Valentine’s Day and the Importance of Love

~ By Mary E. Thompson

I really like four letter words. Some of my favorite words are four letter words.

I’ll spare you the ones that I save for the person who cuts me off in traffic (when my kids aren’t with me) or my books, but my favorite four letter word is Love.

What does love mean?

According to dictionary.com, love means…

A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person

Or

A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend

Or

Sexual passion or desire

We have a lot of ways to use the word love. I love the Buffalo Bills, even though they have the longest playoff drought in NFL history. I love pizza, even though my waistline doesn’t. I love my kids. Period. No conditions on that one. I love my parents and my family and my friends.

And I love my husband.

I’m very lucky to have a husband who is always there for me. He’s my best friend and the love of my life. He stood by me when I lost my job. When I had no idea what to do with myself. When I decided to pick up a career without any idea what I was doing. When we had kids. When I was scared, countless times. When I faced, and beat, stage four cancer.

Today is the day to celebrate that kind of love. It’s Valentine’s Day. Everyone around the world is getting flowers or candy or cards or some other token of affection from their loved ones. My kids brought Valentine’s cards in for their classmates and teachers. The grocery stores have been filled with flowers and everything you can imagine in a heart shape. Pink and red have exploded everywhere.

Don’t even think about ignoring the day, because you can’t.

Why is a holiday with very little ties to any one culture or religion such a big deal?

St. Valentine was a martyr of the Catholic church and is reported to have been put to death on February 14, 269. He was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and converting people to Christianity. While he was imprisoned, I’ve heard he wrote letters to people, love letters in a way, encouraging them toward love. In the third century, love was still a foreign concept as arranged marriages and betrothals claimed most people.

These love letters inspired Valentine’s of today. It’s a holiday that has become far less religious, even removed from the Roman Catholic calendar in 1969, and much more secular. You will find people of every faith and background celebrating.

But again, why?

Because love knows no boundaries. Love doesn’t care if you’re from different backgrounds, different races, different countries, or the same. Love doesn’t care if you knew each other growing up or just met yesterday. Love is love. And when you love someone, nothing else truly matters.

What would you do for love?

Would you sacrifice a friendship?

Would you give up your favorite food?

Would you skip your favorite tv show?

Would you give up your life?

They may not all be easy answers, but I’m willing to bet you would say yes. Love is so powerful that you would do anything for it. Not just to hold on to it, but to spare the person you love from suffering. To see them smile. To hear I love you.

Every single person wants to be loved. We all want to find that person we can laugh and cry and yell and fight with. The one you can say anything to and be your true self and know they’re going to love you no matter what. We all want to find that one person who makes us feel like we can do anything. Because when love is in our lives, we can.

We are surrounded by love every day. It’s on the radio, on tv, and in the books we write and read. Love adds an element of humanity to the most vicious of people. It makes things okay that wouldn’t be if not for the love driving them.

Love takes the darkness of life away. It makes you smile. It makes you healthier. It makes you get up every morning.

Just try to say I love you without feeling good. Without feeling that love seep into you, making your heart race just a little faster. Making your lips turn up in a grin. Making you reach out for the person you’re saying it to.

Love is the one thing in the world that can never be taken away. And that is why today is such a wonderful day. Because it’s a chance to celebrate how much we love each other. As friends, as family, as lovers.

Say I love you to someone today. You won’t regret it.

Then do it again tomorrow, and every other day. Because love should be celebrated… always.

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. As a lover of love, her stories center around love in many forms from family to friends to, of course, romantic love. Her 30th release comes out March 7. She spends her days hoping she’s raising her daughter and son to be good people and her nights snuggling with her own romance novel worthy husband. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.

Writing romance: why perfect men make boring heroes [REPOST]

KATIE RED SHIRT (1 of 1)~ By Katie McCoach Note: This article was originally published on the Standoutbooks blog and can be viewed here. Recently I was reading a promising romance novel, and then, in the midst of chapter six, I found myself placing the book face down on my kitchen table in frustration. The hero was absolutely perfect. And I was bored out of my mind. A perfect man—that sounds amazing, right? That’s what we want in a romance novel. We want our heroine to find the perfect man to live happily ever after with. Sure, it sounds nice, but it’s not exactly exciting.
If he’s already perfect, what’s left for the heroine to bring to his life?
Let’s take a look at why the perfect man isn’t perfect for a riveting romance novel.

The perfect man is flawless

Flaws make a person human, and flaws on a man are endearing and intriguing. Maybe, such as in It Happened One Wedding by Julie James, he’s too cocky for his own good and can’t believe it when a woman can’t resist his charm. Or, like in What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson, he is an alcoholic with PTSD so he doesn’t want people to get too close. So wait, he has fears to overcome? And the heroine can help him?
Except his fears/flaws keep him from letting her help him. Will they? Won’t they? Ahh, now we have a story to follow—now we are invested. The more tortured, the better. Flaws are relatable, perfection is not.

The perfect man lacks conflict

Conflict is the driving force of a story, it’s the fuel, it’s the heart. Whatever you want to call it, conflict is necessary in a novel because without it there is no story. A perfect man has nothing to overcome, nothing to change, and no problems to face when he and the heroine connect. I don’t know about you, but my eyes are glazing over already. Take It Happened One Wedding again as an example. In this contemporary romance, our hero hits on our heroine and she shoots him down hard and fast. He can’t believe it! They think that’s the last time they’ll see each other, but what do you know—they are the best man and maid of honor in a wedding and they better learn how to get along. I’m definitely staying awake for that story. One of my favorite writing quotes is by Linda Howard. She says,
If your hero is a firefighter, your heroine better be an arsonist.
If there is nothing holding the hero and heroine back from being together, then we’ve reached their happy ending 50,000 words early.

The perfect man doesn’t experience personal growth

If a man has no room to grow when he meets the heroine, are they really meant to be together? When I read a romance, I want to see how the characters compliment each other—how they inspire each other to become their best selves. A man (or any character for that matter) that doesn’t grow by the end of the book makes you wonder why you’re reading in the first place. “If conflict is the lifeblood of a story, the protagonist’s goal is its compass.” And the only way a character can accomplish that goal and defeat the conflict before them is to grow as a person. For example in Taste – A Love Story by Tracy Ewens, the man who takes care of everyone around him finally learns how to rely on someone else. In conclusion, we may dream about meeting the perfect man or woman in real life, but meeting them on paper is about as boring and flat as a blank piece of paper itself. To write an enticing hero, he should be flawed, conflicted, and grow as a human being. Basically, our hero’s not perfect until he meets his mate. Have you read a story with a boring hero or heroine? What made them so? Leave a comment and share your thoughts [no specific book titles, please]! KATIE McCOACH is a freelance developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog at http://www.katiemccoach.com/blog and be sure to also follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.

All The Single Ladies – Write Your HEA’s! [REPOST]

melissa~ By Melina Kantor  We’ve all heard romance authors say some version of this before, right? “I’d like to thank my husband. It’s because of him that I’m able to write happy endings.” It’s a sweet sentiment, and a very nice thing to say during a RITA acceptance speech or in an anniversary wish on Facebook. Maybe, for these authors, getting married was a path to writing romance. As long as they aren’t giving their husbands credit for their own accomplishments as writers, that’s great. They’re lucky women. But we single romance writers can also write heartwarming, gorgeous, happy endings. How do we do it? Let’s discuss. As Max Medina pointed out to his students (let’s not dwell on the fact that I got this piece of trivia from an episode of Gilmore Girls and not from a high school English class):
"There's a certain slant of light, winter afternoons that oppresses like the heft of cathedral tunes." That, my friends is the first verse of a poem by Emily Dickenson. Now read some of those tonight, and as you do, consider the fact that Emily Dickenson writes convincingly about passion and about the world in spite of the fact that she lived as a virtual recluse. It'll help you appreciate her mind.
You see? If Emily Dickenson can do it, so can we! Here are my theories as to why.
  • We’re human. We’re wired to tell all sorts of stories. We instinctively understand story structure. That’s because we understand human emotion.
  • We’ve read romance, seen romantic movies, watched our family members and friends fall in love, and in many cases, been in love ourselves.
  • Romance novels are fiction. Yes, we authors insert ourselves into our stories, but our characters live their own lives. We’re just here to tell their stories. If they want to go to the moon, we can send them. If they want to perform open heart surgery, we let them.
  • Most of us, single and otherwise, have been burned at least once in the dating world. Yes, the stories we write are fiction, but wow is it fun to throw in little gems from our own experience. We can turn our ex’s into villains, or rewrite our experiences the way we wished they’d turn out. Not that I’d actually turn an ex into a villain. Oh wait. I lied. I totally would and I have.
  • I can’t speak for all single romance writers, but I know what I want in a guy. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof. I know what would make me happy, which means I can write characters who are just as confident in what they want, make it almost impossibly difficult for them to get it, and then celebrate when love finally conquers all.
  • We have imaginations. Enough said.
There you have it, single ladies. Fear not. Keep writing those happily ever afters! I’m sure there are many reasons I haven’t mentioned. Feel free to add your own in the comments. I’d love to hear them. Apologies for the earworm, but I can’t resist leaving you with this. Enjoy! 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 to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com

Craft Books and the Creative Process [REPOST]

Win Day~ By Win Day
Note: This post originally appeared here
I love to watch people work. No, it’s not that I’m lazy, or that I just want to sit on the sidelines of life. But I really enjoy watching someone do something they do well. Especially when it’s something I don’t know how to do myself. It doesn’t matter what that something is. On a recent 5+ hour flight the teenaged girl next to me braided and rebraided her long straight hair maybe a dozen times, each time a little differently. Since my hair is frizzy curly and doesn’t lend itself well to that sort of styling, I was fascinated by both the sheer number of different things she could get her hair to do and the apparent ease with which she made them happen. Chopping veggiesCooking shows intrigue me. I can’t figure out how they can cut and chop so quickly without leaving little bits of themselves mixed in with the minced onion. Construction sites are an endless source of interest: so many people doing so many different things! Music is another treat. Watching a performance, listening to a recording: I get caught up sometimes in the HOW of the piece as much as in the simple pleasure of experiencing it. I’ve got some recordings ABOUT recordings produced by a couple of my favourite artists. Live recording sessions, complete with interruptions to make changes on the fly; annotated recordings, where the singer/songwriter explains the production choices she made in compiling the final version: I take great delight in these glimpses into someone else’s creative process. When I started to write my novel I immersed myself in craft books and workshops. I’m all about process. In my business life my projects live and die by the processes I’ve developed over the years. I figured I could apply the same sort of systematic approach to writing the novel. Hah. Worried about booksIt didn’t take me long to get frustrated. No one process, no one system, called to me and said “look, look, this is how you do it!”. I found myself skimming and looking for highlights, those little gems of wisdom that I could incorporate into my own slowly developing process. I had forgotten that it took me years of  building websites and coaching web strategy to figure out my processes and systematize them. I wanted that same sort of ease, that same sense of certainty in my path, in my writing — and I wanted it RIGHT NOW! Dream on. Wasn’t going to happen. It took me the first few months to come to grips with being a pantser rather than a plotter. When I write for business I create an outline first, then deepen and annotate the outline, and THEN start writing. I expected that writing fiction would work the same way as writing non-fiction. And it might for some, but it sure doesn’t for me. For the novel I had just started writing. I knew the overall story I wanted to tell, I knew a bit about my heroine and hero (although I’ve learned a heck of a lot more along the way), I had some of the story arc highlights in mind, like stepping stones in a stream. But I didn’t have an outline, that bridge across the stream. At one point I needed to create a synopsis to enter a contest, but that was before I had reached the halfway point in the story I knew I wanted to tell. So I outlined, and then annotated that outline, to create a synopsis. And damned if the thing didn’t end up being more of a stumbling block than an aid. I found myself writing into plot dead ends because I was trying to force the story to follow the roadmap rather than letting it unwind as the characters told me what they wanted me to hear. Or I’d get stuck and simply could NOT figure out what was supposed to happen next. Because that wasn’t what was supposed to have happened at all. CreativeI scrapped the synopsis. And the writing started to flow again. But I still bought and read craft books, and attended craft workshops, even though they weren’t really “helping” me much. Or not as much as I expected them to. Or not in the way I expected them to. I finally figured out that what I value in those craft books and craft workshops isn’t so much what they are trying to teach me about a process or a method. It’s the glimpse into someone else’s creative process, more than the potential influence on mine, that’s important to me. There’s a whole lot of craft stuff I have yet to explore. It’s early on in this journey yet for me. But I’m less concerned about making sure that my work in progress conforms to the three act play, or whether I have the hero’s full external and internal goal/motivation/conflict all worked out in advance, than I used to be. I’ll just tell my stories and write the best books I can. And enjoy hearing about how other authors write theirs.
Win Day is a geekie web developer who loves to write stories about strong men and savvy women. Visit her writing website at www.windaywrites.com or her web development company at www.creativeimplementations.com.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hello Everyone, Happy Valentine's Day! As a special treat, here are a few Valentine's Day classic moments for you. Hopefully, they'll spark some writing. Can you turn these into writing prompts? 30 Rock: Friends: How I Met Your Mother: Charlie Brown: A Bonus:  ba55bfbac2dcaa03c852032441f8af29  What are your favorite Valentine's Day TV moments? Leave a comment and let us know.  Don't forget to make time to show your manuscript some love this weekend!

Rejection. . . [REPOST]

~ By Peggy Jaeger What’s a 9 letter word for: refusal, dismissal, forsaking? Here’s a hint: the answer starts with an r, can make you cry your eyes out, and eat an entire package of Milano cookies in one sitting. Make that 2 packages. Got it yet? Yup. REJECTION. As a writer I’ve experienced my fair share of rejection from everyone from editors to literary agents, to publishers. I‘ve had synopses discarded, proposals denounced, queries snubbed, and outlines slighted. I’ve been rejected in person, in print, in emails, in snail-mail, via phone and even once in a text. The first time I’d ever been rejected by an editor I was 25. I’d already had over a dozen fictional short stories published in literary magazines, and had been writing non-fiction articles concerning health care and nursing issues for a few years. I’d sent an article proposal based on my master’s thesis to a well-known nursing journal I’d already been published in twice. I thought my topic was timely and felt it would make a great addition to their monthly publication. I waited three months for a reply. Just as I was about to call them – this was eons before email was available and we were ALLOWED to call editors, I received a form rejection letter. I was told the topic for the article was not relevant to the present nursing environment. Was I crushed? You betcha. Was I pissed off? To say the least. Did I want literary revenge? Hell, yeah! Did I do anything about it? Of course I did. When I finished the gallon of Cherry Garcia that I kept hidden in my freezer for emotional emergencies, I queried another nursing journal. In a week I received a phone call from the Editor-in-Chief who wanted the article  - which she referred to as UBER-RELEVANT  – for their July issue. The takeaway I got from this experience? Not everyone is going to like what you write. But someone will. Flash forward several years to when I started writing book length fiction. When I was done with my first novel, I began the literary agent query route. I sent over 75 queries to agents who specialized in representing what I wrote: medical thrillers. Over 95 % of the responses I got back were form rejection letters. Three agents actually addressed me by name and told my why the weren’t choosing to represent my work, and two asked me to change the book completely around to what they thought might sell, and then they would consider – maybe –representing me. When the box of Dunkin’ Donuts was gone, I picked up one of the responses I received which had been positive. I still have this rejection letter. The part that stuck out so plainly to me, read: “While I do not feel I can devote the time and attention to representing this work that it needs, please be assured, you are a very good writer, and it only takes one person to say “yes” for you to be published. Unfortunately, I’m not that person, but I believe she or he is out there and you will connect with them. Good luck, and I know I will see your name on a book jacket some day.”  This was without doubt the nicest rejection I’d ever received and still is. If all rejection letters could be written this way I believe we would have a great deal less depressed authors milling about. Now, the takeaway I got from this letter? You got it; same as before: not everyone is gong to like what your write. But someone will. It only takes that one someone – be it an agent, editor, or publisher, and all those rejections lining your file cabinet drawers will seem inconsequential and irrelevant. Or they will seem like what they really are: the dues you’ve paid for persistence and perseverance. As a writer, rejection of your work is part of the road you will travel on the way to publication. Yes, it hurts for someone to tell you they don’t like or want your work. Yes, it blows big time to have someone in a position of literary power tell you what you’ve written is not pertinent or that they don’t know how they could market it effectively. And yes, it destroys your soul when you’re rejected flat out, with no reason why, in a dry worded form letter. But… It only takes one “YES.” Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance author who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.  You can read all about her writing journey at http://peggyjaeger.com

Promotion – You have to. You can’t not. . .

promotionforwriters Hello Readers! How many times have you heard a writer talk about how they've always been a writer? How many times have you heard writers say they wrote their first book because they had to, they couldn't not? How many times have you heard a writer talk about how they always wanted to get into marketing and promotion? Sure, some writers are natural marketers and promoters. In fact, writing is a major part of marketing. But, it's not romance writing, and for many of us, it's a necessary chore we have to learn how to do. We have to do it. We can't not do it. Luckily, we've got chapter members who have taken the time to figure out what kind of promotion and marketing has worked for them. Here are some highlights. Which of these tips work for you? What have you tried? What will you try? Let us know!

Promotion, Part 2: Poking Holes at Pinterest?

~ By Sherri Hansen * Read Part 1, Marketing The Old Fashioned Way, here. The general rule of social media is, do what you enjoy. I love Pinterest! I think of it as a big file cabinet with color-coded folders for fun things – except that I don’t have to dig through a bunch [...]
~ By Sherri Hansen So you’ve written a wonderful book. Friends and family who’ve read it rave about how good it is.  Now all you have to do is to figure out how to get it into the hands of the hundreds and thousands of other people who you know would enjoy it. Marketing your [...]
~ By Heather M. Miles I started my writing career with the idea that I would write a series. Pretty ambitious but it was what I enjoyed reading, so why not start with what makes me happy. I had my idea laid out and began the process of writing. I found out quickly that I [...]
~ By Nancy Fraser Should an author promote themselves? Or, should they lean toward promoting their books? Is there a happy medium? Different publishers have different ideas and so do authors. The big push seems to be in promoting yourself as a person, using that personal connection to build up readers. Let’s take a closer look [...]

8 things about Garth Brooks that might change the way you write

Susan-Meier ~ By Susan Meier Note: This post originally appeared here.  This is a blog I posted about a year ago...I read it (to remind myself of a few things) and realized this was some perfect "new year/new start" advice... Happy New Year! Enjoy! ... A few weeks ago, I had a bad cold and spent a Saturday and Sunday in bed. If you know anything about weekend TV, you know I was bored to the point of tears and ended up watching a "special" about Garth Brooks. But, man, am I ever glad I did. The show was designed so that Garth himself didn't do much talking. His friends talked about him, his work ethic, etc. After a while I started making notes. :) And here they are ... 8 things about Garth Brooks that might change the way you write. 1. He loves music and wants everybody to love music. That sounds pretty simple, until you really think it through. Because he loves music he promotes well...but he also writes, produces and sings the best songs. The best songs. And what does that mean for his audience? He doesn't shortchange them. They always get the best. So...If you really, really, really love WRITING and your genre, you should be looking for the best ideas. You should be doing YOUR best when you write. Your love of writing (or your genre) should shine through your work. 2. He has respect for other musicians and songwriters. You have to have a healthy respect for what you do and everyone who does it in order to be your best. If you only half-heartedly love romance, I genuinely believe it shows in your work. If you're working hard, if it takes you months to write a book, if you study writing, if you tear your scenes apart again and again to make them perfect...So are your peers. Lots of people are working full-time jobs and writing. Lots are caring for kids, elderly parents or disabled adult children. We should never, ever, ever discount the trials and tribulations of other writers. It just plain makes us better people to be kind to each other. And God likes that. :) 3.  He has a good range. Garth might be a country singer, but his songs transcend the genre.  Because of #4... 4.  He loves telling a good story. That's so true. His music is all about storytelling. And he does it well. He picks subjects that resonate, and he makes them vibrate with reality and emotion. Literally. LOL I heard Elton John talk about storytelling and music once and it totally changed the way I looked at music. He said smart songwriters tell a story because people love stories. Well, lucky us! That's our business. But that takes us back to not shortchanging your audience (something I talked about a few weeks ago in the Hybrids blog), to figuring out what they like to hear, to learning to write well...so your story is the best it can be. 5. He is an entertainer. And so should we be. People get a show when they go to see Garth. People want to be entertained when they read our books. So many times we get caught up in word counts and craft that we forget we're entertainers. Nora Roberts wasn't afraid to break a few rules. Suzanne Brockman took regular romance "hook" or trope stories and turned them  on their ears. Laura Kaye's writing vibrates with sensuality, even as her characters charm you to death. LOL When I pick up a book, I want to be swept away. And it took me a few books (like 20 -- sometimes I make my younger self sound like a real idiot) before I realized, as a reader, I wasn't special. All readers were like me. A book doesn't have to have tons of action or ideas that transcend the norm. The writer simply has to take her genre or subgenre's conventions and use them to entertain readers. We are entertainers. So...entertain. :) 6.  He has a respect for his audience (very much, his friends said, like another successful guy...Frank Sinatra) The pundits  used to tell us our audience was bored housewives. We now know that's not true. Our audience is lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, secretaries, nurses, business owners...Everybody.  You should appreciate the fact that a reader picked up your book. You should give her her money's worth. But most of all, you can't talk down to her. Readers are very smart. If you write poorly, they will spot it. If you don't research, they will know. If you don't like what you're doing and "phone in" your book, they'll see it. And they won't come back. So even your books with the tightest deadlines have to be your best work. (I'm talking to myself here because I'm a week late and tempted to write fast and get this turkey in. Instead, I slowed down...God help me...to make sure the book is the best it can be.) 7. He's never afraid to be passionate. And don't we love that? Being passionate, I think, is part of being a good entertainer. And we're all in the entertainment industry. I love category romance. :) I love the point in the story when the tension is so tight you know it could snap. The story could change. The characters could do something they regret. It puts me on the edge of my seat. That's what I want to see in books I read. That's what I want to get into my stories when I write. Granted, I'm not always successful...but I'm not afraid of that passion. Not afraid to confront it. In fact, smart romance writers use it! We are, after all, in the passion business! LOL 8. Even with success he remained a nice guy. :) Ah, would that we all could be. Sometimes I think it's easy for the uber successful to be nice guys. Let's face it. They're making the money. Readers are stroking their egos. Their Facebook fan page numbers are through the roof. Amazon loves them. Agents call them out of the blue. Editors call their agents and ask them to write something for them... Sigh. I could be nice if I were on top! That's what we all think. But the funny part of it is, the people on top have greater struggles than those of us hovering in the middle. There's constant expectation. Not just from their publishers, but from readers...AND THEMSELVES. When you are on top, you want to stay on top and there are thousands of wannabes nipping at your heels. So whether you're on the top or in the middle or just starting out, know this: You're going to have bad days. There will always be somebody who is doing better than you are. You will question your talent. There will never be enough hours in a day or days in a deadline... That does not give you license to be mean. In fact, given that we're all in this together, being nice to people is a way to form support groups, critique groups, lifeboat groups and make the friends who may someday save you. :) But being nice is just plain the right thing to do. Jealousy, meanness and condescension only make you sadder than you already are. In other words, you're hurting yourself. So grab your talent by the handle and get going. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing. Don't think you're better than anybody else. Don't worry that you're not getting the recognition you deserve. Just write your best book. Enjoy the process. And be a well rounded person. Enjoy your family. Love your spouse. Go fishing (or swimming or bingo playing or shopping). Have other passions aside from writing. Because nobody's ever clearly the best. Rankings change. Genres go in and out of style. Things like Facebook get invented and change everything. :) Don't be so one-dimensional that you can't be happy unless you're the best. :) And think of Garth Brooks. :) Be passionate, love your industry, love your audience, love your craft, love your peers, be a storyteller. A great storyteller. Be proud of yourself. :) As a special treat, we'll leave you with one of Garth Brooks' best "story-telling" songs:

 Are there any songs that have taught you about craft and story-telling? Leave a comment and let us know! 

Susan Meier is the author of over 60 books for Harlequin and Silhouette, Entangled Indulgence, Red Hot Bliss and Bliss and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. In 2013 she lived one of her career-long dreams. Her book, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHER was a finalist for RWA’s highest honor, the Rita. The same year NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE’S TWINS was a National Reader’s Choice finalist and won the Book Buyer’s Best Award.Susan is married with three children and is one of eleven children, which is why love and family are always part of her stories.

Interview With Book Reviewer Kathy Heare Watts

jeff salterNote: This week, chapter member Jeff Salter had the opportunity to interview book reviewer Kathy Heare Watts, and has kindly shared some of the interview for us to post here.  Thank you, Jeff, for giving us this valuable view into the mind of a reviewer! You can find the full interview here If you have any questions for Jeff or Kathy, leave a comment.  Take it away, Jeff!      Lots of people will occasionally review a story they’ve read, but Kathy Heare Watts has tackled book reviewing as though it’s a mission! One thing (besides sales) that all authors want and need is intelligent reviews — and Kathy does a wonderful job with hers. Jeff Salter: I’m guessing you got an early start reading. How young were you? Any particular circumstances which gravitated you toward books? Kathy Heare Watts: I really don’t know at what age I started, but my parents always had storybooks in the home and reading was always encouraged. I think Charlotte’s Web was my all time favorite childhood book and I also loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I do remember Mom taking us girls to the library to check out books. My mother has a saying, “Readers are leaders.” JLS: What made you realize you also would enjoy reviewing the books you read? When did you start writing reviews? KHW: I was invited to a Clean Reads book event on Facebook in March of 2014 and met so many new authors, and I won lots of books and was asked if I would be interested in becoming an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) reader and reviewer. It took off like a wild fire. I also joined several new author groups and reading groups after that event. This year will be the third year that I will read and judge books for “Reader Choice Awards.” JLS: What genres do you review? Any non-fiction? Anything off-limits? KHW: I am a bit eclectic in my reading and go from squeaky clean to very adult type books. I do read some non-fiction, or books that take a historical event and the author uses literary creativity to makes a story. I do not read horror and not a big fan of paranormal. JLS: What type books are your favorites to read and review? KHW: It would be historical books at the top of my list. I love Westerns, Victorian, Regency, and my very favorite is mail-order bride stories. I have a total fascination with them. JLS: Did you – or do you – have any places besides Amazon, B&N, Goodreads where you post your reviews? KHW: I do, I also will leave reviews at Cross Reads if they have a strong Christian element and at Smashwords if I have been given a code to purchase books for a read/review. I post all reviews at Goodreads, Amazon and many at B&N. JLS: If someone wanted to scan a list of the books you’ve reviewed, where would they go and how could they search that list? KHW: I am under Kathy Heare Watts at Goodreads and Cross Reads, Redrabbitt at both Amazon and B&N. JLS: Presumably you’ve encountered books you didn’t like at some point in the reading. What happens in those circumstances? KHW: Sadly, yes I have. If it is a book I am reading as an ARC, I will contact the author and politely let them know that the book just doesn’t work for me and it would be best for them if I did not continue and leave a review. Most are very understanding. Let’s be honest, not every book appeals to everyone. I will not write a review for a book I do not finish. That is unfair to the author and when I see others that do that, it upsets me. JLS: Give us an example of the worst reactions you’ve received to one of your reviews. KHW: I don’t think I have a good example. I did read one story and really did not like the lead female character and could only give the story a 3 star review. The author wrote a note and thanked me for reading the story and said she was sorry I did not like it. I have read other books by this author and enjoyed them. JLS: Give us an example of the best reactions you’ve received to one of your reviews. KHW: I do have a review that 18 people “liked” as being helpful and another review with 14 likes on it. It was for a new author, and I have now read 4 books in her series. She told me my encouragement made a difference in her continuing to write this mail-order bride series. I have had several authors who sent me a message and said from my review that “I understood the book as they had intended.” JLS: Over the 22 months you’ve been reviewing in this manner, does any particular book stand out as really excellent / impressive? KHW: When you read as many books, as quickly as I do, that is a really hard question. I have read several historical based books that I found fascinating. One was A Long Trail Rolling (The Long Trails Book 1) by Lizzi Tremayne. This story covers the Pony Express and the author did a wonderful job in describing the sights and details of the job and route, but this story was much more than just the Pony Express, it was a mystery, suspense with family secrets. JLS: Who is the most famous author, whose book(s) you’ve reviewed?  KHW: LOL, I have no clue. Since I have really only started writing reviews since 2014, I think most of the authors are not your more famously known people, but more newer or Indie authors. I haven’t read books from authors like Anne Rice, Sandra Brown, or Debbie MacComber, etc., in several years. JLS: How do you feel when an author adds an excerpt from your review to later editions of their title? (whether on the cover, or inside the book… or in their promo material) KHW: Oh my, I feel honored. I have had several send me a message or email asking me if I would be okay with them doing that and I have always agreed, and also for my review or partial quotes in their newsletters. JLS: I’ve noticed you have goals and keep good records. Which year has been your highest for books read and reviewed? Which year was your lowest? Any special circumstances which contributed to either? KHW: Well, I only really started keeping track around April 2014 using Goodreads. I read 422 books that year. For 2015 I read and reviewed 840 books. Even saying it is still amazing to me.   JLS: Do you have any grand totals – all titles for which you’ve posted reviews – to reveal, as of the end of 2015? KHW: 1325 books according to Goodreads. That is more than 2 books a day. I actually read word for word and from the beginning to the end of each book. I received an email towards the end of the year from Goodreads that showed my average book was over 150 pages and the longest was a box set that was over 1000 pages. I learned last year that Goodreads also has rankings for reader/reviewers and I made it my goal to be in the top 100. I am ranked #40 in the US and #66 on the Global list. I am tooting my own horn, but I am so proud of that accomplishment. JLS: Any particular perks to being a fully invested reviewer? KHW: Definitely, I feed my passion for reading, I am provided with books by authors and publishers, I expand my mind, and I meet so many wonderful authors in the process. JLS: Any particular downsides? KHW: Not enough hours in the day for all the books that people want me to read. Believe it or not, I have to turn down so many authors. I have offers from Goodreads authors, ones I have as friends on Facebook and now Linked In. Saying “no” is sometimes difficult. I have to place my regular authors and publishers first and then if a new author has a book that really grabs my interest, I will agree to read and review for them. JLS: How can published authors get your attention for a possible reading and review? KHW: I guess most of them would be someone I have encountered in a reading group on Facebook or Goodreads. I am in several private “read to review” groups on Facebook. Many times it is through another author I have read for and they will recommend me or ask me if I would be willing to help an author friend out. JLS: Anything in particular you’d like to say to published authors about the reviewing process? KHW: I admire the creative minds of authors and just want to say thank you for taking me on a journey with your books. For new authors, it is critical to have positive reviews. Be careful of some of the sites that offer your books to “anyone” for a read/review. I have seen several very negative reviews because people will agree to review a book and it is a genre that they normally would not read. Find other authors that write a similar genre and see if they have reader/reviewers that would be willing to read and write a review for you. I have helped out several authors through another author friend. For anyone who reads and has never thought about writing a review, let me offer a little advice and encouragement. You don’t need to look at it like a book review you wrote in school or retelling of the story. Instead, how did the story make you feel? Maybe something about a character or two, their interaction or chemistry is always a plus. You never want to give away a plot, especially in a mystery. Maybe tell how you couldn’t put the book down. Just say that you look forward to the next book in the series or another work by that author. Think of 1 to 5 the same as grades, 1=F and 5=A. I will be the first to say that I have had to honestly ponder the book before writing a review. This is the beginning of one such review:
“I have such mixed emotions with this story. I can’t say there is a single character in the story that I liked. I got angry with so many of them. I guess it brought out so many emotions, yet I could not relate to a single person. Having said that, maybe in reality that is ‘a good thing,’ the author took me outside of my ‘comfort zone’ and made me react to what is different for me.” 
The review continued into more on the book and characters and I did give this story a 4-star review. Kathy’s Bonus: Jeff, I have a webpage that is available by a group of authors that is templates or guidelines to use towards writing reviews. It is something I use regularly and it made writing reviews easier. https://authorsofmainstreet.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/how-to-write-a-review/?blogsub=subscribed#subscribe-blog About Kathy: I have been married for 39 years to the love of my life, Steve. We are blessed with 3 children and 10 grandchildren. I was an Army brat so I lived everywhere. We currently live in Sevierville TN which is at the Foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. This is truly God’s country. Besides reading, I enjoy cooking and spending time with family.  Find Kathy's reviews at Goodreads and Amazon About Jeff:  Besides 8 novels and 4 novellas (with three different royalty publishers), I’ve published non-fiction monographs, articles, book reviews, and over 120 poems; my writing has won nearly 40 awards, including several in national contests. As a newspaper photo-journalist, I published about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. I worked nearly 30 years in the field of librarianship. I’m a decorated USAF veteran (including a remote tour of duty in the Arctic). I’m the married parent of two and grandparent of six.  Find more of Jeff's posts at Four Foxes, One Hound

Goal Setting in 2016

PJs2015BioPic5 ~ PJ Sharon  PJ Sharon, here. As a published author with seven novels, a novella, a short story, a box set, and a non-fiction healthy lifestyle book (about to be released), I can say without a doubt that setting goals is essential to success. At the very least, setting goals will help you focus and keep you moving toward manifesting your dreams. It may also help you keep your sanity along the way. First, let me start by saying that “resolutions” are futile and “goals” are more like guidelines. Giving yourself absolutes is a sure way to set yourself up for failure. We aren’t perfect, and even at our best, we can only accomplish so much. “Resolving” to eat right, exercise, and publish two novels a year may seem like a good idea on January 1st, but what happens when we fall off the diet and exercise wagon or don’t meet that word count? Kids get sick, spouses and parents need attention, and let’s face it, the crazy world we live in is anything but predictable. Disappointment and attachment to failure can quickly derail motivation, so instead of making resolutions that will likely fall by the way side in a few weeks and leave you frustrated once again, here’s what I recommend. You’ll notice those goals above—eating healthy and exercising—are actually rather vague. The first key to goal setting is to be specific. Next, make goals measurable, realistic, and attainable. Write them down and don’t forget to set up rewards for when you reach a milestone. Specificity gives you a clear plan and a path to success. Instead of saying I’m going to “eat healthy,” say, “I’m going to have one egg, a piece of toast, and a quarter cup of cottage cheese for breakfast today.” See? Specific, measurable, realistic, and attainable. Fully expect your goals to change as the situation changes, and accept that your goals are simply a measure toward progress and not necessarily a final destination. Use goals to create a clear pathway to achieving your dreams and frequently evaluate what’s working in your plans and what’s not. Setting short term and long term goals can be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly for every project in your life. Not that life’s curveballs won’t likely derail the plan somewhere along the way, but having long range goals like a comfortable retirement are great motivators for keeping you on track. Breaking down your big goals into manageable steps can also make the big picture plan less overwhelming. Create lists, brain dumping grids, or use whatever method works for you, but find a way to get organized. Disorganization compounds feelings of being overwhelmed. Reassess goals quarterly as a rule, but don’t be rigid. Goals are fluid and your plan for setting them should be too. I’m a two-steps forward and one step back kind of goal setter, which means I am constantly taking a step back to reassess and make sure I’m headed in the right direction and that the goals I’m working toward are still what I truly want. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to regroup or even to change direction entirely if the path you’re on is making you miserable. Sometimes, the goals we set for ourselves aren’t conducive to the lifestyles we lead or even the least bit in keeping with what’s right for us. Make sure as you make and reassess your goals that you have your priorities straight. Know what is most important to you and keep your limitations in perspective. Unrealistic expectations lead to unnecessary stresses and are the first step to a downward spiral. For instance, I know that to keep up with the industry standard of publishing two books (or more) a year, I would have to work like a dog on my writing and give up other things that are important to me. Namely, spending one day a week with my granddaughter, running my holistic health care practice, and engaging in a consistent exercise regimen that helps me maintain a healthy spirit, mind, and body. Those are priorities that I won’t allow to take a back seat to writing productivity or financial gain. In addition, forcing myself to “produce” can take the joy out of writing…and isn’t that joy what makes the magic happen on the page? For me, the quality of my writing suffers when I don’t allow my creative process to flow naturally, and as for most things in life, quality usually trumps quantity. You need to be realistic about what you can, and are willing to do, to achieve your goals. One more point about goal setting. Sharing your goals can help you by keeping you held accountable and can help others by motivating them and giving them new ideas. Buddy up and work with close friends who are on similar paths. We aren’t alone in our struggles and needing to draw strength from others doesn’t make us weak. It simply makes us human. As January blusters in, have you set any goals for the first quarter of 2016? Are they specific, measurable, realistic, and attainable? In addition to authoring award winning young adult novels, PJ Sharon owns the holistic health care practice, ABSolute Fitness and Therapeutic Bodywork in Granby, CT. With over twenty-five years in the health and fitness industry, Ms. Sharon finally wrote the book all her clients have been asking for. Overcome your Sedentary Lifestyle is a holistic living, self-help book, written to get people motivated and moving toward a more balanced and active lifestyle. When she’s not writing, or spreading the love through her practice, she can be found kayaking in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, and renovating an old farmhouse with the love of her life. E-mail address:  pjsharon64@gmail.com Website: http://www.pjsharon.com Follow PJ on Twitter: @pjsharon  / http://www.twitter.com/pjsharon “Like” PJ on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pjsharonbooks Find PJ on Amazon’s Author Central page: https://www.amazn.com/author/pjsharon Signup for PJ’s Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bm7rj5