Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Heart Facebook

Current Project: Untitled RS
Status: It's summer. What do you think?

I've been on Facebook for six months. Elisabeth dragged me in, just as she's done to many of you. I admit I started as a friend whore. I went through her list of friends and requested friendship from the many names I recognized there. And a lot of names I didn't. Writers often put their cover as their profile picture, so I friended all those book covers, too. That's why I was there, right? To meet other writers.

As the friends accrued, I whored their lists and smiled at how many friends in common all these writing people had. I put up pics from Nationals and made them available for all to see. I put up pics of my family and limited their views to real friends, meaning people I actually know.

I utilized the chat feature. First chatting with old friends from high school, then tentatively chatting with people who posted on my wall. Surprisingly the biggest draw was the post I wrote about the hamster. I was debating whether or not to get my oldest a hamster, and it drew a lot of comments and opinions. This led to a casual friendship with another writer. Turned out she was my age, unpubbed, had three kids, her husband was a dentist, and our political views matched. Lots in common. Now she's my roommate for Thrillerfest and part of the time at Nationals.

I've friended a forensic pathologist who is an author, had many odd discussions with him from music to cats, and look forward to meeting him at T-fest. I've friended a British thriller author whose real name I'll repeat a million times in my head before I meet him, because I've thought of him by his pen name for so long. He owes me a drink in NY. Then there's the thriller author I chat with that lives in NY. He's going to show me the best pizza in the states. Not to leave out the women. Two are debut thriller authors that I look forward to meeting face to face.

There's a half dozen women friends that I hope to meet at RWA. I want that moment where you read someone's name badge then immediately look to their face, because you know them from Facebook.

Facebook has connected me with high school friends I haven't seen in 20 years and coworkers I'd lost touch with. I've had coffee with old girlfriends that I didn't know lived within miles of me. Yes, there are lots of people I've friended whom I've never heard from again, but there is a core group I interact with over and over.

Social networking site. I hate the term. Yes, if used correctly, you can reap rewards from FB. It has its drawbacks but the pluses far outweigh the negatives for me. I haven't tried Twitter. I haven't tried MySpace. From what I've heard they aren't right for me. Of course, I believed the same thing about FB.
Your opinion on social networking: Yay or Nay?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Writing tools

Current Project: Leg Shaving Leads to Trouble
Status: First draft

There are a variety of tools all writers keep in their "toolbox." For some, it's a pad of paper and a pen. For others, it's a laptop and a power cord. And you can't forget the chocolate!

Personally, the tools depend on the stage of writing I'm in. If I'm in the plotting stage - I may use a table-top presentation board and sticky notes to plot out some major points of my story. When I want even more details I have an excel spreadsheet that I use for plotting a few chapters at a time.

When it's time to just get out there and write, I usually use my laptop. If I'm somewhere a laptop can't be used (say class...hehe) then I may write longhand. I will sometimes use my Alphasmart 3000 too, but we'll get back to that in a minute.

If I'm editing something, highlighters are an important tool for me. I like to highlight certain elements of my writing a specific color, so I can see where something is lacking, too much of something, repetitive usage, etc.

Okay, back to the Alphasmart 3000. This past weekend I went camping at Lake Billy Chinook. I was wondering how I'd be able to write, as there's no power on the land my inlaws own. They have a generator for the motorhome, but I wasn't sure how often it would be on. My Mac battery lasts about 3 hours, but I was going to be there for a few days. Then a couple days before leaving on the trip, I remembered I had an Alphasmart 3000.

For those of you not familiar, it's basically a keyboard with a small screen. You type on it, it stores the information, then you plug it into your computer and upload the text into Microsoft Word. It originally began as a less expensive tool (versus a computer) to teach children how to type. Students began using it to take notes in class. And writers began using it to write.

I like this tool for many reasons. For starters, it runs on three AA batteries and lasts about 300 hours. The screen is small - only showing four lines at a time, so I can't keep editing. I can only keep writing. It's very lightweight and feels durable. And if it's sunny, it's easier to see this screen than many laptop screens. Plus, the cord used to plug it into a computer is fairly common. I bought this several years ago (and haven't used it in about a year, was still in a box from my move in February) and can't find the original cord. But I have hoards of cords in my place and I found a couple that looked like the outlet on the unit, and they both worked. That's definitely a nice benefit.

There are newer models, this particular model has been discontinued. The newer versions have added features, like syncing with Palm Pilots. They come with rechargable batteries, but the battery life isn't as long (but really, 300 hours is quite a bit and a little more than most need). The Neo and the Dana are the new units, but the Alphasmart 3000 are all over Ebay.

The way it's broken down is in eight "files." It's sort of like the F# keys at the top of a keyboard. You can just start typing in file 1, then when it fills up, move to the next. Or, you can designate one file for a plot outline, one for the characters, and use the rest for writing. I believe you can also download files onto the Alphasmart, in case you wanted some of your most recent writing on there.

So what tools do you all use in your writing?

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Status: page 215

This little beauty was our Annie Rose who died a week ago. She had a long life (almost 15 years) but we still miss her -- I doubt we'll ever stop missing her. Along with the camping trip, losing her accounts for my small page count this past week. Some weeks are just like that -- other concerns occupy your heart and mind.

But life does go on and I hope to add another ten or twenty pages this weekend. My poor characters have been on the move for the entire book, mostly by car although there's been a motorcycle and a bus, too. Today, I believe they will set out on foot. It's a nice day for a walk even if two killers shadow your steps...

Hope your week was more productive, less sad, and has prepared you for a great weekend -- or a fun one. How are you all doing?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Guest Blogger - Delilah Marvelle!

Today I'm thrilled to have good friend and phenom writer with us, Delilah Marvelle. Delilah and I finaled in the GH together in 2007, and Delilah went on to to sell her finaling manuscript to Kensington. Today Delilah has some important info to share with us not only about her books but publishing in general. And she's got a fab contest going on you don't want to miss.

Please help me welcome Delilah Marvelle!!


When I was in high school, I had a dream. I was going to be the next Stephen King. Heh. Yeah. Stay with me. Please. I knew my ideas were fabulous and I knew all it would take is for an editor to look at it and they would offer me up the moon and the stars and best of all, a contract. I had my girlfriends read everything I wrote. And they kept telling me, “This is fabulous! It's SO funny! Hilarious!” Seeing it really wasn't supposed to BE funny, I immediately changed course realizing I actually had a better handle on being funny than scary. I also figured adding a romance into it would even make it better since that is what I loved to read.

I then entered college as an English major. I was going to be teacher and write during the summers. Even then I was a smart girl who knew I wasn't going to make jack and that I needed a job to support the “creative” one. Throughout all of college I wrote historical romances. One right after another. And kept submitting. And submitting. And submitting. And kept getting rejected and rejected and rejected. In the meantime, I got married. I had two kids. I joined RWA. I got critique partners. I did honed and honed and honed the crap out of my writing. And kept writing and getting rejected. I eventually racked up over 200 rejections and had written over 40 books in those 11 years of trying to get published.

When I finally sold my first historical romance, MISTRESS OF PLEASURE, and my second book, LORD OF PLEASURE, I was beside myself. It didn't feel real. To FINALLY arrive at a destination I had been traveling toward for 11 long years seemed like a mirage. Which fortunately, I quickly snapped out of. Because after all, most of my friends are all published and unpublished writers and the stories they all have told me throughout the years made me realize I had to fight with fists up for myself every step of the way. I knew publishers did little to no promotion for their authors, so I spearheaded my own promo, ready to be more than just an author. And even though I was budgeting very well and spending countless hours networking and promoting on websites and blogs, doing tons for free, I still ended up spending $7,000 on my first book. Which was way more than my advance. But hey, every business starts in the red. Right?

Then the reviews started coming in about my series set in 1830 London England about a school that educates men on the topic of love and seduction. People loved it! Wow. It got nominated for awards. Wow. Readers are e-mailing me raving. Wow. Readers from France, Austria, Poland, South Africa and from all over the U.S and the world.. Wow. It just kept getting better and better. I was beginning to feel as if every penny I spent was all worth it (even though my family and I weren't going on any vacations and were eating out of cans). Because all that mattered was that my publisher loved me and my readers loved my series.

Come contract time, I'm ready for whatever they wanna throw at me. Or so I thought. Mistress of Pleasure, though completely sold out and unavailable anywhere (unless it's a used copy, some going for a ridiculous amount of $40.00), hadn't done as well as my publisher had hoped. So without waiting for the second book to come out to see if the series was even worth saving, I get a rejection from my own editor citing lack of sales.

I have to say this rejection felt more personal than any of the other two hundred and some rejections I'd received. Because it was no longer “Your book isn't good enough” it became “Your sales aren't good enough.” Since when is an author supposed to be a market guru AND a fabulous writer? Eck.

I love this series. The men in it make me laugh and it broke my heart to think that my readers will never get a chance to read about Lord Brayton, my glorious male virgin. The only alpha virgin I've ever written about. Then I realized something, why I am letting a publisher decide what is worth holding on to? Shouldn't that be a reader's job?

Ah. Herein lies the purpose of my post. I am challenging everyone, be they readers or writers to help me do something that's never been done before. Save a series from a death sentence given by a publisher. Can it be done? Who knows. But I eat challenges for breakfast and I hope you do to. Please join me in saving my series. Come August 4th, tell everyone you know (yes, even you're 72 year old grandfather) to buy the book, Lord of Pleasure. In doing so, you'll have a chance to win one of three $50 Visa Gift Cards. How? Check out my website for details at www.DelilahMarvelle.com

That said, thank you for all the support and love everyone has already shown me by allowing me to blog about this. Feel free to post and repost this to everyone under the moon and the stars. To all you readers out there, thank you for supporting us writers. To all you writers out there, don't ever give up on your writing. The moment you do, you give up on yourself. Which is why I'm not giving up on my series.

Cheers and much love,
Delilah Marvelle

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What to get from "The Call"

I always love to hear stories about "the call" for writers. But beyond hearing all the details about how fabulous that conversation was - it's important for writers to remember that "the call" is a business transaction. And as such, writers should expect to leave that call with information about the offer on the table and what to expect.

Have you ever talked to someone, been overly excited or hyped up, then hung up and remembered a bunch of other things you forgot to ask? Imagine you're a writer, you finally got that call from an editor, you hang up, then look back at that list you have. You know, the list you made ages ago when you started sending out your book? The list that specifically names all of the questions you plan to ask in such a situation but you forgot to print it out and keep it by your phone? Then you see several important things that you forgot to ask the editor about.

You don't feel comfortable calling the editor back because you don't want to seem forgetful or neurotic. But you also worry that they may wonder why you didn't ask about those things. Well, Dorchester editor Leah Hultenschmidt has a handy list of things that you can print off and remember to go over and ask the editor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Current Project: Shadows, Inc.
Status: Still working on that backstory!

Well, shoot. This has been one of those days. Not only haven't I been feeling well, but I somehow managed to mess up my calendar and didn't realize until late that today was my day to blog (that sounds better than to say that I also lost track of time and have been thinking it was Monday all day today, I hope). *sigh*

As a reader, I don't generally worry about whether I have a clear mental image of the characters in whatever book I'm reading. Sure, if the author has given a character a distinctive feature or characteristic or a particularly vivid physical description, that may stick with me. But I'll tell you a secret -- even then I probably only have a hazy image of the character in my mind, if I even have that. It's the character's thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions that matter to me -- not what they look like. In fact, if the author spends too much time lovingly describing what a character looks like, I'm likely to be more annoyed than fascinated.

It's a whole different story when it comes to my own writing. Oh, not the long passages of lovingly described physical characteristics (at least I hope I don't do that!). No, I'm finding that I need to know more than just the dry recitation of physical facts -- eye color, hair color, height, weight, etc. I need to be able to picture my characters as three dimensional physical beings. I need to see their faces, know their expressions, just as much as I need to know who they are, where they're from, and what they think and feel.

The simplest way to do this, of course, is to borrow from real life -- either using someone I know or the image of an actor or actress -- for the physical template of a character. The problem there, of course, is that it can sometimes be difficult to separate the real person from the character I'm creating. Or, in the case of an actor/actress, separating my character from character(s) they've portrayed, especially if those characters were especially vivid.

I'm guessing that this need arises because there's so much more that goes on "behind the scenes" than ever makes it into a book, as I'm coming to learn. Writers talk about how much research we do, even when so little of that research makes it directly on the page. And then there are the pages and pages of backstory that we write -- backstory that may only be alluded to in the final story, if at all.

Is all this really necessary? I certainly can't answer that question for anyone else, but for myself I'd have to say yes. The more I know, the more real my characters are to me. And hopefully...eventually...I'll manage to translate that feeling to the page and my characters will become real to my readers as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cowardice or Intelligence?

Current Project: Doctor in Petticoats
Status: page 352

This weekend we went to Princeton to sow alfalfa in eight acres and move wheel lines out of the way for the man cutting the grain hay. My husband worked me solid the three days we were there other than the trip to purchase more seed and to have an anniversary dinner with some people in Burns we know.

On Friday, while my husband was discing the ground in preparation for sowing the seed, I moved the wheel lines. Not hard, I drove Sami (Suzuki Samarai that has been hacked off) down the irrigation road to the farthest wheel line. I parked, watched all the dogs jump out, and started across the field near the edge where the growth is sparser, keeping a vigilante eye.

The dogs ran by a large stick, only it raised its head and a forked tongue slithered out. I stopped about eight feet from the stick. It was a two-and-a-half-foot rattlesnake. It was in a spot of dry dirt apparently sunning and digesting, since it had two large bumps in the first third of his body.

Now, I’ve fantasized about what I’d do if I ever saw a rattlesnake. I was big and brave like my heroines. I’d take a shotgun or a shovel and kill the thing, chop off the rattles and take them to my husband.

Reality- I took two steps back then shifted my weight forward and back trying to decide whether to go on or go back and get a shovel to kill the snake. Finally, I went back to Sami and got the shovel. But inspecting the shovel on the way back to the still reclining snake, I discovered it had a large groove in the middle where the handle attached. Now what if I smacked the snake with the shovel and its head fit in the groove and all I did was make it mad? I know I can’t run. How fast does a snake crawl? Faster no doubt than I run because my brothers could run faster than me running backwards.

So, I walked a wide berth around the snake and continued on to move the wheel line, all the time telling myself I’m a coward and I should just kill the snake and get the first kill over with so when I encounter more I’ll do it without thinking.

I changed the wheel line and thankfully didn’t run into any more snakes. And I’d made up my mind to kill the snake on my way back to Sami. I had the shovel in my hands, I held my bottom lip between my teeth, and crept towards the area, only a wheel from the irrigation pipe and rolled near the snake and when Boots, the dog, sniffed around in that area, the chhh, chh, chh of rattles sounded. My heart pounded in my chest and ears. I called Boots, slipped the shovel on my shoulder, and double timed it back to Sami. I loaded the dogs and continued my chores watching all around me everywhere I went the rest of the day.

I told my husband about the snake. “Why didn’t you kill it?” were his first words. My come back, “What if I hadn’t killed him and just made him mad?” which garnered me “the look”.

Okay, why did I tell this story? I write courageous heroines because I’m not. I can fantasize about what I’d do in situations then let my heroine’s play it out. That’s why I’m a writer. So what characteristics do your heroines have that you wished you possessed?

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Posted by: Genene Valleau
Current Project: Edits to novella
Status:Yes, still working on them!

Where is home to you? Is it the place you live now? The house where you grew up? Somewhere you've lived or visited that you would like to go back to? A place you've dreamed of?

My mom was in the hospital a couple weeks ago and is still recovering from pneumonia at home, so I've been back to the place where I grew up quite a lot recently. But it's not home for me any more. I've lived in my house in Salem for over twenty years and I really like this house. My son and I are finishing remodeling projects that I've wanted to do for years--with the plan to eventually buy some property so my doggies and I can spread out. So my "home" is a place I'm dreaming of.

Generally, I spend a lot of time thinking about and developing "home" for the characters in my stories, because I think their homes tell a lot about their personalities. For my first three books, one Victorian house was featured in each of the stories, so I drew a floor plan and "furnished" the rooms with photos from magazines. Not just because it was important to the characters who lived in that house, but because I didn't want to forget where I'd put the dining room or that there was a bathroom tucked under the stairway downstairs. :)

For the novella I'm working on--a romantic comedy with an eccentric family living in a mini-castle--each of their suites reflect their individual tastes and personalities.

For the nine-book series I'm planning, "home" will be important because some of the adopted siblings have moved out of town with the intention of not returning, while others live nearby and still consider the house where their adoptive mother lives as "home." In addition, these adopted siblings have lived in other places before they were adopted. So "home" will have some very strong emotional ties and reactions.

How about your characters? Is "home" a strong element in your stories or just a backdrop to the action? Have you ever written a character who changed so much they didn't "fit" at their initial home by the end of the story? Perhaps a character who was victimized at home and no longer felt safe in that house. Or a heroine who vacationed somewhere and fell in love with the hero and a different area away from her original home?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Status: page 200

When I was ten years old and in the fifth grade, I liked to play baseball during lunch recess. One afternoon, I struck out twice in the same game. I was so frustrated the second time that I said, "Oh, damn!" My friends all looked at me as though I'd just kicked a puppy. I turned beet red and was totally humiliated. I'd heard my father swear, but I'd never done it before.

In sixth grade, there was a picture in a history book of a huge waterfall. In one copy of the book, someone had drawn a stick figure going over the falls and this same someone, I presume, had written the same word that I uttered the year before. That copy of the book made the rounds of the classroom as we all giggled behind our hands at the sheer audacity of some former classmate now moved on to bigger, and probably badder, things.

Since then I have added more colorful words to my vocabulary. I use them occasionally when I want to make an impact. I can't say as I've thought two shakes about it until three days ago when I received an email from a woman who had just read Multiples Mystery. She said she'd stayed up half the night reading it. Who doesn't like to hear that? It was very kind of her to tell me. And then she added she just wished I hadn't used so many "bad" words.

Huh? I used bad words? Where? I immediately did a word search in that book as it sits on my computer and found out the lady was right. I used damn 29 times and hell 19. OMG.

Yep, I am a blasphemer.

Is the reader right? Is it possible I overused these words? If you'd asked me how many instances of them are in that or any other book before I did the word search, I would have told you a half dozen. The numbers did surprise me and yet I had never noticed them before. They were just part of a character's thought process or frustration, expressions that said more than "golly gee" but weren't as profane as the actual words I think many people would use given the extenuating circumstances we tend to put our characters through. They were just words to me, and pretty mild ones, to boot.

Of course, my reader has a right to her opinion and after another exchange where I suggested we agree to disagree, she declared she had God on her side and vowed she would blacken out every nasty word before giving the book to friends in order to save them seeing such language. I guess she's going to have to read the book again. And no, she doesn't actually feel I have a right to my opinion.

What have I learned from this?
1. Don't enter into "conversations" with strangers over the internet who disagree with you. You can't win. This woman didn't want to "talk" to me, she wanted to make her point. Period. I should have just let her do that.
2. Maybe I should dig up some new swear words. I seem to be getting d*** repetitive
3. Why am I still thinking about this?

I know the answer to that last one. It's because I'm frantically working away on a new book and so I am running across my tendency to use these words when I back my characters up against a wall and now I am second guessing myself. Ack!

Just out of curiosity, I searched for other random words. Out of 287 pages (47,000 actual words), I used "soft" in some form or the other 31 times in that book. Gaze: 34. Ran: 28. Apparently, judging by these numbers, I use every word I know somewhere between 19-34 times in every book! Egads! Gadzooks!

Where do you stand on profanity in books? I will go on record as saying I just don't care. If the language fits the character and the situation, a character can say whatever that character wants to say. If I don't like it, well, I guess I won't read that author again. There are some things that offend me in books -- poor writing, comes to mind. Weak plotting. Cruelty. Head hopping. Oh, and even some words. One of my least favorites is "frisson." I don't know that I feel passionately enough about it to write an author, but I don't particularly like the word. So there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Schedule

Current Project: Untitled RS
Status: Chapter 7

This week is the official start of summer for me. The kids get out of school on Thursday, and my writing schedule will fly out the window. A few months back we did a little goal setting and I believe I stated I wanted to have this book finished before Nationals. BWAHAHAHA! See that Chapter seven status up there?

Time to readjust, rethink, and reschedule.

  • Any writing done during the day will be a result of bribery. I'm willing to pay the kiddos cash to leave me alone for two or three hour blocks of time. I may even resort to paying the oldest to "babysit" her younger siblings. We've tried this before. It works well if I state she won't get paid if the kids come in my room.

  • My evening writing time needs to be just that: writing time. Not chat time or Facebook time. Well, maybe a little of both, but with strictly enforced limits.

  • I need a rewards system for myself. If I hit my weekly word count, what should I get? I'm stumped on this one. Any suggestions? I already drink enough Starbucks and buy enough books.

  • Eleven weeks of summer for me. Two weeks devoted to conferences and their preparation, so there are nine weeks I should be able to squeeze in writing time. I challenge myself to finish this book before school starts.

  • My other summer plans include more time on the elliptical and creating a set study time with the kids so their brains don't shrivel from disuse. Last year we did spelling tests and math worksheets. After school had been out for two weeks, they practically devoured the work.

  • Library trips with the kids. I've raised readers. They love the library.

  • Schedule weekly trips with the neighbors' kids. During past summers we've tried to set up a day a week where we all meet at a park or fun place for the kids.

What changes in your writing and life schedule during the summer?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Impact of movies

Current Project: Leg Shaving Leads to Trouble
Status: Trying to finish first draft

Have you ever watched a movie that inspired you to write? Or made you envious that you hadn't thought of that concept? Or quickly trying to think of a new twist related to that? Or just plain renewed your sense of romance?

I do, every once in a while. But last week I saw a movie that has hit me like no movie before. Yes my lovely friends, this is a Twilight post. *g* I had been avoiding the books for a few reasons. One, I just didn't believe they were as good as everyone said they would be (yes Becky, you were right, they were!!!!) Second, I knew there were going to be four books and I didn't want to start the series early and have to wait it out. Although part of me thought I wouldn't like them, a large part of me thought I'd love them. Many of you know I love me some vampires!! Sort of like Harry Potter, I waited until all the books were out to start reading them.

When I was in Italy last summer, one of the girls brought Twilight. A friend of hers recommended it but she hadn't read it yet. I didn't read it, not a lot of time for reading when I was there. As I was on my way home, my initial, direct flight from Europe was canceled so I was rerouted through Houston. I landed in Houston and went to the bookstore and saw that the fourth book had come out. So I bit the bullet and bought Twilight. I had five hours to kill before my flight to Portland, why not read? I was book deprived. Who'd have thought they don't sell a lot of English language books in Italy! Hah!

If I wasn't sitting at my gate I would have missed my flight, I was that engrossed in my book. I was finally on American soil and I had turned my cell phone off (after talking with my parents of course) because I didn't want to be interrupted from the book! I had the book finished by the time I landed in Portland. The five weeks of archaeology, the 4-5 hours of sleep a night all that time, the 24-hours of being awake with all the flight cancellations - none of it mattered. I was hooked on that book.

This was a Sunday, when I arrived back in Oregon. Monday I went to work, Monday after work I drove to Salem to pick up the next two books in the series. Tuesday, I drove back to Salem to pick up the fourth book (that was the release day). By Friday I had finished the series. Did I mention I worked all week? I had made plans to visit with friends over the weekend, so the evenings during that week were my time to read the series. I didn't want to be hanging out with friends, but wishing I were reading the Twilight books... :)

I convinced a good friend and coworker to read them, then another coworker, then a friend, then another friend. I needed people to love the books as much as I did. I heard the movie was coming out in a few months, so I looked up the cast online.

I was so disappointed. The jerky jock from "Can't Hardly Wait" was going to play Dr. Cullen? The trailers looked awkward. The whole thing made me unhappy. So, I didn't see it. Months and months went by, still hadn't watched it. Came out on DVD - still refused to watch it. Finally, I broke down. I'd watched most other movies in my Netflix queue so last week I watched it. I think on Wednesday or Thursday. Today is Monday - and I believe I've watched it 6 or 7 times now.

It was a rough week and I think the mood of the movie helped. But darn it, that movie was great! I think if I hadn't read the books and loved those so much, I would have been indifferent about the movie. But the fact that so many pivotal moments and scenes were brought to life and done so well, I can't get enough. I absolutely LOVE Robert Pattinson as Edward. I was not a fan of Kristin Stewart from the trailers as Bella, but she is a great Bella. Esme was cast perfectly. Rosalie was great. Jasper, whoooo boy! Yummy.

I love Robert's little Edward smiles. The way it's clear he's trying to hold himself back as Edward did in the book, but he just can't help himself around Bella. I love her reactions to him, his reactions to her. I was so inspired by it. I wanted to write, but I couldn't pull myself away from the movie!! :)

I've begun rereading Twilight to see how different the movie was from the books. And I must say, I think the movie was implemented very well. The way dialogue was taken from one scene and combined with action from another worked well in the movie.

I can't wait for New Moon to come out!!!! And you bet, I'll be there opening night. Waiting in line for hours.

Is there any movie that you just couldn't get enough of for its romantic elements?

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Current Project: A BABY BETWEEN THEM
Status: Page 182

Good morning!

I think for the first time in umpteen years, I'm seriously worried I don't have enough story to fill an entire book! This has never happened to me before. I always run at about 282 so I should be one hundred pages from the end, but egad! I don't think I can stretch it out that long. Nor do I want to stretch it out -- that implies all sorts of nasty filler stuff and a slackening of tension and pacing. After staring at the screen this a.m. and worrying about it, I've decided to just write it and if it's fifty or sixty pages short, then I can jump off a cliff, no need to jump now. Ack!

Going to have some family time this weekend and then camping next week, so there will only be a few days writing time. Can't afford it, but this is life and I can't afford not to live it, can I? Besides, what with the book way too close to the end way too early, what's the rush? Double Ack!

How is everyone else doing? (If you want room at the top of the cliff three weeks hence, I'm taking reservations.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

“Secrets” of the Selling Romance Synopsis

Thank you to Colleen Thompson for blogging with us today! I'm sorry for posting this late, I just got to internet. I hope you enjoy this great post as much as I did! :)

* * *

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit the Mid-Willamette Valley chapter of RWA as a guest-blogger. I’m happy to be visiting today and hope you’ll check out my latest release, Beneath Bone Lake (Lovespell Romantic Suspense, May 26, 2009) the story of Ruby Monroe, a young widow returning from Iraq after a year’s absence to find her house in flames, her four-year-old daughter missing, and no one to turn to… except the last man she should trust.

I thought I’d take time to chat a bit today about what began for me as a hideous torment and ended up an effective tool for selling and shaping more than fifteen books: the writing of the romance synopsis. Like a lot of writers, I started out my writing life as a pantser, meandering my way through hundreds of pages while my characters and stories developed. Since I didn’t have an instinctive feel for story structure, I often wrote myself down blind alleys, had to cut massively, couldn’t predict the length of the completed manuscript, and took approximately forever to finish.

But I’m a pantser, I thought. I can’t do it any differently. And besides, I hate writing the synopsis and would rather put it off until I finish a manuscript.

Flash forward mumble-mumble years, to when I sold my first book, a historical romance. (Before I wrote romantic suspense under my own name, I did seven U.S.-set historical romances as Gwyneth Atlee and Colleen Easton.) At the time of the sale, I was about a hundred pages into a second historical, which my agent told me she believed she could sell if I’d give her the first three chapters and a synopsis.

The thought was paralyzing. Would I steal the story’s magic by putting it down on paper before the manuscript unfolded? But the lure of selling a second book quickly was strong, so I sucked it up and pretended I was writing a short story (though in present tense), tossing in little snippets of clever dialogue to help illustrate the characters, and lots of exciting, harrowing events. I was surprised to find it was easier to summarize scenes I hadn’t yet written, and easier to see the big picture.

Except I forgot the biggest. Yes, I initially left out the romance. (Duh!) Since then, I’ve discovered beginning/early career writers do this all the time, focusing on the external plot because to their minds, the romantic journey goes without saying.

No, actually, it doesn’t. Because every couple’s story is fresh and unique, for one thing (or you’d better make it seem so!) and the editor needs some assurance that you realize this book is shelved in romance and that you’re consciously aware of and can articulate the stages readers have come to suspect. Woven through the external story elements, I’ve found you need to put your own unique spin on the following steps in the romantic journey.

1. Attraction/awareness
2. “Forced” proximity despite obstacles
3. Development of emotional and/or physical relationship overcoming characters’ reservations
4. Dark moment/separation, often involving real/perceived betrayal or recognition of insurmountable obstacles
5. Sacrifice leading to a romantic resolution with a – here’s the clincher - strong emotional payoff.

Critics may feel this sort of thing reduces genre romance to a formula. But nobody bashes mystery writers (since my romantic suspense novels all involve a murder mystery, I have to be aware of this as well for my external plot) for adhering to reader expectations involving the presence of viable clues, multiple suspects, convincing distractions (red herrings, if you don’t handle them well) and a credible, satisfying solution. You’re simply showing the editor or agent that you understand the rules of the game, that you’re not trying to play tennis on a basketball court.

Do you love synopses? Hate them? Do any of you have questions or tips on the process that you’d enjoy sharing? I’d love to hear from you, either here or on my writing blog, Boxing the Octopus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Current Project: Whiskers and Wine
Status: Plotting & Character Development

<--- Check her out! Someone is enjoying summer in all her muddy glory. Kinsey. She cracks me up.

The title of my blog is pretty bland, I know, but very succinct! I subscribe to these fabulous daily affirmations that are all about change. Today's was particularly apt:

Speak the truth in an effort to create the necessary changes.
Honesty is required if you want the help of others.

I'm not asking for help, but I am announcing change. I received my membership renewal notice from RWA the other day and I've decided not to renew. The dues have gone up, which I find odd since folks everywhere are scrambling for their next dime just to survive, and I figured it's time for a change. With all the various groups and forums online, there's no lack of writerly support and friendship, but I admit I'm really going to miss you guys.

Change is a good thing. I'm no stranger to it, and the experiences change brings usually enriches and invigorates.

I'm hoping the next change for me will be my publishing status. Whee! MYSTIC TAXI is now officially out on submission, and on an exclusive with one publisher this week, then to another one next week. I'm excited to see where these exclusive publisher reviews might lead. *rubs hands together vigorously*

I'll be sure to keep in touch with you all outside the chapter, and I hope you'll still invite me to the next beach retreat. You know how much I adore those! Take care and best of luck to you all! :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reading with Your Ears

Current Project: Synopsis
Status: STUCK

I had another post ready to go, but that topic just doesn't suit today's mood. I'll keep it in reserve. Instead, I'd like to talk about books on tape/CD. Everyone's talking about eBooks and Kindle this and Sony that, but I'm so far from hopping on that bandwagon that I'm looking to hitch a ride on last decade's technological advance first. My mother is addicted to books on tape/CD/mp3. She has listened to dozens of mystery series as she cleans her kitchen and while driving. In her life as a librarian she's always raving about books on tape and has converted several other family members. I, on the other hand, have had a love-hate relationship with books on tape. When I broke my foot, I listened to several good ones in a row and got some great knitting done. However, the slow pace soon wore on me. I'm a fast reader, so I had trouble adjusting to spending a week with a single book. Also, while the format works well for mysteries, there's something vaguely uncomfortable about listening to love scenes. After Tavy was born, I listened to a few other books on tape while nursing, but again the slow pace kept me from becoming a regular listener. I'm not a very auditory person--I don't like podcasts (whole different blog topic), and I don't listen to a ton of music.

Anyway, lately, I find myself rather bored cleaning late at night, and I admit that I often put it off in favor of a book/work/writing. I'm wondering if books on tape might help. Of course, my mother would say YES. But, what do YOU say? Do you listen to books on tape? What's your preferred method--tape/CD/mp3 download? What do you like/dislike about the format? And, do you have any 5 star recomendations to help me love this format?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What is Romance?

Current Project: That Shadows project (which really needs a new name...
Status: Working on backstory...

I bet we all have a different answer to the question posed by the title of this post. Just for fun, I thought I'd look up the dictionary definition of romance. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't this (from the Oxford Desk Dictionary, American Edition):

romance n. 1 atmosphere, attitude or tendency characterized by a sense of remoteness from or idealization of everyday life, 2 a a love affair b sentimental or idealized love 3 literary genre with romantic love or highly imaginative unrealistic episodes.

dictionary.com adds a few more definitions (or perhaps they're just nuances):

1. a novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting.
2. the colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in such tales.
3. a medieval narrative, originally one in verse and in some Romance dialect, treating of heroic, fantastic, or supernatural events, often in the form of allegory.
4. a baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fanciful invention.

hmmm... Heroic, fantastic or supernatural events? That sounds familiar. Guess what was good enough for medieval times is still good enough for the modern reader (with, of course, updates in form and structure). But I digress. :-)

I started this blog thinking I'd talk a bit about how each of us has a different expectation when it comes to romance. But what I really want to know is, how does your expectation (or definition, if you prefer) of romance inform or affect what you write? Even if you don't write "traditional" romances, if your work has romantic elements, these questions still apply. Do you write romances to your ideal of what a romance should be? Or do you write against your own expectations? How about when you read -- do you look for stories that match your expectations of romance or do you look for something different? Or are you somewhere in between?

I'm not sure I expressed those questions as well as I wanted, so I hope you understand what I'm asking. My answers, by the way, are as complicated as the questions. The short version is that I've lived long enough and experienced enough when it comes to romance and love to conclude that romance is messy--hell, life is messy. Romantic words and gestures by themselves don't impress me much. I'd much rather know the deeper emotions and thoughts that drive a character to say those words and make those gestures. Speaking as a writer, I hope that each character I create approaches romance in a way that fits him or her.

By the way, the RWA website has this to say about the Romance Genre: "Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending." I like how simple that sounds and yet how it leaves the door wide open for how those elements are executed.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Murder, she hoped to write.

Current Project: Doctor in Petticoats
Status: Page 271 (reworked the last chapter some over the weekend but didn't advance any)

I’m thinking of delving into the contemporary romance mystery/suspense market. I have two story ideas that are western themed suspense. I’m thinking of trying the Intrigue line at Harlequin. After all the word count is the length I seem to struggle to get beyond. Right now I’m reading more intrigues than Alice’s to try and figure out the “formula” they like.

What I’m wondering from those of you who already write suspense/mystery do I need to join other writing chapters/groups like Kiss of Death, Mystery Writers and the like? Does one need those connections to write mystery and suspense?

I know the historical RWA chapter I belong to is invaluable, but does one really need to belong to a group that deals with murder and mayhem? There are so many books, blogs, web sites out there with more info than I’ll ever need since nothing in my books will be too grisly.

And if you do think I should join such groups which do you think are the best for someone sticking their toes into a new genre?

What are some scenarios that they aren’t looking for or that they are in the suspense/mystery genre?

Side note: I'm guest blogging on two blogs on Friday, release day for Miner in Petticoats. If you go to my blog on Friday the URLs will be in the post and you can learn more about me and the book. www.patyjager.blogspot.com

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Current Project: A BABY BETWEEN THEM
Status: Page 152

I looked back to last Saturday and saw only two people checked in. This leads me to believe almost everyone has grown weary of this Saturday check in business.

Lest you negate the importance of an external motivator, I will say that I awoke at 6:10 this a.m. and knowing I would post and knowing I wanted to see my page number higher, put in two hours and added almost a thousand words. By the end of the day, I hope that number will be doubled but even if I slack off, that's 30 pages or more from last week to this one. At that pace, I will finish the book on time and as the pace always accelerates as I get even further into the story, I am certain I can make my deadline.

Your turn.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Current Project: A BABY BETWEEN THEM
Status: whose idea was it to put this status thing here, anyway?

Due to a scheduling conflict, I'm filling in for Eli today. Please excuse the coming silliness ... after all, it's Friday!
I'll ask the question up front: do you have any additions?

The How to Tell if You're a Writer Multiple Choice Test:

1. When I overhear strangers arguing at a nearby table in a restaurant, I
a. distance myself. Confrontation makes me uneasy.
b. get closer. You never know what you're going to hear.
c. launch myself into the middle of it and take sides!

2. There's a terrible storm coming. Lightening and thunder, hailstones the size of walnuts. I
a. hide under the bed. Storms are scary.
b. get a good chair and park myself under an overhang. Look at that lightening! What color is that, anyway? Does thunder actually BOOM? Could blood really thunder (BOOM) in a person's veins?
c. find a nice tent with a metal pole and pitch myself a camp out in big field. Whoopee, that lightening tingles, don't it?

3. My child falls while roller skating, hitting his dear little head against a cement step. I
a. put him in a car and take him to the emergency room where I'm happy to look the other way as they sew the wound closed.
b. notice the blood spatters on the wall behind his head. While I calculate the angle of trajectory, the paramedics arrive and revive the child. (One of them would make a great hero.)
c. think "do it yourself" and limp into the garage for the staple gun. Who has insurance after that tent pole incident?

4. I'm in the middle of a heated discussion with a friend. I
a. agree to disagree. She's my friend.
b. notice not only her tone of voice, earnest expression and clenched fist, but her unique choice of words. I surreptitiously write them down on the phonebook where it seems I've also written a character arc for Bart Simpson. Then I scratch out her words and rewrite them, using a more active verb and changing POV ...
c. plot revenge...

5. My husband makes sexual advances. I say,
a. "You want sex? How about a little foreplay in the form of you doing the dishes for a change?"
b. "Whoa, wait a second, we've had no intimate conversations revealing our innermost secrets thus drawing us closer than ever, there are no rose petals sprinkled on the sheets, your abs are not rock hard, and hello? where's the champagne?
c. (with a lewd wink), "Sure, Big Boy. Hey, why don't we invite that cute couple next door over, too?"

6. I'm taking a walk along a high bluff with my significant other when his footing gives way and he begins to slip toward oblivion. I
a. grab his hand and pull him to safety.
b. have a brief moment before I yank him to safety where it occurs to me that we are in a very remote place, no one is watching, if he tumbled down the cliff no one would ever know I kind of looked the other way, this is in fact a PERFECT scenario...
c. let him fall. Sure, I have the bridge ahead booby trapped, but this will work even better. It's wise to remain flexible.

All tests are subject to variables, even scientific endeavors such as this one, but generally speaking, If you answered predominantly:

(a.) Keep your writing to entries in a diary. You're not crazy enough.
(b.) Bravo, you have potential!
(c.) You are psychotic and need help/ jail time. You will probably not write a book, but you will make big bucks on the screen play of your life.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Posted by: Genene Valleau
Current Project: A novella, CHASING RAINBOWS
Status: Final edits

Earlier this week, I had the honor of attending a memorial service for one of my aunts. Since she died last week at 97 years of age, I've been thinking of all that has happened in the world since she was born in 1911. From the first flights of experimental aircraft to men landing on the moon. From horses as the main mode of transportation to a maze of roads that support millions of automobiles.

Of course, writing and publishing have also taken giant strides in the past 100 years. Manual typewriters such as this Underwood were standard from the 1870s until electric typewriters were introduced in the mid-1950s. I remember wheeling and dealing with my parents for an electric typewriter. We didn't have a lot of money and my typewriter ended up being a combination Christmas/graduation gift, plus I chipped in some money I earned from waiting tables. After I graduated from high school and went to work, having a self-correcting typewriter was heaven! Then personal computers were introduced in the 1980s and typewriters became relegated to antique status.

In the printing arena, the Model 1 Linotype Linecasting Machine was introduced in the early 1890s. The Linotype name is still recognized in printing today. Strachan & Henshaw developed the first paperback book press with rubber printing plates and a low cost inking system which enabled paperback books to be mass produced inexpensively. Now print-on-demand books that produce a book in one process are also becoming more popular. Electronic books, introduced in the 1990s, veered away from printed books entirely.

So will traditional paper-bound books go away? Some sources suggest that short stories and poems would do well online since they could be listened to or read while commuting (on a bus, please--not while driving!) In addition, one online article says, "Many fantasy fans ... have already put aside books and logged on to 'virtual worlds' such as 'World of Warcraft,' in which muscular heroes and heroines get together to slay dragons and such like."

For research purposes, I really like digitized reference books--perhaps with hyperlinks to other sources (like the online thesaurus or Wikipedia). I'm also intrigued by the idea of video books--a combination of video and electronic books.

However, when I'm pouring the bubbles in the tub for a soak, I don't reach for a laptop or an ebook reader. (Ay-yi-yi if these should fall in the water!) A paper-bound book is still my choice. I found that sentiment echoed online. People want the experience and emotions of holding a book and being swept into an imaginary world. So I find myself liking a mix of mediums for books. What about you? Are there new mediums for books that you use or that fascinate you? Or are you devoted to paper-bound books?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Fun of Multiple Personalities

Hi everyone. Alice here, and it's with great pleasure that I get to introduce you to one of my favorite people, Linda O. Johnston. I first met Linda six years ago in Denver, Colorado at a national RWA meeting. Since then we have roomed together, attended Harlequin parties together and been cheer leaders for each other's careers. Linda is a wonderful writer, a practicing attorney, a compassionate friend and a devoted lover of family and pups. When we met, she also wrote Intrigues, but she has since branched out into exciting new adventures. Please help me welcome Linda O. Johnston!

(and cross your fingers that my attempts to puy the jpgs in the correct spots actually worked. Apologies ahead of time, Linda, if I messed up....)

My name is Linda O. Johnston, and I’m delighted to have been invited to guest blog here at the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA site. I have been a member of RWA for many years and love the organization. I live in L.A. and belong to two chapters: Los Angeles Romance Authors and the Orange County Chapter of RWA.

This is a busy year for me. I write in multiple genres, and will have four books (my books # 21-24!) and one e-novella published this year. My most current one, a June release, is a Silhouette Nocturne: BACK TO LIFE. It’s the story of a K-9 cop who has Valkyrie powers of restoring life to people close to death... sometimes. She saves a sexy SWAT officer early in the story, and the repercussions are nearly too hot to handle!

I also had another Nocturne published in January, ALPHA WOLF, part of my Alpha Force series about a super secret military force of shapeshifters. ALPHA WOLF features a hunk of a soldier who shifts into a wolf, and the lady veterinarian who saves his life. Yes, I guess lifesaving females are a theme running through some of my stories! My Nocturne Bites, also published in January, was an e-novella called CLAWS OF THE LYNX, featuring a member of Alpha Force who shifts into--what else?--a lynx.

So why do I believe I have multiple personalities? Well, in addition to the dark and sexy Nocturnes, I write light cozy mysteries--the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter series. The Kendra stories are written in first person, and she’s distressed by being a murder magnet. She and many of her friends become murder suspects, so she has to solve the mysteries to clear their names. And, yes, the stories all involve animals. Kendra happens to have a tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lexie, and coincidentally, I do, too. We both also live in the Hollywood Hills, and we are both lawyers. Of course her law practice is a lot more interesting than mine. She’s a litigator, and I’m a transactional type, specializing in real estate. Another difference is that she’s also an avid pet-sitter, and loves it. Plus, I fortunately don’t stumble over dead bodies.

One of Kendra’s stories, NEVER SAY STY, was an April release, and the next, HOWL DEADLY, will be published in December. NEVER SAY STY features potbellied pigs, and HOWL DEADLY involves baby wolves at a wildlife sanctuary. I’m also working on a spinoff series from the Kendra books that will involve a pet rescuer introduced in HOWL DEADLY.

My legal career is the other factor to my multiple personality. I also write contracts. They’re much dryer than my fiction... although some people would say that contracts are just another form of fiction. Either way, it’s a tangent I enjoy.

So how about you? Do you find that your love of writing and/or reading fills your life with multiple personalities?

Please come visit me at my website: www.LindaOJohnston.com
I also blog weekly, on Thursdays, at www.killerhobbies.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Fun of Multiple Personalities

Hi everyone. Alice here, and it's with great pleasure that I get to introduce you to one of my favorite people, Linda O. Johnston. I first met Linda in Denver, Colorado at a national RWA meeting. We both had the same editor and went to lunch together. The most memorable moment of that lunch was when we all started talking about "Where were you when..." moments. Linda and I mentioned John Kennedy and what we were doing when we heard about his death and how devastating it was... our editor chimed in with the fact she used to see him around NYC ... it took a heartbeat for Linda and I (the same age) to realize our editor (several years younger) was talking about John Kennedy Jr. after the plane crash that took his life. We were talking about his father, the assassinated president of the USA.

Linda is a wonderful writer, a lawyer, and a devoted lover of her pups. When we met, she also wrote Intrigues, but she has since branched out into exciting new adventures. Please help me welcome Linda O. Johnston!

My name is Linda O. Johnston, and I’m delighted to have been invited to guest blog here at the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA site. I have been a member of RWA for many years and love the organization. I live in L.A. and belong to two chapters: Los Angeles Romance Authors and the Orange County Chapter of RWA.

This is a busy year for me. I write in multiple genres, and will have four books (my books # 21-24!) and one e-novella published this year. My most current one, a June release, is a Silhouette Nocturne: BACK TO LIFE. It’s the story of a K-9 cop who has Valkyrie powers of restoring life to people close to death... sometimes. She saves a sexy SWAT officer early in the story, and the repercussions are nearly too hot to handle!

I also had another Nocturne published in January, ALPHA WOLF, part of my Alpha Force series about a super secret military force of shapeshifters. ALPHA WOLF features a hunk of a soldier who shifts into a wolf, and the lady veterinarian who saves his life. Yes, I guess lifesaving females are a theme running through some of my stories! My Nocturne Bites, also published in January, was an e-novella called CLAWS OF THE LYNX, featuring a member of Alpha Force who shifts into--what else?--a lynx.

So why do I believe I have multiple personalities? Well, in addition to the dark and sexy Nocturnes, I write light cozy mysteries--the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter series. The Kendra stories are written in first person, and she’s distressed by being a murder magnet. She and many of her friends become murder suspects, so she has to solve the mysteries to clear their names. And, yes, the stories all involve animals. Kendra happens to have a tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lexie, and coincidentally, I do, too. We both also live in the Hollywood Hills, and we are both lawyers. Of course her law practice is a lot more interesting than mine. She’s a litigator, and I’m a transactional type, specializing in real estate. Another difference is that she’s also an avid pet-sitter, and loves it. Plus, I fortunately don’t stumble over dead bodies.

One of Kendra’s stories, NEVER SAY STY, was an April release, and the next, HOWL DEADLY, will be published in December. NEVER SAY STY features potbellied pigs, and HOWL DEADLY involves baby wolves at a wildlife sanctuary. I’m also working on a spinoff series from the Kendra books that will involve a pet rescuer introduced in HOWL DEADLY.

My legal career is the other factor to my multiple personality. I also write contracts. They’re much dryer than my fiction... although some people would say that contracts are just another form of fiction. Either way, it’s a tangent I enjoy.

So how about you? Do you find that your love of writing and/or reading fills your life with multiple personalities?

Please come visit me at my website: www.LindaOJohnston.com
I also blog weekly, on Thursdays, at www.killerhobbies.blogspot.com

Forensics and Writing

Current Project: Untitled RS
Status: Slow

One of my favorite new blogs and daily reads is Dr. D.P. Lyle's The Writer's Forensic Blog. Anyone who's included forensics in their novels is familar with Dr. Lyle. He's carved out a terrific niche of being the go-to guy for writers with questions. His Howdunnit: Forensics: A Guide for Writers, Forensics For Dummies, Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, and Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers are staples on my shelves. I like to include murder and mystery in all my writing, and I enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty when it comes to the forensics. But I have to be accurate. Dr. Lyle is an excellent source.

He started the blog in May. Writing ideas swamp my brain as I read his entries. Here is a sampling of what he's covered in those few weeks.

Touch DNA: DNA can be found in fingerprints. Theoretically it takes one cell for an ID.

It's reaaaaally hard to destroy a human body by fire. Cremation takes hours at temps of 1500 or higher. Your firepit in the back yard won't ever hit that temp. Although many people try.

The roles of barbiturates and alcohol in Jimi Hendrix's death. It may not be as cut and dried as people believe. His alcohol level was low, so why did he vomit and aspirate wine? His barbiturate blood levels are unknown, so if they were low, it could have been murder. If they were high, the death could have been accidental.

The Drew Peterson case. Dr. Lyle gives an excellent explanation of why Kathleen Peterson's manner of death was changed from accidental to homicidal after her body was exhumed.

In an interview with Dr. Cyril Wrecht, a forensic pathologist, Dr. Wecht discusses a case where they traced the final 329 days of a victim's life by the poison levels found in his hair. The vic was poisoned by his wife over a nine month period.

Explanations of putrification, mummification, and adipocere formation after death. Very interesting to me.

Fascination with the morbid isn't for everyone. Lisa is probably the only other writer I know who enjoyed pouring through photos from my online cause of death class. Good times.
Do you have blogs or websites you visit frequently for information for your writing? I imagine there are tons out there for historical writers.

On a sidenote: Enter Jenna Peterson's lottery before the 8th to win a mentorship for a year. Proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A cause now close to my heart.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Writing software

Current Project: Leg Shaving Leads to Trouble
Status: Plugging away on first draft

For a couple of years now I've test-driven a few writing programs. Don't worry, I don't think these programs can write my book for me. If any of them say they'll help you plot your story, I immediately scratch it off of my to-try list. I've been on the hunt for a program that will help me keep thoughts in order and break up my writing a bit differently than the standard word processing program.

The need:
Don't get me wrong, I like Microsoft Word. I've always been happy with it, but as my manuscript is getting longer and more complicated (yay!) I'm getting more frustrated with the limitations of Word. I find it tedious to try and find my place when I want to jump to a random scene. It's frustrating to have to open several documents - one for the story, one for plotting, one for my characters, one for research, etc. Because if I put all that in one document, it bothers me having to jump around. Not to mention the never-ending scrolling. I also getting annoyed when I try to make a document map - basically an option in Word that let's you identify major sections. If you haven't used this feature before, imagine an outline that follows the following format:
1. Major point
a. subpoint
i. bullet of subpoint

The document map lets you make headers so you can do something like:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Then you can click on those headers to do to that part of the document. It's a rather helpful tool, but getting those headings in the proper format to appear in the document map can be frustrating. Especially if you want to keep your document in publishing standard formatting.

Although I'd been trying demos of programs off and on for a couple years, the search picked up this year because I wanted a program that would also help sort my academic writing. Fortunately, the search paid off.

The hunt:
I can't remember all of the program I've demo'd over past couple of years. Some of them seemed to have a couple features that were great, but other aspects weren't as helpful. Some are geared toward fiction writers, others toward screen writers, and a few are for any kind of writing. One interesting feature that appeared on a couple of them was a frequent word use list. It sorted all the words in your document from most to least used. It was a good way to see if you had a tendency to overuse certain words.

Some had great outlining and organization functions, letting you create a hierarchical structure like the document map I explained above. With additional functions to add notes to sections. So you could add a note to a particular scene, making a reminder for yourself to research hurricanes in Florida to improve the setting description. You could also add notes to each scene to make a note what the scene's purpose was, to help you ensure that the scene fits in and accomplishes certain goals.

For every good feature I found, there was an equally frustrating aspect to it. For example, some programs don't export to a word processor. I wanted one that would do that, so I could export the document to Word when I was ready to begin querying. Other programs don't have a spell check or grammar function. Sometimes those red and green squiggly lines drive me nuts, but I have come to appreciate and rely on their help.

My solution:
Finally, I have found a program that meets nearly every requirement I had. It's called Scrivener. But, the bad news for you PC folks is that this is a program designed for Macs. One program I had tried and liked was yWriter - and it's free! But I can't recall why I didn't keep using it. If I remember, I'll add it to the comments.

But here are a few reasons why Scrivener is working well for me (and hopefully that will help any of you determine what to look for in writing programs, should you want to use one). I like the way I can break down data. I have a main file called "draft 1." Under that, I have a separate file for each chapter. I like being able to start a new document of sorts for each chapter. It gives me a larger sense of accomplishment when I see more and more files appear. Under "draft 1" I have a folder called "other files." Within that I have my plot document, character information, and more. That way if I give a name to a minor secondary character that I need to refer to later, rather than endless scrolling and searching, or even opening another document to my already cluttered computer - I can simply click on that file's title within the same program. I also have a second file called "research" where I've added bits of research I've found.

There are also a couple of viewing options. You can open up the "corkboard." Visually, it adds an index card to a corkboard for every file you have. On that index card you can make notes. So If I know the purpose of chapter 5 is to introduce the external conflict that will keep the hero and heroine apart, I can make a short note. Then I can review the index cards to look at the main points of my book, and how it is progressing.

The BEST feature I've used so far is the full screen mode. I have written so much more using this mode over the past week. It's just as it sounds - you can make the document full screen so you can't be distracted by the internet, e-mail programs, chat programs, etc. But if you don't want to be fully cut-off, or if you're waiting for an e-mail, you can make the background of the full-screen a bit transparent. So if you leave your e-mail program open behind it, you can see when new e-mails come in. How cool is that? I set it to zero transparency so I didn't get distracted at all.

There are a lot of other features I haven't yet explored on my 30-day free trial. Ones like keywords. I'll definitely purchase this program when my trial is up.

Here is a screen shot I pulled from Google images. I'll describe what the parts are, in relation to what I've mentioned above

Along the left you can see the heirarchical outline where I use "draft 1" then the chapter numbers under that. The middle section shows you both the corkboard feature, and the main writing screen. The right column shows options for adding labels to things and a synopsis feature - which I'm guessing is the text from the index card. But I don't know for sure. These are functions I haven't yet explored.

I'm really excited to use this for my thesis. I have made a file called "draft 1." Under that I have a subfile (like chapters of a book) for the various sections of my paper. I then have a second file called "sources." Within that, I will make subfiles for each source and the notes. That way I can quickly refer to it in one location for pull data.

If you are interested in trying a writing program, but aren't sure where to begin - I suggest you join RWA's technology listserv. It will save you time from endless Google searches. People have already talked about the good, bad and ugly of these programs, plus a few blog and Web site posts that talk about several in one location. So check that out and search previous messages for those conversations.

Have any of you used a writing program before? Do you think it's more than you need, or would it help you organize your thoughts?