Category Archives: Writer’s toolbox

Links to helpful websites, books, and other resources

The real pirates of the Caribbean: Guest post & giveaway by Shana Galen

Shana GalenI’m so happy to have historical romance/adventure author Shana Galen here today talking about some of the fascinating research she’s done on pirates. She’s giving away two copies of her upcoming release, The Rogue Pirate’s Bride. I’ve read and LOVED it, so make sure you leave a comment by Tuesday January 31st!

Take it away, Shana!

Hello! I’m thrilled to be on Reader, I Created Him today. This is the first stop on my tour for The Rogue Pirate’s Bride. What a great way to begin! I want to thank Kat for inviting me. I met her in New York over the summer, and if you don’t know her, be assured she is really as nice and smart and talented as this blog would indicate.

English: Johnny Depp at the Pirates of the Car...

Image via Wikipedia

This is my second paragraph, and I already have a confession. My book isn’t actually about Caribbean pirates. The Rogue Pirate’s Bride is set in 1802, which is a little past the heyday of the Carribean pirate. But there were still Barbary pirates operating in the Mediterranean, and they were based primarily in the ports of Tunis, Tripoli, and Algier (aka the Barbary Coast). But that wouldn’t have worked as a title, and the Barbary Corsairs had a lot in common with their Caribbean counterparts.

My pirate hero, actually he prefers to be called a privateer, is Sebastien Harcourt. He’s captain of a ship named Shadow and frequently takes on the British Navy. His men are loyal and tough. They have to be. Pirates slept in the smelly lower deck, all packed together in hammocks along with the extra supplies. Bastien, of course, has his own cabin, but his ship is small (and subsequently fast), and he’s the only one with the luxury of privacy.

I read quite a few books about pirates when I was researching for this book, and I learned some interesting facts. Bastien’s enemy, Jourdain, has a shaved head. Pirates often shaved their heads to keep their hair free of lice and bugs. Jourdain also wears gold earrings as does Ridley, Bastien’s bosun, shorthand for boatswain. A bosun is sort of like the deck supervisor. But the interesting thing about Ridley and the other pirates who wear gold earrings is that they wore the earrings so that if they were thrown from a ship during a battle or storm, and their bodies washed up on shore, the earrings would be valuable enough to provide them with a burial. Some pirates wore earrings to symbolize survival from a shipwreck. If I were a hiring captain, I might be wary of hiring any pirate with more than one earring. He could be bad luck, and pirates are very superstitious.

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Winner of the Kaki Warner giveaway!

Colorado DawnThanks to everyone to commented on Kaki Warner’s guest post, One woman’s tips on writing in the male point of view. What a fun post!

The winner of a brand-spanking-new copy of Colorado Dawn is…Amel Armeliana!

Congratulations, Amel! I’ve sent you an email asking for your address.

U.S. readers, this week you have the chance to win Lisa Dale’s contemporary novel Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier.

Have a great week!

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One woman’s tips for writing in the male point of view: Guest post by Kaki Warner

Colorado DawnOne of the things I love about Kaki Warner‘s historical Western romance novels is how she writes men. They’re authentically tough and often befuddled by women. I personally find writing a hero’s point of view very difficult, mostly because the men I know in real life are chatty, sensitive charity workers. My critique partner Moriah once commented on a scene I wrote: “Does he watch a lot of Dr Phil?”

So I asked Kaki for some advice, and she’s been kind enough to share her tips.

Leave a comment below and you could win her latest novel, Colorado Dawn.

DISCLAIMER:  In no way is anything I write here meant to be insulting to men.  I speak in gross generalities (and mostly about American men).  I am fully aware there are MANY men who are sensitive, fully in touch with their feminine side, and the total opposite of what I am about to say.  OK?  OK.

Let’s start with the obvious:  Men are pretty basic.  That’s not to say they aren’t complicated, thoughtful, or fully aware of what’s going on.  Most of the time they just don’t care.  Certainly not the way women do.  Ask a woman how she feels, and you’ll get a complete rundown of how she slept the night before, how bloated she feels, how upset she is because of what her BFF said, how mean her boss was, if she’s starting her period, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Ask a man how he feels, and after a quick mental check:  Am I hungry? Sleepy? Thirsty? Horny? He’ll usually answer fine.  And that’s that.

The same holds true in dialogue.  Example:

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What can you do with an English degree?

A couple of months ago, I read a post on literary agent Kristin Nelson’s blog which said that the median salary for a writer in the U.S. is higher than the national average.

It got me thinking about my own English degree, and how clueless I was about career opportunities when I decided to study for it.

Kat and Andie

Two UCLA seniors, clueless about what to do with their degrees

This week I got to see my best friend/college roommate for the first time in three and a half years. Andie’s an ER nurse in Northern California, though when we were at UCLA together she studied Communications and World Arts & Cultures.

Never in a million years could I have seen her going on to nursing school. Like me, she was drawn to classes where answers were subjective and anyone could be right, as long as they argued their point well enough.

For logistical reasons too boring to go into, Andie and I met up in Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, on Wednesday. As Smarty Pants and I waited for her to arrive, we walked around Stanford’s campus. Being book nerds, our two main stops were the library and bookstore.

When we got to the bookstore, I immediately headed downstairs, where the coursebooks are. One of my favorite pastimes as an undergrad at UCLA was browsing all the books set aside for courses I wasn’t taking. I loved seeing what novels different English professors put together in their special topics courses.

As I browsed Stanford’s bookstore, it hit me that Andie and I were seniors exactly ten years ago. This time a decade ago, with only six months left to graduation, I realized I had no idea what I could do with an English degree.

Yes, I’d chosen my major because I wanted to learn about storytelling, but was clueless how to support myself with a storytelling degree.

I panicked a little, but then I explored all my options. I discovered I had a lot more options than the “What’re-you-studying-such-a-useless-subject-for?” science majors led me to believe.

For those of you studying English now, I hope this is helpful.

Option 1: Go to law school

Benjamin Bratt, American actor talks with repo...

Ahh, Benjamin. I nearly chose law school for you. (Image via Wikipedia)

Probably the option my parents would’ve loved, as long as they didn’t have to pay for it.

I started studying for the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), but if I’m honest the only thing drawing me to law school was my addiction to the TV show Law & Order, and the fact I wanted to work with cops as hot as Benjamin Bratt.

I didn’t do very well on the LSAT, so I panicked again.

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Writing goals: Did you meet 2011’s? Set 2012’s?

Success and failure sign

©cobrasoft/sxc.hu

I can hardly believe another year has gone by. I don’t know about you, but I love looking back to the goals I set myself on January 1 and remembering what I’ve accomplished this year.

I had set myself some day-job goals (not to be a jerk-wad manager, since I was about to hire my first managee), personal goals (to roll with the punches, since Smarty Pants was set to finish his PhD and would be looking for jobs around the world), and writing goals.

I’m happy to say I met most of my goals.

  1. I wrote and revised my contemporary romance All Things Easy, which I pitched to agents at my first RWA National Conference in July.
  2. I wrote the first draft of another contemporary romance, No Fragile Heart.
  3. I got half-way through revising my first manuscript, First Aid for a Broken Heart.
  4. I made more friends than I could’ve imagined on this blog and on Twitter (thank you, everyone, for the many hours of chatting and thoughtful comments and conversation!).

Goals for 2012

Day job

Since Smarty Pants got a job in the Netherlands, we moved in October and I now have a new day job. I’m so excited about it because it’s full of challenges and opportunities. My main goal is to tackle all of those without sacrificing my sanity, since I usually let myself be consumed by work.

I will probably get to go to Bangladesh and India for work this year, so my other goal is to make the most of those opportunities.

Personal life

I want to start learning Dutch. In the Netherlands, people speak such amazing English that I haven’t had to so far, but I feel awful asking people to speak to me in English. Smarty Pants and I may hire a tutor or take a class so we can at least learn the basics of the language.

Writing goals

This year I will:

  1. Finish revising First Aid for a Broken Heart.
  2. Revise No Fragile Heart.
  3. Write and revise the book that comes after All Things Easy.
  4. Judge three contests and enter three contests.
  5. Go to RWA Nationals and pitch to agents and editors.
  6. Build myself a website.
  7. Continue growing my blog and social media conversations.
  8. Keep track of the books I read on Goodreads.

How about you? How did you do with last year’s goals? What are this year’s goals?

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How a small community can smother your characters

As a contemporary romance writer, I know that series set in small towns and tight-knit communities are insanely popular.

But there’s also a danger that, as a series grows, those communities can begin to smother the vibrancy of later novels and their characters.

This isn’t just a danger with small-town contemporary romance. It can happen in any series that focuses on a particular community, whether that’s the ton in Regency romance or a fantastical world completely of the author’s creation.

Here are the ways communities can alienate me, the reader, and my thoughts on how to avoid it.

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Discovering the book you wish you’d written

A few weeks ago, I sat down to read a book by a new-to-me author that’s coming out soon. The premise had sounded intriguing, but to be honest, I’d requested it along with about a dozen others so by the time I started reading it I couldn’t even remember what it was supposed to be about.

So I read. And I read. And soon I started thinking, “Holy crap, why didn’t I write this book!”

Just to be clear, I don’t think I could’ve actually written this book, for many reasons. It doesn’t have a similar plot to any of my stories. The characters are very different from mine. It’s not even the same subgenre I write.

But it’s set in the same sort of world I’ve worked in for years, a world I’ve researched backwards and forwards and spent countless hours writing about for my day job: the world of major disasters.

The book I wish I’d written is Hot Zone by Catherine Mann. And this is how I tried to console myself for not having written it.

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Winner of Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva

Read My LipsA big thank-you to everyone who commented on my post Five things romance writers should know about vaginas.

I wish I could give away more than one copy of this fantastic book, but I hope you’ll all go out and get it even if you don’t win it (you can click on the book cover to check it out on Amazon).

The winner of a free copy, courtesy of the authors, is…ameliajamesauthor!

Amelia, I’ve emailed you asking for your mailing address.

Everyone, this week author Brenda Novak is giving away a copy of her latest romantic suspense novel, In Close, so leave a comment on my interview with her to enter!

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Five things romance writers should know about vaginas

If there’s one thing you’d think romance writers – who tend to be women writing for women – know about, it’s the workings of their own bodies.

After all, some of us write fairly explicit sex scenes, right?

Read My LipsThis week, though, I was surprised to discover how ignorant I was as I read the delightfully informative Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick, PhD, and Vanessa Schick, PhD.

This book, which will be released on November 14, should be required reading for everyone – women and men. It expels myths, builds confidence, and contains vital health information that would surprise many women.

And there are craft projects! I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so let’s just say I know what I’ll be dressing as next Halloween.

Luckily, Debby and Vanessa are giving away a copy of Read My Lips right here! (Details at the end of the post.)

For those of you who don’t write romance, please don’t feel you need to click away. Vulva knowledge is good for everyone – whether you carry one around all day or love someone who does.

First, a brief word on terminology. Vulva is used here to describe the genital region that can be seen from the outside (clitoris, lips, vaginal opening, etc). Vagina means the passage between the outside world and the uterus. But I won’t be anal about people using “vagina” to refer to the whole shebang.

Ready to learn about the mighty vulva?

1. All vulvas are different.

This might sound obvious, and maybe it is to people who have seen lots of naked women.

Then again, depending on where you encountered those women you might be forgiven for thinking most vulvas look the same. Apparently, most of the women pictured naked in magazines and online have a certain look: hairless or nearly hairless, with small inner labia that are fairly uniform in color.

But women are much more diverse. The authors say:

Painted lady statueThe inner labia (labia minora) are perhaps the most diverse part of women’s genitals. The color of women’s inner labia may vary greatly from one woman to the next. They may be a shade of pink, red, brown, gray, black, or slightly purple (particularly as women become sexually aroused and blood flow increases to the genitals, as the inner labia are filled with blood vessels; inner labia also sometimes darken in color while a woman is pregnant). The outer ridges of the inner labia are often darker than the rest of the labia. Similarly, in one study, forty-one of fifty women (92 percent) had genitals that were darker than the skin around their genitals.

Now, a lot of romance novelists skim over this kind of detail when describing sex scenes, but some don’t. And if you write explicit scenes, then you might like to add a little more genital diversity. Not only will it make your heroine more interesting, it’ll make her more real.

Most importantly, though, it could encourage your readers that their bits are normal, healthy and sexually desirable.

Wikipedia has a set of drawings showing vulvar diversity.

2. The hymen is at the vagina’s entrance.

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At first scent: exposing the secrets of chemical attraction

Couple nearly kissing

© Geber86/istockphoto

Romance readers are familiar with chemical attraction – that unmistakable yet intangible sensation when your body recognizes your soul mate.

For horror and suspense writers, the most important chemical reaction is different: the scent of fear and hint of danger the hero detects that lets him react just in time to save his own life.

These may sound like cliches, but they’re based on real-life reactions our bodies have to pheromones.

Earlier this week I went to a lecture by Karl Grammar of the University of Vienna, one of the few scientists in the world studying human pheromones. He gave us an insight into how humans react to the scent of pheromones, and I thought some of it might be useful, or at least interesting, to my fellow writers.

Let me preface this by saying that I didn’t take notes on the scientific nitty-gritty, so some of what follows here may be educational while other parts will just sound strange. Take what you will and store it away – surely it’ll come in handy for a pub quiz one day.

What are pheromones?

Dr Grammar began by saying that in almost all animal species life is controlled by highly volatile substances made by the glands. These are pheromones. We breathe them in, and our olfactory system takes these scents (which we don’t even know we’re smelling) straight to the brain.

In other words, people give off these super subtle messages which our nose takes to our brain for interpretation.

What do pheromones help us do?

Pheromones help us do things like recognize our relatives, select our mates, and be aware when someone scary or aggressive is nearby.

We have hundreds – possibly thousands – of different pheromones. They’re transmitted through our skin; since we each have a unique genetic epidermal composition, our pheromones “smell” different. This makes it easier for us to identify our kin, but it also means romance novels are right: we can identify that one person who’s special to us, even if we can’t see them.

Weird pheromone facts

Boar

© osmar01/sxc.hu

Humans have some of the same pheromones as other animals. For example, one of the pheromones men have is the same as a boar’s. Dr Grammar explained that when a female boar smells a male boar’s pheromones, she assumes the copulation position. “It doesn’t work like this for humans,” he said.

Women share a pheromone in common with wasps. Yep, women smell sorta like wasps, men smell like pigs, and no one knows why.

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