Friday, July 31, 2009

Guest Chef: Debut author, LYNN RAYE HARRIS

Lynn Raye Harris interview conducted by Carol Burnside

CB: Lynn, congratulations on your first release coming out this month and thanks for being our guest today. We at PFHT appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.
LRH: Hi, Carol! It’s great to be here. Thanks so much for asking me to be your guest.

For those folks who aren’t familiar with Harlequin Presents, could you explain what your readers can expect in a Lynn Raye Harris book?
LRH: Passion, emotion, intensity. That’s the short and sweet answer. Harlequin Presents are intense, emotional reads with varying levels of heat. Mine have been described as ‘sizzling’. I like a lot of heat in my books! When that gorgeous alpha male turns his passion on the heroine, I want it to be amazing and intense. I hope I succeed!

I know you lived in Hawaii a few years back because we were both members of the Aloha chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America). It seems you’ve been to quite a few places you could use for settings in your book. What was your favorite place and why?
LRH: My favorite city is probably Venice, because of the uniqueness and beauty, though I have yet to use it in a book! But I did use another city I loved when writing SPANISH MAGNATE, RED-HOT REVENGE. Madrid. I spent nearly a week there a few years ago and simply fell in love with the culture. The men were so intensely male, if that makes sense. Madrid is both modern and ancient, and I loved that juxtaposition. I also used (briefly) Honolulu in the opening scene.

When using a locale in your books which you’ve never visited, how much research to you do?
LRH: I do as much as necessary. I guess that’s not a helpful answer, but sometimes a setting is only a small part of a scene or chapter. For instance, Alejandro and Rebecca go to Dubai in one chapter of SMRHR. I’ve never been there. I didn’t need much, just an idea of what it looked and felt like to be in that setting. I used Google for pictures, and I read the tourism sites about Dubai. I felt like I had enough to add flavoring (kind of like a pinch of salt or Herbes de Provence!). If I were setting a whole book in a city I’d never been to, I’d do more intense study. In addition to the web research, I’d pick up guidebooks and phrasebooks. Though I’d been to Madrid, I did consult my guidebooks and photos to make sure I got things right, most specifically the location of Alejandro’s office and the beauty of the Plaza Mayor.

In my writing, I often find bits of my likes and dislikes creeping into the heroines. Is there anything about you that creeps into your heroines, like maybe your shoeaholic tendencies or gourmet cooking?
LRH: Oh yes! LOL, I did have a section where Rebecca was putting on her Christian Louboutin slingback peeptoe nude pumps. I think that got cut, though I might still refer to her CL’s somewhere. I also had her swirling and tasting a fine Tempranillo wine, eating jamon serrano and Manchego cheese, and remarking on tapas. I think all that got cut in the revisions. *G* Alejandro drinks Manzanilla, which is a sherry, but I believe it reads as simply ‘sherry’ now. This was after the copy editor changed all my ‘sherry’s to ‘whiskey’. I was not pleased and changed them all back.

Winning the Harlequin Presents contest was a fabulous break for you. Of course your hard work and great writing is what landed you there, but what was it like having an editor’s help for a year? Did you learn tons? Was it fun or frustrating? Any tidbits you can share to help out those of us still struggling toward publication?
LRH: Having an editor for a year (though I had her for only six months before I sold – and I still have her now, thankfully!) was the most amazing thing for any aspiring writer, I can assure you. I did learn tons. My learning curve was greatly shortened thanks to her guidance. It’s not that I wasn’t writing engaging characters or a good story, but having an editor to guide me saved me from the trap of endlessly rewriting, from second-guessing myself, and from the doubt demon. Oh, I doubted plenty, but I had deadlines and had to turn things in on time. I also learned how to turn up the emotion in my stories. I think we often shrink from exploring the really deep, hard emotions of our characters simply because it can be painful. But my editor didn’t let me get away with that. She made me take another look at motivation, emotional conflict, and a character’s actions and reactions.

The only frustrating thing was that I’m a perfectionist and I want to get things right the first time. For me, turning in a book and having revisions is like turning in a college paper and getting a B or a C. I want that A the first time, LOL!

The tidbits I think can help are these: look very, very hard at your characters’ motivations. Make sure your characters are behaving consistently, and that you explore their emotions deeply enough. When you think you’ve gone deep enough, go deeper. Don’t shrink from the hard truths. Explore them, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

Also, stop worrying about things that don’t matter! Seriously, which font you use is inconsequential. Unless the house you’re targeting states what they want, use a good readable font with reasonable margins. Seriously. I have always written my books in TNR 12 with 1-inch margins all around. And I use double-space, turning off widows and orphans. I don’t try to get a certain amount of lines per page. I also use italics instead of underlining. My editor has never once told me to do it differently. And my line-edited manuscript typically comes to me with 23 lines per page. Don’t know why. They also change it to Courier 12 at that stage.

Ultimately, you are writing for a reader. Remember that. They don’t care about the ‘rules’. If you like to change POV within a scene, do it. Just make it smooth. I am a purist, but that’s just me. Contests are great, and judges’ comments can be very helpful, but please don’t feel you have to change every single thing someone tells you to. Story is what matters. STORY. If it’s compelling, if it starts at a point of great change and engages the reader to want to know why and if everything will turn out okay, then you’re doing it right. Those are the kinds of comments you want to listen to, not the ones that tell you that you can’t use more than one POV per scene or that you must begin the book with dialogue. All you really have to do is make it interesting and compelling.

Call Stories are favorites in the writing community. Have you shared yours? If so, where can we read about it?
LRH: I’ve been all over talking about my call story! You can read it at
I Heart Presents and Dear Author.

SPANISH MAGNATE, RED HOT REVENGE, your debut book, is really good. (I’m reading it now.) Love that yummy Alejandro! I’m delighted that you’ve sold more books. Can you tell us a bit about them and when they’ll be released?
LRH: Thank you so much, Carol! I’m always tickled when someone says they are enjoying my book. My second book, CAVELLI’S LOST HEIR, will be out in the UK in December and here in the US and Canada in January 2010. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Captive and married: by royal decree!

Prince Nico Cavelli would never normally waste his time visiting the prison cell of a tourist. Except this particular alleged criminal has stolen something very personal to him -- his son, heir to the Montebianco throne!

Lily Morgan always knew it was a mistake coming to the Mediterranean kingdom, but she'd had no choice. First she was thrown into jail for a crime she didn't she's been bailed out by the Prince -- though in return she must become his royal wife!

My third book, THE PRINCE’S ROYAL CONCUBINE, has just been accepted and will be out in the UK in March 2010. No North American date yet, but it will definitely be here! This book is about Prince Cristiano de Savaré and Princess Antonella Romanelli. They are enemies by birth, but when they must shelter from a hurricane in the Caribbean, things heat up. There’s more to the story, of course, but I leave it to editorial for how to blurb it. I suck at that. *g*

I should also say that SPANISH MAGNATE, RED-HOT REVENGE is available in India in August (with a different cover!) and Australia in September.

That CABELLI’S LOST HEIR blurb is a great teaser, Lynn. I know you’re busy working on that next book, so I won’t keep you. Thanks for answering my questions and letting us get to know you a little better. Keep writing those sexy, hot heroes for us to enjoy and we’ll keep reading.
LRH: Thanks for inviting me here, Carol! Who knew when we met in the library that day that we’d be discussing my books on a blog! I hope we’ll soon be discussing yours. :-) I look forward to reading your hot heroes someday soon.

And now I’d love to give away a signed copy of SPANISH MAGNATE, RED-HOT REVENGE to one lucky commenter! Ask me a question, about writing or about Harlequin Presents or whatever else you are dying to know and think I can answer, or simply tell me about your favorite city to set a book in or type of hero to read. I’ll pick a winner based on my super scientific method (i.e. drawing at random from all the comments).

= = = = = =

Our sincere thanks to Lynn Raye Harris for being our Guest Chef on PFHT and good luck to those who comment!

= = = = = =
Update: 8/7/09:
Lynn has chosen Linsey Lanier from the comments to receive a signed copy of SPANISH MAGNATE, RED-HOT REVENGE. Congratulations, Linsey!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Soap Operas: The Mother of all Conflicts (and father of everyone on the show)

Soap Operas: The Mother of all conflicts (and father of everyone on the show.)

~by CiCi Barnes

Watched any good soap operas lately? Or should I leave out the ‘good’ in that question?

Now that I work from home . . . Work? Who said writing was work? Just throw words on the screen, send it to a publisher and wah-la, you’re an author. But I digress. Now that I work from home, I get to take an hour and a half for lunch, unlike when I taught school and had maybe twenty minutes.

I make the chicken salad, pull out the carrots and grapes (trying to counteract the consumed chocolate while working) and settle into my lounge chair for a trip through Genoa City. I think that’s in Michigan, or maybe Wisconsin. Not sure, and neither here nor there. It’s a soap opera city, where conflict abounds. A great place to see how throwing your characters to the wolves really works.

I’m conflict-challenged. My first heroine was deemed ‘too nice’ by my critique partner. So was my hero. They needed to mix it up a little bit. Actually, a lot. But I was told to write what I know, and I know peace and harmony. After all, I was a teenager in the ‘60’s. Flower child, extraordinaire, here.

I don’t like conflict in my life. It really gets in the way of a good day, week, month, etc. Hubby knows I don’t like conflict and does his best to waylay it for me. Such a wonderful man.

But my characters need conflict, have to have it to survive the world of publishing. Where to go to see terrific conflict? Books by great authors can do the trick, but if you have a life outside writing, it takes more than an hour or so to read through the entire story to see how the conflict arises, flows and is resolved.

Here’s where the soap opera comes in. A daily trip to Genoa City (for me – you may have another town in Conflict Land) gives me all the conflict I can handle – and some I can’t. Those characters get into more trouble in an hour than I could think up in a lifetime. One character is pregnant. She doesn’t know if the father is Ex 1, Ex 2, or the brother of Ex 2. She’s bounced from Ex 1 to Ex 2 so many times, the kid might be a mix of the two. I mean, two of those little swimmers could have collided inside her and exploded right into her egg. How’s that for conflict? I think I’ve watched one too many episodes.

Another character’s son died, then she found out that her real son was switched at birth, so the dead son wasn’t really her son. The real son found her after 30 years and came home to her. But the mother of the son of the unreal son found out the son that came home wasn’t really the son. The dead son was the real son and he wasn’t even dead. He finally showed up, announced he’d been alive all these years and had faked his death. Are you still with me? Yeah, right.

But I think you get the picture – or not. If you want to see conflict in action, watch a soap opera. Even if you only take a pinch of what you see in an hour show to help you with your WIP, you’ll have more than enough conflict to sustain your book to The End. The two examples I’ve cited are a skip through the meadow compared to all the other things that go on.

Here’s a small sample of some conflict I’ve foisted onto one of my characters, mild compared to what you read above, but I’m working on it. My inner flower child is quite stubborn.

“I think I’ve traveled back in time.”

She watched him smother a grin.

“I mean it, Jaybo.”

He cleared his throat. “I’m sure you do. When did this happen? What time did you go to? How?”

Was that a note of condescension she heard in his voice? It better not be. She wasn't adverse to slapping him up side the head.

“It’s happening right now.”

His confused look would not deter her. An explanation existed somewhere in the mist of the universe and Jaybo was going to help her find it.

“You’re back in time now?”

She nodded, holding her breath, waiting for him to laugh at her, tell her he’d changed his mind. She was mentally delusional.

“You’re telling me you’ve been in the future and now you’ve traveled back to relive your youth?”

“I don’t know what I’ve traveled back in time to do.”

He stared at her in the midst of a long sigh. She wouldn’t blame him if he got up and walked out of the room. He didn’t, though, just sat back in the chair next to the bed, a plethora of emotions crossing his face in quick flashes.

“I know you think I’m crazy, but it’s true. This town, our friends, you. This is all in my past. Even I’m a past version of present myself.”

He stood, looking ready to dismiss her confession, but said nothing. When he turned and strode to the window, she watched his broad back, waiting for his verbal reaction.

“If your future self is here, then where is your present self?” Jaybo’s voice cut in as he turned toward her. “Is she in that town you left us for? How far in the future have you come from?”

His questions spewed forth in the rapid fire of a repeating rifle. She really hadn’t thought about that possibility. Was there another Tessa Woodward roaming the streets in Kingston?

“I’m from the year 2010.”

He took a step back. Had she suddenly grown horns?

“Tessa. This is 1973.”

“I know. Duh. That’s why it’s called time travel.”

He scraped a hand over his face and returned to the chair.

“I’m trying to understand, but you’re not making any sense.”

“Nothing makes sense. The only thing I’m sure of is this is happening and it’s just as weird to me as it is to you.”

Hold that thought. I have to get back to Genoa City now and see if I can find a man to father Tessa’s child and bring her forward to 2010.

by CiCi Barnes

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Apologies to Carl Jung for stealing his title. I am in a spell of dryness and trying to discover how to come out of the desert. This piece will perambulate, but I promise to eventually go ahead and define the boundaries of my inspection.

I’ve had words my whole life. As a baby I used to sit in the back of the car and recite every word I knew. I put myself to sleep with words. I loved how they rolled off my tongue and made beautiful patterns against the roof of my mouth. I loved how saying them into the air could cause a reaction from my mother and father - especially when I named my rocking horse a dreadful word that rhymes with Buck, and no one - not even my beloved grandmother - could dissuade me. As I grew older I began to see words as story – how words could swirl around and become a circuit – the same way electricity forms a perfect arc. I would spend hours preparing scripts for my friends to use with our Barbies as we acted out my stories, circling the theme – will Ken bring home the right car? Can Barbie ever have children of her own? Will Skipper be able to save her sick pony? - We tried out alternate stories, different arcs, until we discovered what felt like the happiest ending.

Words were lush – the way they could just fall into my mouth, ripe and velvety. I knew more words than anyone I knew. I read the dictionary for the sheer joy of discovering a word that was rife with possibility. Perambulate, for instance, which rose just now into my fingers and was perfect – better than explore, better than walk, better than circle. Do I ever use a word like perambulate in every day conversation? No. But there it was, shimmering in a pool – ready to rise up.

I discovered Jung in college and became instantly devoted to his archetypes. Mostly because I could understand them. Horses pounding hooves next to a castle – the flight or fight animation of the night mare. The giant that lives next to the bridge – fear of crossing into newness. His was a landscape that made sense to me. Words are the manifestation of image, after all. And image is the child of myth and symbol. I could cross into French Deconstructionism and ponder if a table would really be a table if we couldn’t call it that, but I never much liked unbundling words from objects.

In Jung I discovered an image that abides with me always. Creativity is a giant river and it runs cool, deep and ever-replenishing through our subconscious, dumping finally into a lake where we can plumb the depths and, like pirates, hide our ideas until we need them. We have only to learn to make a bucket. To pull up what we want from the cool water of creative thought. What I’ve pulled up are buckets mostly filled with words, but I’ve also pulled up houses, dresses, the perfect paint color, children, a piece of mosaic, and the random new way of doing something. But during this tumultuous time in life I have been discarding my bucket more than I carry it. The river has receded for me and I’ve been in fear that shortly I’ll need to craft a divining rod to ever find it again. For the past six months I have not been able to find time to write. The words are drying pebbles – muted and plain in the air; the river slows to a trickle. The lake it feeds into has sandy edges now and the reeds poke up into the air from the shallowing middle.

The hard thing is that I never stop hearing the water, even as I have had to turn my attention to other things, it’s still there, with all the annoyance of a dripping faucet and the companionable guilt of waste.

But then just last week I was walking on a track at Agnes Scott College while my kids were in camp. Agnes Scott is a women’s college. Lush and manicured – always an inducement to finding water. I walked hard, in despair, certain that I wouldn’t ever again have time for the words, when beneath my feet I felt it. Water. Six months is a long time to be parched, a long time to not be able to use words, an eternity of desperate thirst.

I came home that day and did something I hate to do. I put my children in front of the television and locked myself in my room. I spread out the next four months before me on my bed and I hunted for space where I could wade, space where I could swim, space where I could float. I found those spaces – I found where water could sweep in around the boundaries and edges of a life that is too full of obligation. Looking at all those squares now colored blue I remembered something an old plumber once told me:

Water will always find a way to run.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who will make it and who will not?

I have come to believe, deep within my central channels, that the above is not a question of talent … but rather a decision backed by stubborn perseverance.

So I’m just back from a writing conference during which I survived some potentially demoralizing opinions about my book idea. The truth is I’m thankful for the experience because the reality of the “worst that can happen” is actually far less terrifying than fear of it. Fear only comes with the unknown. I now KNOW the worst and guess what? I’m still breathing. What’s more, I’m still writing I think, in part, because I believe writing is a skill. The nature of skills is such that to be successful at them, they require practice. Lots and lots of practice.

To illustrate, I have to pause to talk about a book my husband made me listen to on a recent road trip entitled, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Gladwell discusses the rule of 10,000. 10,000 is the number of hours it takes to become a phenomenon in a certain arena, to become what most of us would consider hugely successful. He discusses Mozart, who, by the time most of us considered him a genius at his craft, had already been composing for nearly twenty years. It's only the work composed after that amount of time that is hailed as extraordinary. It just so happened Mozart started composing when most of us were learning to read so by the time he hit his early twenties, he'd already acquired amazing musical proficiency.

Gladwell also discusses Bill Gates, who, by the time the software wave was about to crest, had already been computer programming for 10,000 hours because he just so happened to go to a high school that had time-sharing opportunities on one of those early, rare, room-sized computers.

You get the point I'm trying to make. The more a person works at their skill, the better they become. Writing is no different. Consider Ernest Hemingway waking up at 6 AM every morning and writing until noon. That’s six hours, seven days a week. Without fail. How many of us can say the same? How many of us are willing to put in that amount of time despite outside distractions and demoralizing disappointments?

So while it’s very easy to get paralyzed in your writing with destructive questions of, “Am I going to make it or not?” it would serve you much better to just make the decision you are going to make it … and then do the work. One way to tell that you are going to be a success is if you are still writing after a disappointment.

So how about you? What kinds of disappointments have you written through?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Nielsen Ratings

By: Debbie Kaufman

Recently some people I know became members of the Nielsen Television Ratings families. What this means is that what they watch actually has a direct influence on television ratings. The Nielsen folks came out to their house and hooked up a special box called a “People Meter.” According to the Nielsen website, here’s how it works:

“Our national sample, composed of a cross-section of nearly 10,000 representative homes throughout the United States, is measured by People Meters, a technology that has been in place since 1987. These meters give us information about not only what is being viewed on the set, but also exactly which members of the household are watching.

The People Meter is a “box” — about the size of a paperback book — that's hooked up to each television set and is accompanied by a remote control unit. Each family member in a sample household is assigned a personal viewing button, which is matched to that person's age and sex. Whenever the TV is turned on, a light flashes on the meter, reminding viewers to press their assigned button and to indicate that they're watching television.”

Pretty cool, huh? Fortunately for my viewing preferences, we like a lot of the same shows. So, maybe those will get renewed for another season.

Like a book’s sales figures, TV ratings tell us a lot about what TV shows are popular. But, what it doesn’t tell us is why that show is a favorite. Is it the drama, the humor, the plot line, the characters, the sexual tension, the true-life basis of the show, the competition involved? Just what is it that keeps us tuning in week after week?

I have a close friend with no TIVO/DVR. I know, it’s shocking. She is totally addicted to So You Think You Can Dance. She will plan her evening around getting to watch that show. You can be in the middle of a friendly conversation and the next thing you know, she’s got to go because “her show” is coming on. It’s just that important to her. What does she love about it? She says it’s the beauty of the dance, the costuming, the choreography. But it’s also that this show doesn’t go into the backstage negativity and chatter that a lot of others do.

In my case, one of my favorite shows is The Closer, currently #3 in the ratings for cable shows. I watch (DVR) each episode not only because I like the plot lines, but because I love the character. We have a choco-holic, middle-aged Southern woman whose accent always gets her IQ knocked down a few points in the bad guys’ minds, yet she kicks bad guy butt every week. What’s not to love?

I love action, adventure, crime, and other similarly oriented shows. However, without a strong character(s) with a good developing story arc over the series, I can’t be bothered to tune in. I’m kind of the same in my book choices. I read very eclectically with a strong emphasis on series suspense. I read authors as diverse as Mae Nunn is from Rita Heron, or as different as Stephanie Bond is from Lee Child. What makes the choice for me? Like my TV choices, it is the strong character(s)’s personality and their development over the book or series.

Bottom line: TV ratings and book sales can tell us what’s popular, but not always why. What’s important to you in a TV show, a movie, or a good book? What keeps you tuning back in or buying an author’s latest release? Tell us what the ratings or sales figures don’t specify.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

And the Conflict Continues...

Here's what you can look forward to next week on Petit Fours and Hot Tamales. Hope to see you there.

Monday, July 27: Debbie Kaufman-Nielsen Ratings
Tuesday, July 28: J Perry Stone
Wednesday, July 29: Michelle Newcome
Thursday, July 30: Cici Barnes - Soap Operas: The Mother of all Conflicts (and father of everyone on the show)
Friday, July 31: Guest Chef: Lynne Raye Harris

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Saturday Review

Author: Paul Martin Midden
ISBN 978-1-58982-492-8
Genre: Suspense/Mystery

From the back cover:

Can the United States withstand an assault from within? Jake Telemark, a junior U.S. Senator, is ensnared in a plot he can scarcely believer-one that targets him along with his friends and associates. Called upon to re-open a part of his life long hidden, Jake must confront his past as he faces rising turmoil in the nation he loves and serves. The beautiful Isadore Hathaway beckons him, supports him, and directs him to pick up arms on behalf of himself, his country, and in the end, their relationship

Toxin is a fast moving story of political intrigue that begins with an innocuous lunch date with a beautiful woman, a lunch date that ends with a seemingly insane request – kill twelve men before they can overthrow the government. The wrong decision will not only bring about the downfall of the US government, but cause the death of Jake and Isadore themselves.

Middin does a good job of putting the protagonist, Jake, in the proverbial position of “a rock and a hard place.” He also keeps the story from lagging with a fast pace of non-stop action. I’d like to see a bit more development of his heroine than he gives us, but telling a thrill-ride kind of story in first person hinders him from giving us her point-of-view.

Bottom line: If you are an action/suspense/political thrill-ride fan, you’ll enjoy Toxin.

Reviewed By: Debbie Kaufman

Ratings: 4 Petit Fours & 1 Hot Tamales


Author: Catherine Mann
Berkley Sensation
ISBN 978-0-425-22833-3

If buff bods, confident males, and men with big, fast machines are your thing then Catherine Mann’s HOTSHOT is for you. Major Vince Deluca is asked to help protect Shay Bassest, the daughter of his childhood mentor. Shay has been targeted by a killer who doesn’t want her to tell a Congressional Committee about gang activity in Cleveland. Shay, a nurse, runs a teen center.

Through death threats, people killed outside the teen center, a drive by shooting, a blown up car, a bomb strapped to a youth, and an unwed teen’s baby being delivered while flying in a plane, Vince and Shay get to know each other again.

They find their attraction from fifteen years ago, as teens themselves, hasn’t faded. Vince has been running from his broken home, father in prison and almost becoming a gang member. Shay, depressed while in college tried to kill herself. They both have dealt with their issues and have recovered to become healthy people. Vince and Shay strip away their barriers from the past to recognize that they can have a future together.

HOTSHOT is fast moving, suspenseful, exciting and worth the read.

Reviewer: Susan May
Rating: 4 Petit Fours and 4 Hot Tamales

Someone To Love

by Jude Deveraux
ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-3716-5
ISBN-10: 0-7434-3716-0
ATRIA Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc
Genre: Romantic/Suspense

After three years, Jace Montgomery is still grieving over his fiancé Stacy’s mysterious suicide. He discovers a photo in one of her books of a house bearing the cryptic message, “Ours again. Together forever. See you there.” It was dated the day before her death. Jace seeks out the property—Priory House, a big brick fortress in Margate, England—and buys it.

Through hauntings, perils, and a possible love that cannot blossom while deaths go unsolved, Jace, with the help of Nigh, a foreign correspondent, is determined to find out what/who killed his fiancé. In Someone To Love, Ms. Deveraux has, as always, drawn the reader into her world. If you love books set in the English countryside with ghosts, suspense, and passion, you’ll very much enjoy Someone To Love.

Reviewed by Maxine Davis
This book was rated: 4 Petit Fours and 1 Hot Tamale

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Call to Action

by Guest Chef, Linda Winfree (author of Sultry Southern Romantic Suspense)

“I love it when a plan comes together.” Back in the eighties, Hannibal Smith (George Peppard’s character from The A-Team) intoned these satisfied words every week as the intrepid band of on-the-run mercenaries wrapped up yet another successful escapade. It’s great when a plan does come together, but when it doesn’t? Oh, boy.

I actually had a plan for this summer. (My children would tell you I always have a plan – they throw this term “control freak” around all the time. Actually, I’m merely a structured, highly motivated individual, but that’s a different blog post . . .) The plan was simple: finish grad school in June, work on the new book during June and July, and have a rough draft by the time I went back to teaching in early August.

Then the letter arrived in the first week of April. The white envelope with its typewritten address seemed so innocuous when I pulled it from the mailbox. I tore it open, removed the grand jury summons contained within and shrugged it off. I’d been called for jury duty before – twice, to be exact – and both times, it had been cancelled because everyone pled out early. Silly me, I’d forgotten what “grand” jury meant: billing or no-billing cases, not regular jury duty.

But, hey, it was two days out of my spring break, right? My summer plan was safe, even though we’d be called back for duty once more in July. Except as we were preparing to leave on the second day, the assistant district attorney came in to talk with us about the duties and responsibilities of a grand jury. When he mentioned looking into county issues, well, the room exploded with questions about recent actions of the local school board and school system.

That’s where my plan didn’t come together. Actually, that’s where my plan began to come totally apart.

As I possess what a dear friend refers to as “natural leadership skills,” I somehow found myself involved with the core group leading the grand jury’s civil investigation into the school system. That meant meeting weekly, studying data, interviewing citizens, reading, reading and more reading. Somehow, turning on my investigative brain turned off my creative brain, and my ability to write went the way of my lovely summer plan.

Basically, that innocuous envelope in April changed everything, for at least a few months. I didn’t ask for it; instead, this call to action simply landed in my lap. I could choose to ignore it or I could accept it and all the changes it brought with it.

How often in really good reads do we see characters faced with such a call? I know in my own work, the rather ordinary people who are my characters often wrestle with unasked-for events that challenge their plans. Here are a few examples:

· A man forced to choose between two women – and his choice may mean death for one. (What Mattered Most)
· A man who may have to betray the only family he has left in the name of justice. (Truth and Consequences)
· A mother whose rebellious teenage son compels her to ask for help from the estranged husband she still loves, but doesn’t want to need. (His Ordinary Life)
· An FBI agent seeking a serial killer . . . and facing the reality of working closely with the former lover from whom she’s keeping a life-altering secret. (Hold On to Me)
· A public defender locked into defending a killer, although it puts her own life at risk. (Anything But Mine)

What are your favorite calls to action from books, movies and real life?


Linda is giving away a print copy of Hearts Awakened OR one of her ebook backlist. Winner's choice. She will draw one lucky winner from those who comment. To learn more about Linda and her books, visit her website at or her blog at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fireworks Moments

Every couple experiences fireworks moments in their relationship. My marriage is known for them. I’m not a meek and mild wife. I say what I think, often when I should keep my mouth shut.

For some of our friends, mine and my husband’s most memorable fireworks moment was ironically on the 4th of July on our way to see fireworks. The fireworks were being shot off in my husband’s small hometown. He was driving (Are you starting to see the conflict already?) and I told him where to park and how to get there. He told me in an angry voice that he knew better than I how to get around. I won’t to go into more detail, but it turned into an ugly scene remembered by the car load of people with us to this day. (Andy and I are still married many years after this episode and can laugh about it, now - some.)

In a book, fireworks are the black moment or the significant moment of change, the parting of the ways, or the glitch in the relationship where the characters change and see their life in a different light. The turning point. Readers remember the fireworks scenes. They want to see conflict. That is what makes a story interesting. Memorable. More than anything, a writer wants their book to be memorable.

This is an example of some fireworks from my book Float Away with Me about a couple in a hot air balloon race. Every couple experience fireworks moments in their relationship. My marriage is known for them. I’m not a meek and mild wife. I say what I think, often when I should keep my mouth shut.

Emily turned off the water to the shower. Was that Reid’s cell ringing? It was late for a call. With the time change between the east and west coasts maybe not that late, but certainly after business hours.
Reid’s voice was little more than a low rumble through the closed door was she toweled off. Minutes later, she opened the door and he was still talking. He faced the balcony window with his back to her so engrossed in his conversation he’d no idea she’d entered the room.
“Roger, she’ll never understand that,” Reid said.
What was he talking about?
“Impossible. I can’t make it tomorrow. I’m already going to have a hard enough time explaining things now. See if you can put them off a day or so. Until after the race. Skytech works great. I know they’ll give us a contract if they see the performance notes, but I can’t be there tomorrow.”
Reid listened.
“No, I’ve not told her.”
Roger said something on the other end.
“I know, I know. I’ll be in touch.” Reid flipped the phone closed.
He turned sharply. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to know we need to talk.”
He looked at her for a long moment before he said, “Yeah, we do.”
Emily sat in one of the cushioned chairs. Pulling her housecoat close, she put her hands together in a prayerful manner, and slid them between her thighs. “What is going on, Reid?”
He moved to the chair opposite her. With legs wide, he leaned towards her and placed his elbows on his knees. His voice took on a pleading note. “Em,- -”
“I’ve asked you not to call me that.”
He cleared his throat. “Emily, you remember when you asked me to sponsor you?”
“Yes. Get to the point?”
Taking a deep breath he said, “Roger and I’ve developed a new material called Skytech and we needed to test it in everyday use. To see how it works in the practical world. When you asked me to sponsor you it was an answer to our problem. The envelopes you’ve been using during the race have all been made out of Skytech.”
Emily jumped up. Her arms iron rod straight and her hands fisted at her sides. “You could have killed me. You didn’t even know if the material would w—“
“Yes we did. It was tested in house. You were in no danger.”
“But even if I wasn’t in any physical danger, what about me winning the race. You know that means everything to me.”
He stood and reached for her. Emily back away, and wrapped her arms tight around her waist trying to squeeze out his betrayal.
“I didn’t know how important the race was to you in the beginning. But even when I did, I knew Skytech was a great material. You were in no danger of being hurt or of it affecting your ballooning ability. In fact, Skytech has probably helped you.”
“My ability is what has gotten me this far.”
“You’re a good pilot –“
“Look, I don’t have any another choice but to use your help to get the balloon inflated tomorrow, but after that I never want to have anything to do with you again.”

Do you have any fireworks moments you would like to share?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Conflict in Bittersweet Obsessions

by Carol Burnside

Instead of writing about conflict, I thought I’d give you an excerpt of my work in which a character is faced with a dilemma which creates tremendous conflict. The passage that follows is from a work in progress with a working title of Bittersweet Obsessions. It's an alternate reality light paranormal featuring Crainesians, a race of people who made Earth their home several decades earlier when their own planet self-destructed. They have telepathic abilities and it is their custom to let a surge of pheromones guide them to their life mate. Telepathic communication is indicated by a combination of single quotes and italics. And as a disclaimer, please know that this is a working draft and not a final product.

In the opening scene, Deacon Styles (a Crainesian raised as Human) and his Human wife, Sallie are meeting with a new and wealthy prospective client, Teriza Hamilton. If he lands the account, it would put his business on the map. Sitting across from this woman, he becomes aware that she is his intended life mate and engages in telepathic communication for the first time.

Teriza gathered up her handbag and a small portfolio off the conference table before making a swift exit from Outdoor Styles, Atlanta’s up-and-coming landscape architecture firm.

Without thought for the consequences, Deacon shoved his chair back and hurried after her. He caught up with her in the hall next to the elevators. Snagging a wrist peeking below lemon cashmere, he leaned in close to whisper. “What are you trying to pull?”

“It’s perfectly normal for life mates to have a strong connection. I’ve done nothing but offer you work.”

The second he’d made skin-to-skin contact, he’d known it was a mistake. Pheromones surged over him in waves. There wasn’t enough oxygen for the both of them, but he was loathe to cease touching her. What was wrong with him? With his free hand, he loosened his tie and told himself it was because he needed to make her understand how things were. “You insinuated that you’re my life mate. Does it not matter to you that I’m married?”

“Yes, it matters a great deal that you are married. I thought it best to leave quickly before things got out of hand. Now, please, let go of me.”

F*** this. He had to get away from this woman before he did something more supremely stupid than running after her. How would he explain his behavior to Sallie? Oh, hell. Sallie.

With considerable effort, he broke his hold, but found he couldn’t move away.

It’s not supposed to happen like this.’

The anguish in her thought made him believe it wasn’t meant for him to hear, and it heightened his desire to a painful pitch. Receiving her transmissions was akin to being caressed.


With a flash of glistening eyes in his direction, she brushed past him, practically running for the stairwell and—oh, sh*t—past Sallie standing a few feet away.

He dragged in a slow breath and let it ease out again, trying to dispel some of the tension.
Sallie turned, her clear, green eyes focused on him. “Deacon?”

There were myriad questions in that one quiet word, and he couldn’t answer any of them. They all contained confusion and fear and uncertainty.

A chill washed over him and he looked away. “She’s crazy.”

When his wife and life-long friend said nothing for several heartbeats, he ventured a glance.

“Is she?” Sallie stared at the faint pattern on the wall covering. A bereft expression cloaked her features.

With Teriza gone, his head began to clear. He leaned in, planting a firm kiss against the creamy, smooth skin of Sallie’s forehead and tried to recall the gentle passion they’d shared. “I think I’ll pass on Ms. Hamilton’s job.”

Gripping his arms, Sallie leaned against him for a moment, then straightened and pushed away. “No. You should... You should take it.”

As she retreated, the words ‘God help us all.’ whispered through his mind. He couldn’t discern if he’d picked up something from Sallie or if it was merely his own traitorous thoughts, but suddenly he’d become part of a terrifying triangle.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


By Sandra Elzie

There’s a very famous quote by Winston Churchill from a speech he made to the boys at Harrow School on October 29, 1941. The world was in a huge conflict…World War II…and this man was rallying the boys to stay on course, to never give up.

" Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'' Winston Churchill

Were his words only for a generation that is dying at more than 100 per day? I don’t think so. When a writer puts in time, energy, even blood, sweat and tears, to write the story that is inside the brain begging to be released, why do some of us then hesitate to let a friend critique it? Or maybe you got that critique…even if you paid $25 to some RWA chapter on the other side of America in their annual contest…but now you hesitate to send it off to a publisher or an agent.

Yes, I can understand the difference. In a contest, the judge doesn’t know your name. To that person, you’re just a number, but with a publisher, they send their rejection letter to you, (by name) to your home address. This is getting just a little more personal.

Aside from the fact that an editor in New York will never see you and the rejection is because your story isn’t for them and has nothing to do with you, it’s still difficult to get rejected, especially when you want something as badly as most authors want to have their work published.

But who is the enemy? In his speech, Churchill told the boys “…never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Who is your enemy?

I’d venture to say that it isn’t that faceless judge 3,000 miles away, nor is it the anonymous editor in New York. Sad to say, but WE are our worst enemy. We can blame anyone or anything we want, but when the rubber meets the road; when we’re finally honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it’s our choices that make the difference. Do you set an attainable goal of writing (or editing, plotting or researching) every day or write whenever the mood strikes or you have nothing else to do? Do you choose to complete a manuscript or do you hop to the next one so that you end up with 5 half-finished books? (Surprise, surprise! Publishers only buy and publish completed manuscripts!)

Face it, the choices are in our control and we either exercise that control to reach a goal or we abdicate that control to the little voice in our head that says we’ll never make it, we’ll never publish, and we’ll always be a failure. My advice to anyone who has a loud “little voice”, kick the sucker to the curb and move on. If you have a story to tell, then make up your mind to not let anything or anyone stop you from telling it. WRITE YOUR STORY! Then when you succeed; when a publisher puts down the money and buys your book, you will be the one taking the bow… providing you never yield to the Apparently Overwhelming might of the enemy and if you NEVER GIVE UP.

Quote taken from

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday, July 20 Conflict in Fiction

By Maxine Davis

Conflict in fiction does not have to mean pistols drawn at 10 paces. A story without conflict is just . . . well, a story. How many books would you buy that start out: boy-meets- girl, they-fall-in-love, and they live-happily-ever-after? Never mind; I know.

The conflict is essential to the main characters to draw the readers into their lives. Teenagers are as moved by the quiet girl’s getting a date with the most popular boy for the homecoming dance as we are by the scene with Scarlett as she pulls the carrot from the ground, making her vow never to be hungry again.

You must create the need to overcome the conflict and make it almost life and death. And conflict is not just one situation. An example is Dahlia Demorest’s conflict as she comes face to face with the man she thinks killed her father and then feeling her heart racing as he touches her. Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff came to Wuthering Heights as a gypsy who wanted revenge, yet who grew to love his stepsister, all the while knowing he could not have her. The reader feels sorry for him and weeps at the resolution. Professor Higgins is so wrapped up in changing Eliza Doolittle’s language habits that he cannot truly see her transformation into someone beautiful and intelligent who loves him.

In an article by Linda Shertzer, she said creating a good conflict in a romance is only one side of the writing dilemma. The other, equally important, side is how one resolves that conflict. Usually the hero and heroine are at opposites. It can be on a number of things, some of which include marriage, family, goals, politics, religion, or control. If he is a jewel thief and she is head of security, there is going to be a conflict. But, there cannot be conflict forever. There has to be some give-and-take. Characters mature, characters learn to negotiate. It might be an all-out argument or it might be communication. The conflict must build. There must be emotion that the reader feels so strongly that he or she becomes a part of that story.

Conflict is what makes us want to read the story. Conflict creates suspense. It hooks the reader. Conflict makes us love or hate the characters. It is the plot, the reason we read the book. There must be a struggle that we fear will end the relationship, yet we must keep reading to see how the struggle will be resolved and that resolve can leave us laughing, crying, or sighing.

My challenge as a writer as I develop conflict is to answer the questions I pose to myself. Is it enough? Is it recognizable as conflict? Is it emotional enough and not just a bump in the road to the end of the novel? Is there sufficient suspense, making the obstacle seems impossible for the characters to overcome?

Conflict for the reader is wonderful; for the writer, it can be excruciatingly painful, or it can be absolute fun. Fun, of course, is what we wish for. Me? Excruciating pain followed by a tear, a laugh and a sigh. Oh, yes, and the celebratory glass of champagne after that one last “Save As”.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who's Stirring up Conflict Next Week?

Here's our bloggers for the week of July 20. Looks like another good one.

Monday, July 20: Maxine DavisConflict in Fiction
Tuesday, July 21: Sandra ElzieNever Give Up
Wednesday, July 22: Carol Burnside
Thursday, July 23: Susan MayFireworks Moments
Friday, July 24: Guest Chef: Linda Winfree

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And The Winner Is....

Let me start by telling you about yesterday. We started the day off with a full load of workshops, spotlights on various publishing houses and editor/agent appointments.

Eloisa James gave an emotion packed inspirational speech at lunch. Her underlying message: Put yourself in your book. Use the emotions of your life's experiences to make your characters come alive.

Later in the afternoon we had another round of workshops, more spotlights and editor/agent appointments. Tired? You bet. Aching feet from dress shoes for three straight days? Definitely. Head spinning from huge amounts of valuable information on the craft and industry of publishing, names of new friends, new ideas and goals. Yes, yes and yes. And it's been worth every moment.

One particular highlight of my day, besides the incredible luncheon with Eloisa James, was a workshop I attended with Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I had several lightbulb moments thanks to them and can't wait to get back to my work in progress. Thank you ladies!

Another conference highlight has been a 2-hour workshop by Donald Maass - The Fire in Fiction - based on his new book by the same title. I highly recommend you go right out and get it. You won't be sorry.

Today is Saturday, the final day of workshops and networking, and the crown jewel of the Romance Writers of America conference - the Rita and Golden Heart awards for published and unpublished authors, respectively. Tonight we will gather in all our finery to honor these talented women and look on with respect and admiration as they recieve their much deserved recognition. It's a breathtaking moment when that name is called, everyone holding their breath, applauding, tearing up, filled with encouragement for their own dreams and aspirations. I can't wait.

Then, like the fun loving women we are - we go eat chocolate!

And the winner is....everyone who was fortunate enough to attend the conference and those of you who purchase the tapes! If you're a writer, don't let opportunities like these pass you by. And if you're a reader, then you win too. Because it's conferences and organizations like RWA that help educate and inspire the writers who provide you with all those wonderful books.

Don't forget to check the RWA website after tonight to find out the lucky winners of the Golden Heart and the Rita.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Not fantasy, but fantastic!

by Carol Burnside

In a writer's world, it's not everyday you get a chance to hear Janet Evanovich speak, have lunch with Linda Howard and then head to a workshop given by Eloisa James and her NY editor, Carrie Feron. How about following that fabulous morning with another workshop featuring a 4-NY-editor-panel, have cocktails with several published authors, then a private party with a boisterous group of writer friends and authors? Pure fantasy, right? A really, really good dream, maybe.


It's a typical day at an RWA Nat'l Convention. It's also the day I had yesterday. Okay, so I was one of 2000 or so at the lunch with Linda Howard, but the kicker? Today and Saturday I get to do it all over again!

Yeah, it's a rough gig, but I'll try to bear up under the strain. With all this going on, I'm hoping you'll understand if I don't pop into the comments today, but thanks for reading and following our blog. Have a great day!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Value of Volunteering

I've never understood why it is so difficult to get people to volunteer. It is almost always a positive experience.
Volunteering is the way to get the most out of any conference. I helped Carol and Darcy with the chapter basket literacy raffle yesterday. We worked all day getting ready but it was worth the time. I know I got a number of selfish benefits from doing so.
1. I met people I might not come into contact with any other time during the conference.
2. I feel good about doing and being a part of something positive like the literary effort.
3. As a member I liked doing my part to help make the 2009 conference a success. It takes hundreds of volunteers to make RWA tick.
4. I gave back to an organization that has helped me.
5. I also got two free books.
My paramount first impression of the 2009 conference is that romance writers are some of the nicest people in the world. Who wouldn't want to be associated with a group like that?

On another personal note I woke at 5:15AM, left Carol's house at 6:00AM for a hour and a half commute into DC, arrive at the hotel at 7:30 and hit the ground running. I'm a member of the Heart Beats, a medical writing group and had lunch with them. Brenda Novak was my table partner. We are now best friends.(I wish.) She was wonderful and gracious. We both have sick kids so besides writing we had that to talk about. I did get to speak to Shelia Hodgens who edits for the Mills and Boon Medical line. No pitch, but I plan to see her again before the conference is over. After lunch I went up to visit with Eloisa James. She had invited us when she was our guest blogger. Very nice lady. Julia Quinn was there also. The greatest thing about both of them is that they looked and act like you and me, which means we can all be published one day.
This evening was the book signing which had over 500 authors attending. Carol, Darcy and I were sooooo busy we only got to look over the sea of people a couple of times. I did get some books signed before a few of the authors I wanted to see left. My feet hurt now.
Oh, I forgot, Nora and I had a nice little conversation also. Could she be my next best friend?
I may not have a chance to comment much today so just know I'm out learning new things in workshops, and making more best friends.
Think of me on Friday afternoon at 4:30PM. I have an appointment with an editor.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conference Pitch Tricks

If you are anything like me, anxiety does weird little twisty things to your thought and speech patterns. This tends to present HUGE problems when pitching a book to agents and editors during conference time. Some people might suggest over-planning your pitch. Write it out, bounce it off at least five writer friends, type the sucker on a 3x5, and practice, practice, practice.

Nice, right? Uh huh, except when I took this approach my first two conferences, I was so terrified, I couldn’t remember a word of what I’d memorized. What's more my hands shook so badly, I couldn’t read off my cue card. Oy. I cringe to admit I even had a case of spur-of-the-moment body odor—the sort that radiates from your underarms in the space of three seconds. Had to keep my elbows pinned to my sides for fear I’d stink everyone out. Ruined my top as well as my pitch.

But I'm happy to relate, I’ve come a long way since then. I am not going to give you a how-to in terms of honing your pitch or how to express conflict and character arc in a few choice lines. There are far more qualified experts than I to do so. I am, however, going to share a little psychological game I put myself through before every pitch session.

I think about death.

Yes, you read that right. As I’m sitting in the waiting area—suffering from the nervous pees—I imagine I may die tomorrow. Sounds morbid, I know, but stay with me a moment. I imagine tomorrow is most assuredly my time and I keep running it through my mind until I believe it.

You see, death has an amazing ability to prioritize what is truly important in life. If I died tomorrow—if you died tomorrow—would we spend all this nervous energy on the dreaded pitch? Would we care about anything save adoring our loved ones?

A resounding NO, I can tell you ... and I can even answer for you.

So this is what I do. Since those first two conferences, I’ve been imagining my death before each and every pitch session. When I truly accept the possibility I may pass on, my anxiety levels drop instantly. Plummet really. I then sit down at the little table—the important priorities in my life crystal clear—and calmly go through my book in such a way as my composure affects not only me, but the person to whom I’m pitching. And between you and me, I truly don’t think editors or agents enjoy pitch sessions with the nervous Nellie types anyway. Who wants to sit through that? Ever watch someone about to have a stress-induced coronary perform on stage? Not fun for anyone.

So wish me luck. I’m pitching to an editor and I will be imagining my death. If you’re pitching this week, please try it. All the people to whom I’ve shared my secret swear by it.

Now it's your turn. Do you have any pitch tricks to share? I need all the help I can get.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coming out of the Closet

Before any of you start scratching your head, wondering if you really know me after all, I’m talking about a literal closet, not a figurative one. It all goes back to one of my personal rules: if I hear something mentioned three times on three separate occasions then I need to pay attention because Someone is trying to tell me something. In this case, I read or heard that a writer needs his or her own spot to write. I surveyed my house and quickly determined that cleaning out the front room or the new upstairs bonus room before writing would result in a twenty year delay between sentences. I was forced to admit that the only room I could call my own was my closet.

Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf be proud?

I would feel weird about writing in my closet, but I used to write stories longhand while sitting in my closet at home when I was in junior high and high school. Since I became so absorbed in in my writing, it was a good idea to sit in a way no one could sneak up on me and accidentally scare me out of my wits. Even though I’ve evolved into being able to write in a variety of environments, I still prefer to write with my back to a solid wall.

One day I emerged from my closet and thought to myself, “Self, surely you’re not the only person who does weird things in order to write. And I KNOW you’re not the only person who talks to herself, so don't freak out about that.” My self suggested I do a little research to find out other “weird” things writers do. Here’s what I found:

Vladmir Nabokov wrote standing up and composed his stories on index cards.

Truman Capote insisted on writing while lying down with coffee and a cigarette. Of course, then he traded out the coffee for tea, then the tea for sherry. . .

Phillip Roth paced while he wrote, keeping a lectern handy. Robert Browning, also a pacer, supposedly paced a trail in the carpet.

William Faulkner preferred to write at night and was quoted as saying he always keep the whiskey handy. (Which explains a lot. . .)

John Cheever left his home each day with a suit and went to a windowless basement, but he did most of his writing in his boxers. This must be a trend because Victor Hugo had his servants take his clothes away while he wrote and Jessamyn West writes in bed before getting dressed, too. James Whitcomb Riley takes the cake though; he had a friend strand him in a hotel room without clothes so he couldn’t go to the bar until he finished writing.

Ernest Hemingway had to sharpen twenty pencils before he started to write his 500 words for the day.

Raymond Carver sometimes wrote in his automobile. (I’ve thought about hiding from my kids there. . .)

Several writers cited the bath tub, including Ben Franklin and Agatha Christie, who supposedly got great ideas while sitting in the tub and eating apples.

Shelby Foote, Civil War historian, insists on writing with a dipping pen and inkwell.

Several authors write in their bathrobes including John McPhee who goes so far as to tie himself to the chair with his sash.

In the opposite camp Benjamin Disraeli preferred to write in evening clothes.

Henrik Ibsen hung a portrait of his mortal enemy over his desk.

Isabell Allende would light candles for her dead relatives before starting to write.

Friedrich Schiller, a contemporary of Goethe, wrote with red curtains drawn and rotten apples in his desk to “arouse him.” ( His imagination. They aroused his imagination. Sheesh.)

Of course, Dorothy Parker, as always, takes the cake. When asked the best place to write, she answered, “In your head.”

So, what’s the point, you may ask. I already knew I was a little weird. Did you know, however, that rituals like these help stave off writer’s block? There’s something about the act of having an established place and an established routine that helps train your mind and let it know it’s time to write. Habit staves off anxiety.

In the interest of helping everyone find his or her groove, let’s share some of our own rituals. After all, I just came out of the closet.

Information taken from the following web sites:

Other examples taken from the wonderful The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes (pp. 135-140) If you haven’t read this book, it’s a really quick read full of inspiration.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Harry Potter is Coming!

By Tami Brothers

Harry Potter is coming! Harry Potter is coming! Or should I say, Harry Potter will be here in TWO DAYS!!!

Can you tell I’m excited about this? It has been two year since the movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was released. That’s a long time for fans. I know I’ve been chomping at the bit waiting to see how Hollywood translates the Half Blood Prince from the book I love so much.

Still, this isn’t the longest I’ve had to wait for a Harry Potter release. I discovered the book series right after the first movie was released in November 2001. There had been some hype about it in my small Wyoming town and I decided I might as well see what it was about. I immediately fell in love with the story and went right out and bought the first 4 books. Although the Goblet of Fire was released in July of 2000, fans had to wait until June 2003 for the Order of the Phoenix release. That was torture! But, I completely understand JK Rowling’s personal life was filled with a wedding and a baby. Still, I was glad to have the Chamber of Secrets movie release in November 2002 to break up that long wait.

Just because I’m such an HP nut, here are is the release schedule for the books and movies (you know, to give you a better idea of how much time we had to wait in between each release).

  • The first book, The Philosophers Stone, was released in June 30, 1997
  • The Chamber of Secrets book (2) was released June 2, 1998
  • The Prisoner of Azkaban book (3) was released July 8, 1999
  • The Goblet of Fire book (4) was released July 8, 2000
  • The Sorcerer’s Stone movie (1)released November 16, 2001
  • The Chamber of Secrets movie (2) released November 15, 2002
  • The Order of the Phoenix book (5) released June 21, 2003
  • The Prisoner of Azkaban (3) movie released May 31, 2004
  • The Half Blood Prince book (6) released July 16, 2005
  • The Goblet of Fire movie (4) released November 18, 2005
  • The Order of the Phoenix movie (5) released July 11, 2007
  • The Deathly Hallows books (7) released July 21, 2007
  • The Half Blood Prince (6) movie release July 15, 2009
  • The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 movie (7) slated to release November 19, 2010
  • The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 movie (7) slated to release July 15, 2011
  • AND don't forget the opening of the Universal Studios Harry Potter Theme park - set to open in 2010

That is a lot of release dates! As of 2008, the books have sold more than 400 million copies, creating a phenomenon in the publishing industry. Talk about cool. At the time of the fifth movie release, the Harry Potter series had become the highest grossing film series of all time. Wow! Don’t we all want to have this kind of success in our writing one day?

Of all the books, I think my favorite is The Half Blood Prince. In this book we get to see Harry fall in love with Ginny (I totally saw this as a possibility way back when I read/watched the first movie) and the dynamics of Ron and Hermione’s relationship. This book is all about the conflict with the love stories as well as the conflict between Harry and Voldemort. I could (and have) read this book over and over again. Which is why I am thrilled for the movie release.

Since I could go on and on and on, I’ll leave you now with a really neat video of the movie trailer with some of the “making of” details.

Although I won’t be attending the Tuesday midnight premier (I have to work and take a test for my Business Finance class the next day), several of my friends will be. I envy them. But, we still have the final two set to release in the next couple of years. I will start planning for those now!

This leaves me to wonder how many other Harry Potter fans will be standing in line waiting for the clock to strike midnight?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

PFHT Sizzle at Nationals

Here are the posts coming up for next week. Don't forget to tune in Wednesday through Saturday as our Petit Four and Hot Tamale correspondents let us in on what's going on at the RWA National Conference!

Monday, July 13: Tami Brothers - Harry Potter is Coming!!!
Tuesday, July 14: Sally Kilpatrick - Coming out of the Closet
Wednesday, July 15: PFHT blogging from RWA Nat'l - J Perry Stone
Thursday, July 16: PFHT blogging from RWA Nat'l – Susan May
Friday, July 17: PFHT blogging from RWA Nat'l - Carol Burnside
Saturday, July 18: PFHT blogging from RWA Nat'l - Darcy Crowder

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Saturday Review


Author Berta Platas
St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Chica-lit

In Lucky Chica, author Berta Platas introduces us to Rosie Caballero, a hard-working young woman who can barely make ends meet. Rosie is a bit of “everywoman” and, through her, we can experience the emotional roller coaster and life style changes that winning the $600 million dollar lottery prize brings.

Rosie, who loves her Abuela and Cousin Cheeto, splits the winnings three ways between them and embarks on a shopping spree and personal makeover. What makes Rosie lovable as a character are her loyalty and caring, traits she manages not to lose along the way to a celebrity lifestyle. As Rosie embraces her new lifestyle, complete with a movie star boyfriend, she finds that all that glitters is sometimes just hiding what’s really underneath.

So, what would we do with $600 million dollars? I think that’s a question that we would all ask ourselves as we follow Rosie’s adventures. The fact that author Berta Platas gets us to care and worry for Rosie along the way is a measure of how well-drawn the characters are and how Platas manages to suck us right into Rosie’s world with universal themes of love, caring, and the values we embrace. Lucky Chica is a great read and will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Reviewed By: Debbie Kaufman
Ratings: 4 Petit Fours & 1 Hot Tamale


Author Lori Handeland
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
ISBN 0-312-94716-X
Genre: Urban Fantasy

From the back cover:
SHE CAN SEE EVIL COMING FROM ALL DIRECTIONS...It took the near annihilation of humanity for Liz Phoenix to understand the true meaning of her premonitions. Liz is one of the sacred few on earth who has the psychic powers to fight the malevolent forces that have tried to wipe out the human race since the beginning of time. She battled these beings once, thwarting Doomsday but losing most of her soldiers in the massacre. Now she must replenish her troops quickly-because the supernatural war isn't over yet.

Doomsday Can Wait continues Lori Handeland’s Phoenix series. In this second book, Liz Phoenix, the former ex-cop turned bartender turned world savior, faces difficult choices as she battles evil of Biblical proportions. Faced with yet another series of impossible choices, Liz must manage to survive, to save the world, and to save the man she loves.

Handeland’s Phoenix Series has been compared unfavorably with Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, but I disagree with the reviewers who make this comparison. The overall premise is different, the worlds are too dissimilar, and Handeland’s voice is unique. The only possible similarity seems to lie in the sexual exploits of Hamilton’s Blake and Handeland’s Phoenix.

Doomsday Can Wait kept me turning pages just as rapidly as the first in this series. Lori Handeland again avoided the easy choices for her characters and continued developing a unique world that I can’t wait to visit again.

Reviewed By: Debbie Kaufman
Ratings: 5 Petit Fours & 4 Hot Tamales

Friday, July 10, 2009

From RWA Nationals to Moonlight & Magnolias

All Conferences Big and Small: How to Navigate the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference, Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight & Magnolias, and other One-Day Writing Conferences.

Nicki Salcedo is a graduate of Stanford University where she majored in English and Creative Writing. She has served on the Executive Board of Georgia Romance Writers as Recording Secretary, Vice President – Conference, Vice President – Programs. She has been the Moonlight & Magnolias Book Fair Coordinator, Maggie Award for Excellence Historical Category Coordinator, and Assistant Web Administrator. She has contributed to her chapter newsletter, The Galley, and the Romance Writers of America's PROspects. She has served as the Literacy for Life Raffle Chair, and on RWA Leadership, PRO Advocacy, and PRO Steering committees. She is currently the Book Review Editor for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. In addition to the stuff above, Nicki also has a real job by day (one that pays her money) and at night she is a writer. She has three kids under the age of five (the monsters), a cat (named for a baseball player), and a husband (what’s-his-name). She is tired, but can be found blogging with Petit Fours and Hot Tamales and online at

The RWA National Conference is an exciting time for any member of Romance Writers of America. After my first conference, I could only describe it as summer camp for grown-ups with my new 2,000 best friends. The event runs from Wednesday to Saturday. Earlier if you are a board member and different events are available if you are a librarian or bookseller, PRO member, or belong to a special interest chapter having events at Nationals.

Barbara Vey (Publisher's Weekly) and Sherrilyn Kenyon
(#1 New York Times Best Selling Author
Wednesday is the night of the "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing. You don’t want to miss this event. All of your favorite authors, tons of energy in the room, and raffle prizes.

Thursday - Saturday are the workshops, editor/agent appointments, PRO retreat, and special speakers. You’ll really need to plan your time in advance to maximize the conference. Some people attend for the free books (yes, publishers have free signings throughout the conference), but do you really want to miss the all important craft workshops? Bob Mayer recently blogged about this topic, and I thought his comments were right on the mark.

National ends on Saturday night with the prestigious Rita and Golden Heart Awards. RWA puts a lot of time and energy into this event; you’ll feel like you are at the Academy Awards. It is a great way to end the conference. For more on RWA go to

The same year I went to my first National conference, I also attended my first Moonlight & Magnolias. Georgia Romance Writers has put on one of the most successful regional conferences for over twenty-five years. It has all of the perks of Nationals – editors and agents, keynote speakers, author signing, and Maggie Award ceremony – but instead of 2,000 attendees there are 300. Instead of 50 editors and agents there are 10. If you do the math, the ratio of time and access to published authors and publishing professionals can’t be beat. Last year, attendees came from 23 different states and Canada. 70 published authors were in attendance for the conference and book signing. It cost less than half the price of Nationals, but it can be double the fun.
Go to for more.

One-day events are a valuable to way to gear up for bigger events. Deb Dixon, Margie Lawson, Dianna Love and Mary Buckham, Bob Mayer, and Michael Hauge are well-known presenters and experts on writing. One-day events are just that, one-day and possible a hotel stay the night before or after. If you aren’t sure about spending your time and money on a full week or weekend conference, try a one-day workshop first.

I absolutely love RWA National and Moonlight & Magnolias. Every year I go, I feel that my money is well spent. I also like one-day events to give me a quick boost to my writing during the year.

Why Go? Why Spend the Money? Why not Stay Home and Write?
Going to a conference or one-day event is a great idea for a few reasons. It will:

  1. Motivate your writing
  2. Build a support system with other writers
  3. Educate yourself about the craft and the business of writing
  4. Connect and network with industry professionals and publishing houses
Conference Tips!
Here are some suggestions for making your experiences successful.

Goody Room at Moonlight & Magnolias
How to pack
Bring clothes and toiletries of course, but also bring your business cards. Some people swear by business cards. I have some, but I don’t think everyone has to have them. I’ve met plenty of wonderful people at conferences without business cards, and I just wrote their contact information in my notebook! A name tag holder with an extra pocket can come in handy. Remember you’ll be carrying your phone, pen, notebook, room key, cash, and credit card. Going to take pictures? Don’t forget your camera. Travel light and smart during the conference hours and secure items in the hotel room safe when you don’t need them.

Leave space in your suitcase for goodies, books, or raffle prizes. Want to get really organized? Print it out my conference packing list!

What to wear
This is a professional organization and a business conference. Business casual attire is recommended. A sweater or wrap would be a good idea. Workshop areas may be cold. For the award ceremony, anything from professional to
dressy is acceptable. Be kind to your feet at all times. Be ready for walking, standing, and dancing! A dear friend once mentioned to me that we are writers and we should be able to dress any creative way we like. I agree. She loves purple, and would never wear a business suit. Hey, neither would I! Allow your personal flair to shine through, too.

What to do professionally

Have a goal in mind. Are you there to learn? Are you there to pitch? Are you there to promote yourself? Create a plan based on the conference schedule. Attend the autographing. Organize your time. Plan for some down time.

What to do socially
Volunteer. Much of RWA’s success (and any local chapter) is built on the strength of its volunteers. Help and network at the same time.

Be frien
dly. I know you’d rather be in your cave writing, but pretend you are outgoing and make a new friend. Talk to someone you see standing all alone. Sit at a table with strangers and introduce yourself. Ask other writers about their work and listen to what they have to say.

Act like the world is watching you. This is not the time to be funny or strange or unprofessional. People are watching and remembering what you do and say. Be positive in all of your interactions even if the editor or agent isn’t interested in your manuscript. You don’t know who might be listening. Don’t talk too much about yourself. You should listen, too! But don’t be so quiet that you go unnoticed! Remember to smile and have fun.

More Hints

  • Arrive early for appointments and workshops
  • Turn off your cell phone on during all conference events, workshops, meetings, or luncheons.
  • Talk to authors who write what you want to write
  • Thank speakers and congratulate award winners
  • Be courteous, not confrontational, to:
    • Workshop presenters. If you think you know more than someone else, don’t badger them. Submit a workshop proposal for yourself for next year.
    • Editors and agents. Understand that the editor or agent who has your manuscript also has the manuscripts of 50 other people sitting on her/his desk. It is not personal. Don’t put an editor or agent in an uncomfortable situation by questioning them about the status of your manuscript.
    • Conference staff, volunteers, and hotel staff. Understand that mistakes happen and allow the staff to try and correct it. It will make your conference experience much more pleasant if you thank the volunteers and staff members. The server pouring your iced tea, may one day be your biggest fan.
  • Carry a mirror or walk with a good friend to check your teeth!
  • Skip the perfume and scented lotions
Editor and Agent Appointment Tips

  • Note what grabs the attention of editors or agents and any industry trends
  • Pitch finished manuscripts only
  • Be ready with a 50 words or less high-concept “elevator pitch” of your manuscript
  • Write down your pitch on a note card. This will really help you if you are nervous.
  • Have two stories ready
  • Be prepared to answer any questions about other writing projects and how long it takes for you to complete a book
  • Bring your business cards
  • Please be courteous of everyone's time in group appointments. Do not monopolize the time when others in the group need their fair share, too. Be respectful of others story ideas.
  • Note how the editor or agent prefers queries (mail or email) and submission type (synopsis, three chapters, etc)
  • The editors and agents will be giving their honest opinions on what they like or do not like. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. Any interest or praise or criticism is only one person’s opinion
  • Don’t bring or give a hard copy to any editor or agent in person. If they want one, they will tell you where to mail one!
  • If your pitch is requested, don’t delay. Send your queries within one month of the conference.
One of my 2,000 best friends
What to do post-conference?

Send thank yous to authors, editor/agents, and presenters who you made connections with.

Send emails to new friends.

Fill out the workshop and conference surveys.

Note what you learned, what you liked, and what you would do differently next year. Have fun at the conference, and then get back to writing!

Got conference tips? Post your suggestions.