Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Magic of Conflict & Suspense

Writing has been a mammoth journey for this thankful author. Begun as a way to overcome grief and live within a story, it has come to mean so much more. It’s meant new friendships, new opportunities and a chance to learn so much for which I will be forever grateful. Today I want to discuss the topic of conflict and suspense.

To quote James Scott Bell, the author of the book very practical and well written book, Conflict and Suspense: “Fiction is not reality! Fiction is the stylized rendition of reality for an emotional effect.” He goes on to explain how to bring the type(s) of conflict and suspense to a novel that will keep readers turning the pages; the necessary outcome for any writer who wants readership. Because as so many authors have put it in one way or another, reality is boring, it’s not drama and has to be avoided at all costs. As Hitchcock’s axiom holds true that a great story is life with all the dull parts removed. Life can be boring written word-for-word, fiction should not be.

And how to keep the boring bits out? Frustration is key. As Julie Eberhart Painter recently reminded me in Murphy’s Law, “Everything that can go wrong, should go wrong.” By turning the character back from what he or she wants or expects you add the dynamic to every scene.

Of course, the crux of your story is confrontation between the hero or lead and the force or forces that oppose them. One great example is Randle Patrick Murphy versus Nurse Ratched in One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

And what is great conflict without great characters. Your characters need grit, wit and it (magnetism) to have staying power. They must emotionally resonate with your readers. Give them unusual quirky qualities if you want them remembered. Remember, no human is perfect. Far from it!

In a way a novel is about death for the best dramatic effect. Real imminent death or professional death or in the case of most romance novels, psychological death. This is what resonates with your fellow humans. Next month, in part two, I will go into these three types of death in more detail. If you’re anything like me, you like your information in chewable bites.

Happy writing!


January Bain
The Forever Series
Champagne Books

Monday, October 20, 2014


My October post is brief because I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. Every year in November hundreds of thousands of writers and would-be writers unite to write (over 645,000 in 2013). Since 1999, the goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s difficult, but doable. Writers can start writing at midnight on November 1st and have until November 30th to finish.

I can’t recommend NaNo enough as a writing tool to get started and keep going. There’s a built-in support system of other writers and friends writers sign up with or found online. For those near one of the participating communities, there may be kick-off parties and write-ins around the area. Cost? Nothing unless the writer makes a tax-deductible donation to NaNo. (I always donate because you get a cute little crown on your page and I basically don’t expect something for nothing.)

Writers have their own pages with bios, buddies, blurb, and a word count tracking.  I also track my own count in an Excel spreadsheet where I can input my word count and see how many words I have left for the day and how far ahead or behind I am total. Download the 2014 version from my webpage HERE under Author Freebies.

I’ve been writing with NaNo since 2009, though under Rita Bay for only two years. Although I’ve only met the 50,000 word goal twice, I’ve left with a published book every year. Here’s my list and my 2013 winner badge:

His Desire (NaNoWriMo, 2009) Regency Historical, Siren BookStrand - 2012;
Into the Lyon's Den (NaNoWriMo, 2010) Shapeshifter Rom - Champagne Books - 2012;
Finding Eve (NaNoWriMo, 2011) Sequel to Lyons' Den  - Champagne - 2013;
Search & Rescue (NaNoWriMo, 2012)  Cont Military Rom, Secret Cravings – 2013; and
Duchess in Waiting (NaNoWriMo, 2013) Regency Historical, Siren Publishing, 2014.
This year I’m planning to write two historical novellas, so my goal is about 60,000
(Last year, I wrote 52,700 words.)

If you would like to try NaNo this year, check out the link HERE. http://nanowrimo.org/about If you join, I’d love some more buddies at Rita Bay.
Next Month, Maintaining a Positive Relationship with Publishers/Editors


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Waverly Hills, tuberculosis, barbaric cures and a body chute...

Are you brave enough to visit Waverly Hills in Louisville, Kentucky? The contagious plague, tuberculosis known as “white death” claimed entire families and sometimes an entire town. Waverly Hills was opened in 1926 when the original complex was no longer big enough to hold all those afflicted with tuberculosis. Although considered to be the most advanced tuberculosis sanatorium, thousands of patients at Waverly Hills died during the epidemic. An enclosed tunnel carried the dead bodies to waiting train cars so that the patients wouldn't see how many people where dying.

With new medication tuberculosis was largely eradicated and in 1961 and Waverly Hills was closed. It re-opened a year later as a Geriatrics Sanitarium. Rumors of patient mistreatment, unusual experiments and horrible conditions caused the state to close Waverly Hills for good.

Now a tourist attraction, you can tour or spend the night in the atmosphere of pain, agony and death still confined between the walls of the decaying hospital. Reports of eerie shadows, unexplained footsteps, disembodied voices, screaming and crying might keep you awake all night. A six or seven-year-old boy may visit and play with a ball and a pregnant nurse that allegedly committed suicide might be hanging out in Room 502.

So, would you do it? Would you spend the night in a damp, decaying sanitarium where thousands of souls could be trapped? 

Around the campfire I was always the one telling the ghost story. Feel free to check out my website and the haunted novels I've written.   Thanks, Victoria Roder 

Friday, October 17, 2014


Until the spooky, icy eve of that most chilling of all nights, Halloween, is here and gone in a half of a blink, we are going to treat you to a haunting, a romance we created just for you.
Don't forget to turn off the lights, it's the only way to get the full effect of our haunting little sweet treat.


Mari jiggled the lock until the door of the old mansion finally gave way.  It was one of those gorgeous ole style southern dwellings draped with cobwebs, dust laden chandeliers and sheet covered furnishings, which Mari surmised must be antiques.  Somehow, through, a great-great aunt she had never met and didn't even think was a blood relation had given it all, including the 20 acres of the estate, to her upon her death.  Mari intended to sell it, for there was no way she could afford the upkeep on her special needs tutoring salary, but then she discovered she also inherited enough money to keep the manor it if she wanted.  It was tempting, for she was a loner and this was on a cliff and fairly far from the closest town. 

She had the water turned on, the electric was working, and she planned to stay the week and hunt for treasures, before making a decision.  However, the moment she managed a shower after a meal of canned soup and crackers, the electricity went out.  Not willing to go lumbering about in the dark and find the circuit breakers.  Morning would come soon enough, she lit a few candles, giving the bedroom she had chosen to call her own, a warm, romantic feel.  Looking about she decided to see more of her room.  First, she lit a fire and an oil lamp that luckily still had oil in it.  Then she explored while still in her towel, and water dusted body.  The towel barely covered her lush body, curves that Marilyn Monroe would envy and legs only slightly longer than the modern day model Gisele Bundchen.   Normally, Mari was shy and hid under layers of clothes, but she was alone and for this week, this was her home, and if she liked it, she'd stay.

Using the oil lamp, she studied the dresser and chairs, the armoire, and the canopy bed.  As she admired the room, she noticed one tattered sheet draped upon what appeared to be a portrait, leaning against the wall rather than on it.  Pulling the material only half away, she gasped softly at the painting of an exceptionally handsome man.  He seemed to be dressed in clothing from what she suspected was one of the ole war eras. 

Longish dark hair stopped just above his collar, sharp, sharp golden brown eyes with a hint of mischief blazed from a very manly face.  He had chiseled cheeks, a firm jaw and a cockiness that transcended time and seemed to burst from the painting.  Despite his dated clothing, the artist managed to give the suggestion of defined muscles beneath the man's garb.  Hard shoulders, defined pics, and on very close inspection she noted the extra pout to his very kissable mouth, as if he had been caught in a moment of think about kissing a girl hard and long.

"Cheeky artist," Mari said aloud, blushing a bit at her suddenly rich and very audible tone.  She laughed at first, and then she gasped as a severe and intense arousal invaded her.  Mari usually kept such emotions tightly secure, but her initial alarm vanished and with fingers that didn't even seem like her own, she touched the brush strokes of the man’s painted lips.  She studied the man passed the point where the frame ended and envisioned what was underneath, long hard legs, an apex that throbbed with steel flesh.  She wondered if she had been part of his world, if he'd be shocked if she licked and sucked the straining beast.

She winked at the long gone hunk.  "Pity, I haven't had a little romp for ages.  Wouldn't mind one, would you?"  The words didn't sound like her and yet she felt freedom in that and laughed again as she spun about, posed saucily and winked once more.

She tilted her head and stared for long moments, remembering some of the history of the house.  It had passed through a variety of owners over the years, but oddly all had been single women.  Yet, the original owner, had been a man, a gentleman of worth and note.  Courageous, the realtor had said, fought bravely to make their land free.  There was something about him marrying a bar maid, creating a scandal.  Neither of the lovers cared.  They loved beyond loving and vowed to never leave each other, yet soon after the wedding she had gone missing.  He had died several years afterward still searching for her.  Legend had it that even in death, he still hunted.

"I'm not afraid of a little ole ghost," she had told the realtor.

"From what I heard, you shouldn't be," the realtor returned with a teasing lilt to her tone.  "I heard he is very, very friendly.  That is why every woman who ever bought the house had never left."

It was a strange conversation, and Mari would have turned it over a bit more in her mind but it had been a long day and she was ready for bed. 

She dropped the damp towel covering her lush naked body, intending to be fully unlike herself and totally naughty by slipping into bed without anything between her and those silky sheets.  

          However, before she could move, someone grabbed her from behind, spun her around and began to savagely kiss her, a bold tongue parted her mouth wide, and he viscous assaulted her mouth with brutal, ravenous forays.  She felt his strength, his body pressed hard about her.  She tasted wine on his breath and smelled an earthy captivating scent on his person.  Only, there was no person.  No one at all!

A glance at the mirror across the room showed her body being contorted, caressed.  There was even evidence of  hand impressions, lip impressions appeared, but there was no one, no one visible at all!  And her own wide open eyes showed no one holding her, kissing her, demanding things she rarely offered to anyone.    
She screamed.

Only, oddly, the scream wasn't just from fear.  It was a scream of awakening.  He  awakened her ardor and sexuality like it had never ever been exposed.  Still, fear spiraled quickly into terror as large hands squeezed one breast, massaging it as pliable lips and a delving tongues dueled with her own resistant one. She pushed and shoved at a massive well-muscled chest.  A sinewy mountain that felt like a man who would not budge.  She could feel it, but couldn't see it. 

Then it happened, suddenly, quickly, like a match being lit, a snap, a crackle, a flame tossed into a bonfire, a bonfire of lust.  His touch and kiss imitated conflagration, evoked sizzling sparks that spread through her body quickly, insistently, making her want and need and desire. 

"Stop!" she shouted.  "Let me go!"  Though her words were in opposition to what her body wanted, the surreal moment was more than creepy.  It was insane.  Especially since she really, really didn't want to stop this inferno of insatiable desire.

"Ah, but I came upon your invitation, m'dear lady.  You said you haven't had a romp lately."  He bit her bottom lip.

She cussed like a sailor on shore leave.

"Ah such language, m'love."

"You bit me."

"And I will again, and again, all over.  You love it."

"No...No...don't."  But she lied, she did love the nip, she loved the taste of the salty bit of blood. She wanted to matter-of-factly ask him to bite her tit, actually say the word tit, to leave bite marks all over her body."

"Aye, m'sweet one, you asked for a little romp.  Is that not a invitation to come."  She heard a smile in his voice.  "So I came, m'dove, and I now I intend to come in your sweet, hot body."

She should have said no, go away, never come back, it was a joke.  She should have said anything, anything at all.  Instead, she groaned like a wanton slut who had been locked in the tower for a little too long.

He chuckled.  "I see the lady is well done with protesting too much."

The husky deep voice was as much of an aphrodisiac as was his insistent manipulations.  His hands were all over her body, kneading, cupping, invading.  One moment it was her breasts, the next his brawny fingers were in her hair, and then he yanked her head back as he layered kisses upon her neck, sucking type of kisses that she knew would leave a mark, and shame on her, she wanted him to mark her.  She wanted his brand.  He claimed her mouth once more, then deserted that to suck and bite her tits.  The sensation left her floating in a seas of sexual stimulations of desire, wave upon pre-orgasmic shudders attacked her core and coursed through her body.

She felt all of it on a level that surpassed anything she had ever felt before.  It was as if her body was over sensitized, and each feathery touch multiplied every sensations.  And she wanted all of it, found her legs parting as his rough hand landed under her thigh, forcing it upward.   She unwittingly wrapped it around his waist as she pressed herself against him.  A nude specter, the thought whispered by, but that wasn't as startling as the realization that she couldn't stop herself.  It all felt so real, but there was no body, no form, nothing to visualize.  She was being ravished and she was alone with a voice in her head and a mirror that insisted something was ravishing her.  Although, this sort of attack she liked. 

Damn, she realized, there had been a little whore lurking in the darkest depths of her heart and it was taking a supernatural episode or a lapse into insanity to bring it out.

Maybe, she should have taken that moment to consider her judgment, her morality, the depth of her insanity, but the true psychosis would have been to deny herself the absolute bliss of this invasion.  Still, she screamed another, "Please don't.  You mustn't."  Felt she was obliged to do so, after all, he, it, whatever, wasn't real.

He chuckled against her neck.  "m'lady, you want this, tell me you want this.  Tell me to take you, wench.  Tell me how much you need me."

"No...go away," she managed weakly even as she found her hands in silky hair, pulling his lips back to hers.

This time he laughed aloud, and was the one who surrendered to her longings.  He plunged his tongue deep into her mouth, thrashing around, eliciting unbelievable heat, she moaned and panted. 

"What are you?  Who are you?" she spat out between spearing tongue lashes and body groping.  It wasn't only his hands that roamed and taunted, she raked her nails over his back, squeezed his buttock, and pumped against his hip, trying to tease him inside her. 

"You're mine.  You'll always be mine."  He informed her as if he had just snared the Hope Diamond.


His fingers found her core and he speared her with three digits, plunging hard as he if he expected resistance and wanted to get that part over with.  There wasn't any resistance.  If anything, she wanted more, she wanted his whole damn fist, and she began to hump his fingers. 

"I don't understand."  The words came out almost like hiccups, for she couldn't stop pumping his hand.

He increased the tension, plunged a fourth digit inside her then a fifth.  "You'll always come back 'ere, just as I do."

"I don't get it."

"Ah, but I am giving it to you, and giving it to you good, I might add."

"No...this... this thing about knowing me and me knowing you."

His pace slowed.

"Explain," she blurted, "but don't stop....faster...harder..."

"We are of this world and the next and we will never truly part."

She didn't quite understand those last words, for her eyes began to roll back in her head, her pulse raced so rapidly she could barely breath, and she kept up with his pace, actually begged, "More.  I want more.  Fist me!  Give it to me!" 

"I always do, m'Mari."

Her name coming out of the empty air like that nearly felt like a icy cold drenching water .  Nearly, mind you.  The momentary sane thought should have provoked terror.  It did, but it only lasted a second, maybe two.  The burning agony of needing to climax, needing him in her when she climaxed, needing an orgasm so bad she would have signed over her every possession including her heart, burned terror away like a bonfire consuming a leaf. 

"You're a ghost...aren't you," came out again in those tattered little huffs of air.

"A specter to be true, but you feel me, do you not?  You want me, do you not?  And the more you have me, the more real I will become."

His words were muddled.  She barely heard him.  What were words when touch said so much more.  She couldn't listen.  Even his fist wasn't enough, it barely touched her swollen nub, just little teases that drove her insane.  She wanted his shaft, and wanted it now, probably would want it later, would want in every opening she possessed, and not just once but again and again. 

She wanted to be his sex doll.  His toy.  She never wanted to stop.  "Ah hell, I don't care if you're the headless horseman, do me.  Do me now!  Now!"  Who was this woman who spewed words like that about as if it were part of her everyday vocabulary?  Who was this person whose need exceeded her will in every way?  She didn't care.  She cared only about this moment, this specter, this feeling.  "Do it now!" she demanded again.

And he did.  He lifted her other leg around his unseen waist and plunged his invisible rod deep inside her.  She was wet enough to take it, take every bit of it, and that somehow surprised her, that something so unreal could feel so huge and so very good.

Mari wasn't a one night stand sort of person.  She was very fastidious when choosing a lover, and wasn't quick about jumping into bed.  She believed in relationships and with the amount of diseases floating about, she practically screened her to-be-partner back to his first kiss.  She also was very lady like, very soft spoken, not at all like the vampish wench tossing out intimate demands as if she were the madam whore of a nasty drinking hole at some down under pub.  Somehow, though, it felt right. 

Legs wrapped around his waist, He was pumping like a freaking jackhammer, his fingers buried on her bottom cheeks squeezing hard, his lips sucking the breath from hers, and her as open and free as a slut, seemed fully right and perfect.  For the first time in all too long, without the use of her super-hyped vibrator, she found herself reaching for an orgasm.  She tossed her head back from his lips.  She screamed a string of curses with a few, "Harder.  Deeper.  More," thrown into the mix.

Suddenly her back was against a wall, and her one leg was tossed over his shoulder, spreading her even wider.  She hadn't realized he wasn't entirely inside her, she realized it now.  He drove so deep, it hurt.  He spread her so wide, it hurt.  He pounded so hard, it hurt.   His cock rubbed her clit so raw, it hurt.  And she loved it.  She couldn't spread herself wide enough for him, open herself enough, give of herself enough. 

Faster and faster he drove into her until she was totally incoherent, until her world died and her clit became a swollen hard nub that reached and reached and finally contracted against his surges.  It was one long, endless contraction, followed by another and another.  It lasted forever, and when it was over it wasn't really over, for tiny smaller contractions ravished her body.  She pulsated against the wall as if her entire being was one giant orgasm. 

Finally, she felt herself being lifted onto the bed.  Felt the mattress indent next to her and his non-existent hand moving over her heaving chest and slightly rounded belly. 

"I found you, m'Mari.  I will always find you as you always find me.  You'll grow old here and die, and then you will come back again."

It finally made sense, a veil was lifted.  At that moment, she felt herself being flipped over.  He forced her buttock in the air, pressed her cheeks apart.  She screamed when he penetrated her in one quick motion, but then she began to match his frantic pumping motion.  She was ready again.  She wanted again.  She needed again.  Because she understood.  It had been a long time since they had been together this time.  The elderly woman before her had died 27 years before.  Now, Mari had reincarnated into this new body as she had been reincarnating since she had been first taken from her love and died almost within the year.    

There against the wall, the other side of the sheet fell away from the rest of the picture, and she recognized herself, not as she looked now, but as she looked then, gypsy midnight black dark hair, nearly translucent blue eyes, the buxom bar wench that married a gentleman of the upper crust, and then was kidnapped by his family and sent far away to a brothel. 

She had learned a lot in that brothel and in each new life, she offered all she learned to her husband, her very own spooky sexy specter. 

The End
Hope this was a HAPPY HALLOWEEN TREAT!  And guess what, no calories!


We'd love to hear from anyone interested in what we do. Anyone who writes us at writingteamcw@yahoo.com (Write - Blog Dawn - in subject line) and leaves an s-mail address, we will send you a gift and add you to any future mailings.

Angelica Hart and Zi ~ Vixen Bright and Zachary Zane
www.champagnebooks.com - www.carnalpassions.com - angelicahartandzi.com

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reasons Why I Write Mainly Fantasy

I have a confession to make. I may be lazy. I write fantasy novels and novellas because I find that the easiest way to get right into the story. Give me an idea and I’ll run off over the hills with it.

 I’ve tried short stories. They’re hard work. You have to cram everything into a limited number of words. You have to eliminate all excess verbiage and unnecessary descriptions. I used to submit to anthologies, even have two stories published in them. I’ve also had editors of two collections I submitted to, in their gentle rejection letters, commenting my short stories sounded like they should really be novels instead.

I also have a mild resistance to writing for specific collections. They are usually based around a theme. They want tales to fit the theme. Some days I just don’t feel like writing in themes (or told what to write).

I would like to write historical novels, but the amount of research terrifies me. I’ve done at least one manuscript where I had to dig into backgrounds of actual locations and historical characters. I spent a fair bit of time on it, always wondering if I’d made any factual errors. It is still lurking in the closet.

I enjoy science fiction, but my theory here, is if the tale is not based around some scientific principle, or could exist as a story without the radical science, then perhaps what is being written is not science fiction. I have one sort-of-completed SF manuscript. I keep going back and changing things because every time I think I have my futuristic science down pat, I read that current technology has already passed me by. Curses! Rewrite! At this rate the epic may never see the light of a publisher. If I try this again I will go so far into the future the critics won’t be able to complain about my science.

Of course, any unexplained science could also be considered magic, so back to writing fantasy.

I enjoy the world-building that goes into my fantasy writing. I’m a bottom up builder, creating only what I need to know of the world in which I set my story. You still need to pay attention to logic, whether it is the magic system, the religion, economy, geography, or the weather. You still have to be consistent. It adds depth to any tale.

Generally, I write in two fantasy styles. My Dark Lady and Queen’s Pawn series of tales are what I describe as medieval-style fantasy, or high fantasy. I still have to do some research, and make the core of the story follow some kind of logic. I have to keep extensive notes, but the details of the character’s backstory and history, are made up by me. Makes the research easier.

The other fantasy style I currently work in is my Housetrap fantasy detective series. Here I allow my imagination to run amok, strange folk in an almost familiar urban setting. I feel free to throw in elements of science fiction on occasion, because it is my own strange science. I don’t have to explain it. I plan to even toss in the kitchen sink in my next story, just because I can.

But enough about me.


The Novels:
The Dark Lady Trilogy
The Queen’s Pawn

The Novellas:
Knight’s Bridge
The Housetrap Series (six…so far)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Love Forever True

'One True Love' is an interesting concept. So is 'Destiny.'

The idea of 'One True Love' may be self-fulfilling in a way. I don't believe we're necessarily limited to one in a lifetime. I have no idea how many pairings may be potentially happy for an individual – but when people experience a true love, they tend to stick with it, and life being short, may not have time for more, so this one becomes 'The One.'

No doubt many people get together because of proximity and the human need for bonding and warmth and family and intimacy – but not all those bonds are of the same quality. Lots of people marry for convenience, or for the money, or because someone got pregnant, or even for friendship or love that may not be as whole-hearted as the kind romantics distinguish as 'true.'

Defining terms, when I think of 'true love' I think of an innate affinity that goes beyond circumstantial proximity. Person A, being exactly hirself and person B being exactly hirself, experience a particular chemistry that embraces one another in toto (warts and all, body, mind and soul.

More terms. 'Soul' is important. I'm using the word to mean something specific but difficult to define.

I have a weird sense of time. Imagine a perspective from which one could 'see' an entire lifetime at once.

I did a very crude and simplistic illustration that gives a rough idea what I mean. We could also imagine this perspective as being like a library in which each life lived is a book including all one's days in one package you could flip through, revisiting any scene at will. In practice it's more complicated. We're writing our books as we go, our lives touch and some shoot off from others and some intertwine.

I use 'soul' as the word to denote a person's identity across time, from birth to death, inter-connected with all the other lives s/he touches.

I think some souls have a special affinity for each other, and Time being the mystery (and wibbly wobbly) it is, I can't preclude the notion of Destiny. We choose our own paths through life, but having chosen, there's that potential perspective from which it might have been seen from the beginning. 

People may and probably often do choose paths that keep them from meeting or hooking up with someone with whom they may have that special affinity I'm calling true love. But that doesn't mean the potential isn't there or isn't worth finding, or that a soul might desire it and find some satisfaction in reading (or insert alternate media) fantasies of its fulfillment.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Art of Letting Go

Portrait of a Girl
 courtesy of  Wikimedia

You spend months, maybe years, in your writer’s garret, adding to the manuscript on your lap top sentence by sentence, building the novel scene by scene. You refine, you swap words—rose is a better choice than flower, the rusted gate complained, not creaked. You finish a draft and, again, you sift through the words, turning them over, giving your story the wings to fly, or at the least a big pair of feet to stomp around. You give the draft to a few beta readers and ask them what they think. They make suggestions and you take these in and refine again.

Until, at last, you've taken the story as far as you can. You can’t bear to look at it anymore, you've read the opening few paragraphs so often you can recite them by heart and may well be mumbling them in your sleep. You take a deep breath. You submit it to your agent or your editor. You take another deep breath.

If you’re lucky and they like it, you take a moment and waltz around the garret while shouting “yes!” to no one in particular. And then the real work begins
You've gone from solo flight to joint venture now. The editor offers a new perspective and another pair of eyes on the story. She asks you to explain what you meant. She doesn't let you get away with lazy summaries and makes you write new scenes. You find out you have problems you didn't even know about—you are far too fond of the word ‘that’, you head-hopped in chapter three, you can’t spell the word countenance to save your life.

You push and pull at the manuscript and, together, you make it into a good story, maybe even a great story. If you had any doubt that it had wings, now you’re sure that it does. Or that, at least, it has a big honking pair of feet.

Then the most terrifying thing happens. The book gets published. It’s released into the world.  You get reviews and you can’t help but read them. Each complementary sentence makes you feel like you can walk on air and each criticism cuts like a sharp knife.   You hope you’ll find some readers, but you don’t know that you will. There are an awful lot of books out there, a whole sea of books and who knows which ones will float to the top?

            If it feels like you've lost control, it’s because you have. It’s out of your hands and, beyond the occasional blog post, beyond telling whomever you can about your book, there is very little you can do.

            You need to let go. Letting go is scary. It’s the hardest part of the writing journey. There is only one cure and you know what it is, you go back to the garret. There, in the misty recesses of your imagination, another book has begun to take shape, a wonderful book, the best book ever. You begin again, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, to write it. Because this is where the joy lives, in the creation, in the crucible of your imagination, in the promise of a new story taking shape and growing wings.

'Til next time

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Reality in My Fantasy, Thank You

I love a good fantasy. I adore science fiction. One reason why I don't write it is because I don't want to do it badly. Because, dear reader, when either fantasy or sci-fi are not done well, you'll lose a reader forever.

If you're going to do time travel to the past, you must make that past accurately believable. The future may be easier to manipulate because it is unknown, but there are still aspects that must evolve from a reality the reader can identify, making it easier to step into that world wholeheartedly.

At the risk of sounding like the old lady grouch I am, let me provide an example. The new television show Forever has as its premise a doctor who cannot die, "cursed" so to speak to remain aged thirty-five, and who always returns from his death in a body of water. I like a good immortal that doesn't suck blood, a la Doctor Who himself and one of his friends, Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor "regenerates" (usually into a completely different actor) to remain viable, while Captain Jack literally gasps back to life after a short period of time. One quite elegant, the other often comedic, but both explained well enough to be plausible.

Not so with the new show. I watched the first episode and cringed so many times my neck hurt. Firstly, the historical aspects. About the only thing they got right was the fact the slaving ship was made of wood. The show explains Dr. Henry Morgan is shot and thrown overboard with his special pocket watch for trying to treat a slave as a human being. In reality they would have killed the slave for being sick to prevent losing others, not the doctor. But ooooooooookay, I'll let it ride to get the story started.

Move to present day New York. This doctor is supposed to be Sherlockian with great powers of observation which he uses to hit on a Russian cellist with chocolate smeared on her face riding the subway to a performance without her cello. He's just wormed his way into a date when the train crashes and everyone is killed. He's impaled with a shiny clean pole, his special pocket watch strewn across the car away from his body. Then he's shown splashing up out of the Hudson River, naked of course, and getting arrested for indecent exposure. What happened to his clothes? Why the Hudson? Why not Long Island Sound or the sewer or a bathtub in Greenwich?

Flash to the female cop sneaking out of a man's house in her walk of shame only to be confronted by the guy because she grabbed the wrong phone. He insinuates she's cheating on her husband, she says she was trying just to get away without making too much of a big deal--and then pulls away from the curb with her police lights flashing. Oh gawd, pain of brain freeze. So much for not making a big deal...

Morgan is now the NYC medical examiner whose assistant spews off a list of possible causes of death for the conductor of the subway train which includes exsanguination--total blood loss. A few scenes later, Morgan goes back to examine the corpse for a needle puncture--which should have been done on the initial cursory examination of an autopsy looking for marks, bruises, scars, etc.--but no, our undying doc sliced and diced first. Then he returns again and easily draws a vial of blood from the corpse that is rather ruby colored. OW! More brain freeze. 1) If exsanguination was a possibility, there would be no blood to draw, and 2) it would be black post mortem, not ruby red. 

It went on to show us a very fat baby from a concentration camp whose tattooed numbers were on the outer left arm, carried by a nurse in a bombed city still afire. Flash to the present day baby now sixty-five with the numbers still proportionate to what they were on the baby arm. No. The nurse turned out to have been the love of Morgan's unending life whom he pines over still. So much so that he was creepily picking up a Russian cellist on the subway? 

My point is, is you're going to expect people to buy into your fantasy, you have to base it on at least a modicum of reality. If you're going to show history, it has to be somewhat accurate. If you're going to show human frailties, they have to be consistently believable. This is important to remember in whatever you're writing. Be consistent, be accurate, and show enough realism for your readers to relate. Otherwise they'll toss the book or purge their reader-- just as I flipped the channel, never to return.

Happy writing,


Friday, October 10, 2014

Writing in Someone Else's Shoes

We have all heard the advice: Write what you know. It’s not bad advice. When you write what you know, you rarely make mistakes. I don’t always heed advice, regardless how good it may seem. That can get me into trouble. Or it can take me to a place I’ve never been, into someone else’s shoes.

Writing from an experience that isn’t yours can be risky. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It does mean you should do everything to understand the situation of which you write. A few years ago I wrote a book titled NEXT TIME I’M GONNA DANCE about a breast cancer survivor facing a second diagnosis. Many of us have been touched in one way or another by this disease. I’ve had several friends diagnosed with breast cancer. But I’ve never been in their shoes, inside their skin to know what that is like. So why risk writing a book from that perspective? Because the story had to be told. And since the character of Emmie Steele came to me with this story, I had to be the one to tell it.

I don’t hold to the advice that we have to write only what we know. Writing outside that box stretches us, demands new learnings and a willingness to move beyond the boundaries of what is known. Research is essential. I consulted an oncologist and a homecare nurse. I read volumes on breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and survival rates. What I couldn’t learn from an article was how it felt to hear those words: You have breast cancer. I could only imagine how it felt to move through days and weeks and months of surgery, treatments with often horrific side effects, the fears, the hopes, and the regrets as one faced possible mortality.

I interviewed women who had been there. They were gracious and brave and open in sharing their stories with me. When you don’t know what you’re talking about, consult someone who does. Sadly, it was easy to find those someones. Only from those women could I glean a sense of the psychological, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical impact breast cancer has. I learned more than I wanted to know about this disease. I was so grateful for their willingness to share their experiences because I truly could not have imagined what they went through to come out the other side.

One of the things that struck me and that I did imagine would be true in this situation was that the women talked about facing their regrets—things done or not done or needing to be undone. And that became a primary theme for my telling of the story. NEXT TIME I’M GONNA DANCE was published in January, 2010. 

I was anxious as I hoped I’d done justice to the experience of breast cancer survivors. That was the greatest risk in writing in someone else’s shoes—to possibly water down their experience—to get it all wrong. One of the women I consulted wrote to me to say she had read the book and that she could not believe I was not a breast cancer survivor myself because I captured the experience, at least her experience, completely. I could never have done that alone.

My point of this blog is two-fold: (1) As writers, we sometimes have to take risks, dare to step outside the box of what is familiar, do the work to tell a story that is not ours, but that must be told. (2) October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. So I encourage you girlfriends to get a mammogram if you’re due for one. And I hope all of you will support breast cancer research and to be especially supportive of those in the trenches fighting this disease.  

Linda Rettstatt

Thursday, October 9, 2014

God Speed, Hachette Books

The whole idea of self-publishing appeals to me up to a point - the point being that this is an opportunity for professional writers to send in their back lists, or any writer who has engaged a professional editor to try their hand.  Unfortunately, what we're ending up with for a great majority of entries is amateur hour at its worst.  It's that "100%" acceptance thing where quality control flies out the window.

So why would a reader care?  When the largest distributor of e-books (Amazon) creates its own self-publishing branch and pumps hundreds of these things a month into equal billing with professionally made novels, I'm thinking you've got a problem.  At the least it's "reader beware".  At the worst it's endangering publishers as their submissions become lost in a huge pile.  This latter issue is happening now.  I can see it in my own sales, on writer's forums, and in the reports of several large mid-range publishers struggling to survive.  How did this happen?  Simple.  We, as readers, let a single business gain control of the market.  There isn't an instance I know of where this ends up a good thing for anyone but stock holders.  In my opinion, Amazon seems hell-bent on upsetting the supply-demand formula to drown anyone other than themselves from publishing  books.

Now granted, that picture I slapped on the blog isn't particularly fair to those self-pubbers who are quite professional, thank you very much, but I doubt my esteemed peers in this area are anywhere near the majority despite some evangelical efforts on the part of a few outspoken self-pub types.  You're getting hurt by this as much as I am.

So what's a reader to do?  They can't trust the reviews since now the business of paid reviews is thriving.  No, the download count isn't much help when you've "promotional services" gaming that system as well.

Here's what you can do.  Find a publisher or self-pub author you already have seen great work from, and go to their sites and see if they are selling books directly.  Buy them there instead.  More often than not you will be rewarding the author with a higher return on their royalties, and you will help keep a good publishing company afloat despite attempts to sink it.

Or you can keep buying from Amazon until the day comes where all you find is amateur hour.

My publisher's direct buy site: Champagne Books