Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Traveling for Inspiration

 I don't really need to travel to find inspiration for my books. After all, I'm the person who wrote a novel about my garbage collection problems in A Trashy Affair which turned out to be one of my best efforts.. The truth is I write in order to travel. My royalties pay for one nice trip a year with my husband, not exactly Nora Robert's riches, but good enough for me. When I travel, I take along promotional cards for my books and hand them around. When I return I always find a few curiosity sales from my fellow travelers, so don't leave home without some PR product to do a little shameless self-promotion. Just saying.

Those I meet on trips always want information on publishing and also ask if they will appear in any of my books.  I am quick to say none of my characters are real people unless they are historical figures, but I certainly do save up characteristics to use in my creations like the woman who kept disappearing from tours in order to have a smoke and a large coffee or the still spry World War Two nurse who had tales to tell. Recently, I returned from this year's big trip to Ireland, plenty of inspiration in that country with all its history and woes and lovely landscapes. I was asked if I would write about that country in my next book. Well, no. It might take me years to percolate the information, come up with a plot, and then find the time to write the story. I have a list of five books to write in my head already, and Ireland will have to wait its turn.

It took me over two years to get around to writing A Place Apart based on a trip to Maine. I finished the first draft of this 100,000 word novel before I left for Ireland and now must get back in the groove and polish it. Though you can find anything on the internet, visiting a place does enable you to add bits of local color you might otherwise overlook and catch the way people in that area have of talking. For instance, I noticed an incredible number of quilting and knitting shops in Maine, a good way to pass a long, cold winter is my guess. The fifth season in Maine is called mud season when the thaw occurs. And lets not forget the small but tasty Maine shrimp, tiny cousin to its marvelous lobsters, and the schooner ride on Penobscot Bay which features prominently in the new book.

I do wish I could have gone to American Samoa to research Paradise for a Sinner first hand. They don't have much of a tourist industry there, and the plane fare was huge. Think I could have written the trip off on my taxes since a book resulted? An accountant warned me not to do that as a big ticket item is sure to get IRS attention. So, I contented myself with Samoan blogs and travel info to capture the flavor of that country.

As for Ireland, while waking early in adjusting to the substantial time change again, I began to form a plot in my head. The two main characters took shape as did the town where they live. I'd weave in a little mythology inspired by ancient tales and a trip to the New Grange barrow graves (very narrow and low passage-hit my head twice and I am short). Irish music must figure in somewhere. Then,. the alarm went off and I had to get up for real and start the day. File this story as number six in the line of tales I have to tell. Travel truly does inspire, and I will write to get more of it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Too Darn Hot--Or Not

Some of you know I also blog the first Saturday of the month at, romance authors who love sports and the men who play them. An interesting question came up among the contributors posited by Sophia Henry, new to our group and about to have her first hockey romance released soon. She'd been panned a few times by reviewers who received advance copies because her book  lacked the heated sex scenes implied by the PR hype where she'd been compared to Toni Aleo and other highly erotic authors.

 I had a similar experience when I started the Sinners series and my first book,Goals for a Sinner, was compared to Bella Andre and yes, Toni Aleo. New to the publishing game, I timidly suggested that the cover supplied was sexier than the book, and I feared readers might be disappointed. The reply back was along the lines of "This is what sells a book, honey".  They did remove the hero's black beard since I pointed out he was blond and clean-shaven.  I got a review that said, "You call that a sex scene?" Unfortunately for readers expecting more, my sex scenes are somewhat realistic. People get interrupted by phone calls. The couple doesn't copulate for hours and hours, and sometimes don't have simultaneous explosive orgasms because sex rarely happens that way. The best I've ever done is three flames or jalapenos or whatever icon is used for heat level, though a reviewer described one of my most recent scenes as panty-melting. Well, I guess I finally went up a level though not intentionally.

Like Sophia, my aim is to provide a good story about a sport I love.  I am more interested in the lives of the players and those around them than I am on their having lots and lots of sex. Some books have more than others because it depends on the character. I always say whether I write a sports novel or one of my many other books, there is as much sex as is needed for the plot and that particular relationship. There may be only one sex scene or many.  None will be longer than two or three pages simply because I get tired of writing them. A sex scene should never take longer to read than real sex.  But, that's just me talking.  I totally respect women who want the escape of a really hot encounter.

I suggested to Sophia that she check her cover blurb and cover art and see if she could get them adjusted or toned down. Writing for a big publisher, she won't have much input. Usually, I compose my own blurbs, but the PR folks sometimes ramp them up. I also get input on my covers, but have learned to adjust my expectations because this is what sells, honey.  I have built a following for my brand of sports books. Readers who like my books find me, and they will find Sophia as well. Maybe her cover copy should compare her to Lynn Shurr.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hand Selling

     Generally, the term hand selling means a book store owner crazy about your work will bring it to the attention of a customer and convince them to buy on its merits. For those of us who are e-published or self-published, it means schlepping your books around everywhere and trying to convince stores or individuals to buy them. Currently in my hometown, I have convinced the single bookstore and two tourist attractions to carry a few of my titles--the ones without the sexy covers. Those sell well online but not face to face. The bookstore has them all, but prefers to show the ones without half-naked men as the face-out copies.Yeah, it's a conservative town. Another attraction turned me down flat and another took two sets of Mardi Gras books and sold them all, but I had to do everything from writing out an invoice to presenting and collecting the final bill, a little awkward.
       The worse part of all this, even for a very outgoing person like me, is marching into a store and trying to convince them your work isn't garbage. Most will take a few books on consignment, but you will wait and wait to get paid for them (and I'm not complaining about this-books don't sell stacked in my closet).  Profit is minimal. If the bookstore takes 40%, and you have to buy the books to place there, your return is pennies in income. But at least your books are out there, and some of the buyers might get the rest on Amazon where the royalties are somewhat better. You also have an answer for people who won't buy directly from you and say they prefer to support the local store. If only that were true and not just an "out", I am fine with that.
      Barnes & Noble lets local authors sign in their store a few times a year. You bring your own books and, they hope, your friends and relatives to buy them. Checkout is at the register. They take 40% and send a check for your share six weeks later. Again, a tiny profit but bragging rights that you've signed at B & N.
     I usually do well when I give a lecture at a library or book club and have a signing afterwards, but not always. I've put a lot of effort into events where not one book sold or on the funny side, sold one copy to three women who split the $15 cost and planned to hand it around. Just participating in a mass signing of many authors at a library which I have done a number of times--never sold a book to a stranger, though sometimes another author would buy one which covered the cost of my gas to get there. This also goes for literary festivals with dozens of authors attending. Children's book or very well known authors sell. I managed two, but got a great tan sitting outside all day in the sun. The book sales paid for my over-priced but tasty lunch at a food truck, but not my gas. Note to self: pack a lunch. Remember it is very hard to stand out in a mob, and if you are too bizarre, people walk way around you. (Not talking about myself, but I've seen some sights!)
     Locally, I do well at arts and crafts fairs and art walks where I offer note cards and some of my paintings for sale also. I have a friend who sells books and her knitted crafts. It helps to have some variety and not just books. Most people won't buy art, but they do browse and allow you a longer time to sell them one of your stories. I save my spiel for likely buyers-not mothers with kids and babies in tow. They could use a good romance, but just don't have the time to stop and buy. Lively older women are prime customers, men not so much. Teens can be excellent customers if you have something to offer them. I don't. I am devoid of dark urban fantasies, vampires, and shape shifters.
     My last crafts fair was my worst, however. Nothing sold at all between nine and noon. So many people told me they did not read or had no time for it, I began to suspect the whole town to be illiterate. At noon, it started to rain, nay, pour down along with thunder and lightning. We were given orders to pack our tents and get out (no refunds on the paid space) because of tornado warnings. Ever tried to pack a sopping tent in a storm single-handedly. A couple of my kind neighbor vendors helped me. I'd packed my books in plastic boxes and thought I had escaped without merchandise damage until I got home and found the wet tent had dripped on some sacks I'd left in the car and soaked through five copies. Call that a $100 loss if you include the gas money and booth space rental. Yes, I did pack my lunch.
      Okay, I confess I dream of the day that I will be picked up by a New York publisher who will send me boxes of my books to give away for free as review copies.and provide towers of them for signings that I didn't have to set up myself. Dream on e-pubbed author, dream on.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What's Next--You Tell Me!

As I've said before, I have so many plots rattling around in my head I won't get a chance to write all those books before I die--or at least can no longer spend four hours a day writing on a computer. Plots are everywhere from creating a contemporary romance out of my garbage collections problems (A Trashy Affair)  to spinning an historical novel of 112,000 words (Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball) out of one sentence found in A Taste of Bayou Water: "I remember that shawl from when she danced a fandango on a table out at Broussard's Barn on New Year's Eve back when I was just a tadpole." The reference was to the heroine's great-grandmother, a high-stepping flapper named Roz. For five years, I pondered Roz's story before finally writing it down.Sometimes a plot takes a long time to ripen.

Last month, I mentioned leaving my beloved Cajun Country to write a novel taking place in Maine. I'm now half finished with A Place Apart and already thinking what should I tackle next. A contract just came through for the next Sinners novel, She's a Sinner, about a female NFL player and Tom's love interest. Edits will follow shortly breaking my writing pace, but the Maine book should be finished by the end of summer if not sooner. Since The Courville Rose was turned down because its ghost character committed suicide 185 ago, I probably won't write the next two books in that series until I can find another home for The Roses series elsewhere. I had planned to do two short ones about Ty Beck and Jesse Niles.

Usually in the fall, I write a Regency novel, part of my unsold Longleigh Chronicles. Yes, I write books that might never sell. I think all authors do. But, always infused with new hope, I've sent the first of that series off to, gulp, a real New York publisher and await their decision which will come months from now. So, it is worth my time and effort to create more of these books, eight in the closet so far, or turn my attention somewhere else?

I have two ideas for single titles, A Splashy Affair, and An Ashy Affair to match with A Trashy Affair. You guessed it. Splashy Affair involves a swimmer and Ashy a fireman. The first has a rough draft, the second is still in the research stage. Other than a similarity in title, the stories really aren't connected. Of course, I can just move on to write another Sinners book, my best sellers really. I am pondering Xochi's story which isn't entirely worked out. I don't even have a title yet. Should it be called A Sinner's Sister or Sister of a Sinner? Or something else. I am open to suggestions.

So, I am leaving it up to you, my readers. Which plot should I pursue next?  I don't get a lot of comments on my blog, but do hope you will help me out.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Too Many Characters

     Too many characters--I find this written on almost every critique I get from my editor and beta readers.  For some reason, a romance novel can have only two major character or Points of View, and perhaps a third if you have a really good villain allowed to plot against them. It's a tried and true formula that has worked for Harlequin next to forever and which I find terribly confining. After all, how many people really fall in love and marry in a vacuum of space? Most of us get input from family at the very least. All of us have a workplace full of people and customers to deal with as the courtship goes on. Children come along and have their own opinions.
      I recently judged two well-written Harlequins for the Rita contest. In order for one couple to stay in their own little world, a beloved brother had to be called out of town as soon as they met, not to reappear until the wedding, and the friend who introduced them similarly took off, her role ending there. In the other, the troubled teen who brings the couple together as they try to save her suddenly reforms and leaves them on their own. She does get to be in the wedding.  Never in real life. I guess that is why they are called romances.
      In writing my Sinners series, my quarterback hero has accumulated twelve children and helped his friends with their love problems over the span of five books from Goals for a Sinner to Love Letter for a Sinner. He's accumulated a lot of POV's along the way, and my readers seem to want to be part of his large family and keep up with the other members of the team. I admit, it is best to start reading them with the first or second book as the cast does grow as they go along.  I recently got back a critique that said I'd given everyone a name. Heaven forbid!  The named people aren't props, but family retainers well-known from other books. I do wonder if Downton Abbey has this trouble?  She also felt the other football players should not have names or opinions. Pretty tough to play a game that way. The only solution is to stage all the stories during the off-season with no football at all which is what many sports romances do to keep down the character count. Unfortunately, my guys have Super Bowls to win.
      Diana Gabaldon now has a book for people simply to keep track of her hundreds of characters. Of course, she does say she writes historical novels, not romance.  Would it help if I called my books family sagas, do you think?  It seems every other genre can have as many characters as they want and not get dinged for it. Go figure. I've taken to listing the main characters in the front of my books now, starting with Son of a Sinner. If the sequel to the family saga, Always Yellow Roses, entitled The Courville Rose is ever published it will have a similar list, though I have every faith that my regular readers can handle a story with more than two characters--and long sentences and big words, too, because they are that intelligent.
     Just griping here about one of my favorite pet peeves of romance writing along with being admonished not to use big words. I don't advise new romance writers to defy conventions and go for more POVs.  You won't get published--unless call your stories something else like multigenerational sagas, and good luck with that!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Out of the Comfort Zone--Again!

     I nearly forgot to do a March post as I have shipped out of my comfort zone again and am researching and writing a contemporary romance taking place in Maine. I'm good about doing my Romancing the Jock blog since they send me a reminder every month to get something on the site, but my personal blog sometimes slips my mind if I am deeply engrossed in a new topic.
     The last time I left Louisiana mentally and set off for foreign parts, I wrote Paradise for a Sinner which took me to the other side of the world and into a culture I knew nothing about. My research folder for that book is among my fattest. At least, I've been to Maine, eaten plenty of fresh lobster, and met the locals most of whom do not have a Down East accent for which I am very grateful when writing dialog. No need to find out what Samoan men wear under their lava-lavas. I can assume lobster fishermen go with boxers or briefs or boxer-briefs--but what do they wear aboard their boats?  After watching an hour of Hulu posts, I conclude chest high waders in various colors and rubber boots. Other than that, whatever floats their boat.
     American courtship rituals should be similar, only maybe a lobster dinner isn't as impressive as in Louisiana where we only have crawfish and our lobsters are flown in from Maine to reside in tanks in high-priced restaurants.  But every area has its own colloquialisms.  In Maine, lobster isn't merely good, it's wicked good. I second that as it is one of my favorite foods which I eat only once or twice a year in Louisiana, but dined on every day in one form or another while visiting New England.
     New writers are often urged to write what they know.  Not bad advice for the beginner.  But after a while, all authors want to strike out in new directions. At the moment, I think I could write about Louisiana in my sleep, but not so Maine. While all Americans have certain similarities, it is the details of speech, food and drink, the history of the area, and how people earn their living that will bring a story alive. One caveat, however.  Do not clog your story with dumps of cool stuff you learned and can't wait to share. If it cannot be worked into a scene that reads naturally, don't include the info. I know. I just hate not being able to use it all--but don't.  I so desired to share the factoid that more Confederate soldiers survived amputations because the maggots in their wounds ate out the infection than the better cared for Yankees, but couldn't find a place for it. Hey, I just did--this blog. Nothing is ever wasted. You know, Maine had one of the highest enlistment rates in the Civil War. I think I can work that into A Place Apart, my new title that I hope to finish by September if I don't get totally distracted by my research (another pitfall to avoid). At some point, you must write the story. I'm already 10,000 words in so things are looking good.
     Bringing you up to date on other Lynn Shurr books, Son of a Sinner was released yesterday in e-format and soft cover. Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball is due out in reprint on April 3rd after being out of print for over a year. Have to go now. I need to do just a bit more research on Portuguese Water Dogs.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mardi Gras Madness

Not only is this the title of one of my books, but it is also what we are in the midst of in Louisiana at the moment. I do pity northerners who are experiencing always winter and never Mardi Gras to paraphrase C.S.Lewis, but I suppose snow would put a real damper on large parades and people, often tipsy, traipsing around in gaudy costumes. As I had to explain to one of my editors, Mardi Gras is both a season and a day, the day before Lent to be exact. The season starts on Twelfth Night, twelve days after Christmas, and runs until Lent begins. It is a floating holiday and can be long or short. This year it is very short, ending on February 17th. We hate that. No more King Cakes or revelry, just left with trying to figure out what you should give up for Lent until Easter and its candy comes along.

There are also many kinds of Mardi Gras: the high society type I described in Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, small town Mardi Gras where the floats are homemade and everyone participates as outsider Laura learns about in Mardi Gras Madness, and last, a country Mardi Gras where masked riders prowl the countryside asking for donations to the communal gumbo pot--the Courir de Mardi Gras or Mardi Gras Ride, which just happens to be the title of my newest book in the series.  The Courir is a custom dating back to Medieval times when revelers went door to door begging for ha'pennies or sweets and would often perform a song or dance in exchange. The riders in the courir will do horseback stunts, sing, dance, or chase down a live chicken for the pot which is the best of fun, though more folks today tend to donate a frozen bird or a bag of rice.  The masked men wear not finery, but homemade fringed clown costumes with tall, conical hats. It should be needless to say that all of this is well lubricated by alcohol. A sober captain, kind of like a designated driver, oversees their antics. Until recently, women were not allowed to ride in the group, possibly because one trick might be peeing off the side of a horse. The ride ends in town where the communal feast is prepared and a band encourages dancing up until midnight when Lent begins.

My heroine, Suzanne, finds life rather dull in the little country town where she arrives to catalog the antiques in an antebellum home until the Courir arrives at the house, and she is swept up onto the saddle of a masked man dressed in black and carried away from the festivities. When he ties her hands and puts her in a boat, it appears a real kidnapping is in progress. Suzanne escapes but vows to find out the man's identity--and any possible connection he might have to the silver missing from the house shortly thereafter.  She uncovers more local secrets than is good for her own health. Anyhow, I hope you will keep an eye out for the premier of Courir de Mardi Gras on February 13th (available now for pre-order form Amazon), something fun to read during those dark days of winter.