Shark River

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Dindi is kidnapped to be the bride of a shark... To escape she must untangle a terrible curse caused by a love and magic gone wrong.


This stand-alone novella is set in Faearth, the world of The Unfinished Song. Available here ONLY.


The Unfinished Song - This Young Adult Epic Fantasy series has sold over  70,000 copies and has 1,072 Five Star Ratings on Goodreads.

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June 26, 2015

How to Use Reiteration in Romance

Arwen and Aragorn-barbies
Staurt Horwitz in his book Book Architecture makes the case for using Reiterations to create structure for a novel without tying yourself to a linear outline. Especially if you’re writing a literary book, a book with multiple viewpoint characters or multiple timelines, this method is gold.

Horwitz is weak on one point where Coyne is strong, however: Genre specific advice.

But how about if one combined Coyne’s and Horwitz’s methods?

I’m going to take my list of Obligatory Scenes for Romance, inspired by Coyne, and mash it up with Horwitz’s Reiteration method. Let’s see what happens!

First, here’s a re-cap of Obligatory Scenes for Romance.

  1. The Cute Meet: Meeting the each other is an unusual, even life-changing event, or occurs during some life-changing event. (If they knew each other long ago, this is replaced by an Unexpected Reunion. Sometimes, the Cute Meet is included too, as a prologue or a flashback.)
  2. The External Problem: Something outside the heroine and hero keeps them apart.
  3. The Internal Problem: Some internal wound keeps the heroine and hero apart.
  4. The Draw: Despite the problems, something forces the heroine and hero to spend time together.
  5. The First Kiss: The heroine and hero express their attraction for the first time.
  6. The First Fight: The heroine and hero quarrel, but overcome their difficulty.
  7. The Commitment: The heroine and hero admit to loving one another or in some way commit to one another.
  8. The Betrayal: Despite their commitment, either the external force or internal force keeping the lover apart threatens to separate them forever. There seems to be no way to overcome this.
  9. Love Conquers All: The heroine and hero overcome the betrayal, proving the strength of their commitment (even, in a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, or a romance without a HEA like The Titanic or The Notebook) despite death). In other almost-romances, or romances involving very young teens, an ambiguous “happily ever after for now” is acceptable.
  10. The Happily Ever After (HEA): In a true sits-on-the-romance-shelf genre Romance, as opposed to a strongly romantic story that might end tragically, the hero and heroine remain in love, remain together, and remain alive: they live happily ever after. Their HEA may be confirmed in an epilogue, or whenever the couple shows up in later books (about other couples) of the same series.

First of all, notice Points 9 and 10. The larger Theme, and the outcome that proves that Theme, for all Genre Romance (as opposed to Women’s Fiction or literary novels with a love story) must be “Love Conquers All” and a Happily Ever After (HEA). This is part of the Genre. If you don’t like it, don’t write Genre Romance. That’s pretty simple.

That doesn’t let you off the hook from developing your own Theme, however. This will be a variation of Love Conquers All, a specific example of what kind of problem Love Conquers. For instance, in 50 Shades of Grey it would be: Love is stronger than sexual sadism. The theme of Pride and Prejudice would be: Love is stronger than social prejudice. Another book might have the theme: Love is stronger than greed. One of my favorites is the HEA version of Romeo and Juliet: Love is stronger than enmity.

So far, that’s just Romance 101.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In my list of Obligatory Scenes, there were three that bugged me, the scenes I labeled 2-4 on the list: the External Problem, the Internal Problem, and the Draw. They weren’t quite right—because they weren’t Obligatory Scenes, as such, but rather ongoing elements necessary to drive the Romance. These elements might go into every scene, in fact!

I was trying to use a linear sequence, but what I needed was a set of parallel sequences—a grid. First let’s leave only the real scenes in our list:

  1. The Cute Meet: Meeting the each other is an unusual, even life-changing event, or occurs during some life-changing event. (If they knew each other long ago, this is replaced by an Unexpected Reunion. Sometimes, the Cute Meet is included too, as a prologue or a flashback.)
  2. The First Kiss: The heroine and hero express their attraction for the first time.
  3. The First Fight: The heroine and hero quarrel, but overcome their difficulty.
  4. The Commitment: The heroine and hero admit to loving one another or in some way commit to one another.
  5. The Betrayal: Despite their commitment, either the external force or internal force keeping the lover apart threatens to separate them forever. There seems to be no way to overcome this.
  6. The Happily Ever After (HEA): In a true sits-on-the-romance-shelf genre Romance, as opposed to a strongly romantic story that might end tragically, the hero and heroine remain in love, remain together, and remain alive: they live happily ever after. Their HEA may be confirmed in an epilogue, or whenever the couple shows up in later books (about other couples) of the same series.

What happened to 2-4 and 9? They are still there, but along a different axis. Let’s look again at that list once we’ve turned it into a Reiteration Grid:

Romance Obligatory Scene Grid

The Grid allows us to see that Reiterations can (potentially) iterate in every scene. (They don’t have to but they could.) This is critical, because touching on these narrative events is key to making a romance romantic. Each Obligatory Scene, as well as the other scenes in the book, will combine more than one Reiteration Arc.

Let’s take the Cute Meet. Looking at the Grid, we can see a there are several elements that might go into that scene. First there’s an iteration of Draw—the reason they are meeting and will continue to meet. Instantly, they are attracted to one another, though at this point it might be purely physical attraction. There may be an iteration of the External problem already evident. And even at this point, we should see the first iteration of the Heroine’s secret and the Hero’s secret, though the hint might be so well disguised we don’t recognize it as the first iteration of that Reiteration Arc until we’ve seen further iterations.

Least it seem the Grid is too, dare I say it, formulaic, let me emphasize that each individual story will have a different palette of Reiterations flowing into scenes. The Heroine and Hero might meet for the first time before they know that something is going to continue to work together, so there may be no Draw iteration in Cute Meet. Or they may meet, be attracted and go right to the First Kiss scene before an External antagonist pulls them away and stirs up the doubts that become an Internal Problem for one or both of them.

It’s not always necessary for the Heroine and Hero to both have a secret/internal issue. Sometimes it’s just one or the other. In Twilight, Bella is a normal girl; Edward has a secret. But in the subplot romance of Bella and Jacob, both Bella and Jacob have an internal issue. Jacob has a secret identity. Bella’s issue is that she’s still in love with Edward. In the Bella/Edward romance, they are able to overcome their external and internal problems, whereas Bella/Jacob are not. (Obviously the Bella/Jacob love story could not stand alone and still have the required HEA, but as a subplot, it works. Romances can have bittersweet, unhappy for now, or even unhappily ever after subplots for the third wheel. Usually, though a HEA is implied even for the loser of a love triangle, unless the rival was a Baddie.)

This Grid is solely for Obligatory Scenes. It could easily be expanded along the y-axis to include all the beats of a standard Narrative Arc. Several of the Obligatory Scenes are also usually broken up into successive scenes in a standard length novel.

The First Kiss can be extended into a sequence in either direction: The First Look, the First Touch, the First Time to First Base, the First Time Making Love, the Second Time Making Love…and so on. In Romantic Erotica, the first sex scene might occur about two seconds after the Cute Meet. A Sweet Romance might replace the First Kiss scene with a gentle holding-hands gesture, and the couple might not kiss until the final scene when the preacher says: “You may kiss the bride!”

A Romance trilogy that follows the same couple may extend the later beats, such as Kiss, Fight, Commitment and Betrayal, several times, with a new arc in each book. The true HEA is withheld until the last book in the series.

June 25, 2015

Recommended for Writers: Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance

Bookcase StairsKate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance orients aspiring Romance writers toward Mills & Boon’s guidelines for their numerous “lines” of subgenera. This might make it a strange book for me to recommend, since I encourage up-and-coming writers–especially for Romance–to consider going Indie.

Nonetheless, studying Publisher Guidelines for Romance Subgenera is a wise move, especially if you’re just starting out. One of the problems Indie writers run into is a failure to refine their focus to win a particular readership. They make basic mistakes that would have their manuscripts tossed into a Reject pile by any acquiring editor… but in this case, the Readers throw the books into the Reject pile.

To avoid that, the wise writer will not scorn the high standards of the “Gatekeepers,” but learn their secrets. After mastering a genre and associated subgenres, of course, the writer can knowingly (not ignorantly) choose to bend or merge them from a position of strength.

Buy Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance by Kate Walker.

June 24, 2015

Tara Maya’s Review: The Reluctant Concubine

Caveat—Reader Beware!

My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. If find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.

So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!

Reluctant Concubine-cover

Title: Reluctant Concubine (Hardstorm Saga Book 1)

Author: Dana Marton

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Read: First Time

Style: First Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

* * * * *

Plot Summary:

Tera’s own father sells her into slavery to the ruthless Kadar people. The Kadar keep women in harems for the pleasure of a few feudal lords, and pride themselves on their martial prowess. Tera is purchased by the cruel first wife of a harem because Tera is supposed to be a magical healer. Unfortunately, she hasn’t come into her powers yet. When she is called on to heal the head wife’s daughter, Tera has to hide her deficiency.

Though Tera brings the daughter back from the brink of death, things only grow worse when the head wife and her daughter plot to keep Lord Gilrem, the brother of the High Lord their drugged prisoner. Lord Gilrem is a not a kind man either. When he’d first arrived at the House, his men nearly raped Tera and he did nothing to aide her. Nonetheless, her innate sense of right and wrong compels her to help him escape. The ungrateful oaf immediately reneges on his promise to help her escape as well, and leaves her to bear the punishment for helping him on her own.

It is not due to Lord Gildrem but to Tera’s reputation as a Healer that the High Lord himself arrives (in Chapter 7) and takes her as his own property. The High Lord Batumar has a fearsome scar and an even more fearsome reputation: every concubine he’s ever had has been killed. Yet the first night he has Tera, and she resists him, he tells her: “You will come to no harm from me tonight.”

On the road to his palace, Tera tames a tiger and assists (unsuccessfully) in the interrogation of a traitor. There’s an enemy warlord who threatens all the peoples, both Tera’s and the Kadar, with a conquest even more brutal than that of the Kadar.

Once at the palace, Tera is the only occupant of the harem. All the others who once lived there are dead—how? Why? She dares not ask.

At the palace, however, Tera’s healing magic finally awakens. She is able to ease some of Batumar’s old war injuries. While there, she also investigates the mystery surrounding her mother’s death, for her mother died in this very capital. As her healing powers expand, she makes herself useful to the servants of the palace, healing their ailments and illnesses. She makes an enemy, however. The Shaman Shartor distrusts her and tries to foment others to distrust her as a sorceress.

A strange aspect of the novel picks up (around Chapter 13) with the introduction of a magical “mist.” When this mystic fog rolls through the city, everyone else hides, but when Tera goes out into the mist, she encounters some old men who identify themselves as sacred Guardians. They knew her mother. They warn her that the Emperor Drakhar is the real danger.

Despite wandering off into the mist, she returns to the palace harem and to Batumar, where the romance and sexual tension continues to build. Eventually she understands the secret behind the empty harem and the tragedy in Batumar’s past. She also comes to realize he is not the man she feared and despised.

When he is imprisoned by the enemy, she risks her life to try to rescue him.


Heroine /MC: Tera daughter of Chalee

Hero: Batumar

Villainess: Kumra, cruel head wife

Villain: Shartor, shaman who accuses her of being a sorceress


The setting of the novel serves to drive the relationships. As the heroine lives mostly confined to the interiors, the outside politics feels removed. This is compounded by the first person PoV, which keeps the reader’s focus confined to Tera’s personal observations. We don’t have multiple angles to see the story unfold, so the battles, for instance, remain distant. It works in this novel, but it’s one of the reasons I wonder where the rest of the series will go.


I would say that the main focus of this novel was the romance, but structurally, it’s more complex than that. The heroine doesn’t even meet the hero until Chapter 7. In Chapter 13, a subplot which ties the heroine to a more typical Fantasy “Prophecy of the Chosen One” type plot begins, and the final four chapters of the story involve the heroine in a rescue-adventure to save her beloved from the forces of the series villains. In all these respects, the reader is gently prepared for the larger scope of the series.

Personal Remarks:

This is the first book in a romantic fantasy epic. The romantic tension in this book was amazing, but I’m not sure how it can be continued in the rest of the saga, since the hero and the heroine have already declared and consummated their love. Either something has to come between them—and it would have to be pretty severe to match the emotional intensity of the original romance—or they will ally together in future books against a common foe and the series will be more fantasy than romance. I enjoy fantasy of course, but the strength of this first book was the fraught emotion, sexual peril, and angst, not so much the worldbuilding; is this going to change? A third possibility is that another couple or another relationship will come to the fore. In common with other authors who combine Romantic Fantasy and Epic Fantasy, Dana Marton has an interesting challenge to maintain the tension across several books.


Then Tahar reappeared in the doorway, with Onra behind him, and I forgot to worry about my mother. Onra stood naked, her pale flesh glowing in the trembling light cast by the torches. She stayed where she stood, while Tahar, an arrogant smile on his face, seated himself amid loud cheers.

“Does this mean he keeps her?” I whispered.

“He would have sent her straight to the Pleasure Hall, then,” one of the girls answered.

My heart ached for Onra as she walked slowly across the endless room. A woman servant threw flower petals on her and thanked her for bringing good luck to the House. The warriors banged their fists on the tables, whistled, and made other rude noises.

She slowed when she walked by our window, blood smeared on her white thighs. Her head held high, she shed no tears. When she reached the outside door, her mother wrapped in her a blanket and led her into the cold night.

A young warrior stood from the end of the table.

“Tonight, she will be had by many,” the redhead next to me whispered. “Straight from the Lord’s bed, her virgin’s blood still flowing. It’s good luck for the men.”

Life without freedom runs on its own time.

I looked at the High Lord who would either take my body tonight or my freedom forever, or likely both, without a thought to my wishes.

I might have met him only that night, but I knew him all the same. He was a man who lived by his strength and probably despised compassion. He led his nation to war season after season. His people cared little about the ideals that were important to mine. I had known his Palace Guard, and I had known his brother, and what I knew about them told me a lot about the High Lord. I had despised him before I ever set eyes on him, and now that he owned me, I despised him more.

Strong anger in a man with a weak spirit was a dangerous thing.


Kindle Locations: 4364

My reading time: 5 hrs



June 23, 2015

Novel Excerpt: Good as Gold by Heidi Wessman Kneale

As Good As Gold-coverAs Good As Gold by Heidi Wessman Kneale

Sweet Fantasy Romance out now from The Wild Rose Press

About the Book:

Daywen Athalia wants love–true and lasting. Fearing a future of bitter loneliness, she seeks help from a gypsy woman. The price: a hundred pieces of gold. Daywen’s never had two shillings to rub together in her life. Where’s she going to find a  hundred gold pieces?

Bel MacEuros made a career of theft from fey creatures. When the cursed gold he rightfully stole from a gnome is taken from him by Daywen, the consequences could bless or break his life.

It is not the gnome’s curse or a gypsy’s blessing but another magic, far deeper and more powerful, that will change their lives forever.


“And that is how I know your name is Daywen Athalia.”

A heat so strong Bel could feel it suffused her cheeks. “What?” she squeaked.

“And now you’ve put me in a quandary: what do I do with you?”

Daywen looked to the opening of the alleyway. If it wasn’t for the grip on her arm, Bel was sure she would have bolted. He didn’t want that. He really didn’t want that, but wasn’t sure why.

“You have put me in an awkward spot between several of my relations,” he explained. “When my mother learned you had stolen a hundred gold from me, she guessed rightly that you were seeking the faerie. Had she not told me, I would demand my hundred back from you, if not in coin, at least in trade–”

As he spoke these words, Daywen stiffened and she drew herself upright. “I am not that sort of woman!” She pulled against his grip like a panicked horse.

Bel pushed her up against the wall once more, this time her hands pressed between his chest and hers. “And if it had occurred to me–which I will not confess if it did or not–and I chose to sample your favors, that would not bode well between me and another relation of mine: my cousin. After all, isn’t he your sweetheart?”

Confusion wrinkled her brow. “Who’s your cousin?”

He didn’t expect that. Surely the lass knew who she loved. “Uhh, Lachlan…?”

“Oh,” she muttered, then realization dawned in her widening eyes. “Oh! Oh no…” She sank under his grip.

“So no, I won’t be taking a hunner’worth from you that way. I can’t even steal a kiss from you.” The words slipped out before he could stop them. She was pretty and wasn’t going anywhere for the moment. Is that why he wanted to kiss her? That itch in the back of his head nagged him. All he had to do was bend down and taste her lips…


Buy As Good As Gold by Heidi Kneale

Other Sales Links:

The Wild Rose Press

Barnes & Noble


Google Play





Heidi Wessman Kneale is an Australian author of moderate repute. By day, she wrangles computers as a way of supporting her educational and musical habits. By night she stares at the stars in the sky.

Blog: Romance Spinners


June 22, 2015

How to Improve Your Book’s Blurb (Guest Post by Rayne Hall)


by Rayne Hall


The blurb (book description) on the book’s back cover and online product page is the most important part of the book. Almost everyone reads or at least skims it before deciding whether or not to buy. It probably plays a bigger role in your sales than any other factor.



If the book description goes on and on, the reader gets bored—and looks at the next book in the catalogue instead.

Many authors load their book description page with a lengthy synopsis, subplots, commentary, author bio, purchased reviews and other material, in the hope that this will persuade the reader to become interested in the book. But the reader who visits your product page is already interested. Don’t bore her away!

The description needs to stir the interest into an urgent desire to read the book, so the reader either clicks to get the free sample or to buy the book at once.


Suggested Action:

Shorten your blurb. Cut all superfluous material—you may be able to use it elsewhere in your promotions. Model your blurb’s length on that of the bestsellers of your genre. 200-800 words is usually enough.



In an attempt to do the book justice and reflect every nuance of content, writers often cram too much into the blurb. This leaves the reader confused.

Better to focus on one aspect of the book, and present that well. Keep it simple.

Unlike a synopsis, the blurb should not reveal the plot. Otherwise, the reader doesn’t need to read the book to find out what happens.

A good blurb is a teaser. It presents an exciting situation that the reader can’t resist.


Suggested Actions:

Keep it simple and get straight to the point.

For non-fiction, show what benefits the reader will get. (Example: Writing Fight Scenes: “Learn step-by-step how to create fictional fights which leave the reader breathless with excitement.”) Add some key features of the content.

For a novel, focus on the main character’s major goal and conflict. Leave out subplots, minor characters and all the enchanting details.

Focus on the first couple of chapters of your book. Leave out anything that comes later.

Do you have a tagline, logline, elevator pitch or similar short teaser for the book? Flesh it out with a couple more sentences, and you’ll have an irresistible blurb.



Many blurbs leave the reader unmoved. Without emotional involvement, the reader doesn’t feel compelled to read the story.


Suggested Actions:

Here’s a powerful method to make the reader care. Start the blurb with the character’s goal. Whatever the character wants or needs that sets the events in motion, state it. Example: “Debutante Arabella needs a husband.”

Add the reason why, but without explanations. Simply reveal what’s at stake or what the dire consequences of failure would be: “Debutante Arabella needs a husband, or her brother goes to prison.”

If you can create a sense of urgency by mentioning a deadline, even better: “Debutante Arabella needs a husband, and she needs him by Christmas, or her brother goes to prison.”

A sentence “[Character] needs [goal] before [deadline], otherwise [drastic consequences]” is an irresistible hook for any reader who enjoys the kind of story you’ve written.

Add another sentence creating an emotional dilemma: “But the only man she loves is betrothed to her best friend.”

Finish with a question. “How can she protect her brother without betraying her friend or her own heart?”

This gets the reader’s imagination going, and she’ll want to read the story.



Your writing style for the blurb needs to be exciting and punchy. Many blurbs are vague, clumsy, or cluttered with phrases that add no content.


Suggested Actions:

Give every sentence at least one vivid verb and specific noun, and scrap most adjectives and adverbs.

Avoid Passive Voice sentence structure (“When her son is killed by native warriors…”) and use Active Voice where possible (“When native warriors kill her son…”).

Delete phrases that carry no content (“This book is about…” “This story tells how…” “What happens next…”)

Delete sentences in which the character thinks, considers, understands and realises things. Focus on the action.

Tighten the phrasing. Avoid “he starts/begins to” and “she finds herself”. Instead of “He starts to plot revenge” write “He plots revenge.” Instead of “She finds herself journeying into the jungle” write “She journeys into the jungle.”



Every genre has certain words which send delicious thrills down the reader’s spine and get her imagination going. They signal that this book contains the kind of story she loves.

In Regency Romance, words like ‘ball, governess, rake, rogue, elopement, scandal’ capture the reader’s imagination, while for Westerns it may be ‘stagecoach, sheriff, outlaw, hanging, posse, saloon’ and for High Fantasy ‘sword, wizard, enchanted, magic, prophecy, quest’. They act as an open-sesame.

If your blurb lacks the magic words, the reader will move on to look at another book.

Suggested Action:

Make a list of the thrill words of your genre (or genres, if your book straddles several). Choose the ones which fit your story and insert two or more into your blurb.



For a short while, I believed the ‘gurus’ who urged authors to make blurbs as long as possible. I wrote 2000-word blurbs and stuffed them with keywords. When book sales dropped instead of rising, I realised that readers don’t want to read long blurbs. They want to read books.

June 19, 2015

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

Writing CraftSome writers out there might have objected to Shawn Coyne’s outline-centered approach in The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know.

Staurt Horwitz would agree. He hates the term “outline”… so he calls his system a “method.” I wondered if this was just semantics, but after reading both his books, Book Architecture and Blueprint Your Bestseller, I was convinced he has a unique approach worth studying.

Interestingly, Horwitz is used to coming at a book, like Coyne, as an outsider intent on evaluating it. In other words, he assumes the writer has a draft and now wants to do know what revisions the book needs to make it better, or make it “work.”

Coyne was working for a Big Publisher, so he learned to distinguish a viable commercial novel from a lovely but niche literary novel from a novel with no obvious readership at all. Coyne’s first loyalty had to be to the publisher, and, indirectly, the reader, so his question was: Who and how many would pay money to read this novel?

Horwitz worked for many years a Book Doctor. That’s a private content editor that authors who can’t get Big Publisher’s to buy their novels turn to in order to figure out how to make their books better. Or sometimes the writers don’t even care about publishing their book. It’s a private project, like a memoir or a spiritual declaration that they are writing for themselves. And then there are the deluded writers who think they can write something completely idiosyncratic, personal and possibly insane, like their True Life Memoir Novel about their Alien Abduction which is a Romance, Thriller, Historical War Story and a Spiritual Text for the New Cosmic Age as well as a transcription of Xthoww’s Infathomable [sic] Word, all at the same time…and they are convinced this will be a bestseller.

Horwitz’s job is to please the writer not the reader, even the demented followers of Xthoww’s Infathomable [sic] Word. He doesn’t ask if anyone would ever want to pay money to read his client’s books, but only strives to help each writer achieve their own vision for their novel.

In Blueprint Your Bestseller he provides 22 steps to revise a book draft, and these steps include finding your one sentence Theme, creating a Target with concentric circles of how closely a scene illustrates this theme and then figuring out which of your scenes are actually hit anywhere close to the Target. This is a great technique, but it still doesn’t tell you if your Target is the right one to aim for if you want other people to want to read your book.

Say you think you are writing a mainstream Romance, but your theme is “True Love Isn’t Enough,” and your story ends with the couple separating. (Maybe, as in the original ending of Pretty Woman, you have the heroine decide to go to college instead of getting her man.) Every scene in your so-called Romance novel could bullseye that target. It’s still not going to fly.

In fact, in Blueprint Your Bestseller, he tries to apply the same advice to nonfiction and fiction. To me, the needs of nonfiction and fiction are so different than any catchall approach waters down what is most important to know about writing each one. It’s much easier to see if a chapter is “on target” in a nonfiction book than in a novel, for instance. Repetition means something entirely different in nonfiction than in fiction. Finally, nonfiction its own multiple genres, as does fiction, none of which are differentiated by his method. (I still found Blueprint Your Bestseller a useful and worthwhile read, but for my purposes, Book Architecturewhich hones in on fiction with many case studies, better matched my focus.)

However, although for me, the commercial viability of a book is an important consideration, it’s not my only consideration, or even (to my husband’s consternation) my main consideration. We all know of books that are so formulaic they feel emptied out of real content. Indeed, these kind of books are what give us a horror of formulas in the first place. I want my stories to be riveting, but I also want them to be beautiful.

Charles Baxter discussed this ineffable feature of a story in an essay in his book Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction.

It’s customary to talk about effective language or effective dramatic structure in fiction, but almost no one ever talks about beautiful action. At first glance, it’s a dubious category. For years I have wondered how to define beautiful action in fiction, and whether it’s even possible. I don’t mean actions that are beautiful because a character is doing something noble or good. I mean actions that feel aesthetically correct and just–actions or dramatic images that cause the hair on the back of our necks to stand up, as if we were reading a poem. My conclusion is that it often has to do with dramatic repetition or echo effects. I think of this as rhyming action.

…When we see two similar events separated by time, it’s as if we are watching an intriguing pattern unfolding before we know exactly what the pattern is. I don’t think that the pattern has to explain itself to be beautiful. It doesn’t even have to announce itself. In fact, I think it’s often more effective if the echo effects, the rhyming action, are allowed to happen without the reader being quite aware of them.

I love this idea of “rhyming action,” but how to employ it? Horwitz, although he doesn’t call it “rhyming action,” gives examples from well-known novels and novellas that illustrate this technique. As in his first book, Horwitz shows the method in action at the simplest level first, in a Children’s story, “Corduroy.” (This does make the method clear, though it also shows how even a Children’s book is much, much more complex and harder to write well. This explains why so many people think they could “easily” write a Children’s book…after all those books are short!… but they can’t.)

He applies the method to The Great Gatsby and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to Catch-22 and to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, as well as to the shooting scripts for Slumdog Millionaire and The Social Network. (You can see how some of thee stories have a more exclusive readership and some have mass market appeal, so even here, he doesn’t give any help figuring out whether your book will be commercial or literary.)

All of this might sound as though there’s nothing useful in his method, however, which is not true. Horwitz’s method is useful in shoring up some of the weakness of the Coyne/Bell model.

Coyne, like James Scott Bell, often illustrate their Narrative Structure formula with movies. Many of the rules they lay down, especially Bell, apply well to mass market movies and novels with a linear structure: a single hero, a limited period of time marked by a deadline, an A-plot supported by a B-plot that kicks in at specific intervals….

What about story that spans years, decades, or centuries? What about showing multiple points of view? What about flash-backs or flash-forwards? What about introducing cultures or whole species that are unknown and alien to the reader? How does the 15-point Bell Formula handle that?

Pretty much, it doesn’t.

It gives you a place to start. But you need more.

What I love about the Horwitz method is that it shows how to handle complex novels: multiple points of view, multiple timelines, and multiple storylines. It teaches how to braid storylines.

I have only one more grievance with Horwitz: his choice of term. He calls the central feature of his braiding method a “series.” But since every single novel I write is part of a series, in the usual sense of being part of a connected universe or even single narrative arc, I find this term more than distracting, I find it downright vexatious. It confuses me every time I see it. So, I’m not even going to use that term in my blog. I’m renaming it a Reiteration.

Reiteration: The repetition and variation of a narrative element, such as a character, a setting, a relationship, a symbol, or a phrase, so that it becomes dynamic and creates meaning. Each repetition with variation is an iteration of the narrative element.

Reiteration Arc: A Reiteration must have at least two iterations. If it has at least three iterations, it also has an arc. This can be a Narrative Arc, following the Aristotelian structure of rising and falling tension, or it could follow its own logic of ups and downs. Even in a commercial book, not all the Reiteration Arcs need be Narrative Arcs, if they are the storylines of supporting players, or if the type of Reiteration is a setting or a phrase. One of these Arcs will be your central storyline and the others will be supporting story elements.

Reiteration Grid: A Reiteration Grid allows you to track all your Reiteration Arcs visually. You can use graph paper or an Excel file to write track each arc in parallel columns. My method which I learned from my father is to color code each arc/PoV scene on different stick-it notes and put them in a notebook.

Reiteration Target: Each Reiteration asks a question—the same question in every iteration. The final iteration answers the question. Examples of Reiteration questions are, “Who is the murderer?” (Each clue is an iteration.) “What is the heroine’s secret?” (Each instance the secret prevents her from declaring her love for the hero is an iteration.) “Will the One Ring corrupt even the good-hearted hobbit?” (Each time the hobbit puts on the Ring, or is tempted to do so, is an iteration.)

Theme: Every Reiteration question relates to a single overarching question for the book, answered by the end of the story. This question is simple and timeless, which means that standing alone, it may sound cliché, as naked, timeless truths always do. Justice will prevail. Love is more powerful than prejudice. Compassion has a strength beyond mere brute power.

Next, I’ll look at how this method can help us write a Genre book along with a strong Narrative Arc, which is of more interest to me than a literary novel that may or may not have a traditional plot or clear ending.

Buy  Book Architecture and Blueprint Your Bestseller.
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June 18, 2015

Recommended for Writers: Book Architecture by Stuart Horwitz

Book Architecture-coverI’m a big fan of Outlining, but I’m aware it’s not everyone’s bowl of candy.

Aside from the “I prefer to flounder about like a fish at the bottom of a row boat,” there’s the rather better argument that Outlining can crush every story into the same tin can. And the traditional 15-point Story Arc doesn’t really help when you’re juggling a large cast, a number of intertwined storylines or using flashbacks and other complicated temporal devices to tell a complex story.

But what’s the alternative?

Stuart Horwitz’s Book Architecture offers one way forward. I’ll discuss the method in more detail in my post tomorrow, “How To Write a Novel Without An Outline.”

As you’ll soon see, I don’t actually regard Horwitz’s method as antagonistic to the more common form of Outlining… more like Yin to Yang. Both methods are stronger together. It’s that possibility that I’ll explore in my post, “How to Use Reiteration in Romance,” later this month.

Buy Book Architecture and Blueprint Your Bestseller.

And guess what! If you join my Misque Writers Club, I will automatically enter your name in a drawing to win a signed & numbered print edition (one of a limited collector’s edition of 250) of Stuart Horwitz’s book.  Drawing ends midnight Saturday June 20.

June 17, 2015

Tara Maya’s Review: Dragon Blood by Lindsey Buroker

Caveat—Reader Beware!

My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. If find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.

So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!

Dragon Blood-collection

Title: Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (Dragon Blood Collection, 1-3)

Author: Lindsey Buroker

Genre: Fantasy Romance / Steampunk Fantasy

Read: First Time

Style: Dual Third Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

* * * * *


Buroker infuses her characters and her storylines with such sly whimsy, it’s impossible not to grin. Although set in a Second World (unique fantasy world), this series has a Steampunk feel to it because of the level of technology and culture. The series also combines strong romance plots with strong adventure plots.

Plot Summary:

Three centuries ago, the people of Iskandia turned against the magic-users known as the Referatu. In an explosion designed to crush them all of them under a collapsed mountain, the mage Sardelle protected herself with a stasis spell. She didn’t expect to be trapped there for three hundred years. When she awakens, her former fortress has been turned into a prison, most magic has been lost and technology has advanced. But one thing hasn’t changed: the Iskandians still distrust magic-users, and Iskandia is still at war with a bitter foe determined to enslave them.

Sardelle hides her magic and pretends to be one of the prisoners at the mountain. Nonetheless, she quickly comes to the attention of prison commander, Colonel Ridge Zirkander. She has to convince him she can help him mine the mystery power source the Iskandians need for the war, while she secretly finds a way to dig free her enchanted soulblade. The telepathic blade may be trapped, but she provides snarky telepathic commentary on human folly throughout the book.

Zirkander may be in charge, but he’s himself has been assigned to the prison as a punishment. His insubordinate attitude toward superiors (and protective attitude towards those who serve under him) has landed him in trouble (again). He’s suspicious of Sardelle, but also insanely attracted to her. He suspects her of being a spy. He has no idea she’s something much more dangerous…a sorceress.



Heroine / MC: Sardelle Terushan

Hero: Colonel Ridge Zirkander

Sword: A sentient soulblade named Jaxi, who provides wry commentary on the humans—whether they want it or not!

Villain: Cofah (enemy) Sorcerer in attacking airship

Villain: General Nax


There’s a growing trend to create “Second World” fantasy that has a higher level of technology than the traditional medieval settings. Lindsay Buroker’s series is a fine example. In a world where dragons have been extinct for about a millennium, there are magically powered airplanes and airships. The social organization is also more advanced than the usual feudal system; although there are still kingdoms and empires, there are also complicated systems of trade and business. Instead of warriors, the military is composed of professional soldiers.

Since the heroine is from an earlier period than the hero, we are able to see how the society has advanced (and, in some areas, regressed) over time, so there’s also a sense of how the history of this world is dynamic, not static. The geographic area of the novel is confined to a single mountain, yet we have a sense of distant, threatening empires, and even more distant lands filled with jungles, islands, shamans and more exotic forms of magic.


Although I’ve identified Sardelle as the MC (main character), it would be fair to say that Ridge was an MC in his own right as well. The novel spent equal time alternating between both heroes, who were the only PoV characters. Most chapters had two scenes, one from each perspective, although those “scenes” were actually several scenes strung together in a seamless sequence. Despite the solid world building, the plot had the feel of a Romance novel because of the contained cast and restrained movement (everything took place in the prison or on the surrounding mountainside except for the Epilogue). Conflict came primarily from the romantic tension caused by the Heroine and Hero being forced to distrust one another despite their attraction. There were three other villains: an enemy sorcerer, who both attacked the fortress and tried to entice the Heroine to betray her people (all the more tempting because her people would kill her if they discovered she was a sorceress); a stuffy, bigoted General who shows up about two thirds of the way through to cause trouble; and his gorgeous daughter, who flirts with the hero and poses as a potential romantic rival for the Heroine. Given the length of the book, a short “category” length novel, this was plenty of conflict!

Balanced on the Blade's Edge

Personal Remarks:

I have actually read the first four books in the series already, the three included in the Dragon Blood collection and the next book Patterns in the Dark. As with any Romantic Fantasy that extends into a series with repeating characters, Lindsay has to handle a specific challenge: should the romance be wrapped up at the end of the first book (giving a satisfying ending and HEA, or HEA “for now”), or should the romantic tension be extended over the series? She’s chosen to give the first book a tentative HEA. That makes the first book a satisfying read, but it creates a problem for the rest of the series. Is it not to be more like a traditional high fantasy, in which the tension will come more from the quest or mystery plot than from the romantic tension between the characters?

Lindsay Buroker makes an interesting choice. The second book introduces a new couple, who, we discover, are not unrelated to the first couple. The next book therefore also derives most of its tension from the combination of the romance plot and the escape plot. (A pirate and a captured pilot must work together to escape a jungle prison. But can they trust each other?) The next two books have all four characters embark on a quest together, with some lingering romantic issues to plague them, but most of the interest generated by solving two mysteries, one personal and one magical/military.

The series is not over, so I am curious to see how she will handle the next installment.


“It should have reassured her that she and the colonel were essentially on the same side, having both fought to defend the continent of Iskandia—even if the people called it something different now—but it sank in for the first time that he must also be the descendent of those who had blown up her mountain…annihilated her people.”


“I…believe it might be more dangerous than you think out there,” Sardelle said.


That made it seem even more unlikely that she would want to go.

“It’s just a feeling.” She shrugged. “A hunch. Don’t you ever get hunches when you’re out there flying?”

“Yes. I get hunches when dealing with inscrutable blue-eyed women too.” Ridge laid a hand on her shoulder before she could comment. “Stay here where it’s safe—“ he glanced at the mountain of snow in the fort, “—safe-ish.”

Sardelle’s eyes narrowed with…determination?


“Yes, I’ve heard magical owls are very rude.”

“That’s in the book you were quoting, eh?”

“Actually…no. I was joking. I know very little about magical owls, I’m afraid.”


“Problem?” Sardelle asked.

“Just wondering if I need to rub my dragon before enduring this.”

“Uhm, pardon?”

“You know, my little charm.” Ridge eyed her doused rag. “Or maybe you should rub my dragon.”

“Perhaps later,” she murmured.

Kindle Locations: 3272

My reading time: 4 hrs.

June 15, 2015

What is Fantasy Romance? (Guest Post by Amy Raby)

Loving Fairy Couple In A Bed Of Grass
Are you a fantasy reader who enjoys pairing the characters off in romantic relationships? Do you sometimes wish a fantasy novel would spend more time on the characters, go a little deeper into what makes them tick? If so, fantasy romance is the genre for you.

When I started writing my own fantasy novels, I found myself beginning not with situations but with characters. I spent a lot of time on worldbuilding, but I didn’t create my characters for the purpose of revealing the world. Rather, I created my world for the purpose of revealing the characters. My first novel (never published) was about two men on an adventure. They were a mage and a thief, essentially, and I put them in constant conflict with each other.

Someone beta-read the novel and was confused. “It reads like a buddy movie,” he said. Yes, it was supposed to! The reader seemed to think a fantasy novel couldn’t spend so much time on the characters and their relationship. Maybe that novel didn’t work, but I knew that writing about characters and relationships was what I wanted to do.

I’d been reading science fiction and fantasy since childhood. I discovered the romance genre later in life, and when I did, I realized this was what I’d been missing. Here were the character-driven books I’d been looking for. This was the genre I was meant to write. But I didn’t want to give up my fantasy worlds and magic and dragons. So I started writing romances that took place in fantasy worlds.

Fantasy romance novels sit astride two genres. They are romance novels, fulfilling all the requirements of the romance genre. And they are fantasy novels, fulfilling all the requirements of the fantasy genre. I aim for a 50/50 split between romantic content and fantasy adventure content.

At this point I don’t even know how to write a novel that’s not fantasy romance. Having two intertwined storylines gives me so much narrative freedom, as well as advantages in pacing. We’ve just had a big action scene as part of the adventure storyline? It’s time for a quieter scene focused on the romance. My romantic couple just had a big fight and they’re not speaking to each other? Get them together with new developments in the adventure storyline that force them into contact.

Adding magic to a romantic relationship can be all kinds of fun. I had a great time writing the playful love scenes in one novel, in which the man had the power to turn invisible. Magic can also serve as an equalizer for female characters. I enjoy writing powerful, magically gifted heroines.

When I started writing fantasy romance, I thought I was the only person doing it. I’d never read a novel in this hybrid genre in my life—although several novels shelved in the fantasy section might have qualified (one by Ellen Kushner, several by Barbara Hambly).

But I was wrong. I wasn’t the only one. It’s a lesser known genre, but a few fantasy romance authors have been published by Penguin, and self-publishing has really flung open the doors for fantasy romance, adding many talented authors to the mix. We’re an emerging genre, and we’re building steam. The world is full of readers who grew up reading fantasy novels and also love romance. Those are the readers we’re writing for.

June 13, 2015

5 Ways to Make Money Writing Romance (Guest Post by Vashti Valant)


by Vashti Valant

There are so many ways to write Romance! And get paid for it. There are Pros and Cons to each of the career paths. But the good news is that these aren’t mutually exclusive.

1. Write for a Big Publisher

PRO: When you dreamed of being a writer, this is probably what you envisioned. A paperback on a wood shelf in a real bookstore, with a familiar label on the spine, like Harlequin. There are so many different “lines” for Big Pubs, it’s easy to find one you fit. It’s a good way to learn how to craft your novel to a niche readership. You’ll get an editor and a book cover.

CON: Advances are smaller than you think. Really.  Plus, while you have the advantage of the publisher’s reach, they don’t promote for you. You’re still on your own when it comes to truly promoting you as an author and a brand. Your books are off the shelves and the Publisher doesn’t always care about keeping alive your backlist.

2. Write for a Small Press

PRO: As with a Big Publisher, you’ll get an editor and a cover and a built-in audience. You’ll also have guidelines to write to. And it’s a lot easier to break in than with a Big Pub. Most of these specialize in ebook publishing.

CON: No advances, and no guarantees that royalties will be great either. Plus… frankly, the publisher might provide a cover that really sucks. And you’re stuck with it anyway. You have to promote yourself. And small presses often go out of business…often down in flames.

3. Ghost Writing

PRO: You can find work on a site like Elance or Odesk (which recently merged) and have enough projects to write full time. You have to hustle a bit to win bids, but it’s still a lot easier than promoting your own book—and easier on the ego. You get a guaranteed amount of money upon delivery of the work; it’s like an advance you don’t have to worry about earning out. Depending on what you prefer, you can look for gigs that let you write your own stories (within guidelines), or gigs that provide much of the work for you already done, like background and outline. This makes it a great route for beginning novelists, especially, to hone their trade. It’s like getting paid to learn how to write books.

CON: You don’t get the fame and satisfaction of seeing your name out there on a book cover. Also, you write to someone else’s specs and you have to respect their wishes, even if you think you know better. You don’t receive royalties.

4. Co-Writing / Team Writing

PRO: In Hollywood, it’s pretty standard, but it’s a new thing for novel-writing: joining a partnership or a team. The income is more regular, and you have the ability to bounce ideas off your partner or teammates. You can focus on the parts of the story you write best, and your partner can do the same. You have more control of the final product than with ghost writing, but still less sole responsibility for the final product… including the marketing. If you trust your partner or team, that lets you focus on the fun parts.

CON: You have to be careful that the financial arrangements are solid and that it’s clear how you’ll be paid: an upfront fee for each assignment, royalties, or a salary—or some combination? Make sure this doesn’t ruin a friendship or destroy a small business. And if you’re the one in charge, make sure you have the legal bases covered.

5. Indie Writing

PRO: You’re the boss, and you have full artistic control—and you keep all the net profits. What could be better?

CON: When you go Indie, you’re not just an artist anymore, you’re a business. Remember that the profits you earn are gross, not net. You have to subtract all the costs of your business… editors, book cover artists, promoters. And if you do all that yourself, you are basically limiting the time you can spend writing. If you ignore the other aspects of the business, your books will languish unnoticed—no matter how good they are!