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September 2015

In Honor of #GRWMM15…

Have you ever attended a writers’ conference?

This Thursday I leave home to go to Georgia Romance Writers’ annual conference, Moonlight and Magnolias. M&M was the first writers’ conference I ever attended, and this will be my 5th trip to Atlanta for the event. Do you want to know a poorly kept secret? I can’t wait!

My wardrobe has been planned for weeks, and in my mind I’m already packing my bag. Why am I so excited about this trip? First, writer conferences are great! You get out from behind your computer screen long enough to connect with other writers, meet industry professionals, and learn a few things about craft and the business along the way. There are many posts on this blog and others about the benefits and importance of conferences, but for me, this one is special.

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Moonlight and Magnolias Writers’ Conference is where my career began and every year it promises new adventures with wonderful people that keep me smiling and writing until the next year’s event.

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My first trip to M&M was in 2011. It was held in a hotel that was about to close for a huge construction project and we were to be the last guests. Sure there were complications because of that, but there was also a spirit that it was the last day of existence so life better be enjoyed. And enjoy it, we did! It was there in the pitch room that I met my agent, Michelle Grajkowski. I gave her the much rehearsed pitch for Must Love Dukes and she asked to read it. I was over the moon with excitement, yet shocked that my dreams might be coming true. Actually, I’m pretty sure that one of the Bad Girlz told me I looked like I’d been zapped with a cattle prod when I walked out of the pitch room that day. *grins*

The next night, after we’d dried our eyes from Eloisa James’ tear-jerking and amazing keynote speech, we put on our fancy dresses and attended the Maggie Awards Dinner.

My roomie, Heather McGovern, was nominated for a Maggie Award and we happened to be seated at one of the nominee tables near the front of the room with Trish Milburn, who won her category, and her agent, Michelle Grajkowski. The entire evening was meant to be. Not only did we meet Trish that night, but we also met Tanya Michaels, not knowing that one day they would both join us as Bad Girlz. We partied like rock stars and got the nickname of the fun table. Michelle and I ended the evening with hugs after everyone got down on the dancefloor. It was magic.

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The next year when I went to Moonlight and Magnolias I was celebrating the beginning of my career, representation from my awesome agent who I’d met the year before and my first book deal from Sourcebooks. I owe so much to the stars aligning over M&M that first time I attended, and every year brings more excitement and adventure. On this trip to the conference, Sydney Carroll and Tanya Michaels are nominated for a Maggie Awards, and the Bad Girlz get to reclaim a table at the front of the room—the new fun table. In addition to that, Heather McGovern and I volunteered to coach writers before they go into the pitch room and help them with their pitches. I hope this weekend we can offer them a little bit of the magic that can be found at Moonlight and Magnolias. If you see me there this weekend, come and say hello! I love to meet Bad Girlz of the World. 🙂

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What’s your favorite memory from a conference? Or if you haven’t tried a writers’ conference yet, what are you looking forward to the most?

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Tackling Tough Topics

This has been on my mind lately, as my latest WIP (okay…ALL my WIPs) combats a pretty tough topic.  How do I define tough topics?  Well, to me it’s all the things we don’t like to think about, but hear about on a daily basis.  Abuse, rape, childhood obesity, incest, a child’s passing (particularly if foul play is involved), mass shootings, murder/suicides, bullying, and whatever else makes you uncomfortable.

Even if we don’t like to think about them, these things happen.  For us as writers, they can make for some intense plots and intriguing characters when presented the right way.  But it’s a risky move that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Here are some tips on how to walk the line between inappropriate and thought-provoking.

Know the boundaries of your genre and your audience.

Not everything goes in every genre, and what is acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.  I was once rejected by a romance publisher because my heroine was involved in an extramarital affair.  Call it women’s fiction, and you’re more likely to get some bites.  The same goes for your target audience.  It wasn’t so long ago that having sex or drug use in a book intended for teens was taboo, so know your limits and re-evaluate them often.

Lighten it up, but don’t be too light.

Some topics are pretty heavy, so be sure to relieve your readers’ emotions at points throughout your story.  One way is to add a secondary character that’s a little corky (some writers call this the jester).  His/her main purpose in the novel is to lighten the mood, but this character can also play a role in the plot.

Be careful not to make it too airy, however.  Jokes and silliness can easily look like poking fun if you’re not careful.  I walked that line in my last manuscript with a mentally ill main character.  His sickness, by nature, made him corky, so I had to be sure I wasn’t discrediting the seriousness of it with his actions.

Go All In

Don’t breeze past the hard stuff.  If you’re going to tackle a tough topic, then do it.  All in.  No holds barred. Otherwise, your reader may feel cheated, and your character won’t feel real.

The hardest scene I’ve ever had to write was a flashback to when my M.C. found his young infant dead.  As a mom, it KILLED me to write this.  But I knew I had to and I knew I had to do it well, otherwise the gravity of the situation wouldn’t be felt.

“Happy” is a relative term.

This, to me, is the problem with happily-ever-afters.  Sometimes, things just don’t end happily.  Sometimes, redemption and growth is all you can hope to get from a story.  It’s never going to be rosy and perfect for a mother who has lost a child, because she doesn’t have her child.  The goal shouldn’t be to make her happy…the goal should be to grow her into a person that can live her life despite her incredible loss.

Let your readers decide how they feel about the topic.

This one can be hard, particularly if you feel strongly about an issue.  Readers don’t want to be told how they should feel.  They want to see all the sides and form their own opinion.  You can certainly lead them to a path, but make sure they’re the ones who choose to step on it.  Otherwise, you may lose them.

Remember, no matter how careful you are or how hard you try, someone is still bound to get offended or decide not to buy your book.

Same goes for agents and editors.  I once queried an agent who rejected me because she couldn’t bring herself to read about a child dying.  Doesn’t mean I didn’t present it right, or that it wasn’t a great book.  It just meant that this particular agent, for whatever reason, couldn’t read about that topic.  Perhaps she had been through something similar, or was pregnant at the time.  On the flip side, maybe your book will convince a parent to spend less time at work and more time with their child.

Bottom line, tough topics are harder to write and harder to get published, but the payoff can be huge if it’s done right.  Hopefully these suggestions will get you on the path to making it great.

What are some other strategies that have worked for you?

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Lessons From The Corporate World

I’m going through leadership training at my day job. It’s pretty awesome because it’s all about Women in Leadership, less focused on our particular industry, more focused on how to be a leader in anything we do. As I sat listening to a panel of corporate hot shots this summer, some of the advice struck me as particularly helpful for authors and I wanted to share it with y’all.

1. Have a personal brand and a brand strategy.  As an author, specifically, this means figuring out your branding. The big things like: Are you a cozy southern mystery author? Sexy contemporary romance with wry wit? Deep and thoughtful YA? Maybe you’re sexy YA romance author who is deep and thoughtful. It may take a few books or your publisher to help you nail it down, but eventually, you’ll know your particular brand.

Once you know your brand, develop a strategy. If your books are steamy, your book covers should reflect that. Whether you’re indie or traditional, consider your brand and communicate with your cover artist. When they give you the form to fill out for art details, be detailed. If your humorous, share your humor on social media. If your books are adventurous and fun, it doesn’t hurt to be fun at a conference. From your online behavior, to how you appear at events and reader meet and greets, YOU are your brand.

In even greater terms, your personal brand means important things like: Your reputation for professionalism, your public persona, your business ethic. Are you genuine and polite or is it super obvious to everyone that you use people merely to get ahead? Are you easy to work with and dedicated or do you complain about everything, to anyone who will listen? All of this is part of your brand too. You think the good or bad word about your behavior doesn’t get around? You know it does.

2. “I am where I am because of all the promotions I didn’t get, all of the things that didn’t happen. Now I see, the rejection led to my success.”

This came from the head of a national department, but it hit home with me as a writer. The jobs she didn’t get only made her work harder. She kept going, kept trying, and as a result, ended up with a plethora of experience that made her a top executive. As writers, I think we face a hell of a lot more rejection than other industries. But we can take the closed doors and criticism, and use it to push us harder. Keep writing, keep trying. You will only get better. If one path to publishing is closed, go for another one. That is where you could find success. No one ever grew stronger because their path was easy. You gain strength when the going gets tough.

3. Three things will lead you to your definition of success, regardless of what it may be:

a) Believe in yourself. 

b) Find your voice and help others find theirs. Opportunities to speak, lead, teach, mentor, volunteer, moderate, serve on a committee – all of these are a form of helping out and networking. Once you have a clue what you’re doing, get out there so you can help others and meet people. In teaching, we learn and serving we are served. This pretty much goes for every aspect of life. Our time is limited, but we can always volunteer to do our share.

c) Enjoy the ride! Otherwise, this journey gets to be a real drag. There will always be somewhere else to go or something else to do, that next book deadline looming on the horizon, but pause every now and then to take note of how far you’ve come. Pat yourself on the back for the improvements and face palm at the failures. Get together with your writer people and celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. Rent that confetti canon, if for no other reason than just once in life you want to fire off a freaking confetti canon!

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I hope some of these points speak to you. They certainly did to to me. The business side of writing can be pretty nuts, and quickly become overwhelming, but when I think of it in terms of any other business, and how I’d conduct myself and my reactions, it helps me manage the madness. 😀

Write on!

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The Agony of Shipping and Cancellation

In an effort to clear off at least some space on my TiVo before the new season of shows begin airing, I’ve been trying to catch up on the loads of shows that I have recorded and that taunt me every time I turn on my TV.

FYI, this post has spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen Covert Affairs and thinks they might want to, especially the final two seasons. You’ve been warned.

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Episode 309 "Suffragette City" -- Pictured: (l-r) Piper Perabo as Annie Walker, Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson  -- (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/USA Network)

COVERT AFFAIRS — Episode 309 “Suffragette City” — Pictured: (l-r) Piper Perabo as Annie Walker, Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson — (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/USA Network)

Most recently, I caught up on what ended up being the final season of Covert Affairs. I’ve loved this show and the characters of Annie and Auggie, fellow CIA operatives, since the first episode. Both have gone through various romantic relationships before, finally, in the fourth season these two, who are perfect for each other, finally acted on a mutual attraction that grew out of one of the best friendships on TV. My inner fangirl delighted in this, anxiously awaiting each new episode. And then a bad thing happened. The writers broke them up.

Okay, Trish, don’t freak out. I have to believe that the writers have Annie and Auggie as the endgame. How could they not? Even when the fifth season started and the storylines took Auggie toward one of his exes, Tash, (who I didn’t particularly like), and Annie toward a new love, Ryan, (which, oddly, I did), I still believed that something would happen and Annie and Auggie would find their way back to each other.

And then another bad thing happened. The show was cancelled after its fifth season, about the same time as another favorite on the same network, White Collar, was also cancelled. We are left hanging at the end of the season with Auggie, having left the CIA, to travel the world with Tash, and Annie considering (and seeming to decide to accept, based on her final facial expression) a marriage proposal from Ryan. Aside from the obvious frustration that we won’t be able to see how this would have all played out, the worst part is I feel the writers just erased much of the romantic attraction between these two as if it were just a passing flirtation. I couldn’t quite buy that in one season they’re obviously in love and in a lovely relationship and then when they meet up at the beginning of the next season, after several months of not seeing each other, it’s just gone and they’re both okay with that. WTH?! (Trish’s inner fangirl and writer is screaming.)

This isn’t the first time that I’ve wished that when a show starts, all the parties involved knew how long the show would last and thus the various arcs, including the romantic ones, could be planned accordingly and offer the viewers who stick with a show and are invested in those relationships (or ‘ships) the payoff they deserve. It would be so much better for the storytelling, and it would avoid fangirl frustration and anger (i.e. Trish wouldn’t still be angry days after watching the final episode).

Have you ever been angered by lack of resolution of a ‘ship you follow on a show when the show was cancelled before it could be resolved? FYI, I’m still mad about Firefly and how we never got to see Mal and Inara become a couple. Grrr. And I was looking forward to seeing an eventual relationship between Riley and Gabriel on last year’s Intelligence, but some boobhead decided to cancel it after one season, too. Grr, again.

So, fellow shippers, tell me your stories of woe from the land of Shiplandia.

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Oops, Plot Screwed Me Again

Our current theme here at the Bad Girlz blog is an element of writing that we habitually screw up. In that spirit, I have a confession to make: Hello, my name is Tanya Michaels and I can’t plot worth a damn.

Plot is a verb (planning out your story) and a noun (the events that drive your story). I suck at both of them. When it comes to “planning,” I’m not so much linear as reactive.
Tanya vs. Plotting:

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Part of my problem is that I have never written a book where events truly drive the story , although they may be a catalyst. What drives my stories are the characters and their relationships with each other. My books are not full of plot twists no one saw coming or fast-paced action sequences. A definition on my daughter’s recent homework called plot “the interrelated events that make up the backbone of a story.” Interrelated sounds so much more purposeful than “this scene seemed like a good idea at three in the morning, so I went with it.”

Now the good news is, after forty-plus books I am getting better, but plotting is still my vulnerable spot. There comes a point in the middle of every single book where I think, “There’s no way I can possibly meet the publisher’s word count because this book has no plot.” I am working to improve the plot element. But in the meantime, I also have interesting characters, relatable situations, great dialogue, a sense of humor and, in my Harlequin Blazes/Lila Bell novellas, very hot love scenes. (Weirdly, Lila is a better plotter than Tanya, with stories including assassins and magic and vengeance, but she cheats because writing in a paranormal world gives a writer so many more options. Plus, Lila’s stories are shorter.)

On the bright side, I think many romance readers are specifically looking for stories of emotional journey (and, often, sexual chemistry). But plenty of talented romance authors balance both relationship and plot. My favorite Jennifer Crusie novel Faking It has secret identities, art forgery and at least two romantic subplots besides the main characters. Arson! Murder! Con jobs! A drag show! In contrast, the plot of my Harlequin American Romance novel Her Cowboy Hero is: widowed man with bad people skills is hired by a single mom to make an inherited ranch habitable. That’s it. That’s the whole plot. (You don’t even want to know about my book Mother To Be, in which the entire story is a forty-year-old woman discovers she’s pregnant and spends nine months trying to adjust to the idea of motherhood. Riveting, isn’t it? And, yet, both my critique partner and my agent say that it was one of my best books. Go figure.)

In the twelve years since my first book was released, I’ve learned a few things, which I now share with you in the hopes that they help you with plot or whatever other writing demon you’re wrestling.

First, make friends with your skillset. This does not mean settle or stop trying to improve. But why shoot yourself in the foot? I am not a natural-born plotter, which hasn’t hindered me from selling more than forty books…but it might have if I’d spent all these years trying to write romantic suspense with complicated storylines. Try to find a market/audience that suits your natural voice and talents. If, for instance, you’re uncomfortable writing love scenes, don’t target an erotic romance imprint. If you struggle to finish any manuscript over 50,000 words without losing momentum, maybe don’t try to sell a 120,000 epic fantasy. (This might sound intuitive, but you’d be surprised. Some people will attempt a certain type of story because they have a misconception of what they should be writing or because they’ve heard that type of story will sell faster.)

The inverse of acknowledging your writing weaknesses is, exploit the hell of your strengths. I love creating characters, so my plan of attack is to shape plots that emerge from who the hero and heroine are. In my October Blaze If She Dares (:cough: available for pre-order now! :cough:), there’s a totally logical sequence of escalating events that resemble a plot. Go, me! The heroine, who was held at gunpoint in her own home months before the story started, has become a nervous, fearful person and she hates feeling that way. She wants to rediscover the bold, free-spirited person she used to be…and her sexy next door neighbor wants to help. They start an ongoing game of double-dare that starts off innocently enough but progresses to nude portraits and semi-public sexual encounters. It was great fun to write and the momentum of their dares (and their escalating relationship) kept the story moving forward. In addition to characters, I usually do a good job with dialogue, so while the events that take place in my books are rarely gasp-inducing, the characters’ observations about said events are usually pretty entertaining.

In addition to understanding your strengths and weaknesses, one of the most important things you can do to hone your craft is read. Read, read, read. Then go write some stuff, then read some more. I don’t think all the how-to writing books in the world can take the place of reading authors who handle an element really well (be it plot, sexual tension, pacing, etc.) I particularly advocate re-reading a book you loved so that you can analyze what worked. (The first time I read a Kresley Cole romance novel, for instance, I am 100% swept up in the awesomeness of the story. It’s not until I read it a second or third time that I can start to deconstruct why it’s so awesome. And she’s a great study in balancing emotion with action sequences. Her paranormal beings are often falling in love while escaping prisons, traveling through dimensions, and battling ghouls. )

Maybe one day I’ll get so good at plot that I’ll write an epic action sequence worthy of starring a Chris.

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Honorable mention:

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What? No, you’re just posting gratuitous pics.

ANYWAY. For now, I’m going to keep writing the best quiet action scenes I can—a physical therapist helping a patient relearn how to walk, a man who lost his son building a treehouse for a little boy who’s worked his way into the grieving father’s heart, a woman looking at a pregnancy test and trying to balance joyful awe and sheer terror. Maybe I can’t plot worth a damn, but I can still do my best to write damn good books.

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Alex, What is All the Things?

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Cat fails are the best fails.

So this month’s topic is that thing I always screw up. Honest to goodness, at some point I think I have screwed up every possible thing. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

  • Write in the wrong genre–Check–I have a paranormal with a decidedly less than alpha hero, a western historical romance that you’re never allowed to see, and I once wrote wrote a book specifically for Harlequin that had a mortician as the hero.
  • Stuck foot in mouth in front of VIP–Check–I don’t know where to start with this one. My foot lives in my mouth. I’ve almost fainted dead away in a PRO workshop out of fatigue (after a 13 hour day on 3 hours of sleep) only to be accused of being drunk, introduced myself to Catherine Coulter as if I were a somebody, and got lost while driving an editor from the airport to Moonlight & Magnolias. Ah, fun times.
  • Turn in my first AND SECOND manuscripts without page numbers–Check
  • Send my manuscript in the body of an email because an editor/agent requested a partial but said no attachments–Check.
  • Toss out all critique info because my critique partner made one comment I didn’t agree with–Check–In my defense that was my first attempt at critiquing. I was young and stupid.
  • Damned homophones and word repetition–Check–why do I have trouble with this?
  • Not have business cards on my person–Check–I finally corrected by this by solemnly

    I love my Granny, but I do NOT love that mullet. And what is up with the splayed fingers? Just the thought of this picture makes me want to go make sure I have business cards in all of the pertinent places.

    vowing that any time I needed a business card and didn’t have one, I would have to post an unflattering photo of myself.

What I’m hoping you can see here is that you can make some pretty big mistakes and still get the job done. The problem comes from willfully repeating the same mistakes over and over again or from being unkind or arrogant. I think it’s much harder to recover from the last two in particular. Heaven knows, I’m not perfect, but I try to be kind and humble and easy to work with. Like many writers I’m neurotic enough that I doubt I always succeed, but I try.

I do have to say there’s one problem that keeps cropping up again and again in my work, and it’s the one I can’t ignore: I avoid conflict like crazy. Every first draft I’ve ever written doesn’t have enough of it. Even now, I’m revising book three and guess what? Not enough conflict. The seeds are there, but the draft I turned in danced around the possible conflict points because I actually like my characters. I want the best for them. I forget that I have to put them in the crucible and burn off the dross so we–and they–can see their finer points.

I win_emperors

Keep on keepin’ on, and all you’ll do is win.

So, I guess what I’m saying in a rather round about sort of way is that there are so many things you can screw up, but the good news is that almost none of them are fatal. Tell a great story, do your best to be a hard worker, and be kind. Kick any sort of professional jealousy to the curb, and good things will come your way with patience and perseverance.

 

 

P.S. I just moderated a panel with Meg Cabot, Robyn Carr, and Kristan Higgins. They each agreed with something I’ve just learned the hard way: whatever manuscript you think is crap is actually golden. Whatever manuscript you think is awesome? Actually needs a crap-ton of work. –Check–NYT, here I come?

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Getting Down and Dirty…with Sentence Mechanics

You thought this was going to be fun and sexy for a hot second, didn’t you?  Sorry to disappoint, but this is important! I want to save you hours of rewrites down the road. If you’ve gone through the editing process with a good editor, this post might not apply, but if you haven’t–or maybe even if you have– then pull up a chair…

boredI’m going to talk about two bad habits I am still learning to shake—Autonomous body parts (Abp’s) and Simultaneous actions (SA). I’ve learned these abbreviations by heart because I saw them so much in the editing process. I still struggle with this in my first drafts, but at least now I can recognize and fix them before shipping them off to my editors.

Some of you are shaking your head and tutting because you learned this in your Creative Writing classes or English 101. I was an engineering major—which means I can pretty much plug every logical plot hole in my manuscript, but I was never taught the intricacies of grammar beyond what I learned in high school. My Samhain editor (that poor, patient, saintly woman) has taught me so much I dedicated my second historical to her. No lie.

It wasn’t until I received first round edits on my first historical, An Indecent Invitation, that I recognized the true extent of my issues with Abp’s (Side note: BadGirl Heather had very gently pointed out this problem in a novella she read for me, and I had half-heartedly started to break myself of the habit then. Listen to your CPs!). My editor had almost no plot-type changes for me to make, but I had Abp’s everywhere, especially during sexy times, and it led to some serious re-writes. It stemmed from an earnest, new writer desire not to start too many sentences with He/She, which certainly is something a writer should avoid, but it led me into other mistakes.cpine hands

  • Autonomous Body Parts are basically when parts of the body act with no oversight from the person. The easiest way to recognize Abp’s is with examples. Everything here is from An Indecent Invitation. Are they the best examples? Are they how you would write/rewrite them? Maybe not. I just want to illustrate what Abp’s are and ways to fix them.

Example 1: Simple fix of two Abp’s

Not good: Her head tilted back and her eyes closed with a small hum of pleasure.

Better: She tilted her head back and closed her eyes with a small hum of pleasure.

Example 2: Here’s one where all sorts of Abp’s came out to play…

Not good: He rolled her to her back and notched a leg between hers. His tongue flicked her parted lips, and she opened willingly. She explored the width of muscles through his damp lawn shirt. His questing tongue skimmed her teeth and rubbed shamelessly against hers. Her hands battled his shirt, trying in vain to pull it out of his breeches and up.

Better: He rolled her to her back and notched a leg between hers. He flicked her parted lips with his tongue, and she opened willingly. She explored the width of muscles through his damp lawn shirt while their tongues played. His shirt became her nemesis as she tried in vain to pull it out of his breeches and up.

*Notice how eliminating the Apb’s forces you to tighten prose and/or find more interesting ways to phrase things to avoid a litany of He/She’s.

Two caveats—because every rule in the English language has to have exceptions, right?—is instinctive/visceral reactions and using Abp’s outside of POV.

Example: Instinctive/visceral reaction

She stroked him, and his hips jerked.

In my opinion, when it’s a response that doesn’t involve conscious thought, I like Apb’s. I think it would sound weird, with “…he jerked his hips” substituted in this case. But, there’s lots of wiggle room here, and it really depends on your style (or maybe your editor’s style.)

Example: Rarely, I’ll use Abp’s when describing a non-POV character’s movements.

His hand inched closer to her hiding spot. Black dirt caked his fingernails.

Again, this is my opinion, but making his hand autonomous in this case lends the scene a dread that saying… “He moved his hand closer…” doesn’t quite impart.

  • Moving on! Simultaneous Actions (SA) are another of my weaknesses. I fell into this bad habit to avoid starting too many sentences with He/She as well. Generally, this is all about using an -ing clause at the start of a sentence.

Example 1:

Not good: Slipping off his sodden coat, he sat in the nearest chair to pull of his dirt-caked boots.

Better: He slipped off his sodden coat and sat in the nearest chair to pull of his dirt-caked boots.

Can you slip a coat off while sitting? Debatable. Cleaner to connect with a conjunction.

Example 2: Can’t push and pull at the same time…

Not good: Pushing her dress down to ride on her hips, he pulled at the laces of her stays.

Better: He pushed her dress down to ride on her hips and pulled at the laces of her stays.

Example 3: Don’t be afraid to link more than two actions…

Not good: Dressing quickly, he flipped the sash up and climbed onto the narrow ledge.

Better: He dressed quickly, flipped the sash up and climbed onto the narrow ledge.

*You could slip in an “After dressing quickly…” but I think it’s cleaner to link with conjunctions. Especially when it’s something simple you’re trying to convey. I need my hero dressed and gone. That’s it. No need to get fancy.

Example 4: Here’s a super messy sentence that could qualify for Abp’s and SA’s and a dangling participle to boot.

Not good: Spinning her legs off his, only his banded arm at her waist kept her seated.

Better: She spun her legs off his and tried to stand, but his arm at her waist kept her seated.

Maybe even better: She spun her legs off his and tried to stand, but he kept her on his lap with a strong arm around her waist.

*The Better fix in what is in the book, but if I could go back…

Slipping in an occasionally Abp or SA is okay, but be conscious when and why you are doing it. If you already know better than to use Abp’s and SA’s then…well, I might hate you just a little:), but if you’re starting out, try to avoid the mistakes I’m still making!

Happy writing!

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The Holy Grail of Hotness – A Guest Post by Marie Lark

Please join me in welcoming a dear personal friend of mine and an honorary Bad Girl For A Day, author Marie Lark. Follow Marie on Twitter, like her on Facebook, or find out more at her website.

Take it away, Marie…

Love stories, for me, are just as much about real-life issues as they are escapism, so writing my new book, Third Take Is the Charm, I wanted to explore the fantasy of three people falling in love with each other, while grounding it in the reality of money trouble, grief over lost loved ones, and other everyday struggles. I find the triumph of the fantasy all the more satisfying and moving when it’s packed with details that I can still relate to in my own life.

Straight up, I’m about as vanilla as it gets when it comes to my real life. I’m married to an accountant. We have one mortgage, one dog, and one car. Lots of us who read and write romance are vanilla. (And lots of us aren’t, wheeeeeee!) So what is it about the fantasy of menage or poly love stories that appeals to me when they’re so far from my everyday, lived experience?

It’s not just the kinky stuff, but let’s talk about that for a minute. Everyone’s got their thing, and for me, the idea of two partners instead of one is right up there with Jamie Bell dripping wet with rain, confessing his undying love for Channing Tatum as the Holy Grail of Hotness.

Jamie Bell and Channing Tatum in The Eagle

Anyway, what was I saying? Extra hands, extra mouths, extra other things… All of this adds to the fantasy of letting go and giving up control to partners who’ve taken your happiness as their priority.

But for me, the sex stuff isn’t nearly as fascinating as the relationship stuff. It isn’t nearly as fascinating as the question—“What would it be like to fall in love with more than one person, and to have them love you back?” Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about a love triangle that looks like two dudes competing for the same gal. No, I’m talking about a polygon with multi-directional arrows, maybe a curve or two, and more than one snarl per side.

I’m talking about a story that puts this front and center: no two people in love can be all things all the time to each other, so what happens when “two people in love” isn’t endgame? What happens? The best thing happens.

It becomes possible to revel in all your favorite relationship dynamics at once, because different dynamics satisfy different needs in a poly love story. There’s my personal favorite:

Receipt for one angry small, one dirty largeAnd its slight variant—Angry Small/Besotted Large:

Mako Mori and Raleigh BecketThere are also the sides of the polygon that don’t have to be sexual but are full or romance, or are sexual but completely lack romance. There’s the casual intimacy that comes with years of proximity and affection—the slow motion helmet tap, if you will:

flower3There’s Jamie Bell dripping wet with rain and swearing to Channing Tatum that he will return!!

There’s the lonely girl behind her camera who finds something beautiful but broken in the relationship she’s filming and steps out in front of the lens to fix it.

People enter into relationships for a near-infinite number of reasons. In writing those relationships, why limit yourself to just one or two? Multiply a green-card-marriage by the sexy roommate by the tattoo artist by the hot alien and… I don’t know what that would be. Maybe don’t do that. But you get the idea! Menage/poly love stories can be about the kink. Oh, yes. They can be about the kink. But they can also be about a whole bunch of the ways that humans (and/or aliens) can love each other—simultaneously. And I love that.


Don’t miss Marie Lark’s new book, Third Take Is The Charm, out now from Loose Id:

Third Take Is The Charm by Marie LarkNot everyone gets a second chance at their own happily ever after—except maybe in the movies.

All her life, filmmaker Melody Gellar has wanted to tell the perfect love story. Recently widowed and with her thirtieth birthday looming, she decides that now more than ever she needs to remind herself what true love looks like. With a passion for erotic cinema and an eye for chemistry, she finds two male dancers with a long history together to play the lovers in her film.

Francis and Denny are electric on screen, but Melody quickly discovers she’s stumbled into an actual romance—one that neither of her stars have acknowledged and that threatens to push them apart. Worse, Melody begins to fall for them both from behind her camera. With their troubled, violent past dogging their every step, Francis and Denny need Melody to come out in front of the lens, to tell her own story with them—to make their happily ever after.

Sometimes the third take is the charm.

Find THIRD TAKE IS THE CHARM on:
Amazon //  Barnes & Noble // All Romance // Loose Id

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Where to Begin…

snoopy

Beginnings—why are they so !@#$%^&* difficult to write? I recently started a new manuscript, therefore the opening pages of books have been on my mind. So, it’s fitting that this series on the one thing we always screw up has come along. I have to admit, Bad Girlz of the World, I struggle with how and where to start a story. I cringe and hold my breath all the way through drafting an opening scene—every time. But it’s a subject I’ve also researched heavily, screwed up again and again, and have now (hopefully) learned. Here’s what I’ve discovered…

Start with the story’s inciting moment, not the character’s inciting moment. This was one of my earlier mistakes that led to Jenna Patrick telling me I didn’t need the first 3 chapters of my manuscript. (And I’m glad I listened, she was right.) All characters have a past, but the past is no place to start a book. Instead look to the plot of the story. What is the catalyst for your characters to interact? That moment is where the story really begins.

Open with action. Have you ever noticed that movies usually start with an action sequence? There’s a reason for that. We want to grab our reader’s attention so they become invested in the story, and gripping action is a great way to do that.

Limit the number of people in the opening scene. I made this mistake in the first draft of Desperately Seeking Suzanna and had to make people vanish during the editing process. You don’t want to instantly confuse your reader by dropping them into the middle of a crowd of characters, so keep the numbers down and introduce the characters gradually.

“Any good story is a before and after picture.” –Michael Hauge

Character, character, character. I recently attended a workshop by Michael Hauge where he touched on the subject of opening scenes. It was awesome! If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do it! I learned so much, and here are a few tidbits of that knowledge. The opening scene should demonstrate who that character is at the beginning of the story and the opening lines are a snapshot of that time in their life. It’s a good idea to throw in a line somewhere in the first scene that shows the reader how screwed up the character’s life is even if they act like they’re happy with things. This will establish longing for the change that the story will bring.

I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m learning and that’s what matters. Right, Bad Girlz? Do you want to see a few examples of opening lines from my writing?
[Please endure the following shameless plug for my books. Thanks. 🙂 ]

Must Love Dukes:
As Devon paused to allow a carriage to pass, a heat spread across his back. Someone was following him.
Desperately Seeking Suzanna:
“Who are you supposed to be?” Holden asked, adjusting the animal skin draped over his shoulder as he attempted to settle further into the chair.
How to Lose a Lord in 10 Days or Less:
Andrew rounded a bend in the road and urged his mount into a small patch of woods. Damn the open terrain of the moors.
The Infamous Heir – Book 1 of the Spare Heirs Series (coming soon):
Another punch skimmed past Ethan’s ear. The rush of air and cheers of the other men closed in on him as the blow sailed by. He put his weight behind his next swing, his knuckles colliding with his opponent’s jaw. He watched as the man toppled to the floor with an echoing thud, and he waited.

What are the opening lines of your current manuscript? Post them in the comments so we can chat about them!

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