Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday--Writing Advice from Cheryl Brooks

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! Are you ready for more writing advice? My good friend Cheryl Brooks is here to share her perspective and some personal experience!

And then, when you least expect it…

I know writers who claim to have numerous stories bouncing around in their heads at any given time, each of them clamoring for release. In many ways, I’m no different. But sometimes, shit happens. Life gets in the way and you’re convinced you will never write another word again as long as you live. Then normalcy begins to creep back in, settling the turmoil in your mind and leaving it open to possibilities.

Ideas come best when the mind is uncluttered. For me, that openness of mind can be achieved several ways. I’ve had epiphanies while driving. Other ideas drift in during the post-orgasmic state. I’ve written some damn good mental-meltdown scenes after a shot of tequila (which is also a terrific cure for writer’s block), but lately, some of my best ideas have manifested themselves during the twilight time between waking and rising.

The seeds of inspiration may have been planted earlier, but an open mind is necessary for them to grow. I’ve never been one to sit down and plot out a book. I take my hat off to those who can. Sure, I have a vague concept of the story—many plotters would say I do my plotting in my head rather than on paper—but detailed outlines spoil the story for me. Actively brainstorming with other people may help me solve various plot problems, but inspiration is a different animal.

I’m nearly finished with the first book in a paranormal romantic suspense trilogy. I was about 50,000 words into it when I had to stop and write another series. A full year later, I started on it again and was progressing well until I got a re-write edict from my editor. Dropped it for that. Started up again only to drop it for the holidays and to finish a quilt I’ve been restoring for the past fifteen years.

Then my husband was involved in an auto accident in early January. A month later, he had to have surgery for injuries related to the crash. If you think that won’t mess with your mind to the point that writing is impossible, you’re a lot stronger than I am. Thrown in there were other distractions—chronic foot pain of my own, my eldest son’s anxiety over whether to apply for a job or stay in school to get his PhD, and teaching my younger son how to drive my husband’s compact car as opposed to the truck he’s used to driving.

Sure, I’ve been to movies and watched television during all this, but the seeds that had been planted for that second book didn’t take root and grow until this morning. The heroine’s character had already been determined by her role in the first book. The plot, being loosely based on a dream I once had, was a bit vague, but at least I had a plot. What had me stumped was the hero. I needed an Irish sheep farmer with brooding eyes, dark, curly hair, and an enigmatic demeanor that masks a deeper passion.

Turns out I’d already seen him. He’s been in several movies, and more recently he popped up in a commercial for a new PBS series. I was like, “Oh, yeah. I remember him. He was cool,” but inspiration hadn’t struck yet.

Then this morning, my waking brain put that actor together with my hero, and suddenly, I was ready to write that book. Ideas were already beginning to flow when I Googled him. And guess what? He was born in Dublin and he even has naturally curly hair.

Had I seen him and subconsciously based my hero on him? Possibly. But that doesn’t really matter now. What matters is that he’s my hero, and I’ll hang onto him for as long as it takes to write the book.

The third book is brewing, and while the heroine’s character is already fixed in my mind, the hero, who was also introduced in book one, already has some of the same characteristics in place that the second book’s hero had. What he lacks is inspiration. But I know that somewhere, somehow, I’ll have a flash of insight that leads me to him.

All I have to do is keep an open mind.

Cheryl Brooks is a former critical care nurse and native of Louisville, Kentucky, who resides in rural Indiana with her husband, two sons, two horses, four cats, and one dog. Rebel is the tenth book in her Cat Star Chronicles series, which includes Slave, Warrior, Rogue, Outcast, Fugitive, Hero, Virgin, Stud, and Wildcat. She has self-published one ebook, Sex, Love, and a Purple Bikini, and one erotic short story, Midnight in Reno. Her self-published erotic contemporary romance series, Unlikely Lovers, includes Unbridled, Uninhibited, Undeniable, and Unrivaled. She has also published If You Could Read My Mind writing as Samantha R. Michaels. As a member of The Sextet, she has written several erotic novellas published by Siren/Bookstrand. Her other interests include cooking, gardening, singing, and guitar playing. Cheryl is a member of RWA and IRWA. You can visit her online at or email her at

Thanks for visiting and sharing your advice today, Cheryl! I'm ready for inspiration to strike!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday--Writing Advice from Sara Humphreys

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! We're on Week 16 of this series, and another terrific writer friend Sara Humphreys is here to share her advice!

Top 10 Tips for New Writers

1. Write a book you would want to read: We all began as readers, right? That’s where new writers are born, so write a book that the reader inside you wants to devour.

2. Don’t try to be the next fill-in-big-bestseller-here: Trying to be someone else is never a good idea. Write YOUR book.

3. Guard your writing time: There are a million reasons not to find time to write but not one of them will get your book finished.

4. Write every day: Whether it’s 100 words or 5,000 words…get something on the page every day. It doesn't have to be brilliant and most of the time it won’t be but that’s okay. You can edit later and like Nora Roberts says…you can’t edit a blank page.

5. Create a peaceful space: My writing space changes from time to time but usually it’s in my office. I know if I close that door, I can shut out the noise of the world and focus.

6. Don't strive for perfection: Should you try to be a better writer? Sure. Perfect? No way. No one is perfect and neither is anyone’s writing.

7. Double save everything: Back up in the cloud, Google drive, an external hard drive. Back up your projects everywhere. Nothing is worse than losing your work.

8. Stay away from Goodreads: It’s a site for readers—not authors. It will suck the creativity right out of you.

9. Turn off the Internet: When writing, shut off the internet on your computer. Social media is a time-suck. It can feel like you were abducted by aliens. You say, I’ll just go on for a few minutes. Before you know it, three hours have vanished.

10. Ignore all of the above: Something I learned a long time ago is that there is no single right way to write. You have to find what works best for you. Your process will be exactly that…yours. Don't compare yourself or the way you write to anyone else. Be an original…be you.

Sara Humphreys is a graduate of Marist College, with a B.A. Degree in English Literature & Theater. Her initial career path after college was as a professional actress. Some of her television credits include, A&E Biography, Guiding Light, Another World, As the World Turns and Rescue Me.
In 2013 Sara’s novel UNTAMED won two PRISM awards–Dark Paranormal and Best of the Best.
She loves writing hot heroes and heroines with moxie but above all, Sara adores a satisfying happily-ever-after. She lives in New York with her husband, their four amazing sons, and two adorable pups. When she’s not writing or hanging out with the men in her life, she can be found working out with Shaun T in her living room or chatting with readers on Facebook.

For a full list of Sara’s books and reading order, please visit her website.

To book Sara for a speaking engagement for your school or writers group, send an email to

Thanks for being here today, Sara! I can't wait to see you in New York!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday--Writing Advice from Sandy James

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! We've had some terrific advice from a lot of awesome authors, haven't we?

Up next is Sandy James, one of my many IRWA friends and one of the writers who introduced me to writing craft. Thanks so much for sharing your advice and insight, Sandy!

I often have my arm twisted to help judge contests for unpublished authors. I’m an easy target for contest coordinators who beg, mostly because I was a bit of a contest diva (cough * whore * cough) before I published. Until I was able to find honest and talented critique partners, I loved the feedback I would get on my contest entries. Some of the judges gave me hints that I found invaluable in helping my writing skills evolve.

The reason I bring this up now is that I’d like to share the most valuable advice I ever received—advice I now am compelled to pass on to entrants who make the same common mistake.

Don’t be afraid to cut words!

Newbie writers have a tendency to be a bit...wordy. They try to be descriptive, to show rather than tell, and it often causes an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs, many of which could be replaced by stronger verbs and nouns. As a result, I spend a lot of time typing out phrases like “less is more” and “I’d considering cutting this.”

Cutting this? Gasp! How can you expect me to cut my precious words!

I do expect it. I expect A LOT of it.

Some writers believe everything they write is sacred. Never should a word be removed. Never. That’s balderdash. I’ve probably cut as many words as I’ve written—maybe even more. But I don’t mourn those losses. To me, writing is like any other skill. It requires lots and lots of practice. Not all that practice will be worth remembering.

My first book was written in 2006. It was a rather epic 138K story that included time travel to the Old West, and I thought it was very clever. Then I edited it a few times, put it aside, and moved on to writing more books. My third book was the first I worked on with critique partners, and from them, I learned more than I ever thought possible. And my writing improved by leaps and bounds.

After I finally published, I pulled up the file for that first story. Reading it was agony. There wasn’t an adverb or adjective I didn’t use and use badly. (Get the irony there?) So I did something that make my hands shake and my knees knock. I deleted the entire file. Then I started from scratch and rewrote the book. Twist of Fate was published in 2011—sans 43K words! Then I rewrote the second for good measure. It’s Saving Grace, which is probably my most popular story.

Don’t be afraid to look at your story with a critical eye and cut things that simply don’t add to the story. Some suggestions for things that represent easy cuts:

That. One of the most overused words in the English language.

Adverbs. Why rely on “ly” words when it’s more illustrative to use stronger verbs. Instead of walking swiftly across the room, trying hurrying or scurrying or sweeping. Instead of standing quickly, why not leap to your feet? Choose stronger verbs and most adverbs become superfluous.

Adjectives. Isn’t it more effective to talk about a maiden rather than a young woman? Doesn’t it evoke a better picture to write about a warrior than a strong man? Find descriptive nouns instead of resorting to tired adjectives.

Dialogue tags. I prefer using action in between dialogue instead of dialogue tags such as “he said.” I helped a friend cut almost 5K from one of her stories simply by removing unneeded dialogue tags.

Just remember, every word you write contributes to learning the craft, but not every word is worthy of being read by others. Be brave and learn to cut when you need to!

Happy writing!

Sandy James lives in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis with her husband of thirty years. She is a high school teacher of both psychology and U.S. history, and also teaches psychology on the college level. Sandy and her husband own a small stable of harness racehorses and enjoy spending time at the two Indiana racetracks. She’s also an bestselling author and the winner of two HOLT Medallions (Murphy's Law and Rules of the Game). Look for her popular series--Damaged Heroes, the Alliance of the Amazons, and The Ladies Who Lunch. Visit Sandy at or find her as sandyjamesbooks on both Twitter and Facebook. Sandy is represented by Joanna MacKenzie of Browne & Miller Literary.

Thanks so much for visiting today, Sandy! Cutting words and choosing strong ones can really tighten the story and improve pacing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday: Writing Advice from R.L. Syme

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! This week, R.L. Syme, one of my fabulous foodie friends, is here to share her fun twist on writing advice. Take it away, Becca!

Wryt Moar Betr

There’s a famous podcast called The Sporkful, where Dan Pashman (formerly of NPR) repeats the catch phrase, “It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters,” in reference to the quirky weekly call-in show about food. If you think for a moment about the distinction between “foodies” and “eaters”, you get the heart of this podcast. Pashman doesn’t want to get caught up in the cool. He’s talking directly to people who consume food, and he wants to help them “Eat More Better”—another catch-phrase from The Sporkful.

Eat More Better.

Pashman cares about the quality of your eating experience, and his whole podcast is about how to eat foods so that you get the most enjoyment out of the experience. They have whole conversations about coffee ice cubes for iced coffee and whether or not to eat your cheeseburger upside down to maximize the cheese-to-tongue ratio. Most of his podcasts include strategic advice about foods we already consume because he desperately wants people to eat, more better. And, to eat more, better. Thus, the phrase, eat more better. It works on two levels.

Like Pashman, I care about the quality experience. Except because I am not an NPR food show writer, and I’m a romance novelist, I care about writers, and how writers produce a quality experience for readers. This is possibly the thing that I care about the most—probably because I have both produced and read books that were not as quality an experience as I could have both produced and read, and I’m sick of that experience. So you want my advice, new writers? Here it is.

Write More Better. Or, rather, WrytMoarBetr.

Why the weird spelling? Two reasons. One is about something Seth Godin calls “The Purple Cow”. In order to be memorable, it has to be different. And “it” can represent anything in that sentence. Commercials, books, ad campaigns, slogans…what have you. To be memorable, it has to be the purple cow in a world of brown cows. So there you have it. Wryt Moar Betr.

The second reason is because I think, as writers, we get caught up in what is the “right” way, or the “correct” way to do something. What is the perfect spelling for this word, or what is the perfect editing technique, or what is the perfect workshop or the perfect strategy. Grammar rules train us to look for the perfect. But in writing, especially in learning how to write, there is no such thing as perfect. What works for me may not work for you. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, but it does mean you shouldn’t count on it. As a writer, you need to be intuitive about your own process. Know yourself, and then you’ll be able to figure out what works for you.

But, for a moment, back to The Sporkful.

Wryt Moar Better, like Eat More Better, is about quality. Dan Pashman cares about your chicken-wing-eating technique because he thinks that consuming a chicken wing will give you the best eating experience. But in order to find the absolute best way to eat a chicken wing (so that you get the most meat off the bones, so that you get the best skin-to-meat ratio on your tongue, etc.), you have to find a lot of ways to eat a chicken wing, and be willing to fail until you find the right way.

So this is my basic advice to new writers: be willing to fail. Because you will fail, and that is good. Failing is good. Just fail better each time you fail. On the way to your perfect cheeseburger-eating technique are a lot of subpar cheeseburger-eating experiences. Only when you find the right way will you know that you’ve arrived at the right way.

Keep failing until you find your success. And allow yourself to fail until you find success. Otherwise, you’re going to settle for eating your cheeseburger—or writing your novel—the same way everyone else eats their cheeseburger, just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Be willing to find what works the best for you. That might mean some manuscripts never see the light of day, because they’re your bad cheeseburger. But that’s okay. You don’t need to publish everything you write.

Be willing to wait for the better cheeseburger, or the better chicken wing, or the coffee ice cube. Don’t short the reading experience. Don’t settle for good enough. In this world of mediocre reading experiences, be committed to writing more better. And remember:

WrytMoarBetr. #wrytmoarbetr

Build a better cheeseburger so your readers can eat a better cheeseburger, and then eat it more better. I promise you, your readers will thank you.

R.L. Syme is a best-selling, award-winning author of both contemporary and historical romance. After careers in youth work, musical theater, and non-profits, she writes about hot Highlanders and extreme Chefs. A member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), Becca lives in Montana with her cat who drinks wine and does not answer back when she talks to him.

Fan Group:

Thanks for visiting with me today, Becca! Writers, how are you going to WrytMoarBetr???

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday: Writing Advice from Cynthia D'Alba

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! The fun and fabulous Cynthia D’Alba is visiting this week and sharing her advice for writers. I couldn't agree with her more!

Why Do I Need Writing Organizations?

I love talking with aspiring writers. When I started writing, if only I’d know then what I know now! If you’re reading this, you might be writing romance, but you might be writing mystery, sci-fi, or any of many different genre fiction categories. You know what writing is like. You sit either in front of a computer with your fingers on the keys, or with a paper tablet and a pen in your hand, and you create. You tell a story. It’s you, all alone, writing and creating this tale to entertain others.

Creating a world with its characters and setting is hard work. It takes effort to transfer a fictional world from your brain, where it’s alive and colorful, into words to share with others so that they too see your world and watch your characters act out their parts.

I live in the town where I grew up. I have women that I have been friends with since the first grade. And I have eight other women that I have been friends with since seventh grade. And others since high school. They all work, have families, go to church but none of them are writers. As much as they support me in my writing, they simply don’t have a clue what goes into storytelling. The same is true of my family. None of them “get” it.

Now other writers? They “get” it. They understand the frustration, the depression when things aren’t going well, the elation when it is. Other writers can talk the business, sympathize about royalties and understand that writing a book doesn’t mean you’ll be rolling in the dough.

Writers pass along tips they’ve learned, or industry news and gossip that can help your career. You’ve written a great book and you’ve decided publisher XYZ is a perfect fit, only to hear that XYZ is floundering. Their authors are not being paid on time. Authors are jumping ship. You would never had heard about that from your non-writing friends.

So where do you find all these supportive and helpful fellow authors? For me, it was Romance Writers of America®, aka RWA®. My monthly meeting is like a lifeline for my sanity. I’m in a room with people who get “me” and my work.

If you’re trying to do this (i.e. writing) all alone, stop. Find a group of fellow authors. Go to See if there is a chapter near you. Go visit. You’ll find your people there.

No RWA chapter? Look for a genre fiction writers group. They are everywhere. Still can’t find one? Post a note to Twitter or Facebook. There are yahoo groups, Facebook groups, private online writers’ communities. Writer communities can really make a difference in your writing career. Use them. A writer’s life is hard enough. Take any advantage you can.

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Cynthia D'Alba started writing on a challenge from her husband in 2006 and discovered having imaginary sex with lots of hunky men was fun. She was born and raised in a small Arkansas town. After being gone for a number of years, she's thrilled to be making her home back in Arkansas living in a vine-covered cottage on the banks of an eight-thousand acre lake. When she's not reading or writing or plotting, she's doorman for her two dogs, cook, housekeeper and chief bottle washer for her husband and slave to a noisy, messy parrot. She loves to chat online with friends and fans.

You can find her most days at one of the following online homes:

Facebook: Facebook/cynthiadalba
Twitter: @cynthiadalba
Pinterest: Pinterest/CynthiaDAlba
Newsletter: Newsletter Sign-Up

Or drop her a line at

Thanks so much for visiting, Cynthia! I love having other writers to talk to and don't know what I'd do without my local RWA chapter.

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!