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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Can Everyone Write?

Musings from Linda Thomas-Sundstrom

Hi FF&P members...

I'm Linda Thomas-Sundstrom, a paranormal romance author. You'll probably recognize my name from the loop. A really quick bio for me would list Kensington Brava, Dorchester, and Harlequin Nocturne as my publishers, and with nine projects for Silhouette and Harlequin under my belt, I'm currently under contract for more Nocturnes of the vampire and werewolf persuasion. Sheer bliss!

I've been asked to write an article on craft, but have been pondering a conversation I recently had with someone who contacted me with this question - one I seem to get all the time, as I'm sure most writers do:

"Can anyone write?"

Our standard reply is always: "Of course." Because we know that anyone can. Heck, we are!

But the conversation went deeper than that, and slightly more into the realm of reality (sorry paranormal folks - LOL) when I was asked about the "process" of getting published. This was from a person who has never set one word on paper.

Thinking this was like asking how to run a marathon without ever having gone for a jog, skipping all the training and work in between, my own musings were eye-opening for us both. I'd like to share.

Here was my reply . . .

"As for the process... well, I just don't know how to tap into the many kinds of talents people have. I have pals who are fantastic artists, and I can't draw a stick figure. Some people sing like angels. Some run like they have deer in their genes. I write because I have to. It's actually a compulsion. Words are like manna from heaven to me. I have to get words on paper and create worlds for them to live in. I've been writing one thing or another since I was eight years old! A true passion. I am driven to write, to create . . . And the compulsion gets worse as I age.

I do think that people have special gifts in some areas. I have heard over and over again that anyone can write. Yes, I believe this is true. But also, anyone can sing. Right? The difference lies in the degree to which a talent can be born and developed, added to the sheer unadulterated persistence of character, and lots of practice.

As for getting published, writing is only part of that process. The business side is not easy! Meeting deadlines and coming up with new ideas are not easy! Self-promotion is not easy! I honestly do believe that everyone can write something if they really want to . . . but if the goal is to get "published," that's a whole other matter. The statistics are that about one percent of all people who write, or want to write, ever get published by a New York publisher. Then again, at present, anyone can self-publish, or publish with an e-book company, which opens up all sorts of avenues for all of levels of writers and their personal satisfaction.

Still, writing starts with writing. Before anything else, there has to be words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, and a completed manuscript. This takes time and dedication, because the odds are also that a major percentage of people who want to write, and desire to get published, never do finish penning a single book. Or take the time to study the craft of writing."

Ah, yes. And there was another question from this person, after all that. Here it is:

"How does a person know if they are worthy to write?"

What? Oh my gosh! I wonder what YOU would reply to this one? I'm still thinking about it.

Because "worthy" might differ from person to person. Right? Does it mean self-satisfaction, or does it mean getting published? Two extremes in concept. For instance, I'd be writing if I'd never gotten published, because again, I have to write. Once I had learned the craft and developed my own voice and style, I geared my writing ideas toward specific New York publishers by making myself aware of what kind of things they wanted. With some talent (thank you mom and dad!), a lot of luck, and maybe even some mystical forces at work on my behalf... not to mention sheer dogged persistence . . . I made it into the one percent. And I'm thrilled every darn day to see my books on the shelf! I know that if people actually continue to buy my books, hopefully I'll be able to keep on publishing for quite a while. But I will write, no matter what.

I don't want to ever discourage anyone with a true desire to write. We all need encouragement and all the help and nourishment that others who have finished a manuscript can supply. I frequently send fairy dust over the air waves to friends who are just getting started, and I've offered to lend my Muse to a few. I offer hankies when needed, murmur "You can do it" to them and to myself on a regular basis, and have checked out sets of pom-poms on line in case I need to shake things up on our behalf.

The fact is that none of us know if we have real talent and fresh ideas until we try the very thing we want to do. As all of us on the FF&P site know, even if we're willing to do what it takes, and try, unless it's absolutely a labor of love...

Well, you get the picture.

So, I've shared this, and hope you might have something else to offer on the subject.

Were you encouraged to write?

Have you been writing since you were a kid, because you HAVE TO?

Did you realize how difficult - blissful writing could be?

Does writing make you so very happy, you hardly want to do anything else?

Please share, if you have a minute.

I'm here today, listening, and so are a lot of others.

We're in this crazy business together.

I love nearly every minute of it.




Linda's latest releases from Nocturne in her Vampire Moons series are: "Golden Vampire" (full book) and "Night Born," a Bite. She also has a fluffy, girly paranormal novella recent release, titled "Veronica and the Vampire."


Love and hate, vampire and slayer—opposites too closely connected for their own good?

After her mother is nearly killed, slayer-in-waiting Danika Douglas vows to destroy the vampire she believes is responsible—Alexander Kent. An experienced vampire older than sin itself, Alexander possesses dark good looks and a strong sensual allure.

Danika knows a slayer and her target are chained together by fate, compelled to find each other. Yet she never expected them to share such a powerful attraction, leaving Danika torn between revenge and desire….

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Someone Turn on the Lights! How Dark is Too Dark?

Welcome to guest blogger, Melissa Jarvis!

“Plumb the depths of your soul.” “Don’t be afraid to go there.” When I first started out as a serious, not going to fiddle around with this writer, those words were among the first pieces of advice I received. Essentially it meant I had to let bad things happen to my characters, although of course, with a happily ever after at the end.

Apparently I took said advice too seriously. In doing so, I broke some unwritten rules regarding how dark my book or scenes were. Since this is the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter, you may have done the same thing. After all, if you’re writing about vampires, well, they start out dead, and how much darker can you get?

What I’ve come to realize though, is that most of the horrible things that happen to our characters and plot, such as murder, rape, war, etc., happens in the back story. It’s ok if your hero was slaughtered by the women he loved hundreds of years ago, or if your heroine was pregnant and witnessed the murder of her husband, and then was subsequently raped. Both of these scenarios are in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series, which have the most gut-wrenching character histories I have ever read. Many though, don’t show up in her present story arc except to explain how said hero or heroine got to the point of giving up on life and love. There are a few books where she has tortured her secondary characters but when you’re a world famous author, you can get away with it.

But what if you do something dark and dreadful to your characters and story as it’s unfolding, and not have it as part of the past? Congratulations, you may have just crossed that invisible line.

Now you may be confused. Weren’t you told you had to go deep, and write those scenes that would make it hard for you to focus through your tears on the keyboard? The answer, like every other “rule” in writing, is somewhat contradictory.

So what did I do to have an editor shriek “You have to change those scenes. They’re too gruesome!” Hmm. My book, Past Her Time, is set during the French Revolution which involved a lot of people who were beheaded by the guillotine, or torn apart by angry mobs. It was not a light, pretty time in history. In one scene, my heroine Alex witnesses a young woman, around her own age, led up to the steps to the guillotine. Alex hears the woman’s cries and pleas for mercy, and then sees her head chopped off. In another scene, she is stopped by the Revolutionary guards at the gates to Paris. The guards are trying to determine if she and the hero are “good citizens” or traitors trying to smuggle condemned nobles out. To test this, they throw something at her, which she deftly catches, and returns, seemingly unfazed. The object? A child’s head, from one of the coffins in the cart ahead of her.

The guillotine spared no one, not families, women or children. What I wrote was historically accurate. And both scenes were, in my opinion, necessary to my character’s emotional development. But the old saying “women and children first” does not apply to romance, at least in my former editor’s view. She had me change the scenes; the first one was simple, the woman became a man, and he was stoically silent. The second scene with the dead child turned into a scene with a live child, a rescue, and a hysterically weeping grateful mother.

As writers, we are continually trying to push limits, and that will mean more questions about how dark a book can be and still manage a happy ever after in the reader’s eyes. What I think it comes down to is this: Do you want that small gasp of horror or sigh of pleasure? And can you do both?


A mild-mannered Public Relations executive by day, and action-packed writer by night, Melissa Jarvis lives in celebrity-friendly Southern California with her husband and son. For over 14 years, she has worked in the public relations industry, doing press releases, bios, newsletters, media campaigns and more for clients ranging from the Playboy Jazz Festival to the Los Angeles Mission to JVS. And she’s survived with most of her mind intact! An active member of RWA, she writes both paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as well as spicy paranormal under the name Melissa L. Robert. She is currently working on the sequel to Past Her Time, featuring agent Banderan’s story



Making the world, if not a better place, at least a familiar one. It is the motto of the Lineage, a secret organization founded in the late 22nd century to correct anomalies in history caused by early time-travelers. Comprised of men and women from different time periods, these agents have been highly trained to get in and get out, and stay under the radar.

Agent Alexandra “Alex” Raines has been assigned to 1793 France in the midst of revolution. But she has no time for Gabriel Huntington, a man who doesn’t always follow convention and can’t take even the most obvious hint. After being inadvertently rescued by Lord Huntington, it takes all of her training not to lay him flat on the ground, and all of his not to lay her flat on her back.

For Gabriel, Alexandra was just another damsel in distress, sans dragon. A fashionable gentleman of the London ton, Gabriel’s main concern was the latest way to tie his cravat. Or was it? Just what was he doing in Paris? And was that a mask in his back pocket?

The French Revolution pitted noble against peasant, friend against friend. Thrown together in an elaborate game of cat and mouse, can these two learn to take of the disguises and trust each other? Or will the fate of the world and time travel rest on Alex’s ability to betray the one man she has come to love?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Three Tips on Revising Your Work

Please welcome guest blogger E.D. Walker

A few months ago I sent my first novella to Carina Press with high hopes.

And now, to begin my sad tale of woe: they didn’t buy the book. Alack. Alas. Ah, but here’s the silver lining: it wasn’t a flat-out rejection either. They sent a revise and resubmit letter.

Maybe some of you have been in this boat before, but even if you’ve never gotten the ol’ Revise & Resubmit there comes a time in every author’s life where they need to revise their work. Whether because of an editor or critique partner’s suggestions or because they want to morph Draft One into something new and wonderful for Draft Two.

So, in that spirit, here are a three useful tips I’ve picked up as I battled through my own revisions:

Pick one note at a time and work through it.

Don’t try to work on every single note from an editorial letter all at once. Pick one element you need to work on. Make the villain more threatening, or less or scarier or whatever and just work on that as you make your first pass. Do this with all the other editorial notes separately. Go through the MS and work through one note at a time. Don’t worry about making the villain scarier and the heroine smarter and the hero sexier all at once.

-Bonus tip: Sometimes it helps to highlight what new material you’ve added to help yourself keep track. So anytime you add something new about the villain, for example, highlight it. This way, when you look back through, you have an easy way to reference if you’ve been consistent in your changes throughout the manuscript, or if you might have missed a section.

Don’t make changes to your book that you don’t agree with.

I was lucky. I agreed with everything the editor told me, and they were changes I was eager to make. I’ve received editorial letters and critiques before, though, where I didn’t agree with a single note, changes which would have compromised my own vision for the book.

This is a hard one because everyone wants to sell their work. It’s easy to think, ‘Well, if I just change it then the book could sell!’ But do you want to sell a book you yourself don’t like anymore? You might not even be able to make a change work in the book if you don’t in your heart of hearts agree with it.

Many times, also, you will receive conflicting notes. One crit partner will love your brittle but vulnerable antihero and the other might think he’s a bitchy cry-baby. Ultimately, you have to trust your gut. Don’t change your book if you don’t honestly agree with the note.

Side note: If many readers are all telling you the same thing then that might be an instance of it is your book, not them. There are times when the writer is wrong. If everyone you show the story to tells you they hate the same thing then take another look at that section. That many varying people coming to the same conclusion probably means something is wrong there. It might not be what everyone tells you is wrong, but if lots of readers are pointing there and saying, ‘This doesn’t work’ then it doesn’t work, and you need to figure out why and how to fix it.

Put the book down and walk away for awhile

Ultimately, if you remain blocked on changing the book you just might have to take a break from it altogether. Put the revisions aside. Watch a movie. Knit. Play with the dog. You might even have to work on a brand new story to cleanse your mental palate.

To bring this blog entry full circle, I remained horribly blocked on making revisions to my novella for Carina. Even though they were things I agreed with. I think because I had spent too much time editing the book. It was done in my head. And I was more than a little sick of it, truth be told. I had no new inspiration, no story ideas that would let me make the necessary changes.

So, what did I do? I put it aside for a month and wrote a brand new book. This is a little extreme as a solution, I admit, but, hey, I’ve got another fresh MS out of the deal and I’m now bursting with ideas to tackle my edits. I can’t say for sure that Carina will want my MS this time around, but I know it will be a better book once I’m done with this round of revisions.

E.D. Walker is a SoCal native with a BA in English Lit from Berkeley (GO BEARS!) who came of age with her nose stuck in a book and an obese cat kneading his claws in her lap. These days her nose is glued to her laptop as she pounds out her latest manuscript, and the obese cat, well, he just has to lie in wait until she goes to bed so he can knead his claws in her shoulder at 3am. And drool.

She has two fantasy romance novels available now as eBooks: a sweet paranormal-historical starring a werewolf knight, THE BEAUTY’S BEAST, which finaled for “Best First Book” in RWI’s More Than Magic contest, and a YA fantasy with Greek gods run amok, HEIR TO THE UNDERWORLD.

Currently she is working on her first contemporary romance, a fun RomCom romp a la Jennifer Crusie or Victoria Dahl.

For more information on E.D. Walker, please visit her website, “Like” E.D. at her Facebook Fan Page or friend her on Goodreads.

Or you can always just email her at: e.d.walker.author(at)gmail.com

The Beauty’s Beast

Lady Kathryn's father has sent her to court to find a husband, but being penniless and disinterested doesn't bode well for her success. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, she finds her loneliness is eased when the king charges her with the care of his newest acquisition: an uncanny black wolf. What the king doesn't realize is his remarkable pet was once Gabriel, his favorite knight, cursed into wolf form by an unfaithful wife.

The beast's too-knowing eyes and the way he seems to understand her every utterance convinces Kathryn the wolf is more than what he seems. Resolving to restore him, she doesn't count on the greatest obstacle being Gabriel himself. The longer he stays in wolf form as a captive of the court, the harder it becomes for him to remember his humanity. And to fight his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

Only Kathryn's affection and determination stand between Gabriel the wolf and Gabriel the man. But when the one who betrayed Gabriel returns to court, will Kathryn's love be enough to keep Gabriel from exacting a brutish revenge that will condemn the wolf to death?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Symbolism—It's So Hot Right Now

Please welcome guest blogger Bella Street

In our Western culture with our linear way of thinking, sometimes we miss out on some great, squirrelly writing. But it wasn't always that way. Back when Western culture was pulling heavily from the Oriental influences of Asian and Arabic literature, we got 'the classics'. The more 'Oriental' style of literature is full of hyperbole, couplets, apocalyptic devices, poetry and symbolism. Western students were taught literary symbolism and when they read 'the greats', they had a more immediate understanding than we often do today.

Many of us are like that dude from Dragnet (I can never remember his name). Nowadays, just saying the term Dragnet acts as a symbol. Most everyone would instantly think of the show's catch phrase 'Just the facts' and understand the need for just the important stuff without the fluff. Savvy? Some stories are better because of the Just The Facts style of writing, but I also think there's been a burgeoning interest in stories with deep layers, uneven timelines, and cleverly disguised cues—if they serve the story.

LOST anyone? For every publisher that claimed flashbacks were a non-starter in writing, fans of LOST watched not only flash-backs and flash-forwards, but flippin' flash-sideways. It was awesome—and symbolic of the topsy turvey lives the characters found themselves in and running from. Kinda like the plane wreck that started it all (another symbol!). One thing the show was known for was a tight mythology, no matter how wonky the plot went. Fans knew they could trace the symbols and clues back and gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their relationships to each other.

I know not everyone is a fan of director M. Night Shyamalan, but the man knows how to use symbolism in his films. In Signs, the first scene we see is a a swing set through a window with wavy glass. As the camera pans to one side, the swing set seems to waver like water—which becomes a meaningful plot point at the end—not only with water, but a loss of innocence and absolution. And speaking of Signs, many people didn't care for the movie because the aliens were cheesy. The point of the aliens wasn't to look cool (or cheesy), but to symbolize how alien grief is to the human heart. We're simply not equipped to handle the loss of a loved one. Going through a loss is terrifying, confusing, and can feel like being attacked.

Brilliant symbolism (and I admit, a bigger CGI budget could've helped).

Even if you write in a spare, non-flowery way, you can still sprinkle symbolism and visual cues into your story. In my book The Z Word, zombies are not there because they're so hot right now (anyone hear Mugatu saying that?). They symbolize the initial dead-end life choices of the characters while at the same time proving they can't forever outrun their problems. Because zombies, er, consequences, always catch up no matter how benign they seem in the beginning.

Everybody loves to be in on an inside joke (were you thinking Michael Scott? Me, too), so let your reader in via a shared understanding, bonding them to the characters. Every time Michael says “That's what she said” we laugh, but it also serves as a symbol of a person so desperate for acceptance, he tries to make a funny joke that ends up driving people away, especially women.

Each symbol should pertain to something in your story. You can't just scatter the things willy-nilly. And they may seem high-falutin' and literary, but a well-wrought symbol in a novel is really a short-cut; a direct path to the heart and mind of the reader you're trying to connect with. In our society of instant communication, things shared have an even deeper meaning. People crave depth and substance, and when we can be in on the joke or have that sudden connection, a relationship is made or sustained.

If you need your symbolism creativity jump-started, here's a fun site—an online Dictionary of Symbolism. Watch Shyamalan (hint: the stories are never about the obvious), or The Office and Arrested Development to see incredibly keen senses of symbolism in action. They may be movies and TV shows, but they started as scripts, which in case you didn't know, is writing.

That's what she said.

(Hmmm, that sounded funnier in my head.)

Bella Street is the author of The Z Word, the first book of the Apocalypse Babes. Many symbols are used in the novel, including the afore-mentioned zombies, and pink velour and time-travel. Visit her at BellaStreetWrites.com

The Z Word

The Z Word follows Seffy Carter and her longtime friends Gareth, Addison and Lani. The four besties share a past dysfunctional and dark enough to keep them bound together under do-over identities. But rends develop in their relationships from the flesh-eating pressures of ending up in 1980, in a Montana desert, surrounded by zombies wearing dated disco duds.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Magic of Three: What’s your favorite fantasy that includes a threesome?

Please welcome guest blogger Louisa Bacio

You know, like Neapolitan’s chocolate, vanilla and strawberry? Or, how about the combination of fries, burger and a drink of a Happy Meal?

There’s a reason why combinations of three fascinate many. Historically, people point to the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and probably one of the most well-known combination of three comes from Dante Aligheri and his three volumes of the Divine Comedy, which include Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. (And if you’re an English major or literature geek, you probably know how many combinations of three the Italian master included. If you don’t, a quick search of Wikipedia provides an overview.)

Ready for a jump in discussion?

When it comes to erotic romance, the ménage adds a varied bit of flavor to the relationship, which may explain the reason that the threesome appeals to many readers. If one lover is good, two has to be better, right? According to various editors, the combination of two males and one female continues to be the most popular.

When my publisher Ravenous Romance approached me with writing a paranormal erotic threesome, my mind instantly went to my favorite Other, the vampire. Growing up with a reading history rich with Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles, and a collection of anthologies relating to the sexy, alluring creature of the night, he became my first choice.

Usually, with a threesome, a couple welcomes a third into their existing relationship. In “The Vampire, The Witch & The Werewolf,” Lawrence Justice paired up with the werewolf Trevor Pack, and readers will get a glimpse into how the two first met. With two long-living species, I wanted my female character to stand on her own. The dynamic of the relationship would shift if she was either a vampire or a werewolf, and there may be that tendency to pair up and “split” the couple. (Of course, an author can reason anything they want, correct?) That brings Lily Anima to New Orleans, in order to find the answers about her heritage, and her building powers as she approaches the age of 30. Although readers don’t quite know what Lily “is” until later in the novel, hopefully the title itself provides enough foreshadowing.

Like any romance, if personalities clash when two characters come together, the conflict potentially builds exponentially when a third gets introduced. And, yet, in an erotic romance, the love scenes can get even hotter.

Currently, I’m working on the sequel to “The Vampire, The Witch & The Werewolf,” which focuses on Trevor’s sister Silver, who was adopted at birth. As Silver turns 18, and starts to look into her birth family, she’s going to be in for a surprise with her paranormal ties. And, the stakes increase since her love interest, Nick, hunts vampires for kicks.

From the paranormal standpoint: What three types of characters can you see coming together? Do they have some inherent characteristic that draws them together or clashes? Why do you think so many items are combined into threes?

Thank you to FF&P (another three) for letting me rant a bit on the magic of three. It’s been a delight.

For more thrills, check out Bacio’s f/f contemporary erotic Sex University: All-Girls Academy, which features another threesome scene. Her story “Two’s Company” can be found in I Kissed a Girl: A Virgin Lesbian Anthology. For a short erotic paranormal tryst, “The Wait” can be found in Rekindled Fire: An Anthology of Reunited Lovers.

In addition to writing and editing, Bacio teaches college courses in English, journalism, film studies and popular culture.

Drop in for a visit:




Interested in learning more about writing threesome? Bacio will teach “De-Mystifying Ménage” for FF&P in May 2012. (http://www.romance-ffp.com/event.cfm?EventID=379)

The Vampire, the Witch & the Werewolf: Threesome in New Orleans

Haunted by paranormal abilities that she can’t control, and plagued by nightmares about a demon that seeks her soul, Lily Anima travels to New Orleans in search of salvation.

In the French Quarter, Lily dives into the paranormal world and enlists the help of an unlikely couple: a vampire, Lawrence Justice, and a werewolf, Trevor Pack.

As the trio encounters ghosts, voodoo and unspeakable evil, will Trevor and Lawrence be able to help Lily turn her powers into a gift rather than a curse? And when Lily discovers that she needs to lose her virginity in order to embrace her powers and get the demon off her back, will the twosome be able to survive as a threesome?

The Vampire, the Witch & the Werewolf: Threesome in New Orleans is available through Ravenous Romance, Amazon Kindle and ARe.