Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Best Selling Combination

 When you get the opportunity to hear from the best, you should always try to do it, and that was so true last weekend when the Heart of Denver Romance Writers presented the great romance author, Joan Johnston. She has written 57 books and regularly appears on best selling lists. Whenever a new book comes out, fans are always eager to see what she has her characters doing this time.  Her family series go way back, all the way from the modern West to the Middle Ages.

As someone who has been making those bestselling lists for not just years but decades, she has the knowledge and the drive. When she speaks, you listen because she not only knows how to write a good book, she is a former attorney who is also very savvy about the business of novel writing.

Her best advice – keep writing, and writing and writing.  Get your books in front of the public and keep them there. That means constant work and it is obvious that is exactly what she has been doing for more than 30 years.  She aims for at least three books a year now, she says.

But there is more to writing than just getting the material out there. The author needs to pay attention to the basics – like good beginnings and endings.

First, the book should get off to a good, quick beginning.  That means starting the story very quickly, a lesson I have often taught my writing students in classes I’ve taught over the years.

The Inciting Incident sets the story in motion and no reader wants to wait around for it. In these days of quick action, the writer needs to make things happen very quickly or the reader will be moving on to some other interest.

But she goes beyond just the opening of the book. Joan Johnston made a suggestion that really got me to thinking. She says that each chapter should also begin with something to hook the reader. This was like a light bulb moment, because I suddenly realized exactly what she was saying because I’ve seen her do it over and over in her books. It is what makes them so difficult to put down.

She suggests keeping the reader hooked at the start of each chapter by asking a question that makes them want to go on. They need to know the answer so they will keep reading. She also suggests other ways to hook the reader at the beginning of the chapter. Try creating a crisis or threat or perhaps making the reader anticipate something big that may be happening in the next few pages.  No doubt about it – the reader wants to keep going.

These things should be close to the first paragraph of the chapter or in the first paragraph. Again, don’t make the reader wait. Promise them a good story ahead and they want to read on. She also mentions that we need to set the scene and then bring in all the senses to place the reader in the story.  

And she suggests doing all this in a simple, uncomplicated way that includes looking at word choices. Keep them simple and be careful of metaphors and similes. She also carries that writing instructor caution: SHOW DON’T TELL.

Another great way to keep the reader engaged is by also hooking them at the end of a chapter. Consider those same elements as a way to keep the reader going from one page to the next.

She provided us with examples from some of her work, and then gave us copies of her books and instructed us to find other examples. It didn’t take long. We were able to see exactly what she was talking about and how simple the art of hooking the reader could be in the hands of a master creator.

All it takes is reading one Joan Johnston novel to hook the reader on her style and her stories. Her next book, Sinful, another in the Bitter Creek series comes out next week.  I’ll be looking for it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lessons from an Expert

Normally on Wednesdays I profile writers and their new books. Today I am going to change things up a little because this past weekend I spent a day listening to several writing experts that gave me  a ton of information that I found very valuable and might be of use to other romance writers. They also re-inspired my own writing, which is always a good thing for any writer.

Today in My Writing Corner I want to share what I learned from the great Cassie Miles, who has been writing romantic suspense Intrigues for Harlequin for years. She already has a new title out in 2015, Mountain Retreat, which was released in January.  

Spending an afternoon listening to her talk about writing romance was not only an inspiration, but great fun. With an infectious sense of humor she talked about the various things we all need to know about writing romance. 

For instance, it’s critical to know where your romance will sell.  Is it a contemporary romance, historical, inspirational, paranormal, or suspense?  But there is more to know then simply the sub genre of your story. These days romances might also contain varying shades of sensuality, everything from sweet romances to the very erotic.  Confusing what one is writing can lead to total rejection from publishers or readers.  

The market is flourishing with the possibilities of selling e-books, mass market paperbacks or trade books. Again, it is important to do the homework and know where you book will work the best. Of course, she also mentioned how many new writers and even established authors are turning to self-publishing so that has also become a viable option. Romance readers are voracious and it continues to be the most popular genre that readers buy.  

She suggested picking your Trope. That is the subject for the romance you are writing. She warned about staying away from clich├ęs, but look to the trope. Is your story about unrequited love, amnesia, or perhaps a marriage of convenience? Perhaps it is a fish out of water story or a secret from the past that haunts your main characters.  These are all tropes that can be successful in a romance. 

Next, she suggests picking a hero who is usually an Alpha male who readers can respond to.  He might be a billionaire or a cowboy, military man or a rock star.  Firemen are always popular heroes. She suggests suiting the heroine to the genre you might be writing, whether it be a sweet romance or a romantic suspense.  

It is important to have the hero and heroine meet very quickly in a romance, and hook the reader. One thing she suggested staying away from was to have the heroine driving down the road. She said if you must put your main characters in a car at the beginning of the story, make it the end pf a journey or the beginning of a trip. Don’t put the heroine in a car thinking about about the past or why she is either driving away or driving to something. This is a slow beginning that won’t tempt editors or readers.  

She also stressed the importance of characterizations. As you write, she said to make certain there is motivation for your characters and that there will be plenty of conflict. That is what drives the story.  She also noted that don’t simply give motivation to your main characters. The bad guys in the story need to be motivated as well. And if you feel your story is slowing down, use those villains. Have them do something evil to the hero or heroine to keep the plot moving.  

The story should have more than one thing that is keeping the hero and heroine apart. Make them have at least three obstacles that prevent the hero and heroine from getting together.  

As for the writing style of a romance, she said to read as many as possible to see what others are doing, but you should develop your own personal style. Give the readers a reason to look for your books.  

These are all great tips from someone who has been in the romance-writing trenches and who says she will continue to write romantic suspense. Her goal is to turn out three to four books a year.    

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Meet Darla Bartos

Today in My Writing Corner I am welcoming a new mystery writer who has written a wonderful first book set in South Africa, where she once lived and still returns to visit. Please welcome Darla Bartos.   

Becky, for having me on your blog. And for providing excellent questions!
Darla, please tells us a little about your writing journey.  How did you get started?

In the seventh grade, Lois Lane was the only female role model having fun. Adventure. That’s what I wanted. I majored in Journalism at Baylor University, married, became a mother and had more adventure than I ever expected!
As I raised five children, I free lanced articles to newspapers and magazines. Thanks to my husband’s company, our family found ourselves on great adventures in South Africa. When I came down with the flu, I turned to an Agatha Christie novel that someone had left behind in our rental home. A new world opened up to me. Making up stuff sounded like a lot of fun.

I wrote my first short story while living in South Africa, and it was published in Fair Lady. A few years later an Australian editor wrote to me and asked to purchase the Australian rights to the story. After all the years of rejection, believe me, that was a treat!
Then one afternoon in New Jersey – we were transferred a lot -- I woke up from an afternoon nap realizing my dream was a fabulous story. I felt as if was a gift from the universe. I wrote my first novel and was disappointed when rejections flooded in…

Rejections can do a number on a young writer. I surmised that I must not have talent. Big mistake! But mistakes are what shuttle us to our final goals. I look back now and wonder where I might be if I hadn’t quit.
Eventually, I found myself fresh out of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and living in Colorado where I joined the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Sisters In Crime and Romance Writers of America. It threw me into a world of seasoned writers and talented guest speakers who have made all the difference.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you plot carefully or wing it?
My writing process changes. For the first draft I write and write until it’s done. But on the side, I am creating bios for my characters, even if later I don’t use all the information. I know my characters better that way and the second draft includes more description and background. If I need to include additional research, I put (RESERCH) and continue pushing ahead. If I come to a fork in the road, I pull info from online and then I continue.

My favorite time to write is immediately when I wake up with my laptop on my knees in perfect darkness. No one calls. No one knocks. No one texts. Just me and early morning. I keep the blinds closed after the sun comes up and the coffee pot close. That’s how I wrote the first draft of Midnight in Malamulele.
How do you normally come up with characters?

Coming up with characters and names can be difficult. I’ve cut pictures out of magazines of people who look like the characters I envision. That works. I’ve got one gorgeous male on my wall up stairs (it’s not what you think) and I plan to work him into Book 3 of this series. One of my characters in Book 1 was tailored after Taye Diggs when he was probably19. So you get the picture. And honestly that’s what it’s about. Picture your characters in your head and use your imagination. What fun!

Do you ever model them after people you know or people in the news?
Yes, but I use personalities as much as their personal descriptions. And I use real quotes. I spent a recent high school reunion listening for quotes to see if I could use them in my upcoming book. “Soft snooping” comes from being a weekly columnist over the years. The idea transfers to fiction quite nicely.

Tell us a little about the background for your book and what made you want to write it?
I have lived in many areas of South Africa. My favorite is Malamulele, South Africa. I only met peace loving people, but I loved the area so much that when I decided to write a murder mystery, I picked Malamulele to put my characters down there. Everyday I write I’m walking the streets there - and honestly, what kind of work could be better than being in your favorite place?

Any words of advice to beginning writers?
Do not stop writing.

Do you hear? Do not stop writing. I stopped for a few years and I regret it. But you have to move on. That’s how we learn. Do not let fear of failure get in your way. Embrace the good moments and let them propel you forward! Do not stop!!

How about a blurb for your new book.

Midnight in Malamulele is a mystery/thriller with a touch of romance. Annabelle Chase, an American crime reporter, arrives for her volunteer gig only to discover a murdered nun in a locked down convent and her best friend Sister Bridget arrested. Detective Baloyi asks Annabelle to join in the search, throwing them into a world of machete-wielding muti killers.

I understand it has received some great reviews:
“In Bartos’ mystery debut, an American teacher staying at a South African convent uses her skills as a former crime reporter to solve the murder of a nun” … “Appealing characters and settings enhance this unnerving murder mystery.” Kirkus Review

 “ …like an African drumbeat … the tale spins and twists toward a gasping conclusion … A MUST READ.” Joan Johnston, The New York Times Best Selling Author

“Strong characterization and a fresh, clearly realized setting lead the reader through this fast-paced mystery based on actual ritual murders in rural South Africa.” Rex Burns, author of the “Gabe Wager” series.
How can readers reach you or find you online?

From there, there are links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.
For April 2015, the books can be purchased on Smashwords for $0.00.
1) Sign up for Smashwords
2) Click BUY on the “Midnight in Malamulele” page
3) During checkout enter the code GJ26Y and click apply
4) Download the book in any format you want
5) Review the book!
Thank you, Darla, for being my guest.  Any questions or comments for Darla?

A Writing Quest

With the cold days of winter in the rearview mirror and spring taking a firm hold, it's time to look forward to all the reading we want ...