Posts tagged with: craft

Guest Author Kristina McMorris: Writing Dual Timelines

TPWK_CoverI realized from the beginning writing dual timelines was going to be a challenge; I’d never before attempted to interweave past and present storylines into a single novel. Yet due to the nature of what would ultimately become my latest release, The Pieces We Keep—in which a boy’s dreams are mysteriously linked to family secrets from WWIII decided it was definitely worth a try. Among my greatest concerns, however, was that one storyline would outshine the other.

When I myself have read novels with dual timelines, frequently I’ve had to fight the urge to skim the present-day chapters to return to the historical ones. Granted, in large part this is likely due to my personal passion for tales of the past. But I also find that high stakes involving life and death are naturally inherent in most historical settings—from revolutions and world wars to times of slavery and civil rights—and can therefore easily dominate when placed directly beside current-day conflicts of familial or romantic relationships.

To overcome this obstacle, I tried to imagine which scenarios would be as devastating to me, or my character, as the harrows of wartime. My answer, as a mother, came without pause: losing my child in a tragic death, or perhaps in a battle for custody. Obviously there are many other situations that can ratchet up tension and maintain a high level of suspense, no matter the era in which they’re set.

Another challenge I encountered came from my choice to alternate the two timelines with every chapter. I am personally a huge fan of short chapters, finding it nearly impossible as a reader to put down a book when the end of the chapter is “just a few pages away,” but I realized it would be important to find a way to prevent jarring the reader. Also, since links between the two storylines in The Pieces We Keep are fed out gradually, I wanted to suggest a connection early on, without (hopefully) giving too much away.

Pieces-boardcroppedTo address both issues, and in hopes of creating a feeling of fluidity, I opted to start every chapter with a sentence that in some way echoes the last sentence of the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter would end with: “He left no proof of existence—save for the missive in her hand.” While the next chapter would begin: “A half hour later Audra sat alone on a stranger’s couch, the slip of an address still in her grip.”

Finally, another goal of mine was to immediately ground the reader in whichever era they were reading, never wanting them to feel “lost.” Date and location stamps were an obvious choice, but with more than 70 chapters in my novel, I felt these would be cumbersome and redundant (and perhaps even make the book 50 pages longer, ha). Fortunately, my publisher allowed me to use two different fonts, one for each chapter/time period. As a result, this required me to merely state the dates and locations at the start of the first two chapters. I’ve also seen this done in other novels to great effect when clarifying changes in points-of-view.

Needless to say, the tactics I’ve mentioned might not work for every book featuring dual timelines, but perhaps they’ll at least serve as options to consider while you’re brainstorming ideas for your own interwoven story!


Thank you, Kristina, for this intriguing glance at your process.

For those who want more information, Kristina will be stopping by periodically to answer your questions, and in true Ruby fashion, will be drawing the name of one lucky commenter (Shipping costs limit this to US residents only) who will receive a signed, trade-paperback copy of The Pieces We KeepOf course, you can find all of her books at various retail outlets including Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Kristina McMorris is a critically acclaimed author published by Kensington Books, Penguin, and HarperCollins UK. Her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards and appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep. Prior to her writing career, Kristina worked as a host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40″ by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit




Ruby Release: 2 for 1 – Liz Talley and Kim Law

Ah…2014. Welcome! It’s a lovely year already, isn’t it? And I don’t say that simply because both Liz and I had a book come out yesterday. Though we did. And we both did little happy release day jigs. I suspect mine was more entertaining, though, because I did mine in my pajamas ;) Because yeah, that’s the way I roll on New Year’s Day. Or maybe that only happened because I was doing revisions all day. Way to start the year off right, huh? (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.)  

So anywho…since I was neck deep in a pile of mess I’m not sure I can write myself out of, I asked Liz to start us off for our release day celebration. We’re going to play a game. But first, Liz will talk just a bit about voice (because that feeds into the game). And then we’ll give examples from our latest books and you all will play “Guess the Author.” And of course we’ll finish up with blurbs and pretty new covers. Because we do have pretty new covers. The kind that make people do little release day jigs. :D

So Liz, please tell us about voice…

Happy Holidays from The Story Masters!

In early November, I gave myself an early holiday gift: a four-day writing workshop with The Story Masters!

I mean, COME ON. Look at this instructor lineup! And within a 50 mile drive of where I live?! I was SO there.

Though I highly recommend everyone experience this awesome workshop for themselves – the next scheduled session is Feb. 5-8, 2014, in Atlanta! -  (CORRECTION: 2015! Thanks, Anne Marie!) I thought I’d provide an early gift to our readers by passing along some of the tips and exercises I took away from each instructor.

Present1From Christopher Vogler, author of “The Writer’s Journey”:

While taking us through an in-depth explanation of The Hero’s Journey, Vogler advised the following:

TIP:   As you write, preserve your awareness of your “spark”: “Why did I feel compelled to write this story again?”

TIP:   Remember cause and effect. Each scene should cause the next. The next scene has to be written for a reason.

TIP:   If you have to choose, it’s better for language to be clear than be poetic.

EXERCISE:   Distill your story down to one word. (Romance writers, “love” is too easy. Dig deeper.) This word is probably your primary theme.

From James Scott Bell, author of “Plot & Structure” and “Conflict & Suspense”:  Present2

On Day Two, Bell used Vogler’s Hero’s Journey material as a jumping off point to provide us with more information about – as you might guess! – plot, structure, conflict and suspense.

EXERCISE:   Getting to know your characters:


Example: Scarlett O’Hara is a southern belle who has to fight to save her home during the Civil War because if she loses her home, she’ll be dependent upon others for her existence, and never a woman of strength or substance.

EXERCISE:   What would cause your character to throw a chair through a window?

EXERCISE:   Describe your character’s best and worst days.

EXERCISE:   Your character has been unjustly imprisoned. What childhood memory do they escape to in order to comfort themselves?

EXERCISE:   Have your villain explain to a jury why they’re right. (This exercise forces you as the writer to get in their head and on their side.)

EXERCISE:   What happened to your villain at age 16 to explain why he or she is the way they are today?

Present3From Donald Maass, author of “Writing the Breakout Novel” and “Writing 21st Century Fiction”:

Ooh, the collective shudder that went through the room when people walked in on Day Three and noticed there was no projector or PowerPoint presentation! Maass promised we’d write a lot, and dive deep and sometimes uncomfortably while doing so. Maass more than held up his end of the bargain, starting the day off with some provocative words about writing goals. Paraphrasing:

Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?

So, when you sit down to write, ask yourself: what do I want my readers to feel today? Dial into the emotional experience you want to convey.

TIP:   Access your own emotional life to make your characters’ emotional lives more vivid. Mine those emotions and assign them to your protagonist.

EXERCISE:   Name an emotion (such as fear.) Remember a time when you experienced that emotion – vividly. What happened, and when? (Time of day, setting, etc.) Choose one specific physical detail. What was it about the scenario that made you feel most <EMOTION>? What did you feel that you didn’t expect to feel? (free write 5 minutes)

EXERCISE:   How can I wreck my hero’s journey so badly that I have to revise or rewrite? (Imagine the gasps of horror when Maass said this!) According to Maass, daring to do this can result in stronger, more surprising, more dramatic stories – which he, as an agent, would dearly love to see.

EXERCISE:   Give yourself an additional 30 pages on top of your current manuscript length. What else could happen if you extended the story’s timeline? Might it be more interesting than what you currently have?

DAY FOUR BONUS! We spent a full day analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter by chapter! With clips from the movie. Absolutely AWESOME.

In closing: So much of the Story Masters workshop focused on deep character knowledge and conveying  emotional authenticity. All three instructors urged us to mine our own lives for material. Talk about writing what we know! ;-)

I hope you find some of these tips and writing prompts as revelatory as I did. This class was definitely the gift that will keep on giving, for years to come!

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200pxDo any of these tips or exercises resonate with you? Will any be helpful as you explore your own work?

Everyone brave enough to give one of these exercises a try here on the blog will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my Oct. 2013 paranormal romance, TEMPT ME, in their choice of available formats. 

Best of luck – and best of writing! 


TEMPT ME:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace
 Gift box images courtesy of




It is Better to Have Loved and Lost…

So I’ve had this love affair with grammar ever since I can remember. In school, I relished writing research papers and making sure the punctuation and sentence structure were just right. I cherished being able to tell the difference between an adjective and an adverb. I loved the way sentence diagrams looked laid out on the page. How orderly my little world seemed. Everything had its place. I made good grades, because I always tried to follow the rules. If I wasn’t sure of something, I could go to my trusty little grammar book and look it up.

Then I started writing for fun. I wrote manuscripts, entered contests, and picked up six critique partners along the way. And almost overnight, my world became a messy place. Why? Because the rules that once governed my writing, no longer applied—at least not as rigidly as they once did. So I’m here to mourn the loss of seven of my favorite rules:sad punctuation

  1. The semicolon. Oh how I loved this little punctuation mark. Joining two independent clauses was once so easy. Just slip a semicolon between them and voila! The first manuscript I wrote was riddled with semicolons…well, maybe not riddled, but it certainly had more than its fair share.
  2. The word that. When I was in school, I learned that an indirect quotation was always set off by this particular word. He said that I needed to finish my homework by tomorrow. I entered my first writing contest years ago and was in for a shock. Almost every instance of the word that had a strike mark through it. I couldn’t believe it. I went to several online groups and vented my outrage. And I found out the judge was right. When writing fiction, the word that causes a reader to slow down rather than glide over the prose. So I waved goodbye to my much used friend.
  3. Never start a sentence with a conjunction. Okay, I admit I’ve embraced the breaking of this particular rule a little too well. My CPs often have to rein me in when it comes to starting sentences with ands, buts, or ors. I love them. To me, starting a sentence with a conjunction makes for a smooth passage from one thought to another. But (hee hee, see what I did there?) they really should be used in moderation.
  4. The colon. I actually still use this punctuation mark, and my editor leaves them in! I think the colon has now taken the place of my beloved semicolon, since I can get away with sneaking them in from time to time.
  5. The lowly comma. <big sigh> How many of you remember the thousand and one rules for comma usage? I can remember looking these up in my grammar book to make sure I put that comma in just the right spot. I loved the comma desperately (notice the forbidden use of the adverb in this sentence). But now? I’m a comma minimalist. No more debates about the serial comma. No more making sure each comma placement is just so. I want my readers to be able to drift through my story without putting them through an obstacle course of punctuation marks. Except when the tone changes or I’m writing romantic suspense. Then I use commas to make the writing a little more jagged or to make the reader push harder to get through certain passages. I still love how this little mark can change the tone and flavor of sentences. I just don’t follow all the rules anymore.
  6. Sentence fragments. Yep. I’m now guilty of throwing a single word onto the written page, plunking a period after it, and calling it done. I can remember when that would have earned me a big red circle and an I.S. notation (incomplete sentence). This is another one that should be used in moderation (and I tend to sprinkle them a bit too liberally). When used correctly, the sentence fragment can make a big impact on your story.
  7. A paragraph must have at least three sentences. Maybe this rule isn’t in effect any longer (yes, I’m that old), but when I was in school, this rule was a biggie. I often sat in my seat grabbing at any random sentence and sticking it into my paper just so I could call a paragraph a paragraph. Oh how my little world has changed. There are times in my books when I have a paragraph that consists of a single word. There’s always a flicker of guilt when I hit that enter key afterwards, but I somehow manage to live with the shame.

So that’s my list. How about you? Are there any grammar rules you’ve left behind and wished you hadn’t? Or do you find ways to have your cake and eat it too? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think breaking the rules should be an excuse for sloppy writing. As the old saying goes…you have to know the rules before you can break them. I admit I do miss the days when everything was cut and dried. I still tend to be a rule follower in real life, which creates a dilemma for me when I write. But <insert evil laugh at conjunction usage> I now tend to just shrug and move on to my next sentence fragment.

Ruby Reprise: Deep Third, Demonstrated

I have a confession to make. I keep a red pen on my bedside table. Oh, I don’t actually USE it. It’s strictly a prop. When I find the occasional typo, grammar error,  misspelling or the like while I’m reading in bed, I glance at the pen. I imagine picking it up, circling the error, and then moving on.

But I recently read a best-seller that made me seriously consider scrawling bloody deletion marks through dozens of occurrences of “she/he thought.” (The only thing that stopped me? It was a library book – and as the philosopher Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.) The usage was correct, per se, but honestly, the author’s stylistic choice drove me bananacakes. “Of course ‘she thought!’” I shrieked after encountering the fourth “she thought” on a single page. “WE’RE IN HER POINT OF VIEW!”


Yeah, I have very strong feelings about POV. Which leads me to recall this post I wrote in Aug. 2011, about writing in deep third point of view.



Dungeon ColchesterI write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an author chat for a friend’s book club,  someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”  (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)

It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.

A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start:

Point of view (POV) - the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story.  Examples are first person, second person, and third person.

Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using ”he/she” rather than “I” language.  Comes in subjective, objective, and omniscient flavors.

I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.

As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become.

With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques.  Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue. 

((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:

Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)

His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Better. I feel there’s less narrative distance than there was in the previous example.  Next, I’ll layer in some additional details for authenticity – namely, swearing. :-)

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.  

Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (How does this guy have access to morphine?)

Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”  

Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word ”thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek. 

He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.

And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue:

My ankle throbs like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.

I would argue that this last example is slightly less successful than the ones immediately preceding it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion.  (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re writing in first person POV.)

So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts, and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone. And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?

Which version do you like the best, and why? What do you think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxPssst. The Kindle version of TOUCH ME, my Underbelly Chronicles novella,TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200px is free today and tomorrow! If you download a copy, I’d appreciate your honest review.

And watch for TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length book, in October 2013! (Read an excerpt.)



Seriously? They did what?

Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.

Guy Fieri, Season Two Winner of The Next FoodNetwork Star, as shown on the The Food Network.

I’m all about the character. I write character driven stories, so I’m always looking at people and wondering what makes them tick. Why do they do the things they do? What drives them? I especially wonder this when one of my characters, like the one in my current WIP, is being somewhat uncooperative. I began re-thinking her motivation, when I remembered this post I’d written early last year. Since I was slated to post soon, I decided to pull it out of the archives and reprint it–with a slight change at the end.

Original post:  I’m not a Reality TV Junkie, but I do enjoy watching couples race around the world, cook their way to stardom, and survive in meager conditions. Whether it’s dancing, singing, looking for a mate, mining for coal, digging for gold, hunting for alligators, or driving across ice roads, these players/contestants have one goal in mind—to win the prize. It doesn’t matter if the prize is wealth, a record deal, or a shot at a television show. They all want to walk away the winner. In that respect, they are the same. Where the difference comes in is their motivation or reason for wanting the prize and to what lengths they’ll go to obtain it.

Let’s take a look at these characters, er, I mean contestants. Most, if not all shows, give us a mixture of personalities from the hateful to the naïve. If we are not family, friends, or acquaintances of these people pre-reality stardom, then we usually assume who we see on television is who these people are in their everyday lives. For example, is the arrogant, bitchy Beauty Queen truly heartless? Is the humble, caring Sweetheart Darling from Next Door as perfect as she seems? From their behavior, how can we believe anything less than that?

As the show progresses, we discover the Beauty Queen is really a charitable woman who gives endless hours feeding the hungry, knitting blankets for the homeless, and teaching underprivileged children. Who knew? Right? As she tearfully stares into the camera, she tells the world she must win the prize so she can make a difference in the lives of others. Her motivation to achieve her goal drives her to lying, cheating, and backstabbing. (Yes, I’m being dramatic. It’s called entertainment.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Sweetheart coats every request with honey and does whatever she can to make others comfortable. She charms her fellow players, the camera, and the television audience. We later learn that in her everyday life, she’s a serial killer. She needs the prize money to escape to Brazil. (Don’t look at me like that. It’s TV. Remember?)

I took the above examples to the extreme, but motivation is a powerful tool. It can bring out the best and the worst in people. It will force people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s true in life and it’s true in our books. Our job as writers is to convince our readers that our character’s motivation is substantial enough to drive them out of their comfort zone. People have different motivations for wanting the same thing. What drives my character may not be what drives your character. There is no right or wrong motivation as long as you lay out the groundwork and then have your characters make choices based on their goal(s) and motivation(s). Throw a little urgency into the mix and you’ll have a reader who’s not only involved in your story, but believes he/she would do the same thing under similar circumstances.

MODIFICATION:  In the original post, I asked you to Name the Motivation by providing you with the beginning of a statement made by a character from the series Gold Rush, which is shown on the Discovery Network.  This time, I’d like to try something different. Let’s make it personal. We all have multiple writing goals. Long-term. Short-term. Career goals. Finish-the-damn-book goal. Get a multimillion dollar contract goal. Word count goal. Page count goal. It doesn’t matter. Pick one of your writing goals and finish this statement: I want to <insert goal> because <insert why>, and I’m willing to do <insert ways to make it happen>.

I’ll go first:  I want to write at least twenty-five pages a week because I’m ready to finish this book and submit it. To do this, I am willing to let the dishes sit in the sink, leave non-perishable groceries on the bar, set a schedule for checking and replying to email, and stop cruising the internet (including hours of Facebook).  I set this goal for myself last week to give me a jump start back into my writing. Dishes in the sink and items on the bar may not seem like much to some, but it’s one of my quirks. Clean sink. Clear bar. Result: 25 pages!  :-)

Now, tell me yours.

Free-for-All Friday: What are you researching?

Thriller writer Chelsea Cain recently tweeted:

ChelseaCain Tweet


I see I’m not the only writer who has these concerns, especially given recent revelations about government data collection. Um…NSA? FBI? DoJ? LMNOP? You know that very specific research I did recently, with the body decomposition rates in a very specific geographic area under very specific weather conditions?

It was research. Really. Kthxbai.

Every story, regardless of its historical era and no matter how reality-based or speculative the world, requires research to maximize the story’s authenticity. My recent research forays have included hematology, twerking, theoretical physics, burner phones, the House of Draculesti, Tasers, and Justin Bieber’s latest unfortunate tattoo.

Any government agency trying to build a digital profile of any author is going to have a mighty hard time. ;-)

What are you researching right now? Please share some of the weird, unexpected, notable, or interesting areas you’ve researched for a recent writing project. Did you learn anything that surprised you?


GIVEAWAYS! Today, Ruby Sister Hope Ramsay and I are two of the featured authors at Dear Author‘s August Giveaway Extravaganza, celebrating romance readers for the entire month! Pop on over to have a chance to win our books.

Psssst! You don’t have to go to Dear Author to learn that my self-published Underbelly Chronicles e-novella, TOUCH ME, is free at Amazon Aug. 9-11! Grab one, fast! ;-) And if you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your honest review!



RSS Welcomes GH Finalist Ella Sheridan…and her sister

Today I have the joy of welcoming a guest blogger from the Lucky 13s–the Golden Heart Finalists of 2013. Ella Sheridan is a finalist in the Paranormal category with her manuscript UNBROKEN – she’s also my twin sister. We thought we’d do something a little different, and just talk about the joys and struggles of writing, and the novelty of having someone be a part of your life from the moment the egg splits.

Please join me in welcoming my sister, Ella Sheridan!

Ella Sheridan, Unbroken

Dani: I can’t believe you’re here! Seems like we’ve done everything together. We went to school together, took the same classes, got the same major and minor degrees. Married within 6 months of each other and had all our kids pretty close together.

Then you had to copy me and start writing…

Ella: Now, I did start when we were teenagers. I just had to develop stamina. You didn’t start until you were older.

D: Still, we’ve always read voraciously.

E: I think you learn a lot from reading. A lot of the things I do now I do instinctively because I absorbed it. From a very young age we were learning about story details, arcs, and characterization. We were reading adult books at 12 or 13.

What I think is interesting is your process hasn’t really changed all that much through the years. Whereas mine has evolved…and in some cases, is all over the map.

D: I basically do brainstorming, then plot, and get it all down in extensive notes. Then I do a really fast, really rough draft before revising.

E: And your story doesn’t really change. Once you plot it, you don’t make any huge changes (to the story) after that. But I typically have a major change—

D: In just about every chapter! I really don’t know why you want to write the book twice…what’s the point of that?

E: If I could get it right the first time, it would be a lot easier. I’m just a glutton for punishment, I guess. I’ve done that with all except for 1 Nano book, which I only had to rewrite the ending of because my critique partner read it and said, um, I don’t think so.

D: You are a plotter, though, like me.

E: Yes, I plot—

D: –Then you re-plot.

E: Then I plot some more. And then I change those plots.

D: But you know when it’s right.

E: Yes, that’s the thing that has changed a lot with my GH book. I still struggle with the worry over whether its good enough, but I don’t worry if the story is moving in the right direction, because if it’s not right, I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t settle and have that calm in my head because I know something is off. Even if I don’t know what it is. And when I get a scene right, I have peace. I’ll worry about whether someone else will like it, but I know I’ve gone in the right direction.

That’s the biggest change with this book. I don’t know if it’s a confidence level or an evolution of my process or just this book.

D: I can’t help you there. I’m actually published and I haven’t figured it out. I get it ready to send in and think, “What if I screwed that up?” But it’s too late by then.

E: Well, I’m still working on plotting the next books a little at a time, and the thought of plotting book 2 of a 9 book series terrifies me. Because I do not want to repeat what I did with this one: force myself to write a rough draft that I knew wasn’t right but I thought, well I’ll just get it on the page and revise it. Oh, man, what a load of crap…

I have never struggled with revisions this bad, even though I’ve done major revisions on all of my previous 4 books, but this one was a major overhaul and a half – agonizingly painful to revise.  Part of it was that I didn’t know the rules of my world well enough. I hadn’t figured them out to my satisfaction. I tried to just push through it and hope that those details came. And that didn’t work.

The other part was that I wasn’t as familiar with my characters as I should have been. I mean, I’d been thinking about UNBROKEN’S characters for 3 years. I thought I knew them, and could write them. Then I started the book and…nope. Probably my first clue should have been that I had no music for this book. When I started writing I searched and searched. For me music is vitally important to plotting, getting through certain scenes, setting a mood in my mind—


D: Another thing we do the same.

E: Exactly. And with this book I could not find music that worked that way for me. Until I started the rewrite and then it finally fell into place. That was a huge warning sign that I ignored. You learn, though, and hopefully the next one will be easier.
Of course I always think that the next one will be easier. No. No its not.

D: Come on, girl. You’ve got to get it together. I say, as if I have it all together, and don’t call her every couple of weeks asking her to talk me off a ledge because I’ve freaked out over something.

E: We’re both needy. Something else we share. But it does kind of amaze me that our processes developed separately, but are still so similar. We both use the music, plot to an excessive extent, fill out forms and notes, and both need pictures of our characters. I need to be able to picture them, no matter how minor.

With Unbroken, I have pictures of places too. For the lair I googled underground bunkers, and came up with a home built into the ground in Sweden, but it’s all brushed concrete inside. I started looking at pictures of the inside, because they rent it to people –

D: You could actually go stay in your house!

E: Exactly! And this is where they got on the leather couch and… Research!

D: We get asked a lot, are you twins? Which is funny because I think the older we get, the less we look alike.

E: Me too. I think it’s the husband influence.

D: What would you say has been the neatest and the least favorite part of being a twin?

E: The least favorite part? I think now, there’s not anything about it I don’t like. But when I was just reaching adulthood, that was a hard time to kind of find out who I was –

D: Hey, you stole my answer!

E: Well, we are twins. I think that was a hard time to find myself, and I think it took me longer than the average person.

D: Yes, because you have to find who your identity is on your own. We had an identity as a set. But then we had to find our single identity outside of this other person, which is difficult when you’re with that person all the time. And used to being addressed as, well, one.

E: And thought of as a set. Sort of interchangeable, in a way. Even by people who should have known better.

D: It wasn’t until people got to know us, realized we had different personalities and different ways of approaching things, that we got the more individual approach.

E: The thing I like the most is I don’t have to go anywhere by myself if I don’t want to.

D: When I first started writing, it was the first major thing I ever did by myself. Even though getting married and starting a family were done separately, I was just adding another partner. And it was a normal pursuit.

But writing was outside the norm, and I had to do it alone, I had to walk into my first writers meeting by myself, make my first submission by myself. That is what helped me establish my identity more than anything. So when people talk about writing and how being a writer is something that is wrapped up in who you are, I think this is truer for me than it is for most people. Because it helped me establish myself as an individual person.

E: For me, it was more like following in your footsteps, so I felt like I had to work really hard to prove that I was good enough, that I wasn’t just going along. I had to really work hard.

That’s why the GH means so much to me too. It’s something we share, and that makes it more special to me. Probably less special for you, because you’re like I have to share this too? But for me, I feel like I’m following behind you and giving honor to a legacy, so to speak.

D: Aw, I have a legacy!

E: Don’t let it go to your head or anything… especially the next time you send line edits to me.

D: You do make my books better.

E: That’s an area I feel like I’ve come into my own. Not just with this book, but with my work as a line editor that helped set me apart and give us some differences. It’s something I specialize in. Also it helps that we aren’t targeting the same publishers either. So we’re doing the same thing but coming at it from different angles.

D: And even the things that are similar both have their own voice. We may look the same, but we don’t write the same.

E: Just like we have different personalities, we also have different voices and ways of carrying out our stories.

D: How about some fun facts?

1. We’re mirror image twins. Dani is left-handed and Ella is right-handed. We’re opposites in certain physical areas. We have the same moles on opposite sides of our faces.

2. Ella is allergic to a lot of things that Dani is not.

3. We have similar tastes in clothes, and are both struggling through that “I don’t want to look old” stage.

4. Ella is an inch taller than Dani but Dani is 2 minutes older than her.

5. We do have siblings, but the oldest is 18 years younger than we are. Our youngest sister is creative too, writing songs and poetry.

6. We handle conflict very differently. Ella is the fighter. Dani is more likely avoid conflict if at all possible.

7. Ella’s interest in martial arts adds a whole new element to her evil twin status. Dani is more of an elliptical kind of person, but Ella tells her how to hurt people in her books.

8. Dani’s 2009 GH book features a heroine who is trying to save her twin sister from a kidnapper.

D: The one thing that’s been the best about being a twin is I’ve never had to be alone, really. Through good times and bad. There’s always this person who is not only there, but actually gets it without you having to say anything.

E: We don’t have to explain things to each other.

D: All I have to do is look at you and you know what I’m thinking.

E: Just the lift of an eyebrow or the turn of the head and I get it completely. I could talk for hours at my husband and he wouldn’t get it. I want to say, “Can’t you read my mind?” But no. No, he can’t.

The older we get, the stronger the twin telepathy gets. “I’m not feeling good today. Think I’ll give Dani a call.” Yep, she’s sick.

D: That really has gotten stronger. It didn’t really develop fully until we were adults. I only remember 1 incident of telepathy as a teenager, but other than that it was mostly once we were older. Now it’s strengthening to the point that instead of being triggered by extreme emotions, it’s more everyday things.

One day, Ella texted me and said, “Did you hear from your editor today? Because I’m feeling unusually antsy.” I replied, “I got my celebratory sale shoes.” Oh, so that’s what the excitement is all about…

Dani and Ella will be hanging around today, answering questions about plotting, characterization, being Golden Heart sisters, and anything twins.

Ella Sheridan is a 2013 GH finalist in the Paranormal category with her manuscript, UNBROKEN. She’s a member of RWA and writes contemporary romantic suspense and paranormal with an erotic flare. Her spare time is filled not just with freelance editing, but also teaching karate/jujitsu classes. You can learn more about her here


The human world is populated with myths that allow them to pretend their plain, mundane world is more than it seems—except those myths are true. They stem from one shape-shifting species, the Archai. The Archai’s special abilities gave birth to the legends humans revered, but man can never truly understand what it means to be Archai. Their gifts. Their purpose. The depths of their betrayals.

Arik counts on no one but himself, and he likes it that way. Isolated, alone, he watches and waits for the opportunity to gain the only thing he’ll allow himself to desire: revenge. Then, in the dark of night, the perfect weapon falls unexpectedly into his grasp.

Kat is always on the outside looking in. She’s resigned to being invisible, until an innocent walk home from work is interrupted by a savage attack, forever changing the person she’s always been. Now she’s the focus of a man bent on destroying her world to settle his own score.

Two wills clashing. Two empty hearts in need of each other. Surrendering to the hunger between them is a given, but a deadly enemy lies in wait, and surrendering their souls may be the only thing that saves them.

Guest Author: Abigail Sharpe

I am so happy to be hosting my friend and fellow Unsinkable and Forever Romance author, Abigail Sharpe today. Her debut novel, Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy?  is out this week.  And since I have a real weakness for cowboys I can’t wait to read it.

Abigail is blogging today about a subject I struggle with — writing that all-important sex scene.

Sex and the Reserved Romance Author

AbigailI wrote a romance novel.  It’s called Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? and it’s out this week.  And yes, it contains that three letter word, SEX!

I see a lot of sex questions on author message boards for romance novels.  How much is too much?  Do you even need it at all?  Can you just throw one of those scenes in there to up the word count?  And I know the answer:  You do what’s right to advance the story.  Sex for the sake of sex?  The reader will know.  And not be happy.

There is one question I don’t hear at all:  How do you write it when you can’t even look at your monitor?

Yeah, that was me.  I could *read* the physical scenes without a problem. I’m not shy and I’m not a prude, but WRITING lovemaking?  Or just some down and dirty sex?  Geesh.  I blush when I just think about penning an erotica.

I mean, I crack dirty jokes with the best of ‘em.  (Two horses fell into the mud.  See?) But I didn’t create those jokes.  I heard them from someone else.  The sex scenes in Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? come straight from my own imagination.  Listen – I’ve been married for 15 years and have two kids, but… what if my MOTHER reads my story?  She’ll wonder how I know some of these things AND will realize I’m no longer a virgin!  And if she shows her friends?  Oy.

I remember when it was Time.  I was at the point in Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? where the hero and heroine were ready to DO IT.  They had been interrupted several times over the course of the story already (looking back, that was probably my own reluctance to actually WRITE the scene) and I had deprived them for long enough.  So, in my technical-writer-as-my-day-job way, I wrote their sex scene.  Very step-by-step.  And with my eyes closed and facing away from the monitor.

Editing was even worse.  Because then I had to actually READ what I had written.  You can’t do that with your eyes closed. Oh, and READING it at critique group?  Fugetaboutit. I talk fast normally, but MAN!  I was like a horse at Preakness.

Once I got more comfortable with the idea that I had to write sex if I wanted the characters in my novels to have sex, it got a little easier.  A little.  I’m fortunate my critique group will tell me if there are flying body parts or if it reads like a technical manual.  Even if I am still trying to read the draft with my eyes closed.

So how do you DO IT?  I mean write sex scenes, of course.  I need all the help I can get.  And one commenter will win a digital copy of Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy?

* * * * *

WWTMACCOVERThere’s nothing florist Ainsley Fairfax won’t do to help her sister get the love of her life-even if it means taking her place on a bachelorette weekend at a Wyoming ranch so Cecelia can sail off with the man of her dreams. Ainsley is determined to spend the time keeping her head down and her heart safely tucked away-until an encounter with the ranch’s hunky owner gets her heart-and steamy desires-to bloom . . .

Riley Pommer doesn’t want to be lassoed into any relationship. But with the family ranch in dire straits, Riley knows his sisters’ crazy plan to turn the ranch into the setting for a dating competition-and using Riley as the bait-is the only thing standing between them and foreclosure. But the rules of the game change the instant Riley lays eyes on the spirited Ainsley. Now, as others try to stampede over their love, can Riley prove to Ainsley that true love is a prize worth fighting for?

Abigail is a Boston-bred Yankee now eating grits and saying “y’all” in North Central Florida. She dreamed more of being a stage actress or joining the CIA than being an author. While she still enjoys participating in community theater productions and singing karaoke, the secret-agent career was replaced by hours at her computer, writing stories of love and laughter and happily ever after.  Her first novel, Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? is being released May 7, 2013, by Grand Central Forever Yours.

Abigail lives with her husband, two kids, and one crazy princess puppy who masquerades as a sock thief when she thinks no one is looking.


Uptown New Orleans, September 1, 2005

Confused by that title?

Well, this is how my upcoming June release begins. Notice it doesn’t begin with Chapter One. Yep. That’s right. His Uptown Girl starts with a PROLOGUE.

Ah, the dreaded prologue. Bain of editors and agents existence. Most hate it. Call it lazy. Unnecessary. Boring. But… a reader I love them.

Yes, you read that right. I love a good prologue. There. I’ve come clean. Oh, sure some of you are deeply inhaling and asking why. And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Finally someone who gets me!” And others are probably wishing they’d clicked on a different blog. LOL. But nevertheless, we’re going to talk about prologues. Yes, No or Maybe? You decide.

This subject has been knocking around in my head for a couple of days. One of my friends - Donnell Bell - wrote a post last week on another blog about bad advice writers receive, and one such piece of misguided advice included the RULE of no prologues. Now this kinda got my dander up because I don’t like RULES in regards to writing. It offends the artistic side of me (I do have one underneath the other sides of me). I don’t like for someone to tell me I can’t do that in a book. It pisses me off. Makes me determined to prove them wrong. Probably a flaw in my character, but still, I feel that way. So anywho, Donnell said she watched as a sea of newbies wrote down every word this agent said which included No Prologues! He said he never read any submission that came across his desk with a prologue. Really? I’d scratch him off my list just for that comment. He’s as stubborn as I am.

So I did a little research on prologues. I mean, hey, I got one in my upcoming book and my editor didn’t say “Boo!” about it. And my editor’s good, y’all. I ain’t lyin’ about that.

So the first place I found on my search for “Writers + Prologues + No” was a popular site called Writers Unboxed and the author of the blog pretty much did the work for me. His blog post, first posted in 2010, basically interviewed several industry professionals and posted their responses. You can read them all here: Basically, the gist is prologues are lazy writing. They often are used to set the mood or introduce what is at stake. Almost ALL of the agents interviewed said the story should stand alone without a prologue. Hmmm….like we didn’t already know agents don’t like prologues. However, one did admit that when done correctly, a prologue can be a beautiful tool.

Then next stop on my small research trip was Daily Writing Tips with a post titled “Three Reasons to Ditch Your Novel’s Prologue.” I pretty much clued in that this writer thought you didn’t need a prologue. Yeah. Got that right in the title. Here’s the link: So basically the three questions are 1. Are you bored by reading it? 2. Is it just backstory? 3. Is it just setting the mood? So basically, the same stuff as the first post discussed. I’m sensing a theme here.

And finally, my third stop was Writer’s Digest to something like looked like a forum. Basically it asked “When to Use a Prologue.” Here’s the link: The author (or expert) basically explains why anyone would even want to use a prologue to someone who asked the question “When should a prologue be used?”

So what do I think?

Well, I think you know what I think. Heck, I’m using one, right?

So here’s the prologue dialogue from Liz Talley (not even remotely expert)

As a reader I like a prologue. I know that whatever happens in the prologue will influence/uncover/decide/resolve a problem later on in the book and that DRIVES ME FORWARD. I rarely feel like my time is wasted because a prologue gives me further insight in a character or situation, and often it makes me care about what is going to commence in the plot. In one of the above links an agent said a prologue makes a reader start two books. Fine by me. I like the beginning of books. In fact I love the beginning. There is so much unknown, so much to learn. I never read one page and set a book down. Never. I may read only a chapter and decide I don’t like the writing or the character or the villain’s colored socks, but I’ve never read a Prologue and stopped. Mostly because if the author and editor and candlestick maker thought it was important enough to start the book with… then it’s probably important enough to start the book with. I’ve also never found it lazy, but I can say that oftentimes backstory slivered throughout a book feels very awkward to me. And, Lord Have Mercy, when an author uses a “Tell me about what happened that dark night” and does a weird flashback in the middle of scene. Yeah, I think that’s more awkward than starting years before on that dark night, plopping me down into the middle of the action.

So why did I use a prologue? Not merely so I can snub my nose and say “Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo” at agents who have turned up their noses at prologues with extreme prejudice, but also because I thought it needed to be in the darn book. In my book, what happens in the prologue sets the scene, gives backstory, and unites my characters’ (all three POV characters) motivations. It starts on a dark night three days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. It involves an eleven year old kid, a stolen box and the murder of the child’s mother. Could I have done a flashback? Sure. Could I jerk the prologue out and have the book stand alone? Probably.

But would I want to?

Nope. Because I like a prologue.

So what do you think about prologues? Have you used them?

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