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Posts tagged with: contemporary romance

How Do You Find Your Characters

Many years ago, I was like a shaky legged fawn stepping into the world of writing. I had written before, for myself and for my school newspapers, but this new world was totally different and scary as hell. I knew if I was going to survive I would need a strong man by my side so I began my search for the man I knew whose name was Hudson Alan Mitchel.

I searched every store, every street corner, and every office I entered, but I was always disappointed. Yes, there were plenty of men in all those places but none were Hudson.

This went on for months, during which time I began to write his story. It came to me like I was listening to his dreamy baritone voice over the radio. (Yes, at that time there was no podcasts or You Tube channels). Taking long walks and listening to him like we were connected by our cell phones, I learned what he liked and didn’t like. I discovered all of his dreams from childhood and on. I felt his angst over the burdens and problems he carried as a major league ball player. I became aware of whom he trusted and who would put a knife in his back because of his fame. And he revealed to me his most personal desires. He wanted a woman just like me. (Yes, when he told me that, it was a sigh worthy moment.) But sadly, I was blissfully married to my own hero and being the decent guy he was Hudson said he would always be my friend.

But I didn’t have an idea of what he looked like. I knew his heart but not his face.

He assured me that we would meet and soon.

I wanted to meet Hudson so much, face to face, and touch his cheek and let him know that I would do anything to find the woman of his dreams for him. I wanted him as happy as I was. Then, I thought why not start the search for Hudson’s dream woman right away. It would be so great to be the one to orchestrate their cute-meet.

One sunny afternoon, I sat on my patio, flipping through a catalog when Sileen Wright caught my eye. She had long, nutmeg brown hair and dark eyes like I did, but she had a cute button nose like Sandy Bullock and a body I’d need to exercise like ten hours a day for a year to achieve. But physical beauty wasn’t all Sileen had going on for her. Her smile reflected her warm heart and her witty sense of humor. She had a look that told you exactly how she was feeling.

I felt privileged when she told me about her family and her dreams to work for NASBO (National Association of Small Business Owners). However, I picked up on the sadness when she spoke about those dreams. She hid the sadness quickly and I didn’t pry. I knew who could help her figure out her problems­~the man who I trusted. They were perfect for each other.

Maybe a month after, Sileen and I met, I attended my first big writer’s conference at Penn State’s main campus. For three days, I learned more about the craft from great writers such as Merline Lovelace. ~I love Merline’s work and not because she gave me such great advice. Her writing is wonderful.~ Anyway, my critique partners and I stopped at a local café and while we enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (I know, I know about the Creamery now!) Hudson appeared. It was love at first sight. Yes, I mean me. But at last, remember I was married. So, it was love at first sight for Sileen and Hudson and their story took off in my imagination.

After years, their story is now going out into the world and you all are among the first to know how Sileen and Hudson’s love affair started.  Perfect Fall is up on all venues for a preorder price of $.99 now.  It will release in four short weeks on July 18, 2017 at $4.99. Grab your copy today and if you feel like sharing the information with your friends, please do!

 

AMAZON

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To me the story is all about characters. Finding a picture of my characters and interviewing them is usually how I begin to learn the direction and theme of my stories. Where do you start? Do you just dive into write and learn about them as you go?  Do you use character charts?

 

 

Autumn Jordon is an award-winning, sneaker wearing Ruby. She loves writing both contemporary romance filled with chuckles and romantic suspense/mystery meant to keep you on the edge of your seat, guessing. Visit her website www.autumnjordon.com for information on all her works and to join her newsletter.

Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Jo Anne Banker!!

Today we’re welcoming another Rebelle, 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Jo Anne Banker, Finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript THIS CHILD IS MINE.

This is Jo Anne’s third Golden Heart® final. She won the Short Contemporary category in 2011 with LOST AND FOUND, and finaled again in Contemporary Romance in 2015 with HOMECOMING. She writes about the secrets that families guard and the love that heals them.

She’s owned a bookkeeping service for years, and finds balance in the creativity of storytelling. She has volunteered with her local RWA chapters, serving as President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and contest coordinator. She lives in Houston, Texas with three overly-pampered cat, where she enjoys the theatre, an eclectic mix of foods, good friends, and family.

Here’s a blurb for THIS CHILD IS MINE:

A date rape survivor returns home to care for her dying father, and faces the two men who changed her life. A vicious attack, a desperate secret, and a love that can heal even the deepest hurt…

Jenna’s world shattered the night her boyfriend’s twin brother assaulted her. She fled her hometown the next day, but found herself pregnant from the attack. Twelve years later, she reluctantly returns to care for her dying father. But feelings long since buried resurface when she meets her lost love.

Cade never knew why Jenna deserted him. Until she shows up in town with a son who looks exactly like him. There’s only one problem. The child can’t be his. The only answer leaves him furious and hurt. She betrayed him with his own brother.

Can these two childhood sweethearts get past their anger to find happiness and love in forgiveness?

That sounds intense!!! I hope we see it on bookshelves soon!

Jo Anne is here today to talk about a fascinating topic every writer needs to think about: the importance of knowing your “core story”!

Take it away, Jo Anne!

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Core Story: Or Why We Write What We Write

As writers, we all have a core story, a common theme, infused throughout our novels. It inspires our characters to pursue their goals, to overcome whatever conflicts we throw in their paths, motivating them to strive for their happily-ever-after. This theme is the underlying meaning of the story, the life lesson exemplified throughout. It normally has a universal nature, one understood as part of the human condition, so it transcends race, religion, and language, and instead encompasses experience. It might be a coming of age story, or good versus evil. Perhaps it’s betrayal, or lost love renewed. But if we examine our tales, whether they be filled with fantastical creatures, lords and ladies, or Navy seals, we’ll find that each of us writes our own individual core story.

Recently, Jayne Ann Krentz signed her new Amanda Quick historical release, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, at Murder By the Book here in Houston. During her chat with the audience, she promised her readers that although she’d changed the landscape of her new novel from Regency England to the Hollywood/Southern California coast in the 1930s, she had not changed her core story. Jayne/Amanda knows that her readers pick up one of her books with the expectations of a certain type of story and characters, and she wanted to assure us those would always be there. A strong suspense plot, a dark hero who walks with an emotional limp (and sometimes a physical one, too), a smart, fearless heroine, and that core story, which in Jayne’s case is about trust. What makes her romantic stories so beautifully yummy is the trust her hero and heroine develop for each other.

As it turns out, my core story is about healing family hurts. I believe each of us has some type of family karma, and that it’s healthy to identify and work with what we’re given. Why do some have co-dependent relationships that promote victim consciousness, while others come from a healthy nurturing place? Why is it important for some people to have children, and some choose not to? Why do some express obsessive behavior destructively, becoming alcoholics or drug addicts, where others focus that same obsessive behavior into eating right, exercising, and living healthy?  

I write stories where love not only heals family, but where it often forms new families. Not always with biological family members, or sometimes with lost family members found. My stories are often about children separated from a parent in some way. My maternal grandmother had four children, each with a different man. I don’t know why. She died before I was born. But the half-siblings, each seven years apart, all grew up without fathers. My own father and paternal aunt were both adopted. In the five generations I’ve researched, either adoption, growing up without a parent, or raising someone else’s child is prevalent. Parent/child separation, family karma. I recently joked with friends that I write about the skeletons in everyone else’s closets to keep my own rattling bones at bay.

Multi-published New York Times bestselling author Sharon Sala says that everything in her stories comes full circle, because that’s how she sees life. “We are born, we live, we die, and as one life ends, another is beginning. Full circle…. From conflict to solution. From sadness to joy. From being alone to finding a happy-ever-after love. From beginning to end…” Sharon writes characters we all love, and we love seeing them come full circle to their HEA.

Popular historical author Shana Galen finds her central theme tends to be the fish-out-of-water trope, usually in her heroines, sometimes in her heroes. Shana believes there are several reasons she writes this core story. First, “…a character who doesn’t have all the answers and is unsure of herself is approachable and likeable…. Secondly, this convention gives me lots of opportunities for conflict and comic relief. If I throw a character into a situation she’s not ready for, she can get into trouble and she can also mess up in funny ways. Thirdly, this is a theme in my own life. From a young age, I’ve held views and opinions very different from those of my family and friends. …I became a romance writer, which is not exactly a common profession.” Because it’s familiar to Shana, it’s easy for her to write. Feeling out of place is something to which we can all relate. And Shana’s stories are action-packed, and her characters do get into lots of fun trouble!

Award-winning romantic suspense author Colleen Thompson writes about women harnessing their anger in a positive way, “…using [that anger] to find their strength and right a wrong rather than continuing to ‘behave’.” Colleen gravitates toward this theme because “…women are fed from childhood the message that it’s not nice not to be nice, so much so that we end up swallowing the unpleasant and internalizing the damage rather than risking making a scene and drawing attention to ourselves. What happens when a woman reaches her limit and stands up for herself or those who can’t protect themselves? What price does she pay, and what rewards can she reap?” Colleen is tough on her heroines. She puts them in situations where if they want to live, they’d better find the emotional strength to fight for what they love.

My friend and three-time Golden Heart® finalist, Kay Hudson, and I were talking about common themes a few days before Jayne brought it up at her book signing. Kay’s core story is about “…starting over, beginning a new life, a new adventure, a new romance.” Kay doesn’t know why, except “…it always seems like good story material, and a springboard for humor, as my heroines tend to be the sanest person in the room, surrounded by oddball associates.” Kay wrote an article once on how she came to write what she writes, and found a line that sums it up for her. “Love is funny. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

I’ve spoken with writers who say nothing personal ever appears in their stories, it’s all about the fantasy for them. I’ve talked to many more who agree there’s something of themselves in every one of their protagonists. But I believe that even if it’s subconscious, everyone’s core story is a basic life lesson learned deep in our own psyche. We don’t choose our theme, then write a story around it. In fact, we often finish a story without even being aware of any theme. But it’s there.

Can you identify yours? What thread of life is your common theme? What’s even more interesting: why is that core story yours?

 

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Connect with Jo Anne Banker on Facebook!

What Do Your Characters’ Jobs Reveal About Them?

Jobs are hard for writers. Not that employment is hard, or even writing, although they are, but deciding on jobs for characters is especially hard. A reader’s first impression of the hero and heroine might be provided by their occupations and go a long way toward establishing personality traits.

If your blurb indicates that a hero is a cowboy or an oil-rig worker, that describes a type of physicality that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with a doctor or an accountant. The difference between a botanist and a financier speaks volumes without saying another word.

In my Billionaire Brotherhood series, the three heroes are, well, Billionaires, but is Independently Wealthy really a job? They each needed to have their own professions, but I didn’t want them to be the hard-driving corporate-executive type that’s often associated with the term. In my character profiles, they were designated as the Intellectual, the Dare-devil, and the Athlete, so their occupations needed to reflect that. All of them had broken away from their super-successful family businesses. One was an English professor, one was a financier, and one was a football player. For their counterparts, the heroines needed to be the kind of every-day, girl-next-door women that wouldn’t normally populate the men’s social circles. One was a writer, one was a pediatrician, and one was a museum curator.

In my Good Riders series featuring a Cincinnati motorcycle club, I wanted to show that people from all walks of life enjoy riding motorcycles, not just troublemaker, bad-boy bikers. My heroes include a news reporter, a computer programmer, and a fireman. The heroines are a documentary film-maker, a teacher, and a midwife.

And then came the fourth Good Riders book, FACE THE MUSIC. The hero is an astrophysicist and the heroine is a classical pianist. Oops! I knew nothing about either one of those professions. So, that was a challenge. Why would I do that to myself? It was an accident, of course.

The hero, Elliott, is the brother of Mitch, the hero in MEANT FOR ME. Elliott was introduced in Mitch’s book as this science-guy, physics kid. He pre-existed before I knew he was going to have his own story. Since he had once been a child prodigy, I wanted the heroine to have been a child-prodigy, too, in an area that seemed opposite of Elliott’s strengths. I liked the idea of a contrast between the creative artist and the man of science combined with their commonality of similarly odd childhoods. Writing them was fun, but I’m not sure I’ll go so far outside my comfort zone any time soon.

Since I write contemporary romance, my characters are never going to be intergalactic bounty-hunters or mystical priestesses. Typically, I give my characters jobs that are relatable to me as well as to readers. But what kinds of professions most appeal to readers? Conventional wisdom says to avoid rock stars and sports heroes, but is that still true? What are some interesting or unique jobs I could consider for my future characters?

https://www.amazon.com/Face-Music-Good-Riders-Romance-ebook/dp/B072DTF7C5

 

 

 

Jacie Floyd writes contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and emotionally-rich stories that feature heart, heat, hope, and humor. Before publication, she was honored to be named an RWA six-time Golden Heart Finalist and two-time Golden Heart winner. Since abandoning her day job in 2014, she has self-published eight books and a novella. Her eighth book, FACE THE MUSIC, from the Good Riders series, debuted this week.

She loves hearing from readers and writers and invites you to contact her at www.JacieFloyd.com, https://www.facebook.com/JacieFloyd/, https://www.pinterest.com/JacieFloyd/, or https://twitter.com/jaciefloyd

 

 

 

 

PROCRASTINATION: A Day In The Life…

I wake up with dread, knowing I have an ironclad this-is-really-it deadline looming. I’ve delayed long enough. The book is written, but other tasks MUST be completed. Final edits. Uploading files. Newsletter draft. Create ads. Schedule a blog tour. Secure beta readers. Update website. On and on. These tasks are not my strong points, but I must stay focused.

I routinely start my day with exercise, because good health is imperative. I never let anything—except bad weather or a good book—interfere with my morning exercise. Unless I get invited out for breakfast. Or I sleep late. But whatever. Exercise is important.

After my power walk (stroll), I’m hot and tired. While cooling down with a glass of iced tea, and maybe, a cinnamon roll, I check my iPad for what’s going on in the world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I post a couple of comments, just to stay relevant. And then, I check email, because I might have a request for a speaking engagement, a note from a reader, or an ad from Amazon tempting me to purchase more books. I don’t need more books, but it’s almost a professional obligation to check out the competition and see what authors and titles are being promoted.

Three purchases later, I’ve wasted—or invested—too much time in social media, but I haven’t played any of my numerous word games. I should take a peek at them. And I shouldn’t neglect my Trivia Crack skills. You never know when a random factoid will come in handy.

The morning is slipping away, but I can still accomplish my goals. I power up my computer and settle in until I remember that a load of towels desperately needs laundering. But my husband interrupts. “What’s that?” I ask. “You want me to run to Home Depot with you to pick out paint for the kitchen? Okay, but only if we can be quick about it.” Unfortunately, choosing paint colors is more time-consuming than it sounds. Especially after investigating the possibility of replacing the kitchen cabinets. And flooring.

But now it’s time to get busy, and I’m ready. Except that my stomach growls. Got to keep up my strength. I could eat at my desk, but it’s so pretty outside. I’ll be more capable of working all afternoon, if I get a little fresh air. Before returning to my office, I realize I never put those towels in the dryer, and that absolutely has to be done.

Time to get on those edits, but didn’t I schedule a Ruby blog this week? What was I planning to blog about? FACE THE MUSIC, my upcoming release? Astrophysics? Concert pianists? Motorcycle clubs? Topics skitter through my brain. Nothing gels.

Maybe a snack would help. I should put on some chili for supper. Oops, there goes the mailman. Is that a hang nail? Where are my nail clippers? Did I forget to make an appointment for my mammogram?

And so it goes. When I’m writing a manuscript, or even doing revisions, I’ll gladly stay glued in my chair. Promotion and pre-publication stuff just screams out for procrastination. But I’ll get it done. I have to. I have a deadline. But excuse me, please, my dryer is beeping. Towels don’t just fold themselves, you know.

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072DTF7C5

Jacie Floyd’s contemporary romance and romantic comedies are emotionally-rich stories about strong women and bold men. From 2001 to 2013, she was a six-time RWA Golden Heart Finalist and two-time Golden Heart winner. Since abandoning her day job in 2014, she has self-published seven books and a novella. Her eighth book, FACE THE MUSIC, from the Good Riders series, is now available for pre-order with a May 25 release date.

She loves hearing from readers and writers and invites you to contact her at:

Website: www.JacieFloyd.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JacieFloyd/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/JacieFloyd/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jaciefloyd

AuthorCentral: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/profile

 

 

 

Heart, Heat, Hope, and Humor

No surprise here, but I have closets full of ‘keeper’ books that go back decades. Crisp contemporaries, crumbling high school favorites, bold and sweeping historicals, witty chick-lit, proper regencies, and romantic suspense. I love them all.  

            Early in my writing career, I studied my keepers to determine what—beyond plot—had me clinging to this particular assortment of books. Clearly, I gravitated to believable stories and relatable characters. Beyond that, no matter what the conflict, century, or setting, there were certain identifiable, emotional elements that kept me coming back. Now, when I’m revising a manuscript, I always make at least one editing pass that focuses on the basic elements that I call The Four Hs.

           First, for me, there is Heart—the beating pulse of every love story. I need to know that   the hero and heroine will ultimately care deeply about one another. That their emotional journey will touch my heart, and that whatever conflict might occur, they are the absolute match the other one needs to form a lifelong relationship.

            Second, bring on the Heat. Whatever level of sensuality you’re comfortable with, there must be that initial spark of flirtation that kindles attraction and ends with a firestorm strong enough to keep them warm for a lifetime.

            Third, there’s just something irresistible about Hope. I want my heroes and heroines to have a sense of optimism. Hope should live in their hearts no matter how dire their situations, how black the blackest moment. They will find a way to make it work, to figure it out… somehow.

            And fourth, when in doubt, add a dollop of humor. There is nothing I like better than a wry aside, an amusing exchange, or dialogue that sparkles on a wave of witty banter. Characters or situations that make me smile, chuckle, or laugh go a long way in keeping me entertained.

            So, there we have my four essential Hs: Heart, Heat, Hope and Humor. You could say Happily Ever After is the fifth H on the list of necessities, but that’s a foregone conclusion for a romance, now, isn’t it?

            As a reader or a writer, what must-have elements put a book on your keeper shelf?

https://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Knows-Sunnyside-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01DVKLL4E

Jacie Floyd writes contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and emotionally-rich stories about strong women and bold men. While polishing her craft as an unpublished author, she was honored to be named a six-time Golden Heart Finalist and two-time Golden Heart winner by RWA. She has self-published seven books and a novella since 2014. Her eighth book, FACE THE MUSIC (Book 4 in the Good Riders series) will be available in April.

She loves hearing from readers and writers and invites you to contact her at www.JacieFloyd.com, https://www.facebook.com/JacieFloyd/, https://www.pinterest.com/JacieFloyd/, https://twitter.com/jaciefloyd

New at Harlequin: Two Single-Title Imprints and an Erotic Series

Harlequin is pregnant! 

The venerable bastion of second-chance Amish SEAL daddies and billionaire rodeo secret-baby doctors will give birth to two new single-title imprints in 2017 and a yet unnamed “explicit and graphic” romance series in early 2018.

Graydon House

Unconventional. Emotional. Multi-layered. Breathtaking. Edgy. Issue-driven.

A commercial women’s fiction imprint on par with HQN and MIRA, Graydon House is anchored by Dianne Moggy (VP Editorial) and Susan Swinwood (Executive Editor). This select hardcover and trade imprint will release its first title in September 2017 with How to Be Happy by Eva Woods, which was acquired in a six-figure deal and is reputed to be like if Me Before You had a baby with Beaches. Women’s fiction superstar Kristin Higgins will be releasing Now That You Mention It with Graydon House, so this is definitely the place for your highly emotional family and friendship sagas, but darker veins do run through Graydon House.

“We’re seeing a real shift towards bigger, more layered commercial fiction where the characters are dealing with a variety of relationships—with siblings, spouses, friends, lovers—and that’s where Graydon House’s focus will be,” said Swinwood in a press release. “The unconventional love story, modern relationship fiction, with topical issues for book club discussions, women coping with the ups and downs of life, careers, dating, marriage, divorce, even death.”

Among the releases on the docket for 2017 are an intriguing time-slip mystery by Nicola Cornick as well as Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda, which sounds from its description to be riffing on the sinister marriage themes explored by Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster Gone Girl

Frankly, I’m still not clear on the distinctions between all of Harlequin’s single-title lines, but I know that Graydon House is the place to send your “big” women’s fiction…if you have representation. Like Harlequin’s other single-title imprints, Graydon House only accepts agented submissions.

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Erin O’Brien, w/a Laurel Kerr!!

Well, this is it, folks—the last of our Golden Heart Finalist guest blogs for the year! The Rubies have loved getting to know the Mermaids better, and we’re thrilled that we’ll get to meet lots of you in San Diego in JUST A FEW DAYS!!!

Bringing us home with the guest blogs today is a first-time Golden Heart Finalist, the lovely Erin O’Brien, who writes under the pen name Laurel Kerr. She’s a finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript VOLUNTEERING HER HEART. (Aww! Love the title!!)

By day, Erin is an attorney, but she loves escaping into a fantasy world at night when she pens contemporary, historical, and time travel romances. She has a wonderful husband, who indulges her writing habit, and a Cavalier spaniel, Selkie, who assists the writing process by curling next to Erin.

Here’s a blurb for VOLUNTEERING HER HEART:

Single-dad Bowie will do anything to keep his financially strapped zoo afloat—even if it means kissing a pig.

Back in high school, foster-kid Bowie had craved social acceptance so desperately that he bullied the class nerd, Katie, and tricked her into kissing a pig in front of their peers. Now, on the cusp of her thirtieth birthday, Katie has returned to her small hometown of Sagebrush after earning millions in the public offering of her computer entertainment empire. She only wants to hole up in her dream house and design games, but her mother volunteers her to help improve the zoo’s social media image. Less than pleased to assist her former tormentor, she vehemently refuses until Bowie offers to kiss his Red River Hog, Daisy. Katie relents and is soon challenging Bowie to perform more lighthearted publicity stunts on YouTube based on his old pranks against her. Spending increasingly more time at the zoo, Katie begins to soften as she watches Bowie care for his pre-teen daughter, the elderly former zookeeper, and the animals. Yet, she’s determined to protect her emotions, even if her hormones are firing at will. Bowie falls hard for this sexy, smart, prickly woman, but will he manage to break through the barriers surrounding her heart—barriers that he himself created?

Oh, what a brilliant twist on the meeting-the-high-school-bully-as-an-adult trope!!! You’ve got some fabulous built-in conflict there, and it sounds like you’re coming at it with a wry sense of humor. Seriously, make sure you let me know when this is out in print!!

It sounds like Bowie and Katie both got battered around a bit by life, but are emerging all the stronger into their happy endings!! Erin’s here today to share the story of how hitting a few bumps in the road of her writing life really did teach her the skills she most needed to know.

Take it away, Erin!

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Erin Laurel O'BrienI have recently embarked on the great agent hunt, and it has again reminded me of the importance of a skill that I learned during my freshman year of college: harnessing criticism to propel my writing.

The summer between high school and college, I worked as a reporter for a local weekly newspaper, filling in for those on vacation. Toward the end of the gig, my editor dispatched me to write an article on a local library. While there, I learned of their renovation woes and more prosaic general news typical for small town libraries. Thinking that someone had already covered the construction, I mentioned it only in passing…and basically missed the entire story.

My editor was the stereotypical gruff newspaperman. He called me over to his desk, took out a pen, and scratched through the entire piece, leaving only the short phrase regarding the remodeling issues. Then, he handed the article to me and told me to rewrite the whole thing based on that one remaining sentence. Now, eighteen-year-old me slunk back to my desk, paper clutched in my hand. I believe that I had a good cry about it, but I ended up penning my best work that summer after his criticism. The water pouring from the ceiling and the mice invasion suffered by the library provided excellent fodder for vivid imagery, and I was able to capture the difficulties facing the librarians as they tried to protect their books.

That fall, I began college. I had one English professor who used pencil to markup papers instead of pen. Each time, my work appeared as if it had been hit with a graphite grenade, so numerous were her comments. The first time I was upset. Then, I buckled down and dutifully made the changes, and I realized something important: her suggestions drove my writing to new levels. Even though I made good grades, the professor never stopped covering my assignments with constructive criticism. I owe much of my writing skills to her efforts, and I learned that I should view critiques as exciting challenges to improve my work product.

The lesson taught me to listen to advice in order to bolster my writing. This ability has helped me as an attorney to rewrite contractual provisions to better capture technical terms or the business intent. It also allows me flexibility to tweak language to reach compromises with opposing counsel.

Embarking on my new journey into the publishing world, I find that I have returned to the original roots of this skill. Recently, I pitched to an agent at a conference. She thoughtfully gave me constructive criticism on an issue with fluidity and the opportunity to rewrite the piece before submitting to her. Currently, I am working on how the adjustment will ripple through my entire manuscript. I can already tell that this will bolster my story and provide a stronger underpinning to it.

I believe what makes a writer strong is not the ability to produce a flawless story on the first try. It is, instead, the ability to take comments and critiques and transform the story into something polished and solid.

What critiques have helped to propel your writings to new levels?

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Learn more about Erin’s romance-writing alter-ego at www.laurelkerr.com

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Melonie Johnson

Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Melonie Johnson, a 2016 Golden Heart finalist in Contemporary Romance with SOMETIMES YOU NEED A SEXY SCOT!

author photoMelonie Johnson is a Star Wars junkie, Shakespeare groupie, and unabashed lover of lists. She lives along the Illinois/Wisconsin border, and enjoys the benefits and miseries (traffic, anyone?) of living within an hour of two major cities. She’s married to a retro-game geek and has two red head daughters who keep her busy with laundry, dishes, and laughter.

She recently wrapped up her second term as the president of the Chicago-North chapter of RWA and now serves as the Social Media Chair for the chapter. You can find her on twitter at @MelonieJohnson, visit her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MelonieWrites/ (where she shares pics of hot gingers, among other things), and check her out at meloniejohnson.com.

Here’s a blurb for SOMETIMES YOU NEED A SEXY SCOT:

When a gorgeous guy (in a kilt, no less) literally falls at the feet of “Twitter Babe” Cassie Crow, she does what any American girl on her dream vacation would do: throws caution to the wind and locks lips with the sexy Scot. But when she realizes her hot Highlander is actually the creator of a UK Internet prank show, Cassie fears if the clip of her getting punk’d by a Scottish hunk goes viral, she can kiss her ambition to become a serious broadcast journalist goodbye.

Logan Reid’s star is on the rise. Under consideration to be picked up for a television series in the states, Logan knows this latest stunt is guaranteed to rack up the views he needs to knock his numbers out of the park. When the unwitting player in his perfect pitch cries foul, Logan vows to see the prank go live, even if he has to chase the Yank with the smart mouth and hot lips across the pond to seal the deal. Turns out, the joke’s on Logan once he realizes he’d risk his fifteen minutes of fame for a chance at a lifetime with Cassie. But with her career on the line, is Cassie willing to risk the same?

got kilt

Hee!! It’s like Outlander meets Punk’d, with a fun, sexy twist! I can’t wait to read that opening scene!

Okay, readers, let’s make ourselves at home in the castle throne room (ignore the TV cameras, but be on the lookout for hot guys in kilts…I hear they’re all over the place). Help yourselves to some shortbread cookies—and a tumbler of whiskey if you’d like one—while I lob a few questions at Melonie Johnson.

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-Welcome, Melonie! Your Golden Heart book has such a fabulous concept! How did you come up with the idea?

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Tracy Brody!

Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Tracy Brody, already a Golden Heart winner last year, who’s a DOUBLE finalist this year, in two different categories!!

2015-10-17 CRW Glam Party -cropTracy Brody lives in North Carolina with her husband and teenage daughter and has a son that shows up for a few weeks between college semesters and internships to let her feed him and do his laundry.

Though she followed her father’s advice and studied business, she continued to indulge her creative side with various crafts and scrapbooking until her overactive imagination dreamed up a story line that she wrote as a spec movie script. Being a housewife in NC with no ties to Hollywood, she eventually took friends’ suggestion to turn her script into a book and began writing romances. She joined RWA and Carolina Romance Writers in 2010. She loves walking in her neighborhood or, even better, being at the beach talking to herself as she plots books and scenes. She’s represented by Helen Brietweiser of Cornerstone Literary.

Her 2015 Golden Heart winner, A SHOT WORTH TAKING, is actually the second book in her series of single title romances featuring the Bad Karma Special Ops team whose love lives are as dangerous as their missions. This year, both the first and third books in the series are finalists—which means all three of her completed manuscripts have finaled in the Golden Heart!!

Here’s the blurb for THE SNIPER’S SECOND SHOT – Contemporary Romance:

Sergeant Mack Hanlon thought he could beat the odds, despite knowing that a Special Ops career and a stable, successful marriage don’t go together as smoothly as peanut butter and jelly or even guns and ammunition. His wife left him and the Army life, but when Mack meets Black Hawk pilot Kristie Donovan, he believes he’s found a woman who can support him and his career choice. However, he soon finds he’s battling more than regulations prohibiting romantic relationship between the ranks.

After losing one husband in combat, Kristie’s sworn she’ll never fall for another man in his dangerous profession. Mack’s persistence and charm in pursuing her are accomplishing his mission to win Kristie’s heart until his ex-wife threatens to expose their relationship if Mack won’t let her move out of state with their girls. Kristie ends their forbidden romance to protect their careers and keep Mack from losing contact with his daughters. But, after insurgents bring down Kristie’s aircraft and take the crew hostage, Mack’s team rushes to rescue Kristie and her crew. If he can save her, he still has to find a way to give them both a second shot at love.

And here’s the blurb for IN THE WRONG SIGHTS – Romantic Suspense.

A patient’s deathbed confession landed nurse Cassidy O’Shea in witness protection. However, her unauthorized trip to Fort Bragg for her ex-stepfather’s funeral necessitates putting her under temporary protective custody after learning he’s been murdered. The Marshal Service turns to her late stepfather’s friends, the Army Bad Karma team, to keep her safe.

A dedicated soldier, AJ Rozanski is supposed to be protecting Cassidy, not falling for his former mentor’s stepdaughter. But her acceptance of his career choice is a refreshing change from his parent’s disapproval of his military service and his ex-fiancée’s inability to handle his erratic deployments.

Cassidy going back into Witness Protection puts an end to their hopes for something beyond a few days and romantic nights together—until an assassin locates her and she flees to AJ and the Bad Karma team. Can they give her back her life—and a future with AJ?

Awesome stuff!!! And both very suspenseful! I’m sure these will be out in readers’ hands before very long!!

Okay, everybody–time to gather around in our super-secret Ruby bunker for a chat with Tracy Brody. (No bad guys allowed!!….um, unless they look like Tom Hiddleston and are eminently redeemable!! In which case, join us!!)

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Welcome, Tracy!! Lovely to have you back here with the Rubies!

Okay, so ALL THREE of your completed books so far have finaled in the Golden Heart, and the one that finaled last year actually WON. That’s incredibly impressive!! Did this come out of nowhere, or did you have experiences with contests before that? (Inquiring minds want to know.)

I’m a bit of a contest veteran, actually. I’d entered a few contests early on with RWA – when I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.  🙂 Some of the early feedback pinpointed areas I needed to improve in. Things like point of view, eliminating passive writing, establishing character’s goals, motivation and conflict, showing instead of telling, comma usage, et cetera and etc. I took classes and later entered a new WIP in the Golden Pen to see if my writing had improved. I was happily shocked when I finaled and kept working on learning craft.

I missed the Golden Heart finals in 2014 by one point. As most of the ladies in my critique group were not writing a lot, I felt bad asking them to keep critiquing for me. So in 2014, I entered a number of chapter contests for fresh feedback to see what I still needed to master. I developed a reputation as a contest queen (or whore depending on who you asked.) That year I think I entered eight different contests, entering both manuscripts in two of them. I had four misses but placed first in six contests.

Even after the wins in 2014, I almost didn’t enter the Golden Heart for 2015. I was very methodical in picking which contests to enter based on the submission size, the score sheet for judging, number of judges, whether they dropped a score, who the final round judges were. The Golden Heart didn’t tick the right boxes for getting feedback and in front of agent and editor judges I wanted. But, I decided to give it one more shot.

Clearly, a shot worth taking!! (Sorry, sorry…couldn’t resist the title pun.) You must have been excited that it finaled.

I’m thrilled it did! The Golden Heart is unlike any other contest I’d entered. With its reputation, it’s great affirmation to final and brings the perks of priority registrations for pitch appointments at convention – not just the year you’re a finalist. It’s a great credential to list when you query (and I got very quick requests.) Then there’s the networking opportunities, getting to shop for fancy dresses, and feeling a little like a celebrity. But the biggest difference was the sisterhood that developed among the finalists. Just being a finalist was a win and we worked to help and encourage each other. While I’d really hoped not to be eligible for the Golden Heart this year, since I hadn’t accepted an offer yet, I decided to enter again because of the friendships I formed with other finalists.

With your track record, I’m betting you won’t be eligible to enter Golden Heart again as of this time next year—but you may just have a second (or third!!) shiny heart pendant to add to your collection. So, I’m curious: your two finalists this year are part of the same series, but are nominated in two different categories, Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense. What’s the story behind that?

Several of the 2015 finalists had entered several manuscripts that year, and a few said it was the one they didn’t expect to final that did. While I tend to be a last minute kinda gal, I got IN THE WRONG SIGHTS (third in my series) submitted for the Golden Heart with a few days to spare. I kept thinking about the first in my series, which I’d entered in the GH back in 2011. It hadn’t finaled (hadn’t even come close then), but I’d revised it, and thought why not give it a shot. But it’s not as suspenseful, especially in the opening. (I was still learning how my series needed to be consistent in genre.) So the Friday before the GH deadline, I emailed my agent to say I was going to enter it and asked which category she thought I should put it in. I started doing an editing pass over the weekend. I only beat the deadline thanks to one of my awesome ’15 GH Dragonfly sisters saying, “Tracy, you know the deadline is 5 PM—not midnight?” Yeeps! I uploaded THE SNIPER’S SECOND SHOT with 10 minutes to spare and went with my gut to enter it in the contemporary category. My agent emailed a few hours later saying to enter it in romantic suspense. Ooops. My bad – I’m still learning, but it worked out despite the strong competition in that category. And having the first book of my series, that has undergone so many rewrites, changes, and edits, final is really special.

I love that you’re so open about having to learn to become the writer you are! I’m a teacher in my other life, and I always tell my students that screwing up and trying again is essential to growth…whether you’re a writer or Steph Curry. (And I’ll confess, my very first writing contest entry was a 35-page opening chapter. The judges very lovingly smacked some sense into me, and I quickly got to work on the dynamics of pacing.) But, in the short term, criticism can sting, can’t it?

While I’ve had friends who made the finals, even won, the first time they entered a writing contest, that’s not my story. We’ve probably all heard stories of mean judges and crazy comments and widely ranging scores. You learn to accept how subjective judging can be. Feedback can make you reach for a bottle of wine or make you dance.

Well, I’m sure you’re doing a lot of dancing these days!! Speaking of good times, are you going to Nationals?

Heck yes!! I get to see many of my wonderful friends from the 2015 GH class (am even rooming with two of them!) and meet new finalists. And I get to buy fancy dresses. Yes, plural. Last year I bought six dresses, returned four, and rebought one on sale – all for under $150 total. I’m about on that same track now. Still trying to decide between three, including one I didn’t wear from last year.

LOL! I’ll be looking forward to the fashion show!! (And everybody’s fabulous shoes!!) Before we go, do you have a question for our readers to get the conversation rolling today?

I’d love to hear your best or worst contest story. The good. The bad. The laughable comments from a judge. Feedback that made you cry or gave you that “ah, ha!” moment. Here’s your opportunity to let us commiserate or celebrate with you.

As a thank you for reading and responding, I’m giving away a $5 Amazon gift card and a pair of patriotic handmade red, white (okay, really they’re crystal) and blue earrings to two commenters. Thanks for stopping by and your support! Hope you all have the opportunity to fall in love with my Bad Karma heroes and their loves.

Bravo TeamAnd as a little reward for all, here’s a scrapbook collage of my Bad Karma Team for your viewing enjoyment.

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Connect with Tracy Brody online:

Twitter: @BadKarmaWriter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Brooke Salesky!

Today we’re welcoming another of the Mermaids, a 2016 finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript AN EDUCATION.

WEB-500p-107-Brooke-SalisburyBrooke Salesky is a native Kentucky girl who grew up with an authentic love of horses, bourbon, and bluegrass. She now resides in Austin, Texas where she lives with her husband and dog.

While she has a typical daytime desk job (when she’d rather be writing), she’s had varied experience including playing accordion in a girl band, being an English teacher, and even reading electric meters. Brooke loves travelling and has been to over 25 countries, which is where she gets a lot of the inspiration for her writing.

Her 2016 Golden Heart finalist is an erotic contemporary romance, AN EDUCATION, which tells the story of Emily Frost, a straight-laced academic, and Daniel Patterson, the handsome, nerdy student with whom she acts out her Libertine syllabus.

Here’s a little more about it:

Emily is ready to start her first year as a tenure-track professor at Berkeley. She’s been schooled in romance by books, but she’s never lived it. Then she meets the intriguing Daniel while looking for a new apartment. Daniel has eclectic tastes in books and wine and he immediately captivates her, sweeping Emily into an episode of lovemaking unlike any she’s had before. Something desirous awoke inside her while she was in his sheets, but Emily, looking toward her future as a serious scholar, believes she must focus on her new career and dismisses the event as a one night stand.

But when she’s forced to teach a course on Libertine Literature – not her field of study – Emily walks into class on her first day and discovers that Daniel is one of her students. She tries to convince him to drop the class, but as a retort, Daniel proposes they act out the Libertine syllabus in the bedroom.

Emily eventually agrees to Daniel’s proposal, confident she can dip her toe into passion and then escape unscathed. But as they explore the texts with their bodies and their minds, she both desires and worries about Daniel’s effect on her, terrified that their mastery of the subject could lead to her becoming a Libertine herself. 

Oh, this is SO my jam!!! A nerdy, smart, sexy guy and libertine books….yummy!!!

Okay, folks, come join us on one the plush red velvet Victorian fainting couches I’ve procured for the day. I can pour you a brandy or some coffee, depending on what time you’re reading this, and we’ll settle in for some questions for Brooke Salesky!

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Tell us a little about your Golden Heart finaling book and the process of writing it.

This may sound weird but the inspiration for AN EDUCATION was 50 Shades of Grey meets The Marriage Plot.

OH! That sounds intriguing!!

Let me explain! I had just finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, which I loved, and I thought was cute and clever in how it refers to the marriage plot of classic novels within its story. I read 50 Shades right after that. The entire time I was reading it I kept thinking about this course I had taken at university called Sex Theory. It was a literature class and covered everything from sex in fiction to gender theory. In that class we frequently studied S&M and the plot of 50 Shades disagreed with a lot we had discussed from a theoretical perspective.

With these books in mind, I posed this question to myself: What if someone wrote a book where the characters are exploring sex from a literary and theoretical perspective while engaging in a secretive, forbidden romance?

I had this question burning in the back of my mind. And then finally, last year, I took a break from work for a few months and I wrote the book.

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