Thursday, March 29, 2012

New York City

Okay, so my husband and I took a trip to the Big Apple this past weekend because he had tickets to the Art Expo (courtesy of Tim Gagnon -- thanks, Tim!). You have to realize, I love New York. It's my favorite city -- ever. Granted, I haven't been in too many other large cities, but New York has Broadway and off-Broadway and that puts it in a special place in my heart.

While there we went to see Avenue Q and Channeling Kevin Spacey. First one was funny (dirty, but really, really funny) and the second one, wasn't the worst I've ever seen (that honor goes to The Pirate Queen), but it wasn't the best, either. 'Nuff said.

On the train ride home, Steven and I got to talking about how many times we've been down to the city. We live in the Finger Lakes region of NY and the city's only about 350 miles away. Still, it's far enough (and expensive enough!) that we don't get there very often.

I thought. Being the anal-retentive, data-driven person I am, I decided to make a database of all the times I've been to New York City. I started with my first trip back in 1973 when I was a freshman in high school (yeah, okay. Go ahead and do the math. I'll wait. Done? Let's move on...). I recorded the dates (some approximate), my method of transportation, who I went with, the reason for the trip, where I stayed (when I could remember) and what I saw (including tourist sights as well as shows).

From 1973 to last weekend, I'm counting a total of 20 trips in 39 years. I've seen 21 different shows, some musicals, some straight plays, and one mime show (Bill Irwin is the best!) and the Radio City Rockette's Christmas show. I've stayed in at least 10 different places (including on the couch of friends who lived there for a while), eaten in every type of place from a diner to an exclusive club where you had to know someone on the inside just to walk in the door.

I love the diversity, the noise, the smells (did you know NYC smells differently in the summer than in the winter? When its cold, there are chestnut vendors on the streetcorners and the scent of roasting chestnuts permeates Times Square). I love the sights, the museums, the shows, the people (I finally got to see the Naked Cowboy this last trip!!!). Let's just face it, I love New York! :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are you a plotter?

The concept of creation has always fascinated me. How a painter creates a painting, how a carver brings beauty out of a branch, how an author creates life out of a vocabulary of words. The creative process has been dissected by scientists and poets alike, yet still remains more than a mystery.

And yet, for all our differences, writers fall into two creative categories when it comes to sitting down and starting that story. You're either a pantser (as in "writing by the seat of your pants") or a plotter (as in determining the details of your story before begin to write it).

That said, within those two categories, there are hundreds of approaches. Several years ago I interviewed about a dozen authors all of whom called themselves plotters. Each of them spent considerable time hammering out plot points, determining character arcs, nailing down details. Only when they had every piece of information pre-determined, did they actually sit down and write the story. Because they knew everything about the tale so well, the actual writing took, comparatively, very little time.

Let me tell you A Tale of Two Plotters:

Author #1
 1. starts with character
 2. makes two lists:
  • things she’d like to have happen
  • things she knows will happen
3. has a general story flow in her head
4. uses a “plot partner.” Through IM, gets 90% of her plot figured out
5. writes synopsis
6. does storyboarding
  • uses posterboard and different colored sticky notes (one color for protagonist, one for antagonist, perhaps a third color for subplot)
  •  adds minor scenes; fleshes out the subplot; finds the character arc, keeps the story moving, looks for ironic twists.
7. transfers the contents of the storyboard back to the synopsis; be sure to tell HOW events happen
 She spends between 4 – 12 weeks on this process before actually writing the story!
8. writes the story

Author #2
 1. starts with character bios (in longhand)
2. determines what the character looks like, wears, etc
3. creates a  “conflict grid” for each character including information on their:
  • life goal
  • story goal
  • conflict of circumstance
  • conflict of relationship
  • conflict of personality
  • epiphany
Makes sure the character cannot achieve both the story goal and the life goal (adds conflict)

4. Makes a “plot grid” by
  • dividing the plot into chapters
  • filling in all the major plot points
  • determining character goals, motivations, turning points
  • adds a ‘notes’ line on the grid for pieces of dialogue, descriptions, settings, etc.

5. writes synopsis (more on writing these soon)
 The above takes her “weeks.” Only then does she write her story.

So you can see these two authors have very different approaches, yet both are very clear on their story's plot and characters before they write.

The advantages to plotting are obvious. Problems in the story can be located and corrected before the author gets too far into the writing. Because character arc and major (and sometimes minor) plot points are already developed, the author can spend more time on choosing the right words to create believable dialogue and beautiful imagery. And the author isn't surprised when her story takes a sudden right turn because that turn occurred during the plotting process and is now a part of the story (or the author yanked the story back onto the straight and narrow).

Plotting out a story is especially useful for mystery writers. It's very easy to write oneself into a hole if you're pantsing along and now you can't figure out how to get your hero and heroine out of the terrible fix you just put them in. Thrillers, horror stories and mysteries benefit from plotting the story first.

Have I convinced you? Good! Next week I'll tell you all the reasons pantsing a story is more fun!

Play safe, 


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The 36 Dramatic Situations

Over the centuries millions of stories have been told, written, acted out or filmed. So there must be millions of plots, yes? Countless ways for characters to unfold their actions. After all, for every path chosen, there are dozens left behind.

And yet, you would be wrong. Back in the late 1700’s, CarlosGozzi, an Italian playwright, condensed the plots of plays in an attempt to find out just how many there were. For example: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. In a nutshell, that’s the plot of every romance novel ever written. It’s no secret. Think of your favorite romance in any genre. Bet it can be boiled down to those three actions.

In the mid 1800’s, a Frenchman, Georges Polti, picked up the task, examining the scripts of ancient Greek plays as well as the more modern plays being performed on the French stage and determined that, in total, there were only thirty-six dramatic situations. That’s it! Thirty-six core plots for the millions of stories that existed.

I first found Polti’s work at a library book sale. There, in the midst of all the Harlequins, detective stories and Star Trek novels (and yes, I bought every single ST they had), sat this unassuming book. Thin volume, had the word “dramatic” on the cover. I picked it up as my husband and I also collect scripts (imagine an 18-foot long shelf with them so tightly packed you can’t squeeze another one in and you have our collection thus far).

Of course, Polti’s book is not a script, but an analysis OF scripts –and their plots. It has had a place of honor on my writer’s shelf ever since. And I’m not alone.

Over the years, the book has become an invaluable tool for writers looking to jump-start their writer’s block. It also has had people searching for that elusive 37th situation. There must be more. There must! Right?

When I first put this workshop together several years ago, I found that someone had identified a new situation and found references to it all over the Web. Unfortunately, I cannot find attribution anywhere. So yes, a 37th Situation has been identified (and is included below in the list). Now to find a 38th :).

Polti posed several questions all authors should ask, not only of their own work, but of what is currently available in the marketplace. Looking for the Next Big Topic/Genre? Perhaps we have a vision of the future in these questions:

         “Which are the dramatic situations neglected by our own epoch, so faithful in repeating the few       most familiar? Which, on the other hand, are most in use today? Which are the most neglected in each epoch, genre, school, author? What are the reasons for these preferences?”

The book Polti wrote, The 36 Dramatic Situations, was translated into English in the early 20th century and is available online. For your convenience, the list below lists the basic plot device and then the characters required for that plot.

What are you waiting for? Read on – and write!

1. Supplication
a Persecutor; a Supplicant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.

2. Deliverance
an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer

3. Crime pursued by vengeance
an Avenger; a Criminal

4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
an Avenging Kinsman; Guilty Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim; a Relative of both

5. Pursuit
Punishment; a Fugitive

6. Disaster
a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger

7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune

8. Revolt
a Tyrant; a Conspirator

9. Daring enterprise
a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary

10. Abduction
an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian

11. The enigma
an Interrogator; a Seeker; a Problem

12. Obtaining
(a Solicitor & an Adversary who is refusing) or (an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties)

13. Enmity of kin
a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman

14. Rivalry of kin
the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry

15. Murderous adultery
two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse

16. Madness
a Madman; a Victim

17. Fatal imprudence
the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost

18. Involuntary crimes of love
a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer

19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim

20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed

21. Self-sacrifice for kin
a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed

22. All sacrificed for passion
a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed

23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice

24. Rivalry of superior v. inferior
a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry

25. Adultery
two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse

26. Crimes of love
a Lover; the Beloved

27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
a Discoverer; the Guilty One

28. Obstacles to love
two Lovers; an Obstacle

29. An enemy loved
a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater

30. Ambition
an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary

31. Conflict with a god
a Mortal; an Immortal

32. Mistaken jealousy
a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake

33. Erroneous judgement
a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One

34. Remorse
a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator

35. Recovery of a lost one
a Seeker; the One Found

36. Loss of loved ones
a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner

And a “new” one!
37. Mistaken Identity
a person who believes him/herself to be someone else; getting away with an action while someone else is blamed

 An interactive list can be found here. :)


Saturday, March 17, 2012


As an author I'd love to say I don't pay any attention to my reviews. That I just write the best book I can, I put it out there and then move on to the next one.

Pffft. Baloney on that! I read every single review that comes my way, good or bad.  Bad ones don't bother me too much -- every book won't please every person. That's okay. That's why we have variety in life. If someone didn't like the book, ah's hoping you'll like the next one.

But good reviews? Those can put me in a good mood for days. And when a book I wrote gets a "top pick" or a "gold star" review? Oh, yeah, then I'm sitting pretty and thinking all's right with the world.

So let me give a special shout out to Night Owl Reviews for their recent review of Services Rendered. Sandibuck gave it a 5 -- the rare Top Pick award and I'm doing the happy dance. Click the link above to read her review.

And, if you've already read the book, feel free to stop in on the Amazon page or the EC page and leave your own thoughts about it!

Play safe, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

This year's books

Last year I didn’t keep track of the books I read and partway through the year realized that was a mistake. I missed having a list I could look at and say, “Hey, this is how I’ve been spending my time. I’m not just playing solitaire on the computer or watching old movies on Netflix!”

So this year I’ve decided to take that up again and make note of the books I read. I’m off to an admittedly slow start, having completed only four books since January first and partly finished another.

When my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas I told him a new fantasy series to read. Fantasy is my first love as a genre and I’ve been through all the classics and a bunch of others. He took my wish to heart and got me all the Recluce novels by L.E. Modesett, Jr. All 24 of them. J

I decided to read them in the order in which Modesett wrote them and so started with The Magic of Recluce. Towers of the Sunset is the second and I’ve also finished that one. I liked the first one better only because of his use of the present verb tense in TofS. Didn’t know how much I liked past tense in storytelling until I read Towers of the Sunset. The verb tense kept pulling me out of the story. And that's too bad, because the stories themselves are compelling. The other issue I had (have?) is that there is no indication within the book of WHEN in the timeline of the overall story each novel takes place. Only after I'd read nearly a third of TofS did I realize that it took place in the far distant past to what had occurred in MofR. Confused? So was I.

Several of us at my day job formed a book club this year. The first book we chose to read was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Wow. THAT is an incredible story about an event that still pisses me off. Henrietta’s cancerous cells were taken from her uterus and sent to a lab without her knowledge. I won't say much more or this entire post could be about just this one book and me on my soapbox. I have but four words on the subject: go buy it now!

Our second book, TheLincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelley is the one I didn’t finish. I bought the book late (ebook, read on my Cruz), but found the noir style a little hard to get into. Interesting, but didn’t really engage me. Thus, I did something I haven’t done since I had to read sixteen novels in sixteen weeks for a marathon lit class in college: I read half the book then skipped to the end and read the last three chapters.

The last book I read was Homeplace by Anne Rivers Siddons. I’d never read her work before and found this one when I browsed the stacks at my local library (three cheers for browsing!). The blurb led me to believe the story was a romance, but once inside its far more a story about going home and coming to a fullness of understanding than it is a romance. I enjoyed it and will look for other books by Ms. Siddons. 

That’s it so far. Will group the books I read into a post periodically just for record-keeping’s sake. If you’ve read any of these books, what did you think of them?

Addendum: I’ve been ill the past few days and didn’t post this when I intended. As a result, I read another book, For the Earl’sPleasure by Anne Mallory. Interesting plot twist for a Regency. Won’t give it away as it’s a cute and easy read. I found it difficult to attend to at times, but I suspect that was my illness and not the book’s fault.

Addendum the second: I was REALLY sick this week and ended up curled in a chair for another 2 days after I wrote the last addendum. All I did was read. It was wonderful :). So adding two more to the total for the year. Have now read two-thirds of the Nora Roberts trilogy, Sign of the Seven: Blood Brothers and The Hollow. As a rule, I don't go in for spooky stuff, but these are REALLY, REALLY, REALLY good!

Okay, with four REALLYs in one paragraph, I think it's time to call it quits!

Play safe, everyone :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

better late than never

Have been ill the past several days and today got something worth celebrating. Blogged about it over at the Scribes...go on, take a're going to celebrate, too!

Writing Erotica

WARNING: this is a long blog post and the subject matter concerns the sexual act.


Ellora’s Cave published my first erotic romance, Secret Submission, in September of 2003. The following March I attended my very first Romantic Times Convention, held in New York City that year. With wide eyes and a fledgling’s eagerness, I went to this massive gathering of like-minded people, ready to take my place in the pantheon of published authors.

On the afternoon of my first day at the convention, after having spent the morning attending workshops geared toward making me an even better writer, a group of authors hosted a “meet and greet” opportunity. I took advantage of the opportunity not only to meet the authors hosting the soiree, but to meet others as well.

One author in particular stood out. We’d exchanged pleasantries and she told me a great deal about her books and who she wrote for (meaning her publisher). Then she looked at me and asked me what sub-genre of romance I wrote in. Blithly, I answered, “Contemporary Bondage.” I didn’t know jaws could drop that far.

To her credit, she recovered quickly and said, “I didn’t even know there was such a genre.” I assured her there was and that I wasn’t the only author writing in it. She smiled, made a polite excuse to leave and headed across the room.

That was my first glimmer that writing erotica wasn’t perhaps as accepted as I thought it might be. In those early years, however, I found many people who’s glances became decidedly judgmental when they found out what I wrote. Heck, I even wrote a piece entitled, “So You Want to be a BDSM writer?” for Amazon, partly to warn other beginning writers what they might be in for.

So if you really want to walk this path, remember, you’ve been warned! J

Romance/erotic romance/porn
But you’re still here and you’re still reading, so let’s get into the subject of today’s workshop, yes? How is writing erotica different from writing other genre?

The easy answer? The sex. In erotica, there’s lots of sex. Lots and lots of sex. And then there’s some more sex, followed by a generous helping of sex and finished of with, you guessed it, sex.

So what’s the difference between erotica and porn? Or heck, even erotica and some mainstream romances that get pretty darn steamy?

Think of the romances your mother read, or grandmother read if you’re under 35. In those traditional romances the hero and heroine kissed, went into the bedroom, the door shut and the chapter ended. When the story picked up, it was morning. The reader knew full well what happened behind that door, but that’s where it remained – out of sight.

But readers wanted more and romance authors complied. Read most modern day romances and the hero and heroine kiss, go into the bedroom and the reader goes in with them, standing at the bottom of the bed and watching as they make love. We’re voyeurs, still apart from the act, yet getting to see the love.

“More, more, more!” Cried the readers. And so erotic romance was born. The hero and heroine kiss, they enter the bedroom, and the readers go under the sheets with them. Body parts are referred to, passion is ignited, we watch the hero’s hands as he fingers her pussy and brings her to a climax.

Some people, of course, feel that crosses the line to porn yet there is a very distinct difference between porn and erotica. Porn is sex for sex’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the only purpose of porn is to excite the libido by showing the sexual act.

Erotica has that same sex, yes. It isn’t erotica without it. But in erotica, the sex is not gratuitous. It has to be part of the story. All the sex that occurs MUST occur within the confines of the plot or character development.

Think of it this way. In porn, the book/movie exists only to show you sex. In erotica, the book/movie exists to tell you a story and, by the way, there’s a lot of sex involved. The characters must be believable, even if they are doing acts the reader only dreams of doing.

Balancing the physical with the emotional

One of the tricks to writing erotica is getting the emotions to balance with the physical actions. This is perhaps the hardest part when you’re starting out. Writers get so involved in one or the other that the scene becomes confusing. How did his hand get over there? How does she feel about that?

Which, of course, leads to another trap beginning erotica writers fall into.  Make sure the positions you put your characters into are actually possible. You’d be surprised how often you’ve changed their positions in your imagination, but have forgotten to write it down. Wait, her hands were tied behind her back, how can she put them around his neck???

My advice is to write the positions first. Take your time and note their reactions, their feelings as they go through the sexual scene, but get the physical action recorded so it flows continuously. Then go back through and add in the good stuff. Remember, sex without passion is porn at its worst, so this is where you really want to amp up the heat index. Make us feel what they’re feeling. And use all your senses.

Remember, people having sex make noises. Slurping, sloshing, smacking noises. Let us hear them. Be wary, however, of setting these words outside the action. Describe the snap of the whip as it splits the air in two over her head rather than going for the onomatopoetic, yet thoroughly unsatisfying single word followed by an exclamation point: “Crack!” That plain word is the sign of a lazy writer.


Speaking of word choices, a word here about “sexy” vs. “non-sexy” words. Readers have become sophisticated over the years and the purple prose of yester-year no longer rings true to today’s audiences. So please, no more “mounds of pleasure,” or “cave of wonders.” No more “throbbing manhoods” or “family jewels.” Women have breasts and vaginas or pussys. Men have penises and testicles or cocks and balls. Call ‘em what they are, folks.

Sidenote: I’ll never forget the first time I read aloud from my work in Second Life. I was used to writing the words and didn’t think twice about it—until I got to the word “cock.” Writing the word and saying it out loud in front of a group of people are two totally different things. I could see it approaching on the page and turned bright red on my side of the computer screen. My mind desperately tried to figure a way to rewrite the sentence and avoid saying that word. Alas, my brain froze, however, and my mouth kept rattling on, the word getting closer and closer. Finally, I took a deep breath, rushed through the sentence and just kept going really really fast, hoping no one would notice.

Of course, they did and I got teased about it for quite some time. They made me feel more comfortable with saying the words out loud and by the time I stopped giving readings in SL, the words no longer bothered me.

Still won’t say them in front of my mother, though. J

Final thoughts

The cardinal rule of writing applies to erotica probably even more than it does to any other genre: If you’re bored writing it, readers are going to be bored reading it. To put it crudely: if it turns you on? You’re going to turn on your readers, too.

Play safe!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Last Day of Read an Ebook Week - and news

This is it, folks. Be sure to get these titles while they're on sale!

I've decided against closing down my old Yahoo! Group, but I will no longer update it, either. I've changed the homepage so it directs here. Sign up for the newsletter by using the subscription box in the upper left corner of the blog. If you're reading this in a viewer, you'll have to click through to see it.

Speaking of the newsletter, if you already receive it, be sure to open the email when you get it. If you only read it in a reading pane, it doesn't register as opened and I have no idea if people are just tossing it into their trash without reading it or if they're reading it with baited breath in their reading pane. I'm a data junkie, so help me out and open the newsletter email all the way?

Just finished edits for Sahara Heat --which you already know if you get my newsletter. :) What I can include here but forgot to put into the newsletter is a sneak peak at the cover.

I've written two different blurbs for this Quickie. Here's the short one:

Agreeing to meet archaeologist Josef Anderson, Carla isn't at all sure she's not being set up on a blind date from halfway around the world. But one look at the tall, handsome Norse god who is into bondage and all things BDSM and Carla's ready for his Sahara Heat.

And here's the long one:

When her best friend calls her from the Sahara Desert, Carla Braun suspects an ulterior motive. Nevertheless, she agrees to meet Dr. Josef Anderson and hear him out, even if she suspects her friend of setting her up on a blind date from the other side of the world.

But Dr. Anderson proves to be far more interesting than the story he has to tell and when he suggests a dinner date, Carla can’t help but be intrigued. When a slip of the tongue reveals the good doctor’s kinkier side…Carla is very willing to make his short stay in the city a trip he won’t soon forget.

Which one do you like better?

Not sure on the publication date, but I know it's coming soon!

Last news for today, I'm blogging over at the Scribes tomorrow, so be sure to stop by and say hello!

Play safe,

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Big Goodbye

No, I'm not going anywhere. But your characters are in today's workshop!

The Big Goodbye…creating scenes of leave-taking

It's important to remember that people leave all the time, whether its the simple run to the grocery store, a son leaving for the military...or someone dying in your arms.

These are all scenes where goodbyes happen. The pathos one wants to create depends on the level of emotional engagement you want from the reader at that particular moment. A simple goodbye kiss as a husband leaves for work can have little or no impact on the reader....until he doesn't come home again, having died in an auto accident or a shooting at the local convenience store.

It's the author's job to decide the level of emotional import a scene has...and then craft it accordingly. It's equally important to remember that every scene must move the plot or the character development forward in some way.

Leave-taking could mean a son going off to college or two people saying farewell for a time or for forever.


Either choose two characters you've already created and write a scene where they must part, or, if you have no work in progress for this activity, create new characters and a new story that starts with a leave-taking. Decide the level of emotional involvement you want from your readers (from a shoulder-shrug to openly weeping) and aim for that in your scene.

Remember what you learned in the workshop on the stages of grief. Some of that may apply to your scene as well.

As always, writing is what I do for a living. A donation helps to keep the homefires burning and food on the table. Thanks!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Celebrate the E-book!

And to help you celebrate, use the coupon codes for a discounted price!

Choose a book below that you want to download, and click on the link. Then use the coupon code printed in the sidebar to get your discount.  It's easy, its fun...and a great way to celebrate!

Click here to purchase Table for Four for 50% off!
50% off!

NOTE:  I Stay a Little Longer is not on sale because it's already priced at 99 cents. Don't let that stop you from picking up this short, slice-of-life story!

Click here to purchase Tales from the Ramayana at 50% off!

Click here to purchase Timeless Love for 50% off!

Click here to purchase Hardship and Hardtack for 50% off!

50% off

Click here to purchase Yours to Command at 26 % off!