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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finding the time to . . . Read!

The Duchess of Decency’s Perspective

We are all authors, but before we followed our passion to write, we read. But, for every minute we write there is one less minute we can escape into the world another person created. I used to go through four or five books a week. I am lucky to read one book a month now. My typical day is work (full time outside the home), three children, a husband, writing, blogging, etc. I can barely keep my eyes open at night when I do relax. Often, I will start reading a book and barely get two pages read before my eyelids start to close. It could be the most riveting book ever written and I would be falling asleep. Such is my life at the moment.

My to-be-read stack was growing by the day because I know I will get to these books, as soon as I have time. That time hasn’t happened. Then, the answer came by way of audio book. I don’t know why I never tried them before. They are wonderful. The moment I am in my car the book is turned on and I don’t care who is there. And what is exciting, is I am able to continue with a series I started, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. Right now I am listening to the third book, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, and the next in line, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, is waiting patiently somewhere near the passenger seat in my car. It makes me wish my commute was longer.

Mistress of Adventure's Perspective

Once a month I owe myself a lazy day - usually a Saturday or Sunday - and I take the whole day to do nothing but lay on the sofa or bed and read. I even lug my novel into the bath with me. It's my pampering day for a whole month's worth of stress. I love that the hubby will watch the kids and take care of things for me while I "relax" for a day. I just finished Sandra Hill's My Fair Viking. I have the second book in the series but I'm not so sure I'll read it. We'll see.

Countess of Controversy

If I'm waiting, I'm reading. I read in my car while I wait for my daughter to get out of school or finish her after-school activities. I read while I wait for the kids at the orthodontist or the doctor's office. I read while I wait for people to show up at meetings.

I just started reading Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. I picked it because I like historical fiction with unusual settings. I also read a lot outside the romance genre. Jonathan Kellerman is a favorite. Oddly enough, I read more non-fiction than fiction.

Baroness Blithe's Perspective

I'm a full time student, in addition to working part time and trying to find time to write. Not only am I a student, but I'm an English major. Which means I have to read a lot. Most of the reading I do is for the classes I'm taking: the classics of British and American literature, the poetry of Keats and Shelley and Burns, the Greek plays, the odd non-fiction book, and of course Shakespeare. With everything that's on my plate, I have to read for fun, too. I used to avoid it, because I was afraid I'd get lost in a book and not be able to put it down, and then I'd end up not doing something I should have done because of my latest adventure. These days, I try to read one chapter at night. Sometimes I can't stop at one chapter. Right now is one of those times. I'm reading A Certain Wolfish Charm by our very own Lydia Dare. Next in line is Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh.

Marchioness of Mayhem's Perspective

I don't have much time to read with my busy schedule, but I would almost rather read than do anything else with my freetime. I have always loved to read starting as far back as I can remember with the Hardy Boy books, Sweet Vally High Romances, and Little Women. In highschool, I went through a horror stage and read every single Stephen King book I could get my hands on. From there I found many writers I loved and still love to this day such as Clavell, Tolstoy and Hemingway. My senior year of college I was at my father's lake house and one night I couldn't sleep. I picked up one of my stepmother's books, Ransom, by Julie Garwood. I was hooked on historical romances from the first page, and I've never turned back. I was also hooked on late night reading. When do I read? Usually I read late at night or sometimes if I'm very lucky in the bathtub! I just finished King of Torts by John Grisham, Now, I'm reading The Devil's Broker by Frances Stonor Saunders, and I am also reading one of my all time favorite books, War and Peace by Tolstoy.

Countess of Whismy's Perspective

I rediscovered audio books this past week. Today I finished Amanda Quick's Wicked Widow. I enjoy a good mystery and there was something very pleasing about listening to someone else reading the story. In fact, I began to read my own chapters out loud as I edit to give me a sense of flow. I also found myself immersed in the world Ms. Quick created.

Audio books allow me to "read" while I'm driving, which I do a lot of in my other job. I listened to the ending of Wicked Widow tonight as I cooked dinner and finished up laundry. I guess it indulges that part of me that feels I must accomplish as much as possible in a day to feel satisfied with my progress, at least on work days.

I'm not sure what I'll read next, but I have a Jodi Picoult audio book I may start tomorrow. Or maybe I'll browse the shelves of the library. I'd also like to get to Sherry Thomas' books after Private Arrangements, which I loved. I didn't want to stop reading it, but it was 2 am and I had to go to bed.

That is what we are reading, when and how. What about? Are you reading (or listening to) a good book, or is there one you would recommend we add to our to-be-read piles? And, do you find it hard to find time to read?

Words, Words, Words

One aspect of becoming a better writer that I rarely see discussed is building up one's vocabulary. In fact, once you've gotten past the stages of preparing for the SAT (or GRE, or MCAT, or whatever standardized test you decide to stop with), most people never think about their vocabulary again.

Sure, we'll pick up words here and there. Perhaps people who read more will learn more words, perhaps not. We'll hear something in a movie or on TV and wonder about what it might mean.

But how many of us actually work to continue to develop and grow our vocabularies?

As writers, this is something that we should all be working towards on a daily basis. We're always searching for that one word that will concisely and precisely say what we mean, instead of using several words that circle around the general meaning, but never quite fits the bill exactly.

One thing I do to expand upon my word knowledge is keep a notebook by my side as I read. Any time I come across a word that I know, but rarely (if ever) use, or a word that I don't know, I jot it down. And later on in the day, or the next day, or at the end of the week, I look it up in my dictionary. It isn't enough for me to stop there, however. I know myself and how I learn. If I write something down (or if I type it), then I'm ten times more likely to remember it than if I just read it. So, I have an excel spreadsheet set up where I type in my new words and a brief meaning, being careful to explain the meaning of the word in my own words. That is another way I can help myself to remember it.

I'll go into this file every now and then, skimming over the words, refreshing my memory. I also keep it handy when I'm writing, for those moments that I know there is a better word but it isn't quite coming to mind. Then I can quickly scan through my list and see if its there. If it isn't, then I'll use my thesaurus or my dictionary and try to find the exact word I'm thinking of - and then add it to my list.

Another thing I do is study books on building vocabulary. I don't focus so much on the ones that are specialized unless they are geared towards writers. But an MCAT vocabulary guide will focus more on scientific terms that the average person doesn't need to know, etc.

One book I've recently found and like is Word for Word by James E. Snyder Jr. It has words listed in two ways - a more complex word listed with its easier equivalent, and the easier word listed with its more sophisticated equivalent. The best part of this book, in my opinion, is that all the definitions are single words.

Over the years, I've tried word-a-day listserves, but I haven't found one that I truly like. So, instead of having some random person send me an email with a word to learn for that day, I'm trying to focus my own efforts on learning at least one new word a day.

Since I started refocusing my efforts on building my vocabulary, I've noticed changes in my writing. I tend to choose interesting words more often as a first choice, instead of selecting the more mundane and expected word. I think this is a good thing. That's not to say that I want my readers to have to keep a dictionary at hand in order to understand my writing. But as a reader myself, I like to be challenged. I have to assume many readers feel the same way. So, if my broadening vocabulary can encourage others to enhance their own, I feel I've done the world a service.

What about you? Do you still work to improve your vocabulary? What is your method?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Perfection is in the Details

I give fair warning that as I sit down to compose my blog, I’m feeling rather nostalgic, and my blog has very little to do with writing today. I considered several topics and thought I’d settled on blogging about audio books. I marched to my car to read the back cover of the case, because I couldn’t recall the name of the actress narrating Amanda Quick’s “Wicked Widow”. (The man at the start of each disk cracks me up. “Disc two of Weeeekid Weeedow”. Now I can’t say the title without the same inflection and a giggle. Plus, I’m beginning to think in a British accent.)

Anyway, I ended up meandering back to the house, sidetracked by the lovely flowering crabapple and redbud trees. (I’m sure it must be shocking that I became sidetracked.) Wow! When I stopped to consider the beauty around me, I was breathless with wonder. Before I knew it, I ran inside to grab my camera, which really doesn’t do nature justice, but I'll show you my pictures anyway.

Suddenly, I noticed the world: the sweet scent of lilac, the brilliant green grass, the brush of orange on the tips of the red tulip petals, the knock of a woodpecker, the constant low roar of a lawn mower in the distance… Oh, and that $%&# braying beagle down the street.

I was flooded with memories of springs past, which naturally flowed into memories of summers past. The warmth of the sun on bare limbs. The smoky scent of a barbecue grill. Coconut oil, which no one in their right mind slathers on their body anymore. Lying in bed with a good book and reading into the wee hours.

There are so many small pleasures I forget about when caught up in the everyday craziness of busy schedules, multiple phone calls and buckets of email. Yet, the combinations of these tiny pleasures make life worth living, and it is the inclusion of these emotion-inducing details that make a good book fantastic, in my opinion.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I need to follow the advice to stop and smell the roses more often.

What small things bring joy into your life?

Waiting on ABNA Round 3

Today the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest will announce their semi-finalists, the top 100 entries which will advance to compete for a publishing contract. This contest is important because it provides readers a rare opportunity to vote on which book should be published.
I like to think of it as American Idol for writers. The contest started out in January with approximately 10,000 entries divided into two categories, General Fiction and YA Fiction. In the first round, only the pitch was judged. One thousand writers (top 20%) from each category went onto the second round.
Next, Amazon reviewers judged the openings of the novels and chose 250 quarter-finalists (top 5%) from each category. For the past month, excerpts from all 500 quarter-finalists have been available for free download on www.amazon.com/abna.
At this stage, readers can write a review voicing their support for a particular entry. Meanwhile, professional reviewers from Publisher’s Weekly have been evaluating the complete novels. Their scores will decide who advances to the semi-final round today. (Top 1%)
In the final round, readers will have the opportunity to vote for one of six finalists. The author with the most votes will win a publishing contract with a $15,000 advance from Penguin.
For the author-entrants, this is a long and nerve-wracking process. All of the materials –pitch, excerpt, completed manuscript—were turned in months ago. If an author discovers an error now, there’s no way to fix it. In my case, the formatting on my excerpt disappeared when I uploaded it. I wince every time someone tells me they read it.
Having faced similar obstacles together, the contestants share a sense of camaraderie. Today marks the third time we have waited together, encouraging one another as we refresh the announcement page in unison. All week long, the ambiance has been similar to a high school graduation. Everyone knows the chances of advancing to the next round together are slim. Who will stay and who will go? We make awkward jokes and promise to stay in touch as we bite our nails to the nub waiting for the semi-finalist announcement.
Congratulations to all the entrants. What do you think of contests like the ABNA, where readers vote to determine the winner? Have you read any of the ABNA excerpts? And if you are a contestant, what have you gained by participating? Did you make through to the semi-final round?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old . . .

Remember those lines? I don’t remember the name of the song, but I remember singing it with my Brownie troop eons ago. But those words still apply today. More specifically, they apply to this past weekend when I attended the Chicago North RWA Spring Fling with Lydia Dare, Samantha Grace and Erin Kelly from my critique group. We were already making friends before the conference even started, two of them being Keri Smith and Heather Snow (a Fire and Ice and a GH Finalist). The only thing I would have changed was to have the rest of the critique group with us. On Friday morning we checked in to the conference and were given our bag of materials. Inside were a couple of free books. (This is always one of my favorite parts – who doesn’t love a free book?) Well, while I am digging into my bag, Samantha pops up with “Lydia, I got your book”. Turns out, I did too. Erin wasn't so lucky, but she did get the second release later that day. I was a bit jealous over that one. Guess I will have to hit the bookstore.

Pictured: Amy De Trempe, Lydia Dare, Erin Kelly (center front), Samantha Grace

The workshops were fantastic, and the headliners Cherry Adair and Julia Quinn were awesome (as if that would be a surprise). When I needed a break because my brain was about to explode from information overload, I strolled into the bookstore and was really excited to see my book displayed next to Lydia’s.The first day ended about as perfectly as any day could end – a Chocolate Reception. Those ladies in Chicago really know what they are doing. Saturday included more workshops, and my first book signing as well as Lydia’s.
Amy and Lydia at the book signing

The day and conference ended with dinner and an awards ceremony where we got to see our new friend, Heather Snow, win the Fire and Ice Award for Historical Romance. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. It was the first time I was able to attend the Spring Fling, but I doubt I will miss it again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My "Keeper Shelf"or "Play it again, Sam"

As many of you know, I am a huge classic movie fan. The cadence of the actor’s speech, the beautiful clothes, the dashing heroes, the witty repartee. All of it. You may have seen me blog before about my love of the Screwball Comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. And I do love them. They never fail to make me laugh. They never fail to transport me to a less complicated time and leave me smiling when it’s all over.

But today, I’m not going to talk about my favorite film genre, even though I could go on for days about the subject. I’ll leave that for another time when I’m less talkative. Today I’m going to talk about something slightly different, and perhaps more important…

That classic you just can’t help but watch.

You know what I’m talking about. Those movies that are on your “keeper shelf” of life. We all have a few of these. You can be flipping channels and come across a movie you’ve seen a dozen times before and you’ll watch it all over again no matter if you’re starting in the beginning, middle or end. And no matter what else you had planned to do that day. You get sucked in and the film captures you all over again just like the first time you saw it.

For me these titles include Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, and anything by Tennessee Williams. What is it about these movies that grabs me by the shirt collar and won’t let go? Well, it depends on the movie.

For some it is the quintessential love story, even if it doesn’t end happily. For some it’s a character who’s larger than life, even if they’re not always likable. For some it’s the adventure that captures my imagination. For some it’s the life lessons that are so superbly woven into the story I sense it in my soul. And for others it’s the raw emotion I feel just by getting caught up in the story.

As a writer, I want to dissect those films that I can never let pass me by. I want to figure out what makes them “tick”, what makes them irresistible. I want to figure out what I can learn from them and use in my own writing. Because the greatest compliment of all is being on someone else’s “keeper shelf”. Creating a character or story that so touches someone, they never want to let it go.

What is on your “keeper shelf”? And do you know why they're there?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It’s Okay to go Tagless!

One of the best self—editing books ever written is Self—editing for fiction writers by Renni Brown and Dave King. If you don’t have it yet, pick it up. It’s my bible when I’m editing. I’ve read it a million times and will continue to do so for as long as I’m editing.

They’ve dedicated an entire section to dialogue and some of the best advice I’ve ever read. This is what they had to say that became my (aha!) moment.

“You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment.

If you’re like most authors, you write sentences like these almost without thinking. What could be easier than to tell the readers how a character feels? If she is astonished you just say so——it saves all sorts of time and trouble. It’s also lazy writing.

I think that one paragraph did it for me and made me completely understand the mechanics of dialogue. Now I’m no expert by any means and I still sometimes catch myself falling into that tag trap. That’s my new word by the way——tag trap lol.

First off, this is telling in one of its simplest forms. Secondly, you haven’t reached deep pov and lastly you’re cheating your readers out of your true creative writing. Dialogue is one of the places your manuscript can really shine. In dialogue you almost always have more than one speaker and it’s sometimes important to keep from having talking heads. If you must use a tag, said is almost always your best bet.

I’m still getting a good foot hold on characterization but there are a few tricks I’ve learned that perhaps I can pass on. Getting deep into pov is one of the ways to determine one character from another. If you’ve done your homework on each character you will see that they’re often as different as night and day. I have a series with four brothers. Of course one of them gets killed off but they’re completely different. Gade is a bounty hunter and has hero instincts where as his younger brother Rio is completely anti—hero and it comes across in his attitude. He’s often cynical, sarcastic and sometimes just a pain in the tush. His actions clearly say “I’m completely selfish.” That’s characterization.

Using action instead of tags is another way to avoid the talking heads but as I’ve had someone point out to me recently it too can become repetitious. So place action only where it conveys a part of the character or helps move the plot forward. Don’t just toss in a raised eye brow unless he/she has a reason to raise an eyebrow. And then don’t do it again until it’s absolutely necessary.

Looking back at our example: “You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment.

“You can’t be serious” conveys astonishment——no explanation is needed. And when you explain dialogue that needs no explanation you are dumbing down your readers. Trust in the reader.

There are many different ways to write astonishment. The way we react under the influence of emotion is one of the things that make us who we are.

Using one of the examples they use in the book because I am lazy today, let’s see the different ways we can use.

She dropped the whisk, splattering meringue up the cupboard door. “You can’t be serious.”

Here’s my sad attempts lol, so no flaming allowed.

A single dark brow rose over his cold blue eyes. “You can’t be serious.”

Both of her lily white hands lifted to smother the gasp and giggle. “You can’t be serious.” (Can you almost hear the southern drawl and I’ll bet she’s blue eyed with blonde ringlets.)

So essentially don’t use a tag unless you absolutely have to, get deep into your characters head and know what they would say or wouldn’t as well as how they would say it. I would be careful with inflections and accents in writing and use them sparingly. Although, I will say if you start a character using the word “yew” instead of you, than be consistent. Don’t let them slip into the formal you by accident. Again this all comes from knowing your character.

So tell me what other ways can you think of to convey emotion without using a tag?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to pick a good agent.

The moment has arrived. Your phone rings, you answer it, and an agent is on the other line saying they love your manuscript and want to represent you! Terrific!! You hit mute on the phone and yell for joy while running around your house at a speed your body hasn’t seen in ten years. With a pounding heart, you come back onto the line to talk to the agent, trying not to pant into the receiver. “I’m yours!” you chirp. “Where do I sign the contract and how fast can you get it here?” Never mind that you sent your manuscript to at least twenty agents, and you can’t exactly remember this one. This is the first agent to want you. And you know what they say in the industry: it’s harder to get an agent than a publisher.

Who cares if you can’t remember the particulars about this agent? YOU SHOULD CARE!!! You wouldn’t have sent your manuscript to someone you hadn’t thoroughly researched would you? Not even at midnight while crying after receiving yet another rejection. Oh, yea, you did do that.  Is it too late to backtrack and ask a few questions?  NO, no, and no.

Compliments of the RWA Pro site here is what they say you need to ask before accepting any agent:
1. What do you like about my work/book?
2. What is it about me or my work that made me stand out as someone you wanted as a client?
3. How would you market it?
4. What is your commission?
5. Are any of your expenses charged to me?
6. How much does this generally run?
7. How often do you bill me, or do you take it from the advance?
8. May I have the ability to first approve any expenses that will total over $50?
9. Would you advise me when the expenses reach $100 or whatever?
10. Will I sign a contract with you?
11. What are the contract terms? WHEN YOU SEE DOCUMENT ASK MORE QUESTONS.
12. Do you work on a project-to-project basis or will you be representing my career?
13. How do you work with your clients?
14. Do you send copies of all letters from you and/or about the project that are sent to you?
15. Do you prefer snail mail, e-mail or phone?
16. If phone, is there a particular time of day you prefer to be called?
17. How soon do you generally return calls/e-mails?
18. How do you keep me advised on progress?
19. Do you send out a 1099 at tax form time?
20. How quickly are advances, royalties paid after you’ve received them?
21. Will you sign anything on my behalf without first consulting me?
22. If you are ill or on vacation, will somebody else handle my account while you are gone?
23. Will my contract be with you, or with the agency? What happens in the event you leave the agency?
24. Can you tell me how many clients you currently represent?
25. Can you tell me the number of sales you’ve had in the past year?
26. Can you tell me how many of these were romances?
27. Can you tell me what publishers and/or editors you have worked with?
28. Would you be willing to give me some client names as references?

Go print out these questions and keep them handy because I just know you are going to get that call very soon!

Julie Johnstone, Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Before the offer - tips and tricks

Congratulations – your story is finished. You’ve sweated for months, perhaps years to create strong conflicts, an exceptional plot and rich characters your audience will love. You’ve edited for overused words: that, it, was, and other personal favorites you just kept typing without meaning to. It’s perfect.

Breathe, take a moment to savor the feeling – then go back up the file. You don’t want to risk losing your hard work, a story that will one day find a home and be published either in print or as an e-book format.

Did you create that back up copy like I suggested yet? Can you tell I’m a nag about backups? You should also move a copy to a site not connected with your pc? Having fried my computer (motherboard) once – I am well aware of the desperate, panicked feeling that comes with not being able to find ANY file or get a spark of life from my constant companion, my late and greatly lamented HP laptop computer! Life was really simple before that crash.

But I digress. You’ve backed up a copy, burned it to disk or perhaps saved it to an external site. Yahoo/MSN/Gmail are other good (and free) place to hide copies too so don’t discount them.

So, if you’re ready to begin shopping your story to agents and editors take a moment to look at the document. (Note: these tips are for MS Word documents)


Most agents only quote their font requirements if they want something different than Courier New or Times New Roman 12pt. From what I read, they’re not too keen on the fancy fonts so choose a font that encourages them to read your work. I picked Courier New 12pt since it’s really clear on the screen. To keep me sane, and avoid confusion, I save all my work in a uniform style. However, some agents and publishers, have preferences. My publisher, Noble Romance, prefers Book Antiqua for submissions documents. But I still kept my master document the way I like it.

Let’s label this baby:

One thing you can do is give your file a better identity. With the word document open, select FILE then PROPERTIES. Under the SUMMARY tab, fill in your book title and your author name (especially if you are thinking of publishing under a pen name). You may find the fields already pre-filled. That’s ok – you can type over them without changing anything but the file you are working on. Save the document.

Extra spaces:

One of the great tricks I learned recently thanks to my editor was how to remove unnecessary spaces in a document. I didn’t mean to leave only extra spaces but there are a few doubles behind the periods? Here are two great ways to remove those annoying spaces without checking the entire document line by line.

Removing double spaces after a period
Using Microsoft Word, choose EDIT, FIND, and then REPLACE. At Find what, type . (period with 2 spaces after). At Replace with, type . (period with 1 space after it) in the replace box. Then click REPLACE ALL, and then OK

Removing extra spaces at paragraph end
Clicking the button on your toolbar so you can see the non-printable characters on screen. Choose EDIT, FIND, and then REPLACE. At Find what, press spacebar once and then type ^p ( ^p). At Replace with, type ^p (^p). And then click REPLACE ALL, and then OK.

What you should have is a much neater document but you might lose a little of your word count. Now – go back and save the file, then create a new backup copy too! I did say I’d be a nag about backups didn’t I?

There are so many great ways to use MS word and I love to hear new tricks to make computing easier. If you have some other great shortcuts I’d love to hear them. Best of luck with your dreams of publication!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Muse...Do You Believe?

I've come to realize recently that the topic of the muse seems to be a controversial one in the world of writing. When I first started writing, I thought the muse was something all artists believed in. You would always hear someone say "Oh, the muse just wasn't on my side today," or "My muse is speaking to me today - I better get to work!" But after being in the business for several years now, I find that not everyone puts their faith in the muse. I personally am still on the fence when it comes to the muse.

There are some who believe strongly in the muses and call on them depending on the muse's area of expertise. These muses come from Greek Mythology and they were the deities who gave inspiration to artists and philosophers. They were the nine daughters born of Zeus after he bewildered Mnemosyne. They were all artistically inclined and trained in the arts by Apollo. Their specialties are as follows...

Calliope - Epic Poetry
Clio - History
Erato - Lyric Poetry
Euterpe - Music
Melpomene - Tragedy
Polyhymnia - Choral Poetry
Terpischore - Dance
Thalia - Comedy
Urania - Astrology

**To learn more about the muses individually, this is a great site! The 9 Muses

Pictured: The Muses Clio, Euterpe, and Thalia, byEustache Le Sueur

So there are your Nine Muses. I've never called on any of them specifically, and I wonder how many actually do. The muse in modern day culture refers, in general, to a person or being that inspires a writer, musician or artist. But perhaps calling on the goddess of history or comedy wouldn't be such a bad thing in my case!

On the flip side, you have those who don't believe at all in the muse. On the last page of every edition of Woman’s Day magazine is a page of inspirational quotes by any number of notable figures. In the September 1, 2009 edition, they included a quote by Pablo Picasso that got me thinking. He says, “Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.”

On my journey as a writer, I’ve gone through many phases, trying to figure out how I work best. One of those phases was “waiting for the muse”, and I have to admit, she never came. No visions, no dreams, no lighting bolts of inspired scenes. There was just a whole lot of waiting, a whole lot of whining that my muse had left me or that I had writer’s block, and a whole lot of blank pages.

But as soon as I had the courage to sit down and start righting, BOOM! There were the lighting bolts, the ideas, the inspired scenes! The only times I am truly struck with inspiration are the times when I’m working – in some capacity – on my craft. In other words, “inspiration…must find me working.”

But I'm always left wondering if it's the muse that has found me once I've started writing? Or if it's just my willingness to finally apply myself to the task of writing. Does the "muse" really find any of us? Or are we all just too modest to take credit for our own work? What do you think? Are you a believer? Does your muse have to be present in order for you to work? Or does she find you once you're behind the keyboard?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Getting Organized

I am not an organized person. My house is filled with piles. Bills, books, notes. Things for work, things for school, things for writing. Craft projects started but never finished, more projects that I plan to start someday but haven't yet.
My piles do have some sense of organization, I suppose. There is a pile of books for my nephew, another pile of books that I'm reading for school, another pile of books to read for fun (the ever-present TBR pile that only seems to grow), and yet another pile of books on the craft of writing and my research.

The desk where my PC is situated is piled so high, I can no longer get to it. Good thing I have a laptop to write on, because otherwise, I don't think I'd be able to get any writing done.

But in order to write a book, I had to find some organization ability.

Before I made my first attempt at writing a book, I researched how to go about it. I compiled everything I could find and took it as law:
THIS is how a novel is written. Do THIS, or fail. And what did it tell me? My research suggested what I called a Project Bible. I put together a 3-inch, 3-ring binder with everything I needed to know, in order to write my book.

It was filled with notes on back story, an outline, character interviews, maps, etc., etc., etc. I spent a lot of time putting this Project Bible together, and then I could never find anything in it. The whole point of the thing was to have everything at my fingertips--so if I forgot what color Sallie May's eyes were on page 237, I could simply flip through my Project Bible to the information on Sallie May and find out that yes, they were indeed supposed to be green, not blue.

As I went along with the writing process, I would think of something else that needed to be included. It would be scribbled on a sticky note and stuck willy-nilly in place, or scratched out on an index card and tossed inside.

My Project Bible turned out to be more problematic and time consuming than it was worth, particularly since I never finished that manuscript and I don't intend to now.

Skip ahead in time with me now to a couple of years ago when I decided to try writing again. Only this time, not only was I going to try writing just any old novel, I wanted to write a series. And not just any series, either, but a historical romance series.

Even if the idea of the Project Bible worked for me, how on earth would I fit everything I needed into a single 3-inch, 3-ring binder? When you consider that I would need notes on plot and character for each novel, plus more for the series as a whole, plus somewhere to store research notes for the period, and maybe also some notes on writing craft? Impossible. It just plain wasn't going to happen. I needed something else, something that could hold everything.

Thanks to the advances of modern technology, I already had the perfect solution on my computer. One-Note, part of the Office suite of software, has become my lifeline.

The program makes it very easy to set up individual notebooks for anything . I have a notebook for my historical research, another one for notes on writing craft, a third for my series, and yet another for my most recent project. Within each notebook, you can set up any number of tabs and pages within tabs, and tabs within pages within tabs . . . I think you get the drift. I can flip between all of it with just a couple of clicks of the mouse. And the best feature? It automatically saves everything you put in it, the moment you type it or paste it in. I don't have to worry about losing anything.

It fully integrates with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, so that I can copy anything I want from one and paste it directly into the other. Or say I find a photo on the internet that fits my idea for a country manor home one of my characters will live in. All I have to do is copy it and paste it into One-Note.

When I find research that I know I will need to refer back to, I can copy and paste it into a new page in my research notebook, and it automatically includes the hyperlink for where I found the information, in case I ever need to go back to the original source again. Some of the research I find might be in PDF files. This program makes it easy for me to type my own notes over the PDF, to move it around and take bits from this and a smidge from that, and make something that makes sense for me. Also, any time I decide that something fits better over here than it did over there, all it takes is a couple of clicks to put things in an order that makes more sense.

Of course, I now realize that not every method will work for every writer.
How do you keep all of your research and notes organized?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Crit Friday - The Cute Meet

Thank you to all the authors who submitted excerpts for critique this month. We really enjoyed reading all seven of them. We encourage our blog readers to make this an interactive process and welcome your comments on the submissions. Just remember. Lady Scribes is about supporting the growth of writers, so please make sure your comments are constructive and encouraging.


Crit Friday: To Resist a Rogue

Tama Phillips followed the butler down the corridor of the London townhouse while she focused on maintaining that all-important calm exterior, so necessary if she were to survive the coming interview.

The butler opened a tall, heavily carved door. "Your appointment has arrived, my lord."

Ushering her into the room, he stepped out, closing the door behind him.

Tama found herself in the most impressive gentleman's office she'd ever seen. Her body relaxed slightly in the heat from the great fireplace. Yet she didn't focus on the room.

Sunlight streaming through tall, multi-paned windows across the room glinted, not only off polished furniture and mahogany bookcases, but off the raven hair of the person silhouetted against those windows. With his back to her, stood the man she needed to convince to hire her.

She braced for an explosion of anger as soon the earl of Braedonford transferred his gaze from the window to her.

As he turned, her breath froze, for he suddenly stilled. Set deep in his hawkish face were those cat-green eyes she clearly remembered from her come-out years ago, pinning her like a butterfly on a board. They first widened, and then narrowed as the earl stared at her in silence.

With those cat-green eyes and dressed in an impeccable, black coat of Bath superfine over a golden yellow silk waistcoat, he resembled nothing so much as the Indian tiger she'd read about, waiting to pounce on his prey.

That he appeared shocked was – well - understandable. After all, he faced, not the male scholar he'd expected to hire to organize his libraries, but a woman well past the first blush of youth at age twenty-three.

As for him, in spite of the crippling injury to his left arm from Waterloo, he remained stunning with broad shoulders, a strong yet elegant body, and an intriguing face. Dark, arched brows emphasized the devilish sensuality for which Devlin Le Claire had always been notorious.

She shivered as she recalled the warning from Lady Castlereagh those many years ago not to become involved with such a notorious rake. That memory she clung to now for she wasn't, under any circumstances, going to be this rogue's prey.

"So you are T. M. Phillips. Is it Miss or Mrs.?" The sharp, growled question ratcheted up her tension.

He gestured toward the chair facing his desk. "Whichever it is, please be seated."

"I'm a widow and would rather remain standing, my lord until we are both sure I won't be ordered to leave."

He arched one eyebrow at her tart reply.

"I won't send you away - at least until the mystery of why you applied for the position is explained to my satisfaction. So indulge me." Waving again at the empty chair, he ordered, "Sit, so I can talk to you without straining my neck."

When she hesitated, he added, "Please."

"I would not want you to suffer, my lord." Keeping her voice steady, she sat but her back remained ramrod straight.

SAMANTHA: This sounds wonderful. I'm really intrigued and would love to read more. I have very little to suggest. The only line that strikes me as maybe out of order is the last one. 'Keeping her voice steady, she sat...' Since she has already spoken, it didn't flow for me. I wonder if you moved this sentence before your dialogue. One line I really liked was 'she braced for an explosion of anger'. It stood out to me. You do a very nice job with description, too. Thanks for sharing this with us.

GAIL: I really liked this excerpt. You've got some great description nicely woven in with the emotion of the scene. You also did a fine job sprinkling the backstory in without slowing down the story. My only suggestion was on the cat-green eyes. It's wonderful the first time, but I wouldn't use it twice. Still, a delightful passage. Thanks for sharing it with us.

AMY: Great setup and I want to keep reading. We know where she is, why she is there, and gave us a little history without an info dump. I agree with Gail on the cat-green eyes and thought the same when I read it a second time. Otherwise, I nicely painted scene.

LYDIA: You've used some great imagery. Indian tiger and pinning her like a butterfly on a board. Very nice. What most jumped out at me was the cat-green that Gail and Amy both mentioned. So I'd pick something different for one of them. Otherwise it seems like a great opening! Good luck.

MELISSA: I would just like to add in the first few sentences you have an excellent oppertunity to really get into her deep pov. She's walking behind the butler and you "tell" us that she's going for an interview she's nervous for. And this is agian just my opinion, but I'd like to see her nervous twitter in her hands or damp palms and have her think: Now focus Tama, this is the interview I need to survive.
Or something to that effect. But introduce us to what's she's doing by showing it to us rather than telling us in two sentences. Other than that, I am facscinated by what will happen next and am really eager to see his reaction. Great hook. Excellent writing. My only pet peeve is the phrase
The sharp, growled question ratcheted up her tension. I think its the ratcheted part, it didn't really flow for me and pulled me from the story. Beautiful set up though! Loved it.

JULIE: This is a great excerpt. It got my attention right away. I did notice you used the decription of "cat-green eyes" twice, and I think once is plenty to get your point across. Also, I would like to see a bit more of deep pov. What are her internal thoughts. Overall, though, good job.

JERRICA: What a wonderful excerpt! Thanks so much for sharing! Your descriptive passages are lovely. I felt like I was in the room myself. You may want to have someone go through for itty bitty grammar things, but other than that, it's very well written. Best of luck with it!

Crit Friday: Uptown Urges (mild language)

She stood behind him on line at the deli counter. The hospital cafeteria wasn't crowded at dinnertime, but Heather couldn't help lingering closer than good manners dictated. Her eyelids drooped and she enjoyed a pleasant fantasy--standing behind Michelangelo's statue of David draped with a doctor's white lab coat. She wanted to see the front.

With a burger and coleslaw on his tray, he turned and smiled before walking away. Bedroom eyes. Heather had used the expression before, but only now did she truly understand. Big, wet, dark brown eyes. And thick, wavy, chestnut hair. The chiseled face of a cover model, tan and darkened with sexy five-o'clock shadow. He was a sizzling oasis to her long sexual drought, and she ached to leap on him and sate herself into oblivion.

"What floats your boat?" said a voice behind the counter.

Heather emerged from her trance. She had forgotten what she wanted to order. She glanced around, trying to remember. Across the way, a petite old woman stared at her. She recognized Abbie, a volunteer. Abbie was grinning, with a sparkle in her blue eyes. She had witnessed Heather's man-ogling and apparently found it cute.

Heather blushed and turned back. "I'll take an egg salad sandwich and a big sweet pickle."

At the two-sided checkout station, she faced him again. His badge read, 'Jake Montgomery, MD.' She stopped breathing for a moment when she saw him peering to read, 'Heather Armstrong, RN,' on her badge.

Abbie stood next to him in line. Heather stifled a laugh when Abbie made a show of looking him up and down. A middle-aged woman sat at the cash register. She looked tired, but gave each customer a kind word.

"Your change is $1.48," she said to Dr. Montgomery. She raised her cash drawer to pull out a roll of pennies. "It will only take a second." She cracked open the roll and winced at a split fingernail. Dr. Montgomery huffed and rolled his eyes. The cashier cowered and frowned. He picked up his tray.

"My time is valuable. Keep the change." He strode away, cock of the roost.

"What a pretentious prick," Heather said. Abbie and the cashier raised their eyebrows in surprise. Heather picked up a paper cup. "I need 148 pennies. Please add it to my bill."

The cashier glanced at Abbie, who looked intrigued and nodded. So she tallied the order, augmented by the heavy cup of copper. Heather put her dinner in a bag.

"You sure?" the cashier whispered.

"Just because they star in the show, doesn't mean they get to abuse the cast."She stormed to the table where the doctor sat. "Dr. Montgomery, I presume?"

He glanced at her badge and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could say a word, Heather dumped the pennies all over his plate. "Here's your change, you arrogant jackass." She crumpled the cup and dropped it on his lap. "Have a nice day."

CATHERINE: Well, that ending definitely got me laughing! I think Heather's personality is shining through in this. If I have one little nitpick, it is that there doesn't seem to be any reaction from the doctor before the cashier starts to reassure him that it won't take any time at all. I'd love to see him at least scowl at her pulling the roll of pennies from her cash drawer, or maybe grumble a little beneath his breath.

GAIL: What a great excerpt. Your characters really come to life. I felt like I knew Jake. The heroine's a true spitfire and Abbie's a hoot, too. I'm sorry that I have no suggestions. Thanks for sharing this with us.

AMY: This was funny. I do agree with Catherine with regard to a little more reaction from Jake at the cashier stand.

SAMANTHA: I think you really have a great way with words. I liked the comparison of Jake to the statue of David, which gives me a very good idea what the good doctor looks like, because David is ripped. :) And I liked that he was a sizzling oasis in her long sexual drought. You heroine is fun too. Enjoyable reading, for sure. I have nothing additional to add that the others haven't already mentioned. Thanks so much for letting us read your excerpt.

MELISSA: The only thing I have to add is the description of the cashier is really not needed. It the character plays a minor role, stick with the simple title of cashier. Other than that, love Heather's personality already. My kinda girl. I could definitely feel the tension between them. One other thing in the first line you have on line instead of in line. Just thought I'd point out that little typo. Excellent job!

Crit Friday: A Special Case

Amy adjusted the over-sized headphones and slumped in the tall, old bar stool chair. She noticed a call light up. "Wonder who it will be this time...freaky perverts are getting old." She cleared her throat and got back into announcer mode. "Hi, who’s this?"

"Hi..." The rumbling male voice was a little hesitant. "Is this Amy O'Connor?"
"Yep, sure is. What can I do for you this morning?" She had already punched the Record button on another cart to play back just in case this caller didn't have an agenda like so many others before. The disadvantage at working overnight besides the sleep deprivation was an alarming number of perverts and miscreants that called at the sound of a female voice.

"Wow, it is morning already, isn't it?" She heard a raspy sigh on the other line. “How do you do it, work such hours and still sound so chirpy?” Oh what the heck it was slow and she was about to fall asleep.
"Sounds like you're having a long night." Sometimes there were moments like these that had her feeling like a radio bartender.

"Yep. Working late again." The weariness of his tone was beginning to endear her to him.

"What's your name and what evil company do you work for that has you pulling such long hours?" She noticed her radio voice had begun to slip having heard and matched the exhaustion in his voice. She gave herself a mental kick.

"It's usually me who asks all the questions." He chuckled a little. "Feels good to be on the other end for once. I'm Detective Mark Holliday with the Buffalo PD."

"Nice of you to call in, Detective Mark." She wasn’t sure if she was successful in recovering from her momentary pause or hiding the nervousness in her voice so she dropped his last name in a teasing way to make up for it. "Was there a song you were wanting to request?"

"Why don't you pick one out for me? Something with a beat to help keep me awake." Was it her imagination, or did his voice seem to have changed to what she thought was disappointment?

"One caffeinated song coming up." Her tone changed from her cookie-cutter announcer voice to something more herself as she pushed the Record button off. "Don't stay up too much later."

"You're sounding just as tired as I feel." It was a sure sign of her sleep depravity when her ears could swear his voice sounded warmer.

"Well not for long. Got a fresh batch of coffee with my name on it." She eyed the pot. Sure enough a full pot sat there waiting for her to claim it.

"Have a good rest of the night, Detective Mark."

Moments later an edited version of the detective's song request broadcasted and Amy cued up 'I Fought the Law and the Law Won.' Amy let out a sleepy chuckle and imagined the response from the nice detective with the hypnotic voice.

CATHERINE: Several times throughout the dialogue, I found myself wondering whether Amy or Mark was the speaker, since we got a lot of Amy's thoughts surrounding each and there were no speech tags. In this instance, I'd recommend adding a few in. Also, several times my fingers itched to add a comma in where they were missing. Still, I thought that the light banter between the two was charming.

GAIL: I really enjoyed reading this story. You kept me hooked the whole way through as I tried to figure out if he was dangerous. My only suggestion has to do with how she initially answered the call. Since I didn't yet know where she was, it sounded a bit unprofessional and strange that she didn't identify herself or her employer. You might want to add a bit more there. But that's a minor detail. This is a very strong excerpt. Thanks for sharing it with us.

AMY: This was a fun read. The only suggestion I have is that it took me a moment to realize she was a radio personality. Maybe if it were a little more clear somewhere at the very beginning we would get the image of her in the studio.

SAMANTHA: Like Gail, this excerpt kept me hooked the whole way. I'd like to read more to see what kind of connection she'll end up having with him. I love that you were able to establish chemistry between them with just a phone call. That's not easy to do, but I think you pulled it off with the natural dialogue. Also, it seems odd that a detective would call in to a radio show while he's on duty. Makes me wonder if he's investigating her, and if so, why? Okay. I want to read more. LOL. Thanks so much for sharing this excerpt with us.

LYDIA: I write historicals so I never thought of a "First Meeting" as being anything other than in person and face to face. So I liked this submission switched that up. I liked way Amy let her guard down the longer she talked to Mark. And the song choice was hilarious!

Crit Friday: Night Angel

A tall, bearded man with dark hair that curled at his collar moved from the shadowed front door. His large, white-haired dog scampered beside him in the fresh snow, barking with excitement, its breath casting little puffs in the cold night air.

“You’re late, Lucas.” The hotelier’s voice rolled with the hint of an accent.

“I was gettin’ worried.”

"The trouble’s all yours now, Declan,” the driver said. “Help me with these, will you?”

The stage rocked a bit and Amalie’s heavy cases and trunks thumped against the roof. Lucas handed them down one at a time. She drummed her fingers on the leather seat, anxious to have long weeks of travel behind her. Fatigue gripped her to the point of exhaustion.

The man referred to as Declan peered into the coach and gave her a quick nod. “What’d you do with the other passengers?”

“There’s just the one.”

“Only one passenger?” Declan swept a hand toward the baggage and grinned. “Who’ve you got in there, a princess?”

Amalie bristled at the way they discussed her as if she wasn’t there. Did they not understand the countless hours she’d spent on the stiff-backed seat? She wanted to take her boots off and slip between soft, warm blankets.

“Yup. Princess High and Mighty. I had to stop at nearly every bend in the road so she could stretch her royal legs.”

The man had a lot of nerve to insult her after he’d jostled her across miles of dirt roads. She rubbed her hands together to get sensation back into her numb fingertips. Why hadn’t she thought to grab a warmer a pair of gloves from her trunk before they’d left Sacramento?

She repositioned her skirts, and hugging a thread bare pillow against her chest, she waited. If there’d been a handle on the inside of the passenger door, she’d let her own self out.

The driver finally climbed off the coach and opened the door. Snowflakes covered his dark brown hat and settled across the shoulders of his leather coat. Realizing the uncouth man meant for her to alight without the courtesy of his assistance, she leveled her gaze on the hotelier.

He smiled and tilted his head. “Ma’am, my name’s Declan Grainger. Welcome to my home.” He offered her his hand.

Her eyes fell to his full, firm lips. His slight accent sent a delightful shiver through her. English? Irish? No, the silky vowels rolled over her like expensive Scotch whisky. Annoyed by her body’s heated reaction when she had no interest in being attracted to any man, she grabbed his outstretched hand and proceeded carefully onto the small coach step and then the boardwalk. “Amalie Renard.”

She straightened her hat. His eyes sparkled and danced with amusement. Since there was nothing funny about her travel-battered body or hungry stomach, she assumed he was like most men who didn’t take her seriously. With practiced indifference, she held up her chin and swept past him into the dimly-lit hotel interior.

CATHERINE: We get a nice view of who Amalie is in this scene, without really understanding all there is to know of her. An air of mystery still hangs in the balance, which I think is very good. I had a little difficulty in determining who was saying what at the beginning, but that could be a problem from simply being dropped in the middle of a passage. Nice work!

GAIL: Nice excerpt. I am very fond of historicals set in the U.S., so this one immediately got my attention. My only suggestion is to add a bit more historical detail at the beginning of the scene. For the first 5 paragraphs, I had no idea I was reading a historical. Of course, this is only an excerpt and you've probably described the setting in detail in the preceding scene. Thanks for sharing this with us.

AMY: Very interesting and my mind is guessing at what is going to happen or what caused her to be not so pleasant to the two men. I would have liked to know immediately they were in the historical west because it automatically sets the scene in my mind. Of course, I am not sure where this appears in the novel so by the time we got here, we would probably already know.

SAMANTHA: I was a little confused at the start that the tall, bearded man was the hotelier. Maybe if he moved from the shadowed front door of the hotel, those two sections would clue the reader in immediately that he is the one talking. I'm really curious to know what trouble your heroine has been. I like that you compared his voice to a Scottish whiskey, but now I'm also wondering how she knows about whiskey. Your heroine is intriguing! :)

LYDIA: I really enjoyed this submission. Amalie is easy to relate to, but then I'm kind of a princess in my travel requirements. ;) I think my main suggestion would be to get deeper into Amalie's POV. Just as an example - and feel free to ignore me. ...Since there was nothing funny about her travel-battered body or hungry stomach, she assumed he was like most men who didn’t take her seriously. You could get right into Amalie's thoughts in real time and help the reader relate to her even more. There was nothing funny about her travel-battered body or hungry stomach. He was like every other man who didn't take her seriously. Basically saying the same thing - but as the thoughts are occurring to her. Does that make sense?

JULIE: I really liked this submission. I felt an immediate connection with Amelia's annoyance. The only thing that caught my eye was a technical issue. You say, "her eyes fell to his lips." Impossible. Her gaze fell to his lips, not her eyes. Do you see what I mean? Other than that minor issue, I really enjoyed reading this. Your descriptions in the first paragraph were just lovely.

JERRICA: I'm so intrigued by this entry! I really want to know what's going on! It's well written and Amalie seems so mysterious. Great job on her characterization! I wish I had more to say, but I really enjoyed it and hope to see it in print some day so I can find out what's going on!! :)

Crit Friday: Prey of the Huntress

Rochian hesitated, his ears pricked frontward. Trevin glanced around the surrounding area. His sense told him something wasn’t right.

A mountain lion leaped from an oak tree to an overhead rock. Neither he nor his mount moved, keeping their focus on the immediate threat. At the cat’s piercing roar, Rochian’s unease heightened. His ears slammed flat against his head. Trevin leaned forward and pulled the rifle from a sheath under his leg.

The edgy horse shifted with a couple of quick steps and, with an unanticipated backward jerk, unseated Trevin. He soared above the horse’s ears, spinning head over heels. Eye to eye with the damnable horse for only a moment, he could have sworn he saw triumph in Rochian’s dark gaze before he slammed against the ground. The humiliating thud pushed the air out of his lungs, temporarily stunning him.

Of all times to get dumped! Trouble loomed, and his rifle lay four feet out of reach. To make matters worse, the miserable piece of horseflesh did an about face and took off like the devil chased him.

The cat leaned forward licking his lips. Beneath the jutting granite edge, Trevin rose on his elbows and braced for the worse.

A huntress, a warrior with a sling in her hand stepped from the trees. “Don’t move!” Her voice floated across the distance on a slight breeze, feminine but firm.

He gaped. He couldn’t move. Was she reality or musings of his imagination?

With a quick swing of the leather strap, a stone slammed against the cat’s head, followed in rapid fire by two more. The wounded predator let out a high-pitched snarl. Trevin’s gut clenched waiting for the beast’s pounce, but the cat turned and scampered into the brush.

Easing to his feet, he ignored his stiff backside and stared at the statuesque beauty. She stood still, returning his stare with curious dark eyes. Her unbound, coffee brown hair cascaded down her back almost to her waist.

Needing to know if she was real, he stepped closer and ran his fingers along her soft-as-peach-skin cheek. “Who are you?”

Before she could answer the cat’s growl sounded. “Wait,” he rested his hand on her arm, “stay still.”

“As you wish,” she answered with an amused tone.

As he turned, he grabbed his rifle off the ground and walked around the area. Relieved to find no immediate danger, he turned back to find the trail empty.

“Where’d you go?” He searched for a sign that she existed, but nothing, not even footprints. Had he cracked his head hard enough to imagine her presence?

GAIL: I like this scene with the mysterious heroine. You do a fine job keeping the action flowing. I think the first paragraph lost a few words at the end, probably when the files were transferred. And I got a little confused over whose ears laid flat at first, but that may be because I didn't know who Rochian was. All in all a strong excerpt. Thank you for sharing with us.

SAMANTHA: I laughed at the line, "Of all times to get dumped!" I found it a nice tongue-in-cheek line, as if he had a relationship with his horse, which certainly is the case for riders and their horses, albeit a different sort of relationship, ofcourse. I liked your description of the heroine too and could picture the coffee brown hair cascading down her back. I agree that knowing Rochain was a horse in the beginning would have made the second paragraph less confusing, but I suspect the reader knows who Rochain is before this excerpt. I really did like the section and have nothing to suggest. Thanks for sharing this with us.

AMY: Very, very interesting. I had to re-read this because I didn't realize Rochian was a horse at first. From your descriptions I could see the place and the mysterious female. I would love to know where she came from. Otherwise, I have no suggestions.

CATHERINE: There is a lot of action here! Great job with that. Just a few little nitpicks: first, the saying is "for the worst," not for the worse. Second, you might want to brush up on how to use speech tags vs. how to use action tags. I noticed in one place, you used an action tag where it should be a speech tag ("he rested his hand on her arm").

LYDIA: This was action packed! Loved the line about looking in his horse's eyes for a brief second. Very nice image. Now if you knew me, you'd know that names are one of my most favorite things in the world. I know that sounds strange, but it's also true. ;) So, the first thing that jumped out at me was Rochian and Trevin. To me they sounded too similar. I'm wondering if they're twins. Even if they are, you might want to consider changing one of them so they have a different feel. Does that make sense?

Crit Friday: Love's Broken Arrow (mild language)

Set up: Derek is a cupid sent to earth as punishment.

Derek stepped closer to the center of the road and waved his arms. When he realized the truck wasn’t slowing down, he tried to move out of the way. Shattering pain erupted in his right hip as he flew through the air. “I don’t even have my wings.” He muttered as everything faded black.

Derek struggled to force air into his lungs. Pain pulsed through his body. His left leg was twisted underneath him. Gritting his teeth, he pulled and lined up the shattered bones. Sweat beaded on his forehead with a groan of pain he leaned back in the snow. His muscles jerked as the bones mended themselves. Thankfully, Venus hadn’t made him human or he’d be dead. What kind of lunatic pretended they were a NASCAR driver in a blizzard?

“Oh my god,” a female voice rang in his ears. “An ambulance is on the way. I’m so sorry.”

“As you should be. Where did you get your license, a box of cereal?” He concentrated and pictured a tropical beach. A blast of cold air told him Venus hadn’t taken pity on him even after being run down by a harebrain and restored his relocating powers. He felt cold fingers brush against his cheek. “What the hell are you doing?” He snapped.

“I’m seeing if you’re injured.”

“You ran me down with a tank. I’m amazed I’m not dead. Do you want to get back in and give it another try? Finish me off.”

“You’re not being very nice,” the woman muttered.

“Gee, I’m sorry where are my manners? I’m usually so polite when people try to kill me. Let me introduce myself, I’m Derek,” he forced his eyes open and gasped. Not from the pain but the sight of the angel kneeling over him. The vehicle’s headlights surrounded her in a heavenly glow.

“I’m Maia Meemic,” she brushed the hair from his face. Her touch now lessened the aching pain coursing though his body turning it to something else - desire.

“Oh shit,” he muttered and looked around. Levi stood off to the side just out of the range of the headlights. He smiled and lifted his bow. “This is so unfair.” From the surge in hormones and the overwhelming warm caring feelings, Derek assumed his friend double shot him. Lust and love – a deadly combination.

“I know. The ambulance has to come from Jasper. In this weather it will be at least twenty minutes. I have a blanket from the backseat to cover you with so you don’t go into shock.” Maia rambled, her speech rapid and high pitched. “It’s covered with dog hair, so we’ll have to let the EMT’s know you’re not a werewolf.” A laugh bordering on hysteria filled the night air.

"It’s okay,” he reached up and pushed a strain of long silky hair away from her face. “I’m fine.” He wanted to pull her into his arms, to comfort her, to feel her body against his. Oh hell.

SAMANTHA: First of all, I love this premise and the humor. And his saracasm is great. I chuckled over the NASCAR in a blizzard line, because I live where there is snow all winter. It really slows no one down. I only have a couple of suggestions. One has to do with word order in the sentence "Venus hadn't taken pity on him..." I would probably say, "Venus hadn't taken pity on him by restoring his relocating powers, even after being run down by a harebrain." Next, after dialogue, you'll want to capitalize the next sentence unless it is attributing the words to a certain person, such as he said. Example: "It's okay." He reached up and pushed a strain (strand, I think) of long, silky hair... Thank you so much for sharing. I really enjoyed this humorous read.

GAIL: I enjoyed reading this. Your flawed hero obviously has a challenging character arc in front of him, yet we know it's going to be okay because he got the double dose. Very funny. My only suggestion is the heroine's name. I'm sure it means something very appropriate to the story, but I can't imagine reading it out loud too many times in a row. Thank you for sharing your excerpt with us.

AMY: Thank you for the set up. It really helps to know what is going on. You did well with showing us who Derek is, or was before getting shot ;). The description of his leg being bent, straightening, beads of sweat, etc., was nicely done and I could see him lying there beside the road. I would be interested in seeing more of her and seeing where this goes.

CATHERINE: This is very cute! Derek is really sarcastic, which is something I happen to find very endearing in a character. I was a bit lost at the beginning, though. It wasn't clear to me that Derek was actually hit by the car. It was barreling down on him and he tried to get out of the way, and then all of a sudden he was limping and trying to mend his bones. Also, the heroine's name caused me to stumble a bit, like Gail.

LYDIA: This was hilarious. I loved it. I loved the line about being double shot with both lust and love. I seriously laughed out loud. That is classic. As for suggestions, I saw one or two grammatical things, but nothing major. Wish there was more to read. Good luck!

JULIE: I love this excerpt. What a great, fresh concept for a story. I get an immediate feeling of the hero's voice, and I love his biting saracasm. My only suggestions are to watch repetition of words. I think you repeated the word "pain" several time, and the other suggestion was to rearrange the word order of one of your senteces, but Samantha gave you the same suggestion. Thanks, again for sharing.

JERRICA: I love this excerpt, too! The concept is awesome and so fun. Maybe Greek and Roman gods are the next "thing." :) The only criticism I have is to have someone look at it for grammar. Other than that, it's great, and I wish you the best of luck in getting this published!