The summer of giveaways is almost here!

I'm so excited about the summer of giveaways I have planned! Over the summer, all of my newsletter subscribers will have six chances to win awesome prizes, like free books, Kindles, and more! The first giveaway starts Monday, so to make sure you don't miss out, click here and sign up (you get a free novella when you do!): www.tara-wyatt.com/newsletter

Chain Reaction and Until the Sun Sets are *both* Nerfa finalists!

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I'm so excited to be able to share that I'm a DOUBLE finalist for this year's National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award! Both Chain Reaction (romantic suspense) and Until the Sun Sets (novella) are finalist titles! WOOHOO! 

If you haven't read either of these titles, now would be a fantastic time. Even though they're both part of a series, they do standalone. Chain Reaction is an unrequited love story featuring an actress in danger and the sexy bodyguard she's been in love with for almost a year. Until the Sun Sets is a romantic comedy with a friends-to-lovers/fake relationship story, and it all takes place at a resort in Mexico. (It would make a fabulous beach read--just sayin'). 

Chain Reaction is available in print, ebook, and audio, while Until the Sun Sets is ebook only, but is available at all ebook retailers. Happy reading! 

Have you joined my mailing list?

Hey everyone! Are you signed up to my newsletter yet? I'll be sending out my June one soon, and you don't want to miss it - we'll take a behind the scenes look at Stripped, I'll let you know about some current and upcoming books by other authors I'm *super* excited about, and more! Bonus: if you sign up, you get instant access to a FREE novella! Here's the link to the newsletter if you're interested: www.tara-wyatt.com/newsletter. Happy reading!

Interview with RITA Finalist Lisa Olech

Hi everyone! I'm thrilled to have yet another talented author joining us on the Hustle this week. Lisa A. Olech is an artist/writer living in her dream house nestled among the lakes in New England. She loves getting lost in a steamy book, finding the perfect pair of sexy shoes, and hearing the laughter of her men. Being an estrogen island in a sea of testosterone makes her queen. She believes in ghosts, silver linings, the power of a man in a tuxedo, and happy endings. Her book WITHIN A CAPTAIN'S SOUL is a 2018 RITA finalist. Welcome Lisa!

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Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for being here today, and huge congrats on your RITA nomination. Tell us all about the book! What's it about? What inspired you to write it?

I’m so excited to be here! And, thank you. Being a RITA nominee is so surreal, but I’m thrilled that my book WITHIN A CAPTAIN’S SOUL has been recognized. It’s a very special book for me for many reasons.

SOUL is the fifth and final book in my Captains of the Scarlet Night Series. A pirate tale set in 1720 that believe it or not, it almost didn’t happen. You see, while focusing on the power of the love story in my books, I also try to write the truest depiction of this gritty, dangerous life as I can, and I desperately tried to kill my hero in an earlier book in the series! When I pitched the idea to my critique partners and my plotting group….well, they went nuts. They had come to love him as much as I had, and demanded that I save this character. I’m SO glad I did. It was then in the natural progression of the series that Captain William (Bump) Quinn became the final Captain of the Scarlet Night.

What makes this book so unique is first, the setting. Most pirate tales use the warm waters of the Caribbean as their backdrop, however, WITHIN A CAPTAIN’S SOUL takes place in the South China Sea. My heroine is based on the real-life pirate Cheng Shih, one of the most successful pirates in history. And given that Captain Quinn is also deaf, this book was deeply personal and a true challenge to write. 

My great grandmother was deaf, and she was a strong, formidable woman who never made excuses or let her lack of hearing stand in her way. It was important for me, therefore, to write this character with deep respect and the responsibility to accurately portray him to the best of my ability. During my research, I was honored to have the help of several members of the deaf community to add to the development of this character. I hope I’ve done them and my grandmother proud.

This is the fifth book in the Captains of the Scarlet Night series. Are the books connected? Can readers jump in wherever they like?

As with all good series, they are written as stand-alone stories…but, as the author, I really think the stories work best in order. I’ve slipped in certain snippets here and there that only someone with prior knowledge from the previous book will catch and enjoy. But whichever book you start with, I hope to keep you reading! 

What's your favorite thing about your Captains of the Scarlet Night series? What's your favorite thing about Within a Captain’s Soul, specifically?

I LOVE pirates! They are the ultimate bad boys…or in this series, bad girls as well! I’ve got some amazing pirate women represented as well, keeping to the history of some of the more famous women pirates. I love the continuation of characters. I love the threading of true historical events into the stories, and I love the ship itself. I’ve spent years wandering up and down her crimson decks, after all.

As I said before, my favorite aspect of WITHIN A CAPTAIN’S SOUL is my hero. I know we’re not supposed to have favorite characters…but…

I'm always fascinated to hear about how other writers write. What's your process like? Are you a plotter? Do you have daily word count goals?

LOL! I used to describe myself as a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, but writing a series like this makes that next to impossible. Basically, I had to keep track of times, dates, and which characters I killed off in battle! So, does that make me a “forced” plotter? I have this great powder room in my house that has a chalk board wall next to the commode. Don’t we all get great ideas while we’re…you know…contemplating life at 2:00 AM when the night is darkest and the ideas are brightest? I plotted this entire series on that wall!  I don’t have strict daily word count goals, but I do try to write in complete scenes. I find I work best writing the draft start to finish, jotting down notes of things to add as the ideas come from the developing plot. I usually start with my dialog. I get so much about a character by the way he/she talks. It’s funny, much of my story comes from writing the “first meeting” scene. I’m never quite sure how my H/H will interact with one another until I throw them together. Then I have an “onion” list of editing layers to build characters and story.

I know that we all have our reasons, but why do you write romance? What appeals to you about the genre?

That’s an easy one! Love and Happily Ever Afters! I truly believe in the power of love and light and hope. This is what we write. I’m proud to be a Romance author, and I’m proud of the amazing books written by our exceptional writers. I think our books are and will continue to be important in a world that is so often filled fear and hatred.

What's your favorite piece of writing advice?

My favorite piece of writing advice was given to me when I first started writing novels. A dear, wise woman told me not to submit any of my work for at least a year. I needed to learn my craft, learn the ins and outs of the publishing world, and build up my skin! This is a tough business. It takes determination and perseverance. It’s certainly not for the weak of heart!

What book influenced you the most and why?

So many… I wish I remembered the name of the first book I was able to read on my own as a child, because it gave me the magic key to being a reader. Books were my escape and my haven, and when I discovered those shiny romance novels with the salacious covers when I was a teenager…I was hooked for life!

Lightning round: This or That

Print books or ebooks? Both! Print books for the beach and my porch chair, ebooks for the airplane and my bed!

Beach or mountains? Beach…with a print book!

Coffee or tea? Coffee.

Skydive or scuba dive? Neither, thank you!

Chocolate or vanilla? I’m in danger of losing some cherished friendships here, but Vanilla.

Winter or summer? Do I hear Fall?

Cake or pie? White wedding cake and lemon-meringue pie! Don’t make me choose.

Cats or dogs? Cats. I have two that would kill me in my sleep if I chose dogs here.

Truth or dare? If I say dare, will you make me sky-dive?

Quiet night in or night on the town? A quiet night--with a nice glass of wine, a bathtub deep enough so I can pop the bubbles of my bubblebath with my earlobes, and a nice steamy romance novel. Doesn’t that sound like a little bit of heaven?

And finally, what are you working on now? What do readers have to look forward to?

I’m playing with a couple new series, but I think a bit more pirating may be in my future!

Thank you again, for inviting me to join you here. It was fun! I hope I’ve answered all your questions, but please, if you or your followers have any more…I’m an open book, just ask


Thank you so much for being here today, Lisa, and good luck at the RITA ceremony! If you'd like to hear more from Lisa, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

For your chance to win a signed copy of Lisa's RITA nominated book, WITHIN A CAPTAIN'S SOUL, simply comment on this post. The winner will be chosen on Friday, May 11th. (Canada and US entries only, please.) Good luck!

PS--Buy links are listed below the cover, just in case you can't wait to get your hands on this one!

Books and Blooms April Giveaway!

How much do we love our readers? We'd like to show you!

Enter to win a collection of over 30 romance ebooks and a Kindle!

One simple entry will subscribe you to all participating Romance Authors' Newsletters. Plus, gain additional entries through bonus sign ups!

Unsubscribe any time, but please don't label us as spam. Better still, stick around and get to know us.

Participating Authors:

A.G. Henley | A.J. Norris | Aidy Award | Aliyah Burke | Ashlee Price | Colleen Charles | Dana Pittman | Emma Nichols | Eva Winters | J.C. Valentine | Ja'Nese Dixon | Jamie Summer | Jennifer Millikin | Karly Morgan | Kate Kisset | Katrina Marie | Kimi Flores | KRISSY V | Lana Gotham | Leigh Anderson | Leilani Love | Lexi James | Lilliana Rose | Liz Gavin | Liz Meldon | LK Shaw | Lyz Kelley | McKenna Jeffries | ML Guida | S.L. Sterling | Sammi Franks | Sammi Starlight | Susan Ward | Taige Crenshaw | Tara Wyatt | Tracey Pedersen

 

Check out the books offered by these authors!

Enter here: http://lovekissedbookbargains.com/2018/04/06/books-blooms/

Interview with RITA Finalist Brynn Kelly

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Hi everyone! I'm so thrilled to have another talented author joining us on the Hustle this week. As a journalist, Brynn Kelly once spent her days chasing stranger-than-fiction news reports. Now she spends them writing larger-than-life novels, in a happy bubble of fiendish plots and delicious words. She’s a current RITA® finalist for FORBIDDEN RIVER and an RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards nominee for EDGE OF TRUTH. Brynn has a journalism degree and has won several prestigious writing and journalism awards, including the Koru, Valerie Parv and Pacific Hearts awards. Her debut novel, DECEPTION ISLAND, finaled in the Golden Heart. She’s also a bestselling non-fiction author, in her native New Zealand. Welcome Brynn!


Hi Brynn! Thanks so much for hanging out on the blog today, and huge congrats on your RITA nomination. Tell us all about the book! What's it about? What inspired you to write it?

Thank you! Such an honor to be on the list with you and so many other amazing writers!

My RITA book is a novella called Forbidden River. It’s a romantic suspense about a French Foreign Legionnaire and a helicopter pilot who are forced to kayak for their lives through a New Zealand primeval rainforest to escape a mass murderer. Their developing romance forces them to face up to heartbreaking truths about their own pasts, and questions about their futures.

As with all my books, Forbidden River evolved out of diverse influences. The setting was a key starting point. I’m a New Zealander and I’ve been lucky enough to visit and live in other corners of the world, so I love setting my books in places that have inspired me—Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, the UK… Given that, my heroes and heroines also tend to be a diverse mix, with the common thread that they’re often dislocated from their homes and pasts and cultures, out of choice or desperation.

So in many ways Forbidden River felt like a homecoming. Even so, I had to do some intense research on the setting. It turns out that seeing a place through a writer’s eyes is a lot different than through a local’s eyes.

You're a relatively new author. How did you get started writing?

I’ve loved writing since I was a kid, but even as a teenager I knew I’d never be a prodigy who writes a critically acclaimed bestseller by the age of 25. I couldn’t imagine I would have anything to say. I figured I’d become a novelist at 40. It seemed like a confident age.

Meanwhile, I did the next best thing: got a journalism degree and became a print journalist so I could be paid to write, with fiction as a hobby. But my career became all-consuming, and I discovered that the last thing I wanted to do at the end of a word-filled day was to write more words—or even read.

When I hit my early thirties, I thought, “What am I doing? I need to be writing.” So I started seriously playing with fiction. And then (doh!) I had children, while working as a freelance journalist and copywriter and manuscript editor, so it became even harder to squeeze out the energy and time for fiction. Somehow I managed to write a couple of starter manuscripts that caught the attention of my talented editor, Allison Carroll at HQN Books. And I landed an agent, Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill. They encouraged me to expand the first experimental chapters of Deception Island into a full-length novel. It was a long, torturous process but I sold my first novel at 40—just as I’d planned.

What's your favorite thing about Forbidden River, your RITA-nominated novella?

As well as exploring my own backyard through a writer’s eyes, I loved digging into the characters in this story. There are only three characters on the page—the hero, heroine and villain. From the earliest drafts, they all felt vividly real. I loved hanging out with them and excavating their strengths and flaws and quirks and heartbreaks.

The Maori heroine is oh-so kickass but also fragile, the soldier hero is an American running from a guilty conscience, and the villain is a salt-of-the-earth Kiwi bloke gone wrong. Because it’s a shorter story, I kept the focus narrow so it became an intense push-pull between the three of them.

Also, I’m a slow writer who tends to write long novels with twisting plots that take forever to write and edit, and do my head in, so I enjoyed the challenge of writing a complete story in a fast-paced smaller book.

I'm always fascinated to hear about how other writers write. What's your process like? Are you a plotter? Do you have daily word count goals?

I do plot my books first, but I only really begin to explore and dig into and shape my characters and stories after I begin writing. Sometimes characters pop up onto the page completely different from how I’d planned them to be and unexpected things happen, but I run with that. That’s when the magic happens. And I figure if the twists are a surprise to me, they’re likely to also be a surprise for the reader.

I know that we all have our reasons, but why do you write romance? What appeals to you about the genre?

Mostly, I simply love a happily-ever-after. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved that fluttery feeling you get in your belly when characters you adore finally get together, whether it’s in a book, TV show or a movie. The same goes for real life. I love it when my friends find their perfect matches, I love going to weddings, and I’m lucky enough to have fallen in love myself. (And, reader, I married him.) So my love of the genre comes out of my love of love.

Of course, in fiction, that fluttery feeling doesn’t happen if love comes too easily. And the challenges of the journey to finding love and fighting for it are what makes romance fun and rewarding to write.

I also love writing in action/thriller style, so romantic suspense is a great mix of challenges for me.

What's your favorite piece of writing advice?

I have a Neil Gaiman quote framed on the wall of my study: “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

What book influenced you the most and why?

Oh wow, that’s a tough question. There have been so many, but I’m going to say Catch-22, for its shades of light and dark, and its dark humor, and its ambition and characterization. It’s a novel that entertains but also shocks and haunts. To do all that in one book… Wow…

Lightning round: This or That

Print books or ebooks? Print, best served with sunshine and a pot of tea or a roaring fire and red wine, though ebooks help me survive the treadmill and stationary bike at the gym.

Beach or mountains? Beach. No, mountains. No, beach. No, mountains…

Coffee or tea? Tea. I can’t write without it.

Skydive or scuba dive? Scuba, definitely. I skydived from 15,000 feet and the one-minute freefall sent my body into a terrifying physical panic. But the first time I walked along the sea floor, looking way up at the surface of the water, I felt complete peace.

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate. No, vanilla. No, chocolate. No, vanilla…

Winter or summer? Winter. I have pale skin and freckles so I’m the person at the beach covered from head to toe, wearing a sombrero and 50+SPF, sitting in the shade, and still getting sunburnt.

Cake or pie? Pie, as long as it’s Key lime or lemon meringue.

Cats or dogs? I grew up with two fascinating cats but now I’m looking after the most adorable dog you could imagine. For me, it’s more about the personality than the species.

Truth or dare? Neither. I’m a wimp.

Quiet night in or night on the town? Just the thought of a night on the town makes me want to flop on the couch.

And finally, what are you working on now? What do readers have to look forward to?

The final book in my Legionnaires series, A Risk Worth Taking, will be out in late May in paperback and ebook. It’s a twisting plot set in Europe and the UK, with a brilliant hacker heroine and a Scottish medic hero who must scramble to expose a corrupt US senator before he kills them both. And, you know, love happens, whether they like it or not.


Thank you so much for being here today, Brynn, and good luck at the RITA ceremony! If you'd like to hear more from Brynn, you can follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.

For your chance to win a copy of Brynn's RITA nominated novella, Forbidden River, simply comment on this post. The winner will be chosen on Friday, April 13th. Good luck!

PS--Buy links are listed below the book cover, just in case you can't wait to get your hands on this one!

Interview with RITA Finalist Laura Griffin

Hey everyone! I'm excited to welcome romantic suspense author Laura Griffin to The Hustle today. Laura Griffin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five books and novellas. She is a two-time RITA® Award winner as well as the recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award. Laura lives in Austin, Texas and is a 2018 RITA Finalist in the romantic suspense category. Welcome!

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Hi Laura! Thanks so much for being here today, and huge congrats on your RITA nomination. Tell us all about the book! What's it about? What inspired you to write it?

The story is about Brooke Porter, a CSI who is legendary in her field for being able to turn tiny clues into big leads for the police. Brooke teams up with homicide cop Sean Byrne to unravel a strange murder case where nothing adds up at the crime scene.

This is the twelfth (!!) book in the Tracers series. Are the books connected? Can readers jump in wherever they like?

Yes, jump right in. Each book has a standalone mystery plot and features its own romantic couple, so readers can jump into the series wherever they like. The Tracers series focuses on a group of elite forensic scientists (the Tracers) who solve tough or bizarre cases, and the characters overlap from book to book.

What's your favorite thing about your Tracers series? What's your favorite thing about Touch of Red, specifically?

I love getting to learn (and write) about all the interesting things happening in forensics and law enforcement, and each book seems to take me in a new direction.

What I like most about TOUCH OF RED is the romance between Brooke and Sean. Their relationship unfolds gradually, but by the end they are so strong together. They really earn their happy ending.

I'm always fascinated to hear about how other writers write. What's your process like? Are you a plotter? Do you have daily word count goals?

I start with an idea, then an outline, then a storyboard. But things tend to twist and turn as I go, and the story usually ends up surprising me at the end.

I know that we all have our reasons, but why do you write romance? What appeals to you about the genre?

I love romance because to me, people are at the heart of every good story. With romance, you get to really focus on the characters and how they grow and change and how events around them reveal who they are.

What's your favorite piece of writing advice?

"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." — Toni Morrison

What book influenced you the most?

As an author? I would say ON WRITING, by Stephen King.
As a young reader I loved ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT'S ME MARGARET, by Judy Blume.

Lightning Round: This or That!

Print books or ebooks? print
Beach or mountains? beach
Coffee or tea? coffee
Skydive or scuba dive? skydive
Chocolate or vanilla? dark chocolate
Winter or summer? summer
Cake or pie? chocolate pecan pie
Cats or dogs? both
Truth or dare? truth
Quiet night in or night on the town? quiet night with friends and wine

And finally, what are you working on now? What do readers have to look forward to?

My next book is DESPERATE GIRLS, coming this summer. I'm so excited about this one! It's a standalone romantic thriller set in Texas. And I'm continuing the Tracers series with a new book coming next winter.


Thank you so much for being here today Laura, and best of luck at the RITA ceremony this year!

If you'd like to hear more from Laura, you can follow her online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For your chance to win an ebook copy of Laura's RITA nominated book, Touch of Red, simply comment on this post! The winner will be chosen on Friday, April 6th. Good luck!

PS--Buy links are listed below the book cover, just in case you can't wait to get your hands on this one!

Top Ten Tips for Aspiring Writers

One of the questions I get asked the most--by friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers, is "what advice would you give to aspiring writers?" Sometimes, I feel thoroughly unqualified to answer this question since I still feel like such a newbie myself. I've only been published for just shy of two years, so I'm probably not the most qualified person to give advice. But on the other hand, I was aspiring not that long ago, so maybe I can provide some insight that authors who've been published for, say, ten years, might not be able to.

A lot of you might set a New Year's resolution to finally start (or finish) that book. You might have a nebulous goal (write something, anything, and let someone, anyone read it) or something much more concrete (get an agent, self-publish, or sell to a publisher). So, here are my top ten tips for aspiring writers (in no particular order) based on what I've learned, where I've been, and what I wish someone had told me three or four years ago.

  1. If you want writing to be your career one day, you have to treat it like one. Take it seriously and give it a place of priority in your daily life. Don't make writing one of those things you'll get to if you have time. It'll never happen. This might mean giving up other things, like spending your weekends bingeing Netflix or going to bed earlier so you can get up before work to write. If you really want to do it, you have to actually do the work. Make time, not excuses. Sometimes the hardest part is just starting.
  2. Believe in yourself. Sounds super cheesy, I know, but it's important. Writing is really hard, and you have to put in a lot of work behind the scenes before you see any sort of progress. If you don't think you can do it, you probably won't. So stay positive, post little sticky notes with inspirational quotes on your desktop, change your computer's wallpaper to something that motivates you and keep going. You will face rejection (over and over again) so you need to be your own biggest cheerleader.
  3. Realize that you are Jon Snow. You know nothing. Take classes (online or in person). Read books on writing. Read books on creativity. Read books, period. Study your genre intensely and pay attention to what you like, and what you don't like. Learn. Apply. Learn some more. Join a critique group. Enter contests. Go to conferences. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses and work to continuously improve. Don't be afraid to push yourself.
  4. Find your tribe. These are the people who will support you, give you advice, cheer you on, and commiserate with you. Your tribe can be family, friends, co-workers, fellow writers or any combination of the above. Surround yourself with people who will boost you up—and give you a kick in the pants when you need it.
  5. Stay in your lane. No good comes from comparing yourself to other writers, especially ones at different career stages than you. Someone else’s success isn’t your failure. Remember that there are many paths, all of them valid. Focus on yours.
  6. Open your mind to the inspiration around you. Ideas are everywhere. Keep a notebook handy, or a file on your phone to jot things down as they come to you. You think you'll remember that amazing bit of dialogue, but I bet you won't. Pay attention to the world. Soak it in. Listen. Observe. Let things marinate in your brain.
  7. Pay attention to the industry, to trends and awards and bestsellers. Understand what it is you're trying to participate in, but don't let it dictate what you write. Write what you're passionate about, not what you think will sell (while still striving to understand where you may fit in the publishing world).
  8. Seek out feedback and advice. Be humble, gracious, and kind to those who give you time and advice, even if you don't necessarily agree with it. Your writing can't exist in a vacuum. Share it. Get notes. Learn. Improve.
  9. Ignore most writing advice. You don't have to write every single day. You don't have to write what you know. Use adverbs if you want. Flashbacks work sometimes. Find what works for you and run with it. Don't worry about pleasing others--write the story the way you want. It might be a stinky first draft, but hey. You'll have a complete first draft!
  10. Don't give up.

Good luck!

A Day in the Life

If you follow me on social media (my closed Facebook group and Instagram especially) you'll get little sneak peeks about what my day-to-day life is like. I've talked a little about my writing routine, or how I balance working full-time with writing, but I thought it might be interesting to share what a day in the life looks like.

Spoiler alert: my life isn't glamorous. I work really hard, and a lot. I don't have any magic solutions for how to fit more stuff into your day. Nor is this meant to be a brag--I want to give you an honest look at the life of a published but not really all that successful author, and if I can inspire you to follow your dreams too--even if it's hard and sucky sometimes--then I've done my job.

So, without further ado, a typical day in my life:

5 am - Wake up, shuffle downstairs and hit the Keurig until coffee comes out, and grab my laptop. This is my main writing time, and I'll spend the next almost 2 hours working on my current draft, or on edits, or on a final read through of a manuscript. I try to use this time as efficiently as possible--after all, I could be sleeping! This involves plotting out what I'm going to write before, you know, actually writing it. As the day goes, I'll make notes to myself in my phone about upcoming scenes. On a great day, I can get about 2,000 words during this early morning writing session. However, I'm happy with anything over 1,000. I track my daily word count, and hope to have about 7,000 words by Friday. I'll try to make up any shortfall on the weekend if I didn't hit my goals. (In the future, I think I'll write a separate post about how I write...)

6:45 am - Time to hop in the shower and get ready for work. Get dressed, do my hair and makeup, feed my dog, and if I'm running ahead, make a lunch. I'm out the door by 7:30 at the latest.

8 am - The day job starts. I work in a large public library system, and the main part of my job is to order materials for the library. I work at my desk, and usually listen to music and daydream about my current WIP as I do. I might use any downtime to check my personal email, update Facebook, or *ahem* write a blog post...

12 pm - Lunch. I'll usually try to sneak off to the lunch room so I can read during my lunch hour. If I stay at my desk, I'll just end up working.

1 pm - Back to work, either back at my desk, or I might have meetings.

4 pm - Home time! If I have errands to do (grocery store, post office, etc.) I'll stop on my way home from work to do them. They know me really well at the wine store.

4:45 pm - Time to walk the dog, check the mail, and get dinner going. My level of planning and organization when it comes to dinner varies from week to week, and depends on my husband's schedule, too. He's a police officer who works shift work, so if he's home, he'll cook (which is hugely helpful AND he's a better cook than me!).

6 pm - Dinner time (for pupper too!). My husband and I will usually watch the news while we eat and talk about our days. Or, if the news is too depressing, fail videos on YouTube.

6:30 pm - Downtime after dinner. I use the next hour (ish) for professional development type stuff. I'll read Writer's Digest or a book on creativity or entrepreneurship. It's important to me that I keep learning and growing. If I'm on a tight deadline, I might use this time for a second writing session of the day instead.

8 pm - My husband and I will watch an episode or two of whatever TV show we're currently bingeing. We just finished Mindhunter and The Good Place, and I got him hooked on Supernatural. (PS--any recs?) During the summer, we might watch baseball instead. If my husband's working, I might watch a movie on my own, or have a bubble bath.

9:30 pm - Time to get ready for bed. I like to read before bed, and I'll usually read whatever novel I'm currently into until I'm falling asleep. True story: I've hit myself in the face with my e-reader more than once.

10:15 pm (ish) - Lights out so I can get a decent night's sleep. 5 am comes fast!

What Makes a Story Suspenseful? Hint: it's not the plot

This is something I've been thinking about a lot as I work on finishing up the rough draft of Stripped. Unlike the Bodyguard series, which was straight up romantic suspense, the Blue HEAT series is a little bit different. It leans more towards contemporary romance with elements of suspense. Are there guns and bad guys? You betcha. But the hero or heroine isn't in danger from the start of the book, and I've made the decision not to include the villian's POV in these books. But just because the suspense doesn't play as big a role in story doesn't mean that it's not just as important as the other threads, such as the individual character arcs, or the development of the romance between the hero and the heroine. So how can we develop suspense successfully, even if it isn't the main driving force of the story?

Developing suspense within a story is about questions. The author poses a question and the reader has to keep turning pages to find out the answer. At its heart, suspense is the distance between what the reader wants to know and what the reader knows already. Sometimes that distance is short--a question that's asked and answered within the same scene or chapter; or the distance can be long. For example, at the outset of a murder mystery, we know someone's been murdered, and the question of who did it and why won't be answered until the very end of the book, with many smaller questions along the way.

The suspense--the question that needs an answer--is dialed up when we factor in urgency. This is how badly the reader wants to know the information they don't know.

So the question, then, is how do we create that sense of urgency for the reader?

And this where I came to a realization. I'd always assumed suspense--building it and sustaining it--was about the plot. About the external events of the story. But after really thinking about what makes a story suspenseful, I've come to the conclusion that it's actually about the characters.

Let's break it down.

What the reader wants to know has nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with your protagonist. The reader has to care about the character and be invested in him/her getting what he/she wants in order to want to know in the first place. Good suspense requires strong character development.

Hook readers with a compelling character at the outset and then parcel out information on a need-to-know basis. Don't drown your readers in backstory, or tell them everything up front. Let them discover the story along with the character, bit by bit.

So we've got a compelling character, and we're creating distance between what the reader already knows and what the reader wants to know using small questions and big questions throughout the book. So how do we add in urgency, the magic fairy dust that can take a story from so-so to page-turning?

It's all about the stakes (which, again, are about the characters, not the external plot). Stakes are like oxygen for suspense, especially when applied to compelling, three-dimensional characters. Take something that matters and threaten it--and this works in just about any type of story, not just traditional suspense. For example, you could have a hero who's a single father who'll lose custody of his child if he can't get a new job within thirty days.

What the reader knows = he's a single dad. He loves his son, but he'll lose custody of him if he can't get a new job.

What the reader wants to know = how did he come to be a single dad? who's threatening his custody and why? And most importantly, will he be able to find a new job in time to keep custody of his son?

Stakes = his son matters more to him than anything in the world, and that relationship is being threatened.

But, none of that matters if we don't care about the single dad himself. Do we like him? Are we rooting for him? Do we care about him and the threat to his happiness?

Create compelling characters that readers can't help but care about and throw stakes at them--threaten the thing that matters most to them in the world. The suspense will blossom from there.

 

Hitting the Wall - A Survival Toolkit

Everything was fine until it wasn't.

I'd been cruising along, working steadily, writing 1500-2000 words a day. I was motivated, focused, and enthusiastic about my work. Over the course of two years, I'd written three full-length books (the Bodyguard series), three novellas (the Graysons series), and had co-written another three full-length books (the Blood and Glory series). I was consistently filling pages with words, my work was winning awards and receiving good reviews, and I thought everything was fine, until suddenly...I had nothing but blank pages. My motivation disappeared. My focus turned to fog. My enthusiasm dried up like a raisin in the sun.

I wasn't blocked. I knew what I was supposed to be writing--I had characters, and an outline, even a soundtrack for my work-in-progress. No, the blank pages were because I'd hit a wall. I was tired. Worn down. My books weren't selling well. I'd been dealing with a lot of stress--from my day job, from writing and, more specifically, publishing, and from some pretty heavy stuff going on in my personal life. But I'd thought that as long as I kept writing, I'd be fine. Everything was fine.

SPLAT. Like a fly into a windshield, suddenly I was at a complete standstill. I didn't care about the book I was working on. Even getting a page of new words was excruciating. In darker moments, I didn't even care about my career. Hitting the wall had thrown me into an unshakeable funk. But I had a deadline approaching, and I knew I needed to come up with a strategy that would help me get my ass in gear. So, I turned to my agent sisters to ask them for advice. How did they cope with non-existent motivation? How did they overcome flagging enthusiasm?

And let me tell you, I was so glad I asked, because their answers gave me the foundation for the survival toolkit I've implemented (more about that in a bit). Here's what they had to say (with small edits for clarity):

April Hunt: Sometimes I've found just avoiding it [the manuscript] for a week helps. Sometimes binge-reading everything in sight. But I don't think there's any real way to avoid it [burn out]. It's inevitable and happens to the best. A group of us check in with one another at night, and when we're sitting down to work, we DM [each] other and keep each other moving through the night. We sometimes help each other when we get stuck.

Bronwen Evans: What I found was I went back to reading instead of writing for a while, and found my love of the genre once more by reading my favourite authors and rereading my keepers shelf! I hope you find your joy soon and remember this industry is hard and we have to be tough if this really is your passion! You have to find a way to balance work and writing OR do not get hard on yourself. Set realistic targets and publishing dates. If 1500 words a day is a struggle (and I only have that target without a full time job) lower it to 500 words a day. Make it realistic or you'll stress and nothing kills the joy or creativity like stress. The guilt [of being late on a book] stifled my creativity, I kept panicking because it was late then couldn't write. We need to be KIND to ourselves.

Sally Kilpatrick: Okay, so here's what I did: I made a deadline before my deadline and I set a daily word count. If I got behind then I had to figure out how to make word count for the week. But that's how I work: I need a deadline and then smaller manageable goals like 2k a day. Full disclosure: I got behind and ended up with 4K/day at one point. I don't recommend anything over 3 if you can help it. Do you have specific rituals [to get ready to write]? I don't recommend this, but I had Dr Pepper, Chips Ahoy, and the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack to get me through my last book because it reminded me of writing in high school and made it more fun than job. Healthy suggestions are a specific essential oil--I hear citrus helps you stay alert, a specific song, decaf tea--anything that becomes part of a routine/ritual.

Rachel Lacey: Sometimes, I just have to take a night (or nights) off when I'm just useless for writing. Sometimes, I work on promo on those nights, or I might just read or watch TV. I give myself weekly word counts (10k/week is my usual) so that I can have more productive days and less productive ones. Also, I do feel like having someone online to check-in with when I'm writing is helpful.

Heather Heyford: It always helps me to read an author who inspired you early on (or your most recent favorite). Or buy or reread a favorite craft book. The other thing I do is free-write my feelings down in a doc. Whenever I feel down I reread it/add to it/edit it.

Annie Rains: Sometimes I will free write something that's different, that I'll never publish (or will). Reading inspires me. Workshops inspire me. Talking to my writer friends always helps. When I'm not feeling it though, I still try to do a little something so I feel productive. Write something that makes you happy.

Gina Conkle: 1) Make your writing time about stories you love. We get caught up in the business (ie. must post on social media, must send a newsletter, must join that group blog, must do that blog post, must...must...must). In all that noise, we forget what inspired us in the first place--telling stories. I made a list of the stories I want to write and I'm working my way through it. I'm a firm believer your passion shows in your words and likewise so does malaise.

2) I listened to Deep Work on audio book. The author reminded of the trance-like happy place I was in writing two of my early books. Now I protect that writing time and my word count has soared (I had a 7K day last Monday and 4K the day before). I discovered I work best in "deep bursts" (what that means is I have days where I put in a regular word count such as 500 - 1800 words but then I have a stretch of those phenomenal days). I also know I write in layers. It all comes down to understanding how you work best.

3) You have to take care of yourself. I'll say "when I get to this point, I'll have a facial" or I'll feed myself smoothies and juice b/c junk food is a short fix that weighs you down. I bought flowers for myself (well, tulip bulbs this last time). You know what feeds your soul. When you're running on empty, it's hard to produce words or give/take care of others.

Nicole McLaughlin: I recommend [the book] Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and the podcast to go along with it.

Mia Sosa: More likely than not social media (and being on the internet generally) isn't helping you to stay motivated. I spend way too much time checking my numbers, checking for reviews, analyzing what other authors are doing, second-guessing the decisions I've made, agonizing over the state of the world, and so on and so on. It's draining, and it in no way helps me to finish the book. I can't say this will work, but I've decided that until I turn in the book, I'm going to alter my social media presence to fit my writing schedule rather than the other way around. Social media sites will still be here when I turn in this book, so I'm going to focus on the thing that brings me the most joy--writing. Now might be a time to sign up for Hootsuite if you don't have it already.

It may be hard to believe this right now, but your work matters, and there are readers who want to read your books. To remind me of this, I'm creating an inspiration board that includes reader emails, motivational quotes, a few tweets from writing friends that brought me joy, one or two positive reviews, and the first line of each of my books. I'm not doing this because I think I'm fabulous and want to swim in my greatness. No, I'm doing this because I'm often crippled by self-doubt and I need those things to counteract the negative thoughts in my head. When I'm feeling down, I'll stare at that board for a few minutes. I hope it'll help me to press ahead. [If you make one for yourself] I suspect even the process of putting it together would help you recapture some of the excitement you once had for the book.

Asa Maria Bradley: I learned that things like grief, self-doubt, and burn-out cannot be conquered by my regular "mind over matter" attitude. I'm still struggling, but found that things like positivity journaling, shutting out the news, exercising, and allowing myself to binge read and binge TV watch works.

With the help of a close writer friend I also examined what outside of my writing life steals my creative energy and inspiration. Mostly it was things in my day job. I made a list of things about my day job that inspire me even if they are time consuming and require hard work. And things that I put a lot of effort into but never feel like I reap any rewards from. And then my friend gave me permission to remove myself as much as possible from the items on the list that drain my energy but give nothing back in terms of inspiration or motivation. Once I saw those things on paper and very symbolically scratched them out, it was easier to work on boundaries at work and not let the day job steal my writing time and/or energy.

It sounds so easy now, but it was emotionally hard for me to set boundaries where I'm only available for people from work during certain times during the week. I took my work email application off my phone and only check email on my work computer. I resigned from several committees that were great for me politically but accomplished nothing and were time suckers. I don't get caught up in drama and gossip. And I try very hard to not let the words and actions of others get to me. Don't let anyone or anything (including negative thoughts) steal your light. Nurture yourself and believe in your brilliance!

Phew.

As I read the responses--all thoughtful, all empathetic, all full of useful, helpful advice--I could feel a strategy emerging. I could see patterns in the suggestions, and even better, as I read, I could feel my funk starting to lift. My writer brain wasn’t broken. Reading what all of these other talented authors had to say made me feel like I, too, could get through this. They’d struggled with the same thing—lack of energy, and feeling depleted, emotionally and creatively.

And so with all of these ideas swirling around my brain, I sat down and did one of my favorite things: I made a list. I think it's a pretty good one, and so I'm sharing it with you.

Burnout Survival Toolkit

  1. Take a break. We put so much pressure on ourselves to produce and keep grinding, but sometimes this is the opposite of what we need--mentally and emotionally. If you need a night off, take a night off. The manuscript will still be there tomorrow.
  2. Read. Fill your creative well with old favorites and new discoveries. Read fiction. Read books on writing. Give yourself permission to fall back in love with the written word.
  3. Binge watch TV. Immersing yourself in another world is fantastic stress relief, and sometimes giving your brain a break is what it takes to get things flowing again.
  4. Have other writers to check in with while you're working. A little motivation can go a long way.
  5. Set attainable goals, whether it's revising your daily word count to something more manageable, committing to writing for a set amount of focused time every day, or writing a certain number of days per week. Reward yourself when you hit milestones--a small treat every 10K words, a bigger treat at the half way and ending points. As Donna Meagle would say, treat yo'self.
  6. Practice self-care. Eat well, get proper sleep, spend time outdoors, exercise, take breaks, and be kind to yourself.
  7. Create positive rituals around writing to help your mind get into the proper headspace. Use all the senses--burn a scented candle, have a cup of tea, wrap yourself in your favorite blanket, listen to your book's soundtrack, etc.
  8. Write something else. Instead of forcing things on your work-in-progress, give yourself permission to write a few pages in a project that's just for you, or take some time to journal.
  9. Step away from social media. It's not conducive to productivity and can steal a lot of joy and energy.
  10. Treat your writing time as something sacred. Protect it fiercely, and figure out what drains your creative energy and (if you can) take those things off your plate.
  11. Create an inspiration board to help you remember and reflect on the joy that writing brings.
  12. Reach out to other writers for support and encouragement. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but you're not alone.

Now when I'm feeling like that bug on a windshield, I turn to these tools. I'm learning to cut myself some slack, set more reasonable goals, and rediscover the joy of storytelling--the joy that made me want to write in the first place. I thought I'd lost it, but thanks to the advice I received, I've realized that it's still there.

It just needed a little breathing room.

The Untarnished Joy of Creativity

Last week, something happened that I really needed. Something that reminded me of why I started writing in the first place, and the joy that comes from creating stories that make people happy. Something that inspired me to try to be more positive about my creative endeavors. Something that reminded me that when we face roadblocks, passion and resilience will see you through.

That something? I went to a Hanson concert.

Wait. Stay with me. I'll explain.

Way back in 1997, thirteen year old me (I can hear you doing the math) developed a raging crush on the band Hanson. I loved absolutely everything about them--their music, their infectious happiness, their long hair, and the way my friends and I connected over our shared love of all things MMMBop and beyond. There was something about them--maybe it was the music, maybe it was the fact that they were all around my age, maybe it was the fact that they were so darn cute--that struck a chord in me, and for the first time in my life, I felt that exciting twinge of creative inspiration.

During the summer of 1997, I started writing. It started out as a little project for a friend. Her dog had died, and to cheer her up, I wrote her a cute little story featuring her, a trip to Disney World, and a magical date with Taylor Hanson that included ice cream, hand holding, and a kiss at the end. (I was thirteen, remember?) I would sit in my room, cross-legged on my bed with the story pouring out of me. I'd fill page after page in my Hilroy notebook until my hand cramped and I couldn't possibly write more. I'd go to bed with my head and heart full, excited to wake up the next morning and continue the story. It was exhilarating and FUN.

My friend loved the story, and so I kept going, writing story after story about Hanson and posting them on fan fiction websites. I loved connecting with people over something I'd written. I loved knowing that what I'd written made people happy. Creativity was pure joy for me, and if you've ever experienced anything like that, you know it's a powerful, heady feeling.

Fast forward twenty years to the present, and I'm now a multi-published author. I've written three full-length books, three novellas, and co-written a three book series. You would think, based on thirteen year old Tara's hopes and dreams, that I'd be happy and fulfilled, bursting at the seams with the satisfaction of having "made it." I'm published! People are reading my books! I'm a professional author!

But...you'd be wrong.

Because the truth is, somewhere along the way--between the crazy deadlines, editorial interference, poor sales, and having to fire an agent--I'd lost that creative joy. The passion. The excitement. I was feeling lost, unfulfilled, unmotivated, and uninspired. My creative joy had become tarnished by all the sludge that comes along with publishing. It was no longer shiny and beautiful. Writing just felt like work. It was no longer this all-consuming passion that set my heart and my pages on fire. Bit by bit, the joy had slipped away, so slowly I wasn't even fully conscious of it until I realized that my well was dry, my gas tank was empty, and I was staring at a blank computer screen with a deadline looming.

And then last Wednesday happened. My friend Sarah and I bought tickets to Hanson's 25th anniversary tour months ago, and while I'm not really a believer in things happening for a reason, I do think that I was meant to go to that concert.

Hanson has been playing together for twenty-five years now, and during the show, they talked a little about the ups and downs they've faced in their career. The highs--selling ten million copies of their Middle of Nowhere album and being nominated for a Grammy--and the lows--getting dropped by their label, receiving rejection after rejection, and having to strike out on their own, investing their own hard-earned money just to keep making music. So many others would've given up in the face of that kind of adversity, but they didn't. Why? Because music is their passion. Performing fuels them. Connecting with fans and entering their lives through song gives them meaning and purpose.

Hearing them talk about staying positive in the face of overwhelming adversity, about resilience, about letting your passion both guide and fuel you, about doing something because you love it and it's who you are...it resonated. Big time. And in between all of these positive messages that I could feel right in the center of my chest, they played the songs that thirteen year old me had started writing to. Songs that reminded me of what it felt like to embrace that all-consuming creative urge. The concert was like polish to my tarnished creative joy, stripping it away, bit by bit, showing me that the joy wasn't gone, only hidden under a layer of gunk. The joy was still there. Still within me.

Walking out of the concert hall, I felt like a new person. Clearer. More focused. Happier, and more relaxed than I'd been in a long time. And on top of that, I felt the burning desire to create. To open myself up and let a story pour out. Not for an editor or a publisher, or even my agent, but for me. Because this is who I am.

And I have Hanson to thank for reminding me of that.

Welcome to The Hustle

Holy crap. I've gone and done the one thing I said I would never do. The one thing I fought against for years; the one thing I said I had no time, energy, or desire to do. 

Yeah. I've started a blog.

It's called The Hustle. Not because I love disco (although I do love me some 70's music), but because I've found myself wanting a place to explore the hard work behind writing. A place to share craft tips, insight into life as a writer, thoughts on creativity and inspiration, and, because it's my blog, pretty much anything else I feel like. 

Even though I've only been published for about a year and a half, I've been writing seriously for several years now, and let me tell you, I've learned some serious ish along the way. I've won awards and been dropped by publishers. I've dealt with poor sales and rejections. And through it all, I've been learning--about publishing, about the craft of writing, about success and failure, and how to survive in an industry that regularly eats people for breakfast. 

There are no easy answers. There are no elevators that will shoot you to overnight success. But even when a book sells poorly, or gets a stinky review, or a publisher drops you, there's always the Hustle. The work. What YOU can control. 

I'm really not sure how often I'll post, but stay tuned and hang out with me as we navigate the trenches of trying to make it as a writer. Oh, and there'll be wine. 

Cheers,

Tara