Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Cluttered Desk & an Organized Mind

I wonder who first said a cluttered desk is a sign of an organized mind. If that old saying is true, my mind must be organized indeed! Case in point? Here's a photo of my desk. It's a mess, isn't it? Each and every item, though, connects to a writing project I've got going on in my mind--and on paper. Let's a take a tour and you'll see what I mean.
First, front and center is my laptop. That's Misha's recent blog post on the screen. My desk would look pretty empty without my laptop and I bet yours would, too. That laptop is Grand Central Station for my entire day. My day job and my personal life are both connected to it. And of course, so is my writing life. My new series featuring Jamie Sinclair, a private investigator with nerves of steel and a shattered heart, is a December Random House release and this laptop played a vital role helping me reach that milestone.

To the left of my laptop, you'll see my huge coffee mug. Of course, the mug changes daily if not sooner. Hey, I'm cluttered, but I'm not icky! More often than not, though, there's a glass of water in that spot. Water is important to the health and well-being of your entire body, but especially to your brain. I try to stay hydrated because I need my brain to write. I may need it for other things too, but I'm a girl with priorities!

Moving on, you'll see a blue notebook behind the coffee mug. That notebook holds all kinds of tidbits related to the any story I'm working on currently. If you took a peek inside, you'd find a list of turning points for The Kill List: A Jamie Sinclair Novel as well as an entire string of juicy conflicts for the next books in the series. You just might find notes for other series, too. Hmmm...

And that green pen? The rest of the Eight know it well! That's my critiquing pen. I also use it when I move through line edits from my editor. The green ink is a signal to myself that I've seen a requested change and addressed it in the new, digital file I'm creating for her.

The background of the photo is stacked high with books. Admittedly, not all of them are mine. I share space with Mr. Christoff and he's got some bookish pursuits of his own. Sharing space can be a challenge, but I'd rather share space with him than have a room full of desks to myself.

So, now that you've seen my cluttered desk, tell me about yours. Is it cluttered? And is it the sign of your organized mind? The Eight and I would love to know!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your Hobo Sack of Writing Tricks

"Are you a plotter, or a pantser?" 

This question, heard at writers gatherings 'round the world, is the author's version of "Hey baby, what's your sign?" It's how writers get to know each other, how we find compatible associates, maybe even learn a few secrets.

For those not familiar with the terms, "plotters" are authors who like to plot out their books before they sit down to write. "Pantsers" are the opposite: they like to fly by the seat of their pants, just get in there and start writing.

But, whatever category we fall into (and even when we defy categorization), we all have our bag of tricks: those little tidbits we pick up on the way and tuck into our hobo sacks, in case we need them on our writing journeys. Whether we use them or not, it's always good to know they're there.

So, without further ado, I'd like to open up my personal hobo sack and let you take a peek inside: 

Also known as "Save the Cat," Blake Snyder's beat sheet originated as a tool for screenwriting. Using the basic three-act structure, Snyder breaks down this time-honored pattern of storytelling into manageable "beats" that most stories (especially films) usually hit to achieve resonance with the reader (or viewer). This post, by Tim Stout, does an excellent job of explaining the beats, and how they work together to create a satisfying story experience.

Romance writing is a very specific kind of storytelling, and crafting a good romance is hard work. Of course, writing of any kind is a challenge. But to tell a believable love story within the bounds of 250 or so pages, often creating an external plot around which the romance grows, and maintaining tension when everybody knows that the guy and gal will be together in the end? Well, that takes real skill.
Thank goodness for paranormal author Jami Gold, who created this Romance Planning Beat Sheet. Taking the basic structure of Blake Snyder's beat sheet (along with other writing tools she credits on her site), Jami has created a template that deals specifically with the evolution of the romantic relationship in your story. And even better, she provides a downloadable spreadsheet that will help you figure out at what point in your story each of these beats should strike. It's an amazing tool. Thanks, Jami!

Hero's Journey

The term "hero's journey" as it relates to fiction was first introduced in 1949 by Joseph Campbell. This series of seventeen steps is especially interesting because it's essentially the place where characterization meets plot. Regardless of who your hero is, or where his adventure takes him, most heroes will pass through very specific phases of development, both internally and externally. Fascinating stuff!

Heroine's Journey 

And let's not forget the ladies! Heroines, just like heroes, have their own mountains to climb and rivers to cross. Laurie Schnebly Campbell did an online workshop about this very subject. Even though I'm not sure or if Laurie plans to do this workshop again, I wanted to share the link with you so you can check it out. And for a list of Laurie's upcoming workshops, email her at

3 Acts, 9 Blocks, 27 Chapters

For writers who reeeeeally like to plot, here is a tool that I just tried recently. It breaks your story down into twenty-seven chapters, each touching on a specific phase of story development... and that's pretty much your whole book! It's a really good exercise that made me seriously think about how my story was going to get from the beginning to "the end."

The author even made a YouTube video, which you can check out here:

So, come on, let's see inside that spotted kerchief you carry on a stick over your shoulder! What kind of writing tricks and tips have you picked up along the way?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Guest Post: Reissuing Mary

Mary Blayney has been writing both contemporary and regency romances since 1986, though her writing began in earnest at age fourteen when she drafted a script for her favorite TV show. While her attempt never made it to the small screen, she eventually pursued writing as a career, first with contemporary romances for Silhouette and later with historicals set in the Regency period.

That's from her official bio.

Off the record, I can tell you that Mary Blayney is a Lifesaver. And one of my critique partners. And that makes me lucky because she's also one of my favorite authors. so I am very happy to have her as a guest here on the Rockville 8!


This past year with the essential and knowledgeable support of my writing group I dipped my toes into the world of epub. The five of us each wrote a novella and published them in an anthology (Paper AND ebook) titled ONCE AND FOREVER. You may have heard about it here one or five times since the remarkable writer Evie Owens is a member of the Rockville8 and our writing group. Her novella in ONCE AND FOREVER is a stand out. It alone is worth the price of the book. [Note from Evie: *blush*]

So my next big step is to reissue the five stories I wrote for Kensington in the early part of this century. (I recall I was just sitting down to work on the second book in the series when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Needless to say, with a son working in New York, it was a few days before I got back to work.)

The first of the series, HIS HEART’S DELIGHT will be out some time this week – I promise that as soon as the date is firm it will be announced loud and clear – a promise I make to all the marketing mavens who have been so helpful.

These stories are what I would class as “comfort” reads – a subject discussed recently in a blog post by Mackenzie Lucas. Comfort Reads (my term) are stories you turn to when your world is stress filled and you want to escape, not to someone else’s pain and torment but to a world that is a little kinder and more gentle than your own. The Braedon Series books are romantic, but not erotic. They are short but not novellas. The characters are real but far from perfect. And, praise heaven, they live happily ever after.

So I have three questions for you. Feel free to answer one, two or all:

  1. Do you have any suggestions on how to find the market for my comfort reads?
  2. Do you have any suggestions on the best places to get the word out that there is a new player in the game?
  3. And did any one else think Louise Penny’s second mystery was awful after a terrific first, prize-winning effort? 

Comment here for a chance to win the kindle edition of Mary's lovely story, Father Christmas.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Professor Cancer

The last year has been difficult.  Four surgeries and a cancer diagnosis have taken a toll on me.  I wasn’t always able to get in front of the computer.   But I didn’t give up writing.  I may not have been writing with regularity but I did carry my notebooks and pens and wrote in them.  I brainstormed in the hospital.  Some of the ideas conceived on the pain meds aren’t fit for public consumption.  But I did keep my brain percolating.

When something negative happens, I like to find the good parts of the situation.  I thought about what I learned this past year and came up with this list.  Though some of these have been said before, I found out they really are true. 

You can get through this.  Even if you think you can’t. 

Don’t allow yourself to dwell on what might happen.  Set short-term goals to get from one thing to another.  Only think about the next step in the process.  Example: Doctor’s appointment on Tuesday.  

You are stronger than you think.  I found that I could take a lot more than I thought.  So can you.   

There are many people who love you and who would miss you.   People tell you how much you mean to them when they think they will lose you.  One friend sent me a utube video of friends who shaved their heads for the friend who had cancer.  She told me she was glad she didn’t have to do that for me.  This was one of the handful of times that I cried.  But it was a good cry.  

Don’t worry so much about small things.  Like cream, what’s genuinely important rises to the top and the trivial sinks to the bottom.

You are not in control. The more tightly you hold on, the less control you have.  All you control freaks, please take note. 

Reach out to others when you need them.  I often feel badly for asking for favors. Learn to do that when you need it.  Plus, others will often volunteer before you even have to ask. 

Let yourself deal with your issues in your own time and in your own way. Realize that you will be dealing emotionally with this long after it is over.  Accept the fact that facing your frailty can be a long process. 

I want to write more than ever.  Looking forward to being able to get back to my normal writing schedule kept me going.  Focus on the things you love, and visualize doing them. 

I enjoy helping other people.  I want to pay forward the wonderful things that people did for me since I realize that it won’t be possible to pay each and everyone back in kind. 

People and things that I love, I love more deeply.  People and things that I dislike, I dislike with less intensity. I focus on what I truly care about.   What I don’t like, I’m able to let it roll off my back more easily. 

Be careful with what you consider important. You only have a certain amount of time on this earth.  Spend it doing things that are important to you. 

People act differently when they hear you have cancer.  You have to show them that it’s permissible not to.  My family didn’t treat me as they normally do.  You have to be as normal as possible and honest about your feelings and it will help them to do so as well. 

It’s good to cry when you need to. It loosens the knot in your stomach and eases the tension.  But don’t let it go on too long.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to function.  Keeping your usual routine is key.