Friday, March 30, 2007

The Construction Zone 16. - You're Published! What's Next....


I recently did an article for my local RWA chapter on “You Got the Call. Now What?” In it I used quotes from several other newly-published friends about what was the hardest thing to adjust to. When you sell, it’s important to remember, you’re not alone. Others have, and are, going through the same thing. And I’ll touch on a few of the biggies so you don’t get the contract and get smacked in the head with reality without SOME warning.

First of all….enjoy the feeling and never lose that sense of excitement. 

Then, you should be prepared for being inundated with congratulations, invitations to join loops, places you “need” to be when you’re added to the “club”. My advice would be join. Try them out briefly, and decide which ones are most valuable. I can say right now that the ‘newbie’ loop that I joined was SO beneficial. Newbies from a few years ago are now helping out the newest additions and it is a wealth of great information.

If you don’t have an agent, you need to look at your contract yourself, and this is also where having friends in the know is good. You’ll know what you can and can’t negotiate, as well as little things to keep an eye out for.

Your contract is sent in, so now little things will crop up. You’ll likely have to send in an author bio, dedications, maybe dear reader letters…your editor will probably want to see what else you have on the go, you may get asked to fill out Art Fact Sheets. At this point you might be feeling quite overwhelmed even though the euphoria of having sold hasn’t worn off.

You need a website, copy edits arrive for you to do and send back in a ridiculously short amount of time, and you realize you haven’t written on a book in a month. People are squawking about self-promotion. The house looks like a tornado blew through and your kids have miraculously learned to make their own meals.

And suddenly, you realize you THOUGHT you were good at time management and you really had no idea.

It happens. It just does. Some handle it better than others, I was a mess. Not fall-apart-completely a mess, but certainly out of the zone. And it took about 4 months for me to get it together. It’s an adjustment, plain and simple. So give it time. Realize it happens, don’t be too hard on yourself, and let yourself settle into a routine.

The other thing with selling is that you may now have a deadline for book two. And you are excited until you put CHAPTER ONE at the top of the page and freeze.

What if you’re not good enough? What if you peaked with your sold book and you can’t duplicate that success…what if you’re nothing but a fluke?
Again – all part of the process and you simply have to write through it. It will be fine. Repeat this to yourself as often as needed. Personally I think my book 2 came out really strong and it’s my favourite I’ve written to date (like children, we shouldn’t have favourites but we sometimes do).

After that…get used to worry. I think realizing that nothing is guaranteed – that we still have to write books to a standard, and keep improving – keeps us on our toes and makes sure we don’t get lazy. You can’t assume every book is a done deal. Others will say, “Oh, it’ll sell, don’t worry, blah blah” but you still have that little bit of “I hope it’s good enough” in the back of your mind. It’s a pain, but I think it’s good for the writing.

The last thing….and this really has been the purpose of the whole Construction Zone series. ASK QUESTIONS. It’s really okay to ask someone who knows. It might be an editor, an agent, a writer friend, someone published. I’ve yet to meet an author who minded me asking a question. And I appreciate it so much (because you NEVER stop having questions) that I’m happy to return the favour if I can. And if I can’t – I can probably send you to someone who can.

I hope the series helped you in some way at some point. I know I’ve enjoyed putting it together and even learned new things along the way. On Monday, I hope to have the whole series posted to my webpage so all the topics will be easily accessible.

Donna

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Construction Zone 15. - What's Next?


I’m going to shoot straight from the hip and give you the basic, unvarnished truth.

You’ve submitted. You’ll likely get a rejection. That’s just the numbers, and I’m sorry but it’s true. That doesn’t mean you give up. It means you get determined.

Wait times vary. But in all honesty, don’t expect anything back for 3-4 months. MINIMUM. On a query, you should certainly hear within this time frame, and partials too for the most part. On a partial, if you haven’t heard anything by the six month mark, send and e-mail if you have a contact or make a polite, short phone call to make sure your ms is still there.

If you’re blessed to get feedback within your rejection, pay attention because editors don’t waste time giving feedback unless they see something promising in your writing. If it sounds like a form letter, it probably is, so don’t dissect it and angst over it. File it and move on.

If you’re lucky enough to get a request for the full manuscript, make another short cover letter referring to the request, and all pertinent information about the submission. My cover letters for fulls were usually one simple paragraph. “Please find enclosed my manuscript whatever as requested in your letter of….” MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ALL YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION included. Print out your ms on regular paper, complete with cover page, bind it with an elastic, and my recommendation is to send it in tyvek envelopes. Unless you’re writing Single Titles in which case a document box might work best. Make sure that you put in SASE’s too – in queries as well as fulls. If it is going to another country, you can buy IRC’s – International Reply Coupons – at the post office. Most places don’t send back the ms unless you request – notice I said MOST not ALL – so one should be sufficient to reply. CHECK THE PUBLISHERS GUIDELINES BEFORE SENDING ANYTHING. Different publishers want different things, and while my advice is rule of thumb sort of things, not everyone is the same.

I’ve had wait times on fulls from 2 weeks to 18 months, but again after 6 months I think it’s ok to follow up, unless they’ve said otherwise.

Now…what happens?

1. You could get a form rejection
2. You could get a rejection with feedback (solid gold, people. Listen up.)
3. You could get revisions
4. You could sell, this is highly unlikely without going through (3) first.

If you get revisions, don’t panic. Read the letter, put it aside, take it out and read it again, don’t panic, and give yourself time to absorb what the editor is asking of you. At first it might seem like a HUGE job. But remember – you only have to revise one page at a time. And be flexible. Editors know what they are doing. You need to trust that editor and give her what she wants using your own unique voice. And you only need to fix one page at a time. It’s okay. You’ll get through it. It’s natural to worry you haven’t done it right but revisions are a great learning experience, and look, it’s SO helpful when someone tells you exactly what needs fixing. Revisions are really my favourite part of the process.

My other recommendation is to do your revisions in a timely manner. You don’t need to turn them around in 24 hours, but unless it’s a rewrite, you shouldn’t need more than a week, two tops. Even with my last ms, which had substantial revisions, I had it back to her in 8 days. Opportunity is knocking. Don’t waste time!

Then send your revisions back – whichever way the editor has asked (and most likely will be through e-mail). Revision wait times can vary SO much. In three books with Harlequin, I’ve waited as short as 24 hours and currently I’m at just over 4 weeks with my last. It all depends on where you are in your editor’s schedule.

If you don’t get asked for revisions, or if you have sent your revisions and are waiting, what do you do now?

Well, you think about the next book. You do up a proposal…even if you aren’t at the proposal sending stage yet, this is a good idea. You outline a basic premise and characters for a story, or two, or three. Then you pick one (after you’ve sold, your editor might do the picking FOR you) and you start all over again. The best cure for waiting – bar none – is working on another project. Think about it. You wait 4 months for a rejection on a partial, but maybe you got some positive comments and a line like “we see promise in your writing and feel free to submit something else to us.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have a new partial all ready to go? Having one in the hopper is NOT to be underestimated. With HIRED BY THE COWBOY, I was waiting to submit it while waiting to hear on THE GIRL MOST LIKELY. When that full was rejected, but with feedback, I already had another ms ready to go and it sold.

I thought I could put “after you sell” in this topic but it’s getting too long, so tomorrow we’ll wrap up with the final Construction Zone topic: YOU’RE PUBLISHED! What you can expect!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Construction Zone 14. - Queries, Synopses and Partials


There is a ton of information out there about submitting your manuscript, yet one of the most frequently asked questions are regarding how to submit once your ms is ready.

THE QUERY LETTER

This is a business letter so you want it to be professional. No funky fonts, or off the wall paper choices, that sort of thing. You want it to have a personal flavour so there's some sense of who you are, but mainly you are introducing yourself and your work so you want it to remain professional.

Format it like a business letter. The way I always formatted it was with an introductory paragraph: my name, the title of the book (either underlined or in all caps), the target (either audience or line, depending on what you write)and the approximate word count.

My next paragraph would be a hook-y type blurb about the book.

The third paragraph contained background information on me. This would include publishing credits or other pertinent information. Even something like "My job as a doctor inspired me to write this medical about xyz" or whatever.

Again, you're selling your ms but also yourself.

Queries should be no longer than one page.

THE SYNOPSIS

Depending on where you're sending your ms, a very general rule of thumb would be 2 pages single spaced for most category length novels. If you write single title or longer (75k +) series, you could probably expand that. Right now, my editor gets a one-page synopsis. Condensing it down is hard, so here's what you need.

You need to hit the main points only. You need to give a feeling for your characters, the conflict, their motivations and a brief roadmap of how they get there. You also need to include the resolution - how they reach their happy ending. DON'T LEAVE THIS OUT. The editor is going to want to know how you wound this up. Please don't put "to see how it ends, you'll need to read the rest of the story!" Editors don't have time for that. They need to see at a glance that what you've done works.

PARTIALS

Some agents/publishers/lines will allow you to send a sample of your work - usually 3 chapters or what we call a "partial". Another one of the most-oft asked questions is about formatting.

Clear, good sized font. So TNR 12 or Courier New 12 seem to be the two standards. I know one of my publishers uses Bookman Old Style a lot, but I don't use it in my every day work or sending to my editor at Harlequin. DOUBLE SPACE. If an editor is going to the time and effort to read your work, don't give her an eye-strain headache. Number your pages in the top right and have a header at the top with the ms title and your name. You should also have a cover page, with the ms title and your name front and centre. When I send mine, to the bottom left I have my contact information - mailing address, e-mail and phone number - and on the right I put who it's going to and the approximate word count.

With a partial you can clip it together. Do NOT staple. If you get a request to see all the work, hold it together with elastic bands.

If you go to www.eharlequin.com/learntowrite you should be able to find examples of the above, or heck do a google search. There are lots of resources out there.

For those authors reading this, feel free to post good links to similar info/examples in the comments section.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Construction Zone 13 - Editing


Now you've finished your first draft, and you're incredibly relieved. The bones of your story are down. You've reached the end.

Now it's time to fix and polish so it's ready to send.

The way I used to edit is very different from the way I edit now. Honestly I think it's a skill that's developed over time. The more you write, the better you become, the more you can tell what's working and what's not. What I used to consider "edits" is now more of a polishing stage.

When I edit, I get to the end and if there are scenes that need to be added, I go back and add them where I think they need to be. Once I've done that, I start at the beginning and work my way through. I look for certain things...is my hero strong. Is my conflict solid. I layer a lot. This means I add physical and emotional beats. By the end of the story, I usually have a handful of motivation and conflict layers that I didn't exploit enough in the first half, so the bulk of my layering goes there. This is where my dialogue gets fleshed out so that the scene is fully set.

When I finish a book now, I'm usually a good 4-7k off for word count. During edits and layering, I add 3-5k. I've learned that I send a book in a little short and once my editor is finished with it, I feel like it's tighter and I've cut a bunch of stuff and I end up solidly in the middle of the 5k spread for word count - right on the money.

Once you've gone through and fixed what needs fixing - keeping focus on the romance, making sure the pace is fluid and keeps moving, and that your characters have behaved in the appropriate way for their character and arc, you do a polishing round.

When you polish, you should be looking for repetitive words, repetitive actions, grammar and spelling mistakes, the odd sentence that just seems to fit. This is about prettying up your ms, because now all the heavy work is done.

The best advice I can give is DON'T BE AFRAID TO EDIT. Don't let the delete key scare you. Be brave and do what needs to be done. If you get to a point where you're thoroughly sick of the manuscript or just can't see anymore what needs to be changed, it's time to let an editor have a go.

Next up - sending it off! Queries, synopses, and partials.

Best thing yet this week

I love Jen McAndrews.

You see, she was at a convention this past weekend and very kindly got me a signed pic of Jamie Bamber! Yay me! All it's going to cost me is a signed copy of my book, which somehow seems odd as I can't see my signature being in the same league as his. :-)

Oh, I think in honour of the occasion, I should post a pic....you know he'll probably end up a hero prototype sooner than later so maybe I'll post the one I have in mind for my advertising exec....

Monday, March 26, 2007

RITA Madness and Crows

The Rita "calls" went out over the weekend and while I haven't seen the entire list, I have heard some news that makes me smile.

Traditional romance is far from dead. The finalists in the Trad category this year are fabulous. Marion Lennox, Barb Hannay and Jackie Braun are wonderful writers. Barb's CLAIMING THE CATTLEMAN'S HEART was one of my fave reads of last year.

And Fiona Harper has finalled with BLIND DATE MARRIAGE in both the Best First Book Category and Best Traditional. I'm telling you, that girl has made a splash with her debut and she does us newbies proud. Way to go, FIONA!!!!!!

I still hang out in Subcare on harlequin's msg boards, and it is well represented in the Golden Heart. So congrats to everyone!

I had a crow attack on the weekend. I sucked, I had NO idea what I was doing, etc. etc. etc. Thank goodness they got tired of hanging around and this morning it's back to business as usual.

This week I'll be continuing the Construction Zone series and posting anything new and exciting!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Marriage at Circle M and amazon

A lovely surprise for me today...Marriage at Circle M is listed on amazon!

No cover yet, though. I can't wait to see what they've done for cover art. And I suppose next week I should try to put up the blurb. But it is awfully nice to see a growing list of titles under my name! 07 is a good year...I've got HBTC hardbacks this month, the paperback in May, the harback of MCM in July and Almost a Family in print in July, and the paperback of MCM in September.

Now I'm off for the weekend as I have completed chapter six as promised and am going to take a turn at the house. :-)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Falling For The Marshal - the WIP

I'm really getting into the new book. I may be an "auditory" person, but I do start off a book with a hero in mind, so I'll post my picture of Nate Griffith, US Marshal just because I haven't done it in a while.


The current chapters could be crap - well, maybe not crap, but they might be "off", who knows...but the good thing is, I like my characters, I'm really becoming quite partial to my hero, and things are ticking along quite nicely.

I'm also at about the half-way mark. I'm sitting at just over 20k, and usually my first draft comes in at about 42-43. Considering I'm half way through chapter six, this is just about right.

Now, this is the third pass at chapter 4, and the information there doesn't actually make an appearance until chapter 6 now. Some of the info from chapter 5 is sitting in a deleted stuff file and will likely come back in late chapter six, chapter seven. I have to have the hero gain the heroine's trust first.

Honestly, the hardest part in this "middle" has been deciding how to structure what needs to happen. And not to rush it (see construction zone post on pacing, since I've been rushing and not savouring).

All in all I'm in pretty good shape as I have a month or so before I want to have it finished.

I hope to finish six tomorrow, and then get some housework done. This weekend I'd love to catch up on some reading...I have an e-book I've been meaning to get to and haven't, as well as a tbr pile that grows faster than it diminishes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Visualisation

Last night at the RWA chapter meeting the presentation was visualisation. And wow, what an amazing surprise it turned out to be! By the end I had enough notes to put together a comprehensive synopsis of a book I'm writing later this year.

I discovered I'm an auditory person, not necessarily visual. I always thought I pictured scenes, and I do, but I tend to hear things first. My husband would not be surprised. I hear my neighbours burp at 2 a.m. It's quite annoying. Some people are visual, some are auditory, and others "feel"...so we all closed our eyes, she led us through a visualisation and honestly, I kept opening my eyes to write. She'd given us a character worksheet and as she asked the questions I just kept writing.

I did make a connection that made perfect sense to me. I tend to be a strong dialogue writer, so it's not a huge surprise that I'm an auditory learner. I write the dialogue first and fill in, whereas a visual or feelings person might write the narrative and expand the dialogue.

I wasn't the only one who ended up with scads of notes, either.

I always do character sheets but being led by actual detailed questions was such a help that we're pressing the presenter to put it all on tape!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Question Answered - Black Moments

Patricia asked: When the black moments happen at different points in the story for the hero and heroine, do you resolve them at different points as well? Or, does the one that occurred first take longer to resolve, with both getting resolution near the end?

You know, Patricia, sometimes my black moments aren't all that clear. Sometimes they are a little series of black moments that culminate into "how are they going to work this out?"

Now, in Hired By The Cowboy, my characters had their black moments really at the same time although they were apart. I'll risk spoilery type information here and scrimp on details, if that's ok. Basically Connor realises that he's lost everything....and discovers what he thought was most important to him isn't anymore. Alex has finally realized she loves him, and thinking him dead, realizes she'll never be able to tell him.

Marriage at Circle M was different and you'll see how it all has to do with the conflict. Grace's black moment comes early. She tells Mike her secret only half way through the book, destroying any hope she has of being with him as he wants the one thing she can't give him. Mike, on the other hand, has a black moment much later on, when he discovers he can't help Grace, that she has to make peace with things on her own. He has, by his actions, actually contributed to the problem and he feels completely helpless. He lashes out at her, destroying what is left of their friendship.

There are so many elements at work in MCM that when you get to the ending I think it's that much better. I still cry when I get there.

Now, in my latest, the hero's black moment is very clear, and it's first. He hits rock bottom, and it's only then, when he acknowledges it, that he can work his way back. The heroine doesn't see any way for them to work, so it takes some major convincing on Jonas's part.

So I guess my answer is, it depends. If a black moment comes early, it can be a source of conflict that carries the book through to the second black moment, and then both will be resolved at the end.

And sometimes, a black moment won't be resolved really at all. There are several books out there that show how the problem still exists...the victory is in how the characters deal with it, live with it, choose to go through it together.

Clear as mud?

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Construction Zone 12. - The END


You're reaching the last third of your book and you think everything should just fall into place. So why isn't it?

I said in the beginning, all three areas have their own challenges. And endings are no different. You're getting close to that happily ever after and some of the most exciting parts of the book are imminent. But somehow...it's not any easier.

THE BLACK MOMENT. Where this falls depends on your characters and their journey. Perhaps the black moment, that space in time where all is lost, happens for both your characters at the same time. Perhaps the heroine has hers and the hero has his at different times (which is often how I work). Regardless, you have to get it right. You have to plug it FULL of emotion so it's leaking out the sides. You have to devastate your characters. If you split your Black Moments, one might happen closer to the middle and the other within the last couple of chapters.

In Hired By The Cowboy, the character's black moments happen not in the same scene but in consecutive scenes, so pretty much at the same time.

In Marriage At Circle M, though, Mike's black moment is different from Grace's and it was very right for the characters and the situation. The same thing with book three- the hero's black moment comes first, then the heroine's.

But it doesn't matter when it happens as long as it's in the right place and is properly devastating.

Then...then you have to put it all back together again. The ending has to be satisfying, so you need to ask yourself a few questions and allow yourself to have a few passes at it to get it complete.

1. Look at your character's conflict. Has it been resolved? And here's the biggie - has it been resolved by the growth of BOTH characters?

I mention this particularly because I had to revise the ending of my latest because the hero hadn't shown enough personal growth. My editor was absolutely right and I saw that as soon as I started "fixing" it.

2. Have you tied up loose ends? There are always little plot points that you weave throughout your story, after all that's what's given it great depth so far. Make sure you don't leave any of these dangling. If you are writing a series it is different. I read Blood Secrets lately which is the first of three "Valorian Chronicles". The characters got their HEA - but the external plot feeds through all the books, so it was a great blend of satisfying ending and OMG I need to buy the next to find out what happens.

3. The HEA - this scene is what we've been waiting for the whole book. The part where we know all is well. That together they are stronger than apart. That they are meant to be and confess all. Don't scrimp on it. Infuse it with emotion and passion and commitment.

Then, write THE END and go out and celebrate! You did it! You finished your story. All that's left is prettying it up - or is it?

Come back this week for the next post on editing!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Great reading!

I don't read as much as I used to, it's true. I spend so much time writing, that I read less. I read a good half dozen novels a year simply from critiquing, usually another few for research and craft. But this year I agreed to participate in Harlequin's 10 000 Book Challenge as part as the Harlequin Author Team. The idea is for individuals or teams to band together to collectively read 10 000 books this year. It's been very good for keeping me reading regularly.

Now I'll never come close to Jenna Bayley-Burke's insane total, but I AM reading more.

In the past week I've read both The Nanny and the Sheikh by Barbara McMahon and The Valentine Bride by Liz Fielding, so I could finish up the Bella Lucia series.

Then, yesterday I read all of Vivi Anna's debut Nocturne, Blood Secrets. It was AMAZING. What a fabulous story!

And today, in the mail, my CP, Michelle Styles, sent me two of hers. My first copy of A Noble Captive went missing in the mail last fall, but she put another in with her newest, THe Roman's Virgin Mistress which comes out this summer. I read both of these before revisions and polishing so I love reading again to see where things have changed and experience the excitement all over again!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Back into the Saddle

You know, after a while you start to notice patterns in yourself.

I have now learned that once I finish a partial, I rebel at starting chapter four and inevitably take a break. I also know this is not necessarily a good thing. I sent my partial to my editor last week and then critiqued, wrote my library talk notes, attended a book-signing, drafted my newsletter, blogged on the construction zone, read a couple of books, and wrote the better part of an article for my local RWA chapter.

But I can't do that forever, and today was the day I launched into chapter four.

Launch is too strong a word! LOL The reason I shouldn't take a break is because I lose momentum. I have to go back and read the end of chapter three, and try to get back in the swing of things. I should just soldier on, but for some reason it always goes this way.

Anyway, after critiquing the ending for my CP's latest, I settled in and wrote a little over 1000 words. Not great, but could be worse. Tomorrow will be better.

What else new? Well, I sent out review copies of Hired By The Cowboy and was surprised at how inexpensive the postage was. It was a nice bonus. And this week is crazy with drama productions and birthday parties but it is all in good fun.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Zone with a single click

A few people mentioned wanting all the Construction Zone posts put together for ease of finding. You can click HERE and get all the posts so far.

At the end of the month I WILL be posting it all to my website, in an easy-to-read (at least I hope) format.

The Construction Zone 11. - The Little Things


I'm going to pause for a moment for a less structured topic and one that will take more thought on your part and less on mine. I've titled it "The Little Things", but what I really want you to do is think of little things in books you've read that have particularly grabbed your attention - good and bad.

I was thinking about this as I was walking home from the school run today. There was a woman crossing the street in the skinniest heels I'd ever seen, and she didn't make her way over the grass to the sidewalk. I can only assume this was because her heels would have stuck into the ground.

I was reminded of a beginning of a LaVyrle Spencer book where the heroine has attended her husband's funeral and she is aware of the sensation of her heels sinking into the soft earth.

I don't remember everything from that book, but I remember that image. I am like that with a lot of books. Little things that stand out as really, really memorable. It could be a line of dialogue, an image, a feeling.

And the reverse can happen too. I can read a book and find something that really turns me off. Thankfully this doesn't happen as often as the lovely aha! moments.

So here's where you come in. Take some time and think about books you've read. What is memorable, good and bad, and why?

Then look at your own writing. Try your best to be objective. What do you do well? Not so well?

Play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Knowing what you do well - and exploiting it - is what might pull you out of the slush pile for another look. And improving on your weak spots might mean STAYING out of the slush pile - for good.
Before I go, I need your input. The Construction Zone will be winding up this month. These are the topics I can think of left to cover:

The END
Edit and Polish
Submitting - Queries, Synopses, Partials and fulls (Q&S might have their very own day)
Rejections and what they mean (this will be short, lol)
Revisions - one of my favorites!
What's next?

If you can think of any other topic I haven't covered that you want me to write about, drop a line in the comments section. It's just like going on vacation. I can't help but think I'm forgetting something.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

And a P.S.

I got 2 boxes today from the funniest delivery guy who was very excited for me! LOL I got my paperbacks and large print copies of Hired By The Cowboy.

Hooray for me!

It's been a good day.

Early weekend

Well...here it is Thursday afternoon, and I'm taking a long weekend. The kids and husband are off tomorrow and all the work I'm doing is checking messages. I handed in a new partial today and think a break isn't such a bad idea.

I'm feeling pretty good about Falling for the Marshal now. It's early days but it FEELS good, so that's a good sign. I think I've got lots of conflict to keep it going. And heck - I didn't add to my word count meter today but I'm very nearly 1/4 of the way through.

So have a good weekend all, and unless something major happens I'll be back on Monday.

D

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Construction Zone 10. - Saggy Middles, aka Focus


Oh, the dreaded Saggy Middle. And I'm not talking about the one at your waist, despite yesterday's PHS blog. :-) I'm talking about those middle chapters of your book, where everything either seems to go flat and you fight for every word.

Part of the problem is that at least for me, I see what I've done with the partial, I see the end, and I worry that how they get there will leave me 20k short of my 50-55k novel. It's getting a little better, as now I am perfectly fine with finishing a first draft of 42-43 k. I always add a good 5k in layering, and then my editor's revisions tend to add a few more thousand - even though I am always amazed since I cut as well as add.

But that pressure is still there. Do I have enough conflict to maintain the pace?

The only way to defeat the saggy middle is to write your way through it. And the key to this is focus.

You need to focus hard on a few things. First of all, a romance is the character's journey, so let them take that journey. As I mentioned before in pacing, I need to savour scenes rather than let them play out too fast. If you've done your character work at the beginning, your characters are so deep that you may actually discover little bits of inner conflict coming out that you didn't even expect.

You also need to focus on the romance. You need to ask yourself...does this scene forward the romance (or deepen the conflict keeping them apart)? Don't lose sight of what you need to be doing.

And keep your scenes active. Nothing kills a pace faster, or sets up saggy-middle-alarms like endless cups of tea in the kitchen. Don't worry about not having enough by the time you get to the end. You will. And this is a first draft so after you're done, you can go back and insert scenes that you know you need and layer. I used to think - no way. I can't add in that much. But I can and do.

My CP is a great one for e-mailing me and saying, Chapter so and so needs to be 2 chapters and I need to insert a scene. My only regret is often I don't get to see those scenes until I get the published book. :-) But you know, I did it in my last book too. I'd jumped too far ahead...I needed to go back and add a few bits that helped a nice, slow build of the romance.

And most of all, remember, once you get through the middle you can race for the end. And once you reach the end, well, there's a saying that hindsight is 20/20. You'll see what you've missed and you can fix it. Just write it and focus and don't let the fact that it's the middle paralyze you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Blogging at the PHS

I'm blogging today at the Pink Heart Society in their Tuesday Diet Club column.

Yeah, those of you that really know me can laugh all you want.

I've always had a weight problem and thought I had it licked as I kept off what I'd lost for 3 years. Only to have it all sneak back on and when I weighed myself on Jan 1 I was within 1 lb of my original weight.

Well, it's coming off slowly and so when the lovely ladies at the PHS asked if I'd do a slot, I agreed.

Pop over and hear what I have to say about weight loss!

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Construction Zone - 9. Sexual Tension


Ah, sexual tension. A huge contributor to PTQ and what we all wait for with breathless anticipation. Those moments where your stomach lifts and your heart pounds as the hero and heroine discover each other.

Sexual tension can have very little to do with actual sex. I'm writing for the Romance line, which means the bedroom door is closed at all times. But that doesn't mean my characters aren't attracted. It doesn't mean they don't WANT each other. Of course they do!

Sometimes this is easy to accomplish and sometimes much more difficult. It depends on your characters and their situation, when all is said and done. If I look at my characters in Marriage at Circle M, it was a snap. Grace and Mike already knew each other. They'd even dated as teens. She'd always had a thing for him, so it was no problem injecting tension. Besides, Mike is hot. LOL. Mike will be a favorite hero of mine for a long time to come, I think.

If you look at my current WIP, though, it's different. Nate and Maggie have never met before page one. They are complete strangers. So not only do I have to do the "getting to know you" stuff, I have to also be thinking of their romance right away. It's proving to be a bit tricky when all is said and done.

Sexual tension can be words said, looks exchanged, meaningless touches that are suddenly meaningful. I read Barb Hannay's "Claiming the Cattleman's Heart" on the weekend and I'm going to give you an example:

The pads of his thumbs touched the bare skin of her collarbone, and every cell in her strained for more.

"Your hands are beautiful, Daniel," she told him in a heated, husky whisper. "And I want them. I want them all over me."


Whooooeeeee! For a non-sex series, this really says it all, doesn't it!

Sexual tension is also seeing your characters through the other character's eyes. I'm thinking of a section of Hired By The Cowboy, where Connor is annoying the living hell out of Alex. She's pregnant and alone and trying to do what's best for her baby, and he's come back to find her because he wants to discuss "something." She doesn't want another complication...

"When his eyes met hers across the hazy room she knew she was right. He smiled, a lazy, melting smile, and she braced herself. Men who smiled like that were deadly. And the last thing she needed was a distraction as lethal as Connor Madsen."

Bear in mind these examples are from the first 1/3 of the book...when my characters hardly really know each other. Before it even makes sense, they are attracted to each other. And it's a complication (isn't it always??? :-) ) Take a scene from a chapter later:

"Maybe we'll drive each other crazy and you'll be glad to be rid of me." She tried a cocky smile, but faltered at the look in his eyes as they stopped at the edge of the dirt road.

He turned to face her, his warm gaze delving into hers, drawing her in and making her thoughts drift away on the evening breeze. His hand lifted to her cheek. "I think there's a very good chance you're going to drive me crazy," he murmured, his thumb stroking her cheek tenderly.

She stepped back in alarm, her face burning from the intimate touch and the clear meaning of his words. She left his hand hanging in thin air. A truck approached and spun past them, stirring up loose gravel and clouds of dust.

When the air cleared they said nothing, but crossed the road and made their way up the lane.


One other thing to note while writing sexual tension. Look at the words used. Depending on the tone of the book, they might be more direct (explicit books will sound different than ones with a less-explicit tone) but I think most of the time you'll notice words like warm, hot, soft, lazy, silky, urgent...seduction is warm. Even if "cold" type words are used I'd be willing to bet that they are in juxtaposition to hot ones.

And lastly, don't be shy with using it. Even in a line like Romance, I try to have some level of sexual tension on every page. Whether it's my heroine's reaction to his voice on the answering machine or they way he looks at her; the way they are thrown together and her lips are close enough to kiss...the accidental brushing of their fingertips as they reach for the remote at the same time...if these things sound cliche, they probably are. But cliches do happen for a reason. Think back to when you first started dating your significant other. Looks and touches, all amplified by the newness of discovering each other.

What are some of your favorite books, and how did that author develop the sexual tension?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rites of Romance Review

I just found the nicest review for Almost A Family. This might be the nicest compliment made not only on the book but my writing in general and so I'm going to post most of it here....

Alward did a great job writing a story about a love that was abandoned but never forgotten. Her settings were believable. Whether in a house that was messy from the normal daily use of a three year old and baking cookies, or sledding on a snow covered hill to the atmosphere of a sterile hospital. These situations were well described and easily visualized. The conflict was not only conceivable but totally understandable, leaving me hoping Jason and Molly could come to an understanding. Even the voice of the story was straight forward and clear.


Sometimes we read stories that have a setting that makes you feel like you're right there. Other times it's the voice of a story that just sucks you in and keeps you there because you fell like it's all written just for you. In this case, it was the conflict and resolution that got me. I really enjoyed this story because of how the conflict developed and unraveled. The only problem I had was the time line of the story. For me the six year separation was just a little too long. Considering how short the story was Alward did a fine job. I especially loved the resolution. She had me right there with the characters holding my breath. By the time I got to the epilogue, I was so happy that I didn't even need to read about their happily ever after, which of course was there. The sexual tension may not have been overly steamy, but it was steamy enough that I got the point. I'm looking forward to her next story.


What a lovely way to start the weekend!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Construction Zone 8 - PACE


You have no idea how much this picture is accurate this morning. Our CO2 detector went off in the middle of the night and the gas man came out and I lost a bunch of sleep, so I'm drinking coffee this morning! Ok... on to PACE.

The problem with so many elements to consider is that they are so intrinsically blended it is hard to talk about one without discussing another. When I think of pacing, it’s impossible to isolate it from things like plot, conflict and voice. Or even setting, POV, backstory or character development. Because pacing is the “speed” of your manuscript as a whole.

With pacing, the important thing to remember is that you want to maintain what we call “PTQ”, or Page Turning Quality. If you’ve ever read a story where you’ve found yourself skipping over chunks of print, you know that you’ve found a spot where the pacing has slipped and needs to pick up. Chances are this is not dialogue. Or if it is, it’s a circular type discussion where the characters seem to go around and around and don’t move on.

More likely it is narrative that is bogging things down. Long paragraphs, description without action, a backstory dump. Those things do happen. And when authors hear the term “cutting for pace” we know that most likely this is what we’ve done.

How do you avoid lags in pacing? There are several ways I think and we’ll touch on a few briefly.

First, keep things moving. Instead of describing things in paragraphs of lovely imagery, why not let your characters do it for you? In HIRED BY THE COWBOY, I don’t TELL you what Windover Ranch looks like. You see it through Alex’s eyes as she arrives for the first time. This method works double time – not only are you not putting in a huge chunk of description, but the way your character sees it also tells you something about THEM.

Also, use active verbs. That puts the reader into the immediate present and what’s going on, instead of being separated by degrees by passive language.

Avoid long sections of introspection. In character driven novels, there is introspection everywhere you turn. But it needs to be within an active scene. It doesn’t work to make your heroine have an hour long cup of tea to sit and think about things. Those thoughts should be in direct action/reaction to whatever else is going on….in your plot and conflict.

Of course, there is an ebb and flow to writing. Some writers run at a breakneck pace and hardly pause for breath. I remember reading The DaVinci Code and feeling that way and it really worked. Oddly enough I thought the pacing was the biggest flaw in the prequel, Angels and Demons. Suspense novels probably have tighter pacing to keep you on the edge of your seat. But even then, there are usually spots where the protagonists slow down and sleep, or have a beer, or order a pizza. If I’ve had a particularly active scene, the next one might slow things down a little. And as you write more, you’ll discover that you have your own rhythm to how you structure your novel, your chapters, your scenes and even your paragraphs (this is how voice ties in).

The other thing I’ve found in writing for the Romance line is that while most people are told to pick up the pace, as I’m writing I need to slow down. I always add 5-10k to the first draft through layering and revisions. In the romance line, this equals 10 – 20% of the total word count. That’s significant. And while many times the urge is to get through THIS scene so I can move on to the next, I need to take it like a several course meal. Stop and enjoy the course I’m in. Savour it, if you will. Explore the nuances of flavours throughout. Revel in it. Then, cleanse my palette and move on to the next course.

Now I’m hungry. So I think that will wrap things about with PACE as this has gone on much longer than I anticipated. I’m going to make something to eat! Isn’t the power of suggestion great?