Monday, February 28, 2011

Revision Reads

Can you believe it's the last day of February? Time flies when you're writing!

I'm up for a hectic week so I'm leaving you with a short but valuable post. I recently came across a couple of  must-read links for anyone polishing a manuscript or dealing with revisions. Actually, they're great reads at any stage of writing.

Check out Kristen Lamb's blog post on novel diagnostics: The Doctor Is In The House.
Also visit Harlequin author Wendy Marcus's post on revisions at Romance University.

And for anyone interested in strengthening their plotting and character development skills, pick up a copy of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. I just finished reading it a few days ago and it's fantastic. In fact, I'm adding it to my list of favorite craft books. Not only does he write with a sense of humor, his style is also very straightforward and he makes concepts click. You close the book feeling ready to apply what he has explained. I rank it up there with Debra Dixon's GMC as a writing staple.

Happy writing!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Testing your character's brain dominance

When I interviewed author Jeannie Watt earlier this month, she talked about being both left and right brain dominant. That made me realize that I've never taken a brain dominance test. It also made me wonder about character brain dominance. No. Seriously.

When we're brainstorming or plotting a new story, we're supposed to dig deep and really explore our characters. Even if the gory details don't show up in the manuscript, knowing your character's favorite hobby, color, type of food, type of travel, perhaps even their astrological sign, can help you make them more real. It can guide you in making sure any decisions they make would hold true to their personality.

So what about brain dominance? Well, if you've ever read through a brain dominance test, it's full of questions that could spark your character brainstorming session. Even if you don't care about the final result, answering those questions from your character's perspective could be an interesting excercise. And besides, it's kind of fun and you (or your character) have nothing to lose.

A good one is The Right Brain vs Left Brain Creativity Test. Not only does it give you a percentage left vs right result, it also breaks the results down into different strengths/weaknesses such as being logical, fantasy-oriented, intuitive and many more. My results on this test? 51% left brained and 49% right brained. Pretty close to evenly split.

Another test (but much shorter one) is the Hemispheric Dominance Inventory Test. On that one I ended up evenly split with a 9 left and 9 right score. I also ended up categorized as 'middle brained' on a test geared for teens. Okay. I'm a bit older than a teen, but I had fun thinking back to how I would have answered a very...very long time ago ;). And some of us have teen characters. Right?

And BTW, if you come across the Spinning Dancer test for brain dominance, know that it's just an optical illusion...not a true dominance test.

So have fun. Explore your characters in a new way. Discover your own brain dominance while you're at it. Care to share?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Not so romantic first meets

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

As you know from my post a couple of weeks ago, I believe that Valentine's Day (like many other holidays) has become quite commercialized. In lieu of cliche gifts, I suggested using the day to start a romantic tradition/habit like reading a romance novel with your significant other.

Thinking about spending time together also got me thinking about how I first met my husband. It was anything but cliche...or romantic. I had gone to tour a biology lab where I was signed up to do undergraduate research. The professor I needed to speak with was on the phone. He told my friend and me to go on into the lab and his grad student would get us started. Well, his grad student (over 6 ft tall with dark hair and an intense look on his handsome face) was busy with a fish. He looked up, distracted, and asked if I'd hold the fish for him. Of course I said yes. Little did I know that gar (a pre-historic, bony, air-breathing fish) are extremely slimy. Imagine the goo coming off my hands when I let go. It was lovely.

He did speak briefly to my friend and me afterwards...before one of his 'groupie' lab students came to say hi to him. Did I mention that I wore an oversized t-shirt, had braces on my teeth, a pimple breakout on my chin, unplucked eyebrows (had never plucked them before), and I was extremely shy?

Somehow, we still ended up married. Funny how things work.

So do you have any fun stories about how you met your match? If not, do you have a favorite hero/heroine first meeting from a movie or romance novel?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winners of Jeannie Watt's Giveaway!

The winners of Maddie Inherits A Cowboy are...

Jennifer Shirk

Congratulations! I've read the book so I know you'll absolutely love the story. Email Jeannie with your information at jeanniewrites (at) gmail (dot) com. If you have any trouble getting through or have any questions, just drop me a comment here.

Remember, U.S. residents have a choice of paperback or Kindle download, and residents outside the U.S. get a Kindle download. Just let Jeannie know :).


Monday, February 7, 2011

Interview with Harlequin Superromance Author Jeannie Watt

I'm thrilled to have Superromance author Jeannie Watt here today! Jeannie's books are amongst the first category romances that I ever read...and she had me hooked. Her experiences in travel, art, science, raising ponies, ranching, and living 'off-the-grid' in rural Nevada (where her writing time is generator regulated), makes her stories rich with the reality of American life in the west. Whether cop or cowboy, her tortured heroes are dreamy and they've certainly met their matches with her heroines.

Find out for yourself! You'll find a link to chapter one of her latest release Maddie Inherits A Cowboy down below, and she's giving away THREE COPIES OF HER BOOK! Just comment or ask questions and you'll be entered in the drawing.

Hi Rula, and thanks for having me as a guest at A Writer’s Rush! You write terrific questions, by the way.

Aw thanks, Jeannie. You give incredible answers! Let's get started...

1. I'm fascinated by how many romance authors are right-brained by night and have left-brained careers by day. There's no doubt you're a gifted writer and artist. What led you to getting a degree in geology and teaching science? Does your background in science in any way influence the way you write romance or approach your art projects, or is it the other way around?

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people with left-brain jobs write or pursue artistic endeavors in their spare time. With me, it’s because I’m both right and left-brained. When I take the right-brain/left-brain tests, I come out dead center every time. I consider this a gift because I can look at the big picture (right brain) and also tear it down into tiny parts (left brain) to work on the individual pieces. When I write, though, I must admit to starting with small pieces, usually a scene, a premise or a character that pops into my head, and then I start building. That sounds pretty left-brained. But then I go off on wild tangents that somehow work into the story—right-brained.

I got my degree in geology because my dad worked in geologic exploration. He was based in some very remote areas of Idaho, Montana and Alaska, and my brother and I got to go to the exploration camps during the summer. We went out into the field and rode in helicopters and stuff. I knew I wanted to work in geologic exploration from the time I was a teen, even though women geologists were not as common then as they are now—maybe about 25-30% of the college. I remember being in one geology class for over a month before I realized I was the only woman in it. Most of my friends were men, since most of my classmates were men. I think living and working in male dominated environments has given me a pretty good idea of how the male brain works, which in turn helps my writing. Heroes are always easier for me to write.

2. You're one of the most multitalented people I've ever met. Between teaching, sewing, painting, mosaic mirrors, marathons, and a menagerie of animals, when do you find the time to write? Now that you're multipublished, have you settled on a method (outlines, linear vs non etc...) that keeps your writing on schedule?

I find time to write by ignoring housework for as long as possible and rarely cooking. I find this works well for me. Fortunately my husband does cook, so I don’t starve. I also write a lot in the car. We live 45 minutes from town, so I get a page or two done every morning while my husband drives. I have to set goals to keep my writing on schedule—a certain number of pages a day, or a certain number of chapters done by a certain date. I’m a morning writer, so I get out of bed around 4:30 or 5:00, stumble to the computer, drink the coffee that my husband so thoughtfully provides for me and start typing until it’s time to get ready for work. My brain works best in the a.m. By 11:00 on the weekends, I can pursue other things—running, dreaded housework, glass cutting, etc. Of all the things I do, writing is most important to me, so I keep it center stage—even when my story is beating the crud out of me. When I’m done with a book, I take a week or two off and do nothing but cut glass or sew. Sometimes I clean the house from top to bottom. Then I start writing again.

3. Your books are truly addictive. The first one I read was A Cowboy's Redemption, and when I finished it I immediately ordered all the books you'd ever written. Whether it's your cowboys, cops, veterinarians or secondary characters, you manage to make them so fundamentally real that it's hard to finish a story and transition back to reality! You're a master of torture (insert evil laughter). I mean that in the best way, and I'm sure it applies only to your stories and not teaching ;). But amidst all the dilemmas your characters face, you manage to infuse real life humor and heat (Cop On Loan is a great example of that). What's your secret to making/keeping it real? Do you have a mantra/question you repeat while brainstorming a story? Are you a people watcher? Newspaper reader? Or is it all in the emotional layering and dialogue?

Oh, no—I enjoy torturing my students. Just ask them.

I am a people watcher, and, more than that, a listener. I’m an auditory learner, so I prefer dialogue to description. I listen to everything. It’s turned out to be a wonderful survival tool in the classroom and it’s given me a good ear for dialogue. Description I have to work at. I’m also pretty empathetic, which is a double-edged sword when teaching, but really helps me get into the characters’ heads when writing. I know how I would feel in a given situation…how would this character feel? Then I try to clue in the reader by letting them experience the character’s internal arguments and observations—especially the irreverent observations, which is where the humor comes from. I love it when a character thinks one thing and says another, since we all do this, or when they are completely clueless and floundering to make sense of a situation. I try to make the characters as human as possible. I love flaws, because we all have them and must learn to work around them. I try to give characters both flaws and positive attributes that people can identify with.

4. I'm not surprised that you sold the second manuscript you'd written. Many authors write for years before getting The Call. Since hindsight is 20/20, what do you think was the biggest change/growth in your writing that made all the difference going from your first manuscript to your second?

My second manuscript had better conflict and character motivation than the first, and the plot was less contrived, but it still had to be rewritten three times before it sold. I didn’t have the internet at the time, or belong to RWA, or have a writing group within a couple hundred miles, so I was basically floundering around on my own. One of the characters in my first manuscript was good (the hero), one was flat (the heroine). I needed to figure out how to give them real motivation—other than the fact that I wanted them to get together. That was where conflict came in. I finally figured out how to give them opposing goals, but even in my second manuscript, it wasn’t strong enough. The editor pointed this out to me. Okay—the hero has to leave because of his job. Why can’t she go with him? Uhhhh….Because I don’t want her to? Not good enough. Also I had to learn to have the characters be proactive rather than reactive, and my conflict needed to be organic—to grow from the situation and from their opposing goals, not to be thrust upon them. Frankly, I didn’t want to hurt my characters too badly, being empathetic and all, or make them suffer too much. But it’s necessary for a good story. Once I started getting feedback that pertained to my writing, from online classes and rejections, a lot of what I’d been reading in the how-to-write books started to make sense. Funny how you can read or hear something over and over again, and then suddenly…aha!

5. Call stories are inspiring and never grow old. With your ninth Superromance, Maddie Inherits A Cowboy, hitting the shelves this month, do you still recall The Call? We'd love to hear about it!

I started the process of getting published by actually finishing a book. This was a huge step in the right direction. In 2003, I sent a partial off to SuperRomance, my favorite Harlequin line, and got a rejection and an invitation to send something else. In January of 2004, I sent a partial to the editorial assistant who’d requested it. Three months later I got a request for a whole. From an editor! I sent it in and three months after that got a rejection along with a page of notes and the offer to reread if I wanted to rewrite. Gold!

I sent the rewritten manuscript in again. In April of 2005, I got not The Call, but A Call from a Harlequin editor. In fact it started with, “This is not the call you’ve been waiting for.” It isn’t? Rats. But it was one of the most valuable calls of my life. The editor, Kathleen Schiebling, discussed my story with me. Then she sent me a real revision letter. Shortly thereafter, she became the head editor of American Romance. I sent her my revised manuscript anyway, since I didn’t know who else to send it to. Three months passed. Four. Five. On January 2, 2006, I realized that it’d been too long and that my rejection had probably been lost in the mail months ago, so heart pounding, I called Harlequin. I spoke to the editorial assistant and, wonder of wonders, she knew the manuscript I was talking about. It was still under consideration! Four days later, I got The Call from Victoria Curran. Not a day passes that I’m not grateful to have received that call. It changed my life.

6. What I love even more than your new blog is that you posted the entire first chapter of Maddie Inherits A Cowboy on it. Did I mention that you're a master of torture? Talk about an emotional and tense whallop that leaves a reader wanting more. And that last line...fantastic hook! What inspired you to write Maddie's story?

Maddie’s story was one of those that jumped into my head. Good thing, too, since I had a super tight deadline on that one. I envisioned a hero who hated Christmas because of a personal tragedy and guilt. Then I needed a heroine to knock some sense into him. Enter the hero’s dead partner’s sister. Both hero and heroine are dealing with the same loss, but in different ways. I wanted the hero to have been very fond of her brother and not so fond of her, so I decided to make her a pedantic pain. We all know that sometimes pain wakes up emotion and that’s exactly what it does for him.

7. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks your twin, teen boys from Once And For All are begging for their own heroines (once they're a little older of course). Any plans to bring back secondary characters from previous books?

The twins will be back. I loved them so much that, yes, they need their own stories and I can’t wait to find them suitable heroines. Of all my heroes, the one that I would probably end up with myself is their uncle, Sam, because he’s the steady, trustworthy kind of guy. And he’s hot. Writing the twins will be like revisiting Sam.

8. Apart from not quitting, what's your best advice for unpublished writers?

Take classes—online or in person—especially those in which you can post your writing and get input from the instructor. Ask questions. Get feedback, but keep in mind that it’s only one person’s opinion. A good critique will have positives and negatives. Most writers have a story about someone who looked at their work and told them to quit, or that they had no talent, etc. I got thrashed the only time I entered the Golden Heart. If I hadn’t sold the manuscript to Harlequin two months before I got my scores, I probably would have quit writing for a while—emphasis on “a while”. It wasn’t that the judges were off base, so much as the fact that the first three chapters of my book, those judged in the Golden Heart, moved slowly—it was the fast moving middle and the end that sold the book for me. I had to rewrite the first 80 pages after it sold to step up the action. I didn’t know much about pacing then. My opening chapters tend to roll along now, but before I learned about pacing, through feedback, I took a couple hundred years setting the scene, etc... Remember, too, that some people give negative feedback because they’re negative people. Don’t let that paralyze you. It happens to all of us who dare expose our writing to the world.

9. And now for a little fun...what's your quirkiest writing habit and favorite deadline crunch-time snack?

Quirkiest writing habit—I write at a small computer desk facing a wall. Sometimes, when I have trouble with a story, I have to put my computer on the kitchen table and type facing that way for a while. I don’t know why it works, but it does. Also—I’ve read about a study that showed that the color of the wall or computer screen makes a difference. Red is best for detail work and proofing, blue for imagination. My wall is red, so maybe that’s why I have to turn around when I’m stuck and looking for inspiration.

Deadline crunch-time snack—diet Coke. I try not to drink too much soda, but when the deadline’s snapping at my heels I go for the cola. I also like dark chocolate. In a perfect world, I’d be able to mainline cheesecake during the deadline crunch, but I can’t afford a new wardrobe.

10. For me, a writer's rush is the equivalent of a runner's high. As both an accomplished marathon runner and romance writer, which gives you a greater endorphin release, running or writing romance?

Writing romance! I’ve never gotten an injury when writing and, while both running and writing give me great satisfaction, I could give up running. I can’t give up writing.

Writing is definitely more fun than excercise, LOL! Thanks you so much for being here, Jeannie. I really enjoyed interviewing you.

Everyone, Jeannie has graciously offered to give her best shot (and I suspect she has very good aim) at answering any writing related questions you might have. She'll be popping in as her schedule permits, so check back for answers and insight. Thanks again, Jeannie!

GIVEAWAY: Don't forget! Jeannie is giving away copies of Maddie Inherits A Cowboy to THREE lucky people! All you have to do is leave a comment or a question now through Wednesday. Winners will be announced this Thursday, February 10th. U.S. residents may choose between a paperback copy or a Kindle download. Winners outside the U.S. will be awarded a Kindle download (Amazon has a free app available to allow for reading on a PC or Mac).

Blurb: Maddie Inherits A Cowboy

No heat. No bed. And a cow…hanging from the rafters? What kind of ranch is this? No wonder Madeline's brother only sent pictures of the stunning Nevada landscape. He couldn't very well have convinced his family he was happy in this godforsaken place. But the cold outside is more bearable than the frosty partner she's inherited along with half of the ranch. Ty Hopewell. Not exactly Mr. Social.

Never mind. She has every right to be here. She may be a city girl, but Madeline Blaine has a PhD and she's not afraid to use it. Something about this place—and this cowboy—just doesn't feel right. And she's going to figure out what it is. And fix it. Fix him, too…if she can.

Click here to read Chapter 1
Potato chip warning: You can't stop at just one chapter of a Jeannie Watt book ;)

Click on the following links to buy Maddie Inherits A Cowboy:
Barnes & Noble

Find Jeannie Watt at:
Jeannie on Facebook

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Love your heart: National Wear Red Day

You may have noticed that I have a Go Red For Women link on the sidebar. Women and heart disease is an issue that's...well...close to my heart. In spite of my relatively young age and healthy eating habits, my awful family history of heart disease and recent bloodwork indicate that I'm at high risk. I've been given a few months to see if I can change my risk factor through diet and excercise. If not, I'll have to start taking a prescription med. In the meantime, I'm a baby aspirin-a-day gal.

But that's not all. I've personally known young, seemingly healthy women who have died from heart attacks. One of them was one of the physical education instructors at my highschool, and she was in her thirties. An avid jogger at that. Another was a neighbor. A mother the same age as myself. Talk about a wake-up call.

Tomorrow is National Wear Red Day. Visit the Go Red For Women site and explore the information and informative links provided, including one to the American Heart Association's Heart Attack Risk Calculator. Pick up a copy of Prevention Magazine's latest issue (February 2011) dedicated to women and heart disease, and read up on the latest screening tests your doctor may not have mentioned. Hear stories of young heart attack/stroke survivors and how their conditons were missed. (I subscribe to Prevention Magazine, but  you can find it in your grocery store aisle). The latest RWR (Romance Writer's Report for RWA members) has numerous articles on staying healty, as well as Go Red For Women heart disease facts.

You are your best advocate. Be a well informed patient. Ask for those tests. If you think that your doctor is brushing off your concern, find another doctor if at all possible. Heart disease kills 1 out of 3 women a year. It's the number one killer of women over age 20.

Be your own proactive heroine.

Stay healthy. Be aware. Spread the word.

Wear red on February 4th! I'll be sporting my Go Red For Women red dress pin as well :)