Saturday, May 31, 2008

Running with…

Admit it! You thought I was going to say scissors, didn’t you?

THEMES – let’s talk about them for a moment. What “theme" runs throughout your work. People would ask me that question and I’d give them the old wide-eyed blank stare. You mean on top of Goals, Motivation and Conflict, I have to have a THEME? Criminy, can’t I just write a good story? Ok ok, I need a theme. Someone just shoot me. Maybe I should go back to just reading books and THINKING I could write a great story.

Overreaction? Probably. But there are so many things to think about when it comes to the craft of writing a good book. So what is a theme? On my computer I can pick a theme for my desktop display that will give me matching icons and sounds and even a desktop wallpaper. I can tie everything together with the click of a button. But what is a theme when it comes to fiction? I decided to turn to my old friend, Google, and ask him to help me.

He gave me a link –surprise surprise! The Glossary of Literary Terms offered this definition of theme:
theme (theem): a common thread or repeated idea that is incorporated throughout a literary work. A theme is a thought or idea the author presents to the reader that may be deep, difficult to understand, or even moralistic. Generally, a theme has to be extracted as the reader explores the passages of a work. The author utilizes the characters, plot, and other literary devices to assist the reader in this endeavor. One theme that may be extracted by the reader of Mark Musa’s interpretation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno is the need to take account of one’s own behavior now, for it affects one's condition in the afterlife.

So it’s a deep, difficult to understand, common thread? Heck that ought to be easy to write. Right? Right. So think about it for a moment in a different way. A theme is what holds your story together. The Goals & Motivation of your characters should relate directly back to the theme of your work. Once I discovered this idea, my books came together more easily. I was able to identify the theme then tie it back to the GMC or vice versa. It really was an eye-opener for me.

In the second of my shifter novels, Changing Hearts, one of the key themes is “healing." The main characters (H/H) are both seeking healing though they themselves aren’t fully aware of it. If you weave your character’s motivation into every scene – the driving force that makes that character what he/she is deep inside, you’ll begin to see what the central theme is behind that work. Then you can concentrate your efforts on making sure you’re hitting that theme in every scene. For me I need to hammer that theme without being blatant and that can be difficult. No one wants to read a story that is a modern version of A Pilgrim’s Progress when they think they are reading a paranormal romance.

I had to figure out how to weave in "healing" along with a great story about two people who have given up on love. Of course in a good story, your character’s goals and motivations will change from the beginning of the story to the end, but the theme will follow them throughout. The conflict will arise from their changing goals and changing motivation, and the theme will reflect that conflict as well.
A few common themes in literature are:
  1. The Individual in Nature

  2. The Individual in Society

  3. An individual's Relation to the gods.

  4. Human Relations

  5. Growth and Initiation

  6. Time

  7. Death

  8. Alienation

I would have to say that Changing Hearts is a mix of Human Relations (it is a love story after all) and Alienation (both characters are trying to find out where they fit in this world.) The prequel to this is Changing Times which has a theme of The Individual In Society as the hero and heroine have to learn to love each other and protect their world from a group that would like to rip it apart.

What are some themes in the books you read? What makes you pick a book up? What makes you put it down? Can you identify themes that speak to you as well as ones that repel you? I'd love to hear your opinions.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guest Blog: Karen McCullough On Handling Rejection

On a chapter loop, Karen McCullough, multi-published author, answered a fellow chapter mate's request for ways to deal with rejection. Any writer will tell you that rejection simply is. It's a part of the game of being published. Karen wrote such a great post that I asked her if I could share it here on my blog. I think it needs to be seen by more than just our chapter!

I've had more than twenty years of rejections, which means I could probably paper the walls of a couple of rooms with them, and the collection is still growing. I've had a few successes in there, too, but I'm far, far from where I'd like to be in the publishing world. At several points I've been seriously tempted to give it up and do something else. But I can't. I just can't. So I'm still working on getting to that next level, which means coping with a lot of rejections. Over the years, I've developed a kind of plan for dealing with them.

It's a multi-part program and requires some work. It won't remove all the pain of rejection, but it does help. Here's the results of my twenty + years of learning to cope with rejection:

First: Adjust your Attitude: This isn't easy, but there are some things that help and I'll get to those.

The attitude is accepting that if you're going to seriously try for publication, rejection is part of the process. It's part of the learning curve and it's part of the business. Repeat: Rejection is part of the business of being a writer. You Have To Make Peace With It. I hope this isn't disillusioning, but it's the truth. Even multi-published authors face rejection. Think I'm kidding? Just ask on this list how many published authors have never been rejected. This is key: learning to cope with rejection is as much a part of the apprenticeship to becoming a published author as learning to write great stories.

Yes, there are a few lucky people who sell their first novels, who sell everything they write thereafter, who become such big names that the publishers will take anything and everything they write. They're not the norm. In fact, they're the writing world's equivalent of the people who win the lottery. This isn't to say they haven't worked hard to get where they are. You don't get to their level without a lot of hard work. It's just that for every Stephen King or Janet Evanovich, there are hundreds of mid-list and unpublished authors working just as hard as they are and getting lots of rejections. And by the way, Stephen King almost gave up writing due to rejections... If you haven't read his book On Writing, you should do it ASAP.

Second: The Action Plan

Part One: Rejection stings, so do something to compensate. Give yourself a treat for Every Rejection. Surely there's some guilty pleasure that you only indulge on occasion... Mocha Lattes from Starbucks? Milky Way bars? Mine is peppermint bark. You can only buy it at Christmas time, so I lay in a good supply, then put it away, and I only allow myself to have a piece when I get a rejection. If Starbucks is yours, buy yourself a gift card and then only use it after a rejection. Find something that you can use to reward yourself for the rejection.

Part Two: Set a goal. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to reach one hundred rejections this year. AS of now I've only got twenty, which means I'm behind, but I'm going to start sending out queries for a new novel soon, so I figure I'll make it up. Here's the logic behind the goal: In this business, once you reach a certain level of competence in your writing, getting published involves a lot of luck. You have to hit the right agent/editor with the right project at the right time. There's only one way to maximize your chances of doing that, and that's to keep sending out lots of queries.

The more queries you have out, the better your odds of hitting the right person at the right time with the right thing. While you're querying set a weekly or monthly goal to get so many new ones out in that time.

Part Three: When you get a rejection, give yourself a few hours to be mad, to be hurt, to be depressed. I find some vigorous activity helps me get over it. My floors tend to get mopped after a rejection, or if the weather's good, I'll weed the garden. Then get to work on the next story/novel. The next one is going to be the one that blows everyone away. You should still have other queries out there anyway and you don't want to be drumming your fingers waiting for those to come back.

You want to be ready to be sending out queries on the new project before the final ones have come back on the old one.

Part Four: Analyze the rejections you're getting. Can you find any kind of pattern? If so, how can you address the pattern? The genre isn't one that is selling well right now. (You have to make your book so fabulous and outstanding, someone will have to buy it anyway.) You cross genres in ways that editors won't buy. (Can you rewrite it to make it lean more toward one genre?)

Or you can have my most recent experience. The book I've been sending around most recently is a cozy mystery with a background romantic element. It's gotten about fifty rejections all totalled now, and I now know that if it ever sells it will likely be to a small press or e-publisher. I got a lot of rejections of the "nice but I don't think I can sell it" variety from agents. Not too helpful. But then in one day (Whoohoo! Double helping of peppermint bark!) I got two rejections from agents that said the same thing and spelled it out. Both said, essentially, "nice writing, good story, but you need a strong marketing hook to sell a traditional mystery in today's market." I looked around, and sure enough, the mystery shelves were full of books with specialized appeal. Stories that centered on cooking, on gardening, on the art world, on various hobbies...knitting, quilting, etc. Light bulbs lit up in my brain. My book had no built-in audience the way those did.

By the way, if you get nothing but form rejections, that is a pattern, too. That tells you that some part of your writing is weak, so that it's not tweaking the agents'/editors' interest. Address that! Take some writing classes. Find a critique partner you can trust or join a critique group. Enter contests. All of those can help you spot what your weaknesses are so you can work on them. (Not finaling in a contest counts as a rejection, too, so you it works toward your goal and you get to treat yourself!)

Part Five: Examine yourself and your motivations. Will the rejections stop you from writing? If so, give it up right now and find a more rewarding hobby. There are plenty of possibilities. But if you know that in your heart you can't stop writing, then the next thing you need to do is decide is what you consider success. There's nothing wrong with wanting to write only to please yourself. There are people who do and enjoy it. Maybe you want to write stuff that isn't going to be commercially successful and a small press or e-publisher would be a better choice for you. All those are realistic options. Only you can decide what the ultimate goal is.

But if you want to go for traditional publishing, then be realistic about what it takes and what it means. And remember that the only thing you can control in the business is what you write and what you send out. And every rejection you receive is proof that you're making a serious effort toward your goal. As odd as it sounds, the more of them you have, the better! Every rejection is a step into the professional part of being a writer.

And now, I'll shut up. I only hope some of this is helpful.

By Karen McCullough
Now available from Cerridwen Press: Beneath a Christmas Moon
Shadow of a Doubt, Cerridwen Press
Wizard's Bridge, ImaJinn Books

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Those Raven Nights

Those Raven Nights!

Raven Radio, as mentioned in Romantic Times Magazine, is moving to nights! Tune in every Wed at 11-12 PM EST and join Authors Michelle Pillow and Mandy Roth as they talk about everything, nothing and the paranormal. Guests include NY Times and USA Today Bestselling authors as well as those wonderfully talented authors soon to be there, editors, paranormal tour guides, psychics, ghost hunters, specialists and more! or

Listeners are welcome to join the live chat or call in to the show to talk to us and our guests. The show will move to its new evening schedule, May 28th where listeners can catch us every Wednesday at 11PM to 12AM EST. We have a lot of authors on the upcoming line up and you can see a full schedule of guests here:

WANT TO JOIN THE VIRAL CONTEST AND HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT RAVEN NIGHTS? Go to Raven’s blog to learn how you could win free advertising packages! Contest open to authors, readers and other groups!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dinner Disasters

“Marilu, we’ve decided to have our family dinner at your house. We will be there at 6 on Sunday.”

Nothing can strike fear into my heart faster than that ominous phone call from a family member. It is worse than finding Freddie, Jason and Michael in my closet when the electricity is out and I’m home alone. In fact, I’d rather face those three than my family at the dinner table.

Not only do I have to clean my house so that my "Junior League" family members won't feel the need to pitch in and help me ‘pick up,’ but I also have to ensure that no "dinner disasters" take place.

You know what those are, surely... I mean, haven't some of you left the paper in the pie plate or left that icky giblet packet in the turkey by mistake?

Or served brandied fruit to the tee-totaler in the family? Or used a bad pint of oysters for the oyster dressing? Yes, there is nothing quite as bonding as a family trip to the emergency room.

Of course, if I don’t poison them on purpose and Uncle Bud doesn’t remind Aunt Sissy about that unfortunate marriage of hers, it will be a good dinner.
True stories from my family files include the Thanksgiving dinner when Mama proudly presented her very first pecan pie to a table that included her mother and her mother-in-law. I can’t remember which one took the first bite, but the reaction was not what my mama was hoping for. She’d left the piece of paper that separates the two pie shells IN. So along with a delicious piece of pecan pie, everyone got a nice hunk of roughage.

Then there was the time Mama was entertaining her boss and his wife. She’d made her special pork chops along with her good brown gravy. Her decision to offer the gravy in the china gravy boat was one any Southern Belle might have made. If only she’d wiped that one small drip of brown liquid from the handle. It might not have slipped—dumping a good cup of hot brown gravy in her boss’s wife’s lap.

So when I heard that I was going to be hosting Sunday dinner, I had to quickly figure out the menu least likely to become a Family Story. What are your family stories about food fiascos? I’d love to hear what you did that lives on in the memories of your kin.

Share your best (or worst) dinner disasters with me in the comments (or via email to ) and I’ll send you a link to my Red Beans and Rice. One lucky winner will get a complete set of my recipe cards featuring recipes my characters love to eat!

Originally posted on

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Review and Feature

It's been a big day for Marilu Mann today!

We are featured on Suspense By Tina a blog where the owner, Tina LaVon, gathers up MySpace links and shares them. She is up to 975 links! Can you imagine it?

CHANGING TIMES by Marilu Mann got a 4 out of 5 at TRRC.

Cover for Changing Times

"Changing Times is a sensual and excellent adventure of the paranormal. The story is the perfect length for an afternoon get away into the world of shape shifters."

Read the rest of the review.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Many of us use different character charts or GMC charts, but what about once those are done? Do you really have a three-dimensional character that will leap off the pages to involve your reader? How can you throw in some texture, some color, some unique design to make him or her real? One way might be by choosing a name then going to various sources to see what is said. For instance, here is what Source #1 says about Chase as a feminine name:

Your name of Chase makes you very idealistic and generous, with the strong desire to uplift humanity leading you into situations where you can express your desire to serve others. You want to assume responsibilities and to look after people; however, you can become too involved in other people's problems and tend to worry. Your name gives you a natural desire to express along artistic and musical lines. You desire a settled home and family life, and are expressive and attentive to your loved ones.

This immediately gives me ideas about her as well as some insight into possible GMC. Of course, you are the author and the creator of your characters. They live in your mind and through your actions.

Something we do is to cast astrological charts. See Source #2 for where we normally start. Most of us have a basic knowledge of the Zodiac - Virgos are neat, Leos are proud, etc. So if you have decided where your character was born and how old she is, then you can guess at their sun sign and play with variations of charts. We learned that one of our heroes had been abandoned as a child and raised in an unhappy home when we cast his chart. Slade is the villain of Changing Times Lusting Wild 1 available here but is redeemed in Changing Hearts Lusting Wild 2 coming soon from Ellora's Cave.

Tarot cards can also play a part in your characterizations. You can use the Major Arcana alone or with the Minor Arcana included to gain insight into your character. Try a three-card spread where the middle card represents the character and the card to the left stands for Internal Motivation and the card to the right External Motivation. Source #3 offers a variety of spreads for writers.

Death from the World Spirit Tarot

Finally, let your characters have wiggle room. Don't box them in at first. If you are a plotter, then plot, but let them step outside of the plot lines every now and again to see if any other layers show up. Your perfectionist nurse might be hiding a leather mini skirt in the back of her closet.

This was previously an article in From The Heart Romance Writers (RWA #177) newsletter in 2003. It's been altered a bit and pictures added for flair!

Leave us a comment and tell us how you make your characters pop! Or if you don't write, tell us what makes a character memorable for you!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Le Feu Follet

Deep in the bayou, late at night, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might see a light moving just over there. Now, some folks’ll tell you they ain’t nothing but swamp gas. You can believe that if you like, but let me tell you about le feu follet ‘fore you go traipsing through the swamp in the dark. It’s not just the gators you have to watch out for.

Le feu follet…the old Cajuns say they are those souls escaped from Purgatory or maybe they’re the souls of babies who were never blessed in the Church. Perhaps you believe them to be Fae or elves holding dances over those marshy places set to trap unwary wanderers in the swamps and bayous. Whatever you believe them to be, le feu follet hold a grand place in Louisiana folklore.

If you wander into the bayou, down where the darkness holds sway, where the ‘gator and the water moccasins hold court, you might see those dancing lights. If you’re coming home after dark, poling your pirogue along in the black water, don’t be surprised if those lights are following you along the shore – they can’t cross the water to get you. So don’t be afraid, but do be wary when you step back on land. The other way to stop those restless spirits from following you is cold iron – take that pocket knife and thrust it into the ground behind you – that’ll hold ‘em for a bit. An elderly Cajun woman told me she didn’t trust a knife. She preferred needles saying that the feu follet just couldn’t resist trying to fit through the eye of the slim bit of steel.

There have always been tales of mysterious lights luring travelers to their doom. The Scots have the will o’ the wisp and the Slavic people tell tales of ghost lights. The Danes and others chase those lights knowing there is a treasure buried beneath it. But in Louisiana to this day, you can buy a beer in a bar and listen to someone who escaped a feu follet just last week.

Go down to Gonzales, Louisiana just outside of Baton Rouge. Get directions for Bayou Narcisse Rd and Cante Rd. Expect to hear dire warnings about what will happen to those foolish enough to follow the lights though. Some will tell you the Gonzales feu follet is harmless—others will tell a more compelling story of terror.

I’ve seen the feu follet dancing across the bayou late at night. Once, gazing out my bedroom window while dreaming about a boy I hoped would call me, a flicker of something caught my eye. I remember straining my neck forward trying to make it come into focus, but it just danced at the edge of the water seeming to mock me. Some Fey part of me cried when I realized I shouldn’t follow the flickering wisp of brightness. When I went to tell my mama, she told me not to mess with the Devil and go to bed. She called me a foolish child, but I heard her stick that steak knife in the front porch.

There are no feu follets to scare you in Changing Times. Just a werepanther trying not to fall in love with a human doctor even as his enemies threaten her life. I hope you will enjoy Tony and Carly’s journey.

Read an excerpt from Changing Times here.

This tale was previously a guest blog on fellow EC author, Shelley Munro's blog.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Check Out Sensual!

Check out Sensual!
I’m helping to spread the word about the newly redesigned website Sensual. If you like your romance novels on the steamy side, you’ll love this site. It’s full of reviews, interviews, excerpts, information on the newest print and ebooks and lots more. You can even win books and other goodies. So check it out.
Authors, you can spread the word too! If you’d like a chance to win one of 20 Cover Ads and get a shot at a fabulous grand prize (a 3 Pack of their huge billboard ads - a $100 value!) just repost this blurb on your blog or website. Then stop by Sensual and leave a link to your post. All authors are eligible to enter and win so why in the world wouldn’t you? See their site for more information and official rules:

I’ll see you at Sensual!

Monday, May 05, 2008

If you want to make sure you don't miss any more notices on the other two books that are coming out this year or any other sales, please send an email to Marilu Mann Fans.

We are REALLY excited about the release of Changing Times on May 7th. To celebrate we are giving away a Louisiana themed basket (the first two books in the Lusting Wild Series take place in Louisiana).
Visit our website - Great MTA for more info. While you are there, sign up for our newsletter (which automatically puts you in the running for that basket). As long as you are a member by Tuesday May 6th you will be in the running!

And if you would like a promo item or two (Recipe cards/Pens), send your name and address to Marilu with a subject line of "GIMME SOMETHING, MARILU!" In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we'll throw you something.

Our whirlwind-never-leave-your-chair book tour has started!

Where can you find Marilu?

  • Well, we were one of the featured new authors in this month's edition of Lady Jaided's Newsletter. You can check that interview out at Ellora's Cave newsletter. We had some great questions with this interview. Do you know what part of the body Marilu finds the sexiest?

  • We were also one of the featured authors in the Passionate Ink newsletter for the month of May.

  • Saturday we blogged about waiting over at Romerotica Writers. This is a group blog and you just never know who is gonna say what.

  • Sunday came and we're the featured author on MySpace Authors this week!! R.M. offers this service to other authors as well.

  • And our first interview is up at Interviews With Authors. Crystal was such a responsive interviewer.

  • Tonight you can join us at the Love Romances Cafe Yahoogroup (Subscribe if you want to join us) from 7-10pm EST.

  • Wednesday is release day and that's the day we're hosting a chat May 7 on the Ellora's Cave reader loop (Subscribe if you want to join us) from 1pm-7pm EST.

  • Wednesday we will also be blogging at MomDOTCom about dinner disasters. Barb runs a fabulous website for moms.

  • Thursday May 8 you will be able to find us blogging at Shelley Munro's about some Louisiana ghost tales.

  • There will be a chat with Ellora's Cave authors Friday May 9 at Coffetimes Romance

  • Then Saturday May 10 we will be the featured author at The Romance Studio including a free book giveaway!

It's a big week for the writing team of Marilu Mann. Cai and I invite you to come along for the ride. We'd love it if you took the time to leave a comment on every blog just because we like the attention. Ha!

Changing Times, by Marilu Mann will be available for purchase from Ellora's Cave on Wednesday. Use this link on Wednesday to buy your electronic copy! Just download it and read it on your own computer or ebook reader. NOTE: This link will just take you to a blank page until Wednesday.

Escape Into The Fantasy...