Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Several years ago, when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I took a writing class from a woman teacher and met Carole, who became my writing partner for three novels. Since two of them have been sold to publishers and the third is currently being read at a publisher, I consider this a successful collaboration and hope our method will inspire other authors.

Not that I’m encouraging writers to seek out a partner. When our collaboration began it wasn’t because we planned it. The teacher conducted a “workshop” style of class and encouraged writers to read their work aloud and let the other members critique it. This resulted in my learning that Carole, an intelligent well-educated young woman, was a fine writer and had a good command of language. I, on the other hand, excelled in action scenes and lots of dialogue. At about the same time, we both realized our styles complemented each other and might, therefore, be an asset in writing romance novels, which had become popular at the time.

That teacher also introduced us to a larger critique group of about 30 women who met in an unused room at a local Sears department store. All were writing romance novels and some were selling them to Harlequin and other publishers and making money. With my son’s tuition bills a considerable expense, I wanted to do that too. Carole had read some romance novels and I borrowed three of them from her, resulting in my saying, “I can do that.”

I’ve told how I managed to become a romance author elsewhere, so won’t repeat it here. This post is about co-authoring and, inasmuch as Carole and I were rather successful at it, I can suggest some tips to others about how we worked together.

1. Choose someone as much like yourself as possible. Although Carole still had a day job (schoolteacher), we lived in the same town and could get together on weekends or the summer break, so we became friends as well. We both had middle-class backgrounds, were close to the same age, and even each grew up with a sister. Neither of us had sold any of our writing at that time, so we were both “newbies” and open to learning all we could.

2. Respect your partner's talent and style. I soon learned that Carole was a “word” person and I was a “story” person. These were my own descriptions, and I later wrote an article explaining that, which was published in a writers’ magazine. I also used it as the basis of talks I gave to several RWA chapters in California. Carole’s original method was sitting in front of the typewriter, trying to find the perfect word, for the perfect sentence, to put in the perfect paragraph. This could take hours, whereas I could dash off an entire 3000-word story in one day. I called my method “down and dirty.” Sure, it needed rewriting and improving, but that’s where our collaboration came in.

3. The process.  Having decided to write a romance novel, we first “brainstormed” the plot, and sometimes those synopses ran to 15 pages. Then I wrote the first chapter, getting the action going and using plenty of dialogue. Next I handed the pages to Carole and she’d improve the language, add descriptions, and use similes and metaphors that elevated the writing.

4. Work together. This meant discussing what each of us brought to the project and making sure we both agreed with the outcome. Sometimes I thought Carole inserted too many adjectives, and sometimes Carole thought we needed to add more backstory about our characters.

The only serious disagreement we had during one of those sessions was about the attitude of the hero. I had written the scene with him feeling one way, and Carole thought it was unrealistic. We slept on it and then I asked my husband what he would do if he were the hero and he said I was right. At that time, Carole had not yet met the man she married, but she finally agreed with me.

5. Details. As I said earlier, we wrote three books together this way, but then my husband retired and we moved out of the Bay Area. We still kept in touch and - since I had more time to devote to it - I was the person who submitted our books to publishers, and, from time to time, Carole would send me a check to reimburse me for paper, envelopes and postage.

6. Other Rewards. Each of us continued to write our own novels. Carole wrote a historical romance she later had published and I wrote eleven books in the next thirteen years. In addition, when one of our three co-written books was returned, I sometimes rewrote it somewhat, taking advantage of comments by editors or things I was learning through reading writers’ magazines and books, or through classes and critique groups I joined.

I sold seven of my self-written books, and then, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post here, I finally sold the first book Carole and I had written together, SOUTHERN STAR. Avalon Books took it, sent us generous advance checks and then went out of business. However, they sold the company to Amazon and we became Montlake Romance authors.

In addition, thanks to e-mail and compatible computer software, we rewrote our other two novels together to bring them up to date and to satisfy publishers’ requirements. That, as before, was another fulfilling experience.

Carole, too, has written more books on her own. I can’t speak specifically for her about her new methods, but as for me, what I learned while we collaborated obviously made me a better writer. I learned how to write interesting descriptions (I used to hate descriptions) and I found myself enjoying thinking up similes and metaphors to add to my otherwise “plain vanilla” writing. So, in addition to selling the books we wrote together, we established a lasting friendship and continue to write and publish novels.

If you’re thinking about co-authoring, or have it thrust upon you in some way, take our advice and go for it. It might be one of the best moves you ever make.

P.S. If you’ve already done it, tell me about your experience, good or bad, in the comments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


As I said last time, I don’t remember the names and results of all the contests I entered. Although a “Finalist,” not the winner, my favorite contest was the St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Mystery Contest from MacMillan. Considering the prestige of the publisher, even “finalist” elevated my accomplishment in my own eyes.

The “malice domestic” part meant that the suspects to the crime had to be members of the family in which a murder, or other crime, took place. I enjoyed writing about characters who seemed loyal aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings of the victim, and invented nasty things that the amateur sleuth in the story might think they were up to.

I actually submitted my book twice, several years apart, and both results made me a finalist. Some friends suggested I enter it again (the contest is held every year), saying, “Third time’s the charm,” but I haven’t done so.

Instead, the book will become the second in the cozy mystery series for which I’ve signed a contract and hope to see in bookstores in 2016.

Although not technically a contest, I entered both cozy mysteries in Amazon’s Scout program last year. That’s where readers vote for the books they like and believe should be published by Kindle Press. For a time, each of my books was close to being chosen (sort of a “finalist?) but ultimately didn’t make it. I’m planning to submit a different mystery to Scout soon and perhaps that one will.

That’s the thing about contests. You have to enter in order to have a chance of winning. In the case of Kindle Scout, winning a publishing contract means a $1500 advance, royalties of 50% on e-books, return of your rights after five years (not your life plus 70 years) if you’re not satisfied and a mere 45 days from submission to answer. What’s not to like?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The weekly Anne R. Allen Blog is the background for my own blog this week. Anne writes about the Library Journal “Self-E” contest which is what it sounds like: a contest for self-published digital e-books.

There’s no entry fee, but there are prizes for the winners in each of the four categories: Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Aside from the generous prizes, the reason for entering is to make libraries aware of your book so patrons may borrow it and then “discover” you as an author whose other books they might want to read. Google “Library Journal” for details.

During my many years of writing and submitting fiction, I’ve entered many contests, but won (or finaled in) very few. Which, therefore, makes them easy for me to remember.

GOLDEN FIRE. My first published book was the result of a writing contest. Contest submissions were to be the first three chapters or the entire novel, and, since I had only written three chapters, that’s what I submitted. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter stating I was one of the finalists and asking for the rest of the book.

I was ready and willing to finish it, but decided if I didn’t win, it would be a lot of work for nothing. So I asked how many finalists there were and was told, “five.” That didn’t seem like too much competition, and I never started a book - even in those days - without knowing the ending, so I promised to send the entire manuscript. However, I pleaded needing time for “final polish,” and this was the early days of computers, and I was given thirty days. I met the deadline, won first place and publication. The bad news? The prize was a Windjammer cruise which I couldn’t take, and, although the book was published, the company went out of business before paying me royalties. Much later, I rewrote the book, gave it a different title and published it again as a mass-market paperback which, alas, soon disappeared from bookstores.

Years passed and I sold other romance novels. Fortunately, I have forgotten all the other contests I entered without winning, but I felt - still do - that it was a good idea to enter them.

NORTH BY NORTHEAST. Then my husband and I took a trip on a train called The American Orient Express. We started in New Orleans, traveled East to Florida and then up the east coast to Savannah, Charleston and Richmond, ending in Washington D.C. in time for the Cherry Blossom Festival. It was such a fine trip, and I met a fellow writer on board who urged me to write about it, so I did. On a two-week vacation to Hawaii later that year, I took my laptop and every morning I wrote ten pages before we hit the beach. I was living in San Diego county at the time and knew there was a contest there, so I asked my husband to self-publish it for me (a new method at the time) and entered it. It won first prize and I got to put stickers, “Winner of San Diego Book Award” on my print copies. And I can now put “Award Winning Author” on all my books.
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I’ll continue my list next time, but meanwhile would like to hear stories about your foray into the contest world. So, fellow writers, have you entered contests? Won a prize or two? Tell me.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


After all these years, you’d think I’d know which genre is best for me, but it turns out I’ve only now figured it out.

Having an older sister, who started school before I did, I learned to read early and loved reading. One of my grandmothers always gave me a book as a Christmas present, and I haunted the public library. It was four blocks away, but I walked there and carried home as many books as they’d allow someone my age. The one on top of the pile was open so I could read as I walked home. Fortunately traffic was light, so I avoided cars going up and down curbs crossing streets. When they built a new library less than a block from our house, I was in heaven.

I read almost everything, and especially whatever was popular at the time. In other words, mostly mainstream fiction. So, when I began to do my own writing, I leaned toward the types of stories in the mainstream magazines and in best sellers. I even sent my early stories to New York magazine publishers, but never sold any. I didn’t try novels, thinking I’d have to work up to it.

Years passed, life happened, and my big breakthrough came when I took a writing class in the town where I lived and, as a result, was able to join a writing critique group. We were about 30 women who met in a vacant room in a Sears store. Listening to the readings, I learned almost all the others were writing romance novels, and even selling them, but I had never read any. I borrowed three, read them, and decided I could do that. Plus, the income would help with tuition for my son’s private parochial school. I gave myself two years to try, and one year later, I won a romance writing contest. Membership in RWA and sales followed.

However, I still read mainstream novels, as well as my favorite, mysteries. I even wrote mysteries and submitted them to editors, but never clicked. I joined an online mystery critique group to try to learn why, and my writing did improve, but sales didn’t come soon. However, my first mystery will finally be published in November, and I’ve just signed a contract for two cozy mysteries.

The latter happened so surprisingly I realized what had been missing all along: voice. When I wrote in first person and let my humorous side come through, the editor offered the contract after reading only three chapters of one of the two books. I asked why the quick decision, and she said, “When I finished reading the three chapters, I wanted to continue. Your voice, plus the fact you sold so many romance novels and I can trust you to turn in good stories, made it an easy choice.”

Plus, as Joe Konrath often says, ”Luck always plays a part.” Self-publishing and Amazon have given opportunities to thousands of writers. Some of my early romances are leading second lives and adding coffee money to my bank account. The other thing I learned is that it’s never too late for luck, or the right style and genre, to strike.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


The Internet, as you well know, is a treasure trove of information, some useful, some not so much. Others would characterize it, perhaps, as “trivia,” or even, as has been said about self-published books, “a tsunami of crap.” The latter, however, is way too harsh, especially considering the particular information I had looked up, hoping to learn something useful.

Even more harsh, since these were first lines of famous novels by famous people. I mean, can one criticize the work of such luminaries as Tolstoy, Dickens, Twain, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald?

One thing that surprised me - although perhaps it should not have - was that I found lists of 100 Famous First Lines, or 50 Great First Lines, or 30 Memorable First Lines, and the same books showed up on all of them. Again, perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. This is a very good collection of first sentences of popular books, and how many can there really be?

Perhaps some day I’ll write a first line that will show up on such a list. Meanwhile, here are some first lines I’ve written that I’m considering using:

“He was going to have her killed, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.”

     “Exactly an hour and fifteen minutes after taking off from Los Angeles International Airport, First Officer Reg Humboldt felt the strange vibration.”

“Nothing else equaled the excitement of Churchill Downs during the running of the Kentucky Derby.”

“No one murdered Edward Mason. At least I didn't think so.”

Or maybe not. What first Line have you written that you’re happy with and might put on one of your books?

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Reminder: The e-book of my second novella about Sherlock Holmes, THE SIGN OF FIVE, will be free beginning tomorrow for five days.