Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Alpha Vs. Beta Vs. Gamma

by Victoria Barbour

Hello wonderful RWAC friends. It’s great to be blogging with you today. I hope you’ll forgive me for not coming up with a fresh new post for you, but it’s summer and hot and I’m just back from an amazing holiday in Ireland so I thought I’d share with you a bit of fun that I get up to weekly over on my blog. Each week I answer three questions about writing. Here’s a post from earlier this summer where I shared my thoughts on Alpha vs Beta heroes in romance novels! I hope you enjoy. And please feel free to answer these questions yourself!

1. What’s your ideal: alpha or beta and why?
This is difficult. The love of my life is a Beta hero, but there’s no denying the instant allure of a strong Alpha when he walks into the room. For a while there I was thinking of my current hero as more of a Beta with Alpha qualities, but then I heard the term Gamma. What’s a Gamma hero? Picture an Alpha without the arrogance, an Alpha who’s able to have a conversation about feelings. That’s a Gamma. And now that I think of it, most of my heroes that I thought were Alphas are more like Gammas. All that being said, I think we each have an idea of who’s an alpha and who’s a beta.

For me, Gerard Butler is an Alpha while Jason Segal is a beta. What’s your ideal?

2 .Do you have a male buddy or mate you use for confirmation or inspiration when crafting your heroes?
No. All my guy friends are betas (even the ones who might think they’re alphas.) And while this is cliché, my best guy friend is my husband. And I think there’s always a bit of him that creeps into all my heroes.  But this makes me wonder.
Let’s answer this question: Can a woman be just friends with an Alpha? You know, true friends, when you’re not only being his friend cause you secretly lust after him? I’d love to see your answer in the comments.

3.What does any hero have to do to win your heart?  
Again there’s the difference in real life and writing life. For me, when I was looking for the man I wanted to have a real relationship, the key thing I was looking for was someone that I could have good conversations with. I wanted intellect and stimulation. Er. Linguistic. Er. My mind has wandered. I’m quitting now….

Victoria Barbour

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Friday, 25 July 2014

It's a Glamorous Life, All Right

by Julia Phillips Smith

Throughout the 90s, my day job was actually an evenings-and-weekends job. I worked front of house at a performing arts theater in Toronto, which was a fantastic way to feed my ballet addiction, as it was the home venue for The National Ballet of Canada.

Yes, I'd also been a ballet student throughout my young life, and I'd also danced in performance in my late teens and early twenties, but I had never headed down the professional dancer track. I was already moving onto another storytelling path.

I was definitely privileged to see the working life of professional dancers from my ushering-days vantage point -- and it's an awful lot like the glamorous life of romance writing.

What is the first thing that people think of when the word 'ballerina' comes up? A ballerina is obviously a beautiful woman in a delicate tutu and sparkling tiara, floating gracefully across the stage.

What do many people think of when they think of romance writers? At this time of year, during the national RWA convention when so many writers converge together and dress formally for events, it's easier to find the image that the public may have about us.

Yet in both cases it's all about the sweaty work of learning the craft and constantly finding new ways to do our art form once we've found our voices.

Although ballet is a performing art, that's merely the public meeting of the artist and the audience. The main bulk of a dancer's life is played out in the studio, not onstage. Just as it is with writers, who may meet up with readers at a booksigning or at a genre industry event, the dancer's world is internal. He or she is constantly interacting not with the faces of audience members but with the mirror, constantly scrutinizing her line (which is the physical manner in which her body unfold the steps.) In time, the dancer no longer has to check line visually. It becomes something that is felt within the body itself.

The dancer is bouncing her work off of the person setting the newest piece of choreography on the company, just as writers are handing their first drafts off to critique partners and editors.

All of the work of dancers is an ironic quest to make the incredibly hard work seem effortless. The better they are at their art, the easier it appears to the outsider. For writers too -- the better we get at telling stories, the less our readers even remember they're reading words in a book or on a screen.

These two dancers from Ballet Idaho let us in on the dancer's life -- and writers may see themselves in this piece. Thanks to James Brougham and Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti for describing their dancer's days.

Julia Phillips Smith

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Pets and the Publishing Business—One Author’s Experience

Those of us who are pet lovers know that writing and pets go together like cookies and milk. Every writer who is also a pet lover has a collection of stories to tell about their pet. I cannot resist offering up one of my pet stories.

My Maine Coon Cat, Emmajean, passed away last October. Living on my own for the very first time I realized how critical Emmajean was to the world I was facing without my husband Garry who had succumbed to ALS a few months before. The house felt so empty, and I felt so lost.

I had featured my cat in several of my books, each time under a different name, but she was always very much a part of the story. Away from my publishing life, Emmajean was a living, breathing part of my day. I’d gotten her after a particularly difficult rejection letter fourteen years ago, and had decided to stop trying to get published and instead go back to something that would give me pleasure—having a cat around the house.

Emmajean came from a cattery in Quebec, a house filled with cats. We drove home with her hiding under my seat in the car. It wasn’t until we stopped for gas in New Brunswick that she climbed out of her hiding place and curled up next to my ear. As she began to knead my neck and purr it was all over for me. We were inseparable after that. A few months later I returned to writing and she took up her post next to me, or sat at my feet purring me on.

After she died I couldn’t face getting another pet. I couldn’t face going through the experience of loving a cat only to lose her in the end. Then slowly I began to think about what it would be like to have another cat, a cat with lots of enthusiasm and intelligence.

I was still mulling the idea over when my daughter and granddaughter came to visit. Suddenly my granddaughter had a new goal—find a kitten for Grammy. Caught up in her enthusiasm I filled out an adoption form at the SPCA. We were on our way home to await word that I was a suitable person to adopt a cat when we drove past Pet Smart, a pet store that helps the SPCA find homes for kittens.

Two male tabby cats later, I watch in disbelief as they leap on my computer keyboard and chew the pages of my latest manuscript. I now have a new purpose in life: keep my little feline friends from shredding everything they can get their claws into, while I wait for them to mature into wonderful companions. I’ve forgotten how long it takes for a kitten to grow into a cat, but I hope it’s not too long.

When I asked my friend, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Debra Holland about pets she had this to say.

“Pets are a source of unconditional love, which is something we don’t always receive from the humans who are close to us. They enrich our lives by their presence often becoming family members and are deeply loved. They also teach us about appreciation and loss because we know that their lives are so much shorter than ours, and we can deeply grieve their deaths.

Dogs and cats can provide excellent writing companions as they curl up nearby while you work on the computer, content to be in your company.

Putting a pet in your book can add another character to the story, one who can play an important role as well as show reflect the personalities of the humans around them. If your dog doesn’t like your boyfriend, but she likes most men, maybe that means he’s not the right one for you.”

I agree with Debra. If you want to add to your happiness and your sense of fulfilment get a pet. You won’t regret it.

Stella MacLean has been writing with the help of her dog Woody and her cat Emmajean for twenty years.

Her next Superromance, TO PROTECT HER SON, will be out in February 2015.
Her first romantic suspense novel, UNIMAGINABLE, will be released in late October 2014.

She’d love to hear about your pet experiences. Visit her at

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Let's Talk About Something Fishy

I think when it comes to jobs, I've had one of the least glamorous jobs out there.  Of course my mom would say there are worse jobs such as picking fly-poo out of pepper for five cents an hour. And according to the Monty Python movie you should 'Always look on the bright side of life'.
            I became a mom shortly after my 22nd birthday and before I could venture back into the working world I was a three-time mom and my youngest son was diagnosed with autism.  That’s when we knew I’d be a stay at home mom indefinitely.

            So my life in the working world was short-lived, as was my college life.  As a result I have no degree under my belt, at least not as far as college or university degrees go.  However, I do have a few degrees in life smarts.  When are they going to start handing out degrees in that?

            I can see it now: this certifies that Rhoda Hill has successfully completed the six year challenge of surviving on three hours of sleep every night for six continuous years.  I’ll put that certificate on the wall right next to my highest honours plaque for surviving said years without acquiring any jail time.

            Thankfully those who do have degrees helped me with that and my sleepless nights only amount to a small handful in the run of a year.  Most of my all-nighters now are due to an overwhelming desire to hush the voices in my head that demand I tell their story.

            I was going to try to find the most glamorous way to tell you this, but there really is no way to glam it up.  Like a lot of people who live in my area where fishing is one of the principle industries, I was a herring roe packer.
            There really is nothing ‘sexy’ about that job.  You wear a hairnet, latex rubber gloves, and a long plastic apron that goes all the way down to the tops of your rubber boots.  Your main tool of the trade is a herring roe knife.  No need for briefcases or pretty suits here, instead you chose clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in and will never wear again outside of the job.
            I write mostly intrigue and suspense romance, and I’m of the mind that although at first thought the idea of a romance novel within the walls of a fish plant factory does not sound appealing at all, I bet there is someway to work it out.  Just imagine if you will, a female undercover detective who becomes a herring roe packer so she can get close to the rich handsome boss, whom they suspect is going over his ITQ (individual transferable quota).  Or perhaps there is something more nefarious going on like a few suspicious deaths on several of the company’s boats and she’s sent in to investigate.  Or maybe she’s with a group of people fighting to stop food distribution to other parts of the world in an effort to help save water.  She’s determined to keep the natural water cycle as natural as possible by confining resources to their local regions, and she’s targeting the biggest production plant to try and stop distribution to Japan and the Dominican Republic.

            Probably far fetched and not very entertaining, but doable, right?  In the right hands I bet a stinky fish plant could become the backdrop for a steaming romance.  Or maybe not.

I remember reading a book once, (I think it was by Janelle Taylor although the title escapes me) and the hero in the book was standing in the doorway all dirty and stinky from working all day and he had huge sweat spots under his arms and yet to hear her tell it he was the most delectable piece of prime meat she’d ever had the privilege to set eyes upon.  And she had me completely convinced!  My breath was hitching in the appropriate spots, and I was a little hot around the collar.
            A herring roe packer was just one of the ways I earned money in my younger days.  Don’t even get me started on my job in the mink industry.  The smell is bad enough to aggravate the lining of your nose and leave you with temporary loss of smell.

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Saturday, 19 July 2014

Where We’ve Been

by Jennie Marsland

I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies of authors. We all put a lot of ourselves and our experiences into our writing, and a glimpse of those experiences makes my appreciation of an author’s work that much deeper.

For example, Agatha Christie worked in a hospital dispensary, and later used her knowledge of drugs and poisons in her writing. Tolkien trained cavalry horses during the Great War, which allowed him to write so movingly about the horse-lords of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Pamela Clare uses her background in archaeology in her historical romances, and her career in journalism is the basis of her I-Team novels. There’s a lot to be said for writing what you know.

And me? I write historicals. My credentials? A degree in Animal Science, a Master’s in microbiology, six years spent in a molecular biology lab, and nearly twenty years as a high school math and science teacher.

Have I ever used any of this in my writing? Only indirectly. Research skills apply whether you’re searching for papers on antibiotic synthesis or accounts of the Halifax explosion, and my experience with animals came in handy with my first novel, a Western. When my characters are sick or injured, the medical terminology I’ve picked up along the way is useful. I’ve considered writing a crime story set in a high-tech DNA analysis lab, but the skills I used in my work are now so outdated I’d have to start at square one, and I worked with DNA from codfish, not criminals. Though a man once called the lab, very much under the influence, and asked if we could check his DNA to see if it would be safe for him to have children. Now that might make a starting point for a story.

When I read, a part of my mind is always wondering about the author, pick up clues about the person who put these words on paper. I wonder how many of the authors I read have backgrounds that I would never suspect from their work? I guess I’ll never know, unless I find a biography some day.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Summer Lovin' ... a new NA series perfect for hot summer nights

What do you get when you combine six authors, a laptop, and a stack of ideas as high as the Rocky Mountains?  A brand new Summer Lovin’ continuity series set it the Canadian Rockies, of course!

Cathryn Fox kicks things off on July 7th with CRASHING DOWN, the first of six stories with each book releasing two weeks apart.  “I must say, I’m very excited about the entire series.  Not only do we have characters making appearances in each others’ stories, and a beautiful mountain resort as the backdrop, these books have everything readers love in the New Adult genre: love, sex, angst, betrayal and pain.  I’ve written over fifty books and I’m often asked which is my favorite.  It’s a hard question to answer, but I must say CRASHING DOWN is at the top of the list.  I didn’t hold any punches with my tortured hero, Noah.  I let him act the way any twenty-one year old emotionally wrecked guy would act, and I really hope my readers come away loving him as much as I do.”

Audra North follows on July 21st with LOSING IT, and here’s what she has to say about the collaboration. “I was so excited when Cathryn and Jan invited me to be a part of the Summer Lovin’ series. Not only did I get to collaborate with two writers whom I already knew and loved; I got to know new authors, as well! It’s funny, because I thought of our group a lot as I was writing my story, LOSING IT. The heroine, Emery, is afraid to get close to others because she has a lot of trust issues. As a result, she doesn’t have any friends, and her life is pretty lonely. Definitely not like the fun, chatty group of authors in the Summer Lovin’ series! Luckily, Ryan, the hero, teaches her how important it is to open up and let others in. It can lead to wonderful opportunities!”

Next up is Renee Field.  LOVING LIES releases on August 4th.  “It’s so cool that the Summer Lovin’ series is a mix of Canadian and American authors.  It truly gives us a unique flare when it comes to writing new adult romance. With our diverse backgrounds, ranging from marketing, nursing, journalism, editing and finance, we all bring something new and unique to the table, and I can honestly say it’s been a pleasure to brainstorm, and work with these talented ladies. There wasn’t a diva amongst us, and when we ran into scheduling conflicts, we were all willing to make changes to accommodate each other. While writing LOVING LIES, I fell in love with Blake, a young man just finishing his university degree and trying to find his way in life while making it rich only to discover that love and life’s lessons have a way of derailing those set goals.”

Jan Meredith releases on August 18th with TAMING TESS.  “Collaborating with these wonderful women on the Summer Lovin’ series had been a blast as well as a blessing. You never know when or how you’ll meet someone who will become important to you. You could be next door neighbors, or live hundreds of miles apart, but if Fate wants you together, she will find a way and you may as well sit back and enjoy the ride. Cathryn and I met during NaNoWriMo in November of 2012 and became critique partners and although we’ve never physically met, we’ve become great friends. In TAMING TESS, Tess travels from Nashville, TN to Canada, and Stone Cliff Resort to escape her past only to find a former soldier from Montana with a wounded soul searching for a moment of peace. What they find may change their life forever.”                                                                                                              

Lilly Cain follows on September 1st with SURVIVING NIKKI, and the series came at just the right time for her to return to daily writing. “New Adult is a breath of fresh air; it’s jumping back into writing without a parachute! When we first talked about writing the series I found the whole thing fascinating – how we could write our own books yet tie them together with theme and setting. I couldn’t wait to get started on SURVIVING NIKKI. And it’s been fun, meeting some new authors and working with a few (Cathryn, Renee and Sara) who I’ve known for a while. Doing what you love is so good and it shows in the end product.”

Last but not least Sara Hubbard releases SAVING SULLIVAN on September 15th.   “Speaking of diva’s,” Sara says, “There is one member in the group, (who’s name we shall not speak of, but it starts with a C!) that insisted I change the name of my heroine because she didn’t like it. I didn’t mind, because the book was so much fun to write, sneaking bits in to match up with the previous plots and falling in love with my hero. Since four of us have known each other for a while, writing together was comfortable, but I’ve found great new friends in Jan and Audra. It’s been an experience to share laughter over the Internet in a group where despite our distances and our different backgrounds we share a commonality in the love of romance. And now I get to share SAVING SULLIVAN, a story that I love, with everyone else!”

The authors of Summer Lovin’ have a contest going on - find out more and Cathryn Fox's blog here

Please sign up for our facebook page where we’ll be holding contests and talking about our series.

For more information about the Summer Lovin’ authors please visit their websites!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Romance Writing, Sturdy Corsetry and Chicken Grease -- What I Learned Along the Way

by Heidi Hamburg 

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years, and I think there’s a good chance every one of them has gone to prepare me for my present work as a romance writer.

Take my first summer job, at sixteen, working in a Co-op Fruit Stand. It may have said Fruit Stand on the big sign out front, but it was by no means a vegetarian haven. My first task each morning was to scrape two inches of congealed chicken fat from the bottom of the rotisserie chicken machine.

Then I got to scrub the floor. Never fun around the chicken machine. But hey, I got paid. For every six day week I got the princely sum of eighteen dollars and fifty cents. I was pretty happy with that- with my first pay I bought a cotton skirt, a ban-lon sweater and a pair of cuff links- not bad.

Now here’s the thing- my second summer I got promoted. Someone else did the chicken machine and scrubbed the floor, I looked after customers and ordered supplies, and my take home pay jumped to over twenty dollars.

Most romance writers start out that way- they work for years for that first sale, but they don’t get paid nearly as much as they think their deathless prose is worth. Still, if they persevere, they usually climb and crawl their way to the mid-list, and sometimes higher. Far beyond the chicken machine.

My next summer job was at a dry goods store. Mostly I measured out yards of fabric and stared out the window. But this store had a side-line in serious corsetry. One slow day when the boss was out the other clerk and I decided to try on the support garments. I picked one somewhat smaller than my body actually was. The other clerk had just laced and hooked me, with a certain amount of difficulty, into my choice of a boned shoulder-to-thigh peach coloured foundation garment when the little bell above the shop door chimed.

She dashed out to serve the customer, while I tried to escape the sturdy peach number that was cutting off all my oxygen. No luck. The fastenings were all in the back. And then the bell chimed again. And again. Nothing to do but pull on my dress, which now hung two sizes looser, and get to work.

Customers poured in merrily for the next hour or more while I tried hard not to faint. What did I learn from this that has the remotest connection to romance writing? One size does not fit all.

You need to figure out if you write short or long, whether you love to read and write category length books or great big sagas. You also need to find the kind of book you can do the best. There are a lot of options out there.

My most long-term work has been teaching. I’ve taught every grade except twelve, in Nova Scotia and in Nunavut. No matter the age or background of the students you work with, you find out pretty quickly that good teaching is a performance art. You can’t just phone it in. You have to hook the kids right away, before they zone out or act up. Then you give them the meat of the lesson, keeping it as lively and interesting as you can, and then you round it up, neatly and quickly.

Oh yeah- that’s a book. Hook your reader, keep that long middle section popping along, no sagging, and then wrap it up. If possible, in a way that will keep them coming back for more.

So that’s my on the job training. I’m learning still.

Friday, 11 July 2014

10 Minutes ... It's Longer Than You Think

I'm becoming a little bit obsessed with timers.

If you're not familiar with the timer method for completing a task, let me give you an in-depth instructional guide:

  • You set the timer for a certain amount of time
  • You work on that task while the timer is ticking
  • You stop when the timer stops

I know, I know ... highly complex. I use the timer method for lots of things.  I clean with them.  I use them at work to keep me focused on certain projects.  And occasionally, I write with them.

I buy these cheap ones from the Dollar Store that have a magnet on them so they stick to my fridge .. and a clip so I wear them around the house.    I own at least 6 timers. I have them setup in my house and at work and their pre-set with certain times so I can just clip one on and start a task.

I told you ... I'm obsessed.

It's possible I might need some kind of intervention.   My husband thinks they're hilarious, and has asked me kindly to keep them out of the bedroom ... but, I'm unwilling to give them up.

There's something incredibly satisfying about sticking to a task for even a short amount of time.   My problem is ... I don't use them enough for writing.  I know they work ... I'm just always hesitant to push the Start button on those things for writing tasks.  I keep telling myself I'm not in the mood ... or that I have a lot of other work to do that I should get to first.   Anything to avoid pushing start.

I need a timer for my timer, I think.  Okay ... maybe I really do need an intervention.

Point is ... you can accomplish a lot of writing in even just 10 minutes. So if you're not doing something you should be doing, give a timer a try.   This blog was written in exactly 10 minutes.  It's not perfect, but it's written, right?  And I wasn't even in the mood ...

Nikki McIntosh

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Thursday, 10 July 2014

Before I'm Sucked Into Another Writer’s Dream

by Lilly Cain

We’re talking on the blog over the next bit about jobs and writing – how they relate and how they don’t. For me, although the least like writing job I’ve done is international banking (the paperwork kills all the glory of moving gold from one country to another). But over the last few years I’ve moved my life completely into the publishing industry. What I mean by that is my day job is being an editor.

I work as a freelance editor under my real identity, Nancy Cassidy, and as a managing editor for a small press.  I’ve learned a huge amount over the last few years editing. What makes a strong POV. How you can slip from one tense to another, or hover on the edge and why it doesn’t work. Why stories sometimes start at the wrong part and how to avoid info dumps, and so much more.

But the truth is, my day job is bad for writing. I’ve been struggling since I went full time as an editor, to write. I put so much concentration into other people’s work that my creativity is drained and I am influenced by their style. I’m drawn into my client’s story and pushed out of my own.

Since this is an ongoing issue, I’ve started to develop some coping techniques. I think some of you will be familiar with these as they relate to inspiration and goal setting. Every writer looks for ways to keep inspired – refilling their well by taking breaks, reading something they enjoy, seeing a movie, going for a walk. And every writer needs set, achievable goals to work toward. But sometimes even that doesn’t work. Sometimes I just need to wait until my current editing project is complete before I can tackle my own words.

My favorite trick and what seems to work best is to begin my own writing in the morning, before I do anything else. I read the last five pages I wrote, check my plot plan and write before and then I write before anyone can get to me, or I am sucked into another writer’s dream.  :)

I think it is really the same struggle everyone has sooner or later – how to make writing fit into their life. We all have distraction – day jobs, kids, family, friends, health issues – so many things that take our attention. So I look for focus. I need quiet so I have to hide in my bedroom during the summer months away from the kids. Even the library has become too busy. But somehow I make it work, bit by bit.

Hope you all have a great writing summer!

Lilly Cain

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

What's Happening in July

Lilly has a new look over at her web site, with some news about what she's been working on.
CLICK HERE to drop by her web site and find out what's coming in September. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

You Can’t Throw a Gavel Without Hitting a Lawyer-Turned-Author

Some of the jobs I’ve held include: short order cook, nanny, postmaster’s assistant, and “background talent” (read -  extra in movies and commercials). But of all the jobs I’ve tried, the one that I’m least likely to write about is the one that I spent the most time training for – my current profession of lawyer. 

Although it sometimes seems like you can’t throw a gavel without hitting a lawyer-turned-author, there are two main reasons you won’t catch me writing about my day job any time soon (though I’ll never say never):

1.  1.   My source material would be pretty boring - and that’s how I like it.

Some writers have no problem turning the day-to-day life of a lawyer into the stuff of thrillers, but I have a hard time associating the reality of my job with the kind of romance and adventure I enjoy reading about. Actually, scratch that – I actively avoid romance and adventure in my day job. It decreases the odds of getting sued.

Do I personally find my work exciting? Yes. Would the general public? Eh, maybe it depends on the day, but if I had to guess – no. The types of law I practice do not lend themselves to Grisham-esque scenarios. Nor is there anything particularly glamorous about wearing pantyhose for 10-12 hours per day.

2.   2.  Writing is my escape from the ordinary.

Everyone is familiar with the old advice to “write what you know”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write what you do. So far, I have written about ancient Greek legends coming to life, the colonization of a far-away planet, and the adventures of a high-class madam. As you may have guessed, I have first-hand experience with exactly none of these scenarios. 

            But I do have a lot of fun writing about them!

How about you? Are there any jobs you find duller than dirt? Any that you can’t, or won’t, write about?

(I assume all those romance-blog-enthusiast international spies out there are sworn to secrecy, but let’s hear from the rest of you!)

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