Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Amazing Thing Happened on the Way to My Eighth Draft

Without my electronic hearing devices I am almost as deaf as these marble busts.

When you are a writer and something extraordinary happens to you, you sometimes put your work on hold to capture the experience in writing.  I had such an episode last spring.

What you don't know about me is that I have struggled with hearing loss for most of my life.  Recent accelerated deterioration of my good ear had pushed me to consult a new specialist.  But rather than fixing what was wrong with my good ear, the doctor prescribed surgery for a cochlear implant in my bad ear.  I was skeptical, unable to imagine how a cochlear implant would be any different than struggling with hearing aids that simply amplify what's left of bad hearing, including poor discrimination and missing frequencies.  It felt as if I were taking the next step into the world of total deafness; another futile expenditure of time and money for nothing that would make any difference.  I left the doctor's office and sat in my car and cried.

But then I met the people in the support group who'd had the cochlear implant surgery, and their hearing was better than mine.  I began to understand that an implant works differently than a hearing aid since it bypasses the dysfunction of the middle ear to work directly with the brain.  I imagined the possibility of improved hearing for myself.  And so I had the operation.

The experience of having my new ear "turned on" was something I had to capture in writing and share; people who suffer from hearing loss do not know about the recent drastic improvements in technology.  I'd had no idea!  So my novel-in-progress went on the back burner while I documented the entire experience in a blog: from the story of my childhood ear infections and gradual but profound loss of hearing, through surgery and recovery, to the amazing experience of listening to the jingle of a broken lightbulb held next to my new 'ear'.

Now I am back at work on my novel.

Click to visit:  A Cochlear Implant Diary: Memoirs of a Bad Ear

Cindy Jones is the author of My Jane Austen Summer as well as work-in-progress about look-alike friends who trade places while under dangerous influence of Romantic Poets.  Follow:    

Trust the Maze by Christa Allan

Sometimes writing is like spending months studying Italian only to discover, when your plane lands, that you're in Greece. Eventually, you drink some ouzo (which is capable of rendering you nearly comatose), visit a few islands, and come to embrace this new territory. It may not be where you wanted to go, but you discover that it's exactly where you needed to be.

Until I wrote my first novel, I had not walked through what we're calling this cycle the "corn maze" of writing. In fact, I attended conferences and would overhear published authors saying to one another, "My character just refused to do what I needed him to do," or "I had no idea where this character came from." I'd tiptoe to the nearest corner and wonder how it was I came to be with this strange group of adults who must have missed their imaginary friend stage as children.

And then I started Walking on Broken Glass. My protagonist's husband, Carl, suddenly had a brother.  I never intended for him to have a sibling. He just appeared straight from my fingertips and onto my screen. I still remember looking at my monitor and saying, "What the hell...?" This brother, it turned out, influenced decisions Carl's parents made that ultimately determined what motivated some of Carl's actions in the novel.

In Threads of Hope, an elderly couple came out of nowhere and met my protagonist at the airport where she was waiting to board a plane to take her to her new life. They shared their lives with her, and Italy became Greece.

Then in my first (and only!) historical, Love Finds You in New Orleans, a minor character became a major player in turning the plot into an unexpected direction.

I just started my next project, An Unexpected Christmas, a novella that's going to be my first-ever self-published ebook (insert excitement here!).  Pulling it together was like trying to shove an octopus into a box. Then Seymour came along.

Seymour is an actual rescue dog, and my husband's vet clinic is trying to find him a forever home. He's as impish as he is adorable, and he's exactly what my protagonist needs to shake up her life.

Sometimes it really is all about walking through the corn maze long enough to find your way out.

Christa Allan's newest novel, Test of Faith, released in March. You can find her atwww.christaallan.comFacebook, and Twitter. She and her husband live in New Orleans with their three neurotic cats and new dog, Herman. You can find her other novels here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Holy poop - I'm a RITA winner!

by Laura Drake

This stuff does NOT happen to me. Seriously. I keep thinking that this is the BEST kind of dream, and I'm going to wake up. I find myself staring at 'The Lady' like she's going to disappear.

The Sweet Spot double finaled - but I knew with a crowded field (including huge names like Jill Shalvis and Nora) that I had no shot. I had such an incredible conference, that I thought it would be greedy to want to win, too. I was living on adrenaline all week, and the Best First Book was the very last category. I was zoned out, seeing my headshot and my book on the jumbo screen when Nora (yes, THE Nora) announced the winner. I screamed, my agent, Nalini, screamed and hugged me. I screamed more, and she told me I had to 'get up there'. Oh, yeah.

Shaking, dreading a wardrobe malfunction, I walked to the stage. Some friends of mine who know me were discussing in the bar the night before, how I was likely to trip on my dress, fall, and knock my front teeth out (they know me well). So I took my time, and made it up the stairs without mishap.

They handed me the statue - damn, she's heavy! (6.2 lbs - not like I weighed it or anything) Then I walked to the podium, where NORA HUGGED ME!!!  I pulled my index card out of my cleavage and everyone laughed. Hey, the dress was pocket-challenged . . . where was I supposed to keep it?!

I stumbled through my speech with only a couple of notable screw-ups. Not bad, considering I was breathing like a buffalo!

I'm so incredibly grateful, to RWA, as well as all the people who've congratulated me, many of whom I didn't even know.

Here's a link to my amazing, spastic moment in the spotlight.

Now I'm home, and 'The Lady' has a place of honor. 
Cinderella has returned to cinders. I'm doing laundry and cleaning kitty litter. Sigh.

All I can do now is try to 'pay it forward' by encouraging others.

Oh yeah, and try to write a better book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pitching a Book, Pitching a Business

by Wendy Tokunaga

A few months ago my husband quit his job to start his own business. He’s helped co-found a couple of companies before, but with this one it’s just him and his partner, who is located in a different state. So this is an exciting and important time. I want to help him as much as I can, but I’m not directly involved in the business. His industry is medical imaging, where he has many years of experience. I’ve worked in a few tech startups in the past in an editorial capacity, but I don’t have any expertise in my husband’s industry. I haven’t been sure how much help I can provide him in this new venture other than to give emotional support.

One way to get money to run the company is to tap venture capital (VC) funders or “angel” investors. We live in the heart of Silicon Valley so there are many such funders in the area. My husband started to devise a slide presentation to explain what his company does to prepare to pitch to VCs and investors. I had him practice in front of me.

To be honest, the presentation was much too long, rather dull and full of technical jargon the average person wouldn’t understand. I could comprehend very little of what he was saying. Something struck me immediately: he needed to use much simpler, to-the-point-language, leave out all the extraneous details and clearly describe the problem that his product solves and its benefits. He needed to tell it like a concise, compelling story. It was then that I realized that some of my expertise could help him. This was not unlike writing a query letter or pitching a novel to an agent. And this was a lot like the editorial service I’ve provided at writers conferences where I listen to an author’s pitch and tell her how to break it down so it’s short, sweet and compelling enough, with just the right amount of plot details and character motivations to make an agent sit up, take notice and request the full manuscript.

And it turns out that when you’re giving an initial business pitch, you’re not allowed to use Power Point. You must relay it in a two-minute speech. You can even do “speed dating” with investors. This, of course, is very familiar to me—how many times had I done speed dating with agents when I was pre-pubbed?

My husband and I attended a “Shark Tank” investors pitch event just to see how this operates and it was quite eye opening. A lot of people had the same problem—they didn’t know how to effectively explain their business in two minutes. The ones who were chosen to meet with VCs had their pitch down.

So I was able to give my husband some good advice on his pitch. And a few days later we went together to a pitch workshop and I was validated to hear the facilitator give largely the same advice. Why would a VC even think to fund you if you can’t give a compelling story about your product and clearly explain in jargon-free language what it’s about and why it’s worth his while? It’s the same with an agent.

I may not be able to help my husband’s company by coding in JavaScript or C++, but I feel good that there is some concrete way that I can give him support. We’re in this together and I’m looking forward to exciting times ahead.

My husband is blogging about his experience starting up his startup. You can read about his adventures here:

Wendy Tokunaga is a novelist, creative writing teacher and manuscript consultant. Find out more about her at her website and find her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leslie Langtry Has,, Needs Bifocals

I'm getting old.
How do I know this? Because I had to get bifocals. Sigh.

I didn't want to. But things were getting a little (ok, a LOT) blurry around the edges and I realized I couldn't keep looking over my glasses at the computer (mainly because it hurt). Nor could I reach far enough away to hit the keyboard and see the screen clearly. And I have the arms of an orangutan. Seriously, my ballet teacher in college said, 'you have unusually long arms for a woman' and I didn't punch him in the face - not even once.

As an author - I NEED to be able to see my computer screen. I don't want to have to go back to a typewriter or pen and pencil - although I'd probably have the same problem there. So what do I do? I ask my friends and family.

Two people said, "Get multifocal contacts!  You'll hate them for a couple of weeks, but then you'll love them!"

Four people said, "Get no line bifocals!  You'll hate them for a couple of weeks, but then you'll love them!"

My eye doctor said, "Get progressive bifocals! They're like trifocals. You'll hate them for a couple of weeks, but then you'll love them!"

Too many options, but interestingly - the same result. Every single person I asked said I'd hate them first, then love them. That didn't sound good. I needed to write during those two weeks. I guess I could have dictated to my teenage daughter and then hide my irritability as she uses the two-finger hunt and peck method. I could do that Dragon software where you talk to the computer and it types it out - but then I have terrible luck with Siri on my phone. When I say, "Call my husband," she always asks me if I want to, "All lie fluffpin."

I had no choice. I had to get them. Things were dire! Which means, when an author says that, things were actually mildly annoying.  Even though he was the only one who said so, I decided to go with my doctor's advice because, quite frankly, he should know more about it than that woman I keep running into at the grocery store, who's name I can't remember.

I'm on my third week now. And you know what? Every single person was right.  Advice that sounded like it came from a sci-fi hive mind of Stepford Wives turned out to be true.

I hated them, and now I love them. Now I just have to stop falling down when I use the stairs. Then everything will be perfect.

Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, July 23, 2014



The subject for this blogging cycle is the corn maze of writing, or how often our plans for our novels get hijacked by characters who refuse to adhere to our initial plans for them.  Sound like raising kids? It kind of is.  One of my friends once attended a parenting class in which the instructor passed out plants.  “You’ve got a fern,” she said to the first mom.  “And you’ve got a cactus,” she told dad number two.  “Every plant is different.  They require different things from you and no matter how much you wanted a daisy, you got a rose with thorns.  Your job is to adapt.”

        In writing, when I start a novel, I’m thinking at the level of plants.   I’m quite happy at that point if I can see the forest for the trees.  I have assumptions about people in general and a think about my characters as somewhat generic, somewhat predictable people.

        At this stage, they’re like infants, somewhat uniform creatures whose needs are the same the world over.  As they grow up, or as I begin to figure out who they are, they start to differentiate themselves.  All good, all part of the process.  

        Except, just like kids, they can surprise the hell out of you.  Just like kids, they can derail what seemed like a sensible plan.   As they take on definition, they begin to stubbornly hold out for the very thing you didn’t even know they wanted. (You didn’t even know anyone would want such things.) You find yourself backtracking, rewriting, throwing out large sections and scrapping grand ambitions.  It’s painful.  It’s irritating.  Most of all, it feels like you wasted your time.  Like if you’d just known better, you could have prevented all that and gotten the story right the first time.
        The only consolation I can offer is that such push and pull between the left brained “helicopter” vision of an initial idea and the intuitive process of putting oneself into the body and brain of an imaginary (but also real) person is, I believe, inevitable.  Better yet, knowing it all ahead of time might just ruin the book.  After all, some really famous writer whose work I love but whose name, gender, era and genre I’ve forgotten said “If you aren’t surprised, your readers won’t be either.”
        In my process, there've been facets of each of my protagonists that kept evading me.  In EVERY ONE SHE LOVED, I knew what kind of car each character would drive from the get go. Except for Lucy, who is, arguably, the central character of the novel.  She’s an artist and bed-and-breakfast owner.  She’s raising her murdered best friend’s daughters and trying not to crush on their bereaved dad, whom she’s known since college.  In that story, I didn’t figure it out what kind of car went with Lucy’s personality until I’d written several drafts and gotten to the end of the book.  And when I got my answer, I also knew exactly what was going to happen that would pull all of my loose ends into place. 
In DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN, I knew Diana’s younger son would have a gift with numbers, but I couldn’t see how that would play into the story.  And I truly didn’t know what would happen at the end.  Would Diana leave her overbearing husband despite his threats to ruin her children’s lives if she did?  Would her eldest son, Humphrey, a handsome teen who spent way too much time nurturing his mother the only way he knew how (by helping her with housework, cooking, sewing and making things nice) would Humphrey turn out to be gay or straight?  This is a question he’s not dared to ask himself, having a stepfather whose masculinity announced itself in cruelty.  I won’t spoil the ending by saying how things worked out, but it would finally come to me three years into the writing process that William’s gift with numbers would unlock several plot levers, cascading in an ending where these two questions are finally answered.   This trait of William’s, which nagged at me because I couldn’t see its use, this too finally revealed its importance only at the end of my third working draft.  
Writing a novel requires a whole lot of patience, a whole lot of hope that things will turn out eventually.  As Don DeLilo put it ( or was it Walker Percy?) writing is like driving at night in the woods.  You can only see a few feet ahead of you at any given time.  It also requires confidence in the intuitive part of one’s self, while the linear, logical part of the brain recoils at the disorder and the unanswered questions.  
It is so easy to give into despair, but to paraphrase Sylvia Plath, “The greatest threat to creativity is crippling self-doubt.”
And so it goes.  Now I’m working on a book that’s taken me far too long, with far too many characters, all of whom are surprising me daily, but many of whom have begun to spill their secrets, uniting seemingly disparate parts of the plot into a more cohesive whole.  This novel will be quite long, perhaps 800 pages.  It will be quite complex. 
Despite the recent success of long, complex novels like THE GOLDFINCH and THE LUMINARIES, my process still requires staggering leaps of faith in characters who – like children – insist on finding their own path, ditching my map for the thrill of the chase and the scent of treasures that they, not I, must find.
        So the corn maze?  Think of the zigs as the left brain and the zags as the right.  Both are necessary, both take us in different directions.  At least, that’s the case for me.  How about you?
Sheila Curran wrote DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN (Berkley, Penguin USA, 2005) and EVERYONE SHE LOVED (Atria, Simon & Schuster, 2009) and is presently working on a book set in Atlanta.

The Twists and Turns to Fast Glamour

by Maggie Marr

Every book I begin to write is different than the book I end up writing. I am primarily a 'pantser'; a writer who sees only the story immediately before them—much like using your headlights while driving at night in fog—but even the times that I've outlined and plotted, the book that I end up writing is different than the book I started out to write.

I blame this on my characters. When I begin a book I very clearly hear a character's voice speaking to me. The character(s) talk to me and tell me their story. Now as any control freak ocd neurotic author often does, in the beginning, I think I know this character(s) and start writing scenes and telling them what to do. This is when I can 'oh so clearly' see how this story is going to go.


Inevitably my character(s) rebel and resist my impulse to control them and dictate what they will and will not do and how and when they will fall in love or fix their lives. No, I do not have the last say, my characters do.

Usually around 100 pages into a first draft the characters take over and the book takes flight—the days leading up to this moment can be painful. I am resisting the character and the character is resisting me and finally, finally, finally, I do the right thing and I surrender. The book soars upward (and while not entirely painless) gets written as the character tells me scene after scene after scene.

These scenes are always different than the scenes I envisioned.

In Fast Glamour, book 3 in The Glamour Series (Out today! You can get your copy at Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and All Romance.)

I thought I knew every detail of Rhiannon and Sterling's love story and childhood and past but I didn't there were so many surprises! Surprises that I loved writing and surprises that I hope you will love reading.

A broken heart forever bears scars. . .

Sterling Legend grew up a prince in the City of Angels. His life was perfect and he wanted for nothing until his entire world shattered. He lost everything dear to him the year he turned seventeen. Now he’s grown into a formidable man on the cusp of outrageous success. His life revolves around his work and all the beautiful baubles that Los Angeles can offer to a wealthy young man. He’s buried his feelings and his heart so that he will never be hurt again.

A lost love that she could never forget . . .

Rhiannon Bliss was forced to leave L.A. to extinguish the fire of a first love, but an ocean, a different country, and seven years couldn’t quell her desires. Now she’s returned to the City of Angels to care for her mother. Can she fight her feelings for the man that once broke her heart? Does she even want to?

Finding your way back to love can be an impossible path. . .

Sterling Legend is at the top of the entertainment industry. His fast rise to success due to his talent and to his last name. But Sterling wants to find success on his own. He is on the path to producing his first film, without his famous father as the star, when the ex-love of his life re-enters his world. Rhiannon Bliss left seven years before without a word. Sterling has no need to forgive, but his desire for Rhiannon is overwhelming. Can two broken hearts use the heat of their attraction to find their way back to love? 

Leave a comment about the twists and turns you've experienced in your life or an unexpected outcome. will select a winner and I will send you an ebook copy of Fast Glamour. 

Maggie Marr is an attorney, author, and independent producer. She began her Hollywood career pushing the mail cart at ICM where she eventually became a motion picture literary and subsidiary book rights agent. She now spends her days reviewing contracts for authors, screenplay writers, directors, and entrepreneurs as well as writing books for readers. Maggie is the author of the Hollywood Girls Club Series which includes Hollywood Girls Club, Secrets of the Hollywood Girls Club, Hollywood Hit, and the upcoming Box Office Bomb (12/14). The Glamour Series is Maggie's new adult contemporary romance series which includes Hard Glamour, Broken Glamour, Fast Glamour, and Easy Glamour (9/14). Maggie also writes the Eligible Billionaires Series: Can't Buy Me Love, One Night For Love (8/14), and Last Call For Love (11/14). She has written for TV and film and ghostwritten for celebrities. Maggie has been featured on KCRW's The Business, and reviewed by Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and Romantic Times. She is the Vice President for Los Angeles Romance Authors (LARA) her local RWA chapter. She is married with a family and lives and works in Los Angeles. Maggie is grateful for the support of her readers!