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What I Learned From A Leprechaun…

January 10, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as ,

By Mary Castillo

Last year I dreamt that I was trying to become a leprechaun. I was determined to fit into the green suit coat with a plaid vest, black Pilgrim shoes and knickers. No matter how much I took in the seams and contorted myself to jam my arms into the coat sleeves, the costume was either too tight or too loose. It was only when I woke up that I gave up this primal need to be a leprechaun.

But I couldn’t go back to sleep because I had no idea why I wanted to be a leprechaun. I would’ve had to have grown a beard. When I drifted back to sleep, I realized the dream was telling me that I had been spending way too much time and energy trying to be something I could never be. But first, let me give you some background.

Last year on February 1st, I walked into Barnes & Noble and saw my book on the shelves for the first time. I was living every author’s dream. Cosmopolitan Magazine picked Hot Tamara to be its Red Hot Read for April 2005, I had the honor of speaking to OCC RWA, I was on TV and in the newspaper and I was flown out to Phoenix for a booksigning! But as a writer, I was caught in a nightmare.

In December of 2004, I decided to branch out and try writing a drama about two sisters who never knew the other existed, and a young adult about a teenaged curandera. Even though my fingers bled at the keyboards from writers block, I fought the good fight and finished those suckers. I should’ve seen the signs that these stories would not end so happily ever after. The young adult was rejected by almost every house in New York, even though the New York Daily News touted Hot Tamara as a Hot, Hotter and Hottest Read. Oh, did my ego feel the sting! As for the drama, it was so bad, it will never see the light of the day. Or so I thought.

My agent told me I had some good stuff in that drama, all of which were the comedic relief scenes. The young adult had some great stuff, too. Yep, you guessed it, the comedy bits with my heroine’s pug, Vinyl. Shortly after my leprechaun dream, I came up with a new idea about two best friends – a stay-at-home earth mother and a wild single girl – who switch bodies and have to live each others lives until they can figure out how to go back. When I sat down to write the proposal, I was laughing so hard that I had to type with one hand and wipe away the tears with the other. My agent sold it within twenty-four hours.

Remember that drama I was telling you about? Those sisters, Sela and Dori became the wild Orihuela girls … the kind of girls boys dream about, and good Catholic mothers feared. In their story which I called, “Till Death Do Us Part,” they make a pact at their hoity toity brother’s wedding to see who can land the blue-eyed hottie at the bar. I rallied up some of my buddies – Berta Platas, Sofia Quintero and Lynda Sandoval – to create a fun, sexy anthology of stories about sisters. We sold it by auction within a week.

For 2006, I resolved to stick to my roots as a romantic comedy writer. I’m not a dramatic writer and perhaps I’m not a young adult writer (although that heroine still lingers in the back of my mind so who knows where she’ll end up). But comedy and a hot sex scene are what I do best and by gum, I’m proud! So I urge you to sit back for a moment and think about what you do best as a writer. Okay if you can’t come up with anything, ask your critique partners or look at comments on your work to see where the reader remarked, “good job!” Is it plot, setting, historicals that take place between 1843 and 1845, alpha males … whatever it is, resolve to do it and do it well. Don’t waste time trying to be what you aren’t, or trying to be your favorite author. Trust me, I’ve tried and it isn’t pretty!

Mary Castillo
Author of HOT TAMARA
and soon to be released IN BETWEEN MEN
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Part 2: Things Are Not Fine

January 6, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

A Slice of Orange Blog is pleased to bring you part-two of Susan Squires Blog! For part-one, please scroll down to the preceding blog.

By Susan Squires

I had a great time during the holidays. I connected with friends and relatives, and I got pretty much just what I wanted for Christmas. Which started me thinking. That would not be a great situation for a novel. We want life to be nice to us, but we can’t be nice to our characters.

Because I’ve been knee-deep in contest entries recently as judging season rolls around, I wanted to talk just a bit about conflict. You may remember recently that I advised taking time to think about what each character wants out of a scene. It’s also important in constructing both your book and your scene to have the reader clear on why that character can’t have what they want.

Yep! Your main character can’t get what they want most, or even whatever they want out of a particular scene, for most of the book. If the scene looks like they do get what they want, there has to be an unforeseen outcome or some kind of a mistake which puts that character right back in conflict. Maybe they got what they thought they wanted, but the reader knows better. If they don’t get what they want, take that opportunity to make not getting it have an even worse consequence. Let’s look at an example. Sally wants to have John ask her to take a ride in his new car. He does. But they get in an accident and are stranded miles from town. Or he does, but the reader knows that he’s secretly a rat who will take advantage of her, and she shouldn’t be going anywhere alone with him. Make it worse—he’s a serial killer! Or he’s a great guy but he doesn’t ask her and worse yet, he asks her arch-rival Ann, instead. And they run over her bicycle which is her only transportation to school. And they laugh at her! You get the idea.

So the question you are asking yourself in each scene is “Does my character get what she wants?” The answer is either, “ Yes, but……” or, “No, and furthermore….” It’s hardly ever just “yes.” Until the last scene! Okay, I only put in “hardly ever” because I’m not a believer in rules. But I do believe that if the main character gets exactly what she wants without her having reservations or without the reader feeling that it was a big mistake, you are letting the story tension seriously lapse. If you do that at the end of the chapter, the reader may close the book and never pick it up again. You leave the reader feeling, “Nice, but so what?” instead of being on pins and needles to see what happens next.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the beginning of a book (remember, I’ve been reading a lot of contest entries, and they’re always about the beginning.) Here, setting the conflict has to come as early as you can manage it. I’ve seen lots of entries where the first pages set the stage, and things are just fine. Uh, oh. Setting the stage can work, but the character has got to have some problem. Okay, she may not have been transported to another universe where she will have to save earth from certain destruction by aliens yet, but she’s got issues! They can be internal conflicts, relationship problems, character flaws, something…. but “things are just fine” doesn’t capture a reader’s interest. Start things off in the middle of “not fine,” and go from there.

Going back to the example I gave of character motivation, what the hero and heroine want is, ideally, in conflict. I used The Companion as an example in my last blog, where Ian and Beth both want to return to the life they once knew. He can’t because he’s a vampire and a normal life is denied him, and her father died, forcing her to abandon her life as an itinerant archeologist. Okay, that means each has conflict between what they want and what they can have. But when we find he wants to return to England where she has always been wildly unhappy and she wants to return to North Africa where he suffered as a slave and has vowed never to return, their goals are in conflict with each other as well. Of course, we know that they are more the same than different. It’s what draws them together. And we suspect that during the course of the story, what they want will change, but the idea is to start them off with things, “not being fine.”

So, let’s consciously separate ourselves from our characters. I hope the holidays were everything you wanted and expected, and I hope in 2006 you make your characters suffer until the last possible moment!

Susan Squires
THE COMPANION, May, 2005–St. Martin’s Press
THE HUNGER, October, 2005–St. Martin’s Press
THE BURNING, April, 2006–St. Martin’s Press
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Part 1: Connections

January 5, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as
This is the first part of a two-part blog written by Susan Squires. Look for part two tomorrow!

By Susan Squires

This time of year is contest judging time. Many contests for unpublished writers come out in the fall, and I’ve been reading and judging lots of contest entries. I’ve noticed some particular problems that have to do with the connective tissue of a story. So, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about connections as they have to do with telling a good story.

We all know about creating nice, complex characters. We all try for an engaging plot line that pulls our reader through a story. But it’s good to understand that those issues come together at the nexus of character motivation.

Motivation is what engages your character with the incidents of the plot and moves your story along. If you are writing a book about the discovery of a cure for vampirism (just as a random example, since that’s what I’m doing right now), how might your various vampire characters feel about that? Does everybody think it’s a good idea? If not, why not? And what would they do about it? Voila! Motivation drives the action. Your characters can change what they want. They can want more than one thing at once, though not all things in the same degree. But you have to make what the characters want very clear to the reader at all times, and not let the motivation “drift.” Drifting just confuses a reader. They lose interest.

So how can you keep your character’s motivation from drifting? When I’m beginning a tale, I start with a statement: “All character X wants is…..” and I try filling in the blank. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz wants to go home again. Neo wants to know what The Matrix is. When you do this for your hero and heroine, it’s always nice if they want something wildly conflicting. In The Companion, all Beth wants to do is get back to the life she knows in North Africa and avoid England. All Ian wants to do is get back to the life he knows in England and avoid North Africa. That’s what drives the story, and what I had to keep in mind every time they reacted to something that happened, or when they talked together. Their motivations change during the story, but it required showing that change very clearly, and why they change as well.

That’s okay for the big arc of the story, of course, but these connective motivations occur in each scene as well. Every character comes into a scene carrying an invisible suitcase. That baggage includes who they are, what they believe, what they want to happen in this scene and what just happened to them in the last scene. I see many contest entries where the writer seems to lose the thread of what is in the character’s suitcase. What happens in that case is that the scene lacks direction, or the character’s motivation doesn’t seem real. The dialogue feels “off.” We’ve all read stories (published and unpublished!) where this happens. The heroine’s father has just died and she seems to forget that. Or someone goes into an explanatory discourse in the middle of imminent danger. So take a moment to ask yourself before writing a scene, not “What has to happen in this scene?”, but “What does the character want to happen right now?” “Why?” “How will they feel about what just happened to them in the last scene?” Do this for all the characters, even the minor ones, in your scene. Then write with that in mind. It will help your scene “ring true” both in dialogue and action. By the way, what happened in your scene now gets loaded into the character’s baggage!

When you keep the larger motivational arc in mind, and you pull those characters and their suitcases through each scene, asking what they want and what’s going on in their mind, you are connecting the tissues of your story, and connecting to your reader as well.

Susan Squires
THE COMPANION, May, 2005–St. Martin’s Press
THE HUNGER, October, 2005–St. Martin’s Press
THE BURNING, April, 2006–St. Martin’s Press
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The Man I Didn’t Mention

December 22, 2005 by in category Archives tagged as

By Geralyn Ruane

His name is Bruce, and I didn’t thank him. This past Saturday I received a white rose at OCC because a short story of mine has been accepted for publication. At the podium, I thanked every member of OCC and I thanked my fiancé Ron who sat in the front row and took my picture. But I did not mention Bruce Kluger.

I could not have done it without Bruce, yet I don’t much about him – he has red hair, wrote for Playboy and used to like the Baltimore Colts. But without a doubt, our brief encounter put a spark in my life that wasn’t there before.
Bruce is the editorial assistant for Marlo Thomas, the woman who is publishing my story in her book.

Here’s what happened:
Marlo Thomas is publishing a book of personal short stories called The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2. She was accepting submissions for stories about love and romance up until November 15. I sent in my story “Jane Austen Meets the New York Giants” by e-mail on that Tuesday evening just before midnight New York time. Wednesday morning I got a call from a really nice guy who introduced himself as Bruce Kluger, who worked for Marlo Thomas. He said he really liked my story. Then he said “Unfortunately . . .”

AHHHHH! What, was he just calling to say “Nice try kiddo?” Had I missed the deadline? You mean this wasn’t THE CALL? But I continued listening, as lifeless as a deflated balloon in the gutter.

Unfortunately, he said, my story read too much like a short story, and it needed to read more like a personal essay. Could I re-shape it without losing any of the feeling of the story? I could have until the end of the week. He said he couldn’t even begin to tell me how to go about making such a change, but did I think I could do it? Bruce did offer to help me out by sending me a few of the essays that had already been accepted for publication in the book so I could see what he meant. I hung up the phone with the warm and fuzzy feeling that he wanted me to succeed.

But once I received the essays I was worried. I figured that most of my dialogue had to go – but that was the heartbeat of the story. Yikes! So, I tried to make it more essay-like but I kept a tiny bit of the dialogue. Too much? Too little? Not essay-like enough? I sent off my best effort Thursday afternoon. Bruce e-mailed me Thursday evening. He said he loved what I did, but he’d made some changes – he said he put back in some of his favorite things that I had cut. He put back in the dialogue! I was so happy. He made a few other changes, making it more accessible to those who haven’t memorized Pride and Prejudice. His changes were minimal and beautiful, and he did not step on my toes one little bit. He also wrote that he wanted to make sure Marlo liked it when he sent it to her on Friday. I TOTALLY felt like he was in my corner.

But I did not hear anything Friday morning. Oh, no – Marlo must have hated it! Late Friday afternoon, my fiancé Ron came to pick me up from work. I got in the car and he handed me his cell phone. Bruce had called earlier but hadn’t told Ron the verdict. I dialed. Bruce answered – I was in!!!!!

In fact, when Bruce had called earlier, he and Ron had talked about football for a while then he told Ron the good news but told Ron not to tell me. Ron played his part to perfection and it was indeed Bruce who told me I was published. He said Marlo Thomas’ immediate response to my story had been “Excellent.” I wondered why I hadn’t heard earlier in the day if this response had been so immediate. Then Bruce told me that Marlo Thomas wanted to end the story two paragraphs earlier than I had ended it. Bruce had spent the day fighting for my two paragraphs – he had gone to bat for me. As it turns out, Marlo’s cut made the story even better.

No, Virginia, I don’t think there is a Santa Claus, but there are people out there like Bruce Kluger who are even better. I have been a member of OCC for two and a half years, and I have heard some horror stories about the people in the publishing industry. Were any of you at the Dean Koontz meeting? As a best-selling author, he’s accumulated a bunch of shocking stories about how he’s been treated – AND HE’S DEAN KOONTZ! If a best-selling author can get knocked around, what chance do any of us have? So, sometimes, things can seem pretty dismal, and that maybe things suck over on the published side of the fence. But then there are people are out there like Bruce Kluger and Marlo Thomas. People who respect writing and writers, people who are a joy to work with. Maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe I lucked out. But this much I’m sure of – thanks to Bruce, and the knowledge that people like him exist, I’m not scared anymore.

By Geralyn Ruane
Author of “Jane Austen Meets the New York Giants”
in Marlo Thomas’ book THE RIGHT WORDS AT THE RIGHT TIME, Vol. 2, April 2006
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Making A List

December 20, 2005 by in category Archives tagged as

By Charlotte Maclay

I believe everyone, whatever your age, should have some life goals.

I don’t mean your ordinary New Year’s resolution. Those are nice to have, of course, but everyone knows the diet you start on January 1st lasts until, um, maybe January 2nd. If you work hard at it.

And I don’t mean your goal of selling a book or making the New York Times best seller list, although that’s what a lot of us would like to do. But those are goals that we can work toward but are truly not within our control.

I mean the kind of goal you’d think about when you’re lying there on your death bed and saying to yourself, “Darn, I wish I had. . .”

There are just some things in life you want to do. If you don’t think about them and write them down, time will slip by. You’ll be too busy, too old, too infirm, too caught up with job, family and day-to-day obligations until finally you’ll find your chance to experience that particular dream has passed you by.

I learned this from my daughter, who had thyroid cancer. (She’s fine now, thank goodness!) Apparently when the big “C” rears it’s frightening head, it starts you to thinking about your life and what you want to do. Mind you, her life goals are way different than mine. Her first, which she celebrated on her 30th birthday, was to do a bungee jump. (She was thoughtful enough not to tell me ahead of time so I wouldn’t worry.)

Her next goal, accomplished in honor of her 35th birthday, was to climb the back side of Half Dome in Yosemite, no small accomplishment. (You can see a pattern here, right? Unlike her mom, she’s always been a jock.) Her most recent celebration had her jumping (safely, thank God!) out of an airplane!

Needless to say, my goals are somewhat less strenuous, though no less exciting for me.

As I was driving on the freeway to an Orange County RWA chapter meeting about a year ago, my career in the doldrums, when I decided I needed a new life goal. Within about a hundred feet (which can take a long time on the 91 Freeway), I realized I’d always wanted to be a standup comedienne. (It’s something about how I’ve always admired Carol Burnett.)

That afternoon when I returned home, I googled standup comedy classes. To my delight (the fates were clearly on my side), I found one starting the next day no more than five minutes from my house. It turned out learning to write jokes is an amazing art, almost like writing poetry, and it’s harder than it looks. Since that time I’ve had standup gigs for alumnae meetings, senior citizen homes, women’s clubs and writing groups. I’ve even been paid a time or two.

It’s not that I want to make a career of being a standup comic. Heck, I can’t even stay up late enough to watch the Jay Leno show. But, by golly, I’ve achieved a life goal and had fun doing it. (If you’re interested in my jokes, check my Web site at We’ll change the jokes often. I’ll also be teaching an online joke-writing class in September 2006.)

More recently it occurred to me that I’d never ridden on a motorcycle. Clearly, I had a deprived youth. So the husband of my critique partner agreed to help me celebrate my recent birthday (those birthdays that end in “0″ or “5″ are really good occasions to let it all out) by taking me riding on his humongous Harley. What fun! And it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. (Maybe I should have given that motorcycle crowd in high school a closer look.)

I’ve been very fortunate in my life, so there is not much I haven’t done that I wanted to do. But I still have a list.

I’ve seen grizzly bears in the wild, but I’d like to see polar bears too. And I want to hear wolves howling in the wilderness.

Chances are good my goals won’t resemble yours. But that’s okay. You might want to learn to knit, play the piano or be a circus aerialist or clown just for the fun of it.

The point is, you need to sit down with yourself and think about what you’d regret missing out on if that bus barreling down the road suddenly hit you.

Some people advocate you come up with 25 goals. But I say start small. You can always add more later.

Let me know what’s on your list.

by Charlotte Maclay
Make No Promises
Leisure Love Spell, June 2006Romantic Suspense
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