Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Blogger: Georgie Lee- The Short and Shorter of it

Today I'm pleased to welcome yet another person who writes differently than I do! Here with us today is friend and fellow RWASD member, Georgie Lee. She's sort of the anti-me when it comes to book length and she's here to tell you why short is GREAT!

Welcome Georgie!

The Short and Shorter of It.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain recently ran an article questioning why long novels are now in vogue. The author pointed to a number of classic novels from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (one of my favorites) and how each one only tips the scales at under 200 pages. The thrust of the article was aimed at literary fiction, but the author encouraged readers to actively look for shorter stories to read. When I read this, I jumped out of my chair and pumped my fist with excitement yelling “I WRITE SHORT!”

Now, please understand that I have nothing against long novels. The Stand (1000+ pages) and Watership Down (400 pages), are two of my favorite novels and I’ve read them both many times. However, when I sit down to write, my word count stays stubbornly stuck at under 60,000, and that’s on a good day. My brevity can probably be blamed on my writing background. For many years I wrote poetry and screenplays. These are not high word count genres and old habits are proving hard to overcome. My most recent release, Mask of the Gladiator, despite being chocked full of intrigue, passion and the assassination of Caligula, is only 17,000 words. My longest contracted novel to date is my upcoming fall release, Studio Relations, which clocks in at 60,000 words. War and Peace they are not, and at this stage in my life, that is fine with me.

About ten month before my contemporary novel, Labor Relations, was scheduled to release in February 2011, I had a small crisis. Here I was ready to debut a contemporary and the only novel in my backlist was a Regency romance. I needed some back list titles and I needed them fast. However, life at the time was very busy and I didn’t have a lot of time to write (who does?). More and more e-publishers were asking for novellas and that’s when the idea hit me. I write short, so why not go with what I know and write to my strength.

I had a number of rejected Womens World short stories that could be expanded into novellas and I set about stretching the stories and the word count. Within three months I had my first short contemporary novella, Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion ready for submission, and within a month it was contracted by Ellora’s Cave Blush for a January 2011 release. Once that novella was accepted, I started working on another which became A Little Legal Luck which was released by the Wild Rose Press in September 2011. Once it was off my plate, I finished polishing up Mask of the Gladiator and sold it to Carina Press. Within a short amount of time, I went from having one published novel to a small backlist with a couple of short stories published in magazines to boot. I felt good and accomplished and you can too.

So, while I try and writer longer, I challenge you to give short a try. There is a lot you can pack into a little story.


A dedicated history and film buff, Georgie Lee loves combining her passion for Hollywood, history and storytelling through romantic fiction. She began writing professionally at a small TV station in San Diego before moving to Los Angeles to work in the interesting but strange world of the entertainment industry.

Her traditional Regency, Lady’s Wager and her contemporary novella Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion are both available from Ellora’s Cave Blush. Labor Relations, a contemporary romance of Hollywood is currently available from Avalon Books. Mask of the Gladiator, a novella of ancient Rome is now available from Carina Press. Look for her novel of love in the golden age of Hollywood from Avalon Books in 2012.

When not writing, Georgie enjoys reading non-fiction history and watching any movie with a costume and an accent. Please visit
Twitter: @GeorgieLeeBooks

Interested in some of Georgie's books?

Mask of the Gladiator -

Lady’s Wager –

Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion -

A Little Legal Luck -

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Risky Business...

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.
Woody Allen

Most people hate the thought of looking foolish, of having friends and loved ones think less of them. One sure way to make yourself feel foolish is to take a chance and fail. To do something out of the norm, and not have anything to show for it.

Our society is obsessed with “normal” anything outside of that parameter is often viewed as a failure- and creative people simply ain’t normal (a teacher I once had said normal was nothing more than a setting on a washing machine- I think he was right ;)). Now the exception to writer as failure are the ones who have obtained some sort of accepted validation- aka a published book. Other writers know there are many levels of validation and even the wherewithal to just stick with a project long enough to complete it is in itself a huge validator. But non- writers don’t quite get that (ok some do, and if they are in your lives- hang on to them!). So if you’re not published, or under published, there’s a very good chance that you’re wandering about with a bit of a feeling of failure hanging over your head.

But the very reason you are feeling that is because you are taking risks. You are following your dream to have your books out there being read by total strangers. It hurts because you care, and instead of staying at home in a nice risk free existence, you are putting yourself out there. Against really heavy odds might I add. Take a moment now to pat yourself on the back- go on- I’ll wait ;).

The second risk we take as writers is within our books themselves. You can’t write to formula. You can’t write so that “everybody likes it”. First off, there isn’t a formula. Some folks claim there is, but there isn’t. Trust me, as someone who comes from a field obsessed with being able to quantify everything (Psychology), if it could be done- I’d be doing it. But you can’t. And trying will just leave you with a very quantifiable pile of poo. The second part is having everyone like your stuff. Think about it, everyone has different tastes, even within the same genre it’s going to vary widely. If I walk into a mystery bookstore and ask five people what they love in their mysteries, I’ll most likely get five different answers. They all love the same genre, but they have different likes within that genre. If everyone likes something, it’s probably too weak, people may not hate it, but they don’t love it. It’s worth having some haters in order to have some folks who LOVE it.

Taking risks is going to lead to some failures- if not, you’re not taking big enough risks. The trick is to keep getting back up after each one, dusting yourself off- and charging back into the fray. Don’t play it safe with your books- take chances.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guest Blogger: Melissa Cutler- Color Coded Index Cards

Last week I mentioned a dear friend who uses color coded index cards for her writing- well today I have HER! And she's got some great ideas.

Please welcome Melissa Culter :)

Color Coded Index Cards?!? You Betcha!

My writing space matches my professional personality. Not the goofy, easy-to-laugh, cocktail-swilling person I am around family and friends, but the professional, no-nonsense me that kicks writing ass every single day and is unequivocally devoted to my career as an author. Borne from that professional personality, my writing desk is efficient and organization. Dictionary and thesaurus? In easy reach. Post-it notes, paper clips, file folders, blank note pads—it's all at my fingertips, exactly where I designated it to be. My personal preference for orderliness has also extended to the way I organize my thoughts about stories I'm writing.

Is the same true for you? Does your writing style match your writing space? Marie Andreas asked me to talk about my color coding system of thought organization, but I don’t want you to think I'm advocating my methods for you. You've got your own neurotic writer quirks to contend with, am I right? But maybe there's something in my system you can use. Or maybe it'll spark your own meditation on how you work.

When I start dreaming up a new book, I write every thought down. Sometimes I write big long thoughts on notepads, sometimes I scrawl in spiral journals, and I always fill out character charts. A vast majority of my ideas get jotted down on different colored index cards. It's so dang convenient when I get to the actual writing part to have everything laid out by color. And as I get into the heart of the book, and more ideas come to me, as long as I grab for the right color index card to write them on, I'm made-in-the-shade when it comes to adding those ideas into my book.

Here's the system:
Blue = the external conflicts
Pink = the romantic conflicts
Purple = character information and/or the characters' internal conflicts
Green = book research. This could be about place, laws, time of year, anything.
Yellow = revision notes.


Blue and pink are fun. If I'm not sure what order to write external plot details, I lay the blue cards out in the order I think they should go. Then I put them in different order. I play around with the sequence, let my cat roll on them, shuffled the deck and deal them out. Anything to spark my creativity. Then sometimes I take the stack of romantic conflict cards and see where they'd fall in the plot compared to the external conflict points. I can clearly see if I have a section that's too external plot heavy or vice versa using this method.

Of all the cards, yellow is the most practical. Obviously, because it's for revision notes, these cards don't come into play until I'm already hot and heavy into writing the book. If, on page 100, I think to myself, "For the last three chapters, I forgot to mention his limp!" Instead of pulling out of the scene I'm writing to fix it, I write it on a yellow card ("work in the limp to chapters three through six") and stick it in the yellow card pile. When I finish the rough draft, I pick up the pile and go through the manuscript making corrections. Easy Peasy!

Purple is a great one. I make notes on all the characters on purple cards. Then, if I forget what a secondary character looks like or how their name is spelled, I flip through the stack of purple cards. It's way faster than scrolling through the manuscript or sifting through scraps of paper on which random notes are scribbled.

I do a lot of book research, from how to shoe a horse to varieties of artisan salts or the weather in Panama in May. When I read something online or in a book that I need to know for my story, I reach for a green card. This makes the rainfall total for New Mexico in December an easy fact to find later on.

The major benefit to this color coding method is that it sets me up to NOT STOP WRITING when my muse is flowing. Writing fast and meeting deadlines is all about efficiency. Do it fast, and do it right. I don't waste precious time scrolling back through a manuscript to find out if a character is thirty-two or thirty-three. I don't spend an hour changing the guy's walk to a limp throughout chapters three through five when I could be adding to my word count.

One more thing I do: when I'm absolutely finished with a card—say, I don't need to know the rainfall totals in Mexico anymore—I toss it in the "Used Notes Box." That's right, folks. I keep a used notes box within arm's reach. I fill it with all the notes I'm don't need anymore so that I don't waste time later flipping through them to get to the notes I still need. By the end of writing the book, its file folder is nearly empty. I don't organize these boxes by book, but by date, because I'm often dealing with more than one book at a time, especially now that I'm published. When I start a new box, I write the start date. When it's full, I write the end date, put the lid on, and stick it in my attic.

Remember at the beginning of this post, when I told you that all this organizing was part of the personality I was born with? If this plan isn't for you, don't sweat it. I customized it based on my personality, as you should with yours. My only hope is that if you plan on establishing a career as a writer, you give great consideration to how to organize your thoughts and your work space. If you want to be a professional, think like a professional—with your time, with your environment, and with the writing process you develop.

So, does your workspace match your personality? How about your writing style? What do you love about your current methods? What do you wish you could change about your process or your workspace?

Melissa Cutler writes sexy Contemporary Romances and edge-of-your-seat Romantic Suspense. THE TROUBLE WITH COWBOYS is coming in October 2012 from Kensington Zebra, and SEDUCTION UNDER FIRE is a November 2012 Harlequin release. Find out more about Melissa and her books at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You MUST follow these rules! (Or not ;))

I was thinking about writers who say you must write/edit a certain way. “Of course the magic number of edits is five, more or less and you fall of the cliff of oblivion and are consumed by monsters.” “Heaven save you if you do not make at least ten perfect graphs of each of your character’s emotional arcs.” “There is no way you can possibly create a decent book without an outline.”

Pretty much if you’ve gone to any writer’s conference or workshop- you’ve run into these folks. The “MY way is the ONLY way” writers.

Now they aren’t evil, most of them sincerely want to help their fellow writer. Whatever way, trick, or formula they are proposing worked…for them. Therefore, they believe they have hit on the magic secret that should work for everyone.

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

The problem is that writing is subjective. It’s subjective when someone reads it, not everyone will love the same book (thank goodness!). But, what many writers forget is that is also subjective how we create it.

Some folks have to plan, that’s how they work. A dear friend of mine has that down to a science- she color codes everything on cards (and someday I want her to come post about it here- some of you may love it!). This works extremely well for her. She’s fast and good and just landed two multi-book contracts.

And if I were to try it my head would explode. Seriously. She tried explaining it to me and I could feel my eyes glazing over. I’m a seat of the pants writer, I often jump in with very little beyond my characters and just write it as I find out what happened.

So who is right?

Both of us. And anyone in-between.

My friend and I both have different writing styles- and both work great- for each of us. But if I were to walk into a class of new writers and tell them they could NOT outline or plan their books, that they had to do it just like me, I’d be ruining a bunch of future writers. Even worse, what happens to the newer writer who goes to my workshop, soaks in the “way of the wild” (aka pantser) then goes to their next workshop- taught by my dear friend the card outliner? That poor newbie writer would end up babbling in the corner and probably never write again.

As we make our way through the writing jungle on our journey towards publication, we learn these things. That if someone- ANYONE- says, “this is the ONLY way to write/edit/revise” to take what they say with a grain of salt (or an entire shaker full). But newer writers, still wobbling about on their newly found literary feet, are at risk for failing to weed out what doesn’t work for them. To take the tips that sound true to their heart, and walk away from the rest. Humans are absolute creatures- we like concrete things. To get my graduate degree I had precise steps to take and when I followed them all, they gave me my diploma.

Writing doesn’t work that way.

There is no magic “one size fits all” formula. And anyone who says there is is lying or delusional.

The only rule to writing is that you must WRITE.

If you’re a more experienced writer, watch how you present your wisdom to others. If you’re a newer author, remember it’s YOUR path, take only what works.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writer Recharge- SDSU Writer's Conference

Last week-end I went to the SDSU writer’s conference. I’ve been to this one before (more than a few times, I even went back in the day when it was still on SDSU’s campus ;)), but each time it’s a bit different. This would be rather that my experience was different based on where I was as a writer each time, not the conference- although the speakers change, the set-up is pretty much the same.

Let me first say that I think ALL writers, regardless of level, should go to as many writer’s conferences as they can afford. Now, that being said, they are pricy, so you need to research them carefully and see what works for you. But I think they are the best way (aside from just sitting your ass in your chair each day and writing) to grow as a writer.

I’ve even listed why ;).

1) Meeting other writers. Yep- I listed this one first for a reason- it’s possibly the most important reason. Writers are a weird breed- we like people (or it would be damn hard to write about them) but we are isolated by our craft. We spend hours alone with only the voices in our heads for company- it’s good to get out sometimes ;).

Plus, let’s face it, most non-writers (or people not in the industry) don’t really get what we do. They often think you crank out a book in a few weeks, it gets magically published, and you’re fabulously wealthy. Don’t believe me? Try telling someone how long it takes to write a book, then edit it, edit it again, have some beta readers hit it, edit again, then submit, submit, submit…then if it does get an offer, it’ll probably be a year or more before that book ends up on a shelf. Oh, and by the way- forget about quitting that day job. You’ll notice your non-writer friends’ eyes glazing over and they may even start to twitch.

Not so with fellow writers! They understand the process and the madness that drives us to do it. They know the odd and disturbing things that can have a writer walking on clouds, or in the depths of dispair. So, being around others of “our kind” is good for heart, soul, and sanity.

I met some really amazing folks at the conf this year, both standing in line and at the Fantasy table at lunch (I write both SF & Fantasy, but flipped a coin as to which table I’d be at ;)- glad I picked this one!). Meeting them and sharing the conference with folks who understand the highs and lows of writing is really a great experience.

2) Workshops- yup number two is learning. I have heard that some writers won’t go to a conference without agents, since that’s what they are focusing on= Getting An Agent. I say in our field you NEVER lose the need to keep learning. If you don’t keep improving your craft, you can’t keep up. Keep taking classes, reading books, tracking down folks and picking their brains- we’re in this for the long haul, right? Then keep the brain moving.

3) Exposure to the Gods and Goddess of our field- aka editors and agents. Many folks would put this higher on the list, but I say the other two rank higher in terms of building your career as a writer for the long run, solid writing will lead to these folks with or without a conference. Yes, being around agents and editors is beneficial both for feedback as well as understanding what they do. But in my mind too many writers only focus on that aspect for conferences. Build your writing first- then worry about selling it.

I’d have to say this conference hit all three for me. Met some wonderful writing folks, was exposed to some great new ways to think about writing and myself as a writer, and got to listen to agents and talk to an editor. All in all, I feel more “writerly” (yes, it’s a word, I’m a writer and I wrote it, didn’t I? ;)) now, more connected to what I do and the people around it. And more determinded than before to create and hang onto my writer life.

So what about you? Were you at SDSU? If so post some of your favorite things, links you heard about, events you want to share. For the rest of you- how often do you re-charge your inner writer with a conference? Any conferences/retreats you’d really recommend?