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Tanya Michaels

You Can Do It!

Do you mind if I vent for a second? I know other people have bigger problems than I do–hell, the entire country has Problems–but there is something that’s been getting me down lately. Homeschooling my thirteen-year-old daughter, who we had to pull out of public school due to some chronic health issues. To be clear, I love my daughter–I love both of my children–and her health is critical to me. I am willing to make sacrifices for her well-being, absolutely.

But, in the other column, have you met teenage girls? To paraphrase that Merc with a Mouth and noted child psychologist Deadpool, teenage girls are characterized by long sullen silences and mean comments. This is how I’m spending all day, every day. With a moody teen who misses her friends and is understandably frustrated about her circumstances. Add to that my struggle to remember what little I ever understood about 8th grade Algebra and it’s amazing my life hasn’t become a looping gif of Bridget Jones’ “I choose vodka” declaration.

This time last year, my kids got up, went to school (on the days my daughter felt up to it), and I had the house to myself. For hours! Oh, the glorious solitude. I got to write and play in my own make believe world and, shockingly, got PAID to do it! What kind of nonsense adult job is that? Now, I still have deadlines for books but far, far fewer productive hours (and as a result, fewer paychecks). I wonder if I’m driving my daughter away with all this togetherness. I wonder if I’m too impatient with her. I worry that I’m not enough to keep the former honors student caught up academically with her peers. I say to my husband a dozen times a week, “I can’t do this.” And, yet, since it’s getting done, apparently I….can?

Reluctantly, perhaps. Inexpertly, for sure. With a side of tears and swearing, absolutely. But I am managing something difficult in spite of the self-doubt. One day at a time.

I’ll bet you a dollar there’s something in your life you want to accomplish but you doubt your ability to achieve it. Maybe it’s lose a little weight or learn to knit or write a book or make the world a better place and you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this.” I bet you another dollar that you absolutely can.

I do not love this new homeschooling arrangement, but my daughter is making straight A’s. We’ve both been learning about algebraic formulas and the Articles of Confederation and how animals adapt to their environment. It is not a perfect educational environment and our progress is slow, but we’re damn lucky that we have the resources and computer and flexible schedule to attempt what other families might not be in a position to try. And I don’t write as fast as I used to, but the fictional voices are still there, talking to me at odd moments, and I record snippets of dialogue and ideas for scenes in the Notes section of my iPhone. Yesterday, I put sentences on a page–not as many as I would have liked, but a paragraph exists now that wasn’t out in the universe before, and I created that.

Books are written one sentence, one word, at a time. Keep slogging forward. Those words add up. One of our math problems last week was whether it would be better to take a job that paid a million dollars for thirty days (where do I sign up?!?!) or a thirty day job that paid one penny the first day but doubled salary every day. To steal from clickbait headlines, THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU. Pennies add up. Steps walked and calories counted add up. Calls and emails to politicians about important matters add up. And the more you do, the better you feel. Start small–hell, start tiny if you need to. Keep your expectations reasonable and be patient with yourself, but do not listen to that stupid, petty voice that sneers “You can’t do this.” It is wrong, and I believe in you. Surround yourself with people (in your physical world or online) that echo that belief and cheer you on and, in the meantime, I’ll share with you these wise words from Christopher Robin that I’ve hung on my own wall as a reminder.

Now get out there and kick some ass—-slowly, and in manageable tasks with occasional setbacks. But that’s okay. An ass kicked in slo-mo is still an ass kicked.

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When Ideas Come Buzzing Around

The Bad Girlz have been talking about “plot bunnies” (a term for something that sparks a story idea) and what some of our most memorable have been.

My weirdest bunny was a wasp.

It’s fitting really, since sometimes an idea will start buzzing at the edge of my subconscious, disconcerting me. My anxiety runs the gamut from “what if I can’t do this idea justice?” to “when the hell will I have time to tackle this idea on top of my other commitments?” and the neurotic classic “what if someone else beats me to an even better version of this idea?!”

Yeah, ideas can be uncomfortable, but at least I’m not outright allergic to them, as I am with wasps. After I was stung on the leg once, the swelling was so bad I couldn’t wear pants for over a week. Thankfully, I’ve only been stung three times, but all the scenarios were the same: Tanya was minding her own business, winged red monster drops from the sky, HOLY SHIT WHY IS MY SKIN ON FIRE? Oh. Wasp sting.

The last time it happened, my husband and I were honeymooning on a tropical beach. This resulted in a first aid intervention where nobody spoke the same language but there was a lot of animated gesturing toward my butt. So, anyway. Wasps. Don’t like ‘em.

After my honeymoon but before I sold a book, I was house-sitting for a friend. She’d given me the code to open her garage door/disarm the alarm so that I could enter the house, but there were three wasps circling the key pad, looking as if they were considering a new place to call home. I didn’t know what to do. Short of breaking a window, that key pad was my only entrance into the house. The dogs inside (BIG dogs) had obviously heard me drive up and were barking like crazy. If I didn’t let them out soon, there could be accidents or exuberance-based damage. I sat in my car, feeling like a fear-riddled moron, hoping the wasps flew away.

And I started to imagine a heroine who had her life in total order (so, clearly the opposite of me) and is used to being seen as poised and in charge. But everyone has a vulnerability. When she was a kid she fell into a wasp nest and is now seriously phobic. She meets the hero as he’s trying to propose to his girlfriend at an outdoor restaurant when the heroine runs from a wasp and crashes into his table. Once I got in the house, I started jotting notes about this heroine and by the end of summer, I had a full manuscript.

In the writing world, sometimes we have face-to-face pitches with editors at conferences. My first one was a disaster. Actually, disaster would have been an upgrade. I was so nervous I forgot my own name and began babbling all of my faults (“I’m not sure I’m funny.” “I can’t write a sex scene to save my life.” “Mine may be the worst synopsis you’ll ever read.” WHY, TANYA, WHY? For the love of humanity, stop talking!!!) Anyway, the editor was stone-faced throughout, probably wondering how far away the nearest hotel security personnel was. Then I said something about the wasp-fleeing heroine crashing into the hero’s table while his marriage proposal is getting rejected and the editor cracked a smile, praise the Lord. She requested the first three chapters of the book and called me two weeks later to ask for the whole thing. She didn’t buy that story, but it was the first time I got close to a sale and she DID buy the next romantic comedy I sent her (The Maid of Dishonor, still available in ebook.)

I still don’t like wasps. But sometimes when I see one through the safety of double-paned glass, I have to grin. You never know when an idea will strike or how it might help your career.

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Dear Santa

Should I start small with how I want a few books for Christmas? Or move right to the big stuff, like how the world needs more compassion and integrity, less disease, and fewer people being hateful assholes?

Oh, dear. I’m never going to get on the Nice list if I keep using words like asshole, am I?

What exactly is the cut off for being Naughty? Any chance that my letting the guy with fewer items ahead of me in the grocery line cancels out the language I used while stuck in freeway traffic? Or that my hugging the teens and telling them daily how proud I am balances the times I’ve lost my patience with their ever-growing need to challenge authority? (Because these smart alecks are OUT OF CONTROL, Santa. They argue with everything, they’re stubborn as hell, and then they have the nerve to make me laugh just when I’m getting ready to ground them. Why couldn’t they have been more like their even-tempered dad???)

Does it count as Nice that I write books that lifts people’s spirits and make them smile, or is the writing self-serving since it’s what I always wanted to do with my life? (Although, if I’m going to be selfish…can I ask for one of my books to be made into a Hallmark Christmas movie? That would be great, Santa. Have an elf get the contracts department on the phone. Thanks.) And then there’s my January book, which I suppose could tip the scales toward the Naughty side.

jan-17

Half naked people on the front, a smart-ass heroine who speaks her mind from page one, an explicit relationship that includes a chapter of phone sex? Okay, fine, I have a Naughty streak. (What were you expecting, Santa? I’m blogging to you from a site called Bad Girlz Write.) But even imperfect people can have big hearts and good ideas. May 2017 be the year that people share their goodness with others and bless each other’s lives in unexpected ways, from small kindnesses to tangible solutions.

In the meantime, happy holidays and happy reading to all of you. (And if you’d like to kick your year off with some naughty fun, you should go order Tempting the Best Man. Oh, and watch for Jeanette Grey’s Nine Kinds of Naughty out in February!)

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A Writer For All Seasons

Yay!!!! Today is officially the first day of fall.

Fall is my very favorite season. As a kid, I probably loved fall because it meant celebrating my birthday. As a work-at-home mom, fall means my own children are back in school and I can write in relative peace. (There are still interruptions, but not quite the INTERRUPTIONS of summer.) I love the fall holidays, the fall wardrobe (comfy sweaters and cute boots!) and the fall weather.

Of course, as I enthusiastically celebrate fall, I have to remember that it’s late spring in the book I’m currently writing. My heroine will look insane if she starts carving jack-o’-lanterns in May.

Writers are frequently “out of season.” Do you know how many times my family has heard Christmas carols blasting out of my office because I’m trying to write a holiday novella in August? I frequently get the date wrong on school notes, checks, etc. Not necessarily because I’ve killed too many brain cells with pinot grigio, but just because there’s so much weird time overlap in my career. In 2016, I’m booking speaking engagements for 2017 and promoting a book I first started writing in 2013. It’s September now, but I just got the cover for my January book, which takes place over Valentine’s Day. (But, really, there’s no wrong time of the year for a cover that looks like this! *heart eyes*)

jan-17

You may not know this, but every manuscript goes through its own cycle of seasons. A book starts with the bud of an idea, one a writer joyfully nurtures. There’s beauty and hope in this creatively fertile time. Blossom, little story!

in-bloom

Then, as you write pages, those pages become chapters and the story really heats up! Your characters become more real to you–scenes play out in your head, as vivid as a summer blockbuster film. On the best days, writing doesn’t even feel like work. It feels like a vacation from reality.

summer

But things change. Even if you plotted your book ahead of time, there will be forks in the road you didn’t anticipate. The story takes on a life of its own, requiring flexibility on your part. (In worst-case scenarios, a once promising story feels flat and lifeless on the page, requiring problem-solving and revision.) Change is as inevitable as the barrage of pumpkin spice products that hit every autumn. Sometimes it’s a beautiful change–a poignant dialogue exchange you didn’t see coming that makes you cry at the keyboard. Other times, the change is your plot falling apart faster than leaves fall from the trees.

fall

And then…

The winter of authorial discontent, those bleak days when you’re frozen by self-doubt, second-guessing every decision you’ve made. It feels like this in your soul (but less cheery):

bleak

You regret having ever started this damn book and realize the Starks totally knew what they were talking about: Winter WAS coming. It has descended upon you, leaving you up to your eyeballs in snowdrifts of uncooperative characters and unwieldy prose.

But don’t panic! This is just the natural life cycle of a book, not a sign that you are a hack who should quit. We must question our books, or how would we make them better? It’s okay to look for ways to improve the story, it’s okay to retrace your steps and find a better path. It’s okay to throw out four chapters (OUCH!) and write four new ones that incorporate all the knowledge you’ve gained about your story and characters along the way. The ice will thaw and your talent will shine through.

Just remember, every season offers something to celebrate and something to learn.

I wish you the happiest of falls and hope you’ll find time to curl up in a comfy sweater with your favorite autumn beverage (pumpkin spice or otherwise) and a good book.

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Staying Healthy: Family & Friends Edition

For the last few weeks, our focus here at the blog has been on maintaining your health (physical, mental and emotional) while writing. Expanding on that, there’s one other thing you probably want to keep healthy: your relationships.

Between deadlines and the many voices of fictional people in your head, it’s not always easy to balance the real people in your life. There’s a fine line between making your loved ones respect the sanctity of your writing time and alienating them entirely. A few years ago, I was struck by the irony of someone who writes romance novels for a living (me) telling her husband “I know it’s our anniversary, but I have to get this book turned in. Raincheck!” Yeah. Super romantic, Tanya.

In my defense, my husband frequently travels for his job. He’s spent an anniversary, a Valentine’s Day and quite a few of my birthdays in Europe. Without me. Not that I’m bitter.

The trick is to communicate these scheduling conflicts ahead of time as much as possible and make it up to each other later. Luckily, my husband is pretty supportive about my writing. (He sincerely hopes that one day, I’ll be a zillionaire best seller and he can retire to a leisurely life of golf and woodwork.) But people react to an author’s demanding schedule differently—some observers have trouble seeing it as a job, just because there are erratic hours, no commute and, occasionally, no pants. So how do you train those in your life to respect your eccentric career without making them feel neglected?

Based on daily arguments I have with my teenagers, I am not a perfect mom. But I did sell my first book two and a half weeks after my first child was born, so I’ve been juggling this family/writing thing for a while. (Shown below, me and my extended family, the epitome of happy, healthy, and harmonious.)

the fam

My thoughts on the people vs. pages balancing act:

1. Family comes first. If your spouse is going through medical procedures or a grueling time at work or you’re in the middle of a move (or have a baby who needs you), don’t expect to be able to focus on writing. Inevitable family obligations will cut into your time. If possible, schedule accordingly. But always keep a notebook or iPhone/Dictaphone nearby so that when inspiration strikes somewhere unexpected, like a pediatrician’s waiting room, you can jot it down for later.

2. Family comes first UP TO A POINT. After that, you have my permission to be heartless. If your child has chicken pox and is feverish/miserable/itchy, it’s understandable that the kid is gonna pester you. But it is not acceptable for your offspring to bug you because he/she “is bored.” Do not succumb to parental guilt for turning them away. I’ve seen this be particularly difficult for women, especially if they haven’t yet sold and aren’t making money. We beat ourselves up with thoughts like, “Why am I wasting my time on this when I should be baking brownies for junior’s soccer team?” Hold up. Dedicated pursuit of a goal is not wasting time. You are teaching your children perseverance, which is an important life skill. Meanwhile, I encourage you to rock the store-bought brownies.

3. Involve your family in celebrating goals and milestones. These can be tiny celebrations. “When Mommy finishes this chapter, we’ll go see Finding Dory.” Or play a family board game. Or go out for frozen yogurt. (For spouses and significant others, it could be a straightforward, “Let me write until 10 pm so I can get this scene down, then we’ll watch something on Netflix.” Or, you know, whatever the two of you are in the mood for.) Offering this kind of deal serves two purposes—assuring your family that spending time with them is also a priority and encouraging them to leave you the hell alone so you can actually reach your goal and get to that fun event faster. Sometimes, celebrations are more noteworthy. Once the manuscript is finished, get glammed up for a date night; you’ve earned it, and it will be a nice change from the bedraggled ponytail and yoga pants of deadline. A historical romance author bought her daughters a horse when she sold her first book; I took my family to Disney after the best royalty check of my life. But those were rare circumstances.

4. Come up with a schedule.

5. Stick to the schedule. Numbers 4 & 5 probably sound redundant, but they aren’t. You are going to encounter people who threaten your writing time—from relatives who subtly sabotage your efforts to well-meaning neighbors who want to have you over for coffee to that relentless PTA zealot who is determined to make you run the book-fair. Not only do I encourage you to tell these people no, I suggest you adopt a schedule that covers you like armor. If you write in the morning, don’t pick up the phone before noon. Turn off the ringer. Worst case scenario, you can ignore the whiny cousin who calls to complain about her life. Best case scenario, she gets the message and quits calling entirely during that time-slot.

While you don’t owe anyone explanations/defense about your time, you can soften refusals to friends and neighbors with counter offers that highlight your schedule. “As much as I would love to have coffee, I’m swamped until I finish this book at the end of August. How about September?” This sets a clear boundary (don’t bother me again until September!) but also demonstrates that your friends matter to you. (Because, once the damn book is actually turned in, you don’t want to look around and realize you’ve run off all your buddies. Although, frankly, I think there’s a reason so many of my best friends are fellow writers. They GET it.)

6. Don’t underestimate the importance of people—not just to your emotional health but to your ability to write great characters. I had a friend who doggedly invited me to social events (movies, Pampered Chef parties, book club meetings, holiday parades, wine tastings) even though I routinely turned her down. I was struggling to catch up on belated deadlines after my daughter had been sick. My friend was pretty good-natured about it, but she asked me once, “If you never get out of the house and interact with people, how can you expect to write about believable, fully developed people in your books?” I decided she was right and said, “screw it, I’m going to lunch.” After all, even on deadline, a writer’s gotta eat. And you know what? I returned to the computer refreshed and with some funny new ideas for dialogue.

7. Be careful about bitching to civilians. There’s a lot to drive us nuts about writing—low contest scores, rejections, lousy reviews. You are fully entitled to vent about these disappointments. But it’s usually best to commiserate with other authors who’ve been there and who can inspire you to keep going. If you routinely tell your mother, boyfriend, and former college roommate about how hard writing is—especially if you’re not under contract—they may suggest you quit. This can make you feel like they don’t believe in you and lead to arguments and hurt feelings. You can reduce the odds of this by having mimosas with a trusted critique partner.

In summary, writing can make us bonkers. Our loved ones can make us bonkers. But with strategy and effort, you can probably keep the bonkers manageable. While you want to make sure the people around you understand how seriously you take writing, you don’t want to drive them all away—at least, not permanently. Celebrating when you hit that first bestseller list will be a lot more fun when you’re surrounded by loved ones to cheer you on.

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The Ultimate Staycation

I’m neither outdoorsy nor athletic. Shocker, right?

My elementary school offered kids two options—go outside for recess or spend the twenty minutes in the school library. Guess which one I chose? I always thought I got the better end of the deal. While my peers were limited to destinations like the swing set or foursquare court (I’m assuming here—isn’t that the kind of stuff you find on a playground?), I was off on daily journeys to Blackbird Pond, Narnia, and ancient Egypt.

Flash forward to present day. It is summer. Not even my air-conditioning can keep the muggy southern afternoons from being miserable and I feel like I’m being roasted alive if I step a toe outside (unless it’s after sundown, at which point I become an all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitoes in spite of my efforts with bug-repellent/Citronella candles/hazmat suits). According to some of my friends, summer is the perfect time for travel. Some of them even think it’s a good time for grilling out (what the hell do you need the grill for? I’m pretty sure the zillion degree heat will cook those hot dogs for you) or—shudder—camping.

It’s not that I don’t love the prospect of bugs and sweat and sleeping on the ground. I mean, who wouldn’t want all those things? It’s just that I have more exciting plans this summer, a wide variety of trips using my e-reader as my travel agent. In the event that you don’t have the budget to see the world this summer (or if you’d like to see it from the comfort of your own air-conditioned home), here are a few locales you might want to consider.

Two Rivers mansion, home to food columnist Cranky Agnes and the site of one of the funniest weddings (flamingos! Mobsters! Dognapping!) I’ve ever read. Jennifer Crusie makes me laugh in every book she writes, and I adore the collaboration AGNES AND THE HITMAN Bob Mayer co-authored with her.

London. I eagerly devour historical romances from Sarah MacLean, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Michels, and Lorraine Heath. If you have not yet read any of these wonderful ladies, I highly recommend you start now!

Henry Adams, Kansas. Beverly Jenkins has created a community readers will want to visit again and again, and I can’t wait to read her latest, STEPPING TO A NEW DAY, which includes a 600 lb hog as one of the entertaining secondary characters.

Cupid’s Bow, Texas. Okay, yes, this setting/series belongs to me…and I love writing about the characters and the town. Book 3 will be out in November, which gives you plenty of time to read FALLING FOR THE SHERIFF (a single-parenting romance) and/or FALLING FOR THE RANCHER (about a guilt-ridden cowboy, his temporarily wheelchair bound sister, and the feisty physical therapist who not only adjusts to ranch life but kicks a little ass.)

The Demon Plane of Oblivion. It’s no secret that I love Kresley Cole’s paranormal series Immortals After Dark, and her book DEMON FROM THE DARK is one of my favorites. To save her goddaughter, a witch is sent on a possible suicide mission to capture a demon from a savage dimension. For all his barbaric ways, he has some truly adorable moments. I said “awwww” out loud numerous times reading this book, which—given what prompted my outbursts—may mean I’m a little warped. But it’s an imaginative, sexy read.

Sector Four. If you like super-sexy romance, I would recommend Kresley Cole, Jeanette Grey or even my recently released Blaze TURNING UP THE HEAT (a very seductive, friends-to-lovers foodie romance). But if you like to take the occasional trip past sexy to dirrrty, let me introduce you to Kit Rocha and the post-apocalyptic Beyond series. These futuristic erotic romances (which start with BEYOND SHAME) include graphic sex and the occasional orgy, but they also feature fabulous dialogue, character growth, emotional confessions that make me sigh every time I re-read them and political plots that grow more complex with each book and are beginning to rival Westeros for back-stabbing attempts at power.

Barefoot Bay. This ongoing series by bestselling author Roxanne St. Claire can be your trip to the Florida beach this summer! She even has collections within the overall series so you can choose what you’re in the mood for—wedding-themed romances, books with a little more mystery to them or her “silver fox” books with slightly older than average (but oh so sexy) heroes.

Truthfully, I could talk about ten dozen more places and not even scratch the surface. Have you been to Sally Kilpatrick’s Ellery, Tennessee or Trish Milburn’s Blue Falls, Texas? Have you been to a hockey game with Sophia Henry’s Pilots team or out to the bayou with award-winning Harlequin Desire author Joanne Rock? What about Farrah Rochon’s Maplesville (shorter books that make for excellent daytrips)? (Plug from my teenage daughter–her current favorite world to visit is the alternate reality of Gena Showalter’s ALICE IN ZOMBIELAND books, where high school teenagers fight evil spirits most people can’t see.) There are so many wonderful choices, whether set in another city, another country, another time period, or even another dimension. But if I keep listing all of them, I won’t have time to work (or, worse, read!). So I’ll leave these suggestions here as a starting point and pose the question to all of you, what are some of your favorite fictional vacations? A certain book website recently issued account credit, which I think of as frequent flyer miles I’m eager to spend!

Book staycations–all the glamour and adventure, none of the packing drama or lost luggage.

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Desperate Times Call for Desperate Hobbies

We’ve been talking about our hobbies on the blog lately. I love to write–like, love it. It’s been my favorite pastime since I was a first-grader with ink-smudged fingers and paper cuts from the spiral notebooks I carried around. When a story is going well, the words flow like magic. The emotions are clear on the page, and the characters are as real to me as family and friends. When a story is going well, there’s nothing I enjoy more than being at my computer, creating worlds.

When a story is going well.

The truth is, there are days when the writing does not go well. At all. You realize you have a plot-hole big enough to drive the family minivan through, you realize you’re not a visual person and have neglected to describe anything for one hundred and forty pages, you realize you’ll have to backtrack and throw out three chapters of work, and you realize your fictional “friends” can be uncooperative bastards. When these painful realizations occur, I suddenly find myself with previously unknown hobbies. For instance, did you know scrubbing toilets is super fun?

Add in some rubber gloves, and you've got yourself a partay!

Add in some rubber gloves, and you’ve got yourself a partay!

Okay, fine. “Fun” may not be the precise word, but having a clean bathroom is far more satisfying than sobbing at your laptop that you’re a talentless hack. Turns out, lots of things are. And so I give you:

Activities Tanya Enjoys Way More Than Writing (on the days writing sucks)

Taxes

Lower body workouts

Slaving away in a hot kitchen on an elaborate dinner my kids will declare gross before they even try it

Walking barefoot through an anthill

Trying on bathing suits. In a room with fluorescent lighting

Re-watching the unsatisfying series finale of Lost and counting up how many hours of my life I “lost” to that show (approximately 121)

Enduring one of my thirteen year old’s “YOU’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND!” meltdowns. (Why limit myself to uncooperative fictional characters when I can enjoy tear-filled abuse in real life?)

Installing Windows Updates

Invariably, those updates take forever and usually screw up my computer for a few hours. But on the upside, by the time I get my document re-opened, I’ve forgotten how painful this writing business is and get sucked into giving it another try. Sometimes, I stumble into a moment of brilliance. The best feeling is stringing together enough moments and pages to produce a book I’m damn proud of (like, hey! this scorching hot friends-to-lovers romance that’s available in stores next week. You should read it. Pre-order now.)

blz

And if the brilliance doesn’t come and the blinking cursor drives me to tears? Well, there are always a few hundred loads of laundry I could do. Bring on the fun.

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Are we there yet?

Yesterday, I was trapped in the car with my family for HOURS enjoyed some quality road-trip bonding time with my loved ones. And as I struggled to recall a time before the trip had started, a time before slow people using the left lane (ARGH!), a time before my thighs had fused with the leather seat, I realized that publishing is a road-trip.

Writers have a clear destination in mind: we want to be published. Beyond that, mileage may vary. Perhaps you have a single, poignant story you’re yearning to tell; perhaps you want to create a long-running series. Maybe your dream is to be a best-seller some day or have your characters eventually show up on a movie screen. But, first, you must publish. There are many routes. You can sell to a big New York publisher or a small indie press. You can self-publish your own work. Whatever route you take, beware the short cut. If the man with the map in the passenger seat tells you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is–NOT THAT I’M BITTER ABOUT THE NEEDLESS EXTRA HOUR MY HUSBAND TACKED ONTO OUR TRIP.

I won’t lie. The journey is rough. You may experience rejection letters more traumatic than the worst gas station bathroom you’ve ever seen. There will be bickering in the backseat (everything from your characters being uncooperative and whiny to arguing with your own self-doubt). There will be detours and delays. Publishing. Moves. Very. Slowly. Except when it doesn’t. Ever been belting out a Bon Jovi song on a straight stretch of road, look down and realize, “Oh, SHIT, I didn’t know I was going 95!”? There will be moments like that in your career. Exhilarating, but potentially panic-inducing.

There will also be marvelous experiences along the way. I have discovered funky restaurants off the beaten path and once saw a spectacular meteor shower while driving through Kentucky at 2 a.m. (I didn’t get a pic because 1) dark, 2) driving, but please enjoy this random sky pic I snapped during our latest trip.)

sky

Ever been traveling in the same set of clothes for so long that once you reached your destination, you kind of wanted to burn them? Excellent practice for being on deadline. And some of the same things that can make a road-trip great (friends and a bad-ass playlist) will also help with your writing journey.

Even if construction slows you down and you have to proceed at a soul-crushing five miles an hour, you can still get where you’re going. Maybe not as fast or as easily as you had hoped, but keep going. It is so worth it when you can finally look at your publishing contract or cover art or book on a store shelf and know I Have Arrived!bk

(Of course, the journey doesn’t end just because you pull into the parking lot or driveway. What, you thought all those suitcases were going to unload themselves? Even after the book is done, you have work to do. Like, say, promotion. Would this be a good time to mention that FALLING FOR THE RANCHER hit stores this week? I would be extremely grateful if you were to pick up a copy of this small-town romance about an unapologetically stubborn physical therapist and the hot cowboy who temporarily becomes her roommate. You can buy it here. After all, what’s a road-trip without great reading material?)

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Brought To You By the Letter J

There was never any question that I love books. Some of my earliest memories are Mom reading me fairy tales, me attempting to “read” to my baby sister, and the magical day I discovered the school library in kindergarten.

And there wasn’t much question that I was a writer. Mom’s nickname for me was Ink-Spot. My hands and clothes were perpetually stained from the hours I spent scribbling in journals and spiral notebooks with cheap ballpoint pens. Before I could write, I did my storytelling through Barbie dolls. You would not believe the plot twists that went down at the Dream House. In school, I was known for writing. If there was a geography lesson, I failed. If there was a math test, I cried under my desk. But if there was an essay? I lost count of the times a proud teacher would read one of my paragraphs—or an entire paper—to the class. I knew in my bones I was a writer, I just wasn’t sure what to do with it (except, obviously, pen hundreds of tragically bad poems in my teenage years.)

Then, at a middle school slumber party, someone handed me a Jude Deveraux historical romance, one of the books from the Velvet series. That was the beginning.

Sexy men meeting their matches in smart, sassy women. Ballrooms! Pirate ships! The Scottish Highlands! I can’t tell you how many Jude Deveraux and Johanna Lindsey books I read after bedtime by flashlight. In high school, a friend added to my reading list Julie Garwood, who always made me laugh, and Judith McNaught, who always made me cry. After sobbing my way to the end of another McNaught historical, I knew that Jude, Johanna, Julie and Judith had led me to my destiny. I was going to be a romance writer. (I even saved up my babysitting money and bought a book called How To Write A Romance and Get it Published.) My mother suggested that, inevitable fame and fortune aside, I still go to college. Which I did, focusing on history. To assist with all my romance novel research.

After graduation and getting married, I joined Romance Writers of America and learned a lot about the business side of publishing. Still, I couldn’t sell any of my historical romances. What was I doing wrong? Did my writing suck? Were my London Regencies not original enough? Was it because my name didn’t start with J?! I was fortunate enough to final in several unpublished contests and get my work in front of judging editors, but I never won. I came close in 2000, when an editor placed me second and left the margin note “strong writing, but not a historical voice.”

HOW COULD I NOT HAVE A HISTORICAL VOICE? I’d been mainlining historicals for years and had been fantasizing about my historical romance career since I was sixteen. (I love historical romances to this day, btw, and am currently reading books by both James, Eloisa and Jenkins, Beverly.) But after several years of being told no, I began to wonder. Trying desperately to find a place for myself in the market, I began reading many different subgenres. I read some good books, but nothing really cut through my frustration and confusion. Until.

Jennifer Crusie. (Fine, I have a thing for Js. Just ask my husband. Jarrad.)

Sidenote that isn’t as random as it seems: I remember being delighted while watching the Season 4 Buffy the Vampire Slayer finale “Restless,” written by Joss Whedon. The whole episode is bizarre dream sequences, and I literally told my husband, “This is what it’s like inside my head!” (To which he replied, “You frighten me.”)

The first time I read a contemporary romance by Jennifer Crusie, I had that same feeling of joyous identification. Beyond her storylines or sexy banter, there was something in the rhythm and cadence of her words that spoke to me, that felt like the more sophisticated version of how my brain works, or at least aspires to work. After falling madly in love with her books, I was no longer too stubborn or too scared to try something new. Instead, I was inspired.

My first book, a contemporary romantic comedy, was released in 2003, and I’ve now published/sold almost fifty books and novellas.

I found my voice and achieved my dream through a lot of trial and error–but it was other authors’ voices that inspired me in the first place and motivated me to keep trying. Thank you Jude, Johanna, Julie, Judith, Joss, and Jenny.

(Author’s note: Obviously I don’t only read books by people with J names—my love for Kresley Cole is well documented—but I must say, Jeanette Grey continues the glorious tradition of J-awesomeness. Don’t miss her upcoming contemporary romance Eight Ways to Ecstasy.)

Me with Jude Deveraux, New York City, 2015:

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Tanya’s Guide to a Mostly Panic-Free Romance Synopsis

Writers are a brave lot. I mean, not me personally, of course—I can’t even go into a bathroom without making sure there’s not a monster or psychopath hiding behind the shower curtain. But collectively writers brave rejection, terrifyingly bad covers they have no control over, the possibility of scathing reviews, etc. Yet I’ve seen even tough writers wince in fear at the mention of a Synopsis (written summary of the book’s plot, usually in present tense.)

If you’re unpublished, a synopsis can be how you get your foot in the door with an editor or agent, intriguing them with the story so that they ask to read actual chapters or the whole book. If you’re already published, sometimes all a publisher needs to offer you a new contract is a synopsis, allowing you to write the actual book once the advance check has been cashed. Both of these situations, however, mean the synopsis should be good. Or at least not suck.

Why is a synopsis so daunting? Well, some of them are as short as two pages; it ain’t easy to cram 300-plus pages of action and emotion into two pages and have it make sense. (I cannot imagine what a George R.R. Martin synopsis looks like, if in fact he was ever asked to write one. His plot summaries might be longer than my actual books. Or maybe his summary is simply: “There’s a big, bloody fight for the throne of Westeros. Everyone dies.”)

I have written approximately forty romances, all of which have been synopsized at some point. Occasionally the finished manuscript even bears passing resemblance to the synopsis! So I now share my, um, “expert” “wisdom” for writing a strong romance synopsis.

Boy meets Girl. (Or possibly boy and boy meet. Or girl and girl. Or they already know each other because it’s a friends to lovers story—although, if you give one or both of them amnesia, perhaps they could remeet. ANYWAY. There’s an inciting incident. Maybe it’s the “meet cute” or maybe it’s the moment when two people will have reason to start viewing each other differently. From then on, Emotions Develop.)

In a romance novel, the emotional journey is key. So even if you’re writing a romantic suspense and your synopsis explains how the couple outwits a serial killer, don’t overlook the romance! Much feelings, many conflict. (If it’s a hot romance, you can also add Wow Sex.) Keep building those emotions and that attraction until the Dark Moment, which is when you rip out the characters’ hearts—and the readers’—because writers, in addition to being brave, are also cruel and vicious. I kid! Sort of.

Many writers are actually lovely people, but the bleaker and more hopeless that dark moment, the more rewarding the hard-earned happily ever after. To misquote Jack Sparrow, the dark moment arises, ensues, is overcome. Yay for happy endings!

So, there you have it. A good romance synopsis describes (articulately, if possible) people who have strong emotions for each other but have to overcome strong obstacles–and may or may not have crazy hot sex in the meantime.

Okay. Perhaps I’m being a little bit glib. Writing a synopsis is a tiny bit more complicated than “things go awry, stuff happens, yada yada yada, grand romantic finale.” I mean, I didn’t even describe the steps about swearing and deleting. But I believe the trick to a good synopsis is not to overcomplicate. Focus on the big picture and streamline your story down to the main characters, central theme and marketing hook. Don’t name the heroine’s five cousins and all the players on the hero’s football team; you’ll only make the editor’s head spin as she tries to keep everyone straight. Remember that writing a synopsis is a slightly different skillset than writing a book. Even if you’re a genius with dialogue, a synopsis is not the place to include large chunks of it. And you don’t want cliffhangers and “you’ll never guess what happens!” taunts. The editors need to know you can believably finish this story. Concentrate on clearly explaining the conflict and major turning points. While small details can make or break a book, they will only clutter a synopsis if you’re not careful. Make sure you explain what changed that makes the happy ending plausible and try to get someone not already familiar with your story to look at the synopsis for honest feedback. (It doesn’t matter if the pages make sense to your best friend, husband or critique partner; what you need is a synopsis that makes sense to a total stranger.)

Finally, if you’re nervous about writing a synopsis, remember that it is your friend—a helpful guide, not a prison warden. Don’t feel captive to details you realize you need to change midway through the book. Writing is a fluid process and even if you started with a good idea, you may stumble across even better ideas as you go.

So that’s my wisdom for the day (hell, probably for the week. I’m not that wise.) When writing a synopsis, focus on the broad outline, not the individual brushstrokes. And don’t forget to check under beds and behind shower curtains for monsters.

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