Friday, January 31, 2014

Sex and Writing Romance Novels

Venus and Cupid by Lambert Sustris

It’s almost time for Valentine’s Month and once again, we plan to focus on the romance genre. Well, we might even get a bit spicier than that and explore the topic of sex in literature. Let this be a GRAPHIC CONTENTS warning of things to come, readers!

I've been thinking a lot about romance novels over the past few months, though not exactly by intent. Researching a mystery series, my male protagonist took over and the plot began to take a decidedly sensual turn. He was so fixated on his heroine that I decided to write a standalone novella dealing strictly with the romance he was having with this new-found love. I realized the real stories in the mystery books wouldn't get told until their love life was a bit more settled.

As I wrote scene after increasingly torrid love scene, I started thinking a lot about human sexuality, sexual objectification, and the differences between romance, erotica, and pornography. I have an education in fine arts, and with it comes a fairly strong and informed understanding of erotica vs. pornography. Here’s what I believe:

Erotica includes a graphic depiction of the human form, but it always incorporates beauty and perhaps even love. Pornography has one goal: to provide intense sexual arousal to the viewer and it is often exploitative and even degrading. Both erotica and pornography leave me with the question: where is the love? That’s something I've had to explore with my own novel, scene upon scene, chapter after chapter. Where is the love? If it isn’t strongly present, it means a revision. I won’t allow sex without love in my stories. 

I've had to analyze my characters, their actions, and their words over and over. Romance requires constant rewriting as the story progresses. I’m still not finished. I’ll dial back the sizzle in some sections to give the reader a bit of a reprieve, and I’ll get more graphic in other scenes because the actions will have to reflect that particular stage of relationship development. It's not an easy process. Love never is.

Are you wondering just how much graphic content is appropriate for a romance? There are plenty of levels. Traditional Regency romance is fairly tame. Modern erotic romance ramps up the heat level depending on certain elements included in the writing. There are many guidelines for writers, but my favorite is the Sensuality Ratings Guide from All About Romance. Do link over to read the descriptions.

I don’t know at this point what level of romance this novella will be when it's finished. My version isn't included in the ratings above – certainly the term “romantica” fits to a certain extent, but my characters don’t use “code words” or euphemisms in their lovemaking and conversation… because that’s an aspect of romance writing I dislike. I especially don’t care for vulgar terminology, and blessedly, neither do my characters, especially my male protagonist.

On the other hand, I'm not crazy about a lot of frou frou poetic description of lovemaking either. The idea of arching toward cosmic oneness and crashing into a universal abyss together just leaves me scratching my head. What exactly did that feel like? Give me a better description, and try not to sound so insipid while you're at it!

Moreover, I've discovered I have a deep respect for love and sex that is coming across in my writing – so much so that I've had to include aspects of eastern philosophy into sex scenes, because at the core of philosophies like Tantra is the belief that sex is a sacred act – indeed, the deepest kind of love. I’ll touch on that a bit more in another post, after my characters are more experienced themselves. At the moment, they are still exploring new ideas and each other.

What about you, readers? Do you read the romance genre? Write it? How much sex can you handle? Are there specific aspects or practices that repel you? What kind of romance makes you feel good? Did this post make you squirm? Why or why not? Please leave me a comment!

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog, hopelessly trapped in a submissions mailbox sorting through manuscripts, dreaming of planting gardens and knitting socks, while watching with dismay as more snow begins to fall. Suffice it say say, she is ready for a change of season.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Countdown to a Book 17: Blast Off!

I share a certain trait with the character of Angela in my debut, The Art of Falling—a propensity for celebration. Maybe you caught on to that when I announced my book deal here a year-and-a-half ago.  The countdown to its publication is now complete, and I recently celebrated with more than a hundred writing friends at my hometown launch at the Doylestown (PA) Bookshop, and at an after-party at the historic, newly renovated Doylestown Inn.

Like that first joyous entry, I’m going to let pictures tell the bulk of the story, while tying in some of the topics I’ve visited in this series.

Some of my Wegman's writing group

While writing is a solo sport, in my first post I suggested that you join hands with other writers. Here I am pictured with several of the writing friends I meet with once a week at a local grocery store, laptops side by side, all of us working on our various projects.

Because we should spend all our time writing, shouldn’t we? Not fritter away time networking? Hmm…

You may recall that my publisher's extensive marketing questionnaire got me thinking about all sorts of people in my life who might comprise an audience for my work. In or just outside the frame of this picture are relatives (even my brother who flew in from Denmark!), neighbors, my former auto mechanic, my former pastor, my massage therapist, writing group members, marketing collective members, members from book clubs I’ve led, Facebook friends I’m meeting face-to face for the first time, my best friends from Ohio, writing students and editing clients, fellow board members…the list goes on and on.

A special guest was my agent Katie Shea Boutillier from the Donald Maass Literary Agency. I shared how I got an agent here.

Katie also had celebrating to do. While this was her third book published, it was also her first launch party! Obviously we both believed the developmental edit we went through together was well worth the effort.

In one post I told you about the care I took getting a good author photo and am I glad I did! Who knew how many places that photo would end up?

Doylestown Bookshop display
On signing table in Doylestown
American Library Association Mid-Winter Convention

Willow Grove, PA Barnes and Noble get the picture.

Now that I have gone from writer to author, I write a lot more in longhand:

Not that I mind!
While I was acting like a rock star, over on the counter and the shelves, my book—no longer a manuscript—had what it takes to sell itself.

An emotional story of an incredible second chance...
My bookstore was really happy with the number of pre-sales I drove to it. While everyone else headed to the party, they brought me a couple stacks of pre-ordered books to sign.

But eventually I got to the launch party. There wasn't any food left but they showed me this picture—proof!—and I got plenty of cake, made by my talented cousin. That lovely "falling" flower arrangement was made by my sister.

But the real fun was still to come: the surprise I had in store for everyone else. Turns out I wasn't so ready to leave my dancing roots in the past. With the help of students from the Bucks County School of the Performing Arts, I was able to incorporate it into the launch party while making another dream come true—my own flash mob!

Thanks for taking this countdown ride with me, and I hope you learned as much as I have along the way. If you missed any, here is the full list of Countdown to a Book posts.

Click here for the evolving list of my signing, speaking, and blog tour events. You can request a signed, personalized copy from the Doylestown Bookshop and they'll ship it to you—or if you already have a copy, contact me for a signed custom bookplate!

Now—back to writing the next book, which they say is the best way to sell your last one!

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A New Player in the E-Book Publishing World

Back in 2010 I wrote a piece for this blog on The Evolution of E-Books, and it amazes me how much has changed since. New publishers. New technology. New outlets for sales.

I was an early pioneer in the e-book evolution. My first e-book was published in 1997 with The Fiction Works, just one of a handful of companies doing e-books at the time. The publisher was sure that there would soon be kiosks in shopping malls where people would be able to buy electronic or print-on-demand copies of books and we would all get rich.

That did not happen. There wasn't even a dedicated reading device until a year later when The Rocket eBook came out in 1998, so orders were fulfilled by sending disks to customers so they could read the book on a computer. Not a convenient or pleasant way to read a book.

Now that handful of publishers has grown to hundreds, and I have had good business relationships with  Books We Love, Uncial Press, Venture Galleries, and now Untreed Reads.  I don't recall how I first heard of Untreed Reads, but I was intrigued by the company name. It is clever, memorable, and definitely says what the company is about. It has been in business for a number of years, but the largest growth has been in the last couple of years. It was founded by Jay A. Hartman, who agreed to a brief interview.

Q. Why did you start Untreed Reads?

A. I had been an active part of the ebook world for about fifteen years, working on a website with my friend Kelly Ford that was named In fact, that website is still up! I stopped writing and reporting about the industry for a while, but with the release of the Kindle came a lot of misinformation in the marketplace about what ebooks could and couldn't do. So, I started up my own blog to help deliver information and that was the genesis of Untreed Reads. Eventually, I found that I couldn't find the types of works I wanted to read in the various ebook retailers, so I thought it was time to take my knowledge and put it to good use. Luckily for me, I met K.D. Sullivan who comes from the print world and shares my vision. Ultimately, we took everything we disliked about the print and ebook worlds and said "ok, we can make a better publishing company for authors by not doing these things." I think we've done a great job so far of achieving that goal.

Q. What is your vision for five years from now?

A. I'd love to see Untreed Reads recognized on the same scale as some of the big New York publishers. We have incredible talent in our house, we have the biggest distribution of pretty much any ebook publisher and we have readers on every continent (including Antarctica). I'd love to see that global presence become more widely known, so I could tell someone in a coffee shop in Oslo or Budapest or Tokyo "I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Untreed Reads" and they know exactly what I'm talking about. With our expansion in 2014 into print-on-demand and audiobook for our own titles, plus distribution, editorial services and cover design for other publishers and authors, I think we're getting even closer to that reality.

Q. What one thing would you like to say to readers?

A. Without readers, there isn't much point to having authors or publishers. The key thing is to give us feedback. Tell us what you like and don't like or what you want to see more of.

Jay recognizes the importance of treating readers and authors well. Like other successful small publishers that plan to grow into successful large publishers, he offers fair contracts with authors - authors are given full-service editing, conversion, and cover art for no fees, and they receive a 50% royalty on the titles. Jay is always accessible to answer questions and deal with issues, and he is an enthusiastic supporter of all the books they publish and distribute. He is constantly looking for new markets for the authors, whether in-house clients or distribution clients, and does a tremendous amount of marketing and promotion through special sales.

In fact, there is one going on right now, through Valentines Day. All romance titles are on sale for 30% off through February 14th, from sweet to hot and sexy. My romance, Play it Again, Sam, is just one of the many titles offered for the discount.

That novel is published by Uncial Press, who uses Untreed Reads for wider distribution. As an indie-author, I have several other books in distribution with them as well and have been very satisfied. Distribution clients do not have to pay, but if you are as technically challenged as I am, you might want to pay the reasonable fee to have your Word document converted to all the different file types for all the different e-book markets. I know we all long for a simple one-size-fits-all format, but until then, we have to format for each outlet individually.

What I like most about Untreed Reads is the scope of their distribution, and that is the reason that I did not go back to one of the other publishers with more recent releases. Some only distribute to Amazon, and others to only a few more outlets. I want my work to be available to everyone, no matter what device they use to read, and I like how aggressively Untreed Reads is going after the library market.

Authors have lots of choices now when it comes to releasing a new book, and there is no right or wrong approach, unless you go with one of those vanity publishers that charge huge fees upfront. Many writers still take the traditional approach, while others are going the indie route. I have great respect for them all. The important thing is that there are choices, and there are new publishers that offer good things to their authors.

What do you think of the new advances in publishing? Are you going indie? Would you go with a third-party distributor?

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She believes in the value of a good walk.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Remember the Arc

©Ragne Kabanova
Dreamstime Stock Photos
Who wants to read a book where nothing happens, and everything is rosy? Well, maybe some readers prefer such an escape, but more often readers look for change.

One way to achieve change and pique your readers' interest is by providing a character arc, and offering hints or reasons for how it was achieved.

Note the holes and cracks in the arc in the front of the above picture. Then check the arc by the window in the same picture. One has flaws, the other appears perfect.

Not everyone is perfect. Your job as an author is to make sure your characters have flaws, and show how they can or cannot overcome them.

Here are two characters who could be works in progress if they were in a book.

One is Miley Cyrus. If you were writing about her story, you'd depict how and why she evolved from the Hannah Montana nice girl of the Disney Channel to that of the infamous twerker at the MTV VMA's award show.

Was she secretly wild all the time, or did she make a conscious decision to get noticed and in the process change her image from that of a child to a wild woman? Was her famous father, Billy Ray Cyrus, approving or shocked by her behavior? Or, perhaps the behind-the-scenes instigator? All sorts of possibilities exist to explain the evolution, also, consequences down the line.

Another example is Justin Bieber, who was allegedly speeding a Lamborghini in Miami Beach, Florida on January 23 while allegedly driving under the influence. Is this the case of a sweet young man whose fame went to his head? Or, merely that of a person under immense pressure finding it necessary to let off steam?

Countless other possibilities can be woven into a story about him. If you were writing a mystery, he could be an upstanding entertainer whose soft drink was secretly spiked by a jealous rival, resulting in Justin's erratic behavior.

These are a few examples taken from recent headlines. Can you think of others? Or maybe you'd like to provide an example of a different type of arc from yours or someone else's book.

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse Short Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse Collection. Romantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs Twitter: @MorganMandel Websites: MorganMandel.Com & Chick Lit Faves

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Obstacle in Our Path

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a Roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the King's' wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been.

The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

This fable seems to apply to our writing journey as well as to life in general.

Perhaps, when we start out, we receive a critique that hurts our feelings. Do we simply stop in front of that boulder, defeated? Or do we rewrite, take classes, listen and learn from constructive criticism until we’ve overcome that obstacle?

Later, you have a book ready, and you joyfully set out on the submission journey. But after a long wait you receive a rejection. It might be a handwritten note or it could be a form letter. Some quit right there and never try again. Others have collected hundreds of rejections before they were published. Some have gone on to win awards and others to become best-sellers.

The peasant in the fable learned what many of us never understand: Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

Never give up!

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your writing life?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I Want to Write a Book…Someday

How many times have we heard someone say that? How many times have we said that? I can ask because I’m sitting here with half a dozen novels started (as in years ago) and only two completed, one of which (the first one) needs a major overhaul.

Speaking of years, they pass much too quickly. Children are born. They grow up, go to college, leave the nest. Jobs change, goals change, sometimes mates change or simply move on. Did we write that book? Grandparenthood brings new joys, and pending retirement comes with its own unique challenges. Time constraints ease—perhaps we can even call some days our own to do what we please. Did we write that book?

Many began their writing careers before the bloom of youth disappeared in a mist, never to be revisited. Others waited…or are still waiting. Is it someday yet? Let’s look at the advantages of writing after experiencing life’s roller-coaster ride—whether it’s our debut novel, a new release on our list of published works, or a story written solely for family and friends.

• We’ve run the gamut of emotions from love to hate to anger to joy to grief and more and can harness them to mold emotionally believable characters.

• We’ve raised a family and/or juggled a career, so we can present either or both scenarios realistically.

• We’ve dealt with a mate for better or worse and survived the terrible twos and terrifying teens, so we can speak with authenticity and heart about relationships.

• We’ve seen many sides of life—directly or through friends, loved ones, or the media—and feel comfortable in sharing its varied aspects through our characters.

• We’ve mellowed, at least a little, which gives us some advantage in storytelling. We can recall the volatility and extremes of younger years, the frustrations of middle age amid mounting insecurities in a changing world, the fear of growing old and becoming dependent on others; and all this is tempered with outcomes, good and bad, that make great grist for the writing mill.

• We’ve learned compassion for our fellow humans and seen the terrible toll of violence that creates headlines several times a week.

• We’ve broadened our horizons and learned to examine various facets of any situation rather than jump to conclusions.

Are you a young writer? Or do you have years of learning and observing behind you that lend credibility to your tales? Has the aging process affected the way you write? Has the depth of your characters grown with the passing of years? What advantages or disadvantages of ongoing maturity have colored your work? As you begin the new year, how do you plan to apply life lessons learned to your writing?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Romance Book Covers with Polly Iyer

What makes a striking romance book cover? What does a cover say about the subgenre of romance book? Is it Contemporary, Paranormal, Historical, Romantic Suspense, Regency, Gothic, New Adult, Western, or Fantasy? Oh, and there are subgenres to those categories. Whew! Is your book sweet, funny, or dark? Is it erotic?

These are questions every writer should ask when either choosing a designer or creating the cover, especially if s/he is self-publishing. I’ve had three erotic romances published by e-publishers, and I had nothing to say about the cover, though I fortunately liked two out of three of them. The third, not so much. Maybe bestselling authors have more input. I wouldn’t know, not having reached that status. I bought back the rights to Sexual Persuasion and redid the cover. It happened to be a cover I first used for my sexy romantic suspense, Hooked, but too many people thought it was an erotic romance. So I changed Hooked and later used that cover minus the New York scene. Big difference, as you can see.

As I looked through Amazon, something struck me. Runaway bestselling books had many imitators, some with the stories and others with the covers. I started with the erotic romance, or Mommy Porn, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, and noticed the slew of blatant knockoff titles with similar covers and fifty shades of something in the titles. There are even a few parodies. Ugh, I thought. I followed the James’ book with another bestselling trilogy that reviewers said was a direct knockoff of the F.S. of G. story, Sylvia Day’s trilogy. All six covers say to me is that these books are all about the man—neckties, key ring, luggage tags, cuff links, masks. What does that say about the role of women in the books? Subservient, maybe? To be fair, I haven’t read either trilogy and am commenting only on the covers and reviews when a high percentage of readers said the same things. These are erotic romances, but you really can’t tell by the covers. They seemed to have done the job, however. Mega-sellers both.

I chose the next batch of covers for variety so you can see how the publishers differentiate the genres.

Self-published and bestselling Contemporary Romance author, Bella Andre’s covers are consistent: an embracing couple, heads and hands only, on the top third of the cover, then a combination of her name, book title, and scene vying for the remaining space. They spell out the genre nicely.

H.M. Ward, self–publishd, bestselling New Adult romance author, has published a slew of books in 2013, but in vignettes (to the wrath of some readers because of the cost); whereas, J.R. Ward, bestselling traditionally-published Paranormal Romance author’s series go back to 2005. H.M. Ward/J.R. Ward—hmm, I wonder. Both bookcover styles are basically monochromatic. H.M.’s are black and white with a hint of color on some. J.R.’s are either mono-colored or they depict strongly contrasted dark figures. All of these authors’ books are series, which seem to sell better than one-offs, and they have created a brand by their consistent covers.

Cherise Sinclair is a top author for erotic e-book publisher Loose-Id. Her theme is mostly BDSM, and her strong, dark, and defined covers leave no doubt of what you’re getting when you choose one of her books.

No post on romance authors would be complete without bestselling authors, Nora Roberts and  Sandra Brown. Both started out in Category Romance and have made the transition to Mainstream Romance and Romantic Suspense. Their covers have the backing of the big publishers, and as you can see, they know what they’re doing. Most of Nora’s mainstream books have a flowery look to them with fancier lettering. I added one cover from her J.D. Robb’s futuristic Death series to show how differently the publisher creates the genres. Every J.D. Robb book has the same design pattern—again consistency is the key. There’s no way to confuse the two personas of the bestselling and most prolific romance author of all time. Sandra Brown, one of my favorite Romantic Suspense authors, has strong yet simple covers. One scene, large type, her name almost always above the title. The atmosphere always says Suspense more than Romance.

I added a Harlequin Romance cover with a Western theme. When a reader orders a Harlequin book, she pretty much knows what she’s getting. Little or no sex, no bad language, and marriage at the end. Their covers are light and romantic.

One thing about covers: they need to hold up when reduced to a thumbnail. I see only one book of the fourteen I posted where the title isn’t clear, although the names on a couple of them, including mine, could be a larger.

Just remember, your cover is the introduction to your book. Making the right impression is the first step toward a reader’s purchase

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pick Your Battles

Battle scenes make epic computer-generated graphic scenes in movies. They can devour a great deal of screen time. The same theory should not be applied to a book.

Don’t insert a battle to increase the page count or because you think the script calls for it. Whether you write a court battle, a paranormal melee, or a gang encounter with police, make certain your battle scene serves a purpose.

When a battle is fought, it should result in change. One side should lose or gain:

1) Information.

2) Weapons.

3) Access.

4) Prisoner.

5) Critical team member.

6) Strategic position.

7) Ally.

8) Enemy.

9) Cohesion as a team.

10) Division as a team.

Writing the details of a battle covers more pages in a book than seconds on film and it is easy to lose the reader with the choreography.

The further you move the verbal camera  from the protagonist, the less the reader cares. He is more inclined to skim past the choreography to get to the point. How did it end? What difference did it make?

What is more intense for you as a reader: opposing hordes of aliens whacking away at each other, or a close up duel between antagonist and protagonist?

Battle scenes should not be thrown in thoughtlessly, no matter the genre. Despite the belief that battle scenes equal tension, a pointless battle scene or a battle between characters that are of lesser importance is a letdown for your reader.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Style Maven: Off the Rack

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng
Happy New Year, darlings! The holiday season may be behind us, but the weather outside is still frightful. If I hear one more forecast that includes the words “polar vortex,” I shall simply scream. At least I have this smashing wool coat to keep me toasty. While we’re on the lookout for more congenial weather, let’s have another little quiz; they’re such fun!

1. You’ve won the battle, but still may lose the war. Have you engaged in strategy or tactics?

2. Wrack or rack; which one denotes wreckage, and which one indicates torture?

3. Can a grisly scene also be grizzly?

4. There is enormity, and then there’s enormousness. Which is used to indicate size?

5. The neighbor’s dog is barking. Is the sound continual or continuous?

Right, then. Pencils down, all! Are we feeling confident? Of course! Let’s have a peek at the answers; I’m sure you all did beautifully.

If you’ve gained a short-term victory, you can thank clever tactics. If it’s a long-term goal you seek, it’s time to invest in a sound strategy.

Did you rack your brain over question two? No need to torture yourself over it; just remember that a storm’s wrack leaves wreckage.

If the grisly details include the wretched cut of someone’s grizzly, or grayish, hair, feel free to use both words in your scene. If you think your readers can bear it …

Are you describing the atrociousness of Black Friday shopping manners? Enormity would be the word of choice in that instance. If you want to depict the abnormally large crowds you saw while shopping, enormousness will convey the feeling nicely.

While the yapping of an excited dog may seem continuous, it can’t really go uninterrupted. Even Fido needs sleep. Continual, that which is frequently repeated, is the appropriate choice here. No matter what one’s ears may indicate.

Well, that was a treat! Speaking of treat, you’ll have to excuse me. There’s a future roulade in the kitchen, awaiting assembly. Dark chocolate cake with chestnut cream; I fear I’ll soon be switching to elastic waistbands. Ah, well. Be on the lookout for popped buttons, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
Seeking escape from freezing temperatures and howling winds, the Style Maven has laid in an enormous supply of milk and cocoa, and is pondering the logistics of a hot chocolate bath. If she succeeds, the story will be posted on The Procraftinator.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Writing Rule: Back Up!

Photo by Stuart Pilbrow, via Flickr
Recently a writer friend of mine lost all her work when her computer crashed – because she had no backup. This is every writer’s nightmare. Just the thought of it makes me shiver.

Her experience reminded me of a story I once read about Ernest Hemingway. (I don’t know how true it is, because of course I didn’t actually know Ernest Hemingway, but truth or fantasy, the message of the story is the same.) Anyway, the story goes like this:

Hemingway had just finished a novel, and packaged up the only copy and gave it to his then-wife. This was way before computers, and maybe even carbon paper – or Hemingway didn’t feel like using carbon paper, I don’t know. Anyway it was the only copy. He asked his wife to mail it to his publisher in New York, while he went off to chase the bulls in Pamplona or something. Well, his wife got on the train to Paris, taking the novel with her and meaning to post it to New York once she got to Paris – but she had a brain fart and left it on the train! It was never recovered. Hemingway could not write it again – he had finished with it. All he could do was grieve and feel this bottomless pit of empty.

When I read this story I got the cold chills and icy sweats from horror. I felt Hemingway’s grief within my own soul. I mourned for that lost novel. I was absolutely furious with his wife, and wished she was alive so I could shriek my pain at her.

I sometimes dream about finding that lost Hemingway novel … which would probably be worth tens of millions of dollars today. Back in the 1920s he would maybe have made a couple thousand, if he was lucky. I still wonder where that novel is.

The moral of Hemingway’s story, and my friend’s, is of course – BACKUP! Never, ever, forget.

Or you’ll be sorry, and so will your millions of fans. 

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, January 17, 2014

Diary of a Deadline Crisis

Image by Joshua Kopel, via Flickr

We’ve all been there.

You’re under contract to deliver a manuscript to your publisher in 6 months’ time. When you signed the contract, it looked like smooth sailing. Then life happens: an attack of flu, a plumbing crisis, one of your kids breaks an arm. And suddenly you find you have a hundred pages of story left to write and only 48 hours to do it in.

Here’s how it goes for me.

Day One:

6 am. Alarm goes off. Get up, brew large pot of double-octane coffee, fire up the laptop and get cracking.

8 am. Dog wants out. Refill coffee pot. Resume.

Mid-morning: More coffee, chocolate, and a couple of Tylenol tablets.

Lunchtime. Flagging. Take shower, wolf down a peanut butter sandwich, sneak a peek at e-mail, instantly abandon it, and get back to the salt mines.

Mid-afternoon. Flagging again. More chocolate. Clap on headphones and dial up the Rolling Stones’ Greatest Hits on I-Pod. Crank volume to max and plunge in again.

Early evening. Stomach growling. Forced to take a break for a ready-meal followed by indigestion tablets.

8 pm. Laptop now too hot to sit comfortably on lap. Break off for an hour to watch an episode of Psych.

11 pm. Brain hits brick wall and quits. Glug down large glass of wine and crash out.

Day Two:

1:52 am. Wake up with a jolt. Whip cringing self back to work.

4:05 am. Fall asleep over computer.

7:28 am. Wake up with dog staring at you. Let dog out, take more Tylenol, washed down with more coffee, and slog on.

Spend next three hours popping Jelly Babies to keep blood sugar up.

Lunchtime. Husband comes in grumbling that he hasn't seen you since the day before yesterday. Ninety seconds later he flees the room, convinced that he doesn't want to see you again till mid-March.

Mid-afternoon. Two thirds of the way there. The end is now – incredibly! – in sight. Take another shower, drink more coffee. Plug in to Stevie Ray Vaughan/Double Trouble loud enough for the sound coming out of the headphones to register on the Richter Scale.

Dinner time. Can’t quit now. Husband and son order in pizza and do their own thing.

11:42 pm. THE DEED IS DONE!!! Hand over text to husband to proofread, with instructions to pack it off to publishing editor ASAP.

Midnight. Go to bed with hot whisky and lemon and lapse into unconsciousness.

Day Three:

Wake up, check your appointments calendar, and discover that actually your deadline is still a week away.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Audio Editing

This year's new endeavor is the world of audio books. I'd always thought this was far too expensive to be within reach, but after a friend explained ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), I discovered there was a way to give it a try at no cost to me. Since I started the process, I've had 4 books go live with one more in production.

What does this mean for a writer? First, it opens your audience base. Just like there are those who want print over digital, or vice-versa, there are "readers" who prefer to listen to books. And, with a wider audience base, there's the potential for increased income, which is rarely a bad thing.

As writers, we're aware of the importance of a good editor. How do you "edit" an audio book? There are some authors who say they simply sit back and listen. I couldn't do that. Here's my process.

With the ACX site open along with both my manuscript and a new document for notes, I close the door, pour a cup of coffee (okay, sometimes something a tad stronger, depending on the time of day, but snacking on things that crunch, even a little, won't work), and I start listening. What am I listening for? Of course, I'm listening for accuracy. The words the narrator says have to match the ones in the manuscript. I listen for inflection, for whether it's clear who the character is (all those admonitions to avoid too many speaker tags can kill an audio book passage), for whether the character is thinking or speaking (italics don't show up in audio, either), and for things like whether the character's 'voice' matches my vision of the character.

Unless there's a genuine problem with characterization, I don't usually say anything. In one book, the narrator had read a scene with cockiness when I thought it should be tenderness. We discussed it, she agreed, and rerecorded. But it's a LOT of work, and unless it's glaring, or clearly wrong (such as if I've said the character has a French accent and the narrator reads it with a German one), I'll leave it alone. Since I'm doing the royalty share option, I'm not the 'boss.' It's a partnership, and the narrator's opinions are just as likely to be right as mine are.

The word matching is 'easy' – if the narrator has made a mistake, I will mark the time, copy the paragraph, and highlight the mistake. Sometimes, the mistake is one that doesn't make a difference, such as reading "a" for "the".  If it's no big deal, I'll change it on my end. Because, going in, I know there are going to be mistakes in the manuscript. There's always a typo. Maybe it's just comma placement, but this listening process is probably the best editorial pass you can give your own work. And, since these are indie books, I can fix things, then upload the new version.

Sometimes, the narrator will read exactly what's written, but it'll be wrong. Then, I'll flag it and ask (as nicely as I can) if she'd mind redoing that passage. Rerecording is a lot more complex than using a keyboard to replace a word.

It's a time consuming process. There's no way to move any faster than the narrator reads. If a chapter takes 19 minutes to narrate, it's going to take 19 minutes to listen to it, and that assumes there's no stopping to annotate corrections.

One thing I've learned. I'm not an auditory person. I have to force myself to pay attention and not get distracted while I'm listening. I'm reading along, but I have to keep slowing down, as I automatically read at "my" reading speed, and the narrator is reading at a "storytelling" pace. But I'm very glad there are people out there who do enjoy listening. And if you're one of them, you can find my audio books at, Amazon, and the iTunes store.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Carola Dunn on Regency Romance

I wrote my first book in 1979, as a way to postpone getting a "real" job. I'd had many and various temp and part-time jobs, from construction to writing and editing definitions for a dictionary of science and technology. Then, after moving constantly, we settled down and bought a house. It was time to get serious.

At least, it was time to look as if I were getting serious. I sat down at the kitchen table with a pad of lined paper and a ball-point and started writing.

Why Regency? I'd reread Georgette Heyer's often enough to know what was coming on the next page. I wanted more, so I started reading some that were written around that time—late '70s—and they were so awful, I reckoned I couldn't possibly do worse. I didn't really expect to write an entire book, still less to get it published (Warner), let alone for it to lead to a 35-year career and still counting.

In case the term "Regency" means nothing to you: Strictly speaking, the Regency was the period between 1811 and 1820, when George III was mad and his son became the Prince Regent. Jane Austen's books were being published. It was a time of rapid change in Britain, as improved roads and carriages made travel easier, and simple fashions allowed women more freedom of movement. The 20th century Regency genre was the creation of Georgette Heyer—light-hearted romances, mostly with strong-willed heroines, sometimes dramatic and occasionally melodramatic but without explicit sex or violence.

Because the genre encompasses a short period (about 1800 to 1821, in fact), Regency lovers—who often don't read any other kind of romance—tend to learn a lot about the history, mores, and language, and to jump on errors. Having failed history at school, I had to dig in and master the details of life in the early 19th century.

I was lucky enough to have flexible editors who didn't confine my heroes and heroines to the drawing-room and the English countryside. Most were set in England but I also ventured to France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Turkey, the Balkans, and even Costa Rica. Among my 32 full-length Regencies and dozen novellas, one was time-travel, one had a character who was a ghost, three were rewritten fairytales, magic and all, and many had elements of mystery/adventure/suspense.

And no, my heroes are not all dukes, or even lords, though there are a fair number of the latter.

I enjoyed writing Regencies, I knew I could sell them, and I might have gone on writing them forever, but within six months of each other, both my publishers (Walker and Harlequin at that point) dropped their Regency lines. I'd been thinking for some time that I'd like to try something different. That was the kick in the pants I needed.

Thus was Daisy Dalrymple born.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Writing Resolution: The Idea Jar

At the start of every new year, most of us make resolutions. For us writers, we think about what projects we want to complete, want to submit to agents/editors, want to self-publish, and the list goes on and on. For 2014, I decided to do one thing that would be playful and might actually create some great stories: start an Idea Jar.

On January 1, I started a Joy Jar. I keep a small pack of sticky notes with me throughout the day, and when anything arises that makes me smile or makes me happy (you know, those moments we typically experience at the moment, but then promptly discard), I write that moment onto a sticky note and place the note in the jar. When I have a rainy "mind" day, I can dip into the jar and remember happy moments I've experienced thus far. Doing so may hopefully put me in a better frame of mind.

My Joy Jar

I received these years ago, and now have a perfect use for them!

The Idea Jar works pretty much the same way.

All throughout the day, we see things that we think, That might make for a good story idea or project, but half the time we don't write them down. And when we do write them down, it's usually on a smartphone or tablet. I like the idea of a pen in the hand and a pen on paper. I've found myself returning to paper; I don't know. I guess it makes the writing process feel a bit more organic for me. You can, of course, create a digital Idea Jar, but I think the process of finding the perfect jar, breaking out markers to create a design on said jar, and buying nice sticky notes and a great idea pen would make for a rather fun endeavor.

Whether digital or in a physical jar, the Idea Jar can do several positive things for you as a writer.

It can make you cognizant of your life as a writer and thus see the world as a writer. So many of us get caught up in our daily activities and miss those moments that might spark a great story. Knowing that you have this Idea Jar can make you more aware of finding ideas in your everyday life.

Once you start collecting ideas for the jar, you'll have a nice arsenal of ideas to dip into when you're in between writing projects. Maybe you're taking a short break from writing the next novel, but you want to keep the writing muscles nice and warm. You can pick a note from the jar, set the alarm for 15 minutes, and do writing sprints for a quick creative workout.

You can also use the Idea Jar during those brutal moments of writer's block. If you're working on a project and find yourself stalled, then you can look to the Idea Jar to take a break from your current story yet still keep yourself in writing mode.

Who knows? In the short term, having an Idea Jar can keep you writing. However, in the long term, an idea from the jar can become a wonderful project to turn into a novel!

What writing resolutions have YOU made?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.