A Slice of Orange



June 3, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as ,

The Going to the Chapel Contest is off to a great start! During our weekend break, A Slice of Orange is bringing you an interview with Charlene Sands. Charlene will be giving an online class on the Top Ten Writing Mistakes beginning June 12th and running through July 9th. You can find out more about the class here.

Charlene Sands remembers how difficult it is to sell that first book. The truth is it’s difficult to sell every book. But it’s easier when you know what not to do. And after 17 novels, she knows what not to do. In her class Top Ten Writing Mistakes, Charlene will discuss mistakes that bog manuscripts down, classic taboos to avoid and common mistakes even experienced writers make. Here she talks about why she never gave up, what she loves about writing romance, and (of course) mistakes!

Q – To what do you attribute your success?

A – My father’s never-say-die attitude and OCC/RWA. The first is self-explanatory and as for OCC/RWA, I’ll always give our chapter credit for being the best, most generous, most informative, friendly place for a serious writer.

Q – When you were just starting out, how did you keep those rejections from getting you down?

A – I love this question. The truth is I did let it get me down – for a day or two – then I’d get good and mad. Determination spurred my creativity. I’d say, okay, they want a story with more emotion – I’ll give them more emotion. Or, okay, they need a stronger conflict then I’ll give them a stronger conflict. There. Take that.

Q – You’re giving an online class on the Top Ten Writing mistakes authors make. Which of those mistakes did you make when you first started out?

A – I’m an expert at making mistakes. I’ve made all of them! That’s why I felt the need to do this class. Newer writers can benefit from learning what bogs a manuscript down, what editors are looking for, what compels a story and how to keep all your ducks in a row. There are lots of hurdles in the way and you have to have your manuscript in top form to reach the finish line.

But to answer your question, the worst mistakes I made had to do with conflict and characterization. Editors want to see a multi-dimensional character, one with strengths, weaknesses and a compelling history. Newer writers often don’t “get” that entirely. None of us have only one goal, one outstanding trait, we’re multi-dimensional people.

Q – In your class you also plan to talk about classic taboos to avoid, yet many authors have successfully broken taboos. What do you think the trick is in successfully writing a taboo in your manuscript?

A – I can only speak of category romance right now, since I’m most experienced in that – but my advice to new writers is DON’T DO IT. Maybe one person in thousands gets that break with a remarkable story, but most writers can’t pull it off. I once tried to have my western heroine be a victim of rape (without even putting in a real-time scene, just as back story) and my editor wouldn’t allow it. They are very attuned to reader expectation and author reputation. Meaning, if I had maybe 50 books under my belt, my readers might have given me license to do it, but my editors didn’t want to take a chance on alienating my newer readership. I wasn’t happy, but I understood. After all, my aim as an author is to build my readership and gain their trust – and you know, the story worked just as well, was just as emotional and was extremely well reviewed without it. I say – a true writer can write a great story without breaking any rules. Why give the editors a reason to reject you?

I do feel differently for single titles. Maybe there’s more room for breaking a rule, like when Susan Elizabeth Phillips wrote about football stars. I happen to love heroes in sports and think it’s very sexy, but remember – that was SEP breaking rules. Not an average, first time out, writer. Save that for later, when you have some clout and editorial backing behind you.

Q – In researching your class, you polled editors. Which mistake did they find the most and/or most frustrating?

A – You’ll have to take the class!

Q – What’s the best advice you ever received?

A – When I spoke of my chances of ever getting published, my dear wise friend Geraldine Sparks told me, “Don’t believe in the odds. Believe in yourself.” That advice stuck like glue.

Q – You write both historical and contemporary. Which is your favorite time period to write? Why?

A – I don’t have a favorite. I like doing them both equally. To date, I’ve done seven of each for Harlequin. With my westerns (the only ones I write are Americana) I have a lot of freedom with the heroine. She can be pure and innocent, or feisty and spirited or both. My heroes are always rugged self-made men and the conflicts are sometimes easier to write. But, contemporaries require less research and take less time and I really do have a good grip on the Desires. I feel I was made to write them.

Q – You’re known for your Western historicals and contemporaries. What is it that so draws you to write about the American west?

A – I have always loved history. My father was an avid historical reader, reading four thick non-fiction historical books a week and then making them come to life with his storytelling abilities. I cherished those times with him. His stories and depictions stayed with me. Ever since, I’ve been very passionate about our country and the great men and women who had a hand in forming our government and our society. Of course, I’m especially of fond of those sexy cowboys, sheriffs and ranchers. Then as a teen I found, Little Joe on Bonanza, Clint Walker on Cheyenne, Ty Hardin on Bronco … you get my meaning. (Big grin here)

Q – Your next book Heiress Beware comes out next month. What did you love about writing it?

A – Heiress Beware is my first continuity. I was invited to do it by Melissa Jeglinski, senior editor at Desire. She writes an amazing bible of plots, conflicts and characters and then twelve authors, one per month, get to make the stories real and the characters come to life. I really loved writing this, because my hero is a small town sheriff who finds a woman suffering amnesia from a blow to her head. The continuities lend to an author’s strengths and mine, I hope, is writing about a sheriff. I contacted a sheriff in Colorado and she, along with my mother-in-law, a one time Texas county deputy sheriff, helped with my research. That part was a lot of fun. I also loved working with the other authors on the project, making sure our characters are true in each book they appear in.

Q – Which is your favorite of your books? Why?

A – I love my upcoming August Desire, Bunking Down with the Boss. It is packed with emotion. I think will stand out as my all-time favorite contemporary. Sam Beaumont is a man drifting, running away from his past, who refuses to forgive himself for the death of his little daughter. Hiding his identity as a high-powered CEO, he comes to work for a lovely widow, whose own child is temporarily living with her grandparents while she gets her livelihood back on track. Both characters are injured emotionally and yet they have a striking physical attraction to each other. The man who wants no family ever again – falls for a single mother with a child the same age as his deceased daughter. Needless to say, the conflict is strong, the emotions are deep and the love that can never be, is almost that.

Q – What do you love about writing romance?

A – The journey that leads us to the happy ending.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning Orange Blossom Newsletter, a contributor to The Writer’s Vibe and hard at work on her next book. For more on Dana and her interview with Charlene Sands, be sure to visit Dana’s blog at: http://thewritersvibe.typepad.com/the_writers_vibe/

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JULIE HURWITZ: Annie’s Calmest Day

June 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

It’s a well-known fact in my family that my cousin, Annie, is slightly neurotic. Okay, she’s more than slightly neurotic, but even Annie acknowledges that she has some odd quirks. When she was in grade school, she was certain she was going to be kidnapped from her home by terrorists. We all attributed her fancifulness to her creativity as an actress.

I saw her first school play performance as Mata Hari in “Little Mary Sunshine,” as she matured through the years and the roles until she blew me (and the critics) away several years ago as Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker” at the Brea Theater.

But it was on June 25, 2005 that she gave her tour-de-force performance.

She got married.

Let me back up to when she got engaged. After her boyfriend, Mark, proposed on bended knee, the next night, the family celebrated with thin-crust pizza and toffee-crunch cheesecake.

Throughout the following weeks, wedding ideas were tossed around, locations considered and many, many bridal magazines were perused. Knowing Annie and her parents (my aunt and uncle), I had no doubt that the final product would be an elegant, classy, warm, and inviting experience. To add to that feeling, Annie asked her cousins (myself, my sister Sally, cousin Holly and cousin Liz) as well as her fiance’s sister to be her bridesmaids.

While the rest of the cousins live in St. Louis, I have lived in Southern California for nearly 20 years, moving here just after college, when Annie was 10 so I felt like an older sister to Annie. And I took my responsibilities seriously, giving her someone to vent with when the details of the wedding started to get too overwhelming. There were several dinners where all I did was eat, nod my head and make appropriate comforting noises.

The venue was decided upon – Ojai Valley Inn. A band was booked, a photographer hired, a videographer hired as well as a florist. The pieces of the wedding were slowly coming together. I was even there when she found the perfect wedding dress. With layers of tulle, the skirt swirled around her feet, making Annie look and feel like a fairy princess.

It truly became a family affair when Annie and Mark honored my father by asking him to perform the wedding ceremony. Little did we know that you could become ordained to perform wedding ceremonies over the Internet. But my father, whose family nickname is “The Rev,” couldn’t have been prouder. And although we all teased him about saying something outrageous and embarrassing at the wedding, we all knew that as the family statesman he would perform a wonderful ceremony.

As the day grew near, the RSVP cards poured in and the room reservations at the Ojai Valley Inn became more and more complicated. But through it all, Annie grew calmer. When her parents grew exasperated with the room coordinator, she simply smiled, waiting for the storm to blow over.

Finally, the weekend of the wedding of the century arrived. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, relatives arrived at LAX and made their way north – out of the traffic of the freeway system, into the sheltered small town of Ojai. By late Friday afternoon, nearly everyone had arrived at the Ojai Valley Inn in time to attend the Rehearsal Dinner. Although the Rehearsal Dinner can traditionally be a time for any and all guests to roast and toast the bride and groom, we had much more toasting than roasting.

For the bride and her bridesmaids, the day of the wedding was planned out. Manicures for each of us followed by a light lunch in her parents’ suite (which served as Bride Headquarters). Annie’s calm was tested several times. From our vantage point on the suite’s balcony, we overlooked the courtyard where the wedding would take place. So we had a birds-eye view as the staff set up for the ceremony. We managed to avert disaster with the placement of the huppah (a traditional Jewish wedding canopy) and avoided the misplacement of several strands of flowers and kumquats.

As the five of us nibbled on guacamole and chips and a Chinese chicken salad, The Mothers burst into the room, turning our calm haven into a whirlwind of activity. Annie’s mother Judy, my mother Bonnie and Liz’ mother Peggy. They had been tramping all over the inn, making sure that everything was being set up properly for the reception. We even learned about their gastrically-challenged lunch of hotdogs and turkey sandwiches they’d gotten off the golf course snack cart.

We shooed The Mothers away for a little while, telling them to come back when they’d calmed down. The dressing process proceeded smoothly with makeup being applied and checked, hair was curled and fluffed and finally the moment came for the bride to don her dress. This resulted in a Dance of Joy between mother and daughter when they realized the wedding dress was everything they’d hoped for. And happy tears all around when the father of the bride saw his baby girl in the dress for the first time.

The ceremony went off without a hitch – my father performed superbly, combining traditional Jewish prayers with traditional Irish prayers, paying homage to both sides. The bride and groom said vows to each other they had written, bringing the entire group – participants and guests – to tears with their heartfelt words.

After the vows had been said, the promises made, the rings exchanged, the groom lifted his right leg and brought his shoe down hard, smashing a wine glass for good luck.

They say that for as long as it takes for the bride and groom to put the pieces of the smashed wine glass back together, that’s how long the marriage will last. There weren’t even shards left of that wine glass – just dust.

After the marriage certificates had been signed and witnessed and the last guest had left the courtyard to walk to the reception, the bride and groom looked at each other, grins splitting their faces. They carefully climbed into their flower-covered golf cart and headed off to a life together.

Julie Hurwitz
Julie Hurwitz has been a member of OCC since 1989, serving in a variety of positions, including Co-President. She is currently the RWA National Chapter Liaison.

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TINA RALPH: At the End of the Day

June 1, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

Today we begin the Going To The Chapel Blog Contest. Every weekday for the month of June, we will post a new story. We have a special judge to select the winner. So please come back everyday and read the blogs! Tina Ralph is launching the contest with her entry–At the End of the Day. Enjoy!

Driving down highway 20 with my best friend beside me, I had to ask the question. “Are we sure, we wouldn’t rather go to the zoo?”

“Nope, we’re going to get you married.” Cathy said with determination.

The sudden sound of extra tread hitting the pavement had us rolling our eyes at each other. Sure enough, the flop, flop, flop, was coming from my car. I pulled to the side of the road.

Was this a sign from God? Should I go to the zoo instead of getting married? Again the question reared up and rode across my mind.

I checked my tire. It had lost its rubber but it wasn’t flat, just a little naked like a bald man’s scalp. In the days before cell phones, we were stuck. I thought about flagging someone down and contemplated putting on my wedding dress to get someone to stop. But a nice man in a small truck saved me from that fiasco. He tried to change the tire, but the damn thing was stuck.

Following us to the gas station, he made sure we were safe and went on his way. An angel put me back on the road to my wedding.

After calling my dad — every girl calls her dad to save her, I was no exception — he came to pick us up. Thrilled to be back on course, I was somewhat surprised, to find I’d arrived before my future husband.
Not to worry, Michael was rarely late.


His one task before coming to our celebrated event was to pick up the cake. You see, I had a simple wedding, outdoors, in Texas, in the month of June. We were only having a little cake and punch after the ceremony–simple, quiet, serene.
Others, granted, had more colorful adjectives to describe that day, but I won’t repeat them.

A phone call informed me of his dilemma. The bakery had given our cake to someone else. My beautiful cake was at another bride’s wedding.

The trip to the zoo was looking very appealing about this time.

My comment to my fiance was, “Get a cake, I don’t care if it’s a ‘Q#!@’ birthday cake.” My mother proceeded to give me a lecture on the use of certain language. I walked out.

The guests began to arrive. I stayed holed up in my aunt’s house, waiting for my future husband to get there with some kind of cake.

Michael, to say the least, was fighting his own battle. I would not have wanted to be the person behind the bakery counter. But the man came through, he got us a cake. Another angel was watching over our shoulder.

Now you may be wondering if I was seriously considering the possibility that someone didn’t want us to get married. And yes, it did cross my mind multiple times, but strangely enough, the harder the problems became, the more my resolve was strengthened.

My mantra became “At the end of the day I will be married.” With my eye on the goal, we overcame the obstacle of leaving our own wedding without a car. Remember, mine still had the bad tire that no one could pry off. My fiance didn’t bring his.

Here, the best man saved us. We left in his car with the maid of honor. We had a great time driving back to Dallas, rehashing and laughing about the events of our day.

This year on June 21st, we’re celebrating our twentieth anniversary. We’ve gone through some tough times and have made many happy memories.

At the end of the day, the route to the chapel led to an incredible adventure with a wonderful man. Now, with two teenage boys, two dogs and a bird, I have a zoo in my own backyard. I couldn’t be happier.

Tina Ralph
OCC/RWA Membership Director

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Joan Johnston – Success Is A Journey

May 31, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

After twenty years, forty-six books and eight New York Times bestsellers, Joan Johnston is a savvy business woman who knows a thing or two about success. Here she shares some of her secrets.

Q – Is there a downside to success? What are the challenges that face you now that you are a success?

A – It’s harder to write with money in the bank. Forty-six books later, it’s difficult to remember the time when if I didn’t finish the book and get the “on acceptance” check I wouldn’t be able to pay the light bill or the car payment or the rent (I couldn’t afford to buy a house). That can be a tremendous impetus to keep the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and be productive.

It’s also harder to write (endure the isolation of writing) now that I’m a happier person. When I started writing I was in an unhappy marriage and had a job I didn’t like. If I went into the closet (literally) to write, I could escape from a life I didn’t particularly like. Eventually, I got out of the marriage and the job (went from being a lawyer to being a college professor, then to writing full-time). At first, writing helped pay the bills. Then it became who I was. I’ve been working for balance ever since.
Things have changed a great deal in the publishing industry, so you really need to be productive (write at least two books a year) to keep your name in the public eye. In the old days (before Nora Roberts proved them wrong), publishers believed you would be “overexposed” if you published more than one book a year. They still believe one hardcover a year is plenty, but they would like to sell that paperback you write as well. That really gives you three books out a year (including the paperback reprint of the hardcover) and maybe four, if they decide to reprint something from your backlist.
Can you write only one book a year and still be successful? Yes. But you’re not going to grow your career very fast, and you may even lose ground. Nowadays, publishers encourage you to write as many books as you can per year. More money for them, more money for you. Of course, less time for you to spend that money…

Q – After so much success, do you feel successful? Do you ever still feel like a hack? Do you ever feel afraid when you start a new book?

A – You never get over feeling afraid that this will be the book where people realize you could never really write. When I go back and read books I published years ago, I’m amazed at how good a read they are. I marvel, did I really write that? Where did I come up with those ideas? How did I know that would make you cry? Make you laugh? Make you empathize so much with the characters? And I wonder how I will ever do it again.
I still have feelings of inadequacy all these years—and books—later, precisely because writing is never easy. It’s always work. It’s always a challenge. New characters, new situations, maybe even a new genre, if I’m being adventuresome. In the back of my mind is a mantra that someone must have put there forty-six books ago—you’re only as good as your most recent book. That’s a lot of pressure to live with, book to book to book. And you’re always trying to write a better book—despite the fact the book you just wrote is the very best book you could write.
But it’s no different than any other creative job, where you can’t quit being creative and hope to stay on top. You have to challenge yourself constantly to do better, to do more, to dig deeper, to find something that pulls your heartstrings and “go for the choke.”

Q – As a bestselling author forty-six novels, do you ever have a problem coming up with new ideas?

A – No. The problem is getting them down on paper in some semblance of what was in your head.

Q – Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did/do you get past it?

A – Yes. Suffered through it for a year (when it made me physically sick to go anywhere near the computer) and went back to work. This happened about ten years ago, in a career that’s now spanned more than twenty years, so anyone with this problem right now should just grit their teeth and keep at it. There are so many excuses to quit writing. You have to want to keep doing it.

Q – There’s a great quote on your website “It isn’t the process. It’s the product.” I love that. But have you noticed if a certain process produces the best results for you? If so, what?

A – I know there are people determined to write 5 or 10 or 12 pages a day—no matter what. I tried writing like that, but it didn’t work for me. I might get 5 pages one day and none the next—because I stopped to think about where I’m going next, and what the long term results of that character’s choice are going to be.
Yes, you can put words on paper and edit them later. But imagine a Y in the road and your character can go left or right. If you need to finish pages and arbitrarily head right, what happens 50 pages later when you realize your character should have gone left? You’re a long, long way from where a person going left at the Y in the road would be.
I think too often writers won’t throw away the fifty pages. So they fake it, make up some explanation for keeping on in the direction they’re going, and end up with a book that’s less strong because of it. I vote for stopping and thinking, even if it means I don’t get a prescribed number of pages written in a day.
I’ve written 50 pages in a day. I’ve written a paragraph in a day. It isn’t how many pages you get done day-to-day, it’s staying focused on the book day-to-day, even if you’re not sitting at the computer to do it. Most of the book is done in my head long before I sit down to write it. So, it isn’t how you get it down on paper—whether it takes you 3 months or 3 years to write the book. It’s the quality of what you have on paper when it’s done.

Q – You say you learned to “go for the choke” and create characters that lived and breathed and tore your heart out. What did you change in your writing that allowed you to do that?

A – It’s not enough to tell what the characters are doing. You need to show the reader what the characters are feeling while they’re doing it.

Q – You started out writing with a six year old and a six month old. Where did you find/make the time to write with them?

A – If you’re determined to write, the time is there. Get up earlier. Stay up later. Write during lunch. Write when the rest of the family is watching TV. Making time is all about wanting to make time. It’s there. It’s how you choose to spend it.

Q – Is it any easier to make that time to write now or does life still get in the way? If so, how?

A – Life is always in the way. My children are grown now—and I’m baby-sitting grandchildren. I’m dating, which takes a lot more time than having a steady significant other. I’m trying to find time to exercise, to read in the thriller genre, to finish the book I’m working on, to sell a house, buy a house, pay the bills. Okay, live a very busy life. Because you write at home, it’s always a challenge to make it a priority. You just have to do it!

Q – On your website you talk of a friend in the business who’s given you invaluable advice on how best to do promotion to help your sales. Can you share any of that advice?

A – I believe in self-promotion, but it’s a full-time job—web site, newsletters, postcards, contests, giveaways. Once you can afford to have someone else take over that responsibility, I’d recommend it.

Q – What are you dying to try next?

A – Thrillers! I’ve always had some sort of mystery or suspense—murders and suicides—in my romantic family sagas. I’d like to do something that’s more keyed to the romantic suspense/suspenseful romance genre.

Q – Can you tell us about your next project?

A – I’m working now on then next book in my Bitter Creek series. It’s the sequel to The Next Mrs. Blackthorne, with continuing characters Kate Grayhawk and Jack McKinley and Breed Grayhawk and a young woman who’s a new character. This book gave me the opportunity to do research in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, including great interviews with the DEA, the Texas Rangers, war veterans from Iraq who are amputees, a private tour of the State Capitol in Austin, and discussions with physical and speech therapists. Does that give you any hints where I’m going? It will be a hardcover when it’s finally done. It doesn’t have a title yet. That’s a first for me. I’ve asked my readers to help, and have gotten a number of suggestions, one of which I’m leaning toward, but which hasn’t yet gotten finally approval in New York.

Q – What’s the best thing about being a writer?

A – Getting paid for doing something I’d be happy to do for free.

Q – Are there any words of inspiration on your computer, in your office or in your mind when you write?

A – “Success is a journey, not a destination.” This framed quote from a friend has sat on my desk for a very long time. It has never meant so much as it does now, when I’ve achieved what most people would call “success” in my field. Becoming a New York Times bestselling author wasn’t the end of the challenges, it’s only the beginning.

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New Contest!

May 21, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

Announcing A Slice of Orange Blog’s new contest, GOING TO THE CHAPEL. We are looking for blogs on the wild, wacky, side-splitting funny or incredibly romantic trip to the chapel.

Maybe you have a passing acquaintance with a real life Bridezilla? Or Groomzilla?
Know a funny story about wedding disasters?
Or a romantic story about a Cinderella wedding?
Or maybe the Cinderella wedding turning into a nightmare, but the simple little wedding in a Las Vegas with the cheesy Elvis impersonator turned into a dream come true?
Know anyone who got to the chapel but their bride or groom didn’t—but they met their real soul mate?
What about overcoming incredible odds to get to the chapel?
Or a story about a couple who has gone to the chapel more than once?
Maybe there was even a ghost at the chapel during your wedding?

We’re writers, so use your imagination and have fun with it! These are the parameters:

Between 250 to 1000 words
May include a picture in Jpeg (no guarantees it will appear in the blog)
Blog can be fiction or non-fiction
Send blogs to Jen Apodaca at Jenapodaca@aol.com

We will select 22 blogs to appear each week day on A Slice of Orange Blog during the month of June 2006. We will have a special judge, most likely an editor to select the winner!

Good luck!

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