Archive for March, 2009



Welcome Bonnie Vanak!
by Our Guest on March 31st, 2009

We’re thrilled to have Bonnie Vanak blogging with us today! A prolific author, Bonnie has penned seven Egyptian historicals for Dorchester and now also writes paranormals for Silhouette’s Nocturne line. She began writing as a child, when she penned adventure stories and poems. After receiving a journalism degree from the University of Florida, Bonnie worked for several years as a journalist. She left newspaper reporting behind when she took a job writing for a large international charity. A few years ago, she discovered she needed a diversion from the emotional strains of traveling to poor countries and encountering horrific suffering. So she began writing romance novels. THE FALCON & THE DOVE was her first book. It won the historical category of the 2001 RWA Melody of Love contest.
Visit Bonnie’s website at www.Bonnievanak.com

Bonnie will be giving away a copy of MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS to a lucky winner so be sure to leave a comment!

Book of the heart or book of high concept? Why not both?
By Bonnie Vanak

High concept. Agents and editors want it. Writers strive for it. High concept is typically described as a fascinating idea that can easily be explained in a short sentence. It’s different, has a terrific hook, and takes something everyone knows and puts a new twist on it.

For example, Dracula meets teenage angst. Twilight, of course.

Great high concept, but how did the idea evolve? In a dream. Stephenie Meyer dreamed of a couple conversing and one person was a vampire. She didn’t sit down at the computer and say, “Let’s see. How can I arrive at a high concept idea, and get published with a book that will become a worldwide best-seller and a major motion picture?”

Sometimes the best ideas can come when you’re thinking of something other than a best idea! High concept is wonderful, and if you can conceive of such an idea off the top of your head, more power to you.

I start out with a character or plot premise that engages my emotional interest. I get an idea, run with it, and then adjust it according to market needs.

Face it, the book of your heart may be wonderful and fascinating, but if it doesn’t have the elements an editor or agent need to sell it, most likely it will get a pass. This doesn’t mean you should toss that book into a bottom drawer. If you start with an idea that sparks your interest, or emotionally engages you, you can shape that idea into a high concept novel.

It happened for me when I read an article in National Geographic magazine about the Egyptian pharaoh Akhetaten. He had a secondary wife named Kiya. Kiya mysteriously vanished around year 12 of the pharaoh’s reign. No one knows why or why her name was erased from the ruins of the ancient city. Her tomb has never been found.

I became intrigued with the mystery of Kiya. Who was she? Why did she vanish? I began playing the writer’s game of “what if?” I created a tribe of great warriors dedicated to Kiya for more than three thousand years. They were brave, fierce fighters like the windstorm they were named after…The Khamsin warriors of the wind.

The idea became a book called The Falcon and the Dove, my first romance novel. The sheikh of the tribe, Jabari, abducts Elizabeth, the American who is after Kiya’s sacred shield. Eventually, the two come to realize they are reincarnated lovers from the past.

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The Falcon and the Dove is The Mummy meets The Sheikh. That’s high concept. Yet the idea stemmed from an article I read out of sheer interest.

The seeds of the original idea resulted in a harvest of subsequent books. The latest, The Lady and the Libertine, is my seventh Egyptian historical. In this book, a handsome English earl desires to seduce a virginal beauty so he can steal the vast treasure she guards in Egypt.

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Nigel is a very naughty earl who strives to steal from Karida her virginity and a rare ruby that unlocks a pharaoh’s treasure. Yet in the process, he finds she may steal something he guards more than any priceless treasure – his heart.

Nigel is badly in need of redemption. He keeps trying and wanting to change, and then reverting back to the bad boy. Karida longs for love, and yet she holds fast to the moral compass that guides her, for she fears diverting from anything but the straight and narrow. Together they make for a fascinating pair as they experience adventure and danger in both London and Egypt.

Nigel was a character written from the heart. I had a vague idea of the plot when I set out to write his story. I only knew his story should be told. It presented a huge challenge. How can I make what appears to be a very unlikable character, perceived as a villain in my last book, into a hero? One way of overcoming this was to create sympathy by giving Nigel a goal that involved an innocent party he’s trying to rescue. He does the wrong things for the right reasons. Nigel also has a tortured past he can’t seem to overcome.

The result was The Lady and the Libertine. If I pitched that book today it would be Heathcliff in Egypt.

Of course Heathcliff is a different time period, (my book is Edwardian), but you get the picture. Nigel is dark, brooding, has a tormented past, and is quite ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants.

Ideas can stem from anything. One day you might be talking with friends, or see something that intrigues you. Or you can even experience heartbreak that leads to a book, and a new direction in your writing.

That was the case for my Silhouette Nocturnes. In 2006, our beloved Shih Tzu was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Tia was more than a pet. She was a family member, a friend, a lively, sweet dog who was an important part of our lives.

I was devastated to know that I was losing my beloved dog to the same disease that claimed my mother. To cope, I began writing a story about a woman trying desperately to find a cure for her dog.

The woman became Maggie, the veterinarian, and then the hero became Nicolas, a werewolf belonging to a race called the Draicon. They were powerful shifters with deadly enemies, Morphs, who could shapeshift into any animal or insect form. Maggie had untapped powers to heal anyone or anything, including her dog. It became Nicolas’ job to bring her back to the pack, and teach her to accept her powers in order to heal Damian, the pack leader. The underlying theme through the story is loyalty unto death and Maggie’s acceptance of both her powers and her real “family.”

That book eventually became The Empath, my first Nocturne. The pitch would be The Godfather meets The Big, Bad Wolf.

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I liked the world I built so much that I kept writing about the Draicon. In The Empath, there was a secondary character named Baylor, adversary to Nicolas. Yet Baylor, and his clear affection for another character named Katia, proved intriguing to me because they both lost their destined mates.

My Draicon werewolves seek their destined mates. Long ago, they were one entity, who split into two beings to lessen their magick so they could live on earth and learn from it. When destined mates reach a level of emotional commitment during sex, they bond during the “mating lock” and become one, exchanging memories, emotions, and the missing half of their magick powers.

Destined mates are common in paranormal romance. Yet I’ve always wondered what happens to those whose destined mates are dead? Are they doomed to live without love?

Undestined mates. That’s taking a common theme and putting a new, creative twist on it. High concept. The result was Baylor and Katia’s story, Broken Souls, in the Midnight Cravings anthology.

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Katia deeply cares for Baylor, yet refuses to make any commitments to him until she finds her father. But when Katia’s spell summoned a Morph claiming to be her father, nothing Baylor said could convince her of the danger. Baylor knew too well the cost of trusting a loved one who’d turned and desperately wanted to save Katia the pain he’d lived with for so long. He also knew that if he spared the Morph, it would destroy Katia, but if he killed this evil being, he risked losing her love forever.

Katia fears that making love with Baylor will mean turning her back for good on her past, as is evidenced in this scene from Broken Souls.

“Katia, why do you keep putting me off? I know you want me,” he burst out.
Silence greeted him. Katia turned and saw the stark anguish in his deep gray eyes.
“You’re like quicksand, Baylor. Every time I draw near you, I sink deeper and it’s more of a struggle to release myself. And yet I can’t help but be close to you. You make me feel alive and happy, but it’s frightening. If we make love, I’m afraid I’ll sink down for good. It means too much to me.”
She heard his intake of breath across the room. “I’d never hurt you. No matter how far you sank or deep you went. I’m with you all the way.”
“I feel so adrift, so broken.” Her voice dropped as she rubbed a knuckle against the glass.
“I’ll be your anchor, sweetheart. Let me.”

It is Baylor’s tender assurance and his deep feelings for her that enable Katia to finally forge a new beginning. Together they face danger, but in the end, as is the case with all my books, love always wins.

High concept or a book of your heart? I firmly believe it’s possible to have both. With a little imagination, and a lot of work, you can do it. Go for it!

High Times
by Jessa Slade on March 30th, 2009

There are so many ways to come at telling a story: Bold frontal attack.  Frantic sideswipe.  Sneaky garrote from behind.  If you combine:

  • All the names wizened Asian men have given various ass-whoopin’ martial arts 
  • Plus all the appellations for flavored martinis
  • Plus all the NASA designations for interstellar objects…

Still writers have come up with more definitions for writing maneuvers.  And one of my favorite is the “high concept.”

My XY’s snickers aside, coming up with your high concept isn’t a writing technique that involves choosing your favorite mind-altering substance…  Well, actually, that probably wouldn’t hurt.  Chocolate martinis, at least.

Because I have a regrettable tendency to want to write deep and intricate, I have trouble keeping my story focused and contained.  And this can be more dangerous than nuclear fission without those monstrous concrete barriers.  The high concept acts as reminder, retaining wall, and warning.  The high concept is your story condensed to one line.  Preferably less.

snakesSeems difficult?  Let’s practice.

Snakes on a plane. 

There.  You have the entire concept in four words.  If you want to totally flesh it out, you could add “with Samuel L. Jackson.”  Done.  You have characters, you have setting, you have action and conflict.  You got it all.  (Except — you know — a good movie.  But whatever.  That’s a different concept.)alient

 

Four words is awfully long though.  I think we can do better. 

Alien vs. Predator.

Oh yeah, baby.  I see the whole thing now.  Alien.  Versus.  Predator.  Could you express character and conflict more succinctly?

 

Why yes.  Yes we can.titanic

Titanic.

Ah man, you gave away the end too.  Brilliant!

But high concept isn’t just for writers anymore.  I like to use it in my daily life to give people a sense of what to expect with me.  Consider the following exchange at my stoopid day job.

Boss:  Jessa, can you step into my office for  a moment?
Jessa:  Resident Evil meets Rainman.
Boss:  Hey, you know what? Never mind.  I think I got it covered. Take a long lunch.  On the house.

This exchange has even greater comedic value if you know that I am self-employed.  So how’s your day/week/life going?  Tell us in high concept since it’s not yet chocolate martini time.

Bonnie Vanak visiting S&S This Tuesday!
by Our Guest on March 28th, 2009

Join us this Tuesady, March 31st, as we welcome historical and paranormal author Bonnie Vanak as our guest blogger. Find out what Bonnie’s been up to lately and learn about her latest releases, THE LADY AND THE LIBERTINE, her seventh Egyptian historical for Dorchester, and BROKEN SOULS part of Silhouette Nocturne’s MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS anthology.

Bonnie will be giving away a copy of MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS to a lucky winner, so stop by and leave your comments!

Furry Anchors
by KimLenox on March 27th, 2009

I grew up as an Army brat, so my family moved every three years or so. My parents were really good at setting up “home” very quickly, and part of what made our quarters “home” were pets.

And so I’ve grown up feeling like they (and apparently, lots of pet hair) were a necessary part of a household. I love my pets! They are quiet little anchors, in an otherwise busy, hectic life. They calm me down on bad days, and remind me everything is going to be just fine.

Here’s my crazy cast of pet characters -

This is Duke, my collie who thinks he’s a cat.


And this is Tango. Tango likes to lay draped over both of my arms as I type.

This is Sophie, my tuxedo cat. She’s my talker.

And then there is Oscar …

Oscar and I were featured in an issue of CAT FANCY magazine last year about Novelists and their Feline Muses.

I hope you all enjoyed meeting my pet crew!

And on another subject — my “little” brother (the Major!) left for Iraq today. I’m really proud of him, and will be counting the days until he comes back home. Lots of love and HUGS to you BRO!

Build A Pet
by Our Guest on March 26th, 2009

We plan, and God laughs.” That’s one of my friend’s mother’s favorite expressions. As a kid, I always thought — no, I knew — I’d have pets when I grew up…but what I didn’t realize at the time was that those occasional bouts with hives and asthma were going to get worse, not better. What had once been a mild inconvenience (it was really only the very furry cats, like Persians, that brought out the allergies), has become an all out roadblock when it comes to me and the cute and cuddly. I think I can safely blame this all on my mother, who simply kept a too clean house. They say kids need a little dirt, dust and dander to grow up healthy. See Mom, it really is all your fault. But we did have a nice house (she added begrudgingly).

But according to everyone else this week, every writer needs a furry pet to keep them grounded and inspired, to know they’re loved even when the rejection letters come. I feel so left out, so lost, so alone and forlorn. (You know, I never felt that way before Monday. Thanks a lot, guys!)

If only I could build my own pet, kind of like how kids build their own bears at that place in the mall. Maybe I could manage to invent a pet that didn’t make me sneeze. Hairless is out. I mean ick — no offense intended to anyone that owns a hairless pet — or IS a hairless pet — but…ick.

But if I could make my own pet, I’d call it Cat-Rat-Dog.

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I’d start with Misty, the hypoallergenic (sort of) poodle who bears a suspicious resemblance to Spooks, the pooch in Nancy J. Cohen’s Bad Hair Day Mystery series. True to her breed, Misty is a real lady, pure class and style. I like that.

Then I’d add in some Hercules, a Yorky with attitude and no concept whatsoever of his tiny stature. Can you picture a Yorky with his hand on his hip and his chin in the air? I don’t care if he’s cornered by a snarling pit bull, Hercky’s response is, “Oh yeah? Come ‘ere. We’ll see whose bad.”

To balance out all that bravado, I’d mix in some Dallas, the scariest-looking boxer imaginable but a heart of gold. Maybe the sweetest mush-puppy ever born, he lets you know he loves you by leaning every ounce of pure, solid muscle against your legs until your knees start to buckle, or he sits on your feet. No one ever has the heart to tell him no.

To lend this animal an edge though, I’d give it some Pepsi — not the drink, but the outdoor cat I had as a teenager (I wasn’t totally deprived, just mostly). Pepsi had the run of the woods surrounding our house in Connecticut; he was King of the Forest and one tough nut. One of his more adorable habits was dragging his conquests up onto our kitchen doorstep to leave as tribute, I guess, or maybe he thought he had to pay for his food. We’re pretty sure he tangled with more than a few raccoons over the years and lived to tell about it, and in fact the only only animals truly safe from his rampages were the deer. They were just too big for him to take down, so I guess they managed to work out an understanding. Did I mention that Pepsi was 19 lbs? I know! We used to joke that he had no neck.

Lastly, this perfect pet of mine would have to have a touch of Rupie, my daughter’s little white and gray rat who wins the heart of everyone she meets. Her intelligence is astonishing sometimes — you can see her thinking…and planning. One of her favorite games is “Attack the Hand.” She’s joyful, playful, affectionate and not only that, she potty-trained herself. Is that cool or what?

So there you have it. Cat-Rat-Dog, my perfect pet who lives in my imagination, sits on my feet, perches on my shoulder, protects me, loves me, inspires me and never leaves calling cards on my floor.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Join us next Tuesday for a visit with historical and paranormal author, Bonnie Vanak!

The Demon Lord of Kitty Badness Complains
by Sharon Ashwood on March 25th, 2009

badkitty
Personally, I don’t understand this writing business, but then I don’t understand humans. Mine goes out every day, but what could be of interest out there? I’m here! Then she comes home covered in strange smells, and then falls on the couch in that sprawly, leggy way humans have and grumbles endlessly about…well, I don’t know because I don’t really listen.

Then she stands for ages with her head in the big cold box, I suppose wondering what to put in her food bowl for dinner. I just about have to tear her leg off to get her fill mine up. I mean, how long does it take? I have to go into the bedroom and beat up on the other cat just so she notices there are felines needing attention. I mean—sheesh—it must be like five minutes before she gets around to feeding us!

Then comes the endless bore of watching my human sit around and click endlessly at the box on her desk. Humans don’t know how to play. How does all that clickety-clack compare to a rousing game of chase the laser dot? So I drop toys on her feet to get her to pay attention to me and then if that doesn’t work, I’ll hang by my claws from the back of her chair. That usually works. If not, it’s on to knocking things off her desk, like the coffee mug. Hee. That makes her move pronto.

I have to be careful, though, because once I get her attention she might try and CUDDLE me—I mean, ew. That’s about as disgusting as all those stooopid compooter sitez where animuls tok like brane damadjed babeez. Ugh!

Now as to this writing business, I think the world needs to know that all vampires, dark heroes and, well, any man worth writing about are actually cats. Dress them up how you please, but all that grace, agility, composure and panache have to come from somewhere. Not to mention the slow, sultry stare. I mean, forget all that getting-to-know-you conversational crap. Who else but a feline hero can walk in, take what he wants, and consider an affectionate swipe of the paw sufficient reward for your admiration?

I leave the subservient tail-wagging to the dogs. Unless, of course, I want my ears rubbed.

Oh, yeah, and about the other cat who lives in the bedroom. She’s the one who actually likes to get petted and squeezed and baby-talked. And she likes to read, or at least sit on books (frankly I prefer to eat them. Jennifer Cruisie’s Dogs and Goddesses was delicious).

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10 Reasons…
by Annette McCleave on March 24th, 2009

…Why Every Romance Writer Should Have a Dog:
1. When you’re on a roll, they remind you about important things, like food and bathroom breaks.
2. They don’t give a fig if the house isn’t vacuumed and the laundry isn’t done.
3. They make an avid audience when you need to read a section aloud.
4. They greet you with enthusiasm when you return after mailing off your manuscript/proposal and every wag of their tails tell you that even if it doesn’t work out, you’re a good person anyway.
5. They growl at the postman, especially when one of your submissions comes back SASE.
6. They lick your face when you get a rejection, a bad review, or when you forget to save an awesome scene and then your computer crashes.
7. They bark and wag their tails when you happy dance, shout ‘yes!’, and generally freak out over finishing a ms, finaling in a contest, or selling a book…cause sometimes no one else is home.
8. When your muse deserts you, you can look in their eyes and be instantly transported into a world of absolute, unconditional love.
9. They’re particularly inspirational when writing scenes involving whining, drooling, and checking out the next-door neighbor.
10. Chocolate is bad for them, so you don’t have to feel guilty when you eat the entire box.

Yes, as you can probably tell, I own a dog. This is my pooch. His name is Lucky, but that might not have been the best choice for a name. He eats everything. Including three-inch hat pins and packets of Advil. Many of his culinary adventures are followed by visits to the vet.

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…Why Every Romance Writer Should Have a Cat:
1. They sometimes purr loud enough that you can pretend you’re running the clothes washer or vacuum cleaner.
2. They frequently solve those blank page woes by standing or sitting on your keyboard.
3. They love to play with those balled up pieces of frustration paper that end up on the floor.
4. They are completely unmoved by ranting, raving and swearing, which reminds you that those actions rarely help you meet your deadline.
5. They can stare out the window for hours, which relieves you of that onerous duty and allows you to focus on the blinking cursor.
6. Their mesmerizing eyes provide plenty of inspiration for vampires, ghouls and creepy apartment superintendents.
7. Their random moments of frenetic dashing around make your panicked preparations for supper look like, well, preparation.
8. When you get lost in your story, pounding at the keyboard for hours, they just keep eating their kibble and visiting the litter box. No guilt attached.
9. When your proposal gets rejected or your entry fails to final in a contest, they give a slow blink that says it all–Clearly, my dear, they are idiots. Get over it.
10. Chocolate is bad for them, so you don’t have to feel guilty when you eat the entire box.

A dog just wasn’t enough, so we added a cat to the family. This is Minou. His name means cat in French. Yeah, I know, so inspired. But it works–he even comes when he’s called. He’s tremendously affectionate and sits on my lap whenever I watch TV. Which isn’t ever when I should be writing. Honest.

minou

Okay, so here’s the question of the day: If you had to choose between a cat and a dog as a writing (or reading) companion, which one would you pick? Me, I’d pick my dog, mostly because he warms my feet when I write. Bonus points for that.

What my dog knows about writing
by Jessa Slade on March 23rd, 2009

Writers probably shouldn’t have pets.  Or kids.  Or significant others.  Or anything that requires, you know, actual interaction outside the imaginary worlds spun out between our brains and the computer screen.

Then we could just sit at the keyboard, alone, pounding away, until our butts merge permanently with our chairs.

Okay, so scratch that.  Writers desperately need at least pets.

I’ve read more than once about writers who let their cats jump up on their desks to purr around their keyboards, like some sort of furry anti-Muse.  I don’t have a cat, so I decided to try it with my dog.pets_dog

Well, that’s annoying.  But she did have these insights to share about the writing process:

  • Spelling doesn’t matter that much.
  • Eventually you have to get up and go pee.
  • Walks are good.

She also had something about how writing a book is  a lot like chewing a rawhide stick: You just have to keep gnawing at it, and it’ll get squishy and gross, and if you swallow it too early you’ll have to regurgitate it and work on it some more, and if you bury it in the yard, it turns a weird shade of green…  Yeah, I didn’t think that analogy worked either.

If I didn’t have a dog, I’d at least need a twice-a-day timed kill switch to force me to leave my computer and go for the aforementioned walk in order to reboot.  Walks clear the mind and body.  Plus, you get mud between your toes and  a wild wind up your nose.  A good walk requires all your senses be engaged.

Because I write mostly at night (stoopid day job), I have a nocturnal friend too.

pets_geckoGalahad the Golden Gecko trundles around his tank under his heat lamp, eating bugs and occasionally escaping.  He likes when I type fast, probably because the black text across the white page looks a lot like scuttling bugs.

  • In addition to inspiring me to type faster, he’s taught me a few other writing lessons:
  • You can cling to anything, but you have to be willing to let go and leap if you want to catch the yummy moth. (Which I imagine taste a lot like powdered doughnuts.)
  • It’s fun to dream that you’re a cross between the fierce velociraptor and a mighty eagle, swooping and terrifying the peasants — This dream is even more satisfying when you’re only seven inches long.
  • Every once and awhile, bust out of your old skin and take a walk on the dark side under the light of the silvery moon.
  • My pets — like my XY, my family, my non-writing friends, my stoopid day job — remind me to look up from the keyboard sometimes.  At least when there’s a wild wind and the silvery moon is shining.

    What lessons have your pets taught you?

    Darkest Dreams Winner!
    by Our Guest on March 21st, 2009

    Congratulations to Cathy MacDonald of Martinez, CA, for being our winner in the Romance Junkies Valentines drawing. Cathy wins our “Darkest Dreams” basket, filled with gourmet chocolatey goodies, pampering treats, books, teasers on our upcoming releases and a gift card! Enjoy, Cathy!

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    Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
    by KimLenox on March 20th, 2009

    I’ve always been interested in the origins of superstitions in a historical sense, but don’t believe in many myself.

    Like Sharon, I have a very healthy respect for nature. As humans, I think we’ve really managed to mess things up, and I just don’t understand why some people just don’t care. There’s not a lot that will get me “hot” but — a kid ripping the branch of a tree on the playground, or the guy tossing his fast food bag out the window, or the woman who throws her cigarrette butt into the ocean really get me steamed. Somehow, deep inside, I believe if we don’t take care of nature, she’s not going to take care of us.

    I get a very foreboding chill down my spine when I hear about things like the bee colonies collapsing or mass whale beachings.

    And so along those lines, I guess one of my only superstitions might be that I get a bit anxious when watching apocolyptic disaster movies involving nature gone awry or horrible plagues or asteroids slamming into earth.

    Remember not so long ago, when the only “terrorists” we knew about were those crazy long haired guys with guns on the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies? They weren’t really scary, because they were just movie actors with fake guns, setting off carefully choreographed explosions. Things are very different now, aren’t they?

    Yes, on lazy Saturday afternoons, I do sometimes get sucked into a disaster movie and enjoy it, but some part of me always whispers, “No, that is NOT cool even if it is special effects … what if?”

    I have a secret fear of fiction turning into reality, of those movies being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    “The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago.” - Dr. Zaius (Planet of the Apes)

    Snort! It’s against my nature to end on TOO down of a note! Let’s discuss!