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Celebrate!

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!

Insanity.

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! http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Girl-Mills-Boon-Cherish-ebook/dp/B00EFPXVF2/ref=la_B003Y87BMK_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392841863&sr=1-1

 

How to Write in the Snow: Finding Productivity on Snow Days

How do you write in the snow? Bundle up and wrap your computer in plastic.

I am almost to the point of doing just that in order to get in my words for the day. You see – I have three kids and I live where we rarely have snow and ice. So a few inches without sand trucks and plows paralyzes my town, and we’ve just had four inches with more coming down.Snow!

The first snow day is a blast! Kids jump around like the dog chasing its tail, just for the sheer joy of seeing those fat, white flakes. Dreams of snowmen, sledding and hot coco even make my heart race. I drag out the gear, realize none of it fits anymore, and use my still exuberant mind to rig up alternatives to keep my kids somewhat warm and dry. They head out and I cup my warm mug of chai latte with a smile. Yay! A snow day!

Five minutes later, the 7yo stomps in crying because 13yo brother threw snow in her face and it’s running down her neck. I de-ice her, yell a warning to my son and send her back out into the pristine white. I sit down to write with the soft flakes falling outside my window. Ah… peace.

Fifteen-year-old daughter runs downstairs. “Five girls are coming over in half an hour to watch a movie. Don’t worry they’ll bring their own food.” She smiles like that solves everything. I nod and turn back to the computer to type my second word of the day.

Thirteen-year-old son runs in, tracking clumps of snow through the foyer. “Can Nathan come over?” He has somehow heard about the girls coming and needs to make certain life is fair.

Seven-year-old daughter runs in needing a carrot, coal (who has coal?) and licorice for a smile (my licorice is with my coal).  I improvise with a small bell pepper, broken candy cane, and two black Legos I found in the couch last night. She runs back out, and I sit down to write. I re-read the first two words of the day and type two more.

The girls show up in a babble of teen talk and laughter. I pop corn and make hot coco, because somehow a Super Mom cape sprouted from my shoulders. I warm my chai latte, re-read my four words and finish the sentence. The 7yo runs in covered with snow. I help her change, throw wet clothes in the dryer and make her some hot coco (dang Super Mom cape). She calls a friend and suddenly I count ten kids in my house.

I check e-mail, make it half-way through a response, and jump up to referee a squabble between my 7yo and 13yo. I step in a melting puddle of slush and must change socks, sending me upstairs. I realize my laundry has become a ten-foot high mountain of wet clothes and towels. I start laundry and return to my WIP, no my e-mail, oh shoot, I have to write a blog post for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site!

“Mom! Can you bring me an apple juice so I can make a snow cone outside?” yells the 7yo as she and her friend shrug back into their still wet snow pants. I zip them both up, but tell my daughter to find her own apple juice. After all, I have a blog post to write now! I sit down and type the first sentence.

15yo – “Mom, how do I work the popcorn machine? We need more.”  “Can we make brownies?”

13yo – “Mom, can Nathan spend the night?” “Do we have anymore gloves? I lost one.”

7yo – “Mom, I can’t open the apple juice!” “Mom? Just making sure you’re still there.”

“Will this snow day ever end?!” 43yo mom who’s Super Mom cape is now limp and tattered by 12:35 PM.

A roar of glee rises from the family room. “It’s snowing again! And they’ve already called off school tomorrow!”

Sigh…another snow day.

With the winter of 2014 creating lots of snow days, those parents working at home need to figure out creative ways to get their work done. Here are a few tips for writers I’ve learned over this snow week.

  1. Write early or late. By evening, my mind is mush, so if I must write while the kiddos are sleeping, it better be early in the morning. If the schools are closed, still get up at the normal time and get in your word counts before everyone rises.
  2. Lock the Super Mom cape in your closet. If you must provide goodies, when you hear the snow prediction stock up on snacks that can be pulled from a bag. Freezer items, which can be thrown in the oven, work too.
  3. Hide! This works well if you have a lap top. I have learned to write up in my room with the door closed. The walk in closet works too if your kids are good at hide and seek.
  4. Join a writing sprint. The focused 30 minute time intervals help keep your butt in the seat, so when that Super Mom cape escapes and tries to get you in the kitchen baking brownies, you’re strapped to the chair instead. Tell yourself that once you meet your word count goal, you can fly in and be the best mom ever.
  5. Put on a movie. Now this only works if you have kids who will watch a movie and kids who can agree on a movie. But it’s worth a try. Then you employ Tip #3.
  6. If you just can’t settle down for very long to write, do other “writer” things that don’t require the concentration of creating witty dialogue and flowing narrative. I have been taking pictures for future book trailers (my first one can be seen at SIREN’S SONG Book Trailer). So when the snow came falling, I took the camera and went snapping.
    Rebirth pic??

    Rebirth pic??

    You can also update your web site, tweet, and Facebook in quick bursts of productivity. Even editing can be done between interruptions easier than writing fresh words.

  7. Don’t beat yourself up. Snow days are hard on productivity. When our routines are turned inside out, it is just really hard to get things done. Do the best you can and definitely take some time out to have hot coco with your little ones. They grow up fast, too fast. One day, snow days will be calm and productive, and I bet you will miss the days when they were not.

Kids2

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your tips for keeping up your word count during snow days?

Closet Writers

CLOSET WRITER

http://www.dreamstime.com/working-late-free-stock-photography-imagefree59647

http://www.dreamstime.com/working-late-free-stock-photography-imagefree59647

Closet writers break my heart. Any reason a writer keeps their writing a secret is just wrong, unless the writing is extremely personal and not meant for other’s eyes. I was a closet writer.

There are many reasons why writers remain in the closet and the Rubies have had discussions concerning them. At some time or another, many of us have faced the road-blocks that kept us from being us.

Some writers think they haven’t read enough books to be considered a writing expert. In their minds, if people find out they write, they must’ve read every single book ever published. I’m here to tell you that I’ve never read Huck Finn, War and Peace, Fifty Shades Of Gray or a zillion other classic or best-selling books. Does that confession make me less of a writer? I think not.

Being shy, it can take years for some people to join a writer’s group. A long, long time ago, when the internet was young and a thing called dial-up was used to connect to it, writers actually went to public meetings to connect with those of like minds. Walking into a meeting can be daunting to a wall flower. I know because I’m an introvert. The internet and the ambiguity it provides, has made it easier for some writers to connect to others, but not all. They remain in the background, unsure of themselves.  To them, I say, “it’s always the quiet ones who make the biggest impression when they’re ready.” Rest assured most writers are genuinely nice and more than willing to help other writers in any way they can. You only need to be serious about the craft to be considered a writer by them.

A closet writer might feel they don’t know enough about the craft and until they know all there is to know they remain in seclusion. I’m not sure if there is anyone out there who knows it all. Well, maybe King, Patterson or Nora. Only they can answer that question. The point being, the majority of writers will openly admit that they don’t know everything and that they learn something new all the time. Join the club that strives to be better at their craft.

dreamstimefree_666077My writing sucks. It very well could, but are you the best judge? You’ve read and studied and wrote and edited. Now it’s time to trust yourself and share your work. If a critique offers constructive advice, weigh it, and then accept it or not. In the end, it’s your story. There is no greater joy for a writer than when a reader enjoys your work. The only way to know that joy is to share your gift.

There are those who really, really want to be a writer but struggle to do the work required. Writing is hard work and takes a huge amount of time. Completing a work is possible a word at a time. Commit to the work, or perhaps another hobby would be better for you.

I’m fortunate. I’m a writer who has had the support of family and friends for many years, but that wasn’t always the case. I once was a closet writer. I was told that my dreams of becoming a published writer were stupid and thus I hid my passion. Now, when I read the notebooks I filled during that time, I cringe at the darkness that shadowed my life.

One day, I finally broke and said to myself, “This is my life and I don’t want to look back and wonder what if I’d taken one step. Would my dreams have come true?” That was a year of change for me on many levels. It was a hard trial but through it I learned I had the support of mBooks 2012 001 (640x480)any family members. I read craft books. I joined a writer’s group. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I attended conferences and workshops.  I found more support through my writer friends. I met the man of my dreams and he became my biggest supporter. I will love him forever for letting me be me.

Life doesn’t give us do-overs, but it does give us second chances. Take the step toward being you.

 

 

A Writer’s World

Have you ever gone for a walk in the early morning when no one is awake yet? The birds are quiet, no airplanes streak overhead, even the hum of the distant highway is muted? And for an instant you wonder if civilization has faded away somehow.

What would happen if suddenly every animal and human being were gone? Why? How? The spark of a story begins. As I traipse the waking neighborhood, I ignore the lights flicking on and the cars warming in the driveways, the kids walking to the bus stop and the Apocalypsebirds flitting from tree to bush. I am still in my sci-fi thriller world of disappearance. Was there an apocalypse that I’d missed? Where have I been? How am I still alive? Should I raid the houses for food, storing it in my familiar home? The possibilities are endless!

“Hi, Heather!” a neighbor calls and it takes me a moment to remember that I’m not really alone. I wave back but don’t have any small talk words when I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to survive on a vacant planet.

 

I continue across the cracked sidewalk. A car goes by and I inhale, coughiForestng against the early morning, noxious fumes. As the heavy odor clears I wonder what this very air smelled like in the 16th century, the time period of TANGLED HEARTS, my newest book (that released yesterday BTW : ). No car fumes, no aroma of Downy from morning loads of laundry, no tang of dog poop when I pass the receptacle. The world must have smelled sweeter. If I was suddenly transported there, would I notice with my first breath? This part of North America would have been wooded, quiet, populated by Native Americans. What would I see and smell and hear if I was plopped down in this very spot four-hundred years ago?

My large golden retriever barks and strains to reach a poodle who is staring at us with a vicious gleam in its eye. “Sophie, leave it,” I say, breaking the spell. We jog together to reach home in time to intercept the kids waking up.

Later, after thephone-fear-300x249[1] kids are off to school, I sit before my e-mail with my hot cup of comfort and inspiration, Chai Latte. I can’t write, it seems, without the taste of cinnamon on my tongue. The phone rings and I answer. Silence. “Hello?” Silence. It must be a telemarketing computer that realizes I’m on the “no call” list, but…

What if it is a future version of me? I’ve dialed back to my past in desperation. What would I do if my voice came across the line, crackly yet insistent that I flee the house immediately? Would I continue to sit there asking who it was or would I drop the phone and yell to my husband (who works at home)? We’d run to the front yard just as the house explodes from an undetected ga9.-Levi-Laundry[1]s leak. Hmm…

I hear a noise upstairs. It could be the washing machine draining or…what if someone appeared in my house? A lost child with saucer-like, fear-filled eyes, wearing ancient clothes and speaking in a language I’ve never heard? What if she began to lift my heaps of laundry just by looking at them? It could be Kailin from my SURRENDER book, somehow sent through time to my suburban house instead of the crypts of Victorian Era Egypt.

I sigh and look back at my computer. So many stories to write, yet so little time. My husband comes in and glances at my blank screen. “No ideas today? I’m sure something will come to you.” He kisses my head and moves on. I just smile. And begin to type.

Heather McCollum tends to her 3 kids, rescued golden retriever, and Highland husband while usually staring off into space as scenes race through her mind. She has six full-length historical paranormal romances out, the latest being TANGLED HEARTS. Her first YA contemporary paranormal romance will debut in another month. More information about Heather and her work can be found at www.HeatherMcCollum.com .

 

Passages in life

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
(from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran)

Today is release day for one of my best projects ever. Dear Daughter #2 is leaving for college.

Someone asked my husband a couple of months ago what it felt like to wait for the release date of my debut book. He said, “It’s like childbirth.  It’s painful, it takes too long, and then suddenly it’s over and what now?”

Should We Dumb It Down

While revising my new release, A Heart Decision, my editors and proofreaders questioned the accuracy of several words and statements in my manuscript. For example: My hero’s heritage is Italian (his mother was born in Italy). In Italian, the affectionate address for mother is Mamma with two Ms, however, the average American reader believes it should be spelled Mama with one M. So now I’m torn. Which should I use for this hero?

As writers, we all run into the dilemma of deciding whether we should choose accuracy over meeting our readers expectations in our stories. We want our books to be authentic, but none of us wants to receive negative reviews or e-mails from more savvy readers, calling us on the carpet for inaccuracies. Every profession has its unique vocabulary and standards, however, the public isn’t always well-versed on all job-related specifics. The same holds true for historical terms and social customs.

So my question is—should we dumb down our writing for general consumption, or should we cover subjects and use facts, vocabulary, or spellings many readers aren’t familiar with.

In my case, I usually feel compelled to cater to my audience, all the while crossing my fingers that no  authority on the subject will fling my book across the room. The human body fascinates me, so I frequently include medical elements in my stories. More often than not, though, I’m constrained by the public’s expectations of the romance genre and must explain a lot less about a topic than I’d like to. I’ve learned a lot while reading fiction, and I’d like my novels to be informative to readers, however, in order to keep my romances marketable, I can only include the basics of any subject.

The balancing act of indulging my own interests and educating readers, while still keeping most of my audience invested in the story, is like walking a tightrope. If the average reader doesn’t learn at least one new thing while reading my novel, I feel as if I’m failing as an author. So I’m always left wondering if my book quenches my readers’ thirst for interesting tidbits of information or leaves their minds dehydrated.

Today, I’m pleased to announce my 2013 Holiday release, A Heart Decision, which is Book 5 in my Return to Redemption series. Some of you may recall that I posted the cover and blurb a while back, asking for help choosing a title. I decided Janet Gardner’s suggestion, not only fit the story well, but was a humorous play on words. So Janet, THANK YOU. I’ll be sending you a copy of my newest book.

 A Heart Decision Digital Christmas Cover 300X450On her wedding night,

Sabrina will share the bridal suite

with one of her brother’s best friends.

Which one?  She has no idea!

 Sabrina Fitzpatrick helped plan her dream wedding last year—for her brother and his wife. Now, she wants her own Christmas Eve ceremony. She’s tired of waiting for commitment-phobe, Detective Luke Marino, to realize she’s been crazy about him since puberty. Consequently, when Luke’s billionaire friend asks her to marry him, she’s compelled to accept BJ Elliott’s proposal, especially after he suggests their impending marriage might induce his idiot pal to finally step forward. Unfortunately, a week later, adrenaline-junkie Luke risks his life again and ends up temporarily confined to a wheelchair.

 BJ would love to give Sabrina an unforgettable wedding night, but he fears she’ll never be happy with him if she doesn’t resolve her feelings for his buddy, first. Therefore, even knowing he could lose her, BJ persuades her to become Luke’s live-in nurse—offering her one last chance to convince the man she loves to take BJ’s place at the altar (which BJ doubts his friend will ever do). If nothing else, he hopes Love’em and Leave’em Luke can convince Sabrina he’ll make a lousy husband.

 Luke has two secrets not even his best friends know. The first is he aches for Sabrina with every fiber of his being. The second is he loves her enough to spare her the heartbreak that being his wife would undoubtedly entail. Much to Luke’s dismay, his resolve to resist his buddy’s fiancée is tested after Sabrina steps in as his nurse and starts prancing around in nothing but his threadbare T-shirt. If he surrenders to her seduction, it may destroy his relationship with BJ. And, worse still, if he gets a taste of loving Sabrina, how can he ever stand by and let her marry his friend?

To celebrate the release of Book 5 of the Return to Redemption series, I’ve placed Book 4, No Exchanges, No Returns on sale, at only 99 cents, for a few days at Amazon, Barnes & NobleKobo, and I-Tunes. I’m also holding a drawing tonight from those who leave a comment for a digital copy of The Parent Pact, which stars Sabrina’s brother Tyler as the hero and introduces, Sabrina, BJ, and Luke.

Now I’d love to hear how you handle the predicament of choosing between presenting irrefutable facts and commonly-held beliefs.  Do you sometimes dumb down a subject, or do you dare to irritate your audience by including elements that are, in reality, one hundred percent correct but seem totally wrong to the general population?

What Scares You?

What scares you? Halloween2011

At this time of year there are obvious answers: evil witches, zombies, giant spiders. As a child these “scary” things might seem heart stopping, but as we age and experience loss and betrayal, other less obvious things become the source of nightmares. Mother-in-laws who can’t let go of their sons. Corporate take overs which spur massive lay-offs in the name of efficiency. A satin pair of panties in your husband’s briefcase. Beige walls with framed medical degrees as an oncologist shakes his head. Our adult worlds have opened up to fears far beyond the Halloween props.

Why do I bring up all this unpleasantness? Who wants to deal with all the nasty, stomach churning pain of real-life fears? As humans we will unfortunately have to deal with frightful things. As authors, we can use those nightmares to make our work rich with painfully realistic motivation and conflict.

Every heroine and hero needs baggage, secrets or pain they would rather forget. Otherwise what would they have to overcome? Why would the reader care about them? We need characters who are as flawed and hobbled by their pasts as we are.

Good books have external obstacles. Great books have external obstacles with characters mired down by their own internal

Free this week on Amazon!

Free this week on Amazon!

obstacles. In my latest release, SURRENDER, my heroine must rescue her adopted father from kidnappers in Victorian era Egypt. There are many external obstacles including demons, asps, collapsing crypts, and a rakish American treasure hunter who has secrets. But it is the internal obstacles that truly push and pull at the hero and heroine, throwing them together one moment but then tearing them apart the next. Issues like abandonment, distrust, guilt and rejection pepper their pasts like savory herbs adding to the richness of a gourmet meal.

As authors we have, perhaps, more imagination than the “normal” population. We can create drama in our minds from our comfortable seats in our comfortable houses. We can build traumatic childhood pasts when our worlds were rather bland at ten years old. We can visit the crypts of ancient Egypt with a flooded Nile pounding down the walls around us. But…if we have lived with fear, lived with real betrayal, and we allow those tamped down feelings of guilt or resentment, that we’ve buried, arise – we can use them.

For those who do not know me, I am an ovarian cancer survivor. In 2011, just after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed and started a 15-month chemo regimen that was painful, debilitating and terrifying. I walked through the fire and have come out the other side with insight, appreciation, and oodles of details on surviving and dealing with fear.

As a writer, I was unable to write fiction during my treatment. It was too exhausting to create new worlds and people. But I wrote non-fiction constantly, bleeding my pain and fear out onto the pages of blog posts which I will one day use in some cancer survival self-help books. Writing about my experiences was a way I could heal emotionally, remaining positive and able to fight the good fight for my life.bluescarfbeads

Now that I’ve returned to my fiction, I can use all those details in my writing. No, not all of my future heroines will have cancer (although I’m considering one), but I can tap into all those feelings I had during those two years. My anxiety of death, the feelings of being out of control, how it feels to be poisoned or looked at with pity. I know how desperate someone can become not to leave their children as I prayed constantly not to be taken from mine. I can now understand why some people, knowing how bad treatment can feel, will decide not to fight.

All of that detail can now be used in my books, breathing real life into my characters, giving them truly rich motivation. You can do the same. Put your past fears and pain to good use. It can be very cathartic for you. Bleed it out and into your characters. Let them suffer instead of you.

Okay – I know it’s not that easy to deal with real, life-altering pain or no writer would ever need to talk with a therapist (I love mine and whole heartedly recommend getting one of your own : ). But if you have baggage (and we all do), we can help ourselves by using that pain instead of hiding it away to pop out at inopportune moments in the form of panic attacks and/or banshee eruptions.

What scares you? Think about it. Pull it out of your psyche and examine it. Then use it. Fill your characters with real life motivation and conflict. It will enhance your writing and it just might make you feel better.

I won’t ask you to bare all on the blog (unless you want to), but what gives you the shivers, especially at this time of year? I’d have to say, having been bitten by the nasty creatures in the past, spiders would have to be my number one chill inducer.

 

Cross-Self Promoting Thoughtfully

What are your passions? Writing has been one of mine since my 2nd grade teacher published my Christmas story in the local paper. Eventually I became a mom and my priorities shifted to include my growing family. I became supermom, ready to turn frowns upside down with my arsenal of homemade puppy-dog-face cookies and castle cakes. Other interests crowded in, but for the most part, family and writing remained my top passions in life.

Castle Birthday Cake

Castle Birthday Cake

Two and a half years ago I was given a third. I woke up in a hospital room to the words “it’s cancer” and life thrust me onto the most brutal topsy-turvy rollercoaster ever imagined. Teal ribbons, weekly chemo infusions, pills, doctor’s appointments, mouth ulcers, CT scans, shedding of ALL hair, a mailbox filled with get well cards, casseroles, flowers left on my doorstep, pain, panic, “who will you play with in heaven, Mommy, if I’m not with you” became my life.

When I first saw the chemo ward at the hospital, and all the bald, tired people hooked up to beeping machines with bags of drugs snaking into their bodies through various tubes, I cried on my husband’s arm. “They look dead, and I’m going to be one of them.”

Hooking Up

Hooking Up

What I didn’t realize at the time, but discovered quickly, was that those people are warriors, battling with everything they’ve got. I was proud to get to know them and to become an Ovarian Cancer Warrior, fighting for my right to live and be a mom, daughter, friend, and wife, fighting a beast that stalks women silently.

OC is the deadliest of the GYN cancers as it is the hardest to detect. I was diagnosed because I happened to mention some pelvic pain and mild bloating to my general practitioner when I went in for a possible broken hand. So I was diagnosed at stage IIc with a 70% chance of living 5 years. If I’d waited a couple more weeks, it could have easily moved to stage III with only a 20% chance to survive 5 years. So early detection of these whispered symptoms is crucial to survival.

Suddenly I had a new passion. My husband and I started the SHOUT Against the Whisper campaign with a mission to educate women about the whispered symptoms of this terrible beast. So…I have three passions in my life: writing, my family (although I’ve retired my supermom cape), and OC Awareness/Cancer support.

Me & my Highland Hero

Me & my Highland Hero

One thing we can do, as passionate people, is to blend our passions together in a way to enhance each one. But doing so must be done thoughtfully.

My third book was about to release when I started chemo. Part of me wanted to scream “I have cancer; buy my book!” But the sane part of me knew that wasn’t appropriate (unless perhaps I was writing cancer books, which I plan to do BTW).

I swore to God, the universe, and to my friendly kale juicer that I would use all my talents to educate and help save women if they would keep me alive to do so. I am a public speaker and I write, and I plan to use my skills in any way I can to spread the warning, not just because I swore back in those grim days, but because I’m genuinely passionate about not letting cancer win.

So in the back of my books, I list the whispered symptoms. When I do book signings or workshops or interviews, I give out symptom cards and ask for articles to list them. This type of cross-promoting is very appropriate.

However, this doesn’t always work in the reverse. When on the chemo ward, if someone was reading a romance, I would tell them about my books, quietly and in conversation. I donated some to the ward. At my OC Awareness events I might give away books for collected donations to OC Research or Education, but it is a minor part of the big push of alerting women on how to save their lives. Every time I try to cross these two passions in my life, I must be thoughtful, because promoting my writing in the face of suffering can come across as crass and just plain wrong. Which can completely turn people off to your work, something that should be avoided, obviously, at all costs.

Some passions hit around the same level on the emotional/life importance barometer and can be intertwined easily. If you are passionate about wine and wine features in one of your books, touting your book to wine lovers, on Twitter or FB or in person, can be appropriate after you’ve set up a friendly relationship with them. You still must remain thoughtful so as not to come across as only being an advertisement, but the promo is less tricky than trying to sell romance books to someone who is fighting to stay alive.

Healthy Mom Again!

Healthy Mom Again!

I am now finished with 15 months of chemo and am getting my life back in order, though I will never be the same. I’ve learned too much, felt too much, to be the same. Actually I think I’m better for the experience. In some ways cancer has connected me to readers. One woman wrote to me after reading the acknowledgments at the end of CAPTURED HEART where I detail out the symptoms. She was an OC survivor herself and thanked me for putting the symptoms out there in the world. I think she will be a reader of mine for life now. Sometimes there is cross-promo between very different passions, even passions that fall on very different levels. But it is something that cannot be forced.

So when you take stock of your life and your own passions and interests, do think of ways to use them to help promote your writing, but please remember to do so thoughtfully. What ways have you been able to cross-promote your passions?

Since it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and because I think it is appropriate, below is a list of symptoms. They are mere whispers in a busy woman’s life, but you must slow down long enough to notice when something doesn’t seem right. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com or on my Ovarian Cancer Awareness FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SHOUTagainsttheWhisper or through my web site www.HeatherMcCollum.com .

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

Bloating, Pelvic Pain, Feeling Full quickly while Eating Less, Urinary issues.BEATsymptoms

Other symptoms may include fatigue, constipation, pain during intercourse, menstrual issues, indigestion, and back pain. If you have a symptom for 3 weeks or more, see your GYN for a pelvic exam.

If something feels abnormal, a trans-vaginal ultrasound and a CA125 blood test should be ordered. If you have a mass to be removed, your #1 way to survive if it is cancer, is to have a GYN Oncology Surgeon remove it.

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