Captivating Contemporaries

As a writer of contemporary romance, I’m always reading within my genre to learn from the current greats, to figure out the craft and to make my own stories even better. Besides, I was a reader long before I ever penned a single romance novel, so I love to read. Last week I finished reading four books in one week–He’s So Fine by Jill Shalvis, In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins, Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Indecent Proposal by Molly O’Keefe.

Yeah, I often binge read. It’s my treat, the way I’ve learned to push the world away, and the only relaxation I get most of the time. For kicks, after I finished reading all four in quick succession, I decided to diagram the four books onto the Plot W–a modified Blake Snyder (Save the Cat), three-act plot structure to try to figure out why these stories worked so well and analyze them. Here’s what I learned is important to me in a contemporary romance:

Compelling Stories. I found compelling can come in many different flavors and many different ways. In each of these books, the author gave me great characters to love. But in addition to the compelling characters, there was something else that drove me to read the story, that engaged me, and drew me in.

In the Shalvis book, besides the love story between the hero and heroine and the camaraderie between the hero and his two best friends, the component that sucked me in the most and kept me reading was Lucky Harbor, the community the author created. The setting is so compelling, I want to live there and inhabit that space with all those beloved characters I’ve grown to know and love throughout the series. It’s a huge draw. And I eagerly await every single release.

In the book by Kristan Higgins, it was the characters’ struggles–the internal conflict that was so compelling to me and kept me turning the pages. Not only did the internal conflict keep the main protagonists (hero/heroine) from getting together, that flaw also kept them from the growth they needed in order to fully acknowledge and realize their love for each other. Seeing them overcome that barrier was totally worth the suffering on their part (and mine).

In Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ book, beyond the memorable, three-dimensional characters, the Gothic tone and the twisty plot also kept me engaged and guessing. Because I’m a writer, I do understand tropes, and I grew up reading Mary Stewart, too. So I figured out a few of the key plot twists before they were revealed, but I was delighted to find out I understood the fabric of the story. And, in the end, I adored the hero and the heroine.

And in O’Keefe’s book, the characters’ emotional journey hit such highs and lows I couldn’t help but hold on and enjoy the ride. The story was emotionally engaging, compelling me to continue to read. O’Keefe often gets the emotion spot-on in her novels–whether it’s anger, love, desire, distain, stubbornness–the emotional resonance is why I continue to pick them up each and every time she releases a new one.

Heat. Yes, I need heat, lots of heat, in my contemporary romance. I read a wide range of romance, but it’s important to me that the romance is central to the story and that someone gets burned by love and lust. It doesn’t matter to me if the romance/sex is a slow burn or an instant inferno that rages out of control burning up the pages. What matters most is that there’s plenty of sexual tension, attraction, love, and good old-fashioned sex. Yeah, baby. I enjoy experiencing that feeling of falling in love and into desire along with my hero and heroines.

Universal Core Stories. When authors pull on universal tropes or core stories that I understand, I connect immediately with the characters and their plight. I’m more willing to buy stories that fall into certain trope categories. Core stories and core struggles appeal to readers because they are universal battles we all have seen or experienced in some form, therefore we empathize with the plight of the characters.

Some of the tropes used by the four authors I read last week were: Shalvis–Fish Out of Water, Secret Identity; Higgins–Ugly Duckling, Marriage of Convenience; Susan Elizabeth Phillips–Beauty & the Beast, Ugly Ducklying, Fish Out of Water, Gothic/Suspense tropes, Second Chance at Love; O’Keefe–Other Side of the Tracks, Marriage of Convenience, and Secret Baby. These core stories (and many others) are woven into the fabric of our culture and they touch us deeply in layered and complex ways.

Strong Conflict Lock. An important conflict lock–where the hero and heroine are at odds that creates a barrier big enough to keep them apart for most of the story. In He’s So Fine, the conflict lock is that she’s got a secret and he can’t abide lies. The external conflict is (heroine) her secret identity; the internal conflict is that she doesn’t tell the hero the truth about her identity when she should–therefore it becomes a lie by omission. And in In Your Dreams, the internal conflict for him is PTSD and the external conflict is his interfering ex-wife. Her internal conflict is her lack of self-confidence tied to a stammer that she’d been bullied for when young. The external conflict is her ex-fiancé who rejected her when he lost a lot of weight. For the most part in this book, the external conflict is what keeps these two apart. At the black moment, when all is lost, it’s the internal conflict that raises it’s head and roars to keep the love interest away. The stakes seem high in the Susan Elizabeth Phillips book–as they often are in Gothic novels. At times the stakes seem to be death of the heroine, loss of the cottage, her poverty, her health. We believe from the beginning that that hero once tried to kill the heroine. Talk about big conflict. And for him the stakes are him recovering his humanity–being transformed from a monster to a hero. In O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal, the secret baby is part of the external conflict as well as the hero’s secret identity, the precarious political campaign, and the hero’s remoteness. The internal conflict for them both is abandonment, which makes them both reluctant to open up and be vulnerable and allow themselves to fall in love even though they have a sizzling sexual attraction.

All in all, I learned a lot from the best-selling ladies of contemporary how to tell a captivating contemporary romance story. Thank goodness they continue to write great books so I can keep turning the pages and learning my craft.

Check out books by Mackenzie Lucas, getting to the heart of contemporary romance with Essence and Courting Cinderella.

Posted in Contemporary Romance, Mementoes by Mackenzie!, Romance, Soul Mate Publishing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Vacations from Writing

Let’s suppose — strictly hypothetically, of course — that you wake up one morning and don’t feel like writing.  Can you take a vacation from writing?

Hard to imagine, which is why this is a strictly hypothetical suppose.  Like waking up one morning and deciding to take a vacation from chocolate, sex, peanut butter and sardine sandwiches, whatever it is that always makes you sit up and take notice.  But just suppose.  Is it OK to take a vacation from writing?

Now, you probably think you know how I’m going to answer. I’ve lectured so many new writers about the critical important of having a writing discipline, scheduling when you’re going to write, and when the time comes sitting your ass down in the chair and put words on the page that you think I’m going to say, “No way.” You’ve heard me climb up on my soap box and pronounce that the difference between a writer and a dilettante is that a dilettante writes when he feels inspired, while a writer writes when it’s time to write.

So maybe it will surprise you when I answer: Absolutely, you should take vacations from writing.  Sometimes your subconscious, which has been working really hard to generate all this creativity while your logical brain merely provides the grammatical excellence and occasionally edits the plot, just needs to recharge.  Your subconscious (Percy or Kevin or whatever name your subconscious goes by.  What, you haven’t named your subconscious yet?  C’mon, let’s get cracking here) lets you know by generating all these weird dreams like your high school English teacher giving you an F on a creative writing assignment and making you read your turdlet to the whole class while standing up in front in your underwear and you don’t have your reading glasses.  That’s how your subconscious tells you, “Hey, out there.  I need a vacation.”

BUT . . . here’s the catch.  You can’t wake up in the morning, not  feel like writing, and take a vacation that day.  That’s not responsible burnout control, that’s sloth.  One of the 7 or so deadly sins.  That makes it way too easy to wake up the next morning and, nah, not today either, it’s cloudy and I’m never fully creative when it’s cloudy.

You have to schedule your writing vacations in advance.  “I’m taking Thanksgiving week off, relax with the kids, sleep in, gorge on turkey sandwiches.  Then, Monday morning November 26th, I’m back on it.”

You have my permission to do that.  Just not too often.


Posted in On The Blog Rhoad With Rusty! | Tagged | 4 Comments

A Pantser’s Paradise: Are You Gearing Up For NaNoWriMo? by Char Chaffin



It’s almost HERE.

The madness that is NaNoWriMo, and every writing pantser’s paradise: permission to write at the speed of light, eschewing grammar and punctuation in a quest for fifty thousand words in thirty days.

And it’s the plotter/outliner’s biggest challenge and (in my case) worst nightmare.

Oh, I tried, I really did. Three different years, in fact. It was so seriously pathetic, I still suffer from night tremors. I conceded defeat early on, then found a nice dark closet to hide,  and curled up in the corner like a shrimp. I probably sucked my thumb as well. I can’t be sure; it was dark in there.

It’s impossible for someone like me to write by the seat of my pants. I am an editor at heart as well as by trade. And anal to boot. Can you imagine what it’s like for an anal editor to get hold of their own speedily-written, gap-grammared, bulleted-by-plot-hole text, and then ignore every error in favor of more zippy wordage? It’s enough to give you hives.

I write, edit, write some more, consult my highlighted outline, then edit. Then repeat everything. Set it aside. think about it. Go back to chapter one, read through while editing stray words here and there. Ponder and agonize over pronoun placement. Go on the hunt for repeat words. Edit those out.

Then I move on to writing chapter two.

Every time I sit down to write with my current work, I read through from the beginning before I even pen another word. Not the chapter before I stopped, but the very beginning. Can you say OCD? No, but I can say LOL.

I guess it’s easy to figure out NaNo isn’t for me.

I admire anyone who jumps on the NaNo wagon and is wildly successful at it. It’s an achievement, that’s for sure.

Those who NaNo successfully do have to work hard to clean themselves up especially when all those words are flying around trying to find a coherent spot to land. That’s what the month of December is for. I, however, have already given up by then and am back to my old tricks, which involve all that editing and backward-ness stuff I already mentioned.

NaNoWriMo has produced some amazing reads. Everyone should try it at least once. Who knows, it could make a pantser out of you.

So if you plan on joining the mix for this coming November, best of luck. I’ll be rooting for you.

In between all the editing and writing and pondering, that is.

Char Chaffin is an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate, a multi-published author, and a displaced Alaskan who regularly plots to return to the Last Frontier, preferably when hubby Mr. Don can travel with her.


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Be afraid, be very afraid – by J.R.Richardson

I am a huge Halloween fan. I start looking forward to October, roughly around July (and not just because that’s when it finally begins to cool off down here in sunny Florida). My family and I like to do Halloween themed projects this month, visit the corn maze and the petting farm, trick or treat together, and (most of the time) dress up, too.  We watch all the kids Halloween movies on Nick and Disney, and some from our own collection, just about every night, counting down to the big day.  Then I make my husband watch all the reaaaaaallly scary movies, after hours, with me.

SO . . .

In celebration of one of my favorite holidays, and since Cursed be the Wicked is set in Salem Massachusetts, during their spookiest time of the year, I thought it would be fun to share my TOP TEN LIST OF paranormal flicks with you today. Just in case you’re on the look out for something frightening to watch.

These are in no particular order, mind you (all pics below are from IMdB):

The conjuring

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.

IMdB Link



The Skeleton Key

A hospice nurse working at a spooky New Orleans plantation home finds herself entangled in a mystery involving the house’s dark past.

IMdB Link



The Shining

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.

IMdB Link


The Sixth Sense

A boy who communicates with spirits that don’t know they’re dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.

IMdB Link



Nightmare on Elm Street

In the dreams of his victims, a spectral child murderer stalks the children of the members of the lynch mob that killed him.

IMdB Link




Steve Freeling moves his family into a new house in development and it looks like things are going well. But as his wife and his children begin to unpack strange things start happening.

IMdB Link



The Possession (but mostly because Jeffrey Dean Morgan was in it)

A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.

IMdB Link



A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.

IMdB Link



Shutter Island

In 1954, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding near-by.

IMdB Link



Stir of Echos

After being hypnotized by his sister in law, a man begins seeing haunting visions of a girl’s ghost and a mystery begins to unfold around her.

IMdB Link


It was difficult to cut my faves down to just ten, I won’t lie.  There’s such a long list of great ones out there but this is a good start.  I love spending the month of October watching the oogidy boogidy, don’t you?

What’s your favorite scary film?

Jo xoxo 3

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

Posted in JR's Jewels! | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Planning For an Upcoming Release

Every author, no matter how long they’ve been writing, looks forward to release day. Or, as it’s come to be known, the “book birthday”. There are a number of things that go into preparing for your “book birthday” and most of them revolve around promotion.

Book BirthdayI am about to have my very first SMP book birthday on October 22nd (which just happens to also be my oldest grandson’s birthday as well). It will certainly be a day of celebration. How have I prepared for this upcoming event? Well, first of all, I’ve got lots of chocolate. I also have two full boxes of K-cups on hand, as well as a chilled bottle of Bailey’s.

I’m just not sure which I’ll drink first.

I’ve also set up my media folder, something I do for each book I publish. As a matter of fact, the official promo folder is something I begin when I first start the book.

The first thing I do (once the book’s file folder is created), is to set up my generic media kit. I begin with a section for what will become the official blurb, followed by a section for one or two excerpts. Both of these sections will be filled in once the book reaches its final galley stage.

The next section is for tweets and Facebook posts. I start those early because … sometimes … a line from the book will scream “tweet me”! Both the tweets and the FB posts can be fine-tuned before they’re needed. They can also be added to as promotional efforts continue long after the book’s release date.

The third section is my author bio which may change from book-to-book depending on the genre. There are certain things in the bio I repeat, but some of the smaller details can be custom-fit for the story. For instance, my upcoming release, Home is Where the Hunk is, is about family and includes a very cute 5 year old boy, so my customized bio will include mention of my grandchildren. My bio for a previous release…a 1920’s historical…made mention of my love of research and especially of the time period.

My media contacts (website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) links make up the next section. This may seem redundant since most of us keep a file just for our media contacts. However, I find it convenient to have everything pertaining to the individual book in one place rather than have to jump from file to file to put together a quick blog visit.

The last section is for the buy links which will be inserted as soon as they’re available. With everything complete, I’m ready for pre-promotion, release day, as well as blog visits and ongoing promotion.

Now, my media file at the ready, I can start counting down the days until it’s time to blow out those imaginary candles. Or, if I can get past the excitement, I might just write.

For all the writers out there … get back to work! For all the readers, please keep reading. You are why we do what we do.


Posted in Nanobytes From Nancy! | 8 Comments

Books and Human Nature…by Catherine Castle

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?–Henry Ward Beecher


When I read this quote I said, “Oh, that is soooo me.”

As I kid going into the library, I could never choose just one library book. Three was the minimum, and I’ve been known to go as high as seven, or ten, if I was checking out non-fiction for research or skimming. I always returned before the two week borrowing limit was over and checked out another armload of books. Of course, back then I had the luxury of time on my side. I don’t read books as fast as I did as a teen, but I still collect them. I haven’t lost my love of books, or my weakness for the written word.

That love of books bled into bookstores, and my pocket book, as I grew older. My kindle is filled with books: books I’ve bought, free books I’ve downloaded, and books given to me by other authors to review. In fact, I’ve even got books on my phone—a place I never thought I’d read books on. I have a stack of snail mail advertising books that I think I might like to buy someday. And we won’t even mention the home book shelves. Or maybe we will, since this post is about my human weakness when it comes to books, and bookstores. They, too, are crammed full and spilling onto the floor.

I am without doubt a confirmed bibliophile, a disease that apparently even Henry Ward Beecher had, as well as many of America’s wealthy homeowners, as witnessed by some of their great libraries.


Book shelves in the living room of poet CARL SANDBURG. (Every room, including the bathroom, had shelves like these.) Photo by Catherine Castle

I’ve always thought it would be fun to work in a library or a bookstore. Being surrounded by all the tomes filled with historical knowledge, poetry, facts and tips about anything you were interested in, and stories that could carry you away to foreign lands, imaginary lands, and let you live vicariously through the characters’ lives has a great appeal. But as I grew older and the desire to own those volumes began to overtake me, I realized I wouldn’t make any money working at a bookstore, because I’d spend my entire pay on the store’s merchandise.

In fact, the disease, and the accompanying human weakness, is so bad that while signing my books at a book store, the author next to me mentioned a book that sounded interesting, and I popped onto my phone and downloaded it using my Kindle app. It was the only book bought at my signing table that day. LOL. When I attended the Lori Foster RAGT event, and couldn’t find a book that interested me (which is a wonder in itself), I ended up buying books for my niece!

Here are a few titles to which I’ve succumbed most recently.

Alienated by Melissa Landers

Gateway to Gannah series by Yvonne Anderson (I got the first and third book free for a review and loved them so much I bought the second book at a very high price for an e-book and am anxiously awaiting the release of book 4.)

Iced Chiffon by Duffy Brown (a cozy mystery)

Mama, I am Yet Still Alive: a composite diary of 1863 in the Confederacy, Jeff Toalson, Editor

Best of the Covered Wagon Women, editor Kenneth L. Holmes

Desperate Deeds by Patricia Gligor

Confederato de Norte by Linda Bennett Pennell

Hog Insane, by Carole Brown

Dating Cary Grant by Emelle Gamble

What about you? Do you have the Bibliophile disease and the human weakness that accompanies it? Be honest, and let me know how it has manifested itself in your reading life.

Posted in News From the Castle! | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

E-Rovin With Anne…By Anne Lawson

I love Fall. I love everything about it, the changing colors, going to the cider mill, wearing sweaters, cooking with pumpkin, making chili, college football, and most of all curling up with a blanket and a good book.

I have always loved to read, but when I am in the middle of writing a book I can’t read. I don’t want to distract myself with another story. And once I start a book, I become obsessed and I won’t put it down until I am done. I get consumed with the story.

I am in the middle of trying to finish the second in my young adult series. I started it this June. I thought that I would finish it over the summer, but my son had other plans for us than momma writing. So, my writing got put on hold. As a school teacher, I thought I would be able to put a little time aside in the mornings and then maybe after my son goes to bed. But, then I changed schools one month into the school year and finding time to write has been difficult.

My new goal for finishing my novel is the end of October. I am at 39,000 words as of today and I am hoping to reach 65,000 for my total. I can’t wait to finish and then reward myself with a good novel to read before starting in on a new novel.

Any suggestions on what to read when I finish my book?

Posted in Soul Mate Publishing | 5 Comments