Monday, April 21, 2014

CRAFT CORNER: Argh! I’m Stuck! When the story just isn’t working…

by Isabo Kelly

Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Despite all your planning and effort, your story just isn’t working for some reason. You’re stuck, and you can’t seem to write your way out of the hole. This is incredibly frustrat­ing and can often cause writers to toss aside perfectly good projects.

So how do you get unstuck?

You have to find the problem with the story. You might not realize you have one, but if you’re not making progress, it’s because something is funda­mentally wrong with the book. And the best way to find the problem is to do that thing non-writers think is goofing off but for writers is actually very hard work.

Stare out a window and mull things over.


Anyone tells you this isn’t work, send them to me.

Uncovering the issue requires you take the time to ask yourself a lot of questions. To get started, first look at potential problems in the big stuff: character and plot.

For characters: Do you know your characters well enough? Do you like them? Are you rooting for them, or are you using them to advance the plot and couldn’t actually care less about them? Are the characters act­ing strange? Or do they feel two-dimensional? Are they heroic if they’re the heroes? Are they scary enough if they’re the villains? Do they have flaws? Are they too perfect? Do you know their greatest weakness? Their most embarrassing moment? Do they like puppies? Sports? Doing puzzles?

If something just isn’t working with your characters, get to know them better. People do this in different ways—character interviews, taking a long walk with the characters, pretending to have actually conversations with them, have the character write journal entries from the years before the story starts, uncover their quirks, look for an unexpected fear or disappointment in their past… Whatever it takes, get to know these people like they’re real. When you do, you’ll instinctively know how they’ll react in any given situation. This can get you out of a lot of frustrating roadblocks.

Next look at the overall plot: Do you have enough going on? Is it too complicated or not complicated enough? Do you have both internal and external conflicts? Are there logic problems in the plot? Do you need to do a little more research to find that fact necessary to moving things along? Are there high and low moments? Do things get progressively worse for your protagonists?
Take a hard look at what you have, and decide if it feels right. There’s a kind of satisfaction when all the elements of a story are working, a sense of inevitability to the plot—even if things twist and turn and unexpected stuff happens, it still seems like this is how the story is supposed to go. If you aren’t feeling that, dig deeper.

Now, if none of these things seem to be causing the problem, look at the smaller details. Is the setting wrong for the story you’re trying to tell? Do you need to add a new point-of-view character to get the full picture across? Do you need to change the POV you’re using in a particular scene? Are you forcing your characters to do things they wouldn’t without a really good reason? Are the conflicts and complications serious enough? Can all the characters’ problems be solved with a conversation? If that’s the case, you might be turning cartwheels trying to stretch out a storyline that needs more depth.

Sometimes, you’ve taken a wrong turn, inserted a plot twist, had a character do a particular thing, gone in a cer­tain direction, and it gets to be like pulling teeth to keep writing. This is a good sign things aren’t as they should be. Go back to the place in the story where things seemed to be going well and it felt right, then start over from that point.

Consider as a reader what you want to happen next. This one helped me a lot in a recent draft because as a reader I wanted things from the book that my writer self didn’t even consider.  Its okay if you have to dump a bunch of pages and scenes (I know it hurts, but it is necessary occasionally). The flow you’ll gain by shifting back to the right direction will have you caught up in no time.

And if all the thinking and considering and mulling (and coffee and naps and showers) aren’t working, talk things out with a trusted friend. Or many friends. They might not have the answers, but that’s not really the point. Often, all it takes is voicing the problems aloud to help goose your muse. Talking with friends will help you pinpoint the issues. And once you know what’s not working, you can fix it. You can fix just about anything. The real problem is not knowing what the problem is. That’s where writers get stuck.

Step back from your daily word count or page goals and give yourself the room to dig into the book. (This really is still work, I promise.) Taking the time to look critically at what you’re doing and find the things that aren’t working will give you the information you need to get unstuck. Like a sculptor releasing a statue from a block of marble, you’ll be able to finish that brilliant book just waiting to be uncovered. ♥
Isabo Kelly is the award-winning author of multiple fantasy, science fiction and paranormal romances. Her newest fantasy romance, THE DARKNESS OF GLENGOWYN (Fire and Tears 2), releases April 29th from Samhain Publishing. For more on Isabo and her books, visit her at, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly, or friend her on Facebook

Friday, April 18, 2014


Every week we bring you an exciting hot book cover from one of
New York's Leading Romance Authors. Enjoy!

by Lisa Verge Higgins
Grand Central Publishing

Thursday, April 17, 2014


by Falguni Kothari

I grew up in India. But contrary to the outlandish non-desi claim that cobras, elephants, rhinos and all manner of flesh-eating yogis fill India’s square-footage cheek by jowl, I rarely came across such sights—outside of zoos, forests and the occasional temple—anywhere in India. The flesh-eating yogis—being a bit more exotic, definitely more mythic—I am happy to report have never crossed my path.

That said, the truth is that an Indian grows up on a steady diet of the outlandish. Our history and literature ooze Para-normality. The Hindu culture itself boasts 330 million major and minor gods who battle an endless franchise of demons and/or demonic wannabes in a never-ending Time Cycle on and off several realms unseen by the human eye. (Won’t bother mentioning the Buddhist, Jaina, Zoroastrian, Islamic, Catholic or Tribal myths that pepper and intermix with Indian culture in various capaci­ties.) Suffice it to say that Indians are extremely familiar and oddly comfortable with scientifically inexplicable phenomena.

I won’t be amiss in claiming that my introduction to the fantastic began in my mother’s womb. I’m pretty sure she read and chanted plenty of allegorical stories, poems and prayers throughout the pregnancy. But my first clear memory of the art of storytelling was when I was five. My paternal grandmother lived with us and a maa­lishwaali (a female masseuse) would come every morning to massage her old bones. The masseuse, an illiterate though plainspoken woman, loved discussing episodes from the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata (think Iliad and Odyssey, only much longer.) As I loved listening to those stories it became a ritual for me to sit in on the massage sessions.

My world began to expand with every tale. I came to love Sita (the exiled queen stolen from her beloved Rama by the demon Ravana) as much as I loved Sleeping Beauty (the unlucky princess secreted away for her own safety.) Karna (think Achilles) is the utterly hot, devastatingly misjudged demi-god from the Mahabharata, and remains my favorite mythological hero (or non-hero, depending on your loyalties) to this day. So much so, that I’ve written a 400 page story about him. My point is that while I never dreamed of being an author ever—not until I stumbled into the writing profession and actually became one five years ago—I have always been in thrall of the fantastical.

I write and am published in Contemporary Romance. I have also completed an Urban Fantasy with strong ele­ments of romance (Karna’s story.) Can I claim preferring one genre over the other? No. But I will say that writ­ing about the paranormal is a thrill like no other.♥

Born and bred in Mumbai, Falguni Kothari currently lives in New York with her family and an utterly spoiled dog. She’s the author of BOOTIE AND THE BEAST (April 2014 via Harlequin Mills and Boon,) IT’S YOUR MOVE, WORDFREAK! and SCRABBULOUS IMPRESSIONS, a short story. Visit her at: and Follow her on: and

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


by Jess Russell

Ok, you’ve written the book. And the book has actually sold. You feverishly work with your editor polishing and perfecting. The launch date is set (well, as set as it’s ever going to be) Now who will buy your baby?  Hopefully, you will receive a stellar review—Or several. Fingers and toes crossed.— and folks will be ordering your baby up the wazoo.

But who are the sales we initially count on? Friends and family, of course. After all they must. The book’s progress has been documented in your Christmas cards, and they have read about you on Facebook, and even showed interest at cocktail parties and family reunions. But what about Aunt Petunia?  Or Aunt Hattie, for that matter? Or Mrs. Merkin, the postmistress? Or your father, for heaven’s sake?

My book, THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE, is a Regency set in 1810, but it is not a sweet regency. The bedroom door is open. Not wide open, but open enough that my Auntie P. might not be able to think of her niece, Jessica, in quite the same way.  I have a critique partner, Amber Belldene, who is an amazing writer of very steamy vampire stories. She also happens to be an Episcopal priest. How does she handle it? Let’s find out.

Jess: Hello Amber, thanks so much for joining me. First off, congratulations on the release of the final book in your Blood Vine trilogy. Can you tell us a bit about BLOOD REUNITED?

Amber: BLOOD REUNITED is the third book in the Blood Vine series. The series focuses on the Maras family of vampires, who are in exile from their homeland in Croatia, a state which causes them to fall ill to a wasting disease. Hunters know this, and have been driving vampires from their homes for centuries, but at the start of this book, the Hunters’ campaign grows more violent, and only the biologist Bel and the ancient Uta can stop them. The problem is the pair are enemies, fated mates, and rather stubborn about the whole situation. I think the trailer does a good job introduc­ing the conflict between the characters.

Jess: I think, BLOOD REUNITED, is your best yet. Uta is so uta-er-ly delicious! I could go on and on but we have to get back to Aunt P and my dilemma. How did you come to grips with being a writer of sexy vamp stories as well as an Episcopal priest?

Amber: At first I treated it like a dark, dirty secret. But as I got to know so many romance writers who are just like me--moms, profes­sionals, Sunday school teachers, I realized it shouldn’t be a big deal, and that I needed to be a part of making sure it wasn’t a big deal. I’ve become really outspoken about why there is nothing sinful about read­ing or writing sexy books. In fact, I truly believe romance is one of the ways we experience God in our lives, and most romance readers I know report reading sexy books about love is great for their intimate relationships.

Jess: Did you ever wonder how your parishioners would deal with this other side of their spiritual leader?

Amber: I do wonder, and that is why I have a pen name. I don’t need to be in the face of the people I pastor as a writer of racy romance. Some of them know, and their reaction ranges from amusement to indifference. But because I know it would get in the way for some people when they need my listening ear, or my prayers, or my advice, then I want to keep it under wraps for the most part.

Jess: Did you ever consider toning down your books because of your preaching job?

Amber: Honestly, no. I wrote the stories I had to tell, and I believe they have integrity as truly human (or vam­pire stories). And I would much rather write in the explicit style that suits me as a writer, and engage in the conversation with people who might not like it, than to hold back. We need to start having more honest conver­sations about sex as a society, and maybe my dual vocations will spurr some of those on.

Jess: Do you have any stories about how you dealt with an Aunt Petunia?

Amber: It’s funny that you ask about this, because I did just see my dad yesterday for the first time in months and I gave him copies of both my books. It turns out all my aunts already love FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. But even my uncles and male colleagues have read my books. My father-in-law put it down when he felt un­comfortable, and that’s what I hope anyone would do. I will assume people can judge for themselves whether it will affect our relationship or not, and I would never be offended to hear someone put it down for that reason!

Jess: You have twins who must be about three now? A little young to be reading, but you must have thought of what you might say to them about your books when they do start getting curious.

Amber: I sincerely hope to have an honest and open dialog with my kids about sex. From my work, I know that is something hard to achieve, and like a lot of things about being a parent, it’s much easier to plan on before the time arrives. Still, I expect my son will want nothing to do with a sexy book his mom wrote. My daughter may be more curious, if she’s anything like me (and so far, she is). I read romances as a teenager and I don’t think it hurt me, but fleshed out my sexual education, so how DD and I will handle that will probably have ev­erything to do with our relationship--but I hope when and if she reads it, she will talk to me about it so that we can put behaviors and actions in context and talk about good decision making.

Jess: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Amber. I certainly agree that sometimes we tend to be too puritanical about some things while being terribly negligent about others. Finding love is a good thing. Something to be celebrated and cherished whether it comes to a group on Vampires or, in the case of THE DRESSMAK­ER’S DUKE, a rather shy and monkish Duke.

So to the Aunt Petunias of the world, I certainly hope I will not offend you with my writing. Blood Reunited, and The Dressmaker’s Duke, are stories centered around people struggling to find love. As writers we torture them a bit, but that only makes it all the more delicious when they finally get their happily ever after. And besides, you can always just skip over the naughtier bits.  

As a side note, my mother waited weeks on a waitlist at her public library to read 50 SHADES--I believe she said she was #800. ♥

Jess Russell is a member of RWA, as well as the Beau Monde and RWA/NYC. THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE came in first in the Fool for Love Contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving Contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest and the Golden Rose Contest (also winning the Best of the Best). And it fina­led in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City Opener, and the Lone Star Contests. Jess is currently working on two other stories, (working titles), HEART OF GLASS, and MAD FOR THE MARQUESS. THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE, (The Wild Rose Press) will be available in late Spring.  Please Visit her Web site: http://jessrussellro­

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


by Lise Horton

As someone who likes her erotic romance dark, and edgy, and replete with BDSM, including pain play, the perfect genre to combine it all, with a sepul­chral atmosphere that can’t be beat, is erotic horror romance. Unlike erotic horror which, reasonably, includes both erotic sexual elements as well as the horrific supernatural aspects, and which usually leads to blood and often death or unfortunate ends for the characters, with EHR, you actually can have the HEA as well.

Taking the edgy, dark hero of a contemporary romance one step further in EHR you have a dark, edgy and potentially deadly hero. He can be a vam­pire, a demon, a sorcerer – those supernatural beings that deal with blood and the soul can often be the perfect hero to attract, seduce – and torment – our heroines.

I have written a number of erotic horror romance short “flash fiction” pieces and my published short story, “The Vampires’ Embrace” is a hot horror ménage where the heroine is seduced with pain and sex by her three vam­pire masters. Imagine, if you will, Dracula in all his blood sucking glory, as romance hero. The Frank Langella seductive bloodsucker as opposed to the really freaky Nosferatu dude. Whether the heroine becomes his human servant, or joins him in eternal darkness, the erotic scenes can be blistering hot, or chilling, but they are always seductive. And the BDSM elements of edge play most certainly fit in beautifully, especially with a bit of blood involved.

I have read a number of erotic romances that I would consider either actual horror, or to possess major elements of horror. The darkest of Anita Blake’s novels are erotic horror with the elements of romance that she is known for. The sexual eroticism that permeates those books is inextricably linked to the lengths to which author Lau­rell K. Hamilton forces her human protagonist, Anita Blake and her shifter and vampire lovers. Pain is a great accompaniment to these scenes and in her most recent Blake title, AFFLICTION, amid zombie attacks and humans dying of zombie flesh-eating disease, Hamilton weaves in the trio of lovers (Anita needs sex to feed an unwanted sexual vampire-like hunger, without which she, and her vampire servants, will wither and die) having sex amid the horror. Given the backdrop, the sex itself is dark and intense, but she goes further than she ever has before, and includes a consensual choking scene that was riveting in its eroticism. Additionally, the extreme act dovetailed well with the outside events.

One of the final lines of my flash fiction blog post “The Sweet Sting” is, I feel, a perfect definition of erotic hor­ror romance, where the heroine welcomes to her bed, eagerly, her midnight lover, and his promise of exquisite pain:

“And the night became as fire as he used me. As he pleasured me. As he showered his torments upon me.”

Be it lovers in the throes of ecstasy bearing with it that sweet sting and the taste of blood, or dark magic that enthralls a heroine to give herself over to the wicked torments of her sorcerer lover, or the chilled embrace of a ghostly lover who wrings from his partner screams of climax – and shrieks of pain – erotic horror romance pushes all the envelopes. To my great delight! ♥

Lise Horton’s debut novel WORDS OF LUST launched in September 2013, and she is finalizing book 2 of the Stellato Siblings series for submission. You can read more about Lise, her books, and her blogs, by visiting her website,, and join her in the madcap whirl of social media!

Monday, April 14, 2014


by Mac Perry

Dear Ms. Mac Perry,

Thank you for your submission. I read your manuscript, and then showed it to a friend better versed in this genre. He informed me paranormal is a bit “too long in tooth for any meaningful new entrant,” at the moment. Best of luck to you in your endeavors.

Mr. Agent Man

Long in tooth? Is he delving out fang humor as he rejects me? Oh, ho, ho, ho. I beg to differ, Mr. big, scary, unattainable-and-highly-coveted Agent Man.

As long as there is sex, there’ll be Bad Boys. And long as there are Bad Boys, there’ll be vampires, shape shift­ers, fairies, and the like. Maybe it will go underground, but cult fans are loyal fans, and eventually dominate popular culture again--once the hungry masses crave something “fresh” again.

Small Town Romance and New Adult are the way to go, huh? Did small towns suddenly appear? Have women previously skipped ages eighteen to twenty five, until big publishing decided to slap a label on those formative years?

Dare I point out, the only reason the label exists is because TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER fans have gone and grown up. And have you ever seen a Small Town Romance gain the kind of following either of those two franchises command? Not to mention Paranormal’s siblings, Fantasy and Science Fiction. Did you know yet another Star Wars movie is in production? Never mind Star Trek’s recent and successful resurrection.

What does that have to do with sex and bad boys?

Sex is libido, our primary motivating source of energy. Libido comes from your unconscious impulses, your in­stinctual bodily awareness. A Bad Boy is a symbol, or what Carl Jung would call, an “archetype,” of unfulfilled erotic desire. He’s “bad” because he cannot be obtained (or integrated). He represents the unknowable or re­pressed parts of ourselves, which we have repressed for one various reasons, also known as, “the Shadow Self.”

But certainly, unattainability doesn’t stop us from wanting our Bad Boy. Fantasizing about him. Creating him over and over again in various forms, guises, and inter-galactic species. In fact, archetypes were discovered through a story of unrequited longing. Carl Jung first discovered the collective unconscious and archetypes when examining the fantasies of Miss Frank Miller-- a single woman in love with a man, but unable to act upon her erotic interest. Jung researched myths, fairy tales, and religious motifs from remote corners of the world, to interpret Miss Miller’s images. He found striking parallels and determined it evidence of the collective uncon­scious, which influences all of us through archetypes and instincts.

Archetypes and instincts exist within every human being, from the moment of birth, connecting us all through collective unconscious--best accessed through dreams and meditative states. Your waking mind struggles “against being swallowed up by primitivity and unconscious instinctuality” on the one hand, but also “resists complete possession of spiritual forces,” on the other. But when they are coordinated, the archetype provides meaning to the instinct, and instinct provides the raw physical energy necessary for archetypes to help man real­ize his spiritual goals. As a writer and storyteller, this would translate into fulfilling the “promise of the premise” of your story (to learn more, read Blake Snyder’s, SAVE THE CAT).

Okay, so now we know what archetypes are, but what do they look like?

Joseph Campbell hopped on this gravy train and took it one step further in his book, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, which examines archetypes cross-culturally and illuminates The Hero’s Journey. Chris­topher Vogler, in his infinite wisdom, reduced and simplified Campbell’s theories in his book, THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR STORYTELLERS AND SCREENWRITERS, so we plebs could understand Campbell without referencing the dictionary for every other word.

Vogler provides a cheat sheet for essential archetypal roles:

1. Trickster--Embodies mischief and desire
2. Ally--Companionship, conscience, or comic relief
3. Shadow--The unexpected, unexpressed, and rejected aspects of ourselves
4. Shape shifter--Brings doubt and suspense to the story, embodies ambiguity
5. Herald--Issues a challenge and announces the coming of significant change
6. Threshold Guardian--A lesser thug, represents our everyday fears
7. Mentor--Represents the higher self, teaches and gives gifts
8. Hero--Represents the ego’s search for identity and wholeness

According to Cowden, LaFever, & Viders, authors of, THE COMPLETE WRITER’S GUIDE TO HEROES & HEROINES: SIXTEEN MASTER ARCHETYPES, there are three types of commonly understood charac­ters or archetypes: core, evolving, and layered. The core character thinks and acts consistently to the very end. The evolving character starts as one archetype and evolves into another. And the layered character has a single archetypal core at his emotional base, but is layered with attributes from other archetypes.

How do archetypes interact to create conflict and move plot forward?

Let’s take GONE WITH THE WIND, for a romantic example. Rhett Butler is a layered archetype, a Chief to the world, but a Bad Boy at his core. Scarlett O’Hara is a Seductress at her core. A Chief and Seductress are both strong and stubborn and struggle for power. He takes control, while she seduces it back. However, they both admire each other’s focus, are good in a crisis, and know how to negotiate. Their characters grow and change, when the Seductress surprises the Chief in showing him he can be wrong and still powerful. In the Chief, the Seductress has finally met a man who sees her for who she is, and is free to be herself without fear of abandonment. However, Rhett’s Bad Boy layering of cynicism and street smarts eventually persuades his Chief self to turn away from his Seductress, saving him from emotional bankruptcy.

What does this have to do with the Paranormal genre?

Bear with me, I’m going to get existential on you; Paranormal, Fantasy, and Science Fiction are all genres that represent archetypes in their purest form. Super-human characters with magical powers are a distortion from physical reality, and are thus flexible in their representation, allowing us to project onto them our own personal experiences. Why is that important? Because if you can more easily project your own personal experiences onto an imaginary character, that character becomes more meaningful to you than another character confined by the trappings of a more “realistic” representation.

For example, “Oh, I can’t watch that show. The bossy character reminds me too much of my supervisor. “ So the viewer refuses to engage with the character, and loses out on what he might gain from exploring what that character might teach him, or the catharsis of watching a bossy character get his comeuppance (and all story­telling is about vicarious learning and catharsis, right?). But if similar archetypal traits were represented by, say, a vampire, than perhaps the viewer might be more willing to engage, because it is enough outside his reality so that he is able to escape into the story.

Star Wars, Star Trek , and anything vampire continue to be popular, because they represent a time and place that has never been grounded in real experience, and appeal to the bad boy archetype in all of us . Thus, we can continue to project our collectively unconscious fantasies upon the characters, unfettered, from the 1970’s all the way up to 2014. That equals popularity, longevity, and (say it with me) money! I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be rolling in it.

So, here is what I have to say to all the naysayers of the Paranormal genre:

Dear Mr. Agent Man,

Thank you for your prompt response, as well as your willingness to review my manuscript. I truly appreciate your time and effort in reviewing my work, and I look forward to proving your friend wrong about the size and length of my bite.

Warmest Regards,
Mac Perry

Mac Perry is a Creative Arts Therapist, adjunct professor, and aspiring author of urban fantasy. When she is not corralling her three-year-old son, she is blogging, editing RWA/NYC Keynotes, and working on her pas­sion’s pursuit. To learn more, check out her web site at, or her blog at

Friday, April 11, 2014


Every week we bring you an exciting hot book cover from one of
New York's Leading Romance Authors. Enjoy!

April Emerson
The Writer's Coffee Shop Publishing House