Posts tagged with: tamara hogan

Tools of the Trade: Empathy

When writers think about the tools of our trade, our thoughts might understandably go to craft: words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice. Characters, plot, setting, tense. Point of view, goal/motivation/conflict, dialogue, pace. And yes – all these things all need to be taken into account, all these things and more.

But I’d like to add to the list something that I consider to be an essential character development tool: empathy. defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

Film critic Roger Ebert once described movies as being empathy machines. I think the same thing can be said of books, because at the foundation, isn’t every great reading experience one where we temporarily abandon our sense of self so we can vicariously experience life from another point of view?

By the time I graduated from high school, I’d spent thousands of hours in fictional characters’ heads, considering someone else’s perspective, and the more unlike me the character was, the more fascinated I was…about the staggering breadth of the human experience, about the possibilities of the world outside my rural hometown, and about the place I wanted to make for myself in that world.

So this might explain why I feel a strong attraction to, and a strange affinity for, so-called “unlikeable characters”, and to fictional villains in particular. What intriguing psychological ground! What makes a villain tick? What secret pain does he or she hide?


I didn’t realize this affinity might be a marketable skill until I was in college, when a psychology professor suggested I consider a career in criminal psychology. “You have an unusual capacity for suspending judgment.”  I didn’t end up interviewing with the FBI, but in retrospect, I think this sense of psychological curiosity came from a very obvious place.

From READING – and having free-ranged the adult library stacks from age ten, I’d met perhaps more than my fair share of dubious fictional characters. ;-)

Which brings me to writing, and to empathy.

They say that a villain is the hero of his or her own story. He or she thinks they’re doing a good thing, the obvious thing, for very good reasons. When writing villains, we need to understand those reasons. Judgment and mental distance is a luxury we simply can’t afford, not if we’re going to do that character justice on the page. To get at a villain’s true goals, motivations, and conflicts, and to write from their point of view with any sense of authenticity,  we have to dig deep, put aside our personal value systems, and try to find some common ground, some shared humanity, in what can be pretty unsavory psychological territory.

We need to be brave enough to engage our empathy machines…at least temporarily.

It can be very challenging to explore the inner lives of characters who might be very, very different than ourselves – REAL people, three-dimensional people, flawed people who both frighten and fascinate.  Though it’s a tool that always needs honing, I find a well-developed sense of empathy to be a very handy tool to have around.

What are your thoughts on books as empathy machines, and the concept of empathy as an essential tool in a writer’s toolkit? Who are some of your favorite villains, and why? Please weigh in.


…who still receives letters from readers expressing both delight and dismay about Stephen, the villain in my 2011 release, TASTE ME – including questions about when I’m going to write “his” book!   ;-) 

Composite image by stockimages/KROMKRATHOG at

To Buy or Not to Buy: That is the Question

Partial Nora Roberts Collection

Partial Nora Roberts Collection

To massacre a phrase from Hamlet’s Soliloquy beyond all earthly recognition, have you ever thought about the factors that influence you to buy a book?

This blog post started off as an analysis of authors whose work I pre-order and auto-buy, but then, looking at my Amazon Cart and seeing so few books there <wince>, I started thinking about the topic in greater depth. What alchemic combination of author, genre, length, format, price point, and release timing makes me buy a book?

I knew beforehand that certain authors were auto-buys, and that I don’t impulse buy–ever–but beyond that? I discovered that my purchasing decisions were filtered through a set of factors that were a lot more complicated than I’d realized.

Go figure. ;-)


I easily read a couple hundred books per year, so it probably goes without saying that I’m a heavy user of the public library.

When considering whether to read or buy a book, particularly by a new-to-me author, I’ll scour online review sites looking for comments about lack of editing, typos, grammar errors and the like, which are my personal Kryptonite. Life’s too damn short to read books that annoy me.   


At the time I write this post in late October, I’m awaiting delivery of three pre-ordered books:

Sarah MacLean – Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover (historical paperback, Book of Scoundrels #4)

Nalini Singh – Archangel’s Shadows (paranormal paperback, Guild Hunters series)

Nora Roberts – Blood Magick (paranormal trade paperback, The Cousins O’Dwyer #3)

While I own every book MacLean and Roberts have ever written, I prefer Singh’s paranormal work to her category and contemporary releases.

There are several “new to me” authors whose work I’m enjoying so much that I’m happily glomming their backlists. I think it’s worth mentioning that I was introduced to Marie Force, Jennifer Probst, and Molly O’Keefe via a free paperback book. For me, free can pay off. O’Keefe, in particular, with her gift for exquisite sensory description, has made the leap to my auto-buy list. LOVE. HER.


My oldest Nora (1981)

My oldest Nora (1981)

While it’s every author’s dream to earn a place for themselves on a reader’s auto-buy or pre-order list—the kind of fandom that yields delighted readers, big opening week sales, and bestseller list appearances—I must admit that, as a reader, I rarely buy a book in its release week. I’m really good at deferred gratification, and my TBR pile already looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have so many books to catch up on that I feel no rush.

I’ve also found that by waiting awhile, you have a fair chance of finding an e-book on sale, or free, at a later date. Ka-ching.


Once I make a decision to buy, format and price come into play. We all have our preferences; here are mine. As a rule, I don’t buy fiction in hardcover. I don’t listen to audiobooks, I’m ‘meh’ about novellas, and I heartily dislike serials. I’ve developed anthology fatigue from the sheer number of unread boxed sets growing dust on my Kindle.

If I want to read, for example, the latest book in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, or the latest J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts hardcover, I first reserve it at the library, then buy the book in mass market or trade paperback once it’s released in that format.

I read a mix of paperbacks and e-books. If a book has a chance of becoming a keeper, I buy it in paperback, because ebooks seem more…temporary, more disposable to me, for some reason. I think the most I’ve ever paid for an ebook is $5.99—and believe me, I thought twice before hitting the buy button.  And then I got REALLY pissed off because the ebook went on sale not two months later. :-/ Talk about a disincentive to buy a book in its release week.

So, let’s open it up for discussion! Which factors lead you to either buy a book, or not buy it? Do you have format preferences? A preferred price point?

Who’s on your auto-buy list?


 TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100pxTEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more about Tammy’s books at

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace


Creative Minds: Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Eric Cartman

Having recently hit a rough patch in my own creative process, one of the things I’ve been doing to refill my personal creative well is to explore the creative processes of people whose work I enjoy and appreciate.  Fair warning: This video-heavy blog post is likely to be the first in an occasional series because I found so much good stuff. ;-) 

As someone who has to restrain herself from dropping the occasional f-bomb on the blog, it probably surprises no one that I’m a HUGE fan of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the Emmy-winning and Peabody-awarded South Park, and the Tony- and Grammy-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon.

Make no mistake–South Park, though animated, is a show for adults. These guys are expert cultural commentators and prescient social satirists. They pull no punches and have no fear. They please themselves, and only themselves. They have no sacred cows, but they have each other’s backs, and have for over twenty tears. These things, and so many others, are revealed in one of my favorite documentaries, the Emmy-nominated South Park: 6 Days to Air 6 Days plants a camera crew at South Park Studios, and documents the process they use to create every episode of South Park, which takes an idea from nothing to the air in a mere six days.

SIX DAYS, people – that includes brainstorming, story-boarding, writing, voice-over work, animation, music, editing, and a trip or two through the legal department and Standards and Practices, before up-linking the episode to Comedy Central just before airtime. Talk about tight deadlines. They’ve missed the deadline only once in 18 seasons, due to a power loss at their studio.

Because of this process, the show is extremely topical; Parker and Stone can respond to news stories and cultural issues on a dime. This season of South Park is only three weeks old, yet the show has already taken on the Washington Redskins controversy, Ebola, and transgender bathrooms in schools.

The South Park episode whose creation the documentary showcases, Season 15’s “HUMANCENTiPAD” (NSFW, 22:10), is a genius mash-up of the concept of how people automatically accept Apple iTunes’ Terms of Service without reading it first, combined with the truly, truly disturbing Dutch horror flick “Human Centipede”. Rent the 6 Days to Air documentary for a glimpse into their very unique creative process if you have a chance. Here’s a clip. (5:50, NSFW, for profanity, poor taste, scatalogical humor, and an untold number of offensive and hilarious things. After watching, you’ll never think about “the cloud” in the same way ever again.) It totally cracks me up how the women in the writer’s room are rolling their eyes, and the men are practically peeing their pants with laughter.  ;-) And yes, that IS the brilliant Bill Hader, formerly of SNL, brainstorming in the writer’s room. He moonlights as a South Park writer and producer, and in 2009 shared in the show’s Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. 

Several years ago, 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft delved into Matt and Trey’s creative partnership (13:58, Rated PG-13):

Smart, funny, fearless, musical…these guys just thrill me down to my subversive, contrarian toes. The fact that they’re only one award away from the EGOT – the very short list of people who’ve won the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, and the Tony – makes me very, very happy. (They were Oscar-nominated for the song “Blame Canada” (NSFW, 1:36) from the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but they didn’t win. So close, dudes! But that Peabody counts for something.) 

Are there artists whose work helps YOU refill the creative well? Tell us about them!  Have you seen The Book of Mormon? And if you have one, who’s your favorite South Park character? 



TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more about Tammy’s books at

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace


When the Words Get in the Way

whathehellI spent more than a little time at 2014 RWA National in my hotel room, writing. Let me correct that: I was struggling. I was working on this love scene that takes place at about the halfway point of my WIP, ENTHRALL ME.  For some reason, Tia and Wyland’s bodies were doing all the right, sexy things, but the scene was flat. Dead. 

Over some awesomely sleazy Chinese take-out, I realized I’d completely lost track of Wyland’s emotional arc. Why were Wyland and Tia in bed again? They must have reasons, right? 

I realized I had no earthly idea what those reasons were. Houston – or should I say San Antonio – we have a problem.

After returning home, I took what felt like a really drastic step–I stopped writing. I pushed writing new words aside and, using my daily writing time, tried some troubleshooting techniques I use in my day job as a quality and process analyst (namely root-cause analysis, and The Five Whys) to investigate what was up. 

And I figured out what the problem was pretty quickly.

I hammered out the first draft of this book during NaNoWriMo, in Nov. 2013, then devised a Chapter/Scene breakdown based on that first draft. Over a half year had passed since then. So much had changed in my story, but I hadn’t taken the time to update my plot line document, my GMC charts, and all the support materials that are so essential to my process.

However, my revisions document was 10 pages long and growing by the day. *choke*

In a moment of serendipitous timing, a couple of my Ruby Sisters mentioned registering for an upcoming Story Masters workshop, which I’d had the opportunity to take last year and had written a blog post about. As I re-read the blog post, it hit me: I’d fallen headlong into the trap Donald Maass had warned us about!


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?

I’d become so focused on daily output, on the number of scenes piling up, that I’d lost sight of the endpoint. What was I writing toward? How was I going to get there?

* crickets *

My mental story map was no longer accurate. My out-dated support materials had become an albatross hanging around my neck.

Why had it taken me so long for me to recognize this? The best I can come up with is that I allowed outside influences, and thoughts about commitments to others, to get in the way. I’d stated a goal to readers to release a book annually, which still feels s-l-o-w. My CP wouldn’t get new, polished chapters if I stopped to assess whether the chapters I delivered to her actually, you know, connected in any reasonable way. 

I also realized I’d fallen into what author Chuck Wendig called The Pit of Comparisons (language NSFW). Reading all those tweets from people who release multiple books per year, when I can’t release one, and who talk about their 10K-word writing days when on my most productive day, I can barely eke out 500, had really done a job on my head.

These things made it really easy for me to just…plow forward, to ignore that niggling spider sense telling me that something was wrong. Because activity equals productivity, right?


No. Not so much. 

So I took a deep, painful breath, and told my CP it might be awhile before she saw any new chapters from me. I acknowledged—really acknowledged—that there was no way in hell I’d be ready to release ENTHRALL ME by years’ end. Then I devised a bullet-point plan to get myself back on track.

My plan includes:

  • Reading the first half of my manuscript, which is at second draft and which my CP has already seen, to reacquaint myself with the story facts I’ve committed to paper.
  • Updating my Chapter/Scene breakdown document to reflect what actually happens in the first half of the book.
  • Updating my character development charts to reflect current GMCs.
  • Applying those piled-up revisions to the first half of the book.

After these steps are done, I figure I’ll be standing on a firmer foundation story-wise. Next, I’ll need to:

  • Reassess the plot and storyline for the remainder of the book. What scenes do I need to write to tell the rest of the story, based on what I wrote in the first half of the book?
  • Update my Chapters/Scenes document to reflect that analysis.
  • Re-read first draft NaNoWriMo scenes from the back half of the book to see what might be salvageable.
  • Start writing the second half of the book.

I’m on step four of this plan, applying revisions, and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!! I’m getting my story back on track again, and not letting the words, or the illusion of progress, get in the way. 

What do you do when you recognize your story might be clattering off-track? How do you keep yourself from falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others?


TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more at

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

Awesome #RWA14 SWAG!!

Frequent Ruby Readers may remember that I’m one of those annoying people who doesn’t seem to be influenced by most promo and marketing approaches, and alas, swag is no exception. I know, I’m horrible. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some awesome swag on hand at the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference recently held in San Antonio. It also doesn’t mean I didn’t pick some up. ;-)

Following are some of the items I collected at RWA National. If I notice a trend in the swag I picked up, it’s that the swag was a) useful/edible, b)  eye-catching, or c) it tickled my funny bone. 

Clockwise, from 12:00-ish:


A purple mini-notebook and orange breath mints from Aliyah Burke. I love purple, and orange is my favorite citrus flavor. (Useful/edible)

A bottle opener from Sarah M. Anderson, cleverly branded with “Percheron Drafts”, a setting from her Beaumont Heirs series. (Useful)

An unusual and beautiful mirrored compact from Susan Sheehey. (Useful/eye-catching)

More orange mints. Yeah, I took two. I told you I was horrible. (Edible)

From our own Ruby Sister Sara Ramsey, a sticky notepad that still makes me snicker. It reads: #regencyworldproblems

napoleon took me to russia and all I got was typhus (Useful/hilarious)

At the center, more mints – these ones reflecting book covers. Love the black containers, Dina Haynes  and Lynda Aicher!  (Edible)

Tasty mint gum, with book cover, from Teri Riggs. (Edible)

Lip balm from Annie Oortman of AnnieEdits. The label reads, “Editing is a bitch. I’m not.” LOVE IT. See Me: horrible, above. (Useful/funny)

More lip balm, and other awesome stuff, from Melody Anne, who I’ll talk about more in a bit. 

No conference attended primarily by women would be complete if people weren’t complaining about the temperature. ;-) The meeting spaces seemed to be either too hot or too cold, hitting very few attendees in that “just right” Goldilocks Zone. But never fear! The Goody Room had us covered. 

Cold hands, warm heart?

Bless you, Amylynn Bright, for including the life-saving Hot Hands chemical heating pads in your goodie bag! I should get brownie points for restraint because I only took one. (Useful – to me!)

For the women who were too warm, there were a number of awesome fans to choose from, including this clever cowboy-themed fan from Linda Gilman. (Useful – to most!)

If I had to choose a single promo and swag MVP for the conference, it would have to be New York Times best-selling indie author Melody Anne. In addition to outspending some publishers by supporting the conference at a platinum level, Melody’s name was visible everywhere: on the small, exceedingly useful notebook found in everyone’s conference bag. On a glasses/screen cleaning wipe (at about 10:00 in the first pic). Her latest release was advertised on elevator clings. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a bookmark advertising free downloads for four of her books. I picked up her swag in the Goody Room, a bag containing the cutest little black book holding sticky notes and adhesive page tabs (10:00 above, half-covering the glasses/screen cleaning wipe), name-brand lip balm, and a good quality pen, all emblazoned with her name. Being an indie author, she also bore the cost of furnishing her own print books for both the Literacy Signing and the Indie signing.

Melody Anne? I think brand name domination has been achieved!    

Did you pick up any swag at RWA National? Tell us about it! Did you have a favorite item? Did any item strike you as cool or unusual? Will any item increase the chance that you might actually buy someone’s book?

Let’s dish!    


TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more at

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace



Art, Music, and Emotion

As a stoic, unsentimental Scandinavian, it takes a LOT to make me cry in real life , but when I’m listening to music? Or experiencing some kind of art combined with music? OMG, someone pass the Kleenex.

Music alone reliably opens my emotional floodgates, but combining great music with another type of art can tip the experience to transcendent.  Today, I’d like to talk about art that makes us cry.

Apologies in advance for what will certainly be a video-heavy post. I hope you’ll be able to come back to this post when you have a little time, experience some of the art that tugs at MY heartstrings, and also share your own.


I’m a long-time viewer of So You Think You Can Dance, the competitive reality show that’s given so many dancers an opportunity to strut their stuff to the world. After the season is over, many of the Top 20 dancers deservedly make the leap from amateur to professional, but I find myself most emotionally impacted by the auditions – no, not the emotionally manipulative “up close and personal” sob stories, which I fast-forward past – but the performances themselves… just an as-yet-unknown dancer, interpreting a song through movement, in their own little world, before any famous choreographer gets their hot little hands on them.

The musicality of these two SYTYCD auditions literally brings me to tears.

After her audition, Melanie Moore , the eventual Season 8 winner, not only received a standing ovation from her fellow competitors, but was told by one of the judges that Zeus himself would invite her to dance on Mt. Olympus.

Moore is dancing to “The Meadow” by Alexandre Desplat, from the Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.

Below, director/producer/choreographer and SYTYCD guest judge Adam Shankman gets a little verklempt watching Billy Bell’s audition. Adam wasn’t alone. (I’m a sympathetic crier, so this audition was a double-whammy.)

Billy is dancing to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately Bell sustained an injury partway through the season and had to leave the competition.


In my opinion, the last scene of the Six Feet Under series finale is the one of the most perfect pieces of television ever aired. In six sublime, fast-forwarded, largely dialogue-free minutes, we learn what the future holds for every member of the extended Fisher family as the youngest daughter, Claire, drives cross-country to start her first grown-up job. Given the Fishers run a funeral home, could the series really have ended any other way? Set to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” this scene and this song are forever entwined in my mind, combining to create a piece of art that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

FAIR WARNING: Some readers may find the montage’s subject matter – death – disturbing.


Every morning when I sit down to write, I choose an artist, song, album, or playlist that I think will transport me to the emotional head space of the character whose POV I’m writing from that day. (Music is that reliable a tool for me; there are some pieces that make my eyes sting every time I hear them.) Here are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, joined by Jason Bonham on drums, performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, with an arrangement I feel rivals the  original.

The chorus coming in at about 4:10? Talk about transcendent.


You wouldn’t expect that reading a rocker’s memoir would provoke much of an emotional reaction, but Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove, accomplished this rare feat. When Taylor described how his bandmate Simon LeBon sang “Save a Prayer” at John’s father’s funeral? Fellow Ruby Sister and Duran Duran superfan Vanessa B. and I both bawled like babies.

And finally, from my own work. In my 2009 GH finalist/2011 debut novel TASTE ME, I killed off a secondary character that some readers thought was developed strongly enough to get her own book – and yeah, it hurt.

In this excerpt, a siren choir sings Annika Fontaine home:

A burst of wind buffeted the small group as they assembled on the edge of the rugged cliff. Lukas instinctively leaned in to shelter Scarlett with his larger body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father doing the same thing for Claudette as she stood in her family’s ancestral worship area like a poised ivory statue, her face locked in a rictus of control. In this thin, milky light, her hair looked more gray than red, and her mourning-white trench coat whipped around her legs. She cradled a fuchsia suede bag about the size and weight of a sack of sugar in both arms.

Her daughter’s ashes.

As opposed to her mother, Scarlett blazed with defiant color. She’d made no attempt to harness her hair, and it billowed behind her like a red sheet on a clothesline. Her calf-length wool coat was bright turquoise, her pink boots glowed, and her face was blotchy with tears.

Grief and sadness poured out of her like blood from a wound. Lukas clenched his jaw and held on to her hand as the siren choir gathered around them in a loose semicircle.

“Let us sing our sister home,” the Celebrant intoned. She turned her substantial body to the pounding sea and extended her arms to the sky and waves, singing the first haunting notes.

He thought he was prepared. He really did. But when the other women joined in… Jesus. Dissonant harmonies shrilled up and down his backbone, and he grasped Scarlett’s waist more tightly—whether to support her or to be supported, he didn’t really know. Scarlett was as much moaning as singing, her incomparable voice rising above the others as she extended her arms to the sea and tipped her head up to the sky. The collective mourning energy swirled above them like a whirlwind as the sirens sang the Fontaine family lineage, imploring the wind and the waves to accompany the brave siren Annika to her final resting place. Annika, daughter of Claudette, daughter of Signe, daughter of Siobhan, daughter of Siann, of Sorcha, of Catraoine. Of Sinead, Maire, Ceile, and Fiona. On and on, back through the generations, the sirens recited the names the unbroken Fontaine matrilineal line back to Canola, Goddess of the Harp.

It was now up to Scarlett to ensure continuity of the Fontaine line.

On and on the singing went, the sirens acknowledging sisters lost to history, sisters who’d protected their families and ensured their species’ survival by luring marauders’ ships into the cliffs with no weapon but their voices. Lukas surreptitiously popped an antacid and tried to distract himself by focusing on the waves pounding against the cliffs, the swooping gulls, the fall sumac blazing between the rocks, where the paparazzi crouched like fucking jackals. Something, anything, to distract himself from the taste of Scarlett’s saltwater mourning mixing with her mandarin essence.

How his seed boiled at the thought of fathering Scarlett’s child.

Finally, the plaintive song came to a close, and the Celebrant stepped back, gesturing to the churning water.

“I … can’t do this,” Scarlett whispered brokenly, the first words she’d spoken to him in nearly a week.

Lukas bracketed her chilly face in his warm hands, trying to pour whatever strength he could into her. “You can.”

She clutched his wrists with her hands for a long moment, her eyes locked on to his. Finally, she stepped away from the shelter of his body and joined her mother at the edge of the cliff. And as the other sirens chanted, “All that was…all that is…all that shall be,” they reached into the bag with their bare hands, casting Annika’s ashes to the wild, wild sea.

Oh yeah. That still makes me cry.

Is there a type or piece of art that makes you cry? Happy tears, sad tears, bittersweet tears? Feel like sharing?  




TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, has been nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace



Really? Quality, Craft, and Reader Expectations

Darynda wins a RITA!

Darynda wins the first Ruby  RITA!

Today is the day that preliminary round scores for RWA’s RITA contest** are due, and I have one last book to score. I’ve read it three times, and it’s giving me fits.

What’s the problem, you ask?

How many points do you award “The Writing” when the book features beautifully descriptive language, deep and authentic POV work, evocative love scenes…yet contains dozens of grammar and spelling mistakes? When an author uses some of the most original metaphors and similes you’ve ever read, but the book is riddled with text formatting errors?

I hold such a book in my hands, and it’s breaking my heart.

I wish the RITA score sheet had a writing mechanics category so I could acknowledge the author’s obvious creative gifts, but draw her attention to the shortcomings with writing fundamentals. Immediately after making this wish, an insidious thought crosses my mind, one that makes me wince but whose truth I can’t deny: Prior to this year, when RWA opened the RITA contest to self-published books, writing fundamentals and text formatting issues…pretty much weren’t. Issues, that is. Writing mechanics and text formatting are generally quite clean in traditionally-published books. Sure, you might find a stray typo or two, or a missing end quote here and there, but most traditionally-published books are edited several times throughout the book’s production cycle, correcting these problems before the book is released.

The book that’s breaking my heart is a self-published book.

So (she reluctantly asks), where do self-published books fit in, quality and craft-wise? In my experience, it’s a really mixed bag – and the books I received in my RITA judging packet this year bore this out.

Of the eight books I received, four were self-published—including the book that received my highest score, woo-hoo!! But to my disappointment, the other three self-published books all had problems with grammar, typos/spelling, punctuation, misused homophones (there/their/they’re), verb tense, and other writing mechanics issues that made it challenging for me, an admitted Grammar Nazi, to even begin to assess other aspects of craft and story. Two of the three books had serious text formatting issues, perhaps more noticeable in print than in digital format. One had so much head-hopping I thought I’d get whiplash.

These issues really pulled me out of the story – and while your mileage may vary, that’s where my personal quality bar is set. If I get pulled out of the story, I start losing interest. If it keeps happening, I pick up my red pen. It definitely impacts my score. I think, “If I wasn’t judging this book for a contest, I’d stop reading now.”  If I’d paid money for the book, I’d return it for a refund.

Yes, a refund. Yes, I’m serious.

I’m self-published myself, and believe me, I’m wincing as I write this, thinking about glass houses and throwing stones, knowing my own work is far from perfect. I don’t mean to suggest that self-published books shouldn’t be eligible to enter the RITA, or that there aren’t some very good self-published books out there (as evidenced by my top-scoring book), or that some small press and traditionally-published books aren’t real clunkers. But judging this year’s RITA contest – judging a random set of  traditionally-published books and self-published books by the same criteria, in the same contest, side by side, for the very first time – led me to explicitly assess my quality and craft expectations, both as a reader and as a contest judge. The fact that I even thought about my quality expectations meant that some of these books were coming up short. I didn’t need an advanced degree in statistics or analytics to notice which set of books I was having problems with.

This made me sad.

When judging unpublished contests such as the Golden Heart, I expect to have to occasionally wade through typos, spelling/grammar errors, and wonky formatting to find the strengths in a story. But to experience this when judging the published division of Romancelandia’s premier writing contest? As Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers used to say on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update”…



Tough love time: Books with typos, grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, and formatting problems have QUALITY PROBLEMS.  Books with quality problems simply can’t compete – for a good contest score, or for my book-buying dollar.

Am I setting the bar too high? Am I being too critical? Regardless of how a book is published, is “correct” really too much to expect when judging a contest awarding excellence in published romance fiction? When buying a book? I don’t think so. I refuse to think so.

<sigh> And now I know what I have to do with the writing score for the book I mentioned above. And it really hurts.


P.S.  To the self-published author whose book received my highest score..thank you for restoring my faith in humanity – or in self-published books, at any rate. I really hope to see your name when RITA finalists are announced on March 26. ;-)

So, Ruby Readers… Whether judging a contest or reading for pleasure, do you have the same quality and craft expectations of a self-published book as you do for a small press or a traditionally-published book? Why or why not? How often are your expectations met?

What does the phrase ‘excellence in romance fiction’ mean to you?

** The RITA is the Romance Writers of America’s annual award for excellence in published romance fiction, and the Golden Heart awards excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts. For both contests, the score sheet is ruthlessly simple: rate the book or manuscript’s plot/story, the writing, and the characters, on a scale of 1-10 each, and the romance on a scale of 1-20. Add the scores together for a maximum total score of 50. Entrants receive a score but no written feedback.

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100pxTamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she writes paranormal romance with a sci-fi twist. A voracious reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tamara is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

TEMPT ME, Underbelly Chronicles Book 3, was released in Oct. 2013.

 Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace |


Ruby Tuesday: Tamara Hogan

Welcome, ladies and gents, to another edition of Ruby Tuesday, that day when we get a closer acquaintance with one of our Rubies.  Today on the hot seat we have our paranormal wordsmith of the north Midwest, Ms. Tamara Hogan.  Welcome, Tammy!

Name: Tamara Hogan

2009 GH Category & Title: Paranormal – Underbelly

What Happened to That Book: Published by Sourcebooks as TASTE ME


What subgenre(s) do you write? Paranormal romance.

When did you start writing? (And why?)

I wrote poetry pretty seriously when I was younger—my English degree has a creative writing focus—but other than a couple of brain farts here and there, I didn’t write very much after graduation. I had health problems, I got married and divorced, I built a career, I fell in love again…you could say that life got in the way.

Tammy’s Golden Heart book

Some twenty-odd years after graduation, watching a Motley Crue show of all things, random thoughts combined, making the spurious connection that ultimately became the Underbelly Chronicles world. I started writing my first manuscript the next morning—and that manuscript was my 2009 Golden Heart finalist.

How many books have you written? Three full-length novels (TASTE ME, CHASE ME, and TEMPT ME) and one short story, TOUCH ME. The first two were published by Sourcebooks, and the last two were self-published.

What are you working on now? Underbelly Chronicles Book 4, ENTHRALL ME, which is Wyland’s story. (Does anyone else identify more with their books’ heroes than with their heroines? Bueller?)

Uncle Stevie Nesting Dolls

Uncle Stevie Nesting Dolls, in a place of honor

If you could grow up to be one writer, who would you want to be? Stephen King. I can definitely see myself writing horror at some point.

Where do you get your best ideas? From observing the culture. I read, broadly and constantly. I watch a lot of TV, especially science, history, and nature programming. I’m pretty clued in to music, technology, and internet culture. All these influences swirl together in my brain, and in my books, I cobble ideas together in ways I find interesting. The fact that much of this observation can be performed sitting on the couch is an added plus. ;-)

What was the first romance you ever read? I can’t remember the specific title, but it was probably a Harlequin Presents category romance. I was a precocious reader as a child; I hit the adult library stacks at age 10 and never looked back.

Tammy’s Latest Release

What’s your day job? I’m a technology process analyst for a company that makes networking gear. I telecommute to Silicon Valley from my Minnesota home base.

What was the first job you ever had? Gymnastics coach.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had? Managing a shoe store. Working retail, especially around the holidays, definitely exposes one to the nastier side of human nature.

Marital status?  Kids?  Grandkids?  Auntie? My partner Mark and I have been happily unmarried for fifteen years. We’re childfree by choice and have two naughty cats. (When maternal instincts were being handed out, I was standing in the puppy and kitty line.) I love being an aunt, and our two “goshkids” bring much joy to our lives.

Where would you build your dream house? On the north shore of Maui, with an unobstructed view of the Pe’ahi (Jaws) surf break.

What is the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to? Bangalore, India—a city of massive contradictions. Cardboard shanties bump up against twenty story glass skyscrapers and world-class medical centers. Traffic comes to a full stop for roaming cows. Glorious temples and beautiful “American” hotels are juxtaposed with begging children, bony street dogs, and the poor relieving themselves at the side of the road because they have no alternative. I couldn’t buy a cup of Starbucks coffee for weeks after returning, knowing that the couple of dollars I’d spend would feed a poor Indian family for a week. No foreign travel experience has made me examine my western middle-class privilege more.

What’s your astrological sign? Pisces.

What is your Myers-Briggs designation? INFP.

Which TV show are you most addicted to right now? If I have to narrow it down to one, probably The Big Bang Theory.

MN Quilt Show

One of Tammy’s Quilts at the MN Quilt Show

What hobby takes up the most of your time? I make contemporary quilts. This winter’s project is a new bedspread for our room. Google “Tessellating Tabbies” if you want to see the pattern!

What is the best writing advice you ever received? To please myself first. OK, that sounds kind of naughty, but you know what I mean: if I’m not excited about the story I’m writing, how can I expect others to be? I wrote my first book with complete freedom, and no expectations. I didn’t particularly care if I broke rules or not; I just wrote a story that I’d personally want to read. I spent most of last year trying to get back to that place, rediscovering the joy in writing a story and not worrying quite so much about publishing it. If I enjoy the process of writing the book—if I’m pleased with the end product—it’s a success to me. And there’s SO much satisfaction in that. ;-)

There certainly is.  Thank you, Tammy!

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




What Are You Thankful For?

Thanksgiving is the time of year where the concept of thankfulness is visibly front and center.

By personality and profession, I’m a problem-solver, instinctively attuned to recognizing, and then correcting, problems, exceptions, deviations and anomalies. Sometimes I need a reminder to break out of problem-solving mode, and consciously acknowledge the things I’m thankful for. Thanksgiving gives me that reminder.

Things I’m Thankful For, in no particular order:

Good health: For those of us living with chronic illness, the concept of good health is sometimes a day-to-day thing, but all things considered? 2013 was a pretty great year. I barely met my insurance deductible! Speaking of which: I am thankful to have health insurance.

Modern medicine: Every time I grumble about how many sticks it takes for me to have blood taken, I try to remember that had I been born even a decade earlier, I likely would have died during my teen years. I’m thankful for butterfly syringes, with their small-gauge needles!

Employment: I survived yet another round of corporate layoffs – oh, excuse me – “limited restructuring.” In this economic climate, I feel so fortunate to have a job that challenges me, and a regular paycheck, when so many equally capable people don’t. And did I mention, yay health insurance! ;-)

Family and Friends: They may not always understand me, but they always have my back.

Democracy: I feel fortunate to have been born to parents who live in a democratic society, where, within the scope of the laws of the land, I can say anything, do anything, be anything. As someone who lives some aspects of her life outside prevailing cultural norms, believe me I don’t take this for granted.

Last but not least…

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxREADERS!! This year, I reconnected with the joy and exhilaration I felt when I TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200pxwrote my very first book – before I sold and writing became /gulp/ a job.

Thank you to READERS everywhere, who give writers yet one more reason to listen to these voices in our heads, and to push our words out into the world.

What are you thankful for this year?

TOUCH ME (6/13)   Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords
TEMPT ME (10/13)  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace
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