From Romantic Romance to Ordered Disorder

 ~ Miriam Drori 

Want to know how to approach writing non-fiction when you’re most used to romantic stories? Don’t ask me; I didn’t do it.

You didn’t?

No.

But you’ve published that lovely romance that’s set in a really exotic place called…

Jerusalem. You’re right. My romance, Neither Here Nor There was published in 2014 and my new non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed, is out on August 22.

There you are, then.

woman with flowerThere I’m not. You see, I wrote the first draft of Social Anxiety Revealed back in 2004. I was still working as a technical writer then and was used to organising stuff under headings and sub-headings. I also created lots of different styles for the book to show up the different sorts of writing in it: text, quotes, tables, jokes. I was used to all this from creating technical documents. My publisher has now had the nightmare of converting all that from a Word document to a book.

Wait a minute. You said “jokes” right? You have jokes in a book about social anxiety?

Absolutely. Even people who suffer from social anxiety know how to laugh – although they probably don’t laugh too loudly. And their low self-esteem makes it easy for them (us) to laugh at themselves. Besides, this book isn’t intended solely for people who have social anxiety. It’s just as relevant for anyone who knows someone who might have it. It’s not a self-help book, although it does contain a few tips. It simply explains what social anxiety is – all aspects of it.

Why did you write it?

To raise awareness of social anxiety. That’s my passion. Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder there is. It’s the third most common mental health issue. About 12% of people will suffer from it at some time in their lives. And yet most people don’t know what it is.

And what does that have to do with writing romance?

One link is story. Even in non-fiction, you can create a story to illustrate a point. I did this in Social Anxiety Revealed. I made up a fictional character with social anxiety, a guy who lives alone and doesn’t connect with anyone. Then I discussed how his neighbours would regard him.

The ability to create stories has many uses. When I learned (in a Toastmasters club) about giving prepared talks and I had to actually give short talks as practice, my best talk consisted mostly of a story I made up. The talk was more interesting than the others I gave and it was much easier for me to remember a story than a list of points.

Another link is in the contrast. How many romances have you read that include a character with social anxiety? Romance requires two people to approach each other, or at least one to approach the other. And that requires a confidence that social anxiety sufferers usually don’t have. They’re likely to think: she doesn’t like me, or he’ll laugh me off, and so they won’t take the plunge.

The one who is approached also needs confidence to respond positively. If they’re thinking: he only asked me because he has pity on me/has just been stood up/thinks I’m slightly better than having no one to spend the evening with, that positive response is unlikely to materialise.

Is it helpful for a romance writer to publish an unconnected non-fiction work? Does it help with sales of the author’s romances?

Ah, you’ll have to come back to me on that one.

*How has reading / writing non-fiction influenced your writing? 

Miriam Drori has decided she’s in the fifth and best stage of her life, and she’s hoping it’ll last for ever. It’s the one in which she’s happiest and most settled and finally free to do what she wants. 

Miriam lives in a delightful house and garden in Jerusalem with her lovely husband and one of three children. She enjoys frequent trips around the world. She dances, hikes, reads and listens to music. And she’s realised that social anxiety is here to stay, so she might as well make friends with it.

On top of that, she has moved away from computer programming and technical writing (although both of those provided interest in previous stages) and now spends her time editing and writing fiction. NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, a romance with a difference set in Jerusalem, was published in 2014. THE WOMEN FRIENDS, co-written with Emma Rose Millar, is a series of novellas based on the famous painting by Gustav Klimt. Future books will include a sequel to NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

More information about Social Anxiety Revealed and Miriam Drori’s other books is available on her website/blog as well as her new blog that’s devoted to social anxiety.

#RWA17: Is this ADULTING?

Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger Something new at RWA this year was the adult coloring wall. Yeah…I know. This phase of adults reverting back to their younger years and doing things they did as children was originated as a means of connecting with your inner child to relieve the stress of being a, well, a grown-up. I’ve never felt the urge to color as an adult – even though I dabble in painting – and this seemed a little over the top. But…. it was really cool. The walls were covered with historical book covers from AVON authors and there were buckets – literally! – buckets of magic markers available for everyone to use. I took some pictures of the images on day one and then tried to remember every day to take more to show the progress. So here’s day one, then day 4:                       Now, please remember, these were up on a wall, mural sized. Getting to the top of the picture required a ladder! But someone did, and I think this came out pretty well. It doesn’t look a thing like the actual book cover does, but who cares? The background never got filled in either, probably because a writer didn’t have a few hours to stand there and fill it in!                       This one never got finished.. .I don’t know why not. It’s a great Beverly Jenkins cover! The pictures were about 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide, so there was a lot of wall to color. Since the hero has a naked back, maybe color-ers didn’t want to take the time to fill his skin in.                       I was surprised they didn’t all get finished. I will admit one thing, though, it was a great stress reducer! Every day I stopped by and filled in a few more naked spaces on all of them and I actually went away feeling lighter. That whole adult coloring craze has peaked, I think, by now, but still, this was a cute idea and it was nice to see something new and pop culture-y done with historical romance covers. The RWA conference is usually so jammed full with workshops, networking sessions, publisher spotlights and parties, that you can get a little stressed in deciding what to choose to see and do. I had multiple times were there were 2 or three great workshops delivered at the same time and I hated missing any of them. That was one of the reasons I purchased the session Flash Drive this year – I can listen to everything I missed at my leisure. Plus, the hotel is so large and vast, jaunting from workshop to book signing to spotlight was a little fatiguing. Having this wall to spend a few minutes at was actually beneficial. I let my mind just drift, forgetting about everything, and just colored. The sense of calm and lightness that overcame me was probably the same feeling the “child” me experienced when I did exactly the same thing a millennia ago. Okay, maybe not a millennia ago (I’m not that old!) but you get what I mean. Bravo, AVON, for coming up with this idea and for supplying everything needed. And kudos to RWA for allowing it. It’ll be fun to see what the RWA board comes up with for Denver. Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.

Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.

Tying into her love of families, her children’s book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer’s Disease during her time running an Alzheimer’s in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader’s Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.

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How to Use Your Travels to Make Your Story Sparkle

Rachel Magee~ By Rachel Magee

Vacations. We all love them. Just the sound of the word can bring stress relief. We plan, research, save for and dream about them all year long. And when the time gets near, we go shopping, buy new outfits and struggle to cram them all into our over-stuffed suitcases. No? Just me? Well, moving on, then.

If you’re anything like me, you’re never truly on vacation from writing. I may get away from the norm, but my creative mind is always spinning. Vacations fill me with inspiration for new stories or ideas for my current WIP. More than once, I have come home from a trip with a new story completely plotted from beginning to end, or with a scene written out in beautiful detail that had previously stumped me. One time, I had so many ideas for a new novel I spent the entire three-hour fight home scribbling out plot points and character profiles on a stack of index cards. When we landed, the man next to me commented that he hadn’t seen anyone write that fast or that much in a long time. My cramped hand had to agree.

All those precious vacation moments can affect your writing in two different ways. Itcan affect how you, as the writer, write. Or, you can use those tasty travel tidbits to send your characters on vacay. We’ll explore both ways, but first let’s talk about you, the writer.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your last vacation. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Can you see yourself there, standing in the middle of a scene worthy of being captured on a picture post card, doing what you love, relaxed and invigorated at the same time? Those are the moments, memories and feelings that can fuel your writing. Here are a few ways you can incorporate them in your writing.

  • Seductive Settings. Readers want to be whisked away, and what is a better place to take them than someplace near and dear to your heart? If you don’t want to set your next novel entirely in your last vacation destination, try incorporating elements into whatever setting you do use. A favorite restaurant you tried or a beautiful garden you visited can be great inspirations to add to your settings.
  • Capture the Culture. One thing I love doing on vacation is exploring the culture of the place I’m visiting. I love the little nuances that make every place unique. Recently, I was visiting family in the Florida Keys. I love it down there, everyone is a little more relaxed. They have an unofficial shoes-optional policy. It’s not uncommon to spot locals hanging out in Starbucks or running into the grocery store with bare feet. No one is ever in a hurry, unless the fish are biting. Then they can’t get their boats into the Gulf Stream fast enough. Use these little nuances to create deeper, richer, more interesting characters, or to influence how your characters react in different settings.
  • Making Memories. Did you come home from your last trip with a crazy story? Use it! My books are full of slightly altered versions of crazy things that happened on vacation, and they are usually the scenes that readers say they love the most. Which scenes, you ask? Nope, not telling. But if you think ‘that could not happen,’ there’s a good chance it probably did. Sometimes our best inspiration comes from things that happen in real life.
  • Enriching Experiences.  Experiencing new things expands your world knowledge and broadens your understanding which, in turn, can make you a more interesting writer. Consider every new experience you try to be research for a future novel. Sure, you’re not going to use everything you do in your next manuscript, but add it to your memory bank to use when you need it. Even if all you did on vacation was veg by pool with the intention of keeping your step-count as low as possible, that state of ultimate relaxation can be an experience you might want to pull from someday.

hat and shoes on beachDon’t forget that your characters can benefit from travel, too. Having your characters pack their suitcases, or even their overnight bags, can add an interesting element to your story. Consider how sending your characters on a getaway could affect your story:

  • Taking them out of their norm can changes their mindset, shift the relationship dynamics, or help them see things differently.
  • New experiences can play an important role in your character’s arc. It can be the spark that prompts change.
  • A romantic getaway, or a getaway that turns romantic, can be just what your characters need to jump into that relationship. I mean, we do write romance, after all.

I’m going to leave you with a few helpful tips to harvest the most benefits from your travels.

  • Take pictures. They can help you remember not just the details of the settings, but the feelings that went along with them.
  • Keep a journal to jot down your thoughts. 
  • Enjoy yourself! The more fun you have, the more experience and memories you have to take home.

So, what do you think? Anyone else ready to book their next vacation? It’s all in the name of research, after all. Happy travels!

Rachel wrote her first novel when she was twelve and entered it into a contest for young author/illustrators. Unfortunately, the judges weren’t impressed with her stick figures. So she dropped the dream of becoming a world famous illustrator and stuck to spinning stories. When she’s not busy working on her latest book, she loves to travel with her family and friends. By far, her favorite destination is the beach, which tends to work its way into most of her stories. In fact, her debut novel, Happily Ever Afters, is about strangers who meet and fall in love while on vacation.

Between trips, you can find her at home in The Woodlands, TX with her wonderful husband, their two adventurous kids and a couple of spirited pets, all of whom share Rachel’s love of the ocean. Well, except the cat and dog. They’re both afraid of water. Find out more about what Rachel has been up to at rachelmageebooks.com.

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Contest Entries, Part 2: Understanding POV

Laura Threntham~ By Laura Trentham 

This is Part 2 of my observations from judging lots of RWA contests for unpublished manuscripts. I really love judging, not only to give back to a process that gave me my start in publishing, but by critiquing someone else’s writing, I discover weakness in my own.

Part 1 focused on the actual beginning of your story and the delicate balance of backstory in the first three chapters. Now, I’m going to discuss a craft item that affects not just your first chapters, but you entire book. Deep POV.

First, let me say, this is a very brief overview of the subject. There are craft books and blogs and courses that delve deep into the subject. (I really enjoyed Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters’ Emotions.) But, what I learned from judges’ comments on my first contest entries was that I had a BIG POV problem. And, upwards 75% of the contest entries I judge have POV issues, some major, some minor.

POV=Point of View

Deep POV=Immersive storytelling

Generally, an author tells their story from one to three different characters’ POVs. Usually in a romance, it’s the hero, heroine, and/or maybe a villain. (Or H/H or h/h or H/h/H, whatever genre you’re writing. For simplicity, I’m going with H/h.) With Deep POV, your goal is to get the reader into the character’s skin. Your reader should see what the hero sees, feels, touches, hears, smells… You want to break down as many walls between the reader and the character as possible. Writing in Deep POV will help you do this.

Head Hopping

Old school romances were often written with one paragraph detailing the heroine’sinternal thoughts, then the next paragraph would jump into the hero’s head, all in the same conversation—back and forth, back and forth. Think 80’s and 90’s romances by Kathleen Woodiwiss or older Julie Garwood books like The Bride, which I love. That style has gone out of fashion with good reason. Nowadays, an author will spend an entire scene or half a scene in ONE character’s head and then switch.

(As an aside, I wrote THREE books (90k+ words each!) head hopping like a jackrabbit on crack. And, yes, I revised them all after learning about head hopping from a contest judge.)

But staying in a character’s head for a scene is only one aspect of mastering Deep POV. The other aspect is…becoming the character. That’s the only way I know how to put it. You should become your hero, heroine, or villain, and describe everything as it filters through your character’s senses.

Sense Words

You want your reader to feel, hear, see everything as your character does. This means most of the traditional ‘sense’ words—heard, saw, smelled, felt, thought, wondered, realized—are unnecessary.

For example: She heard the bell ring and startled.

Better: The bell rang. She startled.

In the first, you are removing the reader from the immediacy of the moment. In the second, the reader is experiencing the bell ringing right along with the heroine.

Let’s delve into the sense of sight for a moment. Unless you’re writing about a lumberjack, avoid using the word ‘saw’ or any of its derivatives. Assume anything you describe while in your character’s POV are things he/she can see.

For example: He saw the man creep out from behind the bush.

Better: The man crept out from behind the bush.

The reader understands that your POV character can see the man.

Internal sense words like thought, knew, wondered, and realized are often redundant.

For example: He knew he was falling in love.

view finderBetter:  He was falling in love.

For example: She wondered if the man would gather the courage to approach her.

Better: Would the man gather the courage to approach her?

The most frequent transgression I come across is overusing the word ‘felt’ as it pertains to feelings. In my opinion, the word ‘felt’ is often a cop-out.

For example: He felt angry.

Better: His hands curled into fists, and he shuffled into a fighter’s stance.

Instead of stating the feeling, like the first example, push yourself to find a more interesting way to depict the emotion. Using ‘felt’ does work beautifully sometimes, but really examine every single time you choose to use it and determine if you can make a stronger, more revealing sentence.

Authorial Intrusion and POV Slips

Beware authorial intrusion. This is when you describe something your POV can not see.

For example: Every man’s head in the room turned to watch the woman slink around the tables. Every man, but Jack, who stared into the brown dregs of his coffee.

Jack is looking at his coffee, not the approaching woman. This is a no-no, unless you’re going for an omniscient POV, which I’ve never attempted and is difficult to pull off convincingly.

More common than major authorial intrusions are simple POV slips, like the heroine describing something about herself she can’t see/know. An example from one of my WIPs:

Fire burned in her gut. As if nature itself felt her fury, a salty breeze lifted from the sea and plucked her auburn hair like tendrils of flame around her face.

I love that passage, but I knew when I wrote it that it was a POV slip. Do you see that in my heroine’s POV, she can’t describe her hair as ‘tendrils of flame’? Delete, delete, delete…

I read so many descriptions from a POV character about their own eyes. ‘Her eyes flashed with anger.’ Except a character cannot describe her own eyes this way. Better to write a physical reaction to the anger. Ditto with saying something like, Tears welled up in her brown eyes. A character is never going to think about the color of her eyes like this. Don’t use it as a shortcut for physical description.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to writing Deep POV, but hope this post helps some budding writer to avoid the mistakes I made. If this made a lightbulb go off about your own writing, then go forth and learn and practice, practice, practice.

An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.

She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. KISS ME THAT WAY, Cottonbloom Book 1, is a finalist for the Stiletto Contest and for the National Readers Choice Award. THEN HE KISSED ME, Cottonbloom Book 2, was named an Amazon Best Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for the National Excellence for Romance Fiction. TILL I KISSED YOU, Cottonbloom Book 3, is a finalist in the Maggie contest. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she’s shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.

Visit her at www.LauraTrentham.com or connect on Twitter at @LauraTrentham or on Facebook or Pinterest.

On Writing a Series – When is the End?

Nan Reinhardt~ By Nan Reinhardt

Are you writing or have ever written a series? I just finished Saving Sarah, Book 4 in my Women of Willow Bay series. I’m wondering about how you know it’s time to end a series.

Series are a huge thing in romance right now—publishers are looking for them and indies are cranking them out like crazy—it’s like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys for twenty-first-century romance readers. But I think it’s more than just putting out book after book that revolves around a huge family in the same small town or a big-city hospital full of swoony doctors and hot nurses. The series phenomenon is also about readers falling in love with secondary characters and wanting to hear their stories, too.

For authors, and I speak from experience here, writing a series is both a blessing and a curse. Right off, a series give us a ready-made setting for our stories. Willow Bay was created in Book 1, ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP, so for the next three books, I had a village, quirky citizens, shops, the Daily Grind coffee shop, a lighthouse, and of course, Willow Bay and Lake Michigan all right there for me. In Book 2, SEX AND THE WIDOW MILES, Julie, a secondary character from Book 1 told her story from Chicago, but came back to Willow Bay, and in Book 3, THE SUMMER OF SECOND CHANCES, Sophie and Henry spent an adventurous summer in Willow Bay. In Book 4, which will be released September 26, Sarah, Julie’s friend from Book 2, flees Chicago for Willow Bay to hide from her abusive ex-husband. In each book and any subsequent ones that may come along, the little village is already created and all I have to do is plop my characters down in it and write their stories.

However, that said, each book brings more elements of the village into play—very minor characters show up in every book, and readers begin to feel like they can shoot the breeze with Perry, who owns the Daily Grind, order a triple espresso from Kelly, the barista, talk bait with Noah at Dixon’s Marina, or even pop into Bertie’s yarn shop for a cup of tea and to ohh and ahh over the new angora yarn from New Zealand. A series gives readers a sense of home.

book with heartSometimes a series happens because a secondary character just demands her own story—Julie Miles stayed in my mind after I wrote The End of ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP. Carrie’s best friend just wouldn’t leave me alone. But she was already happily married—the only way she was going to get her own story was for me kill off her husband Charlie. So I did and Julie’s story practically wrote itself. When readers clamored for more Willow Bay stories, Sophie (in Book 3) moved to her summer cottage in Willow Bay to heal after the death of her grandfather and brought mystery and adventure along. And in Book 4, Sarah got her own story, partly because readers kept asking for a new WOWB story, but also because she was an intriguing secondary character in Julie’s book who needed her own story.

But—and I’m finally getting to the real point here—there is a down side to writing a series. Frankly, although I love my stories, I’m a little bored with Willow Bay—I want to go somewhere else. So, is this the end of the Women of Willow Bay? I can probably come up with a couple more stories in the series, but I’m ready to move to something new. That doesn’t mean I’m closing the book entirely on WOWB—but I think it might be time set them on the back burner and listen to the other voices in my head for a while. So I’m wondering if other series authors feel the same way after four stories or six or eight or however many you’ve written in a series. Talk to me—are you a series writer? How many books are enough in one series?

Nan Reinhardt has been a copy editor and proofreader for over twenty-five years, and currently works mainly on fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.

Author Nan writes romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after they turn forty-five! Imagine! She is also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, and a secretary.

She loves her career as a freelance editor, but writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, post-menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.

Visit Nan’s website at www.nanreinhardt.com, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors; and she is a regular contributor at the Romance University website, where she blogs as Nan Reinhardt, Copy Editor. Her latest novel, Saving Sarah, book 4 in the Women of Willow Bay series September 26, 2017.

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Contest Entries, Part 1

Laura Threntham ~ By Laura Trentham 

I really love judging RWA chapter contests for unpublished writers (both contemporary and historical manuscripts), mainly because I got so much out of the contests when I was pre-published, including my agent! I credit contest feedback for teaching me to write. That sounds hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. My degree is in chemical engineering. I don’t have a home RWA chapter. It was years before I found a critique partner. Besides being an inhaler of all books, I had never attempted to write before I sat down in January of 2012 to start a book. A historical romance actually.

About six months into writing, I discovered RWA existed. I joined and got my first RWR with the list of chapter contests in the back. I entered seven (7!) that fall, sure I was destined to win them all. (Spoiler alert: Didn’t happen!) I made about every newbie mistake possible. But, guess what? I fixed all those mistakes and went on to sign with an agent who was a final judge of one of the contests and sold five books in three months. I want this for you!!

With my background out of the way, I’m going to jump into the mistakes I commonly see when I judge entries, starting at the beginning. Literally, the beginning of you manuscript. That’s the thing about a contest that only looks at the first 20-30 pages of your book. Your beginning must draw the reader in and be memorable.

It’s no surprise the biggest issue with first chapters is managing backstory. Two big problems I see:

  • The “Coming Into Town” beginning. This can be in a car or carriage and usually involves the hero or heroine ruminating on what is bringing them back to their hometown or why they’re moving into a new town. It’s usually a big fat stinky info dump. Doesn’t matter if the heroine is describing the scenery in between introspection about her family drama or getting fired from her job. Unless something active happens, like she gets pulled over by the cops or gets beset by highwaymen or rammed in the bumper by a man who turns out to be a villain/hero, just skip it. It’s often boring for the reader. The other issues with this type of beginning is that it’s very common and doesn’t stand out. Three out of four manuscripts in one contest I judged were “coming into town” beginnings. Look, this is not a hard and fast rule, but really think about why using this type of beginning is critical for your character’s arc and not a convenience.
  • Mirrors: Don’t have your heroine (or hero) stand in front of a mirror and describe herself to herself. At this point in your writing journey, maybe you’re rolling your eyes and saying, of course not. Well, guess what, I DID THIS in the first scene of my first book draft! I didn’t know any better at the time. I needed a contest judge to tell me.
  • The “As You Know” conversation. For a new author (or even experienced one) it can be a deceptive backstory dump. I typically see this conversation taking place between a main and secondary character. For example, maybe it’s the heroine giving the lowdown to her best friend. Except, it’s really a sneaky way of imparting backstory to the reader. If you can add in phrase “As you know” before dialogue, you have a problem.

red pen and paperAs you know “I had to come home because my grandmother is sick.”

“Your brother should be helping,” her best friend said.

As you know “He’s been drinking too much and parties every night.”

If the two characters are close, then it’s a conversation they would have already had. Plus, it’s usually all telling with no showing. Better to start with the brother coming in drunk and the sister confronting him in the wee hours. That packs an emotional punch and builds sympathy with both characters.

A last word on backstory: The best piece of advice I read about backstory came from a Margie Lawson class (I think she got it from someone else, though). Imagine writing all the tidbits of backstory for your characters on a pane of glass. Then, shatter that glass. Pick up only the most important facts. Facts that the reader must know. Sliver them strategically throughout the first third of the book. Discard the rest.

A few other things I want to touch on:

  • Balance. There should be a balance between introspection, action, dialogue, and description from the beginning. I’ve read contest entries whose entire first chapter is all introspection. Don’t do this! Another trick I picked up from Margie Lawson (if you haven’t taken any of her on-line classes, I highly recommend them) is to get four different colored highlighters. Use one to highlight dialogue, one to highlight actions, one to highlight scene/character descriptions, and another to highlight introspection. You want to have a nice mix of all the colors or else your pace and flow suffers.
  • Prologues. I’ll admit, I love the damn things, but the overall consensus is to avoid them. My way around this? CALL THEM CHAPTER 1! My first three Cottonbloom books start with an incident between my hero and heroine that took place many years in the past. That scene was needed to frame their present. But, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use a prologue as a means to impart backstory. It must reveal something vitally important about your hero or heroine or their relationship with each other (not necessarily romantic.) If you can lose the prologue and still understand the story, then…lose the prologue.
  • The often heard advice: Start your book with action! I would posit that the advice should really be “Start your book with the inciting incident!” The inciting incident is what upsets the balance of your characters’ lives and sets the story in motion. This “incident/action” doesn’t have to be a fight or a car crash, it can be something much more subtle.
  • More well-intentioned advice: your hero and heroine should meet in Chapter 1. I do agree you should get them on the page as soon as possible (don’t wait three chapters!), but sometimes the inciting incident only involves the hero, and it snowballs to include the heroine. I have at least two books where the hero and heroine don’t meet until Chapter 2 or very late in Chapter 1. On the other hand, sometimes the hero meeting the heroine is the inciting incident. This is often the case for a romance. For example, maybe the man who rear ends the heroine on her way back into town is the hero. And a cop! AND her first love! That would be fun, right?

In the next post, I’m going to discuss what was nemesis when I started and something I see a lot in contest entries…Head hopping and Deep POV.

Do you have any advice for beginnings?

An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.

She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. KISS ME THAT WAY, Cottonbloom Book 1, is a finalist for the Stiletto Contest and for the National Readers Choice Award. THEN HE KISSED ME, Cottonbloom Book 2, was named an Amazon Best Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for the National Excellence for Romance Fiction. TILL I KISSED YOU, Cottonbloom Book 3, is a finalist in the Maggie contest. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.

Visit her at www.LauraTrentham.com or connect on Twitter at @LauraTrentham or on Facebook or Pinterest.

RWA Responsibilities

Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger

A few weeks ago, I blogged about what to do if you’re attending the Annual RWA conference for the very first time. Being a first-time attendee can be daunting and overwhelming. So many fabulous courses to choose from; the amazing publishing spotlights; the free books, oh Lord, the free books. That moment when you realize your favorite author of all time is in the same elevator as you.

It’s all heady stuff and those of us who are conference veterans know the feeling well. Which is why I want to concentrate on us old timers today and what I think our responsibilities should be when we attend the conference.

My very first RWA was in San Antonio in 2015. First timers are given an actual stick-on to place on their name badges stating they are first timer conference attendees. Like everyone else, I attached my badge banner after registration. I was standing by an escalator nervously trying not to look conspicuous and awkward in my solitariness the next day, when author Shirley Jump approached me and introduced herself. She stated she was an RWA Board Member and asked how I was liking my first conference. She asked what I wrote, was I published, what chapter did I belong to, all questions that engaged me in conversation and put me at ease. She was absolutely charming, lovely, and (if you’ve never seen her) gorgeous. She made me feel so special, I went about the rest of the day feeling less like a fish out of water.

Knowing that she took the time to reach out to me, a total stranger, to welcome me to RWA and to encourage me to take advantage of the parties, courses and workshops, gave me such a feeling of acceptance and belonging.

flower in handThe next year, as a seasoned conference attendee now (LOL) I remembered that encounter and did the same thing Shirley did: I reached out to several people who had first timer banners on their badges. I introduced myself and then engaged them in conversation about their experience the same way Shirley had.

It felt marvelous to reach out that way. I met three women who were much the same age as me, who were at that point in their lives where they wanted to devote themselves to their writing more and were attending the conference to network, see what was happening in the industry, and take advantage of some of the fabulous workshops and courses. They even asked me advice on publishing. Imagine. Me!

Ego-boosting stuff to be sure.

Every year since then I’ve made it my business to connect like that with first timers. And every year I’ve made more writing friends because of it.

Every one of us who write have at one time or another felt that solitary, awkward, what-am-I-doing-here feeling. RWA is a supportive community of writers in all phases of their publishing careers and we should embrace one another on all those levels. A smile and a word of encouragement go a long way when someone is feeling out of place or overwhelmed. So, I’m challenging all of us RWA seasoned members to reach out this year to a first-time conference attendee and welcome them into the community we all love so much. You just may make a novice writer’s day. And conference.

Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.

Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.

Tying into her love of families, her children’s book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer’s Disease during her time running an Alzheimer’s in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader’s Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.

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More Tips for RWA Nationals!

~ By Mary E. Thompson

Mary E. ThompsonRWA17 is coming up fast!

If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to get to Orlando and jump in.

It’s one of my favorite weeks of the summer, but also one of the most stressful.

As an introvert, it’s hard to be surrounded by so many people, but as a writer, I love the feeling of being there.

This is my third National Conference, and I have a few tips to share with you.

Be Comfortable

Everyone says this. In all the recommendations I read, wear comfortable shoes wasboots the common denominator. But I don’t just mean shoes. I mean in general.

Try on all your clothes before you go. Let’s face it, Nationals is a business casual conference. We’re writers. Our everyday wear is yoga pants, a t-shirt, and no bra. Or is that just me? Unfortunately, that won’t fly at Nationals. So try on your clothes. Did you buy new outfits? Wear them. Make sure they’re comfortable to sit in for an hour. Or a full day. Does your skirt ride up? Do your shoes hurt after a few hours? Is your bag too heavy?

Many people say bring a sweater also. You know yourself. Yes, some of the rooms can be chilly. But if you’re never cold in air conditioning, skip the jacket. You definitely won’t need it outside, so save the room in your luggage for free books.

Don’t Overpack

My first year I packed an outfit to wear during the day and a second one to wear at night. Those second outfits never saw the light of day, or night. It didn’t make sense luggage to change before we went to dinner, and even though we didn’t go out, I know I wouldn’t have changed before that either.

If you have something planned, like a trip to one of the Disney Parks, then yeah, pack clothes for that. If you’re sticking to the conference, bring one extra outfit if you’re likely to spill something on yourself (raises hand), and save the room for more books. Yes, you will get that many.

I also always bring snacks. You can pack anything sealed in your carry-on luggage. I bring granola bars, mini bags of pretzels, and single serve bowls of cereal so I don’t have to grab a snack from the hotel, or breakfast since I’m not likely to be up before I absolutely need to be. Water is available in every workshop room so make use of that water bottle you get in the Swag Shoppe and fill it up. In addition, bottled water is included in the cost of your hotel if you’re staying at the Dolphin or Swan if you prefer that. When you’re at workshops, bring your RWA bag from the Swag Shoppe. It’ll make carrying your snacks and water, and all those free books, easier.

Put Yourself Out There

As I said, I’m an introvert. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Especially because the other people who are sitting alone at a workshop not talking handshaketo anyone are usually introverts also. The conversation starts with what do you write and ends with where are you from.

Think up some interesting questions ahead of time. If your idol sat down next to you, what would you ask? If one of your friends sat down, what would you ask? We’re writers. We’re good with the written word. Write out some questions ahead of time. What do your characters ask to get to know each other? There’s no reason those questions have to stay between the pages of your book.

Find A Friend

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t know anyone who’s going. How are you going to find a friend? We’re all friends! We might not know each other, but at Nationals, Friendsyou’ll find people are very friendly and talkative. Yes, it’s easier to have a plan to meet someone. So make that plan.

Reach out to someone in one of your local or online chapters. Reach out to someone you think you might connect with. Last year, a chapter mate from one of my online chapters posted that she was anxious because she didn’t know anyone. She’d gone to another conference, but commuted because it was close to her house, so she didn’t even have a roommate to hang around. I sent her an email and we met the first night. Then spent the rest of the conference together. We’re still in touch a year later.

Yes, it’s hard to make friends as adults. But we’re all scared to do it. Trade emails with your roommate in advance, and if you want, send me an email! I’ll be there. I’m volunteering at the Stiletto Party on Friday night, so grab your ticket and come cheer on the Stiletto finalists and Contemporary Romance Writers with me. Trust me, you won’t regret reaching out to someone in advance.

Set A Plan

You don’t have to be a plotter to have a plan. Why are you going to the conference? What made you sign up this year? What are you interested in learning? Know ahead of time what your goals are. For me, marketing and networking are my two big goals checklistthis year. I’ve picked workshops that speak to those topics. I’m going to chat up other authors because I’m always looking for new authors to read, but I believe in the power of networking and cross-promotion. Plus, I will never have too many author friends.

The other side of that is I’m also giving myself a break. If there’s a time when the workshops offered don’t match what I’m looking to learn, I can skip them. If I’m worn out, I’ll take a break. My first year, I didn’t give myself any downtime and ended up with an extra trip to the doctor because of it. Last year, I sat out a workshop and ended up meeting a new friend. I got a break for an hour and had a great conversation. It was definitely a win-win.

Going to Nationals, especially your first time, can be overwhelming. There is so much to see and do and learn. It’s a lot, but it’s also a great investment of your time and money, so enjoy it! It’ll be over way too soon!

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She reenergizes every year with a trip to Nationals, and every month at her local chapter meeting. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.

Chapter Service Opportunities – A Message From President Casey Clipper

Casey ClipperDear Chapter Members,

RWA chapters are the heart and soul of the Romance Writers of America, in my opinion. They’re the backbone of the organization. They’re where authors and writers dig into the trenches of their work. They’re the place where members get to mingle with each other and get that much needed and craved interaction with our tribe. And there are so many chapters to choose from within RWA.

Contemporary, suspense, YA, paranormal, erotic, historical, local and national chapters all make up a wide variety for members to join. And with each chapter comes its own set of perks. Not every chapter is the same. Not every chapter offers the same benefits. Which is great because a writer and author can get the most out of their RWA membership with these different chapters.

But chapters cannot survive without volunteers. Whether it’s an executive board position or a non-voting board position, every chapter needs your help to thrive and survive. Smaller chapters may only need executive board positions while the larger chapters need various positions to help it with all the events they have for members.

The Contemporary Romance Writers chapter had been in limbo for a few years but luckily with the new board in place, and bringing things under control, we’re looking to expand our non-voting board personnel and we need your help. Our executive board has done a fantastic job turning the chapter around in such a short period of time and I cannot say enough about their hard work. Each one of these ladies should be commended and I ask you, when you see them or have any interaction with them online, to thank them for their hard work.

But, like you, the executive board members are also writers and have lives outside of writing that need our attention. With all that we’d love to offer the chapter, we need your help to not only give these items the proper, full attention they deserve but we also need to know when to say when, as board members who have personal lives. The following are non-voting board positions that we’re looking to fill for the 2018 year. Each one of these positions is a 1 year term.

  • PRO Liaison
  • PAN Liaison
  • Stiletto Contest Committee Chair
  • Stiletto Party Chair
  • Critique Group Chair
  • CRW MyRWA Forum Chair (new)
  • CRW Writing Retreat Chair (new)
  • CRW Website Mistress/Master (new)

Some of these positions we’re looking for are new in order to help create new opportunities for all CRW members. Some of these positions aren’t new but haven’t been filled or utilized in years. We’re looking to change that so we can make each area of the chapter thrive to its fullest extent. But we cannot do it without your help.

We had excellent volunteers for the Stiletto Contest this year and each volunteer, because of their service, was nominated for the CRW Chapter Service Award by the CRW Board of Directors. This is also something new to the chapter that we’re excited to implement. Chapter volunteers should be recognized for giving their time. And we hope to be able to nominate you next year for your service.

What’s involved in chairing a non-voting board position? Well, you won’t have to attend the executive board meetings that are held quarterly. We will ask you to attend at least 2 board meetings to keep the board up-to-date on the status of events with your position. What’s convenient is the meetings are held online, so you don’t even have to leave your living room. Yay! Some of these positions aren’t even year round positions. Some are simply about relaying important information to the CRW chapter members. 

If you might be interested in chairing one of the positions above, please feel free to email me at RWAContempRomPres@gmail.com.

We’re looking to really expand the Contemporary Romance Writers chapter and hope that you’ll help us in the endeavor to make this chapter one of the best in the RWA.

Casey Clipper

President

Memories from a first time RWA conference attendee. . .

(and what I learned to do- and not do - for the next conference.) Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger In 2014 I attended my very first RWA conference in San Antonio. Not knowing what to expect from the conference, I’d gone with the idea that, as a trying-to-get-published romance writer, I was going to go all in, attend every workshop on craft and publishing, listen to every professional chat, set up as many editor and agent appointments as I was allowed, and basically do everything and see everything offered. What’s that old saying: you make plans and God laughs? Yeah. Describes me perfectly. The reality was so very different from what I’d planned, that it was almost comical. First of all, there was no way I could attend every single workshop I wanted because so many of them overlapped or were at the same time as the others. I hadn’t realized I could see the full schedule on line before going, so I’d just assumed I’d be able to see what I wanted. Nope. Lesson learned? Plan ahead. Read through the online listing (now that you know it’s there!) and consider each class/workshop/chat for what it will bring to you as a writer. The conference is available on audio you can purchase, so if you miss classes, you can still hear their useful info when you get home. I signed up for the Agent/Editor appointments. You were allowed one of each, so I scrolled through their names, saw a few big time agent names I recognized, then the publishers I knew about and made my choices. Again, God must have been chuckling big-time at my choices. Why? Because I hadn’t done any research on the people I was going to speak with. The Agent specialized in historical romance and YA. I write contemporary adult romance. The editor was from a house that was acquiring only through agents. Double flub on my part. Lesson learned? Research. Every single one of those agents and editors had a link to their websites, agencies, and publishing houses. If I’d done my due diligence and clicked on the one I wanted to meet with, I would have known before choosing them that they weren’t going to be interested in me or my work. Along with that, do not bring twenty typed copies of your manuscript to give to potential agents/editors. They don’t want to be schlepping a ton of unnecessary stuff home with them. This is the age of email and attachments. confusedSince this was my first RWA I had no idea all the “stuff” (and by stuff I mean swag and books) you receive at the conference. Every publishing house gives out complementary books during their spotlight events; every breakfast, lunch and dinner has a guest speaker who also leave a book or two on every chair; the Goodie room is chock full of swag, free books, and just…stuff. I brought one suitcase with me that was already stuffed with my own stuff. Now I had over 6o free books and no room. Shipping them would have cost about $100.00. Lesson learned? Bring an extra bag/suitcase. You will be happy you did. Again, since this was my first conference, I wanted to promote myself as a professional, so I brought nice clothes and outfits and shoes to go with them. Because I’m short all my shoes are 4 inches or above. If anyone has ever spent 12 hours in five inch heels you know the kind of agony I was in each and every night. Lesson learned? Dress appropriately, but comfortably. Kitten heels would have been fine! You want to make a good impression, especially on agents and editors, but you don’t need to look like you just stepped out of the pages of Vogue, or like you just crawled out of bed after a binge-drinking night at the hotel bar. Realize you are going to see and possibly meet some of your all time favorite authors. It’s okay to fan-girl. It’s not okay to stalk. I stalked Nora Roberts at my first conference. The moment I saw her across the hotel lobby I simply lost my mind. She was on her way out of the building for a cigarette break. I am ashamed to admit this, but I followed her. It was like I was in some kind of trace. I knew what I was doing was illegal in 50 states, but I had no will to stop myself. When she stopped outside and lit up, I stood in the vestibule behind the glass doors just…watching her smoke. After a minute I realized what I was doing and snapped out of. Then I spotted Jill Shalvis on the escalator going down while I was going up. I jumped off and headed back down and followed her into the hotel coffee shop. Again… I was in a trance, I swear! Lesson learned? Be prepared to meet your writing idols but don’t do anything you could get arrested for!! When I spotted three twenty-somethings at the Literacy signing squeal like pigs when they met Jayne Ann Krentz, it drilled that lesson home. One of the best things I did at the first conference was attend the RWA First Timer’s presentation. It was filled with helpful hints about how to get the most out of the conference without feeling overwhelmed, or as if you missed something. I highly recommend setting aside the two hours of the class and fitting it into your schedule. This year the conference is in Orlando/Disney. In July. Florida in July is not a time frame for curly haired gals like me, so this year will bring its own set of problems and concerns! But I’m still going because I don’t want to miss the exciting, informative, and fun events and classes being offered. I’ll just need to pack an extra canister of hairspray. Or maybe more than just one extra. Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.

Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.

Tying into her love of families, her children's book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master's degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer's Disease during her time running an Alzheimer's in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader's Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.

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