Posts tagged with: writing

Death & Then There Was Rebirth

I’ve come to the conclusion that death mirrors birth. From the moment we’re conceived, we fight to grow into a whole person.  Then we take enter into a new world where again we strive to develop into a unique person. At some point, we struggle again, leaving behind love ones, and again take passage into another realm.  Based on the trend, one thing we can count on in the next kingdom  there will a promise of hope.

I lost my husband, my love, my best friend. Then I lost the first man to hold my heart, my father. Then my beloved dog whose coat held many tears, and finally my pretty kitty of nineteen years. All of them in a short span of a year and a few months. A few other family members and friends have followed since.

When you lose someone that held your heart, it’s like you’re the only one in the history of the world that has ever felt the pangs of the deepest, darkest, totally empty, endless freefall of grief. All desires except one leave your soul. Then, like the moment of conception, there is the tiniest spark of self-preservation that makes you look up and take a step forward to fulfilling your purpose in the world. Taking those steps and allowing yourself to fall and get back up takes strength and courage.

We all are unique. We all have strengths, weakness and gifts. For some reason, this community has been given the talent of putting words to page, words that will affect others and perhaps change the course of their lives.

Over the years, I’ve heard many of you state that “not to be able to write would be like taking away your ability to breathe.” Fitting words. It doesn’t matter how you write or what you write or whether anyone ever will see your words. What matters is that you’re striving to be the accomplished, awesome unique person that you’re meant to be.

If you or someone you know is going through the stages of mourning, I offer one thing that helped me. I wrote letters to my love ones. I journaled my thoughts. I wrote poems. They are my private works filled with hate, pain and love, and the world will not ever see them.

I’m not the over-achiever that I had been several years ago, wanting to write several books a year. I’ve become the writer who wants to write for me first and the world second. And that is okay.  I hope the books I release will be enjoyed by fans, and blogs like this one will help others. I’m feeling accomplished, and that is good.


Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale

I admit it. I am guilty of studying tropes and trends, because I know that readers like them and my publisher expects them. And also, being familiar with tropes and trends is helpful.

But early this year, when my publisher asked me to write yet another Christmas novella for the 2015 holiday season, I was less than enthused. Honestly, if I had to write another:



a) Retelling of the Gift of the Magi (I did that in my novella I’ll be Home for Christmas),






b) Take on Scrooge (I did that in my book Last Chance Christmas), or







c) Baby in a barn story (I did that in my novella Silent Night)




I. Would. Scream.

(Did I mention that the publisher made this suggestion in January, right after I was thoroughly Christmass-ed-out?)

I expressed these negative feelings to my husband on our daily commute. I railed against Dickens for having written the quintessential Christmas Novella of all times. I ranted about Scrooge — about how he is such a powerful icon of the season that he’s everywhere, in every story you read.  I mean, even It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have Scrooge archetypes messing up Christmas for everyone.

“Not gonna do it,” I said.

Then my husband said, “What if you wrote a story where Tiny Tim was all grown up?”

And I said, “Okay, if Tiny Tim is a grown up, who’s Scrooge? A little kid?”

And he said nothing.

Did I mention that he’s a whiz at knowing when to shut up?

The next morning, this idea of turning Cindy Lou Who into a tiny-sized Grinch was still rattling around in my head. So I Googled the words, “Kids who hate Christmas.”

I got the usual listing of posts about greedy kids, even greedier grownups, and people ungraciously mouthing off about Christmas gifts they hated. But once I got past all that crap I stumbled across several heartbreaking and utterly inspiring articles and blog posts about and by parents whose children either have autism or who are on the Asperger’s spectrum.

For many of those special kids, Christmas is a nightmare. For their parents, Christmas can be a difficult obstacle course that requires love and patience and even more love.

A story began to form in my mind, but I didn’t think I was courageous enough to write it. The courageous ones are the parents of these special kids, and I didn’t feel as if I had any authority to write about them.

I put the story idea aside. I worked on a dozen other ideas all of which had some well-worn Christmas trope that failed to inspire. I dithered. I procrastinated. I complained.

And then I sent an email to my BFF and critique buddy, Caroline Bradley, who just happens to be the mom of a child on the Asperger’s spectrum. I didn’t contact Caroline to seek information about Asperger’s– not at first. At first it was just to have a conversation about whether I was brave enough to take on this topic.

Bless her, Caroline was more than enthusiastic. She told me that if the story had captured my heart, then it shouldn’t matter whether I was qualified to write it (that’s what research is for) or whether it was the usual trope (sometimes you have to stop listening to the marketing people). In short, she told me to be brave, write fearless, and tell a good story – words I hope to continue to live by.

I started by asking a lot of questions of a lot of parents and siblings of autistic kids.  I did my research. And then something magical happened, when I had finally stopped telling myself that this story was beyond me, I discovered that it was actually inside me.

The story arrived fully formed in a matter of days and needed almost no revision.

This experience has convinced me that when I dig deep, stretch my boundaries, and tell a story from deep inside my heart, the writing is never a problem. It’s when I back away from the hard stuff – that’s when the writing becomes impossible.

midnight clear coverA Midnight Clear, a Christmas story of a single mom with a special needs child goes on sale today. Here’s an excerpt.

So, tell me, have you ever had a story present itself that you thought you weren’t brave enough to write? Did you write it? What happened? Was it hard or did it turn out to be easy?

What Makes A Reader Close Your Book?

late-night-reading_opt“I loved your book. I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up all night reading it.” As writers, these comments are music to our ears.  If creating a book that readers can’t put down is the blue ribbon, we need to understand what makes a reader close a book, so we can avoid it. So I asked – What makes you close a book that you’re reading? I polled as many people as I could this past week, my book club, family members, twitter peeps, FB folks, moms at my daughter’s pre-dawn drama club festival… And here is what I heard:



There seems to be two broad categories that spur readers to close a book: if the book is too difficult or annoying to read or if the book doesn’t engage. Looking a bit closer:

Difficult to Read

1 – “When the author uses bizarre, “big” words when simpler words could be used. As if they are trying to impress the reader with how much they know.”

2 – “A strong dialect that is hard to read, like a southern drawl spelled out phonetically or too many Scottish accent words. If I have to read it aloud slowly to understand the sentence, it’s too hard.”

3 – “Foreign words if they aren’t defined or easily inferenced based on the story.”

4 – “Who is talking? If I can’t tell who is speaking, I get frustrated, having to re-read passages to try to figure it out.”

5 – As a writer, grammar, misspellings and flip flopping POV in a scene yanks me out of a story. Yet interestingly, none of the “pure” (those who don’t also write) readers I asked mentioned these things as reasons to close the book. But at some point, if there are too many little problems pulling a reader out of the flow, they could decide that the story doesn’t hold their attention.grammar check




Doesn’t Engage

1 – “I’ll stop reading if I feel like the story isn’t going anywhere. There’s either no real plot or it’s taking too long to see it.” So direction and pacing are important to today’s reader.

2 – “When I read outside work, I want to escape and be entertained. So if the book isn’t providing that, I’ll close it to find another.” Hooks, pacing, and something that pulls a reader out of their ordinary world keeps them reading.

TBR pile

3 – Several readers polled mentioned that it was just personal preference, if the book dives into a subject matter that they don’t like, they will close the book. This problem revolves around reader expectations. Perhaps the cover or blurb lead a reader to believe the book will be darker or lighter than they were thinking. Maybe the author brand is different for this particular book. I worry about this factor since I write in different sub genres but haven’t used a pseudonym (yet).

If you write children’s books, my eight-year-old wants me to mention that she closes a book when something really sad happens. “Please don’t kill off moms or dads, or really anyone or anything, dogs, grandmas…”

We need to consider our audience and what type of book we are writing for them. Children don’t want to read about losing someone permanently, at least not when they are reading for fun. Adults can handle death and scary life events better. As a cancer survivor, I’ve closed numerous “inspiring” cancer books when they lack humor. Laughter is great medicine, so I look for covers and blurbs that seemed funny instead of sappy (my favorite one is I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage by Fran Di Giacomo).   

4 – A reader/writer told me they will close a book if there are “shallow characters, built on clichés but not given a twist or depth.”

Characters must illicit emotion for the reader to care about what happens to them. Make a reader identify with a character or root for them or hate them, but make them feel something.fictional groom

For example, when I drive in traffic…On the surface I can get very frustrated with the drivers around me. Someone behind a glass window who cuts me off irritates me. I don’t care about the jerk, just want him out of my way. I close the book on him. But if I knew more…if I knew that the driver was frantic, trying to get to the hospital where his child has been rushed after being in a car accident, suddenly I feel different. I want to get out of his way, root for him, help him, and follow his story. Even after the incident, the story pops up into my mind throughout the day or week. The book remains open.

5 – Trust. Even if a reader buys the first book, or even reads an entire series, but the ending leaves them feeling horrible, we lose their trust. Either the main characters die or the happily ever after a reader was expecting doesn’t happen, they may “close the book” on the author (which is much worse than closing the physical book). Readers trust that we will lead them through the conflicts, the difficulties to somewhere safe or at least satisfying. This speaks to author brand or reader expectations based on genre. Keep that in mind when writing something outside the norm. I’m all for writer prerogative and branching out, trying new genres. Just make sure it is clear to your readers if a particular book, or series, is vastly different from your usual writing. You don’t want them to close the book on you.

closing the book

So what have I missed? What makes you close a book, either for the night or for good?

This or that – dream or goal?

Earlier this year, I went on a writing retreat with 5 Rubies. (Well, 4 Ruby sisters and 1 honorary Ruby!) One evening, I was listening to 2 of the authors discuss their goals for their careers–and it struck me that their goals had never even entered my thinking. Hitting a bestseller list? Earning enough money to replace the income from my day job? These felt more like impossible dreams than achievable goals.

So, for July’s This or That, let’s talk about our aspirations. What are your dreams or goals?

Hello Death – I See You!

As authors, we birth new characters all the time. Often our offspring (like our flesh-and-blood kids) take on our own traits. Maybe your heroine has a dream to be a movie star like you did as a kid. Maybe your hero tenses every time he hears car tires screech just like you do after your accident. Or maybe your villain fears spiders and dark corners where spiders like to hide, just like you do.

Last week I released my newest book, BROKEN (Woot!), a YA paranormal romance (second in The Guardians Series). There’s a contest to win a $25 gift card going on right now! Contest link In BROKEN, my heroine, Taylin, has lived ten lives and has died painfully ten times. The curse that tortured her, with living loveless lives and then dying violently over and over, is finally broken. But now that she has only one more life to live, fear of death takes ahold of her, creating a new form of torture. Broken

As I wrote this book, I wanted Taylin to learn how to live without fearing death. I decided early on that the theme of the book was “you can’t fear death or you can’t really live.” It sounded like a truth and a great lesson to learn, a lesson I needed to learn myself.

I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. In fact, as I write this on April 5th, four years ago today I was just waking up from surgery to hear “you have cancer” – words that change your life forever. I fought against this quiet, yet vicious disease with major surgery, 15 months of chemo and another 6 months of recovery. It was the hardest battle of my life, but I was determined NOT to leave my three kids and my wonderful husband without fighting with every ounce of scrappy, tenacious, mental and physical muscle I possessed. Some days were harder than others. Some days I felt like I was dying an achy, stomach-twisting, slow death. Luckily though I responded to the life-saving poison and have been in remission since.

McCollumClan - Copy

Remission is bitter-sweet. Yes, it is fantastic that the cancer is gone. However, the fear that it will return (something ovarian cancer is known for) haunts me. Nerve pain, nausea, bloating from steroids, torturous insomnia, bleeding and sores in my mouth – all from the chemo. And then the biggest fear of all – not surviving it and leaving my kids. Getting poked

Sometimes that fear grows so large, it blocks the beauty before me. And that, my friends, ruins living.



Half way through writing BROKEN my creative words and tapping fingers slowed and then stopped. I couldn’t figure out what would make Taylin learn her lesson. The theme, you can’t fear death or you can’t really live, seemed impossible to achieve. After dying ten times, Taylin was afraid of dying again, this time for good, no more reincarnations. For days I dwelled on her problem and dredged my creative well for a way to make her stop fearing death so she could enjoy life.

When I went to see my therapist (I highly recommend therapy for pretty much everyone), I told her how I was stuck in my book. She is also a writer and has great insight.

“How can I make my heroine not fear death?” I asked.

She tilted her head. “Why should she not fear death? Fearing death is a very human thing. If she didn’t fear death at all, she wouldn’t be human.”

I blinked. I stared. I inhaled. “If you fear death you can’t really live.”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t fear death, and a lot of people live wonderful, happy lives. They just don’t dwell on death.”

Holy moly! I had the wrong theme. Holy moly! Taylin and I both had it wrong.

Fearing death is natural. It is the dwelling on death and always feeling fear that puts a dark shadow over living.

Not only did I suddenly get how to fix my book, I learned that it was totally okay for me to fear the return of my cancer. It is normal for the thought of my demise and what it would do to my children to sadden me. But Taylin and I must stop giving fear of death power over us. We can’t let it stand in front of us or we will miss the whole beautiful parade.

As a writer, I am very fortunate to have an avenue to explore my inner craziness. By creating Taylin and helping her deal with her fear, I’ve been able to deal successfully with my own. Oh, some days I falter, like when I’m waiting for test results (while you’re reading this, I’m having yet another CT scan, so I’ll have to beat fear off of me with a mental bat). But both Taylin and I now redirect our thoughts away from the grave, outward to the beautiful world around us. It’s not a permanent fix, but it is a healthy, soul-filling step in the right direction.

Have you learned anything from your characters or the characters in books you’ve read?

For more information about Ovarian Cancer, you can check out the OC Page on Heather’s site or go to Heather blogged throughout her cancer journey. Those blog posts can be found on the OC Page on her web site.

For info about BROKEN and The Guardian’s Series, you can click here: Amazon Buy Page

Also find Heather here: Heather on Facebook, Heather on Twitter, Heather on Pinterest


Chicken or the Egg???

Chicken or the Egg?

It’s an age old dispute that we’ve talked about only…forever. Personally, I don’t really care which came first. I just want to eat both of them, preferably fried. Hey, I’m a Southerner.

But that old debate leads me to something writers often debate – is success achieved by talent or perseverance?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking both, right? I knew it because that’s the easy answer. To “make it” in the publishing world we always say you have to have 10% talent, 10% perseverance and 80% luck. I mean, that’s what everyone told me. And I’ve believed them. Sounds good and I’m just waiting on luck…or if you read some of my reviews, talent.

But I want to argue a bit today. Why not, right? Nothing else going on (except deadlines, laundry and actually work).

I’ve been writing seriously since 2007. The first two years I wrote two historical manuscripts. They were pretty bad as most first efforts are. The second one was good enough (or rather I polished that first three chapters enough) to net me a final in the Golden Heart and land me in the company of these pretty ladies here. So I didn’t totally suck. In fact, my first critique partner is fond of saying she could see the spark beneath the drudge. My first manuscript hid an ugly duckling. I can’t say I’m the most talented of writers, but I don’t suck. So we’re going to count that as a point for talent.

But Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers has been on my mind lately. Namely the chapter he wrote on the 10,000 hour rule. In the book (which is fascinating, by the way) he ascribes success to a person doing what he and she does for doing it for at least 10,000 hours. In other words, in Malcolm Gladwell’s research, he ascribes to “practice makes professional or expert”. In a Business Insider article they state “In “Outliers,” Gladwell reported on the 10,000 Hour Rule, a construct for understanding expertise that became such a part of the culture that Macklemore wrote a self-affirming song about it. The rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in any field. It comes from the research of Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who studied chess masters and tennis players.” *

Applying that theory, I’ve been thinking about my writing. Since I started writing seriously in 2007, I’ve written seventeen books, four novellas and like a thousand different first chapters (LOL). How many hours has it taken me? How many craft books have I read, workshops attended, critiques poured over? I don’t know. But it’s up there. So I’ve put in time. Does that make me an expert? I don’t know that either. But I will offer one thing I do FIRMLY believe – it’s hard as hell to write a first book and have it stand as GOOD. So I do believe there is something to be said for practicing, honing, and sharpening your craft. I’m pretty sure that a glut of self-published books by someone who got an itch to write a story is a good example of why paying your dues is part of building a career. You have to learn the ropes. You have to use the wrong words so you know how to apply the right ones. You have to suck before you can shine.

Or do you?

So I have to ask you – chicken or egg? Um, I meant talent or paying dues? Which do you think attributes most to the success of an author? Let the debate begin!

Oh, if you’re interested in The Outliers, you can find more info below in the links:

Disputing the 10,000 rule with genetics:

*Gladwell’s other mind blowing ideas (source for 10,000 rule quote):

Catch Your Muse & Win a Pot of Gold

big-shamrockHappy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Do you have your green on? This fun holiday has a number of myths associated with it, one being the elusive Leprechaun. Considered a fairy who likes to cause mischief, yet also brings luck and riches, this little fellow has the makings of a great literary muse.9muses

Originally a Muse was any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences. The term has come to mean “a source of inspiration, especially: a guiding genius.” (Merriam-Webster)

 Well, I don’t know about you, but I could ALWAYS use a guiding genius! And so I employ ways to lure my elusive muse to help me write. Everyone’s muse is personal and unique (like your writer’s voice). I envision my muse as female, a strong Amazon-type warrior like Xena Warrior Princess.



When I fought (and beat the crap out of) ovarian cancer, my muse wore teal-colored leather and battled with grit and precision every day with her razor-sharp spear (okay, I was on some pretty nifty drugs during that time). Today she is still tough and wears way more leather than me, but she seems to be a bit more elusive now that my days of obsessing about survival are (hopefully) a thing of the past.

Now I call upon my muse to help me write historical paranormal and YA paranormal romances. And despite my love of writing and a desire to create tantalizing hooks, amazing worlds, and emotion-provoking characters, my muse sometimes fails to show up. I’m left alone, staring at the last sentence I wrote with hundreds of blank pages left to fill. Oh Muse, Muse, wherefore art thou Muse?!

I try to coax her out of hiding. I beg her for just a pinch of inspiration, a quirky description, a perfect line, something to get me going again. And then one of my kids yells “Mom, where’s the…?” and my muse vanishes like a dandelion puff in a tornado.

Over the years I have developed a few techniques to create the muse-alluring rainbow. And on lucky days, I can find her and her inspiration (aka, her pot of gold).

1. Clear my desk. I can’t think about my WIP when there are bills piled next to my computer or kid permission slips or my list of a million little things that need to happen. The clutter pulls my attention away from the book and my muse refuses to waste her time coming near me.Eleri

2. Make a cup of chai latte. I’ve addicted my muse to hot chai lattes. I make them at home to save on cost and limit them for the calories. But if I’m stuck and am desperately seeking the end of the rainbow, the spicy taste of cinnamon mixed with hot milk, black tea and cardamom really entices her out of hiding. I now save them for the time when I know I will be writing.

3. Find my playlist. At the beginning of a new book I create a musical playlist with songs that represent the time period and songs that help me understand the characters (which is why my iPhone has both Gregorian monks chanting and Eminem). I don’t listen to music every day, but when my muse is playing hard to get, the music lures her in like the Pied Piper.

Gregorian-Voices Eminem







4. Cut and paste. I’m very visually oriented, so I like to see what I’m writing about. Consequently I collage my stories, or at least the characters and settings. At the beginning of a new project, I take a day or two to look up pictures of places and people, print them off and glue them to poster board, manila folders or blank books. I actually brainstorm this way, discovering backstory and plot details in fun or creative images. My muse loves my collages so I prop them up in my line of sight (on my clean desk) when I write.CrH collage


 5. I walk. There is something about fresh air and rushing blood that gets my creative energy sparking. If I dwell on a scene while walking, dialogue pops into my head. It is almost like my muse is skipping along, flicking ideas at me until I grasp one and we run with it. By the time I get home I’m usually itching to start typing.


 We all have a muse, our inspiration for creating art, expressing our ideas, and molding something beautiful out of lifeless material. She or he is a one-of-a-kind personal guide to finding our pot of gold. You just need to lure her in and grab on.

What are some ways you find inspiration to create your art? What lures your muse out of hiding?




Time.  It’s rarely a friend, often in short supply, and likes to change things—not always for the better.

Adages about it abound:   Time heals all wounds (or wounds all heels, depending on the circumstance).  Things will work out in good time.  Time waits for no man (or woman).  A stitch in time saves nine.  Time lost is never found.

Yes, I could go on, but you get the idea.  Time is relentless, unfeeling, and inflexible.  It has no care for your ambitions or desires.  It will turn fruit juice to wine, then, a blink, a pause, a miscalculation, and sweet wine becomes acidic vinegar.

Thus, I’m pretty sure you’re wondering why I called this blog Celebrate!


Nope.  Not kidding.  Insanity is the only possible answer.

Think about your excitement when you first started writing.  Oh, the plans, the cloud castles built high in the air.  How could your story not sell?  NYT and USA Today lists, here you come.  Everyone will know your name, your work.  You’ll be famous!

Flash forward.

A couple of years (and dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections) later, the cloud castles have revealed their true nature, dumping periodic deluges, commonly called tears,  battering hail, usually comprised of those (choke) words that will never hurt you, and heart-stopping flashes of unintentional (it’s to be hoped) cruelty in the form of thoughtless critiques.  Your plans have been worked and reworked beyond recognition, and still, you can’t make the grade.

Inevitably, you get introduced to the three Ds:  Discouragement, Disillusionment, and their big brother, Depression.  Nasty fellows.  Yet, you persist, taking classes, entering contests, writing the next story, drafting the next plan, potentially setting yourself up for more of the same.

If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.

Good news!  You can defeat the three Ds.  Insanity?  That’s bit iffy—some consider it a necessary component of a writer’s toolbox—but you can keep it from oozing into other parts of your life.

How?  Celebrate! 

Celebrate every milestone, large or small.  Celebrate the fact you haven’t let those devilish Ds defeat you.   Celebrate victory for just sitting down to write every day despite the scars from what’s been thrown, blown, hurled, flung, and whizzed at you.

How you celebrate depends on you.  Despite our penchant for chocolate and coffee, food isn’t usually a good choice unless it’s a celebratory dinner at the end of a long haul.  (Your health is important.  Those Ds are the ultimate opportunists, and poor health is an open door.  Lock it.  Reaching your goals too sick to savor the accomplishment would be the pits.) 

In the short term, despite the  money issues prevelant these days, a manicure or pedicure after a week or two of making your word counts shouldn’t break the bank.   Or you could share a celebration at a wee get-together with your critique partners or other writing friends.  This comes with the added bonus of mutual encouragement, and the boost you’ll get prior to diving back into the frey is beyond price.

Of course, get-togethers cost a few pesos, but monetary rewards always motivate, so motivate yourself.

Put a cup or jar where you work.  When you complete your day’s production, drop in a quarter or a dollar.  Add a coin for each 100, 200, 500 words until you reach your goal whether it’s $20 for drinks with friends (you can’t get too hammered on 20 bucks these days), money for a designer bag, dress, or  shoes, a spa day, or a conference fee. 

Okay.  I admit, these types of ideas would motivate me.  How about you?

How do you celebrate?  What tricks have helped you keep the 3 Ds at bay?

Writing is lonely, demanding, and difficult.  Writing well is even more so.  You deserve to celebrate and be celebrated.  And don’t forget Elisa is giving away a $25 gift card as part of her Hour-A-Day Challenge.  Instant motivation. 

What are you waiting for?  Let’s get writing so the celebration can begin!

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.


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!


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