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Saturday, February 26, 2011

GMC...A Driving Force

GMC...A Driving Force. If that sounds like a new ad for General Motors, you're right, it does. But while GMC may be an acronym for a driving force in the automobile industry, the GMC I'm talking about has absolutely nothing to do with fuel least as far as cars go.

No, the GMC I'm referring to is something totally different. It stands for Goals, Motivation and Conflict, and nothing is more important when it comes to fueling a story. It is the hero/heroine's goals...what they want out of life or where it is they want to be...their motivation for getting to that place and the conflicts, both inner and outer they have to overcome in order to get there. In other words, the fuel that moves a story forward.

Most storylines have some sort of conflict and motivation, but for a story to really grasp the reader it has to be something they can sink their imaginations into, something that grabs hold and doesn't let go.

Many times authors miss the mark simply by not paying enough attention. Goal, Motivation and Conflict...three simple words. But just like the words, I love you, those simple words pack quite a punch, and can often mean the difference between getting the 'call' or instead, getting a rejection. Between having a series where the readers can't wait for the next release, and one that just sits there.

Strong GMC is essential to a character's development. It aids in creating relatable characters, plus it helps keep the pace of a story moving forward...something many editors have told me is one of the things they look for when deciding whether or not to contract a story.

Besides a good story concept to start, I believe GMC is one of the most important factors needed for good writing. What do you think? How do you go about creating GMC in your stories?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Road of Life

I was going to continue where I left off last month but something sad and then wonderful happened. The sad thing happened yesterday. My cousin who was only 57 passed away. His mother called (my Aunt) to let me know. She was upset because this is the third child she has lost.

“I’m not supposed to outlive my children,” she cried.

What could I say? That is a mother’s worst nightmare. Instead I pointed out that she had six children and three may have gone Home (I like that term so much better than passed away or died) but three are still here and they would celebrate her life when the time (hopefully a long ways yet) came. And, when it did, her other three children would meet and help her back Home.

That was yesterday, a time to mourn.

Today was a time to celebrate life in a different way. It wasn’t one to remember but rather one to speculate, to wonder what could be as the possibilities are endless because the choices aren’t made yet. I wasn’t thinking of going Home and that I’d have to wait a lifetime to see my lost loved ones again. Rather the waiting was over and I got to greet a new life: my new grandson Liam David’s first breath, the beginning of his life here on Earth.

What joy! What love! This is what we, as romance writers write about (at least I do), the meeting of two people who overcome insurmountable odds in order to claim and then profess their love and undying devotion? And the result of that devotion: a child, a way we, as humans, live forever. Children are the future of our world so I am always happy when one is born, especially when it’s under bright circumstances as Liam is.

I will shelter him in love, spoil him rotten to the baby core, as that’s my job as grandma. In fact, I wrote a poem when my first grandson, Julian, was born ten years ago. Hard for me to believe that much time has passed but I, of all people, should know time flies! LOL! I wrote one for a boy - and for a girl. So far I’ve only used the boy version (I have 6 grandsons now) but I know I will one day use the girl version. I just have to be patient, my lesson in life it seems. Uhg!

I used the tune of Patty Cake, Patty Cake Baker’s Man.

Patty cake, patty cake, baby boy,

You’re Grandma’s little bundle of joy.

I love ya, and I hug ya and I kiss ya yessiree,

Then I send you home to Momma spoiled as rotten as can be!

As you can see I take this spoiling bit seriously. My Grandparents did it to me, my parent to my children and now it’s my turn. None of us, nor my children, turned out bad so there has to be something to it . . . as long as you temper it with loving guidance.

Sorrow and rejoicing. Ups and downs. Isn’t that what life is all about? I will mourn my cousin but I am joyful of the new life that entered the world today. May there always be a rainbow at the end of any trouble you face, just like there was for me.

Gotta go now. Time to spoil that boy so he smells!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where's the Beef? - Contrast in Writing

Drama is all about contrasts.

I thought about that when considering the fact that two weeks ago we had several inches of snow here in East Texas, and this past week spring has sprung. The daffodils are popping up all over in pastures and along the side of the roads, and people are tilling the soil for spring gardens.

Talk about extremes.

And maybe that is what works best in fiction.

I've never been much for extremes. I've always been a middle of the road kind of person and for the longest time I didn't realize how much that affected my writing. For instance, I have never been comfortable with anger or violence, so it has always been hard for me to let a character really go to an extreme.

That was first pointed out to me when I was writing a film script with a director in New York and there was a scene where two people had to get into a verbal fight. This was a pivotal scene in the couple's relationship, and I took them to the brink, but then backed them off. When I turned those pages over to the director, he looked at me and said, "You call this a fight?"

He then goaded me into a verbal sparring match, and when we were finished, he smiled and said, "Now that's  a fight.."

I learned a lot working with that director. Whenever I would be pulling back in a scene, he would always ask me "Where's the beef?" That was my cue to ratchet it up a notch or two, or three, or four.

I hear his voice when I'm working now, but it still isn't easy for me to let those extremes happen. In my current work in progress, I have a scene where a killer attacks a young woman, and my first attempt to write it was... well, pathetic. So right after I plant my spring garden - which should have been in the ground already - I will go and find the beef.

What do you struggle with most in your writing?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Not Having Sex Is So Sexy

The other day I was kicked back in my redneck recliner and lapping my laptop in total comfort. I was doing more lounging and lapping than actual writing because I was trying to decide what to write for this blog post. I gathered up 2 or 3 ideas and saved them on my hard drive for tonight, when I was slated to write the darned thing, but you know what? None of 'em spoke to me.

Could it be that I wasn't in a redneck recliner kind of mood? Maybe if I sat up then the blog I wanted to write would flow. Nah, that couldn't be it. I do my best writing when I'm reclined and cradling my laptop. And my redneck recliner? It's the bomb. See, I'm blessed with shortness. You know, the quality of being short in the sense that I'm not tall. And the world is not made for the short. At least, furniture isn't. If I sit up on my end of the leather loveseat and try to hold my laptop, my feet don't touch the floor. It's hard to feel like writing romantic stuff when I feel like I should be either sucking my thumb or a giant lollypop. My shortness led to the invention of the redneck recliner. One day my muse was looking around for a way to get me more comfy while I wrote and she spotted one of my seat-cushioned kitchen chairs.

Did I dare? Should I? Yes, I did. I pulled that chair over to the loveseat and found that the seat height of the chair made it just the wee-est bit taller than the loveseat. So, I sat back on the loveseat, propped my feet on the kitchen chair -- and the Redneck Recliner was born. But this time, the recliner wasn't helping. I needed to think about something else so the right blog to write would pop into my fertile little brain. I sat up and put down the laptop and picked up my Sony Reader and hit the "continue reading button."

Then I remembered that I wasn't looking forward to the book as much anymore. I sighed and put the Reader back down. And right then, muse whispered in my ear. Well, she might've screamed at me, but I forgive her. Muse is pretty temperamental and I can be kind of dense. Muse told me to write about why I wasn't looking forward to the rest of the book as much as I looked forward to reading it just last night. You know what made me lose the "I can't wait to get back to it" feeling about this particular book? Last night I got to the part where the hero and the heroine did the down and dirty. Oh, they've still got the big "issue" to work out - there's always a few little ones and at least one big one, right? And I'll finish the book and enjoy it but the rest of it won't be the same. The angst is gone.

Well, that angst is gone. There's bound to be plenty of other angst to go around. None of it comes close to taking the ride towards glory along with the main characters, right inside their skins.

It may build slow or fast. It may simmer to a boil or it may strike like lightning. He may be an old friend or a complete stranger. She may be his best friend's little sister or the one that got away. He may be her guardian or her nemesis. Whatever they were to each other doesn't matter. They may have met a minute ago and not know the other's name or they may have years of history. It doesn't matter. Once it hits, everything will change. They'll never see each other, their family, friends or their world the same way.

The couple won't realize it at first. How could they? Mother Nature is sneaky that way and romance authors, well, they're a wily crew. Writers will take nature's disguise and turn it up and up and up until the couple is so hot and bothered that they can't think straight. They can't do much of anything except feel.

And I really love me some hot and bothered hunks. I love long, vivid descriptions of how much he wants her, how much he needs her. I like to read that he's so turned on that he's hurting with it but the pain is only for her. He can't have her and he can't relieve his torment with anyone else. What's a gorgeously engorged guy to do?

I want him to be struck so silly by desire that he doesn't see the emotion on the other side until long after everyone around him has seen it, named it and told him so. But they're wrong and he's certain of it. He only needs to have her once, just once, and he can get over this. He can get himself back. So all he needs is to figure out a way to have her, all of her - or at least enough to get the job done - without getting his neck trapped in the parson's noose.

If only he could come up with a plan. But that requires thinking. He can't do that well enough anymore to stop making a fool of himself over and over. So he doesn't like other men looking at her, talking to her or, God forbid, dancing with her. He's not jealous. He doesn't do jealousy. All it means is that she's stoked some kind of fire inside him that's burning him alive and he doesn't want another chap getting to her before he does. Yeah, that's all it means.

He'd better get himself tucked between her legs soon because this need, this craving is getting worse. How can it get worse? Impossible, but true. Now the appetite he'd mastered like a maestro was having its vengeance. It had him roasting on a spit, with her twisting and turning him to suit her fancy. He should hate that, would hate it and her but just not yet. Not quite yet. Not until he'd made a meal of her and eaten his way free of the craving that had him so batty that he was starting to believe he wanted much more than just her body.

Once he takes her, she takes him and they take each other, they'll realize that something more is afoot. He'll at least know that once is not enough and they'll both suspect that something's been hiding behind that fire the whole time. And that's fun too - the leap from desire to devotion. I enjoy reading about the hazards and perils of keeping what they've found - after they've figured out that it's going to keep them whether they keep each other or not. If the book has drawn me in this far, then I also want to see the couple vanquish their foe or foes, whether that is another person or an inner enemy. Then, you can darned tootin' bet that I want that happy ending. I better get that happy ending. Not a mysterious ending I have to decipher. Not a hanging thread to lead me into some next book I'll be to peeved to buy. I want an actual happy ending to this story.

I love all of the bits and pieces that make up a romance novel. Every book is different, with as many twists and turns, detours and deviations as there are writers. But within the vast variety of versions I see similarities or conventions that comfort me. The similarities allow me to enjoy the differences. Of all the conventions, the one I enjoy most is the force pulling the hero and heroine together.

That force starts as a curiosity to be explored and grows into magnetism stronger than the will to keep life the same as it's always been. It takes a strong event or occurrence to spur change. In romances, the spur is often the spark that kindles to a flame. It grows until it's a blaze freeing the hero and heroine from what was and making what will be inevitable. I love the heat the way I love a fire on a snowy day. And I hate to see the embers in the fireplace grow cold.

Feeling the blaze grow from inside the hero and heroine is an irresistible lure for me. It's the sexiest part of a romance. Eventually it has to culminate and the characters change and the story marches toward what had better be that happy ending. But I adore stories that draw out the blaze, allowing it to grow until putting down the book and returning to reality feels like a let down. That's a story that I'll definitely read again and again. It's an author whose work will become an auto-buy for me.

What's your favorite part of a romance novel?

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Quiz - Can You Answer These?

In honor of Valentine's Day...a day of love and's a quiz for you! See how many you can answer! Answers are at bottom! HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

1. Who sent the oldest known Valentine around 1415?
Nicholas, Czar of Russia
Charles, Duke of Orleans
Napoleon, Emperor of France

2. St. Valentine is indeed the patron saint of love, but he has many other duties. He is also the patron saint of:
Bee keepers
Vinegar makers

3. Who sold the first mass-produced valentines in the US?
Esther Howland
Julia Chauncy
Mary Joy

4. Before it became fashionable to give chocolates and flowers, what was the traditional gift given by a man to a woman on St. Valentine's Day?
A pair of gloves
A piece of jewelry
A hair ribbon

5. How many Valentines Day cards are sold each year?
50 million
500 million
1 billion

6. Which shape have Necco Sweetheart Conversation Hearts never been made in?

7. Who is Cupid?
In Roman mythology, he is the son of Venus
In Greek mythology, he is the child of love
In Norse mythology, he is a winged child of Zeus
In Roman mythology, he is the king of other gods and goddesses

8. Where is Valentines Day not celebrated?
United Kingdom
United States

9. When were the first commercial Valentines Day cards sold?

10. Who created the first box of Valentines Day candy?
Richard Cadbury, 1868
George Hershey, 1910
Martha and Melvin Mars, 1945
Phil Snickers, 1880

Lovers, love, and romance...all the elements romance authors use to create books for readers!
Here are my romance heroes and heroines:
Second Sight Dating: Serena Xavier and Dan Carrington. A psychic and a detective battle trust issues while craving each other.
Street of Dreams: Eileen Murphy and Nick Olson. Two detectives fight mutual attraction while vying for control of their time travel mission.
Gone to the Dogs: Katie O'Hara and Mike Marino. A woman who's eager to do it all on her own and a man who wants to help save her...while sparks fly between them.
Anything You Can Do: Allison Minetti and Jeffrey Ryan. A challenge is issued and both hope to long as they still can find pleasure in each other's arms.
Strip Poker for Two: Melissa Foster and Jason Molina. A secret bet involves them in a lusty romp, but revealing the bet could drive them apart.
Sexy Games: Stacy Newman and Sloane Hoffman. Testing naughty, role-playing games escalates lovemaking, but honesty and reality are crucial to maintaining their relationship.
Red books: Marianne Stephens   Blue books: April Ash

Quiz answers:
1. Charles
2. Bee keeper
3. Esther Howland
4. Gloves
5. 1 billion
6. Star
7. Roman Mythology, son of Venus
8. Sweden
9. 1840
10. Richard Cadbury

Photos: Flickr: Suchitra prints1, David Prior, toephotos, and D. Sharon Pruitt's photostreams.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Favorite Romantic Movies

In honor of the upcoming Valentine's Day ... I give you some of my favorite romantic movies.

While You Were Sleeping

What's not to love? It's sweet, it's funny, it's romantic.

The Princess Bride

Again, funny, sweet and romantic. Did I mention funny?

Ever After

Hmmm... funny, sweet, romantic. I'm sensing a theme.

Notting Hill

Yeah.. sweet, funny and romantic again

The Saint

Okay, not sweet (exactly) or funny (really) but definitely romantic.

What about you? What movies would you add to my list? Keep in mind, I have to have a Happy Ever After (so don't suggest "Casablanca" or "West Side Story", please).

Happy Valentine's Day!

Visit Marianne at her website: or blog:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Author Love

Ah February, the month where hearts turn to thoughts of love...for our favorite authors of course!  In my humble unesteemed opinion, authors are worth their weight in gold.  A good author can take us places in a blink of a reading eye, to exotic locales and eras where we never thought we'd visit.  They do it very cheaply too, and they can repeat the process over and over.  Great writers help us take our minds off our troubles for a while, and they can accomplish this sans the next-day hangovers and occasional blackouts-what a deal!
Me and Kerrelyn Sparks
  I have great love and appreciation for all my favorite authors, and thanks largely to Facebook and Twitter, I can contact them anytime I want, and they are always so wonderful and gracious.  Last July I attended RWA for the first time and got to meet many of them.  Believe me, I was on Cloud Nine!  
In retrospect, that was actually quite brave of me since the first time I tried meeting a favorite author I was left completely heartbroken and devastated. To this very day, I can no longer  bring myself to crack open any of his books.
  It was the early 1990's, and I was a huge fan of a very popular Christian fiction author.  One day he came to a church in Tucson to give a presentation.  I was so beside myself with excitement and anticipation that I could barely stand it!  I arrived at the church and found him speaking with a young woman in her early 20's.  The two of them were busy chatting away, and I stood off to the side waiting for him to finish and acknowledge me.  I was no more than a yard away.  Never once did the author take his eyes off the young woman to look up at me, or to his "handler" who was walking around the room talking to other folks while keeping his eye on his "ward".  He was probably his agent or something similar.  Well, I kept waiting and waiting as the time for the presentation to begin drew near, but the author and his captivated fan were still going strong.  The "handler" guy-for lack of a better term-came over to me and said that the author didn't have any time to speak with me, but would I like these lovely autographed bookplates from the author?  I accepted them graciously, and was quickly ushered away.  I sat down in my chair stunned, completely numb as my mind kept racing over the events that just transpired. Okay, he had time to chat the ear off ONE person, but could not be bothered with me?  Did I do something wrong?  Did I act like a weirdo?  Did I smell?  What???  While I sat quietly and listened to his presentation, tears kept welling up in my eyes.  I kept thinking, "How could you not even acknowledge my existence when I'm standing *right here*, love your books so much, have purchased every one, and have shared them with everyone willing to listen about them too?"  I would have accepted even the smallest token of acknowledgement from him; a smile, a simple "hello", anything to take home with me and remember forever!  I also recall thinking that he was much shorter than I expected, and how ironic that he turned out to be "small" to me in so many ways, sigh.
Jennifer Ashley and me.
   It's a good thing I did not allow that experience to deter me at the literacy book signing at RWA in 2010. I would have missed out on meeting my current favorite authors who bring such joy to my life.  Several were new to me; I had only read one book of theirs before attending but they already had my heart.  Their books make me a better medical technologist because when I come home from a hard day at the lab I can read their novels to relax, laugh and become refreshed before another day of work.  Even though I joke that when I go to work I "have to save lives now",  THEY save mine! 
Me and Bonnie Vanak.
  So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to Kerrelyn Sparks, Lara Adrian, Bonnie Vanak, Jennifer Ashley, and Terry Spear-you all have my heart!  To Lara, I am so looking forward to meeting you this year in NYC! BIG hugs to you all!
  I'd love to hear from you all now, have you met your favorites in any way? What is it that you especially like in the way they communicate with you?  Thanks for sharing!