Thursday, August 31, 2006

Market trends

I’d have to be living in the bat cave to have missed that paranormal is hot.

Yesterday really brought just how hot the supernatural craze is home. While I was out grocery shopping a stand alone display of Nora Robert’s Morrigan’s Cross winked at me from the aisle next to the new shipment of Tuscan cantaloupes.

When even Nora is crafting Vampire stories I feel very out of it. Am I the only reader in the blogasphere that dislikes paranormal romances? There are exceptions. I’ve run across paranormals so well written that I enjoyed them in spite of the story choice, not many and not enough to make me a fan.

I’m sure there are readers who threaten to gag if they ever read another regency. I know there are those who will not crack the spine on a romantic suspense title. Selfishly, I hope the publishing industry keeps supplying the reading public with variety.

Book buzz

Here are the results for this year’s ten out of from the top one hundred romance titles.

Not exactly buzz – huh? Nope lots of these have been around for awhile and still live in the reader’s mind.

After reading what I thought was lots of romance there are still lots of authors here I’ve never read. Three out of the top four are books I haven’t gotten to - more reading ahead.

1) Lord of Scoundrels by Lorretta Chase Category Eur Hist Romance - my grade unread

2) Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale Category Eur Hist Romance - my grade unread

3) Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie Category Contemp Romance - my grade unread

4) As You Desire by Connie Brockway Category Hist Romance - my grade unread

5) Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie Category Contemp Romance - my grade B+

6) Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas Category Eur Hist Romance- my grade unread

7) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Category Time Travel Romance - my grade C

8) Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann Category Contemp Romance - my grade B+

9) All Through the Night by Connie Brockway Category Eur Hist Romance - my grade unread

10) Sea Swept by Nora Roberts Category Contemp Romance - my grade B-

Here's the link to the complete list -

Teaching to learn - Heroines to cheer for

Story Essentials – Continued

Right after a strong opening hook on the editor’s wish list was a heroine the reader cheers for; she should be appealing and human.

Six examples of heroine introductions from the already read pile:

Across the small chamber, Rowena Belleme watched. She also was being held fast by two men-at-arms, the same two who had dragged her in here to witness her stepbrother’s brutality. Blood trickled down the center of her chin from biting her lips to keep from screaming. Tears fell copiously over ashen cheeks. But she had not been struck herself. Like as not it would come to that if she did not give in to her stepbrother’s demands after this demonstration of his seriousness., but while his patience held, he did not want to blacken her with bruises that would elicit comment at her wedding.

Lots of information packed into a paragraph. The author has wasted no words on hair color or any physical description. Her heroine is being forced to watch something (from the prior paragraph the reader knows a small woman is being beaten) upsetting by a cruel stepbrother. The stepbrother is likely demanding she marry someone odious.

The first paragraph discussed another woman. When the second paragraph also introduces a woman for a minute I struggle to figure out who’s who. Since the women are important to each other and both facing perils I read on and soon all becomes clear. But the story choice of opening with a secondary character does mean a shaking start for the romance reader who has been trained to look for the protagonists up front.

He never saw any pouty lips, just a smile tipped up at him natural as sunshine. He never saw a short skirt. He wished he did. He hoped the lady was at least wearing shorts, but he couldn’t be sure. She’d covered her upper torso with a voluminous wrinkled yellow shirt that flapped around her thighs, and her feet were as bear as her long, brown legs. Maybe she’d brushed her hair last night, and the scrubbed face had freckles.

She’s appealing, human and she scores a bonus for having surprised the hero. The story is just beginning, but the reader is off to good start. This story starts from the hero’s POV and lends weight to my theory books with a hefty percentage of hero’s POV are heroine centered stories.

The vision came without warning, a door bursting open in her mind.

Frightened blue eyes, red-rimmed from crying.
Freckled cheeks, smudged with tears and dirt.
Red-hair, tangled and sweat-darkened.
A terrified cry. “Daddy help me.”

Lily Browning pressed her fingers against her temples and squeezed her eyes closed. Explosions of light and pain raced through her head like arcs of tracer fire. Around her, a thick grey mist swirled. Moisture beaded on her brow, grew heavy and slid down her cheek.

What do we know so far? Our assumed heroine is a woman with a frightening problem caught by forces beyond her control – certainly an intriguing introduction.

What the hell am I doing here?

Simon Byrne knew exactly. Postponing what he ought to be doing. And ogling the woman he’d avoided for over two years. She didn’t notice him at the Technical Support Lab door because whatever gizmo she was fooling with had her mesmerized.

Janna Harris a nondescript pants suit, the type she’d adopted after her marriage. No more short skirts or cropped tops that bared skin. Professional, she’d insisted.

Being a patient reader I’ll read on. But all I’m getting out of this opening is this is a reunion romance. She’s a techno wiz who used to be more fun before her marriage. Has the author convince me her heroine is appealing? Not yet. She’s human, yes but not in an attractive or sympathetic way.

Christie sat in the far corner of her living room with her back jammed against the wall. Milo, her golden Lab, whined softly against her as she stared at the phone on the end table, willing the ringing to stop.

One short paragraph and I’m hooked. If I were critiquing I’d suggest crouched or else give her something to sit on – but as a reader I race on to the next paragraph to learn more already drawn into the heroine’s story. Why? She’s frightened. The phone has become an instrument of torture. She has a dog that loves her. A whole exciting situation is set up in a matter of a few short sentences.

Through the smoke his gaze narrowed, then settled, on a woman with a mass of auburn curls hanging halfway down her back. A breeze picked up her hair and lifted it about her shoulders. He didn’t need to see her face to know who stood in Ann Morrison Park stretching her arms upward like a goddess worshiping the grey sky.

Once again the heroine is introduced by the hero. His description, lean as it is makes her sound appealing. The unasked questions pile up. Why is he watching her? What’s she doing there? At this point in the story the reader knows the hero is a detective and she’s most likely a suspect. Since she’s the heroine she must be innocent and therefore is instantly sympathetic. Who has never been wrongly suspected?

Tapping into the reader’s own wellspring of human emotion is the key to building the special story bond between writer and reader.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading Report - All U Can Eat

Emma Holly brings an energetic and cheerful enthusiasm for sex to the story. Since I like an actual plot in all reading, yes even erotica, Emma is one of my favorites. She provides a blend of sweet and spicy which has built loyal fan base in one of the market’s hottest segments.

All U Can Eat combines a murder mystery with uninhibited enjoyment of mildly kinky sex. Fantasy writing (whether science fiction, paranormal, erotica or a combination) has tricky aspects. For one, the author takes on the task of more world building than a contemporary fiction work set in a real city. When the author succeeds as in the Harry Potter books the stories have the added attraction of a setting readers can’t wait to visit again.

The key to the believability of a story world is emotion and consistency. If the reader understand and empathizes with the emotions of the protagonist(s) and the fictional setting maintains its integrity the tale unfolds on firm ground.

By definition a fantasy world is unreal, but the feelings inside the world must feel genuine. All U Can Eat’s world wobbled on its story axis for me. I found it hard to buy the hero’s reaction to the heroine’s enjoyment of multiple partners. That said, Emma still tells one of the best steamy love stories around.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Writing Life

This morning two of the blogs I read regularly had recycled posts. Nothing wrong with rerunning a worthy topic – there’s only so much wisdom on any given subject. A lot of writing advice is simply a new version of an old lesson. Not unlike plots.

Still, it disgruntled me to have to make my own inspiration. This is the nature of writing. Romance writers have wonderfully supportive groups, organizations, peers, friends and families. Somehow it still boils down to you and a blank screen or a screen full of words, which aren’t quite right.

Romance writers, published and aspiring, reach out to nurture and help their struggling peers with amazing generosity and lots of positive reinforcement. The discouraging statistics are largely ignored. Most women who attempt writing a romance never finish a book. Of those who complete and submit a book, only a frighteningly small number ever get published. Of those who achieve publication very few are able to support themselves and their families.

There are superstars whose titles glitter on the magical New York Times Best Seller list year after year. Those perennial favorites are the same percentage as the music artists who add to their platinum record collection or actors who need a trophy room for their awards or ball players who have agents negotiating their multi-million dollar sports contracts.

I’m not going to get published with positive thoughts and pats on the back. Success comes to those who take their raw talent and work their tails off.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sample discussion

First problem with the unedited sample is it starts in the wrong place. I understand why. I’m in love the characters who’ve taken on life in my head . I’m anxious to share them with you and blurt out lots of irrelevant or misplaced details so you’ll love them and understand them the way I do. SAdly this fails miserably and the readers suffer from acute boredom.

Two paragraphs later Betsy is already remembering the past. She has still not uttered one word about her current problem. In fact, (cough cough) it’s chapters before her current troubles are explored. This story was written with no notion of craft or conventions. My sole qualification for writing was that I loved to read.

After reminiscing about Grandma our heroine recalls her first meeting the disturbing Edward. All of this is well and good, but I’m sure the poor reader is saying who cares? If she hasn't sat the book down in favor of sorting socks and emptying the lint trap.

For the determined, and glassy eyed, who've stay the course eventually we get to Edward’s view. A sentence past the first of the hero's paragraphs the POV slips into that of an omnipotent being. My only excuse for this was wanting to describe the dashing hero and being too ignorant to go back and do it right.

Thankfully, moving on to the edited version – our couple has undergone name changes all around. Betsy is now Bella and Edward had morphed into Eric. Along with her new identity Betsy has gained a sense of purpose. Her troubling problem gets the front line treatment it deserves. Backstory details are dispensed with except for those needed to understand current action and reaction. Eric has become more respectful and has the good sense to hint at his own problems.

The omnipotent being has been deservedly deleted.

Warning: for those who sold the first novel they penned and were born natural flawless writers, don’t bother commenting. I’m only interested in commiseration from fellow sufferers.

Sample as orginally written and submitted (blush)

Betsy Williams felt the tears of joy pooling and blinked them rapidly away; nothing should mar this moment for Merci. All eyes were riveted on the newlyweds as Rod lifted Merci’s veil, leaning in to claim his first kiss as a married man.
The wedding, lavish and romantic was the fairy tale ending so many little girls dream of, with an elaborate white dress, a pretty church and, of course, a handsome groom pledging his eternal love. Betsy swallowed a sigh; it’d never been her dream.
As a child, she’d seen too much, to harbor romantic dreams about men. Her mother, Connie had been a beauty with her rich gold hair and hypnotic amber eyes. Her looks hadn’t drawn the men. Her sensuality drew them. A series of men came, city after city and night after night. The men left behind rancid smells, money and, a grumpy, unsatisfied Connie.
By age eleven, they were eyeing Betsy. The following year she ran away to her Grandma’s in Seattle.
Her Grandma welcomed her with open arms and sad eyes. “You’re just like her.”

Grandma had been even stricter with her than she’d been with Connie, grimly determined not to repeat the mistakes she’d made raising Connie. Betsy welcomed the discipline and loved the normalcy of life with her grandma. Where Connie felt smothered and rebelled Betsy felt loved. She loved coming home to the same house day after day. She loved the clean soft smell of lavendar that her grandma used in sachets, the cheery geraniums she planted in window boxes every spring, the smell of fresh bread baking on Saturday morning. Grandma celebrated her schoolgirl victories; she gave Betsy a foundation of love and trust.
Grandma always maintained, “The only thing men are good for is making babies.”
Now, grandma and Connie were both gone. Trying to distract herself and regain her composure she looked around the church. Edward Jamison, Rod’s best man drew her gaze with his intimidating presence. Taller than anyone, but Rod, Edward smoldered in easy grace, despite his formal wear.
Betsy remembered the first time they’d met, but she doubted he did. She’d been out with Merci at the La Plaza Rojo. Edward was dining with Rod. Merci introduced Rod and he’d introduced Edward to them. Rod and Merci only had eyes for each other. Edward looked bored and Betsy felt uncomfortable the way she always did around big aggressive men. Rod and Edward were both like that. Except, Rod didn’t make her nervous since he was so focused on Merci.
A tiny traitorous corner of her soul wished that she held that fascination for a man, but she wasn’t Merci. If she claimed her vixen heritage men responded, but their interest wasn’t romantic. Betsy didn’t confuse love and lust. She understood which one men felt for her.
Betsy darted another look at Edward. There was something compelling about him, if you went in for tall dark and dangerous, which she didn’t, she reminded herself. Attractive in kind of hard-edged way, but more than that - he seemed to ooze testosterone. Edward was the kind of man who made other men suck in their stomachs and stand a little taller and made women walk a little slower and smile a little wider.
His eyes met hers; his look held both a challenge and a promise. Betsy felt that look down to her toes. Like a calf catching a whiff of a tiger, she tensed. This man was a predator and she was fair game.
Men sometimes got the wrong impression about her. She’d inherited her mother’s striking coloring and her lush figure. Normally she dressed carefully to counteract the impression. Tonight Merci had picked her outfit and it reflected Merci’s style not her own. The dress was simplicity itself; a little nothing slip of peach silk that clung to every curve, the neckline a soft drape that gave a man hope.
If seduction had been her goal this would have been the dress to wear. The barely there nude bra with the front clasp and the matching thong made every curve appear flawless. Just the sort of thing that those big hands would enjoy undoing. Suddenly the church felt warm and Betsy felt herself starting to blush. The man had said nothing more to her than “How do you do” and “Pleased to meet you” and he had sounded completely bored. Here she was creating a whole fantasy starring a stranger.
Right then she was sure that what she had feared was true. She had inherited more than just her mother’s good looks; she had inherited her weakness for men too. Her blush grew deeper.
Edward watched as Betsy’s blush deepened another hue and raised an elegant brow in silent speculation. What is that enchanting creature thinking? Could she read his mind? Not likely, he chuckled inwardly. If she could read his mind she’d either be on her back or running depending on her reaction to his erotic thoughts about her.
None of these erotic thoughts showed on his face. Edward looked harsh, even his lips looked cruel, his face, like his body had no soft edges. His hair was thick black and slightly curly, his eyes so dark they seemed black, his skin tanned from days spent outdoors. Even though he was dressed in evening clothes, he looked as if he’d be equally at home in sweats or in nothing at all.
As he continued to watch Betsy he tried to analyze his feelings. He couldn’t remember ever having the reaction to a woman that he had to her. Sure, she was pretty in a doll like way, blonde ringlets cascaded from an upsweep, and her eyes were an unusual light brown with flecks of black, almost cat eyes. She had nice skin, creamy, a great foil for that delicate peachy blush. A killer body, a little too round to be fashionable, but lush breasts and curvy hips were exactly what a lot of men preferred. All and all a very nice package, she smelled good too, clean with a hint of something floral. But none of that explained his reaction to her. He had dated some spectacularly beautiful women and they hadn’t had the same impact as this round little peach.
It was the undercurrent of molten pleasure that she exuded that had him nearly inarticulate. He felt an urge to paw the ground, beat his chest and roar his desire. That would go over big..

Opening scene as currently edited

Man is the head of the woman; only man is in the image and glory of God. The words on the note Bella Williams had hastily palmed when she’d spied it in her bride’s maid bouquet echoed in her head. The scrap of paper was one of half a dozen she’d found during the past few weeks. The first one was on her windshield. The second showed up few days later, slipped under the door at the shop. There’d been a few days of nothing then she’d found one on the driver’s seat inside her locked car. More days of nothing followed while she chided herself for being jumpy over biblical quotations. The notes qualified as strange – but threatening?
She dismissed them as nothing more than a bazaar form of proselytizing. She was turning into a nervous old maid – silly enough to be spooked by printed words. She tightened her stomach muscles and concentrated on the tender exchange of vows. The look on Merci’s face so radiant it banished all other thoughts.
Bella blinked fast to keep tears of joy from spilling and ruining the professional makeup Merci had insisted on. As the maid of honor it was her job to keep it together. She blinked harder. She was not going to spoil this moment for her best friend.
Her eyes were riveted on the newlyweds as Rod lifted Merci’s veil, leaning in to claim his first kiss as a married man. Bella let a small sigh escape. The wedding was all the more perfect ending because Merci and Rod had survived an emotional roller coaster ride to true love. The elaborate white satin dress, the pretty church and, of course, the handsome groom pledging his eternal love were all so wonderful, Bella blinked back more tears, disconcerted by feelings she didn’t understand. She was much too practical to indulge in fairy tale dreams.
Trying to regain her composure she looked around for a distraction. Her gaze was drawn Eric Jamison. She’d had a hard time not staring at him ever since she’d been introduced to him at the rehearsal dinner. Taller than everyone present, he’d naturally drew her eye. It was more than that. He embodied the lure of the forbidden with more than his fair share of masculine appeal.
His gaze locked with hers boldly. He smoldered with sexual energy. A traitorous corner of her heart wished she were the kind of woman, who could enchant him. She wasn’t. She looked away from those dark eyes. She was a realist. She was far too sensible to do anything as crazy as flirting with a known player. He had a mile long trail of discarded women.
Bella stared at her flowers to avoid looking at Eric. He wasn’t strictly handsome. Attractive, in kind of hard-edged way, he oozed wicked masculine appeal. He was compelling, if a woman went in for tall dark and dangerous. She shouldn’t – not if she had a lick of sense
She dared another glance and his gaze met hers. His eyes issued a challenge. Bella felt that look down to her toes. She tensed, recognizing him as a predator and her role as his natural game. She didn’t blame him for his blatant invitation. She looked the part he was casting her in. She’d inherited her mother’s striking coloring and voluptuous figure. Normally she dressed carefully to counteract the false impression of sensuality. Tonight, the bride had made the fashion choices. The dress Bella wore was pure simplicity. A little nothing slip of peach silk that clung to every curve with a soft draping neckline that gave a man hope.
If seduction were her goal it would’ve been the dress to wear. Underneath the barely there bra with the front clasp and its matching thong made her ample shape appear better than reality. All too easily, she pictured Eric undoing her lingerie, his big hands sure and skillful, knowing just where to touch to give pleasure. Bella blushed.
Eric had said nothing more to her than “How do you do” and “Pleased to meet you” and even then he had sounded completely bored. Here she was creating a whole seduction fantasy around one hot look. Alright, a couple of hot looks, but they meant nothing. For all she knew he was near sighted.
He deserved to star in some woman’s fantasy, maybe even hers. The ease with which she imagined him naked rocked everything she’d believed about herself. She worried she’d inherited more than from her mother than coloring. She might share her fatal weakness for men. Her cheeks burned hotter.
Eric watched Bella’s blush deepen and raised an elegant brow in silent speculation. What was she thinking? Could she read his mind? Not likely. If she could read his mind she’d be running as fast as those long legs could carry her, judging from her complexion.
He was famous for his unreadable face. None of the erotic images playing in his mind were reflected on his features. Doubt skittered along the edge of thoughts. Maybe something had leaked. He’d never has this strong a reaction to a woman. He tried to bring his cool analytical intellect to examine the problem of Bella.
She was pretty in a doll like way with blonde curls escaping from a topknot. Her eyes were an unusual golden brown, almost cat eyes. Nice skin, creamy, a great foil for her delicate peachy blush. A killer body, too round to be in style, but lush breasts and curvy hips were exactly what he preferred. Scent was a powerful aphrodisiac. She smelled good – a clean fragrance with a hint of something floral. All and all she made a very nice package.
None of her attributes explained the strength of his response to her. He’d dated some spectacularly beautiful women. None of them had the same impact as this round little peach. Instinctively he knew it was more than her looks. She had an electric undercurrent – the whispered promise of molten pleasure only she embodied. He’d felt it when they’d shook hands and a disproportionate power nearly sent him to his knees.
He felt it now, a primal urge to paw the ground, beat his chest and roar his desire. At the same time everything thing he knew about staying in control was threatened by her existence. To become involved with her would be professional and personal suicide.

Sample Saturday postponed

This week I hatched a grand plan to get more organized about blogging. Here's the new and improved blogging plan:

  • Mondays - Writing life
  • Tuesdays - Reading report
  • Wednesdays - Craft
  • Thursdays - Buzz
  • Fridays - Market report
  • Saturdays - Sample

Want to guess where it fell apart? Right. Saturday sample. I dug out my first story with the intent of posting the first chapter and discussing the mistakes. Oh boy, it had way too many mistakes for a blog post.

I'm not easily discouraged (a trait also know as sheer stubborness). Thinking smaller, I cut and pasted the first scene. Still too many problems. There were three POV and one of them was an omnipotent deity. Picture me rolling my eyes. Undaunted, I begin to edit, deleting the supreme being's observations for a start. Three hours later and the scene is still too messy for public viewing - even as an example of what not to do. I sent it off to my brilliant CP who graciously points out everything that troubles her.

Despite all the flaws, the story still lives in my head. I'm not sure I have the skill to do justice to it yet. The gap between what is on the page and the story in my head is still huge, but closing.

I've learned something from this exercise, I may never suceed in writing a category romance that is publishable. I've learned about romance writing and I enjoy reading romance, but that's still a long ways from being marketable.

I've come full circle back to where I started, which was to write the best story I could and figure out where to market it later.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Finding your niche

Skimming around the blogasphere, (yes Virginia I know I have a problem) I ran across multiple discussions about what drives the market and the surprising tidbit that continuities are popular with readers. (To read for yourself start at Alison Kent's Blog and follow the links.)

Not surprising? It was news to me. Though it shouldn't have been. I considered the first three authors on my autobuy list - all three are writing series. What makes these so appealing? Good writing is number one, still and always. Characters I (and lots of other readers) fall in love with, a special world that feels real (more of that good writing thing), stories that have unresolved questions.

I read lots and widely, but even the omnivorous reader had favorites. Here are mine:

  • To be swept away - Regency set romance with a suspense element
  • To be thrilled - Romantic suspense, straight suspense
  • To be entertained - Southern comfort
  • To be cheered - Romantic comedy
  • To be comforted - Something from the keeper shelf

There's a class of reading that doesn't have to be entertaining at all - non-fiction. If it's well written, it's a huge plus and much appreciated, but I'll read dry as kindling books if I'm mining for information.

All of this relates to writing how? I only write in one of the genres I love to read. When I'm writing I try to not read that genre (romantic suspense for all those just stopping by). I don't want to imitate even my most esteemed authors. I don't want my story choices influenced by the current read, no matter how brilliant. The only product I have to sell are original stories.

Now if it turns out I should be writing dog detective mysteries - have I got some fun reading to look forward to . . .

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Book buzz

Over at Romancing The Blog they're discussing shrinking the TBR stacks. Hmmm, novel concept. Not gonna happen for me. Book lust is a consuming addiction. Even as the shelves groan with books awaiting lap time I count the days to the release of a favorite. I even pant over author's I've never read.

What gets me excited about new author? Buzz is a factor if I read about an author on blogs, message boards, community forums, friends and trusted fellow readers all move me to want to read the book. Not a tough sell in my case, but I maintain some standards.

Actually, I'm a picky reader. I may sample lots of different books and genres but how many send me searching for an author's backlist or scanning for news of her as of yet unreleased titles? Sadly, very few. In this I'm convinced I'm just like the average editor. She loves books, she looks forward to having an hour to read. She races through the opening lines hopes soaring to crash a few pages or chapters in.

I'm a patient reader. In general, I'll give an author fifty pages to pull me into her story. I'll overlook technical flaws, plot holes, repetition if I'm entertained or enlightened. Thrill, me chill me, teach me, tease me - make me want more. That's the writer's job.

I've made exceptions to the fifty page rule. First lets talk about why I sometimes give an author more leeway - it's a classic, three trusted sources recommended it, I promised to critique it. In the last case I'll read the whole thing. Now for the other exceptions the kind of stories I've cut off in the first twenty some pages - an ick factor so severe it made me gag, truly egregious writing with no redeeming factors or boredom, the most deadly of all the writer's sins.

End of rant.

Who am I looking forward to reading that's not even out yet? Karin Tabke's Good Girl Gone Bad, this is one reader's highly subjective opinion.


I'm so there, I may have to pre-order. There's everything I want in a book, romantic suspense, scandal and passion. I really hope she can write. She'll have fifty pages to hook me.

Link included just in case you're led astray as easily as I am.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Teaching to learn - Opening hooks

Writing advise abounds on blogs, in bookstores, on forums. There isn't any problem finding information. There is a problem sifting through it to find something digestible that applies to what you're working on.

Quite a while back I ran across an editor's ten point checklist on eharlequin. Pearls of wisdom directly from the fingertips of an editor. While the checklist is helpful - I thought it'd be worthwhile to discuss the how to of each item.

Number one on the list - an opening hook that makes you want to read on.

Examples from the first six of the already read pile ( that I read them rather than tossing them aside as unworthy gives them an average or better overall rating - see I do have standards).

1) The Lady was small and fragile, but with the tall knight standing before her, her frailty was much more apparent.

What works? Instantly we have a heroine. We know it is a historical romance. Knight gives us a general time frame. There's an implication of abuse or a possible underdog theme.

2) What had he gotten himself into?

Curiosity piqued, the reader reads on. What else is accomplished? The hero has an active voice in the story. The opening is in his POV all the better to introduce the heroine, whose story this is. This technique took me ages to catch onto. Books that appealed because of their strong heroes were actually told primarily from the heroine's POV. His tone is reluctant, another plus who wants an easy hero?.

3) The vision came without warning, a door bursting open in her mind.

The tone is set an action story with a strong paranormal element. There's an implication of unwillingness on the heroine's part - a reluctant adventurer.

4) What the hell am I doing here?

Another reluctant participant, more than reluctant, actively opposed to the romantic adventure. Conflict shouts from the first sentence.

5) Christie sat in the far corner of her living room with her back jammed against the wall.

There's a picture of a heroine under siege or at least being threatened, questions are raised without being asked.

6) Detective Joseph Shanan hated rain.

Provocative, possibly sympathetic depending on how the reader feels about rain and detectives. An odd detail to begin with and that too tells the reader something about the story - that it's likely to be quirky and charming.

What do these openings have in common?

Each one reaches out to the reader offering an invitation to read on and an instant connection to the special world of the story. The information is offered subtly, a crook of the finger, a raised eyebrow, a gaze held for extra seconds. The invitation issued is different in every example (these aren't from the same lines or sub-genres, though each is a romance).

There's more - each of these opening sentences was followed by an equally compelling second sentence, a well crafted third sentences and so on. That's the real secret - writing each sentence to make the reader want to read the next.

How is this accomplished? With a delicate invitation to meet a character, step into a new world, feel the chill of danger, a bubble of excitement, a smile or a sigh. Or a shout of alarm or squeal of fear. There is no one way.

Here's the first sentence from the current WIP -

Brianna Taylor held her breath, trying to slow the jackhammer in her chest.

Perfect? No, not yet, but as good as I can make it right this second. How about you? All those who write - go ahead and post your first lines. I'd love to continure the discussion.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Buying Books

This is a link to a posts that has been making the blogging rounds. Susan Gable makes a good case for buying new books.

I love books. Before I started writing reading was my main leisure time activity. Writing made me cut back - a little. My book budget now runs in the mid-four figures. Yes, I have an active library card. Yes, I sometimes buy used. Yes, I sometimes get book presents. I don't drink, smoke or gamble - I read. There's no use pretending it's not a vice. Other's talk about their TBR piles - mine runs to bookcases. Believe it or not I've met people who read more than I do.

As an admitted book slut, I still have standards. I buy no more than a dozen new hardbacks a year. I keep the autobuy list ruthlessly pruned, disappointment me twice and you're dropped. So what are all these books that I have to own? There are the category romance novels my library doesn't carry. There are the autobuys. There are research books I must have handy. There are the books I know I want to read, but don't have time to read right now - these must be purchased since the libary has limits on how long I can monopolize a hot title.

What with reading a couple of hundred books a year for entertainment and or enlightenment, tossing in the reference works, and market research titles I have a tough time sticking to even an extravagant book budget.

The point of the article I started out writing about, before I got carried away blogging on about my out of control reading habit, was that we should buy new to support our favorite authors. A pointless plea IMHO. We can't all be bestsellers. It's not going to work. There have to be lots more readers than writers to make this system work.

Harlequin caught on a while back to how common the urge to become a romance writer afflicts yet another of their loyal readers. What angst that must have caused in marketing. They hit upon the best possible solution for them, cheer on their aspiring fans! Help them, offer them forums, message boards, contests, articles, advice, even a critique service. Their first, last and frequently stressed advice? Read the lines.

So how does a poor author rise above the sea of mid-list authors out there? Is it brilliant writing, timing, fairy dust? None of that hurts. But does it guarantee success? Nope sorry, truly I'm very sorry. I've read excellent authors, award winning brilliant authors, beloved authors who've never gotten near the best seller list.

So what makes a break out novel? Reader connection. It's not necessarily the best written book - though good writing is a prerequisite. The writers who are staples on the best seller list do not disappoint. What's more, their stories connect with the reader. They cross genres because fickle readers like different things on different days. It is the author who gives us chills, thrills, tickles, teaches or makes us sigh that we shell out our hard-earned dollars for.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Teaching to learn

Judging romance contest entries turns out to be more time consuming and demanding than I anticipated. I volunteered to judge five entries. I've read lots of romance both published and unpublished. I've critiqued, analyzed, enjoyed and even de-constructed. Judging is a new experience.

The judging tutorial provided was excellent and the more experienced judges infinitely kind and patient in answering questions. The purpose in judging is not to stroke the ego, nor to crush the spirit of the aspiring writer. Rather the daunting task is to give scores that indicate both strength and weakness as an editor would.

The true genius of editors lies not only in their keen eye for a manuscript's potential, but in their ability to teach the writer how to strengthen her story.

This same responsibility lies on the judge's shoulders, to assess fairly and to explain the assessment in a manner the contestant can absorb. Fortunately for the contestants and my conscience it's much easier to evaluate someone else's work than it is your own.

The criteria are clear and well defined. Applying them to an entry is fairly straight forward. Couching the comments so the writer takes away gems of advice is challenging. The reward for all this effort is invaluable. A chance to wear an editor's hat for a few days.

The next challenge is to apply these lessons to my own work. I have no illusions the process will be either easy or painless.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sneak Peek Book Report

Yesterday the mail brought an ARC of the first chapter of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing an Erotic Romance. The timing couldn't have been better. I'm in the early stages of my third romance with erotic elements (and okay - an itty bitty suspense subplot).

Along comes Alison Kent, who knows how to do what I'm trying to master. Not with a steamy new novel to distract me and make me pine for her skills, but with a step by step guide on how to write. How cool is that?

Ms. Kent pulls no punches, hitting hard with sensible advice focused on task and leaves me gasping with the brilliance of it all.

Here's the meat of chapter one to whet your appetite:
  • Crafting characters who bring your story to life
  • Plotting the framework of your novel
  • Creating conflict that keeps readers reading
  • Understanding the push and pull of sexual tension
  • Keeping sight of the romance

Best of all she delivers the goods in the form of easily understood advice.

Now for the bad news, you have to put this illuminating information to work all by yourself. That aint easy. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Erotic Romance gives you a truly useful DYI guide. Pre-order yours today!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Judge not, lest you be judged

This year I entered my first chapter contest. There are thousands of aspiring romance writers. Like many of those women (and an occasional man) dreaming of seeing their words in print I'm a member of RWA, so I know many chapters hold contests.

The contest prizes are mainly symbolic. The real prize of getting your story in front of editor or agent, seemed like an unnecessary step. Why not just submit your story directly? Stories of the tottering slush piles and a few form rejections have convinced me I need all the help I can get.

Contests offer a whole cafeteria of writing advice. Most of them offer specific feedback.

Then I got an email requesting help judging. I thought about that for all of five minutes. Giving a thoughtful opinion on another writer's work is a great learning opportunity. Judging allows for this classroom experience with a short term commitment. I said yes.

Second thoughts, trickled in almost immediately. Who am I to judge another's work? Yes, I've been writing for a few years, and reading for many more, but does that make me expert enough to judge? All I can do is try to be constructive and objective. I take comfort in the training materials and the safety of numbers. Every entry in this contest is judged by three judges. The entrant has three sets of score sheets to study. If I'm the only judge who was bothered by an element or enthusiastic about a bit of prose, then I hope the brave contestants give that less weight and lean heavily on the areas that drew a consensus from the judges.

I'll keep you posted on this adventure.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New stories

I've already admitted I find new stories endlessly seductive. There are more snippets of stories on my hard drive than I care to count. They come in different flavors, a bio, a scene, blurbs, outlines and concepts (a lot like a synopsis except less focused)

I'd intended to complete a trilogy of Blaze stories, loosely connected by characters that appear as secondaries in the prior title, before doing anything else. While licking my ego wounds from the most recent rejection, I can't help second guessing why. One of the probable causes is not enough focus on the romance. In an effort to remedy this short coming I decided to write a straight romance rather than the story with suspense elements I'd planned as the next project. I couldn't even get through the outline without including dangerous developments.

Nothing is impossible, but it seems pointless to pretzel my natural bent to fit into a slot that I'd struggle to write. Hot romance with that zing of danger is what I want to write. One of the main advantages to being unpublished is you are entirely free of editorial restrictions. I plan to wallow in that freedom and indulge myself in another steamy thriller.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Romance Classics

The other day Nicole Hulst posted (over at Romancing the Blog) about never having read the big hitters in Romance. Bravely, she confessed to never having read Nora Roberts, Linda Howard or Jayne Ann Krentz until most recently.

In support of Ms. Hulst candor, I'm compelled to join her - at least in spirit. I've read all those authors but I'm still finding respected authors that I've overlooked. In the past few weeks I read my first Jennifer Greene, and Stella Cameron.

It's only been the last five years or so that I discovered modern romance. I entered via the back door of romantic suspense. It is a crowded field with thousands of authors. Harsh experience has proven commercial success to be a poor barometer of an author's appeal. Yet, I feel compelled to sample the legends with mixed results.

Georgette Heyer rates an unqualified endorsement. Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Mountain remains my favorite of all her titles, so far. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is IMHO best enjoyed in Audio where you can indulge in Anna Fields' interpretation in addition to the most outrageous characters. I love Amanda Quick, but find her alter ego Jayne Ann Krentz titles too intense and energetic. I'm charmed by Julie Garwood even when she's silly and implausible. My favorite Nora Roberts is one of her rare historicals - Lawless. I regret LaVyrle Spencer's retirement. Did Judith McNaught retire too and just not announce it? Inquiring readers need to know. :(

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hero or Heroine Centered Stories

Reading about someone else's rejection (misery does love company) made me think about my stories. She'd posted about feedback via her agent (I knew they were good for some things) that her story had been passed on by MIRA because it was too hero-centric.

Harlequin's Blaze is one of the few lines that allow a major part of the story to be told from the hero's POV (point of view). Their liberal allowance of hero page space was a factor in me choosing to target that particular line. Even the excerpt I posted here is from the hero's perspective. Now I'm wondering if that was one of the reasons for my rejection. I may have exceeding the acceptable amount of hero time. Not knowing makes me uneasy. I reach out - straining to understand the flaws I'm blind to.

The hardest thing about learning anything is you don't know what you're missing. I know I followed the submission guideline. I know I've read the line. I know there were no obvious spelling or grammar errors. I know the manuscript was properly formatted. Too sexy, maybe but seems like an easy fix if they liked the rest of the story. Too similar to something they just bought, possible. If so I'd expect a no thanks - but we liked your voice - or a well written comment.

There's the nub of the matter - they didn't like it. At least one person didn't like it- didn't believe it was marketable for them. I can accept that. There are plenty of authors I don't care for and they come in all shades of competence and success. The reader-writer connection is totally subjective.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


This is indulgent a blatant plea for reassurance, but damn it I love this story and this is my own personal corner in cyberspace - so here's a teaser from chapter one of Paying For It

The door opened, revealing a long legged goddess with red hair. His stupid heart accelerated. He told himself to get a grip. She wasn’t Joanne. Her eyes were big, but they were more a sea green and she had way fewer freckles. A fast glance south revealed perky breasts rather than melons. Not that he considered size the only mark of a good breast, not at all, no ma’am. Further south, a narrow waist, a sweet curve of hips, and great legs. Up until that moment, he’d never really been a leg man, but those were the kind of long stemmed beauties that he could imagine wrapped around his hips. Suddenly, his initial disappointment was nothing but a bitter memory and the evening took on new possibilities.
“Hi. You must be Zane.” A sweet voice issued from a plump little mouth, touching zones he’d thought permanently frozen. He tore his gaze away from that x-rated mouth only to fall into those green eyes glimmering with sexy secrets.
“I’m Ciara, a friend of Shania’s.” She sounded tentative; almost as if she wasn’t sure he’d believe her. She had a point; she was way too beautiful and normal to be one of his sister’s hopeless cases.
He liked her name. It sounded soft, feminine like the rest of her. A horrible thought hit him; she was probably someone’s date, not one of his sister’s pathetic friends. Nah, sea green eyes wouldn’t be dateless.
If she were available, then Shania would’ve introduced her to him before. Or maybe not. When it came to women, he didn’t have a clue, not even about his sister. Most of the time she was as rational as the next guy but then she had all this subtext stuff going on. Hopeless.
“May I take that for you?” She held out her hand, presumably for the wine.
It dawned on Zane he wasn’t holding up his end of the conversation. Shania’s entrance saved him from making more of a drooling fool of himself than he already had.
“Hi, you made it.” Shania smiled as she moved toward him and the redhead with the amazing eyes.
“I see you’ve already met Zane.” His sister smiled at the gorgeous redhead. “Come on in, Nick’s here too.”
Zane stayed close, acting casual, while impatiently waiting to learn more about her.
“Nick, you remember my friend Ciara. January couldn’t make it, sorry guys you’re stuck with the b list.”
“I came for the food and the soft shoulder. Another beautiful woman would’ve been overkill.” Nick smiled, casting sad eyes in Shania’s direction.
“Pretty, but it won’t get you out of kitchen duty.” Shania gave Nick’s arm a pat.
“Can I help with anything?” Ciara asked.
“No, I think Nick and I’ve got it covered.” Shania smiled again, this time over her shoulder, as she towed Nick toward the kitchen.
“Can I get you something? A glass of wine? Soda?” Zane finally found his voice as he headed toward the small bar.
Zane itched to touch Ciara. She looked fresh, clean, and entirely edible in a dress that was fluttery and floral. She smelled as good as she looked, like summer, warmth, and woman.
There were rules that govern men in their sister’s house, or else she’d have been slung over his shoulder and on her way to his place.
Thank god, he had a face that didn’t reveal his thoughts. He could tell he was making her nervous. She was as easy to read as a rap sheet. As he stared at the pulse beating in the hollow of her throat, color raced up her slender neck to light up her face. Maybe his thoughts weren’t as hidden as he’d believed.
Big green eyes met his, locking. A primal recognition, definite - but on some level he couldn’t access or explain - washed through him, etching her into his heart.

Sneak Peek Book Report Coming

Sometime in the next few days I'll be reviewing Chapter One of the Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Romance by Alison Kent. I suffer from acute book lust that probably exceeds my passion for writing. A great book on writing is an autobuy.

Of course I'll post about the excellent advice in chapter one, but why wait? You can pre-order now.


Yesterday the mail brought a form rejection letter from Blaze.

Nobody likes rejection.

When I submit a story to an editor all I really want to hear is: "we want to buy your story!". Trying for realism, I'd be less thrilled but still encouraged by a friendly email or letter saying how much they enjoyed it, but would I consider changing (fill in some minor point) or even sorry this story doesn't fit our line because (more major point) but please try us again, or perhaps even better why don't you try so and so - this is exactly the kind of story they want.

The form letter gives no hope at all. It is the equivalent of being fired without cause. I know there was a cause, but without a clue I have little hope of remedy.

I've been writing for three years, this is rejection number five. Not all that many compared to some writers. They've all been form rejections. The only meager information I've gleaned from this - is that I write a better query letter and synopsis than I do a story.

It may be sheer stubbornness on my part, but I still love this story. I love the characters and I'm not ready to give up on them.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Decisions decisions

Book revisions complete - it's time to start work on a new story. I love the brainstorming, plotting, puttering about thinking about the characters to the point where I could do that and never actually write a book.

Writing the whole book is hard. First draft, second draft, polishing, revisions - all of it is hard there are days when the words flow and I love the characters, but there are plenty of days of when the words trickle and the characters sulk.

Thinking up potential stories is like dancing with a bunch of hot guys, once you decide on one to actually go out with and begin a relationship it takes a whole lot more effort.

Here I am at the dance and I already promised this one guy, but then this incredible man walked in and gave me the look . . .

You see how I'm easily led astray.

I read advice on this problem earlier today. The nice sensible suggestion was when a bunch of ideas are calling your name - pick the most commercial of the group. I'd sure like to have her crystal ball. I have zero idea what will be hot in in the next year or two, which is about the time frame from inception to publication - if all goes well.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Writing Craft

Over at Romancing the blog Jo Leigh discusses the role of description in writing. Don't miss it!

Doubt Devils

Doubting your ability to write, your ability to succeed, your ability to create a story worthy of print bedevils lots of us. My struggle with self-doubt is at the root of the most insidious forms of writer's block. The little voice inside that whispers or shouts - depending on the mood of moment - give it up, you'll never be good enough.

One of the things that helps me keep going is the knowledge I'm in great company. Karen Marie Moning talked about her feelings of having been a five book wonder while working on book six. Jennifer Crusie has written of her feelings of despair over every book. Kafka burned most of his work as worthless trash.

The kindness of my peers, other aspiring writers, doesn't dissipate self-doubt. Romance writers are mostly all women, careful of feelings and born nurturers. They are expert at finding something nice to say about even the worst blobs of purple prose.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reading report

I've slipped back into reader mode. With everyone involved in romance publishing recovering from the RWA National conference or on vacation, the feeling of urgency about getting the next book written is missing in action. The TBR piles are shrinking.

Last night I polished off Jennifer Greene's Broken Blossom a vintage Silhouette Intimate Moment title.
For the bargain price of one penny plus shipping you can enjoy a romantic classic. So why isn't this story a perennial re-issue with MIRA or one of the savvy publisher's other vehicles? It is because they believe they have more lucrative options. Publishing is a business. Like other creative enterprises it's easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of the product and lose sight of the objective. Businesses exist to make money. That's it - there's no other reason. If they don't make money they don't continue to exist. Profit to a business is what air is humans - essential. Ms. Greene is having a successful career as a romance writer. She certainly doesn't need my cheer leading. Yet, I can't help wonder why she's not better known. Linda Howard's classic Duncan's Bride
Was promoted on the inside back cover of Broken Blossom. The two writers have individual voices, but at that point in time stood side by side. One went on to be a superstar the other continues a lustrous mid-list career.

What makes the difference? Hard work? Talent? Sorry - no - the only answer I have is fairy dust. There are lots of good writers, hardworking, personable, with voices that readers embrace. Once in while the fates smile. The combination of story, voice and timing combine into something more and another star is born.

Since I have no control over fairy dust, timing, reader preference or darn near anything - I have to polish away on my one little corner of the whole. The only part I can influence - the good story.

I won!

I won a copy of SAMMS Agenda on Alison Kent's give away. Not big news? Sure it is. I won something - and something I love - a great new read. And they said surfing doesn't pay.

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