Friday, June 26, 2009

Never, Ever Throw Anything Away

Okay, you can throw some things away especially if they get smelly; but I’m thinking about all those journals and diaries you kept as a kid. Come on, I’m sure there are a few readers out there who still have that locked diary containing an entry of that first kiss. Perhaps, many of you keep a journal currently.

Hello, I'm Mary Quast, I'm a romance author and I keep a journal.

I started writing a journal and keeping a diary way back in third grade. Yes, I still have it too. As I grew older, my mom encouraged me to write in a journal. She always stressed the fact my great-great-grandpa kept a journal at the end of the civil war and for many years afterward. His journal has been published and treated as a piece of history. If I had a dime for every time she said, “You never know…” I’d be rich.

Anyways, I kept a journal. I would write poetry, short stories, paste pictures or other’s works I found inspiring into my books. When I became an artist, I kept a journal just for recording ideas and drawings into. I’d even record special lyrics of songs. Some ideas were drawn or written on paper bags or napkins and I would paste the item into the book or rewrite it.

I also enjoyed writing love stories. In high school, my friends would ask me to write a little romantic tale of them with their latest squeeze. Funny, it got to the point where even guys were coming up to me and asking me to write a story for them. (Maybe that’s how I learned to write erotic.) Now my focus in this blog post is to tell you about the journal I kept when I was 16 yrs old and I dragged my best pal with me to spend a summer in England with friends of my parents.

The Godfrey family lived in Leicestershire. Peter was a poet/writer and Audrey was a school teacher. During “down times” when traveling, we’d see people and make up stories about them on the spot. It was a great game! Then we went to London. Keeping in mind this was back in the ‘80’s and Punk was THE thing; I kept my camera ready to capture some photos of London Punks.

Lo and behold, while traveling on the Underground a tasty young punk dressed in black leather stepped onboard. He was a portrait of black and white. Black pants, black jacket, white shirt, black eyeliner, black hair with a stark white stripe like a skunk. I was too busy drooling to take a photo, but he seemed aware of our gaze. When he left the subway, he spoke to us but we couldn’t make out his words. So he gave us a jaunty a salute before disappearing into the crowd.

We spent the rest of our stay working on a story about an American girl falling in love with a London Punk. In my journal I recorded the importance of names, places, industry, and thoughts of the English landscape. Upon returning to Michigan, our memories were soon packed into a box and eventually forgotten. I went to college to be an artist and writer; my friend went to college for media fields and ended up being an editor.

Now, in 1999 my dear hubby purchased a gift set of 80’s music on CD. When I listened to the tunes, recollections of being in England flooded my mind. I quickly retrieved the box of memories and the journal. I laughed as I read the wonderful romance story, but then ideas popped into my head. What if I changed this; did that? I called my friend and she said to run with my ideas. I then called her back at midnight to read the thirty pages I had written longhand in a new journal. She told me to keep running. So I did.

By 2003 I had a 122,283 word manuscript I called “Painted Soul”. At the end of writing this contemporary romance, I fell in love with the secondary characters and decided to give each his own story; thus the birth of the Soul Series.

Vanilla Heart Publishing offered me a contract in 2007. Painted Soul was released May, 2008, Tormented Soul, Feb. 2009 and Lonely Soul, May, 2009.
I’m currently working on two more in the series with ideas for four more. During my first book signing event at Barnes & Noble and seeing my books on the shelves, I took a moment to thank my mom for telling me to never throw a journal away.

My advice to you… never throw a diary or journal away, you just never know.

Now for a little treat, maybe even better than chocolate..
send me an email with "Tasty Sample" in the subject and I will send you the cover and first chapter from the first three Soul Series books. Feel free to check out my blog or website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Author As Matchmaker

Hi, my name is Cassandra Curtis, and I am an incurable matchmaker. If my friends aren't available, I will happily latch onto acquaintances and try to fix them up. The matchmaker gene runs rampant within my family. A victim of my mum's, sisters’, and aunts’ machinations throughout most of my twenties, I do have sympathy for those singles who catch my attention.

Lucky for all concerned, I started writing fiction so I could pursue my genetic disposition, playing creator, and matchmaker with my characters.

I start out very low-tech and use an organic approach. My heroes and heroines develop using profile sheets that I keep in giant 3-ring binders. The basic information is filled out. Age, weight, height, hair, and eye color, married, divorced, if they have children, etc. I may or may not have a name for the character at this point. But when I close my eyes, I see them quite clearly.

The profile sheet helps me keep track of various physical attributes, but it also helps me dig deeper into the character. I become an investigator sifting through facts about my character's life, all in an attempt to answer a seemingly simple yet actually complex question. What makes this hero or heroine worth writing about? What makes them intriguing to a potential reader?

Often as I develop the hero or heroine, their complimentary match appears when I close my eyes and imagine the perfect foil for him or her. More questions crowd my brain. What are the two characters basic beliefs? Are they opposing in some way, creating the possibility for conflict? What things do they have in common? Did the hero come from a big family? Or was he an only child? How does his early childhood and teenage experiences play out in his adult life and how do those formative years impact his relationship with the heroine?

Has the heroine experienced the death of a loved one? A painful divorce? What are his or her core character traits? Do they have a sense of humor? What makes them different from the antagonist (if the story has an antagonist)? What do they use as a coping mechanism against the difficulties in life?

Friendships are important relationships in reality and when we place flesh on the bones of our character, we also should ask who he or she hangs with, if they hold any influence or sway over the main character.

As we continue to build the layers, we might take note of the hero or heroine's hobbies, likes, dislikes, and especially fears.

Another thing I do to delve deeper into my characters is play a game I call Writer's Duel. A few of my fellow romance writing friends and I challenge each other to a duel with scenarios we create. The person challenged must use the main characters from their current work in progress. The rules are 750 words or less, within 48 hours, and keep it PG13. Sometimes we include objects, like a trench coat, a jar of peanut butter, and a ladder. Those items must be incorporated into the scene.

Not only does the Writer's Duel reveal surprises about our heroes and heroines, it also forces writer's block back into the shadows.

Once the character is fleshed out, it's time to take them on a date. I play it out in my mind and take notes. Is he attentive? Does he fumble and act nervous? Does he show his attitude and make like a player? What is her body language during their date? Does she hold his eye contact? Or look shyly away?

Now, sometimes as I flesh out the hero, no heroine steps up and figuratively taps me on the shoulder. So then I have to make my hero do the catwalk. :wink:

I take all the sheets that pertain to the hero and I parade him in front of the heroines already in my binder marked Female Protagonists. Basically—I match make.

Sometimes it is the heroine who must take the parade route past an assortment of my heroes.

I'll actually pair them up and they go on a virtual date. When I say virtual date, what I mean by that is I sit down, write a few paragraphs, and see how the conversation flows, if certain traits come to the fore. I look for chemistry on paper. There are missteps. Like in real life, not every date is a winner. Some heroines go on several 'dates' before they find their hero.

So, the next time you decide to play fictional matchmaker, take your characters on a virtual date first. You might be surprised at what they have to say.

~ About the author ~

A former fine artist, journalist, and instructor, Cassandra Curtis writes paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary erotic romances. Ms. Curtis is also a founding member of the Midnight Moon Café and a member of both the World Romance Writers and Romance Divas.

The third and final installment in her bestselling Shifting Tides ebook series, entitled Soul of The Sea, will be available August 23, 2009 from Amber Heat, an imprint of Amber Quill Press. The complete Shifting Tides trilogy is slated for print release September 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Odd Moments in Collaboration - and a Contest!

Let me tell you a short story. Very short.

Once upon a time, there was a baby writer who wanted a critique partner. After numerous failed attempts, she found one. Hooray! The relationship between the two writers grew, with each coming to appreciate the unique perspective the other brought to the work. For simplicity, we'll call the baby writer Elise (hey! that's me!) and the fantabulous CP Emily (hey! that's my crit partner!) [side note: this is not to say that I haven't had other writers read specific works and make valuable comments and provide excellent feedback - I have. But Em is my go-to gal].

In any case, over the course of a working relationship, Emily and Elise learned to appreciate the specific and unique perspective each brought to the work. And they discovered that they had similar responses to other people's writing, and to ideas about writing. Mostly. So the germ of an idea manifested - hey! Let's do a joint website. That'd be cool. We can each have our own areas, but a joint blog that spreads the work out a bit. Awesome! And so Scorched Sheets was born.

While discussing what we wanted on the site, we hatched a plan (have you noticed I gave up trying to convince you it isn't me? I switched to first person. Bad writer.). Our plan was simple: let's create a new universe and populate it with characters we create together. Then we can set episodic stories in our little universe and make a kind of serial free read. Thus was born our idea for, well, not exactly a Space Opera. More like a Space Soap Opera.

It's an odd thing, sharing your mental space with someone in a collaboration. Odd, but good. Em is much more precise, more terse with her prose than I am. She helps tone my purple prose down to a liveable lavender. I, on the other hand, am a freak about world building. I mean spreadsheets and diagrams and powerpoint presentations kind of freak. It's a little scary. But, it does keep us from making mondo inconsistency errors.

We each write episodes in real time on google documents, so the other can read, make suggestions, and point out any issues. Some entries are truly joint efforts, so we had to make a joint signature tag for that (okay - plug for Celia Kyle, who designed scorchedsheets. She did a great job and was really nice about going back and fixing things we broke after the site went live).

Anyway, you probably want me to get to the good part. You know, the contest part. So, I'll skip to the end of this little story. The GMS Mercy serial on our site is the product of all this collaboration and mucking about in each other's writing. We think it's pretty darned spiffy. And we want you to read it. So.... here's the contest: Go to Read the Mercy stuff (by the way, some episodes are NOT work safe, so be aware of that). Come back here and tell me what your favorite episode of Mercy is and why. On Monday (I want you to have plenty of time to read and enjoy our little universe), I'll come back and pick a winner from the comments. The winner will be chosen randomly from all valid entries (i.e., those who name their fave and why it's most coolio), likely by my five year old daughter (random!). What will you win? A copy of my release Dining In and the winner's choice of an e-book by Emily Ryan-Davis (her releases are listed on the site under her section). Good luck, and I look forward to seeing what you think of Mercy.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Anyway, when I was growing up, we had an old black and white television with a pair of rabbit ears that could pull in two stations. Less if there was a lot bad weather in the area. So I buried myself in books. I loved fantasies like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As I grew up, while I continued my love of fantasies, I fell in love with Victoria Holt’s dark and gothic novels. My mother didn’t really approve of them, she’d rather I read something more … literary. But I loved how the heroine had to overcome obstacles like her faithful nanny poisoning her. Or the possibility that the hero was trying to kill her.

When I moved out from home and could indulge in my love of romances without feeling like I had to hide my books from my mom, I discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss. I read everything of hers I could get my hands on. Then I haunted bookstores and libraries and found other authors that wrote similar stories. That's when romances began opening the bedroom door just a crack.

About three or four years ago, I bought my first e-book – Kate Pearce’s Antonia’s Bargain, which led me to buy her Eden’s Pleasure. (They were written and released in the reverse order, but it didn’t matter to me.) I was hooked. I loved that the bedroom door was left wide open. That the heroine wasn’t stuck to the normal sexual standards of keeping both feet firmly on the floor. That she could be sexually adventurous, and yet still virtuous. (I know, it sounds weird, but Kate manages it spectacularly in Antonia’s Bargain, and it’s what I try to emulate in my own writing.)

I love how romances can create flawed characters, with great internal conflicts, and still have a happy-ever-after ending. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea, I’ve been married for 31 years to a man I adore. But there’s something satisfying about curling up with a book at the end of the day and losing yourself in the story, reading how someone else overcomes adversity and finds true love. It gives me that little push when I’m having a bad day of my own, let's me forget my own troubles. And if there’s great sex involved? Well, that doesn’t hurt either. As my hubby can testify. ;)

That's why writing a character like Sam Watson, from my latest release Personal Protection, was so fun to play with. He had such a past that I could torture him with. You see, Sam's a big strong bodyguard who has built up his company from the ground up and turned it in one of the most successful ones on the eastern seaboard. He's one of those guys that everyone knows, everyone envies, who is surrounded by friends, and yet, there's a part of him that is incredibly lonely. He doesn't show it to many people, but when the heroine, Rosie, discovers it, and discovers why, she has to make a decision. Actually, she forces him to make a decision. One he doesn't want to face.

If you'd like to read an excerpt, you can find one here. You can also find outtakes and more excerpts on my blog.

Oh, and I'll give you special advance notice - join my mailing list, and you'll get an extra chance to win goodies during next month's Birthday Bash. Check back on my blog for details on June 25th - first contest will be held on June 26th when Jaci Burton visits.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Funny bones and stuff

Everyone does not have a funny bone. It's true. There are people who are not funny at all.

So where does funny come from? There is not a milestone on a child's growth chart saying YOU ARE NOW FUNNY. There isn't a class you can take. There is no Humor Masters degree or PhD. You can't buy it. There is no bar code for humor. Funny parents can have unfunny kids. Boring parents can have funny kids. It is not genetic. So, where do you get funny from?

I have no freaking idea.

I don't. I didn't have some horrible childhood I needed to escape from(I am the only girl and had to clean the bathroom after boys, does that count?). There is no deep tragedy in my past that would warp my brain patterns just so(there is that Oscar Mayer hot dog thing, hmmm). I don't even have six fingers or weird ears that made me the laughing stock(So I made my husband propose before he saw my feet, big deal!!). I wasn't a class clown (I never ever imitated Ms. Shaffer's duck walk *quack*).

*sigh* Comedic failure.

Or not.

I am a wee bit funny little bit. At least, sometimes. I had this funny little thought. It grew. Like a seed that sprouted and grew massive honking leaves! I think it was all the bullsh*t I fertilized it with myself. Anyway, I wrote this tale down. A looooooooooooong time ago. Like, long time. Like Neon sweatshirts slopping over one shoulder long time ago.

And like any good writer... I stuck it in a box and forgot about it.


So anyway, I kept writing bcause, honestly, I talk enough that most people stop listening and I needed someone to converse with. So I made people up. Grown up imaginary friends. (please, don't sit there, that is Freida's seat, she is standing right there, for gawd's sake!!)

My husband, poor brave man that he is, asked me one day why I never did anything with them. Well duh!! They are INVISIBLE!! But he meant the stories.


I dunno, I just thought it was me being... me. Goofy. But he started me thinking about something, a dream I had a long time ago, shoved in that box with that story. I wanted to be a writer. So I dug it out. And decided to type it up. But it needed polishing. And well, it is not that boxed up tale anymore. In fact, It is so different it is like mayo compared to... uhm... chocolate. There that works as a comparison.

I wasn't sure I could do anything with it but what the hell, falling on my face never stopped me before, right?

I sent it to Samhain Publishing. Well, not really. I meant to. But I attached the wrong damn file to the email. *faceplant* Did I mention I am computer illiterate? I am.

So I tucked tail (tale?hmmm) and begged for a reprieve, to sent the correct file and pleasepleaseplease DO NOT look at that mess attached. You know, the uhm, christmas wish lish for my kids, yeah, that one.

They were very nice and let me send THE RIGHT DAMN FILE.

And OMG, they laughed. They liked it. They wanted to make it into a *gulp* real book.

And they did.

I puked. Mulitple times, by the way.

But it is a real book and I hope it makes YOU laugh!!

Wanna see it? Sure you do. Look!! Up there! (Pretend with me, I am like that annoying Aunt who makes you sit through slides of her Yosemite Trip. See? It's me on a donkey!)

Let me tell you about JINXED. (Here is where you have to go to the bathroom during the slide show and hide out in the kitchen with creepy Uncle Phil until I am done)

JINXED - When opposites attract, they are screwed three ways from Sunday.

Frannie learned the hard way that a McHottie doesn’t always equal marriage material. Besides, she’s happy with her vanilla life. She has friends, a career and a double-D-powered vibrator. Then Fate shoves her, literally, into Prince Charming’s lap. His declaration of love at first sight is cute—and spikes her bullcrap meter into the red zone.

She’s more than willing to give in with her body. But she’s barricaded her heart behind castle walls—and permanently welded the gates shut.

Tragedy taught Jinx that time is too precious to waste, so when a series of uncanny coincidences thrusts Frannie into his life, he holds on tight. He knows she thinks he’s several fries short of a Happy Meal, but he’s determined to breach the fortress around her heart and give her a Happily Ever After.

Even if he has to carry her fanny-first into his kingdom.

WARNING: Includes jelly shoes, a narcoleptic cat, and meatloaf. The steamy sex scenes may lead to fogged windows and wet panties, so proceed at your own risk. Do not attempt to read without the following items: tissues, napkins for spewed beverages, and a booty call on speed dial.

So, there it is, out of the box and polished to a pink frothy goodness. It is funny. It is sad. It is sexy and mostly, it is all mine.

Er, unless you want to buy it. Then it can be all yours, too.

You can visit me here and buy it here and read an excerpt here and Look!! ELVIS here.

Want to win a free copy?(duh Inez, of course they do) Leave me a comment below and I will come back tonight and pick a random commenter for a free download of JINXED!


Thursday, June 4, 2009

In the Mind of a Medieval Warrior

Greetings unto the readers of The Naughty Girls Next Door!

When I began to write Seeking Truth, I knew there would be at least one sword fight and that fight would take place between an honorable knight and baron (my hero, Eaduin) who is in service to King Stephen and a rogue knight with no honor and everything to lose – in short – a villain.

I fretted and worried about this. How could a man of honor fight someone treacherous and not get himself killed due to his sense of chivalry. As I grew closer to the end of the book, I still had no clue how to make this a realistic fight where my villain fights dirty but my hero survives - which is as it should be. This is a romance novel after all.

In order to figure out how to handle this, I went to a group of people I was sure could help me – fighters in the SCA. What’s the SCA you ask? Let me explain.

The acronym SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism. The organization has been around since the 1960s and I’ve been a member for about twelve years. I am not a fighter, but I know quite a few. Some are men-at-arms, some are members of fighting orders, while some are knights. Granted these gentles are modern “knights” but part of their fascination with the Middle Ages is their interest in historical fighting styles, fealty, and the rules of chivalry. I decided if anyone could help me with this dilemma, it was them. So I sent out a call to the group email list of my local barony (a group within the SCA) and I asked them this:

“I'm writing a critical wager of battel/trial by combat between my hero and the villain. The setting is England in 1146 during the reign of King Stephen. I'd like to write this pivotal scene at the climax of the book from the point of view of my hero. This means being inside his helm, but I've never put on armor in my life. I can write this scene from my imagination, but I'd prefer to have insights from fighters.

In the midst of a fight, do you focus only on the other fighter? Do stray thoughts about why you're fighting float through? Are you conscious of the weight of your armor and weapons, or is the adrenaline rush so high you don't notice? Is there anything I haven't asked about that I should know?

This is a fight to the death between a man with nothing to lose (the villain) and everything to lose (the hero). The villain has no honor and will be fighting dirty. My hero must counter the dirty fighting and survive."

With no more information than this, I began to receive private emails from fighters. I can never thank them enough for the wisdom they shared. I appreciate their aid so very much. To get into specifics, they told me how they viewed their opponents, dealt with their armor and so on. I received some very useful information. I learned that a trained fighter doesn’t feel the weight of his armor and weapons. It is a part of him and he’s trained to the weight.

I also learned that if a fighter is tired or wounded you see it in his shield, not his sword. His shield drops below the “proper” location. The more tired he is or the more blood he loses, the more the shield falls, leaving an opening for his opponent to kill him. Blocks get slower and footwork gets sloppy. Fine motor skills for throwing controlled shots is lost and fighters begin to try for powerful simple shots to end things quickly. I read all of this and thought…WOW. I can use this! Until it was explained to me, I didn’t really get it or understand how combat worked. Because of these sage words, I was able to use this in the fight scene I wrote to make it more authentic.

Absolutely everything I learned from the fighters helped me write a stronger scene, but most of the responses addressed the logistics of the fighting. I was still stymied about how a man of honor could face a man without honor. Other than the typical, kill or be killed thing, I didn’t know how to handle this. I needed to hear about a knight’s “world view,” so I genuinely understood how Eaduin would behave. One SCA gentle, Sir Angus, addressed exactly what I needed to hear in a way that I could really understand in his missive to me. He said:

“A knight swears to defend the innocent and protect the defenseless. We do not swear to be kind and merciful to our foe. At least during the fight when he is armed and dangerous. When he is helpless and injured that would be different. The sword has two edges. One delivers the kings justice, one edge cuts to the truth of the matter. The scabbard counsels mercy. Counsels, not requires or demands, or even promises. In other words, if the dog must be killed, a knight is the man to put it down. So when the fighting gets dirty, your hero should feel free to end the fight as quickly and as deadly as possible. Depending on what you are planning on having as a dirty technique, my responses might differ. If you want to run some of the techniques by me, I would love to ponder how I would honorably deal with them.”

I thanked him for his words of wisdom via email and when I next had the chance to see him in person I thanked him again. Finally I got it. I understood how Eaduin would view this critical fight. I felt my mind fit with his. It’s the knight’s job to put down a rabid animal and Eaduin was the knight for the job. Sir Angus, your words made such a difference. I was able to employ what I learned from your fellows to make the fight feel “real” but what I learned from YOU allowed me to make my hero real, not only to me but to my readers. In modern parlance, you totally rock!

So if you, my fellow writers, need to get into the mind of your hero then look for others who can help get you there. Books are great, but talking to real people is even better.

If you write historical romance set during the Middle Ages or Renaissance, seek out your local SCA. They can help you get inside the time period. But for those of you who focus your work on other time periods, you aren’t out of luck. By all means, use books but there are many groups of real people out there who re-create the past. Civil War re-enactors are enthusiastic about their time period and devoted to detail. To learn about living on the prairie, find a group known as The Buckskinners who can help you bring the Prairie to life. Visit “Living History” museums like Colonial Williamsburg. Visit battlefields like Gettysburg. Want to bring the World War I or World War II era to life in your books? There are re-enactors for those time periods too.

Anything you can do to make your characters more real to you will make your writing stronger. If your characters are real to you, they’ll live for your readers too.

Useful Links:

Society for Creative Anachronism: – a clearinghouse of information – all time periods:


I'm running a contest today. All commenters will be put into a drawing to win a copy of my book, Seeking Truth. To titillate all of you to encourage you to comment, here's a blurb...

Baron Eaduin Kempe, a man of intense passions, seeks a healer at a nearby abbey. When the abbess introduces convent-raised Lady Vérité de Sauigni, he knows he’s hellbound for desiring her. He wants to tie her to his bed until she sobs with the pleasure of his touch.

Eaduin offers Vérité marriage in exchange for easing the pain of his dying foster mother. Years ago, Vérité secretly watched Baron Eaduin arouse a lover and has dreamed of his touch ever since. She desires him enough to risk exchanging the imprisonment of convent life for that of marriage. On their wedding night, Eaduin craves dominance and Vérité submits with enthusiasm. Each heated encounter thereafter binds them closer together.

When Vérité’s father accuses her of witchcraft because she won’t use her psychic gift of seeing truth to aid him, she begs Eaduin to kill her so she doesn’t suffer. Instead, Eaduin challenges her father to trial by combat, determined to save the woman who owns both his passion and his heart.