Walking the Line

Ahh...romantic suspense is a tight rope! If your villain is too obvious, your reader isn't happy. If they come out of left field, your reader isn't happy. So you have to find that sweet spot in between. Only thing is, the sweet spot shifts depending on the reader.

I'm going to be upfront with you--not everyone likes every one of my books. Gasp! The horror! I received a five star review this week and a three star review, on the same book. Reading through my reviews I find that one reader said the book kept them on edge, while another reader said it wasn't the nail-biter they were looking for, because they figured out who the killer was early on. One reader said the characters felt very real, another said the opposite. Love the romance, didn't feel the connection between characters. Arghhh! It's enough to drive a poor author crazy! And it's not that one reader doesn't like all of the aspects, like they are a Negative Nelly. One who likes the suspense line, doesn't like the romance. One who likes the romance, doesn't like the suspense.

What I do pride myself in, though, is most of my "bad" reviews still say something like, all-in-all, though, it was an enjoyable read, or, despite missing this or that, it was well-written and the characters were well-developed. It's funny, as an author, to hear different fans say what their favorite book of mine is. One will gush over BLACKOUT, but for another, their favorite is ABANDON ALL HOPE. It's just interesting what the reader brings to the book, and takes out of the book. One example is the three star review I got today was from a reviewer that gave me a five star review on another book a few days ago. She admitted to comparing the two, and they are just way different. BLACKOUT is a contemporary romance with a lot of deep emotion and angst. BETWEEN ROCK AND A HARD PLACE is a romantic suspense, and while it deals with some tough issues, the focus is on the relationship and the case. So you have to ask yourself, what book preceded mine? Where was the reader coming from, what was happening in their lives that might color their perception of your book.

As an author, then, it's hard sometimes to tell what you are doing right, and what your are doing wrong. You have to listen hard to the feedback and if you see something consistent in what readers/reviewers are saying, then you need to take a closer look at that.

For instance, I've had several readers say that my heroine in BETWEEN ROCK AND A HARD PLACE is weak or immature. I want to say, yes, she is. She lost her parents at a young age in a plane crash SHE walked away from. Since that time she has been totally controlled by an overbearing uncle. She hasn't had room to grow, and she is only twenty-four. Know any immature twenty-four-year-olds? That being said, I missed the mark somewhere along the line by not emphasizing these things to my readers. (Again, you walk a hard line with what to tell your readers. Some will say, don't spoon feed things to your readers, they'll get it. Others will say, you have to hit them over the head.)

I also get some flack about my rock stars not being mobbed every place they go. I've written blogs about this before, but I will contend that if you are a star and want to keep under the radar, you can. Sure paparazzi hound certain stars, but have you seen how some stars manage to keep out of the headlines? I understand that readers of this genre normally see a huge emphasis on the star aspect of it. I focus more on the relationship angle. Does that mean I can't throw a little more harassment my rock stars' way? Absolutely not. Readers sometimes want what they are familiar with, what has been presented to them by others as "the life of a rock star." They want their books to be realistic, but their "reality" may be defined by stereotypes. However, although rock stars' lives vary as much as yours and mine do, there are some things they share in common. And if my fictional rock stars are making choices to avoid the media attention, (for instance, wearing disguises, eating at off times, avoiding public areas, all of which my rock stars do) then maybe I need to emphasize that more. (But don't bang them over the head. Got it.)

In some ways, that is what I like about this line of work. If you take it seriously, you are always learning more about your trade, so there are new challenges in every day, in every project. Well, I've talked long enough. I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on the subject. Authors, do you contend with some of the same issues? Or does everyone love all of your books? [If this is true, I don't want to hear it! ;) ] Readers, are there certain things that authors do that really drive you nuts? Have you ever known that a book you read hit you the wrong way, but not because of the strength of the book itself but because of something going on in your life? Please leave a comment, and if I get some good interaction going on I'll give away an e-copy of BETWEEN ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, so you can judge for yourself.

Thanks for reading!

Now, I've got this song running through my head, and I'm going to get it stuck in yours, too, if you dare to click below! ;) 
(What is up with me posting all these country songs lately? I swear I'm a rock girl!)

Okay, just to balance things out, I need to throw a little Ricky Nelson at ya that has to do with the subject, too. Enjoy and have a nice weekend!

Nest Nostalgia ~ Thoughts of Impending Empty-nesting

"Basket style nest". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basket_style_nest.jpg#/media/File:Basket_style_nest.jpg

As many of you know, my triplets are getting ready to leave the nest in just a few weeks to attend the University of Missouri-Columbia, my husband's and my alma mater. So yesterday I had a little wig-out that surprised me. Actually, it wasn't a little wig-out. It was a full-scale, over-the-top, temporary lapse of sanity (those of you who know me well can argue the temporariness). My son was giving me some of the standard teenage attitude and I just exploded on him. Now I keep hearing this song:

When analyzing my actions later, I realized it was a sort of how-dare-you-give-me-attitude-when-I-love-you-so-much-and-I'm-going-to-miss-you-so-much melt down. (See song above.) It was like, "You're already hurting my heart by being such a sweet blessing in my life, how could you double the pain by being such a complete pain in my rear?"

We were in the act of taking apart their bookcase headboards. The pieces of their beds sit in the garage at this moment, waiting for Recycling for Families to come and pick them up, to become a part of a new family's story. When we took them apart I found a lot of interesting things. That one small screwdriver that was the best because it fit perfectly so many times? You know, the one that's been missing for years? Yep, under the bed. Apparently it is what made the holes in the wall. I found a small Quidditch statue of a snitch (Harry Potter reference) and a comb stuck to the footboard with what I thought was gum. When trying to remove it I realized the tri-colored blob could only be one thing--candy corn! Of course I also discovered lots of candy wrappers, feathers from the feather pillow that used to be mine as a child (Mitch bogarted it several years ago), tacks, and coins of various denomination. The initials of someone's seventh grade sweetheart were carved into the wood. In another area they scratched their own name, and also wrote it in ink. (They clearly wanted everyone to know this was THEIR bed!) Inside the handle of a drawer someone had written "hello!" no doubt imagining it being found by someone at a later date and giggling at the thought. 

As I polished the beds and got them ready for their new home I began to think of what they have been a part of. Whispered conversations on Christmas Eve. Moments when the kids laughed until they cried. Homework. That one fight where one of the boys got the other one down and SPIT into his face, saying, "And this is so you won't forget." (What had he been watching? Scarface?) They had witnessed tears after break-ups, been covered in drool, bounced on, and spilled on. The cat had found a friendly sunspot there. They had been little boys when we got those beds. I'd watched them come eye-level with me, and then craned my neck to look up at them. 

I had to leave my bed project and take Mitch to work, but my thoughts continued to wander. They'd probably slept in those beds in footie pajamas. Worked out next to them. Ignored my calls to come down to dinner while sitting on them. Hid there when they knew chores were being handed out. Played their favorite music as they sat on them, drumming their fingers on their pant leg... And that's when I tuned into the music playing on the radio, and it was playing this song:

Although I was alone in my car, I said aloud, "Really?" 

What a beautiful song! And how on point!

God gives us these little gifts, and at first all they are is a mouth demanding to be fed or changed. And still, everything about them is miraculous. Their little eyelashes, the way they breath, hiccup, reach, tiny fists flailing. And when they give that first smile, your heart is so full it hurts and you understand, really understand what it is to be selfless, because you'd do anything to make that other being happy. You love them for 18 years, through Band-aids and Kool-Aid, broken toys and broken hearts, high fevers and high school. Through Hot Wheels and "hot dates," dance classes and class dances, ABCs and A.C.T.s. 

You go from that moment when you leave the hospital with them and think, "They're just letting me take this baby?" to the day you drop them off at college and think, "They're just letting me leave my baby?

But, through all these changes, there is one thing that never changes--your love for them. So kids, keep me in the pocket of your ripped jeans as you head off to Mizzou. You will always be right here with me!

*Sigh.* It's going to be a long August.

The Meaning Of Life ~ You're Welcome!

Recently a young person who was just starting out in the working world said to me—after thinking about being at their job for many years to come—there is no meaning in life. This young person did not have a faith life, so I couldn’t explain it in religious terms. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond. But now I do.

This morning I heard a song that made me think. Now, I am NOT a country music fan. I like some of the more crossover songs, but twang makes me nauseous—no offense to you country people. (I’m sure some of my hard rock would give you a headache.) Still, I was listening to George Strait’s “The Breath You Take.” If you haven’t ever heard this song, I’ll include a link below, but it is about a father being at a son’s baseball game and the son saying, “I thought you had a plane to catch,” and the dad saying, “I did,” but it was important for me to be here, with you (I’m paraphrasing). The next verse talks about the dad being at his son’s first child’s birth and the son saying, “Dad, you didn’t have to come,” and the dad saying, this is where I am supposed to be. The chorus talks about how life is not about the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away. (On a side note, no one knows where this quote originally came from.) 

This got me to thinking. Thinking that I should have come up with this answer when the young person questioned there being a meaning to life. It’s there in our literature, our art, our music, our prayers, perhaps even in our heartbeats. Life is about LOVE.

It’s about loving other people, that’s where we get our meaning. For parents, it is often about the love we have for our children. We do our menial tasks at our jobs to support our families. To make a better life for them.

But that’s not the only way we love. Priests, teachers, nurses, missionaries, social workers…all these people find meaning in loving the people they watch over. For single people, working may be a way to support our love of travel. Whatever you love, or have passion for, that is what gives your life meaning. It may be music. That feeling you get when you listen to a really good song, (whether that be country or rock). ;) For writers, and artists, we find meaning in our desire to create. We feed off it. It is when we feel truly alive. Love, passion, in all its forms, that’s what gives life meaning.

As Strait pointed out, life’s not about the everyday things, like breathing in and out. It’s about those moments that take your breath away. You derive the meaning for everyday tasks—like washing the dishes—by realizing you are doing it for the ones you love. They take your breath away when they say their first words. When they whisper “I love you.” When they graduate from high school and move away to college (sorry, had to throw that in there because that is what my babies are doing!). Or maybe, for you, it’s reaching the top of the mountain and seeing the beautiful scenery below. Or maybe it’s playing electric guitar to an arena full of screaming fans. Maybe it’s just laughing into the wee hours with your best friend, who is spending the night. Those moments that clutch at your heart, bring tears, and make it hard to breath. Those are the moments you live and work for, the moments that give your life meaning.

So, glad I could figure that out for ya! ;) 

What is it for you? What gives your life meaning?

I suppose you could say I think about music too much. I think about how absurd the lyrics really are, if you take them at face value. I think about the emotion behind the words, and start bawling. I think and begin to wonder...has the artist really been done that bad? Or, the reverse, could anyone really be that perfect? Or perhaps, what must have happened to the musician to take them to the place where they wrote this song?

I am graced with a few people in my life who will go with me down this path. My son, Ryan, for instance. And my best friend, Kelly. We will look at songs, turn them upside down, and generally amuse ourselves with them, and sometimes others. Most of the time, though, I think people are annoyed with us, but I'm hoping you are some of the few that "get" us.

For example, the other day I was actually imagining myself in a song, so to speak. The song is "Closing Time" by Semisonic. Here's the video, if you aren't familiar with it.

Now, while this is an American band, from Minneapolis, MN, I like to imagine this song taking place in Ireland. Maybe it's because he says, "finish up your whiskey or beer," like there isn't any other choice of beverage at a bar. Maybe it's because I've been planning a trip there--but I digress. I just feel like this song captures the essence of closing time so well. I hear the bartender squeaking the bar towel around the last few glasses he's washing and stacking them on the shelves. The clink of bottles as he pulls them out, eyeballs the remainder, and restocks whatever is low. And then the dreaded "Last call for alcohol!" shout is greeted by a chorus of moans.

"What? No, man! I'm having fun. I don't want to go home."

To which he snaps, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." LOVE THAT LINE! "So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits, I hope you have found a friend." Isn't that what so many bar patrons are looking for? A "friend" at closing time? And then the "Time for you to go out to..." scratches his head, "the places you will be from." Like he doesn't have a clue, and doesn't really care, where his patrons come from. All he knows is that it's time for them to return there and leave his bar!

And then there is the plaintive chorus of "I know who I want to take me home." You get the feeling that whoever the singer is talking about isn't exactly interested in going home with him. Otherwise he'd be singing, "I know who is going to take me home. I know who is going to take me home. I know who is going to take me home, take me ho-o-ome."

And then there's the smashed philosopher at the end of the bar saying, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." The bartender slings his hand across this dude's shoulder and walks him to the door, shaking his head and saying, "Yeah. Sure. Deep. Whatever. Time to go, man."

I mean, really. Isn't this song perfect? It draws a scene so clearly with very few words. Awesome!

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this first edition of Music Analysis Mondays and will return for more. And remember, as I end this post, that every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. Profound!

Now, confession time. How many of you have been there at closing time? Have been the last few to shuffle out the door, stand on the sidewalk, and decide if you are going out for breakfast, or just home to catch some zzzs. 
Share some of your closing time stories with us! 

How many of my author friends out there have done their own thinking about songs and let them inspire a book? Maybe this song will end up inspiring a scene in one of my upcoming rock books. You never know!

Thanks for joining us, and happy listening! 

~ Interviewing One Smart B*tch ~ Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books ~

Image credit to James Leynse.

First of all, I have to say how honored I am to have Sarah Wendell on my site today. For any of you outside of the romance industry who are unfamiliar with her name, Sarah is one of the co-founders of the review site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, one of the top review sites on the web. I am also convinced that she may be a vampire and never sleep because she’s written two books and co-authored a third, Everything I Know about Love I’ve Learned from Romance Novels, Lighting the Flames, A Hanukkah Story and Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide To Romance Novels. She’s a mother and has appeared on Good Morning, America and The Today Show, among other TV appearances. She’s been quoted in People Magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly. That’s a whole lot of italics, people! In addition, she’s attended and spoken at every major romance convention conceivable. She was also, at the age of five, in the feature film The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, which my husband just informed me also starred Dr. J. Wow! But I’m going to stop fangirling over her now and ask her a few questions.

So, Sarah, I have to say that while researching for this interview, I was surprised by how young you look in your picture. With all that you’ve accomplished, I expected you to be older. Do you get that a lot?

Thank you! I don’t get that often, actually, but I am really bad with numbers and regularly forget how old I am in general. I have to think about it if someone asks me. I’ll be 40 this year (I just counted, heh heh) but I’m having more fun now than I did in my 20s, so whatever my age is, I’m happy.

I have that same problem remembering my age, but I don't think it started until I was over 40, so you've got me beat there. And you look far from 40! I want to just touch on your appearance in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. I know that it doesn’t have much to do with what you are doing now, but most of us will never get the opportunity to be in a movie and are perpetually curious about such things. How did this opportunity come about to begin with? And, since you were so young, how much do you remember about it? Is there a particular actor or actress that impressed you? (The movie starred Flip Wilson, Stockard Channing, Debbie Allen, Jonathan Winters, Meadowlark Lemon, among others.)

LOL, I barely remember any of it. I was about 5 years old, and I’m an extra in the final scene. There was a call for people to come downtown to film a crowd scene. There was a face Coke stand, and my mother told me that I’m the only one who’s looking in the wrong direction because dangnabbit I wanted a Coke, and didn’t understand that it wasn’t real. So there’s a crowd scene where a small girl is looking the opposite way as everyone else, and that’s me. I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning in there somewhere.

I’m so glad I asked that question. That’s really
SBTB has smart 50s-style women decorating its pages.
funny. After this auspicious start, what led you to start up your site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books in 2005?

An email conversation, really. Candy, who co-founded the site with me, was a regular commenter on my personal blog. Eventually we started one of those email conversations that goes on for pages, and ended up talking about how much we both liked romances, how few people understood how truly great they really are, and how tired we were for taking crap from people because we liked to read them. One of us, and I don’t remember who, said, “We should start a blog about romances.” And the other said, “Ok!” I bought the domain and installed the software, she did the first design, aiming to be as screamingly pink and NSFW as possible, and off we went.

And for those of you who are as ignorant as me, all four of you, NSFW means Not Suitable For Work. What is the most challenging part of your role on SBTB?

I’m enormously blessed and adore my job, and I love being self employed. Often the challenges are the fun parts, like thinking of a really funny idea to share or a new way to connect readers to the books they love. That’s our goal, really: connecting romance readers with one another, and with the books they want to read. So the challenging part is making sure we do that as best we can every day. And that’s also the fun part, too!

Can you think of any points in your career where you felt rewarded for having faced the above challenges?

Every time I hear back from a reader that a recommendation worked, that they loved a book that was suggested for them on the site, it’s a lovely feeling. Romance readers are often very isolated and unwilling to talk about their love of romance fiction, so when I receive an email messages that says, “I just found your site and where have you BEEN all my life?” I feel so happy. Knowing that we’ve created an enthusiastic and welcoming community is the best reward.

What would be your best piece of advice you would give to an up and coming romance writer? I saw your answer to this question on a video on Amazon, but I wonder if you’d share it here as well. What about a novice blogger?

This past December I self-published a Hanukkah novella, Lighting the Flames, inspired by my rule that I’m not allowed to complain about something more than twice without doing something about it. I wanted more Hanukkah romances, so I wrote one, and to my absolute joy, it was well received. I got fan mail! Fan mail from happy readers is the BEST. I don’t know if I’ll self-publish again, but the process has taught me a lot, both as a reviewer and as an author. In both cases, it reaffirmed my belief that speaking up about what you want to read, and what you want to find in the books you read is powerful stuff indeed.

There is so much opportunity, too. It may seem really intimidating to have so many options for publication, but if you’re an aspiring romance writer, don’t give up. I know there are readers looking for new books to read every day. They email me! So don’t stop writing, please!

For bloggers, whatever it is that you’re passionate about when writing and reading will be the most interesting to read about. One of the greatest aspects of interacting with readers online is that there’s always an opportunity to connect with someone who loves what you love just as much as you do. I love reading about what makes another reader excited and passionate about a book, even if I disagree with that reader about that particular story. We haven’t run out of room on the internet yet, and there is always room for more voices talking about the books they read, so please keep talking about books.

And, finally, would you like to let us in on any future projects in the works?

I have a lot of projects I’m working currently. Some, like the Dear Bitches Smart Authors Podcast with Jane from DearAuthor, are weekly projects that keep growing and evolving with each new episode. Others, like the Book Blogger Convention at Romantic Times, are annual instead of weekly, but we plan the discussions and panels in order to respond to what bloggers are looking to learn about, and that’s always changing, too.

Elyse, Carrie, Amanda, RedHeadedGirl and I are discussing, recapping and reviewing more television shows and movies at Smart Bitches now that there are more stories that feature women so prominently and so excellently, like Agent Carter, Outlander, and Jane the Virgin. And as always, we’re reading and reviewing the romances we’re excited and curious about, and talking about all things romance with the lovely people who hang out with us each day.

Thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions. As busy as you are, it says a lot that you were willing to do so for an author you’ve never heard of. I appreciate you sharing your time, talent, and intellect with us today.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you readers Sarah’s blurb for Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels. This is a classic!

Take a dashing hero with a heart of gold and a mullet of awesome. Add a heroine with a bustle and the will to kick major butt. Then include enough contrivances to keep them fighting while getting them alone and possibly without key pieces of clothing, and what do you have? A romance novel. What else? Enough lessons about life, love, and everything in between to help you with your own happily-ever-after.

Lessons like...

•Romance means believing you are worthy of a happy ending

•Learning to tell the prince from the frog

•Real-life romance is still alive and kicking

•No matter how bad it is, at least you haven't been kidnapped by a Scottish duke (probably)

Isn’t that great?

You can find Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels here:


I also recommend watching Sarah’s videos, found about halfway down the page. Her description of a romance novel cover is hysterical (found in second video).

And here’s a smidgen from the blurb
Cover image copyright Simon & Schuster, 2009.
for Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels

With insider advice for writing romances, fun games to discover your inner Viking warrior, and interviews with famous romance authors, Beyond Heaving Bosoms shows that while some romance novels are silly -- maybe even tawdry -- they can also be intelligent, savvy, feminist, and fabulous, just like their readers!

Buy it here: 

And check out this blurb for Lighting the Flames: A Hanukkah Story:

Genevieve and Jeremy have known each other since they were seven, and have been summertime best friends at Camp Meira, a Jewish overnight camp in the mountains. As campers, and then as staff, their friendship was a constant, something neither wanted to change, no matter how tempting those changes might be.

Then, last year, with little warning, Jeremy left camp early. After that summer, Gen left the country on a graduate fellowship.

Now, a little over a year since they were last at Meira, Gen and Jeremy are back together to help run a special Winter Camp during Hanukkah. Any water under the bridge is frozen this time of year, and with so much left unspoken and unexplained, this week may be their chance to rekindle their friendship, or turn it into something new.

It's free on Amazon right now! 


Thank you again, Sarah, and here’s wishing you the best with SBTB and all of your future endeavors.

Thank you for having me! This has been a LOT of fun!

On tour for the next two weeks with Buy the Book Tours! Stop by and say hi!

~ Monday, December 8, 2014 ~

Kristy Centeno {Guest Post}
Romance Me {Spotlight} 

~ Tuesday, December 9, 2014 ~

The Book Review {Spotlight & Review} 

~ Wednesday, December 10, 2014 ~

Tome Tender {Spotlight & Review} 

~ Thursday, December 11, 2014 ~

~ Friday, December 12, 2014 ~

Paranormal Dimensions {Spotlight} 

~ Monday, December 15, 2014 ~

Deal Sharing Aunt {Spotlight}

~ Tuesday, December 16, 2014 ~

Authors’ Cafe {Author Interview} 

~ Wednesday, December 17, 2014 ~

Paranormal Realms {Spotlight} 

~ Thursday, December 18, 2014 ~

Diane’s Book Blog {Author Interview}
Books That Hook {Spotlight & Review} 

~ Friday, December 19, 2014 ~

Christine’s Words {Guest Post}

~ Saturday, December 20, 2014 ~

What Readers Want {Spotlight}