Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A #workinprogress revisited by Margo Hoornstra

On The Make is Book 3 in in my latest series, Brothers In Blue. Four heroes who met at the police academy and became life long friends. The dropout, the straight arrow, the movie star and the maverick. All share a passion to serve and protect, each in their own unique way.
A while back on these pages, February 11 to be exact, I shared the first five paragraphs of On The Make, along with a plea for help in getting the words right. At that time, I had essentially five paragraphs of introspection and very little dialogue. Since the story opens at a funeral,  and deals with my heroine’s reaction to being there with her two sons, many of my ROP buds thought maybe I needed to lighten the prose up a bit.
Now back from the drawing board, this is what I’ve come up with.

“Let us pray.”
Madison Clark dutifully lowered her head, along with scores of others in the huge, impersonal auditorium. In her case, more for show than reverence. Who held a funeral at a place like this? The Greater Metro Conference and Convention Center. Then again, nothing about her marriage to Joe, short as it was, could be construed as normal. Why should anything change now that he was gone?
“Dear Lord, we commit Joseph Eugene Edward Ralls, this once earthly soul, to your able and compassionate care.”
Dear Lord. Please don’t let him run into Dave.
Despite the solemn nature of the occasion, she couldn’t hold off invading memories of a previous life changing event. Hard to believe three short years earlier she’d buried one husband, the love of her life and soulmate, with her young sons, and his, on either side of her.
“Almighty God, we ask that you grant those of us left behind the guidance to understand and the patience to accept your decision.”
The minister’s voice invaded her thoughts. Keeping her head down, she shifted her hips more snuggled in the plush stadium style chair and sat straighter. A mere thirty six months later, front and center in the jam-packed amphitheater, she prepared to bury spouse number two.
Back when their father died, Dak, the sensitive one, sobbed so loudly during a solo of Amazing Grace, he drowned out the lyrics. At eight, he was old enough to understand and process the chaos of event since his father’s unexpected, and lethal, leukemia diagnosis. While not able to make sense of it at all. Cameron, two years older, and already stoic and long suffering like his dad, hadn’t moved a muscle during the entire service.
Much as he was now.
“In your name we pray. Amen.”
“Amen.” Madison murmured the response along with so many others in the room.
As all their heads came up as a single unit, her thoughts remained on her two boys.
Now older and more mature, each exhibited no more emotion than simple boredom as the accolades went on and on for their mother’s late husband.

Okay now. Be honest. I can take it. Does this work or no? The story does lighten up from there. I promise.
My days to blog here are the 11 and 23. For more about me and the stories I write, please visit my WEBSITE

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Character is king (...or queen) by Leah St. James #amwriting

The Plot Master (TPM) and I watched The Martian the other night. I had never read the book by Andy Weir, but the story of the self-published novelist rising to mega success, followed by a mega hit movie, always inspired me, and it's been on my "watch" list since it came out.

For whatever reason, TPM wasn’t all that keen on watching, but I talked him into it. Within the first few minutes as we followed the adventures of the Mars explorers, I was hooked, exclaiming things like, “This is fascinating!” Meanwhile TPM was watching half-heartedly and playing solitaire on his tablet.

When the crisis stranded poor Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on this uninhabitable piece of rock, his crewmates thinking him dead, I was curled up on the couch in a fetal position, biting my fingernails, and TPM had started to take interest.

According to the movie’s website, the film lasts 143 minutes, although I was completely unaware of the passage of time. In fact, I only paused the video once for a break...which is significant since I’m a serial pause-for-breaker. Somewhere in there TPM put down his tablet, and when the final credits rolled, he said, “That was excellent.” High praise from TPM. Even more striking, for once he had no comments on what he would have done differently, plot-wise, no suggestions for improvement.

It got me thinking about plot vs. character and which drives a story. (It also convinced me to put the book on my reading list!)

As a reader, I generally tend toward the character end of the see-saw. I read to find out what’s going on with the characters and their relationships, and how they react to the action around them. To me the pickles they get themselves into are sort of secondary, or interchangeable. Substitute car chase for martial arts butt-kicking—that type of thing. Or in a romance novel, substitute discovery of the hero’s past mistake for discovery of something he did two days ago. So for me, the story isn't so much about what the characters do as how those plot turns affect them.

But with The Martian, I was completely absorbed in the plot, while almost ignoring the character. Not that Mark Watney wasn't likeable, just that the situation was so compelling he was almost secondary.

But then I thought about it a bit more.

Certainly any of the astronauts on the mission would have done what they could to save themselves. Probably, since they are all scientists of one form or another, each would have approached the situation methodically, forming a hypothesis for each problem, then testing the theories. At least in the beginning. But how many would have persevered through the seeming insurmountable challenges, right up to the final moments, as Watney did? (I’m trying to NOT give away the ending for any who haven’t seen the movie or read the book.)

Finally I decided it was that component of his character (calm, steadfast perseverance in the face a situation that would have reduced most of us to a wailing pile of self-pity) that drove the plot, and ultimately the story. So for me, it’s a character story after all.

Then I got to thinking about all my favorite books and movies and tried to figure if it was plot or character, and again, I chose character.

Gone with the Wind, for example: Aside from this Yankee's curiosity of the setting in the ante-Bellum South, it was the characters and their relationship that intrigued me more than the story of war.

Or Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale:  Two sisters in German-occupied Paris (WWII) and how they deal with the horrors of war. While the situation and setting are compelling (emotional and heartbreaking), how the sisters react is what tells the story.

What about romance?
Since the ending of a romance novel is, to a great extent, predetermined by the genre, romance writers have to be pretty clever and skilled to create suspense, either plot-wise or relationship-wise, to keep readers turning the pages. But again, that’s why I read: To find out how the characters react to those plot twists and how they achieve their HEA/HFN ending.

What do you think? Plot or character—which drives the story for you?


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. Learn more at her website, or visit her on Facebook.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

#Nurturing weeds

Image result for pink evening primrose
Pink Evening Primrose

Image result for milkweed flowers
Related image
Daisy Fleabane
Image result for photos black eyed susan
Black-Eyed Susan

Oxeye Daisy
Oxeye Daisy
Blue Cornflower

Lythrum Salicaria, Purple Loosetrife, Purple flowers, Pink flowers
Loostrife or Lythrum
Flowers or weeds? I guess it is in the eye of the beholder. I admit that I let these untamable wildflowers grow in my garden despite the fact some gardeners consider them obnoxious, invasive, and undesirable weeds. 

I've been warned to dig them out by the root before they have a chance to, horror upon horror, take 'hold' and edge out more desirable specimens like roses and hydrangeas.


Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with roses and hydrangeas. Indeed, if you were to ask my favorite flower, I would say it is whatever is in bloom. 
Now, stick with me here as I go through a rather convoluted theory about how gardening can relate to writing. It came to me yesterday as I was working outside.
Imagine each flower as a person in your story. That each bloom is a character both unique or stereotypical. It's undeniable that plants possess their own strengths and weaknesses much as we do. Some are aggressive and try to take over the bed. Some are delicate and temperamental. Some are bold and some dainty. 
Others, like the hybridized rose, might create a gorgeous and showy splash of color but they've lost that original, deeply haunting, and sweet scent in the process. They put me in mind of the handsome or lovely character that is all surface charm with no inner substance.
Can't you see children or childish characters in the tiny daisy fleabane? Milkweed is maternal. Attracting butterflies like a magnet and essential to the Monarch's diet, milkweed is the comfortable, older woman. Sweetly pink or butter yellow Primrose is the secondary female lead. This character is usually the heroine's best friend. On the other hand, you have to see that purple lythrum is the male best friend. 
Or do plants radiate gender to you as they do me?
That's why I see the Black-eyed Susan or Oxeyed daisies as great heroines. They're plucky, fun, cute, and bright all at the same time. While the masculine blue cornflower is perfect as the hunky, strong, and brave hero.
Now, every grower knows they must nurture each plant to their individual needs of water and fertilizer. So must the author nourish the story. But beware. Suspenseful drum roll. No matter how well tended a garden, black-spot, spider mites, or root rot might invade at any moment. 
The thought makes me shiver just as much as when suspense drives the plot. 
Even among the flora, there are few bad flowers. Queen Anne's lace tops my list as an undesirable. I didn't realize I was allergic to the intricately woven bloom until the summer of snot. That was the year it grew along the fence line and my little sweeties lovingly brought me a stem or two each day. I, in turn, dutifully placed them in vases around the house. And sneezed my head off as my nose ran and ran and ran. 
It's embarrassing to say how long it took me to figure out the cause of my 'summer cold'. It goes to show that Queen Anne's lace is the epitome of a complex character. Pleasant and interesting to look at but hiding a sinister motive.

See? Everything you need for writing inspiration can be found in your garden. There are blooms that are lovely, sweet, spicy, pungent, bold, pastel, or shyly hidden among the foliage. I bet you can find an annual or perennial that uncannily resembles someone you know.
Nature even comes with bad guy-flowers - like Queen Anne's lace and goldenrod. These nasty little buggers sprout each spring looking like every other tiny green speck. It's how they hide out and go unnoticed as they shove their roots deep into the soil.
It's the same when you write. Hidden threats provide conflict and suspense. Fear and worry keeps the main characters moving along. 
To get back to these sinus inflaming plants that burst from the soil, a shoot of innocent green in a green sea. They are the evildoer hiding in plain sight. It isn't until the leaves uncurl or sets a bud that it becomes identifiable. Only then is the gardener able to spot and weed them out. Much as a writer grooms the plot, elaborating on a character's internal and external struggles. The main characters must recognize and accept the problem before it can be defeated.
And so it goes. A story line forms like a garden reveal. Characters struggle to find and keep their place in the world much as shade and sun seeking plants. They must guard against others that try to crowd or overtake them. Defend against rivals that would kill them by hogging the soil's nutrients. 
But, sometimes, even two vastly different plants manage to harmoniously exist side-by-side. These are the lovers coming together in an explosion of colors and complementing hues.

And this is the road my mind traveled as I dug and planted in the dirt. You might say, I spent too much time in the sun. I don't know.

Either way, I'll leave my thoughts on seeds for another time.
author of paranormal romance

My latest work is a novella bridging the gap between the original Blautsaugers of Amber Heights series and my new Vampires of Amber Heights series. 

 During the Civil War, Union soldier, John Alden took a musket ball to the gut. As he gasped his final breath, he was turned into a vampire and started life anew in Amber Heights, Missouri. For over one hundred and fifty years, he's lived a rather solitary life as a vampire Enforcer.

Young single mother, Joann Clarkson, needs a job and fast. Hoping to be rehired, she returns to Dr. Michaela Blautsauger's lab prepared to eat a hefty helping of humble pie. She comes to regret that decision when she's taken hostage. Things look grim but she'll never stop fighting to escape. Her son needs his mama.
As an Enforcer, John must hunt down the vampire who kidnapped Joann. In his search, John winds up babysitting her toddler Cody. Changing diapers might be worse than getting staked, but nothing compares to how he feels when both mother and child fall into danger again.

The Blautsaugers of Amber Heights series. Each novel features a member of this vampire family as they deal with loving interference from family members, wacky members of the human community, danger, and their own personal hangups to find their soulmates.

Kindle Worlds novella, Vampire Girl: Back to Hell was a lot of fun to write. I hope you enjoy it.
Eli Grayheart, vampire demon, lesser Lord of Inferna was banished to the mortal realm. For a decade, he has been reduced to working the night shift for human employers and little pay. As he desperately seeks a way back to his homeland, he has plotted his revenge. The pink Fae, known as Keeda Weranseer is going to regret the part she played in his exile. Ever more graphic plans for revenge fuel his life, and, he swears, if it takes forever and a night he will find his way back to Hell.
Contact me, read a free Christmas short story, or see what I'm working on at:  remullins  
Or find me on: FACEBOOK


Friday, May 18, 2018

Things Are Looking Up! by Jannine Gallant

As you read this, I'll be hip-deep in workshops and book signings at the 2018 RT Booklovers Convention. My very first convention ever! I promise a full report on what I learned for my June 2nd post. In the meantime, this one will be a mishmash of recent book-related news and possibly a photo from the convention if I can find time to download one.

Me right before the Kensington party ready to sign.

So, we've discussed in the past the importance of reviews and the magic BookBub has on sales if only we could get accepted by them! I've been busting my butt to get more reviews on WILDE ONE, the first book in my BORN TO BE WILDE series, but I've stalled at 19. Despite the high average rating, BookBub rejected my publisher's request, and I was seriously bummed. I've also been nagging everyone I know to review BURIED TRUTH, the first book in my SIREN COVE series. That one has 26 reviews, but after being hit by NetGalley trolls, my average is below 4, so not a contender until it gets a little higher. Thinking all had failed, I was amazed and delighted when the editorial assistant at Kensington emailed to tell me I got a BookBub deal for EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES! That book released three years ago and had two BookBub deals way back then. As a result, it has lots of reviews and a high average. Hey, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I'm simply going to cheer! I know from past experience that ALL my suspense books will see sales from one ad! I pretty much happy danced around my house. Anyway, the ad will come out on June 26th, release day for LOST INNOCENCE. How fortuitous! I'm hoping for a big boost in release sales!

AND, as if that wasn't enough good news, my buddy James the editorial assistant just sent me the marketing plan for LOST INNOCENCE. What do you know, it's been reviewed by both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly--a first for me! More happy dancing, this time around the boat ramp booth. Check out my WEBSITE for the quotes!

The moral of this story is to keep at it and don't give up. Good things will happen! Now we'll wait for the end of June to see if those good things result in actual sales. Happy reading everyone, and if you're at RT, please say hello to me. I'd love to meet both authors and readers!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

When Pieces Don't Fit by Betsy Ashton

Back when I was beginning as a writer, I piled up tomes in cyber dust. I have probably six complete novels that have yet to see the light of day. Rightfully, in the format they were in when they went into "storage." Perhaps I'll find something in the stories that is worthy of updating and turning into a novel. Perhaps not, but it was all part of my tuition of learning my craft.

When I finally settled on one story, I knew, just knew, how it would go. I wanted to write about the dissolution of a marriage where both the husband and wife tell the story in first person. I picked a voice for the man:  crisp, short sentences or fragments thereof, limited showing of emotion until the turning point. I loved that brisk male voice.

For the wife, I wanted her to descend into drugs and madness. Long winding sentences tumbling back on each other. Wallowing in grief. Writing from the POV of a mad woman was a challenge and oh so liberating, because I could engage in purple prose under the guise of drugs.

The voices were distinct. No one had difficulty reading the beta copy and determining who was speaking. Trouble was, these were the wrong voices to tell the story. One of my beta readers pointed out that the story would be stronger with a single narrator. Problem was, I couldn't see either Mr. Brisk or Mrs. Rambling Rose carrying the story line.

Another beta reader suggested I sleep on it. I did. And about three in the morning, I sat bolt upright in bed with a voice yelling at me: "It's my story, dammit. Tell it my way." Well, yes ma'am.

That was the voice of a minor character. The mother of the wife, the mother-in-law. Really? This character? No way. But the more I thought about the change, the more I thought, way. Maybe she could carry the narration. I still wanted first person, because I wanted the narrower focus, the ability to delve deeply into emotions.

I played with a couple of chapters. The pieces fit. The story flowed. 90,000 words had to be rewritten in a completely different form. Writing became fun. Watching the new main character shape herself was thrilling. The more I got out of her way, the faster and better the narrative developed.

And thus, Mad Max was born. She was never meant to be a major character. The book was going to be a stand-alone until I changed the POV. Then, I could see a series. Three books later, she's as comfortable as a pair of bunny slippers and an old bathrobe. And yet, I never know what she's going to do next. She could do anything.

I'm broadening her reach. My publisher has a May Mystery Month sale on for ebooks. $.99 each for the three Mad Max books. Join me. Tell me if you like her. Tell me if you don't. What do you have to lose?

Unintended Consequences:
Uncharted Territory:
Unsafe Haven:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Taking Time to Rest and Recharge by Diane Burton

Recent posts here prompted me to write this one. Vonnie’s husband passed away. Alison’s had a major scare that required hospitalization. JL had hip replacement surgery. Each event resounded with the rest of us. We’ve either experienced those situations or something similar. Each event demands a break. A time to rest and recharge our bodies and creative energies.

We all need some downtime. We need to take care of ourselves. But . . . we’re women, the nurturers. We take care of others first. We ignore our own symptoms (physical or emotional) because someone else needs us. When my dad was dying, I worried more about my mother, his caregiver, than I did about him. I helped when I could, though my sister carried the brunt of the work. Mom’s health dramatically improved after he was gone. It might have gone the other way.

When Mom died, I was responsible for settling her estate. I was also working full-time along with trying to write. Without realizing it, I shoved down my grief to get everything done. Six months later, my mother-in-law passed. Although I didn't have the responsibilities of settling her estate, my stress at work was escalating. No time for grief. When a favorite aunt passed shortly after, grief caught up with me. Poor Hubs. He wanted to help, to make me better. Thank goodness for Hospice's grief counselor. First, she told Hubs he couldn't "make me better." That I needed time. Her best advice: give yourself permission to grieve.

Time away helps. The axiom “a change is as good as a rest” holds true. A change of venue or routine. After Dad passed, my sister took Mom on a mini-vacation. She came back refreshed, ready to tackle the details that needed tending.

When we push ourselves too hard, we run out of steam. When we don’t get enough sleep, our creative juices dry up. Stress, family issues, and other factors keep us up at night. We dwell on all we have to do, sleep eludes us. Without sleep, our bodies don’t work efficiently. Neither does our mind.

Take time to take care of yourself. Give yourself a break. Give yourself permission to not do anything. Rest, relax, and come back refreshed.

Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction, and romance into writing romantic fiction. She blogs here on the 16th and 30th of each month. She shares snippets from her stories every weekend on her blog.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Oh, That OG! by Alison Henderson

This post is not about writing. I haven't thought much about writing for the past week, because last Monday morning, OG gave me a little surprise.

First, let me say, OG is a tough guy. He has driven himself to the hospital with an asthma attack so severe he could barely breathe and a massively bleeding cut that required numerous stitches because he didn't want to bother me. He also kept perfectly quiet when he had severe chest pains all through the night, which an EKG later showed to have been a heart attack. So you know it was darn serious when he woke me at 5:18 a.m. to say we needed to go to the hospital. It was even more serious ten minutes later, after I'd thrown on some clothes, when he said I'd better call an ambulance. 

He'd been having severe abdominal pain that radiated through to his back. This had been going on since midnight, but of course, he didn't want to wake me. My first thought--and his--was dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm. When that happens, you can bleed out in minutes. Since he's going to be sixty-nine in a couple of weeks and has a history of cardiovascular disease, this was a very real possibility. (Sometimes, too much medical knowledge is not a good thing.) 

I called 911, and five burly firemen showed up within a few minutes. They rolled the gurney into my living room and went to work. When OG suddenly lost consciousness, they kicked into high gear, and took off for the hospital with me right behind. A whole team was waiting for him, and happily, within a half hour they determined he had a small bowel obstruction, not an aneurysm. We were all relieved, and they decided to admit him and see if the obstruction would resolve itself, since 75% do.

OG, being OG, turned out to be in the remaining 25%. His pain increased steadily until he was put on a self-administered pain-relief pump. Over the course of that night, he hit the button thirty-two times. When I arrived the next morning expecting to see him much improved, he was pale, clammy, and in terrible pain. We had to wait all day until the surgery was finally performed at 5:00 p.m. Because he had never had general anesthesia before,  we were doubly anxious. However, he did great and woke up feeling vastly improved.

It turned out he had a band of tissue similar to scar tissue that had wrapped around the small intestine and closed it off. The surgeon snipped the band, and the condition resolved instantly. I thought I'd be able to bring him home the next day, but he developed significant swelling in his abdomen, ankles, and feet, so they kept him another day. He's still pain-free and the swelling is slowly resolving, but he's on a soft-food diet and doesn't have much stamina. It will probably take another week to ten days before he's fully recovered. 

As if that wasn't enough drama, my 88-year-old mother arrived Tuesday afternoon for a pre-planned visit. I barely had enough time to drive to the airport, pick her up, and drop her off at the house before racing back to the hospital. I barely made it in time to see OG for a couple of minutes before they took him into the operating room. Mom's visit wasn't what she'd expected, but it turned out to be a blessing for me not to have to come home to an empty house each night with nothing to do but worry.

His comment on all this? "Old husbands are a lot of trouble." LOL .That's OG for you. He might be moving a little more slowly, but otherwise, he's pretty much back to normal.

So, how was your week?