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Friday Favorites – Romance, Love and Storytelling

I think I lost more than a few hours reading blog posts this week because I came across so many good things to read. It was hard to choose what to include, but I hope you enjoy my selections:

Emma Burcart has two posts about finding Mr. Right. First, she talks about how sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there and no matter what you do, he just isn’t the one. Then she writes about the mistake so many women make when they meet a man. They see him as a project that they can fix or change. The funny thing is, as Emma points out, if a man looked at us and said, I’d really be into you if you…fill-in-the-blank, we’d be pissed.

Tiffany White talked about Lost Girl this week. This show is relatively new to the U.S. I started watching it when it premiered earlier this year (thanks to another of Tiffany’s posts). I love this show. It’s about paranormal creatures living among people. The thing I like about it is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is no end of the world gloom hanging over it. Bo is a succubus who spent most of her life not knowing what she was or how to control her powers. Kenzie is her human sidekick, and she gets some of the best lines. Definitely worth a peek 🙂

I have two posts that talk about ebook pricing and the value we place on our work. This is a conversation that is running all over because of things like Agency pricing and the 99 cent ebook. It’s something that’s important to me personally because not only am I an avid reader who spends a lot of money on books, but my debut will be released as an ebook. I think we all love a good bargain, but many times, I’ve looked at 99 cent books and although they were worth the money, they weren’t worth my time. I’m more likely to spend a little more on trusted authors or based on a recommendation. Chuck Wendig talks about ebook pricing. And then Jenny Hansen talks about the value of a story.

Kat Latham has a post about why an agent has to love your novel before they can sell it. I’ve talked about this before when I talked about getting an offer for my book. A lot of people have a list of “dream agents” that would like to work with. I can understand that, but really, I think the most important thing is to have an agent who loves your work. Although it’s a business partnership and you may become friends with your agent, you will have someone who is willing to fight for you if he or she really cares about your book.

I met Tonya Kerrigan at the Chicago Spring Fling conference last week. She has done a fabulous write up for a lot of the workshops she attended. She obviously took much better notes that I did. Here’s her post about why a story isn’t selling. Poke around her blog and you can easily find a ton of other information.

Speaking of conferences, I mentioned in my Spring Fling recap that for me, the conference was more about being around like-minded people that anything else. Janet at muffintopmommy, went to an Erma Bombeck conference and walked away understanding a lot more about herself. She’s really funny and although it’s a long post, as a writer, you’ll get it.

Finally, Stephanie Ben wrote about why romance and erotic romance is more than porn. With 50 Shades of Gray getting the attention is has, I think a lot more people will be coming to read romance and erotic romance, which is good. The thing that bugs me is that everywhere you look across the media, you see “mommy porn.” That term bugs the shit out of me. As a mother and a romance writer, I cringe.

And on that note … is there any term or misconception about a genre that drives you bonkers?


Plot Complexity and Missing

When Ashley Judd’s new showed premiered, I knew I’d give Missing a try because I’m a fan. The basic premise of the show is that Judd, a former CIA operative, is searching for her son who has been kidnapped while in Europe. If you want more details about the show, check out Tiffany White’s rundown here.

I really like the show. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the show on Twitter because some aspects are unbelievable. For me, I think I’m more accepting of the unrealistic parts because I love the idea of a capable, intelligent, kickass mom. Rebecca Winstone is that character. Some of the characterization is a bit overdone, but I can excuse that.

The more I watch the show, though, the more I am in awe of the plot structure. As an English teacher, I usually pay attention to how a story is put together, whether it’s on TV or in a book. As a writer, I have to be aware, but because I can’t plot and outline to save my life, my structure is fixed after I’m done writing. I push the story out and then make sure the structure holds together during revisions.

I get the basic structure that we’ve all been taught:

In Missing, I can’t imagine how far out the writers have had to plot. I wonder if they have the whole season mapped out, or if they’ve gone farther because every little detail has played together so beautifully. In some shows with complex plots, like Revenge, you don’t see the layers of complexity because each episode kind of tackles its own issue. In Missing, we’re dealing with a huge who-done-it where things that we saw three episodes ago and thought nothing of pop back up as an important detail.


When the show started, I never would’ve guessed that Paul, Rebecca’s husband, was still alive. As viewers, we accept the reality that is Rebecca’s, so as her world falls apart, we fall with it. While the CIA doesn’t believe that Rebecca didn’t know, as viewers, I think we side with Rebecca.

A few episodes back, Rebecca followed a lead to figure out who had her son. A sniper took out the person she was speaking to, and he had the shot and could’ve killed her, but didn’t. As a viewer, I chalked it up to the ring leader wanting her alive because he wants something from her. Now, we see that Rebecca had a connection with that sniper when he was a boy. She had the chance to kill him but didn’t. So now, I wonder if he let her live because she didn’t take that shot 15 years ago.


My point is, even with knowing Rebecca’s backstory (as any good author would), the writers of this show must’ve plotted out the series in great detail because both Paul and that sniper returning to Rebecca’s life felt seamless. Shocking, yes, but it fit the puzzle.

This is why, although I’d love to write a mystery (I even have a great idea for a series), it will probably never happen. I can’t see how you can write aimlessly like I do if you want the mystery to work. It’s not just the dropping of hints and the well-placed red herring, you have to know what’s happening next and next and next.

I can’t imagine writing like that (but it might be a nice change).

Do you notice the structure of the plot when you are watching or reading? If you’re a writer, do you plot? And if so, how detailed do you get before you write?

Chicago Spring Fling 2012

As I mentioned last week, my RWA chapter, Chicago-North hosted its bi-annual conference this past weekend. Chicago Spring Fling 2012 was a huge success. The conference ran from Friday through Saturday night. I didn’t attend any workshops early on Friday because I was on transportation duty and had to pick up an editor from the airport, but from what I heard people started early and the information was great.

Our headliners were Simone Elkeles, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (both C-N members), and Dianna Love. These three women are funny and entertaining and offered great advice.

We had an agent panel and an editor panel and I think one of the most surprising things I heard from both panels is that the vast majority of requests they make at a conference never get sent. Something like only 30% of the people they request pages from send in the pages. Personally, I don’t get that. The book is supposed to be done before you pitch, but I suppose there are people who pitch without a completed manuscript, so that would account for some. But really? Why wouldn’t you send? If they asked, they are obviously interested.

image courtesy of

Friday night I moderated Hot Night, which is something we do at a chapter meeting at least once a year. We are a critique chapter and at every meeting, we are critiquing someone’s manuscript, usually the first 20 or so pages. Hot Night is different in that anyone who wants to read brings a love scene (sweet, sensual, or spicy) of about 5 pages to share. Then we offer critique. A chaptermate, Melonie Johnson, and I moderated the sensual Hot Night group and it was a ton of fun. The session was supposed to last an hour and we went for more than an hour and a half. We had a great time and quite a few people came up to us afterwards or even on Saturday to talk about how much they got out of the session even if they hadn’t read.

Simone Elkeles did a great workshop where she shared all kinds of personal information. She laid it all out there: the advances she got for her books, the promotion efforts she tried that worked and those that didn’t, print runs, you name it. She said that it pissed her off when she was a newbie and wanted information and no one would give specifics, so she decided she would.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips did a workshop on using character to drive plot and I’m so glad I attended. The more I hear her speak, the better I feel about my own process. Our writing styles and methods are similar and although I do try other things, it always comes back to be being a pantser and writing until I figure out my characters. Some of the exercises she had us do got me thinking about my WIP (on which I’ve been a little stalled) and I now have new ideas about how to fix it.

Blythe Gifford offered a workshop on how to write it without being there. Blythe writes historical romance, which is not my genre. I’ve never been a fan of historicals, but I’ve always said that there are a few people who can lure me in with their beautiful words and stories. Blythe is one of those people. In addition to sharing how she does her research for her books so that they can be as historically accurate as possible, she talked about the role of setting, which isn’t something I’ve given a whole lot of thought to. My books are set in Chicago and especially for the first one, Chicago plays a role. I couldn’t turn it into a small town romance because it wouldn’t suit the story or the characters, but I never thought about how the setting influences my characters and shapes who they are.

I also attended Kensington’s spotlight, and although my editor wasn’t there, I met with another editor, Martin Biro. After the spotlight I had a bunch of people stop me to talk about my experiences with Kensington. People were very interested in the new digital first division that will be launching soon.

There were so many more workshops and panels I went to, I can’t even wrap my head around it now and it’s been a couple of days. The one thing I’ve learned to love about conferences, besides meeting people I only know online, is the energy and buzz you get from being around people who understand.

As writers we spend a bunch of time by ourselves listening to voices in our heads. Our friends and families for the most part, don’t get it. They see all the hard work for little or no pay and question why we do it. At a conference, everyone gets it. They understand why and they understand the struggles and they can commiserate. And you come away from it dying to get back into your own writing.

I would highly recommend finding a conference that is affordable for you and go. I had a migraine for 2 days before the conference and then I was away from my kids for 2 days. By Sunday, I was woefully behind in everything in my life, but the time I spent with other writers was well worth it.

Friday Favorites – the Quick Edition

I’m writing this Thursday night with a bit of a migraine hangover (at least I hope it’s totally gone) because I’m going to be busy all day tomorrow at my chapter’s conference Chicago Spring Fling. It’s going to be amazing, assuming I can keep the migraine at bay.

Speaking of migraines, Marianne Hansen has a post about migraines and superstitions. I totally get what she’s saying and I think most migraine sufferers do the same. If we think a migraine is coming, we try to do whatever we can that might stop it. Unfortunately, I’ve found that most of it doesn’t work.

Emma Burcart has a great post about trying things even if you’re not good at them. I have a particular fondness for this post because she talks about singing karaoke even if she’s not a great singer. I like this because although I would never sing in front of an audience (I use my singing to torment my kids), I do make the heroine of my novel sing karaoke as one of her summer adventures.

Marcy Kennedy writes about the fear we all have as writers – What if we don’t succeed? I think for all of us, regardless of where we are on the path to publishing, we have this worry. The what ifs can kill all motivation, so I do my best to ignore them all.

Kat Latham offers suggestions for culling repetitious words from your writing. I like Wordle. It’s fun, but I’ve never used it for my books. I think I’ll give it a shot and see what happens.

Elena Aitken offers her insight into what she’s learned about indie publishing. Although I have an agent and publisher now, I have to admit that self-publishing crossed my mind. For me, it was a matter of not wanting to be in control of everything (weird for someone who’s usually a control freak).

Jennifer Jensen shares her story about landing an agent in an unusual way. The agent contacted her because of her blog. Congrats Jen!

Jillian Dodd offers up eye candy every Monday with her Man Day posts. Right now she has a challenge going with author CJ West. If he can get 5,000 comments on his blog, he’ll pose for Jillian’s Man Day post. Read Jillian’s challenge and then hop over to CJ’s blog to leave a message.

Finally, for anyone still looking for some inspiration… Pink Chocolate Break has a list of 10 self-improvement quotes and a selection of quotes on creativity.

Have a great weekend and I hope to bring more information to you from our conference.

The Powerful Heroine

We’ve talked about TSTL heroines before and about kickass heroines and the characteristics that bother us about them. Today I want to talk about the powerful heroine, but it’s not a specific characteristic. As you know, a couple of weeks ago, I attended the RT Booklover’s Convention and one of my favorite workshops was a panel on contemporary romance.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips said something amazing (well, lots of amazing things, but this one stuck with me). She said there’s a reason that a lot of those early Harlequin romances were popular, i.e. The Secretary and the Shipping Magnate. Everyone fell for these books because this little secretary managed to conquer the big strong shipping magnate. She had power.

I never thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense. I’ve said before that I don’t generally read category romance (Harlequin books) mostly because they’re shorter. I have read some and just because they’re shorter doesn’t mean they’re easier to write. In my opinion, they’re harder to write (but maybe I’m just long-winded).

As I was looking through my file of blog ideas for what to write for today, I came across this post on Disney Princesses. It’s pretty long, but it uses the princesses to describe the dating scene for women. The first lesson – Don’t be a Doormat for Guys is the one that inspired this post. The author uses Snow White as the example for that lesson.

Thinking of Snow White made me think about the new movie Mirror, Mirror.

Mirror, Mirror is a new version of Snow White where she is not only active in deciding what happens to her, but she’s downright aggressive. Plus she saves the prince twice. Although in the movie she has strength and ability, she has to learn. She’s not a kickass heroine. In fact, in the beginning, she’s a mouse who’s so passive it’s kind of sickening.

I like the idea of a strong female character who can conquer the hero or the bad guy and still be kind of normal. Hence, the secretary with the power.

It never bothered me to let my daughters watch the Disney princesses because I don’t expect my girls to view them as role models, but I definitely like the new version of Snow White better. I like that she stands up for what she believes in and is willing to fight for what is right.

Then, serendipity struck after I drafted the beginning of this post. August McLaughlin wrote a post on her blog about Cinderella. Normally, I would’ve included her in my Friday Favorites post last week, but I knew I would be posting this and it fit right in. She looks at Cinderella as a metaphor. She muses that we all have a little Cinderella in us. It really is a beautiful concept, not to mention the wonderful song she includes.

Who is your favorite strong heroine?

Friday Favorites – Love & Romance

Hi from the land of sick children. I’m writing this post Thursday night and my only thought is, “It’s only Thursday?” This week has been dragging because my children, as usual, couldn’t be kind and get sick simultaneously; they like to get sick consecutively. This means more trips to the doctor and pharmacist, and less time to write. And really, I’m exhausted.

On a side note, one thing I learned this week was not to use the word s*x in a blog post because your page views will skyrocket, but it will be meaningless. For example, my post earlier this week on my second day at RT, mentions writing *those* kinds of scenes. That post has had over 4,000 hits. Craziness.

Anyway, as I looked over my list of blogs to include this week, I found I have a bit of a romance theme going on, which was unintentional, but works for me.

Onto more interesting reading…


Tiffany White has a post on TV characters we’d like to slap. It’s a fun post. As a huge Justified fan, I’m totally rooting for Dickie Bennett to get slapped.

Allison Brennan just finished watching back-to-back seasons of Bones and wrote a post about feeling cheated now that Booth and Brennan are together as a couple. I agree with what she says. After 6 years of build up and sexual tension, we don’t even get the dramatic kiss or meaningful “I love you.” I think part of that might be because Brennan isn’t romantic and it would go against character for her. But Booth is a romantic. He truly believes in love and marriage and I wanted to see that happen.

Love and Romance:

Ingrid Schaffenburg has a post on lasting love. She cites 3 pillars of lasting love: Authenticity, Acceptance, and Communication. What I love most about this is that it boils the essence of love to these 3 simple concepts. And when you look at a romance novel, this is what you see when 2 people fall in love. Without these 3 things, you won’t believe in the HEA.

Kat Latham writes about her favorite quality in a romance novel. For Kat, it’s the idea of a soul mate or “The One.” I’ve said before that I don’t think I buy into that theory. For me, reading a romance is about falling in love and knowing that regardless of the crap that’s thrown at them, the hero and heroine will find happiness. I was just mentioning on Twitter today that I read The Hunger Games because I promised my son I’d read it before we saw the movie. I had put it off for months, not because I didn’t think I’d like it, but because I knew it would depress me. It is a beautifully written book and a compelling story. But even though Katniss is alive at the end, it’s not a happy ending. After that I couldn’t go straight into the next book in the trilogy. I needed to go back to the land of HEAs.

Guy over at Red Pen of Doom wrote a post explaining why every man must read a romance. He also talks about why every woman needs to read a thriller. The thing is, I think most women will read outside their preferred genre and try new things. Most men have such preconceived notions about romance novels that they’ll never pick one up. This is a good argument.


Jennifer Liberts Weinberg, the Kvetch mom, is back with an interesting post about negative self-talk. I get where she’s coming from because I, too, have heard the negative talk from my own daughter. It’s a hard thing to fight, and she cites an article that says maybe we shouldn’t fight it because it doesn’t work. Food for thought.

Emma Burcart has a fabulous post about remembering to take time to celebrate. When it comes to my kids, I celebrate almost everything, from the big to the small. Personally, I forget to celebrate for me. I commented on Emma’s post that after I received the offer from Kensington for my book, all of my writer friends asked what I did to celebrate. I felt weird because I hadn’t done anything. I immediately went back into work mode to attack the next step, the next goal, the next item to be tackled. I need to remember to step back and enjoy 🙂

Pink Chocolate Break had a great post of life quotes about stepping outside your comfort zone. This is something I personally am horrible at, but it’s a message in my book that’s coming out later this year. I force my heroine to spend the summer stepping outside her comfort zone.

And finally, because I think most people that visit here are book people, a short video from Book People Unite:

Who is your favorite character from childhood reading?

RT Convention – Day 2

Okay, it was actually Day 3 of the convention because I didn’t go on Thursday. Looking back, I kind of wish I did because there were a lot of digital publishing things going on, including an e-book author signing. If I had paid closer attention, I would’ve gone, if for no other reason, to get a feel for what digital authors are signing and/or giving away.

image courtesy of

Friday was a full day of workshops. Some great, others were meh. The first one I attended was on writing sex scenes that readers won’t skip. For those of you who don’t read romance, there are a lot of people who tend to skim or skip sex scenes because the scenes are often poorly written. By poorly written, I mean it could read like a manual (insert tab A into slot B) or it could be full of purple prose (to quote Ruthie Knox from her April1 post “She clawed at him like a cat, her velvet glove clutching his manhood with tight fingers). Bottom line, if it doesn’t grab you as a reader, you skip it.

(SIDE NOTE: one panelist talked about how in films, sex is represented by a montage of body parts that allows us to tune out, but then ends in “come hands” so you know they’re done. See photo above for example. Funny stuff, and so true)

The panelists were hilarious. It just so happened that all 4 write M/M romance (male-male), which isn’t my thing and I’ve never read one, but many others do. Each of the speakers explained his/her approach to writing sex scenes and although I can’t say I learned something earth-shatteringly new, it was a good refresher. If the couple has sex it needs to make a difference in the plot, increase the conflict, as well as reveal character. One writer talked about how she pushed the limits of sexual tension so that when her characters finally got to the point of having sex, it was necessary and explosive. Another writer talked about how she puts it all out there in the first sex scene because it forces her to up her game for subsequent scenes.

image taken from Louisa’s web site

My favorite workshop was definitely the panel on contemporary romance. Besides having a stellar lineup — Louisa Edwards, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jodi Thomas, Christina Skye, and Sarah Wendell, with Beth Ciotta moderating–this workshop reinvigorated my love for the genre not only as a reader, but also as a writer.

For me, the biggest challenge as a contemporary romance writer is developing conflict. I think I’m pretty good with internal conflict between the hero and heroine. The internal stuff is usually the baggage they carry with them (and by baggage I mean psychological and emotional, not luggage). I did a post questioning the necessity of external conflict here. After listening to these authors, who are all very successful, I find that the external conflict really isn’t as important as developing intriguing, complicated characters.

It made me feel better about my writing. In addition, I got to meet Louisa Edwards after the

image taken from SEP’s twitter

presentation and had a bit of a fangirl moment. I learned that Susan Elizabeth Phillips is freaking hilarious. I’m so looking forward to her being one of the headliners for our chapter conference later this month. And we could probably create a drinking game based on how often Sarah (or someone jumping in for Sarah) said man-titty. Overall, I great time was had by all in this workshop.

The other workshops I attended we okay, but not fascinating. I did get the chance to meet some people that I’ve only known on-line, which is always a lot of fun.

From what I could tell, the reader portion of the convention was a little insane. The Q&A with J.R. Ward had a line running down the hall. Some of the parties were wild. Of course that is hearsay since I didn’t actually attend them.

I enjoyed myself enough that I’m seriously considering going next year because by then, I will have a book out to sign and it’s still in the Midwest, which makes travel easier.

Are you looking forward to any conferences or conventions this year? How about book signings?