Friday, May 30, 2014

Are You Ready for Fifth Avenue? by Megan Crane aka Caitlin Crews

I’m so excited to be a part of the Fifth Avenue Trilogy, a multi-author series featuring Maisey Yates (who wrote the prequel and the first book in the series, Avenge Me, out now!), Kate Hewitt and me! 

I won’t spoil the first book for you because really, you need to read it!  My book is the second in the trilogy, it features two very strong, yet very damaged people, and while it won't be out until the end of June I thought I'd give you a sneak peek…

Ten years ago, Hunter Grant failed the woman he loved.

So it seemed like a great plan to make sure he failed at everything else, too—as spectacularly as possible. 

In Scandalize Me, the second book of the Fifth Avenue trilogy, Hunter has finally moved back to New York City after a decade spent fighting his demons and letting them win.  He’s disgustingly wealthy but after his antics on the football field as the worst behaved quarterback in history, he’s also a national disgrace, which works out well—because a disgrace is the only thing he knows how to be.  He doesn’t want to dig deeper into what happened that night ten years ago.  He doesn’t want to help his old friends figure out what really happened or force a showdown with Jason Treffen, the man responsible.  He’s comfortable as he is: estranged from everyone, disgraced and disreputable, and alone.

Enter Zoe Brook.  She spent too long on the wrong side of Jason Treffen and she’s ready to take her revenge.  She just needs Hunter to play along—and she’s willing to do whatever she has to do to make sure he does. 

Neither one of them is ready for the passion that burns between them from the first glance—or the least bit sure what to do about it when each of them is hiding the most important parts of themselves from each other.  And the world.  Or when every touch seems to nudge them closer to the truths they least want to share.

But ghosts and secrets are the least of their problems when they put together a plan that will finally take Jason Treffen down—because a game stakes this high means only that there’s that much more to lose…


It wasn’t the first time a man had propositioned her.  But it was the first time she’d felt a burst of flame lick over her when he did, and she was terribly afraid he knew that, too.  That he felt the same slap of heat.
She couldn’t let that happen, it was impossible, so she shoved it aside.
“Is that caveman code for ‘sleep with me so I can put you back in your proper place?’” she asked, cool and challenging and back on familiar ground, because she knew this routine.  She could handle this.  Jason Treffen had taught her well, one painful lesson at a time.  “Because you should know before you try, dragging me off by my hair somewhere won’t end the way you think it will.  I can promise you that.”
Hunter looked intrigued and his head canted slightly to one side, but that wolfish regard of his never wavered—bright and hot and knowing.  Reaching much too far inside of her, deep into her bones, like an ache. 
It was that last part that made her wonder exactly how much control she was clinging to, after all.
 “I don’t want to drag you off somewhere by your hair and have my way with you, Ms. Brook.”
The smile on her lips turned mocking, but she was more concerned with the sudden low, slow thump of her heart and the heavy, wet heat low in her belly.  “Because you’re not that kind of guy?”
There was something more than predatory in his eyes then, hard and hot, a dark knowing in the curve of his mouth that connected with that deep drumroll inside of her, making it her pulse, her breath, her worst fear come true.
“I’m absolutely that kind of guy.  But I told you.  You have to ask me nicely.” 
He smiled, as if he was the one in control.  And she couldn’t allow it.
“No,” she said, furious that it came out like a whisper, thin and uncertain.  His smile deepened for a moment, like a promise.
“Your loss,” he murmured, and that aching fire swelled inside of her, nearly bursting.
And then he laughed again, dismissing her that easily, and turned to go.  Again.  For good this time, she understood, and she couldn’t let that happen.
Zoe had no choice.  She pulled out her best and biggest gun and aimed it right at him.
“I wouldn’t do that, Mr. Grant.”  She didn’t know why that dryness in her mouth seemed to translate into something like trembling everywhere else, when she’d known before she’d approached him that it would probably come to this.  She waited until he looked back at her, and pretended the blue gleam of his eyes didn’t get to her at all, with all that weary amusement, like he could see right through her when she knew—she knew—he couldn’t.  That no one could.  She made herself smile.  “I know about Sarah.”

Megan Crane is a Gemini, which is probably why she finds having a second identity (USA Today Bestselling author Caitlin Crews) a natural fit.  She's written somewhere in the neighborhood of forty novels in multiple genres, has been nominated for the RT Readers Choice Award and the prestigious RITA Award, teaches creative writing in various online and real life places, is exceedingly overeducated for someone who struggles with effect/affect every single time, and never seems to make a dent in her towering TBR pile.  Come visit her at her Facebook page and join the fun!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How important is your setting?

by Maria Geraci

There's three rules in real estate and we all know what they are. Location, location, location. Where your house or real estate is located will not only determine the asking price, but it will also influence how quickly it sells. Everyone wants prime real estate, and fiction is no exception. Your story setting is almost (and in some cases) just as important as your characters, their goals, and motivation. In fact, your setting is most likely intertwined with your story in such a way that you couldn't separate it out. Think of Stephanie Plum outside of New Jersey. Nope. Can't do it. And I wouldn't want to either.

World building is the backdrop to any good story. Your characters have to be believable and so does the world they inhabit.

Now, when I say real, what I mean is, it has to feel real to the reader. When the reader flips through the pages of your story, she has to be able to "see" the world you've built. It must feel familiar in a way that she can understand, even if it's exotic and faraway.

Think of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I've never been to Scotland (and neither had Gabaldon when she began writing Outlander), but her descriptions feel real to me, probably because she's a fantastic writer, but also because she researched the hell out of it.

I don't write rich lush historical novels. I write contemporary romance and women's fiction. All my stories are different, but they all have one thing in common. Location. They're all set in Florida. Partly because the stories lend themselves to the beach setting, but mostly because that's where I'm from. It's where I was raised and it's what I know. I know the people, the weather, the inside jokes, the uniqueness of living here. I love being a Floridian, and I think it shows in my writing.

In my third novel, THE BOYFRIEND OF THE MONTH CLUB, the majority of the story takes place in a small Daytona Beach tourist trap called Florida Charlies (totally fictional). Florida Charlies was a homage to the dozens of tacky tourist shops I used to visit as a kid on family vacations to old Florida standards like Weeki Wachi and Silver Springs (pre-Disney Florida amusement parks). There was a huge neon flamingo on top of the shop that could be seen from miles away. I had a lot of fun creating that shop. It was as as real to me as the characters in the book and the novel's main story line intersects with the events happening in the shop. If I took the shop out, my story would have suffered.

How do you go about choosing the setting for your novels? Are all your settings similar (like mine) or have they all been different? Do you write what "you know" or do you research heavily?

Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. You can visit her website at

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Writer Hell and Chutzpah

by Michele Young-Stone

Michele is the author of THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS and the forthcoming ABOVE US ONLY SKY (Spring, 2015).

A good many years ago, a dear fellow writer friend sent me a quote that I keep above my desk.  "Talent is cheaper than table salt.  What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."  Stephen King

Ain't it the truth!

Last night, I visited with a wonderful Mommy and Me book club, and I remembered having met one of the members two years ago.  She said to me last night, "I contacted you about visiting my other book club, and I never heard back from you."

Me?  I would never do such a thing.  Then, the hard work bit about writing came back to me.  When I met this wonderful woman, I was in writer hell, deep in the woods of a novel I thought I would never finish.  Now, the hell is practically a distant memory.  My final pass pages for the novel, ABOVE US ONLY SKY, will
be here this month.  The hard work is over for now.  I am starting something new, but just remembering the depths of that "hard work" brought tears to my eyes.  I had considered throwing my hands in the air and giving up.  I was in a deep depression trying to find the voice to render my story.

'It is the hard work and the perseverance that gets us to the finish line.'  Not talent.  Not genius.  Chutzpah!

So, to all the wannabe published novelists out there:  Don't give up!!!  Never.

Talent really is cheaper than table salt.  I write this with gratitude and love to my family, friends, and fellow writers for supporting me when I am lost in that deep dark forest of creation.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ellen's 12 Rules for Novelists

By Ellen Meister

1.  Start your story as close to the inciting incident as possible.
Avoid the temptation to provide your reader with backstory first. Best to hit the ground running, and weave in the backstory as you go. 

2.  Never try to hide exposition in your dialogue. That goes in the narrative.
The second you have one character tell another something they already know, your dialogue starts to rot. Don't do this. Let your characters speak naturally.

3.  The best way to create sympathy for a character is to make them desire something they can't/don't have.
In fact, your main character's want/desire/goal should drive the narrative of your whole story.

4.  "Show don't tell" refers ONLY to your characters' emotions; don't over apply it. 
"Show don't tell" is the most misapplied  piece of writing advice out there, because many take it to mean they can't have any exposition. (This often results in all the narrative getting crammed into the dialogue, a deadly writing sin. See #2.) Simply put, don't tell us Fred is furious with Luanne, show us through what he says or does.

5.  Do not seek out synonyms for "said."  
Please oh please, do not let  your characters retort, reply, remark, aver, avow, etc. etc. If you find yourself with too many "saids," remember that you don't need to tag every line of dialogue. For clarity, you can always insert a bit of action to show who's speaking.

6.  Be true to your characters. Don't force them to do or say something that feels inauthentic.
If you're a plotter like me, you may sometimes find yourself writing a scene in which your character does not want to do or say what you had originally intended. Never force this. Rethink your story instead.

7.  Do not indulge in dialectic spelling. If your character has an accent, convey it with vocabulary. 
This one makes me unpopular with my writing students, but it's my firm preference, because I believe dialectic spelling does exactly the opposite of what you intend. You think it's going to make your story read more naturally, but in fact it pulls the reader out of the narrative and reminds them of the writer's presence as they struggle to decode the unconventional spelling.  

8.  Never start a book with someone waking up and looking at the clock.
If you ever want to impress an editor or an agent or a sophisticated reader, find a more creative way into your story.

9.   If you have a scene that consists of a character sitting and thinking, delete it.
I'm not saying every paragraph must be action packed, but if you have a character staring out the window and ruminating for pages, trust me, your reader is checking their phone for messages.

10. Never name the little boy Timmy, Tommy, Billy or Bobby.
You put too much work into your book to be lazy with something like this, right? Your little boy should be named Jordan or Grover or Anthony or Drew or Caleb or Ethan or Miguel or Fergus. You get the idea.

11. Don't show off, just tell the story.
If the paragraph isn't working because you're desperately trying to write around a sentence you've fallen in love with, it's time to kill that darling..

12. Read.  
Once your mind is actively focused on craft, you'll find answers to your questions in the books you pick up. As a writer, reading is part of your job description.

Ellen Meister is the author of four novels, including Farewell, Dorothy Parker (Putnam 2013) and The Other Life (Putnam 2011), as well as numerous short stories. Her essays  have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly and Long Island Woman magazine. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related issues. Ellen also runs a popular Dorothy Parker Facebook page. For more information, visit her website at

Friday, May 23, 2014

I Know I've Seen This Place Before

(Look above my head.)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: This photo certainly proves it. Location definitely matters. See? My husband insisted he did not place us in the bookstore like this on purpose, but I bet he did. Isn’t it hilarious?

This is John Lescroart with me, by the way. One of the most brilliant mystery writers anywhere. I interviewed him for this 20th book—THE KEEPER--and he’s fantastic. If you don’t know him, he writes the Dismas Hardy books, and pretty much invented the sort of—domestic legal thriller/mystery. You know? Where the sleuth has a family that he loves,  a wonderful daughter and a wife he adores, and good dear friends--and problems. Not huge ones, but the day to day little things that can make our live misera—I mean, interesting.

His characters are real people, and the situations are realistic—and his setting—San Francisco—is just as much a part of the books as the people.

We talked about that in the interview (here I am describing the moment I had a good idea in my upcoming book TRUTH BE TOLD),  and about his relationship with San Francisco—he loves it (except for the weather) and lives there part of the time. But  he’s very careful to make sure that when he writes about “real” San Francisco, that it’s accurate. He says—if he made a mistake he’d be flooded with complaints. (The “that street isn’t one way!” type of thing.   (Do you see geographical mistakes in books? What do you do when you find one?)

In my books, set in Boston, I try for the same authenticity. If I had the Red Line trains going to Newton, or the Mass Turnpike going north and south, or –well you get the picture. Real Boston has to be accurate Boston.
And it’s easy for my brain to conflate reality with the books, sadly. My husband and I will be driving down the Mass Pike and I’ll say, oooh, exit 17! Here’s where Jane was chased by the bad guys! And then I realize, no—I made that up.

John described the exact same brainwaves in almost exactly the same ways—he says he’ll walk around SF and say oh, here’s where a certain character in THE KEEPER was killed!

And that’s great, right? Because it feels real.  I’m now writing WHAT YOU SEE, which is about  murder that takes place in a little park near Boston’s famous Quincy Market. And since it’s on a public street, I’ve used the exact real place. It’s creepy, now, for me to go by the Mayor Curley statue. I think—ooh, this is where my book begins! And I almost believe it’s true. 

When you write about a real place, does the reality of the place fade away, and be replaced by what happened in your fictional world?  

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate. She's won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a "master at crafting suspenseful mysteries" and "a superb and gifted storyteller." Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed "Another winner" in a Booklist starred review and "Stellar" by Library Journal.  She's on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.
Visit her online at, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Setting: Where the Heart Feels at Home

My husband and I in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Have you ever visited a place for the first time and felt as though you were finally at home?

That's what it was like for me when I first set foot in Italy. And—more incredibly—it's felt that way every time I've been fortunate enough to travel there. I'd expected the magic to wear off after a visit or two, due to familiarity or the added perspective of age, but it's remained constant through the my love of Renaissance art, Murano glass beads, or freshly made chocolate-orange gelato. (For the record, Festival del Gelato in Florence is my favorite gelateria in the world!)

Then again, maybe I'm biased because I'd daydreamed about taking a trip to the famous cities of Venice, Florence, and Rome ever since I was a little kid. Or possibly because our close family friends were native Sicilians. Or because my dad had spent a memorable summer working in that country before he met my mom, and I grew up hearing stories of Italy's beauty. Or maybe it's just because I really love ravioli, passionately sung music, Mediterranean shorelines, and pure southern European sunshine.

"Marilyn Brant's A SUMMER IN EUROPE
is a wonderful tale that captivates readers
as Gwen, transformed by her surroundings,
undergoes a change of heart about life...
and love." ~Doubleday Book Club
I poured my love and first impressions of Italy into a novel called A Summer in Europe (Kensington, 2011). The main character, Gwen, takes her first trip abroad with her eccentric aunt Bea and the elderly lady's outspoken Sudoku & Mahjongg playing friends. The adventure opens Gwen's eyes to the wonderful transformative power of travel and getting to see the world through a new lens at long last. It's a happy story of a woman who's on an inward journey as much as an outward one—though, of course, she doesn't know that at first.

What's always intriguing to me about travel is that, even when we know a trip has the power to change us, I don't think it's possible for us to truly recognize that change happening until we're at least halfway through it. Or maybe even home again...

I remember being sixteen and an AFS exchange student in Brisbane, Australia. I couldn't believe I'd been lucky enough to be chosen for this dream placement. (The residents often called it a "sun-burned" country, but I just called it "gorgeous," especially with sites like the Sydney Opera House, the Gold Coast, the Great Barrier Reef, and real live koalas that I could hold...) I'd read the student-exchange materials with tremendous interest. All of those handouts and brochures that the organizers had sent us—not just about the host country, but also about the time we'd be spending with our host families and our host schools. We were cautioned that we would need to change and adapt to our new environment. That there would be a lot of information to process. That it would be a roller coaster of emotions.

And it was.

Somewhere in the middle of my summer (their winter) stay, I wrote in my trip journal that I was supposed to have changed from all of this, right? Hey, I'd entered into this journey being open to change. I'd expected it. So, why hadn't it happened yet? I felt almost exactly the same as when I'd left home. To my own eye, I was still this mostly geeky, sort of awkward high-school girl who was good as school stuff and not entirely comfortable with much else. It was only in retrospect—some months after I gotten back—that I could see in hindsight that there had been changes all along. Some were subtle shifts in perception. Others were massive worldview transformations that, ultimately, ended up altering the course of my career path and my life.
"Gelato" Photo by Aaron Logan, courtesy
of Wikimedia/Creative Commons

I think a strong setting—whether it's in 3D right before our eyes or simply described on the page with heart and an acute attention to detail—has the power to affect as much change upon us and/or our protagonists as any other real-life person or fictional character could. It's the very air we're breathing. The sounds we're hearing. The landmarks in our periphery. And the taste (oh, the delightful taste!) of our most unforgettable dessert.

What's a setting that's left a life-long impression upon you? A place that made you feel at home?

Marilyn Brant is a USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary women's fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. If you want to see pictures from her European travel adventures, she has a page on her website HERE. And, in her latest novel, The Road to You, her characters take a road trip down Historic Route 66, and she has photos HERE from that journey as well :) .

Don’t Kill The Mother

By Samantha Wilde 
In celebration of my fourth pregnancy (!), a little, fierce, no-holding-back piece I've been working on about mothers, fiction and life....

As my daughter writes, "the famole."
Our age may read like a time of crumbling walls of prejudice, women emerging from the rubble of all the political—and conceptual—wars of the past century to dust off their hands, wipe the soot off their faces and claim their share of freedom (or Facebook), but one bias sticks to us like jam left on a toddler’s face: we don’t like our stay-at-home mothers, in fiction or life. Quick, name one esteemed novel about a satisfied stay-at-home mother. Can’t do it? How about giving me the title of one acclaimed book about motherhood that isn’t also about (choose at least one): depression, suicide, kidnapping, mental illness, abduction or drugs? No, take your time. I can wait.

The articles, arguments, books, conversations, and consensus of the past decade seem to conclude that the much over-wrought issue of working versus staying-at-home motherhood has already enjoyed its five minutes in the sunlight of public awareness. That might be true if the country’s literature didn’t fall heavily on the side of the liberated working mother with an intellectual elitism that continues to diminish the contributions of at-home mothers, the vitality of the role and the absolute possibility that feminism and at-home mothering can peacefully, productively coexist.

I have written two novels about motherhood and my second one, I’ll Take What She Has, made some people angry. Of course any person writing about staying-at-home in fiction must endure the disregard of the greater literary community. Nothing could be more boring or less legitimate as a topic—unless the mother kills herself. Scandalously, I wrote a novel about an ambivalent stay-at-home mother who decides to keep staying home and believes she has made the better choice. Also, she lives.

 The progressive, working mothers—feminists, liberals, reinventing modern motherhood with their incredibly hard labor—stand fervently in literature against the folly (ailment?) of a mother's own full-time care of her children. As Judith Newman wrote in her New York Times review of Anne Enright’s memoir about motherhood, Making Babies: “To be fair, writing well about children is tough. You know why? They’re not that interesting. What is interesting is that despite the mind-numbing boredom that constitutes 95 percent of child rearing, we continue to have them.”

It seems that all people of any importance can agree on this matter. Meg Wolitzer’s novel, The Ten Year Nap, received immense critical attention and it did nothing so strongly as point out that only one world matters, only one world exists: the world of business, commerce, economy, government. The world of a mother and child is a dream-state, a state of sleep and unconsciousness. It has no consequence, no redemptive value, no worth. That means the five million at-home mothers in this country are sleep-walking. (And is Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, who launching her working-mommy manifesto Lean In not so long ago, the one to save them from this condition?)

I have angered a few people for asserting, in a comic novel, that an intelligent woman would recommit to staying with her children—and that for some of us this is the best choice. If, in her misery, I had led her to the kitchen stove to turn on the gas, I would have a bestseller on my hands. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening springs to mind (it should, I wrote my English honors thesis on it), but yes, of course, let’s think of Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar and her protagonist whose road to healing from mental illness begins with a prescription for a diaphragm.

The prevailing assumption that the tedium of childcare drives us insane only stands to reason if we lie to ourselves and say no other profession regularly assaults us with boredom. Then what of filing? Committee meetings? Government paper work?! Is it impossible that an intelligent person could enjoy spending time with children, could find it interesting, creative, rich? Unfortunately, women do write books about the compelling work of mothering, but you have to cross a political divide to get there. The literature coming out of the Right, from conservative, religious women, encompasses a few of these ideas. But no one is paying attention to that stuff. The important novels, past and present, literary and commercial, love to kill (or at least torture) the mother. The happy at-home mother is a source of disparagement and embarrassment—she has wasted her good education on a long, useless and dreary nap.

I’ve been wasting my Smith and Yale education for years on my children, not to mention the waste of writing comedies about motherhood (during nap times, no less). The only people who agree with my personal (I-don’t-care-what-anyone-else-does) stance on motherhood, cancel out my vote on every important political issue. This pro-choice, wildly liberal, feminist enjoyed Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s In Praise of Stay-At-Home Moms, and I’m the only one I know who read it.

Here’s what I think true intelligence delivers: the ability to hold together seemingly oppositional elements and see how brilliantly they can co-exist. Black and white is for the dogs. There isn’t only one world that matters. Happiness in at-homeness is not a form of stupidity (and that still doesn’t mean everyone needs to do it). Good books can have living mothers. Good books can even have joyful mothers. In literature and in life, you don’t need to kill the mother just because she’s the one folding laundry and changing diapers and singing lullabies. Make her happy. Let her live. I dare you.

Samantha Wilde is the at-home mother of three children, the author of This Little Mommy Stayed Home and I'll Take What She Has, an ordained minister and the author of Strange Gifts,a book about love and faith, a Kripalu yoga teacher, creator of the You Are Loved online radio show, the daughter of bestselling novelist Nancy Thayer, and clearly, quite often, a very tired (but happy) person. She loves to be liked on Facebook.