Friday, February 26, 2010

Guest Blogging at Written in Ink

My whirlwind book blog tour is nearly over, but I do have one more appearance, today at the Written in Ink blog. It's a sort of mini-interview, and I'd sure appreciate a little comment love from my pals!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blogging on Intrigue Authors

Today's blog post is just for fun—Ten Things You May Not Know About Me.

Also, just because I've posted again doesn't mean that yesterday's Wednesday Writer's Workshop isn't still going. If you know anybody who's trying to break in as a writer, this is a great chance to ask a question of someone who's already done it. When I was unpublished, I had so many questions and I was shy about asking them. But I don't want y'all to be shy. I WANT to answer these questions. I want to share everything I know so that it makes the journey a little easier for everyone else. So please, encourage your writer friends to drop by and ask any questions they have.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

WWW - Q & A Session

I think once a month, I'm going to have a Q & A free-for-all session where you can ask any writing questions you want and I'll do my best to answer them. We can talk about craft, about submissions, about dealing with editors, about querying agents—you ask the question, I'll do my best to answer them.

Also, if you're also a published writer and someone asks a question you'd like to address, don't worry that you're stepping on my toes if you answer it. I'd like the Q & A to function as a group discussion. Everybody dives right in and starts communicating.

But remember—if you don't ask questions, this is going to be the most boring Wednesday Writer's Workshop post ever. So think up some questions and start asking!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Too cute

All the Scholar Ladies.

Loved seeing the teachers playing along, goofing it up. That looks like a fun school.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More cats? Why, sure!

I've shown you copious pictures of our kittens, but we actually have three other cats. (Yes, I am the crazy cat lady). It's not as bad as it sounds; two of them live out in the sunroom, by preference, and go in and out pretty much at will through a window we leave cracked open for them. And the other one is older and sedentary, so she's pretty mellow and low maintenance.

So, here are the other three felines in the Graves household.

This is Sabrina. Or Tatertot. Or TayTay. (Our cats tend to get multiple names). She's my sister's cat, a fat and temperamental calico.

This is Tabitha, aka Tassa, aka Big Fluff (which is my name for her). She's a Persian mix calico, the older, more sedentary cat I mentioned.

And finally, here's my Sophie (aka Sophia or Little Fluff), the long-haired tortoiseshell.

She was a feral kitten I found, brought home and tamed. She had two brothers, Oscar and Toby. Oscar we had to have euthanized when he got very sick and was diagnosed with feline leukemia. Since the vet was pretty sure, at his young age, he must have gotten it from his mother, we were terrified the other two kittens would be positive for the disease as well, but they both tested clean.

A few years later, Toby disappeared, and since he liked to explore the woods across the street from our house, and we later learned coyotes roam those woods, we sort of figure the worst happened. Sophie wasn't quite as much of a wanderer as her brother and she's still kicking.

In the photo below, she's terribly annoyed because out of frame, the kittens are playing on the shelf below where she sits.

And I included a second picture because it's a better view of her pretty green eyes.

So, there you go. My other cats. Pretty bunch, aren't they?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blogging on Intrigue Authors today

At the Intrigue Authors Blog on eHarlequin, I interview Sam Cooper, the hero of my February Intrigue, Chickasaw County Captive. Drop by and ask the hunky district attorney and single dad a few questions of your own.

People seem to enjoy this little behind the scenes peek at the characters in my books. I enjoy writing them--I learn all kinds of interesting things about my characters doing these interviews that I didn't know before.

Hmm, perhaps I should do more of these interviews before I write the book. Ya think? :)

And here's my blogging/appearance (but mostly blogging) schedule for next week:

2/24/10 - Wednesday Writers Workshop on S & L

2/25/10 - Blog on Intrigue Authors Blog

2/26/10 - Blog on WritteninInk Blog

2/27/10 - Author panel at Southern Magic meeting

It's a fairly light week for me; I'll also be trying to drop in a few posts here on Spinsters and Lunatics, but I'll mostly be recovering from this weekend. Which sounds as if this weekend is going to be more fun that it will be. ;) I just finished the rough drafts of my next proposal, a trilogy to finish up the Cooper Justice series. If all goes as planned, the last three Cooper Justice books should come out back to back to back, probably around April, May and June of 2011. Right now, my critique partner has the proposal and is supposed to get back to me by early Sunday evening so I can make all the edits and get it printed out and packaged to send by Monday.

Why by Monday? Well, see, that's what the rest of my weekend will be devoted to: edits. I got the copy edits back on One Tough Marine yesterday, and I have to get them in the mail on Monday to meet the deadline for when my editor needs them back. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of edits, so it shouldn't take that long. Maybe I'll even get a little recreational reading in this weekend. Who knows?

Perhaps I need to do a Wednesday Writers Workshop post on finding balance between writing and life. If I ever figure out how that works...

Anyway, if you're anywhere close to the Birmingham, Alabama area on Saturday the 27th, drop by the Homewood Library around noon and ask where to find the Southern Magic Writers' meeting. The Author's Panel should be great--several terrific local authors will be speaking, including young adult author Jennifer Echols; Harlequin Presents authors Lynn Ray Harris and Kimberly Lang, both of whom recently made the USA Today bestsellers list; suspense author Laura Hayden, who co-wrote the First Daughter series with Susan Ford, bestselling romantic suspense author Christy Reece, Ellora's Cave debut author Niama Simone, and Southern Cousins mystery writer Peggy Webb. And I'll be on the panel as well, thrilled to be surrounded by such fabulous writers. If you can make it, bring your copy of any of my books and I'll be happy to autograph them.

Now, back to work. Gonna be a long weekend.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ooo, looky. We have a listing.

One Tough Marine, my August Cooper Justice Intrigue, is now available for pre-order at

I would not be averse if one were to, well, do so.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WWW - The Waiting Game

Back when I was unpublished, I spent a lot of time on eHarlequin's forums, specifically in the Submission Care thread, where a lot of aspiring (and, eventually, published) writers found kindred souls in the submission process at Harlequin/Silhouette. One of the most frequently-asked questions was "How long do you normally have to wait after submitting your manuscript before you hear back from the editor?" And the answer, naturally, was "Who knows?"

Some of us heard fairly quickly, especially if the answer was a flat, "Thanks but no thanks." Others had submissions that took months, even years, to get an answer. The response time depended on a lot of variables, from how you queried, when you queried, whether you submitted after a contest win and editor request, etc. But I think most of us unpubs figured that once we got published, the waiting game would finally be over.

But that's not necessarily so. My first few books, I'll admit, had pretty good turnaround. My fourth book, in fact, took only a week from my submission to the editor's call. However, as I learned in 2008, that's not always the case, even when you have a few books to your name. I sent my first two-book proposal to my editor in July of 2008. It took several months to hear back from her, and the wait ended up meaning that I went all of 2009 without a book on the shelves. Talk about a career setback!

There are plenty of reasons why it took so long for the editor to get back to me--staff changes and shortages, her large list of authors, the RWA convention--so I can't say I was surprised. She got behind. It happens.

The problem was, I really didn't know what to do with myself during the wait. Since I'd had fits working up the two proposals, which didn't want to cooperate with me at all, I foolishly allowed myself to take a month's break from writing. Which turned into two months. Then three. Then, when I realized I had to get back into the writing game, I wasn't sure what to do next. Work on the proposals I'd sent, not even knowing if the editor would want to buy them? Or should I start something new? And if I started something new, should I write it as part of the series the other proposals were part of, or should I look at something else?

Eventually, I wrote something that was part of the Cooper Family series I'd already proposed, but I wrote it so it could easily stand alone if she didn't like the other books. I managed to get that book proposal to her while she was still considering the other two proposals, and it ended up being one of the two she finally bought.

So here's what I learned from the experience:

1. A short break from writing is fine, but be tough with yourself.

Fix a time to get back to it and stick to the schedule, even if you don't have a book in the pipeline yet. Start working on the next one.

2. Be patient but also check in with your editor if the wait has been long enough.

Editors are busy people, and I think a reminder now and then that you're still waiting to hear from them is appropriate, as long as you don't become a nag. If you've had a full with your editor for three or four months, I don't think it's bad to ask for a status check.

3. Manage your time wisely, and make reasonable judgment calls.

Because my editor expressed approval on the two books she finally pitched to the senior editor, I decided to go ahead with working in the first book of the two in order to get ahead, even though the senior editor hadn't made the final go ahead for the buy. That way, I was close to finished with the book by the time the editor made the official buy.

4. Always be thinking ahead to the next book.

Even if it's nothing more than making notes or keeping a list of research links, always look ahead. For me, it includes setting aside time one day a week, at minimum, to brainstorm and work on the new ideas I have. This way, when my contract books are done, I'll have something else ready to send to my editor to keep things rolling.

Waiting is hard. We all hate it. But we all have to do it. The secret to surviving the long waits to hear from editors is moving forward to the next project. Even if you sell the book under consideration, you need something else to pitch for the next contract.

Having something new in the pipeline at all times makes the most of the downtime spent waiting, and it moves your career forward faster and more effectively than any other strategy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top Acting Performances, According to Me

I was reading another blog the other day, and the topic of the post was "the top ten acting performances I've ever seen." The guy who wrote the post admitted his choices where limited, since he wasn't much of a cinephile, and some of the choices might be controversial, arcane or both. But he listed some interesting choices, some of which I'd seen, others I hadn't.

It got me to thinking about my own top ten choices. So I thought I'd share them here, and let y'all argue with me/agree with me/share your own ideas about your favorite performances. Also, I'm not going to rank them in any particular order. I'm just going to list ten acting performances that moved me and have stuck in my mind to this day.

Just keep in mind, I don't see a lot of movies, so my list is, by definition, entirely incomplete. Warning--there are going to be a few story spoilers here, though I'll try to keep them to a minimum. That said...let's go...

1. Colin Firth as Adrian LeDuc in APARTMENT ZERO. I admit, I only came across this film because of my Colin Firth obsession after PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. But this strange, disturbing little film took my breath away. Firth gives a stunning performance as a young, repressed Argentinian man who is slowly but surely corrupted by a handsome, charming American con artist. His transformation is complete at the end, and, as the protagonist, he has "won." But at what price to the world around him? Firth does repressed well, but in Adrian, he takes the performance to another level as he portrays a man slowly unraveling, inch by inch.

2. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in DIE HARD. I love a good action flick, and DIE HARD is one of my favorites. It's certainly Bruce Willis's most appealing film; his John McClane is an iconic action hero precisely because of Willis's bravado and charm. But it's Alan Rickman's tour de force turn as the smooth, urbane and oh-so-entertaining villain, Hans, that steals the movie. He's smart, he's sexy, he's sarcastic and twisted. You listen to every word and can't wait to see what he's going to do next. When he gets his just deserts at the end, you have to cheer, because he's been so very, very bad. But there's a part of you that also wishes he didn't have to go yet, because he's just so much fun to watch.

3. Peter Dinklage as Finbar McBride in THE STATION AGENT. This is one of those movies where not much happens in terms of action. But there's a lot of quiet, intense character growth happening, as this lonely man tries to hide from grief only to be sucked into the lives of a persistently friendly food vendor and a shattered, depressed woman, forming an unlikely but powerful friendship. While Bobby Cannavale's Joe is bombastic and profane, threatening to steal every scene he's in by sheer volume, it's Dinklage's Fin who commands each scene. He's the wise one, and you find yourself watching him to unearth the truth of every interaction.

4. Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre in JANE EYRE. I've seen several JANE EYRE adaptations, and generally enjoyed them all. For a long time, I was convinced that nobody could improve on Samantha Morton's 1997 version, but Ruth Wilson proved me wrong. She convinced me that she WAS Jane Eyre, the quiet, enduring young woman full of barely-contained passion and deep, abiding integrity. Step by step, as the events of the story transformed her, Ruth Wilson seemed to bloom on screen from a plain, cautious young orphan to a woman of strength and beauty. I found myself watching this miniseries over and over again, just to watch Ruth's Jane come into her own.

5. Greg Kinnear as Simon Bishop in AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Kinnear completely surprised me with his nuanced, appealing portrayal of sweet, tormented gay artist Simon, whose unlikely friendship with Jack Nicholson's crusty Melvin Udall is far more compelling than the romance between Udall and Helen Hunt's Carol. Fey, petty, selfish, naive, vulnerable, wise—Simon is the most interesting character in the movie. Before seeing this movie, I knew Kinnear only from his hilarious, sarcastic role as host of TV's TALK SOUP. After seeing AS GOOD AS IT GETS, I discovered Kinnear was a real artist, not just a talking head.

6. Dennis Quaid as Arlis Sweeney in FLESH AND BONE. I don't know that I can actually recommend the movie itself, as it was uneven and not entirely satisfying in the end. But Dennis Quaid was powerful and convincing as the guilt-driven, emotionally tormented son of a murderous grifter. As the somewhat unlikely events of the tale unfold, it's Quaid who grounds us in reality with his gritty, believable turn as a man living with a terrible secret, a man as drawn to his wicked father as he is repulsed, and whose decisions every step of the way lead to the inevitable confrontation with the man who made him what he is.

7. John Malkovich as Mitch Leary in IN THE LINE OF FIRE. As the soft-spoken, clever and deadly ex-CIA assassin who has decided to pay back the government's betrayal by killing the president, Malkovich is the quintessential "big bad"--an antagonist who is as close to the intellectual and skillful equal of Clint Eastwood's aging Secret Service agent, Frank Horrigan, as most thrillers get. You want a bad guy who can stay ahead of your protagonist step for step over the course of the story, before a fatal flaw helps the good guy bring him down? Mitch Leary is your guy. And Malkovich inhabits the role as if he was born for it, leaving you thinking about Leary long after you've forgotten Horrigan.

8. Robert Duvall as Mac Sledge in TENDER MERCIES. This is another quiet film where not a lot seems to happen. Except one man's redemption. Mac Sledge has a lot of regrets about his life, about the things and people he sacrificed to pursue his career as a country singer. Now he's down and out, with nobody to care what happens to him next. Until he meets a kind-hearted single mother who helps him learn the true meaning of grace. Over the course of the movie, Duvall's bare-bones, gut-grabbing performance sucks you into Mac Sledge's life and makes you root for him to get a second chance to be the man he was supposed to be. In a life free of neither struggle nor loss, Mac finds meaning and purpose.

9. Denzel Washington as Creasy in MAN ON FIRE. I know a lot of people would cite Washington's work as Alonzo in TRAINING DAY as his acting tour de force. But I've never seen TRAINING DAY, so I have to go with his quiet, compelling performance as the burned out, alcoholic ex-assassin who finds a new purpose in life protecting the young daughter of a wealthy Mexican family. When everything goes wrong, and the girl is kidnapped despite his best efforts to protect her, Washingon shows Creasy rediscovering his inner fire as he goes after the kidnappers to bring the child home safely. His performance crackles with intensity.

10. Tim Blake Nelson as Daly in CHERISH. Even though the film belongs to Robin Tunney as Zoe, a hapless young woman trying to escape house arrest long enough to prove her innocence in a case of vehicular homicide, it's Nelson whose portrayal of the serious, conscientious deputy assigned to monitor her electronic bracelet captivity shows the most range and depth. When Daly gives into his growing attachment to Zoe, and lets himself believe in her innocence, it's a revelation to see him come alive as he takes a step on sheer faith, knowing there's no solid ground beneath him anymore, and learns how to fly. I dare you not to smile at the last few minutes of the movie.

Hmm, not a lot of women on that list. I don't think that says much about the quality of actresses out there, however, just more about the characters who catch my eye. I can attest that Tunney in CHERISH was fantastic, as were Rene Russo in IN THE LINE OF FIRE, Tess Harper in TENDER MERCIES and Patricia Clarkson in THE STATION AGENT.
So there's my list. How about sharing yours? You don't have to come up with ten--that was hard for me! But share one or two acting performances that blew you away or caught you by surprise.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

I'll be participating in the Writerspace Valentine's Day Soiree today. Several authors connected to Writerspace will be participating, including fabulous writers like Jayne Ann Krentz, Christina Dodd, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Stella Cameron, Karen Rose, Carly Phillips, Cathie Linz and more. Click on the link for the full list and what prizes they'll be giving away. It's tonight, 7 pm to 10 pm Central Time at the Writerspace Readers Chat Room. I'll be there 7 -8 pm.

Go register now to be eligible for a number of great prizes from the authors involved. You must register by 6:00 p.m. Central Time to be eligible for a prize, but you can come to the chat without registering.

Also, in honor of the day, here are a couple of new kitten pics, since these two boys are my sweethearts:



They discovered the windowsill today in a big way.

Hope your Valentine's Day is great!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Paula Graves is a master at intrigue."

You know I love to hear stuff like that!

"Paula Graves is a master at intrigue. The twists she brings into this story almost make your heart stop...An excellent second book for the Cooper Justice series..."

And speaking of the Pink Heart Society, I'm guest blogging there today, so please come by and give me a little comment love if you get the chance. I'd appreciate it. I'm not sure how early the post will be up at the moment; I'll put up an update here when it's up.
The blog post is up at Pink Heart Society. (It was already up when I posted this earlier this morning, but I forgot to update and let y'all know).

Friday, February 12, 2010


I was skeptical that we'd get snow today, despite the forecasts, because our last "snow event" was such an epic failure.

I was wrong. We have about 1.5" out there right now, and there may be a little more before it finally blows out of here later this afternoon.

Meanwhile, some pics!

Tree in my back yard

More trees in my back yard

Snow on the camellias

Looking out across my back yard at the street below

My niece made a snow angel on the deck

See how much snow is on the deck railing?

Yeah, I know it's hardly the blizzard of 2010 like all y'all in the mid-Atlantic got, but for Alabama, this is a nice little snow.

Blogging a couple of places today

In the spirit of a couple of my past blogs on the Intrigue Authors' blog on eHarlequin, I'm interviewing Kristen Tandy, the heroine of my February Intrigue, Chickasaw County Captive. Kristen has quite the tragic history, and in the interview, I touch on some of her past as well as ask her some personal questions that may illuminate more about her character.

Have you read Chickasaw County Captive? Would you like to know more about Kristen and her relationship with Sam, Maddy, her detective partner or anything else? Drop by the comments and ask her some questions yourself. I'll be giving away a free Barnes & Noble gift card or your choice of any book from my backlist that I have available.

Also, at some point today, I'll have a blog post up on the Writerspace blog. The topic of that one is "A Few of my Favorite Themes"—the themes I go back to again and again in my books. I think the themes you choose is part of your voice as a writer. The ones I list tell you a lot about me, and about the kinds of books I write.

I could be wrong, but I think I'm giving away books on this one, too. (Some of these guest blog posts are becoming a blur!)

UPDATE: The Writerspace blog post is also up now. No comments yet. :(

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Smart post about blog etiquette

From Little Miss Attilla.

I try to do most of what she suggests, though I haven't posted a comment policy anywhere. My policy is—it's my blog, so if I find something offensive, I'll delete it, because this blog reflects on me. I also delete all obvious spam.

Beyond that, I don't delete anything. I just ask that you try to keep it clean and constructive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"an intriguing, chilling tale..."

Cataromance gives Chickasaw County Captive 5 stars!

"Paula Graves blends suspense, and romance with fantastic hero and heroine and an incredible plot to produce Chickasaw County Captive, an intriguing, chilling tale."

Love getting a good review of a book I loved!

WWW - Crafting a Powerful Romance

If any of you were fans of the soap DAYS OF OUR LIVES back in the late 1980s, you probably remember the twisty, angst-ridden, sweeping romance and marriage of Steve "Patch" Johnson, the tortured bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and Kayla Brady, the pretty, sweet daughter of a fishmonger who ran a low income emergency clinic on the riverfront. It was a bad boy/good girl romance that transcended the archetype, and Steve's tragic death not long after the birth of their daughter was one of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever watched on a soap.

The Steve and Kayla romance sucked me in completely. I bought my first VCR just to tape their story, and when they returned to the show in 2006 (yes, both of them—did you really think Steve was DEAD dead?), I discovered that most of their story had been saved as digital video files, so I got to relive it again. Even twenty years later, the story stood up beautifully, proving that a well-done romance is timeless.

So what was it about the Steve and Kayla story that kept me riveted two decades ago and drew me in all over again when I discovered the clips? Here's what I discovered when I gave the question some thought.

1) Great romance starts with conflict.

There is nothing more bland than a couple of pretty people with good attitudes and lots in common falling in love. Yeah, it happens in real life a lot, and those people probably have great, happy lives. But it's not compelling to watch.

Humans crave drama. And drama comes from conflict.I'm not sure I've ever seen a successful fictional romance develop from a more unlikely pairing than Steve Johnson and Kayla Brady. Steve was rough, bitter and sarcastic. He was basically a hired thug—and Kayla was one of his paid projects. First he was hired to scare her away from a doctor she was working for, which he did by trashing her apartment while she was out, making threatening phone calls. In fact, the first time he ever saw her, he was hiding in her closet, watching her undress. Later Steve took a job following her and spying on her for a bad guy who wanted information about Kayla's brother.

At first, Kayla came across as a sweet, optimistic goody-two-shoes. A crusading nurse willing to put herself on the line to help other people, she wasn't particularly warm to Steve's rough talk and sexually aggressive posturing. With a cop for a brother, she was in a position to make a lot of trouble for Steve, and she didn't mind reminding him of that. Hardly an auspicious beginning. But man, the set-up promises one heck of a pay-off later.

2) Great romance works through conflict a step at a time.

Steve and Kayla didn't go from stalker/victim to husband/wife in a couple of months. Every step along the way played out in a logical and interesting manner. Internalization gave us glimpses of the shame that Steve felt for what he was doing to Kayla, and the curiosity and attraction Kayla felt for the glimpses of the good man inside the thug who was driving her crazy.

We slowly saw different facets to both of their characters: Steve's compassion for a couple of abandoned kids living on the streets and Kayla's strength and determination in the face of dangerous circumstances began connecting them, shattering preconceived notions about each other and building a new understanding between them. Slowly they began sharing truths about themselves with each other.

3) Great romance is built on character growth.

Every character in every book starts with a worldview. For Steve, it was that there were actually two worlds. One where normal people lived, where the justice system worked and everything was happy and rosy, and one where people like him lived, people who couldn't trust the system to find justice for them. It was the jungle for people like him, survival of the fittest, every man for himself. People in his world stayed far, far away from people in that shiny happy world where normal people lived.

Kayla, on the other hand, believed that if you trusted the system to work, it would. You just had to tell the truth, be good, let justice take its course and everything would work out.

Neither of them managed to hold onto those worldviews after they came into contact with each other. Kayla saw how the system let people like Steve and the young street kids he helped fall through the cracks. And Steve saw that the system could work if there were compassionate and decent people—like Kayla and eventually her family—who cared enough to patch up the holes so that people didn't get lost in the shuffle. Each of them learned something from the other, incorporated those lessons into their lives, and became better and fuller people because of it.

For any good romance, you need conflict. You need to work through those conflicts one step at a time, adequately dealing with the obstacles that arise. And you need character growth as the pay-off for the conflict.

I've simplified a very complex romantic story to cull out three important points, but I think these are points that all of us need to pay special attention to when we're developing romances for our own characters.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Blogging today on Romance Magicians blog

I'm sharing a few nuggets of information from the published author trenches, so if you've ever wondered about the difference between being an unpublished writer and a published writer, besides the money (obviously), check it out.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pink Heart Society give Case File: Canyon Creek, Wyoming 5 Hearts

Very nice review by the lovely folks over at the Pink Heart Society. Donna B gave the book 5 Hearts and said, "Paula Graves’ expertise in writing intrigue is second to none." I'm not sure I'd agree with her—I've read other Intrigues, after all, and they generally make me feel like a writing slug in comparison—but I'm flattered and pleased with the review and the rating.
There's a place where you can leave comments on the page, so if you feel inclined, please drop me a little comment love. I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

International Thriller Writers interview

International Thriller Writers were kind enough to do an interview with me for their website. You can find the interview here:

Awwww, kittenage...

They're getting ginormous, aren't they? They were curled up next to my mom in her recliner last night (that's Mom's hands above Cody's head) and I had to snap a pic.

Sunday Night

Mark your calendars, my peeps. I'm chatting live on Writerspace on Sunday, 8 p.m. Central Time. (9 Eastern, 7 Mountain, 6 Pacific)

Just go here to the Writerspace Chat Room, pick a username and come chat with me! I'm giving away books and I'll answer any question you have about my books, about me, about writing--whatever. Well, almost any question. I know you people. I don't entirely trust you people. ;)
And by the way, here's my updated calendar for the next few months. I'll be adding stuff as I go, but mark your own calendars (or bookmark this post and follow the links):

2/7/10 - Writerspace Chat - 8 p.m. CT
2/9/10 - CHICKASAW COUNTY CAPTIVE - available for purchase at most major booksellers
2/9/10 - Blog on Romance Magicians Blog
2/10/10 - Wednesday Writers Workshop on S & L
2/11/10 - Blog on Intrigue Authors Blog
2/12/10 - Writerspace Blog
2/13/10 - Blog on Pink Heart Society Blog
2/14/10 - Writerspace Valentine's Soiree - 7 p.m. CT
2/17/10 - Wednesday Writers Workshop on S & L
2/19/10 - Blog on Intrigue Authors Blog
2/24/10 - Wednesday Writers Workshop on S & L
2/25/10 - Blog on Intrigue Authors Blog
2/26/10 - Blog on WritteninInk Blog

MARCH 2010

APRIL 2010

MAY 2010

Friday, February 05, 2010

Blogging on Intrigue Authors blog

I'm blogging on the Intrigue Authors blog today. The topic is "Keepers"--I'm telling people about my favorite Harlequin and Silhouette books, and asking readers to share their favorites as well.

Come share your favorites as well!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What? No takers?

Nobody wants to tackle the Who, What, Why and Why Not exercise from yesterday?


I have no guest blogs to post today. I don't know what to do with myself.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

WWW - Amanda, the Python and the Pet Shop Robber

My 10-year-old niece has decided to write a play, inspired by a section of her social studies book that used a play to illustrate life in the early days of the American colonies. As I am the resident author in our family, she came to me for advice. She had an idea--she wanted to write about a pet shop. But that was all she knew.

It occurred to me that, sometimes, all that any writer knows about her stories is that it's about a pet shop. Or a cowboy. Or a murder. We've all started with that one little nugget of something--a place, a situation, a character--and had to build the story from there.

But how do you explain that process to a 10-year-old?

I started with the obvious. "What happens at the pet shop?"

She thought a moment, and finally said, "A mean girl comes in and opens all the cages, letting the animals out."

I asked her why the mean girl did that. We thought about it, and we finally came up with the idea that she wasn't really mean. She just thought animals shouldn't be in cages. She was an activist, and she opened the cages as a protest. So, now we had our story problem. But we didn't really have our who.

Whom does the story problem most affect? Every story needs a protagonist, right? My niece, Ashlee, decided that the pet shop manager, Amanda, had the most to lose. The activist released the pets on her watch. It was her job to gather them back up.

So we had our who. And by virtue of our story problem, we also had a what--our protagonist's goal. Clearly, Amanda wants to gather the animals and return them to their cages. We even had a tacit "why"--it was her job. But, as I explained to my niece, "it was her job" isn't a compelling motivation for our purposes. Stories need to transcend the mundanity of real life. Motivations need layers. Sure, a sense of responsibility would lead Amanda to round up the animals. But a true consequence of her actions would make the story seem more urgent to the reader.

We decided that the store owner was scheduled to come in to inspect the store that afternoon at four. The store had to be spotless, all the animals accounted for, by the time he arrived. Now our motivation had a strong sense of urgency and a personal consequence for Amanda if she was unable to achieve her goal.

So, we had our who, our what, our why--Ashlee was ready to get to work. But I explained that we weren't quite there--because the most important element of all was missing.

The why not.

Conflict drives story. No matter how beautiful your prose, you're not a storyteller until you can come up with believable, sustainable conflict.

I explained to Ashlee that if Amanda gathered up the animals in time to impress the big boss, without anything standing in her way, we wouldn't have much of a story. So something had to happen that threw a wrench in her plans.

Ashlee's first suggestion was that Amanda was able to get all the animals but one--a python. I thought that was a good start, but a more intense complication might be to have TWO animals missing after all the others were rounded up: the python...and an expensive angora rabbit, which just happens to be the python's favorite kind of snack. Now, you had two animals out, and one of those animals posed a grave danger to the other. The plot thickens!

But is that really enough conflict to sustain a story? You're still looking at an anecdote, not a story. You need an adversary. Someone or something that poses a true obstacle to the protagonist achieving her goal.

Because even if the python is hungry, and the rabbit is vulnerable, you're still looking at a situation that's part of Amanda's goal, not a true conflict.

There needs to be a reason why she might not be able to catch the python and rabbit on time. Something that stands in her way.

"Something like a robbery!" my niece piped up.

A child after my own heart.

A robbery was a great idea. As the pet shop people are frantically trying to catch the python before he catches the rabbit, in comes a robber, holding up the store. The longer he holds them at gun point, the harder it is to reach their goal. We finally have a true conflict.

So we had our story basics: Who, what, why, why not. We had a complication--the python and rabbit sideshow--and we had a ticking clock.

But did we have a story?

Not completely. Story also involves characters--who they are, where they've been, what they know, what they don't know. Story includes exposition, dialogue, action, reaction. My niece and I talked about ways we could use the complication to help resolve the conflict--perhaps upon learning the store employees can't access the safe, the robber spots the runaway rabbit and demands to take him as payment. And the second he grabs the rabbit, the python, which was lurking in the ceiling tiles, drops down on the robber in an attempt to grab the rabbit. The python ties up the robber, saving the day. And the rabbit gets away with his life, quickly caught by one of the employees and returned to his cage. The employees get the store cleaned up in time for the big boss to arrive, and Amanda gets her promotion and her raise.

Yay for happy endings!

I have no idea if my niece will ever get around to writing her play. But I think she has a little clearer idea of the elements that go into telling a story effectively. I have to admit, I learned a little something myself by breaking story structure down to its most basic elements in a way even a 10-year-old--or a multi-published author--could see how everything fits together.

Maybe the next time you're sitting at the computer, with just one little speck of an idea rattling around in your brain, you'll think of Amanda, the python and the pet store robber, and it'll be a little bit easier to turn that snippet of an idea into a story.

In fact, why don't we give it a shot right now? Here's today's writing assignment: take the same starting elements Ashlee and I started with—write a story about a pet shop—and give me the answers to the following questions: Who? What? Why? Why not? Who is your protagonist? What does he/she want? Why does he/she want it? Why can't he/she get it?

You can choose any genre you want, any story situation you want. The only rule is to have a pet shop be a focal element of the story. Let's see how many different ideas and story styles we can come up with!

By the way, don't forget I'm also blogging today on the Riding with the Top Down blog. I'll be sharing some details about this month's Cooper Justice book, CHICKASAW COUNTY CAPTIVE, and as always, a little comment love would be most appreciated.

Guest Blogging on Riding with the Top Down

Michele Hauf was kind enough to invite me to guest blog today on the Riding with the Top Down blog. I share a little secret about my inspiration for the Cooper Justice series that some of you may not know about, and I'd love to hear what you think about it.

Also, I pose a couple of questions I bet some of you would like to tackle. So drop by and say hi!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Downside of Kittens

The little critters have chewed through the cords of both of my sets of earphones over the last week.

Also, though this isn't necessarily a downside, both of the kittens love Jell-o. Is that weird?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Blogging on Running with Quills

The marvelous, amazing Jayne Ann Krentz invited me to guest blog on her group blog, Running with Quills. My post is up today through Tuesday, so please drop by to read my post and give me some comment love.