Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Writing Marathon

I’m not much for the running type of marathon, but I do participate in the writing variety. I’m in the midst of one now. For this week, until next Monday, I will be writing my face off. With any luck, by next Monday I will have the first draft of a new story.
So why would I take time off work and subject myself to this abuse? Because it works for me. I have found that I am not a “small chunks” type of writer with the ability to write a few minutes here and there on lunch hours and before work to get the job done. (Click here for a discussion of big chunk writers versus small chunk writers) I need to immerse myself in my story for long periods at a time. This helps me really “feel” the story and the characters. Working on a manuscript every day builds an excitement and a connection for me that I just can’t get by working in small chunks.
The other advantage of a writing marathon for me is (hopefully) completing my manuscript in a shorter amount of time. A writing marathon is an intense several days, but at the end of it, I have, if not a finished manuscript, one that is well on its way to being done.
This week I’m working on a project that I hope to turn into a series. In this three book series, each book begins with someone being left at the altar. The first book in this series, “Her Best Man” is already written and published, and has been since 2007. As you can tell from that date, I’ve been working on this for a long time. Don’t let anyone tell you that writing a series is easy. For some reason, the other two books just didn’t come together. The second book, “There Goes the Groom” has been written, rewritten, rewritten again, and revised to within an inch of its life. I got to the point where I had no idea what I was doing anymore, so I had to set it aside. I conceived a plot for the third book “Always a Bridesmaid”, but I was never happy with it. The heroine seemed weak, and the hero lacked critical motivation. This week I’m working on “Always a Bridesmaid”. It’s probably weird to write the third story before finishing the second, but I feel a new spark for this story. I came up with a new plot that I’m excited about and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
How is my marathon going? It’s had its ups and downs. I started a little slow last weekend. I got sidetracked watching the Women’s World Curling Championship. Team Canada, skipped by Saskatchewan girl Amber Holland, came from behind to get into the Sunday final. Unfortunately, she came up short in the final and lost 7-5. But it was a great run and fun to watch.
Unfortunately, watching the curling meant I wasn’t sitting at my computer typing. And then on Sunday we decided to take a look at new show homes. It was the last weekend for the Parade of Homes, and it’s always fun to tour homes I have no hope of ever being able to afford. It was fun, but again I wasn’t writing all day. Still, I managed to get a couple of thousand words written over the weekend.
Monday and Tuesday went a little better, even though I took some time off on Tuesday afternoon to hit some golf balls with my husband at the indoor golf dome. By the end of Tuesday I had just over 9,000 words of a required 50,000 words written.
Wednesday’s been my best day so far. As of this writing, I’m up over 12,000 words. While you read this I’m typing my fingers to the bone, moving my way toward the finish line. I hope.
Another favourite of mine is taking my writing on the road. For my next marathon, I’m going to combine it with a retreat when I go with my husband on a business trip in April. I get to write all day in the hotel room. This is my favourite place to write; someone else makes my bed, vaccums the floor and cooks my meals while I get to spend all day writing. It’s the best.
Have you ever participated in your own writing marathon or a writing retreat? Are you a big chunk writer like me, or can you write in small chunks? If you have a choice between the two methods of writing, which do you prefer?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Welcome Guest Blogger Marilee Brothers

My guest today is fellow Awe-Struck author Marilee Brothers. A former teacher and school counselor, Marilee lives in Washington state and writes full time. Her books include The Rock and Roll Queen of Bedlam, winner of the 2010 Booksellers Best award for romantic suspense and Moonstone, Moon Rise and Moon Spun, the first three books in the YA paranormal Unbidden Magic series. Castle Ladyslipper, a medieval romance with paranormal elements was published by Awe-Struck Press in January, 2011. Marilee is a member of RWA, Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website at  and follow her on Twitter.

Sharing Laughter Between the Sheets

The romance genre has dozens of categories. To name a few . . . sweet romance, erotica, chick lit, hen lit for women no longer “chicks, Christian and inspirational romance. However, the premise remains the same. The plot must include a passionate attraction between two people (possibly three or more if you write erotica). In some cases, the word sex is never mentioned. It merely simmers beneath the surface. In others instances, sexual encounters are described explicitly and may go on for pages.

Yes, sex is serious business in the world of romance. But, should it be? Think about it, there are only so many ways to insert tab A into Slot B. And, because we’re human and some of us are klutzy, unbridled ecstasy is not always a guaranteed outcome. The result may be painful, frustrating and possibly downright funny. Here are some real life examples of intimacy gone awry: 1.Physical Trauma.  An accidental knee to the family jewels. A tender “bit” of female anatomy pinched between the mattress and a masculine forearm. 2. Emotional Trauma. Murmuring “Oh, Barbara, that was wonderful,” when your wife’s name is Joan. 3. Downright Shocking. A vase filled with daffodils and cold water sliding off a galloping headboard onto the participants below. The last example is from personal experience and, trust me, it tends to spoil the moment. Thank God I wasn’t burning a candle.

 What does this have to do with writing? Early on, I decided if I needed to write a sex scene, I would add elements of reality and, if possible, humor. Live, love, laugh . . . right? With this in mind, I wrote my first book, Castle Ladyslipper, a medieval romance. My female protagonist, Emma, is forced to marry a studly but arrogant knight, Garrick of Hawkwood, vassal to King Henry II. In the Twelfth Century, a highborn woman had two duties. 1. Marry a man who would bring wealth to the family coffers and/or provide an alliance against common enemies. 2. Bear him a son.

Garrick is sent to Fairfield to marry Emma’s step mother, Helene. When Helene is nowhere to be found, the practical king orders Garrick to marry Emma and protect the northern border of England against the encroachments of Scotland’s William the Lion.

Emma and Garrick’s first attempt at intimacy is a disaster. Even though Emma is attracted to Garrick, he’s a virtual stranger. With their marriage, Garrick became the new lord of Fairfield, taking all that was hers.  Picture this: An impatient King Henry pacing the hall outside the bed chamber, shouting, “Get on with it, man, I have places to go!” Garrick, caught between an impatient king and furious woman, has no time to woo his new bride. Emma wants nothing more than to be left alone. Garrick, sweating bullets, delivers the coup de grace. A resentful Emma shrieks and chomps down on his invading tongue. Garrick lets out a roar of pain. The only person happy with the outcry is the king who assumes his orders have been followed and swiftly rides away. Fortunately, things get better for Garrick and Emma. They even learn to laugh together.

Oh yes, there is a bit of a problem with requirement # 2, bearing a son and heir.  Emma and her female relatives are victims of a curse and can have only girl babies. Hence the castle full of women and Fairfield’s nickname, Castle Ladyslipper. As if Emma didn’t have enough problems, it is up to her break the curse.

Feel like commenting? I hope so because I have a copy of Castle Ladyslipper to give away.

Here's a blurb and an excerpt from Castle Ladyslipper:

When a chauvinistic knight lands in a castle full of women, somebody has to change . . .

Soldier of fortune, Garrick of Hawkwood, is ill prepared for the women of Castle Ladyslipper; especially its hostile mistress, Emma d’Arcy. Garrick is haunted by the spirit of Emma’s great-great grandmother, Rose, who brought on the curse plaguing Emma and her female relatives. Though clearly at odds, Emma and Garrick cannot deny the sultry heat rising between them. Liberally laced with humor, Castle Ladyslipper resonates with a timeless theme: love can flourish even when sown in the rocky soil of misunderstanding.


“This way, Sir Knight,” a smiling woman called out. The chattering crush parted to form a living aisle. At its head stood a tall, slender woman watching him approach, her face an unreadable mask. 
Surely this could not be the Lady Helene, with manure-stained boots, bits of wool clinging to her kirtle and hair the color of summer honey bursting from a thick braid in a wild halo of curls! A huge wolfhound leaned against her leg, his sides vibrating with ominous growls.
As Garrick drew closer the woman glared, her hands curled into fists. A sullen-faced boy clutching a wooden sword pushed his way through the crowd and stood in front of her.
Garrick pulled Rufus to a stop in front of the woman. She flinched as his shadow fell across her face. He waited for words of welcome: words that never came.
Garrick dismounted and handed his helm to Toby, unable to look away from the woman’s strange glittering eyes. All at once, the heady scent of roses flooded his senses, and a wave of dizziness swept over him. His knees buckled. He grabbed Rufus’s saddle to keep from falling. Bloody hell! Was she some kind of a witch?
Thankfully, the powerful aroma and its debilitating effects left quickly. He took a deep breath to clear his head and reached into a saddlebag, fumbling for the document bearing the king’s seal. Why were his hands shaking?
Gathering his wits Garrick said, “I bring orders from the king.”
An enthusiastic “Ohhhh” rippled through the crowd. Silence from the woman. Was it possible she couldn’t speak?
“Tell her!” A woman spoke directly into his right ear. Garrick whirled toward the voice and came face to face with Roland.
His friend leaned forward on his mount. “Everything all right?” he murmured, looking tense. He wasn’t the only one.
Garrick gave a brief nod. Too long on the road. Aye, that’s it. Why else would he hear a disembodied voice? A hot meal and a soft bed would put things right.
He unrolled the parchment and cleared his throat. “I, Henry the Second of England, by the grace of God and the authority vested in me do hereby assign the hand of Lady Helene d’Arcy, widow of Matthew d’Arcy to my vassal, Sir Garrick of Hawkwood. Furthermore, I grant Sir Garrick guardianship of William d’Arcy, ward of the crown, until such time that he is deemed fit to undertake his responsibilities.”
Garrick paused and looked at the woman. She remained silent. Her dog continued to snarl. The boy stroked his wooden sword and glared.
“You are the Lady Helene?” Garrick prompted.
Finally, the woman spoke in a low, husky voice. “Nay, my stepmother has returned to France. You’ve made your journey for naught. Please feel free to sup with us and rest your horses before you begin your journey back. I’ll send my steward to see to your needs.”
She turned and walked toward the keep, the boy trailing behind. His duty complete, the dog disappeared into the crowd.
Garrick fumed at her abrupt dismissal. Who was this woman and why did she think she could flaunt the king’s orders? He covered the distance between them in two steps and caught her arm. With a gasp of outrage, she whirled to face him. He let his gaze trail over her features – her slanted green eyes, haughty nose and stubborn chin. “You have me at a disadvantage, my lady. Who are you?”
She tried to tug free of his grip. Failing, she stiffened. “I am Emma, daughter of Mathew d’Arcy.”
“Ah.” Garrick tried to hide his surprise. Why hadn’t the king told him of d’Arcy’s daughter?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Guest Blogger Marilee Brothers

My guest on Thursday, March 24 will be Marilee Brothers, author of the new release from Awe-Struck Press, Castle Ladyslipper. A former teacher and school counselor, Marilee lives in Washington state and writes full time. Her books include The Rock and Roll Queen of Bedlam, winner of the 2010 Booksellers Best award for romantic suspense and Moonstone, Moon Rise and Moon Spun, the first three books in the YA paranormal Unbidden Magic series. Castle Ladyslipper, a medieval romance with paranormal elements was published by Awe-Struck Press in January, 2011. Marilee is a member of RWA, Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter.
I hope you can join us here on Thursday. Marilee will be giving away a copy of Castle Ladyslipper to a lucky commenter!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Working With Your Editor

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some really excellent editors. After the last round of edits I went through, I started to wonder what’s it’s like for them to work with us. What makes a writer someone they enjoy working with, and what are their pet peeves? So I asked three of my editors for their input and they graciously replied.
Jude Glad is an editor with Uncial Press and has edited three of my books. Sarah Hanson edits the Faery Rose line for The Wild Rose Press, and Nan Swanson edits the Vintage Line, also with The Wild Rose Press. All three have helped bring out the best writer in me. I started out by asking them a few questions:
Jana: Talk about the ideal author to work with. What sort of qualities would he/she have?
Jude Glad: First of all, a great story teller. Small writing problems can be fixed, but if a story isn't a grabber, there's not much you can do about it. Someone with a good handle on the language (it would be nice if she knew what a past participle is, for instance), and a large vocabulary (there are lots of better words than 'looked'). A nitpicker, who catches inconsistencies before she sends in her manuscript. And finally, someone who thinks we are the best publisher in the world.

Sara Hanson: I prefer an open relationship with an author. I like to keep the line of communication open. Be willing to ask questions and make comments. I don't bite, really! Every author has their quirks, but it is nice when they are willing to compromise and keep their sense of humor.

Nan Swanson: LOL. The ideal author would submit a perfectly crafted, spell-checked, grammatically correct manuscript, of course! Aside from that, he/she would pleasantly agree to whatever changes or corrections the editor, the copy editor, or the publishing company would require, happily accept the cover provided, and refrain from asking to have the release date set at a certain time in order to meet requirements for a contest or award. Naturally, all the authors I’ve worked with have had these qualities, you understand.

Jana: Have you ever turned down an author because they were too difficult to work with? Has an author ever refused to do requested revisions?

Jude Glad: So far we've not encountered anyone too difficult to work with (knock wood).
We've been extraordinarily fortunate in our authors, who are all wonderful.
I've heard horror stories... Yes, one author did refuse to make revisions, and we released her from her contract.

Sarah Hanson: Not solely on the basis of being too difficult. Certainly, it makes me think twice. The manuscript had better be darn near perfect, because I would rather not deal with tantrums. I get enough of that at home! As for refusing to do requested revisions, not after contract. If there are major revisions, I usually make myself clear and ask for those prior to contracting. It's a way to see how willing that author will be to work with me and help me perfect their product. I have made suggested revisions prior to contract and had them refuse. And that's okay, hopefully someone else's vision will match theirs.

Nan Swanson: Whether an author is difficult to work with is (a) not immediately apparent, and (b) not a criteria in evaluating his/her manuscript. I’ve never had an author refuse to do requested revisions, but some don’t seem to read my comments and suggestions thoroughly and do only a partial job, or they will apply what I’ve said to only the first part of the manuscript and leave the last half full of the same errors as before. However, an author is free to use my suggestions or improve upon them, or to keep their writing as it was originally—the work is the author’s and my job is simply to help polish, to point out possible ways to better the writing and make the story ready to hit the reader as the best she’s ever experienced.

Jana: What's your biggest pet peeve about authors?
Jude Glad: Pretty much my biggest pet peeve about anyone who emails me with silly questions instead of looking the answers up herself.

Sarah Hanson: Not listening or making an attempt to understand. I spend a lot of time explaining and showing what needs to be done, and if you send me something back that doesn't reflect that, it makes me feel as if you are wasting everyone's time. As I said earlier: if you don't get it, ask. I am always willing to explain further. Talk to me!

Nan Swanson: My biggest pet peeve about authors? Hmm. That they are so doggone likable it’s hard to tell them we are not able to accept their manuscripts for whatever reasons! About their work, probably it’s misuse of words and language, whether malaprops or homonyms or current slang given to characters of a hundred years ago.

Jana: If you had one piece of advice for authors on how to successfully work with their editor, what would it be?

Jude Glad: Meet deadlines. Ours do (knocking wood again), but I worked for another publisher a few years ago. There was this author who not only didn't meet her deadlines, she would go for weeks without checking her email. I'm a finisher-ahead-of-time, so people who put off until the last minute and apologize for being late make me crazy.

Sarah Hanson: Be flexible. Sometimes what you want won't work, and sometimes what I want won't either, but together we may craft a solution that is even better.

Nan Swanson: Consider every suggestion and every correction, even when you disagree with it, as something done to help you have a better manuscript, as a gift toward polishing your work to perfection.
Jana: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jude Glad: One more thing. Each house has certain styles, and sometimes ours will not agree with what an author learned elsewhere. We are fairly strict about certain things, but open to discussion about pretty much everything else. When an author disagrees with me, I ask her to tell me why, because it's her story, not mine. "I wrote it that way and I like it that way" isn't a good enough reason, but "I want to create a certain mood, and using those words will help" is.

Jana: Thanks ladies! I appreciate you stopping by and telling us a little about what’s it’s like to be an editor.
The editors promised to stop by and answer any questions you may have so ask away.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's in a (Pen) Name?

When I sold my first book, my publisher asked me if I wanted to write under my own name or a pen name. I thought about it for a while and decided I wanted the privacy that a pen name would give me. If at some point I wanted to write non-fiction, like magazine articles, I could still do so under my own name. 
I probably didn’t think as carefully as I should have before choosing my pen name. For instance, I discovered a writer with a very similar name at one of my publishers, and there’s an obstetrician in Chicago named Jana Richards. I probably should have done some research, and maybe written this article before I made my decision. But better late than never. If I decide in the future that I need another pen name I’ll be prepared!
So, when should you adopt a pen name?
According to Vicki Britton in her article “When to Use a Pen Name”, you might want to consider a pen name if you have a hard to spell or pronounce name, or if your name evokes unwanted associations. “If your name is Lieverwich Kowazinsky it would be wise to shorten it to Larry Kowan or something readers could readily remember and spell. If you write romance and your name is Ima Hogg it might be best to assume a name that conjures up a more pleasurable image.” The same is true if your real name is the same as another famous writer or an infamous person, such as a serial killer.

If you’re writing in a field mainly dominated by members of the opposite sex, you probably should use a pen name. For instance, men who write romance generally use female or androgynous pen names. Authors who collaborate on a book will need a pen name. Moira Allen gives the example her article “
Should you use a Pseudonym?” of
Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett who collaborated under the name "Robert Randall."
Another good reason for using a pen name is if your reputation in your day job may be affected by your writing. For example, a professor of English literature who writes commercial genre fiction may want to use a pen name to keep her two worlds separate.
Many authors assume a pen name when they begin to write in another genre. In her article in the May 2010 Romance Writer Report, Colleen Gleason, who also writes as Joss Ware and Colette Gale, gives the example of Nora Roberts: “Oftentimes, the name change is a sales and marketing tactic, in order to facilitate a new brand or image. Even Nora Roberts took a new name when she moved into writing the In Death series as J.D. Robb.” Gleason says that when she changed publishers and genres there was “an obvious reason to change… Avon wanted to release my series fresh and as a debut.”
A mid-list author or an author previously published with a small publishing house may be asked to take a pen name when she receives a new contract with a big publisher. Sometimes the best thing to do is to wipe out the old track record and start over, in order to establish a new and bigger brand.
When is it not a good idea to use a pen name?
If you want a pen name because you don’t like your own name or you want something more exotic, it’s probably not a good idea. Editors aren’t impressed by cutesy pen names. Worse, a bad pen name may make you appear amateurish, and you run the risk of not being taken seriously by editors and agents. In her article “How to Choose a Pen Name” Jamie Hall related this story:  “On a writer's bulletin board I frequented, one writer was talking about adopting the pen name "Rogue Storm." This is a prime example of a name that is too showy. Fortunately, many other members of the board soon told this writer to skip it (one biting comment said "Rogue Storm is fine... as long as you're two different X-men at the same time").”

For the most part, these days there is no reason to change your name because of gender or ethnicity, although Moira Allen writes that this decision is best left to the individual writer and his/her experiences.

If you don’t want to use your real name because you don’t want your family or co-workers to know you’re writing about them, you need to know that writing under a pen name doesn’t protect you from charges of libel or slander. And if you want to use a pen name because you’re ashamed of what you’re writing, perhaps it would be best to change your writing instead of changing your name.

How should you choose your pen name?

Jamie Hall gives the following advice in “How to Choose a Pen Name”:

-          Choose a pen name that is easy to remember and spell and doesn’t have too many syllables. She suggests a first name with two syllables and a last name with one syllable.
-          Choose a last name in the first part of the alphabet. Hall claims that most best-sellers don’t have names that end in N-Z. However, there are exceptions to every rule. Nora Roberts comes to mind.
-          Check out the name you’ve chosen on to make sure someone isn’t already using it, or something similar. You might want to search Facebook as well. That’s how I found out about the obstetrician in Chicago. Do a Google search. If it’s too common a name Google may put you well down the list.
-          Try out a pen name on the Internet for awhile. Hall said she tested out a previous pen name in chat rooms, and found that people were not only getting the spelling wrong, but they were confusing her with a famous actress with the same last name. She eventually had to abandon that pen name, but at least she wasn’t stuck with it forever.

Do you use a pen name? Have you ever considered adopting one?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writing Blurbs

I’m trying to write a blurb for “The Girl Most Likely” and it’s not going as well as I would like. So I dug out this post that I wrote for the Prairie Chicks Write Romance blog. Maybe it’ll give me some inspiration!
Picture this. You’re in a book store perusing the shelves, looking for some interesting reading.  As you thumb through the spines, an intriguing book cover catches your eye, so you pick it up to see if the book is by one of your favourite authors.  Even though the author is unfamiliar to you, you read the back cover copy, otherwise known as the blurb.  But the ho-hum blurb does not inspire you to read further, so you put the book back onto the shelf and move on. 
Another writer loses a sale.
According to Dan Poynter of Para Publishinga writer has a very short timeframe to entice the reader to buy her book:
“Initially, all a potential buyer sees is the book’s spine. If the browser takes it down, he or she will gaze at the cover about four seconds and then flip the book over to read the back cover. On average, he or she will spend just seven seconds here so the trick is to keep them reading longer. Your copy has to be punchy and benefit-laden; it has to speak to the potential buyer.”

The blurb is vitally important in making a sale, whether in an electronic bookstore or in one made of bricks and mortar. But long before your book gets to the bookstore, your blurb will help get the attention of editors and agents.  Agent Kristin Nelson says the uniqueness of the blurb in a writer’s query letter is what helps her decide whether to ask for sample pages:

“Too often I see historical romance pitch copy that reads something like this: she’s desperate but the belle of the ball and he’s a rake. It’s too generic. I need some original element (character, plot device, etc.) to grab my interest or I’ll pass.”

After the book is published, your blurb can help get the attention of reviewers. Review site owner Marianne of Long and Short Reviews, says your blurb is often what persuades reviewers to select your book from a long list of others they have the choice of reading and reviewing:

“…when we offer books for review, we post the blurb in our reviews group -- that's what our reviewers have to go on, so make sure it's well-written.  That's what will sell your story the best -- both to my reviewers and to the world in general.”

Getting the blurb right is crucial.  Here are some tips to remember when writing blurbs:

1.       Don’t write a synopsis.  While a synopsis gives a brief summary of the entire novel, including beginning, middle and end, the blurb’s job is to intrigue readers into reading more, whether they are editors, agents, reviewers, or lovers of fiction. The blurb accomplishes this by giving the highlights, including the names of the main characters and their goals, conflicts and motivations.  In a suspense, show how the tension is rising.

2.      Don’t give away the game!  Never reveal the conclusion of your story and be careful not to reveal too much information.  A blurb walks a fine line between revealing just enough information to entice while not giving away too much of the story. But you definitely want the mood of the book to shine through in the blurb.

3.      Make em’ laugh, make em’ cry!  Use action verbs and keep the use of adjectives and adverbs to a minimum.  Emotive words give the blurb an emotional tug.  For instance, in my blurb for my novella “Flawless” I use phrases such as “passionate response” and “maelstrom of attraction” to convey the love story between Hunter and Madeleine.  With words such as “betrayed”, “survive”, and “revenge”, I hope to evoke the emotion of a suspenseful read.

4.      Keep it short!  In her article “Writing Great Blurbs”, Mayra Calvani says that blurbs should be no more than 100 to 250 words.  Often publishers want even shorter blurbs for back cover copy.  For example my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, ( ) requires no more than 100 to 150 words.  Ruthlessly read through your blurb and remove any extraneous words. Replace passive verbs with active ones that give your blurb more power and life.

5.      Give your readers a reason to buy/read your book.  In her article “Writing a Short Book Blurb”, Marg McAllister says to end the article with an enticement, a promise.  “This can be in the form of a statement or a provocative question.” For my book “Till September”, I ask this question in the blurb:  Can Hannah Kramer, a woman determined save her family’s farm, find lasting love with Quinn Anderson, a man equally determined to take it from her?

Sometimes I prefer to make a powerful statement instead of asking a question. For my novella, “Flawless”, set in occupied France in WWII, I make the following ending statement:  “Madeleine must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance or with the greatest love of her life.”

The blurb is your selling tool, so don’t sell it short. Give your blurb as much attention as the story itself and it will help tell the world about your book. Do you find blurbs hard to write, or do they roll off your pen with ease? Care to share one of your blurbs here?