Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reading Report

Multiple reads this week -

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Perhaps a tad ambitious for someone who has yet to publish an entry novel, but aiming high is personal choice. The book is rich with concrete examples of what at least one A-list literary agent is looking for in a submission. Can you afford to ignore such worthy advice? I thought not.

Have you already written the next great American novel? Then you'll want the workbook.

Taft, by Ann Pachett

A few years back I read Bel Canto and fell in love with Ms. Pachett's elegant style and remarkable powers of observation. Taft is an earlier work and lacks the power that made Bel Canto riveting. Yet there's charm in her excellent craft, the sharp clarity of a keen artist's eye trained on subjects which failed to engage me. Perhaps you'll have better luck.

The Sicilian Marriage, by Sandra Marton

Last year's best Presents and still available - hurry!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Writing Life

I've been reading, no this isn't the book report, just an explanation. Last week I eyed the craft book TBR shelf (yes I know I have a book problem) and decided it was high time I got my money's worth out of the how-to-write titles.

I started off with Writing the Breakout Novel, more about that tomorrow. Next came Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's a trade paperback with fine print and lots of information. Mr. Swain makes a good case for eradicating the to be verbs from your writing. He is not alone in his opinion. The same excellent advice is dispensed in Elements of Style and Self-Editing For Fiction Writers. It's a hard concept for me to absorb.

Action verbs and descriptive nouns are the order of the day. And yet, I've read stories full of active sentences and been worn out in the early chapters. A blend perhaps? Advice is all well and good, but no matter how excellent the advice the poor writer is still left with the daunting task of putting it into action.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sample Saturday- Chapter Two - part five

For those just joining the story - chapter one can be read in its entirety on the October 21st entry and the first part of chapter two on the October 28th entry, the next segments on November 4th,11th and 18th.

Bella redialed 911. The call was smoothly transferred back to the same operator.

“Good.” The woman’s voice soothed her once again. “You can hang up your land line now. I want you to leave the house and wait outside for the officers. Do you have a safe place to go?”

Up until five minutes ago, the house was a safe place.

“I’ll wait in my car,” she said.

Fortunately, she’d left her car unlocked. She peered into the backseat. No place was safe.
The car held no visible threats. After shutting and locking the door behind her, she tried not to think about how easily this small shelter could be invaded.

The night air grew cooler, but the temperature didn’t account for her shivers. Time crept forward and the absence of new danger slowly leached the tension from her body. The moon rose higher and her eyelids grew heavier.

A knock on the car window jerked Bella awake. She jumped bruising her thighs on the steering wheel. Fear cinched her chest so hard she couldn’t draw a new breath.

“Ma’am? Seattle Police.”

The band eased and Bella dragged in fresh air. Fumbling fingers found the door handle and she managed to climb out of the car. “You startled me.”

He extracted a notepad and pen. “Yes ma’am. Name please.”

Bella answered the officer’s questions for twenty minutes. Beyond explaining about the note inside her locked house, she had little memory of what he’d asked or what she’d answered.
Two other uniformed officers joined them.

“The house is clear. No sign of forced entry,” the woman police officer announced.

Bella trailed behind the police as they all trooped into her house.

The living room, which seemed so cozy when she’d come home from the reception, was now small and shabby. The worn sofa with the crocheted throw covering the frayed upholstery and the green vase of faded hydrangeas in the green vase looked sad and vulnerable.

Three officers took up more space than the room had. The woman stepped into the alcove separating the dining area. Her partner lingered next to the front door.

“As Officer Henley noted,” the first officer gestured toward the woman, “there’s no sign of forced entry. We’ve checked the premises and bagged the evidence. You’ll be assigned a case number tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Bella said.

He inclined his head in acknowledgement. “Sorry we can’t do more ma’am.” He closed his notebook, secured his pen and left.

Officer Henley’s partner held the door waiting for her.

“Change your locks,” Henley suggested murmured in passing.

There’s no sign of forced entry. That’s what the officer said. Meaning whoever left the note had either picked her lock or used a key. If he’d picked the lock, would he have taken the time to relock the door? The idea of a nutcase with a key to her house . . . much more disturbing. She rubbed chilled upper arms

Thoughts flew faster than her pacing feet with no more progress. She’d get the locks changed first thing tomorrow. Was there a locksmith who worked on Sunday? Bella got out the weighty yellow pages. The doorbell rang. The phonebook dropped from her icy fingers.

She started toward the door. The mantle clock began to chime, two AM. Who rang the bell in the middle of the night? A polite stalker?

The edges of her vision blurred and she realized she was holding her breath again. Expelling the used air with a whoosh, she drug in a gulp of air and took a step closer to the door. She leaned toward the viewer, hesitated. Thumps on the door made her jump back.

“Who is it?” she croaked, with her voice catching on something tight in her throat.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Writing Craft

Yesterday while basting, simmering and mashing I occurred to me I never wind up with the story beginning I start with. Plotting, synopsis, characters biographies while all useful story telling tools have not conquered my need to include way too much set up. Sadly, the awareness that the story needs to start five, ten, fifteen pages later than it does is not obvious until the story has progressed.

On the plus side, now days I recognize the opening is wrong all by myself. When I first started writing, the thought that the reader didn't need all that background never crossed my mind. Including too much back story is a common inexperienced writer mistake. Many craft books and articles warn of this pitfall. So why is it that I continue to have to learn the hard way? I wish it weren't true. But it is. Reading good advice, taking classes and attending helpful workshops only succeeds in teaching me when I've made enough mistakes to be willing to learn.

Objectivity, like judgement is darn hard to come by when the work in question is only slightly less dear than your first born.

On the chance you learn more painlessly that I, here's what helps me gain precious objectivity:

reading aloud - helps most with puncuation, awkward phrasing, dialogue

color coding - different hues for dialogue, action, description, internalization and emotion great graphic of what's missing

letting the story rest - until the first euphoria of creativity has passed and I'm willing to read the story with cold eyes

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading Report - Relentless

Harlequin Blaze – Relentless by Jo Leigh

Relentless is the second installment in a new mini-series from Jo Leigh. If you enjoy romantic suspense then scroll down and click. If you missed book one, Closer, order that too. There’s more coming. The only complaint I have is the books are entirely too short. Perhaps someday Ms. Leigh will find time to write a longer story to entertain her fans.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Writing Life

This morning, on a whim I checked the sidebar links - two of them didn't work. I have no idea why - the code looked fine. Eyeing the html symbol by symbol revealed nothing. Eventually I reentered both links - they look exactly the same but now they work.

If you understand why - good for you. I don't and it's a good example of the why-should-I-blog syndrome. Nephele Tempest wrote about it the other day over on Romancing the Blog. She mentioned that if you aren't up to perky blogging several times a week you're better off without one. Perhaps a group blog is right for you. I disagree. I check my favorite blogs once a week if there's nothing new I check again the following week. - Am I the only patient blog fan?

Blogging is time consuming, as is blog reading - but it gives me lots in return. New perspectives, market news, buzz and a feeling of community.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sample Saturday- Chapter Two - part four

For those just joining the story - chapter one can be read in its entirety on the October 21st entry and the first part of chapter two on the October 28th entry, the next segments on November 4th and Novewmber 11th

Bella let out the breath she’d been holding. Carl pulled away from the reception with the decorum of a deacon leading a processional. Miraculously, the clubhouse disappeared behind them with no sign of Derrick.

Irrational disappointment settled like a wet winter coat over Bella’s shoulders.

Ten minutes later, with minimal directions from her, Carl and Mimi dropped Bella at her front door. They sat like two comfortable bumps in the sedan waiting for her as she fished out the spare key from under the first step. She let herself in and then flashed the porch light to signal she was safe.

Inside the house, Bella leaned against the front door. She was where she wanted to be – home alone. She patted the doorframe with its notches Nana carved to record her height on each birthday. She loved the small house. She loved the shop. She loved her tidy life. She pressed a finger to her lips – shushing an unnamed longing for more.

Her stomach rumbled – an audible reminder she’d missed two meals. The refrigerator held a pitiful selection. There were half a dozen low fat yogurts. She scooped up the blended peach in front and snagged a spoon. So tired she almost missed the paper fluttering to the floor.
Bella picked up the note from where it had landed in front of her dyed-to-match peach sandals. Her hand shook so much it was hard to read.

The whoredom of a woman may be known in her haughty looks and eyelids. If thy daughter be shameless, keep her in straitly, lest she abuse herself through overmuch liberty.

All thought of sleep disappeared. Her heart thumped into double time. Ice trickled down her spine. The assumption of being safe at home, which she’d relied on more than she ever realized, shattered. Her life shredded by holy words used as weapons of personal destruction.

“What’s the nature of your emergency?” The calm voice of the 911 operator soothed the blunt edges of her fear.

“Someone left a note in on top of my yogurt, but the house was locked.” Saying it out loud made it sound like a harmless prank. She prayed the operator wouldn’t laugh.

“Please confirm your name and address for me ma’am.”

Again, the normalcy of the woman’s voice helped calm her. “Isabella Williams 4540 California Lane SW.”

“Thank you. Now tell me about this note – what did it say?”

“Just a minute, I have it here.” Bella read off the words that made her throat close.

“Do you know who left the note?”

“No. It’s on plain white paper, generic computer printing.”

“Have there been any other notes?”

“Yes, this is the third.” Bella’s voice sank along with her stomach.

“Did you report the others?”

The woman’s tone was neutral, but she still felt guilty. “No, I thought –”

“Is there any sign of forced entry?”

“No . . . nothing.”

“Have you checked the house?”

“Checked the house?” Bella echoed feeling stupid.

“Yes, have you checked the house?”

“Noooo.” Checked the house for what?

“Do you have a cell phone available?”


“Good. I want you to call me on the cell phone right now. Don’t hang up. We’ll keep both lines open.”

Bella redialed 911. The call was smoothly transferred back to the same operator.

“Good.” The woman’s voice soothed her again. “You can hang up your land line now. I want you to leave the house and wait outside for the officers. Do you have a safe place to go?”

Up until five minutes ago, the house was her safe place.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Writing Craft

Considering today's topic, which is something I've been studying and applying with mixed results, it occurs to me that what I need to do is write more and blog less.

For the near future I will post on Saturdays with the next installment of Seduction in Seattle and on Tuesdays, if I've read anything worthy of comment.

Back to writing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Reading Report

A Presents Binge - what can I say? Sometimes I crave dark chocolate truffles. A delicious assortment of international flavor delights.

A Virgin For The Taking, by Trish Morey Harlequin Presents - Aussie style and delightful imagery it is. Magical exotic settings provide a delectable backdrop for passionate romance. Do you need more? Allow me to introduce your hero:

His unyielding stance was imbued with antagonism, from his unshaven jaw and short finger-combed dark hair to his designer black jeans and hand-crafted leather boots planted on the floor like they owned it. Even the contrasting white shirt failed to soften the impression, instead only emphasizing his olive skin and dark features. He wore power like a birthright.

Of course at the center is the requisite melting romance as power yields to the power of love.

The Sicilian's Christmas Bride by Sandra Marton - Set in the Big Apple, New York is there a better location for an opulent Christmas story? The lights, the throngs of shoppers, glittering balls and sparkling champagne in the city that never sleeps. The hero - of course. He's dark, an avenging angel who believes the heroine betrayed him, he's cruel, he's cold, yet he burns for her and she's hiding a secret not even he imagines she'd be wicked enough to keep from him . . .

A lovely stocking stuffer for your favorite Presents addict, but don't you deserve a treat too?

Million-Dollar Love-Child by Sarah Morgan A Brazilian Billionaire as handsome and sexy as he is ruthless and two dazzling international settings for the price of one the story starts in Rio and moves to London via private jet. This is an Uncut Presents, which means extra steamy love scenes for those who like their chocolate with a hint of spice. The hero is masterful and traditional matched with a heroine who borders on the unconvincing edge between terror and passion. Ms. Morgan gives good motivation for her fear, yet I would've preferred her more challenging outside of the bedroom. Still a tasty treat for the Latin lover fan club.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Writing Life

Most of today's leisure hours were devoted to polishing a synopsis written yesterday. It's only a couple of pages, why does it take so long? Telling the super-condensed version of a story is tough. It needs to make the inner conflict sharp (still not sure the current version does that well enough). It needs to give enough of the exterior plot that the editor is confident you can tell an engaging story. It needs to draw compelling miniatures of your characters. In addition to these primary goals, the synopsis should fairly quiver with the correct tone for the line and showcase your voice. Anyone who thinks it's easy to write these simple summaries obviously hasn't written any.

Speaking of new experiences, recently I bumped into a newbie in private forum. Oh my - the exuberance, the innocence and the complete mess. I remember being there. Ignorance was bliss. Unfortunately it accomplishes nothing to move one's publishing career forward.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sample Saturday- Chapter Two - part three

For those just joining the story - chapter one can be read in its entirety on the October 21st entry and the first part of chapter two on the October 28th entry, the next on November 4th.

Tori slid a hand up his inner thigh. “I’ve missed you.”

He caught her hand removing it from his leg.

Predictably, she stormed off. Spoiled, willful and yet insecure, not a good combination. Derrick pictured a lifetime of huffs and swallowed another helping of pride. Better resign himself sooner rather than later. Making the best of things wasn’t a new concept for him and it was still the wisest choice. He’d apologize tomorrow – claim extreme horniness.

The laurel hedge lining the driveway offered easy concealment and a perfect view of the front of her house. He frowned. Where was his angel? She had Sunday school and work tomorrow. Would she come in the back door? No, she would’ve turned on lights. Rotating his wrist, he checked the dial of his watch, twenty three fifty. She was late. He should have gone to the reception. Had he gotten an invitation? He couldn’t remember. His memory wasn’t as good as it used to be. The pills had helped – made it easier to remember. But when he took his pills, he couldn’t hear God.

He shifted his weight from the balls of his feet to the heels flexing his ankles. His knees were stiff. He rocked again trying to ease the aches from standing for too long. He wanted to pop his knuckles, but he was on duty.

Images of the sinner with his Angel tortured him. He should have gone to the reception. He could have protected her. His Angel was strong and good, but the sinner was powerful. God should have warned him about the sinner. Fear trickled at the careless blasphemy.

Lord, forgive me. I know not what I think. I am your obedient servant. Yours to command.

God didn’t answer.

Queasy fear grew into a steady drip of acid etching his stomach.

Carefully, he rotated his wrist twenty three fifty three. How long had it been since the last time he checked?

He prayed. Show me the way Lord. I am lost. I am your anointed servant. Your will directs me. Tell me what to do. Instruct me. Make me the perfect instrument of your law. Prepare me to fulfill your commandments.

God sent him a sign.

A car rolled down the alley. A sigh of relief escaped. He shielded his eyes to avoid losing his night vision.

Bella left the reception stepping into the cool night air.

A dapper middle-aged man held the passenger door for his companion. Bella recognized Rod’s Aunt Mimi by her rose suit and silver curls.

“Excuse me” She called hurrying closer. “Could you possibly give me a lift? I don’t live far.” She smiled harmlessly.

“It’s Bella, Merci’s maid of honor.” Aunt Mimi announced, sounding pleased with her success in putting a name to a face.

“You’re right dear.” Her husband agreed with well-practiced congeniality. “Carl and Mimi Harris. Groom’s side.”

“Thank you so much.” Bella tucked herself into the back seat. “I’ came with friends and they’re all having such a good time, but tomorrow is a work day for me. I was hoping I could catch an early ride home.”

“Won’t your friends worry dear?” Mimi asked.

Dear Lord, she was an awful liar. But the truth was too raw and complicated to share.

“I told them I was calling a cab. But then I realized I didn’t have money with me, silly me –” she lapsed into silence.

Carl and Mimi shared an arch look so audible Bella heard – so irresponsible these young people now days. Bella bit her lip to stifle an inappropriate giggle.

Despite obvious disapproval, Carl handed Mimi into her seat then closed the back door. Bella scooted over grateful for the kindness.

Carl inserted the key, jiggled it, and then canted his neck to peer at the ignition.

“What’s the matter dear?” Mimi leaned closer to her husband.

“Some new fangled safety feature. Darn thing won’t start.”

Bella held her breath picturing Derrick striding out of the doors any second.

“Is the steering wheel locked?”

“I checked that,” Carl muttered.

“Just asking, dear.”

Carl removed the key and methodically tested the car’s systems. “Must be a woman.”

“Who’s that dear?”

“Confounded car must be female.”

“I thought that was ships,” Mimi murmured.

“Them too.”

He reinserted the key and turned. The car purred to life.

Bella let out the breath she’d been holding. Carl pulled away from the reception with the decorum of a deacon leading a processional. Miraculously, the clubhouse disappeared behind them with no sign of Derrick.

An irrational disappointment settled like a wet winter coat over Bella’s shoulders.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Writing Craft

Absorbing the comments from the contest and looking at my latest idea for a romance I find that I've once again missed the forest after getting distracted with the undergrowth. Romances all need to have a romance. Perfectly obvious, the kind of romance the lovely editors are seeking is conflicted based upon who the characters are rather than by circumstances.

My personal dilemma is this: is it easier to fit your story to a line or to market your voice?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reading Report

The Hard Way by Lee Child

The Hard Way is Jack Reacher's tenth thriller. Not my favorite of the series, that distinction goes to Tripwire, but each adventure is worthy of not only reading but re-reading. Jack Reacher is the tough but vulnerable hero of the series. No problem figuring out who to root for or who's going to win. At the three quarter point I got worried that Mr. Child had become predictable, fortunately for me and the rest of his avid fans, I was mistaken.

For the romance writer's out there - why read a thriller? Pacing, suspense, elegant plotting, realistic action and dialogue and because a change of pace is good for everyone.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Writing life

Frustrated with the lack of editorial feedback, I tried a contest. Took a couple of months but I got the contest scores and comments last week for two entries. I’ve learned a few things.

Judging is subjective
What one judge loves another may hate
If two or more judges point out a problem, it’s worth looking at
Comments and scores may not match
Synopsis counts
I need to think harder about what category I enter
One entry got high marks for setting
One entry got high marks for plot
Dialogue, characters and POV got good scores in both cases
Conflict could’ve been stronger in both cases
Readability, show v tell and wanting more all need work

I got my money’s worth.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sample Saturday - Chapter Two continued

For those just joining the story - chapter one can be read in its entirety on the October 21st entry and the first part of chapter two on the October 28th entry.

Tori’s teeth snapped shut. She snagged her friend’s arm and propelled them both of the room with only one nervous backward glance. What had she thought? That Bella was going to pound her skinny little butt? Ladies did not engage in brawls.

After the women left, her bravado sagged like a bargain bra.

She’d lied. Tori was pretty enough to get away with lying. Pretty enough to get away with anything. Bella returned to the sink, shakily wetting a paper towel and dabbing more cold water – very carefully – mustn’t mess up the makeup Merci had arranged for.

With her potent coloring, even skillfully applied makeup looked overdone. The brown shadow created bedroom eyes. The iced sherbet lip-gloss emphasized her mouth – making it lascivious. The makeup, the dress, the dancing, and Derrick, especially Derrick – was wrong. Her chin threatened to pucker. She took a deep breath and let it out slow. Repeating the calming ritual until the urge to cry went away. She would not dissolve into a puddle. She would not give Miss Snarky Tori the satisfaction.

Tomorrow she’d wake up in the real world. She’d go back to being her plain and boring self. The clock on the wall, edged closer to eleven. Suddenly, she long for own bed. If she wanted to be home before the witching hour, she needed to get moving.

She’d given Tori and her friend time to make an escape. The party was in full swing. The poignant strains of Unchained Melody beckoned her to linger. It was the last dance before the midnight supper. Staying close to the wall, she edged her way toward the bride’s table. Tugging on a bright smile, she stepped forward meeting Merci with a hug Merci as Rod escorted her back to their table. “Luggage is safe and sound. You’re good to go.”

“Thank you for everything. I’ll call you.”

“Don’t you dare, we’ll talk when you get back. I’ve got to run.”

Rod whispered something in his wife’s ear. Merci looked at him with so much love Bella automatically stepped back to give the couple privacy. She kept going, not pausing until she came to the doors. Glancing back at the celebration, her eyes zoomed in on Derrick.

His neck bent listening to Tori. Glossy black hair, curtained her pixie face. She angled her head closer to his lips. Her black dress echoed her hair – sleek and expensive. She could’ve been a smaller feminine version of Derrick – all clean sharp angles and controlled grace. One small hand fluttered to his tie adjusting the flawless knot in a telling gesture.

A bittersweet longing to toss the little witch right on her bony butt swept through Bella with a flood of chagrined surprise. Ruthlessly she clamped off useless regret. Tilting her chin up, she strolled out.

Merci’s wedding ceremony went off without a single snag. The touching memories safe for a lifetime. Bella wasn’t about to spoil this perfect night with a catfight. She left while she was the clear winner with a tender memory of her own – a magic kiss.

Derrick felt Bella’s glance. He straightened pulling away from Victoria. He searched the room. No Bella. Where was she? If . . . she should be here sitting next to him. A glimmer of peach satin slipped through the doors and out of his life. He took an almost step in pursuit.

"Isn’t it time for your toast?” Victoria’s hand lay gently on his sleeve.

He felt the weight and the accompanying clank of obligation. Bristling, he hid it behind a wry smile. “Right.”

Tori patted his tie.

He stepped to the dais and lifted his glass. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Rod too. . .” Smiling he waited for the laughter to die down before continuing. “I’ll keep this brief.” He produced a tightly furled scroll and let it unwind for a flourishing six feet from the podium.

The well-practiced speech went smoothly. All the while a voice inside wailed, Bella, Bella, Bella.

After the speech, he resumed worrying about Bella’s problem. The stalker – the man behind the notes – bothered him. She’d made it blatantly clear she didn’t want his help. He had no rights. A kiss in the twilight didn’t obligate her. It hardly counted as a flirtation. That he’d had sex less meaningful was his problem. Not hers.

Tori's voice startled him back to current events.

“Rod isn’t much of friend saddling you with the fat cow.” She glittered at him, presumably trying to simulate sympathy.

Derrick turned toward her,deliberately narrowing his eyes. “That’s low even by your standards. Show a little class Vic.”

She bristled back. She hated being called Vic, which was why he did it.

“You can’t seriously mean to imply you care about that, that woman?” Her voice shook.

“Be careful.” He kept his words soft - his expression hard.

“Can’t we go now?” Tori pouted at him in a change of tactics.

Derrick shook his head, not trusting himself to stay civil. His temper simmered too close to the surface.

Tori slid a hand up his inner thigh. “I’ve missed you.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Writing Craft

Last week we polished off the editor’s wish list from the lovely editors at Harlequin. It occurs to me that there’re some serious omissions on the list.

The story must be a romance. This is my own favorite mistake. The story should revolve around the character based conflict between the hero and heroine, which prevents them making a mutual commitment to a long term relationship. Want to write thrillers? Fine, but don’t pester the poor over-worked romance editor with your courtroom thriller and then get huffy over your form rejection. Same goes for mysteries, paranormals, science fiction, fantasy et al.

Personally, I find it hard to keep the focus on the hero/heroine conflict when the story includes suspense, mystery – in short anything. Even a secondary romance can take over the story. The current work in progress is pure romance, no sub-plot, no other elements. I should learn something.
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