One of the big things I struggle with when starting a story is likeability. The general premise is that a reader needs to be able to connect with a character, that the character should have redeemable qualities so that the reader can like him or her.

I have two issues with this. First of all, I’ve written nice alphas and I’ve written jerky alphas–no one cares. These guys don’t have to be likable. They need to be heroic. They can be jerks and still live by their own code of ethics. I have zero problems pulling this off, but it bugs that heroes are given so much more latitude than heroines.

Second, I have a hard time making likable heroines. I’ve written everything from the wilting flower (who everyone loved, right off the bat–not my typical heroine) to, shall we say, more abrasive heroines (these are the ones I usually start out with). I prefer to think of them as complex.

Because, here’s the thing. My characters are not happy when the story starts. Their lives are usually in shambles or, they think they have everything under control, but it’s all just a house of cards waiting to fall. And people with difficult lives are not happy, likable people.

It really annoys me that I have to try to make my heroine conform to being “likable” in order for her to be identifiable. Um, look… I’m a likable person. But sometimes, I’m a wreck. Sometimes, I’m a handful. And, you know what? I think more people can identify with me than can not.

Starting right now, I’m going to fight this stereotype–that women only like to read about sweet, light, giving creatures. The Snow White, whistling while she works as birds light upon her finger. I never even liked Snow White. Or Cinderella. They were both basically doormats for their antagonists. Why would I want to write that?

Please, give me your opinion on heroines at the beginning of a story. What do you love and hate to see? Call it research, because I really need to know.

I was recently asked what my dream reading area would be like. My imagination immediately started conjuring this room. Yes, room–not a nook or an area, but a whole room.

To enter my reading room, first off, you have to find the secret door. It’s hidden behind a bookshelf. Ironic, right? Or maybe not, but clever, at least. So, one opens the secret bookshelf door however one does and walks in. I don’t know, for sure, as I’ve never actually encountered one of these doors in real life.

The first thing that strikes you is the scent. There are a few scented candles placed strategically–all the same scent because I’m obsessive that way. Something fruityor foodie like pineapples or apple pie. Nothing too flowery or frou-frou. This is a serious room, for serious readers, and we don’t like pretention.

Look around at the bleached wood floors with colorful throw rugs. You just want to go stand on them, feel the softness under your toes. The room is a seating delight. There’s a chaise lounge int he corner, with a floor lamp behind it, and lots of plump pillows to settle into. There’s a window seat, of course, because that’s where one does the whimsical reading. You can curl up on the cushioned seat and watch rain bead on the windows or birds gather in the garden outside.

In the center of the room is a plush, enormous, couple-of-adults-sized poof. You can just sprawl out in the bean bag of your dreams, flopping onto your stomach, then shifting to your side, finding just the right position to get lost in a good book.

There are discreet pockets of light throughout the room. Enough brightness to read by, but low enough as to inspire a feeling of intimacy and immediacy. The reading is crucial, it’s right now, it’s all that happens in this space.

This room is a sanctuary–hence the hidden door–and only the truest book lovers can enter. One needs to know that smell an old book produces, a little bit vanilla, a little bit heaven, just to access it. Troubles are left at the door. There is comfort here, of the physical and emotional sort.

This isn’t just a physical place, it’s a mindset. A dedication to books and those who love them.

I’d love to know what your ideal reading space is like. It doesn’t need to be as detailed as mine (though that’s just as welcome!). Just leave me a comment with a bit of description or even just to say hello.

xx

I want to preface this by saying that I was contacted by Aleksandra Lechwar, who runs a great Etsy shop called Just 1 More Chapter. Apparently, my Christmas post of great reader gifts was sending Aleksandra some traffic (yay, right?) and he wanted to thank me. He offered to let me pick out a couple of pieces for free, which I gladly did because they looked so cool.

I chose two pairs of earrings. One, Wicked, because I adore Elpheba and her story. It’s one of my favorite books. The second set, The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, was because that was a book my English major grandmother gave me when I was a teenager. If you read my blog, you know she passed away in January after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, I miss her, but I’d missed her a long time–that will make sense to anyone who has had to live with a family member slowly descending into this horrible disease.

The earrings came quickly and they’re so cool. They not only have the book cover, they have the spine, back cover, and even little “pages” along the side. They’re very true to life.

Here are a couple of pictures of me wearing one pair and a detailed picture of the other. I also want to add that I’m allergic to nickel and most earrings make me itch, even some that claim to be nickel-free. I wore these earrings all day and didn’t feel even a twitch of itchiness in my ears.

All of this is to say that now that I’ve tried out the products, I can’t recommend Just 1 More Chapter’s products highly enough.

PS. I was in no way asked to leave a positive review of the product and have received nothing in compensation for doing so. I just really wanted to share these super-cute and well-made products.

Today’s the day these two characters I’ve grown to love so much get set free into the wild (that’s your, the reader’s, hands). Hint: If you make it all the way to the end of this post, there’s a giveaway.

Read a little more about them…

Former social worker Roxie Fisher believes she’s cursed to never find happiness and an invitation to Cupid’s Café isn’t going to change her situation. All the same, against her better judgment, she gives it a try. What else does she have to lose?

After the death of his wife, accountant-turned-firefighter Aidan Craig, can’t stop taking ridiculous risks and never turns down a dare. So an invitation to Cupid’s Café is an offer he can’t refuse. What he doesn’t expect is to meet the social worker who helped him through the darkest days of his life. Now she’s the one struggling, and he’s compelled to help.

The two experience an immediate attraction, but Aidan swore to never become involved in another relationship, and Roxie can’t imagine daredevil Aidan being interested in a boring, cat-rescuer like her.

Can Roxie find the simple joy of taking a risk? Is Aidan willing to risk his heart? Or will they both lose out on a chance at true love?

Buy Links

I’ll update these as I can. For now:

Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | Scribd

A hot little excerpt when you click read more (and giveaway details)…

Read More →

I make a soundtrack for every story I write. I use them to help me write individual scenes and to create a sense of the full story. Following the advice of Lani Diane Rich (author and creator of Chipperish media), I find one song to be the song that would play over the ending credits of my book. It embodies the fullness and catharsis of my ending.

Exactly Like You had an ending credit song I’d never paid attention to (since I was about 8 when it was released). I’m not entirely sure how I ran across the song, unless it was just story fate, but it was Caught Up in You by 38 Special. Every day, when I prepared to write, I started the playlist with this song. I knew whose viewpoint that song was from and, so, who had to be the one to make the grand gesture at the end.

But I’m jumping ahead. This playlist was heavy on acoustic covers (which makes it my very favorite playlist ever) especially from the 80s. Why? I don’t have a clue. It’s just where my prewriting led me.

In the first kiss scene at a party, I relied heavily on two songs. A cover of I Wanna Dance with Somebody (all slowed down) by Rachel Brown and Crazy For You (a la Madonna but even better) by Alice Lamb. It was an intense scene with a lot of conflicting feelings and these two songs diluted it down to the essence of what was happening emotionally.

Roxie suffers from depression and it was very important to me that no one refer to her as crazy except for Roxie herself, and then only once. All the same, that feeling — that you’re crazy — can be very pervasive when trying to claw your way out of depression. This song, originally by Gnarls Barkley, Crazy covered by Mysha Didi helped me to get in Roxie’s head.

Honorable mention for that falling-in-love-feeling, at least from Roxie’s perspective, was Boom Clap covered by Lennon & Maisy. Roxie was feeling again, which is a relief after depression, and it felt great and scary all at once. Aidan, on the other hand, was less than happy to be falling in love after losing his wife two years ago.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite cover of Bad Romance as done by Lissie. Wow, so powerful. So true to the feeling of wanting someone even when you know you’re broken and they’re broken, but you might be whole together.

I could go on and on about how, song after song, this soundtrack is just righteous and perfect. I miss listening to this soundtrack as I fell asleep every night over the five weeks that I wrote the story. I hope you’ll give Exactly Like You a chance and, if you do and you love it, check out the soundtrack. It’s sort of a music behind the story encyclopedia.

(All links open in Spotify)

The music behind the story, Exactly Like You, available now. http://bit.ly/2q71ely Click To Tweet

I had this great topic (for other writers) dreamed up this month (actually last month, but I digress), but it’s been one of those months.

via GIPHY

I finally finished the second book I had to revise and submitted it to my publisher. Edits for the first (which is being published June 20!) should arrive any day. We had an Open House and Formal Dance here this week with the kids and my daughter’s last day of Cosmetology school was Wednesday.

And I wasn’t there because my husband had to have surgery WAY out of town. And, so of course, we took her out Monday to celebrate. A surprise party with cake then sushi.

It’s been a hell of a month. In just ten days, my daughter and I will be making our way to Arkansas, by way of Nashville (where we will spend the night, going and coming, because I can’t drive that long in one go), to spend a week. She’s meeting up with a friend and I’m spending several days holed up with my critique partner, where I will be slaving away at the third Infamous novel.

No, you didn’t miss the second one. I just submitted it. Cross your fingers, please, that the publisher likes it.

So, here’s a gif of Princess Leia because she’s my hero.

via GIPHY

I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself that things will eventually settle down.

Welcome to my stop on the Highway Cafe Spring Tour!

Spring is hands down my favorite time of year. I live in rural West Virginia, in the US, and Spring is incredibly, blissfully green. Even the sunlight seems to reflect the greenness of the grass and budding leaves giving the air a refreshing quality.

I wanted to share a picture of typical West Virginia beauty. We get a bad rep in the media, but I won’t go into that. What we do have in spades is mountains, trees, flowers, creeks, and rivers.

This isn’t my view but it’s pretty damn close to what I see driving from my house to town on any given day. (Click either the picture above or the one to the left to get a full size view.)

I love my mountain home, but never more than in the Spring.

More about my novel, Infamous

Justine Montgomery, daughter of a divorced beauty queen and TV magnate, is a tabloid disaster after her infamous sex tape. She’s so desperate to help save her family’s home she turns to her deal-making dad. Can she prove to him she’s cut out for a career in television or will she lose it all?

Sawyer has his own past and a successful career is his only goal. Seeing Justine fail would mean the promotion of a lifetime, but things get complicated when he develops feelings for her. Suddenly, the lines between work, life, sex, and love are blurry.

They will have to overcome the bitterness of a rejected ex, the controlling actions of her father, and the half-truths they’re telling one another to forge a lasting partnership both on the job and off the clock.

Buy from Amazon right now!

Win a copy, plus many more books!

You can check out the home page of the Spring Tour here. My book, Infamous, along with several others can be won by visiting that page. Mention that you spotted the Easter eggs on my site (you’ll have to look for them) in the comments there.

Win a ton of great books in the Highway Cafe Spring Tour and find out why I adore Spring in WV. Click To Tweet

I said you’d have to look for them. I never said you’d have to look hard. ;-)

 

Remember the year I forgot to get my husband a chocolate bunny and he was devastated? Which was like three years ago, so go me for remembering. Sort of. As Meatloaf said, “Two outta three ain’t bad.”

So, anyway, I really stepped up my Easter game this year. Got to make a basket for my granddaughter (which I filled with books because Nana Lori is going to make a reader out of that girl). And my daughters got things they were dying for but had no idea they were getting. It was great. Part of the reason I indulged so much is because my husband helped me do the shopping this year (first time ever). He completely negates the better judgment side of me by saying, “Get it if you want.” I can’t argue with that.

Naturally, he was there so I couldn’t surprise-buy him a chocolate bunny.

And then… well, I forgot. I had Easter in the bag. A literal bag, hidden in my closet, all finished. I remember thinking about it once, but then I was in a hurry.

Come Easter, I had to tell him I’d forgotten. He wasn’t really as emotionally bereft as the first time so I kind of wonder if he didn’t buy himself one, to be honest. But, that’s not the point.

The worst part is, the man bought me a Twix Easter egg. He got me candy and I had forgotten his favorite thing. Well, his favorite thing about Easter. I’m pretty sure his favorite things are his Harley, the kids, and me–in that order.

So, basically, I just lost at marriage. Beat at my own game. It’s a good thing I have a Twix Easter egg to drown my shame in.

I forgot to buy one damn thing and I lost at marriage--Easter Edition! Click To Tweet

This month has been spent in revision hell. I’m revising two novels and trying very hard to get them ready for a March 31 submission. One is a hard deadline; the other is self-imposed (important if we ever want to get our stories out there–there’s always a reason to not be writing if we let there be).

But there is no hell for the writer like Revision Hell.

I currently reside on the seventh level, the ‘this book sucks’ level where plot points and dialogue I thought were so cool in the first draft now strike me as vapid globs of desperation. Oh lord, deliver me from my woe!

–Writer Unboxed

Here’s this excellent post by Holly Lisle (my personal hero) on revising in one shot.

Here’s what she says on revision hell:

And let’s debunk one bit of writer myth while we’re here: Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.

Because this is isn’t a real post, other than to gather resources I need (and you may need), here you go.

I hate revising more than anything in the universe. More than cleaning up cat puke. I am done with this book and do NOT want to work on it anymore.

This is where I’m at, y’all.

Once I do a first draft I, naturally, put the story away for a number of weeks to allow it to grow unfamiliar and, thus, fresh in my brain when I reread it. Then, I read it, taking notes on big picture problems. My last project, I ended up with sixty-five different notes and the list was about six pages long.

I’m preparing to go in this week and begin what I think of as deep revision. It’s a lot of editing, some rewriting, and a little adding whole new scenes. I’ll come out the other side with a new story on my hands; a deeper, more complete, richer story.

I wanted to give an example of what deep revision can do. I once wrote a post about the important elements of a sex scene. In it, I wrote:

Could you make the scene stronger by making them emotionally naked as opposed to physically naked?

If you go back to that previous post, you’ll see I included a first draft sex scene, but then ended up taking it out and replacing it with one that did just that (I’ll include a sample of it at the end; it’s from my book Infamous). Here’s why:

What I ended up replacing this scene with is one of connection, but the emotional sort. I finally realized that it’s too easy for my hero to make a sexual connection, but he never makes emotional connections. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone, he took a tiny step toward change. And she distinguished herself, in yet another way, as different from any other woman.

The reasons I made the change are described above, but it was also to increase the tension between these two characters, provide a richer understanding of their characters, and improve my story’s pacing.

Deep Revision can increase tension, characterization, and pacing--just for starters. Click To Tweet

For comparison purposes, I’m going to include a sample of that new scene below the signature. You can read it in its original form in the post about sex scenes. (It would make this post unnecessarily long to include both here.) I loved the new scene so much, it’s the main sample I used for marketing purposes. That is why deep revision is so important.

A sample from Infamous:

“Crap, now you’re going to be sweet? Now?” She tangled her fingers through the hair that covered her face and pushed it away. Next thing he knew, she’d wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Justine? Um… what are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you. Taking emotional comfort.”

“Like a leech.”

“Haven’t you ever hugged before?”

“I’ve never hugged anyone I wasn’t going to have sex with.”

“We’re not having sex.” She squeezed him tighter and rested her head on his shoulder. “Hug me back.”

Sawyer lifted his arms and wrapped them around her, his hands cupping her shoulders, pulling her closer. He dropped his head to rest on hers, and parts of him, so deep he couldn’t name them, pulled free and demanded his attention. Her hair smelled like fruit, the kind kids eat in the summer, juice dripping down their chins. “I’m fine with the hugging, but, just saying, I’m not responsible for any physical reaction hugging may induce.”

“Okay.” The word drifted out of her on a sigh.

He wasn’t equipped for this. There hadn’t been a lot of touching growing up, at least not the kind that didn’t end in a busted lip or a cracked rib. As an adult, there’d been lots of touching. But, not like this. The tighter he held her, the closer he wanted to be.

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t take anymore. It seemed bigger than him, bigger and growing fast. He pulled back to look at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept since…” She tilted her head back, thinking. “I don’t remember. Couple of days.”

“So get some sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can.” She settled on the edge of the bed and looked down at her hands. “I have so many things running through my head right now.”

“I know what to do.” He slipped off the denim jacket he’d been wearing since some time last night. “Go find the least attractive thing you sleep in.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“Because I said so. And because you need some sleep. You’ve got bags under your eyes big enough to hold your whole wardrobe.”

She lifted the lid of her luggage to pick through her clothes, grabbed something white she balled up in her hands, and dutifully went into the bathroom to change.

Sawyer looked at the closed door and then turned to the bed. He turned down the covers on one side and turned out the lights, except for the lamp beside the bed.

When she came out and flipped the bathroom light off behind her, Sawyer wanted to tell her to try again. Her choice was anything but unattractive. She’d slipped into a gown that settled halfway between her knees and…well, places he had no business concerning himself with. The gown flounced around her, touching her nowhere except under the arms and across her chest with a black ribbon gathering the material.

She lifted one foot and slid it behind the other. “Poppies.”

He dragged his gaze to her face. “What?”

“The flowers on the gown are poppies. They make you drowsy.” She slid her gaze to the side. “I found that amusing when I bought it.”

He held up his hands. “It’s fine. Get in the bed.”

“I don’t do pajamas. I have a thing against sleeping in pants. I like the way the sheets feel, cool and slippery, on my legs.” She looked past him to a corner of the room. “I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted toward the bed and then paused as her words sunk in. “Wait, you have panties on, though, right?”

“Of course.”

He tilted his head to glance at her with a frown, trying not to look at her bare legs. “Are they hot?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Right, no. Doesn’t matter. Lay down.” She stopped beside him at the foot of the bed and they stared at the down-turned blankets. “I want to make sure you get some sleep. You get under the covers, and I’ll lie on top so I don’t invade your not-pants-wearing space.”

“You’re volunteering to give me emotional comfort.”

“Shut up, Justine.”

She hopped into bed, twisting to pull the covers to the top of her shoulders, and lay on her side. He climbed on top of the blanket, scooted close. “Do people send you designer nightgowns, too?”

“Trying to sleep here.”

Her body moved in the rhythm of breath, slowed down, as her muscles softened and relaxed. He wanted to kiss her shoulder, to press his lips against it, to find out if it was as soft as it looked. And what was that scent? Her hair fanned across her pillow and it smelled like… watermelon? Strawberries? Apples?

She interrupted his fruity thoughts, her voice soft and blurry. “Thank you.”

“I’m an ass.”

“You’re okay right now, though.”

“I’m using you, right now, because I like how you smell. I’m an ass.”

She didn’t speak again, and he realized she was out. He should get up. Go to his own room. Get away from the bare legs, under the covers, and the shoulder, and the hair. Try to put whatever had awoken during that hug back to rest. In a minute, he’d get his jacket and go.