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Monday, November 29, 2021

Monday Morning Musing: Chocolate Chip Christmas Wishes


We interrupt our regular Monday Morning Musing “Look back” series to bring you this breaking news… Release day is tomorrow!!!

Link to purchase



Jake Mistletoe is the North Pole's resident bad boy.  Half elf, half human, he is the only child of a single mother who just happens to be Santa's head elf. Fed up with his wild, partying ways and lack of direction, his mother sends him to the real world for a dose of reality.


Lucy Prescott is all alone in this world.  Since the death of the grandparents who raised her, she has struggled to keep their Christmas novelty shop running in a dated, dying Christmas-themed tourist town. 


When Jake appears in town, magic seems to be in the air. For the first time in ages, life holds excitement, and Lucy finds herself wondering … what if?




She studied him as he sat up. Unconscious, the several days’ growth of stubble and mussed dark hair looked sloppy. But awake, that disheveled look gave him a devil-may-care aura. How had she missed the chiseled jaw line, the dark brows that framed eyes fringed with long, sooty lashes or the fact that he was drop dead gorgeous?

He looked around the room, wiped a hand over his face and turned a slow half circle on the couch, gaping at the racks of holiday ornaments, animated characters, motion-activated novelties and Santa figures that played Christmas tunes.

She cleared her throat to draw his attention. “Good afternoon.”

He yanked the Santa hat from his head and pulled a frown before tossing it aside.

For lack of anything else to say, she chose the standard, cheery greeting used by locals. “Welcome to Christmasville, where it’s Christmas all year long.”

He turned to her with eyes a startling shade of blue. “Let me guess. I died, and this is Hell.”




So I’ve talked a little recently about what happens when a character just sort of “moves in” to your head and starts talking.  I am never sure where they come from, but some are quite persistent and can pester and prod for years before I finally stop in total frustration and demand “What do you WANT?”


Jake, the hero from Chocolate Chip Christmas Wishes, was one such character.


The seedling for the idea for this story came to me the first time I ever watched the movie Elf.  I know it’s become a holiday classic but when I first watched it I was a little… unimpressed?  I mean, Buddy, the Will Ferrell character goes from being a misfit at the North Pole to being a misfit in New York???  Cut to me scratching my head in confusion, this is not growth, this is simply a change of scenery.  Okay so there is more to it than that and his childlike enthusiasm brings a love of Christmas to all he encounters (well eventually).  But speaking strictly as a publishing purist, it was a little thin in the plot department. A great example of a character driven story, though, and that’s a huge plus and undoubtedly a huge part of that success.  No one but Will Ferrell could have pulled that off so convincingly.  In fact I would guess any other actor in the role, and it would have fallen flat. 


But I digress.  The “fish out of water” theme is a common one in fiction, especially with romance stories.  So I guess that’s why it stuck in my mind for years and years.  I didn’t give it a lot of thought, I tried to focus on it a time or two and come up with ideas, but nothing ever came into focus.


The as yet unnamed male character was pestering, me though.  Every so often he could pop into my head, but I just couldn’t find a story for him.


And then two things happened.  I found a muse, and I had an argument with my young adult son.  And just like that, the pieces began to form.


The muse was a character on a show called Republic of Doyle.  The character was even named Jake so as I began to work, I called him Jake, at least until I could come up with a better name. Well I never found a better name, it just suited him.  In fact in every scene I kept picturing the actor who played Jake Doyle. There is something almost elfin-like in his appearance.  And those blue eyes… don’t get me started.


I am getting ahead of myself again.  Then I had a fight with my college age son. I don’t quite recall what it was about, I think it was his refusal to understand just how much his college schedule and reluctance to get his driver’s license was impacting my work schedule since I had to be available to drive him out and back each day –when you work from home, even an hour out of your day can throw everything off and this was more than one hour most days.  I even uttered the words mama Merry Mistletoe says in frustration:


“You are not reliable, you are not responsible, you’re barely even a grown-up at this point!”


Well in all fairness Merry’s kid was closing in on 30, mine was quite a bit younger than that LOL.  But I was pretty frustrated --and so was Merry!


I tossed and turned much of that night worrying and thinking, thinking, thinking. Somehow my muse and that argument combined in my head, and I got up in the wee hours, switched on the computer and wrote. The opening scene and first chapter just poured out. 


I named my heroine Lucy, after the Sandra Bullock character in While You Were Sleeping, only instead of a train she saves Jake from a shuttle bus.  I didn’t know much about her until that first opening scene and had no idea when I named her that she would do something similarly heroic to Sandra’s character.

But the story sat for a while. Every so often I would pull it up and tinker with it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to go with it—after all contemporary fantasy stories were not my usual style.  I was in new territory and just trying it on for fun at this point.


And then my publisher The Wild Rose Press announced their Christmas Cookies series.  I had already worked into my story that Jake smells like chocolate chip cookies, it’s part of what gets Lucy’s attention when she is laying in the street alongside him.  In hindsight maybe he should have smelled like gingerbread or sugar cookies, that would be more Christmassy—but I wanted something that would evoke happy childhood memories, as it does in Lucy. But by the time the series was announced, I was already married to the idea of chocolate chip. And in our house, we have always left chocolate chip cookies out for Santa.  I decided we can’t possibly be the only ones who realize the Big Guy gets tired of sugar cookies with his glass of room temperature milk every year. 


Now I finally had the motivation to finish my story. It took a lot of pushing myself, as it always does, because as any pantser will tell you, the minute you give in to one character, the other people who live in your head start talking to you.  Write my story, I’m way more fun than he is.  Why him and not me?  Hey, it’s supposed to be my turn!


You will meet some of those characters in a few weeks after I wrap up this series and start talking a little about what’s to come.


But with a lot of help and prodding from taskmaster Kim Turner—and the realization that I had to finish this story so we could write our shared story, Christmas in the Wylder County Jail –I was able to push myself to finish it.


Chocolate Chip Christmas wishes is available tomorrow!!  I hope you enjoy it!


Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday Morning Musing: This Moment in Time


For the next few weeks, as I countdown to the release date for Chocolate Chip Christmas Wishes and Christmas in the Wylder County Jail (co-written with Kim Turner) I will be revisiting some of my older stories.


This week I am talking about my Civil War era time travel, This Moment in Time.


Not even captivity can sway Southern widow Josette Beaumont from spying for the Confederacy.  Under the nose of the Union army, she willingly risks her life to pass information to her sources.  Until a stranger appears in her bedroom one day with a cryptic message: stop spying or you'll die.  She has no reason to believe his warnings about the future, but his company is the only solace in her long days of imprisonment and his friendship quickly comes to mean so much more.  If only she could make the sacrifice he asks of her...


To hell with history, real estate mogul Jamie D'Alessandro has no intention of saving the historic mansion he's purchased, even if it is the home of a famous Confederate spy.  But when he steps into an upstairs bedroom of the old house, time suddenly shifts, bringing him face to face with a very beautiful and irate Southern lady.  Against his will he's drawn into her cause--to save the Confederacy.  But Jamie has a cause of his own.  According to his research the lady spy has only days to live.  Should he change history to save the woman he loves--or sacrifice life in his own century to be with her for This Moment in Time?


Publication date: October 31, 2012

Amazon link



I am not sure where the idea for this story came from.  After immersing myself in my first historical story, I was longing for something a bit “easier” to write, i.e., not as much intensive research.


My mother was always after me to write a Civil War time travel.  Civil War stories are not easy to write. Despite the built-in conflict that comes naturally with north versus south, you have to contend with the fact that your hero and heroine will be separated for long periods of time.  After all, he’s off fighting a war and she isn’t.


At the time those house flipper shows were very popular, and I began to toy with the idea of a contemporary hero flipping an old house and discovering that the house—which he fully intends to destroy, despite assurances to the contrary—had once belong to a famous Civil War era spy. 


But I had yet to discover my heroine.  So I did what I always do and just started writing the first thing I saw.  Jamie, the hero, creeping up the stairs of the old house because he hears a noise and—not realizing he has just slipped through a time portal—coming upon the heroine.  At first he thinks she’s a ghost but quickly realizes she can see him.


He soon becomes entangled in the drama surrounding Josette Beaumont, the heroine.  He does enough research to know she will soon hang for her crimes if he can’t convince her to change her ways. 


And then suddenly, he is no longer able to reach her.  He has no idea why it happened or how to make it happen again. Can he travel back one more time to save her, or has he lost her forever?


This particular story was written with a specific word count in mind and whole I enjoyed the process, I felt I had to end it rather abruptly.  I did not keep my conflict arc as small as I could have and while I still love this story, I wish it was longer LOL.


But writing this story helped me decide what the next one would be.


It would be set during a battle in a town that had kept me fascinated since I’d first heard about it in grade school.


The battle of Gettysburg.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday Morning Musing: Wild Texas Wind


Publication date: June 18, 2010

Amazon link



For the next few weeks, as I countdown to the release date for Chocolate Chip Christmas Wishes and Christmas in the Wylder County Jail (co-written with Kim Turner) I will be revisiting some of my older stories. 


All Raz Colt wants is land, a quiet peaceable existence and to put his life as a hired gun in the past.  When the chance to earn a sizable fortune by rescuing a kidnapped heiress comes his way, he seizes the opportunity.  Trouble is, the heiress doesn't want to be rescued.  Offsetting Arden O'Hara's beauty is a rattlesnake personality and shrewish temper.  Despite her claim that she faked the kidnapping so her fianc? would ride to her rescue, Raz knows someone is out to kill her.  And if anyone gets the pleasure of wringing her lovely neck, it's going to be him.

Arden O'Hara is desperate to go home.  Her fianc? was supposed to ride to her rescue, proving it's her'and not her father's money? he loves.  Instead an arrogant stranger, with weapons strapped gun-fighter low and a decided lack of sympathy for her situation, shows up spouting a ridiculous tale about someone trying to kill her.  It's infuriating when Raz Colt's claims prove true after not one but several attempts are made on her life.  She has no idea who this fast gun with the deadly aim is, or why he makes her feel as wild and untamed as the Texas wind.  But like it or not, if anyone is capable of getting her home alive, it's Raz Colt.

This week I am talking about my first published historical story, Wild Texas Wind. I know we are not supposed to play favorites among our stories, but this one holds a very special place in my heart.  Not just because it was my first historical, but because it was so much fun to write.  


What is it about a bad ass, take no crap, bad boy hero that we all love?  Give him a fast gun and a whole lot of attitude and I’m there.


Wild Texas Wind was not supposed to be written first.  It was actually the sequel to another story I was writing.  My hero was half Indian; a small-town sheriff accused of murdering a white woman.  The heroine was the wife of a man he’d just killed in a shootout. Talk about conflict!


His sidekick was a bounty hunter with a jaded outlook, loads of sarcasm, and a pair of very fast guns. His name was Raz Colt.  The story quickly became Raz’s story, I looked for reasons to include him. 

I had a terrible crush on him.


In truth, I loved him. Maybe even more than I loved my hero.


And then he took over.


The idea for his story came at me in waves that I couldn’t ignore. 


Wild Texas Wind opens with Raz soaking in a hot bath before preparing to sample the delights in a whole house, and savoring a job well done.  He is reflecting that he has just helped clear a friend’s name of a murder charge and taken the real killer to justice.  That references the original story—I still intended to write it, but Raz’s story was coming at me so strong I had to switch gears and write it now.


While at the whorehouse, he learns a young girl has been kidnapped and her father, a wealthy rancher, is offering a sizable reward for her safe return.


Money, as it turns out, is the way to Raz’s heart. 


Arden O’Hara is the kidnapped heiress.  Only she’s not a young girl.  She’s a grown woman.  Oh, and she hasn’t been kidnapped either, she set that up to test her fiancé’s affections.  Does he love her, or her daddy’s money? 


Arden is spoiled, obnoxious and distractingly beautiful.  She also has the foulest mouth Raz has ever encountered, worse than his own.  So when he comes to her rescue, she has no intention of going anywhere with the likes of him, it’s her fiancé Geoffrey she is waiting on to rescue her.


But Raz has a bit of shocking news for Arden.  Geoffrey thinks she is dead.  And, surprise, the fake kidnapping she set up didn’t happen, she has actually been taken for real. And since her daddy didn’t give in to the ransom demands of the kidnappers, there is a man on his way there to kill her.


Arden does what any heroine would do in her place.  She laughs in his face.  And clocks him over the head with his own gun. 


Putting these two on the page together was a bit like match-meets-gasoline.  They loathed one another.  They were too much alike, both used to having their own way.  But they were also very attracted to one another, even if they didn’t want to be.  But if Raz gave in to his attraction to her, he wouldn’t get the money for rescuing her.  And if Arden gave in to her attraction for him, she couldn’t marry Geoffrey.


And at every possible turn someone was trying to kill them.  Pretty soon she realized if there was anyone capable of getting her home alive, it was Raz Colt. Of all people.


I am not sure if the prequel to their story will ever be finished.  It’s hard to go back and rewrite an old story, and two sequels (Wild Texas Bride and Wild Texas Outlaw) have already come from that story, both of which I hope to complete in 2022.

The story was made even better in 2018 with an audible release narrated by the amazingly talented Dawson McBride.  He "got" the character of Raz and only Dawson, with that deep drawl of his, could have done the story justice.  I highly recommend this version! 


But at this point it had been a while since I’d written a shorter length story and I knew those were popular with readers.  So what to write next?



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Wednesday on Writing: Rejection


Rejection.  The very word can bring up all sorts of negative feelings.  We’ve all felt this way at one time or another, and it takes a lot of courage to take something you’ve put your heart and soul into and place it into the cold, uncaring hands of a stranger.


Getting a sterile rejection for that effort is disheartening.


It may seem a bit like I am focusing on the negative by talking about rejections, but let’s talk about them anyway.


They are a part of life in the world of publishing.  And they don’t get easier. 


Plain and simply put: they sting.


Reminding you that they are not personal, they are simply part of the business is not going to help.  We all have to do what we have to do to get past it, sulk, rage, eat chocolate, vent to a friend. 


But when that’s over and done with, it’s time to take a more practical approach and ask yourself  what  it mean. Why did your story get rejected?


Most rejections come in one of two forms: 


1.       A basic form letter rejection that uses phrases like “doesn’t suit our needs” or “isn’t right for us at this time.”

2.      The revise and resubmit rejection.  This is where the editor addresses you personally, tells you what he or she would like to see you work on and asks you to resubmit the story again when you are done.


Because number one is so vague, it can often leave you wondering what you did wrong.   Okay first let me say this—chances are you did nothing wrong, your story just wasn’t a good fit.  And there can be several different reasons for that.


Remember in the first installment of this series where I talked about the importance of researching publishing houses? Well if you did that you may have found that some of them tend to favor a certain type of story.  I always encourage new authors to look for a publishing house that has published stories similar to your writing in style and tone.  But what do I mean by that?


Well if a publisher typically publishes sweet or very tepid romances and you submit something that’s smoking hot… chances are you are not going to get the outcome you desire.  Or if they only publish mainstream fiction, gritty war stories and spy thrillers and you submit a cozy mystery… again.  Not gonna end the way you want.


So sometimes a “doesn’t fit our needs” rejection is simply that you submitted something that’s not the type of story they typically publish.


And sometimes it means craft issues.  Sad to say but not every publisher is super fussy about writing craft.  Characters may shift viewpoints all over the page (also knowns as head hopping), and there may be a lot of narrative (also known as passive writing).  If that’s how you write, then that works for them.


So to submit a story with head hopping and passive writing to a publisher who specifies they only want one viewpoint per scene and are looking for stories with active writing is probably not going to end the way you want. 


So this is what I mean by the “doesn’t fit our needs” rejection being a bit vague, it doesn’t always tell you what the reason was for the rejection and leaves you to sort it out. 


And, yes, sometimes “doesn’t fit our needs” means there is sooo much wrong with this story we don’t have enough time to explain it all.


So take a long hard look at your writing.  If you really believe in your story, then brush up on some craft issues, or ask someone with experience to take a look at it, an independent editor or someone from a writing group. And remember to take any criticism in the helpful spirit intended rather than personally.  Yes it hurts to hear your writing isn’t perfect, but choose to learn and grow rather than lash out.


The second rejection is a bit more positive, though it’s not a guarantee that you are on the right track.  And the response to this one is tricky. 


Speaking as an editor who has sent out these letters, sometimes you really enjoyed the story but simply want the author to eliminate some back story or brush up on some craft issues.  Yes you want to see the story again, but you are also interested to see what the author can do with it.  So if you get one such letter, take your time and make sure to really give it your all.  Do not, however, return the MS within 24 hours.  Even if you pulled an all-nighter and got all the changes addressed. 


You will have rushed, and you will have missed something.  And chances are the editor is going to wonder why you were in such a hurry.  Here’s a tip. When we’ve just finished reading an entire MS and sent you a well thought out rejection, we don’t necessarily want to see it back on our desk again in 48 hours.  We’d like some distance from the story so it’s fresh again when we read it next time.  A couple of weeks, thirty days, even six weeks is a good amount of time. So do the changes, and let your story sit for a few days or even a week or more and then double check your work.  Slowing down and taking your time increases your chance of a positive outcome, especially since some editors will not look at a story a third or fourth time—if they reject you a second time, they most likely won’t ask to see it again.  We simply don’t have the kind of time it takes to hand hold someone through revising a MS.


So as I wrap up this part of the series, let me share some thoughts with you.  We’ve talked a lot about craft and professionalism. 


The sad truth is the main reason a story is rejected involves craft issues. If not the writing technique itself, then because the MS was not clean of grammar, errors and punctuation or because the author didn’t know how to organize a plot or have any understanding of what it means to write a book.  They just sat down, wrote it, submitted and waited for the world to fall at their feet. 


There is nothing wrong with taking the time to learn the craft of writing.  Think of it this way.  If you were seated on the runway right now, waiting for a plane to take off for a long-awaited vacation and your pilot came over the intercom and announced that this was his first time ever flying a plane and he was excited to be sharing this moment with you… would you stay put or run for the nearest exit?


If the plumber looking at your kitchen faucet told you he was pretty sure he could fix it, he just needed to look up some videos on YouTube to figure it out, would you still let him fix your sink?


Or if the doctor about to perform your knee replacement surgery told you he’s never done this before, but he’s seen other doctors do it, would you still go through with it?


Don’t submit your work to a publisher if you haven’t taken the time to learn the craft. 


And it should go without saying, but since we started out by talking about professionalism… don’t burn your bridges.  No matter how much you disagree with what the editor said in your rejection letter, resist the urge to tell her to eff off or argue that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. 


We see this all the time and while we don’t take it personally, we do have very good memories. If you were rude and unprofessional the first time around, why would I look at your work again?


Okay so that will wrap up this part of the series.  I am not sure yet what next I will chat about next week, but stop back and find out!

Monday, November 8, 2021

Monday Morning Musing: The Model Man


For the next few weeks, as I countdown to the release date for Chocolate Chip Christmas Wishes I will be revisiting some of my older stories. This week I am talking about my first full length published story, The Model Man.

Single mom and romance novelist Kelly Michaels has no time for a man in her life. But when mega-famous cover model Derek Calavicci puts the moves on her at a romance writers' conference, she succumbs to temptation. Common sense prevails, however, and after a few passionate kisses she turns him down; she has impressionable teenagers at home, after all, she doesn't need a one-night-stand with a much younger man, no matter how hot he is. When photos of their passionate moonlight kiss hit the tabloids, her agent has to do some fast footwork to save her reputation. Will the notorious bad boy go along with her scheme?

Derek rarely hears a woman say "no" — it's been that way his entire life. If Kelly isn't interested, he's not going to push her-- even if she does melt like ice cream on a hot sidewalk every time he touches her. But when an unexpected opportunity falls into his lap by way of Kelly's scheming agent, he jumps at the chance. Pretend he's in love with Kelly Michaels for two weeks? No problem. After all, the lady may say she's never going to sleep with him... but he's got two weeks to convince her otherwise. 



Publication date: 3/28/08

Buy link at Amazon:

After finally getting published, I was hooked.  This whole writing thing was definitely for me!


I was writing an historical story in my spare time; it was really my dream to write westerns. But I wasn’t brave enough to submit it just yet.


My next story idea began with a dream.  It involved a handsome actor and me in a rather steamy situation.  But even in the dream all I could think was –what’s he doing with me??


So I began to toy with the idea of a regular girl and a hot guy.  At the time the idea of an older woman/younger man story was a bit unusual.  And I knew I didn’t want my hero to be an actor. 


They say to write what you know, so my heroine was a mom.  And a romance novelist.  But who should her hero be?


Why not a romance novel cover model?


Usually for me once I put the two characters on a page together they take it from there.  But Kelly, my heroine, took a little time to warm up to the whole idea.  Derek was very strong from day one, he sort of strode onto the scene, over confident as always and took over.  Kelly was much slower to begin talking to me.


Once I added Kelly’s side kick, her best friend Sharon, into the story, Kelly began to loosen up a bit.  Turns out she’s pretty introverted (like most authors) and it took Sharon to pull her out of her shell a bit.


So where for the two characters to meet?


A romance writer’s conference, of course!


Turns out Derek has always wondered about this mysterious romance novelist who likes to keep him as naked as possible on the covers of all her books.


Kelly, on the other hand, liked to keep pictures of Derek around when writing about her heroes.


Only when they meet she is unimpressed.  He’s conceited and nothing at all like she imagined.  He is also pursued constantly by the paparazzi, and she begins to suspect he likes that.


A bit too much champagne and some heady moonlight finds her defenses down and his lips on hers—only to have the paparazzi find them.  After that Kelly’s agent capitalizes on the idea and the two are forced to pretend they are having an affair.  Derek only goes along with it because he’s pretty sure he can get her to sleep with him. 


This story was written in 2007/8 before we had social media and smart phones so in some ways it feels a little dated to me, but I still love this story.


As it turns out, The Model Man was my last contemporary story for a while.


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Wednesday on Writing: The Query Part II.


So one of the things I received emails about after last week’s post was this comment:


This is another area where it’s very important to give the publisher exactly what they asked for, no more, no less and no different. 


Boy you guys didn’t like that one.  So let’s focus on that for a moment.


Most publishers will ask for the following:


·         A query letter

·         A detailed synopsis

·         in some cases, the first few pages of the MS (some ask for the first three, the first five, or even the first ten)


If their website does not say “hey, send us whatever you want, we don’t mind.  You do you!” then I would send them that and only that.




Simple.  To quote one of my favorite lines from The Godfather: “This isn’t personal, it’s business.” So keep in mind that this is a business transaction.  You have something I may want—a completed story.  And I have something you may want.  A publishing contract.  So let’s not beat around the bush, add unnecessary details (as we mentioned in last week’s chat about the query letter) or make this harder than it has to be.


We’ve already talked about the importance of the introduction.  Now let’s move on to the “show me your cards” phase. 


The synopsis.

Okay so a synopsis is not quite as scary as a horror movie, but it comes close.  I have been in this business, as I have mentioned for many, many years and I still don’t like writing them.  But they are a necessary evil in this business.  

So suck it up, buttercup, and learn to write one. 

I’ll pause here while you come to terms with that little bit of tough love.   

The big bad synopsis can’t hurt you.  It’s just words on a page.  Once you get over your fear of writing one, you take away its power to scare you.  

There, there. 

Better now?

 I will talk at some point about how to write one and what to include.  Today, however, we are going to talk about why you must do it. 

Yes, I said “must.”

 I am not going to insult your intelligence by telling you what a synopsis is, or what purpose it serves--you already know that.  But I am going to tell you why it’s necessary. 

Time is short.  A couple of weeks ago we talked about the fact that many publishers have been forced out of business and that the ones still standing are swamped.  So as an editor, I need to know right away if you know what you are doing, if you can write and if you know how to format a story.  And I need to know that now

Let me put it another way.  I wouldn’t set out on a cross country trip with someone I wasn’t sure knew how to drive, or without a map showing me how we were going to get there. 

 That’s kind of what the synopsis does for the editor. It shows me our starting point, the twists and turns along the way and the final destination.  And it tells me whether or not you can drive. 

Whoa, Nic, that’s a lot of pressure. 

Yes and no.  I have never yet rejected someone for a poorly written synopsis (that does not include poor grammar or spelling). Nor have I offered someone a contract because their synopsis blew me away.  

It’s just another part of the introduction to you, the author. And that’s why it must be there. 

I am amazed at the lengths authors will go to avoid writing a synopsis.  I have seen, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, family trees, tables and character lists in place of the required synopsis.  

Was I impressed by this?  I honeslty can't tell you because I didn’t bother to look.  Nope.  I asked for a synopsis, if you don’t send one I will send you a note letting you know it’s required.  If you refuse to send one or don’t respond, I am going to move on to the next author who knows how to follow directions and you are going to get a brief note letting you know your query has been withdrawn. 

Ouch.  What’s with all the tough love today? 

As I said, publishing houses are swamped.  And at this point, when my inbox is bulging with new queries and I have to dig through them to find a good one, it feels a lot like speed dating.  

In other words, dazzle me now before the clock runs out.  Okay, so I don’t actually have a timer set, but I am looking for that spark, that zing that gets my attention and invites me to linger.  

Which brings me to those sample pages.  And here is the real test.  

Yes, that’s exactly what it is. A sample, if you will.  Like when you are walking through those membership only big box retail stores and a rep offers you some delicious smelling sample of a new product.  You either like it and want to know more, or you don’t and you spit it out. And that’s exactly the point of the sample pages.  The synopsis may tell me you know where you are going and how to get there, but this is the test drive.  

If the publisher asks for the first three pages of your manuscript then please, send them the first three pages. Even if they end in the middle of sentence. 

 Wait a minute, are you saying you can tell whether or not someone can write based on just a few pages?


Let’s pause here for another harsh dose of reality. 

There used to be a saying in the publishing world that a reader will give a book three pages before they decided whether they want to read it. 

Those days are long gone. 

Attention spans are much shorter, as is down time.  And money. 

So if a reader is going to spend their hard-earned money and their precious leisure time on your story, you better start that story with the dead elephant in the living room. 

Wait, the dead what?? 

I've paraphrased an old saying but it means start with the day that was different.  Start with the action.  Think of the last James Bond move you watched.  Did it start with Agent 007 showering, getting a cup of coffee, looking at his phone and taking the dog out for a walk?  No, it likely started with him on a high-speed chase over winding roads with steep drop offs or jumping out of a helicopter onto a speeding boat over shark infested waters.  

Too often I see authors who think they need several chapters of “set up” (also known as back story) to get the story moving. 

 Nope.  The stuff that gets the story moving is where the story should start.  If it doesn’t happen until chapter ten you have started your story in the wrong place.  And no editor or reader on this planet is going to give you that much time to grab their attention.  

And that’s what those sample pages are for. They tell me whether you know where your story begins—the “opening hook” as it’s known.  If you know how to grab the reader's attention.  

As I read those next few pages I can also see if you know how to balance the dialogue and narrative, if it is clear who your main characters are, if you know how to show rather than tell and your grasp of viewpoint. 

All of that in just a handful of pages.  

And that’s why those early pages are important.  

Sending me the first three pages of chapter two because that’s where it “gets good” is not going to help.  Sending me your entire first chapter is not going to help.  For that matter sending me your entire story is not going to help. 

I need to know what I need to know and part of what I need to know—besides whether or not you can write a good story-- is whether you can follow directions. 

If you are not willing to work with me on something as simple as this, then I have to stop and wonder what you’d be like to work with during the editing process. 

And there are a lot of other people in my inbox who are already doing it right.

Next week:  The Rejection.


By the way are you guys enjoying this series?  I am getting a lot of views and friend requests, but no comments.  Be sure to leave me comments about the things you’d like to ask an editor, they may inspire future posts!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Monday Morning Musing: Small Town Christmas

 Welcome to yet another new weekly blog series. For the next few weeks, as I countdown to the release date for Chocolate Chip Christmas Wishes I will be revisiting some of my older stories. Starting with the story that began my career as a published author, Small Town Christmas.

All Holland McCall ever wanted for Christmas or any other occasion was Tucker Callahan. Unfortunately, he was the high school jock and she an overweight, unattractive nobody. 

But things have changed. Holly has left the small town they grew up in and made a career for herself, with plans to move on to even greater things. 

Tucker, on the other hand, has just returned to town, divorced and the single father of two young girls. A visit home for the holidays and a chance encounter leaves both of them questioning everything they thought they ever wanted. 


Publication date: 11/17/06

Buy link at Amazon


2006 was a year of change for me.  That summer my dad began to show signs of the illness that would eventually take his life (dementia).  My oldest son began school for a full day (our district was still doing half day kindergarten at that point) and my youngest was beginning preschool.


On top of that, I was about to turn 40.


The Wild Rose Press had opened their doors that spring and they had a submission call out for Christmas stories to publish that year.


There was so much going on in my life, and the newfound time in my day once I got my youngest off to preschool left me feeling a bit unsettled.  If you’ve ever been a stay at home or work from home parent you know the “what do I do with myself now?” feeling.    I was not yet published and still wrote in my downtime, but I was not necessarily pursuing it seriously—there was no time.  I wasn’t sure I could sit down and write a Christmas story, and certainly not in just a few weeks. 


But while out walking my dog one crisp fall afternoon, some people I hadn’t met before began talking to me.  No, not someone I met on the sidewalk, are you kidding, my dog was a hyper beast back in those days, he’d have licked anyone to death who got that close LOL.  Nope.  I mean in my head.


As they so often do, characters came and began to tell me their stories.  Holly was coming home for Christmas (the working title--turns out another story got contracted with that title before mine so I had to change it) to the small town where she had grown up and didn’t know how to tell her mom and Gran that she had taken a job on the other side of the country.  Tucker on the other hand was a single dad, newly divorced, and had just moved back home to raise his two little girls in the small town where they had grown up together.  Oh and there was a Christmas tree farm.  That’s all I had.


As the days passed, we walked (all of us, me, my dog, Tucker and Holly) they talked and I learned that Holly had always had a crush on Tucker.  They had been friends in high school, but Holly had been relegated to the “Friend Zone”.  Now she has lost a lot of weight, dyed her hair and is no longer the chubby bespectacled nerdy girl he knew back then. Tucker has also grown up and realized he may have been a bit shallow, but what guy wasn't at 17?


Tucker wanted to make up for lost time.  But unlike Holly his brief life in the Big City had shown him small town living was what he wanted.  Holly did not want to give up her career to move back to a place she had outgrown.


But how to get these two together?


So yes, very Hallmark movie ish, although I am not sure even Hallmark knew that back in 2006 LOL.


I wrote it and submitted it and much to my utter astonishment, it became my first published story.  It released on November 17, 2006; five days shy of my 40th birthday.





Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Wednesday on Writing: The Query


One question I am often asked is what are you looking for in query?  My answer, almost always, is this: professionalism. 


What do I mean by that?


Gosh I’m so glad you asked because I could go on about this all day! LOL.


Let’s start with the salutation.  Yep, it starts there.


So you’ve reviewed the publisher’s website and you know what to submit and to whom.  How do you start your letter?  Well the name of the person is Jane Doe, so let's start with 

Dear Jane.


Insert loud buzzer sound here.


Are you sure you want to start with Dear Jane?  Does Jane know you? Have you met Jane? Are you acquainted well enough to be on a first name basis with Jane?? If you cannot answer any of those questions with a resounding “Yes!” then don’t do it.


I’ve polled fellow editors and found them split fifty fifty on whether or not this bothers them.  Some of us find the over familiarity off putting and unprofessional, some don’t even think twice about it.  Since you have no idea of knowing which category Jane falls into, I’d start with a more formal greeting.  You can say Dear Ms. Doe, or even Dear Editor.  But I would not recommend starting with Dear Jane. (And I cannot believe I have to say this, but don't start with Dear Sir.  I still see that one sometimes.  It's way too outdated.)


Next.  What does the editor need to know at this point?  Well you want to pitch a story to her, right?  So let’s start by talking about that.


Some important things to mention up front: whether or not the story is complete.  This is more important than you might think. Finishing a story is an accomplishment and tells me you are not just a hobbyist.  A lot of people start books; a professional author finishes them.


Next: what is the word count?  If the publisher’s website says they accept books up to 85k and you submit one that is 140k, it is not going to end the way you want.  They will either tell you it needs to be cut down to their word count requirements, or they will simply flat out reject you.


But Nic, if the editor loves my story, won’t they tell me where to cut?


Let me set the record straight on this one.  That’s a common misconception.  I wish I had that kind of time.  But publishing houses are swamped these days.  As more and more go under due to the economy or the world of self-publishing, the more authors who don’t want to self pub come to our doorsteps.  But in my 35+ years in the world of publishing I have never seen an editor do that for an unpublished author. Let me put it this way:  I would never ask someone who isn’t contracted to do edits.  And I can’t contract a story that’s longer than the maximum word count allowed by my publisher.  See how that works?  So there is only one way for that scenario to end, I’m afraid.  (If you are truly committed to your story, the only real option for outside help would be to hire an independent editor to evaluate the story and offer you some suggestions.)


When we get to the “how to” section of this writing series, we will talk about knowing when and where to cut.


Next.  The genre.  If you don’t know it, am I supposed to guess?  It’s a cozy mystery, or it’s a sweet young adult romance, or it’s a romantic suspense.  I may know based on what you are telling me, but I need to know that you know.


So now we have the opening lines of our query letter.  What is it, is it complete and how long is it?


I’ll start with what’s familiar to me. 

Dear Editor,

 Wild Texas Wind is a work of western historical romance complete at 85k words. 

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? 

Next tell me as little about your story.  Again, I’ll work with one of my own since that’s easier. 

Arden O’Hara has faked her own kidnapping to test her fiancé’s affections.  Does he love her, or her father’s money? What she doesn’t realize is her plan has gone horribly wrong and she has actually been kidnapped. 

Raz Colt is the bounty hunter hired by her father to find her.  For the amount of money being offered, he’ll walk through hell itself if that’s what it takes.  Only Raz is expecting a little girl, not a full-grown woman.


Okay that’s enough to get my attention. It hints at the conflict gives me an idea of what the story is about and a taste of the author's voice.   

Next you may want to mention any professional affiliations.  If you belong to any writing groups, now is the time to mention them.  This tells me you are serious and since some of these organizations actually focus on professionalism, it tells me you are a step above many of the other authors waiting in my inbox. Are you already published? If so, with whom? Even if you are self-published, it still tells me you know how to finish what you start, so don’t feel you can’t mention that.


If you don’t have any of those to mention, that’s okay, it’s not a deal breaker.  Mentioning that you saw on the publisher’s website that they are looking for –insert genre here-- is helpful, too, or if you met them at a conference, remind them.  That tells me you actually know who you are submitting to and did your research.


A little bio about yourself never hurts, but I don’t mean how long you’ve been married, and how many grandkids/dogs/cats you have.   A query is an inquiry after all, not an invitation to tell your life story.  So just share the stuff that’s relevant to your writing self.  After all, this is a business, not a dating website (I know that sounds harsh but imagine wading through dozens of these on a daily basis).  So anything included should be related to your story—if you are a western author and have worked with horses all your life; a Civil War author and you are a reenactor; a medical professional and your main character is a doctor.  And definitely, if you did hands on research on your story topic, mention it here. 

Otherwise it’s perfectly appropriate to just cut to the chase and say the synopsis and first X number of pages (if the publisher requests those, some find it helpful to expedite the review process, others don’t require it) are below. 

I’ll do a brief recap.   This is what an editor wants to know at this point in the process:

·         What is the genre?

·         What is the length?

·         Is it complete?

·         What is your experience as an author (aka do you know what you are doing?)

·         Can you write? This is where the synopsis comes in and in some cases those sample pages.

      This is another area where it’s very important to give the publisher exactly what they asked for, no more, no less and no different. 


We will cover that next week with some dos and don’ts. 




The Struggle is Real Week 8: When Life Hits Back

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