Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In his workshop at the Backspace Conference in New York in May, Donald Maass spoke about developing three types of protagonists: the ordinary person who finds himself/herself embroiled in what will be your mind-bending plot, the true hero or heroine with heroic qualities, and the dark protagonist.
We've all been each of the three types of characters in our own life stories, at one time or another. And the dark protagonist, that character who has a stained past, who is pursued by unnamed internal demons, the character who is on the run from an evil pursuer, makes for a fascinating character--and, from the writer's perspective, a character fun to create!
In the thousands of manuscripts he reads, dark protagonists are plentiful, says Maass. And they can work well for a story, but he cautions against turning the reader off within the opening paragraphs. Maass says that many times the flaws of this type of protagonist are fatal, and readers will find little appeal in investing hours of their time in following a character writhing in suffering and pain throughout a story.
So if your protagonist is a dark character, what can you as the writer do to make that character appealing to a reader without losing that magnetic draw?
The trick, says Maass, is to somehow make that character highly likable, or at least admirable.
In Fire in Fiction, Maass talks about how Joseph Finder, in his business thriller Company Man,gives his flawed protagonist Nick Conover the redeeming characteristic of a man trying to keep his kids happy after the death of their mother a year earlier--and he establishes this very quickly in the story. (Read this great interview with Finder by fellow Backspace member and author, Lauren Baratz-Logsted.)
What else can humanize a dark character to a reader? Maass gave several suggestions, and many more in Fire in Fiction. A character can be deeply flawed--but self-deprecating at the same time. Maass asks: "Who hasn't kicked themselves?" And a flawed character who has the self awareness to judge himself harshly can earn a reader's respect.
A flawed character--a loser, a hopeless down-and-out wanderer--can still love. And if that love is demonstrated quickly in the story, the reader will identify with the character.
Maass asked those of us in the workshop who were writing about a dark protagonist to sit quietly for a moment and think about our character. He then asked us: What is the one thing the character would wish to change about themselves, if they had the power to do so?
And the hard part: now think of a way to demonstrate that desire, that wish for change, within the first five pages of the manuscript.
And remember, Maass reminded us, every scene in your story must impact and/or transform that character.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wedding Season Brings on the Feared Bridesmaid's Dress

I’d like to thank the Expressions authors for letting me stop by the blog. I’m Amanda Flower, and I write for the Five Star Mystery line.

It’s wedding season again, and the perfect time for the release of my debut novel Maid of Murder, a wedding themed cozy mystery.

In Maid of Murder, India Hayes, a college librarian and reluctant bridesmaid, is thrown into the role of amateur sleuth as she hunts down the person who murdered her childhood friend and framed her brother for the crime.

When bride-to-be Olivia turns up dead in the Martin College fountain and the evidence points to India’s brother Mark, India must unmask the real culprit while juggling a furious Mother of the Bride, an annoying Maid of Honor, a set of hippie-generation parents, a police detective who is showing a marked liking for her, and a provost itching to fire someone, anyone—maybe even a smart-mouthed librarian.

I started writing Maid of Murder when many of my friends were getting married, so I attended a string of weddings over several summers. Unlike India, I have only been a bridesmaid twice. She held that post seven times to my two, but the experience of being in a wedding party certainly inspired my novel. One big difference…no one was murdered in any of the weddings I attended.

However, a similarity between Maid of Murder and a real wedding is the dreaded bridesmaid dress. If you’ve ever been a bridesmaid, you know what I’m talking about. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is early on when India tries on her bridesmaid dress for the first time. India has a fair complexion and the dress is gold. Consequently, it looks awful on her, and of course, it is about two sizes too small for her. She is horrified as any woman would be.

Unfortunately before the wedding can occur, the bride is murdered. Was it due to the horrible bridesmaid dress or something more sinister? That’s what India is determined to find out.

Happy wedding season all and happy reading too!

To learn more about Amanda and Maid of Murder visit her online at You can also follow Amanda on Facebook at or Twitter at

Friday, June 25, 2010

How much fiction . . .

. . . do you like in your fiction?
Or perhaps I should phrase that differently. How much reality do you like in your fiction?

After The Cost of Love had been edited, proofed, and printed, but before it had actually hit shelves, I endured many a sleepless night. Why? Much of the plot centers around bio-terrorism. I did my research. I needed something that was frightening, and I needed to merge it with a disease that could be spread quickly and aggressively. I merged my military grade bio-weapon with H1N1. I finished copy edits in March of 2009. By June 2009, the World Health Organization had verified the "swine flu" spread, confirming it to be a global pandemic.

Hmm. Too much reality? Perhaps. If I'd had the chance to change it, would I? Maybe. But it was too late. The pages were already in the hands of the printer. Would it attract readers or push them away? Time will tell.

Then there are the drones. Darn those drones. I kind of liked them. I thought it was a fun aspect of the book. If you're going to have people dying horrible deaths, you need a little fun. A little zipping around in the night. So I went with drones, which do have a long history domestically. What? People don't know this? It's true. This week in the news, it's a big deal that drones are going to be used domestically to monitor our borders. ((sigh)) Seems my romantic FICTION keeps intersecting with the headlines.

I'm not sure about all this. Personally, I'm a bit of a news junkie, so that's where many of my ideas come from. What do you think though? How much fiction do you like in your romance? Or should I say--how much reality do you like in your fiction?


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Author Marilyn Clay: Writing and Reading Historical Fiction

Welcome to author Marilyn Clay, here being interviewed by Five Star editor/author Libby Sternberg.

In Marilyn's August historical, Deceptions, Catherine Parke escapes to the New World to avoid an arranged wedding. In the new colonial outpost of Jamestown, however, she discovers heartache as well as romance--not the long-lost love she'd hoped to find there, but love all the same.

Booklist has said of Deceptions: "A surfeit of fascinating historical details and a refreshingly different setting give Deceptions its unique flavor, making Clay's novel perfect for readers who miss the romance-tinged historical novels of Rosalind Laker."

Comment on this post and your name will be placed in a lottery to win a free ARC of Deceptions! Include your email address in your comment, please, if you want a chance at winning!

LS: Why did you decide to write about colonial America?

Marilyn: Both times that I visited Colonial Williamsburg I felt such a strong pull to the area that I knew one day I would write a story, or stories, set in that time period. Plus growing up in Oklahoma, I have always been fascinated by our Native American culture. I remember as a child watching the Indians in their feather headdresses and tribal clothing stamping their feet to the drums at the huge pow-wow held in Anadarko each summer.

LS: Your attention to historical detail is awe-inspiring. Do you have any tips for aspiring historical fiction writers?

Marilyn: Thank you! As for tips for writers, do not assume that things we take for granted today have always been around. In my first draft of Deceptions, I had Catherine reading The London Times. It wasn’t until I was doing further research into the early 1600s in England that I discovered The London Times did not exist in 1617! By then, my book was in the copyeditor’s hands. I made a quick phone call to correct that glaring error!

LS: Who's your favorite historical fiction writer at the moment?

Marilyn: Anne Easter Smith, A Rose for the Crown.

LS: What pulls you out of a historical novel when you're reading one, or what irritates you -- or pleases you?

Marilyn: I am jerked out of a story when the author has not stayed true to the time period … be it clothing, dialogue, travel, furniture, whatever. It’s like watching a Hollywood movie set in Biblical times and noticing that one of the followers is wearing Nikes. It pleases me when an author truly draws me into the time period, allowing me to experience the story along with the characters.

LS: Why should readers be interested in Deceptions?

Marilyn: Because many of us are descended from early American colonists, I wanted to show what life was truly like in the 1600s, without glamorizing it. Since writing Deceptions, I often remind myself now how easy and convenient life is for us today. I find I am more tolerant of life’s little irritations now.

About Marilyn Clay: After graduating from college with degrees in Art and English, Marilyn Clay illustrated children's textbooks, owned a graphics design studio in Dallas, became a fashion illustrator, a Creative Director for a fashion magazine, and served as University Editor for The University of Texas at Dallas. For sixteen years, she published The Regency Plume, an international newsletter focused on the English Regency. She has had six Regency romance novels published, three translated to foreign languages, and designed Romance Writers of America's RITA award statuette. Deceptions is Marilyn J. Clay's first novel set in Colonial America. She now stays busy writing novels, reading voraciously, and painting pictures. For information about Marilyn's novels and artwork visit:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Alice Duncan: Author and Editor

Interview with Alice Duncan, Author/Editor

by Jacqueline Seewald

Alice Duncan is a much published, award-winning author who also happens to edit romance and mystery novels for Tekno, the book packager for Five Star/Gale. I’ve personally had the pleasure of working with Alice who has edited all four of my Five Star novels.

Alice has a new book coming out from Five Star this month called HUNGRY SPIRITS. You can check it out on the Five Star site:

You can also find ordering information on Amazon:
as well as Barnes and Noble online and Borders Books.

Hi, Alice, thanks so much for joining us today at the Author Expressions blog. Congratulations on your excellent Booklist review of Hungry Spirits!

Question: Could you tell us a little bit about Daisy, the heroine of Hungry Spirits.

Answer: Actually, I think Daisy is my most favorite character (of those I've made up, I mean). She's a fake spiritualist in Pasadena, CA, in the early 1920s. She has to work because her husband, Billy, was severely wounded in the Great War. He was shot out of his foxhole in France and then gassed when he tried to crawl to safety. So he can't work, and he just hates that Daisy has to earn the income for them both. Daisy started her spiritualist career at the ripe old age of ten, when she was the only one in her family's Christmas gathering who claimed not to be afraid of a Ouija board her aunt Vi had been given by her employer, Mrs. Kincaid (who, by the way, later became Daisy's very best customer). Daisy tries not to take Billy's nasty comments to heart, but she can't help but feel a little hurt by them, even though she knows Billy's injuries are to blame for his attitude.

Question: Is Spirits a romantic series, a mystery series or a combination of both?

Answer: Although it's never been marketed as a mystery series, that's what it was supposed to be when it began. There's a mystery element in all the books. When I turned the first one in to my editor at Kensington, she and Kate Duffy talked about the books (which I'd proposed as a series), decided they loved the characters and the premise, but there wasn't enough mystery to them (which was probably right), asked me to take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance since Daisy's already married, and they marketed them as romances. Big mistake. Kate even called to apologize to me, but by then the first two books had tanked. I was absolutely elated when Five Star picked up the third book in the series, HIGH SPIRITS. HUNGRY SPIRITS is book #4. Five Star will be publishing book #5 (GENTEEL SPIRITS) in August of 2011, and I'm writing the sixth (and probably final) book in the series right this minute.

Question: What inspired this series? How did it come about?

Answer: I honestly don't know. Daisy just came to me one day. She's got more of my personality than any of my other heroines, only with a supportive family and without my crippling neuroses.

Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels?

Answer: Oh, my goodness, there are dozens of them! They're all historicals, and they're all dated anywhere from the 1870s to the 1920s. I like to write about old stuff, since the modern age only confuses me. The first forty or so books I wrote were historical romances, some of which are better than others (I think my particular favorites are CHRISTMAS PIE, TEXAS LONESOME, my "Titanic" series, SECRET HEARTS (about a female dime novelist), HEAVEN'S PROMISE (which is set in a re-mapped Palmyra, Maine, where I also remade my grandmother's headstone so my characters can sit on it), and all my "Spirits" books. Oh, and the series I wrote set at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (The World Columbian Expedition). I'm also quite fond of PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND and PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL. The first of those books (cozy mysteries set in New Mexico in 1923) I wrote as a favor to a friend who started a publishing house in Florida. Well, that business venture was totally wiped out by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. I'd already written PVR, so figured what the heck and sent it in to Five Star. When they bought it, I was thunderstruck! Or should that be thunderstricken? Well, I don't suppose it matters. I'm glad it's seeing the light of print, and only wish Five Star would re-publish the first book in the series, but they don't do stuff like that. A whole bunch of my backlist is available on Kindle, by the way, including the first three "Spirits" books and PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND. ONE BRIGHT MORNING, my very first book, is also close to my heart, although if I could get my hands on it now, fifteen years after it was published, I'd edit the heck out of it.

Question: What made you start writing?

Answer: I dunno. Being read to, I guess. All I know is that it's the only thing I ever wanted to do. When I was a kid, if somebody asked me what I wanted to "be" when I grew up, I'd invariably say, "an author." Now that I'm old, I think that question is totally stupid. I mean, what's any kid going to be when he or she grows up? An adult human being, is what. If I'd had a better-developed sense of humor when I was four or five, I might have said "an elephant" or something along those lines. Ah, well. Too late now.

Question: As an editor for Tekno Books, what advice would you offer to those who
have novels they would like to submit for consideration?

Answer: Learn your trade! The only tool you have to get your story across is the English language, and the better you can use it, the better off you'll be. It's also nice to have an interesting plot and characters, but what really turns me off is poor writing skills. Think of all the millions of people battering at the doors of publishers, begging to be let in. If you are a master or mistress of your language, and if you have an interesting story to go along with your skill, your chances of eventual publication are infinitely better than someone who knows neither grammar nor punctuation. Trust me on this. It's the truth.

Alice, thanks so much for being our guest today.

I should mention that many of Alice Duncan's novels are now available on Kindle.

Those of you who have comments, please know that they are very welcome. So feel free to join the conversation!

Friday, June 18, 2010

In my last blog, I wrote about the valuable experience of attending a writer's conference. My experience with Backspace was exceptional, and even as a published author, I learned and re-learned so many writiting principles. One of the highlights of the conference was a mini-workshop by the master teacher of fiction writing, Donald Maass.

Maass talked about the opening of a novel, how it must be exceptionally crafted, maximizing the writer's skills. He started out by asking how many of us were writing about "average people caught in extraordinary circumstances." Quite a few hands went up, including my own. He explained that was one of the three types of protagonists. (The other two types are the heroic character and the dark character. I'll talk about Maass' insights for those characters in the following posts.)

Maass started the lecture by asking us to think of one person in our lives we admired. We were asked to write the name down in our notes. (One thing Maass insists upon: if you're going to learn the techniques of being an excellent writer, you have to write. No thinking of the answer and "keeping it in your head"!)

After all the pens and pencils had stopped scratching, Maass asked us to choose one characteristic of that person that we admired. The person I chose for the exercise was my mother, a vital, interested, and vibrant woman who continues to live each day to the fullest. And the characteristic I most admire about her is her compassion.

Next, Maass asked us to write down two incidents or actions that illustrate this characteristic. I thought about my mother's compassion, her special empathy for children, and I realized (My gasp of insight was audible!) that my male protagonist had the same strength. I jotted down two of the thousands of times I'd seen my mother display her empathy. (An added benefit to the workshop: wonderful memories of my mother bubbled to the surface!)

Then, Maass asked us to show our chosen characteristic for our main character within the first five pages of our manuscript. Maass explained that the connection between reader and main character is the most important connection of your work. A reader won't survive "four minutes, let alone four hundred pages with a miserable excuse for a human being or even a plain old average Joe."

Even though I've written my current beginning countless times, I went back and did it again.
Maass' ideas are from his book Fire in Fiction. I felt so privileged to be able to advance my craft through an in-person workshop by a master of fiction.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Working with Libraries

I have a long-standing love affair with libraries. To me, it’s the place where taxpayers get the biggest bang for the buck. Most library cards are free, and you can check out a whole stack of books at the same time. But books are not the biggest jewel in the setting. Reference librarians, I have come to believe, know everything, or at least where to find it. I’ve used the virtual chat at Ask a Librarian to get the date of a medieval royal wedding, and this after I combed the internet for anything even remotely connected to the event. Reference librarians have friends in high places. They can connect you with an expert in the field of astronomy, Icelandic literature, and Viking museums. I am the first to admit that I could not have written my upcoming historical, The Tapestry Shop, without serious help from local librarians. They found me books about The Cold Faire in Troyes, France. They located an essay on 13th century travel, and even talked a university into lending a very early copy of a medieval play written in Old French. No, I didn’t translate it, but a French teacher I know did.
Our libraries participate in NaNoWriMo, the annual speed writing challenge. The librarians ask local authors to give kick-off events, which gives us a chance to show off our books.
At a recent conference, someone asked where they could find one of my books. “The library,” I said. The reader looked surprised and told me she had never heard that from an author before. That makes me wonder. Why would any author not want to send readers to a library to get their books? I’ve had people tell me they found my book in a library, checked it out, and recommended it to their friends.
Our library has author guests from time to time. In November, the local libraries are having an Author Recognition day. It should draw a lot of readers.
Inter-library loans are priceless. You can find almost any book in print and ask to get it from anywhere in your region. My Florida library gets me books from libraries in other states and they have an online data base of searchable Public Domain books. So next time you go in to check out a book, smile at your reference librarian. Trust me—there’s no better friend to have.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Happily Ever After?

One of the criticisms of popular fiction in general and romance fiction in particular, is the guaranteed happy ending.  Critics claim it isn't realistic. In real life, not everyone gets a happy ending.

Sadly, it is true.  Not everyone has a picture perfect happily ever in their lives.  But rather than being unrealistic, I'd say "happily ever after" is idealistic.  We are all striving for our own happy endings.  We don't need to be reminded of the possible horrible endings many aspects of our lives - not just the romantic ones - could have.  But we want to visualize and concentrate on that one, best possible ending for ourselves and our families. That's where romance novels and their guaranteed happy endings come in.  As readers, one of the things we may be looking for in a novel is a sense of hope for the future - our own future as well as the fictional one of a book's characters.

So what does a happily ever after look like?  Is every problem the main characters ever had solved?  Does their every worry and care disappear?  No.  But in romance novels, the hero and heroine have formed or renewed a partnership by the end of the story.  They are facing the good and the bad of life together.  Compromise may have been involved, but never compromise of principle or value. They've made a commitment, based on love and respect and trust.  That's a happy ending that is possible.

What does your "happily ever after" look like?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Blurbs: Are They Significant?

Book Blurbs: Are They Significant?

by Jacqueline Seewald

As a reader, do you find that book blurbs influence whether or not you choose to read a particular novel?

I confess I never thought much about it in the past. However, when I first contracted with Five Star/Gale I was informed that it was important to get book blurbs. I find it difficult to ask for favors of any kind. But I did know Sara Paretsky. At the urging of my editor, I e-mailed Sara and she was kind enough to read THE INFERNO COLLECTION, liked it, and provided an excellent blurb/review.

Readers of Sara Paretsky’s novels are cognizant that she’s a serious writer with a social consciousness. THE INFERNO COLLECTION, although a romantic mystery/thriller, has much to say about the university system and is also a serious novel. The connection was a good one. BOOKLIST gave the novel a very nice review and that caught the attention of librarians. Many of you know that Five Star/Gale is essentially a library publisher. So reviews are very important.

For the second novel in this romantic mystery series, THE DROWNING POOL, I didn't request any blurbs. I did get another very good review from BOOKLIST and a number of other publications as well. However, the book didn't sell nearly so well. Did lack of blurbs effect sales? Possibly.

For my romantic suspense historical, TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, due out in late August, I asked my favorite author, Jayne Ann Krentz, to read the novel. She liked it and was generous in providing an excellent blurb. Will this help in getting the attention of reviewers? I can only hope that it will.

So far, I've heard nothing. I suppose time will tell as the old saying goes. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here with fingers crossed. Of course, I’m also keeping my mind active writing other things: working on a new novel, short stories and nonfiction, as well as poetry and a screenplay.

Fellow authors, what experiences have you had with book blurbs? Do you feel they’ve helped get the kind of reviews that sell books?

Fellow readers, do blurbs matter when you select a novel to read? Are you influenced by big names recommendations? Your comments are appreciated!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why you should start saving your pennies for a writer's conference

I know, writer's conferences are expensive. Not just the conference itself, but the transportation to get there, lodging, food and of course, the irresistable shopping expeditions on the side. But if you're a writer looking to renew and re-inspire your writing, if you're looking to hone your craft, if you're hoping to make contact with agents, editors or published writers who might act as references, the writer's conference is the place to be.
Last week, I had the honor of participating in two panels at the Backspace Writer's Conference in the Big Apple. During the three day conference, over twenty-five agents attended. That's a lot of agents in one place, and they were all looking to help authors develop stories the agents could sell!
There were writers--multi-published writers. Writers who have been in the business for decades, like Gayle Lynds . And writers who have garnered a boatload of professional praise, like Hank Phillippi Ryan. (The picture is of me and Gayle Lynds connecting at the book signing.)
And agents didn't just wander around looking superior with wine glasses in their hands (although wine glasses were never far from view!). They offered their valuable time in workshops where authors could present two pages of their manuscript for agents' critiques--all anonymously!
Those sessions were the stars of the show! Here's some of what authors learned:
* In what part of the opening did A.E.G.O. (Agents eyes glaze over). For some, it was after the first paragraph. Great! Those writers knew it was back to the keyboard. For others, after their two pages were read, an agent would scream, "Whose is that? Send me that manuscript, tomorrow!"
What a thrill for those authors!
More of what writers learned about querying an agent:
*Don't be cutesy, ever, in a query letter. No adorable fonts. No watermarks with your name in elegant script. No flowers around the border. This is a business letter. Keep it that way.
*Avoid telling agents your book is funny, interesting, amazing, suspenseful, soulful, powerful, chilling, bittersweet or sure to be the next best seller. Use exact descriptions to tell them about your story. Study how successful queries are written. (And there are enough resources available for several posts on that topic!)
*Don't overwrite. Don't try to impress with using obscure vocabulary words and over-abundant descriptions. Take out unnecessary character movements, dialogue and physical description. Grab your reader with a story that won't let go!
A conference can get a writer that valuable one-on-one time with an agent or an editor. An extra expense?Yes. Priceless? Absolutely!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Real People

I'm the daughter of a World War II veteran (paratrooper, U.S. Army, 1941-1947). My husband graduated from Texas A&M, a member of the Corps of Cadets and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He missed Vietnam by a few months. The last school I taught at I had the privilege of working with a man who was a former CIA operative. He served overseas for several years and through quite a few difficult missions.

All real people.

All people who have influenced my life to varying degrees, and merged into the person I created to be my main character in The Cost of Love--Dean Dreiser.

When our manuscripts are rejected, we receive comments like "I couldn't connect to your characters," or "The writing was fine, but it wasn't quite right for us." In truth, often our writing suffers from being stuffed with paper dolls. There's no excuse for that, since our lives are full of people who live and laugh, suffer and bleed, sacrifice and sometimes die in the process.

Whether we're writing a romantic thriller or a paranormal, we are responsible for filling our writing with people; after all, it's the people our readers care about. Best to make them real, make them breath.

All you have to do is look around you to find the inspiration. Recently I heard a song by John Rich, and it brought back to me in a few words all these people and what they had been through--my father, my husband, my friend, and yeah--my character, Dean. Real people with real stories.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Auditioning Characters: Meet Ryan Harper

Thanks for the warm welcome for my first post. As I mentioned then, for me, writing is all about the characters. Last time, you saw how I met Frankie Castor, the heroine of When Danger Calls. This time, I'm holding hero auditions.

Meet Ryan Harper.

As soon as he opens the door to my office, I'm sure there's been a mistake.

"I'm Ryan Harper, ma'am," he says.

I check the list my secretary gave me first thing this morning. No mistake. Number five just left, and number six is definitely Ryan Harper. I give him my, Thanks for coming smile. The one that I normally flash as they leave, not when they enter. But to be fair, I should hear him out.

I motion him inside. "Come in. Have a seat."

He's certainly tall enough, over six feet, but as he crosses to the client chair at my desk, he's favoring one leg. Still, there's nothing hesitant about the way he walks. Strides, actually, limp and all. Interesting. He's got a scruffy full beard, and his hair hangs in unruly brown tendrils over the collar of a neatly-pressed blue oxford cloth shirt. His jeans, also neatly-pressed, bunch at the waist under his belt, which clearly has been tightened a notch. He grasps the arms of the chair and eases himself into it. I see his jaw clench.

I try to keep my expression neutral, my voice pleasant, but I know he's aware I've noticed the pain he's tried to hide. "Mr. Harper, you're aware this position is for an action-adventure romance hero, right?"

"Yes, ma'am." He stretches his legs in front of him. There's a faint pallor under his tan. His gaze meets mine, and my heart does a quick flip. The weight of the world sits behind those whiskey-colored eyes. Thoughts of finishing ahead of schedule and an early lunch vanish. I fumble for a pen.

"What made you apply for the job, Mr. Harper?"

"Please, call me Ryan."

"Ryan." I'm tempted to return the first-name invitation, but I normally reserve that for my characters after I hire them. "I have to be honest. You're not exactly what readers expect when they meet the hero in one of my books."

His eyes never leave mine. He runs his hand across his beard. "I'm just back from an assignment. Things didn't go so well, and frankly, my boss insisted I take time off. Lying around the beach didn't appeal, and there were some … issues. I resigned. I saw your ad. I've had a lot of experience in the action-adventure realm." He rubbed his knee. "That's how I got injured."

"What kind of an injury?"

"Nothing permanent. Just my knee. It's healing fine. I guarantee it won't interfere with the job."

I'll be the judge of that. But his erect posture, the set of his jaw say he's right.

"All right, we'll assume the knee is a minor inconvenience. Tell me about yourself. Where you grew up, education, work history, your whole backstory."

The first glimmer of a smile appears at the corners of his mouth. "I grew up on a ranch in Montana. Horse ranch. Older brother, younger sister. I started college, dropped out to join the Navy. Did a couple of years as a SEAL, then went to work for … for a high-end San Francisco security company."

Quite a bit of hopping around. I don't need quitters in my books. "What made you drop out of school?"

Sadness flashes across his face, quickly controlled. "My mother died. I needed to get away for a while."

"And this company?" I ask. "What were your duties?"

"Just about anything." He lifts his gaze to the ceiling as if searching for the right response. Shrugs. Leans forward. Lowers his voice. "But, you see, there's a covert side. I can't talk about it much, but we do a lot of hostage rescue, go places where our government doesn't want to get involved, either for political reasons, or because to them, what the client wants is just small potatoes."

My pen seems to be writing notes of its own accord. Plot points appear on my pad. He waits. I go down my checklist. "Married?"



"No, ma'am. My job takes me away at a moment's notice." He sucks in a breath. "Took me away, I guess, since I'm not working there anymore. But it never seemed fair to ask someone to accept that kind of a life."

"I'm assuming your job entailed dangerous assignments."

He nods.

"I'm also assuming you're well-versed in firearms, combat techniques, survival."

"Yes, ma'am. Our teams are the best."


"That's right. We're all trained across the board, but we each have specialties."

"And yours was…?"

A pause. "Sharpshooter. Sniper."

"You've killed?"

A longer pause. He swallows. "Yes, I have."

"I take it you don't enjoy it."

"No, ma'am I don't. Frankly, it sickens me, but there are times when it's the only way. The world has an ugly side."

"Can you work alone? Without a … team … backing you up?"


"All right, then let's get to the other side. This is an action-adventure romance novel, and everything happens on the page. Everything. Do you have any problems with that?"

He gives me a sheepish grin. Suddenly, I wonder what he'll look like when he shaves. "None at all."

I scribble another note. "Dogs?"

"We had an Irish setter when I was a kid. Rusty. I'm good with dogs."

"I was thinking German Shepherd."

"Fine breed."


He looks at me, a puzzled expression on his face. "Children?"

"You'd be working with a single mother. She has a five-year-old daughter. Can you handle it."

For the first time, I see something akin to fear cross his face. He closes his eyes for a moment, then gives me an even stare. "Not a problem."

Definitely a problem. But that's going to be his problem, not mine. I glance at my list of potential conflicts for his character and put two asterisks by that one.

I stand and offer my hand. "Thank you, Ryan. When can you start?"

He gets to his feet. Slowly. Smiles and shakes my hand. A warm, firm grip. A working man's hand. "Any time, ma'am."

"Call me Terry."

His smile is a genuine grin now. "Terry. Thank you."

"If you'll stop by my secretary's desk, she'll have the necessary paperwork."

He heads for the door. I watch him leave. The limp is barely visible. Or am I distracted by the view? I wonder if Frankie Castor will enjoy it as much as I do.

Sadly for me, WHEN DANGER CALLS is out of print. However, that’s your gain, because you can buy them from Amazon or from me at a very very DEEP discount. And they'll be autographed--personalized if you like. To buy from Amazon, click here and then follow the "New from $10" link. To buy from me send me an email here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Middle Age, Corsets, and Life

I've spent the last few weeks literally in the closet. I'm not sure I'm very happy about what happened there, but it forced me to face a few pounds and bulges I've been trying to deny.

Less than six weeks from now, I will be attending RomCon, a conference designed to allow romance readers to get to know their favorite authors, and I've agreed to participate in a workshop session entitled "Strip the Heroine." (See for more information.) Then, at the end of July, I'll be at the Romance Writers of America conference on a panel called "Dress for Historical Success."

I'd intended to wear my reproduction 1873 gown. There's just one problem: it doesn't fit.

No matter how I try to suck it in, the skirt just doesn't close. And the bodice doesn't button. Figure in several layers of petticoats, a crinoline, corset and chemise, and I know it's gonna be an uphill battle.

Lord, how I hate the realities of middle age. Or at least the physical realities.

Years ago, when my late husband and I first assembled costumes to wear on living history weekends, any extra pounds came off with just a couple weeks of dieting. Then, as I aged, dieting wasn't enough. I had to spend a few weeks at the gym. Well, I've hit another plateau. The diet and exercise aren't working. Where did all these pounds come from, anyway? Starvation and exhaustion promise to be my new best friends.

And, of course, a new corset. A tight new corset.

There's so much in life that changes with time. It's pretty easy to see it in our bodies—anybody over thirty knows what I'm talking about. But, these last few years, I've discovered there are some pretty good things about approaching fifty.

I like knowing who I am and being self-assured for the first time in my life. I like having accomplished things—raising a kid, being successful in my career, being able to take a chance on my dream. There's a bit of "carefree" in not having to come home from a day job and tend a family anymore. Relationships are easier. And I finally have the time to write.

All in all, life's pretty good these days, starvation, exhaustion, and corset not withstanding.