Business…and…Mysteries with Romance

I finally got my official contract from Kensington.  It takes what feels like a long time between receiving a 3-book deal to getting the official 20+ page tome of subject heading after subject heading that I mostly have no clue about.  That’s when I’m grateful I have my agent, Lauren Abramo, from Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.  I think most of what Kensington offers is set in stone–like the Ten Commandments–but what I concentrate on are my writing deadlines. And when do my books come out?  I know my deadlines–and I’ve given myself more time between books now that I’m writing mysteries, but I still don’t know when my books will come out.  Kensington won’t decide that until 2018.

My 6th and last romance, SPECIAL DELIVERY, is due out Nov. 7th, and I wanted to give it a fair shot, so I paid for a blog tour.  In truth, I thought Kensington would promote my romances, but not so much.  MOST writers have to promote themselves these days.  That was a learning experience for me, so I’m promoting this one a little myself.  Of course, BookBub is the BEST, but I can’t afford it, and it’s harder to get accepted by BookBub than to pass through the eye of the needle these days.  The price for my tour isn’t terrible–$60.  But it takes a day or two to decide which tour you want and to get everything ready for it if you want each blog stop to be unique with a different excerpt or blog at each spot.   And, yes, this is time well-spent.  You want to start a good two months before your book comes out.  I’m using Goddess Fish Promotions again, and they’re great to work with.

Now, with the business stuff behind me, I can concentrate on my favorite thing–writing. The first mystery is done and sent.  And this time, probably because I just finished writing them–I’ve added a romance subplot to the clues and red herrings.  This is where it got a little bit tricky.  I’ve been reading (okay, I’m a little obsessed with) Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin series.  She mixes mystery and romance into almost a fusion.  There’s lots of TALK about sex (nothing graphic, though), lots of steam, and gritty murders.  It makes for an intoxicating cocktail.

This is the thing, though.  I’m finishing book #10, and Rafe and Savannah still aren’t married.  It almost feels like the TV show Castle.  The chemistry is intoxicating, and they keep growing closer, but how long can you flirt with HEA and not deliver?  I’m thinking they get married in the next book.  Thank God.  But this prolonged tease let me know that even though in romances, the HEA comes at the end of the book, that’s not the way it works in other genres.

I make no secret that I’m an Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs fan–from the days I wrote urban fantasy.  And werewolves and werelions don’t just walk in and sweep the heroines off their feet either.  It took a few books before the hot guys won the hotter women.  So, I didn’t let my characters–Jazzi and Ansel–walk down the aisle in book one and have their HEA.  I don’t think I can come up with one diversion after another for 10 books, but I know that stalling is a good thing.  And dead bodies are great distractions to keep heroines and heroes too busy to plan ahead.  But what happens after the “death do us part” clicks in?  Do things get (yawn) boring?  I’m thinking of Castle and other TV shows.   Can you keep them interesting after marriage?  What do you think?  I was a sucker for Tommy and Tuppence, Nick and Nora, and marriage didn’t hurt them.  Any opinions?

Happy Writing!


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Twitter:  @judypost





Sometimes, I don’t want angst

When I’m yapping to my friend and fellow writer, M. L. Rigdon, about my idea for a new book, and I rattle off a list of things that I can see happening in it, she always stops me and says, “That’s all well and good.  You love plotting.  But…”  And then she lists the sacred mantra of character development:  1. What does the character want?  2.  Why does she want it?  3.  What will she do to get it?  Mary Lou starts books with characters who tug at her.  I start books with ideas.  A good book needs both. No matter how you start, you have to end up with both.  And you have to find balance.

Mary Lou, who used to perform on stage, has no problem whipping up fully developed characters in her nimble, supple brain.  She has no trouble developing angst either.  After all, the ebb and flow of drama pulses in her veins.  Her Regencies (written as Julia Donner) drip with angst.  And wit.  And humor, thank God, to offset it.

For Julia Donner’s books:

One of my other fellow writer friends, Kyra Jacobs, writes contemporary romances, like me.  I like them, along with lots of other people.  I’d love to visit the Checkerberry Inn, but she’s partnered up all the hot men there in her three book series, so I’d only get to look and drool.  But her books are fun, fast reads with heartwarming characters that lift my mood.

For Kyrs’s books: 

That’s what I tried for when I wrote my Mill Pond romances.  I wanted to create characters who hooked me and life challenges I could relate to.  So I think I balanced the characters–what do they want, why, and what will they do to get it–and the plot (all the things that get in their way), but I still get feedback occasionally that my romances don’t have enough angst.  Now, I know I”m never going to please everybody.  I also know that I purposely tried to write fun, light romances–quick “feel good” reads, because sometimes, that’s exactly what I want.  Sometimes, I get damned sick of baggage piled on top of baggage. That’s why I’m not very good at deep, literary novels.  I’ve had enough baggage in real life.  I sure don’t want to read about it.  But the first time I read that my books could use more angst, I tried to add some.  Let’s face it.  No one gets through Life with a free pass.  But I got the same comments on that book.

So, I thought I’d add more angst between my protagonist and her romantic interest.  And I think I did a better job on that.  But I got the same review on that book as the earlier ones and fewer stars.  Sigh.  I’m grateful for every review I get (okay, maybe not EVERY review.  There are some I could do without:)  And I even think maybe I have a glimmer of what the reviewer meant, because–and I know this sounds strange since I’ve never met her–but I like this reviewer.  I’ve learned, though, that what one person calls “angst” might not be what I would call “angst.”  And if I ever write another romance, I’d fiddle with my next theory, but now I’m off to try my hand at mysteries.  Kensington offered me a three-book deal, and I’m pretty happy about that.  But let’s hope they have enough angst. Because I don’t have a theory on that yet.  And I’ve noticed that my least favorite book in a favorite author’s series is the one where she was the most depressed.  Bigger sigh.  I still haven’t made up my mind, I guess.

How do you define angst?

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I really do have trouble with surprises

I’ve started work on my mystery.  I have 120 pages written so far.  And if you’ve read this blog very long, you know that I need plot points to hold my hand before I can cross a street.  I was feeling a little bit frisky this time, though.  I’m changing genres again.  I’ve written mysteries before.  If I wrote down the basic directions, the important clues and suspects, I should be fine, right?  I should have known better.

I plotted the heck out of romances.  They were new to me.  I always felt that I wouldn’t have enough to make it to the end and worried about soggy middles.  Romances, for me, are just as hard to write as urban fantasy or mysteries.  I’ve heard “important” writers bash romances.  I went to a writers’ conference years ago where one of the workshop leaders announced that anyone who wrote genre fiction was a hack writer.  Bull pucky. That kind of snobbery only works if you’ve never tried to write genre.

Mysteries?  They sort of have a built-in plot, right?  Someone trips over a body.  There are clues, suspects, witnesses, and red herrings, but not on every page.  I was hitting my points pretty well and  feeling good about it until I hit page 110 in the manuscript and realized I’d burned through half of my plot points.  I’d already reached the halway turning point for the book.  I was telling too much, too fast, too soon.  And that’s what happens to me when I don’t outline.

My pantser friends can write forty pages for one chapter and have to go back and cut to tighten things up.  They concentrate on description, feelings, and internal dialogue.  It comes naturally to them.  And that’s the difference between us.  Me?  I can fly through ten plot points in five chapters.   Then I have to go back and ADD the description, the thoughts and feelings.  I’m a plot driven person.

The reality came to me when my writers’ group went out after our last meeting.  I love our group.  We have a little bit of everything, and we all approach writing from different angles.  But then it occured to me, we approach LIFE differently, too.  I realized just how much I like structure when I was telling them that I have a “schedule” for cooking because it gives me a frame to hang my creativity on.  My schedule?  Saturdays, I cook beef/hamburger. Sundays, pork.  Mondays, ethnic.  Tuesdays, chicken.  Wednesdays, soup/salads/or sandwiches.  Thursdays, fish/seafood.  And Friday?  NO COOKING.  Now on Sundays, I might make pulled pork, smothered pork chops, ham, brats and sauerkraut, butterflied pork loin with a dried cranberry and chopped walnut filling. ANY kind of pork, but I make pork.  I bring the same approach to my writing.

I have plot points, but those points can be written any way I come up with.  I just need enough of them.  SO, I stopped work at page 110 of my mystery, and I sat down and wrote out 40 plot points, like I should have in the beginning, that included EVERYTHING that I wanted in my book–like character development, setting, and a romance subplot, along with a couple of other subplots.  Sigh.  There are writers who don’t need to do this.  I’m not one of them.   And then I went through my beginning pages again, and they’re much more balanced now.  I’m happy with them.

And what have I learned?  (Again).   There are pantsers who write wonderful books.  I’m not one of them.  I need structure to release my creativity.  And that’s okay.  That’s what works for me.  And if I rush or feel frisky and think I can skip that step?  Well…I can always do it later when I’ve hit a wall.

How do you like it? Sex in romances…

I’m reading a Stacy Finz romance right now, FINDING HOPE, and I’m really enjoying it. She’s created great characters who feel REAL, and they’re all searching for answers in their lives.  Last night, I hit the scene that if I was young and horny, I’d have earmarked and reread until the page fell out of the book.  Man, was it hot!  Before reading Finz, I read WHISKEY BEACH by Nora Roberts.  I’ve read MIDNIGHT BAYOU and ENCHANTED by her, (my favorites), and the sex sizzled, but not in this one.  The emphasis was on two people who needed to learn to trust again, so the bedroom scenes emphasized that.

My writer friend, alias Julia Donner, can write great sex for her Regency series. I blush in my living room where no one can see me:)  So can my writer friend, Kyra Jacobs, who writes sweet romances for Enchanted, but wrote hot and steamy for her dragon shifter series.  And she does both well.  Me?  The first time I tried a sex scene, it was a real challenge, and it didn’t win any awards.  I still had the problem of picturing friends and family reading it.  One of my friends flat out told me, “If an author has to grab my attention with sex, I put the book down.”  Not every reader appreciates sex in romances.  They think you’re appealing for shock value, cheap thrills.  I remember reading one of Kyra’s blogs when it bothered her that a friend commented, “So, now you’re writing smut?”  (You can find her blog here:  The thing is, both Julia Donner and Kyra Jacobs can write great books without sex.  They don’t HAVE to have it to hold your attention.  They write it because it’s appropriate to the stories they’re telling.

When I first started writing romances, I worried how readers would react to the sex scenes in my books.  First, did they work, or were they clumsy?  Second, were they appropriate to the story?  Was sex a natural progression for the two characters in my book?  Was it to advance the story line and their relationship or just to punch up a sagging plot?  That feels just as gimmicky to me as writers who throw in a gruesome death scene to create tension when suspense has gone flat.  Even if I got the sex right, I still can’t do sizzle.  I think I’d have to blindfold my dead mother so that I can’t picture her looking over my shoulder and flinching.  But my biggest angst went away when I gave one of my manuscripts to my dear, wonderful friend and first draft editor Ann Wintrode.  Ann belonged to my writing group, was a retired librarian, and was in her eighties.  When I fussed because I wasn’t sure if I should show her my manuscript because I had sex scenes in the book, Ann skewered me with a look and said, “I think sex is a natural part of life.  If your characters are realistic, and are attracted to each other, wouldn’t they have sex?”

Well, that pretty much put it in perspective for me.  I guess I’ve decided that if the sex feels like the right thing for the characters, and not just gratuitous for readers,  then it works.  I don’t have to turn out the lights and show fireworks exploding outside the window, though that would have been better than the first sex scene I ever wrote.  I like books with and without sex scenes, as long as they’re well-written.  I like sweet and sizzling romances.  Whatever.  Just make me care.

Happy Writing!

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Behind Again

I was ahead.  Now I’m behind.  It’s time for me to glue my fanny in my chair and write, write, write!  I’ve spent most of November and December on a social buzz–lots of company and holidays.  Lots more than usual. But I’m a Libra.  I love connecting with friends and family.  I love cooking and catching up.  New recipes, new cookbooks excite me.  But now, I need alone time.  I get a bit cranky without it. And while lots of people detox during January, I need solitary time.  I need to lock the door to my office and caress keyboard keys with my fingertips.

I need to write a LOT of words.  And I’m so ready!  Paula, Jason, and Chase have been calling to me, but I’ve made them wait.  I can write urban fantasy inbetween bits and pieces of life.  I think of River City as my second home.  I can bounce inside of Babet’s head in a mini-second.  I know her, and I love Prosper as much as she does.  When I walk down Magic Street, I look for the tourists who zip from shop to shop.  I feel the sweat cling to my skin because of the heat and humidity.  And I tense up when I make the drive to the voodoo settlement by the bayou.  I know what those women are capable of.

With my romances, I have to live inside the characters, feel their emotions rise and fall, and I can’t do that with lots of interruptions.  Someday, maybe.  But not yet.  Romance is still new to me.  Each book deals with a new protagonist, and each protagonist is different than the one before.  She wrestles with different demons, strives for different goals.  I make the book’s journey with her, watching her evolve.  I can’t pop in and out of her head.  I have to live in her skin and feel what she feels.

January is dedicated to Paula, Jason, and Chase.  The poor girl is surrounded by more hot men than any woman deserves.  (Yeah, I feel for her:)  But Ian is happily married.  Cross him off the available list.  And sexy Tyne, the new assistant chef, feels more like a kid brother than a love interest.  Scratch him, too.  That leaves Chase, the perpetual bachelor, and Jason, the player.  Tough choice.  But that’s what this book is about.  Which one is a keeper?

@judypost on twitter



Writing: Picking a Fellow Writer’s Brain

I invited my friend and fellow writer, Mary Lou Rigdon, to my blog this week for a Q & A. We come at writing from different angles, so I thought you might like to hear another writer’s approach. She writes Regency romances under the name Julia Donner, and her book, The Tigresse and the Raven, will be on special this week, Jan. 19-23, on Kindle for $0.99!

1. How did you start writing historical romance?
First, thanks for asking me to come on your blog! And for all your advice that I find myself using every day.

My first full length work was western set, a time period I was immersed in while working in my aunt’s museum. Like most regency enthusiasts, I loved Georgette Heyer. Then I visited England and Scotland and fell utterly in love. You can actually feel the history.

2. Who are 2 of your favorite authors?

Cruel question when there are so many. I’ll take the two that come to mind first, Steinbeck and James Lee Burke.

3. 2 favorite movies? (I know you’re a movie buff) And your favorite food? (Okay, that’s my obsession).

The movie one is easy. The Best Years of Our Lives, because it’s about our country’s, as well as Great Britain’s, “finest hour.” There are many films with better everything else, but I cherish that one as a tribute to a generation we will never again be able to equal.

The food thing? There’re so many goodies and so little time, but to narrow it down, I must at all cost avoid kettle-cooked potato chips. I could stick my entire head in the bag and never come out.

4. What elements do you think are important, specifically, for romance? (You helped me with the “steps” of romance, and I appreciate it).

Investment in the characters. Conflicts and obstacles to overcome. If a sensual story, the heightening of physical attraction while creating an emotional impact on the reader. (Visceral impact, if erotica, which IMHO is not always romance.) The willingness for characters to change and grow, and establishing the changes at the ending in a way that enhances the relationship.

5. What is your philosophy of life? (Didn’t expect that, did you?) Of writing?

Pretty much what is prevalent in what I write, support and loyalty for those we love, finding the courage to do what must be done.

In life as well in the stories I write, I like to look back and see how environments, people, incidents, challenges, etc., have created positive or negative change.

6. You can get a bit steamy. Would you let your mother (if she were still around) read what you write?

Are you kidding? Twenty years ago, maybe not. I’m a lot older and a little wiser. She read the fantasy series but went to heaven before the romances came out. I think she’d scold me for the “steamy” stuff with a grin and a twinkle in her eyes.

7. Any theme for your latest book, The Duchess and the Duelist?

The same theme as the series, friendship. I am fortunate to have friends who never judge me, always have my back, and never bother to ask me for a reason when I need to ask for help. In this new release, Evangeline has to learn to trust the friendship she’s offered.

8. Setting is important in your genre. It’s important in the books you write as M. L. Rigdon, too. How do you set yours up?

It depends on the genre. Fantasy requires lots of world building, which has to be concrete in the mind before it gets to the page.

Contemporary has a much different voice and less of everything. More “white” on the page, as they used to say, less description and a leap right into the action.

Historical is all about the research, immersing oneself into the time period, more description, and familiarity with customs of the time period, in order to take the reader to that place in time, learning the vernacular and cadence of the spoken word. The historical readership knows their history, so beware.

9. What advice would you give a fellow writer?

Write or work on writing every day. Find a writing group sincere about the craft, who loves, as Stanislavski said, “the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” Then listen to them.

10. And finally, out of all the protagonists and heroes you’ve written, do you have a favorite? (I have a crush on Asterly in your The Heiress and the Spy). Who’s yours and why?

Probably Ladnor-Sha from Prophecy Denied. The characters we writers create are often bits and pieces of ourselves, although there are writers who need to use living (or once-living) people.

The reason Ladnor’s a favorite is sadly obvious. Of all the characters I’ve created, he’s most like me, especially the bull-headed part.

Mary Lou, Thanks for being here and sharing with us!

Remember to look for her novel, The Tigresse and the Raven, on special this week on Amazon!(Jan. 19-23)
The Tigresse and the Raven (Book 1)
The Friendship Series

Mary Lou’s blog:
Mary Lou’s webpage:
The Tigresse and the Raven:
the_Tigresse_and_the_Raven_cover[1] (2)

Her newest Regency release:
The Duchess and the Duelist