Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How Pinterest Helped Me Land a Book Deal

Between 2008 and 2012, two separate publishers invited me to submit non-fiction book proposals about gardening, the topic of my blog,  

Neither proposal resulted in a signed contract. For the second proposal, the concept was rejected at the last minute for fear it would be overshadowed by Michelle Obama’s book on The White House garden, then due from the publishing house’s competitor.

Let me tell you, nothing takes the sting out of rejection quite like being told that the First Lady of the United States is your competition.

Over time and as is commonplace with long-time bloggers, my blog topics spread out from my original focus (victory gardening history) to include personal areas interest: elder-care, recipes, early mid-life revelations (a.k.a. navel-gazing), and homeschooling my peanut-allergic child. I began to tinker further with other social media platforms, too.

Then, in 2011, a friend invited to me to Pinterest.

I ignored the invite for several months until the buzz about the site began to rise up. What could a photo-centered social media have to offer me, a writer? Finally, in the fall of that year, I started pinning and soon became enamored of the site not only for promoting my own original content but also for research purposes and post ideas.

By early 2012 the rest of the world had “found” Pinterest. That winter a friend issued a challenge to those of us in a private Pinterest group: “Go back and repin some of your old pins and see what happens.” Taking her advice, I went back and repinned a post of mine about working homeschool parents.

A short while later, I noticed that someone from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum had repinned that particular pin on one of the non-profit organization’s boards. Within a week or two I received an unsolicited email asking if I’d like to submit a book proposal to GHF Press, the organization’s upstart publishing arm, about working homeschool parents.

Although I had interacted with members of GHF’s social media team via their Facebook page—and they’d shared my blog posts before, I firmly believe that the repin of that graphic and the post put me back on their radar at a time when they were looking for new authors and timely topics.

This time my non-fiction proposal sailed through, and the contract ink was dry within the month. GHF Press released How to Work and Homeschool: Practical Advice, Tips and Strategies from Parents in July 2013. Just before it was released I was offered a second book contract on the impact of relational aggression and bullying on gifted/twice exceptional (“2e”) children and their families. 

Finally, with two contracts under my belt, I can describe myself as a published author in addition to being a journalist and blogger.

While it would be a stretch to say that my transition to author came entirely via Pinterest, I can say without reservation that a solid social media platform gave me a boost. This is why, when talking with aspiring fiction and non-fiction writers, as well as bloggers, who want to go from “blog to book,” I encourage them to hone their social media skills alongside writing and editing skills.

Proficiency in these three areas is vital, in my opinion, to success in today’s publishing market.

Pamela Price is a Texas-based writer and the founder of and She credits Dani Greer with teaching her about Twitter way back in 2008, long before it became a household name. Today Pamela can be found on Twitter (@RedWhiteandGrew), Facebook (, Google+ (+PamelaPrice), and Pinterest.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sex in Literature: A Man's View

When I was asked to provide a male perspective on sex in literature, I had to pause and think.  I’ve never written a sex or love scene. It’s not because I don’t want to or because I don’t write about sex, it’s just that the opportunity has never come up. In my mind, men and women think of sex in different ways. From real world dating, lingerie, and pornography, sex is different between the sexes. I have always thought that from a woman’s view, sex is romance and feeling, while sex for men is almost purely visual. When we describe it, it is always about what the woman looked like, what she had on, how big/small her features are, what she did… it is almost exclusively physical, with no emotions, and that’s what I have found when reading men’s points of view of sex.

As a writer, I think sex should be used intelligently. What I mean by that is this: when there is a sex scene, there should be a purpose for it, as if it is the logical next step in the story. For example, if there is a romantic relationship, is it going to go to the next level? Or is there is a tense sexual moment? That I can understand. But if it is gratuitous and doesn't fit, then it throws the story off. I find that when some authors write about sex, they will put it in a scene or interject it into a story for shock value or to mask their writing deficiencies. When I read the scene for the first time, I am completely shocked like, “Wow, did I just read that?” But the thing about going that route is that once you play the tactic, it loses its value and runs the risk of becoming predictable.

Another point to make when writing about sex is you have to cater to what audience you are writing for. If the book or project is erotica, then you can slather all the sex scenes you want, be as graphic as you can, because that is what your audience expects. But even so, your literary skills have to come into play. When I've read erotica or different sex scenes, I can tell when they have been written by a woman. Everything is so detailed and there is so much leading up to the love making. The writer will describe the sheets, the scent in the air, the lighting, the passion between the two.  But when a man writes the scene, he is most of the time just dominating the woman and it is all about the act. If you think about it, that comparison closely parallels how men and women view sex in real life.

In closing, no matter what audience or type of story you write, if it has sex in it, make it tasteful. Make it well-written. Make it matter to the story. Just don’t throw it in. In the right context, the sex scene can be powerful and add another element to the story.

LeRon L. Barton is a writer from Kansas City, MO, who currently resides in San Francisco, CA. He has been writing poetry, screenplays, and short stories since he was way young. LeRon’s first book, Straight Dope: A 360 degree lookinto American drug culture, was released in February of 2013. His new book, All You Need Is Love, will be released in summer of 2014. Please visit him at and on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Many Forms of Love

February is the month of “Love” and we’ve been discussing this theme in our writing all month.

Love is an emotion. I have found that emotion is the KEY to rounded character development. If you write Sean loved Mary with all his heart, do you “feel” that love? Do you identify with him? Empathize? No?

How can you “show” emotion without “telling” your reader what to feel? Here’s an exercise to put yourself “in the mood,” so to speak:

• Close your eyes and think of the word Love and remember a time when you felt that emotion.
• How is your body reacting? What are some of your physical reactions?
• What are you thinking?
• What do you see? Any specific colors? What color is love?
• Is there a certain smell that goes with the feeling? (lilacs, Old-Spice aftershave, Neco Wafers?)
• A taste? What does love taste like? (cinnamon, licorice, scotch?)
• A sound. What does love sound like?
Write for ten minutes based on your feelings without using the word “love”.

Here’s an excerpt from my novel, Follow the Dream:
Nettie gazed at the bundle in her arms and pushed the rocking chair into a soothing rhythm with her toes. She couldn’t help studying her sleeping son’s face, his forehead as it wrinkled then smoothed, the whorls of his ears, his pursed mouth. The rosebud lips smacked, then settled into a smile. She watched his red-mottled hands open and close and wondered at fingernails so tiny and yet so perfect. She held her breath as he sighed, laughed when he yawned, and was surprised at his strong grasp on her thumb.

In the month since he’d been born, time held no meaning for her. She could not get her fill of looking at him. She sat, entranced, until her arm became numb. When Neil stirred, opened his eyes and whimpered, she held him gratefully to her breast or changed his diaper. Then she put him into his cradle, rocked him back to sleep, and settled on the sofa for a welcome nap, if only for a few minutes.

A void she’d never noticed seemed to have been filled with the birth of this child, as though a piece of her had been missing and was now restored.

This is a different kind of love than what we’ve been discussing, but it is love, a real emotion. I don’t write explicit “love scenes”, but I like to use the five senses to set up a sensual moment that leaves the most to the imagination.

Agree or disagree?

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, February 21, 2014

Strange Love

Love is Strange: Outdoor park sculpture in concrete and rebar by artist Seth Goddard (2005), Willow Park, Iowa City, IA.
Photo by Heather Paul via Flickr
 Last Friday was Valentine’s Day.  The occasion set me mulling on the subject of “romance” from a slightly unorthodox, but hopefully interesting perspective.

Fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White exemplify the “traditional” narrative pattern of a romance.  We all know how it goes: hero and heroine meet and fall in love, only to have their love frustrated by some hostile external agency (an unscrupulous guardian, a jealous rival; a stroke of ill fortune, etc.).  There follows a period of adversity during which both lovers are put to the test. Eventually, however, they are reunited and live “happily ever after.”

This pattern has been the norm in romantic fiction for a very long time, (Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre utilizes the pattern to perfection.)  But with the emergence of Science Fiction and Fantasy as popular literary genres, writers began to challenge convention and explore the concept of romance from new perspectives under the heading of bonding with the other.

One significant development in SF/F literature has been to expand the parameters of romance by exploring forms of sexual and emotional attraction at variance with the conventional male/female paradigm.  For instance, Ursula LeGuin’s celebrated novel The Left Hand of Darkness features a race of humanoids whose gender identity is not fixed.  LeGuin’s first person narrator, a heterosexual male, provides a vehicle for examining the ethics of love detached from traditional gender roles.

Fantasy literature, by contrast, takes up the theme of bonding with the other in the form of interspecies romance.  Romances between men and elves, as envisioned by Tolkien, are only one possibility amongst many.  Another bold example of interspecies romance lies at the heart of in Elizabeth Kerner’s first novel, Song in the Silence, in which the love partners are a human woman and a male dragon.

One of the most extreme – and, surprisingly, most moving – alternative love stories is Blood Child by SF writer Octavia Butler.  In the space of 30 pages, Butler presents us with a futuristic romance that subverts all traditional romantic conventions.  In the first instance, the love partners belong to radically different species:  one is a human being, the other an insectoid alien.  In the second instance, there is a radical age disparity between the two:  the human partner is an adolescent male, his alien lover an adult female.  In the third instance, their love bonding will result in a radical role-reversal:  it is the boy, and not the female, who will bear the children conceived as a result of their sexual union.  Although this story violates all traditional romantic conventions, the emotional resonance of romance remains intact – a fact which represents a triumph of the imagination on behalf of the author.

If you’re interested in new “takes” on romance, SF and F is a good place to look.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The 12 Steps to Intimacy, Part 1

To continue February’s romance/sex theme here at The Blood Red Pencil, I was asked to discuss the 12 Steps to Intimacy. Although in romance circles, Linda Howard is known for her presentation on the topic, in fact, she gives appropriate credit to Desmond Morris for presenting them in Intimate Behaviour: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy by Desmond Morris (originally published in 1971).

Bottom line: human beings are hard-wired to establish relationships, because without them, child-rearing probably wouldn’t happen. Unlike most other animals that can fend for themselves early on, human infants require a lot of time, effort, and teaching before they can survive on their own. There had to be a strong mechanism in place to bond a man and a woman so that they’d stick around to raise their offspring. For those of you who'd like to know more about how the survival of our species revolves around sex, you can find more in a post I wrote for my own blog.

Studies have shown that relationships that don't follow these steps tend to be shorter-lived than those that progress naturally through them. In a broad generalization, women prefer to move through the steps, whether it be consciously or not. Just like a building requires a strong foundation, so does a relationship.

When writing (or reading) a romance, it’s important to consider these steps. They don’t have to happen in order (in erotica, they normally start way down the line), but they will create a bond between hero and heroine, and if steps are missing and not filled in, it’s likely there won’t be a believable relationship. Also, when writing romance, it's as much about the sexual tension as the sex. That means you're going to be pushing your characters together, then pulling them apart. Before there’s sex, there needs to be sexual tension, and knowing these steps will help you build it.

I’ll go through the first six steps with this post, and when it’s my turn again, I’ll post the last six. The steps are given from a male to female standpoint, so we're looking at the male as instigator, although these steps will work both ways

1. Eye to body –
This is the sizing up of a potential mate. The woman walks into the room. The man looks at her and decides if she's someone who appears to meet his criteria. Hard wiring suggests he's looking for a mate who appears healthy and able to bear his offspring, but we've all met guys where merely having two X chromosomes is enough. However, if the female doesn't measure up, he moves away.

2. Eye to eye –
Assuming the woman passed muster in step 1, the man will attempt to make eye contact. If the woman averts her eyes, that's a "pull away." The man has the choice of moving on, or perhaps accepting the challenge and trying again. Be aware that a fixed gaze can also be viewed as threat behavior, so there's more fodder for the push-pull.

3. Voice to voice –
If she's accepted his gaze (and, by the way, the woman is doing the same kind of sizing up at the same time), the next step is to strike up a conversation. You want to pull them apart, perhaps your hero uses the pickup line from hell, tells a bad joke, or is a "me me me" conversationalist.

4. Hand to hand (or arm) –
The very first step in physical contact. This is the step where intimacy begins. Allowing someone to touch is a measure of trust. The woman is accepting some vulnerability here. Touching signals to others that there's a 'couple' forming.

5. Arm to shoulder—
Putting an arm around the woman's shoulder (what teenager in a movie theater hasn't tried that move?) Holding hands still allows keeping some distance, but an arm around the shoulder draws the couple closer on a physical level. Trust continues to build. Again, if the woman pulls away, you've created some tension. She may not be ready for this step yet.

6. Arm to waist, or back—
Here, if the woman is put off by the man, she'll move away, often unconsciously. If he puts a hand at the small of her back, she may increase her pace to move out of reach. Arms around the waist show a growing familiarity and comfort in the relationship.

These first six steps are basic, and seem almost intuitive. Nothing here is out of the scope of the public arena. In a sweet romance, there might not be a whole lot more than this on the page. In an erotic romance, these first steps might take place on page one. As the author, you have to decide how to show the progression, and what kind of devices you'll use to keep them from forging ahead. One of the challenges of erotica, where you want the hero and heroine to have their happily ever after, is going back and filling in the missing steps.

As a writer, how do you show these first six steps? Does your heroine retreat behind dark sunglasses? Does she get a thrill when his hand brushes her arm? You can develop any of these with dialog, internal monologue, or plot. Add a second male to the mix and watch the territorial dogs go at it, each moving through the steps to 'claim' the woman as his. At the approach of another man, does your hero take your heroine's hand? Put his on her shoulder? Does he glare at the intruder, keeping steady eye contact? Have you noticed a closer connection to characters when the author develops the relationship using these steps?

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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing on Wednesday

I hereby commit to writing ten pages today. What about you? Make a commitment in the comments and then stop by at the end of the day and let us know how many pages you managed to write.

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog, plays daily in her character gene pool moving body parts around in a steamy romance, while listening to smoky blues and sipping Laphroig. Okay, green tea. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Love Scenes vs. Sex Scenes

This sentence came up in a discussion about our February theme: Sex in novels is just scenery; it rarely moves the story forward.

Of course, I took up the rebuttal since all my books have love scenes. Notice I said “love scenes.” How can a reader feel the emotional content if there is none? How does a writer define sex between her two protagonists? How does a reader respond?

Let me elaborate by explaining an eye-opening experience.

I entered one of my romantic suspense books in a contest a while back. One requirement committed everyone entering to judge another genre. I chose Erotica because I’ve written erotica under a pen name. I was not then, nor have I been since, a steady reader of the genre, and wow, was I surprised by the material I judged. I could see why I was not a breakout sensation among erotica writers.

I write basically the same type of character-driven/plot-driven (yes, a book can be both) stories in my erotica novels as I write in my romantic suspense and thriller novels. The main requirement of the stories I judged seemed like how many sex scenes the author could write in their 60-80K words. I likened it to books or movies with excessive violence. Readers/viewers become inured to the extremes when faced with them constantly, and it eventually dulls the senses, which is what happened to me as a judge. I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I want a story, the more complicated the better.

I dislike painting all erotic novels with the same broad brush, because the erotic romance protagonists in the books I judged also wound up in committed relationships, albeit with a couple of the books, more than two people. That’s another blog post entirely.
Sex in a book, as in life, is the result of a relationship. That relationship can span the emotions of heated passion to friendship that turns into deep and lasting love, and everything in between. Writing those scenes is the author’s choice. Many writers leave the physical contact behind closed doors. I’m all for that if the writer finds constructing those scenes out of their comfort zone or the reader finds them equally uncomfortable.

Sex scenes are hard to write. I’ve spent hours/days on one scene. For me there has to be affection between the two lead characters at the start of a relationship. The one time I had a serious moment of unbridled passion or lust in a book, it ended quickly and not well. Still, the two characters eventually get to know each other and explore a relationship at the end of the novel. The thwarted passionate scene is the only one between the two in the book. The developing relationship scenes explore their pasts and very complicated personas, so we get to know them and hopefully care about them.

Many readers don’t want those scenes in a mystery or a thriller, which is why my Amazon page states clearly that my books contain adult material. One reviewer reviewed three of my books with a warning. A few women wrote in thanking her for letting them know because they didn’t like those scenes in a mystery. That’s when I included my warning. I also did something no author should do, and that is to comment on a review. I thanked her for the reviews but suggested she not read any more of my books because they all contained sex scenes, some more graphic than others. She felt it was her duty to “enlighten” other readers. Her prerogative indeed. Mine is to write them or not.

By now, you must know my answer as to whether sex scenes move the story forward. Yes, but I prefer to call them love scenes.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Deja 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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Telling the Truth

When I am helping someone write their memoir, I am often asked questions like, “How much of the truth should I tell? Should I leave some parts out? What if I hurt people’s feelings?”

These are good questions. No one can tell all the truth. If we did, our stories would be ten thousand pages long and bore others stiff. No one cares how many times you brush your teeth each day, after all – unless of course your memoir is about how you kept your own teeth perfect and never had a cavity. Otherwise, your teeth, important as they are, have little place in your memoir.

Then there’s the fact that there is no such thing as definitive truth. Others will view the events in your story differently than you do. Once I had twin sisters in one of my writing memoir classes. During the writing period of the class, they both chose to write about going to their first school dance. That they both chose to write about the dance was a confirmation of how twins may think alike, but the stories they told were very different. One twin swore they both wore green dresses, the other said they wore black. One twin said she danced cheek to cheek with Rodney the president of the junior class; the other said Rodney shunned them both and broke their infatuated hearts.

So when people ask me, “Should I tell the truth?” I like to answer with a quotation from Quaker author, Philip Gulley (Hometown Tales): “History is about facts; stories are about truth.”

Facts and truth are not the same. Truth is the meaning behind the facts. You can embroider the facts until they are almost invisible, but the story they tell can still be true. Other facts can be told plain and direct, with each and every detail and date exact – and yet the story can still tell a lie.  

When you write your memoir, you become a storyteller. Keep your facts straight, but don’t let them get in the way of truth.

Readers, this is post #1,500 since we started this blog, and that's the truth! Thank you for being a part of our team, Kim. Thank you, friends, for stopping by every day and sharing in the conversation. ~ Dani Greer, Chief Red Pencil

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, February 14, 2014

Scintillating Sex or Subtle Suggestion

It has been said that love makes the world go ’round, and many of us still believe that. Back in 1955 (for those who are old enough to remember), a romantic Frank Sinatra ballad compared love and marriage to a horse and carriage, stating in both cases that they were inseparable. Is that true? The world has changed a lot since 1955.

Books, too, have changed since 1955—or maybe not so much. A trip back in time reveals that explicit sexual content in poetry dates from ancient Greek and Roman works. Seventeenth century England produced its share of erotica; it seems the English were not quite as stuffy as we’ve been led to believe, at least not behind closed doors. Fast-forwarding to the twentieth century, we find Henry Miller’s candidly sexual Tropic of Cancer, first published in Paris in 1934 and banned in the U.S. Its ultimate publication in the States in 1961 resulted in an obscenity trial and a 1964 Supreme Court decision that it was not obscene. Harold Robbins’ first novel, published in 1948 (well before that Supreme Court ruling), challenged the morals of staid society with its blatant sexuality. He was followed by Jackie Collins, Danielle Steel, and others who have capitalized on their readers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for having their senses titillated by words on the printed page.

Where does that leave us in 2014? Should our novels sizzle with scintillating sex, or does subtle suggestion appeal more to today’s readers? It’s a matter of taste…and it seems ample proponents on either side of the fence create potential sales for an author. Personally, I prefer subtle suggestion because I feel like a peeping Tom when I encounter a graphic sex scene in a book. For example, this partial scene from my updated novel (scheduled to be released in April 2014) conveys an implication but is not explicit. The couple here is struggling through a crisis that threatens to end their marriage. Communications between them have plummeted into the depths of accusations and silence.

Again, she laid her hand lightly on his back. His even breathing stopped. For a few seconds, it seemed he didn’t breathe at all. Then he turned to face her.
     “Are you all right, babe?”
     “I . . . I think so.”
     He stroked her cheek.
     Her hand glided over his shoulder. His arm slipped behind her back and pulled her closer to him. Laying her head on his chest, she let the warmth of his caress settle over her like the down on a newly hatched chick.
     “What’s going on?” His velvet tone soothed the raw edges of her heart.
     “I don’t want to lose you, Will.”
     “I’m not going anyplace.”     
     “You’ve already gone. I sent you away.”
     “I keep coming back.”
     “I’m not a good listener. I need to work on that.”
     “We both need to work on that.”
     “I’m so scared. Every day, the chances of our children coming home safe get less and less.”
     “I’m scared, too, babe.”
     “You are?”
     “You better believe it.” He kissed the top of her head. “But holding you like this gives me hope.”
     “It does?”
     “If we pull together, we can brave any storm that comes along. We have to believe that.”
     “We have to believe a lot of things, don’t we?”
     Her eyes filled and overflowed. Then Will was kissing her face, and she was kissing his. The dampness on his cheeks had not come from hers.
     “I love you, Will.”
     “I love you, too, babe. And I love our kids. They will come home. Mark my words on that.
     “I’ll try. I promise I’ll try.”

Holding her close, he nestled his face into the softness of her hair. The gentle whispers of her breathing and the warmth of her sleeping body against his penetrated a corner of the cold fear that gripped his heart. More than anything, he wanted to believe what he’d told her. But he couldn’t. He’d seen too many cases to fool himself into thinking Haley and Mali would come home safe. It was just a matter of time until they got the bad news. Then what?

I would call this a love scene rather than a sex scene. What would you call it? How do you handle sexual encounters in your writing? Do you prefer to read books with scintillating sex or subtle suggestion?

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, February 13, 2014

Go for the Gold

It’s Olympics time! Skiing, ice skating.

Okay, I’m not talking about the Olympics. I’m talking about writing. About your books or the book you’re currently working on. Your book is one in a world of Olympian books.

Don’t be afraid of going for gold.
 If you’re like me, you spend most of your free time writing or looking for ways to promote your books. In addition to all that you’re already doing, spend a little time researching book awards. You know your book’s genre, so find out if there are contests for your genre. Then research what it costs to enter your book. Find out what you’ll need to do in order to enter.

Keep a file on your computer where you can store information folders on each contest.

Of course you have to decide if you can afford entering. Do you believe your book could win? Do you know the genre of your book, in case the contest separates books by genre?

Once you enter your book, forget about it. It won’t do any good to check the webpage every day. If you win, you’ll be notified.
Why is entering contests something you should consider doing? It can really hurt if your book is rejected or doesn’t place, let alone win. But if you do win, it’ll make you dance around your office. Or is that just me? I entered Angel Sometimes, my latest book, into a contest, the USA Best Book Awards in the New Age Fiction category. And I won.

You can do that, as well.
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2013.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To Romance or Not

The earlier posts this month focusing on romance have been quite interesting, and one thing that I have been getting from them, and the comments, is that there is room for any kind of romance novel you want to write, or read, from sweet to sexy.

Many moons ago when I had a top NY agent, Denise Marcil, I had just completed my first mystery, Doubletake, which I wrote with a coauthor, Margaret Sutton. Denise worked hard to market the book, but this was the late 70s when romance was trumping all other genres and mysteries were a hard sell. So Denise suggested I try my hand at writing a romance. She suggested some titles to read in a new contemporary line that Harlequin was launching that featured modern women who were strong and spunky and had interesting jobs. The editors were also looking for smart, sassy dialogue and lots of humor.

I could do that.

What I couldn't do was meet the guidelines that called for intimacy by a certain page and a requisite number of sex scenes.

Not that I'm against sex scenes. I have some in my one and only romance novel, Play It Again, Sam. However, I will not put one in a story just because sex sells and millions of readers like to be titillated by reading a steamy sex scene. If I could get over that attitude, I would probably make a whole lot more money, but...

Discounted in a sale
at Untreed Reads
through Valentine's Day
For me, whatever is in a story, whether that be sex or graphic violence, has to serve a purpose. It has to be there because the characters need it to be there for their story. I had to work hard to convince my editor of that during the edits of One Small Victory when it was first published in hardback. There is an attraction between the two central characters - a woman working as a CI for a drug task force and the officer she reports to - but in my mind, and theirs, they would never act on that attraction primarily because of professional boundaries that should not be crossed. The attraction between Jenny and Steve is strong as the story progresses, and there is one passionate kiss, but my editor kept pushing for me to add more intimacy. "Couldn't they go to bed just once?"

I did not know until we were well into the editing process that the publisher intended to release the book as a romantic suspense. ARGH! No wonder the editor was asking for a sex scene. I thought the book was going to be released as a suspense novel, period. The acquisitions editor, who read the manuscript and accepted it for publication, certainly had to note that there was not the typical romantic angle to the story to make it romantic suspense.

Still, I wanted to be cooperative, so I considered the request for a while and looked through the story to see if there were ways to beef up the romance. There were places where the sexual tension could be ratcheted up a bit, but they still could not do the deed. Partially because of the professional boundaries, but also because the characters were both wounded people who needed some distance from emotional entanglements.

When I wrote the love scenes for Sam and Frank in Play it Again, Sam, the scene evolved naturally out of the story and it was almost like the characters were directing me on how to write it. Trying to put Jenny and Steve in bed for One Small Victory did not have that same natural feel. The scene I attempted to write was awkward, forced, and held no magic. I knew it was not going to work, so I told my editor that I couldn't add that scene, and if that was a deal-breaker, so be it.

Luckily, it was not, and the book has pleased thousands of readers. Some have asked whether Jenny and Steve ever got together, so I am considering a sequel. They have started talking to me again, and love is part of that conversation.

As Cairn Rodrigues pointed out in an earlier post Let's Write About Sex... or Not, writers have to be true to their stories and their characters. And it has to be about love for most of us. Cairn wrote in her blog piece:
It took me some time to realize that I shouldn’t approach the sex scenes as being about sex, but rather relationships. Not necessarily long term, committed relationships, but the relationship between two people in that moment. Those small, intimate moments do propel the story because they inform the characters, give them context and provide more storytelling possibilities down the road.
Dear reader, what is your response to this? Do you like the sex scenes to be there for sheer titillation, or is the relationship more important? Would you ever read a love story that did not have a graphic sex scene?

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release Boxes For Beds is an historical mystery and has no sex scenes. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also minus any sex scenes. The first book in he series, Open Season, does have a sex scene and is available as an e-book. 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 and a great dog companion.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cover Art Confusion

In my first post for Blood-Red Pencil, I mentioned that I have been writing Regency romance for 35 years. In that time I've seen some interesting, and head-scratching, decisions by various art departments, particularly on the foreign translations of my books. It seems certain concepts just don't translate very well.

Left is the original paperback cover for Mayhem and Miranda, a Regency about a penniless companion to an eccentric lady, and below right is the original ebook cover. Totally misleading is the cover to the Hebrew translation (below center). Unless they drastically altered the text in translating it, the image has nothing whatever to do with the story. Anyone buying the book expecting a bodice-ripper would be sorely disappointed. What's more, they spelled my name--I'm told--"Carol Deen".

The apparently bodice-ripping Hebrew translation of Mayhem and Miranda

The cover for His Lordship's Reward is cute: the three-year-old, black-haired like her Spanish mother, is adorable.

Its sequel, The Captain's Inheritance, takes place about three months later. In the meantime the darling little girl has aged by five years or so and bleached her hair.

The ebook cover, though, is perfect. I was browsing in a thrift shop in England when I found a print of an artillery officer of the British Army in the Napoleonic era. That's what Captain Ingram is. My Regency ebook publisher used it, so this is just right.

One they got right (with my help)

But it's the cover art for my Daisy Dalrymple series that has had the most bizarre personality shifts.

The original cover of
the first Daisy
The largeprint

The cartoonish US
And the UK edition

And then there's the cover for the Polish translation. Cute and eye-catching, but somewhat inaccurate as far as the story's concerned:

The Polish cover
The boxed set of the Polish edition is very cleverly done, with the spines of the volumes producing a cat that strongly reminds me of the Pink Panther. The same cat adorns all three front covers that I've seen. Except that I can't remember ever writing about a cat in any of the Daisy books. There may be a casual mention somewhere in the 21 I've written to date, but I'm a dog-person and so is Daisy!

The Polish box-set featuring book three:
Requiem for a Mezzo
Speaking of Requiem for a Mezzo, the English versions have the distinction of being the most misleading of the Daisy covers.

From the cover on the left wouldn't you reckon the victim was a blonde in a red dress? Or, according to the UK edition (below right), a brunette in a blue dress?

The audio version thinks it was a blonde in a black dress (below left).

My mother, for one, kept switching between text and cover of the first one, thoroughly confused because it's actually a blonde in a blue dress.

So, don't ask a (traditionally published) author why the cover doesn't fit the book. It's usually not his/her fault!

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

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let's Talk about Sex (in Writing) with Author Samara King

With BRP’s focus on romance (and all that ties into that) and writing this month, I thought it would be a great idea to talk with one of my favorite romance authors, Samara King. I don’t call Samara a favorite because she’s my best friend. No, I call her that because her stories have wonderful blends of intriguing characters, humor, fierce attraction between heroine and hero, great sex, great stories (so that the sex isn’t just a prop), and a fast pace that makes you want to race to the end of the story. I wanted to get her take on how she as an author comes to the page to write her sexy love scenes, how she considers the story she works on when developing sex scenes, and what advice she would offer to writers looking to develop sizzling sex scenes.

Let’s see what she had to say!

Samara King is the author of eighteen multi-genre works within romance fiction in novel and novella lengths as well as poetry. Writing romance has been a part of Samara’s world since her days of sneaking to the back of the library in grade school with a love story in tow; soon after, she wrote her own.

She was a Poet of the Year nominee in 2011 by African Americans on the Move Book Club and is a current member of The Romance Writers of America, several sister RWA chapters, and Sisters In Crime. Samara has penned stories for Totally Bound, Cobblestone Press, Loose Id, sexy mobile reads for Ether Books, and also writes under her co-produced self-publishing entity, Crimson Whispers with author Shonell Bacon.

Samara previously co-hosted SoundNOff, a poetic format for poets and spoken word artists and hosted InCharacterN10, a former showcase for authors on Her newest endeavor is On The Hush, a monthly book column at that focuses on relational issues. Samara’s first poetry collection, The Ebony Kryptonite, was well received and was followed with Stripped Barefoot, a sultry mix of poetry and spoken word, which went on to reach #20 in Chicago’s Top 40 on Reverbnation in September 2013. Her next poetic endeavor, The Naked The Bare is slotted for late 2014. To find out more about Samara’s poetry visit: or listeners may also find her on Spotify.

Currently, Samara is hard at work on her next romance series, as well as a new co-written mystery, Mama Has A Brand New Bag.

Q&A with Samara King

ME: Every story you write is laced with sexy, racy love scenes, and for me, they seem to fit into the context of the story. How do you come to the page when it's time for you to write these scenes? Is there a particular vibe you need to be in? Music set? Atmosphere prepared? How do you bring Samara to this intimate action between characters?

SAMARA: You know, lol, it is very hard to think sexy all the time. There are many deleted scenes that have characters dying of mysterious deaths during times of stress, etc. I have to come to the page devoid of everyday Samara and put on the diva-may-care Samara face, something akin to BeyoncĂ© vs. Sasha. I haven’t developed a name for my alter-ego yet (I’m sure something will come to me). I employ lots of music; it transform my environment into the neutral space I need to create, and then in rare occasions, I am okay with silence. Sometimes, characters need you to really listen to what they are saying—if they aren’t shouting at you. Lastly, each character has their own voice, own passion, and own likes/dislikes. Those are the tidbits that I truly showcase within any love scene. It’s important to show a character’s struggles and triumphs, especially during intimacy. It is there that you witness their weaknesses and authenticity.

With her best friend murdered, the man believed to be partly responsible under the nose of her gun and a stranger looming in the shadows out for blood, Officer Elle Taylor is running out of time and people to trust. Will Elle risk crossing the line between attraction and revenge to take help from an unexpected source before the murderer strikes again and leaves her life in flames?

Durant Kane is no stranger to trouble, especially the kind that comes with a gun trained on his face and an angry woman attached. But Elle's something different, something unexpected and sweeter. He never could have imagined coming to feel so deeply about her, even if his own disastrous path in relationships hadn't left him so wary. But he'll have to take the risk if he doesn't want to lose the woman he's come to realize he can't even think of living without.

Sweeter Than This is available at Loose Id, All Romance, and Amazon!

ME: Talk to us about the experience of writing sex into your latest story, SWEETER THAN THIS. My first question focused on how you, the author, come to the page to write your sex scenes. Here, let's focus on sex within a particular story: what did you think about in regards to the story and your characters and how the sex scenes developed were to enhance both aspects?

SAMARA: In Sweeter Than This, the heroine Elle Taylor is a cop, tough on the outside and tender, needing of love on the inside. Through her point of view, becoming intimate and staying sexually involved with the hero brought forth a lot of self-doubt about her identity as a cop and her needs as a woman. Her fears of losing the life she built heightened, and at times, counterbalanced her growing need to lean on the hero, thus showing her vulnerability. The struggle I described is what makes the intensity of a good sex scene more than just two bodies or sex for sex’s sake. I believe showing all the nuances of a character’s fears, doubts, and life changes, and mixing it with sensuality and sexual attraction is what passion is about.

ME: What are three pieces of advice you would offer to writers to help them write better sex scenes?


  1. Be authentic—let your character’s taste and individuality shine through your intimacy scenes. What one character will do, the next may not. Therefore, know what turns on your character because it will truly shed light on how they will or will not respond to their partner.
  2. Be messy—sex scenes are a true opportunity to dig deeper into your character’s back histories, fears and vulnerabilities. Don’t be afraid to make your love scenes messy; doing so brings a heightened sense of connection with your characters and readers. Don’t let your characters have sex simply to add length to your story or to add SEX into the mix.
  3. Have fun—let’s face it—if we aren’t turned on, will our readers be? My thought is a resounding “NO”! Have fun with your intimacy scenes. Sometimes, that means remembering your own adventures in the boudoir or remembering racy lyrics to a song. Capturing those sensations and enveloping those emotions are what set your sex scenes apart. Harness that power!

You can read a sexy excerpt of Samara’s latest story, Sweeter Than This, at ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING.

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. Shon has her own sexy little story, Saying No to the Big O, that was published last year: check it out!

Friday, February 7, 2014

What's on Your Self-Editing List?

While Kathryn continues her Art of Falling blog tour elsewhere, we'd like to welcome special guest Janice Gable Bashman—published nonfiction author, soon-to-be published fiction author, and editor—to the Blood-Red Pencil.

Fiction and non-fiction are two different beasts when it comes to editing. I’m the Bram Stoker nominated author of Wanted Undead or Alive, and I’ve published articles in Writer’s Digest, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, The Writer, and many other publications. I’m also managing editor of the International Thriller Writer’s The Big Thrill, so I edit a lot. But when it comes to editing fiction, I have to wear a different hat.

In editing my own short stories (published in various anthologies), my young adult science thriller Predator (coming October 2014; Month9Books), and the middle grade novel I’m wrapping up now, I’ve had to look beyond copy editing, fact-checking, sentence structure, etc. and check other items. I’m not talking about big developmental issues such as inciting incident, plot, character arc, etc., but the nitty-gritty things I need to address when all that is completed.

I call it my Fiction Search and Destroy List.

Because many writers whose fiction I’ve edited tend to make similar errors, I’m sharing my Fiction Search and Destroy List in the hope it will help other writers. Of course, you should add your own edit checks for your fiction and remove the mistakes from my list that you’re smart enough not to make.

Here are my edit checks:

1. Show versus Tell—It took me a little while to fully grasp this concept. For the most part, showing is better, although there are times when it’s just as important to tell. For instance, you can tell instead of show when you are bridging one section of a scene to another and need to get the reader there with a few sentences.
Telling: Alex was nervous/scared. 
Showing: Alex inched down the hall, fists raised, listening carefully for the slightest rustle or clack or squeak. 
2. Place the word “have” after should, would, and could.

3. If the word “that” can be removed from a sentence and the meaning remains clear, remove it.

4. Up/Down and Shrugged—he didn’t climb up the hill; he climbed the hill. He didn’t sit down; he sat. He didn’t shrug his shoulders; he shrugged.

5. Pursed lips, scrunched faces, hanging jaws, clenched teeth, eyes wide, heart raced, cleared throat—be sure to use these infrequently. There are many ways to describe a reaction than repeating these overused phrases.

6. Check for the use of knew, could see, could hear, noticed, thought, etc. Frequent use of these words brings the reader out of close point of view, once point of view is established, and is not necessary.

7. There are many ways to describe someone walking or looking—seek variations in these verbs to better describe your character’s movement.

8. Use body movement to identify speakers when possible rather than a lot of he said/she saids. If it is obvious who is speaking, you don’t need to do either. However, keep in mind that younger readers need more dialogue attributions than adults since it’s more difficult for them to follow long passages of dialogue.

9. Engage the senses—I always check to ensure that senses are engaged in each scene and particularly focus on others besides sight, which is often a sense writers rely on. What are the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, etc. associated with the scene? Can I work one or more of them into the scene in a meaningful way? Here’s an example from my story “Extinction,” published in the Slices of Flesh anthology. The story features an American protagonist and takes place in Russia.
Words assault me from all angles. Hundreds of people in the crowded marketplace oblivious to what he is, to what he has become. To what I did. How can they not see him? How can they not know? 
I duck around a soleniye ogurscy stand and the smell of the brine from the salted cucumbers mixes with that of sweet apple pirozhky. I haven’t had one in years. But if I stop for an instant, apple pastry will be the last thing I’ll ever smell.  
My instinct screams run! but I ignore it. If I can blend in with the crowd, if I can get lost among the sea of colors, if I can...oh god. Where is he?
Here, we have sound (words assault me from all angles), smell (brine and sweet apple), and sight (sea of colors), all in a few short paragraphs.

So, there you have it. Customize my Fiction Search and Destroy List to create your own. Happy editing.

Janice Gable Bashman is the Bram Stoker nominated author (with New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry) of Wanted Undead or Alive (Citadel Press 2010) and Predator (Month9Books, coming 2014). She is managing editor of The Big Thrill (International Thriller Writers’ ezine). Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies and magazines. She has written for Novel & Short Story Writer's MarketThe Writer,  Writer's Digest, and others.  She has spoken at many writers conferences and is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bad Guys in Romance

Loves stories are primarily about two characters who meet, are attracted, face a set of challenges, and overcome those challenges to live happily ever after. They have friends who are thrilled for them and foes who are not so thrilled.

Do you really need an antagonist?

Yes, if you want the tension to be truly heightened.

Do you really need an evil lord or a psychotic killer to keep them apart? 

No, there are alternatives.

If someone in your lovers’ story world is dead set on keeping them apart and actively working against them, the potential for breakup conflict is higher. Your job as a romance writer is to instill doubt in the reader that your love interests will end up together.

Here are a few types of antagonists to consider:

1) Disapproving parent/s or family members.

2) Disapproving best friend who rejects the new partner’s “otherness”, or resents the fact that his/her friend is now too busy to spend time with him/her, or the lover is changing to please the new partner so much the best friend no longer recognizes him/her.

3) The jealous ex-lover.

4) Powerful society figure who disapproves based on cultural, racial, etc. differences. It could be a religious leader, gang leader, or mafia boss. It could be a fraternity or sorority leader, or the head of a secret organization.

5) A boss who needs his employee to focus and the relationship is detrimental to his business plans (for a multitude of reasons).

6) An employee or coworker who wants the love interest and now has to admit how s/he feels.

7) A boss who needs the lover or love interest to move to a new city or country. The couple’s bonds are truly tested: who is willing to sacrifice how much to stay together?

8) A boss or friend needs the lover to do a favor that offends the love interest. The lover agrees to take on a task that is against the love interest’s morals or beliefs (political, religious, etc.).

9) Someone from a past, secret life threatens to expose one of the lovers. Should the lover come clean or find a way to pay off/end the threat?

10) Someone becomes a new responsibility for one of your lovers: a child, such as a niece or nephew, or a parent who is suddenly ill and has to move in. Perhaps the lover will have to relocate to take care of them.

The important thing is to make the conflicts truly strain the connection. There are many things that draw people together and tear them apart. It is essential that you make the reader doubt an outcome that is inevitable: the happy ending.

Here are some previous posts on the romance genre.

For more on how to create your lovers, check out Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook which are available in both print and Kindle.

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.