Wednesday, July 30, 2014


At their Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas, last week, the Romance Writers of America handed out statues to the winners of the Rita Awards. This was the first year that self-published books could be entered, and, as I reported in my Blog post of May 21, six of the 77 finalists were self-published books.

Although many more finalists were admitted to the categories of Contemporary, Historical and Paranormal, there was only one winner in each of the nine categories. And one of those was self-published. It was Carolyn Crane’s Romantic Suspense novel, OFF THE EDGE. Congratulations, Carolyn, for being one out of nine.

Here’s the complete list:

** Best First novel. THE SWEET SPOT. Laura Drake. Grand Central Publishing, Forever.

** Contemporary Romance. CRAZY THING CALLED LOVE. Molly O’Keefe. Random House, Ballantine

** Erotic Romance. CLAIM ME. J. Kenner. Random House, Bantam.

** Historical Romance. NO GOOD DUKE GOES UNPUNISHED. Sarah MacLean. Harper-Collins, Avon Books

** Inspirational Romance. FIVE DAYS IN SKYE. Carla Loreana. David C. Cook.

** Paranormal Romance. THE FIREBIRD. Susanna Kearsley. Sourcebooks.

** Romance Novella. TAKE ME, COWBOY. Jane Porter. Tule Publishing, Montana Born.

** Romantic Suspense. OFF THE EDGE. Carolyn Crane. Self-Published.

** Short Contemporary Romance. WHY RESIST A REBEL. Leah Ashton. Harlequin, Kiss

As I mentioned last time, Contemporary Romance was the largest category with eighteen finalists. Among them were Nora Roberts, Penguin’s Queen of Romance, Bella Andre, possibly the Queen of self-published romance writers, and Christy Ridgeway, a USA Today best-selling author, who is a member of my own RWA chapter, San Diego. Sorry, Christy, but take some comfort in the fact you had a lot of competition and neither Nora nor Bella won that category either.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


An article in the newspaper recently reported that the film, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, was released twenty-five years ago. In a famous scene, a woman in a restaurant, played by director Rob Reiner’s mother, says, “I’ll have what she’s having,” and became part of our film culture.

Also this year, but fifty years ago, the film, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, based on Harper Lee’s only novel, was released and became one of the most popular films of all time. However, if there was a special, memorable line in it,  I’ve forgotten.

Such movie lines become part of our shared culture, because, hearing them again, we not only remember the words and who said them, but where and when we saw the film, as well as our age and circumstances at the time. Say them, and friends smile and nod.

No. 2. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was the last line spoken by Rhett Butler when he leaves Scarlett O'Hara at the end of 1939‘s GONE WITH THE WIND. Scarlett gets her own last tine, too: “Tomorrow is another day.”

No. 3. CASABLANCA, (1941), gave Rick (Humphrey Bogart) three great lines. Many people think he said, “Play it again, Sam,” but he actually says, “Play it, Sam. Play ’As Time Goes By.’” Later, when he and Ilsa part, he reminds her, “We’ll always have Paris,” and, at the end, as he and Claude Rains go off together, he says, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

No. 4. Bogart got another good line at the end of THE MALTESE FALCON (1942) when, speaking of the black bird, the title subject and the object everyone wanted, he says, “It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”

No. 5. Not all great film lines come at the end. Clint Eastwood made the list with two lines from DIRTY HAPPY (1971): “Do you feel lucky?” and, “Go ahead, make my day.”

No. 6. And who could ever forget Joe E. Brown saying to Jack Lemmon, who has just admitted he’s a man, “Well, nobody’s perfect,” in 1959's SOME LIKE IT HOT? A great last line.

If you remember other lines from films, please share them in the comments. And if you didn’t see any of the films I mentioned, you have a treat in store for you if you catch them on television or borrow them from Netflix.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


The following was a speech I gave to a new writers' club several years ago. Recently, I had reason to look it up, and I think the information is still valuable.

There are three secrets to becoming a writer. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. Seriously, I'm going to give you seven rules that I try to follow. There are probably more but if you're just beginning a writing career, these will help.

Rule No. 1.  Read a lot. Every fiction writer I know was an avid reader early in life. We loved stories. From there we progressed--sometimes early, sometimes late--to wanting to tell our own stories. Successful non-fiction writers have always had an urge to share information, or just tell somebody else what to do. Read anything and everything, but especially read the kind of stuff you want to write. You’ll learn from it too.
My first stories were written when I was still in grade school, along with some really bad poetry and thirteen chapters of a novel about a girl whose parents were wealthier than the Rockefellers (Well, Bill Gates wasn't born yet.). We were poor, so  I guess that was wishful thinking.
I was published in my high school paper and yearbook. I also sent my short stories to national magazines and, although none of those were published, I got a few promising letters from editors.

Rule No. 2.  A writer writes. Even if it doesn't get published you'll learn something from it. Have you heard the expression, “practice makes perfect”? I've got news for you: it's true. And, if not perfect, at least it gets better. Plus, it's out there. You can't be published if you don't put the seat of the pants on the seat of the chair, use your pencil, your pen, your typewriter or your computer. A famous writer said, “It's easy. Just sit in front of the paper and open up a vein.”
As for me, a few years after I married my husband, I acquired an IBM Selectric typewriter and went back to writing. I enrolled in a class taught by a local woman. She had us write down the premise to a short story. You know what a premise is. That's a sentence which describes the plot. For instance, the premise for Gone With the Wind might be: “Southern woman, in love with the wrong man, survives the Civil War, and loses the right man just as she realizes she really loves him.”
My premise was about a married woman with three small children, who has an accident which leaves her unable to care for her family, so she tells her husband to divorce her and marry someone else. The writing teacher said that was unbelievable. No woman would do that. I said, "That really happened. My aunt told me about it." And she said, "Yeah, but you know truth is stranger than fiction." And then she said the magic words, "Let it be a challenge to you, make it believable." So I wrote the story and I must have made it believable because it sold the first time out.
That thrilled me, and I thought my career was launched. But I didn't sell another thing for ten years. However, I kept writing, attended classes, workshops and conferences, subscribed to writers magazines and read books on writing.

Rule No. 3.  Learn your craft. It constantly amazes me how many people want to write who have never subscribed to a writing magazine, never read a book on writing, never attended a class, or workshop or conference.
I'm at a party and someone asks “What do you do?” and I say, “I'm a writer.” And they say, “I'm going to write a book some day.” Really? If I had answered, “I'm an architect,” would they have said, “I'm going to design a building some day”?
The reason they do that is because we all learned how to write in school. We wrote themes and book reports and even theses in college. Okay, maybe if you got a good grade on your college thesis you might some day write a non-fiction article or book. But fiction is a different skill. You have to learn how to do it.
In 1980 I joined a workshop and discovered everyone was writing romance novels. I had never read one, so I borrowed a few and read them and said, "I can do that." Of course, it's not as easy as it looks, but, because I actually read those books and saw how they were constructed, I finally won a contest in 1985 and my first romance novel was published in 1986, the same year as my non-fiction book Wall Street on $20 a Month, "How to profit from an investment club," was published by John Wiley & Sons.
Another nine years went by. By then I was selling articles and stories to magazines, and was asked to ghost-write three books. So I made enough money to support my habit. Not enough to live on, but it bought paper and stamps. I wrote two 30-minute radio plays which were produced by American Radio Theatre, and I wrote both a stage play and a screen play, both of which, so far, nobody wants. However, my one-act plays and short skits were performed by an acting troupe. So I was practicing.

Rule No. 4. Learn the language. Be sure you know correct English grammar, punctuation and spelling. If you're not sure how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary. As for grammar, however, do not - repeat do not - trust your computer grammar software. Those things are not written by experts. Your desk should contain a minimum of four books: a good dictionary, a thesaurus, and books on grammar and punctuation. If you write poetry, a rhyming dictionary helps. And if you write non-rhyming free verse, God help you. I can't.
I was an RWA Golden Heart Finalist and I sold romance novels in 1986, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, and every year since. In 2001 I sold my mainstream novel, Choices, and North by Northeast, my romantic suspense novel, won the San Diego Book Award.

Rule No. 5.  Write what you know. You've heard that before and it's true. Those of you who are writing, or want to write, memoirs, are obviously writing about what you know. Those who are writing fiction can also profit from what they've done and seen.
My novel, Choices is based on the seventeen years I sold my husband's paintings at art shows. North by Northeast takes place on a train tour which we actually took. Another book takes place in Hawaii which I've visited often because we owned two condos on Maui for twenty years. Another takes place on a 52-foot yacht in the Bahamas, and I've been there and done that. Some other books I've published recently take place in Italy, France and Great Britain, all of which I visited. I'm sure you’ve been places and done things that you can write about.
I've always loved mysteries and even my romance novels have elements of intrigue in them. (How else do you keep the lovers apart for 200 pages?) But I've never stolen anything or killed anyone, so how can I write about crime? In that case, it's perfectly acceptable to draw upon what you've read in other novels or in the newspaper or seen on television. It's called research. You can get books which tell you about weapons and poison, police procedures or private investigator techniques. Do your homework. Nowadays editors don't tell you why they rejected your book, so you may never know it was because you made a major “boo boo” and got your facts wrong.
I also write woman-in-jeopardy mysteries like Mary Higgins Clark, and "cozy" mysteries like Agatha Christie. They haven't sold yet but they're out there. In fact, I have eight novels out right now at various publishing houses.
All non-fiction writers will do a lot of research and I recommend you keep track of your sources. Save the article from which you pulled a fact, make a note on a 3 x 5 card of what book you got information from. This can be a life-saver if some editor or reader questions what you've written.

Rule No. 6.  Become observant. This is especially true of fiction writing, but even non-fiction writers need to learn how to “show” a scene. Readers don't have a picture to look at, as they do with films or television, so you must paint one for them.
Keep a journal in which you jot down your impression of things you see, or bits of dialogue, or even character names you may want to use, or future book titles.

Rule No. 7.  Be persistent. Most writers get rejected before they begin to sell, even afterward. Pearl buck's novel, The Good Earth, was rejected 31 times before it sold and then it won the Nobel Prize. Lust for Life was rejected 17 times. Auntie Mame was rejected 16 times. My novel Southern Star was rejected 19 times, was published by Avalon Books and is now an Amazon Montlake Romance. Even after you've published something, you can still get rejected. Every book must stand on its own. Only Stephen King, Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts can sell anything they write. Don't take rejection personally. It might have come from a female editor whose husband just dumped her or a male editor whose ex-wife had the same name as your heroine. Or they had a cold that day or the sun was shining. Just keep going. Do what I do and send a lot of work to editors. When one of my manuscripts is rejected, I can say, “Oh well, there are still seven others.”

Summary. I hope my rules haven't discouraged you, but I must admit there are two bad things about being a writer. As you see, you have to have a thick skin. If you can't handle rejection, forget it. The other bad thing is that you may never make a living at it. A few authors are millionaires, but most writers (and I mean those who actually sell something now and then) make less than you’ll get in Social Security.
Writing can be a lot of work and take up 25 hours a day, but there are three good things about being a writer. (1) You don't need a college degree. (2) It takes your mind off your problems. (Someone said that nothing in life is too terrible for a writer because he can always use it in a book.) and (3) No one needs to know you're over 50 and write in your pajamas.
Personally I intend to write until the day they find me, stone cold, slumped over my computer keyboard. If you want to write--if it's your obsession--then try my seven rules and do it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


The blog posts, the newspaper articles, the letter to Amazon’s CEO (signed by 69 Hachette authors), the petition to readers (signed by over 5000 authors and Amazon customers), are all part of the news going on for many weeks. I hesitated to add my two cents because, first of all, I don’t want to offend any of my readers who publish with Hachette, but also because many others have joined the discussion, and do it better than I ever could.

Since you know I’ve begun self-publishing my backlist as well as newer books, (which is obviously done through Amazon) it won’t surprise you that I signed the petition and hope Amazon and Hachette soon resolve the issue. In my case, long before this began, I’d made up my mind to submit my work (whatever I won’t self-publish) to small presses instead of big publishers like Hachette. I had many reasons even then.

(1) ....I dislike the idea that agents (who reject 95% of the authors who come to them) had the power to keep my books from editors.

(2) ....I disliked the long waiting time between accepting a book and its actual release date.

(3) ....I resented the crappy cover one publisher put on my book and the six-month delay in getting paid my royalties by all of them.

(4) ....I disliked the contract terms such as “life of copyright,”  ”non-compete” clauses, and the difficulty of retaining my rights.

(5) ....Most of all, I resented the fact all the Big-5 publishers added vanity presses to their offerings in order to charge huge fees to new, or naive, authors to publish their books. Especially Penguin Random House which paid $119 million to buy Author Solutions, the worst offender. (They’re being sued.)

(6) ....I hated that Harlequin, the largest romance publisher in the world, got away so long with cheating authors out of ninety percent of their royalties by leasing books to a different Harlequin division. (They’re being sued.)

On Tuesday it was revealed that Amazon was about to make an offer to Hachette to pay its authors one hundred percent of the price of any of their books which are suffering from the dispute, with no money going to either Hachette or Amazon. And, as they did two months ago, when Amazon suggested providing a pool of money for the authors, Hachette again said “no.” As Joe Konrath wrote, “If I were a Hachette author, I’d sue them for refusing to allow me to collect those royalties.”

In my opinion, that put an end to Hachette accusing Amazon of holding authors hostage. The end of pretending only they uphold authors’ best interests. I don’t want big publishers to disappear because I think there’s room for all. But, IMHO, this time, Amazon is right. Thankfully, I’m not suffering and will just continue to write my books and put them out. However, my wish is for a speedy conclusion so other authors suffer less. We’re really all in this together.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


I’ve been living in the desert for ten years now. (OMG, how time flies.) The Coachella Valley is--depending on traffic--one to two hours east of Los Angeles by car. During the winter season, October to March, Hollywood stars spend time here, many in their own second homes, and then go back to L.A. when the temperature rises. The benefit of their presence for the rest of us is that actors, singers and other performers appear on stage in local productions, so we enjoy great entertainment.

In summer, non-celebrities either return to their summer homes in whatever area of the country they originally lived in, such as Boston, Fargo, Minneapolis or Boise. The other choice is to stay in town but take vacations to visit relatives who live in a different climate. Thanks to a family graduation and a family wedding, we escaped some 100-degree days recently by doing that. And might do more of it before the summer is over.

Many residents use the long hiatus to vacation in other places in the country or the world. Pictures in our local Newsletter show visitors to China, Italy, Indonesia, Alaska, Australia, etc. One especially popular state to visit is Hawaii, where the temperature varies little from December to July.

We spent a week in Hawaii a few years ago, and I’m ready to return. Especially since I consider the island of Maui my second home. When my husband and I married, we spent our honeymoon in Honolulu on Oahu, but later we bought a condo, then a second one, on Maui. For the next twenty years, we rented them out for periods ranging from four days to two months, but returned twice a year for a week or two to do maintenance and ensure our guests lacked nothing in the way of amenities.

Besides the income from the rentals, which helped our bottom line, I learned a lot about the islands, much of which shows up in my romance novel, STRANGER IN PARADISE. There’s nothing like being with the one you love in a beautiful, romantic setting, to inspire writing about swimming, surfing, and snorkeling in the fabulously blue Pacific Ocean. To say nothing of passionate kisses on sandy beaches under swaying palm trees. (Wow! I almost swooned just thinking about it.)

Wherever you go, or whatever you do, take along a book or your Kindle and read a romantic novel. I recommend it.