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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Lines

Please welcome guest blogger Susan Meier

Writer’s drive themselves crazy trying to find the absolute perfect first lines for their books. Pundits say short, powerful lines are the best.

He was going to die.

I’m pregnant.

Mother knows best.

I don’t think anyone could read “He was going to die” without wondering who he is or why he was going to die. A woman’s world doesn’t change much more than when she’s pregnant. So most of us would realize there was change coming if we read “I’m pregnant”. And mother knows best? Some people would read that and shudder.

Other pundits say that lines filled with ambiance that draw readers into your special world work best.

Flowers lined the newly washed sidewalk that led to the front door of the neat-as-a-pin Cape Code house. (Neat freak in a small town!)

Or how about: Wind whipped the sail into a frenzy. You certainly get a sense of place from both of those.

But I’m not a first line freak. I think the biggest, most important job of a first line is to get you to read the second line!

For the first book in my maid’s duet MAID FOR THE MILLIONAIRE I chose a very straightforward, simple opening to the book.

Pink underwear.

My hero, Cain Nestor, has been without a housekeeper for weeks. He also travels a lot. Put those two things together and you have a rich guy who runs out of basic-necessity clothing without realizing. Obviously out of his element, he turns his underwear pink by washing them with a red shirt.

But there’s a bright spot. He hears his kitchen door open and when he eagerly rushes out to see who’s coming in (only someone with a code can enter) it’s a maid from the local housekeeping service: Happy Maids. But his relief that underwear help has arrived is short-lived. When the maid turns to face him he sees it’s his ex-wife.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Odd first line, followed by a sense of relief, followed by real trouble. Ex-wife in the house.

Surprise turns to chagrin when he remembers he’s only wearing a towel. But chagrin quickly becomes regret when he realizes the woman he’d once loved so desperately is now a maid. He’s absolutely positive he’s ruined her life.

Just a tad self-important! LOL

My silly first line, which is really only two words, Pink underwear, quickly leads readers on an emotional journey. Disgust that his laundry is pink leads to relief over seeing a housekeeping service has arrived, that leads to shock when the housekeeper is identified as his ex-wife, which instantly takes him down a road of regret.

One line quickly leads to the next until the reader is so far into the book, she’s not only immersed in the story, I’m hoping she’s forgotten she’s reading and that these people aren’t real.

Sometimes I think we get so concerned with finding the “perfect” first line for our books that we forget that that line’s primary function really is just to lead us to the second line. The second line should lead us to the third, the third to the fourth, etc. etc.

In book two of this summer’s maid duet, MAID FOR THE SINGLE DAD, the line is equally simple:

Ellie Swanson had not signed up for this.

Readers immediately know Ellie’s not having a good day.

And as with MAID FOR THE MILLIONAIRE, they are led down a quick journey that doesn’t just explain the trouble, it shows Ellie’s emotion and a good bit of her personality.

She’s generously running her friend’s maid service company while her friend Liz (heroine from book 1) is on her honeymoon and who shows up on the very first day? A friend of Liz’s new husband. And not just any friend, a friend who wants her to send a nanny to his house.

Well, of course, a maid service isn’t a nanny service, but Cain’s friend, Mac, plays dumb. He needs someone he can trust. He wants someone to keep his secrets.

Ellie is in trouble. Should she turn away a man who isn’t just a friend of her boss’s husband, he’s also the very wealthy man Cain has been wooing for years, trying to get some of his business? With a few well placed hints, Mac lets Ellie know that if she does him this favor, he’ll reciprocate by giving Cain the work his company wants.

The first lines in both of these books stir up the readers’ imaginations but they also lead them down a well-constructed path.

Take a look at your first line. Salt and sea air, blooming flowers, newly washed sidewalks, and even I’m pregnant are all wonderful. Just remember things should be leading readers down the path they need to follow to fall into your story.

So how are your first lines? Post ‘em! There’s nothing more fun than reading first lines.

Susan Meier is the author of 40 books for Harlequin and Silhouette and one of Guideposts' Grace Chapel Inn series books, The Kindness of Strangers. Her books have been finalists for Reviewers Choice Awards, National Reader's Choice Awards and Cataromance.com Reviewer's Choice Awards and nominated for Romantic Times awards. They have been published in over twenty countries, touching the hearts of readers of many cultures and ethnicities.
Susan loves to teach as much as she loves to write. Can This Manuscript Be Saved? and Journey Steps, Taking the Train to Somewhere! are her most requested workshops. Her article “How to Write a Category Romance” appeared in 2003 Writer’s Digest Novel and Short Story Markets. Susan also gives online workshops for various groups and her articles regularly appear in RWA chapter newsletters.

Her most recent release was MAID IN MONTANA, Harlequin Romance (6/09) Her next release is THE MAGIC OF A FAMILY CHRISTMAS, Harlequin Romance coming November 2009.

Story, Theme and Vehicle, presented by Susan Meier, runs from October 4, 2010 - October 31, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quotes for Writers

We’re mixing things up on the FF&P Blog today and bringing you ten quotes to help with writing and motivation.

  1. "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." - E.L. Doctorow

  1. “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.” - Barbara Kingsolver

  1. "I try to leave out the parts that people skip." - Elmore Leonard

  1. “I have never known an artist, painter, musician or writer who is satisfied with their own work so don't let self-criticism stand in your way.” - Byron Pulsifer

  1. “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” - Mark Twain

  1. "One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it." - Sidney Howard

  1. “Self-trust is the first secret of success.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

And for our final three quotes, guest motivator (and FF&P Membership Chairperson) K.A. Krantz shares some of her favorites.

  1. For the frustration of writing queries: "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter." - Blaise Pascal

  1. To endure the upheaval of the submission process: "I could not tread these perilous paths in safety, if I did not keep a saving sense of humor." - Admiral Horatio Nelson

  1. And for how to get through the perils of writing amid distractions: "Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work." - Clive Barker

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Please welcome guest blogger Lynn Kerstan

A couple of decades ago, Life as I’d known it came to an end. My wonderful mother required a caregiver, and I was it. Time spent with her was no burden, but my nights were a black hole of doom. So when a friend came up with a plan to fill those empty hours, I recklessly pounced.

“You should write a romance novel,” she said.

Well, why not? How hard could it be? A former academic, I’d taught literature and writing for many years. I considered myself an excellent writer. True, my fiction output consisted of three of four pretentious undergraduate short stories, but I’d always made up stories in my head. And while teaching Shakespeare and Homer and James Joyce, I was secretly reading spy novels, science fiction, fantasy, anything historical, and mysteries. I’d even read romance. Well, one author. During a summer of studying Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, a classmate handed me a worn paperback. “You’ll like this,” she said.

And oh, I did! The author was Georgette Heyer, and I spent the summer trolling through bookstores in search of more Heyer Regency romances. To this day, I enjoy reading them.

Next, I needed a computer. Back then, $1200 would buy you 64RAM and two big floppy disk drives. I worked with DOS and Leading Edge Word Processing. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but every night I spent five or six hours working on what was sure to be a best-selling novel. In my ignorance, there was no room for humility. And I was working in utter solitude. I’d never heard of RWA or Romantic Times.

A year later, I knew that I had a vivid imagination, the ability to create fascinating characters, and the stamina to have produced 200,000 words of sheer brilliance. My mother, who’d always thought I should be a writer, wanted to read it. Took her a month, and she said only one thing: “Does it have a plot?”

Of course it did! It had several plots. And at some point, they would all come together in a yet-to-be-determined way. Plus, I had revised and polished and spiffed up every phrase and sentence and paragraph several times, so my work thus far was flawless.

Two years later, my not-nearly-done-with Magnum Opus had reached 600,000 words. And I’d finally made contact with a few writers and learned about agents, who responded to my queries far more kindly than I deserved. One generously gave me two pages of feedback on the four chapters she’d read, and three of her words are to this day seared in my brain: “This is overwritten.”

No kidding. A sane person would have brought out a shredder and taken up another profession, but I still had faith in my convoluted, overwrought, never- ending tale. Never mind the first 45,000 words were all about the hero’s adventures in India, and that he didn’t meet the heroine in England until page 260. Some books would be over by then.

I’d also produced some of the lousiest writing ever perpetrated on hapless agents and longsuffering friends who slogged through as much as they could stand. To avoid simple words like “said,” I trotted out every inane speech tag (save only “expostulated,” which even I knew was awful) and festooned them all with at least one cutesy adverb. My protagonists, being aristocrats, had names and nicknames and pet names and titles by which they could be called, and I used them all indiscriminately. Indeed, I could put the two of them alone in a room and you’d think there were a dozen people in there.

Even faced with reality, I could not abandon my firstborn novel. But to prepare the way for when my Magnus Opus was ready for submission, I decided to toss off a short Regency romance and try to get a toe in the door of a publisher. Being me, I wound up with 97,000 words, and only one publisher was buying Regencies that long. So I sent it over the transom and ten days later, Kensington bought the book. It went on to win a couple of awards and was a double RITA finalist. Despite all those adverbs I wish I’d cut before submission.

These days, a copy of the Magnus Opus, now known as The Book of My Apprenticeship, sits in a box under the bed. In a backhanded way, it taught me how to write, and it also taught me how to teach writing. Whatever any student may be doing wrong or badly or inadequately, I’ve been there and done that. I understand how it happens, why it happens, and the reasons we get wedded to writing choices we shouldn’t even date. What’s more, I know what to do about it.

We all write differently, of course, but our goals are essentially the same. Today, with excellent teachers providing workshops and on-line classes and seminars at RWA functions, no writer has to work in isolation or learn to write by doing everything wrong.

Nor should we ever stop learning and improving. Every good writer I know is dedicated to improving her craft, and we all love a good debate about prologues, backstory placement, POV shifts, and yes, even punctuation. At a recent RWA Conference, five of us went several rounds about the use of colons and semicolons in fiction. Wine may have been a factor.

Hope to see you in my upcoming class, The Purpose-Driven Scene!

Lynn Kerstan,  former college professor, folksinger, professional bridge player, and nun, is the author of nine Regency romances, seven historical romances, and three novellas. She is presently developing a paranormal series. 

A five-time RITA Finalist (one win), she is regularly featured on awards lists. Since Romantic Times launched its Top Picks feature, every Kerstan novel has been a Top Pick. Two have been selected by Library Journal for its Best Books of the Year list (2002 and 2003), and Dangerous Passions was named to Booklist?s Top Ten Romances of 2005 list.

For many years a teacher of English literature and writing at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and the University of San Diego, Kerstan now conducts popular-fiction workshops for writers groups and conferences. An Internet junkie, she can be found online at StoryBroads, blogging with Anne Stuart, Maggie Shayne, Patricia Potter, Tara Taylor Quinn, and Suzanne Forster.

Kerstan lives an exemplary life in Coronado, California, where she plots her stories while riding her boogie board, walking on the beach, and watching Navy SEALs jog by.

The Purpose-Driven Scene runs from September 27, 2010 through October 24, 2010.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Please welcome guest blogger Sara Brookes

I'm guilty of doing something I've always been told not to do. Comparison. Everyone tells you not to do it. Don't compare how you write to how someone else writes. Don't compare what a review said about your book to that other book the same review gave a higher rating. Don’t compare one author’s career with your own—no two people are alike.

Sometimes, it's a very hard thing to do.

Most human beings have a competitive nature and want to be their very best in most things they do. So it seems only natural to compare something you write to others. No matter how much someone tells you not to do it, sometimes you just can’t help it. I’m not completely convinced that it’s bad. It both is and isn’t.

For instance, you can read something a fellow author you like has published and say to yourself “I’d really like to write something of this caliber one day.” I don’t see anything wrong with that outlook at all. It doesn’t seem harmful to me if someone wants to strive to be a better writer overall, maybe even one that could write something that is good enough to see its way to a publisher and sitting on the shelf next to that very same author’s books.

However, reading that very same book and saying “I can’t write like this.” or “I’ll never be able to write like this.” is the harmful way to look at it. Of course you won’t be able to write like that—you didn’t write it. It’s not how you write. You have your own style of writing, just as that author does as well. That’s like comparing (you guessed it) apples to oranges.

I’m not completely convinced that all forms of comparison are detrimental to your career as an author. Some, like the first one I spoke about, could actually help you become a stronger writer because you set a higher expectation for yourself. That’s something you should always strive for in writing, or at least I do. I always want to improve my craft, make my stories stronger, richer and more vibrant. And just because I’m guilty of the occasional comparison, doesn’t mean that I’m not happy that another author received accolades that they surely deserve. By all means, they do! They’ve worked just as hard to get their achievement. As I said, the vast majority of the time, it just makes me work harder. I’m of the opinion that you can’t improve if you aren’t a reader and I became a reader long before I started writing. I love reading and even hate that sometimes, my writing takes away from the time I spend reading. I won’t stop reading and along with that reading will come my inclination to want to do something special, better.

We all have enough negativity to deal with, without adding more on ourselves. Making statements like the one I mentioned above, just adds another layer of something you have to deal with in a business that is sometimes already filled with bad juju. So, make healthy comparisons that help you blossom as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t get bogged down by the other side of the coin which can end your career before it even starts.

Sara has always been fascinated by the strange, the unusual, the twisted and the lost. She enjoys writing about reality with a razor sharp edge and loves where that sometimes takes her during the journey. Sara lives in Virginia with her husband, who long ago accepted the fact she converses with imaginary people. They are the proud parents of an energetic daughter who constantly wonders why Mom doesn’t just have the laptop surgically attached to her hip. The entire family is owned by two cats, Galahad and Loki, who graciously allow them to live in their house.

Blood Fever

Evande walked out on her lover, Quinn, fifty years ago without looking back because he wanted too much from her. Now, after she saves a dying human by turning him into a vampire, a wanted notice shows up demanding her death and she knows Quinn is the only one who can help her.

Standing on Quinn's doorstep with Logan, she quickly finds herself fighting her attraction to both men. Thing is, both men don't make a secret of the fact they want her. As if that wasn't enough to deal with, she also learns she isn't the only one the Elders are after.

Deception, secrets and corruption.

Evande's survived worse - but this time it may just kill her.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Five Ways to Boost Your Manuscript's Sale Potential

Please welcome guest blogger Theresa Meyers

Come on, be honest. We all want to sell a book.

But writing a good story isn't enough. With so much available as entertainment options our stories have to be bigger, bolder, more complex. They’ve got to suck the reader into a multi-sensory experience of the mind that grabs a hold of them and doesn’t let go.

So how do you accomplish that with your writing? Part of it is the story you create. Part of it is technique. I can’t teach you the creativity. That comes from you. But the craft can be taught and so can techniques to unleash your creative mind and let it do what it does best.

  1. Be Creative

As writers we’re tempted to just let the story flow. But your first instinct isn’t always the best choice. We tend to naturally go to the most simple answer first. But simple isn’t always interesting. When you are looking at a scene, make a list of ten things that can happen. Then list ten more. By the time you get to twenty you will likely be pulling some fairly wild ideas out of your head, some that are ridiculous and some that are actually brilliant and fresh. Go for the unexpected and really take your readers on a ride. If you don’t’ have enough space to play in your main manuscript, consider using the twists in subplots.

  1. Up the Stakes

Readers want a ride. They want something to happen. Endless description of what’s out your character’s window is fine for a travel log. It’s not ok with fiction. Not only does something need to be happening, but in the best stories it’s the character causing it to happen, not just being impacted by it. You can up the stakes more in your story by making things matter more to your character and crossing over roles. For example, when a woman finds out her husband has hand an affair, it matters. But if that affair happened with his business partner, that’s worse. Even worse still is if that business partner is his brother. See how that ups the stakes? Finding those places where pressure points can be pressed happens most often where your main plot and subplots crossover one another.

  1. Make it Intense

To make your story more intense you need to pick up the pace. One way to do that is to have more than one story line going at a time. Your main story is critical, but subplots can enhance your pacing by giving your opportunities to jump back and forth between storylines.

  1. Be More Complex

Added depth happens in a story when a reader has to engage his or her mind to find out what’s happening that’s not expressly on the page. Even though we might be constantly in the heads of our main characters, all your secondary characters have lives and events, goals and problems outside of that main story (which they believe are of paramount importance). While these events may not be featured on the main stage, they are still happening off stage, in the back ground. Only when they intersect with the main story, does the reader get to see them. By building a web of stories that intersect, each subplot can serve to support and strength the complexity of the main plot.

  1. Create Killer Characters

Studies have shown that readers like stories first and foremost because they like the characters. To create killer characters, you have to peel them apart. Keep asking why a character makes a choice, or why they have the goal until you can break it down into a specific incident, memory or association that motivates that character to act in that manner. Remember that even the worst villain believes that he or she is justified in his or her actions because of something in his or her past or a belief system.

If keeping track of all this seems daunting, it’s because you are still thinking of your story as being constructed in a linear manner rather than as a web. Interconnecting points spear out from the center of your story, everything impacting everything else, even though they may only touch in a few places. Learning to subplot in a web fashion makes the whole process easier.

These five suggestions are only scratching the surface of what you can do. Want to learn more? Check out my class What a Wicked Web We Weave - A Spider's Approach to Subplots in Storytelling sponsored by the FF&P chapter of Romance Writers of America. The class will run March 29 to April 11. For more information click here!

Theresa Meyers

Always a lover of books and stories, Theresa was a writer, first for newspapers, then as a freelancer for national magazines.  She started her first novel in high school, eventually enrolling in a Writers Digest course and putting the book under the bed until she joined Romance Writers of America in 1993.  In 2005 she was selected as one of eleven finalists in the nation for the American Title II contest, which is the American Idol of books for her Scottish historical.  Her most recent book, a Nocturne Bite titled Salvation of the Damned was released by Harlequin/Silhouette in March 2009, with another Nocturne Bite out in Oct. 2010 and two more full length paranormal romances to follow from Silhouette’s Nocturne line in 2011. Find her online at Theresa Meyers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why isn’t this working?

Please welcome guest blogger Erin Kellison

You’ve taken the class on GMC. You can write snappy dialogue. You understand the danger of a sagging middle, and the importance of a black moment. Those are just some of the big concepts and skills associated with writing a novel. And I agree; all are critical. But for me, more often than not, craft is about working through the discrete, isolated issues of a specific manuscript. And here, I think, is where a lot of writers get tripped up.

For example, in my Shadow series, I have a realm of magic that shifts with perception, like a dream. My editor, upon buying the first book, remarked that she was very interested in the second book, where I would delve more fully into this realm, a place I call Twilight. When I settled down to write Shadow Fall (book 2), I bumped into a series-specific problem: how do you make a dreamlike place, and the surreal events that occur there, effortless to absorb as a reader? My crit partners (how I love them) helped me step through this very unique problem with a simple rule (they beat me over the head with it time and time again): Keep it grounded. Keep every possible detail concrete, so that when something unusual happens, it’s easy to grasp. In a sense, the scenes set in Twilight had to be more specific and relatable than the ones set in the real world.

As far as I know, there aren’t many courses on how to include surreal and/or dream states in genre fiction. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. The solution we came up with may seem pretty straight-forward, but then I used the easiest example I could think of. What about the trickier, little things: How to manage that snappy dialogue when it includes both verbal and telepathic exchanges? How do you tag that when it should almost run stream of consciousness? Some readers will accept italics; some readers say ‘italics pull me out.’ Or what about managing three simultaneous critical events in three different settings? My editor taught me about the perils of overlapping time—btw, it’s not the way to go, though I’ve seen it used to great effect in other books. Okay, so how do you know when to mess with time one way, and when to mess with it another? Again, I don’t often see that course listed on a craft loop or broken down neatly in a craft book. Please advise me if I am wrong and have been beating my head bloody for no good reason.

Manuscript-specific issues are lonely issues. You might research how others solved a similar problem in their books (that has helped me some), but ultimately it comes down to the writer’s craft. I should say, ever-evolving craft.

(Actually, rereading this now, I see that the ‘keep it simple, keep it concrete’ works for almost all my above issues. And all three figure into Shadow Fall.)

My point is, every time I or my crit partners hand over pages with the disclaimer “what I’m trying to do…” I know that the macro skills aren’t likely to be the problem. And very quickly some of those “rules” of writing asserted in early craft classes don’t seem applicable. What if you need a flashback in a prologue, both of which I’ve heard are bad craft (early flashbacks and prologues). And here my editor likes my prologues. The one in Shadow Fall has multiple flashbacks. Hmmm…

I guess you can’t please them all. And isn’t that the most freeing state of mind? A good crit group will help you muddle through a problem, but ultimately it’s up to you and your story. This blog is first a recognition of those often frustrating issues when the course seems very uncertain, but it’s also intended as encouragement: Trust yourself. Tell your story. Explore this or that approach. Throw out the rules, if need be. The solution has to come from you (which is a good thing).

And that’s craft.

Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow Series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison's life. She attempted her first book in sixth grade, a dark fantasy adventure, and still has those early hand-written chapters. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a masters in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. When she had children, nothing scared her anymore, so her focus shifted to writing fiction. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.

You can contact Erin though her website, www.ErinKellison.com, where you can also sign up to receive her newsletter.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/ekellison

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/erin.kellison

Shadow Fall


Custo Santovari accepted pain, blood, even death, to save his best friend. But a man with all his sins just isn't cut out to be an angel.


One moment he's fleeing Heaven; the next, he's waking up stark naked in Manhattan. In the middle of a war. Called there by a woman who's desperately afraid of the dark.


It gathers around Annabella as she performs, filled with fantastic images of another world, bringing both a golden hero and a nightmare lover.


He pursues her relentlessly, twisting her desires even as she gives herself to the man she loves. Because each of us has a wild side, and Annabella is about to unleash the beast.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Developing an Active Voice for Emotional Impact

Please welcome guest blogger Kat Duncan

Hi! I'm Kat Duncan, RWA-PRO, New England Chapter RWA member, author of seven full-length manuscripts, a novella and several short stories. I'm published in poetry and about to be published in novella length fiction. I'm always looking for new fictional territory to explore. At the end of this month I will be presenting a workshop on active writing. Not only will I thoroughly explain active versus passive grammar, but I will explain the many active ways you can put action, emotion and tension into your writing.

As a beginning writer several years ago, I was always looking for information on writing techniques and tips for improving my writing. I still am. One thing that puzzled and aggravated me was a lot of similar advice with no explanation behind it. "Why can't we use passive sentences?" I asked a fellow chapter member. "I don't know. We just can't." Grrrr…

I had to try to understand why. So I researched and hunted around and asked and even analyzed romance novels and guess what? Published authors use passive sentences at times. Not only that, but I learned that passive sentences were not the problem, but passive writing was. In the workshop I'm going to share with you a whole bunch of fascinating details about the differences between simply using "active sentences" and really using "active writing". Active writing makes good writing into great writing. Once you understand what you need to do, writing actively is easy. I don't have all the answers, but I can promise you one thing in this workshop: practical, useful techniques that you can start using in your writing the moment you learn about them. And I've included well-explained examples so you can see and feel exactly what to do.

This workshop is for writers who are looking for ways to perk up their writing or for writers who are having a hard time seeing what they need to fix in a scene that feels slow or dull. I will show you what I consider to be the single most important key to active writing and I will explain its variations and how you can use them. As a bonus I'm going to cover a few simple grammatical techniques and also show you a neat, easy way to create your own figurative language.

Come join me at the end of the month and get actively involved in your writing. Head on over to http://www.romance-ffp.com/event.cfm?EventID=164 to sign up today. The workshop runs from August 23rd to August 30th. See you there!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

2010 PRISM Winners

Congratulations to the 2010 PRISM winners!

Dark Paranormal

1. Cynthia Eden - Immortal Danger

2. Rebecca York - Dragon Moon

3. SJ Day - Eve of Darkness

Light Paranormal - First place tie!

1. Kerrelyn Sparks - Secret Life of a Vampire

1. Judi Fennell - Wild Blue Under

2. Angie Fox - The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers


1. Radclyffe - Secrets in the Stone

2. Livia Dare - In the Flesh

3. Francesca Hawley - Protect and Defend


1. Cynthia Eden - Belong to the Night

2. Ella Drake - Firestorm on E'Terra

3. Sapphire Phelan - Being Familiar with a Witch


1. Leanna Renee Hieber - The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

2. Michelle Picard - Ruling Eden

3. Maria V. Snyder - Storm Glass


1. Katherine Allred - Close Encounters

2. Linnea Sinclair - Hope's Folly

3. Jess Granger - Beyond the Rain

Time Travel

1. Sandra Hill - Viking Heat

2. Susan Squires - Time for Eternity

3. Melissa Mayhue - A Highlander of Her Own

Best First Book

Leanna Renee Hieber - The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

Best of the BEST

Katherine Allred - Close Encounters

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Same But Different

Please welcome guest blogger Deborah Cooke

One of the challenges of writing an ongoing series is keeping each book distinctive, while still delivering to readers’ expectations of the series. Readers want a book that delivers the same balance of elements as previous books in the series, but want it to be fresh and different. The same but different. That’s all! My current release WHISPER KISS is book #5 in my Dragonfire series of paranormal romances (featuring dragon shape shifter heroes), but this isn’t the first linked series I’ve written. It is the first one that I’ve tried to plan the entire series in advance. Here are some of the considerations that I had in doing that planning.

1/ Worldbuilding

Core to the sustainability of a linked series is the quality of the worldbuilding. On one hand, you should be able to summarize the basic conflict of the world in one sentence or phrase. On the other hand, there has to be enough complexity in the world that you can explore different corners of it in each book.

For example, my Dragonfire series could be summarized as the final conflict between the Pyr (my good guy dragon shape shifters) and the Slayers (Pyr gone bad) for domination of the world. The complexity in that world and its development in the present of each book comes from two elements:

a/ The Past

The Pyr have their history, their family lines – the gene passes through the male line, from father to son – their mythology and their memories. Key to a credible world is the detail that indicates it has existed before the opening of the first book in the series. This makes it more dimensional and more real.

In this world, the Pyr have had their ups and downs with the human race over the course of that history: they are pledged to defend humans as one of the treasures of the earth, but there are those Pyr who remember humans hunting dragons for cures in the middle ages. (Care for a dragon skin poultice? If that poultice came from your uncle’s skin, you might not think so well of the apothecary.)

What I’ve particularly enjoyed about writing this series grew out of a deliberate choice on my part – I decided that the Pyr would have had a falling-out with each other, and have scattered. Part of the challenge to the leader of the Pyr is to muster the troops for this last critical. (If you think cats are tough to herd, try dragons.) The hero of the first book, Quinn, wanted nothing to do with the Pyr in general or with Erik – leader of the Pyr – in particular. His explanation of why to the heroine, Sara, introduced the reader to the Pyr’s world as she learned about it.

This scattering of the players also means that they’ve lost or forgotten lore, even about themselves. Dragons are more for shiny things than books and records, so many of their old stories have the gloss of rumour or urban myth. What’s true? Can they figure it out in time? In certain books, that provides a ticking clock to the plot.

b/ The Future

In the past, I’ve written linked series that developed organically, often out of the popularity of one book. In those instances, I wrote the first book without necessarily thinking there’d be continuing characters or more books in the same setting. (I did four linked series at Harlequin Historicals when I wrote as Claire Delacroix there, all of which developed this way.) I’ve also written linked series that had a looser link between them – the stories of three siblings, for example, branded together as a trilogy. (The Ravensmuir and Kinfairlie trilogies by Claire Delacroix would be examples of this style.) What is more typical in this market is a tightly interconnected series, in which each book builds on the story developed in previous titles. The first book is sold with the assumption that there will be others, and may even be sold in as a multiple book deal because of that assumption.

And what you need to make this work is a story arc for the entire series, even before you start out. This arc is similar to the arc within each book, in that it has little climactic points as it progresses (ideally, each book is one of those) gradually leading to one big climax for the series overall. Because my books are romances, each incremental book has an H.E.A. for the protagonists – the last book in the series will also have an H.E.A. for the entire series, in this case for the Pyr as a species. (Good guys vs. bad guys. Guess who wins? It’s an H.E.A., after all!) Each book then takes its incremental place on the arc of the series, moving the story and the reader closer to a final showdown.

For this series, I’ve sketched out a story arc that extends over 13 books. I know when those books are set, who the heroes are, and what they add to the series. This allows me to scatter breadcrumbs in earlier books - introducing new characters or new challenges, leaving questions unanswered – that build tension and will all ultimately weave together.

Sometimes it’s easier to think of a large arc in incremental structural bites – say as successive trilogies. WHISPER KISS, the current release, is the middle book in the second Dragonfire trilogy. This trilogy focuses on the destruction of the Dragon’s Blood Elixir, a nasty substance used by Slayers to create shadow dragons they can control. (Shadow dragons are essentially zombies.) In WINTER KISS, the first book of this trilogy, the hero Delaney destroyed the source of the Elixir. In WHISPER KISS, the hero Niall is hunting down and eliminating the surviving shadow dragons (one of which is his twin brother). And in DARKFIRE KISS, the hero Rafferty hunts the Slayer Magnus, who created the Elixir, to ensure that it can never be made again. The trilogy has an arc of its own, which fits into the overall arc of the series.

Please note that this is a leap of faith, to assume that one will have the chance to write 13 interconnected books in the current publishing climate. I believe, though, that a finite series is more emotionally compelling than an open-ended one. As Julia Cameron writes in the Artist’s Way: “jump and the net will appear”. (And yes, you could help by buying more Dragonfire. LOL!)

2/ Characterization

Once you’ve created the world, which continues to evolve and be explored through each book, you will probably have a basic conflict that occurs in each story. In Dragonfire, because they are romances, each book focuses upon the firestorm of one Pyr – this is a sign that he has met his destined mate, or the woman who can bear his son. Literally sparks fly between the dragon dude and the human woman of choice. Just to keep things entertaining, the heat of the firestorm can be felt by all of the Pyr and Slayers, so it attracts others (like moths to the flame). Slayers, of course, would prefer that there were no more Pyr born, and the easiest way to accomplish this is to kill the mate. This gives each Pyr the formidable challenge of persuading the lady in question that she’s not delusional – about him turning into a dragon or the sparks – that she should have his child, and at the same time, defend her from attack. And yes, I have a lot of fun with this.

But once you have the basic conflict, once you’ve explored it once, how do you deliver the same but different? Well, different people respond to situations differently – it makes sense to vary the characterizations of the protagonists first.

a/ The Hero

The obvious place to start with variation when the series is based on the heroes all being dragon shapeshifters is in the character of the hero. Quinn (KISS OF FIRE) was the self-sufficient loner; Donovan (KISS OF FURY) was the easygoing charmer; Erik (KISS OF FATE) was the conflicted leader who had already blown his firestorm; Delaney (WINTER KISS) was the scarred outcast, determined to die for the cause; Niall (WHISPER KISS) is my overworked conservative dragon on a mission; Rafferty (DARKFIRE KISS – May 2011) is the incurable romantic, who has been waiting centuries to have a firestorm. They’re all different from each other, they each have their own baggage and their own agenda, and that affects the tone of each book.

b/ The Heroine

Of course, if the hero is going to have different characterizations, it makes sense that a different kind of heroine would light the spark for each of them. Sara (KISS OF FIRE) was an accountant and a skeptic, making a new life for herself after the loss of her family; Alex (KISS OF FURY) was the driven scientist, attacked by Slayers and terrified of dragons; Eileen (KISS OF FATE) was an academic, a collector of urban myths thrown unexpectedly into an action plot; Ginger (WINTER KISS) was the spirited organic farmer, intent on making her own luck; Rox (WHISPER KISS) is an outspoken rebel of a tattoo artist, crazy for dragons and unafraid to tell Niall what she really thinks; Melissa (DARKFIRE KISS) is a journalist, trying to restart her life after a battle with cancer.

Each of these heroines not only challenge the hero, pushing him along his personal character arc, but each heroine brings something to the world of the Pyr. Key to the resolution of the romance in each book is the notion of partnership, of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. The heroes are all dragon shapeshifters, but how does the heroine change their world, pushing the Pyr closer to their collective H.E.A. For example, Rox, the heroine of WHISPER KISS, is very interested in social justice, so she challenges Niall and the Pyr to make more of a difference in the human world. Why just defend humans? Why not help them? This kind of engagement adds another dimension to the evolution of the fictional world.

When a series extends beyond six books, I think the author needs another way to mix it up to keep things fresh, even beyond following the map of the whole series. The overall arc has to include some surprises and setbacks for the continuing characters to increase the tension – we can talk about the mechanics of that in the spring, because DARKFIRE KISS (May 2011) is where those elements come into play in Dragonfire.

Deborah Cooke has always been fascinated with dragons, although she has never understood why they have to be the bad guys. She has an honours degree in history, with a focus on medieval studies. She is an avid reader of medieval vernacular literature, fairy tales and fantasy novels, and has written over forty romance novels and novellas. She has also been published under the name Claire Cross and continues to be published as Claire Delacroix. In October and November 2009, Deborah was the writer in residence for the Toronto Public Library, the first time that the library has hosted a residency focussed on the romance genre.

Deborah has two websites (http://www.deborahcooke.com and http://www.delacroix.net ) and posts regularly to her blog, Alive & Knitting at http://www.delacroix.net/blog Her current release is WHISPER KISS, book #5 in the Dragonfire series – read an excerpt here (http://www.deborahcooke.com/whisper.html ) and check for reviews here (http://www.delacroix.net/wordpress/?cat=10 ).

Whisper Kiss

One man's mission ignites one woman's fire...

Niall Talbot has volunteered to hunt down and destroy all the remaining shadow dragons - who were weakened by the destruction of the Dragon's Blood Elixir - before they can wreak more havoc. Among them is his dead twin brother, making Niall's mission not only dangerous but personal.

Tattoo artist Rox believes the world is a canvas to be made more beautiful. An unconventional spirit who isn't afraid of anything, she doesn't even flinch when a shape-shifting dragon warrior suddenly appears on her doorstep. And as a woman who follows her heart in matters of passion, she makes the perfect mate for a firestorm with Niall...