Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – Now With Cookies!

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to bake lots of delicious holiday treats.  Okay, to be completely honest, eating delicious holiday treats is technically my favorite part.  I have a standard set of cookies I bake each year and then I usually throw in a few new ones, just to change things up a bit.

I may try to eat healthy and stay away from a lot of sugar and butter during the rest of the year, but for December I make an exception.  Not surprisingly, the result is that I bake far too many cookies and other treats.  Fortunately, between holiday guests and snacking co-workers, they rarely go to waste.

Now that I’ve made my shopping list and planned out my weekend baking schedule it’s time for me to get to work on a short story I’ve been thinking about.  Before I jump right into that I think I’ll get things started with a little Random Word Improv.

Care to join me?

Whether you’re enjoying some holiday snacks, binge-watching movies on the Hallmark channel, working away on your current manuscript, or just looking for a distraction, a few minutes of Random Word Improv are a great way to have a little fun and get some words on the page.  I’ll be doing my writing while enjoying a mug of spiced cider; feel free to enjoy your own tasty beverage while you write along with me.

Ready?

For any of you new to Random Word Improv, here’s how we play:

  1. Pick as many words from the list as you want
  2. Write the first line(s) of a story (or a whole mini-story) incorporating your words
  3. Post your results in the comments section.

All right, let’s get started. Here are today’s randomly selected random words – can’t wait to see what stories you find hidden in the list.

sugar                  treat                     warm                  melt

memory             variety                chop                    groaning

heavenly           empty                   eyetooth            mythical

endless              brimstone          peppermint        fizz

Are you ready?  Go!

*whistling aimlessly while you are off being creative*

Back already?  Can’t wait to read what you’ve come up with.

Happy writing to all.

Michille: The Uses of Enchantment

Uses of EnchantmentThe Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim has been on my to-be-read list for ages. I’m finally getting to it. Bettelheim was a psychologist who, as far as I can tell, was a student of Freud’s brand of psychology. I prefer Jungian psychology but I can get behind Bettelheim’s arguments all the same. My motivation for reading it is to understand the universal-archetype/only-story-ever-told concept in more depth by combining the psychology of that with the purpose of fairy tales. Continue reading

Elizabeth: What are you reading?

With NaNoWriMo a fading memory, the holiday decorating done (mostly), and the sun setting earlier and earlier, evenings after work are the perfect time to curl up on the couch and indulge in a little pleasure reading.

Since conventional wisdom says that reading and writing go together like peanut butter and jelly (though fortunately not as sticky), I don’t even have to feel guilty (much) that my current manuscript is languishing over on my desk.

As my towering to-be-read stacks can attest, I have an embarrassment of choices available for my reading pleasure.  In addition, I’ve picked up a few advanced publication copies of books and some contest prizes, making the “what to read” decision more challenging than normal. Continue reading

Jeanne: Interview with Sarah Andre

Sarah AndreToday’s interviewee is romantic suspense author Sarah Andre. I first met Sarah over breakfast on the last morning of the 2014 RWA® National Conference in San Antonio. It proved to be a fortuitous meeting because Sarah was up for a Golden Heart® that night.

Since I’d only recently joined my local RWA® chapter, I had no idea what a Golden Heart® (or a Rita®, for that matter) even was. Sarah explained that the GH is RWA’s® top award for unpublished fiction. I immediately began dreaming of someday being a finalist, and the next year, I was. So thanks for that, Sarah!

Question 1: Your books are very dark. What draws you to the darker side of human nature?

I’m fascinated you used the descriptor ‘dark.’ My earliest craft memories are sitting through a Donald Maass course at my Houston chapter meeting in 2006 and not knowing who he was or a lot of the craft lingo he was using, but knowing from the awed expressions on my chapter-mates’ faces that he was “The Authority” on all things writing. So when he preached his trilogy of ‘tension on every page’ ‘make things worse’ and ‘no backstory until way into your novel’ I was profoundly shaped by that.

I’m also hyper aware that the modern-day attention span is critically short so I write with the drumming thought of: how can I get the reader to turn this page? What else should go wrong? And then I write it.

If you read my books in order you’ll see the first is mostly a plot-driven approach to what can go wrong for my characters. Part of my growth was realizing (through critiques, edits and me devouring my favorite author, Kristan Higgins’ books) that I lacked the ability to pull my readers’ emotional strings. Subsequently each novel is still a race to survive and time-driven suspense, but it’s more of a character study of what is going on inside my characters’ heads as they face each obstacle. I’m fascinated by all that we humans hide inside, the effort it takes to keep our masks in place to the outer world, the misconceptions we have over events and other people’s behaviors that then motivates us to react and often make things worse. So, where you say dark, I think of as real.

I am confident I’m on the right path with this emotional exploration because every time I release another book the feedback is: this is your best one yet.

Question 2: On Amazon, your publishers are listed as Entangled (for Locked, Loaded and Lying) and Beach Reads. Please contrast your experiences with these two publishers.

I waited 9 years for a publishing contract—I am the poster child for patience and perseverance! It was important for me to have a publishing company ‘legitimize’ my writing by offering me a contract which is why I waited so long instead of taking the self publishing route. The best part of publishing with Entangled in 2015 was I finally met my goal and I also worked with the editor of my dreams, Anya Kagan of Touchstone Editing. I’ve been with her for all my books because she freelances.

The hardest part of being under contract though, was the lack of control over basically everything. The publishing date, the cover, the price, when it goes on sale and for how long, what marketing is or is not being done… someone was calling the shots on every detail of my career.

Since I’d only signed a one-book contract, after LLL came out I figured I’d see what self-pub was all about. I took online classes, gathered resources and re-worked the 2014 Golden Heart® novel into Tall, Dark and Damaged. I’m thrilled to say it was a great experience all around, ending with me garnering the Rita® call this year!

One thing the online self-pub courses recommend is establishing your own ‘company’ name, maybe an LLC if it works for you. Ergo, I titled my self-pub endeavor Beach Reads—because that’s what I consider my romantic suspense novels to be: the perfect poolside/beach read.

The difference between being under contract and self-pubbing is vast. I really love being the boss of everything. I also like getting paid more per book (wink!) Editing is still the same (Anya) and I hire 2 copy editors, a proofreader and several betas in my neurosis over not uploading the final novel with a careless plot, or grammar or spelling errors. It’s a lot of upfront costs, but I doubt I’ll be able to go the traditional route ever again. The freedom to call all the shots is everything to me.


Question 3: According to your website, you started your first book on a plane to Italy. Tell us about the trip–any praying or loving?

For my 40th BD my husband gave me a ‘let’s go anywhere-do anything’ present. Faced with that it literally took me 2 years to decide, ‘cuz you don’t want to screw that up, LOL! Seriously, dear reader, where would you go on your trip-of-a-lifetime?!…Climb Kilimanjaro? Go on a spa retreat to Canyon Ranch? Binge-shop through Paris?

Well, the idea that sparked something in my heart was attending a week-long cooking class at a small Tuscan vineyard. This was June, 2004. I’d never been to Italy, and cannot truthfully say it was a country I’d yearned to see before deciding on that trip. But something about the write-up sounded so relaxing, adventurous and romantic! Kind of hit all needs, you know?

I swear there is something in the air there that ignites creativity and passion. I was literally on the flight over when, without a conscious thought of doing so, I opened a notebook and began writing the first page of the first story after years and years of ignoring my calling. The words poured out day and night. I wrote 50 pages by the time those 2 weeks were through. Long hand, stream of conscious sentences, the content very obviously a pantser romance. (Much to my shock. I’d stopped reading romance as a teen at camp.)

During the Tuscan cooking class (comprised of 11 Americans- 5 couples and a single woman) I became fast friends with the single woman, Jeannie. She was hilarious, larger than life and embraced adventures. After the trip was over we called each other almost daily and our biggest bond was missing that villa and that lifestyle. Missing the free personalities we’d been over there—fearless, joyful, creative. She was in awe that I could write, I was in awe that she had fantastical plotting skills. During one phone call we both came up with the idea to take a leave of absence from our jobs, go back to that villa and write an entire novel. And a few weeks later we did. (God bless my husband, who didn’t blink at an eye at my abrupt and very obvious midlife crisis!)

Jeannie and I stayed in Tuscany for 6 weeks.  Oh, the hilarious escapades! She ended up having an affair with the hottie vineyard owner, I ended up writing the novel, which was dreadful craft, a training novel—there’s no other way to describe it.

Each week a new set of Americans arrived to take the villa’s cooking class and were told by the Italian staff that 2 American women were writing a novel about their adventures in Italy. (Each week our fame grew.) We would attend the villa’s weekly cocktail reception as ‘the famous authors.’ We told everyone about our plot: a single woman with a broken heart coming to Italy and finding herself again through her Italian adventures with the men, the food, the countryside. The reaction was ecstatic interest from everyone who heard it.

No joke—Eat, Pray, Love came out the next year! I will always wonder if the author was one of those cooking class participants listening to us blather on about the plot. 🙂

Long story short, we do not regret one second of those 6 weeks, but Jeannie ended up with a broken heart and I ended up missing my hubby and pups to distraction. I came home with a completed novel and a passion to write that I could no longer deny. I gave her that story as a keepsake of our time there and went back to the one I’d started on the plane ride earlier that summer. It’s also a training novel—under my bed and will stay there—but it’s still my husband’s favorite, isn’t that funny?

Sarah Andre is a 2017 RITA® finalist, which is Romance Writers of America highest award of distinction. She lives in serene Southwest FL with her husband and two naughty Pomeranians. When she’s not writing romantic suspense novels, Sarah is either reading novels, exercising to rude alternative rock music or coloring. Yes, you heard right. She’s all over those coloring books for adults.

Capturing the Queen

Sarah’s books, including her most recent, Capturing the Queen, are available on Amazon.

Nancy: A Different Kind of Writer’s Gift List

As we’ve been discussing a lot here on the blog, ’tis the season for many things. Among these are lists of gift recommendations for the writer in your life (or for we writers to forward to our loved ones). Our own Michille and Jilly shared ideas and links to lists on other parts of the interwebs here and here. They contain writing-oriented games, fun writing tools, and caffeine delivery systems. I should add that Bourbon (or adult beverage of choice), chocolate, and fiction books should be priorities on your ‘what to buy for my writer’ list. But writers don’t just need things. Our care and feeding is complex, nuanced, and – as my husband would like you to know – exhausting.

So today, instead of discussing what others can give  me during the holiday season, I’m focusing on gifts I can give myself for the entire year of 2018. It’s going to be a big year for several of us here at the blog, with book launches and marketing, more books to write and revise, and readers to cultivate. Now is a good time to take a deep breath, get a warm cup of something to hold in our hands, and think about the foundations we’ll need to pull off this stellar year. To help jump-start your own thought process, here’s my list.

Self-Confidence. Dorothy had to learn this in the Wizard of Oz. Many of our protagonists have to learn it as part of their journeys, or even as their ‘big life lesson’ in our stories. Writers know how important belief in oneself is. Without it, we won’t have the audacity to brain-dump words onto pages and chip and chisel and shape them for months or years with the belief that someday, someone else will want to read our stories. But that doesn’t stop us from second-guessing ourselves at every turn. Imposter syndrome. Writers block. Sophomore slump. These are catchy phrases that strike terror in writers’ hearts, but at the core of all of them is a lack of belief that we can really do this audacious thing. Continue reading

Jilly: Till Death Do Us Part–A Winter Short Story

I’ve been having trouble with my WIP this week—I think the Girls in the Basement are in holiday mode—so after much fruitless wheel-spinning I decided to see if I could tempt them back into action by trying something different.

I’ll let you know whether it works, but for now here’s a chilly short story using the prompt words from Elizabeth’s most recent Friday Writing Sprints post: Guide, Reflection, Freedom, History, Hope, Pageant, Cherish, Winter, Rattle, Sleep, Amusing, Celebrity, Ankle, Frog, Kingdom, Eruption.

***

“In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…”

Arturo Black, the celebrity-slash-actor playing immortal anti-hero Constant Dangier, stared deep into my eyes. His beautiful voice echoed around the vaulted ceiling. To his right a strategically placed sheet of polished steel bounced light on to his pale skin, but his reflection was non-existent.

I started shivering, and no matter how hard I bit my lip or dug my nails into my palm, gelid tremors kept cascading down my spine. I told myself it was because Dartmoor in mid-December was no place to be wearing a strapless, backless froth of white lace and precious little else.

Continue reading

Michaeline: PSA: For Your Eyes Only

A Japanese woman writing on a scroll of paper.

Glasses: another tool of the craft? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Just a quick public service announcement: if your vision is blurry and you are finding it hard to read, make an appointment with the eye doctor.

I’ve been struggling for about five years with aging eyes. Oh, sure, I could still read stuff, if I slid my glasses way down my nose and put the screen about 10 cm from my eyeballs. I could read until my hand fell asleep that way. It was a workable solution.

But Thursday, I finally went in and got reading glasses. It took them a half an hour to put together a reasonable package of frames and lenses, and as a result, yesterday I could read about half of Pratchett’s Hogfather on yellowing paperback pages. I also found my computer work to go a little more smoothly. I still slide my glasses down my nose to look at the cell phone, but I think that’s mostly pernicious habit.

My point is, it’s an easy fix. Why didn’t I do it? Some horrible combination of vanity, plus a dread of hassle and spending money, I suppose.

Still, it’s done, and I’m very glad. Dare I hope it translates into more and better writing? Who knows? One does have to fill the well of creativity, and I find reading to be the best way to fill it.

Here’s an article from Reader’s Digest that will confirm your suspicions: https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/need-reading-glasses/

And here are some ideas from the American Association of Ophthalmology to help you decide what you need. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/glasses-contacts/tips-choosing-right-reading-glasses

And here, amidst the myth-busting, Harvard Health Publishing shares some ideas for keeping your eyesight in tip-top condition. Eat your veggies, take breaks every hour, and make a conscious effort to blink. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/safeguarding-your-sight