Friday, May 21, 2010

Focus on the NOW!

My guest is Para Romance author, Jessica Andersen. For those of you who haven't read her books, she's written a series around the Mayan Doomsday calender which ends 2012. Jessica's series is called The Novels of the Final Prophecy.

I always enjoy reading books that are rich in atmosphere and details of the world setting. In other words, I like more than just the story and dialog. I want to be immersed in the author's world. When I open the book I want to see and feel the world and how the characters interact within that world. Books have changed in the last twenty years. In the 80's most genres had more narrative, more fascinating facts weaved into the story. You were entertained and learned something in the process.

Now, much of that has gone by the wayside in favor of fast paced dialog and everything happening in a very short period of time and minimum time for giving the reader more than the barest sketch of the author's world. Certainly not enough time to weave in fascinating details that make the setting different from a hundred other books. Granted, there were authors that went just a little bit overboard with narrative.

So, where's the balance? Jessica's topic touches on just those things. How she builds a world with enough details to set it apart from our world but without drowning us in facts or backstory.

If you’re actively writing and submitting fiction, especially romantic fiction, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of “editors are looking for something that’s the same but different.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered how the heck you were supposed to manage that.

Well, one of the ways I do recognizable-but-different is by coloring the world of my paranormal thrillers with details from an unusual mythology: that of the ancient Maya. But although this adds a definite cool factor to the books, there’s a catch … it’s really easy to go overboard on the details and distract your reader from the “now” of the story.

Much like Lucius, the hero of my newest release, Demonkeepers, I’m a nerd at heart. I glom onto details, and I get jazzed when I come away from a book or movie having learned a thing or two while being thoroughly entertained. For example, Jurassic Park brought velociraptors into the mainstream, and DaVinci Code—questions of accuracy aside—introduced me to a can of worms I hadn’t known about before … But at the same time, neither of them made me feel like there was going to be a quiz once the credits rolled.

I’m a scientist by training: Back in my lab-rat days and during my PhD studies, I worked on cloning genes for inherited eye diseases. Although these days my only remaining foothold in science is editing journal articles, my research skills have helped me track down the information I’ve needed to bring the novels of the Nightkeepers to life.

I love the history of the ancient Maya, and I’m fascinated by the science surrounding the 2012 end date. For example, the Maya set their calendar to end on the day—far in their future—that their astronomers precisely calculated that the earth, sun and moon would align as they passed through the dark hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy (which the Maya believed was the entrance to the underworld). It’s just a coincidence that this day corresponds to the symmetrical date of 12/21/12 in the Gregorian calendar … or is it?

In each book, I try to bring in a different piece of the Mayan culture: Skykeepers touched on the use of chocolate in Mayan rituals, and this month’s release, Demonkeepers, includes the Mesoamerican ball game, which was the first to use a bouncing rubber game ball.

However, as I’m writing, I have to work on containing my inner geek. I’m constantly tempted to include all the other stuff that has gotten a ‘ding ding’ on my internal wow-that’s-cool-ometer … but the thing is, it’s not all relevant. What’s more, too much external detail, even when it relates to the plot, can yank your reader out of the story’s “now.”

Luckily, I have an awesome critique partner who routinely hits me with comments like: “Let’s get to the running, screaming, shooting, and/or sex!” Recently, she and I talked about why some details work for her while others make her eyes glaze over. Where was the line? We eventually figured out that the info she found very cool and “Indiana Jones-like” in my stories tended to be details that were concretely linked to the characters’ immediate experiences.

When Lucius and Jade stand in front of a panel of hieroglyphs and a painted scene of Mayan ball players, it interested her to know what the scene looked like and a little bit about the ballgame. In contrast, she skimmed over a block of narrative about the Nightkeepers’ connection to ancient Egypt, because that was backstory, not what was happening in the “now” of the story.

To paraphrase one of her critiques: Tell me what’s happening NOW!! What are they feeling NOW??? And if there’s a detail you’re just dying to get in there, turn it into something cool and relevant within the NOW of the story. Because that’s the thing that will add texture and let your reader come away from your story totally jazzed because she (or he) just learned something new while being entertained.

  • Do you like learning bits of facts in the stories you read? Do those bits of fact make a para world more believable?

Demonkeepers Blurb:

Lucius is an Indiana Jones wannabe who never quite measures up, until a twist of magic brings him powers beyond belief... and reunites him with Jade, the one-night stand he never forgot.

Despite the sizzling chemistry between them—and the added power that comes with a love match—Jade is determined to prove that she’s more than a researcher … she can be a Nightkeeper warrior in her own right.

But as the two race to rescue the sun god himself from the underworld, they learn that kicking ass isn’t enough. They’ll need all their brains and skill—and the long-denied love that burns between them—to foil the dark lords’ plot.

Buy: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders

If you get the chance, do go look at Jessica's Website. It's gorgeous and I love the theme. Jessica lists her books and the storyline as well as some excerpts.

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Jessica Andersen is the bestselling RITA and RT nominated author of more than twenty Harlequin Intrigues and the Nightkeeper Novels, a hot paranormal series that sexes up the 2012 doomsday. FMI about the books or Jessica, please visit


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dancing With Murphy's Law

Apologies for not having a Monday Blog. Lightning took out our phone lines and internet over the weekend. No Internet.

  • "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." Murphy's Law

    I'm pleased to have the indomitable Francis Ray as guest today. The New York Times bestselling author writes multicultural romance and women's fiction.

    My first introduction to Francis was the anthology, Living Large. I loved Monica's story, STRICTLY BUSINESS. To be honest, I enjoyed the work of all four authors so much I sought out other stories by them.

    What impressed me about Francis Ray's stories is the sense of humor and well developed characters. Another thing I like about her stories is her strong, successful women, who are sassy, fun, and confident. She's a wonderful storyteller and I love the way she makes her characters work for their happiness. No pat HEA for her.

  • I recently finished IT HAD TO BE YOU. An engaging story about the romance between RD and Laurel. The setting is in the music business with two artists at polar ends of music. This is a story rich in atmosphere of the business but without drowning you in unnecessary factoid backstory. Each piece is woven in as texture to the dialog happening right then or inner dialog happening at the moment--the now. I liked the way Francis worked in how misconceptions and prejudgements can color perception and that love is worth fighting for despite it. It's a story that makes you realize just why Ms. Ray consistently hits the bestseller list.

Francis Ray, is a successful author. She has over thirty books in print and you would think she's made the climb to success without any glitches, smooth sailing all the way, right? And you couldn't be more wrong.

Francis shares with us her ambition to succeed despite a lot of dancing with Murphy's Law.

I published 16 short stories before I sold my first full-length book. While I enjoyed writing short stories for confession magazines, I dreamed of publishing a book with greater depth, richer characters. I wrote FALLEN ANGEL with that dream in mind. Unfortunately, two editors didn't agree with me on the merit of the book. With each rejection, my dream seemed less attainable. Finally, on December 24, 1991, I received The Call.

FALLEN ANGEL was released November 1992. I had a book signing and sold 88 books! I thought I was on my way to having a long and successful career as a published writer. Unfortunately, the publishing house went under a few months later and I was left wondering what to do next.

After a few months of tears, doubts, and self-pity, because of the unwavering support of my family and my critique group, I decided to finish the two books I had been working on. Once that was done, I promptly sent both in the same envelope to Kensington. Although I knew you were supposed to send to a specific editor, I just put "editor" because one book was a Victorian historical romance and the other a contemporary romance. Once that was done I began the long difficult wait. At the 1993 RWA conference I was stunned when Denise Little approached me and made an offer for the historical, THE BARGAIN. At that same conference Monica Harris, an editor for Kensington, indicated she was looking for African-American romances. Yes, she'd read my book and would get back to me. A few weeks later she called to tell me she wanted to buy FOREVER YOURS, and best of all, it would co-launch the Arabesque line.

FOREVER YOURS went into 7 printings and was named one of the top 25 books of 1994 by The Library Journal. Once again I thought my worries were over.

I should have known better.

I received a quick reality check regarding distribution, shelf space, positioning, and spine out vs face out. I learned that writing the book might be the easiest thing a writer does, and perhaps the only thing she/he has some control over. Once the book leaves your house, things can and do go wrong.

When my 6th book, INCOGNITO, was the first BET TV movie, I forgot about past bumps and thought surly it would be smooth sailing from now on. Wrong. Once again I wanted to write a bigger book. I made the difficult decision to leave a wonderful editor who purchased every proposal I sent, and find a house that published women's fiction. Talk about scared, but I had a great agent and thankfully, I was picked up by St. Martin's Press. I was ecstatic. Not only could I write women's fiction, but romances as well. My editor even published my Living Large series about full-figured women!For me, writing is a journey. You never know what the next day or the next phone call will bring. Case in point, several months ago I was in the kitchen getting a Pepsi and the phone rang. It was my always supportive and fantastic editor telling me that NOBODY BUT YOU had made the New York Times extended bestselling list. I didn't believe her. My goal was to one day possibly hit the USA Today list. When it sunk in I was elated and already worried whether the next book would hit.

It didn't.

I was crushed. I had to remember that in publishing things can and do go wrong, you can be up one day and in the depths of depression the next. All that really matters is the work that will remain long after the writer is gone.

I love weaving stories and have no intention of quitting. Plots might be similar, but no one else can tell the story that I envision. My goal with each and every book is to make it the best that I can, and always be proud of the finished product. After all, it has my name on the cover and that and the story are the only things I can control.

  • How about you? Have you danced much with Murphy's Law? How have you handled setbacks in your writing career?


  • Francis is giving away and autographed copy of IT HAD TO BE YOU to a commenter today.

It Had To Be You Blurb


Most musicians would do anything to work with the hot, young record producer known as “Rolling Deep.” R.D. can pick and choose any artist he wants—and he wants Laurel Raineau. A classical violinist, Laurel plays soaring music that touches R.D. to his very soul. But the last thing Laurel wants is to work with someone whose exploits with the ladies appear in the tabloids every week.


Not one to take no for an answer, R.D. keeps trying and failing—to let Laurel know that he’s not the player he’s made out to be. So he introduces himself to her by his real name, Zachary Wilder, hoping to win her over. But it’s Zach who falls under this beauty’s spell. Now it’s only a matter of time before Laurel learns who the man she’s losing her heart to really is—but can she walk away from a passion that feels so right?
Review from
Click Here to Read an Excerpt

Buy: Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million

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Francis Ray is a native Texan and lives in Dallas. A graduate of Texas Woman's University, she is a School Nurse Practitioner with the Dallas Independent School District. In 1999 and 2000 she was nominated for Texas Woman's University Distinguished Alumni Award.

Ms. Ray's titles consistently make bestseller's lists such as Blackboard and Essence Magazine. INCOGNITO, her sixth title, was the first made-for-TV movie for BET. She has written forty titles to date. Awards include Romantic Times Career Achievement, EMMA, The Golden Pen, The Atlantic Choice, and Borders 2008 Romance Award for Bestselling Multicultural Romance.

  • Website (which has the blurbs and trailers for her books)