Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Books Can Change Lives

Whether writing or reading a book, it can change your life—just ask the majority of humanity. And so there comes in a time when the need to write something substantial may override the need for speed, if, like me, you’ve been writing with so much passion you haven’t taken a breather. That time has come for me.

As I sit here on July 5th 2014, and I see the most leviathan view of things I’m ever had the pleasure to be humbled by. A book that encompasses it all for me: A wide playing field: the Klondike. An answer for the big questions that have engrossed me for years: reincarnation, humanity and purpose. And characters that speak through my heart. 

And so RUSH (thanks Julie!) is born: A wide ranging novel that will cover the most turbulent years of the gold rush as well as the world events that made it possible seen through the eyes of the combatants.

Which got me to thinking of which books I’ve read that have changed my life? Definitely Gone With The Wind had a huge effect on me growing up and I was introduced to Scarlett and Rhett and their wide flung love story. And who can forget 1984 or Of Mice and Men and a book titled Flowers for Algernon, a book that I ended up reading in its entirety to a grade ten English class of students that sat mesmerized while I read it.

 My question of the day is what book(s) influenced you in a major way?


Monday, July 28, 2014


One of the best opportunities to market a book before it is released is the COVER REVEAL. I 'll begin on a personal note. As an author with a dozen books published or pending publication, the fact that I actually have a book scheduled for release is most evident when I open the email with the  book’s cover for the first time. BANG! It hits home that I’m a published author. It’s SO exciting. Fortunately, I’ve only been disappointed once, and I’m not naming names. I’ll just say that an author friend who is a best-selling M/M author swears that the heroine on the cover is a male model – and named him, no less. To be honest, after a very careful look, she could be right. Unfortunately, she waited until well after the release to mention it. Oh, well. Suck it up and move on.
Getting back to covers. One of the first items of business after the book contract is signed is to complete the marketing and cover sheets which, depending on the publisher, may be separate forms or together. Whether writing, working on edits, or basking in the glow of a signed contract, put everything aside to focus on completing the marketing/cover sheets. Readers make their buy/pass decisions based on the cover, logline, and blurb.
Before Pinterest, my descriptions for my covers were as graphic as I could make them. I often included direct excerpts from the story describing the characters and important elements – even included links to pics. Since Pinterest, I’ve created boards based on inspirations for my stories that the artist can check out. For example, Conquering Cupid, the first novella in the humorous, Greek mythology-based, erotic series “Cupid’s Back in Business” has its own Pinterest board. The pics for the characters (gorgeous Greek models - such hard work but someone had to do it) and major setting for Conquering Cupid  are included in the Pinterest board HERE. Another book, The Caretaker’s Lady, has its own board HERE, featuring a sexy older hero and the dowd-turned-butterfly older heroine that the artist hit dead-on with the cover which I revealed yesterday on my blog.  
After providing the info, I wait with bated breath for the e-mail with the cover attached. The contract determines the author’s level of input into the cover. The artist works with the info the author provides, but also includes the publisher’s standards (colors, font, logo, element placement, photo vs graphic images), and her artistic creativity to make the cover the best that it can be. Most publishers give the author some initial input into cover; others allow authors some feedback into the completed cover; one of my publishers gives the author right of refusal. 
After the contract announcement, the cover reveal is the next important opportunity for marketing. The cover reveal on the webpage and at other venues gives the author an a chance to remind the reader that their book is on its way. The cover reveal can include an intro to the book, the cover pic, and the blurb. (I also include the artist’s name and contact info – if I have it, giving credit where it’s due.)
Below is a sample cover reveal for Shared Whispers, an anthology by Champagne Book Group authors that was released last year. Shared Whispers is available from Champagne HERE.

http://champagnebooks.com/store/index.php?id_product=27&controller=productCheck out the cover of Shared Whispers, an anthology of fifteen short stories about romance, mystery, adventure, and the paranormal contributed by authors of the Champagne Book Group. The anthology includes contemporary romances by M. W. Davis, Linda Rettstatt, Victoria Roder, Ute Carbone, Jane Toombs and Angelica Hart and Zi; historical romances and westerns by Chris Fenge, Julie Eberhart Painter, and Linda LaRoque; and fantasy/science fiction by Ronald Hore, Jude Johnson Dani Collins, Elizabeth Fountain, and January Bain. Michael Davis was the project coordinator.
On my webpage, I would also personalize it with my story. Something like “In my contribution to the anthology, “Nimue’s Daughter,” the past and the future collide when Merlin of King Arthur’s court awakens to seek his true love in a world on the precipice. The Arthurian tale was fun to write and probably my personal favorite of my own stories.”


Next month, Character Interviews and a Guest. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Can You Believe It?

We've all heard of the term Wives' Tale. It's information that may have been useful at one time, at least in the mind of the person hoping for a solution, but to most of us the Wives' Tales appear to be nothing more than superstitions.

Did you know you need to kill a mole if your baby is having pain teething? Next, you cut off a foot of the mole, tie a string around the foot and then tie it around the baby's neck as a necklace. The baby's teeth will pop through the gums without pain.

Hold on a minute. Even back in high school I couldn't dissect a worm in science class how, how the heck am I going to hack up a mole? And really? Not only is this gross, but how about safety? I know when we were kids we rode in the back of station wagons without car seats or seat-belts, but come on, a string around a baby's neck? I'm not even going to get into the whole dead varmint, germs and disease topic.

Dying With Eyes Open:
It was believed if someone died and their eyes remained open, they were looking for someone in their family to take with them to the other side. The British closed the eyes of the dead person and placed a penny on each eye to prevent them from opening them again.

All I can say is CREEPY.

Suffering from an ailment?
Go to a random funeral. It was believed the hands of a dead person cures sickness. Take the hands of a deceased person that is the opposite sex of you and place their hands on yourself. Next you should lie down in a bed running north to south.

Ah, I think there is a term for this sort of thing and it's perverted.

Bed Wetting:
Kill and skin a big barn rat as you would a squirrel. STOP RIGHT THERE. I have not and never would kill and skin a squirrel. Next cut up the rat, flour and fry as you would chicken. Here we go, everything tastes like chicken. Then, feed the rat to the victim. Victim is right. They will never wet the bed again.

You'll never know if they ever wet the bed again because if you feed your child a rat, I can guarantee social services and a jail cell will be involved. After that bit of information I need a wives' tale to cure my projectile puking because that's what I would be doing if I was skinning, frying and feeding rats to my children.

How about chocolate for premenstrual cramps?
Some women swear they crave chocolate when they have symptoms of PMS and it is because they are low in magnesium. Scientists dismiss this claim because green leafy vegetables also contain magnesium and no one is killing their co-workers to reach the green leafy vegetables. The ring of truth with this wives' tale is that chocolate does contain mood-boosting chemicals and that could be why some women crave it.

Wasn't that nice how I shared the chocolate wives' tale to help you get the the rat feeding wives' tale out of your head? So now, please feel free to share a wives' tale you've heard. Also, I'd love it if you'd take the time to check out my website. Warning, the characters in my novels are sarcastic too. 

Friday, July 25, 2014


Though this is the end of the month, and July 4th has past, the sentiment of the month still drapes us Americans like a splash of red, white and blue.  Therefore, we with to give a nod to this very special day that has passed.  July 4, the day birth of our nation, a defining moment in our history that should never be taken for granted.  We salute all the men from the founding fathers and earliest patriots to those who still fight for our freedom. 


Five brave men stood upon a hill
Stu, Max, Claude, Sam and Bill
Proud to have claimed its summit
Won by good skill, wit and grit
Shoulder-to-shoulder standing as friend
Happy the war had came to an end
Stu knelt to cry and remember the years
Filled with hurts, loses and deep fears
Max want only to get back to his love
To see his Ma, Pa and that sweet dove
Claude knew that he and Sally, his wife
Would now be able to live their life
Sam felt deep pain having lost his sight
But that mattered not for they won the fight
Bill declared victory hand held high
He missed his child's birth, and wanted to cry
The muse of liberty hung above then all
Brothers at arms causing tyranny to fall
There are no adequate words to explain
The lost, the torment, the ugly or pain
War is not hell but hell times hell plus two
Liberty was given to me, her, and yes you.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”  JFK

“Freedom is never given, it is won.” unknown

“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered... deeply, ...finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”  George Washington


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, July 24, 2014

Some Views on World Building

This October I’m giving a seminar on world building at a writer’s retreat. That has got me thinking.

My first thoughts on the topic brought to mind a traditional image of authors writing a speculative science fiction novel and creating their own completely imaginary worlds. You know, the kind where you have to do copious research on the internet so that when you introduce two suns, or multiple moons, or green skin, you had better make certain you have all the details correct. You don’t want outraged readers pointing out that your creation would have thousand foot tides and continuous volcanic activity. Unless, of course, you wrote it deliberately that way.

I guess that is why I write mainly fantasy. I could easily lose myself in research. I want to get right into writing the actual story so that I find out how it ends. But even there, while you can blame magic for some of your world’s quirks, you have to always be consistent, and somewhat logical. What do your people eat? Where do they live? What does the neighborhood look like? I have one still unpublished “what-if” story where I spent a lot of time creating the back-story and background surroundings. I used very little of that in my 140,000 word tale, but I can defend my assumptions, and I know what is happening elsewhere in that world. The background, set out properly, can give your story a depth it might not otherwise have.

In thinking about world building, I’ve decided that it certainly applies outside of the above forms of fiction. No matter what you are writing, a proper world setting adds to the enjoyment. In horror, the haunted house becomes almost another character. In a historical romance, the details of the time period add to the enjoyment and believability of the adventure. Consider something as ordinary as a family history or memoire. Does the author capture the surroundings and background events of the story? If not, does it just become a flat recital of the facts without any context which would make it far more interesting?

I’m not certain where the line comes between my broad definition of world building, and the setting. Is world building the broad background picture, and setting the immediate scene? Probably, but I’m going to ignore the hair splitting. The readers will forgive a few sins in your manuscript if you get the little details right. Someone far clever than I, whose name has of course escaped me, once said that if you can include three facts about something in your story, the reader will accept you as an expert on that topic. So, when you are writing that whatever-kind-of-tale, set in your backyard community, be sure to include those little trifles that bring the place to life. Your story will be the richer for it.


The Dark Lady - February 2012 published
Dark Days - March 2014 published
Dark Knights – coming August 2014

The Queen=s Pawn - April 2013 published and working on book two of three (I think)

The Housetrap Chronicles Volume One - Jan 2014 published and includes the first three in the six novella series. Currently working on novella #7

Monday, July 21, 2014

Still crazy after all these years

Oh no! I’m late! I feel like the white rabbit with his pocket-watch, rushing from one thing to another, and can only ask myself how I can be so busy and still so short in funds.

The short answer is that I’m busy with much work entailing only delayed rewards, and much on-spec work, like books I can’t sell until they are written, and currently a Kickstarter project for a new card game, Buzz.* Wearing my artist-hat, I put in many hours’ work creating the cards and readying them for print (and a download version), and will only be paid for that time if the Kickstarter succeeds. This is the first time I’ve tried running this sort of fund-raiser and I can tell you it’s raising more anxiety than funds.

The anxiety, like many unpleasant sensations, at least counts as fodder for the writer’s mill. It leads me to examine my underlying feelings: am I even worthy of success? Maybe all I deserve is to eke out my existence like a dog under the table at the feast of love everyone else in the world enjoys. Can I only be successful if enough people like me? Why don’t people like me?

I’m not claiming that these feelings are based on anything realistic – indeed, I’m warmed to the point of getting misty-eyed by how supportive some of my friends have been – that doesn’t mean the anxieties won’t go ahead and creep in, twisting the view to show off all the worst angles. 

Why doesn’t everyone like me? Why am I not the sole and central focus of everyone’s lives? Didn’t it used to be that way once? (Obviously a first-born child). Don’t I deserve to be as celebrated as anyone else in the world (more than any Kardassian at least) or anyone who’s accomplished as much as I have? Why can’t all the authors be best-selling authors? (Again, no claims for logic or consistency here.)
Okay, having taken due note of my rich crop of anxieties, like a good writer, I can scramble into a

position of some perspective. Hey, look at that: feelings of inferiority and superiority all mixed up together with helplessness, and fear, and longing, and an egocentricity capable of overlooking billions of others who have suffered and struggled, feared and longed throughout human history. Amazing really.

I can’t say gaining some perspective has solved any of my problems, but I do feel better armed to write believably about characters going through any similar circumstance – and hey, when I’m writing it, I can give it the happy ending I can never be sure of for myself.

* Fun for the whole family! Deets here: http://kck.st/1oF3yRs

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Perfect Place

photo courtesy of Wikimedia
As I write this, I’m about to go on a trip to New York City. I love New York—it’s brash and classy and never does anything in a small way. There are world class theaters and sports teams, any sort of food you can imagine, and buildings so tall you have to strain to see the top of them. There are people of all shapes and sizes, a cacophony of culture and language in a heady mix flavors the streets.   

The main character in my work in progress, Georgette, is a daytime television star.  She’s gorgeous, she’s got style and panache, and she’s more than just a little bit dramatic. In short, she’s a lot like the city where she’s lived and worked for nearly thirty years. New York sets the stage for her story, not just because of Georgette’s work at Rockefeller Center, but because the atmosphere of the big apple creates the perfect pitch for the tone of the book.

My new release, Confessions of the Sausage Queen, is set in the imaginary small town of Kassenberg in western New York State, not too far from Buffalo. It’s the kind of place where they still have a sausage festival every summer. There’s a Carnegie Library with a marble façade and Greek columns and a portico on Main Street. The building sticks out like an overdressed relative on the otherwise quaint street, but it still somehow fits in. There’s a Moose Lodge, a funeral home with a gigantic fountain, and, on Thursdays, there’s meat bingo at St. Stanislav’s church hall.
photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Mandy, the Sausage Queen herself, has lived in Kassenberg nearly her whole life. She wouldn’t have it any other way. And any other setting wouldn't do for the story she has to tell. Kassenberg is three hundred miles and about a thousand light years from New York City.  Yet, it too, strikes a perfect tone.


   The settings I choose are as important as the characters I create. Whether it’s a small town, a big city, or a galaxy far, far away, place influences the characters, sets the tone, and helps to shape the narrative. How do you choose the places in your stories? 

'Til next time

Friday, July 18, 2014

What I Learned From Throwback Thursday

You’re probably familiar with the term ‘Throwback Thursday.’ Old photos and the stories they tell overtake Facebook. I generally find myself digging through photographs and looking for something fun to post. Last night it dawned on me as I browsed photos depicting my past how much of my past, my history, influences my writing today.

Some of my books take my characters on a journey, frequently to places I’ve visited and enjoyed. In Love, Sam, my heroine, Trish, spends time in Sedona, Arizona, a place that captured my heart when I first visited there. In Wake-Up Call, my heroine is a social worker living in Pennsylvania—my home state and my profession. A Falling Star is probably one of the most representative of the way my own history influences my writing. The book is set in my hometown of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, under the fictional name of Clarkston. But I reference several landmarks in the book that are throwbacks to my own youth and life in a small town.
Small towns are settings for many of my stories. I guess I’m a small-town girl at heart. Another throwback to my younger years in Pennsylvania is that of Ohiopyle State Park where Rylee first meets Josh in Shooting Into The Sun.

I believed I could be a cowboy and I had the outfit to prove it--a Christmas gift from my parents who allowed me to believe and imagine. I like to think that freedom in childhood to exercise my imagination gave me the confidence to do what I do today. Tell stories.

I’ve come to see Throwback Thursday as a time to recall and revisit those memories and moments and people and places that meant so much to me. They creep into my books in very subtle ways. I don’t always hold to the philosophy of ‘write what you know.’ But I do think that when you write from what is a part of you, the fiber of your life, it makes the writing so much more personal and meaningful for the reader.

Throwback Thursday has become a time for me to reflect upon and cherish those moments I might otherwise take for granted. How about you?

Linda Rettstatt
Facebook:  Linda Rettstatt, Writing for Women
Twitter: @linda_rettstatt

Thursday, July 17, 2014

High Tea In Sweet Grass

In keeping with the recent series of how we writers get our ideas, I would offer up the improbable scene of three girls having an English high tea in a hotel room in an obscure Montana border town.  Oh, and the girls are spirits with no real corporal bodies.

This is a sample of my creative process as I craft the next novel "Storm Child" in my Hobohemia series.  Those who've read "Tracks", my first stop in this fantasy universe of hobos and rail barons, will quickly recognize the ladies as steam children - those free spirits who help knit Hobohemia together.  We are in the unlikely stub of a town of Sweet Grass, Montana.  The question to be answered is how we got here and why.

Things started out with a simple plot requirement – I had to get my main character “Red” up into Canada, as part of this story involves the famous “spiral tunnels” through which mile-long trains wind their way past an otherwise dangerous incline in the Rockies.  Red has anger management issues (see title) and I realized that she couldn’t be trusted to go up north alone.  Red has a mentor, a “steam mother” if you will.  That would be Midtown, who had decided to take Red north to both cool her temper and meet with another steam mother who knew how to handle Red’s tantrums.  The intended new teacher is Whimsy.

So, first of all, I need to find a way up to Canada by rail.  Google maps comes to my rescue as I find a turnoff from the “Empire Builder” train route that skirts the northern region of the United States.  Sure enough, we have a track that will lead to Calgary where Whimsy calls home. 

But we’re talking about two rare “steam mothers” meeting – surely this is a special occasion, yes?  Also, is there not some amount of territorial concerns honored by two powerful steam children?  Sure, why not?  So I figure that Midtown (who hails from North Platte, Nebraska) would meet with Whimsy at the border.  Enter a small stub of a town out in the middle of nowhere called Sweet Grass.  This is where we have a border station sitting astride both a highway and set of tracks. 

The idea of having a nice little get-together rather than “Here, take her off my hands” appealed to me, and since there is a Victorian flare to most steam children, it didn’t take too much prodding of the imagination to see the three girls indulging in a tea.  In this case, a proper high tea.  There are problems to deal with, of course, as neither of these three ladies could physically lift a tea cup under normal circumstances.  Nor could they consume the contents.  I decided they would have to have a pretend tea, albeit with all the proper utensils (they will make good use of a steaming teapot to fully take form).  The only correlation I had was when little girls set up a cute little tea service and let their imaginations supply the cakes and tea.  This meant an appropriately dainty décor not to be expected in the pickup and truck driver atmosphere of Sweet Grass, but every small town has a general store.  The steam children came in on a locomotive whose crew was more than happy to temporarily outfit one of the local hotel rooms.

And now we have lace and high tea in Sweet Grass, Montana.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Writing advice? Love the monster that is your story

Are there tips and tricks for becoming a successful writer?  Sure.  The most common tip is the one that really counts:  Get your backside into a chair and write.  It’s also the advice that is sometimes the hardest to follow, especially when you’re feeling tired or stressed or inadequate.  We’ve all been there.

But I have another important tip:  Write the story you love.  If you don’t love your story, if you’re not invested in your characters and what is going to happen to them, you won’t persevere.  Writing a novel is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  You are going to spend hundreds of hours agonizing over plot and character motivation.  You will be on the brink of despair as you invest yet another block of your precious time struggling with an awkward paragraph, rewriting and reordering sentences, perhaps in the end to discard the paragraph entirely.  You might spend a whole week on a chapter and be proud of your efforts, only to go back to it later to decide that it’s total dreck.

That’s all part of the deal, the way that writing a novel works.  Perhaps there are some writers out there who are consistently serene and always productive, but I don’t know any.  Writing a long work is agony.  It can also be tremendously satisfying, which is why we writers even attempt it, but I can guarantee that there will be times when you will question yourself and the worth of your work.  Sometimes, your story-in-progress will be a monster.

Which leads me to my point:  You have to write the story that engages you on every level, about characters who charm and infuriate you, and you have to send those characters into situations that are terrible and terrifying.  Write the story you are compelled to write because in spite of all the drudgery and discouragement, it’s the story that speaks deeply to you and you just can’t abandon it.  Write the story that you can embrace wholeheartedly in spite of all the difficulties.  Write the story you love. 

Visit Stephanie Joyce Cole on Facebook and at www.stephaniejoycecole.com  
Enter to win a paperback copy of COMPASS NORTH on Goodreads.  Entries taken until August 31, 2014.