That Slippery Synopsis!

sumner 4No, it’s not Man-Candy Monday. Though I believe he totally qualifies, Bernard Sumner has joined me today because of his creative process. A founding member of Joy Division and the somewhat reluctant frontman of New Order, the finest band of the 80s, nay, OF ALL TIME, Bernard Sumner has said that writing lyrics is a struggle akin to breaking a horse.  Well, sweetie, I get it. That’s exactly how I feel about writing a synopsis.

And shall I say it’s been awhile? The last time I had a project in the synopsis/submission-ready stage was….well, longer ago than that last time I Googled shirtless pictures of Bernard Sumner–and that’s been way too long! Sheesh, sometimes we get so busy, we neglect the really important things in life.

But anyhoo…the synopsis. I’ve read so many advice blogs, so many “magic” formulas. Some of it not-so-great (write a one-sentence summary of each chapter et voila), some of it very good, and usable–if I wasn’t hopeless at the whole process. All of this just increased the dread. I spent half a day writing and deleting the same opening sentence. My wild horse stood in the corner, snorting, stomping, and glaring fire.

Since I was getting nowhere, I was forced to return to my notebook. While not to the extent of a couple of fellow Bad Girlz (ahem, Jenna P and E. Michels), I’m a plotter. Before I write, I begin with a loose outline of the plot, including as many scenes as I can visualize at that point, and a definite direction of my story arc. I also do some fairly detailed character descriptions, with a focus on each one’s GMC. Each character sheet includes back story, the romance arc, and his/her individual character arc, referenced back to the events in the outline. All of this is hand-written, semi-stream of consciousness, and a total mess with arrows, doodles, and crap written everywhere.

And then, a funny thing happened. I realized my synopsis was already there. I had the loose plot, and my characters’ motivations, and their turning points. I only had to put them together in an interesting way, and not make it too damn long. That’s where the best internet advice came in. I found these pointers here and here.

  1.  I used third person, present tense, active voice.
  2. I hit the highlights, and left out most of the details. Just a general summary of the beginning, middle, and end, including resolution of conflict.
  3. What I did spend precious word count on was the emotional aspect of my story. I made sure I gave my characters a little background, and gave an impression of their motivation.
  4. One of the best pieces of advice I read was to tell the story in a conversational style. Before, I either fell into dry summary, or resorted to “In a world where…” Both were hard to do, felt unnatural, and produced sucky results. I even added a quote and a joke or two.

And you know what, I think it worked! There are a lot of great articles online for synopsis help. If some of the things you find strike a chord, but you still don’t know where to start, my advice is to return to your outline, or character sheets, or your beautiful color-coded plot board as the case may be. If you’re an incurable pantser, and you don’t have anything like that, it’s worth it to try. By investing the time beforehand in my story arc and my characters’ GMC, the advice gelled.

I may not have Mr. Sumner’s lyrical chops (it takes years of experience to get away with rhyming things with stinks), but do I have a synopsis!


Your Conference Survival Kit

With the beginning of writing conference season just around the corner (RT anyone?), and packing for trips on my brain, (I leave tomorrow for 4 full days of chaperoning nine, count them, nine, eighth grade boys for a school band trip to Universal Studios Orlando), I thought it’d be fun to share my must-haves for surviving the artic-blasted conference rooms and crowded hotel elevators of your next writing conference.

Clorox Wipes


I’m not a serious germaphobe but I’ve read enough articles spouting the grotesque reality of what is and what is not typically cleaned in your average hotel room. Door handles, light switches, phones, and the lovely TV remote are often overlooked by the cleaning staff. Do you and your family a favor (who wants to bring home an unwanted and potential illness?) by swiping them down with a Clorox wipe. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Hand Antiseptic


Conferences are usually packed with people, and often people you want to get to know. Shaking hands is encouraged, so too, is the touching of elevator buttons and door handles to enter rooms to meet these people. That’s a whole lot of hands, buttons, and handles. Multiply that by the number of people in attendance, and you have yourself a smorgasbord of bacteria waiting to make you ill. This is easily remedied with a quick dollop of hand antiseptic. The tiny potent bottles from Bath and Body Works are my favorite.

LUNA/Nutrition/Energy Bars


Running down halls, slipping into events, and staying up past bedtime to chat with a new friend/editor can wear on a girl. Especially one who is used to a quiet house and hitting the sheets by ten. To keep energy and sugar levels up, I stick a LUNA bar ( in chocolate cupcake, need I say more?) into my purse before heading out in the morning. Gluten-free and good for me, I could do so much worse.

Band-Aid Blister Pads


If I were allowed only one item on this list, the blister pads would be it. I’ve resolved to only bring ‘comfy-cute’ shoes to conferences, but I inevitably slip in a pair of heels that have my tootsies screaming in pain by night’s end. The blister pads are life-savers. I slap one (sometimes two or three) onto my feet and elicit sighs of pleasure. They are also great for Disney/Universal trips. (Can you guess what I’m shoving into my luggage right now?)

Chapstick/Lip Balm


A healing, moisturizing lip treatment is a must in the dry frigid air belching from the hotel vents. Having bits of skin flaking from my lips isn’t something I want to sport while talking with a potential agent. In order to keep my mouth happy AND looking pretty, I use a tinted lip balm free of petroleum (which happens to make my lips burn) from Burt’s Bees. The Red Dahlia shade adds just enough pop to make my pout stand out.

Feminine Hygiene Products


It never fails. I’m a week out from my special date with mother nature when Murphy’s Law kicks in and I’m scrambling in the ladies room, trying to be ‘creative’. Avoid the embarrassment and come prepared. Pack a tampon or two. Or three. They’re small and don’t take up a lot of room in your purse. You’ll thank yourself later. Promise.

Breath Mints/Chewing Gum



There is just something about hotel food that hangs around hours after you’ve eaten. It doesn’t matter that I consume copious amounts of water, my breath still suffers. In order not to scare away an acquiring editor or a soon-to-be friend, I pop a mint into my mouth. Mints are a tish more professional than gum, but whatever your pleasure, please remember to share. That lady next to you needs a mint too. Trust me.

This list could go on and on , but these items, outside of the typical clothing, shoes, and regular hygiene essentials necessary for a business trip, are enough to ensure good times are had at your next conference.

Happy Packing!



Writer Demons

As a writer, do you ever have those moments of weakness when those evil little writer demons whisper self-doubt and sabotaging thoughts in your ear?

It happens to me all the time.

You’re never going to make it. 

Will people even care about your characters or the story they have to tell?

If you haven’t been published by now, what makes you think you ever will be?

And this is one of their favorites: Do you really think you’re good enough to compete in this tough market of talented authors?

demonStupid Writer Demons!

Seriously though, if you’ve had these same questions floating around your head, stop feeling guilty about them. I believe we all question our abilities at one time or another.

When I go to conferences, I sometimes get the opportunity to meet or hear from some big names. And do you know, most of them have said, like me, they still hear from the writer demons. Even if it’s their thirtieth book, they occasionally worry rather or not their next project will be as good as their last.

As writers, our work is based on creativity. Subjective creativity, I might add. And that equals vulnerability. And of course, vulnerability comes hand in hand with self-doubt and insecurity, hence, giving the cruel little writer demons a place to run amuck.

We’re lucky when it comes to mastering the technique of writing. There are plenty of resources out there to help us improve our craft. There are workshops, books, on-line classes, that teach the skills to become better writers.

However, the creativity comes from within us, our own personal built-in gift to the world. I refuse to let writer demons or anything else take that away from me. I hope you don’t either.

Shut off the negative voices for a while and listen to me instead.

You are talented. 

You are creative. 

Your story will entertain and delight thousands of readers. 

You do have what it takes. 

There. Isn’t that better?

So take your hand, swipe that mean little demon off your shoulder, and get to work. That’s what I’m going to do.

Let me leave you with three quotes by Ernest Hemingway, I feel are appropriate for this topic of self-doubt.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

“Now is not time to think about what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is.”

(And one of my very favorites)  “Courage is grace under pressure.” 

Remember to DREAM BIG!


Action Scenes for the Preoccupied and Befuddled Writer

I am easily confused. There. I said it. Know my secret shame.

For a year, I thought I was a year older than I was in reality and even celebrated the wrong birthday. Then, there was the time…(s) *winces at the plural of that word* I drove to the wrong state when navigating the interstate. We won’t discuss how this happened more than once, but let’s just say it’s been a hard mishap to live down in my family. So, when I attempt to tackle the writing of a book, I’m super organized about the process. Surprising? Not really.

I’m likely the most plotsy plotter you’ll ever meet, with a giant cork board in my office where scenes are tracked and color coded, and graphs of characters hang beside timelines in organizational harmony. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? *sighs*
Plot Board 7-4

But, even with this level of organization, there are scenes I struggle to write. Action scenes have a lot of moving pieces in them—not the best for this befuddled author. But, they are also necessary in every story. So what’s a Bad Girl to do? I use two tactics that I picked up from football and spy movies—obviously, because that’s not random at all.

The first concept has helped me ever since my editor wrote in the track changes of one of my books, “There are a lot of people running around in the woods. ???” I knew then I needed a way to track characters movements so that I wouldn’t lose anyone as I wrote; and I wouldn’t lose my readers as they followed along.

The Football Locker Room White Board


I use a version of this in my office to track characters’ locations. It’s helpful in climactic scenes where bad guys are surrounding the heroine. Or, as you can see in this example, when characters are moving around at a party and the scene crosses over between 2 books. The use of a whiteboard makes complicated scenes easy to see as you write.
white board diagram

The second concept I’ve recently added when I found myself getting lost in my own scene. “Wait…She can’t trail her hand across his bare chest when he’s still fully dressed.”

Where did I look, but to spy movies to solve my problem? At 08:00 hours, we’ll meet at the ridge line above the enemy camp…It works for spies. Why not use this idea to simplify complex scenes?

The Spy Movie Action List

Daniel Craig as James Bond, wearing an Omega 2201.50 Planet Ocea

I’ve started listing out a play by play in a bullet point type of list. I change the text color in my document to red and then delete the list as I write in standard black type. It keeps everything in the scene moving along in the right direction, and allows me to focus on the emotion of the moment and not what comes next in the scene.

He sees her across the room and moves in her direction.
She escapes the conversation she was in and turns for the door.
He catches up with her on the front steps and they move into the shadows.

I hope these organizational tips from a mixed-up Bad Girl are helpful! Happy writing!

Are you easily confused? What tactics do you use to stay organized? Let’s chat about it!


Getting Your Story Back on Track

Picture this…

I’m chugging away with E. Michels and Lori Waters on one of our Tuesday writing marathons.  My goal is to hit at least 1500, and this particular day I blew it out of the water.  By the time 3 o’clock rolled around and I had to put on my gym mom hat, I had just over 2200 words in.  May be small potatoes to some of you but this is a huge deal to me.  I was on fire!


Only…I wasn’t.

I should’ve been sitting at the gym that afternoon wondering what sort of wine I would drink when I got home, but instead I was trying to figure out what the funny feeling was in the pit of my gut.  No, it wasn’t gas.  It was my “writey” sense attacking my “you just kicked ass” sense, and I really didn’t understand why.  I mean, the words had flowed so easily that day.

So I texted my marathon buddies and asked if they’d ever written a killer scene that just didn’t feel like it fit.  E. Michels asks, “Were you forcing your characters or is it a POV issue?”  Without much thought I say, “I just don’t think my characters would do what I had them do.”


Truth is, deep down I knew that’s what the problem was.  But I’m a diehard plotter with boards and sticky notes and everything!  It’s hard to admit that maybe I need to re-evaluate my story.  What’s also hard is for me to except that I just spent six hours of my precious writing time writing a scene that, in the end, didn’t increase the word count on my manuscript.  It’s a hard pill to swallow, and I just needed someone else to get me to admit it.  I needed someone to give me permission to scrap it and start over.  And I thought that maybe some of you needed the same, so here are a few tips on how to make it easier to find your way back to where you need to be.


1.  The first problem is admitting you’re lost.

Look on the bright side.  So you wrote one scene that needs to go.  It’s better than ignoring your gut and writing the rest of the book in the wrong direction, right?  And it’s not necessarily wasted words.  Cut them out and place them in a “cut scenes” file.  With a few tweaks, there may be another manuscript you can use it in later.

2.  Get out of the map.


I love this episode of FRIENDS, don’t you?  But where Joey needs to get in the map to find his way, sometimes I find I need to get out of the map to find my way.  I get so bogged down on word count that I don’t take the time to step back and look at the big picture.  Where are your characters in their intended arc?  Is the plot still moving at the right pace?  How many words do you have left and can you fit in what’s still needed.  A few quick checks may be all it takes to show you where you need to be.

3.  Remember the basics: GMC

This one is usually the one that gets me moving again.  Often times I’ve considered the overall GMC of the manuscript, but I haven’t spent enough effort looking at the short term GMC’s between my turning points.  Or maybe I did, but I’ve discovered something about my characters along the way that changes their goals or motivations at this particular turning point.  Remember, writing is a dynamic process so it’s okay if things change along the way.

4.  Check your threads

Perhaps the reason the scene doesn’t make sense now is because you’ve lost a thread along the way that was supposed to lead you here.  The more threads you have, the harder it can be to keep track of.  So write them down and check them often.

5.  If all else fails, stop and ask for directions

Talk it out with someone else.  It could be that you just need someone to give you permission to admit you’ve lost your way, like I did.  They may raise a question that leads you to find your answer. Sometimes someone who’s disconnected from your story will be the one to connect it.

I hope this helps you in some small way.  I’d love to hear any other ideas you have.  How do you find your way back to your story?


hero inspiration


I’m on vacation this week. Not any place warm or exciting like Florida or Hawaii. Nope, I’m in Fargo, ND as I type this post, looking out at brown grass and bare trees. Even if I’m not sunning myself in 80 degree weather, I am still on vacation time, which means I’m deplugging. And as I was sitting here racking my brain to think of a post, I realized that if there’s any time to do something fun, it was now. 

And so I give you: Pinteresting. Yes, it’s a verb.

Now, I’ve been Pinteresting in my personal life for several years. I’ve amassed something like 8,000 pins, all categorized obsessively. I use it for birthday party planning and recipe hoarding and gift making ideas and holiday decorating. But I don’t use any of those professionally.

Oh, no.

Professionally, I use boards that look like this:

hero inspirationAnd this:

hero inspiration 2Annnnnnnd this:

hero inspiration 3This whole authoring thing…it’s a tough life I lead. It really, really is.

But in all seriousness, Pinterest is a goldmine for authors. Yes, I have a board titled Hero Inspiration that is brimming with delicious hotties to feed my eyeballs. But I also have boards for Heroine Inspiration. Couple Inspiration. Places & Spaces. Not to mention boards for each of my books.

See, I’m a planner (shocking, I know). And as such, I like to be able to have a place where I can shove any/everything pertaining to my books (past, present, or future), so I can reference it at any time. Plus, it helps me while writing. Whenever I’m blocked on a certain scene, I like to pop over to Pinterest and look at pictures of who I’ve envisioned as my hero or heroine. Or I like to look at the snippets I’ve got on the Couples Picspiration board. Or I like to browse and see what others are pinning. Maybe I’ll come across some totally random, but totally perfect link, and it gets me out of my funk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I have some Hero Inspiration studying to do… I am on vacation, after all.


Tanya Celebrates the Release of her Blaze Debut

As experienced as I am, it feels like my first time all over again.

Er, perhaps I should clarify–I’ve published many books, but Good with His Hands is my first hot contemporary romance for Harlequin Blaze. I…may have done an undignified happy dance when I spotted it on the rack at a local bookstore last Friday. I couldn’t help myself–this book was so much fun to write and I’m excited to share it with readers. (Besides, the chances of me being dignified are, well, nonexistent.)


The heroine, jilted bride-to-be Dani Yates, is feisty. On why she grew up wanting to be a fairy-godmother rather than a princess: “Princesses hid out with dwarves or in towers–or, worse, in comas. Fairy godmothers get shit done.”

The hero, construction supervisor Sean, is sexy: He crossed his arms over his chest, giving her a great view of corded forearms, and grinned. “I’m not a workaholic…but I don’t stop until the job’s done to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.”

And the book is funny. One lovely reader made my year by posting to my FB page that she laughed more in the first 50 pages than she did in the past half a dozen books she’s read put together. Writing a plot for the Wrong Bed miniseries allowed me to use my love of a Shakespearean romantic-comedy device: mistaken identity. (Not that he invented mistaken identity, but catching plays at Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern is one of my favorite ways to spend Girls’ Night Out.)

Dani has been dumped before her wedding. She thought she’d made her peace with that, but to add insult to injury, her ex elopes with someone else. Coming up on the day of her would-be wedding, Dani is the recipient of lots of well-meaning pity texts and people calling to check on her. Rather than wallow, she impulsively decides to celebrate her newfound freedom by hitting on Bryce Grayson, the hot architect who works in her building. How was she supposed to know Bryce had an identical twin?

If you like mistaken identity plots–or simply enjoy funny, sexy stories–I hope you’ll check out Good with His Hands. It’s on bookstore shelves, as well as available through online retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Happy reading!


Body Image and Writer Image: Easily Dysmorphic, Rarely Accurate

On Bad Girlz Write, we like to drop a truth bomb from time to time. Today I share a truth I’m not particularly proud of:

Sometimes I think I’m ugly and, just as often, I think I’m a horrible writer.

Not like, “Oh I feel bummy or sloppy today.” I’m talking completely convinced that others cringe and pity my unattractiveness. I didn’t say it was a rational truth, and I don’t know if everyone feels this way sometimes, but I’m willing to bet some of you can sympathize with my bouts of self-loathing.

I don’t know why I’ve always struggled with body or appearance image. I didn’t grow up in a home that put a lot of pressure or stock on looks and the superficial. My parents were hippies! Maybe society and the media play a role, but for whatever reason, I’ve struggled with accepting my outward appearance as something I love. I compare myself to ideals that don’t exist in reality. I envy how other women look and how put together they seem. I always want to lose weight, have better skin, better hair, etc.

I do the very same thing with my writing.

Then, this winter, I saw a picture of me from ten years ago. I was a summer camp counselor in the piney woods of Cheraw, SC. In my Soffe shorts and camp shirt, with no make-up and curly/wavy/can’t-decide-what-it-wants-to-do hair (because Camp Cheraw is not only HOT, but there are no outlets for hair dryers or curling irons)…I actually looked pretty cute. Yet I vividly remember that time in my life, and I was far from being happy with who I was. At the time, there were probably a dozen things I would’ve changed about myself. Looking back, I don’t see a single thing I’d change.

That’s when it hit me: I’m still the same woman. A few more fine lines around my eyes, hair has definitively more gray, but I’m basically the same. And regardless, this body and face have been with me for almost 40 years, and they’ve been good to me.  They’ve gone through a lot with me and, I hope, a lot more to come.

So maybe I need to quit hating on myself.

The same goes for my writing. Is my writing perfect? Hell, no. But is it better than two years ago? Absolutely. I’m improving and, more importantly, it makes me happy. When I look at myself, instead of others, I’m happy with me. I have a lot I could improve upon as a writer, but some things I do pretty well. My writing has helped me through some very difficult times in my life. I like to think it’s brought some joy to others too, maybe made them laugh or helped them through their day.

My craft, like my body, is something I need to nurture, and I’m trying to love both of them more – even when they frustrate the hell out of me. I’m going to spend a lot less time being down on my reflection, and a lot more time appreciating what I have. Ditto for my writing. I’m going to nurture my craft, learn and improve. I’m going to do more of the things that will make me a stronger story teller, and stop these habits that are defeatist and always, always bring me down. I’ll be spending a lot more time enjoying this thing I love, and a lot less time beating myself up because I’m impatient or comparing myself to others.

I will fail at this sometimes, I’m sure, but I’m shifting my overall view and approach: Less looking around and measuring myself against some imagined ideal of beauty and/or writer awesome-ness. More being happy with my journey and me.

Do any of you struggle with body and/or writer image? What could you do to be happier with you? Have you toasted yourself or patted your own back lately, for all that you’ve accomplished and all that you will? You should, because you guys kick ass! Take a moment right now and appreciate yourself, because there is no one in the world like you. :)

And now that I’ve gone all hippy group hug on you, here’s a pile of cuteness to top it off.bulldog puppies


What’s That Tune? Or, My Soundtrack/Trailer Music Obsession

I very rarely listen to the radio anymore, only sometimes when I’m in my car. But since I work from home now, I don’t spend as much time in my car. So the radio is rarely where I discover new music. My love of TV and movies actually leads me to more new songs than anything now. This happens one of three ways.

Movie or TV Show Trailers — My two most recent song purchases came via this pathway. First there was “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons, which was used in one of the TV spots for Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent trilogy.

The other was “End of All Days” by 30 Seconds to Mars, which is being used for the promos for the upcoming new CW show The Messengers.

Fan Videos — Okay, I admit I’m a big shipper of couples on TV shows. Sometimes I cruise YouTube looking for fan videos dedicated to my ships. I’ve found some good songs this way, such as Plumb’s “Don’t Deserve You,” which I found while watching fan videos dedicated to Aramis and Anne from The Musketeers. This video seems like a dance mix rather than the version I downloaded, but you get the idea. Plus, let’s all pause to appreciate just how yummy Santiago Cabrera looks in musketeer garb. :)

Actual TV Show/Movie Soundtracks — I LOVE movie soundtracks, and I own a lot of them. Sometimes I love an entire instrumental soundtrack such as Last of the Mohicans or, more recently, Interstellar. Sometimes it’s just a song I hear on a TV show, such as “Don’t Let Me Go” by Raign, which was used during an emotional scene on The Vampire Diaries.

Sometimes it’s the actual theme song for a show that I love, such as the one for Vikings — Fever Ray’s “If I Had a Heart.”


I also discovered a band that does Viking-inspired music by watching the show. The song “Helvegen” by Wardruna, which played in a season 2 episode when the Vikings set sail for England, was so atmospheric and fitting for the show that I went in search of who sang it. That led me to Wardruna’s album Yggdrasil, named for the holy tree in Norse mythology.

This was one of many songs I’ve identified via the website TuneFind, which lists the songs used in many TV shows, by episode.

Do you hear songs in trailers or TV shows or movies and just have to know what they are? Do you watch fan videos on YouTube?


GuiltCon: One Fangirl’s Habit of Ditching Her Family

I may never make it all the way across the country to participate in Comic Con, but that’s okay. Because right here in my backyard (the city of Atlanta) there is an annual four-day extravaganza known as Dragon*Con, which celebrates sci-fi, comics, gaming, books, movies, TV, fantasy, independent musicians, cosplay, robotics, steampunk… Tens of thousands of people attend each year, and I am one of them.

I’ve attended wearing my Sunnydale High t-shirt, covered in vampire bites. I’ve attended in more elaborate costumes as Luna Lovegood and purple-haired Tonks. But why should I feel guilty about this celebration of fandom? For starters, Dragon*Con takes place every Labor Day weekend, which is terrible timing for me. That is also the weekend of a major regional book festival that, as an author, I should be attending for professional reasons. But professionalism takes a back seat to hanging out with fellow Browncoats and Whovians. Also, Labor Day often coincides with my late-August wedding anniversary. I…may have left my hub with the kids on our tenth anniversary because I was busy having this picture taken.


And speaking of my kids… They may have inherited some of mama’s geek tendencies.


They keep asking, when will you take us to stay in a fancy downtown hotel so we can participate in all four days of Dragon*Con? Um…never. Some of the evening activities just aren’t child appropriate. Of course, as they enter their teen years, that excuse is starting to wear thin. Okay, FINE, really I’m using the four days as my annual chance to catch up with bestie and fellow Bad Girl Trish Milburn.


July is a heavy travel month for both me and my husband for work reasons. August is not only our chance to be back together as a family, but it’s the start of school, a whirlwind of buying supplies and chauffeuring kids who are auditioning for band chairs and starting new activities. There’s always a massive call for parent volunteers this time of year. Ever told someone you can’t help with the PTA bake sale because you’re trying to build a Dalek? Dragon*Con is crowded and hot and not cheap. I have every reason in the world not to go–(have you priced school supplies lately?!)–and yet…

It’s something I do for me, completely for me. To see my similarly geek-minded friends, to revel in a few days of out-of-this-world craziness and fandoms and shipping. Will I feel guilty about going this year? Perhaps. But will it stop me from having a blast? Not on your life.

(For the record, I do try to occasionally get the kids downtown for the parade or an hour or so of autograph collecting. I’m not a total monster.)



%d bloggers like this: