Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Review: Breathless by Anne Stuart

Miranda Rohan, the heroine in book three of the House of Rohan trilogy, is abducted and ruined as part of a revenge plan concocted by Lucien de Malheur, a criminal known as The Scorpion who blames Miranda’s brother for the suicide death of de Malheur’s sister.

Set aside by an unforgiving society, Miranda adapts to her new status and lives quite contentedly outside the bounds of propriety, thwarting de Malheur’s vengeance to the extent that he decides to take matters into his own hands by kidnapping Miranda and whisking her away to his moldering family estate, where he plans to place her beyond the reach of her family while he exacts his revenge.

Unfortunately, Miranda has learned nothing from her earlier experience. When a creepy, scarred man enters her life under suspicious circumstances, she instantly feels a kinship with him because he is a society outcast. Once Miranda realizes de Malheur’s intentions toward her not honorable, it is too late and she’s imprisoned in a fast traveling carriage, speeding toward an unknown fate.

Lucien de Malheur fails to overcome his bad-boy status. His desire for vengeance against the innocent sister of his enemy motivates him through too much of the novel, and his determination not to soften his heart toward Miranda makes it difficult for the reader’s heart to soften toward him. Miranda and Lucien make an odd couple because Miranda approaches challenges with a falsely cheery resolve to endure, prompting Lucien to plan new ways to humiliate and subjugate her.

The true romance in Breathless is found in the charming love story between Miranda’s friend Jane and a charming jewel thief.

Lisa Marie

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thoughts on the Series Book -Examining the Rohan Recipe

After reading Breathless, the final book in the House of Rohan series by Anne Stuart, I concluded that my concept of what constitutes a series novel may need to change. The Rohan series includes a novella, (The Wicked House of Rohan), and the trilogy of titles: Ruthless, Reckless, and Breathless.

My concept of a series book was formed long ago by works such as the St. Germain series of vampire novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo and by Diana Gabaldon’s series of time-travel novels beginning with Outlander. JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series are other examples of collections that support my idea of what series books are all about.

In my view, a series is comprised of multiple books forming the atlas of a literary world, a landscape spanning generations, many characters, and a variety of settings. The experience of reading a book in a series should be made richer by reading the books that come before and after it as the picture expands in much the same way a well-researched genealogical tree expands with painstaking research.

The House of Rohan series did not provide the series experience to which I’ve become accustomed, although that is not necessarily a bad thing. It just leaves me wondering if publishers might not be packaging stand-alone books as a series in order to spur book sales and requiring authors to invent a few broad common elements in order link the books in a series.

The single recurring, unifying element in the House of Rohan books is the Heavenly Host, a debauched group of émigrés who gather regularly for parties dedicated to the pursuit of physical pleasure. The Wicked House of Rohan introduces us to the group of men who conceived of the Heavenly Host and the woman intended as their first sacrifice. Ruthless continues the theme using the same setting and placing its hero at the center of the festivities, and then Reckless introduces us to the second generation of participants (which includes the son of the hero in Ruthless). The third installment, Breathless, again features the Heavenly Host while switching things up a bit by centering the story around a female member of the Rohan clan.

These books could easily be stand alone novels because they follow the generations in a linear fashion and few characters make appearances in more than one book. Breathless feels the least connected to the other novels because it has distinct gothic elements and an unpalatable revenge angle that depicts a scarred, lame “hero” called “The Scorpion” who plots to use the novel’s heroine as a tool of vengeance against her family.

The threads that link Breathless to the other novels in the Rohan trilogy are slender: Miranda Rohan is the daughter of Adrian Rohan from Reckless, and the Heavenly Host factors into the plans of the revenge-obsessed hero. Other than that, Miranda could be anyone’s daughter and the hero’s plans could have included raffling her off to the highest bidder at the local gaming hell instead of offering to share her with other men at a Heavenly Host fete.

As a reader, I didn’t feel a connection to the other House of Rohan books while reading the individual entries in the series, although I enjoyed all three books based on their own merit. Even the Heavenly Host premise that made the blurb for Ruthless so tantalizing eventually became tedious by the final book because the setting had been overused as the main area of overlap.

Writing an effective series book represents a huge challenge from a writing perspective as well. How does an author penning book #5 in a series decide how much world-building to include if elaborate attention was given to creating and describing the world in book #1?

How much back story should be included for characters making a cameo appearance in one book when those same characters will be featured in a book of their own in the series? How much repetition is too much? How does a writer provide a reader who is reading a series out of order with enough information and still avoid annoying the reader who already understands the foundation of the world in which the stories are set?

From the reader’s point of view, do readers eventually burn out on series novels? Do they become so invested in their expectations of events in future books that they feel disappointed if the overall arc of the story takes a completely unexpected turn? Do they cringe when they hear that a series by a favorite author will feature multiple books releasing over a short period of time because it may mean their available budget for buying stand-alone books will be seriously reduced if they plan to pick up each book in a planned series?

Series books have been around for a long time, and they aren’t going away. They appear to be evolving to meet the demands of the marketplace, in much the same way the entire world of publishing is changing.

Lisa Marie

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review of Ruthless by Anne Stuart

Book One in the House of Rohan Trilogy: King of Hell or King of Disco?

Elinor Harriman faces a dilemma. Her father has died, leaving his fortune to Elinor’s cousin, and her mother Lady Caroline is a gambling-addicted, former party girl now in the late stages of syphilis. When Elinor learns her mother has entered the chateau of the infamous “King of Hell,” she follows Lady Caroline into the lion’s den to prevent her from gambling away what little money the family has left.

Francis Rohan, le Comte de Giverney, is bored, narcissistic, and incredibly handsome. Rohan is the leader of The Heavenly Host, an assemblage of hedonistic émigrés who celebrate the sins of the flesh and other indulgences. Elinor crashes a Heavenly Host revel, demanding Rohan’s aid in locating her mother among the partygoers, and the plucky, shabbily clothed young woman awakens Rohan from his ennui. The ensuing protracted game of cat and mouse between innocent and determined seducer provides an entertaining read.

Rohan’s eighteenth-century roué is reminiscent of a 1970’s disco king ala Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. Resplendent in satin and lace and diamond-studded high heels, Rohan presides over a sex, drugs, and harpsichord bash while his modern counterpart strikes a pose in his white suit in a Studio 54-esque setting where sex, drugs, and rock and roll prevail.

Like his Disco King counterpart, the King of Hell seems a bit of a poser. Despite being a self-professed villain, the majority of Rohan’s actions are respectable. His most noticeable flaw is vanity, and his kindness toward Elinor and her sister Lydia cannot be totally put down to self-interest. Rohan finds Elinor intriguing, and his initial intent to exploit Elinor’s innocence eventually forms the path to his own salvation as the world-weary rake is transformed into a man with a heart and soul.

Lisa Marie

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review of Sins of the Heart by Eve Silver

Book One in the Otherkin Trilogy: Hero Dagan Krayl Steals Hearts…Literally.

Young Roxy Tam is rescued from a serial killer by Dagan Krayl, a half-mortal, half-god soul reaper who harvests darksouls—the souls of evil humans—at the behest of his father, a god of the Underworld. Although Roxy witnesses the violent death and harvesting of the killer’s darksoul by Krayl, the soul reaper spares Roxy, warning her to seek out a normal life and keep her distance from the Daughters of Aset, the natural enemy of soul-reapers.

Despite Krayl’s warning, it is Roxy’s destiny to become a member of the Daughters of Aset. Years later, when Roxy encounters Dagan Krayl again, she is a member of the Asetion Guard, and the soul-reaper’s enemy. Dagan’s brother Lokan has been murdered, and Dagan is determined to find those responsible while there is still time to return his brother to life and punish his killers. The Daughters of Aset are among the group of suspects in Lokan’s murder, and Roxy’s path collides with Dagan’s when she investigates another crime which may have ties to Lokan’s murder. Although Dagan’s goal is to extract information from Roxy about Lokan’s death, the soul reaper is shocked to discover he still has tender feelings for the young woman whose life he once saved.

In Sins of the Heart, the first book in the Otherkin trilogy, author Eve Silver skillfully integrates the humans who reside Topworld with a vast, complex group of deities and demons who inhabit the Underworld. Combining mythology and the Egyptian Book of the Dead with paranormal elements both borrowed and new, Silver creates a complex Underworld complete with hierarchies, ancient blood feuds, and supernatural characters with personal quirks. (Soul reaper Dagan carries a supply of lollipops to ease the sugar cravings induced by his half-human, half-god hyperactive metabolism).

A few structural pitfalls detract from an otherwise enthralling story. The beginning scene where Krayl saves Roxy ends too abruptly, and the remainder of their encounter is told rather than shown as backstory in later chapters. Unfortunately, the manner in which Roxy acquires her dark gift/curse from Dagan during their first meeting isn’t convincingly conveyed via flashbacks. The “whodunit” of Lokan’s murder is not fully disclosed by the end of the novel, nor is the question of Lokan’s re-animation answered in this first installment of the series.
Still, the success of the first book in any series is measured by whether or not the reader has been engaged enough to want to pick up the next book. Sins of the Heart is a taste that leaves the reading wanting more.

Lisa Marie

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thoughts on the Future of Book Publishing

As an author and a reader, I feel anticipation tempered by abject terror when I contemplate the changing face of publishing. Recent media bytes from Dorchester and Medallion Press announcing their plans to scale back on or eliminate print publishing altogether in order to embrace the e-book as the future have me wondering how those creating the product publishers sell (aka writers) will be affected.

I’m not Nora Roberts. I’m not Dan Brown. I’m not Stephenie Meyer. Those authors have a huge foundation of readers who will find their work, regardless of the format in which it is presented. Me? Not so much. My recent royalty statement tells me that the bulk of my sales come from bookstore shelves, not e-books. While the number of electronic copies sold of my books has increased with each subsequent statement I’ve received, those same numbers still make the argument that there would be no perceptible momentum in my career as a novelist without the sales of physical print copies.
How do we bridge the gap when a prospective reader can no longer take a book from the bookstore shelf, read the cover blurb, peruse a few pages, and make a buying decision largely based upon impulse? While it’s true that today’s readers are already accustomed to reading online book reviews, blogs, Amazon ratings, and so on, the e-book as the wave of the future scenario is more suited to the author who already has name recognition value. No one is likely to research a book or an author they’ve never heard of.

I personally love the experience of scanning bookstore shelves, taking a book in hand, and discussing books with store employees and even strangers I happen to meet in the aisles. I’m hard-pressed to imagine how a virtual storefront could replicate the experience of having an enthusiastic bookseller, librarian, or reader recommend a book to me by placing the book in my hand and making an impassioned speech to convince me to buy it.
What about the substantial number of readers who cannot afford an e-reader? While the price of e-readers has dropped steadily and is likely to continue to drop, do we run the risk of turning into an elitist society where those who own e-readers will have more reading choices available to them than readers who buy only second hand mass-market paperbacks? Will the e-book licensing model expand to accommodate the age-old practice of loaning a beloved book to a friend? As an author, I don’t want to turn away anyone who might have interest in reading my work. I don’t turn up my nose at library copies, paperback swap sites, or any form of book-sharing. Yes, it’s true the author receives no monetary compensation from these; however, the goal in writing a book in the first place is to have someone read it.

Will we eventually have a universal reader that can accommodate all e-book formats, or will the devices splinter into different factions of proprietary software, like the Amazon Kindle? Will the reader who has purchased a proprietary e-reader device like the Nook from Barnes and Noble simply be out of luck if the seller goes out of business and can no longer support the products it sold? Will there be any form of quality control in place? Will the readers available from places like CVS, Best Buy, Macy’s, and so on, all be required to meet a minimum set of standards, and if so, who will set those standards?

Where will book recommendations come from? What will happen to booksellers? Will booksellers embrace emerging forms of technology or will they become the one remaining place where print books can be obtained, infusing them with a new purpose and supplying them with a unique customer base? Will the independent bookstore disappear like a dinosaur following a cataclysmic event? Booksellers have always provided so much more than books stacked neatly upon shelves. They organize events, they create book clubs, and they read their inventory so that they can make recommendations to customers looking for their next book purchase. Most important of all, booksellers love books and they spread the love of books to others. Can anything fill such a void?

In my view, word-of-mouth will continue to be a critical factor in the success of a book. Review sites and influential bloggers may become even more powerful, although some may claim that some sites wield too much power as it is, while others may argue that review sites have no real influence at all on book buying decisions. I worry about a future where a negative review on an influential review site could effectively shut down a new writer’s career. Even ball players are allowed three strikes. On the flip side of the same coin, the e-book format might actually become a boon to new authors because without mass-market production, printing and warehousing costs, the margin to achieve profitability is substantially decreased. Ergo, more times up at bat for that new writer on the block.

Creative marketing will be required, stretching the boundaries of imagination in order to find innovative ways to connect readers with writers. How will the approach for launching a debut author differ from that of the task of reaching the vast readership of an author whose work consistently hits the bestseller lists? Will the advertising dollar hold sway, with publishers using online ads to promote their titles and readers buying a novel after being bombarded with so many strategically placed banner ads that they assume “everyone” is reading the book? The perception that a book is a “must-read” will place it on thousands of virtual to-be-read stacks. That same strategy is successfully employed today to a degree.

The dark cloud staining the e-book silver lining is piracy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of sites currently offer pirated content available for free download. Just as quickly as sites are closed down, new sites replace them. Everyone loses as a result of piracy. The publisher loses when their profits are consumed by legal fees while trying to close down the pirate sites. The writer loses when their work is given away for free. The reader loses when they learn a favorite author is no longer writing because writing has become a pointless exercise when there are bills to be paid and no money coming in from book sales. Another aspect of the piracy issue is the need for education. Although people who download free content from pirate sites must certainly be aware they are doing something unethical, many seem to be ignorant of the fact that they are also committing a crime. Copyright and content laws must be respected and enforced, no matter what publishing format is in vogue.

We are certainly living in an era of major change, and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out as what was once portrayed as science fiction becomes a part of everyday life. My version of utopia would be a consumer-driven marketplace where e-books are more reasonably priced than they are at present (reflecting the reduction in production and warehousing costs) and those who still want to savor the sensation of holding a print book in their hands can request a print version of any book and it will be available via print on demand technology. Why not wish for the best of both worlds?

Lisa Marie

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pondering Goodreads Book Shelf Names

One of the many things I find interesting about Goodreads is the inventive names its members come up with for their virtual bookshelves. Since I’m both a reader and an author on Goodreads, it’s always flattering to come across a shelf with my name, or to find one of my books on someone’s “Wishlist” shelf.

There are other shelf names I’ve seen in conjunction with my work that give me a warm glow such as “Keeper,” and “All-time-favorites.”

Lest these wonderful category names threaten to increase the circumference of my noggin by two full hat sizes, there is also the humility-inducing flip side of the coin, the shelves with names like “Sucks-so-bad-I-couldn’t-finish,” and “Cough-Historicals-Cough.” My debut novel, “Fire at Midnight,” ended up on the latter-named shelf in a Goodreader’s library, which puzzled me because despite being a romance, the novel was thoroughly researched for accuracy of period and setting details. It could be the shelf owner doesn’t like romance, but the implication that I hadn’t done my research rankled, and I found myself wishing that the shelf was named, “Well-researched-but-too-much-intimacy-for-my-taste.”

My own shelves are currently limited to the plebian default names that come with the software: “Read,” “Currently Reading,” and “To Read.”

After seeing the variety of meaningful, fun, and sometimes snarky shelf names created by other members, I’m tempted to create shelves for better classification of the eclectic titles I own:








“Sympathy-Reads-AAR Rejects”


Well, I think you get the idea. Any additional suggestions for shelf-naming ideas are welcome.

Lisa Marie

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review of Open Country by Kaki Warner

The death of Molly McFarlane’s sister Nellie forces Molly to assume responsibility for the welfare of her young niece and nephew. When it becomes clear the children’s step-father Daniel Fletcher is involved in dealings that will ultimately endanger them, Molly takes the children and heads west, intending to put as much distance between Fletcher and the children as possible.

Molly, having served as her physician/surgeon father’s assistant from a young age, is a capable woman who quickly realizes that the scant amount of money she has left will not provide for her and the children for very long. Fearful that Fletcher has sent trackers after them, Molly’s quandary over how to keep them safe is met with an unusual solution in the form of a tragic train derailment. When Molly discovers the railway is paying a death benefit to families of those killed in the train wreck, she marries a man who is not expected to survive his injuries, planning to collect the settlement money when he dies.

Complications arise almost from the moment Molly sets her plan in motion: her husband turns out to be from a wealthy local family and he has a brother who is suspicious about the circumstances under which his confirmed-bachelor brother was wed. To make matters worse, Molly’s years of training will not permit her to stand back and allow the man to die of his injuries when she has the expertise to save him. Molly applies herself to the task of saving the man’s life, all the while fearful of what will happen when he recovers enough to expose her as a fraud.

As Hank Wilkins recovers from his injuries at his family ranch, he puzzles over the fact that he has no memory of his wife or his adopted children while Molly wrestles with how and when to reveal the truth about their sham marriage to Hank. The handsome, taciturn man who once represented nothing more than a cash settlement to fund her journey west becomes the embodiment of the dream for love and family Molly has long denied herself. Their fragile bond is shattered when Hank’s memory returns before Molly finds the courage to reveal the truth.

As the trackers sent by Fletcher close in on their quarry, Molly and Hank struggle to find a way to begin again, unaware that Molly’s nephew has evidence of a conspiracy involving Fletcher that Fletcher is willing to do anything—including commit murder—to recover.

Open Country offers more than the standard “woman and children fleeing danger” plot. Although Molly’s certainty that Fletcher’s men are after them is mentioned often, no real sense of danger is instilled in the reader until Molly has an encounter with the most evil of their pursuers well into the story. Up to that point, the danger is talked about, but the leisurely pace of the novel stalls the element of suspense.

The heart of the story focuses on the unfolding relationship between Molly and Hank, with the author’s gift for insightful dialogue and her ability to capture complex emotions lending credibility to the developing romance. Open Country is a well-written, satisfying read for those who enjoy themes about the redemption of trust and the capacity for mutual attraction to turn into love.

Visit Kaki Warner's website.

Lisa Marie

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Contest!!

I'm thrilled to be participating in the Romance Junkies summer contest.

If you've never checked out the RJ contests, you're missing out on a great deal of fun and a wonderful opportunity to win some terrific prize packages.

I am offering a signed copy of "Stolen Promise," plus a $25 book store gift card and a number of limited edition promotional goodies. To go directly to my contest offering, CLICK HERE.

But please don't stop there! If you go to the main contest page and hover your cursor over various items in the graphic, you'll find links to prize packages offered by a number of authors in the summer contest. To go to the Romance Junkies main Summer Contest page, CLICK HERE.

Winners will be selected after August 31st, so check out the contest and the many opportunities to win!

Lisa Marie

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fire at Midnight Brings Home IPPY Gold!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that my debut novel, “Fire at Midnight,” has won the Gold Medal for Romance in the Independent Publisher Book Awards (“IPPY”) which recognize the best Indie published books of the year.

Launched in 1996, the Independent Publisher Book Awards is among the world’s largest and most recognized book awards contest events in the world. Open exclusively to independents, the "IPPYs" recognize the year's best books and bring them to the attention of booksellers, buyers, librarians, and book lovers.

According to the event organizers, “entries into this year's 14th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards saw a dramatic increase in quality and diversity – and the writing and publishing exhibited great commitment and passion.”

Medalists will be honored at a gala awards ceremony in New York on May 25th during Book Expo America.

Lisa Marie

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Writerly Stuff: Confessions of a Contest Diva

How does the world’s biggest coward become a published author? What options are available to a writer who lacks the courage to query agents? Is there any hope for a wordsmith who cannot bring herself to trust her beloved literary creation to that embodiment of anonymity known as the publishing house slush pile?

For this writer, the answer was a baby step called the chapter contest. No form rejections. No unanswered e-mails. Only the expectation of objective feedback provided by a published author or at the very least, by a trained judge.

While perusing my copy of Romance Writers Report, a publication of Romance Writers of America, I noticed many of the Romance Writers of America chapters held contests in order to provide constructive criticism to aspiring romance writers. The final judge was usually an agent or an editor from a romance-friendly publisher. How cool was that? I thought. If one submitted a judge-pleasing entry, the end result was that the partial manuscript could conceivably bypass the entire intimidating pitch process and land on an editor’s desk with the foregone commitment that it would be read.

I was prompted to enter my first contest by the desire to discover if my dream of publication was even remotely attainable. There would be no loss of face if my submission proved to be particularly inept because my identity was a secret closely guarded by the contest coordinator. My submission was assigned a code number and matched to a similarly unidentified first round judge. All contest coordinators and judges donate their time, and there is usually a nominal entry fee paid by the contestant. A chapter whose contest has earned a good reputation (a proven track record of picking winners who went on to be published) can look forward to their contest providing income to offset chapter expenses.

Did I final my first time out? No. But I received something much more valuable at that time than the ego-boost that a final would have provided. I received mentoring from an unexpected source, and encouragement. When my score sheets arrived in the mail, I was surprised to find that one published author judge on the panel had gone to a great deal of trouble to note what she felt was good about my entry, and to call attention to aspects of craft that could be improved. She added that she was impressed by my entry and expected to find my book on her local store shelf one day. She remained anonymous, so I was never able to properly thank her, other than through a note forwarded by the contest coordinator to my nameless mentor.

Those comments from one anonymous, kind-hearted judge served to light a fire under me. I studied her remarks, recognized the value in the advice she had given me, and began revising my manuscript. I entered the revision in another contest, and later received word my entry was a finalist. A few weeks after that, I received word that my entry had won. Although this did not guarantee a sale, it was a critical milestone for me because it gave me hope.

How did the contest eventually lead to “The Call” informing me of a sale? Medallion Press senior editor Helen Rosburg judged the Florida RWA chapter Golden Palm contest and requested the full manuscript from me. I mailed the manuscript on Valentine’s Day and I received “The Call” on February 27th from the author liaison at Medallion. Not only were they interested in publishing my historical romance, but they were excited by the prospect!

Medallion Press published “Fire at Midnight” in March, 2009 and my second historical romance novel, “Stolen Promise,” was published in March of 2010.

Are there any pitfalls to contesting? There can be, of course. Few things in life are perfect, and contests are no exception. Untrained judges, apathetic contest coordinators, vague comments or even deliberately cruel feedback goes with the territory, but these are not the norm. I give credit to the RWA chapter contest circuit and one anonymous published author who took the time to put together an insightful critique and offer encouragement to an aspiring writer who lacked confidence. It made all the difference for me.

I have noticed a trend over the last few years where winning author names from the RWA chapter contest circuit are hitting bookstore shelves. To name a few: Courtney Milan, Kris Kennedy, Christie Craig, Helen Scott-Taylor, Carla Hughes, Christine Wells, Stacey Lynn Reimer, J.L. Wilson, Cat Lindler, Jennifer Haymore, Kathleen (Kaki) Warner, Jenny Gardiner, Judi Fennell, Caroline Fyffe, Kristina McMorris, Kimberly Killion, Angie Fox, Kathryn Dennis…to name a few!

There is even a blog dedicated to Contest Divas:

And, once a contest diva, always a contest diva! Once a writer becomes ineligible to enter the contests for unpublished writers, there are always the contests for published authors, plus the opportunity to give back by offering to serve as a contest judge. My debut novel, Fire at Midnight, was recently named a USA Book News Best Books of 2009 winner, expanding its contest career to include success in published novel competitions.

For an aspiring writer who isn’t quite ready to tread the waters of the NY publishing world, dipping a toe in the chapter contest kiddie pool might be an appropriate first step!

Lisa Marie

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Writerly Stuff: Exploring Other Cultures

One of the perks in writing fiction is being provided with the opportunity to explore other cultures and answer a “what if” question in a way that inspires an interesting or outside the box plot idea.

My March release, STOLEN PROMISE, explores what might happen when two people from completely different cultures coerced into marriage might eventually find enough common ground to fall in love. STOLEN PROMISE features a young Romany (Gypsy) woman who yearns for a better life than the one planned for her, and the heir to a South Carolina plantation who finds himself forced to marry the fiery Jade after he travels to England to learn about this Gypsy heritage.

The question I’m hearing most often is, “What made you decide to write about Gypsies?”

Two of the most oft-repeated tenets about writing good fiction is “write what you know,” and “if the story you’re writing doesn’t interest you, your reader won’t be interested, either.”

I’m not of Romany (Gypsy) blood. The greater proportion of the blood in my veins is Native American (Cherokee), but learning about the struggles of the ancestors indigenous to my own country has left me interested in other cultures and in particular those cultures whose people have experienced persecution or stereotyping.

I’ve always found the idea of Gypsies fascinating. The nomadic lifestyle, the mystery, the colorful clothing and gaily painted wagons shadowed by firelight in an open encampment…how could these images fail to stir the imagination of a romance writer? And the music! The piercing lament of a Gypsy violin and the smells of wood smoke and food cooking over campfires are sensory details that insinuate themselves into any images one might conjure about the Romany life.

I did a significant amount of research to extract the small details that would bring the settings and the characters to life so that the depictions would be grounded in authenticity rather than just another perpetuation of a stereotype. When I lived in California, I encountered a group of Gypsies who were traveling through the area and found them to be charming and clever. The chance meeting made me even more determined to write a novel featuring these people and their culture, but I also wanted to find a twist that would make for an interesting love story.

Many novels arise from a simple question of, “what if?” The idea for STOLEN PROMISE came about when I asked myself the question, “Could a man from 1806 South Carolina fall in love with a woman from a vastly different culture, especially after being forced to marry her?”

The key ingredients needed to make the story work were to toss in a revelation about the man’s heritage that would shatter his own sense of identity, and to create a spark between the two early on in the book that would link them even when circumstances bound them together against their will. Once Jade journeys to South Carolina with Evan, I found it entertaining to explore how she and her sister Liberina would react to life on a plantation. Cultural differences also played into how Evan’s jealous soon-to-be ex-fiancée could make Jade’s life miserable by exploiting Jade’s ignorance of the Southern code of behavior.

I love romances where the hero and heroine are obviously meant to end up together from their first encounter, but the odds against a happy ending for them seem insurmountable. It’s always so satisfying to experience the emotional journey as two lovers work through obstacles and finally achieve their HEA. It was my goal to make STOLEN PROMISE an entertaining read with humor, poignancy, and a completely satisfying ending. I hope you’ll let me know whether or not I’ve succeeded!

To read an excerpt from STOLEN PROMISE, please visit my website!

Lisa Marie

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Modern Phenomenon Called the To-Be-Read Pile

I received a Kindle as a birthday present last year, and I wasted no time in downloading new releases as well as classic novels irresistibly priced at a dollar or less for the Kindle versions. I was lying in bed reading the other night when I suddenly had a mental picture of an archeological dig centuries from now, during which my slim white reading device would be unearthed by a team of professorial types. Of course, in my vision, all technological devices were backward compatible, so it took only a few moments for the content to be retrieved from the Amazon database archives.

Further examination of the downloaded content would reveal something odd about the reading
habits of the owner of the device: not every book stored on the device had actually been read. I can picture future scientists scratching their heads as they puzzled over this fact. Their initial hypothesis that the user had perhaps lost the device or perhaps suddenly perished after downloading several weeks’ worth of reading material would be swept aside as other, similar devices were discovered. As an entire community of such devices was unearthed, a common denominator would be revealed: human beings from this era purchased books they never read.

An examination of my bookshelves today only supported the conclusion future scientists might make about us with regard to our reading habits. I have a huge TBR (“to-be-read”) pile. All the selections I’ve purchased appeal to me, and I intend to read them all…eventually. The reader’s forums I belong to assure me that my habits are the norm rather than an anomaly. On social sites devoted to readers, a popular topic of discussion often begins with the question, “How big is your TBR pile?”

Curiosity about this common pattern of behavior prompted me to conduct a brief informal poll of people of different ages about their book buying and reading habits. I wondered at what point the acquisition of books become more important than the consumption of them. I discovered that people who grew up in difficult economic times (Depression era) tended to buy books one at a time and read them before buying another. One of my subjects, a woman in her 80’s, told me about having belonged to a book club in her youth and spending a great deal of time at the library to supplement her reading material. She claims to have never bought a book she did not read.

As an author whose debut novel (“Fire at Midnight”) was released last year and whose second novel (“Stolen Promise”) was just released, knowing that books are being purchased but not read leaves me with conflicting emotions. On one hand, any reader who has purchased my book or borrowed it from their local library has my unending gratitude.

On the other hand, the thought that my debut novel was purchased but now languishes in a TBR pile boasting far more compelling author names than mine leaves me with a lump in my throat and the uneasy feeling that readers might view my next release with indifference because they have not read my first release yet. Having a reader base eagerly looking forward to one’s next book is critical if an author hopes to keep their publisher interested, so for newer authors, I wonder if the concern is going to shift from whether the book is selling to whether the book is being read.

A number of potential causes for this behavior come to mind:

1-Most households have two working adults these days. The stay-at-home Mom is somewhat of an endangered species, although I’m not so sure she ever had time to put her feet up, eat bon-bons and read for pleasure in the first place.

2-Simple lack of time/opportunity. Full time jobs, child-rearing, community commitments, and so on all leave us less downtime. Reading is usually considered to be a downtime pleasure.

3-Activities other than reading take up the time that was once reserved for reading in the past. We have a whole slew of other things we can be doing now, like spending time on numerous social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, playing video games, texting friends, watching television, and so on.

4-We’re a material-based culture. Perhaps it’s more important to be able to say a copy of the book is owned than it is to be prepared to discuss its content. I’ve noticed my friends always have copies of the latest “book-du-jour,” but when asked for an opinion, they invariably haven’t read it…yet.

As a romance writer, I frequent many of the top romance website forums, and everyone always seems to be running out to purchase the latest “buzz” book, then commenting in a post months later that they haven’t gotten around to reading it…yet. Personally, I believe every book is purchased with the intention that it will be read, and every reader is looking for the opportunity to catch up on all those unread books.

Should I even be worrying about this? Probably not. Can I change it? No. Is it necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. I just find it a curious phenomenon, and an interesting comment on modern society, even though I haven’t yet decided just what it does say about us. What do you think?

Lisa Marie

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Writerly Stuff: When a Book is Like a Song

Have you noticed that one thing many avid readers have in common is a love of music? Authors will often cite favorite musical influences during interviews, even to the point of referencing the type of music they listen to when writing a certain type of scene.

My writing background includes a stint as a lyricist. Having had the experience of tailoring a song lyric to fit a melody, it occurred to me that there are some similarities between a well crafted song and a well written novel.

Take, for example, “the hook.” In a novel, the hook refers to those critical beginning pages designed to engage your reader and keep him or her turning pages. In a song, “the hook” can refer to any element that grabs the listener’s attention and makes the song memorable. Some songs hook the listener immediately with their opening bars. Remember the first time you heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen or “Stairway to Heaven?” In some cases the hook is a repetitive instrumental figure or lyrical phrase, but it’s what you remember long after the song has ended.

There are “light” content songs just like there are “light” content novels. Think of any novelty song that made you laugh, such as the Elmer Fudd version of “Blue Christmas” that gets dusted off and played every Christmas. Compare the novelty song to a classic like “Unchained Melody” and a difference in depth and tone will emerge. Both types of songs have value because most listeners like to vary what they listen to based to their mood, just as readers don’t necessarily want to stick to reading in one genre all the time.

Trends affect both the music and book publishing industries. Careers rise and fall on the whim of “what’s hot and what’s not” although it could be argued that it’s easier for a novelist to switch genres than it is for musical artists to reinvent themselves. Author Mary may switch from writing chick lit to paranormals while Pop Artist Mary might try pumping new life into a stale pop music career by switching to country.

Another similarity between books and music is imitation, (or outright plagiarism in some cases). Most writers find a formula and stick to it. There are classic themes in literature, and it’s generally agreed that little new territory is being carved out these days. The challenge is in finding fresh ways to explore universal themes. In music, artists “sample” each other’s work or acknowledge borrowing from each other, such as the bass line from “Ice, Ice, Baby” that sounds eerily similar to Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

Whether you’ve written a novel or a song lyric, success is measured by whether or not your work has resonated with your intended audience. In the case of a song, you’ll want to have left your listener humming the tune or remembering a bit of the lyric. As a novelist, you’ll want your reader to re-read favorite bits of dialogue or narrative.

And novelists take heart: a song has only minutes to make an impression. You have a few hundred pages. Make the most of them.

Lisa Marie

Monday, March 1, 2010

Writerly Stuff-My First Radio Interview

I was invited by my publisher, Medallion Press, to participate in a radio interview as part of the launch for my new historical romance, STOLEN PROMISE.

I learned several things during the process:
  • Being very nervous turns the insides of your cheeks into cotton balls

  • I say "ummmm" more often than I ever would have believed

  • A skilled interviewer can make the interviewee actually enjoy the interview

  • Pets will aim concerned looks your way when you're talking and there's no one else in the room

To listen to an archived recording of the interview, visit the Medallion Press website.

Lisa Marie

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

I can't think of a poem that invokes the spirit of Valentine's Day more perfectly than this:

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


Lisa Marie

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