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Ruby Release: The Sweetest September by Liz Talley

Amy_SweetWelcome, friends, to the party I’m throwing for myself. Presumptuous of me, huh?

But, oh well, today is a great day to celebrate, Friday and all that, so I figured why not throw a release party and invite all of you?

The Sweetest September is my 13th book, and I’m banking on it being lucky ’cause I’m positive that way. And not only am I celebrating another book released into the wild, but I’m celebrating a new me. Yeah. A new Liz Talley.

Once upon a time….a long time ago (aka, when the fab Liz Bemis set up a website design and promotions business) I put myself out there as Liz Talley, Romance Through the Seasons. Liz and I thought long and hard about what I wrote and she came up with a really cool idea based off some images I gave her. She’d asked me to think about my writing and what I wanted to represent to potential readers. I immediately hit upon the seasons idea because at that point, I liked to chose a different season in which to set my books. And the image that I finally settled on was a tree. I liked the imagery – the growth, renewal, and, well, trees are pretty awesome. So she came up with a website in which there was a tree and it changed with the season. It was very cool. Really.

And then I got a few more books under my belt, and Liz said, “Maybe we need to freshen your look” and so we did. She created an fantastic set of seasons that changed accordingly.

And it was good.

But this spring, I attended RT in New Orleans where I received the Reviewers Choice Award for Best Superromance (humor my bragging – I’ve never won anything before). At the book signing I sat next to the energetic, sexy Damon Suede (I say sexy because I don’t have a chance with him…and he’s totally cute).  Anyway, over the course of me taking pictures of him with his fans and assisting him with marking his books with stickers, we talked about the business. At one point, he leaned over and said, “I love your bookmarks.” To which I said, “Oh, thanks.” And then he said something quite transforming -”But they don’t really tell me much about who you are as an author.” Well, I sort sat back (not physically…but in my mind, I totally fell back, mouth open.) I took a deep breath and asked, “Huh?” And because Damon is a kind person, he broke it to me quite gently that I needed a brand that said something about my writing and what I brought to the reader, and while bucolic scenery is nice, it says nothing. I left the book signing hot (it was a bazillion degrees in there), flustered (those lines!) and confused about who I was.

The next day while lunching with my fabulous Rubies, I brought this up and guess what? They AGREED with Damon.

Set me on my ear, I tell ya.

But with my faithful sisters’ aid, I began to really think about what kind of books I write….and what I wanted the reader to expect when he/she first made contact with me.

So I took suggestions – magnolia, Southern, sassy, modern, small town, mint julep, porch swings, cotton fields, plantation houses – and I contacted Wizard Liz Bemis (Yeah, that’s her moniker around here – magic behind the curtain). And she started tossing those suggestions into her vat of creativity. And she came up with this: http://www.liztalleybooks.com

I think it’s the perfect combination of modern and country. It’s bright, sassy, slightly nostalgic and fresh. It’s what I hope people associate with my stories. And since I’m no longer limiting myself to romance, it still fits my overall writing tone and style.

So as I launch this new book, the first in a series set in fictional Magnolia Bend, I happy to say I feel renewed, energetic and optimistic about who I am. Which sounds weird, but y’all know what I mean. We all need a little spit and polish at times, a little fresh coat of paint. Feels good. Gives us a little oomph. So if you haven’t thought about branding and who you are as an author. If you haven’t looked critically at what you’re portraying through your website and promotional items, maybe it’s time you do.

It worked for me….and I’m really hoping I get to sit next to Damon again sometime. Maybe whatever he comes up with next time will land me on a list or lead to a six figure deal. He’s genius…which is why his branding is a light bulb.

So tell me today who you are as an author? Have you every changed your vision?

Oh, and since this is a party of sorts, we need a gift. And cake. Man, I wish I could share some cake with you. But I can give away a present. How about a lucky commenter (Rubies included) wins a $10.00 Amazon card and a copy of any of my books? Oh, and here’s the link to the book on Amazon in case you want to take a peek,. Happy Friday, friends!

 

 

It’s Hot in Here: Researching Fire Fighters

Minden fireman Tony Hall demonstrates how to wear the equipment

Minden fireman Tony Hall demonstrates how to wear the equipment

Honestly, I can’t believe it’s July already…and I can’t believe I’m facing the start of another book. My fifteenth Superromance. Yeah. Crazy.

So I pretty much thought by this point, I’d run out of ideas. It’s been a constant worry – what if the story ideas just stop? But, like most of you, something triggers an idea and BAM! I’m off and running with a new story. So when this particular one came to me, I knew where I would start, I knew what kind of heroine I was dealing with, and because my hero Jake is in other books, I knew the charming, devil-may-care firefighter hid dark secrets and a tragic past. What I didn’t know was anything about being a firefighter.

Kinda a big problem.

You see, both Eva and Jake are firefighters which means much of the action will take place on scene of fires and at the fire house. Much of their conversation will revolve around their fellow firefighters. Heck, they’ll be sharing a shower in the firehouse. So I sorta had to know what being a firefighter was all about.

Clueless, I took to Facebook to ask for some recommendations. And as you suspect, I got lots of help. Seems everyone knows a firefighter. Cha-ching!

So that got me to thinking about how writers do research about things they have no clue about. So, I’m here to share my experience in working with experts because I’m fresh off of being a good researcher after my field trip to a local fire station yesterday.

First, think about what you will need to know. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge just the amount of information you’ll need. Do you need to have the ear of an expert in the field? Or is it something you can easily look up on the internet? In other words, how integral is the research? There have been books where I needed a small fact which was readily available with the click of a mouse. For example, when I wrote chef Rayne Rose in A Taste of Texas, I scanned an article on the latest trend in culinary arts, chose one and after a few clicks found a few recipes that sounded perfect for her. At that point I knew could toss in dialogue about making a reduction or chopping cilantro she’d grown in the herb garden and it would read as authentic without my having to contact a chef and grill him or her (punny, huh?)  But this wasn’t the case when I wrote a college football coach. In Under the Autumn Sky, the plot centered around recruiting violations and watching Friday Night Lights, while helpful in a lot of ways, wasn’t going to teach me about recruiting schedules, NCAA sanctions or scouting reports. I needed someone who could tell me exactly what recruiting highly rated high school players was all about.  So assessing how important your research is to the plot is the first thing you need to do.

Next, determine the best expert source. This can be hard, too. In the case of my current wip, I knew I needed to talk to a firefighter. But not just any firefighter. I needed one from a small town roughly the size of my fictional Magnolia Bend and I needed one who had been on the job for at least a decade. Finding this fireman wasn’t hard to do. I grew up next door to him. But when I wrote about sugarcane farming in The Sweetest September, I didn’t have that luxury. I live in North Louisiana. We don’t grow sugarcane here which meant I had to find an expert willing to talk to me about harvest, crop rotation, pesticides who didn’t live right around the corner. Or when I wanted to learn about whooping cranes. Not so easy since their habitat is not my area. So often you will have to do some digging to find the best source and expert. Luckily, we live in a time of social media, so a nicely-worded plea will often reveal a friend who knows an uncle or a cousin who works with someone who knows exactly what you need to know. There are days I truly bless the wonder of FB and Twitter (and Google!) in finding what I need.

Next, make contact with the expert. A polite, professional email usually does the trick in establishing first contact with an expert. And strangely enough, people are willing to help in most cases. Why? People love to talk about what they do. Truly. Well, pretty much. I’ve met with detectives, football coaches (this is the research trip my husband actually went on!), doctors, attorneys, bankers and now a fireman. I’ve had phone interviews with the head of the sugarcane league, a Mardi Gras float builder, and a surgeon. I’ve exchanged emails with wildlife biologists, police officers and secret service. It amazes me how considerate and enthusiastic people can be about meeting with a writer.

Next, be prepared. Go into the interview with prepared questions. Bring a notepad to jot down incidental notes, and take your camera to capture pictures. Have your business card ready and behave in a professional manner. If the expert relays that he or she only has a certain amount of time, respect that time, and always ask for permission for any sensitive information. Leave your contact information and ask for further contact information from the expert…or other experts who might aid you. If you are doing the interview via telephone or email, make sure the expert is agreeable to further follow up questions.

Finally, thank the expert. You can do this in a variety of ways. I brought cookies (cause what firefighter doesn’t want a plate of cookies to snack on during the domino game on their shift?) But a lovely thank you note works well, too. And if you want to mention on your dedication page the help you received from your expert, that’s a really lasting way to show your appreciation for the help you had on the research.

So there you have it. It’s a bit common-sense, but it’s always good to  be reminded. Haphazard research can lead to frustration during edits…or really nasty reader letters. You can have a great plot, great characters, a high concept and strong marketability, but if your research is dodgy, you’ll have regrets. So the next time you’re starting a new book, take the time to do proper research…and don’t be afraid to tap an expert on the shoulder and ask for help.

Oh, and so you know, my upcoming August book The Sweetest September includes research from experts in banking, law and sugarcane farming, and my November anthology Cowboys for Christmas includes research on women’s volleyball and being a large animal vet. I’m pretty sure I can deliver a breech foal now. So tell me what is the most interesting research you’ve done? What experts have you contacted or met with? I’d love to know.

 

It’s Easy to Give Advice

So the other day after killing myself in Zumba class, I headed toward the exit of my gym. To the left of me is an area where several older people gather to have coffee and donuts (I know!) after they work out. It’s a busy area and they never fail to make me smile. Well, this particular day as I ditched my empty water bottle, I heard several older men complaining about the way other people let their kids mooch off them. It was the whole virtuous “Teach a man to fish” conversation and they were quite spirited about it.

And all I could think was “Yeah, but you’re not living it. You’re sitting here, popping donuts, spouting off about how you would NEVER let your kid mooch off you. Easier said than done.”

I left and as I walked to the car, my mind flipped to how much advice we get as parents – don’t let them have a bottle past a year old, no passies past age 2, start them on vegetables first….yada, yada, yada. And it follows a parent all the way until….well, until a parent is hobbling around the track and wolfing donuts at 77. Everyone seems to know best.

Right?

Advice. Sigh. It’s everywhere in the writing world, too. From the time you join an RWA chapter or some other writing group, well-intentioned people are lined up to give you gentle (or sometimes bone-jarring) advice on what you should do. Whether it’s “stop using so many ellipses” (yeah, I know I use a lot of ‘em) to where you should advertise your book for sale, someone somewhere is going to make you feel like you’re doing it all wrong. And you will believe them, the same way I believe all those experts in parenting magazines when they said to give a child choices to give him a sense of independence (Thank you Parents magazine for EVERY SINGLE fight I have with my youngest over what he wears each day) or those well-meaning moms who made me feel like I was the worst mom in the world for not packing organic lunches, monogramming their shortalls, and skipping the occasional room mom party. We all get sucked into believing other people know what is best for our story, the submission process, and promotions.

And that’s not to say we all don’t need some advice sometimes. Because sometimes good advice does make the difference to a plot or our sales. I’m not saying don’t listen to others, but instead I’m asking you to always listen to yourself. You usually know what is needed for the story. Know why? Cause it’s your story. Yours. And there is some satisfaction in knowing that you control that aspect of your writing life. You are the creator of your story. Bottom line.

This is something I must keep in mind with my new critique group. In my local RWA chapter, I felt there was a need for some mentoring and critiquing because so many of our members were new writers. When I first joined NOLA STARS, I had some very generous ladies who met with me once a week to read my work and show me how to be a better writer. Yes, I was easily influenced because I wanted to get better and please these more experienced writers, but at the same time, I was very certain to hold on to my vision. Some writers aren’t good at digging in their heels and that’s something I encourage my new critique group to do – hold on to your story.

So today, dear friends, I’m reminding you that advice abounds everywhere, but it’s easy to give advice when you are sitting in a different chair (eating donuts). Every author is different, every situation is different. Hold on to your story. It’s yours. It’s you. And it can’t be anybody else’s.

So today let’s talk about advice – have you ever received any from someone who just didn’t get it? Have you received advice that’s made a big difference in your career?

What I Really Want to Say on Twitter

iHis Forever Girls buy my book.

Truly. I’ve tried being witty. I’ve tried joining conversations. I’ve tried book blurb tours, giveaways, blogging six ways to Sunday, and going to reader conferences. I’ve bought book marks, reader trading cards, given away books, giftcards, and a kidney (okay, not an actual kidney but lots of heart-shaped things). I’ve advertised, helped host Facebook parties, given away raffle baskets and done everything else but tap dance to sell books (and I’m willing to do that if I can find some tap shoes to fit me). But the results are always the same. My book sales are…oh, I can’t even say it….average.

So what I really want to say is JUST BUY MY BOOK ALREADY!

But that would be crass. That would turn people off and then my name would be blacklisted as “one of those authors.” You know the ones – they constantly tweet their reviews and links. Their signature line is eight miles long (with links!) and they slyly slip things in about their books in other people’s posts. Basically they do everything they can but shove the book in your face and beg you to buy it.

Sad thing is, I understand that desperation because sometimes I want to say the hell with it and just post “You people need to buy my book because I want to go to another conference this summer and need some money.” Too honest? Yeah, I thought so.

And there are times I want to tell people to NOT buy my book. Like reverse psychology will work the same way it did when my kids were six years old and I’d say things like “Don’t you dare put this toilet seat down” or “I bet you can’t run get the mail faster than I can.” By the way, those challenges no longer work on 14 year olds. They give you that blank stare than could kill pretty flowers and baby’s smiles. I figure if I say “Don’t buy this book. Nothing to see here, folks” maybe readers might get interested enough to check it out for themselves. But I know that won’t work any better than chasing people with nail files and bookmarks.

I feel like I’ve tried everything I can think of to sell my books (outside of setting up outside the Barnes and Noble, yelling “Come try a real book, whydontcha?” which could possibly get me arrested).

So what should I do?

I already know what you gals are going to say – shut up and write another book.

And that’s pretty good advice. You see, there is much about the world I cannot control (which drives Virgos like me nuts!). I can’t control what readers think, I can’t control how much promo Harlequin will give me, I can’t control distribution, shelf space or foreign sales. I can’t control whether someone will pick my book to review, how many people like me on Facebook or how many people enter my raffle copter. I can’t even control my damn covers. BUT what I can control is my writing. I can control my characters (or try to), I can control my reading a good craft book (rather than watching The Bachelor) and I can control the amount of time I spend with my butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard. That’s it.

Can’t make people buy my book, even if I want to shout on Twitter, Facebook, blogs 1,2,and 3 and from the parking lot of the Barnes and Noble BUY MY DAMN BOOK!

Because I don’t control the universe. Which is sad because if I did we’d all be a size four with perky boobs, gorgeous hair and Matthew McCognaughy, Brad Pitt and Henry Cavill (take your pick) giving us a foot rub…and we’d all be reading my newest book. See? Now you wish I were in charge :)

So here’s the premise of this whole post – don’t try to control the world. Just control what you can do (in the comfort of your own home…or Starbucks). Focus on your writing. Make it stronger. Make it tighter. Take it to the next level. Be a good friend to other writers. Don’t steal their thunder. Don’t whine (I don’t take my own advice sometimes). Don’t put the writing off. Control what you can control - which is how you put your story on the page.

That’s it. That’s all I got. (and in case you didn’t get it, this was advice to myself, too)

FYI, I do have a RUBY RELEASE this month and I’m adding the blurb and cover in case you’re interested in doing my will. When I snap my fingers you will go to Amazon and buy the book. 1…2….3… (okay, okay, I didn’t hypnotize you. Add that to the things you shouldn’t do to readers)

What are some promo Do’s and Don’ts that drive you nuts?

His Forever Girl

This forever is off to a rocky start!

Meeting Tess Ullo is definitely a sign life’s improving for Graham Naquin. After their spectacular night together, he knows there’s a lot more to explore between them! Good thing he’s aced the interview that will bring him home to New Orleans, his young daughter and Tess.

Too bad things don’t go the way Graham hoped. That job he lands running a float-building company? Tess thought it was hers so she quits to work for the competition. As they face off in business, he admires her talent…and keeps thinking she’s the one for him. Now he has to persuade her! http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Girl-Mills-Boon-Cherish-ebook/dp/B00EFPXVF2/ref=la_B003Y87BMK_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392841863&sr=1-1

 

From Superromance to Novella: Learning to write short

Ah, writing long…I’ve become most familiar with the idea (and in my head I’m accomplished at it).When I sold my first Superromance, the word count was a doable 65K. That particular length is perfect for writing a tight single storyline romance. Secondary characters can make appearances and there can be plenty of internal and external conflict. I loved my first several Superomance books for this very reason. No need to weave a secondary plotline or allow prose to get too fanciful or wandering. Dream up a heroine, grab hold of a hero, giving them something to keep them apart and sit back and let the fireworks happen. The  reader can gobble this sort of story up on a Sunday afternoon making it a satisfying length.

But then, my line upped the word count. 75K was still a good length. Now I had time to add a little more voice and have my secondary characters interact more with my primary characters. I could even introduce a secondary character’s point of view as long as I kept the conflict manageable.

And THEN there was the jump to 85K. Okay, I admit, at first I was baffled at how to write a tight story with good movement adding 10k to the plotline. I mean, 75K just worked ideally. No meandering, no drawn out throw away scenes readers hate, but I had to admit there were times I skipped over a scene I thought added some depth to the story. Now I had room to really punch up the secondary plotline, giving more a stake to these characters whose story developed just as much as the hero and heroine over the course of the book. Suddenly there was a lushness to the language, a beautiful layering of emotion that allowed the reader to connect to characters beyond the primary characters. With a larger canvas, came the challenge to paint a picture that didn’t crowd or make the story too fussy and ornamental. So here are a few tips for writing longer:

Liz’s tips for writing longer:

* add a third point of view from a character who has a stake in the action and/or can manipulate the goals and motivations of the hero or heroine.

* use deep third person point of view to create depth

* try same scene, differing point of view

* consider multiple goals for each point of view characters (this can lead to more motivation and conflict)

So after expanding my word count by 20k, I then faced a new giant…that was, well, a short giant. I got a call from Harlequin regarding writing a short story that would be featured on the Harlequin Community site. It was great exposure for readers who might not have tried one of my books but could now check me out through the free online read. I agreed. Sure, I could do that…uh, until I actually had to sit down and, ahem, do that.

It wasn’t easy.

That first short story – The Nerd Who Loved Me – is a bit like the first novel I ever wrote (except you can actually still read this one – the other is in my virtual “under the bed” file). I chafed a bit at the constraints and found injecting voice, which I felt was a hallmark of my writing, was very difficult with a tiny canvas of 11K. All of my cute scenes had to be tossed (painful!) and the GMC had to be tight, tight, tight. There wasn’t room to fully develop my characters, so I ended up feeling like what could have been a really lovely story got stifled by the shorter word count. Was the story bad? No. Was it something I wish I had a do-over on? Ehh…maybe.

I could  have given up on writing short after that less than stellar experience. After all, my bread and butter fell with writing “SUPER,” so why expend any more time on writing short?

Because the “market,” aka reader, likes a shorter story. Hello! That’s why so many authors are doing novellas. Raise your hand if you’ve written a novella. Ah-ha! I knew there were a lot of you. And it’s the same reason why I’ve taken up the torch and examined ways to make a short story “pop” and give the reader a satisfying read that feels bigger than the word count indicates. Currently, in between my bigger books, I’m writing novellas and short stories, so I’m focused on honing my shorter story writing skills. Here are a few tips for making your writing short and sweet (or sexy or suspenseful or whatever else you need it to be).

Liz’s Tips for Writing Shorter:

* consider a reunion story. This eliminates much of the “getting to know you” necessary for intimacy (at least in most books :))

* write shorter scenes (no more than 5 pages in each point of view) and shorter chapters to keep pace quick

* be thrifty with secondary characters

* be economical with your words. No double adjectives, decrease the compound subjects and verbs.

* Keep GMC simplistic

* no secondary story lines

Okay, I profess that I’m not a pro on writing short (or even long for that matter), so I want to open the floor to those writers who have considerable experience at writing shorter. I’m sure I missed some good tips. So let’s spend Monday talking about what makes a good short story/novella. And feel free to offer tips and make suggestions for writers who’ve done this well.

 

Ruby Tuesday: Liz Talley

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, today we begin a new feature here on the Ruby blog.  It’s the first ever RUBY TUESDAY!!!  Now, what is Ruby Tuesday, you may be asking.  It’s your chance to get to know the Rubies a little better.  We’ve been blogging together here for over four years now and it seemed like it was past time we introduced ourselves.

Today we welcome our first Ruby Tuesday victim volunteer, one of our southern gems, Superromance author LIZ TALLEY!

 

Liz Talley with her mother, Mother's Day 2013

Liz Talley with her mother, Mother’s Day 2013

Name: Liz Talley

Website: www.liztalleybooks.com

2009 Golden Heart Category & Title: No Shrinking Violet, Regency

What Happened to That Book: Um, it’s still on my harddrive

How many books have you written? Published – 12 books, 2 short stories. Unpubbed – 2 books, 1 novella.

If you could grow up to be one writer, who would you want to be? Agatha Christie – I don’t think that needs explanation :)

What are your favorite subgenre(s) to read? I love reading Regency (my first love). I love my Regency Rubies and I love Sherry Thomas, Julie Ann Long, Eloisa James, and too many to name. I also love suspense and read all the Lee Child books.

College? Major? Post-grad work? Louisiana Tech University, English Education, summa, 1994

Marital status?  Kids?  Grandkids? Married to my childhood sweetheart Doug. We will have been married 20 years this upcoming May. We have two boys age 14 and 11.

Where are you from? I’m from Minden, Louisiana, though I was born in Chambersburg, PA. I’m affectionately known as “the Yankee” in my family though I’m about as southern as cornbread.

Where would you build your dream house? Doug and I grew up very blue collar, working class (aka not well-to-do) and our biggest dreams involved having things – a big house, expensive cars, fancy vacations. We worked hard to “make it” but strangely enough I now dream about retiring to the land we bought on Caddo Lake and building a snug little cabin with a stone fireplace, huge windows facing the cypress trees on the lake and a little patch of ground to grow a veggie garden. I want to live like Thoreau – very simply.

What three words would you use to describe yourself? Amusing, ambitious and loyal

Which TV show are you most addicted to right now? Big Bang Theory, Major Crimes, Modern Family and The Mentalist

Do you like sports?  What team(s) do you follow? LOVE sports. I’m an avid, rabid, LSU fan (the totally obnoxious kind). I also love to watch the Saints on Sunday and the Texas Rangers on the diamond (though I’m disappointed they’re tanking as we’re approaching October)

What hobby takes up the most of your time? Being a mother. Oh, wait. That’s not a hobby. LOL. Seriously, being a parent takes up a good chunk of my time. I love my kids, but sometimes I need to be peeled off the floor at the end of the day. I also love doing zumba and shopping. Writing’s my job, but bargain shopping – the kind where you get down on your hands and knees and dig through the 75% off bin – is my hobby. Yeah, I’m a little weird, but I’m a writer. It’s required.

Do you have any advice for new writers?  My advice to new writers is to read every night and to find a good group of supportive friends in the business. When I started, I was alone. A-L-O-N-E. Which is good for actual writing, but not for entering the fray (aka, world of publishing). You need friends, not just to rah-rah your efforts, but to help you deal with crushing rejection, growing pains and success. You have to have butt-kickers who will pick up the pom-pon…or kick you in the ass when you need it. Writing takes talent, but even more so, it takes sheer determination. And I think it’s hard to walk that path alone.

Excellent advice.  And thank you, Liz, for being our inaugural Ruby Tuesday volunteer!

I’ve Got the Hiccups

When I was younger, I hated getting the hiccups. Who am I kidding? I still hate them. They are annoying…and sometimes hurt.

I can remember trying all the supposed fixes for getting rid of the hiccups – standing on my head (yes, I tried this), spoonful of sugar, gulping a whole glass of water. I even asked people to try and scare me…which backfired of course because I TOLD someone to scare me, and therefore, wasn’t all that scared when they jumped out at me.

Yeah…getting rid of the hiccups seemed impossible.

But it’s not.

One day, I think when I was in high school, one of my science teachers said something that niggled in the back of my head. She said “Your brain controls your body.” Yeah, we all know that. But when she said it, I had the hiccups, and I thought to myself “I should see if this works.” SO I told my diaphragm to stop contracting. But it didn’t work. Never one to give up, I tried again except this time I sat really still, closed my eyes and focused on my throat (which made more sense to me since that’s where I felt the hiccups). I sat very still, very quietly for a full minute, breathing deeply, focusing while swallowing…and viola! My hiccups went away.

I know. Incredible, huh? And I still do it to this day. I’ll even pull over into an empty parking lot when in my car and “concentrate” my hiccups away. Works every time.

So I realized you’re confused because this is supposed to be about writing. Well, yes, you have guessed it by now – this is an analogy.

This past year has been tough for me in regards to my writing career. Now, I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that I have been struggling with not only my identity as a writer, but whether I wanted to continue on this particular road. Feels crazy to admit that, but it’s true. I have written a lot of books in the past 3-4 years and when I started this career path, I had a vastly different vision for where I would be thirteen books into my career. Because of the market and other factors I can’t control, I find myself not where I thought I would be…and this sort of depressed me. I began to fret, watch my numbers (and other authors numbers), and haunt review sites to see if anyone read my books. I began to doubt everything about what I had chosen along my path. I began to doubt myself.

Oh, I had read all about those authors who’d talked about backsliding in their careers. They’d talked about firing agents, losing editors, lines closing, being let go. They’d talked about not wanting to write and being unappreciated. I poo-poo’d their tales, thinking myself invincible. Thinking I could never want to quit writing.

But, truthfully, I batted around the idea…all the way up to Nationals.

I know. Not that long ago, right?

You know, I never thought it would be me who would entertain the thought of throwing in the towel. Of course, I’m often melodramatic, and nothing even remotely as bad as some of the things I mentioned has happened to me. In fact, much of my dissatisfaction stems from being enormously impatient. But that still didn’t change my mindset. Deep down inside, I felt like a failure, ashamed I hadn’t done better for myself and for my line.

Several weeks ago while listening to a particular song on the radio, with lyrics about not giving up and knowing “it’s worth it”, my son got the hiccups. I told him how I always got rid of them and went back to singing the song while he attempted to use his mind to shut down the contractions of his diaphragm. And as I sang the lyrics, I realized he wasn’t the only person in the car with the hiccups.  Desperate to stop the discomfort in my career, I had resorted to some silly things. I had allowed the hiccups to control me, to make me forget how wonderful the journey has been, how much faith my editor has in me, how much my agent loves my writing…and how much my readers like my characters and storylines. I had lost focus.

So I sat down and refocused myself on the problem, and if I’m being honest, I can admit my dismay over my career results from factors I can’t control. Like the hiccups, it just happened. But I realize I do have some control, and that control is over my product. I can’t make readers buy my books, I can’t make reviewers like my book, and I can’t control the market…but I can control my attitude and the quality of my work.  If I sit really still (in front of my computer) and focus on what is before me, swallowing uncertainty, I can make the hiccups go away.

Sometimes it takes some outside help to get to the point you can do refocus yourself. Sometimes you need your mentor, agent, editor, critique partner…or some stranger at the grocery store to tell you how good you are. Sometimes you need a colleague to have faith in you, to give you a boost, help you in some way. Sometimes you need a reader to send you a note or a contest final to slap you upside the head. But really, what it comes down to is that YOU have the power to fix yourself. And that’ some powerful medicine.

You’ll be happy to know I’m over my hiccups, and I’ve hit the ground running with some plans to refocus myself…maybe even reinvent myself a little. Sometimes a gal needs a little shaking up. And sometimes she needs the hiccups so she can grow and find her way, becoming stronger because of the challenge set before her.

Here’s to conquering the hiccups! Now, you share the best way you’ve found to deal with the hiccups in your career (Or the literal hiccups if you’ve found a better way than mine :))

 

Ruby Release: His Uptown Girl (with a side of flawed character)

When I set out to write this blog post, I had a million things racing through my head I wanted to say, but as I sat down and faced the blank page, all the brilliance faded.  In its stead was “Whaaaat?” Amy_UptownGirlWhich is the thought I’m often left with after long days of donning too many hats. I mean I totally have hat hair 24/7 because I’m always wearing a different one. So I’m tugging on the writer hat even though I still want to wear my “Greatest Aunt Evah” hat because yesterday I got a brand new bundle of joy – Samuel Matthew – whose sweet baby newness healed the grump in me and reminded me about what is truly important in life.

Okay, so writer hat in place…I’m ready.

First, this month marks an anniversary of sorts for me. Three years ago (waaaaaay back in 2010) my first book Vegas Two Step released. Seeing that first book was so damn wonderful - I can never go back and capture the enthusiasm of holding a book – MY BOOK – in my hands. Never. This month marks a new benchmark for me – the release of my tenth book His Uptown Girl. The thrill, though not as intense, is still very much present.

This book is a bit different from my others in that it takes on some touchy social issues. Yeah, I did that. I never thought I would take on anything so emotionally charged as racism and privilege, but somehow it happened. Which is ironic, considering several months back on Dear Author, I made a comment about another author’s book that sparked conversation about privilege and racism…and instituted a new commenting policy at the site. At the time, I did not bring up the fact I’d tackled the same issues in my upcoming book, but I had. Yep, little ol privileged me had written a book dealing with the very things I’d been accused of. Huh.

So this book is a bit outside the box for Superromance (and Harlequin) in that my heroine (very white and privileged) falls in love with a musician (racially mixed and not so privileged) and includes the viewpoint of a nineteen year old African American (very black and very underprivileged.) The book has smoky bars filled with jazz, gang turf wars and showdowns with intolerant former in-laws.  It’s not your average bear when it comes to romance. Will it sell well? Probably not as well as my Vegas makeover book or the retelling of A Christmas Carol or my surprise marriage books. Definitely not as well as other traditional Harlequin books about the sheriff trying to save the ranch, a heroine surprisingly pregnant or a military hero dealing with PTSD. I probably won’t earn out on this book. And I probably will get some ugly letters (a la the Cheerios commercial). In fact, I’ve already had some friends say “I’m not interested in reading that.” And I know some readers will say, “Thanks, but I don’t want to face that sort of reality in my escapist reading.” And my response is “That’s okay.” You see, I wrote this book for myself and I wrote it as gritty and realistic as Harlequin would let me. Because I believe that even in romance we need books that have flawed characters. We need books that take on social injustice. We need books that can actually change the way readers see the world.

I never set out to write a book like this. I’ve firmly clung to the idea that I write books that allow women (and men) to escape the harsh reality of everyday life. I write fluff. I like fluff. I like knowing my book is a gift of sweet happily every after. Totally good with it. Not saying this book doesn’t deliver some laughs, some sweetness and a big bow wrapped around a shiny, happy future. The book has that….but it also addresses some of the uglier truths that still exist in our world, and I am satisfied knowing I wrote something more weighty than a mistaken identity or a runaway bride. I wrote something real and honest. Something more than I ever thought I would.

So back to the original intent of this post – flawed characters. You see, I like flawed characters. I like to get mad at them, dislike them and watch them change before my eyes, learning lessons we all need to learn. Flawed characters are interesting to read about, even when you don’t like them much. I’ve always thought Susan Elizabeth Phillips was brilliant at creating flawed characters. I can remember reading her books and getting mad at the characters. So mad that I took it out on my husband. Poor man had to pay for the stupid, egotistical mistakes of some fictional hero in one of SEP’s books. I’m telling you – I’d get my feelings hurt BY CHARACTERS IN A BOOK. That’s how good a writer that woman is. Creating emotion is the chief goal of a writer and making a reader think about the world in which they live through the characters is a happy side effect. Characters who don’t have it together, think they know what is right (and are wrong) and say things that make you want to slap them and hug them at the same time are sheer deliciousness. I gobble them up and then go back for seconds.

That’s what I gave His Uptown Girl – realism with all its warts and scars. I think it makes the book more interesting. It gives the book teeth.  Grrr!

So now I’d love to know what you think about addressing social issues in romance books – is it a do or a don’t? And who are some of your favorite flawed characters?

FYI – You can find His Uptown Girl on sale in stores and online. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon where you can read an excerpt:http://www.amazon.com/Uptown-Girl-Harlequin-Superromance-ebook/dp/B00BAT1QJ4/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

 

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…..as 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: http://writerunboxed.com/2010/10/21/prologues-yes-or-no/ 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: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/3-reasons-to-ditch-your-novels-prologue/. 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: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/formatting/when-to-use-a-prologue. 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?

A Tale of Two CPs

Today is the release day of the third book in my Bayou Boys series The Road to Bayou Bridge, but since I like to hog Ruby Release dates, I’ve decided to share the day with a person who started out writing at the same time I started, someone who has shared the path with me for a while.

Long ago when I started writing, I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a wonderful group of writers at varying degrees of experience. One had finaled in the Golden Heart and taught writing classes at a local community college, another had umpteen thousand finals on the contest circuit, the other was published in historical Texan romance (I think that’s a category). And then there was me. Or technically it should be “And then there was I” but that sounds so weird, so anyway, I was the lone newbie who this group who vowed to help me learn to write. Cause the book I had written was a book, but not a book-book. It was garbage and I had lots to learn about how to turn trash into treasure.

So each Tuesday we’d meet for lunch at a restaurant and we’d critique, and I learned so much from those women. But eventually, as they worked on their wips, I felt like I needed to find someone like me, someone who was new and learning all she could the way I was. Enter Keri Ford.

I met Keri at a local conference when we gathered together in some horrific, scary cold read session with an editor. Sweat much? Dear Lord. It was horrifying but so informative. Keri and I sat next to one another, and then after getting our manuscripts ripped to shreds, we sat around comparing notes about contests, online groups and craft. Then and there, we decided we’d suit.

The funny thing is that at the time we were both working on Regency pieces. We truly were the blind leading the blind, but there was a beauty to it. Okay, not beauty. More of a necessity. As if we had to waffle about a bit, making mistakes, calling each other out, and getting through those first few years together. It’s like Freshman orientation where you don’t know where you are going and you look like a dork, but, hey, at least you’re in it together. Through Keri, I found my voice, found what I liked about my writing, what I didn’t, and where I was meant to go.

We did set forth some guidelines in regards to critique partners. Keri found them somewhere, but we modified to fit our needs. So I’m going to share a few valuable ones:

1. Don’t rewrite your partner’s scenes. DON’T DO THIS! Make suggestions, underline word choice issues, and use ? for things not understood.

2. Respect the premise. It’s not your book. Don’t try and change the overall plot. You can suggest rethinking certain elements, but don’t impose your ideas on your cp

3. Be timely on your critiques – if you say you’ll have it done in a week, have it in a week.

4. Set limits together. One chapter at a time? Two? Whole book? Decide first how you want to operate the critiques.

5. Look at other critique partnerships that work and figure out why. Don’t be afraid to model your partnership after successful partnerships.

6. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Sometimes no matter how much you like the other person, a critique partnership can stifle and do more harm than good.

All of the above were things I had a great deal of problem with. It’s the greatest flaw of a writer – wanting to rewrite, impinge and force oneself on another’s piece of work.

After about two years of critiquing each other’s work, we sort of drifted apart. Not as friends. But as critique partners. I think we both realized we weren’t helping each other grow, and this was no big decision on either of our parts – we just slowed in sending each other work. And eventually, we just stopped. Keri has since found a new critique partner who she loves, and I have found a brainstorming partner who meets with me each week to write and vet our plots. It’s working for me and her, but at one time we needed each other.

And what fun today is! Today we both have books out. For me, The Road to Bayou Bridge, the last book in the Boys of Bayou Bridge releases TODAY! And the second book in Keri’s Roughneck series Rough Play released last week. For two gals who didn’t have a clue, we managed pretty well.

From Keri: (Because we got our lines crossed on this holiday weekend)

Thanks Liz for having me here today and for wanting to talk a little about the cp relationship!

Liz and I critiqued for each other once upon a time. We were both young writers. Not far along our destination and fumbling our way around each other in the dark. We weren’t each other’s first.

I’d critiqued with a few other people and Liz had as well. We learned from each other, always a good thing. And we quickly learned we did a lot of things alike. Not so much in writing style. Liz just has this flavor in her writing I would never be able to pull off! With plotting and characters and that whole thing, we did a lot of the same thing. We would pass chapters back and forth and find strange similarities that were taking place. Not the same conversations, but the same motivations or actions or reactions.

Looking back, I wonder if that isn’t part of why we moved on? The cp relationship is something that’s flowing and moving, but also challenging. I can’t recall telling Liz to make big sweeping changes to make improvements…because she was already writing the story the way I would want it told!

While we didn’t make the perfect cp relationship, we did make a great friendship and a great support system. We may not talk every day, but if she needs something, she has my email and phone number and everything. And if I need something, I know only need to contact her.

You hear a lot about relationships in the writing world. The agent-relationship, the editors, the critique partners. The author-reviewer and author-readers. Liz and I created our own new relationship of just a strong support system, waiting to help the other. I’m glad to have her.

ABOUT KERI: Keri Ford was raised in South Arkansas on a farm surrounded by family, horses, cows, donkeys, ostriches, emus, chickens, ducks, Canadian Geese, and enough dogs one would think they were a pound…and then she bought a Cosmopolitan when she was twenty-two. She doesn’t recall the fantastic sex tip that drew her to the magazine, but she vividly remembers reading an excerpt of Christina’s Skye’s Code Name: Princess. One elevator scene and quick thought of, I didn’t know people wrote stuff like this… and her life would never be the same. For more info and excerpts on Keri’s books, go to http://keriford.com/

Leave a suggestion or observation about a critique partnership, and we will give out prizes! I’ll offer up a choice of the Boys of Bayou Bridge series and Keri will offer up a copy of Rough Ride, book one in the series!

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