Friday, December 4, 2009

I Didn’t Mean to Start a New Book… aka No Piece of Writing is Wasted

My guest today, is a favorite Romance writer, Annie West. I'm thrilled to have her visit with us Over Coffee.

  • Annie, as you may or may not know, hails from Australia. Her books are first released in Australia and then North America and England. I love her topic today and I can relate, as I've done the same thing. My mind catches and idea and before you know it, I'm at the computer writing.

When I was an unpublished writer I had all sorts of ideas swirling in my head. I’d grab onto one, wrestle it into some sort of order and start writing. Because I was serious about being published I’d try to finish the whole story but it didn’t matter too much if I didn’t because there was always another brilliant idea around the corner.

Now I write to deadlines, editor’s requirements and reader expectations as well as my own imagination. I have to fit in time for editorial approval of the concept, revisions and checking the proof edits, sometimes while working on a different story altogether. That doesn’t mean there are less stories in my head but it can be harder to pay attention and hook onto that fabulous idea before it disappears into the ether. Getting the inspiration for a whole book is a marvellous, precious thing. I trust myself enough to know that the ideas will keep coming, but it’s not simply a matter of sitting down in front of a blank screen or piece of paper and creating that idea there and then because it’s time to start a new story. Which leads me to the fact that NO PIECE OF WRITING IS WASTED.

Yes, I’ve had to cut words, scenes, pages, even chapters (sigh, I just ripped the whole of chapter two out of my current WIP and it’s better for it). But sometimes I have to write dross before I find gold. Sometimes I have to write around an issue or a character’s motivation before it becomes clear. Plus of course, there’s the school of thought that by writing regularly we exercise our writing ‘muscles’ and it becomes easier to write the next time. Sometimes I have to write things other than the book that my editor is waiting for, but often that process of writing something different and letting your mind stray into other avenues is just what you need to unlock a spark of creativity.

For instance, some time ago I’d promised to write an article for a writers’ magazine here in Australia. I came up with a topic I wanted to explore: how we can use our senses in our writing to make a scene more vivid. I soon discovered the topic was too big for the word count and settled on using the power of scent. (If anyone’s interested that short piece is at the ‘articles and links’ page of my

I looked for an example of a scene where the sense of smell could be used by a romance writer and, not surprisingly, thought of a wedding. So many scents to choose from there and we could learn so much about the bride or groom’s perspective by how they responded to what they smelled. I got quite excited as I began to explore the possibilities. It wasn’t long before I was imagining a scenario where the bride, far from being thrilled by the scent of orange blossom or her fiance’s cologne as she walked down the aisle, was nervous. More than nervous, sick with fear.

Instantly my curiosity was roused. I had to stop work on the article while I pondered why this heroine was so distressed by the idea of her impending marriage. I couldn’t resist the eternal writer’s question of ‘why?’ that goes so well with ‘what if?’. From there it was a simple step to realise this poor woman was entering into marriage, not for love, but to help someone she cares for (her sister, I decided). To make things worse (don’t we writers love to do that?) she has an inbuilt fear of marriage because of something in her past (the abusive grandfather who brought her up and taught her how dangerous a violent, manipulative man could be). Terrific!

I was thrilled to have a character and a strong emotion poised for a scene that promised lots of interest. Poor Alissa (she had a name by this stage – I couldn’t leave her anonymous) was forcing herself to go through with this marriage. She’d convinced herself she could do it and survive. After all, she knew the man she was marrying. She didn’t want to marry him but she felt safe with him. So, naturally, my evil writer’s mind then thought, but what if she gets to the wedding and her groom isn’t there? What if instead she finds the one man who represents everything she fears most? What if she discovers she has to marry him instead or fail in her bid to protect her sister?

It probably won’t surprise you to know that, despite the need to overcome some technical details (like what had happened to the original fiancĂ©, and how much notice people have to give before they can legally marry) I was hooked. I finished my article in a surge of enthusiasm while my mind grappled with all sorts of exciting possibilities.

When I finished the article I wrote a chapter of that story. I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t intended to – I was working on something else at the time, but I wanted to get it down while the idea was so vibrantly alive and alluring. In the end the final version of that first chapter was quite different, but the characters’ emotions were just the same as I’d first imagined them.

The moral of my ramblings? No writing is wasted. Whether it’s searching for the perfect phrase for your manuscript or writing something completely different, like a non-fiction craft piece or a book review. The act of writing exercises your brain. It makes you think about writing and plots and wonderful descriptions and juicy situations. It’s a catalyst for creativity. I have non-author friends who write daily just as a means of ordering their thoughts, clearing their minds and making them feel positive about starting a new day.

How about you?

  • Writers: Have you found unexpected benefits when you put pen to paper?
  • Is it an outlet in times of stress? A way of sparking creativity?
  • Readers: Or if you’re not a writer, what creative outlets have you found?

    To prove your writing isn’t wasted, I’ll give away a copy of one of my backlist books to someone who writes a comment!

Annie’s current North American release is BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE (Harlequin Presents Extra mid December). You guessed it - This is Alissa and Dario’s story, the book she didn’t mean to start but which she couldn’t let slip by. If you want to find out more about it, visit either Harlequin or Annie’s site to read an excerpt. Also out this month and available from Mills and Boon in the UK is FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Biggest Hurdle—Worry

My guest is, Holly Jacobs, award winning Romance author writing for Harlequin and Avalon.

As a new writer, we worry about many things; will we get an agent, will our book sell, will readers or agents/editors like my second book. You don’t think about published authors, with many books to their credit, as being worriers. What have they got to worry about, right? Wrong.

Regardless of where we are in the food chain, writers worry about their stories. Holly discusses her worries as a writer.

Ah, the holidays! I love this time of year. Maybe that’s why a great percentage of my books have been set during one holiday or another. The second book I sold to Harlequin/Silhouette was Do You Hear What I Hear? It was a Christmas book and the heroine was the mother of a hearing impaired child. I agonized about getting the daughter’s ASL (American Sign Language) right. It’s got an entirely different structure, so if I wrote it as the character actually signed it, it might have pulled readers from the story (the last thing any writer wants to do). Yet, if I wrote it as straight English, I felt I was not doing justice to a visually beautiful language. In the end, I tried to split the difference...and I worried. Worried that hearing impaired readers would be upset. Then I got a letter from a woman who worked at a school for the Hearing Impaired, and she loved it. Phew. I felt as if I’d got an A in class!

When Sia said she wanted to talk about the laughter and tears, the glitches and triumphs, authors face in the pursuit of their ambition to write I knew immediately what my biggest hurdle in writing is...the worry.

You see, in addition to writing a lot of holiday books, I really try to present characters from different walks of life, with different obstacles to overcome, and every time I do, I worry that someone will think I didn’t quite hit the mark. And still I write these characters because I think it’s important to point out that everyone’s different. This November’s SuperRomance, UNEXPECTED GIFTS, deals with a teacher who works with teen moms. Her best friend was a teen mom, and one of the major secondary characters is a teen mom. I was very nervous about this one. I’ve volunteered (in a very minimal way) with the Erie Teen Parenting program for years and am friends with the woman who was in charge of it until last year. She got one of the early copies and I fretted as she read it. What if she felt I didn’t have enough empathy for the girls? What if she thought I glossed over how hard being a teen parent is? What if... Hey, I’m a writer, asking what-if is second nature to me. :-) Of course, it leads to a lot of angst! When she finished the book she called me, and was happy with the way I’d portrayed the teen moms. Phew.

Worry. It’s something I do well. I have four kids and they trained me well! LOL In February, I have another SuperRomance release, A ONE-OF-A-KIND FAMILY. The hero’s brother is special needs. And I’m already worrying that someone will think I didn’t hit the mark. LOL

So, why? Why do I keep writing about things that make me worry? Because part of the reason I write is because it allows me to walk in someone else’s shoes. If every character was my clone...well, where would be the fun in that? (My kids would assure there was no fun at all in that! LOL) I don’t want to make it sound like worries are all there is to my writing. It’s my biggest hurdle. My biggest glee about well, the glee! Seriously, I feel blessed every day to do what I’m doing!

So, this holiday, I feel a sense of relief that so far, UNEXPECTED GIFTS, seems to have worked for readers and I feel a giant does of glee that I wrote a book of my heart and so far readers are liking it! And I also feel glee that the holidays are here!
  • As a writer, what is satisfying to you about writing characters with special needs?
I don't always have special characters, but I like to include them when I can. One of my readers recently sent me a note and said she loved that my books felt so real, that the characters felt so real. I think part of that realism is presenting people from all walks of life. And presenting characters with flaws. Eli's ex is selfish. He doesn't want to be. He wants to think of himself as a nice guy, but in the end... Well, I don't want to give up the end! LOL All the characters I write have baggage. I think what makes a hero or heroine is how they deal with their particular baggage, whether is some sort of special needs, or a tragic past, or....
  • Tell me, what did you like about your heroine? What makes her special or what makes her interesting?

I loved Eli's dedication. I loved that she'd worked so hard for 'her' girls, and didn't see anything special in that, but they did. Everyone around her did. And though the opening scene of the book had it's moments of humor, I thought there was something touching about her reaction. I especially loved her line about how she couldn't be pregnant because she drove a Mini Cooper! All in all, Eli and I could be friends...that's how I feel about all my heroines.
  • You mention another book, One of A Kind Family, to be released in February. Is this one a Valentine story?

No, it's not a Valentine's story, but it is a story I think fits the holiday perfectly. It really is all heart. I didn't just fall in love with the hero and heroine, Liam and Anna. I fell in love with Colm, Liam's special needs brother. He's so open, so willing to love everyone, so willing to forgive everyone. He's truly all heart.
  • You have some booksignings coming up with this book in your area, don't you?

I have a big signing around Valentine's at a local Borders. I'll have copies of both the November and February book there. It should be fun. I've been very fortunate that so many people in Erie have supported me and my writing. If anyone wants to keep up with my travels, there's a list of where I'll be at the bottom of the main page.
  • You've written how many books now? Do you worry over each one?

I've written forty-two books. That seems like such a big number, but I wrote them one book at a time, so it didn't seem so overwhelming as I did it! And yes, I do worry. I want to make each book the best I can. I want to make each character true to themselves. I want readers to enjoy the books. Yep, worry! But like I said, with four kids, I'm good at it! LOL And to be honest, while that's my biggest hurdle, each of those books has given me so much joy. The glee so beats out the worry!
  • Holly, as usual, I love chatting with you and having you visit Over Coffee. I appreciate you taking time out of your writing and family time to be here.

Thanks so much for inviting me over today, Sia!

So, how about you? Are you ready for the holidays?

  • What are your favorite worries and even more importantly, what gives you the most holiday glee?

Since selling her first book in 1997, Holly Jacobs has sold more than thirty books. Her first sale to Harlequin was a 2001 Duets book, I Waxed My Legs for This? and she's gone on to write for Silhouette Romance, Harlequin Flipside, Signature Select and Harlequin's new Everlasting Love line. Her category romances have made Waldenbooks' Bestseller List and won numerous awards, such as the Holt Medallion, Booksellers' Best, Golden Quill, Golden Leaf and Madcap Awards. Her 2004 book, Found and Lost, won Romantic Times BOOKreviews' award for Best Harlequin Flipside of 2004, and that year Holly received the same journal's prestigious Career Achievement Award for Series Love and Laughter. She's presented more than thirty workshops on a variety of writing related subjects ranging from topics like writing romantic comedy to time management across the U.S.
  • UNEXPECTED GIFTS, Harlequin SuperRomance, 11/09
  • A ONE-OF-A-KIND FAMILY, SuperRomance, 2/10

(Photo courtesy of Holly Jacobs, Christmas photos, courtesy of Christmas Graphics Plus)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dear Mr. Manly ...

After the stress and fun of the holiday and the horrors of Black Friday, I thought a bit of laughter would be in order. I can't think of a better person to tickle the funny bone and create laughter, than John Philipp.

Everyone has problems. It's part of the human condition. Life is not designed to be fair (why is another column). So, we do our best to cope with life and yet, as with many other endeavors, we run into a double standard.

Women are inundated with advice to help them resolve their problems, even problems they didn't know they had. Entire wings of bookstores are dedicated to female "help" books that cover all possible past, present and future problems a woman might have. There are support groups for everything from recent breakups to body size and every newspaper has an advice column, occasionally written by a man but always with a female bias and byline.

Men not only have no male self-esteem section in the bookstore, they have no books. Men have no support groups unless you count sports bars, which only help a man by causing him to forget his problems temporarily. Most important, men have no one to write to for advice.

As a result, men are perpetual faux-pas machines, blindly stumbling through life, hopping from embarrassment to embarrassment. Women are no help here. They just comment "There he goes again," reinforcing the stereotype of the incompetent male.

The fact of the matter is that there are win-win solutions to most male problems, or at least solutions where the man walks away less damaged than he would be normally.

Today we offer a new advice column, hosted by, Mr. Oliver Manly, and targeted at today's muddling male.

Dear Mr. Oliver Manly: My wife always invites relatives over when there are really good sports games scheduled. Then
she gets upset when I turn on ESPN. I feel I'm in a lose-lose situation: I don't like her relatives and I don't want to miss my games. One year she even hid the remote. I need advice. I'd hate to move out.

Blacked Out in Baltimore

Dear Blacked Out:

Women don't understand the importance of regular sports viewing to today's modern male. Find a sympathetic doctor and get a "sports prescription." Have him include words like "increased testosterone" and "sustained foreplay ability" on the scrip.

If that doesn't work, wear a Bluetooth earplug. Your grandfather listened to sports. You can too.

Dear MOM: Now that we have three kids my wife wants to redecorate our game room so it can double as a guest room. The problem is she wants to replace my Wall-O-Beer —constructed of cans representing every different brand of beer I ever drank — with a large oil painting of some farmer's field and two sconces (whatever they are).

I'm willing to walk away from the foosball table but the Wall-O-Beer is my life's work.

— Dry in Des Moines

Dear Dry:

If beer is your life's work you need to get another life. Seriously, keep the Wall-O-Beer and cover it with tapestry draw curtains. As a sales clincher, let her "chance" upon you sitting in the dark in front of the Wall sniffling (there are audio tapes available for this purpose).

P.S. Take a photo off the Wall ASAP. Sometimes mementoes that lie in the way of decorative progress have accidents.

Dear MOM: I'd like you to settle a dispute. My wife complains when I leave the toilet seat in the up position and insists this is a social fo-pa [sic]. First, I don't see what her pa has to do with it and second I'm pretty sure tinkling with the seat down is unhygienic.

--Up or Down In Upper Detroit

Dear Up or Down:

Your wife is trying to be diplomatic in her explanation of the problem, which centers not on proper protocol but on feminine physiology. If this isn't clear, let her draw you a picture.

Women use a more ladylike posture in the powder room. When stumbling into a dark bathroom in the middle of the night, an upset commode can lead to social and physical embarrassment. If that's not clear, here's the straight skinny at your level: No one likes to sleep with a wet behind.

Social Maturity Hint: Once one is old enough to get married it is customary to stop using words like "tinkle."

Mr. Manly is open for your questions.


John Philipp is a weekly humor columnist for four Marin County, California newspapers and has won numerous humor and memoir writing awards. His humor columns are posted at wisdom (with Phil Prank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes