Chapter 7’s up!

Who’d have thought Enoch would be working with Caleb…again?  But he is, and they’re on their way to confront Samiel–the black sheep of their heavenly home.  Enoch doesn’t see any good coming from this, even if they try to compromise.  Samiel likes to get his own way, the reason he and the One always bump heads.



Writing: Same, but Different

I’ve started to write my fifth Mill Pond romance.  I still like the town.  I still like the people.  I enjoy having characters from previous books mingle with new characters for a new story.  My worry–keeping each story fresh and unique.  Catherine Bybee manged it in her Weekday Bride series.  Seven different romances, one for each day of the week.  Seven stories that have a similar premise, but a unique take on it each time.  My writer friend, writing as Julia Donner for her Regency romances, has done it with her Friendship series. Her eighth novel goes live on June 18, and I’ve already pre-ordered it.   I love her work.  Each one has a different feel, even though they all have healthy doses of her sly humor.  As a matter of fact, I think her writing keeps getting better and better, the longer the series goes.  Something I’d like to achieve.

(If you’re interested in Regencies, here’s the link for her latest:…++julia+donner)

A long time ago, I wrote a bundle of novellas to experiment with writing romance.  That’s how I ease myself into writing something new.  I try working on shorter pieces before I commit to something longer.   I liked Emerald Hills, got good feedback on each one of them (which I lost when I combined them into a bundle–didn’t think about that:), but one reviewer mentioned that she’d have liked more variety in the stories, that they felt too similar to her.  Now, I know that a writer can’t please everyone, but I wrote these as a learning curve, so her opinion stuck with me.  If I ever wrote a romance series, I told myself to vary things up–have one with some humor, another that was a little more serious, throw in some different types of characters, and mix up the plots and themes a little.  I think–at least, I hope–that I’ve achieved that.

For my Mill Pond romances, in book 1, I tried for a heavy dose of humor.  For Brody and Harmony, in book 2, I tried to create two people who’d keep butting heads.  And in the book I’m working on now, I wanted to throw in a few serious themes, but lighten them up with Miriam–a character with more snark than I’ll ever have.

When I read a series, I look forward to returning to the same setting, the same characters.  I’m reading Patricia Briggs’s Fire Touched right now, and I’m enjoying how Mercy and Adam interact as a couple, how Warren smooths things over, and how Ben has such a potty mouth.  It’s a world I want to visit and linger in for a while.  That’s the joy of a series, returning to something familiar that I’ve missed.  But each story has to be different enough to make me want to return again for new experiences.  Everything’s about balance–keeping the old and introducing the new–a happy blend.


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What Drives a Story?

When I first started writing, I wrote short stories.  I love ’em, and sometimes I think it’s harder to write an awesome short story than it is to write a book.  Books take longer, yes, but they also give you more wiggle room.  In short fiction, there’s no room for mess-ups, so I think it’s harder to tell someone how to write a great short story than it is to explain the parts that add up to a good book.

For a book, we know the drill:

  1. A hook that grabs the reader’s attention
  2. A protagonist we can empathize with, who hits a major problem that he has to fix because it deals with an internal problem that he has to fix:)
  3. Tension that cranks up the longer the book goes
  4. Conflict of some type in every scene
  5. Characters, both major and minor, who stay with us, one way or another
  6. Pacing that keeps the story’s momentum moving
  7. A big, dark moment near the end that leads to resolution of some type
  8. A satisfying ending, either happy or not

What do you say about writing a short story?

My early short fiction was all based on ideas, sort of like delivering a punch line.  The shorter the story, the truer it held.  One of the first stories I “sold” (for free copies) was about a house that had been loved and cherished by the people who’d lived in it until the city changed, owners died, and it became a vacant building where kids came to drug up.  The house suffered until it called for its dead owner to return and save it from having to witness any more.    (It’s better if you can’t read the words.  I wrote this a LONG time ago, and I cringe when I read it now).

Image (12)

The story hinged on an idea.  I think most short stories do. With a few more pages, we can become attached to a character, but even then, if the story’s short, we only watch one slice out of that person’s life.  But what a punch that one slice can deliver!  The more pages you add, the more elements you can add to the whole.

For friends who’ve told me that they can’t write short, it might be because they’re trying to use the same elements to write a short story as they do to write a book.  Yes, we still use a hook and strong verbs and specific words instead of general ones.  We still vary sentence length, so the tools are the same, but the technique’s different.  A short story has a tight focus.  Every part of the story is used to deliver on that one idea or slice of life.

And if you’d like ideas on how to write short from a pro, here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s advice:

For extra good measure, here’s advice from one of my favorite short story writers, Nancy Pickard: discuss-short.html


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Writing a Series

I have a new Babet & Prosper bundle coming out soon, hopefully later this week. Three of the stories are online. I’ll take them off to join with the new lunch-hour read for this collection. I try for four stories in each bundle. The new one, Voodoo and Panthers, is the twelfth Babet and Prosper in the series. For me, the longer the series goes, the more things I need to think about for each story.

The good thing about a series is that I’m returning to a setting and characters that I already know, that I’ve grown fond of. When I write about them, it feels like going home. I have a mountain of notes for Babet and Prosper because I’ve peopled River City with more and more characters, and I need to remember them all. I’d like readers to remember them, too, so I try not to leave too big of a gap between their appearances. I try to bring Lillian and her “girls” into enough stories that they’re not lost in the sea of Vittorio and his vampires and Nadine and her voodoo. I try to focus on the relationship between Babet and Prosper in each story, too. They’re the husband/wife team that flavors the entire series. And I don’t want the witches to get lost in the shuffle. With each new piece I write, there are more things to juggle or balance. And Hatchet has to appear in every single piece, because he’s Prosper’s partner on the supernatural detective squad and because he’s just too cool to be neglected.

As much as I want readers to immerse themselves in the familiar people and places, I also want the stories to feel fresh and unique. I don’t want to start each one with Babet and Prosper enjoying one another, as much fun as that is. The stories are urban fantasy, so there’s always going to be a battle or two, but I try to change them up, add a new element here and there.

In Voodoo and Panthers, I spend more time with Prosper’s pack of shifters. It’s under attack. The pack’s alpha has to turn to Babet and Prosper for help. A while ago, a reader commented that she’d like a romance for Evangeline, so I added that, too. All in all, I’m happy with the mix of plot and characters in this story. And that’s the trick with a series–keeping enough of the familiar–the things that give the stories the right feel–and mixing in enough new things to keep it fresh.

In the first Babet and Prosper collection I did, Babet got top billing. In the new one, to be fair, Prosper gets to be on top. (I’m talking images here, so keep it clean:)

Here’s the cover that will be inside the bundle for Voodoo and Panthers:

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Writing: a new flash fiction

I try to put a new short fiction on my webpage at the end of each month. For August, I’d already done the five part experiment for POV, so I decided to keep this story short–very short. More like flash fiction.

I just finished the romance I’ve been working on, and it put me in a happy, gooey mood–unusual for me. And it made me want to write a different kind of romance, not the fresh ups and downs of new love, but the enduring comfort of knowing someone for a long time. It’s on my webpage (in the left column under Loretta), but it’s so short, I thought I’d just stick it here:

A Mill Pond Romance of a Different Sort

Mom was having another bad day. I turned her every morning and every night, like the doctor told me, but she was still getting a bed sore on her bottom. I noticed it when I changed her diaper before breakfast. Her skin was so thin, her body so fragile.

After I fed her, I plumped her pillow and put her favorite musical in the DVD player. We talked while I started a roast in the Crock Pot and straightened up the house. Noah came over in the afternoon and lifted her into her wheel chair, so I could push her onto the front porch, and the three of us could sit outside, inhaling the freshness of a mild spring. A breeze drifted off of Mill Pond’s lake, and two ducks flew overhead. Mom usually noticed, commented. Today, she didn’t.

I sat on the porch swing with Mom’s chair pulled close beside me. Noah sat in the rocker across from us. He took a sip of the lemonade I’d brought him, sat the glass on the wicker table, then wiped his hands on his worn jeans.

“It was mighty nice of you to invite me over for supper tonight, Loretta,” he said.

“Without your help, I couldn’t get Mom in and out of bed.” I reached across to pat his knee. “Supper’s a small thanks for all you do for us.”

“I’d help you anyway. You know that.” He would, too. There was no more thoughtful man than my neighbor. After he’d lost his wife four years ago, I’d taken to having him come for supper. When he retired two years ago, he’d taken to helping me with Mom. Just having him around, in the house, gave me a sense of comfort. We often sat on the porch on warm afternoons, enjoying a midday break.

I raised my voice so Mom could hear me. “The daffodils you planted sure look pretty this year.” They bobbed their heads in the flower bed nestled under the pink crabapple tree.

Mom glanced their way and nodded. She shivered a little, and I pulled the blanket higher on her lap and buttoned her heavy sweater. Then she raised her arm and pointed to the end of the sidewalk. In a shaky voice, she said, “Look, Loretta. Lou got out of work early.” Her lips curled in a smile. “What are you doin’ home so soon, hon?”

I exchanged a glance with Noah. My dad had passed twenty years ago. Up ‘til now, Mom’s body had failed her, but her mind was sharp. I’d considered that a blessing. I reached over to touch her. “Are you doin’ okay?”

Mom gave a peaceful sigh. “I’m tired. I need to rest. Your dad and I are taking a trip soon.”

Goosebumps rose on my arms. When I stood, Noah rolled Mom’s wheel chair back inside the house, and I helped him get her into bed, then fiddled with her blankets and pillows until she was comfortable. She closed her eyes briefly, then blinked them open. She reached out and patted Noah. “Lou gave you his approval. You and Loretta will make each other happy.” Then she shooed us out of her room.

Noah looked at me and blinked. I felt restless, not sure what to think, how to feel. I went to the kitchen and pulled my apron over my head. “I’m in the mood for a pie.”

Dad had always loved lemon meringue pie. I found myself rolling out dough and whipping egg whites. Noah stirred the lemon filling. After we took the pie out of the oven and placed it on the wide window ledge to cool, we went to check on Mom.

I knew she was gone the minute I looked at her. A body isn’t the same once the soul leaves it. I remembered staring down at Dad in his coffin. A body, nothing more.

Noah came to stand beside me and reached for my hand. We stood there, looking down at her, and a ray of sunshine burst through the window, engulfing us in light. Noah gave my fingers a squeeze. “I’m glad your dad approves.”

I smiled. Mom and Dad would be happy now, and so would Noah and I.

(I have two other short Mill Pond romances on my webpage, if you’re interested.

Trash Talking My Method

I have to knuckle down in September, get serious, and start work on a new novel. My break between books is over. I know it was a privilege that many writers don’t get. They barely have time to meet deadlines, so I’m grateful I had a pocket in time to play with different elements of putting words on pages.

When I wrote Witch Gone Bad, I learned that if I don’t know my characters well enough, the story stays flat, even if the part they play in it is small. I thought I could whip out a short scene a day, no problem, because I knew each part of the story and who’d tell it. No such luck. The characters just walked on stage, did their thing, and took a bow. Boring. The plot worked. The story didn’t. No emotional impact. It took three passes before I liked each part. If characters don’t breathe, neither does your story.

One of my friends, who did theater for years, has characters spring from her head, whole and fully formed. All of her training to find what really drives characters so that she could bring them to life on stage transferred to her writing. My characters aren’t that forthcoming. Mine make me work to know them, like meeting someone new for the first time. I learn a little more about them the longer I spend with them. In a novel, that means my first draft will never have the depth, the emotion, that I need.
I have to add that on my second or third pass through the manuscript.

My goal, when I start playing with the beginnings of a book, then, is to get the basics right. My theory is, if I just don’t screw up–so that I have to pitch major scenes–I’m happy. I can tinker and add to the bare bones, but if the skeleton’s wrong, I have to go back to work on the foundation. That’s why I make plot points. But it’s also why I try to nail my characters and what makes them tick.

My actress friend (Julia Donner) writes Regency romances, and when I panicked about writing a romance, her advice to me was solid. “Romances click when emotional problems and histories create a conflict, action, or a scene. A romantic story evolves from the inside out.” She uses Suzanne Simmons’ approach for characters: What do they want, Why do they want it, and What will they do to get it?
Her amazon author page:

That works for her. Like I said, her characters are born whole. My answers to those questions tend to be too basic, like when I filled in the goal, motivation, conflict charts (I’m going to work on that), but I need more prodding. I don’t need TOO much, though. I have friends who write elaborate histories and charts to get to know their characters. I’ve tried that, but that much information overwhelms me. I get bogged down in details. That’s why I do character wheels with spokes crowded with sloppy, scribbled notes as I fill in the blanks. But the truth is, no matter what I do, I learn more and more about my characters as I write them. So, for me, I’m going to try a few more steps before I start my next book–something to keep me on track–but without drowning myself in info. I’ll share, but my method doesn’t work for my friends, so it might or might not help you.

(I’ve listed some of this information on my blog posts before, so you can skip this, if you want to:)

1st: What kind of person is ____________ ? (I like a SHORT answer, something that will stick in my head. For example, in the romance I just finished, I described Brody as brooding.)

2. Why? What made him/her that way? (Brody focuses on his failures or possible failures more than he focuses on his successes. He wants to do the right thing, the right way. He thought he had his life mapped out, had made all the right decisions, and then went through a bitter divorce. Making the right decisons, in his mind, failed him.)

3. What does he/she want? He wants to be happy.

4. Why? {Success didn’t make him happy–his marriage was too one-sided, and failure (his idea of divorce) made him more unhappy. He isn’t sure what to do next.}

5. Fill in my character wheel. (Shirley Jump––did a workshop on this, and it was wonderful. I’ve played with it to make it work for me). Here’s my version:

In the center of typing paper, draw a small circle. Fill in: name, description of character–hair/eyes/build, age, and tag word or phrase for his personality. Draw 7 spokes off the circle.
Spoke 1 = Family. Draw lines off that spoke for father, mother, brothers, sisters, any family member important to him. Give name and how they got along, any important info.
Spoke 2 = Education and training (did he like it? Why or why not? Any mentor?) What career did it lead to?
Spoke 3 = Where does he live? What vehicle does he drive? What does it say about him?
Spoke 4 = Relationships (past/current romances. When and why ended?)
Spoke 5 = 2 friends he can talk to–a reflector and ally. How do they see him?
Spoke 6 = Quirks (fears, habits, hobbies, like & dislikes)
Spoke 7 = Enemies/antagonists/opponents–why?

That’s it for character, for now. Happy writing!

Writing: I’ve had fun!

I mentioned that I was trying a writing experiment with POV. It’s taken more time than I expected it to, but I met my goals. Each day this week, I’ve put one part of a short story on my webpage, with one more to go up tomorrow. Each part was from a different POV character. What have I learned?

It’s fun writing from the villain/antagonist’s POV. I don’t do that very often. As a matter of fact, I use third person, single POV in every series I write except Fallen Angels. Those are the only books I write with multiple POV, and I still rarely write from the villain’s veiwpoint. I think it might be hard to do without giving too much away, but it worked for a short piece. And letting myself live inside Merlot’s head helped me understand her more. I read once that villains don’t think of themselves as bad or wrong. Instead, they focus on what they want, what they’re striving to do, and they justify their actions. They often feel they’ve been wronged, and they’re putting things right. Merlot has that tendency. Hezra, on the other hand, (in part 4), decided to turn to the dark arts and makes no bones about the fact that she wants power. It was fun writing from her perspective, too, but I still wanted to make her an individual–not just the “evil” who battles my protagonist.

I’m putting up the last part of the story tomorrow–the big showdown–but this experiment has made me think more about villains/antagonists. For me, Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series really got interesting when she had Hugh D’Ambray walk onto the pages to play mind games with Kate and to battle her and Curran. For me, she created two of the most intriguing “bad guys” I’ve read for a long time when Hugh and Kate’s father, Roland, became active in the series. Not that she hasn’t had a strong, almost invincible enemy in every book. That’s part of urban fantasy, but Hugh and Roland are unpredictable and do the unexpected, and that’s made them really interesting. She’s made them such a blend of good and bad that the reader has mixed feelings about them. It’s sort of like reading The Silence of the Lambs. I hated Dr. Chilton more than Hannibal Lecter. Odd, right? But a really well-done villain can pull a reader’s emotions in strange directions. For that reason, I’ve decided to spend just as much time on my villains and antagonists as I do on my protagonists from now on. They can really make a story zing.