I’ve been burning the midnight oil a lot lately. To no good purpose, I might add. Just to watch time go up in smoke. The ending of a year does that to me, encourages me to squander my remaining resources.

I also find that the final days of December cause me to think more about endings than beginnings. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nine has been no exception. It was a bad year for me, and I’m not sorry to see it go.

I wrote next to nothing this year. I reinforced my poor self image by being unreliable in my writing commitments to this blog and to the Mission: Possible! exercise. Over the last two years my writing productivity has ground to a halt yet again. I used to be frightened when this happened. I thought my Muse had died, and that I would never write again.

The good thing about having years of writing experience under my belt is the knowledge halts and dry spells don’t last. You can BICHOK and begin again. If any of you are suffering from doubts or writing blocks, I would suggest you take the valuable suggestions to be found in Rox’s blog of December 29th and put them to use. Start by making specific goals and writing them down on paper. Don’t be too hard on yourself or waste time in recriminations. Move with the flow of the universe and renew yourself with positive thoughts and good fellowship with other writers.

I wish you all good things in the days to come. I offer you a toast: May your days be long and filled with the joy of family and friends. May your imagination be fruitful, and may your writing tools produce many pages. May your work lead you to a publisher’s door, and may you earn the lasting satisfaction of authorship.

Have a Happy New Year!

Coming Soon: A New Year

With Christmas over, it means it's time to think about New Year's Resolutions. "I resolve to fill in the blank in 2010." But while we're all thinking of passing up anything with more than 200 calories, let's focus more on goals for the year, especially writing goals.

What are goals? defines a goal as the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end. Synonyms are target; purpose, object, objective, intent, intention. Good words! Even better because they can help us make goals.

Reaching a goal takes effort.

One caution when creating a goal. Aim for goals that can be achieved. A goal needs to be within your control. For instance, a goal of selling a book isn't completely achievable. None of us can control what or when an editor or publisher will buy, but what we can do is write the book and submit it.

If you have a large goal for the year, break it down into smaller ones. Large goals, such as submitting a manuscript, should be a series of small, achievable goals.

1. Find the right publisher for your idea.

2. If research is needed, do as much as possible before starting to write. That doesn't mean that once you're into the writing you can't look up specific information you need, but knowing a little about your hero or heroine's career from the beginning can mean not having to go back and revise later.

3. For those who plot, do it now. For those who don't, and idea of the beginning, middle, and end of your book can be a big help and keep you focused.

4. Writing a book definitely requires writing pages. But what if writing 200 to 300+ pages seems like a daunting task? Break it down! It's been said countless times that if a writer writes only one page a day, at the end of a year there would be 365 pages written. That's equivalent to 91,250 words!

But maybe you aren't ready to submit a book to a publisher. What other goals might you be thinking about?

Coming up with a story idea? Ideas are everywhere! Watch the news, read a newspaper, even watching people in the mall can generate an idea. If you have an idea, but don't know how to work it into a book, try brainstorming with friends or a critique group or partner. 'What if' is great way to put a story together.

Entering a contest? Kick off 2010 with WARA's Right Hook contest in March, followed by our Flyover contest in June, and ending with our HEA (Happily Ever After) contest in November. Work on entering each of these contests throughout the year, and you may end up with a finished book by this time next year. If you're an RWA member, many chapters have contests each year. Those can range from the opening to the first chapter or even a specific type of scene.

Check the internet for more ideas on how to make and achieve your goals. You can start with tips from Renee Knowles' Do You Have a Plan. Good luck!

Another Christmas Come and Gone

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year for so many reasons. I love the get-togethers with family and friends, the special shows put on by the local music theatres, the excitement and anticipation on young children's faces, and hearing the memories of past Christmases that my senior adult friends share with me.

I'm a sentamentalist who keeps way too many "memory" items. I have boxes of old school papers of my own, my siblings, and my daughter's. I'm the designated keeper of all generations of family photos for my family and for my husband's family. I keep souvenirs from trips, from events, and even movie tickets. Basically if it can (and probably shouldn't be) kept, I keep it. (I am trying to sort through things now and thin out those amazing collections since I don't believe my daughter really wants to inherit quite so many "treasures.") And I have many, many special keepers from Christmases over the years.

I enjoy seeing what my friends and family collect as decorations. Some people put up exquisitely decorated trees or have holiday designers do their trees. They are nice, in my opinion, but not special. I like seeing trees filled with ornaments made and collected over the years. That's the kind of Christmas tree we put up. Some of my most beloved ornaments are the twisted pipe cleaner ones or the felt ones made by my daughter when she was very young. You aren't really sure what they are, but they're keepers. Even more so because she always tries to hide them at the back of the tree.

I also treasure the ornaments friends and family have made for me: beautifully beaded ones made by my Great Aunt, handpainted ones lovingly created especially for me by my niece, crocheted candy canes, and the special ornaments people choose for me. And I pick up ornaments when I travel to different places.

Every year when I decorate the tree it's a time to reflect on the past. The last few years my daughter and one of my nieces has helped decorate the tree and put out my other holiday collections of decorations: snowmen, angels, Santas, gingerbread men, and my holiday houses. As we pull out the decorations and decide what to put on the tree, we talk about our memories of the ornaments. Unless an ornament gets totally broken, it will find its way onto the overly decorated tree. The wounded but beloved ornament will be nestled on a branch. The tattered and stained small cloth angel that my daughter took from the tree and played with when she was young still finds its way onto our tree.

I hope each of you had a wonderful Christmas and that you took the time to drift through pleasant memories of past years.

Shrieks of Christmas Past

There have been very few times in my life where I got something I really, really wanted for Christmas. I got a lot of things I liked, but not what my heart actually desired. Maybe I didn’t make my wants known to others, maybe they were too expensive or too hard to acquire. Or as my naughty husband implies, I’m just too picky. I doubt I’ll ever know and at this point in life, I don’t even care. But there is one Christmas that stands out where I not only got something I truly wanted, but something I never asked for in the first place.

We were all packed into my sister’s living room, sharing space with crumpled wrapping paper and gifts haphazardly strewn across the floor. The fireplace was warming my backside as I sat at its corner on the floor. The scent of apple and cinnamon candles, turkey, pumpkin pie and wood smoke permeated the air. The crackle of the fire was punctuated by rounds of laughter, thank you and the occasional, “Oh good grief, what am I going to do with that?”

My sister’s gift to me was a good sized box which I dutifully shook, and attempted to weigh, but had no clue what it might actually contain. Imagine my extreme surprise to find a case, not just a box, but a case of Team cereal. I was so excited I actually screamed my delight.

For those of you under the age of, well, just under; Team cereal was the BEST cereal of my generation and our personal favorite. It was healthy too, which made us seem really weird to our friends, but we didn’t care. We noticed in the early nineties, I think, that our usual store quit carrying it. We then excitedly called each other and bought extra boxes to share any time we did happen upon some but eventually, it went the way of the dinosaur and disappeared from sight.

Imagine our heartbreak and disappointment at finding no Team to start our days with. We each sampled unknown, but similar looking cereals, in hopes of finding a suitable replacement but to no avail. Disenchantment and disappointment ruled our mornings (Big Sigh!) until my sister sneakily discovered that it could be ordered by the case from our friendly neighborhood Dillons store.

My ecstasy increased when I offered to share the case with her and she informed me that she had bought her own. Hallelujah, the only threats to my mouth’s eternal bliss were all the kids parading through my house that thought they should be fed. I tried to hide them (the boxes not the kids) but no dice, they had witnessed the opening, they knew I had them somewhere. Alas, I had to share! (Bigger Sigh)

Life was good until I hit that last box and discovered that Dillons could no longer order my beloved Team, even by the case. Woe is me! That was still one of the best Christmas’s and one of the best presents ever. And I’m sure that my shriek of eternal glee is still reverberating around the neighborhood, haunting the houses as a joyful ghost of Christmas past.

Christmas Romance (Penny Rader)

I love Christmas stories and if the Christmas story is also a romance, well, that's even better. One reason why I read romance novels is because they're uplifting. Add Christmas to the mix and I get an extra spurt of joy.

While the entire story of Sapphire and Gold isn't centered around Christmas, there are several scenes that take place during the Christmas season in Colonial Williamsburg. Here's an excerpt of one:

Alexandra stood at the staircase landing’s large multi-paned window, bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. She waited and worried. Waited for Derek’s schooner to appear at the plantation’s wharf. Worried about his reaction to her confession.

She placed her hand on her abdomen and wondered if she would look different to him. Within weeks her condition would be apparent to all. Would he turn away from her in disgust? She wouldn’t be able to bear it.


She leaned over the balustrade looped with spruce garlands. “Yes, Mother?”

Laurel stood at the foot of the stairs. “Our guests are arriving.”

“I’ll join you in the ballroom in a few minutes.” With a heavy sigh, she cast one more longing glance out the window then gathered the folds of her burgundy velvet skirt and descended the stairs in slow, unhurried steps. Her brow knitted in concern. Derek had said he would be there. Something terrible must have happened.

“Why, wherever could your husband be, sister dear?”

Alexandra turned to see Jillian emerge from the shadows of the hall. The jubilant expression in the younger woman’s dark gaze put her on guard.

“Do you suppose he has tired of you already?” Jillian shook her head and clucked her tongue. “I can see why. You look a bit dreadful. I fear that color doesn’t suit you. Did you do your own hair? Your secret’s safe with me. I shan’t tell anyone.”

Alexandra resisted the urge to smooth her hair. The slight movement would only serve to reward her sister’s desire for revenge. Instead, she stood confident. Derek had often remarked he liked her hair unbound and he had chosen her dress himself. “I won’t fight with you. Nothing you can say will spoil this day for me.” With quiet dignity, she walked past the younger woman.

“I do believe the purpose of this ball is to celebrate your marriage. Won’t that be a trifle difficult without your roving husband?”

Alexandra’s footsteps faltered for but a moment at the venom in her sister’s voice. Then she squared her shoulders and continued on her way, struggling to shut out the echo of Jillian’s mocking laughter.

“Derek has not left me,” she whispered. “He will come back. He must.” She lifted her chin a notch and entered the ballroom.

Festive splendor greeted her. Christmas finery decked the large room and brought a hint of a smile to her troubled heart. The fragrance of pine and bayberry mingled in the air. Garlands of box and bay added touches of gaiety. Sprigs of holly had been tucked behind the mirrors. In one corner, fiddlers played a romantic ballad that tugged at her already fragile emotions.

She forced back the sudden onslaught of weepiness and moved forward to greet her guests. Many of the prominent planters of the area accompanied their wives in wishing Alexandra well with her marriage and asking after Derek. After each congratulatory offer, the scorching heat of Jillian’s triumphant gaze bored through her back.

Where are you, Derek? Behind her she heard the doors open. The curtains fluttered, then a hush fell over the room.

She turned.

There stood Derek. Dizzying joy swept through her

Her husband caught her up against his lean, muscled form. “I claim the right of kissing the fair maiden standing beneath the kissing ball.” He lowered his mouth to hers and stole her breath.
Alexandra entwined her arms around his neck and reveled in the sweet sensations. “I thought you’d never arrive.”

He pressed a final kiss to the tip of her nose. “I always keep my promises. Don’t you know that by now?”

A lump in her throat thickened her speech. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” A frown gathered on her forehead and she gave his chest a sharp poke. “Where have you been?”

His eyes alight with a merry twinkle, Derek turned and signaled to a house servant. Within seconds, Polly Taylor and the children swarmed around her, talking and hugging all at once.

The children had come. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she pulled them close, touching each and every one of them to assure herself they were really there.

She looked up. Derek stood outside the circle of children, his grin wide. “Is this the pressing matter you had to attend to?”

He nodded. “You are pleased with your Christmas gift?”

“Pleased? I’m more than pleased. It was more than I dared to dream for.” No wonder she loved him so.


One of my favorite Christmas movies is While You Were Sleeping. (Love the leaning scene.) One of my favorite Christmas books is A Season for Miracles by Marilyn Pappano, which is the first book in her awesome Bethlehem series. Do you have a favorite Christmas story or movie?

What Keeps Me Going?

It is all about me this time. What more could an author want than the riveted attention of the entire internet and all people of the world swooning for just one more evocative word to flow from my presence?

Was that a tad over the top?

Perhaps. But as exposed as that feels, the opposite (and closer to the truth) is that the crumbs on the collective human counter tops that need wiping off after breakfast each morning have had more intense application of notice than all the words I'm ever likely to write.

So, where am I in the scheme of things? Where did I pop up from?

I've been a voracious reader from a young age. And as all young-uns, had a notion by the time I was fourteen or so of a solution to the world's problems (in story form). And if I only found a writer to write it, I would know how it ended. Thirty-four years later, I shared that ONE story idea at the one, single point in the fabric of time that it made a difference. I started the story that night, having to get out of bed (having laid down for only a minute) to scribble a note for beginning the next day. My mom had sent me a Tandy laptop word processor she'd picked up at a garage sale. For the next eight months I wrote whenever I could and finally a book (400+) pages was born. I remember how surprised I was that the tale actually came to a natural conclusion and stopped. I told my beloved that it was finished and that I wanted to go into town for supper. (I thought to celebrate, he thought we could check a sprinkler and buy a part too). He's a farmer. Doing twofers and threefers is what he does. Nothing is done only for itself--wastes time you know. That's ok. I'm a farmers wife and find it charming in him and make bets with myself on how many things he can put together in seemingly random ways until they all get done on any single trip to town. I also never turn down an opportunity to hit the ladies room. Sitting field side on the way home for an extra hour while a field sprinkler turns is havoc.

What happened during that eight months? I didn't tell the tale. I had to tell her younger sister's story. I think because I had refused to think of the details for all those years that it wouldn't flow for me. But, as I wrote the story of her younger sister who was inspired by her older sister's story, both stories unfolded for me. I wrote the story as I thought writers would, from beginning to end. But, problems began to crop up as I wrote. How to get the characters to behave? I kept checking on them to see what they were doing and writing it down, but they refused to get together for the longest time. I even wondered how long a novel was. I called a publisher. The person who answered the phone told me it depends. When I asked, on what, the conversation went downhill fast. Yes, you can be that ignorant. I was and still am in so many ways.

I knew that if I did write I wanted to write a satisfying story for readers. So many stories go along very well and then, as if a dinner bell rang somewhere, they finish the book too quickly--chopping the end right off. I didn't want that. I also wanted the reader to 'see' the characters the same time as the character did. I played tricks on the reader by misdirection. Oh, how fun that was. Then the middle of the story seemed to drag in the writing of it and I wondered if the characters were EVER going to get where they needed to be--at the end of their thousand mile walk. So, I did something else to keep me interested in the process. I didn't name the most powerful individual in the book, the heroine's father. It took a bit of effort, but he was a minor character. I managed to make it smoothly to the end without readers noticing he had no name. This little game kept me interested in the story enough to keep going. The second book, he's a much more major character and I've still managed to keep him nameless. I've enjoyed that almost as much as finding out I can write two novels. Oddly, the second novel ended in about the same number of pages--don't you think that odd too?

The joy of writing, for me, is the surprise of where the story goes. My premise is that in the future, to assure population control and viable quality control of humans, all the world's people agreed that we would have sterilization implants at the age of eight or so and that you could be anything you wanted to be, but if you wanted children, you must walk a thousand miles through the proving zone and reach the last step. The last step is in Randar, where after your trek, whenever you like, you may have your implant removed and are free to have as many children as you like. A survival of the fittest if you will. Each story explores different reasons people have children as well as the character's personal reason to be going through the Zone. One guy got dumped there as left for dead--he has no idea where he is but he isn't wearing his own clothes when he wakes up. Another character/story, well, let's talk about the last one.

I thought it would be terribly funny if a woman was so vane, she had to have perfect grooming at all times, her hair was dyed. She ended up going through the zone with a man she needs to impress and taking in her backpack everything she needs to maintain her personal image--including her hair dye--which explodes in her pack. I thought it would be a story of blasted vanity. The story went a different direction entirely. The woman was afraid. If she wasn't perfect, she faced horrible consequences from her nanny from the time she was an infant. She could only be free if she was alone. She went catatonic when her hair dye exploded. In the Zone. Where animals, weather, and unstable people hang out.

The changes of direction of stories don't seem to be up to me and they are what keeps me writing. I have to check in with my story people to see what they are doing and write it down. I am each of them as I write. I see out of their eyes and describe what they see. Sometimes they won't move or think and they are stuck in position. This usually happens when I try to make them go somewhere or do something they don't want to do. Other writers tell me this happens when I'm trying to force a character to do things that is out of character for them. They are right. But since I don't know what is happening until it is 'seen' except in the most vague of ways, I often write until I'm stuck or have painted myself and my characters into a corner. Then my subconscious comes to the rescue and the next time I sit down to write, the characters have figured out a way out of the problems I left them in.

What keeps me going? That no-name the important guy game I have going, readers who fight over what a character actually looks like, the fun of describing exactly what I mean even if it takes me fifty tries, the joy of communicating with other writers and their processes of the amazing skill that writing is, my husband's warm regard, and so many other things that add up to so much for me. I've a curious experimental nature and finding how other people's writerly talent expresses itself and how they deal with the process of publishing and that world are all fascinating to me. Last week, on line, I met a woman who is so opposite of me, she plots everything before putting the story on paper. She even knows that every four pages written is one percent of the story finished. She writes about four hundred page books. Wow!

I hope all of you find, if not a passion, then something that fascinates you about what you do, something that keeps you going. That's my Christmas wish for you.

Enjoy your life and the process of living it.

Feeling the Crunch...And I Don't Mean Snow

I wish I could hear the crunch of snow beneath my winter boots. I think it might put me in more of a Christmas spirit.

I've always loved the holidays and have never understood people who dread them. I would teasingly refer to them Scrooge or Grinch. This year I'm trying very hard not to put myself in that category. In looking back of 2009, it's easy to see why I might not be so elated with greeting what is supposed to be a joyous time of year. It's been a difficult year. I won't go into detail because I've dealt with a lot of the same issues most everyone else has at one time or another: divorce, sickness, death, unemployment. It all tends to suck the life out of a person, even someone like me who has rightfully earned the reputation of the optimistic, care-free, look-on-the-bright-side Pollyanna.

I've stayed away from malls and stores this Christmas. I don't have the money that I've had in previous shopping seasons. I thought it would be too depressing to be in a mall when I can't buy anything. But the other day I had to go to a certain store for a non-Christmas related purchase. You know what? I should have gone sooner. The beat of the cheerful Christmas tunes restarted a holiday rhythm in my soul. The glitter and twinkle of bells and balls made me smile. The wonder in the eyes of children searching for Santa warmed my heart.

Later that day I stopped by the grocery store. In the parking lot was a rusted out truck with a cardboard sign taped to it. It read: "Homeless vet needs work of any kind. Job in California. Just need the gas to get there." I considered that message with more compassion than I used to. I was embarrassed at what my inner reaction would have been just one year ago. But with the lesson the last year has taught me, I understood better. How many of my friends were not too far away from being in a similar situation? It's been a hard year for a lot of us.

I was asked this week what was the best Christmas gift I ever received. I thought of my favorite book on my shelf. It's a leather bound notebook filled with my father's handwritten stories and poems. A few years ago he gave identical books to my two sisters and me. He must have worked on these gifts for months. It cost him nothing but time and maybe a few bucks for the notebooks. But it truly is the best gift. He gave me a part of himself.

So how does this all tie together? Because as writers, you know we have to tie it all together, right? I think when I'm 90, I will look back on this Christmas as one of the most memorable. Not for what wasn't under the tree or stuffed in a stocking, but for what filled my home and heart. I've been given a most amazing gift. The wonderful part is that it is something I can give away, too. The gift is one of an ever-expanding heart. The hurts of this past year have increased my capacity for understanding, compassion, and love. Without the losses, I couldn't have gained so much. It's priceless.

And I have another gift, as well. It's the gift of words. Like my father gave to me, I can give a piece of myself to others. Because even though the past year has had it's hardships, there has been support and love, too. Won't those friends and family members smile when they see their gift from me: A long letter to my 90 year old grandma filled with all the stuff I meant to write all year long but didn't make the time. A thank you to my parents for their unwavering support and abundant love. A fun poem to my best friend who finalized a divorce this year, too and helped me find something laugh at almost every day. A list of really useful advice (like how to catch an escaped hamster) to my corporate-ladder sister who lives in a world SO different from mine but asks for my opinion all the time anyway. And I'm-Proud-of-You-Because letters to my children because I really am so proud of them. It will cost me nothing but time and few bucks for paper. I'm guessing these gifts will be remembered long after the others have been forgotten.

Remember your true gifts this Christmas and share them. I promise, it will put you in the Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas,

Deborah Macias

Our Guest Blogger

WARA is proud to have fellow writer Deborah Macias as our guest blogger today. Please give her a warm welcome!

Is Publishing Your Goal?

We are fast approaching the end of the year. The beginning of the year, I write down my goals I want to accomplish for the coming year. One goal I continue to strive for is to be published. Some day I will succeed. If you’ve made that goal, I say Congratulations. As a writer I never want to give up. I’m always looking for ways to perfect that goal. Here are some suggestions I would like to share.

1. Examine the true reason you are writing. Is it for the personal achievement of completing a finished novel? Do you want the glory of seeing your name on the cover of your published book in a bookstore? Is it primarily for the desire to make money? Are you writing because your friend is writing and you want to be just like him or her? Do you enjoy developing and creating characters, with the excitement of seeing a completed ending? Learn what your drive is you want to pursue. Knowing your motivation will help you to be honest in achieving your publishing goal.

2. Read what you enjoy. I believe reading can only enhance the quality of your work. You hold the book in your hands and you say, “If he or she published, I can as well.” This is a great motivator in reaching your personal goal.

3. Entering contests is a great way to get an honest opinion from others in the writing field. This helps you to experience an opportunity to submit your work. You just might be one of the lucky one’s to place in the competition.

4. Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t try to send a chapter, synopsis or a proposal. A non-published writer must do the work. Complete the book. Your book must have a beginning, middle and an ending. Of course there are other elements such as romance (if it is a romance novel), conflict, a black moment. A main plot and sub plots vary. The list goes on and on. The main point I’m trying to convey is, learn the craft of writing and complete the book.

5. Do rewrites. Don’t try to by pass this step. Your poor writing will show through. Your story must be the best it can be. You must grab the editor’s attention. This is crucial to the sale of your book. Research all you can on the subject of rewriting. Be familiar with the techniques, so you can adjust your book accordingly. Find a good critique partner who will give you helpful suggestions. This doesn’t always have to be, but sometimes finding a writer who reads and writes the same type of books you are interested in, will give you the right helpful critique you need. Above all stay enthusiastic about your writing.

6. Read everything you can about publishing industries. Knowing someone employed in the publishing market could be a plus. Learn as much as you can about the market you are targeting for. One thing I’ve seen over time, write what you like. Not just what the market or editor is wanting. For example, if you are writing a novel, by the time you reach the end and have done all the rewrites, the demand for that type of story may have changed. Write what you are inspired to write. There is always going to be a time and place for your completed manuscript.

7. Once you’ve finished, submit as soon as possible. Research the publishing houses to find out who is requesting submissions. Once you’ve made your choice, follow their guidelines exactly. There aren’t any short cuts. Researching and finding the right publishing house to submit to, is just as important as writing your story.

Hope these steps help you in accomplishing your publishing goal. Feel free to share your experiences in your writing career. It is always interesting to hear how other writers motivate and follow their dreams.

May everyone have a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Blossom's Christmas Surprise

As my special Christmas gift to my WARA friends, here is a short Blossom story.

The weather outside was frightfully cold and Blossom would have preferred staying in the nice warm barn today. Except that Her Highness Elsie had started the morning off being particularly snooty. T he herd leader had refused to leave the barn when Farmer Sam came to let them out. Her faithful lemming cows refused to go as well. Blossom’s choice had then been to stay inside, be warm, but grow more and more annoyed as the day wore on because, as always, Elsie would do everything she could to get on her nerves. Or she could brave the cold and venture out to the frozen field, with the hope of seeing her beloved bullfriend.

Her hooves were all but frozen by the time she’d hoofed it on near tippy-toes to the corner where she usually met Ferdinand. She could hardly blink her eyes. It was if her eyelashes had frozen in place. It all seemed so wrong. The sky was a beautiful clear blue and the sun was shining brighter than ever. Besides that, there was none of the usual Kansas wind. But it was bitterly cold and she shivered clear down to her double stomach.

She craned her neck over the fence and strained to look across the Stanton field, but saw no sign of her hunky Galloway. How depressing was that! She’d even brought him a little Christmas gift, one of the apples Farmer Sam’s daughters had brought her as a treat this morning. None of the other cows ate apples. A few might have tried them, but Elise turned her nose up at them. To stay on her good side, they refused them as well. Stupid heifers. Still, Ferdinand shared her love of apples. Such an intelligent bull. Even if he’d turned out to be a wuss and stayed in his no doubt warm barn today instead of coming to meet her.

Shoulders weighed down with disappointment, she picked up the apple she’d carefully carried all the way here and dropped to look over the fence. She’d just take it back to her stall and munch on it while she sulked over all this wasted effort.

Blossom had just turned around and trudged a few steps when a deep rumbled complaint stopped her. Her heart pitter-patted crazily. She drew in a familiar scent. Then, as she shifted back again, the post near the corner crashed to the ground. Evidently he’d been hidden behind the large clump of bushes.

“Where are you going, My Love?” Ferdinand grouched, forcing his way through the space he’d made. “I’ve been near freezing to death waiting to see you.”

She did a little happy dance and skipped over to him. She held her head up proudly so he could see the precious apple gift she’d brought him. As he grinned in that odd macho-bull way of his, she tossed the apple at his hooves. “For you, my hunka-hunka, Stud Boy.”

Ferdinand ambled closer, rubbing his massive head against her neck, nibbling at her almost-frozen ear. “I’ve got a Christmas present for you, too, Sweet Blossom.” He breathed hotly and moo-rumbled, “Something personal. Very personal.”

“But it’s so cold outside,” she teased, trying to bat frozen eyelashes at him.

“It won’t be for long.”

Blossom forgot all about the frigid weather and the warm barn she’d left behind. Ferdinand always made her days better. “Merry Christmas to you. Merry Christmas to me. Merry Christmas to us,” she moo-sang.

Why Write if it isn't Right?

Is there a right or wrong for writing?

Why would we assume that our writing abilities are duplicates of any others? Some of us visualize the stories we write and then describe them on paper from beginning to end. Any changes along the way affect the rest of the story. The story is written without formal guidance. That's writing by the seat of the pants or 'pansters'. However, there are variations of talents that work that way. Some people 'see' scenes out of order and stitch them together later.
Some writers know where they are going in a nebulous way, but the path is twisty and they do not know many details before the story begins.

There are others who do extensive character layouts and determine meaningful intentions into their writing before ever putting fingers to keyboard. Still others write the story in pen and ink leaving the typing for the finishing edit. Many writers place their characters like dolls in a doll house, determining the amount of scenes necessary to tell the story they are crafting. Each scene is crafted with every detail determined to contain special meaning. These are plotters.
There are combinations of plotters and pansters. There are those who've never heard of either.

Writers write in the wee hours of the night or morning. Sometimes they write in the spare time they have on lunch hours and breaks. Others have whole rituals they use to work their magic.

Some writer's feel affection and other emotions for their characters. Some writer's feel in control of their characters. Colorful words and phrases have sprung up to describe writerly things such as internal conflict, external conflict, plot, tension, pacing, turning points, black moment and the happily ever after ending.

One thing is for sure, the writing process that any writer might have may also seem like another writer's process, but it doesn't have to be anywhere near the same. Writers who believe in story arcs and internal changes in characters are just as numerous as those who don't. Writing comes from within us and is as diverse as we are.

The conclusion I've reached to all this writerly mess is that a writer's process is their process. If that means a five mile run before two triple lattes and then arm wrestling a muse, then that's what a writer has to do. If it means getting up at 2:00AM and eating a stack of Oreos first, then that's what a writer has to do. If it means filling up a board or book with pictures, lists, details and then listening only to PDQ Bach while burning red candles, then that's what a writer has to do.

It is ok to be different.

It is ok to be the same.

There is no right or wrong for writing as long as you're writing your way.

Our First Christmas

Our first Christmas after our wedding found us in Arkansas where Vince was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base. Our railroad style apartment was in North Little Rock in a four unit building. We were dirt poor but wanted to celebrate Christmas like we both had back at our families’ homes. That meant at least a tree with all the trimmings. We soon found all we could afford was one string of lights. No tree. No ornaments. Just lights.

Vince proved the hero of the day when he appeared at our apartment door one afternoon with a real pine tree. I was aghast when he told me he had driven out into the countryside and “chopped” down a pine tree with my butcher knife. I thought he was lucky he didn’t get shot. My poor butcher knife was never the same. I thought it the most wonderful tree in the world. I’m certain I rewarded him suitably for such heroics.
Immediately I set to work making decorations for our grand tree. I colored and cut out paper ornaments. We strung popcorn for garland and then splurged and bought tinsel. That weekend we spent a very romantic evening decorating it while we listened to Christmas music. The only photo I could find shows not only that I was a poor photographer but that the tree had a few large gaps between the branches. That green thing bottom right is a green net tree I sewed. I still have it and a few of the original ornaments from our first tree.

Something else I did to decorate was use Glass Wax Stencils. These were heavily waxed, hence waterproof, stencils which I stenciled onto windows and mirrors using Glass Wax window cleaner. The cleaner dried white—to the left is the mirror above the fake fireplace in our apartment in N. Little Rock. When I rubbed the stencil off after Christmas I had the bonus of a clean mirror. I still have the stencils and continue to use them.

Vince surprised me by arranging for us to go “home” to Kansas on Christmas Eve. The photo at the top (we are sooooo young!) was taken at my parents’ house that first Christmas. The gift from Vince is a watch. But gifts weren’t necessary. The previous year he had been overseas serving in what is now called the Vietnam Conflict. This first Christmas we were together; we were married. We had a gorgeous tree, gorgeous because it and its decorations reflected our love for one another. We now have forty two years of ornaments and garland and Vince always does a spectacular job decorating the tree, but none ever meant as much as the one we had on our First Christmas.

What are some of your First Christmas memories? First Christmas away from home. First married. There are a lot of different firsts Christmases. Share some. Merry Christmas!
When I sat down to do this I tried and tried to come up with one or two special stories to write about our Christmases. But I couldn’t. Our holidays are now and have always been a hodge-podge of small, delightful memories strung together like a string of lights. Individually not much, but as a whole they illuminate the entire season.

I was lucky enough to have both my parents around for every holiday up until this year when my dad passed away in October. I know this Christmas will be hard for us, but we will get through it. Hopefully, instead of dwelling on his passing, we will reminisce about the good times we’ve shared as a family.

Even though we weren’t well off, my parents went all out at Christmas. After a special Christmas Eve dinner, my sister and I were allowed to open one present —always pajamas. But long before the big day arrived we’d pour over Christmas catalogs, making our lists, writing letters to Santa and watching Santa’s Toy Shop with Toy Boy. Several times during the month, we’d pile into our station wagon and drive around for hours looking at Christmas lights. Of course this was before filling your gas tank cost as much as a new pink bicycle with a white whicker basket and streamers dangling from the ends of the handle bars.

After I married and had my own family we started our own traditions and as much as I anticipated Christmas as a child, there is nothing better than experiencing Christmas through the eyes of your own children and grandchildren. Now I understand why my parents looked forward to Christmas as much as we did.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

My Most Romantic Christmas

In 1976, my sailor husband was out to sea in his submarine leaving me and our infant daughter alone in Groton, Connecticut. My Kansas home had never seemed so far away. In spite of the fact that I was going to spend the holidays with only my seven-month-old daughter, I was determined to imbue our sparsely furnished apartment with the Christmas spirit. With the baby in my backpack carrier, I trudged through the snow at a nearby Christmas tree farm and picked out the most beautiful blue spruce I could find in my price range.

Needless to say, it was small, but it filled my apartment with that wonder fresh-cut pine scent. After adding a string of new light and the few ornaments I had brought from home, my living room didn’t look quite so bleak. In fact, the sofa and the floor lamp looked positively delighted to have the company. As I made a foil star to top my tree, I struggled not to cry. It was a very low point in my life. Facing the holidays alone was hard.

Then, one December 22, I got an unexpected call. My husband’s submarine was coming into port for repairs and the crew would be allowed one night’s liberty. On Christmas Eve! That night, I hurried to picked up my husband at the naval base. We hadn’t seen each other in two and a half months. There was a whole lot of kissing going on even without mistletoe.

After the baby was tucked snug in her crib, my husband and I snuggled together on the sofa. The lovely lights of my little tree cast a heartwarming glow across the room. That tiny, bare apartment became the place I spend my most romantic Christmas Eve ever.

Tell us about a special Christmas in your life.

Lots of WOW's!

My head spins with all the great resources that have been posted here this month. Instead of adding more--and there are many, many more!--here's a recap of what we've blogged about for the past eight months. Below are the answers I would give if asked how to become a romance writer.

1. READ romances.

2. Learn the genres and sub-genres of romance. Find out what type of romance you'd like to write. (Tip: You really should love them before you write them.)

3. Learn what publishers publish the type of romance you want to write.

4. Learn (and correct, if necessary) the Top Ten Beginner's Mistakes.

5. Join a writing group and/or organization, and, if possible, find a critique partner or group. There's nothing like having someone who understands and will cheer you on and lend a shoulder to cry on when needed.

6. Learn how to set goals...and how to keep them!

7. Learn how to manage your time. Too often we put the things we want to do behind all the other things that vie for our time. Make writing a priority.

8. Keep current on publishing industry news.

9. Enter contests and submit your work to pulishers. Someone other than you will have to someday read it. Contests can help you hone your skills. Remember that rejections are part of the writing life, so grow a thick skin. Learn how to use rejections to your advantage.

10. Remember that you'll always be learning, whether you're a beginning writer, have been writing for a few years, or have published twenty or more books.

*Resources for the above can be found within the Bits & Bytes blog.

Happy Writing!!

Connecting with other writers

This month's topic, Resources for Writers, had me going in a completely different direction. A decade or so ago when I first started to write, I had ordered several books from Writer's Digest. One was a reference book about magazine and publishing houses and what they were looking for in a story and how to reach the right person.

Through that same book, I also found a link to Romance Writers of America, and then eventually to a local chapter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I lived seventy miles away and the meetings were held on a Thursday night so there was quite a bit of challenge with babysitters and bad weather, but once I'd made the connection with that group, it was like finally reaching land after spending a year at sea.

Heart of Iowa Fiction Authors gave me my first connection to someone else who was trying to write a story. The meetings were always informative (if not over my head:) and I had the opportunity to socialize with other aspiring authors. That was a big deal for me.

Through the years, although my needs as a writer have changed, my connection to that group has not. Longtime members viewed our meetings as a time to catch-up and learn a little something new. But it was always the visitors to the group that lit a fire under me. What can be more inspiring than pure enthusiasm for putting words to paper? And many times their excitement for the craft gave me a lift at just the right time.

Nowadays, we as writers have many opportunities to reach out to others in the business. Through conferences, contests and writer's loops, we have the chance to connect with someone who is walking the same path. When you have a little free time, run an internet search on writer's resources and see how many opportunities are available.

I’m Melting, I’m Melting . . . bzzzt Zip!

There are many aspects of a writer’s life, many tools of the trade to learn and master but one important thing often overlooked is the basic tool we employ. Yup, those pesky computers, laptops, gadgets and electronic gizmos galore. Without them we would all be reduced to pen and paper, or replacing messy ink ribbons in the old clunky typewriters of yore. They were fine for a time but we have moved on to bigger and better (?) things, at least until something goes wrong.

For me it was three Trojans (not Brad Pitt), one virus (no pigs or birds), one embedded spyware (definitely not James Bond) and seventy two, yes, seventy two, warning thing-a-ma-jigs. Apparently they had been setting me up for disaster for some time because with one little click, it was a barrage of pop-ups and then a quick death by strangulation. My computer was no longer my own. It would not let me access the internet; it would not let me do much of anything. Pop ups claiming to help me get rid of the bugs were everywhere but I’m told they probably activated them instead. It became apparent that my security system was not so secure and once those buggers got started, they disabled, reconfigured and reconnected whatever dots they wanted to.

After getting some much needed help to determine the damage, my computer was taken back to ground zero and born again. Luckily for me my help knew how to save my document files on to an external hard drive while reanimating my electronic corpse; otherwise I would have lost the entire contents of my last days work. The dedicated writers of Wichita Area Romance Authors have stated numerous times the necessity of backing up your work to some external device by either a thumb drive, external hard drive, CD disk or my own personal favorite: emailing my work to myself to store in cyberspace. When your computer has a meltdown either through old age, lightening or sabotage, it’s the luck of the draw as to whether your work can be saved. So be smart, save EVERYTHING somewhere else and then you can rest peacefully knowing that your “babies” will still be there to greet you in the morning.

My last word of wisdom for the day; do some research on security programs for your computer. Ours was a popular one but obviously not a very good one. Check with several computer technicians to see which one they recommend and when you get a consensus, change. There is at least one good security program that you can download for free from: So do yourself a favor, save yourself a ton of money, do your homework and make your work environment virus free.

Need a Jump Start? (Penny Rader)

Since we’ve been discussing writing resources and inspiration this month, I thought I’d share what helps me jump start my brain.

Pictures and Collages

One of my favorite pastimes is flipping through magazines, looking for pictures I can use for characters and settings. I also like to clip out motivational words and pictures and fix them onto my writing notebooks with clear contact paper.

I’d also like to make a collage for a series I’m planning. Since I haven’t done one yet to show you, I found this site with some great examples and how-to info:
The links she gives for the Jenny Crusie collage don’t work, but this one does .


I love to listen to music, especially songs with a story. I’ve heard many authors say they create soundtracks for their stories. I’d love to try this, but haven’t quite figured out how to go about finding the songs that would fit the story I’m working on. I think it’d be a helpful tool, sort of like a habit maybe, where I’d get used to turning on the soundtrack and the story would leap into my mind and out my fingertips.

Books about Creativity (As many of you know, I love writing exercises!)

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. Turn fifteen minutes a day into productive sessions that get and keep your creativity flowing. Here's an exercise to try: " Detail the senses by writing for fifteen minutes on a certain food...for someone who has never tasted it. Write about a visual scene for someone who can't see, and write about a piece of music for someone who can't hear."

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves. This book has writing prompts for every day. For example, one for today is “Returning takes too long.”

The Writer’s Retreat Kit by Judy Reeves is a workshop in a box, with a guidebook and interactive cards. An example of one of the prompts: “It’s what whispers your name at night.”

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg. Here’s a quote: “You feel the call…Now answer it as fully as you can. Take the risk to let all that is in you, out. Escape into the open.” This book has exercises that unleash creativity and fire passion/emotion into writing. Here's an example: "Write a description of something you look at every day in three different types of light (e.g., morning sun, dusk, lamplight)."

Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink: Everyday Creative Writing by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg. This book has 40+ exercises based on daily life. For example, “Invent two plausibly odd remedies for whichever ailment you wish to cure…Begin a poem, story, or essay that incorporates one of these ‘cures.’”

Pencil Dancing: New Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit by Mari Messer. “Fun…is a central element of creativity.” Try this exercise: "Do something a kid would do. Walk in the rain and splash through puddles, play with bubbles in the bathtub, leap into a pile of leaves, run on the dewy grass in your bare feet. Write about how this experience felt."

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. I found two chapter titles particularly intriguing: “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing” and “You Do Not Know What Is in You—an Inexhaustible Fountain of Ideas.”

Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer’s Life by Bonni Goldberg. Here’s an example: “Today pick a stranger who fascinates you. First, describe the person’s spirit, soul or energy, without relying on physical appearance. Then begin the physical description.”

The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. This is a book of prompts, exercises, and illustrations. Here’s an example: “Write about your earliest superstition.”

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron. “…writing is best broken down into a one-day-at-a-time, one-page-at-a-time process. We do not need the courage to write a whole novel. We need the courage only to write on the novel today.”

Writing toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way by Georgia Heard. “My notebook…always reminds me I’m a writer, and it helps me live a considered life that doesn’t spin by focused only on groceries, dinner, and car repairs.”

I’d Rather Be Writing: A Guide to Finding More Time, Getting More Organized, Completing More Projects and Having More Fun by Marcia Golub. Prompt: “Something is lost, not long ago but now. What is lost? What does the character do?”

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. There’s a chapter about giving yourself permission to write “shitty first drafts” and one about writing what you can see though a 1” x 1” picture frame instead of worrying about writing the entire book right now. Or something to that effect. :D I don’t own this book and it’s been a while since I read it, but these two things are what stick in my mind.

So…what works for when you need inspiration? Care to try your hand at any of the prompts and exercises listed above?

The Joy of Writing

The joy of writing romance is in viscerally understanding what it is. The romance paperback is ubiquitous to our culture in the United States. There is one in every waiting room, boxes of them in shelters, reams of paper devoted to them, and now with the electronic age, there are terabytes of them recorded on dusty servers. Why?

Because they do good. Everyone of them contains hope, a satisfactory ending, and an adventure of the heart if not the body. One Romance Writers of America luncheon speaker told of a few of the letters she'd received over the years. One was from a young man who had been engaged when he had a motorcycle wreck and become paralyzed from the neck down. What did romance books do for him? They had been left at the hospital by women in the visiting room and someone who had been to visit him had used one. By the time he recovered from his coma, his injuries, to remain paralyzed, he'd lost his promising career, his future wife, and all hope. The stack of romance books brought him back from his deep despair and desire to end his life. He'd wrote the author of his turning point book to explain it to her. He now had hope for his future and plans.

I recieved a phone call that started with, "Are you the person who wrote, The Proving Zone:Tory's Story?" and the next sentence sent my heart to my toes. "It changed my life." I was afraid they'd tried something in the book and injured themselves or something horrible, not to mention the shock of realization that someone had hunted me down and my phone number. But, the caller went on to explain that because of my book, she realized what she'd been doing and changed her behavior which resulted in a renewed relationship like she'd never had before. Other readers have reached me to let me know that phrases from that book have become a part of their family language. We affect other's lives.

We let people remember and refresh their own feelings of romance in their relationships by reading romance. I've watched people who are having the worst year of their life read romances because they are a time out of the pressure of that worst year.
We give people breathing space.
We stop worry for a while.
We keep horror and fear for the future at bay.
We bring them home safe.

As we write and the words flow from our fingers with all the ease we enjoy, we too reach a place that feels too good to stop. We play in the lives of our characters. When we are stopped, bound up by trying to reach that perfect description of what we want to convey, even then, in our tiny angst, the pain feels kinda good, like a healing bruise. And it may bug us for a few days until it is right. We know we must never give up. The world needs us. Every day. Brand new, crisp pages, and shiny covers or dusty, torn, aged garage sale paperback--every one is necessary.

The people we meet and find as compatible souls in this romance writing world are some of the best relationships we'll ever have.
Because they understand it, and knowing what it is, still enjoy...the joy of writing romance.

Commend, laud, honor, acclaim, extol, venerate.

In other words, in praise of Roget’s Thesaurus.

Roget’s is my third most favorite writing resource.
Number one is my imagination.
Number two is my computer.

My Roget’s is dog-eared, tattered, ripped, rent, and damaged. I love it. I simply adore finding the word that makes a sentence sing.

For the most part, my writing style is simple. I have no illusions about what I write. It’s entertainment, easy, uncomplicated, pleasing as stroll down a shady lane, but sometimes I just need a better word.

Maybe I used handsome three times on one page. I try to avoid those echo words that writer’s notice, but ordinary readers gloss right over. Shift+F7 gives me the thesaurus in Microsoft Word. I use it frequently, but there is something more satisfying about grabbing the book with the broken spine and falling out, ragged pages.

Leafing though all those words gives me new ideas. Sometimes, they take my story or my characters in a whole new direction.

Handsome = attractive, good-looking, elegant, stately, majestic, gorgeous.
Elegant is the word that fits best tonight.

The elegant Dr. Peter Mark Roget created his thesaurus in 1805 but it was not released to the public until 1856. Imagine what it must be like to create a book every writer looks to. He's been called the man who became a book. I like that. His is the book that helped me become a writer.
What books have been your inspiration for writing?
Besides Roget, I can name three others that seriously influenced me.
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodwiss (my first romance)
Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer. (the best character study of a hero ever)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (proof that I can write no matter what problems life throws at me)
Happy writing

Storytelling Is An Art

Don’t we enjoy reading a good book? If it doesn’t hold our attention, we usually lose interest, never picking that book up again. This concept should be just as important when writing our own manuscript. As writer’s we want to hold the reader from the beginning to the end. When a reader loves your book, they are inclined to tell others. Waiting with anticipation for the release of your next novel.

An essential writing technique in storytelling is Creating Suspense. How many books have you read until the wee hours of the morning? Not wanting to put the book down. Involving yourselves with the characters, as if you knew them on a personal basis. Have you taken time to watch people when you talk to them? If what you are saying is putting a glassy eyed look on their face, it’s a sure bet, they aren’t listening. Same concept goes for when you are writing your story. Anyone can write words on paper. It’s the emphasis a writer applies to grammatically correct sentences and interesting words, that makes the novel suspenseful to the reader.

Characters are the working force to storytelling. Without them, there isn’t anything to write about. Characters have an agenda following a goal. Put them in a situation where there is conflict. I like to call conflict, obstacles. The hero and heroine will work through the conflict; building on the obstacles, moving the plot along creating the necessary suspense. A book I have found helpful is “Building Believable Characters” by Marc McCutcheon. Great book for helping me develop my character charts.

Some writers have difficulty applying Conflict in their storytelling. Once our characters are developed, we as writers have established a relationship with them. The last thing we want to do is cause pain or discomfort towards them. Conflict makes the story worth reading. It provides the story with struggles, tension, choices the characters will have to make. Having opposing forces is what brings the internal and external conflicts to a height of the drama. If you touch the reader’s hearts at all levels of emotions, you’ve created the art of storytelling.

Storytellers must satisfy their readers with a Believable Ending. Characters should have their conflict reduced to a workable agreement. A twist of surprise at the ending will bring delight to the reader. Such as a traumatic event giving the character a chance to change. Romance storytelling is based on the hero and heroine resolving their differences in harmony. What the basic conflict was in the beginning of the story is now reflected to a happy ending.

Are you excited to be with your characters each day? Does your story hold your interest?


Understanding the Premise, the Blurb, and the Pitch


A “premise” is a brief summary of what the book is about, preferably in one to two sentences. It can be considered the quickie pitch for an agent, an editor, or a reader.

A Premise’s Job
Reinforce what the title says about the book’s genre and tone
Summarize the storyline
Show the story’s uniqueness
Intrigue the reader, agent, or editor
Entice the reader to want to know what’s going to happen
Establish the story’s dramatic issue and hint at movement within the story to reach a satisfactory fulfillment

Sample Premise of It’s Mau-idness (by Starla Kaye)

Two people burned in previous bad marriages fight an unwanted and irresistible attraction while battling over a spa ranch business investment in Maui.

Tone: semi-lighthearted by the play on Maui Madness (original title I came up with)
Summary: characters battling over something both want
Uniqueness: the type of business being battled over
Romantic conflict: prior bad marriages make characters wary, but physical attraction is strong and hard to resist


Some people wrongly believe that a “premise” is the same thing as the promotional “blurb,” such as used on back covers. The premise may be incorporated into the blurb, but the blurb goes into more detail to encourage a reader to buy the book.

Goals of the Blurb

Introduce the main character or characters
State their goals (the reason for the story)
Hint at conflicts (reasons they will have trouble reaching the goals)
Establish setting details: time period, genre influences, location
For a romance, to show attraction and frustration

Sample Blurb from If You Loved Me by Starla Kaye

Caitlin Curran MacDonnell’s life is a disaster. Forced into marriage in Scotland at eighteen to a man she had never met before, at twenty-one she’s told the marriage is to be annulled. Only problem: Now her brother wants to force her to marry someone else. She’s had enough. She has dreams of her own and they don’t include an enormous, handsome Scot OR a disgusting old man. It’s time to find her “husband” from whom she was separated after her wedding night and get on with her life.

Just when Mac is getting on with his life, his sassy young bride shows up in Tumbleweed, Kansas where he’s now the sheriff. He’d been told she’d died, yet there she is, willful and independent as ever, demanding an annulment so she can go off to San Francisco to be a photographer. That might be what she wants, but what she needs is a man to keep her in line.

Character introduction: Cailtin Curran MacDonnell and Mac MacDonnell
Her goals: end her farce of a marriage and start her own life as a photographer
Her conflicts: not go from one forced marriage to another
Setting: married in Scotland, confronts Mac in Tumbleweed, Kansas
Romantic elements: sees Mac as a handsome Scot, he sees her as needing him


In baseball terms, it would be what a pitcher throws to a batter in an attempt to work towards a game win. The pitcher would hope that all of his pitches are so good that all the batters strike out, and he earns the glory of a win.

In a writer’s terms, the pitch is what a writer tells an agent or an editor about his/her manuscript with the hope of earning representation or a sale. The pitch can be as short as the 1-2 sentence premise, or relating the guts of the work in 6-10 well crafted sentences for a five to ten minute agent/editor appointment. The pitch can also be used in a query letter.

Contents of a Good Pitch

Relate the genre, and possibly a targeted line
Give the approximate word count (should fit the targeted line you mention)
State if the work is complete
Provide a succinct summary of the basic storyline plot points
Establish the setting, including the time period
Introduce the characters and their goals
Show the conflicts and obstacles to keep the characters from reaching their goals
In a romance, explain what attracts them to each other and what keeps them from physically or emotionally apart

The Write Path--the Road Now Traveled

We writers hear and read a lot of how each of us should achieve the right effect in our craft. It is all right and all wrong. (Disclaimer: This idea is not mine, but resonates with me so I'm passing it on.)

Imagine if Charles Dickens, Tom Clancy, Steven King, Barbara Cartland, Shakespear, Louisa May Alcott, and Georgette Heyer all sat down to discuss writing. Each and every one of them would probably have a strong notion of what writing should be like. Each and every one of them would be correct. Each and every one of them would be wrong.

Each has a distinctive style and writer's voice. Each emphasizes different areas of their writing. As you re-read the list above let your mind's ear think of words they've written. Charles Dicken's rich backgrounds and detail. A man who was commissioned by our country to change the world by his writing. And so A Christmas Carol was born. And it worked. Christmastime rioting and destruction of commercial districts was stopped in this country. Now, that's the power of the written word.

Tom Clancy's tangled weaves of far separate lives that are almost insurmountable in reading complexity but come together and dazzle us. Steven King's way with few words, but horrifying in the way they linger on the brain.

How can we forget Barbara Cartland's breathless heroines and her exotic locations? She was once the most prolific writer that ever lived. She led the charge for mass marketing romances.

Louisa May Alcott's gentle descriptions of everyday life in the lives of regular people. Her books have been beloved by a generation and become classics. Georgette Heyer, one of my personal favorites, has layering of interlocking stories as well as good characterizations.

Each of these writers would be silly writing as the others. The richness of the reading world would be less if they had tried. Worse, if one had stayed silent and never wrote their own stories in their own way, the world would be less also.

Since we started this blog, it has had a lot of excellent information for writers. It has been very multidimensional for all kinds of writing. However, I think the greatest lesson of all, is to be true to one's own writing spirit. In the attempt to learn and grow in the craft of writing, sometimes we prune the wrong limb. Be careful. The world never has enough variety and is always looking for something new to read.

Well, bite my steaming, swollen toe!

I’ve had a lot of favorite writing books over the years. Fiction Is Folks by Robert Newton Peck, Shut Up, He Explained: A Writer’s Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue by William Noble, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders, Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Deb Dixon, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, Sun Signs by Linda Goodman, Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson, and 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt are just a few of them. One was a small book bound in light blue paper that I got from Beverly Wadsworth that had been written by an author she represented. It was an informative little piece of work that had one of the best character sheets I’ve ever seen in it. I can’t remember either the title or the author of it, and I lost it during one of our many disasterous moves.

So you can see it would be hard for me to pick just one book. These days, like everyone else, I rely a lot on Internet websites for assistance and information. The two I use most are ( and Seventh Sanctum™ ( has a dictionary, a thesaurus, an encyclopedia and a translator all on one site. It’s good for spelling, short information on a subject and synonyms and antonyms. I use the thesaurus section most often, particularly when I’m stuck for a word or stuck on one.

Seventh Sanctum™ is a collection of “generators.” These generators are programmed to randomly create names, characters, plots, ideas, items, or just about anything you can imagine. If you need a name for a minor character in a hurry, try the Quick Character Namers. It generates names based off census data for America. It uses common names only, so you won’t get something like Grail Steelreaper or Ginger Lustflame. However, if you need a name like one of the afore-mentioned, you can certainly come up with it on the Weird Name Generators.

Two of my favorite generators are the Romance Stories generator and the Cuss-O-Matic. The Romance Stories generator will give you a romance-oriented plot and pair of characters complete with extra details and plot complications. For example: This story starts in a small city in the Antarctic. In it, a silly professor is in love with an unwise project manager - all thanks to a murder. If it does nothing else, the generator will certainly get you thinking.

The Cuss-O-Matic is found at Serendipity( If you need a colorful epithet, try generating one like, “Oh, pinch my pestilent, pogo-sticking rump!” One of my favorite all time exclamations came from the Cuss-O-Matic. It’s fun to use Seventh Sanctum™ or one of the other generators links on its page. The only problem is you can get caught up in the whimsy and adventure of generating that you don’t get much writing done. But if you need a quick writing boost, Seventh Sanctum™ is the place to go.

The Art of Seduction

The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene, (also the author of 48 Laws of Power) if taken for its purported purpose of getting anything from anyone, is rather creepy and chilling in its constant use of the word “victim.” It takes seduction at the worst meaning of the word and often made me think of stalker. Here, however, I present it as book with information that can aid in developing and understanding your characters.

The book is presented in two parts. The first part gives a straight forward, in depth explanation with historic and or literary examples of Greene’s arbitrarily set of nine types of seducers:

1. The Siren—ultimate male fantasy figure who offers a total release from daily life. Symbol is water, liquid and enticing.

2. The Rake—provides a mix of danger and pleasure. Symbol is Fire, a Rake burns with a desire that enflames.

3. The Charmer—discussed below. Symbol is the mirror, reflecting what the other person wishes to see.

4. The Ideal Lover—reflects fantasies and desires. Symbol is the Portrait Patinter—under his eye all imperfections disappear.

5. The Dandy—creates an alluring presence that stirs repressed desire. Symbol is the Orchid, odor sweet and decadent, prized for rarity.

6. The Natural—has the qualities we left with childhood: spontaneity, sincerity, unpretentiousness. Symbol is the Lamb, soft and endearing, a pure innocence we want to possess.

7. The Coquette—grand master of the game of alternating hope and frustration with the lure of total satisfaction. Symbol is the Shadow, it cannot be grasped.

8. The Charismatic—attract by radiating a confidence and contentment they keep mysterious. Symbol is the Lamp, an invisible current that turns cadescent.

9. The Star—uses the desire to escape into fantasy and dreams. Symbol is the Idol, the eye of the worshipper fill the Idol with life and imagine it to have real powers.

Each type also has a “Key to the Character” section and “Dangers,” a connotation Greene never applies to his “victims.” In the margins are a great many historic and literary quotes which are interesting in themselves and are used as mirrors of the author’s ideas. The second half of the book is given to the “process of seduction” which Greene divides into four phases, the first being “Choosing the Right Victim.” It is a disturbing dissection of social power but can provide motive, means, and modus operandi for your characters.

How so?
Take the seducer type “Charmer.” Greene states, “Charm is seduction without sex. Charmers are consummate manipulators, masking their cleverness by creating a mood of pleasure and comfort. Their method is simple: they deflect attention from themselves and focus it on their target. They understand your spirit, feel your pain, adapt to your moods.”
We all use characters that are charming. This book gives an in-depth analysis of how to charm—be it your hero or, if followed to the conclusions of the book, the vilest of villains. The main facets of a charmer, according to Greene, are that they are keen observers and truly listen. By keying in on what is important to their “victim” they tailor their responses and bolster self-esteem. Greene includes paragraphs with these headings in explaining how a Charmer works:
1. “Make your target the center of attention
2. Be a source of pleasure
3. Lull your victim into ease and comfort
4. Show calm and self-possession in the face of adversity
5. Make yourself useful.”

One of the examples given to support the Charmer is a telling of how Averell Harriman came to marry his second, and much younger, wife Pamela. It makes fascinating reading as well as suggesting several plot lines.

If you are hunting for a different or unusual way for your hero to gain your heroine’s heart or vice versa or a way to make your villain truly despicable The Art of Seduction may be for you. Check it out from your local library and see if you find it useful.


This is ACT II to Pat’s wonderful blog two days ago so grab your popcorn, Junior Mints and Diet Coke. Settle into your favorite chair, dim the lights and start the sequel! (Eat your heart out Spielberg.)

Ever been stuck for a name to fit your plucky heroine or dastardly villain but your brain can’t get past the mundane? Consider the phone book. First names. Last names. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. (Insert your favorite instrumental music here.) I tell you, this book has it all and the bigger the city, the better selection. Just let your fingers do the walking.

Baby name books. (Slide show of the cutest babies in town—your own included while we are treated to a moving rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.) If you don’t own a book, then buy one or hit the web for more names and meanings than you could ever use.

Year books. (Showing bad hair photos and smiles with shiny braces while playing 80’s music.) Remember Betty Brown and Janet Jones, the mean girls in high school? Now is your chance to get even. They could become Betty Jones and Janet Brown and you can steal their boyfriends before the end of the first chapter. Or make them flat broke, flabby and working some menial job at your heroine’s very successful company.

Friends and family. (Slightly out of focus photos of family members gathered around Grandpa while we are treated to the theme to Deliverance.) As long as they are minor characters and you paint them in a good light, then go for it. Just remember you might be sitting next to them this Thanksgiving when you ask them to pass the gravy. Trust me, it’s not worth a lap of turkey goop.

Map Quest. Where do these people live? How far away? How long will it take them? Which highway will you choose for your characters to run out of gas, blow a tire, lock their keys in the car, pick up a lonely hitch-hiker or get stranded at a motel on a hill? (Key in the spooky music along with visual images of Freddy, Jason and or Norman Bates.

So, savvy writers, what forms of research do you use when you get the urge to create a masterpiece of your own?

Roll the credits.

Resources for Writers.

Resources for Writers. Humm.

I was really scratching my head over this topic for our blog during the month of November. There are more resources available to us than one can possibly imagine. We have resource books, research books, the Internet, even movies can show us how to become better writers.

Today, I want to talk about a resource EVERY writer has.
The writer.
Yes, the invaluable resource I'm talking about is you.

When I wanted to know the symptoms of appendicitis, I called the local hospital emergency room, explained that I was a writer and asked if there was someone available to talk to me. Before I knew it, there was a doctor and an ER nurse happily telling me how to diagnose and treat appendicitis. Yep, all I had to do was ask, and this was long before I was published.

In my most recent novel, I needed information about nurse midwives. My nephew is married to a nurse midwife, so I did have a special in, so to speak. But what I really needed was information from an Ohio nurse midwife, because laws on midwifery vary from state to state. In this instance, the Internet and e-mail became my best friend. After searching for an Ohio midwife in the area about which I was writing, I contacted the clinic via e-mail, explained I was a writer, and soon had the phone number and e-mail address of the midwife happy to answer any questions I had.

I have interviewed, The Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard at Fort Riley, Kansas, the sheriff and police chief of Council Grove, Kansas, a nurse midwife in Millersburg Ohio, a cowboy, a rancher, a cattle buyer, an 1860's reenactor and a fireman. Talk about more information than I could possibly use. And all because I asked.

People can give you insight and information that you could not uncover by reading. Their anecdotal stories can give your writing an authentic flavor. You can learn terms and procedures that add realism to your characters. So when you're doing research for your heroine’s or hero’s job or just need information about a different part of the country, you can be your own best resource tool. Don't be afraid to ask.
Who has been the most interesting or helpful person you've talked to and why?

The Creep Factor: Nine Ways to Add Eeriness to Your Story

Ragged clouds scudded across the swollen face of the blood-red moon. The rising wind caused the bare trees branches to clack together like skeletal fingers. It whipped strands of Randi Enderson’s pale blonde hair into her eyes, blurring her vision. Her heart thudded with fear as she called her son’s name. “Kitteridge!”

She spun around at a rustle in the underbrush, and her foot came squarely down on the tail of her neighbor’s black cat, Spectre. At his ear-splitting yowl, her flashlight dropped from her nerveless fingers, bounced hard off the ground and went out. Blackness enveloped her like a heavy cloak.

Lightning split the sky, throwing the trees and brush into an eye-searing bas-relief. Deafening thunder rolled through the countryside, shaking the ground. The first icy drops of rain pelted down. She had to find Kitt before his father arrived. Schulyer would have her in court in a heartbeat if he found his son shivering from wet and cold.

Randi staggered, need driving her. Her steps faltered, and the skin on her arms dimpled and the hair on the back of her neck stood as an impossible sound filled the air. It rose, far too close, long and ululating, a note out of nightmares and fairytales. No dog, no yipping Kansas coyote. Only one animal made that noise, the reverberation of violence, terror and death.

Crimson eyes gleamed in the darkness, as Randi found herself staring into the face of the wolf.

The piece above illustrates nine ways to add eeriness and suspense to a manuscript.

1. It uses the number one devastator of us all: Fear. Randi is afraid for her son. Afraid for his safety and of losing him.
2. It uses a ticking clock. She must find Kitt before his father arrives.
3. It uses a deprivation of the sense we all rely on most: Sight. The darkness and lightning make it hard for Randi to see.
4. It uses a “bus.” Named for the famous bus scene in director Val Lewton’s movie Cat People, it represents a scare that elevates tension, then turns out to be an empty threat. Randi’s stepping on Spectre is a “bus.”
5. It sets a tone with portents. The blood-red moon and the skeletal fingers of the trees let the reader know something untoward is about to happen.
6. It uses weather to add to Randi’s disorientation and discomfort. The thunderstorm with its lighting and rain drives her fear higher.
7. It piles problem after problem onto the character: Loss of sight, stepping on the cat, flashlight going out, lightning, thunder, rain, the thought of her ex-husband’s disapproval, all leading to the final terror of the howl.
8. It’s unpredictable. Small annoyances like stepping on cats and flashlights going out increase tension. No one lives in a vacuum. Everyday problems bug us all.
9. It throws the unexpected at the reader. The Kansas countryside is not a place you would anticipate coming face to face with a wolf.

I hope this post helps show you how to add the “creep factor” to your work. Enjoy this night of horrors and hauntings. I wish you a Happy Hallowe’en!

Writing Through the Tough Times

There comes a time in every writer’s life – and often several times – that the words don’t flow. When the act of writing is almost physically painful. Maybe it’s because of things happening in our lives that make concentration and writing difficult--one of those “tough times”, as in the illness of a family member, the loss of a family member, or the breakup of a family. Or maybe we just temporarily lose the desire to write. There are also countless other reasons in between. Whatever the cause, we become frozen in our writing, unable to proceed or sometimes even care.

Learning to write through these times and find a way to bring back the spark that led us to writing is an individual thing. One method may work for one writer, but won’t work for another. There are times when we may have to try several methods before we stumble upon what works for each of us. Some of us simply give up and patiently wait until an idea strikes and we find sitting at the keyboard pleasurable again.

If you are a published author with a few, several, or many books to your credit, you may not have the luxury of writing only when the muse is kind and the words are flowing. Deadlines will loom at the worst possible times. In these instances, the writer has no choice but to find a way to write.

But even those working toward their first sale should learn to find a way to write when the desire isn’t there. The day may only be a phone call away when, like those who have sold before have learned, there isn’t an option.

Here are a few suggestions gathered from my own experience and others who have shared theirs for different methods to write through the tough times, whatever they may be.

  • Forget about the work in progress (wip) for a day or two. Find something to take your mind off of it. Read a book, watch a movie, go shopping or even window shopping if funds are low. Do anything that will get your mind off your story. If you have a non-writing friend, go to lunch and try not to talk about writing.

  • Brainstorm with other writers, if possible. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a good brainstorming session, even if it’s for someone else’s book! But what if all your writer friends are online and live far away? Try a chat room or instant messaging. A phone call, if possible, is even better.

  • Don't worry about perfect writing. You can do revisions later. Put a mark where your story takes a different turn than you'd planned (MS Word has a little highlighter that I adore for this!) and keep going. Make a note of what you might need to change in previous pages, but don't make those changes now. Unless you're the type of writer who revises as you write or reading over yesterday's writing and "fixing" before going on), don't go back and read through what you've already written. Just keep going and don't look back, at least for now.

  • If you're stuck, play the "what if" game. Let your mind free-write. Can you think of 5 different things that could happen? How about 10? 20? Make a list, then go through and see which ideas are usable. Give those few a thought and try them out.

  • Consider changing POV or staying in the same one instead of changing. Sometimes we're coming to our story from the wrong character.

  • Try interviewing your characters. If you've never done this, it can feel strange at first, but once you get into it, you'll discover a lot of things that may take your story in a new and interesting direction. An interview can be done verbally and with a tape recorder, if you feel comfortable doing it that way. Or it can be done on the computer. Either way, ask/type the question, then answer/type the question from the character. Start with easy questions and slowly dig a little deeper. As you ask and answer more question, you’ll think of even more to ask. You need to be "in the character's head" for this to work best.

  • Write something completely different. Write a letter to a friend about something other than writing. Journal, if it makes you feel better. Or maybe write that murder scene? More internal editors have been vanquished in this way.

Whatever you do, don't quit!! Keep trying different methods until you find one that works for you. You may also find that, although you’ve found a method once, it may not work the next time, and you may have to go through the list more than once. Remember that if you quit, you'll never know if that next submission would have been The One.

In the past almost ten years since I received The Call, I've been through a divorce, moved four times in the first two years, dealt with the loss of my best writing friend's husband (who was also a close friend) and my mother's death a year later. My daughters have blessed me with five grandchildren in the past 8 years, the last having just had open heart surgery at the age of four weeks. The majority of those times I've been on deadlines. I'm living proof it can be done. It also may be the reason for my ditziness. :)

While life changing events are a definite reason to give writing a short rest, be sure not to make it a permanent one. If you're writing on deadline--whether self-imposed or contractual--make a schedule, either with a daily page goal or set chapter goals. If you can get ahead of your schedule, time off can easily be taken. Remember to be kind to yourself. Rest, exercise, and healthy eating can go a long way to help combat the stress, whatever the cause, that keeps you from writing.