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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are you travel ready?

In less than one month I’ll be flying into New York for the RWA Convention in this beautiful (monster) Boeing-747.


Like everyone else I’m excited to be going but I should admit to a touch of nervousness. It’s my second long distance trip from Australia and the second time I’m undertaking it alone. I was watching the news tonight and saw a report that a Qantas flight on the new non-stop route from Dallas to Sydney actually ran low on fuel and had to layover in Noumea. "Stronger than expected" headwinds apparently were the cause of the trouble but I had a brief, ghastly vision of my plane dropping into the Pacific Ocean.


But then I took a very deep breath. Fuel, food and running the airplane is completely outside my control. I have enough to worry about trying to pack light enough for the change of season – winter to summer – and pondering my liquids limitations in my luggage. LOL

So, onward to preparation for the actual flight. What can I do to make a long trip easier?

I’ve done some research and I think my list would apply to any making the road trip to NY too.

1. Me first! Me first!
On a long distance flight or trip it is pointless to rush unnecessarily IMHO. If someone is that keen to get on the plane ahead of me, or pass me on the road, its better to just let them pass. I’d rather get there relaxed than tense. Unless that door is about to close on me. LOL

2. Take deep breaths and relax your shoulders
I always tense up during take off so on a fourteen hour flight (or longer if we have to visit Noumea too) so that’s probably a good idea.


3. Listening to calm music
Thanks to iTunes I have lots of playlists to choose from. I might even make a new compilation to keep my stress levels low and I can use it too if the conversation beside me gets on my nerves. It couldn’t hurt.

4. Use the time wisely
Got a story with a gaping plot hole? Waiting around is a great time to think your way through a difficult patch in your writing and if you’ve no one with you, especially small fry, you can really make great headway with as little as a napkin.


5. Tackling passenger tensions
If the person sitting next to me does something inappropriate what should I do? First off ask myself if it’s really that bad. Am I over reacting and can I ignore it? On a fully booked plane I’d have little choice for a change of seats, but if you’re driving maybe you should ditch the competitiveness in favor of arriving in one piece.

6. Fluids, movement and rest
On a long haul flight or driving long distances it’s very easy to not look after yourself properly. Since I’m stuck in the same plane for fourteen hours straight I need to walk the plane and drink lots of liquids to avoid dehydration. I also need to sleep and with luck this year I’ll have seat partners who might actually do that. Fingers crossed. If you’re on the road, take care and stop often to prevent fatigue. You want to get to the convention safely.


7. Don’t panic if you’ve forgotten something

Judging by Jerrica’s excellent post yesterday on iPhone/iPad Apps, there are great and inventive solutions to replacing forgotten possessions. The NYC Way App is on my iPad already and set up with my hotel name. So cool. I will undoubtedly forget something and have to venture out, hopefully without getting lost. But there’s always uncertainty of exploring a new city so tips and suggestions are fantastic de-stressors for me.

Have you got travel secrets you’re willing to share? I’ll take anything you’ve got!

Monday, May 30, 2011

NYC: There's an App for that!


Though I write historical romance and sometimes wish I lived in the 1800s, I'm incredibly grateful that I live in the year 2011 and have such amazing tools at my disposal, such as a smart phone. Whether you have an iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile or Blackberry, these little babies can really come in handy, especially when you're about to embark on a trip to a new city.

Since Nationals is in my hometown of NYC this year, I've scouted out a few important apps for all you iPhone users that you won't want to leave home without! (Some of these are also available for Android, but I'm not sure about the others. You may want to search for something comparable in your phone's marketplace, though!)

Up first…NYC Way

This is a pretty neat app, and it's free! This is kind of one-stop shopping for lots of different things around the city. It uses your location (click Allow when that warning pops up) to locate you and then when you click on, say, the Restrooms button, it will show you the nearest restroom to where you are. They'll show you coffee shops, dining options,Wi-Fi hotspots, banks, transit, local attractions, and more! Definitely a great app to have when you visit the city!

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nyc-way/id343208275?mt=8

NYCupcakeGuide

Okay, so maybe you're not aware there's a cupcake craze going on in this country, or maybe you're glued to the TV every time Cupcake Wars comes on the Food Network, but either way, you'll want to have this app at your disposal. The City's 50+ cupcake bakeries are listed by neighborhood, so hop from one to another in an afternoon. It's a great way to see different neighborhoods while checking out the fun and unique cupcakes the city has to offer. It also has reviews, Editor's Picks, up-to-the-minute cupcake news, Facebook and Twitter integration, as well as the ability to comment on the bakery and star your favorite spots.

Oh, and did I mention it was created by Yours Truly? That's right! My husband and I embarked on a cupcake marathon tour last summer and we've released the app just in time for Nationals! It's been a long time in the making, but I'm sure you'll agree it was well worth the wait! Available for both iPhone and Android AND it's on sale for Memorial Day! You have until 11:59pm tonight (5/30) to get it for $0.99!...

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/new-york-cupcake-guide/id435741287?mt=8&ls=1

https://market.android.com/details?id=nycupcakes.com.swebapps

And last, but not least, Beer Gardens NYC


I bet you didn't realize that so many RWA members were whipping up useful iPhone apps, but here's yet another must-have app for NYC...

For multi-published romance author, Hope Tarr, Beer Gardens NYC was a true labor of love. She and her real life Prince Charming, information architect Raj Moorjani, spent six weeks visiting their initial pool of 50 New York City beer gardens before launching on the App Store in September 2010. Within one month from launch, they received press coverage in The New York Times, The New York Post and Gothamist. Appolicious named Beer Gardens NYC as one of its six "Best iPhone Apps for New York City." The suds-loving duo recently launched a 2.0 version that includes Foursquare integration, GPS functionality, and even more city beer gardens!

Tarr will be presenting her workshop, "Nobody Cares You Just Had a Muffin: Ten Tips for Using Social Media to Brand Your Books," at The New Jersey Romance Writers' annual conference on October 21-22, 2011. To learn more about Beer Gardens NYC, visit the web site at www.BeerGardensNYC.com.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/beer-gardens-nyc/id389710211?mt=8

So there you have it, folks! These are my picks for the 3 best phone apps, whether you live in NYC or are just coming here for a visit! For less than $4 (or $3, if you buy on Memorial Day!), you can have the city at your fingertips!

Friday, May 27, 2011

There's Nothing Like a Great Cup of Coffee

In my experience, there are two kinds of writers in the world. No, I don’t mean pantsers vs. plotters. No, I don’t mean night people vs. morning people. No, no, no.

I mean those who drink coffee and those who don’t.

I think the typical image of a writer, is that of someone plugging away on the laptop in a darkly lit room with cigarette smoke swirling about on one side of the computer – and a cup of coffee on the other. For years – and I mean YEARS – I was part of the contingency of writers who never drank coffee. (And, yes, there are large numbers of them out there.) In fact, I found it to be vile stuff. Oh, I loved the smell of coffee, but the taste…? Bleck! I would have rather swallowed tar.

But over the last few years, that has changed. Somewhere along the way I became a coffee drinker. Don’t ask me how – actually that is a very long and drawn out story that I’m sure only I find interesting. However I will tell you that I was more surprised than anyone how much I have come to love the stuff. I’m getting closer and closer to the typical image of a writer, sans the cigarette smoke and the darkly lit room, of course.

In all things, however, I tend to be a bit spoiled. Therefore, I’ve never learned to make coffee. Ignorance is bliss, after all. If I learn how to make it, I’ll have to do so all the time. Heaven forbid. No - I much prefer to buy my coffee, so it’s just the way I want it. Usually I get a very complicated latte, tailor made just for me. But recently Starbucks started selling a Mocha Coconut Frappuccino. I was in HEAVEN! I mean serious HEAVEN. Mocha AND coconut?

*sigh*

Ok. I know that image of the writer plugging away on their laptop does NOT include a Mocha Coconut Frappuccino. But now that I’ve had one, I think I will throw a huge temper tantrum if they ever take it off the menu.


And don’t even get me started on their Cake Pops! Heavenly goodness on a stick. Three flavors – Birthday Cake, white cake with pink frosting; Tiramisu, exactly what it sounds like; Rocky Road, chocolate cake, nuts, marshmallows and chocolate frosting! I still can’t decide which is my favorite. I’ll have to keep testing them.

Are you a coffee person? What is your favorite coffee? Do you make it yourself, or buy it like me? But most importantly – no matter if you are a coffee person or not - have you tried a Cake Pop?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kiki, The Helper Cat

My cat loves to help, and she's very diligent about her responsibilities.

At various points of the day, Kiki is a kitchen cat. If anyone goes into the kitchen, surely they must need her assistance. So she takes the short-cut, darting beneath the dining room table to cut them off and rub between their legs. She's particularly keen to help any time the refrigerator door opens. Kiki sticks her head between the refrigerator and the door and makes sure you select the proper item. Also, if you're washing dishes at the sink, you can count on my cat to make a flying leap up your back to perch herself on your shoulder. She does a very good job of making sure you don't miss a step.

Kiki is also a very good laundry cat. When you head back to load the washing machine, she jumps up on top and supervises, making sure you don't forget a step. Her favorite part, however, is when the clean, dry clothes come out of the dryer. Rest assured, you will not be sorting, folding, and hanging your clothes alone. Not in my house. Kiki will rush to your rescue, jumping in the pile of clothes and making herself comfortable. Each time you select an item to fold, she'll swat at your hands until she decides that you've made an acceptable selection. If you fold and stack some pieces before they are put in a drawer, she'll snuggle up on the first one--forcing you to cover her with the next item. She's been known to stay in her cocoon of warm, dry clothes for as long as you'll leave her there.

She's also rather fond of helping put clothes away. Say, for example, you open the drawer for your PJ's. Kiki will jump in and worm herself behind the drawer. The next thing you know, she'll have rearranged the contents of your dresser. Clearly, socks did not belong in drawer #2, but are much better off in drawer #4. Silly humans.

Perhaps the thing she most likes to help with, though, is writing. Kiki especially likes it when I write on my laptop, sitting in my recliner in the living room. As soon as I sit down and pull the laptop onto my lap, Kiki jumps up and nestles between my legs (Read: forcefully shoves my legs into the position she wants them in), so that she is nice and snug, and has the exhaust from the laptop fan warming her ears. Once she's in place, the writing can commence.

Do you have pets or kids who like to "help" you with the things you do? What sort of assistance do they prefer to give?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Showing Character Emotion

Recently my critique group tackled the question of how to show emotion rather than telling. On the surface, it seems like an easy answer: use physical reactions. Granted, this is better than stating Jane felt sad, but using tears to show sadness or a pounding heart to show fear is only one step up from telling how a character feels.

For a while I’ve been bugged by my characters repeatedly having the same reactions. If a doctor examined my characters, she would order an upper GI for their frequent gastrointestinal problems, an EKG to explore the reason for their racing hearts, and a psych eval to figure out why in the world they are smiling and laughing all the time.

After our group discussion, I pulled out a book I bought several months ago but hadn’t had time to read in depth. Creating Character Emotion by Ann Hood. You know those moments when things click and all of a sudden you slap your forehead and say, “Duh! How did I not know this earlier?” No? You don’t slap your forehead? Er, right, me either. Anyhoo… I want to share some of what I took away from Ms. Hood’s book and encourage you to check it out for yourself. There is more to gain from her wisdom than what I’m writing about today.


To describe a character’s eyes as filling with tears does its job. It conveys sadness, at least within certain contexts since we sometimes cry when we’re happy, too. Tears get across the basic message. The character is sad. Ms. Hood calls it emotional shorthand. This is a basic level skill.

When I was learning to how to counsel others, our class started with foundational skills. One of those techniques was called reflection where the counselor repeats what he thinks the client said using his own words. The goal is to continue to build upon basic level skills and add more difficult techniques to the skill set.


It’s easy to spot a student who has learned reflection or someone who never mastered the other skills. You will hear, “What you’re saying is…”, which is fine if the interaction is then followed up with other skills like clarification, reframing, and empathic responding.

The same is true in writing emotion. It isn’t wrong to have a character cry or even to have a character say, "I'm sad", but to stop there leaves the reader feeling unfulfilled. Going beyond the basic techniques is what makes the difference between a good book and a great book.
Here are just some of the advanced skills we can learn:
1) Use fresh language. If using one of the obvious signs of an emotion, write it in a novel way. This will likely mean using trial and error, but it also means discarding our first thought. The example Ms. Hood uses is from Susan Taylor Chehak's Smithereens. Instead of the phrase “her heart pounded” Ms. Chehak wrote this: "I could feel the awkward, scared tumble of my heartbeat."

2) Use clues in the environment. Paint a picture of the emotion by using setting and wardrobe details. Think about what you would expect to find if you walked into the living room of someone who recently went through a bad break-up. Perhaps there would be crumpled fast food containers littering the coffe table, an empty wine bottle or two, waded up tissues, a container of chocolate ice cream with a spoon sticking out of it, the curtains drawn. Maybe the character is wearing Bugs Bunny PJs and flip flops with her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. Her eyes are red and swollen from crying and lack of sleep. Sinead O’Connor’s haunting voice belts out “Nothing Compares 2 U” from the sound system. Man, now I'm depressed!

3) Make use of point of view. Dialog and interior monologue reveal how a person views the world, because our emotions are what color that world. A person in love may notice the birds singing, think the sky is bluer, brighter than usual, and thinks how sweet the older couple in the park is as they walk arm-in-arm while ignoring the park bench covered in pigeon droppings.

4) Use contradiction. Have your character say the opposite of what his body language is communicating, or have him behave in unpredictable ways. I have a scene in an upcoming book where the villain is nonchalantly discussing animals of a predatory nature with one of his lackeys who has told him something he doesn't want to hear. The lackey is oblivious to the danger, but the reader picks up on the tension and knows something bad is going to happen.

5) Symbolism can convey emotion. Ms. Hood used an example of a scene written by one of her students about a couple on the verge of a divorce, but instead of talking about the state of their marriage they were discussing a chip in the wedding china. What a great image. The wedding china represents all the hopes and dreams of the couple starting out only for them to learn later their marriage is just as breakable as china dishes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you find your characters behaving in the same ways or having the same physical reactions? If so, what do you use most often?


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

7 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Ready for RWA Nationals

The Romance Writers of America® National Conference is just 35 days away. That can seem like a very short time if you’re trying to finish writing a novel, or a very long time if you’re anxious to attend your first conference. Here are a few suggestions for those who can’t wait to get on that plane:

Polish your manuscripts. Yes, all of them. Obviously, you’ve finished polishing the novel you intend to pitch, but what about the other ones? You know that old historical you abandoned when you heard they weren’t selling? Well, markets change. What are you going to do if the editor tells you she has enough of whatever you’re pitching? Better have a backup plan just in case.

Practice your pitches. Yes, all of them. Even if you’re not formally pitching, you never know when you’ll end up sitting next to an editor or agent. Prepare concise answers to questions like “What do you write?” and “What else do you have ready?”

Get in Shape. Often, in the mad push to prepare manuscripts for conference, writers neglect themselves. No one expects you to drop twenty pounds between now and conference. But if there’s something about your appearance that makes you feel self-conscious, maybe now is the time to get it fixed. There’s still plenty of time to order stylish new glasses or whiten your smile.

Don’t wait until the last minute to make a major change in your appearance. I would show you pictures of last year’s hair disaster, but I was too traumatized to take any. Make sure you have enough time to get it fixed if it doesn’t work out.

Be Kind to Your Feet. If you have a regular day job, chances are you’ll be able to get by with the clothes you have in the closet. But the one thing you don’t want to skimp on is shoes. Even if you never leave the hotel, you’ll be amazed at how much walking you do at Nationals. Now’s the time to break in that new pair of sandals. If they’re not comfortable, don’t take them.

Update Your Phone: Nothing is more frustrating than making plans to meet up with your online friends and then not being able to find them. Now is the time to exchange cell phone numbers and save them in your phone’s contact list.

Coordinate Schedules: Workshops and chapter events often overlap. Chances are you’ll want to be in two places at the same time. Rather than being swept along unaware, take a few minutes to figure out what’s most important to you and plan accordingly.

Relax. Don’t let conference anxiety overwhelm you. Some of the best conference experiences are the ones we didn’t plan for. That timid person you meet while wandering the halls may turn out to be your best critique partner or the next great NYT bestseller.

I would love to hear your conference prep suggestions. What are you doing now to get ready for Nationals?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Following those Dreams

At one or more times in our life, we have had dreams. Really big dreams! I was reminded of that this weekend as I attended the auditions for Footloose (I will be doing makeup for the show). It was two days of watching one talented person after another come in sing, dance and read for a part. I know I would never have the guts to do that. I did participate in theater in high school, but I was much braver back then.

Given the show is Footloose, we had a lot of teenagers and those in their early twenties walk through the door, and there was more talent than we knew what to do with. I also know a lot of these kids will be going off to college (or are in college) and still have big dreams ahead of them. Some will be majoring in Music, Musical Theater, Dance, etc., with hopes of using their amazing talents as their career. Unfortunately, only a handful will actually make it. Regardless, their life is still ahead of them.

There are also a lot of people in the age group that may not be looking to the stage for their future, but are probably more grounded in the dreams: doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. They are more likely to achieve their dream than anyone going in any creative field.

Authors fall into the creative area. We write manuscript after manuscript after manuscript. I know I have more than a couple gathering dust. I had to hone my craft, so to speak, before a publisher wanted something I had written. I only know of one person who sold after they had written only one manuscript. That is a rarity, as we all know.

For all of the writers, singers, dancers, artists out there, it comes down to being in the right place at the right time. A performer needs to audition for a show they fit. They could have the best singing voice on the planet but if they are 28 and auditioning for the role of Annie, well, it isn’t going to happen. You would be better off looking in the role of Grace. And an author needs to now her market also. I write historical inspirational romance so I would be fool to submit to Harlequin Blaze. If I wrote erotic romance, I wouldn’t bother with submitting to Bethany House. Either way, I would go from slush pile and into the garbage. Well, maybe I would get a rejection letter too, but I would have made it clear to the publisher that I didn’t do my research.

There is a show for everyone just as there is a publisher and agent for everyone. The trick is in finding them. It just may take an awful lot of time. So, it guess it comes down to how important your dream is to you will depend on how much you are willing to invest.

And, I am a firm believer that it is NEVER too late to follow that dream. I penned a portion of my first novel (which was never finished by the way) at the age of twenty. Soon marriage, then children became more important. I am older now and my children are of an age that they no longer need my constant supervision and I have more free time on my hands. When that occurred, I returned to the idea of novel writing. As soon as I began typing those first words that dream of long ago came back to me and I was determined to see it realized. Twenty years later (after penning those first words when I was so young) I had a completed novel.

Do you have a dream you are still pursuing? What is it? And, have you dreams changed over the years? Did you want to be one thing in high school, but wanting something totally different today?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

And the Winner Is...

L.J. Charles!

L.J., Mindy will be in touch with you later today about the free partial edit. Congratulations!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Blogger: Mindy Moore

Join us in welcoming guest blogger Mindy Moore today. Mindy is a freelance editor who is fascinated by grammar and fixated by punctuation. Stop by her blog to learn more about her editing services and similar editing tips to what she's sharing today.

Ten Punctuation Dos and Don'ts to Make Sure Your Editor Loves You

In my experience, if there is one facet of writing that almost every writer struggles with, it would be punctuation. Somewhere along the way, the internet has us that it is okay to overuse or improperly use a wide variety of the punctuation marks, ranging from the ever popular.....................to the omnipresent ?!??!?!. On the other end of the spectrum are those writers who realize they don't know how to use anything but the most basic marks, and therefore shy away from anything but a period or question mark, and the occasional comma.

Any time I run across a writer who falls somewhere comfortably in the middle of those two extremes, I can't help but smile. They may not use their punctuation correctly 100% of the time, but they come close. These writers are rare, precious gems. Nothing makes me smile more than a properly formatted ellipsis placed in an appropriate position. A parenthetical expression can leave me giddy. Commas placed where they belong and omitted where they don't belong are like chocolate for my soul. And finding a semi-colon that I don't have to immediately replace with a comma? Heaven on earth.

With that in mind, I present to you a list of ten dos and don'ts for punctuation so that you can be one of those gems I mentioned.

  1. Do buy a personal copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style (or utilize the online version), and study Section II and Section III, in particular. Yes, it is true that much of this deals with grammar and not with punctuation. However, grammar and punctuation are two beasts that go hand-in-hand. Strunk and White provide clear, easy to remember, easy to execute instructions for most grammatical situations. Learn them. Love them. Use them.
  2. Do not create unnecessary ambiguity by leaving out necessary hyphens. Take, for example, the following versions of the same sentence: Mark turned down the one way street. Mark turned down the one-way street. Which of these leaves fewer things for the reader to misinterpret? Yes, most people will know that the "one way street" is really a one-way street and not the only way street around (whatever a "way" street might be). If you include the hyphen, thereby combining the two words into a singular meaning, you avoid the potential for ambiguity.
  3. Do refresh your memory on dependent and independent clauses, as well as how they should be punctuated within a sentence. The best explanation I've ever heard on figuring out how to deal with this was delivered by the Lady Scribes' own Baroness Blithe, Catherine Gayle. Head here for her methodology. (But be forewarned--she does not mean to offend, only to enlighten, and, perhaps, to cause amusement.)
  4. Do not use action tags as speech tags or use speech tags as action tags. They are notinterchangeable. They require different punctuation. Speech tags should be used as part of the same sentence as a piece of dialogue. Action tags can only be included in the same sentence as dialogue if tacked on to a speech tag, or if it interrupts a sentence of dialogue and is set apart by em dashes. Also, contrary to popular belief, certain words do not work as speech tags. Laughing produces laughter, not speech. Snorting produces a snort, not a line of dialogue. Giggling produces a peal of giggles, not a complete sentence. Be sure the verb you choose as a speech tag is one capable of doing the job at hand.
  5. Do save your exclamation points for moments of impact. I mean it! Nothing is more jarring than trying to read a manuscript where every line is littered with exclamation marks! The entire world of characters shouts things constantly! It leaves me with headaches! It makes me want to scream!
  6. "Do not use punctuation to accomplish the same task as your words or vice versa!" Mindy loudly exclaimed. Do you see what I did there? *wink, wink* *nudge, nudge* If you'll notice, there are a lot of redundancies up there. First off, an exclamation would generally be loud, so to say someone loudly exclaimed something is overkill. Cut the loudly out. Then take it further than that. An exclamation point informs the reader (unless overused, as mentioned above) that whatever is being said is being exclaimed. To use both the punctuation and then tell us that the speaker is exclaiming as well is just too much. It shows that the writer doesn't trust their ability to properly utilize the tools given to them. Use one or the other, but never both.
  7. Do differentiate between the ellipsis and the em dash in your writing, and use each for the appropriate function. An ellipsis shows a pause, a slowed down break in thought or speech. It denotes a moment of reflection, a time for breath, and a break for things to settle in. An em dash, however, shows an interruption of thought of speech. It is harsher. It breaks off the action. It is immediate and brutal. There is no time to reflect. The em dash pulls you forward to the next moment, skipping over things in the process and leaving things unsaid. 
  8. Do not use a semi-colon when a comma or colon is the piece of punctuation that is called for. The semi-colon has two (and only two) uses. The first use is quite possibly the only use a fiction writer will ever call upon old semi for. It joins two complete sentences that are directly related to each other together into one longer, complete sentence. That means that what falls on either side of the semi-colon must be a full, complete thought on its own. You cannot have a sentence fragment or a dependent clause on either side of a semi-colon. If you do, then you've done it wrong and should replace it with either a comma or a colon. The other use is for separating lists of items in which using a comma instead might cause confusion. You will find this more commonly in a technical reference of some sort. Youmight find need for it someday in your fiction writing, but generally, you will not.
  9. Do learn what each piece of punctuation is used for, and use them appropriately. Variety adds spice to life and energy to your writing. That doesn't mean you should go overboard with any of them. But learning to use a semi-colon can add a little flavor to your writing. Parenthetical expressions have fallen by the wayside in most fiction (perhaps because of misuse), but when used sparingly, they can provide great impact. Em dashes, ellipses, hyphens, and colons--all of them are at your disposal to get your meaning across in unique and exciting ways.
  10. Do not fear the colon in fiction. Now, that doesn't mean I want you to go colon crazy and insert them at every turn. But think about what they can bring to your writing. So often, we only see them with a list behind them. That isn't their only use, though! Take a gander at the following sentence. He stared out at the setting sun's reflection bouncing off the ocean's ripples and thought about the one thing he wanted most in life: Adrienne--happy and healthy again. These days, more often than not, I see a period in place of that colon. Sometimes I'll find a comma there. Other times, it'll be an em dash. To me, though, the perfect piece of punctuation to achieve this job is the colon. It says, "Look here. Something profound is on its way. Pay attention." The others just don't quite achieve the same effect.
One lucky commenter who shares a favorite punctuation tip or pet peeve and leaves a contact email address will win a free partial edit of up to 10,000 words.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oh, The Thinks We Can Think

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

World building is a tricky test all authors must take. Envisioning a world, whether realistic or completely made up, and bringing a reader with you on your journey to discover said world is much more challenging than most people first imagine.

I see quite often when new writers (including myself) have a character walk into a room and describe what they see. This is the easy version of world building and honestly, it reveals the author for what he really is, a new writer.

World building, done correctly, through showing versus telling is much more difficult and much more challenging than you could ever imagine. I read through some of my earlier works and realized how much I botched up my earlier attempts at world building. And I could see exactly where I needed to improve and what I needed to change. Quite often, even established authors get this wrong.

I don’t think I’ve mastered this art either. It’s much easier to judge other authors work than to pinpoint where you’ve gone wrong with your own work in progress. So I’ve been thinking as I’m writing my newest project how to build my new world so the reader experiences it through the character’s eyes. This is called point of view.

A character who’s lived in the same place every day for the last ten years isn’t going to notice how the room looks — unless something has changed. Think about that for just a second. Point of view is everything in writing now. It makes or breaks a novel. Which character’s pov you use in the scene makes a difference, because a character that has never seen this particular room before is going to view his/her surroundings differently than someone who sees this every day.

So how do you bring your world to life for a character who has seen their surroundings before? Easy. You have said character interact with their world. As the character enters the room, does he lay his overcoat across the carved mahogany upholstered armchair? Or perhaps he lays the book he’d been reading atop the gold inlaid satinwood sidetable? Perhaps he strides through the pool of light spilling from the opened window. And why is the window open? Perhaps because someone else is in the room with him. Quoting Dr. Suess Oh, the thinks we can think.

This is important for foreshadowing as well, perhaps your character notices the gold letter opener and when he returns later, he finds it missing. Having the character enter a room and describe the room in a quick glance is honestly a boring way to introduce your world as well as taking the easy route.

Sometimes using the character who’s visited this room many times before is more challenging to write and much more intriguing than having a character who’s never entered our world before.

So take the challenge and write a scene from a character who’s witnessed his/her surroundings many times before and think of the creative ways he could interact with them, bringing his world to the reader one object at a time. See how different your story comes out and how honestly you start to learn more about your characters personality through his eyes as he views the world. A dressmaker who loves fabrics might view her world a little differently than a horse breeder. Can you implement some of their personality into their surroundings to bring their pov to the reader much more intricately than you normally would?

I’ve found this to be one my most challenging tasks as a writer and since this is a fairly new concept to me that I am learning more about with every day that passes I’ve spent a lot of time on getting the details right. Figuring out which details in the room will bring the character to life is half the challenge. An ordinary every day object to one character could reveal something special about your hero. Perhaps the unusual silver cigar table lighter is engraved in Chinese symbols because your hero is a sea captain and has traveled the world. These tiny little details you add breathe life not only into your story but into the life of your character and sets him/ her apart from all the other hero’s/ heroines.

What are some of the unusual details you’ve used to reveal your character through world building? So take my challenge, choose one of these lovely regency rooms or a picture of your own choosing, and create a scene with a character who has seen this room a million times before. Feel free to post here or do it for your own enjoyment. And then create a scene from a character who has never seen this room before, and notice the differences. Are you up for the challenge?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pool Panic

On Monday, my youngest son’s last day of school was a wake up call. Where has the school year gone? In the last couple of months I have been getting Victoria’s Secret catalogues in the mail, and I PROMISED myself to be good about what I eat, so I will look exactly like Giesele in my swimsuit.

Just joking!  I did make a deal with myself to watch what I eat, but the goal was so I would not be embarrassed to put on my swimsuit this summer. I did pretty good for about a week, and then life interfered. My children’s busy schedules have kept me on the go, and when on the go, I am much more likely to eat unhealthy.

We have had an unusual cold snap come through the deep south, so I was forced to put on my blue jeans this morning. I’ll tell you, there is NOTHING like donning an unforgiving pair of jeans to let you know your healthy eating has flown out the window.

“Hmm…how bad has it been,” I asked myself taking a deep breath and zipping up my jeans. Let me see, on Monday night we had a Championship baseball game, so we had a champion pizza. I, of course, ate pizza the next day for lunch. I was raised on the motto “waste not want not.” On Tuesday, I was at the park late with my kids and some friends, so we had Mexican for dinner. There is no healthy alternative at the Mexican restaurant that I am interested in eating. When I sit down at Mexico Lindo it is for chips, cheese dip, and a margarita.

The last two days are just a little reminder of how far I have strayed! With Memorial Day right around the corner, I am forcing myself to get back on swimsuit slim down alert. In honor of my quest not to cringe when I put on my two piece, I am going to start today by having a lovely salad for lunch.

This is one of the best salads I have ever put in my mouth, so I thought I would share it with all of you just in case there is someone else out there trying to slim down in time to suit up.

Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Salad
Serves 4
1 quart fresh strawberries
1 pint blueberries
¼ cup Olive Oil
3 teaspoons Vincotto
¼ cup Monari Federzoni balsamic vinegar
The juice of half a lemon
¼ cup toasted walnuts
1 5 oz bag of mixed greens
Crumbled goat cheese
Salt
Pepper
Walnuts

Wash the strawberries and let dry completely. Once dried, hull the strawberries and slice very thinly. In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice, vincotto, a pinch of salt and a big portion of fresh ground pepper. Wisk together until emulsified, then add to your sliced strawberries and other fruit. Let the flavors mingle for 30 minutes minimum, 4 hours max. Use a slotted spoon to lightly drain berries and toss them with greens and walnuts, top with goat cheese and enjoy!

I would love to hear some of your slim down recipes.

Have a great day!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Monday, Monday

Do you like Mondays? Do you suffer from repeated Mondayitis?


The Urban Dictionary defines Mondayitis as:
The seemingly contagious disease that effects people on Mondays. Symptoms include not showing up for work or even calling in, usually triggered by over celebrating Sunday Funday. Home cures include late night breakfastses, sleeping late and half-hearted pledges of sobriety. Usually lasts until Friday Eve.

Yesterday morning, I was trying to work out why Monday’s have such a bad reputation. You see I’m a morning person: up at 6am most days without an alarm, unable to sleep in unless I’m sick. Yet I seem to be burdened with a bunch of morning grouches in my life. Admittedly they are all male—primary schooler, teenager (now legally able to drink) and my darling beloved (don’t dare use a different title-he reads our blog LOL)—so that might be one reason for the surliness. Yet yesterday every man in my life hit me with a bad attitude. Oh geez.

Eldest son, the teenager, grunted he was tired and started plotting to take a day off college later in the week. Scary-bright 9 year old boy growled over his brekkie cereal as if I’d asked him to kiss a girl (he’s at THAT age) not get ready for school where he’s hardly ever bored.

Me? I was bouncing-keen to get stuck into writing after the weekend off. Right up until the moment my husband asked me what my problem was. Men! Can’t a woman be happy that two out of the three men in her life will be exiting the house? Can’t a woman be impatient to lose herself in her fantasy world (that actually makes a little money) instead of looking at ironing?


To say I came crashing down to earth in a big way is an understatement. It is almost impossible to stay upbeat in the face of universal (my universe) disapproval especially when your family has a problem with you being happy. *sigh*

But Monday seems to be the day that sets the tone for the rest of my week. And I think I’ve worked out why. The secret seems to be that I love my job.

Instead of chanting, “I don’t like Monday’s” ala Boom Town Rats, I’m thinking of what mischief I can get my characters into in the next few days. Although I treat writing as a job I also find it a great deal of fun.

So if you are a morning person, and an even rarer Monday lover like me, I’d love to hear how you cope with your gloomy dissenters?



Take care.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

That Judge!

So, I signed up to judge my first contest. I know a number of people who have judged and seem to enjoy it. I also know a number of people who have entered contests and their reactions range from excitement of finaling to grumbling about poor scores. I’ve been a part of several conversations where the comments by judges were discussed, and not always in a positive light. That is what I fear. Being That Judge.

When you think about it, what right do I have to judge anyone? Does being published somehow make me more qualified to determine what work is ready for publication and what novels need some work? I just happened to query at the right time to end up with a publisher, and I honestly believe a lot of this is luck. I know too many authors with fantastic books that do not have a publishing contract. It is all in the timing.

It is also the luck of the draw as to who you get as a judge. I’ve been very lucky because I have done well in the past. But, I have also read some judges’ comments that had me scratching my head, thinking Huh? Did they read what I read?
We all see things differently. What is a great novel to me could put you to sleep. Witty dialogue to me to sound contrived to you. Even my critique partners do not always agree. Sometimes I laugh at the discrepancies because I will need to decide which one is right or if I should just keep it as is. So, if you are in a contest, remember, it is only one person’s opinion. It is up to you whether you want to take their advice or not. You know your entire story and the judge only gets a glimpse of the beginning. That judge does not have any more power than you do over a manuscript, unlike the editor or agent you hope to connect with through the contest.

When we set out to judge, all we really can bring to the table is our own experience and what bit of knowledge we picked up along the way. The author of the work I judge may not agree with me, which is fine. Perhaps the other judges will see something completely different. But, I do make one vow. I will look at the entries before me with the same mindset as I do when critiquing for the group where the motto is “Critique Honest, but Critique Nice.” I vow to Judge Honestly, but Judge Nicely. I don’t want to be the judge who has an author reaching for a box of chocolates and glass of wine, mulling over whether she should continue to write. And believe me, there have been some authors out there that have been so upset by comments that they considered giving up all together. In other words, I vow not to be That Judge. I am nobody in the grand scheme of things, just as the other judges you get. They may be no more qualified than you but have decided to give their time and attention to a piece of work that is another author's baby. Don't ever let their comments question your ability. But, do celebrate when those good scores and comments come in. It means somebody got it and loved it, one more step toward publication.





Have you judged in the past? Tell me about your experiences? Or, have you ever received comments back that made you want to cry and give up? Aren’t you glad you didn’t?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Guest Blogger: Rie McGaha

Oh Baby!

May 11, 2011 saw the birth of my thirty-fifth grandchild, a boy named Dax Michael, who weighed in at 8 lbs 10oz, 21" tall. He joins his big sister, 18-month-old Meagan Grace. In September, my 36th grandchild will arrive.

When I became a mom for the first time nearly 40 years ago I never imagined I would one day have three times the grandchildren as I did children. But having twelve kids and thirty-five grandkids, being a mom and a Nana, is life's grandest gifts. I have witnessed the birth of most of those grandkids, and even nursed the first two. There was no break between being a mom, kids moving out and me becoming a Nana. My youngest wasn't even three years old before my first grandchild Mat, was born. Mat just turned eighteen in January, so now, I not only have adult children, I have an adult grandchild, with the rest not far behind.

Sometimes life gives you what you didn't even know you wanted, and I thank God every day for the wonderful, ever-growing family He has given me. I can't imagine what my life might have been like if I had only a couple of kids, even though there are some days when I wonder about it! As crazy, hectic, loud, insane and chaotic as it can get, and the fact I can't remember birthdays most of the time, and Christmas presents have been reduced from thoughtfully chosen gifts to cash in a card, I wouldn't trade my life. Those kids didn't just make me a mom and Nana, they made me the woman I am today, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

So as I welcome Dax to our family and discuss names for 36 with my son, I am filled with satisfaction that I've not only done a great job raising them, I am also happily over worked, over stressed, over anxious, and totally enthralled with my life.


Rie McGaha is an author, editor, and reviewer. She has more than a dozen books to her credit, and her recent release, Calen, is the first book in the My Soul To Keep Trilogy, with the other two books being released later this year from Silver Publishing. You can join Rie, GA Hauser, & Stormy Glenn for Blog Blast 2011 (http://blogblast2011.blogspot.com/), on Blog Talk Radio, May 14, 2011 at noon CST, with an all day group chat at Erotic Promo. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eroticpromo/
Prizes will be given away all day long, so join us! And check out Blog Blast 2011 for a list of prizes, and "follow" us to be entered into the grand prize drawing.

Everyone who comments on this blog is also eligible to win!

GA Hauser – http://authorgahauser.com/
Stormy Glenn - http://stormyglenn.com/
Rie McGaha - http://www.riemcgaha.com/



Calen

When Calen MacLeod begins having dreams of an ethereal beauty who beckons to him, he passes it off as just having an itch he hasn't scratched in a long time. But when he leaves on a journey to find her, following the directions she's given him in his dreams, he begins to doubt his sanity. And when he finds himself high in the Mackinaw Mountains in a secret fortress with unicorns and a pink and white castle, surrounded by women, each one more beautiful than the next, it's a fantasy no man would want to wake up from. But Arianna is the only woman for Calen.

The women of the Fortress have lived in peace, hidden away from the humans who tried to annihilate them all. But now 500-year-old Damon is out to destroy the women's matriarch, Ariella, and he'll stop at nothing to complete his mission. When Calen MacLeod shows up, he throws a wrench into Damon's plans. Never let it be said Damon isn't ready for anything, but when he kidnaps Arianna and takes her to modern day San Francisco, is he ready to meet Calen, who will stop at nothing to save his ladylove?



Excerpt from Calen:

The fire rose in the dark, casting its light in a wide circle. The woman stood with her hands raised over her head, her back arched and her face tilted toward the moonless sky. Only a backdrop of black velvet covered in stars glittering like diamonds lay overhead. She chanted in a language strange to his ears while her body swayed rhythmically. Blue, red and yellow sparks shot from the fire. The wind gusted and blew her long hair back, while her sheer gown billowed around her. He was mesmerized, enchanted, aroused. He remained in the shadows, wanting her, but not wanting to intrude. Suddenly, all went still, and she looked directly at him. Though he remained hidden, he sensed she knew he was there. She began walking toward him, but stayed within the circle of light cast by the fire.

"Come," she whispered.

He stood frozen in place.

"Come to me," she whispered again.

He remained where he was.

"When you are ready to know, come to me."


Calen bolted upright, ready for action, but nothing stirred. A dream, he thought, his eyes growing accustomed to the darkness.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Something Borrowed

SPOILER WARNING: If you haven't yet seen the movie Something Borrowed, plan to, and don't want to know too much, don't read any further. Some of this may be in the previews, but...


On Mother's Day, I took my mom to see the movie Something Borrowed. We both love romantic comedies (go figure) so we thought it would be great.

And it was. I loved every moment of it. But I couldn't turn my romance writer head off during the movie.

You see, the hero and heroine of this film begin their romantic relationship as an affair. He was engaged to marry her best friend. Through the entire film, right up until the resolution at the end, he is still engaged to her best friend, and they are still carrying on their secret affair.

That's not how the rules of romance writing are supposed to work. Cheating is a no-no. Our heroes might have blights on their past, but are supposed to behave in a heroic manner once the current story begins--or at least once it is clear that he and the heroine are going to end up together. The same, generally, goes for our heroines, though often they are judged under a harsher light.

I was watching the film with all of this in my head--and yet completely captivated by how the filmmakers had made me root for the hero and heroine despite the circumstances.

If you've seen the film, did you feel the same way? Same question for if you've read the book. And have you ever read a romance in which either the hero or heroine was unfaithful, and yet you still found yourself rooting for them to get the guy/girl?

EDIT: Blogger did some maintenance, and in the process all of the comments that had been left were lost. I'm sorry! We had a great discussion going. Feel free to repost your comment.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reading is a Gift

This week I had the opportunity to help a school in Washington DC purchase books for their library. You can help, too. Ballou Senior High School was chosen as this year's Guys Lit Wire Book Fair recipient. The neat part about this project is you can go directly to a wish list the students created so you know exactly what they want. At the end of this blog, I'll post the link.

I felt drawn to this particular cause not only because I'm a writer, but because books have played an important role in my life since early childhood. I’ve loved books, the smell of books, and the hush of the library for as long as I can remember. In junior high, I worked in the school library. Shelving books was no fun, but having first shot at new arrivals and reading when there was no work to be done was great.

A well stocked library throughout my school years provided me with more than a way to pass the time. Books facilitated an escape from the awkward days of adolescence. They revealed possibilities I didn't know existed in life. Some stories made me feel I wasn’t alone in my thoughts or struggles. And sometimes they helped me to realize my life wasn’t so bad after all when compared to the troubles the protagonist faced. I can’t imagine attending a school that is unable to afford books the students want or need.

5 Reasons I Love Books

1. Travel on a budget
- You can go anywhere in the world, usually for under $10, or even for free. My favorite place to visit is China, and maybe some day I'll have the chance to visit for real. In the meantime, I can indulge in Amy Tan's novels for a China fix. Even more incredible than world travel is the ability to visit different time periods. But wait, why stop with time travel when you can explore outer space and worlds that exist in our imaginations? Has anyone been to Hogwarts lately?

2. Connecting with others - As a teen, my best friend and I traded Sweet Valley High books and talked about writing our own series. (Okay. That was probably more me.) One of my former patients, who happened to be in her 80s, turned me on to Confessions of a Shopaholic, and I in turn passed it on to my sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law. There is a bond forged through a common love for a story. I enjoy listening to others discuss books they have read and what they liked or disliked about the stories. Perfect strangers can engage in a lively discussion just from the mention of a particular book.

3. Imagining the possibilities – Creativity greases the wheels of our minds. You don’t have to write, paint, compose or any of those artsy things. Simply enjoying a book can help you view events differently and thereby create room for flexibility in your thinking. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say flexibility is one of the most useful qualities you can have. Nurture it. When you are flexible, you can see solutions to problems that weren’t visible before.

4. Universality of the human condition – We all feel alone at some points in life. How refreshing to learn others have been through, or are currently going through, similar situations. Sometimes that’s all we need to give us hope.

5. Improving the quality of communication - Reading increases your vocabulary without having to study. Most words can be understood by the context, and repeatedly encountering certain words builds familiarity. This will only improve your written communications whether your writing is mostly business related or emails. In turn, you verbal communications should improve as well, excluding the moment when you get The Call. Then you turn into a babbling idiot who couldn’t possibly have written a 90,000 word novel since you can’t string two words together that make any sense.

What do you love about books, and what is one of your favorite titles from your teen years?


If you would like to help the students of Ballou Sr High, please visit: http://bit.ly/GLWBookFair

Ship books to –
Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
(202) 645-3400

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Countdown to RWA® Nationals: Top Picks for Writers of Historical Romance

The Romance Writers of America will hold their annual national conference in New York City from June 29th-July 1, 2011. Last month, I posted a blog on how to pick a writing workshop. One of the tips was to look for workshops that focused on your subgenre.

Since scouring through the RWA schedules can be quite time-consuming, I thought I’d highlight those events and workshops of particular interest to the historical author. The workshop descriptions were copied directly from the RWA National website.

Tuesday, June 28th 7:30 am-10:00pm

Beau Monde mini-conference and soiree

Wednesday, June 29th, 8:30-10:00 am

Opening session: Steve Berry and Diana Gabaldon, two NYT best-selling authors with deep historical ties, will participate in a panel discussion.

Wednesday, June 29th, 12:15-2:00pm

Keynote Luncheon: The Keynote speaker will be Madeline Hunter, two-time Rita award winner and author of eighteen historical novels.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2:00-3:00 pm
Keeping it Real: Regency Research Georgette Heyer Could Believe In

New York Times best-selling author Sabrina Jeffries and Jennifer Kloester, author of the definitive Regency reference work Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, explore the secrets to creating an engaging Regency world.

Wednesday, June 29th, 6:30-10:00pm

Hearts Through History Chapter Annual General Meeting

Thursday, June 30th, 8:30-9:30 am

Experiencing Dance Across Time: a Physical Exploration of Dance through the Ages
Participants will be taught the physical and rhythmic components of a dance form unique to one of three time periods by Sarah Shade, a dance expert, and then will be led through a re-creation of each dance.

Thursday, June 30th, 9:45-10:45 am

Here history buffs will have to choose between two workshops:

Chat with Bertrice Small

A beloved RWA Honor Roll member gives a frank and heartwarming look into her journey through the historical romance fiction market.

OR

Fact into Fiction: Using True Facts from History to Spin a High-Concept Story

Learn how to use true facts from history to create a story that grabs an editor’s attention. Guidepost Books Senior Editor Beth Adams will use examples from the best-seller lists to examine what makes a historical stand out.

Thursday, June 30th, 2:00-3:00PM

Familiarity Breeds Success: Recurring Characters, Places, and Themes in Your Historical Series(CRAFT) Sarah MacLean and Lauren Willig
Join two New York Times best-selling authors as they discuss how to create a convincing, consistent world that keeps readers hooked through a whole series of books.

Thursday, June 30th, 3:15-4:15PM
Faithful Retainers, Doddering Butlers, and Pert Housemaids: Busting the Servant Myths(RESEARCH) Janet Mullany
A multipublished author and granddaughter of an Edwardian housemaid explores the lives of Georgian/Regency servants to help you add depth and authenticity to your story.

Friday, July 1st, 8:30-9:30 am

Sex Throughout History Join Delilah Marvelle as she explores the history of sex from prehistoric through Edwardian times.

Friday, July 1st, 9:45-10:45am

Another choice between two historical-themed workshops:

Chat with Mary Jo Putney

Mary Jo Putney, a New York Times best-selling author and RITA winner, answers questions and chats with the audience.

OR:


The Historical Romance Market: Advice from the Pros (PUBLISHING) Victoria Alexander, Stephanie Laurens, TBD
Join two award-winning, New York Times best-selling authors and other industry professionals in this informal, lively give-and-take discussion on the historical romance market. Hear from the experts what draws readers to this hot subgenre, where they think the current trend is headed, and why.

Friday, July 1st 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Bottoms Up: a Look at Victorian Women’s Clothing from the Inside Out
(RESEARCH) Deeanne Gist
Ever wonder what Victorian women wore under all those gowns? Find out as a best-selling historical author strips down to chemise and bloomers, and then watch as her lady’s maid dresses her, layer by layer.

Friday, July 1st 3:15-4:15pm

Writing the English-set Historical (RESEARCH) Jo Beverley
RITA award-winning author Jo Beverley discusses the unique aspects to writing a story set in historical England.

So there you have it, my list of workshops and events of particular interest to historical romance writers. I would love to hear your impressions. What are you most looking forward to attending? Did I leave anything out?