The First Writing Critique

Marilyn Brant--author photo~ By Marilyn Brant  Note: This post originally appeared here. In the past 13 years, ever since I started writing fiction with the intent to publish, I've had a lot of critiquing experiences. Some inspiring and encouraging, even while being instructive in regards to narrative flaws. Others intentionally cruel and providing very little of value, even in supposedly "educational" settings. It can be heartbreaking to a new writer to finally work up the courage to share a draft of a story only to have this offering met with scorn... And, yet, I don't know if there's a more effective way to learn to differentiate genuinely constructive feedback from the toxic variety until we've personally witnessed both in action. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English, which I was invited to this fall because they'd selected me as their 2013 Author of the Year. It was a huge honor for me (understatement!!), and I had the opportunity to be their speaker on Friday at the Awards Luncheon in Bloomington-Normal. In preparing for my talk, I couldn't stop thinking about my first and most memorable experience with getting my writing critiqued. It was during the only undergraduate composition class I ever took, which also happened to be the first time I remember making a conscious decision about whether or not to follow my (sort of secret) writing dream.
I was 19 that year and, as a direct result of taking this particular class, I chose not to pursue writing seriously then. It wasn't, however, for the reason you might think...
As an education major, I was surprised and a little disappointed when I discovered I only had to take ONE writing course to get my degree. I'd always liked writing. I'd been on the yearbook staff in high school, and I was one of the head editors of our school newspaper. Nothing about the sound of this puny college English requirement scared me one bit. So what if I'd been warned about the teacher? Told he was a real nutcase, a tough grader and someone to avoid like a bad virus, if at all possible? But it wasn't possible. His class was the only one that fit well enough into my schedule that spring, so I took it. I didn't expect problems. Can you hear the hubris gods laughing with demonic glee?! At first acquaintance, Dr. Raymond Schoen seemed almost as terrifying in person as I'd been led to believe. He was a big, gruff, older man with a beard and a pipe, and he spent the entire first class period (75 minutes!) droning on and on about the proper use of a semicolon. Seriously. That's all he talked about for a full hour and a quarter, as if it might be the freakin' cornerstone of literacy or something. I was simultaneously mesmerized and horrified by his lecture, and I kept exchanging sideways glances with a guy friend who was in the room with me. We agreed afterward that, indeed, we should have held out for a professor who was a little more sane. Someone who might actually talk about, you know, writing in our college class. Not just one weird little punctuation mark. pexels-photo-largeBut I was in for a surprise that semester. Dr. Schoen turned out to be not nearly as crazy as I'd initially thought. In fact, he started to scare me for another reason entirely: He was really logical and not easily fooled. He wasn't a professor you could snow with half-formed, ill-considered arguments. He was genuinely reading our papers. Making careful comments. Pointing out every single fallacy in our statements and every single cliché in our descriptions. I actually got a B+ on my first assignment...and again on my second one. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd gotten a B of any kind on an English paper (sometime in junior high, maybe?), so this was not, in my opinion, an auspicious start. And I desperately wanted to hate him for this...but I couldn't. I couldn't because everything he said was right. Furthermore, one option we had as students in his class was an open invitation to go to his office to discuss our writing during a short, individual conference -- particularly if we were concerned about our grades, and I was starting to be. My curiosity was at war with my resentment over this -- I was sure it was going to be a soul-crushing experience -- but curiosity eventually won out and I made an appointment to see him. You've probably already guessed that Dr. Schoen became one of my favorite teachers ever. The man possessed an amazing gift -- both as a writer himself and as a professor. He was incredibly clear-minded, but he was also fair and kind. He knew what good writing looked like, and he knew when he wasn't seeing it. He was the first person in years to hold me accountable for what I wrote, to not let me get away with lazy thinking and to make sure I really conveyed on paper what I was trying to express. He demanded honesty and clarity. Most amazingly, he inspired in me a powerful desire to prove to him that I was not illogical, unoriginal or remotely lazy. That his faith in my ability to live up to his expectations was somehow justified.

It was so emotionally honest of him. So open. So real. And I knew that I wasn't ready to do that then -- to be that kind of writer. Certainly not at 19 or 20. Not at 25 either. Or, for that matter, at 29. But, a few years after that, when I wasready, I recognized it; I knew the qualities I needed to look for in myself. (I'd also never forgotten how to properly use a semicolon, LOL.) And when, inevitably, I encountered a critiquing situation where there was derision and a lack of constructive feedback, I had a better model to emulate. To hold out for critique partners who were closer to Dr. Schoen's style...because I knew what an exceptional writing critique should feel like. That it should inspire us to want to work harder. To revise with intent and hopefulness. To reach deeper and consider the significance of every phrase, every punctuation mark. To, above all, be more ourselves on the page, not less. Never less.

(Thanks, Dr. Schoen. RIP.) * Do you have a favorite teacher? One who inspired you and made you strive to work harder at something? I'd love to know!

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

Member Spotlight: Jen Doyle

Jen_DoyleToday we continue to get to know our chapter members. Please welcome Jen Doyle Thanks for stopping by, Jen! 

Contemporary Romance: What inspired you to start writing romance?

Jen Doyle: It actually took a long time for me to find my way to the romance genre. For most of my life, I’ve made no bones about the fact that I will only go to movies that entertain me -- basically, I want a happy ending. In terms of reading, I’d essentially only read mysteries and thrillers. It took me over half my life to realize that there was an entire genre devoted to happily-ever-afters! Once I realized I could apply my movie-watching criteria to reading, I was hooked.

When it comes to writing, I started writing fan fiction as a hobby about 15 years ago. By the time I’d gotten serious enough to think about genres, I mostly identified what I wrote as urban fiction. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction, FTW!) But I followed one particular couple across two connected epic stories that, combined, equalled about 750K words. Now that I know more about what I’m doing, I’d say the first of those stories was a romance as it was about the couple. Once it was pointed out to me that I’d written the equivalent of seven books, I started thinking seriously about pursuing writing. By that point I’d found romance and realized that even though not everything I’d written was defined as romance, what truly interested me was the core relationship. As soon as that occurred to me, I was off and running with the first draft of what became CALLING IT, my debut novel. CR: Tell us a bit about your process. Are you a pantser or a plotter? JD: A pantser, for sure. Which was fine with book 1, because I could take all the time in the world that I wanted with that. Once I was under contract and writing book 2, however, it became a bit more difficult as I had a much shorter time frame in which to write and deliver the manuscript, so I resolved to be better about plotting the next time around. I’ve just put in my proposal for book 3, and it’s the first book I’ve truly plotted out. I talked it all the way through with three different people! That was a big deal for me. :) Even as I was plotting I saw the scenes unfolding in my head, which is how I like to write--and something I was afraid of losing with the plotting part. So I’m looking forward to the next phase and seeing if my characters follow the path I’ve set out for them.

CR: How has your work as a librarian influenced your reading and writing habits?

JD: I’d say it’s less about it influencing me than about finally accepting that everything I do pretty much comes from the same place, LOL. I’ve been a huge reader since day one. As I think is pretty prevalent among us writers, I was always the kid who had a book at all times, often more than one. I loved summer vacations because I could find a place to hide somewhere and read two or three books a day. In fact, one of my earliest memories is standing in the children’s room at the Waterford Public Library and starting with the A’s and working my way through the shelves. (I don’t think I ever made it past the C’s because there were always new and awesome books coming along!)

I never considered becoming a librarian until I met my then-boyfriend’s (now husband) mother for the first time. I had absolutely no idea what to say to her, so I ended up asking her about her job. For someone who had such a love for reading and libraries, you’d think I’d have a better sense of the various types of librarians, but no. So when she described what she did as a research librarian for a management consulting firm, it was like finding nirvanah. I could get paid to find answers to questions? I could be like my favorite literary heroines, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden? Sold!

Of course, once I got to library school, it occurred to me that my first job was shelving books at that same Waterford Public Library, and one of my college jobs was working for the acquisitions librarian at my alma mater. Another major job I had was working at the switchboard/information desk of my alma mater, which was essentially doing ready reference so I’d been working my way there all along. But as it turns out, once I got out of library school I found that I didn’t love the day-to-day aspects of librarianship and ended up becoming an administrator at the grad school I had attended. So my days of being ‘a librarian’ in the traditional sense weren’t really that many.

I do find that the piece that’s stayed with me for all these years, however, is to have that question asked and then to follow the thread until the answer is discovered. Which is basically how I write. That first scene, or the first meeting between the hero and heroine, leads to one thing and then to another. Follow that thread all the way to the end, and there’s your answer: HEA.

CR: Baseball seems to be a common thread in many of your books, so I’m guessing you’re a sports fan. What role do sports play in your novels?

JD: The CALLING IT series so far consists of two books, with a third planned (and plotted!) as noted above. Sports are a major theme running through the books, but some reviewers have said that it wasn’t quite what they expected from a sports romance and I completely understand where they’re coming from. CALLING IT, book 1, is about Major League Baseball player (catcher) Nate Hawkins. He’s coming off of a six-week self-imposed exile due to what I’ve termed “NateGate” in the book. Choosing to escape the craziness in Chicago, he returns to his hometown of Inspiration, Iowa. wood-sport-football-rugby-largePart of Nate’s history, however, is that when he was in high school, he was a key member of Inspiration’s storied basketball team, which had a Hoosiers-like trajectory and became nationally known as the Iowa Dream. Four of the five members of the basketball team are still in Inspiration, and when he returns home, he finds that the ties that bound that team together still exist. And although they haven’t had much of a connection in recent years, he rebuilds those connections with his former teammates. Because most of this book takes place during the off season, there isn’t a huge amount of baseball itself, but there are some shenanigans with team management that play a fairly important role in his developing relationship with Dorie Donelli, our heroine. (Who, incidentally, is a librarian. :) )  Another huge component of the story is that there’s a clock ticking down to the moment he needs to report for “Pitchers and Catchers,” i.e., Spring Training. I do really love the way teammates’ bond is more like that of brothers, so in addition to the interaction with his high school basketball teammates, there are some current baseball teammates who play a role as well. One more component is that Dorie is the youngest of seven, the six older siblings being brothers. So her sports knowledge comes into play quite a bit, including a pivotal Trivia Night scene. The hero of Book 2, CALLED UP, has nothing to do with professional sports. But, ironically, there’s actually a little bit more direct baseball involved. (I had actual baseball consultants on this one. :) ) Max “Deke” Deacon, one of Nate’s best friends, is the coach for his nephew’s Little League team and also plays in a men’s league. Those serve as the straight-up baseball parts. The heroine, “Fitz” Hawkins, is Nate’s baby sister and also the head of the foundation that was started back in the Iowa Dream days, so there’s a tie-in there as well that gets developed even further throughout the course of the book. There’s also a visit to San Francisco for All-Star Weekend with Nate and Dorie, along with an ongoing storyline which will play a part in subsequent books in the series. CR: What are some of your favorite non-writing activities? Do you feel they make you a better writer? JD: Once upon a time I had time to watch TV, and I do actually love to cook and garden--oh, and needlepoint! I love needlepoint! But writing and all of the add-ons have taken a huge toll in that regard, LOL. I have a somewhat demanding day job and three kids, ages 6, 13, and 16. So right now, there’s not a lot of off time for activities. But I will say that all the craziness is definitely making me a better writer--I come up with most of my best lines while my 6-year-old is in the middle of a tantrum, or I’m in a marathon pick-up/drop-off routine. I’ve finally learned to have my notebook with me AT. ALL. TIMES. Even if it’s just into my son’s room when I’m putting him to bed. Because the brain seems to work best when writing-time is not on the schedule. CR: What advice do you have for writers just starting off?

JD: Don’t think, just do! There’s always a reason not to pursue this. Am I good enough? Will I get published? Do I have time? None of that matters. If there’s a story in your head, write it down. Keep at it. Don’t let all the (very, very good) reasons not to write bog you down.

I do have more practical advice, too. Entering contests was HUGE for me--I highly encourage it. The feedback from the judges is like a master class in writing. With CALLING IT, I got into a cycle of entering contests, revising those first few chapters and the synopsis accordingly, and then doing it all over again. Draft one was completed in January 2014 and I began entering contests right around then. By the time October came around and I had the chance to pitch to Sarah Younger (who I ended up signing with in November 2014), I had done enough revisions to have a fairly solid package to present. It still ended up going through some major revisions by the time publication came around, but without those contests, I don’t think I would have been ready to take advantage of that opportunity.

CR: What, in your opinion, is the appeal of contemporary romance? JD: For me, it all comes down to those happily-ever-afters. I know those exist in other subgenres as well, but I see contemporary romance all around me and I want to put that to the page. When I’m out on a walk and see a couple exchanging a glance, or when I’m at the airport and I see an embrace at the arrival or departure gate, I want to know that story. I want to write that story. With the state of the world today, I think contemporary romance allows readers to escape to a place where, even with all of that going on, happiness and true love exist--right around the corner.

I like to believe that those things do exist :) but even in the worst of times to be able to hope and dream… Contemporary romance provides that. And I hope to be helping readers find that feeling for a long time to come.

Thanks again for visiting! :-) 

If you've got more questions for Jen, leave them in the comments!

A big believer in happily ever afters, Jen Doyle decided it was high time she started creating some. Jen is a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of the New England, New Jersey Romance Writers and Music City Romance Writer chapters of RWA. She is represented by Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. She has an M.S. in Library and Information Science and, in addition to her work as a librarian, has worked as a conference and events planner as well as a Communications and Enrollment administrator in both preschool and higher education environments (although some might say that there is very little difference between the two; Jen has no comment regarding whether she is one of the “some”).

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An Amused Muse

becke purple~ By Becke (Martin) Davis I’m an obsessive reader and a longtime fan of romance, particularly contemporary romances. As a reader, I love contemporary romances liberally laced with snappy dialogue, quirky plots and even, occasionally, slapstick. As a writer, I flounder in my attempts to be funny. When I try to write a humorous scene, I often go off the deep end and find myself—and my characters—shipwrecked on a rocky sea of overwrought emotions. I’ll try to lighten up a heavy scene with a laugh and before I know it, the Keystone Kops have hijacked the dark moment. It’s frustrating when I’m so clear on what I like and what I’d like to write. This summer I’ve moved my muse from the keyboard and spent many lazy hours reading recently discovered authors and rereading old favorites. I try to quickly forget books where the humor is a painful #FAIL. My bookshelves are overflowing with books by authors who, apparently without effort, strike just the right note. Books that make me laugh out loud are few and far between. Authors who consistently pull that off include JENNIFER CRUSIE and SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS. I’ve read all their books and every time I re-read one, I find new things to make me grin. While searching for excerpts to share, I came across this and this. disgust-disgusted-expression-female-41530-largeThen there are the authors who let loose their sillies and cracked me up in a particular book, like Dianne Castell in HOT SUMMER NIGHTS, which I reviewed awhile back, and Julie Ann Long’s HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON. I finished the last few chapters of that book with a sleeping granddaughter in my lap, and laughed so hard I almost woke her up. And I absolutely love Vicki Lewis Thompson’s HEXED series. I wish she’d written a dozen or more books set in Big Knob, Indiana. I am eagerly awaiting more books from Sally Thorne, whose debut book THE HATING GAME entertained me this summer. Other authors who write with witty panache include Julie James, Erin McCarthy, Rachel Gibson, Victoria Dahl, Heidi Betts, Diane Holquist, Lani Diane Rich and Susan Sey. I never read Sophie Kinsella’s popular Shopaholic books, but her others are clever and some (like TWENTIES GIRL) are very moving. Kristan Higgins’ books can pull a whole range of emotions from me. British author Jill Mansell can also make me laugh. I know I’m forgetting many others, but it would take all day to dig through my over-packed bookshelves, and then I’d end up re-reading half the books. A fun way to spend the next few months, but not productive. While I have no scintillating advice to offer contemporary romance authors who are struggling with their amusing (or not-so-amusing) muses, I can recommend this article on how not to be funny in fiction: This blog takes a look at the pros and cons of writing humorously (or trying to): There is more excellent advice here: And here: For those of you who have successfully managed to write with wit, you have my congratulations. I’m a little jealous, but not too jealous. Until I manage to get it right, I thank you for providing new additions to my keeper shelves.

* Who are your favorite "funny" authors? Do you have any tricks for adding humor to your stories? *

Becke (Martin) Davis moderated the Garden Book Club and the Mystery Forum at until the forums were discontinued last year. Prior to that, she was a writer and instructor at B&N’s Online University and for two years she wrote a garden blog for B&N. She has written six garden books and one book about ‘N Sync, co-authored with her daughter. Becke has two adult children, two wonderful granddaughters and two cats. She has been married almost 45 years and lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park.

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Interview With Book Blogger Lia Covington

lia~ Lia Covington It's such an honor to have such a fun, book-loving guest on the blog today! Not so long ago, I heard this guest speak on the Smart Podcast, Trashy Books podcast and I knew she had to come hang out with us. So, without further ado, here's Lia Covington from Lia's Booking Obsession. Enjoy. ~ Melina (aka Melissa) Welcome, Lia!

Contemporary Romance: It is a truth universally acknowledged that your lovely husband enables your reading obsession. Care to elaborate?

Lia Covington: Gladly! Larry Jerome Covington III is the most unbelievably stubborn man I have ever meet in my entire life. If he believes in you, he’ll  do everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING in his power to make sure you reach the goals he believes you can achieve. He’s stubborn. He’s strong willed. He’s always so quiet, yet always observant! He’s also charming which makes winning any type of argument extremely hard, especially since the center of his eyes are hazel pooling into deep brown until lost within a ring of pure black, I know how common!

When you have a man standing a foot taller than you, pouring all his focus, strength, and determination into you as he tells you that you’re going to grad school to fulfill your passion; that he’ll pay for any expense for the blog as long as it makes me happy; or that he’ll try to send me to any event I ask to attend if it means meeting an author would make me happy, it makes it very hard to argue back, let alone focus.

So if he says he’s happy to buy books, send me off to meet authors, fellow bloggers, and such, well how can you argue with such abundances of loving support! Thus making me spoiled.

CR: How can I put this delicately? You were once in a situation wherein you had to deal with a librarian who, unlike your dreamy husband, wasn’t tolerant of your reading choices and habits. What exactly happened and how did you deal with it?

LC: Simple. I wasn’t “allowed” to read books at the YA section of the library. I had a full range to read the romances novels that she approved of, or the historical fantasy novels that she approved of, but not the YA section. The excuse was the YA only has one copy per book and “if” a true teen wants to read it should be ready for them. Every time I tried to check out a book I wanted to read, that wasn’t on her approval list, I didn’t get it. I would check my bag and it would be a different book. The worst thing she did was deliberately take a v-e-r-y long time cleaning up her desk so a librarian-ade would have to help me but only AFTER finish their original task.

I wish I could say I handled it like a proper adult. Marching right up to the front desk, demanding to be checked out, with switched books either! Instead, I would leave the books on the table, then leave the library all together crying.

I would cry to my mom on the phone, or if my husband was home to see me walking in the house with wet cheeks, he would turn me right around to get back in the car. Sometimes he would march to the library, grab the book in question, then wait 15-30 minutes to be checked out. There were times when the library was closed, so he would drive us to the local bookstore, telling me to get as many books as I want. I would tell him that just being around books was enough.

Little did I know he was keeping a list of all the books I wasn’t “ allowed” to check out. So! Imagine my surprise a month after giving birth to our daughter, he turned one of the spare rooms of the house into my own personal library, filled with each and ever books I ever wanted to read, or a complete collection of books from an author I mentioned to him. How can anyone deal with such a GIFT!?! I’ll tell you how. I cried. I cried on the floor and I cried from the soul. I cried. Cried! Not that cute cry, I mean heart swelling with so much love type of cry, and he just held me until I either I had no more tears.

CR: Sorry, but I have to ask. What was it like being on the Smart Bitches podcast? How did you meet Sarah Wendell?

LC: Ohhhhh Sarah Wendell is amazing. I meet Sarah Wendell at the RT Book Bloggers Conferences at RT BookLovers Convention-Las Vegas this year. While stuffing my face with food, I managed to tell her between bites what brought me to RT, let alone how I managed to become a blogger. She couldn’t believe the story, especially about the librarian, double shocked when I told her my husband sent me, and possible, triple shock at the blog being a gift.

Larry, really truly believes that the blog could be something more than what it was then. He, being as stubborn as he is kind sent me packing! He bought the tickets, ALL THE TICKETS! Sending me from Minot AFB, North Dakota to Las Vegas, Nevada to meet authors, book boyfriends, booklovers and to learn how to book blog properly thus sending me to the book blogging conferences hosted by Sarah Wendell.

After she hearing my story she asked if I could be on her podcast. Honestly, I didn’t think my story would get much attention, plus I didn’t think anyone would believe me about the “librarian” in question. She told me that librarians listening to her podcast would freak out. So I said sure why not! Sarah seemed confident in herself and my sister bought me Amazon Prime, there was no way I was ever going back to that library so I did it, I did the podcast, and it was a MARVELOUS revenge!

CR: What? Reading isn’t enough for you? You have to write about what you read? Why is it important for you to share what you’ve read and communicate with other book lovers?

LC: When I first started the blog, I never thought anyone besides Larry would ever see it. It was just meant for us to stay connected through the long distances of his job. I would read such adventures, heartbreaking stories, and desperately needed someone to talk to. Unfortunately, his job took more time away from him than it gave, so he could never read as fast as I did. Thus the blog was made, it was a simple way for me to write about all the books I read, and for him to keep up with all my reading activities, even adding books to his TBR pile.

Now that the blog has grown, I feel that it’s even more important to share with the book community! It’s fun to see what other people are reading because readers are always interested in reading a book but never sure they want to take the chances to BUY a book if it might not be so GOOD. That’s why book reviews can save someone some cash or encourage them to spend it!

Book lovers will always support book lovers! I found this to be A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y TRUE when fellow blogger and friend Kat from meet my favorite contemporary author Rainbow Rowell, who I’ve desperately tried to meet n’ failed, meet her and made a little video of her saying hello to me. When I say I cried like a newborn baby, I mean I cried.  To have someone that I meet at RT Las Vegas remember me to talk/ask an admired author to say hello on camera! O-M-G Booklovers 4lyfe! So it’s very important to me to spread the love!

CR: You know, you kind of make some of us look bad. You’re in graduate school, and you’ve got a young child to take care of. How do you find time to blog? (Maybe you’re a superhero?)

LC: Ha! Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say! But no I am no superhero, although if I were I would want to be Storm from Xmen. I would make a thunderstorm every time I wanted to stay inside to read. At first, I didn’t truly have time to blog, as a new mother I felt every time I took my eyes away from my spawn she was going to French kiss a light socket! In the beginning Larry would take everyone out the house so I had time to create/ schedule blog post along with finish homework assignments. Now that our daughter is turning two next week I find that we are very much alike. She doesn’t like to be bothered in the morning during her PBS Kids shows, leaving me with 4 to 6 hours to read, do homework or blog. When she feels alone she just snuggling next to me in my papasan chair in the library with her own book or project close in hand. My family really supports me going to school as well as blogging, it’s incredible how much time they let me be to myself without worry.

CR: You’ve got some beautifully created graphics on your blog. Can you share some tips and tools for authors who might want to create graphics for their own websites?

LC: I’m happy you think so, I actually have no tips on website graphics because I actually don’t like my website design, I’m currently working with Anna Moore Design to help create a more unique design on my blog. If there were a tip I could give, it would be don’t be afraid to get professional help! Gawds know I’m thankful to Anna Moore for all her help thus far!

CR: Do you have any advice for readers who are interested in starting their own blogs?

LC: Yes! Make sure you are passionate! There are going to be times when you think the devil himself is hiding behind the 0’s and 1’s of your computer! Post goes missing! Things that were scheduled don’t post on time. But as long as you are passionate about your blog and treat it with kindness/determination others see it, feel it when they read your post, that’s what’s most important. If you’re only trying to start a blog to get free books then you have a better chances just going to the library. Blogging is hard work, and the best make it look easy. I found that out the hard way!

CR: In your opinion, what is the appeal of contemporary romance?

LC: Seeing yourself in the romance itself. When you read a historical fantasy romance novel, no matter how much you love or admire the characters the characters are always so far away. But when you read a contemporary romance novel it’s like watching tiny bits of yourself in the characters you see before your eyes. Sometimes you feel so excited when a character has made a choice that you yourself have made, or perhaps you yourself would have made if you were in that situation! Plus it’s fun to read contemporary romance novels because they really make you think about things like:

Why is the button on a man’s jean the hardest button to unbutton when you’re trying to be discreet!

Why is it when you’re not EXPECTING to have sex you’re now having to pretend you’re non-sexy undergarments are the sexiest pair you have!

Beyond that it’s also nice to see characters that are so close to my own life fall in love, it makes me feel like I’m living my own feelings of my own relationship which is always a nice way to start an evening ;-)

Thanks for stopping by, Lia! 

Greetings! I’m Lia Covington from Lia’s Bookish Obsession. When I’m not chasing a naked baby, or a Siberian wolf pup, down the hall, you can always find me reading, writing, and studying in my gifted library my husband created for me. I love books, a lesson taught to me by my mother while living in the isolated island life of living in the Bahamas. Currently stationed in Minot, North Dakota with my family, with a love of books in my heart I see no stopping my love for blogging!

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The 5 Podcasts to Inspire and Motivate Every Writer

liat~ By Liat Behr

Podcasts are a hands-free way to learn new things, especially when you’re on the go. Think of them are your own personal radio show, custom-tailored to both your interests and time-slot. If you aren’t yet listening to them, you should be.

Here are my favorite 4 podcasts that will inspire and motivate every writer.

Magic Lessons With Elizabeth Gilbert

You don’t necessarily have to be a writer to enjoy this podcast. But you do have to be an artist - or one who embraces a creative life.

This podcast is #1 on my list for writers, because as writers we all know what it is to become stuck; we can’t write, we fill with self-loathing, we feel empty, vapid and don’t believe in our creative abilities.These feelings weigh us down and pull us into a downward vortex from which it seems impossible to extricate ourselves. But it’s Elizabeth Gilbert to the rescue. Through her Magic Lessons podcast, and her interviews with amateur writers, artists and even experts, we’re better able to understand the process of creativity which helps us learn to be more patient with ourselves and ultimately helps us crawl out from the depths of despair and triumph to the pinnacles of our creativity.

The Creative Penn

The Creative Penn is the inspiring and motivating podcast from author and entrepreneur, Joanna Penn. It sometimes takes time for Joanna to actually start the interview because she very sweetly acknowledges her listeners’ comments on social media - usually Twitter (so, yes, if you enjoy the podcast take the time to let Joanna know - @thecreativepenn). But when Joanna does get to the podcast, it’s sheer value. You will always learn person-woman-music-pink-largesomething new. Joanna meets with different guests - authors, entrepreneurs and other creatives, and together they tackle discussions on the writing process, writing techniques, nifty tools, tips and other helpful information that will inspire and motivate you to become more efficient, productive and better writer.

This Portfolio Life

This Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins is  another podcast for creatives, not necessarily writers. But it’s definitely a podcast every writer needs to be listening to.

The crux of the podcast is that as creatives our portfolio consists of many different activities. And that to be a successful creative you must consistently create. So you may writing in addition to creating images (if you’re a photographer or graphic designer) and blogging and travelling - or any number of different things that make up your life. Jeff Goins, master blogger and writer chats with creatives to learn how they’re making a living from their life’s portfolio, talks about their passions and struggles. Listening to this podcast you’ll gain insight and perspective into making your work and our world more rich and exciting.

Writing Excuses 

Writing Excuses is the podcast with the most comic tagline - “fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not smart.” The real reason that Writing Excuses is short (a bit longer than 15 minutes but not usually longer than 25) is because listening to this podcast is a great writing excuse - but it’s a short writing excuse to remind you that you took a break from writing only to get back to it with renewed energy. Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler are knowledgeable, intelligent, and entertaining. They do their listeners a great service by discussing different elements of the story - what works and what doesn’t, conducting great interviews, and fielding questions from their audience - but not all at the same time. You can however consistently count on them for a thoughtful and inspiring prompt as well as a book recommendation.


Longform was recommended to me by my friend and columnist Tiffanie Wen. It’s a podcast of compelling conversations with journalists, authors and editors. At times it  focuses on reporting experiences, other times it will give you a rich insider’s view of the writing life. Alternating Longform hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky and Evan Ratliff are skilled interviewers. And every single time you finish listening to this podcast, you will walk away feeling fascinated, excited and inspired to keep writing. Because though the writer’s life is not a glamorous one, it is exciting and authentic living that will always lead to surprises.

I know I said 4, but here’s a bonus podcast from Melina (aka Melissa):

The Journeyman Writer

The Journeyman Writer, hosted by Alastair Stephens is just one of the many podcasts produced by StoryWonk. Any podcast from StoryWonk will help you spark your imagination improve your craft. But The Journeyman Writer delivers bite-sized writing tips and answers your burning questions about storytelling, industry, and your life as a writer in a straight to the point format. Note: While you're checking out StoryWonk, grab a drink and listen to Will Write for Wine, the podcast that preceded the StoryWonk empire. You'll learn as much about craft as you would from graduate school, but you'll laugh your heart out while you're studying. Trust me.

* Do you listen to podcasts? Which have helped you? *

Liat Behr is a copywriter, novelist, and blogger. When she's not writing she's either reading, learning a new skill or listening to a podcast. Her evening hours are devoted to her family who love her pizza and sushi but hate just about everything else. You can visit her on her blog - The Behr Truth at

From Solitary Writing to Collaborating on Joint Ventures

mk-headshot-bBy Milou Koenings Like most writers, it tends to be just me and the keyboard. And I like it that way. But when it comes to book marketing, I decided a few years ago that it was time to break out of my comfort zone and start collaborating with other authors. I had seen what could happen for my author friends who were brave enough to try it, and I wanted in on some of that collaborative magic. For me, the first step was joining a group blog. I was incredibly fortunate that the week I'd decided to start looking for this kind of opportunity, I saw an announcement that Sweet Romance Reads was forming. We are a group of clean, sweet romance authors who blog together. We each have our day, once a month. And we support each other's marketing efforts. You know what it's like when you have a new release and you send out a few tweets about it. You hope your followers will notice and maybe retweet. But what if you were guaranteed that 30 other authors would retweet your posts to all their followers, too? Imagine how much larger your reach would be. If you knew your whole tribe would promote your blog posts, feature you on their own blogs, re-pin and Instagram you and support your Thunderclaps, wouldn't you feel more confident about your marketing efforts? Group blogging and marketing support networks aren't the only joint ventures open to writers. Other joint venture projects could include:
  • Collaborating on a book with another author, or several others, who write in a similar genre
  • Pooling your modest marketing budgets together into a sum significant enough for some serious advertising
  • Entering into collaborative arrangements with people who can open new markets, for example, translators, illustrators and narrators. You might not be able to afford thousands of dollars for a translator. But some freelance translators are willing to work in partnership, translating your book for a split of the royalties.  If you're an indie writer who'd like to take a gamble in, say, Germany's booming romance marketplace, this may be a path to consider.  These kinds of arrangements also mean that your translator will have an incentive to market the book, too, and will probably have more contacts than you do in the foreign language market. The same goes for illustrators and even narrators of audio books.
The synergy of joint ventures can be powerful, enough, at times, to catapult mid-list authors to NYT best-selling author status with a single boxed set. people-woman-coffee-meeting-largeOn September 27, we at Sweet Romance Reads will be releasing our fourth collaborative publication: a boxed set of 17 holiday-themed, all new, wholesome romances by New York Times, USA Today and National Best-Selling authors, that take you around the globe from small-town USA, to London, England, and even to Africa. (The African one is mine!) As you probably guessed from our title, in past years, we've put out two other anthologies, both of which were USA Today bestsellers. We also have a cookbook, Recipes for Love, which is a collection of menus and recipes for romantic dinners for two. It's a privilege to work with a wonderful group of women on projects like this. When working with a group, everyone gets to bring her or his own special skills and experiences to the table. It's incredibly educational. And when a group of writers and artists pulls together, it's amazing the creativity that can be unleashed. Suddenly, you can find yourself doing things you never thought you could — and probably couldn't if you were doing them alone. But you're not alone. And the possibilities are suddenly endless! Milou Koenings is a USA Today bestselling author who writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with happy endings bring joy to the world and so make it a better place. She is the author of the Green Pines Romance series and her new novella, The Kampala Peppermint Twist, is part of the 17-author box set, Sweet Christmas Kisses 3. You can find her at or blogging on the 21st of each month at and get to know her better here:

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Can You Touch Your Toes? The Need for Flexibility

gabi_stevens~ By Gabi Stevens We all enter this writing career with dreams of best-sellerdom and fame. We all hope to write for a living and maybe even a little extra. Reality often derails those plans—your numbers were never big enough, you were orphaned, you never received support from your publishing house, your agent left the business; readers never discovered you in the morass of Amazon. Whatever. Honestly, your experience is not unusual. Few authors have had a smooth ride to superstardom, and I’d wager you can name authors who were on top a few years ago, but you don’t see them much now. Most of us have had setbacks or seemingly career-ending events. Or we’ve made mistakes. So now what do you do? The word is flexibility.   “Wait,” I can hear you say. “I’ve always heard that perseverance is the key to a writing career.” It is. Flexibility is merely an aspect of perseverance, a subplot if you will. You’ve tried and tried in one genre and didn’t break through/didn’t sell/the genre died. You have two choices: give up or move on. Giving up is easy, and, if you can, I highly recommend it. No more worries about deadlines, editing, revisions, or (gasp!) a synopsis. You can live a “normal” life. Learn to cook healthy meals. Exercise and learn to really touch your toes. Have friends. However, if you’re like me, that isn’t an option. So moving on it is. You can continue to write the same books and expect the same results (Einstein’s definition of insanity) or you can try something new. A new genre. Surely there is pexels-photo-127968-largemore than one genre you read and love. Why not try writing something in that area. Do you write historical? Well, what about historical mysteries? Or fantasy? Many fantasies are set in medieval-like worlds. Do you write paranormal? Well, what about urban fantasy or steampunk? Then there’s always the self-publishing alternative. You no longer need to wait for NY to call. You have a viable route to get your work out there (Just do your homework and get professionals to help you along the way, please.). Look, I’m not telling you it’s easy. This business is heart-breaking. I was first published in historical romances. I wrote seven under contract, orphaned, agent left the business, whatever. I had lovely reviews but never broke through. So I changed and wrote paranormal romance. New contract, new name. Reviews were good. Orphaned again, agent issues again, whatever. I have been able to put my entire backlist up as ebooks and have published three original books by myself, and a short story collection of tales that frightened my husband. My latest career move is into straight fantasy, and I’m working on a novel in collaboration with my daughter. Writing is what I do. I have a proven track record, but no real fame. That’s okay. Don’t count me out yet. I’m still writing (perseverance) and I plan to continue in the foreseeable future. Just this week I heard cozy mysteries were making a comeback. I love cozy mysteries. Hmmm. Gives me yet another avenue to explore. I can bend. I can move. I can touch my toes in more than one way. --Gabi Gabi Stevens latest work is THE STONE KEY, a self-published time travel novel about a kick-ass heroine who can’t get home to the middle-ages unless she finds an ancient artifact. Too bad the one man who can help her doesn’t believe in magic and such nonsense. She is currently working on building a fantasy career, while still pursuing the romances she loves. You can find her at and on Facebook and Twitter. 

Ready, Set, BAKE!

carolematthews~ By Carole Matthews A Note from Melina (aka Melissa):  I may not bake as well as Mary Berry (though not for lack of trying). But I'm proud that that we have one thing in common.  We both adore Carole Matthews.  It was from Carole Matthews that I learned about The Great British Bake-Off, and I've been an addict from the first episode I was able to get my hands on.  The show is so soothing, with its rivers, fields, and adorable animals walking around. Even the music relaxes me.  The encouraging atmosphere in "the tent" reminds me of RWA meetings and conferences. Writers and bakers are clearly among the world's loveliest people.  Writers and bakers are clearly among the world's loveliest people.  And of course, the show is a great injection of enthusiasm for my muses (as is kneading bread dough and mixing batter).  The Great British Bake Off is the perfect show for a writer, and Carole has graciously offered to share some of her thoughts on the show.  Thank you so much, Carole!  It’s the time of year in Great Britain when everyone goes a little bit cake bonkers. As the nights draw in and the trees turn to gold, the nation becomes hooked on the latest series of The Great British Bake Off. Never has there been so much tension involving cake. We weep with them over their biscuit disasters. Empathise when their bread fails to rise. Commiserate with their soggy bottoms. We all love Mary Berry’s wisdom, Paul Hollywood’s steely blue eyes and the terrible innuendos from Mel and Sue, the comfort that comes from nothing more complicated than a bit of cake. For me, it’s a great time of marketing activity too. As well as keeping my eye on the trials and tribulations of the bakers, I live tweet during Bake Off while simultaneously balancing a plate of biscuits on my lap – for no one can possibly watch Bake Off without having something cakey-based to snack on. [caption id="attachment_7109" align="alignright" width="225"]Star Baker! Star Baker![/caption] Every week during the show we also give away signed copies of my book, The Cake Shop in the Garden, which has been one of my most popular novels worldwide. Helped in no small measure by having a glowing quote from THE Mary Berry on the cover. I also throw in a bit of chocolate for good measure. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary when she was doing a book signing in my local bookstore. When it was my turn for my books to be signed, I gave one of mine and thanking her for all the pleasure gives to me and my readers – we are all Bake Off fans and chat about it on social media. She said she would love to read it and I thought no more. So I was very surprised when, a few months later, I saw a piece from her in a magazine and she said that she was ‘addicted’ to my books. Go me! Now, of course, she can have free books for life as far as I’m concerned! You can keep all your celebrity chefs, for me there is only one cook. Her recipes always work and don’t have any weird and wonderful ingredients. I was chatting to a friend about her yesterday and we were saying, that in an age where it’s still very unusual to see older ladies on the television, Mary is a fabulous role model. She’s elegant, refined and a complete style icon. Long may she reign! And, of course, with all that fabulous cake on the telly, my diet goes completely out of the window as I reach for the flour and try a few new bits and pieces. I’ve always loved baking, but too often find that I’m doing it against the clock. In the winter, I feel happier to set time aside for a bit of baking therapy. Perhaps that’s why my books, so often, have a cake or chocolate theme. This week on Bake Off is batter week. Looking forward, already, to pancakey goodness. What could possibly go wrong? Carole’s latest book is The Chocolate Lovers’ Wedding. 

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Samanthya Wyatt~ By Samanthya Wyatt Our stories cover a wide range of time periods, but the one thing profoundly rooted in each is family—whether it is a large family or no family members at all. The heart of our stories come from deep emotion concerning family ties. This can be the loss of a family member, a substance abusive mother or father, even caring for a sibling. Some sort of tragedy or desertion of a family member shapes the characters in our books. A family is defined as a social unit consisting of parents and the children they raise. On parent, two parents, uncles or aunts, a family member somehow has instilled family values pertaining to the character's structure, function, roles, beliefs, attitudes, and ideals. They can be good or bad, we decide. We choose one for our characters and create a world for them to live in. We don’t always show the details and never early in the book. But we need a foundation for shaping our characters. Whether Medieval, Victorian, Regency, Civil War or current day, readers become involved with our character’s family background. Maybe an incident from a century ago is an important fact. Whether tragic or happy, family life is critical. The deeper we go, the more we create a world for our family-pier-man-woman-39691-largecharacters. As with any good story, research, plotting, and planning is a major part of writing a book. All of these are an important part of creating our character. Readers love a hero or heroine who has some sort of tragedy, struggle or sacrifice. Hints weaved throughout the chapters, the more elusive they are given, entices the reader. The reader becomes involved and needs to know the mystery. The more challenging the problem, the more traumatic the incident, draws the reader deeper into our story, creating emotional ties with the characters. My latest book is all about family. Not only did I become involved in this heart-wrenching saga, but my readers claimed they needed a box of tissues. As authors, something touches each of us, drives us, pushes us to write that story. I’ve found that developing a character with strong family ties hooks the reader and involves them deeper in any book. Author of sizzling romance, Samanthya Wyatt currently has books published in contemporary and historical romance. She married a military man, traveled and made her home across the US and abroad, and now lives in the Shenandoah Valley. She loves the beach, her favorite color is blue, has a weakness for vanilla ice cream, and a book is a constant companion.  

Friday Prompt – With Help From Bridget Jones!

~ Prompt Provided By A.M. Willard To kick off the weekend, we've got a writing prompt direct from the last scene in the 2001 Bridget Jones's Diary. bridget_jones
Imagine you've been courting that special someone, but in the mix of it all - he drives you insane¦ Like any respectable lady, you keep a well thought out diary. It includes your fears, accomplishments, hopes, dreams, and even the people you despise. It just so happens that the one your heart yearns for is the one that it loves to hate at the same time. On a cold night, during a blizzard, he shows up at your doorstep to confess his undying love for you. You, on the other hand, have been lounging in your cupcake pajamas and fuzzy socks, eating your favorite snack. Excusing yourself to your room to change and freshen up, you forget that your diary is out on the end table for the world to read your deepest darkest secrets. Upon reentering, not only has the man you love vanished, but the last entry that you wrote about him is open. Now:
  • Did he get cold feet and run off?
  • Did he read your private thoughts, and decided to run away?
  • Do you take the time to change and search for him?
  • Do you run around mad in the cold with nothing but your undies and tank covering your body?
  • Do you plop down and sulk in your nonexistent love life?
Now you tell us how you'd write this scene? Leave your scene in the comments below. Need inspiration? This should help. Good luck! :-) a.m.-willardInternational Bestselling Author, A.M. Willard is a true believer of soul mates, and happy ever afters. She enjoys reading, sailing, and of course writing contemporary romance, and romantic comedy with some saucy scenes. Releasing her first novella of the One Night Series on April 12, 2014, has sent her on a new journey in life.  A.M.'s passion for writing started at a young age, but with the love and support from her husband of nineteen years pushed her to follow her dreams. Once she hit that first publish button, she hasn't looked back. Publications available from A.M. Willard include the Chances Series, Love on the Screen, Fading Memories, Hearts in Florence, and A Taste of Love Series. She's also had an article published in the Writer's Monthly Review Magazine and accepted into the Romance Writers of America organization in May of 2015.  A.M. Willard was born and raised in the Panhandle of Florida, but resides in Savannah GA with her husband, son, two cats, one rotten dog, two goats and her six chickens. Yes, we said chickens and goats...

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