Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Selling Synopsis

A lot of authors postpone writing the synopsis until, well, they can no longer avoid it. Many agents and editors require a synopsis with a query or submission, so alas, it can’t be postponed forever.
For myself, I’ve learned a little trick that helps. You may want to try it. Before you begin your story, write the synopsis. Impossible, you say. I’m a pantser. Well, I am too—a crossover, really, because I plot and it gets changed so much that it’s unrecognizable. However, the real advantage in writing a synopsis first is that it allows you to spot any weakness in the plot, before an agent sees it and sends a form letter your way.
A synopsis is not meant to be a chronicle of events, but rather a distillation of the novel. Forget anything but the main characters. The agent/editor only wants to know about them and the event that changed their lives. It’s like a book blurb without the hype, if you will. And always tell the ending.
For those of you who resist writing the synopsis first, an easy way to distill your novel is to make an outline of the finished book in Word. That will remind you, if you don’t have a detailed plot, what happens when. From there, you can strike what’s essential, and whittle it down that way. Sometimes I think I write better synopses than novels, because I get requests followed by a form letter, but again, that’s part of the business.
I’d love to know when you usually write a synopsis, so leave me a comment. I’m guessing most wait until the story is complete, but you may find writing it earlier serves as a guide and eliminates a sagging middle—which is another blog subject entirely.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Titles, Themes, and Planting Ideas

HOW do you come up with a title? I know there is a better process than the one I have.
I slink out to the hammock with a tablet and stay there until I've compiled a list of 15 titles. Anything that comes to mind can go on the list. Then I trot back inside, type up the list, and blast it out to my closest friends and family. They pare it down for me.

The truth is I'm TERRIBLE at coming up with Titles. Encapsulate my entire work into an eye-catching 3, 4 or 5 word phrase? Also, you should google your title on Amazon to be sure it hasn't been a best-selling title recently. (Although a title can't be copyrighted, so you're free to re-use someone's).

In truth, a title is very closely related to that thing we were taught in high school English--THEME. It makes us uncomfortable to talk about theme. Most of us had high school teachers who slapped us with a D on the paper and wrote "WRONG" across the top. I graduated from college during a time when something called reader-response theory was in vogue. If you read it, and your response is genuine, then your ideas are valid.

I often tell my college students that the theme of a story is the meaning minus the specific character names. It's over-arching like an umbrella. Our title should suggest or tease that theme. Choose carefully, then enjoy the fun part . . . planting it deep in the story.

Lucy realized they would all continue to take the risks they needed to take,
pay the price required of them. They would do it for the people they cared
about. So Dayton, and any other children coming into this circle, could grow up
in the country they loved. Living without love was something she wasn’t
courageous enough to do. The cost of love? It had always been, would continue to be, high. Gazing across into Dean’s eyes, she’d wager love was worth any cost.
excerpt from The Cost of Love)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blending families

Are you a woman facing divorce or separation? Parenting or grandparenting step-children? Trying to help your own children adjust to new family circumstances? Or through death or divorce, have your own parents found new partners that you have to adjust to?
Welcome to the club.
Women throughout history have been the nucleus around which their families coalesce, and that role has always been difficult even under the best of circumstances. But now, with the expansion and re-definiton of family, women might be compared to the circus performer who spins plates with one hand, juggles apples with the other, twirls hoops on her feet while balancing a glass of water on her head. Blended families have become the norm, and women today, of all ages and stages in life have to navigate the uncharted territory. Conflict takes on new dimensions, and simple communication becomes complex.
My extended family might be representative of yours. We have at least one member who represents eight decades, from great-grandparents in their eighties down to newborn. We have religious views ranging from agnostic to Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Buddhist. Our ethnicity varies. Most are Caucasian, but if the Vietnamese portion of my family lined up, you'd think you were in downtown Saigon! We also have family members who are Indian, Native American, and African-American. Talk about blended families! Mine looks Star Wars convention!
My heroine in A Corner of Universe is confronted with choices concerning her husband's adult son and how to integrate him into her already challenging situation. In doing research for the book, I discovered several resources that can provide help, support and information for blended families. Try here, here and here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Novel Ideas: Finding Inspiration to Write

Novel Ideas: Finding Inspiration to Write

by Jacqueline Seewald

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Thomas Alva Edison

Those of us who write novels share several things in common. We need to write as a form of self-expression. We are also people who like to read. We delight in connecting with a good book and enjoy reading regularly. We also read magazines and newspapers and are aware of what’s happening in the world. We feel the urge to communicate our own sense of reality through words.

So where do we find that one percent of inspiration that will guide our 99 percent of perspiration? Some of inspiration is the product of imagination. Speaking for myself, I find much inspiration in real life, living life as fully and actively as possible. For example, I became intrigued with "inferno collections" during the time of my library studies at Rutgers and while working at Alexander Library. I thought the concept would make a unique frame for a romantic suspense/mystery novel. It started when I attended a symposium where the lecturer was a Princeton University librarian who spoke eloquently about inferno collections, their connection with banned books particularly in the Victorian era. Not only did inferno collections exist in the past but still exist in more sophisticated and subtle forms today. This was how the novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION began.

The second romantic mystery novel in this series, THE DROWNING POOL, started with my talking to and observing various interesting individuals at a swim club some years ago. Kim Reynolds, a librarian with paranormal talent and crime-solving ability, will return in a third romantic mystery, THE TRUTH SLEUTH, which Five Star will publish in 2011. It too is inspired by real life experience.

For my children’s picture book, A DEVIL IN THE PINES, I created a faction story. I used the real setting of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the legend of the Jersey Devil combined with the fictional story of a little boy who learns how to deal with fear. Afton Publishing has kept this book in print from its publication in 1999 to the present. The inspiration for this particular book came from working as an educational media specialist/school librarian in an elementary library for several years and finding that such a book which was needed for school projects didn’t exist. This book filled the void.

The inspiration to write can take many forms, but I believe it’s there in all of us if we choose to follow our muse. I hope you will take a few minutes to share your own sources of inspiration in writing. What has provided you with your novel ideas?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finding Characters

I suppose introductions are still in order. I’m Terry Odell, and my first book with Five Star, WHEN DANGER CALLS, was released in December of 2008. The sequel, WHERE DANGER HIDES, will be released in May of 2011.

The most important facet of any book for me, whether I’m reading or writing, is characterization. Without characters the reader loves, everything else is secondary. So, how do I find the characters for my books? I advertise, of course! Here’s how I found Frankie, the heroine of WHEN DANGER CALLS.

Meet Frankie Castor … and Molly.

"Yes?" I say when my secretary calls. I have a break between appointments, and I'm trying to refine some of my yet-to-be-discovered heroine's goals, motivations and conflicts.

"We might have a problem with the next applicant," she says.

I consult my list. Frances Marie Castor. Four o'clock. So far, all I've seen are women who look like they're applying for a job at a strip club, not an action-adventure romance heroine. True, there are a few scenes where the heroine will have to play a cocktail waitress, but that's not what I'm looking for. "What kind of problem?"

"Her sitter can't make it, and she can't find anyone to take care of her daughter."

"How old is the daughter?" I ask.

After a moment, my secretary returns to the line. "She's almost five."

I wonder. Would it asking too much that I might be able to cast both roles at once? "Tell her to bring her daughter along."

Promptly at four, my secretary informs me Ms. Castor and her daughter have arrived. "Show them in," I say. Giving a silent prayer that this will be my final interview, I flip to a clean sheet of my notepad and turn my attention to the door.

When it opens, my secretary leads the candidate in. She gives me a look that says, "Am I supposed to entertain the kid?"

I give her a quick headshake. "Please come in, Ms. Castor." Outwardly, she's got promise. Honey-blonde, with clear, blue eyes. Minimal makeup, and a few strands of hair escape her ponytail. She's wearing khakis and a beige-and blue striped polo. Definitely not the stripper type. Girl next door all the way. My hopes lift a little higher. My gaze lowers to the child who's hanging back, clutching a backpack to her chest like a shield. Strawberry blonde, slight. Not exactly the image I had. For tension and conflict, I was looking for someone who resembled the Hispanic youngster Ryan Harper had failed to rescue before the book started.

Frances hesitates. "I'm sorry for the … inconvenience, and I really appreciate you seeing me today. This is Molly." I detect a quick nudge to the child, who lifts her head and gives me a polite smile, still keeping her eyes downcast. "Hello."

"Molly knows this is grownup time. She'll sit and read, or color. And will be very quiet." Another nudge.

I get up, circle my desk, and crouch to Molly's level. "Hi, Molly. Do you like to read?"

She nods.

"Well, I love to read, and I love to write stories, too. What's your favorite book?"

She meets my gaze with a smile, and her cobalt-blue eyes are irresistible. I'm already revising Molly's character description from a brown-eyed, dark-haired child to a blue-eyed strawberry blonde. Writing is all about the rewrites, after all.

"Green Eggs and Ham," she says. "I have it in my pack. I can read it to Mr. Snuggles all by myself."

"Very good," I say. I settle her on the loveseat against the wall. "You can read here while I talk to your mommy."

Molly unzips her pack and takes out a well-worn copy of the Seuss classic. Next comes a well-worn, once-white stuffed dog, which she places on her lap. Mr. Snuggles, I presume. I make another mental note. As soon as she opens the book, she's reciting the familiar rhymes in soft tones.

I haven't mentioned the role of a child, and I don't say anything yet. Casting children is a headache. I prefer to see them in their natural state, not performing, but it's almost impossible. Today is a rare exception.

"Please sit down, Ms. Castor." I direct her to one of my client chairs. "Or should I call you Frances."

"Call me Frankie," she says. "Only my mom calls me Frances, and then it's usually Frances Marie Castor, which means I'm in trouble." She sits. "Excuse my appearance. I had to come straight from work—I teach elementary school art—and I didn't have time to change. We've been working on collages."

As she sits, I get a brief whiff of Elmer's glue. Much nicer than the cloying scents I've been exposed to all day. "Tell me why you applied for this job."

She takes a breath. "Bottom line? The money."

Honest, straightforward. I jot a note. "You mentioned you have a job. Teaching."

"I'm only a sub while the regular teacher's on maternity leave. I had to move from Boston because my mother fell and broke her wrist, and my sister's husband got a great job, but it was in London, and they moved, and there was nobody to stay with Mom, so Molly and I moved out here and things are tight." She glanced at Molly, then gave me a quick grin. "Sorry. I … um … tend to babble when I'm nervous."

"There's no need to be nervous. Tell me about yourself. Your backstory, as we say in the business."

She jumps right in. "I was born in Broken Bow, Montana. I wanted to experience the city life, couldn't wait to get out. I wanted to be a photojournalist. Went to school in New York. Things got … complicated." She looks at Molly again, her gaze lingering this time. She turns back to me. "I ended up working for an interior design firm in Boston, until I got the call about Mom. And I'm worried about her. She forgets things, and the budget—well, it's in trouble, and the furnace needs to be fixed—replaced would be better—and there's Bob, her new boyfriend, and—" She gives me another wide grin. "I'm babbling again, aren't I?"

I smile and add some notes to my page. "Not a problem." After making sure Molly is still engrossed in her book, I lean across my desk and lower my voice. "You do know that you'll have to have a consummated relationship for the job. Will that be a problem?"

She, too, checks on Molly. "Do I have to be … you know … real experienced? Because I'm not looking for a man now. Not unless he's going to put Molly first, and I've pretty much given up on those. I haven't … you know … done it. Not since—" Another glance at Molly.

"I've found that one experienced partner is usually enough," I say. "But it does happen on the page."

She blushes a delightful shade of pink. "The guy isn't going to be a brute or anything, is he? Or too ... kinky?"

"No, definitely not a brute. And I don't write erotica, so there's a very low kink quotient."

After a brief moment of lip-chewing thought, she says, "I think I'll be fine with it. No, I know I'll be fine with it. There's always a bright side to anything, and a little romance, even pretend, seems like a definite bright side to me right about now."

I run through the last few questions quickly, making sure she's willing to deal with a German Shepherd, and isn't afraid of horses or heights, before I drop the final question. "How would you feel about Molly being in the book with you?"

Her eyes pop open. "I don't know. She's so young. It's an adult book, after all."

"If she can differentiate between real and pretend, she can probably handle the job. And I'll run any of her scenes by you first, for approval."

"That sounds fair. But those … romance scenes?"

"Trust me, she won't be on the page during any … romance." With a smile, I add, "And she'll get paid for her time. Same rate as you."

Frankie chews her lip again. She gets up and sits beside Molly. She whispers in her ear. Molly's eyes widen. She looks at me. "Can Mr. Snuggles be in the story too?"

"Of course," I say. He'll be very important."

Molly grins. She stuffs her book in her pack and dangles Mr. Snuggles in front of her face. "We can be in a storybook. Just like Sam I Am."

Frankie crosses back to my desk, her hand outstretched. "We'll do it."

I shake her hand and escort the pair to the door. "My secretary has the paperwork. We'll start Monday, if that's all right."

"It'll be fine," Frankie says. They leave, and I tell my secretary to cancel tomorrow's appointments and to hold all my calls. I have some writing to do.

Author’s note. Sadly for me, WHEN DANGER CALLS is out of print. However, that’s your gain, because I have all the remaindered copies sitting in my house, and I’m offering them to readers at 50% off the cover price. If you’d like an autographed copy, please send me an email with Author Expressions Blog Special in the subject line—I’ll even waive shipping for readers of this blog. If you want to ‘try before you buy’ the first chapter is on my website. You can also visit me on my own blog, Terry's Place, where I discuss all aspects of writing--among other things.

If you enjoyed this job interview, leave a comment to let me know, and I'll post what happened when Ryan Harper, the hero showed up at my office on my next turn to blog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Are Contests Worth the Price?

As writers, we’ve all either entered contests or been tempted to. Most contests have an entry fee, and it’s sometimes difficult to justify the expenditure. In addition to the fee, there are shipping expenses, and sometimes, if you final, you have additional expense. Most contests do not accept digital entries, which is understandable. Who wants to read from a monitor?
As an author, I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve judged the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop entries, and more recently, the Pikes Peak conference entries. I’ve also entered contests throughout my writing career. From the judge’s side, I’ll tell you I’d much rather sit down with a cup of tea and read through entries, than stare at the same monitor I’ve worked at all day. That said, I understand why contests ask for hard copies for an entry.
As a writer, yes, my early entries didn’t reach the mark. But after many workshops and classes on the craft of writing, I saw a sea-change in the scores.
Now on to the wisdom of entering contests. A writer, unless you’ve won the lottery, should be selective about contests.
First, do a little research to see if this is a legitimate contest or simply a scam. It’s pretty easy to find out. If the contest is sponsored by a legitimate writers’ group, like an RWA chapter or Historical Novel Society, or by a state association like Florida Writers, you know it’s legit.
Next, read the details to see who is judging. Don’t look at the prize money or the award. Except for the most prestigious awards, the prizes aren’t big. The real win, the biggest reward, is that you can use a nice win to catch the eye of an agent or editor. Most admit that contest wins get their attention.
Thirdly, look to see if the contest returns comments, or only scores. That’s one objection I have to entering the national RWA contest—no comments, just numbers, and from whom? Published? Unpublished? You have no way of knowing. On the other hand, if a contest offers feedback (which most every RWA chapter contest does), it’s like getting a mini-critique.
An aside, and one worth noting for published and unpublished writers: strangely, there are contests which do not take ARCs. Your professionally-edited book can/must be entered in unpublished, if the release date falls after the contest-entry deadline. This seems to me a bit unfair to an unpublished author who has to compete with your edited book. I don’t really understand the reasoning for not accepting an ARC.
Recently, I entered a small local contest. To my surprise, all three finalists’ entries were sent to places like HarperCollins, Medallion, etc. for final judging. Not only that, the contest offered a breakdown of genres, so that my historical wouldn’t be lost in the Mainstream category, or bunched in with SciFi.
To my delight, both my two entries finaled. One went to Medallion, the YA went to HarperCollins for final judging. After reading comments from both editors (one of whom gave me First Place for my historical, The Glass Partridge), I went to work and revised according to their suggestions. No, I didn’t get a contract, but now, in a query letter, I can say “an editor at Medallion gave this story First Place in the final round of judging”. How cool is that? Feedback from an editor, and bragging rights, all for forty-five dollars. If anyone’s interested, the contest, Do it! Write, was sponsored by the Pasco chapter of the Florida Writers Association. It was opened to non-members, too. So look at local and regional contests. I know, it’s like buying a lottery ticket, but you can’t win without trying.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Writer-Library Connection

What Your Library Can Do For You
Writers and libraries are the perfect pair.  Libraries exist to provide books and other materials to the public.  Writers exist to produce books (and other materials as well.)  Yet not all writers understand what a valuable ally they have in libraries.

Writers need to read.  They read for many different reasons.  Here's a few
  • Keep current on writing trends in their field.
  • Research publishers.
  • Find information on all aspects of writing, from generating ideas to promoting a book.
  • Research topics for their current writing project.
  • For fun!
Who can afford to buy all those books?  Especially on a writer's salary!  But the library lets you take them home and read them for free.  Yes, of course you need to bring them back on time to avoid a late fee, but this is still the best deal you'll get anywhere.

'But what if my library doesn't have the books I need?  What do I do then?' you ask.  It's true no library can have everything you want on the shelf but the good news is that libraries are great at sharing.  Programs vary from state to state but most of the time, pretty much anything that you want can be found at another library and sent to your library at little or no cost to you.  Pretty cool, huh?

What about the reference desk?  In most libraries you will find trained researchers ready and willing to help you find the information you need.  Libraries often have access to data bases and other sources to gather information from.  Without a library you have no access to these sources.   

Your library may also be a good place to escape to when you need some peace and quiet to finish that last chapter.  Your writer's group or book club may find a home at your local library as well.  With all this to offer, how can you go wrong?

What You Can Do for Your Library
There are benefits to working with your local library. The person who checks out and enjoys your book may look for more of your work to purchase and will probably tell her friends about the great new author she's found.  Plus, book stores keep books for only a short time.  If your book is in the library people will have years to discover it rather than the few weeks they'd have to find it in a book store.

Writers sometimes complain that their local library isn't interested in them as a local writer.  That's not usually true.  The problem may be your approach and not your library.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Are you acting like a professional?  I'm not saying you need to show up in a skirt and heels, but looking and acting professional will help librarians to see you as a professional and respond to you accordingly.
  • Are you to talking to the right person?  It may do you no good whatsoever to sweet talk the person at the front desk.  Who is in charge of buying new materials?  That's the person you need to pitch your book to.  If the library declines to buy a copy consider donating one.
  • What do libraries need?  Libraries need to promote themselves just as much as authors do.  Explain how  your book signing or other event will bring people into the library.  Show that you're interested in providing a benefit to the library as well as to yourself.
  • What can you do?  It might be more beneficial for you and the library if you do more than offer to sell them a copy of your book or to show up for a book signing.  Help arrange a reading for several local authors.  Give a workshop, lead a book discussion.  Be creative.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How to cure the rejection blues

Good afternoon! It is my pleasure to blog with such a talented group of authors.
I write historical romances set in fifteenth century England during the so-called “Gypsy honeymoon” period.

My third novel in the Coin Forest series is written, and I’m wading through the third round of full book revisions. Thanks to my beta readers who are looking at the full manuscripts for ways to make it shine even more.

I’m reviving my agency search, referring to my four-inch three-ring binder, bulging with rejections from previous agency searches.

Oh, such bliss.

I tortured myself in 2008 by collecting all the agents to whom I’ve subbed work, and organized them alphabetically. They list agent name, date, which novel, and results. Alas, not one of them says, “offered representation.”

Two pages, single spaced, 12 point Times New Roman. The agent names fill the page, along with the dismal results.

“Great concept, but didn’t like the characters.” “Didn’t connect to voice.” “Didn’t love it.” “Terrific idea, great writing, but I represent someone whose voice is very similar to yours.” “Not right for us.” “Not for me.” “Bursts with creativity and historical detail, but not at this time.”

I will be forever grateful to Five Star Publishing for seeing the spark in my work, for seeing outside the “current hot topics” box and recognizing the worth of my novels.

Still, the general consensus is that to thrive in the current market, an author needs an agent, so I forge ahead, scanning the lines and lines of names.

It's like a badge of sorts, I suppose, to hold up my work over a hundred times, lifting that stone tablet up for consideration -- that takes courage. So why do I feel so tired?

As I studied the page, it occurred to me that I needed an attitude adjustment. These weren’t agents who rejected me. These were agents who, when they read my query or sub, didn’t see enough promise on that day. They exercised their right to be subjective. Maybe their feet hurt, or they were secretly tired of historicals, or didn’t immediately see a best-seller. Whatever the reason, my work didn’t click with them.

The lines of agent names blur on the page, and I see more than just so many lines of Times New Roman. I see steps.

Yes, steps, steps I’m taking toward success. Gotta collect those rejections to take the next step, up, up, climbing until eventually I reach the top.

With thanks to author Carolyn Kaufman, here is a thought-provoking quote:

“To escape criticism, do nothing. Say nothing. Be nothing.”

Take this somewhat dismal quote and flip it, and you will find more courage and determination to realize your dream. The opposite of nothing is something.

"Do something. Say something. Be something.” Is this simple statement the key?

What coping "antibiotic" do you find useful to beat the rejection blues? I welcome your comments!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Building Characters

. . . or Reluctant Heroes and Kick-Ass Heroines.

That last phrase might be a bit overused. What do you think?
I can't abide a whiny woman though--in real life or in a novel. So there you have it. I'm normally quite tolerant.

Truthfully I've read quite a few articles about "world building" but not so many about "character building." I'm of the opinion that you can create any story line, set it in any location, and throw any circumstances you want at your people--but you need to have good people. You need to start, continue and end with characters that matter. They need to matter to your reader from page one, and when your reader reaches the end, they need to close the book (or turn off the e-reader) with satisfaction but a bit of despair because they don't want to leave your people.

I like a reluctant hero. I like a guy that isn't walking around SEEKING the spotlight. I live near the Ft. Hood Military Base, largest military installation in the world, and we have a lot of what I'd call reluctant heroes. Guys who want to do their job. If they ever end up in the paper or on the news, they're a bit shy about it. You can tell they want the cameraman to hurry up already and move on. These type of men were my inspiration for Dean Dreiser, the lead character in The Cost of Love. He's a lone wolf. I so dig Dean, because he's based on real men that I respect.

Lucinda, my heroine for this book, is a different story. Lucy I have met and know personally. She's Hispanic, beautiful and very bright. Soft-spoken and on the petite side. A man's first response is to protect her. Probably not necessary. Lucy can take care of herself--and then some.

These two characters are what sold my story, The Cost of Love. Yeah--biological weapons, White Sands Missile Base, Roswell, UFOs, etc. helped. But it was the PEOPLE that sold the book. It's always the people.

Have fun building your characters. There's no other job quite like it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In Praise of Book Clubs

I belong to two book clubs, and if I could, I'd belong to two dozen. I love to read books. I love to write books. And I love to talk to others who love books.
I've found that my book groups do more than talk about books. We also learn about ourselves: our beliefs and values; our experiences and viewpoints.
And something more than that. We share important moments of intersecting growth. Starting from one central point--the selected book of the month--we invariably draw hugely different understandings about what the book means and its relationship to our own lives. A good book will lead the reader to personalize at least some of its content, and in book club, we ask questions of ourselves and each other that would not be asked in any other venue: what each of us would do to survive in a concentration camp; a women's prison in the civil war; the plague in an English village; the murder of our dear friend.
Our discussions also tend to veer from the immediate topic into the past, present and future. Someone usually has a childhood adventure she shares. Or we will find ourselves in rousing discussions about current events like gay marriage, the death penalty or media influence. Sometimes a book will bring up topics for the future, usually with the introduction of: "Someday I want to. . ." And for the writer side of me, the group buzzes through a virtual smorgasbord of writing ideas: a heartbreaking family situation; a friend of a friend who died and came back; the odor of a serpentine alleyway in Florence.
The few hours each month I have in my book clubs are "now" moments and are some of my favorite moments of my month. The discussions are lively, intelligent and piercing in their personal relativity. Undefined feelings I've been carrying around for days finally find a place to be expressed, and the issues of my life, whatever they may be at the moment, are at least for a few hours, put aside.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chocolate Thoughts

There are certain things that strike me as inherently romantic. Maybe it's because tradition says they are or retail has made it so. Or, maybe, it's because they are sensual. Chocolate is one of those things.

This coming weekend is the Colorado Chocolate Festival here in Denver and my taste buds are tingling already. I can feel the smooth texture of milky chocolate melting in my mouth…the sweet subtly of white chocolate…the bittersweet bite of dark chocolate…the crunch of nuts…warm liquid centers. Oh, yeah…it's definitely the sensuality in this case.

In the nineteenth century, chocolates were not widely available unless there was a candy confectioner nearby. Cheyenne had one—the Ellis Candy Store—offering baked goods and confections such as Charlotte Russe, macaroons, lady fingers, and chocolate kisses. The store later discontinued its bakery and opened an ice cream parlor in the rear.

When I researched Denver history for CHANCES, I discovered Joslin's Dry Goods Company (later Joslin's Department Store) had a confectionary. The store was initially located at 15th and Larimer Streets. Every Thursday, there were Candy Specials such as Coconut Dainties for 20 cents per pound. I couldn't resist having my heroine head for Joslin's for a chocolate binge when all seemed lost.

Today, we find candy stores in malls and on the main streets of tourist towns and mountain villages. Chocolate bars are available at grocery stores and gas stations. We pay extra for it at movie theaters. Holidays such as Valentine's Day, Easter, and Mother's Day are surrounded by displays of gift boxes urging us to gift those we love. On TV, we watch competitors on Survivor balance on poles and offer outrageous bids just for a taste of chocolate. We have chocolate fountains at wedding. Strawberries dipped in chocolate are very nearly heaven and watching someone else eat one is…well… heaven itself. Liquid chocolate dribbled in the right places can be erotic.

Chocolate is that all wonderful treat that pleasures us, comforts us, re-energizes us, and conveys love.

Somehow, it's only suiting that five Denver area romance authors will help select the best truffles of the festival. If you live in the area, come on out and experience it with us. If not, eat some anyway and think about the simple pleasures to be found in chocolate and in romance.
Sweet Thoughts!
--Pamela Nowak