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?
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 While polishing her craft as an unpublished author, she was honored to be named a six-time Golden Heart Finalist and two-time Golden Heart winner by RWA.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.
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.
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.
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!
I 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?
Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Melonie Johnson, a 2016 Golden Heart finalist in Contemporary Romance with SOMETIMES YOU NEED A SEXY SCOT!
Melonie 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?
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.
-Welcome, Melonie! Your Golden Heart book has such a fabulous concept! How did you come up with the idea?
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!!
Tracy 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!!)
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.
And as a little reward for all, here’s a scrapbook collage of my Bad Karma Team for your viewing enjoyment.
Today we’re welcoming another of the Mermaids, a 2016 finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript AN EDUCATION.
Brooke 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!
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.
Today we’re welcoming Seana Kelly, a two-time Golden Heart Finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript WELCOME HOME, KATIE GALLAGHER.
In addition to contemporary romance, Seana writes urban fantasy, and is dabbling in YA. She lives in Santa Clara, California with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs. She writes in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is asleep. Her day job is high school teacher-librarian. She reads a ridiculous amount of YA so she can find just the right books to encourage her students to read. She is proud to be a Class of 2016 Mermaid, and is looking forward to National’s in San Diego.
Here’s a blurb for her Golden Heart book, WELCOME HOME, KATIE GALLAGHER:
After realizing that marriage hasn’t curtailed her husband’s dating, Kate Gallagher grabs the chance to start her life over by moving to the cottage in Bar Harbor, Maine that her grandmother left her.
It sounds like the perfect place to lick her wounds. Unfortunately, the cottage is far from perfect. Woodland creatures are squatting in Gran’s home and plotting to get her out. When she’s not battling raccoons, or working in a food truck, she’s ricocheting between the grumpily seductive Chief of Police and the local carpenter who’s doing his damnedest to sweep her off her feet.
Still angry and disillusioned after his fiancé dumped him at the altar, Chief of Police Aiden Cavanaugh is content with very short-term relationships, a few hours tops. That is until he finds a car parked in the middle of a deserted road. It’s been fifteen years, but he’d know that face anywhere. Katie Gallagher.
Torn, he’s not ready to trust any woman, especially the one who broke his fourteen-year-old heart, but he’s finding himself unwillingly drawn to her. Instead of feeling relief when his friend Bear tries to woo her, Aiden instead acts as the world’s worst wingman.
Aiden might begrudgingly learn to love again, but will Katie take a chance on someone who so clearly refuses to trust?
Doesn’t that sound awesome–and hilarious? Definitely a book to look forward to!!
Seana’s here today to talk about her love of books–and not just in general. She’s sharing what’s special to her about some partiuclar books which have made a difference in her writing, and in her life.
She’ll be giving away a $20 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter!
Take it away, Seana!
Like most writers, I’m an avid reader.
Books are amazing. They entertain, while helping us better understand ourselves and our world. They teach empathy. They train us to look at the world through another’s eyes, to walk in another’s shoes. Many of the world’s ills could be eradicated if we had more readers, more people willing to try on a different point of view, to find common ground. For instance, I think we can all agree, Christian, Muslim, Gay, Straight, Black, or Latino, that Reyes Alexander Farrow is hot. Can I get an Amen? 🙂
So today, in light of my bibliophilia, I want to discuss some of my favorite authors and what they’ve taught me about life and writing.
Jane Austen– It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good book, must be in want of a hero like Mr. Darcy.
Anne Bishop– When I’m excited to see secondary characters’ names pop up on the page, the writer is doing her job well. In urban fantasy, give your heroine a power that costs her, while helping others. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not a sacrifice, and therefore not as heroic.
Patricia Briggs– I respond most strongly to heroines who are strong, flawed, and selfless. Also, secondary characters make a story. If the hero/heroine isn’t surrounded by interesting, fully-realized characters, I’m less invested in the story.
Charlotte Bronte– I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was quite young. Jane, with her quiet grace and hidden strength, became the prototype for proper heroines after that. Dark, brooding heroes are a good call, too.
Jennifer Crusie– A well-crafted story doesn’t just happen. It takes intelligence, skill, and talent. A great sense of humor helps.
Charlaine Harris– Give your heroine a power that is equal parts cool and harrowing. Allow moments of wonder to happen on the page. Don’t rush by that which is extraordinary in order to get to the next plot point.
Kristan Higgins– Quirk is good. Write charmingly flawed characters who are trying to do the right thing while failing horribly. They’ll get there, and we’ll cheer for them every step of the way.
Darynda Jones– The battle between good and evil should be funny. In a paranormal series, the main character’s power(s) and conflicts need to increase in each successive book. Also, if you have the chance to create a character like Reyes, please do.
James Joyce– Words have power. Take the time to search for (or in Joyce’s case, create) the precise word that conveys the meaning you wish to express.
Stephen King– Popular fiction is not a dirty phrase. Why would a story that has a broad appeal to a large swath of the population be seen as lesser? There’s an ugly elitism at work there. We have an innate desire to tell and hear stories. They needn’t be stories of emotionally paralyzed families staring across the dinner table, forever eating their own hurts in order to be seen as worthy literature. Oh, and twin girls dressed identically and holding hands in a deserted hotel will always be horrifying. True Fact.
Harper Lee– When Scout derails a lynching by looking into an angry mob and seeing each man individually, she’s ripping away the mask of anonymity. With the three words ‘Hey, Mr. Cunningham’ she defuses the situation. They’re no longer a faceless mob bent on murder. Scout pulls her classmate’s father out of the crowd, and in doing so causes each of the men to pause, to remember who they are and what they are about to do. When I hear about people behaving badly, their conscience and humanity buried under a group hate, I think of that scene and wish we had Scout around to tear away the masks.
Jandy Nelson– Yes, you can write a YA novel with language so beautiful it brings tears. You can write images that are indelible.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips– Even when your hero or heroine is making horrible mistakes, find that accessible, relatable characteristic that humanizes him and forces your reader to root for him. If you can write convincingly from both male and female points of view, please do! If you can’t, please don’t.
Julia Quinn– Champion the wallflower. Tell stories that turn the paradigm on its ear. If at all possible, let your heroine have a pet hedgehog.
Nora Roberts– Boundless stories, combined with a strong work ethic and unflagging determination, will lead to being read and beloved the world over. Oh, and anything short of arterial blood you can deal with yourself. Let Mommy write now. 😉
J.K. Rowling– Magic is all around us if only we take the time to look with the right eyes.
J.D. Salinger– Proof that you can write a novel about emotional paralysis that is both beautiful and accessible. I read Catcher in the Rye for the first time in 4th grade. I liked it, but thought Holden was annoying. The image of him standing in the rye field, trying to catch the children before they fell off the cliff was powerful and has stayed with me ever since. When I read it again in high school, I was uncomfortable. It like holding up a mirror and fixating on my worst characteristics. In my twenties, I started to love Holden and could appreciate the artistry of what Salinger was doing to engender the reactions he was in his readers. Another powerful image, the rain on Holden’s brother’s grave, took up permanent residence in my mind. In my thirties I became fiercely protective of Holden, adopting an almost maternal view of him. I’ve read the book five or six times in my life and have found that though the words on the page never change, the reader (me) who comes to the page does. Books don’t really exist without a reader. They are black marks on a page. The reader has the power to bring the story and characters to life, and so the story is forever evolving.
Jill Shalvis– Funny is sexy. Alpha heroes may not speak much, and certainly not about feelings, but they’ll always have your back (while fondling your front).
John Steinbeck– There is a beauty, a poignancy in telling stories of the average man. It’s our humanity, our ‘one soul’ as Jim Casey says in The Grapes of Wrath, that makes the ordinary extraordinary.
These are some of my favorite authors. I’d love to hear from you, though. Tell us a favorite author of yours and what you’ve learned about writing or life from him or her. One lucky respondent will win a $20 Amazon gift card. I can’t wait to hear who your favorites are!
It’s been so much fun meeting the Mermaids so far! Today we’re welcoming Rayn Ellis, a 2016 finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript SOUL SONG.
After surviving 25 years as a CPA in the Corporate World, a dare to complete The 3-day Novel Contest had Rayn packing up her calculator and accounting briefs (think legal briefs, not boxers) and stepping into the wonderful world of Romance. Turns out writing hot sexy men, kick ass heroines and steamy sex scenes is way more fun than crafting accounting research papers (yes, there is such a thing).
Rayn lives in the Pacific Northwest in Canada with one seriously gnarly cat, who refuses to allow her picture on Twitter. A city girl who longs for life in a quiet coastal town, Rayn is a surfer wannabe and has a passion for organic food, second rate Rom-Coms, and her Elitist 1965 Casino™ electric guitar.
Here’s a blurb for Rayn’s Golden Heart book:
SOUL SONG tells the story of ex-Stepford wife LAUREN WAITTES, who was ostracized by her gated-community after her svengali-esque husband pulled a Bernie Madoff and vanished. Facing financial and emotional ruin, she struggles to find her way in the real world of soaring legal bills, FBI indictments and fraud victims desperate to find their money. The receptionist position at an exclusive music event planning company is just what she needs to rebuild her shattered life—safe, secure…and anonymous.
JOEL SHERIN can shred better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. That’s what makes Joel the best Blues guitarist in the biz and the brainchild behind SMASH Records, the hottest new independent label in Seattle. A label he created to showcase his mentor, an international Blues legend, who lost it all in Lauren’s husband investment scam. Music revves Joel’s engine…but it’s women that provide the fuel. And he likes them hot, fast, and temporary. Until he meets hesitant, conservative Lauren.
Two days before SMASH’s inaugural, twenty-day tour, an accident sidelines the tour manager, and Lauren fills in. On the road with Joel and his crew, she discovers the sultry power of the Blues to heal her broken spirit, and the sizzling passion of uber-talented Joel to unlock her soul. That is, until her connection to her ex-husband’s multi-million dollar fraud is revealed in some no name, backwater town. Will Joel believe in Lauren’s innocence? Or will he turn his back and run?
Wow! A lot of really interesting conflict threads, there!! I love that she’s innocent but presumed guilty…. And a Blues guitarist hero…oh, my!!!!
Okay, folks, let’s grab a seat and get into the groove with Rayn Ellis! I’ve had lots of fun talking with her, and you will, too! Leave a comment, and be put in the running for a $10 Amazon gift card and a goody bag of Rayn’s favorite chocolates!!
We’re thrilled to welcome back Priscilla Kissinger, four-time Golden Heart finalist and newly-minted Dragonfly, whose book HIS PERFECT PARTNER has been nominated for the 2015 Golden Heart in Contemporary Romance!
Priscilla writes romance with a Latino flavor. In addition to being the President of FCRW, she works full-time in marketing & publicity and, since earning an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, teaches an on-line romance writing course for ed2go. A single mom of three daughters, Priscilla spends her free time writing, reading, playing tennis, training for half marathons, watching sports and singing karaoke with her family. Find out more about her at www.prisakiss.com, follow her on Twitter with @prisakiss or catch her blogging on www.ghfirebirds.com.
Here’s a blurb for HIS PERFECT PARTNER:
His Perfect Partner shares the love story between two people headed in different directions—one to the bright lights of Broadway, the other determined to lay down roots in their close-knit community. Until their paths collide.
Yazmine Fernandez is an experienced Broadway dancer struggling with the need to meet her family’s expectations and the personal sacrifices her career demands. Tomás Garcia is a single father and advertising whiz that has convinced himself his daughter and career success are enough.
When his nanny is called away on a family emergency, Tomás realizes that instead of a nanny, he needs a partner to help parent his daughter. But after his ex walked out because she valued her job more than family, he vowed never to fall for a woman who would view him and his child as a weight slowing her down. For Yazmine, changing her career plans would negate everything her ailing father sacrificed for her and every plan she’s ever made for herself, leaving her uncertain of who she is and where she belongs. But when she steps in to take care of Tomás’s daughter, she can’t help but think about what-ifs. As they grow closer and she ultimately experiences a heart-breaking loss, their attraction sparks from initial awareness to a soul-stirring intensity. In the end, Tomás and Yazmine must choose between the separate paths they have been stubbornly trying to forge and a new one that could ultimately lead to their Perfect Partner.
On this day after Father’s Day, Priscilla is here to tell us about the man who set the bar for her vision of what a hero should be: her beloved dad.
Take it away, Pris!!
A True Romance Beta Hero
All you writers and readers out there who are looking for a true beta hero role model, look no further.
I give you my dad, Joe Hettler—living, breathing, golfing, karaoke-ing, joking, salsa dancing, romance reading real hero material.
And no, that last descriptor wasn’t a typo. My dad is a card-carrying member of the romance reader club.
In fact, years ago when I was a high school student stuck in a hurricane shelter in the Keys with my family, complaining about being bored, Dad’s the one who reached into his shopping bag full of romance novels—yes, the man brought a shopping bag full of romance novels as part of his hurricane shelter supplies—and handed me my first Harlequin Romance. And that, my friends, is how this budding romance writer (me) was introduced to the world of category romance.
I remember seeing dad walk out the door for work with a romance tucked in his back pocket. And once, we left for a family vacation, then had to turn the car around because dad forgot his eyeglasses and no way could he go the whole trip without reading one of the several romance novels he’d packed for himself.
In a world of hyped up alpha males—on the big screen, on television, on the page—not too many people appreciate the sensitivity a beta hero brings to the table.
Here’s what I know about my dad and what makes me love him even more every day:
Today we’re welcoming another Dragonfly, 2015 Golden Heart Finalist Alice Faris, whose book, GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO TALKING DIRTY is nominated for Contemporary Romance.
Alice Faris grew up in a small community in Northern California that proudly boasts of having more cows than people. She raised Guide Dogs for the Blind, is dyslexic, and can shoot a gun and miraculously never hit the target (which at some point becomes a statistical improbability). Alice also publishes science fiction and fantasy under the pen name Tina Gower, has won the Writers of the Future, and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery/Suspense (paranormal category). Alice is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company.
Here’s a blurb for GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO TALKING DIRTY:
When budget cuts slash her school psychologist job, relationship-shy East Winters lands an interview across country for her dream job. She breaks all her strict rules and works as a phone sex operator to finance the trip. Worse, she hitches a cross-country ride with a hunky, emotionally unavailable truck driver. Soon she’s counseling him for his intense anxiety issues from surviving a school shooting. Close quarters ignite an attraction that forces her to decide which is more important, her job or her heart.
Wow! Fabulous title and great premise!! I do love a good close-quarters, slow-melt story, especially when both hero and heroine need to let down their guards….yum!!
Okay, everybody—let’s all grab a 7-Eleven Big Gulp and climb into a (virtual) truck cab with Alice to learn more about her book and her amazingly inspiring writing life.
Welcome to the Ruby blog, Alice! You write Sci-Fi AND light-hearted Contemporary Romance? Interesting combination. How did your Golden Heart book come to be?
I’d just finished a science fiction book with elements of romance and it was pretty gritty and heavy. I had this idea for a really funny humor story, but I really fought it for a while since it’s hard to write in two genres and I was trying to stick with one to “break out.” I would write scenes here and there between other projects. I sell SF/F short stories, which is how I afford to be an at-home-mom writer. After a while I couldn’t stand it anymore and I broke down and wrote the novel rough draft. It only took about two and a half months writing sometimes two or three thousand words a day, because I had to finish my other work before I could justify working on Good Girl’s Guide. And gosh darn it, more characters from the same world keep popping into my head, so I’ve already got some ideas on another contemporary humor book.
I thought I would self-publish it, but my agent talked me out of it. “This is really good. I can sell this,” is what she said. Then I entered it into the Golden Heart because I loved it too.
And you snagged a Golden Heart nomination!! Good for you! When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
This is a tough one for me. I didn’t really accept that I could write for a very long time. I loved story and plot. I loved sitting for hours on end outwardly staring at nothing, but inwardly creating an entire world in my head. I was pretty much a space cadet growing up—mostly dreaming of what was going on beyond the stars, so I was naturally drawn to science fiction and fantasy. Reading was difficult, but if the story was engaging I’d battle it out to find out what happened. It was probably my intense thirst for a good story that saved me (writers have the power to help children overcome dyslexia, yo!).
I won’t lie, I was an honors student, but it was a strange thing to be talking remedial classes and honors classes at the same time, especially in college. Meanwhile I’d jot down story notes, I’d sketch pictures of characters or scenes from my head, I’d write scenes when I’d get bored with homework. I had a lot of little stapled-together books that I’d proudly display. Most of the time people wouldn’t comment on the great ideas, but on the horrible spelling, handwriting, or grammar. Worse, I’d have people laugh and make fun of the mistakes and how funny the sentences sounded. So I learned to hide it and just keep it for myself. If it was something only I could understand, I didn’t want to burden others with it. Remedial college English classes were awesome, because I think it was the first time I’d been taught the actual rules for grammar in a way that made sense to me. Or maybe my brain was finally ready to absorb the information.
I probably would have never gone any further than to write up stories nobody else would ever see, except for one thing. After my son was born, I had a freak medical mystery/accident. I’d suffered severe nerve damage in my hips and was paralyzed. I always feel like I’ve tazered people when I lay out that life detail. Just know that I can walk now, and I did about two years of physical therapy. During that time I promised myself that I’d try to get one thing published. So I took writing classes from a local writer who took the individual time to go over sentence structure with me, along with word choice, emotion, all the basics. I wrote non-fiction humor pieces and one day I saw a call for Chicken Soup for the Soul and I happened to have a story that fit the theme. I sent it in and didn’t hear from them for nearly a year, but it sold. I now had $200 dollars from a thousand word story and ten free copies of the book. I was floored. I knew it couldn’t be that easy again (and it wasn’t, it took me years to sell another story), but I took it as a sign that it would be possible to be a writer. It was possible for someone like *me* to be a writer.
Best of all, there are more of us. There are a lot of dyslexic writers out there. I admire them for overcoming that huge barrier into this field.
Wow! And you’re right—there are lots of dyxlexic writers. In fact, you’re the SECOND Dragonfly guest this week who’s dyslexic. And you didn’t let a little thing like paralysis stop you either…you’re a powerhouse!! Your writing process must be interesting. What’s it like?
Since my writing process is likely really weird and different than what I see most people talk about, I’ll explain it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m dyslexic or what, but I don’t like to write in order. So I plot out a rough outline and write some scenes that are burning a hole in my brain. At that point I’ll write the first chapters. Then I flesh out the book even more. I like to know about how it will all end before I really go too far. When I get the first rough draft I start adding in more layers, because I’m terrible with setting, so that goes in after as well as some other plot details. The later revisions are usually adding in layers and cutting out the dead wood. I think of it as constantly remolding clay.
I write a lot–usually at least a thousand words or more a day on average. Being dyslexic, a lot of that gets thrown out. Editing (mostly clarifying what I wrote) is the hardest stage for me.
Any hot tips for other folks trying to write with dyslexia?
I was once a school psychologist and counselor. I taught life skills classes and had a special place in my heart for other kids who had reading/writing disorders like me. So I have lots of little strategies we teach students who struggle with learning disabilities.
One of them is writing in one font, then changing to a different font when you edit. I change from a fancy font that Scrivener gives me to Times New Roman and I catch a lot more mistakes this way. Aside from reading the manuscript out loud, this is a hint that I don’t see as often mentioned on writing sites.
And okay, yeah, my GH novel is about a school psychologist; I feel I need to walk around with a sign over my head that states my GH book is not about me. I was never a phone sex operator, nor did I hitch-hike across country with a hunky truck driver. I did experience a potential school-shooting scare (everyone was fine and they caught the culprit before any harm came to the students) and it did give me the idea to add the things I learned from that experience in a book someday.
The font change trick for editing sounds like a great addition to every writer’s editing arsenal! Thanks!! Any other general tips for writers?
Don’t give up. If something doesn’t work, try a new thing. If you’re the best in the room, find a new room. You won’t get better if you’re not always learning.
Spoken like a true counselor! I’m assuming you’re a big reader, too. What are some of your favorites?
When it comes to books, I’m a total whore. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indy stories, librarians…all my pimp daddies. I stick pretty close to the romance genre–especially all subgenres of speculative romance, historical romance, contemporary romance. Amish? Sure. Bikers? *holds up a shy hand* Seriously, did I just list them all?
My MUST BUY authors are Darynda Jones, Kristan Higgins, Nalini Singh, J.R. Ward, Suzanne Brockmann, Diana Gabaldon, Susan Andersen, Colleen Hoover, Jennifer Crusie—I’ve probably read everything they’ve ever written that was available and even searched down out-of-print stuff, too. But like all good romance readers, I’ve been known to dabble in a little Nora Roberts and other classics.
And I have a slight addiction to certain TV shows like: Outlander, Vikings, Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey, and Game of Thrones. Although Game of Thrones is making me feel dead inside.
LOL on Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen the season finale yet. I’m scared. Speaking of things that scare people, are you going to Nationals? Have you ever been before?
Never been. Come find me and makes sure I don’t walk into the wrong bathrooms and be kind to me.
Everyone at Nationals is incredibly nice! Don’t worry. And—this is awesome—they convert almost all the bathrooms at the hotel over to Ladies, so you can pretty much go into any one you want. (For once, I pity the men.) Before we say goodbye, is there anything else you think we should know?
My blogging partner, Pam Stewart, and I were hoping to entice some of you like the pied piper to follow us over to www.smashedpicketfences.com where we’re talking today about yard sales, trash, and treasure—and how that perspective can help writers deal with conflicting critiques. We’re giving away first five pages critiques to two random lucky commenters!! You can see my credentials above (aside from finaling in the Golden Heart, I’ve won some contests and published several short stories in professional magazines). Pam just recently won the Silver Quill Fab Five contest (and she’s finaled/won others). So help us celebrate!
Cool! I’ll stop by. I love the name of the blog! Thanks so much for joining us today, Alice! Anything you’d like to ask our readers to get the conversation going today?
Since my book is about two characters stuck in a truck together on a cross-country ride…: If you could choose a writer or character from a book to hitchhike with, whom would it be? Choose wisely.