Friday, April 30, 2010


BLOGMANIA Day is finally here. What a terrible time for my internet to go down. Yikes! But it's all working now, so get ready to click through 123 blogs participating in this BLOGMANIA with a chance to win a prize at each site. This is Blog # 9 on the tour.

This blog is an author blogging about author interviews, book reviews, writing tips, research, and miscellaneous subjects.

We've done all the work for you for this BLOGMANIA day.. No hunting or surfing. Each blog wil have a number and instruction for entering that blog giveaway. If you see a blog that appeals to you, bookmark it for a return visit.

 My giveaway rules. Comment for a chance to win and please be sure to include your email address in the comment. For a second entry, sign up as a follower for my blog and be sure to include in your comment that you signed up as a follower. Of course, include your email address again.

My giveaway prize is a Steampunk necklace made from a pocket watch, along with a few surprises in the gift bag.

Blog 1 Host of Blogmania Between the Pages at
Blog 2 Co-host of Blogmania The Black Sheep Dances at
Blog 43 Co-host of Blogmania, Books, Books Everywhere at
Blog 68 Mama Librarian at
Blog 92 Groovy Ruminations at
Blog 36 Along The Way at
Blog  8 A Mom's Take at
Blog 18 Aubut Family at
Blog 109 Mommy's Minute at
Blog 118 Designs By Dawn Marie at

Thanks for stopping by. As we say in the Southwest, "Don't be a stranger."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Critique Partners

Several times in posts I've mentioned a few of my critique partners. I must say I have an exceptional group of romance critiquers to help me: Ashley Kath-Bilsky, Gigi Sherrell Norwood, Jeanmarie Hamilton, Sandy Crowley, and members of my Yellow Rose RWA chapter. I also have a mystery critique group called Raven Mavens.  I critique by email with Jeanmarie and Sandy while Ashley and Gigi and I meet on a Sunday evening at a restaurant that is a mid way distance between Ashley and Gigi (Gigi lives near me). Our Yellow Rose RWA chapter has numerous qualified members willing to do a quick critique when asked.

When arranging for others to critique your work, there are several guidelines. Don't choose randomly. If you must do so, try a little pre-critique to see how you fit. Here are some pitfalls to watch for:

1. Does the other person have skills that will enhance your weak areas? For instance, if you are weak in grammar, perhaps you need a person who is very good at grammar and spelling. You might be great at emotions, where someone else is weak in that area. Try to mesh talents so you really help one another.

2. Is the other person trustworthy to keep your writing confidential? You don't want someone who will show your work around. No matter how good the person thinks you are, you should have control over who sees your prepublished work.You certainly don't want someone who will tell others, "You won't believe the stupid writing of (insert your name)."

3. Are you a good fit personality-wise? If someone is demanding and insists her/his way is the only possible way to write, you won't enjoy being bullied. Conversely, it's no help whatsoever to have someone who is so sweet they won't point out any weak areas or mistakes. You need an open-minded, honest person to help you.

4. Is this person a serious writer who produces at a rate similar to yours? If you write ten or so pages a day and the other person writes that much every month or two, there's no equality in your exchange. (However, you may enjoy critiquing with this person if you do so face-to-face and enjoy the fellowship. Sometimes it's nice just to talk to other writers about writing.)

5. Does this person know enough about craft and technique to assist you? A person who gives bad advice can damage your work.

Before I found the critiquers above, I had mixed experiences. One person stole my ideas. Each week, something from my last chapter would show up in hers. I finally challenged her on this and she admitted it, but didn't think it was a big deal. I did, and quit critiquing with her. I learned later that she had done the same thing to others. A multi-published friend had a similar experience from someone who stole her book ideas.

Another critique partner never wrote more than a chapter. Each time we met, she would have rewritten the same chapter. She was a good writer, but lazy and lacking in confidence. She's not even a member of a writer's group now. It's a shame because she had a good plot and knew how to tell a story.

The point of this blog article is to caution you to choose your critique partner carefully. A bad critique partner can hurt your writing. One friend quit writing for a year because of scathing comments made by one of her critique partners--now a former firend. Here are some guidelines to being a good critique partner yourself:
1. Constructive criticism is the key.
2. Never tear down another person or make it personal.
3. When you point out something that needs changing, also mention something good.
4. Never say, "Oh, this is wonderful" and leave it at that. Mention good and bad. What did you like/dislike?
5. Don't tell someone his or her idea is wrong unless you can back up your statement with evidence.

I hope all your critique session are productive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No New Story?

Writers argue over how many basic stories exist. Some say seven, others say up to twenty-one. Editors vow they want "something fresh" and "something new" and that leaves writers wondering how they can come up with the perfect story. In my opinion, what editors really mean is they want a fresh way to tell the old stories. How does a writer come up with something new when there are only so many ways to lead the hero and heroine to committment? Not an easy question to answer!

Here's how I came up with the idea for my next release, OUT OF THE BLUE. My critique partner (Sandy Crowley) and I were talking and she remarked that I do historic heroines much better than contemporary heroines. I realized this is true. Because the women in my family are "old souls" rather than trendy, my contemporary heroines turn out to be too mature for their age. Sigh. Then an editor for Luna said she would like to see a heroine from the past come forward to present day. Hooray! the perfect solution for me.

Both Sandy and I had attended the all-day plotting workshop "Story Magic" prsented by Laura Baker and Robin Perini. To get this story plotted, I set up my story board on the dining room table. Sandy and I polotted a romantic suspense in which an Irish heroine from 1845 came forward to current time.  I set out writing the book, inserting a few surprise detours (and explosions per my friend Geri Foster) along the way. By the time I finished the book, Luna had folded. Another sigh.

Writing this book was fun. Sandy and another critique partner, Jeanmarie Hamilton, critiqued as I wrote. OUT OF THE BLUE is my husband's favorite of all the stories I've written so far. I doubt time travel is in any of the basic stories. However, the concept would be. Damsel in jeopardy + alpha hero who is an authority figure + villain from the past.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss the "Story Magic" plotting technique.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review -- THE HELP

This month my book club, Book Divas, has read THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. It was my turn to choose our reading selection. I'd already devoured THE HELP and loved it. Many readers were born after the setting of this book but they'll recognize correllations to our present society.

First of all, I want to say that it should be a law that ALL people must work with the public before they become twenty-one. Those who do develop a new appreciation to being at the whims of self-centered people. They are never rude to restaurant servers because they remember the surly customers who stiffed them their tips. They remember being yelled at becauser of prices they had no part in determining. And they learn what it's like to clean up other people's messes with little or no thanks.

But Skeeter, the protagonist of THE HELP, has a unique appreciation for those who serve others. It's in the way she charges forth to right wrongs that makes this book one you will keep on your shelves right beside TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I loved the story and I loved the ending.  I dare you to read it and disagree!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Using Family History As Story Material

Several friends and I use our family history--very loosely, of course--in our historical fiction. My father's family came to Texas in 1877, and that's close to my favorite time period. I love a  story set in Texas between 1870 and 1899. Not that I limit myself to those times. Regency and Victorian England also reel me in as a reader. Victorian America lures me. Contemporary stories in any setting interest me. Ah, but I fall in love with late nineteenth century Texas stories!

Genealogy is one of my hobbies, and I especially love to hear family stories. My friends Jeanmarie Hamilton and Pat Capps Mehaffey also use family history in their writing. Jeanmarie's family are more, um, financially upscale than mine, and settled Castroville, Texas. Pat Mehaffey's ancestors were early Texas settlers and she uses her family history to write children's books and memoirs.

A recent time when I used family history as a kernel for a story was for my novella, LONG WAY HOME in the anthology NORTHERN ROSES AND SOUTHERN BELLES from The Wild Rose Press. That anthology won #6 in the Preditors and Editors 2009 poll and received a 4 Star rating and review from Romantic Times magazine. LONG WAY HOME is set in Northwestern, Georgia, near the Civil War's end. That part of Georgia is where my dad's family lived before moving to Texas. Other than a few descriptions of the fictional town of Witherspoon's buildings (including the old family home), there's no further basis in fact for the story. Except for the heroine's name. Parmelia was a family name in my Johnson line, and Bailey was a surname before it was passed along as a middle name for the Johnson men--which has nothing to do with my cat being named Bailey. LOL.

When writing a historical romance, I find that using family names from that era lends realism to the story. Using a Biblical name is also a safe bet, for those names are popular in any time period.

I'm better at naming characters than I was with our daughters. In retrospect, Hero and I should have chosen family names for them. Due to our common family surname, we went with what we thought were unusual names. Not! Both Darling 1 and Darling 2 ended up being in classrooms full of girls with their first names. At one time we lived next door to a girl the same age and with the same first and last name as Darling 1. We should have named Darling 1 Victoria Elizabeth, because she has turned out to be a devotee of British history. Darling 2 should have been named Kathryn Maeve or Kathryn Josephine. No wonder the American Indians used to wait a while before naming their children. But I digressed. 

Choosing a character's name is important. The name has to fit with the character's strengths and personality. Heroes need strong names with hard consanants. Scots names are always good for an American hero--there are so many Scot-Irish descendants here. In my WIP (work in progress) the heroine is named after my new sister-in-law, Penny Jane. In the upcoming June 4th release, OUT OF THE BLUE, the heroine, Deirdre Dougherty, is from 1845 Ireland and comes forward to present day Texas. She brings her black cat, Cathbad, who was named after a famous Druid priest. Since she is a devout Catholic named after a mythical Celtic heroine, I thought it humorous for her cat to be named after a Druid. (Well, it's funny to me.) The hero, Brendan Hunter is a police detective who has this huge, scruffy mutt named Prince. You can see that even names for pets are important, can't you?

You're saying that OUT OF THE BLUE'S hero's name, Brendan, doesn't fit the criteria for hard consanants. You're so right. However, his first name is part of the story, so you'll have to read the book to figure that out. (Unrepentant plugging of book, here.) Both books are from The Wild Rose Press at

Now, for more on family history as story material. If you saw the old Jack Webb show "Dragnet" you may remember that it started with "New York is a city with eight million stories. This is one of them." Maybe we don't have eight million stories, but each of us has hundreds of stories in his or her past. Whether it's historical or contemporary, those stories provide timeless material. Women with lousy fathers leave to marry a louse. Men who break with tradition and forge a new trail. Women who stood by their men through perilous times. If you don't know your family's history, do yourself and your descendants a favor and start working on it today. You'll be enchanted by the fascinating stories awaiting you!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Which Character Are You?

Mel Brooks said, "Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities, and have them relate to other characters living with him."

People frequently ask an author, "Which character in your book are you?" The answer is, of course, all of them. Sure we want readers to identify with the hero/heroine, but each of the characters comes from within the author. The late Elmer Kelton said that on only one occasion did he use a real person in one of his books, and that he never put himself through that agony again. Everyone in his town recognized the character for who he was--except, fortunately, the man himself.

My characters are a fictional, but my heroes always have those qualities I admire most in my Hero Husband. They're also always tall, as he is. But he's never been a policeman or rancher or business mogul or con man. He's not able to leap tall buildings at a single bound--except, of course, in my heart.

Would that I could be one of my heroines! Nope. Not even close. After being a skinny anemic child, for most of my adult life I've battled my weight. So, my heroines are always in the enviable (by me) position of having terrific metabolisms that allow them to eat whatever they want and never gain weight. They have lustrous hair instead of fine, thin stuff that has a mind of its own. This is fiction, remember? Hey, it's my book, so I can make them better than real life!

Novelists write, we create. That's our job. How, you ask? We let our imaginations bloom and pull characters from a well deep inside our subconscious. If we're lucky, we don't have to dig for the characters--they just pop into our heads and speak.

Yes, our research has to be credible. A fictional rancher has to engage in actual deeds that a real rancher would. A police station has to appear realistic even if the detective is imaginary. If a character is ill, the disease's treatment and diagnosis has to make sense for the era in the book. I've tossed books which got those things wrong. At our house, we call books like that "wall bangers." We don't literally hurl them against the wall--think of the paint and furniture--but we don't finish them either. And we don't buy that author's books again.

So, who is all the characters in a novel yet none of them?  The author. No, it's really not a riddle. It's a writer's life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sharing With Friends - Happy 101

 Happy 101 Sharing with Friends

Cate Masters graciously sent this Happy 101 award badge to me. Cate is a wonderful author. If you haven't already done so, pick out one of her books from the list on her website at and read it. You'll be glad you did.

Now I have to list ten of my favorite things before I pass the award on to ten bloggers. Hmmm, only ten favorites?

1. spending time with my family.
2. reading
3. spending time with my friends
4. browsing antique malls, estate sales, and garage sales.
5. watching movies with Hero.
6. traveling with Hero.
7. taking a nap, preferably with Hero.
8. chocolate anytime
9. Spring flowers
10. Writing, writing, writing!

I'll pass this lovely award on to fellow authors. Be sure to visit their blogs.

2. Information Central at
3. Michelle Miles' Ye Old Inkwell at
5. Terry Spear at
6. Linda Broday and her friends at
9. Skhye Moncrief at
10. Michelle Miles at

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Join or Go It Alone?

"I'm going to tell you how it works. It's about hills and valleys. Anybody can handle the hills, but you find out who you are when you hit the valleys." Count Basie to Quincy Jones

Are you a joiner? Do you prefer solitude?

Did you ever see "The Net" with Sandra Bullock? That movie struck terror in the hearts of all those who work in solitary at home. Solitude is great, but there are times when we need face-to-face fellowship.

I used to be a world champion joiner--three bridge clubs, garden club, book study club, church women, home extension club, newcomer's club. Then, when I decided to really apply myself to writing and being published, I quit everything but church women and joined writers groups with the zeal of the newly converted. And went to confernces and conferences and conferences. I saved notes by the bale, bought CD's, and shelves of how-to-books. If it would have helped, I would have left a book under my pillow at night hoping I'd absorb something in my sleep. Not that any of this is wrong, mind you. Well, the book under the pillow is dumb, but feel free to try the rest.

I still belong to quite a few writers' groups. Know why? Writing is a solitary profession. I sit in my lovely pink cave at my computer most of the day. Lucky for me, my Hero and Darlings 1 and 2 are very supportive. But sometimes, I need to talk with other writer who've had sales and rejections of their own.. They understand me. I don't have to worry they'll think I'm crazy when I say these people in my head keep telling me to write their story and won't shut up until I do. No one calls the doctors with straighjackets when I say I see the opening scene of my work in progress (WIP) as if it were a movie in my head. Writers understand that's normal for us . . . well, as normal as we ever are.

So the answer to my initial question of "join or go it alone" is: Both. Yes, I join online and face-to-face writers groups. Yes, I sit alone in my lovely pink cave as I write. Those who nurture us help us through the valleys of rejection. Those same friends rejoice with us when we are at the peak of success. My groups are Yellow Rose RWA, Dallas Area Romance Authors, Hearts Through History RWA, and Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal RWA, and the other The Wild Rose Press authors. I've made writer friends in each of these--friends on whom I can depend for truth about my work if I ask for a critique. Friends I'll treasure the rest of my life.

Are you in a lonely occupation? What do you do to survive?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Telling Your Story

"A good writer is basically a storyteller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind." Isaac Singer

Each of us has many stories to tell. Whether we want it to be family related, memoirs, or create it into fiction. I love each of those three forms, but have chosen most often to write romanctic fiction.

My father was a great storyteller. After dinner he would often talk about events from his childhood or that of his parents. I felt sorry for my grandparenst with seven rowdy sons and only one daughter. Dad's stories held my attention from his opening words until the end of his tale. He and his brothers lived near Denison, Texas. They were hard workers who played hard, too. I treasure the stories he related to my brother and me.

Writers follow that same style whether writing fiction or non-fiction. Open with The "hook," a phrase or paragraph that pulls the reader into our story. We pace ourselves, keeping the action moving forward at varying speeds to the conclusion. The big finish in which our protagonist or hero/heroine barely save the day  has to leave the reader satisfied, yet wanting more stories from the author.And I have lots of stories still to tell. Writing is a passion for me. But I know that if you gave the same set of events to ten writers, you'd come up with ten very different stories. We create from within, drawing on all the things that makes us individuals.
Some of us writer comedy, some noir, some suspense, some contemporary, some historical.

What part of you feels compelled to create? How do you fulfill that need?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Writer John Griffith, writing as Jack London, once said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

Non-writers frequently ask writers where we get our ideas. I can only speak for myself, but I get them everywhere. Not a good answer, you say? Okay, I'll elaborate a bit. For one story, I based the heroine on an anecdote my grandmother once mentioned when I was a child. A snatch of conversation overheard in a restaurant or other public place might spark a plot or a secondary character. Newspapers are filled with food for stories and filling in plots, especially for mystery or romantic suspense writers.

An editor's request for a certain type of story inspired my next release, OUT OF THE BLUE, from The Wild Rose Press on June 4th. This editor said she was tired of the same old time travels with a modern heroine or hero traveling back in time. She thought it might be refreshing to have a heroine from the past come forward.

Acting on her general request, my critique and writer friend Sandy Crowley helped me plot the story of Deirdre Dougherty. Deirdre began life in one of my favorite places, Ireland. She's a clairvoyant herbal healer treated with suspicion by her neighbors in a remote village near the seaside cliffs of the Connemara area. When the potato crops fail, villagers don't realize a nationwide blight is the cause and some believe Deirdre put a curse on them. They chase her into the current time. You'll have to read the book to learn more. (My plan is to entice you to buy the book. Is it working?)

Publishing is a rapidly changing industry. By the time I finished OUT OF THE BLUE, the editor who requested this type story had left the line and the line folded. Luckily for me, The Wild Rose Press accepted the novel. But creativity doesn't limit itself to writing. Painting, sewing, baking, sculpting, and gardening are only a few of the creative outlets we need to express ourselves.

Where do you get ideas for your creative side?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Writer Kari Winters' Cats Are Safe

Reprinted with permission from Information Central Blog:

Kari Winters was an award winning pet writer and animal welfare activist who died mysteriously. At last, her surviving cats are finally safe. They are in a loving foster home and will be placed with people Kari would want to have them.

When Kari died, her housekeeper took her dog and four cats. This person refused to surrender them to Kari's family, despite being ordered to by the probate judge. One of the cats and the dog died, and Kari's friends were upset, confused, and not sure what to do. Joline Gutierrez Kreuger, a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, investigated the story. Three columns and a follow-up have moved officials to reopen the case. If you have any information that might shed light on how Kari Winters died, please contact Albuquerque Police Detective Medrano at 505-768-2300.

Due to pressure from Kari's friends across the nation, in Canada, and in the UK, Kari's four surviving cats were removed from the housekeeper's home and placed in a safe home far away. Profound thanks go to American Airlines, with special thanks to Susan Baker, Manager, in New Mexico, who took charge of the four cats and flew them to safety; to the Albuquerque Animal Services Department and their magnificent team of veterinarians, and to a wonderful foster home in New Mexico who loved Kari's cats until they could be flown out of state to another treasured foster home. From there they will be placed in loving homes to peacefully live out the rest of their lives. Thanks also to the Rio Rancho Animal Shelter for keeping the cats overnight until they could be turned over to Albuquerque Animal Services. Individual names, as well as their current residence, have been deliberately left out for the safety of the cats and the people who have been and are currently involved in this tremendous act of love, caring, and generosity. Kari's many friends are extremely grateful.

Please cross post this--post it on your blog, and let your friends know about it. There is reason to rejoice: Kari's four cats are safe. There is reason to mourn: Kari, one dog, and one cat are dead. Continue to press for a full investigation of what happened to her.

Articles can be viewed here: part one part two part three part four