Friday, April 9, 2010

Now Where to Begin…

In February I did a Review of THE HIGHLANDER'S SWORD. I like doing reviews and the opportunity to read some fabulous books and some wonderful debut books. Reviews are all about THE BOOK and not much about the author aside from their bio, unless you also interview them--which isn't always possible due to time/scheduling factors.


So this time around we get to do that with Amanda Forester. Her topic is one that many writers struggle with in today's writing market. Where's the beginning of the book and the problems with backstory.

When I started to write my novel, THE HIGHLANDER’S SWORD, I thought I would begin at the beginning. I know… rookie mistake. My historical adventure romance tells the story of a Lady Aila Graham who finds herself an heiress after the death of her brothers in battle. In order to gain needed warriors to defend her clan against attack, Aila is married off to a Highland warrior who is poor in material wealth but has a large fighting force. The Highlander, MacLaren, is filled with bitterness because his fiancé betrayed him, so he agrees to marry an heiress he doesn’t know in order to provide for his clan.

I thought I’d begin the story where I thought it started, when MacLaren learns that the woman he loves has betrayed him to the English. I wrote the scene, polished it up, and sent it off to the Emerald City Opener Contest feeling rather proud of my literary masterpiece. When I got back my score sheets, any sense of accomplishment evaporated. The comments were kindly meant, but to the point. I had started in the wrong place. I had started with… backstory.

Backstory came to be the bane of my writing existence.

Backstory is all the stuff that happened to the characters leading up to the main event, the primary conflict in the story. Books of yesteryear commonly began with what is now considered backstory. I’ve enjoyed reading Georgette Heyer lately, but if an editor got a hold of those romance books now, huge sections in the beginning would be chucked. For myself, I am content with a slower paced book, a book that creeps up to the primary plot slowly, so as not to scare it too awful much. I actually like backstory (there, I said it). But if you want to get published in the 21st century, backstory is a big no-no.

So I revised. I cut out some things and this time started with Aila. I showed her daily routine, her difficult relationship with her mother, her shyness around others... and, yeah, you guessed it – more backstory. So I began with Aila’s father on the walls of the castle looking over his fields which had been set ablaze. More backstory. Next I wrote a scene where MacLaren receives the message from Aila’s father and MacLaren debates whether or not to enter into the marriage contract. And yes, that was more backstory too.

By this point I had written about four chapters, none of which made the final cut. As a writer this is hard. Some of the chapters I loved… loved like a comfortable old bra whose elastic is all stretched out and only has one remaining hook in back. It doesn’t really do a good job anymore, but it’s so comfy. Well, these chapters became comfy too. But no matter how much I liked them, it was still backstory.

So where to begin? I think this is one of the hardest questions for a writer, or maybe just a novice writer (or maybe just me!). I had to really stop and consider where the primary plot began for my characters. I struggled for a long while, wrote the rest of the manuscript, and then came back to the beginning. Eventually I little light bulb clicked on in my brain. My primary plot is a love story about two very different people who have every reason to distrust each other, but fall in love instead. Chapter one in my published novel begins with the relationship – at the moment Aila met MacLaren and discovered she had been given to him in marriage.

Since I have all these “deleted” scenes taking up space in my computer I thought I’d share one with you (kind of like the extended DVD offerings). So here is a scene from my original beginning, where MacLaren is betrayed by Marguerite, his French fiancé.

“I bring you good tidings of the defeat of your enemy.”

Marguerite smiled at Maclaren’s declaration, radiating her beauty, drawing him toward her. “You have done very well.”

“But it came at a high cost,” MacLaren continued though the words caught like ash in his throat. “Sir James Patrick is counted among the dead.”

Marguerite looked blankly at MacLaren before recalling the name. “Oh, your cousin, what a shame.” Quickly closing the distance between them MacLaren reached out to take her in his arms as he had long ached to do, but she put up a hand to stop him. “Oh, no sir. Perhaps you do not care for your appearance but I do not wish my gown to be bloodied.”

“Shall I have this person removed?” Gerard de Marsan, a neighboring lord, strode through the door. He was dressed in velvet of scarlet, a jeweled dagger hung from his belt, and his shoes had the exaggerated pointed toe that was the latest fashion. Gerard gave MacLaren a quick glance then snorted in disgust.

MacLaren returned the favor and turned back to Marguerite. “Margot, what is he doing here?”

“It is customary for a man to visit his betrothed,” Gerard said with a malicious grin.

“You are daft Gerard. Marguerite is betrothed to me.” MacLaren held out his hand to Marguerite, but she laughed and turned away.

“Oh dear. You didn’t really believe that did you? I could not actually marry you.” She turned her violet eyes back to MacLaren. “You’re a Scot,” she said with a shrug as if that explained it all. MacLaren felt like he had been knocked in the gut with a mace. He looked at his feet on the floor surprised to see them still standing there. Cold realization began to dawn.

“You deceived me,” he said softly to Marguerite. “You feigned love to win my defense of your lands.” He waited for her to contradict his words. The lady simply looked away.

“We have no need for your defense, barbarian. While you needlessly fight the English we have simply allied with them,” Gerard sneered with open contempt.

“No!” MacLaren refused to look at Gerard and watched Marguerite as she carefully smoothed her gown with a delicate hand. The truth became clear in her silence.

“But why?” asked MacLaren, his voice hoarse.

“You really must not upset me with your impertinent questions.” Marguerite’s tone was impetuous, but she could not quite meet MacLaren’s eye. “The English were too many, too strong. Submission was inevitable, but their conditions were unlivable.” Marguerite gave him a slight pout. The effect would have been more endearing if her words had not been so chilling. “When you marched against them it made our alliance more valuable and the terms became much more to our liking.”

MacLaren stared at her. His heart that had been pounding in his ears suddenly seemed to stop, his breath caught in his throat.

MacLaren grabbed Marguerite’s shoulders. “My cousin died so you could better your terms of submission?” He choked on the words. She tried to look away but he turned her face with his hand to force her to look him in the eye. All he saw was the glint of the knife.

Ah that lovely backstory.

  • What is your preference when you read a book?

  • Do you like a slow build so you really understand the characters at the beginning, or do you like to jump right into the action?


Amanda Forester holds a PhD in clinical psychology and a Masters degree in theology. As a psychologist, she has worked as a clinical researcher and a university instructor (what they call you when they don’t want to give you tenure). None of which has anything to do with writing romance novels. After trying for many years to stop the internal storylines floating around her head, she finally gave up and wrote one down. Now when she is caught daydreaming and talking to herself she can just say, “I’m plotting a scene for my next novel,” which sounds so much better than, “I’m hallucinating and responding to internal stimuli.”

Amanda lives in the Pacific Northwest with her officer and a gentleman husband and their two remarkably active, naturally brilliant children. They share their home with two fiendishly destructive cats and one lazy dog.

The Highlander’s Sword is Amanda’s first novel, so she would greatly enjoy hearing from readers. You can view her book trailers and fun facts.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chat With Out Of Eden Author, Beth Ciotta

I have the pleasure of welcoming Beth Ciotta to Over Coffee. Beth let me ask her a bazillion questions which I will share with you.

Imprint / Series:
Publication Date:
Apr 2010
Contemporary Romance

Back Cover Blurb:

  • Sometimes paradise isn't all it's cracked up to be.
That's what I, Kylie McGraw, have discovered since sacrificing my dreams of traveling the world to run the family shoe store. But if I have my way, peaceful Eden, Indiana, is in for a major shake-up….

It all began on my birthday, when I got drunk and disorderly all over Eden's hunky new police chief (and my former high school crush), Jack Reynolds. Then I may have, in my Cosmo haze, witnessed a murder in progress. Now I'm almost certain I'm being stalked by the mob, while he-of-the-distracting-abs Jack continues to think I'm nuts. However, there comes a time when a girl has to kick off her sensible shoes (size 7, cushion insoles) and go after what she wants. So if I can just survive long enough to put on my sexy new red heels, that's exactly what I intend to do….

My Thoughts:

I loved this story. It was engrossing, funny, and sexy. Beth created such a real slice of Mid-Western Americana it feels like you only have to mapquest to go there. Her idiosyncratic characters of the town are memorable. Most small towns have their Max and JJ’s, their sleazeball Ashe, Boone and Wanda. I loved Kylie’s interaction with the townspeople especially when all are aware she has decided to *change* her life. Of course she announces it rather emphatically in her Comos induced bravado and in front of half the town at Boone’s Bar and Grill.

The premise of the story is Kylie is bored with her life, the same ol’, same ol’ and tradition. On her birthday she decides to effect a change. She’s tired of living up to the family business motto, Sensible Shoes for Sensible People. Kylie changes her motto:
“I will act out of the ordinary in order to attract and promote change. Change is exciting. Change is good.”

In the process of changing herself she shakes up the town and Jack Reynolds, her old crush and new Chief of Police. I love the way the sparks fly between Jack and Kylie. Oh very hot, my dears. Beth tosses in some twists you won’t expect, a bit of mystery to solve, which adds to the fun to this adventurous, must read, tale.


  • I know you were in show business for many years, both as a singer and actress, correct? Any special highlights you’d like to share with us?

Hmm. Well, here’s the thing. I started singing professionally at age 14. At 17 (fresh out of high school) I joined a band and went on the road, performing fulltime in various nightclubs and hotel lounges across the country and continued to do so for the next eight years. After that, I settled in Atlantic City and for the next several years, performed in the casinos as a singer, character actress, and motivational dancer. There are so many highlights in my entertainment career, good and bad, I could, well, write a book. Some of the quirkier moments involved singing and dancing with a girl group on a ‘scaffold’ high above the dance floor at NYC’s famed Studio 54. Another quirky highlight… singing backup for Smokin’ Joe Frazier (yes, the boxer) in a showroom in Atlantic City. We (the backup singers) were called ‘The Knock-outs.’

  • Your own love story has a happy ever after. How did you meet your husband? Was it an easy romance or like some of the characters in your books, problems to resolve?

The story of how I met my husband is actually incredibly romantic… but long. Condensed version: We were both ‘on the road’ at the time, performing with different bands. We crossed paths and . . .I swear it was love at first sight. We started dating right away, a long distance relationship until I joined his band. We’ve been together for, wow, twenty-seven years. As to our romance, like every relationship we have our ups and downs. But mostly ups. Lots and lots of ups.

  • You mention, “I'm a restless spirit drawn to the creative arts.” You also admit you’re a bit of a daydreamer. How has writing calmed the restlessness?

I’m not sure I’ll ever be a calm spirit, but I do feel that, as an artist, I am most comfortable in my ‘writer’ shoes. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that at this stage in my life I am most comfortable in my ‘writer’ shoes. I get an incredible rush when I write and I’m always striving to better my craft. I feel ‘at home’ when I’m creating romantic adventures, hence not so restless.

  • Did being in show business help you in your writing? How?

I think my years in show biz totally prepared me for the publishing biz. As an entertainer I had to audition quite often. I endured my fair share of rejection and a lot of times it was face-to-face. Also, when an audience member didn’t care for a song I sang or maybe a club owner didn’t like my costume, I heard about that face-to-face as well. By the time I broke into publishing, I’d developed a pretty thick skin. Rejection letters and bad reviews sting, but they’re not quite as devastating or humiliating as in-your-face, in-person smack down. Or maybe it just that I’m older and wiser. Or the thick skin thing.

  • You started writing in 1994. How difficult was it for you to get published?

My first published novel was Scandalous Spirits, co-written with my friend and awesome wordsmith, Cynthia Valero. That was in 2000 so, it took awhile. Before that I received several rejection letters from agents and editors, but I learned a lot along the way. The key, I believe, is dedication to craft and perseverance.

  • What do you do to relax and recharge?

Relax? Recharge? Wait a minute. I have to look up those words in the dictionary. Seriously though… I work a fulltime day job plus write fulltime, so there’s never enough time in the day. Snatching moments to play with my dogs in the backyard always clears my mind as does power walking (although I don’t do that near enough). I also cherish the random evening I steal away to watch a movie with my husband.

  • You’re on Facebook and you are part of a wonderful blog called Sisters in Sync. How did you all come up with the format/content of the blog? You blog on what day?

About a year ago, my sister Barb, aka Elle J. Rossi, told me she was interested in writing a novel. Her background is in entertainment as well and she’s also an avid reader, so my gut said she’d have a talent for storytelling. I was right! I’m thrilled to be a part of her journey and thought a group blog would be a fun joint project. Soon after I learned my sister Brenda was dabbling in writing a thriller novel and that my sister B.J. was writing poetry. My sister Brandy is an avid reader and a marketing whiz. Except for Brandy and B.J., we all live far apart. Sisters in Sync provides us with a fun way to interact daily. Most recently, we adopted an honorary ‘Bro’. It’s fun to get a guy’s take! We generally blog about the arts, but we ramble about ‘life’ too. My featured day is Friday.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed Out Of Eden. You have the whole small town atmosphere down to a fine art with characters and scenarios. Do you live in a small town now? Or did you draw that Americana flavor from observation on the road?

I’m so glad you enjoyed Out of Eden, Sia! Thank you! I actually grew up in a small town in Indiana, one much like Eden. But instead of an Apple Festival, we celebrated Circus City Week! I also lived in another smaller Indiana town before that one. That town celebrated Old Fashioned Days. Although, I’ve lived on the bustling east coast for the last twenty years, I still have vivid memories of Midwestern small town life. I enjoyed exploring all the pros and cons via Out of Eden’s heartfelt characters.

  • This might be like asking a mother to pick her favorite kid, but do you have a favorite scene in Out Of Eden?

The water tower scene. Kind of a stock rescue scene, but there were so many elements at play. I love that scene. Oh, and the scene where the Max and his cronies give Kylie advice on dating! Oh, yeah. Great fun.

  • Tell me about, Jack, your hero—his looks, personality, and what makes him so appealing?
What I love about Jack is that he wants to save everyone and his vulnerability when he learns he can’t. He’s an alpha hero with a tarnished soul and a heart of gold. What makes him appealing to me is his strength and kindness.

  • What was the most fun about writing Kylie? I like her personality a lot by the way.

Kylie was a hoot to write! She always put everyone’s needs ahead of her own and when she finally addresses her own happiness—wham!—everything blows up in her face. I also enjoyed watching her wrestle with her attraction to Jack, the guy she’s had a crush on since she was a kid. Their relationship proved an interesting mix of sweet and sexy.

  • What’s coming out next and can you tell us a bit about it?

Up next is the sequel to Out of Eden. Into the Wild. It features Kylie’s brother, Spenser. He’s a celebrity treasure hunter who stars in a cable TV show. The mass-of-phobias heroine, River, is the daughter of an archeologist, a man who’s gone missing in the Andes Mountains. The story revolves around a legendary lost Incan treasure and the sizzling bond between Spenser and River. If I’ve ever lived vicariously through one of my heroine’s, it’s River Kane.

  • I remember the first time you blogged on Over Coffee. I was so excited to have you and you were so supportive to a newbie Blogger. In fact, you have been supportive since too and it’s much appreciated.

I remember the first time you asked me to blog at Over Coffee. I was so flattered! Speaking of supportive, you’re a true champion of the romance genre, Sia. Thank you for all your hard work! And thank you for today’s feature!

Thanks for taking the time out of your writing schedule to answer my questions and visit with us today.

My pleasure, Sia. Questions, anyone?


Storytelling comes naturally to longtime professional performer Beth Ciotta. Limiting herself to writing one subgenre does not. Dubbed “fun and sexy” by Publishers Weekly, Beth specializes in writing romantic comedy with a twist of suspense and is published in contemporary, historical and paranormal romantic fiction.

Born and raised in Indiana, Beth began performing professionally at the age of fourteen. At seventeen she was leading her own band and singing in nightclub venues across the United States. After eight years on the road she settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to perform exclusively in the casinos. Versatility proved Beth’s strength and the key to working as a full-time entertainer in this fiercely competitive industry. Over the past twenty years, she has performed as a singer, dancer, character actress and emcee. In addition, she has also worked as an entertainment and a public relations coordinator in two of the city’s top casinos, and written and directed for productions such as the Mr. Romance Pageant for Romantic Times magazine.

In 1994 Beth picked up a novel by Johanna Lindsey, reawakening her teenage love affair with romance fiction. She devoured the book in a few hours, and when she got to the end she thought, I want to do this. I want to write stories that will make people feel the way I feel right now. Happy and hopeful. The next day she started writing her first romantic adventure and she hasn’t looked back. “I can't think of anything more fulfilling than writing stories where everyone—except the villain, of course!—gets a happy ending,” she says.

Beth lives in New Jersey with her husband, two zany dogs and one crazy cat. Although writing takes up most of her time, she still performs occasionally. To support literacy, Beth also works at her local library. To learn more about her chaotic life, you can visit her Web site at

For a daily dose of madness, visit her blog at

Monday, April 5, 2010


It's my pleasure to welcome award winning romantic suspense author, Patricia Sargeant. I had the opportunity to meet this delightful author last September. I'm please she was willing to stop by and visit us.

I've heard of others mention learning about writing characterizations and plot from watching how movies are put together. Patricia's topic takes this a step further and she discusses three movies and what she learned from them.

Before I get started, I’d like to thank Sia for inviting me over for coffee. I’m excited to be here.

I love watching movies. A really good movie can take you out of the theatre in the same manner that a really good book can pull you off the sofa. You also can learn creative writing tips from a well-written script. That’s what I’d like to explore with you today. What movies can you return to and enjoy time and again? What creative writing tips – if any – have you learned from those movies?

Would you like to start with three movies from my list? Great! But first, a disclaimer; these are old movies. If you haven’t seen them yet, you probably won’t. In any event, this is your first and only spoiler alert. Now pass the popcorn and sit back.

  • Speed: Talk to me

  • Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, taught me the value of dialogue for characterization. Who else has seen this movie? I see very few hands going up. Seriously, check your library to see whether they have a Speed DVD you could borrow.

    Anyway, Reeves’s character, Jack, is the strong, silent type. He’s a man of action and very few words. An example of his characterization through dialogue – or lack thereof – comes in the scene in which one of the passengers on the bus turns to Jack in fear of the action they’re about to take. Desperate for reassurance, the young man asks, “Is this really going to work?” Jack stares at him without responding. Strong, silent type.

    Bullock’s character, Annie, is a nurturer. She cares a great deal for the welfare of the other passengers on the bus – and that is shown through dialogue. Annie is driving the bus. (It’s a long story; rent the DVD.) She miraculously (It’s Hollywood.) completes the dangerous action that the young man was worried about. The first words out of her mouth are, “Is everyone all right?” Nurturer.

Mulan: What will happen?

Has anyone else seen Mulan? Oh, now that’s just sad. Your library basket is filling up.

This time, we’re going to talk about foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is like story seasoning. Sometimes, you can identify the spices and sometimes, they surprise you. Hopefully, it’s a good surprise.

Mulan is peppered with foreshadowing. Right at the beginning, the Emperor tells the General he wants to draft civilians because, “A single grain of rice can turn the tide.” Then they cut to the scene introducing Mulan. In this scene, Mulan is rigging a device that enables her dog to feed the hens while she does other chores. The scene demonstrates Mulan’s creative intellect. It foreshadows her relying on her mind rather than her muscle to be victorious in battle.

  • Frequency: Larger-than-life heroes

  • Years ago, a multi-published author gave a presentation on larger-than-life heroes. I had no idea what she was talking about. Then I watched Frequency, starring Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel, for a second time. Tell me you’ve seen this movie. No? OK. Add it to your library list.)

    In brief, Quaid’s character, Frank, is a New York City firefighter who’s desperate to save his wife from a serial killer. The opening scene of the movie establishes Frank as a caring risk taker. Therefore, his actions later in the movie are believable. However, they are the actions of a larger-than-life hero. The writers took Frank way out of his comfort zone and put his life at risk. Each time, Frank stood up to the challenge and delivered.

Those are my three movies.

What are some of your favorite movies, and did you get any writing tips from them that you can share with the rest of the us?

  • Heated Rivalry (A Kensington Publishing mass market paperback)

She Wants What He's Got

Valerie Parker is desperate to win the affection of her emotionally distant father and land a promotion at his advertising firm. Her biggest obstacle is junior partner Steven Crennell, a dazzling former NBA star who scores all the big accounts. But Valerie's attempt to outshine her charismatic rival unexpectedly leads her straight into his arms.

And She's Everything He Needs

Steven hopes to dispel the playboy stereotype left in the wake of his NBA career. Between battling his ex-fiancée and focusing on his work, finding his soul mate isn't on the agenda...until he meets his match in Valerie. And when competition leads to explosive passion, he learns that the game of life-and love involve a very different set of rules.

Read an Excerpt from Heated Rivalry

Buy:, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Borders

Patricia will be offering a copy of Tails of Love, to a commentor today. Be sure to leave me a way to contact you if you're the winner.


Award-winning author Patricia Sargeant writes romantic suspense and contemporary romance.

Patricia’s romantic suspense novel, You Belong to Me, earned third place in the 2006 Reviewers International Organization’s award of Excellence in the Favorite Debut Novel Category.

A voracious reader, Patricia first realized she wanted to be a published author at the age of nine. She was drawn to write romances because she loves happy endings. Her romantic suspense novels feature ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Her contemporary romances reveal characters struggling to overcome their inner demons.

In addition to reading, Patricia’s hobbies include music, jogging and hiking. She loves movies and she’s addicted to Law & Order and TruTV.

Raised in New York City, Patricia now lives in Ohio with her husband.

Patricia loves to hear from readers. Her e-mail address is: