La Tavola

Jo Thomas~ Jo Thomas

‘Write about what you know,’ people would tell me when I first started writing. The problem is, I didn’t know about anything…or so I thought! I knew I loved food, but I wasn’t a chef, or even one of those foodie types with fancy knifes and a cupboard full unrecognisable ingredients. I just loved to feed my friends and family. I loved the way food brought us around the table together. But what could I really write about?

Then, my husband was asked to go and work on the west coast of Ireland. We went over on a research trip and I had never seen so much rain. But whilst I was there we went to a seafood restaurant. It looked like a fisherman’s cottage at the end of the pier. When we stepped in, it was like walking into someone’s front room. The fire was roaring and there were candles on the tables and on the windowsills. We sat by the window and just for a while, it stopped raining. The moon threw out a silver shadow across Galway Bay and as I sat and ate oysters from the same waters I thought, this is sexy. This is what this place is all about. I began to realise that where ever you go, when you discover the food of the place, it takes you by the hand and introduces you to its people, history and culture. It was there I wrote my first book, The Oyster Catcher, set amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay.

notebook I was then researching my second book in Southern Italy, in Puglia, where my brother owned a small place. We were in one of our favourite restaurants, a family run tavern in the middle of a rural olive grove. After dinner, the owner joined us and brought a bottle of homemade limoncello, pouring us each a glass. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian. But somehow, we had this conversation. He asked me what kind of books I wrote. I told him I wrote about food and love. He explained that, for him, life was all about the food they grew on their land, and he held out an arm; to cook in the kitchen; to put on the table, la tavola, and he banged his hand down on the scrubbed wooden table; for the ones he loved! Then he placed his hand on his heart. ‘That’s it!’ I replied. That’s what I write. Stories about the food that’s grown on the land, cooked in the kitchen and put on the table for the ones we love. I write about la tavola, because it’s there that I share my love. We have our arguments, share our problems celebrate and show our love, at la tavola. Given that I’m from partIrish and part-Italian heritage, I think there must be something in the genes! It is the heart of my home and that’s what I know about.

Since Italy, I have written about wine making in south west France in Late Summer in the Vineyard, honey making and herbs in Crete in The Honey Farm in the Hill and I have just finished my new book set in Spain, Sunset over the Cherry Orchard. The more books I finish, the more places I want to explore through their food and the more tables, wherever they might be, I want to write about.

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 2's The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, THE OYSTER CATCHER, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan  Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

Too Many Cooks? It’s Not Just About the Cowboy Beans. . .

Jeff SalterBy Jeff Salter

Note: read this true experience (from 6-26-2016) and then tell us what you would write for the very next line.

He: “I'm thinking about making some cowboy beans this evening for supper. You okay with my beans?”

She: “Sounds lovely.”

- - - Later that evening - - -

He is browning the meat and hears chopping behind him.

She sneaks over and dumps a pile of fragments into the meat.

He: “What was that?”

She: “Just a few onions.”

After some more stirring, he is briefly looking the other way when she squirts in a considerable volume of something from a squeeze bottle.

He: “What was that?”

She: “Just a little ketchup.”

He continues to stir and is checking the clock (in the other direction) momentarily when she shakes in several dollups of something.

He: “What was that?”

She: “Just a little Liquid Smoke.”

He: “Hey, who's making these cowboy beans? You or me?”

She: “You are, of course.”

[Okay, now that you’ve read the actual experience, tell us what you’d write for the very next line, if it was in your own story.]

Jeff Salter, who has written 12 novels and five novellas, already has 14 fiction titles released with three royalty publishers. His most recent is “The Duchess of Earl” released in mid-July by Clean Reads. Two more titles are due out this year and he has several works in progress.


So…my weekend, or The Benefit of taking a Master class

Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger

There really should be something done about lousy internet in hotels and conferences! I was at a fabulous conference this weekend and couldn’t blog about it because it took FOREVER to get connected to WiFi. Oh well…better late than never.

Friday night I took a master class with marketing guru Jane Friedman. It quite literally changed the way I view all the social media stuff I have to do as a writer who wants to get her book in front of strangers.

For two hours she spoke about all the ways a writer can engage readers and get them to — not only visit their websites — but purchase their work.

First things first. Your website. You’re reading this so obviously you stopped here! But how did you find out about the website? Did you see a Twitter mention of it? Catch it in a newsfeed roll on my Facebook Author page? Or do you Follow me on WordPress? Since I don’t have a newsletter (a major faux pas in Jane’s opinion), I don’t have a one-on-one way to let people know about new content on my site. I’ve debated for several years about having one because it’s just one more thing I have to do, but she says the benefits are worth it.

Tree Next. The website content, itself. I don’t update my website frequently except for the blogs. My banner, headers, widgets, etc., are all pretty stagnant. And that’s the kind of traffic you never want: stagnant. You want your website to be fluid, moving, and new. So, Saturday morning between the hours of 1 am and 4 am (since I never sleep. Damn this menopause insomnia!) I updated my website. I added a new category, changed the banner and some of the graphics, and posted new info on the pages.

Last. Your work. Or in my case, my books. It’s inconceivable to me that I never thought of this, but nowhere on my website was there a page for a reader to purchase my books. Not even a direct link except if I was blogging about the book. So, ta-da- new page. MY BOOKS lists all my work from newest to oldest, the covers, and all the buy links across the e-book network and traditional publishers. Whew! That was a ton of work but I think it’ll be so worth it in the end, especially when I start to see an uptick in sales.

Jane spoke of several other ways to drive traffic to your work that I’ll be discussing tomorrow. Today I wanted to focus on the website itself.

When I’m not attending conferences of updating my website, you can find me here: Tweet Me//Read Me// Visit Me//Picture Me//Pin Me//Friend Me//Google+Me// Triberr

Fiction Fest 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.

Website/Blog || Twitter || Amazon Author Page || Facebook || Pinterest || Goodreads  || Instagram

Creativity Through Divorce

Casey Clipper~ By Casey Clipper   

I’m getting a divorce. There, I said it. Out loud. Admission is half the key, right?

Yeah, right, if only.

This is a secret I’ve held close to the chest for quite some time now, only recently finally informing people of my personal plight. It’s embarrassing. Even though I shouldn’t be, I am. So, I’ve kept quiet and tried to go about my daily life. Try, being the key word.

I haven’t gone into explicit details about my pending divorce, only placing a vague post on social media. My closest friends and coworkers know the insane details and it’ll remain that way. Really, it’s no one’s business and who really cares? I am not one of those people who posts her dirty laundry all over social media for people to weigh in. But when I did make the announcement, something unexpected happened. Well, unexpected to me. Because I had no idea what to expect when I just tossed out there the big D-word.

First, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of support I received. I had no idea how many people would reach out privately to send me messages of support. I was honestly amazed.

Second, I was saddened at how many authors are also going through what I am. Now, maybe they don’t have the Jerry Springer episode background as part of their plot, like I do. (Trust me, be glad you don’t.) But that doesn’t make their situation any less writer-life-soul-sucking than mine. Which begs the question:

How the hell do we get through this while writing a story?

Good question. I don’t know if I have the answers but here’s what I’ve found that’s semi-working, so far.

1. I just can’t…and I must accept it.

I wish I could say, “Just do this or do that,” and the words will come, but that’s not realistic. They don’t come. Characters don’t speak to you clearly or cleverly when your mind is worried about what is to come next in your personal life. I would love tojournal say that I’m able to lose myself in the manuscript but that’s far from the truth. I can barely concentrate on the page in front of me. I wish there was a turn on/off switch and I could flip it as needed. If only.

I had planned a trilogy release for October. Not going to happen. Only 1 out of the 3 books is written and after giving it to my awesome beta readers, the novel needs a lot of work. This had upset me immensely. I’m not used to my betas ripping apart my novels. (Which, I’m not going to complain about. Their brutal honesty I value greatly.) When expressing my frustration to my author friend, she brought up a good point. “Casey, you’re lucky you wrote a book. Give yourself a break.”

It was then I realized that my determination and drive got me to write a novel but the same persistence wasn’t allowing me to accept that novel was lacking. Which, of course it would be. How on earth could anyone write a good novel when your life is nothing but one big Maury Povich show, waiting for the next bomb to be dropped from a cue card? It was those truthful words from a good friend that gave me some relief. I’ve pushed back the release date until 2018 and can now concentrate on editing and writing books 2 and 3.

2. Continue to work on the novel.

I am continuing to try to work on the novel. I open it every day and even if it’s 1 line of edits, it’s something. Because I know, at some point, my muse will return, roaring to release all the pent up creativity she’s collecting. It’s only a matter of time. But, that won’t happen if I don’t keep opening the manuscript. Plus, I don’t want to get rusty. Who knows if that’s an actual thing with writers but I’m not willing to find out.

3. Lean on your writing friends.

There is absolutely nothing better to get your mind off all the drama than going to a chapter meeting, attending that conference, going to a book signing. Or any of the many other things that have to do with writing but not necessarily the actual writing part. Being able to escape reality for writers/authors in these situations is as precious as readers being able to escape in our novels. Bonus, your writer friends will give you various ways of how to turn your own drama into a book.

In all seriousness, I don’t know what I would do without my writer friends. There is zero judgement. Only concern and infallible support. Lean on them. Tell them what’s happening. Be truthful. It’s such a chore to keep all you’re going through inside. After all, we’re writers. We’re used to expressing ourselves on paper, telling our stories to the world. When we keep our own drama inside, it eats away at our souls.

4. Lean on your friends.

Just like #3, this one is just as invaluable. When I finally made my general announcement on Facebook about my divorce, the responses were overwhelming. My messenger box blew up with readers, authors, and friends contacting me with love and support. I hadn’t expected that. I made a generalized statement and in that short, one paragraph post, the goodness in people came through. That has been one of the better moments of this process.

*Side note: If you’re going to post something on social media, don’t blast the ex. It’s not worth it. Just a vague statement is good enough. Don’t be that drama llama that airs the dirty secrets to the masses. We’re authors of fiction not tabloid writers using our own lives as fodder.

The price of this writer’s divorce? My creativity.

It sucks and not every author/writer will have the same problem. But I know that I can’t be the only one to have their world turned upside down and the muse decides to go on hiatus at the same time. It’s okay. She’ll come back and when she does, she’ll return on fire.

And to those who are going through the same, awful life situation. I feel your pain. I wish you all the best. I hope your words come back soon, too. Dig your heels in and protect your words, your mind, your soul, and yourself.

If you’ve gone through a divorce or are going through one, what are your suggestions in getting through with your creativity intact?

Casey Clipper

Contemporary Romantic Suspense Author Casey Clipper is from Pittsburgh, PA. She's a noted sports fanatic, chocolate addict, and has a slight obsession with penguins. She's an avid romance reader and loves to lose herself in a good book, like we all do, right? Casey currently serves as president of the Contemporary Romance Writers of America. Casey is an active member of the Romance Writers of America, Three Rivers Romance Writers, Kiss of Death, North Eastern Ohio Romance Writers of America, and ASMSG. Casey is the recipient of the 2016 JABBIC HBARWA Short Contemporary Romance Readers’ Choice Award.

Follow Casey on the following platforms:   

Amazon Author Page || Facebook || Website || BookBub || YouTube || Pinterest || Instagram

Seven Rules for Powerful Sentences

Lyn Cote~ By Lyn Cote

(First published in "Writer's Forum," a publication for students, faculty, and friends of Writer's Digest School, Fall 1998 as “Dramatic Sentences in Seven Steps.”)

When I completed my first manuscript, I thought a national day of celebration should be proclaimed.  Imagine my chagrin when I discovered contest judges, agents, and editors weren't impressed by my 700 neat pages.  They expected not only that each chapter, page, and paragraph be effective, but they also demanded that exacting standard apply to each sentence and even each word.  Didn't they know that perfectionism of this level put them at risk for early cardiac arrest?

When I had no luck changing their minds, I decided I would have to conform.  Being a seasoned (or shell-shocked) English teacher, I went back to the basics of sentence structure.  There are only four types of sentences in English.  (Yes, that's all we have to work with.)  They are:

Simple: subject + verb

Compound: subject + verb + conjunction + subject + verb.

Complex: subordinate conjunction + subject + verb, (comma) subject + verb.

Compound-complex: a compound and a complex sentence joined by a conjunction.

These are the basic building blocks for every page you will ever write.  So you ask, what's a dramatic about them?  How could the Brontës, and Jane Austin do magic with these building blocks?  Here's how.

Seven Power of Rules

1.  The simpler the better.  The clear, simple sentence packs more power than a long string of clauses.

2.  Keeping #1 in mind, a variety of sentence structures is preferred to repetition of just one.  Even one paragraph of only simple sentences irritates the reader.

3.  In a paragraph of long sentences, a short sentence takes on prominence and vice versa.

red pen and page of text4.  Humans always remember the last word they've read.  Just as we build a plot to a climax, every sentence reaches a climax at its end.  Save the best to be used as a last word.

5.  Subordinate conjunction subordinate or weaken the clause they introduce.  They make the clause dependent on another clause, one which can stand alone.  Example: "when we come home late" cannot stand on its own be and understood.  (Common subordinate conjunctions: if, because, after, before, since, when).

6.  Don't bury your most striking word or idea in the middle.  Example: "Jake will explode when we come home late."  Explode is the most evocative word in the sentence and it lies buried in the middle.  Why not build up to that evocative word? "When we come home late, Jack will explode."

7.  When you break rule #6, everyone notices!  If you put the most important word first (instead of last), you give it special emphasis.  Example: "Explode, that's what Jake will do when we come home late."

These seven rules are the touchstones of powerful sentences.  And, once you can create these, you'll be able to use those sentences to build evocative stories and articles -- and make sales.

USA Today bestselling author, Lyn Cote has written over 45 books. A Romance Writers of America RITA finalist and an American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award winner, Lyn writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and historical novels.

No matter which kind of story, her brand “Strong Women, Brave Stories” comes through. Her most recent achievement is being added to Romance Writers of America’s Honor Roll for bestselling authors.

Lyn's new novella, Loving Winter, is part of the 14-author box set of sweet holiday novellas, Sweet Christmas Kisses 4.

Visit her website/blog at http://www.LynCote.com and find her on Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter.

Readers, Writers and Protagonists Setting Healthy Boundaries

Warning: This post makes references to violence and sexual assault. If you'd rather skip this post, we completely understand.  Note: Much of what I share in this post I've learned from taking empowerment self-defense and martial arts classes at an organization called El HaLev. Learn more by reading or watching "Beauty Bites Beast" by Ellen Snortland. Melina Kantor ~ By Melina Kantor It seems to happen more often than not. I'm getting into a book, grateful for some much needed down time, and then. . . The hero shows up unexpectedly and unwanted someplace where the heroine feels safe. Maybe it's her home. Maybe it's her workplace. Maybe it's a coffee shop where she goes to unwind. The heroine asks him to go away. He doesn't leave. And then a few lines later, he's kissing her. Worse, the heroine finds this romantic. And I'm not talking about erotica, romantic suspense, adventurous paranormal romance, science fiction or even dark romance. I'm talking about my favorite genre - contemporary romance. The most recent book I've read with this scenario has a pink cover with cupcakes on it. Nothing bad is supposed to happen in a book with cupcakes on it. Right? In my opinion, which I admit might be unpopular, behavior like this is completely and totally unacceptable and belongs in one of David Schwimmer's videos on sexual harassment, not a romance novel. Am I being over sensitive? It's fine if you think so and I might not convince you otherwise. Just please consider this. As romance writers, our audiences include: Think that last one is the exception and not the rule? I wish it were. Sadly:
That is a huge percentage of our readers, and I believe that it's important to be aware that a woman who has experienced certain types of trauma (or any woman, for that matter) might see certain gestures, like showing up outside a woman's window while she sleeps and blasting a love song, or a sudden, surprise kiss that comes out of absolutely nowhere, as more intrusive than romantic. [caption id="attachment_7904" align="alignright" width="336"]Riley and Ben kiss Ben, who Riley has had a crush on since childhood, kisses her by surprise. Look at her hands. Does she look happy or comfortable? (Photo Credit: Baby Daddy, ABC Family/Free Form)[/caption] The good news is that we, as authors of contemporary romance, have a great opportunity to write protagonists who set healthy boundaries and serve as comforting role models. Even better, we have the honor of providing women with tools they can use to keep themselves emotionally and physically safe. But how do we, and the characters we bring to life, figure out and set healthy boundaries? The answer to that is all about assertiveness. Before we talk about what assertiveness is, let's talk about what it is not

The Passive Protagonist

We all need to be safe before we can thrive.

~ Ellen Snortland

The passive protagonist allows her boundaries to be crossed. "Love and War and Snow" is possibly my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls. It's so cozy and delightful. [caption id="attachment_7888" align="alignright" width="234"]Max and Lorelai Photo Credit: IMDB[/caption] Except for the part where Lorelai puts up a boundary, which literally involves her front door, and then proceeds to let Max, a man she hasn't known long, trample all over it, much like the guy in the song, "Baby it's Cold Outside."
LORELAI: See, I have really strict rules about dating. I keep my personal life totally separate from my life with Rory. You know, I never want her to feel unsettled or like her life could just shift at any moment.
That could not be more clear, yet Max starts to push:
MAX: What if I promised you that if you let me in, all I'm expecting is a cup of coffee, that's it. Nothing weird or funny. Unless, of course, you're into weird and funny. . . LORELAI: Max!
And then he pushes even more:
MAX: At some point in your life you're gonna have to decide that some guy is worth opening that front door for. I am just volunteering.
Here's Lorelai's passive response:
[Lorelai opens the front door and starts to walk inside. She turns back to him.] LORELAI: Would you like some coffee? [Max smiles and follows her inside]
The next morning, Rory is not exactly thrilled when she finds Max, her teacher, asleep on her couch. At best, Max's behavior is severe chutzpah. At worst, behavior like Max's could, in some cases, be a precursor to date rape. Either way, in this situation, Lorelai is not safe emotionally or physically. So how could she, or the relationship possibly thrive (even with the help of a thousand yellow daisies - which were a problem in themselves)?

The Aggressive Protagonist

When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.
The aggressive Protagonist crosses other people's boundaries. For example (language alert):
  No doubt Sally had a right to be angry. And she was dealing with Harry, so there was no real threat of physical danger. In real life though, and by extension our books, a slap like that, with swearing to top it off, could escalate the situation and put Sally in danger. (And imagine if Harry had slapped Sally. Not cool.) Here are two more classic scenes that we all love but should not use as examples for our own protagonists. 1. Julia and Ray Don:
  Hilarious, right? Not to mention entertaining. The problem? Julia's rant was filled with things Ray Don could argue with or even just comment on, which could make the challenge of staying at the table and pushing Julia's buttons more appealing. The rant creates a game that has the potential to become dangerous. And by being insulting, she's crossing his boundaries when all she needs to do is put up her own. 2. Dorothy and Stan:
  Again, classic and fabulous. The problem is that a door slam, like Sally's slap, has the potential to escalate the conflict. A door slam is aggressive and, as you can see, does not prevent Stan from returning. So how could Sally, Julia, and Dorothy have addressed specific behaviors instead of attacking Harry, Ray Don, and Stan? To answer that, let's talk about what assertiveness is.

The Assertive Protagonist

"No" is a complete sentence. ~ Anne Lamott
The assertive protagonist does not allow her boundaries to be crossed. I hope it goes without saying, but assertive does NOT mean bitchy. More importantly, leather jackets, combat boots, or even the ability to fight don't necessarily mean much (and can even turn readers off). What matters is that our readers connect and identify with protagonists who set and protect their boundaries, regardless of their personalities or body types. The examples of boundary crossing that we've talked about so far could have been taken care of with two simple words: "Go away!" ("Back off!" and "NO!" work too.) Or by simply just walking away. And when "go away" or the more polite "please leave" don't work, the phrases can be repeated until the boundary crosser gives up. They work because:
  1. There's no way to misunderstand, misinterpret, argue or contradict those statements.
  2. They aren't accusatory.
  3. They are clear.
  4. They don't present a challenge.
  5. They show that the encounter is over, thus ending the power trip and thrill.
Remember that volume is important, but it's possible to be loud and firm without hysteria or yelling. Here's another Gilmore Girls example in which Chris crosses Lorelai's boundaries by forcing his way into Lorelai's childhood home. The problem isn't the argument itself. The problem is that Lorelai engages him by arguing, which is why he doesn't leave. But look at how Emily solves the problem: Here are some more examples of protagonists who "used 'no' as a complete sentence." (Notice that there's no need to turn to Wonder Woman or Supergirl, as wonderful as they are, as examples). Cher:
  Bay:

Creating an Assertive Protagonist

Your protagonist can be sweet as pie, polite and soft-spoken, and extremely kind, yet remain assertive. When we create character profiles, many of us spend time figuring out things like what our protagonist carries around in her purse. But we can also do exercises to help us figure out what gives our protagonist confidence, and what she values about herself. Once you've figured that out, you can start figuring out what her boundaries are. Why not start now? Exercise 1: On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being relaxed and feeling completely safe, 5 being completely freaked out and uncomfortable, how okay is your protagonist with the following scenarios (feel free to leave a comment with additional scenarios):
  • A man she's just met tells her that her smile is sexy.
  • A coworker, either male or female, returns from a trip and greets her with a hug.
  • A guy she's been on three dates with shows up at her house without calling first to drop off an earring that fell off in his car.
  • A guy she's been going out with calls her every night and texts her at least 3 times a day.
There are no right or wrong answers here. Your protagonist gets to decide what's okay, without providing one word of justification or feeling even one ounce of guilt. Exercise 2:
  • Write a scene in which your protagonist sets a boundary.
-- and / or --
  • Write a romantic scene in which your hero respects a boundary set by your heroine.

Consent is Romantic

We don't need surprise unwanted visits, kisses or sexual advances to add romance to our novels. One of the most romantic things a hero can do is be aware of your heroine's boundaries, which can be even more romantic than knowing her favorite type of chocolate or coffee. A true hero understands when a woman needs a night to be home alone, do her laundry and order A true hero understands when a woman needs a night to be home alone, do her laundry and order take-out, and that some nights, a woman might want to watch her favorite show with him but not talk and not touch. See? How sweet, not to mention hot, is this?
 

New comic! SWEET! Tag someone with the sweetest moves! www.lunarbaboon.com

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Here's to Us:

So. I think the time has come to raise a glass and make a toast. Here's to our safety, the safety of our protagonists, and the safety of our readers. Here's to true, boundary-filled, love! To those things, we can all shout, "YES!"

*What are some of the boundaries you set for your characters (or for yourself)? Please share in the comments!

* If you'd like to continue talking about boundary setting, I strongly encourage you to join the group Women Setting Healthy Boundaries, which is run by one of my fabulous self-defense teachers. You'll love the videos she posts every week, and I promise you'll be inspired. *

Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels.  In July of 2012, she moved from New York to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy. Melina likes the color pink, baking, daffodils, teaching girls to code, running her small business, learning to use power tools, practicing self-defense, Krav Maga and karate, and breaking cinder blocks with her fist. All three of the protagonists in the trilogy she's currently working on study empowerment self-defense. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com.

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.