Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fun stuff and good news

Today I get to share some fun stuff and good news. First of all, I'm over at the Pink Heart Society today talking about the March Pink Heart Pick and announcing what we're reading in April. Pop on over!



Next up - good news! I got a very nice phone call yesterday. Turns out HER LONE COWBOY is a finalist in the Colorado RWA Award of Excellence - in the Short Contemporary Category! The complete list of finalists isn't up yet, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the shortlist. Winners are announced later in May at their conference.





And finally - while I'm still waiting for the North American cover art (and I should have it soon, in the next couple of days hopefully!), I did get the blurb for my July release of A Family for the Rugged Rancher. I'm really excited that it's going to be in a 2 in 1 in the UK with debut author Soraya Lane - I'm putting that cover here with the blurb.

Instant family – just add Daddy!



Gruff rancher Luke Evans’s new live-in housekeeper comes with an unexpected addition…a small son! Emily may be a pretty single mum – and even Luke has to grudgingly admit little Sam’s quite cute – but a family is not on this die-hard bachelor’s wish list!

Luke’s plan? To spend as much time away from the house as possible. But, slowly charmed by Emily’s sunny smile and Sam’s infectious giggle, Luke begins to wonder if there might be room on his ranch – and in his heart – for a family after all…

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#WW - Motivation and Stakes

For today's WriterWednesday post, I'm going to chat a bit about motivation and stakes, how they're different, and how they go hand in hand.

The easiest way for me to talk about it is in reference to my current WIP. Chapter 2 went okay, but chapter three caught me up big time. I e-mailed my critique partner and said it was taking me a long time because I was trying to sort out motivations. In other words, I kept getting caught up on WHY my characters were acting as they were, and trying to make sure that I gave them proper motivations so that it made sense.

So it took me nearly a week to write a whole chapter, and I finally sent it off and was still not happy. Neither, coincidentally, was my CP.

What was missing was stakes. Without stakes, my motivations didn't hold up the conflict. We often hear editors etc. say we need to up the stakes. What did my heroine have to lose? The way I'd written it, not much. Without Sam's help, she's going to have to scramble, sure. But I wrote it so that the timeline was "the next day" and with her being angry at him. My CP asked the right question - why does it have to be SAM? Why will no one else do? And what's at stake for Angela?

It took a major rethink, it meant I had to go back to chapters 1 and 2 and dribble in a tiny bit of foreshadowing, and then I heavily revised three.

Simply stated, my heroine's motivations for pushing Sam to help didn't hold water because she didn't have enough to lose. The stakes can be internal or external, or both (one feeds into the other). For example - if Sam does not show up to the Open House, it looks bad. His family is the major sponsor, and so their absence would be noted. The heroine is counting on his appearance to lead the way for the community because her project will need the community's support and assistance. So if Sam doesn't show up, all of that is at stake. (External) If the project isn't successful, there are also personal stakes involved. This project is Angela's baby - the thing she left her old job for, and if it fails it's her reputation on the line. More than that though is her worry for the people who she is helping who then won't GET help because she failed to do her job (or at least that's how she sees it). And that's the internal bit.

All of that was missing from chapter three. Looking at it now it seems obvious, but it wasn't.

Also Sam was missing stakes. What does he stand to lose if he takes time away from the ranch? And also his motivation was a little flat - he's going to help Angela. WHY? What's really pushing him to give in? I'd been holding back on a critical piece of information, thinking it should come later, but instead I layered it into the last scene of chapter three. It's perfect because Sam isn't just going to show up for the Open House, he's going to help Angela prepare for it. And those two additions of stakes and motivation meant that a whole lot of opportunities for pushing them together, developing the romance, and developing their character arcs just opened up.

Sometimes we hold back on information or plot points or revealing bits of character because we think it needs to come later. Sometimes we don't see it at all. But sometimes - a lot of the time - it needs to be there NOW. It's common to worry that if I do that NOW, I won't have anything else for later. But you will. Because you'll be forced to go deeper, and make things worse, and nine times out of ten (at least!) you'll come out with a stronger book.

Ironically enough? Just as I unlocked the secret of fixing chapter three (and moved the last scene of it to chapter 4, as I layered in A LOT), my galleys for HOW A COWBOY STOLE HER HEART arrived. I'm off to give my red pen a work out!

Happy Writing!

***edited to add: My CP e-mailed me to say she laughed at my post (she's really cruel, as you can tell) and that the failure of the project is the failure of Angela's dream (Personal stakes). And so it is! And I got that. But what I forgot to do was set her up to fail. That's the key! Threaten to take it away - and then there's a real reason to NEED the hero (even if he's the last person on earth she wants to need!). Anyway hopefully that sparks something in your own WIP!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Operation Auction

It is horrible when bad things happen to good people, and it's also true that when it comes to life you just never know.

A few weeks ago something horrible happened to someone I've known probably since I started writing - Fatin is a wonderful ambassador for the Romance genre and a fantastic reviewer. So when news arrived of a family tragedy people in the industry knew we had to do something to help. Because Fatin's husband was taken in a senseless act of violence, leaving her with four daughters to raise on her own.

And so Operation Auction came to be.

It's going on now...I've already been outbid on several items (dagnabit!) and I have some items of my own up for grabs: the chance to name a character in an upcoming book, and signed copies of all my Harlequin  Romance 2011 releases - there are four this year. You can see the items on ebay as well as browse through hundreds of other items - from meals with editors/authors to signed books to critiques and all sorts of fun things - and for readers and writers alike.

The proceeds are going in a trust for the girls. Be generous.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Going by the list

I have begun a list for this week. When I have a LOT to do, having a list makes it feel manageable. If I can get everything done on my list, I am not behind. And I am intentionally not making my list impossible for each day. It is a "one job at a time" kind of thing.

Add in that I have a few appointments this week and that there is no school Friday and lists come in very handy.



What else is going on? Not much. But did you know that Mills and Boon have a collection of books on sale in their Royal Wedding Collection? Mediterranean Men and Marriage is included - that's the anthology with the reprint of Hired: The Italian's Bride that was out last year.  You can have a look at the collection (including the collector's item Wills and Kate mug) on the M&B site.

Friday, March 25, 2011

#Fridayreads - One Very Special Hashtag

Today I doubt I'll have reading time - I mean I'm currently reading books, including The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson and McShannon's Chance by Jennie Marsland. BUT I'm diverting my attention today towards TWITTER.

Yes, I know. 140 characters at a time.

But today is RITA and Golden Heart Day - when RWA members, both published and unpublished, find out what stories have finalled in the most prestigious contests in the Romance genre.

The Golden Heart is for unpublished authors and finalling is a BIG DEAL. It's an incredible opportunity to have your work seen, an amazing honour, and perhaps even more than that, I've seen such great friendships formed by finalists in the same year. For example - I'm getting most of my RITA/GH info from the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site today - The Rubies have really stuck together since they all waited for the winning news in 2009.

And I will admit that I anxiously hope my phone will ring - I have 2 books in the Contemporary Series category. But even if it doesn't - and it's a long shot - I love seeing my fellow writers get their names on that list. As I'm writing this, friends Kate Hewitt, Abby Green and Paula Graves have already received the call, and there's a Harlequin Romance on the shortlist too, by Marion Lennox (no surprise, she's amazing). And more names are being listed every moment.

If you're on twitter, you'll see Romance at its best by checking out the hashtag #RITAGH. Because today is a day full of celebration and positivity. And I can't think of any better reading than that!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Not that bad...

So the dental thing wasn't that bad. I admit I was pretty nervous, because I have a THING about dentists. Granted, my current dentist has gotten me over most of that and I am eternally grateful. But yesterday was a specialist, and she hadn't yet earned my trust. She has now. I felt nothing. She and the hygienist kept up a pleasant amount of chatter, there were little breaks where I could relax my jaw and add my 2 cents, lol, and an hour later I was all stitched up and popping ibuprofen. Moreover, I didn't have a lot of pain once the  freezing came out - I took more advil around 4 p.m. and the worst part was eating soup at supper and feeling like bits of rice were sticking where they shouldn't (even though I have to chew on the other side). I go back next week to have the stitches out and to do the second tooth, but I'm nowhere near as nervous about it.

What's up for today? Banking, post office, writing, groceries, laundry...the usual. :-) My inbox was getting out of control so I did a bit of tidying last night, which was good as some were there because they needed further attention. With so many things going on, it hasn't been my most productive week. I do hope things will quiet down for next week!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Late

I'm late blogging today - spent the morning counting hot lunch money at the school, only several classes didn't balance and my totals were out in the end. However the good part was there was leftover pizza from today's hot lunch and the principal heated up a few pieces for us to get us through the last hour.

So my writing time is particularly precious today. I'm about to head back to it, but I wanted to point you in the direction of another review for Honeymoon with the Rancher - yay! This one from Cataromance, who calls it "A haunting love story that will capture your heart".

Now, I have a date with a hero and a horse and an irate heroine. Also - this week's #WW - Writer Wednesday post is postponed because I'm having dental surgery in the morning. Yuck.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Booksignings and Reviews



The weekend was fab, despite a nasty sinus headache last night. Friday was NOT a good day, but got better when I opened a bottle of my favourite red and put in my Battlestar Galactica dvds. It was like comfort food - without the food. LOL. Saturday I did laundry until it was time to head out to a book signing.

It was a fun afternoon. I signed copies of Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle and Sold to the Highest Bidder and there were lots of authors participating: Deborah Hale, Julianne MacLean and Jennie Marsland were all signing their latest releases, and Lilly Cain, Kelly Boyce and Renee Field were on hand with e-readers, showing off the latest trends as well as their books. Renee is pubbed with Ellora's Cave, Lilly with Red Sage and Carina Press, and Kelly is our newest sale member with a Carina Press release coming up in April.

Yesterday was too nice to be stuck inside all day to do housework, so I spent the best part of the morning outside with the rake, getting the crushed rock off the lawn that was blown there by the snowblower over the winter. The youngest came out with clippers and snipped off all the dead stuff from the perennials so the gardens are all ready to grow and be green again. It's good to have that job done. And in the afternoon I put clothes away, cleared out the closet, ironed, and tried on a few things. Good news - while the scale is only moving at a creep, I have had to put some clothes in the good will bag. The dress I wore to the HQ party in Washington in 09 is falling off; my fave denim capris from the last 2 years are too big as well and slide off without undoing the button. After seeing the pics of me from Saturday I was aware of how far I have to go, but discovering some clothes are too big also shows me how far I've come. :-)

And finally - reviews for Honeymoon with the Rancher are starting to come in. Marilyn's Romance Reviews called it "an amazing and beautifully crafted love story", and Romantic Times gave it 4 stars and said
"This is a fast-paced, heartwarming story about the healing powers of true love." There have been a few reader reviews too: This one at Mills and Boon, and this one at Eharlequin.
Now I'm off to make word count and the pool people are coming today to do their assessment. Fingers crossed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

#Fridayreads

Today's post is short and sweet: I'm reading 2 books, one is nearly done, the other half-way. The first is Jillian Hart's A MCKASLIN HOMECOMING, which I'm reading for this month's PINK HEART PICKS book club selection - the review will be up at the Pink Heart Society next Thursday.

The second is one that's been on my TBR for too long- Jennie Marsland's MCSHANNON'S CHANCE. It's a western historical and Jennie has a lovely voice; it's not surprising to know she also paints because she sort of paints with words as well. I was hoping to finish it before tomorrow; Jennie is signing the sequel, MCSHANNON'S HEART, tomorrow at the booksigning we have going on at Chapters in Dartmouth. But the week truly got away with me - I can't believe it's Friday - and I simply haven't finished much of anything, let alone reading.

So that's where I'm at - and I also have to decide what I'm reading next, too!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Giveaway, and a bit about libraries

I have a Goodreads giveaway going on now - there are 2 weeks left to enter!


Goodreads Book Giveaway





Honeymoon with the Rancher (Mass Market Paperback) by Donna Alward



Honeymoon with the Rancher


by Donna Alward



Giveaway ends April 01, 2011.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.



Enter to win


And now, a bit about libaries.

You do know they are awesome, right? But you know, I'm late to library use. I grew up in a community without one, and we didn't visit the library much when we went to town. I used the school libraries of course, and in university I practically lived in the library for term paper research and a quiet corner for studying. I discovered how much I love LISTENING to Shakespeare rather than reading it and spent hours in the listening library with headphones on.

The other thing is, I always considered money spent on books as, well, money well spent. I like to re-read, so buying a book was a good investment as I knew I would enjoy it several times over. When I started writing, I liked supporting my friends and fellow authors by buying their books (and I still do).

When the kids were small, they had favourite stories that we would read over and over again. Then came the scholastic book orders - very economical and something they looked forward to every month. But the last few years that has changed. They have developed strong tastes. The book orders aren't what they used to be - they have never been into books about celebrities etc. and so many of the things are about hockey stars or Justin Beiber or Miley Cyrus...so book orders were coming home and they began shrugging their shoulders and not ordering. And buying books suddenly became more expensive, as we moved from small chapter books like Magic Treehouse etc. to full length stories that sell for anywhere from $10 to $23 a crack - and that my kid would read in three or four days. I won't tell you how quickly my youngest went through The Golden Compass... If I were to try to keep them in reading material, I'd be broke very quickly.

So finally, at the age of 38, I'm really using the library.

I have enough books on my TBR to keep me going for 2 years (or more). But the girls? Not so much. The eldest has some new ones as she just had a birthday last weekend, and her sister got her 3 books she wanted: Angel by James Patterson, the second Witch and Wizard book (also Patterson) and the latest in Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers series. I took a book back today and came out with two more for the youngest - a Madeleine L'Engle and a Philip Pullman. I also discovered the dvd collection and when Netflix wasn't streaming a season of MI5, I got it from the library.

Have I always thought libraries were important? Yes, even before I started using it regularly. As an author I am glad to have the meeting space for our writing chapter meetings. I am glad that my books are available for people to read, and I often donate books to libraries across NA - especially foreign language editions. It's another way for me to connect with readers.

But most importantly - it's a way to ensure my children are readers for life. And that's something I think is very, very important.

Do you support your local library?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#WW - What Do I Do Now?

Last week I posted a blog that was, in hindsight, a wee bit vague and perhaps had a tone of panic about it. I do know I had a few e-mails asking if I was okay and indeed I am. It was one of those times when I sort of had sensory overload, you know? And since my mind isn't spinning quite as quickly this week, I'm going to attempt to clarify that post with some calmer ramblings for this week's Writers Wednesday. This post fits more into the writing life as a whole rather than writing craft, and it's something that affects both published and unpublished writers - and that's the state of the biz.

The truth is the publishing industry is changing - drastically. The landscape is shifting daily. A handful of examples are the Borders "restructuring", the launch of Avon's new IMPULSE e-book line, the increasing numbers of writers turning to self-publishing. Now bear in mind that I'm on a couple of RWA loops, my publisher loops, chapter loops, etc. and I'm getting hit with this info from a lot of sides from a number of perspectives and viewpoints. At the same time I'm trying to focus on my story, meet my deadline, schedule promotion...

There is a lot of shizzle goin' on in my head, y'all. And I don't do well with chaos. Or when things are in flux. So while not particularly stressed, per se, I did get to a point where there were too many voices competing in my head and it became noise.

So much of what's going on is out of my control. The only thing I can truly control is what I put on the page. And so when THAT comes into doubt, it becomes a little harder. I do know that I have this book and 2 more that I'm writing for Harlequin Romance - hurrah! That's good. But I write other things too. And so I ask myself...What SHOULD I be writing? Where should I be targeting? I even...and I can't believe I'm saying this...had a moment where I thought I should be following a trend. I don't chase trends. Not in a "I need to write this because it's hot right now" kind of way. I'm more of a "do what I do best and tailor it to be as marketable as I can" kind of person. Which might be arguing semantics, I suppose. But I was definitely thinking about it in a much more focused, direct way - something I've always cautioned other writers not to do. *hangs head in shame*

Then I think about people I know who are seeing some success with self publishing, and I'm seeing a HUGE number of people considering/following suit and I wonder...am I missing something? I look at some of the promo efforts going on and wonder if I'm missing the boat there as well. Are old methods simply not working anymore?

It all comes down to...AM I DOING THE RIGHT THING? AM I MAKING A MISTAKE?

Which then boils down to ONE BIG OL' NASTY DISTRACTION from doing what I can control: the writing.

So that's where I was at. I'm still not sure if I'm doing the right thing by staying the course. I'm not sure where any of this is going to end up and if I'll be in a better place when it shakes out or if I'll be left behind. That's why I'm glad to have my agent and my critique partner - at least I feel like I'm not alone.

And the day of "reflection" was good for me. I figured out some of that question of what I should be writing (besides my deadline book, lol!). And the frenetic energy was good because I did sort a lot out in my mind and on the page. The chasing I was going to do has now become a family tree/outline for future use. My "other" project, which was possibly book 1 of a 3 book idea, is now book 2, because I figured out that it was off because the planned book 2 should actually be book 1.  I wrote down chapter 1 and had 2000 words before i knew it - and 2000 words that felt GOOD. I also heard back that my current opening for my WIP is good to go.

Am I doing the right thing? I don't know. All I know for sure is that the surest way to fail is not to do anything at all. And that's SO not an option.

Happy Writing,

Donna

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Housekeeping

New covers, auctions, reviews and more!

First up a little squee as A Family for the Rugged Rancher/Soldier on Her Doorstep is up on http://www.amazon.co.uk/ , cover and all! I'm really excited- as many of you know, Soraya Lane was the winner of my mentor pitch contest back in January of 2010 with her first chapter of this book, and being paired together with her debut is a real thrill for me.There is nothing like a first release and I'm so honoured.



But not all in the world is rosy, so I'm going to share a few benefits going on right now. First up - Auction for Japan to aid in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that happened last week. I've donated a critique of the first three chapters and synopsis of a romance novel. Bidding happens until the 20th, so don't miss out.

The other auction going on right now is for someone I've come to know over the last years as a wonderful reviewer and supporter of the Romance genre. Fatin (mad4rombks) lost her husband last week in a workplace shooting which is just...well, there are no words, really. The Operation Auction proceeds will go to an education fund for their four girls. I've added a few items of my own, and there are some wonderful offerings up for grabs.

A few reviews have come in. First up: Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle. Still Moments Magazine says "Between the Pages of this book is a traditional love story...a warm and tender romance." And BlackRaven's Reviews gave Sold to the Highest Bidder a 4.5 and said "Donna Alward definitely has a way of bringing heartache, passion and two lovers who have never stopped loving each other together for an explosive romance that’s guaranteed to rock your world."

Otherwise it's back to word count for me, and enjoying a special treat - today is massage day. My neck and shoulders can't wait!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Captured by Julianne MacLean's Latest

It took me a while to get caught up on Julianne MacLean's backlist, and once I did it meant I had to wait for new books. When Julianne has a new release it goes to the top of the TBR pile and with good reason. So when I got my grubby little fingers on the first in her new Highlander trilogy last weekend, it popped right up to next on the list.

CAPTURED BY THE HIGHLANDER is different from any of Julianne's books in some ways. Forget gentlemen, drawing rooms, and rules of society. The hero is a man they call The Butcher and the story opens with the choice he has to make - kill Amelia or take her prisoner. Filled with kilts and broadswords, axes and Jacobites, a beautiful woman and of course an English villian masquerading as a redcoat man of honour....not to mention Julianne's fabulous brand of writing and it's a page-turner. I adore Julianne's voice. It's a seamless blend of strong narrative, sparkly dialogue, humour and sensuality.

Several times during the story I could see how it was going to go and for the large part I was right, except it usually didn't happen QUITE the way I imagined but with a clever twist. I don't want to give anything away and be all spoilery, but I did have a few surprises towards the end and I love it when an author makes me think how in the world are they going to find happiness now? I was seriously disappointed in Duncan at one point - not that I blamed him for his actions but I thought "Amelia will never forgive you now!" And yet the HEA did happen and all was well in the end.

Thankfully I do not have as long a wait this time. The next in the trilogy, CLAIMED BY THE HIGHLANDER, is out at the end of the month and features Angus's story with a new heroine of Gwen McEwen. I can't wait.

Meanwhile, you can catch up with me today at the Pink Heart Society for Male on Monday, where I'm talking about Sexy Sidekicks. You'll even find a pic of Julianne's latest hero inspiration....

Friday, March 11, 2011

#Fridayreads - finally something new!

Look! Finally a real honest-to-goodness #Fridayreads post! No more super seekrit RITA books, and I finally found time to read a bit the last few weeks!

First up - the book I actually FINISHED - The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson.

I love Eva Ibbotson's writing. I adored The Secret Countess (A Countess Below Stairs). And I love the WWII era so I figured The Morning Gift would be wonderful.


I'll confess it was harder to get into than I expected. While there were the right sort of "villians" - Verena and Heini were yucky - they just weren't as "delicious" as the villains in The Secret Countess. Perhaps because there wasn't an Olive to feel so protective about. In The Secret Countess, the other servants and Uncle Sebastien were extremely well drawn and I really fell in love with them all, but in The Morning Gift I didn't get such a sense of individuality from the characters. So it took me a while to really get into it.

But once I hit about page 200...things started heating up. It took me 3 days to get to that page, and 2 evenings to get from page 200 to 500. I could NOT put it down. And I think that's what I know for sure. That Ibbotson is going to rope me in at some point and make me rush to the end. I've got a few more of hers on my TBR that I'm looking forward to.

But before I read them I've started the latest from Julianne MacLean and her new Highlander series from St. Martins: Captured By The Highlander.  Any of Julianne's books I've read have been very much the ton and lords and ladies and the heroes may have been rakes but they were gentlemen. Not so this time - Duncan is a highlander, and he's called The Butcher.

How can anyone called The Butcher be hero material? Because he doesn't kill without thought. Because he could slit Amelia's throat in the first scene but he doesn't. He claims it's because she's got value alive, but really I think he doesn't want to kill an innocent woman - unlike his enemies who will not hesitate. He is DELICIOUS. And Amelia? It takes either a very brave or a very foolish woman to stand up to The Butcher and challenge him! You have to love her for not being cowed. A strong hero needs a strong heroine and Julianne's done it. I'll do a full review when I've finished!

What are you reading?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's exciting, and terrifying

Every day something in the publishing industry changes. It's an exciting time, and it's also terrifying. I feel in my bones that the industry we see today is not the same one we'll see in 3 years. And I don't think anyone has a crystal ball and knows exactly how it's all going to shake out in the end. There are endless opportunities, but there's also the caution of knowing which opportunity is the right one. And the fear of being left behind.

Yesterday this all kind of came to a head for me. Let me say first off that I am so very, very glad that I have an agent right now. At least I don't feel like I'm heading down the rapids in a barrel all alone. LOL. I feel good that I have surrounded myself with good people - my critique partner who is always there, my agent, as I said, and I have wonderful editors.

But at some point, there comes a time when staying informed becomes TOO MUCH and I have to retreat into what I know. And what I know FOR SURE is that all I can control is the writing. And I'm not spending enough time on it. Opportunities will pass me by when I'm reading about them instead of writing FOR them.

I won't say I'll be more scarce. That doesn't work, because the more I write the more I need to switch gears. So I can't see myself hibernating. But I do see me upping the ante on the word count score. And I need to shut out some of the voices and focus. Because no matter where things end up in publishing, the people still standing will be the people still writing books. And I have too many stories left to tell to lag behind now.

In the words of Tony Horton: Bring it.

See ya on the flip side (aka tomorrow for #Fridayreads!).

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

#WW - How do you promote?

I'm deviating from writer's craft for today's Writer Wednesday for a few reasons. One, I attended a great workshop on social media this past weekend, and two, things annoy me, and it makes me wonder if they annoy you too.

On Sunday our local rwa chapter had a guest speaker - Richard Black from Rich Graphics, who came to talk to us about social media. It's very easy to be overwhelmed by the social media playground these days, and choosing which platforms to use can be crazy and make you want to pull your hair out. For example, I have a myspace profile that largely has been abandoned. I haven't deleted it because I'm not SURE I want to. But it is definitely languishing as I ask - is anyone even USING Myspace anymore?

We talked a lot about Facebook and Twitter and blogging and YouTube and bringing it all together and I was pretty in the loop. I know I could tweak things and I made notes to that effect, but I do have plug ins on my site and blog, I do manage my social media through one program (Hootsuite, I used to use Tweetdeck but got utterly frustrated). I did ask about HOW people use these programs though as that's where my mind is these days. Not just tweeting and posting but doing so effectively, you know?

For example, as an experiment I cashed in a google ads coupon a while back and drafted an ad. I then could look at stats and see how many impressions I had vs. click throughs to my site. I have considered facebook ads as well, especially after reading a piece on Facebook ad tips by Laurie London the other day. I do not feel the same about Twitter ads, though, and I clued into WHY when Rich used the words "subculture" in reference to twitter.

I have always thought promotion is a conversation. It's a soft sell. And yeah, I do my share of tweeting announcements of where I'm blogging, when a book releases, good news I've received. It *is* after all a promotional tool. Lilly Cain put this really well  - she said that for every promo tweet sent, another 10 should be non-promo. Responses, RT-ing, personal glimpses - but not selling. I get the most responses when I tweet about what I'm making for dinner, I swear to God. It really is called SOCIAL media for a reason.

Loved this blog post too on Jody Hedlund's blog about alienating readers using social media.

Anyway, this brings me to twitter ads. Because I despise them.

With Google and Facebook, ads show up in your sidebar. I don't mind those so much - I can take them or leave them. But if, for example, they showed up on my WALL? There'd be a holy revolution. In fact, when people have used my wall to push their own promo, I've deleted or hidden posts. There's a whole etiquette thing that goes with social media. You know what? Send me a message. Chances are, if I know you and I'm keen, I'll post to my wall myself and link to whatever it is you've got going on.

But with Twitter, ads show up IN MY STREAM and I HATE IT.

With facebook you get to choose your friends. With Twitter, you choose who you follow. To me, twitter ads are the same as crashing a party where you haven't been invited - and then asking me to buy something from you. How likely am I to do that?

If you want to sell books via twitter, start conversations. Talk to other people, ask questions, retweet things you find interesting. It's not so much about consumers as making connections. And I feel that way about all promo. It's why I love getting reader mail and I respond to each one. It's why I try to make sure that as an author I'm accessible. I really really believe in accessibility. Lately I've seen one author who will remain nameless who continually posts to a blog and it is all "buy my book". If I buy your book, chances are it'll be because you showed me a glimpse behind the scenes, because you shared something with me, and not because you shoved an ad in my face. In fact it accomplishes the opposite - chances are I won't buy your book, and it's unlikely I'll buy any others, either. Because buy, buy, buy does not give me a really good impression and there are a lot of books and authors to choose from when it comes to spending my $$$. And that's also why, when I see an author do a really good job of relating to their readership, I do buy. And I talk them up to other readers.

Anyway, what sorts of promo annoy the heck out of you? Am I overly sensitive about the twitter ads thing? What are your views on the best way for authors to reach out to readers? I wanna know!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

How Do You Measure Success?

As a writer, I would have quit long ago if I had measured success by publication. Instead I measured it (most of the time) as having finished a new story, having submitted, receiving requests and/or feedback. I measured it in counting the number of manuscripts I had written. There were many things to celebrate beyond selling. Good thing.

In December I decided enough was enough and I began a new battle - with Writer's Butt. I have always struggled with weight, and several years ago I lost some weight and kept it off for the better part of three years. But then it came back - and I added 30 more.

It's been a positive change since December, but if I left the success of it solely to the results on the scale I'd probably be very frustrated by now. I am down almost 14 lbs since then, but only 2 of those pounds have been in the last month. I plateau a lot. I go down, but then fluctuate up. Stepping on the scale keeps me accountable. It is a reminder each and every day to be diligent. To not miss a workout, to pause before I succumb to an extra helping. But it is not my only measurement of success and I think that is why I'm able to remain determined and motivated.

The other yardstick is fitness level. I like sports. Problem is being active without really watching the food doesn't work to take off the pounds. Anyway I have enjoyed our workout program - we are Power 90 (Tony Horton) converts with an eye to trying the P90X next. We're in the last phases of that program which means everything has kicked up a notch. Since starting the program my hip pain that plagued me daily is gone. I have more energy. My posture is better. I know I'm getting stronger because when we started Phase 3-4 I couldn't do a single decline pushup. Our last sculpt workout I did 8. I couldn't do ANY straight leg dips (I'd been bending my legs through phase 1-2) and now I can do a half dozen before switching. But the real evidence happened last night.

Our schedule went hinky which meant our regular workout time evaporated. While I was cleaning up the kitchen my husband hit the treadmill. I wasn't going to. I didn't have a spare moment until 8:30 when the kids went to bed - and I hate working out late. But I thought no, I'm not going to miss a day. So I changed and went down to the treadmill for a walk/run.

And I did something I haven't done for years. I ran. And not just running intervals, taking walk breaks. I warmed up for 3 min, ran for 20 straight, and cooled down for 2 more before stretching.

I will admit, I cried. I had no idea my fitness level had improved that much. Only weeks ago, running 2 minutes before going to a walk was a challenge.

Lately my scale hasn't been moving very quickly. But that doesn't mean my health hasn't improved. It clearly has, and that's really, really important. Because that is what will keep me going when the scale refuses to budge. 

Monday, March 07, 2011

Monday

The snow has melted enough that we can see patches of grass. It does feel like the worst of winter is behind us and that anything that happens now will be short lived. The downside is that it's early spring, which means it's messy and dirty and the dog needs towelling off after walks since she tends to get her belly dirty.

Also I heard a big crack and rumble yesterday, which ended up being the ice collapsing in our pool. But it seems to be nearly to the bottom which makes us wonder where the rest of the water has gone (we drained it to about 1/2 full in the fall. Best case scenario at this point is we need to replace the liner. I will take a moment to feel badly about that because more expensive than the liner is paying the truck to come fill the pool. Our water situation means we can't fill it out of our well...

Anyway we are waiting for the third thing to break (the first thing was the dh's glasses; his lenses are v. expensive).

However there is some goodness to the day. For one, I'm off to the accountant to pass off the tax stuff. I need to make a stop on the way home and then it's working on chapter 2 of the new book. And I'm at Petticoats and Pistols today, talking about how writers and ranchers actually have a lot in common. :-)

Have a good'un.

Friday, March 04, 2011

12th Time's the Charm Pineapple Cake

First up: the FINAL chapter of my online read is live at eharlequin! You can read the end or now go and read the entire thing start to finish.

And now...I claim victory over the cake. Here's the story and recipe and I'm going to also post it in the recipes section on my website.

For YEARS I tried recreating my husband’s grandmother’s pineapple cake. There were two major obstacles. One, there was no written down recipe. And two, his grandmother died before we began dating, so the recipe went with her. No matter how I tried, I could NOT get the topping right. It was always too heavy and gloopy and ended up running down the sides of the cake. It wasn’t “light and fluffy like Gram’s”.


Sigh.

I did however discover Debbie Macomber’s recipe pages on her website and in my browsing found a different cake but with a similar topping – fruit and pudding mixed with whipped cream. Could this be the magic solution????

I took the general idea – using dry pudding mix instead of prepared pudding – and began again. And it was delicious. So delicious, I decided to make my *own* pineapple cake recipe – and share it with you. The only change I may make next time is whipping more cream (500 ml/2 cups), as my husband said it was my best yet but that "Gram's top was thicker". LOL. Maybe 13 will be the real lucky number. But it's delicious as is.

Here goes.

1 yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1 can crushed pineapple
1 pkg instant pudding mix
1 cup whipping cream
Sugar and vanilla to taste
Water

Before you begin: strain the pineapple, squeezing as much juice as you can into a glass measuring cup. Add enough water so the liquid measurement is 1 ¼ cups.

Mix yellow cake mix with eggs, oil, and liquid until smooth. Fold in a few tablespoons of pineapple, reserving the rest of the fruit for later.

Bake cake according to directions on the box. I like to make mine in a pretty tube pan, so it takes about 45 minutes.

Turn cake on to a cooling rack and let cool completely (very important!).

Mix dry pudding mix with remaining pineapple until no powder remains. Whip cream, adding sugar and vanilla to taste. Fold pineapple/pudding mix into whipped cream and spread over cake. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Diamond Like No Other

New book ahoy!

Meet Sam Diamond.



Sam runs Diamondback Ranch. He's a busy guy. Diamondback is huge and things need to be a certain standard. And his dad's fallen ill, so all the responsibility has fallen to him. Including filling in for his mother on the board of directors for a new women's shelter in town.

So naturally he's going to butt heads with the foundation's Executive Director, Angela Beck. To Sam, she's young, idealistic, a real bleeding heart.

I've already found a song, too, but I know there will be several. Instead of this being a "theme" song, I see it as a "scene" song. I could see a scene pop into my head when I heard it that I think will be lovely.




Happy Thursday! And a happy birthday to my husband today!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

#WW - That scary, blank first page

Before I launch into this week's #WW topic, I have some news.  Actually I have LOTS of news!

The penultimate chapter of REMEMBER ME, COWBOY is up at eharlequin! The last chapter is on Friday. Then you can read it from start to finish as all chapters are accessible.

SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER is a winner! I heard this morning that it took the Contemporary category in the Dunes and Dreams Picture Perfect Cover Contest! I can't take any of the credit - it's all down to cover artist Kanaxa who does such a brilliant job! Samhain is lucky to have her talents!

Yesterday I signed a new contract for an exciting project! Christmas 2012 will see a trilogy of holiday books in the Romance line! I've hooked up with Fiona Harper and Shirley Jump and I'm so excited we're going to be working on this together! My book is the middle one...so they should be out in Oct, Nov and Dec 2012.

And....my revisions have gone through so it's official. HOW A COWBOY STOLE HER HEART will be out in the US and Canada in October and in the UK in November of this year.  Phew!

OK now let's get down to business - and the fact that this week marks the start of a new book for me.

I talked about starting a project earlier - casting, doing character sheets, maybe a synopsis or character background. That's all before you actually start WRITING. And I'm going to tell you a secret. It doesn't matter how excited I am to start a new project, there's something intimidating about sitting down, opening a blank word document, typing the words CHAPTER ONE and then looking at the blank screen. Like bleeding on the page, I sometimes procrastinate. Because openings are tricky.

I have a horrible habit of starting chapter one in the wrong place, for example. What I have in my head doesn't always work best on the page. Sometimes I write the beginning 2, 3, or 4 times before I know I've started in the right place. A fine example of this is my upcoming HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER. I wrote the beginning 3 times. Then my editor said nuh huh. It was still All Wrong. I ended up rewriting the whole beginning (as well as the middle and end, but that's a blog for another day. LOL).

I try not to overanalyze and I shudder when I think of following RULES but there are some things that are constant with beginnings. So here are Donna's rules for writing Chapter One:

1) Get the hero and heroine on the page together as soon as possible. If it's in the first paragraph, so much the better. Definitely in the first scene. The ONLY example in 18 books I can think of where I haven't had them together in the first scene is in PROUD RANCHER, PRECIOUS BUNDLE, because I have Wyatt in a particular bind and scene 2 is where he goes to Elli for help and I switch POV.

2) Make sure the characters are at a crossroads in their lives. It doesn't have to be anything as drastic as a mid-life crisis, but it has to be a moment of change. If you look at my first Harlequin Romance, HIRED BY THE COWBOY, Alex is single and pregnant and Connor is at a point where he might lose his ranch.  Sometimes only one character will be at this crossroads, but their appearance throws a monkey wrench into the other character's life. But there has to be a moment of transition.

3) Make sure there are stakes involved. Your characters want something, and the other protagonist is either the solution or going to get in the way.

4) Open with action - either dialogue or a really great opening hook sentence that leads into the action.

That's it. That's all my rules. Do I always get them right? Clearly not. Do I put in too much narrative sometimes? Yep. Do I dump in backstory? Yep. Do I follow the rules and it's still wrong? Yep. How do I know? Sometimes it's nothing I can put my finger on and it just feels wrong. Other times I've started with a turning point but it's the wrong turning point. A lot of times I start too early. And it takes some fooling around to get right.

But when it's right, the pieces fall into place. Because a strong first chapter is the foundation for your whole book. You know what they say about shifting sands, right? That chapter has to be rock solid.

Is it any wonder that blank page is terrifying?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In like a lion!

I got home from picking up the dog yesterday afternoon, and it was just starting to snow. By supper freezing rain was beating on the windows, and then it turned to rain and winds, and then it turned cold. Frozen slush in the driveway now - lovely. So March did indeed come in like a lion, and I hope it goes out like a lovely, warm, spring-like lamb.

Dreamer is on the mend from her dentistry surgery, and oh my last night was so funny. She was still coming out of the anaesthetic and wasn't very steady, and her eyes were pretty glassy. When she went to lay down she just sort of slid to the floor, legs splayed out. She's on meds today and tomorrow, and the result is one very loopy Duck Toller. She coughs - the vet says this is likely from the tube that was in her throat yesterday - and she has taken to obsessively licking the floors. We're not sure why. I'm wondering if her tongue feels a little thick or her mouth tastes funny.

So it being first of the month there was some housekeeping to do today. Congrats to Debra Simning-Chapman and Kamini Nair who won my contest held on my site. My March newsletter has gone out and this month's contest is for subscribers only.  You can sign up on the sidebar and I'll send you the latest edition with details on how to enter.

I've also updated my website with the latest news and added some review bits to individual book pages.

Now I'm off to critique a chapter for my CP and then carry on with my new book! Which reminds me - it's time to add a new word counter to the sidebar! Wheee!