Monday, February 28, 2011

Coping and copping out

My first children’s book was set on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts; my second in Jamaica and the third is set in Trinidad.

When I completed the second book, a friend said to me “that was smart, setting this one on a larger island so you will have a larger potential audience.”

I must confess that I had no such motive. I envisioned my characters in these places and so, off they went.

Now I find myself torn between writing what comes to my mind and writing for the market. With my current WIP which is based in Ghana, I am concerned about turning the publisher off by making the plot more complicated than the children’s books she typically publishes. I know, I know – if she does not appreciate my work, she may not be the right publisher, and so on, but in my reality, the pond has very few fish. I have decided to write it as I see it, but, because I understand her reality, I am prepared to rewrite if the publisher is interested in a simpler story line.

On a more basic level, I wonder whether I should begin writing books with more mainstream appeal instead of focusing on the Caribbean and Ghana. That issue, I have tabled to tackle another day, perhaps in another post.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Need to Believe

Humans want to believe certain things about their world and about themselves. We often know these things aren’t completely true but we’d like to think so. For example, we’d like to believe that good triumphs over evil. We’d like to think the little guy can beat the big guy. We’d like to know that justice will be done. We’d like to think there is someone for everyone. We’d like to think that our special qualities will be recognized and appreciated.

These beliefs are important to us, and we seek out fictions that reinforce them. We watch movies where the good guys win. We read novels where true love triumphs. We root for the underdog. Just consider movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pretty Woman, and Rocky. Or The Matrix, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Rudy. Or many, many others. Consider books such as Misery, The Odyssey, and The Lord of the Rings.

We writers have the same kinds of beliefs, and I’ll bet if you analyze your own writing you’ll see these themes showing up in your work. Of course, not everyone wants exactly the same things from their fiction. Nor do they want them presented in exactly the same way. But it’s rather hard to go wrong with good guys and underdogs winning, and with characters finding love.

It's also hard to go wrong with characters who discover something special about or within themselves, as in the Harry Potter and Twilight series. It's hard to go wrong when you give people an insider's view of a profession or a lifestyle they find fascinating.

In other words, it's hard to go wrong if you really find out what readers want to believe and experience and give them fictions that reinforce those beliefs.

Think about it.

I do.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Last fall I gave a writing presentation at the Farmington Community Library. After a brief introduction by the head librarian, I started my presentation on the romance genre. Suddenly, the doors to the auditorium opened and a middle aged blond entered the room. I watched her quietly slip into a seat at the closest available table. She seemed familiar, but I couldn't put a name to her face. She smiled at me and I smiled back in greeting and thanks for attending my program.

A senior lady on a cane slowly followed and sat next to the blond. Frowning, I stared at the woman when a sudden streak of enlightenment hit me. There sat my only living aunt. Before I realized what I was saying I muttered to the audience, "Oh, that's my aunt."

Laughter filled the auditorium. After a moment I composed myself and went on with my presentation. After the program ended, I left the stage and hugged my aunt, dodging the cane as she struck out at me. I asked her how she found out about the program. My aunt pointed at the blond and answered, "Sue."

Shaking her cane at me, my aunt demanded to know, "Why didn't you tell me?"

I shrugged, wondering how I was going to explain my feelings to her. There is a fine line between asking for family members support and becoming a pain in the rear. I answered, "I don't want you guys to get sick of me and start avoiding me each time someone mentions my name."

"Well, I'm your family. If your mother was alive, she'd be here for you. Since she can't, it's my job."

She was right. I didn't realize how much I needed that support until she said those words. Or how much her approval meant to me.

Having friends and family support you in your writing endeavor is huge. Writing can be a lonely business. We need those people that support us. I loved having my aunt with me and hope she'll attend other events. Family support goes both ways. I plan to be available whenever she needs me.

How about you? Do you have a second career or hobby that needs the encouragement of family and friends?

I'd love to hear from you. Click on the link below and let me know your thoughts.

Remember, don't be a stranger.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

By Invitation Only

I recently attended a work related conference. While most of the events and receptions were open to all attendees, there were a few that explicitly said, “By Invitation only.” One such event was a minority and women networking breakfast that I really wanted to attend. I expended a bit of energy trying to figure out how to nab an invitation to this event. I am, after all, minority, and the last time I checked I was still a woman. But up to the night before the breakfast I hadn’t received an invitation or figured out how to get one.

That night, I crashed a reception. It was quite by accident. I just walked into the wrong ballroom not knowing the reception was “By Invitation Only.” I had already engaged an older Irish man in conversation by the time I figured out I was at the wrong reception. We spoke for hours. Sometime during the conversation I mentioned to him about the breakfast that I so wanted to attend but was not invited.

With a very deep Irish accent the man asked, “Why don’t you just crash the darned thing?”

I hadn’t contemplated that. I had never crashed a professional function before that night, and that was quite by accident. But the Irish man had a point, they weren’t checking IDs.

So the next morning, bright and early I did exactly that; I crashed the breakfast. I remember being nervous, my mind reflecting on the famous party crashers who met the president. But crashing the breakafast was the best thing I could have done. I was able to network with many professionals in my field of work. I met a young lady and began talking to her. She introduced me to an older professional who told me of someone from my home country he mentored. He made contact with that person and I discovered that person was one of my friends from high school with whom I have now reconnected (talk about degrees of separation). For the rest of the conference that man introduced me to many professionals in my field and offered career guidance. He has become my unofficial mentor.

The moral of the story, “Sometimes you have to go where you are not invited.”

This holds true especially in the field of writing. If we have to wait for the invitations, if we go only where we’re supposed to, do only the conventional things we’re supposed to, we just won’t sell books. Sometimes we need to think outside the box and find ways to promote books that are irregular. As long as it brings attention to the books and brings sales we’ve accomplished our goals.

A few years ago book trailers were unheard of. Self-publishing was considered non-lucrative at best, inferior at worst. Yet today book trailers are commonplace and there are self-published books on the bestseller lists.

Many publishers have specific formulas for specific genres. Yet it is those authors who go outside of the formula whose books make the greatest impact. So to all my fellow writers whether you’re published or unpublished, sometimes when you see the sign, “By Invitation Only” you gotta crash the party.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Out of the closet

To channel Diana Ross's popular song of yesteryear: "I'm! Coming! Out!" of the wish-list closet. (Ha. I know what you were thinking!)

I'm a wish-listaholic. I'm talking about the online wish-list here — that cunning little invention that made notebooks and hundreds of lists and reminders scrawled on scraps of paper quite, quite obsolete. I have dozens of wish-lists on various sites all organized into categories, subcategories and sub-subcategories. I dream of a career in wish-list management. I won't go into details of my mammoth Amazon, Victoria's Secret and Sephora vices — all popping their seams with 'stuff'. Today I'll narrow my focus to two Amazon wish-lists that I've been cultivating for years: 'Books' and 'Books on Writing'.

I didn't start out with two book wish-lists. I started with one, creatively labeled 'Books'. The plan was to drop a couple books in there, buy or borrow them, then drop a few more in so the thing remained current and dynamic. What I didn't anticipate was that I'd stumble across books I wanted to read at a far, far greater pace than I could read them. That first list took on the qualities of bird vine (the Caribbean incarnation of kudzu) and I soon had to start subdividing just to be able to manage it. I created 'Books on Writing', 'Prize-winning Books', 'Travel Books', 'Classics', 'Romance', 'Books by Authors I Know', 'Books for Mom', 'Books for Sis', Books this, Books that... Until one day I grabbed a digital pruning knife and out of the carnage two lists survived: 'Books' (again) and 'Books on Writing'.

The 'Books' list currently stands at 347 and 'Books on Writing' at 43. They continue to flourish despite my efforts to stunt their growth, to refrain from feeding and watering them, to consume, replace and maintain an ecological balance.

I've begun avoiding my book wish-lists. I fear I might go in there one day and just delete them. I'm having nightmares about neglected wish-lists ganging up on me, breaching security firewalls, stealing my credit card info and ordering themselves. I have visions of a UPS truck backing up to my door, of muscular guys in brown shorts unloading pallet after pallet of books while I cower behind the drapes.

What are your book wish-lists like? Are they submissive and disciplined or have they, like mine, taken on a menacing life of their own?

Monday, February 21, 2011

À Chacun Son Goût

When I was young, the only cheese (or rather, cheeselike substances) I would eat was Velveeta and American cheese. Now I never touch those, but love most kinds of real cheese, including the moldy ones and the ones with unusual herbs in them.

what I would have liked 30 years ago
When my husband and I visited garage sales and junk shops years ago to furnish our first house, we were attracted to simple dark-stained, coarse-grained American oak furniture. When we later moved to New Orleans, our tastes shifted. The more French furniture made of finely grained fruitwood we saw, the more we loved it. We still have a few oak pieces, but they now look clunky and awkward to me. They sit in rooms out of view of guests.

Knowing how my tastes have changed so dramatically in some ways, I wonder why my reading tastes have barely changed since childhood. Then my preference was for fairy tales, fantasy, history, and biography. As I grew older I continued reading in those genres and added science fiction, mystery, and romance. My tastes broadened to include occasional dips into almost every genre of fiction and nonfiction, but even today a good fairy tale or fantasy is what I pull off the shelf first.

what I like now
The more I ponder this discrepancy, the more surprising it seems. Shouldn't reading preferences reflect one's stage of life? One's growing body of experiences? One's ambitions? One's emotional and spiritual wounds? Sure, I read books about writing, and after my mother died I read about grieving, and because I'm the cook at my house, I've amassed a huge collection of cookbooks. But my first preferences are little changed from when my father first started taking me to the library every week to pick out books.

I'm curious about your experiences. How have your reading tastes changed since childhood? Or have they not changed? What factors do you think influence reading preferences?

I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on Saturday, March 5, when I hope we'll all be having much nicer weather.

—Shauna Roberts

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Borders Bankruptcy, Store Closings

We all know Borders filed bankruptcy and they're closing at least 200 stores (link below). Some folks believe it's nothing to get worked up about, that it's just one more hurdle for authors and that we need to be even more creative when it comes to avenues of distribution and stay positive - that the industry will bounce back if we're patient. Others think it's major because these are some of Borders top stores, yet they're still not making enough money to stay open. What does that mean when it comes to readers who seek convenient options as far as walking into a store and putting their hands on a book, vs. Amazon, etc., even though some bought fewer books due to the recession, or ordered e-books as a newfound prefrence? Also, what does it mean for us as authors when it comes to selling enough books to make money? Last time I checked, as much as we love writing, we're in it to make a living.

What are your feelings? How does this news about Borders impact publishing overall, and how does it effect you as an author? Are you concerned?

Things that make ya go, hmmmmmm!

Write on!

Link - Borders Closings

Saturday, February 19, 2011

You write what you read -- or watch

Some weeks ago Valerie and I were doing what we often do on quiet evenings: sit next to each other while she watches TV and I type. On this evening she was watching "The Cape" – a show with a clever premise straight from the golden-age of comics. Not one of my favorites, but pleasant enough.

On this night I glanced at the screen in time to see a second unit shot of a desk calendar; a single page that read: "Saturday, September 3"
"Ah," I said. "They're staging this episode to be current in summer rerun."
"What?" Valerie asked.
"When this episode reruns in the summer," I said, indicating the screen even though the calendar was no longer visible. "September 3, 2011, will be a Saturday."
She didn't bother asking me if I was sure. Instead she hit me with: "So what's his name?"
"Him." She pointed at some guy talking to an adult River Tam.
"The Cape?" I guessed cleverly.
"You never pay attention to the important stuff," she said. Before I could protest she added: "You figure out mystery stories half way through but can't remember a single person's name."

I elected not to answer the charge – which was dead on. We've had variations of this conversation a few hundred times over the years. At its root is a fundamental difference in how we think that can't be talked through.

I've often heard from writing gurus that the key to a successful story is creating characters readers care about. If readers love your characters, they'll forgive any other shortcomings your story may have. I'll agree characters are important. Characters are what gives the reader access to the story you're telling. She experiences the tale through the perceptions of your characters. Well drawn, believable characters with whom the reader can identify -- or at least empathize -- are one of the most important tools in the storyteller's kit. But they are tools, there to serve the story. I'm not one who will overlook plot holes if the characters are captivating (though as a recovering Trekkie and Whovian in remission, honesty compels me to say this is not always the case). As a general rule, I cannot watch a show or finish a book if the mechanics of the story don't work.

A couple of decades ago Valerie and I tried our hands at writing romance novels together. Looking back now, I think the process might have worked if we'd stayed in different rooms. Or maybe different cities. The ways we approached our project – the ways we envisioned a story – were completely different. Each of us saw the other as obstructing the process by focusing on trivialities. The only way to save our marriage was to swear off ever trying to write together. (I exaggerate, but not by much.)

As writers of course we learn to balance character and story; to use all the elements of storytelling in crafting our tales. But before we were writers we were readers, and what we looked for in stories we read still shapes how we look at stories we write.

What do you look for in a story? What is it you like to read? And how much does that shape what – and how – you write?

Friday, February 18, 2011

TBR Pile: Craft Edition

This week, I went on a craft book shopping spree and came home with a pile of new reads:

Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction, by Jeff Gerke

Showing and Telling: Learn How to Show & When to Tell for Powerful & Balanced Writing, by Laurie Alberts

Fill-in-the-Black Plotting, by Linda George

The Woman In The Story: Writing Memorable Female Characters, by Helen Jacey

Sooo, read any good craft books lately?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lazy Blogger's Post

Forgive me, but I'm suffering a bit from vacation brain. I've tried to think up an interesting blog post, but have spent the past two days catching up on work that I pushed to the side while traipsing around Disney World with my niece and nephew last week. Well, I did a lost of traipsing. They rolled around in strollers.

So, I'm going to be a bit lazy (and selfish) and use today to tout my brand new release, I'll Catch You, the second book in my New York Sabers football series with Kimani Romance. It was released this past Tuesday and I've already received great feedback from readers and reviewers alike.

Here's the back cover copy:

Cedric Reeves has just been sidelined, and the bad-boy pro footballer suddenly finds himself without an agent or a prayer of getting back in the game. What he needs is someone pulling for him...someone like gorgeous go-getter Payton Mosely.

A media-hounded celebrity like Cedric is just what the ambitious up-and-comer Payton needs to jump-start her career. That's why she's waging a no-holds-barred campaign to land the Saber running back as her first client. But how's the NFL sports agent supposed to keep things strictly professional when Cedric pursues her with a passion no sane woman can resists? Could this sexy bad boy be good for her after all?

In honor of Black History Month, eHarlequin is offering 40% Kimani titles (both print and eBooks). However, I'll Catch You should be available in stores nationwide.

This book marks my seventh published title (including anthologies), yet in many ways I still feel wet behind the ears when it comes to this publishing world. With the many changes that are taking place on what seems like a daily basis, I feel blessed to see yet another novel with my name on the cover.

If you do give I'll Catch You a chance, please let me know if you enjoyed it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guest author Lynna Banning: The First Chinese Bride in the West

Lynna Banning began writing when she retired as an editor for an aerospace firm. She combines a love of history and literature in works of the Old West, particularly Oregon, near the ranch where her mother was raised. Lady Lavender, her 16th book for Harlequin Mills & Boon, will be followed by a story about a young Chinese woman's adventures and trials in a small Oregon town. Lynna's web page is: She welcomes reader comments at

You think you've got problems? Try being a Chinese girl in the American West!

In 1872, a young Chinese girl, Lalu, was sold by her father during a famine and shipped (some say smuggled) from China to San Francisco for nefarious purposes. The girl was pretty, and as she stood on the dock, a miner working a claim in Warrens, Idaho, near the Salmon River, bought her for the fabulous sum of $2,500. Consequently she made the 12-day trip over towering mountains and through steep canyons on the back of a mule into the Idaho gold country. In Warrens she worked in the her owner's bar as a "hostess."

There were so few women in Idaho’s rough and tumble mining camps that a Chinese girl was automatically relegated to the status of "sing-song girl.” However, her luck changed when her owner lost her in a poker game to a neighboring dining hall/saloon keeper, Charlie Bemis. Charlie turned out be the girl’s protector and, apparently, her sole love interest. The photograph below is Polly Bemis in her wedding dress in 1894.

Polly Bemis

The story of Lalu's adventures has been romanticized to some degree in the novel Thousand Pieces of Gold, but it doesn't change the underlying facts: Lalu (renamed Polly) worked in Charlie’s dining hall, saved her money, and prospered. Later, she saved Charlie's life when a gunshot wound in his neck festered, and when he recovered, Charlie married her. Such an act was unheard of in America, which at the time was full of prejudice against the Chinese and poised to enact the Chinese Exclusion Act. Some say Charlie married her to save her from deportation.

The Bemises left Warrens and purchased a small farm near the Salmon River. The industrious Polly tended her vegetable gardens and planted orchards, kept cows and chickens, delivered babies and nursed the sick on neighboring farms, even tamed a cougar cub. She was admired and loved by those who knew her.

In 1923, after Charlie had passed on, Polly came down out of the mountains on horseback to Grangeville, Idaho, where she got her first taste of “civilization.” She’d come for new spectacles and some dental work, but the wonders she beheld fascinated her. She had never seen an automobile, or a train, never heard a radio, seen an airplane, a motion picture, or electric lights. In Grangeville she delighted in watching movies, riding on the train, and eating in restaurants.

But she loved her little farm on the Salmon River, and she rode back to spend the remainder of her life on the river banks where she could fish.

In later age, Polly suffered a stroke; friends found her lying in her garden, barely alive. She was taken over the mountains on horseback to the county hospital in Grangeville, where she died in 1933. She is buried in the Grangeville cemetery with a simple stone marker: Polly Bemis, Sept. 11, 1853 - Nov. 6, 1933.

The Chinese in America, by Iris Chang; Poker Bride, by Christopher Corbett; Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Another Valentine's Day comes our way tomorrow...

What's a busy writer to do to show his loving and loyal wife that SHE is more important than all his writings, revisions, deadlines, book signings, conferences, conventions, speaking engagements, editor and agent consultations, and other demands of the job, I ask you???

Well, this author for one will push the pause button on the all consuming world of a prolific writer and dedicate the entire day to the lady who still causes my heart to skip a beat years after we said: "I do."

Now comes the hard part -- making sure it is a day to remember and not just a routine Valentine's Day of the expected roses and dinner out on the town. Let's see... what might show her that beneath the writer shell that I have carefully nurtured over the years (with her help, I might add) I am the same loving, hopelessly devoted husband on this special day of romance that's there throughout the year, albeit in less dramatic ways...?

After giving it some long and clever thought, I decided that I will stick with the roses, for starters -- two dozen multicolored roses to cover all angles of love and devotion.

Will also stick with the dinner on the town -- at a five star establishment with all the trimmings and an expensive bottle of wine to savor with each toast down memory lane. The supper club I have in mind overlooks the river and also has a singer pianist, whom I have arranged to play our favorite standards Brazilian love song, "Wave."

Then we will journey home and watch on the big screen TV two of her all time favorite romantic movies, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

But I will save the best for last, as I present her with tickets to fly First Class to Maui this summer for our anniversary and more romance and reminiscing in paradise, where we have already collected some terrific memories.

As it is, this coincides with two Maui themed novels I have coming out in the space of four months -- MURDER IN MAUI, my just released Kimani and Nook police procedural and medical mystery eBook, under my alter ego, R. Barri Flowers, and a June release contemporary romance from Kimani, PLEASURE IN HAWAII.

Oh well, guess the writer in me managed to slip into the picture after all. But the end, I believe, will more than justify the means.

Any special Valentine's Day plans for you???

Have a happy one!


Friday, February 11, 2011

Becoming a Grammarian

I've always prided myself on having good grammar. I give the credit to a solid British based education based on the three R's, Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic. I recently had this belief shattered to its core when I started a course in Grammar. It is a part of a certificate programme and I expected that it would be a piece of cake. I began the first diagnostic test confidently, even cockily. I scored quite well, but I was quite surprised at the effort that it took.

I have now been reading "Woe is I" by Patricia O'Connor, and this entertaining book on grammar has taken a spot on my bookshelf next to my Strunk and White. I have learned many of the more intricate rules behind some of the patterns that were already familiar to me.

How easily can you choose the correct sentence construction?

He is one of the authors who say / says it best.

I wish I was / were in St. Kitts.

Jane is wearing what looks / look like a mink coat.

See you again on the 28th.

The Invisible Writer

I’ve heard it said that a writer should strive to be invisible in his or her own work. I’ve heard that your prose should be transparent so that nothing stands in between the reader and the story. I’ve heard that if a sentence sounds like writing it should be rewritten until it doesn’t. I confess that I’ve never completely understood these kinds of statements, and my initial reaction is to take a stand against them.

First, writing cannot completely escape an element of the artificial. Language evolved as a face to face way of communicating information. Writing is one step removed from that. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make our writing feel natural, but communicating through writing requires steps that face to face communication doesn’t. Writing is not talking and cannot be treated like it. Writing, by its very nature, is more formal than talking, and I personally consider that a strength rather than a weakness.

Second, when I read the writers who are said to exhibit transparent prose I find myself even more confused. Stephen King, for example. I like a lot of King’s work but every time he throws in words, phrases and even whole sentences written in all caps I find myself wincing and completely aware that I’m “reading” a story and not living it. Lee Child is another example. His transparent prose is so deliberately ‘unwriterly’ that it calls attention to its very attempt not to call attention. Child tells a good story, but I’d much rather his prose be a bit less “invisible.” It would make it easier for me to read.

Third, I may be a writer but I’m also a reader, and I’ve been a reader much longer. I find that I just don’t enjoy “transparent” prose. There are some known writers whose names I won’t mention who strive to write invisible prose. I can’t even read them. It’s like eating gruel. It’s like drinking flat soda. It’s like being on a diet that allows no sugar, no salt, no fat, no taste.

I love a good story, and if the story is good I’ll forgive some mundane prose. But I’ve read a lot in my day, and the story had better be really good. And I know that, for myself, I don’t just read for the story. I read to be immersed, to be enthralled, to see and hear and feel the (a) world in ways I haven’t before. You can’t do that for me with everyday language. You’ve got to give me a little poetry.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thank God for Readers!

Recently, one of my editors informed me that they would not be offering me a new contract. I was shocked because my last two novels had done very well and the editor had asked to see new story ideas. Instantly, my confidence level swirled into a tornado of insecurities and self-doubt. I questioned everything from my ability to plot out a story idea to writing a sentence.

Later that afternoon, I checked my email and found three emails from readers. They were wonderful letters telling me how much they enjoy my books and encouraging me to keep up the good work. After being rejected it was a wonderful bit of validation that I desperately needed.

Since that time, I have received emails on a regular basis from readers telling me how much they enjoy my work and asking about the next book. They made me realize that one rejection didn't end my world or work and that I needed to keep moving ahead with my writing career.

I want my readers to know how much I appreciate them and that their encouragement and support is what makes writing such a wonderful experience.

Thank you.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To Blog or not to Blog

I recently contemplated starting a Science blog. The aim of that blog would be to take cutting edge research from the bench and make it accessible to the lay person. As with all new things, I began doing what I do best: research. I read other science blogs, read commentaries, and researched the impact of science blogs on Science and careers. That's when I stumbled across this article in Science Magazine: Science Blogging and Tenure. The article discussed the pros and cons of science blogs. In some cases it can further a scientist’s career. In other cases it can be seen as a liability, time away from the bench that doesn’t impact current scientific research. The article went on to cite Thomas Levenson, Program Head and Director of the Graduate Program at MIT who gave the advice: “Don’t be stupid….For those of us without a permanent position, this may be viewed unkindly by our current or future employers.”

Well, I guess I am one of those, and while my liability or asset (the jury’s still out on that) is not science blogging, it is fiction writing. When I contemplated publishing my novels, I considered the impact on my career as a scientist. I chose a demi-pseudonym. Why? I needed to keep my professional life and my writing life separate. I wanted people who googled me in the capacity of my daytime profession to find information relating to my contribution to science. And when people googled the novelist Jewel Amethyst, I wanted them to find info pertaining to my work as an author. To me it was simple. At least for a while…

Now I’m at a crossroads. I’m transitioning. I’ve updated my CV, made sure my digital footprint was squeaky clean, requested the old transcripts, but then the burning question: should I include my works of fiction on my CV. It is an accomplishment isn’t it? Some folks have suggested I do, others have warned against it. As in the case of Science blogging, it could be taken two ways. Either the prospective employers view it as an asset, an accomplishment that sets me apart from the sea of aspiring authors: I’m a published author. Or they can see it as a liability; time spent away from science. One question I get asked anytime any one discovers that I’m a published author is, “When do you find time to write?” It is a legitimate question. Would prospective employers see my writing as an impediment to important scientific research? (Before you say “Duh” remember science is not a 9 to 5 job).

So while the title of this post is “To blog or not to blog”, that is not really the question I am asking. I’ve already decided that creating a science blog will depend on the demands on my time. The question I’m asking is, “Should I include my fiction writing achievements on my CV (resume)?

I really would like to know what you readers think.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest author Genella deGrey: Humor + Reality = Irony

I don’t consider myself a tree-hugger by any means and I don’t go around waving my “Global Warming” flag on every street corner, but do I have a deep reverence for our planet. If there is one thing I wish we would have learned from the ancient Earth religions, is how precious nature is. We as modern humans have left such a massive footprint on our already heavily trod-upon mother Earth that reversing the effects any time soon is going to take the entire party of 6.859 billion at one table. I often wonder if enough people will participate so that we live to see the turnaround.

About two years ago, a new level of consciousness collectively hit the more metro areas: The reusable shopping bag went viral. Everyone jumped on this wagon, and rightfully so.

Now, the reusable shopping bag philosophy is simple to the shopper—so much so that I won’t go into that here. Yet, to the grocery bagger, it seems the rules of bagging are now up for debate. (Back in the day, I worked at Target as a cashier and I have bagged things for the public. So suffice it to say, I know what I’m talking about.) Almost every person grocery shops or has purchased more than three items at a time. Bagging groceries seems a “no-brainer” for most of us.

Granted, the average reusable shopping bag can hold up to 22 lbs., however, that doesn’t mean the bowling ball can go in with the bread. For instance: What is wrong with the way these groceries are bagged?
A) The dirty dusty wine bottle shouldn’t be in with the open bread
B) The dirty dusty wine shouldn’t be in with the fragile flowers
C) The potentially poisonous yet fragile flowers shouldn’t be in with the open bread or the
dirty dusty wine bottle
D) All of the above

Doesn’t it make sense that the bread should be in its own clean bag – yes, even a plastic bag. (I personally don’t enjoy food that is prime real-estate for a bug fest or that someone could have sneezed or coughed on or even near at some point.) The flowers should also be in their own bag for health reasons. If both items were bagged thusly, the wine could conceivably be laid down at the bottom – IF you have only one bag available.

I’ve gone as far as setting the bag down on the conveyer belt FIRST, followed by what I want in that bag: The feminine products, the napkins, TP and the new can of coffee . . . bag . . . boxes of rice, cake mix, pasta and cereal together . . . bag . . . frozen and cold things together . . . Really, how hard can it be? However, it hasn’t worked yet. The hint has fallen through the cracks. Le Sigh.

Now, just to be fair, I’ve never had a household cleaner put in the same bag as my food. (Knock on wood and wake the Faeries.) But dang it if the decorative garden stepping stone hasn’t been put in the reusable shopping bag with the chips!

So what, you ask, should your well-packed, reusable grocery bags look like?


I can carry these! My groceries aren’t sticking out of the top! The cold things are likely with the other cold things, and the paper products are not in with wet things!

I shall lie in wait for a blog by grocery store execs which will educate their baggers.

In the meantime and as far off this topic as one can get . . . I have a new e-book out called, The Trouser Game. I’m super-excited about this one— it’s a sexy Victorian, Sabrina-type romantic comedy a la Oscar Wilde with a healthy splash of Easy Virtue.

You can get it here, but most importantly, you can get a look at the entire first chapter here: Read Excerpt.

So stay warm this winter with a steamy book or two – and keep an eye on your grocery bagger!
“If I wanted flat bread, I’d have purchased it!”

Genella deGrey writes historical romance. She'd love for you to visit her website:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hunting the Snark

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

- Stephen King

I recently installed a daily quote widget on my iGoogle home page. Every day three random quotes from assorted people pop up, and how interesting they are varies from day to day. Today I found the quote above from Stephen King, and while I agree with much of what he has to say about writing on “About Writing”, on this one point I disagree with him.

I no longer use a bound thesaurus, though I think I still have one on the bookshelf someplace. Some years ago a friend turned me onto a program called the Visual Thesaurus, which displays the words as if they are floating in midair, connected by lines of meaning that place the word at the nexus of a series of slight variations. I agree with King that I seldom find the exact word that I’m looking for there, and am more often reminded of the occasional limitations of the English language.

What does happen is that as I click from word to word, and see the derivation of the word I stated with, or its precise definition on display beside it, I begin to think about what it is I am really trying to say. Sometimes I realize what that word means isn’t that at all, really, and I leap in a new direction that says what I‘m trying to say, only better.

The word you hunt for may not be the word you want, but I believe in the search. It breaks up the stream of thought that’s stopping you, opens you to increased possibilities. As you flip through a thesaurus of any kind, or pick up the dictionary, or click on a menu, you’re hunting the legendary Right Word, a creature very bit as mythical as Lewis Carroll’s Snark. You will find a lot of words on your journey, they will all have their appeal, and ultimately you will find the right way to say what you set out to say -- though probably not in the way you thought.

The search unearths new possibilities and meanings, and what you find will be the right word or combination of words. They will be right, not because the thesaurus gave them to you, or because you used a lot of different words for the same thing, but because you kept looking until you found the words that communicated your ideas clearly. I see the thesaurus not as the solution, but a beginning of the path to one.

That would be the one exception I would make to the King Condemnation. The trick is to be sure you’ve found a Snark, and not its evil doppelganger, the Boojum, that vanishes when caught, along with its hunter, just as bad writing, no matter how many words are used, renders any author invisible.

(illustration by Henry Holiday from The Hunting of the Snark by eBooks@Adelaide ©2007)

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Joy of Checklists

Checklists are one of the most useful tools for writers. I often wonder how writers who don't make checklists keep track of of their projects and what needs to be done on each and in what order.

Here are five ways checklists can make a writer's life easier.

1. They help you set priorities and stick to them. Most people today have far more things to get done each day and each week than can be fitted into just 24 hours or 7 days. If you make a list of the tasks that need to get done and rank them by importance in the grand scheme of life, you can make sure that your writing and your family get taken care of first and that everything else—errands, chores, phone calls, your blog—are stuffed into the time left over, or put off, or even hired out.

2. They keep your sights high. I make a list of ambitious writing goals for every new year and post it on my wall. I write faster and more efficiently and get much more writing done when I have that list of projects to remind me of what I need to accomplish by the end of the year. I make similar lists at the start of each month.

3. They prevent last-minute panics. You can routinely get writing projects done on or before deadlines by (1) making a list of all the components and subcomponents of the project, (2) figuring out the order in which they need to be done and by when, and (3) assigning deadlines to each task. If you check off each item on the list after you do it, you can make sure you don't overlook anything important.

4. They can help you start a short story or novel. If you write stories that take place in the present in a familiar setting, you may be able to jump right into the writing. As a historical and spec fic writer, I usually have to create or research the setting, the clothes, the manners, and many other things. At least some of that work needs to be done before I can set fingers to keyboard. Many times I've sat down to begin a story, only to realize that I never ordered the research book I needed or that I have no idea what the staple foods were in that time period. Nowadays, when I have a story or novel idea, I make a list of the basics I need to know or possess before I can start writing. That list makes sure that when I sit down to start, I actually can start because I've got everything I need. While writing, I add new things to the list when, for example, the protagonist chooses an occupation I'm unfamiliar with or decides to travel to a climate I've never experienced.

5. They can be a cheap reward. Many years ago, I took recorder lessons from a teacher who put a frog sticker on any piece I played well at my lesson. I was embarrassed at the time at how much pride I took in those frog stickers when I was an adult and should be beyond stickers. Now, I'm beyond being embarrassed. I get a good feeling of accomplishment each time I check off an item on my daily to-do list or on my list of stories to send out or my list of topics to research. I buy sheets of stickers and reward myself with a sticker each time I meet certain goals. It's cheaper, faster, and less caloric than going out for ice cream.

What other ways have you found in which checklists can help your writing?

I'll be blogging at Novel Spaces again on Presidents' Day, February 21. I hope you stay warm and safe from the winter storms until them.

—Shauna Roberts

IT Can Happen - Stay Ready!

My pastor has often says, "Stay ready so you don't have to get ready." And I've believed that, even back when I wrote my first book, I was always ready for that offer from a publisher, that call from an agent, the happenstance meeting with a movie producer whom one might bump into at a mall or at someone's house, ready to give them a one minute pitch, clear and concise, prepared to answer any and all questions, knowing that when you're living your passion, you're more likely to live your dream.

From where I sit, and I'm sure from where she sits as well, author Dominique D. Mensah is living her dream. What a difference a day makes when one day you hear that the well-known author and host of his own nationally-syndicated radio show, Michael Baisden, is selecting a featured author and his/her book to be featured during his new weekly segment for the month of February 2011 called The Michael Baisden Book Club - Book of the Week, and then the next day, you find out that you've been selected as the very first author. Monique D. Mensah's book, Inside Rain, is featured this week and from what Monique posted on her FaceBook page, her page and her life are blowing up, as well as her email account and telephone. Also, her kindle sales ranking on both Inside Rain (2010) and Who Is He To You (2009) are now #1 and #2, respectively, in both the Fiction/Drama and Literature and Fiction/Drama categories.

It's great to see this type of thing happen to fellow authors, and I wish we had more opportunities like this that bring exposure to our works. It helps that as a fellow author, Michael Baisden understands the business and the marketing side of publishing, and the mere fact that he started the Book of the Week speaks volumes about his level of caring and support. This week, he's constantly mentioned Monique's name and book title every day, and has posted her website link and interview podcast on his Michael Baisden Live site, and on his FaceBook page, and over the next three weeks he'll do the same for three other authors.

Getting booked on nationally-syndicated radio shows is not easy, yet we know that radio is one of the best avenues to spread the word. At times it seems it's the well known authors who get the most radio promo, but what Michael is doing is he's also looking at new authors, surely some published by mainstream houses and some self-published, like Monique, who can all use a leg up to help spread the word. A book is not worth the paper it's written on if it's sitting on the shelf and no one knows about it.

In Monique D. Mensah's case, it appears a lot of people have read her book and love it. Her book, Inside Rain, has 62 reviews on Amazon.

I wish Monique all the best and want her to know that her amazing opportunity reminds all of us authors that IT can happen if we stay ready. Monique submitted what was required, she has a great website and amazing book videos, and from what I've heard she's an excellent writer and editor.

All of this to say that yes, we have to stay ready so we don't have to get ready. Getting ready could mean you miss the knock at the door. Monique was ready, and I say to her and all of the authors that will be announced over the next three weeks, your fellow brothers and sisters-in-pen are proud of you. We see you living that dream!

Continue to write on!

You can find out more about Monique, as well as locate links to purchase her books at, and check out Michael Baisden's radio show at

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Video and practice

There is no good reason for a grown man, within bowshot of sixty, to be a level 34 soldier in Borderlands.

Of course I have a good explanation: Our son Anson tore his Achilles tendon and has been bedridden for the past month. Anson is a graphic artist, rehabilitation tech, and middle-school basketball coach who is always on the move; being laid up is purgatory for him. He does not watch TV (except sports), and though he does read graphic novels and sometimes draws or writes, these are relatively passive activities his high-calorie temperament can't abide for long. So the bulk of his time is filled with video games. And spending time with him involves either watching him play or being tutored in how to play.

Anson is a patient instructor, and, because he's an artist and knows I'm a writer, he has no problem at all with me going off-mission to simply wander around the game's world to see everything that went into it.

Okay; just deleted about 800 words and started over.
Predictably, I'd wandered off signal and summarized the games Anson tried to get me interested in before he hit upon Borderlands and the reasons I disliked each of them before remembering I'm supposed to be writing about writing, not reviewing video games. (For those who care, the ones that didn't fit were Fallout III, Fable III, Gears of War, & two versions of Call of Duty.) Of course, I have to explain Borderlands a bit to set the stage for what I'm writing about writing, so bear with me.

Borderlands is a role-playing first-person shooter build around a classic – if not tired – sci-fi scenario: mercenaries surviving by their wits and guns as they search for a fabled treasure on a world populated by corporate soldiers and ex-slaves abandoned by a company that had stripped the world of all its natural resources. There are scavenger hunts, rescues, puzzles, and gunfights. Lots of gunfights. But where most games go for graphic realism, Borderlands is cartoonish, almost campy, in its violence and you never lose sight of the fact the whole premise is just a bit silly.

Each character starts out with inadequate weapons and few skills – part of the game is searching for better equipment and improving yourself through experience points earned by undertaking various missions. For most of the first day I depended on Anson for survival as I flailed wildly about with a revolver or submachinegun. Anson reversed the controls for me – long ago flying taught me back is up and forward is down – and reduced joystick sensitivity until I quit spinning like a top and crashing into things, but it was pretty clear I was the comedic sidekick of the team.

Anson is years ahead of me in video gaming. I knew that if I wanted our game time together to be more than sessions of him being patient with an old guy whose avatar kept walking off cliffs I'd have to do something to bring myself up to his standards. Or at least be less of an embarrassment.

So I set myself a schedule of playing Borderlands solo for one hour every day. Some days I would go on missions. Other days I would practice skills. Can't jump from building to building? Jump, fall, climb the stairs, jump, fall, climb the stairs for twenty minutes until I got the button-and-joystick sequence right. (And no, waving the controller around does not help you jump.) I'm still not where he is – Anson has beaten the game once and is on his second trip through – but by this time next week I'll be good enough that we can take on the expansion packs as a team.

Many years ago I learned – and occasionally have to relearn – that writing is like any other craft. Sometimes you have to sit and practice.
Not happy with your love scenes? Find published ones you like and read them through. Don’t deconstruct each one, but get a sense of what it is that author did that resonates with you. Then write love scenes.
Can't write dialog that flows? Find scenes that sound good to your reader's ear and read them. You do not need to count how many times the word "said" is used (though I'll bet it's as least twice as often as you thought it was) but do notice things like the rhythm, the mix of description and spoken words, the word choices and the sentence fragments. Then write conversations.
Don't like your fight scenes? You know the drill.

My motivation for devoting an hour each day mastering the (most basic) skills of a video game is to be able to play well enough to share an experience he enjoys with my son. To develop my career as a writer, I need to spend the time and put in the effort necessary to master my craft. Even if that means giving myself writing exercises I know will never be published.
It's been a long time since I've done so. I'm thinking it's time I got back to doing that – using part of each day's writing time for a writing exercise aimed at improving my skills. This is hard for a writer to do – we like to think of everything we write being worth money. But a concert pianist practices for hours every day, fully aware that she is not getting paid to do so. She practice to prepare herself so that when she does give a concert, what her audience hears is her very best.

What do you do to ensure your readers see only your best?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not So Fast...

Life is short.

Too short to spend on a mediocre read.

With that in mind, I no longer slog through a book that doesn’t ‘wow’ me. If I’m not hooked in the first 40 (50 at the most) pages, I’m out.

Contest entries are the exception the rule. I read the entire book – no matter what.

I was yawning through an entry yesterday, when BAM! The author hit me with a twist that turned the book around and totally sucked me in. I suddenly understood why the heroine was so pushy and borderline obnoxious. She would need that aggression and more to overcome the huge obstacle the author had thrown at her.

The book kept me up all night, but if it hadn’t been a contest entry I would have tossed it aside at page 40 and missed out on a fantastic read.

The experience has me rethinking how long I’ll give a book before giving up on it.

How many pages do you give a story, before giving up?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ebooks: An End to the Race Debate?

Yesterday on Twitter, there was an interesting conversation under the hashtag #litchat. The topic: White Readers Meet Black Literature. It was spearheaded by the fabulous Carleen Brice who has made it her mission to open the world of black literature to non-black readers.

I suspect I could go through an entire ream of paper printing the pages of discussions I've read on this subject in the years since I started following it, which I'll admit occurred only after I became published. You see, like many who aren't immersed in the publishing world, I didn't realize this was such a huge issue...until I understood how it affected my bottom line. But that's human nature, isn't it? This is also why I think many fellow writers who are not banished to the black section of the book store really cannot understand what this means to those who are.

One moment...I just had to check my calendar to make sure this is 2011, because there's no way I'm using language such as "banished to the black section" in the second decade of the 21st century. But, yes, it is. And, yes, I am. Excuse me while I heave a huge, disappointed sigh.

I had no intention of rehashing this issue yet again. I've written about it before, and it has been discussed ad nauseam by countless bloggers. But as I read through yesterday's Tweets and clicked through some of the links, I stumbled upon an interesting observation. Someone suggested that eBooks will bring an end to the racial segregation that several major book retailers have practiced for years.

Could it be true? Can the death of this unjust practice that has hindered authors for years be a byproduct of the eBook revolution?

To test it, I went to a major eBook retailer's website and searched for "football romances" to see if my football romance would be listed with all the other football romances available to readers. It was. And on the first page.

Does this prove that the race in publishing issue may be coming to an end? I'm not in any way convinced that eBooks will usher in a significant change, but my little experiment did give me a small, single-speck-of-fairy-dust, measure of hope.

What are your thoughts?