Friday, July 29, 2011

Having Fun With Donna MacMeans

My guest is Historical Romance author, Donna MacMeans. Aside from being a lot of fun in person, she writes some fabulous books which make you laugh and sigh. I'm happy to be welcoming her back to Over Coffee. Isn't her cover gorgeous?

Thanks Sia for having me here today.

I had so much fun writing this last book, I’m hoping readers will enjoy it as well.  In particular, I had great fun with my hero, Michael Rafferty, and his sidekick Phineas Connor, a secondary character who I’m guessing will have his own book one of these days.  Michael Rafferty is the muscle of the two.  He’s an Irishman who works for British Intelligence.  He’s well-acquainted with London’s underbelly.  The bad guys that live in the sewers there are well acquainted with his fists.  His best friend and associate, Phineas Connor, is a stage magician and a master of disguise.  I patterned the relationship on James West and Artemis Gordon from the Wild Wild West - the TV show, not the movie.

When I first clicked on the men’s relationship, I thought I’d watch some reruns of that show for a little character study.  Somehow I don’t remember the series being quite as campy as it is on my dvds (grin).  Memories work that way I guess.  I remember my brother and I watching the show after school.  James West was like an American James Bond for the Victorian period.  Remember their private railroad car with all the cool gadgets?  I understand that the show is now considered one of the first examples of Steampunk.
I also learned that the show was cancelled at the height of its popularity because SOMEONE decided it was too violent.  (Remember when James West punched the woman with the knife in the animated segments?)  Robert Conrad was known for doing his own stunts so I imagine the insurance costs to produce the show didn’t exactly aid its longevity.  Anyway, I don’t have to worry about either of these things in my REDEEMING THE ROGUE.  I’m not sure you can say I have a lot of violence in the book, but there are an awful lot of dead bodies.  This book definitely has a high body count.  Fortunately, the insurance cost for fictional characters is eminently affordable (grin). 

Here’s an excerpt so you can get a taste for the relationship of these two:

The vaguely annoying threat of a knife pressed to the small of his back gave Michael Rafferty pause.

“Your valuables or your life,” a guttural voice hissed.  “I reckon a couple of swanks like you two have nice fat pockets.”

Michael glanced at his associate.  Receiving his slight nod, Rafferty turned abruptly, rapping the miscreant’s hand sharply with his walking stick.  The knife fell and slid along the street.  Deprived of his weapon, the thief resorted to his fists but soon discovered he was out-classed there as well.  Rafferty had the man’s face pressed to the side of a well-appointed Mayfair townhouse with his arm twisted in a painful hold.

“Well done.”  His companion applauded.  “You didn't need my assistance at all.”

Rafferty winced, feeling the sting of a cut on his lip.  The bloody bugger had landed one lucky punch.  Blast that it had been the fist with a ring.

“Some of that famous sleight of hand would have been appreciated,” Rafferty said, shaking his hair clear from his eyes.  “Or is that only for the stage?”

His friend, the renowned Phineas Connor master of illusion, laughed.  “My performance on stage is limited to cards and doves.  You’re the one, Rafferty, known for his fists.”  He glanced at Rafferty’s captive.  “At least among the Irishmen that should know better.”

The man squirmed. “Rafferty?  Is that you?”  He swore like a seaman, which —based on his filthy rags — he could have been.  “I swear I didn’t know.”

Rafferty tugged the crook’s arm higher and heard fabric rip.  “Check his pockets.”

While Phineas rummaged through the man’s clothing, Rafferty glanced around the corner of the building to a line of hansoms in front of a stylish townhouse.  Such an elite gathering might offer temptation for the kind of criminal he held captive.  “This is a dapper neighborhood for a wharf rat like you.”

“I was minding me own business until you two came along,” the thief muttered.

Silver glinted in Phineas’s hand, the contents of the thief’s pocket.  Rafferty gave the man a shake.  “A half-crown?  Who else did you rob tonight?”
            “I didn't rob nobody.  That was for a message.  Half now and half when I brings the reply.”

              “What sort of reply did you expect to a knife in the back?” Rafferty tugged the arm, earning a squeal from the thief.

            “The message weren’t for you.  I was to hand-deliver it to a lady, I was.  I thought you two was easy pickings while I waited for her to show.”

            Phineas retrieved an envelope from the crook’s jacket.  No name or address was noted on the front but a blob of red wax sealed the back.  He bounced the letter off his fingertips.  “Nice quality stationery.  Too nice for the likes of a gutter rat.”

            “Who’s the lady?”  Rafferty asked.  When an answer wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he tugged the twisted arm higher.  “Tell me before your arm leaves its socket.”

            “I don’t know her name,” the cutpurse bellowed, his eyes squeezed shut.  “All I know is she’s dressed in green and she’s going to that party of swells.”  He slid his face on the limestone to point the way with his chin.

            “Barnell said…” His eyes widened and his mouth clamped shut. 

You might notice that Rafferty is a little rough around the edges.  As he’s about to be assigned a mission to masquerade as a British diplomat assigned to Washington DC, he’s going to need some sprucing up.  That’s where my heroine comes in.  Lady Arianne Chambers is the  sister to a duke who agrees to transform the rogue into something more convincing for his mission.  It’s sort of a reverse Pygmalion.  All to solve a mystery and catch a killer.

Publishers Weekly neatly summed up the story this way:  Irish rebellion, smuggled guns, and the assassination of American president James Garfield form a lively backdrop for this sweet, sexy, and smartly told Victorian romance.

Romantic Times gave REDEEMING THE ROGUE a 4.5 Top Pick with the comment: [Redeeming the Rogue] is pure joy; funny, sexy and exciting.”

I hope you will give it a try.  I’m running a contest with a Kindle as a prize.  You can find the details at

Plus I’ll give a copy of REDEEMING THE ROGUE to someone leaving a comment that tells me their favorite character(s) from an old TV show.  (Old of course being relative - grin).

Buy: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powells 


Before beginning her writing career in earnest, Donna MacMeans kept books of a different nature. A certified public accountant, she recently abandoned the exciting world of debits and credits to return to her passion: writing witty and sensuous romances. Her debut novel, The Education of Mrs. Brimley, won the 2006 Golden Heart for Best Long Historical. Her second book, The Trouble with Moonlight, won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for historical love and laughter. Originally from Towson, Maryland, she now resides in central Ohio with my husband, two adult children and her kitty keyboard companion, Shadow.
Visit her website at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stephanie Rowe: Letting Go Of The Big Picture

My guest is Stephanie Rowe. She is is a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books. You would think  writing a new story would be a piece of cake, wouldn't you? Well, you would be wrong as Stephanie shares with us.

I will admit it; I can make myself crazy sometimes. I'm one of those people who has all these goals and all this aspirations and a million things on my plate, and I can let it overwhelm me. And by overwhelm, I mean, paralyze to the point at which I am completely and utterly unable to perform.

Most specifically, it happens to me in my writing.

For example, when I sit down to brainstorm a new book, often I will become overwhelmed with how difficult it is to pull the story together. I feel like I have a hundred feelers out in different directions, and I can't get a handle on how it needs to all come together. I'll start feeling like the project is so huge that I can't manage it. I'll start to wonder how on earth I'm going to be able to pull four hundred coherent pages out of the 80 pages of seeming unconnected brainstorming on my computer.

At that point, I usually decide the idea is unworkable and decide to write a picture book instead. Since I can't draw, that's usually not the best idea, but since I have no standards and no expectations when it comes to a picture book, it feels like a brilliant idea.

But of course, the moment I start working on my stick figures of Pilfer the Penguin, my mind keeps drifting back to that one I've spent so much time on. I feel like the idea should work, but when I think of actually trying to write 400 pages on it, my brain goes numb and I lose feeling in my hair.

And that's when I look up and see the sign that I carefully penned and hung on the china cabinet that is directly across from the sofa where I like to work. It says, in bright purple marker:

One minute at a time.
One word at a time.
One small step at a time.
Keep your vision big, but your focus small.

The first time I read it, it doesn't register because I'm too busy feeling overwhelmed.

The second time I read it, it doesn't register because I'm too busy feeling overmatched.

But the third time I read it, I pause. I take a deep breath. And I realize what it means.

It means that although, yes, I need to ultimately write 400 pages that are wonderful, amazing and make my editor do the shriek with delight, the truth is that I don't need to worry about that right now. Right now, my only job is to relax, decide I'm going to have a little fun, and commit to spending thirty minutes playing around with the ideas.

Thirty minutes of play.

I can do that. No pressure to deliver. No pressure to have answers. No pressure to get it right.
Just thirty minutes of having a little fun.

Sometimes, I will even set the timer on my phone, and force myself to play with the idea for a half hour before I can take a break, worry about how it's going, or even think about writing the book.

Little by little, step by step, word by word, once I let go of hugeness of the task and focus only on a little, manageable bit, I can start to move forward again. Something meshes, and I chuckle. I have a cool idea and I jot it down. I don't worry about how it will all fit together. I don't worry that I've been brainstorming for four weeks and I still don't have a story. I simply play.

And then, out of the blue, the ideas will all start to come together. Once that happens, I will go from a state of seeming utter chaos to a complete story mapped out in a day or two without even trying. Why? Because I stopped trying so hard. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to go from 0 to 100 in one step, and instead, I let myself go from 0 to A to Texas to 53.4 to tulip gardens and around and around until suddenly I found myself standing on 100.

It's not always easy for me. In fact, I just had to go through this latest exercise with my most recent book. Six weeks of brainstorming, a number of days of sheer panic, followed by a deep breath, retreat and relax. Then all of a sudden, click, click, click, everything fell into place and four days later, I'm 20k words into a book I gave up on several times.

  • What tricks do you use to help yourself get through the tough moments when you're struggling to accomplish something big or important to you?

Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of Touch if You Dare.

Touch If You Dare--Soulfire series, Book #2

To save their respective siblings, Jarvis Swain and Reina Knight will have to team up to trick Death himself.

Who better than a bad-ass warrior on a mission? Jarvis Swain is the ruthless, confident aggressor Reina knows she needs at her back--someone even she can't screw up. This unlikely darkside duo with impressive deadly superpowers of their own may just prove that two wrongs together can be more than right...Excerpt 


Stephanie lives in New England, and spends every day doing her best to fill it with people, observations and activities that uplift her soul, which include writing, tennis, friends, and  her amazing family.
Four-time RITA® Award nominee and Golden Heart® Award winner Stephanie Rowe is a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books. A life-long reader, she began crafting stories at age ten, but didn't realize it was her dream until she was an adult.

Once the light dawned, she immediately left behind "work" as the world defines it and went to "work" as she defines it, which means getting up every morning with a smile in her heart so she can spend the day doing that which makes her spirit sing.

Stephanie believes in learning to listen to your heart in order to figure out what your dreams are, and then opening yourself to the inspiration that will direct you there. She believes we all deserve the right to enjoy life, and for the ride to be as easy as we want it to be, and that we all should accept nothing less than making our dreams come true. Find Stephanie on her website and on Facebook

Monday, July 25, 2011

MONDAY MUSINGS: Wading Into The Deeps—Conflict And Drama

A Tsunami Storm--notice the person standing there? 

There is no doubt that JR Ward is a successful author. But did you know, at one point she found herself without a contract and having to reinvent herself as a writer?

JR had some success in writing romance but she had a problem with setting a strong black moment, personally didn’t like conflict and so had some problems inserting it into her stories. She says, “I was trying manufacture specific endings and forcing characters into places I thought they should go—as opposed to just letting them do what they’re going to do and getting out of the way.” (Oh, I have so been there and done that!)

Once she lost her contract she had some serious thinking to do. JR started began to read books on craft and even went so far as to take books she enjoyed and deconstructed them chapter by chapter. Her focus was on how to identify, magnify, and resolve conflict between characters. Granted, she ended up tossing much of the formal stuff and *rules* out of her writing process and plots but the studying changed the way she looked at her writing.

JR’s story resonated with me, especially conflict. I’m one that doesn’t like a lot of drama and conflict in my personal life and will go out of my way to avoid it. It’s called looking for and maintaining a peaceful environmentgive me lots of sunshine and butterflies.

This is a good thing for my personal life but bad for my stories. 

Conflict and drama are necessary components for a good story. I’m learning that big and messy is okay as is upping the stakes by by adding some hefty thunderstorms of adversity. There’s nothing wrong in pulling out the darker emotions or putting characters in emotional or physically precarious situations. I haven’t gotten it all down but I've been practicing and I’m getting more comfortable in the emotional deeps.

I understand what JR Ward is coming from when she says: “I used to hate conflict. Now when I write, I wallow in it…going dark was something I was steered away from. Now that’s where I’m most comfortable—because I know the inevitable redemption at the end burns all the more brightly for the contrast.”

What about you? Are you comfortable in depths with emotional conflicts? Dramas and the dark places? Or are you inclined to explore those conflicts with humorous situations and laughter?

What are some things you’ve had to overcome to make a better and more satisfying story? 

  • .This week's guests OVER COFFEE: Wednesday, Stephanie Rowe and Friday, Donna MacMeans