Monday, September 24, 2012

Writers Need Exercise

Writers are notorious for getting little or no exercise. Correct me if I’m wrong. I dare you. We don’t want to stop writing long enough to take Fido to the park. At my house, even Fido is starting to waddle. 

Waiting in line at the grocery store checkout, I found myself swaying to the canned music. Thankfully I came to my senses before I started running on the spot.  I was this close. An awkward moment that could have been worse.  I know because it happened.

I was peeling carrots at the kitchen counter with the radio blaring. It wasn’t until my husband walked in that I realized I was doing the happy feet thing!  Yes, it would have been embarrassing if I’d started bouncing around at Foodland.

That grocery store incident was a few years ago when I was working at a fitness club for women. The steady throb of raucous music at the gym meant I was in constant motion. Moving to the beat was a reflexive habit. That job kept me trim and in nauseatingly high spirits.  My energy level soared.

Couldn’t ask for a better job−if I wanted a job−but after a few years I longed to leave the work force. I had reached the point where all I wanted was to be at home. Finally, I gave my notice. I would clean out closets, write, bake all kinds of goodies, write, have fun with the grandchildren, write, eat snacks all day, and write. I was ecstatic.

Fast-forward five years. I couldn't exercise because... the gym near me closed down...I had a lengthy recovery following surgery...I didn’t want to leave the house because I might miss an important phone call...yada, yada, yada. Okay, picture a computer. Now, picture me slouched over it.  Get the picture?  A sluggish and much heavier me. Ugh!

There were sporadic periods of yoga, power walks, exercising with weights, and for awhile I even rolled around on a huge ball. In spite of my half-hearted attempts, my energy dwindled and my middle thickened. A little voice kept saying, Get away from that desk and start exercising.  Phyllis, you're not exercising enough. The voice sounding mysteriously like my husband.

At night before falling asleep I would envision myself working out.  Moving from machine to machine I pushed and pulled until the roots of my hair dampened and a flush came to my cheeks.  My imagination is vast but I suspect the flushed cheeks and damp hair came from other sources.  Regardless, even in my imagination the workout felt great.  Although the results weren’t evident.

My self-esteem began to flag.  Without confidence, how could I write?  It was just too much to deal with before my nap.  Yeah, that’s another thing.  Usually up by five a.m. and at my computer by 5:30, I was beginning to sleep in and stay up later.  Except it is the morning when I am most productive, so it seemed I was not accomplishing my normal work quota .

Then it happened. An imp popped out from behind my ear and landed on my shoulder.  You remember the imp don’t you?  (my March 12th blog, The Imp on Your Write Shoulder)  Ouch!  The sharp flick on my lobe was what I needed.  A reminder of how important exercise is for my physical and mental well-being got me out of that chair and back at the gym. Finally!

My energy level has already increased in the first few weeks. Perhaps my exercise regimen will result in increased productivity at the computer. I can only hope.

Here’s a nudge to all you sedentary storytellers out there. Don’t sit for long periods at your work station without moving.  Never underestimate some serious stretches.  If you can’t feel the stretch, it isn’t a stretch!  Stay limber.  Bend over at the waist and touch your toes.  You can’t see your toes??  You’d better hit the gym.  Start moving, stay healthy, and keep writing!!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Editor Karen Block Talks to The Write Break- Romance or Erotica?

 An edited version of this interview appeared in First Monday, September issue

We were seated in a booth at the Bad Dog Bar and Grill.  I thought you edited erotica, I said.  No, she replied.  I gave my notes a casual glance as my mind shifted into panic gear.  Karen eased the awkwardness.  Does this mean you won’t buy my dinner?  Probably, I said.  We both laughed.  Don’t worry, this will work.  Did I speak these words aloud or were they silent self-assurance?

Years ago−we’re not saying how many−Karen Quinn, resplendent in green knee socks and plaid skirt, wandered the halls of St. Pat’s in Sarnia.  Today, Karen Block is a literary editor for Turquoise Morning Press in Kentucky.  It must be her strict Catholic upbringing that limits her to editing romance submissions.  Erotica? uh uh 

Our shaky start continued.  Karen passed along a rebuke from Turquoise Morning Press.  The publisher was offended that I had linked the terms erotica and porn.  Oops!  My apologies. 

We placed our dinner orders.  In no time, Karen and I were sipping an icy draught and switching sandwiches.  Her wrap had my goat cheese on it.  Oh well, Karen realized the mistake before we started eating the second half.  By then we were like old friends.  Some of my fries were nestled next to her healthy salad.   There is nothing like food to promote fellowship.

It was time to get down and dirty discussing the nitty gritty of the editing profession and the publishing business.  Karen invited me to continue the interview in the comfort of the screened-in porch of her cottage.  To the concerto of a trickling fountain and cacophony of crickets we sipped wine and enjoyed a lively literary discussion.

Q:  Is sweet traditional romance popular today?

Karen:  Probably not.  Erotica has steamrolled over the whole genre.  Women aged fifty or sixty are reading sweet romance.  The thirty year olds are reading erotica if they are not interested in a plot and are just looking to be sexually titillated.

Q:  Do all the stories have a fantasy feel to them?

Karen:  Maybe in some lines.  Primarily the man is the power person and the heroine is some poor little girl.  In Fifty Shades of Grey he was a powerful man and she was a young girl.  He dominates her, right? 

Q:  Did you read the book?

Karen:  No, I read your review and didn’t bother.  (Gulp)

Q:  Is erotica always about casual sex and multiple partners?  Can the stories be about a husband and wife in a faithful relationship?

Karen:  This is my opinion:  Erotica is forbidden lust.  If it is committed sex then it is romance− no matter how explicit it is.

Q:  Erotica arouses sexual desire.  Is that more important than the quality of writing?

Karen:  Turquoise Morning Press is looking for a balance of the two.  They want both.  This may not be true of every publisher.

Q:  I downloaded some short stories from TMP (research again) and was impressed with the user friendly website.  Various ereaders were listed and the downloading decision was easy.  Can’t get that with Amazon.

Karen:  According to our data, Amazon is clearly the top seller of our books.   (Since I have a Sony ereader, I would prefer to download TMP’s author’s books from their own site.)

Q:  Has there been an increase in submissions since Fifty Shades of Grey hit the bestsellers list?

Karen:  I can only speak to TMP.  We have a lot of new authors; most of them are writing erotica.  A lot of Canadians!

Q:  How many men versus women are writing erotica and romance?  As an editor, can you tell the difference?

Karen:  I’m not sure of the percentage.  It is obvious when a man has written a romance story.  A woman is more emotional.  A man’s writing is more physical.  The emotional depth is not there.  It is the emotional aspect of a romance that appeals to me.  That gives me the satisfaction.  It is the ‘ahhhh’ factor.  The ‘Happily Ever After’ doesn’t seem to be as important to men.  I truly believe that women are more interested in the romance or ‘HEA’ factor.

Q:  But then again you spoke of the preferences of different age groups.

Karen:  Yes, the younger ones may think that illicit sex is more exciting.  (Yet, Fifty Shades and the movie, Magic Mike, certainly got a lot of attention from the ‘old girls’ too.) 

Q:  Is romance strictly a woman’s genre?

Karen:  Oh no.  According to TMP, men buy erotica and romance as often as women.

Q:  I sometimes find it difficult to read a book without analyzing.  How does an editor read a book for pleasure?

Karen:  (chuckle) That’s a problem.  Everything I read is with an editor’s eye. 

Q:  Karen, you’re a hometown girl.  What is your most cherished memory of Corunna?

Karen:  It is the river.  In the States I always feel like a fish out of water. (This statement struck me as particularly funny) As soon as we get on the Bluewater Bridge and I look over the side and see the river, it’s like everything drops into place.  It is the weirdest sensation.

Q:  How would you like to be remembered?

Karen:  I would want to be remembered as a kind person.  That’s very important to me. 

Q:  I can’t believe this.  An editor wants to be remembered as a kind person?

Karen: (a burst of laughter) That’s paradoxical.  I have this helpful personality and I sincerely want a writer to succeed.

Q:  Is there anything else?

Karen:  (grinning) I want a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth at my funeral.  (schoolgirl giggles from both of us) I went to a funeral in my teens.  There was lots of drama and wailing.  It was the best funeral.  I thought, yes, this is what I want. 

Karen, I love your spirited attitude!  Thanks for your candidness and insight into the world of romance.  Keep on editing!!! 

You can check out Karen Block’s editor profile on 

Contact address

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rainy Day Writer

Waking to the chatter of rain against my window, my eyes open to a kaleidoscope of colour.  Bushes and trees in sundry shades of green with scattered purples and yellows stretch beyond my view.  Water-kisses balance on leafy branches that bow and shiver with succulence.   

I roll over in bed anticipating the distant rumble of thunder.  Satisfied, I pad to the kitchen. Opting for instant coffee, I fill the kettle.  Rain dots the window above the sink. It spatters and puddles on the deck.  Beneath the darkening sky a delicate blue cloth clings to the drenched table top.

This is a p.j. day.  A perfect writing day.   With a contented sigh, I forgo the office and carry my manuscript, coffee, and laptop into the living room.  I settle into my chair and balance the computer on my lap while scouting the garden beneath the window.  There is not a bunny in sight.  I am convinced they are nestling in the sheltering span of the spruce. 

Tree branches sway and bushes shudder in what is now a downpour.  I am elated.  That is until I realize it is the first day of school.  I picture the little ones, backpacks braced on narrow shoulders and lunch pails clutched in tiny fists, as they wait at the side of the road for the big yellow bus.  Cars splashing through puddles; muddy streaks trailing down brand-new rain coats; sandals forsaken for rubber boots.  Waterproof hoods tug wisps of hair from freshly styled pony tails and send perfectly placed barrettes askew.

Lexus whines; her tail tucked between her legs. Her expression reminds me that she prefers being downstairs during a storm.   Come, she pleads.  No, Lex, I’m staying right here, I say aloud.  She harrumphs – an annoyed snort – then facing the wall she flops down with a thud, her nose to the baseboard.

My thoughts evolve from bunnies and the kindergarten clan to the high school girls.  Can’t help but grin imagining their shrieks as they race around the house changing outfits for the third time.  Mo-om!  You have to drive me.  What about my hair?  No raincoats, no umbrellas for them...not cool − not for the first day of high school. 

My sympathy for their predicament does not dampen (sorry) my gleeful appreciation of the stormy morning, as I finish checking emails and the latest facebook updates.  With unbridled enthusiasm I begin work on the second draft of my suspense novel.

The wind picks up.  I glance out the window at the rain sweeping across the stone walk.  Lex stirs.  She approaches and nudges my leg.  No, Lex, I say.  She lowers her chin to the floor between her paws and then drops her hind end.  I feel the vibration on the bottom of my bare feet.

I continue to edit my manuscript while casting intermittent glances at the glorious sheets of rain washing down the front porch. 

My manuscript slides off my lap as I reach for a notebook.  My muse is creating images and thought patterns not relevant to my novel.  Is that a person I see in the driveway?  Is someone crying for help?  There is a pounding on the front door.  I look over at Lexus.  Undisturbed by my imaginings she remains snoring softly.

The lights flicker.  Reaching beyond my coffee mug, I fumble through loose sheets of paper and grasp my pen.  With a shuddering breath I begin to write.

It was a dark and stormy night.....

Monday, September 03, 2012

Writing with Editor Karen Block

Wow!  I had the good fortune of meeting a real live editor this summer.  Karen Block attended our writers’ group meeting.  Lucky for us (especially me) that she was vacationing in our area from Kentucky.  She edits for Turquoise Morning Press.

I had just submitted (to First Monday magazine) my second article in a three-part series on the changing climate of adult entertainment (motivated by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey) when we met.  I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered that Turquoise Morning Press publish all levels of heat from sweet romance to sizzling erotica.  Check out their site at .  They have the most user friendly download for ebooks that I have seen.  (They also have print versions available.)

Karen and I enjoyed an evening filled with questions, answers, opinions, musings and the odd glass of wine.  The interview that will run in my First Monday column should be on the stands by next week. 

Aside from the Q and A in First Monday, there is a wealth of information to share with the writers who catch my blog.  This week I will list ten tips that Karen Block offers to writers.

1.      Know your target audience.  If you are writing romance know what is appropriate for that age group.  (That could be why some agents/publishers ask for the target audience.  That used to annoy me but now I understand.)

2.      Don’t query too soon!  The manuscript needs to be perfect.  You have only one shot.  You need to have a couple of independent readers and an editor to be really comfortable that there are no grammar and spelling mistakes.  The consistency of your characters is important, as well.  If you query too soon, you’re done.  (Gulp)

3.      In every romance story there has to be an ‘ahhhhh’ moment.  That is what you should strive towards.  Readers need to be satisfied that the characters are going to live happily ever after.

4.      Romance is all about emotion.  Write so that it brings tears to your eyes or your heart breaks because something awful has happened.

5.      There should be external conflict and conflict between the hero and heroine because that’s what is driving the story forward and creating sexual tension in a romance novel.

6.      Don’t waste pivotal scenes on minor characters.  Everything today is written in scenes.

7.      Every scene must advance the plot.  Don’t have fillers that are just throw aways!

8.      Don’t have too much detail and description without something ‘happening’.  (super advice for me)

9.      Start in the middle of the action.

10.  Be sure of your facts.  I have a historical bent and if detail is wrong....... This applies to any genre.  In a murder mystery make sure the weapon will actually do the job.  If a writer is not an expert then they must have other resources.  Get it right!

More to come in future blogs! 

Check out Karen Block’s editor profile