Monday, February 28, 2011

Writing Short When You're Long-Winded

I like to talk.

If you haven’t figured it out by the length of my blog posts by now – just meet me. Chattering is my cup of tea. :-) That’s why speech-language pathology is the perfect profession for me. People ‘expect’ me to talk! And I’m never reluctant to oblige.

Problem is – this propensity toward prattling on isn’t the best skill for a writer. Yes, I know – we have to develop words on the page, but there’s the clincher. Our words must we well chosen, well placed, succinct, and valuable to the story.

In short: what needs to be said.

So, I realized my very bad habit of blabbering and decided to work on it.

A few tips?

1. Get a critique partner who wields an editing pen with the fluidity of drawing breath. Seriously. If you choose someone who writes outside of your particular genre too, then they are a bit pickier. That helped me.

Here’s a comment Ruth Logan Herne gave me once when she was critiquing a chapter for me.

Your love of words shows. That’s a nice way of saying ax some of them. Tight, tight, tight.” Later on she wrote. “Make the point with snark and not so many words.” Then after she’d written the word ‘delete’ for the twentieth time, she wrote it again and said this, “delete. I love being heartless at your expense. You know that, don’t you? I haven’t had this much fun since I tortured ants with a magnifying glass. SWEET!!! :-)”

LOL. Don’t you just love it! The great thing about her comments is that she’d go through and ‘show’ me ways to tighten. It’s not easy for a lover of words and…oh let’s just face it: blabbermouth. Sigh.

Tightening may be choosing a stronger verb, taking out an extra prepositional phrase, breaking one long sentence into two more concise sentences…and watching for redundancy.

2. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I just started reading this book last week and I’ve already learned so much. Written by Renni Browne and Dave King, this book was on so many top lists of authors at ACFW, I decided I needed it too. Now, how does this book help you write short? It teaches you about concise writing, appropriate 'beat' writing, proportion writing, and the difference between what is truly needed and what’s superfluous.

3. Write a short story

I challenged myself to write a short story. 2500 words. For a person who writes novels well over 100K, slicing words down to 2500 was incredibly difficult. What I learned? Only the important stuff matters. When you have to tell an entire story in a short amount of time, you are very picky about what you choose to add into it. You can read the short story here - here's a hint, it's a modern day version of P & P entitled Second Impressions.

4. Pretend you’re a scriptwriter

A friend told me to think this way. As if you are writing a script. What happens when you think like a scriptwriter, is you just put the basics. Then, when you go back to the ‘basics’, you layer all the ‘pretty’ stuff on top of it.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much having a crit partner/or reader helps to slice through the extras in your writing. Writing the short story, though challenging, was a fantastic teacher that I CAN write short.

It’s not my first choice, mind you. I’d much rather ‘go long’, but there’s such a thrill in the challenge. It’s also a great learning experience. I’m in need to do it again – just to remind myself that short writing, teaches you how to be a better long writer.

Ever written a short story?

What are some tips you’d give to be a more concise writer?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

What do the Alley Cats do when they don’t know what to write?

They have a Grab Bag week!

That’s right. This week is a mix of writing, fun, romance, and laughter – but you won’t know what’s happening until you stop by.

Who are your hostesses this week?

Pepper, Sherrinda, Mary, Casey, and Krista

It’s a surprise week! Which means we’ll probably be surprised too! :-)

I can give you a hint about Thursday, though.

It has to do with Susan May Warren and The Frazier. Stop by to learn more.

Oh, and I'll treat you to this clue about Wednesday:  Genesis and pressing the enter key.  Gutsy.

What are some great Christian book coming out in March? Check out this list:

From Bethany House –

Judith Miller’s - A Bond Never Broken

Siri Mitchell’s, A Heart Most Worthy

Nancy Moser’s, An Unlikely Suitor (04-01-11)

Mary Connealy’s, Out of Control

From Waterbrook

Liz Curtis Higgs, Mine Is the Light

From Tyndale

C.J. Darlington’s, Bound By Guilt

Just to name a few…

There are so many more. Plenty to keep you busy all through March!

Any that you are particularly looking forward to reading?
above pictures are from -

Friday, February 25, 2011

Romance Through the Ages

Romance isn't the genre for everyone, but for those it appeals to, we love it! What's better than that first sight of a potential love, that first kiss, or a happily ever after? And that's part of the reason romances are so successful and endure the ages. From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to some of the contemporary romance authors of our time (some of my personal favorites, too) like Denise Hunter and Jenny B. Jones, these writers and their books follow a bit of a formula--a successful way of presenting a love story to a reader that fulfills what they're looking for.

The Connection

This is the moment the hero and heroine get their first sight of each other. It's either the first time they've seen each other at all, the first time their interaction is introduced to the reader, or a reunion of a hero and heroine who knew each other from the past somehow. Either way, it's that first moment the reader is waiting for. When the two people we root for to find love with each other and land on the page together. Sometimes there is breathlessness, sometimes there is a funny quip or humorous interaction like in Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones, but no matter how it plays out, it's clear the hero and heroine feel something for each other and will be meeting again.

Physical Interaction

This can be anything from the touch of a hand or arm, to a hug or kiss. This is the moment the hero and heroine move into a new stage of their relationship. Where it's taken to another level and made clear that they are falling in love. The moment Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy touch is just as powerful as contemporary stories that express interaction with a passionate kiss. The story builds toward this moment and readers expect it.

The Conflict

Ahh...well, of course we want the characters to fall in love and live happily ever after but we don't want it to come easy. Where's the fun in that? No, we want to see the characters grow and change, to struggle and overcome. So there's conflict, something that keeps the characters apart--Denise Hunter is a master at this. These conflicts consume the characters and make it believable that to them, they truly cannot be together. Whether it's an internal, external, or spiritual conflict, or all three, we expect as romance readers that there will be something to keep the hero and heroine from expressing their love or making it to that happy ending.

The Resolution & Happily Ever After

And just as surely as we know the characters will be pulled or pushed apart, we know they will come back together. There will be a reconciliation and a happily ever after. Sometimes this is a kiss, an apology, a declaration of love or a marriage proposal, but no matter which, it's the ahhh or awww moment of the book. The point we've been waiting for that all is well and the hero and heroine will be able to move forward with the love and life we've been rooting for.

If you haven't read any of the authors above, I recommend it. But you know from the last several posts we've had here on The Writer's Alley that most of us are fans of these authors and they're excellent writers. So, if you read romance or have read a romance, what do you think? Has this genre endured the ages because it follows a certain kind of formula? When you pick up a romance novel, do you expect these aspects to be present in a story or would you rather see something different?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Notebook—The Beauty of the Long Haul

I don’t read a lot of romance novels. Are you shocked? Truth be told, it’s just not the genre I gravitate to when I’m strolling the aisles in Barnes & Noble. But there is one book weighted with romantic scenes I haven’t been able to shake. Whether you believe the writing is phenomenal or average, Noah and Allie’s story in The Notebook will surely choke you up.

And here’s why…

No matter how many obstacles a couple faces, deep down we want them to make it for the long haul. Throughout the novel we discover how Noah, in all his risk-taking adventurous glory, leads Allie back to herself, reminding her of who she really is, a painter at heart. There’s the cliché parental objection to Noah as a poor and unacceptable choice for Allie but somehow it didn’t bother me. And in some ways it only intensified my hope that they’d end up together. Not only is Noah portrayed as shedding light on Allie’s dreams, but it’s Allie who remains the inspiration behind the house he builds—his dream.

Years pass. It seems the memories slip away; the connection loses its tethered hold. That is until their paths cross again and Noah and Allie must ultimately confront the force behind their feelings. Ah, this is the stuff of love.

I smiled at the kissing scenes, cried during the good-byes, and laughed at the playful way they teased each other. I felt like I knew Allie and Noah and in some ways I’m sure I do. We all do. Nicholas Sparks succeeds at tapping into that emotional trigger we all undergo while falling in love. But what I admire most about this book is how it unravels. I respect the long haul message.

We subtly learn that as an older woman Allie battles Alzheimer’s disease. She struggles to remember all those beautiful memories she and Noah shared and at times becomes frustrated to recall who Noah is at all. But he reads to her from her own journal and recounts their story. Once again he brings her back to herself.

Every time I watch the movie I’m a bawling mess. It reminds me of those initials feelings I experienced reading the book years ago. Pile of mush.

What book or movie turns you into a pile of mush?

*photos from Flickr

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's All About the Kiss

Let's start today with a prayer. "Dear Lord, please don't let my grandma find this post and read it. Amen."

Now let's move on to the topic at hand. For the last week and a half here on The Alley, we've been talking about our favorite romances and what we love about them. Well, when I think about what I love in a good romance, four things come to mind.

Humor, snappy dialogue, compelling plot, and good kissing.

Oh come on, don't give me a hard time for that last one. You can't tell me you read a romance for the intergalactic time capsules and alien abductions.

When we follow the journey of two people falling in love, we want to see a little lip-locking, doggoneit. We want to see a kiss that sizzles through the pages, that evokes passion. (Can I get an "amen", Julie Lessman?)

So I thought it'd be fun to look at two of my favorite romances and analyze the kisses. Ahem, I meant analyze the writing of the kisses, not the kisses themselves.

First up, Plain Jayne by Hillary Manton Lodge.


I slung my laptop bag over my shoulder. "I should go."


Levi reached for my arm. The feel of his hand stopped me in my tracks. "Everything will be all right," he said, and with the utmost care he caught one of my tears with his finger.

And then, as far as I can tell, I kissed him.

On the lips.

It was just a little kiss, more like a brush. At least it started that way. It started as the tiniest nothing, but Levi wrapped his arm around my shoulder and the kiss deepened. I responded; he tasted like cookies and cream and smelled like cedar. My hands dug into his hair.

This is nice, I thought. I had stopped crying, focusing my attention on Levi and that moment until a single thought entered my consciousness.


I stepped back, ending the kiss and disentangling myself from Levi's inviting hold.


Three things I love about this kiss:

(1) It's unplanned. We can feel Jayne's surprise as she kisses Levi and then her rationalization as the kiss continues.

(2) Use of the senses. Jayne and Levi have just gone out for ice cream, thus the cookies and cream reference. Don't you LOVE that? And he smells like cedar. Good stuff!

(3) Conflict that ends the kiss. I love how Hillary takes us through Jayne's thought process, how much she loves the kiss and then *bam*, she remembers her boyfriend Shane. Um, yeah, talk about some emotional conflict.

Whew, let's take a short breather after that one. You're gonna need it before you read the next. Okay, ready?

The next one comes from Stealing Adda by Tamara Leigh.


His face is once more singular, and a crooked smile is in place that makes him look surprisingly boyish. "Perhaps not 'strictly business,'" he murmurs.

Does he mean what I think he means? Holding my breath and his gaze, I feel his hand leave my shoulder and trail my collarbone to the base of my throat. Though my lungs urge me to splurge on a refill, I'm too afraid of losing the moment. Air or no air, it's perfect just the way it is.

Though his gaze has yet to flicker, his head lowers toward me and I feel his breath on my lips. I part them and, in doing so, sip air enough to sustain me through what's sure to be the kiss of a lifetime.

Nick doesn't disappoint, though he surprises. Rather than demanding, his mouth lightly covers mine as though to test it, and he doesn't press me to the floor.

With a murmur, I curve a hand around his neck to draw him nearer. He deepens the kiss, the intensity of which causes me to startle. And my foot to strike the credenza. A moment later, the remaining books topple.

Leave it to Adda...


Whoa, mamasita! Are you breathing right now? 'Cause I'm sure not. I should clarify for Grandma's sake that the comment about the floor is because they took a tumble prior to this clip. (So don't tsk tsk, Grandma, okay?)

Here's what I love about this kiss. Tamara gives physical details that put us in Adda's skin...his hand trailing from her shoulder, along her collarbone, to the base of her throat. She could have just said, "He moves his hand to my neck." But no, she takes it one step at a time to make us feel the agony and tension right along with Adda. (I wish I could show you all the tension buildup before this clip because Tamara masterfully builds it throughout the entire chapter.)

Then after his hand shift, Tamara punches it up even more by making us feel Adda's tight lungs. And the kiss hasn't even happened yet! By the time they do lock lips, we're dying for it to happen, and it delivers the passion we expected.


So what does all this kiss talk mean for you as a writer? It means you need to study the books you love, analyze them to find the triggers that put you in the characters' skin, and don't be afraid to make the reader feel the romantic tension. They'll thank you for it!

Do you have a favorite kiss from a novel or a movie? What made it memorable?

*Kiss photo by Idea go /

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Truths Universally Acknowledged?...Jane Austen on Love

“I can comprehend your going on charmingly once you had made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?”
“I cannot fix the hour, the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation.  It is too long ago.  I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.”
“My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners—my behavior to you was at least always bordering on uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not.  Now be sincere; Did you admire me for my impertinence?”
“For the liveliness of your mind, I did.”
(Pride and Prejudice)

If I must choose one literary mentor in the school of romance it is without a doubt the inimitable Miss Austen.

Jane Austen's romances are lively, full of wit.  Fitzwilliam Darcy in fact falls in love with Elizabeth because of her "liveliness of mind."

Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, says of his romance with Beatrice, "Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably."

My romance with my husband did (and does) contain a great deal of wit.  I love the fact that Austen's characters fall deeply in love yet it is often with eyes wide open. 

Jane sets the pattern here for the independent woman and she is appealing to those of us less fortunate in the appearance department.

We must learn to love is another truth seen in the romance between Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey:

"What beautiful hyacinths!-I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.".....

"But now you love a hyacinth.  So much the better.  You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.  Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to take more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take: and though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?....I am pleased that you have learned to love a hyacinth.  The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing." (Northanger Abbey)

Emma shows the reader the romance present in the small moments.  The picnic scene on Box Hill is lavishly beautiful as portrayed in the film versions and is also a pivotal scene for the character formation of Emma. When Mr. Knightley confronts Emma about her rude comments towards Miss Bates, Emma realizes not only how much she cares for his opinion of her but is also determined to change her character.  Love is willing to change, often at great cost to self. 

Edmund is a frustratingly slow learner in the school of romance as shown in Mansfield Park.  The ending wraps up their story perhaps a bit too quickly and neatly, however, brings the reader satisfaction nonethless. Fanny has a strong respect for Edmund and the two have a beautiful friendship beginning in the childhood years.

"With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regard founded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness, and completed by every recommendation of growing worth, what could be more natural than the change? Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness, an object to him of such close and peculiar interest, dearer by all his own importance with her than any one else at Mansfield, what was there now to add, but that he should learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones. And being always with her, and always talking confidentially, and his feelings exactly in that favourable state which a recent disappointment gives, those soft light eyes could not be very long in obtaining the pre-eminence."

Jane Austen is sometimes accused of failing to describe her character's most passionate moments yet the scene preceding Emma's proposal is romantic with Emma's hand pressed to Mr. Knightley's heart, Mr. Knightley comforting Emma is perhaps one of Jane Austen's most beautiful romantic scenes:

For a moment or two nothing was said, and she was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till she found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low, "Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound. -- Your own excellent sense -- your exertions for your father's sake -- I know you will not allow yourself. --" Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the warmest friendship -- Indignation -- Abominable scoundrel!" -- And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, "He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for her. She deserves a better fate."
Emma understood him; and as soon as she could recover from the flutter of pleasure excited by such tender consideration, replied, "You are very kind -- but you are mistaken -- and I must set you right. -- I am not in want of that sort of compassion." ...

Are you a "Jane-ite"?  What is your favorite scene from a Jane Austen movie or book?

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Vein of Hope

From the time we are little girls, twirling in our princess dresses, hope fills us that someday we will meet Prince Charming.
And it continues into the tumultuous teen years when our hearts seem too big for our bodies, and we crush on that ONE guy whose every look in our direction, every brush of the arm in a crowded high school hallway, every word spoken (even if it is “excuse me, I need to get to my locker”) sends us into a dreamy state of wonder. What did he mean by that? It must have meant something to make my insides flutter so. Surely he felt the same, right?

And we hope. 

We feel deep things, sitting for hours at a journal, or filling the back of notebooks with poetry that opens doorways into a bleeding heart—a young, ripening heart that clings to the hope of finding the love we read in English class, between Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
When I think back on my sweet innocence of falling madly in love with THAT guy in high school...the one who probably didn't think of me unless I tripped up on my untied Keds right in front of his cool self...I see one huge constant of that era:

A vein of hope.

It may have been delusional on my end, but it kept the dream alive and helped me put up with all the junk of life.
If ever a book was written to elaborate this vein with a deeper God-driven intensity, to thrust it into the hearts of women, not just girls, it is my favorite historical romance, Thorn In My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs, the first in her Lowlands of Scotland series.

I read it as a married woman, past all the stuff of love-sickness (I got my man :) ), but my soul was so rattled by the familiar hope of a woman in love in the story, it resonated to my very core.
Set in 18th century Scotland, Higgs creatively weaves the Rachel, Jacob, and Leah story through the lives of her characters, Rose, Jamie, and Leana. Rose is vibrant, beautiful, and young, catching the eye and heart of Jamie. Leana is plain, sensible, calm, but with a beautiful heart, a God-fearing spirit. Through Leana, the vein of hope is established, urging the reader to ache for her, and hope alongside her as she yearns for Jamie's affection and courtship, and then love, once a proxy marriage set up by her scheming father, binds her to him for at least 7 months to produce a baby or end in divorce, and then Jamie can marry her sister Rose, who he is in love with.
It is just after this proxy marriage that I would love to illustrate to you this theme of hope, even though it is ever present throughout the story.

From the very beginning, Leana doesn't stop clinging to hope, even with Jamie's harsh words and constant rebuke from the first moments of their honeymoon:

"My heart is spoken for. You may have the rest of me for seven days, but no longer."

How heart wrenching to know that the man you've married doesn't love you back, and is only fulfilling his duty on the honeymoon because of your father's request? The only practical hope Leana has is for an heir to be produced to lock their marriage in permanency, and according to Jamie, only in the short 7 day honeymoon.

We see Leana's heart's intentions when Jamie asks,

"What's all that rubbage?" 
as she brings a basket filled with 

herbs, her favorite scented soap, her best gown, and one good dress 

on their honeymoon, and Leana responds,

"Hope," she said simply, settling into her seat as he shook the reigns and their journey began. "'Tis a basket full of hope."

And from that first day of their honeymoon, the vein of hope woven through Leana's character tugs at the reader's heart, pulsating in and out of reach, as we catch glimpses of Jamie's teetering thoughts.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Jamie contributes to the vein of hope in the eye of the reader, as well as in Leana's presence, thus growing it to a substantial hook for the reader to cling to for the rest of the book.

In Jamie's POV:  

She was not a beauty. Her face was too long, her eyebrows thickly drawn...But in the dark of the night, when she'd smoothed her hands across his chest and whispered his name, all those unappealing details had flown out of his head. Leana. He'd spoken her name once, not meaning to. She'd wept without making a sound even as he cursed himself for being careless, for giving her false hope. Heaven knew she'd brought enough of that in her cone-lined basket.

Ah, but was it false hope to Leana? She had a mighty God and a pure heart, and the hope becomes more and more real during their honeymoon week:

Without hesitating, Jamie slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him to keep her from falling onto the muddy street. He held her only for a moment until she righted herself but long enough to flood his mind with vivid images. His resolution to make her bridal week a miserable one was crumbling like Neda's shortbread.

And beyond the honeymoon we catch glimpses of Jamie's inner turmoil when Rose mentions,  

"But you've looked at her." 
More than you know. More than I should. 
He kept his voice even. "No more than necessary, for politeness' sake. She is my wife, if only by law--"

There are moments of Jamie tripping up on the bounds of marriage in flirtatious bouts with Rose, even calling out her name in his marriage bed with Leana, but through the devastation this brings not only to the character, but the invested reader as well, Leana is steadfast in her grip on hope as she remains firmly rooted in God's love.

And isn't that the stuff of life, the thing you wish you knew as a teenager, striving at hopeful hints of love--that beyond all else, God is there for you, and in Him, your hope will be fulfilled someday, even if it doesn't look like what you expect it too? In her darkest moments, Leana turns to God:

Curled up in her bed, in a lonely corner of the house that creaked in the stiff breeze and groaned from the cold, Leana warmed herself with her prayers. "Almighty God, do you see me? Do you see my emptiness?" The wind moaned but did not speak. "Fill me with his child, Lord." She whispered into the dimly lit closet that was her refuge, her eye on the window that looked toward the heavens. "Let a son be growing beneath my heart. Maybe then Jamie will love me."

I don't want to spoil the ending to this amazing book by Higgs, it is just too good. ;) But as I think back on the romance of the book, why it intrigued me so, what it taught me about writing a successful and long-lasting story in the eye of the reader, I find that my heart was hooked along the long, swelling vein of hope internalized in the characters and eventually blooming into their journey.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

More Romance anyone??

I mean, seriously, can you ever have TOO much romance?

Certainly not here at The Writers Alley – especially during FEBRUARY!!

If you’ve enjoyed our romantic posts from last week, just get a load of what’s happening next week.

Monday – Angie starts off the week with some lovely insights from Liz Curtis Higgs epic novel Thorn in My Heart entitled A Vein of Hope. Her post will show how hope is woven through the pages of our novels to hook the readers and pull them through to the final page.

Tuesday- Let’s step back to the Regency world with some Truths About Love Universally Acknowledged: What I learned about romance from Jane Austen with Julia.

Wednesday – Pucker up and get ready for a kiss to build a dream on. Sarah brings in author tips on writing show-stopping kisses. A fan, ice, or tall glass of water might be necessary.

Thursday – Bring along your Kleenex as Wendy talk about lessons learned about life-long love from The Notebook.

Friday – Check out Romance Through the Ages with Cindy. The beauty of romance from Jane Austen to Denise Hunter and more.


Casey gets to talk about her wonderful blog Operation: Encourage An Author at Reflections in Hindsight on Feb 19th. TODAY!!!

Pepper has a new group of guests for her Love at First Thought Series at Words Seasoned With Salt. Information from Patti Lacy, Siri Mitchell, and Audra Harders.

Now for some fun. This is a link to some best kisses. Whew….lovely.

And how about this one. Great romance scenes without the S-E-X.


A Kiss is Just a Kiss

Friday, February 18, 2011

FAV Romance authors!



Well, for one, I have a really GOOD excuse to eat chocolate!

But really, Valentine's Day and my OWN Valentine's birthday month makes me think of love and flowers and romance and hearts.

It's hard not to smile when looking at a pink heart, let's be honest! Especially if that pink heart is filled with chocolate... but I digress!

So, our "theme" for this week and next, to celebrate the wonderful month of February, is romance novels.

I find it nearly impossible to tell you what my favorite romance novels are. Mostly because many of my other alley-cats are posting theirs and there is a TON of duplicates that would be on my list.

What's a cat to do?

Well, I stick out my tongue and post them anyway, of course!

Actually, no. What I do is instead focus on romance AUTHORS that I really like and just happen to name some of their books... It's my way of beating the system, although really, there is no system... Just my weird quirkiness that doesn't want to look stupid repeating things.

Hmmm... I think I might need therapy.


Fav Inspirational Contemporary Romance Authors (NOT all inclusive... and I'm excluding historicals because, well, there are a lot of them and I have a lot of favorites there, so this would be a VERY long post!):

Jenny B. Jones. She's new on my list... on my romance list anyway. Her contemporary romance novel, Save the Date, was OH MY GOODNESS hilarious. My mother even said after she read it that it was the first book she's read that is as good as mine. Okay, not saying this to say that my manuscripts are awesome, but if you can beat out a woman's own daughter, then it's pretty good.

Tamara Leigh. Okay, some might call these more "chick lit" however all her books have boy ending up with girl at the end, so I stick out my tongue at you and call it romance. NA NA NA! Seriously, these are hilarious, and I rarely take more than a day to read one. I just wish she would write faster... still waiting for newest one in her Southern Discomfort series (and Faking Grace is still my ALL TIME FAVORITE Leigh book.)

 Kaye Dacus. Kaye is fun because she has both contemporary AND historical romances out there. Love to get a fun flavor of both. I have a hard time picking a favorite of hers because I love them all, but I probably would still say that Stand-in Groom, her first, is probably my favorite. But urgh... I really liked them all. So yeah, just read them all and you're good:-)

Francine Rivers. Another conteporary and historical writer, and I think her books are probably most all Christian fiction reader's fav list. Scarlett Thread and Atonement child were both great, great books. It's been a while since I've read them... need to remedy that!

Lori Wick. Yes, I know she writes mostly historical, and she hasn't written anything new in a long time. But she was the main author who got me reading Christian fiction, so I can't leave her off the list! Sophie's heart was one of my favorite's for a long time though, and sometimes I still go back and read it again. It was sad, fun, and romantic all at the same time. Very much a "sweet" romance. She had some other really good contemporaries as well, but Sophie's heart is the one I could read many times over!

Susan May Warren. Another one where I can't list a favorite if I tried. I love her romances as they have a bit of suspense added as well, and she writes a metaphor like no one else I know! Favorite series would be the Noble Legacy Series, however loved her other ones as well too!

Okay, there are a ton more that I love, but I think this is a pretty good list to start.

So, who are YOUR favorite contemporary romance authors? If you are a historical fanatic and don't read a lot of contemporary, feel free to list those too:-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Perfect Proposal Plan

Maybe I'm just a sucker for a sweet commercial (and no I'm not being paid to put this on our blog), but this proposal scene Kay Jewelers has been airing lately always makes me sigh. You don't have to understand the language of the couple to see the love and the perfect proposal moment.

Which I thought was only fitting to talk about, since Valentines Day was just a few days ago...and the fact that my Daddy proposed to my Mama on Valentine's day, 27 years ago. (though his was decidedly not as romantic as the ones featured above, stick around and I might tell you. :-)

What makes a great proposal?

I have helpful tips from some of our favorite romance authors, who will be sharing in just a moment with expert advice.

First, make it memorable

~A truly great written proposal takes more than just a carriage and a fantastic view over a Paris vineyard (although there is nothing wrong with that for sure), it takes a build up of sexual tension through the novel until the only thing that reader wants to see him just pop the question!

Second, make it big, make it small, make it fit the story

~Your proposal has to fit into the context of the story. If your hero is soft spoken, most likely he isn't going to invite the entire town to see. But if that has been a struggle for him, then for sure include it. It makes a great climatic moment. More than just a simple proposal.

Third, don't go for the cheese

~Cliche is never good and that can surely be said for a proposal scene. Make it unique. Instead of asking her to marry him in restaurant over candle light (been done a thousand times) how about in a dungeon cave as they are running from bad guys (depending on your genre of course). What if, instead of the "perfect" moment, you made a very imperfect moment?

Forgive me, I'm going to borrow from one of my favorite TV shows. How many of you have seen CHUCK? None of you?? Come on now. You guys are have got to get a life.

Chuck is a superspy in love with his superspy partner, Sarah and after years of being together he is finally ready to pop the question. He finds the perfect spot and prepares to ask. Time and time again something happens to stop him (they are, after all, on missions). Then in a last ditch attempt, before Sarah goes undercover, Chuck is talking to his other team partner, Casey (see why I love this show?? :-). Casey tells him about a proposal he gave once- in a bus station. How he would always have that moment, that look on her face.  Then he goes to say... "the truth is there is no perfect moment, or perfect spot. Forget about the balcony, Bartoscki, you just need the girl."


Okay, moving on, Chuck later proposes to Sarah *SPOILER* in the hospital lobby during the birth of Chuck's niece. He didn't need a fancy moment, he just needed the girl and that's all your story needs. Twist it around. Make the moment in the seemingly most imperfect place that fits for your story and it will be memorable.

See what our favorite authors have to say too...

Janet Dean

For me the perfect proposal brings the book full circle. By that I mean an element in the proposal echoes the first meeting of the hero and heroine in the opening of the book.

Of course I want a proposal that's believable. So I must make sure all the conflicts between the hero and heroine are resolved in a way that feels right to the reader.

If it fits the story, I like proposal scenes to be bigger than life. For example, having the hero propose in front of the entire town. Or those closest to them who've been part of their struggles.

Then comes the fun part. When the hero tells the heroine he loves her and she him, I like to use strong emotion or even playful banter. Then comes a toe-curling kiss. I like the proposal to end with a sense that the hero and heroine's love is God ordained and they will indeed live happily ever after.

Hmmm, always go for that toe curling kiss!

Karen Witemeyer

Maybe it's because I'm female, and I always wondered what thoughts went through my husband's mind when he proposed, but I love having these scenes in the hero's POV. Whether or not his words are romantic, as an author, I can expose his inner emotions in his thoughts, showing the reader how true his feelings are and how much hinges on the heroine's positive response.

It's almost always a must (except perhaps in marriage of convenience stories) to have a declaration of love from both characters. Sometimes a simple "I love you" says everything exquisitely. Sometimes it adds depth to have the characters reveal what they treasure about the other person or respect in them. The main thing to me is that this not be about how beautiful the heroine is or how strong the hero is. These love words need to go beyond surface attraction to the heart of the relationship, to show the reader that this is a love that will endure the test of time.

And of course, there needs to be a kiss--a soul-stirring, heart-melting kiss that makes the reader sigh. I'm sighing now just imagining all the wonderful possibilities.

Oh me too, Karen.

Denise Hunter

Those last moments of a story are so important. One of the most important things is not to rush it! The reader's been waiting for hours to reach this point so draw it out, linger in the scene.

As for the proposal itself, I like to avoid any kind of expressions that a cliche'. Have the hero speak from his heart, but make the words unique to those characters and their journey.

Place can be important too. Is there some place that has been special to the couple? It might be someplace where no other man would propose . . . again, make it unique to their journey. In "Driftwood Lane" my hero proposed in a courtroom. Any place can be romantic if handled carefully.

Oh my yes, just like Chuck in the hospital. (watch the clip if you haven't already!!! :-)

Lorna Seilstad

When the proposal is well-written, the whole book leaves you feeling thrilled. If it's not, then the reader feels such an enormous down.

I think the proposal is only as good as the build up to it. By that point, the reader has to be so invested in this couple that they can't wait for the answer. However, they also still need believe there is a chance he or she might say no.

I like my proposals to be memorable with something tied to the characters and the world I've created for them. Their words much be sincere and definitely sound like "them." Of course, a toe-curling kiss to seal the deal is a must.

Say no?? Who would say no to a perfect proposal? (okay, maybe if it wasn't perfect...)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
So there you have it. Make it original, make it big, make it perfect for your story and...a good idea to make the hero and heroine good for each other too. :-)

Oh, but you want more you say? Something about my family's proposal story??

27 years ago my parents were sitting over sushi (please don't hold this against them) and my dad turns to my mom and says, "You don't have to eat your sushi if you marry me."

What do you THINK she said? The woman is smart, so of course she said yes. And here is the photo of them when they married just five months later. They are going on 27 years, so I guess the not eating the sushi thing worked. :-)

What do YOU think makes the perfect proposal plan?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Three Loves Now Gone With the Wind

Valentine's Week

What better time to talk about love and the skillful pen splashing heart-throbbing, romantic scenes across the page?

Today we'll peek at Margaret Mitchell's award winning characters: Scarlett O'hara, Rhett Butler, and the beloved Ashley from her novel, Gone with the Wind

We'll see how romance does not come in a one size fits all category yet still can thrill the reader.

Scarlett loved Ashley

Mitchell wove Scarlett's love for Ashley throughout her book. Scarlett could have had the love from any man in her town. Her seventeen inch waist accented a beauty unmatched by any other girl and her spirited personality enticed every male to become the victor in marriage. When she discovered Ashley had proposed to Melanie, Scarlett's raging jealousy flared. "Oh Ashley I love you. Tell me you love me." Would Ashley leave Melanie for Scarlett? We wonder and perhaps hope to the very last scene.

Ashley loved Scarlett but married Melanie
It doesn't take long to realize Ashley's "love" for Scarlett is lust. His honor forces him to remain true to Melanie, yet he finds himself alone with Scarlett  and caught in her lustful snare several times. Mitchell didn't need intimate bedroom scenes to paint a driving love scene. The characters drove the point with passionate conversations.

Rhett Butler loved Scarlett
Despite Rhett's shady past, he found himself genuinely in love with Scarlett. "You need kissing badly." He determined to take care of her since no one else could. Rhett coped with Scarlett's lack of love for him, but he wouldn't accept her constant desire for Ashley.  

In the end...

Scarlett discovers her love for Rhett 
Scarlett sobs as Rhett tells her he is leaving. She gazes at his determined face and begs for him to stay. "I only know that I love you." Scarlett follows him to the door. "Rhett, Rhett. Where shall I go? What shall I do?" As Rhett walks away Scarlett sobs, "I can't let him go. There must be some way to bring him back." Will she?

Mitchell painted love with different colors drawing readers into the harsh realities found in American history. Now that's a history lesson!

Are you painting love with different colors in your writings?  

This discussion makes me think of God's love for us.  His love is genuine, never wavering, always true. 
Romantic love is thrilling to read 
and hopefully experience; 
God's love is a blessing to receive
It will never leave.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Love At First Glance

The first glance of love. The moment your eyes fall upon the one who stirs your heart and whispers to your soul. Without him, you are completely undone.

That moment is the one that I most anticipate in a book. I love when a man sees a woman and is totally floored by her, at a loss for words, or grins like a goon. I love it when a woman’s breath catches, her heart skips, or when she lays eyes on the man of her dreams. It’s the first glance of promise.

One of my favorite first glance moments is from If I Had You, by Lynn Kurland. Lynn is a master at pulling you into the experience and emotion of love, and this excerpt makes me heave a sigh each and every time I read it. Set in medieval times, Robin of Artane has returned home after being at war. Anne of Fenwyck has fostered at Artane, but Robin only remembers her as a scrawny, freckled-face girl of thirteen. Here, we get to view his first glance of love when he goes to fetch her from the chapel.

He slipped inside the dimly lit structure, then closed the door behind him silently. He’d forgotten what a small place this was, but perhaps ‘twas large enough to serve his family’s needs. Robin stood still until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. At least his years of moving quietly would serve him now. He would have a look at mistress Anne before she was even aware of him, and see if his memory had served him well or ill.
He found her immediately. One of his greatest strengths in battle was his sharp eyes, eyes that could distinguish the color of a man’s eyes at fifty paces. And those eyes were currently riveted on the figure kneeling at one of the side altars, before St. Christopher, protector of those who went to war.
Robin didn’t allow himself to ponder the significance of her choice.
He took a pair of steps forward, then stopped, finding himself rendered immobile. He held his breath, wondering if he were seeing a vision or if the sight of the beautiful woman in the deep green gown before him were real.

It could only be Anne. He would never mistake that cloak of pale golden hair for anyone else’s. The candle-light flickered over it as it fell over her shoulders and down her back like a waterfall of spun gold. Her slender hands were clasped and resting on the altar before her. Her head was bowed, her lips moved soundlessly.
Robin almost went down on his knees himself. Never in his life had he seen such a picture of tranquility, of goodness, of purity. Gone was the homely little girl with freckles, too-large eyes and ears that didn’t seem to fit her face. In her place was a serene, lovely young woman. 
He slowly walked to the front of the chapel and felt his way down onto a bench near her. He struggled to think of something clever to say—or at least something that wouldn’t leave him sounding as witless as he felt.
By the saints, he’d never expected just the sight of her to leave him breathless.
He couldn’t tear his gaze from her. Just looking at her seemed to ease his heart. For the first time in five years, he felt the tension ease out of him.
And it was because of the very woman he had promised himself he would avoid.
If I Had You, by Lynn Kurland
Copyrighted material. Cannot be reproduced without permission. Author granted permission for the use of this excerpt.


Wasn’t that lovely? Lynn Kurland writes beautiful tales of lords and ladies, knights and maids, and love that knows no bounds of time. Some of her works are time-travels, and I just love them. She writes PG loves stories with a closed bedroom door, and the romance that blossoms between her heroes and their ladies is just breath-taking. Definitely swoon-worthy, in my opinion!

Now let’s take a look at the first glance of love from a different angle. What about those times when a person is completely swept away by attraction, knowing that the person is completely wrong for them. They know they should turn away, not think about them, not take a peek, and yet…they just can’t help it. They are irresistibly drawn to the total opposite of what they always thought they wanted.

I just read Save The Date, by Jenny B. Jones, and it was amazing.  Jenny is a master at snappy dialogue and loads of humor. In this excerpt from Save The Date, we have Lucy, who is at a function, trying to raise sympathy for the plight of her non-profit home for girls coming out of the foster homes. The millionaire son of the company that had pulled her funding has been told to keep her quiet. And here he comes...

The Playboy was coming her way.

The last thing Lucy wanted to do was make chitchat with a spoiled athlete who breathed in fawning and adoration like oxygen. He had been like that in school too. The jerk probably didn't even remember her.
His thick, dark hair had just enough muss to let the world know he mixed pleasure with his business. A designer tuxedo covered his athlete's body, but Lucy knew what was beneath it. The whole world did. At the height of Alex's career as quarterback for the New York Warriors, you could find him sprawled in his BVDs from small-town billboards to Times Square. If one put in a small amount of effort, the ads could still be found. Not that Lucy ever looked.
She tried to focus on Mr. and Mrs. Carter, the most recent addition to the Sinclair board, but she could hardly talk for watching Alex. He should move with all the bulk of a rhino with those ridiculous muscles. Instead he handled himself with the grace of a panther. Lithe. Predatory. And headed right for her.
Save The Date, by Jenny B. Jones

Copyrighted material. Cannot be reproduced without permission. Author granted permission for the use of this excerpt.


Oh yes, indeed! He was coming for her and she is gonna have her hands full with that one. It is a must read for those of you who love fun, contemporary romance.

And just for fun, here's a peek at a scene from August Rush, where two musicians meet for the first time on a rooftop. The real first look begins around 1:50 and the scene ends around 4:30. (just so you know).

What kind of first glances do you prefer? Can you share the book and author of your favorite first glance? Or how about your own personal "first glance"? Tell us about your own experience with first glances.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heroes: Body, Mind, Heart, and Soul

Heroes: Mind, Heart, Body, and Soul


Romance, flowers, chocolate, music and….

(and one of my Movie-FAVORITES is in the pic)

Oh yeah!

I know, I know – there are some GREAT posts in cyberspace about the perfect hero.

To get a yummy taste of a few go here or here.

But I want to examine a few specifically. A few heroes from novels and what makes them heroic. Generally, there are four basic pieces to a person – including heroes. Three of them are intricately woven together, and the fourth, well it’s just for eye-candy.

So…where to begin?

Let’s start with the most obvious trait: Body.

Most heroes are handsome, let’s admit it. There are rare occasions when a hero isn’t super-gorgeous, but 90% of the time, the physical appearance of the hero catches the heroine’s attention in some way or other. Whether his eyes, his hair, his smile, or maybe even his voice, there is something that first sparks interest in the heroine.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Lady in the Mist by Laurie Alice Eakes –

Tabitha had never seen a man with such beautiful eyes. The rich, deep brown of coffee, they sparkled with pinpoints of gold light behind a fringe of lashes that would have made them feminine if not for his strong cheek bones and firm jaw. The powdered hair, ridiculous as it was in Seabourne, created a striking contrast to the dark eyes and sun-bronzed complexion.

Beautiful description isn’t it?

How about this one.

For Pete’s Sake by Linda Windsor

Ellen loved taking a guy out of his four-wheeled cage and putting him on two wheels with nothing between him and the abrasive paving. It separated the men from the boys. And Sinclair was definitely a man. He’d leaned with her on the curves in the road and kept her from wobbling all over creation like stiff, first time riders tended to do. And that rock-hard chest under his silk shirt and business suit was definitely that of a manly man.

Still, she’d never been held quite so…whole-heartedly.

Notice that physical characteristics are the first signs of interest. Most of the time in fiction (and in life) this is the case, but as we all know – it’s only a package. What’s on the inside is what matters most – and that’s true for stories too.

Mind – Heroes are smart, savvy, quick witted. They may be ‘stupid in love’, as Julie Lessman says, but there is something else about them that shows their particular intelligence. Usually it comes out in their profession, but sometimes it can be their smarts in handling their women :-)

Sharpshooter in Petticoats by Mary Connealy

He pulled back, only inches, his intense eyes and stubborn jaw filling her whole world. Made her want. Made her feel. “I’m taking your children out of this fortress tonight. You can come with me or stay behind.”

Made her crazy. “I won’t let you.”

“You can’t stop me.” He fell silent and waited. A big, tall stack of pure stubborn…

When she didn’t respond, Tom set her on her feet, turned, and stalked toward the house, as if he planned to pack the three children up and take them without her permission or company.

She reached for her rifle and grabbed…air. Looking down by her right hand where the muzzle was always waiting, she realized, it was gone. Looking up, she saw Tom carrying it.

“Looking for this?” He raised his arm high so the gun was silhouetted against the starlit sky.

Smart man :-)

What about a man’s talent? Audra Harders describes it like this in her debut novel, Rocky Mountain Hero.

Gabe’s fingers danced along the neck of the guitar as graceful as the hawks she’d seen the other day soaring through the air. Gabe hummed and picked at his guitar. His eyes closed, he appeared in complete worship.


Many times our heroes have specific smarts. Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate example. He certainly wasn’t part of a romance (though the notion of a novel like that is spinning through my head), but his brilliance defined him. Each hero shows his knowledge. How does yours?

Heart – the compassion, tenderness, protective-instinct, determination, ROMANCE, and spirit of your hero. There are SOOOOO many examples, but let me just share a few.

From Laura Frantz novel, Courting Morrow Little

“Are you missing home, Morrow?”

Thoughtful, she met his steady gaze. “No…I’m missing you.”

He came to her and rested his hands on her shoulders, tipping her head back so that cold moonlight spilled into her eyes. “How can you miss me when I’m standing here beside you?”

“I-I don’t rightly know,” she said, feeling she’d stepped off a safe path onto perilous ground. “Aren’t you…missing me?”

His handsome features turned perplexed. “You think I…” …

Gently he framed her face with his hands and brought her head up. “Morrow, you’re mourning.”

Mourning. A startling realization stole over her. He was telling her he wouldn’t touch her so soon after Pa had passed, that she needed time to grieve….

“Yes, I’m mourning,” she said, softly. “I believe I’m mourning you.”

A flicker of surprise played over his handsome face, but his gaze remained steadfast….

“Morrow…are you sure?”

The tender question touched her. “Never surer,” she answered.

Gently, like they were about to dance, he took her in his arms, and she felt a wall within him give way.

Whew…isn’t that scene so lovely. Passion and tenderness all rolled up into such a short amount of space. Oh dear, I do so love that story.

Shall I turn up the heat even more? No one does it better than Julie Lessman- let’s look at a short scene from A Hope Undaunted.

Massive palms slowly grazed the side of her arms, as if he thought she might be chilled, but the heat they generated made her feel anything but. In fluid motion, they moved to her waist, the gentle caress of his thumbs all but stealing her air. His blue eyes deepened in intensity as he leaned in, and his husky voice made her mouth go dry. “Let’s face it, Katie Rose,” he whispered. “I don’t want ice, I don’t want water, and I definitely don’t want chocolate.”

She caught her breath when his words melted warm in her ear.

“I want you…”

And before the air could return to her lungs, his mouth dominated hers with such gentle force, it coaxed a breathless moan from her lips, heating the blood in her veins by several degrees.


Last, but definitely not least, is Soul

As Christian writers, our worldview should come out in our stories – whether overtly or woven into the pattern of our novels. Soul is a part of our characters, and seems even more beautiful in our HEROES.

One of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read which shows the spiritual aspect of the hero is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Here’s a short scene from the book to show how his faith influences his behavior.

It was growing colder and they needed to return. They dressed in silence, both tormented, both trying not to be. She came to him and put her arms around his waist, pressing herself against him, as a child would looking for comfort.

He closed his eyes against the fear uncurling in the pit of his stomach. I love her Lord. I can’t give her up.

Michael, beloved. Would you have her hang on her cross forever?

Michael let out a shuddering sigh. When she lifted her face, he saw something in it that made him want to weep….

Lifting her, he held her cradled in his arms. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. He closed his eyes. Lord, if I give her up to you now, will you ever give her back to me?

No answer came.

Read the book to discover the answer.

There you have it. The essence of a hero.

Tell me about your hero? Body, mind, heart, and soul.