Taking a Break

This summer, I planned to at least get half of my book with an Oct. 15th deadline written. At least 22,500 words. During the school year, that’s two weeks if I’m really on a roll. But summer is different. My twelve year old is home which means my husband is around more too. They want to go play and I want to go with them. My son and I love whiling away entire days in our above ground pool. But I didn’t want to wait until the middle of August and have an entire book to write by the middle of Oct.

So, I set up a schedule. Write Monday through Friday from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am and sleep until 10:00 am. The first week was VBS and I’m the craft lady. I was too exhausted to stay up late. After VBS, my schedule worked for a few weeks. My son even had three basketball camps scheduled which meant I got to write during the day. But on day three of the second camp, we got a phone call. He’d hurt his arm and the mom who called thought it was broken. We rushed to a town 30 minutes away knowing he was in pain and waiting for us.

Once we got there, we spent another 45 minutes on the road taking him to his doctor where we learned his wrist was indeed broken. In our rural town, the specialists come to town two days a week. We got an appointment the next day and after a sleepless night for all of us, we took him to have it set.

It could have been worse, but the broken bone rattled me. His summer came to screeching halt. He was home more, had friends over less, couldn’t play basketball, and couldn’t even swim in the pool. His bummer summer became our bummer summer. Life became about trying to occupy a twelve year old boy with a broken arm. My night owl schedule wasn’t working because no one went to bed before midnight and my office is in a corner of the living room.

But I kept plugging along anyway. Churning out words. Boring words with boring characters in a boring story. I didn’t like it, didn’t like them, didn’t like anything about it.

The third basketball camp came along and we talked to the coach about our son doing drills and shooting practice. The coach agreed and even recruited an older boy who’d broken his arm earlier in the year to work one on one with our son. A whole week of him getting to go to basketball camp and having fun. A whole week to try to save this book.

And then I got the revisions for my January release from my editor. Guess what I did during basketball camp?

I finished my edits and we went on vacation. Exactly a week after our return, company was scheduled to arrive. So of course, I spent that time furiously cleaning my house. The book was at a stand still. I hated the book and readers would hate it too. I decided not to worry about it. I had 15,000 words at this point. Bad words with boring characters, but still 15,000 words. I made plans to hit it hard once school started and turn this book around.

My unintentional three week break culminated with a nice visit with my cousins. Mid way through their stay, I was putting my makeup on for the day and it hit me. If this character was that character’s sibling–oh my– the complications that would arise. This character that I’ve been doing backflips to explain his presence in town would have a reason to come to town. His sibling connection would cause all kinds of conflict between the hero and heroine. No, my hero and heroine do not learn they are siblings. But characters’ close to them do forcing the hero and heroine to take sides and it swirls into an awesome conflict.

I’ve always plotted at my best during mindless, repetitive tasks. Driving the road I know so well, I could drive it with my eyes closed. Mowing the yard. Going for a walk. Taking a shower. Putting on makeup. When doing something I don’t have to think about, my best ideas come. And at one point, long ago and before I was published, I realized that a break can often get my creativity stirring. But since I’ve had deadlines, I haven’t felt I have time to take a break except between my first draft and editing phase.

My cousins left and our son got his cast off last week. We spent his final week before school started having fun. We swam, he had a friend over, he played basketball, and we did final shopping for school. My break morphed into a full month.

Yesterday, he went back to school. I started my story over, wrote 1700 words, and wove the new sibling connection into what I’d already written. I love this story. I love these characters. And I hope readers do too.

Lesson learned–when you hate the book–try taking a break. Even if you don’t think you have time for one.

Discovering New Authors

For the next two weeks, the Inkspers will be sharing what we’re reading. I have my favorite go to authors. When I’m between deadlines, I like the longer length novels. And if you’ve hung around here for long, you know my favorite is Denise Hunter. When I have deadlines, I go for the shorter reads and love Lenora Worth. But Denise and Lenora can’t write fast enough to keep me in books.

I’ve been on a search for new authors for the last year or so. I’ve tried a few and liked the first book, but was disappointed with the second. Or the books are a bit more women’s fiction than romance. I like women’s fiction if it has a happy ending, but I love the straight romance where the point of view is strictly hero and heroine and the story centers on the couple.

Luckily, I’ve found two authors who don’t disappoint – Becky Wade and Melissa Tagg. And luckily, Denise had a new release this spring. So here’s what I’ve read lately:

I’d read the first book in the series last year and was looking forward to Jade’s story. I always fall in love with Denise’s heroes and Daniel didn’t disappoint. So sweet, so supportive, such a good kisser. I love stories where the hero has silently loved the heroine for years. And I officially crowned Denise Queen of the Kissing Scene after reading:

Dancing with Fireflies

Jade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.
Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt.” Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

I loved Meant to Be Mine. Loved the characters, the conflict, and the banter. A lot of the times cute banter between the hero and heroine is too cute and gets on my nerves. But the banter between Ty and Celia was funny, sparkling, and electric. The chemistry between these two sizzled. And I loved the hero’s character arc. It was fascinating to watch him turn into the man Celia deserved. Definitely a keeper. And I’m looking forward to the next Becky Wade title. Meant to Be Mine

Meant to Be Mine

Ty Porter has always been irresistible to Celia Park. All through high school–irresistible. When their paths cross again after college–still irresistible. This time, though, Ty seems to feel exactly the same way about Celia. Their whirlwind romance deposits them at a street-corner Las Vegas wedding chapel.

The next morning they wake to a marriage certificate and a dose of cold reality. Celia’s ready to be Ty’s wife, but Ty’s not ready to be her husband. He’s a professional bull rider, he lives on the road, and he’s long planned to settle down with the hometown girl he’s known since childhood.

Five and a half years pass. Celia’s buried her dreams so that she can afford to raise her daughter. Ty’s achieved all of his goals. Or thought he had, until he looks again into the eyes of the woman he couldn’t forget and into the face of the child he never knew he had.

How much will Ty sacrifice to win back Celia’s trust and prove to her that their spontaneous marriage can still become the love of a lifetime?

After I read Becky’s 2nd title, Undeniable Yours last year, I found her debut My Stubborn Heart and loved it to. The achingly hurting hero tugged at my heartstrings. And the patient heroine drawing him out, then watching him go back insideMy Stubborn Heart himself, but determined to stick with him. So sweet, so tender. My favorite line: His gaze sought out Kate first, locking on her for a split second that caused her nerves to sizzle. Wow, I wish I’d written that. And once again, there was great banter. I officially crown Becky Wade the Queen of Banter.

My Stubborn Heart

Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When Kate’s grandmother asks Kate to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance.

Yet, she discovers a different kind of project upon meeting the man hired to renovate the house. Matt Jarreau is attractive and clearly wounded — hiding from people, from God, and from his past. Kate can’t help but set her stubborn heart on bringing him out of the dark and back into the light… whether he likes it or not.

I fell in love with Blake in the first book of Melissa Tagg’s series, Made to Last, even though he wasn’t the hero. I’ve long been waiting for his story and thoroughly enjoyed Here to Stay. I loved Autumn and she was a worthy heroine for him. My favorite part – the bathtub – funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. The book perfectly explained Blake’s nomad lifestyle and what sent him there. I guess I’m a sucker for wounded heroes. I haven’t crowned Melissa yet, but I’m looking forward to her next book. By the third title, I’ll probably have her crown figured out.

Here to Stay

After playing nomad for five years, Blake Hunziker has finally had enough of adventure. Not sure what reception he’ll get from everyone back in Whisper Shore, he’s stunned at not only a warm welcome from Here to Stayhis hometown but also a job offer. The job is his if he can successfully pull off the annual Christmas Festival. If only he knew the first thing about coordinating events. . .

If there’s one thing Autumn Kingsley knows, it’s Whisper Shore. For years, she’s been stuck running her family’s inn when all she wants is to see the world. Now she has a visit scheduled from a potential investor who could take over the inn, as well as a dream job offer in Paris. But with just two weeks to whip the inn into shape, her chance at escape is a long shot.

The Hunzikers and the Kingsleys may not get along, but Blake knows Autumn’s the only one who can help him. She agrees to a trade–she’ll help with the Festival and he’ll help with inn repairs. But what was meant to be a simple deal quickly becomes much more than that when the guy who’s done running away joins forces with the girl who can’t wait to leave.

Have you read any of these titles? Have you discovered a new author lately? Any contemporary romance authors you love? I’d love to find some more new authors to love.

Give Me Michael

I’ve always loved gravely voices. Joe Cocker, Kim Karnes, Bonnie Tyler, Michael Bolton. My favorite Bolton songs, How Am I Supposed to Live Without You, I Found Someone, and Steel Bars. I also loved his classic rock album with his cover of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away and the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody.

Many moons ago, I went to a Michael Bolton concert. No, he doesn’t have dark hair or green eyes, but he has pretty blue eyes, great bone structure, and that voice. So my friend and I were sitting in the nose bleed seats when we noticed lots of commotion in the lobby. The lobby was above the oblong arena with a door and stairs down into the stadium every 100 feet or so. We could see people running around the lobby and finally realized that Michael Bolton was running through the lobby with a herd of women chasing him.

He came into the arena and ran to the opposite end from the stage and sang Georgia on My Mind to the people in the North Forty. I teased my friend that he sang it for me since I spent most of my growing up years in Georgia.

That night, I dreamed I was in the lobby when Michael ran through. In the dream, he grabbed my hand, took me onstage with him, sang Georgia on My Mind to me, and asked me to have dinner with him after the concert.

My response, “I’m married.” Then I woke up.

I thought it was the funniest dream I’d ever had. I told my husband, family, and friends about it and got lots of laughs. Years later after I started writing I thought, hey there’s a book in that Michael Bolton dream.

I wrote the book in 2001 and I think it was my 8th manuscript. I changed it up a bit. In the original draft, the hero was a wild rocker with lots of booze and women surrounding him. The heroine only went to his concert as a favor to a friend and wasn’t impressed when he pulled her onstage, but he was taken with her. I named the hero Garrett Steele as a nod to Michael’s Steel Bars. The book got lots of rejections since I hadn’t fully learned the craft of writing back then.

When Harlequin bought the Heartsong Presents line and I got the opportunity to continue my rodeo series, I dug up that old concept. I changed the hero to a country singer to fit the rodeo theme, reformed him a bit, and made the heroine his high-school sweetheart. I rewrote the book from beginning to end using all the writing techniques I’d learned since then. Rodeo Song released in April.

These days I listen mainly to Christian music and my new favorite gravel voiced guy is Todd Agnew. I can’t really say I’d want Todd to serenade me about Jesus. So my dream serenade remains Michael Bolton.

I’m giving away a copy of Rodeo Song.

Rodeo Song

JENNA WENTWORTH FOUND THE MAN OF HER DREAMS

But when silken-voiced Garrett Steele set out for stardom, he left Jenna—and his cowboy past—far behind. A chance encounter at one of his concerts propels him back into Jenna’s life. But, once burned by love, Jenna must guard her heart against the captivating singer.
Once upon a time, Garrett vowed he’d be a success, no matter what. But that path shattered his soul. His reunion with Jenna makes him long for things he once took for granted. Now he must show her that he’s found what he was looking for all along…right here in his hometown.

To enter the drawing, tell us who your dream serenade is.

Only Child and I’m Passing It On

Only child checking in. I know the birth order traits aren’t set in stone and that no one will have all the traits. But I kind of took a birth order test when Lorna talked about it on Seekerville and it was fun. So, here goes.

*Create imaginary companions

I did have imaginary companions. But mine weren’t the typical imaginary friend. And they never came to life until my tween years. I created stories to act out in my head. Since I watched a lot of detective shows, I was always the damsel in distress and my imaginary companion was my hero. I also included whoever my best friend was at the time and her hero as side characters in my stories.

One story stayed with me for a while. It got longer and more complicated. For years, I’d tweak it and add twists. I thought it was a movie, but I didn’t want to go to Hollywood. When I finally met my real-life hero, I put the story away and lived my own.

When I was in my thirties, I finally realized that long ago story could be a book. It was the first book I wrote, got fifty-two rejections, but eventually became my 8th published book.

*Struggle with frustration

Nope. I’m pretty optimistic and generally happy. If I have something to worry about or that frustrates me, I usually forget to worry or be frustrated.

*Want freedom

Nope. I wish I was independent. But I’m so not. I’m totally happy right where I am.

*Spiritually want to settle issues of right and wrong

Yes. Oh yes. There is no gray with me. It’s black or white. If the Bible says it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Period.

*Strengths—demonstrative, organized, clarity of purpose, stable, academically successful, self-confident

I’m physically demonstrative to the point that my son often begs me to stop kissing him when I tuck him in at night. Don’t tell anybody I still do that. He’d be so embarrassed. And I beg him to sit in my lap. Even though he’s twelve and smashes the life out of me when he occasionally gives in.

My husband and I hug a lot. There’s just nothing like a good hug. Stress reliever, love, and comfort rolled up in one gesture. Love it.

I’m so unorganized, it’s not even funny. In my opinion, it takes too long to organize stuff. I just dig through ‘til I find what I need and do it.

I’m stable. If I say I’ll do something, I do it. Period. Even if I don’t want to.

I have clarity of purpose. Once I set a goal, I never give up. I’m like a snapping turtle. I. Don’t. Let. Go. That helped a lot during the nine and a half years, I tried to get published.

I always had good grades. Even though every subject in school bored me to tears. Bad grades embarrassed me. And even though my parents didn’t stress good grades, I didn’t want to face them with bad ones.

Self-confident? Sometimes. Depends on if I feel like I’m in my zone. Writing and church – yes. In a room full of strangers not based around either topic – no.

I was painfully shy all through school and years later I learned others thought I was stuck up because I never talked. Cosmetology school snapped me out of my shyness. I realized it was more uncomfortable to spend 30 minutes cutting someone’s hair and not talking than to make conversation during a haircut. But I still crawl inside myself if I’m around people I don’t know.

Booksignings are a wonderful kind of torture for me. I love talking to readers, but I have to force myself to crawl out of my shell and talk to people I don’t know.

*Weaknesses—sullen, reluctant to share, not street smart

I’m not sullen. I’d much rather talk it out if something’s bothering me.

I’m not reluctant to share. My feelings, my opinion, or my stuff. My mom was so determined I wouldn’t be selfish, she really worked at teaching me to share. To the point that I gave my toys away.

I’m so not street smart. I’d never make it in a big city. I don’t even drive in big cities. I’m way too trusting. I look for good in people and I’m very naive. God knew what He was doing when He paved the way for my parents to move from a suburb of Atlanta, GA back to their hometown in rural Arkansas when I was twelve.

*Gets mad when being intruded on

I don’t get mad when intruded on. But I don’t mind being alone. I can totally entertain myself and sometimes, I just need some down time. If we’ve had a busy week of go, go, go—I need a night or two to just be home. If hubby and son want to keep going, I’m fine with that. I let them go and stay home alone.

*Qualities—prefer to work alone, extremely responsible or very helpless, stubborn, comfortable being the center of attention, stays on the beaten path

I do prefer to work alone. When I worked in an office setting, I loved my little cubicle. I wished everyone would stay out of it, so I could just do my job. Later, I graduated to an office. I really loved that.

I love brainstorming sessions with other writers, but I can’t imagine co-authoring with someone else. I think that would drive me nuts. A novella collection with other authors would work. But I want to write my own story. By. Myself.

I’m extremely responsible. If I say I’ll do it, I will. And if I mess up, I’ll take responsibility for my mess up. I’m not helpless. Dependent, but not helpless.

I’m stubborn. I really, really want my way. And I don’t understand why everybody else can’t see that I’m right and just let me have my way. Being stubborn helped in my pursuit of publication helped too. I. Don’t. Give. Up.

I’m so uncomfortable being the center of attention. It makes me want to melt through the floor.

I do stay on the beaten path. I’m definitely a follower, not a leader.

I went a little more in depth here and it was fun. On a final note, I liked being an only child. My parents didn’t go overboard or spoil me, but if anybody got anything, it was me. I had my own room and plenty of privacy. As an adult, sometimes I think a sibling would be nice. Like when I planned and paid for my parent’s fiftieth anniversary by myself. As my parents age, a sibling would probably come in handy. They’re still in great health, but someday, it’ll just be me taking care of them.

When I was a hairdresser, I noticed a few things about families with several children. Either the older ones took care of the younger ones and had to grow up. Or the baby got all the attention and the older children were neglected. Not in every family, but these observations helped me to decide that I I’d pass the only child thing on to my child.

So, I’m raising an only child. He got to be the baby as long as he wanted to be and he’s the center of attention. We don’t go overboard or spoil him. But my parent’s work hard at compensating for us since he’s the only grandchild ever.

Chime in only children. Did you like it? Or were you lonely? Did you long for a sibling? Or were you glad to go it alone?

While Love Stirs PromotionLeave a comment for a chance to win the prize package. It includes a copy While Love Stirs, a Fannie Farmer cookbook (Charlotte goes to Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery), and a Recipe for an Amazing Woman cutting board. 

Giveaway ends at midnight  on Friday, May 23, and is open to those in the continental U.S. only. Winner will be chosen by Random.org. The more comments you leave in the next two weeks, the more chances you’ll have to win.

Never Enough Time to Read

I got Brenda’s book in the mail last Wednesday and took it to the dentist with me. While my son got his teeth cleaned, I got the first two chapters read. Even though I’ve read the book 30 pages at a time while critiquing for Brenda, I want to read the edited version in book form all at one time. Alas, I haven’t had time.

The day I got it, we had church that night. On Thursday, I worked on my final revisions before turning my book into my editor next month. That night, my son had basketball practice and since he asks me if I saw him do this or that, I can’t read at practice. Friday, I worked again and that night we ran errands. Saturday, we had basketball games – three of them.

Sunday, our son got up with a fever. He has horrible seasonal allergies and is very prone to sinus infections. Yes, he’s twelve now. But he’s the kind of child who has to be entertained when he’s sick or he’s up jumping at the ceiling in the living room to see if he can palm it yet instead of resting. So yesterday and today, we watched movies, played board games, and Uno.

Tomorrow, we have a doctor appointment. So no work or reading for tomorrow either. I’ve decided to save Brenda’s book until May 16th. The deadline for my book will have passed and my son will be back in school. Then I’ll have time to give Chain of Mercy the time it warrants. I wish it had come sooner.

A month ago, I had lots of reading time. I always take at least two weeks off from writing after I finish my first draft and before I start revising. Of course, I read Denise Hunter’s new release. I’d read the first book in the series, Barefoot Summer, last year. I’d guessed the next book would be about Jade and eagerly been anticipating it.

Denise didn’t let me down. A sweet, tender love story with great kissing scenes. I crown Denise the contemporary romance queen of kissing scenes.

Dancing with Fireflies by Denise HunterJade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.

Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt.” Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

I also discovered a new author I really enjoy – Melissa Tagg. I loved Made to Last. Loved the heroine, all the men complicating her life, and the webs she kept spinning herself into.

Miranda Woodruff, star of the homebuilding show From the Ground Up, will do anything to keepMade to Last by Melissa Tagg the job she loves. Due to a painful broken engagement and a faith she’s mostly forgotten, she’s let her entire identity become wrapped up in the Miranda everyone sees onscreen.

So when she receives news that the network might cancel her program, she must do the very thing she fears most: let the spotlight shine on her closely guarded personal life.

The only problem? She’s been living a lie–letting viewers believe she’s married–and now she’s called upon to play wife to a sweet, if a bit goofy, pretend husband to boost ratings.

Desperate to help his family and prove he’s not a total failure, reporter Matthew Knox is looking for a breakout story. When he’s offered the opportunity to do an online serial feature on Miranda Woodruff, he jumps at the chance, even if celebrity reporting isn’t really his thing. But as soon as he meets Miranda, he knows she’s keeping secrets.

I loved the character of Blaze, so of course I had to get the next book in the series, Here to Stay. I haven’t read it yet. But it’s next on my list after Chain of Mercy.

Here to Stay by Melissa TaggAfter playing nomad for five years, Blake Hunziker has finally had enough of adventure. Not sure what reception he’ll get from everyone back in Whisper Shore, he’s stunned at not only a warm welcome from his hometown but also a job offer. The job is his if he can successfully pull off the annual Christmas Festival. If only he knew the first thing about coordinating events…

If there’s one thing Autumn Kingsley knows, it’s Whisper Shore. For years, she’s been stuck running her family’s inn when all she wants is to see the world. Now she has a visit scheduled from a potential investor who could take over the inn, as well as a dream job offer in Paris. But with just two weeks to whip the inn into shape, her chance at escape is a long shot.

The Hunzikers and the Kingsleys may not get along, but Blake knows Autumn’s the only one who can help him. She agrees to a trade–she’ll help with the Festival and he’ll help with inn repairs. But what was meant to be a simple deal quickly becomes much more than that when the guy who’s done running away joins forces with the girl who can’t wait to leave.

Sadly, at the moment, I’m not reading anything. But I have big plans starting May 16.

We’re celebrating Brenda’s release over the next two weeks. Every time you leave a comment, your name will be entered in a special giveaway for an autographed copy of Chain of Mercy, a box of Fannie May chocolates, and Phillips Craig & Dean’s “Breathe In” CD.

Chain giveaway

They forgave him for the accident that killed their son, but he will never forgive himself.

Manhattan businessman Richard Brooks was at the top of the world, drunk with

Success … Wealth … Women …

And he proudly lived that prodigal lifestyle.

Until one disastrous evening, when that world came crashing down.

Richard flees to Minneapolis where he repairs ancient boilers instead of solving corporate problems, and he’s determined to live the solitary life he now deserves …

Chained to his guilt. Blending in with the gray. No luxuries in sight. But Executive Sheila Peterson has other plans for the handsome custodian. She’s had it with serious relationships, and Richard appears to be the perfect match for the no-strings-attached romance she desires. Instead, she finds a man who is complex, brilliant, and shrouding a tormented past.

In her quest to uncover the secrets holding Richard captive, will her own secrets remain buried?

RUN, don’t walk to your favorite bookstore or online retailer to get this book or buy it here.

Question of the day: Who is your favorite kissing scene author in the Christian market?

Disclaimer: Giveaway open to continental U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends on Friday, May 9 at midnight, central time zone. Winner chosen by Random. org.

Rodeo Queen Nostalgia

I’m celebrating my new release, Rodeo Queen by giving away two print copies. Answer the question at the end of the post or comment daily for the next twoWriting 1st book 1999 nostalgic weeks to enter the drawing. Deadline: Nov 16, 11:59 pm central time.

No, I was never a rodeo queen. But I’ve been feeling nostalgic about my latest release, Rodeo Queen. Why would my recently  released book make me feel nostalgic? Because it formed in my head as a teenager. It was the story that wouldn’t go away until I finally realized it was a book around 1996. Then it took me three more years to get a hand me down computer and write it.

That’s me in 1999 writing my first ever book about a interior decorator with a stalker and the private detective who protects her. My husband took the picture and it’s my favorite. I was so involved in my story, I didn’t even know he’d taken the picture until we got the film developed. Yep, back then the pictures actually got out of the camera and you didn’t know how they looked until you picked them up from Walmart. I love the picture because it reminds me how supportive he’s been of my writing–from day one. He didn’t complain that I was ignoring or neglecting him, he just took a picture of me doing what I love.

Back to the story, after fifty-two rejection letters on that first book, countless others on six more books–I stopped counting at 200–fourteen years, and seven published books later, that first book I ever wrote releases this month. Rodeo Queen is a reworked version of my first story.

The original version was set in rural Arkansas. Rodeo Queen is the 5th title in my Texas rodeo series and is set in Aubrey, the Fort Worth Stockyards historical district, and Medina, Texas. My heroine morphed into the owner of a blingy western clothing store and a rodeo queen–which lent itself well to the stalker angle. The hero became a Texas Ranger. And in the new version,they were high school sweethearts.

The Medina part was originally in there and it makes me nostalgic too. My hero and herione visit his grandfather’s ranch in Medina twice during the course of the story. The ranch is based on my father-in-law’s ranch in Medina, near San Antonio. My father-in-law passed away, but we still visit his wife–Texas mom–once a year.

I’ve heard countless authors say they have their first awful manuscripts moldering in a drawer, that they’ll never see the light of day, and they shouldn’t. I wasn’t willing to let my story die. I didn’t go back and try to fix that original manuscript with all the knowledge I’ve gained from countless writers’ meetings and conferences, I started from scratch.

Rodeo Queen by Shannon Taylor VannatterAnd I like the new version better. Readers often ask me which of my books is my favorite. I’ve never really been able to answer that question. It’s like picking your favorite child or pet. I love all of my books–otherwise I wouldn’t have written them.

But I think I’ll play favorites now–Rodeo Queen–hands down.

CAITLYN WENTWORTH LOVES BEING A RODEO QUEEN

Until she starts receiving threatening letters from a stalker. The good news is, the Texas Ranger assigned to her case is none other than her former sweetheart Mitch Warren—the man who chose his career over love.

Mitch vows to focus on protecting the woman he’s never forgotten. But Caitlyn stirs up memories best left in the past. When Mitch insists on hiding Caitlyn away on his family’s San Antonio ranch, will he keep things professional or seek out a second chance?

Remember to enter the drawing daily with each new post from all the inkspers. And if you can’t wait or don’t win, here are a few purchase links for your convenience 🙂

Christian Book

Harlequin

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

Question of the day–for readers or writers. Have you ever had a story in your head that wouldn’t go away?

The Story of My Heart

Every writer has the story of their heart. The one that pulls and tugs at them until they write it, even if it’s something unsellable or hopelessly out of vogue. From the time I was fifteen, I had this story in my head. It played over and over. I’d change it as I went along, add new complications, try different endings. Sometimes late at night, I’d even act it out in my bedroom. I didn’t tell anyone about it. They’d think I was weird.

I watched a lot of detective shows then, mostly Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, and Vegas. My story was a girl in jeopardy and the detective who moved mountains to keep her safe. Of course, along the way, they fell in love. I thought it was a movie, but I wasn’t going to Hollywood. So what to do with it, other than play it over and over in my head, act it out, and tweak scenes?

After I met the guy of my dreams and had my own romance going on, I left the story in my head deep in the recesses of my brain. Until my new husband worked nights and I worked days which left me a lot of thinking and TV time. A short-lived detective series, Wolf, starring the yummy Jack Scalia got me thinking about that story again. But I still had no idea what to do with it.

About ten years later, when searching the library for a clean romance and not finding any, I finally realized–Hey, that story in my head could be a book. But I didn’t have a computer. And I wasn’t a very fast or accurate typist. I set the story aside again, but promised myself if I ever got a computer, I’d write it.

Three years later, my father-in-law got a new computer and gave me his old one. As soon as it was hooked up, I started the book. The words flowed from my fingers. A funny thing happened as I wrote. My characters started talking to God. I’d set out for clean romance and ended up with Christian romantic suspense.

Three months later, I had it completed. Now, what? I headed to the library and learned about the Writer’s Market Guide. I had no clue my book was badly written, that writing is a craft you learn and hone, that you have to show the reader your story instead of simply telling it. And I thought I was starting a new trend. I had no idea there were Christian romance novels since I always hung out in the music section of the Christian book store. Imagine my amazement, when I found fifty-two Christian publishers looking for books just like I’d written. Not necessarily the suspense part, but maybe I could still start a new trend.

I really thought that all I had to do was write a book, send it to publishers, and the right one would publish my baby. Everything was by mail then. I sent out ten proposals. With each rejection I received, I sent out another submission. Imagine my amazement, when all fifty-two rejected me.

But my story ends well. Eight badly written books later, I finally attended enough writers conferences, took enough workshops, and joined ACFW to learn to hone my craft, show the reader my story, and draw them in. I managed to polish one of those badly written books and interest a publisher. Three years later, six published books later, and a contract for three more books later, the Christian romantic suspense genre is thriving and I’m polishing the book of my heart. With some tweaks, that is.

My original story was set in a fictional small Arkansas town. The heroine was an interior decorator, the hero was a detective. But once my three book rodeo series turned into six books, I dusted off old ideas and manuscripts. The story of my heart is now book 5 in my rodeo series titled Rodeo Queen, the heroine owns western clothing stores at the Fort Worth Stockyards and the Galleria Dallas and serves as the rodeo queen at the Stockyards Championship Rodeo. The hero is a Texas Ranger.

I learned two things a long time ago: 1. I stink at fight and shoot em up scenes. 2. I don’t want to learn ballistics and deal with dead bodies. This version of the story of my heart is less suspense, heavy on the romance. The suspense basically just brings them together. I started from scratch on the manuscript. That’s another thing I’ve learned: It’s easier to rewrite than to polish a very badly written book.

Brenda recently critiqued the first sixty pages for me. She commented that she loved my voice and characters. This book has been a breeze to write. I know exactly what happens and I’ve known these people since I was fifteen. God is good!

Question: Based on what you know about me, who was I in love with–Starsky? Or Hutch?

What's in a Name?

Naming characters is one of my favorite things about writing a book. I’ve used several names I circled in the baby book when I was pregnant, before I knew my son’s gender.

Laken, Shell, Kendra, Lacie became heroines in published books. Paige and Lexie lurk in unpublished works. Jenna and Caitlyn will soon see the light of day. All these are circled in my baby name book. Rayna—another published heroine—I invented. Hers is the only heroine name I’ve ever come up with on my own.

From real life, I used to work with a woman named Adrea (AdrEEuh) and loved her name. I used it in my first published book. Another coworker had a daughter named Devrie (DevrEE). Her story hasn’t been published yet, but she’s waiting in the wings.

My next heroine is Natalie. I’m not happy with her name. She was a side character in all three rodeo books. And I don’t take as much care with my side characters. In my books, heroines and heroes get unique names, side characters more common. When I got the chance to continue the series, I knew Natalie’s story needed to be told. I wish I’d named her something more unique now. But since she’s been in three books already, it’s too late to change her name. It’s not that I don’t like the name, it’s just not unique enough.

I did change a child’s name. In book 1 and 2 of my rodeo series, there was a child whose father died before he was born. The child became Little Mel after his father. In book 3, the story of Little Mel’s mother, the child was a little older and it was getting old calling him Little Mel. In the very first chapter, I showed his mother thinking about how she used to call him Little Mel. Readers learn the child’s name is really Maxwell, his mother’s maiden name, but she called him Little Mel after his father. After her friend told her the boy needed his own name, he became Max.

Grayson, Hayden, Clay, Quinn became heroes in published books. Braden and Reece lurk in unpubbed land. All came from potential names for our son that my husband didn’t like as much as I did. Okay, a few, he really hated.

Stetson was the only hero name I came up with on my own. It hailed back to the TV show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Remember that one? Bruce Boxleitner and Kate Jackson. He was a spy and his name was Lee Stetson. I decided Stetson would be a great first name and thought it would be a great name for a son if you married a cowboy. I didn’t, so I christened my rodeo clown with the name. For my rodeo series, I looked up a lot of bull rider names too. Guess what, there’s a bullrider named Stetson. Guess I wasn’t as creative as I thought.

From real life, we know a young gospel singer named Ryler. I thought it was such a cool name and asked if I could use it. Ryler was sixteen when the book came out. It’s a running joke in his family the way I described my hero–Ryler as a big brick of a man.

I also have fun with last names sometimes. Ryler Grant because my husband’s name is Grant. Besides being a rodeo clown, Stetson Wright is a virgin/youth director committed to true love waits. I had fun with the formerly promiscuous heroine
thinking of him as Dudley Do Wright. Grayson Sterling is the preacher with sterling character and the heroine’s Prince Sterling.

Garrett Steele—a hardened country singer, Lane Grey—a rodeo pickup man (the kind who pick up the cowboys out of the bronc’s way, not the kind who pickup women). I named Lane after Lane Frost, but I thought it was fun for his name to rhyme with western author Zane Grey. Mitch Warren—a Texas ranger rounds out my next three heroes.

I’ve also gotten names out of the phone book. I love using last names for first names—like Miller for a first name. I got the name Holland Fleming for a powerful businessman in an unpublished work from a writer’s conference brochure—the last names of two speakers for the event.

I just finished up Denise Hunter’s Big Sky Romance series. I love her cowboy names: Wade Ryan, Travis McCoy, and Dylan Taylor. I wonder if Denise looked up bullrider names for the series. From her Nantucket series, I loved hero–Lucas Wright. I fell flat for Lucas. He was such a great guy. He’d loved the heroine from afar for several years and was there when she needed him most. In my defense, I wrote Stetson Wright’s story before I read Denise’s book.

Writers—where do you get your character names? Readers—what are your favorite character names that have stuck with you over the years?

Interview with Denise Hunter

Shannon here: This fall–in between deadlines–I set out to find an agent and my writing twin. When a writer sends proposals to agents or editors, we’re supposed to compare our books to published novels. I needed a published author who writes similar to me to compare myself to. 

I’d heard of Denise Hunter, seen her at the American Christian Writers Conference, and knew she was a best-selling contemporary romance author. I bought The Convenient Groom and immediately wished I’d come up with such a great premise.

At ACFW this year, I introduced myself to Denise, told her why I bought her book and how much I loved it. She asked if I’d found my writing twin. Not by a longshot. Denise is a much better writer than me.

Since then I’ve read A Cowboy’s Touch, Driftwood Lane, The Accidental Bride, and Smitten. I read the last two in one weekend. Both of them.

I’ve discovered so many authors with a book I love, but then I’m often disappointed by at least one of their books or I don’t like the others as well as the first book I read by them. Not so with Denise Hunter. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by her and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Next on my list–Seaside Letters. So without further ado, here’s Denise:

  • What is the biggest writing challenge you’ve encountered this past year – craft, career, writing life, etc? How did you solve it?

My biggest writing challenge is finding my way through the middle of my stories. It really is like driving at night, and you can only see as far as your headlights will shine. I get through it with lots of prayer and lots of forcing myself to sit and work when I’d rather be doing anything else (laundry, dusting, toilets, ANYTHING).

Shannon: Okay, maybe we are twins. The middle befuddles me too. But not enough to make me want to clean or do laundry.

  • If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?

I enjoy design—actually started college as a commercial art major—so that’s what I’d do. Maybe even designing book covers to combine my interests.

  • Where is the coziest spot in your home?

My spot on the sofa/recliner. That’s actually where I work. 🙂

  • What is your favorite time of the day?

The evening, after dinner, when all the day’s work is done and the family is just hanging out.

  • In what ways do you think your writing journey has benefited your family? How does your writing affect your family?

Great question! Besides the obvious financial benefits, my career has made me a happier more well-rounded individual. It has forced me out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways. One of the best things about writing, though, is that it has allowed me to stay home with our kids.

  • If you could pick a theme song to play every time you entered a room, what would it be?

LOL! “Move” by Mercy Me. Sometimes I need extra motivation.

Shannon: Mercy Me is my favorite group.

  • What is your most laughable dating story?

When I started dating Kevin (my husband) I turned into an instant klutz. I spilled, I dropped, I tripped. Only around him, mind you. I still do that.

  • Which amusement park ride is your favorite and why?

Definitely roller coasters. But due to an old neck injury, I can’t ride them anymore. So I just live vicariously through my boys, who love them as much as I do.

Shannon: I grew up 5 miles from Six Flags over Georgia and never met a roller coaster I didn’t love.

  •  What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?

The internet. Research is SO much easier than it used to be. And communication! It has its negatives too, I know, but it’s so easy to keep in touch with family and friends now.

  • Would you rather live a week in the past or a week in the future??

Interesting question! A week in the future. I prefer the unknown.

  • How do you balance writing, exercise, home, etc.?

Not very well! The home and writing I’ve got down pretty well. The exercise, not so much. A couple months ago we even moved the treadmill into the living room so it would stand over our shoulders making us feel guilty. I’ve used it once since then. I do much better when it’s warm out though. I like to walk outside.

  • Would you rather meet your great grandchildren or great grandparents?

Great grandchildren, just to be certain I’ll get to, and because I DID meet my great grandparents.

  • Who is your biggest cheerleader?

My pal Colleen Coble. She’s everybody’s biggest cheerleader!

  • What actor/actress would you want to play Shay Brandenberger from The Accidental Bride?

Mandy Moore.

  • What is the best book you’ve read recently, and why did you like it?

“Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers—although it wasn’t my first time reading it. The message of love and redemption is amazing.

  • What or who makes you giggle and why?

Bffs Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt, and Kristin Billerbeck. Because we know one another so well. Also my church small group, for the same reason.

  • What is your favorite season and why?

Spring and fall. Because we only get about two seconds of each in Indiana!

Shannon: My favorite seasons too. I hate being hot or cold, so I love the in between.

  • The biggest challenge in writing this book?

The middle—always!

Shannon: Ditto!

  • What do the Post-Its around your computer/screen/ bulletin board say?

They’re my lists of what I need to buy, who I need to call, and what I need to get done.

  •  What is your favorite research or reference book or tool??

“Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass.

  •  What is the most unusual costume you ever wore at a Halloween party?

I was Gilligan one year. It seriously disturbed my husband.

  • If you could have free unlimited service for one year from a cook, chauffer, personal secretary, housekeeper, or masseuse, which would you choose and why??

Oooh, I want one of each! Probably the cook. I love to bake—cooking, not so much.

  •  Which character in your books is the most like you? How?

Definitely Reese in “Smitten”. I wrote that one with my 3 friends Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, and Diann Hunt. In order to keep our characters consistent throughout, we gave each of our protagonists a healthy dose of ourselves. 

Shannon: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Denise. I so thoroughly enjoyed it.

My take on Denise’s books: I hated for each book to end, but each gave me that satisfying ahh moment. I love the characters, fell in love with each hero, and marveled at each great, complicated story premise.

The Convenient Groom: She wrote the book–literally–on finding the right mate. But does she really understand what love’s about? Five hours before her Nantucket beach wedding–and on the eve of her big book launch–celebrity marriage counselor Kate Lawrence has everything in place.

Everything, that is, but the groom. She might not have a career, either, when her nationwide audience finds out their marriage guru has been left at the altar.

Enter Lucas Wright, who offers to stand in for the missing husband-to-be and marry her. Kate’s desperate enough to agree–although she’s sure this Mr. Wright is completely wrong for her. But can they pull it off? And why would Lucas marry her in the first place?

Could it be that “Dr. Kate” doesn’t know the first thing about love? An inspiring tale of enduring love set in romantic Nantucket.

Made me cry just reading how much the hero loved the heroine as he tried to win her heart. Such a great, complicated premise, I really wished I’d come up with it.

A Cowboy’s Touch: Abigail is just in Moose Creek, Montana for the summer to temporarily care for her great aunt. But a tender-hearted cowboy beckons her to stay.

Abigail Jones intends to spend just one summer in middle-of-nowhere Montana with her Aunt Lucy. Time away from her job is just what Abigail needs to reassess her life. The slow pace has her breathing deeply for the first time in years. And the majestic scenery encourages her to get reacquainted with herself . . . and God.

What she didn’t count on was the handsome widowed cowboy who owns the ranch where her aunt lives. When the rancher loses his daughter’s nanny, Abigail decides to lend a hand for the summer.

Wade Ryan can’t help being attracted to Abigail. But he’s given up everything to protect his daughter, and he’s not about to risk it all on a pretty face.

Under Abigail’s care, Wade’s home and daughter thrive. And with Wade’s touch, Abigail’s heart feels at home at last. But Abigail knows this elusive rancher is hiding something. Will her own secrets separate her from the cowboy who finally captured her heart?

I love the characters and ached for them. I truly couldn’t see how this story could end happily-ever-after. So many complications.

The Accidental Bride: Shay Brandenberger is raising her daughter in Moose Creek, Montana, on her childhood ranch, nestled against the Yellowstone River. Despite the hard work, she can’t seem to keep her head above water—and now the bank is threatening to foreclose. She prays for a miracle, but the answer she receives is anything but expected.

Having agreed to play the bride in the Founders’ Day wedding reenactment, Shay is mortified to be greeted at the end of the aisle by none other than Travis McCoy, her high-school sweetheart—the man who left her high and dry for fame and fortune on the Texas rodeo circuit.

Then the unthinkable happens. Thanks to a well-meaning busybody and an absentminded preacher, the make-believe vows result in a legal marriage. But before Shay can say annulment, Travis comes up with a crazy proposal. If she refuses his offer, she may lose her home. If she accepts, she may lose her heart.

Shay isn’t sure if the recent events are God’s will or just a preacher’s blunder. Will trusting her heart to the man who once shattered it be the worst mistake of her life? Or could their marriage be the best accident that ever happened?

I loved the hero, Travis. So tough, yet gentle. I loved Shay’s temper, yet Travis knew just how to settle her down.

Driftwood Lane: Meridith believes she is capable of weathering any storm. But she’s never experienced a love powerful enough to uproot her…until now.

Meridith Ward has crafted a carefully ordered life to make up for the chaos that plagued her childhood years. But one phone call upsets all that. Within the span of several minutes, Meredith learns that the father who abandoned her is dead and she’s been named the sole guardian of his other three children. She nervously heads to Nantucket to care for the siblings she’s never met with plans to stay until their uncle returns from his trip before relinquishing guardianship to him.

She arrives to find the children living in Summer House, a Bed & Breakfast that’s falling apart around them. Meridith wants to move on as soon as possible, but the inn will never sell in its dilapidated condition. Then an itinerant handyman, Jake, shows up with an offer she can’t refuse.

Much like the powerful ocean just a short walk from her deck, Jake appeals to Meridith. But she senses he is also capable of pulling her under in a heartbeat. What if the thing she fears the most is exactly what she needs? Can she trust God with the details and relish the adventure?

Besides the romance and the complicated premise, I loved the one upmanship basketball scenes between the hero and his best friend. And I was reminded that all I really need is a solid foundation through Christ. Everything else is just a bonus.

SmittenWelcome to Smitten, Vermont. With the help of four friends, it’s about to become the most romantic town in America.

The proposed closing of the lumber mill comes as unwelcome news for the citizens of Smitten. How will the town survive without its main employer? A close-knit group of women think they’ve got just the plan to save Smitten. They’ll capitalize on its name and turn it into a tourist destination for lovers—complete with sweet shops, a high-end spa, romantic music on the square, and cabins outfitted with fireplaces and hot tubs.

But is this manly town ready for an influx of romantically-minded guests?

Country music sensation Sawyer Smitten, the town’s hometown hero, wants to help by holding his own wedding there on Valentine’s Day. And little Mia’s lavender wreaths hang all over town as a reminder that faith can work miracles. Along the way, four women spearheading the town’s transformation—energetic Natalie, sophisticated Julia, graceful Shelby, and athletic Reese—get in the spirit by reviving their own love lives.

Join best-selling inspirational romance authors (and real-life BFFs) Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter for an inspiring stay at the (soon-to-be) most romantic town on the eastern seaboard.

One visit . . . and you’ll be smitten too.

I laughed a lot while reading this book and enjoyed each story equally. Quite a feat. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novella collection by different authors and been unable to pick my favorite story.

About Denise:  Denise lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons. In 1996, Denise began her first book, a Christian romance novel, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her books often contain a strong romantic element, and her husband Kevin says he provides all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too! Learn more at www.denisehunterbooks.com. 

GMC: The Engine Behind Your Characters & Plot

GMC. The first time I heard of it, I’d signed with an agent. Back in 2002 with my original version of White Roses. She told me I should read GMC. I thought car. She patiently explained that it’s a book—GMC: Goals, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon. It was out of print, but I found a copy for $19.95. I was a stay at home mom and it wasn’t in our budget to pay that much for a used book.

Shortly afterward, the agent downsized her list and I was one of her clients that got cut. Looking back, I don’t know why she signed me. She’s a good agent, still in the business, and has sold a lot of books. All I can figure is that she saw promise, but soon realized she didn’t have enough time to polish a diamond in the rough. And I don’t blame her. I know now that my writing wasn’t anywhere near publishable then.

Fast forward to 2008. I went to the ACFW conference in Minneapolis, where I had a paid critique for Rodeo Dust with Margaret Daley. In my original version, my heroine is at the State Fair of Texas, touring livestock barns with a co-worker/date. Even though, she hates farm animals and she has a rule about not dating co-workers.

Margaret: “Why would the heroine go to place she doesn’t enjoy with a co-worker on a date when she has a rule not to date co-workers?”

Me: “So she can meet the hero there.”

Margaret: “You need to read GMC.”

Okay. I gave in. You don’t have to beat me over the head with it. When I got home, I ordered the book. By then, Debra Dixon had gotten the rights back and I got a new copy for $19.95.

I read it from cover to cover and discovered a whole new world. A world that makes everything your characters do—make sense. I changed it to where my Rodeo Dust heroine went with her brother to the fair because she wanted him to date her best friend. So she accompanied them, so it wouldn’t seem like a date and they could realize how much in common they had. See how much better that is?

I also worked out the GMC for White Roses and every other book I’d been reworking for years. Now, I carefully chart out my GMC before I start a book.

Most of the time anyway. I jumped into a story not too long ago, just because it had been bugging me for a long time. I wrote the first three chapters in a hurry, then had an editor express interest when I showed her the One Sheet. I sent it to my critters, Brenda, Lorna, and Jerri. 

Brenda: “I don’t understand her goal.”

Me: “Oops. I just dashed it off and forgot to do the GMC.”

I worked out the GMC and made changes. Brenda liked it. And so did I

So for a short lesson:

G – Goal: This is what your character wants. 

M – Motivation: This is why your character wants the goal.

C – Conflict: This is why your character can’t reach their goal. 

My heroine wanted her brother to date her best friend because she wants them both to be happy, but they wouldn’t agree to go out on a date.

Thus my Rodeo Dust heroine tours the livestock barns, hating every minute of it. But her brother and best friend love it, proving that they should live happily ever after, just like she knew they should. It makes perfect sense for her to be there. And while she’s there, she meets the hero.

This is only the GMC for the first scene. Your GMC for the entire plot needs to have much more at stake. Something like, if the heroine doesn’t get her brother and best friend together, her brother will accept that job offer in China.

I could get into a lot more detail, but I believe that’s called plagiarism. In short, your story should have an over-arcing internal and external GMC. But each scene should have GMC also. If you work out the GMC for every scene, everything your character does will make perfect sense. 

Maybe if I’d have gotten the book back in 2002, I’d have sold White Roses in 2003 instead of 2009.

To get into all the intricacies of internal and external GMC, I highly recommend the book. This is one of the few craft books that doesn’t make my brain glaze over. It’s all laid out in a simple, easy to understand format. Debra Dixon is now an acquisitions editor at a publishing house. And since 2008, I’ve had editors actually ask me about my characters’ GMC during pitch sessions.