Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Romance

Note: This post originally appeared at The Romance Studio on December 10, 2010.

I was going to try to be more creative with my topic, but why fight it? Christmas is only two weeks away, so why not do a Christmas theme post? I was trying to think of romantic Christmas-themed novels, but I had a lot of trouble with that. I guess it's because we think of family more often at Christmas, and we save the romantic couple activities for New Year's. I had better luck thinking of some favorite Christmas movies with romance angles. Here are my top five:

The Bishop's Wife - Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven
A beautiful story about an Episcopal minister (played by one of my favorite overlooked leading men, David Niven) who's having trouble remembering what being a man of God is supposed to be about. He's all obsessed with building a new church and doesn't want to be distracted by petty parishioner problems or his beautiful, lonely wife. Enter the unlikeliest angel ever in the form of Cary Grant and the bishop learns his lessons the hard way. Very clever and funny.

It's A Wonderful Life - Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed
Yes, I know it's an obvious choice.  It's a Wonderful Life is about an awful lot of things - dreams not realized, fighting the good fight, making a difference in the lives of others. But at its heart, it's also a love story. All about the love between George and Mary and what a difference they make in each other's lives and the lives of everyone around them because of that love.

Bachelor Mother - Ginger Rogers and (wait for it. . .) David Niven. Technically, it's after Christmas in this story. Ginger is a salesgirl in a department store who's just lost her job at the end of the holiday shopping season when she finds an abandoned baby and decides to care for it. Very ahead of its time (1939), since it addresses the issue of single parenthood. The playboy son of the department store owner takes pity on Ginger and gets her job back, then finds himself falling in love with her and wondering what Dad will think of him cavorting with a "loose woman." But it all ends happily, of course.

Love Actually - Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman and every other actor or actress in London at the time of filming, or so it seems
This is a really uneven story, because it's not one story at all. It's a bunch of vignettes about some loosely related people, all of whom are having relationship troubles in the month leading up to Christmas. Colin Firth is his usual magnificent self in romancing an Italian housekeeper. Liam Neeson is touching as a widower trying to get back to the business of living. Martin Freeman, now so wonderful as Watson in BBC America's "Sherlock Holmes" is a porno movie actor. But the top peformance goes to Bill Nighy as a dissolute washed-up rock star trying to make a comeback.

Stairway to Heaven - Kim Hunter and (oh, look, here he is again!) David Niven
This one is the obscure obsession of an old movie nut. The original British title is A Matter of Life and Death. I saw this on the late show when I was a teenager and thought it was awesome. Technically, it's not a Christmas movie, but it was released on Christmas Day in 1946, so I decided it qualifies. David Niven is Peter, a British fighter pilot who's shot down on his way back from a bombing run. He has to jump out of his plane without a parachute. Before he goes, Peter talks to an American radio dispatcher named June. He's supposed to die when he jumps out of his plane, but the otherworldly Conductor meant to fetch him can't find him in the fog. And so June finds Peter instead and they fall in love. But the Conductor wants to collect his soul. A sort of extra-terrestrial court is convened to decide what's more important - Peter's duty to report to Heaven on time, or his newfound love for June. This is just a great movie and one of David Niven's best. A lot of movies have used this plot since, notably Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait," but this is really the best. A great finish to any Holiday romantic movie festival.

I hope I've given you a few good ideas for holiday movies. Let me know some of your own ideas on the subject!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Before you sign on that dotted line . . .

This blog originally appeared at The Romance Studio on November 12, 2010.

Every month - or most every month - I've tried to post some pointers here for aspiring novelists. Most of those tips have revolved around writing techniques and self-promotion. But there's one big middle step I left out: signing with a publisher. Now, many authors today are skipping the publisher entirely and self-pubbing. This is a perfectly valid approach, but I wouldn't recommend it to a first-time author. There's too much you need to learn about how to edit, how to meet deadlines, how to choose cover art, and how to market yourself. Best if you let a publisher help you with some of those steps, at least for the first book ;-)

But how do you know if the publisher who's made an offer for your book is the right publisher for you? Simple answer: you don't. You can make an educated guess, by looking at what sorts of books the publisher has brought out in the past. But you probably already did that before you submitted your book to them. Still, even after careful consideration, you might find your publisher is less than dreamy once you're actually being forced to rewrite your favorite chapter for the fourth time or delete that character you loved. Every author has unhappy stories about publishers who made them change things about their books that the author loved. There's just no way to know whether something like that will happen until after you've signed the contract. The good news is -- sometimes the editor really does know best. Legendary editor Maxwell Perkins often ripped apart works by towering literary figures like Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and Wolfe. He actually demanded that Wolfe cut 90,000 words from his novel, Look Homeward, Angel. I can only hope your editor won't need to ask the same of you!

Editing your book is a give and take process with your publisher, but some things are much more rigid. The contract you sign with that publisher is a legally binding document, so you really must take the time to read it carefully and think long and hard before you sign it. If a publisher is pressuring you to sign that contract immediately, you should probably walk away from that publisher. I don't know of any legitimate publisher who would be unwilling to give you a few days to review their offer before signing.

What are some other things to consider when you sign that first contract? Herewith, a quick list thrown together with the help of some fellow authors. A list of things we all wish we'd known the first time around?

1) How long has the publisher been in business?

2) How long is the term of the contract? And if the answer to #1 is less than two or three years, do you really want to sign a 7-year contract with a brand new company in these uncertain economic times? Which leads to the next question:

3) Is the term of the contract negotiable?

4) Do they do print books or ebooks only? Ebooks are all the rage right now, and sometimes you can earn more from ebook royalties than from print editions? But if you really want a book you can hold in your hand, make sure your contract specifies a PRINT edition will be issued.

5) If they do print books, do they offer distribution through Ingram or Baker & Taylor? Without that, it's almost impossible to get your book into a bookstore, since most bookstores order all their books from one distributor. And that distributor is Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

6) Are their books available for sale at popular third-party websites such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Fictionwise? Don't take their word for it. Look for some of their books at those sites. If the publisher's books are only available through its own website, you probably won't sell many books. Readers don't want to think about who your publisher is, and they want to be able to order their books from a trusted website where they've done business in the past.

7) How long does it take this publisher to go from signed contract to getting your book out for sale?

8) Do you know anyone else who has been published by them and are those authors completely happy with that publisher? If not, why not? Did the author just not like the cover the publisher chose (a relatively minor issue) or is the author having trouble collecting their royalties ( a huge issue)?

9) Is there a clause in the contract guaranteeing that your rights revert to you if the company goes out of business or declares bankruptcy?

And last, but not least:

10) If there's an advance, how is it paid? The name "advance" has become deceptive. Publishers used to pay the full amount up front. Now many pay that advance out in thirds -- a third on signing, a third on delivery of the edited book and a third on publication. There's nothing wrong with that, but you should know when you're going to get paid!

I'm sure there are dozens of other issues I haven't even thought about including here. If other authors out there have some ideas on issues you should be considering, I  hope they'll feel free to post them in the comments section here.

I'll see you all again in December - have a happy Thanksgiving in the meantime!

Lynn Reynolds is the author of "chick noir" suspense novel Thirty-Nine Again, which RT Book Reviews called "a first-class mystery and a first-class read." Her new book, Love, Capri Style, is a sun-drenched, fun-filled contemporary romance set on the island of Capri. It's available now exclusively as an ebook. Visit to learn more or to order either book.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - BSP

  This blog originally appeared at The Romance Studio on October 8, 2010.

What is BSP? Simple. It's short for Blatant Self-Promotion, a term that every author becomes painfully familiar with as soon as they sign their first book contract. Here's an example ;-)

My second novel, Love, Capri Style will be released next week by The Wild Rose Press. This one is quite a switch from my first book. Thirty-Nine Again was a combination of chick lit and romantic suspense. Love, Capri Style is, as the blurb says, a sexy, sun-drenched romance set on the island of Capri. My publisher at the time wanted me to leave out the mystery and spy stuff and just write a straight-forward contemporary romance. Ironically, they wound up rejecting the book, so it wound up finding a home with the publisher of Thirty-Nine Again. The lesson there is that some books have more lives than a cat, so don't give up on a manuscript too soon!

In Love, Capri Style, Amanda Jackson takes a job with Fame magazine to get closer to her estranged father, billionaire publisher Peter Tate. Instead of welcoming her, Dad sends her out of the country to cover a music festival on the magnificent isle of Capri. There, Amanda finds herself up close and personal with her dad’s leading competitor--dashing British playboy, Eric Greyford. Can she get an exclusive on Eric’s hectic love life, or will she wind up as just another item on the gossip pages of his newspaper?

After Eric finds Amanda ransacking his room in search of some juicy tidbits for her gossip magazine, he threatens to turn her over to the police - unless the pert blonde agrees to dinner with him. Amanda's flustered, flattered and furious, all at the same time.

     "What size are you?"
     "Excuse me?" Amanda's hands went to her hips again.
     "Calm down, Miss Jackson." Eric re-crossed the room in a few quick steps, stopping inches in front of her. "When a strange woman invades a gentleman's bedroom, it's too late to be coy."
     She could smell his cologne again. What the heck did they put in that stuff?
     "Size six," she said faintly.
     Eric stroked his jaw again. "I'll have something appropriate sent round to your hotel tomorrow. Are you registered as Miss Jackson, or did you use some other nom de plume there?"
     "Amanda Jackson. It's my real name."
     Eric chuckled. "Are you sure you're not new at this paparazzi game?"
     "I am not paparazzi; I'm a serious journalist."
     Again came the upraised eyebrow and the smirk. Amanda wrinkled her nose at him and toyed with the notion of stomping her high heel down on his foot.
     Eric laid a firm hand on her shoulder. Gently but irresistibly, he turned her towards the door of his hotel suite.
     "I'll have my driver pick you up at your hotel tomorrow night at eight. We can discuss your journalistic aspirations then, Miss Jackson. You'll forgive me, but I've had a very full evening and I'd like to get to bed. Alone."
     "Good. Because I know I wasn't offering anything. And forget the driver – I'll meet you at the restaurant."
     Amanda thrust out her chin as he reached past her to turn the doorknob with his free hand. At the same time, the hand that had come to rest on her shoulder slipped down to the small of her back. The unexpected movement was so sudden and so smooth, she shivered.
     As he opened the door, Eric managed to angle both of them into the doorway. He wasn't quite touching her – except for that gentle hand on her back. But he stood so near, she could feel the heat of his body radiating out towards her.
     She gazed up into his eyes and caught her breath. Her heart seemed to be thumping out a thousand beats per minute. She felt as if she could drown in those eyes, as if she were caught in a whirlpool. Eric pulled her snug against him, a wavy lock of dark hair tumbling forward onto his forehead. His lips brushed her hair and her legs began to wobble on those agonizing heels.
     "Tomorrow night, then." He murmured it right into her ear, his warm breath fluttering a few loose wisps of her hair. "Under the lemon trees."
     She closed her eyes, ashamed of her weakness, but ready and even eager for the kiss that would surely follow. 
      A sharp thunk startled her and her eyes snapped open. The door to Eric Greyford's room had closed and she found herself alone in the corridor outside.
     "Manipulative pig!" she shouted at the door. 
     With a grunt, she yanked off the spikey heels and padded down the hallway barefoot.

      Go to The Wild Rose Press to order your copy of Love, Capri Style right now. This novella-length story is available exclusively as an ebook. Which means it's also a great bargain - only $5.00!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Festival Update

Just an update to say that due to some family obligations, I won't be able to make it to the Baltimore Book Festival on September 25th. Those of you who were planning you're weekend around it are now free to do as you wish. No other appearances scheduled at this time, since I'm pretty much done promoting Thirty-Nine Again. Enjoy the post below about the pros and cons of book signings!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - How to Do a Book Signing

This post originally appeared at The Romance Studio Blog.

I'll be appearing at The Baltimore Book Festival on September 25th at 6:30 p.m. and I admit, I'm a bit excited. Appearing at a book festival makes me sound like such a serious, heavy-weight AUTHOR with a capital A, not just a part-time novelist. But I'm also kind of nervous. I'll be appearing with other members of the Maryland Romance Writers chapter of RWA and we'll be having a panel discussion about the state of contemporary romance. Of course, first I have to read from one of my works for about twenty minutes.

I felt kind of sick when they told me that. I can't imagine they really want me to read out loud from one of my own books for that length of time. Geez, that sounds like about 200 years in real time. Trying to choose a scene that will be interesting and entertaining without being incoherent when taken out of context will be quite a chore. And then I'll have to decide how to read it. Should I go for a straight reading in my own Lucy Van Pelt voice? Really, the resemblance is uncanny.

Somehow, I don't think me reading out loud in my Lucy voice will convey the essence of sexy, sophisticated romance and suspense I'm going for. Really, the ideal strategy would be to hire someone else to go to the festival and pretend to be me. Preferably a Shakespearean actress.

After the reading, there'll be a signing. I don't do very many book signings - unless you're already a huge name in fiction, it's rare to attract a large crowd. Most bookstore patrons try to avoid authors they don't know who are sitting in front of piles of books. The ones who don't avoid you tend to say perplexing things like, "Do you make a lot of money?" Or "Do you know Stephen King?" or "Do you know where the bathrooms are?"

The best way to do a reading or a book signing is to have a gimmick. I know one suspense author who is a former cop. He puts a police siren on the table and surrounds it with yellow caution tape so that it looks like a crime scene. People flock to the area out of morbid curiosity. My good friend Ann Whitaker has two adorable poodles in her book Dog Nanny, and two adorable poodles in real life. So she takes the dogs to signings with her. Audiences just love that. I may put a dog in my next book just so I can bring one with me to my signings. I have a cat, but I don't think he'd travel quite as well.

Here is how you DON'T want your book signing to go:

I hope lots of you will come out to The Baltimore Book Festival, but I hope you'll keep your shoes on your feet and your eggs at home!

Lynn Reynolds is the author of "chick noir" suspense novel Thirty-Nine Again, which RT Book Reviews called "a first-class mystery and a first-class read." Her next book, Love, Capri Style, is a sun-drenched, fun-filled contemporary romance set on the island of Capri. It should be coming out any day now, as soon as the publisher finds those lost galleys. Sigh. . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

This post originally appeared at The Romance Studio way back in July.

I'm excited to report that although I still don't have a release date for my next book, Love, Capri Style, I do at least have a cover. And here it is!

I like this cover. You've got the sexy but mysterious headless couple, the fun pink background and the lighthouse at Capri. It's a nice touch that the artist, Rae Monet, went to the trouble of getting an image of Capri and not just some random image of an island.

Another thing I really like about this cover is that it shouldn't offend anyone.

I loved the cover of my first book, Thirty-Nine Again. I thought it was risque without being crude or shocking. Turns out crude and shocking is in the eye of the beholder. Some reviewers refused to display my book cover. More than a few women have looked at the book, "tsk-tsk'd" at the cover and put it back down. A number who were bold enough to buy it have complained that they felt the need to hide it from their kids.

And an amazing number of people thought it was quite a bold and controversial book, because they believed the couple on the cover is two women. Me, I thought the guy was kind of hot. But I always have had a thing for androgynous males, going way back to David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days. So I guess I'm not the best judge of manly-looking book cover heroes, eh?

Authors don't usually get the final say on their book covers. However, most reputable publishers will ask for your feedback before going to print. It's a good idea to consider who you expect your audience to be. If you're aiming for a bunch of forty-something women who might have little kids at home, you might want to suggest to your editor that everyone on the cover be fully clothed. No matter how much you personally might like that naked androgynous guy. And that's my pearl of wisdom for this month!

Lynn Reynolds is the author of "chick noir" suspense novel Thirty-Nine Again, which RT Book Reviews called "a first-class mystery and a first-class read." Her next book, Love, Capri Style, is a sun-drenched, fun-filled contemporary romance set on the island of Capri.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Can We Talk?

This post originally appeared at The Romance Studio on May 14, 2010.

Can we talk? I mean, can we talk about talking???

One of the most important parts of your story is the dialogue. How do your characters speak? If you're writing a historical, they should sound very different from the characters in a contemporary novel. The shy English governess should not introduce herself by saying, "Hi there, Ed. My name's Jane." Teens need to sound like teens and old people need to sound like old people. Granny should not come into the house and say, "That new rap by Jay-Z is off the hook."

Besides making sure that your dialogue is appropriate for the time period, you need to give each character a distinctive voice. In real life, your friends all have different ways of speaking. Maybe Tom has a New England accent, maybe your son starts every sentence with "you know," maybe your neighbor tells incredibly pointless, long-winded stories about herself. Your characters need to do the same. Well, maybe they don't need to tell pointless, long-winded stories - but they do need to sound unique.

If you're getting a lot of negative comments about dialogue in your manuscripts, try going to Starbucks or Panera -- or any favorite cafe. Turn off your cell phone and your iPod and actually listen to the conversations around you. Maybe even write some of them down. The first thing you'll notice is that in real life, an awful lot of conversations are downright incoherent. So many interruptions, stutters and unfinished thoughts! How the heck do any of us ever know what the other is talking about? Well, facial expressions and hand gestures add a lot to those unfinished thoughts. So try to notice those too and jot some of them down as well.

Now you have a great excuse to eavesdrop in public places. You are not being a busybody, you're doing RESEARCH! And really, you are. Listening to other people's conversations will truly improve your writing.

The next time you're working on dialogue for your story, try to use some of the speech patterns you heard while you were sitting in that cafe. And include those gestures and facial expressions too, because they're an important part of conversation. When you're dialogue improves, your story will too. Readers will have a much easier time believing in the world you've created, if it sounds like the one in which they live.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shop For A Cause

Hey, everyone. Once again, I'm participating in Brenda Novak's auction to raise money for diabetes research. There are lots of great items to choose -- agent or editor critiques for you writers, chances to meet your favorite authors, vacation getaways and items both fun and frivolous. I've donated a cute Vera Bradley bag filled with yummy L'Occitane creams and lotions. Hope you'll check out all the items and make a bid. The auction opens on May 1st.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Writing to the Market

This post originally appeared at The Romance Studio blog on April 9, 2010.

When you first get serious about writing, you might start attending writers' conferences. A very popular feature at all these conferences is the Agent and/or Editor Panel. This is a great opportunity to hear what agents and editors are looking for in manuscripts, or at least what they think they're looking for. These panel discussions frequently wind up being standing room only, they are such a hit with beginning authors. My advice to you if you see one of these panels: run away!

Okay, I'm kidding - but only a little bit.

Sometimes you can learn very interesting tidbits at these panels. If you write Steampunk Westerns and Agent X declares that she would just LOVE to see a Steampunk Western, you know you should send your manuscript her way. If Agent Y declares that she HATES stories with adorable precocious children and you've just written The Parent Trap 2010, you know you should not submit your story to Agent Y. So agent and editor panels can be useful in helping you target your completed manuscript to the right person.

But if you're still trying to find your niche, listening to agent and editor panels can be a dangerous thing. I know many a writer, myself included, who has spent entirely too much time in the last five years trying to write a vampire or werewolf story because agents and editors couldn't get enough of them. Such stories are great if your heart is in them. If not, your story will be weak and unoriginal, and an agent will be able to sense that you didn't write it with passion.

Trying to tailor your novel to the wants or needs of "The Market" can lead you up a blind alley. For one thing, even writing a BAD novel can take months out of your life. If your heart isn't in it, there's a good chance you will eventually hit a block and not be able to finish. And then you'll have wasted those months when you could have been working on something you really cared about.

Don't try to guess what you "should" write by looking at the books on the shelf today, either. Many publishers take as much as two years to publish a novel from the time they offer the author a contract. That means books you see on the stand now were contracted long ago. The publisher probably already has a backlog of books in a particular genre, so if you write more of what you're seeing on the shelves, you'll be behind the power curve.

Even if an agent or editor gives her opinion on what you should be writing, remember it's just that: an opinion. The publishing business seems to be every bit as big of a gamble as playing roulette. I remember one year hearing several agents and publishers at a panel going on at great length about how the Next Big Thing was going to be French Revolution romances. That was about three or four years ago. I don't know about you, but the bookstores in my area are not exactly overrun with French Revolution romances. Sure, I've seen a few and the ones I've seen were good stories. But the Jacobins have certainly not replaced Jacob and Edward as the latest craze. And probably when Jacob and Edward came on the scene, no one had any idea how huge that craze would become.

The truth is -- the odds of getting a publishing contract are slim, and the odds of making money at it are even slimmer! But in a way, that's good news. It means you might as well write what you enjoy. If you've been trying to listen to the experts, stop it now. Don't "write to the market." Write what you love, however goofy or unmarketable it is. And maybe you'll be lucky enough to START the next craze!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Networking

The following post originally appeared at The Romance Studio on March 12, 2010.

This month's writing tip is short, because I'm editing a manuscript and getting ready to go off to a writers' conference. Appropriately enough, my March tip to aspiring writers out there is this: network.

Yes, I know it's hateful. The sort of person who likes to sit alone in a room and make up conversations about pretend people is NOT the sort of person who likes to mingle and chit-chat and shake hands. Self- promotion can be the hardest aspect of the job for any writer, and networking is very similar. They both require you to take time away from your imaginary friends and go out and talk to real people. At least occasionally.

Networking is important because - let's face it - knowing the right people often leads to lucky breaks. I got my first journalism job because an editor liked my story ideas and my writing samples. But I got my second journalism job because the editor was a friend of a friend - thus I heard about this particular job opening before a lot of other people heard about it. And from what I've seen after a few years of writing fiction full-time, it works the same way. Your talent and your productivity are your most important assets. But having a few friends and acquaintances in the right places doesn't hurt either!

Networking with other fiction writers can be difficult, since by its very nature, the job tends to be isolating. Then there are the constraints of time and budget. Very few novelists are able to make a significant living from their fiction writing. Mostly, they squeeze that writing stuff into those tiny spaces in between their jobs and their families. So it can be hard to find time to get together with other writers. Still, it's an activity worth pursuing.

If, like me, you live in a rural area, you may not be near any major professional writing organizations. But lucky you, the Romance Writers of America sponsors chapters all over the country, and most of those chapters hold their meetings on Saturdays. Once in a while, you can make a day - or even overnight trip - out of one of those meetings. Ask at your local library or community college - they often host writers' critique groups or meeting groups. Sometimes, joining a book club can be a way to meet other writers, since most writers are also compulsive readers.

You can also join a lot of great writing groups online. These groups are great for writers in remote areas, writers with weird schedules, or writers with small children. One of my favorite online groups is Elements, a broad-based chapter of RWA that supports those who write non-romance novels that include elements of romance in their subplots. Another great group is Guppies, for Sisters in Crime members who are not yet published.

Many larger writers' groups also sponsor annual retreats or conferences, which can be fun ways to get away from real life for a few days and hang around with other people who talk about things like story arcs and inciting incidents and the hero's journey. Writer's Digest magazine is a good starting point for info on various types of writing conferences nationwide. For info on more genre specific get-togethers, you can check the websites for groups like Romance Writer's of America or Sisters in Crime.

Joining various writing groups and going off to conferences can get pricey and time-consuming. Do make sure you aren't using up the family's entire vacation fund for writing junkets. And be careful not to spend so much time "conferencing" that you forget to actually write your book! It's easy to let both things happen when you first discover all those wonderful writing organizations out there. Networking with other writers can help you brainstorm new story ideas and re-ignite your enthusiasm for writing, as long as you remember to balance it with your number one priority - writing your story.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Snow Day

This blog originally appeared at The Romance Studio on February 12, 2010.

Like everyone and everything else in my corner of the globe, I'm going to take time out from the daily writing routine for a snow day. But in doing so, I'm still giving you would-be novelists out there an extremely important tip: don't neglect your setting in writing your story. More than anyone I know, I am guilty of this sin. I confess that I was a teenaged drama geek - you know, active in the drama and glee clubs and moping around in my all-black wardrobe while quoting various literary geniuses about the meaninglessness of our existence. My goal was to become a playwright, and I still write first drafts like a playwright - lots of blocks of dialogue with only minimal stage direction. They are in her apartment. The car hits a wall. Scene in an airport hangar. Later, I go back and I flesh out those directions with more detailed description of the setting. It still doesn't come easily to me, though.

"White Room Syndrome" is a common problem for beginning novelists. You see the scene so clearly in your head, that you're surprised to discover everyone else doesn't see it too. You dash off one sentence: "Mary and Fred came into the kitchen," for example. And then off you go, telling us about Mary and Fred's argument. Or their hot sex on the kitchen table. Or the dead body they find. But you tell us almost nothing about where this happens. To the reader, it feels like being trapped in an all-white room, hence the name.

I just finished judging some manuscripts for a writing contest, and five of the six I judged were all prime examples of White Room Syndrome. It takes a lot of effort to overcome this disease, and I myself still struggle with it every day. But you can beat it, if you make a conscious effort. The best training I know is to just read, read, read. Read lots of books that are full of vivid descriptive detail.

And that brings me back to Snow Day. Trapped in my house almost around the clock since last Thursday, I started thinking about the power of the snow. How quickly all our modern conveniences become useless, how deadly a few feet of frozen water can be, how fast we are thrown back on our own mental resources. (And how few are those mental resources for someone from my son's generation, who is lost when the power goes out and he loses all Google capability. But that's a rant for another blog.)

Snow can take the White Room Syndrome and turn it right on its head. Because in the whiteness of the snow, you have a powerful setting for your story. What follows is my list of some of the best examples I know of Snow Stories. Feel free to add your own suggestions.

7) Groundhog Day - No, it's not a novel. But watching Bill Murray slogging through the Pennsylvania winter over and over again certainly adds to the fun in this touching romance.

6) The Snowy Day - My favorite book as a child. Beautiful, simple story and illustrations capture the magic of snow through the eyes of a child.

5) The Left Hand of Darkness - By the brilliant Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness is set on a planet called Winter. Need I say more?

4) A Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin's tale of master thief Peter Lake, his flying horse, and his great love for the consumptive Beverly. A lyrical and magnificent depiction of New York at the last turn of the century.

3) To Build A Fire - Jack London's truly haunting short story about a man caught in a snowstorm and trying to build a fire and keep it alight. It does not go well.

2) The Worst Journey in the World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard's vivid nonfiction account of his experiences with Scott in 1910 in Antarctica. It really does not go well.

1) The Shining - A character every bit as vividly drawn as Jack and Wendy and little Danny, the snow comes down with a vengeance on Page 210 of this masterpiece of terror and suspense, and it does not let up for another 20o or so pages. If you want to know how to make the setting an integral part of your story, read this book. But read it with the lights on. If you still have electricity.

Keep warm if you can, and I'll be back with more writing tips in March. Meanwhile, feel free to post about your favorite winter stories!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom - Setting Priorities

The following blog originally appeared at The Romance Studio on January 8, 2010.

Welcome to the new year! I hope you're having a good one so far. I'm excited to be blogging monthly at The Romance Studio. I'll be posting the second Friday of just about every month this year. It's part of my resolution to manage my time better - I was really struggling to keep up my own individual blog and I couldn't talk anyone into forming a group blog. Then I remembered that I'd done a few guest blogs at The Romance Studio and enjoyed it, so I decided to join the cast of regular visitors here. Posting once a month at such a high-profile blog seemed like a better use of my time than trying to post every week at my own humble blog.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there's going to be a theme to my monthly posts. I'm hoping my blog posts will give aspiring writers (and curious readers) some insight into things to remember as you strive to get published.

When I first started attended romance writer conferences about three or four years ago, I was bombarded with experts telling me how much I needed a MySpace page. I dutifully ran out and set up a MySpace page, and although I do strive to keep it updated - let's face it, how much buzz do you hear about MySpace these days? Next I heard about how I couldn't possibly sell books without setting up my own blog. Done. But next I had to spend a lot of time coming up with topics for the blog. Or lining up guest writers for the blog. Or uploading photos to the blog. You get the idea. And now everyone's talking about Twitter and how I absolutely must Tweet. Not being a canary, I've decided to hold off on tweeting, thanks very much ;-)

The problem with jumping on every promotional bandwagon is that there will still only be 24 hours in your day. And you will still have to edit that first book, still do interviews and guest blogs, still hold on to your day job (unless you magically hit the concept of the decade and make a fortune), still clean the house and get the kids off to the school - oh, and write a new book!

Shortly after I signed a contract for my first novel, Thirty-Nine Again, I hired a wonderful designer to set up my website. She gave me some very sage advice: an up-to-date website is your second-most promotional tool. What's the most important, I asked? Your own writing.

Write first, then worry about all the promotional stuff. Because if you don't have a new manuscript ready when that first book comes out, you'll discover you have very little time to write while you're learning all the ropes of self-promotion.

Publicity and advertising are essential, of course. A good strategy is to schedule one day a week for promotional activities. Try to plan all your blogging, interviewing, and website updates for that day, and focus on actual creative writing the rest of the week. The more limited your time for fiction writing, the more important it is to put the writing first and worry about self-promotion second.

So that's this month's Pearl of Wisdom: Make writing your priority.

Now stop reading and get to work!