been a little prone to motion sickness anyway. My palms started sweating. I had chest palpitations. My husband traded places with me when he saw my lips go white (he was next to the driver and only marginally less crowded, but more passengers piled on at that stop, so it was a wash.)

Then when I thought it couldn't possibly get worse, someone nearby decided to be silent, but deadly. Profoundly deadly.

When the doors finally opened, people poured out of the bus like freed POW's. I could finally draw a deep breath and the shaking in my chest settled.

But I couldn't bring myself to board the crowded Green Line train.

I've always disliked enclosed spaces. I've even told my husband I want to be cremated since the thought of being in a box under ground seriously gives me the willies. This was the first time my claustrophobia dibilitated me. We had to turn around and go home.

The thing about a phobia is that it makes no sense. In my mind, I know small enclosed spaces are not inherently dangerous. But knowing that does nothing for my sweating palms or the tightness in my chest.

How about you? Is there something you're afraid of that doesn't seem reasonable to others, but the physical stress response hits you just the same? How do you deal with it? Personally, I'm ashamed of running home to feel normal and would love to know how to conquer this particular monkey of mine. Any ideas?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New release ~ New website!

Last week I was in San Francisco for RWA Nationals. I had a ball and especially enjoyed rooming with my critique partner, Darcy. She ripped my old website to shreds and started me down a path to designing a new one. Check out the results at First person to spot a fixable error (spelling, non-working link, missing picture, etc.) and drop me a note using the Contact Em form, will receive their choice from my backlist. The number of winners is limited to the number of errors. (So I could be in real trouble here!) Have fun!

I said I'd post a sample query letter, so here it is: (Of course, you use the standard business style for the letter with your address and contact info, then the editor's address before you launch into the body. The names have been changed to protect the guilty!)

Dear Ms. Editor's last name; (or Mr. Editor's last name. Be certain of the spelling!)

I enjoyed meeting you at the AnyoneCanWrite Conference last week. Enclosed please find the synopsis and manuscript (or partial if that's what they ask for--always send exactly what they request.) of HUSH, the 90,000 word romantic suspense, you requested. (I've reminded the editor of the request and exactly what type story I offer, and yes, they want a word count.)

In the stillness, evil waits. Megan Kelley can’t hear him coming, but she knows he is there. Set in Boston where politics have always been a blood sport, HUSH is a tale of ballot corruption and organized crime, of honor lost. And rebuilt.

A bout with meningitis left Megan with only 60% of normal hearing. When she practices her speechreading and ends up ‘eavesdropping’ on a murder-for-hire contract, she becomes a target herself. In a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, Megan must discover why an MIT professor was murdered before his killer catches up to her.

She’s forced to rely on the cop who’s her unfaithful ex-husband and the new man in her life, a former Navy Seal with some dark secrets. Megan must find the courage to trust again to find closure not only for the murder case, but for her heart as well. (This was my blurb-style pitch. It might be a tad long, but I wanted to show I've balanced the suspense and the romantic elements of the story.)

I currently write historical romances for Leisure Books as both Diana Groe and Emily Bryan. Since May 2006, I've had 5 books published to critical acclaim, and am under contract for a 6th title and novella for 2009. I love writing historical romances and plan to continue, but will not be violating my contract with Leisure when I branch into romantic suspense with a different publishing house. (These are my publishing credentials. If you're not published, include contest wins here. I'm letting them know I'm still writing for Leisure and also signalling that there will be no legal trouble if they pick me up in a different sub-genre.)

I hope you enjoy HUSH. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Diana Groe (I sign with my legal name, not my pen name)

And that's it. There may be a better way to query out there. This is what I do.

Don't forget to check out my new website. There are several pages just for aspiring writers under WRITE STUFF.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Writing a 'Grab 'em by the throat Query Letter'

Being a selling writer means acquiring several skill sets. One is the craft required to put together a compelling story for 400 pages. The other is to market it effective to the people who might be interested in publishing or representing it. The first step is an engaging query letter.

Let’s start at the top. I’m assuming you’ve done your homework and know that the particular editor or agent you’re targeting edits/represents work similar to yours or is actively looking for it. You can find this information on agency or publisher websites, through networking with published authors, reading trade magazines or the acknowledgement page of their authors’ latest release. Make sure you have the editor/agent’s name spelled correctly. And be certain of their gender. Chris Keeslar, senior editor at Dorchester, tells of queries he’s received that start “Dear Ms. Keeslar,” and then the writer proceeds to ‘remind’ him of when the writer supposedly met ‘her.’ Guess what happens to those queries.

Start with a brief reminder of how you met the editor/agent only if you have. Writers’ conferences are invaluable for this sort of networking. If you haven’t, you might give them a short and sincere compliment about their other clients’ work. Don’t fake it. Don’t say you’ve read something if you haven’t.

Then launch into your sharpest blurb-style pitch of your work. Only tout one manuscript per query unless you’re pitching a series.

Tell the editor the word count and sub-genre of your completed manuscript (oh, yes, it must be finished before you submit.) In the final paragraph, list your publishing credits. Here’s where you put your contest wins or short stories you’ve had published. If you don’t have any publishing credits, just let them know how they can contact you to request the full manuscript.

Don’t say your mother likes your manuscript. Don’t tell them you’re the next Nora Roberts or JK Rowling. Keep the query short. Absolutely no longer than one page. Remember agents and editors read constantly. Use 12pt or larger Courier New or Times New Roman font. Smaller font equals eye strain, which equals fussy editor, which equals rejection. Be professional. Be patient.

And start writing your next story. Because if the editor/agent wants this one, their first question will be “What else have you got?”

Good luck!