Category Archives: Authors

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike desolation.mt. St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

Interview with PJ Sharon about her Latest Release

Suze here, posting outside our regular schedule. But PJ Sharon’s new novel, PIECES OF LOVE, has just released and I couldn’t wait to ask her some questions about it. PJ will be in and out today to answer your questions too!

She’s got a heck of a schedule planned for her blog tour where she’ll be giving away some neat prizes like signed books and a nifty beach bag!

1.  Okay PJ, tell us a little about PIECES OF LOVE.

So cool being on this side of the interview questions, Suze! Thanks for being here with me to celebrate and chat about the book.

PJSharon_PiecesOfLove_800pxIn PIECES of LOVE, a Contemporary YA Romance, sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to play her guitar and get high, hoping to escape the pain of losing her sister. But when her second arrest for pot possession leads to her mother’s breakdown, Lexi is sent to stay with her grandmother for the summer. While embarking on a Mediterranean cruise hardly sounds like punishment, being forced to face her demons and falling for a guy she may never see again gives Lexi a chance to discover what it means to love someone—even when you have to let them go.

2. A trip to the Mediterranean inspired the setting for this novel. What was the most beautiful or memorable place you saw on your trip?

An impossible question to answer—mainly because they were ALL beautiful. But honestly, it was such a whirlwind trip, the days and ports kind of melted together, LOL. I remember LOVING Barcelona and thinking I had to go back to see more of Gaudi’s amazing work and the passionate artistry that infused every part of the city. I also remember not having a good impression of Cannes, France, but that’s because of a bad allergic reaction to the perfumes! The Greek Islands are heavenly, but I’d have to say Dubrovnik Croatia was one of the loveliest, most interesting locations. Old Town is a spot not to be missed! I have to go back just to walk the mile long, 19-foot thick wall surrounding the village.

3. A little birdie told me that there’s some extra special companion content that goes along with PIECES. Want to tell us about it?

Um…you must be referring to the PIECES of LOVE theme song. This came about because my character, Lexi, is a song writer and singer. In an effort to get readers into her head, I decided to write a song for her sister in the book. In spite of the fact that I’ve never written lyrics before and don’t write music, the words flowed onto the page and a tune popped into my head to go with them. Funny how those creative little miracles happen. So I downloaded a recording app onto my phone and sang the song so I wouldn’t forget the tune. With four years of voice lessons behind me, it didn’t sound half bad. I approached my neighbor and good friend, Ozone Pete, who is a professional musician. Once he saw I was serious, he helped me with the arrangement. He happened to “know a guy” who runs a recording studio in Westfield, MA. A month later, I had recorded the theme song for POL. I was pleased enough with the outcome to put it up on i-Tunes for sale and used part of the song for the book trailer.

4. So, what was it like being in a recording studio? How long did it take to get the final version of the song and what’s the process?

Jim Fogarty of Bing Studios is awesome to work with and he gave me a great deal on studio time! Adding his piano skills as well as his sound engineering expertise, Jim spent ten hours with me and Pete the first day and another five hours two weeks later for the finish work and editing. He hooked me up with a mike and headphones, and played Pete’s instrumental version in the background for me to sing with. He gave me a few tips along the way, but essentially, it was just singing take after take and then editing the best pieces together. It’s really an amazing process, especially when he starts manipulating things with auto-tune and adding background and harmony. He was able to take out any excess vibrato in my voice (opera training has its downside), and clear up any pitchiness. As he put it, “It’s still you. We just accentuated the excellence and removed the suckage.” To keep things fun, and not drive himself totally crazy listening to the song a thousand times, he would change the words once in a while, singing “Pizzas of love, pizzas of looove…” That’s when I knew it was time for a lunch break. I won’t even tell you some of the other lines he added. When it all got to be too much, he’d flip over to Three Stooges movies for a short giggle break.

5. The cover for PIECES OF LOVE is just gorgeous! Can you give us an idea of how you work with a cover artist to get just the right look for your book?

That is a challenge, Suze. I start with gathering stock photos that I like to represent the characters. Some cover artists will do this for you and give you some choices, but I generally know what I want and it saves time. I pay anywhere from $10-20 for a high resolution stock photo from Big Stock Photos. Cover artists usually have a form for you to fill out, asking you to detail the tone of the book, genre, color preferences, story concept, etc. Once they have all that information, they will work up several covers to choose from. It takes a few times going back and forth to decide which font works best, and to make necessary adjustments until I’m satisfied. It’s a relatively quick process if you have a good cover artist and you know what you want. If you’re picky like me—or unsure of your vision, it can take a little longer. Kim Killion from The Killion Group, made this cover for me in only a few days. Granted, she had a design concept already made because I had original hired someone else who came up with the basic design but just got too busy and wasn’t able to make the changes I wanted. It was a bummer starting all over with someone new, but I’m so pleased with the results of working with Kim, I’m planning to re-brand my Lily Carmichael covers this summer.

6. What are you working on now? What’s your next book and when can we expect it?

Gulp! Isn’t that always the question? I’m working on HEALING WATERS, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, and hoping to have it done later this year.

Thanks, PJ! Can’t wait to read (and review!) PIECES OF LOVE.

Readers, until June 30th, PJ has her book on sale for only $2.99 for Kindle, Nook, and i-Tunes e-readers. The price goes up to $4.99 on July 1st, so don’t miss out!

Thank you, Suze, for taking time out to set up this interview. The support and generosity of my Scribe sisters is what keeps me going some days. In case I haven’t told you lately…you’re awesome!

Questions, comments? Any good books on your vacation TBR pile?

 

Chapter 2

Sugar here, calling myself out for not posting this morning like I was supposed to. But I had 2 good reasons. I thought next Monday was my day.  AND today was my last day at work. I have worked in the same place for seven years. My very first job out of college. I love my coworkers and my building, but I don’t love the job anymore.  I was finding myself so exhausted, so stressed out that I couldn’t write.  My brain just couldn’t handle another thing and there were times when I was so overwhelmed by it all that I just didn’t want to get out of bed.  I know they call it work for a reason, but I knew I couldn’t go on like that. So I made the decision to leave.  I’m not going to be able to survive on writing alone. I’m going to work but at job that won’t suck the life out of me.

I need to write. Some people do it as a hobby. They can pick  it up and put it down when they want. But I need to write and when I can’t do it I feel bad, like I’m depriving myself of some sort of essential nutrient. And that job was making it hard for me to do what I love. So today was my last day and while I have very good memories of that place I don’t for one moment regret  saying goodbye.  I have two books coming out this fall. I’m under contract for three more. I am lucky. I know it’s a blessing to have these things when so many writers are dying to get where I am. So I am going to take this opportunity now, because I don’t I’ll always wish I had.

I feel like I started chapter one of my adult life there. Now it’s time for me to start working on chapter 2.

He Ain’t Heavy…

This post originally appeared on The Jaunty Quills , but I thought it was good enough to post here too.

As a writer I love getting emails from readers. Who doesn’t?!  It really is one of the unexpected pleasures of the job.  But what was even more unexpected was the subject of so many of the emails that I have received this year. His name is Walter, and he is a character in my first book, Dangerous Curves Ahead. A lot of readers have really connected to him. And that surprised me. Walter is not my hero, or some other hot guy in the book. He’s my heroine’s father. A sixty year old college professor/ scientist with a vast knowledge of useless information and an awesome collection of ties.  Walter also has Asperger’s. If you don’t know what Asperger’s Syndrome is, it’s a part of the Autism Spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties with social interactions.  I’ve gotten so many emails from women who have someone like Walter in their lives.

The question I get most from them is how could you have written Walter so accurately?

The answer is simple. I can write Walter so accurately because I have a Walter in my life and his name is Jason.  Unlike Walter, Jason is no brainy science guy. He’s just my big brother who loves chocolate cake, bouncy balls and visiting Disney World. Jason has a more severe form of Autism than Walter. He’ll never live alone or drive a car. He’ll probably never have a family of his own, but that doesn’t mean his life is empty.

It’s hard to explain what it was like to grow up with an older sibling that isn’t “normal”. It’s different experience than a parent raising child with a disability. I didn’t go through the grieving process. I didn’t have to put in all the work that my parents did to make sure my brother had a full and happy life. I was simply born into a world that built so much around Jason. It’s a nice world but, as a sibling it was hard to know my place at times. I had no brotherly guidance, no one to scare boys away, none of the typical big brother experiences that my friends had. Instead of my brother going first through the world, my parents looked to me for all the major milestones. I was the first to read and write and navigate social pressures. I was the first to drive a car and go off to college. And I wanted to do everything so well because I knew Jason couldn’t.

It wasn’t easy having a brother who covers his ears when things get too loud, and talks to himself, and spends so much time staring off into space. It’s was annoying constantly apologizing to people when he bumped into them because he has no awareness of his body. And it was annoying that the only thing he ever eats when we go anywhere is a hamburger. As a kid the only thing you want to do is fit in, be like everyone else. But it was hard for me be like everyone else when my brother is like no one else I know.

I think I once said to him, “If you’re going to be Autistic, why can’t you be cool like Rainman and count cards?”

To which my father replied, “I know. You could at least help me pay off this mortgage.”

Some people might be horrified at that exchange, but that’s the way it is in my family. Yes. He’s different. And maybe he won’t do all the things I got to do, but he’s NOT to be felt sorry for. He’s not to be treated less than. We joke and tease because that is what our family does. That’s how we show love. Autism is a huge part of who Jason is but Autism is not all he is.

He’s the oldest of five kids and he knows it. He doesn’t let us boss him around, and if we try to he says, “Go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone!”  (Which I didn’t realize that he got from a Billy Joel song till I was older. How awesome is that?)

He’s a pretty smooth liar. He once called me the B word. (I probably deserved it.) And when I asked him to repeat himself he said, “I said pitch. Pitch the ball.” (No, he didn’t.)

Jason is also incredibly sweet. He likes to squeeze my nose to show me affection. He makes sure I don’t go more than three weeks without visiting him and when I see him he always tells me I’m beautiful.

I love him. Probably a little more than I love my other brothers and I’m protective of him. Because he is different, because so many people just don’t understand him, I go out of my way to make sure no one takes advantage of him.  It’s not a position a lot of little sisters find themselves in, but I don’t mind because I know if he could, he would do the same thing for me.

So, I may not have had the big brother experience that most people have had but, having a brother who is different has shaped who I am. He’s made me more patient, more understanding and more open than I would have been if I didn’t know him.

Plus he helped me write Walter . And Walter is a pretty cool dude.

So what about you? Do you have a special relationship with one of your siblings?

The Craziest Thing Happened…by Vivienne Lynge

Hello!  Vivienne Lynge here.  One of the coolest things to happen so far in my writing career took place the other day.  I want to share it with you.

Are you ready?  Here it is.  I was finishing up some work, late in the evening for one of my “real” jobs and I had a thought cross my mind.  Just another few minutes and I can go finish reading that great book I was reading.  I can’t wait to see what happens.

That thought was immediately followed by: Wait a minute, what book is that?  I’m not in the middle of anything right now…

And that thought was immediately followed by: Holy Crap!  The book I can’t wait to finish reading is my own!  And I can’t finish reading it until I finish writing it!

I had been re-reading the WIP earlier in the day – like 12 hours earlier.  And my data-analysis-fogged brain bubbled up some real excitement for the story.   It must mean that I’m a real author!

Has anything like that ever happened to you?

Top Seven Things I Learned At Debra Dixon’s Book In A Day Workshop

Hello, my lovely Scribelings! Suze here. First off, a bit of news. My cozy mystery, FETA ATTRACTION, will release from Berkley Prime Crime on January 6, 2015! I’ve had a sneak peak at the cover and, just like all the Berkley artwork, mine is just gorgeous. I’ll show it to you as soon as I can. FETA ATTRACTION is the first book in the GEORGIE’S KITCHEN MYSTERIES and I hope you’ll love the village of Bonaparte Bay and its residents as much as I do. When it’s available for preorder, I’ll let you know.

So you’d think, with a traditional contract and two books in the series written and the third one about to be started–as well as a few partial manuscripts living under the bed with some unsatisfied dust bunnies who may or may not ever find out what happens at the end of those stories–I’d know everything there is to know about writing a genre fiction novel. After all, I’m also a freelance editor (www.crazydiamondediting.com), so I work with other authors on their manuscripts too.

GMC[1]HA! SNORT! (Hang on a sec while I get myself under control) OK, I’m back, still giggling. The answer is Not by a long shot. Producing these two manuscripts drove home the fact that I have a lot to learn.

So to help me become a better writer, I signed up for Debra Dixon’s Book in a Day Workshop, presented by the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Along with some of my best writing buddies, I spent the weekend in New Hampshire with Writing Goddess Debra Dixon, whose book Goal, Motivation and Conflict (available in ebook and hard cover) has become standard material for anyone seriously pursuing a writing career, no matter what kind of stories you write.

So here are the Top Seven Things I took away from the workshop:

1. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well. This means that you can break the “rules” as long as it’s  beautifully executed. However, and this is just my personal, more conservative opinion, if you’re trying to break into genre fiction, start out following the rules so later on, when you’re more experienced, you know what rules you can and can’t break.

2. Force your character make choices–and make those choices Sucky and Suckier. Most of us have probably heard the basics of story structure broken down like this: Put your character in a tree. Throw rocks at the tree. Get you character out of the tree. So what Ms. Dixon means is that in the rock-throwing phase, put your character in a situation where she cannot win and force her to make a choice: should she save the child, or save the man she loves? Whichever choice she makes, she is changed forever. Powerful stuff!

3. Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) can be summed up in five words: Who, What, Why, Why Not? Who is your character? What is the situation the character finds herself in? Why does the character behave as she does and want what she wants (this is often a function of backstory, and most of that backstory will not make it onto the page)? Why Not–Why can’t the character have what she wants? There should be both external reasons (the bad guys are throwing rocks at her while she sits in a tree, so she can’t physically get to the child who needs her or the man she loves) and internal reasons (she has a paralyzing fear of heights because she saw her father fall off a cliff to his death, and she couldn’t save him). She can’t see any way to get out of the tree without jumping, whether or not the bad guys are there.

4. What is fun for you, the author, is not necessarily fun for the reader. While you might gleefully kill off your main character, your readers might see that as not playing fair. Related:  Give the reader the candy you promised them. Don’t withhold critical information and spring it on the reader at the end. They’ll feel cheated, like they’ve been sold a bill of goods, and might not read more of your work. You must play fair with the reader. This is especially true in a traditional cozy mystery where the clues should be planted early on, and it’s only later that the sleuth figures out what they mean.

5. Every character in the book must have GMC. A minor character’s GMC does not necessarily need to be spelled out on the page, but there has to be a reason for the presence of every character.

6. We root for the underdog. Cowards make great heroes/heroines. The reader can relate to underdogs and cowards. It isn’t satisfying to have a character already be at the top of his game unless you bring him down and change his goal. And your character must have fears and insecurities that make it difficult or nearly impossible for him to make the choices necessary to move ahead.

7. Every scene must have at least three reasons to be present in the story, and at least one must be Goal, Motivation, or Conflict. Goal: The scene illustrates your character’s progress toward the goal. Motivation: The scene provides your character with an experience that strengthens or changes his motivation. Conflict: The scene brings the character into conflict with opposing forces. The best, pivotal scenes will encompass all three elements.

These seven items were my big takeaways from the workshop (which also encompassed the Hero’s Journey model for story structure). I would highly recommend that anyone who has not done so take this course. As I sat through the workshop, I thought about my own characters in different ways–and I already feel like a stronger writer.

My only regret? My third book did not actually get written in a day. Sigh. Well, BICFOK–no, that’s not a dirty word. It means Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. This book ain’t gonna write itself (although, how awesome would that be?).

Have you seen Debra Dixon speak? Have you read Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Are you conscious of the concepts as you write?

Facebook Parties-Fab of Fad?

Good May Day, Scribe’s fans. PJ Sharon here. I won’t likely be dancing around a May pole today, but I will be celebrating Spring with over fifty of my author pals from the Book Lovers Buffet who are having a party over on Facebook this afternoon.

POL Music Cover Every fifteen minutes between 3-10 pm, EST, another romance author will be available to live chat with anyone who wants to stop by for a visit. I’ll be there from 7-7:15 pm. sharing favorite cruise destinations and giving away e-books and an i-Tunes download of the single, PIECES of LOVE, the theme song from my upcoming release.

Lest you think this is a silly waste of time, there will be oodles of giveaways and some enticing questions to draw a crowd throughout the day. Favorite paranormal creatures? Vacation destinations? Favorite perfume or men’s fragrance? Fashion, dance, Texas hunks…topics for everyone. There will be gift cards, e-books, audiobook giveaways and more!

So what’s with all the Facebook parties lately? Is it just the latest trend in author promotion? Or is it a savvy way to use the platform that so many of us have worked to build? Since connecting to readers is an all important part of our job as authors, hopping on the FB train seems like a good idea…at least for now. As with any new promotional trend, I suspect this one will burn itself out fairly quickly, but for now, I’m having fun with it and plan to use it for my book launch in June.

Here’s how it works (to the best of my knowledge and limited experience). To create a FB event:

  1. Click Events in the left menu of your homepage.
  2. Click Create Event in the top right.
  3. Fill in the event name, details, location and time, and then choose your privacy settings. Keep in mind that you must include an event name and time. (TIP: Keep the time limited to just a few hours if you are doing this on your own. It can be quite hectic and draining!)
  4. Click Invite Friends to add friends to the guest list. Check the names of the people you want to invite and then click Save.
  5. Click Create.

You’ll be taken to your event where you can share posts, upload photos, invite more guests, and edit event details.

That’s it!

Of course, you’ll want to create a theme for your party, upload a flashy new banner, offer incentives for people to stop by, create engaging content ahead of time so you can keep momentum going throughout the party, and maybe even have a famous guest or two stop by at a scheduled time so readers can pop in and live chat for a few minutes with your celebrity guest. You may want to enlist some help spreading the word via Twitter, Google+, Goodreads or other social media outlets.

Be creative and think outside the box. What do your readers love about your books? If you write cozy mysteries maybe share some recipes or craft ideas. If you write romantic suspense, maybe ask about favorite suspense movies, creepiest actors to play villains, etc. Consider your audience, make it fun and entertaining, and have some prizes to encourage reader engagement. Use Random.org to choose your winners. The way I use it for free is to keep a numbered list of commenters and then plug in the range of numbers (1-10 for instance if I have ten folks who have left comments) and let Random pick the winner’s number.

The bottom line, as always is that it’s not so much about “buy my book” as it is “hey, I’m a human just like you…let’s hang out.” Readers are much more likely to want to chat about books in general, life’s little entertainments, and what they can get for free than they are to respond to “buy” messages, so keep it real, keep it fun,  and keep it friendly.

I hope to see you all later over at the party!

What do you think of FB Parties? Fab or Fad?