Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mary Shelley: Building a Story

An idea takes root in your mind and you decide to make it a story. Ideas could come from a news story, trivia , or even a dream, as was the case with Mary Shelley. Like most of us, she had an idea and had to nurture this idea into a story.

It was a dark and stormy night (no, really) when Mary sat in the parlor with three friends on a bet. The four were bored and decided on a ghost story challenge. It is rumored the men teased her saying she was at a disadvantage as a woman, for she was unable to grasp the elements of horror.

She stared at a blank page for the longest time before remembering a conversation about Erasmus Darwin and the ideas he had about the possibility of returning a corspe or assembled body parts to life. It is said she had a waking dream which gave her the ideas for FRANKENSTEIN.

A plot seed needed nurturing to grow from there: A sceintist would create life from the dead, in a lab, using his scientific skill. If she made an outline it might look like this:

I. Scientist creates a living being (story begins)
a. His desire is to learn the mysteries of life and death and overcome them
b. He would have to rob graves to obtain body parts
c. Jail would be the penalty if he were caught. Stealth would be a must

This would establish goal, motivation and conflict for the main character. From here, Shelley would have to decide how the scientist's (Dr. Frankenstein) decision affected himself and those around him.

Instead of the growling brain-dead monster of many Frankenstein remakes, Shelley's monster was intelligent, multi lingual, and became a person with his own agenda.

II. He's created a monster (the story middle)
a. The monster cannot be controlled.
b. the monster has his own demands (wants)
c. The monster proves a threat

The monster wants a mate, the scientist is appalled. At first the sceintist tries to escape the monster, but the monster becomes adamant and threatens his creator.
(establishing his own GMC)
Unable to fit into society the monster wants a companion, one like him. (goal)
He promises his creator the to leave all in peace if he is granted this request (motivation)
He is denied (conflict).

Details often grow out of story ideas as you get to know your characters better and start to think as they would. Events escalate, the monster will not be ignored and lives are at stake.
The sceintist has to resolve the problem.
It is his creation; therefore, he is responsible for the monster.

How will he appease the monster? Can he appease it? Refusal means the death of his family.
Ultimately, the monster leaves for the artic circle, leaving the scientist broken.
A lesson learned about playing God. This is taken from her book:

"I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world."

FRANKENSTEIN was meant to be a short story, but the ideas grew and the tale grew longer. Outline your thoughts and play with the characters.

Can the monster die?Are there lessons he can teach us?
Will Frankenstein's intended dump the doctor and take up with the monster? This happened in Mel Brook's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN with hilarious results!

Outlines are only guides. Getting the main ideas down for beginning, middle and end give a starting place for further ideas. Like a seedling, the ideas will blossom into something, a real story.
But keep in mind, you alone are responsible for your own creation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Notes From The Desk Of A New Author.

Okay pushing aside real life to write can be hard enough, but when it comes to promotion its even harder. Why?

Well I think for most new writers like me it has a lot to do with not knowing where to start. I've asked around to see what other authors found worked for them. The most resounding thing I heard was write that next book. Well I took that to heart and kept tapping the keys with my fingers.

I do post excerpts and blurbs on few yahoo loops I'm a member of.

Other than that I've given out dozens of bookmarks, some magnets, and things like that. I held a Halloween giveaway and am doing one for Christmas too over at my website. The only benefit I've seen so far is the increase in traffic on my site. I really didn't expect, thought I hoped, this may help my sale. Truly I just figured I enjoy winning prizes so why not give some away.

So between dealing with real life, which includes dealling with the fact I just found out my dog is about to have puppies, and writing I'll have to find creative ways to promote and just hope that getting a backlist built helps bring sales my way.

So if anyone has ideas on ways to reach readers give a shout out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When you’re in love, magical things can happen…

Wow, where did 2009 go? I can’t believe this is my last blog of 2009. What better time to tell you about my newest book, Sleeping With Fairies that’s released on Monday (December 21st) by Lyrical Press.

When I started writing, I always dreamed of one day setting a story in Ireland because my paternal grandmother was born in County Cork. This story came about in the days when I all I could manage to write was a short story. The characters of Claire and Michael jumped into my head and Ireland seemed the perfect setting for it. I mailed it off to the People’s Friend, a UK magazine. It came back a month later with a rejection letter. I put it aside for a few months but the story and the characters wouldn’t leave my head. My next idea was to write a novella and expand on the short story I’d created. Half way through writing, I realized this story had taken on a new life, the characters had grown and they deserved nothing less than a full novel.

I’ve always enjoyed both Irish fairy tales and ghost stories. Maybe it’s my Irish heritage but I believe magical things can happen if you truly believe in something. For me, that magical thing was becoming a published author.
Here is the blurb and an excerpt for Sleeping With Fairies. I hope you’ll read the book, find yourself transported to the Emerald Isle and that something magical happens to you too.

Oh, and did I happen to mention the book makes the idea last minute holiday gift!

Magic is a big part of Claire Mahoney’s life, but that gift comes with the burden of a curse. The man she marries will die a month after the wedding. A gifted landscaper, she beautifies people’s gardens but is missing the light of love in her own life.

Michael Finnegan swears he will never be romantically involved again, not after the death of his wife. His daughter, Rachel, is of another mind when they move next door to Claire, whom she suspects is a witch. Rachel also begins to look up to Claire as another mother, thwarting Michael's desire to remain casual and distant from his new neighbor.

Sparks fly and the magic of true love follows. But when the curse rears its ugly head, will Michael and Claire be destined to never live happily ever after again?

Beads of sweat popped out on Michael’s brow. He swiped at them. He knew he should take a walk to cool down, but Rachel was in bed. He didn’t want to leave her alone in the house.
When he glanced out again, he saw Claire standing close to her window. There was a pair of binoculars around here somewhere. He’d packed them where they would be easy to find because he knew the house was by the sea, and the village had lots of interesting things for him to look at, although he didn’t quite expect one of them to be his neighbor. Michael glanced around the room, searching for the box he’d packed them in. Spotting what looked like the one, he made his way over to it. Rewarded for his effort, he pulled them out, making fast work of removing the covers from the lenses. He hid around the side of the drapes so nothing but the lenses were visible. All of a sudden, Claire came into full view. With the help of the binoculars, it looked like she was standing right in front of him.
He wondered if she had a boyfriend. In fact, it would be a blessing if she did. Michael almost dropped the binoculars when he noticed she was about to unbutton her blouse. He had to quit looking right now. He had to for his sake—hers too.
“Put the binoculars down, Finnegan,” he said under his breath.
It was impossible, because something was drawing him to her. He sensed it. Rachel’s story could be true, maybe Claire was a witch. Perhaps none of this was his fault. Just maybe he had no control over the situation.
For goodness sake, who was he fooling with thoughts like that?
She’d started to unbutton her blouse. She was about to slip the last of the buttons through the hole. Now she was pulling the blouse open, then she was sliding it off her shoulders.
He took a deep breath. What if she wasn’t wearing a bra? Some women didn’t. Did Claire Mahoney seem like the sort of woman who went braless? His heart pounded like the first time he’d set eyes on her. He licked his dry lips.
He took another deep breath. The blouse was off—yes, she was wearing a bra. He felt a hint of disappointment. The bra was a lacy one. Only a half one, mind you. What did women call them? There was a special name for them, but he couldn’t recall it.
Her breasts spilled over the bra. He licked his lips again. This time they weren’t dry. Michael imagined his lips grazing the tops of her breasts. He’d slide his tongue back and forth across them, making her think she was being tickled. Maybe she’d even giggle at the sensation.
Oh no, she’d seen him.
He’d been caught.
Michael sprang back from the window, almost tripping over his own feet. Now what was he going to do? He’d been caught red-handed. Would she knock on the door any minute? She knew he was home, so he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t. He’d have to go open the door. She’d probably slap him across the face. And he’d deserve it.
Then he had another fantasy. After she’d slapped him, they’d look into one another’s eyes. She’d make a mad dive for him. They’d kiss, fall to the floor, then she’d beg him to make love to her.
“Snap out of it,” he ordered himself.
Michael glanced back at her house. She’d pulled her drapes across the window. Did that mean she was on her way over to his house? Was she mad at him? Was she about to call the police? Would he be arrested for being a peeping tom, a pervert? What an awful way to begin life in a new village. Not to mention, embarrassing for Rachel.
“Da, what are you doing looking out the window at night with your binoculars?” He almost jumped out of his skin when Rachel spoke. Michael turned to his daughter who stood in the doorway, wearing her PJs and rubbing her eyes.
“What are you doing out of bed?”
“I couldn’t sleep. My new room seems strange to me.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“But I’m scared. Is there something to be frightened of outside? Is that why you were using the binoculars?” She walked over to him, still rubbing her eyes. She flung her arms around his waist. He patted her head.
“No, sweetie, of course not. I was just looking at the stars. You can see them so much clearer than you ever could in Dublin.”
Heaven help him, what was happening to him? He’d been in Findale no more than a few days and already he’d turned into a pervert watching his neighbor undress while having sexual fantasies about her. If all that wasn’t bad enough, now he was lying to his little girl

Wishing you all Happy Holidays.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer/publicist and author of four novels. She’s currently at work at a contemporary romance, a contemporary novella and two historical novellas. Besides blogging at Romance Writers in the Rough, she also writes a monthly blog for Between the Lines and More where she interviews authors and publishers/editors. She is also the new marketing director at Breathless Press. For more information about Susan and her work check out her Web site at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hot vampires for the holidays!

I still can't believe it's December. I'm waking up to below freezing temperatures but am still passionately in denial. Summer was next to non-existent and fall went by a little quickly this year. It's been a cold, cold, cold year.

But the world of vampires remains HOT! I have two short reads that are holiday themed in the Dark Moon series about vampires celebrating the Winter Solstice. It's their most sacred time. Think about it; for a vampire to get one day per year where the night is longest given their proclivity to darkness is a good thing!

On the Winter Solstice, two couples are able to spend some special time together and honor memories of the past by celebrating the present--and looking forward to the future. Each story picks up from two different books in the Dark Moon series. A Memory on Record takes place after Blood of the Dark Moon, and The Longest Night happens right after the events in Blood and Mint Chocolates.

Regardless of how you choose to spend your holidays and what you wish to celebrate most, I hope that every one of you have a terrific holiday season. Eat good food, have good times, and enjoy it all with those whom you care about most.

Love & Magic,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Doing the research

For me, research for writing is not so much a labor of love as a break in the flow of my story-telling. For Flavia's Secret I was researching ancient Rome, ancient Romano-British food, society, class, fashion, the city of Roman Bath and the baths themselves - I did the same kind of research on ancient Egypt for my forthcoming Blue Gold, too, beginning first with a visit to the children's library for lots of clear explanations and lovely picture-books).

Pictures and personal observation are what I find most useful in all my research. When I'm researching for a book, days are taken up with observation - noting people's gestures, the sounds and rhythms of their speech, the pervading scent of a place, the number of steps to a particular church. My husband is a keen photographer and takes pictures not only for himself but also for me: not only the battlements and arrow-slits of a castle for a medieval such as A Knight's Vow, A Knight's Captive or my forthcoming A Knight's Enchantment, but strange shots of dustbins and public telephones and kiosks and then, teasingly, candid pictures of myself, sunhat jammed over my eyes, head down as I take copious notes.

We repeated this in Rhodes as I researched the Dodecanese islands for my early romantic suspense book, Night of the Storm, and my novella, A Secret Treasure. The heroine of A Secret Treasure is an intelligent, sensitive young woman and keen cook in a high-pressure situation so I approached my research through Eve's eyes, noting how stark the contrast between shade and sun at midday, between the bustle and crowds of Rhodes Old Town and the pine-fretted quiet of Ancient Kamiros, where fragile orchids grow along the edges of the paths, learning how delicious grilled meat can taste, liberally sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and rigani, or how thorny and close-packed Greek heathland is.

Back home, the temptation is to use every scrap of my notes and then my writer's day is one of choice, because to put everything in would be fatal. My fiction is suspenseful, romantic, active: to stem the flow with a stodge of travelogue material would be a huge mistake - which isn't to say I don't commit such blunders! Usually then I spend a significant proportion of the next day taking out what I put in - a task which often inspires me to try even harder as I aim to get the most out of what I really love doing: writing.

(The Roman bikini picture is from the Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily (source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain).)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Research v Testimony

I love to talk to people and hear their stories. Research is important to get the facts, but there is nothing like personal testimony to add feeling and realism to your writing.
There is a down side.

First, you have to assume the person is telling the truth. Then you have to assume he is remembering the facts right. One patient I have always gets sympathy by claiming " I was injured in Nam"
t is true, he was injured in Vietnam, after he stole a jeep, got drunk and ran it into a tree.

When dealing with personal testimony, you deal with faulty memory, mixed facts and slanted information.

One client told me about being AWOL when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He met a woman and stayed the night at her place instead of going back to the Arizona. The act of rebellion saved his life, but left him with survivor guilt.
I can't think of a reason why he would lie about this. when gathering personal testimony it is important to weigh the facts with what is possible on an individual basis.

Even if the information isn't 100% accurate, opinions enrich the characters.
Canisters of mustard gas was sunk into the ocean after WWI. It was the opinion of one man that the canisters are breaking open and this is why we have such a problem with red tide.
Possible? The mustard gas indeed affected breathing as does red tide. Is it caused by a contaminate or is it naturally occurring?

One subject I couldn't resist asking my patients was how dating was different fifty years ago as opposed to now. History will tell you attitudes changed because of birth control and the sexual revolution, but I will never forget the sadness in my patients eyes when she took my hand and explained how women have hurt themselves over the years.

she explained how romance was bled from courtship. Sex was a stagnant act, something to do when there was nothing on the TV. commitment has flown away on the breeze because couples no longer take the time to build a relationship. They want it all too fast, and love is something that can't be rushed.
she felt genuine sympathy for the new generation of women, because in a desire to be equal, to be strong, we abandoned the joy of being feminine.

Men instinctively care for us, they protect us. In our struggle to be more like them, we forgot who we are and made it more confusing to deal with us. In 1912, the Titanic sank. It was not debated, women and children were given the life boats. men accepted death with courage and dignity, certain they were acting with honor.

In 2000 men answered a questionnaire, many would not be willing to give a woman his seat on the life boat. many see no problem with striking a woman, especially if she hits first.

Maybe she is old fashioned and maybe the circumstances vary person to person. Research gives the facts, but testimony pumps the blood into the heart.
As writers, its up to us to strike a balance.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Notes from the desk of a new author.

Well the first thing I should address is how long can you call yourself "new"? I've been writing for years, but this is the first year I've actually been published. Since the January release of my first title 'The Millionaire's Fake Fiancee' I've had 4 other titles released and contracted 3 more. So for all intents and purposes I'm still new and learning my way around publishing, which leads me to the notes piled around my desk.

For aspiring and new authors like me there are so many questions and not enough answers. Should I go the traditional route? Is e-publishing the way for me? To agent or not to agent? How do authors promote their books? How do you protect yourself from piracy?

To begin with you have to think of writing like any other craft. If you've never picked up a needle and thread making a beautiful intricate quilt might seems like an impossible feat. And if you've never held a brush before would really expect to become the next Picaso? Writing can be viewed much the same way. For an aspiring or new author reading the so called 'rules' and looking at an 80,000 word count goal it can seem overwhelming. But when you break things down it doesn't feel so formidable.

Being new to publishing myself I've spent some time dwelling on the questions

above and other bouncing around in my cluttered mind. So here is what I've learned so far.

1.) Only you can decide which publishing road to take.
2.) I'm still undecided on the agent question.
3.) Rules can be broken if done right.
4.) Promotion is still a wonder to me.

I will say that when I was reasearching publishers and the differences between print and e-publishing (besides the obvious of course)one of the most reoccuring comment I heard was read, a lot. Especially from the publishing houses you intend to submit to. this will help you determine if your voice fits in with their style. Since I'm and avid reader I've figured I'm set there.

So onto the second comment I kept hearing. Write what you know. So my goal has been to find ways to merge what I know with what I love. Hence the creation of my Brazen Sister Series. Coming from a big family I decided to show readers how much fub and annoying growing up with siblings can be. In this case 6 sisters are trying to remodel the family's lodge and cabins and switch their clientel from sportsmen to people looking for a romantic getaway in the woods with no interuptions. They don't expect the men who come along so it adds twists and turns none of them are ready for.

I admit I've broken some of those rules I've read so much about. One of the things I like being about a writer is I get to make all the decsions. Being able to choose how the characters react is important to the flow of the story, but I'm the one directing them. not neccesarily in the way most people might expect or want, but the one thing growing up in big family has taught me was to expect the unexpected.

So with my goal of adding what I know to my writing I now have a new goal.


More next month on that subject.

Rita Sawyer
Giving You It All
Romance Passion Laughter

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five Reasons to Love Revisions

Writing is fun but revising what you’ve written…let’s just say it can be a major pain the butt. But it also has it pluses. I once hated the revising part of creating a book but here are five reasons why I’ve embraced it.

View Your Work From a New Perspective
I’ll make a confession right here, when I was a new writer I never listened to this sage advice. The one about not starting on your second draft for at least two weeks after you’ve finished your manuscript. Now I’ve gone to the extreme and wait at least a month until I take a second look. When I open the file and start to read it’s almost as if someone else wrote the work. I look at it from a different perspective and with a more critical eye.

You Become a Better Writer
You’re writing should improve with not only with each book you write but each draft you create. Each revision you tackle makes you a stronger writer. If you don’t believe me, read something you penned a year ago. Yes, even a published book or story, and tell me what you think. If you’re like me you’ll feel some embarrassment that you actually used to write like that.

A Different and Better Story Might Emerge
When you get to the revision stage of your manuscript you might realize you’re writing the wrong type of story. Maybe you intended it to be a romance, but it’s taken on a whole new life and now it could be a top rate mystery. Or you might realize you’re writing in the wrong POV.

You Don’t Waste Time
Revision is oftentimes a reality check. Did you have some doubts about the story while you were writing? On the second draft you know this one’s not going to make it and you move on to something more worthwhile and productive.

It Means You’re A Working Writer
Lots of people say they’re going to write a book, few actually do. If you get to the revision stage of the manuscript, congratulations, you’ve written a book!

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author. Her fourth novel, Sleeping with Fairies will be released by Lyrical Press on December 21st, 2009. Her short mystery story, The Bake Sale Caper will be published by Woman’s World magazine on December 12th. She’s currently working on two contemporary romances and two historical novellas. Find out more about Susan and her writing at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stephen King: what the master of horror teaches about romance

I got busted reading "Carrie" in science class. I trembled with the thought of surviving a pandemic with "The Stand."

Stephen King: A romantic hero? Maybe atypical but absolutely! Let’s look at why:
Stephen knows loss. He grew up with an absentee father and a mother who took charge, a woman who made her living working hard and caring for her sons. She tended to her children's mental and spiritual health as well as caring for her extended family. A woman who provided an inspiration of strength for those who knew her. She died far too young. A loss a young man shouldn't have to face, but her strength was passed on to her children. instead of blaming the fates, they carried on.

His modest background gave him sensitivity to the working class and some vital insight about the human condition.
Stephen went to college He worked his way through school as a janitor.
It was in college Stephen met Tabitha. As writers they connected.He admired her for her intelligence and creativity, as she is a writer as well. It was Tabitha who rescued "Carrie" from the trash and demanded her husband finish the manuscript. He was smart enough to listen to his wife, and finished the work.

He has loved and dedicated his life to his lady, Tabitha, his college sweetheart. Together they’ve faced and overcome his drug addiction and the physical challenges that came from a severe motor vehicle accident.
He has been a father to his children for the long haul.

He has overcome personal tragedy and offered support to budding authors with his "On writing" book.He fought a drug addiction during his marriage. It takes courage to admit you have a problem and to ask for help. It is even more courageous to make private pain public so others can be inspired to seek help too, even though doing this gives the mean spirited an easy target.
Stephen was given another horrific challenge when he was hit by a car. Months in physical therapy allowed him to walk again, but the steps were slow, a grueling struggle to heal. Despite the damage to his body Stephen didn’t fall into despair. The self is the greatest enemy, the love of his family his greatest asset. Tabitha was with him every step of the way, no matter how trying.

Horror is all around us. We see the evils humans do; it drags us into emotional mire. Hearing the news is enough to make us want to hide under our beds or just get through the day so we can make it back to the sanctuary of our homes. Through it all love makes it bearable, infusing us with the power to look evil in its face and claim victory. The master of horror, by his own strength and perseverance is the model of a true hero.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Paranormal in my Historical Romances

Paranormal elements creep into almost all of my fiction. Why? Because eerie, hair standing up on the back of the neck moments do happen in life, Also because I place my characters into strange situations and unusual settings, where their senses are heightened to an almost supernatural state.
In real life, people can experience extraordinary things. A woman I know of was passing a man on a staircase and a thought entered her mind: this is the man you are going to marry. She dismissed the idea as absurd - but it happened and they are still married. In life, people under stress can do extraordinary, almost superhuman things. The woman after a car crash lifting an engine block to free her trapped child beneath. We can all experience feelings of disquiet, of something being 'off'. We can all have dreams which can stalk us.
This is very much the stuff of fiction. Romance especially lends itself to the paranormal and supernatural. When we are in love we feel to be in a transfigured state: all senses and emotions are heightened. In addition, I write romantic suspense, where my characters are in danger and those warning senses we have are on high alert. I also write romance set in the past, at times in the far distant past, where beliefs in spirits, strange creatures, omens and gods were part of everyday life.
In modern life we tend to separate religion and state. In the past belief in supernatural forces, particularly malign supernatural forces, was far stronger. How else could people in the ancient world make sense of what happened to them and around them? When the causes of illness were not understood it would seem logical that an outside influence - an angry god or an evil spirit - had targeted that person or that animal.
Belief is a powerful force. If a character believes he or she can do something out of the ordinary, then sometimes they can. In my historical fiction I use the beliefs of my characters to allow them to tap into something larger than themselves. This 'something' can be a thing of delight or of terror. It is the wonder of the story-teller, used in tales before humans devised writing. And when we did begin to write, ghost stories, paranormal stories 'spooky' stories, were among the earliest tales we committed to clay, papyrus or parchment.
Here are a few paranormal moments from my novels. The first is based on an ancient Roman ghost story of a haunted house, which I adapted to use in 'Flavia's Secret'. In this excerpt, the paranormal is used to show wonder and delight in a special, secret place; a place where Flavia finds the strength to tell Marcus her own deadly secret.


Walking quickly, to show that she did not regret her decision to share this place with him, Flavia returned along the twisting beaten-earth path between the rampant rosemary and lavender bushes. One more twist of the path and they reached the heart of the garden and its startling secret—a private outdoor pool, its shimmering waters steaming in the sun.
‘By Mithras, what a place.’ Looking around, Marcus halted beside her, dropping onto his knees to test the waters of the deep, lead-lined pool. ‘It’s hot!’ he exclaimed, shaking moisture from his hand.
Flavia pointed to a large lead pipe leading away from the pool in the direction of the deserted house before it was lost in the luxuriant undergrowth.
‘We think the owner fixed a conduit somewhere off the spring waters of the Aesculapius spring and directed some of the thermal water here,’ she explained. ‘The pool drains somewhere, too, but we do not know where.’
Marcus sat back on his heels. ‘We?’
‘Those of us who come here, when we can.’
‘Your own private bathing place.’ Marcus jumped to his feet again and walked around the marbled perimeter of the pool. ‘I am surprised nobody has tried to make money with it.’
‘We are careful who we tell,’ Flavia said, squashing disappointment at Marcus’ mercenary approach, but he was staring across the sun-gilded water at the leaf-strewn timber portico leading to the deserted house.
‘I am not surprised at that,’ he said quietly. ‘It is beautiful.’
He watched a small breeze tumble a bronze oak leaf along a small marble walkway leading from the semi-derelict portico to the edge of the pool. ‘Mysterious, quite eerie, but also...comforting. As if you are in an entirely different world.’ He turned about, pointing to the sparkling spiders’ webs on the lavender bushes, rimed with heavy dew. ‘Somewhere forgotten by the rest of the city. A place where magical things become possible.’
‘You understand,’ Flavia whispered, breathing out in relief.
He smiled. ‘It is more than likely that the old owner saw an easy chance to grab some free hot water, but what he has made here, what time has made...I am not surprised he was thought to be a sorcerer.’
Marcus held out both hands to her. ‘Thank you for sharing this, and be assured—your secret with be safe in my keeping.’
Flavia walked to the edge of the secret pool and joined him in studying the waters.

In 'Bronze Lighting,' set in Bronze Age Europe, many characters believe in and practice magic. Here Fearn and Sarmatia, hero and heroine, are taking part in a sky ritual, a dangerous rite that they believe may unmask a murderer.


By this time it was early evening. A pall of dark clouds had gathered over the Sacred Hill. The sun hung over the eastern hills like a bloodstained shield. Fearn looked up at the sky.
'The God will come here when I summon him and we must be ready. Each of you strip off your gold, your silver and bronze. The Sky God does not like the gleam of metal on others.'
He lifted the bronze diadem from his head and laid it on the grass. 'Pile your ornaments here together. Give it to the earth for safekeeping. Quickly!'
At his command, Atterians broke their circle and came to heap their metal broaches, swords, arrows, arm-rings and finger-rings upon the King's diadem. Sarmatia watched Laerimmer take off his golden throat disc and glanced down at her own bronze ring, reluctant to remove it. Looking up, she saw Fearn walking towards her.
'Must I take off my ring?' she asked in Kretan as he reached her. Fearn answered in the same tongue.
'I fear so, Sarmatia.' He looked at her. Men were still gathered about the growing heap of metal. He and Sarmatia had a moment together.
'What is this ritual?'
'Nothing you need fear, Sarmatia. The Sky God knows our hearts. He does not touch those who are innocent. Twice now as King I've been asked to do this rite. The God may take some of our metal as sacrifice and payment, but that's a small thing for the truth.'
Sarmatia took off her bronze ring and gave it to Fearn. 'You must put this with the rest, Fearn. I can't.’ Then, although she already sensed the answer, she asked, 'Is the Sky God the same whose shrine is the Great Stone Circle?'
'It's the same God. And this is the rite the southern kingdoms have forgotten.' He turned and left her.

There are gods in my novels, too. In 'Blue Gold' the gods of ancient Egypt watch mankind from the sun-boat that crosses the sky each day and they sometimes interfere more directly.


“What happens now?” asked Astarte-with-the-moon-in-her-hair.
The eastern goddess of love was paying another visit to the sun boat of Ra. She thought the climate good for her complexion.
The blue god Amun, casting an admiring glance at the silver-haired goddess’s shapely long legs, mumbled something about a race. He ran his hands through a thick fleece of cloud, parting it with his fingers. “Look below us. There is my Pharaoh, a true Egyptian.”
“Ah yes. Sekenenre. The king who toils like an ant. He certainly looks to be making haste.”
Astarte leaned forward, the corners of her eyes crinkling at the sight of Sekenenre and his retinue of priests running their chariots again and again at the same high dune instead of doing the sensible thing of going round it. At her high vantage point, the fifteen chariots moving with such fanatical haste from the small water course where they had hidden their ship looked bizarre, like weevils.
No one on the sun boat reproved or remarked on the goddess’s comments. Those long, shapely legs were even better when she bent over the gunwale. From the middle of the boat came a muffled exclamation as the soul of the long dead Pharaoh Unas dropped the sun god’s fan.
“Fool of a mortal,” said old Ra sharply, squirming on his throne, crossing hands over thighs.
Astarte looked round over one shoulder and smiled, but she reserved her warmest look for Amun. “He is a long way from Thebes, your Sek-en-enre. Did you send a dream to instruct him? Does this true Egyptian know where he is going?”
“Pay no attention to anything Amun says. Sekenenre’s dash into the desert is due entirely to me.” Set materialized at her elbow. He directed Astarte to look over the other side of the boat. “Here’s my man.”
Aweserre’s chariot scuttled jauntily along below them.

In ‘Blue Gold’ when these two pharaohs meet, it is a clash of arms, force and beliefs and it leads to the unleashing of more paranormal forces.

Happy Halloween!


Monday, October 26, 2009

Stephen King Tribute

Stephen King: What the master of horror teaches about romance.

I got busted reading "Carrie" in science class. I trembled with the thought of surviving a pandemic with "The Stand."

Stephen King: A romantic hero?
Maybe atypical but absolutely! Let’s look at why:

Stephen knows loss. He grew up with an absentee father and a mother who took charge, a woman who made her living working hard and caring for her sons. She tended to her children's mental and spiritual health as well as caring for her extended family. A woman who provided an inspiration of strength for those who knew her. She died far too young. A loss a young man shouldn't have to face, but her strength was passed on to her children. instead of blaming the fates, they carried on. His modest background gave him sensitivity to the working class and some vital insight about the human condition.

Stephen went to college He worked his way through school as a janitor.
It was in college Stephen met Tabitha. As writers they connected.He admired her for her intelligence and creativity, as she is a writer as well. It was Tabitha who rescued "Carrie" from the trash and demanded her husband finish the manuscript. He was smart enough to listen to his wife, and finished the work. He has loved and dedicated his life to his lady, Tabitha, his college sweetheart. Together they’ve faced and overcome his drug addiction and the physical challenges that came from a severe motor vehicle accident.

He has been a father to his children for the long haul.
He has overcome personal tragedy and offered support to budding authors with his "On writing" book.He fought a drug addiction during his marriage. It takes courage to admit you have a problem and to ask for help. It is even more courageous to make private pain public so others can be inspired to seek help too, even though doing this gives the mean spirited an easy target.
Stephen was given another horrific challenge when he was hit by a car.

Months in physical therapy allowed him to walk again, but the steps were slow, a grueling struggle to heal. Despite the damage to his body Stephen didn’t fall into despair. The self is the greatest enemy, the love of his family his greatest asset. Tabitha was with him every step of the way, no matter how trying.

Horror is all around us. We see the evils humans do; it drags us into emotional mire. Hearing the news is enough to make us want to hide under our beds or just get through the day so we can make it back to the sanctuary of our homes. Through it all love makes it bearable, infusing us with the power to look evil in its face and claim victory.

The master of horror, by his own strength and perseverance is the model of a true hero.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Secondary Characters…why you need them

Sometimes I’m in the middle of reading a book and wish the writer would have given more on stage time to one of the secondary characters. Sometimes they’re just as lovable as the main characters. Many times they’re the villains of the novel. Either way they’re fun to read and even more fun to create.

Here’s why I think secondary characters are needed in very book-

They Move The Plot
One of the rules of top notch writing is to move the plot with every sentence. Adding a colorful secondary character allows you to do just that. It might be a conversation between the hero/heroine and the secondary character. Or it could be a scene where the secondary character tells someone about the main character and what happened to them.

They Add A Touch of Evil
Remember your main character can’t be all bad or all good because readers won’t believe they’re real. Therefore, adding a villain into the mix can add justify their actions. The main character might be in pursuit of the villain, they might be tested by this character. They might even be forced to save the world by taking the villain’s life. The main character is able to show their true colors by interacting with this villain and it’s believable.

They Take It Up a Notch
In my mystery novel, Death Likes Me, one of my favorite characters apart from my main character, Niki Webber is Joel Clancy. He’s cute’ he’s a bad boy who by story’s end gets himself into a bunch of trouble. However, he’s a perfect sparring partner for Niki. Some of my favorite scenes are between Niki and Joel and the words they throw at one another. Joel brings out another side of Niki’s character and without his help I couldn’t have shown the reader who Niki really is and what she stands for.

They Can Make a Sub Plot
If you’re writing a longer novel, you need a sub plot. What better way to weave that into your story than with another character and a mini story that interacts with the main story line.

They’re Just Plain Fun
Even if you’re writing a dark novel, adding a secondary character along with some humor can add more depth to your book and break up the tension. After all no reader likes all doom and gloom.

One to Check Out
One of my all time favorite characters and TV shows is Inspector Morse. Morse is the creation of writer Colin Dexter. Pick up one of his novels or watch some Inspector Morse reruns and see what great secondary characters Dexter creates. He’s also one of the best writers when it comes to sub plots too.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author of romance and mystery novels. Her next novel, Sleeping with Fairies is due for release later this year. As well as blogging at Romance Writers in the Rough, she also writes a monthly blog at Between the Lines called ‘Susan Palmquist Interviews’. Her next short mystery story will appear in the December 7th issue of Woman’s World. To learn more about her and to see a preview of the cover of Sleeping with Fairies, visit her Web site at

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Romance of Uniforms

Photo by Juhu from Wikimedia CommonsYesterday I was chatting on the phone to a girl-friend. She mentioned her significant other was doing a plumbing job and had put on his overalls. 'He looks really good in them, too,' she said.

I agreed that men in overalls are sexy. Then I admit, 'Men in any kind of uniform are sexy to me. A paramedic in his greens, a musician in his tux, a doctor in a white coat, a policeman.'

'Face it, you're easy,' she said, and we both laughed.

Afterwards I considered the romance of uniforms. What is it that I find so

I suppose the following:

Military Uniforms - Army, RAF, Navy - these men are trained to protect me.
Police Uniforms - these men are trained to protect me and to assist me.
Paramedic uniforms - these men are trained to help me.

All of the above may also be involved in high stakes, life and death situations. And the other men in uniform? The overall boys? The overall uniform suggests competence and skill and commitment. Men who are masters in their craft.

So yes, all uniforms are sexy to me.

I also think women's uniforms are amazing and that all women in the services and medical professions are equally worthy of respect and admiration.

Armor, too, is another great uniform.

One uniform I'd have loved to wear is that of a pirate!

How about you?

Lindsay Townsend

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Entering Writing Contests…worth the effort or not?

You see a writing contest advertised. You have the perfect entry, so should you go for it?

From a personal viewpoint, I’d have to say, yes.

Writing contests have been good to me. In fact, the first money I ever made as a writer was from a contest. And here are some other reasons why I think entering a contest is worth the effort.

You Learn to Meet Deadlines
If you’re new to writing (yes, some well established writers struggle with this too), one thing you have to do is work to an editor’s deadline. By entering a contest, you get firsthand experience in turning in work on a certain date. Plus, if you need some extra motivation to finish a story or even get something started, a contest deadline might be the extra kick in the butt you need.

Free Critiques
Well, if the contest has an entry fee it’s not entirely free but either way if you’re a new writer or changing genres, entering a contest can give you some valuable feedback. Sometimes the critique will even come from an editor or agent. They might tell you what you’re doing wrong, what you need to work on. Who knows their advice might even lead to a contract.

Your Work Gets Read
More publishers are going the agent only route when it comes to submissions, even some agents are getting picking about who can and who can’t send them work. Enter a contest and just the right editor or agent might see your work. It might be someone who’s looking for a particular story, a particular voice and that story or voice might be yours.

You Can Earn Some Money
Just like me, winning a contest might even garner you your first paycheck as a writer.

If You Win
If you win the contest or even just the runner up, it’s proof that you have talent; that you stand out from the crowd. You know you’re on the right track so keep writing.

You Get to Say…
You’re an award winning writer. It gets attention…it has a nice sound to it!

Susan Palmquist won the Loft Children’s Literature Award with her book for children called The One and Only that was later published by Hearts on Fire Books. She has also been the runner up in more short story contests than she can remember. Last year she was one of the 12 finalists in the Harry Bowling Prize for When the Devil Comes to Call, one of her many WIPs. Look for her next novel Sleeping with Fairies this December from Lyrical Press. For sneak peek at the cover, visit her Web site at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Historical romance and romantic suspense

Why do I write romantic suspense and historical romance? I love both genres because I like writing adventure and action and characters under extreme stress. I suppose all my novels are romantic suspense novels as well as some being historical romance novels. In my Bronze Lightning there is a mysterious villain threatening the female lead whom she has to battle against and finally unmask - like a romantic suspense. My second 'big' ancient Egyptian novel Blue Gold has at its core a religious mystery: the protagonists have to discover the true nature of the god Set, a search which leads to many adventures in strange and exotic locations - romantic suspense element again. In my Flavia's Secret there is the mystery of the death of Flavia's beloved mistress and an enemy working against Flavia and Marcus. In A Knight's Vow, Alyson must battle with Fulk, who works against her both in secret and finally overtly. In A Knight's Captive, the hero and heroine are in conflict because the hero is Breton and the heroine is English - and this is 1066, when England was invaded by Normans.

I suppose all my novels are romantic because they all have this quest/search/adventure motifs. I think all romance genres have similar elements to each other. My first published novel, Voices in the Dark, has a saga element because there are families involved and trouble goes down the generations (this is also true of The English Daughter). The second novel, Night of the Storm , has two romances and is more a romantic suspense than a romantic suspense, as is my novella A Secret Treasure. In romantic suspense you must have the menace and suspense there as a continuous strand, alongside the equally important relationships in the novel. These relationships, particularly the romance between hero and heroine can be brought under stress, threatened and changed by the thriller elements of the novel. The thriller elements can give you wonderful reasons for characters to be brought into sharp conflict as they each suspect the other or maybe want to protect each other but can’t. This conflict is very entertaining for the reader and writer because it’s always life and death stuff and usually two characters at odds because they’re both right. You haven’t got them arguing for the sake of it. Their choices through the story at key points are also very pointed, very stark, with big consequences, and I like that, too. I guess I’m not subtle!

Romantic suspense writing and historical romance writing are both very active genres and I like to have both my female and male leads rescuing each other at key points through the story, whether in active terms or psychological terms. The search and rescue strands in my books are always very strong.

In my novels I also have a strong whodunit element. The whodunit is also a whydunit, as with novels of psychological suspense (which I suppose are more intense, more character-driven versions of romantic suspense, where the threats arise from internal kinks in the characters rather than any external forces, as there can be in romantic thrillers. In my Night of the Storm, the storm is a vital element, adding something unplanned and chaotic and a further test for my people. To get the whodunit part right I always spend a long time at the start of plotting any novel working out who the villain is and why. I work out motivations and give my people backstories which I know, even if they don’t appear directly in the novel. It can add depth and richness to characters and make them intriguingly ambiguous. The ambiguous Byronic-style anti-hero who turns out to be a good guy is a staple in these novels and great fun to write and read about.

You can do romantic suspense another way, too, as I did with Night of the Storm, where the heroine, Melissa, knew that the villain, Katherine, was engaged in illegal wildlife trafficking, but had to search for the evidence to prove it. I also added a very personal element for Melissa, in that she’s also searching for whoever murdered her partner Andrew. I find in romantic suspense that the big issue brought into focus by making it personal works very well. So in Voices in the Dark I had my hero searching for a war criminal who tortured members of her own family. Personal helps readers to identify, I think.

The other bonus I find with writing romantic thrillers is that you usually can have an exotic location, or moderately so. This isn’t just because the setting is appealing to readers, giving them a bit of escapism. Sometimes it’s useful for the plot, too. Italy is popular as a holiday destination and it also has regular corruption scandals, which meant my heroine in Voices in the Dark had a very good reason not to go rushing to the police at the start of her search. That question: why doesn’t the female lead go to the police? I find must always be answered in a modern romantic suspense. Again, I’d no problems in my second novel, because the climax of the novel takes place on a small Greek island, cut off from the authorities by a massive storm.

So to summarise: the recurring elements in my romantic suspense amd historical romance are:

1. Strong, active female lead and male lead. Both might have added internal psychological kinks to their natures, just to increase the mixture.

2. A problem that needs a quest or search to be resolved.

3. Exotic locations where the police cannot easily be present, so your people have to search and find out and also save themselves. (In historical settings the police may not exist.)

4. Whodunit element which has to be worked out, otherwise the leads may perish. That threat I find very engaging and a pleasure to write, as you can have a building series of climaxes and a really juicy ending.

5. Backstories that have a direct bearing on the present novel.

6. Characters that are grey, not black and white. Sometimes the male lead can seem a villain, sometimes the female lead can do seemingly bizarre things, which are later accounted for in the novel.

7. Lots of action and violence. Woman against nature, woman against woman, woman against man. I like writing both and was told to cut down on the torture sequences in Voices in the Dark.

8. Relationships that change, are built up or destroyed through the novel, often as a direct result of the thriller elements and threats of the story.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to Keep Writing When Life Gets in the Way

This was a topic I was going to tackle in my blog later this year. However, if you’re a follower of the blog, you know I didn’t post anything in July because my mother passed away. I’m no stranger to putting aside my writing while I deal with a family illness. I quit writing when my father was battling pancreatic cancer. After he died, I thought I’d just get straight back to it but I couldn’t. It was almost a decade until I got back on track.
So when my mother was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, my first thought was, does this mean my writing has to go on hiatus again. My mother’s battle lasted a lot longer than my dad’s so it gave me time to prepare, time to think about how I would handle my writing commitments when her journey came to an end.

None of us are immune to life getting in the way of our writing. Whether it’s a family crisis, our own illness, or even happy events like marriages and births. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way and I hope they help you when life gets in the way of your writing.

Write Every Day
One thing I did wrong when my dad was ill was not doing any writing at all. Sticking with a schedule is crucial and it’s even more important when something else is happening in your life. It might not be your usual output, but get something down on paper. Even if it’s just your feelings about what’s happening in your life. Capture it and who knows you might be able to use it some day.

Don’t Get Angry
After my dad died and I sat down to write and nothing happened, I used to turn my frustration inwards. What’s wrong with me? I used to ask myself. Nothing was wrong, I just needed more time. If I’d allowed myself to take some time away instead of rushing back to it, I don’t think my writer’s block would have lasted quite so long.

Use The Time Wisely
Another thing I learned the first time around was when you’re not writing on your usual schedule, it’s the perfect time to think ahead. What manuscripts are you going to work on next month, next year? Jot down ideas for plots, profiles of characters you’re going to create. Write a ‘business plan’ for your writing career. What are your goals, how are you going to achieve them?

Writing Can Be Healing
So what’s different this time around? I did take some time off, but was able to get back on track within a week of mom’s passing. I didn’t rush back because of my fear about what happened last time, but now I’m finding it’s actually healing. These are early days and I know some are going to be better than others, but creating characters and writing about them and their lives gives me something to think about other than myself and my loss.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author of three published novels and the upcoming paranormal romance, Sleeping With Fairies to be published later this year by Lyrical Press. Visit her Web site at

Monday, August 17, 2009

sex v romance

It's my pet peeve. I read a romance and it feels like porn. Instead of the heroine being courted, some horny, overzealous stud is talking to her like she's the class tramp and he's a hormonal high schooler.

It's all personal opinion, of course, but I would like to be romanced not propositioned like a street walker. Maybe its why I like historicals. The manners, the more elegant way of speaking, and the societal restraints make the tension more delicious and the hero far more charming than a contemporary. Add to the fact I would like for the love scene to make sense. If I have been kidnapped, beaten and shoved in a box I will be thinking escape not "my you have a nice ass."

In an attempt to up the sensuality levels, some writers forget the wooing, the actual romantic part of the story. The part that makes me sigh and fall in love with the hero.

First is the once over. The first meeting, the first glimpse of the potential lover, or at least the first time the character might think of the person as a potential lover. The face, the physique, the voice all affect the character.

"His deep voice enveloped her in warmth like a mink stole. Had she ever noticed the forest green of his eyes or how a simple thing like a gesture could make her melt."
Again personal preference, but there is sublte then there is:
"Who was the hot girl walking into the bar? his contact? All Jake wanted to do was reach beyond the tightness of her skirt and sink himself into her depths, while she screamed his name"
Too much too soon.

I don't mind a little screaming, but can we get a name first? My heroine deserves to be won. Her love would spring from a respect for the hero, sure he's handsome, but so was Ted Bundy. More than just appearance, his heart should be beautiful and give her something to fall in love with.

The touch of his hand, his nearness, and the first kiss should be memorable. A gentle kiss to her fingers, a cheek brushing the palm of her hand. Tenderness promising more, stoking a fire a step at a time.

Finally, sex is beautiful, there is longing, passion and a loss of control, but above it all there is nurturing, respect, and a platform for love to grow. Women are emotional. Please give me a hero who will like me, really like me, because of who I am not because I have a nice rack. Two people who are strong together and love each other despite who they are. Acceptance. Commitment. It's old fashioned, but its my idea of romance.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Release

Hi all,
I just wanted to let you know "Kindertransport" is available at The Wild Rose Press now. Paste this link to the address bar to find it.

I included an excerpt, enjoy:

I filled a syringe with morphine. Could innocent blood ever be washed away?
Would my hands ever be clean again if I continued on this course? The gas would make them choke, gasping for breath as life was strangled to nothingness. Morphine would make them euphoric, and an overdose would put them to sleep, peacefully, with no pain.

A sleep from which they would not awake, but they would be safe from the evil that awaited them otherwise. I filled the second syringe. I thought of each child as I punctured the rubber stopper, the needle sucking up the lethal fluid filling the tube.
Little Wilhelm. My treasured leader of the pack. The braces on his legs never stopped his imagination from soaring.

Lara. An artist’s soul expressed with the one good hand she had. Art reflective of the beauty living in her heart.

The twins. Isn’t intelligence measured with creativity? I would sorely miss their energy.
My hand slipped., and the needle grazed the knuckle of my thumb. I swore and bit my lip. Perfect. I’ll kill myself before I get a chance to euthanize my children. Then, after I enter Heaven’s gate, if He lets me inside them, God can tell me I am an idiot and a murderer.

I rubbed my shoulders. They hunched with an invisible weight that made my back ache.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sagas and Saga Writing

'Work' by Ford Madox Brown, by courtesy of Wikimedia Commons1. What is a saga? In today’s fiction market a saga is part of the larger romantic genre. A saga is a family story, usually set some time in the past and focussing on several characters from the same or contrasting extended family and following their ups and downs over many years - possibly down several generations. Nowadays, the regional saga, homing in on a particular geographical region in the UK, is very popular.

2. What is the common length of a saga? 100,000 words and upwards. This length is to accommodate the various storylines that a saga plot usually encompasses. Anything over 150,000 words may become harder to sell, because of printing and paper costs. Usually, sagas are between 110,000 - 130,000 words in length.

3. What kind of viewpoints within a saga? Usually third person plural, often with a woman, or several women, as the main and ‘leading’ protagonists. Writers have written sagas from single third person viewpoint and from first person, but the third person plural, where the reader can enter the heads and thoughts of many characters, remains popular. Usually only the main characters’ viewpoints are explored - perhaps no more than 6 or 8. After that, readers tend to become confused and the story can lose power since the readers aren’t sure who are the main characters with whom they are expected to follow.

4. Time periods when sagas are set. ‘Period’ settings were and remain very popular - I.e. Victorian, Edwardian and World War I. These time frames have been done a lot, so it might be more difficult for a new writer to break into the saga market with those time periods. More recent time settings - WWII, 1950s, even 1960s are becoming popular.
If you want a good example of strong regional sagas based around WWII, take a look at Freda Lightfoot’s sagas. Freda specialises in regional settings, unusual occupations for her heroines and times of strife before, during and after WWII, when many women worked in jobs that had been previously done almost exclusively by men. This scenario and the time period gives Freda lots of scope for trouble and strife. In her novel ‘Gracie‘s Sin,’ she looks at women in WWII who worked in forestry land, doing what had been men’s work.
Freda researches her novels by talking to the women who worked in either the mills, or the timber areas, or whatever job her fictional characters have to do. From these talks she gains insight and the telling detail that she can thread into her work. Sometimes she is given photographs to borrow or keep. In the case of her novel ‘Gracie’s Sin,’ she was given a photo of a group of timber girls that appeared as part of the cover art of the novel.

Freda Lightfoot has a website at
Audrey Howard is another excellent saga writer, as are Benita Brown and Harry Bowling. Harry Bowling wrote London West End sagas full of strong, immediate settings and speech - not so much as to be impenetrable to those not from London, but enough to give a flavour. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has written a long series of novels covering the fortunes of a particular family, (The Morland Dynasty) down from the middle ages to the present day. These are richly plotted novels that are excellent examples of the saga - the more ‘aristocratic’ type of saga. Cynthia has a website at

For the outer reaches of the saga, and how you can adapt and extend the genre, take a look at Philippa Gregory’s ‘Wideacre’ trilogy. The first book ‘Wideacre’ has a wonderful Scarlet O’Hara ambiguous type heroine. The second novel, ‘The Favoured Child’ has many of the family elements of a saga - concern with family property, inheritance, birth-rights, family survival, births, marriages deaths - with a heroine who experiences an almost mystical union with the land that is her family’s. ‘Meridon’ completes the trilogy.

5. Conventions in sagas. These conventions have been done over and over and reappear, so if you are thinking of writing a saga you will need to apply them in a fresh way, find ways of writing about them in a fresh way.

1. Working class, lower middle class protagonists are common as the heroes and heroines of sagas, especially the regional saga. This helps reader identification. There is also an aspirational element in many sagas, where a working class hero or heroine struggles against overwhelming odds and privilege to win though. There may also be a clash of classes - working class verses upper, or perhaps working class and upper fall in love and are forbidden to see each other.

2. The heroine who is or who becomes her own woman, who develops and grows through the novel. She may have ideals from the start of come to have them. She may wish to excel ‘out of the box’ - that is, what is expected of her because of her class, or age, or experience.

3. The hero may have a similar story arc as the heroine (above) and he learns to appreciate the heroine. The brooding Heathcliffe-style hero is less popular now than in the past.

4. Characters who suffer, who learn, who are set back but usually ultimately win through. Villains may get their comeuppance.

5. Plot threads that go down through generations. A family secret. Revenge and counter-revenge. Forbidden love. Events that impact down generations. Enmity coming down generations. People living in the past and affecting the futures of themselves and their family members.

6. Heroine or hero or both may be wounded in some way - physically or psychologically - and the novel shows their healing, coming to terms. Other wounded characters within the saga may grow or diminish.

7. A ‘mirroring’ of stories down the generations - the 3 women thing, working either down the generations or as contrasting or mirroring characters all at the same time. 3 sisters. 3 cousins. 3 friends in the same street.

8. Suffering and set backs. Struggle against great odds. Grinding poverty. The good-heartedness or narrowness of other family members or neighbours.

9. Family ties and pressures - marriages, births, deaths. Whole lifetimes. Multiple subplots. A richness that readers can enjoy. Several key characters and their stories.

10. Various Cinderella type themes for both sexes. The plain girl in a society household who is made to feel useless and excluded. The young woman who wants to be a doctor when only nursing was considered acceptable for women. The man who wants to succeed in a world where privilege is considered essential. In sagas, the reader sees their struggles impact not only on themselves but on the larger family unit.

11. ‘Family’ can be thought of as extended family, or people who regard themselves as family - not just simple blood ties.

These are only guidelines and certainly not set in stone! If you want to learn more, have a look at the new blog group, Historical Saga Novels, There are many wonderful writers of this rich and varied genre.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A new release

On the 7th of August, Wild Rose Press will release “Kindertransport”.
This is a poignant story-taking place in pre war Nazi Germany.

Nurse Erika Lehmier cares for the children housed at Grafeneck Castle as though they were her own. When the SS confiscates Grafeneck, Erika discovers plans to turn the castle into a treatment center that will end the lives of children with disabilities.

One of her children, Heidi, has no visible handicap, and thereby has a small chance to escape the Nazi destruction, but for the rest, Erika must find a way to escape—or face the heartbreaking decision to give them a peaceful death by her own hand.

Will she find a way out?

Can she trust Rickard, when he wears an SS uniform?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Break from the Blog

Hi everyone, it's my turn to blog today but my mother passed away yesterday. I'm taking the week off from writing and blogging.
Take care, Susan

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'Now and then': making the past seem present

How to create a living past in a historical or contemporary romance is always a challenge for me. We all live both 'in the moment' and in the past of our memories and experiences, and in my writing I aim to transport my readers to another past, whether that past is recent or long ago.

This is what I do to aid the rebuilding of the past, and what I would suggest is useful.

1. Read the contemporary accounts of the period: sagas, chronicles, Books of Hours, histories, autobiographies, biographies, newspapers. magazines, letters, local histories, children's books. Absorb the style of the language used so that you can 'echo' it in your work - not always as a direct recreation, more a flavour. Note the popular expressions, the slang, the attitudes. Then you can have your characters speak some of the slang and reflect some of the attitudes.

If available, you can also look at films of the time, radio and TV broadcasts, postcards, photographs and the messages scribbled on the backs of photographs. Again note the rhythms and kind of speech, the attitudes and beliefs, the fashions and settings. Your local history library may have an oral sound archive or local history archives. You can go there to listen and to look. Street names can be treasure troves of history and evocative in themselves. Keep an eye out for them and use them if you can.

2. If writing about the recent past, talk to those who lived through it. Ask them specific questions. What was X like? What was it like, working and living then? How did people feel? What do they remember? Again, the local archives and newspapers may be a fund of information for you.

3. Use language in the straight narrative of your fiction that does not date - unless you are attempting an entire re-creation of a period by using the language of the period. In speech you can use the slang of the time, or what you feel could be the appropriate slang of the time. Georgette Heyer did this in her Regency historical romances: she devised what she felt could pass as expressions of the time, thereby adding intimacy and immediacy to her work.

4. If writing about more distant times, be careful of using a lot of olde-worlde expressions that may actually 'break the spell' of your now-past. You can suggest a present-past by putting in occasional expressions that imply a flavour of the time. Also your characters can reflect certain common attitudes of a period via their thoughts, actions and speech.

5. People have not changed so much yet in 35000 years. We still feel the same emotions: love, hate, fear, passion. The more you create living characters, the more you will transport your reader with them into the world of their sorrows, fears, hopes, dreams, wishes, aims and loves.

6. Put the reader into the past with you. Let them savour the flavours, music, passions, fashions, the main ideas and ideals of the time. Thread in these references. If some are difficult and offensive to present day audiences, then perhaps you can places such ideas in the minds and mouths of your secondary characters, or of your main characters if you can make your lead characters compelling and appealing in other ways. Have your characters humming a popular song, or drinking frothy coffee, or eating fondue or their first prawn cocktail. Seize upon those items, songs, fashions, flavours, that tend to 'sum up' a period for present-day readers. Make it personal, too - allow the reader to feel with the character how a mini-skirt feels, how constricting a corset is, how heavy and hot a suit of armour. Always show and give the reader the experience of being and living in your 'now' past.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ny first publication

My first publication:

I wish it were as simple as putting pen to paper and creating a masterpiece of literature.
I joined Romance Writers of America three years ago and quickly learned there was a lot to learn. Our chapter was invaluable with the workshops and business meetings. Our guest speakers shed light on different aspects of the craft and made the writing better.
The chapter members themselves are a constant source of support. I had a head bursting with story ideas and worked on about four projects at one time. I decided I had to commit to a manuscript, see it to “the end” and get with my critique partner.

The story facts are researched. Is there a murder? Brush up on police procedure. Is your heroine in bank security? Learn her job. Details make the story believable and put the reader in the characters shoes, experiencing what they experience.
The idea for my story came at a random moment. I read about a man asking if the Kindertransport could be included in a holocaust memorial, and he was told “I never heard of you.” this piqued my interest. I read more about the transport and researching led me to Grafeneck castle. An interesting place with its own a history. My story would take place in pre war Nazi Germany.

I knew my heroine right away. A nurse brought up to be compassionate. An innocent girl tossed into a circumstance beyond her control. Her faith challenged, she had to make a choice. Erika Lehmier learns Grafeneck castle is going to be changed from a monastery housing handicapped children to a killing center bent on destroying “useless eaters.”

My hero was more elusive at first. I thought American right away but the historical timeline wasn’t right. The story is set in 1939. American involvement wouldn’t happen for another two years. British? Possible but the last transport happened before the war started. My hero needed to be home grown. Nazi’s aren’t generally romantic heroes but what if he had an agenda? My decision to keep the story first person kept us out of our hero’s head but kept the heroine always wondering about him.

There were some challenges in writing about a place I had never been during a time before I was born. I interviewed a couple of war brides and read “Inside Nazi Germany.” to find out what life was like for the average person in 1939.

The word “honey” was never used in Europe. This term of endearment was an American import adopted by Europeans during the war. Being a southern girl, it was very difficult not to use the word. Of course, American slang and culture based expressions had to go. Germans are not “off base” nor do they “drop the ball” when they make a mistake. No Americanisms allowed. You don’t realize how often you use colloquialism until you have to go back and delete them all from a 300-page manuscript.

I wrote, rewrote, and reworked the story over again before I submitted. After torturing my critique partner, and a thousand rewrites, I was ready to submit my manuscript. I worked on my query letter and synopsis, and then I submitted. I got a very nice rejection recommending changes to make and a request to resubmit. I followed her instructions and resubmitted, it was then accepted.

I got to work with an editor and spent more time “fluffing and folding” until the manuscript was ready for print.
The book cover is beautiful. Grafeneck castle is seen in the background while the edelweiss flower is in the foreground, a faded swastika behind it. The symbolism of the edelweiss flower dominating a fading swastika: pure love’s domination over evil. Nicola Martinez is a wonderful artist.

Kindertransport is released on August the seventh from Wild Rose Press.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I was talking with a bunch of teenagers and the subject came up about how I keep track of my ideas for stories, or ideas for the story I'm currently working on. When I got home I began to wonder how many other authors have the same type of system I do?

1.) I have a few notebook strategically placed around the house, the biggest right beside my bed.
2.) I have a dry erase board in my office, but that is mainly my writing schedule( or what I wish it was).
3.) I'm working on two series that I'm working on. For these I have a poster board with sectioned by story and any important details listed under the right one.
4.) Whenever I come up with an interesting idea I jot it down, who knows when it might come in handy.

How many of you other authors out there have similar process for recording you random ideas?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writing to Fit the Genre

During a recent interview I was asked how I’m able to write both romances and mysteries. My first thought…writing is writing. Write in one genre and you can easily write in another. However, the next time I sat down to work on my WIP, I realized that’s not 100% true. Each genre has its own set of rules and ‘standards’. Knowing what the standards is essential if you want to sell in a particular genre. So how do you do just that?

This might sound like something you already know or do, but read as many books in your genre of choice before you sit down to write one. Not only will you get a feel for the backbones of the genre but you’ll soon figure out what type of book you’d like to write. I’ll use mysteries and romances as examples.

Mysteries-do you like legal dramas or perhaps you’re hooked on books featuring an amateur sleuth.

Romances-are you a fan of romantic suspense or do you get whisked away to another time with historicals? And if you’re a fan of category romances, think about what line you’d like to write for. Is it Silhouette Romantic Suspense or maybe a sexy Harlequin Blaze?

Take Notes
The first time you read the book, do it just for pure reading pleasure. Then read it again with a notebook handy. Jot down notes about the hero/heroine, conflict, etc. then read a second book, making notes of any similarities to the first one. Do you see any pattern forming? While the stories are obviously very different, each genre has certain things readers and yes, publishers have come to expect.

Mysteries-a crime is committed. There’s a cast of suspects and a sleuth. And, yes, a few red herrings. In the end the guilty person is caught and hopefully punished for their crime.

Romance-there’s a heroine the reader can identify with and live vicariously through. A hero who both the heroine and reader can fall in love with. A conflict that keeps them apart and an issue they have to work out. Sexual tension is a must. How about that first kiss? And depending on the line or publisher, the first time the couple make love. And let’s not forget the happy ending.

Choose Favorites
Who are the genre’s bestsellers?
Pick up some books written by them and learn from the masters.Try and figure out what makes this particular writer so popular with their readers? Is it because each chapter is more suspenseful than the next? Is it because the author takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride?

Some Publishers Make It Easier Than the Rest
Some publishers give us clues about what their ‘standards’ are. If a publisher offers guidelines, read them through until you know them by heart. Do they have a rigid word count? What type of plots are they looking for? What type of plots aren’t they looking for?

Writing to fit a genre can be the key to making your first or next sale.

Susan Palmquist is the author of three published novels and the upcoming paranormal romance, Sleeping with Fairies that will be published by Lyrical Press later this summer. You can check out her interviews with writers, editors and publishers at her monthly blog at Between the Lines And learn more about Susan and her work at

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Long and The Short of It

by Janis Susan May

Whenever I am asked to blog, I start to panic. My gracious host/hostess tries to be reassuring and says, “Oh, it’s nothing – just two or three hundred words, that’s all.”

Two or three hundred words? That’s ALL? There are days I can’t convey “Good morning, I would like some coffee please,” in two or three hundred words. Two or three hundred words are nothing.

I suffer from hyper-verbosity, and someday someone should host a telethon for those of us who can’t say anything succinctly. It’s a curse. I had sold two full-length novels before I ever sold a short story – and then it was almost six thousand words long! Give me seventy five thousand words and I start to feel comfortable. One hundred thousand and I’m as happy as a… well, whatever is the happiest you can imagine.

I never cease to marvel at those writers who can condense a world, a story, a relationship and unforgettable characters into just a few thousand words. Category romance writers leave me open-jawed with admiration. Give us both the same characters and set-up; they create a tight little story focused on two people and the flowering of their relationship in just fifty thousand words. I take the same information and eighty thousand words later I’ve woven in not only their love story, but the feud between their grandparents, the history of how their town was settled, why the mayor is a crook and the best way to do laundry in hard water, and am just really getting started! Novellas? I call them chapters.

Someone once said that short stories were miniatures, limned with tiny delicate strokes and that novels were murals, painted with broad brushes. What does that make me? A paint sprayer?

Whatever it is, I like it. I like making the big gesture, telling not only the big story, but all the little stories that make up the big story. Why do certain characters feel that way? It isn’t enough just to state that the hero hates the color purple; to make him real to us we have to know why he hates the color purple. (Make up your own reason for this example – my current hero has no prejudice against purple, at least, not that I know of!)

I’m not saying that writing short is easy; quite the opposite. I’ve tried and I’m not very good at it. I admire people who can, and I know how hard they work at it. One of my dearest friends writes children’s books that run from a thousand to fifteen hundred words. Once I wrote a seventy-five thousand word mystery in just about the same amount of time as she wrote one of her children’s stories. Certainly I typed harder and faster, but I don’t know which one of us worked harder. She is amazed that I can produce so many words and create complex worlds. I am amazed that she can do so much with so few.

See? I told you. This short little blog entry (“… just two or three hundred words, that’s all…”) has already grown to almost six hundred, and I haven’t even begun to write about what I really wanted to say. However, out of consideration to you, I’ll let that wait for another day. Besides, I really do have to research why my heroine’s town’s mayor is a crook and why she has to do her laundry in hard water!

Hyper-verbosity. Someone really does need to do a telethon for us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making characters real: problems and crises

Clara Bow in 'Wings' (1927) (sourced from Wikipedia Commons)One of the ways you can make characters 'real' to yourself and to your readers is by giving them problems: real issues they have to struggle against and which readers can appreciate, empathise with and care about. To add to conflict and interest, characters can have more than one problem or issue to contend with.

Here are some problems characters can have:

1. Divorce - getting one, being divorced, starting over.

2. Being widowed - guilt, grief and starting over.

3. A child dying - for an added twist, the theme of a child given away at birth to adoption or who’s lost touch with parents through separation or divorce. Feelings of a the feeling that parent when that child dies or is killed. For child given away to adoption, now that child will never get in touch.

4. Identity - race, class, families. Who parents, sister, brother, grandmother, etc., are or were. Also what were their true natures?

5. A stranger who claims to be a relative getting in touch for first time or after a gap of many years. A missing relative suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

6. Loss of a job, parent, family member, home or lover.

7. Guilt - real or imagined.

8. A secret - it's being discovered, having to tell it, needing to keep it, having to overcome it.

9. Emotion - jealousy, possessiveness, inability to feel, coldness, anger, blinding hated, feelings of being unfairly treated or victimised, resentment, smothering love, fear of being left alone.

10. Time - juggling lives, fiting everything in, deciding when to have a child, deciding when to change jobs or when to move.

11. Neighbours or others’ dislike and resentments. Possibly some active and dangerous hatred.

12. Nature and environment - storms, fire, flood, dangerous animals, dangerous seas and skies. Quieter problems of nature - for instance for a sculptor: will this stone or wood crack? Or for a photographer: will this light or scene last?

13. Relationships - older man and younger woman, younger man and older woman, different faiths or cultures, different classes. The relationship of young man or woman with a stepchild older or as old as himself or herself. The relationship of a stepparent to a stepchild, or between new step-siblings - a sudden new sister, for instance, or brother.

14. Ill health - the character's own, or the illness of a parent, brother, sister or lover.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Trailers And Other Ways To Promote

To start with I'll say I'm weeding my way through all of this and finding I really like making bookmarks and things like that. My newest venture was to have a book trailer made.

I think it came out good. I still have question like:

Will this help me reach readers?
Will they like it?
Does this type of promo and mailing out bookmarks help increase sales?
Another thing is I have a short story out with and a novella out with, should promoting them be any different?
So chime in and let me know what type of promo works best for you?
What as a reader do you like to recieve as promo items?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making Time to Write

Where did April go?

Or for that matter the first three months of the year?

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old but time seems to fly by faster with each passing year. I know it’s my imagination because there’s the same amount of time in each day and month every single year…nevertheless, sometimes it gets me into a panic. How can I find more time to devote to my novels?
I stopped writing fiction (well, other than short stories) for almost ten years so these days I feel more compelled to make up for my lost time.
So here are some ways I’ve found to squeeze in more writing time. Hope some of them will work for you too.

Make It a Priority
If you’re serious about writing, it shouldn’t be too hard to put it on your ‘must do it’ list. Look at it as a chore you have to do, no questions asked.

Give up Something Else
One of my hobbies is gardening and as I live in an area where the growing season is short, I tend to get carried away once it’s time to head outside again. However, now my fiction writing is back in full swing, I’m looking for ways to cut down on garden chores. Now I can still enjoy my hobby but it doesn’t compete with my writing time.

Push Yourself
Back in the old days, I used to work on one project at a time but I’ve changed my approach. Right now I’m working on contemporary romance and three novellas. If you don’t think you can do it…and I didn’t, give it a try. It’s easier than you really think.

Write Anywhere
I was once the sort of writer who needed complete silence or I couldn’t write a word. Now I like either music playing in the background or I’ll even watch TV as I write. Train yourself to write just about anywhere and you’ll get more done. And be sure to take a notebook with you wherever you go. Pull it out when you’re waiting at the dentist’s office, even getting your hair colored.

Dinner in a Dash
I love to cook, but when I’m in the middle of writing a new book, I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen. I also use the time after we eat supper to write fiction so I don’t want to waste time washing dishes either. My answer; plan a week’s worth of meals at a time and stock up the freezer or even pull out the slow cooker.

And here’s a book I highly recommend The Everything Meals for a Month by Linda Larsen. Believe me, it’s a writer’s best friend.

If you’ve found some more ways to squeeze in more time for writing, leave a comment. I’d love to hear your tips.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author of A Sterling Affair, Death Likes Me, and The One and Only. A Sterling Affair will be released in print by The Wild Rose Press on June 5th. Her newest book, Sleeping with Fairies, will be released August 3rd by The Lyrical Press. Read excerpts and learn more about Susan at

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