Saturday, December 09, 2006

Have you ever?

Have you ever picked up a book and started reading it only to realize you’d already read it? Have you ever picked up a book and started reading it only to realize you’d read ten others just like it? That’s one of the complaints I hear about romance novels…if you read one, you’ve read them all.
That’s just not true.
Romance novels, despite the reputation they’ve suffered over the years are NOT all the same. They’re different because the people writing them are different. Take five romance novelists and put them in a room together. Give them each the name of a hero and heroine and a situation and they’ll give you five very different plots with those two people and that situation. Don’t believe me?
Here’s an example…
Meet Mary and John. Mary is a twenty-something with a good education and wealthy parents. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do with her life, but she’s happy with what she’s doing right now, working in her family’s business. John is an early thirties ex-military man with a good education, a scattered family of which he’s only really close to one brother. He knows what he wants out of life and what steps he has to take to get there.
If this was an historical romance, Mary might be an heiress rather than working for a living. She’s had at least one “season,” but is under no duress to marry. She would be attending balls and enjoying her life. John would be a former military man, possibly a spy. He’d be the ‘second’ son who has a good relationship with his older brother, the heir to the family title. They’d meet at a ball, become involved in some sort of scandal, have to marry and then discover that they loved one another.
If this was a contemporary romance, Mary might be working in her family business, at an executive level, but not running the company. She’d be fighting to gain attention from her father or some other senior level executive. John might be the new ‘hotshot’ executive brought in to bring the company forward in some way. They’d clash at first, but not be able to deny the physical attraction between them. They’d flirt, maybe have a brief relationship, something would happen to pull them apart and possibly they’d have a big argument before they wound up back together again.
If it was a romantic suspense, Mary might be a police officer or private investigator working on a case involving John in some way. He’d either be her number one suspect or her ally in some form. They’d have to work together, rescuing one another in one way or another before sharing an explosive night of passion and discovering that they were meant for one another.
If it was a paranormal, Mary might be a shapeshifter trying to make her way in the human world. John might be someone who doesn’t like shifters and who hunts them down when they break the law. He’d be attracted to Mary and yet repelled by her shifting. They’d have to work around that problem before being able to move on to have a relationship.
So there you have the same couple in a variety of situations. The common theme is that romance is at the heart of the story and they all end happily, and that’s what makes a romance.
So no, you can’t pick up one romance novel and think you’ve read every other romance novel out there. They’re different, and there’s something out there for everyone, no matter what type of story you like to read.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What sells...

There’s always talk at the annual RWA conference about what’s hot and what’s not in Romance fiction. Paranormal romances are on an all-time high right now. In case you don’t know, that means witches, vampires, shape-shifters, elves, faeries, anything magical or “other-worldly.” Erotic Romance is on the rise (no pun intended), too. We also hear that historical is “dead,” though I refuse to believe that! I, for one, LOVE historical romances – though I don’t know that I would have the patience to do enough research to write one, even though I minored in history in college. {g}

Publishers frequently try to predict what the next big trend will be. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they just miss the mark. Lines open and accept submissions one day and the next you don’t know where they went, what’s happened to those stories, those authors…case in point, the Bombshell line from Harlequin. If you aren’t familiar, think Lara Croft, Tomb Raider – the main character is a female who takes no crap, dishes out a butt-kicking if needed and who knows her way around guns, boats and cars. The Bombshell line was going great guns (from a non-publisher standpoint, anyway) and then we heard it was folding. The sales just weren’t there, apparently.

What will be the next big trend? Who knows? There’s a writer I know who did her research on a particular line from Harlequin – she found out what kind of stories they’d sold in the past with great success then set about tweaking her manuscript to include most, if not all, of those elements in her novel. It worked – she sold that manuscript.

Romantic suspense is hot. Romantic comedy is hot. Erotica is hot (again, no pun intended). Paranormal is hot. Sweet romances are still big sellers and Medical Romances are always on the shelves…

In other words, I don’t think it matters what you write as long as the story is GOOD and well-written. Trends come and go, but good books will always sell.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Skimming off the fat

Writing is an exercise in discipline.

When you sit down with an idea for a story, you know all there is to know about your characters. Occasionally they'll surprise you and come up with something you weren't expecting, but generally you know where they've come from, where they're going and how they're going to get there. You also know where your story is going. You know (sort of) where the black moment will come in, you know where the tension will be, you know where the love scene or tenderness will come in. That's plotting, right? Well, here's where the discipline comes in.

Since you know everything there is to know about your character, you want to share that with the reader. However, the reader doesn't want to know that the reason your character doesn't eat salads is because of a food fight when they were 13 that resulted in them wearing ranch salad dressing stained shoes for a week. That's just an example, but NOT telling your reader that is definitely skimming the fat from your story.

I have a tendency to do what's called an info dump. There's just so much I want you to know about my character and their life up to this point that I tend to toss it all into the story. You, the reader, don't care about that. You want to know what's happening NOW. I've had to be very conscious of NOT doing info dumps in stories.

George Santayana said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I'm trying to avoid that in my writing. Yes, it matters to me that the main character won't eat salad, no it doesn't matter to you the reader. You'll simply think I'm showing you a character quirk and you won't delve into the "why."

So, I'm skimming off the fat in my current writing. You'll never know the entire history of the character you're reading about unless you write to me specifically and ask me about that character...even then I may not share it all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


(see, even the TITLE of this entry is stressful!)

Stress can be a great motivator. Actually, trying to focus on something other than what is stressing you out is the motivator. While trying to take my mind off one problem, I came up with a brilliant ending to a short story. Okay, no modesty here, but it really is a brilliant ending {g}.

In any event, I don’t recommend stress as a motivator on a regular basis, but for a quick burst of creativity, there’s not much else like it. I hear published authors talking about their deadlines and I think (when the time comes) those might be a stressor for me as well. Don’t get me wrong, I DO work well under pressure, I just don’t LIKE working under pressure.

Finding a way to channel that stress into another activity, another outlet is the key, right? Releasing anger against someone by doing something nasty to them on paper…creating the perfect work situation on paper…creating the perfect romance or romantic scene on paper…that’s stress-relief at it’s best.

This week, here in the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving. An interesting holiday, Thanksgiving. Supposedly it’s when the Pilgrims met with the American Indians and sat down to give thanks for safe passage and surviving in “the new world.” Now it’s become an excuse for people to glut themselves on turkey and all the trimmings, watch football and parades, and for some people to plan their shopping trips the next day.

THAT really stresses me out. I hate shopping, but I like going to Malls…go figure. I like going to the Mall because I can people watch. I let others do the shopping and I do the people-watching. This is another stress-reliever. You can watch people going by and make up the story of their life.

So if you’re feeling stressed because of upcoming holiday events or family events or work related events, take a moment to release some of that stress by coming up with a brilliant scene for your latest work-in-progress. You’ll be surprised by how good you’ll feel when that stress is gone – even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Setting goals is an admirable exercise. Actually reaching those goals is even better. I set myself up this month by joining NANOWRIMO – that’s National Novel Writing Month ( The GOAL is to write every day and to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month. In order to do that, you should average 16,000+ words a day.

16,000 words…that’s approximately 15 pages a day. Sometimes I can sit down and write five pages before I literally feel as though my head will explode. Sometimes I can get twenty pages done and feel as though I’ve just started. Sometimes I stare at the computer and wonder what in the heck I was thinking by trying to write anything! Don’t get me wrong, setting writing goals are important. Feeling guilty about not reaching those goals is the hard part to get past.

However, the good thing about challenging myself to do the NANOWRIMO is that I did get a decent start. I actually wrote. I got past the writer’s block that has been plaguing me for some time and wrote…and it was GOOD{g}.

So, I’ll try it again. I may tank again, but I’ll try it anyway. And I’ll keep setting writing goals until I reach them. I’ll keep writing until I sell, and then I’ll keep writing until I can’t sell anything else.

I hope you get a chance to read what I’m writing someday. I hope it is soon.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I write reviews of other people’s books. I write reviews under my own name and as part of a group using a “generic” name for the reviews. I do this for many reasons. One, I love to read – pretty much any book, any genre. Two, I feed my reading habit by getting free books (in most cases) to review. Three, I like getting “first dibs” on a book – you know, reading it before the official release date. And finally, I do reviews because when I’m finally published, I want someone to review my book.

What do I write in these reviews? Well, I NEVER give any spoilers and I resent those who do. Tell me what the story is, but don’t ruin it for me. I had a friend in high school who was the world’s worst at giving away the ending of the movie. I love her dearly, but would never ask her about a movie. By the same token, I wouldn’t want to read a book review she’d written. I’d be afraid that she’d tell me more than I really wanted to know!

A good review should tell you about the main characters, give an overview of the plot and the conflict, but should never tell you the resolution of the plot – that’s for the reader to figure out on their own. Opinions on whether you liked the book or not are also okay – just don’t pan it completely.

As a result of the various writing workshops I’ve taken over the years, I’ve found out all about Themes, Scenes, breaking books down into Acts, the Hero’s Journey, and how to recognize Turning Points, Plot Points, Red Herrings, MacGuffins, etc. Some writers can’t read for pleasure any more because they are too busy analyzing the story line and plot points. I’m not one of those writers. Sometimes it is obvious to me where the writer is going, but I never take anything for granted and I am occasionally surprised by what I’m reading. Sometimes I am thrilled by the twists and turns an author takes to get to what I knew would be the ending.

That’s another reason to write a review of a book you’ve just read. Even if you know what’s going to happen, even if you’ve broken the book down into the various acts/turning points/big black moments, whatever – sometimes you are surprised by where the author takes you.

Sometimes, even when you KNOW how the book is going to end the author will surprise you by taking you in an entirely different direction before getting to that ending. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and those are the books that many people refer to as “wall-bangers.”

If a hero or heroine disappoints, if the plot fizzles, if the story just doesn’t make sense – that’s when I am unhappy with a book, but I’ll rarely write a scathing review. I figure if the author has taken the time to tell his/her story, I can take the time to find something good to say about the story. I might tell you that I didn’t care for it, but I will always find something good to say about it (case in point, Reviewball on this blog – April 2006).

So read a good book. Write a good review. Post it somewhere that people will see it – just remember the immortal words of Thumper in the movie Bambi… “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothing at all.”

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I have a confession to make. I am sexist. Don’t jump to any conclusions, I’m a sexist only when it comes to fiction.

I like reading about sexy men. Specifically, I like reading about sexy men who love ordinary women. I don’t particularly care for romance novels where both the hero and the heroine are ‘perfect.’ I LIKE flaws – real or imagined – in one or both of the characters I read about.

However…I do love reading about sexy men. What makes a man sexy? It’s more a matter of mind than of body, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a man with an amazing body, but it’s the mind that really does it for me.

Men have a different way of walking – go to the mall sometime and just watch people walk by. Teenage boys lean forward when they walk – I don’t know if it’s because they are still learning to control those gangly muscles or if they just don’t want to miss what’s coming up. The 20-30-somethings tend to walk with their shoulders back and their heads on a swivel – they’re constantly looking around –at women, at the windows in the mall, at their cellphones. The 40-somethings tend to walk a bit slower, but for the most part, they haven’t lost that swiveling head. Men in their 50-60s tend to be more focused on where they’re going and not running into other shoppers, and those older than that are usually sitting on the bench just waiting for their families to find them again. ;)

Men have a different way of talking to one another. Where a group of women will get together and discuss their entire lives in a matter of hours, men may not know the last name of the person they’re talking to after an hour. It doesn’t matter. They usually size you up in the first ten to fifteen minutes of conversation anyway.

Men have a different way of relating. They’re not going to TELL you how they feel. They’ll try to SHOW you, but they may not always succeed to your expectations. A man offering to check your tire pressure and the oil in your car is telling you that he wants you to be safe when you’re going somewhere. A man offering you a ride somewhere is telling you that he wants to spend more time with you.

There are some writers who definitely “get” the male psyche. They write compelling, caring, sensitive men without turning them into wimps. Suzanne Brockmann, Lori Foster, Sherrilyn Kenyon, JR Ward, Gena Showalter and Susan Mallery all write amazingly Alpha men who haven’t lost their sense of humor, their respect for women, or any aspect of their manhood. They’re also sexy as all get out. Don’t believe me? Pick up any one of their books – go on, any one. You’ll find amazing characters, well-told stories, and yes, sexy men. Yes, I’m a sexist when it comes to romance. I love stories where the hero is “all that,” and the heroine could be my neighbor…or even me.

Monday, November 13, 2006


A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy

Have you ever read a book and felt as though that author has said everything you always wanted to say and that they said it so much better?

Writing angst is nothing new. There are, after all, no new ideas, only new ways of getting those ideas out in front of others. If you have an idea for a story and suddenly find out that a well-known author has just published a similar story what do you do? Do you worry that your words, torn from your gut, won’t be as impressive as the ones that author pulled from her pocket?

I’ve reached that point. A wonderful idea for a story, something I’ve been working on for over a year. Not just one story, mind you, but a whole series…and a well known author not only just published something very similar, but her HERO has the same first name as mine…heavy sigh.

No matter, I’ll keep tearing the words from my gut and hoping that when this story gets published, the readers will believe I simply pulled those words right out of my pockets and that they’ll love them just the same.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Genre Switching and why it happens...

Writers write, that’s what we do. Some of us write one specific type of story and we do it consistently and we do it well, forever. Some of us write several different types of stories and whether we do them well or not depends on who you ask.

I happen to LOVE reading historical novels. Medieval, Regency, Revolutionary War, Civil War, whatever the time period I enjoy reading them. I don’t think I could WRITE one, but I sure do enjoy a good historical romance novel. Some of my favorite historical authors are switching genres. This makes me a little nervous, but what really makes me nervous is that one of my favorite contemporary authors is also switching genres.

This particular author has been writing for quite some time. She writes absolutely amazing contemporary novels set in Any-town, USA. Her heroes are always Alpha males, her heroines are truly amazing and interesting women. The conflicts she comes up with astound me in both their complexity and simplicity. Now, she’s going to write a “dark” paranormal.

This truly worries me. I happen to love this particular author’s brand of edginess and her love scenes are truly amazing – the sexual tension between her characters is always strong and you just know that they’re going to be great together for a very long time after the book ends. Now, however, I’m concerned.

I’m concerned because this author hasn’t ever really shown a “dark” side. Sure, she’s thrown in a few characters from time to time who are psychic or seem to have a special “gift,” but nothing really “out there” in the paranormal realm.

I happen to love paranormal romances as well (go figure, since that’s what I write). I’m just not sure I’m going to like the paranormal romance novel as done by this particular author.

When asked WHY one would switch genres, I’ve heard the following from multi-talented, multi-published authors: “I just don’t think I can handle another ballroom scene.” “I wanted to try something completely different from anything I’ve ever done before.” “I found myself writing the same character over and over again and nothing he said fit the particular time period I had him in.” and my all-time favorite (from one of my all-time favorite historical authors who is now writing contemporary novels) “Honestly, I got tired of writing sex scenes, I mean there's only so many ways you can fit Tab A into Slot B.” (Side note: sure you can have a romance without a sex scene, but what fun is that? {g})

Anyway, I’m going to keep an open mind about genre switching and hope that when my time comes, I’ll do it with as much grace (and hopefully success) as some of my favorite authors are doing it now.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Galas and Workshops and other “events” in a writer’s life

There comes a time when one must “dress up” and at least pretend to be a grown-up. I’m very fortunate, I think in that those times don’t come around that often for me. I’m not real big on “social chit-chat” or initiating conversations with strangers. Like most writers I know, at heart I’m an introvert and am drained, not energized by crowds.

There are a few exceptions to that rule. One is getting together to talk about or learn about writing, the other is being with good friends or family (though sometimes one really should take a break from one’s family).

The last weekend in September was definitely one of those occasions. The Midwest Fiction Writers, a chapter of Romance Writers of America celebrated our 25th Anniversary…and boy, did we celebrate. How about a “Gala” dinner on a beautiful Minnesota evening with music, fabulous food, Barbara Samuel as the guest speaker and a raffle with a chance to sit at Barbara’s table or Bob Mayer’s table or Jenny Crusie’s table…

Yes, we were star-studded…Rosemary Heim, Lois Greiman, Susan Kay Law, Connie Brockway, Kathleen Eagle, Wendy Rosnau, Tate Halloway, Helen Brenna, and I’m sure I missed a few others…names you’ve seen on the bookshelf at your favorite bookstore…they were there looking glamorous. The aspiring writers of the chapter were there as well…including yours truly (and some friends).

On Saturday morning, bright and early, 100(+/- a few) people showed up to catch Bob Mayer & Jenny Crusie – “Living the Dream” – in their MUST-SEE/HEAR workshop for writers. They covered it all – and they did it in tag-team fashion – with humor, examples from their collaboration and from their own works as well as from popular movies and TV shows. Bob & Jenny managed to break down the “how-to” so that it makes sense, so that anyone who really wants to can follow and improve their own writing.

Yes, there are times when one should dress up and pay attention to the wisdom others are sharing…who knows what you will learn.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fire Tending

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours. ~ Ayn Rand

So you are a writer. What makes you write? What makes you yearn for time to create worlds, put words in people’s mouths, twist emotions until you feel wrung dry? To truly write your passion, first you must determine what your fire is. Now, how you keep that fire alive despite all odds. How do you feed yourself? More importantly how do you feed your dreams? Do you listen when you talk to yourself? Are you more brutal than the worst boss you've ever had? Are you more demanding than any manager ever hoped to be? Are you harsher than the cruelest editor?

To feed your fire, read. Write. Communicate. Bring words into your heart and mind that inspire you and wake you up. Don’t waste your time with insipid thoughts or negative people. They only tamp out those sparks that are precious treasures for you. Or do you do it to yourself?

Why? Why do you suppress your own fire? Your own need to be alive, to live, to burn? Why do you talk negatively to the only person in your life who truly understands you and your dreams? Isn't that person the most important person in the world to you? You should be. Stop dismissing yourself as if you weren’t vital to whom you are! No more “I can’t do that” “I’m not good enough” “If only I were better.” Every time you say this kind of thing, you put out a spark. Remind yourself often that you are an amazing creative person with a dream.

If you don't make your own dreams ultimate, then who will? You are the only one who can carry yourself forward. No one else will. Not because they don't care, but because they don't truly understand your dreams, your fire, your spark of Deity. Only you can bear the beauty of your inner hopes and desires.

And that is as it should be. Focus on yourself and what it is you want out of life. Remind yourself daily that you deserve the sweet things life has to offer. Don't close yourself off to the opportunities of life by moaning about all the wrongs offered to you by other humans. They are merely human. They do not realize that they tread on your spark threatening to snuff out the flame of your desires. Forgive them and move away from those that are not healthy for you. Keep writing down words. Keep twisting emotions. Keep putting words in your characters’ mouths.

"Check your road and the nature of your battle," Rand says. Every day state what it is that you want and what it is that you are going to do to get it. Make this a battle cry of hope and expectation. Affirm your place in your world and dig your heels in. Don't let anyone put you out. You are writers and you are creators of your own reality. So what are you waiting for? Create!

You are worth every effort. Your life is sweet and will bring you everything you want it to. Just keep burning. And always feed your fire. Remember that what you desire “exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


What on earth?

Well, there were 505 authors participating in the Literacy Signing at the RWA National Conference in Atlanta Georgia. The members of RWA and general public purchased $64,272.67 worth of books, bringing the grand total of RWA donations to the Literacy Council to OVER $500,000.

Let’s revisit that, shall we…

505 AUTHORS. That’s 505 men and women who write some form of ROMANCE.

$64,272.67 raised to promote Literacy…that’s a lot of romance…

Now, how can anyone dispute what romance novels mean to the general public, to those who love reading? To those who still denigrate romance novels as “bodice rippers” or “trashy” novels…I still ask “when was the last time you READ a romance novel?”

Have you read any of the Bullet-Catcher series by Roxanne St. Clair? Honey, that’s no damsel in distress sitting around waiting for a man to save her! That’s some sexy, strong women and some sexy, strong men butting heads and making things work.

What about Lori Foster? Sure, her men are a little Alpha for most people’s tastes, but let me tell you…Too Much Temptation is one of the sexiest, steamiest, BEST books I’ve ever read and it has a permanent place on my bookshelf. Yes, Noah is a bit overbearing, but Grace doesn’t put up with his crap…she just pats him on the chest and does what she wants to do anyway…

If you’re into Historicals, how about grabbing a Kristina Cook or a Stephanie Laurens or a Julia London – all three write about Regency England, but all three have very different styles. Their men are respectful of women, their women are strong in their own ways – while still staying in the rigid boundaries set for them by their time periods (for the most part[g]).

Paranormal/Fantasy more your style? Pick up a Sherrilyn Kenyon or a CT Adams-Cathy Clamp book or one of Michele Hauf’s Luna books – there’s scary critters in them there pages..but there are also strong women, women with their own lives, not just sitting around waiting to be saved from the monsters…hey, in some cases women ARE the “monsters.”

What I’m trying to say is this…(finally, you say)…if you know someone who has never read a romance novel and you know what kind of books they like, I can almost promise you you’ll find an author who writes that type of book within the romance family.

Give romance a shot…505 authors at the signing this year, maybe there will be 600 next year…who knows how many READERS OF ROMANCE that translates into...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Reviewball - Morrigan's Cross

Morrigan’s Cross
(Book one in The Circle Trilogy)

Nora Roberts

ISBN: 0515141658
Publisher: Jove

Cai said: Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Nora Roberts reigns as the Queen of Romance. Everyone knows that when they pick up a book by Nora Roberts they’re going to read a romance novel, one with a happy ending, one where the girl always gets the guy…oh really? Okay, Morrigan’s Cross does have a romance in it, but it is NOT your typical Nora Roberts romance. For one thing, you’re TOTALLY left hanging with this one – setting you up for the next book due out the end of September and then the final one out in October. There’s no question that more of the story will be revealed, that more battles will be fought with love either being triumphant or tragic…

Stephanie said: I was really surprised when I read Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts. It wasn’t at all what I expected but it certainly was what I wanted. I stayed up all night to finish this one. Looks like the Queen of Romance is going to take on the paranormal genre head-on in this trilogy. And so far, she has a TKO on her hands as far as I’m concerned. I was a bit confused about who was going to end up with whom at first. We know from the get-go and even the back of the book that there will be a circle of six who will band together to defeat Lilith, Vampire bitch from hell!

Cai: This first book introduces us to all of the main characters, as well it should. They’re complex and intriguing characters with merits and faults yet to be explored. First there are the twins, Hoyt and Cian. Born in 12th Century Ireland, they’re sorcerers, born and bred – only Hoyt receives more of that gift than his brother…of course, Cian receives his own dark gift – one he didn’t ask for. He becomes a victim to the evil Lilith, a vampire of the worst sort. None of this is a secret, it’s spelled out for you on the first few pages. Ah, you say, a “revenge” novel with Hoyt ready to avenge his brother’s ‘death,’…But then things get interesting…

Stephanie: Interesting isn’t the half of it. Enter a goddess. Not just any goddess but the Morrigan portrayed here in Her role as the Queen of the Fey and Lady with an attitude. Rather than just destroy the vampire (She has Her reasons), she sets Hoyt on the path by sending him into the future. But first she forges silver crosses that he places on his kin for protection. They are sworn to wear the crosses and pass them down through the ages. This will be important later.

Cai: Hoyt travels through “The Dance” (his own Stonehenge?) to the future where he meets, GASP…his brother, his brother’s best friend/protector, King and a meddlesome hereditary witch named Glenna (I had trouble not calling her Glenda at times -g). Add in Moira and her cousin, Larkin, and you’ve got the standard three couples so famous in a Nora Roberts novel… or do you? The sorcerer, the witch, the one that is lost, the warrior, the scholar, and the one of many forms – these are the six who will fight for all humankind. They’re drawn from all times, all places to face evil together.

Stephanie: I was so puzzled by the six who formed the circle. I admit to wasting time trying to figure out how Nora was going to get a trilogy out of this one! But all I had to do was keep reading! Each character is drawn so well. You really have a sense of who each character is. King was one of my favorites because he gave you insight into the slight small piece of humanity that Cian still held on to even though he might deny it.

Cai: The ‘love story’ in this book has some real conflicts beyond what you might expect. First of all, Hoyt is from 12th century Ireland…will he stay in the future with his brother or will he go home? Um…hello…Cian’s a VAMPIRE…how will the virtuous Hoyt resolve that little dilemma? As for Moira and Larkin – well, Larkin’s a little carefree, isn’t he? Who will settle him down? And Moira, well, she’s a scholar for sure. She’s more interested in books than fighting, but she’s a darn good shot with a bow! The fight scenes are a bit more intense than any previous Nora Roberts novel I’ve read. The mystical aspect of these books is more intense than her Three Sisters stories, the characters are more interesting, too.

Stephanie: The attraction between the witch and the sorcerer had no tension at all. I found that to be a bit odd because it felt as if we were being rushed into their relationship. Then I realized that it is the tension of the whole circle not coming together as it should that is the true power of this book. I became far more interested in the relationship between the two brothers who have one fabulous knock-down drag-out fight that is rich in the Irish tradition of beating the snot out of your loved one so you can be friends. It’s ok… the other characters don’t understand it either!

Cai: The six main characters are charged with fighting Lilith and her evil vampire horde to “save the world” – not just the world they’re in, but all worlds. Lilith doesn’t waste any time in testing them. They’re attacked, tricked, bloodied and get some of their own back. Hoyt and Glenna team up to make stronger magic together than either is capable of alone. Moira becomes the strategist, and Larkin just wants to fight!

Stephanie: I love the back and forth between Lilith’s army and the small circle of six. Larkin is a puzzle to me because he, of all the characters, is the one I don’t really get. I am looking forward to learning more about him in book two which I predict will be his story.

Cai: I got very curious about the “pairings” in the book. At first I thought Nora was going to change her formula and not do three love stories, but at the conclusion of this first book, I think everyone will know just who’s being paired with whom.

Stephanie: Me too, Cai! I even thought she was going to branch out into an alternative pairing, but it was not to be.

Cai: Cian (pronounced KEE-an, btw) is the character who draws me most. I’m not sure whether I like him or dislike him, but of all the characters, I do wonder about him the most. It’s obvious he’s seen and done much that he’s not proud of, and yet…there’s something about him that pulls you in.

Stephanie: And for me, it is Moira that gets me the most. I identify with her being a scholar and a bookworm, I suppose. But she gives as good as she gets and she understands and works with her own shortcomings in the fighting arena. I found her a spunky heroine I could like.

Cai: Larkin will have to mature quite a bit, I think, in order to become a true hero in my eyes. Moira, will also have to come out of her shell to appeal to me in a better way, though for some reason, I feel sure her story will be the last one in the trilogy.

Cai: All in all, I’d give this one a waving pom-pom cheer, but not a standing ovation…not yet, anyway.

Stephanie: I have my pom-poms right beside Cai doing a wave! I am sure this will end up being a standing ovation trilogy but I am going to wait and see first!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

It's time for REVIEWBALL....

The Hazards of Hunting a Duke (The Desperate Debutantes)
by Julia London

Pocket Books

ISBN 13:978-4165-1615-6

CAI: Even without the subtitle it becomes very obvious from no less than the second chapter that this is a planned trio (at least) of books. Ava Fairchild, her industrious sister Phoebe and their orphaned cousin Greer have all been told from a very young age what they should expect from marriage – convenience, position, children, and little else. Still, it appears that all three would prefer to have love be part of that equation.

STEPHANIE: For me, it was a bit unclear as to the relationship between the three girls. It was eventually spelled out, but the initial meeting left me wondering who each girl was. I would have liked a bit more definition of the three. Still, I was engaged from the start in their problems as their less-than-caring stepfather and known reprobate abandoned them at their mother’s death.

CAI: The death of Ava & Phoebe’s mother brings their situation to a critical head. Ava determines she must marry, and marry well in order to save herself, her sister and their cousin. Greer and Phoebe aren’t sitting idly by while Ava is making her plans. They are devising their own ways of rebuilding their nearly empty coffers…but those stories will have to wait…

STEPHANIE: Although we lose Greer almost immediately as she hares off to find her lost relatives who might or might not have money. Sporadic letters from her bait and tease the reader. Will Greer’s story be next or will Phoebe’s? My guess is that it will be Phoebe’s and that Greer’s mysterious notes will be sprinkled through Phoebe’s story as well.

CAI: The Duke in question is Jared, Lord Middleton. Currently a Marquis, Jared is a rake (of course) with no little love for his father or the exalted title he can expect to inherit as his father’s only heir. Jared’s father has picked out the perfect bride for his recalcitrant son. A somewhat vague lady of impeccable birth and position. One who is more than delighted with the prospect of marriage to the handsome Marquis. Jared, on the other hand, is completely appalled. He eventually does agree to marriage, only to sire a legitimate heir, but totally refuses his father’s choice of brides.

STEPHANIE: Jared is a rather typical Regency hero. He’s handsome. He’s immune to love. However the reason he is immune to love is a fascinating hook. His parents’ marriage was less than convenient so Jared thinks love is unobtainable. The anger and animosity between father and son is, at times, overdone, but it does build to a good end.

CAI: Ava hasn’t set her sights quite so high as Jared, but circumstances put them together and the passion between them is undeniable. After an extremely short acquaintance, and in less than ideal circumstances, Jared proposes to Ava. He tells her it is not a love match, but that he does desire her and that he will provide not only for her, but also for her family.

STEPHANIE: Here is where London nearly lost me. It was so convoluted at the beginning as to need a map! I wasn’t even sure I wanted Jared and Ava to get together. Ava’s views of marriage were so totally juxtaposed to Jared’s that I couldn’t see how they were going to make it. And there is what hooked me.

CAI: For her part, Ava is delighted…at first. Then things begin to change. She realizes she has married a complete stranger and not only that, she finds herself falling in love with him and wanting his love in return. Ava employs the “wisdom” of her not-so-acceptable lady’s maid to learn how to seduce her own husband. She succeeds in seducing his mind and body, but she is not sure of his heart.

STEPHANIE: Ava’s not-quite-a-lady lady’s maid could have been used a bit more. Jared is let in on the secret of the lady’s maid far too soon. It would have been more fun to have him wondering where his innocent young wife got her seduction ideas! Still, the scenes were incredibly amusing and had me laughing out loud on several occasions.

CAI: There are, of course, well-meaning friends, an old mistress (or possibly two), several misunderstandings, and the inevitable quarrel between the lovers. However…the resolution Julia London employs is quite unique. I thoroughly enjoyed this book – the black moment for Ava was heart-wrenching, Jared’s brought tears to my eyes, and yet…I felt some anger toward both characters, wanting only to reach into the book and knock some sense into them.

STEPHANIE: The cast of characters was well-balanced and necessary. I found myself matching Greer and Phoebe up with Jared’s two friends. But I agree with Cai on the black moments for the two characters. There was a line in this book that had me in tears. I won’t spoil it for you though. Still, I rank this as one of the best black moments I’ve ever read. I can still remember that scene. That’s how well it was done.

CAI: The eventual reconciliation was amazingly and most uniquely well-done. I give this one a full standing cheer and I look forward to reading Phoebe and Greer’s stories and hope that Julia London won’t leave out the somewhat annoying Lord Stanhope and the intriguing Lord Harrison.

STEPHANIE: London’s storytelling is typical Regency fare. Anyone could tell this story. It is her voice that lifts this one out of the mass of books and on to my Keeper shelf. It is her skillful painting of the emotional portraits of these two characters that have me standing in the bleachers, pom-poms on full wave and cheering my brains out. I highly recommend this one and will be on the look out for the next book in this series.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Recovering from the National Conference usually takes a few days...who am I kidding, how about a week!

I refer to it as my "vacation," but there's no sleeping in, no lounging around a pool, no beach, and very little sightseeing - other than the people-watching I indulge in at the airport, on the shuttle, in the hotel, etc.

This year, the conference was more of a blur than anything else. I attended fewer workshops this year, but feel as though I got more information out of the ones I did attend than ever before.

Though I hadn't made any editor/agent appointments, Stephanie did, and I horned in on those. The agent appointment was a group one, so it was an "everybody submit" appointment. The editor one was with an editor we'd had previous communication with and it sounds very promising. Also for the first time this year, I wasn't sweating the appointments. I don't know if that's brass on my part or the fact that since I hadn't made the appointment, I didn't feel as though I needed to be nervous about it.

There were plenty of people who were nervous, though, and I commend them for doing what they needed to to get through their appointments.

"Star" sightings? You betcha...the very first night we saw Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer having dinner and probably plotting out something spectacular for Agnes & the Hitman, their next book. Then there was Janelle Dennison & Carly Phillips - I ran into them walking down the hallway. Connie Brockway, Eloisa James and their good-natured rivalry, Theresa Medieros carrying a plastic bin full of chickens...don't ask (just visit Squawk Radio ), Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, and the list goes on and on...

Then there were my new favorite authors: Kim Harrison who I cracked up when she was signing in one of the publisher-sponsored book-giveaways by giving her the "bunny" sign; JR Ward who I never really got near, but got close enough to see that the third Brotherhood book WASN'T on her table; Caridad Ferrar, Gena Showalter, and many, many more...

And, of course, La Nora...for those who are reading this blog for fun and have no clue who that is, think the leading lady of romance fiction...think 8 MILLION copies of her books in print worldwide...think a woman rather small in stature and massive in popularity...think a woman who is gracious, generous, humorous and who every romance writer wants to be when they grow up...yes, Nora Roberts. We actually shared a few minutes of conversation outside the PRO retreat - one of the highlights of my conference experience though probably not even a blip on her radar.

And then there was the bar...the gathering place of aspiring and published authors. Those hoping to rub elbows with an editor or agent. Stephanie & I were lucky in that respect. We actually sat and talked for some time with Anna Genoese from Tor, one of the first editors to reject one of our manuscripts. Anna is a true original and a very humorous person. Sure, she has strong opinions, but name me one single editor who doesn't! Anna is a lovely person - even though she did say our heroine was TSTL...just kidding, Anna. Actually what she said, and she was DEAD ON RIGHT, was that the heroine needed more spine, that she was entirely too passive. We're working on that. In fact, it's the second MS containing some of the same characters from the manuscript Anna read that did so well in contests and garnered us other requests from other editors. I have massive amounts of respect for Anna - she does her job and does it well, without pulling any unnecessary punches.

Now, back to the rest of the conference. The luncheon speakers were FABULOUS - Meg Cabot kept everyone in laughter throughout her speech on Thursday and Christina Dodd inspired and galvinized with her speech on Saturday. The Gala on Saturday evening was WONDERFUL. Short, sweet, tasteful, humorous, and NO POLITICS. It was great.

I always find Conference inspiring and exhausting and this year was no exception. I look forward to next year's Conference in Dallas, and NEXT YEAR, I AM taking some vacation time - both before and after least that's the plan!


Friday, July 21, 2006

Last minute preparations

Why is it that when you're getting ready to go on vacation - or in this case to a Conference - that everyone and their brother has something that "must be done before you leave."

It's not as though my OWN last-minute preparations aren't taking up about 70% of my brain...

I still have to pick up my suit from the dry cleaners, do laundry, maybe get my nails done and get a pedicure, make sure someone is coming in to take care of the cats, buy new eyeliner, pack, make sure I have hose with no runs, etc. I mean, come on! A person can only do so much in the time alloted to them, right?

That's why I'm taking the Monday before I leave off. I'm NOT going to worry about work and won't even call the office on Monday - I swear. I'm going to get all my last-minute running around done so I can be relaxed and enjoy the flight to I can be in a cheerful frame of mind when I step off the plane into the high-energy atmosphere of National I can maintain that cheer and relaxation through the tiring days to come...well, one can hope!

Actually, I am really looking forward to National Conference - some of my favorite authors have new books out and I also look forward to finding some new favorites. I want to stop by and at least say hello to a few people, even if I've already purchased their latest book before conference.

In any event, it's going to be a fun ride!

I'm going to try to blog from the conference - will all depend on the connection in the hotel room - I'm at the Hilton, not the Marriott - so we'll see.

4 days and counting...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Nerves of Steel

Yes, I have them. Why? Because I do not have either an editor or agent appointment this year. My writing partner does, though, so we'll be practicing a pitch before her appointment.

I remember my first editor appointment. It was with an editor totally unsuited to the story I was pitching. Though she was very gracious and did request a partial on an uncompleted manuscript after hearing my pitch on the completed manuscript and the two of us discussing how it certainly was not right for her. I did send her the first three chapters of the incomplete work, and eventually received a lovely rejection letter saying she just wasn't "in love" with the characters.

How did the mistaken editor appointment happen, you ask? Well, it's very simple, really. I had no idea what I was doing! It was my first conference, my first appointment with ANY editor, and I had no clue who to ask for. I didn't make that same mistake the following year.

No, that year I wound up with an agent appointment - a group appointment. Again, the agent was very gracious, requested the first three chapters from all six of us in the group, and then we discussed our stories, her philosophy on selling our stories, general conference experiences, etc., While a pleasant experience, after she read the first three chapters of our completed manuscript, it turned out that this particular agent wasn't "in love" with our story, so she gave us a pass.

The following year, I again had an editor appointment. This one went VERY well. It was the right editor, the right story, the right time...or maybe not, because again we received a lovely rejection letter.

Are we disheartened? Maybe a little, but not enough to stop writing...not enough to stop seeking the editor and/or agent who will fall "in love" with our characters and our story at the same time and will want to "buy the book." But you see, that's another reason I'm not stressing too much over missed appointments this year.

I'm taking the "GWTW" approach (and if you're going to Atlanta and don't know what GWTW stands for, shame on you! ), I'll think about it tomorrow....or next year as the case may be.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

RWA's Annual Conference

It's nearly that time of year again. The annual RWA Conference takes place in Atlanta, Georgia this year from July 26-29.

It's a time when published and unpublished authors gather to attend workshops, meet & greet, make new contacts, renew old friendships, listen to editors & agents and, for those who are unpublished, a chance to connect with an editor or agent who hopefully wants to buy your manuscript.

The conference is in a different place every year- last year it was Reno (and resulted in the birth of this blog, as a matter of fact), next year it's in Dallas, Texas. The big draw for the public is the literacy signing every year. Over 400 authors in one room, all signing their books and all of the profits go to the Literacy Council.

This is also a time when people begin to stress about going to Conference. Do they have the right clothes, the right shoes, the right attitude, the right manuscript? Will they meet the perfect editor/agent in the hallway and be struck dumb or say something totally inane?

I've decided not to stress (too much) this year. I'm taking fewer clothes so I will wear exactly what I've packed without worrying about whether or not I'm dressed "appropriately." Hey, if my clothes are good enough for work, they should be good enough for a conference! The only sticking point for me is the Gala. For the past three years, I've dressed up - I mean really dressed up...this year, I've decided not to do that. I'll be nicely dressed, but I'm not going the "prom dress" routine. I'm also not going to wear heels. They just do not do good things for my feet!

Anyway...back to conference. This is a time to meet other unpublished authors and talk about something we all have in common - the written word. We all love it, we all strive to perfect it, we will talk about it, share our opinions and our dreams and ultimately, we'll come away from Conference this year renewed in our commitment to the written word and exhausted from all the information we're bombarded with and meeting new people and trying to download all the ideas floating around in our heads.

Now, for some interesting facts regarding romance...

*Did you know that romance fiction comprises 54% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America?

*Did you know that romance fiction comprises 39% of all popular fiction sold - mystery/detective/suspense novel sales is 29% of popular fiction sold - General fiction is 12% and Science Fiction is 6%...

*Did you know that 64 MILLION Americans read at least one romance novel last year?

*Did you know that 22% of romance readers are men?

*Did you know that RWA has 9,500 members around the world? (No wonder the conference always sells out!)

Friday, July 07, 2006

That Queasy Feeling...

No, I’m not really writing about illness. I’m referring to that queasy feeling writers get when they’re either about to finish a story or about to start one. It’s the feeling that makes you wonder whether you’ve adequately captured your character’s goals, if you’ve managed to convey their conflict, and if you’ve really reached a satisfactory ending to what you’ve been working on. It’s that feeling you get when you sit down to start a new story – it might have been bothering you for weeks, but now that you’re faced with actually putting words to paper (or computer monitor) you’re not sure what you were thinking.

How do they do it? How do those authors who write a book every couple of months and manage to have two books a year published –sometimes with different publishing houses – do it? How do they manage to have a home life and a writing life?

Best selling authors will tell you it’s a matter of discipline. Novices will tell you the same thing.

I think I’m still working on that particular discipline. I tend to write in “fits & spurts.” Refining that discipline can only help in the long run, but one has to get rid of that queasy feeling in order to do that.

Here’s my solution. I’ll sit down once and just write through that feeling. I’ll toss out self-doubt and turn off my internal editor and just write. Who knows, maybe that will be the impetus to unlock the floodgates and let that ‘great American romance novel’ out.

We’ll see…

Monday, June 19, 2006

REVIEWBALL: Jewel Of Atlantis by Gena Showalter

Jewel of Atlantis by Gena Showalter

HQN Books (February 1, 2006)
ISBN: 0373770960

Cai: The Jewel of Dunamis is priceless to whoever owns it. The Jewel can defeat any army, tell friend from foe, and make its possessor the ruler of Atlantis. Because of these properties, those in charge of the Otherworld Bureau of Investigations send one of their top agents into the secret world of Atlantis on a mission to either retrieve or destroy the Jewel.

Agent Grayson James finds himself in the midst of a nightmare from his first step into Atlantis. On the run from demons, vampires and dragons, Gray receives help from an unexpected source: a sexy female voice in his head. The voice helps him escape from his pursuers in return for his help in escaping from those holding her prisoner.
Gray battles a horde of demons and vampires to help the woman he alternately calls Prudence or Blaze, depending on what she says and how she says it, escape.

Stephanie: The woman calls herself Jewel, which makes Gray suspicious but not suspicious enough in my book. The man’s an agent for goodness sake. Doesn’t he care why her name correlates to the very thing he is looking for? He does cogitate on it for a bit, but then he gets sidetracked by a few things. Like a demon biting him and a vampire sucking his blood. Ok, so maybe that is a good reason to forget a very important fact. This story moves quickly and has some great dialogue that reminds me of the witty repartee of the old 40’s & 50’s swordfighting movies.

Cai: Together they evade the demons and vampires who have joined forces. Along the way, Gray discovers that Jewel knows many facets of his life, including his many dalliances with women, and that she desires him almost as much as he desires her. What Gray doesn’t know but begins to suspect is that Jewel is what he was sent to retrieve.

For her part, Jewel is thrilled to finally meet Gray in the flesh. She’s followed his life from childhood to his current age, worrying over him when he was on dangerous missions, lusting after him, loving him.

Stephanie: One of the best moments in this book is when Gray realizes that Jewel not only can read his mind, but that she’s been doing this for years! So her knowledge of his rakish ways are in-depth but he doesn’t know her at all. When their psychic connection is broken is when the real fun begins.

Cai: The connection between Jewel and Gray is undeniable. The reality of their situation is that Gray has never failed a mission, and he won’t fail this one. He’ll take something back to his superiors and keep Jewel safe at the same time. Somehow, he’ll ensure she gets the one thing she really wants. Freedom.

Stephanie: But the conflict is that Jewel can’t leave Atlantis. Those who do sicken and die within days. And Gray can’t stay in Atlantis. He has to finish his mission and that means he has to destroy Jewel or take her to his superiors. But both would mean her death. How he resolves this dilemma is classic.

Cai: Gena Showalter’s latest venture into the world of Atlantis has it all. Humor, danger, adventure, mystery, lust, hot sex, and an extremely satisfying ending. I give this one a rousing cheer!

Stephanie: I agree with Cai. Gena Showalter’s Atlantis world has a lot to offer. I dare you to pick up Heart of Atlantis and try to put it back down. My bet is you will be like me and stay up all night just to find out how Gray and Jewel can have a happily ever after despite the odds. Stand up, pom-pom waving cheer from me!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The BUSINESS of writing...

For most writers, the writing is the easy part. Even if we hit a stumbling block, we just can’t seem to not write. If we’re blocked with one story, we might move on to another one or skip a scene and keep going or dump everything and start over. Then comes the “scary” part – the BUSINESS of writing.

Getting an agent, signing a contract, getting edits, being under a deadline…those things terrify some of us! What IS the business of writing? Well, IMO (as an unpublished writer), the Business of writing is just that – business. It’s looking at the bottom line (meeting editor/publisher needs), meeting (or exceeding) expectations (having the editor be thrilled about YOUR story), conferring with others to make sure you’re all on the same page (getting your line edits), turning in a prospectus or action item list (returning the edited pages), following through to make sure everyone has done what they said they’d do in order to get to the finished product (keeping yourself on track with edits in order to meet the editor’s deadline, getting the proofs and the cover flats and finally the ARCS)…in this case, a book.

A real live, in your hand, on the shelf, printed book. A copy of your work there in the hands of Suzy Somebody in Somewhere USA – and if you’re really lucky – Somewhere Europe or Asia or elsewhere in the world.

The “business” of writing goes deeper than that, though. It also includes promotion…as a first-time author, you’re usually responsible for a lot of your own promotion. Given the fact that most authors are introverts, sometimes this is the hard part for us. BUT…there are ways around that introversion. *ahem* Having a blog or a website (inserting shameless plug here - ) are two ways around that.

Getting involved in writing groups where you can share your successes and promote your work is another way to get that going. Bookmarks – most authors have bookmarks with either their current or “upcoming” releases on them. Postcards – sending out a postcard to everyone you’ve ever met to ask them to buy your book. Word of mouth – having someone who “loves, loves, loves” your book tell everyone they know to buy it is a good way around that introversion as well.

If your books really take off, and you become a household name (Nora Roberts, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mary Balogh, Jo Beverly, Connie Brockway), then you can sit back and know that people who have purchased one or more of your past works will always pick up a copy of your new book – even if it’s a departure for you – a foray into something they didn’t know you were thinking of doing, they’ll give you a shot just because they KNOW your name and they LIKE the way you tell a story. That’s when the business of writing becomes more of a pleasure. When you can sit back and know that someone is going to buy your book just because it has your name on it.

I can’t wait for that day…

Friday, May 26, 2006

Rejection...a good thing?

We hear it over and over again…writing is a SUBJECTIVE business.

Where else in the world can you receive a rejection and think of it as a “good” thing? I don’t know of any other profession where a rejection is a mark of accomplishment.

How is a rejection a good thing? Well, it simply proves to the world that you are serious enough about your writing to actually submit it to an editor or an agent. It proves that you believe in your own work enough to show it to someone else…even if they eventually do reject it.

What brought this on? Well, we received a rejection, of course. But in the grand scheme of things, it was a very GOOD rejection…though this particular manuscript wasn’t right for this particular editor at this particular time, I still believe it to be a strong piece of writing, and I still believe in the story. So, I will send it out again until it finds a home.

Somewhere, someone is looking for this story. If I didn’t believe that, I would simply throw in the towel and give up on writing. But that really is not an option. Writers write – that’s what they do. That’s what I do, and eventually, somewhere, somehow, one of the manuscripts we are working so diligently on will strike just the right chord with just the right editor/agent at just the right time, and we will be on our way to publication.

Until then, we’ll keep writing and sending manuscripts out.

Monday, April 24, 2006

REVIEWBALL: Seduced By Crimson, Jade Lee

Seduced By Crimson
Jade Lee
Dorchester Love Spell imprint
February 28, 2006
ISBN 0505526727

Stephanie: Take one very determined Druid surfer. Add one Cambodian healer. Give them the same enemy – demons. Sounds like just another day in the life of Crimson City dwellers, doesn’t it? Not so much. Jade Lee gives her Crimson City offering a new twist. Both characters think one of them has to die to defeat the demons or at least close the newest portal to the demon world, Orcus.

Xiao Fei watched all of her sister Phoenix Tears die in an attempt to close a demon gate 20 years earlier. Patrick Lewis was moments too late to his own death by demon party, but his parents and siblings were the guests of honor. His dying mother tells him to find the Phoenix Tear or all hell will break loose – literally.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. Lee uses some verboten romance formulas such as attempted forced sex which may turn some readers away from her writing. She uses it in a way to move the story and the connection between the two “we can’t be lovers” lovers so I did not see it in a negative way.

Cai: And yet, this was one of my biggest beefs with the story. I don’t like forced sex scenes. Never have. That’s why I stopped reading romance novels for a long period of time – you remember the ones I’m talking about? The ‘barbarian’ at the gate who takes the daughter of the house much against her will to some undisclosed location where he forces her to have sex with him and she eventually enjoys it so much that she falls in love with him…yeah. Didn’t work for me 20 years ago, doesn’t work for me now. I normally avoid books and/or movies with rape and or forced sex scenes. In Seduced by Crimson, Patrick is a likeable enough guy – until he ties the heroine up and forces sex on her. Yeah, yeah, he’s doing it to “save the world” – right. Okay. Still doesn’t work for me.

Xiao TELLS him repeatedly that he’s raping her and yet…eventually she enjoys it? She’s so overcome by passion that she enjoys being raped and made to bleed? I don’t think so, buckaroo.

Stephanie: Both characters learn as they go. Xiao learns that the ability to heal has to be freely accepted by those she is healing or more harm than good will come of it. Patrick realizes that his role as Draig-Uisge is larger than he knew. Xiao and Patrick have to trust what they fear most – each other.

I recommend this book with this caveat. You need to have read the others in the series to get the full picture. Lee’s demons are only one part of the demonic world. Characters from past books put in cameos that are made sweeter if you understand who and what they are. Definitely a bleacher cheer from me!

Cai: The entire concept of a Phoenix Tear is astounding, amazing and a fabulous plot device. The idea of an “enforcer” in a Druidic community is excellent! Patrick and Xiao have their own internal demons and yet they have to come together to get ride of the real demons who are slowly and methodically taking over Crimson City. Xiao is convinced that she will die – how noble. Patrick is convinced that sex and just a “little” blood can close the gate between the two worlds – yeah, “let’s do it for the world, babe.” May I just say YUCK.

I’ve enjoyed the majority of the Crimson City series – I really liked Keeli and Michael’s story in A Taste of Crimson. This one just doesn’t do it for me. At all. I have read Crimson Rogue, and Liz managed to draw me in all over again. I LOVE Crimson Rogue and (a little inside scoop, here, folks) look forward to the upcoming Crimson City Anthology – I know that Patti O’Shea is writing one story for the anthology – due out sometime in 2007.

This one gets a half-hearted wave of the pom-pom from me – no cheer – and yet…because of the CONCEPT of the novel – one woman’s sacrifice at the hands of the man who does come to care for her – I can’t quite bring myself to give it a Jeer.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When bad things happen to writers...

One good thing about being a writer is that you can take a bad experience and turn it into a scene in a book.

Mad at your significant other? Write out what you want to say to them and file it for later use by a character.

Your boss driving you crazy? Kill him/her – ON PAPER.

Overhear a conversation in the hallway that could be taken in a number of ways? Write it out and save it for the villain in your next book.

Have a bad dining experience in a restaurant? Use it to your advantage by writing down as many details as you can remember and save them for a scene where you need mounting tension or to show how someone would react to the same situation in your book.

Remember that bad haircut? Well what if the same thing happened to your heroine right before a big interview or date? Remember that self-tanning accident? What if that happened to your heroine?

Writers can take any life experience and twist it to fit their current character or needs. Add in a little imagination and you’re good to go. Who cares if no one will believe there’s truth in your fiction? Use those “bad” experiences in your life to add depth to your writing, to breathe life into a character who might be a little flat.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Powering Galaxies

Kate Duffy, Editorial Director at Kensington Books made the following statement regarding the romance genre and romance writers: “We are creative smart women with imaginations that could power small galaxies. I just cannot wait to see what happens next."

I love that statement – especially the part about imaginations that could power small galaxies – how profound a statement is that?

While it is the Paranormal/Sci Fi writers who are creating their own worlds, the rest of us are still powering our own galaxies. We decide who our heroine is and what her goals, motivation and conflicts are. We decide who our hero is and how his goals, motivation and conflict will interact with our heroine’s.

It is our imagination that gives birth to our books. It is our desire to share that imagination with others that prompts us to sit in front of our computers agonizing over what comes next in a scene, where we need to beef up our conflict, and exactly how intense we need to make what comes next.

We are creative and smart. We are powering small galaxies, and like Ms. Duffy, I cannot WAIT to see what happens next.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Next up on REVIEWBALL...

Seduced by Crimson by Jade Lee

Part of the Crimson City Series - stay tuned for our review.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On Submissions

Trying to get your work in front of an editor is nerve-wracking. Actually sending something out the door is enough to make you gnaw on your fingernails, pull out your hair and rend your clothes.

Okay, so it’s not THAT bad…really. See, the hard part is already done: YOU’VE WRITTEN THE BOOK. Now you just have to find someone who shares your vision, your taste and your view of things and who wants to publish your book.

Yesterday I sent off the first three chapters, a (sucky) synopsis and a query letter to an editor. I’ve corresponded with this editor prior to sending the items off, so it wasn’t that bad, but as soon as the envelope left my hands, the doubts started.

What if I didn’t find and fix all the passive voice? Oh hell! Did I remember to use one-inch margins all the way around? What if she reads the synopsis and laughs? What if she reads the first three chapters and uses them to start a fire in her office? What if…what if she really likes it and wants more?

Submitting your work to an editor or agent is like riding a roller coaster. There’s the shaky feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you put everything in the envelope, check to make sure you’ve spelled the editor’s name and the name of the publishing house correctly, seal the envelope – oh no, did I remember to put in a SASE for a rejection note – maybe it won’t matter, maybe she won’t reject it! - etc.,

Then the ride starts – you check the USPS website every day to see when the package is delivered – and of COURSE you used the “delivery confirmation” slip, the one that doesn’t require a signature for delivery. You’re going up that first hill now…then, when you know the envelope has been delivered, your stomach drops out from underneath, just as it does when you start down the hill on that blasted roller coaster.

Now the nerves kick in – is she reading it? Does she like it? Is she laughing at the funny parts? Is she tearing up if there something sad in there? Is the sexual tension strong enough? Too strong? Does she like the style? Are the characters catching her attention? This is the up and down part of the ride – your heart is beating fast, your palms are sweaty, you feel as though you could just hurl…

The end of the ride can either be a smooth coast to a stop or a jolting halt…we’ll know more about that when we hear back from the editor in question with either a “loved it, want it” or a “thanks, but no thanks.”

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Movin' on up...

Recently reviewed The Devil in Winter has just appeared for the FOURTH week on the New York Times bestseller list - position number 7, no less...

Who said historical romance is dead?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

REVIEWBALL #1: Devil In Winter by Lisa Kleypas

The Devil in Winter
by Lisa Kleypas

Cai: Book three (four if you count Again the Magic) in the Wallflower series, this tells the story of Sebastian and Evangeline. At first glance, no one would put these two characters together – the dissolute admitted rake who beds a woman once and then forgets her existence and the shy-to-the-point-of-stammering virtuous young woman. But on closer examination, they’re great together. Evie needs someone with enough clout and physical strength to protect her from her mother’s family, Sebastian needs her wealth.

SL: I couldn’t get it. Why did chronically, painfully, paralyzingly shy Evangeline go after the man who had threatened one of her friends? I loved the two earlier books along with Against The Magic so I looked forward to Devil. I wasn’t sure Kleypas could hold on to the enchantment of the first two wallflower stories.

Cai: As the story begins, Sebastian believes Evie to be a simpleton, but as they discuss their “marriage of convenience” (BIG RED FLAG for romance readers everywhere (g) ), he realizes she’s actually quite intelligent and surprisingly quite attractive. Evie quite firmly tells him she will have sex with him ONCE (another BRF) to validate their marriage, and then she expects him to find his release elsewhere. Sebastian counters by telling her he’s fine with that arrangement as he’s easily bored, especially by inexperience – you just have to love a true rake!

SL: Personally I adore “marriage of convenience” stories with their conflict already built in. An author has so much room to play with. Where Kleypas really grabbed me was the setting. Did she put our erstwhile couple in a townhome in Mayfair? A country estate? Not even! She stuck them in the middle of a falling-down-around-their-ears gambling establishment. Ok, Ms. Kleypas, you now have my attention. And who is that dreamy Gypsy lad? Can I have two of him to go?

Cai: Now, every romance reader everywhere is going, “Okay, I get it. Marriage of Convenience. Of course they’re going to fall in love with one another, of course neither will admit it, and of course there are going to be several misunderstandings along the way to that HEA.” Well, you’re right. I’m not giving anything away by telling you that those expectations will be met. However…it’s the journey to that HEA that makes The Devil in Winter such an enjoyable read.

SL: But Cai… you have to tell the reader something about the book to get them to read it. You do want them to read it right? Can’t you tell them about the bath scene? Or the recovering from a bullet wound scene? Ok, I guess we really can’t, but trust me, they are GREAT moments in this book. After devouring the book in one night, I realized why this book leapt up the best seller charts.

Cai: You will cry with Evie at certain points in the book, which I will not elaborate on. You will cheer for Sebastian as he comes into his own as a responsible man. You’ll want a fan nearby when at one particular point in the book, Sebastian tells his bride just what he’d like to do to and with her! And, if you’re like me, you’ll lust after a certain Irish Gypsy (g) and be looking forward to his story.

There’s intrigue and evil aplenty in the form of Evie’s family. I LOVE the confrontation scenes.

All in all, I give this story a rousing CHEER.

SL: Good sex, funny tete-a-tetes between not only the hero and heroine, but the hero and his best friend and the heroine and her friends as well. So far, this is not my favorite of the Wallflowers, but I will give it a sitting in the bleachers CHEER. Stand-up cheers are my best.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Are you ready...

Are You Ready For REVIEWBALL?

Okay, here's the thing...Stephanie & I both read. A LOT. We frequently read the same books - sometime this is by design (one will call the other and say, "you HAVE to read this book!"), sometimes it's quite by default as we like many of the same authors.

There are other times we will read the same book and one of us will not be as enamored as the other. With all that being said, we decided to do something a little different with reviews. What about "dueling" reviews? We read the same book, each do a review and post it here. Sometimes we'll agree on the book, sometimes we won't. So...ARE YOU READY?

It’s a new take on reviews as Stephanie Arwen Beck and Cai Smith, the writing duo otherwise known as Cai Stephan, face off over books they’ve read. Forget the gridiron. Forego the ice. And don’t even think about baseball as these two longtime friends let loose.

Will it be cheers or jeers for your favorite books?

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Do you listen to your muse or do you shoot Her down at every chance. When that stray thought floats through your mind about a heroine with a big shaggy dog that makes the hero sneeze. Then your mind wonders if this were a Regency and your heroine were in a marriage of convenience, what if she used the dog as her line of defense. If she couldn’t have the beast with her, she would make sure to get dog hair on her outfit before going anywhere with him.

But then some cold, calm, logical voice says, “Oh that won’t sell. It’s ridiculous. Besides, you don’t have time to research a Regency. Stick to what you know.”

And you let that thought drift on out of your mind never to be heard from again. Then next year you pick up a book where the heroine has this big shaggy dog…. Well, you catch my drift, I’m sure.

You have failed to honor your muse. At the very least write the idea down. Play with it a bit. Maybe it won’t work for you. Perhaps it is the stupidest idea since Freedom Fries, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was a gift that you scorned?

Place yourself in the Muse’s shoes (strappy high heels or sporty slings). If your job, your calling, your gift was to dance about in other people’s imagination and offer them tidbits, how would you feel if one person constantly spurned you? How much would it take for you to keep going back to that person with ideas and thoughts and even full blown plot lines?

I know me and it wouldn’t take long before I would leave them to their own well of creativity. And when that well ran dry? It would take quite a bit of coaxing to bring me back to their side. Rejection isn’t easy even if you ARE a daughter of the Gods and have sisters to lean on.

So keep a notebook handy or a small tape recorder by your side. Jot down those thoughts. Listen to your mind when you are reading the newspaper or watching television. Don’t ignore the opportunities to fill your Future Stories Folder to the brim. When you are stuck on your wip, then dip into that folder. Pull one out. Let your pen wander over a clean sheet of paper.

And don’t forget to thank your Muse when you return to your wip with a fresh outlook and a few new plot twists.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


How can anyone doubt the power of Romance fiction in today's world?

Lisa Kleypas' newest novel, The Devil in Winter - released on MARCH 1 - has already reached the top TEN on the New York Times, USA Today AND Publisher's Weekly lists. This is the third book in her Wallflower Series - actually, the fourth if you count Again the Magic which introduces at least one of the main characters .

Nine days - it took NINE DAYS to hit bestseller status. How can anyone say that Romance novels are "trash" or "bodice rippers" with statistics like that? Obviously it's not just a passing fad - Romance novels ARE big news, they ARE well-written, and they ARE capable of making it to the TOP of the bestseller lists.

If you saw the CBS Sunday Morning report on Romance Novels/Novelists, how could you possibly believe that people - women in particular - aren't reading romance? How can you dismiss romance novels as "unworthy" or as "those books"? When someone questions my reading tastes because I'm reading a romance novel, my first response is to ask them what they have against a "happy ending"...

Frankly, I think we could ALL use a "happy ending" from time to time. I get very tired of 'bad' news and really look forward to settling down with a "good" book with an emotionally satisfying ending. If that makes me a sap, well, all I can say is that I am in VERY good company! ;)

Friday, March 03, 2006

On Agents...

Just how important it is to have an agent when you’re trying to get published? There seem to be several schools of thought on this topic. Some say it is essential, others, not so much. Some people have sold their first book without an agent, and then get an agent before they sell their second. Some people sell more than one book without an agent and are perfectly happy dealing with the contract negotiations themselves. One published author I know has had many agents but has never sold a book through an agent – all of her sales have come when she’s been between agents!

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. Don’t get me wrong, if an agent approached me tomorrow and said, “I love your book and know just where we can sell it,” I’d jump on that with both feet. However, I know several published authors who have agents and love them, others who have agents and tolerate them, and still a few more who have agents and are looking for new agents!

In a recent panel discussion with several published authors, this very question arose. An unpublished author said, “I always hear about the questions you should ask an agent before accepting their representation, but what ARE those questions?” The answers were as varied as the published authors, but the one that stuck with me is this one: ask the agent, “why do you love my story?”

As a writer, you must LOVE your story. Hopefully, you’ll find an editor who feels the same and will BUY your story. An agent must also LOVE your story. If they love your voice and they love your characters and they love your plotting and they love your conflict and they love everything about your story, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re going to do their best to sell that story to an editor.

I recently perused one of those “guide” books in the library regarding agents. Do you KNOW how many agents there are out there? HUNDREDS of them. Surely, somewhere out there in the great big publishing world, there is ONE agent who will feel the same way about our characters/stories that we do…now we just have to find that agent…or not.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A'contesting we shall go

Well it's late in the 2006 contest season for us, but we are just getting started. We missed the January and February contests for a variety of reasons. If you are an aspiring author of Romance, then you are probably already familiar with Donna Carrabeaux's terrific Contest Deadlines Yahoo list.

Cai and I have been steadily buffing and polishing two separate pieces. We did have four pieces ready to go, but had to make a decision as to which two we wanted to go! Instead of sending in two brand new mss, we sent in one that is brand-new. The other we sent round the contest gauntlet in 2004 and got the same answers across the board. Our heroine was TSTL. Ouch! Never what you want to hear!

I ripped apart the first 25 pages of that ms! I put her on a motorcycle and had her chase the bad guys. Cai gently took her back off the motorcycle. I went back to the original scene and began tightening. The way Cai and I work well together is in write/edit/write/. One of us starts by writing. The second one then reads and edits that portion and then writes past as much as she can. The first one gets it all back and proceeds forward with editing her own bit, then the other's, then writing forward.

At some point we have to decide to stop going back over the beginning and just push forward. This ms was FINIS at about 45k. It needs to be 90k to equal its counterpart which has done extremely well on the contest rounds. It is in the hands of two editors as well as an agent at this point. We have all our fingers crossed to hear something from one of the three.

I am also a judge for several contests. One is a major one in our industry. I just sent my scores in. Here are a few things I want to share with those whose entries I judged even though I have NO CLUE who they are.

1. Ten pages of backstory is too much. No really! I do not need or WANT to know why her grandmother lost her left pinky.
2. If I can make a formula and someone else can fill in the blanks, you need to get something fresher.
3. I discovered that injured animals and bloody wedding dresses are far more intriguing than I ever thought possible.
4. Please assume I am stupid and have never seen something. SHOW it to me with your words. Create a picture for me please.

And most of all, no matter what I or any other judge puts on your work, don't toss the baby out with the bathwater. Hang on to that ms even if you have to put it under your bed for a year or ten. Grin! Then reread the judges comments. See where they mesh. Ok, so your heroine is Too Stupid To Live. She made your first choice editor hurl the ms across the room and then hurl her cookies. Yeah, that hurts, but you can fix that!

As an author, you can fix whatever problem there is. But remember this as well. If only one judge says something, don't go on their opinion only. Judging is incredibly subjective. In fact romance contests may have just surpassed Figure Skating as the most subjective judging around.

As the saying goes, have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.