Friday, July 31, 2009

Sequels to Come

The world revolves around the concept of more sequels to come, the coming soon and the series. If something is good, it must be immediately followed up by a sequel whether that sequel is good or not. Sometimes, the sequel becomes something extraordinary -- it steps out of the shadow that was the great first and becomes something more. Most of the time, however, sequels are the watered down version of the first tale.

Make It Bigger

One common theme of the sequel is to make it bigger! Make it have more explosions! More noise! More color! Unfortunately, it doesn't always mean more story or more characterizations. I bring this up because series are the popular thing in modern fiction. If Bram Stoker wrote Dracula today, it would have been followed up by Dracula 2: Harker's Revenge and Dracula 3: Mina's Minions and more sequels to come.

Most publishers are not looking for books that stand on their own. They want something that can become a series. It's not the first story that they are sold on, but the one that has the potential to be three or four or five. They don't want you bouncing all over the genres, either. They want the next Harry Dresden, Anita Blake or even Morganville Vampire. (Sorry I can't imagine ever being J.K. Rowling).

Creating the Sequel

Ideally, in modern fiction writing, you'll have a three or four book series in your head when you submit the first one. Even better, you'll have two to three books on paper. It's not the great American novel that's wanted, it's the great American series.

I understand that, I have my books and I can tell you right now that the sequel to Prime Evil is called Seismos and it's about a third written. I have Hel's Belle and it will have two follow-ups, it's designed to be a trilogy. Remembering Ashby is back story that will find its sequel in The Forgotten. This doesn't take into account any of the short stories.

But will the sequels be lesser because they are sequels? How can you make your sequel be The Dark Knight and not Legally Blonde 2?

Substance and Patience

I think the key is to not force a sequel. Legally Blonde 2 is a cute movie albeit totally ridiculous. The premise of Elle Woods going to Harvard Law was silly in the first place, but you saw Elle really applying herself and she wasn't stupid, so that was at least plausible. The sequel not so much.

The Dark Knight was a very natural evolution to Batman Begins. It was a richer, darker story filled with Batman mythos, pathos and ethos. The more jaded may attribute the success of the second film to the death of Heath Ledger, but Ledger's performance was off the charts fantastic as was the dark tale of the Joker. The sequel worked because the story and the characters were there.

Great sequels are more than just a visitation upon a successful formula and familiar characters; great sequels are powerful stories in their own right. So if a book or a movie cannot stand on its merits, then I don't really want to hold that up as my sequel.

Built in Audience

Ideally, a sequel comes with a built in audience. The people who bought the first will buy the second. People who learn of the second may go ahead pick up the first, so forth and so on. Sequels come with built in sales and can actually help you increase the sales of the first work.

But is the integrity of the work worth a few consumer dollars? Honestly? Only the retail audience can answer that question. As a writer, you can't assume your audience is stupid. They might buy your first sequel if they loved your first book; but I guarantee you that if the sequel sucks, they aren't coming back for book three.

How do you feel about sequels?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Writing Process

What is the writing process that I use to create my stories? To write my worlds? There is a simple answer and a long answer to that question. The simple answer is I don't really have a writing process that I advertise, the long answer is my writing process adjusts for the project that I am working on. Confused? S'okay, in trying to create a coherent explanation of what is essentially an internal process, I managed to confuse myself a little.

The Writing Process - Prewriting

Prewriting is the portion of your writing process where you do research, develop inspirational ideas or as my grandmother used to say: "you spend daydreaming to music." For me, prewriting is every day of my life. I get ideas standing in line at the grocery store, watching television, driving in the car, reading billboards and sometimes even while I'm asleep.

Not every idea I have pans out. It cracks me up sometimes when my daughter will be rambling away in the car and I'll ask her what she's talking about and she replies with: "I'm in my own world, Mommy. Just playing there." That's what prewriting is like for me; it's playing in my own world where I don't need to make the scenes flow, I don't have to explain back story and I don't need contingency plans.

The Actual Writing

My actual writing occurs differently from project to project. For example, most of this summer I've been writing Hel's Belle in 2 to 3K increments while my daughter was swimming. Another WIP that wouldn't leave me alone brain dumped nearly 40K over a three day weekend. Neither WIP is finished, but I am working diligently to finish Hel's Belle before going back to The Rapture.

The key point for me in writing is that I avoid editing while writing. At a recent presentation, Rachel Caine described her process as including reading the 30 pages previous to where she is writing in part to edit and in part to get herself back into that mental space of the story. While I don't go back 30 pages, I do backtrack some particularly if it's been more than a day since I was writing or I've had trouble with a scene.

I also don't let myself get hung up. If a scene isn't working, I stop it and move on to the next. Occasionally what I find is that the scene that wasn't working really isn't necessary.

Editing, Revising and Publishing

I discussed critique writing steps yesterday and I've talked about my editing process previously so I don't really feel the need to get into that here.

So to answer the initial question: what is the writing process that I use? I prewrite to discover the world I want to write about and then I write for myself, I write for pure pleasure. The work begins when I hit the editing and revising and incorporating my critique partner's feedback.

What is your writing process?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Critique Writing Steps

Critique writing steps are detailed in many different how to books on writing, editing and critiquing. I've never actually read any of these books, mostly because the details can be quite dry. Like many authors, I imagine, I have two full bookshelves of how to books. The books that I read are the books on crime scenes, on investigative techniques and on skill sets that my characters might have. Beyond Stephen King's On Writing and the Romance Writer's Phrase Book, I don't read a lot of books on writing itself.

Critique Writing Steps

When writing a critique, first and foremost, your goal should be to strengthen the work and the writer. Furthermore, a critique partner is exactly that -- a fresh set of eyes and a partner to strengthening the work, honing it and improving it. A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend who'd been asked to critique someone else's work. She didn't like the story, she didn't like the viewpoint and she didn't even like the setting. She was hard pressed to come up with something that she liked about the tale at all.

She was writing me to ask me what she should do. I asked if I could see the story without any names and she sent it over. I read through it. The first thing I looked for were instances of telling rather than showing (felt, seemed, thought) and highlighted those. I made suggestions of ways to make them stronger.

I looked at the first sentence and asked if it was a hook. Then the second and third, so forth and so on. I found the story's real hook buried on the second page. So I noted what I found and why I thought it was a hook. I added comments here and there, including adding notations where I found the work to be particularly strong or the imagery vivid. Then I sent it back to my friend.

The funny thing was, upon reading the comments I made, she found a few recommendations of her own to append prior to sending it back. She said that my comments seemed to strengthen the work in her own eyes and that made it easier to critique.

Rough Drafts

It's important when you are reading someone's work whether it is their first draft or their fifteenth that you read it fresh. You mark what you like. You mark what tosses you out. You note areas that could be improved and how. You never say you hate something without saying why or what might be improved. In fact, don't say you hate it at all.

I recently found a wonderful critique partner. We exchanged WIPs over the weekend and dove in. I found that I was marking up quite a bit through the first 60 pages or so, but somehwere around page 65, I was reading more than I was critiquing. Now this is an important comment to make. Because what was so magical about the story at page 65 that I immersed myself into it?

I had to review it a couple of times, but I think it was by that point I was invested in the characters and I wanted to know what was happening. I was invested in the world she was creating and on a second read through I had loads of questions to add to my comments.

In the end, I summed up my thoughts and told her quite honestly that I found her world to be similarly engaging to another published author. Told her what I liked about it and thanked her for letting me read it. Hopefully my comments will help her develop the work further (and I'll get more to read!)

My Critiques

Once I'd sent my critique back, I got to read her commentary on my work. I laughed outloud when the very first comment was "Yuck!" She apologized for it, but said the word is exactly what she thought when she read what the character was saying. It's an honest reaction and whether it will be useful or not going forward, remains to be seen because that's a 'taste' issue and not necessarily a 'writing' issue.

Other comments included (in no particular order):

  • While I’m sure this is grammatically correct, those pulled me from the opening paragraph and I had to reread it.
  • Are we still in her POV here?
  • I think I understand whats going on now. However I read it three time and remained confused until this part.

Those are examples of fantastic feedback on various scenes and actions in the story. Because they make me think about what I've written, they point out places where I may have slipped from one point of view to another without meaning to and ultimately will make the story a stronger one.

Remember the next time you read someone's work for a critique the first step is to read it, the second is to comment and the third is to provide feedback that is useful to the writer. Even if you don't like something, you can express why. When in doubt, consider the kind of feedback you find useful in your own work and try to achieve that.

How do you critique?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday's Talking Points

Welcome to Tuesday. Grab your coffee and enjoy today's dose of lighter, yet full bodied fare. We're talking about a lot today, please enjoy these announcements, YouTube glimpses and even an exercise or two.

Goddess of the Hunt

Tessa Dare has a new book coming out today, a gem called Goddess of the Hunt. I'm really excited about this book. I've read a number of reviews and heard lots of good things about it. So I highly recommend that you go check it out if you haven't already. I know it's high on my list.

Wonderful Creativity in this A Capella Tribute

It Happens ... Don't Miss It

I love to share what I'm working on with my readers. So be sure to visit ARe for this free short story available now.

The Blurb: My name is Chance Monroe and I'm a Hedge Witch, charged with the protection and healing of my native land, which in this case happens to be Northern Virginia. In times past, my people might have been wise women, druids or shamans. Today, we are simply hedge witches. I went to the Rodell's to do Betty a favor, what I found was an evil borne of blood, tears and Voodoo.

See more adventures with Chance Monroe in Prime Evil, due from Sapphire Blue Publishing in the Fall, 2009.

True Blood

True Blood continues to grow as a program that is separate and interesting in its own right from the Charlaine Harris novels. The preview shown by HBO at the San Diego Comic Con over the weekend teases of story lines that will play out over the next few weeks. Season 3 is guaranteed and for those of us who love Harris' books, she's going to be writing at least three more. Long lust to Sookie and Eric!

Writing Exercise

I like to use writing exercises when I feel like I'm stuck or blocked. So here's a writing exercise for those of you who enjoy fantasy, romance, writing or some combination thereof:

Use one of the following phrases: queen of hearts, full deck, joker, dealer's choice
Your piece begins with one of the following lines:
It was a time of innocence ....
He haunted the night ...
The smell of the fire ...
Try for 500 words.
You can do it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Musings: Torchwood: CoE

I warn you that the following is a bit of a rant and it contains spoilers. If you haven't seen Torchwood: Children of Earth, I wouldn't recommend reading any further.

BBC America aired the five episode mini-series "Torchwood: Children of Earth" last week. I tuned in night after night, eager to see Captain Jack Harkness, Ianto Jones and Gwen Cooper. At the end of the second season, we'd said goodbye to the other two members of Torchwood Three: Tosh and Owen. Unfortunately, despite all the previews and the excitement, Torchwood: CoE fanned the flames of dissatisfaction.

Let's start with the simple premise. An alien race known only as the 456 use Earth's children to let the governments of the world know they are coming. In an absolutely creepy set of scenes, all the children stop. Then start. Later they all speak simultaneously. Bit by bit, we learn that the children are speaking English all around the world, no matter where they are. The first message is "We are coming." Then "We are coming tomorrow," and finally "We are here."

Elsewhere, a man named John Frobisher of the civil service is made aware of the 456's signal and orders to construct a specialized chamber. The civil service lackeys inform the Prime Minister who decides that he'd rather pretend he doesn't know what's going on (you know, accountability and all that) and puts Frobisher in charge.

For reasons unknown (and seriously defying logic in a world grown very familiar with aliens), Frobisher issues a blank page on several key figures including Captain Jack Harkness. In the meanwhile, Gwen, Ianto and Jack are checking out a local doctor for possible recruitment even as they are investigating the odd behavior of the children.

Jack's Past

We learn that Jack has a daughter named Alice. Her mother used to work for Torchwood in the 60s and 70s. She got her daughter placed in a witness protection type program so that she would be safe. The mother died a couple of years previously. Apparently both mother and daughter pushed away from Jack because he does not age. Alice has a son: Jack's grandson. Jack's grandson is reacting the way the other children are. Alice doesn't want him to know that "Uncle Jack" is his grandfather. In fact, she'd rather Dad didn't come around much. It's too hard to feel and look older than Jack does.

We meet Ianto's family. His sister, her husband and kids. They are all great. They tease Ianto about Jack. Ianto insists he's not gay, but he is in love with Jack and it's only Jack -- not all men. They share a restrained reunion and apparently Ianto was abused by his dad. Meanwhile Gwen and Rhys are house shopping, but Gwen has to check on a man in a care hospital who is reacting like the children are and she finds out she's pregnant.

Meanwhile, the 456 are still coming.

The Blank Page

Through a series of events, Jack is shot and 'killed' twice. A woman leading a special military unit orders a bomb to be placed inside him. When Jack recovers, he finds the dead doctor next to him and heads back to the Hub (Torchwood headquarters). Apparently Jack's immortality is an open secret, but the government thinks it's related to the Hub. So they figure blowing up Jack and the hub will do it.

Gwen and Ianto barely escape as Jack and the Hub are blown to smithereens. The crater left by the explosion is pretty spectacular. Gwen and Ianto go on the run because the blank page includes killing them.

Now, I'm not going to go into the rest of the details, a LOT happens. Jack's 'remains' eventually regenerate and the bitch in the black suit encases him in concrete. Gwen and Ianto eventually rescue Jack and they are now on the run. Jack finally figures out why the government wants to kill him (because he knows the 456 were there before -- in fact he was the one who turned 12 kids over to them as part of a government order).

Apparently the 456 were doing some type of protection racket. Negotiations continue, the 456 want 10% of the Earth's children turned over. Apparently they snort the kids like drugs, incorporating their physiology for some bizarre reason (hormones most likely).

Lots of arguing and political maneuvering occurs, but the governments begin to cave. Jack and the Torchwood team along with Lois Abeeba (a secretary in the Civil Service Office) continue to try and resolve this. But the resolution involves Jack and Ianto walking into the MI-5 building where the indistinct green vomiting alien is encased in his special chamber and trying to pull a Doctor.

Unfortunately for Ianto, the alien calls Jack's bluff and kills everyone in the building including Ianto.

You see, when the Doctor walks in and says "Knock it off or I'll destroy you." You believe him, because he's The Doctor -- he's been around for eons and he's very good at destroying entire species. Jack just doesn't have that kind of cred and he couldn't back up his threat. If that had been the Doctor and his companion, the companion wouldn't have died.

Now Ianto is dead and Jack goes to pieces. He just stops fighting. He ends up in prison until Alice advises the bitch in black (never did get her name) that if she really wants to protect the realm she needs Jack Harkness. The soldiers get Jack out and bring Jack to the special base. He figures out a signal that can be turned back on the aliens, but it needs a child to send it.

So Jack kills his own grandchild to save the world.


Flash Forward Six Months

Gwen and Rhys (loved Rhys through all of this, he was smashing) are heading out into the middle of no where. Gwen is really pregnant. Hey look, there's Jack. He's been wandering all over the world, running away, but Earth is apparently too small. He needs his watch band because there's a cruiser in the solar system (no idea how the hell he knows this) and if he has his nifty watch, he can hitch a ride and start over elsewhere.

That's right folks, Jack Harkness tells Gwen good bye and disappears.

If I'd been Gwen, I'd have punched him in the face.

This is how Torchwood: CoE ends.

Final Opinion

Now, I can suspend disbelief to a point and there are some very powerful moments: Lois Abeeba (the secretary) is just fabulous. Her boss Ms. Spears is brilliant. John Frobisher (the civil service gremlin) is both horrible and sympathetic. He's so completely screwed from the beginning but doesn't seem to realize it. When the PM basically serves up Frobisher's kids to the aliens, Frobisher chooses to kill them rather than let them suffer like that.

That's wildly powerful and painful stuff.

  • But Jack killing his grandchild?
  • Ianto's very pointless death?
  • Jack running away?

I get the rock and the hard place analogy. I get the terrible idea of giving up the children. It hit several right notes, but Jack Harkness came off as a coward, a terrible, empty coward and not remotely a hero. Where can they go from here? What's more, do I want to go there with them?

Will Gwen run Torchwood now with Rhys and Lois? Will Jack come back? Why didn't Earth put up more of a fight? I mean the aliens were in a locked room created by the British. Empty the foul toxic air and flood it with Oxygen: boom they die. And considering the 456 could control the children, why were they negotiating?

Too many potholes in the plot and too many places where the ugliness outweighed the power of the story. I'm sorry Russel T. Davies: Torchwood CoE is a powerful piece of fail in a library of epic goodness.

I don't need a happy ending, but this was a crap ending by any standard. What did you think of Torchwood CoE?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Snips and Clips: Prime Evil Teaser

This week for Sunday's Snip and Clips, we're talking teasers. Enjoy these opening paragraphs from Prime Evil, an urban fantasy coming from Sapphire Blue Publishing this fall:

The earth crumbled and fell down on her face. She closed her mouth to avoid swallowing any. Eyes closing, her hands scrambled against the sides. More earth fell in on top of her, blotting out the sun.

Dirt rapidly filled the hole. Someone shouted nearby. She started to open her mouth to call out when the earth pressed in on all sides. If she opened her mouth, it would fill with dirt. She would suffocate.


She must remain quiet.

Buried alive and silent.

A shiver raced up my spine. One hand on the doorknob, I breathed deeply. The taste of earth was on my tongue, the scent of it clogged my nostrils and sweat made my palms slippery. Slowly exhaling and inhaling, I counted my breaths. Pack the dream away, I told myself. Pack it away and deal with the here and the now.

The here consisted of a nearly two hundred year old farmhouse on the edge of Loudoun County. The now is early afternoon, just a few minutes after one in the afternoon. My client, Mr. Adams hired me to fix his problem. Gathering my composure, I stared at the closed slender door. The old Victorian style house, built in the early 1800s, possessed narrow door frames and solid construction. The door was all natural, sanded and varnished wood and warm to the touch.

I released the doorknob long enough to wipe the sweat on my jeans. Time to get to work; I opened the door to a smallish set of rooms located behind the pantry. Servants’ quarters, tucked away and discreet with easy access to the kitchen.

I stayed on the kitchen side of the doorway, better to spot potential trouble while I was still secure enough to shut the door on it. Flexing my fingers, I focused on stiffening my personal shields to keep any feelings or sensations in the room from penetrating my personal isolation. I wanted the information my five basic senses provided first. I’d ask the Earth for Her opinion momentarily.

The military uniforms stood at attention, literally Mr. Adams mentioned they’d walked off and apparently he meant it. The uniforms kept perfect formation, five wide and two deep, as though being worn by unseen bodies. Where their ‘feet’ should be, shoes were lined up in formation. The red strappy heels definitely did not match the formal blues.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spotlight On: Cafe of Dreams

What a fabulous, fabulous week here at the Daily Dose. I want to thank all the book reviewers who took time out of their schedules to indulge me and answer my questions. I loved talking to each of you. If you haven't had a chance to read these great interviews and check out their great review sites, I suggest you check them out right now!

Normally on Saturday, I post my Weekend Wrap Up with some Writing Tips, but I was having so much fun with these interviews, I decided to add one more! So please join me in welcoming April from Cafe of Dreams!

How important is the blurb of a book to your impression of a book? What about the cover?

I would have to say that cover art on a book is one of my favorite things. I love the way different genres can convey the subject of their books through covers (one of my favorites is how fun cozy mystery covers are). Also, some book covers are almost like artwork in their beauty. However, speaking as a reviewer, neither the cover nor the blurb will effect my review process. As a buyer/browser, the cover may make me pick a book up and read further into it. As far as blurbs go, I think a great blurb can really reach out and grab a reader and make them want to peek inside to see what the book holds. I enjoy reading the blurbs, however I am also good at just scanning them and if the book is of a genre that I particularly love, or author that is a favorite of mine, then the blurb really doesn't effect me that much. I do believe that both covers and blurbs are great hooks to reel in browsers, however.

Obviously it's easy to review a book you like, but how do you handle books that don't appeal?

If a book is of a genre or topic that I truly do not like or does not interest me, I will pass on reviewing it. There simply is no reason to add my thoughts to something that I know will not be of help to either the author nor the reader who picks up this particular book because they do enjoy the genre or topic of it. Now, on the flip side, I am a very open minded reader. I happily review books of genres that I am not familiar with nor have not had that much exposure to. One example is before becoming a book reviewer, I hardly read fantasy, however I have done several virtual book tours and author/publisher requested reviews on this genre and truly enjoy it.

As far as if I read a book in which I enjoy the genre, topic, etc, but just did not overly enjoy the book/story itself, for whatever reason, I always state why I didn't care for the book (be it my inability to get into the story, not in the mood for that particular genre, mechanics, etc). However, I always find good things to mention - nothing is ever 100% negative. I believe in constructive criticism, not destructive criticism. Just because the mechanics may be bad, the storyline itself may be wonderful, or the characters may be alive and outstanding. There should always be a positive to match any negative.

Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?

Honestly, not that I can think of. I know a couple have asked me to expand on areas that I did not enjoy from a book (which I am always more than happy to do), but it has always been done in a nice and polite way.

When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you've finished the story?

When I am reading a book, I will jot a note down if the story is evoking a strong feeling within me, or highlight a particular passage if it really stands out to me. Normally I just wrap myself within the story and enjoy it. I have always been a book lover and that is why I am so thrilled to be able to be a book reviewer. I process the story and review from my enjoyment and how it left me feeling. People pick up a book because they want to become engrossed within another world for a while and to that I totally relate, therefore that is where my reviews stem from. I do have to say that I write my best reviews immediately following finishing up a book. This is when my thoughts and feelings are the strongest and easiest to convey.

Do you prejudge a book, i.e. it's by an author you liked or didn't like previously?

I try not to. I can't really think of a time that I have prejudged a book, but I know this is something that is human nature. If you dislike something, you are liking to stay away from it. However, if the book is of a nature that I don't particularly enjoy (torture, excessive abuse, etc) I may not want to pick it up because of that. With that being said, I am likely to perhaps prejudge a book from it's subject matter, but not so much from the author, etc.

Have you found that your reviews influence readers?

I would like to think so, lol. I have heard people say that they have checked out a book further after hearing my thoughts on it, which thrills and humbles me. Reviewing, for me, is such a creative outlet and something that I truly and deeply enjoy. I have met so many wonderful authors and fellow book lovers that I hope I am able to give back at least a little for all the wonderful experiences that I have thus far received.

As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?

Truly, the authors that I have worked with have been amazing. I have learned so much through them and find them to be so helpful, understanding and willing to do whatever is needed or helpful to get that fun extra information posted along with my review of their work. There are times that I simply get overly swamped with books, and more than not are totally understanding to this fact. It makes life so much simpler and happy/ As a book blog reviewer, it really seems to stand out if an author pops by to visit the post that I have put up of their review and leave comments. Many authors are great about that, but some not so much, so I guess that would be my only extra request.

Please be sure to give me a little plug for your review site so I can link it up.

Cafe of Dreams is a site that I started to keep track of the books that I read throughout the year. It very quickly blossomed into so much more and I am loving every minute of it! On my blog, I host authors on Virtual Book Tours, interview authors, post guest posts, run giveaways, do spotlights and add a bit of fun with little bits of trivia, games or things that I come across that interest me. Every now and then I throw in some personal happenings and pictures of my family.

As far as types of books and genres that I review, it truly is an extreme wide range. I read and review mystery, paranormal, romance, fiction, non-fiction, you name it. I also love to read eBooks, which has really opened a lot of doors to reviewing. I have also recently become a writer for Blogcritics, an online magazine, so you can check me out there as well.

Thanks so much, Heather, for this honor of being interviewed!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spotlight On: Realms on Our Bookshelves

Is it Friday already? I have had the most amazing week chatting with book reviewers in our first ever Spotlight On week here at the Daily Dose. I've talked to most American reviewers, but today, thanks to the wonderful power of Twitter and the Internet, we're going across the great pond to The Netherlands where we're going to chat with Pearl from Realms on Our Bookshelves.

So please join me in welcoming Pearl this week and I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did.

First of all, thank you Heather for having me on Daily Dose answering some questions.

How important is the blurb of a book to your impression of a book? What about the cover?

The blurb is important since it’s the first thing I check when contemplating buying/reading a book. Some books are well represented in the blurbs, others not so much. I have read blurbs and thought: “Oh, I must get this book and the book turned out to be not to my liking. And have had it the other way around to: blurbs that didn’t scream BUY ME NOW but book turned out to be one of my keepers!

Covers are the eye-catcher but for me not the most important thing trying to get an impression of a book. I’ll put it this way: an ugly cover will not put me off reading/buying a book when other factors (blurb, familiarity with author’s work, excerpts) urge me to purchase it. And again, like with the blurbs, it goes both ways: a delicious cover will not urge me to buy/read a book that all my instincts are telling not to purchase.

I want to make it clear that an appealing cover is always nice to see and there are some drool-worthy covers out there in romance land. Even for levelheaded old me!

Obviously it's easy to review a book you like, but how do you handle books that don't appeal?

Although most books I like are easy to review, there have been some that were very hard to review because I liked them so much I couldn’t find the words to do them justice. Especially since I strive to write reviews that are backed up by founded opinions and not a gushing fan girl-letter to an author you admire for the skills and talent.

I handle books that don’t appeal in the same way I do the ones that do appeal. Again it’s the striving for a clear, well-founded review that makes me attempt to tell what I did not like about the book and why. I think it’s important when I don’t like a book to find out what it is that does not work for me and then try to explain why that did not work for me.

Sometimes it’s the writing, sometimes it’s (one of) the characters, sometimes it’s the plot and sometimes it’s a combination of any of the above. I always try to give valid reasons of why I didn’t like it. One thing I also always try do is to end the review on a positive note, even if it was a book I did not like. There have been few books I’ve read that were all bad so I always save the good things for last.

I don’t do author-bashing reviews. Every book I read has cost the author blood, sweat and tears to write, not to mention hard work, so I try to respect that even when the author’s work is not to my liking.

Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?

Personally I have not experienced any lashing out by authors for one of my reviews. I have been reviewing a little over 2 years now. I have experienced via www.realmsonourbookshelves once that an author didn’t agree with the amount of stars I had given her book and therefore she refused to place the requested review on her website.

Her choice and no hard feelings there. I reviewed the book as I saw it and will not change that for anyone, most certainly not authors lashing out and seeing more value in a rating than in the actual review which wasn’t a negative review at all by the way. I must say I only receive positive reactions to my reviews from authors.

When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you've finished the story?

I keep extensive notes while reading so the process does start while reading but I don’t actually write a review while reading. I started taking notes for my reviews while reading because I discovered that often I would think of things that would be perfect for my reviews while reading. When I finished the book and sat down to write the review, the impressions of certain parts of the book and ideas for the review I’d had while reading would have died down or I wouldn’t remember it exactly. So my keeping notes is actually kind of an external memory type of thing.

Do you prejudge a book, i.e. it's by an author you liked or didn't like previously?

I try not to in the negative way and think I have fairly succeeded in that. I try to go into all my books I pick up to read or books for which a review is requested (ARC or otherwise), with an open mind, trying not to have outside factors influence me.

In prejudging in the positive way I have experienced some letdown from high expectations from authors I like. I am sort of a compulsive book-buyer and when I read a book I like by an author I tend to go out on a binge of their entire backlist. This has provided some disappointing reads unfortunately.

Have you found that your reviews influence readers?

I honestly don’t know if they do. Some people, mostly ones I know have bought or read a book because I have reviewed it, or have moved it up their TBR pile because of a review but otherwise I have no knowledge of how my reviews influence readers, and if they do.

To be honest, that is not my true goal for reviewing books; I kind of rolled into it and found it a great way for me to keep track of my opinion of the books I read.

Furthermore, I really think that people and their opinions differ so much and what works in a book for one reader/reviewer may have a totally different effect on someone else. So when I am either over the moon by or heavily disappointed in a book I don’t expect everyone else to be the same and vice versa. It’s the variety of opinions that makes the world as it is.

As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?

Ehm…visit Europe! No just kidding! One thing I can say is, keep doing what you’re all doing: writing for our reading pleasure and try to keep your websites (if you don’t have one, get one!) clean, easy to navigate and up-to-date with relevant information for your readers.

Please be sure to give me a little plug for your review site so I can link it up. If you have a small image I can pop that in too!

Oh boy I am so bad at plugging myself! Am so not comfortable with it but if people would like to stop by at my blog I would like that very much. Am in the early stages of making it more than just a storage place for reviews and last week I added the first of hopefully many contest to come. There is going to be a give away of Elisabeth Naughton’s STOLEN FURY shortly!

Plugging ROOB goes without saying, since it’s the place to be for the 411 on English written romance novels in Europe!

Note from Heather:

I had so much fun with my interviews this week, I've added one more. So come back tomorrow for our final Spotlight On interview!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spotlight On: Bunny Reviews

I really enjoy writing this blog, it's my way of answering my own questions, exploring the ideas I want to explore and talking about the topics I want to talk about. Today, we're continuing with our Spotlight On series as we talk to Amanda from Bunny Reviews. Amanda had a really tough week and I want to thank her for finding the time to answer these questions. We can't always control what life throws at us, so thank you so much Amanda for getting back to me even when life was raining down.

Again, Amanda, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I think we focus so much on authors that sometimes we forget that reviewers are people too. You spend a lot of time, you read a lot of books and you're the front lines of the audience.

How important is the blurb of a book to your impression of a book? What about the cover?

The blurb of the book is important to me. I feel like it is the best representation of the book without giving away too much of the storyline. I often quote the blurb in my reviews so the reader gets an accurate depiction of what the novel is truly about.

The cover is of no importance to me. While it can grab you in a realistic way, I do not feel like a cover defines what a novel is truly about.

Obviously it's easy to review a book you like, but how do you handle books that don't appeal?

I really do not put bad reviews on my blog, I try to stick more with book recommendations. I have been asked to review books that were not really my area and I politely told them that it wasn't something that would be of interest to me or my other reviewers. I also had a reviewer read something that they didn't like. I told the author about it and told them I would not be posting the review and they were appreciative.

Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?

I have not had that happen yet, no.

When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you've finished the story?

While I am reading, I take notes and scribble down things that I would like to put in my review. When I am finished reading I then carefully review my writing and try to put it into a review that is pleasant and understandable in a reader perspective.

Do you prejudge a book, i.e. it's by an author you liked or didn't like previously?

I try not to, but that is difficult. I have posted a review from one of my favorite authors and I warned my readers that I might be a little biased because of this. I feel that if I tell my readers this beforehand, they get a better understanding for my feelings about the review/author/novel.

Have you found that your reviews influence readers?

I have gotten emails and comments from some very satisfied readers and they truly are what keep me doing what I love to do.

As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?

I have debated many people on this, and I know it is an understood agreement between the authors and reviewers out there, but I do not accept free copies from the authors. I feel like if I am going to write a truly unbiased review on something I would like to see it from a consumer standpoint. I could go on and on with this subject, but I will leave it at that.

You can find out more about Amanda and her reviews here. Be sure to stop by and see what the Bunny has for you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spotlight On: Erotic Book Junkies

What a fantastic week so far, we talked to Sabrina at Cheeky Reads, Heather at Errant Dreams and today, we shine the spotlight on Christine who hosts Erotic Book Junkies and Romantic Crush Junkies. She's also the Queen of Second Chances at the Royal Reviewers. I was fortunate to meet Christine through Facebook, we got started talking because my dog was hurt and she's a fascinating woman and reviewer!

How important is the blurb of the book to your impression of a book?

With out the blurb all you have is a pretty face on an H-O-T cover that doesn’t tell me anymore than that. The blurb is the essential part to any print or eBook. It’s like the key for the ignition to get your motor started. Once you motor is running you can now go anywhere.

What about the cover?

Cover for me isn’t the beginning and end all of whether I’ll read and review a book. Mind you the visual does have it perks. The cover starts your creative juices working at wondering what is under the cover. On the whole, I love a nice book cover but for me it’s the blurb and the first couple of pages that have to grab me. If not for that I’ll take a pass.

Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?

No and I’m working pretty hard to never have an author disappointed at my work. Listen, my way of thinking is an author was kind enough to offer me their work to review. So why am I going to turn around and rip them apart. I don’t see the need for writing that the story sucked or the premise was way off base or I couldn’t finish the book. Authors work to long and to damn hard for some one to not understand their work. You will NEVER find anything like that on my sites. I’m honored bound to write a truthful and genuine opinion about the books that I read. I do a disservice not only to my author by being cruel but my creditability as a writer and a reviewer.

When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you’ve finished the story?

I’m a bit of both. I try to do a complete read through as just a reader. But sometimes I jot down notes as I find something interesting. It helps me draw back that moment. Also, I tend to write emotionally—how I was feeling at the time. What the characters made me feel? I do at least two complete read through before sitting down to write the review.

Do you prejudge a book, i.e it by an author you liked or didn’t like previously?

I love this question. I’m a second chance kind of girl in general. So no I don’t prejudice an author if I didn’t happen to like one book. For instance I am a huge Brenda Joyce fan. I love her The Masters of Time series. I’ve read all four books—fifth Dark Lover will be released on July 28th and I can’t flipping wait.. I loved two out of the four but I read the others because I loved the series and I wanted to see what was happening. Now let’s talk about new writers. I’m one of those readers that loves coming upon an unknown and telling people about them. It makes me feel like Columbus when he discovered America.

Have you found that your reviews influence readers?

As a reviewer you hope that you’ve influenced some one to buy the book. So far, I’ve gotten great feed back that because of my reviews readers have purchased that book that they otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. Knowing that some one appreciated your work does a writers heart good.

As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?

One thing I would love for authors to do for me is contact me for a review and/or , interview. Also, I love it when an author gives away a copy of free read for a contest. I’m pretty easy going.

Thanks for the great questions and I hope these helped.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spotlight On: Errant Dreams

Welcome to our Spotlight On week here at the Daily Dose. As an author, I wanted to be able to ask book reviewers what they look for, what they think and how they do their reviews. As a reader, I know how I choose my books so it's great fun to learn more about the reviewer's perspective!

We kicked off our week of talking to book reviewers by chatting with Sabrina over at Cheeky Reads. Today, we continue this trend and we shine the spotlight on Heather from Errant Dreams! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Heather! It's always great to meet another Heather!

How important is the blurb of a book to your impression of a book? What about the cover?

I try to go into a book with as few preconceptions as possible. I might look at the cover and blurb briefly to help me choose which books to review, as a first filter, but beyond that I try to start with a blank slate. I can't count the number of times I've thought a book sounded amazing only to be disappointed, or thought a concept sounded trite only to be pleasantly surprised by the execution.

Covers, titles, and back-cover blurbs do tend to influence my choice when I pick up a book, but their impact on actual quality tends to be minimal. The exception is that, for example, if you know you tend to like a particular publisher's books and they use a particular style of cover, then that can be a predictor.

Obviously it's easy to review a book you like, but how do you handle books that don't appeal?

That is both easier and harder in some ways! Easier because sometimes it's difficult to come up with several hundred ways to say, "I love this book!" and still sound fresh and new. Harder because while I'm determined to be honest when I review a book, that doesn't mean I *like* the idea of hurting an author's feelings. I try to take a step back and judge whether the things I don't like might appeal to other people, and who those people would be. I also try to explain why I didn't like something, so readers who don't share my tastes can judge whether they would like a book. As long as I can accomplish that, then I feel I've done the right thing.

Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?

Yes. Oddly, it was a review in which I raved about a book and gave it top rankings, but mentioned one small thing I didn't like. The author and his girlfriend called me all sorts of names. A couple of times I've also been lashed out at by people who were apparently fans of the authors in question, although since they were anonymous it's hard to know for sure.

I've been told that the only reason I so disliked one particular book must have been because an SF writer broke my heart and I was trying to get revenge, which was pretty hilarious (I am and was quite happily married). A couple of publishers just quietly stopped sending me any review copies when they saw I disliked one of their products.

When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you've finished the story?

Usually that process starts during the reading portion, although it depends on the book. The more engrossing the book, the less I fall into reviewer-mode while reading. The more I hit that brow-furrowing state where I notice something that doesn't quite add up, or where I'm trying to piece together why exactly I don't like something, the more I start constructing the review as I go. I often bounce ideas and thoughts off of my husband as I go, and he'll ask questions that help me to put my thoughts into words.

Do you prejudge a book, i.e. it's by an author you liked or didn't like previously?

Prejudge, no. I do go into a book with greater hopes or trepidations, however. If I've got a book by Shiloh Walker or Leslie Parrish in my hands I know I'll squee like a fangirl and move it to the top of my stack. That doesn't give the book a free pass, though, and if anything since I love their work so much I'm all the more likely to notice if the current book doesn't measure up.

As an example on the other side, a long time ago I read Simon R. Greene's Deathstalker and really didn't like it. I recently received an anthology in which he had a short story, and I'd been hearing that he was writing really good urban fantasy these days. I went into the book not expecting to dislike his story, but looking forward to hopefully resolving this discontinuity, to see whether I liked his current urban fantasy better than his old SF. In fact, I quite enjoyed his story.

Have you found that your reviews influence readers?

I believe so. It's hard to know for sure---for every reader who speaks up to say whether they're going to read or avoid a book, there are plenty who don't. I do get to see some numbers due to Amazon affiliate links, and can say that even our old reviews from years ago still seem to sell books. As odd as this may seem, I'm particularly proud when I see that a review for a book that I didn't like sells a book---because that means I've included enough information for someone to make up their own mind.

As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?

I'd urge writers to remember that different readers like and enjoy different things---beyond genre, we each like different sorts of styles, different ways of plotting, different types of character, etc. So although a negative review is unpleasant of course, I think it's best to remember that everyone likes something different, and not everyone can like your book.

If I don't think a book is perfect, I'm not insulting someone or implying that they shouldn't be a writer, and I hope they'll remember that. Something that I don't think a lot of writers think about, however---when they're linking from their web sites to reviews of their books, they might try linking to some of the less-than-perfect reviews as well as the "wow!" ones. I think readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds, and they would probably appreciate the openness of the writer in sharing her reviewers' less-than-perfect impressions.

Thank you!

ErrantDreams has been reviewing books in one form or another since 1998. We enjoy covering genre fiction of all kinds as well as cookbooks!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spotlight On: Cheeky Reads

Welcome to our Spotlight On week here at the Daily Dose. It occurred to me during a conversation with Lesa Trapp on The Odd Mind radio show last week that we don't always give reviewers credit. Sure we hear the crazy stories when authors go nuts at their reviewers, we also hear about reviewers that don't post anything but positive reviews which means if they won't post about you -- well then it must not be positive.

Spotlight On is about hearing from the reviewer. Today, we shine the spotlight on Sabrina from Cheeky Reads! Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I think we focus so much on authors that sometimes we forget that reviewers are people too. You spend a lot of time, you read a lot of books and you're the front lines of the audience.

Thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts on romance books today! Reading is my passion and there's nothing I love more than to talk to other readers and authors.

How important is the blurb of a book to your impression of a book? What about the cover?

As my very southern mother used to love to say, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." It's a cliche, but for good reason. A books cover and back blurb is usually the first, and sometimes only, chance to capture a reader's attention.

That said, I've read some really awful books that had fantastic covers! The same is true of books that have just so-so covers - some have been extremely well-written. Over the past few years I've been pleased to notice that many of the small press publishers are investing in higher quality covers.

I try to make it a point to read the blurb of a book, even if the cover doesn't particularly catch my eye. One thing that does get my attention is the title. To me, that's a huge first impression moment and its important to get it right!

Obviously it's easy to review a book you like, but how do you handle books that don't appeal?

Oh wow, great question! I actually find it's sometimes harder to write the review on books I loved! I get all worried and angsty about doing the book justice and making sure I convey why it was a perfect book to me. And that's the thing about book reviews, and why I think all the blogs out there are great - it let's you find a reviewer who likes the same type of writing, characters, etc that you do. I really suggest readers follow quite a few blogs until they discover who really "gets" their reading preferences.

Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?

I've been extremely lucky that I've never had a writer lash out at me. In fact, I had the greatest thing happen just last week. An author whose book I'd given a 4 Heart Review to, mentioned my review on her blog and that she had carried it around in her purse for 2 weeks!

Now, the review mentioned that I loved the book, but it also talked about what kept the book from being great. I was worried that she might have taken offense at the critical parts of my review, but instead she loved my honesty.

I consider the reviews as my honest opinion as a passionate romance reader. If I reward a book with a 4 Heart rating, you can be sure that I'm going to tell you what it was missing!

When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you've finished the story?

I read for pure pleasure. I'm a little greedy that way! In fact, I've been called a "genre whore" for my love of any and all well-written romances. Really though, I think its very important to approach the book the same way any reader would. My reviews need to reflect my real experience with the book, and I couldn't do that if I was looking for mistakes as I read.

Do you prejudge a book, i.e. it's by an author you liked or didn't like previously?

I will admit I do have a few auto-buy authors, but sometimes that works against them if my expectations are too high! It is hard to try an author a second time if you really didn't like their previous work, but sometimes you are pleasantly surprised.

Nothing makes me happier than to find a new author who can make me laugh out loud or tear up. I really do like reading all genres, but I adore a sassy, CHEEKY heroine! I recently read Victoria Dahl's Start Me Up and couldn't put it down - I went and bought her entire backlist!

Have you found that your reviews influence readers?

The reason I created Cheeky Reads was to create a place for me to interact with other romance readers and talk about the books we love and hate. I've had countless readers say they were adding a book to their buy list, or comment that they read something because I recommended it. It makes me feel like we are all friends sitting in a coffee shop sharing recommendations!

In my real life, I don't have any die-hard romance reading friends, so I was hoping to find that online. My husband likes to call my site "putting your evil reading powers to good use." I read like a speed demon so it seemed a natural fit to do a review site.

As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?

Introduce yourself! Seriously, I love to meet new authors and learn about their work. My other big request would be to remember that reviewers get lots of requests, so make sure you contact them well in advance of your book releasing if you want a review. Oh, and keep your website updated with book covers and upcoming releases!

Please be sure to give me a little plug for your review site!

Thanks for having me here today! I hope you'll drop by and check out Cheeky Reads for some great upcoming guest authors and lots of giveaways! Oh - and I'm one of the test drivers for the Smart Bitches Trashy Books Sony Reader test drive. So, if you're interested in my ups and downs with the Sony ereader be sure to stop by!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Snips and Clips - Second Edition

What a fantastic week this has been. I got a great review for Remembering Ashby over at the Book Junkie; kept up with the latest events at the RWA including rule changes that make entering the RITAs a possibility. Prepped my entry for the Eppies and of course, spent a lot of time writing, writing, writing in and around doing laps, playing with the kiddo and avoiding being swept up in Harry Potter madness.

Enjoy your Sunday snips and clips here at the Daily Dose. This coming week, we turn the spotlight on the book reviewers who take the time to read our work, comment on it and post it. They take a lot of flack (unfairly), so I wanted to turn the tables and give credit where credit is due as I say thank you for taking the time to read my books good, bad or indifferent.

Forget to Remember

The free, short story, Forget to Remember was released this week: It's been 17 years since the events at Ashby Crossing and Alexandra Fraser has come of age. When the Goddess calls her home, will her parents remember Ashby? Available here.

Guest Appearance on The Odd Mind

I had a smashing time guesting on The Odd Mind with Lesa Trapp. You can hear the full interview here.

Melissa and Brandon "The Age of Aquarius"

This dance was so magically fun that I just had to include it in this week's snips and clips. Obviously I love Melissa, but this is a real powerhouse pairing of two spectacular dancers and a great choreographer!

Brilliant Fame Trailer

Hats off to the marketing executives that came up with this particular trailer. It aired during SYTYCD and everyone in my house stopped to look at the screen waiting to see what the Harry Potter tip was leading up to. When we saw, everyone laughed and clapped their hands. Bloody brilliant piece of marketing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Weekend Writing Tips: Editing

"Every writer needs an editor. I don't care how good you are or think you are." -Nora Roberts

Tessa Dare (@TessaDare) tweetted this from the Romance Writer's of America national conference this week. Truer words have never been spoken. Nora Roberts is an author with quite a broad library of work under her belt. She's dealt with editors at different publishing houses and from different perspectives. She is quite frankly one of the most if not the most successful romance author out there churning out best seller after best seller. But she still needs an editor.

We all do.

The Process of Editing

Editing can be a painful and brutal process for a writer if they are not open to suggestion, change or improvement. It's a mistake to believe that the way you wrote it the first time is the best way it can be written and there is no better way. In fact, that sentence I just wrote could benefit from an editor.

When I start on a new project, I write my first draft. It can take me anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to complete that draft. Then I let the draft sit for a week or two before I tackle it again. The second draft will be sharper, better and more focused. I know where the story is going, I know which plot lines are left dangling and I can apply myself to making those parts better.

The third draft may involve rewriting a few scenes, adding scenes, deleting scenes and smoothing the continuity. By this point, I have fixed all the obvious errors and I am looking at what I consider to be a pretty submittable work.

The Beta Reader

I'll turn to a beta reader (your beta reader may be your critique group or critique partner as well) at this point, preferably someone who is going to tell me that I spell Karl three different ways and that I talk about a blue ford for the first half of the book and it turns aqua colored in the last half. The beta reader provides me with valuable insight. They can tell me that they totally forgot this was a paranormal until halfway through when it blindsided them. This type of feedback is vital to the editorial process because it tells me whether I, as the author, have done my job.

Remember, I know everything that's going on, I know all the backstory, so I don't always appreciate it when I skip a nuance here or there. The beta reader can point out these errors. Then I go back and massage the text. Now I'm ready to submit it.

The Line Edits

Once a manuscript is accepted and your contracts are signed, you as the writer wait. The line editor will receive your manuscript and begin the painful process of going through it, line by line. They will correct punctuation, comment on areas where you tell instead of showing (the dreaded: show, don't tell of writing). In some cases they will make suggestions, they will ask questions, they will point out inconsistencies and in short, their red pen will figuratively (and literally in some cases) bleed all over your work.

At this time, you as the author, need to toughen up. The surgical incisions look bloody and painful, but if you do your job right, you will create a much stronger, tighter and better work than before. You don't have to agree with every change made by the editor, in fact -- if you feel strongly that something must remain as is, defend your position.

You'll want a few days to go through the line edits. First, accept all the obvious changes -- spell errors, punctuation, format changes and correct grammar. Just accept them and move on.

Review the simple changes, if you don't have a reason to reject them. Go ahead and accept those simple changes. Now tackle the longer ones. Review them against the manuscript. Attempt what the editor is asking you to do and keep an open mind.

I rewrote an entire scene in Remembering Ashby based on the suggestion of the line editor -- not only was the scene better, the rest of the story was improved by that change. I was able to tighten up and really deliver emotional punch that those scenes lacked.

Second Round Of Edits

Line edits can take two or three rounds before you are totally done. But review each draft as you complete the edits and try to look at it with a fresh eye. What you birthed in the original manuscript is honed, shined to a brilliance under the line editor.

Next step, copy editing. This process is a little less painful, but designed to help catch glaring errors that you and the line editor may have missed. Remember, when you get too close to a manuscript, you can't see the forest for the trees.

Finally, The Galleys

The Galley is the last time you get to make any revisions before your manuscript goes to print. I advise reading it, then putting it aside for a couple of days if you can and reading it fresh. The last thing you want is a typo that appears in the published edition for the whole world to see.

So editing can be painful, but ultimately it is so worth it. No matter how many names you may call your editor during the process, you'll want to buy them a drink when you're looking at your finished product.

What are your experiences with editing?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ten Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures are hard to justify in a tight economy. As a parent, they are sometimes hard to justify period. A comment I heard come out of the RWA is that one of the reasons the Young Adult market is doing so well is that parents buy books for their kids even in a recession. That's true. I buy all types of things for my daughter that I wouldn't spend on myself. There are plenty of books out in hardback right now that I am resisting buying despite loving the authors, yet I'll spend that same cost on a few books for my kiddo.

My Ten Guilty Pleasures

So when we talk about guilty pleasures, we're talking about the things we enjoy, but maybe we feel guilty about. So in no particular order, here are my top ten guilty pleasures this summer. Be sure to hop down to the comments section and share yours:

10. So You Think You Can Dance (Summer Dance Show)

No matter what's going on, I drop everything for 2 hours on a Wednesday evening in the summer so my daughter and I can watch this together. They are going to start airing it this fall which will make this guilty pleasure harder for me, but we'll see. I love the summer cachet of it. And this routine from the top 10 night: Bollywood Bombshells is a big reason why.

9. True Blood

This show is so deliciously bad. It's got a lot of gratuitous sex in it and some sexy vampires (Hello Eric), but it has vampire Bill as the romantic lead, unfotunately he was never my favorite in the books (I was always torn between Sam and Eric), but between Anna Paquin, Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell and the rest of this fantastic cast, I can't get enough.

8. Starbucks

I am a Starbuck's junkie. I live on Venti Half-Cafe, Non-Fat with whip peppermint mochas. I still love regular coffee too, but these mochas are a definite guilty pleasure that I enjoy.

7. Book Contests

I keep winning books from contests online and off. I feel guilty because I'm a writer and I don't always have time to read right away, but on the other hand, I get access to some great books this way!

6. Soap Operas

I've been a soap opera junkie since 78 or thereabouts. Started watching them with my grandmother. I've watched pretty much all of them at one time or another, but I love that they are always on, always fresh and yes, admittedly, I can stop watching for a little while, but it will be there when I come back.

5. Netflix

It's totally worth the investment to get my hands on dozens of dvds every month for myself and the kiddo. I've discovered numerous shows such as Supernatural, Dark Angel, Roswell and more just through renting the seasons via Netflix.

4. YouTube Music Videos

I love going to YouTube to watch the video tributes to couples on shows and more. Jason and Elizabeth are hands down my favorite couple on General Hospital and even when they aren't paired up on the show, I can go watch these wonderful videos of them.

3. Massage Envy

Massage Envy is this wonderful little parlor massage chain. You can spend $50 a month on a membership that guarantees you a 1 hour massage every month. It seemed really pricy for a long time, but it's so worth it. It's great for reducing my stress and when I need to put the membership on hold, it takes 5 minutes and they will suspend it for a couple of months until I can start paying again.

2. Twitter (Follow me @HVLong)

Lately Twitter is definitely becoming a guilty pleasure because it's letting me connect with so many wonderful writers and people.

1. Writing

Writing is the ultimate guilty pleasure. I love it when I get to spend hours devoted to a work in progress. Writing transports me to another place and more than television shows, music and even reading sometimes -- it takes me away from everything.

What are your ten guilty pleasures?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

10 Books I Want to Write Before I Die

On Twitter the other day, the Top 10 Books to Read Before You Die. I'd read all the books on the list, not that I necessarily agreed with the list. So, being me, I started thinking not about the 10 books I should read before I die (cause I firmly believe he or she who dies with the most books wins), but what are the 10 books I want to write before I die.

All right, game on:

10. The Chance Monroe Adventures

Chance Monroe is the main character in my upcoming urban fantasy: Prime Evil. She's a hedge witch, deeply connected to the Earth. She's a few credits shy of a degree in Clinical Psychology. Her FBI connections, her connections to the special unit will continue to grow. So I'd like to write a few books in this series.

9. Monster High

This young adult series features three teens who seek admission to the mysterious Monster High. If they pass, they can choose the monster they will become on graduation.

8. Through the Glass Brightly

A dark fairy comes through a portal to our world and struggles to acclimate herself -- particularly to random acts of kindness.

7. Urban Wars: The Exodus

The urban wars are ending, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans and more are herded into relocation camps. They will be the first settlers to go out into the stars -- exiles from Earth.

6. Me, myself and the President

When Maggie Jensen finds her life threatened, she's swamped by secret service and personal protection. When her grandfather (a former President) passes away, a game of cat and mouse ensues at the state funeral where her father (a former President) and her uncle (a current President) will be in attendance.

5. Magick for Dummies

Three bumbling brothers discover they are heirs to the greatest magician who ever lived. But will they master their magic before it masters them?

4. Birthday Blues

In London, celebrating her birthday alone for the first time, a twin discovers dark passion and a secret world.

3. The Forgotten

On the Isle, magic is a way of life as is communicating with the goddess, as is pushing the limits of understanding. A young girl, borne of the Beltane, comes home to the Isle and discovers that her natural talents do not prepare her for the intrigue, plots and maneuvers of a dark sorcerer and his plans. Will her Blackborn lover come to save her?

2. Schmexy Bitches

Two authors hit the road in a 1967 Chevy Impala, looking for their muse. Their Thelma and Louise approach provides them with insights to their lives, their work and to the power of real friendship.

1. The Twitter Bible

Writing it to suit the twitter format: 140 characters or less.

What are the top ten books you want to write before you die?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sex on Location

Sex on location? Yes, I said sex on location. Tonight, the Sapphire Blue authors will be hosting a chat at Coffee Time Romance. The Path to Freedom author Lisa Pietsch will be moderating the chat. Our topic is going to focus on sex on location.

Sex Scenes and Location

The old saying suggests that location is everything. But is it really when you are writing a sex scene? This is a tough question to answer. In a romance novel, sex scenes serve a pivotal role in defining intimacy in your characters relationship. But how important is the location of the sex?

In Julie Garwood's Slow Burn, Kate is staying at her best friend Jordan's brownstone in Boston when she first hooks up with Jordan's brother Dylan. The one night stand was unexpected, but the characters have known each other for years. Kate's pretty embarassed that she hooked up with Dylan in Jordan's apartment while Jordan was in the hospital.

Later, the two are thrown together and they are staying the same hotel room. Kate and Dylan have separate beds, it's dark and the sexual tension is palpable. Dylan finally says "Are you coming over here or am I coming over there?" Those two scenes are very different, in terms of emotion and sexual chemistry. The location for the scenes is really important. Jordan's brownstone is the setting for a rash decision, based on need and mutual desire whereas the hotel room, in the dark, separate beds creates this illusion of isolation that is important for the characters to bridge in order to be together.

Locations Set the Tone

Where a couple consummates their relationship can say a lot about the commitment, the level of tension while also illustrating the different beats in the relationship. Sex very early in the manuscript can mean that it's important for these two characters to be united against a threat. Sex at the very end of the manuscript can mean that it's vital the characters overcome obstacles to be together. So where you place the sex scenes can really impact your story.

I think it's important that the sex scenes be totally organic. I don't think you should ever force a sex scene nor should you make it totally gratuitous. The first time your characters make love it's important, arguably, the mini-breakup and reunion sex scenes are important, but if they get it on like bunnies every night -- you don't need to see it.

Remember, I'm not talking about erotica, I'm talking paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

Sex Sells

Without question, sex sells. Conversations about sex draw in a lot of people. Everyone has an opinion. Apparently, in someplaces you can even get kicked off a plane if you're reading a book that's too sexy. European television has a lot of sex on it, so does American (we just like to keep 'clean' or consign it to cable).

While sex is very much a part of the human condition like living, breathing, eating and interacting -- it's a tool in a writer's arsenal. Sex communicates intimacy and the deepening of a relationship. Sex can also muck it up by creating problems with communication.

In Patricia Briggs Cry Wolf for example, mated couple Anna and Charles have sex but neither feels their mating bond deepening. It's confusing, but the bond doesn't deepen because despite really enjoying their night together, Anna's not as wholly committed as Charles is. It takes time, she has to get her heart, mind and body on the same page.

The setting, the location and even the timing of the sex is pretty spot on in the novel, but it takes place near the first half, indicating deeper obstacles to be overcome. So sex and location are really important partners in telling your tale.

What do you think about sex on location?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Defining Urban Fantasy

So I in the process of introducing myself to someone the other day, they asked me what I wrote and I said "Urban fantasy and paranormal romance." They cocked their head to one side, as if to clarify their image of me and responded with "What is urban fantasy, exactly?" Not too long ago, I signed up for a social networking site that another writer invited me too and the first comment posted to my page was "How do I define urban fantasy?"

Everyone, it seems, defines urban fantasy differently. That's okay, I have my definition and you probably have yours. But the markets also have their definition of urban fantasy and when I say urban fantasy, I'm talking about the markets. For example, according to Wikipedia, urban fantasy "is a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of novels and stories with supernatural content, set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings—as opposed to 'traditional' fantasy set in wholly imaginary landscapes, even ones containing imaginary cities, or having most of their action take place in them."

Defining Urban Fantasy - War of the Oaks

The very first 'urban fantasy' I read was a book called The War of the Oaks by Emma Bull. Originally published in 1987, the book introduced me to Eddi McCandry. She's into rock and roll, has boyfriend troubles and is being pursued by a creepy guy through the streets of Minneapolis. Eddi has become a pawn in the battle between Seelie and Unseelie Courts. As much as Eddi would rather tell them all to go shove it, she can't, she's got to make it work and make it work fast or she's going to die.

I'd never read anything like it. I was just 15 years old and I must have read this book a dozen times that summer. Unlike traditional monster books or monster movies, Emma Bull brought faeries into my world. This defied most modern conventions of fantasy because Tolkien fantasy was the thing. The idea that a tale like Dragonlance could happen in the modern world really blew my mind.

Enter SERRAted Edge

Over the next few years, I would discover more urban fantasy. But in the infancy of the genre, it was like vampire books -- you only found them rarely and most of them were very good because they were so rare. Mercedes Lackey wrote her SERRAted Edge series featuring wizards, elves and more living the lives of the fast and the furious long before Vin Diesel.

The human wizard Tannim (Son of Dragons) was seen previously in the Diana Tregarde book Jinx High. Diana was a modern day witch who investigated paranormal crimes. Despite being well-known for her Valdemar series, the Diana Tregarde books never seemed to take-off, despite being well-written and great fun.

Urban Love Affair

My love affair with urban fantasy grew from those roots to encompass the works of Jim Butcher, Kay Hooper, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison and many more. I like fantasy set in the modern world. One can argue that Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley created some of the first urban fantasies with their works that straddle fine literature and science fiction.

Long before Buffy, Angel, Edward, Bella, Dean, Sam or Warehouse 13, there was Emma Bull.

While I can only aspire to be as good as some of these writers, I can trace my love for urban fantasy back to the roots of the Oaks -- the War of the Oaks and Emma Bull. It's the mixture of fantasy and reality with a dash of possibility that makes urban fantasy a ripe genre to write in. Hopefully that shows in my urban fantasy Prime Evil due out from Sapphire Blue Publishing in the Fall.