Monday, January 31, 2011

No Mary Sues Allowed

Since I was talking about heroes last week, I thought it only fair to include heroines as well.

One thing we've all been warned against is the TSTL heroine. (Too Stupid to Live, should you not be up to speed on all the acronyms.) This is the heroine who goes down into the dark basement to see what the noise is—when she's aware there's a killer in the neighborhood. How to avoid this syndrome has been discussed at length, and I'm not going into it again today. Instead, I thought we'd look at the perfect heroine.

The romance heroine of days long past was dependent upon the hero. She was subservient, and if in peril, had to wait for the hero to come to her rescue. The pendulum swung the other way, and today you're more likely to find the heroine as a no-nonsense, kick-ass character who can handle herself.

Back in my early writing days, when I was learning the craft via fan fiction, there was a great deal of discussion about not creating a Mary Sue. In fact, there was even a test to make sure you didn't have one of these unbelievable heroines (or, in fact, any character) in your books.

Is this to say that you can't have a heroine who is fully competent? Of course not. But you can't just plop those convenient skills in front of the reader when it becomes convenient for her to have them.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Winner Is..

The winner of Grace Elliot's book, A DEAD MAN'S DEBT, is Patricia Stoltey. Congratulations, Pat. Grace will be e-mailing you your prize.

Thanks to all who left comments. My guest next week has another giveaway, so be sure to check back.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Field Trip - USAF Academy Cadet Chapel

I'm welcoming Jason Odell back to host this week's Friday Field Trip. Click to enlarge the images. I know you won't be disappointed.

The Cadet Chapel is probably the most recognized architectural work in the Colorado Springs area. Its spires are visible from the freeway as you drive past the Academy grounds. The chapel was completed in 1962, and is open to the public. Its unique design is constructed from aluminum tetrahedrons. Between each segment, the gap is filled with stained glass panels. The chapel has seventeen spires that reach 150 feet in the air. The chapel actually houses three separate worship areas: the Protestant Chapel is the main floor, and on the lower levels you'll find Catholic and Jewish chapels.

I have visited the Cadet Chapel several times since moving to Colorado Springs, but only recently had the opportunity to go inside. I went on a late Monday afternoon and was rewarded with spectacular light and the good fortune to be the only one inside. The staff did not object to my tripod and they liked looking at the photographs, too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Love and Heroes

Yesterday I talked about what makes a hero someone both the reader and writer loves. There were some great comments, and one of the frequent ones was that he had to love the heroine.

When writing a romance, there are some reader expectations that have to be met. When we write a romance, we're promising the reader that we're going to address them. One of the "requirements" is to show that moment when the hero realizes he's in love with the heroine (and vice-versa, of course). There are others, but this is a blog post, not a workshop.

I seem to have a theme for my heroes that they're all career consumed, and their careers don't lend themselves to family lives. With the exception of Blake Windsor in What's in a Name?, they're all either cops or covert ops specialists, and don't think their jobs can mix with relationships.

My preference is for that moment to sneak up on the hero. None of mine have been actively seeking a life partner. And, like with all writing, you can't just dump these things on the reader. They need foreshadowing and setups.

And of course, taken out of context, these 'aha' moments aren't as meaningful, but I thought I'd share a few examples from my own work (no issues with copyright that way).

So, here they are:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hero Worship?

What I'm reading: RITA entry #5

Thanks to Grace for her cheerful post yesterday. There's still time to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

The other day, I went to our local RWA chapter meeting. There were several 'early birds' and one of the members said she was bogged down in her writing because she wasn't "in love" with her hero, so we had a brainstorming session to see what her hero would have to be in order for her to love him.

As romance writers, we expect our hero and heroine to fall in love. And I think some of the same qualities that work on the page for these characters also help us connect with our characters, and I think we do have to be at least a little in love with them as we write the book. Of course, we're fickle—we're going to have to fall in love with the hero of the next book, which probably wouldn't work well in a real life monogamous relationship.

So, what makes the reader fall in love with the hero? Not (at least I hope not) because he's too good looking for words. Not (for me, anyway) because he's all alpha and can master any situation. I want to see how the hero thinks of the heroine. Not because she's too good looking for words. Not because she needs him to rescue her, although that might be one of his goals.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hooked on Happiness

Grace Elliot is a veterinarian by day, and author of historical romance by night. Grace loves the personal nature of Terry’s blog and has decided to share with you the things that make her happiest. And she's giving away a book to a lucky commenter, so be sure to read through to the end.

My family make me happy. I’ve been married 22 years this March and have two fabulous sons, who despite being teenagers, still love hugs with their mum (although don’t tell them I told you that!) My boys are chalk and cheese; from artistic Thomas with his nail polish, piercings and tattoo, to John who considers wearing a shirt without a tie to be dressing down. LOL, wouldn’t life be dull if everyone was the same!

Right up there with things that make me happy, are cats. I adore cats for their independent spirits and their gorgeous furry faces. They are a miracle of design! One of my cats, Pilchard, is a beautiful study in whorls and strips, her pattern perfectly symmetrical and more – each hair changes tone from root to tip. I could spend hours studying her! I’m a cat-a-holic and share the house with five moggies, each with their own foibles; from Widget with her TV watching habit to Gromit waiting on the street corner to welcome me home from work.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Do You Read?

What I'm reading: RITA Contest entries, #4 of 8

Only a day apart, the UPS man delivered the eight books I'm supposed to judge for the Romance Writers of America RITA contest, and the ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of WHERE DANGER HIDES. I've got a lot of reading to do.

I'm a first round judge. While it's required that I read the entire book, I can read these as a reader—an educated reader, but still, I read them to see if I think the authors have created believable characters, plots that aren't forced, have met the expectations of the sub-genre, and if the author's voice shines through. These are all published romances, so one assumes there's a basic level of quality that got the book past the editorial gatekeeper to begin with. However, there's no denying that there's a vast range of quality in published books, and that the same book will be a great read for someone, and a chore to get through for someone else.

My bottom line, when assigning my score, will be influenced by how I felt about the characters. Was I glad to reach the last page, or did I want the book to keep going. Even more, did I want to spend more time with the characters. Will I be looking for them at the checkout line at the grocery store?

It's also a commitment to read books that I might not have picked up on my own. Sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised to find a new to me author, in a genre I don't normally read. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there's obviously a market for these books, and take a deep breath to find the objectivity I promised to use when reading. These books, I read as quickly as I can, keeping the story in mind. I can usually finish a shorter book in under a day, so I'm starting with those, saving the meatier ones for my final reads.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Field Trip - Back to the Basement

OK, here's the 'almost done' basement remodel. Once we get some furniture down there, maybe I'll schedule another trip. Meanwhile -- Send Pictures!

And a reminder - last day for the discount price of What's in a Name? is Saturday, Jan. 22.

The new stairs.

An overview of the main space

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Types of Scenes

What I'm reading: Love is All Around, by Lori Devoti

A reminder - the introductory price for What's in a Name? will expire Saturday. See the sidebar for links and the Smashwords coupon code.

Yesterday I talked about making sure scenes had earned a place in a book, and promises to the reader. Since I told you I'd give some examples today, I'll make good on that promise. The following list shows the various types of scenes you might be using in your book. And remember, a scene might show more than one of these--which is a good thing.

Prologue – not required. In fact, unless there's a huge time gap between this and the opening, it should probably be Chapter One. There's also a difference of opinion as to whether agents want to see prologues when you're submitting.

Opening – should draw the reader in, giving hints of things to come.

Set-up -- foreshadows something to come. These scenes can occur throughout the book.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Scenes and Promises

Thanks to Gretchen for sharing her recipe yesterday. Anyone try it yet?

Basement update: We're waiting for the final inspection. The contractor hired someone to come clean, and it looks very nice, even if it's empty. The laundry room is set up (a mixed blessing), and we're looking forward to getting some furniture down there. We don't have much yet—a bed for the guestroom, and a futon which we brought with us from Florida. It'll serve as seating until we decide whether or not we want to move our old living room furniture down there and get new for upstairs.

When I'm writing, since I don't really plot much in advance, I think more in terms of scenes when I start. Just like I know I'll need to put a bed in our new guest room, I know I'll have to have certain kinds of scenes in my book. I might have a specific scene in mind, or a vague idea. Maybe I'll hear a song on the radio, and I know I want my characters to dance to it. But, like the furniture that might end up upstairs, downstairs, or not be used at all, but rather replaced with something new, I don't really know exactly where my scenes will end up.

If a scene is going to stay in the book, it needs more than one reason to be there. So, if we put the futon in the tv room, it can also do double duty as a bed should we have extra guests. I like to think of Alton Brown on Good Eats who campaigns against kitchen gadgets if they're uni-taskers. The same goes for scenes.

According to author Kathleen O'Brien, to justify a scene, the POV character must have something happen to alter the course of the story. There should be a change in behavior or attitude, or the scene should be there to set up the change.

And you owe it to your readers to follow through with scenes that deliver "promises", whether they're consciously made on your part. I touched upon this a bit in last Thursday's post. When you put anything on the page, the reader expects it to mean something. The classic example is Chekov's gun—if you show a gun in act 1, you'd better use it before act 3.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Research Can Be Tasty

Gretchen Craig means for her historical novels to be authentic right down to the kind of shoe laces the ladies used and what they cooked for supper. Her latest novel, CRIMSON SKY, is set in New Mexico among the pueblos where their supper was likely a stew of rabbit, corn, and beans. But in her novels set in New Orleans, her research includes desserts!

We live a day’s drive from New Orleans and one of the attractions that draws us back again and again is the FOOD. ALWAYS AND FOREVER and EVER MY LOVE, historicals with romance elements, are set in New Orleans in the 1830s. Like other historical novelists, I did book research, internet research, library research, and most fun of all, on-site research in the French Quarter.

One historical fact I learned was that in 1837, the country suffered a major financial downturn – we all know what that’s like. I used that event to move my character Josie out of her comfortable life on the plantation and into her journey to become an independent, realistic, and competent young woman.

In danger of losing her plantation, Josie takes herself downriver to New Orleans and opens a lunch counter on the waterfront. She makes apple and peach tarts, pork pies . . . anything her hard-working customers could walk away with and eat from their hands. Her specialty – Pralines. (I always called them pray-leens, but the natives say prah-leens. Just so you know.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

More on Piracy

There's been some good discussion on this morning's post (below). I thought I'd offer an answer to "can't we do something?"

Senate Bill 3804 seeks to hold legally accountable all entities responsible for the dissemination and infringement of copyrighted materials on the Internet. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill by a vote of 19 - 0. The legislation will now be put in front of the entire senate.

Those interested in showing support for the legislation are encouraged to:
• Write your local newspaper
• Contact your senators (Click here for complete contact information)

Those interested in reading the full text of the bill should click here:

I don't know if this will help the pirates whose sites are out of the US, but it's a start.

Avast, Mateys. Aarrggh

What I'm reading: The Bad Kitty Lounge, by Michael Wiley

First: If you didn't check out my guest post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen yet, please do. There are excerpts and a recipe. What more could you ask for?

I got a Google Alert for one of my short stories the other day. I followed the link, which led me to a website that offers free downloads of books, music, art and the like. Trouble is, that story of mine isn't free. I own the copyright, and unless I give you a copy, downloading it from that site is just plain stealing.

I don't make a penny if someone downloads from that site. The rationale is usually, "I bought a copy, so why can't I share it with my friends? I can give them a print book, right?"

Yes, you can give a friend a print book. Because there's only ONE, and only one person can read that copy at a time. But what about an e-book? I write the book, I publish the book. I expect to make my royalties when people buy the book. But with an e-book, if you "lend" the book by emailing it to a friend, you still have the original on your hard drive. What if you e-mail that book to fifty of your friends. At the same time? Or what if you upload it to a sharing (pirate) website, where anyone can download it for free? Is that fair to the author? Every time someone downloads a copy, the author is losing the royalty they're rightfully owed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's Cooking?

No, you're not in the wrong place.

I'm over at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen today, talking about the cooking that goes on in What's in a Name? I've included excerpts and a recipe, so please stop by.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Field Trip - To The Desert

It's Friday, and although I'd hoped for another basement tour, it's still not ready enough. So, thanks to my mom for stepping in with some desert pictures from Arizona and Palm Springs.

And while we're out in the desert, When Danger Calls is featured at The Frugal eReader

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wrapping Things Up

What I'm reading: Pride and Pleasure, by Sylvia Day.

Yesterday, the contractor told us that he'd requested the final electrical inspection, which is independent of the final inspection. Given that there was, in my mind, still work to be done, I wondered if he was trying to move too fast.
Sure enough, the inspector found four basic omissions which will have to be corrected. These seemed to be relatively obvious and simple things an electrician should know, but given that it's his job, and the job of the contractor to make sure everything meets code, I'm not going to fret. (After all, I'm the one holding the checkbook.)

When we're writing, we have to make sure we conform to the "code" of our stories. Whether we're aware of them or not, we're making promises to the reader. Just like the electrician promises a safe house, an author promises the reader that everything in the story will hold together.

I wrote the first scene of chapter 33 in my manuscript the other day, before getting "sidetracked" by digitizing things for All Romance eBooks. (Which, by the way, now includes 3 more choices.)

With my WIP at a Word count of almost 98K, it's time to wrap things up. I realized the brick wall I thought I'd run into was only there because the book was technically over. The mystery/suspense threads had been resolved. My heroine was safe. This isn't a book with international bad guys who might show up at any time. It was time to resolve the romance threads and get the heck out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Only Trouble is Interesting

Thanks to Molly for yesterday's post (even if my books didn't make her list!). There's some good reading material there.

One of the first lessons I learned when writing was "Only Trouble is Interesting."

Conflict doesn't have to be earth-shattering, in-your-face, knock down drag-em-out. In fact, sometimes the best conflicts are the everyday events. They may not be "exciting" in terms of things like car crashes or explosions, but readers can relate to them. And these sorts of things can keep the tension going in between the big stuff. And too much of that 'big stuff' can either exhaust the reader, or get boring..

Recently, All Romance eBooks opened its doors to individual publishers, so I decided that I'd upload my two books, What's in a Name? and When Danger Calls to their online store. I'd already uploaded them to the Kindle Store and Smashwords, so I figured it would be simple enough.

Nope. First, there's no formatting provided. If you want to put your book on their site, you have to provide it in the formats they offer. Although I can handle PDF and HTML easily enough (those are simply "save as" options in Word), I was clueless about things like lit, PRC, mobi, and epub.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What’s Good?

Molly MacRae’s short stories and novels are set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about as far north and east as you can get in Tennessee without being in either Virginia or North Carolina, where she lived for twenty years. Now she lives in central Illinois, a much flatter place, where she works at the public library connecting children with books.

“What’s good?” I get that question a lot at the library. Sometimes I feel like a barmaid. A patron will walk up to lean against the counter. I smile, say hello, ask how I can help. The answer is often a variation of “What’s good?”
“I’m looking for a good book.”

“I liked the last book you recommended. What else have you got?”

“So, what’ve you been reading lately?”

I smile and serve up the latest and the best.

I love the question, “what’s good?” Sometimes my mind goes blank and I have to give myself a shake to get it going again. It usually does get going again, though, and then I rub my hands together, practically smacking my lips with satisfaction, because I’ve got a reader on the hook; I’ve caught another one.

But what does “what’s good?” have to do with writing? Everything. If you don’t read, read, read, how can you write? If you don’t ask “what’s good?” and then hunt that down and read it, then what are you doing?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Word Formatting 101

What I'm reading: Unspeakable, by Laura Griffin

There's been a lot of discussion about going the indie route in some of the groups I belong to. One thing I've noticed is there are those who have trouble with what I consider Word formatting basics. Given that I started this business with an e-publisher, I learned how to deal with some basic formatting from the beginning.

I thought I'd share a few of the tools anyone using Word should have, because while a manuscript might look right when it's printed, there are all sorts of little codes and formatting issues that will make a mess of things when it's re-formatted for the digital screen and the variety of e-readers out there.

The first would be page setup. Click "File" then Page Setup.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Friday Field Trip: Vancouver Island

Once again I thank my sister-in-law, Amy Daraghy, for sharing her pictures of her trip to Vancouver Island. This time it's Buttle Lake, and Phillips Ridge. Who's going to be next? And it's my turn over at Author Expressions, so you can pop over and say hi.

The Winner Is

And the Winner Is ....

The winner of an autographed cover picture of What's in a Name? is Ciara. Thanks for commenting on my post. Send me your snail mail address, and I'll get it out as soon as I can.

And thanks to everyone for taking the time to leave a comment.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Murdering Those Darlings

(Shameless plug: What's in a Name? is still available for 99 cents. Details in the sidebar) And I'll announce the winner of yesterday's blog contest tomorrow, so there's still time to leave a comment and get entered in the drawing.

Continuity in a book is a challenge. Continuity over a series is a bigger challenge. And when we forget, it can lead to facing reality. Our words aren't precious.

One of my crit partners questioned a passage in a chapter, wondering if the child might be wondering about an adult conversation. Although the fix was simple—make sure I clarified that the child, Will, wasn't in that scene (which, I think my CP simply missed), as I re-read the passage I realized I'd created a major blunder.

This manuscript deals with characters who have appeared in two other books—three if I get my next one published, but that's another issue. And because it's been a very long time since I looked at the earlier book, I'd totally forgotten that the child had already met this "new" character who was being introduced to him as a total stranger.

Okay, on the optimistic hope that 1) this book gets published; 2) someone who reads it has actually read the others; and 3) remembers that Will and Dalton have appeared on the page together in the earlier book, I had to deal with it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

This Social Networking Thing - Blogging

What I'm reading: Uncertain Magic, by Laura Kinsale (print)
Slow Hands, by Leslie Kelly (digital)

Thanks to Jeffrey for his great post on finding ideas yesterday.

I've given my take on Facebook and Twitter, so I figured a post about blogging might be next in line. But this time, I'd rather know what you want, like, and don't like. I blog because it's like chatting with friends, sharing information (and maybe the former schoolteacher in me comes out), and learning from others.

What's in a Good Blog? – first my preferences, and my goals for this blog.

Readability: Simple enough fonts, not a lot of bells and whistles, and for me, that means no dark background with white text. My eyes can't read that.

Reliability: I have my list of stops on my blog hops, and if there's nothing new, I'm not likely to check back until my next trip. If you're going to blog, you need to commit to a schedule, even if it's only once or twice a week. I have posts 5 days a week, one of which is a guest slot, and one a "Field Trip" (and I'm still waiting for more pictures!)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Ideas for the New Year

Jeffrey A. Carver is the author of numerous science fiction novels and stories, including the Nebula-nominated Eternity's End, Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries novelization, and the hard-SF series The Chaos Chronicles. Jeff also teaches writing in settings ranging from MIT to conferences for young writers, and he's dropped in today to talk about one of the thorniest challenges faced by many aspiring writers.

New year! New ideas! Where do you get your ideas? That's the question most asked of every science fiction writer I know. It's a good question, I suppose, though the answer is simple: everywhere, everything I read, everyone I talk to, everything I see on the internet or watch on TV, everything that filters into my brain is a potential story idea. I'm up to my ears in ideas! The real question is, how do you turn an idea—which can be anything, even a simple concept or image—into a story, which is a sequence of events, one arising from another, in which believable characters grow and change?

Here’s a simple idea that is not a story: The king dies, and the queen dies.

Yes, things happen, but there's no motivation cause or reason, nothing to care about. Here's that same idea, turned into the nucleus of a possible story: The king dies of a mortal wound, and the queen dies of sorrow. How much character, how much cause and effect, is embedded in that one sentence?

Monday, January 03, 2011

What's in a Cover?

What I'm reading: The True Love Quilting Club, by Lori Wilde

Today, I thought I'd share the evolution of my new cover for What's in a Name? which is now available at Smashwords. As an introductory offer, you can get it for 99 cents by using coupon code XC48J. It's also available at the Kindle Store, also for 99 cents, but only for a limited time. I hope you'll give it a try.

We all know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but cover art can play an important role in getting a potential reader to check out the words inside.
Normally, publishers provide covers. They'll ask for some preliminary input—with mine, there's a cover request form to fill out, but the art department makes the covers, not the author. They don't read the books (no time, obviously), so they have to translate what you give them to an image they think will sell. And that's the bottom line. What will sell the book? Often, it's not what the author 'sees' when she envisions the book on a shelf.

Fast forward to the rights for a book reverting to the author. Those rights include the words between the covers, NOT the cover. For When Danger Calls, I did acquire the cover image rights, so that was easy. However, for What's in a Name?, I had to start from scratch.