Monday, December 30, 2013
Other than Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve has to be the most nerve-inducing holiday on the calendar. Because if you don’t have something awesome planned with the coolest people on the planet, you’re the world’s biggest loser.
Is there anyone who’s had a better New Year’s Eve than Sally Albright? Right before the clock strikes midnight, the love of her life runs up and gives her the most romantic speech ever. And I know that it is, because I have spent many, many New Year’s Eves watching it. That’s usually because my husband Tom can rarely make it past ten o’clock, so I end up watching movies and the ball drop on the couch.
But I’m happy to give the protagonist in my work-in-progress THE SEESAW EFFECT, Erin Murphy, an even worse night…. Erin’s been having a tough few months. She lost her job as a Democratic advisor after the election, only to have her husband Jack become a TV star on a famous Republican network. Here are the highlights on her last day of the year:
Ordinarily, Jack and I have a low-key New Year’s Eve, just hanging out with the kids, watching TV until the ball drops. That isn’t because we don’t believe in parties, or that we love our kids so damn much. It’s because we rarely get invited anywhere. And I’ve always been too nervous to throw a party on my own. What if no one came? What a nightmare that would be.
“Guess what? We finally got invited somewhere New Year’s Eve,” I told Jack. “Wendy Kaplan’s having people over, and she wants us to come.”
“You can’t go,” Jessica said. “Nina’s having a party, and you have to take me and pick me up. Plus someone has to watch Michael. He can’t stay home by himself.”
“We could probably take Michael,” I mused. “He can hang out with Stephen. And you can spend the night at Nina’s house.”
“It’s not that kind of party,” Jessica started to explain, but Jack cut her off.
“Actually, I already have plans for New Year’s Eve.”
Three heads whirled around and glared at Jack.
“Hey, I’ve been here all week, haven’t I? And haven’t I given you the greatest Christmas ever? Fox is having a thing, and I know your mother would rather cut off her own head than go, so I thought I’d go stag. We never do anything New Year’s Eve anyway, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”
“I did not get married,” I hissed, “so I could spend major holidays alone.”
“You won’t be alone, Mommy,” Michael said. “You’ll be with me.”
For a second, I thought about attending Wendy’s little dinner party by myself. But honestly, it would just be too awkward. People would ask about Jack, and then they’d probably say mean things about him behind his back, and I’m the only one who can do that.
“Do you really want to get all dressed up and pretend to be someone you’re not for five hours?” Jack asked.
“Mom can wear that big coat you got her,” Michael said.
“She’s not wearing it,” Jessica said. “She returned it. Didn’t you, Mom?”
“Well, I haven’t exactly gotten around to it,” I admitted.
“But you’re going to, right?”
“Absolutely,” I assured her. “As soon as the mall isn’t so crowded.”
New Year’s Eve found me doing the grocery shopping, cleaning up more dog mess, driving Michael to and from practice, and dropping off Jessica at Nina’s house. When I got home, Jack was dressed in his fancy, expensive tux.
“Wow,” I said. “Looks like you’ve got a hell of a night planned.”
“It’s just work. You know they expect us to look good.”
Glancing out the window, I saw Scott’s car puttering down the road, dropping off Michael from soccer practice. I ran downstairs and met them in the driveway.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said as Michael climbed out of the back seat, all sweaty and grubby from soccer practice. “I hope it doesn’t make you late for your New Year’s plans.”
“We’re just going to Wendy’s. She said she invited you, but you already had other plans?”
“Jack has other plans,” I clarified. “The Fox party. I’m persona non grata.”
“I can’t believe he’s leaving you alone on New Year’s Eve for work. That’s crazy. You should come to Wendy’s by yourself. Everyone would love to see you.”
“I’m okay. Michael and I have the whole evening planned.”
“You all ready for the tournament?”
“I’m all ready not to go,” I said. Was it my imagination, or did Scott look disappointed? “Jack’s taking Michael. Jessica has a riding show.”
“That’s too bad. Laura can’t go either. Now I’ll have no one to hang out with.”
“You can always hang out with Jack.”
Scott made a face. “I think my politics are to the left of yours. So probably not a good idea.” He reached over and squeezed my hand briefly. “Happy New Year, Erin.”
Jack was walking down the stairs when I returned. Michael made a beeline for him, arms outstretched, but Jack held his hands up.
“Whoa, buddy. This suit cost thousands of dollars. I don’t need any sweaty paw prints on it.”
“But you’re leaving. I just wanted to give you a hug goodbye.”
“How about a handshake. Then we’ll call it even.”
Jack stuck out his hand. Michael grabbed it and shook. Jack grimaced.
“Resolution for the new year: teaching you how to shake hands. Weak and clammy isn’t going to cut it, son.”
Michael turned red. “Whatever.” He headed into the kitchen.
“Do you have to criticize everything he does?” I asked.
Jack shrugged. “Sorry. Guess I picked up the habit from you.”
A horn honked outside. Jack glanced out the window. “That’s my ride.”
I looked out. A stretch limousine idled out front.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“The network takes care of me.”
As he headed toward the front door, I saw that Tucker had left a liquid present on the landing. I guess it was a good sign that he was having his accidents closer to a door. The training must be starting to infiltrate his tiny puppy brain.
And did I say anything as Jack stepped right in it? Of course not. Happy New Year.
I tried to convince myself that having my third-grade son all to myself was all the New Year’s Eve a woman could ask for. Michael had showered and changed into his pajamas, and we ordered pizza and watched Batman movies. When he fell asleep on the couch at ten, I channel-surfed till I came across “When Harry Met Sally.”
Watching that movie only made me feel worse. There would be no declarations of undying love at midnight for me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had spent New Year’s Eve without a date, even if that date was just Jack trying to comfort a colicky Michael while Jessica threw Barbie dolls all over the living room floor. It must have been high school. I had always had good luck finding someone to spend the evening with, even before Jack came along.
I tried not to picture Jack kissing someone as the ball dropped. But everyone would be drunk and pretty and Jack was the hot new Fox star. The women would probably be lining up to kiss him. I hoped they were ugly.
I wondered if Kylie were there. Of course she was. She worked for Fox, too. I could only hope she had brought a date.
What if Jack were her date?
It suddenly hit me that it was extremely suspicious that Fox would have two holiday parties in a row where spouses were not invited. Not just any spouse – me.
It didn’t look like the new year was lining up to be a very good one. My husband and I were going in two different directions, and if that continued, next year could find me even more alone on New Year’s Eve. Jack was turning into a completely different person, but I had to admit our issues weren’t completely his fault. I had become a wife he couldn’t take to his office party because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. What was more important, having a good marriage or speaking up every time someone said something offensive?
When the movie ended, I changed the channel to watch the coverage at Times Square. I thought about waking up Michael to watch the ball drop with me, but he was snoring so loudly, that seemed mean. But as the ball hit the platform and the numbers of the new year lit up, my phone vibrated with a text message: Kiss! Kiss! Big Kiss!!
The message made me feel a little better. But not much. I knew what a good multi-tasker Jack was with that phone. He could be sending me virtual kisses while giving his assistant the real ones.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Instead, I decided to post an excerpt from one of my works-in-progress, a scene that takes place Christmas morning. “The Seesaw Effect” is about Erin Murphy, a Democrat an important job, a loving husband and two kids. She ends up on the wrong end of the seesaw when she loses that job and her husband Jack becomes a famous talk show host on a right-wing TV network. This is their first Christmas since Jack became famous, and in addition to their kids Jessica and Michael, Jack has invited his entire large Catholic family to celebrate.
I hope you enjoy it! Merry Christmas!
With everyone scheduled to arrive at eight, that meant getting up at seven. Michael, of course, had been up since five, bouncing off the walls and begging to go downstairs. But we had already agreed to hold off on opening any presents until the entire family got here, a decision I regretted as soon as Jack announced it. I really didn’t want everyone looking at what we got each other. Especially since Jack liked to buy me sexy lingerie that embarrassed the hell out of the kids.
I had to drag Jessica out of bed, which was a big surprise. Last year she and Michael were both up at five, which is when we opened gifts. Then we went back to bed until ten. Last year was a very good year.
But I got everyone downstairs and ready right at the stroke of eight. Charles and Mary Margaret had been the first ones down, and they looked as excited as Michael.
We waited for the rest of Jack’s family to arrive.
Peggy and company were the first to get here, pulling in at eight fifteen and looking confused that they were the first ones here. They had boxes and boxes of presents loaded up in expensive shopping bags. Michael nudged Jessica and nodded excitedly at the packages. I couldn’t help but notice, though, as Peggy spread them around the tree, that each gift was marked for someone in her immediate family, save two small packages for her parents.
Peter and Melissa showed up at eight thirty. They had presents for their four kids – Tommy, Brianne, Stephanie, and Patricia – but nothing I could see for anyone else.
Then Elizabeth and Tony showed up a half hour later. They weren’t carrying any gifts, and I heard their daughter Meg tell Stephanie that they had opened everything in the hotel before coming over.
I could tell by the looks on their faces that Jessica and Michael were starting to realize that all these extra people were not going to translate into extra gifts for them, after all. They were polite enough to keep their mouths shut about it, but I felt their disappointment as well.
I was starting to get a little worried about the time. Not only was everyone starving, but my parents and sisters were coming over around eleven in order to get started on dinner. It would be embarrassing if we were still opening our gifts and eating donuts. Assuming the donuts would ever get here.
Finally, Chuck and his brood arrived around 10:30. Their arms were filled with presents and donuts. His wife, Allison, apologized for being so late.
“The kids were starving last night,” she explained. “Somehow we ended up eating all the donuts before bed. And then we had to drive around all morning trying to find a store that was open.”
Surprisingly, the kids attacked the donuts before heading to the presents under the tree. I only managed to snare half a cake donut before they were all gone.
Jack made a big deal of playing Santa Claus, doling out gifts one by one and insisting that only one person open a present at a time. The gifts were all the usual things – clothes for the women, sports memorabilia for the men, gift certificates for the kids. Jack’s family was too polite to say anything about the books I bought for them, but I could see that Jack was inwardly seething. But Jessica was truly excited about the new riding gear I’d gotten her, and Michael was impressed that I’d managed to track down some obscure European soccer merchandise.
“Santa has taken the initiative to save the best for last,” Jack announced. He still hadn’t given his parents, the kids, or me his presents, so I guess that was his definition of “the best.”
He pulled an envelope out from under the tree and handed it to his mother. She immediately tried to pass it off to his dad.
“You open it.”
“He gave it to you, M.”
“I guess we’ll just have to open it together.”
Gingerly, the two lifted the envelope flap and unfolded the piece of paper inside.
“Oh, Jackie,” Mary Margaret breathed.
“Son, this is too much,” Charles said. “We can’t accept this.”
I peered over my mother-in-law’s shoulder. Jack had given them a two-week European cruise.
“After everything you’ve done for this family, nothing is too much,” Jack proclaimed. “You deserve a little better than the Jersey Shore.”
“The Shore’s fine,” Mary Margaret said.
“I think Barcelona’s going to be a little better,” I said. I put on a big fake smile, but inwardly I was seething. I’d never been to Europe. I’d always wanted to go. But with work and the kids’ activities, we’d never had the time – or the money.
Chuck and Peter exchanged annoyed looks. Their amazing gift of a home theatre system – which wasn’t nearly as good as ours – was seeming even stingier by comparison.
“Oh, wait,” Jack said, reaching under the tree again. “It looks like there are more envelopes down here.” He pulled out another one and handed it to Jessica.
“If that’s another European cruise, there better be one under the tree for me, too,” I said. I was only half-joking. Okay, maybe I wasn’t joking at all.
Jessica tore open her envelope. Inside was a picture of a horse. Not a picture from a magazine, just a picture off a home printer.
“Dad,” she asked in a shaky, low voice, “why are you giving me a picture of Banjo?”
“Who’s Banjo?” Michael asked.
“Your sister’s favorite horse at the barn. According to her riding instructors, anyway. Well, no one’s going to be riding him except for you, kiddo.”
“You bought me a horse! You bought me Banjo!” Jessica shrieked in that high-pitched tone that only teenage girls could achieve.
“She’s all yours, honey.”
Jessica threw herself into Jack’s arms, and just like that, the last six weeks were completely forgotten and totally forgiven.
“Wow, a horse,” Amanda said with thinly veiled sarcasm. “I got a riding lesson once.”
“Yeah, Dad, thanks for the jeans,” Stephanie added.
“You can ride on him whenever you’d like,” Jessica said. “I’ll teach you.”
“Whatever,” Amanda said.
Jack’s entire family was furious, and he didn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed. He’d made his brothers and sisters look bad to their kids. Who does that? I wanted to pull him aside and give him a piece of my mind, but it was Christmas. The lecture could wait till tomorrow.
The doorbell rang. My mother must have been early, for once. I sprung up and answered the door. Instead of one of my blood relations, though, it was Bruce, our next door neighbor. He was carrying a large, wrapped box.
“Santa dropped this one off at our house by mistake,” he winked. “Michael better open it in a hurry.”
I carried the heavy, wiggling box into the house and placed in front of my wide-eyed son. I had a bad feeling I knew exactly what was inside.
“Hurry up and open it, son,” Jack instructed.
Michael tore off the wrapping paper and opened the box. Gingerly, he picked up its contents – a tiny English bulldog puppy. The dog immediately began licking Michael’s face. Michael giggled in delight.
“If I get one kid a pony, I have to get the other one a dog,” Jack said. “I think that’s the law or something.”
The dog peed all over Michael’s pants.
“Gross!” Patricia exclaimed.
“Glad I’m not the one who has to clean that up,” her mother chimed in.
“It’s just a little bit,” Michael said defensively. “He’s just a baby. What do you expect?”
“Jack, is that a pure bred?” Melissa asked. “Did you get him from a breeder?”
“Yep,” he replied. “I wanted the temperament, the English bulldog look. Got him from a great guy. Farm in Virginia. Only has ten dogs, only breeds the females once a year. ”
Melissa whistled. “That’s not cheap.”
Michael put the dog down, and he skidded all over the floor, going from person to person. The kids laughed. The moms all shot me sympathetic looks.
“Well, I thought I was done with potty training,” I said. “I guess not.”
“And middle of the night feedings,” Melissa said. “He’s a baby. He’ll be up crying all night long.”
“Oh, this is Michael’s dog,” Jack said. “Michael will take care of it. Teach him some responsibility.”
“When he’s not at school, or soccer, or doing his homework,” I said.
“I can be responsible,” Michael argued.
The dog peed on the floor.
“You can start that responsibility right now,” I said. “Grab some paper towels and some Pledge, and clean up the floor. Then you can change your clothes.”
“Okay.” Michael ran off to get the cleaning supplies. He seemed eager to prove himself. I wondered how long that would last.
“Did you get a crate?” I asked Jack.
“Crate? For the dog? That’s inhumane!”
“There’s nothing inhumane about it,” Melissa said. “Dogs like confined spaces. And crates are the best way to train.”
“We’re not putting the dog in a cage,” Jack declared.
I wanted to put him in a cage.
Michael cleaned the floor and changed his clothes. I put some old newspapers in the box the dog came in, setting up a makeshift crate. Too bad it didn’t have air holes.
“Dad,” Michael said, “what did you get Mom?”
“Yeah,” Jessica chimed in. “I thought you had a big box for her.”
“That I do,” he said. “Thanks for reminding me.”
He opened the hall closet. The wrapped box he dragged out was absolutely huge, and, judging from the way Jack handled it, pretty heavy. He dropped it at my feet with a flourish.
I tried not to get my hopes up too much.
“Open it, Mom,” Jessica urged. “That looks enormous!”
Eagerly, I tore off the professionally wrapped Christmas paper. The box was from Nordstrom’s. An entire new wardrobe could have fit into it.
“Come on!” Michael said.
I pulled off the top. And then I just stood there, because my brain literally couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me.
My husband had bought me a full-length mink coat.
“Oh, my Lord,” Mary Margaret breathed. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It sure is,” Jack boasted. “One hundred percent pure mink. The real thing.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Peggy said.
“Take it out,” Jack urged. “Model it for us.”
I was so numb, I did what I was told. The mink certainly felt nice – incredibly smooth and warm. And the coat fit like it was made for me.
Jessica watched me, her eyes filling with tears. “You don’t actually like that thing, do you, Mom?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Jack demanded.
“It’s murder!” Jessica shrieked. “Do you know how many minks they had to kill to make that coat?”
“They would have died anyway!” Jack said.
“No, they wouldn’t have,” I said. “They are specially bred on mink farms for the sole purpose of being made into coats.”
“Then their lives had meaning after all. I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about. Minks are just bigger rats with nicer fur.”
“Mom can’t ever wear that coat,” Jessica said. “People will throw blood on her!”
Jack laughed. “Jessica, we love her and all, but your mother’s not exactly famous. And only famous people get blood thrown on them.”
“You’re famous. Doesn’t that make her famous, too?”
“She’s the wife of a Republican. And Republican women can wear fur. And eat meat. And drink ginormous cups of soda. It’s good to be a Republican.”
“It’s Christmas,” Mary Margaret said. “Jack has given us all some wonderful, wonderful things. Let’s not argue.”
“I’ll second that,” I said. “There’s plenty of time to argue later.”
“And I need someone to help me come up with a name for the dog,” Michael added.
I pulled Jessica into a one-armed hug. “Don’t worry,” I whispered. “As soon as the holidays are over, I’m returning that thing.”
She smiled and wiped her tears away. And a small, petty, evil part of me was glad that Jack was the bad guy in her eyes once again.
Tune in next week, when Jack and Erin celebrate New Year’s!
Monday, December 16, 2013
Formerly independent author Ruth Mancini is relaunching her upmarket women’s fiction novel, Swimming Upstream, with Booktrope Publishing.
Ruth Mancini was born in South-West London and educated in London and Cambridge where she gained a Bachelors degree in languages and a post-graduate diploma in law. For several years she worked in the publishing industry before becoming a practising lawyer, author and freelance writer. She now lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two children. With the success of Swimming Upstream, she recently quit her full-time job and plans to combine writing her next book with working freelance as a lawyer and helping run her husband's business.
About Swimming Upstream….
“I once read that the end of a relationship is like being involved in a road traffic accident. Which is quite fitting really, given what happened.”
After seven years, Lizzie wonders whether she’s truly happy with her long-term boyfriend. When one wrong step and a chance meeting set off an unexpected chain of events, her life begins to unravel. On the same day that she meets Martin, an attractive lifeguard, her old friend, Catherine, re-appears. But is Martin really all he seems? And what is the secret that Catherine is hiding? As Lizzie struggles to confront the ghosts of her past, can she survive the shocking twist that will change the course of her future?
Swimming Upstream is a life-affirming and often humorous story about a young woman’s pursuit of happiness. It is also a story of female friendship, love, and divided loyalties – and the moral choices that we find ourselves making when the chips are down.
Praise for Swimming Upstream
“I really enjoyed Swimming Upstream. There is a nice rhythm and pace…credible dialogue, compelling protagonist, recognisable settings and good supporting cast.” – journalist and award-winning novelist Eloise Millar.
“Gripping, pacey…I truly enjoyed Swimming Upstream. This is thinking women’s chick lit!” – Catherine Amey, author.
Buy Swimming Upstream on Amazon
Buy Swimming Upstream on B&N
Follow Ruth on Twitter
Like Ruth's Facebook page
Monday, December 9, 2013
I was going to chat about writing a novella, the appropriate lengths for a novella, and the publishing opportunities for novellas, but it’s Christmas time and nobody wants to read about all of that stuff while your rushing about with Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts, and baking those delicious treats. Instead of boring you with a writing post, I’m sharing two recipes that my heroine, Candy Cane, makes in this story.
Candy Cane Vanilla Fudge
1 package vanilla milk chips
1 can of Pillsbury Vanilla Creamy Supreme Icing
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
4 drops red food colouring
2 tablespoons of peppermint candy canes (chopped)
Place vanilla chips in a pot on the stove at medium heat. Stir until the chips have melted.
Add icing to the pot and continue stirring.
Remove from heat and add peppermint extract until dissolved.
Pour mixture into a pan.
Add one drop of food coloring in each corner of pan.
Use a butter knife to swirl the food coloring into the fudge for a swirl effect (don’t overdo it).
Add chopped peppermint pieces to the top of fudge.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until the fudge has hardened.
Cut into small pieces.
These cute chocolate cherry mice have a pointy chocolate kiss face, a cherry stem tail, two little almond slices for ears, and bright red candy eyes.
An avid reader since childhood, Darlene loved to put a pencil to paper and plot out stories of her own. Her writing is a combination of contemporary romance with chick lit flare, and a main focus as a plot-driven page-turner. When Darlene isn’t writing, editing, or reading she enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, and Yellow Lab.
About One Sweet Christmas:
It’s going to take more than a few pieces of chocolate to fill this Scrooge’s heart with Christmas cheer. Luckily Candice Cane has a whole shop full...
Candice Cane is not proud of the way she acted after her last encounter with Jackson Frost. Sure revenge was fun, but it’s left Jackson standing, angry and looking for answers, on the welcome mat in her chocolate shop. Now he’s after some revenge of his own.
Jackson returned to his small hometown for one reason and one reason only...so he’s not sure how he’s ended up in a Santa suit in the middle of a chocolate shop, at the behest of its beautiful owner, instead of high-tailing it back to the city as fast as he can.
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Tuesday, December 3, 2013
My 19-year-old son has discovered words. Not just your regular, everyday words – he pretty much discovered most of them when he was three – but those polysyllabic ones with Greek or Latin roots that are more often found in the vocabulary portion of the SAT than in the real world vernacular (is “vernacular” one of those words?)
I’m proud and impressed at his initiative. He’s looking up about 15 words a day and using them every chance he can, both in regular conversation and in his writings for school. Sadly, his brand-new complicated words usually don’t fit as well as the ordinary ones he’s replaced. Moreover, while he thinks that using them makes him sound smarter, it doesn’t. Either he’s misused the word so the sentence just sounds odd, or he hasn’t, and he just sounds pretentious. I’ve tried to tell him there is certain vocabulary that is specific to certain industries or circumstances and sounds weird outside of that context, but like every college student, he prefers not to listen to his mother.
But it does bring up a question: When did we decide that good writing automatically meant the use of long, complicated, obscure words? Because it’s not just my son who thinks this.
I remember Mrs. Mitchell’s ninth grade English class, in which every new piece of writing – an act of Shakespeare, a Carson McCullers novel – was preceded by a vocabulary list (and test) consisting of words that would be found in the text. The message was subtle but clear – good writers used words that their readers would need to look up to understand. That is, if their readers were high-school students. (Ironically, I did poorly on most of those weekly vocabulary tests, but somehow those words made it into my brain over the years anyway, which goes to show the best way to learn words is organically.)
I don’t believe that good writing makes readers head for the dictionary. I tell my son to communicate to be understood, not to impress. That the ideas he seeks to convey matter more than the words he uses to convey them. Still, he persists in trying to force those words into writings where they don’t belong.
This is a trap that many writers fall into. It may not be specific to long, complicated words, but oftentimes new writers think they have to sound different – smarter, older, more sophisticated – in order to be taken seriously. Or those who are writing for a younger audience go out of their way to sound more current, sweating over the latest slang and asking every teenager they know if their work sounds like it comes from one of their peers.
It’s a trap because, over the course of a 65,000 word novel, writing in a voice not your own is exhausting. Writing in your own voice is hard enough as it is, but when you’re pretending to be someone you’re not as a writer, the phoniness shines through.
I’m not saying that you should excise any word from your writing that has over three syllables. If you’re a logophile and you know it, then your writing should surely show it. And many writers are very well-read, and have picked up sophisticated vocabulary naturally.
But if you can’t get through a paragraph without clicking on the “thesaurus” button…. Stop. That first word that came into your head was the right one. Trust your instincts. Trust your gut. Trust that any reader who needs a dictionary to get through your first page is
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
As a self-pubbed writer, I have to admit, sometimes I concentrate more on what I don’t have than what I do. Like… an agent, or a publishing deal, or thousands of books sold. But that kind of negative thinking doesn’t get anyone anywhere. From this Thanksgiving on, I’m going to concentrate on what I’m grateful for. That includes:
Amazon, for making self-publishing so easy. A few years ago, when I was still writing screenplays, I realized it had become a lot easier to publish and sell your own book, while it was still just as difficult to make and market your own movie. The marketing part is still challenging, but the fact that I have an actual book, with a real cover and pages and all that good stuff, is amazing.
The graphic designers, illustrators, and typesetters that charge a very reasonable rate to design your book cover and convert your text into the acceptable format for Createspace, Smashwords, etc.
Facebook, for making it so easy to get to know other writers. Thanks to groups like ChickLitGoddesses, I always know where to turn when I have a question or concern. And that brings me to:
Other self-published writers. I have met so many amazing women who are incredibly generous with their time, ideas and encouragement. It brightens my day to log on to my email and find some notes from my writer friends, congratulating or commiserating. Even though some of them are all the way on the other side of the country, it feels like they are sitting across from me in my dining room, eating chocolate and sharing ideas.
Google, for hosting Blogger.com. My own blog is there, the blogs of several writers who’ve featured me are there, and they host ChickLitCentral.com, which gave me my start as a book reviewer.
My boss, who took a chance on a former PR manager who hasn’t had a real job in years or been in school in decades, and gave me an internship and a chance to prove myself.
My family, for supporting my writing efforts directly and indirectly.
And Hershey’s, for obvious reasons….
Oh, and those really great chocolate chip cookies Sweetbay makes…
And last but not least, I’m extremely grateful to each and every one of you who read KEEPING SCORE, left a review, or stopped by my blog this year and read what I had to say!
Happy Thanksgiving, all!!!
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
In real life, this is good news. We want to avoid accidents, minimize confrontations, remain unscathed and have a good day. And as writers, naturally we want this for our characters. We love them. We created them. They live inside our heads, like best friends who would never, ever, make out with our boyfriends underneath the bleachers while we’re in the marching band Homecoming parade.
But in fiction, the accidents happen. They have to. The best friend and boyfriend hook up. The two cars collide. The teenage girl’s pregnancy test is positive. The hurricane hits. The worst happens. It has to.
In too many unpublished manuscripts I read, however, the writer does an excellent job setting up the calamity – but then fails to follow through. The test is negative; the hurricane veers out to sea. The characters are relieved, of course… but the reader is let down. The writer has pulled her punches – set up the reader to anticipate this great clash, and then yanked away the football. The rifle stayed safely over the fireplace for the entire play.
Why do writers do this? There are two obvious reasons. The first is easiest to rectify:
One, the author had never intended for her book to be about how a town recovers from being hit by a tornado. She just wanted a reason for her hero and heroine to fight about whether to try to outrun the storm or hide in the basement. It was never supposed to be about the tornado!
I had a similar issue in an earlier draft of my book, KEEPING SCORE. I had a subplot in which my protagonist Shannon is faced with either losing her job or having to work fulltime. Either she’d be broke or she’d have to hire someone to drive her son all around. It was an interesting dilemma, but not what I wanted to write about. I’d also worked pretty hard setting up Shannon’s office environment and giving her an office crush, and I didn’t want to have to give that up. So Shannon found the solution of having a friend do a job share with her, so she was able to remain part time at the job that suddenly needed a fulltime worker.
It was a great solution, but it took up too much space in the book without essentially changing anything for Shannon. It was a waste of time and words. I cut the entire subplot (I did keep her job-share partner to give her more work conflict, though.).
In other words, if you’re not willing to let the hurricane hit – just like I was unwilling to write the story that would have resulted had Shannon lost her job or gone fulltime – you have to get rid of the hurricane. Your story might not need a hurricane at all, or it might just need a backstabbing best friend. Either way, the rule is the same – your set-ups need pay-offs. They don’t need to be pay-offs that neatly balance your set-ups, but something of the same weight needs to happen.
The second reason writers do this is a little more difficult to confront. That’s because the writer doesn’t want to. In real life, most of us shy away from confrontation – we apologize when we’re the ones who’ve been wronged, we pretend we’re not mad when we are. People who enjoy confrontation are called bullies. It’s the glue that keeps the social niceties moving along. In real life, it serves us well. In fiction, it causes us to pull our punches.
Bluntly stated, we make that pregnancy test negative because we just don’t want to deal with the consequences that plus sign would mean. We don’t want to destroy that nice town we created. We don’t want to break up that cute couple. We shy away from big confrontations in real life, and we shy away from them in our writing, too.
Is there a way to break this habit, other than years of extensive therapy? Frankly, I don’t know. But as a blocked writer, I was once told by a writing instructor to imagine the worst thing that could happen to my character – and then make it happen. Perhaps that exercise is a good place to start.
Being aware of the problem is the first step to solving it. Take a look at your current work in progress. Do you set up disasters, only to let your protagonist avoid them at the last minute? Think about how the story would play out if she ran into that wall at full speed. How much more engrossing would that be?
For the past several years, “The Good Wife” has been my favorite show. Now in its 5th season, the show – which was always well-reviewed – is receiving unprecedented accolades for its decision to have Alicia leave the law firm she’d called home -- and the ex-lover who’d hired her -- to start her own firm. More conservative writers might have had Alicia flirt with the idea to leave, only to stay at the end and avoid the fall-out. But that wouldn’t have given us this story.
Writers in any genre or medium cannot pull their punches. Rather, they need to leave their readers punch drunk, as blow after blow land for a direct hit. That’s the kind of work that keeps readers up all night, rather than letting them put down the book after a few chapters.
Monday, November 11, 2013
About Between Boyfriends
At first glance, twenty-one-year-old Jan Weston has it all: a gorgeous boyfriend, fun friends, and wealthy parents who take care of all those pesky credit card bills.
Then her boyfriend dumps her, her friendships fall apart, and her parents cut her off. Suddenly without money, without a man, and without a plan, it's time for Jan to grow up.
Determined to get her life back on track, Jan decides it's time to make it on her own. Can she find her way as a single lady in San Diego? Can she fix her friendships, her job prospects, and her hair? And can she keep her vow that she'll never date again, even after she meets a guy who just might be perfect for her?
BETWEEN BOYFRIENDS is a sexy, hilarious story of living life, finding love, and growing up... but not necessarily in that order.
Praise for Between Boyfriends
"This book is the ultimate chick-lit read--a light-hearted romp focused on the travails of Jan, a college student dumped by her boyfriend, an SDSU student. The moment proves an epiphany, as Jan resolves to stop dating and find fulfillment as a single woman." - East County Magazine
Between Boyfriends "presents a unique twist on the chick lit genre." - Hollywood & Vine magazine
"Over the course of the book, Jan, who is in her early 20s, begins to grow as a person and even strikes up a true friendship with a man, a first for her." - Rancho Santa Fe Review
"Cut off by parents? Not got a boyfriend? That's the formula for a chick lit hit." - Indie Author Land
"The book teaches both subtle and obvious lessons about friendship, relationships, responsibility and decision making." - The Masquerade Crew
"Between Boyfriends is a delicious slice of chick-lit! Snappy dialogue sets this story apart from the pack as it follows a young woman who, financially cut off by her parents when she fails to attend school, learns that life is more than her Amex card, and reunites with a mother who has endured her own brand of pain." - Jan Moran, bestselling author
"BETWEEN BOYFRIENDS is a great read. It's got everything you'd expect in a chick-lit book: good friends, fun, and a little romance, but the thing Sarka-Jonae adds to this story is a journey." - Caroline Fardig, bestselling author
Barnes & Noble
Sárka-Jonae is a novelist, publicist, and journalist, among other “ists” there aren’t room for. Her novel writing career began with Between Boyfriends, an edgy chick-lit book for women who’ve been ”between boyfriends”, which is much cooler than being single.
SJ is a graduate of Syracuse University. Before writing full-time, she was a personal trainer and massage therapist, helping people tone up, slim down, and chill out. In her free time, Sárka-Jonae loves to dance in flash mobs, in music videos, on speakers, or at home in her underwear. She practices kung fu and yoga, was briefly a Buddhist nun, and travels extensively for ”research”. She’s a huge animal lover and has been vegan since 1999. She’s committed to respectfully unveiling the truth about the horrific way factory farms abuse animals. SJ lives in San Diego with two cats and two dogs.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Mina Clark is losing her mind—or maybe it’s already gone. She isn’t quite sure. Feeling displaced in her over-priced McMansion-dotted suburban world, she is grappling not only with deep debt, a mostly absent husband, and her playground-terrorizer 3-year old Emma, but also with a significant amnesia she can’t shake—a “temporary” condition now going on several years, brought on by a traumatic event she cannot remember, and which everyone around her feels is best forgotten. A routine trip to the dentist changes everything for Mina, and suddenly she's not sure if what's happening is real, of if she's just now fully losing her mind... especially when she realizes the only person she thought she could trust is the one she fears the most.
Here’s my review from Chick Lit Central:
There will also be a Goodreads giveaway for the paperback copy running through November 8!
FRANCINE LASALA has written nonfiction on every topic imaginable, from circus freaks to sex, and edited bestselling authors of all genres. She is now actively taking on clients for manuscript evaluations, editing services, copywriting (covers, blurbs, taglines, queries, and more), website and blog creation, and developing kickass social media campaigns. The author of novels Rita Hayworth’s Shoes and The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything, and the creator of The “Joy Jar” Project, she lives with her husband and two daughters in New York.
Find Francine online:
Francine LaSala’s website:
Francine LaSala’s goodreads profile:
Francine LaSala’s Blog:
The “Joy Jar” Project:
Monday, November 4, 2013
Last week, the New York Times published this op-ed piece, which touched off a lot of debate among writers. Actually, it wasn’t debate, as the word implies arguing a few sides. No one I knew was arguing against paying writers.
By the way, I read that piece online, for free. And while I do subscribe to the Sunday dead-tree edition of the New York Times (I will never stop loving the feel of curling up on the couch on a Sunday, football on TV and sections of newsprint all around me), these days I’m getting most of my news without paying a thin dime. Thanks to Facebook likes and Twitter follows, I spent way too much time reading free news from Salon, Mother Jones, Slate, Talking Points Memo, the Daily Beast, and of course HuffPost. (And I’ve just outed myself as a gigantic liberal, but who didn’t already know that.) HuffPost is the first, biggest and most notorious of the “we don’t pay but hey, great exposure!” players, but I’m pretty sure the other publications actually pay their writers. Good for them! Sometimes I feel guilty about pressing the X on that dollar-a-year subscription offer (especially for publications that don’t take advertisements), but the guilt is fleeting.
In other words, it’s hard for me to complain too loudly about not getting paid when I’m benefitting just as much from the “don’t pay writers” system.
And I’m working really hard at not getting paid. It’s not just this blog, or the blog posts I do on other blogs, all in the name of exposure. It’s the internship I spend 10 hours a week on, reading and evaluating manuscripts, with nothing in return but a thank-you email. Or the book reviews in exchange for free books. Free books are great, but they won’t help pay the mortgage. Neither will selling my own book (buy it here!) for 99 cents. But my own Kindle is filled with 99 cent books, and I’ve put off buying books by my favorite authors because with all these freebies, I suddenly can’t stomach paying $13 for a download.
Going back a few years, I’ve written about 10 screenplays “on spec” (another word for free), and done several rewrites and original treatments “on spec” for producers. It’s hard to complain about not getting paid because they were working for free, too.
I work hard at what I do, and I’d love to bring in a salary that reflects that. But my college economics course taught me that the price of a commodity correlates with its supply, and the supply of free writing is astronomical.
What does this mean for the future of the publishing industry? While every writer starts off writing for free, the hardest working, most talented and luckiest find a way to support themselves through their stories. If this is no longer an option, will writing turn into a hobby that only the one percent can afford to indulge in?
I don’t know the answer. And I have a few more books I’m working on. But that real estate class my husband keeps pushing on me is looking more and more attractive.
Monday, October 21, 2013
I never read the series – I heard the writing wasn’t great – which is the same reason I never got into the Twilight series. Fifty Shades, of course, began life as fan fiction for Twihards who couldn’t wait for their celibate couple to finally get it on, and six ways to Sunday. And that impulse, dear reader, is one I could understand. I’ve been a die-hard shipper since I first saw Hawkeye and Hot Lips exchange barbs over an operating room table, and there’s nothing more satisfying than when two people you’ve wanted for years to find each other finally come together.
However, I’m going to go out in a ledge and say that reading a detailed sex scene between two or more people and/or animals to whom you were just introduced a paragraph ago isn’t necessarily the most satisfying papersex experience a reader can have.
Which brings me to events that occurred in indie publishing last week.
Not surprisingly, 50 Shades generated a title wave of “erotica” books designed to cash in on all this pent-up demand for Mommy porn. And it collided with a title wave of “indie” writers – most of whom were delighted to be able to share their stories with the world without benefit of agent and big six/four publisher, but some of whom who seemed only interested in pushing the sexual envelope as far as it will go and making as much money as possible.
Last week, Kobo Writing Life, which sells independent and traditionally published books for its own ereaders, abruptly pulled all its indie published works as a result of one of its distributors, WHSmith, doing so. WHSmith blamed certain indie titles for its decision, calling them “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”
Originally, this looked like censorship, and many in the indie writing community decried WHSmith’s, and by extension, Kobo’s, action to decide what was or was not fit to be read. But then things got more complicated. This was not the same of “60 Shades of Salmon” being pulled. These were explicit books describing gang-rapes, incest, bestiality and more. What’s worse, their authors were attempting to trick the distributor – and readers -- by uploading fake titles and using tag words that would let their descriptions come up in searches for non-erotica. They were not just trying to reach readers who wanted to be titillated; they were spamming and shocking readers in search for everyday fiction.
And sadly, they were causing other indie writers to be tarred with this same brush.
I am not a prude. I don’t think. And yet I’ve been a bit disturbed by the number of indie writers offering erotic titles. Because reviews, Facebook likes and Twitter followers are so important in publicizing our books, many indie writers form groups to help each other publicize our books. But truthfully, I don’t want anything to do with a book called “Hot and Horny Over 40;” I don’t want to read it; I don’t want to publicize it; and I don’t want to be reviewed by its author. And I’m really scared that these books and their writers are going to change the reputation of indie writers. Right now indie writers as a whole are seen as authors offering books at a lower price point that may not be quite as good or marketable as traditionally published books, but offer similar stories. It would hurt all of us if this reputation were changed to authors trafficking smut for a quick $1.99.
Again, I’m not a prude. I love a hot sex scene in a book that features well-written, multi-dimensional characters, sharp dialogue and loads of sexual tension. And I’m sure some of these books offer lots of detailed, well-written sex scenes. But if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about them having sex.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take Kobo to clean up this mess, and I’m angry at the writers who caused it by lying about their books’ content. For me, the bottom line is these writers are offering a completely different product and reading experience than other indie writers are. If we refuse to acknowledge that, we risk having our own books viewed with suspicion.
Monday, October 14, 2013
(Please welcome Cristin Harber, an author I met last year at a writer’s conference. Cristin is an award-winning romantic suspense and military romance author. Her Titan series debuted three weeks ago with three novels and two novellas. The novels are ranked on the Amazon’s Military Romance Best Sellers list and have been applauded by reviewers as a fresh voice in romantic suspense. The first title, WINTERS HEAT, follows black ops mission gone wrong, and a couple forced together to survive. She lives outside Washington, DC with her husband, toddler, English bulldog, and has a baby on the way. She loves southern food, sings too loud along with the radio, and could spend hours reading and writing. And she has some sound advice about working with a critique group.)
Hi, Jami. Thanks for having me today to talk about critique groups.
I belong to an online group. We’re scattered across the country, but all write romance novels and agree that no one is an expert. Everyone offers something different. We focus improving our craft to meet specific goals—landing an agent, hitting a best seller list, selling to a particular publishing imprint, et cetera.
Based on my experiences, I’m sharing a couple lessons learned and tips from my crit partner adventures.
Why are critique groups so important:
• Friends and family will never be impartial. It’s the truth. At least on your first work.
• Writers can be too close to their work. It’s hard to see plot holes, word echoes, and repetitiveness. A reader who actively studies a manuscript can provide a bevy of feedback.
•Crit partners need to understand your goals and want that for you also. It helps if they are about the same level of writing. A newbie writer and a multi-published NYT bestseller won’t have much they can exchange. Crit partnerships can fail for a variety of reasons, but a few key things to watch out for include partners that:
• Don’t understand your voice
• Don’t read your genre/ sub-genre
• Try to impose their voice on your style
• Crit to make themselves feel better (RUN FOR YOUR LIFE FROM THOSE FOLKS)
Now for what makes a great team—a similar sense of style, a similar reading list. Try to find partners that:
• Bolster your confidence without blowing sunshine. The truth doesn’t have to hurt, and don’t waste your time with someone who thinks everything is incredible. The goal is to improve. Learn what your flaws are and seek solutions to improve your craft.
• Understand that your time is valuable also. Typos happen. Titanic-sized plot holes are easy to miss as an author. But it’s not fair to you to constantly be the spell checker or if you find yourself writing the same notes on each progressive chapter/book.
• Are in it for the long haul. Having someone pop in and out every few chapters doesn’t help the overall arc of the story.
Be a better crit partner by:
• Being honest. If something’s not working, don’t ignore it. If you don’t have time, be upfront.
• Sandwich criticism with praise. Example: Excellent word choice here. I think the second and third paragraphs are running long. I’m a little lost. But, I’m digging this dialogue section. Reads very conversational.”
• Respect the level of writing your partners are at and know where you are also. Offer what you know and learn from what you read.
How to find an online crit group:
• Check out professional associations like the Romance Writers of America. RWA has online and local chapters, many of which have crit groups. They also have forums where critiques can be exchanged.
• Look into yahoogroups. Several groups are genre-oriented and have varying levels of commitment.
• Search for websites that specialize in critiques. Critique Circle is an excellent crit trading website. New ones pop up, but be sure to Google them a little to make sure you aren’t accidently “publishing” your work or sharing your rights.
I hope your find a critique group that works for you! Mine is incredible and I’m lucky I get to thank those ladies every day for their help. I wish you the same success in finding your writing partners.
Romantic Suspense Author: Higher Stakes. Hotter Action.
Where to find Cristin:
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Monday, October 7, 2013
Some thoughts from Suzy before getting into her book….
Browsing on Jami's blog, I couldn't help but notice the beautiful picture at the top of the page. It could so easily have been taken just down the road from where I live. You see, for the past twenty-seven years I've lived in Portugal. It wasn't my choice, mind you (I was only ten when we moved here), but it's a lovely place to be - most of the time anyway.
It's not easy moving thousands of miles away from family and friends at such a young age but I had a good head on my shoulders (my parents always said I was ten going on twenty-one!) and I soon settled into the way of life here.
But no matter how long I stay here, I just can't bring myself to love the beach, or the sand, or the sun. I'm a Capricorn, born the day after Christmas so for me, the perfect weather is cold where I can wrap up in woolly clothes, coats, hats and boots. During the summer months I can usually be found indoors with all the shutters closed to keep out the heat. I only venture out whenever I'm forced to (okay, maybe I'm not quite that bad but close!) and I usually say no whenever I'm invited to the beach. I mean it's full of sand! It gets, like... everywhere. Bleurgh!
Seriously though, I don't mind going for a walk on the beach in the middle of winter, in my jeans and boots, on a freezing cold day. To me, that is perfect. Sigh.
Forever Fredless by Suzy Turner
Kate Robinson has spent the past two decades yearning to find her soul mate, the boy she found and then lost during a family holiday. Shortly after her twenty-eighth birthday, however, she inherits a fortune from an old family friend and becomes something of an overnight celebrity. Can her new-found fame lead her to him after all this time?
Thank God for anti-perspirant, I thought as I sat on the couch and waited for the countdown to begin. I clutched at my hands until they were white and looked across at the two people sitting opposite, both completely at ease in front of the cameras.
Five, four, three, two, one...
'Welcome back to this morning's edition of Good Morning GB,' announced Ireland Rothschild, the blonde-haired, blue eyed darling of morning TV.
'I'm here with Fergus O'Reilly and we've a special guest with us this morning. None other than Britain's love-struck multi-millionaire, Kate Robinson.
Welcome, Kate,' she said with a dazzling smile aimed more towards the camera than at me.
As my cheeks began to heat up, I was so grateful to the make-up artist, who had insisted on caking on the foundation before the show had started. In fact, I had so much make-up on that I was hoping once I'd removed it, nobody would recognise me when I headed to the airport in my now rather stupidly chosen car. I couldn't exactly blend in driving a pink Mini could I?
'Good morning,' I whispered shyly.
Fergus grinned back at me, tilting his head as if he was about to speak to a child. 'Now, tell us, Kate dear, how does it feel to never have to worry about money ever again?' he asked, his toothpaste advert teeth twinkling beneath the heat of the studio lights.
'Erm, well, I guess it's... erm, kind of... erm,' I felt so bloody stupid. Great time for my brain to stop working. 'I - erm. Great,' I nodded. 'Great, really great.' Idiot.
Ireland glanced across at her grey-haired colleague and pouted before nodding. 'Tell us how you knew this man. This,' she glanced down at the iPad on her lap and continued, 'Samuel?'
I cleared my throat and lifted my head, feeling like my brain was back in action. 'He was a very good friend of the family, some years ago,' I answered.
'Just a friend? Why did he leave you all his money and his property?' asked Fergus.
'He didn't have any family and I guess you could say that my mother and I were the closest he ever had to a family.'
'Isn't that lovely?' pouted Ireland. 'You certainly are a lucky woman. But what about your mother? Didn't she receive any of his inheritance?'
'No,' I said before swallowing hard. 'My mother lives a rather... nomadic lifestyle, in Africa. She doesn't want any of it. All she asked of me was to donate a sum to charity which, of course, I have done.'
'She lives in Africa? A nomadic lifestyle? That sounds intriguing. Perhaps we should interview her one of these days,' laughed Ireland and Fergus together.
'Have you splashed out on anything since receiving your inheritance back in June?' they asked, leaning forward eagerly awaiting my answer.
'Yes I have actually. I bought a car and a new house.'
'Well good for you, Kate. But now, most of us are curious about this boy you lost. Tell us about him?'
Oh no. Why did I agree to this?
Taking a deep breath, I knew I had no choice. Several articles had been printed since the one in Liberty; everyone wanted to know more and nobody was going to leave me alone until I told them everything.
'He was just a boy who I had a connection with when I was much, much younger. It was at Skegness. At an afternoon disco for kids. I was dancing and I felt someone touch my back and when I turned around there he was. The most beautiful boy I'd ever seen,' I said, stopping and smiling as I reminisced. ‘It was one of the happiest memories of my life.'
Sighing, I continued, 'We just looked at each other and it was like everything else just disappeared into the background. We stood staring, for what seemed like ages. I could barely move. And then, almost as soon as it had begun, my dad appeared and took me away. I couldn't do anything as we walked to the car. I looked around for the boy but he was gone. And then, just as we were driving away, I turned around in my seat and there he was. He had a daffodil in his hand. I always assumed he'd gone to pick it for me, but that's just a childish fantasy, I guess. The whole thing is probably nothing but a childish fantasy, really.'
Ireland was very carefully dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, pretending to be moved, while Fergus smiled sadly.
'What a beautiful story, Kate. I don't believe for one second that this is a childish fantasy. It's romantic and beautiful,' Ireland said.
'Now, tell us, Kate. Why did you call him Fred?' asked Fergus.
Smiling, I explained about the Right Said Fred song, just as the music began in the background.
'What a wonderful tale. Thank you, Kate, for joining us today. It's been a pleasure having you with us to share your story,' said Fergus.
'Thank you,' I whispered before the camera moved back to Ireland as she straightened her skirt and looked alluring. 'Do you remember this moment in time?'she asked. 'Are you the elusive Fred? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact us at...'
Before I could hear anything else, I was ushered off the couch and back behind the scenes where Jo stood, waiting patiently for me, with open arms.
Suzy Turner has worked as a journalist, assistant editor, features editor and magazine editor. Early in 2010 however, she began writing full time and has since completed six books for young adults (the Raven Saga and The Morgan Sisters series) and one chick lit novel, Forever Fredless. Although Suzy is a Yorkshire lass at heart, she left her home town of Rotherham, UK, to move to Portugal with her family when she was ten. The Algarve continues to be her home, where she lives with her childhood sweetheart and husband of 15 years, Michael, and their two neurotic dogs and a cat who thinks she's a princess.
For more details about Suzy and her books, visit:
Chick Lit Blog
Saturday, September 28, 2013
I’m a big-time rule follower (BTRF). It’s the inner goody-two-shoes in me. I can’t help it.
So, when the Twitter #ChickLitChat topic the other night was writing rules, I had to join. (BTW, joining the chats is easy and fun. Every Thursday at 5:00 PT/8:00 ET search hashtag #ChickLitChat.) Before the chat, I Googled “rules for writing” and found Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules. The first two (1. Never open a book with weather and 2. Avoid prologues.) took me back to my first writers’ conference, where the instructors happily handed out rules. And I, as a newbie and BTRF, clutched my pen and scribbled them down.
The first session I attended was about the importance of opening lines. We shared our first lines and the editor-instructor helped us get on track. In addition to warning us not to begin with the weather (“It was a dark and stormy night” anyone?), he said never start with a dream or someone waking up.
Oops. There I sat with pages from What the Dog Ate, still very much first-draft-y, which started with a woman awakening to the sound of her dog throwing up. That session ended up being very helpful and I left with a much better opening. (“The vet handed Maggie Baxter a plastic specimen bag containing a pair of size-tiny lavender thong panties extracted from her dog; but they were not hers.”)
I’d happily followed his rule, and was feeling good about my manuscript.
Next, I attended a session led by an agent where we read our first paragraphs. I read my new opening, and she liked it. (She gave me her card after. I’m thinking, “Being a BTRF pays off!”) One aspiring author read his prologue, causing the agent to warn us against them. She explained that many agents/editors see them as a red flag that the author can’t more skillfully weave necessary background info into the story. The poor guy seemed crushed that she rained on his prologue parade. I was so happy that I was prologue-free.
Next up, a session about holding your readers’ interest led by the author of Rambo. He said, with great authority, “Do NOT include telephone conversations” because they’re boring and you need to be in the action. I have no idea what he said after that, because I was thinking, “But my main character lives far from her family. She talks on the phone to her mom, her grandma, her sister. Those conversations help reveal her character and move the plot forward. How will I get rid of them?!”
The good feelings from earlier were gone. All my lovely neuroses bubbled to the surface. “I don’t even belong here. I’m not a real writer!” I tuned back in when he handed out his next rule: “Rarely use your characters’ first names.”
I wrote that down, too. Then – even though I’m a BTRF – I drew a question mark next to it. What? No first names? “Wait a minute... This guy wrote Rambo! He’s not talking to ME. I’m okay! I still belong!”
That’s when I realized: every “rule” needs to be taken with a healthy dose of salt grains. First, consider the source – a rule according to whom? (If it’s according to an agent you want to work with, you might want to pay attention.) Second, for every “rule” out there, I’m sure many examples exist of famous books that violated it.
It boils down to doing what best serves the story. If that means breaking a “rule” once in a while, go for it. One rule from Elmore Leonard that I do love though is this one: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” If we can all master that one, we’ve got it made.
I could have saved myself a lot of angst at that conference if I’d known at the time what W. Somerset Maugham said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
What do you think? Are there rules you love to follow? Love to break?
(Thanks so much, Jackie. Going to edit my WIP right now, which starts with a prologue that features a woman waking up from a bad dream to discover it’s raining out.)
Jackie Bouchard writes Fido-friendly fiction. She used to be trapped in the hamster wheel of corporate America, but she was lucky enough to escape and now fully understands the term "struggling writer." Jackie loves: reading, writing, and, yes, even 'rithmetic (seriously, algebra rocks); professional cycling; margaritas; blogging (she never thought she'd say that, but she does); dogs in general, and her crazy rescue pup specifically; and her hubby. (Not in that order.) Jackie dislikes: rude people and writing about herself in the third person. After living in Southern California, then Bermuda, then Canada, then the East coast, Jackie and her husband settled in San Diego. American Jackie, her Canadian hubby, and her Mexican rescue mutt form their own happy little United Nations. Jackie's novels include What The Dog Ate and Rescue Me, Maybe.
Here’s a blurb about What the Dog Ate, on sale now for 99 cents!
The vet handed Maggie Baxter a plastic specimen bag containing a pair of size-tiny lavender thong panties extracted from her dog; but they were not hers. Or rather, they were hers now since she'd just paid $734 to have Dr. Carter surgically remove them from Kona's gut.
This is how Maggie Baxter, a practical, rule-following accountant, discovers that her husband of seventeen years is cheating on her. All her meticulous life plans are crushed. When he leaves her for the other woman, Maggie and her the-world-is-my-smorgasbord chocolate Lab, Kona, are left to put their lives back together. As Maggie begins to develop a Plan B for her life, she decides to be more like Kona. No, she's not going to sniff crotches and eat everything that isn't nailed down; rather she'll try to approach life with more ball-chasing abandon. Finding herself in situations where she begins to go through her usual over-analysis of the pros and cons, she stops and instead asks herself: What would Kona do? With Kona as her guru, Maggie begins her quest for tail-wagging joy. What the Dog Ate is a funny, tender story of mending a broken heart and finding love and a new life right under your nose, with woman's best friend at your side.
Buy What The Dog Ate here!
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Rescue Me, Maybe
If you lost both your spouse and your dog to cancer within weeks of each other, but you were sadder about the dog, would you tell anyone? Maybe your closest friends. Unfortunately, Jane Bailey's closest friends are on the other side of the country. That's where Jane plans to go now that she's free to leave Philadelphia, the too cold, beachless, street taco-deficient city her husband dragged her to six years ago. But with no job prospects in her hometown of San Diego, Jane is roped into helping out temporarily at her uncle's southwestern small-town B&B. En route to her new role as innkeeper and breakfast chef, she finds a stray at a rest stop. With her heart in pieces from the loss of her dog, she's determined not to let this mutt worm its way into her affections. She's also determined to have next-to-no interaction with the B&B's irritating guests, and the even more annoying handyman who lives next door. Can Jane keep her sanity--and her secret that she's not really a grieving widow--while trying to achieve her dream of getting back to the place she thinks is home?
Buy Rescue Me Maybe here!
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The most basic description of subplot is that it encompasses the subtle obstacles that keep the hero from realizing his goal. In other words, the subplot is not a completely different set of circumstances from the main plot. For example, if the main plot was about a woman who was working toward being an astronaut, the subplot might be about her relationship with the boyfriend who didn’t want to leave their small town. Or caring for her once-brilliant father, who now has Alzheimer’s. Both such subplots subtly raise the possibility that these relationships will keep her from pursuing or ultimately realizing her goal. On the other hand, a subplot about her sister nursing a wounded deer would only detract from it. (OK, there are probably some strong writers who could make the astronaut/wounded deer thing work. But why make things harder than they have to be?)
Just like the main plot, the subplot must have a concrete beginning, middle and end. It has to have conflict. It cannot be a series of scenes that, say, take place at the heroine’s place of employment but never really go anywhere. That’s not a plot; that’s a diversion.
Some Rules About Subplotting
Have plot points that impact the main plot;
Show the protagonist in a different role than in the main plot;
Be centered around relationships (if the story is not a romance), or be centered around something other than relationships (if the story is a romance);
Resolve before the main plot does;
Interact naturally with the main plot.
Subplots Should Not:
Be completely separate from the main plot;
Show characters acting in very different ways than in the main plot (unless that is the plot);
End less than halfway through the book;
Be composed of coincidences and deus ex machina (this is true for the main plot);
Be comprised of a completely different set of characters than the main plot.
Converge neatly with the main plot and resolve at the same time;
Begin before the main plot;
Show the protagonist reacting, rather than acting.
Writers who are “pantsers” rather than plotters may find their subplots get away from them more than the main plot does. If so, a strong rewrite should be done to tie the two together.
Like all guidelines, these work about 80 percent of the time. Then 20 percent of the time, some hot shot writer will come along, break all the rules, and do an amazing job. (You are not that hot shot writer. Neither am I.)
The best subplots are so well interwoven with the main plot that it takes careful teasing to separate them. This is often the case in genres such as literary fiction. In more mainstream work, such as mysteries, the plot and subplot are more easily distinguished (the plot having to do with the mystery the detective is trying to solve, and the subplot having to do with an entanglement in her personal life that keeps getting in the way.)
While most writers rightly focus on their main plot, books are made or broken on the strength of the subplot. If you ignore it, it will come back to haunt you.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Arielle Immortal Passion by Lilian Roberts is only $0.99. Arielle Immortal Passion is the third book in Lilian's Immortal Rapture series. Look below for a chance to WIN e-copies of her first three books!
ARIELLE IMMORTAL PASSION ….
An interlude in paradise...
St. Jean De Luz, in the south of France, is the gorgeous setting of one of Sebastian Gaulle's family estates. It is to this lush place that the Immortal takes his love, Arielle Lloyd, and her friends, to relax and spend their holiday exploring the surroundings and learning about his family's history.
A snake in the garden...
There is no safety in this paradise, however, as Sebastian's past continues to haunt him. The Immortal, Annabel, still lusts for vengeance on Sebastian and seeks to destroy his new love. While exploring, Arielle's life is endangered when she discovers dangerous hidden strangers occupying the house.
Evil that will not die...
Trapped, threatened, and nearing her last breath, Arielle must call on the powerful magic of her friend, Eva, for help. Sebastian must rally his Immortal friends and family to protect his love and expel the evil before his paradise is forever lost.
About Lilian Roberts
Lilian Roberts was born in Athens, Greece. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, and their two golden retrievers. She is an avid reader and loves to read novels that feature characters draped in passion, mystery, and adventure. She is especially fascinated with the concept of immortality.
Arielle Immortal Awakening and Arielle Immortal Seduction are the first volumes in the Immortal Rapture series of paranormal romance thrillers. The third volume, Arielle: Immortal Passion, was released in April 2013. The fourth novel is out now, Arielle Immortal Quickening. Lilian is finishing up work on her fifth novel, due out on December 5, 2013.
To connect with Lilian Roberts, visit her website , like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also learn more about Lilian's books and upcoming events at SJPublicity.
Purchase ARIELLE IMMORTAL PASSION
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Find the other books in the Immortal Rapture series on Lilian's Amazon author page.
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Monday, September 16, 2013
It’s interesting that someone who is as accomplished as Stephen King – who is known not only for a career spanning decades but for being so productive that he once had to publish under a pseudonym because his publisher feared he was flooding the market – not only values the first line so much, but still spends so much time crafting it. That first line is vital – it should grab the reader by the throat and pull her in, letting her know that this is a compelling story, that these characters she’s about to invest hours in are worth it.
In today’s publishing world of free books and 99 cent deals, the opening sentence is more important than ever. A reader who has just invested $26 for a hardback or even $10 for a new Kindle offering by a best-selling author will probably read further than that first boring sentence. But readers who just downloaded ten free books from Bookbub? Probably not.
As a reader for a literary agency and a reviewer for a book web site, I read about three books a week – two unpublished and a third that was probably self-published. Many of these books violate the first line rule. They’re not written to intrigue the reader and pull her in; rather they seem to be written in a hurry, designed to jump over in order to get to the story. Recent beginnings I’ve slogged through include:
The protagonist waking up and going through the day’s to-do list;
The protagonist brushing her hair and describing herself in the mirror;
A boring conversation between the protagonist and her best friend.
These are not opening lines that are designed to draw readers in. And yet, another piece of advice writers are given is to introduce the protagonist before starting the action. What better way to introduce her than by describing her or showing her in her ordinary routine?
It is a conundrum. Especially for writers of contemporary women’s fiction, who generally don’t have the luxury of describing a dead body in order to draw in their readers.
One way writers solve this problem is by concentrating on their protagonists’ states of mind. That way, she can introduce the main character while saying something intriguing enough to keep the reader interested.
Here are a few opening lines from women’s fiction that drew me in:
“All you have to do is get through this,” Sarah told herself. The Good Wife, Jane Porter.
“Have you seen it?” asked Samantha. Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner.
“Hold it!” a voice commanded. These Girls, Sarah Pekkanan.
“Since the very first moment she had laid eyes on him, Lorna Connaught had loved Dante with a hot fierceness that both excited and shamed her.” Totlandia: The Onesies, Book 1 (Fall), Josie Brown. (What I liked the most about this opening sentence is that the author uses words to imply that it’s about romantic love, but it’s really about the love a mother feels for her baby.)
For my own women’s fiction novel Keeping Score, I tried to craft an opening line that gives a sense of what the story is about thematically (how competition destroys relationships) while creating immediate sympathy for my protagonist. This is what I came up with:
I was ten years old the first time my best friend dumped me.”
Hopefully, this sentence promises one of the main threads of the story: that this protagonist is about to, once again, get dumped by her best friend.
If an author as successful as Stephen King still takes his time in crafting the perfect line, the rest of us should follow his example. If your first line doesn’t promise readers that a great story is to come, keep rewriting it until it does.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Chick lit and women’s fiction are very popular in the U.K., but baseball – around which my novel “Keeping Score” revolves – is not. In fact, the sport isn’t played at all there – they play something named for the insect that tried to keep Pinocchio from doing the wrong thing. Luckily, my UK friend and fellow writer Sheryl Browne generously agreed to try to explain the similarities and differences of the two sports. She even did a table! Thanks so much, Sheryl!
Hi everyone! Jami and I decided to do a little blog swap, an across the pond comparison of things UK and USA. I thought I’d kick off with a comparison between baseball and cricket. What could be more British than cricket, after all? Picture the scene, blue skies, ice cream clouds drifting by; perfect Sunday afternoon silence, punctuated only by the soft thwack of wood against leather and the rustle of crisp packets. This is the rustic ritual of cricket: locals coming together, whatever their status, to compete in a sports-manly fashion on a level playing field, the village green.
“The Cricketers Inn, Longparish, Hampshire” by Mike Cattell on Flickr
So to the comparisons: Both games are members of the bat and ball family of games and, surprisingly (to me anyway), the basic principles are the same. The playing equipment, terminology, number of players, field and rules, however differ. Here’s a quick overview:
Club shaped with a tapered barrel.
A cylindrical handle attached to a flat wooden block (blade).
The core of the ball is cork, rubber or a mixture of both.
Colour: white with red leather stitching.
A cricket ball is made of cork and string and covered with red leather.
Defence: gloves in non-throwing hand, hard plastic headgear and padding.
Catchers: plastic shin-guards, padded chest protectors, and wire masks moulded into a hard plastic shell.
Batters: hard plastic helmet, shin-guards, glove.
Batsman: pads, helmet and other padding for body parts. No protective gear is worn by fielders except those who stand very close to the batsman.
Umpires and Referees
Usually 4 umpires in major league games.
2 umpires on the field, 3rd umpire off the field, 1 match referee.
Number of players
9 or 10 depending on league rules.
Balls/pitches allowed per batsman
Limited by the number of balls bowled in a match.
Maximum runs scored from a ball/pitch
Four (Home Run with all bases occupied - Grand Slam).
A quadrant (diamond) shape.
Elliptical with thin rectangular area in the middle – pitch.
No, I’m not going to attempt to get technical about the rules, thus prompting ardent fans to bury heads in hands in utter despair. Simplistically, though, in both cricket and baseball, the players of one team attempt to score points known as runs by hitting a ball with a bat, while the members of the other team field the ball and attempt to prevent runs/scoring. In cricket, the batsman is attempting to defend the wicket (which, if struck, will put him ‘out’). In baseball, the batter is attempting to defend the strike zone.
I stand to be corrected (ooh, er). Meanwhile, Howzat?
"YourOut” by Britanglishman, on Flickr.
Thanks so much for letting me loose on your lovely blog, Jami!
Sheryl Browne brings you Fabulous, Poignant, Heart-breaking Romance. Her novel Recipes for Disaster, commissioned by Safkhet Publishing, was shortlisted for the Innovation in Romantic Fiction Award. Sheryl now has five books published under the Safkhet Soul imprint -
Recipes for Disaster - Sexilicious Romantic Comedy combined with Fab, Fun Recipes.
Somebody to Love – Sigh with contentment, scream with frustration. At times you will weep.
Warrant for Love - Three couples in a twisting story that resolves perfectly.
A Little Bit of Madness – White Knight in Blue rescues The Harbour Rest Home.
Learning to Love – Exploring the Fragility of Love, Life and Relationships.
- and has since been offered a further contract. A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Sheryl grew up in Birmingham, UK, where she studied Art & Design. She works part-time in her own business and is a mum and a foster mum to disabled dogs.
Sheryl’s latest book, Learning to Love, started life as a short, entitled The Memory Box - the theme of which is bereavement in childhood, which was accepted by the Birmingham City University to be published in their Anthology, Paper and Ink.
Learning to Love
Exploring the Fragility of Love, Life, and Relationships
Widower, Dr David Adams, has recently moved to the village – where no one knows him, ergo there’s no fuel for neighbourhood gossip – to start afresh with is ten year old son, if only he can get to a place where his son wants to speak to him. Angry and withdrawn, Jake blames his dad for the death of his mother, and David doesn’t know how to reach him.
Andrea Kelly has too many balls in the air. With three children and a “nuts” mother to care for, her fiancé can’t fathom why she wants to throw something else into the mix and change her career. Surely she already has too much on her plate? Because her plates are skew-whiff and her balls are dropping off all over the place, Andrea points out. She needs to make changes. Still her fiancé, who has a hidden agenda, is dead-set against it.
When Andrea’s house burns mysteriously to the ground and Andrea and her entourage are forced to move in with the enigmatic Dr Adams, however, the village drums soon start beating, fuel aplenty when it turns out someone does know him – the woman carrying his baby.
Romantic Novelists’ Association
Sheryl is a Loveahappyending Lifestyle Author and Feature Editor.