Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finding your balance

I'd always been a chubby girl. Well, not exactly Roseanne Bar but more Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones. It didn't really hurt but it was there, and sometimes, it did sting. I carried like 10 pounds too much, and believe me, on a just-above-five-feet frame, ten pounds can look like a lot!

I wanted to lose that weight, tired of needing to have my clothes tailor-made because everything in the stores was too small or else I swam in them. That's when I looked into diets. At that time, Atkins and South Beach and whatever else popular stuff wasn't even known. We had Weight Watchers, but I didn't have the money needed to become a member. I had friends who were members, and they gave me the pointers of their every meeting. Like, weigh all your food. Drink water. 30g of cereal every morning. Chew slowly.

I did that, but lo and behold, I wasn't a gram lighter! (I know now that diets are customized, but we'll come to this later). Then I went like, to hell with it. Let's try another tactic - healthy living. Out went the junk food I lived on. Out went the colas and sodas. Out went the cookies, the crisps, the puff corn snacks. You may be wondering - she stopped eating! No, she didn't. She just didn't indulge so much any longer. I stopped taking sugar in my tea, coffee and milk; drank water at every opp (on some days I think I drank 5 litres). Cut the daily rice portion to half of what it was. Started taking the stairs. Walked a lot. Took the bus that I knew stopped 2 bus stops before my regular stop, and there was a steep uphill climb on that journey.

And 7 months later, I was 12 pounds lighter. Happier. Healthier. And I felt better.

To this day, I still apply those principles. And no, I really hadn't stopped eating, nor have I done so now. Everyone who values his/her life knows never to come between me and my twice-weekly slice of chocolate cake. I crave Pepsi at times, and I drink equal measures of water and no-sugar-added 100% juice. I cook with oil and I love my Pringles.

What am I getting at then, talking about diets on a writing craft blog? Well, writing is just like dieting:

Find what works for you!!

In the Weight Watchers example above, I was doing what others were doing. And that didn't work for me. Why? It wasn't customized to me and my needs and lifestyle, and I actually put on weight this way.

The same applies to your writing. If others are doing great writing for HQ or Ellora's Cave, you take tips and pointers from them to make your own writing better, and then you tailor your work to have a better chance of scoring a contract with those pubs. But HQ or Ellora's Cave may not be your writing voice's cup of tea, so you struggle, writer's block and discouragement hitting you just like the weight could pile on with an inappropriate diet.

Like the diet too, find what works for you, and this is what'll make you lose weight. In your writing, this applies to, find what you enjoy writing and you will inherently find that your writing will be stronger when you write something you are passionate about. This is akin to doing something/adding a change you can do and live with, and you thus find your voice and your writing tone. This in turn, makes your work stronger and allows it to stand out amongst the crowd.

We all know that a diet doesn't work for everyone. It is recognized now that lifestyle changes have more impact over weight loss and keeping the weight off, preventing the yo-yo effect. Same goes for writing - a pub's style/guidelines may not gel with every writer, and you need to find your own voice and what you're passionate about to keep the flame of writing alive and to prevent the dreaded discouragement and block away.

Hope this made sense! As usual, all comments definitely welcome!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How much reality is enough? Too much?

So far this month we've touched on real life, make believe and everything in between in our writing and out of it. From shoes and how each person interprets characters in their varied ways to the real tragedy of death in life.

So how much reality do you (or us) as a reader need? Want? What will you believe? What sucks you into the story? Is it the fantastical of Science Fiction or the historical of the Victorian era? Something in between?

This is going to be a post about my writing and how much reality I need to make my stories work. Why? Well because I can't write about T.J.'s (and I'm sure she's very appreciative of that fact). I use real places often as the model for my make believe, or landmarks that are well known to give placement. Locations are really one of the easiest things to mirror and create a fictional place or town from. How many times have you read about X and thought to yourself, "That sounds just like ___!" It might have been. But there's a comfort in that connection, a sense of knowledge that allows you to really become a part of that story and be absorbed by it. Most often, I just use a vacinity. i.e. Bend, Oregon for my Aiza Clan Shifter books, Fisherman's Wharf in The Eternal Kiss, but nothing more specific to the real world. Everything I create from that broad point is fictional to the final dot.

For reading, there has to be enough reality to make me believe that everything else that happens in the story is plausible. Okay, so we know vampires really don't exist, but in the world between those two covers, they do, and that world has to exist correctly balanced for them to be there. The hard part is making that reality as close to real life reality as possible so any reader feels the connection. So any reader can believe the unbelievable.

If you think about it, almost every fictional tale out there has some nugget of reality in it. Star Trek even for being in the future shows technology along things we recognize (the old series and the new movie included). Harry Potter-the same. They might walk through walls in the train station, but they're still in the train station. Those factors of recognition give us, the reader, our baseline for reality.

So the next time you're reading a book, think about the amount of reality in that story. Does it draw you in deeper? Make you think of places you've visited or lived? Make you wonder about the commonality of the things in our lives that we don't even think about anymore (cars, computers, furniture)?

Honestly, if you read the entire book, and never once catch the reality in it, then the author did a good job of writing it to fit that book to give it a life of its own. And that's the kind of reality in reading and writing I love.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Should you write for the market or go off the reservation?

Many aspiring authors/crit partners/ crit groups have this discussion at some point in their existence. It also normally generates more 'write for the market' than it does 'go off the reservation'. The reasons vary just as much. A few of the better ones are, 'Well, aren't you trying to get published by Harlequin?', 'Nobody will take that because I've never seen that before.'

The first response is one of those ones that makes me batty. First and foremost, if you want to write for HQN that is your business, but the fact is HQN isn't known for giving contracts out left and right. One of the things you need to realize is that you should never specifically tailor a story for a single publishing house unless you are under contract with them. You have to be attractive to many publishers not just your dream publisher. It is actually the job of the editor to tailor your story for their publisher – not you. They have far more knowledge regarding company policies than you do.

The second shows a personal opinion. If 'I've never seen it before' appears in a post – disregard. This in no way means your little gem won't sell. I know of several authors who made it to New York by not writing what was out there. A point that gets missed is – New York loves fresh. They have a deep driving desire for originality. Okay, so maybe not HQN so much, but everyone of their imprints has a formula, if you can work within the constraints of the formula you have a better chance of being accepted or receiving a coveted revise and resubmit (Hey, it's a nod that you've got your foot in the door).

So what is the right answer? There isn't one. Mostly, I do both. I pick common or tested plots but spin the characterization or plot drivers in a different direction. A good example of an e-published author who does this is Buffi BeCraft (for those of you thinking that's her pen name, it isn't. That's her given name). Her blue-collar werewolves have taken a very common paranormal element but gives real flair to her stories by adding a good dose of humor and using different plot drivers in how her weres operate.

Another example is my Raptorial Time Series. I took what most publishers consider a dead sub-genre, gave it spin by giving the 'vehicle' – the Veil – a true purpose. With the added heat and the destination occurring in unusual eras, I've spun the old, tired time travel in a new direction.

I can't say it enough—a writer writes what they like. Buffi knows she loves a good tall, dark and hairy alpha male who howls at the full moon whereas I know I need at least some fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal aspect in my stories.


Now it's your turn. What do you think works best? Or, more should I ask, what works best for you? Do you think you should write for the market, write off the reservation or both?


Until next week, cheers and happy writing,



Torrid Teasers #57 now available from Whiskey Creek Press Torrid

Master and Commander's Prey coming October 2009 from Eirelander Publishing

Monday, June 22, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

After the high of shoes, we come back to Earth once again this week. From insights and insider tidbits from the writing world, we have come to lay the finger on something that is almost taboo in our world - our writing and the market.

How is it taboo? Well, we all faced the question - who to write for? - one day. Most would want us to believe we have to write for the market, but the real question is, what exactly is this market? A specific pub? A specific agent? A specific little tidbit of rumour that is floating about? But all this is hush-hush, alluded to, never really spoken about aloud...

So we at RBA were tickled about this question - who to write for?

Catch T.J. on Tuesday in a very thought-provoking post about whether you need to write for the market or go off the reservation.

On Thursday, Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) brings you a little analogy between the worlds of diets and that of writing. What's the link? Read her post and you should have it figured out.

And on Wednesday, Diana Castilleja pens for us her monthly contribution. Since we've been dealing with reality this month, Diana asks the very reflective question about how much reality is too much, giving us her take on the issue.

Don't forget:

This June, we're scratching at the myth surrounding authors and shedding some light on their whole world.

This June, we're on the quest:

Searching for the author's reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush

P.S. We'll be taking a week off next week, clocking it in with the July 4 celebrations. We wish you all to enjoy a happy July 4th. We'll be back on July 6 with lots more, as usual!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In her shoes

No, I'm not talking of the book by Jennifer Weiner (that I read and adored, btw), nor of the movie that was adapted from said book.

I am literally talking of, walking in the shoes of your heroine.

T.J.'s post about shoes got me thinking, especially the part about thoughts in a story. Anyone who's ever read my work can and will probably tell you my stories can be compared to the psychoanalysis of the characters in the foil of their respective story and the plot. Meaning - I'm big on thoughts.

I reckon that not everyone has to agree with me. I know great writers who bind you in their plot yet cannot write a deep thought to save their life. I know of great writers who have next to nothing in way of plot but the thought process of the characters take you through a journey that has you panting and turning page after page for every 300+ sheet in the book. And yet the majority of writers, mostly the aspiring, beginning writers peopling the crit world, listen to only one rule - action forward and cut out unnecessary thoughts!

While I agree that the reader needs not be privy to each and every thought that goes on in a character's head (we know that could get terribly boring and tedious!), there is an inherent element to the thoughts-inclusion in a story - it's what binds you to the plot.

There's a difference between reading a book and watching a movie, even if both are dealing with the same story. Take this example:
At the start of the movie version of Bridget Jones' Diary, you hear the song All By Myself playing, and Bridget, played by a chubby Renee Zellweger, is alone in her flat, wrapped in a quilt, a bottle of whatever alcoholic beverage in her hand. Then she stands up, with the bottle still in hand, and she starts to move around the flat while singing along to the lyrics.

What does this tell you? Bridget is single, since she's at home on an evening (helped by the audio cue of the soundtrack through the song All By Myself) and she's drowning her sorrow in that bottle.

Now, we get this, allright. But what is Bridget's sorrow, other than she is by herself and drinking?

Go to the book, and read the first few chapters. First quote: 'Resolution number one: obviously, will lose twenty pounds. Number two: will find nice sensible boyfriend and not continue to form romantic attachments to alcoholics, workaholics, peeping-toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts.' I know I have used this example before in another post but I find it truly representative of what I'm trying to convey.
The Bridget of the movie, while still being the character penned by Helen Fielding, is a 'generic' version of the close-t0-30-London-singleton. Whereas the Bridget of the book is Bridget, the fully formed and realized Bridget Jones, not just a general idea of a woman in her shoes. And how is this possible? Through the thoughts of the character!

Something is lost in translation between the book and the screen, and the first thing to get the cut is thought processes. It's true that you cannot 'show' thoughts so easily in visual form, but still, taking out the thought processes takes you from a unique character to a generic character, that any writer could've penned given a few hints at psychology.

Take a further example, Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (being made into a movie releasing this year). Imagine Becky, the heroine, getting the urge at the shop to buy something when she knows she shouldn't. Her heart races, the need starts to pound in her head. Her throat goes dry and she simply needs, needs, needs, to buy whatever it is that has caught her fancy. When you read the book, you are privy to the battle and the struggle going on inside her, making you a part of Becky's world, making you urge her to not do this, to get out of there asap. But in the movie, maybe what you'll get is Becky at the store. You see her gaze land on something, you see her pause, maybe bite her lip, and then her hand reaches for her purse, and she pulls the credit card out. Inherently, you know what's happening, but here you do not know what's going on in her head.

We have to face it - many people read because they want this thought process. They want to be involved in the story, in the developments, in the character's journey. If your heroine has never worn Manolo Blahniks and she does buy a pair, your reader wants to know what it will be like for her to break those shoes in, what it feels like to wear them. Similarly, how does it make you feel to be in Jimmy Choo stilettos? And, when your former diva a la Gabrielle Solis trades her strappy sandals for comfy Mommy shoes, what's going on in her head at that moment?

In short, what does it feel like, what is it all about, to be in her shoes? Isn't this mainly what the heroine's (ultimately character's) journey is about? How do you get there without putting your reader in her head, in her thoughts, while you're in her shoes?

I'm eager to hear your thoughts on this! Any comments are more than welcome!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rejections - Boo Hoo

For a beginning writer a rejection of your work is the hardest thing to deal with. When I first started writing, I met the editor’s I submitted to from the conferences my RWA chapter had once a year. The very first editor, Wendi Corsi Staub, was a wonderful sweet person, and she sent me a two page letter explaining what I could do to improve my story even though she rejected my manuscript. This rejection letter gave me hope.

When I started getting form letters rejecting my work, I became despondent because I didn’t know what was wrong. Sometimes I would quit writing for months because my spirit was so bruised.

Then I started entering contests thinking that was the way to find out what I was doing wrong. I would send ten to fifty pages out to a contest hoping that someone would validate that I was a good story teller. Oh, there were judges out there willing to tell you what you were doing wrong, and how to fix it. They even rewrote my work, some made suggestions taking my story a different direction from the way I wrote it, and others loved the way I had written it.

It became so confusing, and I would become depressed each time and refuse to write again. Sometimes, I cried, and then later I would pour over their comments and make all the changes they suggested. It took many years before I realized that not everyone could be right.

This went on for seemingly forever, and I wrote a story that I just knew would make it, but after ninety-three rejections I had to sit it aside. This time many of the rejections were positive. Some said they had liked what they read, but they didn’t know how to market it. Others said they weren’t taking on new authors that it was too risky in this economic climate to do so. Of course, I still received some form letter rejections, but I read and reread the personal messages to keep my hope alive.

It was at this time I became hardened. A difference came over me, and I didn’t even cringe or cry over this rejection. I knew this book was good, but I would have to come back to it another time. Immediately, I started a new story. However, I kept getting negative feedback on this story from contests and chapter members. I decided to set it aside and start another. The same thing happened, so I did the same thing. It was becoming a habit to start something and not finish it, so I decided no matter the negative feedback (there was plenty), I would finish this one.
This book, The Catalyst, also received negative feedback. I was told you have to put romance in it, you have to do this and you have to do that. Then, I found some ladies in the publishing industry willing to mentor me. I learned to stand up for myself. I also learned what I was writing. The Catalyst wasn’t a romance, it was women’s fiction, and it was about the growth of a woman. The Catalyst was e-published in October 2008, and I self-printed it in the same year. Its sequel, Addiction, was e-published in December 2008, and will be released in print by Eirelander Publishing ( November 6, 2009 .

If it had not been for these ladies, I would have been floundering forever trying to figure out what I was writing and trying to conform to the parameters placed around me.

You have to be resilient in this industry. Rejections are inevitable, and you have to harden yourself to it. If you can develop a tough skin early, then you’ll build a career in your field sooner.

Sandra K. Marshall

Addiction released November 2009

Thanks and hugs,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

They’re just shoes.

A prophet once said, don't tell me what a man knows or what a man says--tell me where he has traveled.

Recently, my author's group was going over the plight of a confie virgin and the fact most of us don't wear heels anymore. From what I gather, it's a toss up whether to go fashionista or save your arches. Some of it was very funny. I can say, I live my life in my sneakers and the last time I was at a conference I wasn't a fashion queen but a comfort queen. While this was all going on, I read an interesting blogpost about the necessity of sex in a story, listened to a friend tell me how some of her crit partners told her to strip out the heroine's thoughts because they thought they were unnecessary, and then when I thought my week would go quite smoothly, some man decides to walk into the Holocaust Museum and start shooting.


Most of us wear them. Some of us go to the bargain bin to buy them. Others have so many they need a Dewey Decimal System to catalogue all of them. In the end, they are merely footwear.

I know you are probably thinking; what does this have to do with anything? The fact is, a lot.

There is a hushed area in the Holocaust Museum where a simple pile of shoes brings most people to a halt. All are old. They are in all different shapes and sizes. Most are scuffed. None have a sheen left to the leather upper. And all those who had worn them before are dead. Victims of the Holocaust.

For me the person, those shoes represent all the lives lost and bring tears to my eyes. For me the author, they represent the stories of the people who wore them. My emotions aren't separate in the moments I stand in front of the glass partition because I am both human and a writer, in fact the feelings I suffer while staring at them make me better on both fronts.

So what does this have to do with a confie virgin, a blogpost about is sex necessary in a story and my friend who wants to rip her hair out because crit partners want her to remove her heroine's thoughts? If you are me, it's simple. The confie virgin is beginning her journey. What path her shoes take her is a part of her personal story. She may never wear them again, but they have carried her for a few short hours of her life. The blog post about is sex necessary in a story? It's a debate that impacts whoever wears the shoes. That person may be period and point blank set in their ways but by participating they have then affected other shoe wearers. The followers may not get much out of the blog post, but the point is they responded. It tells me about where they are in their journey. To the last, the writer who is told to remove her heroine's perceptions, it ties up all the points. When a character thinks, they are adding something to the story. In a way, they are walking in a fresh pair of sneakers and the reader has the benefit of spending time in their mind and following them to the end of the journey.

To the man who pulled a gun within the hushed and hallowed walls of the Holocaust Museum, perhaps you should spend some time looking at a pile of shoes while doing some deep soul searching. I may never understand the journey you took to get to this point, but I come across something my mother used to say. Any man filled with hate walks with a heavy step.

This blog post is dedicated to Security Guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns whose journey was ended by James W. von Brunn at the Holocaust Museum on June 10th, 2009. All the Royal Blush Authors send their deepest condolences to his family and all who knew him. He was a true hero.

Until next time, cheers and happy writing,


Torrid Teasers #57 available now from Whiskey Creek Press Torrid

Coming soon – The Raptorial Time Series returns with Master and Commander's Prey

Available October 2009 from Eirelander Publishing –

Monday, June 15, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

Third week of June, and maybe it's the fact that summer is just around the bend, but we got around to talking about... Shoes! Of all things!

Yes, we all know every fashionista worth her salt has a shoe fetish, and that she wants the Manolos, the Choos, uhm, even the flip flops from Target if that's what's in vogue that season.

Maybe this turn of thoughts has to do with the fact that we dealt with a very heavy topic last week, namely crit partners and their place in every writer's life and toolbox. We needed some lightness, some fun and frivolous thing to tide us through. What better than shoes? Thus started the discussion T.J. mentions in passing in her post for Tuesday, the fact that most of the ladies in her author's group have ditched the high heels (horror of all horrors! *gasp*)

But that's without knowing the posse of the Royal Blush Authors. We like light stuff yes (souffle foundation, strappy sandals and breezy sundresses among others on the wishlist this summer— oops, sorry, veering off track here *sheepish grin*). Yes, where was I? Oh yeah, the crew at RBA always have something to say, even if on the apparently breezy topic of shoes.

This is how Tuesday will find you with T.J. in a terribly moving and introspective post about what shoes have represented to her in the past days and weeks.

On Thursday, Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) brings us her post about what it's like to be in the shoes of your heroines. Spurred on by T.J.'s post, this one will make you ask yourself where and how thoughts and shoes meet in perfect harmony.

And, on Wednesday, catch Sandra Marshall as she tells us about one very important aspect of being in a writer's shoes - rejection and how to deal with it.

Don't forget:

This June, we're scratching at the myth surrounding authors and shedding some light on their whole world.

This June, we're on the quest:

Searching for the author's reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hallowed be thee, crit partner

My next word in the above statement - Not!!! There's nothing holy about what your crit partner tells you, and you should see it for what it is first and foremost. A critique.

Have you ever watched a movie and then read what the critics are saying about it? Have you noticed that the critics' views may range from this-is-crap to this-is-brilliant and everything in between? Now have you stopped to ponder what your idea of the movie is?

You should be doing the same with your story. After all, who better than you will know what you want to say?

So, am I saying crit partners should be ditched? After all, I'm telling you to have your own opinion, aren't I? The answer is No. You actually need your crit partners, but you also need to know how to weed out what you do need from their words and what you don't.

I came into the writing world armed only with literary knowledge. If you recall my post about the fine line between literature and popular fiction, I wanted my characters to be the foil for a reality I wanted to show. The first thing I realised with crit partners' insight is that I'm not cut out for writing literature. I was blowing too much life into the characters for that, which was making me veer towards popular fiction. I didn't want to write Harlequin type, because I knew it would never be accepted and published in my country. But in the end, I couldn't keep on rebelling. I had to accept the truth - I wrote popular fiction.

My crit partners showed me that, but afterwards, it was very much trial and error that had me pulling my hair out almost every single day! That was the extent of their 'help' - to show me I was better off writing romance but man, did everyone have an opinion about how to go about the task! I met the know-it-alls and even those who thought they knew much when they didn't know a thing - why does your story start here? You'd have more impact if you made the mother come to her doorstep in London, or if you gave the heroine a mental breakdown. You write too far-fetched stuff, life is not like this in the twenty-first century. You're too wordy. You need to pitch the boyfriend with the ex at this particular point or you're completely missing the point. A scene is a minimum of 3 pages long. Less than that, scrape it (even if you have something to say!).

Okay, you get the drift, don't you? One day I stopped listening and sat down with my story. So, what were my strengths and what were my weaknesses, I asked myself. How exactly do I write? What am I aiming to portray and show? Like T.J. said, how can you think you'll make your work better if you don't even have any idea what you need to make better?

Started a long journey for me. I wrote the full story, without getting any crits. I needed to know where I was going. Then I looked up writing resources on the net and devoured everything I came across (site like those of Charlotte Dillon, Holly Lisle, eharlequin Learn how to write, and Romantic Times were the best I found, among others).

I started to see something emerge - some of these articles said the same thing. And this is something you need to take into account. If 5-10 people in the industry are saying something, there's a good chance the thing they're saying is true. Mind, you I never said it was set in stone. You just need to bear this truth in mind.

In the meantime, I had found the last chapters easier to write. Why? Because it just flowed. I could get into the characters' heads and relate their POV, and the words fell onto the screen, even if it was wordy. One scene I remember writing where I made the couple break up. I was shaken for a long time after that, shaken by the violence in their words, in their emotions, in how they used me as a medium to pass through to the reader what was at the very bottom of their hearts.

I didn't send this for crits. Armed with the knowldge gained from the articles I had read, I created my list of strengths and weaknesses and tackled it. Rewrote the ms. Re-rewrote the ms on another read. Polished, editted, became best buddies with my thesaurus. Then I sent it off to the editor. Not pausing to think, I started a second project. Started writing, again a wordy first draft. Finished the draft and tentatively put it up for crits. The know-it-alls no longer bashed me now. They had no opportunity to do so, other than tell me I was wordy and my story was littered with echoes.

From there I read all their crits. Took some of their pointers and advice where tightening was concerned. Used a more appropriate word when they sometimes suggested. Gave careful consideration to plot points they didn't agree with.

At this point, I knew what worked for me and what didn't. The aim of a crit was to show me what my eyes had missed, not to provide my crit partner with an English class exercise of 'rewrite this better'. I also paid attention to the fact that if 2 or more people were going, 'I don't know what you mean by this line', there would be a very good chance most readers wouldn't too. This I changed/rewrote.

It all boils down to this - know thy story and know thyself as a writer. This will give you what will work for you and what won't from the sea of 'advice' you'll get from your crit partners. Read about the business and the craft, and always be on the lookout to learn. The only hallowed word is that of your editor, and even there you have room to disagree and argue constructively.

I am lucky today to have trusted crit partners and also a mentor who has steered me in the right track. They all helped me to find my strengths and address my weaknesses, and that too in a constructive, empathetic and supportive way. Nobody plays the know-it-all with me, and I always remember to never sound like one when I do give a crit. Use or lose is my favourite bit of advice at the end, because this is what you should do - use what will strengthen and lose what doesn't work. The best way to know how to make the difference? Invest in your story and in your own writing. Knowledge is the greatest asset!

Btw, that first story I talk about here is actually The Other Side, my first published novel!

I'd love you opinion on this topic! Feel free to holler!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Should you fire your crit partner/s?

I get this a lot as a publisher as well as an editor, 'but my crit partner says this' or 'I belong to X Y and Z crit groups'. Normally, I'm thinking – very good for your crit partners and what's their experience in the industry?

This might not seem like a big issue but there is a hardcore fact in the industry, mentors are hard to come by. Crit partners, like crit groups, are a dime a dozen. The funny thing about the latter is as a writer you have to recognize your strengths and nail out a list of your weaknesses. If you don't know what is wrong with your story, how can you expect any crit partner to knock out a stellar edit? How will you recognize if they are right or wrong?

Voice plays into this. As an editor, I know of authors who are gangbuster brilliant in the Omniscient Voice. They head hop like there is no tomorrow and the opposing thoughts of the hero or heroine literally hold me captive in the story. Currently most crit partners only recognize head hopping as a no-no. They should be able to point out sloppiness, or say because the opposing perceptions occur without rhyme or reason or read as ESP this mucks up the story. It is much the same in first person POV. I and I and I, My and My and My – too much passivity in a first person story can drag the steam right out of the plot. Crit partners, good ones at least, should be able to point this out.

A crit partner or a crit group shouldn't try to rewrite your story to prove they know it all or to make the story more their style. I once met a writer who was told her story would never sell because there wasn't enough romance in it. After massive rewrites and a lot of frustration, this author was very nearly ready to give up until she met me. I was able to point out where her crit partners had gone off the reservation. First, recognize what genre you are writing in. In the case of this author, she was writing Women's Fiction, not Romance. Women's fiction is a General Fiction sub-genre. Romance is romance. These two often cross paths but a Woman's Fiction story is greatly known as the heroine's journey. If a romance is added, the focus is still on the heroine's personal evolution. She may end up with an HEA, but that doesn't mean it is a necessity of this sub-genre. A crit group or partner should never say a story is unsellable simply because they don't agree or can't see what a writer is writing.

Have open discussions with your crit partners or groups. Ask them what they think is the issues you might encounter in their story. You too should tell them where you think you went off the track. If you recognize your voice is a tad bit sloppy, then ask a crit partner to look at that alone, especially if you are in the first few tries at a different voice. If you think you've delved too far into back story, ask them if they think it is too much or not enough. Never pay attention to the hard and fast rules about this one specific rule. You need to set up your story so the reader can root for the character. Don't delude yourself that just because an author is multi-published or with an agent that they know it all. I guarantee you, they don't. If you have a particular group of crit partners say five or so, you should have at least one who recognizes plot and characterization flaws and one who is a grammar queen.

A crit group is not a cheerleading squad. You should expect to work just as hard with a crit partner or group as you do with an editor. They should make you think. They should give you constructive advice and let you know where your story has gone awry. This should never include flaming or author bashing. Yes, you have to be open to the criticism, but you should never hear the words – 'you don't know what you are doing' or 'I've never read a worst story'. You may not know what you are doing, but bashes like the ones I pointed out aren't helpful. There is one author in particular out there who does this and I am the first person to tell her to check her ego and her hate at the door. In my thirty years of experience, I've only ever found one story I would consider beyond redemption. Even then I debated because I knew what the author was trying to do, she simply dug in her heels on the principle of what she wanted to portray.

Trust is the pinnacle point of any crit group. The moment the trust is broken the relationship is over. If you are in a crit group and start to see a variation of your story come into play, it is a bad situation. That isn't to say there isn't some carryover in this industry. Of course there is. The fact is crit partners shouldn't be taking advantage of the story you are working on. They shouldn't ever say to you, 'I liked your concept so much I decided to use it' or if you hear, 'I've used this specific plot device because I read it in another book', get out. The former is breaking professional courtesy, the latter is plagiarism.


Now it's your turn. Do you think crit partner/s or groups are really meeting the mark or are they letting you down? Do you walk away from each crit feeling like your writing is better and still your own words?


Until next time, cheers and happy writing,



Monday, June 8, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

Second week of June already. Where does the time fly? We're all geared towards spring and the sun, though in some parts of the world, like for Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn), the gales of winter are blowing in full force. But, this is all about the continuation of the seasons, right? One thing flowing into the next to create a whole?

This is also what we're aiming to provide here. Last week we covered aspects of that elusive thing called voice and how you can pin it down and wrestle it into submission. Big lol here - you cannot wrestle with voice, because it will always win. Learn to accept that fact. Sorry though, I am veering off track.

This week, we have more about the reality of the writer in store for you. We actually touch upon a very sensitive subject in the writing world, people we cannot exactly exist without. The halo-ed and hallowed crit partners!

T.J. on Tuesday will bring you a very important post to ponder - should you fire your crit partners? Are they actually helping you or hindering you? To what extent do you need a crit partner and what's her role/job in your life as a writer?

On Thursday, Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) continues upon the same issue, along the lines of how you should deal with the crits you get and the, unfortunately, bashful and murky crits you may receive.

Don't forget:

This June, we're scratching at the myth surrounding authors and shedding some light on their whole world.

This June, we're on the quest:

Searching for the author's reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Voice sotto voce

T.J. started an important topic 2 days ago about voice. We've all heard about voice, the long and short of it. But what is it basically?

Voice is that special brand of writing unique to an author. It's how you write - whether you use long paragraphs of description that however mingles seamlessly into your story (think Tolkien and Jilly Cooper); whether you ramp up the emotion and describe every little happening in the emotional drive (Marian Keyes and Katherine Garbera); whether you write with humour and wit (think Sophie Kinsella and Jill Mansell and also Janet Evanovich); whether you're known for the unexpected twists and turns you bring to a story (Sidney Sheldon and again, Jill Mansell); whether you write about hard issues in a way that sucks in everyone (Martina Cole). It's something that as a writer passes through your words and makes the way you write unique.

One thing many confuse is voice and genre. Voice transcends genre, for example Philippa Gregory writes both contemporaries and historicals, yet the way she lays out her story and her wording immerses you into the plot irrespective of whether she is writing about small-town England or the Elizabethan era. As a writer, say for example your particular brand is funny and witty. Whether you write a contemporary or a fantasy, your readers who are follwoing you won't bother that you're asking for a suspension of disbelief when in the fantasy world. They want to read you because they want that funny streak.

And that's the mastery of voice. Your voice is how you write. Period. Now if like Sophie Kinsella you write funny contemporaries about modern and slightly silly but endearing characters, you as a reader read Sophie Kinsella because you know there will be that funny tone in her works. Now imagine Ms. Kinsella going way off to another genre - say a paranormal. You expect to see something along the lines of Sabrina The Teenage Witch from her pen, not the Dresden Files of Jim Butcher.

T.J. mentions consistency of voice. It's plain and simply that how you write is supposed to be consistent, unless you expressly want to branch out to another voice (again, think funny v/s dark and dismal), you need to build this new voice, and expect that not everyone will follow and you may also lose readers this way.

Another aspect of voice is what POV you use. If your readers love your 1st person takes, be careful when venturing to 3rd person. It may be easier to switch from 3rd to 1st, but always expect that the reader who reads you in one POV and liked your style may not like the other POV because the two are inherently different.

One other thing - your voice is yours, most definitely, but you have to ask yourself whether this voice agrees with the market of today and the market you are targetting. Anyone who's read a Betty Neels M&B will know what I mean here. Ms. Neels wrote about romance but her stories were more about narration and the day-to-day happenings of the characters. Take a look at any M&B today, and romance in general, and you will see it is action and character-driven. The story is in your face, and you are not supposed to go about how the heroine Marie spent her day first visiting the cats in the loft of the barn, then she whiled away the afternoon with a stroll by the lake and then she came back home as the dark was descending to have a hearty meal of shepherd's pie before going to sleep. This was good when Ms. Neels wrote circa the 70s, but it is not what the market of the post-2000 looks for.

An author who comes to my mind every time I think of mastery of character involvement in Harlequin and Mills and Boon stories is Katherine Garbera. Okay, a Blaze book is only 180 or so pages long, and I can read that in 2 hours. But with Katherine Garbera's books, I do it in just over an hour. Why? Because she sucks me into the story and I feel I'm there in the scenes, and it is oh-so-hard to break away without knowing how the H/h are gonna end up together! This is all thanks to her voice, because a Blaze is always a Blaze with H/h kept apart yet with a fire burning between them. You know they'll overcome all obstacles and get that HEA, yet why is it some other Blazes you can put down at page 60 and then pick up to get to 100, and then to 120, and so on, while for some you simply have to read it all in one go?

Voice, again, is the key.

I hope I didn't further muddy the waters for you. Any questions, feel free to holler!

By the way, come check my new website - it just went fully live this week!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Keep in mind - voice sells

A few weeks ago I was at a meeting in which I met a few bright-eyed newbies who appeared the veritable aliens interspersed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Overwhelmed? Most definitely. Curious? Decidedly. Amped up and ready to make their mark on the publishing industry? Yes.

One conversation perked a great deal of interest amongst those who attended. Wasn't it enough to just get published? This sprang from one young writer who was collecting e-publishing contracts like there was no tomorrow. Granted, we weren't stunned that she was suddenly feeling like the cat's cream, but we (those of us who have been in the industry for quite some time) felt she needed a bit of a grounding.

First point of contention arose from her attitude. We've all met the 'supposed' and 'self-proclaimed' gods of writing whether on the web or at a confie. In the past I have discussed their flawed rules until everybody around me was ready to scream. This author had only been writing for two or three years, but spewed, 'write this way and not that' to anybody who would listen. She had the unmitigated gall to come to me and tell me that I didn't know how to write because I don't plot a story to the smallest detail.

Want to turn me around to the bad side - that's how to do it. Though, I don't believe in engaging in petty arguments, especially around my contemporaries. Thus I was thinking, 'go away, little bug'.

The second part of the discussion which really got the established authors interest was when she rambled off all her publishers and the style she was writing in. As if that was some great feat of her writing ability. I will never forgive my friend, John, for egging this author on to deliver even more information.

It was when she came up for air, and she did need to take a breather, that I interjected, 'so there is no consistency in your voice'. It wasn't a question, but a statement of fact. A scathing glare directed at me caused most of the room to come to a standstill. She tried to flub out, 'that doesn't matter. I got the credit.' She stuck her foot even further down her throat by going into no-man's-land with a single statement. 'Besides, this publisher didn't mark my head hopping, so I'm okay'.
To what end?

One of the aspects readers fall in love with is a writer's voice. This is independent of the publisher or the plot. And, consistency of voice is the responsibility of the author. A publisher is not going to traipse over the internet to read what you have written before. We don't have the time, or the energy. Though, most publishers will visit blogs or websites.

Here's a very big issue many newbie authors do not understand. If you don't have a consistent voice, you are more likely to alienate readers. It isn't to say you shouldn't take another voice out for a spin, you should, but you have to be extremely careful when doing so. If you sell a totally different voice, (note: I
said totally different), you need to accept the fact that some readers might snort in derision at you. It takes a firm strategy to market a new voice. You
have to prep your readers for the switch and gather a new group of readers by promoting the new voice.

Be careful with your wonderful gems. Give them love, care and a consistency no matter what a publisher might say.

So, what's your take on voice. Do you love one, but can live with another from a single author or does it leave a bad taste in your mouth?



Monday, June 1, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

Another month has started, and we're already clocking into the 6th division of the year. Before we know it, Christmas will be at our doors (I'm sure this is what the marketing department of every shop is also thinking!)

So, what do we have in store for you in June? June's the name of a girl... Heroines maybe? Nah, we already covered that, though we haven't said all there is to say about characters. Well, June is the continuation of spring that starts with May, and we thought we'd go about continuation too.

Remember how in May we were searching for an appropriate reality? We touched upon issues pertinent to reality and realism in the penning of a story.

Well, in June we're continuing in the same vein, except we'll be talking about the reality that faces the writer. Yes, get ready for some truths about the business.

We kick off this first week with something many stumble and stutter with - voice. What is voice and why do you need it?

Catch T.J. on Tuesday as she tells you about the main consideration every writer needs where voice is concerned.

On Thursday, Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) will try to shed some light on the concept of voice, clocking it in with T.J's post too.

Throughout the rest of the month, we'll also feature our regular contributors Sandra Marshall and Diana Castilleja, asking them about what they feel is the reality of a writer and what things you simply have to take into account when you step into this field.

Don't forget:

This June, we're scratching at the myth surrounding authors and shedding some light on their whole world.

This June, we're on the quest:

Searching for the author's reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush