Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pitches and Re-Arrangements

So let's see...I've missed a few days posting. It's been insanely busy here at home. I've been preparing for conference, and taking care of last minute changes. Apparently the relative who was going to be watching Mini this weekend "forgot about it" until the last minute, even though I've been telling them about this weekend since November 2011. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hubby will be keeping the boy, unless something changes. I stopped bothering with the details yesterday. If several months worth of notice isn't enough, last minute wrangling to try to make it work just isn't worth the hassle. Instead, I've been working on pitches, and getting my stuff together. I need to go through my closet and try on a couple of outfits. I'm going more casual/comfortable this year since mostly I'm there for the workshops. At any rate, I'll get around to outfit planning after I've had my hair cut tomorrow.

Once I'm home from conference, I'm going to wrap up this novella, and get it sent out. I'm not going to let it linger here longer than a week or two. It's got to go, or hit the scrap heap. I've got a college class coming up, a remodeling job to get through, and Oldest's graduation - all in March/April. There's going to be a lot of traveling, and I'm going to be fairly stressed out and tired. I'm kinda feeling that already, but I'm trying to stay positive since this is supposed to be my fun weekend out.

Tomorrow I have a lot of errands to run so I won't be home all that much. So right now, not a lot of news. I hope I have some fun stuff to share when I get home. Until then, I'm going back to polishing these pitches. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 27, 2012

From Scratch : 2920

It's conference week! This Friday and Saturday (March 2-3), I'll be at the Written in the Stars conference in Shreveport, LA.

All this week I'll be preparing for my trip, and taking care of last minute arrangements. Fun, no? I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and chatting books and industry stuff this weekend!

I'm off and running with my story. Before I started writing last night, I cut the original 3k I started out with.  I put it in a separate file as a salvage piece. It's good writing, but I wrote it before the hero told me he wasn't saying another word until I got his history and identity straight. That being the case, once I had his details down, I started over from scratch. It gave the story a much sexier, immediate beginning. The stakes are higher, it has a more developed hook, and the characterization is deeper and more interesting. So, off we go!

Yesterday, I managed to rake in a total of 2920 words before went to bed at 1am. Not quite enough words to make up for what I cut, but it's closer to my envisioned concept so I'll take it. Today's goal is 2500 words. I'm a day behind on my word count goals - granted, the goal is very loose at this time. I can't go into writer immersion mode this week because conference is coming up, but I'd still like to have somewhere between 8-10k before I leave for Shreveport.

This is going to be a novella between 15-25k in length. I do have a specific target in mind. I'm testing out several of the new techniques I've learned over the past month or so. These are big changes for me. I'm basically going from plot driven to character driven writing. If I can handle the changes on this scale, I'll be trying these same techniques on a novel-length book once this story is out the door.  So far, so good.

I'll be posting progress updates as I write the story. Next week, I'll write a recap on the conference. Hopefully I'll get around to uploading my new character creation worksheets on my website, too. So much to do, so little memory space.{g}

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Time To Get Busy

where plot bunnies come fromHappy Saturday! Ah, such a lovely, slow paced afternoon. I wouldn't want it any other way. I went to bed around 3:30 this morning, but it was well worth the late night. I managed to get my notes arranged (six full pages of notes), and created both an emotional arc and a physical plot arc. I typed it all into a handy outline, and I'm totally jazzed over it.

When re-reading the outline, although the story is compacted into a smaller space, I can see where the characters emotions rise and fall in the story, and I gotta admit, I cried a little bit when reading through the ending. But that's a good thing. Le sigh. Romance is supposed to be...well, romantic.

I'm now writing my way through the story. I'm pushing through it beginning to ending. No going back. While I'm not imposing a deadline, I hope to have the draft completely written by Feb. 29th - a few days before conference. I don't want to have it playing on my mind while I'm away from the computer. To reach that goal, I have to write at least 2,500 words a day. {cracks knuckles} Time to get busy. Now for my mantra. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. Yes, even after all this time, I've gotta psyche myself up. :*)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Writing Weekend

It's Friday! I tell ya, this week couldn't be over fast enough. Now that it's finally winding down, I'm taking a day to relax and focus on this one particular writing project. I've been going over index cards this morning, and making a quickie scene chart on a sheet of printer paper. I got about 3k words into the story yesterday, and my hero informed me he was someone entirely different from the guy I was writing. He then folded his arms and refused to say another word to me until I set the record straight. Well, who am I to argue?

Late last night, I sat down and listened to my character tell me his story. It was vastly different than what I'd planned for him. Nevertheless, I took his word for it. I reworked his personal history, gave him a brand new name, gave him new issues, and then plugged him back into the story. Wow, what a difference changing the hero's name and background makes! After working out a few tiny details that no longer fit with the story the way it was before, I noticed the project feels much more cohesive now. I guess he was right after all. With that done, I'm ready to move forward.

I pretty much know where I'm coming and going with the story. Still, I'm making a scene sheet so I can read through it and check for things I might've missed, such as dropped story threads, inconsistencies in characterization, scene gaps, plot holes, and a number of other things. Usually anything out of place with the story will stand out when I'm reading through it this way. Too, I'll save the sheet and use it again later to write my synopsis. Having a scene sheet on hand makes writing the synopsis virtually pain-free.

So there you have it. For the next few days, I'll be writing this story. When I have all the scenes in order, I'm going to sit down, no excuses, and jot the story down from beginning to ending. I'll beef it up from there.

This will be my last "write all night and write all day" weekend for the month of February, so I'm going to make it count. Next weekend, on March 2-3rd, I'll be at the Written in the Stars conference in Shreveport, LA. After that, my schedule is in the air. We're flying out to Great Lakes (north of Chicago) in a few weeks, but we're still waiting for a set-in-stone date for Oldest's graduation. Oh the joys of last minute scheduling...but I digress.

I better get to work. My characters are calling. They're nagging me for making them wait. Oh well, you won't hear me complain. I'd rather have chatty characters than characters who don't want to talk to me at all. ~ Happy weekend, everyone!  ;o)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Writing Forward : No Tears

It's been a very tough, tiring of those days that if I touched something, I pretty much broke it. I have dealt with a sick kid, internet router issues - which still aren't resolved, telephone issues, and that is just the start of the day long disaster I have miraculously survived.

To top all that off, the minute I came over here to blog, I broke my 2nd pair of $30 headphones in three months. They're the kind that have the mic built in, so technically I'm out headphones and a mic. Why, yes, I think I'll sit down and have a good cry. Don't mind if I do!

But, no. Just kidding. No tears. I got a redeeming email at the end of the day. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say about it, so I'll make it as generic as possible: I sold another story. Best thing that has happened to me in the past 24 hours. Make no doubt. And just in the nick of time. (It's shortly after 11:30 pm. Wednesday, although, it will probably be midnight/Thursday morning before this post goes through.) What can I say...I'm still "unwinding" from the day.

A quick FYI - my internet connection is iffy at best right now. I don't know the actual cause of the issue, but I think my wireless router is dying. I lost connectivity for most of Wednesday morning/afternoon, and then again after hubby made it home from work. We've got to get a technician out here to look at it, and the weekend is going to be the soonest we can make arrangements. So, if I'm MIA over a short stretch of time, that's why. I can be in the middle of something, and the connection drops and won't reconnect - sometimes for hours. It's very frustrating. So, I'm winging it until then. If I'm suddenly not online for a few days, know that I'll be back as soon as we get a new router.

I got a few scenes planned out to write in the morning. We'll see what happens. I have learned a lot of new techniques since the last story I wrote, so this is kind of a test on those skills. I'm always kind of rough around the edges after taking a few classes. On the other hand, I'm feeling much more confident about layering in conflict, and addressing deep character issues.

That's all for now. I don't know about the rest of you, but I wish I could write my way through Thursday. How great would that be? To get so involved with what you're doing, the next time you look up at the clock/calender, it's Friday. One can dream, right? ;o)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Project : Information Gathering

Hubby is home today for Mardi Gras, and Mini is still out of school for winter break. That being the case, I thought it would be fun to celebrate. I bought a cream cheese king cake at the bakery yesterday, and we had a home-style king cake party on the fly.

Mini was really excited to see the cake and the beads. Of course, hubby and I kinda rigged the whole baby Jesus in the cake so Mini would get that slice. ;o) He was thrilled to find the baby. Here's wishing my little bear a year of good luck.

Mini's king cake
We're going out to lunch today, and afterward, the guys will probably buy a DVD to watch, or some such thing. I have to take back a couple of library books and pay bills, then I'll be back home to write my daily quota.

Right now, I've got the first chapter of my next book written, and I'd like to sit down this afternoon and write a tentative ending just to get a feel of where I'm going with the story.

I'm still fiddling with characters and working to give them a history and enough internal/emotional issues to clash over to sustain a 55k short contemporary. That seems to be the one element I'm missing - that deep character connection. I read two new craft books over the weekend - I'll post about them later this week - and both seem to say that I'm struggling to get my story off the ground because I haven't researched the characters enough.

After yesterday's "character session", where I worked on nothing but my heroine, I think the books are probably right. While working on her characterization, I uncovered all these ideas that could potentially go into my story. Stuff that could work toward the plot, as well as work in building her relationship with the hero. I plan to work on my hero in the same way, and see where it takes me.

I also want to do setting sheets before I get too involved in the writing process. I did that on Wicked Obsession and it saved me a lot of time and effort in the research department. At any rate, once I have enough information gathered to carry me from beginning to end, I hope to sit down and write the draft. We'll see how it goes.

One more thing before I close... Not this Saturday, but the next (March 2-3), the Written In the Stars conference will be going on in Shreveport. It's hosted by the Nola Stars chapter of the RWA. (My local chapter). I'll be there, and hope to have pictures to share when I'm back home again. If you're at the conference, be sure to flag me down to say hi. I can be very chatty, so consider that fair warning. ;o)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday - With Books

Hurray for Friday! I'm working on a new book, but I'm still finding my way with it so there isn't much to talk about yet. Over the past few days, I've read countless blog articles, web pages, and writing tip pages while looking up advice to raise the stakes in a story. I'm also looking at ways to beef up the characterization so the deeper, internal issues with the hero and the heroine create sustainable conflict to last the length of a category book.

I'm mostly reading fiction novels in the line I'm looking to target, but I tell ya...I'm plowing through those books. I've read close to fourteen novels over all in the past two weeks. That isn't counting the non-fiction, craft-related books I've also picked my way through when I've had a free moment. My brain is fairly overloaded with new info, and I'm still trying to process it all. I feel like I'm this close to figuring out what the secret ingredient is that I'm missing to truly understand how to put a category romance together. One by one the pieces are falling into place.

Last night I read The Tycoon's Pregnant Mistress by Maya Banks. I've read a lot of reviews talking smack about that particular book, but I gotta say - I loved it. It was a relatively simple story, but it kept me glued to the pages. I had to know what was going to happen next. Yes, some of the events were larger than life, and that's fine by me. I had to know what was going to happen when the heroine got her memory back. I'm happy to report I wasn't disappointed at all. It's definitely a guilty pleasure book I wouldn't hesitate to read again.

Books at the top of my TBR list:

I'll be dissecting the stories while reading them. If there is one in the group that really stands out to me, I'll post about it here on the blog. That's all for now. I've been trying to get this post up since about, oh, 10 a.m.? ;o) I hope you all have a happy weekend!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Searching For That Missing Element

Tomorrow is the last day of the school week for Mini. After that the kids are off for winter break until the middle of next week, and I'm glad for it because the whole house is sick with something or another. I have a killer sinus infection, Mini is dealing with a bad cough, and hubby has been home with the crud for the past two days. Yuck. This cool, rainy weather isn't helping, either.

I'm busy reading, studying, and pulling together a new story idea bit by bit. I'm trying my hand at another category romance, so this puts me in uncharted territory this go around. I'm spending more time developing the characters, going over theme, and working to put more tension in my first chapter.

My current focus is on creating a strong setup. I'm looking for examples of choosing the primary problem that brings the hero and heroine together for the course of the book. Most craft books I've read say to develop this from the character's core issues/values/personalities, but they don't go more in depth than that. I feel like once I get a good grasp on this, I'll be ready to truly dive into the writing process again.

I'm currently reading more fiction than non-fiction, but before I wrap up today's post, I want to share some of the craft books I've purchased and/or read recently.

On Writing Romance - by Leigh Michaels

I like this one - a very good book. I'd say this is probably my 2nd favorite romance writing craft book to date. It's more in depth than many other craft books. This one is on my keeper shelf.

Creating Romantic Characters - by Leigh Michaels

I bought this one after reading On Writing Romance. It has some very good advice for creating romance characters. This book also has some stuff in it that is also in On Writing Romance. I bought the Nook version of this book and read it on my desk top. My only wish is that it had more about developing believable problems for your characters, and how to use your characters internal conflicts to set up the story.

Bird by Bird  - by Anne Lamott

This is one of those books that feels like you're sitting in a room listening to someone tell you what they have learned from their experiences in writing. The section on plot is worth reading all by itself. I borrowed this book from the library because I'd heard other writers talking about it.

Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies - by Leslie Wainger

I believe this is my new favorite writing craft book. An invaluable book on writing romance fiction. It covers conflict better than any other book I've read. This book can answer most of your romance writing questions. Most. Definitely more than any other. I bought this book for my Kindle and plan to buy the paperback as well. I highly recommend this one for your keeper shelf.

What are some of the most helpful craft books that you've read? Feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments. I'm looking for books with a strong character creation/conflict focus.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

External Devices & Character Focus

I've read three new books since I last blogged, and I had planned to dissect one of them here today. I wrote the article in full, but have decided not to post it, because while I want to share with others what I'm learning from the books I read, I have no desire to hurt an author's feelings.

In my opinion, the book I dissected was very broken, and with mistakes of this magnitude, the editor should have caught them. They would have been easy to fix with some minor changes, but left as is, they made a complete mess of the story. I'm going to post some things I noticed about this particular story line, but in a generic way that will hopefully still be helpful to other writers looking to examine the way category romances are put together.

Here we go... The book revolves around the hero returning home after a long absence. He doesn't want to be there, but he needs to speak to his estranged brother. When he arrives at the family home, his brother isn't there. Instead, the hero is greeted by the heroine - a non-romantic connection from his past - who informs him his brother is missing.

The setup was very effective. It established all kinds of questions that would keep people reading to discover the answers. So far, so good.

In the second scene, which is from the heroine's POV, we learn the heroine has always been in love with the hero. A split second after making that statement, we get a bit of backstory into a humiliating incident in the heroine's past. Unfortunately, it's not the hero who helped her through it. It's not the hero she remembers fondly. Instead, the scene is a fond memory of the hero's brother - the guy who is missing. In my opinion, that is where the story begins to fall apart.

From that second scene onward, I subconsciously recognized that the heroine would have been better off with the hero's brother. She has no past, emotional connection with the hero himself. The point of a romance is the emotional connection between the hero and heroine. If there isn't one, the romance feels forced, which was the case with this book.

All through the book, I felt like the romance between the hero and heroine wasn't working. The relationship felt very contrived. Once I finished reading the book all the way through, I went back to chapter one, and reread the beginning. That's when I realized the author had basically given the hero's brother a double "save the cat" scene.

In a nutshell, a save the cat scene is used in movies and books to make the protagonist/hero seem sympathetic to the reader. It's used to make a character likable, and to make the reader care about the character enough to stick with the story. Not only is the hero's brother missing (creates sympathy), but he did a noble deed (a likable trait) to help the heroine in the past. The noble thing in her past, should have been connected to the hero - or at least, who the author wanted the reader to "fall in love with".

A save the cat scene is often used if a hero/protagonist has a harsh personality, a job that may not appeal to readers, or he is set up to do something later on that may seem questionable to the reader. The save the cat scene "humanizes" him, and makes the hero likable and someone we care about despite his faults. (If you haven't read Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat, you should. Consider this my personal recommendation.) Instead of using this technique to compliment the hero of the novel, the author used this to compliment a secondary character (the brother), which basically shifts the reader's empathy away from the person it needs to be focused on.

Despite the requirements of this line of romance novels, the story was heavily focused on the external conflict. These types of romances are always, always character driven, internal conflict focused books, and I believe this may have been a topic that came up between the author and her editor, because there were incidences in the story later on where the author attempted to inject more emotional conflict unsuccessfully.

For example, a secondary character - let's call him Joe - steps forward and declares he is in love with the heroine. Joe tells the heroine he is the man for her, because if she gets involved with the hero, she's going to get her heart broken.

On the surface, this may seem like it adds an internal, emotional conflict because he is talking about love. However, because it wasn't the heroine (the pov character) feeling the emotion, it makes the declaration of love an external device. An external device is an object, a person, a place, a thing, event, or bit of information (such as a secret), that forces a character to react when it is revealed. The reaction is usually head/thoughts based, not heart/feeling based.

I mentioned in my last post - one way to determine whether something adds to the external or internal conflict is to ask yourself this:  Is {fill in the blank} a feeling the pov character experiences?

Let's give it a try and see for ourselves. Is {the secondary character's surprise declaration of love} a feeling the heroine (the pov character) experiences?  No. It is a bit of information (a device) intended to put a wedge (external, short term conflict) between the heroine and the hero, and bring himself (Joe) and her (the heroine) together.

Moving along... There were a few sexy scenes between the hero and heroine throughout the book, along with the traditional back and forth emotional/internal conflict between the characters, which had me thinking for a while that there was hope for this hero/heroine pairing. However, the hero never emotionally/internally recognizes his feelings for the heroine. Because of this, the ending feels forced. If the hero had admitted to himself that he loved the heroine and couldn't live without her, it could have salvaged the story.

Instead, the hero allows someone else to dictate what his feelings are, and doesn't second guess what he's told. He accepts that he's in love with the heroine because his brother comes to him and says so. The hero also accepts that he's going to marry the heroine when his brother tells him he should marry her. Not because this is something the hero himself feels like he needs to do.

Immediately after his brother tells him to marry her, the hero takes off to propose. He shows no internal, emotional growth, no realization of his love for the heroine - not even when she finally accepts his proposal. This only reinforces my initial thoughts that the second scene in the book shows the heroine would have been much better off with the hero's brother.

I have no doubt the heroine felt strongly for the hero. I believe she was genuinely excited when he proposed to her at the end of book. But sadly, the forced way the hero came to "love" her (which is to say I don't think he loves her at all) tells me this isn't a marriage that's going to last very long.

Of course, someone might argue that the hero's brother is helping the hero recognize he is in love. Some might say that this works if the hero really, truly is in love with the heroine. I don't agree. The brother informing the hero of his love for the heroine is an external device. It is the exact same thing as I mentioned in the example above, where Joe's surprise declaration of love for the heroine is an external device.

Neither the brother's information, nor Joe's declaration, is an emotion felt by the pov character in the scene. The brother's information is a device to bring the hero and heroine together. Just like a secret baby is used to bring a hero and heroine together in some other romance novels.

I really wanted to like this book, but the story simply didn't work. However, I learned a lot from reading it, and now I understand more clearly how devices work within a romance, and how not to use them.

I'm moving along in my TBR stack. I've selected a new book to read, and if it's good, I'll dissect it here on the blog for everyone to take a peek. I hope this post has been generic enough to protect the author, but  transparent enough to be helpful for those of us looking to learn more about writing romance. That's all for now. And by the way... Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Conflict: Is it internal?

A few days ago, I mentioned I had started reading Barbara Dunlop's A Cowboy Comes Home (Harlequin Desire), but I got busy doing stuff around the house later that day and misplaced the book. After an exhaustive search, I gave up looking for it, figuring the book would show up once I forgot about it. Instead of further driving myself bonkers, I picked out a different book to read.

Out of my TBR stack, (which is finally shrinking, I'm happy to report) I chose Janice Maynard's The Billionaire's Borrowed Baby. I read this book with my internal editor on high alert, and my writing student cap on. I thought I'd share what I learned from this book...which seems to be my current blogging trend. There are spoilers, so read ahead with that in mind. The goal isn't to evaluate the author's style, but to pick apart the book to understand how it's written. If you want to read the book before you know the minute details, it would be a good idea to stop reading now.

Onward we go... The Billionaire's Borrowed Baby is about a woman whose sister dies in a car accident. The heroine has no job and no prospects, and is left with a baby that she can't afford to care for. But, she is worried that her sister's alcoholic, lout of an ex will gain custody if she doesn't provide a stable home life for her infant niece. She decides to create a family by proposing to her wealthy ex-boyfriend. She broke the hero's heart years ago, and has a major hang up with the fact the hero has money.

This hangup (internal value/belief according to Randy Ingermanson in the book Writing Fiction For Dummies) stems from the fact she has been ingrained since childhood not to trust men with power. The heroine's mother was dumped by her lover/boss (the heroine's biological father). He dumped her when she told him she was pregnant with the heroine. Because of her mother's personal convictions and experiences, the heroine has all kinds of fears of a man having control over her, or using money and position to have control of her life.

The hero was very hurt when the heroine refused his marriage proposal when they were younger. I'm led to believe he was never turned down by a woman before. It didn't sit well with him, too, that he had fallen helplessly in lust/love with her when they were younger.

When the heroine comes to him after a long absence from his life and asks him to marry her, he agrees believing this will be his one chance to get her out of his system, to get revenge for her dumping him, to show her what she has been missing, and to make her hurt the way he was once hurt. Of course, this is a romance, and he is still in love with her, although he won't admit it to himself, his brother, or the woman he's in love least, he won't until it's almost too late.

I feel like this is a really good book to look at concerning conflict, particularly the difference between internal and external conflict. Marriage of convenience is the set up (some would say hook) of the book, and the baby in jeopardy is the device that gets the characters together to handle the situation they find themselves in.

The major external conflict in this book stems from the heroine's sister's ex-husband who claims he wants the baby, but in truth, he wants to use the baby to stay out of jail. (his motivation) It's his family that says they want the baby to keep and raise, but it's not a sincere effort on their part. They're kind of a mafia type family with little emotion. They're not really described in depth. Anyway, as important as this element is to the creation of the story - the setup - they are not the focus of the book. You won't find a long drawn out battle between the heroine and her sister's ex, or his family.

In this type of romance, the internal conflict takes center stage. The mafia family has only one scene in the first 25% of the book. It's mostly narrative, and only a few paragraphs long. They don't crop up throughout the book in short appearances. They are mentioned in the beginning strictly to setup the external conflict, setup a time frame for the situation to play out (urgency), and deliver the context of the situation that led the heroine to seek out the hero. That's it.

There is an internalized lingering fear of the ex and his family that the heroine feels throughout the book. But, this adds to her internal emotional conflict. This fear is linked to the family, so why isn't it considered external conflict?  Because, the family is not there physically, tangibly. They're an afterthought. The heroine's lingering fear is a feeling.

If you aren't sure if something qualifies as internal or external conflict, ask yourself a very simple question: Is it an internalized emotion? Is {fill in the blank} a feeling? If you answer, YES, it's part of the internal/ emotional conflict.

Keeping that question in mind can help you when you're faced with identifying a difficult story element. Such as an inheritance, or an arrest. An event is not a tangible thing. But it's also not something internalized.

In the past, I have struggled with figuring out whether, say, the birth of a baby qualifies as internal or external conflict, because intense emotions are tied to the event itself. However, giving birth isn't a feeling, no matter how emotional we might become at or during the event. Therefore, it would be part of the external conflict. This is the same for an arrest, or an inheritance. Neither of those things are feelings, so they are considered part of your external conflict.

These events may be important to your book, but it seems to me, in a book such as a Harlequin Desire, it's the internal conflict that takes center stage. So, you would have to base your book around the feelings the characters are struggling with during the reading of the will (inheritance), or because the heroine is about to give birth. Not because of the event itself.

Now, back to The Billionaire's Borrowed Baby... The actual external conflict (the ex) shows up the first time in the first 25% of the book - during the setup. It doesn't show up again until about 85-90% through the book, when it is finally diffused, in this case, by a communication from the hero's older brother.

Everything between those two points, even the sections where the heroine is worried about the ex and his family, is internal conflict. This can be as twisty and turny as you want it to be. Every article and blog post I've read, every podcast I've listened to, has encouraged writers to really turn up those emotions. Flesh them out. Make them real. Ground them in emotions that are familiar so that your reader feels them too.

The Billionaire's Borrowed Baby illustrates this internal/external conflict balance perfectly. If you read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the structure. Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to share your opinion and/or expertise in the comments.

I read the final chapters of The Billionaire's Borrowed Baby this morning, jotted down a few notes, and as I was putting the book back on the shelf, I found the Barbara Dunlop book I'd misplaced. So that's what I'm currently reading. Just like I thought, if I stopped looking for it, I'd find it again. So, it's Round 2 with A Cowboy Comes Home. I'll blog about the book once I've read it. That's all for today. Happy reading!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Romance at the Library 2012

Gorgeous display of our books in the Bossier
Parish History Center.
Happy Saturday, everyone. I'm in my pajamas and have a glass of wine, so I'm all set for blogging. Actually, I'm a few minutes shy of bedtime, and thought I'd do a quick recap of the day. I got up at 6 a.m. to drive to Bossier City for the 2012 Romance at the Library event hosted by Friends of the Library, the Bossier Parish Library History Center, and the Nola Stars chapter of the RWA. I hope I listed all those organizations correctly.

I arrived early, and sat in on the monthly Nola Stars meeting. The February lecture was about getting the most out of your conference experience, since many of us are gearing up for the Written in the Stars conference March 2-3, and/or Nationals in July.

As for the library event, we had a rotating panel that consisted of published authors Lenora Worth, Beth Cornelison, Winnie Griggs, Connie Cox, Keri Ford, and Amy Talley. Oh, and I was in there, too. {g}

I had a really good time talking about books, chatting with friends, and talking about my werewolves and vampires.

A close up shot of my my book covers
in the display. <3 
Overall, I had a very good day. I'm thoroughly exhausted - long drives do that to me - so I'm calling it an early night. I'm going to sit under the lamp in the bedroom and read till I zonk out. Night, night! ;o)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Dreams and Internal Conflicts

Right before I woke up this morning, I had a crazy dream that was very nerve wracking and meticulous. I kept having to go through this checkpoint to see if hubby had arrived at a layover station. I guess we were traveling and got separated, I'm not really sure, but for whatever reason, due to regulations, I guess, I couldn't stay in the layover station for more than a few minutes at a time.

That being the case, I kept walking back and forth down this white corridor with plexi-glass inner doors. Each plexi-glass door required a card to get through it. At the end of the main corridor, there was a plex-glass door, and immediately on the other side of it, there was a hallway to the left, and a doorway to the right. The door was white with no handle or knob of any kind, and there were two lights above the door - one red and one green.  Each time I passed through this section of the building, I would tense up because of these red and green lights above the door - even though I wasn't planning to go through it. I had to go down the corridor on the left.

At one point in the dream I walked into the layover station, which was a shabby white lobby with flecked tile  floors, and wrap-around windows. It looked sort of like a hospital waiting room, only no TV and no other people. I had been in the room many times before, but this time when I entered, the chairs were turned over, and it looked like there had been a scuffle. I stopped in the doorway, and this chilling feeling came over me a split second before a shrill alarm went off. I realized the facility was under some kind of attack, although I'm not sure what kind of attack. I only knew it was a life or death matter. I turned and ran back down the corridor to the white door with no knob. I could tell you had to push it open to get outside. Only when I reached the door and pushed it, the red light came on, and a second alarm sounded. I froze in panic, then shook it off and turned to use my key card in the plexi-glass door so I could enter the main hallway and leave through the front entrance; however, the door wouldn't open for me. Scared as I was, I would either have to find a way to go through the white door with the two lights above it, or stay inside and weather the attack.

I woke up at this point with a lingering sense of fear and a terrible headache. There was also this feeling of "no going back", which I think symbolizes the subconscious theme of the nightmare. I don't know what I can't go back from or why, but that headache stuck with me for most of the day.

Despite the hours long headache, I still managed to have a good day, and get a few things done. First things first, I finished reading Writing Romance Novels for Dummies by Leslie J. Wainger. Whoa, boy, what a book! I initially bought it on Kindle, but I've since ordered a print copy for my writing keeper shelf. If you're struggling with conflict of any kind, this is a very helpful book to have. Ms. Wainger talks about various types of conflict and how to apply them to your romance novel. The book is full of many other helpful and useful nuggets of craft advice, but the thorough coverage of conflict sold me. I imagine I'll be referring to this book for some time to come.

I'm currently reading A Cowboy Comes Home by Barbara Dunlop. I haven't gotten very far in it yet. Right after cracking open the book, I had to put it down to take care of a few things. I'll post more about that book once I've had a chance to read it.

I read primarily because I enjoy it, of course, but lately I've been studying every book I read very closely. I'm looking to identify the wedge that keeps the hero and heroine apart. I'm also looking to name the hero and heroine's hot button issues, and as a bonus, the overall theme of the story. I feel like I'll be better able to explore emotion in my books once I learn this. Anyway, this is my theory. Certainly no harm can come from studying it, ya know? Before the year is out, I'm going to put that theory to the test.

That's all for now. I just realized it's almost 9pm. I need to get the Mini Bear to bed. Hang in there, everyone. Tomorrow's Friday!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Cora's Picks - Two Desire Romances

I'm behind on everything these days, and I'm running on empty. I'm supposed to be on a panel this weekend in Bossier with a few other authors, but after that, I'm not taking on anything new until the summer. Perhaps even later than that.

I'm currently stressed about going up to Chicago and Great Lakes next month. Plus, I have prepared nothing for conference, which is only what...3-4 weeks away? I'm pretty much facing a wing-it type situation, but I'm not gonna worry about it. I've got too much family stuff going on to stress over a pitch. If nothing else, I'll give my slots to someone else, and go the old fashioned slush pile route. Or, when I have something ready to go, I'll sign up for a different conference. I'm at the point now, where I just want to write what I want to write, when I want to write it, and if a publisher doesn't want it, I'm fine with that. I'll publish it myself.

I'm currently enrolled in two workshops. One of those, I hope, will help me get through edits on the September Experiment. I've barely had time to think about that book, which is kinda sad, because it is a good story. So, this is sort of a 2nd chance for that book. If I don't get it all the way polished through the course of the workshop, I'll look at it again over the summer.

I've about got the character sheets ready to upload. I need to tack on one more section, then it's all good - I'll be ready to put them up on my website and Scribd. While tinkering around in my office the other day, I thought about making a book starter packet type thing, where I take all my brainstorming sheets (not just the character sheets), and bundle them into one file I can download and use when I go to start a new book. Hmm...I still like the sound of that. But, I don't have the time to compile one right now. It's on my mile long to-do wish list. Still, that would be super handy, me thinks.

Now, for more Cora's Picks... (yeah, I haven't done this in a while)...

Over the weekend, I read two books. Both are new releases from the Harlequin Desire line.

The first book I read is Sex, Lies, and the Southern Belle by Kathie DeNosky. I chose this book, because it's southern in nature (my stompin' grounds), and the characters are non-royalty, non-cowboy American urbanites. The book got off to a confusing start. There were a lot of characters to sort through. This book is part of a continuity, which is a multi-author mini series within the line. I don't have all the books that go in this particular series (Dynasties: The Kincaids), which could explain, in part, why I didn't grasp all the characters right away. At any rate, it turned out to be a pretty good read. The ending is very romantic, which I think helped me get over the awkward beginning. It was worth reading to get to that ending, so I will probably pick up the other Kincaid books in the series as well. I've got those books marked down to add to my TBR list.

Now for another reason I give this book my recommendation. If you've ever looked at Harlequin's submission guidelines, they are very specific about what they want per line. One common thing among the available guidelines - many of the editors explain that they are looking for character driven, dramatic, emotional stories. Stories that revolve not around events, not around plot points, but the relationship dynamics between the hero and heroine. They really want that emotional conflict, those things that keep the hero and heroine apart, and I don't think I completely understood what they were looking for until I read Sex, Lies, and the Southern Belle.

The hero is a CEO, but there is very little mention of his working life. A lot of Harlequins will put the guy in the boardroom, or running off to take care of some business type thing, or the heroine will show up at his workplace. It's easy to look at that scenario and assume that part of the plot should revolve around his work. (Or, the heroine's work.) That has always tripped me up when trying to plot a contemporary romance.

Well, Sex, Lies, and the Southern Belle took that workplace element out of the story, and I found it much easier to see the emotional conflict like the editors at Harlequin talk about in their podcasts. So, if you've been struggling to find that underlying "IT" that the editors are talking about in the podcasts or in the guidelines, I think Sex, Lies, and the Southern Belle is a very good book to read for research.

The other book I read over the weekend is Wanted by Her Lost Love by Maya Banks. What made this book stand out to me is that you know right away this hero is still in love with the heroine. There is no scheme to get revenge, he's not going after her because he wants to punish her, you can see from chapter one, he is not over his "lost love", and as angry as he is about what happened in the past, he is still in love with her. It is a very romantic book. That beginning chapter drew me into the book right away. I didn't put the book down until I finished it.

Wanted by Her Lost Love is one of the best books I've read so far this year. And I say that as someone who doesn't read secret baby books very often. This is a really good book, and it's one that like Sex, Lies, and the Southern Belle, would be a good book to read to research the line, or to take apart and see what character driven, emotionally intense books look like from a craft perspective.

The hero in this book is a land developer, but his work takes a backseat to the point its almost an afterthought. His career is pretty much relegated to setting. The hero and heroine take refuge from his family at the beach resort he is developing with his friends and business partners. He is primarily with the heroine throughout the book. The emotions are a roller coaster ride. I dare you to chart the emotional through line with this book. It's very intense, and doesn't feel forced in any way.

You can see in this book, that 90% of it is emotional development. The emotional/internal conflict arc is very clear. You see the characters go from bitter anger and hurt in the beginning, to being emotionally open and in love by the end of the book. As a reader, and a writer, I can't recommend this book highly enough.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Wanted by Her Lost Love for yourself - especially if you're interested in writing for Harlequin. This book is everything you'd want (and an editor wants) in a Harlequin romance.

So there you have it. My latest picks. You can click the links on the titles to take you to the purchase pages for these books at . As a side note, I was not paid to evaluate these books. They are not ARCs, nor were they given to me for review. I purchased them from my local bookseller. Any opinions you see above are my own.

Okalies, disclaimer done. It's after 1am now,  and I have to be up at 6, so I better get to bed. Happy reading (and writing) everyone. Night, night!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mom Zone: It Comes In 3's

If anything has gone right this week, I can't name what it is. But one thing is certain, when your kids aren't happy, all your other problems seem insignificant in comparison.

Hubby and I got a letter from Oldest today. He's hit what I call the 2 Week Wall. He's in boot camp, and he's doubting his ability, fears failure, and is home sick something fierce. I can't explain it, but it seems like an invisible threshold they have to cross.

I remember when Hubby was in basic training - he hit this moment too. It was hard for both of us to get through, especially knowing your hands are tied and you can't do anything to help the one you love.

To get a letter like this from your kid is heartbreaking. No other word for it. Knowing you have to sit on the sidelines and wait it out while they take whatever is thrown at them is brutal. And that was really the defining moment of my day. That letter. I immediately went to my office and wrote him back, then drove up to the post office to put the letters (I'd written one the night before, too) in the postbox. He should get the letters fairly quickly - in a couple of days.

I've been an emotional mess over it. All day. A few other bits of not-so-great news has trickled in here and there, but I'm so worn out, I can't feel it. I'm numb right now. So I guess if any friends out there have bad news they want to tell me, now is the perfect time. I swear, I'll probably stare at you a minute, let it roll off my back, then ask you if you want a glass of wine. Pull up a chair, honey, I'm drinking red tonight. I hope that works for you.

On the upside, I had a major brainstorm today. I'd just had a five minute crying jag, and I don't know...I guess it cleared out the mental cobwebs, because I had all this stuff come to me about my current story. I wrote five pages after that. I'll take it!

Tomorrow, I'm going to write for a while, then turn off the computer and read. I'm currently reading Sex, Lies, and The Southern Belle - by Kathie DeNosky. Chapter one kicked off with a lot of characters, and I'm having trouble keeping them sorted. Still, I like the idea of a "new money" family having old secrets, which is a twist on the tag line, so I'm trying to stick with it.

That's all for now. I'm going to pour another glass of wine, then go lounge on the couch and read. Here's hoping the universe has served up enough punches for this weekend. I'll deal with whatever comes at me, but right now, all I really want is a few days peace.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Mom Zone: Friday Stresses and Dreams

You are entering the Mom Zone. I started this post around one in the morning, but of course I decided to attempt blogging during a storm. The thunder and lightning got pretty bad, so I turned off everything the minute the lights started to flicker. I had candles lit and ready, just in case the power went out, and called it a night.

Anyway, Mini and I, we survived to Friday. I could cry, I'm so happy this week is almost over. It has been a harsh week for the both of us. This morning, after I put him on the school bus at around 7 (it was pouring out there), I turned out all the lights and went back to bed. I settled into the "warm zone" between SassiePup and KippyCat and within five minutes I was seeing Z's. I know it's because I had such a chaotic week, but I dreamed all these crazy dreams. First, I was at this hotel, or resort, and I was nervous because I wasn't supposed to be there. I kept going in and out of the building, looking for a way to leave, but when you went out the glass doors you ended up in a courtyard. The courtyard had no exit. It was surrounded by three skyscraper type-buildings. I could see other people, mostly dressed in business suits and carrying briefcases, were somehow able to come and go from the complex, but I couldn't figure out how they were getting in and out of there. I was afraid to stop someone and ask them which building they were going through to get out, because I knew I'd be in major hot water if they discovered I wasn't supposed to be on the property.

That dream is one of the most vivid I can recall. There were a lot of other little snippets too, like I was talking to Oldest about something, and he got up and said he had to go. Then I was sitting around in this gray building, waiting for hubby to show up. While in the gray building, hubby brought me this paper, and when when I had it in my hands, I realized it was an old fashioned style, card-stock report card from Mini's school. I'm sitting there, looking over Mini's grades, and they're all good. His behavior has a smiley face, then I open up one of the fold out panels, and the teacher had given him a D in one of the columns - for what, I don't know - and I saw she had written this really obnoxious comment on the card. Something like: "Absentee-ism{?} He came back next day, know he was faking it, I turned him in to the office."

I know that's not the comment exactly, but it was something like that, the text was really small and handwritten and hard to read, but it was enough to make me gasp, and I was suddenly so pissed off, all I could thing about was writing the teacher a letter and firing back to rake her over the coals for talking bad about my kid, and to ask how she would know jack diddly to start with since she took off an hour after she arrived to school that morning she supposedly knew Mini was faking...whatever?  That's about the point I woke up. I realized, in my dream, that I was getting upset over nothing. That it was all a dream. Mini hasn't been absent. We don't get card-stock report cards anymore, and haven't since the 1980s.  Basically, the dream fell apart, and I woke up to see it was after 10 a.m. I can hardly believe I slept for three hours. All I can think is that I must have needed the extra rest, because I still feel kind of groggy.

Yesterday, and I'm sure this is partly responsible for the dream, I went and straightened out a situation with Mini's school. On Wednesday afternoon, he came home crying. Literally, was crying when he got off the bus. Someone said he'd pointed his "bad" finger in class, and his teacher's answer was to tell him at the end of the day she was sending him to the office - tomorrow. So he had all night to cry and worry about going to the office, and he didn't know what he'd done wrong, other than he'd pointed at someone. Now, I've been trying to break him of pointing at things with his middle finger since he was two. Moms with toddlers will probably know what I'm talking about. I was pretty sure if he did flip someone the bird, it was accidental, or incidental. Either way, he wasn't trying to tell someone to go F themselves.

To try and get a handle on the situation, I asked him to show me what finger he'd allegedly pointed, and he held his hand straight out, backside up, and pointed the finger next to his pinkie at me. He said he'd had a piece of paper in his hand at the time. Hmm. Curious. The wrong finger - not the middle. Anyway, he didn't know why this finger was any damn different than the others. So, I had to explain to my 6 year old what the middle finger means. Joy, right? I was kinda hoping to put that off for a few more years, but whatever. So, he told me he was going to the office, because of this "bad finger" incident, and I figured I better go up to the school and find out what the heck is going on.

That ruined the flow of the whole night, I'll say that much. But yesterday, I did go take care of it. First thing I asked is if the teacher "saw" him do it. At first she said, Yes. When I explained to her Mini showed me the wrong finger at home, and that I had to explain to him what it meant, she told me, Well, here's the deal. I glimpsed it. She'd had her back turned, and saw him holding up a finger - now not necessarily THE finger. And she wanted to "put the fear in him" about using that finger again and said she was sending him to the office. Um. You want to make my kid afraid to come to school? What?

If you've got to send my kid to the office - do it. I'm not against discipline. I expect my kids to behave, and they know it. But no one is putting the FEAR in my kid, especially fear that makes them not want to go to school. Get it? Got it? Good. Someone needs to remind these grade school teachers that six-year-old kids are not teenagers. Some of them can't tie their shoelaces or tuck their shirts in yet. They're like post-graduated toddlers with better vocabulary and motor skills. They don't deserve to be put through a psychological mind game.

I told her while I expect my son to obey her class rules, it's not her job to make him fear anything. Especially going to school. He doesn't want to be up there in the first place - all work, very little play. The main thing is, I don't want him to fear going up there. If that happens, we are going to have a major problem. (In other words, they are going to have a major problem with ME.) I don't want to ever see my kid come crying off the school bus like that again. I told her, if she still feels like Mini needs to go to the office, I respect her decision. It's her class. But, it would be for the best that I go with him. I don't think it's fair to traumatize him over something she thinks she might have glimpsed without seeing the situation as a whole.

I have friends who are teachers that would probably be appalled by what I said. At the same time, I get this whole vibe from the school system...they say they want parents to be "involved" with their child's education. They want you to spend so many hours a week educating them at home. They want you to be involved with their reading so many books a year, or volunteering to sell raffle tickets, to gather box tops, or to cater bake sales for the athletics teams, plus they want you to fork over $25-50 dollars for this and that - it's a new reason to spend money every other week. They want you to be involved financially in your kids education, but they don't actually want you involved when something crops up with your kid. They don't want to see you up there if there's a bullying issue, or you're trying to get answers, nothing like that - and that's kind of a double standard, in my opinion.

There is literally a sign on the door outside of Mini's school telling you NOT to walk your child to class. They want you to drive through the port cochere and drop your kid off out front and have them go in by themselves. Even the little ones. Okay, I can do that. I have done it. No problem. But, the sign is what it is: Parents, we don't want you in here. 

Oldest went to this school also, from Kindergarten to senior graduation, and this is the first year ever a teacher sent home a note at the beginning of the year telling parents not to contact her after school hours. There is no phone number given to call her if there is a question or a problem. Her preference is that we come up to the school. But, of course, there's that sign again. Unless you're there to check out your kid early, they don't want parents going in the building!

Rant aside, it went on far long than I intended, it wasn't exactly unpleasant dealings yesterday. Everything was completely civil. But it definitely left a definite sour taste in my mouth. When I left the school that morning, I felt like I was a walking zombie. I sat in my car for a good five minutes, waiting for the traffic to taper off, and also to get my wits about me. Part of that, I imagine, is because it wasn't just one day this week. Mini had a tough week from the start, and I've had to deal with it all a piece at a time. That does nothing good for your stress level. Believe me.

The minute I made it home and kicked my shoes off, I crashed across the bed to rest. Not for long, though. I had arranged to meet up with Mom for lunch, so I had to get my game face on for that. I didn't want to go over there in a sniffy mood.

I went to visit Mom around eleven o'clock, and the day picked up from there. Things went much better. Mom's so sweet. She baked a homemade blueberry pie for me. We had salad for lunch, and of course, the pie, then we sat around chatting until about 1:30. I had to make a trip to town before going home, and ended up rushing through the store, because I couldn't remember if I'd told Mini to ride the bus home, or not. I made it back to the house by 2:30 and quickly put away the groceries. To be safe, I drove to the school to pick him up. Thankfully, everything seemed back to normal, fine, non-stressful when the teacher brought the kids out to the buses.

Mini told me had a good day, so that made my day 100x better. We went over his homework, played a few rounds of Disney Cars Operation, and then I flopped into my desk chair - exhausted, mostly from worrying. I took some time for myself and watched a Power Point workshop session, then I worked on my scene guide, timeline, and character sheets for a while. If the universe will cooperate with me, I think I've got enough information now - beginning, middle, end, conflict, theme, characters, etc. - to start writing my new erotic paranormal romance. This one's going to be hot. I have a total crush on my hero. {fans self} That's usually a good sign.

I updated my website last night, and made a "for writers" page. I should have a few things up there for download sometime next week. I'm combining some of the sheets and reformatting the documents so they'll make a clean .pdf copies...and so there aren't five different files to upload. I hope others will find them useful.

I hope you have a fabulous, stress-free Friday. Let the weekend commence!  

Discover New Free Reads:

Links lead to original source download pages. Example: Amazon, eHarlequin...
{Always check the price in your cart before buying free reads to make sure they're still free!}

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Writerly Bits: Worksheets

February 1st!  How the heck did that happen? Man oh man, January went by fast. I turned over my calendar this morning and my eyes boggled at all the events and deadlines this month. That's okay, because I'm gonna take it one day at a time. And one project at a time - because I have several on the hook the right now. {g}

A bit of news before I really get going with today's blog post... While on Facebook yesterday, I saw KnightWatch Press posted a picture of the back of one of the upcoming ZOMpokalypse comic books. It's a full page advertisement for their available now and coming soon books. You can see the original posting, by going here: I'm mentioning this, because check it out - at the bottom of the ad, by the UPC symbol, Ultimate Angels is on there. Yay! My short horror/urban fantasy-ish story Prince of Thorns is in that volume. I'll post more about it when the anthology is released.

On to other writerly things... I stayed up entirely too late last night building a new story - which is how I've come to view writing in the past year. We don't just write stories, we build stories. I've been focusing lately on writing character driven projects, rather than plot driven. There are differences. In character driven stories, the characters are driven to do what they do by internal motivations. And in plot driven stories, the characters are driven to do what they do by external motivations. Anyway, I digress...

To help me along with this shift in my writing, I'm using printable worksheets to help me in the planning stages of a story. I know these are old as the hills, so go ahead and have a giggle. I google and download most of my worksheets for free. They're simply printouts with various blanks you fill in to cover character attributes, or details about settings in your book. Scene charts, etc. Whatever is on there.

You've probably seen similar sheets in writing craft books, and of course, online. You're not allowed to redistribute them or anything, but they're still good for your personal projects and I recommend searching around for sheets that you like if you're interested in using that kind of thing.

I've noticed the sites tend to come and go, so I print up copies of the really good ones and save them in a binder. That way I can make physical copies and use them over and over again. Like I said, google search for writer forms, character sheets, whatever you want to call them. One of my favorite resources for free downloadable worksheets that still exists, is here: Be sure to follow the rules for usage if you download any of these.

These sheets are great for most projects, but I sometimes have to use some of my own, homemade sheets, since I mostly write fiction/romances/erotica with paranormal elements. The worksheets I've found don't cover those aspects.

My personal worksheets are geared toward paranormal romances, both erotic and non-erotic. I'm very busy this month, and it's only going to get worse as March nears, but I'm going to try to format and post my paranormal worksheets to my website as soon as possible. Maybe this week, IF I can get to it. I'm also going to add them to my page - so if you're subscribed to my Scribd, you'll automatically see it come up once I've added it.

Mini just got home, so I better take off and help him get through his homework. Here's hoping today went better for him than yesterday! :o)
* * * *

Free reads of the day: 
An Appointment with her Master, by Portia De Costa - BDSM, erotica
Taken by the Cowboy, by Julianne MacLean - western romance, mainstream romance

{links go to the corresponding Amazon download pages}

Reminder:  Free reads may be free for a limited time only, so grab the titles while you can. And as always, check to make sure the price is $0.00 in check out before you buy, or one click purchase.