Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mea Culpa

Katharine Ashe was my guest blogger back on Sept. 20th. I realized after I came home from the hospital that she'd sent me a blurb and excerpt from her debut novel, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS and I hadn't posted it. And bless her heart, she did say a word about it.

But this is a fixable error, so today, prepare to be swept away!

A Secret Identity

When pirates storm Lord Steven Ashford’s ship upon the high seas, it brings him closer than ever to the nefarious criminal he seeks to ruin. Only one seductive detail threatens his victory: the scandalous beauty imprisoned with him, Lady Valerie Monroe. Temptation has never been so intoxicating or so forbidden, for Steven is disguised as a French priest. If they make it off the ship alive, to protect her from his enemies, he must never see her again…

An Undeniable Love

Back in England, and under the ton’s scrutiny for a reckless past she hasn’t escaped, Valerie dreams of the breathtaking “man of the cloth” with whom she shared her greatest adventure. Then he reappears in society under his true identity, Viscount Ashford, but despite the danger their consuming passion cannot be denied. Now standing in the way of their desire are Valerie’s wounded heart, Steven’s lone destiny, and a villain that will stop at nothing to crush them both.

And here's a short excerpt from Katharine Ashe's SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS

She swung her gaze up, and the air drained from her lungs. Etienne’s eyes blazed with heat. His fingers twisted in her hair, pulling her head back until he looked down at her.

“Call me Steven.” His voice was like gravel, completely unfamiliar.

Valerie’s eyes widened.

“What― Why?”

“Say it. I want to hear you say it.”

Valerie tried to shake her head, but his grip tightened, snapping at her hair. His gaze seared her. He was angry, as she had thought this man could never be, like a lion surprised from sleep. Suddenly, terrifyingly awakened.

“Steven,” she whispered, not understanding, yet somehow knowing it was not a taunt, that it meant something to him.

His gaze scraped across her face, her eyes and lips, cheeks and brow, her mouth. His head bent closer and she struggled for breath. With a strangled oath, his mouth came down upon hers.


It's hard to beat suppressed passion and this selection is rife with it. That hero is hawt!

If you'd like to learn more about Katharine's books, check out her website .

I'm wondering about how readers regard excerpts on websites. At www.miamarlowe.com, I post the whole first chapter of TOUCH OF A THIEF. Is a chapter too much? Since once the title shows up on Amazon the first chapter will be available there, should the excerpt be from someplace other than the beginning of the story? Thanks in advance for your input!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Positive Thinking Wins Again!

My former editor at Dorchester, Leah Hultenschmidt, lands a new publishing job! Check out the details at www.miamarlowe.blogspot.com

What's in a Name?

Happy Monday! Hope you all had a fabulous weekend. Today I have a treat for you. Barbara Monajem is my guest and she's talking about a subject we've had lots of fun with here on the blog--naming characters.

Let's hear what Barbara has to say about it, though I may pop in on occasion too.

One of the great pleasures of writing books is getting to name the characters. It’s like having an infinite number of children and being able to give them any names you like, no matter how old-fashioned or just plain weird. In Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, the first book in the Bayou Gavotte series, I had a great time with names – a heroine called Ophelia who floats down a river with flowers in her hair, a hero named Gideon, and secondary characters with names like Constantine, Zelda, and Artemisia. (I particularly love the name Artemisia, but then I’m partial to plant and flower names.)

Me, too Barb. Did you know Artemisia was the name of my heroine in Distracting the Duchesss? And Daisy was in Vexing the Viscount. Flower names were very popular at one time.

Fast forward to the second book in the series, Tastes of Love and Evil, which was released last week. (This is one of the first ebook only releases from Dorchester. It's a great opportunity for you to download a free Kindle for your computer and try Barabara's newest story! For the purists out there, a trade paperback edition will be available in six months, but I predict you won't want to wait that long.)

I was a few chapters in when I realized I’d given the hero and heroine ordinary names – Jack and Rose. I’d seen those names a lot in other books and on TV. Was I drawing my names from the current collective unconscious? Could be – we’re all affected by what’s going on around us. The names suited my characters, but… sigh. I just couldn’t leave them at that.

Jack in particular. It’s a good name, but it’s usually a nickname for John, which is about as ordinary as you get in English men’s names. Fortunately, about the time I was writing the story, I’d seen a performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern. It’s a wonderful theater, small and intimate. You sit so close to the stage that you can really see the players and sometimes even interact with them. In particular, I loved actor Drew Reeves’s rendering of the character of Iachimo.

Iachimo. Now there’s a different name! It could easily be shortened to Jack. So… voilà! Jack’s mother named her son Iachimo after a performance of Cymbeline she just couldn’t forget.
I already knew Rose was my heroine’s second name, and that her first name began with the letter T. Maybe my subconscious was playing with “Rose Trelawny,” a name I always liked the sound of. I’d even named the file for the story “Tearose.” Now, Rose is an irresistible vampire, with a strong sex drive and a vampire’s volatile nature. I‘m not going to tell you what her first name is, but feel free to guess. I had fun with this one. :)

Theresa. Theodosia. Tabitha. Tilly. Tamara. Temperance. Thomasina. Stop me if I'm getting warm.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about Ancient Rome, and I found some fabulous names there, such as Calpurnia, Claudia, and Livia. Rome had such sumptuous names! I already have plans for some of them.

Since I’m here to celebrate the release of my new book, here’s an excerpt from Tastes of Love and Evil. Jack, the hero (a sort of human chameleon, by the way, who can literally fade into the background), has just been shot by some bad guys, and although Rose doesn’t know him (she thinks of him as some random man), she’s given him her hotel room key so he can take refuge. But the bad guys are posing as feds, and they’re searching the hotel.

The room was empty.

No, it just appeared to be. “I told you there was no one here.”

Her nostrils quivering, every sense alert, Rose scanned the bed, the curtains, the embroidered mantle draped on a chair, the Elizabethan gown on the luggage cart. “Now get out of my room!”

The gunman ignored her, ducking in and out of the bathroom, glancing into the closet, going efficiently through every hiding place. Warmer, cried Rose’s senses, warmer, warmer, damn, oh God please no, as he shoved past the luggage cart to the window, and then as he returned, colder, warmer, colder, where the hell is the man? One-handed, the fake fed lifted the mattress and box spring, but no one was concealed underneath.

Sirens cried in the distance, and a second later the gunman’s phone squawked a warning. He left without looking back.

Rose retrieved her breakfast, double-locked the door, and scanned the room. Aha. She’d seen this phenomenon once before. She knew Random Man was in the room, somewhere near the window. “They’ve gone,” she said softly. “You can come out now. You need to have that wound tended.”

Nothing. Where was he?

“I brought coffee and doughnuts.” She put the food on the table. “I’d be happy to share, once we’ve patched you up.” Pause. “I know you’re here. I can hear you breathing.”


“I can smell you,” Rose said, her voice rising, tendrils of allure escaping. You and your blood. “I’m here to help, you fool!”

Still nothing. Or maybe…a faint shimmer, like heat rising in summer air, over on the luggage cart, right by the Elizabethan gown. Damn it, thought Rose. If he stains that costume… Anger coupled with the aroma of blood overwhelmed her senses, and her fangs slotted down. Purposely this time, she directed her allure toward the luggage cart. Another shimmer, instantly controlled, and then absolute stillness.

No more pussyfooting around. She smiled and sent a wave of allure crashing across the room. Random Man resolved into view, gold and tan and brown blending with the dress, then gradually reacquiring his own muted shape and colors, blue denims and Saints jacket, nondescript but definitely all there.

“God help me,” Random Man said. “Not another vamp.”

Back to names: What sort of names do you like? Popular? Old-fashioned? Invented? Foreign? Do you find unusual names distracting? Should names have meanings that suit the characters, or that have some symbolic meaning?

One lucky commenter will win a copy of Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil.

Thanks for being here today, Barb.

If you'd like to learn more about Barbara's Bayou series, please visit:
http://barbaramonajem.com/ And be sure to leave a comment or question for her for your chance to win Sunrise in a Garden of Good and Evil.

Friday, August 27, 2010

When is Hopelessly Bad Outrageously Good?

When it gets you tons of free publicity.

That's what happened this week to Carina Press author Susannah Fraser. I'm blogging about her hilarious brand of anti-marketing at The Chatelaines today. Hope you'll join me there!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Barbara Britton

When Barbara Britton offered to be part of Red Pencil Thursday she presented a unique opportunity for us. Barbara wrote me saying she has "completed a YA historical with romantic elements. I had an opening which had received good comments from contests. When I won an agent critique, the agent thought the opening opened way too fast--at the inciting incident--and I should slow it down. I did slow the opening down, but now I wonder if it's a sleeper."

This offer to revise happens more often than you might think. If an editor or agent makes specific suggestions and invites you to resend, you've received what's known as "a good rejection." It's really an offer to revise and resubmit. But you've invested a great deal in the current version. So what's a writer to do? And what guarantee do you have that the new version will be an improvement?

Before I was published, I revised the opening to Maidensong ( my debut Diana Groe title). As an experiment, I sent out the two different versions to a bunch of different contests. (Always save the first version. You never know if you'll decide to keep it.) Somehow the same person was judging two of those contests and hated the 2nd version (she'd given the 1st version extremely high marks previously and thought I'd "bastardized" the story). There was more than a 50 point difference between her scores and the other two judges. As it turned out, the 2nd version is the one that eventually sold.

So today, we're taking a look at two versions of the same story. In order to make it easier to read, I'll wait to comment until the end of the 2nd version. Barbara's responses are in purple.

Josephine Nimetz had been told death would be peaceful. It would most likely happen when she slept, and the bright light she traveled into would make it seem like Juneau in mid-June. But as she stared into the enraged eyes of her father, his calloused hands taut to her throat, the sour stench of whiskey bathing her face, she knew it had all been a lie.

“Where’s the money, Josephine?” He curled his daughter’s gingham collar into his fists. “Mrs. Chambers pays you and your ma fourteen dollars for those fancy dresses.”

Her petite fingers clawed at his hands, easing the pressure on her neck. She had recently stitched rick rack to her collar and she’d be darned if she was going to reattach it. Gasping for air, she tried to defend herself. “We forgot the gloves. It was only gloves. I didn’t deliver the dresses. I swear!”

Her father seized her neck again, lifting her off the ground. Her feet strained for the security of mudded pine needles. “Liar! I need that money.”

“But your pay from the mine? You got paid.”

“Don’t you hold out on me girl.” His thick hands squeezed her voice box. “That pay’s gone.”

She stared into the familiar hazel eyes of her father, now bloodshot and bulging. In all her fifteen years she had never seen them so crazed.

“People are coming.”

She did not recognize the man’s voice but she welcomed his announcement.

Her father released her neck as the stranger bolted through the ancient pines. A burning radiated down her neck-- the path of one ragged fingernail gouging her skin. The sound of cloth tearing filled her ears as batting ripped free from her collar. She fell backwards, propelled by her father’s haste to get away. Her head struck against a

And here's what's behind Door Number Two:

Juneau, Alaska
September, 1918

Josephine Nimetz didn’t take health for granted as she wrapped her petite fingers around her mother’s swollen knuckles. She eased the stiff hand against a tea cup and made sure her mother supported the cup before letting go. The cup already had one chip. Mint vapors perked up Josephine’s senses. It had been a long morning at the Singer sewing machine.

“I’m off to the Chambers’ estate,” Josephine said. “It will be a nice walk now that the sun has returned.”

“I thought you delivered Mrs. Chambers’ gown yesterday?” Mrs. Nimetz blew on the tea before taking a sip.

“Yes, but Ann forgot the gloves and embroidered handkerchief. I don’t want any complaints from our best customer”

“Your sister can’t seem to think about anything these days. Anything, that is, except men.”

Josephine grinned. Ann--her oldest sister at twenty-- was intent on marrying someone educated and wealthy. Not a small feat when most of the men in Juneau were sportsmen, lumberjacks, miners, or sailors. At one month shy of sixteen, Josephine preferred to focus on the family tailoring business and her mother’s welfare.

Josephine grabbed a shawl and the small glove box before heading outside. Her sealskin boots scuffed along the planked walkway in front of the tiny houses that looked out over Gastineau Channel. A steamer and fishing boats filled the small port dwarfed by mountains lined with evergreen trees. The breeze off the channel lifted her long brunette hair from her shoulders. Her cheeks tingled in the tepid air.

Trudging past the church and up the hill toward Juneau’s elaborate homes, she noticed Widow Gilbertsen’s pristine saltbox, vacant, curtains drawn. The widow had traveled to Nova Scotia to visit family after her husband died. Josephine had helped the elderly couple during Mr. Gilbertsen’s

Wow. It's like two completely different stories. In version 1, the inciting incident really jerks the story into high gear, but do we have enough emotional investment in the heroine to care sufficiently? I'm going to propose a compromise. You should go with a third version.

I’m ready to make this opening the best it can be. I value your input.
That's a beautiful, teachable attitude. If we become rigid and refuse to revise, we have earned the right not to grow.

Introduce Josephine on her way out the door to deliver the gloves, promising to fix tea for her ailing mother as soon as she returns. We'll like her for her compassion. Give her a sense of urgency. Hint that her father has made trouble or is threatening to make trouble for them. Oh, please let him be her stepfather! It's hard to imagine a father strangling his own child. Remember you want your readers to slip into the heroine's shoes. Don't make them pinch so badly, the reader will yank them off before they've had a chance to care about her.

Making him a stepfather is an easy change. He’s a father desperate from bad gambling debts and in desperation, becomes too rough. He causes Josephine to fall and injure her head, and be taken to the hero’s home.

Oh, the father's way beyond rough and well into abusive. If you want him to be desperate instead of evil, there are ways to make the confrontation and subsequent injury more accidental. Grabbing her and twisting her arm or shoving her are bad, but they aren't life-threatening. And those actions say desperate to me. Having him strangle her puts him beyond the pale.

Your sense of place is much stronger in the 2nd version, but don't dwell on non-essentials. Will the widow Gilbertson play a role in the story? Cut her if not. Only describe what your heroine would notice. Love the sealskin boots, but she wouldn't think of her own hair as brunette or her fingers as petite. Tepid means "luke warm." Not conducive to tingling cheeks. You might want to let us know the heroine's age, but it's not necessary to have her sister's yet.

The Gilbertsens were added here at the recommendation of the critiquing agent. She reasoned if Josephine had experience taking care of an ailing person it would help spare her reputation when she lives with, and cares for, the sick veteran.
You’re right about the hair and fingers…oops!

I wouldn't add the bit about the Gilbertsens until its needed. Certainly not right up front.

She needs to meet her father fairly quickly in this third version, before you've spent 500 words. And he might bring up the other sister's fixation on men. How did he come to this awful state? Do you plan on redeeming him during the story? Redemption stories are not limited to inspirational fiction. Focus on the heroine's emotions about him and you'll pull us in close. No matter how bad a man is, his daughter wants to love him, whether it's healthy for her to or not. You shouldn't go into backstory here, but you should know if there were happier times in their shared past. If the story is about redemption or about breaking away from a toxic relationship, that will change how you portray this encounter.

Mines in Alaska were filled with gambling and drinking. Too many men, too much time. Her father works at a gold mine. I try to redeem the father through Josephine’s memories of happier times. She also defends her father when the veteran puts her father down. Ultimately, taking care of the veteran because of the incident with her father, brings Josephine a better life.

You can't redeem him without a change on his part. This isn't theology where grace is free and undeserved. This is fiction and readers demand that the scales of justice balance. If the father is to be redeemed, he needs to change and ask forgiveness of his family. Maybe injuring his daughter is the first step to realizing he's hit bottom.

In Verdi's opera OTHELLO, Desdemona sings an entire aria after her husband has strangled her. Readers are not as forgiving of logic holes as opera buffs. Be careful not to have the heroine talking while she's being strangled, if you stick with that. And if her father has his hands on her throat, rick rack is going to be the last thing on her mind. When you can't breathe, all that matters is your next breath.

You’re right—lose the rick rack.

A revision is still in order here. I know this probably isn't what you wanted to hear, but welcome to the world of the writer. Our business is to play with the details we choose to share to shape the story till it tells the tale we intend. I think you need to find common ground between your two versions, to cherrypick the best of both and come up with a stronger third path.

Thank you, Emily. I have a clearer picture now of what I need to do to flesh this out. One of the reasons I like Red Pencil Thursdays is you give such good feedback and it improves our writing skills. I’m thrilled you picked me and am grateful for your expertise. Thanks for helping me solve my dilemma.

Because you're willing to do the revision work, you're solving your own dilemma.

Barbara lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two teenage sons. When not writing young adult manuscripts, she coordinates high school concessions and works with youth.

Now it's your turn to add your comments to our online critique session. I know Barbara will appreciate your suggestions and encouragement.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Playing Catch-up

First I'd like to announce some winners from recent blog guests' giveaways.

Elisabeth Naughton's Entwined: Sarah Simas

Erin Kellison’s Shadow Bound & Shadow Fall: Jennifer (sowickedlovely)

And of course, all you delightful blog touristas scored a free download of Elisabeth Naughton's MARKED. My DH downloaded the free Kindle from Amazon to use on his laptop and he likes reading his techno-thrillers on it. Let me know if you take advantage of this free opportunity to get an e-reader and a terrific book to read on it.

Now I know you're wondering what's up with the lovely plum ball gown. I'm filling a character's closet over at www.miamarlowe.blogspot.com. Hope you'll join me for a peek at fashions of the Romantic Era, circa 1830.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things that Rarely End Well~ Survey says... Cat Baths

After I got home from the hospital last week, I had tons of get well emails to cheer me. (Thank you one and all!) One of my sisters sent me these goofy pictures to brighten my spirits. Now before I get any hatemail, let me reiterate that I have been a cat lover all my life and though I don't have one as a pet now, there have been several beloved felines in my past.

The real fun in pics like this is coming up with good captions. See if you can top these (Some are mine. Some came with the pictures.)

"But, I thought you liked me!"

"By Grabthar's Hammer, I shall be avenged!"

"Holy Catnip! That's cold!"

"No, you are NOT my friend."

"Guess who's going to forget where the litter box is for the next week?"

"Release the cat or I'll unleash the Hounds of Hell on you and all your descendants from this time forth."

"Sleep with one eye open if you know what's good for you."

"Traction, I need traction. Where is that dang bathmat anyway?"

"The Geneva Convention is going to hear about this!"

"I don't believe a word you say. The water is NOT fine."

Bear in mind, a sister who supposedly loves me and knows I have stitches sent me these.

Now it's your turn. Can you come up with a different caption for any of these kitties? Or do you have a funny cat story to share?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Got Gorn?

A couple years ago at RT, I visited with a horror writer who introduced me to the term "gorn." It was his word for "Gore Porn" -- gratuitous gore that just goes for the gross out and isn't intrinsic to the plot. Sort of like gratuitous sex that doesn't advance the plot or deepen the characters. IMHO, it needs to be cut.

Today, my friend Elisabeth Naughton is talking about how she differentiates between mindless blood and violence and B & V that is important for the story. My blog is now yours, Elisabeth.
Thanks so much to Emily for having me here today!

The other night The Saw was on TV. I’m not a fan of gore, so this movie holds no appeal for me. My husband, on the other hand, has watched every Saw movie out there and always wants to “share” what he’s seen when the movie is over. He asked me recently – “Why don’t you want to watch it? I’ve read the stuff you write. Remember, RT called your last book ‘bloody and violent’”. Okay, that’s true. RT did call ENTWINED “bloody and violent” but they also gave it 4 ½ stars so the reviewer obviously didn’t have a problem with the battle scenes in the book. Of course, my husband’s comment got me thinking – what is the difference? Isn’t violence and bloodshed, well, simply violence and bloodshed?

The answer is probably dependent on your personal violence threshold. Yes, there’s a lot of action, suspense, and yeah, quite a bit of bloodshed in my recent Eternal Guardians book, ENTWINED. But it’s not gore for shock-value sake. It serves a purpose, as does every scene in my book. And in the end, readers walk away with an impression of a great love story amidst an ongoing war – NOT the specific violent scenes within the book.

I love movies that have graphic battle scenes – Gladiator, Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan – so long as the characters are fighting for a cause. Violence and gore that holds no purpose – only to show the twisted mind of the villain – isn’t entertainment in my opinion. For me it’s all in how it’s presented and what the characters are after that keeps me riveted to my seat. And that’s not to say I don’t like psychological thrillers. Just a few nights ago we watched an old 90’s movie, The Copycat Killer, with Holly Hunter and Sigorney Weaver. The killer was gruesome and ruthless, and from the psychological aspect, it rivaled The Saw. But the film maker didn’t have to show the gore to get the suspense across to the viewer, and I had no problem re-watching that movie beginning to end.

For me, bloody and violent isn’t a bad thing. It just depends on how that blood and violence is presented. It also depends what else is going on in the story and what I’ll remember when it’s all over. How about you? How do you feel about violence in books and movies? I’ve got a copy of ENTWINED, book 2 in my Eternal Guardians Series to give away to one winner today! And for those of you who didn’t hear, MARKED, book one in the series, is a free book download from Barnes and Noble right now, so pop over and pick up a free copy of this book!

Thanks so much, Elisabeth. And thanks for letting us know about the free read! Here's the link for the free download of MARKED. You don't need a pricey e-reader. This'll work with your computer.

Be sure to leave a comment or question for a chance to win a copy of Elisabeth's

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Murdered By Pirates is Good"

I'm delighted to bring Katharine Ashe to you today. She's a debut historical author from Avon and a frequent commenter here. When I learned she had a book coming out, I asked if she'd guest blog for me and she graciously accepted. I know you'll enjoy her insights. Take it away, Katharine!

Writers call it all sorts of things. The Inciting Incident. The Call to Adventure. In screwball comedies, the Meet Cute. I still call it the name I learned from Dr. Dewsnap in ninth-grade English: the catalyst. It is the event that sets your story in motion.

Until the catalyst, the film The Princess Bride is a sweet hometown romance (well, not my hometown, but somebody’s medieval hometown—you know, they had hometowns back then too). But when the Dread Pirate Roberts murders Wesley, that sweet hometown romance becomes an adventure.

When is it best to insert into your story that all-important catalyst? Take a tip from the experts: WITHOUT DELAY.

When does Rob Reiner, the director of The Princess Bride and other hugely popular films, offer us the catalyst? How many minutes into the movie do we learn that pirates have allegedly murdered our hero? After 5 minutes and 11 seconds of set up and backstory. If you’ve taken Alexandra Sokoloff’s brilliant class on plotting for novelists and screenwriters (http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/ ), you’ll know that a single-title work of commercial fiction can be structurally broken down a lot like a typical Hollywood film. If you count 5 minutes as roughly 1/20 of the way through the film, that gives you about 20 pages of your 400-page book to offer the catalyst.

It is in no way coincidental that in romance novels the hero and heroine nearly always meet in the first twenty pages. In a romance, the hero and heroine’s first meeting should either be the catalyst or it should be an immediate consequence of it.

A word on catalysts and prologues. Ninety-nine percent of the time, prologues are backstory. This is why you always hear that you should never under any circumstances have a prologue in your book. In The Princess Bride, Reiner recognizes this out loud to the audience. Somewhere in minute 4 of the film the convalescing little boy whines to his grandfather, “When is it going to get good?” If you give too much backstory upfront and too little action, your readers are likely to whine too.

But a really good prologue can offer the catalytic moment. Take the prologue of Rachel Gibson’s TRULY MADLY YOURS (a perfect contemporary romance, IMHO). In this prologue, a secondary character of no little importance dies. Mere pages later in chapter one, the hero and heroine are both at the funeral. If your story simply screams for a prologue, make it work for you. Your prologue may include lots of delicious backstory, but be sure to drop your catalyst in there somewhere.

Lately I’ve been writing pirate stories. Pirates are fabulous for so many reasons. Not incidentally, they are tremendously useful for creating catalysts. In my debut Regency historical, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, pirates kidnap my hero and heroine, imprisoning them in a tiny cabin aboard ship. Voila, Inciting Incident! In the pages before this, we get to know Lord Steven Ashford and Lady Valerie Monroe a bit. We learn what drives them, what they most desire, what they most fear. But from that catalytic moment—which pirates so nicely provide—the action takes off. The minute Steven and Valerie find themselves trapped quite literally in the same small chamber, the plot hinges upon them working together to escape. And in such intimate quarters, immersed in high tension, anything is likely to happen.

Once your story has a place to go, you can certainly take brief tangential forays along the route—indulge in a moment of gorgeous description, paint a character’s inner thoughts with exquisite sensitivity, or whatever’s your pleasure. But if you wait too long to drop in that all important catalyst and get the wheels turning, your readers might decide to get off your bus and take one that’s actually going somewhere.

Why wait?

Is the catalyst in your WIP right where it belongs, or could you move it forward? Do you know of any movies or books where the catalyst comes super quick?

Katharine Ashe lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US. RT Book Reviews awarded her debut historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, a “TOP PICK!” review, calling it “a page-turner and a keeper.” Please visit her at http://www.katharineashe.com/.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Celeste

I'm still in the hospital, but the DH is letting me use his computer to set this post to go. Please welcome Celeste to Red Pencil Thursday and take up the slack for me by leaving your helpful comments. Thanks!

The Helper
Hmm.... a title is supposed to give me an indication about what type of story this is going to be. I think I need a little more . . . help. If this is an edgy, action-packed tale, The Helper seems a little light for it. Anyone have a suggestion for Celeste?
It’s a working title and one of MANY I’ve played around with. It doesn’t fit and I’m hoping something will come to me once the MS is done.
Don't worry. The right title will come when you need it.

Emma wanted to know why in the f*** her brother was not answering his phone. She listened to his voice mail for the millionth time and watched her speedometer climb past the eighty mile per hour mark.
I bleeped your expletive because this is a PG-13 blog, but I really like your opening. You've dropkicked us into a serious situation and given us a heroine we can identify with immediately. Everyone has a relative they worry about. You've socked us with a great universal right up front and we're immediately disposed to like Emma because she cares about someone else, a very heroic attitude.
Thanks! The point of the expletive was to grab the reader right away. I love this opening, but will consider using “hell” instead if absolutely necessary.

What is the target audience for this story? The reason I ask is because I think you might be shooting yourself in the foot with the f*** in the first sentence. We're in Emma's head, but that's the only time she uses profanity in this excerpt. I don't think you need it here. Later, when we're fully in her corner, maybe. The point of profanity is shock value. I'd save it for a time when it's warranted. Like when she learns why Andy isn't answering his phone. Or if you decide it's important to use it here, consider putting it in dialogue, not narrative.
Oh don’t you worry, there’s profanity when she gets in the apartment too.

That might work better for me. I'll be more firmly in her corner by then.

It was going to be bad this time. Andy hadn’t answered his phone for two days. He might be a total screw up but he always managed to call her back. Not this time though and she was rushing over to his apartment to rescue him. Again.
I'd cut It was going to be bad this time. The subsequent sentences show us that without the need to tell. Put a period after though and let it stand on its own. It'll give the fact that things are different more weight. I like the way you set apart Again. You've told us a great deal about Emma and Andy's relationship with one little word.
I like the Again also. I don’t do any editing until I’m through the complete first draft because it stalls my forward progress, so I’ll definitely be tightening thing up.
My Goodness! This is your first draft? Excuse me a moment while I wrap my head around that fact. If this is the first thing that drips from your fingers, you have a career ahead of you, my dear.

The exit sign she was looking for appeared and she buzzed off the highway. She shifted in her seat and realized she had forgotten to take off her belt. When she stopped for the light she unbuckled and plopped it into the passenger seat. Her gun was loaded and the cold metal gave her a little comfort. She might be off duty, but she still had her baby with her wherever she went.
If Emma is an off duty cop, why would she take off her gun? Don't police officers often carry anyway?
She’s not a cop, she is an Urban Park Ranger.
Excellent twist!

Including running off to take care of her brother who might, or might not be, lying dead in his own bathroom, the victim of a careless overdose.

Andy was many things. Slacker, loser and drug user were some of the highlights. He was also slovenly, lazy and forgetful. But he was her brother and Emma cared more about him than she did almost everything else in the world -- except maybe her goldfish, William.

William and her gun were the only two things she had ever been able to rely on. But she already knew which one was going to abandon her first. Goldfish didn’t have the same life expectancy as steel.
Emma is quite the quirky gal. I've never known anyone who named their goldfish William. Or became so attached to it. But that's good. We want our characters to live large, to be unique. You've chosen some interesting details to show us who Emma is.
I included William to give Emma a unique and relatable humanity in hopes it would excuse some of her more icy characteristics.
And yet, by choosing a fish for her pet, you've shown us she's not willing to make long-term commitments. Well done.

She placed her hand on her weapon, soothed just by its presence. If her brother wasn’t answering her calls because he was on a bender, she could use the gun to put him out of her misery.
I'd cut just. It's a word that almost always isn't needed. Ditto for that, almost and always.

She could use the gun to put him out of her misery is a little cold, considering we've already decided we like Emma for her compassion for the slacker Andy. How about she'd be tempted to use the gun . . .
I like “tempted” instead even though, at times, I’m tempted to kill Andy myself!

A nervous giggle tittered out of her mouth. At least she could rely on Andy for a laugh even when she wanted to strangle him.
Emma doesn't strike me as the giggling or tittering sort. How about a snort instead?
She’s the type of person who only giggles in private

Her tires let out a screech as she made the turn into her brother’s driveway. The dump he was living in looked anything but inviting and the neighborhood was what most people referred to as “the ghetto”. She grabbed her belt and strapped it back on just in case, even though it wasn’t the real ghetto. It was more like the place where disillusioned suburban youths came to piss off their mommies and daddies by doing copious amounts of drugs. Most of the once beautiful Victorians had been divided up into low rent apartments but a couple on the street looked as though the owners had just given up. She figured the squatters and junkies loved the convenience of having a roof over their heads, even it was a leaky one.
Let's tighten the prose a bit. Instead of Her tires let out a screech, how about Her tires screeched? If you call a place a dump, we know it' s not inviting. Delete that bit. You can tighten that sentence to read: The dump he was living in was in the neighborhood most people referred to as “the ghetto”. Please bear in mind my tightening examples are merely suggestions. Please use your own discretion in how you shorten sentences.

This paragraph needs editing for sure because I’m not satisfied with the way it reads. Thanks for the tip.
It seems odd that Emma would remove her gunbelt and then strap it on again. On or off, pick one.

Can you give me a few vivid examples of the owners "giving up" on their property instead of telling me they did?
Sometimes I get flack for being too sparse in my descriptions and I think you call tell I was stretching a bit in this section.

She locked up her car and headed around the back of the house to the stairs leading up to Andy’s place. It was the middle of the day but it felt like full dark. She kept glancing back
What made it feel like full dark? Give us the detail that makes Emma feel that way and we'll feel it too.
I tend to forget the emotional aspects of description and I really agree there needs to be a feeling here from Emma.

And unfortunately, I had to cut this excerpt mid-sentence to meet the 500 word rule. Heavy sigh. I really want to know what Emma finds in Andy's apartment. Thanks for letting me take a look at your opening, Celeste. You've got a compelling heroine in a situation people will relate to. That's a winning combination.

Thank you again, Emily, for the opportunity to share my work. I’m looking forward to seeing what others have to say about it.

Celeste is a tattoo artist by day and a dedicated writer by night. She loves dark writing, uncomfortable shoes, and any type of chocolate. She lives in central Ohio with a house full of animals and one of them is her husband.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Ghost Story

Many of you know I used to be an opera singer. Today, I'm bringing you an author who used to be a ballerina--Erin Kellison. She's a fellow Leisure Lady who offered to stand in for me here while I'm indisposed. (I should be coming home from the hospital today, so I'll be sure to pop on and let you know I'm ok!) Please give Erin a great Blog Tourista welcome! And now, my blog is yours, Erin.

First of all, a big thank you to Emily Bryan for sharing her blog with me while she is away. My hugs and best wishes go with her. As for readers of her blog, I’ve got two books, Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall, ready to give away to a blog commenter.

I love ghost stories. And I hate them. They scare me, and worse, my imagination has a tendency to play with them long into the night, hours from the original telling, until the structure and the content of the story has shifted just enough to dig at my deepest fears. Those nights, I sleep with the light on.

My head has been working on one particular ghost story for years: The ballet, Giselle. A long time ago, way back when, I used to be pretty serious about ballet. I wasn’t crazy about modern choreography; I wanted story ballets. Actually, I just wanted the stories. But of all the ballets, Giselle entranced me the most.

Giselle is a tragic love story in the first act; an eerie ghost story in the second. Once upon a time, I got to be one of the wilis, the bitter spirits of broken hearted women who populate the woods in the ghostly second act of the ballet. They trap men wandering the woods at night and condemn them to dance to their deaths. It’s a nightmare in black and white; the deep, still forest and the insubstantial bright spirits waiting to torture passersby. Myrtha, the wili queen, will point at the next victim, you, then circle her hands over her head, will dance, then cross her wrists before her, until you are dead. You will dance until you are dead. Creepy, no? The victims beg the wilis for release, but one by one we would literally turn a cold, ghost-white shoulder.

The setting could easily be my Twilight, a between place of magic in my Shadow series. Twilight is about beauty, inspiration, and nightmare. In Shadow Fall, my heroine is Annabella, a ballerina making her debut in the lead role of Giselle. The story of the ballet plays a huge role in Shadow Fall, a dark fantasy, mixed with romance.

What are your favorite ghost stories?
Back cover blurb for Shadow Fall:

Custo Santovari accepted pain, blood, even death, to save his best friend. But a man with all his sins just isn't cut out to be an angel.

MysteryOne moment he's fleeing Heaven; the next, he's waking up stark naked in Manhattan. In the middle of a war. Called there by a woman who's desperately afraid of the dark.

ShadowIt gathers around Annabella as she performs, filled with fantastic images of another world, bringing both a golden hero and a nightmare lover.

WolfHe pursues her relentlessly, twisting her desires even as she gives herself to the man she loves. Because each of us has a wild side, and Annabella is about to unleash the beast.

Buy links for Shadow Fall:

Books a million

A bit about Erin:
Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow Series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison's life. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a masters in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.

You can contact Erin though her website, http://www.erinkellison.com/, where you can also sign up to receive her newsletter, but also

Twitter: http://twitter.com/ekellison
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/erin.kellison

Buy links for Shadow Bound:
Books a million

Emily here again. Thank you, Erin for being such a great guest host today.

Be sure to leave a comment or question for Erin for your chance to win one of her terrific books!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"It's a routine procedure."

When a doctor says that, I'm always tempted to ask, "For whom?" My routine is running around in my jammies till noon and spending my days making stuff up. General anesthesia and scalpels are not routine.

I'm checking in to the hospital today for a lung biopsy. I've had persistent cough for months. The good news is my oncologist has ruled out a return of cancer, so I'm thankful for that. Hopefully, the biopsy will give them a clear picture of what's going on. Of course, I welcome your prayers.

But that means I'll be out of pocket for a bit, so for tomorrow, my buddy Erin Kellison is taking over as guest blog host with a terrific post and book giveaway. Hope you'll make sure and drop by to say hi. Later in the week, we have a Red Pencil Thursday all lined up and on Friday, debut Avon author Katharine Ashe is my guest.

And as soon as I get home tomorrow I'll pop in to let you know I'm ok.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Scenic Route to Publication

"Not all who wander are lost." ~ Tolkien

Every writer's path to publication wanders over unique ground. Some make use of an agent. Some enter contests that result in a publishing contract. Some writers pitch their story to an editor at a writer's conference and are invited to submit the material. Today, fantasy author Helen Johannes shares the story of the road she meandered along till she saw her work in print. Take it away, Helen.


“Write what you love to read and write with the market in mind.” Good advice, right?

My school friends lured me beyond the BLACK STALLION novels into THE LORD OF THE RINGS and Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED. I was so caught up in their complex worlds and plots, I had to start my own quest tale, THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE. College intervened, but the story never left me. I dreamed of my hero and heroine and how I could possibly bring them together when I had set up so many obstacles to their love.

Years later, I discovered category romances at rummage sales, devoured them, and decided I could write romantic suspense. I liked my characters, but the stories didn’t engage me as deeply as the one I’d left behind. Meanwhile, I broke into publication with short stories and articles for writers’ magazines, plus I’d garnered contest wins, so now I had “publishing credits.” My query letters were getting requests for partials, but no contract. Because my children were starting to write stories too, I wrote them a short fantasy. The pleasure that gave me brought me back to my roots, and I dug out my handwritten manuscript. From my now “experienced” perspective, I deemed it worthy of completion.

Boy, was I naïve. I had three main characters, an adverbial overload, and so many subordinate characters I couldn’t keep track of them. I had a 15,000 word digression mid-story and no talisman to symbolize the quest. Plus, unlike Bilbo’s journey “there and back again” in THE HOBBIT, I had no “back again.”

What I did have was a love triangle, heroes I was in love with, plenty of conflict, and three lands that had once been one kingdom. That kingdom had been broken by a long ago act of theft—one brother stealing the throne from the rightful heir and the third brother refusing to choose sides. When I nailed down that concept and came up with a long-lost crown to symbolize the quest, that piece of history/legend began to shape everything in the story. It drives the Prince on his quest to reunite the kingdom, and that forces every character to decide where his or her loyalties—and heart—truly lie.

What I finished, however, didn’t fit publishers’ pigeonholes. I had blithely written the book of my heart, and like all choices of the heart, there were consequences. It took a few more years of queries, pitches, and partials before THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE found a home at The Wild Rose Press.

Back to that good advice: While you can write what you love to read, and you can try to write with the market in mind, sometimes you just have to write what your heart wants.

Prince Arn has a destiny--an ancient throne--but he’s not waiting for fate to deliver when he can act now, before his enemies organize against him. The healer Aerid longs for her barely remembered homeland. Marked out by her gift and her foreign looks, she insists she is no witch. The swordsman Naed hopes to honorably defend his uncle’s holding, but he harbors a secret fascination for the exotic healer. Prince Arn’s campaign against Aerid’s homeland throws them into a triangle of forbidden love, betrayal, and heartbreak. Only when they realize love is blood-kin to friendship, and neither is possible without risk, can they forge a new alliance and restore a kingdom.

THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE is available from:
The Wild Rose Press
Barnes and Noble

An Army brat with a yen for travel and a fascination for history, I majored in German and English and earned a Master’s degree in teaching English--specifically, all kinds of writing--and have taught creative writing for years. I love to travel, read all kinds of fiction, and hang out with romance writers.

My WEBSITE is www.helendjohannes.com

Thanks for sharing with us today, Helen. Now it's your turn. If you're a writer, where are you on the path to publication? If you're not a writer, you still have goals you're striving for. What helps you along the way?

PS. I tried to fulfill #4 on my 9 Month Personal Bucket List over the weekend. To quote Robert Burns, "The best laid plans of mice and men oftimes gang agley." Find out what happened at www.miamarlowe.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Radical Update

Ok. I know. This background color wasn't one of the choices I offered last week. Like so many things in my life, the choice of this pale green was accidental. I hit the wrong button to switch the color, and wonder of wonders, I liked it.

I wouldn't have thought to pick this almost neutral color, but I think it really makes JennJ's lovely header stand out. I hope you'll take a look at my website http://www.emilybryan.com/ and let me know what you think about my cyber-facelift.

Thanks again to Jenn and to all of you who've helped me along on my little color odyssey. Maybe this experience will give me the courage I need to change my white walls. Hmmm... we'll see.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Anne Stratton

Well, it's Red Pencil Thursday, and I'm happy to say we have a volunteer. Please welcome Anne Stratton. Unfortunately, I need to apologize to her right off the get-go. I didn't send her critique back early enough to give her time to send back responses. If they come in during the day, I will add them. But I didn't want to make everyone else wait any longer for this engaging beginning.
My comments are in red. If Anne sends in her comments today, they'll be in purple. Please feel free to add your comments at the end of the post.
For Love or Money
Titles are not subject to copyright. It's a good strategy to use a familiar phrase for a title, but I usually check to see if there is another book already using that phrase. I search it on Amazon and just see what's out there. If it's not being used for the same type of book I write, it's fair game.

Chapter One

January 2
Suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin
It's not unusual to see a date and setting for historicals, but I don't recall seeing it for contemporaries. I'd rather see you show us that it's the dead of winter in the upper midwest.

The summer night ten-year-old Kate Harvey got caught breaking into her neighbor’s home, she got off easy. Twenty years later, however, that wouldn’t be the case.
Great opening. In 2 sentences, we know a good deal about your heroine. She's got a history of troublemaking, she's 30 years old and still a risk taker.

Another truth came to Kate as she stood in snow up to her calves, inhaling air that made her lungs ache: it was not as much fun breaking into houses in the winter. Waiting for the man on the other side of the bay window to leave was screwing up her plan. Luckily, the guy couldn’t possibly see her huddled in the snow.
The first sentence in this paragraph is a little awkward. How about...
As she stood in snow up to her calves, inhaling air that m
ade her lungs ache, she realized it was not as much fun breaking into houses in the winter.
She knows this guy's name. Why not name him here?

Why hadn’t the jerk left yet?

She checked the time on her cell phone--ten of seven already. According to Jennifer the know-it-all at the office, Chesterton was supposed to meet his wife at the country club at six-thirty. A second later, as if he’d read her mind, he turned and disappeared from view.
I'd break the first sentence up into two. Put a period after phone and let Ten of seven already stand on its own. You can also tighten Jennifer the know-it-all at the office to Jennifer, the office know-it-all.

Time for her to move. A gust off Lake Michigan spit snow into her face as she edged around the patio. A light glowed from the kitchen windows and blinked off again.
Cut for her in the first sentence and you'll create a deeper POV, placing us firmly in Kate's head. If you cut A from the last sentence, it doesn't change the meaning and you won't have consecutive sentences beginning with A.
BRRRR! Love A gust off Lake Michigan. This gives me great sensory detail and a better sense of place than telling me Suburban Milwaukee at the beginning.

He must be entering the garage--good news. The instant she heard the car backing out, she bolted toward the rear porch and squatted against the wood siding. The car rumbled down the driveway, the overhead garage door hummed again and she nipped around a pillar to stick her foot beneath the descending door.
Again, ditch the -- for a period and separate those two thoughts. I'm a little confused about the layout of the place. Usually a garage door faces the street and she's in the rear of the structure. Wouldn't it make more sense for her to be in the side yard, pressed up against the garage? What keeps Chesterton from seeing her? I always watch to make sure my garage door goes down and stays down.

Her heart kicked up. The old rush of adrenalin made her smile. She’d almost forgotten the thrill of testing her courage.
I think you mean heartrate instead of heart. Is it testing her courage or breaking the rules that gets her going?
The door continued for a second and then bounced back up, revealing a sleek black Corvette. Kate sprinted to the kitchen door and punched the button to close the overhead door behind her. The door continued to what? Crush her foot? Making a whirring noise? Sleek black Corvette tells us Chesterton's got money and maybe a mid-life crisis. Good detail. She knows a lot about this house if she knows the door leading into the garage.

Her hand shook as she flipped open the security system box next to the back door. If she didn’t get the numbers right, the whole caper would be over and she’d have to figure out another way into that house.
She doesn't seem the type to have a shaking hand, or if she did, she'd at least mentally scold herself over it. Here's your chance to sneak in a hook about what she's after in the house. Not the whole story, just a tease. "The incriminating papers", "the jewelry that should have been hers" , "the evident to prove someone's innocence"--something to justify the risk otherwise we may stop identifying with her. Thrill seekers are interesting, but we also tend to judge them as not terribly bright. We want our heroine to be smart, so a good reason, or the hint of one, to justify her actions would be helpful here.

She pointed her gloved finger at the first digit of what she hoped was the pass code. The address of the house was 6950. Since she knew the code had four digits. She was betting on the address. If that didn’t work, she’d try the date of the Chestertons’ wedding, October 15.

See? I knew she was smart. I just want to know there's a valid reason for her breaking and entering.

She inhaled and punched in the six, then the nine, the five and the zero, and pressed “off.”

Nothing happened. Had she guessed wrong? “Six, nine, five, zero.” Her whimper echoed off the concrete floor. She tried the four numbers again, pressed off. Silently the red light faded. She took a breath.

I'd cut "Had she guessed wrong?" It smacks of author intrusion, telling the reader what might have happened when we could have figured that one out. Since she hits the same numbers, you might have her wonder if she didn't punch them hard enough, tug off her glove with her teeth and jab the numbers again with her bare knuckle to avoid leaving a fingerprint. Also, she doesn't strike me as the whimpering type.

Now all Kate needed was for the entrance door to be unlocked. The knob turned. She was in! She pulled her flashlight from her coat pocket, turned it on, placed it on the floor, shed her leather gloves and shoved them into one pocket. From her other coat pocket she pulled out her shoe covers and slipped them over her boots.
Instead of entrance door, would it be interior door that leads from the garage into the house? Also, if she's so careful about covering her shoes, I think she'd leave the gloves on (or put them back on if you take my previous suggestion) to avoid leaving fingerprints.

You've definitely got me wondering what's going to happen, Anne. Good job! Thanks for letting me take a look at your work.

A. Y. Stratton Bio

Free-lance columnist Anne Youngclaus Stratton, also known as A. Y. Stratton, had been writing for Milwaukee-area magazines and newspapers for more than fifteen years, when she finally accomplished her life-long goal. Buried Heart, a romantic suspense novel set in Milwaukee and in Mayan ruins deep in the rain forest, was published by The Wild Rose Press in October, 2009.

A. Y. and her husband live in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The idea for her debut novel occurred to her when she and her husband were on a tour of Mayan ruins.

For more information about A. Y. Stratton, please visit her web site, http://www.aystratton.com/. You can also by her BURIED HEART at Amazon.

Coming soon . . .

I do have a Red Pencil Thursday for you. Really, I do. But I was late getting the critique back to our volunteer so I want to give her a little more time to respond. This delay is totally my fault.

Please be patient. If I don't have anything by noon EST, I'll go with what I have, so please check back. You won't want to miss a Red Pencil Thursday excerpt from Anne Stratton, author of Buried Heart.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Color Therapy

That's what my beta reader, Marcy W, tells me I need to break through my fear of changing my white walls. Consider my website facelift a baby step in that direction.

As it turns out, it is an infringement of copyright for me to use only part of the art work from my covers. Legally, I'm only allowed to display the entire cover on my website. So JennJ of Sapphire Designs took a royalty free stock photo I'd purchased for use on my site and added some of her own elements to come up with this new look for my header:

I love it! Now I have to pick some things to go with it. Here are my new choices:

This red is leaning far more orange than I usually like to go, but it does pick up the color of the masked woman's feather nicely. The color is cheerful, which communicates the light-hearted feel of my stories.

This gold adds some texture to the site as well, because it's a jpg of gold fabric instead of a flat color. But I wonder if it doesn't read as a bit too busy to be a background?

And of course, I want a deep color option, so I thought I'd offer this darker red for your consideration. I've used the gold as an accent behind the book cover on this one.

And if I want to take the lazy author's way out, I could always leave my current background in place. It's a soft collection of feathery colors that seems to work fairly well with the masked lady's lipcolor. Since my website has half a gagillion pages, this would certainly be the easiest option.

But if I wanted easy, I wouldn't have become a writer.

Oh! And JennJ just sent me this victorian tile to try. Since it's hard to see the detail of the texture in the thumbnail, I've included the tile itself for you to check out.

So one more time, I'm asking for your opinion about which color I should choose for a background with JennJ's lovely header design. Thanks for weighing in! I'll let you know when the new look goes live!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

I partially fulfilled #1 on the professional side of the 9 Month Bucket List on my Mia Marlowe blog with The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass . If you're a writer, you'll want to check it out. If you're a reader, come wonder with me why it's easier to finish the professional goals than the personal ones . . .

Monday, August 9, 2010

Website Facelift Update

Thanks so much to all of you who weighed in with an opinion about the color combinations for my website make-over. I really appreciate your take on things.

However, the update is on hold till I iron out one teensy thing. I received an email from a trusted friend over the weekend warning that I could be in danger of being sued by either Dorchester or the cover artist for using part of the VEXING THE VISCOUNT art in my header. Evidently it's perfectly ok to display the full cover, but not to extract portions of it for other uses. Since it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a lawsuit and because I never want to violate someone else's copyrights to their creative material, I've sent a query in to my editor to get the straight skinny on this issue.

But we do have a plan B. I have purchased some stock photos for use on my site and in my book trailers. JennJ has agreed to go with that if we can't arrange something for using the current artwork in her lovely design.

So you'll be hearing more about this in the coming days and I hope to unveil a new look before long. It's sort of like rearranging the furniture. Every now and then I get an itch to shake things up.

How about you? What do you do to change your surroundings? Swap out art work from one room to another? Totally redecorate? Repurpose existing items as something entirely different, like making a file cabinet an occasional table or turning a vase into a lamp base?

Is there something you've done to spruce up your space--IRL or cyber-- lately?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Getting a Facelift

No, not me, silly. I figure I've earned the face I have, but my website and blog could certainly use some updating. It's been awhile since my colors and header were tweaked. While I'm terrified of painting my walls something other than white, I'm totally ok with changing the look of my online home.

My critique partner, Ashlyn Chase, has volunteered to bring a brush if I ever screw up my courage enough to tackle painting. And I got a similar offer I couldn't refuse from one of my online buddies. JennJ, a frequent commenter here, is a graphic designer and owns Sapphire Designs. She graciously offered to design a new banner for me.

Of course, that means I'll be changing some of the other colors to go with the new look. And I'm stressing over which of the colors in the new banner to pull out. (It's the whole panic over painting again.) I tend to gravitate toward the darker shades, but I wonder if lighter would fit the tone of my work better.

So I'm enlisting your help deciding on a background color. Here's the new banner:

Bet you recognize part of the Vexing the Viscount cover in there. And here are some possible color schemes to go with it:

The burnt orange certainly pops.

But before things fade to black in the upper right corner, there's a deep plum that's rich looking.

If I want a softer look, I could go a shade lighter with a dusky plum.

And if I really want to shake things up, going ultra light with a yellow/gold would brighten the palette considerably.

A softer shade of orange might also give the site a lighter feel.

And I couldn't resist trying to pull out the wine of Daisy's lovely gown.

Decisions, decisions . . . Help me choose! Or do you have a suggestion for a difference background color to pull out? (Excuse me while I bury my head in my hands and sigh. The possibilities are overwhelming!)

Which one do you like best?

And of course, if you have a friend with terrific color sense, please email them the link with the handy little gizmo at the bottom of the post. I need all the help I can get!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with . . . Myself!

It's Thursday and I'm without a volunteer for our online critique, so I'm putting myself back in the hotseat. I'll be using the opening of my free online novella (which is posted on my website) as an example of how an author continues to tweak prose till the very last moment when it's time to turn the manuscript in.

My comments on the work are in red. Please feel free to add your catches in the comment section.



I like this title. Since Sebastian only keeps his mistresses for a single season, it fits. And it's a bit of a play on 'A Man for All Seasons.' Because it has a ring of familiarity, it resonates. In fact, I may wish I'd saved it for one of my published works later!

"A woman, like a blooded hound or a fine steed, has a finite period of usefulness. When that time has run its course, a prudent man divests himself of the asset without regret." ~ A Gentleman’s Guide to Keeping a Mistress
The point of this pithy little vignette is to give readers a peek inside the ideas rolling around my hero's head. Not very good ideas, I'll grant, but the goal is to shock and provoke readers to keep going.

Chapter 1

His Grace, the Duke of Winterhaven settled into his private box as the house lighting dimmed and the gas footlights illuminated the Olympic’s red velvet curtain. Sebastian preferred to arrive late, usually aiming to miss most of the overture. It kept him from having to brush off those who would use a chance meeting at the opera as an excuse to curry favor.
My goal was to set the scene and introduce my hero in short order. By choosing details like private box, gas footlights, red velvet curtain, I've created a setting of priviledge and wealth at the theatre. In sharing why Sebastian preferred to arrive late, I've let readers know he's a very self-contained person, very private even in his pleasures. He relishes control.

Or ask for one.
Curry favor and ask for one is the same thing. I need to delete Or ask for one lest I be redundant and say the same thing twice. ;-)

“Rosalinde isn’t joining us?” his friend Neville Granger asked in a whisper as the orchestra began tuning up.
So Sebastian didn't arrive late as he preferred. His plans are already askew for the evening. I'm trying to telegraph that they'll be even more undone as the story unfolds. Also notice that I've dropped readers into the middle of the action with minimal explanation. If a reader wants to know who Rosalinde is, they have to keep reading.

“Her season has passed,” Sebastian said with a shrug. “We parted ways and she left with a generous pension.”
I could tighten this a bit. Instead of Sebastian said with a shrug I'll change it to Sebastian shrugged. When possible, it's good to substitute character action for dialogue tags.

Neville shook his head. “They don’t call you The Ice Duke for nothing.”
The Ice Duke encapsulates my hero's character. And yet because he has a friend like Neville, I hope readers will sense there is hope for Sebastian.

“Nonsense. Rosalinde knew exactly what to expect.” Sebastian was faithful and devoted to his mistresses, but he always dismissed them with the turn of each season and found a replacement. The rules were explained at the start. He never grew bored, and never had to end a relationship in anger or tearful recriminations. It was simply a function of the calendar, eminently logical, utterly civilized. “She has a new diamond necklace and I have my freedom, as per our agreement.”
Here's the nugget that explains the premise of the novella. Sebastian's well-ordered love life is about to be stood on its head. Do you dislike him a bit right now? That's ok. I've given him some growing room. Without character growth, we have no story.

Neville brought his quizzing glass to one eye and swept the crowd below them. “Someday, my friend, you’re going to meet a woman who can’t be bought.”
I haven't indicated a year or location for this story. Quizzing glass helps cement the historical feel. It's a specific detail that yields a solid reader impression. I'm not hinting any longer. In Neville's prediction, I've said outright that Sebastian is about to meet his match.

“On that day, I’ll give you a bottle of that expensive port you favor,” Sebastian said. “Provided you stop grumbling at me about it now. This is how I’ve ordered my life. Four times a year, I enjoy a brief chase and then give myself three months to enjoy my prize. Don’t spoil this part of the process for me by scolding like a fishwife.”
I'm tossing in a little more background information, but hopefully, because its set up as a minor squabble between friends, readers don't feel I'm using dialogue for exposition. There should always be "micro-tension" in fictional dialogue, meaning characters have a goal for the conversation which are at cross purposes with each other.

“Make it a case of port and we have a deal.”
The wager serves the same purpose as a ticking time bomb. It's a promise that something is going to happen. Hopefully readers will watch to see if I deliver on the promise and make him pay up. (I do. Check chapter 7.)

“Done.” Sebastian leaned back in his tufted seat, sure he’d never be called upon to make good that wager. (That's what he thinks!) “Now, tell me about this soprano you think I’d like.”

“Arabella St. George. Shh! Here she comes.”

Neville leaned forward so far, Sebastian feared he might tumble out of the box. Then his gaze flicked to the stage and he realized why.
A good way to make a character important is to show how others are affected by them. Because of Neville's reaction, Sebastian is set up to be "wowed" by her.

Normally Sebastian favored petite brunettes, but the footlights shot this woman’s long pale hair with strawberry highlights. Tall and willowy, with sharp, even features and luminous dark eyes, Arabella St. George possessed a fierce beauty.
She's not his type, but he's drawn to her nevertheless. By calling her a fierce beauty, I'm trying to prepare readers for an unconventional heroine. She's no blushing debutant, nervous over her come-out.

Sebastian didn’t consider himself the sort given to flights of fancy, but his imagination soared at the sight of her. She might be a changeling princess, offspring of the hollow hills. Or a pagan priestess demanding sacrifice. Or one of the three queens who bore King Arthur’s body to Avalon.
I could tighten here by taking out didn't consider himself and substituting wasn't. But if I want to convey that Sebastian has an inaccurate self-image, I should leave it as is.

Because I've set Sebastian up as a logical, controlling personality, this internal imagery is even stronger than it might have been otherwise. Sebastian may try to hide it with his rigidity and rules, but he has the soul of a poet.

Lord knows, he’d let her take his body anywhere she pleased.
I'm always looking for ways to flip words to make them show almost diametrical opposite meanings. I did it here with the comparison of Arthur's dead body with Sebastian's very much alive one. We want a hero with a healthy libido. Even in Sebastian's tightly controlled world, I wanted to hint that there will be a time when he's out of control.


So that's the first 500 words of A DUKE FOR ALL SEASONS. I welcome your suggestions. Did I miss a chance to make the prose work harder? If you haven't read my free novella, I invite you to do so. After you finish chapter 7, be sure to leave a suggestion for how you think the plot should advance through my Contest page. You'll be entered in the drawing to win a signed copy of STROKE OF GENIUS.

Also, if you'd like to see your first 500 words here in the coming weeks, please contact me through my website and I'll send you the details on how you can be on Red Pencil Thursday.

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