Posts tagged with: sisters

Risky Business

Have you ever wondered where the idiom, sticking your neck out, originated? Some believe the saying is a metaphorical reference to turtles, which become vulnerable when they poke their heads out of their shells. If a turtle remains inside, it’s safe from predators. However, a turtle also can’t locate food from within its shell, so if it doesn’t ever risk its neck, it’ll starve.

There’s a lesson in this for writers. Publishing is a risky business, and editors pass up wonderful books all the time because they’re unwilling to take a chance on stories that don’t fit the current trend. On the other hand, the books that are given the biggest advances and the most publisher support are also frequently novels that are different enough to grab readers’ attention. That’s why acquiring editors constantly say they want something different—but not too different.

Negotiating that balancing act can be really tough, but if a writer always plays it safe, chances are she’ll go the way of a turtle who refuses to stick his neck out. She”ll starve as an author. If your keeper shelf is anything like mine, the authors of your favorite novels broke some so-called rules. One of the reasons LaVyrle Spencer’s and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s titles dominate my bookcase is because they aren’t afraid to tackle tough subjects that some might consider taboo or unpopular. They take risks.

For example, in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s novel, Ain’t She Sweet, the heroine, Sugar Beth, did something most readers would consider unforgivable. And, yet, SEP managed to instill sympathy in her audience for this character, who by rights, everyone should hate. In The Fulfillment (which helped inspire my holiday release), LaVyrle Spencer managed to write a compelling romance involving infidelity and still managed to keep all of the characters heroic.

These authors’ ability to craft such irresolvable conflicts and to find ways to, not only keep the characters likable, but still give them a happy ever after, has always left me in awe. It’s books like these that reinforce my belief that characters can do anything in a story and still remain heroic if the author gives them sufficient and proper motivation.

My newest release, No Exchanges, No Returns, is this kind of risky story. It received a lot of mixed opinions and scores in contests. Judges either loved it or hated it. And, yet, this book got closer to selling than any of my other novels, which I believe is because its surrogate-mother plot pushes the boundaries.

At the same time, this à la Jerry Springer story defies the romance genre’s conventions enough that I feared it would incense some of my audience. Therefore, I considered leaving the manuscript under the bed for my pet dust-bunnies to feast on. In the end, however, my alter ego, L.L., refused to let me leave it unpublished. Any regular visitors to the Ruby blog have undoubtedly met L.L in my past posts and know what a bully she can be. I realize there are other, more fitting adjectives for my alter ego than bully, but this is a PG-rated blog.

Anyway, L.L. kept screaming in my ear, “Grow a pair, you wimp! So what if the heroine ends up with her sister’s ex-husband. Things like that actually happen. This is a great story about sisterly love and sacrifice. Even if some people don’t enjoy No Exchanges, No Returns, a lot of readers will love it. It’s touching, it’s funny, it’s real, and it’s hot—what’s not to like? Do you think E.L. James didn’t worry her Fifty Shades of Grey would offend some readers? Her book has over four thousand 1-star reviews. Name a book that’s hit the New York Times Bestsellers list that doesn’t have something a little different or offbeat in it.”

Don’t tell my alter ego I said this, but she made a valid point. I was being a coward. So I stuck  my neck out and published the book—mostly to shut L.L. up.  Now I’ll just have to wait and see what the readers’ response is.

No Exchanges, No Returns

A new twist on O. Henry’s classic tale, The Gift of the Magi

There were never such devoted sisters…

Dr. David Lambert and his wife, Brianna, received the ultimate Christmas gift from her fraternal twin. They gratefully accepted it, of course, because everyone knows you can’t return a baby like an itchy sweater. Yet, that’s essentially what Brianna does when she has a meltdown and unexpectedly divorces David. She runs from their home in Redemption, Pennsylvania, and leaves their surrogate—her sister, Casey—pregnant with his little bundle.

When David chose her beautiful twin over her, Casey McIntyre hid her hurt behind a wall of sarcasm. Now that her sister has divorced her husband, it’s increasingly difficult to remember why the hunky pediatrician is supposed to be off limits—especially since Brianna doesn’t seem to want him or care if Casey and he get involved.

David always liked and admired his selfless ex-sister-in-law—despite that the sassy preschool teacher is always busting his chops. Consequently, after his wife bails on marriage and motherhood, it’s only natural he turns to Casey for sympathy. Unfortunately, the exasperating pixie becomes more irresistible with each day she carries his child. He already mistook lust for love once and jumped way too fast into marriage. He’s not about to botch up his life that way again.

Casey wants whatever happiness she can grab, whether it’s temporary or not. The only problem is, if she lets herself love her baby (or David), what will happen to her when her sister inevitably realizes her mistake and returns to Redemption?

 To celebrate my holiday release of No Exchanges, No Returns, I’ll be holding a random drawing for a digital copy of the book from the list of commenters.


Now it’s your turn to share. In which of your favorite novels did the authors take chances and how? In what way are you sticking out your neck in your current WIP? What concerns do you have about pushing the boundaries of the romance genre?

Sister Act: 2012 Golden Heart Finalists Eileen Emerson and Elisa Beatty

 As this site’s name attests, there’s lots of fabulous Sisterhood in the romance-writing world.

 But when 2012 Golden Heart finalists Eileen Emerson and Elisa Beatty say they’re sisters, they mean it literally: they shared a room as little kids, cut the hair off each other’s Barbie dolls, and (a few years further down the road) were Maids of Honor at each other’s weddings and loving aunts to each others’ kids. RWA’s Carol Ritter thinks they’re the only biological sisters ever to final together in the Golden Heart.

If that weren’t enough closeness, they’re also CPs—and each other’s #1 cheerleaders on the road to publication.

That’s not to say they’re either interchangeable or totally simpatico. Elisa has a thing for dark-haired heroes with hulking frames. Eileen is more drawn to Englishmen of the slim, pale variety. Elisa relishes writing love scenes, Eileen would rather stick needles in her eyes than write something racy that their father might someday read. (Elisa makes her drink a glass of wine and do it anyway.)

Even their approaches to writing are different: Eileen’s a spreadsheet-addicted plotter tending towards OCD, Elisa’s a pantser with ADD…and chances are good she’s off playing Plants Versus Zombies right now.

 But both sisters appreciate intelligent, deeply emotional writing that can make readers laugh, cry or get that tell-tale clenching feeling behind their breastbones when the protagonists’ world is falling apart.

 And somehow they’ve found a working relationship that makes them both stronger writers, and will hopefully land them on your bookshelves (or Kindles) soon. Today they’ll be talking a few aspects of what makes that relationship tick.


On the difference between our approaches to writing:


I tried writing by the seat of my pants and found that it scared me too much. I have to know at least the major beats of the story—the Call To Action, the Crisis, and the Climax, plus the large Turning Points that keep the conflict popping.

I use a simple line drawing from Martha Alderson, aka “The Plot Whisperer,” that shows these points graphically on a sheet of butcher paper (I’m a visual person.) I then use strips of Post-it page markers to lay out scenes that I’ll use to stitch the story together.

This gives me just enough structure that I don’t usually have to tear apart the book once I’m done the shitty first draft. And with that flexibility, the characters still surprise me with the odd little things they reveal as I’m writing in that mad, frantic get-it-on-paper stage.


I wish I weren’t a pantser, but when I even think the word “spreadsheets” I get a terrible throbbing pain all through my head. I’m messy. I’m terrible at planning. The night before I leave for Nationals, I’ll probably poke my head into my closet and say, “Hmm, what have I got in here to throw in my suitcase?” Don’t be surprised if I’m wearing sneakers to the Awards Ceremony. And in the hotel, Eileen will have all her things hung up within five minutes of entering the room, and I’ll have my stuff strewn all across the bathroom counter.  She’s Martha Stewart, I’m Oscar Madison. There will be a lot of quiet tut-tutting going on.

There’s a huge plus side for me to having a Highly Organized Sister: I’d never have finished my first book without Eileen setting a deadline for me. And she’s great for bouncing ideas off of (actually she MAKES me articulate my ideas, when I really, really just want to wallow around in the messiness of my own thoughts). Then she’ll say things like, “Do you realize you have four villains here? Could you maybe compress a couple of them together?” Or she’ll tell me, “Go back and figure out what the stakes are for the heroine in this chapter, because you’ve gone on for eighteen pages and I’m getting lost.” Or just (in a note on the third page of a chapter) “Your chapter starts here.”

On our biggest weaknesses as writers:


My biggest problem is that I write very “spare” prose. This means, when Elisa sees my WIP for the first time, she inevitably suggests adding in beats and bits of reaction to flesh out the emotional depth of scenes. I also tend towards very traditional POVs. One of the biggest things Elisa’s done for me is to suggest writing a scene from a different character’s POV than I used in the draft—and it’s always resulted in radically beefing up the conflict, while still tightening the action.


Aside from my plotting issues, my biggest problem (surprise, surprise) is that I write too many words. I strew them as freely as I strew my toiletries. When I edit Eileen, I add lines. When she edits me, she cuts. And cuts. And cuts. But it really makes the work SOOO much better. My current Golden Heart book had bloated up to about 102,000 words, and Eileen got out her very hard-nosed red pen and helped me get rid of 10,000 of them. Without deleting a single scene.

On the advantages of being sister CPs:


Unlike newly attached CPs, we don’t have to walk on egg shells with each other. If something brutal needs to be said, we can say it without fear of crushing the other’s spirit. But it also means we have a certain working shorthand. A simple “mwraaaarr” in the margins tells us that we’ve nailed a particularly yummy bit of description or masculine derring do.…


Damn, I was about to say the same thing. Which is a pretty common occurrence for us. (Sometimes our emails cross in the ether and turn out to be virtually word-for-word the same. It’s a little freaky sometimes.)

The biggest plus-side is that we really get each other’s books and characters, and while we can be absolutely, glaringly blunt (saying things like “You cannot have your hero do that—it makes him look like a fluffy bunny rabbit wussy mama’s boy” without worrying that the other will refuse to speak to us at Christmas dinner), we also write a joyous “WOOOOOT!!!” in the margins many, many, many times. Along with all the “mwraaaarr”s.  And we whoop and scream with delight when we read polished scenes to each other over the phone. (Plus—when we’re not working like demons on our WIPs—we can find inspiration in our ridiculously giggly conversations about our mutual crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. One word for you, Eileen: “Beamboy.”)


One word back for you, Elisa: “Mwraaaarr!”

And now for something completely terrifying (for us):

We’re going to show you pdfs of a couple pages of our manuscripts with each other’s comments.

We use Track Changes, and sometimes those little comment balloons along the side fill up the entire right-hand margin–though for some reason last week, when we were in the Outer Banks together working on this post and looking for good examples, neither of us had the files on our laptops that show Elisa really going to town. Really, she’s not usually this mellow.

(Note: The ones from Elisa say the comments are coming from Jeff Peterson…ignore that. Our Mac is just set that way.)

Anyhow, this will give you a basic sense of what our working relationship is actually like on the page.

Here’s Eileen critiquing Elisa:


Here’s Elisa critiquing Eileen:


Thanks so much for being with us today!

You can learn more about us at and

Here’s our question for you: If you have a CP, how does your writing relationship work? In what ways do you complement (and compliment) each other? How do you handle the blunt and brutal conversations?





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