Saturday, June 21, 2008

Critiques: Love 'em, Hate 'em

Good morning, everyone. I'm up exceptionally early for me (not a morning person!) because I'm going to my "other" RWA chapter near Fort Worth, Texas. Just like our new member Pam Stone, I'm a member of Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA) and North Texas Romance Authors (NTRWA) which meets much farther away from my house.

NTRWA has an annual event called the Roundtable Meeting, in which participants submit ten pages of their manuscript to be critiqued one-on-one by a published author. It's a great program because it allows everyone to have some very valuable face time to explain their opinions and expertise. This year I had a sweet contemporary romance and a western historical to read.

The process of critiquing and being critiqued made me wonder how many of you who are aspiring authors have put your work out there for other writers (published or not) to review? It can be traumatic! At the same time, if you have helpful critique partners, it can also be the difference between selling and not selling.

Let me give you an example. Way back when I first started writing, which I don't even want to think about because then I feel older than my grandchildren make me feel, a group of us who met at a local conference formed a critique group. We all wrote different types of fiction. I was concentrating on historical romance, my friend Becky wrote short contemporary romance, and others wrote literary fiction, mainstream and suspense. Needless to say, we weren't always that helpful to all members of the group! While I enjoyed getting together, I'm not sure their remarks made my historical romance any stronger.

Then, I did what lots of industry-wise people tell us not to do; I paid an agent for a critique. I only paid $35 and only on the recommendation of someone who read my work in a contest, but still . . . I probably wouldn't recommend that anyone else do the same now that I know more about publishing. Despite this warning, I must confess that was the best $35 I ever spent. The agent told me that I was writing plot-driven rather than character-driven fiction, and went on to explain the difference. I was imposing my will on my characters, making them do what I wanted them to do, rather than setting up characters who could move the story along with motivated goals and conflict. Wow! This was a revelation to me. I fixed the problem and sold the book about a month later on proposal.

Last week, my current critique partners pointed out that perhaps I needed more conflict in the proposal I was working on for my last Brody's Crossing book. I had such a strong story for the heroine that I'd kind of forgotten to focus on the conflict between the hero and heroine. Oops!

So, my question for anyone, published or unpublished, is what was the best advice you ever received in a critique?

Have a great day. I'm going to critique, get a free lunch, spend time with my home-away-from-home chapter, and perhaps stop by some stores on the way back to Richardson, TX to see if my books are on the shelf.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Welcome New Harlequin American Authors

I'd like to use my post today to welcome three new people to the Harlequin American family. The first is Pam Stone, who recently sold her first book to the American line. Congrats Pam!

Pam is a member of Dallas Area Romance Writers and describes her book as follows:

Last Resort: Marriage is the first book I've sold. It's a fun, marriage of convenience story set in Marathon Key, Florida. It did very well on the contest circuit. The hero is a down on his luck scuba guide whose boat is dead in the water. The heroine is the manager of one of her grandfather's resorts. These two are opposite in every way, which made for a fun story to write.

Also please welcome Liz Lounsbury and Barbara Daly, a writing duo who have, who will now write books for Harlequin American as Daly Thompson. Liz wrote for Duets and Temptation as Liz Jarrett. She and Barbara Daly critiqued together and decided to join forces. The trilogy they just sold is set in Vermont.

Congrats Liz & Barbara!

You'll be hearing more about these authors soon! And thanks to everyone for posting their comments about the blog. We've got some great ideas and we appreciate your input.Happy Friday, everyone.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reader suggestions and... a little behind... (and I don’t mean fanny)

I’m reading the reader suggestions with interest and am so glad people are speaking up about what they want. Anyone who hasn’t, feel free to do so. We’re listening!!

Now, on to the behind part...
‘Tis the season to television reruns. Bleh! My husband and I finally watched season one of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. (We’re probably the only Americans who haven’t seen it.) Now I know what jumpstarted interest in all things paranormal.

The series is fresh and intelligently written with just the right mix of scariness and humor. And the chemistry between Buffy and Angel... Well, it is to die for. Pun intended. ☺

A good television series teaches us writers a lot. (So does a good movie.) Done right, the writing is tight and free of lame plot holes. Conflict arises from both situation and character. Characters develop, make mistakes, and grow. We care about them and want to keep tuning in to see what happens to them.

If we’re invested enough, we even weather a bad episode or two. But if the series takes a downturn and the characters behave stupidly for no reason, if the plot suddenly develops big holes, we stop tuning in.

These same things apply to writing a good book. ‘Nuff said.

What TV series do you think are well-written?

Until next time,
Ann Roth

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Fun?

I'm starting my morning with a deficit--of sleep--and I don't expect it to get better over the next five days. More about that later, but the cause last night was weather related. Because of the frequent thunderstorms we've been having here in landlocked KS, I purchased a storm alert radio, just in case a tornado decides to surprise us with a midnight visit. Early this morning (3 a.m.), the alert started sounding as a large thunderstorm moved over several counties, mine being one of them. Some six hours later, the sky is now a brilliant blue, something we haven't seen much of lately, and I'm hoping our trip to the zoo today will be free of clouds and raindrops. I'd much rather deal with a little sunburn than have to dodge hail...or twisters.

It's been a rough summer weather-wise across the nation. I've heard this is proving to be one of the hottest Junes for several years in some areas of the South. The destruction and devastation in Iowa from the flooding continues to bring me to tears when I see the latest reports, and my prayers go out to those who are having to deal with it as it spreads into other states. While reading the morning news the other day, I found this in our local newspaper:

Preliminary statistics from the National Weather Service show that 172 tornadoes have been reported in Kansas this year -- the most in the nation.
Iowa is next at 134, and Missouri is third at 127.
As of Friday, 1,577 tornadoes had been reported in the U.S. this year. Last year saw 1,093.

Whatever the weather is doing where you live, keep your eye on the sky. As Sgt. Phil Esterhaus used to say on the old TV show, "Hill Street Blues", "Let's be careful out there."

So why will I be more sleep deprived over the next five days? My two oldest daughters and their hubbies left this morning for a canoe trip near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. In the meantime, we (my youngest and I) are hosting a series of sleep-overs for my four grandkids. In other words, we have the pleasure of their company 24/7 until Sunday when moms and dads return. We should be accustomed to this. The kidlets (ages 6, 5, 4 and 10 months) are here during the day five days a week. I expect it to be an interesting week, and hope the 4-year-old grandson doesn't decide to play Indiana Jones again. Last week, while taking on that role, he climbed on top of my car in the driveway and jumped for a tree limb hanging over it. The smaller-than-pencil-size limb wasn't strong enough to hold him, and he landed on the driveway, resulting in a very large bump on his elbow. It could have been worse and is one of several reasons why we keep an extra lock on the door inside to curb his adventurous tendencies. His mom was printing out and signing medical treatment consent forms when she dropped off her three kidlets this morning. I expect it to be an exciting and interesting visit, with short nights and long days, and I hope they all like the penguins better than the lions at the zoo today. :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Hero, My Dad

First, I have to say thanks to Jacqueline Diamond for taking her blog day to talk about the Harlequin American blog. We'd love to have input about what you--our readers--would like to see here!

And now...

Romances are all about the heroes and heroines of our books. With Father's Day just behind us, I thought I'd share a memory of my very first hero.

At all of six years old, I'd taken on the first-time responsibility of caring for a pet. Three pets, actually--three little goldfish that swam in a small plastic fishbowl. I watched over these little guys, fed them and, when necessary, filled their bowl with fresh water. To do this, I had to carry the bowl to the laundry room where we had a big iron sink almost as tall as I was. With a long-handled net, I'd transfer the goldfish to a smaller bowl until their bigger home was ready.

One day--you've probably guessed it!--one of the fish got away. He flipped and flopped out of the net and fell into the sink, then promptly slid down the drain. I promptly screamed "Daddy!" as loudly as my lungs would allow.

He came on the run, imagining who knows what deadly accident had happened to me. The fish was long gone, I was in hysterics, but none of that bothered my dad. He quickly figured out the situation and went to work.

On the floor beside the tub was a square metal plate with drainage holes. He lifted the plate and told me to turn on the faucet. I couldn't imagine why he wanted me to do that, but I did it, anyway. Seconds later, water came rushing from the pipe--and the goldfish splish-splashed right into Dad's hands!

I was so amazed at this magical feat, at first I didn't notice that the fish was no longer breathing. I also didn't follow very closely what Dad did next. To this day, all I know is, it involved hot water, cold water, and salt, not necessarily in that order.

A few moments later, the goldfish's fins began to move, then his tail began to twitch and, finally, he shook his entire body like a puppy dog. He swam around and around the goldfish bowl as if he'd never left it.

That's the day I first knew my dad was a hero.

How about you? Have any stories about your hero dad? I'd love to hear them!

All my best to you,



Barbara White Daille

Monday, June 16, 2008

Reader Suggestions

Special thanks to Jacqueline Diamond who kicked off the discussion for this week--what would our readers like to see us authors do with our blog.

It sounds like readers might enjoy seeing a few days a month used for special topics like "Author Interviews", "Craft Discussions" or "Guest Bloggers". Would anyone like to see "links" on this blog that would take them to a list of "favorite recipes" by our authors? Or a list of "cleaning tips"? Or "kiddie crafts" to keep the kids busy on rainy days?

What sorts of discussion topics interest you most? Do you enjoy hearing about authors' travels? Do you like it when authors discuss their individual books/heroine/heroes and what made writing them special or unique?

I hope you'll continue the discussion as we want to make this blog enjoyable for our readers.

Lastly I just want to say (in case we have nurses out there who read this blog) that I have a real appreciation for this special group of women. Two weeks ago my teenage son had major jaw surgery (both upper and lower--everything went amazingly well) and I was so impressed by the nurses who took care of him. Not only were they compassionate but they worked in teams--each nurse double checking the other's work so that nothing slipped by them or escaped their notice. Their compassion and patience in answering all my questions (which I'm sure I asked the same question several times over) was amazing. And each time they left the room they'd always ask not only if my son needed anything but if Mom needed anything, too.

I've always believed nurses like teachers are a special group of people who deserve our gratitude and respect, but I admit that my son's nurses have earned a soft spot in my heart for the care they gave him. And by the way, the four nurses all read romance novels and I jumped at the opportunity to give them copies of my books. I also discovered they had a "bookcase" of romance novels in the cafeteria nurses shared with one another and I was thrilled to donate a couple of bags of "American" books to them.

Hope the summer has gotten off to a great start for all of you--and please keep the discussion going on our blog this week--What can we do to make this blog the very best!


A Coal Miner's Wife Aug 2008
The Cowboy and the Angel Nov 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Readers: Please Help!

In the year and a half since we Harlequin American authors launched this Internet journal as a way of reaching out to you, we’ve been delighted to share our musings and experiences. However, like people (and the characters we love to read and write about), blogs tend to have life cycles.

With so many blogs exploding across the Internet, we’re wondering whether it’s time for a change. So this week, we’re asking you, our readers, for vital input. Is there anything specific that you’d like to see us write about or try in this space?

Would you like to see more guest bloggers? Occasionally, we can arrange for an editor or agent. We could also invite other authors. What would interest you?

Also, would you prefer that the blog focus more on writing-related topics? These could include craft, such as how to write a synopsis; business, such as what to look for in an agent; or the writer’s life, including how we stave off interruptions. Topic suggestions welcome!

How about interviews once or twice a month (or more often) with Harlequin American authors? You could send in questions for us to answer. I’m sure most of us would be happy to devote entire blogs to reader questions.

We don’t want to compete with the on-line novellas published at But perhaps you have a unique proposal for something of this nature that we could write as a group.

Do you like the monthly book giveaways? Does this encourage you to read the blog? Are there any variations (within reason) that you’d like to see?

Please post your responses and we’ll start the dialogue. We’ll do our best to continue the discussion this week so those who don’t read us every day will have a chance to chime in.