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October 2014

Seasonally Challenged!

Fall? It’s fall!

I can’t believe tomorrow night I’ll be passing out goodies to little ghost and goblins trick-or-treating. You see, I’m a little seasonally confused right now. I spent my summer writing a Christmas story.

Note to self: Write all future Christmas books in November and December OR at least in WINTER!


I’m not going to lie, writing Christmas in July wasn’t easy for me. I used every trick I could think of to get in the Holiday Spirit as my son and his friends splashed around in the pool.

I need my readers to believe it’s December, though in reality, Santa isn’t due for another few months. I pulled from all five senses to remind myself what Christmas feels like—Looks like. I played Christmas music all the time, driving my family completely insane! I had the Yule log burning on my TV when it was ninety-eight degrees outside. I lit pine scented candles. I did just about everything, but drag the tree from the attic.

When I’m writing out of season, there are a few basic things I keep in mind.

If it’s late September or October, the leaves will be changing colors and falling from the trees. For me, there’s a certain smell that accompanies autumn—A fresh, earthy scent. Pumpkins and Mums will embellish porches and flowerbeds.

In winter, the trees become bare and gray. The days are shorter. Brisk cold air freezes body parts. Geographically, the further North the story takes place, the colder and snowier the setting should be. Footsteps will sound a lot different traipsing along a snow-covered sidewalk in Vermont, versus a dry one in Florida.

When it’s a lovely spring day, and my heroine is having lunch at the park, she may hear children laughing and dogs barking. She may need to dodge an annoying bee flying around her sandwich. It’s spring! She needs to see flowers. Or at least feel sinus pressure. 🙂

Summer is going to be hot! If my hero and heroine are making out in his convertible during a scorching summer’s night, there will be perspiration. ALL OVER! Wish me luck making upper lip sweat sound sexy. Just kidding. I’ll leave that part out.

We need to be careful when we interweave the seasons in our settings. We need it to be believable without being bland or boring. So dear writers, if you find yourself struggling to write tangible descriptions and settings because it’s not the coordinating season, do your best to come up with aids to help you. Try what I did. Play music, light candles, drive your family insane. It’s fun!

Have any helpful hints to share on getting mentally prepared? I’d love to hear them.

Remember to Dream Big!



What We’re Reading Wednesday – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

WWRWI’m delving back a bit for this post and featuring a book I read several years ago for my book club, but recently re-read because…IT’S THAT WONDERFUL. Did you get that?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published in 2008 and was a #1 NY Times Bestseller. Mary Ann Shaffer, the author, died before it was published and her niece, Annie Barrows finished the book. Perhaps many of you have read this wonderful gem of a book, but if you haven’t, go do it and come back and thank me. (And you will!)

Here’s a blurb from Amazon:

“January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.”

Let me start by saying this book would be on my keeper shelf, but every time I buy a copy, I end up giving it away because I want someone else to experience its charm. Now it’s on my e-reader, and none of you can have it (nana-nana-boo-boo-pfffft!).

The story unfolds entirely in letters. And, not just between our heroine and hero (yes, there is a wonderful romance in there), but between our heroine and several inhabitants of the Guernsey Islands. In fact, I would say the love story is more than just between Juliet and her hero, but between Juliet and the entire island of Guernsey.

History buffs might know that the Guernsey Islands reside in the English Channel and were occupied by the Germans for most of WWII. I was surprised to learn this. The Germans believed Guernsey would be a staging point for their eventual invasion into England herself. It wasn’t. In fact, by D-Day, the island was cut off from German supply boats and Churchill refused to send food fearing the German soldiers would abscond with it all. The result was starvation all the way around.

One of the reasons I love this book is because it employs a variety of voices. At least ten different characters take voice through the letters, and they are all unique and fascinating. Juliet is a writer who had success writing satire during the war, but is on a search for a more meaningful subject. The first time I read this book, I was not yet an author myself. The second time I was and boy, I identified with Juliet even more.

I could imagine hugging this book to my chest and cuddling it to sleep…that’s how much I love this book. Have I sold you yet?


Let’s Draft!

Bad Girlz of the world, I have a new plan! I’m going to draft new manuscripts non-stop…forevaaaaaaa.

Now, I know what you’re going to say, “Um, E.Michels, haven’t you tried this before? I seem to recall 2 failed attempts at nanowrimo-like manuscript challenges on this very blog.” Right. You have a point. But, this is different. Sometimes when people talk about dieting, they refer to fad diets versus a lifestyle change. This is a lifestyle change, folks.

aerobics pic

Why this decision to change my lifestyle? Oh, there are reasons…

If you never stop drafting, there’s no painful return to the laptop. Writing really is a lot like exercise. You get rusty when you walk away for a long period of time. Then, it’s like the first week back in the gym after months of eating chips on the sofa—ouch! You’re sore, and miserable. You work all day and only write 500 words. Why put yourself through this agony? (And, I’m talking to myself here too since I took time off last year.)

Bad news is easier to accept when you’re knee deep in a different project. Whether it’s a rejection from your dream agent, a bad review, or disappointing sales, unfortunate news is much more palatable when it’s not your only iron in the fire. Being able to say to yourself, they may not like that one, but the one I’m working on now is awesome, will keep you sane. And, we’re Bad Girlz NOT crazy girlz, so try to stay sane. 😉

More drafts = More books = More readers. (We hope.) I don’t think writing careers are made from the writing of one book, with the exception of Gone with the Wind. Successful writing careers are the result of shelf space whether that shelf is digital or down the road at the Barnes and Noble.

What do we want? Lots of books! What should we avoid? Large gaps between releases! How do we get them? Write more drafts!

cheer pic

How do you keep drafting new books all the time?

Here are a few hints I’ve accumulated. If you have any other ideas, please add them to the comments, so that we can help one another to write more drafts.

Write first. I’ve heard before that we should drink our recommended (8) 8oz glasses of water for the day before we’re allowed any other drink. Although, this is totally logical, I think I might actually die without my coffee in the morning—for real. But, I do think the same is true for writing. It’s really easy to waste an hour of quality writing time settling into your desk, checking Facebook, replying to emails, etc. Don’t do this. Write first, then reward yourself with social media.

Plot in your free time. I’ve started working on my plot cards for the next book while sitting in the car rider line at the school. So, instead of losing a week or two to plotting the next book between drafts, I’m going to try to have the next story ready to go by the time I type The End on this one. Even if you don’t plot your books, there are still thoughts that go into the next story. So, think about it in your downtime while you’re wrapping up you current manuscript.

Get an accountability partner. Every day, Heather McGovern and I text word count numbers to one another. With these simple little texts, we encourage one another to push forward on the tough days as well as celebrate the good days. It helps. Thanks, McGovy!

Edit like it’s a really bad vacation. I know I shouldn’t even have the words edit and vacation in the same sentence, but bear with me for a minute…At most jobs, the longest you’re allowed to be away from your desk is 2 weeks. Edits happen. We know this. Therefore, give yourself 2 weeks “Off” to have one hell of a vacation with your edits before returning to writing new words.

Celebrate the milestones. Choose goals to celebrate along the way. Personally, I do a little dance around my office every 10,000 words. It sounds silly, but it helps prevent getting writer burn out.

Are you ready to draft all the time? Let’s chat about it.


The Balancing Act: One Writer’s Struggle to Get it Together

You may (wishful thinking) have read my blog post in which I pleaded to all my fellow bad girlz of the world for help on getting through a rough writing patch. And I mean ROUGH.  Well, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on all the wonderful advice I received, and try to get to the root of the problem.  I began a mission to figure out where it all went wrong.  Why wasn’t I able to write 5000 words again, at the kitchen table, the TV blaring, the kids fighting, and my husband giving me the stink eye?  Where was that Jenna P when I needed her to help me kick my writing drought’s ass?  I kept searching and searching for her, trying to figure out where she went.

But all I found was more stress.

Rather than successfully ignoring the mess around me, it compounded my stress.  I became frustrated with my family because they needed me to be a mom and a wife – imagine the nerve!  I became agitated with anything extra that popped up, because it was stealing away my writing time.  I resented anything that reminded me that I couldn’t do those things anymore.  And then by the time I actually had time to write – I was so worked up I couldn’t think straight.

And then…I’d do it all over again.

“They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result…”

From the song, Try It Again, by THE HIVES

 Well. Just call me The Hatter.

Suddenly it all made sense. Maybe it wasn’t getting better because I kept trying the same old things.  Maybe the same old things didn’t work anymore because I wasn’t the same old Jenna P.  Maybe I wasn’t the same old Jenna P anymore because my life required a different Jenna P.

Maybe it was time to rebalance my life.

So I literally sat down and began to make a list of all of my chores, commitments, interests, and wishes. And then I opened EXCEL and began trying to fit it all in to my calendar (Why, yes.  I AM an engineer!).  After this little exercise, two things became abundantly clear to me.

  1. It didn’t all fit.
  2. Thank God the old Jenna P was gone, because she wouldn’t have been able to deal.

Life is dynamic. Things change.  Our family’s needs change.  Our psyche’s change.  Our interests change. WE change.  What worked for us before might not work for us now.  No, the kitchen table wouldn’t do – I needed an office.  No, I couldn’t write in the evenings – I needed to write in the mornings.  No, I couldn’t write for hours straight anymore because I’m old and need to stretch my legs more.  No, I shouldn’t kill myself throughout the week to have Friday’s off to write, because I end up doing the laundry, housework, and errands I avoided in doing so.  No, I shouldn’t compare myself to my other writer friends, because our lives are completely different as are our commitments.

So, I created my own space (which we’ve moved a couple of times, but I think I finally found the most comfortable place). I started looking for a new job, which I think has been the biggest root of my issues.  Until that happens, I decided to work Fridays and go in at 9 instead through the week so I could write in the mornings (optimizing my time by eliminating rush hour traffic!).  I devoted my evenings to my family, so that I don’t feel like I’m constantly running behind.  I decided I simply couldn’t keep up the pace with many of my friends, so I needed to find a pace that worked for me.  And most importantly, I scheduled downtime, because nothing zaps creativity more than exhaustion.

Maybe I can’t write 5000 words a day anymore, but I’m okay with that. The important thing is that I’m writing, and if all I have time for is an hour a day – so be it.  Because that’s who I am RIGHT NOW.  When things change, I’ll figure out who I need to be THEN.

Jenna P.


Writing on a Deadline

Yep, you guessed it. While I’m writing this, I am on a deadline of epic proportions. The second book in my series from St. Martin’s Press, EXPOSED, is due in eleven days (not that I’m counting or anything). And, I’ll be honest, it’s freaking me out a little bit.

It’s a lot of pressure to be under, knowing you have to perform such a fickle task by a certain date, when all writers know sometimes the creative brain just doesn’t work that way.

I’ll also be honest and say this is when I perform the best.

I don’t know why it is that I can produce faster, better results when I have this looming date in front of me, but history doesn’t lie. I thrive on knowing I have to get something done by a certain time, that I have someone (or someones) waiting for me to finish my project. It holds me accountable in a way I’ve never been to replicate in any other way.

One thing, though, that I’ve found while being on deadline is that not everyone gets it. A lot of people assume a deadline for a book is just like any other deadline you might have in any number of jobs. And while, to some extent, that’s true, in most other jobs, you have a tangible duty to complete. Get this project done by this date. Redecorate this room by such and such. Sew this dress by next week. But in writing? How can you magically make ideas come when you need them? Sometimes they’re there and sometimes they’re not. And there’s not a whole lot you can do to coax something that doesn’t want to be there into showing itself.

But the one thing I’ve learned (through many drafts and many, many, many talks from other authors) is that you just need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, in my instance) and write something. Anything. Because at the end of the day, you can fix anything, make anything shinier, sparklier, prettier. Anything except a blank page.

So that’s what I’m doing now, while I’m counting down the days hours until my deadline. I’m writing whatever comes to mind, knowing I can always fix it, if need be.

How do you function while on a deadline? Does it help or hinder you? And if you do better on a deadline, how do you push through those days where you just stare blankly at that blinking cursor?


How Do You Bounce Back?

Resilience. Some people are naturally inclined to have it, others struggle. I’m here to tell you, if you’ve decided publication – of any kind – is your goal, you’re going to need it.

Resilience comes into play when you have to push through a rough part of your story, produce words when the words are being little bastards, bounce back after some hard truths from a critique partner, or when you get rejected by every agent in the universe – plus a few from the Delta quadrant. Then, even after you sign with an agent, there will be more rejection, in the form of passes from editors. Even after you sell to an editor or publish, guess what. You got it! You can still face rejection for other projects or in the form of low sales.

Aren’t I just a little ray of sunshine this morning? 😀 So, how does one conjure up the resilience to keep going in this brutal business? After bouncing back from a recent rejection, a friend asked me, “How are you so resilient?” It got me thinking.

Part of it is who I am; the life experiences and beliefs that come together to give me resilience. I don’t say this to throw rose petals at myself. In fact, I wish I could’ve skipped some of those life experiences, but it is what it is. It makes me ME. The other part of bouncing back is habit. I have some bounce back steps, and today, I’m going to share those steps with you.

Step 1: Digest the rejection, in whatever form it comes, and grieve. I mean it. Being upset, angry, hurt, resentful, envious – whatever the emotion, don’t fight it. Be honest with yourself because if you deny that you’re disappointed and feel like you got slapped in the face with a cold fish, it will eat you up inside.

Step 2: Wallow a little. This is your Big Black Moment, the part of your journey where all is lost. A pity party is to be expected. Eat some dessert, have wine. Have both together. Navel gaze. Beat yourself up, compare yourself to others, doubt everything you ever thought about yourself. Oh come on! You know you’re going to do it anyway. Own that sh*t! BUT, you are allowed no more than 48 hours of solo woe. It gets toxic very fast, so set a timer, grab some bon-bons, and make it count.

Step 3: Reach out to your people. Not just any people, because while your spouse or sibling is probably awesome, they aren’t going to understand this process. You need to talk to a writer friend who has been in the trenches too. Make sure they are wise and reasonable, not a hot mess who will lead you astray. Tell them what happened. Let them be upset with you and for you, and let them reassure you.

Step 4: Listen to their reassurances. Absorb it. You aren’t friends with dummies, so don’t be that guy who can’t take a compliment. Your pals know what they’re talking about. Let their words of wisdom soak in.

Step 5: Get over yourself. This is the hard part, but it’s time. You’ve had your moment of sad, now it’s time to dig deep and keep going. The black moment is over; it’s time to move toward your resolution. Focus on the facts. Look at the substantial takeaways from this experience. How can you improve? How can you grow? What can you learn from this? Take those lemons and make a lemon drop martini.

Step 6: Get out there and enjoy life. Do the things that make you happy, let the brain rest and renew. That is when ideas strike.

Step 7: Get your butt back in the chair, put your fingers on the keyboard and WRITE THE NEXT BOOK. This is the single most important step for any author, regardless of the issue. The soultion to 98% of every writer issues is Write. Keep writing. Then, write more. You will get better. Your voice will get stronger. You’ll find that hook or genre or magical formula that will put your story in front of readers. You will not move from where you are unless you keep writing, so go for it! Tell us the next story and start bouncing.

bouncy amy

What about you? What do you do to process rejection? Favorite indulgence when in woe? Any tips you’d like to share with the blog?


Meg Silver’s Fantasy Heights Series

WWRWThis week I’m recommending an erotic romance serial series by Meg Silver called Fantasy Heights. A word of warning here…these books are ridiculously hot. If you are offended by threesomes, bondage, voyeurism—Don’t read them.

But, if you like erotic romance, they’re a lot of fun. Each installment is a novella. The entirety of Season One (nine novellas!) is available as a box set, and Season Two is currently being released one by one. Thankfully, Ms. Silver is a fast writer, and there’s not much lag time between releases.

Meg Silver Box Set

Here’s a very brief description from Amazon:

“Season One: Jilted bank manager Amanda Tate discovers Fantasy Heights, a resort where sex and theater combine to fulfill its guests’ every fantasy. Hired as a low-bie performer, Amanda explores her sexual appetites with captivating coworkers and powerful clients. What could possibly go wrong?”

I would actually classify these as erotic romantic suspense. An underlying mystery threads through Season One and basically wraps up for our H/H, who do get an HEA at the end of S1, by the way. Season Two kicks off with a related mystery and a new heroine/hero. Although, be warned, sex has nothing to do with love in either series.

If I ruminate on the premise of the series offline, I’ll admit it’s a bit farfetched (I don’t want to say too much and give it away). However, the concept doesn’t bother me a bit while I’m reading them. I totally buy it. And, isn’t that the mark of a great writer? She sucks me into her characters’ world very effectively. While I’m on the subject, let me say that I really appreciate Ms. Silver’s voice. Her writing is crisp and descriptive without veering into purple. The books are written third person single POV of the heroine.

At the time I’m writing this recommendation, Book One of Season One, Help Wanted is free on Amazon. Also, Ms. Silver self-publishes her books, and her website is chock-full of great info for writers thinking about self-publishing. Whether you’re into erotic romance or not, she has a tutorial of handling and uploading files for the self-publishing. Check her out at

I’m normally not a serial romance fan, but I really enjoyed these and now would be a good time to binge read Season One! Hope you enjoy…


Moonlight & Magnolias 2014

This past weekend, most of the Bad Girlz attended Georgia Romance Writers’ annual conference: Moonlight & Magnolias (M&M for short). It’s always a favorite, with great workshops, pitch opportunities, warm atmosphere, familiar faces and a kickin’ awards ceremony and dance party the final night. The conference was Awesome! You can see from the pictures below, good times were had, learning moments and epiphanies were shared, but most importantly, there was a lot of quality writer time and good-for-the-ole-mental-health socializing. 😀

M&M technically begins on Friday morning, but most writers arrive Thursday to register, check-in, etc. We have absolutely NO pictures from Thursday, so let that lend credence to how hectic and FUN that first day is. It’s like a giant writer reunion!

Friday starts at 9am with workshops and pitch appointments. Our very own Jeanette Grey led a workshop on building an author website using WordPress (she’s our BadGirl tech guru too). Many of us attended, and all of us were too engrossed to take pictures. Trust us, she oozed technical authority, and looked MARVELous while doing so.

Next up was Frances Fowlkes’ workshop on historical fashion, from the inside out. She made over half of the outfits herself and everything was historically accurate, right down to the under garments. You’ll have to take our word on it. How great do they look all dressed up though?!?


From left to right, Sydney Carroll in Regency, Jeanette Grey in Victorian, Chudney Thomas in Edwardian, and Frances herself in 1920s.


Some attending Bad Girlz, in modern dress, with the models. I think we all agreed that we’re happy to be 21st century women.

Lunch featured the GRW speaker: Wendy Wax with a humorous and encouraging talk about the life of a writer and the people who are on this journey with you.


Speaking of modern 21st century women, Jeanette, Heather and Fran went with a futuristic and heroic theme for the day. Marvel, Star Trek, and Star Wars. The trifecta of fangirling!

Once the first day, chock full of information and activities, is over, there’s time for dinner and socializing on your own. We made dinner reservations at a nice restaurant and the Scorpion Bowl happened.


At its core, it’s a rum punch, but with a disinctive mid-century Polynesian-inspired flair. And sting! That little part in the middle? That’s the volcano of Bacardi 151. There was volcanic flame and some Nigerian funk music. Idek, but it was epic. For details, contact Sydney Carroll, our queen of all things entertaining & obscure.


This may become a conference tradition.


JennaP & McGovy at dinner.


Cheers to the Bad Girlz!


Group picture!

Saturday, Elizabeth Michels & Heather McGovern led their workshop on mastering the Big Black Moment. There were wands and Disney clips, but regretably, no tap dancing. Workshops filled the rest of the morning and lunch included an uplifting keynote speech by Marie Force. The afternoon offered more workshops, editor/agent panels, and Marie’s panel. That evening was the Maggie’s Awards Dinner and After Party. We were much better about taking pictures on the last night. 🙂


Group picture with Killion Group’s cover model, Sergei.


Our group shot that’s equal parts pageant elbows, cheerleading stance, sorority shot and rushing to take a pic before the ceremony begins. We tried! 😀


Jeanette & Brighton looking fabulous.


Robin & Lori are dazzling. #selfie


McGovy & EMichels getting their fancy on.

That’s just about it for Moonlight & Magnolias 2014. One last thing, we did a raffle basket for GRW’s literacy fundraiser. Someone won it, but we have no idea who. Whoever you are, congratulations and we hope you enjoy! 🙂

See you in Atlanta next year!!!



Man Candy Monday: The British Invasion

In celebration of  GRW’s upcoming Moonlight & Magnolias conference, I thought today would be a great day for some Man Candy. Also, the Bad Girlz are taking this week off to attend Moonlight & Magnolias, so why not leave some hotness up for the whole week?!

This list is in no particular order (if I had to pick a fave upon threat of death, I’d say…yes, please!) and is not meant to be comprehensive. There are way too many British hotties for me to cover them all. I’m leaving some off the table intentionally because I know other BGs who are bigger fans and may want to do a list of their own (*ahem* I’m looking at you Jeanette and Syd. *ahem*). I’m also not including any Scottish hotties. They’re in a league of their own, amirite? All of these fellas are true Brits and, admittedly, sort of the same ilk. What can I say? A type, I have it. And I’m not even sorry.

First up…



armitage1Y’all have seen him as Mr. Thornton in North & South, right? Right, Fran?! Smouldering, swoony Richard even makes being a Middle Earth dwarf sexy. *looks around for fainting couch*




Bear Grylls. No other name is more suited for this man. Former British SAS, survivalist and all around energetic outdoorsman, Bear is who you want with you when you intentionally get lost in the woods. Plus he likes to hang out topless with Zac Efron, so it’s all good.




Admittedly not my usual type, I became a fan of Hiddles after seeing him as Loki. He was such a precious little shit, I loved him even though I hated him. In real life, he seems like the kind of gentleman you can’t believe is real and he dances.



idris 2

He’s also a Marvel alum, but I first saw him as Luther on BBC America. That voice! That accent! That bod! He oozes cool confidence and charm. Where is his next leading role??? There’s talk of him as the next Bond and…

give it to me




Speaking of Bond…He’s contracted for one more and I cannot wait. Daniel is the only blondie on my list, but man! What a blondie?! I love him as James Bond. He brings something to the role that others didn’t. There’s a brutality to his Bond, but also a painful vulnerability, lying just beneath the surface. I’m such a sucker for the imperfect tough guy with a soft spot, and he nails roles like that. Plus that iconic bathing suit scene. Thank you powers that be, for finally giving us bikini Bond in what is typically a Bond Girl scenario.


tom 3


Look, another Tom! I’ll keep this short because this Tom has been on my list before, and probably will be again. That’s because he’s Tom and it’s my list, I can do what I want. 🙂 He’s one hell of an actor and an activist. By all accounts, he’s just a good guy. Plus, THOSE LIPS!!!body is ready



andrew 2

I first saw Andrew Lincoln in Love, Actually. I thought he was cute, but that was it. Then, along came Rick Grimes and The Walking Dead. I blame my Rick crush on the zombies and bad humans. They’ve taken well-meaning dad, good guy deputy Rick and turned him into an untrusting, hard-hearted, harsh, take-no-prisoners protecter and I LOVE IT! He is down for his small family of survivors and everybody else better keep on moving. The last two episodes of last season had me jumping around the living room, screaming at the television. OMG is it October 12th yet?!?!




Last on my list is relative new comer, Aaron. He’ll play Quicksilver in the upcoming Avengers movie (I know, I know. Marvel. What?! Like you don’t know me by now…) Daaayum, the man looks good in a tank top… *___* What was I saying? Oh yeah, he’s a tall drink of water who will be in Age of Ultron, was in Godzilla, and has legs that go on for days. He’s also married to a woman more than 20 years his senior, and he took her last name of Taylor to make the Taylor Johnson. I, for one, think that’s hot.

So there you have it. A quick list of hotties from across the pond. Enjoy the Man Candy while we’re away! And start working on a Brit list of your own!


The Big Hook

Several of the Bad Girl posts to our former selves have been philosophical musings ranging from the torture of waiting to how it gets harder to how we get better. I’m going to focus on something tangible that nearly lost me the chance at an agent and a publishing deal.


Two and half years ago, when I set down in front of a blank page to write my first book, not only did I not know I needed a hook, I had no idea this elusive hook thing existed. Even now, six books and two publishing contracts later, searching for The Big Hook feels a little like getting dumped out in the middle of nowhere on a snipe hunt.

ronweasleypanicWhen I was brainstorming ideas for my first book, I took the advice ‘Write What You Love to Read’. I love Regencies, so why not write one? Several that I loved revolved around Regency spies, so why not write about that? (The other implied lesson here is that if you are reading a bunch of books about X, then X will most likely be played out by the time you finish your masterpiece. Just sayin’…)

My first two Regencies did well on the unpublished contest circuit. They both finaled in the Golden Heart® in 2014. But, even though (I think) they are quite good, my agent almost passed on them and me. Her biggest criticism had nothing to do with my plotting, my characters, or my craft. No, my books lacked the dreaded BIG HOOK.

When I refer to a hook, I’m not talking about an opening line, or the last line in a chapter. I’m talking about what’s unique about your book or series. How you can sell your book and make it stand out in the crowd.

There are four books in my Regency series. I wrote all of them in a vacuum. They connect, sometimes loosely, through characters not concept. My awesome agent Kevan Lyon signed me but issued a warning. She wasn’t sure she could sell my books, because they were difficult to pitch. Honestly, I think she signed me based on my potential to produce salable books and not on these two books in particular.

Don’t ask me for an elevator pitch of my Regency series unless we’re headed to the penthouse of the Petronas Towers. I can’t sum up the series in a concise, hooky fashion. I got lots of editor rejections because (are you catching on?) my book series didn’t “hook” them.

Luckily, I found an editor who loves my stories and characters enough to overlook my lack of a hook. But, when the editor and I discussed what to name the series…I was stumped. We eventually settled on SPIES AND LOVERS even though Book 4 (which I hope she’ll eventually contract:) has nothing to do with Spies. Do you see what I did to myself through my ignorance of the marketplace?

My strength is the ability to learn from my mistakes. I’ll continue to make mistakes, but not the same ones, dang it. So, when it came time to brainstorm my next series, a contemporary this time, I set the series in a small Alabama town. The heroes of the trilogy would be the coaches of a high school football team seeking redemption. My hook was small town Southern football. (Cue the halleluiah chorus!) I framed my hook as Friday Night Lights meets Steel Magnolias. It’s common and useful to cross two popular movies to describe your series. It took nine months to sale my Regencies. This series sold in four weeks. That’s the difference a hook can make.

Yet another level to this whole thing exists. (Cue the groans!) My series has a hook but is it High Concept? Unfortunately, I don’t think it is. Here’s a good definition of High Concept. High Concept is even more elusive than The Big Hook, but if you can corral it, I will envy you.

Although, I did manage to get my Regency books contracted, I will always keep The Big Hook in mind when starting new projects. You could have stellar writing and an engaging plot but have difficulty selling your project to an agent or editor without a hook.

How about that advice ‘Write what you love to read’? Sure, but do it with your head in the game and with your eyes open to the marketplace, especially if you are going after a traditional deal.

And now, as a reward for reading my post, and because I’m watching The Voice, I give you…



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