Friday, June 29, 2012


Posted by Ruby Johnson
It's our pleasure to welcome Louise Behiel to our blog with an excerpt from FAMILY TIES.. From Calgary, she is a writer, therapist, mother, grandmother and dog lover. I've read her book and can recommend it to anyone who likes a story with deep well developed characters. Louise, thank you for joining our blog this week and for sharing an excerpt of your book..Don't forget to leave Louise a comment when you finish reading her excerpt.


Back Cover Copy...

Grayson Mills realized long ago that he’s unable to establish and sustain meaningful relationships - especially with women. He’s constructed a lifestyle that leaves him alone and his sexy new neighbor isn’t going to change his decision - especially since she has a horde of kids running around.

Child psychologist Andie Bowen has four foster children, all with high emotional needs. Andie’s committed to the children and she’s not going to upset them by getting involved with a man who could never accept her family.

But when an unknown assailant starts tormenting Andie’s family, Gray’s personal code demands that he protect his neighbor and her children. Surrounded by family, Gray’s long dormant childhood nightmares return, driving him to seek their meaning.

Together Andie and Gray will face his past,while struggling to keep her family safe and together they will forge Family Ties.



There went the neighborhood.
Grayson Mills turned onto Sunset Crescent just in time to see an orange and white moving van pulling away from the curb. It bounced its way down the street in cheerful indifference, taking the tranquility of the neighborhood along for the ride, leaving noise and mayhem in its place.
Gray slowed his red Ford pickup to a crawl while he surveyed the scene. He’d had a number of reasons for purchasing property in this up-scale fifty year-old area. The well-tended lawns and tall stately trees had appealed to him as much as the potential resale value of the faded yellow bungalow – but the average age of the population had been a factor as well. The majority of the Sunset Crescent homeowners were either retired, or close to it. That meant they spent their days in tranquil pursuits - gardening, reading, strolling the neighborhood, minding their own business. Not tearing around other people’s property while screaming at the top of their lungs.
Which was what the new arrivals were doing.
Gray shook his head in disgust. Right now, the entire area seemed to be filled with more kids than lawn ornaments. Two blond-haired, shorts clad youths chased a ball across his recently-landscaped yard, shrieking out high-pitched, earsplitting laugher as they smashed the tender grass and terrified the roses. A bare-foot, raven-haired teenage temptress, sporting hip-hugging blue jeans and a belly-baring black shirt sprawled across a lawn chair, a cell phone propped against her ear. A little girl in a pink dress jumped up and down on the sidewalk, her piercing squeals grating his eardrums.
Surely to God these weren’t his new neighbors.
Gray swung into his front drive, then slammed on the brakes as a once-white softball trickled across the pavement directly in front of him. An instant later one of the blond kids – the one in the brown striped shorts – dashed to retrieve it. “Christ,” Gray muttered. Who was supervising this mob? He checked out the brown two-story next door but there wasn’t an adult in sight. This swarm of kids must have parents. Where in hell were they?
Biting down frustration and worry, he waited while the boy grabbed the ball, flashed him a casual wave, and then raced back across the horrified grass. Gray released a relieved sigh as he eased his vehicle into place. He hadn’t expected his quiet neighborhood to be invaded. Granted, he’d been a little surprised when the elderly couple next door had decided to sell but he hadn’t anticipated a young family buying the place – certainly not one with dozens of children. Why hadn’t they bought a place in the suburbs where they belonged?
He slid out of the truck, gave the door a good slam closed then rested a hip against it while he yanked on his brown leather work gloves. The noise next door increased in volume but a woman’s voice called out for the children to come inside. Gray’s annoyance increased when they didn’t follow her directions.
If people insisted on having children, the least they could do was keep an eye on them. Who knew what could happen out here?
“Oh, crap,” he muttered as another thought crossed his mind – that empty pool in his own back yard. Fixing the fence around it was on his list of things to do – but he hadn’t planned on doing it right now. He’d been hoping to make some progress on remodeling the back bedroom – but that was going to have to wait. With all the kids roaming around he couldn’t risk one of them falling into the hole that had been a pool.
The shrieks next door grew in volume, then abated a tenth of a decibel as a dark-haired woman strolled out the front door to join the crowd, a small box in her hands.
One of the parents, Gray surmised. Good. It was about time someone took charge of the situation – although it was hard to believe that the curvy, dark-haired woman standing in the midst of the melee was the mother of all those kids - especially the teenager with the bright red lipstick. In her well-worn blue jeans and bright red tee shirt, with her hair pulled back into a pony-tail, she looked more like a teenage contemporary than a mother.
For a Mom, she sure looked relaxed, considering she had a horde of kids running around and was on the work end of a move. He hoped she’d organized her packing more than she’d organized her children. They were still racing around, yelling questions about someone staying for supper, what were they eating and how about a sleepover? The only quiet one of the bunch was the mousy-looking brown haired boy practically crazy-glued to Mom’s right leg.
Mrs. Mom was definitely an improvement over old Mrs. Watson who used to live there, even if she had a kid sticking to her leg. Wasn’t it a little strange for a kid that age to be hanging on to his mother like that? It didn’t seem to concern her though. She slid an absent hand over the back of the boy’s hair as she grinned at the teenager then tossed a ball to one of the others.
She noticed Gray. Looked right at him. Her gaze caught his. Her smile widened, warm, friendly and contagious. “Hi there,” she called out. She started toward him, with that little boy super glued to her leg. When she reached him she stuck out her hand. “I’m Andie Bowen. Please call me Andie. The kids and I just moved into one sixteen.”
“I noticed,” Gray’s fingers curled around her soft, cool palm. “I’m Grayson Mills. Gray.”
“Hi Gray.” She smelled like lemon polish and pine cleaner, the warmth of her smile swirled around him and caught him low. Which was darn surprising considering married women didn’t spark his interest at all.
Neither did kids. Especially noisy, out of control kids. He dropped her hand and stepped back.
Like this excerpt? Let Louise know by leaving a comment and by buying her book..
The link to this book is AMAZON.COM
Contact  Louise
Follow her on: Twitter Facebook

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


by Ruby Johnson
 I’ve been writing long enough to recognize a word or two that begins a paragraph but sits at the bottom of the page or ends a paragraph  and  spills into the next line or column (orphans) .   Or maybe a sentence ends a chapter  but spills over to a blank page to begin again all alone (widows).  Both cause too much white space between paragraphs or chapters.

“Another way is to think of orphans as generally being younger than widows; thus, orphaned lines happen first, at the start of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the first line), and widowed lines happen last, at the end of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the last line)”.(
For every style manual that says orphans are the end of a sentence or parts of a sentence sitting alone at the top of a column, there is another that calls it a widow. No matter what the definition, widows and orphans make stories harder to read and  present an unbalanced look, particularly if your copy is in colums.
Examples of widows and orphans from DELICIOUS DALLIANCE:

#1 One word ends paragraph but takes up entire line.

     ""The scent of good Scotch and a hint of better cologne teased her senses. He touched her shoulder, slid his finger into her long straight hair and twirled it gently.The soft hair encircled his finger like an evening gown as he lowered it slowly downward. She trembled and closed her eyes. His finger glided down without entangling its silken glow to the small of her back and then the waistline of her jeans. Moving his index finger inside the waist of her jeans, he tucked it in gently and left it there for a moment longer than necessary. His finger continued around her waistline toward the side and stopped at a belt loop below the navel.  
#2 Sentence ends chapter but floats over to top of next page.
There is always time tomorrow, she smiled, it’s the good thing about tomorrow; it never knows.

Once revisions start, a writer can spend weeks just taking care of orphans and widows. There are many ways of handling this, but one that is simple :
Take out trash or redundant words, the orphan or widow moves up to the previous line and you gain one more line. Just make sure the paragraphs don’t all have the same number of sentences. Aim for alternating 3-5 sentences per paragraph. You'll not only tighten up your work, there will be no widows and orphans. 

Monday, June 25, 2012


It's our pleasure to welcome Louise Behiel to our blog. From Calgary she is a writer, therapist, mother, grandmother and dog lover.  She says she  listens to Country Music and watches CSI ( in all three cities) and Criminal Minds.  A reader of romance, self-help, and spiritual books,  she loves anything by Wayne Dyer or Deepak Chopra.   She doesn't go to movies but usually has a radio playing nearby. I've read her book and can recommend it to anyone who likes a story with  deep well developed characters. Louise is here to talk about her book FAMILY TIES, how she got published, and her intricate life as a new author. Louise, thank you for joining our blog to talk about your book, and your writing career. If you find this interview of value, please leave a comment for Louise.

Louise Behiel on her journey…

What is this journey like for you?
Long, to say the least.  I started writing in 1996. I joined RWA, went to conferences, entered a few contests, and worked with a couple of critique groups. I got close to landing an agent or a deal a couple of times, but.... as they say, close only counts in hand grenades. It was so frustrating.

 What happened that made you sit down and write that first novel?
I’m an anomaly, I think. I had no desire to write. Ever. At all.  I was way too practical to spend time on something that wouldn’t generate an income.  But, one day as I prepared to take the last class of my Master’s degree, everything went sideways. The start of the course was delayed by eight weeks.  It felt like my whole life was on hold.  The next morning I was sitting at the table, in my jammies, drinking a coffee and a small voice in my head said “you’ve read so many romances, why don’t you write one?”
As if.  I knew nothing about writing. And to prove it I wrote fifty pages! So of course I finished the book.  And polished it a bit and then sent it to New York.  Done deal. It was rejected (as it should have been) but my name was in a database in the Big Apple.  How exciting is that?  As a result of that aha, I decided I’d better learn the craft and so began years of classes, conferences, and reading.

What galvanizes you to keep writing?
I actually stopped for a few years. Five years ago I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I decided to stop and give my head a shake. But I had made a serious mistake five years earlier – I founded the Calgary Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Everybody knows as the founder you have to stick around and I did.  I wasn’t doing anything official but I kept up my membership. After the AGM last year, (which I didn’t attend), the members of the chapter decided to self publish a series of books (  They kindly invited me to participate.  I decided to give it one more shot. But I wasn’t sure I even knew how to write anymore, so I sat down and wrote a full length historical.

On her book and characters…

Could you share a bit about your book and characters?
Family Ties is the first of a series of books placed on Sunset Crescent, in Calgary. The hero is Grayson Mills, a loner, who has no patience for others, especially children. He buys houses, fixes them and flips them and then moves on to the next house.  No roots, no ties and no connections.
Andie Mills is a widowed psychologist who has decided to leave the rat race and make a difference, one child at a time.  She’s taken in four high-needs foster children. As the book opens, they move into their new home, next door to Gray.
But when an unknown assailant starts tormenting Andie’s family, Gray’s personal code demands that he protect his neighbor and her children. Surrounded by family, Gray’s long dormant childhood nightmares return, driving him to understand their meaning.
Together Andie and Gray face his past, while struggling to keep her family safe and together they forge Family Ties.

What inspired you to write suspenseful romances?  
I would love to write exciting, suspenseful thrillers.  But I’m not made that way.  My brain doesn’t go there. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) As a result, limited suspense is my genre – which you see in Family Ties. Real people who get caught in situations that aren’t atypical and then get to work their way those circumstances to love.

If you had to choose, which scene from FAMILY TIES is your favorite?
I love the scene where one of Andie’s young foster children, (Chloe, who is six) ‘breaks into’ Gray’s home, looking for cookies.  She is a determined little girl and she wants a treat. 
Interrupted in the shower by a call from his controlling, rigid mother Gray  hears a noise in the kitchen. Fortunately for all concerned he has a towel wrapped around his waist when he goes to investigate. 
Imagine his surprise at finding a little girl from the rowdy family next door has come through the dilapidated fence between their two properties and into his home. This one event is the beginning of Gray’s journey from that of a loner to a dedicated family man.

Which character was the most difficult to develop?
Because of the work I do, Andie was fairly straight forward to develop, but Gray put me through the hoops.  No reader wants a hero who hates kids and Gray starts out that way.  But there are good reasons for his behavior and he’s able to evolve.  Thank heavens.

On her writing process… 

As someone who is a therapist by profession, how has this helped or hindered you in planning your books?
It’s become my biggest asset.  I think because of the work I do with clients, I understand why people do what they do. The trick is to think of my characters as clients and then I do a Q & A session or three to get to know them as people. 

In reviews of your book, the one thing that was mentioned frequently was ”fascinating complicated hero and real heroine.” How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them?
I believe that all of us, people and characters, have excellent reasons for doing what we do. That may be biology or childhood, but the reasons are always there and if I can get deep enough, they are always logical, for that person. Additionally, my professional training taught me to look for the nuances of facial expression and body language, because they always tell the truth. When I know why people do what they do, it’s relatively straight forward to help them move to doing something different.
With characters, this translates into knowing lots about their back story and totally understanding who they are and why they’re that way. Then it’s about creating a situation that will force them to overcome the past and find their essence, or who they were meant to be.
And then reflecting that knowledge into the characters behavior and story.

What challenge or struggle do you face when you try to build emotional bonds between the characters?
I learned very early on that romance requires the three ‘C’s’: Character, conflict and contact. For me, it’s the last two that are the hardest to write. What would logically bring 2 adults together who have no good reason to form a liaison?
Of course, the conflict must exist within them and between them and be strong enough to keep them from falling into a quick relationship. So bring them together for a realistic reason and then have stronger reasons to keep them apart.

How do you, then, go about addressing the part you struggle with.
Time, lots and lots of time. Notes. Interviews with the characters. And exploring lots of possibilities. What are the circumstances that bring people together?  Work, neighborhood, church, volunteer boards, etc etc. The challenge is to find the setting that will inspire the contact and keep them together, regardless.

On her personal life as an author…

What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? 

I like writing ‘The End’. Seriously, I love the camaraderie of romance writers. I’ve made some amazing friends, both online and in person. The Calgary Chapter of RWA ( is an amazing group of supportive, caring writers who celebrate each other’s successes and commiserate with each rejection. Online, the indie loops are filled with writers who share knowledge and information willingly and openly. That’s truly amazing.

Most disappointing? 
The time it took me to decide to indie publish. I almost missed the opportunity and if it hadn’t been for my chapter mates, I would have missed it all.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?
Sometimes continuing to write is not enough, but never, never, never give up on the friendships and community you’ve created. They will pull you along when you aren’t capable of walking on your own.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?
The new writers I know are in a hurry.  They don’t take the time for develop the necessary skills and support system it takes to survive in this profession.  Everyone I know who has succeeded has approached writing in a professional manner, giving the craft the time to mature and the attention it deserves. It’s not easy for most of us but it takes time to learn that.
What’s next for you?
The second book in this series (FAMILY LIES) will be out late in June or early July. The third of this series will be out in early December. I also have a Bandit Creek novella coming out on December 1.  It’s a busy year for me – I have a full time job and a part time therapy practice, but it’s worth it.


 Where can we buy your books and find you on the web? 
Family Ties is only available on Amazon right now.
Fool’s Gold, a Bandit Creek anthology which includes one of my stories is also available at Amazon .

Louise’s questions for the readers…
Do you prefer to read more realistic stories of every day people or fairy tales, with princes, billionaires, and sheiks?  Do you know why you have these preferences?
What is your favorite book? What makes you re-read it?

Friday, June 22, 2012


Nikki Duncan has spent the week with us and  is back to share her newest book . Nikki is a prolific writer and is currently completing her ninth book with a December publication date. When she's not writing she is involved with family activities and her professional writers group NTRWA. Nikki's contact information is located at the bottom of the page. Please don't forget to leave her a comment or question.


What Others are Saying...
“A gritty, sexy romantic suspense that you won’t be able to put down.” ~ Maria, Fresh Fiction

Illicit Intuitions, Sensory Ops Book Three

Love could be their greatest liability...

Ava Malia knows three things. She was once a kickass covert operative. She will eventually adjust to her new team, the FBI Specialized Crimes Unit. And the only way to finally be free of her professional past is to solve her first case and get her hands on a game-changing technology. The only problem? Success rides on her ability to swallow her distaste for the persona she must adopt in order to earn the trust of a mysterious scientist.

Dr. H escaped childhood captivity with three things. His sister. Complete control of his gift. And an engulfing distrust of anyone in the government. Adjusting to a life of freedom hasn’t been easy, but he’s found peace in solitude. The sexy woman auditing his empathic studies, though, has a way of getting under his skin that’s both arousing and disturbing. Plus, his psychic ability warns him of secrets so deeply buried in her psyche, they’d be better left alone.

Yet their instant attraction strips away all their protective barriers, down to the foundation of a new, fragile trust. And a vulnerability that, when an old enemy opens fire, could blast away any chance of a future.


Now, almost four hours later according to the dashboard clock, she waited in her car in the parking lot of his lab where she’d come to escape the dreams attempting to overwhelm her mind like a plague. Neither the cold shower nor the drive-thru coffee had succeeded in clearing the gritty haze scrubbing her eyes with each blink or the fog in her brain.
“Ugh.” Ava gave up on the losing battle of expelling thoughts of Dr. H from her mind. She abandoned the fight against wakefulness and dropped her head against the car’s headrest to rest her eyes for a few minutes.
Despite the morning sun brightening the sky she slipped into dreamless darkness.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Ugh.” She grumbled and turned away from the rapping intrusion.
Tap. Tap. Tap. “Ms. Sebastian.”
Not him again. Like when she’d attempted to sleep at home, remembered images of him mostly undressed and his smooth voice invaded her mind’s deepest recesses. His power slid over her in streams of awareness and arousal. Teasing. Taunting. Threatening.
Click. Screech. Groan.
More vivid than in her dreams, old-timey musk swirled with morning mugginess through her car. Drawn in, with pulses of arousal sparking beneath her skin, she turned her head closer to the clean scent of him.
“Ms. Sebastian.”
His formality, his unyielding habit of calling her Ms. Sebastian rather than Ava, felt…intimate. Like he knew her. Knew her darkest secrets and saw her scars. She sighed and settled closer to the impression of him. She drew his scent into her lungs. “Mmmm.”
Warm breath fluttered along her neck and the edge of her ear. She shivered. He cleared his throat.
“Ms. Sebastian, when you are ready to wake up, we will begin.”
“Huh?” She slitted open one eye and jerked back. Dr. H’s face, haloed by the morning light behind him, filled her vision. She’d not only fallen asleep, but she’d been snuck up on. Mistakes like that cost lives.
“You’re late.” The stoic man from the lab was back.
“I’ve been here since around six. I’m not late.”
“You’re not ready to go either.” His face and tone remained blank of emotion, but intuition told her he was humored and a little aroused. Would he be if he knew who was after him?
“You’re inhuman. Who willingly kicks off their day before nine?” She ignored the whine in her voice and instead turned away to find the energy in a bottle she’d apparently dropped when sleeping.
He shouldn’t be so…awake. So ready to tackle the day. Especially given that his lights had still been on at four when Liam had shown up to relieve her from duty.
“Looking for this?” He waved the small bottle between them. She reached for it. He pulled it away.
“Hand. Over. The. Shot.”
“You won’t need it.” He stuck it in the pocket of his swimming shorts and stepped back.
With deliberate slowness, she turned in the seat and placed her feet on the ground. He took another step back. She concentrated on her core muscles and raised herself out of her convertible Mini.
“Hand. Over. The. Shot.” She knew how to kill a man with her bare hands. If he thought he would get between her and her shot, the man was delusional.
His only answer was a leisurely survey up and down the length of her. After a pause at her winged, messenger-hat shaped lapel pin, his gaze scanned up to hers again. He shook his head. “I said wear a suit.”
She glanced from his ratty tank top, shorts and flip flops to her pant suit and heels, and back to his shorts. “This is a suit.”
“Not for swimming.”
“For… No.” She shook her head. “I’m not going swimming. We are not going swimming.”
Where would she hide the gun currently nestled at the small of her back? How was she supposed to protect the man, keep him alive, if he insisted on keeping her unarmed? Okay, so he didn’t know what he demanded. But that didn’t matter.
She was on a case. She had a mission. She could not indulge in a morning swim. Hunk in board shorts looking ready to surf for hours or not, she couldn’t do it. Especially when she only had an hour of sleep to fuel her.
“Have a nice day.” He stepped back and she noticed the open-topped Jeep he’d driven the day before. Beach boy looks, a vehicle that said he enjoyed fun, an adeptness at meditation, a tense work mood, and a habit of speaking in short sentences. The man was a contradiction. “What? You said we were working…” The energy flowing through the air around him was waking her up, but not enough.
“We would be if you could follow instructions.” Even in his sun-loving clothes he was somber. Seemingly one-track minded.
“You said wear a suit. I wore a suit.”
“A swimsuit.”
She rolled her shoulders back. “That’s not what you said. And swimming has nothing to do with auditing.”
“Well, it’s what I meant. And tantrums don’t suit you.”
“I do not throw tantrums. And you’re no more psychic than I am.” Yeah, she was waking up, but her focus wasn’t what it could be if she had that shot. He was looking for any excuse to eject her from the study. She needed to stay alert if she wanted to keep up with him. Failure could too easily mean death. “And you can’t blame me for not reading minds.”
He opened his mouth, but shut it again. Shaking his head, he closed the distance between them, coming close enough for the morning breeze to whisk his scent to her. Too close.
Her pulse quickened.
He pulled the bottle he’d confiscated from his pocket and with a quick twist removed the cap.
Yes! Her brain screamed in anticipation. He was going to take mercy on her. He was going to…
He upended the bottle, dumping the blessed, berry-flavored, focus-giving liquid on the ground between them. The gun holstered at her back pressed into her spine. The barrel would fit nicely into the groove at the bottom of his jaw. Not that she wanted to hurt him so much as make it perfectly clear standing in her way of an energy shot could be detrimental.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


courtesy photbucket
GFW Writers member, Susie Sheehey, is the winner of  the June editor critique by Jason Black with her manuscript Audrey's Promise.  You may remember Jason was a guest  on our blog and his post remains an all time favorite.

To learn more about Jason, scroll to the bottom of the page and don't forget to leave a comment.


Audrey Allen kept as much distance as possible from bloodsucking media fiends, who always seemed to ruin everything and leave disasters in their wake. So why was she sitting across from a TV anchor with a dozen cameras and lights glaring on her face like a police interrogation?
[An opening paragraph has to grab a reader, hard and fast. This one does well with colorful language such as “bloodsucking fiends,” “ruin,” and “disasters.” Interesting elements such as “TV anchor” and “police interrogation” grab our attention as well. But on the whole, the paragraph doesn’t quite make me sit up and take notice. Part of this is because the paragraph is at a distance from Audrey; while the second sentence is clearly indicative of her thoughts, it isn’t presented as inner monologue. There’s a distance to it, which diminishes the immediacy of the thought. It’s odd, because elsewhere the narrative does use true inner monologue to give us Audrey’s thoughts. So why not here? On the whole, I’m left thinking that an immediate opening in Audrey’s inner monologue might pick this right up. Something like: What am I doing here in front of these bloodsucking media fiends? Considering that other salient elements, such as Audrey’s name, are conveyed again in the next several sentences, nothing is really lost by shortening this opening.]

“And we’re back in five, four-” the producer counted from behind the shadows of the camera.
[For example, this paragraph allows the reader to infer that it’s a TV studio, and moreover, likely some kind of news or talk show, even if the opening paragraph hadn’t mentioned TV at all.]

Because I have a sick need to constantly punish myself.
[I like this, because while it gives us one answer to the question presented in the opening paragraph, it isn’t a direct answer. It isn’t the answer we were expecting, and yet, it’s an interesting answer because it tells us something about Audrey’s attitude, and shares with us her unique, personal voice.]

If it were possible, an even brighter light switched on and burned into Audrey’s retinas. Every nerve ending squirmed in her body, screaming for Audrey to stand and walk out. But she pulled the collar of her sapphire blouse closer to her neck and forced a smile instead.
[The paragraph is kind of rough. The phrase “even brighter” has only a weak correlation with the first paragraph, because while lights were mentioned, their brightness wasn’t. The second sentence contains an alliteration of S-words, “squirmed,” “screaming,” and “stand” which I found distracting. I suspect this was unintentional. As well, the verb “squirmed” is strongly tactile, while the verb “screamed” is auditory, creating a semantic clash between the two. It feels to me like the author is suggesting a feeling of compulsion which Audrey is fighting, so why not use the verb “compelling” instead? Finally, the last sentence doesn’t need both “But” and “instead.” Both of those words indicate contrast between expectation and actuality, so together, they’re redundant. So pick one, and for my money, “instead” is the winner. It’s a nice word to close the paragraph on, bringing closure to the implicit question of whether Audrey is going to give in to the compulsion to split.]

Breathe. Smile, Audrey. You agreed to this.
 “Welcome back, folks. I’m Cathy Claise here with Texas State Senate candidate, Audrey Allen.”
[Nice example of using dialogue to convey information the author wants the reader to have, while avoiding the dreaded “infodump.” The reason it’s not an infodump is because Ms. Cathy Claise’s motivations as a character make it perfectly sensible for her to say that, regardless of what readers might need to know. After all, she’s not talking to us, she’s talking to her TV audience.]

Could this woman’s hair be any more bleached? Sandra Dee meets televangelist Jan Crouch in her mid-forties, desperate to look a decade fresher. But viewers had no idea she looked this fake up close. That’s the magic of TV.
[Again, the narrative is ambiguous. Much of this paragraph sounds like it could be Audrey’s inner monologue, but it isn’t presented that way. Readers are left unsure how to interpret what we just read: did Audrey think that, or not?]

“Audrey has captured the political field by storm, stunning all of the Dallas district as the one candidate to take on Wyatt Williams in this surprising runoff election. Audrey, how have you managed to earn votes from both liberals and conservatives? Some conservatives criticize that you refuse to answer questions on family and religion to hide your deep-set liberal views.”
[The phrase “all of the Dallas district” is awkward. Does it mean “the entire Dallas district,” implying that Dallas is contained in a single legislative district, or is it a typo that should have been “all of the Dallas districts”?]
I knew this was a bad idea. Fire fused to Audrey’s jawbone and spread down her esophagus. Even with the oncoming heartburn, she knew this question was bound to come up. Journalists latched onto any pinprick of weakness and blasted it into a gaping wound, turning what was nothing into a hemorrhage of lies and misinterpretations. Despite her heart rate thumping against her sternum, Audrey kept smiling.
[Little stuff matters. The second sentence of this paragraph indicates a downward-progressing sensation, while at least in my experience heartburn progresses upward through the esophagus. Does it matter to the story? Probably not in the slightest. But it does matter, because small eyebrow-raising moments like this do chip away at the credibility an author has with the reader. Everything that strikes us as not quite right—whether it’s relevant to the plot or not—makes us less confident in the author’s ability to tell us a compelling story.]

As Audrey opened her mouth to answer, she threw a glance over Cathy’s shoulder to her campaign manager, Miranda Gates, who’d stopped guzzling her Starbucks coffee and stared back at her.
“Claire, I’m glad you brought that up.” That way I can quash your attempt to sideswipe me. “First of all, I’m happy my message has reached both conservatives and liberals on the independent ticket. After all, if elected I’ll be serving both parties equally. However, the only thing liberal about me is the high-def powder on my face from the make-up crew here.”
Audrey continued through the muffled snickers from behind the cameras, and Miranda’s expectant nod.
“Just because I don’t talk about my family or religious views doesn’t mean I don’t have them. I’m proud of my family. I’m the person I am today because of them.” Even though they may not be proud of me.
[Great bit of inner monologue, there. That’s a very revealing contrast between speech and thought. A line like that does wonders for sending the reader’s mind spinning with curiosity about what juicy secrets this manuscript has in store for us.]

“My focus right now is my campaign and the people I intend to help with my platforms. Not marriage. So many women in my district need help and a safe place to seek support. The Women’s Crisis Center I’m sponsoring will provide that refuge. “
Way to plug in the WCC, Aud. She could almost hear Miranda’s cheers, silenced by guzzling more coffee. She watched Cathy open her mouth to jab another potential zinger, but the fire in her belly roared and Audrey wouldn’t give this woman the satisfaction.
[The last sentence here is a little too on-the-nose in terms of interpreting Audrey’s motivations for us. It usually plays better to leave motivations unsaid, while providing enough visible evidence for them that readers can deduce the motivations for themselves. Enabling readers to make those kinds of deductions—and then staying out of the way so they can in fact do it—is how a writer creates an interaction between the reader and the text. We don’t want passive, bored readers. We want active readers, whose minds are engaged while they read. If we’re giving them something to think about and things to figure out, then they’ll be having fun. If we do all the work for them and hand them all the conclusions, they’ll be bored. Consider how it would read if that last line were shortened to something like, “She watch Cathy open her mouth for another zinger, but Audrey’s fire was up.” Then jump straight to Audrey’s next line. Now the reader has to connect the dots. Connecting the dots is where the fun of reading is. Don’t take the reader’s fun away by giving them pre-connected dots!]

“And Cathy, my personal faith has nothing to do with my ability to be an effective State Senator. My experience in Texas politics has taught me that an ability to work with others and keep a level head is the best way to help everyone, without losing your sanity in the process.”
Cathy’s laugh-on-command was more a nervous cackle, devoid of genuine emotion. It bubbled under Audrey’s skin like hydrogen peroxide. This desperate TV anchor was more fake than half the plastic-surgery addicted women of mid-town. But also the most watched by that demographic.
[The peroxide crack is perfect. Spot-on for a bleached TV talking-head. But again, the narrative is ambiguous between true narrative and inner monologue.]
“Austin has its way of piling on the body count at the Capitol steps,” Cathy quipped. “You seem more than ready to take on Wyatt Williams next week. The other senators from around the state might be less forgiving.”
Audrey bit the side of her tongue to keep from rolling her eyes.
“This Women’s Crisis Center has a fundraising event coming up, is that correct?” Cathy added.
Finally, something worth talking about.
“Saturday night at the W Hotel in Dallas. We’ll be auctioning off some valuable gifts for this incredible charity.”
“Don’t you think this event on Thanksgiving weekend is bad timing? Won’t many people have spent all their money on Black Friday?”
She never quits.
“On the contrary, Cathy. This is the season of being thankful for your blessings and there’s never a better time to give back to those who need a little help and compassion.”
“Well spoken from the Prolific Peacemaker of the 2nd District.” Cathy flashed her veneers at Audrey until her cheeks cracked. A final turn to the camera let Audrey breath, and release the pressure exerted on her big toe in her black heels. Cathy peered into the camera. “Thank you, Ms. Allen, for joining us here today. Stick around, viewers. We’ll be right back with the perfect trimming for that Thanksgiving Turkey.”
[There are two mechanical errors in this paragraph. There should be a comma after “well spoken,” and “breath” should be “breathe.” Again, little things matter. Mechanical errors indicate lack of effort, and give agents and publishers an excuse to get through their to-do list faster by rejecting the manuscript. For the indie or self-published author, mechanical errors give book bloggers and Amazon reviewers easy fodder to trash-talk you or your book. For those reasons alone, it’s well worth hiring a copy editor before sending the book out into the world.]

Audrey watched the producer in a massive headset hold up his fingers to count down. “And we’re clear.”
The microphone clipped to her silk blouse was the first to come off, followed by the bulky battery in her back pocket. As she fumbled with the wire, Cathy did as well with her words, fake yet again.
“Thanks so much for coming today. And sorry for that last round of questioning. My boss would have fired me if I hadn’t asked them.” Fluffing her bleached bob, Cathy motioned for her makeup assistant. But trusty Miranda stopped her.
“And just how many times will you face termination before you’ll practice ethics?”
[Oh, snap! Let the catfight begin! Boy, there’s nothing like naked verbal aggression to suddenly perk up a scene. And I like that it has come at a time we’re totally not expecting it. The interview’s over, I’m expecting Miranda to whisk Audrey away to her next campaign stop. I’m expecting the narrative to enter some kind of scene transition, but no, it hits us with something much better. Conflict! It also does a great job of immediately showing what kind of person Miranda is. Nicely done.]

Amazing how her fake smile dissipated so quickly into a Nancy Grace scowl. She must have practiced that in the mirror. “Politics is a brutal game, and our viewers expect us to ask the important questions.”
[More of that same stylistic ambiguity here.]
“I think viewers are more interested in the truth, not sleight-of-hand tactics. Good luck getting us to visit your show again in the future.” Miranda bit with a half-smile. Her hazel eyes pierced Cathy’s plastic exterior. Audrey loved Miranda’s passion and unwavering loyalty, and even more loved watching her take the graceful kill. But the election was seven days away. As much as Audrey hated to do it, they needed to give the media a sliver of mercy.
“Cathy, thank you for having me on the show today.” The gracious tone was a lot easier to muster than Audrey expected, now that she’d handed back the microphone to the adolescent-looking sound tech. “And have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.”
Ten years of interning in the political quagmire as her mentor’s aide and eventual protégé had taught Audrey that cooler heads always prevailed on the Senate floor. But no amount of time or turmoil would ever dampen her dislike of the media. Stepping off of the makeshift living room in the small studio, away from the intruding cameras, the nagging necessity of the media grew with every ding of Miranda’s Blackberry.
[Word choice is critical. Every word carries a literal meaning, plus a more slippery connotation. While readers will correct for a surprising breath of errors in literal meaning (basically, we know what you meant), connotation is another game entirely. Connotation is where the feeling of the words lives. When you pick your words, pay attention to both layers of meaning. Here, the word “makeshift” feels off to me, because both layers of meaning don’t quite fit my image of a TV studio. “Makeshift” literally means something put together out of parts that were handy, but not necessarily ideal, to do some job. As a reader, I get what the author probably means: it’s not a real living room, it’s just a fake TV-set living room. But “makeshift” has connotations of haphazard, shoddy, and temporary. So even while I know what you meant, those connotations clash strongly with my image of a TV studio set as something slick, polished, and fully intentional down to the last detail. The clash leaves me with no coherent perception of what this location is supposed to be. Intellectually, I know what you meant, but in my gut, I don’t feel it. As well, consider the word “Blackberry.” Beware, beware, beware technology. It changes so fast that if you include mentions of specific technology in your story, the story is likely to feel dated before you’re even done writing the book. Indeed, while the Blackberry was indeed the number-one cell phone and e-mail device for businesspersons and politicians not so many years ago, the iPhone has now pretty much killed it. The story clearly has a feeling of being set in the contemporary world, yet the word “Blackberry” makes it feel not quite contemporary. And you can’t win by going with iPhone either; then you’re just going to sound like you’re trying to be trendy. The answer is almost always to be less specific when it comes to technology. Does it matter what kind of phone Audrey has? Of course not. So, just say “cell phone” and leave it at that.]

“I need a Diet, Mandy.” Tension pulled at the muscles in her neck. Maybe it was all the weight of the extra makeup they made her wear, or the weight of the election taking its toll. Soon enough it would all be over, and hopefully Audrey could make the impact that her district desperately needed.
Without taking her eyes off her Blackberry and lightning-fast thumb, Miranda reached into her massive purse and pulled out a silver can.
“You’re scary sometimes. But I love you.” Audrey opened the can and sipped the delectable bubbles, letting it run through her senses and across her taste buds. Thank God.
“Pampering you is what I do best.”
[In terms of characterization, I like this scene ending. It conveys a lot about the relationship between these two women, without beating us over the head with it. Again, it lets the reader draw the conclusions. But in terms of broader story-craft, it doesn’t do anything in particular to propel the reader forward through the story. It’s a nice, neat bow tied on the end of the scene, but it doesn’t leave us with any burning question that we simply have to jump into the next chapter to answer. Imagine, for example, if the scene contained just one more short paragraph:

Mandy’s thumbs came to an abrupt stop. She stared at her phone. “Oh, crap.” She handed the phone over. “You have to see this.”

Now there’s a question, and nobody had to look very far to find it: What? What does she have to see? Tell me now!

That’s a hook ending. That’s an ending which compels the reader to keep reading. And isn’t that what we want readers to do?

I’ve picked on a bunch of stuff in this short scene—that was the whole point, after all—but on the whole it’s a pretty strong scene. As an opening scene, it clearly establishes the protagonist, her situation, one important supporting player, and one character who may turn out to be an antagonist. It did all that pretty smoothly overall, without infodumping or resorting to lengthy stretches of exposition. Already, that puts this scene in a rarefied air compared to much of what I see. My advice to this author is definitely to keep going. Work on those little detail elements, which are still kind of rough, and definitely work on clarifying the distinction between the narrative portions and the inner monologue portions so readers are clear as to which is which. Do that, and this will become a very strong scene indeed.]

A Note From Jason Black..
I am a book doctor who has helped scores of novelists improve their work over the past several years. I take a very analytical approach to literature, seeking to discover the "fundamental forces of fiction" and understand how those forces play out in narrative. My philosophy is that it is not enough simply to learn the rules-of-thumb for good narrative--use active voice, avoid adverbs, et cetera--without understanding why we have those rules, how they derive from those fundamental forces, and what effect following or breaking those rules has on the reader's experience of our stories. That's what I am constantly working to understand, and what I strive to share with my clients. 
Contact Information:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Nikki Duncan sat down with me to divulge some details about her intricate life as a romantic suspense author. So, grab a drink, relax and let’s talk to Nikki about her journey as an author.~~~Ruby Johnson


Heart stopping puppy chases, childhood melodrama and the aborted hanging of innocent toys are all in a day’s work for Nikki Duncan. This athletic equestrian turned reluctant homemaker turned daring author, is drawn to the siren song of a fresh story line.

Nikki plots murder and mayhem over breakfast, scandalous exposes at lunch and the sensual turn of phrase after dinner. Nevertheless, it is the pleasurable excitement and anticipation of unraveling her characters motivation that drives her to write long past the witching hour. The only anxiety and apprehension haunting the author comes from pondering the mysterious outcome of her latest twist.


You’ve had two books released this year, Criminal Promises March 2012
Second Chance Detectives #1 and Illicit Intuitions, Sensory Ops #3, can you tell us what scenes in these book are your favorites?

That’s a tough question. In Criminal Promises, one of my favorite scenes is when BD is holding the baby and singing to her. As much as I love the alpha male who can kick ass, I especially love when they show their tender side. In Illicit Intuitions, I think my favorite scene is when H realizes that Ava knows his real name. It’s the first step in his realization that he couldn’t hide from his past.

What is your secret to writing such fantastically vibrant characters that one is left longing for the other’s stories to be told?  Whose story is coming up next?
I don’t know. Maybe it comes from some of the workshops I’ve taken, or it could come from years of reading before turning to writing. When I sit down and write, though, they just sort of come to me more often than not.

Who has been your most challenging character to write?
Ian from Sounds to Die By. I never imagined tackling a blind hero would be so hard, but it was. And it was so rewarding.
On her Personal Life as an Author…

What made you want to write romantic suspense?
It  just came out when I started writing. The more I write, though, the more I’m finding that I enjoy writing paranormal and straight contemporary just as much.

Do you keep real life separate from your story world or do you feel yourself basing characters on real people and writing scenes based on real events?
I will occasionally base parts of characters on real people, but typically there’s not much of my reality in my books.

On how she Published her First Novel…

Can you tell us about your path to becoming a published writer?
Well, it’s your typical story about a girl who decides to write and then spends years trying to get published. I wrote four books before writing the one that was my first published book. The fun part of the story is that first published book. It came about as a result of chatting with the owner of Samhain at a party and then taking her up on her challenge to write a blind hero. The lucky part was that she loved what I did with the character, and so did the editor who ended up contracting it.

What advice would you give writers who are still in the struggling mode?
Keep writing. Finish the first book and then write the second and then the third. It’s okay to edit a book a few times – it’s advised. But don’t stop writing new stories.

And, is there anything else you would like your readers to know about you or the books you write?
I have several more books releasing this year, but the one I am most looking forward to is Her Miracle Man, my Christmas story. I’ve just posted a video to introduce it on my website.

Finally, where can we contact you on the web? Social media?
Website:  Twitter: @nduncanwriter  Facebook: /NDuncanWriter

A Question for Readers..

What is your favorite genre to read and why?

Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...