Friday, February 27, 2015

Somatic Yoga for Seniors and Writers

Try this gentle exercise to free the muscles surrounding your spine. The result is that you will increase your flexibility, improve your posture, and flush out toxins stored in your muscles so that you can maintain radiant health. Perfect for writers!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wrules to Liv By


1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
25. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Author brilliant and, alas, anonymous. Copy this one and post it over your desk.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Money! Money! Money!

The pull is strong. We need more money. We want to be rich and famous, emphasis on rich.  Sometimes I joke that I will do anything for a dollar, but it is just a joke. Honest. Even though I have been tempted to join in the financial success of writers who have embraced the erotica genre, I have not stepped over an ethical line I hold dear.

That line has to do with our responsibility as writers as to what we are contributing to society by what we write.

What prompted this post is the lively discussion online about Fifty Shades of Grey ,and the messages that story gives to young people. I tried to read the book, but I couldn't get past the fact that Grey was an abuser and took advantage of Ana, a vulnerable insecure woman. Instead of empowering her, he overpowers her. Is that the kind of man we want our sons to emulate? I'd rather they become the kind of men that Terry Odell featured here in her post about heroes on Thursday.

Some people are dismissing the social impact of Fifty Shades of Grey by saying it is just fantasy, fiction, not to be taken seriously. Actually, folks, fiction is taken seriously and does have more impact than we might think. Here is what Kristen Lamb had to say in her post Does Fiction Matter? Fiction, Fantasy and Social Change :
To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?
To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.
It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).
During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.
In the early 90s I wrote a book about violence for a series Rosen Publishing was doing called “Coping With”. The books are aimed for teens to help them deal with social issues they face, and one of my books is Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and on Your Streets.  The first edition came out before Columbine, and the book has been revised twice since, as school violence and mass shootings continue to escalate.

During my initial research, I interviewed a criminology professor, and he pointed out the influence of all the violence kids are exposed to through film and television. As an example, he said there was a real danger of kids being desensitized to death and murder and violence after watching slasher film after slasher film. He believed that a young person who was immersed in violent games and movies could too easily begin to see that violence as normal.

To me, what that professor said back then is no different from the cautions being spoken today by people who are concerned about the messages in stories like Fifty Shades.

I am certainly not calling for censorship. We do have the right to free speech and free expression, and if you want to read, and write, erotica, that is your choice. What I am suggesting is that you consider that with the right to free speech, comes an ethical responsibility.  I join Kristen Lamb in encouraging writers to "Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care."

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was chosen as the Best Mystery for 2015 by the Texas Association of Authors. She also writes the critically acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series. All of her books are available as e-books and as paperbacks, and a complete listing can be found on the books page of her website. For information about her editing services, 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. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What's Your Answer? Today's Topic Is Social Media

Facebook Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Addthis

We haven't played this game in a while, so it's time to start it up again. I present a topic, ask some questions, and offer my answers. You pick one or more questions to also answer. If you only choose one, please expand. If more, please shorten. You're allowed to include one website URL or blog link of your own. Okay, here goes:

Which social media sites do you visit? (not including blogs or Yahoo groups)
In the order of how often I visit them: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Goodreads.

Which do you find most relaxing?
Hands down, that would be Pinterest. I can't resist all the pretty pictures. I wish I had more time to play there. 

Which do you find most stressful?
Facebook is definitely the most stressful. People are not bashful about expressing opinions there, which don't always coincide with mine. Trying to offer a differing opinion, even politely, gets me into trouble, so I don't try too often.  LinkedIn and Goodreads are mildly stressful, but for a different reason. I tend to muddle along on them, because I haven't completely figured them out.

Which do you find most useful to sell or find a book:
Posting an Event on Facebook helps during a promotion, which can spur sales afterward. However, regular posting on Twitter works best for me. When I'm looking for a book, I find plenty likely choices by visiting Facebook groups.

Now, it's your turn. Please offer your answers in the comment section.

Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angelstandalone reality show romance; Girl of My Dreams.  Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,its sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer CareerMystery:Two Wrongs. Short  and Sweet   Romance: Christmas   Carol.  Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Are You Limiting Yourself?

Photo by Peter Dutton, via Flickr
When it comes to fiction, rules and limits almost always inspire me. And I’m not talking about grammar rules.

My first manuscripts were crime novels written for adults, and I wrote without restriction, free to pepper my dialogue with swear words exactly as I heard them spray from my characters’ mouths.

Then I rediscovered tween/teen and young adult fiction. And, before I knew it, a bubbly teenager stepped into my writer’s brain and rattled off a fantastic story I couldn’t wait to get down on screen. But I’d have to curb the curses if I was writing a book for kids. Easy enough, surely? Except, sixteen-year-old boys don’t go around saying “drat” and “darn” when something goes wrong. It was an interesting writing challenge to imply, but not actually specify, strong language.

Another (self-imposed) limit was that none of the main characters could die. Again, it sounds simple enough – but it removes a lot of easy tension and conflict. More creative writing followed.

This year I have a new challenge. My chosen genre is Steampunk. Setting: Victorian England. That means researching the time period and checking even the smallest detail – would X have been possible/plausible in Victorian times? And the science part of the fiction needs to centre around clockwork or steam power. My mind absolutely churns with the plot possibilities offered by such specific limits.

Because, when you eliminate a vast number of options, you’re left with highly concentrated material to work with. And there’s nothing like concentration to sharpen your focus and stimulate your creative plotting.

Have you tried limiting yourself?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, a science-fantasy for tweens and teens. She blogs about the craft of writing at

Friday, February 20, 2015

First Paragraphs : Punch It!

Image by Jason Rogers, via Flickr
When it comes to attracting readers in a book shop, there are four factors in play. The first three are external: your title, the cover art, and the blurb on the back. In conventional book publishing, command decisions concerning these external aspects of the book are generally dictated by people in the marketing department of the publishing firm.1

The remaining fourth factor is the book’s opening paragraph. Here is where you-the-author come into your own. Your first paragraph of your first chapter is what gives a prospective reader the first real taste of what the book is about. It’s important to be aware of this, and not squander the opportunity to captivate the prospective book-buyer and clinch a sale.

Anybody can come up with a prosaic first paragraph. There’s no great effort of thought involved, and the results are often about as interesting as reading an office memo. It takes imagination to rise above the purely functional. The dedicated fiction writer looks for an attention-getting device to kick the story off in style.

Below is a list of suggested opening gambits, with examples.

1. Lead off with a direct quotation.
“Lymond is back.”
It was known soon after the Sea-Catte reached Scotland from Campvere with an illicit cargo and a man she should not have carried.
“Lymond is in Scotland.”
Dorothy Dunnet, The Game of Kings

2. Lead off with a target description of a person, place, or thing:
Hosteen Joseph Joe…[had] noticed the green car just as he came out of the Shiprock Economy Wash-O-Mat. The red light of sundown reflected from its windshield. Above the line of yellow cottonwoods along the San Juan River the shape of Shiprock was blue-black and ragged against the glow. The car looked brand new and it was rolling slowly across the gravel, the driver leaning out the window just a little. The driver had yelled at Joseph Joe.
Tony Hillerman, The Ghost Way

3. Confront the reader with a mysterious or frightening occurrence.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
Daphne DuMaurier: Rebecca

4. Present the reader with a piece of action already in progress.
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the Hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls….
Philip Pullman, Northern Lights

5. Lead off with a provocative statement, observation, or revelation.
It was the day my grandmother exploded.2 I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.
Iain Banks: The Crow Road

Each of these sample opening paragraphs is tightly focused on one conspicuous point of reference: a character (Lymond, Lyra), an object (a car), a place (Manderley) or a singular incident (grandmother exploding).

Each features concrete sensory and/or descriptive details: the name of a ship; specific landscape features; the layout of a particular room/estate; a particular piece of music. Details like this bring the story to life from the outset.

1 Unless you are in the same sales category as Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, you will have very little influence in these areas.

2 Maybe it’s just my warped sense of humor, but this counts as one of the most striking opening lines I’ve come across in recent years!

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Makes a Hero?

As a writer of romance, the ideal "hero" is something I deal with constantly. Brave, strong, good-looking, right? Not necessarily.

I first saw a reference to the following article in Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels, by Sarah Wendell.

An article in the Boston Globe in October 2009 by oncologist Robin Schoenthaler stated "the ideal man … is the man who will hold your purse in the cancer clinic:”

Dr. Schoenthaler wrote:
I became acquainted with what I’ve come to call great ‘purse partners’ at a cancer clinic in Waltham. Every day these husbands drove their wives in for their radiation treatments, and every day these couples sat side by side in the waiting room, without much fuss and without much chitchat. Each wife, when her name was called, would stand, take a breath, and hand her purse over to her husband. Then she’d disappear into the recesses of the radiation room, leaving behind a stony-faced man holding what was typically a white vinyl pocketbook. On his lap.

The guy—usually retired from the trades, a grandfather a dozen times over, a Sox fan since date of conception—sat there silently with that purse. He didn’t read, he didn’t talk, he just sat there with the knowledge that twenty feet away technologists were preparing to program an unimaginably complicated X-ray machine and aim it at the mother of his kids. I’d walk by and catch him staring into space, holding hard onto the pocketbook, his big gnarled knuckles clamped around the clasp, and think, “What a prince.”
Who's your hero?

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 18, 2015

Major Surgery

Image by Artur Bergman, via Flickr
Before I talk about specifics, let me mention that this particular book I’m talking about was written ten years ago. Resurrecting an old manuscript has its own set of problems, but those tend to be technology and history. Oh, and let’s not forget the quality of writing. The operation I needed to perform was much more complicated.

I’ve written all my books in third person point of view, but toward the middle of my current work in progress, my critique partner kept telling me that my heroine was standing on the sidelines, without much emotion. A cardboard character. No matter what I did, I got the same response from her with each page swap.

I always have multiple POVs―four in this book―which is the reason first person never worked for me, except for two short stories I wrote for different anthologies. Was writing this one character in first person the solution to my problem? What about the other three POVs?

Before I tested the POV switch, I combined the first three chapters into one. The conversation of my separated but still married heroine, Zoe, with the man she meets on the beach and with whom she begins an affair, always bothered me. Pages and pages of babble, I finally admitted, most of which I could do without. I’ve read many editors say that a novel in progress starts at chapter three. Though I didn’t delete the first two chapters, I incorporated them into the third, giving in to a bit of telling so that the crux of the story starts much faster.

Did we really care if the guy had the sexiest overbite or wore a Saint Christopher medal? Though the reader might think he’s a main character, he’s more of a catalyst in the story. No point is spending three chapters on him. The affair causes repercussions that make Zoe a target of the bad guy and the FBI. Inadvertently, she also involves her estranged husband and his brother, a man who has spent his adult life on the other side of the law. This was a prime case of “killing my darlings.” You know, those clever lines of dialogue you love and can’t bring yourself to cut. But cut I did. The surgical procedure was a success.

Then I switched Zoe, and only Zoe, to first person. I call this arthroscopic surgery, where you go in and tweak. Convincing the reader to understand why Zoe has an affair with a stranger is where first person worked so well. I wanted to explain her need. “I” instead of “She.” “Me” instead of “Her.” The switch allowed me to get not only in her head, but in her heart. Then, of course, you meet her husband, and the reason she strayed becomes clear.

The best part, my critique partner agreed that the change made all the difference in Zoe. If you can’t trust your CP, who can you trust?

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. 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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Judgments and Judgment Calls

Merciful heavens, it snowed again last night. I suppose it might be possible to view such an event in one of two ways. Egad, more dad-blasted snow on top of an inch of sleet? Or, perhaps, Oh, how pretty! And much less than the forecast called for; aren't we lucky?

A mighty force is the attitude, as is the adjective. How a person, place, or thing is presented can have lasting impact on the mind of the reader; the power can be used for good or ill. Consider the coat that I spied last week, pieced together from what appeared to be upholstery leftovers. I could tell you that it was a cabbage rose-printed nightmare direct from the diseased imaginings of a demented seamstress. On the other hand, I could also say that it was an eye-catching design that made clever use of found fabric.

You see? Our descriptions have power. A wise author will choose the most important detail as a focal point, letting the rest flow from there. The CMOS warns against using any language that might bias the reader, emphasizing the need for “people first” language. In other words, identify the person first, the characteristics second. The Catholics are hosting a dinner doesn't sound quite as friendly as The members of the Catholic church are hosting a dinner.

Think of your descriptors as a reverse form of the address on a letter. Start broadly, adding necessary details that help pinpoint a particular character. I’m looking for a man, tall and of medium build, with brown hair, gray eyes, and a denim jacket with a guitar-shaped patch on the pocket. Such a description is clear, basic, and allows your readers to form their own opinion. If it’s that kind of story, you might mention the freckle on his backside or his penchant for silk socks, but that’s a different manual entirely.

Well, it’s time to go and shovel the walk. Shall I look at it as good exercise and a chance to treat myself to some hot cocoa, or is it another example of Midwestern winter drudgery? You decide. While you’re at it, leave an example of your favorite (or not-so-favorite) use of adjectives. Frank? Flowery? Do share! In the meantime, have a lovely week, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Faced with yet another erratic Midwestern winter, The Style Maven is laying in supplies of heavily caffeinated "antifreeze." You can read about the adventures of her alter ego on The Procraftinator page here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Misty Trees and Other Decisions

When I recently self-published my haiku books, I had to make many decisions that weren’t word-related. Like the cover designs for the books. I worked with Cathy Davis who I already knew to be an outstanding designer because she designed the covers and interiors for some of my clients’ books.

First, Cathy and I, plus my VAA Janica Smith , spent half an hour on the phone talking about the general plans for the book. Because this was not just one book, but a series of seven, Cathy suggested that they all have commonality of design and color, yet could stand alone as individuals. Yes, that’s it, I said.

Then Cathy emailed me a bunch of very detailed questions about my vision for the books, what I wanted readers to feel or know by reading them, what colors or images came to my mind when I thought about my books, and other great questions that made me think.

I answered her questions as best I could. I said that haiku can be deceptively simple, deceptively plain, understated, sometimes tender, sometimes stark. It whispers straight to your heart, but does not scream in your face. I wanted the covers to express this “haiku feel.”

Somehow she was able to translate this mushy “haiku feel” into concrete images. (Don’t ask me how, because I’m not a cover designer.) She sent me several ideas with slightly different layouts, colors, images, fonts. We went back and forth a few times, trying a photograph (a gnarled tree or a grove of trees seen through mist?) or a color (dark green or soft turquoise?), or a font (block print or slender italic?), or layouts (centered or flush right?). I gave her my opinions, and she gave me hers. If her opinion differed from mine, she also gave me her reasoning. Since my focus was on the words and their meanings, and hers was on the images and their effects, this didn’t always match perfectly, but often did.

It wasn’t long before she sent me a cover design that made me go, “OMG, that’s It!

And it was. 

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 13, 2015

Love It All

What do you find fun about writing? Getting to know characters? Watching them extricate themselves from traps that disrupt their journeys? Letting their stories roll off fingertips that race to keep pace with mental images playing in the mind? Editing? Proofreading? Cover design? Layout? Publishing? Printing? Marketing?

Courtesy of Godserv at
An introvert by nature and a true wimp when it comes to selling my wares, I love the writing part, the developing part, the watching-them-grow part. I can do basic cover and interior design (not to be confused with or used in place of expert design). Nit-picky beta readers top my list of “go-tos.”

Courtesy of click at
However, lack of marketing skills, the weakest link in my writing chain, have regularly rained on my promotional parades. In the past, absence of stunning covers has diminished the face value of my books. I don’t want to be “a jack of all literary trades and master of none.” I love writing—that’s my “genius” (along with editing). But I’ve quit dabbling in areas where I don’t excel and yielded to the “genius” of others who bring to the table skills I lack. Now I can look beyond the frustrating elements of book creation and love the whole process—because I don’t expect myself to do the whole process. I have a team. I love it all.

How does your book travel from original concept to readers’ hands? Do you do everything yourself? What’s your weakest link? What’s your “genius”? Do you love it all?
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 12, 2015

When the Metaphor Becomes the Story

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
When I can’t find a way into a story, sometimes I write another story to crack it open. One becomes a metaphor for the other, and the two bounce off each other, creating a third story. I discovered the value of this while helping my teenage sister with an essay for her college English class. She was supposed to create a metaphor that described her and then write about herself.

She wrote a metaphor about being a seashell that adapts to changing tides. Then she got stuck. When we say our minds are blank, it’s often because we’re thinking too hard. The most creative writing comes from our subconscious, where we do more dreaming than thinking. I get my best ideas by dreaming them onto the page.

Sometimes I have to trick my brain into doing that. That’s where telling another story comes in. Dreams are metaphors: I may dream I’m a waitress working alone in a restaurant full of angry customers because in reality people are asking too much of me. Stories are similar: I may write about a harried waitress and her customers, when really I’m telling a story about me and some project I’m working on.

So which comes first: the meaning or the metaphor?

Sometimes metaphor is easier to face than reality. Here’s what I mean: when my 88-year-old grandmother broke her femur, I knew I needed to prepare for her passing. I wanted to write about that experience, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to face it. That week, I had a plumbing disaster at my house. So I started writing about that instead, and it opened a way into my grandma’s story. The two stories became one, which Connotation Press published.

Here’s an excerpt from Subterranean:
The murky tide fills our old basement: from hot showers taken in lonely shifts, cold rinse cycles of separated laundry, clandestine flushes of waste.
     Destruction rises from our drain.
     Cause unknown: maybe the roots of our unruly mulberry tree, strangling the household that tears off her limbs.
     Like an adult child of aging parents, used water is not welcome to return home.

     “Which pipe is it?”
     “The main line, the biggest in the system.”

     Last week my father called. “I don’t know if you heard, but my mom fell and broke her leg.”
     “How would I hear?” I said. “From who if not you?”
     Dad’s mother is my mother. When he called her Mom I called her Mom, because I didn’t have another and thought it was her name. 
     She’s a mocking old momus, so it’s almost a relief. Soon no one will say my pie filling is too low or my breasts look good now I’ve gained weight. Maybe it’s a relief to her too, after so much breakage: her mother who died before memory, consumed at seventeen; her father who denied she was his, though he hired her to wait tables for tips.
“Which bone is it?”   
“Her femur, the biggest in the body.”
I helped my sister adapt the braided concept to her essay. We started with timed writing prompts. That gave her less time to think, forcing her subconscious to take over. With the prompt of “adaptability” she listed a few objects and experiences. She spent three minutes describing each. Then we researched fun facts about seashells.

The result was an essay in which she started each section with a fact about how seashells adapt, followed by personal experiences in which she had to adapt. My favorite moment was when she described seashells as protective casings for invertebrates, and then described a photo of herself as a baby in the arms of her mother. Her mother died when she was two and she had to adapt to a stepmother. She didn’t have to think about the meaning. The metaphor appeared on its own, as dreams do.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times , Denver Post, Connotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fun for Valentine's Day

Hello dear readers and welcome to another day of frivolity. Since Valentine's Day is swiftly approaching, I thought we could have some fun with love and cupid and all that. 

 First, this joke from Mike walked into a post office just before Valentine's day, and he couldn't help noticing a middle-aged, balding man standing in a corner sticking "Love" stamps on bright pink envelopes with hearts all over them. Then the man got out a bottle of perfume from his pocket and started spraying scent over the envelopes.

By now Mike's curiosity had gotten the better of him, and so he asked the man why he was sending all those cards. The man replied, "I'm sending out 500 Valentine cards signed, 'Guess who?'"

"But why?" asked Mike.

"I'm a divorce lawyer," the man replied.

The following are a random sampling of funny, and serious, quotes one can find on the Internet.

"My boyfriend told me I can do with him whatever I want on Valentine’s Day, so I tied him up and went to the nightclub." Anonymous

"If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?" Author Unknown

"It is probably not love that makes the world go around, but rather those mutually supportive alliances through which partners recognize their dependence on each other for the achievement of shared and private goals." Fred Allen

"Love is being stupid together." Paul Valery

"Love is much nicer to be in than an automobile accident, a tight girdle, a higher tax bracket, or a holding pattern over Philadelphia."  Judith Viorst

"Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy."   Henry Kissinger

"I don't understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine's Day. When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon." Anonymous

"Valentine's Day money-saving tip: Break up on February 13th, get back together on the 15th." David Letterman

And I had to end on a serious note when I saw this quote: "If you have only one smile in you give it to the people you love."  By Maya Angelou

Please do leave a comment and let us know what special plans you have for Valentine's Day this year. Are you going for serious romance or something silly? Or a bit of both?

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was chosen as the Best Mystery for 2015 by the Texas Association of Authors. She also writes the critically acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series. All of her books are available as e-books and as paperbacks, and a complete listing can be found on the books page of her website. For information about her editing services, 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. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sex v. Romance

Regency Wedding, image by Louish Pixel, via Flickr
I was once interviewed by a local newspaper reporter who asked me why, as a romance writer (a species he all too obviously despised), I didn’t write sex scenes. Not expecting the question, I gave a snappy answer off the top of my head: “I’d rather do it than write about it.” Naturally that was the only thing I said that he quoted accurately.

A more thoughtful answer would have been: To me, romance is getting to know each other, falling in love. Going to bed is the end product, the culmination, not part of the process. As it comes after discoveries, difficulties overcome, and in fiction the author’s efforts to keep lovers apart for 75,000 words or so, it’s an unnecessary coda to the story.

After all, as a neighbour of mine said, we all know what happens after they close the bedroom door. Maybe my attitude is old-fashioned, but my historical setting encouraged my view. Zeitgeist strikes again!

In Regency times, contraception ranged from ineffective to non-existent. Sex, licit or illicit, was almost certain to result in babies, and giving birth was dangerous. (I went into this subject in The Babe and the Baron.) Besides the physical cost, the societal cost to the individual was enormous. If the woman was lucky, an illegitimate pregnancy would result in a forced marriage. If no husband could be found, willing, bribed, or coerced to cooperate (v. Lydia Bennett), as Goldsmith put it:
When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can sooth her melancholy,
What art can wash her guilt away?

The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from every eye,
To give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom—is to die.
Poorer women would probably end up on the streeta short life and a miserable one. Among the middle class and the aristocracy, with whom Regency romances are chiefly concerned, an unmarried girl would be ruined forever, shunned by society, hidden away by her family.

Wild, free, passionate sex was not gloriously romantic, it was a recipe for disaster.

The nearest I ever came to writing a sex scene was in Scandal’s Daughter. For various reasons, the hero and heroine travel together from Istanbul to London. Though not planned that way, the book turned out to be a sort of Regency Perils of Pauline. At the end of almost every chapter, James and Cordelia are in dire danger, only to be rescued in the next. One of the dangers, as far as Cordelia is concerned, is James’s seductive technique, but something always happens at the last moment to save her from the fate worse than death. At one point, it’s the arrival of Greek partisans attacking the Turkish troops who have captured the pair. I had such fun writing that book.

As far as I recall, only one of my heroines ever had sex before marriage. In the teeth of both families’ opposition, Alicia and Peter—friends since childhood—were heading for Gretna Green to get married. The night before, they were forced to share a room at an inn and they anticipated the next day’s ceremony. Their brothers turn up and whisk Peter away, telling her he’s deserted her. She’s married off to a rich, elderly gentleman, but as a widow she meets Peter again, and all ends happily, as a romance novel requires.

That novella, Pirate Pendragon, was originally published in a multi-author anthology, with one of the only two book covers I’ve ever had that misleadingly suggested “bodice-ripper” contents. (The other was the Hebrew version of Mayhem and Miranda.) Pirate Pendragon is now in an e-book anthology, A Second Spring (all the stories have heroines considerably older than the usual 17 to 25 year-olds).

Contrary to what some believe, none of the four publishers for whom I wrote Regencies gave me a formula to follow, and none required explicit sex scenes. So I didn’t write any.

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

Monday, February 9, 2015

Create a Distraction-Free Writing Environment with FORCEdraft

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. Email. The list goes on with "busy work" we often do on the computer that keeps us away from writing.

If you need a distraction-free writing environment that will keep you focusing on your latest story, you should give FORCEdraft a try.

FORCEdraft is a text editor that blocks everything on your computer while you write.

And I do mean EVERYTHING.

Here are some snapshots of the initial pages once you click into FORCEdraft. FYI, these are pictures from my phone because you can't do print screen while in FORCEdraft. They did say they block EVERYTHING.

Take a deep breath, and dive in.

On this page, you can title your document and choose the parameters for blocking the computer.

The menacing white page.

When you click on FORCEdraft at the top of the screen, you'll be alerted to whether you are done (and are able to save and exit), or you have more writing to do.

My short, sweet opinion on FORCEdraft?

I really liked it. It's true you cannot get out of it. I tried esc, nothing. Tried CTRL+ALT+DEL, nothing. I couldn't copy and paste, thus trying to bulk up my word count. It traps you until you do some form of writing--even if it's random rants of being trapped, and it saves often, so even those rants can stay pretty secure.

FORCEdraft is only available for Windows. There is a free download version and a pro version for $9.99 that will give a few extras, to include free updates for life.

If you need a clean interface and no distractions to your writing environment, give FORCEdraft a try.

I was intimidated as hell just to have a white screen and be expected to fill it with words, but ultimately, I did finish, and was released from FD Prison on good writing behavior.

What do you do to help you create a no-distractions writing environment?

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 author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Rules of Romance

I’m not sure why, but the genre of Romance tends to be an easy target for people who want to shoot down a particular genre. I’ve heard so much abuse of the genre for being cliché, escapist, unrealistic, and second-rate. Of course, the thing that makes me shake my head at the folks who throw that mud is that, as a genre, it’s supposed to be escapist, idealistic, and hopeful. That’s why Romance is routinely one of the highest-selling genres.

So let’s embrace Romance as a genre. What do you need to know to join the ranks of those of us who can’t seem to write without writing a love story? What exactly is a Romance novel?

According to the Romance Writers of America, a book qualifies for the Romance genre if it contains two things. Yep, just two things, and I quote (from the RWA website):
“Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Having a central love story means that the crux of the plot revolves around the relationship between the hero and the heroine. There can be an external plot (terrorists trying to blow up the world, a vampire battle royale in the making, the duke being bribed by a dastardly enemy), but most of the energy and focus of the plot will be on the hero and the heroine, what brings them together, and what keeps them apart. Everything else going on is secondary to the tension between your two main characters.

An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending simply means that they all live happily ever after. This can take all sorts of forms too. Whether it’s the hero and heroine finally getting together in the end, or whether it means that, after they’ve come together, they solve whatever conundrum made up the external plot, as long as the resolution ends with the reader believing that true love has been found and nothing will ever come between the hero and heroine again, you’re golden.

Now why would these two elements—which are, admittedly, not necessarily the way real life works—be the foundation of one of the best-selling genres? My theory is that we all need a little hope in our lives. We all want to believe that the good get what they deserve and the bad are punished. We all want to rest assured, knowing that love really does conquer all. The folks who come down hardest on Romance always seem to play the reality card, arguing that people are foolish if they buy into all that happily ever after tripe.

I say, who cares? Let love rule. We all need it, we all want it, and with Romance writers filling our hearts with optimism and happiness with just turn of the page, it’s no wonder they sell so well. I write because I love.
Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bad Romance

February is the month of Valentines and romance. In keeping with our KISS theme (keep it short and simple), here is a short list of malignant memes about love that are perpetuated through modern storytelling.

1. My love will heal you syndrome.

Love cannot cure dysfunctional behavior. You can love someone through their recovery, but the journey is theirs to undertake. If the character is severely dysfunctional and verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive, your hero/heroine should run, not marry them.

2. The Eeyore syndrome, or “Thanks for noticing me.”

Your hero/heroine’s self-worth should not be based on who pays attention to them. Let’s model heroes and heroines with intact self-esteem: no more doormats.

3. The Jessica Rabbit Syndrome

Your heroine does not have to have large breasts and wear stiletto heels to be sexy. Your hero does not have to have six-pack abs and a seven figure bank account. Sexy is confidence, humor, and a good character. Those traits come in all shapes, sizes, and income brackets.

4. Bad Boy Syndrome

Bad boys make horrible partners. So do bad girls. Stop glorifying them.

5. Bad Ass Syndrome

Heroines have become physically and verbally abusive and behave as badly as the worst of men. Now we have women beating up men, women beating up other women, and men beating up everyone. That’s not what the suffragettes fought for. Bad ass means being courageous enough to do the right thing, even if it comes with a price.

You can write a gripping story without relying on these memes for tension and conflict. Your words have power. Wield them wisely.

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.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

10 Things to Love About Being a Writer

10. You’re able to work in your pyjamas. I don’t, but I gather others do. Pyjama on, my friends. Go bravely into the flannel.

 9. You don’t have an office job. But you do, really. If you don’t think of writing as a job (pyjamas or not), you’ll never get anywhere. Those manuscripts don’t write themselves. There’s no app for that.

 8. You don’t have to make polite conversations with your co-workers. Although I consider ‘liking’ people’s posts on Facebook as the equivalent.

 7. You HAVE no co-workers. Usually. But partnerships happen. Rejoice in the real-person contact. Compare and contrast your pyjama pants.

 6. Lunch time is at your discretion. As is its content.

 5. And duration.

 4. You can (occasionally) receive praise for your writing from strangers. This means far more than praise from people you know. Odd, but true.

 3. The best praise is royalties. Best, best, best. Yes, I know people say it’s not about the money. I disagree. Money is never a bad thing.

 2. You get to ‘meet’ wonderful people all over the world. I can say I know people in Botswana, the UK, the US, Greece and Finland. This is not a bad thing.

 1. There IS a writing app - Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard. DO IT.

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her newest game, Once Upon a Murder, is now available and published by Red Herring Games. Her 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Want Romance?

My personal preference is to read and write novels with some sort of romantic element. Romance doesn't necessarily need to be the main focus, but I want it in there somewhere. Its presence seems to round out a novel, offering a certain warmth which otherwise is lacking.

Still, if I really enjoy an author's writing style, I'll veer from my usual preference. Way too many years ago, back in high school, I got hooked on Dick Francis novels, though at the time I was mainly into Gothic romances. His books were an exception, since I enjoyed his humorous way with words.

It appears that many other authors and film makers have similar tastes as mine. Even in the most suspenseful plots, romance seems to pop up somewhere along the line. I'm guessing that's one reason why Gone Girl has done so well in book and film sales. 

Find these and more of Morgan Mandel's books at
What about you? Does it matter to you whether or not romance is included in a novel?

Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angelstandalone reality show romance; Girl of My Dreams.  Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,its sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer CareerMystery:Two Wrongs. Short  and Sweet   Romance: Christmas   Carol.  Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Drinking on Groundhog Day

Phil drinking again
Let’s make a toast to Groundhog Day in America, that crazy pseudo-holiday celebrating the now-infamous Punxsutawney Phil thanks to the 1993 movie of the same name. By the time the media has enjoyed its usual fun with the day, we’ll all want another drink, won’t we? Including Phil.

Can you tell this isn't my favorite celebration? Indeed, I can only say two good things about Groundhog Day. 1. It signals the halfway point between winter solstice and vernal equinox and 2. it commemorates one of my favorite drinks, sweet vermouth over crushed ice with a twist of lemon.

This is the German version of a martini, and I grew up with my adult relatives sipping it as an aperitif during the summer.  It’s a flowery, sweet wine with a little bitter after-bite from wormwood, the herb that also is the foundation for absinthe.

My protagonist, Megan MacGregor, likes this unusual drink, perhaps because it reflects her sweet but strong feminine nature. She and her hero, J. Lindsey Calhoun, have a good-natured ongoing argument about her lack of Scottish sensibilities. He, of course, is an avowed scotch drinker, and quite an expert on the best varieties. At the family law firm, the high-powered offices of Calhoun & Sons, you’ll always find a crystal decanter of The Dalmore on the conference room credenza, to toast yet another successful winning trial or seal a lucrative legal contract.

We can tell a lot about people by what they drink, and when they drink. In writing fiction, it’s a way of showing rather than telling us about a character. Let’s envision some of the positive characteristics associated with drinking:

·         It can depict a partying spirit
·         It can show culinary taste
·         It can create ethnic identity
·         It can be a sign of prestige
·         It can define rituals
·         It can display traditions
·         It can even be a business in a story, as a brewery

Of course, fiction often depicts the dark side of alcohol as well:

·         It is used as an emotional or physical painkiller
·         It is the cause of accidents
·         It is a vehicle leading to abuse of others
·         It is detrimental to physical health

Any of these scenarios can (and have been) used to show the actions of characters as well as incidents to drive a plot. We draw conclusions about people through their association with drink, and not just alcoholic beverages. One of my novel characters drinks only water and that fact alone probably has you speculating as to what kind of person he is. What is behind that choice? Health reasons? Religious practice? Perhaps something darker? A simple libation can become the basis for mutuality, or a reason to strongly dislike someone. These are ideas to think about when building your characters and your plots.

So what is your daily regular drink? What do you drink to celebrate? And your main character? What would you order for them at a tavern? Do you share these details in your writing? Why or why not? Leave us a comment and we’ll discuss it. 

Here’s lifting a wee dram of Laphroaig to you, my friends! I drink it to better understand my novel hero (really) and to survive yet another Groundhog Day (really really).

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil blog and is mostly up to no good as she works on her murder mystery novel. You can connect with her at News From Nowhere, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.