Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gearing Up for the New Book

With The Showboat Affair submitted, Keeping Promises completed and shelved for now, and The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall in the midst of yet another revision, I'm doing some serious research for the (as yet) unnamed novel that must be completed by March 31 for eligibility to be entered in the competition for the lead-in book of the "Jewels of the Night" series proposed by the Crimson Rose line of The Wild Rose Press. (Whew! Sorry for the long sentence!)

So far I've:
  • researched some of the more famous antebellum homes in the South
  • researched the architecture (Greek Revival, Federal, Italianate) styles
  • sent for a (used) book, Plantation Houses and Mansions of the Old South
  • checked out from the local library A Remembrance of Eden: Harriet Bailey Bullock Daniel's Memories of a Frontier Plantation in Arkansas, 1849-1872, as well as Volume 4 of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (Myth, Manners, & Memory) 
  • discovered that Camden, AR, about 3 hours south of here, has a rich Civil War history and several antebellum homes open for public tours...there's a trip in my future after the new year!
So I can take a break from Miss Fanny when necessary by delving into the aforementioned books. (More on The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture in forthcoming blog.)

I have the plot sketched out--emphasis on sketched--and the characters named and infused with some life (of which there needs to be more). As usual, a title has not even drifted onto the horizon. The basic plot, of course, must revolve around a blue diamond. I hope to write a contemporary suspense/romance with travels back in time to the antebellum world of the characters' ancestors.

Just doing the research and learning new things is challenging and exciting. Some famous figure (I've forgotten who) said to "Learn something new everyday." That seems particularly important as one gets older. I watched my paternal grandfather and then my father simply sit and wait to die. That seems a harsh judgment, but it is, unfortunately, factual. For both of them, it was a long wait as the years slipped by, each day the same as the last. My maternal grandfather viewed each new day as an adventure waiting to be experienced--until he died at the age of 96.

I don't know exactly where the plot is going or how it's going to get there--but I'm convinced it's going to be a thrilling journey, especially for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Miss Fanny Again and The New Project

Today has seen a good start on yet another revision of The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall. It has the potential to be a good story, so the tweaking is going to continue, and it will go out again somewhere sometime. The first part of the story is fine--but it begins to bog down toward the middle when the setting moves forward from past to present. Also, while the heroine is a spunky little piece, her love interest leaves something to be desired. With that in mind, he's no longer a poor little rich boy neglected by his parents but rather a real-life cowboy from Texas who took a year off after high school to make the rodeo circuit but is now hitting the books and plans to become a Texas Ranger.

So far, so good.

And, I've started a new folder for the "Jewels of the Night" series and done a great deal of research on blue diamonds since one must be included in the story. I've also researched some restored southern plantations because one will figure heavily as the place, even though the time is now.

I did extensive reading about McRaven, an antebellum home in Vicksburg MS, which the boys and I visited years ago. Upstairs, I was amazed to see a pair of vases identical to the ones passed down to me with the note, "Pappy's Christmas gift to Mammy on the first Christmas after they were married--December 25, 1867". Pappy and Mammy were my maternal great-grandparents, and the note is penned on the back of my great-aunt's old-fashioned calling card. She also wrote, "I want Judy to inherit these." Judy is most grateful that she did!

What I didn't know when we visited was that the house is, according to experts, quite haunted. It served as a hospital during the Civil War, and later, a 15-year-old bride died in childbirth in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Will there be a ghost in my story? It's tempting.

Anyway, here are a couple of links to some of the websites, just fyi: The Hope Diamond and McRaven. I'm anxious to get started, but I've vowed to revise Miss Fanny first and just stick to the research part of the new project.

It never ends...and what fun that it doesn't! 

 PS:  All you NaNo-ers out there, don't forget that starting tomorrow you can go to the NaNo site, upload your novel for word-counting purposes, and then download your winners' goodies!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Defeat and a New Challenge

For the life of me, I can't come up with another 5,339 words to get Keeping Promises to the 65K mark. It ends just right--short, sweet, happily-ever-after--so I don't want to add on. I've been adding scenes within the text, but there's nothing else to add, at least nothing that I can think of right now.

So, I concede defeat and relegate the story to the "percolate pile" until I'm psyched up to revise it. Maybe then I'll have a flash of brilliance and be able to add some words, but I'm not counting on it.

The Crimson Rose line of The Wild Rose Press has put out a call for submissions for their new "Jewels of the Night" series. I vowed not to do it because there was too much else going on, but...never say never.

Here is the information:

The Wild Rose Press
Introduces a Special Submission Call from Crimson Rose

Jewels of the Night…

One submission will be chosen at random to launch the series. The selected contract will be given a premium publishing slot during Crimson month (November, 2010) as well as a featured review and interview with the review site Once Upon a Romance. The selected story will be showcased on the Crimson Rose Page of The Wild Rose Press website and the Behind the Garden Gate blog. The Wild Rose Press will provide an advertising book banner to the author. Once Upon a Romance will also display this book banner without charge for a thirty day period beginning with the day of book release.
This submission call is open to current Wild Rose Press authors as well as all new query authors.

· Must involve a blue diamond. It could be a treasure hunt or a midnight thief or… Let your imagination take flight!
· Must involve a high level of danger
· Can be in any region of the world
· Can be any timeframe as long as the most prevalent elements are romance and intrigue

Stories must be complete. With a word-length between 20,000 and 65,000 words (miniature rose or rosebud length)
Must be an original, never-before published work and you must own the rights to it.
To qualify for the launch, submission must arrive on or before March 31, 2010
Manuscripts must be formatted per standard formatting rules (Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced, 1 in. margins, numbered pages)
Submission call is open to both published and unpublished writers
Story content must adhere to posted Crimson Rose guidelines as posted on the submissions page of
Email your manuscript as a single Word .rtf attachment to Lori (at)
Put: “Jewel of the Night Series: Manuscript Title: YOUR NAME” in the subject line
In the body of the email, include
The synopsis
Your Real name
Pseudonym, if applicable
Your contact email
Submissions received that do not follow these guidelines will be discarded without notice. The Wild Rose Press is not responsible for submissions lost in cyberspace and not received.
Upon receipt, you will receive a confirmation email. If you have not received a confirmation email within five working days of emailing your submission, please send us an email.
Direct questions regarding this submission call to: Lori (at)
If you have received receipt of your submission, please do not inquire about status until after standard response wait time. All entrants will be reviewed per our normal submission guidelines which are available at
Thanks for submitting and good luck!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Valuable Information from the November Issue of "The Writer"

Having finally plowed through the November and December issues of The Writer, it's time to share the harvest! (Yes, pun intended.) Thoroughly highlighted, the November issue offers more than I can pass on in one blog, but here goes.

The focus of the November issue is a special section on "The Power of Place". In his feature article "Power Your Story with a Sense of Place", Philip Martin suggests using a particular POV when describing a place for the first time, using only the detail that creates interest, the use of senses for a more vivid image, and using the place to develop characters, mood, and action.

Linda Lappin suggests a "workout" consisting of finding a place near you and considering the rhythm of the place (daily, seasonally, etc.), your explorations of and experiences in the place, and finally honing in on one particular experience to practice describing.

Nancy L. Sanders talks about the use of timelines in the development of plot and character. Separate timelines for what the characters are doing and what is going on in the world around your characters helps build the action.

From the archive, "The 10 Most Common Story Problems" by Joseph Hansen, first published in 1976, offers these points to think about: (my paraphrase)
  • lack of action
  • starting the story too soon
  • repetitive text
  • too many flashbacks
  • lack of characterization
  • too many characters
  • lack of focused setting
  • too much "talk" as compared to realistic dialogue
  • overuse of a thesaurus
  • poor pacing
Finally, "The Art of Critique" by Melanie Faith, addresses ways to make a critique group best serve the needs of its members: (also my paraphrase)
  • Thorough reading and summarization to aid understanding of the piece
  • Finding things to praise as well as things to suggest need changing
  • Eliminating personal judgment
  • Saying what you have to say in a diplomatic way
  • Remembering that the story does not belong to you but rather to the author, and he/she doesn't have to act on your suggestions for change
A regular feature, "Literary Spotlight" highlights Story Quarterly, which came to publication in 1975. It's an annual publication ($12), circulation 4,500, which accepts short stories, short-shorts, novel excerpts, interviews, essays, and memoirs. They feature a year-round reading period, electronic submissions, a window of 50% publication for new/emerging writers, and payment of $150 - $200. An added feature is the online publication of selected stories that don't make it into the print issue.

Two things to keep in mind:
  •  "We like to see a strong narrative design from beginning to end" and
  • "He (the editor, J.T. Barbarese) looks at style and character more than plot, and he cautions against trite subject matter--as well as subject matter that stretches the bounds of good taste."
Contact Story Quarterly via their website:

And go out and find a copy of the November issue of The Writer. Better still, subscribe. I count the money well spent on subscriptions to the 3 writing magazines that come to my mailbox each month.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kat Henry Doran's Novels

My most recent release through Wild Rose Press:

          Captain Marvelous is a contemporary romantic mystery set in the northern edge of New York State's Catskill Mountains. Immigrant women are murdered then dumped along the highways like pieces of garbage. No one in the small town of Nohmensville is the least bit concerned―except for Physician's Assistant Annie Wolfe, a career focused woman who will let nothing and no one get in her way of attending med school. Some of the women were Annie's patients, a few were friends. Enter New York State Trooper, Captain Ronen Marvelic, assigned by the Governor himself to investigate the murders. He uses Annie, no fan of local law enforcement, to construct victim profiles in order to hunt down the killers. Ronen wants home, hearth, picket fences and babies. Annie wants spiral CT scans, a cure for drug resistant TB, smooth functioning trauma teams―and for the Orioles to win a pennant.

            My second novel, Try Just Once More, currently available only out of the trunk of my car, is scheduled for re-release by Wild Rose Press in May 2010. It is a contemporary romantic suspense set in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York State. After she is cleared of homicide charges, and Maggie McGuire retreats to her childhood home to regroup and begin traveling the rocky road to sobriety. Now, after three years, her past rises up to bite her in the butt; this time it's aimed directly at her precious children. The new chief of police who won't leave things alone, continually picks at her, trying to find all the puzzle pieces. She once trusted a cop and lived to regret it. No stranger to personal treachery or betrayal, Chief Mike Brandt will have to set aside personal biases in order to protect the McGuire family―and convince Maggie to try just once more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kat Henry Doran on Goals, Motivation, and Conflict

Become intimately familiar with the following terms: GOALS. MOTIVATION. CONFLICT.  So familiar you can watch a movie and pick them out immediately. Warn your friends before you catch the flick, however. Or learn to go to the movies alone.

          You won't find the three concepts in all fiction genres, but you will [should] find them in well written romances. Each should be so well-ingrained into the story and the internal dialogue of the protagonists as well as the verbal dialogue, they jump out and shake your hand as you turn the pages.
Goals are easy: what does the hero and heroine want? Make it worthwhile, realistic, something the reading audience will relate with, will root for. 
Motivation should be tied directly into the Goal: WHY the hero or heroine wants this goal. Again, make it understandable, relatable, realistic.
Conflict is probably the most difficult to craft. External Conflict is the event or situation or circumstance which brings the hero and heroine together and  keeps them together throughout the story. Internal Conflict is the deal breaker; it's what keeps the two apart. When done well, it keeps those pages turning because the reader, who believes the H&H will never get together, wants to know how the author pulls it off the HEA.

By now, I hope someone is asking: Is this dame going to give me an example or two? Okay, the dame will provide two strong examples.

          In Naked in Death, the first in JD Robb's futuristic police procedural series, we meet Eve Dallas, a New York City police detective. Her goal is to solve homicides, in particular the homicide of a US Senator's grand-daughter who worked as a high-priced call girl [External Conflict]. Eve's motivation: she's always wanted to be a cop, being a cop is what defines her. 
       Enter Roarke [one name only, a gorgeous Irishman, more money than the Pope, and very funny]. He is, from the beginning, high on Eve's list of suspects. [more of the external conflict] The attraction is immediate and intense, though both fight it tooth and nail [this is the Internal Conflict]. She can't have anything to do with a suspect; he doesn't want to become involved with a cop because some of his business practices walk a fine line between the legal and illegal sides of the street. Before the story ends, evidence is manufactured to frame Roarke for the murder, only heightening the Internal Conflict.  

       So, after you've got all of the above down pat, and truly believe you have the next Pulitzer Prize winner on your hands, the more experienced �gwinner�h suggests you need to strengthen the character's motivation or hype up the conflict between the two protagonists. Do it!
          Nowhere do I suggest the comments won't hurt your pride, because they might. Nowhere do I suggest the “winner” has publishing credits. Someone may be published; that doesn't make them a winner. There are people out there who live to tear down a new writer just to inflate their own egos. Stick with the winners; they'll never let your down.

With that, I think I should shut up. 

Come back tomorrow to read about Captain Marvelous and Try Just Once More.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kat Henry Doran's Writing Tips

My writing experience:

I was originally published with another electronic press. When the contracts for my books came up for renewal, I elected to obtain the rights back, then brought them to Wild Rose Press. Captain Marvelous came out in re-release in 2008; Try Just Once More will be out in May 2010.

It is my opinion, and I'm speaking only for myself, WRP's art department is the best ever. Too prove this point, I invite the readers to surf the web and take a look at the art work produced by our competitors. Also, WRP goes above and beyond with author promotion. That’s not to say we as authors can sit back and relax [one of the bigger mistakes I made with my previous publisher] but WRP goes a whole lot farther than other presses with regard to promoting their authors.

Writing tip(s) for beginners:
       Join a writers group, in person or on line. Become involved with a critique group. Once you're comfortable, look for the winners, those authors who are willing to help the less experienced author. Listen to what they have to say, and stick with them.

How do I define a winner?
       * The person whose smile extends from their mouth into their eyes, who welcomes the new author to the meeting, who takes time to ask what they are currently writing.
       * Avoid the person who tears down another for their writing success.
       * If group has a guest speaker, beware of that person who hogs all the workshop time by asking foolish, already answered questions, and is compelled to express their opinion every other minute.
       * Look for the person whose critique is fair and asks questions or makes comments in simple understandable terms.
       * Enter contests and pay attention to the feedback. Talk to the more experienced members of your group to determine the contests with a long track record for offering fair, non-judgmental comments and suggestions for improvement. If you receive the one-time only comment, take it for what it's worth. If you hear the same comment over and over, pay attention!! Set a goal to write a certain number of pages or words per day or week. Not everyone has the opportunity to write every day; that's okay. It doesn't matter when you write, or how often, it's that you write.

Tomorrow:  Goals, Motivation, and Conflict

Monday, November 16, 2009

Welcome TWRP Author Kat Henry Doran

      Welcome TWRP author Kat Henry Doran to The Word Place. Be sure to come by for the next four days and leave a comment. At the end of the week, Kat will be drawing for a hard copy of each of her two novels!

        Judy, thanks so much for allowing a little arm twisting on my part when I asked to participate in your blog. This sounds like a lot of fun! I hope it brings you as much success as you deserve. First, a bit about me.
       Over the years I've been honored to work at a number of occupations: nurse, malpractice insurance investigator, forensic nurse examiner, victim advocate, wife and mother.
        Even if I sometimes wish they'd remain in the closet, the years I spent advocating for victims of sexual violence have contributed significantly to the voice of my writing. You can't spend twelve years haunting police stations, Emergency Rooms, and criminal courts and not come away with a feel for misogyny, apathy, and bigotry.
         I retired my speculum a few years ago but I continue to advocate, quietly, for disenfranchised populations through Panties for Peace and Doctors Without Borders.
          My website,,  has information about my books and how to order them as well as the workshops I present to writers' groups. Occasionally an injustice, committed by some idiot who possesses few socially redeeming qualities, will spark my ire. For my latest rant, check out

 A brief description of the line I write for:
          Last Rose of Summer features the more mature heroines and heroes. Though the editors don’t follow cut and dried age limit, they want H&H’s who have some life experiences behind them, such as but not limited to: widowed after 20+ years of marriage [happily or not] ; the man or woman, suddenly abandoned for a younger/richer “trophy” spouse; the long-time employee who is downsized at the workplace, and forced to not only reinvent themselves but also compete with twenty-somethings for gainful re-employment.
         When I consider plot lines, I like to reverse the usual: it's not a trophy wife but a trophy husband; the college professor [her] confronted with a “mature” student, the man she loved as a young, immature college student; the woman who served time in prison, perhaps a wrongful conviction, perhaps not, who must learn to readjust to drastic changes in society, ie cell phones, the Internet, emails, text messaging, the lengthened MLB and NBA playing seasons; DVD’s and Hi-def TV.
          I like the idea [fiction-wise not real life, thank you very much] of a the man or woman whose adult child dies suddenly, leaving the hero or heroine with custody of the grand-children. There’s nothing funnier than a 50 year old struggling with disposable diapers while searching frantically for the cloth diaper and diaper pins. Ask me, I saw it with my own eyes!

 My motivation for writing for this particular line
Heroines experiencing the last ticks of their biological clock, teetering on the edge of peri-menopause, don't win a great number of “feature” roles in romance fiction right now. If they are mentioned, it is the secondary character, maiden aunt or goofy older best friend, primarily there for comic relief. A few of the New York houses tried [Harlequin’s Next line] devoting lines to the older heroine; in the end, the number crunchers claimed the lines weren’t commercially successful.
        In my personal life I am attracted to men who have been around the block a time or two. I like to see a bit of gray at the temples, a few lines of experience in the faces [the most recent James Bonds, Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan; Tommy Lee Jones; Dennis Quaid; Timothy Hutton, and the actors who play Flynn and Provenza on TV’s The Closer]. I want someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously and, of course, he has to make me laugh. To quote my writing hero, Nora Roberts, “If he doesn’t make me laugh I don’t want him in my bed”. Whether we care to admit it or not, we do invite our heroes into our beds.
        Equally important is that I create strong, capable female characters who practice one of the many helping professions: medicine, nursing, the  criminal justice system, victim advocacy, and/or social work to name only a few. I’m not enamored with the young pretty thing whose brain is consumed with her next date, or who only wears shoes with a name brand, or the latest MTV or YouTube offering. I appreciate women with a spine, maybe it was always there, maybe it grew out of adversity. This is not to say all the heroines I've created are mouthy, ball-busting man haters [though in truth a few are]. I have women in my head, and on paper, who are quiet, reticent, “real ladies”, but aren't pushovers.

Tomorrow: Great tips for writers!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reflecting on Alan Elsner's Guest Blogs This Week

I saved my comments on Mr. Elsner's guest blog series to "sum up" as it were. I always enjoy having guest bloggers at The Word Place because I learn so much from them.

The blog on "The Joys and Pain of Publishing" reinforced what I've been learning from others more experienced that I, that as writers, we're all in the same boat unless, of course, we've penned one of those elusive "blockbusters". We must promote and market ourselves. We're all in this together, and networking with other writers and supporting our mutual efforts can be rewarding in more than just monetary ways--though, of course, we all want to sell our books!

As for romance novels taking the romance out of romance, I totally agree. I grew up in the "fade-to-black" era and still, re-watching those old films, find the love scenes (or lack thereof) far more titillating than what I've seen on television and the big screen in the last thirty years. How many books have I closed and returned unfinished to the library because I just can't stomach one more anatomical description (and the accompanying language)? Some of them have had good basic plots, too, but I don't have the time or desire to plow through the gratuitous sex to stay focused on the plot.

That said, I have no problem with anyone writing or reading more erotic genres. There seems to be a wide market for them. I'm not straddling the fence here--merely acknowledging the differences in reading and writing tastes. We're all free to choose--thank goodness--and I make my choices. That might explain why I tend to check out more non-fiction than fiction books and why, when I find a good author, I diligently search the shelves and used book markets for his/her work.

I'm printing out the press release for Romance Language to deliver to the Garland County Public Library when I go this weekend. It already has two of Mr. Elsner's books--The Nazi Hunter and Gates of Shame--and I want them to add the new release also. Meanwhile, unwilling to wait to read it, I've ordered a copy from!

My thanks to Alan Elsner for sharing his thoughtful insights this week at The Word Place.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How "Romance Novels" Take the Romance Out of Romance

How “Romance Novels” Take the Romance out of Romance

by Alan Elsner

       This may be my most controversial contribution. Please let me say upfront, I don’t wish to denigrate or dismiss the work of any of my fellow authors. Still, I feel a need to get these thoughts off my chest. As author of a novel called Romance Language, I’m often asked if I’d written a “romance novel.” My instinctive answer was to say “no” -- but I hadn’t actually read any romance fiction for many years so I went to the library and borrowed a stack. I must admit, I was quite surprised at what I read. Here are some general conclusions from my not-very-scientific survey:

1) Most romance novels take place either in a relatively few “historical” periods and venues. The most common are Regency England, featuring clones of Mr. Darcy; medieval England featuring knights in armor; Scotland, with kilted gentlemen growling “aye lassie” at frequent intervals; or contemporary America, usually in rural areas of the South, New England or the Pacific Northwest or in New York and L.A. Not many of these books happen in Reformation Germany or ancient Rome or Brazil or North Dakota for some reason.
2) The female protagonist, who is young, feisty and gorgeous, has been damaged by a childhood trauma such as the tragic loss of her parents. All alone in the world, she is proudly independent but distrustful of others. She longs for love but is also afraid to love.
3) The male protagonist is normally older and full of self-confidence, a prototypical alpha male who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He’s hunky but haughty. For all his sexual experience, he’ll soon find himself way out of his depth when this chit of a girl awakens feelings he’s never known.
4) The two experience an immediate mutual attraction. But they can’t immediately hook up because of some perceived barrier -- usually based on a misunderstanding.
5) Despite their initial dislike, the two are usually exchanging fluids by around page 60. This involves detailed and highly explicit descriptions of kissing, oral sex, mutual masturbation and full penetration. Both parties experience mind-blowing orgasms, described in excruciating detail.
6) An evil character emerges to threaten the two protagonists and their relationship, through social scheming or actual violence.
7) The hero rescues the heroine (or vice versa) and they engaged in even more mind-blowing sex, resulting in even more cataclysmic climaxes. Marriage and children soon follow and they live happily ever after.

I have nothing against such escapist fiction in principle. But I simply don’t find these books romantic. Let’s compare them for a moment to the grand-mommy of all romantic fiction, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In that wonderful book, the two leading characters share a strong physical attraction – but it is scarcely overwhelming or determinative. The real romance takes place in their heads as they change and grow and shape themselves for each other. It is only when Elizabeth Bennett perceives the true moral character of Mr. Darcy that she allows herself to love him. It is only when Darcy understands that he must win Elizabeth through his actions rather than just relying on his social rank that the relationship becomes possible.

 I should note here that I don’t do explicit sex in my books. That’s not because I’m squeamish or repressed. Partly, it’s because it’s so easy to write bad sex scenes and so difficult to write good ones. In romance novels, these scenes are pretty much all alike, relying on strained metaphors while indulging in graphic anatomical detail. But mostly, it’s because I’m interested in love rather than in sex – and love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all the other challenges presented by life.

In the romance novels I have read, love is expressed through sex and only through sex. The fact that the hero and the heroine can provide each other with tremendous orgasms becomes proof positive of their undeniable love. If the sex is that good, the love must be real. As for the historic settings for these books, they are usually little more than an excuse to dress the characters in period dress that can then be lovingly discarded in the sex scenes.

The true disservice that the “romance” genre does is that it sucks all the oxygen out of the room. It sets up expectations and lays down rules of what “romance” should be. Publishers expect writers to follow these rules. So do readers. Anyone trying to write a “real” love story involving real people grappling with real dilemmas is breaking the rules of the game.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Language of Romance Language

The Language of Romance Language 
by Alan Elsner

        I thought it might be interesting to explore the thought process that goes into creating a novel using as an example my latest book, Romance Language. The novel mostly takes place in Romania, partly in 1989 and partly in 2007. It tells the story of Elizabeth Graham, an American magazine writer assigned to write an exposé of the situation in Romania under Communism early in 1989. She falls in love with a dissident poet, Stefan Petrescu. Their history, climaxing with the revolution of December 1989, is interspersed with the adventures of Elizabeth’s 17-year-old daughter, Petra, who shows up in Bucharest hoping to find the father she has never known.
        I use this story as a framework to explore two central themes – the power but also the limitations of love and language. The book portrays and contrasts many different varieties of love. They include: love at first sight; mature love and puppy love; sexual passion and casual sex; maternal and paternal love; love of country and love of an idea; love of religion and love of self. The second theme I wanted to explore had to do with language – hence the title, which itself is a play on words. (Romanian is known as a “romance language” – one of the family of languages descended from ancient Latin that also includes French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.) The book meditates on some of the uses and misuses of language. The main characters, who are both professional writers, live through language and believe in the power of words. But at crucial moments, they find that language fails them and they are forced to resort to other means of communication.
       Free speech is a basic human life, but under Communism and other forms of tyranny, as George Orwell observed, language is perverted to become a tool of the regime. This happened in Romania and I explore some of the false slogans and lies employed by the state to oppress its citizens. I decided to include many different forms of language in the book. So I wrote some chapters using first person narrative and others employing third person narrative; there’s prose but also poetry (I wrote four poems for the book and I also have the characters discuss and analyze two Shakespeare sonnets); there are also letters and emails – and two entire chapters that consist only of dialogue.
       Of course, one can read this book purely to enjoy the story without being concerned with, or even aware of, these themes. But I believe as an author that they add a level of complexity and interest that deepens the story and the characters. None of us, after all, lives in a vacuum. We all experience our personal stories against the background of the time and place in which we find ourselves. For me, as for my characters, love is important but so are ideas and so is language. To this extent, I believe Romance Language is a case of art imitating art.

Tomorrow: How "romance novels" take the romance out of romance!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Alan Elsner on Publishing

The Joys and Pain of Publishing
by Alan Elsner
Author of Romance Language

            I have published four books – one non-fiction, one memoir, one thriller and one love story. In each case, I loved the writing process and tolerated the editing with fairly good humor.
            The pain begins once the book is actually published.
            Each of my books has been well received by critics and readers and each has sold respectably, if not spectacularly. But any success I have achieved is due entirely to my own efforts. I have received no help from publishers.
            I believe most authors experience the same indifference from their publishers. Once the book is out, if it does not achieve “bestseller” status within a month, it is dead.
            A generation ago, there used to be a category of “mid-list” books which sold well without becoming bestsellers, and earned a moderate profit for publisher and author alike. This category has now almost entirely disappeared.
            Publishing now is dominated by a few multinational conglomerates which own multiple imprints. They are interested in one thing and one thing only – finding the next blockbuster.
            Look at it from their viewpoint. A book like The Da Vinci Code can sell tens of millions of copies. With movie tie-ins, it could earn half a billion dollars or more. With that kind of money at stake, publishers don’t care if a book earns them $25,000 or loses them $25,000. It has almost no relevance to their bottom line. When book that goes “viral” can sell 60 million dollars, why bother with one that sells 20,000 or 30,000?
            While this has been happening on the publishing side, the same has been going on among booksellers. Today, there are only two or three outlets that count for anything – Amazon of course, Barnes & Noble and perhaps some of the discount stores like Walmart. Independent booksellers, which used to push great books and pride themselves on finding promising new authors, have disappeared from most cities. The big outlets are interested in volume – get as many books out of the door as possible. That means pushing proven names – Dan Brown, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts – and ignoring the rest. A huge proportion of sales at Barnes & Noble go to books on the front tables, which publishers have to pay for. If you’re lucky, you’ll get two or three weeks on the table. If your book isn’t flying out of the store by then, you’re history. Forget about slowly building a readership. In this age, no one has the patience to wait.
            Despite all this, the advent of the Internet has given authors a way of reaching potential readers through their own efforts-- if they are persistent and inventive enough. It means identifying the target audience and plying it with information. It means using blogs, social media and contacts and milking them for all you’re worth. It means sending out scores of emails and press releases a day and plenty of free books.
            It’s frustrating. Some people promise to review your book and never do. Others request a free book and then sell it on eBay. You have to accept this.
            And then, you pray for the miracle that sometimes happens when a magic ingredient called “word of mouth” takes over. It’s tough and the odds of success are slim – but it’s not impossible.

Tomorrow: The Language of Romance Language 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome to The Word Place, Author Alan Elsner

Why is it so hard to write about love?
By Alan Elsner Author of Romance Language

        When I told my agent I wanted to write an old-fashioned love story that also explored serious historical themes, he was appalled. “There’s no market for that; stick to thrillers,” he told me. He explained that publishers were reluctant to bring out love stories that were not part of the “romance novel” genre – a category with its own strict rules of procedure. In fact, publishing nowadays is as strictly divided into “genres” as the old Indian caste system. There are so-called “literary novels” usually about unhappy people becoming more unhappy, there’s science fiction and fantasy, there are thrillers and mysteries, westerns and romance, gay lit, chick lit, mommy lit and of course innumerable memoirs about unhappy, abusive childhoods. Readers seem to want to know before buying a book what they’re getting. They don’t want to be confused.
        Author Carol Shields writes in her novel, Republic of Love (Penguin 1993): "Love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It's not respected. It's the one thing that everyone in the world wants but for some reason people are obliged to pretend that love is trifling and foolish. Work is important. Living arrangements are important. Wars and good sex and race relations and the environment are important, and so are health and fitness. Even minor shifts of faith or political intention are given a weight that is not accorded love. We turn our heads and pretend it's not there, the thunderous passions that enter a life and alter its course. Love belongs in an amateur operetta, on the inside of a jokey greeting card or in the annals of an old-fashioned poetry society. Moon and June and spoon and soon ... It's womanish, it's embarrassing, something jeer at, something for jerks."
       Rachel Kadish, in her novel Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) bravely declared her aim of writing a book that takes happiness and love seriously. Her heroine, Tracy Farber, speaks for the author: "It's as if our whole literary tradition, which has been unsparing on the subjects of death, war, poverty, et cetera, has agreed to keep the gloves on where happiness is concerned. And no-one has addressed it. I mean, shame on us all -- readers, critics, writers. Anyone who tries to take happiness seriously is belittled. The writers who pen happy endings risk getting labeled 'regionalists' which is like a paternal pat on the head and a nudge back to the children's table. Or worse, they're called 'romance writers' -- the literary world's worst insult."
       I’m proud to be following these two courageous women and others like Audrey Niffenegger with my novel Romance Language. But my literary inspiration goes back even further to books I loved as a youth like Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque’s Three Comrades. In these great novels, and in my modest offering, brave, intelligent and sympathetic protagonists struggle to sustain their great loves against the crushing weight of historical events they cannot control. In the case of my novel, it is the tumultuous revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989. I try to explore different kinds of love and its overwhelming power – but also its limitations in the real world. Surely my agent was wrong. Surely there is a market for that.

Tomorrow: The Joys and Pain of Publishing

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Press Release: Alan Elsner's Romance Language


November 9 – 12, The Word Place will host author Alan Elsner, a journalist with 30-years experience as a Reuters correspondent. His first book,Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America’s Prisons (Prentice Hall, 2004), won praise for its searing look inside the walls that hold society’s offenders and rejects. Guarded by Angels: How My Father and Uncle Survived Hitler and Cheated Stalin was published by Yad Vashem in 2005.

His debut novel, The Nazi Hunter (Arcade, 2006), was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a gripping debut thriller”. Library Journal described it as having “the bells and whistles of a thriller while tracing the honest emotions of its appealingly sincere characters.” 

Romance Language Portals Press, 2009), Mr. Elsner’s second novel, released November 1. Set in modern-day Romania, it flashes back to 1989 when the country struggled under its communist regime. Petra O’Neill, born to a magazine writer and a dissident Romanian poet, returns to the country of her origin to seek the father she has never known.

Please join me in welcoming Alan Elsner to The Word Place on November 9 and check back on the following three days for more of his experiences and insights for writers.

Passionate love story against the backdrop of tempestuous revolution “Romance Language” by Alan Elsner 

 Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the violent revolution that ended Nicolae Ceauşescu’s cruel dictatorship in Romania, journalist Alan Elsner captures those dramatic events in his new novel “Romance Language.” Elsner was State Department correspondent for Reuters News Service in 1989. He traveled with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to Berlin, Prague, Moscow and Bucharest and was present during tense negotiations and dramatic street events. His 30-year career with Reuters has included stints in Jerusalem, London, Stockholm and Washington. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) said, “Alan Elsner is a world class reporter with a deep reservoir of experience and ability who understands the craft of writing and selling a story.” In 2007, Elsner was a Knight International Journalism Fellow in Romania where he advanced the cause of a free media in an emerging democracy.

Elsner’s first book, “Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America’s Prisons” won wide praise as a dramatic exposé of appalling neglect and abuse in the nation’s jails. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy said: “Elsner makes an overwhelming case for reform, and his many sensible proposals deserve to be implemented. This book should be a wake-up call for federal, state, and local governments across America.” In 2007, Publisher’s Weekly called Elsner’s first novel, “The Nazi Hunter” “a gripping debut thriller” while Library Journal said it, “chimes with the bells and whistles of a thriller while tracing the honest emotions of its appealingly sincere characters."

Part love story, part historical drama, part coming-of-age novel, "Romance Language" begins in 2007 as 17-year-old Petra O'Neill runs off from college and shows up in far-away Romania on a quest to find the father she's never known and uncover the tumultuous events that led to her birth. We flash back to 1989. Petra's mother Liz, an experienced magazine writer, is assigned to write an expose of Europe's most brutal Communist regime. She discovers in Romania a half-starved nation cowering under the heel of a cruel, paranoid dictatorship. Liz meets Stefan Petrescu, a dissident poet, one of the few with the courage to defy the regime. But in Ceausescu's Romania, it is a serious crime for a citizen even to talk to a foreigner and the secret police are constantly watching. As the action swings between 1989 and 2007, we follow Petra through her own, first love and Liz, caught at the center of a revolution that has turned the capital into a deadly battlefield. Meticulously researched and based on numerous eye-witness interviews, “Romance Language” is also a meditation on the power and limitations of language and literature. Portals Press is a small literary publisher in New Orleans, devoted to bringing out poetry, novels and short stories of exceptional literary merit.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Welcome to The Word Place, TWRP Author Roni Adams

I write for the Yellow Rose and the Champagne Lines for The Wild Rose Press. Both of these lines are for contemporary romance, but the Yellow Rose line includes the added benefit of having cowboys included! 
I’ve always had an odd fascination with Texas and the ranch life and cowboys. I’ve written stories based on these locations most of my writing life and my latest series – the Double B takes place on a large cattle ranch in the Hill Country area of Texas.
I am published in A Cup of Comfort for Women, several short stories have been published by Dorchester in their magazines True Romance, True Confessions and True Stories.  I was a small town newspaper reporter for a few years and finally I have three short stories which are part of anthologies with The Wild Rose Press and my fourth full length novel will be released in November also with The Wild Rose Press.

Tips for Writers

Write. No matter what else is happening in your world carve out time to write ever single day and never give up.  Listen to those that understand more than you do about writing and publishing, ignore those who tell you that you can’t ever do it, and above all remember the only guarantee that you won’t get published is if you quit.
Trouble in Texas is the third installment in my Double B Series for the Yellow Rose line of The Wild Rose Press. It will be released by Thanksgiving. In the meantime, the first book in this series has been out since mid 2008 and is called To Tame A Cowgirl.  Here’s a sampling of this:

To Tame A Cowgirl The first in the Double B Series out now at“I said I dare you.” Sara scooted to the edge of the sofa and reached out for him but Buck was smart enough to step back so she couldn’t touch him.  She came off the couch in one fluid movement and walked towards him.  She wasn’t wobbling or swaying and he would have sworn she was stone cold sober if it wasn’t for the stupid stuff coming out of her mouth.  “Are you going to be the first one of us to back down from a challenge?”

She moved steadily towards him and he retreated until his back hit the wall next to the door to his bedroom.

“This isn’t like that.  This is nothing like that.” Bucks hook his head.

“Yes it is.  I want to do something with you and you’re backing down..”

His head spun.  What the hell was she trying to pull? Did Charli put her up to this?  She would never have thought to do this on her own.  “What did you and Charli talk about tonight?”  

Sara’s hands were on his waist.  Her fingers slid along the top of his jeans.  The open snap made them loose and he bit back a moan when her fingers flittered to his zipper and drew it downward.  He pushed her hand away.

She shrugged.  “This and that, nothing important.” She shook her hair back and looked up at him.  “Look Buck, we’re going to do this, tonight.  We can do it the easy way or the hard way.”

Buck laughed.  “What are you talking about?  How are you going to make me?”

Sara raised one eyebrow and gave a mysterious half smile.   She pressed her body into him until the part that was rock hard on him was up against her warmth. She tilted her head way back and looked into his eyes.  “I want to do this with you and if you turn me down I’ll know you were all talk that night behind the barn and you were too chicken to go further than a kiss.  I’m telling you straight up that I’m not drunk.  I know exactly what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with and I won’t be mad or regret it in the morning. Now are you in? Or are you all talk?” 

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All commenters have a chance to win a free PRINT copy of any of my books including the one Trouble in Texas which will release by Thanksgiving.