guest post by Beth M. Howard
I get asked all the time how long it took to write my book, and my answer is “Three months.” But the fact is I’ve been writing my book over a period of nearly two years. In real time. On my blog.
Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie came about in part because of my blog, The World Needs More Pie. The theme of my blog was about how pie can make the world a better place, how making a pie by hand represents nostalgia and simpler times. In my essays I evangelized about how pie was an antidote to the high-tech world we live in, a way to nurture our overworked souls. In fact, it was an antidote to my own overworked soul. I had had a dot-com job where I spent 16 hours a day in front of a computer. I finally said, “Enough!” The money—all six figures of it—wasn’t worth the stress. I quit and got a job baking pie. And started a blog.
My pie blog entries were charming and light, which was all well and good, but my blog didn’t become important to me—or popular with others—until I started blogging about something else, and nothing to do with pie: my 43-year-old husband Marcus’s death. Because I couldn’t find anyone willing to talk about the love I had lost, I used my blog to vent my feelings, my sadness, my very acute and complicated grief. And then people started writing me emails thanking me for being so open and honest, telling me that my stories about my struggles were helping them. So I kept writing. I kept sharing. I kept blogging.
When people ask "How did you get your book published?" I always tell them that they should start a blog. It’s free. You will get instant gratification seeing your work live in a public forum. Blogging will encourage you to keep looking for story ideas. You will hone your writing skills (hopefully!). You will home in on your theme. You will get feedback from your readers. You will be motivated to keep writing. And then, one day, you’ll realize that you’re ready. Ready to chain yourself to your desk for three months, not bothering to get dressed or comb your hair. Ready to turn down dinner invitations and weekend road trips. Ready to sit at your desk and wrestle with words and sentences and story structure. Ready to commit and realize your dream of becoming a published author.
Beth M. Howard is the author of Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie.
In BookPage, Lori Foster’s romance novels have been praised for their explosive sexual chemistry and their sizzling combination of alpha hero and determined heroine. Just by looking at the cover of one of these scorchers, you could definitely call them “hot”—a description that’s reinforced by Foster’s writing.
Foster's latest novel, A Perfect Storm—book #4 in the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series—is on sale today. The hero is bounty hunter Spencer Lark, and the heroine is rescued sex slave Arizona Storm, whom we met in Savor the Danger. (Read more on Foster’s website.)
I wanted to know what makes us root for Spencer, or for any hero. Here, Foster explains the must-have qualities of her sexy heroes.
guest post by Lori Foster
I like to mix it up with a variety of backgrounds and occupations for my heroes. In my Buckhorn Brothers series, I wrote a country doc, vet, handyman and sheriff. In my Fighter series I had men highly skilled in MMA—mixed martial arts. (Love that sport, by the way.) I’ve written cops and P.I.s, a remote viewer and a preacher. But there are certain things that all my heroes have in common, because some traits are just too important to ever leave out.
1. Honor. No matter what a hero has in his background, he has to have found his own personal sense of honor. He grows up, he perseveres and he has to know the difference between right and wrong. Mick Dawson, from Enticing, was horribly neglected as a kid, but he became a cop to fight injustice, and to ensure he never blurred the lines.
2. Responsibility—not only for himself, but for others as well. No man stands alone in this world, and capability means you look out for those who can’t look out for themselves. A perfect example is Jordan, from the Buckhorn Brothers. He falls for a single mother of two who is overwhelmed in caring not only for her children, but for her ailing mother as well. The responsibilities that would send some men running instead cause my heroes to dig in with determination to help. I love that about my heroes!
3. Humor. Seriously, who can stand a grim person? Not me. Okay, at times he can be grim—like if a bad guy is shooting at him, or threatening someone he loves. But then he has to lighten up. Think Jackson Savor, from Savor the Danger. No matter what happened, Jackson kept the heroine grinning. That is, when he wasn’t leaving her breathless with his sex appeal.
4. And that brings me to . . . Sex Appeal. He’s gotta be sexy. Confidence, knowledge, daring and awareness of what he wants—which always has to be the heroine, right? I could name any one of my heroes for this.
5. Lastly, he has to have compassion and understanding. If it weren’t for those two qualities, A Perfect Storm never would have happened, because Arizona would have kicked Spencer to the curb. But Spencer is that perfect mix of take-charge Alpha and caring man that can melt even a hard case like Arizona. Once held captive by human traffickers, Arizona is a contrast of skilled determination and stark vulnerability. Compassion not only keeps Spencer from pushing her too far, but it helps him to understand her need to prove herself.
Personally, I enjoy reading about a strong, sexy, caring man who can make me laugh, so I hope you enjoy reading that, too!
Thanks, Lori! Readers: What qualities do you love to see in a hero?
With This Kiss is the second feel-good romance novel in Bella Riley's Emerald Lake series. The story is about an innkeeper, Rebecca Campbell, who falls for her ex-fiance's brother. A strong romantic attraction doesn't equal an easy happy-ever-after, though. There are secrets between the couple that stand in the way of a relationship . . .
It's always interesting to learn a "behind-the-book" story. Riley has generously shared five fun facts about her latest novel:
guest post by Bella Riley
1. Emerald Lake, the setting for With This Kiss, is modeled after the lake in the Adirondacks where my husband’s family have lived for generations. I love the history and closeness of the community and have wanted to set a series there for several years. My husband and I now take our kids to a 100-year-old log cabin in Adirondacks every summer. I love the beauty of the mountains and the water; the chance to take long swims from one end of the cove to the other; and the fun of walking down the beach to a friends house just to say hello for a few minutes.
2. The women of Emerald Lake gather every week at Lake Yarns partly to knit . . . but mostly because we all need our girlfriends. Female friendships are so complex, supportive and nurturing. Isn't that what all those studies show, that women live healthier, longer lives if they have lots of friends?
3. When I was writing the Emerald Lake books, I learned a lot about knitting communities and yarn stores. And everything I learned made me want to knit incessantly! I even took a nine month "Knitting Boot Camp" class, which was so much fun. My daughter's teddy bear has an awesome purple sweater now.
4. I'd love to spend a day back in the '20s with Celeste, the grandmother in With This Kiss, just to see what life was like back then. Was it more romantic? More difficult? Simpler? Or just plain exhausting to wear those clothes?
5. Small town heroes are compelling and sexy because they not only care about their family and their neighbors, but they never seem afraid to get a little dirt under their nails. They fix their own plumbing, tune up their own cars. There's something sexy about a man who takes care of himself and his things, because it's easy to imagine he's going to take care of the woman he loves, too!
Thanks, Bella! Readers, what setting do you think would make for a wonderful romantic story? Now that the temps are in the '80s in Tennessee, the Adirondacks sound just about perfect . . .
Finding Our Way Home is the latest book in Charlene Ann Baumbich's Snowglobe Connections series—and it's on sale today!
This heartwarming story is about Sasha Davis, a ballerina who returns to her small hometown in Michigan after an injury ends her dance career. There, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with 19-year-old Evelyn, who works as Sasha's personal assistant.
This is a book about second chances, dealing with tough circumstances and the bonds that help us through the hard times. In a guest blog post, Baumbich, who had no special insight into the world of dance when she started on this novel, tells us how Sasha came into her mind—and how the author made some unlikely connections of her own to get Sasha's story right.
guest post by Charlene Ann Baumbich
The mystery of the creative process is mind-boggling to me, never more so than with Finding Our Way Home.
An injured professional ballet dancer showed up from "somewhere" and began to murmur in my ear. I didn't know a thing about her world. No matter how fervently I tried to make her shadowy character go away, she would not.
I began to research the world of dance. The more memoirs and articles I read—the more YouTube videos and live performances I watched—the more convinced I became that I was not the one to tell Sasha's (she'd whispered her name) story. Still, she insisted.
When she finally revealed herself in a shawl-laden, rocking chair "vision," I quit fighting and set my fingers to the keyboard. Oh, well.
Within the first few pages, Evelyn showed up. Who's that? I wondered, as I "watched" her hands pick up broken shards of glass. By the end of the first chapter, I knew that the heart of the book was about Evelyn and Sasha's uncommon friendship. The story was now talking to me. Chapters began to roll.
Still, I worried. What if I had the whole mental game of an injured dancer wrong? I revealed my insecurity to a longtime neighbor. Turns out she used to groom a dancer's dog. She gave me his number. (The dancer, not the dog.)
Whoa! It was Kenneth von Heidecke, the world renowned dancer and choreographer who lived through an injury that ended his onstage career. He assured me that Sasha had steered me in the right direction.
First draft finished, midway through a book tour for Divine Appointments, I pulled off the highway to get gasoline. I ended up toodling around the square of Knoxville, Iowa, and locals pointed me to a book store, The Next Chapter. Turns out the store owner, Tresa Mott, was a retired dancer who also ran a dance studio. When I asked if she might be willing to vet the manuscript for dance accuracies, she said yes.
Both she and Mr. von Heidecke heartily endorsed the book. Sasha—my unruly dancer of a character—laughed at the glory of it all.
Thank you, Charlene! Readers: Do creative ideas ever pop into your head—and you just can't get them to go away?
Mary Anna Evans is the author of the Faye Longchamp series, which stars an archaeologist who also solves mysteries. Plunders, the latest installment, comes out today. It takes place near the mouth of the Mississippi River, where Faye and her husband have been hired to survey archaeological sites—a task made complicated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Added to the mess is a murder, an inheritance battle and even pirates . . .
In a guest post for BookPage, Evans writes about the moment when her characters started to take on a life of their own.
Readers: When do you experience this kind of book magic? Are characters always real to you from the very beginning, or does it take them a while to grow on you?
guest post by Mary Anna Evans
I love the act of writing. Magic creeps up behind me, and it always happens when I’m not looking.
Ordinary professional satisfaction comes when I think about the hard work that went into the book I’m holding in my hand. But the magic . . . there’s no predicting when it will wrap its arms around me.
When I wrote my first book, Artifacts, I thought of it as a story contained in itself—the story of an amateur archaeologist trapped in decades-old intrigue. While seeking justice for a murdered girl, Faye Longchamp uncovered centuries of her own family history, scraping away layer after layer of secrets, and she began building the friendship of a lifetime with Joe Wolf Mantooth. I first felt the magic then, as Faye’s personality grew under my hands and as Joe said things that even I didn’t know he was going to say.
I found that the characters I created for Artifacts had more stories to tell. The seventh in the Faye Longchamp series, Plunder, is out today, and Faye and Joe still surprise me. They’ve found their own way to navigate the tricky waters of marriage and parenthood, while struggling to keep their archaeological business afloat. What is more, they’re able to find even more love to give a brilliant but troubled teenager whose life flies apart when the grandmother who raised her is murdered.
Young Amande is one of those characters who came from nowhere and begged me to tell her story. How could Faye and Joe not help her find her place in a world that is often unwelcoming?
As Faye and Joe build a family, I remember a question I was asked after Floodgates (Faye Longchamp #4) ended with Faye and Joe making wedding plans. I can be oblivious sometimes, so I’ll admit that I didn’t expect the question I got, time and again:
“Is the series over?”
“Of course not,” I answered. “Life doesn’t end when you fall in love. If you’re lucky, that’s when the magic begins.”
Thanks, Mary Anna! Learn more about the Faye Longchamp series on Evans' website.
Catherine McKenzie's fresh and compulsively readable novel, Spin, at first sounds like a horror story out of Cosmo. Her heroine, Kate, is a freelance journalist with the job opportunity of a lifetime—but she botches it when the interview falls right after her 30th birthday, and she shows up drunk. However, she's offered a second chance for her dream job—but first she has to go undercover at rehab to follow a Lindsay Lohan-like celebrity as she tries to sober up.
Kate is a music writer and music figures prominently in this story. Author McKenzie even goes so far as to include a playlist at the back of the book! We asked her to elaborate on five songs from the playlist. Below you'll find why these songs are important to the story. You can find the full playlist on YouTube.
Behind the music of Spin
guest post by Catherine McKenzie
Music plays a central role in Spin. In part because the main character, Kate, is a music journalist—and therefore often uses music as a reference for her feelings—but also because I originally envisioned the book as a musical. I know. Weird, right? What I mean by that is that I wanted to introduce music into the book in a way that would take it from two-dimensions to three. That’s why there’s a playlist at the end. Each chapter has a song that is either mentioned in the chapter, or that embodies what Kate is going through and feeling. Here’s why I picked some of the songs I did:
Chapter 1: "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." Kate references this KT Tunstall song as one she’s listened to hundreds of times. To me it’s an upbeat, feel-good song. The tempo and the way it’s sung make me think about dancing, letting go, having fun. I thought it was representative of where Kate is in her life at the beginning of the book.
Chapter 2: "Redemption Song." Like the title says, this song is, on some level, about seeking redemption. As any blurb of Spin will tell you, early in the book Kate blows her chance at her dream job by showing up still drunk to an interview after a night of partying. This prompts Kate to try—sort of—to change her life, to redeem herself, if you will. But Kate isn’t ready to change, and so she ends up taking a different path: following a celebrity in rehab to get the inside scoop. If she succeeds, her dream job might be hers.
Chapter 3: “Hey There Delilah.” The lead singer of the Plain White-T’s wrote this song about a girl he was interested in, but it’s also about hope. Hope that they’ll be together. Hope that he’ll get the fame he’s seeking. Since Kate arrives at rehab full of hope about her future—I know . . . weird, right?—I thought this was a good song to accompany her.
Chapter 4: “Displaced.” This haunting song by Azure Ray is, to me, about feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. And that’s certainly how Kate feels in her first days of rehab.
Chapter 5: “Blackbird.” This pretty Paul McCartney/Beatles song is one that Kate dreams about early on in rehab. While the reference to it is passing, Kate’s urge to fly away “into the light of the great black night” is strong. And the first seeds of doubt about whether she’s broken or not start to creep in.
So . . . if you read the book, turn on some music. It’s the way it’s meant to be read.
Learn more about Spin on Catherine's website. Readers: Do you associate books or characters with music? Share your associations in the comments!
guest post by Rick Lenz
Not having been exactly a megastar actor, I knew my memoir North of Hollywood would have to be different—unstereotypical. I share with you some of the guidelines that came to me in a scalding blast of inspiration as I considered this.
Okay. First of all, make sure you have nothing to say. If you have something to say, it means you’ve already begun organizing it, which—if you’ve done that before you begin writing—is death. Un-stereotypical writing has to be completely fresh.
Two: you can’t be unorganized either. Once you’re sure you have nothing to say and have said it inventively, make sure you then put it all in a sensible order. Just because you’re capable of covering a canvas with a coat of red paint doesn’t make you Rothko. Unconventional writing—just like anything else in the creative arts—had better have a lot of structure if it's going to be accessible unconventional writing.
Three: Make sure you’re at peace with yourself. Chaos never creates anything but a mirror image of itself. Don’t commit the day-to-day mess in your mind to paper. If you do, people will have firm evidence that that’s what’s in your head and they will not pay you for it.
Four: Make sure your writing is crystal-clear and avoid clichés like the plague.
The fifth, and perhaps most important, rule of unconventional writing is never to forget that everyone else is trying to be unconventional. We live in a time in which it seems as if we’ve watched too many absurdist comedies in a row. Our frames of reference have gotten bent around to the point that everything seems preposterous and nothing provokes surprise.
Ergo, at this very moment a million authors are thinking, “How can I shock the pants off them?”
Well, most readers’ pants are already down around their ankles.
To illustrate: an increasingly large proportion of writing in the 21st Century is for the Internet and television. If my late mother were to watch network TV today, she’d faint within a minute. The next night, she’d faint again.
But eventually, after some nasty falls and a few bruises, she’d make sure she was sitting in an easy chair when she turned on the television.
Then, gradually, her responses would turn into little more than faintly raised eyebrows.
Finally, she’d just stare at it like everyone else.
Meanwhile—and this more of a caveat than a rule—never forget we live on a continent that was only recently (in the big scheme of things) populated by people who deeply believed that plants, rocks, fire, water, as well as animals and people were imbued with a sacred inner life by the Great Spirit. Compare and contrast that with the man (also on television), warning men to seek medical help if their erections last longer than four hours.
To sum up: In order to write in an unstereotypical way, do not know what you’re talking about, but organize it well. Be peaceful (a lobotomy is permissible). Be lucid and remember that everyone else is trying to break the stereotypes too.
Maybe the best thing to do is simply to write old-fashioned, cleanly- stated prose and not worry about anything beyond that—unless you want to count being interesting and honest.
Rick Lenz has been acting on Broadway, TV and film since 1965. In his memoir, North of Hollywood—on sale today—he talks about a life spent acting alongside the likes of Walter Matthau.
guest post by Larissa Ione
Okay, single ladies, raise your hand if you've ever seen that tiresome criticism that goes something like this: Single women who read romances will develop unrealistic expectations of men.
Ha! And again, ha! Reading romance novels when I was single helped me recognize that no man is perfect (not even those in romance novels) and that I didn't have to put up with idiots. Unrealistic expectations? Really?
Did I mention the ha?
We women know the men in romance novels are fictional wonderful guys. But in the real world there are also nonfictional wonderful guys. So I was well aware of the fact that I wasn't going to find Joe Mackenzie from Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Mission while I was in the Air Force, but that didn't mean I had to put up with jerks, cheaters, abusers or morons.
There were certain things I was going to demand from a man, the same as a good romance heroine does. Things like respect. Like fidelity. Like honesty.
So did reading romance set me up with certain expectations? Maybe. But unrealistic ones? No way. I was in no hurry to get serious or get married, and in the end, I got my own hero who is in no way perfect, but he's right for me.
So, single ladies, this February treat yourself to a romance novel full of hot guys who ultimately treat their heroines with respect, and know that there are real men like that out there.
For some reason, during the month of February, I'm drawn to contemporary romances, and some of my personal favorite Valentine's Day re-reads are Mackenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard, Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann, and Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
What about you? Any personal favorite re-reads that remind you that romance novels can be utterly unrealistic while at the same time delivering a real, feel-good read?
Larissa Ione is the author of Immortal Rider (Grand Central), the second book in her Lords of Deliverance series about the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Her next paranormal romance, Lethal Rider, comes out in May 2012. Learn more on her website, larissaione.com.
So many readers are would-be authors, and many of us are curious about the publication process. How do people with day jobs manage to write an entire book? What is it like for them emotionally while they attempt to find an agent? In a guest post for BookPage, debut author Nelle Davy provides a behind-the-scenes look at her publication experience. Nelle has an interesting perspective, because she works on the other side of publishing, too.
Nelle's novel, The Legacy of Eden, went on sale a week ago. It's the story of the dramatic rise and fall of an Iowa family, inspired by I, Claudius.
An insider’s look at the publication process
guest post by Nelle Davy
As someone who works in the publishing industry, the only thing that surprised me when publishing my own book was how challenging I found it. I have worked in publishing for five years now, first as an international sales assistant at Pan Macmillan and then as an assistant at a talent agency in the books department. I am used to getting submissions of my own and seeing them go from a manuscript to a bound book on the shelf. I have even rejected manuscripts before, so of course I knew the pitfalls and the difficulties of the publishing process—but going through it yourself is something else entirely.
It is hard and horrible and personally cutting, especially as I was surrounded by a litany of authors either watching their own dreams come true or fall away.
Inspired by I, Claudius, my novel, The Legacy of Eden, is an epic, sweeping tale of a dynasty rotten to the core, driven by ambition, lust—and hatred. I wanted to take the kernel of the idea from I, Claudius—aspiration and its devastating effects on a family headed by an amoral matriarch—and move it into a modern setting. When I first began writing The Legacy of Eden, I was working at Pan Macmillan, typing it up during my lunch breaks one minute and then working on sales targets for authors the next. But because of where I worked and what I did, I was determined that I would be published on my own merit and not because of my profession. I never said where I worked in any of my submission letters and it was also partly why I wrote under my married name, so I was separated from my work life. That way, if my manuscript was called in by an agent, it was really because they wanted to read it and not because they were intrigued by who I worked for or what I did.
However, I had to experience what it was like coming up through the slush pile (the term publishers and agents give to unsolicited manuscripts, of which they get tons every single day). It was incredibly harsh. It took me just under a year to get an agent and then four months to get a publisher, so in total the process was 18 months. This is by no means the average, and it was also doubly awkward when publishers I was working with started rejecting my book. But I think things happen for a reason, because what I learned going through all that has made me kinder and more understanding to my own authors; I can really empathize with their worries and concerns. But I have been incredibly lucky with my own publishers, who have been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about The Legacy of Eden.
Thanks, Nelle! Read more about The Legacy of Eden on the author's website.
Last week, author-illustrator Chris Raschka won the 2012 Caldecott Medal—the children’s book equivalent of an Oscar—for his touching picture book, A Ball for Daisy. Which made us wonder: What was it about this particular book that led the awards committee to choose it as “the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children” published last year?
We posed that question to Robin Smith, who knows a thing or two about the Caldecott, having served on the 2011 Caldecott committee. Robin, a second grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, also reviews children’s books for a number of publications, including BookPage. In a guest post, she offers her opinion on what makes this wordless book about a little dog and her treasured toy a very special book indeed.
When A Ball for Daisy was named the 2012 Caldecott Medal winner, some of us had trouble controlling our smug smiles. As a matter of fact, we grinned. We had followed the mock award committees and rarely saw this treasure make it past the initial lists, but we knew. Those of us who have been lucky enough to serve on a Caldecott committee understand how certain books might catch the fancy of those 15 people sequestered over the long weekend of the American Library Association’s Midwinter meetings and this one seemed like it had potential. I held out hope for a few other titles to be honored, but I was pretty sure Daisy would wear a sticker of one color or the other.
Well, first of all, the wordless format allows the art to be examined without any distracting fonts or wonky word choice. There is a plot, for sure, and it is well paced and brimming with emotion. This is not to say that books with words are at a disadvantage, just that this particular wordless book was successful at getting across both the plot and emotional punch without any words.
Gestural drawings are perfect for this story and Chris Raschka is a master of this technique. Soft, pleasingly sloppy lines catch the emotional essence of Daisy. Daisy’s grey and black outlines are firm and thick when things are going well and shaky when Daisy is disappointed and sad. Her body language is spot on, too: Contrast her confident stride to the park with the forced march home.
The overall design of the book is satisfying too. Horizontal frames tell much of the story, but single, full-page paintings let the child reader know when something important has happened. I love how some of the horizontal frames stretch across both pages of a spread, showing the action clearly. Kids instinctively know how to read these pages and love telling the story in their own words. My favorite spread follows Daisy’s emotional response when her ball suddenly pops. I heard Raschka himself refer to this spread as the stages of grief . . . and it is! The background watercolor moves from yellow to brownish purple, leaving no question as to Daisy’s deep feelings of loss.
There are so many things to appreciate about Daisy that were surely discussed around the table in Dallas. The paper is sumptuous, preventing any bleed-through of color. (Yes, the committee will discuss such mundane things as paper quality.) The dog’s-eye view changes subtly when the story becomes about both dogs and owners. First, it’s all feet and fire hydrants. All of a sudden, near the end of the story, the reader sees the whole girl who is Daisy’s owner when she is needed for cuddly couch comfort. But, really, it’s always about Daisy, isn’t it?
Using a limited color palette carefully adds to the simple genius of the story. Making a story that is simple and satisfying is not easy. Creating a story that a committee can discuss, discovering new and wonderful things upon each re-examination, is what moves a book to the top of the heap.
In a year with so many fantastic picture books, I am sure it was a challenge finding the one book that a majority of the committee members could agree on. I have had some experience with this type of group decision-making, and I completely trust the process. I hope everyone who might have overlooked the timeless appeal of Raschka’s book can give Daisy another look.
Thanks, Robin. Daisy is definitely an unforgettable dog with an important message about love and loss. And for those who want to know more about the award, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) offers this description of the criteria to be evaluated by the 15 members of the Caldecott Committee:
a. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
b. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
c. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
d. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
e. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.