Monday, March 30, 2015

Tuesday Tips And Tweaks

This week Author Ellen Gragg joins us with her tip. Ellen began writing novels in her spare time while working as a consultant in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries and writing about everything from crop dusting to FDA regulatory compliance.

Ellen’s Tip on Writing Seminars

Writing seminars can be wonderful. I found that out at the first one I attended. The last one taught me that they can also be deadly.

Let me explain. I was raised by two university professors of English. My mother was widely known as the best writing teacher around. In the state at least – maybe in a wider area. I was always too much in rebellion to check. When I finally admitted to myself that I needed to follow in the family tradition – that I wanted nothing more than I wanted to be a published novelist – I didn’t consider taking writing classes of any type. After all, I was raised by this adored teacher of writing. Obviously, I already knew it all.

But I didn’t get published. And I didn’t get published. And the years went by.

Finally, I went to a convention for readers of mysteries. (My best unpublished novel was a mystery.) And everyone I met noticed the city on my nametag and told me how jealous they were that I actually lived in the host city of one of the best writers’ events around – the Midwest Writers’ Workshop, in Muncie, Indiana.

So I broke down and went to the next one. It’s an annual convention with lots of sessions, and the day before the convention proper, there are some all-day seminars. I signed up for one, just to make sure I got the full experience.

I didn’t expect anything. Yawn. What could I learn in a day, after all my years of experience, and having grown up with discussions of writing technique around the dinner table? Ho hum. But I went.

It was a session by Marcus Sakey on adding suspense to your work. Within a half hour, I was hooked. By lunchtime, I resented the time away from the lecture. He taught us techniques I’d never heard of, gave us fast, fun exercises, and just generally opened up the world for me. I suddenly realized that a lot of my rejections had been because of the lack of suspense in my books.

The afternoon exercise was to write about your character going out for coffee, make it suspenseful, and end with more suspense. What I wrote in that exercise went into the new book I had in mind, and is in the published (yes, published!) version unchanged. It’s excerpted at below.

So, even before I knew that book would get published, I knew that there was a lot to gain from writing seminars. I could learn new stuff that really helped my writing! I could talk to other people who were interested in the same things I was! I could learn from, and make friends with, other authors. I could pitch agents, editors, and publishers. I was in! I was going to every conference, seminar, and class I could find.

And I did. I went to lots of events, made friends, met the publisher who eventually bought my book, learned a lot, and came home bursting with inspiration.

Until the last one. I hope it won’t always be my last one. I hope I get my nerve back up and find new classes and new writing friends, but I certainly had a learning experience with this one.

I was traveling for work, and only going home every other weekend. On one of my away weekends, a writing club was hosting a half-day seminar in the city I was visiting. What a treat! I signed right up! Best of all, it was just a month before my book was due to come out. It would be my first time attending as a real author, and not just a wannabe.

It was awful. The speaker was egotistical and rude. What she taught had some value, but it came with such a heavy message of “take my classes or you’ll never succeed” and “look at me, look at me, look at me” that the useful information was swamped. Maybe some of the other participants gained from that session, but it absolutely killed my will to write. Over a year later, the book I took to that session is still languishing.

So what’s the tip? Choose well. Go to classes and seminars and conventions that suit your personality and your needs. Learn what you can, and meet good people. But before you sign up, research the teacher. Do your due diligence to ensure that the experience will be one that supports your talent and doesn’t squelch it. Be open to new experiences and new approaches, but protect yourself too. You go to learn, not to feed someone else’s ego at the expense of your own confidence.
             Excerpt From What Was I Thinking?
              written in Marcus Sakey’s seminar

At eight-ten on the dot, the door opened and Campbell strode in to fire me. The only suspense was waiting for him to spit it out. I don’t know why I was so tense. Here I sat, my gut twisting just because he was ten minutes late. But logically, the worst thing he could do to me was fire me. People survive that and I would too, even if I couldn’t see how right now.

And he was definitely going to fire me. Lose your temper—loudly—in a full ballroom at the corporate planning meeting, and the plan is that you’re out of there.

No surprise that I blew up, and no surprise at all to get Frazier’s email. Also no surprise, I’d been awake all night with regrets and fears and mental budgets and crazy plans for making the rent.

But why was I so strung out that I had coffee cooling in front of me? I hate coffee, and I haven’t ordered it since I quit trying to look sophisticated at eighteen. Why was I so rattled that I had ordered it, as if, instead of simply being conventional wording for “present yourself to be chewed out and then fired” the email had been a subliminal command?

Frazier had his coffee now, and was approaching with a smile. Corporate creep. As he sat down, I noticed that the smile was real, and he was relaxed. He was outright friendly when he said hello.

I couldn’t stand it. It was too late to worry about business etiquette anyway. I blurted out, “So you’re firing me. Is there anything we need to discuss?”

     He smiled wider. “You think I’d let you off so easy? Firing is too good for you. You proved you’re perfect for the next phase of the project.”

You can find Ellen at:
Twitter: @EllenGragg

Thanks Ellen, for dropping by and sharing that great writing seminar tip.

Don’t forget to check back next week for another tip or tweak.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tuesday Tips and Tweaks


This week author Marianne Stephens joins us with her tip. Marianne writes both mainstream and erotic romance (as April Ash) in contemporary and paranormal genres.

Marianne’s Tip
Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue: Keep Dialogue “Real”

My first attempt at writing was a dismal failure. I wrote a 50,000 word story, sent queries to agents, and had one actually ask to read it. Surprised me since I kept thinking “This can’t be so easy. You haven’t paid your dues yet”.

I was right!

The agent politely told me that I needed dialogue in my book...not all the narrative I’d written. I had much to learn.

Characters need to speak as if they’re standing next to you and talking to you. They use contractions and colloquial terms. They sometimes don’t finish a sentence, but let it end abruptly. They also use fragments/phrases, not complete sentences. Examples:


“All my fault for not opening my eyes and seeing the truth. People tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen.” She poured more of the pink bubbly into her glass. “I don’t mean to bother you so if you need to go, please don’t let me keep you. I appreciate that you delivered the box. Just can’t imagine who sent it.”

Colloquial terms:

Alan downed his drink and held out his glass for a refill. “No place to be. Wanna talk about what happened? I can be a good listener.”


“Your turn, Alan. Tell me your story. Broken heart? Lover somewhere waiting for you?”

Abrupt end:

Confused, Amy stared at him and then at the flowers. “You don’t have to do this, Alan. I know I was so pitiful last night and you…”

All these examples are from Cupid’s Curious Case, my short story in the Naughty Hearts Anthology.

Excerpt from Cupid’s Curious Case

Amy picked a pink candy with a red heart on it. Alan chose a blue piece that had white sprinkles on it. They popped their chosen pieces into their mouths at the same time.

A tingle went through Amy as she savored the rich treat. It spread through her body, and sent a shocking flame of desire to every inch of her body. There was a catch in her breath, and she itched to satisfy a lustful need she’d never felt with Scott.

She peeked at Alan, and noticed his eyes were closed as he devoured his candy. His breathing quickened, and dropping her gaze lower, she spied a distinct bulge pressing against his jeans’ zipper.

Alan opened his eyes and stared into hers. A heightened sense of craving, want, desire seemed to spark between them. Amy was at a loss for words, at least common sense ones. She wanted him. Here. Now. With a wanton passion.

“Try another piece,” she whispered, almost afraid to say anything.

“I—Sure. These are overwhelming. All my senses are aware of the decadent taste it leaves in my mouth. You too?”

“Yes,” she managed to answer before biting into a green piece of candy with a soft, minty inside that slid down her throat, leaving more tingling sensations wreaking havoc with her body.

Alan raked a hand through his hair. “Is it me, or is it hot in here?” 

A stinging rush of heat course through her, settling in her cheeks. “It must be the champagne.” She fanned her face with her hand. “It does feel warmer than before.”

“Why don’t we open your window a little? Cool us off.”

Both stood, and walked to the window. Amy cranked it open and a rush of cooler air flowed inside. For a moment she shivered, and then felt warmer as Alan, wrapped his arms around her.

“You’re cold. Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.”

Amy clasped his arms, hugging them tighter. “No. I mean, we can close the window, but I’m enjoying standing here with you.”

Alan pulled her back towards him. Amy couldn’t stop her hormones from racing into overdrive at the sensation of rubbing against the bulge in his jeans. “Turn around, Amy. I want to see you while I hold you in my arms. Please.”

She quickly turned to face him, never losing contact. Heat radiated between them, satisfying her passionate lust now controlling her every thought. “I want to be held by you—touch you.” She rested her head on his chest. “We’ve missed out on being with each other all this time. I feel a need now. And no, it’s not the champagne talking. It’s me. I’ve always hoped for more between us.”

Alan lifted her head, lowered his mouth to hers, and began with a slow, gentle kiss. He pulled his head away and said, “We’re together now. I want this. I want you. No, like the note said, I desire you.”

His next kiss was more urgent as he rubbed his hands down her back and lifted her rear end closer. “Tell me now if you want me to stop and I’ll leave. I’ll go, but I don’t want to.”

“No. Please stay. I want you,” she moaned, consumed in a need to have Alan make love to her.

You can find Marianne at:


Thanks Marianne, for dropping by and sharing that great writing tip on dialogue.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Research - Problems?

Rhobin has chosen another interesting topic.  All story genres take some research for establishing details in the setting. What type of research have you had to do? Does it bother you when you read something happening in a story that is inaccurate historically, socially, scientifically, etc.?

Okay, so first what research have I had to do? It was interesting because I have a friend who writes historical and I said I don’t know how you do all the research to make it accurate. And she said I don’t know how you make all your information for contemporary romantic suspense accurate.

It’s all the perspective.

For my contemporary romantic suspense I research police, witness protection, weapons, self defense, Native Americans, amnesia and Montana landscape.  And for my upcoming series – I had to research Afghanistan, women’s prisons and their dress, air lines and flight times.

I think as writers we have to make sure everything we write has to be researched and accurate.

And yes, it bothers me when I read something that’s incorrect. One comes to mind. In that book they were talking about the Empress Hotel (in British Columbia, Canada.) I’m Canadian and have been to the Empress several times and I included it in my series Hunted. They had it in Vancouver.

The Empress is in Victoria. And all their other information was also inaccurate, - drove my crazy.

Now I'm going to hop over to see what others have to say. Join me.
Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Rachael Kosnski ://
Heidi M. Thomas
Marci Baun
Anne Stenhouse
Helena Fairfax
Connie Vines
Kay Sisk
Fiona McGier
A.J. Maguire
Judith Copek
Lynn Crain
Rhobin Courtright

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Secondary Characters

Okay, I have to admit, I love my secondary characters I find them fun to create and a lot less stressful than my major characters (hero/heroine/villain).

And often, because I don’t feel restrained creating them, they blossom and become stronger than they should be – usually crying out for their own book.

Why do we have the secondary characters? I always thought they were there to help showcase the hero/heroine to the readers and to be a resource to share information with the readers.

Here’s what others have to say about secondary characters.

Carly Watters, Literary Agent has this to say about writing secondary characters.

-They should feel like they have a life of their own and are just popping into this story for a minute. Your secondary characters’ lives shouldn’t revolve around the main character’s. They should feel like they live on after the book is done.

-They should have their own motivations. How are they involved in the story other than being a friend? Think about them as being bigger than a convenient tool. They should feel organic and authentic, not a puppet of the writer and the message.

-They should contribute to the external conflict, not just be there for quiet talks over coffee. The best secondary characters aren’t merely a sounding board or a place to use dialogue when you’re tired of exposition. The best secondary characters are part of the main plot or theme, too.

-They should compare and/or contrast to your main character’s quirks and struggles. Similar characters mute stories and make them forgettable. Secondary characters and their subplots should be unique and show differences and/or similarities. Use them subtly and organically, and it will help you prove your point without hitting us over the head.

Writing secondary characters should take as much time as your main character. Make them larger than life. Write their characters sketches.

Wow – so now I have more pressure on how to write those secondary characters, because, I admit, I haven’t been doing as Carly suggested. Yes, they had a bit of a history, but they were fun to write and mostly to share information with the reader.

And here’s one more opinion on Creating Memorable Secondary Characters

Who says main characters get all the attention?

Think of Dorie in Finding Nemo.
As a secondary character, she steals the show with her humor.

Rhino, the loveable hamster in Bolt, adds panache as he cheers for Bolt and becomes endearing to us in his own right.

How about Abu from Aladdin, the kids in Incredibles?

Who can forget the old lady with a shotgun in Ratatouille?

Or housekeeper, Minnie, from The Help?

Now, how can you create a secondary character that's loveable, despicable, memorable, hilarious, endearing, or infuriating?

Give your secondary characters a fascinating backstory.

Alley Cat Pepper suggested journaling from the perspective of my antagonist over a year ago. Since then, I've done so with a variety of other characters. Getting into their heads has definitely helped me write stronger secondary characters.
Make him/her sequel worthy.

You know you've created an in-depth secondary character when readers beg for a sequel from that character's perspective. One example would be Surrender the Dawn by Mary Lu Tyndall. I so desperately wanted to read Luke's story because he was an excellent secondary character with a lot of depth.

Give them a quirky trait, particularly as they are relating to your hero or heroine.

Any character who shows up more than once should have at least a few identifying traits.
Maybe the car repairman has a nervous tic and always shakes when he's signing the receipts.

Perhaps the doctor who has diagnosed your heroine's cancer always smiles when giving bad news. Its a nervous habit.

If they are a more major secondary character, go even more in-depth with their personality.

Think of your secondary character who has the most major role in the story. Consider taking a few minutes to take an MBTI assessment on your most important secondary character. Interview your secondary character as if your his or her therapist.

The Book Buddy is a resource that has helped me increase the depth of my minor characters.

Think about motivations of this secondary character. Why do they do what they do? What are their needs? Do they have a "lie" they believe that affects the main character?

For instance, although we are each responsible for our own journeys perhaps mom believed a lie that she then "taught" to the main character during childhood. Main character has to unlearn this lie throughout her journey.

You don't have to include all these details in the story (in fact you probably shouldn't) but it can help you to understand their journey and to write more compelling scenes.

Don't forget the most compelling secondary characters don't need to be human.

Think of Dorie. Abu. The dog in The Accidental Tourist.

Pets can be believable and loveable companions to your character and have their own quirky traits.

Remember opposites attract isn't just true in romantic scenarios.

Sidekicks are often compelling and interesting because they have opposite personality traits to the main character. Think of movies with a "funny" sidekick. Danny DeVito has often played this role in the movies. These characters make us laugh. Even in the most serious books (I enjoy writing what my hubby likes to call women with issues fiction...though who among us doesn't have issues) we need a break for laughter.

A good secondary character is an emotion trigger.

Our main character typically isn't neutral toward a well-drawn secondary character. She helps draw out emotion from the main character.

Okay – wow – not what I was thinking when I decided to write secondary characters. I really have to rethink them. And I loved this line “Do they have a "lie" they believe that affects the main character?”

Hmm, and I write romantic suspense. I need to work this.

What about you?
What are your thoughts on secondary characters?


Monday, March 16, 2015

Tuesday's Tips and Tweaks

This week author Susan Berliner joins us with her tip. Susan Berliner, author of the supernatural thrillers, DUST, Peachwood Lake, The Disappearance, and Corsonia, lives in Yorktown Heights, New York, where she's writing a collection of short stories and a two-part doomsday novel.

Susan’s Tip on Writing - Finding the "Write" Time

"It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer." – Gerald Brenan

Although people ask me for writing advice all the time, I find it impossible to tell someone else how to write a novel because there are no rules for creativity. Some authors outline their stories; others (like me) let the characters dictate the action. Some novels are plot driven (like mine); others are character driven. Some books have short chapters (like mine); others have long chapters. The options are endless. That's why the only suggestions I can give a wanna-be writer involve time management.

Since becoming a novelist, I've had many people tell me—in person and online—that they've "tried" to write books, but couldn't do it. I remember one woman who said she had written 100 pages and then stopped. Another woman said she wrote a chapter of a novel, put it aside, and never looked at it again. "I just can't find the time," numerous men and women have told me.

So how do you become a "real" author—one who finishes writing a book? The answer is very simple: You force yourself to write—and that means you must find writing time. How do you find the time? You treat writing as a job—something you have to do—by getting into a writing routine and disciplining yourself to write for a certain amount of time every day. And it doesn't have to be for a long period; you don't need to lock yourself in a room for eight hours a day to produce a book.

Here's what I do: Each morning, even if I don't feel like working, I go into the den, remove the phone, close the door, and tell my family not to bother me. Then I sit at the computer and write. But I only write for about an hour a day. Although it doesn't seem like much time, the words add up. I estimate I produce about 300 words a day, which becomes 2,100 words a week, and 9,000 words a month. In six months, writing just one hour a day can generate over 50,000 words—enough for a short novel.

And if you have a full-time job and can't spare an hour each day for writing, you can set aside a shorter amount of time—half an hour or even fifteen minutes. It really doesn't matter how short a period you designate for your writing time. What's important is that you stay disciplined and stick to whatever writing schedule you've established.

The secret to becoming a writer is to write. So, if you want to be a writer, don't procrastinate—just write!

Excerpt from “Corsonia” 

     Loren and Tracie reached the yard with the flopping clothes and stood quietly, watching the shirts and pants swaying in rhythm with the warm breeze.
     "I don't know," Tracie said. "It still seems kinda quiet here. If there was a bunch of people around, we'd hear something, wouldn't we?"
     Loren lowered herself to the ground, leaned against a bush, and gazed at the back of the two-story yellow shingled house. "Do you see any lights on inside?"
     "No," Tracie said as she sat beside her friend. "But it's daytime and the sun is shining so that doesn't mean anything. This whole trip was your idea so what do you want to do next—peek in the window again?"
     "Maybe." Loren slapped the pebbly grass with her left hand. "Damn! I thought for sure we'd just find some people who live here and talk to them outside. I don't want to tiptoe around and have that sheriff come back."
     "Yeah. Well, I told you this wouldn't be as easy as you said. Maybe no one's living in this place either. Maybe they don't use any of these houses anymore."
     "Then how do you explain the laundry?" Loren asked.
     "Maybe they just use this house to wash their clothes."
     "For a whole bunch of people? That's not enough clo..."
     Loren stopped talking in mid-sentence at the unexpected greeting, which came from behind the bush.
     The two girls turned and faced a boy, who looked like he was eleven- or twelve-years-old. His blond hair was cropped in a short crew cut and he wore a black oversized tee shirt that said "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and a pair of men's brown shorts so baggy that they would have fallen down if he hadn't been wearing a belt.
     The boy stared at Loren and Tracie, but didn't speak.
     "Hi," Tracie finally said, smiling. "I'm Tracie and this is my friend, Loren. What's your name?"
     The boy looked puzzled and kept staring at the girls.
     "It's okay," Tracie continued, speaking slowly and quietly. "You can talk to us. We won't bite you." She smiled again.
     "Why would you bite me?" the boy asked, pausing between each of the five words. "People do not bite," he added in his strange staccato-like speech pattern.
     "I was just trying to make a joke," Tracie explained.
     "What is a 'joke'?" the boy asked.
     Tracie looked at Loren, who shrugged. "Well, a joke is something that's funny—something that makes you laugh."
     "Oh, a laugh, like from a smile. I can do that." The boy made a wide grin.
     "That's right," Tracie said. "Very good. So we told you our names. What's your name?"
     "I am called Boy 11."
     "Yes," Loren said. "But what's your real name?"
     The boy looked at her unhappily. "I do not understand. I am Boy 11."
     Tracie grasped Loren's hand, holding it tightly. "That's fine, Boy 11. Do you live here?" She pointed to the house behind the laundry line.
     "That is the school," he said.
     "Oh," Tracie said. "You go to school with teachers and other children?"
     Boy 11 nodded. "Teacher."
     "It sounds like fun," Tracie said, smiling again.
     "We do not laugh in school," the boy said, frowning at her.
     Tracie waited a moment before continuing. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you, but we'd like to meet some of your family."
     Boy 11 continued to frown.
     "Do you have a family?" Tracie asked quietly.
     Boy 11 sat across from the two girls and lowered his head. "I found books in a big box on floor one," he said in his choppy speech. "I took three books to read and I learned about 'family.' There was mother, father, sister, brother."
     "Oh," Tracie said. "You don't live like the people in the book?"
     The boy shook his head. "I live with Boy 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12."
     "What about Boy 1, 2 and 3?" Tracie asked.
     The boy shrugged.
     "Maybe they're little," Loren suggested.
     "Yeah," Tracie agreed. "But Boy 9 must be bigger. What about him?"
     "I do not know," Boy 11 said in his slow clipped speech, looking sadly at Tracie. "Boy 9 is gone."
     "You don't know where he went?" Loren asked.
     "No." The boy looked as if he was going to cry.
     Tracie quickly changed the subject. "So where do you and the other boys sleep?" she asked.
     "In a house."
     "Yes. But where is the house?"
     "I do not know. A man takes us there after school."
     "Why aren't you in school today, Boy 11?"
     The boy tilted his head downward again. "I like to walk outside so I leave."
     "And the teacher just lets you go?" Loren asked.
     Boy 11 shrugged.
     They remained quiet until Tracie continued the questioning. "Doesn't the teacher notice you aren't there?"
     "I do not know," the boy said, his head still lowered.
     "Wish I could've done that in school," Loren muttered.
     Tracie elbowed her friend softly in the ribs. "When do you go back inside?" she asked.
     "When the sun moves down," he said, raising his head and glancing at the sky.
     "Does the teacher say anything when you walk back into the room?"
     Boy 11 shook his head.
     "Okay, then," Tracie said. "Who else is in the school with you?"
     "Boy 4, Boy 5, Boy 6, Boy..."
     "All the boys you live with that you mentioned before," Loren said, interrupting him.
     "What about girls?" Tracie asked. "Are they in your school too?"
     "Where do the girls go to school?"
     "I do not know," he said, shrugging.
     "Wow," Loren murmured and Tracie poked her in the ribs again.
     "Is there anyone else in your school?" Tracie asked.
     "Woman 28."
     "And what does she do?" Tracie continued.
     "She makes the food, cleans the rooms, and washes the clothes." Boy 11 nodded toward the swaying laundry.
     "Sounds like Cinderella," Loren muttered.
     Boy 11 stood up abruptly. "I must go into the school now," he said, looking at the girls. "Do you have a story book?"
     Tracie shook her head. "I'm sorry, Boy 11. We don't have any books with us. But we can come back tomorrow afternoon and bring you a book. What would you like to read about?"
     "A family—a family with a mother and father and children."
     "Sure." Tracie smiled. "We'll find a good book for you, Oh, and please don't tell the teacher you talked to us."
     Looking confused, Boy 11 stared at Tracie. "I do not talk to Teacher."
     "That's fine then," she said, smiling again. "We'll see you tomorrow, Boy 11."
     "Goodbye," he said. Then he turned and ran to the house.

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You can find Susan at:


Thanks Susan, for dropping by and sharing that great marketing tip.

Don’t forget to check back next week for another tip or tweak.