07-19 Robin Weaver - BLUE RIDGE FEAR

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Not Just Me - Books by Team

by M. L. Buchman

"Writing  is a solo craft."
"You must be an introvert to write."
"Every writer has spent at least a year essentially alone."

So writing a book is all about one person...? Say what?!

I'm about the most do-it-yourself person there is. I can design and build a house, fly a plane, and get stuck in traffic with the best of them. I've ridden my bicycle around the world and solo sailed a fifty foot sailboat. For my indie books I: write, layout (print and electronic), design covers, and maintain my own website.

If only it were so simple.

Not Just Me #1:
My wife is one of the greatest brainstormers on the planet. So, while she doesn't write a word, we spew ideas at each other until we're both in terrible suspense while the actual writing is occurring...we can't wait to see what comes out. She's also my first reader and her questions often add another 10% or more to the first draft, making it hugely better. She's also my #1 fan and has now seen me through 29 of the 30 books I've written (didn't meet her until the first one was done).

There is a secret to that level of collaboration...no ego! We've learned each others' strengths and weaknesses, and the key we've discovered is: we both care about making the book as good as my skill and our ideas can make it. So, when she says something doesn't work: I don't take it that I'm a bad writer, I take it that whatever that thing is doesn't work and I should go fix it.

Not Just Me #2:
Now my traditional books go through a similar cycle, except they then go to my editor at Sourcebooks (who also claims to be my #1 fan, but sorry Deb, that spot is taken). That fresh eye—once she too learned that I didn't have ego about story, only about writing the best book—has often opened up the story that I was trying to tell.

(A whole other stage of collaboration occurs for the marketing and distribution of a book, but I won't tackle that whirlwind here.)

Not Just Me #3: 
Every now and then, I know a story isn't working. This usually means that it is a totally pleasant book, but it doesn't do that jump-out-of-the-page-and-grab-you-by-the-throat that I'm always looking for (yes, even in my contemporary romances—maybe that's more grab-you-by-the-heart). If I haven't laughed, chortled evilly, or wept several times in the course of a book, I know I missed the mark. When that happens, I go one step further.

My wife, bless her, is a great brainstormer and copyeditor, but she can't stand back, look at a whole book and say, "Broken. Right there." For that, I go to a pro writer. I choose these folks very carefully. I send that one my SF, that one a romance, and that one a thriller. What I get back is pure gold. (Thanks, team. You're awesome!)

Here's a recent example. I just finished my second ever thriller, the first in a brand new series. My wife and I did our dance and I think we produced a good solid book. Then a writing friend, who has written dozens of these, offered to read it. Holy Chrome! That person gave me 11 notes—each just 1 line long. It took me 8 days, 10,000 words, and rearranging a dozen or more chapters to answer those 11 notes. But the differences are spectacular.

The Keys to Not Just Me:
Collaboration is a wild effort, one buried in the fine art of building the right team. Some as permanent fixtures others for the brief insights based on their specialties.

And no friggin' ego! It has no place in a writer when building a book. Yes, I am the captain of my ship and it is my story, but ego does nothing to help it be the best ride for my readers that I can manage.

My latest? Well, as I said, it's a thriller, rather than a romance. But if you want to check it out, it will be going on sale this week. (which day depends on which channel).

My next romance? Look for Light Up the Night in early September, the on-going lives and loves of the military's elite helicopter regiment, the Night Stalkers. Trisha has finally commandeered her own book and her story's available for pre-order now.

Check out more at: www.mlbuchman.com

I'm especially intrigued by the statement above:
"Every writer has spent at least a year essentially alone."

I think my love of story really traces back to when I was 12 and we moved into a new town and a new school. I was slow to be accepted into the neighborhood. Of course, when I really started writing? I was on a solo bicycle trip around the world for 18 months. I never wrote fiction prior to that trip.

If you are or know a writer, I'd love to hear if you/they had a "quiet year" before starting to write.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


by Sarah Raplee

Are you one of those readers who skims the first paragraph or two of a novel before you purchase the book? I’ve been ‘one of those’ readers for as long as I can remember. The practice has helped me to sift the wheat from the straw most of the time, although occasionally a promising opening will not be followed by a consistently good story.

Not so with “The Crystal Witch”, one of Diana McCollum’s stories in the romance anthology LOVE & MAGICK: MYSTICAL TALES OF ROMANCE. * The wonderful opening pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. I’m happy to report the story fulfilled its promising beginning with consistently good writing throughout.

Here’s that opening:

October 15, 2012
The right mixture of violet and blue evening sky laced with bolts of scarlet bouncing off the clouds always brought to mind the evening of her death, or what would have been Hettie’s death had she not escaped.
Even after ten years in the small coastal town of Waxing, Massachusetts, a death-sky inspired panic deep in her chest. She took several calming breaths, repeating her time-worn mantra.
“‘Tis a frivolous fear, for naught dangerous be near. Bless this house, bless this store, bless me ever more.” Hettie intoned the mantra three times.
She put a match to bundled sage twigs and walked the boundary of her small gift shop, The Crystal Witch. Climbing the stairs to her apartment, at the door she murmured an opening charm and crossed the threshold then proceeded to walk the length of every wall, in every room. The blessed smoke from the stems both cleansed and protected the space. She stopped by the front window. Pulling the lace curtain aside, she looked out at the sky, almost dark now. The shadow of a figure merged with the dark of the woods across the street. Did she see a lonely soul out for an evening walk, or something more sinister? Her stomach clenched; it could be time to pay her debt.
Samhain was approaching. The time of year when the veil between worlds was easily accessible, when good or evil could pass through with barely a ripple in the curtain. Hettie was uneasy this time of year, and with good reason; if Declan came for her, it would be during this preternatural time.

In only one page we know that Hettie is a (good) witch who escaped death ten years ago and fears the past will one day catch up to her. We know that she lives upstairs from her gift shop called The Crystal Witch in the small coastal town of Waxing, Massachusetts and that someone named Declan may come for her at Samhain, which is coming soon. We suspect the ‘death sky’ foreshadows coming evil.
More important, perhaps, is what we don’t know. Who tried to kill Hettie and why? How did she escape? Why is Declan searching for her? What debt must she pay? These questions kept me turning the pages, and I hope they will you as well.

The plot of “The Crystal Witch” is full of unexpected twists and turns and populated by engaging characters that a little bird told me will be returning in Ms. McCollum’s upcoming novella, The Witch with the Trident Tattoo.

* Judith Ashley and I also have stories in the anthology LOVE & MAGICK. The book is available in print and ebook from Windtree Press and most online retailers.  ~Sarah Raplee

Monday, July 21, 2014

Writing Collaboration: Author and Cover Designer

by Christy Carlyle

When I heard this month’s Romancing the Genres theme is writing collaborations, I immediately knew I wanted to talk about a special kind of collaboration. I have never co-written a story with anyone, so I can’t speak to that experience. However, I am a full-time book cover designer as Gilded Heart Design when I am not writing, so I’m extremely familiar with the collaboration that occurs between author and graphic designer in order to give birth to a beautiful cover design.

The cover design process is a joint venture between writer and artist and, when it works well, can result in an image that will give a hint of the story inside, capture attention, draw a potential reader’s eye, and, hopefully, result in fantastic book sales for the author. Haven’t you been drawn to consider a certain book because of its fabulous cover while browsing Amazon or Kobo online or even wandering the aisles of Barnes and Noble? I know I have. I recently discovered a new author and am starting on his first book, simply because I was drawn in by his covers, then hooked by his blurb, and finally sucked into the fantastic story he’d written.

This is the actual size of the small row of "Customers Also Bought..." covers on Amazon. My title is barely readable, but my large single couple implies a romance cover.
As with any process, there are ways to make the whole journey easier and more successful. After two years as a cover artist, there are two principles that stand out for me as essential for making the process more satisfying for both author and designer. Since I am a writer and a designer, I try to see the experience from both sides, and I've found that paying attention to the following topics assist me as a designer but can also assist writers who need a cover and want the design process to result in the best possible image to represent and sell their story.

Realistic Expectations – This is probably the most intangible and yet one of the most important
These are the first three covers of a series
I'm working on for author Judith Ashley.
We are going for consistency across
the series.
aspects of any collaboration. One person’s vision is never going to match another’s, as we all come at the world from our own perspective. This is where communication is key, but knowledge and prep-work can also assist with expectations.

Unless you have hired an illustrator to design your cover, be aware that book cover designers are constrained by what is available in terms of stock images. So while it’s tempting to want to represent a very specific scene from your book or your unique-looking character on the cover, it may not be feasible. Not everything can be “photoshopped.” I’ve been asked to do things like change the expression on a stock model’s face. That’s just not feasible.

Also, while there may be an appeal to the notion of including multiple elements from your story or a detailed scene—“My frightened purple-haired heroine is running with her one-eared dog along a road with a cemetery on one side and a construction zone on the other, while a helicopter hovers overhead”—be aware that such complex scenes don’t usually make for a compelling cover. Their details tend to get lost in thumbnail and may confuse a reader. Larger (and fewer) images, broad strokes, beauty that catches the eye but doesn't convey too much detail, a cover that signals your genre and gives a big picture impression (I sometimes ask authors to think of their covers as impressionistic paintings) of the story inside are elements that tend to be most eye-catching.  

Knowing Your Market/Genre - As a designer, I try to keep an eye on what’s typical, popular, and works well for covers in each genre that I design for. I know that readers expect certain elements in a paranormal romance cover versus a contemporary romance cover.

I created these two covers for a publisher for the same author.
Can you tell they are for two different romance subgenres?
When an author comes to me for a cover and knows some of these same genre expectations, it makes collaboration easier. I sometimes ask authors to browse other covers in their genre or look at the covers of bestselling authors who write the kind of books they do. The goal isn't to copy anyone else’s design but to know what reader expectations are for that kind of book. And, sure, sometimes breaking the rules can be cutting edge and exciting, but in terms of cover design, I’ve found that if book covers are too “off” from what readers find on other covers in the same genre, those books with unique covers may get lost in the mix.

It’s important to remember most readers buying books online will be viewing your book in thumbnail, so color, contrast, and simplicity of design are key.  For a series, consistency of design will link your covers in for reader’s eye and might immediately identify your brand or style, so that someone who liked your first book will pick up your next. A readable font, even if it’s not as pretty, might also be important, especially if you have a hot keyword in your title that will draw readers.

As with any collaboration, there are other essential elements, including being open and receptive to ideas and
options, flexibility, and clear, open communication. However, I’ve found that realistic expectations and coming into the process with a solid understanding of what readers like to see on a cover for your given genre can also help enhance the adventure of book cover design collaboration between author and artist.

If you're a designer or author who has contracted a book cover artist, do you have any tips for the cover design process?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Writing Romantic Suspense: Multiple Personalities a Plus

 In a nutshell, romantic suspense (RS) has a romantic storyline and a mystery/suspense storyline. You’re saying, “Well, duh.” Right?

Only it’s a bit more complicated. Just how much romance is required? And how much suspense? What kind of suspense?

After you figure out your answers to these questions, you still have to convince the acquiring romantic suspense editor you have indeed written a romantic suspense. Light on the suspense? She’ll tell you the manuscript is a romance with suspense elements. Get skimpy on the romance and the genre editor will insist you submitted a mystery with romantic elements.

Meanwhile you’re screaming, "What’s the difference?"

The answer is simple, yet very hard to execute. In a true RS, each storyline (romance and mystery/suspense) must be equally important. Think about that for a bit. You basically must write two separate books, merge them into one novel, and make sure both storylines are equally important and merge together seamlessly.

If that weren’t difficult enough, you must have a kick-ass heroine. It’s no longer acceptable to have the strapping FBI agent or the hunky cop rescue the damsel in distress. Your leading lady must be equally responsible (if not totally) for resolving the suspenseful situation.

What’s more, the romantic suspense author must know a lot of things traditional romance authors never consider.  For example: what poisons can kill a spouse without leaving a trace? What size hole does a 9mm Ruger leave in a man’s head? And was the silencer really necessary if a tree falls in the forest—eh, scratch the tree part.

Then, while you're engrossed in this intense life and death situation, you have to insert a love scene—or three. Let’s see you do that James Patterson. Writing believable love scenes that are more than the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone is hard enough. Try getting your characters in the mood while the bullets are flying.

Don’t even get me started on writing a young adult romantic suspense… J

So why do we do it? Why write RS?

There’s a popular song (well, maybe not so popular) that has the lyrics “…the book of life is brief and once the page is read, all but love is dead.” Those words pretty much sum up a romantic suspense (why didn’t I start with that?). Every good romantic suspense author believes this, with every fiber of her soul. But… She can't live without the life-or-death situation or the thrill of resolving a whodunit either.

So the answer is simple. We write romantic suspense because we must.

Robin Weaver
Author of Blue Ridge Fear,  Artifact of Death, and The Secret Language of Leah Sinclair


Friday, July 18, 2014

Collaboration is not a dirty word

Hello! I'm Pippa Jay, author of scifi and the supernatural with a romantic soul. How are you?

One thing I've learnt over the last five years as I've ventured into publishing is that collaboration and networking is key. There's nothing more awesome than working with your peers, whether on an anthology, co-authoring, writing communities, or a bunch of solid, supportive beta readers, critique partners, book bloggers and editors, or other creatives such as cover artists. In the publishing world as it is today, sometimes it's the only thing that stops you drowning.

Available for FREE from...
 Amazon US | Amazon UK | ARe
 SmashwordsB&N | Kobo
Last year I had the privilege of becoming part of a science fiction romance anthology - Tales from the SFR Brigade - produced by the Science Fiction Romance Brigade, a community of authors, readers and fans dedicated to the genre. (I'm very proud to be a part of the community and one of their admins.) To me, an anthology provides readers with the opportunity to meet new authors they might not have seen or tried before, who perhaps picked up the book because one of their favourite authors had a story in it (I've done that myself). It also means that, in these days of authors pretty much having to do all their promotion, at least you can share the time, effort and energy to promote between you. At a later stage I even got to help with putting the anthology up on Amazon and tweaking a few of the format errors - great experience in terms of learning the ins and outs of self publishing. It was yet another learning curve, but with the benefit of having fellow authors and editors who each knew something I didn't about the process and were all willing to pitch in, make suggestions, or fix problems. It's a project I'm so proud to have been a part of, and a huge team effort.

But those people I love the most are my critique partners (sorry, I'm a bit biased!). I have a large group, each with their own particular skills in picking up plot holes or ferreting out issues, and not all stories go to all of the group depending on the genre and heat levels. These are the people brave enough to look at some of my, er, shall we say 'less polished' projects, and spend some time helping me slap them into something coherent. The ones not afraid to say 'this sucks, fix it', often confirming my own thoughts on a scene but that I've tried to avoid facing. Just lately most of my book dedications have been to these courageous souls who have taken the time to help me turn chaotic primordial soup into a story.

My current upcoming release probably went to the most critical of them, especially as I wanted to put the opening into The Rebecca, a RWA contest run by LERA that provides amazing feedback on your story as part of the competition (well worth doing even if you don't place. Which sadly, I've yet to do. Three so close but not quite there attempts so far, lol). The interesting thing with putting something through critique and beta readers is that they are just as likely to give you contradictory feedback as to agree. If they're agreeing, then you can be fairly certain their concerns need to be addressed. But when they contradict? What do you do then?

I've had the same situation with The Rebecca feedback. Two saying the world building was good, one saying it was confusing. Two disliking a particular phrase, one liking it. One saying the story was too slow, one too hurried, and one asking for more detail. In those situations, it can be hard to decide what you actually need to fix, or if it even *should* be changed. Sometimes I look at the qualifications of the judge or the experience of the critique partner. In the case of the contest, you might have published and unpublished authors, editors, publishers. You might think that perhaps an unpublished author would not give as good a level of critique as one published, but there's no way to tell how much critiquing they might have done, how much experience they have, how new they are to critiquing or judging. And even if you consider they might be too inexperienced as an author to judge, perhaps consider that they might be looking at it more as a reader than a writer, so therefore it still has value. Although all authors are readers, I think sometimes we can forget to look at a story simply as a reader and judge it by our experiences and expertise purely as an author, or even as an editor. So I like to send my work to a mixture where possible, and several to give the best possible range of responses. All of them hated your heroine? Might need looking at. Same phrase being questions by everyone? Might need reworking. Only one had an issue with calling the hero Gavin? Might get away with that one. :P

But at the end of the day, you really have to rely on your own judgement. If the reactions are pretty mixed, my solution is to go with the version that *I'm* happy with. Because if you can't be happy with your own story, what's the point?

So, to finish, here's my upcoming release for the 25th July, and my last Rebecca entry. Can't wait to here what the reviewers think after all the critiquing it went through!

Available at... Breathless Press |
Smashwords | AReBookstrand

What has your experience been with critique partners?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Christmas in July

by Vivienne Lorret

If we’re talking about writing collaborations this month, then my vote definitely goes to Christmas anthologies.

Late November of each year, while the holiday music still brings a smile to my heart, I start searching for thick paperback romances with at least three names on the front cover. I love these! Not only do I get the chance to read a favorite author’s work, but new-to-me authors as well.

This part is the most exciting. Discovering a new author, visiting the world she’s created is a gift in itself. Another gift is the magic of those short holiday novellas. So much happens in so few pages—sort of like a calendar of the holidays. If you live in the states, then Halloween blends into Thanksgiving, and then Christmas falls into your lap like a wriggling puppy. And it's just as hard to contain.

Christmas anthologies help me survive the hectic season. Those stories, albeit fast paced, offer the perfect respite. I just grab a cup of tea, open up a book, and zoom! I’ve zipped off to another world, and my worries about budgets, traffic, and scheduling conflicts take second place.

In case you’re like me and enjoy those holiday writing collaborations, I’ve made a list of some really great ones. Happy reading!

Kissing Santa Claus by Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis and Helenkay Dimon

Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap by Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell and Kimberly Kincaid

Gifts of Love by Kay Hooper and Lisa Kleypas

Christmas Keepsakes by Mary Balogh, Julia Justiss and Nicola Cornick

Even though this isn’t a Christmas anthology, I love The Lady Most Willing by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway

And most importantly, our very own Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee, along with Diana McCollum, collaborated on the spellbinding Love & Magick: Mystical Stories of Romance

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Does not play well with others...

To be honest, I'm not much of a collaborator. As an author, I just don't play that well with others. <grin> I know, hard to believe, right?

It's not that I don't want to share my toys with the other kids -- but I'd sooner let someone tell me what kind of food I like or what movie I enjoy. The idea of having someone else decide what should happen in MY story just makes me break out in hives. Brr. Pass the chocolate and the Doctor Who reruns - time to scuttle back to the comfort zone!

I think it's for the same reason that I'm a plotter: I need to know in advance exactly what's going to happen, and why. Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks is not how my creativity works. Reacting to the influence of random outside forces is what real life does - not fiction.

I know: sad face, right? I am the death of spontaneity! The enemy of impulse! The nemesis of wild abandon!

Sigh. Oh, well.

I do like themed anthologies, though. That's good fun. I was in one called MY BLOODY VALENTINE earlier this year, where the 'rule' was that the story had to begin with the words, 'Love hurts'. That was all. Any genre, any plot, anything we wanted. Cool, eh?

And what a selection we came up with! Eight authors = eight completely different stories. Mine was an historical vampire tale, but we also had sexy contemporary, suspense, sci-fi romance, paranormal romance, murder mystery... a little of everything.

For me, that's the good side of collaboration: No one gets forced into anyone else's box. No one is just a cog in the machine. Everyone keeps their own voice and makes their own choices, and the result is eclectic and fascinating.

When I'm reading, though, I really don't mind. A single novel can be written by twenty authors, for all I care - so long as it works.

Which is the cool thing about publishing these days, right? Whether it works is becoming more important, and that can only be a good thing.

Erica Hayes

P.S. You can check out MY BLOODY VALENTINE on Goodreads, or read the first bit of my historical vampire tale UNFORGIVEN at my website.