Monday, November 14, 2011

The Most Important Element of Writing

(This blog was originally published at and is replicated here.)


I attended a great writers’ conference this past weekend, with a lot of workshops on craft and industry. I LOVED the one about how to use myth as a basis for a book. I sat through workshops about plot and characterization, and learned for two days non-stop. The energy of a couple of hundred writers in one place is amazing.

I feel like my batteries have been recharged. So much energy and creativity all around me! So, perhaps not surprisingly, I began thinking about possibly teaching a workshop at the next conference. But try as I might, I couldn’t think of topic that others haven’t covered already, and covered much better than I ever could. Which lead me to the question: WHAT MADE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN MY WRITER’S CAREER SO FAR?

I’m nearing 30 published romantic suspense novels now, for sure I have discovered a secret or two to writerly success along the way, right? But the truth is, when I really thought about it, it didn’t come down to any brilliant talent or insight or discovered formula. The most important thing had little to do with me, in fact. What became quickly apparent as I thought about this is that it’s all about the readers.

It’s so easy to get distracted by craft and industry, workshops and how-to books, trends and submission guidelines; but here is the thing: Once you reach a certain level of competency and write enjoyable stories, it’s all about the readers.
I have the best readers in the world. I love my readers. They are caring, and funny and smart. I love keeping in touch with them. Readers are not some fickle faceless mass out there that certain marketing people would have you believe. Some of my readers have medical issues, and I keep in touch to see how they’re coming along. I know about their grandkids, what their grandkids got for Christmas. I’ve received mail from soldiers overseas, grandmothers thousands of miles from me, and even inmates from prison.

Readers care. They care about books as passionately as we authors do. They care about authors, too. Readers are forgiving. They will stick with you even if you have an off book. They’ll stick with you long after the publisher decided that your books are not marketable and you move to a small press or self-publish. They’ll email years after a series came out and ask what the characters are doing now. And to your readers, you can admit that, yes, Alex and Nicola are going on with their lives and raising their kids, because they are real in your head as well—a discussion you couldn’t have with your family, for example, without the risk of them having you committed.

Readers will have your back. I just released a new romantic suspense novella, WARRIOR AGENT. This is the time when I need to be on the Internet 24/7 to promote my new release. But we’re moving, and our cable guy never showed, so we had to reschedule, which means I won’t have Internet access for 2 weeks. At the absolute worse time. I posted about this on my Facebook, and my readers rallied. They’re Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging about the novella, generously giving me their time, lending a helping hand. I’m truly humbled by the outpouring love and support.

So instead of thinking about all the million things a writer should worry about, I think about my readers when I write. I think about what type of stories they like, how I can craft a hero to fall in love with, a heroine to like, and a plot to transport my readers to another world. I want to entertain them, share stories from my heart. I want to write the paragraph/scene/chapter that will make a reader dash of an email saying how it made them laugh or cry, how much fun they had.
Because when it comes to writing, readers are the most important element, bar none. I truly believe that.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Some excellent thoughts on writing

I'm reading THE FOREST FOR THE TREES from Betsy Lerner. Older book on writing, not a how-to, just general writer's life. She's a lit fiction editor, so not completely applicable to my genre writing, but I did find some gems in the book that I think are worth sharing.

" doesn't really matter if you've got natural talent. Your job is to marshal the talent you do have and find people who believe in your vision."

‎"Great writing is meant to crush us, entertain and move us, return to us to ourselves with some greater understanding of the world and its workings."

"You must give yourself permission to tell. Most important, give up the vain hope that people will like your work. People like vanilla ice cream. Hope that they love your work or hate it. That they find it exquisite or revolting."

"Judging one's own writing is like looking in a mirror. What you tell yourself about what you see in the reflection has far more to do with how you feel about yourself than with how you actually look."

And one more, from J.D. Salinger:

"Some day, there will be a story you want to tell for no better reason than because it matters to you more than any other. You'll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you're keeping everybody happy, and you'll simply write what's real and true. Honest writing always makes people nervous, and they'll think of all kinds of ways to make your life hell. One day, a long time from now you'll cease to care anymore whom you please or what anybody has to say about you. That's when you'll finally produce the work you're capable of."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

improbable things

I’m not an optimist by nature. I really have to work at it. Because it doesn’t come naturally, I set little rules for myself that remind me in a particular situation not to go with my ingrained pessimism, but to operate from the standpoint that improbable things happen every day.

One of my fast rules is not to give up without trying. There are many things each of us wants every day, we sort them into piles of “unlikely to reach” and “likely to reach” and discard the first pile, pursuing only the second. This works great, as it conserves a lot of energy. We simply don’t put time and effort into things that have little chance of succeeding.

But it also means that we let go of a lot of opportunities that might not be as improbable as we think. Optimists will see most things as “likely to reach.” Pessimists will see most things as “unlikely to reach,” and won’t even try, to avoid wasting time and energy and looking foolish.

I recently went through the self-checkout of a major store chain. I asked for $20 back from the machine as I paid. Then promptly forgot to take my $20. I realized this the next day when I opened my wallet and found only a few quarters rolling around on the bottom. Now, I knew I had about as much chance as a helium balloon at a porcupine family reunion. I knew if I went back to ask if anyone turned in a twenty, the checkout person would think I haven’t taken my pills in the morning.

But a rule is a rule. I will not give up without trying. So I went down to the store and asked the checkout person. Yep, she gave me the look. Then she told me to talk to the Customer Service person. I rehashed my story once again, subjecting myself to even more embarrassment. She told me I had to talk to the manager who would tally up the register for the previous day. If anyone turned in my twenty, they’d have a surplus. An hour later, I got my $20 back. “So someone turned in my $20?” I asked, eyes wide, surprised beyond belief. “No.” The manager laughed. “But I’m going to take your word for it.”

So, obviously, I’m going to be a life-long customer at this store. And my pessimistic tendencies were firmly defeated. The best part was that I had a young, impressionable mind with me. (Who thought I was nuts for trying.) I so hope the outcome would make her think about the importance of trying for improbable things.

So here I am, at a crossroads with my writing. For the first time ever, I published two of my novellas myself: GUARDIAN AGENT and AVENGING AGENT. (Not to panic, I will keep writing for Intrigue for as long as they let me.) I was pessimistic. I know a few things about writing, but not much about publishing. I know even less about promotion. What if nobody found the books? But I plowed ahead anyway, because these were stories I wanted to tell, and I’m not allowed to give up without trying. And thanks to my wonderful readers, GUARDIAN AGENT is #20 on amazon’s bestselling romantic suspense list. The whole experience has been humbling. I look at that list every morning before I start the day’s work, to remind myself that improbable things happen every day.

Try it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Ebooks are now outselling print books at both Amazon and B&N. And Amazon has its first 1 million-book author who is a self-published author. Wow. Lot's of interesting news!!!

I'm following all this with lots of hope since my first self-published novel just came out with Kindle last week. GUARDIAN AGENT is an international action thriller/romance that's set in Venice. It's getting great reviews so far. I really hope that will translate to sales.

I have to say, I'm hooked on my Kindle. There's a great rush of authors to ebooks right now. I'm very curious how all this will develop and affect the market place of books.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

slow setups

I just read Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy, and I have to say, she's the master of a leisurely setup. For the first third of her books, I always wonder, Who are all these people? When is some action going to start? Do I have patience for this? Then for the rest of the book I'm completely enthralled and will stay up until 4 a.m. to finish it. (Which I did last night.)

I write short romantic suspense, where the expectation is to have a body on the floor on page one or at least some serious shooting. Action is the name of the game. I LOVE that as a reader, but sometimes feel rushed as a writer. I would love some time to introduce my characters to the readers until they knew my imaginary people well enough to truly care about them when the bullets start flying. Unfortunately, my genre doesn't have that luxury, although it does have many advantages that I do love.

Anyhow, that's exactly what Maeve Binchy does so well. She makes her readers spend time with her characters, so those characters seem like your best friend and family. When something then happens to them, you are utterly outraged and passionately involved, sitting on the edge of your seat until you finish the book and are assured that everything turned out well.

That is a very neat trick I'm going to remember if I ever start writing longer books!