Monday, April 29, 2013


The first chapter of my story MOM FOR THE CEO'S DAUGHTER is up on eHarlequin!

Very excited! I loved this story!

Authors looking for the Monday morning writing lesson, scroll down. :)


Points of No Return

I have about ten or twelve subjects I teach, but sometimes while teaching a class something strikes me as being "too big" to be part of a workshop and I think maybe it needs its own workshop. This happened in the JOURNEY STEPS class I was teaching to the local Sisters in Crime group this month. I got to the end of the workshop where I talk about cool things you can do to "raise the stakes" of your novel and I sort of paused.

We toss around that phrase "raise the stakes" as if it's a given that we all understand what that means. But do we?

Do we know that there are a billion different ways stakes can be raised, depending upon your starting point and your book's purpose? For instance, in a category romance, the second a boss kisses his secretary, their relationship changes...they can't go back to who they were, or to the relationship they had before the kiss.

That's a point of no return. Inherent in a point of no return is risk. The boss above didn't kiss his secretary her first day of work because he knew there were consequences to kissing her. And what are consequences? Usually they are things your character can or will lose, things he doesn't want to lose!

So once our boss kisses the secretary, he doesn't merely change their relationship. He also faces consequences. Will she report him to Human Resources? Will she like it enough that they start a relationship? Will she like it too much and become a stalker? If someone saw, will he lose his job? Will his secretary be fired? (And btw this happened all the time back in the "olden days" before workplaces became as progressive as they are now. A secretary was easily replaced. LOL An executive was not.)  
That guy did not kiss his secretary the very second he realized he was attracted to her because kissing her meant putting things at stake. Potential losses. He has to be motivated to kiss her and then, after he does, he has to be prepared for consequences.

And what does that cause? Tension. And what makes a book and edge-of-the-seat read? Tension.

When you begin to think of your characters' actions in terms of points of no return, suddenly all kinds of opportunities for tension pop up in your story.

Will he kiss her? Should he kiss her?
Will he touch her? Should he touch her?
Will he start a relationship with her? Is he just toying with her?
Does he even know what he wants?

Of course, points of no return, potential losses and tension don't just pertain to romance and/or kissing. LOL Depending upon the type of book you are writing, all kinds of things can be points of no return. Especially when you realize that a point of no return is something...anything...that changes your character's life or takes it in a new direction, whether anticipated or not.


Being involved in an automobile accident
Buying a house
Getting a mortgage
Joining the military (They don't let you take that one back!)
Having a child who joins the military
Having a child who goes to college
Having a drug dealer move in next door
Witnessing a crime
Discovering your friend is your best suspect in the murder you're investigating
Shooting someone (Hello, Thelma and Louise)
Being raped
Getting divorced
Discovering your spouse was cheating
Discovering your spouse has a double life
Having a child who is bullied
Getting a dog (Which can be returned to the pound, but really, Dude? Are you that cruel?)
Having sex
Discovering you have cancer
Losing weight (Of course you can gain it all back if you don't like your new life...but for a while you'll be in a land you don't recognize, a land you have to learn how to navigate.)

While some of those are "surprises" that happen in a person's life, they nonetheless change that person's life. It will never be the same after an automobile accident, a bout with a life-threatening illness, a fight for a child.

Others on that list come with tension before the decision and tension after.

Others are ways authors begin books. We call them inciting incidents. We use them to begin books because we know the character's life will never be the same after that "incident."

So...because we're running out of space and time...Let's bring this down to one line...or two. A point of no return begins a book and creates tension, unknowns, and comes with decisions that have to be made. Other people can screw up a perfectly good plan, causing tension, unknowns, and forcing decisions that have to be made.

Your character is on a journey to be, have, or do something. If the road is smooth, your story won't be very exciting. So ruffle up the road. Put him smack dab against decisions with consequences he doesn't want or doesn't expect, things he could lose. Big things like his self-respect. And you will find you have raised the stakes. :)

Happy Monday


Monday, April 22, 2013


A few weeks ago, I was so far behind that I was ready to nail the door shut on my office and never go in again. But I took a Friday and got everything caught up and was happy -- for a weekend.

On Monday morning, the requests to speak and to give online workshops and to send books and to buy ads all started again. Add that to art fact sheets, titles, facebook, twitter, blogs, registering for conferences, sending books out for review, ad creation, book giveaways, my poor, nearly forgotten newsletter, goodreads, my website, books I want to read, books I get asked to read...I'm shuddering.

I have a rule that writing comes first and it has served me well. But it doesn't get the minutia done. And small though some of that stuff may seem, it all has to get done.

So on that Monday morning when my clean desk began to get cluttered again, I did something smart. I created a file. I wrote "Do this on Friday afternoon" on the file and printed every email that was a request to speak, request for an ad, request for info about an ad I'd already bought, art fact sheets,  etc. etc. etc. and I put these emails into that file. On Friday afternoon I handled them all and once again I had a peaceful weekend.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we all have our own personal organizational bugaboo. If you don't get it straightened out it will steal the focus and concentration you should be giving your books.

So create a Friday afternoon file for the little things. :)
Create a file for each of your projects and slide all your research notes, your could, might, must and should list, your editor emails and everything else that pertains to that book into that file.
Put your receipts into an envelope.
Have a  file folder for new ideas.
Create a file folder for new blog ideas.
Put all your passwords in the same place. (I have a notebook.)
Actually create a calendar and keep it updated.
Create a to-do list. (I do one for each week and one for each individual day. That's a real time saver!)

Get all this little stuff off your brain and free it to write!

Happy Monday -- Oh, btw, it's my birthday! And the best gift I gave myself this year was to get organized. LOL (That and four new pair of shoes... :) )


Monday, April 15, 2013

Falling in love is a risk.

When I write a book, it's always my goal to make you love my characters so much that you can't stand the possibility of their getting hurt. I want you to realize fairly early on in the book that my hero and heroine belong together. But I also want you to see that there's a very real, very good reason they cannot be together.

Even as every scene is marching them toward the realization that they belong together and that they could potentially make each other happy, I have an equal and opposite subtext or conflict reminder that proves to them that they can't be together because of that something, that very good reason they cannot be together.

That reason comes with "stakes" attached. If I fall in love with you, give you my heart, you could hurt me. Or, I can't fall in love with you...I have a secret. And once you hear my secret you're going to hate me...and you'll leave. There's a risk involved.

At some point the stakes flip. I now love you so much that it's going to hurt more to live without you. So my characters try to pretend that very real, very good reason they can't be together doesn't exist, but...well, that never works.

They have to face that very real, very good reason they cannot be together. They have to face their demons. They have to find their courage. They have to suck it up. Pull themselves up by their bootstraps and change. Because, you know what?  Change or growth isn't about becoming taller or coloring your hair or moving from Montana to Manhattan...It's about suddenly realizing that you are the master of your destiny. You can compromise. You can risk being hurt because the reward is worth it.

And isn't that really the heart of falling in love? It's the realization that the hero or heroine you've found really is worth the risk of making a commitment.

Happy Monday


Monday, April 8, 2013

Stress Test

Last week, I had a stress test. When I walked into the room and saw the treadmill, I  laughed. "You call this a stress test? Treadmills are NOTHING to me. Send back a manuscript with revisions and tell me it has to be done in a week and I'll show you stress!"

Or 3 blogs that need to be done in one day.

Or a new idea that isn't quite working.

Or an editor on vacation when the clock is ticking on your deadline.

Or a desk filled with emails explaining how to do online PR that I don't have time to read.

Those are stress. Not the treadmill. Hell, I love my treadmill.

Laughing a bit, the technician explained that to test my heart, they used the treadmill to manufacture stress.

Hum...Manufacture stress?

As I was acing 4.2 miles an hour with a 16% incline, I thought about stress and how hard we work to have big things happen in our manuscripts to create tension and raise the stakes, and I realized we're manufacturing stress too.

But is that always such a good thing?

The best tension, stress, stake-raising trouble evolves simply, naturally ... Dare I say organically ... when you combine your specific characters with their situation.

Sometimes when your book is lagging, it might not be the fault of plot, but maybe the fault of your characters. Are they "rich" enough -- and  I don't mean monetarily! Are they flawed? Have they made mistakes? Do they grow? Do they need to grow? Do they make choices along the way in your story that prove growth?

Were they hurt, disappointed, cheated, manipulated, lied to, beaten down...

Do they have reason to distrust, reason to fear, reason to desperately want to succeed?

That's how you get stress, tension in a story. You create rich, wonderful, detailed, flawed characters who have made mistakes, been disappointed, been cheated or lied to or beaten down, who desperately want to succeed and you test them -- you challenge them -- with a situation that brings out their worst --  until it brings out their best...and they win.

Then you won't have to manufacture stress. It'll be there naturally :)

Happy Monday.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Cleaning my office this week...well, not really cleaning just creating a wider path and clearer desk, I found notes I had taken at a conference. The notes were guidelines for the BOMBSHELL line which closed several years ago...maybe even 15.

Which gives you a clue as to how cluttered my desk is. LOL

I quickly scanned them before I tossed them, but, honestly, I felt a bit of nostalgia too. I so desperately wanted to write for that line. Not because I like suspense or female spies but just because I wanted to write something different.

Though my own editor at the time was one of the people heading up the line, they wouldn't give me a chance. I was devastated and pissed. But nobody cared. I had a spot at Silhouette Romance. That's what I was supposed to write. Period.

Today, all those "rules" are gone. We have so many choices and so many options -- some of them even without gatekeepers who crush our dreams. And even though that seems amazing and wonderful, it actually might be a bad thing.


Yes. And not just for the reasons you think. i.e. You might lose your existing audience if they can't get a handle on your brand. Without gatekeepers, you might (and I say this with all the love in my heart) put things up (on Amazon for instance) before they are ready to be published. You might even put things up that shouldn't be published. But we won't get into any of that. It's really not my business. That's one of those things you have to work out for yourself. A fight between ambition and honesty, if you will. I'm here this morning to talk about focus.

Though it appeared that my editor had snatched away a chance I desperately wanted, for the next year or so with my focus on only Silhouette Romance I shifted from writing good stories to writing great stories. Something similar happened at Harlequin Romance. When I shifted to HR and the London offices, I had to learn how to write a totally different kind of book. It was hard. (Understatement alert.) But I had some patient editors and nowhere else to go. (This was pre-self-publishing and pre-boutique e-pubs.) So I kept working and thinking and analyzing and tinkering and the last six books I put out were probably the six best books of my career.

So what am I saying?

Aside from any caution about putting out books that aren't ready (LOL...I just can't keep my nose out of your business...) I'm saying that sometimes being stuck isn't such a bad thing. I'm saying focus always produces growth. I'm saying commit. Commit to something and learn to do it really well.

I know you want to be a single-title-heartwarming, short-contemporary-sexy, mainstream-paranormal writer, but without the proper time and focus will you give any one of them enough attention to be wonderful? Amazing? Buzz worthy?

Because that's really what separates the good writers from the great writers: wonderful, amazing, buzz -worthy books. And you don't create those without a little time and attention. Focus. And you won't get focus if you're writing everything.  As Charles Givens said in WEALTH WITHOUT RISK...Sometimes when you diversify, you deworsify...(That's a sad quote, but it fits. LOL The 80's were a strange time.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

This past month, I've been giving a workshop called THIS IS THE YEAR YOU WRITE THAT BOOK. I just posted this lesson, and it resonated with me so much I thought as an Easter surprise, I'd post it for you too.

The Psychology of Finishing

 Wow. Who would have thought there would be a psychology to finishing? Putting the words "the end" on the last line of the last page of a manuscript should be easy. Fun. Joyful. Giddy. No psychology or motivation required.

Typing "the end" is joyful…But the end of a manuscript starts long before those beloved words. There are actually several "ends" of a manuscript.

 There is the end of the draft.

The end of revisions.

The end of polishing.

And these are the most dangerous times for your novel. Why? Because at each of these stages you are going to want to quit and the reasons you're going to want to quit will surprise you.

Now, before we go into the reasons, let me inject that the simplest way to fight the urge to quit is to remind yourself of your "why," (the reason you write) to motivate yourself into finishing.

But the problem is … You may not think to remind yourself of your why because you may not realize you're in trouble.

How the heck can you not realize you're in trouble? Very easily. The most troubled times for your manuscript don't look like trouble. They come disguised as ‘good ideas’.

For instance: Have you ever been close to the end of your draft and thought, "Hum. I don't think I'll finish the whole draft. I think I'll go back to "fix" the problems with the story and let the ending gel"?

Or have you ever thought something like "I just got this brilliant idea! I started off writing this as a marriage of convenience, but what if I make it a nanny story? A nanny story would be so much better!" And you go back to square one, changing your marriage of convenience into a nanny story. Basically, writing a new book.

Or what if you get three-quarters of the way through and say, "My hero's motivation is wrong. So I'm going to fix that before I go any further…"

Or what if you're one of those people who says, "I CAN'T go any further until everything is perfect."

These mindsets and "reasons to go back to the beginning" can create what I call endless loops. If you give in to those kinds of doubts you won't ever get your draft done. Every time you get close to finishing, you'll go back to the beginning and change/fix/repair/amend something. And you could go on like this forever.

Until you have a draft ending, your book is up in the air and it may never get done because you'll always be able to find something to change. As soon as you have a draft ending, even if it isn't perfect, you have set parameters. You know what you're working toward. Your book can't be anything but the book that matches your draft ending.

Something else that might surprise you is why some of us constantly have the "need" to go back and rewrite our books. It isn't because we're stupid or unfocused. It isn't even because we really do come up with better ideas as we're writing. It's because most writers' minds work too fast.

Stick with me here.

When you start a story, you typically have a beginning and ending in mind. You think "I want to write a story about a corrupt businessman who changes so much while investigating his sister's murder that he becomes a street preacher."

But as you're writing the draft or maybe in revisions or even while polishing, you suddenly begin to think the book would be much better if your main character weren't a corrupt businessman but a billionaire and you decide you need to change the book.

Or you think…You know what? I thought this was a good book when I got the idea, but right now it seems flat, dull, boring.

Or you think…It took me so long to write this book that the suspense market is glutted and I need to take out the suspense.

STOP! Really. Just stop before you hurt yourself.

Why? Because in case number one you saw your main character as another character type because your brain was working toward getting a NEW idea. That does not mean there is anything wrong with your existing idea. It means your brain is doing its job.  It's thinking ahead to your next project! And the idea you were getting was for your NEXT book!

In case two, your book is dull, flat and boring…to YOU. Your quick brain has been working on it for weeks or months. Of course, it seems boring! Your brain is tired of this idea, this story. It wants to move on. But the story/book wouldn't necessarily be boring to a reader because he or she is seeing it for the first time!

In case three, your bored mind is wandering into territory that can't "count" at this stage of the game: The market. If you are near the end of a book, even if it's only the end of the first draft, the market doesn't count. It's irrelevant because you're too far gone. Do not change your book or, worse, stop writing. Keep your book exactly as it is. Finish it. Polish it. Even if the market is gone, put the book in a drawer. The market will come back. (And in this day and age of epublishing, nothing goes out of vogue. Everything is marketable.)

The three biggest pitfalls to completing a book are your next idea, your boredom with the project and worrying about selling the book.

You need to think of your book like your spouse -- or better yet, a fiancé. If you were engaged and you saw a person of the opposite sex who had characteristics you wished your fiancée had…would you change your fiancé? You might try, but would it work out? No! (At least I hope your spouse/fiancée isn't so wimpy he or she would let you change him or her.)

Can you imagine how your fiancé would feel if you told him that when you first hooked up he was interesting but having been around him awhile he is now boring? He'd probably tell you he hasn't changed. You have changed. He'd happily let you go because you weren't smart enough to know a good thing when you saw it and/or to work through the hard times!

Can you imagine what your fiancé would say if you told him that when you got engaged tall guys were in fashion, but now short guys are in, so you need to move on? He'd think you were insane. First, he'd think you didn't really love him and got "attached" to him for all the wrong reasons. Second, he'd think you were never going to be happy if you kept skipping around, following trends.

You have to commit for the long haul. You have to work through the boredom. You have to get good enough at crafting that you trust yourself to finish what you're working on even when something else seems more appealing. You have to understand that it isn't all fun. Lots of writing is fun, but some parts are slow, boring, hard work, and you must learn to work through them.

Because that's how you finish a book. You don't finish a book because you're fast, or talented, or have the best idea in the world. Lots of fast writers bore easily and walk away too soon. Lots of talented people can't execute. Lots of good ideas get fumbled.

Finishing a book is about finding an idea good enough to be worth challenging yourself to endure.

In fact, put that above your computer screen. My idea is good enough, strong enough for me to endure. I will endure. I will do this. I AM WORTH IT and so is my story.

That's how to get your book done in one year -- or less for some of you.

You commit.

Which means we've come full circle; haven't we? Our first lesson was about committing, because that's what it takes to write a book in a year. You start off by committing. Then you acquire the crafting skills needed to write a draft, realizing that drafting is mostly about story. Once you've written a draft (gotten your story "down") you go to work on your "scenes." Revising, reordering, until your pacing is solid.

Then you turn your focus to words. You polish.

And then…you're done. You won't have a good story that's oddly paced or lots of great scenes too good for the so-so story, or even well constructed sentences that yearn for better scenes.  You will have a strong, well-paced, edge-of-the-seat story that will delight copy editors because you took the time to polish!

I've enjoyed getting to "meet" you all and hope the motivation and information I've shared in this workshop really does make this the year you write that book!

We have the forum for another few days, so feel free to ask any questions, share your tricks of the trade, or tell us about your experiences with quitting too soon or pushing through the hard times!

Remember, you never know when that one piece of information you share might just be the piece of information somebody needs!