02-25 Historical Romance Writer Varina Martindale
Common and Uncommon Questions About Blindness

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Common and Uncommon Questions About Blindness by Varina Martindale

As a child, Varina Martindale fell in love with stories about pioneers, runaway slaves, and other people living in past times, so when she began writing romances, they were bound to have historical settings. While still seeking fiction publication, she keeps busy writing, reading, and crocheting. 
 I was born with sight in only my left eye--enough sight to read large print if I held the book so near my face that fully sighted children teased me for smelling it, to watch TV or movies if I sat close to the screen, and to enjoy drawing. When I was ten, my retina detached due to a genetic syndrome my family didn’t know we had. Within three months, I went from large print and magnifiers to Braille and recorded books, as well as from writing and illustrating picture books to simply writing.
            Over the following decades, people have asked some questions repeatedly.
            Do I talk to my computer?
            I type, and thanks to text-to-speech software called JAWS, my computer speaks what I’ve written, as well as the text I move the cursor over. Sometimes I scold the computer for not following commands promptly.
            How do I crochet and knit without seeing the work?
            By touch. I remember a small thrill, at sixteen, when I realized I could feel the difference between a row of knit stitches and a row of purls based on which side of the work the bumps were on.
            How long did I take to learn Braille?
            About six months. First, I learned letters and punctuation. Then I learned “contractions,” characters that stand for letter combinations or whole words. Fortunately, I began learning weeks before my retina started detaching, to have an extra reading option.
            A question only one person has asked me took me aback. Three years ago, a waiter asked how I could find my mouth when eating. Nineteenth-century, blind hymn writer FannyCrosby so tired of this question on school choral tours that she finally answered that she and her classmates tied strings between their mouths and the table. I can be snide, too, but that night, I laughed a flustered laugh and said, “I don’t know. I just do.”
            I’ve never had trouble finding my mouth. Finding the silverware or my drink or a pill or that last bite of food, yes, but never my mouth. It’s right under my nose, where it was when I could see. Presumably, my hand remembered the path from long habit.
            In Stephen White’s gripping mystery, Privileged Information, the hero’s girlfriend suffers temporary blindness, and he feeds her soup. I like that he cooks for her; food cans often feel alike. However, this scene grows from her fear of losing control of her normally controlled life, rather than directly from her blindness.
            I can recommend two books which get details about blindness right. When the Snow Flies, a historical romance by Laurie Alice Eakes, portrays a doctor still adjusting to blindness caused by a shooting. In another historical romance, Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster’s Lady, Annique’s pov in early chapters contained details that I so took for granted that I didn’t immediately register that she couldn’t see.

            Writing blind characters requires research, like writing characters who are artists or math teachers. Blindness is one facet of multi-faceted human beings, who vary as widely as sighted people do. I may laugh my flustered laugh, if questions deal with things I do automatically, but don’t be afraid to ask. ~Varina Marindale

You can reach Varina at varinam@cox.net

Friday, February 24, 2017

Loony in Love

By Linda Lovely

The internet is a wonderful tool for authors who want to do research and get it “right” when it’s impossible for them to view in-person the scene or activity they want to describe in a book. That’s the reason I spent maybe an hour the other morning watching YouTube videos of billy goats in rut. Quite the morning wake up.

The research is for the second book in my new Brie Hooker Mystery series, which is set on a fictional goat cheese farm, Udderly Kidding Dairy, located near Clemson, South Carolina. I must say the antics of billy goats trying to impress the ladies are funny. Probably a lot funnier since YouTube allows me to watch without smelling the hairy dudes! According to everything I’ve read, billy goats only smell—okay stink—when they’re in rut. 

Since February is the month for Romance, I thought I’d share one of the billy goat videos I watched: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRPKgBo0vqo  Whatever made the first billy goat think that wagging his long tongue in the air and blubbering like a fool would prove irresistible to a doe?

Watching the billy goats’ behavior in the videos made me wonder how many other animal courtship/ mating rituals are as bizarre. Again, thanks to minimal internet research, I found some animal mating activities that make the billy goat’s behavior seem tame. Exploding testicles, oh my!  Here’s another link if you want to see 30 of the strangest animal mating habits:  http://www.neatorama.com/2007/04/30/30-strangest-animal-mating-habits/

How did these behaviors ever start/evolve? Perhaps because we’re human, we don’t think our courtship behaviors are strange at all. Nonetheless, here are a few of the unusual ways humans try to communicate their interest in the opposite sex. http://mentalfloss.com/article/28950/9-strange-courtship-rituals-around-world   

Fortunately, my husband only needed a wicked smile and a good sense of humor to attract my attention. Okay, the fact that he had thick black hair, an athlete’s build, and drove a 240Z didn’t hurt. Hey, I was young. He still has the wicked smile, good sense of humor, and athlete’s build, and his Ford truck has air conditioning. We won't mention the hair.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Silencing Your Inner Editor

I often struggle with silencing my internal editor. The little voice that provides a running commentary on everything I’m doing wrong with my writing. Of course, that little voice can be helpful in small, controlled doses when I’ve transferred my ideas to the page and am ready to refine them. But during the creative process, all it does is feed my doubts and block creativity until my characters stop talking to me.

Ever stared at a blank screen, the cursor taunting you with its incessant blinking, and felt paralyzed? What is so scary about that blank page? Often we have more ideas than time to work on them, so why can it be so difficult to get them from head to paper (or computer)? For me, it’s the fear of failure. The ideas seem so perfect in my head, and I want to do them justice, so I put a lot of pressure of myself. Now, when this happens I simply remind myself of the following advice that many writers would have heard time and again.

‘You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank one’

We waste a lot of energy talking ourselves out of writing because it might not be perfect. Why not refocus that energy into putting words to paper as they come. We can go back and ‘fix’ anything we’re not happy with later.

These fears can often continue throughout the writing process. Rather than taking off with an idea and letting the words flow onto the page, I find myself critiquing each paragraph, sentence or word, as I go along. I’ve even been known to stop mid-sentence searching for the ‘perfect’ word to describe something as inane as the color of the dirt on a character’s shoe.  Thankfully, I’ve been able to work on that bad habit, and rather than dwelling on something so small, I will move on, or alternatively, place a small note to come back to during the editing stage.

It’s important to remember that a first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s a way to let your creativity flow; to find your voice and let your ideas run wild. Once you’ve let all of that creativity out and have something to build on, you can go back and edit.

The next trick is being kind to yourself. Your inner critic will judge you and tear you apart... but if you find something you’ve written is just ‘rubbish’, have a laugh and try again. I’m sure even the most successful writers out there have cringe-worthy moments when reading over their initial drafts. It’s all part of the process.

Here are some tips to help you turn off that internal editor:

No editing: Put a ban on editing of any kind. This can be as simple as not being allowed to read over what you’ve written, or to be even more extreme, stop yourself from using the ‘backspace’ button at all. If you’ve made a typo it can be fixed later.

Set goals: Even if you have limited writing time, aim high. This is the idea behind the popular NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Participants need to complete 50,000 words in one month. It’s a big ask, and meeting that goal requires non-stop writing during precious writing time. For most people there’s no time to edit, therefore the words, and creativity, flows. 

Use a productivity app: Programs such as ‘Write or Die’ where you can set goals around word counts or time limits are extremely helpful. 

If you couldn’t possibly fathom writing an entire story without editing, then restrict it to one chapter at a time, or if that still causes heart palpitations, cut that back to one scene. C’mon, I know you can get through one scene without editing!

Many of these apps will also stop you from accessing the internet for a set amount of time - no more being distracted by social media.

Plan: This will be hard for my fellow ‘pantsers’, but it’s worth trying. Have a rough plan for your story. Sometimes, the more detailed, the better. I find if I have scenes planned out at certain points of the story, even if it’s just the overall objective of a scene (e.g. Show the development of trust between hero and heroine), it helps keep momentum. Stalling, or becoming ‘blocked’, is like holding up a ‘welcome’ sign to my internal editor. I must keep moving.

Note: Pantser = A novelist who writes by the Seat of their Pants, not taking time to plot the novel before beginning to write.

Try something different: If your self-control has disappeared and you absolutely cannot stop yourself from editing, it’s time to turn off the computer and try something else. Why not grab a pen and paper? Rewriting and amending the same sentence ten times suddenly becomes more difficult. Another alternative is to dictate your story. You don’t even need a Dictaphone. Most smart phones have a voice record/memo facility. Just hit record and start talking. No editing here. That can wait for when you transcribe it all later.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you let go of the fear and set your creativity free.

Lauren James is a country girl at heart. Raised on a small property surrounded by animals, it's no surprise she writes small town romance with lots of love for creatures great and small.

Having failed fabulously at painting, sewing and playing guitar, she finally found her creative outlet in writing strong, quirky heroines, and tough, handsome heroes with gooey animal-loving centers.

Lauren lives on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, with her beloved rescue greyhound, Daisy.

You can contact Lauren via her websiteFacebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Moving Furniture

by M. L. Buchman

Sometimes themes gather in one place in my life. When they do, when they clump together in close proximity of place or time, I've learned to pay attention. I'm in the middle of one right now and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be learning...yet. But it is time for this blog, which seems to be a part of this lesson. So, let's see what's going on.

I was watching an interview with the legendary documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog. He has directed 65 films over the last 55 years and written most of them. He has won over 50 awards, including Lifetime Achievement awards. 

"I saw my first cinema at 11." He grew up in a very small town and a traveling projectionist finally passed through and showed a "terrible" samurai film in the town's one room schoolhouse. Herzog was not only amazed at how a film could show another place, but he noticed a particular three seconds.

In a battle, a man is shot with an arrow, and falls dead from a high rock. Later, in the same battle, the same three seconds occurs--the exact same three seconds, spliced in twice. None of his friends believed him. He stayed through a second showing to prove to himself what he'd seen.

"It was the moment that I understood that film had structure. That it was built up of pieces."

He had seen the furniture move.

One of my favorite examples of this is Danielle Steele. Many think she is just a trashy romance writer. And every one of those people should look at the fortunes she's made--there are few writers who can boast such sales numbers. Danielle Steele doesn't only show you the furniture moving, she tells you that she's about to show it.

"Look. Look over here. Their relationship that was going along so smoothly is headed for trouble. See? See? They just don't know it yet. Here it comes..." Boom!

I was speaking with a writing teacher today and he was talking about trying to explain to students that the furniture doesn't merely move, it must move with purpose. And student after student was shocked, "Oh, I see it now." As if they didn't get what was happening.

The moving furniture can be anything: plot, theme, romance, Christmas, a meal... Think of the splendid Stanley Tucci movie Big Night. It is an entire movie centered around a meal.

Everything has purpose. The better writer I become, the more clearly I see it. Just this morning, I was brainstorming my next book with my wife. 

"Well," I tell her, "they are both experts in explosives." (This is in my military romantic suspense Delta Force series.)

"I get it! When do they blow up the relationship? Short fuse or long and slow?" ...and the conversation spun on from there.

So, I was puzzling at the collision of these different events: three of them in the same 18 hour period. (I'd read the Danielle Steele book several years ago, but remember it very clearly...another sign that she's a good writer, whether or not you like her writing.)

As I tried to explain this three-way collision to my wife, she laughed and said something that she's mentioned a myriad of times to me: "Right. Everything you do has to have 3 reasons." (She thinks I'm really good at that. Frankly, I'm just starting to understand it.)

What does she mean? Big Night is indeed centered around a single, perfect meal. But it is also about the struggles of two brothers. It is about hope and how to find it again no matter how far it has strayed. The meal isn't only the vehicle for the movie to progress forward, or the many plot points attached to it (which I won't give spoilers on), but the meal is also about how hope is possible under even the worst of circumstances.

That meal doesn't serve 3 reasons, it serves more like 30!

As a writer, I have studied the true masters of the craft. I have typed the opening of almost every novel in the house just trying to understand how they did it. I've typed in the last line of one chapter and the first of the next to study the craft of cliffhangers by a dozen different authors. 

And as I do this, after 50 novels, I feel that I am finally starting to understand how these pieces and objects move and intertwine. Watch any episode in the first 4 years of The West Wing and sit in awe at what Aaron Sorkin does with each layer. Watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which he wrote after that--his craft is even more incredible. Everything--EVERYTHING--serves multiple purposes: the clock, the set pieces, the roles of the actors, everything.

Watch episodes 13 and 14, "The Harriet Dinner." I watched it 20+ times trying to understand what he did and it still mystifies me.

I'm slowing learning about the furniture in my own stories, especially this week. I hope this helps you learn about yours...or helps you enjoy and appreciate the writers you love even more.

M.L. Buchman started the first of over 50 novels while flying from South Korea to ride his bicycle across the Australian Outback. He was on a solo around the world trip that ultimately launched his writing career.

All three of his military romantic suspense series—The Night Stalkers, Firehawks, and Delta Force—have had a title named “Top 10 Romance of the Year” by the American Library Association’s Booklist. NPR and Barnes & Noble have named other titles “Top 5 Romance of the Year.” In 2016 he was a finalist for Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA award. He also writes: contemporary romance, thrillers, and fantasy.

Past lives include: years as a corporate project manager, rebuilding and single-handing a fifty-foot sailboat, both flying and jumping out of airplanes, and he has designed and built two houses. He is now making his living as a full-time writer on the Oregon Coast with his beloved wife and is constantly amazed at what you can do with a degree in Geophysics. You may keep up with his writing and receive a free starter e-library by subscribing to his newsletter at:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Most Romantic...PROOF?

Top Ten Ways Authors convince readers the Hero is in love with the Heroine (and vice versa)

He may not say "I love you" often, but he goes out of his way to make sure she feels it.

How do romance authors convince readers their fictional characters are falling in love?

Authors employing strategies, including (but not limited to):
(Note: I'll substitute Hero and Heroine interchangeably for readability. None of these are gender-specific.)

1)  Enough scenes together. (What ninny falls in love at one glance--and from a great distance? One Disney princess, for whom I have no professional respect. She shall remain unnamed.)

2)  They talk. Really talk. Important characteristics are revealed. (It's hard to fall in love with a turnip. Even a gorgeous turnip.)

3)  The heroine denies falling for him--or tries desperately to talk herself out of it. After all, it's a rotten idea, because...

4)  She's the ONE woman he shouldn't fall for--because she brings up emotional stuff he doesn't want to address. (Universal fiction truth: No Conflict, No Story.)

5)  Hero behaves like a man in love--in character, in gender-specific ways.

6)  Even in G-Rated  romances, physical attraction/awareness is part of falling in love. First or last, it must be there. Type? Boundaries? Determined by heat level and subgenre.

7)  Something new is revealed and understanding occurs. Her motivations make sense, she makes sense. Readers get it without a whisper of explanation.

8)  Nothing happens in a vacuum. A bad guy threatens the heroine's life, the hero is forced to act. The reader intuitively understands his motivation.

9)  The heroine makes a grand gesture. The romance story arc always features one or both characters running the relationship aground. Grand gesture? She'll stand on that pitcher's mound, in front of the whole school, awaiting that first kiss...

Grand Gesture scene from Never Been Kissed. Source: Pinterest.
10) THIS ONE IS UP TO YOU. When reading a romance, how do you know when a character has fallen in love? What do you need to see to believe it? REPLY, and tell us what the list isn't complete without!

I have  TWO new romances for you this month (well, make that SIX!)

Gunsmoke & Gingham, an anthology containing my new title The Gunsmith's Bride.

Can Morgan welcome the same difficult woman as stepmother and mother-in-law?

This story is surrounded by five more sweet western historical romance novellas. Fall in love, 5 different ways!


Sophia's Leap-Year Courtship. (Preorder now! Debuts this Friday: 2-24-17)
A Fake Mail-Order Bride. A Leap-Year Courtship. A Newspaperman's Meddling. A Man in Love.

Hi! I'm Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author.
I write frequent articles (or view recent posts easily on my Home Page, scroll down) about the nineteenth century American West–every subject of possible interest to readers, amateur historians, authors…as all of these tidbits surfaced while researching for my books. I also blog monthly at Sweet Romance Reads, Sweet Americana Sweethearts, and Romancing the Genres.

I love to hear from readers! Please drop me a note. Or find me on Facebook.


 Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC